On Pitchfork And “The People’s List”
Ah, The People’s List. An ad campaign for Converse sneakers as created by thousands of kids who read Pitchfork daily and treat it as gospel. 27,000 voices (88% male! mostly aged 21-25!) banded together to create a list of the top 200 albums of the last fifteen years. Also-known-as the fifteen years Pitchfork has been around trying to influence society’s taste in music. Sponsored by Converse.
That’s right. “The People’s List” — the overwhelmingly masculine-leaning, millennial-approved list of the best albums of the last decade and a half — dropped today. And it was largely decided upon by kids who were between the ages of five and ten years old when Pitchfork was launched in 1996. Because, really, who has a better grasp on the music of the last fifteen years than a bunch of kids who were five years old when the website launched. Other than Wikipedia and Pitchfork (or maybe an older sibling who introduced you to Pitchfork), I wonder what sources these voters most frequently use to learn about the music of their childhoods.
Shockingly, Pitchfork-approved albums dominate the top ten of “The People’s List”. There were no less than three Radiohead albums voted into the top ten (“Ok Computer” is #1, “Kid A” is #2, “In Rainbows” is #6). Nothing in the top ten received lower than a 9.1 on the patented Pitchfork 1-10 grading system. Pretty much, if you worked for Pitchfork during the past fifteen years you can give yourself a little pat on the back today. Finally your ability to decree what is cool and hip, and then have it spit right back at you by your audience, has been confirmed.
I think this experiment has taught us all a valuable lesson: Pitchfork readers enjoy albums that have received high ratings from Pitchfork’s reviewers. Also, if you’re an advertising company, why not just let a bunch of twenty-sometimes create an ad campaign for you while handing over valuable details about the stuff they enjoy, making will make targeting them through resulting advertising campaigns all the more easy!? Kudos, everyone involved!
Okay, so there are problems with this list. Weezer’s “Pinkerton” was released in 1996. To these eyes, right now, there are no female songwriters in the top fifty (Bjork at #51 almost squeaked in there). There’s barely any Hip-Hop on the list (not that it’s been that much fun to listen to during most of the past fifteen years). Sufjan Stevens is represented. That alone is enough to discredit the entire list, but I’ll bite my tongue and let that travesty stand. For now. Oh, and even though “OK Computer” is ranked #1, the year 1997 (which also saw the release of Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith, Spiritualized, Mogwai and Yo La Tengo albums ranked in the top 200) was nowhere near as good a year for music as 2007 or 2010, which seem to be tied in the minds of the people for “Best Years For Music”. I don’t know about you guys, but if this list is to be believed, music is hitting its creative peak RIGHT NOW.
And then there’s Tune Yards.
Do you want to know the Top Ten Albums of the Last 15 Years? Fine. I tell you what, I’ll even stick to pop records because that’s what Pitchfork writes about the most. Sorry guys, I don’t care how much I love Master Musicians of Bukkake, Boris, and White Hills, I’m handicapping this list by ignoring the stuff I love the most. Even though Lightning Bolt should be on the list (for “Wonderful Rainbows”). Even though Jackie-O Motherfucker’s “Fig. 5” was voted by Pitchfork as the 20th best album of the year 2000. Which didn’t do much in the way of earning it a spot on “The People’s List.” Also what happened to “The Three EPs” by the Beta Band? Wasn’t that voted like, the best album of 1998? Oh, right. Most of the people who voted on “The People’s List” were ten years old then. I doubt they devoured Pitchfork as fiendishly in those days.
Anyway, here’s my list. By the way, this is entirely off the top of my head. I’ve been trying to compile a list of my 500 favorite albums of all time, but I can’t find the file at the moment so I can’t re-sort it by year and show you (and myself!) exactly what it would be based on those rankings. Oh well. Correct me in the Comments section. I’m sure you will.
10. The Books – The Lemon Of Pink (2003) – Graded an 8.4/10 on the Pitchfork scale, “The Lemon Of Pink” ranked as the #2 best album of the year on the e-zine’s Year End list. Funny, it didn’t even crack the top 200 on “The People’s List,” even though that year’s #1 album (The Rapture “Echoes”) made it at #179 and #3 album (Sufjan’s stupid Michigan album) made it at #111. Oh well, I guess the people have spoken and the Books are NOT COOL.
9. Mclusky – Mclusky Do Dallas (2002) – Graded an 8.4/10 on the Pitchfork scale, “Mclusky Do Dallas” ranked as the #24 album of the year on the e-zine’s Year End list. Once again, the people did not seem willing to grant it a spot on their own (Converse sneakers approved!) list of the 200 best albums released between the years 1996 and 2011. Odd, because Sigur Ros’ “( )” (also known as the cavernous vagina album) ranked lower than “Do Dallas” but The People spoke and named it the 69th (heh!) album of the past fifteen years! Mclusky, you were robbed. To make matters worse, Beck’s “Sea Change” (#50 on the Best of 2002 list) somehow also got ranked #50 on the BEST OF THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS list by The People. Oh, Beck.
8. Clinic – Internal Wrangler (2000) – Graded a whopping 9.3/10 on the Pitchfork scale, this album — better than The Strokes “This Is It” (released a year later in ’01) — was not worthy of a Top 200 spot on “The People’s List.” Those people sure are stingy. If a 9.3 doesn’t guarantee you at least an honorable mention when counting down the most important albums of the past fifteen years…well…I guess you just don’t matter at all and you’re doomed to obscurity. When you consider that the year 2000 was one of the four Best Years For Music according to “The People’s List,” you would think that Clinic’s beautiful and stunning first full-length record might squeeze onto the list. But it’s not there. The people have spoken, and a Pitchfork-approved 9.3 grade from over a decade ago is obsolete. Clearly, “Internal Wrangler” just isn’t as good as I think it is.
