Not that we need to heap any more praise on St. Vincent than we have, but I want to start this off by reporting that Annie Clark crushed her competition in the Best Guitar and Best Synthesizer categories. You folks were really impressed. It’s like you’re all closet Crimson fans, searching for an outlet for your dirty habit. Bobby Sparks played some of the flashiest bits of synth on Strange Mercy, including that sinus-clearing business on the “Surgeon” outro. But I know what you mean. You’re giving props to the concept-master. It was her fetching valise of neuroses that those musicians were zipping open. The drummer had a hand in it, too. That guy is either highly imaginative or good at taking complex instructions.
Best Album Cover
Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles; take a number, get comfortable. The monster truck on the cover of They Might Be Giants’ Join Us drew support, as did the half-motorbike, half-machine, all gross-out Born This Way contraption, and the big beat-up El Camino on the front of El Camino (your dead giveaway that the Black Keys were going to try to keep things as literal as possible). Alan Young voted for Mark Sinnis’s The Undertaker In My Rearview Mirror, an album with a hearse on the cover. If you could stick a key in it and make it go, that was your pick. Little did I know when Middle Cyclone swept this category two years ago, you were responding to the car and not the girl. Our winner by a small plurality also captured motion, but of a different kind: the apocalyptic urban dreamscape that set the tone for Cut Copy’s Zonoscope.
Best Album Title
We used to vote for cutesy titles with puns in them. Then local heroes Yo La Tengo put out I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Ever since, we fall for the tough-guy handles. We’re like flirtatious ingenues at the rodeo, waiting for a grim, craggy, manly album title to come along and sweep us off of our feet. Mogwai’s arguable Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (the first part, not the second) drew support, as did John Maus’ We Must Become Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves. The somewhat defensive What Did You Expect From The Vaccines got a few votes; Zach Lipez, never one to beat around the bush, tapped You People Can All Go Straight To Hell by the Pygmy Shrews. In non-confrontational options, Jeff Norman voted for Led Zeppelin Five by the Black Watch, and I cannot believe it took three and a half decades for a gang of wiseguys to come up with that. But Steven Matrick had the right answer — Lil B’s I’m Gay (I’m Happy). It’s really the bet-hedging “I’m Happy” that does it; it preserves just enough ambiguity to keep the twitterers occupied until the next mixtape drops, which should happen any second now. I think we’re all blocking Lil B out a little, and that’s why this very worthy and very ridiculous title didn’t sweep this category.
Most Welcome Surprise
So far, we’ve got cars and tough talk. Did I mention that female participation in the Poll was sharply down this year? C’mon, these guys only throw their weight around in the miscellaneous categories on the Critics Poll. Otherwise, we’re sweethearts. Take Tom Snow — his most welcome surprise was that he got rid of his television and spent the year reading books. (That’s strongly recommended, by the way.) Brad Luen had a musical answer that demonstrated similar sensitivity: “Dubstep breaks America (sort of). I have little problem with a populariser like Skrillex, but wake me up when he makes something as sick as ‘The Rockafeller Skank’. My favourite not-really-dubstep artist by far is Katy B, who makes me believe it can be worth putting up with macho clubland bullshit for the music.” You should see Katy B knock around the boys in the clip for “Easy Please Me.” No, really, you should see it.
“Scheduling the Mekons tri-annual electric show in Brooklyn on Yom Kippur,” wrote Ethan Bumas. That is a bummer. I grew up in Springfield, New Jersey, where Temple Sha’arey Shalom was always the center of the action. The whole town shut down for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I was 18 years old before I realized that the rest of the country didn’t observe the Jewish New Year with Springfield-like solemnity. Stephen Mejias voted for Jason Bay, which is categorically true, unless you are a fan of the San Francisco Giants, in which case the answer is the San Francisco Giants. But if I started giving baseball answers on this Poll, I’d never stop. The favorites here were Tyler, the Creator, who, like Eminem before him, was the beneficiary of an awful lot of bloviating punditry by “new media” older dudes who could not tell a rapper from a piece of aluminum siding, and those perennial Poll whipping boys the Strokes. If I added up all the votes the Strokes have ever gotten in negative categories over the years, I’ll bet they’d have twice as many as any other act. This makes me wonder how they’re still disappointing people. The moral of the story, I think, is that if your promises are unrealistic enough, you can be an active disappointment for the rest of your life. This is something that certain prominent politicians ought to learn. Speaking of politics, I’d like to make some space to repeat a true confession from Ben Krieger, which must have pained him to write. “I know their heart was in the right place, but a lot of the bands and songwriters I saw down at Occupy Wall Street were really lousy. Maybe I was just there on the wrong days. Maybe all the good bands aren’t writing songs relevant enough to play. Maybe we’re all too busy trying to pay rent to be bothered. I don’t know.”
“People don’t know how to sing anymore,” wrote Toshi Yano. But what about Adele Adkins, I ask you? The current queen of popular music flattened this category, picking up fourteen votes to her nearest competitor’s three. That nearest competitor was Abel Tesfaye, by the way. Sadly, nobody voted for Lady Gaga.
