cartwheels into your heart

Monday, January 22, 2007

Stylus was gonna do a year-end podcast a couple weeks ago, but apparently all the other podcasters were still hung over from New Year's or something, so the plan was scotched. But not before I already recorded myself rambling for several minutes about one of my favorite unheralded songs of 2006, Calle 13's "La Jirafa."

Get the goods here (the second half of the mp3 is the song itself).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Question to self: Do I really like John Legend's "Show Me," or did I just get caught up in all the "OMG R&B DUDE LOVES JEFF BUCKLEY" buzz? I'm worried it's the latter, since I know Kaki King's "Jessica" (which succeeds "Show Me" on my 2006 mix) is the better Buckley bite, anyway: its slow, hazy chords mimic "Lover, You Should Have Come Over," but with this shy, diaphanous voice and reverbed build-up that reminds me of Slowdive, too.

Monday, January 08, 2007

So the inaugural Jackin' Pop music critics' poll is out, and Michaelangelo Matos deserves high praise for organizing it and corralling nearly 500 writers to contribute. That's only 300 fewer critics than participated in the Village Voice's long-running Pazz and Jop poll last year, and because of that, I had hoped that Jackin' Pop would serve as meaningful competition, maybe even going so far as to poke a hole in the old guard and soon replace it.

(Side note: I don't like the idea of two competing music critics' polls any more than college football fans like the confusion that arises from an equally weighted sportswriters' poll and coaches' poll. For over 30 years, Pazz and Jop had ably filled the role as the yearly consensus among (mostly American) music critics: the P&J archives on Robert Christgau's site give a fascinating glimpse of what sparked the discourse in any given year. But when New Times took over the Voice in late 2005 and proceeded to fire Christgau, who started the poll, and music editor Chuck Eddy, who commandeered it in recent years under Christgau's tutelage, P&J ceased to carry the same measure of prestige and credibility for many people as it once did. When Idolator announced they'd be running a new poll, with Matos as editor, I decided to hitch my wagon to that particular train instead of voting in both.)

However, looking at the results, I share Matos's briefly stated concern that (with the exception of Bob Dylan at #6) it all seems a little too ... Pitchfork. And even though that means it probably rewards albums I voted for (half of my top 10 finished in the overall top 20), a lot of what was so great about Pazz and Jop was being able to escape momentarily from the blog/webzine circus to notice that "whoa, people actually care about Drive-By Truckers?" You had the sense of being a part of a much larger circle, one that included boring workaday graybeard critics at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and as a 20-something, it was fun to root for records you loved but knew couldn't compete, because they were too electronic/European/whatever (cf. #41 finishes for Junior Boys in 2004 and Isolee in 2005). Maybe when P&J comes out later this month, I'll have my illusions shattered—like maybe Silent Shout is a top 10 record everywhere—but given that the majority of people who boycotted the poll seem to be exactly the kind of young Internet-savvy freelancers whose tastes are most in sync with mine, I kind of doubt it.

In his essay accompanying the 2003 Pazz and Jop poll, Christgau complained that the P&J rolls were larded with "part-timers who buy many records and miss many more," as well as "newbies who learned to write from literary theorists and honed their opinionizing skills in the dog-eat-dog cenacles of college radio." It's hard not to read that second extract as a diss on the bloggers, ILMers, and Pitchfork writers that were beginning to make their mark on the poll, thus elevating the "middling indie" records Matos also finds discouraging. But I had hoped that the solution to that predicament would be to accept the great democratic movement in music criticism and maybe be a bit more judicious about which blogs make the cut (I like Ally Kearney, but I'm not sure that musings on ILM and on a sporadically updated blog are enough to earn you a ballot; hell, I don't know that I qualified the first year I voted, either)—not to have the online contingent start its own poll.

