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.