Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year In Review Of Palatable Things That Happened

By: Ben Johnson

What a year! We here at Total Bozo Magazine are sad to see 2014 go, but before we turn the page, here’s a look back at some of the incredible things that happened this year which will not be upsetting to potential advertisers:

That Time The Morton Salt Factory Collapsed, And Definitely No Mention Of Mike Brown Or Ferguson Or Eric Garner Or Tamir Rice Or Wenjian Liu And Rafael Ramos Or The NYPD And Bill de Blasio

Just in time to still be on this list, on December 30th, the outer wall of the Morton Salt factory in Chicago collapsed, spilling a small mountain of salt onto several cars parked outside of the neighboring Acura dealership. Reading about this and gawking at a picture of a big pile of salt should take some of the sting out of a half-millennium of slavery and endemic consequence-free racialized violence on an institutional level, enforced as ever by a loosely knit working-class community whose collusion, through hard and largely thankless work, in the mechanism of institutional racism grants them just enough petty but palpable economic advantage to become cheerleaders for the predatory capitalism which is the root cause of the racism, which in turn further exploits them by doing things like using their disproportionately garnished tax dollars to subsidize legalized wage theft. Look at all the SALT. Does anybody have a margarita glass?! LOL.

Okay, We Will Talk About The Interview, But We Won’t Really Discuss Some Of The Troubling Results Of The Sony Hack, And We Will Definitely Vilify North Korea Which Is A Nation Full Of Poor People Which Does Not Participate In Capitalism, And Also We Are Not Talking About The Torture Report Even A Little Bit; Boy We Just Feel Bad For Seth Rogen?

Seth Rogen had a difficult end to 2014, with his irreverent comedy The Interview being pulled from theaters in the wake of a hacking scandal. North Korea is not responsible for the hacking, and is not a legitimate threat to U.S. National Security except insofar as its totalitarian government might require some evidence of punitive U.S. actions to solidify its ideological hold over the North Korean populace, who are impoverished and oppressed to the point of U.N. censure for crimes against humanity, but who are at least not forced to participate in a oligarchic global economy which is actively and greedily destroying the global ecosystem. Also, FYI, according to the Senate’s torture report released earlier this month, the CIA paid $80 million tax dollars to two Air Force psychologists who had no experience with counterterrorism to design a program which tortured the living shit out of people and yielded negligible results. The film had a modest opening weekend box office take of $1.8 million in only 331 theaters. Hang in there, Seth!

While We’re Talking About Movies, Who Could Forget Sharknado 2? (Let’s Not Mention That Probably More People Remember Sharknado 2 Than The 219 Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Still Under The Control Of Boko Haram)

Look out! Sharks! The 2013 pop culture phenomenon that was Sharnado returned with a sequel that took a big bite out of television viewership for the SyFy network in late July. Dear God, those girls… we are still doing nothing to actually help them… nobody is doing anything, anywhere… we have all just agreed that this is a regrettable thing that happens sometimes, a thing that humans can and will sometimes do to each other, regardless of our ability to prevent and rectify it, and we have turned our backs on the fact of this collective decision of ours, and have left unquestioned the utility and purpose of a human society which allows for this kind of thing to happen, and yet through cognitive flaws in our adaptable brains we are somehow able to go about our days and call this a world worth living in… If you’re looking for a Sharknado fix, don’t worry: plans for Sharknado 3 are already in the works.

Nobody Could Stop Talking About The Serial Podcast (Despite The Fact That The Case It Reports On Is Actually Not That Bad Of A Miscarriage Of Justice Within The Context Of Our Broken Criminal Justice System)

The first episode of serialized investigative This American Life spinoff podcast Serial came out in October, and since then over five million listeners have downloaded the podcast from iTunes! That’s almost as many people as the 6.9 million who are currently under correctional supervision in the U.S.! Imagine if every single person who ever listened to the Serial podcast had to serve a court-mandated sentence of some kind, those are the kinds of numbers we’re talking about here! Meanwhile, Adnan probably did it, and his case is an instance of a young black man’s testimony actually holding up in a court of law and leading to a murder conviction! If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you’re missing out! We’re hooked on it (as if it were free prison labor)!

And What About That Missing Plane? How Come They Haven’t Found It? Is It A Conspiracy Or Is It Just Because It’s At The Bottom Of The Ocean And We Don’t Get To Know Everything Even Though We Want To, And We’re Not Omniscient Or Immortal Or Even Particularly All That Smart Or Capable Compared To How Amazing We Seem To Think We Are

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing on the 8th of March and we still haven’t found it! We are going to keep looking, though, because airlines are for-profit businesses while little Nigerian girls are not. The basic principle at work is that people who have enough money should have the right to fly from continent to continent without fearing for their lives, while people (especially brown people) without money can’t be guaranteed the right not to be kidnapped and forced into being child brides for militant extremists. Nevermind that intercontinental travel is not a basic human necessity like food or water or not being owned by another human. We’ll treat intercontinental flight like a basic human necessity if we want to, and we will demand immediate explanations for why a giant pollution-burping metal thing designed and constructed by fallible humans might have fallen out of the sky, where no law of God or nature entitles us to be. They should have found that plane by now! What’s the holdup, people?!

Gwyneth Paltrow And Coldplay Lead Singer Chris Martin Broke Up But Called It A “Conscious Uncoupling” And No Way In Hell Are We Talking About The Suicide Of Leelah Alcorn

They seemed like such a lovely couple, but alas, even the best things must come to an end. Such as the tragically short life of a young trans woman whose suicide highlights the feelings of shame and uselessness faced by thousands of Americans whose cowardly families would prefer them to be “correct” rather than happy, an echo of a broader familial and societal psychological undercurrent of many of the large-scale issues American found itself bumping into in 2014. Looks like our hopes for Apple getting a little sister named Pear have been dashed.

