Do you care about music? Probably. Do you use the internet? Yes. If so, you probably loathe Pitchfork, perhaps the most arrogant collection of HTML ever assembled. And yet it's our most powerful critical voice—and changed music forever.
Apparently, Pitchfork turns 15 years old this week. I had no idea it's been going since 1996. Had the necessary patents to make someone feel bad about themselves through a computer even been invented then? It seems impossible. And yet:
In the late summer of 1996, when Pitchfork launched as a daily music review site, the web itself had just turned five, and the tools that now power our daily online lives— search engines, social networks, and mp3s— were either embryonic or years away from invention. In its infancy, the web essentially served one purpose: to provide its users with a platform to self-publish material that could be accessed by anyone with a connection. It's easy to take that ability for granted today, but to a kid from Minnesota who had dreamed for years of one day starting his own music publication, it was revolutionary.
So here we are, in 2011. Music is either free or pirated with ease, nobody sells any records, the major labels were all kicked in the dick, and our phones can hold most of the music we'll ever need to listen to, ever. So who needs criticism? Hasn't Twitter and all that stuff democratized everything? No. Pitchfork reigns as music's preeminent voice. How? By trolling everyone. Constantly.
Calling Pitchfork pretentious is lazy. They're brilliant. They've innovated ornate prose, combining Shakespeare, Milton, and a bucket full of diamonds and pearls into a single critical style. They write things like:
There's something intuitively dead-on about the German duo's exquisite production, the way their sinuous melodies and weedy synth riffs slide like plasma over the surface of their thick grooves, as if all recent German house and techno had been distilled into a single, charming sonic signature.
They've written thusly regarding an R. Kelly album:
But while the album contains enough "Did ya hear that?!" couplets to keep even the worst Technorati slut stocked with catchphrases for weeks, such one-off bits and scenes lack the repeatability of more traditional pop smashes. Luckily, Kells provides a couple of those, too; "I'm a Flirt" (Remix) and "Hook It Up" are relatively light on guffaws, but they're both equipped with warm, forever-bounce beats that defy gimmicky plot twists, age, dubious morality, and shameless fuckaphores.
It doesn't matter. Pitchfork dazzles you with opinion—you've overwhelmed by sheer purported authority. Pitchfork is the Large Hadron Collider of music—you can't comprehend its scope or use. Maybe it's not even that useful. But it bowls the internet over, and has its attention whenever a new album drops.
Its reviews are Apple keynotes. What will they review the new Kanye album? Oh, that's right, a motherfucking perfect 10.0. What's the greatest song of the past decade? The very-good-but-not-greatest-song-of-ten-years Bombs Over Baghdad. By deliberately enraging music geeks, Pitchfork's established itself as the king of them all. Nothing holds the thrall of an online community like rage and resentment. People read Pitchfork not just because it's masterfully written, but because it can be absolutely unbearable. And we love that. Net readers are masochists. It's why we bicker over video game reviews, type in all caps about bad photoshops, and roll our eyes when someone bleats about an Android. It's the same psychological effect.
The Machiavellian website. Instill fear in your readers. Terrorize them with opinion. Tap into the psyche of the internet. Over the past decade and a half, they did this—and won the musical web. So for both driving us insane and driving online music, we wish you a very happy birthday, Pitchfork. But an 8.5 on Watch the Throne? Come on. [Pitchfork]