To supplement this year’s Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. Here, Michael Tedder breaks down his entire ballot, and along the way he talks about about the operatic heights of Fucked Up, the shredding ability of Annie Clark and Ritzy Bryan, and the power of the “boof.”
Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (30 points): I was starting to get a sense of the way the wind was blowing for this year’s roundup, and I’m generally aware that aggressive music, no matter how smart and inventive, has a ceiling for critical support. (I should point out that I submitted my ballot before the Spin endorsement.) So, just like I did last year with Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor (I will not accept the idea that anyone this decade wrote a better album about America now, or a better album period than that), I went all in, points wise, to try to get my favorite album in to the top ten. Like last year, I failed, and I regret nothing. Anyway, people focusing on the intentionally confusing plot of this rock opera are not paying enough attention to the operatic arrangements (that term is not used as loosely as you imagine) Mike Haliechuk and company are offering up here, like some bizarre amalgam of Crass, Queen and Chavez. Also, I still don’t know how Veronica died, and I’m surprised that in these #OWS days no one is discussing the working-class fatigue subtext (“those better days have passed us by”) on display here.
tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l (20 points): I really struggled between putting this or Fucked Up first on my list. I think this has more moments of sheer “oh, this is what music can do now” that no one matched all year, but it wasn’t a top-to-bottom triumph like David. In a year in which “My Country” (“When they have nothing/why do you have something”) exists, anyone complaining about the lack of protest music should be publicly shamed for their laziness.
St. Vincent, Strange Mercy (15 points): You have no idea how many times this year I wanted to pitch a think piece about how nearly all the greatest rock guitarists nowadays (Annie Clark, Marnie Stern, Carrie Brownstein, Marissa Paternoster, Jenn Wasner, Amy Klein, Ritzy Bryan) are ladies, and somehow tie it in to various reports about how women are currently dominating the modern workforce while men fall behind and, I don’t know, somehow tie in all the current limp-dick folk/ reverb shit that tries to substitute a general feeling of being pretty for an actual song. To my credit, I have always quickly realized why this is a fucking terrible idea. Anyway, St. Vincent albums still don’t murder quite the way her live show does, this is still her most refined balance of menace and poise, and I suspect I’m not the only person who winces at the line “I played dumb when I knew better/tried to hard to be clever.”
Das Racist, Relax (5 points): Combination hilarious dudes and insightful social critics.
Okkervil River, “Wake And Be Fine”
Okkervil River, I Am Very Far (5 points): As far as music based in folk traditions goes, I defy you to explain to me why Fleet Foxes or Mumford & Sons or whatever coffeehouse bullshit NPR is peddling trumps this. This is the sound of an nth-percentile lyricist and arranger doing his best (inventive arrangements, drums designed to hurt) to get his band pushed out of the beardo-acoustic dad rock jamboree. Based on his placement in this poll, Will Sheff might be guilty of doing his job too well.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Belong (5 points): This might hit me too squarely in my reptilian brain-pleasure center for my opinion to be completely trusted, but the world needs more songs about misfits pushing other misfits to put down the security blanket and take on the world. If those songs can be soaked in God’s (or Flood’s) own feedback, all the better.
Danny Brown, XXX (5 points): Did Danny Brown’s odes to the power of his cunnilingus technique earn him any dap from the ladyblogger community? I’m legitimately curious.
TV on the Radio, Nine Types of Light (5 points): So the greatest American Band Of Our Time (you heard me) changes it up by toning down a touch and focusing on the ballads, and you guys all freak out and flock to some shiny new thing. This is why we can’t have nice things like career artists. It’s a grower, but TV On The Radio albums are always a grower. Tunde Adebimpe tends to focus on evocative images that hammer home his ideas about post-modern dread and the feeling that that we’re all a minute away from collapse. But the straight-forward sincerity of “you turned your hands up and just walked away” is just as powerful for being so simple.
The Men, Leave Home (5 points): Forty or so glorious minutes of “fuck this soft shit, B.”
Wild Flag (5 points): If you care enough about music to either read or write one of these ballots, I can’t imagine not hearing “Romance” and thinking “I’m glad someone still feels that way.”
1. Joy Formidable, “Whirring”
“Well, this clearly sounds like an expert grating of early Blur, Suede and other Brit-pop favorites with the glorious overreach of early Smashing Pumpkins and just enough classic rock bombast, but there’s a girl in the band so let’s just say it sounds like, I don’t know, Belly or something.”—Too Many Music Critics. (This song also has the best outro in God knows how long.)
2. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire (ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown & El-P), “The Last Huzzah”
This was clearly the year we could finally all admit that indie rap was, by and large, eating “real” rap’s lunch. As someone who has on more than one occasion said “eh, that dude’s no Slug,” I am overjoyed by this development, and I can’t help but think that in a few years this song’s staggering collection of rising talent will be seen as a turning point. And oh, the times I’ve sung that “drunk driving on a Wednesday line to myself.”
3. Battles, “Ice Cream”
Giving post-Mr. Bungle prog noise a strut has to be at least as hard as brain surgery. They made it look easy.
4. Beyoncé, “Countdown”
I understand if you want to accuse me of tokenism, but my heart loves a good “boof boof boof” as much as anyone.
5. Widowspeak, “Harsh Realm”
So unadorned, it feels like listening in on something I have no right to hear.
6. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”
7. Radiohead, “Lotus Flower”
It’s altogether a healthy thing that Radiohead, or anyone really, doesn’t automatically get a top-ten placement based on name recognition. Half of the songs on King Of Limbs sounded like long intros for the better songs, and most of the best songs didn’t make the record. It’s also a healthy thing that these guys are still willing to throw themselves in to something completely out of their comfort zone without a care about alienating their fanbase. And when the results are a groove this eerie, it’s hard to begrudge them an experimental album that didn’t completely pay off.
8. E-40, “Drugs”
Can you even imagine the sound of E’s chuckle every time someone tries to tell him about the next hot thing in rap?
9. Wye Oak, “Holy Holy”
The way the escalating tremolo override of the guitar bounces off of Jenn Wasner’s escalating vocals can’t hide the naked yearning in her voice, but the attempt demonstrates the level these two are working at.
10. R.E.M., “We All Go Back to Where We Belong”
I couldn’t pass up my last opportunity to vote for the Greatest American Rock Band Of All Time. The part where the horn gently rises as Michael Stipe asks “is this really what you want” is still just too much to deal with.