After Suffering A Crushing Defeat In 2013, The San Antonio Spurs Obliterated The Miami Heat In The NBA Finals, Please, Just Let Us Enjoy This, Do Not Force Us To Think About Bill Cosby Or Ray Rice Or Gamergate Or All The Ways Men Are Horrible To Women On A Routine Basis

It's okay to like basketball, right? I think we can all agree this is one good thing that for sure happened. A basketball thing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Beasts of the Best of 2014: Pitchfork

By: Ben Johnson

The vomit monster from Poltergeist II in case you're wondering.

Confession time: this might be the first time since I did this last year that I’ve actually visited Pitchfork. So I can’t really complain. This is not affecting my life in any way. There are a lot of people whose lives Pitchfork does affect, and they fucking hate Pitchfork with a fiery burning passion. Could you imagine? Something like this Pitchfork list comes out, on Pitchfork, and then it actually makes a difference in your life? Think about choosing a life for yourself which involves a negotiation of that particular spiritual hellscape. That’s not “I love music.” That’s “I have several things that are DSM-V level wrong with me.”

Here are, according to the editorial staff at Pitchfork, The 50 Best Albums that came out in 2014.

50. Ben Frost - A U R O R A

You know when you get one of those weird itches in your fingers where it actually feels better to bite down hard on your own flesh than it does to do nothing? This is like if that sensation was music and you chose to listen to it.

49. Mr Twin Sister - Mr Twin Sister

It’s fun to LOL on Pitchfork, but if I had to manufacture an opinion about this much music, I’d soon get to a point where every review was “7.8? I don’t know, leave me alone. This is like a neodisco Sade type thing. It’s probably in my top eight favorite neodisco Sade albums of the last oh God please let me die.”

48. Clark – Clark

Theory: the entire country of England has done nothing but record and remix the same dance track over and over again since about 1999. It's just like their little inside joke.

47. Shellac - Dude Incredible

The funniest part of the Steve Albini keynote is when he talks about how everything’s fine because Shellac is touring in Bulgaria.

The Author.

46. Ariana Grande - My Everything

It’s pretty weird to me that there’s an overlap in the Venn diagram between “Ariana Grande fans” and “people who willfully seek information about music.” I thought you didn’t need to do or say anything about stuff like Ariana Grande. I thought it was just released from out of a fire hose hooked up to a magic standpipe out around the back from a Best Buy. I didn’t even know humans were responsible for it. I thought stuff like this was generated from random energy signals sent to some sentient mainframe from every elliptical machine in every Planet Fitness in America.

45. Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers

This is right up my alley because recently I’ve been experimenting with boredom as a recreational drug.

44. A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Sea When Absent

Pitchfork is also a genre of music. Pitchfork gave it Best New Music.

43. Madlib / Freddie Gibbs – PiƱata

I have an IMPORTANT QUESTION about HIP HOP MUSIC. How is Madlib not the single most revered figure in hip hop right now? This is an IMPORTANT THING to FIGURE OUT because HIP HOP is a MUSIC in CRISIS. And then after we SOLVE HIP HOP we should GET TO WORK on BASEBALL because it is currently TOO BORING and the TV RATINGS are NOT GOOD. WE NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT ALL OF THIS. TALKING IS GOOD.

42. Owen Pallett - In Conflict

Fucking England again. You know what the problem is? The original population there were the Celts, so when they want to get as primitive as possible it’s like flutes and dulcimers and reedy Gaelic folk ballads and Boringest Part Of A Hobbit Movie shit, instead of awesome ass ancient psychedelic tribal chants and drones like we have cultural access to in America and Australia.

41. Leon Vynehall - Music for the Uninvited

You know who originally said “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” (or the reasonable origin of that oft misattributed or not-attributed quote)? Martin Mull. In 1979. That’s who every snot-nosed band is quoting when they think they’re being “cornered” in an interview by a journalist who they sense (accurately) thinks their music is garbage. Great witty evasion, guys, throwing out a 35 year old thing that the bad guy from Mr. Mom once said. Anyhow, dancing to this is like dancing to architecture.

40. Ty Segall – Manipulator

At this point I’d actually be more impressed and excited if Ty Segall put out a record that sucked.

39. Ought - More Than Any Other Day

Even though this is pretty good it sounds exactly like a less good version of a great band, but I can’t put my finger on which exact one and it’s killing me because it’s the kind of internal distinction thing that will only ever matter to me but I could nonetheless waste a whole fucking day on. Man. As soon as I figure this out I’ll be able to ignore this band for the rest of my life, and it’s making me tense as hell because I can’t wait. Fuuuck. Let’s just say Tall Dwarfs just for the sake of not talking about this anymore. I nailed it. It’s less good Tall Dwarfs. This is like if the dude from LCD Soundsystem fronted Tall Dwarfs, or Tall Dwarflike thing. Maybe The Feelies. Fuck. I’m gonna end up listening to this again, aren’t I? I hate that.

38. Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like A Bell

This takes itself exactly as seriously as you’d expect for something called “Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell.” If this album was your friend, you would hide its jacket just to watch it go “Hey guys, have you seen my jacket? I CAN’T FIND MY JACKET!” and you’d go “Hey Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell, aren’t you cold? Where’s your jacket?” and it would FREAK THE FUCK OUT. Eventually you feel bad about it and give the jacket back, which is when Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell goes “NOT COOL GUYS!”

Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like A Bell has a point. It’s not really cool to take a person’s jacket just to watch them get all upset about not having a jacket. Then again, the whole reason you’re even friends in the first place is because they were the one album in college who had a car, so fuck them. They shouldn’t have cock blocked you so hard that one time you actually had a shot with Angela Pruitt, and now you have zero Angela Pruitt sex memories thanks to them but you’re still supposed to hang out with them like everything’s good every single time it’s anybody’s birthday.

