Try Isn't Do

Musical drugs and shared secret codes abort the utopic mission

I have not been to one America for Democracy meeting though I am on their e-mail list, I have not answered e-mail from my long-distance campaign friends nor opened the mass e-mails that John Kerry's office so graciously sends, and I didn't even listen to protest songs, not that that does any good anyhow.

Jill Blardinelli
Chicago, Illinois

Antony and the Johnsons, #7 album, #24 single
photo: Alice O’Malley
Antony and the Johnsons, #7 album, #24 single

I'm torn between my desire to hear protest music that proves that people are paying attention to the state of the world, and my desire to not hear more reminders that caring about the state of the world isn't the same as being able to write good songs about it.

Todd Kristel
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

After totally blowing our one big adult responsibility in 2004, where else to retreat in 2005 than the bliss of childhood? Shake that Laffy Taffy. I'll take you to the candy shop. Sugar, we're going down . . .

Chris Weingarten
Brooklyn, New York

Is it too late or too earnest or too stupid to suggest that maybe our listening habits ought to help us try to improve our world? I'm happier than ever in my iPod audio-topia. I'm madder than ever at what's happening all around me. I just think maybe the two ought not to be separate.

Jeff Chang
Berkeley, California

Strange to see people criticizing the apparent lack of a clearly elucidated program in M.I.A.'s politically allusive lyrical mash-ups, as if the writers are sitting around reading Immanuel Wallerstein and Giorgio Agamben. Do we need M.I.A.—or Kanye, or Le Tigre, or the Beastie Boys—framing legislation or writing policy papers? There are actual people we pay to do that. By not being rapists or idiots they're already in the top 1 percent of pop music humanity. No one questioned the pragmatics of the guy who said, "I'm gonna rock you till the break of dawn." It was an invocation of human possibility. So is "pull up the people, pull up the poor." She isn't supposed to actually do it. She only has so many arms.

Jon Dolan
Brooklyn, New York

I'm from Canada, where we don't care as much about Bush as you do. The result? Politically deaf, socially insulated, and solipsistically inclined acts like the Arcade Fire, Stars, Broken Social Scene, and Feist made it big in the U.S. of A. Well, bigger anyway.

David Marchese

I love that the New Pornographers' lyrics don't make any sense, like watching a great foreign film without the subtitles.

Tim Grierson
Los Angeles, California

Whereas the Stones once sought shelter from the storms of the real world, Spoon's Britt Daniel seeks nothing less than an alternative reality altogether–a parallel planet complete with its own T-shirt, Gimme Fiction or Gimme Death.

Corey du Browa
Lake Oswego, Oregon

Right now insular indie pop played with unexpected virtuosity is as overrated as worldly 1970s L.A. studio pop played with exceptional virtuosity was underrated. Where Becker and Fagen at least intimated that they read The New York Times in between bouts of Burroughs, Gimme Fiction and Twin Cinema's undeniable charms come in large part from the absence of identifiable referents.

Alfred Soto
Miami, Florida

Sufjan's building blocks—banjo, the '70s sensitive folkie vibe, '60s girl group/Greek chorus background singers, trumpet and trombone, and the orchestral minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich—are utterly wild and unpredictable. He's made truly new music.

Andy Whitman
Decatur, Georgia

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah almost sounds like there was a website where you type in all your favorite bands and then they create a new one just for you.

Mark Zepezauer
Tucson, Arizona

Konono No 1 taught indie-rockers how to look beyond their borders. And the indie-rockers taught African bands that if you don't want to play solely to the NPR crowd, you damn well better have a cool gimmick.

Chris Weingarten
Brooklyn, New York

No matter how hard I tried, I came away from the big indie records with a sense of terminal complaceny, a fatal lack of balls and engagement.

Edd Hurt
Clarksville, Tennessee

It seems that the only way to retain indie cred these days is to be into shit that is impossible to find: no label, CD-R label, or C-20 cassette reissue. On MySpace you can find millions of bands who never released anything. What's cooler than being into nothingness?