7. Serena Maneesh – Serena Maneesh (2005) – Graded an 8.6 on the Pitchfork scale, this album was ranked the #29 album of the year on the e-zine’s Year End list. It was shunned by “The People.” “Go back to Norway and make something better than an 8.6!” the people screamed. Because The XX, a group I haven’t heard of until right now, put out an album that was awarded an 8.7 on the Pitchfork scale AND the #15 spot on the top 200 list that was voted on BY THE PEOPLE. Sorry, S-M, you’re just going to have to do better.
6. Unwound – Leaves Turn Inside You (2001) – Graded a near-perfect 9.0/10 (so close yet so far away!) on the Pitchfork scale, this album was ranked the #4 album of 2001 on the e-zine’s Year End list! Unfortunately, being number four ten years ago doesn’t make you jack shit today. So say the people. Meanwhile, Radiohead’s “Amnesiac” — which Pitchfork called the 6th best record of 2001 — has aged much better in the eyes of the people. And, just like fine wines, the people love their music that ages well. Because Amnesiac doesn’t at all sound dated when you listen to it today. What it does sound like is a bunch songs that weren’t good enough to make “Kid A”, which isn’t surprising seeing as how the two records were recorded simultaneously. Alas, “Amnesiac” is apparently the 20th best record of the last fifteen years, and “Leaves Turn Inside You” hasn’t aged well, so, you know, the people think that’s not okay.
5. Blur – 13 (1999) – Graded a 9.5/10 on the Pitchfork scale, this album was ranked the 10th best album of the year on the e-zine’s Year End list. And, lo-and-behold, the people deigned to vote it the 110th best album of the last fifteen years. It made the list! I mean, it’s not nearly as good as that Dismemberment Plan record (speaking of records that have aged well, when was the last time YOU listened to “Emergency And I”?) or Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” (because nothing beats an amazing Blur record quite like a woman playing the harp poorly and singing like a goat). But it made the list. Cool. I’ve written at great length in the past about how important this record was to me at the time of its release, and how it helped me through tough times in high school. I don’t need to dredge all that up again. It’s brilliant. The people might agree.
4. Calexico – Feast Of Wire (2003) – Graded an 8.9/10 on the Pitchfork scale, this album was not ranked on the best albums of the year list that the e-zine produces annually. Oh well. I guess it couldn’t compete with all the other brilliant, timeless records of its day, like Mu’s “Afro Finger & Gel” (ranked the 13th best record of 2003, its review has mysteriously been expunged from Pitchfork) and Manitoba’s “Up In Flames” (8.5 out of 10, #5 best record of 2003!). Oh well. It’s not like Calexico has faded into obscurity during the past decade. They keep putting out solid records. They just can’t keep up with the miraculous ascension of the Mu’s and the Manitoba’s of the world, whose successive albums are greeted by salivating fans with almost a Radiohead-ish level of fervency. Yeah, sorry Calexico. Sometimes making an astounding record just isn’t good enough to get you noticed by the people.
3. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000) – Graded an 8.5/10 on the Pitchfork scale TWICE (once upon its release in 2000, and again when it was reissued in 2011), Grandaddy’s grandiose second studio album (seriously, how fucking amazing it this record!) was voted the 6th best album of the year on Pitchfork’s Year End list. And, even though people were so in love with it for a decade that it was recently reissued, THE people did not see fit to call it one of the top 100 albums of the last 15 years. It slid into the list at #160, in between Fever Ray and D’Angelo. RIGHT WHERE IT BELONGS. That’s what I always say when I pull out “The Sophtware Slump” to listen to it. Which I do all the time. Probably once every two weeks. I say, “You’re a pretty good record, but don’t get a big head — you’re not FEVER RAY good.”
2. Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air (2002) – Graded a pathetic 7.8/10 on the Pitchfork scale, this album was not ranked on the website’s Top 50 records of 2002 list. Which, I mean, I get it…Nina is a GIRL after all. How could she compete against the stunning songwriting of Mr. Lif (#30), Ekkehard Ehlers (Wait, who? #23), Fire Show (#22) or the 47 other artists whose albums that year were both crafted and recorded better. Because it’s not like the songs on “The Blackened Air” aren’t some of the best written, recorded and performed by any artist in the past fifteen years. Find me any songwriter who has put out a more beautiful record than this and I’ll buy you coke this weekend.
1. Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (1997) – Originally graded a “meh” 7.6/10 by Pitchfork (and later amended to a perfect 10.0 — isn’t revisionist history a beautiful thing?!), Spiritualized managed to crack “The People’s List” as the 49th best record of the past fifteen years. Not nearly as good as Radiohead’s “Hail To The Thief” (remember that one!?) or The Avalanches, or The Shins (apparently that record changed enough lives to see them included), or Phoenix, or Outkast, or BEACH HOUSE!? Are you fucking kidding me? That terrible fucking excuse for a Stereolab rip-off band got ranked the 32nd greatest album of the last 15 years? BY THE PEOPLE? Ugh. My faith in humanity has been completely lost. Sorry guys. Beach House. Better than a perfect (revisionist!) 10. Fuck you.
Vashti Bunyan – Don’t Believe What They Say [MP3]
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