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Posted inMusic

Bubble Bath: Deconstructing Pazz & Jop

Every year, the Village Voice holds an annual poll, inviting nearly every critic in the biz to vote on the best albums and singles of the given year. Because of its size, it’s generally the best way to measure yearly progress in pop music: the numbers actually mean something. The thing is huge; 493 critics voted in 2012. Although there’s less change than I would have liked, there’s been definite progress since last year. The 2011 Pazz & Jop albums chart contained only one major album, a collaboration between two artists who have both done better work elsewhere. The singles chart alternated between arty album tracks and crass pop-rap rampages beloved by opportunists always on the lookout for new ways to one-up their colleagues. What made it onto Pazz & Jop last year was not what people really loved, but what they didn’t hate, the result of a standoff between the ideologically opposed magazines Rolling Stone and Pitchfork – the winners were the albums mediocre enough to survive. Rather than a consensus, I thought, we had a lack of consensus.

Posted inMusic

From Park Avenue to the Moon

One person’s final frontier is another’s impersonal void, or at least those are the two experiences of space you’re likely to have at Oktophonie at the Park Avenue Armory. On the first of its performance run that started this week, the crowd, some grudgingly, took off their shoes and put on white “cloaks” (really more like ponchos) and filed into the circles of chairs on the floor of a raised white stage. What followed was over an hour of what is described as a “ritualized lunar experience,” scored by cold modernist music and shifts of light.

Posted inMusic

Fagen’s Critical Catalogue (March 2013, Part 1)

Since January I’ve been squeezing an extra review into each catalogue, and, nearing the end of February, it finally cost me a deadline. I’m pretty satisfied with the way things turned out, though. As of this post since March last year, I’ve reviewed 100 2012 albums, not bad. High points here are a Canadian teenpop singer and an angry, stealthy metal band. The low point is what I believe to be the worst album of the year – beat Deadmau5 by a hair. If you think the Dirty Projectors sound contrived, wait till you hear this 70-year-old cult artifact.

Posted inMusic

Thinking About Frank Ocean

CHICAGO — In the summer of 2011, back before his blown-up image started selling thousands of records, I discovered Frank Ocean while looking through a batch of new releases, through a then-mysterious single called “Novacane.” First I was drawn in by the lyrics, with their Kubrick references, subtle wordplay, and evocations of a young man so passive-aggressively alienated that cocaine, Viagra, porn stars, sex, and even music can all go parading past him like a perfect L.A. daydream and he feels absolutely nothing. Then I realized I was addicted to the rich, polished keyboards and the expressive melody they provide. The song is a formal triumph. What sounds like warm commitment is in fact Ocean relishing his emotional isolation, digging his heels in further and further and liking it. This is a dangerous message, especially when kids are already using your records to escape the world in the first place. Sucker for dangerous messages that I am, I fell immediately in love.

Posted inMusic

Fagen’s Critical Catalogue: Run-DMC Special

CHICAGO — Inspired by Michael Tatum’s Downloader’s Diary, where Tatum has so far published two full-artist reviews, I tried my hand at this form, and this is where it got me. It’s a great excuse to extensively play records I otherwise wouldn’t have enough time for, not to mention a way to understand a type of chronological progression that most people listening to music retrospectively often miss. Why I picked this one specifically I’m not quite sure, but it was worth it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Run-DMC, the hardest-rocking band in hip-hop.