Emily Orrson | Pitchfork, take a 5.9

The Half of It | If you can get past the pretention and verbal histrionics — Pitchfork isn’t offensive, it’s hilarious

· September 19, 2012, 11:48 pm

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Emily Orrson
The Half of It

It’s easy to hate on Pitchfork. Armed with over 30 million monthly views, the online music publication has the power to plug some bands into the indie consciousness while pulling the plug on others.

It does so with little grace and even less tact. In 2006, Jet’s album “Shine On” received a crippling 0.0 out of 10. A 10-second clip of a monkey urinating in its own mouth was uploaded in place of a written review.

Pitchfork is criticized as an arbiter of taste — deeming some albums completely worthless at 0.0, while exalting others to the point of absurdity. Cue their “Kid A” review, where Pitchfork compares listening to the album to “witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on Imax.”

The site has been accused of sensationalizing, of creating stars only to shed them indifferently with a cooler-than-thou shrug.

Pitchfork discovery and darling Lana Del Ray was championed by the site (and the indie rock world), before she was dashed against the rocks with a ghastly 5.5 on her second album, “Born to Die” — a melodramatic move that prompted the Washington Post to criticize the site’s caprice.

This was not the first time a reader went up in arms. After receiving a 3.7 on the site, Texas band Sound Team slapped their name on a dummy, stabbed him with a pitchfork, hurled him off a cliff and lit him on fire. The video footage can be found on YouTube, followed by the typeset: “Thanks.”

In a more ironic and less irate demonstration, comedian David Cross created an “Albums to Listen to While Reading Overwrought Pitchfork Reviews” playlist, after a 2005 invitation to curate a guest playlist on the site. Two years later, the Onion ran the headline, “Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8,” complete with a fictitious quote from Pitchfork editor in chief Ryan Schreiber calling music a “solid but uninspired effort” and one Los Angeles Pitchfork reader declaring he “seriously might never listen to music again.”

But let’s take a breath here. Enraged by inflammatory vocabulary and smarmy ranting, we’ve taken this all out of context. As noted by Airborne Toxic Event in an open letter, Pitchfork doesn’t as much critique bands, as it critiques their ability to adhere to an indie rock aesthetic.

Because, sure, Pitchfork is an indie-rock website. They’ll condemn three chord pop songs and anoint drug riddled anti-establishment angst at will.

So let’s take a step back from the ostensibly offensive elitism and look at the facts. Pitchfork is a niche blog, with a PBR-touting audience that is almost 90 percent male. Every other review includes a meditation on man’s existence. Let the hilarity ensue. As Pitchfork staffer Mark Pytilk explains in a Daft Punk review, “ideally, the physics of record reviewing are as elegant as actual physics, with each piece speaking to the essence of its subject as deliberately and as appropriately as a real-world force reacting to an action.”

It seems Pitchfork writers rise in the morning, take lengthy baths in their own broodings and then obsessively read the thesaurus. How awesome do you think you are, dude?

Take the review of Arcade Fire “Funerals.” It begins: “_How did we get here_? Ours is a generation overwhelmed by frustration, unrest, dread and tragedy.” Pitchfork writer David Moore goes on to chastise society for reveling in our “emotional and existential wounds” and spitting back the “affected martyrdom of our purported idols” in “mocking defiance.” It’s unclear when this review ceases to be about Moore’s inner turmoil and begins deconstructing the album.

My personal favorite is the review of Untilted’s album “Autechre,” written in the form of a one-act play involving Achilles and a tortoise.

Readers and poorly reviewed bands alike — do not let the Pitchfork writers get to you. Sit back, dim the lights and enjoy the verbal histrionics.

This isn’t offensive. It’s hilarious. And for all their pretension, Pitchfork is still the blog that gave ’90s ska band Save Ferris a Best New Music review (before hastily revoking it).

Emily Orrson is a College senior from Baltimore, Md. Her email address is eorrson@gmail.com. Follow her @schmemily1. “The Half of It” appears every other Thursday.

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