Saturday, January 30, 2010


Can't believe I've gone almost a whole month without posting links to AMG reviews. Well, here are a bunch of 'em.

Arcana Coelestia, Le Mirage de l'Ideal
Arsis, Starve for the Devil
Circle of Contempt, Artifacts in Motion
Robin Crutchfield, The Hidden Folk
Dismember, Like an Ever Flowing Stream
Enfold Darkness, Our Cursed Rapture
Geist, Galeere
Ihsahn, After
Mutiny Within, Mutiny Within
N.A.M.B., Bman
Martin Rev, Stigmata
Matthew Shipp, Nu Bop Live
Sarke, Vorunah
Strong Arm Steady, In Search of Stoney Jackson
The Third Eye, Awakening....
The Third Eye, Searching
The Third Eye, Brother
Urna, Iter ad Lucem
Various Artists, The Psychedelic Salvage Company, Vol. 1 & 2
Worm Ouroboros, Worm Ouroboros

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I wrote the cover story for the new issue of The Wire; it's about trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. I'm not gonna reproduce the whole thing here, because a) the editors would get mad at me, and b) I want you to go buy the issue. Trust me, it's worth it. I'm really happy with the story, and there's a bunch of other cool stuff in the issue - an Invisible Jukebox with synth/computer music pioneer Eliane Radigue, for example. But here's a teaser:

“You learn a lot about yourself when you play solo music,” says Wadada Leo Smith. “Because focusing on a solo requires the same kind of energy as focusing on an ensemble. It’s just that the ensemble gives you a multiplicity of things to look at, while a solo gives you this intense involvement that amounts to the same thing.”

A trumpeter and composer who started out on the drums, this friendly, soft-spoken professor with shoulder-length dreads and a grey beard has spent more than four decades exploring a unique and hypnotic soundworld that has involved jazz quartets, loud electric groups, string ensembles and groups of laptop improvisors, but some of his most affecting music has been performed alone in a room with an array of horns, percussion devices and other noise makers. And even when surrounded by other players, there’s a spacious quality to his composition and instrumental approach that creates a Zen-like calm in the listener.

Smith was one of the first post-Fire Music avant garde jazz players. Born Leo Smith in Mississippi in 1941, he converted to Rastafarianism in the mid-1980s, taking the name Wadada, which means 'love' in Amharic, the Semitic language of Ethiopia. In recent years, he has converted again, this time to Islam, and added the name Ishmael, but his voicemail message still announces, "This is Wadada." Along with Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins and other members of the Chicago based AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), he helped shift the locus of American free playing from the spiritually overpowering blare of Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, et al, towards something that focused on overtly intellectual explorations of music as language and system. Between 1967 and the early 1970s, he appeared on many crucial discs, including three of Braxton’s earliest albums (3 Compositions Of New Jazz, the self-titled BYG release and This Time), as well as Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre’s Humility In The Light Of The Creator and Marion Brown’s Geechee Recollections.

“I had been referred to [Braxton] by another fellow I met in the army - I guess when they were stationed in Korea or something,” Smith recalls. “I had a phone number, and when I got to Chicago I looked Braxton up and we started immediately making connections. It was a mutual situation, where I understood things he was looking for and he checked out some of the things I was looking for.”

Smith contributed one of his own pieces, “The Bell,” to Braxton’s debut album as a leader, 3 Compositions Of New Jazz. In its first half, the piece primarily features violinist Leroy Jenkins, with occasional piano from Muhal Richard Abrams behind him; at the composition’s midpoint, though, Smith and Braxton enter, turning it into a mixture of 20th century classical and raw sound. Braxton switches frantically between instruments (clarinet, flute, saxophone), seeming to offer no more than one blurt or squawk on each before dropping it. Smith, on the other hand, seems to be attempting to play the trumpet in such a way as to emphasize the silence more than the notes. This strategy would recur again and again in the decades to follow.

