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Toro y Moi

Chazwick Bradley Bundick, better known by his equally arcane stage name Toro y Moi, creates something like a filtered version of ‘90s dance music, adding emotional vulnerability and cutting the BPMs. With Bundick, genres are as fluid as his seductively sung melodies, slipping through bubblegum pop, funk, Frank Ocean-style r&b, and even tech-y oversized shoegaze. Ideal for lazy days and rooftop parties, Toro y Moi has the sounds of summer down.

Thu., July 11, 7 p.m., 2013

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Om’Mas Keith, The Chosen One

Om’Mas Keith remembers the first time he met Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

It was the mid-’90s. ODB was at the height of his success. Keith, a 19-year-old punkass kid music producer, found himself in a recording session at the Music Palace, a premiere music facility out on Long Island, with 88-Keys (yes, that 88-Keys) as his assistant. He recalls: “Dirty rolled in with an entourage of 15 to 20, from top-level A&Rs and executives to street-level thugs. And their women.” The crew was, per Keith, “indulging in all the devices associated with rock ‘n’ roll.” Operative word there? Devices.

“When he met me, I looked him right in the face, shook his hand, and I said, ‘Peace,'” Keith remembers. At that “record-scratch moment,” ODB narrowed his eyes. “[Dirty] looked at me like I was crazy—for like two seconds—and then he was like ‘Oh, that’s the god right there. He greeted me with the universal greeting: ‘Peace.’ What can I say to that but peace?’ ” ODB went on to get “wild” that night, and they recorded “Dirt Dog,” which eventually appeared on Dirt’s Nigga Please.

The producer chuckles as he tells this story. It’s one of the many tales he’s gathered over the past two decades, a time during which the 36-year-old has quietly become an influential force in the music industry. On Sunday, he’ll attend the Grammys with two nominations as a producer and engineer for Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. Keith also just released his debut album City Pulse online, for free. His influence on Ocean is apparent: Both records offer stitched-together, smoothed-out r&b that illustrates emotion in a tangible way. Keith candidly chats over the phone from his Hollywood recording studio, but the story of Om’Mas Keith isn’t a West Coast one: It starts—and probably will end—in New York City.

Born on January 20, 1976, at St. John’s Hospital in Brooklyn, Keith grew up in Hollis, Queens, an “enclave” of the “most amazing musicians.” The son of a jazz guitarist, he ran around with the children of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. His mother called him a “magical jazz baby.” Then, around the age of 15, he met one of his heroes: Jam Master Jay, the groundbreaking, influential DJ of Run DMC. Keith squeaked his way under Jay’s wing and became his “young ace.” He saw “how a soon-to-be-inducted-to-the-Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame-peon conducts his business at home.” He made a beat for Ultramagnetic MCs. They loved it, flew him to L.A., and he got picked up at the airport by a Bentley Continental driven by Ice-T. The group recorded music at Ice-T’s famous Crackhouse studio over three weeks, where he met Shafiq Husayn (with whom he’d later form the hip-hop group Sa-Ra). The first night in Los Angeles, he slept on rapper Kool Keith’s floor without a blanket near a stack of very expensive pornos that reached the ceiling.

“Three weeks of the biggest mind-fuck ever,” Keith recalls. “[Ice-T] was my first multimillionaire. Jay was rich to me, but we were in Queens. This was L.A.”

That whirlwind gave Keith a taste of the life he could one day live, and he went back to New York with success fresh on the brain. He pushed more with Jay, ODB, Busta Rhymes. He traveled to Houston to work with famous Suave House producer Tony Draper. He moved back east, made beats, worked for an ad firm, but again felt the tug of the west, and went back to L.A.

It was a smart move. He partnered with Shafiq and Taz Arnold, forming Sa-Ra and racking up production credits for the likes of Jurassic 5 and Pharoahe Monch. Kanye West signed them to G.O.O.D. Music, and Keith has been sought after ever since.

In 2009, through his intern Michael Uzowuru, he met a little hip-hop collective called Odd Future and a dude named Frank Ocean. The two developed a relationship that would eventually lead to Keith’s work on channel ORANGE. Keith was thrilled and, in another smart move, threw himself into the work with Ocean, putting his solo project on hold.

“Frank’s understanding of what a producer does is true to what it really is, that a producer ensures the physical manifestation of intellectual property,” Keith says. “However we arrive at the final goal, whether it be by me playing instruments, adding things, adding insight, talking to Frank, or supervising every single occurrence of his voice on the record: This is producing on the high level. This is my opportunity to produce on the Quincy Jones level.”

