A blog

Friday, February 06, 2009

Pitchfork 100 Best Tracks of 2008, Pazz & Jop '08 and now this: My top 10 picks in pop from the last year

This year-end list is late -- many weeks late. Music fans practically had to be experts in copyright law to successfully blog your YouTube faves this last year. Behemoth record companies made it the year to make poor choices. Warner, for instance, disassociated from YouTube all music ever recorded its the label. And then Universal tried to squash its customers -- fans like me.

What kind of fan am I? I am the kind who will buy releases. So when I purchased a CD from Free Kitten on the Ecstatic Peace! label, I asked for and received their permission to upload to YouTube my copy of a track. The permission came directly from the label. Universal stepped in, being the multinational company that it is (perhaps multi-galaxy company based on its impressive name). I guess Universal efficiently and relentlessly publishes all of the music from the various labels it owns, from here to the most distant sun.

It's surprising, but after several months, I actually won the content claim slapped on me by Universal. Thanks to eventual win, I can do what I wanted to do in the beginning: Point to it and say check this out, it's really cool, and people like me will want to go out a buy the entire album, go to the shows and buy the t-shirt. And fans like me will curse the day their favourite band ever had to make a decision that involved in the machinations of Universal, Warner or other outfit globally staffed by lawyers who want jab at me, their customer, the fan of the band who's on their roster.

I wonder what the bands think. For fans, eventually it's just like, whatever. Legalese fatigue. It eventually makes you uninterested in sharing music you like with your friends. And that might be the most important feedback UniWarner can get. But I'm not expecting a thank-you to follow the fuck-you.

Whatever -- read on below for my list of what I was a big fan of in 2008.

It's hard not to notice that in my top ten or so there is strong evidence of many fans who like me persevered in the face of a YouTube browbeating. As I said, I'd like to hear what the bands have to say, but I almost suspect that in 2008 the stories of the fans are better than those of the musicians they choose to promote on YouTube. If only their stories were known. I'm sure that these fans stories are more exciting that my dealings with the copyright lawyers. I'm thinking of...

So here are my top picks - 10 plus 5 more...

No Age - Eraser

Award: Artist of the Year - "Nouns," multiple single and ep releases, a great tour and memorable spot on Craig Ferguson make No Age my favourite artist in 08.
Un-award: Teen Creeps was my pick for best song of the year, but the lead single Eraser (above) helped make MTV subversive again with a video that didn't ever seem like it was going to start and it still wrapped up in a very punky three minutes.
Why YouTube gives No Age props: Features a virtually note-for-note version of the album Nouns, consisting almost entirely of uploaded fan videos... >>> Go now to the No Age "Nouns" playlist
Why YouTube lets No Age down: Pitchfork.tv posts prime material exclusively

Nouns playlist


Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Roots - Rising Down

Award: Recording of the Year - "Rising Down" the album sounds to me like one of the best releases I've heard in many years (so I really don't understand why I hear say 2008 was not a memorable year in music)
Lack of award: It's hard to pick one track from the album as a favourite, but Rising Up (below) is a high note that ends the album and makes a nice counterpoint to the track above.
Why YouTube lets The Roots down: Universal Music Group now has YouTube automatically stripping out any audio from the Roots on any fans video, à la upload of small child singing Winter Wonderland.
ASAP: Sample these tracks while you can...
Rising Up

75 bars

Get Busy

I Can't Help It


I Will Not Apologize


Free Kitten - Surf's Up

Style: Far-out guitar rock
Example: 3:00 into the track when it sounds like J Mascis and Kim Gordon are rocking out on a beach on Mars.
Reference: Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and nothing else
Remix: My own fan video. (UMG pulled the plug on it when they claimed the content even though I had the permission of the record label, Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace!)


Annie - I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me

Style: English cliches and idioms with a Swedish twist
Example: Life's too long for you to get it wrong; other relationship advice from Annie.
Reference: Pet Shop Boys' "Can You Forgive Her?"
Remix: As good or better, with fan-made video edit.


