Who the Fuck Listens to This Double-Header – Cover Me, I’m Going In

So it must be acknowledged that implicit to the title of this feature 1 is that there do not exist people who would listen to this. One of these albums, then, seems to come with its own pre-ordained disclaimer: the reason that Weezer’s The Teal Album appears to be that the internet demanded that Weezer cover “Africa,” and they made an album around it. I’m here to argue, however, that this is, in fact, not a reason to make a whole album, any more than “I have the legal rights to use the name of a band that used to be a going concern” was a reason to make this Lemonheads covers albums. I guess what I’m saying is: neither of these albums has an easy answer to the question “who is this for?” and that is the non-profanity version of the question in the header.

The two things looked at in tandem, in fact, show us a world of contrast, albeit not contrasts that are in opposition. The Teal Album is a try-hard overachieving fanservice big swing, anchored by an internet-demanded track that, frankly, was a bad idea from the top all the way down. The Lemonheads’ Varshons 2, on the other hand, was not really requested by anyone, internet or otherwise. It is, in fact, the Lemonheads’ 2 second-consecutive covers record, but first in ten years, and no part of it was demanded by anyone. At times it’s hard to believe that even Evan Dando wants this record to exist.

The other thing, though, that these two bands have in common is that they were both, in the nineties, capable and even laudable power-pop bands. The further sort of duality that they’re drawn into by this circumstance – that is, the circumstance of each band releasing a covers album within a couple of weeks of each other – is to note how differently their things progressed. They both started off rockin’ bopsters from the East Coast, but the Lemonheads fell apart into drugs, apathy, and the sort of frontman weirdo-ness that doesn’t make for coming back easily 3, and lurch to life occasionally to make enough sweet reunion tour dollars to yield, I’m going to presume, another pile of drugs with which to hole up and not worry about anymore.

Weezer, on the other hand, fell apart into basically the exact opposite experience, riding Rivers Cuomo’s algorithmic 4 songwriting uh…chops to album-a-year middle-ground success as sort of the last generally-bland riff-and-hook rock dudes left standing. It’s unfair to call either experience a band, as one has basically no functional members beyond the people hired to play the songs, and the other is compries of 75% original members, leashed to each other to play music that means nothing, and only sets out to accomplish selling enough records to enable them to continue doing it. One is a constantly self-destructing machine, the other a perpetual-motion machine.

And so it comes to pass that each of these bands, capable in their past of great work, come forward with albums full of other people’s’ songs, as though that was any way to communicate to whatever remains of their fanbases whatever it was that was great about them in the first place, out of mercenary need. The Weezer album out of year-over-year mercenary behavior, to drum up support for whatever their next studio monstrosity is going to be, and the Lemonheads for more easily-scrutinized mercenary reasons: they probably needed the money or whatever.

Whether it’s an outright trend that I’m not on top of or just something that confirmation bias has pushed in front of me, covers albums have been happening over my transom a fair amount lately – even just last year, one would have heard a lot about both Third Eye Blind’s covers album (which got a writeup as part of this very feature) and Meshell N’Degeocello’s covers album (which was one of my favorite albums of the year), and that’s only out of the fifty-odd things I write about over the normal course of business in a given year. So: why? Why a covers album at all? Why two of them in a month, and three of them 5 in a year?

Well, the answer seems to be pretty apparent: people like songs they already know, and you can bet heavily on them perhaps giving you more of a listen if you aren’t straining their memory (by being a band they don’t remember) and their faith (by presenting them with a bunch of songs they don’t know). It’s a low-stakes way to get something out there, in short, and it almost certainly has no reason to exist beyond that.

But maybe there’s something in the performances that tells us otherwise. After all, pleny of people have made much hay with someone else’s songs, and there’s no reason why any of this couldn’t be the same situation.

No reason beyond the fact, of course, that it isn’t.

Look, this is a pretty straight up and down situation: these albums are both bad. But they are, to their credit, bad in distinct and separate ways. Weezer performs a bunch of note-perfect covers of existing radio hits, with just enough “Weezer” on them 6 to make it clear that you’re not hearing the original. It starts by making the listener wade through the execrable internet-baiting “Africa” cover, well-sung 7 but otherwise-unspectacular version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Take on Me” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, and it just isn’t worth it. There’s a stretch in the back half of the album that almost sort of makes a case for the record; “Paranoid” adds very little to the song itself, but at least sounds like the band is genuinely enjoying themselves, “Mr. Blue Sky” is a durable enough song that it always sounds like that 8, and they do the coda, which is nice. “No Scrubs” is also a surprisingly sturdy song, and while it’s eye-roll inducing in its “wouldn’t it be funny if this white rock band did an R&B classic?” conceit, the band plays it relatively straight, and it’s at least listenable. It ends with a couple of the worst things I’ve ever had to sit through, in the form of a braindead version of “Billie Jean” 9followed by a perfunctory version of “Stand By Me”, which isn’t even that hard of a song to cover in the first place. It’s actively baffling, and it really caps off an already-bad record on an already-bad note.

The Lemonheads album is less unpleasant, if only because it’s considerably more slight, and also because it mostly has better songs on it. Unlike the Weezer record, it starts pretty strong, with a fine Yo La Tengo cover (“Can’t Forget”). It runs through Dando-ified versions of pretty-good songs by the Jayhawks (“Settled Down Like Rain”) and the Bevis Frond (“Old Man Blank”) before taking some big swings at a classic Paul Westerberg solo number (“Things”) that turns out well, because it’s not like any Paul Westerberg song is dependent on its performance 10.

Things get even wobblier with their version of “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” which is one of John Prine’s very best songs, and is pretty outside of their ability here. They don’t fall down entirely on Lucinda Williams’ “Abandoned” 11, they do completely fall down on “Now and Then” (by a band called Natural Child, whose work I am not familiar with at all). NRBQ’s “Magnet” is fine, if not revelatory. They get full points for constructing a version of the Florida-Georgia Line’s “Round Here” that I not only like more than the original (not difficult), but might actually listen to again of my own volition some day. And then they go completely off the rails. Their amiable country-rock approach is abandoned for “TAQN” by The Eyes, and punk rock does not suit whatever form the Lemonheads currently take. It’s better than the fake-reggae of the GiveGood’s “Familiar”, but it’s still not as bad as the Lovecraftian, mind-melting horror that awaits the last two tracks on the album.

I’m trying not to overstate things, but jesus their version of “Straight to You” is bad. Evan Dando’s perishing, lackadaisical-dude voice is fine, and its actually borne up pretty well with time, but “Straight to You” is pretty much exactly the kind of song that you need a super-huge operatic take on, or it just ends up sounding pretty dumb. There are lots of Nick Cave songs that are well-served by a slow, unengaged approach 12, this is absolutely not one of them. Having done considerable violence to a great song, they then record a faithful, reverent version of a terrible one with “Take it Easy”. It is at this point that I wanted to attack Spotify’s servers with a hammer. Say this for the Weezer record, at least it didn’t make me this angry.

There’s little else to say than that, in the end. In this case, both cover records seem to admit defeat – Weezer’s by throwing their hands up and just giving the people what they want, which was a cover of “Africa”, as well as a bunch of radio songs from when he was a kid, The Lemonheads by not only not writing songs, but not even doing anything to make the songs they cover sound like The Lemonheads 13, and basically acknowledging that you just want to hear them play songs you already know anyway.

