Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pazz and Jop 2010

My ballot this year:


Third Eye Foundation, "The Dark" (Ici D'Ailleurs), 23 points
No Age, "Everything In Between" (Sub Pop Records), 20 points
Eluvium, "Similes" (Temporary Residence Limited), 12 points
Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs" (Merge), 11 points
New Pornographers, "Together" (Matador), 8 points
Wavves, "King of the Beach" (Fat Possum), 6 points
Jonsi, "Go" (XL Recordings), 5 points
Bardo Pond, "Bardo Pond" (Fire Records), 5 points
Caribou, "Swim" (City Slang/Merge), 5 points
Yellow Swans, "Going Places" (Type), 5 points


Crystal Castles, "Celestica" (Fiction)
Donnacha Costello, "Roll It Out" (Poker Flat Recordings)
Eminem feat. Rihanna, "Love the Way You Lie" (Aftermath, Interscope, Shady)
Glee Cast/Darren Criss, Teenage Dream" (Columbia)
Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver, "Monster" (Roc-A-Fella)
Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg, "California Gurls" (Capitol)
Lady Gaga, "Alejandro" (Interscope)
Lady Gaga ft. Beyonce, "Telephone" (Interscope)
Petar Dundov, "Distant Shores" (Music Man Records)
Taio Cruz, "Dynamite" (Island)

I heavily weighted my album votes again this year, which replaces my earlier strategy of "it's a ranked list and therefore all points ties are copouts". The top four really are miles better than the rest (and the top two are significantly better than #3 and #4), and I wanted the points rankings to reflect that. The albums I feel most strongly about get the bulk of the points (66/100 for the top four), and the rest of them get the scraps.

I made a couple of changes with my the tracks list this year: I made a point of not including any music that made my albums list, and I submitted the list unranked (alphabetical). There are no points assigned to tracks, so ranking them has always been a strictly symbolic exercise anyhow. I wanted my tracks list to represent my favourite pop music and/or my favourite music released in a singles format, and to clearly distinguish those artists from my favourite albums artists. So these aren't the ten best tracks of the year, but you can think of them as "the best/most interesting pop music songs of the year IMO".

I voted for two Lady Gaga tracks both this year AND last year. I'm not sure if I have anything else to add to that, other than to say that it's a remarkable run of excellence that's unmatched in pop music in recent memory. If 2009 was the year of Lady Gaga vs Madonna, 2010 was the year that Lady Gaga settled the issue so decisively that she managed to blatantly steal from Madonna and virtually nobody even bothered to call her out on it. The video for "Telephone" is Gaga's "What It Feels Like For a Girl" and "Alejandro" is her "Express Yourself", but did anyone care? Hardly. It doesn't even matter who Lady Gaga's influences are anymore, she's an island unto herself.

My P&J comments:

1. For a couple of weeks this past November, the supposed death of the monoculture seemed greatly exaggerated when it felt as though every man, woman, and child had an opinion on the new Kanye West album. And we get to do it all over again when Lady Gaga's album is released next year!

2. I usually need a few listens to warm up to an album, even the very good ones. Having said that, Third Eye Foundation's "The Dark" completely slayed me the first time I heard it. It had been years since I was so bowled over by an album on the first listen. I even went through Third Eye Foundation withdrawal the moment the album was over, and couldn't stop thinking "when do I get to hear this album again?" right up until I could get my fix on the train ride home that evening.

3. I'll admit that the "Glee" version of "Teenage Dream" isn't such a brilliant single, but I voted for it because I like "Glee" and it's the only song from the series that seems to have serious legs beyond the show itself. And frankly, I'm curious about how well it might fare in this poll, so I don't mind stumping for it and stuffing the ballot box a little bit.

4. In large part, "success" in the music industry is still defined as the ability to sell as many albums as possible. The formula used to be simple: get your song into regular radio airplay, promote the hell out of the upcoming album, and sit back and wait for sales to roll in by the millions. Well, the 1990's are over. You can't kick back and wait for your album to build momentum any more, and no, allowing legal viewings of a video on Youtube doesn't count as a forward-thinking style of marketing. More than ever, major artists need to keep stoking the market with treats for their listeners.

Crystal Castles aren't exactly "major artists", but they did have a great year and their new single "Not In Love" is a good example of what I'm talking about. Instead of simply releasing the unedited album version as a single, they released a new version featuring The Cure's Robert Smith on vocals. Musically speaking, it's not anything to get excited about in my opinion (I still prefer the vocoder version from the album), but its main achievement was that it gave everyone an excuse to take notice of Crystal Castles again. It gave writers an excuse to review their music again, and websites an excuse to put the band on their news feeds again. And anyone who hadn't bothered to check them out earlier in the year now had now been reminded that they existed.
I briefly considered filling up my singles ballot with nothing but viral music videos and lipdubs. Maybe mainstream pop music has run out of ways to surprise me, as opposed to the seemingly limitless supply of freely distributed online video oddities.

5. Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" is a fantastic song, and not just because I wholeheartedly support pop music with synth riffs that take their cues from early 90's rave music. After the song became a huge hit, Mike Tompkins' acapella version of the song went viral (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjCLQaTFXx0&feature=related), then The Maccabeats covered Tompkins' version (albeit with Chanukah-themed lyrics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSJCSR4MuhU)) and it went viral as well. And then, unexpectedly, something strange happened. I found myself liking the song even more, except that "the song" no longer meant just Taio Cruz, but rather his version plus all the other versions, assembled into some multi-headed beast that can't be broken down into its constituent parts anymore.

Maybe this is how the post-Glee, post-American Idol world is going to work -- everyone wants to be a karaoke star, and no song is untouchable any more. The song recorded in a professional studio and promoted internationally at a cost of millions of dollars ends up on the same pedestal as the cover version recorded in some unknown singers' bedroom or the 90-second truncated version sung by a just-discovered teenager on a TV talent show.

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