In the wake of ORANGE‘s success and critical acclaim, his opportunities to work at Q’s level continue. He’s assisting with rapper Azealia Banks’s forthcoming record and Ocean’s next album, and is in talks with Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt for their joint debut—all while readying for the response to City Pulse.

“All I wanted to do when I started this game was make great music and create and have an outlet,” he says. “But they chose me. All these kids, everybody chose me. So when someone does that, you have to really say to yourself: ‘I have to be the best I can be for them, to ensure that the final result is what’s in their head.’ That’s what’s being a service provider. That’s Om’Mas Keith at your service.”

 

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Pazz & Jop: Frank Ocean’s Sea Change

It’s early September, and scattered around a dimly lit stage on network television are vintage arcade games: Street Fighter, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man. Before these old mall relics stands a band made up of two guitarists (one of whom is John Mayer), a bass player, and a drummer. The foursome forms a U shape around a young man in his mid twenties, his back slightly hunched, sitting on a stool, sporting his signature red-and-white-striped bandana. He’s singing a heartbreaking song about nostalgia, love lost, and the difficulties of moving on. While he croons, his weight slightly shifts. He lifts his head gracefully. He closes his eyes tightly. He pours his deepest secrets out to millions of viewers, but he’s very much in his own world.

That man is Frank Ocean. That stage is Saturday Night Live. The song is “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” and this moment could arguably be the apex of the music culture in 2012.

No one is surprised Ocean’s Channel Orange sits atop our annual Pazz & Jop poll. The artist dominated most music discussions this past year. He is the great equalizer. Because whether you consider yourself a fan of rap, indie rock, pop, metal, or polka, you were thinkin’ about Ocean. More than a third of P&J voters placed Orange somewhere on their ballot. His songs “Thinkin'” and “Pyramids” both cracked the singles Top Ten.

Channel Orange is a revelation. And its genesis can be traced all the way back to Hurricane Katrina, the storm that destroyed Ocean’s recording studio in New Orleans. It forced his decision to move west to Los Angeles with only $1,000 in his bank account. There, his talent led to signing with Def Jam under his birth name, Christopher Breaux. Once there, he started writing songs for Justin Bieber, John Legend, and Beyoncé. You know, no big deal for a guy barely out of his teens.

With success came money. And, “at 20 or 21,” he told GQ this past fall, “I had, I think, a couple hundred thousand dollars [from producing and songwriting], a nice car, a Beverly Hills apartment—and I was miserable.” Ocean met a rapper named Tyler, the Creator, joined his crew, Odd Future, and found some confidence. He released a free album called nostalgia, ULTRA in 2011 under the name Frank Ocean. The mixtape was critically acclaimed, and—wait a second—Def Jam had to sign him all over again. He outsmarted the business and became an inspiring story of artistic independence in the process. That same year, he went on to perform some of the only guest spots on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne. Were the gods of rap knighting their prince? Even though you can’t and shouldn’t label Ocean a rapper, looking back, it sure as hell seems so.

Fast forward to July 2012. As the world waited on edge for Ocean’s debut major-label release, the songwriter surprised everyone and posted a note online: a story about his first love being with a man. In one swooping moment, Ocean had “come out,” for lack of a better term, and challenged the way the hip-hop/r&b community talks about its complicated relationship with sexuality. The letter was beautiful, endearing, brave, and inspiring. “By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant,” he wrote. “It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love. It would change my life.”

A few days later, Channel Orange would see release to much acclaim. The record, like the letter, is brilliant and subtle: a hodgepodge of emotions, made of short and long tracks stuck together like duct tape. Its sweeping, dynamic range of musicianship provides the ideal platform for Ocean’s voice, earnestly searching for answers and cures to help mend a broken heart.

Ultimately, of course, Ocean’s letter isn’t why it won Pazz & Jop. But it and Channel Orange come from the same mind, the same worldview. Ocean’s music argues that love—like heartbreak—knows no boundaries. What matters is the experience, not the labels we use to describe them. On “Bad Religion,” he sings, “It’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you.”

He’s right. Let’s leave it at that.