So who the fuck listens to this? I don’t know. People who are into internet memes, I guess. People that like bar bands and want them to have a name they know, I guess. People that don’t want to acknowledge that the nineties ended twenty years ago, I guess. I genuinely have no idea. They aren’t worth listening to in any way, and I can’t imagine who is doing so.

Now, give me an album of Weezer covering the Lemonheads, that I’d listen to. If you could get a version of “Rudderless” on there, I’d even donate to the Kickstarter.


  1. one of the first features I came up with for this blog, and a well that I have to prevent myself from going to too often, lest it spoil the special gem-like rarity of the truly inexplicable. 
  2. for so we are forced to call them, given that the only constant member is Evan Dando, to the point where it’s difficult to even figured out who played on Varshons 2. 
  3. and indeed, the Lemonheads have never really “come back” in any meaningful sense after The Lemonheads, their first “reunion” album, which has its moments, but not very many of them. 
  4. this is meant literally – dude writes songs with spreadsheets and math. 
  5. I never much cared for Third Eye Blind, but I’m perfectly happy to lump them in with the Lemonheads and Weezer as bands that peaked in the nineties and somehow continue to lurch around making records I don’t care about, including a covers album. They’re not that different. 
  6. for all that their music currently sounds painstakingly assembled out of parts to the point of being frictionless and uninteresting, it is also the case that there is a surprising amount of singularity to their sound – that is to say they are readily identifiable as “Weezer”, even though their music is designed to be as featureless as possible. 
  7. There are, to be sure, two aspects of Weezer as mechanical performers that are interesting, and the first is Cuomo’s surprisingly-capable, surprisingly-agile voice – he hits the high note in “Take on Me”! – and Pat Wilson’s drumming, which is much better than it has any right to be. 
  8. it did force me to consider whether I find the production on this record less offensive than on ELO’s Out of the Blue or not. I think that I’m just used to the way radio rock records sound in 2019, and it sounds less freakish because I’m here in it. I’m also sure that there’s pretty much no way in which I would have to hear it in a few years when things have changed somewhat, as they inevitably do, and compare the two experiences, so I’m going to have to let that stand for the truth in my estimation. 
  9. Rivers Cuomo owes me nothing, and I don’t know anything about his proclivities, but if you’re already the dude that wrote the agency-denying, stalker-lite lyrics on Pinkerton, maybe avoid covering what sure sounds like a proto-MRA anthem about a woman who lied about being impregnated by you to get at your dollars? In 2019? Like, maybe that’s not the best idea? I don’t know, man. Just saying. 
  10. there are great performances (as opposed to great songs, which abound) in Paul Westerberg’s solo discography, but not very many of them, and none of them are on 14 Songs, and none of them are “Things”. 
  11. one of my favorite Lucinda Williams songs, in fact, and from the album that you probably unjustly know as “the one with ‘Passionate Kisses’ on it”, because everyone covers that song all the time. Or maybe “Change the Locks,” which Tom Petty covered. 
  12. “Into My Arms,” “Black Hair,” “As I Sat Sadly By Her Side”, “Skeleton Tree” and “Henry Lee” – since he’s already got a duet partner there – are the ones that spring off the top of my head. I’m sure I could find a dozen more if pressed. 
  13. They sound, in fact, like the best bar band in your town. Whoever that is, the Lemonheads sound like that now. 

2019 Grammy Awards

Every year I point out in this headnote that the Grammys seem weirdly-placed in the “major awards season” television situation. I feel this still, although I will say that as these things become harder to take seriously in general, they become less like the odd duck and more sort of like a standard way-too-long television awards show.

This is an especially interesting year from where I’m standing, also, since it seemed like there was very little consensus activation this year in terms of what people liked all-around. Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae and Brandi Carlisle are all heavily-nominated here, and they were about as close to the sort of monolithic-universal approval that used to happen all the time 1. But since there wasn’t much in the way of huge, heavy-hitting pop releases that stuck around this year 2, there seems to be a little bit more room for things to get, if not actually weird, then at least closer to something like what people are actually listening this year.

That said, it’s not without its changes. They’ve expanded the bigger categories to include more people, which is nominally a way to be more inclusive, but turned out practically to be a way to include more country artists. I mean, I’m sure it won’t work that way every year, but it worked that way this year. So there’s that. And here’s the rest of it 3

Best Music Film

Another thing that happens every year: every frigging year I start this off with this frigging category. I have no idea how to evaluate yet another Elvis documentary that doesn’t reveal anything, nor about an Eric Clapton documentary made while he’s still alive. Itzhak Perlman is neat. Whitney was also fine, I guess. I liked that it tried to stem the narrative that she was a mere bystander to her own life and career (and, unfortunately, downfall), which is good. I like when people have agency.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Whitney

Best Music Video

I mean, it’s probably actually “This is America,” which is at least layered and visceral, but I kind of want to be the sort of person that thinks it’s “Pynk”, which is no less imagistically impressive and well-choreographed, but is also very funny, and is probably the best song ever written about Tessa Thompson’s swimsuit parts.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Childish Gambino, “This is America”

Producer of Year, Non-Classical

I’m more than happy to call this for Pharrell – he came up with “Stir Fry” and “Apeshit” and a pretty righteous NERD album. Good job, my dude.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams

Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical

I skipped the best engineered album category for classical because I don’t have the proper material to evaluate the engineering – I would assume that that’s the sort of determination one would need access to a higher-quality version of the recording than I am willing to shell out for 4, this is not necessarily the case for popular music, and I’m pretty happy commenting on it here. The only records here that sound like they might actually reflect the process of playing instruments and/or singing to make sounds that are captured are the albums by Beck, Bahamas and the Milk Carton Kids, which are all actually pretty bad, but the Milk Carton Kids one at least sounds ok.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Freeland & Kenneth Pattengale, for the Milk Carton Kids album All the Things I Did and All the Things I Didn’t Do

Best Instrumental Composition

This has pretty well converted itself to the “best song from a movie or whatever” category, and is almost never, like, an Aidan Baker song. That’s kind of disappointing. Especially since I have to consider all of this at so many different awards shows that it’s made more boring by its ubiquity.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”

Best Song Written for Visual Media

Totally different from “Best Instrumental Composition” because 1) it has the fact that it’s from a movie or tv show right there in the category name and 2) it can have singing on it. So this is where we find “Shallow”, and also the far-lesser “This is Me” (ew), “Mystery of Love” (presented without comment), “All the Stars,” which I thought was going to be the winner but it turns out that this is the year that “Remember Me” from Coco is nominated, and that’s the best song, so there you have it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “Remember Me”, Coco

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

The Black Panther and Blade Runner 2049 scores are good, but I’m still way into Coco guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Coco

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

So…the soundtrack to a musical counts as a compilation soundtrack 5, which is weird to me. I actually don’t like any of this, but I’m happy to say that Stranger Things is the best one, since it’s the one that did a good enough job. It may have been the best part of the show’s second season, in fact.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stranger Things

Best Comedy Album

Hard to argue against Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, here. I mean, Chris Rock’s return was welcome, and I like Jim Gaffigan, and even have plenty of good things to say about that Dave Chappelle, but Annihilation is a one of a kind thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

Best Folk Album

This is probably Joan Baez’s last album, and it’s hard not to be impressed by that. Especially since it’s up against a good-but-not-great Punch Brothers album, a completely-forgettable Iron & Wine album, and an acceptable Mary Gauthier album. Oh, and a Don Flemons album. His name is funny.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Joan Baez, Whistle Down the Wind

