BEST OF THE BEST OF 2012: NPR’S TOP 50

It’s that time of year again: anus itch season. Talkadoodles and decidamathons. Music music guess what’s what. A time when publications that talk about music release their you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours list of artists whose record labels bought ad space or sent free download codes. Or, less cynically: music from the year, presented in a more digestible form than most of the time, cranked out and hastily invoiced by beleaguered critics everywhere, hopefully in time to get the poor bastards on the bottom rungs of the biz a little extra holiday cash, and editors and mid-tier scramblers can wait out the clock until the new year by dicking around on Twitter and calling it business. Yes, that’s the least cynical version I can think of for what happens every December with the lists. It’s a mad dash to be the first to limp to the finish.
The good news for regular citizens is you can finally just read one thing and get some straight answers out of people. Or at least less crooked answers. Most of the time music reviews are complete bullshit, like that timesomebody at Vice didn’t like the new Metz album because apparently in that particular 20 minute chunk of their lives they had a migraine and the drums kicked too much ass for them to handle without pukeyfacing. Music reviews are bullshit because the person writing them is getting paid somewhere between zero and some piddling useless amount of dollars, and therefore there’s no stakes, and therefore say whatever you think is best to keep the piddling useless dollars coming in, and do it quick with the first thought that pops into your head because your opinion will never matter as much as word of mouth plus time anyway, and it’s not like the free download is a huge favor because the internet exists. BUT: end of the year lists pare down all that regular bullshit and focus on the bullshit that these people apparently actually believe.
I am a fan of year-end lists because they serve as a roadmap to what kind of people believe what outlandish bullshit things. I like to take these lists, most of which consist of stuff I never heard of because I’ve managed to limit my informational intake to hyper-specific, reliable filters which generally do not waste my time telling me about stuff I have a low chance of actually liking, and attack them with my own kneejerk bullshit. Why? Because that’s even lazier and more cynical than writing a list of my own, and it results in more piddling useless dollars for me. You’re welcome.
Take for example the alphabetically arranged non-hierarchical list supplied by the poor deluded fucks at NPR. Alright gang, let’s riff. Let’s have an NPRty.
Ab-Soul, Control System
I’m sure NPR likes this because this guy is saying some moderately thoughtful stuff and the beats are less predictable than usual, but who actually wants to listen to a song called “Double Standards”? Why stop there? Why not a club banger called “Airport Security”?
Alabama Shakes, Boys And Girls
Making music your parents would like isn’t just for the Fleet Foxes anymore.
Alisa Weilerstein, Cello Concertos (Elgar & Carter)
Look out Yo-Yo Ma, there’s a new cellist in zzzzzzz
Alt-J, An Awesome Wave
Here’s the first of probably many entries on this list which seems like its primary reason for existing is to be transition music on NPR. Like there’s some report on a Peruvian ballet troupe struggling to make art with their limited resources, and then this pops on for fifteen seconds to help convince you that what you just heard was in fact very interesting and not a desperate attempt at interestingness which combines several things you don’t care about. It is relatively high energy, but stark and dramatic at the same time, and it’s constantly throwing “interesting” sounds at you, like bassoons and toy pianos, and layering everything a million times for no reason. And now here’s Terry Gross with “Fresh Air.”
Andy Stott, Luxury Problems
This is the kind of electronic music you’d hear in a modern art museum and it’s actually more boring than silence.
Astro, Astro
A nice lil’ multi-culti entry for NPR, this one apparently a Chilean version of MGMT. There is actually some very cool shit going on in Chile right now. This is the Wavves to that cool shit’s Thee Oh Sees.
Berlin Philharmonic, St. Matthew Passion
You know who I love? Classical radio DJs. They’re the best. Just in general, when people are only into classical music: the best. I mean, terrible, yeah, but taking the stance that nothing good has happened for over a hundred years is incredible. I can just picture them wincing at the overbearing city noise and fully bear hugging not just their ears but the entire sides of their heads in agony as a wailing ambulance drives by them on the street. Classical-only people are so prim and snooty and delicate they’re like some vestigial form of cultural renegade. I imagine if you pushed one over they would just lie there totally fucked like an upside-down turtle. You’ve got to love it when human society subverts nature and allows people like that to exist.
Meek Mill, Dreamchasers 2
I feel like hip hop at this point is as horrible and predictable and soul-crushing and ceaseless and artless and stagnant as the poverty and violence on the streets it comes from. This guy tells the narrative of how he grew up in a terrible place, sold drugs, and then became successful while so many others didn’t, and his embrace of every trapping of his prosperous lifestyle is fueled by guilt and regret. You may be familiar. Also: you can dance and fuck to it and play it real loud in a car with a lot of bass. Not that NPR listeners are doing those things. Instead they’re nodding their heads to the narrative and saying “oh, isn’t it awful” and “good for him.”
Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man In The Universe
Damon Albarn picked Womack up off the scrap heap and produced this album. It’s kind of like an extremely crappy version of the Rolling Stones reviving Muddy Waters’ career, or a more commercial and electric version of Jon Spencer and R.L. Burnside. I wonder if Bobby knows or cares what the hell is going on here.
Bomba Estereo, Elegancia Tropical
You can guess what this sounds like: an impulse buy CD at a fair trade coffeehouse.
Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps
If you type “Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps” into Google, the first results are Amazon, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, and NPR First Listen. They’re a string quartet, FYI. An extremely well organized one. With a name that sounds like they should be a 2000’s synthpop version of Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Cafe Tacvba, El Objeto Antes Llmado Disco
If a band from Mexico sounds like 70’s Italian prog (think Gentle Giant plus opera) meets Animal Collective (i.e. post-digital American prog), are you allowed to not like it? Not if you’re NPR.
Carla Morrison, Dejenme Llorar
The score so far. Hip hop: 2, soul revival: 2, classical: 3, Spanish language pop: 4, bland Indie pop: 1, minimalist techno: 1, boring: yesalways.
Cat Power, Sun
Cat Power is the musical equivalent of Say Yes To The Dress (the least intolerable reality show my girlfriend watches).
Continue

