Pazz & Jop: The Comments

Pazz & Jop: The Comments

The Favorites

The three albums that so many have gravitated toward as 2012's best (myself included)—Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, and Kendrick Lamar—all come from Southern California but live on separate universes. — Jillian Mapes

Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Japandroids were on their J. J. Abrams this year, taking over long-running franchises like r&b, rap, and rock and reminding us why we liked them. — Michael Tedder


See the full 2012 Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.


Miguel Is Living The Dream
Sex takes center stage on his sophomore album
By Brian McManus

Frank Ocean's Sea Change
His musical and personal honesty made waves in 2012
By Eric Sundermann

A Trip Through Fiona Apple's Wheelhouse
The singer-songwriter wrestles with the idea of mind as machine
By Audra Schroeder

Kendrick Lamar, Finally Compton's Most Wanted
It took quite some time for the rapper to become an overnight success
By Jeff Weiss

The Confounding, Inexplicable Splendor of Rapper Future
Space is the place
By Rob Harvilla

Pazz & Jop: Taylor Swift, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey: The Year in Blond Ambition
How dare they have an image
By Jessica Hopper

You Don't Know Jack (White)
After a dozen years in the public eye, the man proves he can still surprise us
By Alan Light

Riff Raff Is Keeping It Surreal
He's believable as a hip-hop star because nothing he says is true
By Ben Westhoff

Travel Tips From Touring Bands
By Kiernan Maletsky

A Note on Crap
True art lives where no one is paying attention. Or probably not.
By David Thorpe


Top 40 Albums
The year's big albums, from Frank Ocean on down

Top 42 Singles
"Call Me Maybe" kicks off the top of the pops

Pazz & Jop Comments
The who, the what, the where, and the why, why, why

The Top 25 Album Covers
A lovingly hand-assembled gallery

Tabulation Notes
Weak consensus versus inspiring diversity
By Glenn McDonald

Frank Ocean wrote a letter or something, but I didn't finish reading it, because it was mush. Then he released a record, but I didn't finish listening to it, because it was mush. The Obama of pop music—bland, inoffensive, droning, electable. — Michael Robbins

My dismissal of Channel Orange proved how little good intentions—intentions at all—matter to listenable music. A fan of Nostalgia, Ultra, a gay man in search of text instead of subtext, I was struck by the ephemerality of the songwriting and Ocean's dull vocal melodies. It was too much fucking work to like this thing. It wasn't saving r&b from anything. It was barely r&b. His published note to the world notwithstanding, for all we know, Ocean beats up his tricks. So I return to subtextual listening. — Alfred Soto

Channel Orange is a record that critics laud despite having a difficult time pigeonholing. In late December, I went to my local record store in Denver and was shocked to find the album in the rap section. It's probably an r&b effort, yes, and all of the bluster about Ocean's reinvention of the genre isn't all that over the top. From Pitchfork to People, it's the rare release the connects with a wide swath of the populace. — Colin St. John

Kendrick Lamar's Compton operates an awful lot like a suburb, which may retroactively explain why his West Coast grand-godfathers N.W.A. were so popular in suburbia. On good kid, m.A.A.d city, even Lamar's concerns are frequently suburban—peer pressure, malaise, embarrassing parents—albeit with the looming specter of death by gang violence or substance abuse. — Marty Brown

Jay and Ye must not have been watching it, because after letting him into their palace, Frank Ocean sat his ass on the throne. — Joey Daniewicz

Think stuffing your album title with 24 words is pretentious? So does she—the joke's on you. — Michael Tatum

On his first truly solo outing, Jack White finally gave up the pretense that he wasn't in control. He has taken up the rock 'n' roll hammer of the gods and assumed the mantle of FM radio godhead. — Brian J. Bowe

Let's be clear: Miguel is not an indie-inflected or indie-influenced r&b artist. Miguel is an r&b artist, fluent in Bill Withers, Frank Beverly, Gregory Abbott, and Jeffrey Osborne. The thousands of words analyzing Miguel, Frank Ocean, Usher's "Climax," and the Weeknd, among others, overlook the degree to which r&b has been "introspective" since its inception. — Alfred Soto

One of the most fun musical things of 2012 was watching every music critic I follow on Twitter slowly but surely come around to Future's Pluto. It's a weird album; it's basically like listening to a robot moan about his recent trials and tribulations on OkCupid. It was mostly savaged when it came out in April, but as the months got warmer, and people realized "Turn on the Lights" is the year's best love song, I watched everyone start tweeting lyrics from "Same Damn Time" and calling him the T-1000 of rap (shouts to @craigsj) and basically agreeing, by listmaking time, that any list that doesn't mention Pluto is kidding itself and its readers. You deserve it, Future. — Andrew Winistorfer

