Critics Poll 27 — My ballot, part 2

Is there room in the band?, I don’t need to be the frontman. If not, then I’ll be the biggest fan.

Song Of The Year

Since William Godwin, the social-problem novel has had several periods of vogue: the early Industrial Revolution, World War I and its aftermath, the White Shadow 1970s, etc. Its central premise — that a reader can emerge from her encounter with a work of art with her compassion for the downtrodden enhanced — has always been a dodgy one, but I do give points for trying. Gotta do something, right?, and pie in the sky tastes so sweet. Lately, hip-hop has taken up the social-problem torch and carried it with gusto. Kendrick may be the man with the Dickensian narrative strategies in his back pocket, but nobody is quite as sincere as J. Cole — and as a storyteller, Cole is no slouch. A cynic might call 4 Your Eyes Only pure socially-conscious schtick: the tale of two similar young men whose paths diverge in the back alleys of Fayetteville, North Carolina. One, “James”, much like Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets, falls prey to the dark forces of his environment and is killed by his drug-dealing compadres at 22. The other, the rapper “J. Cole”, becomes an upstanding family man and wholesome almond-milk drinker who finds fulfillment as he helps his wife fold laundry. This is corny as hell, of course, as is everything else Cole does. But by now he’s got the technique down pat, and on the title track, his timeworn there-but-for-fortune story hits intellectual and emotional paydirt. Over nine unbroken minutes of top-flight lyricism, Cole draws the parallels between the characters, shifts moods and jumps deftly between characters, and lays the plot mechanics of the album bare. He also makes manifest a motivation that would have coaxed a tear from any sentimental novelist — Cole, the scarred survivor who has risen above, is delivering James’s life story to his uncomprehending daughter. He’s the bottle; this is the message. “This perspective is a real one, another lost ‘Ville son”, he raps, “I dedicate these words to you and all the other children/Affected by the mass incarceration in this nation/That sent your pops to prison when he needed education.” Emphasis on the second to last word, voice heavy with desperation, pleading to the child to forgive her pops just as he asks the world to cultivate some concern for those left behind. Does he succeed? Well, Oliver Twist didn’t stop Robert Peel from becoming Prime Minister of England, and hey!, look who the Senate just confirmed yesterday. We’ve got miles to go. The struggle never ends. Give Cole this, you tough guys and nonbelievers — this time, he sure as hell didn’t let Nas down.

Single Of The Year

  • 1. Lucy Dacus — “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”
  • 2. Basia Bulat — “Infamous”
  • 3. Xenia Rubinos — “Mexican Chef”
  • 4. Jamila Woods — “Blk Girl Soldier”
  • 5. Mitski — “Your Best American Girl”
  • 6. Kamaiyah — “How Does It Feel”
  • 7. Joey Purp — “Photobooth”
  • 8. Metronomy — “Night Owl”
  • 9. Beyonce — “All Night”
  • 10. Car Seat Headrest — “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
  • 11. Haley Bonar — “Kismet Kill”
  • 12. Maren Morris — “80’s Mercedes”
  • 13. Kanye West — “Famous”
  • 14. Quilt — “Roller”
  • 15. Drake & Rihanna — “Too Good”
  • 16. Tegan And Sara — “Stop Desire”
  • 17. Calvin Harris & Rihanna (with an assist from “Nils Sjoberg”) — “This Is What You Came For”
  • 18. Martha — “Precarious (Supermarket Song)”
  • 19. How To Dress Well — “Lost Youth/Lost You”
  • 20. Cousin Stizz — “Gain Green”

Best Singing

Miranda Lambert — The Weight Of These Wings. Your favorite cowgirl unloads the whole flatbed truck. Handle with care: there’s songwritin’ in them crates. Some of comes courtesy of the star herself with her peculiar melodic signature, some provided by her besties Natalie Hemby and Monroe Suede, and some straight from the big money Tennessee grist mill. Funnily enough, they all go out of their way to make sure this sounds nothing like a Music City release, perhaps figuring that they covered that ground well enough on Platinum and it was safe to try something a little less pants-afire immediate. It doesn’t sound like alt-country, either, thank goodness; the closest she came to that tar pit was Four The Record, and she’s got no interest in sinking there and emerging, fossilized, at City Winery perhaps. Most of the time ace performers shoot their wads on double albums — think of All Things Must Pass, or Songs In The Key Of Life, or Physical Graffiti, or, heck I’ll say it, Blonde On Blonde— and that concludes the fertile period of their public ministries. Something tells me that’s not the case here, and we’ve still got some twists and turns through the sagebrush to navigate with Nashville’s best. And there’s nobody remotely close.

Best Singing Voice

So Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale can’t be a real handle, can it? That’s got to have come from an online Scottish band name generator. “Tweeddale”, if that is indeed her name, is now the only original member left in Honeyblood, a Glaswegian outfit that had previously released a set of sub-Donnette Thayer guitar pop. I enjoyed it for a couple of weeks and then sold it back to Tunes. Tweeddale continues to be a crafty if shallow songwriter with a terrific, gutsy rock singing voice and a fetching accent, and Babes Never Die feels like a real improvement over the debut. Which might mean maybe that I hold this for a month and a half before selling it. Or maybe it keeps growing on me. I do appreciate the extensive borrowings from Elastica and Charlotte Hatherley. Like Lauren “Mayberry”, “Tweeddale” does not consider the Cheviot Hills any obstacle for highway robbery. Long Scottish tradition of that, right?

Best Rapping

Kanye West on “No More Parties In L.A.” That may be the best I’ve ever heard him rap; it’s certainly one of his most sustained performances. I’m not 100% sure why I expected Don Juan’s Reckless Kanye. Turns out The Life Of Pablo isn’t unfocused at all, even if Mr. West’s reluctance to rap about anything other than himself and the perils of his stupid celebrity lifestyle makes him an outlier in a Black Lives Matter year. I shouldn’t be surprised: he always puts in the work.

Best Vocal Harmonies

Beyonce on “Sandcastles”, especially that last groop swoop in the final verse. Jamila Woods on “LSD”.

Best Bass Playing

Keven Lareau of Boston’s undersung Quilt. Your new Essex Green, bolder, brighter, and even better at their instruments. I dunno about sexier, though; it’s hard to beat Sasha Bell in that department.

Best Live Drumming

Valentina Magaletti of Vanishing Twin by a nose over Xenia Rubinos’s man Marco Buccelli. Almost all of the music marketed as psychedelic doesn’t deserve the name. There’s nothing mind-expanding about overdriven guitar solos, or feedback, or loose arrangements; that shit is just lazy and unimaginative. These bands invite you to do the work, which is to say that they want you zonked out of your mind on some substance or another so that their meandering will sound purposed. Agenuine psychedelic band — a group that warps the perception of the stone cold sober with sound alone — is a rare commodity. Vanishing Twin is one of them. The elevator pitch is Stereolab minus the French people and the vaguely leftish goofball lyrics, but that shortsells their adept handling of weird noises, the raw, wet-socket quality of their analog synthesizer, and singer Cathy Lucas’s hypnotist deadpan. It is recommended to submit, if you don’t mind getting hyp-mo-tized. You are getting seeeeeeepy.