Best Contemporary Blues Album

Upon listening to all of this, and considering all of it, I have very few opinions about it. More than I do for some of the footnoted “not considered” category, and enough that it’s up here, but not that many. So I’m going to give it to Fantastic Negrito.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fantastic Negrito, Please Don’t Be Dead

Best Traditional Blues Album

I do like Elvis Bishop. That about wraps it up for my feelings about the blues, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elvis Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here

Best Bluegrass Album

These are all fine. The bottom categories that are hyper-specific non-popular genres usually do pretty well. In the interest of keeping the word count reasonable, I’ll call it here for Wood & Wire and move along.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wood & Wire, North of Despair

Best Americana Album

I’ll tell you this much: people are really into this Brandi Carlile album and, like, I do not quite get it. Lots of times things become famous for reasons I don’t understand, and I’ve pretty well learned to deal with it, but this one is just utterly baffling. I guess it’s fine. It’s not a patch on the John Prine album, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Prine, The Tree of Forgiveness

Best American Roots Song

John Prine is in this category twice, and that’s pretty cool because, as previously mentioned, The Tree of Forgiveness is really good. But I actually like this Mavis Staples song (written by ONAT favorite Jeff Tweedy) a bit better than the songs that are here nominated, so I’m happy to let it go that way.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mavis Staples, “Build a Bridge”

Best American Roots Performance

So I don’t actually have a joke about how I think it would be funny if Anderson East and Dave East were actual brothers, because I don’t know what the punchilne to that would be, but I’m using the fact that I want to make that joke to cover for the fact that while I am generally positively-disposed to more-or-less all of these people, this category is pretty dull.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willie Nelson, “Last Man Standing” (I guess)

Best Country Album

This is the best this field has looked in years, and maybe the first time since I started doing this that my favorite pop/mainstream country album has actually been eligible. This is a real moment for me – either this field is getting better, or getting dumb enough to enjoy it. I’ll take it either way, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

Best Country Song

This is a real cold shower after the high of the albums category, however. Even the people in this category I’m ordinarily not opposed to – namely Blake Shelton and Vince Gill 6 – are failing to show up, except for Kacey Musgraves again. Since she’s also booked to perform the thing, I’m going to guess she’s going to go home with a lot of Grammys. Consider this a stated hunch.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Space Cowboy”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

Kacey Musgraves didn’t come up with a duet this year, so there’s pretty much no saving this crop. I guess I like that Little Big Town song ok.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Little Big Town, “When Someone Stops Loving You”

Best Country Solo Performance

The problem with this “performance” bit is that it sometimes refers to just the regular song as it is on the record and sometimes means something else. I’m ok either way I guess, because it comes down to Loretta Lynn and Kacey Musgraves, and while “Butterflies” isn’t a great song, it is a great vocal performance, so she gets it again, although by less of a margin than in the other categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Butterflies”

Best Rap Album

Mac Miller’s death is real sad, and that gives his record some weight, and makes it clear just how impressive it is that he managed to make anything at all, given his mental state/the state of his addiction. Pusha-T had to overcome the fact that his producer/label-head’s brain completely melted in the run-up to Daytona, and people really like that record also. Way to go, everybody. I think the Cardi B record is better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

Best Rap Song

Red light green light red light green light red light green light it’s “King’s Dead” the end.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake, “King’s Dead”

Best Rap/Sung Performance

I’m sad that I wasted my “joke about the lyrics of the song” opportunity already, and even sadder that there’s absolutely no way to go back and rewrite that last entry with the current level of technology available to me, because I’ve taken great glee in the year or so that it’s been out in pointing out that it very much sounds like the chorus to the best rap/sung performance of 2018 says that all the stars are kosher. Which is nice, if you’re trying to keep your diet in accordance with rabbinical law and you like to eat stars.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Rap Performance

While “King’s Dead” has both the aforequoted “red light green light” bit and Future’s hip hop history joke couplet, and is generally a great song, I actually think “Bubblin” is a little better. So it goes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anderson.Paak, “Bubblin’”

Best R&B Album

I don’t mind H.E.R., and I rather like Leon Bridges. That makes this category fairly easy to deal with, but also I am entirely without strong feelings here, so I don’t have much else to say about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Leon Bridges, Good Thing

Best Urban Contemporary Album

So after several years, I think the logline on the difference between Urban Contemporary and R&B as the Grammys divide them is that one of them could be rappers, and the other isn’t I guess. In any event, Miguel and Chris Dave both made very good albums this year. The Carters made a super-good album that proved that Beyonce is also a great rapper. But that Meshell Ndegeocello album is mind blowing. It’s basically the best thing a covers album can be. I haven’t taken it out of rotation since it came out. It’s so good, y’all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Meshell Ndegeocello, Ventriloquism

Best R&B Song

Of course, thinking that I’ve got it all figured it out, in terms of the genre distinctions down here, si the fact that there are no Urban Contemporary categories beyond “Album,” and that the U.C. nominees are sprinkled here in R&B song and R&B performance, which just muddies the waters further. Anyway, I like the H.E.R. song here more than the Childish Gambino song or anything involving J. Cole, so it’s the winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: H.E.R., “Focus”

Best Traditional R&B Performance

Here, as though the waters of what is and is not R&B aren’t muddied enough, we have the “traditional” R&B category, and I am truly baffled. This is where Leon Bridges is again,though, so at least it’s not a total loss.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Leon Bridges, “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand”

Best R&B Performance

So this seems like it’s meant to be the sort of culmination of all of the other R&B categories, since it pulls from all of them to get here, which really makes it clear that actually these are all pretty apples-to-apples comparisons, and there’s very little reason to keep them in so many different categories. I guess it spreads the wealth around. Anyway, I feel like The Carters are kept out of many of these categories, but “Summer” is a very good song.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Carters, “Summer”

Best Alternative Music Album

I like Bjork so much more than I like anything else in this field that it seems silly to pretend to deliberate about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bjork, Utopia

Best Rock Album

I think I comment every year that every year I think this is as bad as this category can get, and every single year it is somehow worse than the year before. I suppose this year might not be worse than the year before. It’s really hard to quantify these things. But like, three of these songs are by dumb novelty-bands, and three of them are by bands that left their best days behind long, long ago 7. I guess that Alice in Chains record almost shows up to work. Sad state of affairs, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: None of this is rightful, but the Alice in Chains record nearly makes it.

Best Rock Song

This isn’t quite as existentially disheartening, largely because of the St. Vincent song. I’m not a particular fan (nor am I interested particularly in Jack Antonoff, who cowrote the song), but she’s at least a driven musician doing her own thing genuinely, and that’s about all I could really ask for. Still not going to listen to it on purpose anytime in the foreseeable future, but it’s fine.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: St. Vincent, “Masseduction”

Best Metal Performance

For all that the “Rock” categories are a pretty miserable affair, this one is surprisingly good. Underoath isn’t great. Trivium and Between the Buried and Me are at least standard-issue just-fine metal. High on Fire made a pretty great Lemmy-worshipping album this year, and it’s good to see them honored for it 8. But my love of Deafheaven knows no bounds, and needs no further explanation here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Deafheaven, “Honeycomb”

Best Rock Performance

….aaaand we’re right back in the garbage heap. Let’s show pity on the surviving members of Chris Cornell’s family, call it for him and be done talking about rock music at the Grammys for another year, shall we?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Cornell, “When Bad Does Good”

