Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Ghosts of Pitchfork Past

Let me first state before writing this that for all the flack Pitchfork takes for being snobby, dismissive, or overly fickle, it is more of a good music source than bad. They deserve a good deal of credit for leading the charge of support behind the rise of acts like Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, or even Andrew Bird. I know I read it every day, and I bet most people that mock the site do the same. But I digress...

In recent years, it has become apparent that while the credibility and traffic (estimate) of the website seem to be riding a high, acts with less indie cred seem to have effectively disappeared off the site. To put it more concisely, you won't be seeing any Blues Traveler album reviews on Pitchfork anytime soon. A look back, though, shows that Pitchfork had a bit different perspective on things just a few short years ago. This could be indicative of the changing musical landscape, the evolution of particular acts, or of the writers' shifting tastes. It could, though, be a result of the music site's more stringent attempts to be seen as cutting-edge, and ultimately, an insight into their self-consciousness. It's hard to say, especially because their constantly-changing "search" feature rarely yields a full set of results from their massive archive of content.

However, the good people (computer?) over at www.archive.org have a great feature in which you can look back at the history of a website. It lets you read news from historic days, view old site designs, and so forth. Enter Pitchfork, and a world of interesting finds emerges. Check it:

Item A: Canada's Top 25 Albums of All Time

I'm not arguing that this feature is not meant to be funny, or even that it is inaccurate, but I would argue that Pitchfork just wouldn't put themselves out there by posting something like this today. Then again, maybe this is just foreshadowing of the site's current tendency to have reviews that are incongruent with their major lists. They did give this album a 4.2, after all.

Item B: Acknowledgment of
Ben Harper, Days of the New, and Dropkick Murphys Via Reviews

There are some acts that Pitchfork likes to feature by giving them a scathing review, which are usually comical (see: Jet). Most musicians, however, are given what is effectively the silent treatment. Too college-y? No review. Too Nickelback-y? No review. We can mainly be thankful for this, as it saves time scrolling. However, Pitchfork used to actually cover a wider spread of performers for better or for worse. The acts listed above could probably be compared to, say...Jack Johnson, 3 Doors Down, and, well, Dropkick Murphys. All of which haven't gotten the acknowledgment of a review in years, if ever. Would it destroy Pitchfork's credibility if they posted a Jack Johnson album review? Probably not. Does it help their credibility by not posting a Jack Johnson album review? Maybe.

It's hard to answer either way, but basically, I just find the changing climate interesting. Since I've never seen a real discussion of the site, which doesn't allow readers to comment (which I presume is because it views itself as a music site, and not as an interactive blog), I think it's worth a look.

Bonus Item: The Rating System Explanation

10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible

For those readers who may have stumbled upon Pitchfork in more recent times, the reviews can seem oddly specific in their rating. What distinguishes a 7.3 from a 7.6, after all? With a number of different reviewers, how can they have a credible review process that precise? It seems that for a time, although brief, the site did have some sort of explanation as to the meaning of review ratings. Now, however, the process is more cryptic (although the system above is hardly scientific).

You can check out the archive of Pitchforks of yore below.

Wayback Machine: www.pitchforkmedia.com

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