It was in the process of writing and recording this piece that Smith began to develop his compositional concept of “rhythm units,” later to be formalized as a graphic notation system known as Ankhrasmation (the word is a hybrid of the ancient Egyptian word for 'life force' (ankh), the Amharic word for 'head' or 'father' (ras), and the universal term for 'mother' (ma)). “I discovered that rhythm could be organized as proportional and not metrical,” he says. “And I found that if I could group a set of figures into an idea of long and short, and then I organized a relationship between each set, between a single set and between each part of a set, that I had stepped on something that would be profoundly useful. I didn’t know at the time they were rhythm units, or that it would have such an impact on my music, I simply knew that I was struggling hard to find a way to verbally contextualize what I was trying to do in these figures. And the rhythm units gave me that idea.

“When I came to Chicago I had already composed a pretty good body of work and already begun to understand music without metrical progression or modulation,” he continues. “And I was never, ever working in a harmonic sphere, where harmonic progression was important. And you look at Braxton, he was doing just the opposite, he was looking at how you make creative music with those connections. I was not so much interested in that part of it. I always looked at how you make music without all those things everybody has inherited.”

Buy the issue.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


A summary of a conversation I had on Twitter today:

@pdfreeman Jazz proselytizers need to stop saying “you need to listen to jazz” and start saying “you need to listen to [specific album].” Rock fans can say “I like Elvis” or “I like Metallica.” Jazzheads shouldn’t feel pressured to rep the whole genre. I love many different kinds of jazz but wouldn’t listen to most jazz vocal albums, or a Miles Davis/Bill Evans disc, on a dare. Albert Ayler for noise kidz. Ella Fitzgerald for folks who like VH1 girl-with-piano stuff. Mahavishnu Orchestra for metalheads.

@garrettshelton i'd add the first album suggested shouldn't be Kind of Blue. It has ZERO to do what's going on today

@pdfreeman Neither do the Beatles, but they still sell.

@garrettshelton not about sales but about the relationship. i hear more influence on rock over the last decade by the beatles, than KoB in jazz.

@epicharmus For some new listeners, though, there's more appeal in saying "I'm listening to jazz" than "I'm listening to [specific album]." Another way of putting it: some newbies come to jazz because of its "cool" rather than a visceral response the music qua music gives. Liking music for its "coolness" may seem stupid (tho I'm not totally down on cool), but it can be a gateway to appreciating other qualities.

@garrettshelton rock fans can say they like modern groups, without referencing legacy acts or dead artists - and not be looked down upon too

@pdfreeman At some point historical ignorance will earn ridicule, but yeah, w/rock you can come in just about anywhere. Folks can, and do, come to jazz cold - I sure did; started w/"KoB" but heard "On the Corner" weeks later & liked it better.

@pdfreeman How much do jazz artists hurt themselves by explicitly referencing history - releasing "[New Guy] Plays [Dead Guy]" CDs all the damn time? No rock artist could expect to be taken seriously releasing a covers album as their debut. "Standards" = Sha Na Na.

@Cave17Matt Never hurt anyone's sales! Most people are scared of "jazz," need a familiar entry point. Like the oldies. Come on - Sha Na Na wasn't trying to put their own spin on anything.

@epicharmus I'm not sure most jazz newcomers know the originals well enough to be tempted!

@Cave17Matt New jazz artists have no percentage in selling to jazz newcomers though. Sadly their audience is well-educated middleagers.