Best Drum Programming

The great Noah “40” Shebib, all over Views.

Best Synthesizer Playing

Francis And The Lights. Farewell, Starlite is actually a very similar album to 22, A Million (the new James Vincent McMorrow, too): brief experience, ten songs apiece, loads of post-808s vocal effects, analog modeling synthesizer, Tom Krell-style pop-n-soul, sleek Audi commercial beats, au courant music made by guys who began by pushing timelessness. Or at least the early-to-mid ’70s version of it. Naturally, I prefer the one I understand to the one I can’t make heads or tails of, but that’s me, and I can’t imagine that the world is going to pick right now to start ratifying my judgments. Justin Vernon is way more famous than Francis is, so my fear is that Farewell, Starlite! is going to be received, if it’s received at all, as a ride on the Bon Iver coattails. I know, you can’t protect these guys from themselves, let alone the monster of public reception. Or even my own monstrous reception; I mean, some nights I believe Farewell, Starlite! is another masterstroke, and on others, I fear it’s all been downhill for this particular sophisti-style since Baby Dayliner.

Best Piano, Organ, Or Electric Piano Playing

Cam O’Bi and/or Peter Cottontale on the Noname and Jamila Woods albums. I don’t know who that is on “Emerald Street”, but it’s dazzling. I’ve also got to give it up to Brian Hamilton of Cymbals Eat Guitars, who gives a master class in the successful integration of synths in a rock band context on Pretty Years. I’m enrolling next semester. CEG didn’t make my Top 20, but they probably should have. No matter what they do or how loud Joe D’Agostino shouts, they seem to cruise under the radar. I imagine they’ll get their due eventually. They’re too good not to.

Best Guitar Playing

I’m not sure Ilike Margaret Glaspy’s singing at all: at times she’s a vocal dead ringer for Missy Higgins, who had her Australian heritage to excuse her bizarre vowels. But Glaspy’ssongwriting on the usual lovelorn topics is A-OK, and the Stratocaster on Emotions And Math knocks me out. In fact Ia m ready to call glaspy the best new guitarist I’ve heard since… well, since Laura Marling. Who has become my benchmark for quality in all things, I now realize. Like: how good is that piece of grouper you are eating with such gusto?, damn bro, it’s Laura Marling good. My contractor came and cut these I-beams with Laura Marling-like precision. I award him two and a half Marlings.

Best Instrumental Solo

The synth ride on Vanishing Twin’s “Telescope”.

Best Instrumentalists, Honest Injun Division

Mind you people, I could have tapped the members of Miranda Lambert’s combo in all these categories. I just don’t want this exercise to be as monotonous as it was two years ago.

Best Arrangements

The Weight Of These Wings

Best Songwriting

Chris Collingwood of Look Park. This album ought to be of interest to you, even if you refuse to entertain the altogether reasonable proposition that Stacy’s mom has got it going on. Chris C. promised that Look Park wouldn’t sound like Fountains Of Wayne, which is true to a point: the song architecture is more or less indistinguishable from the moodier stuff on Sky Full Of Holes, but Mitchell Froom’sproduction seems to have been imported directly from Woodface and/or Nine Objects Of Desire,right down to the synth sounds and the vocal reverb. Either the old trashcan-banger hasn’t come up with any new tricks in twenty years, or Collingwood paid out for some of that old Mitchell Froom. Either way, it’s a joy to hear, especially on the last two songs and “You Can Come Round If You Want To”.

Best Lyrics On An Individual Song

“The Dictator Decides” by Pet Shop Boys. Who do you suppose it’s about? could be Bashar Assad, but I’m inclined to think it’s a humanized Kim Jong Un. Kind of Neil Tennant to gift these two-bit thugs with self-awareness they probably didn’t have on their best day. But then his overwhelming generosity has always been his cross to bear.

P.F. Rizzuto Award For Lyrical Excellence Over The Course Of An Album

Jamila Woods. HEAVN often sounds and feels like Carole King’s Fantasy, right down to the vaguely theatrical interludes, the sociopolitics, the major seventh chords, the music that’s either headline-invigorated and thus inspired or limp enough to induce a grimace, and the creeping feeling that the album could double for an elementary school social studies primer. Rosa was a freedom fighter and she taught us how to fight indeed: sit at the frontof the bus and refuse to budge with Jamila-like or Carole-like dignity. Introverted, smart black/Jewish girl in a bubble/up on the roof, surrounded by various social injustices, autodidacting her way toward compassionate citizenship and maybe some fist-in-the-air action (but gently!). Learns to love herself! I cried, I really did. A tree still grows in Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Brown University, which is where Jamila Woods attended African Studies classes before bringing her degree, and her moral authority, back to the South Side. And there is something to be said for the Ivy-educated (or plain old educated) popular artist; the average Jane pop star, incisive as she can be, would not have been able to bring the weight of history’s outrages to a dead-grandfather couplet like “you are the library burned/but they can’t take the lessons I’ve learned.” Pardon me, I just got a chill. Steven points out that some of the melodies on HEAVN are awfully slack, and he’s not wrong. But Woodsmakes up for it by jampacking HEAVN with hip-hop quotables, not to mention nineties-kid points of reference such as clapping games, Dawson’s Creek, and leaving your horny little friend on the Huffy with blue balls. My favorite is the one where she tells a suitor that if he wants her, he’d better be ready to embrace Chicago — and then invites Chance by to take some shots at the whole stupid Chi-raq thing.

Best Production

On Telefone, Cam O’bi has gifted Noname with fey, warbly-ass backdrops — music that sounds like nothing else — to match her delicate probing index finger of a voice. The rapperhits upon every sensitive bildungsroman subject she can find, and never awkwardly; same thing goes for Saba on Bucket List Project, and again it’s O’bi with the assist. The dividends from Chicago’s after-school arts programs just keep raining down on the rest of an unworthy nation.