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Pazz & Jop: Top 40 Albums

Artist—Title [Label]Points Mentions

1. Frank Ocean Channel Orange [Def Jam Recordings] 1,939 169

2. Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city [Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope] 1,431 123

3. Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and

Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do [Epic Records] 1,124101

4. Japandroids Celebration Rock [Polyvinyl Records] 908 73

5. Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream [RCA] 716 66

6. Tame Impala Lonerism [Modular Records] 589 56

7. Swans The Seer [Young God Records] 543 51

8. Killer Mike R.A.P. Music [Williams Street Records] 522 50

9. Grimes Visions [4AD Records] 482 51

10. Beach House Bloom [Sub Pop Records] 396 39

11. Jack White Blunderbuss [Columbia Records Third Man Records] 387 41

12. Dirty Projectors Swing Lo Magellan [Domino Records] 387 34

13. Cloud Nothings Attack on Memory [Carpark Records] 364 37

14. Father John Misty Fear Fun [Sub Pop Records] 363 33

15. Bruce Springsteen Wrecking Ball [Columbia Records] 361 36

16. Bob Dylan Tempest [Columbia Records] 349 33

17. Taylor Swift Red [Big Machine Records] 337 33

18. Future Pluto [Epic Records] 329 28

19. Sharon Van Etten Tramp [Jagjaguwar] 327 34

20. Alabama Shakes Boys & Girls [Ato Records] 327 33

21. Dr. John Locked Down [Nonesuch Records] 313 32

22. Leonard Cohen Old Ideas [Columbia Records] 311 31

23. Cat Power Sun [Matador Records] 293 31

24. Scott Walker Bish Bosch [4AD Records] 278 22

25. El-P Cancer 4 Cure [Fat Possum Records] 262 29

26. Grizzly Bear Shields [Warp Records] 258 30

27. Baroness Yellow & Green [Relapse Records] 257 24

28. Chromatics Kill for Love [Italians Do Better] 242 22

29. Andy Stott Luxury Problems [Modern Love] 239 21

30. Jessie Ware Devotion [Universal Island] 234 23

31. Neil Young and Crazy Horse Psychedelic Pill [Reprise Records] 220 22

32. Loudon Wainwright III Older Than My Old Man Now [StorySound Records] 210  16

33. Mountain Goats Transcendental Youth [Merge Records] 205 22

34. Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light [Fat Possum Records] 202 18

35. Julia Holter Ekstasis [RVNG International] 192 19

36. Bat for Lashes The Haunted Man [Capitol Records] 192 18

37. Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! [Constellation Records] 191 21

38. Hot Chip In Our Heads [Domino Records] 182 16

39. Carly Rae Jepsen Kiss [Interscope Records] 174 15

40. Todd Snider Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables [Aimless Records] 172 13

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Pazz & Jop: Top 42 Singles

Artist—TitleBallots

1. Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe” 94

2. Miguel “Adorn” 54

3. Usher “Climax” 53

4. Frank Ocean “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” 47

4. Japandroids “The House That Heaven Built” 47

6. Taylor Swift “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” 42

7. Solange “Losing You” 40

8. Gotye (ft. Kimbra) “Somebody That I Used to Know” 39

9. Kanye West (ft. Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz) “Mercy” 38

10. Frank Ocean “Pyramids” 34

11. Alabama Shakes “Hold On” 30

12. Psy “Gangnam Style” 26

13. Grimes “Oblivion” 25

14. Fun. (ft. Janelle Monáe) “We Are Young” 23

15. Icona Pop (ft. Charli XCX) “I Love It” 21

15. Sky Ferreira “Everything Is Embarrassing” 21

17. Fun. “Some Nights” 20

17. M.I.A. “Bad Girls” 20

19. Bruce Springsteen “We Take Care of Our Own” 19

20. Kendrick Lamar “Swimming Pools (Drank)” 17

21. Frank Ocean “Bad Religion” 16

21. Ke$ha “Die Young” 16

23. Bruno Mars “Locked Out of Heaven” 15

23. Grimes “Genesis” 15

23. Tame Impala “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” 15

23. Todd Terje “Inspector Norse” 15

27. Chairlift “I Belong in Your Arms” 14

27. Juicy J (ft. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz) “Bandz a Make Her Dance” 14

27. Kacey Musgraves “Merry Go ‘Round” 14

27. Nicki Minaj (ft. 2 Chainz) “Beez in the Trap” 4

27. Santigold “Disparate Youth” 4

32. Bat for Lashes “Laura” 13

32. Father John Misty “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” 13

34. First Aid Kit “Emmylou” 12

34. Kendrick Lamar “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” 12

34. Killer Mike “Reagan” 12

34. Passion Pit “Take a Walk” 12

38. Bob Dylan “Duquesne Whistle” 11

38. Future “Turn on the Lights” 11

38. Jack White “Sixteen Saltines” 11

38. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis “Thrift Shop” 11

42. Beach House “Myth” 10

42. Chief Keef “Love Sosa” 10

42. Kanye West (ft. Jay-Z and Big Sean) “Clique” 10

42. Kendrick Lamar (ft. Gunplay) “Cartoon & Cereal” 10

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Pazz & Jop 2012 Tabulation Notes