This one may take a little while, so let me start out by noting that Milton voted for Chuck Berry again, and he’s still more right than wrong. But Chuck isn’t on the mike too often these days, so we’re forced to turn to more contemporary picks. Every year, more rappers get named in this category, which suggests that even when Critics Poll voters aren’t all about hip-hop in their Top Ten lists, they’re more aware of it than ever. Thirty-two different rappers got votes — a few of these were jokes, but most weren’t. The bronze medal went to Childish Gambino, who may or may not be on the level, and is a decent (and witty) enough emcee that he provides a safe place for a non-rap fan to park an opinion. I confess that I didn’t listen to Camp all the way through, but I didn’t hate what I heard, even as I suspected that he was pulling my leg. I know he’s become a whipping boy for the sort of white rap fan who feels the need to defend hip-hop against the wrong kind of black rappers, which is odd even when it is justifiable. And in this case, I’m not sure it is. But those same defenders of the faith will probably fume to learn that 1.) Kanye came second, and 2.) Jay-Z did not come first. Never mind that Jay “murdered Kanye on his own shit,” which was actually collective shit — rap fans are so determined to see every song as an arena for mortal combat that it’s a small miracle that those guys worked up the guts to collaborate in the first place. Kanye West has won this category three times, and I’m glad that he has. Each time he’s done well, it’s another small repudiation of the skills fascists who insist on grafting sports logic on to an aesthetic endeavor. We do not evaluate best singer by who can hold a high C the longest, or whose legato passages are rendered with the greatest precision, or by breath control; this isn’t the opera, or the standing long jump. The purpose of singing is to bring the song to life in full color, and we know there are millions of ways to do that. Same thing goes with rapping. You’d think that since hip-hop is so words-intensive, we’d all be inclined to say that the best rappers are the ones who put intelligibility first. But the same thing that happened to college rock in the late ’80s is now happening to hip-hop — we’ve stated to valorize incomprehensible vocalists on the not-so-secret grounds that only those who are in the know, part of the club, can make out what the hell they’re saying. Eventually the style goes so far up its own nose that even the aficionados don’t know what they’re talking about anymore. But as long as they pretend to know, the problem just gets worse. Kanye is a fundamentally a pop art guy, so he’s got no time for that approach. While he clearly respects hip-hop history and conventions, deep down, he probably thinks “skills” are silly and irrelevant to what he’s trying to do. But even underground acts eventually have to recognize that if you don’t have anything good to say, it doesn’t matter how smoothly you say it. Rapping is about words. It’s a literary art. If Rick Ross can figure it out, the rest of us can, too. Which brings us to our plurality winner, who, no matter how chaotic, desperate and downright insane he may sometimes sound, never forgets to keep his diction tight: Danny Brown. Since Danny is one of the Dan Purcelliest artists ever invented (the first time I heard him rap, my first thought was, gosh, Dan would love this), I’ll let Dan break down why he’s the best out there right now. “Easiest question on the ballot this year. In fact, I know of no rapper in the history of hip-hop whose range has exceeded the smorgasbord Brown has on offer. Most people identify him with his signature style — the crazy high-adenoidal bleat he uses when he’s been aggressive with the braggadocio or the sex rhymes and the filth flith flarn flarn. But when he gets all serious two-thirds of the way through XXX and starts changing things up, it’s startling. He can just talk, he can do mumble-rap, he can do a laconic behind-the-beat thing, he can speak in the voice of a character. In the closing ’30’ he just screams his ass off; that works too.”
Thing You Feel Cheapest About Liking
“On my fiftieth time through ‘Mylo Xyloto,’ reports Rachel Neill, “and I still hate Coldplay. In fact I hate them so much I am going to go play it again.” This question has been on the poll since 1992, and never has there been such a groundswell for one project. Primarily, I think we can all agree that Coldplay would be pretty smoking if Rihanna was the lead singer, but she’s only on one song, so what’s our excuse for the rest of it? Here’s Adam Copeland’s true confession: “I have always hated Coldplay, until this album. I don’t know why, but something about them finally clicked for me, and I think it’s uniformly their best work. Even if it is fucking gibberish. Phoenix won this poll, didn’t they?” Yes, Adam, yes, they did, and that was insufficiently long ago that I wouldn’t rather have you refrain from bringing it up.
Artist You Don’t Know, But You Know You Should
Win the Pazz and Jop Poll, and you’re liable to engender feelings of inadequacy in thousands of pop fans who have not yet heard your work. When it’s Kanye West, it’s not such an issue; when it’s Merrill Garbus, expect a substantial spike in traffic to the tUnE-yArDs Youtube channel. No, I don’t know if she has one, I’m just sayin’. Notably, none of the tUnE-yArDs voters caved in to Garbus’s AOL-chatroom-in-’99 flashback-inducing orthography. Capital T for us, Ms. gAr-BuS. For those who haven’t heard w h o k i l l and are wondering whether to give it a spin — soulful singing, hiccupy Dirty Projectors-style accompaniment. You’ll either love it or run for the hills and hide your hos, to reference Dres. Also, some of you are spanking yourself for skipping out on Carrie Brownstein’s latest project. “I feel disloyal to my twenties that I haven’t listened to the Wild Flag record,” confesses Zach. “AND I think Portlandia is boring…sorry, Zack at Twenty!”