37. Perfect Pussy - Say Yes to Love

Oh wait this is actually really good? This is making me afraid to listen to Diarrhea Planet in case they’re really good too. I know this is childish and prejudicial, but it’s my life and I get to decide.

36. Tinashe – Aquarius

How come shit like this is never called Perfect Pussy or Diarrhea Planet? This should be called Porn Moan so you know about what’s happening and about how to feel about it.

35. Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty

I guess this is pretty good, but dude was in Digable Planets, and they had a song with the lyric “Checking out some Fromm, some Sartre, Camus” in it, which earns lifetime infinity fuck yous for all associated entities.

34. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

Stuff like this used to be on the radio, like all the time. You’d turn on the radio and the songs on it would sound like this. I honestly don’t know if that’s good or bad, it’s just weird to think about whenever I find myself listening to something like this and thinking “this band has a CULT following.” Like Cloud Nothings doesn’t have a regular following. They have an “underground” following. It’s like digging for gold and then going “Stop everything! We found DIRT!”

Thanks for making music for me, guys. I really appreciate it.

33. Rich Gang - Tha Tour Part 1

Reviewing hip hop makes me feel uncomfortable. Any decision I could manufacture about this is informed by so much shit that is very far afield from the point of these guys making this music. As a white guy from the suburbs, I basically have two choices, “good job, good for you guys, etc. condescending bullshit” or “this is not a legitimate form of expression because it doesn’t cater to my sensibilities enough.” So fuck it. I abdicate my right to have an opinion about this Rich Gang mixtape. I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about and I’m not about to act like anybody could benefit from hearing my opinion about this. I wish Pitchfork and everybody else would cop to that more often instead of constantly mansplaining the whole world to everybody or talking about how this is particularly good because it displays more emotional depth and vulnerability than other hip hop releases, so we’re gonna throw it a discretionary young urban white people crossover bone. Like just give this a ?.? and link to The Source if you think it deserves attention. This is why I’m just busting out a bunch of jokes here and saying everything sucks. I don’t have or want any credibility. Credibility is a hierarchy, and hierarchy is a fucking trap.

32. White Lung - Deep Fantasy

These guys have a video that they shot on what looks like old VHS tape and it looks and feels, thanks to a fantastically well-choreographed 90’s-esque lack of slickness and self-consciousness, exactly like some weird Superchunk video from 120 Minutes circa 1992 and the song sounds exactly like the song from some weird Superchunk song that you’d see the video for on 120 Minutes. So I guess go buy a Superchunk album if you’re into this kind of a thing.

31. Taylor Swift – 1989

The blurb on this is 425 words long, and I got exactly 122 deep before my eyes rolled so hard I had a Lost My Poor Meatball situation times two.

30. Iceage - Plowing Into the Field of Love

These guys are still very young and still from Denmark, but they’re now in the For Carnation portion of their living Slint analogy.

29. How to Dress Well - "What Is This Heart?"

I’m starting to understand the glossy pop and dance fascination. It’s like what awful music do you need to cleanse your palate with after listening to some moody brooding postpunk emo shit like Iceage? You can only listen to awful music. That’s a given. But what awful music? Some kind of lightly neutered Bruno Marsian technofied disco soft rock? Sure. Please. Let’s just keep switching the awfuls around, guys. We’ll get through this.

I thought this was going to involve the word "swag" but I was wrong.

28. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden

I’m starting to play Guess That Pitchfork. I thought this would be like a Flying Lotus type electric instrumental hip hop based on the name, but it’s a pretentious noise act on Sacred Bones. One track is just somebody coughing up a lung. Did not see that one coming, guys. Fuck. This list just makes me want to listen to The Lovin’ Spoonful or something.

27. YG - My Krazy Life

YG does a really good job here exploring his vulnerabilities with emotional depth.

26. Ex Hex – Rips

I did my research on this, so don’t worry, I’m not going to say it sucks without also knowing that Mary Timony is involved.

25. Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

One fun thing that happens while I’m writing these is my friends will g-chat me like “you gonna do Pitchfork?” and I go “listening to Azealia Banks now” and they’re like “hahahahahahahahaha oh man that sux.”

Pavement Comparison: The Movie

24. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal

The blurb by Douglas Wolk lists Pavement and The Velvet Underground as “inescapable comparison points” for Parquet Courts. I like to imagine Pitchfork as a spaceship trying to break free from the event horizon of a black hole like “Noooo! We’ve got to break free! Parquet Courts sound nothing like Pavement!” “Release the Tyvek comparison!” “OUR READERSHIP CAN’T TAKE IT, NOT TO MENTION THE STRUTCTURAL INTEGRITY OF OUR AD REVENUES!” “Just do it, it’s our only chance!!!!” “Wait. Captain, I have an idea of how we can do this without mentioning Tyvek. But you’re not going to like it.” “I’m open to anything at this point, even mentioning a great band like Tyvek whose label doesn’t advertise with us.” “Well, what if we flew right for it?” “You want to fly TOWARDS a Pavement comparison?!” “According to my calculations the comparison is only germane to the early Drag City material and select portions of a couple of tracks on the Watery, Domestic EP, so if we fly towards it, we should be able to escape out the other side with only minimal damage.” “Do it. Alright everybody, hold onto your butts, we’re comparing Parquet Courts to Pavement. Repeat, we are comparing Parquet Courts to Pavement!” (action sequence) “I’ve got good news and bad news, Captain. Good news is we’re still here, bad news is Parquet Courts kind of sounds like The Velvet Underground to me.” (dramatic sound) “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”

23. Lykke Li - I Never Learn

It’s kind of bullshit that the review of this doesn’t just say “Mmmmm Daddy Lykkes.”

22. Future Islands – Singles

I think it says just about everything that needs to be said about the state of music for this band and this guy to be our current Tom Jones.