BEST OF THE BEST OF 2012: NPR’S TOP 50

It’s that time of year again: anus itch season. Talkadoodles and decidamathons. Music music guess what’s what. A time when publications that talk about music release their you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours list of artists whose record labels bought ad space or sent free download codes. Or, less cynically: music from the year, presented in a more digestible form than most of the time, cranked out and hastily invoiced by beleaguered critics everywhere, hopefully in time to get the poor bastards on the bottom rungs of the biz a little extra holiday cash, and editors and mid-tier scramblers can wait out the clock until the new year by dicking around on Twitter and calling it business. Yes, that’s the least cynical version I can think of for what happens every December with the lists. It’s a mad dash to be the first to limp to the finish.

The good news for regular citizens is you can finally just read one thing and get some straight answers out of people. Or at least less crooked answers. Most of the time music reviews are complete bullshit, like that timesomebody at Vice didn’t like the new Metz album because apparently in that particular 20 minute chunk of their lives they had a migraine and the drums kicked too much ass for them to handle without pukeyfacing. Music reviews are bullshit because the person writing them is getting paid somewhere between zero and some piddling useless amount of dollars, and therefore there’s no stakes, and therefore say whatever you think is best to keep the piddling useless dollars coming in, and do it quick with the first thought that pops into your head because your opinion will never matter as much as word of mouth plus time anyway, and it’s not like the free download is a huge favor because the internet exists. BUT: end of the year lists pare down all that regular bullshit and focus on the bullshit that these people apparently actually believe.

I am a fan of year-end lists because they serve as a roadmap to what kind of people believe what outlandish bullshit things. I like to take these lists, most of which consist of stuff I never heard of because I’ve managed to limit my informational intake to hyper-specific, reliable filters which generally do not waste my time telling me about stuff I have a low chance of actually liking, and attack them with my own kneejerk bullshit. Why? Because that’s even lazier and more cynical than writing a list of my own, and it results in more piddling useless dollars for me. You’re welcome.