Band Of The Year

Jimmy Eat World are purveyors of wheat gluten. But like all good vegan chefs they remember to switch up the presentation each time they slop another slab onto your plate. Each album has its distinctive flavor profile, and that includes the recent ones that nobody outside of Tempe would call landmarks. Jim Adkins says that Invented was based on Cindy Sherman photographs, and with a haircut as sincere as his is, who are we to doubt his words? Damage, which came out in 2013, gave you the wheat gluten indigestibly dense and perhapsraw in the middle. For Integrity Blues, they’ve hired Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the cheeseball who oversaw Paramore’s power-pop move and a musician with no apparent reverence for the emo canon. He has, I am glad to say, produced this whole thing to fuck and back, and allowed Adkins and friends to indulge all of their crowd-pleasing fantasies. That means tinkly synthesizers and Oasis mellotrons all over the place, echoes of Yes (absolutely intentional) in the bass and backing vocals, and Trembling Blue Stars (probably unintentional, but who knows?) in the guitorchestral arrangements. The first side of Integrity contains the alleged radio singles, and it’s fairly fun in an are-we-too-old-for-this? kind of way, but the back half, on which the bandmembers and their producer run wild, is a total joy. If you don’t like “Through”, and you call yourself a rock fan, you’d better have a signed permission slip, pal. Also, I’ve got to say it: “Pol Roger” really does sound like Asia. So do what you want, but little darlin please don’t cry.

Best Show I Saw In 2016

The Moles at Pianos. No, I don’t care at all that Richard Davies forgot the words.

Live Show I’m Kicking Myself For Missing

Jamila Woods was at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark this year. I don’t know if she read or sang or both; in any case, I really should have been there. Honestly, I should have covered it — that way I could have asked her what I really want to know, which is: how do you play Popsicle?

Best Music Video

“Formation”, of course. As a big fan of Knowles family entertainment, I hasten to add that the “Cranes In The Sky” video is mandatory viewing for the sets alone. But you already knew that; in fact I notice some of you are seriously arguing that A Seat At The Table is as good as or better than Lemonade.I think y’all are nuts, but that’s what makes the world go round. Nuts, I mean. I hoped that if I put the time in, I would cease to find A Seat At The Table to be Jamila-lite, and Idid put the time in, and Iwas rewarded. For one thing, Solange can sing circles around Jamila Woods, and for another, her broad range of instrumental collaborators (and a big ass bankroll) gives her version of alt-r&b/ecriture feminine/black girl magic a glistening mahogany sheen that the cash-strapped Chicago public school crowd cannot pretend to. Budget cuts and all; see Jonathan Kozol for details. Still, I wish this mistress of the oblique could, every now and then, come as hard and direct as Woods does on every fucking line. I realize it’s got to be tricky to maintain the brand as the “arty” Knowles sister, given that big sis is no slouch in that department. Right, like millions aren’t going to hang on Solange’s every note, no matter how outre she gets and how many choruses she wants to chuck in the bucket. Royalty has its privileges, and those perks will always make certain commoners want to barf. But there were a thousand ways that Solange could have cashed in on her famous name if she’d wanted to be lazy. I am pleased she chose the one way that proves she’s anything but.

Best Choreography In A Video

Tinashe’s “Company”. Some Ciara-style Gumby dancing, some co-co-cold-hearted snake action, some giddy masturbation for the camera; nothing not to love here if you love pop video. Yes indeed we needed another blurry r&b smoke-music album like we needed a hole in the head — a process known as “trepanation”, i.e., actual drilling into the skull, done to open up the subject to the influence of cosmic rays. Most Americans get on fine without trepanning their brains, and you could certainly wrap up your year without engaging too closely with the Nightride mixtape. But that’d be a minor mistake. Contrary to what you’d have forecasted, Tinashe did not get washed away by the dam-break of similar albums and into the Jhene Aiko zone — her gamine personality pokes through the haze more often than it doesn’t. Most of this fog rolls thick straight out of the humidifier, but she does occasionally serve herself up with some straight up tasty soda pop (“Ride Of Your Life”, “Ghetto Boy”, “Soul Glitch”) which, while not entirely effervescent, reminds me that Tinashe has everything it takes to be a major star if she cared to be one. Maybe in 2017 if she ever puts the Playstation controller down.

Most Romantic Song

Francis And The Lights — “May I Have This Dance”.

Funniest Song

“Talkin’ Bleep”. Here we have the cantankerous version of Homeboy Sandman. Yes he exists. Sand is in a bad mood throughout Kindness For Weakness and has decided he will not suffer fools. Gone are the friendly humblebrags of “Not Really”, the fingers-on-the-chin reflections of Hallways and the relaxed descriptive generosity of “Big Fat Belly.” Instead he rails against presumptuous fans who make suggestions, people who assume authority for no reason, those afraid of hard troof-telling, and Huffington Post to boot. He remains the wittiest guy around, and indeed you don’t wanna battle with a cat of his catalog, digital or analog, cannonball or cattle prod. But up until KindnessFor Weakness, I always felt that he’d managed to dodge the high intelligence/low wisdom problem that has wrecked so many alt-rap projects. He always seemed to have things in perspective and a ruminative, temperate tone he shared with no other rapper. He remains inimitable, but this year, he’s just another clever cuss off the rails. Still a regular cut-up, though.

Most Frightening Song

Paul Simon’s Stranger To Stranger. The whole thing. I tried to listen to it shortly before the election, and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t like what he was telling me, even though I knew from long experience to take my Paulie medicine. The more nonchalant he seems, the harder I need to listen. He never set himself up as a sage: he just is one.”It’s not my job to worry or to think”, or so he sings, and I guess in a sense it’s true. A half century ago he was thrust into the role of the sensitive intellectual entertainer — mostly because of his height, and his breadth of allusion, and his Jewishness — but it is unclear that he ever sought that for himself. Tom and Jerry wanted to be the Everly Brothers, right?; Simon wanted to write dream dream dream and croon it to Kathy like an earth angel. His last three albums, which for my money have got to be the weirdest and sharpest ever released by an artist in his or her late sixties/early seventies, Dylan be damned, do have the character of dream-work. If Simon’s latest writing happens to coincide with national neuroses, that’s just because the trouble one sees on the news, or on the street, does have a way of trickling into the unconscious. These latest eyelid movies are about sublimated violence and social division, like in “Wristband”, a story that starts out with a musician locked out of his own club and soon becomes a confrontation with a bouncer as autocrat, and then takes on the apocalyptic whiff of violence in the hinterland. There’s the street angel: a schizophrenic writer who rides an ambulance through two different songs, and who mistakes the clatter of the emergency room for a parade. Speaketh the poet: “They say all roads lead to a river/then one day the river comes up to your door/how will the builder of bridges deliver/us all to that faraway shore”? This asked one track after a narrator — that same one who doesn’t want to worry or think — reports the discovery of heaven six million light years away, and makes it clear you’ll only get there if you’re among the beautiful. The rest of us are condemned to hover here and forever confront our misdeeds. Life is a lottery a lotta people lose, Simon tells us on the very first number. So my question for you is: now that the greatest living boy in New Yorkis getting set to check out of the grand hotel, do you think he thinks he’s a winner or a loser? Paul Simon, I had to ask.