21. Brian Eno / Karl Hyde - High Life

Brian Eno once said “the problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them,” because, among other things, Brian Eno is one of the most insufferable interview subjects alive. I like the idea that Brian Eno thinks somebody put Brian Eno in charge of figuring out how much Africa there is in things. I would love to walk through a Target with Brian Eno and have him do a thing-by-thing breakdown of Africa content. “Computers: not enough Africa.” “K-Cup machine: adequate amount of Africa.” “Tennis racket: zero Africa.”

20. Vince Staples - Hell Can Wait EP

This is not a legitimate form of expression because it does not cater to my sensibilities enough.

Reminder: you're a terrible bullshit person.

19. Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

Do you have any idea how simultaneously difficult and patently unnecessary it is to come up with even a reasonably funny joke about Sharon Van Etten? It’s like a stand-up doing crowd work and asking somebody what they do for a living and the answer is they design prosthetic legs for children. The only thing you can do is go “Oh well fuck you, now everybody’s in here imagining legless children. I might as well just go home.”

18. Arca - Xen

If I ever learn how to make sushi, I can get an obnoxious haircut and charge myself $200 to listen to this.

17. Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

I’m sorry, I just Googled DJ Shadow for like 20 minutes. What was the question?

16. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Sometimes I wonder how I’d score if there was some kind of a machine which could measure exactly how sexist I am. It would probably spit out a piece of receipt paper that just said “Every ounce of your self-loathing is fully justified.” That machine would make me so sad and angry, but I would not be able to argue with it because it’s a perfectly calibrated machine. I would just have to sit in my wrongness and soak it up and just be fully saturated with wrong all day every day for the rest of my life. This is that machine’s favorite album.

15. Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Can I profess to be really into this instead of St. Vincent, or do I have to actually, like, listen to it?

14. Real Estate - Atlas

I know it’s hard to accurately adjust to the way things are at any given point in history, but let’s just say this is the fucking Goo Goo Dolls of right now. Does that help you make sense of anything? Because it’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

I'm going as Sexy Alcoholic Skateboard Company Owner Dad for Halloween.

13. Spoon - They Want My Soul

Britt Daniel is 44 years old. It’s getting to the point where you can’t even launch your career by fucking him.

12. Mac DeMarco - Salad Days

This is the part of the hero’s journey where he is distracted by a utopia. Sure, I could stop here and just listen to Mac DeMarco for the rest of my life instead of finishing this dumb list, but there is no such thing as perfection, and I have to accept that. Mac DeMarco is a trap. These people never leave, never learn, never grow, and yes, never die, because these people are dead already, can’t you see? Can’t anybody see? Why is everybody sleeping? Wake up! Wake up! There’s somebody at the door. Wake up! (I’m in bed and my girlfriend is telling me to wake up, somebody is at the door. It’s Mac DeMarco. He hands me this LP and winks, I look down at it and look up and he is gone)

11. Perfume Genius - Too Bright

It’s strange that there’s no discernible drug of choice behind the little muted electronic psychedelic flourishes you hear in a lot of pop/vocal music these days. It’s like the singer songwriter death echo of Flaming Lips or something. The oddball sound insertions seem more about manufacturing an off-kilter arrangement hook for an unending procession of self-serious would-be anthems with obvious limitations in the catchiness department than trying to explore any sonic possibilities or replicate an actual psychedelic experience. Maybe the current drug of choice is money.

10. Caribou - Our Love

It takes all kinds of people to make this crazy blue marble spin. It takes short people, tall people, skinny people, fat people, kind people, mean people, and it takes people who make music that has no purpose other than to be ignored in an expensive shoe store.

9. Ariel Pink - Pom Pom

This guy seems like a hoot. Like a Grade-A Hoot. Like a guy in a brimmed hat standing in the kitchen at a party wearing a t-shirt that says “Grade-A Hoot,” whose normal speaking voice is the same volume as a jet engine.

8. Todd Terje - It's Album Time

If this list is a series of snapshots of what’s going on in the world of electronic music, this is “the fun one.”

7. Sun Kil Moon - Benji

Just FYI, if you’ve ever referred to somebody as “Benji” who was introduced to you as “Ben,” they definitely told you to go fuck yourself in their brain, and you definitely deserve it, and you definitely don’t care because you’re definitely a sociopath.

6. Swans - To Be Kind

Of all the brutalist no wave art bands, these guys are the ones who stuck around long enough to get the top ten critical praise venerable noise merchant treatment. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s great. I just love the idea that it could just as easily have been Mars (except for the whole having died thing) or DNA.

5. Grouper - Ruins

“Recorded in 2011 on a four-track, during an artist residency in the small coastal Portuguese town of Aljezur…” No no no no no no no. No. Fuck you. I work for a living.

The assignment was 12-14 pages on why this album is great.

4. Aphex Twin - Syro

Apparently some dude did his own remix of one of the tracks off of this, and put it on YouTube, and nobody knew the difference, and ultimately it does not matter because nobody needs to know the difference. There’s a specific class of single-minded academic types who get all excited when they sense a convoluted theoretical argument to be made on behalf of any “artist” who does something that’s especially easy to convincingly replicate, simply because there’s a convoluted theoretical argument to be made and their sense of self-worth is hopelessly inextricable from their ability to make it. You can’t just not care without also getting a twenty minute lecture in art theory about why you should care by a status-addled person who could very obviously reap large and immediate benefits from caring less. I’d actually be into stuff like this if that was the intention, to release insufferable irony-laden amateur art lectures into the world like a floating egg sac full of ravenous spider babies. That would be “Great Art” in the way that all “Great Art” is basically a prank.

3. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

Whenever these lists make me want to breathe into a paper bag about the rank unfairness of life, a thing I do to cheer myself up is look at old Pazz & Jop Poll results on the Robert Christgau site. It makes me feel better to know that music critics have always had their heads up their asses. This one is my favorite. Rod Stewart’s third solo album in the three spot, two ahead of John Lennon’s Imagine, nine ahead of The Beach Boys Surf’s Up, 14 ahead of Sly and the Family Stone There’s a Riot Goin’ On, 15 ahead of David Bowie Hunky Dory, 17 ahead of Led Zeppelin IV. To be fair, it does have “Maggie May” on it. Guess why I paid special attention to what was number three on the list.

2. FKA twigs - LP1

This is probably about some hugely personal trauma or complicated and important social issue to be ranked this high, and me saying it’s just an undercooked sonic stew of leftover who gives a fuck that sounds like the sixth Dentiny’s Child is dating an unwanted Chemical Brother ends up earning me a “dude, you just said it’s okay to rape children” Twitter reply. In which case, get ready to see this change because it is not okay to rape children. Like not even a little bit.

1. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

The murder of Mike Brown was tragic and awful and preventable and inevitable, and the anger comes not just that a white cop freaked out and killed an unarmed black kid, which is distressingly common. The bulk of the anger from the police department’s institutional decision to leave his body face down draining deathblood into the street while simultaneously mobilizing riot gear and tear gas cannons, fudging evidence, and getting the story straight for a cover-up. The demand that Darren Wilson be indicted is not primarily motivated by anti-cop or anti-Darren Wilson sentiment (although that’s a large portion of it) so much as a deep-seated desire by a segment of the American population to finally be accounted for in some visible way by a civic infrastructure which has always profited from racialized violence. The least St. Louis, America, and the World could do is offer up a symbolic sacrificial lamb, once the fuck in a while or ever, or even just an apology of some kind from some kind of a trustable person who is empowered to and intends to do anything useful. Nobody’s asking for actual justice, just a cursory nod in the direction of justice. Just at least that. Just let’s start there. Please. And the answer apparently is “no, again, not this time” and it’s a blatant continuation of the harshest systematic insult added to the harshest systematic injury.

Anyway, I’m not really into this album. There’s not a single Ghostface album, including the one that just came out, which this is better than.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Beasts of the Best of 2014: Rolling Stone

By: Ben Johnson

If you close your eyes and imagine that the way things have been presented here is the actual way they happened this year, you will then open them and find yourself quantum leaped into one of two bodies. One is a 50 year old white man, currently listening to Bob Seger on purpose and checking his investment portfolio’s performance via Google Glass while riding an recumbent bike through unnamed Suburbia at dusk. The other is a precocious but pre-embarrassment white boy of ten or eleven who has recently discovered that video games are fun to play while listening to music, and thanks to new information gleaned from friendships with slightly older but no less awkward boys from Chess Club, is now eagerly digesting whatever current crop of cynical teenybopper bands are slated for the Warped Tour this year.

This list, aside from a few subtle nods to surrounding culture (note: it only really gets going in the mid-30’s), is the exact combination of these two, a grab bag of survivalist MOR legacy acts and “edgy” bands of corporatist aural pedophiles whose logos populate the Hot Topics t-shirt aisle. It is the mawkish year-end list equivalent of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” for the self-isolated, incurious, dead-middle American white male and the eternal child trapped inside him. And like all weak-chinned American white males whose station has allowed them to float through a life untraumatized by any system more oppressive than the passage of time, emitting no characteristic more defining than a vaguely inert inner childlike oblivious softness punctuated by occasional stress-induced impotent rage, this list is kind of sweet, in an infuriating way.

This list is by and for a father and son duo who got really into flying remote control planes this last Spring. There is nothing technically wrong with flying a remote control plane, except maybe that watching somebody fly a remote control airplane provides 95% of the enjoyment of flying one yourself for roughly one four hundredth the cost, and also that watching somebody other than yourself crash a four hundred dollar remote control airplane and then go “aw shit!” is possibly the single most enjoyable form of human entertainment. This list comes close to that.

So let’s all watch as the music staff of Rolling Stone reads up on their hobby mags, holds up in the basement with Dad for weeks painstakingly soldering their 50 album list, wakes up extra early to make a full day of it, carefully hauls their gear out to a secluded field, and then immediately pilots the whole operation into the nearest big dumb obvious tree.

50. Yob, 'Clearing the Path to Ascend'

When I say this list is “for” father and son duos who got really into flying remote control planes, one of the ways it does this is with ego-inflating language, for instance this description of this Yob album: “With their seventh album – four sumptuous, sludgy tracks delivered across an hour – Yob staked their claim on doom metal's throne. Lumbering Sabbathian riffage and Neurosis' build-to-burn dynamics abound, but what sets the record apart are its gorgeous moments of peace and introspection, which shimmer like moonlight on a tar pit.” Really this is the perfect soundtrack for when your hormones make you disproportionately upset at your parents for making you do the dishes, but if you want to go with “moonlight on a tar pit” as a placeholder for that, be my guest.

49. Tinariwen, 'Emmaar'

Apparently Tuareg Rock can support the kind of big dumb sound-flattening vibe that you get from putting Buddy Guy in a 48 track digital studio with a 12-piece band of doofy session guys (the drummer has a splash cymbal) backing him. As in, whoa, this can actually support that amount of soul-deadening overproduction and still be damn good. In spots.

48. Coldplay, 'Ghost Stories'

The ghost of Gwyneth haunts my soul sometimes too. My butt soul.

47. Gary Clark Jr., 'Gary Clark Jr. Live'

Recorded live at Blues Fest in front of an audience of white people who showed up because they “love live music.” What kind? “Any.”

46. Tweedy, 'Sukierae'

Oh this is Jeff Tweedy. You know, from Wilco. Oh, okay.

45. EMA, 'The Future's Void'

This is annoying and not good.

