Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Beasts of the Best of 2013: The A.V. Club

By: Ben Johnson

A bunch of people made music this year, and some of those people made music well enough for a living human being to actually want to hear it more than once, and maybe somebody said “I like this music so much, I’m going to give you my money to record it in a recorded music format, and then you and I are going to try to sell the results to people, and if people agree that the music is good, they will buy these music recordings and give us both money,” and now here we are with a whole bunch of “albums” of recorded music to listen to and buy and enjoy. It’s a great story. And it happens every year. Hooray for that.

Then there are people who listen to every single album in the whole world, and they help consumers who don’t have the time or the money to buy every album decide which of all the albums are the best ones. How do these special people have the time and the money to listen to every album? They work at a popular publication that pays them to do it, and since they work at that place and have the power to tell lots of people an album is good, they get the albums for free from the people who paid the money to make the albums in the first place.

These people don’t get paid very much money because what they do is not very important, and that drives them kind of crazy, because like all humans they’d prefer to believe that who they are and what they do with their life is important.  And then what happens is when they talk about the albums they are paid to talk about it sounds like, “Hey, you fucking cods, listen up: this album of music is really really important for the following reasons, and you should definitely listen to me; I am important, and what I do is important; I am not just some abscess on the tit of all humanity who due to a series of crippling social disorders can only function by getting paid to listen to music all day.”

At the end of the year these people always always always write out a list of the best albums they listened to all year, because the end of the year is a natural time for everybody to say, “What the fuck happened to another year of my life? I am going to die someday without ever having lived. What, uh, what music is good? Maybe I can start there. Maybe if I listen to good music I won’t be as sad about dying because it’s like at least I heard the new Kanye West album first, so hey, I’m that much more ready to die. That and a trip to Burger King are about all I can handle right now.”

18. Los Campesinos!, No Blues

I have a huge headache right now, and I think it’s because I had to skip my early morning coffee and then forgot to immediately get replacement caffeine, and kept forgetting until well after my skull imploded. Los Campesinos! are not helping me. They are… I mean, these synthesizers are a power drill to the temple and dude’s voice is like your least favorite classmate from college. I don’t know what he’s singing about and I don’t care. I just want him to stop. Why does he have to chime in on every song? Chill out dude, let somebody else have a chance. We get it, you’re smart and you care about things. You’re probably gonna get an A. Jesus.

17. Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap

Can I stop listening to this if I act super supportive of it? I’m really proud of Chance The Rapper for making this album and I’m glad a lot of people are saying it’s one of the best things that’s happened in recorded music this year. But it’s giving me motion sickness. Or maybe that’s the fact that I just guzzled a gallon of warm coffee.

16. My Bloody Valentine, mbv

I wish there was a breakdown of how much of this album’s press is due to its own publicity campaign, how much is grandfathered in from Loveless, and how much is “honestly this is an album that I like.” My guess is 20/50/30, but I wouldn’t be surprised by 0/50/50 or 50/50/0. For the record I give it a 72/-0/1,000,000 breakdown of “like it enough to want to listen to it again”/“give a shit about My Bloody Valentine’s legacy as a band”/“glad I’m not listening to Kanye West right now.”

16. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana

I like how today’s overrated bands sometimes sound like overrated bands from 1995. No really, I actually like that, because I get to go “that band is overrated, nyeh,” and for a fleeting instant it’s like I’m 15 instead of 34, and I’m talking about The Scissor Girls. Plus, bonus, I am 34 and I don’t have to go through puberty again or ever care how properly a band is rated. Or listen to The Scissor Girls.

15. Locrian, Return To Annihilation

Most of the time, on principal, I hate that this is what’s happening to heavy metal. But today with the headache I’m glad. Maybe that’s what happened. Headbangers finally went “ow my fucking neck” and now there’s keyboard and whooshy sounds on everything.