Best Dance/Electronic Album

Jon Hopkins is not Johns Hopkins, the hospital. He’s Imogen Heap’s keyboard player. Just wanted to get that clarification out of the way. SOPHIE has done some really cool production work, but like all PC Music folks tends to fall down a bit when it comes to her own records. Sofi Tukker and Justice are probably not up to being in the same category. Tokimonsta is almost always the best part of the records she produces, and her own record is pretty good, so I guess it’s her, although on another day I would have said exactly the same thing about SOPHIE.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tokimonsta, Lune Rouge

Best Dance Recording

This category always makes me feel so old. I kind of like the Virtual Self song. I think it has to be that one, because considering which of these is “better” than the other made my mind touch the void.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Virtual Self, “Ghost Voices”

Best Pop Vocal Album

I don’t hate the Camila Cabello album, although I don’t much like it. I don’t hate the P!nk album, although I don’t much like it. I like just about everything about Arianna Grande’s career and life in the public eye except for her music, but this is explicitly an albums category, so I guess we’re back to P!nk.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: P!nk, Beautiful Trauma

Best Traditional Pop Album

I want to run the numbers on how many years Tony Bennett is nominated for this. It’s so many. I am sort of impressed by his ability to keep churning it out year after year. Not impressed enough to listen to it more than is absolutely necessary, but kind of impressed anyway. I like the Willie Nelson album fine, and I like the Seal album well enough, and these pop album categories are rough because I don’t really know how to compare the two.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willie Nelson, My Way

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Now the field opens up to eight, which really ups the number of terrible things to consider here. “Shallow” is probably the front-runner here, and it’s also the best song here, which isn’t actually saying much, considering that I don’t actually like “Shallow”. Still and all, it serves its purpose, and it’s better than, say, another utterly identity-free Zedd/Maroon 5/Justin Timberlake song. Or whatever Tony Bennett is doing back up here. Go away, Tony Bennett.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Best Pop Solo Performance

I suppose I would feel better about the Grammys listening sensibilities if they just decided what genre Beck was in and let that be that, but he’s here. I will say that “Colors” is his best song in years 9, so props for that. I guess it’s probably Lady Gaga again that actually deserves the win here. “Joanne” is an ok song. It’s better than the other songs here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lady Gaga, “Joanne”

Best New Artist

True story: Cardi B is disqualified by the academy from being in this category because she has been nominated for Grammys previously 10. Post Malone is disqualified from being in this category for having sold a bunch of copies of records that he made previously 11. In case that was something likely to disappoint you. That said, it seems like Bebe Rexha and Luke Combs have both been around forever, so they should also be eliminated. And Margo Price isn’t new, even if most people just heard her in the last year or so. And Greta Van Fleet is a novelty fake-tribute act, and should be ineligible for anything except a kick in the groin. Jorja Smith and Chloe x Halle have long careers ahead of them as predictable record-sellers and awards-nominees in the field of polite pop-inflected R&B. We come to Dua Lipa, then, by elimination, but also because her voice is weird! Her songs are interesting! Her videos are full of deeply weird choreography!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dua Lipa

Song of the Year

As always, some of the choices here are utterly baffling. This happens every year. This year there are more of them, so they are even more baffling. The Brandi Carlisle and Ella Mai songs are fine, really, but are they, like, “Song of the Year” good? I will argue that they are not. I’m done trying to figure out the thing with Drake or Shawn Mendes. I also don’t know how this particular Zedd song is any better than any other Zedd song. “Shallow” is a fine main-song-from-a-movie type thing, but Bradley Cooper’s Kris Kristofferson impression still doesn’t really do it for me. “This is America” is a fine song I guess, but it’s mostly a great video, and this isn’t an award for the video. That leaves us with SZA. I already said the thing about it sounding like all the stars are kosher, so that’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Album of the Year

Look, it’s not that I don’t like the Brandi Carlisle album. I mean, I don’t, but that’s not because it’s bad, it’s because it’s emphatically not my thing. But, like, she’s nominated for so many awards. So many. It’s weird. I don’t understand it. See above w/r/t Drake. They’re both still better than Post Malone. Cardi B’s album is good, but too long. Kacey Musgraves’s album is good, and not too long, but I think I actually do like the Black Panther soundtrack more.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By

Record of the Year

As always, when we get to this category I’m pretty well on the record about all of it, so it’s basically a matter of formality to mention that I think “I Like It” is not one of the stronger songs on Invasion of Privacy, and give it to SZA again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

 

And there it all is. Tune in on Sunday to see some of the least-exciting nominees, plus Cardi B, do some performing. It’ll be uh…fun.

 

Oh, and it’s likely that they’ll shit the bed again, which will also be fun. Yay!


  1. and it’s still not hard to find people that summed up the year without mentioning any of them, except maybe Janelle Monae. 
  2. even the seemingly-indomitable Drake didn’t really stick around much, and while Lady Gaga has what amounts to two records in consideration for these things, Joanne didn’t yield big hits and “Shallow” was kind of an outlier. 
  3.  with the following exceptions, which I skipped this year: Best Contemporary Classical Composition; Best Classical Compendium; Best Classical Solo Vocal Album; Best Classical Instrumental Solo; Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance; Best Choral Performance; Best Opera Recording; Best Orchestral Performance; (these are all here because I really have absolutely no ear for Classical music as it currently exists – I’m a classical classicist, I guess – and no idea how to develop one quickly enough for it to make for an informed decision here); Producer of the Year, Classical; Best Engineered Album, Classical; Best Production, Immersive Audio; (these are all here because in order to evaluate them I’d need access to higher-quality audio for all of them than I’m inclined to have – I’d have to buy them in a high-quality format, and that gets expensive for something that I have no real interest in owning – so it’s better to just leave them down here and pretend like the people choosing the award are doing the right thing for once); Best Remixed Recording (I don’t know what this category is evaluating and I’m not familiar with the material); Best Historical Album (Sometimes I go through this one and try to figure it out, this was not one of those times); Best Album Notes (this is another issue of access); Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package; Best Recording Package (I have almost never cared about the packaging of a record, ever); Best Arrangement, Instrument or Vocals; Best Arrangement, Instrument or A Capella (I guess I could probably figure these out, but, again, I’d need access to higher-quality audio and I’m not even remotely familiar with the material); Best Musical Theatre Album (musicals are stupid); Best Spoken Word Album (These are all very long and potentially very boring, but I probably should have figured it out anyway); Best Children’s Album (I don’t like children’s music, and don’t generally think it should exist); Best World Music Album (I reject the notion, this year as always, of “World Music” as a single coherent genre. All music is made in the world, and this is a ghettoized category or music made in idioms that the Grammy voters are less familiar with, and I think it would be better off just to leave it be and not bother); Best Reggae Album (My familiarity with reggae music ends in 1989, with the death of King Tubby); Best Regional Roots Music Album (this is a borderline-case with “world music”, and it was easier for my conscience to just leave it out and not pretend to know what I was hearing); Best Tropical Latin Album; Best Regional Mexican Album; Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album; Best Latin Pop Album (in the past I have done the Latin categories, and enjoyed them, and I do have some familiarity here, but this year I didn’t know any of the material and found it easier to focus on the things I did know); Best Roots Gospel Album; Best Contemporary Christian Music Album; Best Gospel Album; Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song; Best Gospel Performance/Song (I know so little about present-day praise music that I would basically be guessing); Best Latin Jazz Album; Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album; Best Jazz Instrumental Album; Best Jazz Vocal Album; Best Improvised Jazz Solo (my connection to jazz is through the weird Peter Brotzmann/Bill Orcutt/Jamie Branch weird/free/experimental stuff, the hip-hop-associated Kamasi Washington/FlyLo/Thundercat stuff, or the London-based scene that I associate with Shabake Hutchings’s band, which is linked by Mackaya McCraven to the Chicago stuff, and so I have basically no affinity for any of this, and chose to ignore it, since the category itself is less about taking joy in the new and current and more about hidebound historicity, which I am opposed to as a stance, now as always); Best New Age Album (I don’t even know what most of this is, really); Best Contemporary Instrumental Album (I listen to tonnes of contemporary instrumental music, but none of it is in this mode, and I have no idea what we’re evaluating here) 
  4. not to put too much behind the curtain here, but while it’s true that I buy almost all of the music that I care about, I don’t actually care about most of this, and am happy to use Spotify or, if it really comes down to it, YouTube, and that’s not what I’d call a reasonable environment for listening to the engineering on a classical recording. 
  5. unless it’s to an animated movie, I guess? Because Coco is a musical – it has diagetic music and everything! – and it’s above in the score soundtrack. 
  6. albeit via Maren Morris, whose music is awful. 
  7. there are three of each because Weezer falls into both categories. 
  8. although it wasn’t nearly as good as the record that Matt Pike’s other band, Sleep, made last year 
  9. the video is especially great – Allison Brie is very funny. 
  10. which makes sense, but which was officially announced, which is weird. Also she was rumoured to be submitted for the category in 2018 but not nominated, which is funny. 
  11. again, perfectly sensible. But why tell us that? Of course that’s why he’s not nominated for best new artist: he’s not a new artist. 

