Song Of The Year
Among other things, The Voyager is an album about the psychic costs of unfulfilling compromises. Jenny Lewis is witty about them; she’s always witty. But this is also her saddest set — the year’s stealth heartbreaker — and all the wry jokes and glossy guitar overdubs in Southern California can’t disguise her narrators’ regrets. A central metaphor on the album is the three-way: people who may or may not want sexual exclusivity sharing their partners with friends and strangers. This sounds salacious, but there’s nothing sexy about a song like “Slippery Slopes,” in which Lewis’s main character, a woman who more or less resembles Jenny Lewis, battles against her tendency to excuse behavior that distances her from her boyfriend. Now old enough to weave historical references into her verses, Lewis tries to put her lonely travelogue into personal and cultural context. “Late Bloomer,” my favorite song of 2014, is as far back as she’s willing to go, and there’s probably only mist in the vault beyond this. Against the backdrop of the early days of AIDS, a sixteen year old girl travels to France and becomes fixated on a slightly older woman whose name — Nancy — is pointedly rhymed with “pansy.” As the narrator attempts to disentangle identification from desire, the pair go hunting for the musician who recorded Nancy’s favorite song. When the three meet, Lewis, in a masterstroke of lyrical economy, manages to convey jealousy, condescension, repulsion, and desire in a few neatly chosen lines. After the threesome, the main character kisses them both off. She’s asserted her autonomy, but she’s left stranded. Jenny Lewis sings it all — especially the wordless chorus of a very wordy song — like she’s spent twenty years carrying a wound that refuses to close.
Single Of The Year
- 1. Allo Darlin’ — “We Come From The Same Place”
- 2. Taylor Swift — “Shake It Off”
- 3. Tinashe & Schoolboy Q — “2 On”
- 4. Kimbra — “Miracle”
- 5. Tune-Yards — “Water Fountain”
- 6. Weezer — “DaVinci”
- 7. Alvvays — “Marry Me, Archie”
- 8. Fetty Wap — “Trap Queen”
- 9. Metronomy — “Love Letters”
- 10. Homeboy Sandman — “Fat Belly”
- 11. Kiesza — “Hideaway”
- 12. Kira Isabella — “Quarterback”
- 13. Taylor Swift — “Blank Space”
- 14. Cymbals Eat Guitars — “Jackson”
- 15. Weezer — “Back To The Shack”
- 16. Real Estate — “Talking Backwards”
- 17. Vacationer — “The Wild Life”
- 18. A Great Big World — “I Really Want It”
- 19. YG — “Left, Right”
- 20. Ingrid Michaelson — “Girls Chase Boys”
Taylor Swift. For the first time in her career, she received faceless production, which had never been a problem for her before. Yes, it’s her own fault; pardon her while she’s trying to save the record biz. In order to make some of that canned crapola fly, she had to apply the full force of her personality to the tracks. Which she would have done anyway, because that’s what she’s all about. But it’s a testament to her vocal talent that “Welcome To New York,” for instance, is even vaguely listenable, because Lord knows that song’s got nothing else going for it.
I’m going to join the club and vote for Killer Mike here. Not for the first time, either. Seriously, I understand why Run The Jewels 2 is getting all the love it is — it’s a more focused album than the first collaboration, and Mr. Michael Render’s anti-authoritarian rhetoric suits the mood of the moment. But both of these guys have made better albums before, and by “before,” I mean as recently as 2012.
Best Vocal Harmonies
The Secret Sisters. They’re better when they’re singing old chestnuts, but I dig it that Brandi Carlile now has an outlet for her dumb throwaways.
Best Bass Playing
This and the next few categories are brought to you by Miranda Lambert’s ridiculous band. Hoe yourself down all night with these characters, trust me. The fella on bass is Glenn Worf, and he’s been with her since Kerosene. I don’t know how in hell he got that sound for “Little Red Wagon,” but there may be an elephant jumping on his strings. Honorable mentions go to the unnamed bass player on Kimbra’s disco-pop “Miracle” (Hey, Kimbra, why don’t you credit your band in your liner notes?) and Bryan Murphy of Alvvays.