Most Moving Song

Jamila Woods, “Holy”. A self-affirmation chorusfor introverted African American girls built on a Civil Rights anthem built on a gospel tune. Everything on HEAVN is like that; it’s all deep soil.

Sexiest Song

Eleanor Friedberger’s “Because I Asked You”. New View, by the way, is an outstanding album that would have easily made the Top 20 in a weaker year.

Most Inspiring Song

Chance The Rapper, “Finish Line”.

Meanest Song

“Def Pacts” by Of Montreal. The Barnes Collection continues to tack on new wings. This one, like many of the other recent additions, mostly contains glowering portraits of his exes. After eleventy albums of unrequited castigation, no judge on the planet would deny them a restraining order. The twist on Innocence Reachesis the electronic textures, but he covered some of this ground better on Aureate Gloom. The old gremlin may have finally juiced all of the blood out of the stone.

Saddest Song

J. Cole’s “Neighbors”. A good-hearted guy gives up on the promise of integration. Crushing, painful, all too believable, happens every day right here in JC.

Rookie Of The Year

Kamaiyah. Initially I was going to be the male asshole rock critic and say that the party hearty adventures of a young female emcee aren’t any more illuminating than those of the boys. And I would’ve been dead wrong. Kamaiyah reserves the right to sleep around in the exact way that YG says a young lady shouldn’t, and furthermore she likes to joyride around the East Bay and drink champagne straight out the bottle until she blacks out. But she also wants a boyfriend she can count on, and by the end of the album she acknowledges that the drunken nights have cost her more than brain cells. The flossing on this album is strictly conventional and intentionally low key: the thing Kamaiyah brags most about is her throwback telephone. “I was born in the slums/wasn’t raised up in a mansion”; that’s how she introduces herself, and given that the storytelling never goes beyond the Oakland city limits, it’s assumed that she hasn’t gotten far from her origins. (If you couldn’t already tell from the aspirational internet-hit single, which is as hopeless at its bottom as Tracy Chapman was on “Mountains O’ Things”). I like how Kamaiyah plays den mother for pals confronting male bad behavior, and how endearingly she navigates the usual street perils. Honestly, she’s a distaff version of Danny Brown on XXX— a likeable poor kid who understands that overindulgence is at best a partial escape from unpleasant realities. And who’s going to do it anyway, and who is generous enough to allow us to watch her become the object lesson of her own stories. Don’t let the chintzy late-’80s throwback production or your own hip-hop sexism fool you: Good Night is a surprisingly deep album.

Best Guest Appearance Or Feature

Chance The Rapper on “Girls@”, the second song from Joey Purp’s iiiDrops. One of the standout emcees from Surf (check his great verse on “Go”) Joey is just not as unusual as his formidable mic skills make me wish he was. When he’s not bragging in a manner you’ve heard many times before, or using familiar metaphors to tell street stories you’ve heard many times before, or running down girls for no particular reason, he’s getting upstaged by his guests: Chance, whose playfulness and flexibility throws his straight shooting in relief, and Saba, whose compassion makes Joey seem emotionally ironclad by comparison. But damn skippy does he have some jams. Especially “Photobooth,” in which he tries to fuck everybody everywhere, and “Say You Do”, in which he realizes that even if he does, the girlies still aren’t going to like him all that much.

2016 Album You Listened To The Most

Look Park

2016 Album That Wore Out Most Quickly

Zoetic by The Rocket Summer. Nice try, Bryce. I’d say close but no cigar, but it wasn’t too close, and I doubt Bryce smokes. To his credit, he recognized that the hermetic quality he’d achieved on the last few Rocket Summer releases wasn’t serving his songwriting. But instead of the obvious solution — actually inviting other human beings to participate into the process — he’s retreated all the way into the computer. Zoeticis The Rocket Summer chopped up and restacked and machine processed, with every signal pushed into the red and Bryce screaming his buns off. It’s a departure; I’ll give him that. It doesn’t sound like anything else; I’ll give him that, too. But it’s some of the most exhausting music I’ve ever heard in my life. This pop enterprise doesn’t go anywhere without strong authorial voices, and Bryce Avary has that part covered. But there’s a reason why there are 900 people credited on The Life Of Pablo. Making records: it’s a team sport. Artists, do not get lost in the dark cul-de-sac of your own bellybutton, or the electronic bellybutton that computers have become.

Most Convincing Historical Re-creation

Up To Anything by the Goon Sax. Australian indiepop outfit, fronted by a son of one of the Go-Betweens. Boy has he ever inherited the family business. He hasn’t even changed the fucking drapes.

Best Sequenced Album

Telefone. Noname kicks her usual tightly circumscribed amount of buttand then clears out, as she seems to do on every Chicago release. You might fearthat her open-mic poetry jam flow would get mighty tiresome over a full album; shrewdly, Telefone is only thirty-three minutes. And it’s impeccably paced — so much so that nobody seems to realize that with “Bye Bye Baby”, she’s given hip-hop its very own “You Can’t Be Too Strong”. Hey, some armchair moralist was going to do it eventually, and better Noname than an earnest rappin’ gentleman like Common.

Thing You Don’t Know But You Know You Should

I missed this year’s High Llamas album somehow. Unaccountable.I was listening to Snowbug a bunch in March.

Most Inconsistent Album

Anti. She makes claims. Sex with her, she tells us, is amazing. You know what? I’ve listened to her whole new album — exhibit A, so to speak — and I don’t believe her. It’s not the grody tattoos, although those don’t help her case. It isn’t even that she continues to confuse sexual desire with violence and coercion, and therefore her eros is redolent of the same capitalist power dynamics that make modern romances so boring. (Let me know when you’re ready to bleed, indeed.) It’s that the beats on this, her personal-statement album, are stiffer than a surfbort. Anti has its many thrilling moments, including a late-set dip into adult soul that allows her to showcase her not-inconsiderable vocal chops. But even there, allure is never a given: for instance, I find her impersonation of a sloppy drunk on higher to be pretty damn authentic and therefore pretty damn disgusting. A mid-album slog hits a trench on “Woo”, which is the sort of near-atonal art-rock that made Lydia Lunch anathema north of Fourteenth Street during the no-wave era. Worse still is Rihanna’s attempt to burnish some psych-rock cred through a karaoke run through Tame Impala’s “Same Old Mistakes”, which is exactly the embarrassment you’d think it would be. Like KRS-ONE, I am ordering her to put back on her drawers.

