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The Great Pitchfork Apology

The music magazine's reviews are changing with the way the wind is blowing.

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
2 min read
The Great Pitchfork Apology
(Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is one album that had its original rating revised upward).

Pitchfork recently revised ratings on 20 albums from the past, mostly raising scores, but also lowering some, as well. It was a kind of a strange move, but to be fair, some albums are sleepers and you can’t always tell which ones will stick with you. I’ve long wanted to do a classics review blog post series where I only write about albums that have stood the test of time. There’s a different kind of love that you have for music with longevity that carries you through different seasons of your life.

It’s easy to be cynical about what Pitchfork is doing here, though. They’ve long held themselves as arbiters of taste, deriding work that falls outside the bounds of what they’ve identified as cool-in-the-moment. This sort of temporal attribution lends itself to revising history to fit whatever new parameters of cool have been introduced. Certainly, when the emperor had no clothes, which has been the case in many a Pitchfork fascination, he is easier to expose later on, once the mass hypnosis has worn off. When cooler heads prevail and senses lost in the rush of trendiness are back working, a more judicious appraisal of the work of art can be made. Maybe, though, just maybe, judgment is still clouded, but by whatever new trend has taken hold.

Freddie Deboer is having none of it.

Which they are very close to explicitly admitting is the point: not that there was some deficiency in how the original scores were awarded, but rather that the scores look less like what a cool person thinks now. One little snippet helpfully points out that liking an artist was not cool when the review was written but is cool now; honest, but perhaps this should have been removed in the editing process!

Deboer’s thoughts on the revisions are cutting, but insightful, as usual. He gets deep when he writes about Pitchfork’s performative aspect. In his mind, the writers at the publication would rather signal that they like cool music than listen to music they actually like. I guess you have to give something up in exchange for cultural capital (and ad dollars).

Which, of course, is what Pitchfork has always been about, projecting a certain kind of image of yourself to your peers. Pitchfork is the apotheosis of music purely as signifier, signifier of being the right kind of person, the cool kind, the knowing kind.

Except for the occasional feature that gets linked to from somewhere else, I stopped reading Pitchfork years ago. I think it was when they were intellectualizing low-brow, mainstream hip-hop. Things like “When Chingy says, ‘I like the way you do that right thurr,’ he’s really launching a scathing critique of contemporary sexual mores.” They probably still do that kind of music criticism. I’m just not tuning in to find out.

Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.


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