Hoary Old Bastard Who Should Spare Us All And Retire
It was all fun and games when we were eighteen-year-old tyros, but as we all get older, this question is making us more and more uncomfortable. “How many people will vote for themselves in this category?,” wondered Tom Snow. Five, Tom, and I’m not saying who. Tom was one of a few who mentioned the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, who makes the HOB list for the first time in 2011. To be fair, Tom was only temptedabout voting for Meloy; others were not quite so kind, and I suspect for the reasons he gave for his dastardly thought. “My hope is that he’s just settled into a comfortable cardigan sweater/cozy armchair by the fire/Fresh Air on in the background phase, which I suppose he’s deserved. I hope his midlife crisis comes along before he puts out a Christmas album.” It’s funny: The King Is Dead is, in many ways, the most confrontational album the Decemberists have ever cut. Meloy has never sounded more serious than he does on this set, and his whole U.S.A. Number One act does not seem like a pose. On the other hand, after The Hazards Of Love, it was hard to hear the turn toward Americana and blatant R.E.M. rewrites (on which Peter Buck actually plays!) as anything but a retreat. My guess is that after Jenny Conlee’s bout with cancer is **fingers-crossed** far in the rear-view mirror and the band has put out a few more albums, we’re all going to return to The King Is Dead and find it a lot better, and braver, than it seems right now. Anyway, the consensus choice this year is Steven Tyler. You know that guy? Yeah, fuck that guy.
Young Upstart Who Should Be Send Down To The Minors For More Seasoning
Flat-footed tie between Justin Bieber and Lana Del Rey. More on the most controversial Saturday Night Live performer since Jesse Jackson in the comments section below.
For what it’s worth, I admire the stand Justin Vernon is taking. The Grammy Awards invited him to sing on their program, and once he said yes, they let him know that they wanted him to do collaborate with some Hoary Old Bastard or another. Mind you, they’ve nominated Vernon in the Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist categories, which suggests they’re trying to extend the outreach to non-geriatrics that they began last year by giving top honors to Arcade Fire. So he’s good enough to serve as a decoy and a marketing device, but not good enough to get on national TV and sing “Holocene” without Bob Dylan or somebody like that wheezing away in the background. Vernon clearly felt baited and switched, so he told the Grammys that Johnny Bravo was taking a walk, and that he didn’t need you or Icon records, and all the rest, and I can’t blame him. I think I’d have done the same thing if I was in his position, which I could never be, because they’re not trying to hear “The Man From Nantucket” under any circumstances. I also admired Eddie Vedder’s tough talk during the great Ticketmaster debate (not that he made any headway there, but still.) But Pearl Jam was overrated in 1994, and Bon Iver is overrated now. Also drawing mild opprobrium in this category: the OVOXO crew, which as far as I can tell is just Drake and the Weeknd. Here’s Brad Luen: “The smart Drake defenders say he shows a ratbag with a lot of money is still a ratbag, and may be unhappier for it. Sure, but a ratbag with a lot of money still has a lot of money. I’ve spent half a year not just jobless but prohibited from finding a job, thanks to U.S. immigration law. If I can avoid self-pity 99% of the time, so can Drake.” Also, can somebody get Brad Luen a job? That’s insane. Talk about a condemnation of our current immigration policies, which many of our elected leaders want to make even more restrictive. What are we becoming?
Worst Song Of The Year
Jon Robb says that Everclear’s cover of “The Joker” might be the worst song of all time. Hey, I kinda like it. The plurality choice in this category is “Moves Like Jagger,” and Adam Levine seems to have gone from a site of moderate curiosity to the object of rampant loathing in a little more than a year: a few of you sandwiched obscenities into his name, and one voter referred to him simply as “asshole.” This might be a reference to the game show he’s currently judging, or maybe it’s the way he’s behaving in public. I’m just glad that nobody identified “Moves” as a Maroon 5 song, because it really isn’t one — there’s no bridge, no analog-modeling synths, no dirty Mickey Madden electric bass. Leave those other guys out of this; they’re blameless. I have noticed that Worst Song of the Year compels voters to justify their choices with YouTube links. This from Efrain Calderon: “First of all.. I’m sorry. Secondly: http://youtu.be/JRnn-wFl_bA” Again, I like it. It makes me happy that the Queen of Clitoris, or whatever she is called, feels the need to acknowledge the coalition government by giving equal treatment to Clegg and Cameron. That’s the kind of cross-party cooperation that once made England rule the waves.
Album That Wore Out The Quickest
Four votes for tUnE-yArDs, four for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, and four more for Goblin. Here’s Dan Purcell on the lovably homicidal Odd Future frontman: “I guess he’s ‘refreshingly’ cranky. I dunno, I mostly hear a guy who settles, who resorts to being an asshole to get attention, instead of trying to raise his game. The result is occasional excellence but nothing that can sustain a full-length record or headlining concert slot.”
Album That Turned Out To Be A Heck Of A Lot Better Than You Thought
The consensus pick for grower is Paul Simon’s So Beautiful Or So What, but…. holy crap pozole, in the midst of writing this, I just got the news from my editors that Whitney Houston died. I was never a fan. In the ’80s, when her songs would come on MTV, I’d change the channel to sports highlights. So why do I feel like crying? It’s not just because she was from Newark — she’s hardly been an active part of Brick City in my lifetime. Is it because she went from wholesome to a train-wreck right in front of everybody and never got a shot at redemption? Is it because she seemed invincible in her heyday, and her death at 48 proves, if we needed any more proof, how ephemeral talent and achievement is? Is it because no matter how powerfully she sang it, they did take away her dignity? I guarantee most of the stories tomorrow are going to be about how she did drugs and got beat up. I am going to try hard to go write a story that isn’t like that. [Not nearly enough time elapses.] Okay, I am back, and I wrote part of a story that wasn’t like that. The other parts will have to be filled in by the people who watched her program with Bobby Brown, etcetera. Sounds like she was a regular font of goofy gossip over the past decade. Stupidly, I thought she was chilling on a Caribbean island with her millions or something like that. My big question right now is: how the hell do they expect to do the Grammy Awards tomorrow? Whitney Houston was the Grammy Awards. For better and for worse, she owned that program. They should just scrap it. They never will, but they should.