Album That Turned Out To Be A Whole Hell Of A Lot Better Than You Thought It Was

Say Anything — IDon’t Think It Is First thing to know: Max is a rapper now. Not a slick flow-first emcee like Lupe, mind you; more like Yoni Wolf if he jammed his nuts into a pasta roller and cranked. I tend to prefer the poppier Max (s/tis still my fave) and so do Joe and Jane Say Anything Fan, who are treating the new one like it has zika virus on it. Why, then, do I find myself enjoying IDon’t Think It Is as much as I do? I suppose it’s for the same reason that I like rap records when I like them: Bemis has created the ideal sonic habitat for his own peculiar narrators. Since those narrators tend to be disgusted, self-loathing poopchuckers, it actually helps the cause that IDon’t Think It Is sounds as if it was recorded in somebody’s armpit. Getting the sound to match the sentiment; that’s half the battle. When he’s not spanking himself for his hubris, Max aims his invective at various phonies, the gov’t, and the “virus that made him a showman.” Right, like he was ever going to do anything else. Most artists stand for nothing and still get rejected anyway; Bemis is taking his rejection howling, and with his integrity intact. Good for him. I’ll keep listening.

Man, I Wish I Knew What This Song, Or Album, Was About

A lot of Blonde, actually.

Least Believable Perspective Over An Album

Chairlift’s Moth.I am aware of the problems, as they have all been heavily foregrounded, and I have to respect a record that wears its flaws so boldly. And hey, what wouldyoudo if you sold a song to Beyonce? You’d try as hard as you could to pitch her some more, right? And you’d swag out a little, even if your identity as a wealthy white woman makes that ch-ching move preposterous and maybe borderline racist. Cut her some slack, people; she’s human. Here she swags, she can do no other.

Most Alienating Perspective Over An Album

Schoolboy Q and Kevin Gates. What a grim pair. Islah‘s platinum certification proves there is still a large market for New Orleans bust you in the face music. That I get. Some of the critical acclaim mystifies me, though; what is he saying that a thousand other crack-slinging rappers haven’t? He drops the usual brand names, threatens the usual punks, sells the usual coke, and disrespects the usual hos, and in a year as unusual as 2016, that’s not gonna cut it. I do feel him when he says he loves making love to the pussy. Though that doesn’t distinguish him either. Schoolboy Q is a tougher case: he’s gotten super serious in his old age, and he’s brought in some ace producers to toss a little spice in the sauce. He’s a bruiser on the mic when he gets going, and his bleak vision pays off on “The John Muir” and “THaT Part.” You might drop the needle and be impressed. But at 72 joyless minutes, Blank Face is a chore. When I’ve sat through it from front to back, I’ve ended up feeling like I’ve been in a street fight with a nut punching asshole. Mercy.

Also As Grueling As Everybody Says It Is

The Hope Six Demolition Project. Honestly, I’m just bummed that she had a bad time on her trip to D.C. She should have hit me up. I’d have told her where she could get a really good pizza.

Most Sympathetic Of Likeable Perspective Over An Album

Weezer. The biggest resurrection story since Lazarus continues. Consider: at the time of the publication of the worthless Raditude,Rivers Cuomo was 40 years old and, seemingly, at the tail end of a wholly predictable decline phase. Moreover he was writing stuff like “Pork And Beans”, which, in addition to not being a very good song, wore its disgust with showbiz like a sweaty headband. Here we had a pitcher signaling to the bench that he was done and needed to be lifted from the game. There was no older dude in America who seemed less likely, or even less inclined, to return to making quality pop music. Surely he was going to set up a lawn chair and get grumpier and wait to die. But even at his most infuriating — and he was down there for a long time — he always understood the mechanics of songwriting, and you can never count those guys out. Oh what am I saying?, I totally counted him out. I voted for him for hoary old bastard at least once and considered him for the honor at least two other times. Anyway, as good as Everything Will Be Alright In The End was, it’s really Weezer White that cements the comeback and makes it virtually certain that we’ll be dealing with Rivers Cuomo, warts ‘n’ all, for the next ten years at least. All of these new songs are set in California, a place he’s always been very amusing about, which in practice means that there’s a bunch of Beach Boys and Bacharach (who is namechecked) added to the Costello-KISS hybrid. Consequently you can expect some of the most sensational bridges since the heyday of Liz Phair. Also the enthusiastic/insecure nerd narrator is back, which beats the hell out of the petulant/borderline Kaczynski nerd he’s been playing (I hope) for awhile. The general subject is the extraordinary pathos of the male human when confronted by girls he’d desperately like to screw but cannot identify a point of entry. Rock and roll, in other words. Confessional verse: “I’m like an Indian fakir trying to meditate on a bed of nails with my pants pulled down”. Two songs later there is a graphic depiction of constipation. So welcome back. Welcome all the way back. You fucking clown.

Artist I Root For No Matter What

I am told that Alicia Keys shares a practice space with Beyonce. Maybe not the best decision by an artist who has always been dangerously prone to me-tooism. Indisputably she wants her own glass of lemonade, even as her unfamiliarity with red state psychodrama makes her an inferior carrier of the message of the moment. (Compare and contrast “Daddy Lessons”, which outgunned the country singers, with the social-problem broadway schick of “The Gospel”.) Keys is a big believer in the political efficacy of compassion’n’tolerance, and cross-cultural understanding, and a bunch of other stuff that plays great on the island and dies on the vine when transplanted to continental soil. But she does have her many talents to bring to the table, including a voice undiminished by the ravages of network TV, and her trusty piano, which, I am pleased to say, is mixed pretty damn loud on Here. She’s welcome to her ride on the black girl magic bandwagon. They were probably keeping a seat warm for her.

Artist You Respect, But Don’t Like

Sia Furler

Artist With The Most Legitimate Grievance

How To Dress Well. This poor schmuck has had his style bitten twelve ways from Thursday. Out for frustration or whatever, Tom Krell has responded to this by taking a few tentative steps in the direction of Ed Sheeran pop-funk. Seems more than justifiable to this fruitcake over here, but Iguess the PBR&B gatekeepers think otherwise. Now he gets called a sellout by the same people who consider the new Bon Iver a postmodern masterpiece. No justice in showbiz, chapter 4080.

ThingYou Feel Cheapest About Liking

Jeffery. Not all that much has changed here, either: “Lil mama she ready for war/she ready for dick in her ass and her throat” is still about the size of it. Young Thug will either shoot you or do some drugs in front of you or demand anal sex; those are the three settings on the Jeffery Williams machine. Toggle between them if you like, but that’s all you’re getting. He remains pure id — so howlingly horny that words fall away and he is left barking like a seal. Like er er er er er er er (that’s a hook). The music on Jeffery, however, is amazing, and I mean that literally: like I can sit here amazed by the texture of a particular backing vocal part, or how the drums smack in like a breaker on the “Harambe” chorus, or the interplay between the synthesizers and the vocals on “Pick Up The Phone.” Young Thug, who has a knack for catchy melody and dirty southern blooze, is very much a part of that music. When he sounds this sensational, it is (almost) immaterial that he is singing “get behind her/put it in her butt.” I don’t really have a problem with the crassness, since drive fast/live hard/get laid is the depraved heart of rock and roll. But I do think he needs to broaden his subject matter. Unless he really does want to be counted among the idiot savants.