Tokyo Police Club - In A Cave

Award: Top Canadian recording artist for 2008 (and for Desperate Housewives)
Other notable mention: Real video is actually a fan video! Well not exactly: Olan Rodgers is an amateur filmmaker who won a campus contest to work with the band... (says Olan's web page about making videos: "It's about all we got. Olan has a decent computer.")
Another notable mention: Homemade video has MTV video ID stamp at its beginning and end; real MTV video above has no ID stamp at its beginning or end.
Final notable mention: Even though the track is titled "In a Cave," the lyrics include the title of the band's album "Elephant Shell," sung during the bridge. This is a known good technique because it causes listeners who are aware of the album title to have the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. I'm pretty sure album name-dropping in lyrics is a proven phenomenon but I think there's a minor chord progression happening during the bridge that might also optimize the effect. Or something.


Britney Spears - Break The Ice

Fan video style
: Life imitates art - Children's pastime set to Britney's comeback track.
Official video style: Art imitates life - When Britney is institutionally admitted, cartoon Britney fills in for her.
Helpful reminder: The fan vid came first.
Other notable mention: Second-best song from album (The best song from Britney's Blackout record -- "Radar" -- would've been released as a single had "Womanizer" not been rushed to the market to sully the Britney comeback with a cash grabbing crap follow up.)


Los Campesinos! - Miserabilia

Style: Mekons-ish and featuring a male frontman with the playful sensibility of Stephen Malkmus and emotive thurst of Conor Oberst
Content: Has some, unlike those who like to trash the band.
Fan video style: Desperate
More on the concept: Desperation is not a barrier to being heard, but rather a conduit.
Background: Nothing is being done to promote this release other than touring. Thanks desperate fans!


Robert Forster - From Ghost Town

Style: Haunting
Sounds kinda like: Really good Neil Young


MGMT - Electric Feel

Award: Fan video of the year - A fan makes the video; song subsequently becomes a hit; official video that follows pales in comparison after record company finally decides to start promoting it (I'm not even going to bother to supply that link).
Who is that fan? Cece - vitalnonsequitur channel on YouTube.


Janet Jackson - Rock With U

Song style
: Incomprehensible lyrics, inebriating groove
Fan video style: with enunciation
Song weakness: Doesn't have the pop thrust of first single "Feedback"
Song strength: Continues the metaphor of words being second to body language, the language of love, yadda yadda.
Fan video strength: Complete fan vocal of the song, a capella
Fan video weakness: No dancing, no group hug at 2m30s.
Official video style: Robert Altman meets Quincy Jones - lighting and blocking (all done in one take?) and a convincing cohesion between dance numbers and scenario not typical of the Jackson repertoire.
Other notable mention: She hasn't made a video this good in 18 yrs.


Kate Nash - We Get On

Style: Simple, with layers of intrigue and neurosis applied
Typical fan base: Simple but applied
Fan video style: (As of May 12, 2008) Incomplete
Official video style: (As of Jan 1, 2009) Incomplete.


Beach House - Gila

Genre: Soul
Strong point: The vocals
What complements its strength: The spaces in between the vocals
Official video doesn't suck because: It's all lizard-like, hence the title.


Randy Newman - Potholes

Context: Immediately approachable song sticks out on an album of great depth populated by vibrant, real people.
Fan video style: Desperate (see also Miserabilia)


TV on the Radio - Halfway Home

Style: Intensely harmonic yet inventive and, luckily, similar to today's best symphonies that somehow survive being over-produced and proggy.
Fan video style: Just proggy.


Laura Marling - Your Only Doll (Dora)

Style: British folk vocalist hall of fame
Video style: Multi-fan video
Multi-fan video gets kudos because: It's hard to tell what this fan liked more while creating this - "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or this Marling ballad - the two are carefully and thoughtfully matched.
Also good: Videography in this live backstage version.
Also also good: Fly on the wall take from this tiny record shop performance version.