By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Why doesn't everyone's sound laboratories sound as much fun as Merrill Garbus's?
I listened to PJ Harvey's Let England Shake during every critical moment of the year. Ten years since 9/11. The death of Osama. OWS. #OWS. The Resurrection of Godfather's Pizza into popular conversation. And in a strange way, this album continued to be relevant and adopt itself to whatever political moment was going on at the time, however important or nonsensical it was. Maybe it was just me projecting, but the ability to do this marks the nature of a great work of art.
The only reason people have embraced Let England Shake is because it's brilliant—it's some sort of masterpiece that makes expectations irrelevant. But if she doesn't start giving us more electric guitar on her next one, don't be shocked if the reviews are snarkier.
I honestly didn't know that PJ Harvey was gonna be one of the most exciting artists of, like, the last 30 years! How could I know? Who knew? PJ Harvey, Sade, and Kate Bush. Three of the most creative pop forces of the 21st century. I didn't see that coming, although I suppose I should have.
I deleted Watch the Throne from my iPhone three times. It still refuses to disappear. #OtisIlluminati
Brooklyn, New York
Mo' money, mo' predictable records. Is there an album more out of step with the times than Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne? Beats aside, I'm pretty sure I've heard as much "luxury rap" bullshit as I need from Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.
"Riot Grrrl Supergroup" sounds stupid. Luckily Wild Flag's album doesn't.
Tom Waits's albums never fail to be interesting, but sometimes they can get a bit light on the pure fun—put it this way, it's been a while since he put out an album with a song the Ramones could cover. Bad as Me has a few: the herky nihilism of "Get Lost" or the foulmouthed chant of "Hell Broke Luce." And there are a few to play when your bourbon's for crying into.
21 is a map of Adele's reactions to her recent breakup, but those who claim that the album is over-sung and overdramatic miss its more central concept: her age. She has called her now-finished relationship "the biggest deal in my entire life to date," which is the sort of ridiculous but romantic pronouncement that the young are prone to making.
Video might not have killed the radio star, but overamped hype can kill almost anything. When Adele sings "hard," many of my critical peers allow themselves to be more impressed than they get when, say, Patti LaBelle or the gospel duo Mary Mary sing "hard."
Thanks to two consecutive Kanye and Drake albums, not to mention the critical success of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, monstrous self-regard and after-hours sobbing are the new mean. What's fascinating is how both Drake and Kanye depend on aural chambers whose intricacy is inversely proportional to the boys' rapping/singing skills. Where their influences didn't sweat the technique, Drake has none to speak of, and that's the way he likes it; it makes him, in his own mind, the realest guy in the game.
Take Care was my favorite slab of music of 2011 in part because I admire Drake's willingness to appear ridiculous, but I would totally buy him a tuna sandwich if he would shut the fuck up about his sex life for five seconds.
A.S. Van Dorston
I don't have beef with Justin Vernon, artistically. He's doing exactly what he should be doing: making bold choices and putting his shoulder into them. The glacially-paced, ambient "rock" on Vernon's second Bon Iver album takes the biggest risk I can imagine from an aspiring mainstream musician: It stakes itself on mind-numbing dullness.
Brooklyn, New York
If Das Racist are in a constant state of processing the world and spitting it back at us reconfigured, Shabazz Palaces are only concerned with the world inside their heads. I take "Recollections of the wraith" as words to live by—"clear some space out so we can space out." That deep bass drum sounds like it is programmed to reconfigure a heartbeat and the flanged, wobbling guitar easily disengages me from whatever is in front of my face. Unplug your shit. I like how it feels.