Pitchfork At Fifteen: WLFY On Pitchfork

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Hank (center) with High Life/ Me (right) on the Korg (2004 Santa Barbara)

I had just settled into the daily routine and newfound freedom of my first year at college when I read a Pitchfork review that would change my life.  Waking up early, definitely for an early class and not by choice, I turned on my computer, checked my e-mail, and as I have for 12 years now, read Pitchfork.  I clicked on a colorful album cover thumbnail with a cloud, rainbow, and lightning bolt and began reading a review of a band that I had never heard before.  The reviewer was one of my favorites at the time, Eric Carr, and without having the luxury of a track sample, Carr’s words made me crazed to hear this record.  I skipped class, took the bus with three transfers to the lone Santa Barbara record store, and picked up a copy of the reviewed record.  Slapping the CD into my Discman, I sat on the empty bus and proceeded to listen to it over and over.  When I snapped out of my haze, the bus was at its last stop and I was five miles away from my destination, stranded. I’m not a stress free guy and under normal circumstances I would have called a friend to pick me up, yelled at the bus driver, or shelled out for a cab. Instead, I made my way to the beach and walked the five miles back to the dorms.  I couldn’t tell you how majestic the ocean was that day, and I’m not going to poetically (tritely) describe the soft sand at my feet…all I can tell you is that I played that damn record again and again.  I stayed up all night listening to those thirteen tracks, and while I had always been a fan and student of music, that night, I fell in love with music.

If you read We Listen For You with any regularity or follow us on twitter, you know we are constantly griping about Pitchfork and their content/decision making.  Let me take a few sentences to explain.  Hank and I met in 2004, started WLFY in 2007, and have both been reading Pitchfork for twelve years.  We’ve often debated who started reading first based off of month, but it’s a fact that we became everyday readers of Pitchfork in 1999.  Our relationship to music exists five years longer with Pitchfork then it did in real life and it showed in our first conversations about the art form.  Throughout a normal day I will visit Pitchfork several times depending on breaking news or new content, but at the very least, doing some math here, I’ve clicked the Pitchfork link 4,380 times.  If I read two of the five reviews a day (I typically read them all) I would have read 1,248 reviews.  At times I’ve been so frustrated with the content choices or with the reviews that I would swear off the site altogether, only to find myself reading all the reviews again the next day.  In that anger, I always go back to the fact that Pitchfork is unmatched when it’s at its best, and when it’s at its worst, well, at least I can complain and look forward to better content in the future.

For years now, anyone who complains about Pitchfork is either greeted by a “yeah, that site sucks,” or “oh, another person jumping on the Pitchfork hate bandwagon.”  For me, it’s much more complicated then saying Pitchfork is awful, or trying too hard to be trendy.  My personal complaints typically evolve out of my own knowledge of the site, attachment, and taste.  William Bowers said something very important in his must read essay:

Reckon that, in my paranoid haste to not age, I succumbed to a strange contemporary bias against acknowledging one's past? I don't know if this is true in your corporeal and virtual circles, but in my admittedly compromised existence, there's always a gargoyle handy to harp "nostalgia!" whenever someone recounts a memory, like an insecure partner claiming to have been cheated on whenever their mate mentions another human being, or a 2004 Republican yelling "flip flopper" whenever someone carefully reconsiders an ideological or strategic stance. Obviously the denotative and cognitive gulf between "nostalgia" and "memory" is vast; to whom should this ever require explanation? Maybe the vampiric way that I receive a sort of energy from youth culture, or the (in bourgeois terms) "disreputable" age difference between myself and most of my homesnakes contributes to why I feel somehow implicated by rhetorically honoring how long I've haunted the earth.

The fact is, Pitchfork, in an attempt to stay “young,” hired younger writers and began drmatically shifting its tastes around 2008, and subsequently made me feel like an aging outsider.  With their current taste in music, it’s hard to even imagine some of my favorite recommendations from the 1999-2005 Pitchfork even getting a mention, no less a positive one.  One of my biggest complaints rests in the fact that if they supported the band in those “golden years” they will still appear on the site, but any new band sounding as if it came out of that time period is negatively reviewed, or worse, ignored.  I understand that time and tastes change, but good music and the personal experiences that shape individual taste do not.  I live by the thought that good music is good music regardless of genre, album cover, band name, or the look of the band.  This is where I often feel betrayed.  In the past, Pitchfork was always a melting pot for anything they deemed quality music, but now, it appears a specific look, sensibility, and sound is paramount concerning new bands/artists trying to get placement on the site.  I didn’t always agree with every piece of content or album score in those “golden years” but as each year passes, I finding myself more and more concerned that Pitchfork is becoming too narrow in its taste and choices of content.  With that said, I’ve talked to a lot of younger Pitchfork readers who see this new aesthetic and taste as what they want and in five years they might look back on the present as their own “golden years.” 

Music – and all art, for that matter – is built on outside experiences, and for thousands of readers Pitchfork informs them on what music they should select as the soundtrack to these kinds of influential experiences.  For that, love them or hate them, it makes Pitchfork extremely important, and the weight of such responsibility should be in the forefront of every Pitchfork writer’s head whenever they begin a new review. 

I’ll end by mentioning that the album that made me fall in love with music was The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?  Four years later my love for music based on that Pitchfork review turned into a need to share my own taste with anyone who would read – hence the creation of WLFY.  A year later, our blog had a live video series called “The Silverlake Steps” where bands/artists would play on a five-foot staircase stage outside my house.  One of those bands was called Clues, the lead singer of which was Alden Penner, who was one of the three members of The Unicorns.  As I watched their breathtaking performance on the steps, I thought about how personal music can be, how important it is in my life, and how I owe a lot to a website that I often deride.  I might read something on Pitchfork tomorrow that sends me through the roof and has me foaming at the mouth on twitter.  Regardless, I’ll still be there reading all the reviews each and every day.

Happy 15th Pitchfork, and thanks for helping create a cynical, yet unabashed lover of music.



7 comments:

  1. I love what you've said here. I haven't been reading as long as you have, but I agree with your points. Very well written piece. Cheers!

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  2. I agree on your points. For me, reading pitchfork years ago made me open my own reviewing page (in spanish, though). It´s kinda inspirational to understand the music and the way pitchfork does it is fine, even if people hate it.

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  3. wonderful. thank you.

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  4. have never posted on here (though i do enjoy your site)... but never thought about it until now that around 2008 i started losing touch with what p4k was posting. they got me into the music i love today-- the indie rock they posted about from 2000-2006 (bloc party, arcade fire, shins, etc...) Obviously my tastes have evolved since then, but it was those bands that introduced me to music. And so true, any band coming out today that sounds like those, they hate on. Sad. I personally never got into any of the lo-fi / chillwave bands they started posting about 2009, and about 6 months ago i switched p4k from my homepage to something else. It didnt reflect my tastes anymore and i wasnt really interested in the new stuff they were posting about.

    Great post.

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