Critics Poll XX: Miscellany

Sorry, old friend.
Man, I love those miscellaneous categories. Gives everybody a chance to pop off and get cranky, and if this Internet isn’t for cranks, I don’t know what it’s for. I’m itching to get to my own ballot, so I’m going to try not to get bogged down with too much explanation. Breeze in, breeze out; let the tallies do the talking. We’ll start at the top with:

Best Album Title:

Fewer votes in this category than usual, and many of those that did come in expressed frustration with the enterprise. “Not a good year for titles”, wrote Alan Young, and indeed, our winner was something of a protest against the concept of handles: the flat-footed Album by Girls. Extra Golden’s Thank You Very Quickly got some love, as did Travels With Myself And Another and the somewhat-inexplicable No One’s First And You’re Next by Modest Mouse. But your blank fields spoke volumes, as did this reply by the reliably colorful Steve Carlson: “None. That’s right, none. The best album titles this year were those that didn’t make me wince upon reading them; those, sadly were few and far between. But in a year that brought us such gems as Raditude, Mama I’m Swollen and Big Whiskey And The Groograx King, a band had to try real hard to come up with something worse, something so terrible that it guaranteed I would never listen to a second of the band’s output no matter how many sparkling reviews they got. So congratulations, Avett Brothers, for the repulsively twee I And Love And You.”

Best Album Cover:

Rachel Neill nominates a remarkable image I hadn’t seen (and maybe didn’t want to): the shocked businessman regurgitating status symbols on the cover of You Can’t Take It With You by As Tall As Lions. Twelve votes came in for It’s Blitz by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, because who doesn’t want to see Karen O crack a raw egg with her fist? (That freeze frame of the flying yolk is a startling photographic achievement, but still, that could have been somebody’s breakfast, or somebody’s chicken.) Ordinarily, that would’ve been enough to win, but the YYYs were up against some stiff competition. The support for Middle Cyclone was enthusiastic, to say the least; Jeff Norman called it the album cover of the decade. Efrain Calderon summed up its appeal like this: “babe with a sword + muscle car = winner”. For horny devils, anyway. I think it’s cute that she’s barefoot, but who is she looking at?

Biggest Disappointment:

“It was in myself”, confessed Anna Howe, “in my inability to engage with the classic artists who put out records this year”. She meant The Boss, among others. As it turned out, many voters who had paid a call to Springsteen while he was in the living years — especially Jersey loyalists who have been backing their hometown favorite for decades — wished that they hadn’t. Others chose to name rockers who didn’t make it through ’09: Vic Chestnutt, Jay Reatard, Ron Asheton. Ironically, nobody mentioned the year’s most earthshattering passing, but maybe the cosmic implications of MJ’s death aren’t best understood as disappointing? As always, there were many political themed answers submitted, including the Supreme Court, the Massachusetts electorate, the Democratic leadership, and the Senate Democratic Caucus. No votes, though, for a fella with the following initials: BHO. Andrew Hamlin gave the most inexplicable answer — he voted for “my feet”. I didn’t ask; it seemed impolite to ask.

Most Welcome Surprise

Forest Turner voted for the Booker T comeback. Did you know Booker T came back? I sure didn’t, but I certainly welcome it. Most of the rest of you were shocked at the quality of contemporary radio. You don’t listen to me, do you? Taylor Swift got her votes, as did Alicia Keys and (especially) Lady Gaga. Here’s Oliver Lyons on the old-school postmodernist with the expansive wig collection: “It’s a damn shame we already know so much about Lady Gaga when she was a nobody because, at this point, Marilyn Manson was the last truly crazy musician to get people worked up into a frenzy as to where this strange thing came from. Regardless, the next Madonna she is not but I’m never not going to love someone who incorporates stage blood into their pop videos.”

Worst Song Of The Year

A few of you nutcases were even surprised (positively) by the Black Eyed Peas. I’ll give them this much: they’re better than they used to be. will.i.am is nothing if not a diligent follower of contemporary fashion, and let’s just say he’s been spending some quality time with his copy of *808s and Heartbreak*. Those of you who suggested renaming this category the “My Humps Memorial Award” got your shots in, too: eight votes in this category for “Boom Boom Pow” and another five for “I Gotta Feeling”. Pitbull found his way into your sights in ’09, which I can’t say I understand — what’s the difference between “I Know You Want Me” and the last twenty singles he’s released? — and supervillian Chris Brown, which I certainly do understand. But our plurality winner (eleven votes) was the song that came closest to denying Phoenix a Critics Poll sweep. Zack Lipez, on “New York State Of Mind”: “I like Jay Z. Saw him perform and instantly got what people have been talking about. Mick Jagger at his hymen melting prime levels of personal charisma. What a crap song. The first 30 times I heard it, I thought someone was just playing an old NY State tourism jingle from the ’80s. Seriously, some Gavin MacLeod bullshit.” Take it from a real New Yorker, Jay.