Marc Gilman
London, England

When are bands going to realize nobody cares about them after their debut?

Nick Sylvester

See, dudes, like Yoda says, there is no try, there is only do, and this squawky noise blast / nazi-porn-racism anti-music / Jim Goad drunk on Ivy League semiotics and bukkake—it's all try and no "do." And I know that that, supposedly, IS your point, but like, I mean, really—HOW IS THAT A POINT IN 2005 A.D.? It's not.

Jessica Hopper
Chicago, Illinois

Pre-Clinton, kindreds Pavement and the Jungle Brothers hastily and hazily pastiched old forms and craggy rhythms to create bubble-up realist possibility for a new cultural frontier. Pre-post-Bush this year's devilishly smart lyrical gankstas Craig Finn and the Clipse use obscurantist word-ninja flippage to excavate the localized experience where drugs and music and shared secret codes help them transcend dead systems that never made an inch of space for them in the first place.

Jon Dolan
Brooklyn, New York

Patti Smith's keynote at Seattle's Rockrgrl conference: "We need to be strong, clean, and aware because the world is very fucked up and it's gonna get worse. But we don't recoil. We get like the girl in The Terminator." (Cue uproar of wild applause.)

Jeanne Fury
Brooklyn, New York

As much as I want to dust off my prairie skirt and paint my face in liquid pollen, I can't help but resent the utopic yelping of Animal Collective. I wish I could dance around a drum circle, shouting at an open fire, but shit, Con Ed beckons and my stack of bills grows.

Jaime Lowe
Brooklyn, New York

Dance music wasn't trying so hard to be innovative that it didn't make sense to anyone outside its clique. This might be why you actually see real live females at techno parties, why there are more full-length albums worth playing, why vocals are no longer verboten, why melody is back, and why no one invented a new sub-sub-sub-subgenre this year. All good things.

Tricia Romano
Brooklyn, New York

Call The Woods excessive or bloated if you want, but the sheer fact that you could throw those terms at lady-rock this year and have them stick was phenomenal.

Josh Love
Hull, Georgia

Anyone who wrote that Sleater-Kinney have only now learned how to "really" rock never A/B'd the disc against One Beat or Dig Me Out and/or can't distinguish band interaction from mic placement.

Franklin Bruno
Los Angeles, California

Like an inverted-world version of George W. Bush, System of a Down were born to have 9/11 change who they are. Remember 1998's self-titled debut? Me neither. If they weren't so saturated with regret, I'd be tempted to hear in Mezmerize and Hypnotize a sense of gratitude—relief that the music's bongwater schizophrenia finally found purpose more meaningful than dick jokes. Also, I hear dick jokes.

Mikael Wood

Lou Reed showing up on I Am a Bird Now felt like a reunion between Mr. Transformer and the drag queens of "Walk on the Wild Side." Except now they got to have the lead vocal.

Tim Grierson
Los Angeles, California

After the fourth time hearing the mantra-hooks of the single of the year, Common's "Go!" I started wondering whether John Mayer albums were any good. What the f? Isn't that some Nostradamial proclamation about end times, that punks develop curiosity re: John Mayer?

Jessica Hopper
Chicago, Illinois

2005 was the year when popism finally trickled down to the indie kids. When young critics talked about how great the first half of the year was, they not only mean Separation Sunday and Arular, but "Since U Been Gone," "Mr. Brightside," and "Wait (The Whisper Song)."

Alfred Soto
Miami, Florida

When I realized that Lindsay Lohan is emo, Ashlee Simpson is punk, and Skye Sweetnam is indie, my world changed.

David Moore
Odenton, Maryland

Gwen Stefani is a total Hollaback Girl. She's the blonde in the Hollywood comedy—stewardess, secretary, housewife—who's had it with her dominant boss/hubby/squeeze and starts hitting him with her high heel. She stands for conventional femininity coming aware of itself.

