Pitchfork is an American online magazine launched in 1995 by Ryan Schreiber, based in Chicago, Illinois and owned by Condé Nast. Being developed during Schreiber's tenure in a record store at the time, the magazine developed a reputation for its extensive focus on independent music, but has since expanded to a variety of coverage on both indie and popular music.
The site generally concentrates on new music, but Pitchfork journalists have also reviewed reissues and box sets. The site has also published "best-of" lists – such as the best albums of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and the best songs of the 1960s – as well as annual features detailing the best albums and tracks of each year since 1999.
In late 1995, Ryan Schreiber, a recent high school graduate, created the magazine in Minneapolis. Influenced by local fanzines and KUOM, Schreiber, who had no previous writing experience, aimed to provide the Internet with a regularly updated resource for independent music. At first being Turntable, the site was updated monthly with interviews and reviews. In May 1996, the site began publishing daily and was renamed Pitchfork, alluding to Tony Montana's tattoo in Scarface.
In early 1999, Schreiber relocated Pitchfork to Chicago, Illinois. By then, the site had expanded to four full-length album reviews daily, as well as sporadic interviews, features, and columns. It had also begun garnering a following for its extensive coverage of underground music and its writing style, which was often unhindered by the conventions of journalism. In October, the site added a daily music news section.
Pitchfork has launched a variety of subsidiary websites. Pitchfork.tv, a website displaying videos related to many independent music acts, launched in April 2008. It features bands that are typically found on Pitchfork . In July 2010, Pitchfork announced Altered Zones, a blog aggregator devoted to underground and do it yourself music. On 21 May 2011, Pitchfork announced a partnership with Kill Screen, in which Pitchfork would publish some of their articles. Altered Zones was closed on November 30. On December 26, 2012, Pitchfork launched Nothing Major, a website that covered visual arts such as fine art and photography. Nothing Major closed in October 2013. On October 13, 2015, Condé Nast announced that it had acquired Pitchfork. Following the sale, Schreiber remained as editor-in-chief.
On March 13, 2016, Pitchfork was redesigned. According to an announcement post during the redesign, they said:
Pitchfork's opinions have gained increased cultural currency; some in the mainstream media view the site as a barometer of the independent music scene, and positive quotes from its reviews are increasingly used in press releases and affixed to the front of CDs.
Some publications have cited Pitchfork in having played a part in "breaking" artists such as Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Interpol, The Go! Team, Junior Boys, The Books, Broken Social Scene, Cold War Kids, Wolf Parade, Tapes 'n Tapes, and Titus Andronicus although the site's true impact on their popularity remains a source of frequent debate.
Conversely, Pitchfork has also been seen as being a negative influence on some indie artists. As suggested in a Washington Post article in April 2006, Pitchfork's reviews can have a significant influence on an album's popularity, especially if it had only been available to a limited audience or had been released on an independent record label. A dismissive 0.0 review of former Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison's Travistan album led to a large sales drop and a virtual college radio blacklist. On the other hand, "an endorsement from Pitchfork—which dispenses its approval one-tenth of a point at a time, up to a maximum of 10 points—is very valuable, indeed."
Examples of Pitchfork's impact include:
Pitchfork now receives an audience of more than 240,000 readers per day, and more than 1.5 million unique visitors per month, making it the most popular independent-focused music publication online. On October 24, 2003, the author of Pitchformula.com reported that Pitchfork had published 5,575 reviews from 158 different authors, with an average length of just over 520 words. Together, the reviews featured a total of 2,901,650 words.
One common complaint is that the website's journalism suffers from a narrow view of independent music, favoring lo-fi and often obscure indie rock and giving only cursory treatment to other genres. Some critics have suggested that the site rates albums from particular music scenes or artists more favorably in order to bolster its influence when the music becomes popular.
The majority of criticism, however, is aimed at the site's album reviewing style. Critics argue the site often emphasizes a reviewers' own writing over the actual music being reviewed, sometimes not even reviewing the album and instead criticising the artist's integrity. Pitchfork is also known to give "0" ratings, deeming the work, essentially and critically, worthless. One critic wrote that the rating of a particular album amounts to no more than a "cheap publicity stunt" for a website that "thrives on controversy." The critic also hypothetically asked how a neo-Nazi punk record would be scored in comparison to these "0" albums, based on Pitchfork standards.