The idiocy of the New Times management forced the creation of a P&J alternative, but if Jackin' Pop going to succeed in establishing the same exhaustive consensus as P&J once did, it's going to have to cast an ever wider net, pulling in the genre specialists and the folks on the daily-newspaper and mainstream-magazine beat. (I notice, with some disappointment, the absence of Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jon Pareles and Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, and the venerable Greil Marcus.) I'm probably being too hard on an enterprise that's only in its first year, but the day P&J came out used to be known as "Christmas morning for rock critics," and I'm already missing that sense of excitement and surprise.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

From Carina Chocano, in's annual Movie Club:

Also—and this is minor, but when else will I get the chance to ask?—did anyone else have a weird reaction to the kids [in Babel] being named Mike and Debbie? As far as I know, there is no such thing as a Mike or a Debbie under the age of 35 in California. It's Kai and Brianna now.

Ha. Yeah, I had that reaction. Not to Mike, since I know plenty of them, but Debbie? No way.

Two years ago, buoyed by my invitation to participate for the first time in the storied Village Voice-run Pazz and Jop poll, I wrote a grand overview of the music I encountered over the past year, with a style partially jacked from copy I was editing at my day job, and submitted it as my comments. Though none of it was excerpted for publication (not enough bite-sized pull quotes or references to Iraq/George W. Bush, I reckon), it's still one of my favorite things I've written for this site. Last year, I declined to craft a 2005 version, mostly because I was burnt out by assorted year-end assignments for Stylus -- but I figured that just gave me more time to prep new posts and articles for the coming year.

At the beginning of 2006, however, my proposal for the EMP Pop Music Conference (on indie bands who cover pop songs) was rejected, and later in the year I was let go from the Stylus staff for not writing enough. I'm over the initial disappointment of both of these events (lots of critics I admire didn't get into EMP, for one) -- but they had the joint effect of making me wonder whether I was cut out for this hobby. Since it is indeed a hobby, I have to squeeze it in between my 9-to-5, my ever-more-serious band, and my new (as of spring) girlfriend, and so it's entirely possible that if I had more time to devote to writing, I'd be more successful at it. But when I asked the Stylus editor in chief, in a friendly e-mail exchange, why he hadn't warned me and allowed me to formulate a pitch or two before giving me the boot, he suggested that my failure to do so voluntarily indicated a lack of enthusiasm from the start. And there was something to that, too: I was worried about my declining output, but I often couldn't think of much I wanted to write about (especially not anything that others couldn't do better), and as my life busied, even the practice of keeping up with new music began to feel like a chore.

So why bother with a 2006 wrap-up then? Because, put simply, I don't know how much longer I'm going to be doing this, and I need some closure. After all, even though I haven't written much, I have been actively listening to music in the last twelve months (nearly 100 albums with a copyright date of 2006 somewhere in the world), and there's some things I want to say before I make the decision whether or not to give a shit about 2007. (LCD Soundsystem's new [March '07] album has been on my iPod for weeks, but I couldn't even bear to listen to it before the calendar changed, or else I'd already be giving in.)


That said, I don't know that I had a whole lot of epiphanies in 2006, in the sense of genres newly discovered or listening habits fundamentally changed. For the first time in four years, I heard about the same amount of music as I did the year before. (Which is possibly what contributed to the disillusionment I felt: after several years of immersing myself in music in order to better write about it, I had reached an end-point of sorts.)

On the other hand, I did give mainstream country more of an ear than usual. There are only four Nashville singles represented on my year-end mix below, compared to three from 2005, but those three were pretty much the only country songs I heard, whereas this year I paid attention to at least a dozen. And since my trips to the laundromat where the radio's set to US99 were only every couple of weeks, I picked up a lot from the Stylus Singles Jukebox, which was revamped and expanded in 2006 to include plenty of songs that didn't reach the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100. I've already mentioned Steve Holy's "Brand New Girlfriend" as an exemplar of infectious enthusiasm (long before my mom and I hollered along with it on our way to central Illinois for Thanksgiving), but Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" rivals Gretchen Wilson's barn-burners (or hell, most of Lily Allen's three-minute snark-fests) for piercing detail: vivid lines like "white-trash version of Shania karaoke" and "dabbing three dollars worth of that bathroom Polo" made me grin like crazy.

