Journalist-LiveWe're the editors of Pitchfork. We just finished ranking the best albums and songs of 2016. Ask us anything!
Dec 13th 2016 by PitchforkStaff • 28 Questions • 303 Points
Seems like a lot of people think "Nights" was the best Frank Ocean song. Pitchfork was really riding for "Ivy." Wanna know why? Ask us anything about our best songs and albums of 2016 lists. From Kanye to Beyoncé to Mitski to Lil Peep to Anohni to Angel Olsen, this was an insane year for music. What did we get right? What did we get horribly wrong? Troll us, compliment us, challenge us. Ask us—executive editor Mark Richardson and managing editor Matthew Schnipper —anything. We don't promise to answer all your questions, but we do promise to judge them with a score. This intro gets a 6.7.
HEY ALL - This was super fun and we could be on here all day. Thanks for all the great questions, honored to do this, and thanks for reading Pitchfork, until next time!
Over the past 5 years or so your site has drifted away from being almost wholly devoted to indie rock to now cover everything from classical to pop. Some days 3 or 4 reviews might be on hip hop albums with just one on what might be considered to be within the "indie rock" genre. I'm wondering if you could shed some light on how this shift came about. Was it in response to your readers or was it a way to draw your readers to other genres? Around when did the decision to broaden the scope of the site come about?
If you look back at the site 5 or even 10 years ago, there was a lot of pop and rap being covered and that stuff was well represented in year-end lists, but if there has been a shift, I'd say it happens for a couple reasons: 1) our younger writers don't see divisions between "indie" and "mainstream" in the same way people once did, they experience music on a more even plane; 2) there's a lot of great, creative music happening in the more mainstream sphere that deserves to be covered. We still cover a ton of indie rock, and I don't think that'll change. But like, check out our top 3 songs of 2003: OutKast, Jay Z/Beyonce, Justin Timberlake - MARK
I def. should have worn my Wizard's Cap t-shirt to work today. -MARK
Would you rather fight a hundred 6.2-sized 9.3s or one 9.3-sized 6.2?
One 9.3-sized 6.2, no question
How are you able to objectively compare and rank albums and songs that are entirely different? Example: Pinegrove's Cardinal versus something like Lemonade. It's an interesting dynamic because obviously Pinegrove is about as indie as it gets as far as production, writing, etc., while Beyonce has the funds and means necessary (that she has definitely earned) in order to produce something as extravagant as Lemonade. I just think it's interesting comparing the two objectively, and I'm glad I don't have to do it.
We consider all types of factors when reviewing and scoring a record. Does it do something new? How does it compare to similar music? Does it seem like something we’ll love for years to come? What meaning does it have to its listeners, both musical and otherwise? The more a record can resonate across borders, the more likely we are to take a shine to it.
Hey Mark & Matt - I'd love to hear some insight on breaking into the music writing world without a journalism degree. As a Marketing grad working for a major corporation I don't have the resume to back it up, but virtually all my time is consumed w/ absorbing as much music and essential music writing/history as possible. My pedigree extends as far as a few dozen casual reviews on RYM, and a short-lived YouTube channel on which I imbibed while discussing classic albums.
I'm not looking to be the next DeRogatis or Bangs, but I would love to find some real platform to share my thoughts; even if it's just a hobby. How do you suggest getting involved, whether it's occasional writing on smaller music journalism blogs, or really anything? Thanks to both of you, love your writing!
Sounds like you're already doing it. Keep writing/making videos. Get better. Tell people. If you want to pitch freelance work, get to know the publications and their editors and send them story ideas they likely won't get elsewhere. Also be really good. Firmly believe that the best work will always be seen.
Do you think Frank Ocean's "Endless" would have been perceived and/or reviewed better if it were marketed as an outtakes EP? (And maybe if it cut Device Control as well)
That's an interesting question. I think the answer is yes. But that's in the imaginary world where he didn't release it to get out of his Def Jam contract...
How heavily does Pitchfork consider cultural context when scoring/ranking an album? Should music reviewing be solely about the perceived quality of the music, or are the two inextricably linked?
