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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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Mission of Burma

Next year might mark the 30th anniversary these storied post-punk troubadours called it quits, but, on a more positive note, this year marks a decade since they decided to re-form. Sparked on by the interest surrounding them upon the release of music journalist Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life book, the group, who has inspired artists ranging from R.E.M. to Moby with songs like “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” and “Academy Fight Song,” has remained in top form in the years since. With EULA and the Static Jacks.

Thu., Jan. 19, 9 p.m., 2012

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Party Animal: Peter Gatien’s Old New York in Limelight

Once upon a time, Peter Gatien ruled clubland in New York. With spots such as Limelight (erected inside a church) and Tunnel (which truly was a labyrinth of debauchery), the impresario who wore an eye patch (for legit reasons) figured out all the post-Studio 54 strategies for getting people to queue up in order to empty their pockets. But chances are you know this already—especially if you’re a longtime reader of the Voice. A vet of this paper, reporter Frank Owen chronicled the initial scandals that occurred in the clubs when Gatien was still at the top—and then the extended-remix attempts by local cops and the feds to shut down the entire operation during the Giuliani ’90s.

But familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed boredom in Billy Corben’s documentary, which takes its title from Gatien’s flagship club. Watching Gatien talk today, from exile in Canada and behind sunglasses instead of that patch, viewers can still get a sense of his charm. Corben doesn’t probe, and Limelight works better as an unofficial history of an Old New York than it does as the definitive portrait of Gatien, who likes to tell his story—perhaps the only thing he has left. Owen enjoys playing the role of raconteur, too, as do the other interviewees: drug runners and ex-cons, and the laughably compromised erstwhile federal informants. The archival footage is great: It’s all skuzzy VHS with wild tracking issues and Betamax clips of the clubs themselves as well as of successive generations of fuddy-duddy local news reporters trying to explain club culture. Then Moby drops by to talk about how the lower Manhattan underground of the time (can you imagine such a thing now?) shaped pop music for the entire country.

Given all this interesting raw material, it’s mildly disappointing that the filmmakers tie it together with such cheesy connective tissue. The new talking-head footage is lit with bright purples and greens; these people worked in clubs, get it? And there’s seemingly never a transition that goes by without the accompaniment of an animated disco ball wiping across the frame. It’s on-the-nose, for sure, but also unsuccessful because the sheer chintziness of these effects runs counter to the ruthless professionalism and keen aesthetic of Gatien and his early crew.

Those guys, by the way (and yes, they’re all guys), are still remarkably—overly—proud of their achievements. Even the ones who ratted out their ex-partners still seem to feel a latent bonhomie. But when they whine about how, post-Giuliani, there’s no exciting club life in New York anymore, they almost sound like bereft record executives lamenting the decline of the monoculture. Of course, New York still has an underground—even if Palladium is now a dorm for NYU kids. Gatien knows better than most how the fringe just moves to new territory whenever the mainstream glare becomes too bright.

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WILD ANIMALS

Outdoor electronic festivals can be real time-warps. They’re often every bit as stylistically divergent as an old mega-rave, with an emphasis on now-retro big-room big names. The Electric Zoo doesn’t entirely abandon that template. Its four stages host venerable titans including crossover superstar Moby; New York house legends Victor Calderone and Danny Tenaglia; Euro populists Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, Carl Cox and John Digweed; and Detroit/Windsor techno pioneers Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin (under both his birthname and his Plastikman guise). But there are some happy surprises to this bill: Fool’s Gold’s Nick Catchdubs, M.I.A.-collaborating reformed bro-stepper Rusko, left coast leftfielder Daedelus, Poker Flat/Dessous housey minimalist Steve Bug, beatboxing Beardyman, Mehdi and Riton’s Chicago-focused side-project Carte Blanche, Kid Cudi-remixers Crookers, Kompakt’s Gui Borrato, dance-poppists Chromeo, multimedia geeks Super Mash Brothers, and global bass curator Diplo are among the more than 100 artists making appearances.

Sept. 2-4, 11 a.m., 2011

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OBIT WIT

We know we’re not the only ones who have fantasized about faking our own death and going undercover to the funeral just to see what people would say about us. Todd Zuniga certainly thinks about it. The co-creator of Literary Death Match (we’re seeing a pattern here) asked 40 writers, filmmakers, musicians, and others to write their own obituaries for the exhibition Let It End Like This. The results, contributed by artists from Moby and Tao Lin to Susan Orlean and Eugene Mirman, range from funny to, well, morbid. Other participants include Aaron Garretson, Sam Lipsyte, Sarah McNally, Dinaw Mengestu, James J. Williams III, Joseph Keckler, and Evie Wylde. The opening party is from 6 to 8 on March 9.

