How to Write a Review for Pitchfork

1. Brainstorm: Good writing always starts by brainstorming. You need to figure out the Official Editorial Position Pitchfork will be taking on the artist being reviewed: are they an old favorite trying something new? Are they an old favorite that are not doing something new? Were they once-loved but now no one’s sure how to feel about them? Figure out how your audience should feel about the album ahead of time, as this will make it easier to review the album when you actually listen to it. Remember, millions of kids are reading the site everyday; they need to know who to think is cool and who to think is washed-up and who to never give a chance to at all (it might be worth pointing out that the Official Editorial Position should be neatly summed up in the album’s 0.0-10 “score,” making it easier for the semi-literate to quickly figure out how they should feel about the album).

2. Research: Okay, you can go ahead and listen to the album now that you know how to feel about it. While you’re killing time, troll the internet for any juicy or salacious info on the artist in question that might come in handy: is there a gimmick or an angle to the artist? Are they fat? Black? Brother-sister team? Crazy? People nowadays want more from their indie music than just good tunes. Figure it out (conversely, maybe the fact that the artist is “trad” indie–four-on-the-floor white guys–could be your angle. Just sayin’).

3. Outline: If you don’t outline your writing, you’ll end up with an amorphous blob of a review. You probably have less than 800 words, and you don’t want to waste them on peripheral and superfluous info, like a description of the music or the lyrics. If you need help developing your outline, refer to the steps below.

4. Introduction: Normally when one writes, it’s a good idea to introduce the subject with a thesis right away, so that the reader knows what’s going on. However, Pitchfork’s Editorial Staff clearly sees itself as continuing the tradition of the Lester Bangs school of music criticism; therefore, it’s a good idea to start off your review with a tedious personal anecdote or seemingly unnecessary condensation of the band’s history up until now. You can even wax pseudo-intellectual on some of that deconstruction shit you learned in college, especially if you’re reviewing superior music that no one can understand because it’s so superior and odd and seemingly unmusical to those who just don’t get it (noise music, f’r’instance). You need to contextualize the Official Editorial Position right away. This is where that research will come in handy. It’s also good to be cryptic and vague about your position on the actual music–that’s what the album’s score is for, after all.

5. Body: Again, normally when one writes, the body of the essay should contain specific evidence that supports the thesis proposed in the introduction. However, if you’ve written your introduction properly, you shouldn’t have a clear thesis and therefore you don’t have to worry about supporting it. This frees you up to riff on whatever you feel like–social trends that are bugging you, a movie you recently saw, girl trouble, politics–whatever. It’s important to come off as cool and hip and authoritative here. If you get around to it, you can talk about a song or two, and even some of the lyrics or music. Just be careful not to go overboard describing the way the music sounds (which shouldn’t be too difficult, because describing music in words is actually not so easy).

6. Conclusion: Is it even possible to write a real conclusion in this post-modern world? Challenge your readers by finally giving them a thesis of some kind. This will insure that they’ll have to go back through the review to figure out what you were trying to say (as if that Official Editorial Position album score wasn’t enough). Or, better yet, leave them hanging–give them a question to chew on, or a quote or something. That’s some deep shit, man.

7. Diction: Remember, you’re writing for a hip internet site and your vocabulary needs to reflect that. Whenever possible use verbs that “pop”–don’t worry about how inappropriate or unfitting they may seem, if they invoke a strange action, especially one that doesn’t seem to go with listening to music, go with it. Also, don’t waste your time describing the musicality of the album when Pitchfork has already created its own lexicon to help you. Using vague adjectives like “sun-kissed” and “art-damaged” will lend authenticity to your review and make your readers nod their heads knowingly.

8. Score: As I mentioned, Pitchfork reviews score the album on a 0.0-10 scale. Although no one really understands this sliding scale, it’s important to note that most people won’t really read your review: they’ll look at the score and skim it (hence the need for all that diction that “pops”). Still, it seems like any score below a 7.0 is not passing; 8.5 or higher is reserved for the cream of the crop. Special cases may call for a 0.0, like the review of the Flaming Lips’ album Zaireeka, an album that must be played on four CD players at once (of course this album warranted a 0.0; who could possibly take the time to find three friends with CD players, share the communal experience of quadrophonic sound the Lips intended–actually listen to the album–and write a review in time for a deadline? Not possible). Save 0.0s for Big Editorial Statements (I’m reminded of the “we don’t love you anymore” message sent to Sonic Youth after NYC Ghosts & Flowers). Similarly, really high scores should be reserved for Grand Artistic Statements by new bands that no one will care about next year.

9. Parting Thoughts: Remember, have fun with it, but not too much fun–after all you’re writing for the hippest music site there is, one that even has it’s own weekend festival dealie now. So just remain calm, cool, and collected–you have the weight of the Official Editorial Position behind you, so you’re allowed to let a nasty, hipper-than-thou attitude seep into your criticism. Finally, as was elaborated repeatedly above, whatever you do, don’t focus too much on the music at hand. Got it? Now you too can earn the fame, fortune, and crazy free sex that every aspiring Pitchfork writer deserves.

7 thoughts on “How to Write a Review for Pitchfork”

  1. No wonder I never made it to the big time. Being a naïf, concerned only with the music is apparently not the way to review an album…

    Great “deconstruction” of the Pitchfork review system. Now I’ll master it and revive my music journalism career.

    Do you think they’ll let me move to Williamsburg, BKLYN and get cool tattoos on my arms?

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  2. ah, that was a refreshing drink of truth. i must admit though, despite it making me hate myself, i still look at the scores. i don’t make any judgements based on them, as usually if i wanted to hear it, i’ve heard it before they post the score, but i do check to see how ridiculously low they will score some of the best albums of the year (i.e. Antelope and Basia Bulat) and try to build up bands that are really just decent at best.

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  3. that review of zaireeka is one of the worst reviews i’ve ever read. it did not warrant a zero. if you’re gonna review an album you have to at least LISTEN TO IT. that reviewer did not do his or her job. a cd is a bit experimental so the writer spends the whole time explaining how it’s too hard? soooo weak. plus if they had read the instructions they’d realize that the cds are meant to be listened to in combinations of 1 to 4 at a time, which would be much easier to explore. all the cds have some really interesting stuff and there are amazing possible combinations… that review is precisely the kind of thing that made me stop reading pitchfork years ago.

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  4. […] Bibliokept makes the same point with their article, also rooted in humor, titled “How to Write a Review for Pitchfork” According to Bibliokept, the editorial staff at Pitchfork are pompous, pretentious writers, deciding the score of a given album before actually listening to it; by doing so, they become unquestionable authorities in what is “cool” and “hip” music. This is all said in jest, but it elaborates on the qualities of Pitchfork reviews that make them an ethically appealing fixture in the Internet music world. (Check out the article here.) […]

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