Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pitchfork's #1 Albums From 2000-2008, A Case Study

The impact of Pitchfork's opinion is amazing. There will always be a top dog when it comes to independent music criticism, but with that place of influence and power comes great responsibility. MFR can say that Frightened Rabbit is our favorite record of the year in hopes of supporting the artist we love from 2008 as best we can: by giving them mad props and a slight tip from the brim of our collective pork-pie hat.

But P4K can seriously launch a band from obscurity to a household name, we've all seen it. When Fleet Foxes landed on top of the pile this year, it sealed their fate for the next five to ten years (hopefully more) as an artist who will never escape a conversation about the who's-who in indie music. Looking ahead, I see the Foxes landing major-label backing (if they haven't already) and hitting a level of fame synonymous with the likes of Interpol and Arcade Fire. This is an amazing achievement considering we're talking about a band who 18-months ago was just a small band of good-looking duders.

Beyond that, I wanted to explore whether or not this P4K influence has always been felt. Granted, 12 Rods -- who may be P4K's favorite band -- are not huge, but they never made it on top of the almighty year-end list. Looking back, since 2000, I'd say that P4K is batting a five for nine in terms of choosing the band that deserves the top and will remain there. The four I question are the Microphones, The Rapture, Sufjan Stevens, the Knife; I do not believe that they didn't deserve it (I own and love all of these records), but none of these four are currently seeing the amazing success that Radiohead, Interpol, Arcade Fire, Panda Bear (success seen also in Animal Collective) and Fleet Foxes are experiencing. Therefore, the question I ask is this: why are five of these nine bands seemingly winning?

Is it the decisions that were made after finding themselves on top of the list in regards to management and musical direction that sets them apart, or is it simply because P4K picked a band that was the expected or unexpected indie pick?

Let's talk about this a bit more, but here are the #1 picks from Pitchfork's Top Album Lists of the last eight years.

2000: Radiohead - "Kid A"

*MP3: Radiohead - "Kid A" (Link Removed)

2001: Microphones - "The Glow, Pt. 2"

*MP3: The Microphones - "The Glow, Pt. 2"

2002: Interpol - "Turn On the Bright Lights"

*MP3: Interpol - "Obstacle 1"

2003: The Rapture - "Echoes"

*MP3: The Rapture - "Echoes"

2004: Arcade Fire - "Funeral"

*MP3: Arcade Fire - "Neighborhood #1" (Tunnels)

2005: Sufjan Stevens - "Illinoise"

*MP3: Sufjan Stevens - "Year of the Boar"

2006: The Knife - "Silent Shout"

*MP3: The Knife - "One Hit"

2007: Panda Bear - "Person Pitch"

*MP3: Panda Bear - "Take Pills"

2008: Fleet Foxes - "Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes"

*MP3: Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal"

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Anonymous Jeff said...

It's interesting to look at all of these lined up. Radiohead were well established long before Pitchfork chose KID A as their #1 of 2000, but subsequent toppers have been less prominent prior to earning their praise. Panda Bear, The Knife and Sufjan all had prior albums, but you could say these pushed them further into the limelight.

I think what's more interesting is how these albums have held up. You don't hear all that much about The Rapture these days, for instance.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that it's all white musicians - was Frere-Jones right?

2:31 PM  
Blogger Zac said...

You're the first person on a music blog I've seen reference Sasha Fere-Jones, and I feel inclined to post, although it's not related to the Pitchfork thing, which I don't find relevant or compelling. I'm posting because I have a pretty strong opinion about Frere-Jones' view of race in "indie" music. My girlfriend showed me a New Yorker podcast in which Sasha Frere-Jones made the assertion that "indie" music has gotten "whiter" and more segregated since the early nineties. I found this to be preposterous! He played a Sonic Youth clip and a Public Enemy clip back to back trying to claim that they had the same "energy"--he used no actual musical terminology whatsoever; the two clips SOUND nothing alike. As a musician, I am constantly put-off by critics' refusal or inability to actually discuss sounds; rather they say things like "the guitar is dreamy" or "the song is sad" instead of "the guitar has a lot of delay and phaser" or "the vocals are sung softly in a minor key". I'm getting called to do something herre at work so I better go but I'd like to refer you to the philosophy of experimental jazz master Anthony Braxton, who draws equally from Sun Ra and Stockhausen, and makes the assertion that the distinction between "african american music" and "white american music" is arbitrary and necessarily polarizing. It is always a synthesis--for example Chuck Berry cites Pat Boone as a prime influence, and the banjo is originally invented by black americans. I could go on and on but Frere-Jones needs to clear his head of the nonsensical theory that soundwaves belong to this or that ethnicity. Besides all this philosophical stuff, Frere-Jones is also just wrong in a simple, look at the charts kind of way-- M.I.A., Santogold, TV on the Radio, Black Kids, the list goes on. Frere-Jones is an outdated foagie and isn't qualified to talk or write about music.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Ian said...

In response to Jeff:

I agree, what the heck has happened to the Rapture. Their latest record seems to have bombed? I thought their EP prior to Echoes was amazing, but the indie-dance craze rise and fall might have killed whatever momentum was building.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Faith said...

Im quite sure the reason The Kife hasnt really grown is because of the fact that Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer are somewhat opposed to media attention. Im sure if they played concerts that might also contribute to their growth...

3:19 PM  
Blogger jon jon said...

wow,not too bad,I expected to fo on a rant, but I'm not mad at the list, except the incredibly off...
2001: Microphones - "The Glow, Pt. 2"
2006: The Knife - "Silent Shout"
2008: Fleet Foxes - "Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes"

12 Rods -- who may be P4K's favorite band, P4k's fav? really, I think thats was before they were the "new model" trendsetting champs...


3:49 PM  
Anonymous Shadrach said...

Well. I'm not going to say that this isn't an interesting post, but I think you are giving way too much credit to Pitchfork. Pitchfork wasn't the only ones saying those albums were the best of the year. And the artist's popularity rise afterwards is more a result of recording a great album, rather than some entity saying it's a great album. Of course I'm not negating Pitchfork's influence entirely, I just think no one can say it holds absolute sway in terms of what becomes popular and what doesn't. There are artists that Pitchfork has never once mentioned by name that have grown from obscurity to popularity.

Also, I think Sufjan is a lot more popular than you might believe. It's not apparent because he doesn't have a marketable product on the streets right now (tour, album). But I think his popularity can be seen in the rise of interest in the artists on his Asthmatic Kitty label. Especially things like last years Welcome Wagon album, that completely sold out and made the cover of music mags, simply because Sufjan produced it. And I hope you knowingly posted a Sufjan song that wasn't even on Illinois.

1:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Glow Pt. 2 is one of my my favorite albums of all time. I thought that was right on the money for the year. It just happened to be more of a niche thing they were promoting, like I thought Panda Bear was. I definitely don't believe as many people would have given that album attention if it hadn't been for the pitchfork push, which I guess is the exact point of this article.
Mount Eerie was also a brilliant and absolutely unique album, but I've always believed he should have dropped off into obscurity after the Glow Pt. 2, like Jeff Mangum after In the Aeroplane...

1:50 AM  

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