 44. Interpol, 'El Pintor'

They should make a t-shirt that’s the Unknown Pleasures design but says Interpol underneath it. I would wear that shirt. Under the rest of my normal adult clothes, but still.

43. Future, 'Honest'

Okay guys. We get it. You’ve been to a strip club.

42. Perfume Genius, 'Too Bright'

Okay guys. We get it. You’ve performed at a strip club.

Look, these are not good jokes and I know that, but what do you want me to do? Care?

41. Aphex Twin, 'Syro'

I’ve been tolerating electronic music a lot more than usual for me recently. I’ve even listened to entire Burial tracks all the way through. On purpose. And I thought “huh, I’ll be damned, turns out I can listen to this.” Then I immediately bought a Scion, got my lip pierced, and sold hard drugs to a teenager. True story.

40. Jack White, 'Lazaretto'

Have you heard that vinyl records are making a comeback? It says it right here in this Parade Magazine that came with the Sunday paper. Ben Vereen’s on the cover this week.

39. Caribou, 'Our Love'

My girlfriend likes regular-ass pop music, and when she cranks it up in the car or the living room I tell her that she loves dancing to techno. It makes her upset, like I’m calling her an idiot. I am not calling her an idiot, though. I am saying the words “you love dancing to techno” in a non-judgmental, observational way, and if somehow “idiot” is implied in these words, that is more several other people’s fault than it is mine. Most current pop music just sounds like techno to me, maybe because I want to call it that to amuse myself, but also because maybe all pop music just is techno now. Like all genres of popular music. Kanye West is techno. That “All About That Bass” song is techno. Vampire Weekend is techno. Taylor Swift is techno. It’s the MTV Techno Awards, featuring performances by Techno Wayne, Tech No, and The Foo Fighters of Techno. This, Caribou, is techno too, but it’s like actual techno, with like the tiniest, sparest hints of “maybe these techno tracks are also indie pop songs that somebody sat down and wrote lyrics to.” This is the future of pop music to the extent that my theory about techno is right. Techno in pop music is like that weird space grass that swallowed Stephen King until he blew his grassed-up head off in Creepshow. All that said, I should buy this for my girlfriend. It’s actually not bad.

38. Hurray for the Riff Raff, 'Small Town Heroes'

This makes me uncomfortable. Physically. Like listening to it hurts my back. It’s like watching a long movie in a movie theater with bad seats. At a certain point I can’t care how good the damn movie is. I feel like I’m sitting on an old cardboard box full of loose knives, and the only thought I’m capable of is “box of loose knives box of loose knives.”

37. Benjamin Booker, 'Benjamin Booker'

Associating with Jack White does strange things to language. It replaces “late-career The Jam power pop and/or major label Replacements” with “punk” and “young black dude doing a slightly more soulful version of blue-eyed soul” with “blues” and erases all mention of “folk” and “Mississippi John Hurt if he didn’t hate electric guitars,” which is the most interesting part.

36. Alvvays, 'Alvvays'

These guys are like the next step in a line that goes Mazzy Star, Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast, These Guys and just gets cuter and cuter every time and always makes you wish you were just hanging out with them and listening to The Ronettes and My Bloody Valentine instead of expending all that effort in the middle where they make this and you listen to it.

35. Lenny Kravitz, 'Strut'

NOW. Now is when this list really kicks into high gear. Go back and read the intro again if you want to. Lenny Kravitz. Holy shit. You know what thought I had at a CVS the other day? “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over” is a decent song. Sure it’s a dumb goofy love song that oversimplifies all the urgency and passion of “Let’s Stay Together” into an ad for Target, the message being equivalent to “please don’t dilute our brand identity as a couple by leaving me,” but it’s got those syrupy pop vocal strings on it, so it’s like it knows what it is. Lenny Kravitz can only really ruin something I care about if he has a guitar in his hand, otherwise he’s just an empty pair of bellbottoms. This? I’m not going to listen to this, are you kidding me, it’s Lenny Kravitz. I’ll happily wait 25 years until it’s playing in a CVS and I’m buying a catheter or something.

34. Prince, 'Art Official Age'

Remember that part in High Fidelity where they’re playing the demo from the skateboard kids and Jack Black rears up on both hind legs of his acting abilities and delivers an I-will-reluctantly-admit-this “it’s really good,” but it very clearly isn’t?

33. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, 'Midnight Sun'

Rufus Wainwright fronting one of the more annoying Elephant 6 bands.

32. Damon Albarn, 'Everyday Robots'

Thank God this rich old white guy stepped in. I was about to enjoy the connectivity and democratizing aspects of modern communication technology without also considering its alienating psychological effects. If only there was a better way, like say writing a song about getting my head shaved by a jumbo jet and then making enough money that my money can make a large portion of all the money I’ll ever need, then thinking “Forgive me for having this crazy original thought, but I think people would be more emotionally healthy if they got rid of their cell phones like how I, thanks to my wealthy celebrity musician status, am capable of doing,” and then getting rid of my cell phone and having that work out totally fine for me. That would be awesome. I bet then I’d record a bunch of sadsack songs about how alienating technology is, and not pause for an instant to consider what a colossal privilege it is for me to have that opinion, to not even need the abundant access I am afforded to all of the technology whose desperate mastery constitutes almost the entire retention mechanism of the rapidly evaporating modern middle class.

Like how Louie CK went on Conan and said the same thing. I should hang out with Louie next time I’m in New York. I’ll have my assistant call his assistant and set that up.

31. Young Thug and Bloody Jay, 'Black Portland'

Maybe I’m listening on the wrong speakers. Mine work.

