You can’t really know where you’re headed unless you know where you’ve been. For that reason, we’re taking a look back at Pazz & Jop 2012 to drill down into the ballots of contributors and voters who participated. Maybe amongst the rubble we’ll find clues about what lies ahead for music lovers in 2013. Here, music writer Steven Hyden defends his ballot.
– Pazz and Jop 2012 Table of Contents
Okay! So. Steven Hyden. WHO ARE YOU and why should we trust you?
I’m a staff writer for Grantland and a contributing writer at Pitchfork. I used to be the music editor at the A.V. Club. Are you asking why people should trust me in general, or just when it comes to musical opinions?
Maybe a little of both.
I’m loyal and true, like a basset hound. Also, I’ve never misquoted myself in a review.
I’ll take that. How many times have you voted in P&J?
This was my second time voting.
We’re thankful for your participation. Let’s talk about your ballot. A couple things immediately jump out to me: The first is no Kendrick. And the second is… Rush?
I liked the Kendrick album! Obviously not as much as a lot of other people. And obviously not as much as the Rush record. Have you heard this Rush record?
To be honest, no. But it’s still surprising to see on a ballot! I’ll listen to it right now, as we do this interview, and as you tell me why Rush rules. Because people really love to hate that band.
One of my favorite musical subgenres is melodic hard rock, which when you think about it is probably the most popular rock subgenre in rock history. Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and, yes, Rush are all melodic hard rock bands. Generally, this branch of the hard rock/metal tree doesn’t get a ton of dap in critical circles. As far as indie rock goes, it’s all either black metal or quasi-ironic Iron Maiden rip-offs. But 2012 was actually a really good year for catchy, metallic rock records. I loved the Torche and Baroness records that lots of other rock dudes loved. And I loved Rush. The Rush record absolutely belongs with the cream of this year’s best hard rock/metal albums. It’s epic, muscular, just awesome, awesome stuff. Rush is one of those bands that critics just have to get over not liking. Because history shows us that critics were wrong about this band.
That’s fair. How often do you think that type of “one opinion critic thinking” happens?
It happens all the time, especially with older artists. There’s a phony narrative about who’s relevant and who’s not that too many critics lazily follow. Look, I love Scott Walker. I definitely think that whatever he does is worth writing about. But why does he get reviewed by hip music publications and not Rush? Rush is at least as influential on contemporary bands as Scott Walker. And Rush is still making really great records and playing for arena’s full of people. I get that lots of people might not like that Rush record. But it wasn’t even reviewed by many places that wrote about the new Scott Walker the week it came out.
I guess my point is that scores of artists are ignored by critics because somebody decided that they don’t matter for totally arbitrary reasons.
So then, as a critic, how do you avoid that? Just listen to as much stuff as possible? Like, how did you go about voting in P&J and making your year end lists? It seems to me that it’s nearly impossible, especially in the age of Twitter/social media, to go into listening to something without any critical pretense.
In the end, all you have is your own tastes and interests. You’re basically just following your gut. It’s also helpful to be curious about stuff slightly off the beaten path. The world doesn’t necessarily need another critic to tell people how great Kendrick Lamar is.
He is pretty great, though… Another surprise on your ballot is Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza at number three. What grabbed you about that record?
I’m just a total Deerhunter homer. Like a lot of music writers, I made the mistake of assigning Bradford Cox too much credit for how good that band is. Because Lockett Pundt is a genius at coming up with goth-flavored trance-rock ear candy. I played the hell out of that Lotus Plaza. If I based my list purely on spins, it might’ve been my number one.
That’s how Woods ended up number one for me. I think I listened to that record for about three months straight. When you make your year-end lists, how much of it is based on listening time versus what you think is “best,” if that makes sense.
It’s based mainly on spins, though I put Fiona at number one because that record is just perfectly conceived in every way, from the songwriting to the arrangements to the instrumentation to the vocals. It’s a real tour de force, I think. So, while I didn’t play it as much as Lotus Plaza, it probably blew me away more.
It was really something. Did you read the New York magazine profile of her? She’s fascinating. Her desire to “feel everything” is so earnest, but she presents it in this weird way that’s not too over the top. What blew you away the most about it?
Just the construction of it. When people talk about Fiona Apple, they get a little too wrapped up in “feelings” talk. Her music is obviously emotionally intense, but it’s also very well put-together. I actually prefer this one to Extraordinary Machine, just because there’s not a wasted moment on it. There’s an economy of words and music that’s really impressive. It sounds like a record that was molded over the course of seven years in the best possible way.
Absolutely. Looking at your ballot, there is a surprising lack of rap music (like the aforementioned Kendrick), especially considering how “big” of a year 2012 was for rap. Do you have any thoughts on that?
To be brutally honest, I’m not a huge rap fan. Or rather, there’s lot of other genres I’m drawn to more. That’s not a judgment on the music, just my own tastes. That said, I found myself appreciating the big critical consensus rap records — Kendrick, Future, Killer Mike, etc. — more than loving them. I get why other people love them, but for me, I guess I wanted something a little catchier. One of my favorite records of 2013 so far is A$AP Rocky, which is super addictive musically though I can’t say much for the actual rapping on it.
I don’t know. But it has a magnetic emptiness to it that seems very 2013.
Absolutely. Any other predictions for Pazz & Jop 2013, or what we’ll see in music this year?
I think 2012 was unique in that Channel Orange quickly emerged as the consensus front-runner for the album of the year. Moving forward, I think we’re going have more years like 2011, when tUnE-yArDs took the top spot due to the passionate advocacy of a relatively small number of critics. P&J is charting our growing alienation from each other.
Baby’s crying. Gotta run!
Thanks for defending your ballot, Steven. Good luck being a dad!
Interview by Eric Sundermann.
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