Matt Chamberlain on Platinum. He isn’t even part of the regular combo; he’s a well-traveled session dude. No disrespect to the guys who played on the last few albums, but I think they ought to keep Chamberlain around. While I’m at it, I realize I didn’t give Nicolle Galyon any love yesterday. My bad. She’s relatively new to the team and she ended up being one of the most valuable players — she’s the piano-playing Kansas kid who co-wrote “Automatic” and the title track. One of the many, many things that contemporary country has in common with hip-hop: these records are collaborative records with casts of thousands, and somehow, every one of those thousands has something important to contribute.
Best Piano, Organ, Or Electric Piano Playing
The name of the ringer/showoff on the Miranda Lambert album is John Barlow Jarvis. I don’t know anything about him, but with a name like that, he probably owns a riverboat on the Cumberland and spends his evenings hornswoggling pardners. While he’s no John Barlow Jarvis, I also wanna send some love to pianist James Raymond, who was responsible for much of the music and some of the vox on his dad’s comeback album. Dad is David Crosby, the album is Croz, and his boy did him a solid. Croz is a male analog to Joni Mitchell’s Shine: beautiful jazz-pop arrangements, handwringing about the state of the world, creaky elderly dignity. Crosby is sanctimonious as always (so was Joni Mitchell), but with “I vote for peace and the blood still runs,” he’s as succinct and depressingly on target as those dudes from G-Side who rapped “my President’s black/and we still in Iraq.” Better a limousine liberal than a limousine fascist.
Best Lead Guitar Playing
Reasonably, Paul Janeway gets all the attention in St. Paul and the Broken Bones — he really does sound like Otis Redding, and how many singers in the past forty years can make that claim for themselves? Half The City is worth spinning for the amazement factor alone. Though he doesn’t cut the same kind of figure, guitarist Browan Lollar is even more astonishing than his frontman: he channels Steve Cropper and Jimmy Johnson like he’s waist-deep in the Alabama swamps and plugged straight into a cottonwood tree. Anyway, that’s not my answer. My answer is the guitarists on Platinum, especially Randy Scruggs, Jedd Hughes and Greg Leisz, who plays pedal steel. I know, this is getting boring. Let’s go to a category that members of Miranda Lambert’s band can’t possibly take, like…
Best Drum And Instrument Programming
How To Dress Well, especially “A Power,” when Tom Krell complains about his weakness and backs it up by yanking beats out of the bass drum pattern. It’s a nice sonic metaphor for attenuation. But what’s that you say? There is drum and instrument programming on Platinum, and it’s pretty good? It’ll be better for everybody if I pretend that didn’t happen.
Best Synthesizer Playing
Bobby Sparks on St. Vincent, especially “Bring Me Your Loves.” Not quite “Surgeon,” but close enough.
Best Rhythm Guitar Playing
The Hotelier. Home, Like Noplace Is There is only nine songs long — and it certainly didn’t need to be any longer than that. Given its brevity, it’s striking how many different styles of guitar music the band manages to play, and play well, in its thirty-plus minutes: Okkervil-style narrative folk-rock, a little Hot Topic emo, a heartrending power ballad that wouldn’t necessarily scare off a Clear Channel programmer, a few song sections that verge on metal, pure pop-punk, the scariest screamo song I’ve heard in years, tricky time signature prog, and an outro that recaps the main theme of the first song on acoustic guitar. This is not a project that’s getting over merely on concept — it’s an excellent rock band, too, albeit one that is bravely staring down Christian Holden’s ghosts. Funny how motivation makes everything better. Maybe it isn’t more important than pure talent. Then again, maybe it is.
