Friday, February 03, 2006

All That Pazz 

After I published my Favorite Music Of 2005 lists last week, it came to my attention that Common, the rapper whose album Be was my favorite of the year, is a pro-lifer and a homophobe. Who knew?

Seriously, Common is an artist who's been on my radar screen since his 2000 major-label debut Like Water For Chocolate, but I do not own and have never listened to any of his previous albums. I had not followed his career closely at all.

Why did I even buy Be? Because I saw the "Go!" video in a co-worker's office and was blown away by the groove, I knew Kanye had produced the album, and I'd read a couple positive reviews. I'm usually hopelessly behind the curve when it comes to hip-hop; I think the only rap album I ever bought during the week it was released was Doggystyle. I took a gamble and bought Be, and it became my iPod fave for months.

Maybe I didn't parse every word of the lyrics as closely as I thought I did, but I don't hear any messages of hate on the record. Some lazy meanness here and there, yes, but nothing crazy. The Chronic, which is probably my favorite rap album of all time, has a lot of a lot more meanness at its core, and I have managed to not stop listening to that pretty regularly for more than a dozen years.

I'm a political kind of guy, but politics can go out the window once the stereo is turned on. Though generally I can't get into music that advocates war, class division, or religious fervor, I can separate a piece of music from the person or people making it and even, often—as weird as this might sound—its own lyrics.

Hey, I'm not a celibate gay vegan, but I sure do love Morrissey's music. Hell, Morrissey is not necessarily celibate (he's reportedly had at least one relationship since The Smiths broke up), not necessarily gay (although probably, but he's never quite said so), and not necessarily vegan (the man who hugged cows in the "Suedehead" video does occasionally wear leather), and I bet he likes his own music. Then again, he's such a misanthrope that maybe he doesn't.

Simliar to what I noted last year, it amazes me that there are albums and songs in my top tens that were not singled out for mention by any of the other 794 Pazz & Jop critics. There was zero fanfare and almost as few sales for my #2 album, Pitty Sing's self-titled debut (and swan song, as they split up before 2005 was out), so it's not shocking that I was the only one to cast a ballot for them. On the singles side, I was the only critic to give votes to Manhead's cover of The Godfathers' "Birth, School, Work, Death" and Dave's True Story's elegant ballad "Blue Nile."

For the sixth consecutive year, Glenn McDonald has published a statistical analysis of the voters, ranked by the average number of other voters who voted for each of their picks. If you follow that. In other words, this year I came in an embarrassingly high #112 out of 795 voters. That means 111 critics had ballots that reflected the consensus more than mine, and 683 of them reflected the consensus less than I did.

I can console myself about coming in 506 spots ahead of the legendary Greil Marcus (whose politically charged singles ballot included Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" and more than one blues song released in the 1920s) with the fact that Eric Weisbard finished 15 notches ahead of me. Hell, the mighty Ann Powers came in at #9. Last year I was #211 of 793, for the '03 survey I was #467 of 726, in '02 I was #459 of 692, and in 2001—the first year I voted—I was #281 of 617. From a strict statistical standpoint, this means I followed the herd more this year than any of those previous years. Did I not dig deep enough in 2005, or is it just a coincidence that I found stuff that was more popular to be closer to the cream of this year's crop? Ah, unimportant rhetorical questions.

Voters in the The Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll are encouraged but not required to send in commentary to be printed along with the survey's results and a few other essays. As I mentioned here the other day, my one-sentence take on neighbor Kanye made it to print this year. Below are the rest of the comments I submitted that were not published. The M.I.A. bit is the only part I recycled in my best-of piece.

Dear Kanye,
Welcome to Hoboken! Apparently you've been here in the neighborhood for a couple years, but the papers on this side of the river are kind of slow to pick up on this sort of thing, and the national media's in denial that the most critically acclaimed artist of the past two years is a Hoboken resident. Haven't run into you yet at Maxwell's or any of the fine local Italian delis, but I guess you've been pretty busy. Listen, when you get around to making Unmatriculated, Provost's Pet, or whatever you're calling your third album, might I suggest you look to your adopted hometown for inspiration. Stand up for us underdogs, the much maligned "bridge and tunnel" crowd who keep the great big island city afloat, and who Manhattanites care about roughly as much as George Bush cares about black people. You are one of us now; don't misrepresent.

Artistic merits aside, feminism is in serious trouble if Common and Kanye are congratulated for saying "bitch" but not "ho."

I had to leave M.I.A. off my top 10 because I don't trust the fact that I like her. Not because she isn't great; she clearly is. But as someone who's not big on hip-hop most years, doesn't dig much "world" music, and can't stand dancehall reggae, I'm awfully suspicious that I could like an album that fuses all three. Sometimes the most restrictive stereotypes are the ones we give ourselves.

If I point out that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are merely ok, do I have to shut down my blog?

When I saw not one but two young black male singing hopefuls croon "Ordinary People" in separate sets at a randomly selected Amateur Night at The Apollo in June, the song already sounded so classic that it was hard to imagine a time when it hadn't existed. When my world was rocked at that same venue two months later in a political benefit where Stevie Wonder showed he's lost none of his charm and almost none of his voice, part of me almost hoped he'd do the song too. If Stevie's new album had even one song half as good as this, I might have listened to it more than once so far.

For those of us too young to understand disco the first time around, and too busy listening to Corey Hart to "get" new wave in its heyday, James Murphy creates magical mystery hybrids of epic dancehall importance.

This year The New Pornographers benefitted from "makeup syndrome," in which the critical herd, not unlike Grammy or Oscar voters, compensates for ignoring an artist's vital, early work by overly praising later, lesser efforts. It's regrettable, but we've all done it, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer band.

"Finding Out True Love Is Blind" is just rude enough to be dangerous and just silly enough not to be threatening. Wait, that doesn't make any sense. Why did I vote for it again? Oh yeah, it rocks--something not many other rock bands heard by anything close to a mainstream audience did this year.

Art Brut: because Art Teen Spirit smelled too much like Nirvana.

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