Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The Pitchfork effect: 3.2

Like most of you, I dip in and out of Pitchfork most weeks for news bulletins, track reviews, MP3 premieres and interviews of an indie and alternative variety. I’m not, though, a huge fan of their album reviews, which read …

Mon, Feb 8, 2010, 10:58

   

Like most of you, I dip in and out of Pitchfork most weeks for news bulletins, track reviews, MP3 premieres and interviews of an indie and alternative variety. I’m not, though, a huge fan of their album reviews, which read like something you’d get from a student mag writer who has swallowed a dictionary and isn’t so sure what all those words mean, but persists with the verbosity nonethless. If I need that sort of review of a new release, there are plenty close to home which do the trick.

It was probably because of this that I missed the website’s mauling of the new Midlake album “The Courage of Others”. I always enjoy well-written, contrary album reviews which buck the prevailing critical trend, but this one was just contrary for the sake of being contrary.

Anyway, I reckoned that it probably kicked off a lively debate (like the one which spread from the Guardian to OTR recently over that Beach House review) so I went looking for it. Only problem is that any debate which is taking place sure as hell isn’t happening on Pitchfork. You may be able to share the review in 225 different ways, via everything from Meccho to Amenme, but you can’t have a back and forth with the reviewer and other readers on the site. There’s no forum, no blog, no comments form: Pitchfork turns out to be as much a closed shop as the old-school music press which its readers and disciples keep saying it has replaced. Maybe they want readers to send a letter to its office in Chicago for a soon-come letters’ page?

Of course, Pitchfork isn’t the only publication in the world which operates this policy, but it’s quite remarkable to see how a mag so closely associated with how web operations have changed how music is reviewed and covered does not appear to have any time whatsoever for the views of its readers. While an open door policy would probably mean a tsunami of fanboy hallelujahs for Radiohead or Joanna Newsom at every turn (the can-do-no-wrong pin-ups of the P4K set), a degree of moderation could introduce some debate and critical voices to the proceedings which a permanent establishment institution like P4K sorely requires.

Sure, there is an argument to be made that a magazine like Pitchfork is operating as a filter and you’re buying into the opinions of its writers, but surely even its from-the-top-down process would benefit from some reader interaction? And, instead of seeing a debate about one of its reviews or articles take place elsewhere, housing it at home would also bring far more folks to the yard.

Yet even as it become as much a part of the permanent establishment as Rolling Stone or Spin (or any other music mag you care to mention), Pitchfork is still viewed in some quarters as an alternative. But just as a large chunk of the music which Pitchfork once exclusively covered has become more appealing to the mainstream, the publication too has moved from the outside to the inside with all that entails. The real alternatives are somewhere else entirely whipping it up, ripping it up, making it up and mixing it up as they go along.

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