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
I was going to write something about the weirdly vaporous nature of music lately, but fuck that. I just want to say that I love Lulu.
Astoria, New York
Fuck wage stagnation—the women in Pistol Annies' songs have stagnated all their lives. Despite trailers for rent, washing down Ritalin with booze, and family feuds, 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 boys from the South.
Blissed-out, as it happens, is a great aesthetic for hip-hop, and the trend will surely peak with a Cocteau Twins sample. At the moment, on my office computer's iTunes library, Lil B's "Unchain Me" has twice as many plays as the second most-played song of all time. Which is off Heaven or Las Vegas, naturally.
Patrick Stump's Soul Punk would have set the word afire, had it not been an album released by the frontman for Fall Out Boy. Increasingly, any artist who's been immersed in the Warped Tour/media-classified "emo" scene is branded with a scarlet letter, which prevents them from ever crossing over to a non-youth-oriented audience. The continued denigration of niche music for teenagers bothers and befuddles me; the critical hive mind is much narrower than it'd like to think.
The only reason I have tear ducts is so that I can bawl uncontrollably when Charles Bradley's hitting those high notes in "Heartaches and Pain." If I ever had to have an operation to remove one of my eardrums, I want to hear this song before the first incision.
Never mind the kitsch factor. "Friday" had a hook that stuck like a talon.
North Hollywood, California
Learn their name: the Alabama Shakes. They didn't have an album this year (it's coming in 2012), but for my money, they put on the best show of 2011. These no-bullshit rock 'n' rollers, led by singer-guitarist Brittany Howard, are salt-of-the-earth saviors. In a year where I felt so disconnected from what was topping the charts and owning the blogs, discovering this band was cause for a genuine freak-out.
Brooklyn, New York
Das Racist wink their way through Relax, giving you just enough rope to kind of figure out how to make a knot. It is hard not to like them even if I have the sense that they wouldn't like me very much. I am always simultaneously worried that I am taking them too seriously and not taking them seriously enough.
I'm a med student. A professor who studies racial disparities in patient access to bariatric surgery asked me my favorite rap song. I said "Down and Out." We poured methylene blue dye down the esophagus to make sure the gastric sleeve staples were working. They were. The best line of the GI tract is the Z-line of the gastroesophageal junction. The best line on Das Racist's Relax is "Young Charles Ponzi, Waka Flocka Fonzie." The best track on Relax is the counting in "Happy Rappy." Yeah, I'm fucking great at med school.