Album You Learned The Words/Music To Most Quickly


Album You Regret Giving The Time Of Day To

NXWorries —Yes Lawd Here’s a rarity (thank goodness): an album that actually wrecks the experience of another album released earlier in the same year. Straight up demolishes it. On Malibu, Anderson.Paak was an ambivalent family man of not-inconsiderable intelligence whose chase after girls, fame, and Hollywood glitz was conducted with identifiable leeriness. with NXWorries, he’s just a dumb asshole — a boringly swaggering sexist asshole to boot. For sure there is no shortage of those in hip-hop, and I guess Paak thinks that since he raps more and sings less on this project he’s got to get with the program, which makes me think that he’s more of a tofu cube than he initially seemed to be. My appreciation of Paak never had much to do with his nonconformity. But for Malibu’s sake, I’m still going to have to press play and record at the same time and wipe this dreadful album from my memory.

Best Sounding Album Of 2016

Saba’s Bucket List Project. Since it cameon the heels of the trillion other free releases from Chicago rappers this year, this feelsa little like a victory lap for the entire citywide enterprise. Sucks for Saba, who has his very own distinctive voice/sound/axe to grind. His position in the uprising, so to speak, is nothing we haven’t encountered before: he’s the tweener pulled out of the hood by his scholastic achievement and now feels at home neither in the projects nor the academy. In fact he told this story so well on his Joey Purp guest spot that parts of the Bucket List Project do feel a wee bit redundant. But this is a quirk of the calendar, and not the fault of poor Sabahimself, and I feel the need to say that I, for one, have *not* had enough of Chicago youngster-rap. Not even close. And inasmuch as I have come to know and dig these characters, it is impossible for me to resist a set on which they all swing by to tell you what’s on their bucket lists. So we get cheerful Chance, glib as ever, angling to learn the drums because drummers get the girls, scene elder Lupe announcing his intention to win a Nobel Prize, and a more equivocal Jean Deaux who wants world peace and de-gentrification and the opportunity to smoke a blunt with Beyonce. Then there are the familiar Chi collaborators who don’t state their goals but let their fingers on the faders do the talking, like Cam O’Bi, who imports some of that warbly magic from his productions on Telefone. My favorite contributor has got to be a guy we’ve never heard before and may never hear again — a friend of the rapper who aspires to drop a project, and who doesn’t care if nobody listens to it. He just wants to be able to say he did it. He could be speaking for all of the new voices in Chicago. In fact, while there weremore accomplished albums made in the Second City in 2016, none captured the aesthetic of the movement better than this very beautiful, very moving set does. Gotta love it like you love the lake.

Most Overrated

Sturgill Simpson.The most painful four minutes of the year might be Sturgill’s version of “In Bloom,” which gets not only the sentiment but the world-famous words wrong. It extends his habit of sticking a turgid cover in the middle of his albums, which purist critics of Nashville country are determined to overvalue as if his name was Kacey Musgraves. Elsewhere on the set, the music has apparently been provided by the Blues Brothers. Simpson has a convincing backwoods growl, his arrangements are punchy, and I do admire the conceptual unity of A Sailor’s Guide To Earth — even if it uses the epistolary conceit of letters to the singer’s infant son as a pretext to drop a bunch of platitudes and overwrought sea metaphors on the listener. I am not taking life advice from a man whose only reflections about fifteen different Asian cities is that they’ve got similar bars–or one who thinks “don’t sweat the small stuff” is an acceptable chorus.

Worst Song Of The Year

Was “Cake By The Ocean” a 2015 single? It sure left a slime trail across the summer of 2016.

Song That’s Technically Not Terrible, But Which Pissed Me Off Every Time I Heard It

“Can’t Stop The Feeling”. “‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ was a Number One jam/Damn if I say it you can slap me right here.”

Worst Singing

Panic! At The Disco. Great.Nowthis fucking harlequin thinks he’s Frank Sinatra. His imitations are absolutely gruesome, of course, but so is everything else he’s ever done. His whole life has been a metaphorical slasher film, right down to all the former bandmates he’s knifed out of the group. Your latest version of Panic! is down to Brendan Urie, who seems hell bent on fashioning a Frankenstinian fusion of glam-metal and lounge jazz. Who else would even try? In 2016, there’s actually a musician on a major label making recordings that sound like Sparks fronted by Harry Connick Jr., or, to be cruelly accurate, the Cherry Popping Daddies. If you can’t applaud his chutzpah, maybe you deserve that sleepy-ass Whitney album.

Worst Rapping

Desiigner. Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I kind of hated all of of Andre Benjamin’s guest spots this year. Hence…

Rapping That Wasn’t Exactly Terrible, But Can’t Be Entirely Pardoned, Either, No Matter How Much I Want To

Everybody on the ATCQ album who is not actually part of the ATCQ lineup I remember from my misspent youth. I am not here to throw cold water on anybody’s happy reunion story, or farewell story, depending on how you spin it. I am just going to point out a few things I noticed while listening to this new set by Kanye West’s favorite rap act. For starters, this was by no means “produced and arranged by the four man crew”, to quote a dearly departed emcee: Q-Tip appears to have overseen the recording, played most of the live instruments and programmed the drums, and called the shots. This was, if you remember from the Beats, Rhymes & Life documentary, the crux of the conflict in the group — Q-Tip’s maddening control-freakdom, hilariously illustrated by the late Chris Lighty in an anecdote about his unwillingness to hand over the Midnight Marauders masters. Now, some control freaks make perfectionist jazz-rap, and others end up spending the holidays at the UCLA psych ward. But I feel for all of them, because without them, more than half of the albums on my year-end list wouldn’t have gotten finished. What I can’t handle, though, is the control-freak’s tendency to rewire history on the fly, like the present conceit that Jarobi, who is neither a good rapper nor a good lyricist (“into new ass we tear”?) nor the genial presence he thinks he is, was ever an integral part of the band. Because he wasn’t; not even on People’s Instinctive Travels. Also, correct me if i’m wrong here, but Busta Rhymes was never actually in the Tribe, was he? His role was to raow raow like a dungeon dragon, get the hell out, and leave the real stuff to the professionals. Here’s the most grievous continuity error of all: the strange case of Ali Shaheed Mohammed, who appears to have been non-personed as thoroughly as that third balaclava chick who was sent to Siberia by the rest of Pussy Riot. This might have been Ali’s own decision: maybe he had hot dinner dates. He’s missed. his contribution to the crew was always his preternatural grace. Q-Tip, multi-talented as he is, is only graceful on the mic.