@pdfreeman Young jazz players should hit the road, open for indie-rock bands or play the jam band circuit. Leave jazz clubs to geezers. Jazz festivals give all the big money to veteran headliners anyway - new players'd better off aggressively chasing new fans. Biggest obstacle: jazz-player mindset/temperament - upscale, educated & probably resistant to punk-rock squalor in service of art. "I didn't go to Juilliard so I could sleep in a beer-puddle on the floor of some basement!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Behemoth aren't just your everyday, run-of-the-mill death-metal band
[From the Cleveland Scene]

A lot of death metal is interchangeable — and that's coming from a fan of the genre. But there's no mistaking Behemoth. The Polish trio spent the last dozen years, roughly since 1999's Satanica and 2000's Thelema.6, trying to engulf the world in the sonic equivalent of a firestorm. Drummer Zbigniew Robert Prominski, a.k.a. "Inferno," plays some of the most powerful blast beats in death metal, hammering at the snare like he's firing a chain gun, as the double kick drums knock holes into your skull. Meanwhile, singer-guitarist Adam "Nergal" Darski fires off ferocious guitar riffs that trade the typical death-metal rhythmic grinding for a more anthemic, relentlessly destructive sound — he's going for overwhelming power from first note to last, and often comes closer to Psalm 69-era Ministry than, say, Cannibal Corpse.

But Darksi's vocals really get your attention. He avoids the typical extreme-metal guttural croak/bark, instead ranting and roaring like a blast furnace. It's such a distinctive, almost inhuman sound that the obvious question is what kind of effects pedal does he use to achieve it?

"What you can hear is pretty much my voice," he says. "Sometimes I just double it or triple it. That's how you get the impression that there's a few people screaming."

Darski believes there are a lot of misconceptions about Behemoth. One of the major ones is that the group made a major stylistic shift in 2000, abandoning the black metal of its first three albums in favor of a more death-metal sound. "Our style has been evolving throughout the years; every record is different," he asserts with some accuracy. "I wouldn't really say that after Thelema.6 we changed. If you listen to each one of our nine albums, each one is different. It's constant evolution."

This constant evolution is particularly surprising given that the current lineup — with Inferno on drums and Tomasz "Orion" Wróblewski on bass — has been together since 2003 (Inferno's actually been drumming for Behemoth since 1997).

"Because we've written so much music, it's more and more difficult to come up with something that's gonna be Behemoth style at the same time that it's fresh and challenging," says Darski. "We can't just get in a rehearsal room and throw ideas at each other and the song comes out. It's a much longer and more painful process."

For this reason, he has decided it's important to make each Behemoth album a statement. This means abandoning a longstanding practice of releasing EPs of B-sides, live tracks and cover songs between albums. One of these five- or six-track releases has followed every Behemoth disc since Thelema.6, and the range of covers Behemoth has essayed over the years is surprising, to say the least. They've offered their own roaring take on other extreme metal bands' work (Morbid Angel's "Day of Suffering," Mayhem's "Carnage," Venom's "Welcome to Hell"), but they've also released versions of David Bowie's "Hello Spaceboy," Nine Inch Nails' "Wish" and the Ramones' "I'm Not Jesus." But no more.

"There's gonna be no more small releases; it just makes no sense," says Darksi. "I want people to wait for another album. I want them to anticipate — to be really, really hungry for the next Behemoth opus. I don't want to distract their hunger with a small release. We will release a DVD, but that's a different story. There will be no musical release from Behemoth this year or in 2011."

Two years should be just about long enough to absorb the band's most recent album. Evangelion came out in August and topped many metal critics' year-end lists. It's not as florid or ambitious as 2004's Demigod, which featured synths simulating an orchestra and a male choir, but it contains some of the most powerful songs the band has ever written. "Alas, the Lord Is Upon Me" finds Darski combining the black-metal spirit of the band's early days with the ultra-aggressive blasting of their more recent work, while the doom-haunted "Ov Fire and the Void" is possibly the slowest song in their discography. Meanwhile, the album's epic closing track, "Lucifer," uses a poem by Polish poet Tadeusz Miciski as its lyrics.

That's a surprising gesture on Darski's part. He's tended to ignore his homeland's culture, preferring to write songs employing imagery from various ancient lands, including Babylon (Nergal, his stage name, was a Babylonian deity) and other Middle Eastern countries. But as he makes very clear, it's always metaphorical.