The Best Albums of January 2019

(This is up a few days late because I’m a total slapdick, guys!)

Mono – Nowhere Now Here (Much was made of the fact that this one includes Taka messing with more electronic stuff after his solo work, and also it features an actual by-god singing performance, and those things are true, but also it’s still a Mono album, and a very good one at that – whatever changes have been made have clearly reinvigorated the band)

Machinefabriek – With Voices (As it says on the tin – this is a Machinefabriek album with voices, and while it’s true that the voices are generally pretty abstract, it’s still true that this is also a welcome departure)

William Tyler – Goes West (This is a lot more straightforward than previous William Tyler releases, and sounds great as a result, even if I worry that he’s going to keep going and we’ll have another Steve Gunn on our hands)

Banabila & Machinefabriek – Entropia (A good year for collaborative Machinefabriek records, y’know?)

Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (NB I don’t actually have a problem with there being more Steve Gunns, I like the one we’ve got just fine)

Shamelessly Punting: Seven Upcoming Albums

Reasons outside of my ability to plan for them have meant that things are a little non-blog-friendly over here at ONAT headquarters. That said, yesterday’s best albums of the month post was uncharacteristically thin – I didn’t hear as many albums last month as I would have liked. So I have cast my mind forward, to some things that are coming up that are going to soothe the savage beast or whatever. Please to enjoy, and enjoy an actual words-and-thoughts post next week.

Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit (the singles seem to imply that we’re heading in a much more noise-oriented direction, which is pretty exciting. The touring band includes Thor Harris and doesn’t appear to include Angela Seo. It could be a new chapter for a great band. I’m optimistic)

Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock (I still love Bob Mould. Probably always will, guys. Probably always will.)

Teeth of the Sea – Wraith (It’s only been four years since the last TotS album, but since the last four years includes two of the longest years in human history, it’s also been a hundred years, and it’s about time.)

Lambchop – This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) (The early singles indicate that he’s still on this quiet-storm, heavily-autotuned business, and that’s just fine, as it’s gorgeous and very soothing)

Ex Hex – It’s Real (I’m always excited for a new Mary Timony record, and the first Ex Hex album has only gotten better since it was released)

Fennesz – Agora (See above w/r/t four years as a period of time, only it’s been five years, except for the record he made with Jim O’Rourke)

Priests – The Seduction of Kansas (follow-up albums to a debut are a pretty exciting time to be paying attention, and Priests’ first album was so fucking good)

A Numerical Majority of Artists that Played Each Woodstock, Ranked

So upon the announcement of a new Woodstock 1, my interior Old Rock Dude scoffed, thinking that it would, of course, be terrible. This is a reflex that I’m always a little curious to see rear its head, because it’s not something that I generally indulge in. I’m always pretty happy to see things that currently exist given their proper weight and name, and not just buried under a morass of “this is a pale shadow of that which is sacred” 2. That said, there is a very simple explanation for why this happened.

You see, Woodstock has always been largely garbage. There have been some moments that are justifiably famous, and some acts have played that have been fine 3 without being spectacular, but mostly it’s been a survey of “bands that were popular and available, and largely disconnected from each other and often inexplicable”.

The 1969 Woodstock is the most worked-over and talked about one, certainly. There were a number of bands (The Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, probably also The Grateful Dead but see below, etc.) that played at the height of their powers, and the aforementioned nothing-special rank and file was at least stuff that worked out well live, and translated pretty well to a giant outdoor festival. That said, there were plenty of duff acts in there, and a pretty unseemly reliance on Country Joe, which is completely inexplicable if you weren’t “there” I guess. Country Joe, man. People love that “Fish Cheer”. The world is a strange place.

The nineties Woodstocks used returning acts as a crutch, and 94 seemed especially willing to talk about the artist who played 94 who didn’t play 69 as a kind of marketing hook, so we see Dylan here, as well as sort of demographic-adjacent stuff as The Allman Brothers. The good parts of 94, then, are these kinds of legacy acts – Bob Dylan, Jimmy Cliff, Gil Scott-Heron – with occasionally-interesting acts that were good, but also had little to do with the original Woodstock milieu (Rollins Band, Cypress Hill, Metallica). It also, given that I just watched several hours of footage from the whole thing, looked like it was the most fun – more put-together than 69, and less on-fire than 99.

Woodstock 99, then, is rightfully the reason to have shut the brand down for 20 years. The median quality of the bands that perform is significantly lower – the low points are so very low, and are more numerous, and aren’t enough to counterbalance the high points, which were actually mostly hip-hop acts (Rage Against the Machine, The Roots, DMX, etc.) anyway. The artists involved are often more of a piece – there’s a lot of radio metal in there, interspersed among the scattered jam bands and pop acts – and it’s all just a dreadful slog to get through most of them.

But then, it’s often a slog to get through the mountain of these bands. That’s sort of the point. To answer the question “was Woodstock really so unquestionably amazing”, I have ranked every band that played at every Woodstock so far, to get an idea for how often it was actually something worth seeing.

Well, almost every band. There are some that are left out. In 1994, for example, WOMAD got one of the stages for a sort of mini-WOMAD. Since this is basically another festival that was arranged to be part of this festival, I didn’t include it, which is a shame, because most of it was pretty good. I also didn’t deal with the rave tent at 94 – that kind of thing is entirely dependent on the audience you’re in, rather than the act that’s pushing the buttons and doing the mixing, and it’s basically impossible to get any kind of idea about what was going on from a youtube video in my house 4. I also didn’t deal with the Emerging Artists stage, where a bunch of bands that were meant to be famous but mostly never were (with the exception of Muse, who did get famous, The Supersuckers who didn’t get famous but continue to be great, King’s X, who played the regular stage in 94, and Bijou Philips who was famous as an actress/Scientologist/notable homophobe, but who sang at Woodstock 99, which is weird), because it seemed unsporting, and also because I have no idea how to evaluate that kind of thing. Oh, and there was a “pre-concert” at Woodstock 99 at which, like, G Love and Special Sauce and George Clinton, among others, played, and I didn’t include those either.