Listening to Thom Yorke for twenty years like a boss

30. Thom Yorke, 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes'

I heard “Optimist” from Kid A on the radio the other day and listened for the first time in years and thought it was more good that I’d given it credit for in a long long time. But at the same time I was like “no no no no I can’t go back there” because when Kid A came out I listened to it obsessively while being as depressed as I’ve ever been in my life. Thom Yorke is still huge and I don’t get it. How did that many people manage to stay alive for that long while listening to and enjoying this man’s music the whole time? I’m impressed by their emotional constitution. Being a fan of this guy must be like one of those 30 for 30 documentaries about some troubled dude like Elijah Dukes where you realize that it’s probably a more impressive feat of athleticism to hit any major league home runs while stoned than it is to hit like a hundred of them sober.

29. Spoon, 'They Want My Soul'

I like the lyric “They Want My Soul” because it reminds me of “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates, and that reminds me that maybe Spoon is the modern equivalent of Hall & Oates, which even if not true is a fun thought. Spoon should do an album of all Hall & Oates covers.

28. Parquet Courts, 'Sunbathing Animal'

There was some awards ceremony thing on MTV that I remember watching when I was a kid where for some reason Ugly Kid Joe “I Hate Everything About You” was nominated in a category which included both the word “Best” and the word “Rap.” This is better than that, obviously. That was a real low point in culture.

27. Alt-J, 'This Is All Yours'

I wonder if “prog” will ever mean anything to me other than “get away, I am poisonous.” It’s the bright colors on an Amazonian tree frog of ways you can describe music.

26. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 'Hypnotic Eye'

This is actually a useful calibration tool. By triangulating the quality of this with where it is ranked, I am able to say with reasonable certainty that the worst possible Tom Petty album would rank no lower than 32 on this list. That’s if Tom Petty recorded a polka album called “A List Of Great Reasons To Own A Pet Ferret.”

25. YG, 'My Krazy Life'

Has there been an “epic Twitter flame war” between a “social justice warrior” and one of these guys over whether or not it’s “socially responsible” for them to use the “n word” and talk about “beat the pussy” yet? If not I just want to be prepared for it. Last time I didn’t prepare for something like that, what happened next shocked me.

24. Leonard Cohen, 'Popular Problems'

What the fuck is it going to take for Leonard Cohen to die of old age?

23. War on Drugs, 'Lost in the Dream'

You know what? All these new wave “indie” singles from the 2000’s and early 2010’s are perfectly fine. Those are fine songs. One hit wonder bands with names like Peter Bjorn and John doing the twenty years later reincarnation of “99 Red Balloons?” Sure. Fine. Earmark me for a “Greatest Whooshy Hits Of The Internet Era” CD that I can lose in the back seat of my car. Don’t try and tell me that Men At Work has some underrated album cuts, though. They don’t. Listening for underrated Men At Work album cuts is a giant waste of time, and Men At Work has already claimed enough of it.

22. Skrillex, 'Recess'

This is a much more introspective effort than I would have expected from Skrillex at this point in his ascendancy. Like for instance that part where the bass goes “BWUH BWUH BWUH BWIH BWIH BWIH” is so beautifully melancholic. Like it knows it’s dying.

21. Eric Church, 'The Outsiders'

I enjoy it when I haven’t heard something shitty like this since the last time I made fun of the same shitty dude for making his last shitty thing. It’s like a shitty reunion. “John? JOHN SHITTY?! Oh my Gosh it’s John Shitty! Hey John Shitty, what have you been up to?” “Being shitty.” “Ha ha, I bet! Ho man. Classic Shitty.”

20. Sharon Van Etten, 'Are We There'

Sharon Van Etten facts I know: Sharon Van Etten is a whole different person than St. Vincent. Different name, different person.

19. Jackson Browne, 'Standing in the Breach'

Of all the legacy acts on this list, this one made me laugh the hardest. Rolling Stone says “Browne confirmed his place as an essential voice in the wilds of the 21st century with this powerful set of songs about love and progressive ideals – forces that a corrupt world can never truly defeat.” Thank God for Baby Boomers and their big ideas about love and progressive ideals, forces that the corrupt world they created can never truly stop them from claiming to have invented. Don’t all die at once, Baby Boomers. Never die all at once in a big fiery explosion.

18. Sturgill Simpson, 'Metamodern Sounds in Country Music'

A little while ago I was in the basement of an antique mall looking through box after box of old country records, and in the heat of battle I was kicking myself for not knowing more about what to look for. I know record dudes who have country down cold, I think the trick is they know all the best Nashville session musicians. They go “Oh, they got Jim Groggins on lap steel, he’s probably my third favorite lap steel guy of 1974, I bet this is probably pretty good.” Meanwhile I’m like “I think George Jones is supposed to be good, but what if I’m really thinking about George Strait? I might want this record, but not if it’s the wrong George. I am paralyzed enough by indecision not to buy this.” It bothers me at the time, but later, after I go home and don’t have any old country records, I never regret it. Anyway, this is pretty good.

17. Jenny Lewis, 'The Voyager'

Who’s Jenny Lewis? Oh. Jenny Lewis is Rilo Kiley’s real name.

16. FKA Twigs, 'LP1'

I know you guys are super interested, so I’ll just share my basic process here. I pull up a YouTube of the album in question, then play it for as long as it takes to come up with a joke or thought that’s good enough to write, and then I get to stop listening. No longer listening is like my reward. I do this roughly 40 or so times, excluding the albums I don’t even need to listen to because their existence is enough of a joke on its own. When you go from one of these to the next one 40 times, trying to come up with gags and spoofs before you’re allowed to move on with your life, the task itself takes over the actual music, and everything I hear makes me feel like I’m searching for a parking spot at a crowded shopping mall for hours on end. This is as good a soundtrack as any for a shopping mall parking lot stress nightmare. It’s boring R&B without hooks that sounds like it was produced by M83.