"We're not Nile, we're not Absu, we're not Melechesh," he says, citing other extreme metal bands who make the ancient desert tribes their primary subject matter. "We write about our lives, our perspectives, our point of view. We just wrap it up in this Biblical ancient stuff."

Part of that desire to look outside may be rooted in Behemoth's relative obscurity in Poland — which is ironic since Darski is engaged to Dorota "Doda" Rabczewska, one of Poland's biggest female pop stars.

"She's big, she's a star," he says. "We're just an extreme-metal band who happen to be recognized by a larger audience. But our music is anti-mainstream, basically. You can sell a certain amount of records, and this is it. We've sold 15,000 records in Poland, and I don't really think it's going to be easy to surpass those numbers. We can't do much better than that. But we'll see — maybe I'm wrong."


Well, the 2009 Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll results are out, and they're pretty depressing if you don't like whiteboy indie rock. Good thing I decided to stop giving a fuck.

But just for the record, here's where the ten albums I voted for wound up:

Bebe, Y. - #1384
Graciela Beltran, Reina de la Banda - #1207
Bomba Estereo, Blow Up - #501 (two votes)
Don Omar, iDon - #1387
Girl in a Coma, Trio B.C. - #645 (two votes)
Natalia Lafourcade, Hu Hu Hu - #180 (FOUR votes!)
Paulina Rubio, Gran City Pop - #1093
V/A - Si, Para Usted: The Funky Beats Of Revolutionary Cuba Vol. 2 - #654 (two votes)
Los Tigres del Norte, La Granja - #599 (two votes)
Wisin y Yandel, La Revolución - #616 (two votes)

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Posted without comment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Live From MSG's Arena Rock Rodeo

When you picture a bull-riding competition, does it have a Coldplay soundtrack? How about Rihanna? Britney Spears? Prince? Donna Summer? Lady Gaga? I didn't think so either; I was expecting George Strait, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry, maybe Big & Rich. But instead, pure mainstream pop blared from Madison Square Garden's soundsystem Friday night, as the Professional Bull Riders association started a three-night weekend stand—their fourth straight year at the decidedly citified venue.

If you've never been to a PBR show (a thriving sport that's grown steadily for a decade—more than 30 regional tournaments are scheduled for 2010, leading up to October's World Finals in Las Vegas), you're missing an experience that'll overwhelm even the most ardent urbanite. It's no laid-back stock show or county-fair rodeo—it's an explosive, nonstop barrage of light, sound, and pure energy. I first attended a PBR event in 2008, and was immediately struck by the rock-concert atmosphere: that constant-flow-of-awesomeness effect Gregg "Girl Talk" Gillis is always striving for? These guys have mastered it, basically by offering something no mere DJ or rock band—never mind a relatively staid country act—can match.

Namely, the chance to maybe see someone get stomped to death by a gigantic, raging animal. The bulls are the size of small cars, only louder and faster. And the men who ride them—well, they're bigger than jockeys, but not by much. Most bull riders are in the five-foot-seven/five-foot-eight range, white guys from red states (and Australia), along with a surprising number of Brazilians. Most wear hockey-style helmets with face grills, but some climb aboard with nothing but a cowboy hat to shield their skulls from the hard ground or a well-placed hoof or horn.

The night kicks off with a video of the riders strutting around Manhattan—picking up local ladies, straddling the bronze bull on Wall Street—set to Ace Frehley's "New York Groove." Then they're introduced in person, walking onto the Garden's dirt-covered floor one by one and waving to the crowd as concussive techno blares and pyro explodes, including the initials "PBR," which burn in the dirt and must be stamped out before the rides can begin.

The music played during PBR competitions falls into a few basic categories. There are the hard rock and metal songs—riffs, really—that go by too quickly to be identified, since they're only played during the actual eight-seconds-or-less bull rides. As for the full songs played in between, many are generic Jock Jams: Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," AC/DC's "Back in Black" and "Thunderstruck," ZZ Top's "Got Me Under Pressure," Loverboy's "Workin' for the Weekend," etc.

