Sunday, October 16, 2022

best albums and tracks 2021

Directors cut of blurbs for Pitchfork end of year albums + tracks

 Dry Cleaning

New Long Leg

One way to hear New Long Leg is as a cringe-tinged dramedy, like Fleabag or Girls, with Florence Shaw as the performer who knows exactly how to deliver her own script. This album is unlikely to win a Grammy but it really ought to get Emmys for writing and acting. The lyrics infest your brain with quotables that reverberate for days, but more than the words it’s the intonation that’s so funny and so heartbreaking: the grudging cadences, the way she can inject an unreadable alloy of earnest and ironic into an inanity like “I can rebuild.” The English expression “browned off” perfectly captures Shaw’s affect, a deadpan flatness that damps down the post-punky backing whenever it threatens to get too epic. The self-portrait painted here is of a burned-out shell drifting numbly through a life that senselessly accumulates irritations, humiliations, discomforts, chores, and interpersonal skirmishes, offset by the tiny comforts of Twix bars and artisanal treats. There’s a personal dimension to the inner emptiness (a sapping break-up), but because New Long Leg’s release fortuitously coincided with the depressive pall that swept over the world thanks to lockdown,  Shaw’s interiority synced up perfectly with exterior conditions. It’s no coincidence that the most exciting rock record in years is about the inability to feel excitement. Timing and talent converged to make Shaw not just a voice of a generation, but a truth-teller distilling how it feels to be alive right now: “Every day is a dick”. *


Oneohtrix Point Never, Elizabeth Fraser

“Tales from the Trash Stratum”

The original “Trash Stratum” on 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never entwined distortion and euphony in fairly familiar Dan Lopatin fashion. This year’s drastic reinvention lovingly collages ‘80s production motifs: pizzicato string-flutters as fragrant as Enya, blobs of reverb-smudged piano that evoke Harold Budd, high-toned pings of bass that could be The Blue Nile or Seventeen Seconds Cure. It’s like Lopatin is a bowerbird building a glittering nest to attract a mate – and succeeds in reeling in the onetime Cocteau Twin.  Fraser’s contributions -  ASMR-triggering wisps of sibilant breath, chirruping syllables from a disintegrated lullaby – are closer to a diva’s warm-up exercises than an actual aria, and sometimes you long for her to take full-throated flight into song.  But it’s lovely to hear the Goth goddess brought into the glitchy 21st Century.     

    * a mishearing but a righteous one, I insist                                                                                                                                

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Never Mind the Ballots (the Pitchfork Songs and Albums of the 1990s Lists)

I contributed some entries to the Pitchfork Best Albums of the 1990s and Best Songs of the 1990s  - Oval Diskont 94 and Massive Attack Blue Lines in the long-players, My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" in the short-players.

(I was taken aback really that the selectorate didn't go for "Soon" and "To Here Knows When" as the MBV Peaks of that decade. Or even "Loomer". Still, I'm hardly going to spurn an opportunity to hymn Loveless again, am I?)

Talking about selectorates (which was unusually large with this vote, I believe)...  the selection process is two-fold with these P-fork lists. 

First round, you pick your 50 Faves. If you don't see your fave in the list already, you can add it (thereby fractionally increasing the chance some other selector might pick it too). This stage of the voting is pretty close to one's very own absolute faves, although a low-key, by-default sort of tactical voting  tends to seep into the process, in so far as I didn't pick some of my actual faves because they just seemed not to have a snowflake's chance in hell of getting through. I mean, Sacred's "Do It Together" is not going to make the final cut, is it? Nor Goldseal Tribe "Living Lonely". Nor anything by the Mover, Miro or Reign. So there's a little bit of preliminary sifting that takes place here, I should imagine it's the same with the other voters participating.   