15. Paramore, Paramore

Oh wait this is that band with that red haired singer who I looked up once because of some kind of a political stance or possibly a scandal of some kind. Like when it pops up on a news feed saying “Paramour singer does a thing” and you go “who the fuck is that,” and you Google it and you go “oh, THAT is the thing I currently don’t care about but which I nevertheless got suckered into knowing about” and then you have an impulse to see if there’s naked pictures of that person, which either you do or do not act on before feeling creeped out by both yourself and the internet, and you close your browser and get some fucking work done, which is really the whole point that your subconscious brain was trying to tell you when it made you click the “Paramour singer does a thing” link for seemingly no reason. One of those. Well, fool me once, shame on you, as they say. This is a pop group. They make pop songs. End of story.

15. Tim Hecker, Virgins

Does anybody else think it’s weird that “experimental electronic music” has sounded roughly the same for 50 years? What boundaries of space and time could we possibly still be pushing here? The space between the average NPR listener’s ears and the amount of time it takes to make a polite excuse to go to the bathroom while they’re talking about Tim Hecker?

14. Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady

If you want me to really love Janelle Monáe, construct a scenario wherein I listen to her music right after Tim Hecker. For those of you who don’t know, Janelle Monáe is like if En Vogue and Monie Love had a baby and now that baby is going through through this weird phase where for some reason it always wants to be Roy Orbison for Halloween.

13. Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse

It’s always kind of surprising to find out that music like this comes from somewhere. I thought this sound was naturally emitted by the Verizon’s nationwide 4G network’s commitment to bringing YOU closer to the things you love. Turns out it’s an actual band and they sound like this on purpose.

12. Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus

The A.V. Club’s Sean O’Neill calls this Fuck Buttons’ “most gobsmacking album yet,” and that probably explains why I’m smacking the shit out of my gob right now.

11. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

You play me an interview with Giorgio Moroder where he talks about living out of his car while speaking in unbearably goofy English, you’re alright with me. That’s a rule I have.

10. Fall Out Boy, Save Rock And Roll

“We are the jack-o-lanterns in July setting fire to the sky?” how come I haven’t heard every rock critic in the world talking about this? I always thought Fall Out Boy was stupid, I didn’t know they were the GODHEAD of stupid. That’s the part of Saving Rock and Roll they have dead right. I will give them that. They are stupid. If they sounded like Black Sabbath instead of Two Thousand and Tiffany, they would be perfect. Rock music needs more jack-o-lanterns in July setting fire to the sky.

10. David Bowie, The Next Day

There’s a great bar called the L&L in Chicago with a jukebox stocked full of good stuff that’s free under the caveat that the bartender can skip any song they feel like skipping because fuck you it’s free. I was in there while going through a Bowie phase when I was 24, and the barkeep skipped “Ashes to Ashes” on me, and was like “That song sucks, end of discussion.” At the time I was bummed but I totally get it now. There’s just no such thing as a David Bowie song that transcends its own Bowieness, and if there is it damn sure isn’t “Ashes to Ashes,” and it double damn sure isn’t this.

9. Lorde, Pure Heroine

My girlfriend is sick of “Royals,” but she likes the new single “Team” so she played it for me, and while it was playing she said that it sounds exactly like “Royals” so she’s ready to be sick of this one too soon, and then she saw there was a third single she wasn’t even interested. I rely on my girlfriend for data such as this. She’s no nonsense all the way.

8. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Every year people I know read these diatribes of mine and then asked me what I actually like, and usually by the time I’m done listening to all of these albums my most honest answer is “I don’t even know anymore.”

I like liking things. Sure, I also like not liking things, and then I can go, “nyeh, I don’t like that thing, nice try, thing, you blew it on the Me Front, nyeh.” But I also like liking things. I like all kinds of music and all kinds of things about music. And since I am a person and I get to make choices, one of those choices that’s amazing is I can listen to ANY music in the entire world that’s ever been made. It’s great.

What else is great is how I can just go ahead and not listen to Neko Case if that’s how I feel, and nobody has to take it personally. If a person wants to tell me that I have to listen to Neko Case or else I’m not “good” at listening to music, I can also decide that such a person is an idiot and a waste of my time. “But the lyrics are so good, and her voice contains every emotion,” the straw man idiot of my imagination is saying to me. “I am gone, I was never here, you are talking to no one,” I answer back.