These are joined by the notably less generic Songs That Could Theoretically Be Metaphors for Bull Riding: David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock," Stray Cats' "Rock This Town," The Cars' "Shake It Up," Queen's "We Will Rock You," Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills." (There's some Generic Jock Jams overlap here, admittedly.) But then we get to Songs That Are Frankly Just Baffling: Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," Prince's "U Got The Look," King Floyd's "Groove Me," Diana Ross's "Upside Down," Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)," Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know," Britney Spears' "3."

What's remarkable about that playlist is the total absence of country. Stars like Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Toby Keith, and Kenny Chesney have borrowed arena-rock melodies and showmanship, but even bull-riding crowds—a sizable chunk of whom, both in New York and elsewhere, are doubtless fans of the genre—seem to prefer actual arena-rock when the bulls are bucking and the floor is shaking.

Mark Stephenson, the DJ who throws all these seemingly incompatible musical cues at the riders, the bulls, and the sold-out crowd, is a genial, bearded guy in a black cowboy hat and a matching, logo-covered vest who started out DJing local events in Oregon before hooking up with the national tour. He works from two laptops, each containing 30,000 to 40,000 songs, and provides a constant soundtrack to the riders' runs and the interludes in which scores are announced while the next bulls and riders are prepared. "I won't get a break for two hours," he says with a laugh when I ask if he'll have a minute to talk during the show. But he manages, during a two-song, Dixie Chicks–esque live-band intermission. No, all the riders don't have theme songs, but a few do. If they start to lose, they'll switch songs, out of superstition. No, he doesn't think the music affects the bulls: "I would think the crowd noise would be louder, and they probably get more riled up over that."

Keeping everyone riled up between bulls is Flint Rasmussen's job. There are two clowns who really act more like bull herders—they wear bright shirts but no makeup, and hang out by the chutes like goaltenders, distracting the animals when the riders leap off or are thrown. Rasmussen, though, is the main clown, and he really works the crowd. He wears makeup and a bright black-white-and-green jersey advertising Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and he dances to the music constantly, headbanging or spanking himself or doing mock-Broadway choreography in the dirt. He also does backflips and occasionally clambers into the audience to interact with fans. On Friday night, he danced "seductively" with a massive male attendee as Flo-Rida's "Low" shook the arena.

So, yeah, there's much more to a PBR event than young men confronting massive, pissed-off animals. It's family entertainment in the best sense of the term: Looking around the stands, I saw hundreds of kids, their eyes bugging out at the sight of the wildly bucking bulls, especially post-ride, when the animals would frequently charge the length of the arena, pursued by a lasso-swinging cowboy on a white horse. Rasmussen got a fair amount of comic mileage from one bull's run, which thrilled a bunch of kids at ringside but seemed to spook the burly, full-grown security guard standing right next to them. (Soundtrack: Gloria Gaynor, "I Will Survive.") Oh, and did I mention there was a mid-show event with youngsters no older than eight clinging to the backs of galloping sheep while Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" blared in the background? Yeah, that happened.

Afterward, I met Shane Proctor, the night's winning rider with a score of 91.25 (don't ask me; the bull-riding scoring system is gymnastic-grade inscrutable). He claims to have no particular riding theme—just "any pump-up music there is, like Eminem. A lot of his stuff, just 'cause the beat's uptempo." He says he doesn't think the bulls notice the music, "but I sure know it affects me, and, if I'm excited, it gets them excited."

[From the Village Voice.]

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I'm not a big fan of organ jazz. Never have been. I tried really hard to like Larry Young some years ago, because I was informed by well-regarded critics that I should, but very little of his output did a thing for me. The Princeton University library had his Mosaic Records boxed set, so I had someone who worked there get it for me and I dutifully explored its contents (six albums under his leadership and three credited to guitarist Grant Green), ultimately being bored by almost everything except a few isolated tracks from Of Love and Peace and Mother Ship, the latter of which wasn't even released in Young's lifetime, I don't think. I also picked up Lawrence of Newark when that was reissued, and though some of its spacey Afro-psych-drone stuff is interesting, I still prefer Pharoah Sanders's and Alice Coltrane's contemporaneous work.