Second stage involves this huge mass of preferences getting boiled down by invisible hands into a sort of proto-consensus Long List - still a very large number of candidates - and it's out of this squad that you make another and final selection. (For some reason at this stage we were encouraged to select 100 singles rather than 50).  Here's where some serious tactical voting took place, at least on my part. (Why bother? I honestly can't tell you! I've yet to outgrow these impulses, is all I can say.) Funnily enough, though, some things that I never considered on the first round, thinking them too marginal, actually popped up in this narrowed selection of top tracks and tunes.  E.g. Double 99, "Ripgroove". So of course these got my vote on the second ballot 

Here is the first round ballot of mine for song/track (as you can see I actually overspilled the Fifty) 

1 Omni Trio: Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix)

2 Foul play: Open your mind (Foul Play Remix)

3 Apollo Two: Atlantis (I Need You) (LTJ Bukem Remix)

4 The House Crew: Euphoria (Nino's Dream)

5 Acen: Trip II the Moon (Pt. 1 and 2)

6 Boards of Canada: Roygbiv

 7 Orbital: Chime

 8 Nightmares on Wax: Aftermath

 9 Aaliyah: One in a Million

 10 Tricky: Aftermath

 11 Beltram: Energy Flash

 12 Blame: Music Takes You (2 Bad Mice Remix)

 13 My Bloody Valentine: To Here Knows When

 14 Prodigy: Firestarter

 15 Busta Rhymes featuring Janet: What's It Gonna Be?!

 16 My Bloody Valentine: Soon

17 New Radicals: You Get What You Give

 18 Urban Shakedown: Some Justice

 19 LFO: LFO

 20 Dem 2: Destiny (Sleepless)

 21 Seefeel: Time To Find Me

 22 Second Phase: Mentasm

 23 Human Resource: Dominator

 24 Aphex Twin: Analogue Bubblebath

 25 Björk: Human Behavior

 26 Goldie: Angel

 27 The Prodigy: Charly

 28 Aphex Twin: Alberto Balsam

 29 Slowdive: Catch the Breeze EP / specifically "Shine"

 30 Craig Mack: Flava in Ya Ear

 31 Aaliyah: Are You That Somebody

 32 Beenie Man: Who Am I: 

33 Future Sound of London Papua New Guinea

 34 Cypress Hill: How I Could Just Kill a Man

 35 Goldie: Inner City Life

 36 Missy Elliott: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

 37 Cypress Hill: Latin Lingo

 38 World of Twist: Sons of the Stage

 39 The Chemical Brothers (ft. Noel Gallagher): Setting Sun

 40 Liz Phair: Fuck and Run

 41 Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

 42 LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out

 43 Primal Scream: Higher Than the Sun

 44 The Prodigy: Breathe

 45 Jane's Addiction: Stop!

 46 Saint Etienne: Avenue

 47 Jane's Addiction: Been Caught Stealing

 48 DJ Shadow: Midnight In a Perfect World

 49 TLC: Waterfalls

 50 Edwyn Collins: A Girl Like You

overspilling -  

51 Elastica: Connection

 52 Alice in Chains: Would?

 53 Deee: Lite - Groove Is in the Heart

 54 The Breeders: Cannonball

 55 Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day

 56 Busta Rhymes: Dangerous

57 Pulp: Common People

 58 Britney Spears: Baby One More Time