Of course, the other major beneficiary of the new Singles Jukebox format was international pop. After Robyn leapt into my heart in 2005, no one needed to tell me adorable Scandinavian women went hand in hand with immaculately crafted pop songs (actually, ABBA probably proved that 30 years ago, and I can't be the only one who still has a soft spot for Roxette) -- but I'm not sure I would've come across the sunny Marit Larsen ("Don't Save Me") or the coy Linda Sundblad ("Oh Father") otherwise: both made me want to don leg-warmers and lip-sync in front of the mirror with a hairbrush, and I mean that as a high compliment. I also heard, via the Jukebox as well as via Krista (who works with Spanish speakers and occasionally flips the radio to La Kalle 103.1 FM), a fair amount of pop en español, and though not much of it stuck, one act that did impress me was reggaetón duo Calle 13, who shun the taunting monotone shouts that characterize most of the reggaetón that makes it onto U.S. hip-hop radio in favor of slinky melodicism ("Atrevete-te") and lush, dreamy arrangements ("La Jirafa").

What I didn't listen to as assiduously as I did in 2005 was electronic dance music, apart from Ellen Allien and Apparat's Orchestra of Bubbles (with its mix of fierce cello and floating female vocals) and about half of Booka Shade's Movements. (I'm also not counting obvious indie crossovers like Junior Boys and the Knife.) I was actually thinking about this a couple months ago, when I happened to put on Total 7 on the way home from work and was surprised at how good it was. Surprised because I'd heard it once before, when I first acquired it, but hadn't been compelled to listen to it again until that night, when it all fell in line: supple beats, dark and shiny synths, subtle transitions, etc. But then I realized that I didn't love Superpitcher's Today immediately, either, and the primary reason it ended up on my top 10 of 2005 was because I listened to it so often while falling asleep, and its crystalline textures became familiar, a small comfort of sorts.

This year, because of aforementioned girlfriend, I rarely used music in this way (I think I put on Immer once, and she complained that it was the opposite of falling-asleep music; after that, I learned my lesson) -- which only confirms my belief that our musical diet is much more contextual than we often like to admit. I'm by no means a fanatic about post-punk, but this fall the confluence of watching Marie Antoinette (note the comment), reading Simon Reynolds's admirably comprehensive Rip it Up and Start Again, and riding the el on slate-gray mornings, as the last leaves clung to their skeletal branches, had the effect of making nothing sound as good as the anxious clang of Gang of Four and Joy Division.


When I filled out my Jackin' Pop ballot last month, I didn't even have to think twice about the best-artist-of-the-year category. Not only was Timbaland was responsible for the much-vaunted makeovers of Nelly Furtado (their flirtatious duet "Promiscuous" ruled the summer) and Justin Timberlake (whose FutureSex/LoveSounds lacked dazzling peaks like "Rock Your Body" but also felt more like a work of art, with every track uniformly dark and meticulously stitched together), but he also produced Omarion's "Ice Box," a late-in-the-year single that transposed the frozen echoing synths of "My Love" onto vocals that are more haunting and emotionally resonant than anything JT has done (if not quite as fun). Since I missed Timbaland's first wave of creativity, with Missy Elliott and Aaliyah, I originally considered him inferior to the Neptunes (especially since I preferred slick disco to arty minimalism), but at this point, he has the better track record.