I've heard even less by Jimmy Smith - only two of his Blue Note albums, House Party and The Sermon!, and nothing else. I have a Mosaic Select three-CD set by Big John Patton, and that's got a few enjoyable cuts, especially ones from the latter half of the Sixties when he got a little trippy/adventurous, but overall I just have the same aversion to the Hammond B-3 that I do to straightahead jazz guitar. It's too limited, and most of those limits are self-imposed.

All this is to say that I've heard two organ albums in the last month or so that have surprised the hell out of me.

The first is the latest release from Norwegian avant-improv ensemble Supersilent, simply titled 9. I wrote about it here, and like I said in that review, it's not jazzy or even particularly musical; it's an hour or so of dark, throbbing, sputtering, humming ambient music, best understood as a kind of tribute to early, classic Tangerine Dream. It's really too bad that a) Supersilent never give their albums titles, and b) Coil already took Music to Play in the Dark, because that's what 9 is, really - the best late-night listening since Disc Two of Miles Davis's Pangaea, Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack or Godflesh's "Pure II," none of which sound anything like it. 9 is one of the most unique pieces of music I heard last year - my favorite Supersilent release, in fact.

The other organ-centered album I've been digging is Decoy's Vol. 1: Spirit, a free improv session featuring Alexander Hawkins at the keys, John Edwards on bass and Steve Noble on drums. I'd previously heard that rhythm section on NEW's Newtoons, where they were backing extremely electric guitarist Alex Ward in a live racket that reminded me of Raoul Björkenheim sometimes and Dick Dale other times. I'd also heard Noble in duet/single-combat with Derek Bailey on an awesome disc called Out of the Past, recorded in 1999 but only released last year. Both Newtoons and Out of the Past made my Top Ten list for the Village Voice's jazz critics' poll, and I'm wondering now if I'd heard Spirit earlier, if it might not have joined them up there. Hawkins is a thoroughly assaultive player, definitely rooted in free jazz but exploring a powerful riffing style closer to Iron Butterfly or Deep Purple's Jon Lord than Smith, Young or Patton, and the Edwards/Noble team is as crushing as ever, seemingly trying to dismantle their instruments as much as play them. The disc has six tracks ranging from just under three minutes to just over fourteen, and every one is unremittingly intense and thoroughly awesome. (There's already a second release, Vol. 2: The Deep, with five more tracks, but that one's vinyl-only, and limited to 300 copies. Luckily, Forced Exposure's PR guy sent me a CD-R, and I'm very much looking forward to checking it out.)

And speaking of Deep Purple...

Friday, January 01, 2010


Things The Ramones wanted to do: Be your boyfriend, sniff some glue, dance, be a good boy, Carbona, be well, have something to do, have some fun, have some kicks, get some chicks, be sedated, live.

Things The Ramones did NOT want to do: Walk around with you, be learned, be tamed, go down to the basement, be a pinhead no more, be taught to be no fool, live this life anymore, be buried in a pet semetary, fight tonight (on Christmas), grow up.

Things The Ramones could not, would not, or did not do: Be, care, give you anything, make it on time, care about history, know why she wrote that letter, go surfing 'cause its twenty below, let it happen, seem to make you theirs, control themselves.

Things The Ramones did do: Make a living by pickin' a banana, serve as green berets in Vietnam, go out west where they belonged, swallow their pride, know your name, know your game, remember you, want you around, go mental, be affected, live on Chinese rock, hate the teachers and the principal, watch Get Smart on TV, want the airwaves, want everything, sit in their room (humming a sickening tune), think of you (everytime they ate vegetables), believe in miracles, love you.

Things The Ramones told you to do: Shut it up, Beat on a brat with a baseball bat, ring up the FBI to find out if their baby's alive, eat that rat, give them shock treatment.