Most Unsexy Person In Pop Music
Yeah, I don’t feel much like ripping on anybody right now. Luckily, I have your entries, submitted back when Whitney Houston was still alive, so I’m just going to go ahead and quote a couple of you. Irreverence is the finest salve, right? Nah, not really. Zach Lipez: “James Taylor, which is why it’s such a confounding tragedy that he’s the number one, besides those pillars of unsexiness, Radiohead, influence to so many of the Pitchfork faves. Girls fans, make no mistake, you’re just listening to ‘Fire And Rain’ with even laxier, more solipsistic lyrics.” Tom Snow: “I fly through Heathrow a lot, so I try to keep up with what the kids are listening to by picking up a Q magazine while I’m there. Inevitably, there’s a picture of Coldplay in there, prancing around like idiots in their color-coodinated outfits and hightop shoes, and I am immediately overcome with the urge to beat Chris Martin to death with a copy of his wife’s cookbook.” Also, while I did not put Sexiest Person in Pop Music on the online ballot for some reason, a few of you went ahead and voted for Annie Clark anyway. I get it, guys. We really like her. The next time she spends a summer on her back, trying to get along, get along, get along, I hope her manager provides her with a link to this Poll. If that doesn’t cheer her up, nothing will.
Biggest Musical Trend for 2012
Efrain Calderon: …was nothing I latched on to.
Mike Cimicata: The great Skrillex debate.
Jer Fairall: The annoying omnipresence of dubstep.
Jason Paul: Dubstep.
Carol Hornyak: Non electronic musicians trying to figure out how to use dubstep.
Bradley Skaught: House music described in terms that don’t make you think it’s just going to be house music. But it is.
Toshi Yano: Either shitty guitar music/shitty pop/shitty hip-hop.
Jim Testa: Fucked Up inspires new appreciation for fast/loud/hard music by blogosphere elites.
Steven Matrick: Hard rock.
Andrea Weiss: Indie rock.
Anna Howe: Something highly country influenced but not country.
Jon Robb: The return of Chamber Pop?
Dave Miniaci: The return of soul singers.
R.E.L.: The return of Bob Seger.
Oliver Lyons: In all seriousness, bands will take a page from Watch the Throne (an album i didn’t really care for) and stop with this lo-fi trend that’s been ruining music for the past decade and start making the slickest, densest, wall of sound-ish albums they can. Pop music will be pop music again. Garage rockers will be forced back into the garage.
Adam Copeland: Trends move in 20 year cycles, right? Which means New Jack Swing will dominate the charts in 2012.
Zach Lipez: Good trend: Postcharge. Bad trend: Indie rockers will discover a new way to be even more disengenous in their art by taking the worst page from neo-folk and black metal and declare themselves as “apolitical” to cover up the multiple failures of their philosophy.
Brad Luen: The term “trollgaze” to lose what meaning it has, becoming the indiscriminate dis of choice for anything subculturalists dislike, now that hipster has gone mainstream, man.
Paula Carino: Obscure tribute bands.
Alan Smith: New Jersey folk-rock-Americana scene blows up!
Stephen Mejias: Download-and-vinyl-only releases; the death of the CD.
Tom Snow: Crowdsourced pop music.
Marisol Fuentes: Music will be tweeted 140 notes at a time.
Alan Young: Names, i.e., Names, not The Names. The absence of a definite article was my signal to delete every pitch I received re: Cults, Girls, Deers, Childs, Sheeps…you name it. Barf.
Ethan Bumas: FMU, NPR, XPN (World Cafe) leaving records and shows on-line.
Brad Krumholz: A capella barbershop-style vocals.
Ben Krieger: The whole fucking year is going to be passed through a Hipstamatic filter.
Pat Pierson: More whistling.
Milton: Music that’s better than it sounds.
Best Shows of 2011
Marisol Fuentes: I played it myself! In my basement on my toy organ! It was so good. Nobody heard it but that is okay.
Robin Van Maarth: Low – 07/11 at the Bluebird in Denver. Unsane – At some mostly empty crap club in Denver 05/11
The Swans – Summit Music Hall 2/22/11 touring for My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope Into The Sky released in 2010. It was by far one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Ever.
Paul Weinstein: Bob Dylan at the Paramount in Asbury Park, Amanda Shires with Rod Picott at the Saint in AP, THE GOURDS AT THE SAINT!!!
Steven Matrick: Caveman @ the Rocks Off Cruise.
Paula Carino: Urge Overkill @ Rock Shop; Joan Jett @ Coney Island; Figurines @ Mercury Lounge; Robyn Hitchcock @ Bell House.
Andrea Weiss: Kurt Vile/ J Mascis World Cafe Live, /Bird of Youth/Kathryn Calder, World Cafe Live, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman Temple Performing Arts Center
R.E.L.: Lotus at T5, Life Sized Maps at Shea Stadium, Sonic Youth at Williamsburg Waterfront, Ted Nugent at the Iridium!, Uriah Heep at BB Kings, Grace Potter at Bonnaroo 2011, Opeth at Bonnaroo, Big Boi at Bonnaroo.