Best Instrumental Solo
There were so many memorable guitar solos this year that you’ll forgive me, I hope, for listing four. Rivers Cuomo went back to the shack and returned with a fistful of dynamite leads — and he saves the most spectacular for the three-part finale. Better still: Joe D’Agostino’s acid waltz midway through “Jackson.” Better still: the solo, probably played by Dan Auerbach, that burbles up from the murky depths of Lana Del Rey’s “Shades Of Cool.” But this was the year that Paul Rains of Allo Darlin’ graced the perfect indiepop song with the perfect indiepop guitar lead. “We Come From The Same Place” is about the flash of recognition (and desperation) that comes when a person realizes she’s hopelessly in love; Rains jangles, twirls, and scrapes out major chords against Elisabeth Morris’s ukulele, and it feels like a blind-faith backward fall into bliss. My favorite single, ladies and gentlemen; here, listen! Solo starts at 3:37 if you’re in a rush. Every note tickles my heart.
Probably Kimbra. If The Golden Echo was too ornate for you, I’m not going to try to talk you into giving it another chance. I’m the big apologist for Mighty Like A Rose; my tastes lean toward the baroque. If the idea of a Prince album produced by Mitchell Froom appeals to you, though, check out tracks three through ten. Track one is throat-clearing, track two is a convincing Timbaland fake, and I don’t even know what the last track is. I’m still recovering from that one. The year’s bravest arrangements were on the Metronomy album. I don’t know what prompted Joseph Mount kick off his new record with four minutes of Radio Shack synthesizer, a cheap, unvarying ping-pong preset drum machine pattern and miserable grumbling about a girl giving him a hard time. When the lead guitar starts to noodle, you’ll think he’s putting you on. He’s not. He’s just a very confident man.
Best Lyrics (On An Individual Song)
P.F. Rizzuto Award For Lyrical Excellence Over The Course Of An Album AND Album That Turned Out To Be A Whole Hell Of A Lot Better Than You Initially Thought
At first, I didn’t think American Middle Class was any good. I still kinda blamed Angaleena Presley for the weak moments on the second Pistol Annies album, and as she supplied the best songs on the first (“Housewife’s Prayer” in particular, which was sort of an “Angel From Montgomery” for the 21st century) I thought maybe she’d given everything she had to give. The trouble is her singing, which is pretty at best but never exciting, and her songwriting, which is always affecting but never flashy. Once I started paying attention to her tough, unsentimental depiction of Appalachia, though, I was sold. American Middle Class is a grim ride through backwoods where the good people are unemployed and dropping dead from opioid overdoses and the bad ones are busy pretending that the world they knew isn’t degenerating into chaos. The preacher is a liar, the football coach is a dignified, downwardly mobile drunk, the deputy is unarmed, the star athlete is a corpse, and the social fabric is pulling apart. The politics here are nasty, sure, but if you’re looking to understand why the Democratic Party took a beating last November, here’s a good place to start. I only wish that Presley had the capacity to sound as angry as she is.
Best Concert I Saw In 2014
- 1. Tye Tribbett @ NJPAC Hezekiah Walker and Friends show
- 2. The Yeezus Tour @ Prudential Center
- 3. Janelle Monae @ Lehman College in the Bronx
- 4. The Clark Sisters @ Gospelfest
- 5. Vanessa Carlton @ The Newton Theatre, Newton, NJ
- 6. A Great Big World @ Starland Ballroom
- 7. Beyonce & Jay Z @ MetLife Stadium
- 8. Lorde @ Roseland
- 9. Richard and Teddy Thompson @ SOPAC, South Orange
- 10. Pet Shop Boys @ Revel, Atlantic City
Most Disappointing Live Show
I’ve been defending 50 Cent so long that I’ve forgotten why I started. He certainly doesn’t need me — take it from him. He’s a rock, an island, sitting up there in Connecticut with his armed guards and periodically leaving the house to appear on Oprah. At his wretched Summer Jam set, 50 took shots at his former label chief, played obvious favorites among his ten thousand guests, and ushered so many hangers-on into the performing area that nobody could tell whether we were watching a show or armed combat. Turns out at least some of it was combat: a fight broke out onstage behind 50 and had to be broken up by security. The sound was terrible — it was impossible to make out a thing he was rapping — and he clearly didn’t care at all. He wore the smug look of a playground bully who is watching his toadies stomp a nerd. This was an affront disguised as a concert; a massive act of arrogance and self-entitlement from an artist who hasn’t earned one in awhile.