All that notwithstanding, I found 2006 to be a disappointing year for singles -- or maybe it's just all been downhill after the amazing first three months of 2005 (seriously, two of my honorable mentions [The Game and M83] eventually ended up in my top 20 that year). Of course, the biggest sensation was Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," and I even considered putting it as my number one, in part because I'm kind of in awe of weird songs like "Hey Ya!" that somehow appeal to multiple demographics and become culturally inescapable. (I sympathize with Rahawa Haile, who muses, "Perhaps I’m drawn to songs destined for numerous covers because it implies some sort of inherent excellence.") But even though I nodded along to it plenty, and frequently imitated Cee-Lo's rich tenor ("Hahaha now bless your soul"), it never adrenalized me the way "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" did, and its sui-generis status made it seem like a predictable choice. And so I listed it below Nelly Furtado, Panic! At the Disco (whose nervous syncopation was a lot more viscerally interesting than the newfound bombast of fellow emo clowns My Chemical Romance), and T.I.'s "What You Know," which combines the kind of stately, soulful orchestral swoops that I can't help but be attracted to in hip-hop (also see Lupe Fiasco's wistful "Kick, Push") with an obvious love of language, if a line like "fresh off the jet to the 'jects where the G's at" is any indication.

Perhaps my nostalgia for the promise of 2005 is what made me fall so hard for Girl Talk's Night Ripper, which weaves a handful of recent hip-hop hits into its tapestry of samples, but none more recent than "Laffy Taffy." An album that symbolized my schizophrenic listening habits seemed a fitting choice for my best of the year, to say nothing of the nifty aesthetic scenarios it made possible. The rest of my top 10, on the other hand, feels like a straight-up flashback to 2004, with Sonic Youth, Junior Boys, and Joanna Newsom once again finishing strong, and Grizzly Bear arguably filling Animal Collective's position. I guess this is what happens when your tastes ossify, huh? It's also a pretty hivemind-oriented list, which is partially why I sneaked Kaki King's ...Until We Felt Red on there at the last minute: her wounded whisper and restless fretwork reminded me of a time before ILM and probably spoke to me more than whatever I bumped down to #11, anyway (the Knife, I think). One of my resolutions for 2007: to listen to more older stuff, and not just the canon fodder when it's on sale for $7.99 at Tower (RIP), but strange and beautiful music I can obsess about and fall in love with.



Might tweak this a little before I'm done, but here's my annual year-end mix. (For reference: 2004, 2005.) As always, let me know if you want a copy: it fits on one mp3 disc.

1. Be Your Own Pet, "Adventure"
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Gold Lion"
3. The Rogers Sisters, "Emotion Control"
4. Love Is All, "Felt Tip"
5. Tokyo Police Club, "Be Good"
6. The Fake Fictions, "Do the Dance"
7. The Futureheads, "Skip to the End"
8. Arctic Monkeys, "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor"
9. The Hold Steady, "Chips Ahoy!"
10. The Strokes, "Juicebox"

11. Rhymefest, "Devil's Pie"
12. Girl Talk, "Smash Your Head"
13. J Dilla, "Workinonit"
14. Cassius, "Rock Number One"
15. Escort, "Starlight"
16. Kelis, "Bossy (Alan Braxe and Fred Falke Remix)"
17. MSTRKRFT, "Easy Love"
18. Dr. Octagon, "Trees"
19. DJ Shadow ft. Q.Tip and Lateef Truth Speeker, "Enuff"
20. The Coup, "Laugh Love Fuck"

21. Prince, "Black Sweat"
22. Beck, "Cell Phone's Dead"
23. Omarion, "Entourage"
24. Pharrell, "How Does It Feel?"
25. Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"
26. Beyonce, "Deja Vu"
27. Jay-Z, "Show Me What You Got"
28. OutKast ft. Sleepy Brown and Scar, "Morris Brown"
29. Mark Ronson ft. Alex Greenwald, "Just"
30. John Legend, "Show Me"

31. Kaki King, "Jessica"
32. Brighton, MA, "Bet You Never Thought"
33. Midlake, "Roscoe"
34. Loose Fur, "Wanted"
35. Steve Holy, "Brand New Girlfriend"
36. Carrie Underwood, "Before He Cheats"
37. Richard Hawley, "Just Like The Rain"
38. Sara Evans, "Bible Song"
39. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, "Rise Up with Fists"
40. Taylor Swift, "Tim McGraw"