Zach Lipez: GOOSEBUMPS!!!!!, Rosenkopf, Anasazi, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dawn of Humans, Goosebumps!
Lazlo: Larry And His Flask @ Asbury Lanes, D Generation @ Wonder Bar, Local H @ Brighton Bar.
Rachel Neill: Larry And His Flask.
Marc Maurer: Atlas Sound at Bowery Ballroom in December; Pixies at Wellmont Theatre in October.
Jason Paul: Cut Copy, Terminal 5.
Stephen Mejias: Girls at Other Music.
Pat Pierson: Screen Test @ Shifty’s, Syracuse, NY.
Kevin Fish: Yellowbirds, Cakeshop.
David Nagler: Tom Ze @ Lincoln Center.
Adam Copeland: Ted Leo / Sharon Van Etten at Maxwell’s New Years Eve, Yo La Tengo at Hannukah, Rye Coalition at Brick City Sound Riot.
Efrain Calderon: Public Enemy at ATP, Serious Business Revue at The Rock Shop, Sharon Van Etten Maxwell’s, Jeff Mangum at Loews Theater.
Greta Woczek: Jeff Mangum, All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Mark Haubner: Prince & the New Power Generation, Bar None, Vancouver (Dec. 16) and Republiq, Seattle (Dec. 19)
A pair of nightclub aftershows in four days which tested this old man’s stamina. In Vancouver, they played from about 2:30-4:30 a.m., with Prince mostly lurking in the background on bass as the NPG jammed the proverbial roof off the mofo. In Seattle, the little man led from the front with an incendiary guitar as the band played from 2:15-3:45 a.m. The NPG was tight as always, and when the trump card, Maceo Parker, occasionally sauntered up front with his sax, things turned insanely funky. “Pass the Peas” in Vancouver, in particular, was transcendent. Nothing like Prince & the NPG in the middle of the night. Supremely funky.
Ben Krieger: PRINCE.
Milton: Neal Murgai Ensemble at a church in Dobbs Ferrry, NY.
Ethan Bumas: Jamaica Funk All-Stars (Jazz 4 Prostate Cancer Awareness), Thomasina’s, Queens, The Dessoff Choir and Ray Davies, Beacon.
Mitchell Manzella: Marco Benevento @ Jamcruise, Arcade Fire @ Bonnaroo.
Michael Flannery: The Luyas @ Pianos, The Can’t Tells, Soft Landing.
Bradley Skaught: Ian Hunter at the Fillmore, You Am I at the Cafe Du Nord.
Hilary Jane Englert: The Decemberists in Atlantic City.
Adam Bird: Foo Fighters / Mastodon and Red Fang.
Dillon DeCrescenzo: Foo Fighters. Better than ever, watch out Asbury May ’12.
Alan Smith: Avett Brothers, Thomas Wesley Stern, Brick N Mortar, Accidental Seabirds, One and Nines (for the dance parties), Foo Fighters, Ben Franklin’s last show.
Jonathan Andrew: Okkervil River @ Toad’s Place, New Haven, CN, 6/4/11, From Good Homes, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ, 12/17/11.
Tom Snow: The Black Angels, 17 Feb, L’Usine, Geneva.
Oliver Lyons: Wow..I can’t recall one standout show of 2011. That’s depressing. I’m sure one will come to me the second after I submit this.
Toshi Yano: I honestly don’t think I saw one show this year.
Brad Krumholz: This space intentionally left blank.
Kiko Velez: Occupy Wall Street.
Brad Luen: The Occupy Oakland strike was a day of remarkable good vibes until I ended standing between paint-throwing anarachists and the offices of an organisation I despise. Earlier, on a makeshift stage, one woman sang Alicia Keys’s “Unthinkable”. If you sing it at a protest, it’s a protest song.
Alan Young: For me this is usually a crapshoot. But last year there was one that absolutely blew me away, one I hadn’t expected at all and that was Laurie Anderson at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in August. Most of what she played was a suite titled Delirium. It’s about death: by global warming, by gentrification, by denial. Deadpan, insightful and as usual, pretty hilarious, she really nailed this era: post-9/11 paranoia, Bloomberg nanny-state fascism, Fukushima, more than I could possibly cover here other than playing the concert over in its entirety. Which I did over and over again for months.
David Singer: Randy Newman.
Additional Wise-guy Comments:
Robin Van Maarth: *Worst* live show 2011 — Thee Oh Sees at the Larimer Lounge in Denver early in 2011. A group of old hipster dudes my age (late 30s early 40s) standing next to me – a single, by-herself woman – near the stage, literally shoved and elbowed and pummelled me the second the band started. I was forced to *get away from them*. The audience was shocking. But the band was good.
Christopher Amann: I don’t have much to say about 2011, except that is was the year I stopped mistaking Estelle for Adele.
Kiko Velez: Most unsexy — Lana Del Rey.
Brad Luen: Most unsexy — Some wiseacre will say Lana Del Rey and I will be conflicted. The unfeminist aspects of the persona are a turn-off. On the other, here you have a woman who, at least for the duration of “Video Games”, is in total control of that persona, and isn’t as approving of it as many have suggested. I dunno, I’ve avoided listening to the album so far, but I don’t know how long I can hold out.