Best Music Video
- 1. Kiesza — “Hideaway”
- 2. Metronomy — “Love Letters”
- 3. St. Vincent — “Digital Witness”
- 4. DJ Snake & Lil Jon — “Turn Down For What”
- 5. Tinashe & Schoolboy Q — “2 On”
Best Line Or Rhyme
“Basking in the ambiance of the Mondrian/Starving like Ramadan/Let’s get this parmesan/I keep the peace like Gandhi with a tommy gun/Slung so many elbows I think I might need Tommy John.” That’s Kanye sidekick CyHi The Prynce, and there’s plenty more where that came from on his Black Hystori Project.
Most Romantic AND Sexiest Song
Allo Darlin’ — “Half Heart Necklace.” I love the way Elizabeth Morris’s voice becomes pure exhalation as she sings “I know nothing ever stays the same/so I’m telling you I want to share your name.” Her hands are on something so valuable that she can forget everything else. She sounds relieved — like a stupid world that never made any sense to her suddenly got wise and began adding up.
Homeboy Sandman — “Problems.” This was the year I caught up with Sandman, an independent New York City rapper with a skewed/genial worldview, an enormous catalog of riddle-like and intermittently thrilling rhymes, and, apparently, a big fat belly. His weird relationship to the beat might seem suspect at first, but as he sucks you into his headspace, his tardiness begins to take on the ruminative quality of free-associative philosophical thought, or maybe just a bad headache. On “Problems,” he tries to wriggle out of the song midway, only to complain that rap conventions compel him to stay cogent. This comes after a complaint about hipsters and independent movies and soon segues into a sideways critique of Kurt Cobain. Gets me every time. Also, I wanna acknowledge this verse from Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All, an album that narrowly missed my Top 20 list: “What do you call someone who calls you out/ on DIY ethics you don’t embody/ As he drains his dad and mommy’s monthly data plan?/ Asshole/ With an iPhone.” Okay, maybe that’s not so funny. But it sure is true.
Most Inspiring Song
“Shake It Off”. Funny that in the year of a thousand and one complaints about the awful digital world we’ve wrought, Taylor Swift wrote the sanest thing anybody has ever written about the Internet. Not much of a lyric, but as users guides to the 21st Century go, there’s none better.
Most Frightening Song
Here’s a story for ya: I didn’t know Rachel Ries from a hole in the ground when I got my copy of Ghost Of A Gardener in the mail. I put it on because the cover illustration said ornate folk-pop to me (and ornate folk-pop it is) and because I’ve got a good track record with people called Rachel. Turns out I really liked the album; it could have been my Nicest Surprise, were it not for Weezer, and Elbow, and Cymbals Eat Guitars, and LDR. It was a good year for surprises. In my review, I made an offhand comparison to Housekeeping, a book by Marilynne Robinson that scared the holy heck out of me. Housekeeping is considered a classic in some quarters, but it’s hardly Jurassic Park, and I didn’t even know where I was going with the reference or why I was bothering to include it in the review. The book, which came out in 1980, was kind of like Virginia Woolf snowbound in Idaho: in it, blood ties are a flimsy bulwark against the swirling entropy of existence. A few songs on Ghost Of A Gardener — especially the prairie-apocalyptic “I Saw It Coming,” but also “Holiest Day,” which is subtle-scary, like madness — brought back the dynamics of Housekeeping so fully that I felt I had to mention it. Later I learned that Housekeeping is one of Rachel Ries’s favorite novels. Something transferred from the page to the tape to my ears. Art: it leaves its grubby fingerprints all over everything. It’s like a kid in the jelly jar.