Worst Instrumentalist

Martha, an oddly named spazz-pop guitar band from North England, has a lot going for it. The singers hit the tape with great energy, their songs are funny and sharp and loaded with singalong tags, and they’re fans of the Replacements, so they’re shooting in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re let down by their drummer, who is neither imaginative nor particularly proficient. He drops stitches, he fails to hold tempo, he gets timid when he needs to take charge; and more than once on Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, it sounds like he falls down face first on the kit. Bands like this improve all the time; I imagine they’re on tour right now, playing in somebody’s cupboard and getting better and tighter. Hope so — music like this requires a confident rhythm section. Without one, they’ll never be more than a UK version of the Candy Hearts.

Worst Lyrics

The results are in and Ahnoni is *against* the destruction of the environment. Holy shit bold stand there pal. Ahnoni also dislikes poverty, drone warfare, and the surveillance state, unlike the rest of us squares. I would have thought that such a fragile character would be more into tank battles and malfeasance, but that just goes to show what I know. Funny that this hipster saint resorts to the exact same quasi-ironic joke that the allegedly uncool Bruce Hornsby does on “TSA Man”: he pretends to derive sexual excitement from blatant authoritarian overreach. Only Hornsby is actually funny, and too crass to torture his audience with dirges. Ahnoni’s dreary “Obama” would be a contender for the year’s worst song even without the fourth grade politics. I, too, wish that the President had been an eighteenth level wizard with hypnotic powers rather than a cautious Chicago machine politician. Now that he’s out the door, Hegarty, how do you like the alternative?

Worst Lyrics By A Good Lyricist Who Should Have Known Better

“If Whiskey Were A Woman” by Lori McKenna. But all of her other stuff is good!, for real. Just stop before you hit the last song.

Most Unsexy People In Pop

The Chainsmokers

Most Thoroughly Botched Production Job

Little Big Town’s Wanderlust. The abomination crawls forth. Little Big Town with cartoon dollar signs popping out of their irises plus Pharrell Williams, who continues to flail around in all genres in a desperate attempt to reconnect with his muse. She’s a-not coming back, Pharrell, at least not right away. She’s still pissed about that groper anthem you did with Robin Thicke. This is the rare case where the producer manages to amplify everything annoying about his client — their blithe, too-pristine harmonies, their automaton-like delivery of theoretically emotional lyrics — and the client convinces the producer to indulge his most craven, crowd-pleasing tendencies. This was essentially disowned upon release: both sides took a listen to the masters and effectively abandoned them. They were right to.

Also Might Consider A Different Approach Next Time

Pup’s “breakthrough” album kicks off with a song called “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” (“Everything you do makes me wanna vomit/and if this tour doesn’t kill you, buddy, I’m on it”). This number is such a convincing portrayal of the specific brand of log cabin fever that develops in a band vanthat if you’ve ever been in a band van yourself, listening to this will definitely trigger PTSD. The album only gets more aggressive from there, which is sort of a shame, even if the subject matter calls for it. There’s one about accidentally murdering a pet via neglect and/or incompetence, and another about a girl who falls through the cracks in the ice on a frozen lake, and another about accidentally jerking off in front of a friend. So they’ve got the topics. They just need to cool it with the distortion.

Good Artist Most In Need Of Some Fresh Ideas

Abel Tesfaye. Remember when he was scary? Neither do I.

Decent Artist Losing Altitude

Bruno Mars —24k Magic Bruno is too good a student of pop history not to realize that this is where it gets dicey for mimics and pure craftspeople: the “difficult third album” on which fans, and maybe bandmates, demand artistic progression. In the past, he’s coped with his interiority deficiency by importing some from classic soul artists; now, perhaps realizing this wouldn’t fly a third time, he’s decided to cannibalize early-nineties pop-funk instead. As 24k Magic is a Bruno Mars album, the imitations are all letter-perfect. But weirdly, it turns out that Bruno is better at faking Sam Cooke than Ralph Tresvant. Go figure. Or maybe, obscenely wealthy and comfy and fattened up with pork from the luau, he’s just not singing as well as he used to, period. Regardless, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this endeth the winning streak.

Supposed Former Pop Master Running On Fumes

Lady Gaga. Oh, dear. To call Joanne an improvement on Artpop tells you nothing, as that was a flailing, sub-replacement-level effort from a popular artist in mid-meltdown over the loss of her relevance. Since Iam not a rubbernecker, I hope I never have to hear that album again. It will remain a data point in the Gaga trajectory, though, even if it’s one that falls off the graph of acceptability. By that extremely limited standard, Joanne is a rebound. but the problem this time out — one that was telegraphed on Born This Way — is that she’s completely forgotten how to sing pop. She bellows into the microphone like she’s trying to shatter the filament. The result is way too abrasive (she probably calls it “brassy”, bless her drag-club heart) for mainstream consumption, and the gruesome singles herein are stiffing despite the multimillon dollar push. Did she learn nothing from her time with Tony Bennett, or was she just there for the butt pinchings?

Young Upstart Who Should Be Sent Down To The Minors For More Seasoning

Roosevelt. Or what Passion Pit might sound like if Michael Angelikos couldn’t write. Stylish nonsense and suffocating gloss. An empty disco in an unfashionable suburb.

Top Prospect Number One

Pinegrove. As an Essex County loyalist I am obligated to spread the world about this young Montclair emo(-ish) band. I don’t really expect you sophisticates to grok, necessarily, but if you do take the time to listen, I think you’ll agree that there’s some real promise here. Evan Hall, the main main, has the heartrending Mangum-y delivery down pat, and even when he gets lost in the guitar thicket, his winsome little folk melodies poke their faces out like so many weasels in the underbrush (note: weasels are really cute.) “Aphasia” is the choice cut, the whole thing is pretty enjoyable. If you understood the Roadside Graves, this will make perfect sense to you. And damn right I pump my fist when he sings “Montclair and elsewhere”. I have my brand to protect.

Top Prospect Number Two

CupcakKe. Absolutely, positively, disgustingly obscene hip-hop from — where else — Chicago. Strictly speaking we didn’t need a girl version of Akinyele, but I for one welcome her blowjob braggadocio with open… er… okay, legs, I guess? Truth is that CupcakKe is a fine writer, quick with a novel cock metaphor, clever and wordy-playful as, say, Colin Meloy. So tell the censorious that there are a few cuts on Cum Cakethat don’t address sex very much, or just use sex as a springboard for a different topic. Like “Pedophile”, for instance, a convincing description of a pedophile; okay, scratch that, bad example. They’re there somewhere. I know it. My mind just got wiped by the really filthy ones, which, if you’re skipping around, are “Vagina”, “Deepthroat”, and the wonderfully vile “Juicy Coochie”, which comes complete with orgasm noises and slurping sounds. Important, possibly racist instructions for fucking her: “To make my thighs shake like Jello/I need a dick longer than an egg roll.” This isn’t going to be anybody’s top 1 or anything. But I don’t consider your year complete until you’ve had the experience.