Ben Krieger: I knew Lizzy Grant back in 2006 when she was part of the Williamsburg Live Songwriting Contest. She was a sweet songwriter with a charmingly nervous warble and some great tunes. When she cut her hair and took the detuned pop/Nico route with her material it left some people confused, but it was always clear that the stylistic shift was her doing. This is where most bloggers *start* with her career. I’m not going to defend her: she’s on her own in this crappy sexist business and she knows it. But to me, the whole Lana Del Rey brouhaha is just a snapshot of a much larger issue that depresses me: more than ever, there are too many people opening their mouths or posting their links without actually doing any legwork in regards to research. On anything.
Marisol Fuentes: Now all my Lana Del Rey rookie cards are worthless!
Dan Purcell: Bust of the year — Drake’s Take Care, which is fine as long as you don’t listen too much to the emcee. I vacillate wildly on Drake — sometimes I find him disarmingly human, other times he appears to be to be vectoring entirely toward his own asshole, the apotheosis of late-model Tumblr narcissism, where everyone is his or her own special snowflake. He needs to get out more, and not just to the cluuuub. The narrowness of his subject matter is amplified further by the sonic sameness of the record, as pleasantly narcotic as those beats may be. It’s always disappointing when an artist follows up a really good record by making essentially the same record again. Those four dozen records the Weeknd released this year also brought Drake’s weaknesses into much sharper focus, since they do what Drake is trying to do but with a lot more punch and edge and (although Drake is a fine singer) more compelling tunes to boot.
Jason Paul: What the hell is Dubstep and why are people listening to this oppression? Good god.
Efrain Calderon: Weezer had its own concert/cruise this year. I hope bands get even more creative. I want to zip line with The Black Keys, go skiing with Joanna Newsom, or safari with The Flaming Lips.
Ben Krieger: I hope the Fugazi Live Series gets props from other pollsters, because I really thing some attention should be given to how cool this project is. Nearly every single show the band ever played being posted for fans to purchase on a sliding scale. Every aspect, from the music to the choice of distribution, to the comment sections on the page for each show…it’s fantastic. If there are still any doubts that this was one of the best bands of the ’90s (and that they actually had fun playing), this should put them to rest. There’s even feature where if you want to pay less than $5 for a show, you need to leave an explanation with a *minimum* word count requirement. Ha!
Stephen Mejias: Why do I feel the need to “own” the music I love? Is it really even love or is it something more like simple curiosity? Is it possible to truly “own” music? Why can’t I enjoy each passing pleasure for what it is, rather than feel the urge to revisit it and “know” it? What will I do when I finally run out of space? The Internet is crazy.
David Nagler: Are mixtapes the new records?
Oliver Lyons: Another year, another number one pick no one has ever heard of. Moving to a Mac for the first time in years forced me go to blogs for um, ahem, “access” to music and I probably listened to more new music this year than I have in sometime. Troubled Coast are a bunch of 19 year old kids from California who’ve ingested the entire Level Plane catalog from the mid to late 90’s and regurgitated this screamo / metal hybrid that’s too slow for the punks, too melodic for the metal heads and generally too out of touch with what’s happening in underground music today. They’re also my new favorite band.
Tom Snow: Coolest thing heard from the back seat of my car (courtesy of my 9-year-old daughter) — “Dad, can we listen to Prinzhorn Dance School?”
Jens Thuro Carstensen: I think the state of popular music going into 2012 had a pretty tidy microcosm in the Super Bowl halftime show. First you had the washed-up old lady pulling out the stops to stay relevant, which would’ve been sad had she not been doing such a good job at it. She wasn’t even singing, but that hardly mattered (nor did the fact that she slipped on that top step). She had wacky guest stars, like Nicki Minaj, who’s main talent seems to be making looking wacky look natural. And it is in fact a talent, judging by those other two duded that looked like they wandered in off the set of UHF. She had MIA, who only wasn’t a footnote because she tried to get all “punk” and flip off the camera in a desperate, calculated attempt to cling to whatever vestiges remain to her popularity that she never deserved in the first place. Then there was the large dude who could actually sing (and was). All this culminated in a New Song! that was both maddeningly catchy and maddeningly self-referential, and sounded great, mainly because it was a rip-off of an 80s hit, all of which means it’s sure to flop. All this cooked into a campy mash-up stew fit for a Very Special Episode of “Glee”, ladled to millions during the halftime of a sporting event, in a pretty clever bid to keep female audience from switching to the Puppy Bowl. And I admit – not even begrudgingly – that I enjoyed it, and I don’t even like Madonna. So, I learned a little something about myself in the process. And that little something was: how many pigs-in-a-blanket I can eat.
Brad Krumholz: Best guest appearance — Jay-Z on Watch the Throne. [tee hee].
Michael Flannery: Most important tastemaker to watch — Emmy Black, A+R for Bar None Records.
Andrea Weiss: Indie rock finally makes the singles charts, and produces the biggest selling album of the year. This is the new mainstream. And that’s great.
Efrain Calderon: I had a weekend fling with that Tune Yards record, and I’ve been dodging phone calls ever since.
Zach Lipez: When Pitchfork put M83 on their number 3, I thought “huh. I wonder if I hate that band as much as I did 4 years ago.” I didn’t. Still didn’t like it, but no longer cared. what was interesting was the Youtube comments-everybody complaining that now that Pitchfork put M83 so high, all the “hipsters” were going to start liking them. M83 fans were worried about hipsters ruining their band. If I was granted one wish about something doesn’t really matter, I would wish that people realized that Pitchfork is just Rolling Stone. Or I’d wish to be able to eat all the fancy cheese I wanted without repercussion. I dunno. Can the stakes get any lower with this shit?