“St. Joe Keeps Us Safe,” from We Don’t Have Each Other. Curmudgeonly as he can be, Dan Campbell doesn’t usually write sad-sack characters. Aaron West, the narrator of his latest collection of musical short stories, is an exception. West’s wife dumps him on song number one; by song three, we find out that a father he’s idolized has recently died. “St. Joe” puts West across a kitchen table from his grieving mom; neither has any idea how to comfort the other, but they try anyway. This is the kind of family tragedy in miniature that Campbell writes as well as anybody, and he resists the temptation to wring it for maximum pathos. Instead, he uses it as a springboard for his narrator’s total dissipation, and he makes sure you see it coming.
It’s got to be “Digital Witness,” yaaah? Shake it off, Annie.
Most Moving Song
A good runner-up in the scary song category is “Life In Drag,” the one Hotelier song that the guys scream straight through. Lots of songs address gender trouble like it’s a prelude to a fantastic party; the Hotelier makes it sound as horrifying and confusing as it surely is. What makes Home, Like Noplace Is There more than just another emo album about suicide and self-destructive tendencies is Christian Holden’s insistence on placing all of his horror stories in political context. This is very Massachusetts of him. But hey, I went to school up there, and while I sure didn’t love the snow or the flinty New England attitude, the social science was impeccable. Holden, son of Worcester, has plenty to say (or roar) about patriarchy, the cult of medication, gay panic, class struggle, false consciousness, and the psychological effects of capitalism, and if one of Holden’s characters is defenestrating herself or speeding to the E.R., it’s a good bet that power dynamics are at least partially to blame. Nobody has been this howlingly emotional and persuasively topical at the same time on record since Roger Waters’s heyday. “Dendron,” the last song on the album, puts everything together before ripping it back apart: as the narrators follow their fathers down the drain, one alive (but rueful) fellow sends his regrets to his dead mate. On “Your Deep Rest,” (get it?) Holden’s narrator refuses to go to his friend’s funeral because “the sight of your parents made me feel responsible;” “Dendron” makes it clear that he is responsible, and so are the parents, and so am I, and so are you. My political science professors would nod along if they liked guitar rock. Come to think of it, some of them did.
Best Guest Appearance
Carrie Underwood, on Miranda Lambert’s “Somethin’ Bad” and Brad Paisley’s “High Life.” On the first, she’s a hellion headed to New Orleans with a full tank of gas; on the second, she’s a zonked hillbilly who demands a Diet Coke from Chick-Fil-A. She can play Louise to Lambert’s Thelma, and turn around and be Daisy Duke to Paisley’s Enos Strait. I’ve never been that crazy about her, but she showed me something this year: you don’t go from TV talent show prize-winner to genuine star unless you’ve got a balled-up fist hidden behind your back. Kelly Clarkson sure did.
Rookie Of The Year
2014 Album I Listened To The Most
Kate Miller-Heidke, O Vertigo! I don’t like to use Spotify unless I’ve already purchased the album at some point in my life. I made an exception with this one, because after shipping, the cost of an import disc from Australia was about the same as a sofa from ABC Carpet. I blame an American pop audience that never can handle Down Under personalities. Do you hear me, America? J’accuse. O Vertigo! is the least quirky disc Miller-Heidke has ever made, but as she is still yodeling and sopranofying away on some of those choruses, I doubt she is going to be mistaken for Generic Pop Star any time soon. Some of you don’t think she’s funny anymore, and I know where you’re coming from — but I did laugh at the rap song, and the karaoke bit in “Jimmy” ought to elicit subvocal grunts of amusement, if not an outright chortle. C’mon, I see you smiling. Anyway, when KMH was in the Big Apple to sing the part of British Dancing Girl in Death Of Klinghoffer, I got a physical copy of my own. I bought it at Rockwood from a middle-aged Australian woman who might well have been Kate Miller-Heidke’s mum. So everybody’s happy: the artist, the artist’s mommy, Spotify, and me. She got my ten U.S. dollars, plus .00000001 cents for my first trillion plays. Martin Fry said it in ’85: I’ve seen the future/I can’t afford it.