Best Singer

Neko Case in a landslide. Carl Newman’s foil was named on a remarkable sixteen ballots. That said, I feel I must point out that not a single vote for Case came from a woman. Looks like she appeals to the Joanna Newsom demographic. I’d like to propose some new Poll terminology: a “Newsom” is any critically-acclaimed female artist whose fanbase is disproportionately comprised of dudes. Is Neko Case a Newsom? No way to say for sure, but let’s consider that album cover one more time. Margaret Cho might dig this image; maybe Camille Paglia too. But no other woman on earth is going to get with that iconography. Other singers recieving multiple votes: Richard Hawley, Taylor Swift, conversational Eddie Argos, and Catherine Ireton of God Help The Girl.

Best Rapper

Mos Def in a mini-landslide. Boogie Man did not get much love for Tru3 Magic, but his globetrotting latest has reintroduced him to Poll voters. Senior citizens Jay-Z, Eminem, and Raekwon drew their loyalty votes, and one of those guys even deserved the praise. The man on the rise is Gary, Indiana mixtape master Freddie Gibbs, whose roughneck verses has won the hearts of our notorious inna-city voters. In other news of the unlikely, George Pasles nominated me in this category, again. What on earth is George talking about? A better leftfield response came from Milton, who voted for Chuck Berry. In a weird sort of way, that’s a fantastic answer.

Song That Got Stuck In Your Head And Drove You Crazy

Resident globetrotter Jason Paul spent the year touring the Far East. His vote was for something called “Feng Hang Chuan Qi”. Even the name has a catchy cadence. Back stateside, a few of you pop warriors seem to have a problem with Taylor Swift, especially her “Love Story”. Steve Carlson reports that “most of te time I’d at least try to salve the pain by rearranging the lyrics into pornographic entreaties.” Hey, I did the same thing with “1,2,3,4” a few years ago. We all have our coping strategies; we can’t be blamed when the survival instinct kicks in. Presumably, Ben Krieger did not need to resort to our gutter tactics — he voted for something called “Two Girls One Cup” by Toby Goodshank. If you don’t catch the reference, take my advice and forget you ever read this. Seriously.

Thing You Feel Cheapest About Liking

“Why do you continue to ask me this?”, begs Jonathan Andrew. Blame my Catholic upbringing, Jonathan; the nuns trained me to be a guilt-generation machine. And what fun is dirty laundry if you can’t air it and offend the neighborhood? Bradley Skaught played it safe by naming Smokey Robinson’s latest smooth jazz record; I don’t know, that sounds pretty sweet to me. Generally, this is a dump category for day-glo radio hits that are irresistible but still kinda boneheaded: Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You”, IYAZ, “Birthday Sex”, Ke$ha’s lovably-inept “TiK ToK”. Other true confessions — Natasha Marena digs Das Racist’s admittedly-unforgettable stoner anthem “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell”, while OG punk Jim Testa takes a shine to the cast of Glee. A surprising number of poll respondents feel cheap about boarding the Animal Collective bandwagon. Don’t worry, guys, I know that if you were indulging in ‘net-driven groupthink, you wouldn’t be doing this Poll. Finally, foreign correspondent Tom Snow steps beyond 2009 to file this report from the ski resorts of Switzerland: “I’m now playing in a cover band here in Geneva, catering mainly to the expat anglophone crowd. Our repertoire is mainly classic and modern rock, and we play ”What I Like About You,” and, to my infinite surprise, it fucking rocks. Out of fidelity to the Romantics’ version, the drummer sings it [Tom is the drummer], although we’re still waiting for our leather suits to arrive. Awww-hawww, hey!”

Hoary Old Bastard Who Should Spare Us All And Retire

“Hey, to each his own”, answered Wesley Verhoeve. Wes is good-hearted; he doesn’t want poison anybody’s prune juice. The rest of us weren’t so squeamish. “If you were watching Neil Young’s performance on Conan’s last Tonight Show broadcast closely”, wrote Matt Sirinides, “you could see his lunch off to stage right: grilled cheese, tomato soup, jello.” The gerontocracy came under fire: votes were counted for Lou Dobbs, John McCain, Chris Christie, Mitch McConnell, Arlen Specter. Brad Luen named Harry Reid; whether Senator Harry wants to pack his desk or not, Brad, I think you’ll be seeing that happen this November. Bruce Springsteen — the leader of the Democratic Caucus of Rock — was asked by many to step down. In ’09, it pains me to admit I have no ammunition to use against those asking for his gavel. But the winner by plurality was Bob Dylan (again). That Christmas album really left the old coot wide open to potshots from the pop-radio paintballers. I’d give him credit for chutzpah if it didn’t sound so much like he was caroling from his gurney.

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

Mike Cimicata voted for Cole Hamels. Mike, he’s already won forty-eight games in the bigs! He threw about forty thousand pitches in 2008; of course he was dragging ass last year. The Cimicata ballot was pinstriped-themed: he voted for the Boston Red Sox for Most Overrated, the New Yankee Stadium for Most Welcome Surprise, Joe Girardi’s bullpen management in the ALCS for Most Thoroughly Botched Production Job, and Championship Number 28 for Best Album of 2010. Let him bask in the glow of the championship trophy if he wants; I doubt the upcoming season will be kind to the interlocking N and Y. Here come the Kansas City Royals, I tell you. Here come the Royals. Stop laughing at me. STOP LAUGHING AT ME. Oh, you want a musical answer? How about the Vivian Girls (five votes)? How about Wavves (five votes)?

