Friday, September 10, 2010

Deleted Pitchork Reviews

Pitchfork Media is an online music magazine that focuses primarily on indie rock and all things "hip." I guess by the sarcasm in that first sentence you can see that I'm not especially a fan of theirs. Most of my gripes mirror the general sentiment against them — i.e. too self-referential, too self-obsessed, not really judging the music by the music, taking themselves to heart as "tastemakers" and generally abusing the title and making a mockery out of the notion of being a "music journalist."

However, all of those things and the arguments to support them are subjective.

To truly illustrate why I don't think they're a reputable and respectable outlet for music criticism, we need to look at what's not in their archives.

Yes, there have been some documented instances of this, but let's really dig for a minute.

The most obvious examples are the two deleted John Coltrane reviews for Live at the Village Vanguard and Living Space. The Living Space review says all it needs within the very first sentence: "Impulse Records has been very good to old jazz albums." And then, the Village Vanguard review is just over-the-top silly enough to successfully fuel the "Is Pitchfork racist?" argument on its own. Besides fully articulating a perfect case of Pitchfork overstepping its bounds into music they clearly don't know dick about, it's reviews like that that also perpetuate the stereotype of jazz fans as snobs. It's almost as if Ryan Shreiber has moved so far past the point of parody, past the point of irony, past any sort of logical motivation in reviewing these albums that, unwillingly, he has himself become the thing he's presumably making fun of (and why is he making fun? — also deserving of an answer).

But those reviews are of jazz; a genre that most people would probably agree Pitchfork has no business discussing in the first place. Disastrous reviews like this are not embarrassments. Some may argue that they're an outright expectation when Pitchfork tackles such subjects.

But what about when Pitchfork goofs when reviewing something that's supposed be from their base? Something that they have portrayed themselves to be the authority of?

Save Ferris arguably falls under this umbrella because it's at least rock music, but we need concrete proof, don't we?

Something on an indie label. Something not widely known, but still likable. Something that was arguably spiraling out of "critically acclaimed" control at the time.

Well, here's one: a score of 0.8 for Belle and Sebastian's masterpiece album The Boy With the Arab Strap.

The review is dated as being from October of 1998, so that would've been right around the time Rolling Stone gave the album a fairly good review (coincidentally, Rolling Stone has deleted the review from their website archives, too; but anybody with an old print copy can confirm). So, if something is being co-signed by Rolling Stone, it has officially become uncool, indie label or no. It has officially become too popular to like at that point, right?

This is the only logic I can follow here, as the album is now a clearly acknowledged band classic and darn fine affair in general. Pitchfork's criticism is that the band has lowered themselves to self-parody on the album.

(which is silly to most B&S fans, as it's pretty much the band doing that one thing that they do best for 45 minutes straight; arguably creating their most consistent album — more a case of creative fertility, if you ask me)

Of course, I pick on this particular review because I don't especially like that they gave it a poor review. After all, they've also done away with their review of the Tigermilk reissue — which gives a positive score, amongst some sort of impenetrable 'concept' review that the site has become infamous for. But the point here is: the Arab Strap review was completely off base and unmerited. They must have known this. Why isn't it still on the proper site?

I suspect this was deemed an acceptable review after the band released a couple of so-so albums. But in recent years, after Dear Catastrophe and the Life Pursuit (a pair of unarguably strong albums — even according to Pitchfork, earning respective scores of 7.5 and 8.5), I suppose they thought that one of the lowest ratings they've ever given was too harsh for one of the band's best albums (if not their flat out best).

And furthermore, it's one of the albums that established the foundation of the sound and style that many of Pitchfork's most loved bands built upon.

(food for thought: just imagine if the album had been released on the Elephant 6 label. . .)

The fact that it's not there anymore leads me to believe the review was removed because they knew it was a great record all along. What other conclusions am I to arrive at?

If this is what it's come to, we can all just revise history whenever we please and shape scenes and opinions in retrospect, according to contemporary thoughts.

But is that really ok?


PS — I know there's more. Please leave links to other now-deleted reviews in the comments, if you feel so compelled.


Travis said...

nice piece. i've noticed the archive scrubbing this year as well; i'll leave a couple links to deleted reviews of albums by the roots and rakim in the forum. pitchfork must be the most childish reviewers and editor in music ever. -howisya

Kakapo said...

i hate p4k much as the next chump but...

p4k today is an super devilish entity that now controls music/history

p4k 15 years ago was a bastion of hip before hip was eviscerated by social/mass media yadda blahblah. they had a different audience

they gave belle and sebastian 0.8 to be satirical. old reviews are scrubbed because wistful 90s satire has been lost on the newer generations. if it was a bad album it would get a 1-6 rating or whatever

music journalism has always been a farce. p4k knew that, especially in the 90s. while we're at it, all journalism is a joke

best regards

lootbrute said...

I distinctly remember being in 10th Grade in 2006 and seeing a review for Bloc Party's debut that totally trashed it and called it crap, which when trying to prove it to my friend years later was found to be replaced by a very kind review that says its rad…whack.

Jack Brophy said...

This is not a deletion but when bright eyes' awesome album, 'fevers and mirrors' dropped in 2000, pitchfork tore conor oberst apart, essentially calling him self indulgent, whiney, and childish. The score was in the 5 range. About a decade later, after an obvious cult following devoted to the record had long since emerged, the reissue was given a score in the 9 range. Now this could be seen as pitchfork making ammends for tarnishing a great album, but could also be seen as pitchfork jumping on board with the history that they couldn't fully control (the emergence of a cult following for an album that pitchfork had deemed unworthy), and in effect keeping an illusion of credability as an authority.