Do Music Reviews Really Matter?
Pitchfork: A long-handled fork with two or three long curved prongs for lifting, turning, skewering, or tossing.
Pitchfork.com: A popular indie website that tells indie kids what is indie and what is not. Considering the massive popularity of Pitchfork.com, the entire indie aesthetic seems rather counter-productive. Regardless, there is a certain stylistic charm to Pitchfork, and their popularity makes them powerful.
This is the path that indie-pop artist Ariel Pink, has wandered down. Ariel Pink is Ariel Rosenburg. He has been recording since 1996, recording songs on cassette, but only formally released music as early as 2002. With approximately six albums to his name, all modestly well received albeit rather unknown and underground, it seemed only a matter of time until Ariel Pink gathered enough steam for a full-on burst in popularity.
The arbiter of his rise was undoubtedly Pitchfork. Pitchfork, in many ways, can mold and facilitate the independent musical movement. “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!” was part of Pitchfork’s interesting power. According to band member Lee Sargent, “The thing about a publication like Pitchfork is that they can decide when that happens. You know what I mean? They can say, ‘We’re going to speed up the process and this is going to happen…now!’ And it was a kick in the pants for us, because we lost control of everything.” Pitchfork holds so much power and influence;,
they can almost single-handedly make or break an upcoming band. I can form a long list of bands who found a massive splurge in success largely because of Pitchfork, and an equally long list of those who fell to the unfortunate arms of a Pitchfork poor review. Arcade Fire is the greatest example of Pitchfork’s praise. When they reviewed Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, in 2004, the score was a 9.4. Afterwards, the sales of ‘Funeral’ grew exponentially. Through the years, Arcade Fire has garnered quite an endorsement from Pitchfork, and they themselves cite them as a main force in their early success.
Other bands gathered terrible reviews from Pitchfork. The rock group The Airborne Toxic Event earned a nice steamy 1.6 score from Pitchfork for their debut self-titled album. Concurrently, the band has achieved much criticism, and one can make the claim that Pitchfork single-handedly halted their career.
All of this leads into who exactly Ariel Pink is? Ariel Pink released a string of albums that received no record breaking sales, no re-releases or reprints, and no notoriety.
Yet, Ariel Pink went on to redefine himself. In doing so, he gathered a band, and recorded “Before Today” in 2009 for release in 2010. The album was the first under the moniker ‘Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.’
Now was “Before Today” the best thing ever released by Ariel Pink? Maybe. Was it ground-breaking? Not particularly. But what happened was Pitchfork got their hands on the album and reviewed it with a 9/10. Sure, it wasn’t their first review for the artist/band, but their nod of approval ushered in a wave of support of Ariel Pink. With an inclusion at the Pitchfork Music Festival, a best new music label, and a string of articles supporting the band, Pitchfork inevitably forced the approval of Ariel Pink to those who followed Pitchfork.
Their ability to harness indie credibility has made them a force to be reckoned with. Artists have grovelled and suffered under a poor review by Pitchfork. Without Pitchfork’s absolute approval, bands find it much harder to establish a name for themselves. Especially considering the value music fans place on what indie is and what is not. The discussion has been largely beaten to the ground, but let’s say this- Pitchfork approve indie. They represent what indie means in music, and when Pitchfork does not approve, their legion of followers do not.
Ignoring the music, Ariel Pink “blew up.” Pitchfork helped make them a name just as much as the group’s string of records through the last decade.
Ariel Pink is not a bad group. As a matter of fact, their upcoming LP “Mature Themes” seems to be collecting quite a bit of buzz. But with so much emphasis placed on independent credibility, we see artists fall or flounder under the god-like hand of an online magazine that tells fans what is good and what is not, overriding the very subjectivity of musical trends, sounds, and aesthetics.