In the interest of fairness, also, if I couldn’t find any footage or recordings of a band during their time at Woodstock, they were also not included. I mean, it’s not a scientific operation here, but if anyone knows where I can find any of them 5, that would be interesting. They’re largely obscure and/or local-to-upstate-New York white-blues-based jam bands. So. No big loss.

So, with those caveats in place, please to enjoy this completely-correct, obviously-worthwhile ranking of every act that has played every Woodstock so far, and feel free to compare them out when (if?) the performers at this next thing are announced.

Jimi Hendrix (1969) I mean, this seems fairly obvious

Bob Dylan (1994) All existing recordings of this make it seem pretty incredible, and Bob Dylan sure could be

The Roots (1999) Obviously it’s easiest to make the top of this list when you’re a great band at the top of your game

The Who (1969)

The Band (1969)

Richie Havens (1969) He famously had to go on a couple of hours before he was originally scheduled to do so, which is pretty awesome on top of how good it is in general.

Rage Against the Machine (1999)

Joe Cocker (1969)

DMX (1999)

Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

Rollins Band (1994) When the Rollins Band’s reputation is rehabilitated, I will be up here at the forefront: the second incarnation of this band, which this is, was a pretty great jazz-metal act. This is “Liar”-era material, here.

Nine Inch Nails (1994)

Metallica (1999) This is the later performance because in 1999 they were pretty firmly in crowd-pleasing hits-playing mode, which is better

Santana (1969)

Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969) They weren’t in the movie or on the album, but the setlist is amazing, and all existing recordings make it seem like this was a real corker

Guster (1999) I confess to having seen Guster in the last six months. I like Guster. They’re a good live band.

Jimmy Cliff’s All-Star Reggae Revue (1994) Did you guys know that Shabba Ranks was present at a Woodstock? The nineties were weird.

Janis Joplin (1969)

Metallica (1994) Metallica is always Metallica, but at this point they were gearing up for Load, and thus at their least crowd-pleasing, which doesn’t really work for a Woodstock

Ravi Shankar (1969)

Cypress Hill (1994) Bonus points for overcoming DJ Mugg’s malfunctioning microphone.

The Band (featuring a bunch of dudes from Hot Tuna and the Grateful Dead) (1994) Even without Robbie Robertson they were still pretty much The Band, and as far as the thin gruel of this stuff goes, they were pretty good

Jefferson Airplane (1969)

The Cranberries (1994)

Wyclef Jean (1999) Who knows how much of his mind he’d already lost at this point. I’d still watch him play above a lot of these other folks

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1969) Ranked so highly for the idea of the novelty of seeing the act, and also because some of this performance is in the movie and on the album, but Neil Young isn’t.

Neville Brothers (1994)

Everlast (1999) I like Everlast. Fight me.

Green Day (1994)

Red Hot Chili Peppers (1999) This has the advantage because at least John Frusciante is their guitar player in 1999

Mike Ness (1999) He played the covers you’d have wanted him to, and “Ball and Chain”. Hard to get mad at that.

Bush (1999) I’m not a Bush fan, exactly, but I think they were better than the shake they got.

Primus (1994)

Arrested Development (1994)

Insane Clown Posse (1999) Clown Na Na

Rusted Root (1999)

Joe Cocker (1994) The key document here is “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which in 1969 was a barn-burning Beatles cover, and in 1994 had been the theme song to The Wonder Years and was a very different thing when he performed it.

Salt n Pepa (1994) More of these acts need elaborate choreography, it really helps in making the thing visually interesting

Youssou N’Dour (1994) He fared better than Peter Gabriel, certainly

Elvis Costello (1999)

The Violent Femmes (1994)

Red Hot Chili Peppers (1994) Their guitar player was Dave Navarro here, which is less interesting, although I wonder if he and Perry Farrell saw each other backstage. I wonder if they were still bros.

Zucchero (1994) NB: I am not entirely sure ths wasn’t WOMAD-related, but as far as the general worldbeat-jam-blues undercurrent that runs through these things goes, this is a pretty good example. I was pleasantly surprised, having no previous relationship with this band’s music.

Johnny Winter (1969) As far as the interminable rank and file of white blues jammers go, this is more or less the top of the pile

Sisters of Glory (1994) This is a bunch of gospel superstars. It sounds good, it’s a clever wag of a thing to do on Sunday morning, and Mavis Staples is pretty much the best, so it’s got its good points, certainly

James (1994)

Gil Scott-Heron (1994)

Grateful Dead (1969) This is basically impossible for me to evaluate. I know nothing about how to even go about appreciating this kind of thing. I like plenty of improvised music, I like plenty of non-dynamic music, I like plenty of abstract music. The Grateful Dead manage not to trigger my interest at all in any of those things. I understand that they’re an institution, and that people love them, and spend whole lifetimes obsessed with them, and I’m willing to admit to being wrong – or at least unable to be right – about them as a result. I just don’t hear any of it. I’ve tried an awful lot, including for this very writeup and I’m just not here for any of it. So they’re here, kind of in the middle, because that’s about where I can imagine them being. But they’re actually uncategorizable.

Counting Crows (1999)

Blues Traveler (1994)

Blood, Sweat and Tears (1969)

The Tragically Hip (1999)

Porno for Pyros (1994) This is really elevated several steps above where it would be otherwise by dint of there being a lecture about UFOs and a clown that did interpretive dance.

Brian Setzer Orchestra (1999) Swing Na Na

George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars (1994) This, or maybe Ravi Shankar, is sort of the “reliable workhorse” line. George Clinton was pretty much done doing what he was doing in 1994, but he was still George Clinton, and this still sounds fine, such as it is.

Joan Baez (1969)

Ice Cube (1999) By 1999 Ice Cube had already lost most of what made him Ice Cube, but he was still a good rapper and still put up a good setlist, so he earns some extra points

Chemical Brothers (1999) I’ve seen their movie, so I sort of get the idea, but I can’t imagine what this sounded like from that fucking field.

Crosby, Stills & Nash (1994)

Kid Rock (1999)

Collective Soul (1994)

James Brown (1999) James Brown in 1999 is a depressing prospect.

Swami Satchidananda (1969) Even I am not here to hate on a benediction, but it’s still just a benediction

Dave Matthews Band (1999)

Blind Melon (1994) I mean, this sucked, but it sucked historically and with much verve. It sucked pretty genuinely, is what I’m saying here. Honorably. With many drugs and much addlepatedness.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1969) The second best harmonica-driven band in the history of Woodstock, now proven with science!

Melissa Etheridge (1994)

Peter Gabriel (1994) I mean, I’ve definitely seen Peter Gabriel do cool shit, but this was not that.

Everclear (1999) True story – I haven’t thought about Everclear in so long that when I saw them on the list of performers, I forgot about them entirely and briefly thought it was weird that Everlast had performed twice. All told the world would have been better off had Everlast performed twice.

Collective Soul (1999)

Paul Rogers (1994) Like Joe Cocker, Paul Rogers aged pretty well as far as “doing that thing” goes, so I guess there’s that.

Live (1994)

Alanis Morissette (1999)

Canned Heat (1969)

Sheryl Crow (1999) The difference between this performance and the 1994 performance is that by 1999, she had been a giant touring concern for five more years, and thus was in better control of it.

Sheryl Crow (1994)

Los Lobos (1999) No but seriously – Los Lobos? In 1999? The fuck?

Korn (1999) Woodstock 99 was shot through with tonnes of nu-metal, and Korn did not actually weather being rock stars very well.