March 9-May 14, 2011

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Girl Talk

One of the few DJs to cross over into the pop world since Moby, Gregg Gillis also holds the distinction of bringing classic rock to the mostly-young masses, a feat that most radio stations can’t do. His mash-ups are full of hip-hop and recent pop, too, which might be why he appeals less to the older classic-rock crowd itself. He continues to merrily offer up his music for free–at least until the RIAA comes after him. With Penguin Prison.

Sat., Feb. 5, 7 p.m., 2011

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MANIMAL PLANET

Considering any rave on Randall’s Island would resemble the Island of Dr. Moreau sooner versus later (especially if the good doc favored blue fake-fur and glitter-glue), it’s wise that Made Events has embraced the drugged-out menagerie by dubbing their dance fest Electric Zoo. The second annual open-air shenanigans puff up with four stages and such electro luminaries as the Chemical Brothers, Armin van Buuren, Kaskade, Moby (you remember Moby!), and Major Lazer. Dancing is encouraged, without moderation—and be careful with the horns.

Sat., Sept. 4, 11 a.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 11 a.m., 2010

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‘Benefit Concert for Anthology Film Archives’

Kenneth Anger, 83-year-old auteur of experimental cinephile favorites Scorpio Rising and Lucifer Rising, will play the theremin tonight with occasional film producer Brian Butler for their collaboration, Technicolor Skull. They describe it as a “magick ritual of light and sound,” which is perfect considering this event is a benefit for the folding-chair art-house movie bastion Anthology Film Archives (though Skull’s music is definitely experimental noise and musique concrète). Also performing tonight are Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Moby, and the Virgins, so regardless of the evening’s benefit status, it will be a night to remember in all its brightly colored glory.

Wed., May 19, 8:30 p.m., 2010

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SPACE IS THE PLACE

The shit-hot One Step Beyond mega-gatherings hosted by The Fader are pretty good at nabbing the hottest things going—past guests include Moby, Nick Catchdubs, Simian Mobile Disco, and a Kanye appearance—and getting them to rock the cosmic confines of the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The space-cadets-of-the-moment and Pazz & Jop shoo-ins Animal Collective are natural fits for the spherical home of hundreds of Galileo-style epiphanies and various bad acid trips. Tonight, the Animals will be DJing instead of performing, giving their fans the ultimate mixtape—no problem, since their tastes proudly run the gamut from vintage ‘60s rare groove psych-folk, ooky ‘70s horror soundtracks, gleeful ‘80s new wave, trancetastic ‘90s dub techno, contemporary Syrian shredders, and the various musky haunted mush they constantly push out on their Paw-Tracks label.

Fri., Jan. 8, 9 p.m., 2010

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Woosh League

London duo The Big Pink is a lovely Loveless-core proposition that remembers that the fun of buying pedal chains is making yourselves sound totally enormous. With a sound expansive enough to make American contemporaries like Pains of Being Pure at Heart or A Place to Bury Strangers look like precious dudes fingering Line 6 pedals in the practice space, Big Pink are the rock stars of nu-gazer, with actual charting singles in the U.K. and a vocalist, Robbie Furze, who can completely muscle his arena-ready hooks into the spotlight. But for now, they are a beloved indie crew, peddling their wares (of course) on reverb stalwart 4AD and doing two massive shows in New York—they’re at Bowery Ballroom tonight and Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow. They even nabbed a spot on Pitchfork’s Top 500 Songs of the Decade, for what that’s worth, with “Velvet,” produced by NIN’s Alan Moulder. See them on this tour, if not sooner. Because if we know anything about that magical combo of breakbeaty drums, churning guitars, and floaty artnoise (Reznor, Tricky, Moby), we know that critics are mad hasty to turn on this stuff for no reason at all. With 2008’s band-of-the-hour Crystal Antlers and Von Haze. Tonight at 8, Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 212-533-2111; Friday at 8, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 North 6th Street, Brooklyn.

Thu., Dec. 3, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 4, 8 p.m., 2009