Last bit of housecleaning…

As the entire music community knows by now, The Village Voice published its Pazz & Jop poll yesterday. I got a few comments published here, here, here, and here.

The winners:

1 tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l
2 PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
3 Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne
4 Wild Flag, Wild Flag
5 Tom Waits, Bad As Me
6 Adele, 21
7 Destroyer, Kaputt
8 Drake, Take Care
9 Bon Iver, Bon Iver
10 Shabazz Palaces, Black Up


1 Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” * **
2 Beyoncé, “Countdown” **
3 Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
4 M83, “Midnight City”
5 Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Niggas in Paris”
6 Azealia Banks, “212”
7 Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
7 Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends”
9 Adele, “Someone Like You”
10 Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks”
10 Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”

My ballot.

The rest….

The full list of the year’s best. No doubt you were interested in those below twenty.

1. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels
2. DJ Quik – The Book of David
3. Destroyer – Kaputt
4. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
5. Serengeti – Family and Friends
6. Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
7. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
8. Marsha Ambrosious – Late Nights and Early Mornings
9. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
10. Diddy Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris
11. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
12. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
13. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
14. Poly Styrene – Generation Indigo
15. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
16. Katy B – On a Mission
17. Bil Callahan – Apocalypse
18. R. Kelly – Love Letter
19. Wire – Red Barked Trees
20. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What
21. Beyonce – 4
22. Tom Waits – Bad For Me
23. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
24. Holy Ghost – Holy Ghost!
25. Nicholas Jaar – Space is Only Noise
26. Miranda Lambert – Four The Record
27. El Debarge – Second Chance
28. Jill Scott – The Light of the Sun
29. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See
30. Drive-by Truckers – Go-Go Boots

Twenty best singles of 2011

1. Azealia Banks – 212
2. Nicki Minaj ft. Ester Dean – Super Bass
3. Britney Spears – Till The World Ends
4. Beyonce – Love On Top
5. The Joy Formidable – Whirring
6. Blake Shelton – Who Are You When I’m Not Looking
7. Diddy ft. Swizz Beats – Ass on the Floor
8. Miguel – Sure Thing
9. Toby Keith – Somewhere Else
10. Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton – So In Love
11. ASAP Rocky – Purple Swag
12. Ke$ha – Shots On the Hood of My Car
13. Patrick Wolf – House
14. Eric Church – Homeboy
15. Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood – Remind Me
16. Frank Ocean – Novacane
17. Drake ft. Rihanna – Take Care
18. Robin Thicke – Love After War
19. Billy Currington – Love Done Gone
20. Foster The People – Call It What You Want

Twenty Best Albums of 2011: #’s 1-3

3. Destroyer – Kaputt

Is this album transgressive? Does it “reclaim” “uncool” sounds? Wrong and wrong. My love for Johnny Hates Jazz has no archival interest; I listen to the Blow Monkeys for pleasure (I even wrote this Stylus essay arguing for sophistipop’s vibrancy). Dan Bejar’s project tickles memories without quite summoning them. For one, the average track length on Kaputt is longer than anything on a sophistipop record. Also more pinched, almost self-infatuated, and Bejar manages the uneasy triumph of singing and writing about and to no one; he’s not singing at the mirror, he’s singing in the dark.

2. DJ Quik – The Book of David

A lot of hip-hop fans dislike Quik’s flow. How an album this buoyant and filled to surfeit with scenarios, putdowns, celebrations, and hooks (most played or programmed by Quik himself) wasn’t discussed month after month as the classic it is supports the risible idea that rap is a young man’s game. And the beats! The keyboard parts! Robin Thicke or Anthony Hamilton could take “Real Women” to the bank. If you thought Tyler the Creator’s “Yonkers” is an impressive demonstration of grossness, check out what Quik does in “Ghetto Rendezvous” to a relative who’s exhausted his patience.

1. Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels

We like to claim this or that album addresses How Things Are Now. In ten songs and a running time five seconds over thirty minutes, Miranda Lambert and heretofore unfamous cohorts Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe takes us through trailers for rent, boys from the South, and family feuds in 2011. You know about wage stagnation — the women in these songs have stagnated all their lives. But they know to suck on the bitter to get to the sweet part, and, boy, do they keep smiling; they make themselves the butt of their own jokes because it helps them keep their self-respect while honoring the shallow conceptions of womankind held by their husbands and boyfriends (in the title track they slap their men as well as themselves). So wry and well-observed that it rendered Lambert’s own Four The Record almost irrelevant, Hell on Heels deserves the kind of love which once led me to put a song here or there on a mixtape for people — the kind of song that made the receiver go, “What is this?” Presley, who wrote the album’s best hook and concept by herself, needs her own record. The others need to record again together. Soon.

Twenty Best Albums of 2011: #’s 4-6

6. The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck

Intimations of doom, boasting the clarity of a dream half-remembered. Five years after hiring rock accompaniment, John Darnielle learns to trust the tug of a bass line or when necessary to bend his voice for percussive ends, peaking on “Beautiful Gas Mask,” in which the arrangement takes its cue from Darnielle’s hysteria only to settle, like ash over the decimated landscape, on the quietest intonation of the refrain “Never sleep. Remember to breathe deep.” But he wants to he can still strum those acoustic strings until I swear they snapped (“Estate Sale Sign”).

5. Serengeti – Family and Friends

“Ever since I lost my job, I started a blog / It’s going so great / It’s about the ins and outs of the perfect date,” David Cohn raps, holding a mirror up to those like us typing this review. He’s hip-hop because that’s how his rhymes sound and beats snap, but in sensibility he’s closer to Beck than Beck is these days.

4. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale

What I wrote in April: “…so post-feminist/post-sexual/post-woman that to wonder whether she’s used or being used by the purported objects of lust she’s dancing/fucking is as beside the point as comparing ‘Libya’ and ‘Iraq.'” I also argued that her femmebot sheen darkens when a song demands more personality than her designers have programmed her with. That was April. Now I count only two rubber doughnuts in one of the most sustained contemporary examples of disco apocalypse. When the IT department wheels her away for disassembly she won’t need “Hit Me Baby One More Time” when she’s got “Till The World Ends” for an epitaph.

Twenty Best Albums of 2011: #’s 7-9

9. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

The former leader of beloved nineties hip-hop trio Digable Planets shares the mic with fat-bottomed beats instead of confreres Doodlebug and Ladybug, and his intelligence and alliterative wordplay get the aural update he deserves. Here’s hoping he gets a commercial one soon.

8. Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights and Early Mornings

Like Jill Scott, she overdoes the masochism — more burning less yearning next time, please. In the latter category she offers “Far Away” and covers her own “Butterflies,” which Michael Jackson recorded as a great late-period hit. As for the former, there’s the sigh-anchored title track and the gentle, lovedrunk “Your Hands.” Ambrosius’ R&B hit boasts an enviable command of composition and dynamics; she gives songs their precise emotional weight. If the pop audience didn’t take, blame her label for not pushing the daft “Hope She Cheats On You (With a Basketball Player)” up their noses.

7. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

Expert, polished, and well-timed, 2008’s much-praised The Way I See It was too close to necromancy to my ears. Stone Rollin‘ is where the Tony! Toni! Toné! auteur brought off a sui generis hybrid: R&B prog, with Mellotron flourishes; and the slashing rhythm guitar, tautness, and closely miked drums of what Al Shipley, in an excellent call, someone conversant with the Yardbirds and the Who. Each track bursts with ideas, tended by Saadiq, a multi-instrumental threat whose high, pinched vocals are finessed by the material (he should hire someone else to drum though). I don’t have any idea what Saadiq does next. Someone put him in a studio with Avey Tare and talk sense into the boy.

Twenty Best Albums of 2011: #’s 10-12

12. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Another Harvey album reliant on a craftsmanship gimmick: White Chalk was her piano album, Let England Shake her autoharp one. The other striking thing about LES is too original to tag a gimmick: a song cycle about war and its discontents, which is the clue to why the album is superb without risking greatness. An album “about” England, “about” war without being suffused with them. She offers hints and portents over impressive backdrops; she’s never sung this well, but with so little sense of what the material demands.

11. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Her singles are events. Her album tracks are killers: the male chorus rising and falling as it sings GA-GA over the chorus of “Bloody Mary,” the guitar squeal in “Bad Kids,” another male voice squeaking “Wake up and turn around!” in “Governmental Hooker,” and the nonsensical, Nutrasweet-fueled rush of “Hair,” a far cannier anthem than the title track. She inspires people, I’m told.