Take for example the alphabetically arranged non-hierarchical list supplied by the poor deluded fucks at NPR. Alright gang, let’s riff. Let’s have an NPRty.

Ab-Soul, Control System

I’m sure NPR likes this because this guy is saying some moderately thoughtful stuff and the beats are less predictable than usual, but who actually wants to listen to a song called “Double Standards”? Why stop there? Why not a club banger called “Airport Security”?

Alabama Shakes, Boys And Girls

Making music your parents would like isn’t just for the Fleet Foxes anymore.

Alisa Weilerstein, Cello Concertos (Elgar & Carter)

Look out Yo-Yo Ma, there’s a new cellist in zzzzzzz

Alt-J, An Awesome Wave

Here’s the first of probably many entries on this list which seems like its primary reason for existing is to be transition music on NPR. Like there’s some report on a Peruvian ballet troupe struggling to make art with their limited resources, and then this pops on for fifteen seconds to help convince you that what you just heard was in fact very interesting and not a desperate attempt at interestingness which combines several things you don’t care about. It is relatively high energy, but stark and dramatic at the same time, and it’s constantly throwing “interesting” sounds at you, like bassoons and toy pianos, and layering everything a million times for no reason. And now here’s Terry Gross with “Fresh Air.”

Andy Stott, Luxury Problems

This is the kind of electronic music you’d hear in a modern art museum and it’s actually more boring than silence.

Astro, Astro

A nice lil’ multi-culti entry for NPR, this one apparently a Chilean version of MGMT. There is actually some very cool shit going on in Chile right now. This is the Wavves to that cool shit’s Thee Oh Sees.

Berlin Philharmonic, St. Matthew Passion

You know who I love? Classical radio DJs. They’re the best. Just in general, when people are only into classical music: the best. I mean, terrible, yeah, but taking the stance that nothing good has happened for over a hundred years is incredible. I can just picture them wincing at the overbearing city noise and fully bear hugging not just their ears but the entire sides of their heads in agony as a wailing ambulance drives by them on the street. Classical-only people are so prim and snooty and delicate they’re like some vestigial form of cultural renegade. I imagine if you pushed one over they would just lie there totally fucked like an upside-down turtle. You’ve got to love it when human society subverts nature and allows people like that to exist.

Meek Mill, Dreamchasers 2

I feel like hip hop at this point is as horrible and predictable and soul-crushing and ceaseless and artless and stagnant as the poverty and violence on the streets it comes from. This guy tells the narrative of how he grew up in a terrible place, sold drugs, and then became successful while so many others didn’t, and his embrace of every trapping of his prosperous lifestyle is fueled by guilt and regret. You may be familiar. Also: you can dance and fuck to it and play it real loud in a car with a lot of bass. Not that NPR listeners are doing those things. Instead they’re nodding their heads to the narrative and saying “oh, isn’t it awful” and “good for him.”

Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man In The Universe

Damon Albarn picked Womack up off the scrap heap and produced this album. It’s kind of like an extremely crappy version of the Rolling Stones reviving Muddy Waters’ career, or a more commercial and electric version of Jon Spencer and R.L. Burnside. I wonder if Bobby knows or cares what the hell is going on here.

Bomba Estereo, Elegancia Tropical

You can guess what this sounds like: an impulse buy CD at a fair trade coffeehouse.

Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps

If you type “Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps” into Google, the first results are Amazon, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, and NPR First Listen. They’re a string quartet, FYI. An extremely well organized one. With a name that sounds like they should be a 2000’s synthpop version of Bachman Turner Overdrive.

Cafe Tacvba, El Objeto Antes Llmado Disco

If a band from Mexico sounds like 70’s Italian prog (think Gentle Giant plus opera) meets Animal Collective (i.e. post-digital American prog), are you allowed to not like it? Not if you’re NPR.

Carla Morrison, Dejenme Llorar

The score so far. Hip hop: 2, soul revival: 2, classical: 3, Spanish language pop: 4, bland Indie pop: 1, minimalist techno: 1, boring: yesalways.