In August 2006, a directory on Pitchfork's servers containing over 300 albums was compromised. A web surfer managed to discover and download the collection, which included The Decemberists' The Crane Wife and TV on the Radio's Return to Cookie Mountain, both of which had been leaked to peer-to-peer networks. Allegedly, one of the albums on the server, Joanna Newsom's Ys, had not been available on file-sharing networks.
Pitchfork has been criticized for deleting older reviews from their archive in an effort to keep up with the changing trends in indie music. One such example is the 9.5/10 review written for ska band Save Ferris' album It Means Everything. Similarly, the original review of Psyence Fiction by Unkle received 9.8, but the review was later deleted and when the group released their next album four years later, the website gave it a score of 5 and described it as an improvement on their debut, calling Psyence Fiction "one of the most anti-climactic and jaw-dropping disappointments of recent years" which "came up short on little things like, oh, vitality, restraint, emotional resonance, and tunes."
Negative reviews of two By Divine Right albums were also removed from Pitchfork after members Brendan Canning and Leslie Feist became successful with the band Broken Social Scene and their own solo work. Steven Byrd's deleted review of By Divine Right's Bless This Mess, on which Canning and Feist play bass and guitar, went so far as to compare the band to "retard(s) with a guitar" who "wouldn't know Rock and Roll if she broke into their house and beat up their children," rating the album 1.8. After Belle and Sebastian's "comeback" in the mid-to-late 2000s, Pitchfork removed their .8 review of The Boy with the Arab Strap from the site. The reviewer lambasted the band for writing songs that were "so sticky they should be hanging from Ben Stiller's ear, and I don't mean that in a good way." Pitchfork originally gave the Flaming Lips album Zaireeka a scathing 0 in a review that also derided all Flaming Lips fans.
Pitchfork has also removed the 9.4 review for the album Things Fall Apart by The Roots. They also removed the 1998 review of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, which initially received an 8.7. Schreiber's review of the John Coltrane album Live! at the Village Vanguard was deleted after attaining notoriety for its supposedly poor writing and alleged racist stereotypes, particularly in the lines, "It's like a dream I had: I floated on the River Nile, smokin' some fresh weed, relaxin'. But I ain't ever gonna see the Nile anyhow." Additionally, Schreiber's original 7.5 review of a reissue of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which criticized the album for being dated and passe compared to more modern albums like OK Computer, was later removed.
Pitchfork has been criticized directly by artists for misrepresentation, most famously in 2007 by the artist M.I.A. for what one of their writers later described as "perpetuating the male-led ingenue myth" with regard to her work. Some have argued this is not isolated to Pitchfork in the music press, while this incident was later cited and similarly condemned by the artist Björk, who criticized the site for assuming female musicians do not usually write or produce their own music. Pitchfork's articles on M.I.A. and her career since the incident have been noticeably negative and have attracted media commentary; an article titled "M.I.A. Uses Pitchfork Tweets to Diss Pitchfork" was printed by LA Weekly in 2010.
In December 2013, Pitchfork Media debuted The Pitchfork Review, a quarterly print journal focused on long-form music writing and design-focused content. J.C. Gabel, its first editor, had been the publisher of The Chicagoan and founding publisher of Stop Smiling. Pitchfork planned a limited-edition quarterly publication of about 10,000 copies of each issue, perfect bound, and printed on glossy, high-quality 8-by-10¼ paper. It was expected that about two-thirds of the content would be original, with the remaining one-third recycled from the Pitchfork website. The International Business Times likened the publication's literary aspirations to The New Yorker and Paris Review.
In 2005, Pitchfork curated the Intonation Music Festival, attracting approximately 15,000 attendees to Chicago's Union Park for a two-day bill featuring performances by 25 acts, including Broken Social Scene, The Decemberists, The Go! Team, and an appearance by Les Savy Fav.
On July 29 and 30, 2006, the publication premiered its own Pitchfork Music Festival in the same park. The event attracted over 18,000 attendees per day. More than 40 bands performed at the inaugural festival, including Spoon and Yo La Tengo, as well as a rare headlining set by reunited Tropicália band Os Mutantes.