Cultural context has to be in there, it's part of how people experience music, no listening happens in a vacuum. So I think that is in there whether you want it to be or not, so a smart writer will find some way of addressing it. But obviously, it's more important for some records than others, depending on the sphere they are operating in. -MARK
Hey Pitchfork! I’m a big fan and I have a lot of questions but I don’t want to waste your time so I’ll only ask one (it’s a doozy):
i had never even seen a shooting star before 25 years of rotations, passes through comets' paths, and travel, and to my memory i had never witnessed burning debris scratch across the night sky radiohead were hunched over their instruments thom yorke slowly beat on a grand piano, singing, eyes closed, into his microphone like he was trying to kiss around a big nose colin greenwood tapped patiently on a double bass, waiting for his cue white pearls of arena light swam over their faces a lazy disco light spilled artificial constellations inside the aluminum cove of the makeshift stage the metal skeleton of the stage ate one end of florence's piazza santa croce, on the steps of the santa croce cathedral michelangelo's bones and cobblestone laid beneath i stared entranced, soaking in radiohead's new material, chiseling each sound into the best functioning parts of my brain which would be the only sound system for the material for months the butterscotch lamps along the walls of the tight city square bled upward into the cobalt sky, which seemed as strikingly artificial and perfect as a wizard's cap the staccato piano chords ascended repeatedly "black eyed angels swam at me," yorke sang like his dying words "there was nothing to fear, nothing to hide" the trained critical part of me marked the similarity to coltrane's "ole" the human part of me wept in awe the italians surrounding me held their breath in communion (save for the drunken few shouting "criep") suddenly, a rise of whistles and orgasmic cries swept unfittingly through the crowd the song, "egyptian song," was certainly momentous, but wasn't the response more apt for, well, "creep" i looked up i thought it was fireworks a teardrop of fire shot from space and disappeared behind the church where the syrupy river arno crawled radiohead had the heavens on their side for further testament, chip chanko and i both suffered auto-debilitating accidents in the same week, in different parts of the country, while blasting "airbag" in our respective japanese imports for months, i feared playing the song about car crashes in my car, just as i'd feared passing 18- wheelers after nearly being crushed by one in 1990 with good reason, i suspect radiohead to possess incomprehensible powers the evidence is only compounded with kid a-- the rubber match in the band's legacy-- an album which completely obliterates how albums, and radiohead themselves, will be considered even the heralded ok computer has been nudged down one spot in valhalla kid a makes rock and roll childish considerations on its merits as "rock" (ie its radio fodder potential, its guitar riffs, and its hooks) are pointless comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper and not because it's jazz or fusion or ambient or electronic classifications don't come to mind once deep inside this expansive, hypnotic world ransom, the philologist hero of cs lewis' out of the silent planet who is kidnapped and taken to another planet, initially finds his scholarship useless in his new surroundings, and just tries to survive the beautiful new world this is an emotional, psychological experience kid a sounds like a clouded brain trying to recall an alien abduction it's the sound of a band, and its leader, losing faith in themselves, destroying themselves, and subsequently rebuilding a perfect entity in other words, radiohead hated being radiohead, but ended up with the most ideal, natural radiohead record yet "everything in its right place" opens like close encounters spaceships communicating with pipe organs as your ears decide whether the tones are coming or going, thom yorke's cuisinarted voice struggles for its tongue "everything," yorke belts in uplifting sighs the first-person mantra of "there are two colors in my head" is repeated until the line between yorke's mind and the listener's mind is erased skittering toy boxes open the album's title song, which, like the track "idioteque," shows a heavy warp records influence the vocoder lullaby lulls you deceivingly before the riotous "national anthem" mean, fuzzy bass shapes the spine as unnerving theremin choirs limn brash brass bursts from above like terry gilliam's animated foot the horns swarm as yorke screams, begs, "turn it off" it's the album's shrill peak, but just one of the incessant goosebumps raisers after the rockets exhaust, radiohead float in their lone orbit "how to disappear completely" boils down "let down" and "karma police" to their spectral essence the string-laden ballad comes closest to bridging yorke's lyrical sentiment to the instrumental effect "i float down the liffey/ i'm not here/ this isn't happening," he sings in his trademark falsetto the strings melt and weep as the album shifts into its underwater mode "treefingers," an ambient soundscape similar in sound and intent to side b of bowie and eno's low, calms after the record's emotionally strenuous first half the primal, brooding guitar attack of "optimistic" stomps like mating tyrannosaurs the lyrics seemingly taunt, "try the best you can/ try the best you can," before revealing the more resigned sentiment, "the best you can is good enough" for an album reportedly "lacking" in traditional radiohead moments, this is the best summation of their former strengths the track erodes into a light jam before morphing into "in limbo" "i'm lost at sea," yorke cries over clean, uneasy arpeggios the ending flares with tractor beams as yorke is vacuumed into nothingness the aforementioned "idioteque" clicks and thuds like aphex twin and bjork's homogenic, revealing brilliant new frontiers for the "band" for all the noise to this point, it's uncertain entirely who or what has created the music there are rarely traditional arrangements in the ambiguous origin this is part of the unique thrill of experiencing kid a pulsing organs and a stuttering snare delicately propel "morning bell" yorke's breath can be heard frosting over the rainy, gray jam words accumulate and stick in his mouth like eye crust "walking walking walking walking," he mumbles while jonny greenwood squirts whale-chant feedback from his guitar the closing "motion picture soundtrack" brings to mind the white album, as it somehow combines the sentiment of lennon's lp1 closer-- the ode to his dead mother, "julia"-- with ringo and paul's maudlin, yet sincere lp2 finale, "goodnight" pump organ and harp flutter as yorke condones with affection, "i think you're crazy" to further emphasize your feeling at that moment and the album's overall theme, yorke bows out with "i will see you in the next life" if you're not already there with him the experience and emotions tied to listening to kid a are like witnessing the stillborn birth of a child while simultaneously having the opportunity to see her play in the afterlife on imax it's an album of sparking paradox it's cacophonous yet tranquil, experimental yet familiar, foreign yet womb-like, spacious yet visceral, textured yet vaporous, awakening yet dreamlike, infinite yet 48 minutes it will cleanse your brain of those little crustaceans of worries and inferior albums clinging inside the fold of your gray matter the harrowing sounds hit from unseen angles and emanate with inhuman genesis when the headphones peel off, and it occurs that six men (nigel godrich included) created this, it's clear that radiohead must be the greatest band alive, if not the best since you know who breathing people made this record and you can't wait to dive back in and try to prove that wrong over and over???????