 59 Fatboy Slim: Praise You

 60 The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony

 61 Public Enemy: 911 Is a Joke

 62 Missy Elliott featuring Nas, Eve and Q-Tip: Hot Boyz

 63 Aphex Twin: Windowlicker

 64 Naughty by Nature: O.P.P.

 65 Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

 66 Wreckx-n-Effect: Rump Shaker

 67 My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow

And here is the second round, winnowed-down selection of songs / tracks 

1 Omni Trio: Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix)

2 The House Crew: Euphoria (Nino's Dream)

3 Aaliyah: One in a Million

4 Boards of Canada: Roygbiv

5 New Radicals: You Get What You Give

6 Blame: Music Takes You (2 Bad Mice Remix)

7 Acen: Trip II the Moon (Pt. 1 and 2)

8 Tricky: Aftermath

9 Beltram: Energy Flash

10 Urban Shakedown: Some Justice

11 Orbital: Chime

12 My Bloody Valentine: Soon

13 Aaliyah: Are You That Somebody

14 Beenie Man: Who Am I

15 The Stone Roses: I Wanna be Adored

16 Prodigy: Firestarter

17 Liz Phair: Fuck and Run

18 Prefab Sprout: Wild Horses

19 Björk: Human Behavior

20 Craig Mack: Flava in Ya Ear

21 Missy Elliott: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

22 LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out

23 Liz Phair: Divorce Song

24 The Future Sound of London: Papua New Guinea

25 Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain

26 Pulp: Common People

27 Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre: No Diggity

28 The Breeders: Cannonball

29 Juvenile ft. Mannie Fresh, Lil Wayne: Back That Azz Up

30 The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony

31 Double 99: Ripgroove

32 Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit

33 Busta Rhymes: Put Ya Hands Where My Eyes Can See

34 Goldie: Inner City Life

35 Stardust: Music Sounds Better With You

36 Outkast: Elevators (Me & You)

37 Orbital: Halcyon On + On

38 Artful Dodger ft. Craig David: Re-Rewind

39 Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome

40 Green Velvet: Flash

41 TLC: Waterfalls

42 Primal Scream: Higher Than the Sun

43 The La's: There She Goes

44 Blur: Girls & Boys

45 Smashing Pumpkins: 1979

46 k.d. lang: Constant Craving

47 Destiny's Child: Bills, Bills, Bills

48 Björk: Army of Me

49 Naughty by Nature: O.P.P.

50 Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day 

51 Beck: Loser 

52 Destiny's Child: Say My Name 

53 Britney Spears: Baby One More Time 

54 Deee-Lite: Groove Is in the Heart 

55 Elastica: Connection 

56 DJ Zinc: Super Sharp Shooter 

57 DMX: Ruff Ryders Anthem 

58 Alice in Chains: Would? 

59 K.P. & Envyi: Swing My Way 

60 Missy Elliott ft, Nas, Eve and Q-Tip: Hot Boyz 

61 Busta Rhymes: Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check 

62 PJ Harvey: Rid of Me 

63 Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg: Still D.R.E. 

64 Crystal Waters: Gypsy Woman

65 Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg: Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang  

