Music

Pitchfork: The Taste Maker

Judging by the "Top Ten" list of hundreds of critics in Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Poll, Pitchfork is either really good, or critics are becoming really lazy.

Recently, the general "Who had the best album of 2009?" debate came to an end with the release of the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll. For those unfamiliar, the poll comprises the "Top Ten" list of hundreds of music critics. Top honors went to Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Animal Collective's win wasn't surprising. When Merriweather was released last January, critics all but anointed it an album of the year contender. But Village Voice contributor Chuck Eddy raised an interesting observation: Eight albums from the Pazz and Jop top ten list were also on Pitchfork's top ten list.

While Pitchfork's influence has been well documented, this year's selections look less like a list and more like a test where most kids in the lecture hall copied off the smartest kid in class. How else would you explain the inclusion of three relatively obscure albums (the Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca, the XX's xx, and Girls' Album all have sales well below 100,000) that were routinely touted in Pitchfork's website throughout the year?

True, album sales and artistic merit aren't usually proportionally related, but it's worth noting that in the age of media consolidation the only way bands like Girls and the Dirty Projectors can reach a wide audience is through music review websites. And last decade showed that critics were starting to pay more attention to these sites than longtime print media standards like Rolling Stone and Spin. This year, two five-star albums from Rolling Stone (U2's No Line on the Horizon and Bruce Springsteen's Working on a Dream) placed a distant 32nd and 57th respectively on the Pazz and Jop list. Of course, Rolling Stone can share some blame in this, as the magazine has been notoriously more lenient in determining what merits a five-star album (if you're Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, chances are all you have to do is release an album to get this mark). It's amazing to think that in 1992, the magazine awarded R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People the first five-star review of a newly-released album in years.

The shift from big media standards like Rolling Stone to indie-centric websites like Pitchfork is certainly not a bad thing. But when one website can shape the tastes of hundreds of critics, you're bound to run into some problems. I keep thinking of a pivotal scene in Spike Lee's Malcolm X when a police official muttered "No man should have that kind of power" as Malcolm X dismissed dozens of marchers with a simple hand gesture.

At its best, Pitchfork has introduced listeners to the Dirty Projectors, the Arcade Fire, and Animal Collective, bands that very well may not have otherwise found a large audience. At its worst, Pitchfork can create a snowball effect, in that many critics may tend to withhold their judgment on an album until Pitchfork weighs in. Seriously, would the Flaming Lips' freakish Embryonic have placed so high in the Pazz and Jop list if Pitchfork gave the album a 5.4 kiss of death?

Pitchfork has a plethora of detractors. Much of the criticism is sour grapes. But some criticism is warranted. After all, it's hard to put your entire trust in a website that will almost certainly guarantee a band or artist like the Eels, Lucinda Williams, or Pearl Jam will never see the light of an 8.0 or higher review score for a new album, even if they release their own In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. But after reading this year's cumulative list of hundreds of critics, it looks like a good number of critics are indeed waiting for Pitchfork's blessing before making their own decision.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.