Ann Powers
Seattle, Washington

Kanye West's outburst during the Katrina telethon was the pop mo ment of the year because within the flow of heavily manipulated reality shows, highly choreographed live performances, and strategized blockbusters that make up the mainstream, it was an unscripted assertion of self. Kanye stood in for all of us whose brains were on overdrive as New Orleans fell, unleashing his own flood of guilt, shock, helplessness, and rage. "George Bush doesn't care about black people" may not be a totally true or responsible thing to say, but it's not spin.

Ann Powers
Seattle, Washington

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "The Cruel War," "Blowin' in the Wind," and "Imagine" were on Dolly Parton's new album. There's nothing like sitting in a red state in a concert audience that is truly moved by these songs, that has felt the losses in Iraq deeply and personally. During "Imagine," people started standing up and applauding before the halfway mark.

Ellis Widner
Little Rock, Arkansas

Annoyance of the year: the FBI logo on the back of RIAA CDs, especially U2. Christ on a Triscuit, Bono, you have the clout to get the Pope on the phone and IM the President, but you can't keep the FBI off your own album? Who the fuck do you think killed Dr. King, the Cub Scouts?

Rob Sheffield
Brooklyn, New York

Behold the first Pazz & Jop list I've ever submitted in which every entry is by or features a woman or women. No cultural reason that I can discern, other than perhaps I subconsciously enjoyed/needed hearing women's voices and thoughts in a time when cruel men rule the country.

Ken Tucker
Berwyn, Pennsylvania

A market with room for Miranda Lambert, Franz Ferdinand, Three 6 Mafia, and so much else to stay fly is achieving more than we realize. We don't have social citizenship; we do have cultural citizenship.

Eric Weisbard
Seattle, Washington

Lookahere: Lauryn, Russell, Puff, Damon, Jay-Z, and Andre 3000 got the right idea. He who runs away today lives to fight another day. Abort the mission and let these assassins have her until they wipe each other out.

Greg Tate

The best rap songs were snaps and whistles floating in negative space. The best rap albums were screwed lethargic purple sap. The best metal records were sucking abysses of doom feedback. The best electronic records were skeletal house made from tiny clicks and cuts. Then why did all the best rock records sound just like last year's best rock records?

Chris Weingarten
Brooklyn, New York

If a younger band released an album half as satisfying as the Stones did, we'd be falling all over ourselves praising them for rescuing the lost soul of rock and roll.

Rick Mitchell
Houston, Texas

Not mentioned in the Dylan movie: Elvis, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Britney.

Not mentioned in the Johnny Cash movie: Hank, Jesus, black people, Britney.

Rob Sheffield
Brooklyn, New York

Whatever music I love at any given moment always exists in the here and now, whether it came out last week, 10 years ago, or in 1963. "Outta Control" 's main competitors for my favourite song of the year were the Spikedrivers' "Often I Wonder," Hot Tuna's "Sea Child," Yo La Tengo's "Satellite," and a dozen other things that felt every bit as wondrous as 50 Cent's record. That his gave up nothing to any of them is why he's 1.

Phil Dellio
Toronto, Ontario

Be it the rap and r&b favored by my teen daughter, or the WEQX-derived "alt-rock" that's the staple of her twin, their music comes and goes with unfailing impermanence, mere ringtones for ears and a heart wanting more. But at age 55, life is too short to wallow in the music of my youth, no matter how tenacious its hold.

Mike Curtin
Glens Falls, New York

What does it mean to stay fly? It means never bringing your own because your friends let you smoke for free. It means repping Tennessee, home of the 12-syllable vowel. It means smoke all night, sleep all day, because that's the American way. It means picking your teeth in the hotel corridor. It means not leaving your shit around DJ Paul unless you don't mind getting your shit lit up. It means treating your friends like stars even when they're ugly. It means having friends. It means not dying.

Rob Sheffield
Brooklyn, New York

Mother Nature doesn't care about nobody.

Werner Trieschmann
Little Rock, Arkansas

Q: What you gon' do wit' all that breast? All that breast inside that shirt?

A: I'm going to suckle my children.

John Seroff
Jersey City, New Jersey

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