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Welcome to Sound of the City’s year-in-review rock-critic roundtable, an amiable ongoing conversation between five prominent Voice critics: Rob Harvilla, Zach Baron, Sean Fennessey, Maura Johnston, and Rich Juzwiak. We’ll be here all week!
To completely gloss over the Taylor Swift effect (I listened to 30 seconds of Speak Now and thought, “Uh, no,” and never looked back), and get to what actually matters: despite Sean’s prediction, I don’t even care enough about Dr. Luke to defile him. His is the sound of now, and that means so much more than what’s actually going on within most of his producing. I think most of Teenage Dream is ingenious, though. It’s an album of power ballads with house beats and rave sounds and blood-curdling yelping. We know the ingredients of this frothy girly drink well, but they’ve never quite been blended like this. Objectively, it rocks and knocks harder than Robyn’s output this year, which may be precisely why those people who enjoy Body Talk would avoid it. Wimps.
Dr. Luke is particularly important to this year, though, because he helped Ke$ha cast a shadow over it- “Tik Tok” spent the first nine weeks of 2010 at No. 1. I never thought I was a fan of pretense, but through Ke$ha I realized that I like my stupidity to be a little bit subtler. I’ve seen Ke$ha’s reveling in idiocy and recklessness interpreted as some kind of feminist retribution for all the dirty dicks that have littered our culture, but I’m pretty sure that being a douchebag is an equal right that one is better off not pursing. All chewing and snarling and stomping, “Tik Tok” is the sound of a preschool. Or better yet, it’s the sound of our collective standards shrinking before our ears. It is also by far the best thing Ke$ha has released. All hail, Queen of the Dumb.
If pop music was our textbook (and thank god it isn’t), we all would have gotten a little bit stupider in 2010 (which, by the way, was not the greatest year in music ever – that was a joke, right?). House music has never had more of a hold on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s never sounded more brainless. Anyone who’s listened to Chic (who, incidentally, released my favorite compilation of the year: a four-CD box set collecting all manner of Rogers/Edwards productions and sporting a few seriously gorgeous Dimitri from Paris remixes – and no, that isn’t a joke) or Inner City is used to meta-disco, but in 32 years, the novelty of dancing to music about dancing has worn off. I have too much faith in humanity to believe that we’re becoming so unfeeling as a culture that we need the likes of Taio Cruz and Usher to vaguely describe how a club feels and looks. Doesn’t, “I came to dance, dance, dance, dance,” go without saying at this point, making the redundancy that much more ridiculous? (I will admit that Taio’s “Break Your Heart” eventually charmed me – the melody is unshakable, and I like how Luda made it hip-housey.) It was a real be-careful-what-you-wish-for-time because five years ago, I would have given a year’s worth of tanning passes for house music to come back into vogue (remember when they used to make club bangers about not dancing, like Terror Squad’s “Lean Back?”). Instead, I feel like I had my head up a guido’s asshole for most of the year (boom boom boom boom). Jersey Shore is more than a little to blame for this.
On the less commercial side of things, dance music flourished in a way it hasn’t since the ’90s. A few big albums were released that felt like throwbacks, not because they sounded like it, but because they acted like it. The ’90s were full of Very Important Dance Albums (Underworld and Massive Attack and Portishead and Goldie and Meat Beat Manifesto and The Orb and and and…), but in recent years it’s come down to…what? Girl Talk and Human After All? Skream rectified that problem with his gorgeous and satisfying VIDA, Outside the Box, which was as much of a journey as you were likely to find in LP form this year. It’s amazing, the way that album predicts your expectations and delivers every time (when you start to yearn for a hook, he gives you the bonkers pop of “How Real”; when you wonder where the fuck this dubstep producer’s dubstep is, he wobbles “Fields of Emotion” into your life; when toward the end of the album, you’re exhausted and want to just zone out, he gives you the ambient tear-jerker “A Song for Lenny”). Salem’s divisive King Night was so steadfast in its sound – white people teasing the hell out of crunk – that it stood out as the modern-day equivalent of Portishead’s Dummy. Crystal Castles wondered what would happen if house music had slit wrists instead of limp ones – their self-titled 2010 album was leaps and bounds and pummels beyond their debut. Flying Lotus and Gonjasufi (the latter to a lesser extent, and via Flying Lotus’ production) also seemed particularly reverent of the full-length form. It was just the antidote for these MP3-addled times.
And speaking of that, below are 20 of my favorite dance tracks of the year. None of them made me feel particularly stupid or anything!
Storm Queen – “Look Right Through”
Sare Havlicek – “In Out”
Netsky – “Moving With You”
Roisin Murphy – “Momma’s Place”
Rusko featuring Amber Coffman – “Hold On”
Katy B – “Katy on a Mission”
Magnetic Man featuring Katy B – “Perfect Stranger”
Ray Mang featuring Lady Miss Kier – “Bullet Proof”
Caribou – “Odessa”
Anthony Rother – “Disco Light”
Aeroplane – “I Don’t Feel”
Chemical Brothers – “Swoon (Linstrom and Prins Thomas Remix”)
M.I.A. – “XXXO”
Ellen Allien – “Flashy Flashy”
Ali Love – “Smoke and Mirrors”
Azari & III – “Into the Night”
Vega – “No Reasons (Tensnake Remix)”
San Serac – “Music Never Ends”
Sister Sledge – “Thinking of You (Dimitri from Paris Remix)”
Grateful Dead – “Shakedown Street (Tres Gueros Edit)”
I listened to more drum and bass in 2010 than I did in the 10 years that came before it. How fucked up is that?
So as not to divert the conversation too much into territory that’s particular only to my taste and not the group’s, I’ll return to Rob’s question of four entries ago regarding hip-hop. This year definitely was more exciting than most, in terms of envelope-pushing — a few people were willing to put their finger in hip-hop’s conservatism and wiggle around a little bit. Kanye expanded the sonic palate (at last, music that sounds as expensive as the lifestyle he brags about overtop it!), Drake changed the game with courageous softness (dare I say “femininity?”) and despite my overall take on her as a frivolous person, Nicki Minaj impressed me simply for being a female rapper that commanded props from even misogynists who brag about pissing on women. Rick Ross sounded liberated on Teflon Don, and were it not for the pronounced compression and oppressive loudness, Diddy’s Dirty Money album, Last Train to Paris, would rival Kanye’s as the biggest-sounding, most forward-thinking major hip-hop release of the year.
And yet, hashtag rap became a real, live thing. Whatever hope you had in the fad (which forced more rhymes than a first-year English major — #poetryconcentration) must have been dashed when Justin Timberlake got around to doing it on Last Train to Paris‘ “Shades”: “I’ma bend yo body, bend yo body – Magneto / Let me have my way, I’mma have my way – Carlito” are words he actually says. That’ll do, hashtag rap. That’ll do.
Maura, please tell me your favorite hashtag line isn’t, “So where my dawgs at, Randy.”
Was 2010 The Best Year For Music Ever?, Part Three: Throw Taylor Swift In A Well
Was 2010 The Best Year For Music Ever?, Part Two: Redeeming M.I.A.
Was 2010 The Best Year For Music Ever? Five SOTC Critics Discuss.