The Pitchfork Music Festival was held again in 2007. It was expanded to three days (Friday, July 13 - Sunday, July 15), with the first day being a collaboration between Pitchfork and the British music festival All Tomorrow's Parties as part of the latter's "Don't Look Back" series, in which seminal artists perform their most legendary albums in their entirety. Performers that evening included Sonic Youth playing Daydream Nation, Slint playing Spiderland, and GZA/Genius playing Liquid Swords. Some of the other artists who performed over the weekend included Yoko Ono, De La Soul, Cat Power, The New Pornographers, Stephen Malkmus, Clipse, Iron & Wine, Girl Talk, Of Montreal, Deerhunter, Dan Deacon, The Ponys, and The Sea and Cake. Since 2011, a European winter edition of the festival takes place in Paris.
In 2008 Pitchfork collaborated with All Tomorrow's Parties to curate half of the bill for one of their May festival weekends. This was the first event that Pitchfork has been involved in outside of the United States.
Pitchfork's music reviews use two different rating systems:
On October 24, 2003, Pitchformula.com made a survey of the 5,575 reviews available on Pitchfork at that time, showing that:
British Sea Power's 2008 album Do You Like Rock Music? was initially awarded a tongue-in-cheek rating of "U.2", however the page now gives a rating of 8.2, seemingly at odds with the critical review. Their rating of Run the Jewels' remix album Meow the Jewels (2015) was a pictogram of a cat's head with hearts for eyes - highlighting the pictogram and right-clicking on it reveals that the actual score is 7.0. Their review of Pope Francis' album Wake Up! featured the rating "3:16," though using the same method of revealing Meow the Jewels' actual score reveals the score to be 5.0.
The following is a list of albums given Pitchfork's highest possible rating, on initial release. The score is rare and has only been given to eleven albums since the site was launched in 1995. Many more albums have been given a 10 on re-release. Note that Pitchfork has since deleted the reviews for 12 Rods, Amon Tobin, Walt Mink, The Flaming Lips, and Bob Dylan without replacing them with newer reviews, effectively reducing the canon of albums that Pitchfork still considers to be worthy of a 10.0 on initial release to six albums.
Relaxation of the Asshole, a comedy album by Guided by Voices singer Robert Pollard, was awarded a dual 0 and 10 on initial release. A later site redesign changed the rating to 0 only, although the explanation for the unusual rating remains in the text of the review.
|...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead||Source Tags & Codes||2002|
|Bob Dylan||The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert||1998|
|Bonnie 'Prince' Billy||I See a Darkness||1999|
|The Flaming Lips||The Soft Bulletin|
|Kanye West||My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy||2010|
|Walt Mink||El Producto||1996|
|Wilco||Yankee Hotel Foxtrot||2002|
|1999||The Dismemberment Plan||Emergency & I||United States|
|2000||Radiohead||Kid A||United Kingdom|
|2001||The Microphones||The Glow Pt. 2||United States|
|2002||Interpol||Turn on the Bright Lights|
|2005||Sufjan Stevens||Illinois||United States|
|2006||The Knife||Silent Shout||Sweden|
|2007||Panda Bear||Person Pitch||United States|
|2008||Fleet Foxes||Sun Giant/Fleet Foxes|
|2009||Animal Collective||Merriweather Post Pavilion|
|2010||Kanye West||My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy|
|2011||Bon Iver||Bon Iver, Bon Iver|
|2012||Kendrick Lamar||good kid, m.A.A.d city|
|2013||Vampire Weekend||Modern Vampires of the City|
|2014||Run the Jewels||Run the Jewels 2|
|2015||Kendrick Lamar||To Pimp a Butterfly|
|2016||Solange||A Seat at the Table|
|2003||Outkast||"Hey Ya!"||United States|
|2005||Antony and the Johnsons||"Hope There's Someone"||United Kingdom|
|2006||Justin Timberlake featuring T.I.||"My Love"||United States|
|2007||LCD Soundsystem||"All My Friends"|
|2008||Hercules and Love Affair||"Blind"|
|2009||Animal Collective||"My Girls"|
|2010||Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti||"Round and Round"|
|2013||Drake featuring Majid Jordan||"Hold On, We're Going Home"|
|2014||Future Islands||"Seasons (Waiting on You)"||United States|
|2016||Kanye West featuring The-Dream, Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, and Kirk Franklin||"Ultralight Beam"|
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