Zach Lipez: Oh, and I wanted to use this space to make my Iceage joke that I forgot to make when they were in NYC. Ready? OK. Here goes…”I don’t care if Iceage are fascists, as long as the L runs on time.” Huh? Pretty good, right? I know. You’re welcome.
Dan Purcell: Worst song title — Mary J. Blige’s. “25/8″ is the sort of thing some asshole middle manager would say to motivate the staff that is openly wishing him to die in a fire.
Tom Snow: Biggest asshole in a Pitchfork interview (this is becoming an annual category for me) — Sufjan Stevens, on his tour supporting The Age of Adz. “I wasn’t nervous about people’s perception– I didn’t have time or energy for that.”
Dan Purcell: Stephan Jenkins Memorial Award for colostomy bag of the year — Tempting to give it to Chris Brown, who is a Hall of Famer in this particular regard. But Chuck Klosterman’s ridiculous Grantland post about Tuneyards pushes him over the top. In fact, here’s a joke: Chuck Klosterman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Bill Simmons walk into a bar. Everyone else in the bar leaves. No, that’s the entire joke.
Jens Thuro Carstensen: I greatly regret not awarding the “Snake on a Plane” award last year (and in keeping with the spirit of the award, I have no recollection of who I would’ve awarded it to.) Anyway, the overwhelming temptation is to award it to Rebecca Black, but not only is that too easy, but, this song too is a pretty precise snap-shot of how popular music is created and heard in 2012. Plus, it inspired way too many joke versions to really qualify for such an ignominious award. Instead the 2011 “Snake on a Plane” goes to Kreashawn.
Efrain Calderon: There is such thing as bad publicity — it’s having your band playing in a internet or cable commercial.
George Pasles: That Cults video — too ridiculous to merit condemnation.
Adam Bird: 2011 was the year that I finally couldn’t take the constant barrage of information from the internet and kinda shut out most things. I spent most of this year spinning the last Devendra Banhart record, and still obsessed with Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley. Pretty psyched on the records I listed, but there wasnt much more that grabbed me this past year.
Wendy Raffel: Boy did I do a LOT of listening in 2011. Comparing the number of hours logged in 2011 to 2010 would find a VERY disparate ratio in 2011’s favor. But for the most part Tris, I was not listening to music. I’m listening to podcasts. About 25 different podcasts per week and I couldn’t be happier. That is why for me, 2011 was the Year of the Pod. My shortlist of 2011 Podcast Champions include: The Pod F. Tompkast, WTF with Marc Maron, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (MATES), Risk! and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.
Sarah Andrew: My favorite thing going on in 2011 was the Susan Ann Sulley/Philip Oakey Human League “Don’t You Want Me”-esque revival. “Somebody That I Used to Know”, “I Wanted to Tell Her”, etc. Sean Carolan wins the Lifetime Achievement Award for keeping my modern-rock-at-the-Jersey-Shore heart beating with the Altrok broadcast.
Hilary Jane Englert: A small theoretical observation and suggestion. My Top 50 albums this year are abundantly intelligible. I tentatively posit that this is symptomatic of the year’s relative weakness in music.
Jonathan Andrew: I spent much of the year rocking out to the Middle Brother collective: Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Spirit. Just dudes who write songs steeped in the country and folk tradition and sing like they mean it. I enjoyed the latest efforts from The Mountain Goats and Okkervil River as well. Typically sturdy songwriting from messieurs Darnielle and Sheff. And R.E.M. brought their recording career to a fitting close at the perfectly asymmetrical 29-year mark. They will be remembered as one of the best, and most important, bands ever to play rock. Berry-Buck-Mills-Stipe for life!
Brad Luen: Best songwriter — Jens Lekman. Carly Simon sang about Warren Beatty and “clouds in my coffee”; Lekman sings about Lars von Trier and “a swastika in your cappuccino” (I presume Trier drew the swastika). But his true subject is nothing less than the decline of social democracy in the country most associated with it. Still, he’d rather stumble around drunk in Gothenburg than in Melbourne.
Dan Purcell: Album that finished the strongest — Depends on what you mean by “closes” — if you mean the last half, it’s Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, ’cause there is nothing less than excellence on the entire back end of that record. If you mean just the last few songs, you can’t top the XXX home stretch of “Fields” into “Scrap or Die” into “30.” Andrew Nosnitsky said it was the strongest three-song sequence on a hip-hop record since the first three actual songs on Genocide & Juice by the Coup, which is a high bar to be sure but one I think Danny actually clears. “Fields” is Brown’s origin story, the boy with a dream, dodging rocks from kids in other neighborhoods, delivering weed, keeping his head down and traveling through the abandoned lots of metro Detroit — the chorus goes “where I’ve lived/it was house field field/field field house/abandoned house field field.” He does that one in a low-key conversational mutter. Then “Scrap or Die” is the same guy after he’s out of school and living in a crack house with his family, making some money stripping those same abandoned houses for wiring and appliances. They go to the junkyard and know the proprietor is ripping them off with a rigged scale; then they turn on each other, accusing their partners of trying to rip them off too. That’s a character piece; Danny’s mood and delivery change along with the narrator’s. And “30” is a vocal geyser, an uninterrupted firehose of mostly howl with a little bit of grunt. He goes on three straight minutes, and I’m trying hard not to call it “unhinged,” ’cause that seems so cliched and I’m pretty sure I’ve read it in a review some place, but it’s the word that fits. “30” is about where Danny is right now and how he feels about his new life, sometimes euphoric and sometimes despairing, still defensive, still keeping his head down like the kid in “Fields” even as he tries to shine. I don’t know, and maybe not, but I have to believe “Scrap or Die” is autobiographical too, or at least partly. Certainly that’s the impression Brown wants to leave, sticking it between two songs as obviously drawn from his life as “Fields” and “30.” The overall impression gives you an immense and fully accessible sense of an idiosyncratic individual’s compelling personal struggle. It’s hard not to root for an artist like that.