Megadeth (1999)

Aerosmith (1994)

Quill (1969) Although bonus points for throwing maracas and shit into the audience. It was definitely better than their music, and it meant they had fewer instruments in their possession with which to play said music

Allman Brothers (1994)

Lit (1999)

3 And a Half Hours of Pouring Rain (1969) Yep. Every band below this line failed to improve upon the weather. Ah, Woodstock!

Spitifre (1999) This is a weird spoken-word thing assembled or produced or curated or whatever by Zach de la Rocha. It’s not better than rain, but it’s, y’know, extremely nineties so it’s up this far.

Melanie Safka (1969) Joni MItchell Na Na.

Sha Na Na (1969) On the one hand, I want to praise any act that was there to be entertaining first and foremost – just look at how high Insane Clown Posse is, for example – on the other hand, Sha Na Na were awful. Just awful.

Ten Years After (1969)

Mountain (1969)

Jamiroquai (1999) I don’t have another place to insert this story, and the chance may never come again so: the bartender at the brewery closest to my house used to work at the grocery store that Jay Kay from Jamiroquai shopped at, and assures me that he always wore the hats. I’m charmed and delighted by this information.

Tim Hardin (1969)

Jewel (1999)

John Sebastian (1969) It’s weird to think that by 1969 John Sebastian was already working on his fallback career – The Lovin’ Spoonful had already broken up. Anyway, he’s boring.

Santana (1994) I’m not a huge fan of Santana under any real circumstances – Woodstock being one of the things I genuinely like about his body of work – but in 1994 I just am not feeling it.

John Sebastian (1994) Still boring, now with even more oldness

Our Lady Peace (1999) True story: I really liked Our Lady Peace in 1999. Follow-up true story: I don’t remember why.

Traffic (1994)

Bruce Hornsby (1999)

Arlo Guthrie (1969)

Godsmack (1999) Their guitar player wore a pretty cool Johnny the Homicidal Maniac t-shirt though

Sweetwater (1969) Remember when VH1 made that movie with Felicity’s friend slash the Pink Ranger and it was about this band? That movie sucked, and this band sucked, and also they got pulled over on the way to Woodstock, which is why Richie Havens had to perform on such short notice.

Sevendust (1999) This is a band that genuinely lives up to their name. By which I mean: they are terrible and their name is terrible.

moe. (1999)

King’s X (1994) Their set features one of the world’s worst Jimi Hendrix covers!

The Keef Hartley Band (1969)

G Love and Special Sauce (1999)

Buckcherry (1999)

Limp Bizkit (1999)

Bret Sommer (1969) This dude originated the Treat Williams role in Hair (that’s his hair on the original playbill, in fact), and also he sucked real bad.

Creed (1999) Robbie Krieger joined them for a cover of “Roadhouse Blues”. That sentence is more interesting than anything they did on stage. It is also not that interesting.

The Incredible String Band (1969)

Mickey Hart and Planet Drum (1994) He plays what very much appear to be electronic steel drum pads. Like, drum pads that make steel drum noises when he hits them. They are tremendously dumb.

Country Joe and the Fish (1969) Country Joe MacDonald spent an awful lot of time onstage at the first two Woodstocks. None of that time was well-spent.

Del Amitri (1994)

Candlebox (1994) They at least called out that Madonna made them famous when they started their set. That was pretty funny.

Live (1999)

The Umbilical Brothers (1999) Not just comedy at Woodstock, but awful sound-effect novelty comedy at Woodstock.

Jackyl (1994) AC/DC Na Na

The Offspring (1999)

Oleander (1999)

The Spin Doctors (1994) Have they ever not been the worst band at any given show they’ve ever played?

Country Joe MacDonald (1969) Country Joe without all those pesky fish

Country Joe MacDonald (1994) Country Joe without all those pesky fish 25 years later.

Country Joe MacDonald (1994) Country Joe without all those pesky fish 25 years later for a second time in one weekend.


  1. see last week 
  2. sort of the defining feature of Old Rock Dudeism – the notion that nothing could possibly be as good as it was when the Old Rock Dude was a Young Rock Dude, rather than simply a shifting of taste on the part of the ORD. 
  3. the rank and file of bands that are neither great nor terrible are the ones that seem to be most in Michael Lang’s wheelhouse – blues-oriented and/or jam-oriented bands that are tremendously not something that I care about, with rare edge-case exceptions. 
  4. the Chemical Brothers played the main stage in 99, and so are ranked, but it doesn’t really translate through the “from my house on youtube thing”, as you can see below. 
  5. the complete list of band so disqualified is: 3 (you try figuring out how to find material from any given specific show by a band that’s just called “3”), Futu Futu (whose studio recordings sound like they’re great live), The Goats, Huffamoose (each of the latter two of which had an actual hit), Lunchmeat, Orleans (who played twice and are local to the upstate New York area), the Paul Luke Band, Peacebomb (when you google Peacebomb, you get links to the aforementioned 3, and also to Joe Stole), Rekk (if they’re the German band called that, then they’re pretty terrible actually), Roguish Armament, Nenad Bach (who’s a Croatian sideman with five bajillion credits), Erice Gales (another sideman, this time a whiz-kid guitar player), which are all from 1994, and Abba Rage, who played at Woodstock 99. 

On Whatever This New Woodstock Thing Is, And Music Festivals Generally

Woodstock! The Summer of ‘69! Max Yasgur’s field! Truly, of all of the aging-rock-dudes thing to still be talking about, this is very much among the aging-rock-dude-est of them. I’ve written much previously (most notably here) about how the constant “you had to be there at the time, and nothing now will ever be as good as anything then” attitude of aging rock dudes is a direct-line contributor to the fact that rock music as a commercial and mainstream concern is basically a moribund prospect 1, and I suppose it’s inevitable that this particular well, which has only ever been profitable, even when it’s been a disaster.

The rock and roll nostalgia market seems to be turning over pretty well in a bunch of forms anyway. I mean, it’s pretty much the entirety of the portion of the rock and roll environment that does well commercially 2, even down to the most popular rock acts being straight-up flat-out nostalgia acts, for the most part, even when they’re composed of veritable children.

On top of all this, the music festival has grown from being an occasional landmark event to being a constant nightmarish plague that destroys summer touring schedules and makes it much easier for people to marginalize bands by cramming them all together on bills and staring at them idly while they take drugs or pictures of each other or whatever. But they’re commercial juggernauts for the people that put them together, between ticket prices that steal the breath out of your lungs and sponsorship deals for being seen on the livestream or whatever.

The point here being that it seems perfectly reasonable that someone would get it in their heads to try to bring back one of the biggest, most storied names in the music festival scene to try to wring some more dollars out of it, because 50 is a big, round number, and it can potentially reveal an enormous, even rounder number after a dollar sign for the people that are willing to put this together.

Woodstock, however, also comes freighted with some baggage, given that they brought the name back a couple of times already. The 1994 event went well enough that they brought it back in 1999, which event is the one that is talked about in terms of its infamy. It was a poorly-managed, cash-gouging, anti-human dystopia, full of poor sanitation, overpriced water, and ultimately people getting assaulted and setting things on fire. Depending on who you talk to, this event was either apocalyptic or the crisis was overstated, and “only” half a dozen people reported being sexually assaulted 3 and “only” some of the event was set on literal actual fire.