2014 Album That Wore Out Most Quickly
Stay Gold. Everything about First Aid Kit seems designed to piss me off: rustic folk-pop sister act, Scandinavians making ostentatiously American roots music, discovered on YouTube while singing Fleet Foxes songs, everything “well done” and “hard to deny,” etc. I gave it the old college try. I’m selling it back to Tunes. Quasi-honorable mention: Recess by Skrillex. Even if dubstep has dated faster than the Partridge Family, Sonny Moore really had a moment there. Moments end.
Most Convincing Historical Re-creation
As a big fan of The Way It Is, I really appreciate what Andrew McMahon did on “Driving Through A Dream.” Any old bozo with a six-string and a distortion pedal can make believe he’s Neil Young. It takes a special talent to channel Bruce Hornsby.
Artist You Don’t Know But You Know You Should
Ought I to be paying attention to Young Fathers?
Crappy Album You Listened To A Lot Anyway
Sucker by Charli XCX. I should never have forgiven her for “I Love It.” I did, and look at me now: covered with dayglo paint and streamers, out in the snow with no shoes and fifteen bucks poorer. Can’t blame her too much: she did kick off the album with a song that goes “fuck you, sucker!” That’s the problem with the grown-ass American man. We always thing the girl is talking about somebody else.
Album That Felt Most Like An Obligation To Get Through And Enjoy
Black Messiah. I do appreciate it, but it’s too far into the murk for this fastidious Pet Shop Boys fan to go often.
Album That Should Have Been Longer
The Roots — …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. This is a strange album. The symphonic bullshit from Undun is back in spades, and Black Thought sounds unmotivated when he bothers to show up for work. It is over in a New York minute, too. I could see a real Roots fan hating it. But you are not a real Roots fan, so you may enjoy Questlove’s paranoid take on Kanye-style bombast. You may also roll your eyes at lyrics that make fun of mainstream hip-hop as if the Roots aren’t mainstream hip-hop. I listened to it a bunch, and will no doubt listen to it a bunch more before I fling it on the pile with the nine hundred other Roots albums.
Album That Should Have Been Shorter
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib — Pinata. This is a very good g-rap album made by a very good producer who doesn’t often do g-rap, and the pairing neither heightens nor diminishes the two principals. It delivers exactly what it promises. Like all Freddie Gibbs projects, it gets a little grey from time to time.
Album That Sounded Like It Was The Most Fun To Make
Brill Bruisers. Though maybe it wasn’t. I get the feeling that the New Pornographers are rarely in the same place these days — even when they’re touring together. But who doesn’t like a good e-mail chain?
Album That Sounded Like It Was A Chore To Make
Heaven And Earth by Yes, but that’s shooting fish in a barrel. Hey, how about One Direction’s Four? This is the point where it all starts to look like a blur to the boy band, and the tires cease to make contact with the road. That said, I sure do sing along at the top of my lungs.
Thing You Feel Cheapest About Liking
“War On Drugs: Suck My Cock.” God help me. I remember when the Wonder Years tried to play a Bamboozle set on the boardwalk while Skrillex strafed the shore with ten zillion decibel nuclear meltdown noises. Getting drowned out is an awful feeling, and sometimes repercussions must follow; might as well make them funny and obscene and spawn a few thinkpieces. I don’t feel cheap at all about loving “When Will The Bass Drop?” That’s exactly what Aviici and David Guetta deserve.
Man, I Wish I Knew What This Song Or Album Is About
Sinead O’Connor, “8 Good Reasons.”
Least Believable Perspective Over An Album
After the Sonos commercial, I guess it has to be Tune-Yards. Sad.