In my official capacity as tabulator of this poll, I hereby confirm the decisive victories of Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange and Carly Rae Jepsen’s song “Call Me Maybe.” Thirty-five percent of critics voted for Channel Orange, close to the historic 37 percent Kanye West received in 2010, and far beyond the 19 percent with which tUnE-yArDs won in 2011. “Call Me Maybe” got 1.74 times as many votes as the second-place single, which is also nearly as high as the epic 1.78 margin for Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” in 2010 and far higher than any other recent song winner.

Beyond the winners, though, 2012 was another year of relatively weak consensus. In 2010, there were seven albums that received votes from at least 15 percent of the voters, and 13 that got votes from at least 10 percent. In 2011, only three albums received 15 percent, and 10 got 10 percent. In 2012, there were four that got 15 percent and only nine that got 10 percent. That is, 99.4 percent of the albums didn’t even make the top 10 for more than 90 percent of the voters. But the other way to say “weak consensus” is “inspiring diversity”: This year’s voters contributed an average of 3.2 different albums per person, which is easily the highest since we started calculating this figure in 2008.

Album voters assign each album five to 30 points, with 100 total points to distribute across 10 albums. As is usually the case, this point system made little difference to the top of the overall ranking. Were the poll tabulated strictly by vote count, the top seven would stay the same. Grimes would jump Killer Mike into eighth place, and Jack White would jump Beach House into 10th. But the more interesting thing points gives us is an enthusiasm rating, which is an album’s average number of points per voter. The three standout albums by enthusiasm were Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black Is Beautiful (15.7 ppv), Lambchop’s Mr. M (15.4), and the Steve Lehman Trio’s Dialect Fluorescent (14.2). The highest enthusiasm score among the top 10 albums went to Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, which got 12.4. (Due to the point rules, enthusiasm scores more than 15 are rare, and scores over 12 are notable.) At the other end of the table, the three albums with the lowest enthusiasm (counting only those with at least five votes) were Rick Ross’s Rich Forever (6.9 ppv), Hospitality’s Hospitality (6.9), and Mac DeMarco’s 2 (6.4). Of the top 10 albums by points, the lowest enthusiasm score was Grimes’s Visions, with just 9.5.

(See the full enthusiasm table here.)

Although the poll is primarily designed to rank music, it is also a way to rank voters. We do this by centricity, which measures how close each voter came to picking the 10 albums with the most total points. The joint winners by this measure were Jeremy D. Larson and Michael Gallucci, whose albums represent about 85 percent of the maximum possible points, in both cases including more than half of the actual top 10. At the other end, there were four voters whose album ballots contained entirely one-vote albums: Brett Callwood, Chuy Verela, Jacob Edgar and Angela Sawyer. Whether this makes them extraneous or invaluable is a matter for you to decide.

(See the full centricity table here.)

Although this centricity score might not be inherently interesting to you unless you are one of the voters, it allows us to calculate a derivative rescoring of the album poll called kvltosis, in which each vote’s points are inversely prorated by the voter’s centricity. This measures the extent to which an album represents diverse agreement among voters who otherwise don’t follow the poll’s general consensus. The top such cult discoveries this year were by Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, Wadada Leo Smith, Gojira, Tim Hecker and Daniel Lopatin, Black Breath, Lee Ranaldo, Black Bananas, Future of the Left, Screaming Females, and High on Fire. So if anybody complains that the winners were predictable, this is where you send them instead. The closest albums to the poll’s consensus that weren’t themselves winners were Action Bronson and Party Supplies’ Blue Chips, El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, and Chairlift’s Something.

(See the full kvltosis table here. .)

The last general-purpose album metric is hipness, which measures the fraction of an album’s points that came from voters who also filled out their singles ballot (a snide contention being that grouchy older voters tend to skip the singles, while hip young kids do not). There were 19 albums this year whose voters all also voted for singles, with the most notable being Jessie Ware’s Devotion (#30 in the main poll). The hippest album among the top 10 was Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream (almost completely hip at .962), and the least hip was Tame Impala’s Lonerism (borderline passably hip at .699). The bottom of this ranking provides some compelling support for the voter-age hypothesis, with hipness below .333 for Patti Smith,the Beach Boys, Graham Parker, and Can.