Most Overrated

Animal Collective. When an album tops nearly every year-end poll and critic’s list, you’d better hope that it’s overrated. You’d better hope that’s the explanation. Otherwise, shit starts to get really spooky, in a hurry. Possible alternative theories: mind control on a national scale, orchestrated by shadowy (and possibly alien?) overseers. Chips implanted in the wrists of rock critics, set to detonate unless Merriwether Post Pavilion wins Album Of The Year honors. The discovery of musical vibrations that generate unreasonably euphoric responses in primates; the scientific isolation of these narcotic frequencies and their subsequent mass broadcast via Animal Collective’s recordings. Bullying, peer pressure, breaches of journalistic integrity on a cosmic scale, zombification, sunspots, strange vibrations from beneath the earth’s crust. Yes, you’d better hope that Merriwether Post Pavilion is overrated, and the near-unanimity of the critical response to this album is simply the product of unprecedented herd mentality among rock writers. Otherwise, friend, you’d best fit yourself for a fallout shelter.

Album That Wore Out The Quickest

The Eternal“, answered Jens Thuro Carstensen, “ironic, no?” Jens, Thurston Moore should have known he was baiting you with an album title like that. Usually it’s the freshly-minted buzz bands that take this title, though, and 2009 was no different — The Big Pink’s Brief History Of Love and The XX tied with six votes apiece. Strangely (at least to me) The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart got away scot-free this year; Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, and Dirty Projectors all took their lumps on the Poll, but I can’t find a single negative citation for Kip Berman’s equally hyped debut. Nobody wants to throw stones at Sarah Records soundalikes — that hits a little too close to home. Steve Carlson cited a project that was almost universally vilified: “I initially gave Chris Cornell’s Scream a spin because I figured the vicious reviews had to be reacting against the idea of the album instead of the album itself, and I was right — it’s weird and screwy and awkward and doesn’t quite work, but it’s not as bad as all that and even has a few memorable tunes. I listened to it a second time to confirm that impression. And then I never listened to it again, and I don’t really feel bad about that.” Oh, and Working On A Dream drew opprobrium in this category, too. What can I say, Brucie?; you’ve got some angry fans on your hands.

Artist You Don’t Know, But You Know You Should

“I want to spend more time with Micachu And The Shapes”, wrote Jeff Ciprioni. Well, I definitely like it. But like the Timbaland productions it quietly (and inexpensively) apes, it’s never going to get any better than that first arresting listen. Meanwhile, Ben Krieger made a rare concession to mainstream tastes: “I’m sure there was at least one album on the Pitchfork Top 40 I ought to get”. Come to think of it, Ben, it’s probably Micachu.

Most Thoroughly-Botched Production Job

Look, I don’t want to discuss Brendan O’Brien’s association with the Boss any more than you do. It depresses me. Allow me to point out that while the dynamic range of Magic was indeed squashed, he didn’t bury any of those songs. Devils & Dust sounds just fine, thank you; I realize there’s not so much damage a producer can do to an acoustic guitar record, but at least he didn’t pull a Steve Albini on Ys. Brendan O’Brien makes a nifty lightning rod for our collective frustration, but he didn’t write the lyrics to “Outlaw Pete”. He didn’t make Bruce put those jackass blues numbers on the album. He didn’t force Bruce to include stupid checkout scanner noises in the outro of “Queen Of The Supermarket”. Well, okay, maybe O’Brien did have something to do with the checkout scanner noises. But the Boss is a big boy. The buck stops with him. And since I don’t want to talk about this anymore, I’m going to concentrate instead on the other leitmotif running through your replies — if you weren’t bashing Springsteen, you were complaining about the marijuana haze that is currently choking the underground. Calling out Woodsist Records, Dan Purcell writes “I’m no audiophile, but ‘Hey, what if we made the entire studio into a bong?’ is not what I’m looking for.”

Most Unsexy Person In Pop Music

Allow me to turn over the floor to Zachary Lipez: “I understand whatever girl may feel the need to say Lady Gaga to this question. Shit can get pretty intense out there. Any GUY who answers Lady Gaga,however, is trying to impress whatever female may be helping you proofread this. Are you going to let that disingenuous graduate school prick, that emo singer in castrato’s clothing, that wikipedia skimming WEASELWORD do that to you,Tris?! He’s fucking lying. There’s NOTHING sexier than borderline ugly girls who make themselves hot by sheer force of will. Noth. Ing. Dig? Lose that dude as a friend, Tris, he’s an Iago in waiting.” I feel the need to assure Zack that Lady Gaga is A-OK in my house.

Your predictions and commentary on Miscellany, Page Two!

4 thoughts on “Critics Poll XX: Miscellany”

  1. I absolutely refuse to believe no one else called out “Shorty’s Fireburning on the Dance Floor” for some sort of whack-olade. You telling me everyone in your coterie of bookworms and rockin’ Poindexters is perfectly okay with the term “fireburning?” Im-fucking-possible.

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