41. Cat Power, "The Greatest"
42. Joanna Newsom, "Cosmia"
43. José Gonzalez, "Heartbeats"
44. Beirut, "Postcards from Italy"
45. The Decemberists, "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)"
46. Belle and Sebastian, "We Are the Sleepyheads"
47. The Flaming Lips, "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song"
48. Yo La Tengo, "Mr. Tough"
49. Peter Bjorn & John, "Young Folks"
50. Stereolab, "'Get A Shot Of The Refrigerator'"

51. Lily Allen, "Everything's Just Wonderful"
52. Nouvelle Vague, "Ever Fallen In Love"
53. Marit Larsen, "Don't Save Me"
54. Linda Sundblad, "Oh Father"
55. CSS, "Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above"
56. Morningwood, "Nth Degree"
57. Aly & A.J., "Rush"
58. The Pipettes, "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me"
59. The Research, "Lonely Hearts Still Beat The Same"
60. Miranda, "Don"

61. Rihanna, "SOS (Rescue Me)"
62. Fergie ft., "Fergalicious"
63. Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland, "Promiscuous Girl"
64. LL Cool J ft. Jennifer Lopez, "Control Myself"
65. Ciara ft. Chamillionaire, "Get Up"
66. The Clipse, "Momma I'm Sorry"
67. Calle 13, "La Jirafa"
68. Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push"
69. T.I., "What You Know"
70. Three 6 Mafia, "Poppin My Collar"

71. "Weird Al" Yankovic, "White And Nerdy"
72. Lady Sovereign, "Love Me or Hate Me"
73. Justin Timberlake ft. Timbaland, "SexyBack"
74. Ghostface Killah ft. Theodore Unit, "Jellyfish"
75. Field Mob Ft. Ciara, "So What"
76. Cassie, "Me & U"
77. Junior Boys, "The Equalizer"
78. Booka Shade, "Night Falls"
79. Ellen Allien and Apparat, "Way Out"
80. Coldplay, "Talk (Jacques Lu Cont Mix)"

81. Madonna, "Sorry"
82. Herbert, "Something Isn't Right"
83. Sally Shapiro, "I'll Be by Your Side"
84. Sapporo 72, "Architecture of Love"
85. Luomo, "Really Don't Mind (Radio Edit)"
86. Kleerup ft. Robyn, "With Every Heartbeat"
87. Nathan Fake, "Charlie's House"
88. Basement Jaxx, "Take Me Back To Your House"
89. Hot Chip, "Over and Over"
90. New Young Pony Club, "Ice Cream"

91. The Rapture, "The Devil"
92. Justin Timberlake, "My Love (DFA Mix)"
93. Chicken Lips, "Without Sound"
94. Gnarles Barkley, "Smiley Faces"
95. TV on the Radio, "Hours"
96. Xiu Xiu, "Boy Soprano"
97. The Knife, "We Share Our Mother's Health"
98. Barbara Morgenstern, "The Operator"
99. 120 Days, "Keep On Smiling"
100. Thom Yorke, "Black Swan"

101. Mogwai, "Travel Is Dangerous"
102. Grizzly Bear, "Colorado"
103. Final Fantasy, "This Lamb Sells Condos"
104. Joan As Policewoman, "Christobel"
105. Panic! At The Disco, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
106. The Killers, "When You Were Young"
107. Sonic Youth, "Incinerate"
108. The Whitest Boy Alive, "Burning"
109. The Changes, "Water Of The Gods"
110. Phoenix, "Consolation Prizes"

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why "Fergalicious" is superior to "London Bridge": Missy Elliott imitations that lack Missy's goofy charm and queen-bee authority absolutely miss the point, whereas JJ Fad's "Supersonic," for all its amateur exuberance, becomes even more of a treat with pristine 21st-century production. (Thanks to Morgan for pointing out the obvious similarity.)