(See the full hipness table here.)

The only alternate score we calculate for the song poll is singularity, which measures the fraction of a song’s votes that came from people who did not also vote for an album by the same artist. This is an attempt to factor out perfunctory singles ballots that are really just repeats of the album lists. The runaway winner in this category is Gotye, whose omnipresent “Somebody That I Used to Know” was on 31 song ballots this year and eight more carried over from 2011, but not a single one of those 39 voters voted for his album Making Mirrors. And the single voter who did vote for the album didn’t vote for that song. “Call Me Maybe,” perhaps surprisingly, ranks only 56th by this measure, lower than Usher’s “Climax” and Kanye’s “Mercy.” At the other end, everybody who voted for Killer Mike’s song “Big Beast” also voted for his album, and almost 75 percent of the people who voted for Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” also voted for Channel Orange.

(See the full singularity table here.)

The last meta-analysis we do is a similarity matrix. This process identifies similar albums and similar songs by voter overlap, and similar ballots and voters by album/song/artist overlap. In some ways, this is actually the most interesting view of the poll’s data, as it identifies voting patterns that are not otherwise readily apparent. It reveals, for example, that the voters for Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Fiona Apple, Japandroids, and Miguel overlap substantially in all directions (more than usual for a top five), but Tame Impala at #6 has a different faction (who also like War on Drugs, Cut Copy, Cloud Nothings, and Beach House), as do Swans at #7 (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, El-P, Baroness, and Spiritualized) and Grimes at #9 (Beach House, Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, Julia Holter, and Scott Walker). This analysis includes all data from 2008 to 2012, so we see, among other things, that the most similar album to Taylor Swift’s Red is her own 2010 album, Speak Now, but that there are actually 11 other albums more similar to Red, by voter overlap, than Swift’s Fearless.

Click any album, song, or voter in any of the lists linked above to see a consolidated profile page with similarity rankings for albums, songs, artists, ballots, and/or voters. The whole stats site is cross-linked in this way, with a page for every voter who has participated in the poll in the past five years and every artist for whom they have voted. Arguably, this explorable critical hyperindex is what the poll really exists to build.

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Pazz & Jop: The Comments

The Favorites

The three albums that so many have gravitated toward as 2012’s best (myself included)—Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, and Kendrick Lamar—all come from Southern California but live on separate universes. — Jillian Mapes

Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Japandroids were on their J. J. Abrams this year, taking over long-running franchises like r&b, rap, and rock and reminding us why we liked them. — Michael Tedder

Frank Ocean wrote a letter or something, but I didn’t finish reading it, because it was mush. Then he released a record, but I didn’t finish listening to it, because it was mush. The Obama of pop music—bland, inoffensive, droning, electable. — Michael Robbins

My dismissal of Channel Orange proved how little good intentions—intentions at all—matter to listenable music. A fan of Nostalgia, Ultra, a gay man in search of text instead of subtext, I was struck by the ephemerality of the songwriting and Ocean’s dull vocal melodies. It was too much fucking work to like this thing. It wasn’t saving r&b from anything. It was barely r&b. His published note to the world notwithstanding, for all we know, Ocean beats up his tricks. So I return to subtextual listening. — Alfred Soto

Channel Orange is a record that critics laud despite having a difficult time pigeonholing. In late December, I went to my local record store in Denver and was shocked to find the album in the rap section. It’s probably an r&b effort, yes, and all of the bluster about Ocean’s reinvention of the genre isn’t all that over the top. From Pitchfork to People, it’s the rare release the connects with a wide swath of the populace. — Colin St. John

Kendrick Lamar’s Compton operates an awful lot like a suburb, which may retroactively explain why his West Coast grand-godfathers N.W.A. were so popular in suburbia. On good kid, m.A.A.d city, even Lamar’s concerns are frequently suburban—peer pressure, malaise, embarrassing parents—albeit with the looming specter of death by gang violence or substance abuse. — Marty Brown

Jay and Ye must not have been watching it, because after letting him into their palace, Frank Ocean sat his ass on the throne. — Joey Daniewicz

Think stuffing your album title with 24 words is pretentious? So does she—the joke’s on you. — Michael Tatum

On his first truly solo outing, Jack White finally gave up the pretense that he wasn’t in control. He has taken up the rock ‘n’ roll hammer of the gods and assumed the mantle of FM radio godhead. — Brian J. Bowe