Thanks for your time!
Solange's A Seat at the Table taking #1 on the Pitchfork list was a surprise, but well deserved. When reviewing the year, how much weight does a larger societal context factor in to your collective decisions, as opposed to straight musicality. Last year, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly took #1 (again, well deserved), but that also was released in the wake of the initial #BlackLivesMatter upheaval and around the time of George Zimmerman's trial conclusion. Does an album of the year need to capture the greater culture of the year, or does it need to be the end-all best sounding thing that came out over that year?
It varies year to year depending on the voting, but my hope would be that the top album stands for something larger in music of a given year, that it feels connected to something going on in music and culture, whatever the scale. -MARK
Do you encourage your writers to smoke marijuana or do other drugs at any point in the reviewing process? Is it OK to be high at work/during working hours? (Not snarky questions, truly curious.)
The only thing we encourage our writers to do is 1. Not go over word count 2. Hit their deadlines. What they imbibe to make that happen is their business.
Any idea what an album getting BNM does for its sales/streams?
No idea - would be a good question for a Spotify AMA! -MARK
Which album outside the top 10 is likely to end up in the top 10 albums of the 2010s? Why is it Pinegrove?
Personally, I'm hoping for Mitski, Puberty 2!!!!!
How many times does a writer listen to an album before they decide to review it?
I think it varies a lot. For me, like 10-15 times before I write a review, sometimes a lot more. -MARK
A lot of people say they miss "the old pitchfork." Do you have a response for those people?
Did you mean the old Kanye?
It's been a little over a year since p4k was acquired by conde nast, what have been the best/worst parts about the transition?
Also, any words of advice for aspiring music journos?
I'm going to answer this personally because probably everyone would have a different answer, but in general, for me, it's only been a positive thing. The only real downside for me is that after leaving our Greenpoint office, I can no longer go record shopping at lunch. -MARK
How can you guys actually determine the difference between a 7.2 and a 7.3?
7.3 is a little better! We're so immersed in our ratings system we've kind of internalized it and these distinctions come a bit more naturally, but obviously for someone who is not familiar with it, it can seem ridiculous. But yeah, end of day, having 101 gradations for quality is a huge plus, we love being able to make distinctions between two strong records that are both in the 8 range. -MARK
Hey guys, 2 friends and I run a podcast where we review each and every one of Pitchfork's best new music/reissues for the week. We also talk about your Sunday Classic so I was wondering how those are choosen. Do the writers just have free reign to pick an album Pitchfork hasn't already reviewed?
Little shameless plug- our podcast is called Metafork (metaforkmusic.com) and feel free to slow down on giving boxsets BNR because it's eating up a lot of my time
I will check out the podcast. Sunday Review assignments happen from both directions: Writers pitch Sunday Reviews, we get a lot more pitches than we actually assign (obv. since we only do 50 a year), and we also reach out to specific writers about specific records. We're trying to find the best possible pairings of writers and records to have what we hope is the definitive piece about this album online, and also have it be fun to read. -MARK
I really enjoyed your History of Goth video. Do you guys plan on making more history videos for different genres? I'd love to see an emo one.
Yeah, we loved doing that and a lot of people were very into it, look for more video pieces like this in 2017! - MARK
How exactly do you decide on the score for each review?
Scores are a collaborative process between the writer and the editor. We typically have an idea of a score range that the writer wants to work within when they pitch the review. After that, writer and editors talk about it, and we arrive at a number that we feel makes sense for the quality of the record. -MARK
I do love Ivy but I think Self Control is the best song from Blonde. Was there a particular moment on Ivy that really sealed the deal for you guys?
"I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me..." It's such a dreamy, beautiful song. This album really feels so much like an album..."Facebook Story" included. So it's hard to pull out a moment that is the most perfect. But "Ivy" in many ways feels like the most exemplary of how beautiful, sad, catchy, dreamy...how everything Frank is. The fact that no one can agree what the best song on Blonde is kinda says it all to me...
Why do you still post new record reviews at 1am instead of 4:20am?
We are doing other stuff at 4:20
Thank you for doing this AMA! I've followed Pitchfork for years now and I've always been especially a fan of Mark's writing so thank you for many recommendations and articles on IDM!
Would you say the Conde Nast acquisition has affected the way you approach your year end lists? I noticed that both 2015 and 2016 break trends: albums that scored fairly low are much closer to the top (Drake, Grimes, Beyonce). While score is no determinant for placement, these albums scored much lower than previous Top 10 albums. I also noted that Kendrick is really the first artist since Radiohead to get two consecutive AOTY awards.
Is this just coincidence or would you say belonging to a large company has changed your practice?
Definitely a coincidence, our process was no different this year from any year, always a question of the records under consideration and the staff doing the voting. -MARK