Hoary Old Bastards Who Should Spare Us All And Retire


Also Probably Ready For That Time Share In Boca Raton

ABC.The only thing worse than a sequel is a sequel that comes thirty years after the original at a moment when the artist is clean out of ideas and looking to generate interest in a new project that just ain’t that interesting and does not deserve to be associated with one of the best new wave albums ever made. Martin Fry, I love you, but you’re pissing me off.

Probably Too Far Gone To Retire At This Point, But It Can’t Hurt To Ask If It Wouldn’t Be A Good Idea For Everybody

David Crosby. Look, Croz only worked because caregivers bathed the old coot in warm jazz-pop arrangements. Which was nice of them, because he sure as hell needed the bath. Lighthouse is nothing but Crosby and his acoustic guitar, and if you listen closely, you can hear the crust falling off of him and tinkling on the studio floor. No thanks.

Prog-Rock Heroes Deep Into Diminishing Returns

Marillion and Anderson/Stolt. The letters of F.E.A.R., the new Marillion set,stand for fuck everything and run, which sounds unmarilliony until you realize that Steve Hogarth is talking about the surveillance state (he’s against it) and not the band’s nonexistent groupies. Jon Anderson’s new album is about… heck, your guess is as good as mine. I imagine there’s a convergence out there harmonizing away, somewhere in the universe. For awhile it didn’t look like he was going to outlive his frenemy Chris Squire; now that he has, I’m just happy he’s hanging in there. Both of these albums have their moments, although they’re mostly long rearview-mirror reflections of better times. Steve Rothery gets off some tasty guitar solos. It’s like having an old friend over to the house. One who kicks off his shoes, plops down on the sofa, and acts content. Maybe smells a little funny.

Young Artists Who Are, For Some Inexplicable Reason, Making The Kind Of Passive Music I Associate With Hoary Old Bastards

Shura, Katy B, and Lapsley. I suspect that these three have interesting musical ideas. Unfortunately, the sonic processing, thick as it is with turtle wax and varnish and additives and preservatives, prohibits me from finding out. This is particularly galling in the sad case of Katy B, who demonstrated on her debut that she was the only singer around who could stand up to the jacktastic dubstep beats. Those jacktastic beats are mostly gone now, butthe same can be said about Katy B. Girls — do not become background noise on your own tracks! Your producer is not that great. Moreover, he is your cot damn employee. Look in the mirror every morning and say it:Iam the talent.

Hoary Old Bastard Who Cagily Enlisted A Couple Of Vaguely Younger Artists To Camouflage Her Overwhelming Hoary Old Bastardness

k.d. lang. case/lang/veirs is another data point in my argument that Neko Case is at her best when she’s in rotation with other singers. Case spins out her usual not-too-mysterious riddles, k.d. lang’s countrypolitan numbers are tired like a mareready for the glue factory, and Tucker Martine’s delicate production feather-dusts the whole shebang with grandma’s Gold Bond foot powder. The MVP and savior is Laura Veirs, who, despite her guileless lyrics and unathletic voice, gets off some keepers: “Song For Judee”, a folk-rock hagiography, “Greens Of June”, about the redemptive hippie powers of nature, and “The Best Kept Secret In Silverlake”, which sucks up fetchingly to the outfit’s guitar player. These three codgers harmonize like a dream — not a sex dream, necessarily, but one where you find some long lost socks.

Not Dull, But Not Too Fascinating, Either

Z-Ro —Drinkin’ & Drivin’/Future —EVOL/Cousin Stizz —Monda/Lil Yachty —Lil Boat. Not for me is the argument that the ascendancy of Lil Yachty represents the fall of Western civ. or even Western hip-hop. Remember they said the same about Young Thug, and Tyler, and Soulja Boy, and N.W.A., and, um, hip-hop itself.It is proof, though, that sooner rather than later, rap will be elevator music. Not that any of these are empty, meaningless albums — on the contrary, they’re all pretty memorable. It’s that they all prioritize their smooooothed out, sing-song summertime vibe to the exclusion of all else. The sun is setting in the park and the ice cream truck is here, and here come various molesters and drug peddlers to getcha. Dorchester’s Cousin Stizz is the August streetcorner master — the whole Monda LP bops by slowly and relentlessly; there’s nothing arresting about it, it just insinuates itself into your consciousness. Same goes for Future, who has settled into autopilot and has no real incentive to take back manual control. Choice cuts for the snippers and splicers: Z-Ro’s rapey “Hostage”, Stizz’s super-hi “Gang Green”, and Yachty’s irresistible, utterly weetodded “Broccoli”, which makes Thugger’s lyrics look like Edna St. Vincent Millay by comparison.

Worst Song On A Good Album

Rihanna’s “Woo”. I think we covered this already. It’s late and I’m punchy.

Song That Would Drive Me Craziest On Infinite Repeat

Jeff Rosenstock’s “Hell Hole”

Song That Got Stuck In My Head The Most This Year

Probably Xenia Rubinos’s “Mexican Chef”, but “80s Mercedes” sure did make a late move.

If I Could Join Any Band Or Musical Project, I’d Pick This One

You think Noname or Jamila could use a tambourine shaker who can’t really shake a tambourine in time? No?

Place The Next Pop Music Boom Will Come From

We’re sticking with Chicago for another year at least.

Will Still Be Making Good Records In 2026

Jermaine Cole

Will Be A 1-Hit Wonder

Post Malone

Will Be A 1-Hyped Album Wonder (I Hope)

Whitney. 2016 wasthe year of hard lessons, and here’s a big one that I hope we’ve all internalized: stay the hell away from the woods. It’s pretty and the otters are cute, but the people there don’t like you. Oh, they might pretend to for a time, for strategic reasons, but the weight of their resentment is crushing whatever identification they ever had with city slickers like us. That light upon the lake might be the moon’s reflection, but it’s probably the torches at the Make America Great Again rally. These people believe they’ve been given a raw deal, and they’re not wrong. Ican identify, sort of, as long as I am at a great distance. But what I can no longer handle is hicksters who frame rural america as some kind of idyllic retreat. Any white singer pining for “Golden Days” — in a year when we learned, conclusively, that “conservative” is just another identity category — is speaking language with which we’ve all become dead familiar. This elitist scumbag says: no more.

Biggest Musical Trends Of 2017

Hyper-articulateness. Unconvincing patriotism.

Best Album Of 2017

Semper Femina. I expect it to be Laura Marling good.