Things The Ramones warned you about doing: Shutting it up, killing that girl, talking to commies, opening that door.

Things The Ramones did not like and were against: politics, communists, games, fun, anyone, Jesus freaks, circus geeks, summer, spring, sex, drugs, waterbugs, playing ping pong, the Viet Cong, Burger King, anything. Also crummy stuff.

Things you didn't do for The Ramones: come close. mean anything to them.

Things The Ramones would do next time: listen to their hearts.

[Totally jacked from this guy.]


This Is My Voice And This Is My Heart
Black Shirt
"If you're not a teenager, you are tonight," says James Snyder of the Pennsylvania pop-punk-turned-alt-rock band Weston on This Is My Voice And This Is My Heart, recorded live at Hoboken, New Jersey's landmark underground rock space Maxwell's. That sentiment sums up the live album quite well, as it's the sound of four dudes recapturing their own youth in front of an equally nostalgic audience. The vast majority of the set comes from the band's first two records, A Real-Life Story Of Teenage Rebellion and Got Beat Up, almost totally ignoring later efforts and their stylistic shift from speedy, melodic punk to Weezer-meets-Pixies soft-loud rock. It's sloppy, good-humored fun, with friendly between-song banter and plenty of audience interaction. And judging by the fervent crowd response, Weston gave the thirtysomethings present exactly what they wanted--songs about teenage romance sung by a hoarse-voiced dude who kinda sounds like the Lazy Cowgirls' Pat Todd. "I feel reborn!" shouts another band member after they've just finished blasting through the only brand-new song on the disc, "Pucker Up Baby." No one who's ever gone to All Tomorrow's Parties to hear some re-animated band stagger through a decades-old album has any room to point fingers or ridicule that sentiment.


I think 2009 was the year I finally stopped caring about critical consensus. It was definitely the year I felt most distant from my “peers.” I clicked on Pitchfork dutifully every morning M-F, and at least four days a week was confronted with reviews of albums that meant less than nothing to me musically or sociologically. The same thing happened when I stumbled across a Slate piece or some random daily paper article trying to make me think and care about Beyonce or Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga (whose videos are frequently pretty awesome, but whose music has yet to be even half as good as the visuals that surround it). I was as disconnected from what the loudest critical voices were discussing with each other as I have ever been.

There was a time when I would have seen this as my fault, when I would have been upset with myself for not keeping up, when I would have felt like it was my responsibility as a critic to know what Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors (not to mention all the mainstream pop and country and hip-hop acts) sounded like. But this year, that didn’t happen. I finally internalized cultural atomization and the existential futility of generalist/broad-stroke music criticism.

When you try to go large-scale, you end up lost in a fog of platitudes and generalizations that offer no insight and may in fact impede real understanding of individual works of art. Art doesn’t fit into sweeping narratives. Each album or song must be taken on its own merits, instead of trying to contextualize it within a genre or, worse yet, hammer it into some imagined soundtrack to an equally ill-considered version of history.

The rewards of being a music critic are so low at this point – you don’t even get the free CDs anymore half the time – that trying to be an omniscient cultural arbiter only makes the striver look foolish and hubristic. Critics can’t make bands, and they can’t break them. It’s all just diary-keeping now. (If we're being honest, it always was.) Solipsism is the future – the ever-increasing use of the first person singular in reviews and even features is proof of this, and that’s a major psychological breakthrough every critic needs to make, soon. I’m comfortable with my tastes (metal, jazz and Latin music), but more importantly I’m at peace with my own insignificance. I know I’m having no measurable impact on the shape of pop culture. Technical death metal is never gonna top the charts, jazz is gonna keep selling jazz numbers, and Paulina Rubio is never gonna be as big as Shakira. And I don’t care. I’m just out here enjoying the music, and occasionally sharing my thoughts with whoever happens along. I hope my fellow critics will embrace their own insignificance in 2010. It’ll probably make their writing better.