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Pitchfork Media is a website that rates new music on a 10-point scale based on its similarity to Radiohead. The site's purpose is to popularize music that sounds like, or tries to sound like, music that was popular somewhere in North Carolina during 1974.
Much of the music reviewed comes from street musicians and independent record labels, so desperate for publicity that might lead to signing by a paying label that they will do anything for press coverage, including sending records with copious amounts of Benjamin-Franklin-themed gift-wrap.
The website's name was taken from Satan's favorite gardening tool. One of the most popular websites ever, Pitchfork welcomes over 200 visitors per day from all around Davenport, Iowa and surrounding communities. Much of the music reviewed comes from street musicians, reviewer family members and indie record labels. Although it was inspired by outlets like MTV and Rolling Stone, the website lacks the funds and quality to review real musicians, such as those found on those media and on mainstream radio. What the site reviews depends on the genre. Pitchfork reviews rock acts that readers would only know if they went to every show and listened to every street musician in Brooklyn, London and Stockholm, no matter how small, poorly attended or badly produced. The site reviews electronica and dance music that readers would only know about if they had a gay friend. And finally the site reviews hip hop artists that readers would only know about if they were remotely conscious of anything.
One day in 1987, in the foyer of the courthouse where Ryan Schreiber had just had a prefix added to his surname to obscure his membership in Justin Bieber's family, Schreiber passed a drunken fiddler playing Foghat's "Slowride," and famously wondered: "The Beatles get their music reviewed by semi-literate college drop-outs; why not this guy?" Schreiber had massive time on his hands as he had recently retired from the bakery division of the Delaware National Guard, and mere moments later, the idea struck him: a website on the nascent Internet in which strangers could compete at Texas Hold'em. After two brief prison stints for violating on-line gambling laws, Schreiber remembered that lonely, dirty fiddle player and asked himself again, "How can I help that dude make it big (and make enough dough for myself to afford a spoiler and flame-decals for my Chevette)?" The answer remained: a website.
For fifteen years, Schreiber took classes in HTML and through Herculean efforts, memorized such high-tech concepts as
<head>. He became a mastermind of the interweb and one of the few tens of thousands who really "got" HTML. Schreiber turned down lucrative offers from Microsoft and Linus Torvalds to develop their own HTML, and dedicated himself full-time to developing Pitchfork Media.
At last, on his eightieth birthday, donning a beard that hung to his knobby, trembling knees, Schreiber descended the staircase that led from the loft over his parents' garage. The crowd of reporters cheered. Pitchfork Media was complete. Now recording artists who've spent their lives perfecting that difficult late-70s, early-80s British sound would have a voice to call their own.
Reviews on the site seem to be written by three people:
- Schreiber himself, maintaining his tradition of reviewing the obscure work of non-charismatic white people.
- A 14-year-old boy from rural New Jersey who selects and rates hip hop artists. This young man, who replaced an unknown writer who popularized Saul Williams and Cannibal Ox, today meets the needs of countless site visistors who had not heard of such small acts as Kanye West or Li'l Wayne.
- A 15-year-old girl living near Atlanta, in charge of electronica and dance music. This girl, who researchers believe is named Madison, is too cool to keep listening to Now That's What I Call Music as she did until last year (and as her annoying 12-year-old sister still does). But she is confused and frightened by anything that doesn't have a familiar, danceable beat. Madison succeeds a reviewer who had found Pole and Arovane, but is now tasked merely with finding danceable versions of otherwise difficult music.
The rating scale
Pitchfork rates music numerically, on a scale of 0 through 10, using the following algorithm:
- Awful mainstream albums are rated from 6 to 7.
- Even worse indie albums are rated from 0 to 5.
- Mostly unknown but "promising" indie albums that sound mainstream are rated from 8 to 10.
While Schreiber takes female reviewers to be his wives until they reach his cut-off age of 19, and uses male reviewers as gardeners and pool-boys, the reviews themselves are notoriously aimless. Schreiber himself has honed the unique skill of determining the quality of a record album to billionths of a point, producing reviews much more accurate than Roger Ebert. Even Ebert, who originally rated all music as either Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down was perfecting, when death intervened, an "angled-thumb" approach, in which the rating could vary between zero and 180 degrees and even divide into minutes and seconds).
Traditionally, the reviewers have rated the albums on the distance from Portland, Oregon. Recently, however, reviewers have used several tactics to conceal their shameless myopia and to keep the readers wondering if they have even heard the album they're reviewing. (They have not.) These tactics include:
- Discussing the "funny," but unintentionally insightful, remark a roommate said when he overheard the reviewer playing the album.
- Translating a Spin review into Cyrillic, then Portuguese, then back to English again, to deflect charges of plagiarism.
- Picking an arbitrary six seconds of the recording, ridiculing it in about 400 words, then concluding, "Other than that, it is looking to be one of the best albums of the year."
- Opening the review with a long-winded story of the author having a fight with his Internet girlfriend.
- Belittling the album based on some imagined public pretense (e.g. "Looks like there's another New England post-dancehall record in our midst...")
- Making quick, pointless detours to insult the abilities or person of Conor Oberst.
- Discussing horse-porn until the reader grows too nervous to consider the reviewer's competence.
- Explaining how great and essential the Gang of Four were, while reviewing a female twee-pop band.
Reviewers understand that, despite enthusiastically promoting the band in order to look cool, the reviewer is free to lead a cruel backlash against the band at its first sign of commercial popularity.
Recent reviews have been all but prophetic:
- In 2009, Pitchfork officially named Animal Collective the new Radiohead.
- In 2010, Pitchfork officially named Kanye West the new David Bowie.
- In 2011, Pitchfork officially named Tyler The Creator the new Kanye West.