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!
It’s the conflict-averse, namby-pamby Midwesterner in me that’s triggering this urge to defend every artist this panel has so far attacked. Quite a list we’ve got going so far, guys!
Despite the fact that Rich’s Leno-coveted “Taylor Swift Acting Surprised” montage is 2010’s greatest single act of music criticism, and even though Sean’s “Look dear, you quest for John Mayer, you get John Mayer” is the funniest sentence I’ve read in months, there are moments when Speak Now gets to me, hits a nerve amid all the cloyingness, the whininess, this disingenuousness, the pitchiness. As 2010 power ballads go, “Dear John” is sort of delightful, actually: I had a righteous (metaphorical) (I think) fist-pumping moment on a crowded L train recently during the “I’m shining like fireworks over your sad empty town” part. Plus I just think it’s funny that she sold like three times as many records as Kanye, as hard as he tried, as ubiquitous as he was to fools who clocked dollars writing about music this year. People throw rocks at things that shine, douchebag.
Critically adored in a really gratuitous, outsized-seeming manner for goddamn near 15 years, and 2010 is the payoff. And while I defer to Rich’s dance-music expertise without hesitation, “Dancing on My Own” hits the same nerve for me as “Dear John,” actually — I don’t need to buy into her Fembot cult to find myself bowled over by the strident pathos of that chorus. I theorize that Pazz & Jop’s 2010 Singles crown might be a three-way race between that, Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope” (do people like her? Too retro? Too fembot-fetishizing? Too scattered? Too much?), and Cee Lo’s “Fuck You,” which as a viral sensation beats the hell out of Antoine Dodson.
The Black-Eyed Peas.
I started this, I guess, and somebody has to deal with the Year in Indie, right? First, a few that didn’t make the dreaded acronym. Spoon remain shockingly consistent: Transference is frustrating and defiant and grudgingly rewarding, but “Written in Reverse” is easily Britt Daniel’s craziest, most thrillingly violent vocal performance yet. It’s a great karaoke song if you hate everyone you’re doing karaoke with. I can do without fully half of the Hold Steady’s Heaven Is Wherever — a first for a Hold Steady album — but “The Weekenders” lingers, a soft-focus quiet-verse-loud-chorus anthem that finds Craig Finn at his most beautiful. And what of Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round,” which saved white people by knocking Kanye West from his presumptive spot atop Pitchfork‘s Best Singles list? Is it weird that a loving recreation of ’70s AM radio fluff captivated the indie vanguard in 2010? Is chillwave still a thing?
Right, right: onto BLAND. Beach House is beyond hope. LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening is just massive — I’ll let Zach address the emotional grandeur of it all, but I’m stuck on the first 1:30 of “One Touch,” before James Murphy’s voice even enters, that perfect, methodical build. Arcade Fire, well, I’ll trade all of the The Suburbs if I can keep the desperate nostalgia of “We Used to Wait,” but watching them smash Madison Square Garden was indeed a thrill. “Indie” generally suggests a maddening indifference, an aloofness, a half-assedness: Pavement, in other words. But Arcade Fire want to be huge — this year only Kanye was trying harder. I get the aversion to the National’s High Violet, and those dudes in general — the dolorous baritone, the I’m-drunk-and-girls-are-complicated boilerplate of the lyrics (care to elaborate, Zach?) — but they’re Ohio boys at heart, and that’s a whole other nerve with me, a perpetually overcast Midwestern sadness that I can neither articulate nor resist. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” articulates it a little too well.
D is for Deerhunter? Really? The Jay Reatard tribute song that cuts off abruptly is nice. Otherwise, forget it. D now stands for The-Dream. We aren’t talking enough about The-Dream.
The answer to your question, Maura, about my favorite time-travel moment of 2010, is “Yamaha,” which I am tempted to just add outright to Purple Rain‘s tracklist, maybe right between “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U.” Can we get the definitive word on where Love King ranks amid Dream’s trifecta? And can I admit that as much as I love “Yamaha” and “F.I.L.A.” and the sophomoric majesty of “Florida University,” my favorite Dream song of the year is actually Drake’s “Shut It Down,” which is lascivious in that fantastically ridiculous way (“Put those fuckin’ shoes on and work it, girl!”) that could only be the work of one man?
(Drake’s Thank Me Later is worth mulling over for a second, maybe, now that it is a bit later. Insofar as any record that came out just six months ago can be said to age, is it aging well? People were turned off by his oh-the-fame-it’s-killing me routine, but did Kanye render him an afterthought in that regard, too? What does a person who got famous in large part by complaining about being famous do now that he’s actually sort of famous? Will Lil Wayne’s shadow block him out entirely, now that he’s casting it again? Oh, and for the record, my favorite hashtag-rap punchline will now and forever be GROCERY BAG!)
The answer to your other question, Maura, is that I personally mostly gave Lady Gaga the year off — I’m a “Paparazzi” man through and through, and the “Alejandro” video was pretty boring. (The “Telephone” clip, though . . . cigarette glasses > meat dress.) I must admit that Katy Perry is currently filling the Garish Pop Princess role for me, given my hours-long “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” jags. (I’ve been trying to get Maura to write the definitive I Hate Katy Perry manifesto all year, and I guess now I’ll try again: Is she that much more deplorable and garish a personality than her forebears? Is it because she’s more self-aware, or less?)
I will close by asking the esteemed panel to consider the most fascinating media arc of the last couple years: Das Racist. The path from “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” to Sit Down, Man, from “This is terrible! This is great!” to the far simpler “This is actually just great!”, from dumb q&a’s in the Voice to dumb q&a’s with the likes of Deborah Solomon (Deborah, chill!) . . . how did this happen? Has anyone ever played the Internet hype machine so perfectly? What strikes me is they’re better critics than most critics — they handled SFJ’s aforementioned Hip-Hop Is Dead piece better, do better interviews, provide better “content.” Plus that “You puff herb?/Dog, I smoke weed, too!” sequence on Sit Down, Man was the best rap verse of the year, right?
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