I’ve been thinking about the Pitchfork Music Festival, for which my wife and I are securing travel plans. (Hooray, Chicago!)
So far, the lineup is really solid, with Spoon, the National, the Mountain Goats, Band of Horses, Aesop Rock and Tapes ‘n Tapes among the highlights (at least for me) so far. But it got me thinking: How did Pitchfork select its lineup (which still is not officially filled out)? More specifically: What bands would agree to play at a festival organized by a music publication notorious for its acerbic, snobby and sometimes ridiculously vicious (did I get them all?) album reviews?
In an attempt to answer my own question, I delved into some admittedly surface research. I went to Pitchfork’s site and used its search engine set to “Reviews” and plugged in each band and recorded the rating given to each album. I didn’t bother looking at the authors of said reviews, although that certainly could be a tell of certain consistencies across an artist’s catalog. So, keep in mind here the, ahem, science is a bit crude.
The results are somewhat revealing, if not totally expected: Of 60 albums reviewed from 13 artists (not including Hot Machines, for which there were no reviews) booked so far for the festival, the average rating is 7.64 (458.6 total divided by 60 reviews).
The highest-rated artist with more than one album (Band of Horses drew an 8.8, and well-deserved, I might add) is Silver Jews at 8.76. The lowest-rated artist is Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at 6.92; a 4.0 on Tej Leo (?), Rx/Pharmacists was a killer.
The highest-rated invdividual album (full-length) was the Silver Jews’ American Water, which scored a 9.9 (ooooh-so close to that iconic 10.0). The lowest-rated full-length was the aforementioned Tej Leo. (Although, Mission of Burma’s Accomplished best-of collection got a shabby 1.9, which was more a product of the reviewer’s distaste for Ryko’s packaging and not so much the group itself.)
So, what does this all say, other than that I struggle to use my time wisely? Well, you could argue (as I would) that a conflict of interest exists. A publication that (supposedly) objectively critiques the work of musicians has no business putting on a festival with those same musicians. It implies (perhaps on a subconscious level) a quid pro quo is in place.
Because I work in the media as a sports copy editor at a major newspaper, I think of the old sportswriting adage: “No cheering in the press box.” In other words, writers must, above all else, remain objective in their coverage of a team. Same goes for music.
However, the obvious needs to be stated here: If the Pitchfork honchos are going to organize a festival, they’re not going to invite musicians or bands they don’t like. But think about it. Do bands who have been reviewed favorably feel an obligation to return the goodwill and agree to play the festival? On the flip side, will Pitchfork be swayed in future reviews to look kindly upon artists who performed – not to mention helped raise money and awareness for the site in the process?
I think it’s an interesting topic to explore and should be examined as more bands are announced. I may be oversimplifying the whole thing. But I’m confident in one thing: Travis Morrison will not be invited.