Blonde is a consistent, coherent, well-crafted album, but it feels anticlimactic. It’s a retreat.
At a time when we swipe through thousands of images a day and cruise through thousands of paintings in an hour at an art fair, it’s only the rarest of artworks that we return to again and again.
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.
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.
This month, reviews of Flo Rida, Ab-Soul, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Purity Ring, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Blood on the Dance Floor, Frank Ocean, and Lee Brice.
This week, reviews of Dr. Dog, Mohsen Namjoo, Rodrigo y Gabriela & C.U.B.A., Sia Tolno, Lana Del Rey, Clams Casino, Leonard Cohen, Snow Patrol and more.