Pitchwhores Redux: In Defense of Pitchfork

Aug 24, 2012 by

The Pitchfork Peoples List came out on Wednesday eliciting reactions ranging from excitement, to outrage to … meh.  As with any list, the complaints are wide ranging (too much Radiohead, not enough women voting, NMH is overrated, not enough female bands represented, one age group has worst music taste than another, etc etc).  All of this is fairly routine.   I was a little surprised by some of the outrage leveled at Pitchfork, as if they were the ones who compiled the list (as it states repeatedly on the site, this was the “Peoples List”, as in any person who wanted to vote could, not a list created by the staff).  Honestly, as little as I care about Pitchfork the institution, I can’t think of any reason to do anything other than applaud them for their efforts.  Almost 28k ballots were received over the course of a full year, making this the biggest and most extensive album polling I’ve ever seen.  The transparency into the demographics and statistics is downright awesome and worth a few minutes (hours) of time for any stathead of any persuasion.

One of my favorite criticisms came from Jim Fusilli, the music critic for the Wall St. Journal.  We here in the Old 67 Music department are quite intrigued by Fusilli.  To look at him on the surface, you’d see a typical WSJ curmudgeon.  He looks like he should be chain smoking while wearing a fedora and typing madly on an old school manual typewriter, all the while yelling at his interns to get him another drink while some generic 70s music plays in the back ground.   That’s what you get for judging a book by its cover Alan; Fusilli has progressive taste and thoughts about music even if he does work for the man.  We tweeted the list to him for his opinion and received this:

@Old_67 RT @Al James (of Dolorean) Most pointless poll of all-time. Virtually every album on list hyped by Pitchfork http://www.pitchfork.com/peopleslist/

OK, I’ll give him that, they are all in fact albums that have been praised by Pitchfork, but… this is a pitchfork list, I’m not sure why anyone would think it would be any different.  Pitchfork didn’t claim to be searching for the all-inclusive list of best albums of all time; they asked the readers of their site to name their favorite albums from the 15 years of Pitchfork’s existence, beyond that there isn’t much meaning, and nothing that wasn’t promised.

You’re still our favorite curmudgeon Jim, keep up the good work!

When it comes to music, rankings are stupid, plain and simple.  Different music grabs different people, one man’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is another man’s Oops, I Did It Again.  Music can be judged and graded so many ways, and let’s be honest, with the volume of music produced today, anyone voting in any poll – be they regular person, music critic or an international web sensation like myself – is unlikely to have listened to anything other than the tiniest percentage of what’s been created.  I’m sure I’ll find an album 10 years from now released in 2004 I’ve never heard of but instantly love.  Yes, Radiohead got three of the top 10 spots, clearly Pitchfork readers like Radiohead; get over it.

You’ll notice Old 67 doesn’t rate albums.  We write about music we love and why we love it.  We let folks like Pitchfork, NME, Rolling Stone and Spin take care of all the petty squabbling over who is best and the next great thing – it’s really just masturbation disguised as critique when it comes down to it.  We get that, and because of that, we’re willing to write 2000 words about a band or show that we love. If you’re going to jerk off, make it epic.  Hmm, I think I just found our new tag line…

If you take the rankings out, it’s hard not to see 200 pretty fucking good albums on that list.  I like some of them more than others and some of them not that much, but if you pick 10 albums off the list at random and give them to a friend, they’re bound to think a few of them are worth putting into the rotation.  Sounds like a pretty good list to me.

I alluded to the stats available earlier, I encourage anyone interested in this kind of thing to go check them out; it’s a ton of fun.  Some of the highlights:

Gender Breakdown – 88% Male, 12% Female.  This along with a small amount of females represented in the albums.  Even Pitchfork griped about this one.  I tend to think Pitchfork reports on everything “indie” regardless of gender so on one hand I was surprised, on the other hand, boys tend to identify and define themselves with music more than girls do – i.e they have lives, we don’t.  One commenter on Facebook had a long ramble about women listening to the opinions of good friends and family while boys needed to be told what to like by so called experts – strange coming from someone who follows Pitchfork on Facebook, but she might have a point.  My wife is much more likely to take musical advice from someone she knows as opposed to the advice of someone in a magazine or online.  So based on my study of two women, I’m going to say Facebook lady is right and boys are dumb.

City Breakdown – More of the 200 albums (31 of them) came from Brooklyn than anywhere else.  That’s a whole lot of horn rimmed glasses and bangs if you ask me.

Age – Pitchfork doesn’t give exact numbers, but regardless of all the ageism bitching on Facebook (too many kids are voting, this doesn’t represent the age of my friends, kids are stupid!) 21 – 40 were the most represented in the survey, with 21-25 leading the charge.  That’s exactly the age group you would expect to be represented for this type of music.

OK Computer was number 1 one with every single age group EXCEPT the 16 – 20 year olds who chose…In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.  At first I was shocked that such an old album would be so represented in such a young group, but it’s a small sample size and I did write this post, so ultimately it wasn’t that shocking at all.

Major Label (44%) Vs. Indie Label (56%) – Perhaps the longest lasting influence of the 90s.  What was once thought the stomping ground of indie labels is now routinely transferred to majors within one or two albums.  I’m not bitching about it, I think musicians should make money, major labels have it; this is easy math.  Some folks sell their souls (Kings of Leon) others negotiate to retain creative control (Built to Spill), it’s their choice not ours, quit holding it against them.

Old 67 Stats – Our contest was between Wes Money, Matt Ankerson and me to determine who could best pick 50 albums Pitchfork readers would rank in the top 200.  The results…

  • Most Albums Picked – Matt Ankerson with 46 of his 50 albums being found in the top 200.  I was next with 43, Wes was last with 42.
  • Most Albums in the top 50 – I won that one with 27, Matt and Wes tied for second with 26.
  • Most albums readers should have picked but didn’t – Wes won that category.  This was determined using a secret proprietary algorithm created by Wes himself.  The man is a genius.

Whether you care for the music or not, the process was fun and Pitchfork deserves some accolades for engaging their readers with such an ambitious project.

If you have any opinions about the poll, the list itself or anything else related to Pitchfork, let us know!


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