Let’s be clear: Miguel is not an indie-inflected or indie-influenced r&b artist. Miguel is an r&b artist, fluent in Bill Withers, Frank Beverly, Gregory Abbott, and Jeffrey Osborne. The thousands of words analyzing Miguel, Frank Ocean, Usher’s “Climax,” and the Weeknd, among others, overlook the degree to which r&b has been “introspective” since its inception. — Alfred Soto

One of the most fun musical things of 2012 was watching every music critic I follow on Twitter slowly but surely come around to Future’s Pluto. It’s a weird album; it’s basically like listening to a robot moan about his recent trials and tribulations on OkCupid. It was mostly savaged when it came out in April, but as the months got warmer, and people realized “Turn on the Lights” is the year’s best love song, I watched everyone start tweeting lyrics from “Same Damn Time” and calling him the T-1000 of rap (shouts to @craigsj) and basically agreeing, by listmaking time, that any list that doesn’t mention Pluto is kidding itself and its readers. You deserve it, Future. — Andrew Winistorfer

The Singles

Lyrically, “Call Me Maybe” succinctly pins down a specifically adolescent state of being—particularly in its ingenious use of that magical word “maybe”—while at the same time musically reinforcing its mixed-up romantic confusion by never quite settling on the tonic chord, i.e. the “home” key. In other words, the resolution that the ear craves—the extra-verbal metaphor signaling that guy with the ripped jeans really will call the song’s heroine back—never comes, instead ping-ponging back and forth without setting the listener back on solid ground. — Michael Tatum

I liked how “Call Me Maybe” and Chairlift’s “I Belong in Your Arms” are basically the same song. — Alfred Soto

As I adore “Stupid Hoe,” I still wonder if America’s hip-hop women will ever pick up the torch of political relevance where Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah both dropped it? — Carol Cooper

I don’t have any more interest in Rihanna’s ongoing dramas than I did when I voted for “Cheers (Drink to That)” last year, no more than I once did in Madonna’s, or Mary J. Blige’s, or Eminem’s, or whomever’s. (Don’t mean to sound callous—I realize Rihanna’s were triggered by something qualitatively different.) But they’re there, on “Cheers” and again on “Take Care,” where her opening line (about knowing when people have been hurt by the way they carry themselves) seems made to order for Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor’s Faking It, which I finally got around to reading. Maybe that line was written specially for her, and maybe that’s the first thing most listeners will remember about this song, if they remember anything at all. — Phil Dellio

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What’s most amazing about “Call Me Maybe” is that Jepsen was a product of Canadian Idol, which was a “singing” show only in the loosest sense of the word. The judges were horrendously bad evaluators of talent and were so outlandish in their praise for completely mediocre competitors that they made Paula Abdul look like, well, Simon Cowell. This was a show where balding waiter and Season One winner Ryan Malcolm was tipped as a future star, where Jacob Hoggard sang like he was being strangled and danced like Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” but was hailed as a maverick performer, and where coma-inducing lounge singer Theresa Sokyrka was lauded as the second coming of Norah Jones. — Barry Bruner

“Gangnam Style” is a sure-enough warning sign that if we don’t take care of our own, someone else will come along and do it for us. — Roy Trakin

I couldn’t include it on my list in good conscience, but “Patsy Cline” by Dark Dark Dark is one of the best singles of the year by one of the worst-named bands of all time. — Kristyn Pomranz

The wiseguy in me recognizes Todd Terje’s “Inspector Norse” as just an arted-up “Popcorn” (Hot Butter, 1972—we’re probably past the point where I can assume such a reference means anything), but there are also a bunch of little Mogwais running around in there who love pretty sounds in any configuration and just want to do the Stereolab. (Almost voted for Perfume’s “Point” for much the same reason.) The Mogwais always get final say. — Phil Dellio

Everything Else

This year, I saw one rapper shout out his Pitchfork score in concert, and two others shout out Grimes. Grimes was not even in the same city when this happened. The Internet has really changed the game. — Michael Tedder

One of the biggest reasons why retro-roots-rockabilly artists fail to capture the puissance of the music they’re aping is that they miss the r&b side of early rock. J.D. McPherson mines that territory on “Signs and Signifiers, “one of the year’s most thrilling records. — Brian J. Bowe

My listening habits have taken an odd turn in the past few years, where mixes and podcasts have almost completely replaced singles. So 2013 will be the year that I finally submit a singles ballot with nothing but podcasts on it. Of course, I think I said that last year. — Barry Bruner

We are young and die young; pop radio in 2012 made sure to remind me of this. — Daniel Dzodin

The year 2012 was a mostly disappointing year for all music that wasn’t Auto-Tuned—compared, for example, to 1912, which brought us both Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” — Steve Simels