15. Against Me!, 'Transgender Dysphoria Blues'

How I feel about this is pretty irrelevant. I’m a white hetero cis male and not everything should be for me to judge. But since nobody asked, what I most like about it is picturing the freaked outedness coming from America’s uptight parents as they hear “God bless your transsexual HEART” blasting from their teenager’s bedroom. It’s making me smile real big. I might not be in love with the megarock overproduction here, but 90% of what makes rock and roll great is how worried and upset it makes your shitty uptight parents, and I imagine this is a HUGE success in that department. In fact, now that I think of it in those terms, it’s probably the rock record of the year.

14. Weezer, 'Everything Will Be Alright in the End'

Weezer has recorded ten albums. Ten. Magic fact: if you can name all ten Weezer albums from memory don’t say all of them in a row out loud or else you will transform magically into a fart.

13. Ought, 'More Than Any Other Day'

I googled these guys and they’re from Montreal and this is their debut album and they’re the “sure fine but why these guys and not any other band” critical pick of the year. Thanks to an unnamed publicist, members of Ought are now hanging out with Ice Age and Parquet Courts at the music biz kids table, having a conversation about the “if you turn the hotel shower on all the way hot you can steam your suit and that way you don’t have to iron it” trick. Albums like this should have a “publicized by” credit in the title so we can thank the real auteur.

12. Foo Fighters, 'Sonic Highways'

I love Dave Grohl. Not his music at all, of course. His music is fucking terrible. I just love his whole affable guy with no self-awareness persona, that using this persona he’s somehow apparently shooting for venerable emptyheaded goofball dad, which is a category of person that does not exist, and also I love how only coincidentally related to actual rock and roll his whole life is. He’s like a rock and roll-themed human, the way Olive Garden is an Italian-themed restaurant. Dude thanked his accountant when Nirvana got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, every aspect of which is just delicious. He’s fantastic.

11. Flying Lotus, 'You're Dead!'

There’s a YouTube clip of a Flying Lotus performance in the middle of the day at some summer festival in Wisconsin. The crowd looks like a bunch of bored white people doing their best to pretend not to be bored in order to justify how much money they just spent on drugs. Shit like this dicks up my YouTube viewing algorithms real bad every year.

10. Taylor Swift, '1989'

Trying to write anything about this is like in ninth and tenth grade where the whole school let out after 7th period but I and the other kids in the “gifted” program had an 8th period, so you’d have to just sit there in 8th period math class looking out the window at all the happy frolicking kids whose parents didn’t force them to overachieve.

9. Mac DeMarco, 'Salad Days'

I like how Mac Demarco took the guitar sound from that Ween song that’s just a Mexican food order and made a whole album out of it.

8. Run the Jewels, 'Run the Jewels 2'

The great thing about the whole genre of hip hop is you can just blink your eye and everything currently happening goes away and is replaced by something else. It’s like listening to a View-Master.

7. Lana Del Rey, 'Ultraviolence'

I agree with YouTube commenter Capucine chaussonpassion. This is the perfect album to listen to when you have an entire hour’s worth of beans to eat.

6. Charli XCX, 'SUCKER'

Ever wonder what MC Skat Kat from the Paula Abdul “Opposites Attract” video is up to now? He produced this.

5. Miranda Lambert, 'Platinum'

In retrospect, after imagining the reality of this list, I guess you could also quantum leap into a suburban mother letting loose in the car while driving to a surreptitious weekly indulgence in TCBY Treats that she pretends is a secret just to feel interesting even though she knows nobody cares, or a teenaged daughter currently dismissively texting “so random” to a best friend she doesn’t even actually like as a way to seek soothing validation for feeling threatened by the confusing actions of a person, in this case Damian Wells’ decision to wear combat boots, which might reflect any experiential background that is not her exact own.

4. St. Vincent, 'St. Vincent'

St. Vincent is probably the Kate Bush of all these female singer songwriters in that she’s the one I feel most guilty for not giving a shit about, and I will probably eventually buy her albums and love them. Recorded music is great like that. It doesn’t go away. It waits until you’re ready.

3. The Black Keys, 'Turn Blue'

I think in music as in all things you do not have to get any better or more talented, you can just keep doing the same thing for 15 years and people will eventually say “that guy knows what he’s doing.” Really all you have to do is just keep doing whatever you’re doing and not get bored and start doing something else. It’s like a kind of success that you can have that is just available to anybody, which is kind of great. The Black Keys are the Tiny Tims of blues rock.

2. Bruce Springsteen, ‘High Hopes’

Just this week there’s been like this auxiliary holiday overflow mailman driving a U-Haul van through my neighborhood and throwing packages on doorsteps at like 7:00am, and he’s been absolutely blasting the Christmas music station. I keep hearing the Bruce Springsteen cover of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” and I have decided it’s hilarious. It’s like in the Anchorman how Ron Burgundy has to read the teleprompter, except for Springsteen giving max-effort song renditions. I want to make him do “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (picture a raspy Springsteen max-effort “wimoweh” repeated ad nauseum). FYI, over half the songs on this feature Rage Against The Machine Guitarist Tom Morello, so yeah, probably it’s the second best thing that’s happened this year. Second only to…

1. U2, 'Songs of Innocence'
I hope a lot of people go to a retail outlet and physically buy this album on the strength of this recommendation. A U2 “Songs of Innocence” CD is maybe the single funniest physical music artifact of all time. It’s even funnier the more you pay for it in a retail setting. I would not want to pay any less than $18.99 for it. The price tag is a part of the whole effect. I want to bankrupt myself buying $18.99 copies of the U2 “Songs of Innocence” CD, and I want to spend the rest of my life leaving the price tag on it and giving them to people at holiday gift exchanges. If somebody else gave me this CD with an $18.99 price tag on it I would never, ever get rid of it, and I was one of the people Googling “how to get U2 off my phone” before even checking to see if it was there in the first place.

Well okay. I did that.