66 DJ Shadow: Midnight In a Perfect World  

67 Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy  

68 Warren G, Nate Dogg: Regulate 

69 Robin S.: Show Me Love 

70 Ginuwine: Pony 

71 Björk: Hyperballad  

72 Dr. Dre, Eminem: Forgot About Dre  

73 Weezer: Undone (The Sweater Song)  

74 Isolée: Beau Mot Plage

 75 My Bloody Valentine: When You Sleep

 76 Brandy, Monica: The Boy Is Mine

 77 Mazzy Star: Fade Into You

 78 Snap: I Got The Power

79 My Bloody Valentine: Only Shallow

 80 Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box

 81 Julee Cruise: Falling

 82 My Bloody Valentine: Sometimes

 83 Daft Punk: Around the World

 84 Aphex Twin: Windowlicker

 85 Cutty Ranks: Limb By Limb

 86 TLC: No Scrubs

 87 Le Tigre: Deceptacon

 88 Björk: Venus as a Boy

 89 P.M. Dawn: Set Adrift on Memory Bliss

 90 Ghost Town DJs: My Boo

 91 Portishead: Sour Times

 92 Björk: Jóga

 93 Utah Saints: Something Good

 94 The Sundays: Here's Where the Story Ends

 95 Korn: Freak On A Leash

 96 2Pac: Dear Mama

 97 Madonna: Vogue

 98 Harvey Danger: Flagpole Sitta

 99 Dawn Penn: You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)

 100 The KLF: 3 a.m. Eternal (Live at the S.S.L.)

 101 Spice Girls: Wannabe

 102 SWV: Right Here 

103 The Notorious B.I.G.: Hypnotize 

104 The Offspring: Self Esteem 

105 Underworld: Born Slippy (Nuxx) 

106 SWV: Weak

Albums now - here is the first round ballot o' mine

1 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

2 Tricky: Maxinquaye

3 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II

4 LFO: Frequencies

5 Boards of Canada: Music Has The Right To Children

6 Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville

7 Ultramarine: Every Man and Woman Is A Star

8 Wagon Christ: Throbbing Pouch

9 Omni Trio: The Deepest Cut, Vol.1

10 Saint Etienne: Foxbase Alpha

11 Seefeel: Polyfusia

12 Insides: Euphoria

13 My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

14 Pulp: Different Class

15 Massive Attack: Blue Lines

16 World of Twist: Quality Street

17 Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly

18 Björk: Debut

19 Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet

20 Roni Size/Reprazent: New Forms

21 Kraftwerk: The Mix

22 Goldie: Timeless

23 Saint Etienne: So Tough

24 Morrissey: Vauxhall and I

25 Oval: 94 Diskont

26 Portishead: Dummy

27 Seefeel: Quique

28 Pulp: His n Hers

29 Björk: Post

30 Prefab Sprout: Jordan: The Comeback

31 Stereolab: Mars Audiac Quintet

32 Herbert: Around the House

33 Pulp: This Is Hardcore

34 Cypress Hill: Black Sunday

35 Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup

36 The 6ths: Wasps' Nests

37 Radiohead: OK Computer

38 Stereolab: Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements

39 PJ Harvey: Dry

40 Basement Jaxx: Remedy

41 Elastica: Elastica

42 Busta Rhymes: When Disaster Strikes

43 Björk: Homogenic

44 Kirstin Hersh: Hips and Makers

45 Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall

46 Busta Rhymes: The Coming

47 Daft Punk: Homework

48 GZA: Liquid Swords

49 Busta Rhymes: Extinction Level Event

50 Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted

And the second and final votes for album, taken from the reduced-in-number consensus squad. Now here an interesting thing happens which is that I start running out of real faves (my own abfavs having been taken out of contention, you see). So I start drifting into "approve of" criteria, or have some other metric of solidarity or tangential reason to support (see if you can spot which artist is in there really only because a 4 Hero remix made me fall for that particular song and come to greatly appreciate the remixee's own skills of storytelling and delivery. But in truth the album from which said remixed track hails I only heard this year!).

Truthfully, from number 23 onwards in this second shorter shortlist, it's often the case that the singles off the album, perhaps even just one track on it, are the reason it's included (Aaliyah is for the title track obviously - and "If Your Girl Only Knew" which is decent). Other times there might be another album  (or albums) by the same artist that I much much prefer, but since the selectorate has gone for it, I've lent it the support. 

1 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

2 Tricky: Tricky: Maxinquaye

3 Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville

4 Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children

5 Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works Volume II

6 Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott: Supa Dupa Fly

7 Pulp: Different Class

8 Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet

9 Cypress Hill: Black Sunday

10 My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

11 Massive Attack: Blue Lines

12 Oval: 94 Diskont

13 Goldie: Timeless

14 Roni Size/Reprazent: New Forms

15 Björk: Post

16 Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall

17 Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup

18 Prefab Sprout: Jordan: The Comeback

19 Dr. Dre: The Chronic

20 Elastica: Elastica

21 Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted

22 Radiohead: OK Computer

23 DMX: It's Dark and Hell Is Hot

24 Beck: Odelay

25 Portishead: Dummy

26 GZA: Liquid Swords

27 U2: Achtung Baby

28 Nirvana: Nevermind

29 PJ Harvey: Rid Of Me

30 Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

31 DJ Shadow: Endtroducing

32 OutKast: ATLiens

33 Nirvana: In Utero

34 De La Soul: De La Soul Is Dead

35 Daft Punk: Homework

36 Aaliyah: One in a Million

37 Bone Thugs n-Harmony: E. 1999 Eternal

38 The KLF: Chill Out

39 Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

40 Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque

41 Primal Scream: Screamadelica

42 Aphex Twin: Richard D. James Album

43 Ice Cube: Death Certificate

44 The Beta Band: The 3 EPs

45 Juvenile: 400 Degreez

46 Scarface: The Diary

47 Tortoise: Millions Now Living Will Never Die

48 Le Tigre: Le Tigre

49 Slint: Spiderland

50 Main Source: Breaking Atoms


Looking at these ballots again, some glaring and unaccountable omissions inevitably emerge - most notably the absence of A Guy Called Gerald's Black Secret Technology and several of the 12-inch releases on Juice Box.