Cat Power, Sun

Cat Power is the musical equivalent of Say Yes To The Dress (the least intolerable reality show my girlfriend watches).

Continue


A day in the life of an NPR Music intern
Every now and again, the sector of the music internet I follow on Twitter gets real, real snippy about who’s allowed and who’s not allowed to write about music. At the risk of getting all reductive, this is like the third dumbest thing in music ever, behind the Microsoft Zune and that one time The Killers made a song with Lou Reed, but in front of Kanye West’s DJ career. Recently, this debate has reared its ugly head because of the glorious people at NPR, who realized that if they made their “impossibly young” interns write about music they knew nothing about, they could rack up the page views. This is called “trolling,” and people on the internet are very good at it.
Is it problematic and irresponsible on the part of NPR? Yes. These kids want to have careers writing about music, and by making them admit they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re potentially torpedoing those budding music writing careers. Consider the poor NPR intern who admitted she’d practically never paid for music in her life, which is a totally valid thing—you think she’s the only one who figured out how Kazaa worked when she was 14? Noisey’s own Sasha Hecht instituted an “ad hoc internet takedown” of the NPR intern, saying, “Claiming that you’re entitled to get whatever you want because you’ve always gotten whatever you want is a childish argument, and it doesn’t cut it.” While that’s definitely true, it was totally irresponsible to let someone who had no idea what they’re talking about take the keys to the big truck, so to speak. Essentially, what NPR did constituted as throwing the intern to the lions (and Sasha). 
Another hullaballoo erupted when they let some other fucking kid write about how he didn’t really know about Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. He thought it was “disorienting.” Chuck D’s flow was too straight-ahead. Not enough like Drake. As a youngish person, albeit one who really enjoys It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, I totally sort of understand where he’s coming from. One of the great things about Public Enemy’s early work is how politically and ideologically charged it was. It was packaged as “hip-hop,” but it still managed to read “punk”—think of Terminator X’s scratches, which fit into the songs much in the same way that guitar solos did. Or consider how The Bomb Squad billed their beats as “anti-musical” and made a point of stacking samples on top of each other to the point of abrasion. It takes context to enjoy Public Enemy. When the NPR intern said he enjoyed stuff like Drake and Rick Ross, he was basically saying he liked pop music. That’s fine. Pop music is designed to hook you in immediately, that’s why it’s pop music. It Take A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is not. Chuck D and Flava Flav couldn’t give a shit about John Wayne, and some intern at NPR couldn’t give a shit about Chuck D and Flava Flav. In twenty years, some Robot Intern for NPR is probably going to write an editorial about how Take Care was the corniest album ever. This is just the way music works. Cycles, Jerry. Cycles!

Getting old sucks, and for a music writer, the worst thing in the universe is having a fucking child remind you that you’re getting old admitting they don’t understand some album you hold dear. There’s a difference between being a “music writer,” which denotes a certain mastery of the concept of musical context, and being “someone who is writing about music,” which means that a flesh-and-blood human being is typing their thoughts and feelings about how they process music into a computer, and then publishing it. Some people are going to like certain albums. Others are not, and they certainly cannot be punished for saying they dislike them, even on a pretty high platform such as NPR.
There is no such thing as a “correct” opinion. We learned this because of the standardized tests we all had to take in elementary school. When music writers get mad at people writing about music even though they’re blindly ignorant of context, that’s unfair. In A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain joked that the best swordsman in the world could swordfight the shit out of the second-best swordsman in the world, but they’d be royally fucked if they had to go up against someone who had no idea what they were doing. His point was this: people who have no idea what they’re talking about are capable of insight, even if everyone thinks they’re wrong. If you go into a record completely blind, it’s just you and your experiences versus the record. I’d love to play a Merzbow record for a five-year-old and transcribe their reaction to it; it’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than the thoughts of some 34-year-old barricaded somewhere in upper Greenpoint. So you go, NPR interns! Go ahead and be wrong. You’ll figure it out eventually, or maybe you’ll just end up getting a job in PR. Either way everything is going to be okay, I promise.