Most Alienating Perspective Over An Album
Foster The People — Supermodel. This is an awfully grouchy record from a guy who was plucked from obscurity for accomplishing the not-difficult task of ripping off Peter, Bjorn and John. You’d think he’d be counting his lucky stars. Instead he is attempting to make a statement about consumer culture, which he is against, and tweeting, which he is also against, and is this fellow career-suicidal or what? All that given, I am shocked at how much I like this — maybe not all of it, but enough of it to make me replay it in spite of Mark Foster’s attitude. Foster The People, as it turns out, has a really good drummer. At times this reminds me of Kula Shaker. Not the Govinda Jaya Jaya version of Kula Shaker, of course, but the basic Jerry Was There pseudopsychedelia.
Most Sympathetic Or Likeable Perspective Over An Album
Christian Holden of the Hotelier.
Fouled Off, Let’s Do It Again
The Outsiders by Eric Church and Dierks Bentley’s Riser. Both of these artists are lumped in with the inebriated bro-country, and they shouldn’t be. The early Dierks was more of a free-spirited asswipe than a bro, and now that he’s matured, he’s become our premier peddler of bro-related pathos. Meanwhile Eric Church has too much homicidal rage to properly bro down. Bentley is mellowing; Church is pumping it up to satisfy the limitless appetite for beer at arenas throughout America. Both guys can write a song, but fall too easily into sleepy four-chord formula (mostly Dierks) and rural irritability as political statement (mostly Church). They can do better.
Coldplay’s Ghost Stories. After defending these guys two years ago, I feel personally insulted. This is the limpest, dullest, vaguest POS released by a major label in years. Did I say they were better than Radiohead? I take it back — Thom Yorke would never make a chorus out of “all I know/is that I’m lost/in your fire below.” I wash my hands of Chris Martin forever. This time I mean it. Yecch.
Artist You Respect But Don’t Like
Azealea Banks. I dunno; hip-house always seems like it’d be nifty, and then I put it on and I feel like I’m shopping for rouge at Sephora. Then there’s the Cloud Nothings, who have so far struck me as a less enthusiastic, and therefore less vital, version of the Japandroids. Here And Nowhere Else does contain a helpful mission statement: “I’m Not Part Of Me,” which takes reticence as its subject and plays as an apology for the band’s occasional inscrutability.
Obvious Beginning Of The End
The Black Keys — Turn Blue. This album is like a rusty bicycle with a bent wheel. It’ll get you from point A to point B, but never in style, and deep down you know that it wouldn’t be tough to upgrade to a better ride.
Worst Song AND Worst Video Of The Year
“All About That Bass.” We covered this in the singles essay. It’s refreshing, in a way — I can’t remember the last time I hated a song with the same energy. I hate the insipid melody, the pushbutton arrangement, and the stupid Kidz Bop choreography in the clip. I hated the passive-aggression of the lyric; I hate neurotic body obsession masquerading as progressivism. I hate that Meghan Trainor sings the hook line like her mouth is too full of hamburger to articulate the consonants. I hate being told that every inch of me is perfect from the bottom to the top: it sucks being lied to. Mainly, though, I hate that it gives bass a bad name. Get your ass out of the tonal frequency spectrum, Trainor. Phony doo-wop is the last refuge of a musician out of ideas — just ask Cee-Lo — and the 1950s Stepford imagery in the video has been overused to the point of bankruptcy. This record is a toxic spill that contaminates my good memories of the K-Pop and Eliza Doolittle records it’s ripped off from. Haters gonna hate, of course, and Meghan Trainor will shake off the criticism all the way to the bank. But dammit, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere.
Hey, who’s that Guitar Center hero demonstrating a whammy pedal while my Bruce Springsteen record is playing? It’s Wankmaster Tom Morello, ruiner of the E Street Band! On High Hopes, Morello plays like a fifteen-year-old angling to get punched in the face by the frontman of his metal band. The only thing grosser than his performance was the Boss fawning all over him while refusing to give his thirty-year sidemen a cover credit. Honestly, I think they could all use a nice long vacation.