I’m not mad at Neko Case for making this album, nor am I mad at the many critically-minded people who tell me it’s good. I’m maybe a little miffed that almost ALL of the music that these supposedly critically-minded people say is good does not seem good to me, but okay, maybe I just fall outside of their audience. Maybe that’s what they’re really saying. “We like Neko Case, so we’re not really talking to you if you don’t like Neko Case. We’re talking to the Neko Case people who would like Neko Case if and when they listen to Neko Case.” Maybe.

Maybe that makes me feel lonely, along with another long list of things in my life which are totally my fault and my problem and have nothing to do with music critics or Neko Case. But maybe it adds up and maybe I’m tired of it, and maybe, while enjoying liking things, I can also choose to enjoy making fun of Neko Case’s fawning critical reception among a community of people who choose to take on a role of “authority” about what music is good and yet continually choose music that doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe that’s fun. Maybe that’s way, way more fun that any song on this boring Neko Case album about somebody’s lovers hands or whatever the fuck thing I’m supposed to give a shit about. It’s nine degrees outside.

7. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

I want to like most of this stuff. That’s the thing. So often it’s a person ripping their guts out and then showing you the viscera and saying, “I did this for you, do you like it?” And you’re like, “I didn’t… I don’t… For me? Why? I admire your dedication, and agree that guts-out is the way to do it when you believe in something, but please put your guts back in. I didn’t ask for this.” I’m glad. I’m glad for Katie Crutchfield that people appreciate the stuff she’s doing. I feel bad for all the people out there who aren’t Katie Crutchfield but who are also ripping their guts out and getting nothing for it. But also I don’t. Gut-ripping is supposedly its own reward. Just like crushing a beer can on your own skull, or scatting like the guy from Spin Doctors are their own rewards. It’s all fine. It all doesn’t need us. We’re good.

6. Savages, Silence Yourself

I’ve been carpooling to work recently with a guy who has very different taste in music than I do, and this morning he wanted to listen to Gogol Bordello, which, okay, fine, whatever, it’s his car and it’s nine degrees outside. I’ll take the ride. I made a crack about how I didn’t take him for a steampunk, and he was like “what is that combination of words you just used?” Apparently until this morning he was in the extremely small moon sliver of people on the venn diagram who know and like Gogol Bordello but don’t know what “steampunk” means. I felt kind of bad for ruining it, but explaining steampunk to a person who suggested listening to Gogol Bordello and having them wrinkle their nose like “that sounds terrible and weird” is well worth sitting through 15 minutes of Gogol Bordello while getting a ride to work. Anyhow: Savages.

5. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires Of The City

A million dollars says “Modern Vampires Of The City” refers to amateur coke dealers who live in a condo they bought with somebody else’s money and who wear visors and basketball shorts in the house and play Call of Duty in between trips to the stainless steel fridge that has only beer in it and who, through an accumulation of unsavory experiences, no longer feel uncomfortable getting a blowjob in front of their friends, and when not tumbling directly into the abyss, patiently perch on the edge of it, waiting, their entire life indolently occupying the metaphysical space of “I want to leave here as soon as possible” without batting an eye or feeling weighed down by it, the dregs of the upper class, never in any actual trouble, bored senseless. Those guys probably LOVE Vampire Weekend’s music because it’s “chill.”

4. Chvrches, The Bones Of What You Believe

This is nothing music from nowhere.

4. The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Do black people have music too, or is it just for us white people? I mean seriously. I’m not trying to fetishize race here, but come on. Scroll up and take a look at the last 11 albums I just listened to. This is basically a Klan rally.

3. Deafheaven, Sunbather

That WOULD be heaven. Good suggestion, you guys.

2. HAIM, Days Are Gone

Hooray for at least trying to have fun!

1. Kanye West, Yeezus

The most incredible thing about Kanye is my toes itch maybe these socks are too tight I wish I had a tissue my boogers are out of control recently maybe I’m dehydrated I wish I could grow a full beard I’m tired.