Longer thoughts about Born This Way shortly after its release here.

EDIT: Ned as usual made salient remarks.

10. Diddy Dirty Money – Last Train to Paris

So buzzed was my circle by the December 2010 release of Diddy’s best album that lots of us squeezed, prodded, and pinched ballots to accommodate it. A year later and Diddy’s version of a 1965 Motown revue sounds fresh, each guest benefiting from the fecund environment: Usher (“Looking For Love”), Trey Songz (“Your Love”), and Justin Timberblake (“Shades”) give their most enthusiastic performances in years. Meanwhile the name above the marquee finally earns the billing: he’s the impresario and ringmaster, reveling in a vision of Euro-inflected R&B and hip-hop that is the aural equivalent of neon lights shining on puddles and Metro stations at dusk. Get your hands on the extended version: songs like “Sade” (the band not the author) work just like B-sides should.

Twenty Best Albums of 2011- #’s 17-20

Today’s installment. I hope to post updates for the rest of the week.


20. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

Skeptical about this album six months ago, I left two songs on my iPod to remind me of its strengths: the title track/ sequel to 1972’s “Paranoid Blues,” with Simon replacing the chow fong with homecooked chicken gumbo and anchored by a chugging, stuttered guitar riff; and despite the way in which its chorus baits memories of “Under African Skies,” Graceland‘s only horror, “Dazzling Blue,” beholden to beauty under the glare of CAT scan eyes and the realization that love is destiny. Now even the prayers and tone poems belong. So does the guitar — acres of Simon and Vincent Nguini’s best picking ever. An album I look forward to rediscovering in the coming months.

19. Wire – Red Barked Tree

“Comeback” is a gauche description to use for a band whose nervy conception of itself encompasses equal parts silence and profligacy. In their third or fourth return to the guitar-bass-drums format, Wire construct discrete sonic terrariums; the production and mix are as warm as a heat lamp, which makes these songs more unsettling — the operative word for Wire. As I wrote in January, Wire are the most worthwhile reunion project, outside the Go-Betweens, of the last fifteen years.

18. R. Kelly – Love Letter

Not the first late-2010 release you’ll see on this list. R. Kelly’s latest aims for the thick textures and straightforward arrangements of what he thinks is classic R&B but really produces the best Ne-Yo record since 2008. No “Ignition” here, but you will dig sons and grandsons of “Step in the Name of Love.”

17. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Pungent, static, often boring, the former Smog leader is a natural standup comedian. The timbre of his bullfrog voice makes me laugh aloud — a good thing on an album on which the average track exceeds five minutes.

Fourth quarter update – singles

Two weeks ago I posted a tentative list of the year’s best albums. Here’s the singles list, nothing cemented in place, of course.

Britney Spears – Till The World Ends
Diddy ft. Swizz Beats – Ass on the Floor
Beyoncé – Love On Top
Nicki Minaj ft. Ester Dean – Super Bass
Katy B – Movement
ASAP Rocky – Purple Pills
Frank Ocean – Novacane
Toby Keith – Somewhere Else
Miguel – Sure Thing
Blake Shelton – Who Are You When I’m Not Looking
Lady Gaga – You & I
Joy Formidable – Whirring
Nicki Minaj ft. Eminem – Roman’s Revenge
Billy Currington – Love Done Gone
Ke$ha – Shots On the Hood of My Car
Steel Magnolia – Bulletproof
Florence + The Machine – What The Water Gave Me
Taylor Swift – Sparks Fly
Brad Paisley – A Man Don’t Have to Die
Reba McEntire – If I Were a Boy

Fourth quarter update

How the year looks so far:

Pistol Annies – s/t
DJ Quik – The Book of David
Destroyer – Kaputt
Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
Serengeti – Family and Friends
Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights and Early Mornings
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
The Mountain Goats – All Eternals Deck
Beyonce – 4
Wire – Red Barked Tree
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Nicholas Jaar – Space is Only Noise
Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What
tune-YARDS – w h o k i l ll
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
Poly Styrene – Generation Indigo
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Junior Boys – It’s All True
R. Kelly – Love Letter
El DeBarge – Second Chance
Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See