The Singles

Lyrically, "Call Me Maybe" succinctly pins down a specifically adolescent state of being—particularly in its ingenious use of that magical word "maybe"—while at the same time musically reinforcing its mixed-up romantic confusion by never quite settling on the tonic chord, i.e. the "home" key. In other words, the resolution that the ear craves—the extra-verbal metaphor signaling that guy with the ripped jeans really will call the song's heroine back—never comes, instead ping-ponging back and forth without setting the listener back on solid ground. — Michael Tatum

I liked how "Call Me Maybe" and Chairlift's "I Belong in Your Arms" are basically the same song. — Alfred Soto

As I adore "Stupid Hoe," I still wonder if America's hip-hop women will ever pick up the torch of political relevance where Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah both dropped it? — Carol Cooper

I don't have any more interest in Rihanna's ongoing dramas than I did when I voted for "Cheers (Drink to That)" last year, no more than I once did in Madonna's, or Mary J. Blige's, or Eminem's, or whomever's. (Don't mean to sound callous—I realize Rihanna's were triggered by something qualitatively different.) But they're there, on "Cheers" and again on "Take Care," where her opening line (about knowing when people have been hurt by the way they carry themselves) seems made to order for Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor's Faking It, which I finally got around to reading. Maybe that line was written specially for her, and maybe that's the first thing most listeners will remember about this song, if they remember anything at all. — Phil Dellio

What's most amazing about "Call Me Maybe" is that Jepsen was a product of Canadian Idol, which was a "singing" show only in the loosest sense of the word. The judges were horrendously bad evaluators of talent and were so outlandish in their praise for completely mediocre competitors that they made Paula Abdul look like, well, Simon Cowell. This was a show where balding waiter and Season One winner Ryan Malcolm was tipped as a future star, where Jacob Hoggard sang like he was being strangled and danced like Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" but was hailed as a maverick performer, and where coma-inducing lounge singer Theresa Sokyrka was lauded as the second coming of Norah Jones. — Barry Bruner

"Gangnam Style" is a sure-enough warning sign that if we don't take care of our own, someone else will come along and do it for us. — Roy Trakin

I couldn't include it on my list in good conscience, but "Patsy Cline" by Dark Dark Dark is one of the best singles of the year by one of the worst-named bands of all time. — Kristyn Pomranz

The wiseguy in me recognizes Todd Terje's "Inspector Norse" as just an arted-up "Popcorn" (Hot Butter, 1972—we're probably past the point where I can assume such a reference means anything), but there are also a bunch of little Mogwais running around in there who love pretty sounds in any configuration and just want to do the Stereolab. (Almost voted for Perfume's "Point" for much the same reason.) The Mogwais always get final say. — Phil Dellio

Everything Else

This year, I saw one rapper shout out his Pitchfork score in concert, and two others shout out Grimes. Grimes was not even in the same city when this happened. The Internet has really changed the game. — Michael Tedder

One of the biggest reasons why retro-roots-rockabilly artists fail to capture the puissance of the music they're aping is that they miss the r&b side of early rock. J.D. McPherson mines that territory on "Signs and Signifiers, "one of the year's most thrilling records. — Brian J. Bowe

My listening habits have taken an odd turn in the past few years, where mixes and podcasts have almost completely replaced singles. So 2013 will be the year that I finally submit a singles ballot with nothing but podcasts on it. Of course, I think I said that last year. — Barry Bruner

We are young and die young; pop radio in 2012 made sure to remind me of this. — Daniel Dzodin

The year 2012 was a mostly disappointing year for all music that wasn't Auto-Tuned—compared, for example, to 1912, which brought us both Mahler's Symphony No. 9 and "Alexander's Ragtime Band." — Steve Simels

It's possible I spent more time in 2012 considering and debating about Riff Raff than any other musician/song/Internet media phenomenon. It's impossible to tell if he's a cipher, a performance art ruse, a legitimate rapper, a Tumblr hype or a total fraud. But really, aren't we all total frauds on the Internet? How similar is your Web persona to your actual personality IRL, when you're talking to people who are more than a disembodied avatar? Which is why I can't shake the feeling that Riff Raff is a living personification of an Internet comment thread, dropping inside references and trying to illicit WTFs and LOLs from unsuspecting potential trolls. — Andrew Winistorfer

For all the blather about The Year of R&B, few recent converts cared much about aural innovations recorded by female artists. On an album-length EP called "Armor On" for former Diddy Dirty Money singer Dawn Richard, producer Druski created undulating synthesized landscapes, stacked harmonies, and overdubbed percussion that weren't counterpoint so much as the musical lineaments of Richard's despair, a sonic reimagining of Donna Summer's blissed-out supplicant in "I Feel Love." — Alfred Soto

Not a good year for pizza kings. One wanted to be president (not really, just play along), but he had a past, and sometimes he'd forget his lines. A couple almost had their businesses run into the ground by a rogue Supreme Court justice and the selfishness of sick people. Another made it to the World Series, but ran into funny-looking round man and got swept in four games. No idea who Wussy are singing about, but well timed anyway. — Phil Dellio

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