Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pazz & Jop 2007: Why I Liked What I Liked

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2008 at 3:29 PM

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This week, The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop 2007 poll was released. Like most of the Scene’s fine music writers, I voted in the poll, which involved dividing 100 points among 10 albums and crafting a list of 10 favorite songs.

Doing a “Best of” list is a strange task. You always end up feeling torn between stuff you thought was brilliant, stuff you thought was important and stuff you ended up listening to the most. This year was even more confusing for me, because I found myself liking so much of what everyone else liked. These lists usually seem like a small opportunity to interject some hidden gem or local masterpiece in the national dialogue. I wedged Wax Fang onto my list this year, but also included LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Radiohead and Arcade Fire. Surprisingly, most of those albums made it on based on category three: they were the things I listened to the most. (Though the album I may have listened to the most overall was one I didn’t really like all that much on first listen: Josh Ritter’s magical The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.)

So, what made me love these albums so much? They’re really different from the stuff I obsessed over in 2006—The Hold Steady, Arctic Monkeys, Bound Stems. Last year I was still enduring the post-college transition to cubicle life. I craved those grand stories of youthful indulgence, of summer festivals gone awry, of changing your sweater to sneak into clubs. I cranked them up on my commute (ugh!) to work and tapped my toe along as I dutifully entered listings at the Scene.

But this year, my own story was tumultuous and complex enough to keep me entertained. 2008 was a strange year for me: the death of a parent, a rough break-up, a new, invigorating relationship. What I needed from music this year wasn’t distraction, but rather a soundtrack to my travails. So the songs and albums that stayed in rotation—through the ups, the downs, the malaise, the unexpected trips home and the unexpected joy—were vague and strangely versatile. Songs like “All My Friends” or Spoon’s “Finer Feelings” can be alternately melancholy, triumphant or exhilarating, depending on how you’re feeling. I could run to them on the treadmill, cry to them in my room or put them on a super-sweet party mix.

Then there is something like In Rainbows, which somehow just felt like this amazing little miracle. In the endless cycle of hype, advances, buzz and wane, we only had to wait 10 days for this one, and it was brilliant—from the very first moment. It was also versatile, and deliberate—not to mention filled with moments of exquisite beauty. Another beautiful—and underrated—album was Menomena’s Friend and Foe. The bridge on “Muscle’n Flo” remains my favorite musical moment of the year (and my interview with the band’s Brent Knopf was my favorite job-related conversation).

I had trouble filling up my top 10. I was frustrated and lamented that I hadn’t liked as much stuff this year, that there was less to get excited about. But now I can see that this year was no wash. Instead of a ton of stuff to like, I got a handful of things to love. These are lifelong records—not ironic or bloggable or delightfully topical. So, I guess 2007 ended up being a pretty good year.

Make sure to check out some of the wonderful, insightful Pazz & Jop essays, including excellent ones on Feist and Amy Winehouse.

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