Oliver Lyons: Free Chi Ali.
Alam Young: When are people are going to come into the 21st century and realize that everyone is his/her own record label? 90% of all phones have a recording function. It’s not 64 track stereo heaven but it’s no worse than your average mp3.
Ben Krieger: What exactly is so risky about using a Korg M1 on your record? Every critic seemed to jump on this as some sort of potential career-ending move for Justin Vernon. The only problem was that the song sucked: a cheap “On The Turning Away” rip-off that didn’t even deserve to be graced with the sound of an M1. Oh, and can you all quit knocking Phil Collins when you need to make a crack at the 80s? Look, his solo material isn’t the brightest thing on his resume, but the man was, and probably still is, one of the GREATEST DRUMMERS IN ROCK AND ROLL. That’s not an understatement. Quit lumping him in with worthy targets like Richard Marx.
Bradley Skaught: Both Liam and Noel’s new bands failed to meet even my extremely low expectations.
Brett Whitmoyer: Best Album – Bath Salts by the Gimps. Best song — “Black Beauties” by the Gimps. Best singer — the guy from the Gimps. The Gimps are, like… the best thing ever.
Mark Haubner: Just want to say it was a great year funky men 60 and over: Dennis Coffey, Booker T Jones, Charles Bradley, Bootsy, Maceo. Always Bootsy & Maceo.
George Pasles: Decidedly not bowled over by the following just fine tracks released by artists i have really loved in the past: “Kaputt” – Destroyer, “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead, “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” – Beastie Boys with Santigold.
Jay Braun: Anything that isn’t either early-mid 70s Miles Davis or some kind of Fela-style vamp just isn’t interesting.
Alan Young: Now that SOPA and PIPA have bitten the dust, what kind of shenanigans will the RIAA come up with in its death throes? How long before Spotify goes the way of Last FM? How long before Facebook goes the way of Myspace? What happens when the last publicist closes up shop and I have to come up with content for the blog all by myself? Perish the thought!
Ethan Bumas: Other years I tried to fill this out and the info disappeared. Talk about a benevolent Deus ex Machina.
Tom Snow: I would also like to request a moratorium on any references to sexual activity “in the baffroom” or “in the baffroom stall” or anywhere even in the vicinity. That’s just gross, man.
Jon Robb: I tried (sort of).
Okay, that’s all for tonight. I will try to get my ballot up as soon as I can. Tomorrow will be wall-to-wall Grammys, but after that, I’ll be ready to roll. Thank you for playing this game with me. I’m so glad that you’re all my pals — all y’all.
Poll Winners through Time
* 2011 St. Vincent — Strange Mercy, Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”
* 2010 LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening, Janelle Monae — “Tightrope”
* 2009 Phoenix — Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix — “1901”
* 2008 Frightened Rabbit — The Midnight Organ Fight, MGMT — “Time To Pretend”
* 2007 Of Montreal — Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Rihanna — “Umbrella”
* 2006 Belle & Sebastian — The Life Pursuit, Camera Obscura — “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
* 2005 The New Pornographers — Twin Cinema, Kelly Clarkson — “Since U Been Gone”
* 2004 The Arcade Fire — Funeral, Kanye West & Twista — “Slow Jamz”
* 2003 The Wrens — Meadowlands, Outkast — “Hey Ya!”
* 2002 Spoon — Kill The Moonlight, Missy Elliott — “Work It”
* 2001 Spiritualized — Let It Come Down, Jay-Z — “Izzo”
* 2000 Outkast — Stankonia, Outkast — “Mrs. Jackson”
* 1999 The Magnetic Fields — 69 Love Songs, Len — “Steal My Sunshine”
* 1998 The Loud Family — Days For Days, Public Enemy — “He Got Game”
* 1997 Belle & Sebastian — If You’re Feeling Sinister, The Verve — “Bitter Sweet Symphony”
* 1996 Sammy — Tales Of Great Neck Glory, Smashing Pumpkins — “1979″
* 1995 Oasis — What’s The Story (Morning Glory), Oasis — “Wonderwall”
* 1994 Pavement — Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Blur — “Girls & Boys”
* 1993 Liz Phair — Exile In Guyville, Dr. Dre — “Nothing But A ‘G’ Thing”
* 1992 Lyle Lovett — Joshua Judges Ruth, Pete Rock & CL Smooth — “They Reminisce Over You”
* 1991 A Tribe Called Quest — The Low-End Theory, Geto Boys — “Mind Playing Tricks On Me”
* 1990 Boogie Down Productions — Edutainment, Public Enemy — “911 Is A Joke”
* 1989 De La Soul — Three Feet High And Rising, Elvis Costello — “Veronica”
* 1988 The Pixies – Surfer Rosa, Public Enemy — “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”