It’s possible I spent more time in 2012 considering and debating about Riff Raff than any other musician/song/Internet media phenomenon. It’s impossible to tell if he’s a cipher, a performance art ruse, a legitimate rapper, a Tumblr hype or a total fraud. But really, aren’t we all total frauds on the Internet? How similar is your Web persona to your actual personality IRL, when you’re talking to people who are more than a disembodied avatar? Which is why I can’t shake the feeling that Riff Raff is a living personification of an Internet comment thread, dropping inside references and trying to illicit WTFs and LOLs from unsuspecting potential trolls. — Andrew Winistorfer

For all the blather about The Year of R&B, few recent converts cared much about aural innovations recorded by female artists. On an album-length EP called “Armor On” for former Diddy Dirty Money singer Dawn Richard, producer Druski created undulating synthesized landscapes, stacked harmonies, and overdubbed percussion that weren’t counterpoint so much as the musical lineaments of Richard’s despair, a sonic reimagining of Donna Summer’s blissed-out supplicant in “I Feel Love.” — Alfred Soto

Not a good year for pizza kings. One wanted to be president (not really, just play along), but he had a past, and sometimes he’d forget his lines. A couple almost had their businesses run into the ground by a rogue Supreme Court justice and the selfishness of sick people. Another made it to the World Series, but ran into funny-looking round man and got swept in four games. No idea who Wussy are singing about, but well timed anyway. — Phil Dellio

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Pazz & Jop: A Note on Crap

The Pazz & Jop poll accepts ballots from a diverse pool of hundreds of critics, and a huge breadth of music makes its way onto the list— 1,554 albums this year, in fact. Name any album from 2012, and chances are good somebody gave it a vote. And we cherish each and every one. No one is going to be asked to turn in their critic’s credentials for their five-point vote for Yellowcard’s Southern Air. And not just because no critic voted for it. It would have been great if someone had. Plenty of people make the safe picks, but it takes guts to stick up for the downtrodden, the forgotten, the critically unpopular. We salute you, guy who voted for Our Lady Peace. Your courage is worth 1,000 Frank Ocean votes.

Motion City Soundtrack. LiL iFFy. Knife and Fork. Ice Choir. Troubled Horse. Macy Gray. Ting Tings. Tom Jones. These acts and nearly a thousand more make up the incredibly imposing One-Vote Team, the list of which could take up this entire page. In this year’s poll, if you combined the total points for the hundreds of albums that earned one lonely vote, they’d have beaten Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange twice over. (For more numbers-crunching wonk-tastic data, see Glenn McDonald’s tabulation notes.)

But let’s take a moment to consider some albums, like Yellowcard’s, that were overlooked entirely, the plucky underdogs who missed the cut by a mile due to being meritless, untimely, or otherwise basically shitty. While the year’s great musical achievements shine like the glittering Pazz & Jop firmament above, the year’s uncounted albums are the reassuring mud beneath our feet.

For example, Changed, by pop-country outfit Rascal Flatts, racked up an even zero points. In these times of deep ideological division, it’s an extraordinary consensus: Every critic agreed that Rascal Flatts deserved no mention whatsoever, even as a last-place, five-point pick, anywhere among the thousands of albums released. It’s all the more extraordinary when you consider that many of these same critics helped vote Moby’s Play as the best album of 1999—but the line must be drawn somewhere, and we can take comfort knowing that Rascal Flatts lies far, far beyond it.

How did Changed—a crossover hit from a major national act—pull not a single vote? First and foremost, through dogged and relentless sucking. The kind of workhorse sucking that doesn’t win the big awards, but goddamn it, it gets the job done (the job is bad music). Maybe Rascal Flatts doesn’t score big with critics, but Rascal Flatts is why critics exist: to figure out which music isn’t Rascal Flatts and make you aware of it by putting that music on lists.

Also wandering in the zero-vote wasteland are the albums that occurred to no one—not necessarily the worst of the year, but the least noticed. Like Vulnerable by the Used. It’s probably not so terrible, right? The Used, hey, there they still are: capturing no zeitgeist, leading no scene, provoking no second glances from critics, past that fleeting moment when teens found something to appreciate in screamy post-hardcore, holding out hope for that big red Best New Reissue from Pitchfork in 10 years. They yell into the void and continue to exist despite it all. And this is where true art lives: where nobody is paying attention. Or probably not. I just thought that would sound cool.