Ariana Grande, “Break Free.” This has been covered elsewhere on the Internet, I believe. Let’s not go into it, okay? She was trolling us with that one. I hope.
Worst Lyrics By A Good Lyricist Who Should Have Known Better
Beyonce, “7/11.” The sad part is that I actually am interested in where her foot is.
Jolie Holland. On Wine Dark Sea, she dropped the old vo-de-o-do and got some crack players to open her sound up. Some of it really does compare favorably to Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, which I take to be the model. The problem is the same as it always is: Holland sings like she has just ingested Drano. I don’t get it and never have, but I suppose some jazzbos have a weakness for drunk women on their deathbeds.
Emcees: if a young woman who is trying to generate a sultry, seductive, Janet Jackson-y mood asks you to appear on one of her tracks, do not come through with rhymes about “beating the pussy up.” The tasteless guest shots on Tinashe’s Aquarius — every one of them — felt like an assault on the aesthetic, if not the girl, and nearly kept an excellent album out of my Top 20. Future, who did nothing but grunt obscenities through voice-altering software, was about the worst of it, but at least he did us the courtesy of rendering himself unintelligible. (I caught the part about “split you like a cigarillo,” though.) Schoolboy Q, who, as usual, wants you to hear every syllable, kept it unremittingly crass, and who okayed the A$AP Rocky line about “sticking something in her stomach”? I’m sure it was Tinashe herself. Sigh.
Most Thoroughly Botched Production Job
Gerard Way, Hesitant Alien.
I have come to the conclusion that Future is the most overrated man in pop. With his machines he can make a platinum hook out of any old gobbledygook, and that demands respect. But like many artists who’ve developed a sound, he’s chosen to squeeze that sound for all it is worth without ever applying it to anything interesting. He’s also almost singlehandedly brought back the space-age silly-negro caricature that “advanced” Whitey loved so much in the ’70s. Apparently “advanced” Whitey still thinks it’s a scream.
Also Overrated For Similar Reasons
Young Thug. Can we cool it with the Andre Benjamin comparisons? Jeez, people. While we’re at it, let’s also remember that Lil Wayne was cogent for years before degenerating into the caricature he’s become. If all the marijuana in hip-hop were confiscated for about six months, it would work wonders for everybody presently on the mic.
Worst Song On A Good Album
The problem with “Welcome To New York” isn’t the politics or even the lyric — although “kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats” is pushing it. The problem with “Welcome To New York” is that limp excuse for a new wave beat and the one-note-Johnny melody. Related: this year I learned that a ton of New Yorkers have no idea where they live. You are not on the island of rebels. You’re in the high citadel of international capitalism. Of course Taylor Swift is coming to town. Santa Claus has other stops on his itinerary.
Young Upstart Who Should Be Sent Down To The Minors For More Seasoning
Hoary Old Bastard Who Should Spare Us All And Retire
Probably Looking Into Retirement Facilities As I Type
Rick Ross. This roly-poly customer has always been a sure hand with formula fiction. But he peaked the day he rapped about Big Meech and Larry Hoover, and has been steadily rolling downhill like the meatball sneezed free from spaghetti mountain. For the first time, he’s acting like he knows it.
Song That Got Stuck In My Head The Most This Year
“We Come From The Same Place”
Song That Would Drive You Craziest On Infinite Repeat
Good Artist Most In Need Of Some Fresh Ideas
Craig Finn. Teeth Dreams probably seems like autopilot to most, and most has a point. It’s a step up from Heaven Is Whenever, and I liked the emphasis on Minneapolis storytelling. But boy does the Hold Steady miss Franz Nicolay — or any other musician not content to recycle riffs from 2004.
Artist I Identified With The Most
Place The Next Pop Music Boom Will Come From
Harlem and the Bronx.
Will Be A One-Hit Wonder (The Chainsmokers Don’t Count)
Biggest Musical Trend Of 2015
Young artist/veteran artist collaborations.
Best Album Of 2015
Joanna Newsom IV.