I think Kanye was such a critical smash because he’s the only person more insecure than a rock critic.
Christopher R. Weingarten
New York, NY
“General workplace changes”? Seriously?
San Diego, CA
Generalist, buffet-table pop criticism is dead. Specialist genre criticism is all that matters anymore, because listener communities are atomized, self-sealing, and frequently hostile to outside input. I know who I’m writing for, and more importantly, I know who I’m not writing for. And I’m not gonna pretend to give a flying fuck about Taylor Swift or Kanye West just because all the other writers on my Twitter feed still think platinum-selling records “say” “something” “about” “the culture.” There is no monoculture. Pick a niche and grind it out.
What are you planning to call the section devoted to oh-so-clever comments about Sasha Frere-Jones’s premature hip-hop eulogy?
I was hemming and hawing about whether to put Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister,” in my year-end Top 10; it’s massively catchy, but so deeply uncool that I really have no idea what other critics, if any, will vote for it. That it was used, sarcastically, as an example song title in the ballot instructions e-mailed to Pazz & Jop voters was what helped me decide to go ahead and give it its props. Why even bother trying to be cool about such a nerdy hobby/profession, anyway?
Hardly any labels—and certainly not any “tastemaking” ones—are keeping track of America’s compositional wilds right now, which is why Mikel Rouse released Recess on his own imprint, Exit Music. “I wanna fuckin’ build my own goddamn documentary and say it the way I wanna say it,” he sings in “Designing Women,” just after dropping a field recording of a woman flacking a “Medicare for All” campaign. Or, to put another way, “Fuck this industry.”
Seth Colter Walls
I had a dream this year that I was in a bar, and a man came up to me and slapped me in the face with a paperback copy of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, and then sat down beside me and yelled for a long time about how there’s a conspiracy to distract the public from the content of M.I.A.’s and Julian Assange’s work by focusing on the sordid details of their personal lives.
So, chillwave? At least now I don’t have to hide my Christopher Cross records when girls come over.
Forest Hill, MD
I’m calling bullshit on the entire indie/alternative rock scene. The staggering proliferation of alternative artists of color—and your mulish refusal to acknowledge same—is the four-ton pink elephant in the room right now. This is underscored by the glut of column inches, blogs, and Tweets on white mid-America expatriates washing up on the Wallabout Channel co-opting Afrobeat, retro soul, high life, and lo-fi crunk-punk.
Just wait till Jamey Johnson’s admirers discover Mickey Newbury and Harry Chapin.
For me, 2010 was a year to reassess the resilience and importance of artist collectives and small, artist-owned or artist-friendly nightclubs, as musicians must continue to fiddle as the morphing monolith formerly known as “The Music Industry” burns. Tiny East Village enclaves like Nublu, Banjo Jim’s, and the Bowery Electric may each serve slightly different musical demographics, but each is open to letting both emergent and established acts curate and promote theme nights that keep their weekly bookings lively and diverse. The San Francisco–based Round Whirled Records showcase at Nublu; the vintage pop-rock solo projects that Maura Kennedy and Edward Rodgers brought to Bowery Electric; and the local blues, bluegrass, and ragtime players that anchor Banjo Jim’s weekly programming were all fluid, collaborative examples of how new bands and songwriters might survive the heat-death (by homogenization) of corporate pop-music monopolies.
New York, NY
Jay Reatard and Captain Beefheart. That hurt.
After writing a music and nightlife column in the Los Angeles Times for 15 years, I find Facebook and Twitter frothy nirvana. Look, Ma: no editors.
Sherman Oaks, CA
Das Racist’s “Fake Patois” is the funniest song I’ve heard in years, but, damn it, I can’t stand the thought of hearing it again.
2010 is really the first year that I became a fan of a label as much as any band. Merge Records may have scored mainstream wins with the likes of Spoon and a label-first #1 from Arcade Fire, but four of my top 10 albums came from the outskirts of their stunning 2010 catalog. Not only did label heads Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance rally their band Superchunk for its first album in nine years (the endorphin-laden Majesty Shredding), but quiet masterpieces from Versus, Tracey Thorn, and the Extra Lens (to hold us over until 2011’s Mountain Goats release) proved that the North Carolina operation has the kind of enviably balanced taste that most people lie about.
Jersey City, NJ
Now that we all agree that it’s impossible to sell out, can we please retire the phrase “selling out”?
I bought one CD this year. One. Approximately 17 kajillion fewer than my average per annum from 1987 to 2002. But I ended up listening to approximately 17 kajillion records.
Probably nothing I’ve done online has elicited quite the response of an early-2009 piece in which I posited that Lady Gaga was an alien from another planet, created in a secret lab underwritten by record-company executives eager for one last mega-pay-day. “Lady Gaga is NOT an alien! She went to high school in New York!”—or words to that effect—was one of my favorite responses.
San Diego, CA
As much as the record business has changed in the last two decades, I am struck by the familiarity of the labels represented on my list: Reprise, Mercury, Columbia, Def Jam, Sub Pop, Jive, Smithsonian Folkways. This could be my ballot from 1982! And while it’s never been all that much of a priority for me to worry about the plight of record labels in the age of the free download, I have to say, I am glad we are all still here, and doing good work.
I’d like to offer my peers a deal: If you listen to Rotting Christ’s AEALO or Decrepit Birth’s Polarity (#7 and #9 on my year-end Top 10 for MSN Music), and find something thoughtful to say about either one, I’ll try and do the same for Kanye West or Arcade Fire. If you listen to Ayumi Hamasaki’s Rock ’n’ Roll Circus, I’ll try my damnedest to make it through a whole Robyn song.
I spent most of 2010 in an essentially windowless apartment in Queens, mostly alone except for two rabbits. It was a rough year, but one that subtly changed the way I interact with music, that made certain songs sound like salves. How did Mavis Staples know to reassure me that I was not alone? How did Gil Scott-Heron know that New York was killing me, and that I was longing for my hometown right outside of Jackson, Tennessee? Walking around crowded sidewalks and riding overflowing subway cars, I sensed that these artists were talking directly to me—a feeling I remember from adolescence but is so rare in adulthood, when my engagement with music is almost entirely professional, that it surprised and sustained me.
Last year, Chuck Eddy wrote an essay called “The Year of Too Much Consensus.” With how Kanye West and The Social Network reigned supreme this year, I think he’d be pretty frightened about 2010.