Any “best of” list, no matter how carefully curated, is still an attempt to impose order on wildly subjective matters of art and personal taste. That’s why the ballot system is so wonderful: Maybe no two critics will agree completely, but we can add them all up to find points of agreement, to catch a glimpse of the critical context of our time. Enjoy the wonderful, exciting music compiled in the poll, but save a fond thought for the crap that didn’t make it. Without bad albums, we’d have nothing to judge the good ones against.

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VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

CLIQUE, CLIQUE, CLIQUE

While personalities like Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean capture the imagination of Odd Future’s casual fans, acts like MellowHype (a duo consisting of Hodgy Beats and rapper/producer Left Brain) continue to release solid music slightly under the radar. Their recent Numbers contains, if nothing else, one of the most pleasing rap songs of the year, the melancholically triumphant “Astro,” which benefits from a hook and interlude courtesy of Mr. Ocean himself. Tonight, the duo plays the Gramercy Theatre with hardcore labelmates Trash Talk, whose ecstatic bursts of drums, guitar, and howling vocals are sure to get this crowd going wild.

Sat., Nov. 17, 8 p.m., 2012

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, Miguel: Who Will Be the Token Black Guy on Year-End Best of Lists?

There’s an intense race going on right now. A race not a lot of you may know about. A race that even the people involved may not know they’re a part of. But it’s a race, and it’s happening: the race to see which r & b singer will end up on most critics’ top-ten lists at the end of the year.

It’s a big deal. Because, usually, at the end of the year, r & b is all but excluded on year-end lists. Which is what makes this year so exciting. Three artists are on the lips and minds and fingertips of critics, all of whom have a shot at Top Ten album honors just before the planet explodes like the Mayans predicted.

Those three artists: Frank Ocean, the Weeknd, and Miguel.

See Also:
Live: Miguel Takes Control At Joe’s Pub
Live: Bon Iver and Frank Ocean Are Trying to Break Your Heart

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Let’s start with Ocean, who has been in the lead for quite some time now. The resident soul man for hip-hop hooligans Odd Future released his debut album, Channel Orange, in July to across-the-board raves and decent album sales. As far as emo soulsters go, Ocean has been the guy everyone can relate to, which explains his critical and commercial success. While other young r & b vocalists like Chris Brown and Trey Songz follow the rules in the r & b-vocalist guidebook, occasionally showing hints of vulnerability but balancing it with a chest-thumping façade that’s foreign to Ocean, who seldom covers the heart on his sleeve

Instead, he rambles through his own bacchanalia-filled album like the lone, black character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel: lost, lonely and struggling to find out where he fits in, not to mention who he fits with. Whether Ocean knows it or not, he speaks more to, for and about today’s youth — black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor — than any artist out there. And critics love praising artists who fit in that voice-of-their-generation mold.

Just like Ocean, the enigmatic Canadian known as the Weeknd first got people’s attention via free mixtapes, dropping a trio of them last year. And, like Ocean, Weeknd is a much-hyped artist who comes up with dreamy, down-tempo beats and sings of being a confused dude in a high-class, hedonistic world. Hell, most of his songs (like the F-bomb-dropping “Wicked Games”) have him sounding like he’s pitifully trying to have some sort of connection with a coked-up gal he met at an industry party. Those previously released mixtapes will be re-released and remastered as part of a collection called Trilogy, to be released on today. Whether or not critics will accept this as a new, official release and make it a part of their year-end best of list is still up for debate.
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Miguel, who released his second album Kaleidoscope Dream in September, is not as melancholy as Ocean or Weeknd, but can be just as daring and vulnerable. He can easily go from minimalist soul to noisy rock (occasionally in the same song). He also doesn’t mind showing some insecurity when it comes to the ladies, like when he begs a gal to tell him he’s the only one knocking it out the park on the aptly titled “Pussy Is Mine.” While his 2010 debut All I Want Is You, is arguably better, Dream will likely get lots of year-end love.

In a perfect world, these r & b rebels would all get their due from the pale-faced criterati at the end of the year. But let’s be real here: most year-end, ten-best lists rarely have more than one black music artist on their lists. (And that lone slot is usually sewn up by a great hip-hop album, which this year will no doubt be Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.) And though others will, in fact, be overlooked — whether it’s veterans like Dwele, who once again came correct this year with Greater Than One, or newbies like BJ the Chicago Kid, who broke out this year with his Pineapple Now-Laters debut — Ocean, the Weeknd, and Miguel have put out work deserving of year-end acclaim. Other years each would’ve made a fine token choice. This year, all three together may signal a change.

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