@drewmillard

A day in the life of an NPR Music intern

Every now and again, the sector of the music internet I follow on Twitter gets real, real snippy about who’s allowed and who’s not allowed to write about music. At the risk of getting all reductive, this is like the third dumbest thing in music ever, behind the Microsoft Zune and that one time The Killers made a song with Lou Reed, but in front of Kanye West’s DJ career. Recently, this debate has reared its ugly head because of the glorious people at NPR, who realized that if they made their “impossibly young” interns write about music they knew nothing about, they could rack up the page views. This is called “trolling,” and people on the internet are very good at it.

Is it problematic and irresponsible on the part of NPR? Yes. These kids want to have careers writing about music, and by making them admit they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re potentially torpedoing those budding music writing careers. Consider the poor NPR intern who admitted she’d practically never paid for music in her life, which is a totally valid thing—you think she’s the only one who figured out how Kazaa worked when she was 14? Noisey’s own Sasha Hecht instituted an “ad hoc internet takedown” of the NPR intern, saying, “Claiming that you’re entitled to get whatever you want because you’ve always gotten whatever you want is a childish argument, and it doesn’t cut it.” While that’s definitely true, it was totally irresponsible to let someone who had no idea what they’re talking about take the keys to the big truck, so to speak. Essentially, what NPR did constituted as throwing the intern to the lions (and Sasha). 

Another hullaballoo erupted when they let some other fucking kid write about how he didn’t really know about Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. He thought it was “disorienting.” Chuck D’s flow was too straight-ahead. Not enough like Drake. As a youngish person, albeit one who really enjoys It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, I totally sort of understand where he’s coming from. One of the great things about Public Enemy’s early work is how politically and ideologically charged it was. It was packaged as “hip-hop,” but it still managed to read “punk”—think of Terminator X’s scratches, which fit into the songs much in the same way that guitar solos did. Or consider how The Bomb Squad billed their beats as “anti-musical” and made a point of stacking samples on top of each other to the point of abrasion. It takes context to enjoy Public Enemy. When the NPR intern said he enjoyed stuff like Drake and Rick Ross, he was basically saying he liked pop music. That’s fine. Pop music is designed to hook you in immediately, that’s why it’s pop music. It Take A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is not. Chuck D and Flava Flav couldn’t give a shit about John Wayne, and some intern at NPR couldn’t give a shit about Chuck D and Flava Flav. In twenty years, some Robot Intern for NPR is probably going to write an editorial about how Take Care was the corniest album ever. This is just the way music works. Cycles, Jerry. Cycles!

Getting old sucks, and for a music writer, the worst thing in the universe is having a fucking child remind you that you’re getting old admitting they don’t understand some album you hold dear. There’s a difference between being a “music writer,” which denotes a certain mastery of the concept of musical context, and being “someone who is writing about music,” which means that a flesh-and-blood human being is typing their thoughts and feelings about how they process music into a computer, and then publishing it. Some people are going to like certain albums. Others are not, and they certainly cannot be punished for saying they dislike them, even on a pretty high platform such as NPR.

There is no such thing as a “correct” opinion. We learned this because of the standardized tests we all had to take in elementary school. When music writers get mad at people writing about music even though they’re blindly ignorant of context, that’s unfair. In A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain joked that the best swordsman in the world could swordfight the shit out of the second-best swordsman in the world, but they’d be royally fucked if they had to go up against someone who had no idea what they were doing. His point was this: people who have no idea what they’re talking about are capable of insight, even if everyone thinks they’re wrong. If you go into a record completely blind, it’s just you and your experiences versus the record. I’d love to play a Merzbow record for a five-year-old and transcribe their reaction to it; it’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than the thoughts of some 34-year-old barricaded somewhere in upper Greenpoint. So you go, NPR interns! Go ahead and be wrong. You’ll figure it out eventually, or maybe you’ll just end up getting a job in PR. Either way everything is going to be okay, I promise.

@drewmillard