The person who’s putting this together is Michael Lang, one of the organizers of the original Woodstock 4, and he seems pretty willing to acknowledge that he is choosing to revive a brand that has some…baggage attached to it, in addition to the good name that will inspire, theoretically, people to dig into their wallets and assume that this is going to be a one-of-a-kind event, and pay (I’m assuming – the ticket prices haven’t been announced yet) accordingly.

Except that while Lang seems to be holding onto the idea that he can recapture the hippie magic of the first Woodstock, rather than being at all clear-headed about the things that need working on. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he seems happy to acknowledge the mercenary nature of Woodstock 99 only obliquely, stating that the problem is that, yes, it was price-gougey, but it was also “just a musical experience with no social significance” 5, which I’m sure is a big relief to those who thought that maybe an event that became publicly known for unpunished property destruction and sexual assault might be “significant” to the people who were assaulted or had their things set on fire 6.

I guess what I’m saying here is: this still seems pretty blinkered, and is clearly a case of someone not seeing the forest of infrastructural issues for the trees full of money. His concern is that people paid too much for water (which, in his defense, did become a sort of synecdoche for the whole price-gouging issue at the festival itself) and some people did some destructive and dangerous things, but it’s all going to be ok, because he’s also going to include a tent for activism 7. And this is why this seems so onerous to me: Lang has come out and said that the way to make sure that the music festival at which he’s going to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous single music festival ever is to make sure that it’s engaged with more than just the music, all while not actually engaging with anything except the artists and activists that he’s paying. This is dumb.

There’s probably no way to stop this, and, honestly, it looks like it’s already not going well: the thing was sort of soft-announced in November of last year, with some publicity finally happening more-or-less now. There is no announcement of the bands beyond a cryptic acknowledgment that someone from the original Woodstock is playing, and that the dude wants some people to do tributes to Jefferson Airplane and whoever else. If there were bands clamoring to do this, they would be telling us that. If they had secured anything more than a facility, they would be telling us that. But for the love of god, don’t go to this thing, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that music festivals are awful. They’re awful for fans, who are shunted around like cows, and they’re awful for the bands that play them. While I can sort of imagine the appeal of paying an absurd amount of money to go to a field to do drugs and watch an endless procession of god-knows-who play god-knows-what in front of me, I can’t imagine doing so under the auspices of someone who 1) has said more about toilets than music in the promotional materials for this thing and 2) almost certainly has no connection to anything other than the name of the music festival that made him famous half a century ago, and it seems to me that this is just a way to have a weird, highly-public bad time.

But the second is that we all deserve better. Yes, we all deserve better from something called “Woodstock” that now appears to be a directionless, amorphous thing without any sort of clue about what it will hold, but we deserve better than most music festivals. This is another of the results of the bottom falling out of the record-selling industry: the ticket-selling industry is now trying to get the most people out there so they can make as many secondary dollars on them as possible.

Most music festivals are nightmarish, and are built to suit the people who are the least interested in the “music” part of them: a million bands playing in several simultaneous heats over the course of several full days is great for people who want to enumerate experiences for social media purposes or whatever, but terrible for anyone who wants to further any kind of relationship with a musician or set of musicians. Even your favorite act in the whole world isn’t going to be nearly as worthwhile sandwiched between “that band you kind of like” and “That rapper that had that song on the radio all the time six months ago” 8. It’s just not going to happen. It’s definitely not going to contribute meaningfully to any existing relationship you might have with any given act, and it’s highly unlikely to contribute meaningfully to any new relationships.

Music festivals are a huge part of the economy surrounding popular music, and I suppose that’s just something I’m going to have to live with. Every year I consider trying to figure out how to write about them – this is a blog, after all, focused on what is popular and honored in the culture at large, and music festivals are a part of that – and I just come up short. I don’t get it, and I don’t think anyone does outside the economies of scale: if you get enough people in a field together and make it seem exclusive enough, people with more money and more concern for being seen than sense will buy tickets, and you will make a profit.

I don’t have any particular reverence for Woodstock in any of its incarnations (see next week when I talk a bit about the music at previous Woodstocks, because that sort of thing is more in my mien hereabouts), but this is a particularly naked cash-grabbing opportunistic thing, and it is gross.

And so I’m here to say: fuck whatever this turns out to be, and fuck music festivals generally, and fuck whatever dumb brain disease makes it so that people can’t be satisfied that something happened, and keep needing to make things that are called the same thing happen again and again.


  1.  as I almost always note after this sort of statement, I think this is generally a good thing: the things that have dropped out of rock culture generally are at the margins, and the millions of people who were part of the rock “fanbase” that weren’t in fact people interested in rock music, but rather interested in the significations thereof, and that the field of rock music is now considerably more populated by people who are there intentionally, and because they want to be for its own reasons, and this is generally a good thing for any genre, with the commercial trappings being more able to view as having been their own stupid shackle in the first place. 
  2. which, again, I don’t care about, and rock bands still exist and are productive in such number and to such an extent that it’s still impossible to keep up with it all, especially in the more interesting and more experimental corners. Rock music: still pretty great, guys. 
  3.  the sexual assault at music festivals thing is a real problem, and one that mostly people just shrug their shoulders about, because I guess there’s got to be some sort of critical mass of these things before money is spent on the solution. 
  4. he’s the taller guy with the curly hair that they talk to a bunch in the movie, which, incidentally, is maybe my favorite concert movie, and which I love very much and will watch any time it is on. 
  5. he also is weirdly focused on the technological/comfort advances in portapotty technology, which is….something I guess. 
  6. this is not to come to the defense of the people that organized and/or price-gouged the business, but merely to be comfortable speculating that there could have potentially have been some collateral there that was “significant” to someone. You know, socially. 
  7. a thing that Jay-Z does at Made in America, which is fine, but is not the same thing as structurally supporting things. 
  8. and let us remember that even the original Woodstock, whose ghost is being chased here, still featured, say, Sha-Na-Na and Country Joe and the Fish, in addition to The Who and Jimi Hendrix. This dude has always been willing to just fling shit at the wall to see what would stick. 

The Best of the Second Half of 2018

Hey guys! So ordinarily I make this list and I write some words about it, but due to some unforeseen scheduling stuff I didn’t make it through doing so. I might come back and replace this post with one with words in it later, but as of right now I thought it was better to get it out and take a mulligan on this set of songs. I’ll catch up next time, I promise. 

The thing that hasn’t changed is that there’s a folder full of songs available for download here, and there’s a Spotify thing (that is, inevitably, missing some of the songs) at the bottom, and you can listen to all the stuff and be made very happy, like a very happy person, because these are absolutely, unquestionably, no-questions-asked the 50 best songs of the last six months of 2018. I’ve also made the list here in case you don’t like folders full of songs or Spotify, and just want to look at a list of songs. They’re in alphabetical order on the page here, obviously, but in more like a playlist order in the Spotify list.

Anderson.Paak – Tints (f Kendrick Lamar)

Arabrot – Maldorer’s Love

Armand Hammer – No Days Off

Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – In Cedars

Blood Orange – Charcoal Baby

Nathan Bowles – Ruby/In Kind I

Busdriver – The Year I Became a Motherfuckin G

Anna Calvi – Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy

Cloud Nothings – Offer an End

Daughters – Guest House

Deafheaven – Honeycomb

Flatbush Zombies – New World Order

Four Fists – Annihilation (f Sims)

Steve Hauschildt – Saccade (f Julianna Barwick)

Tim Hecker – This Life

Hypnodrone Ensemble – Monotransitive

The Internet – Look What U Started

Mick Jenkins – Smoking Song (f BADBADNOTGOOD)

Lil Wayne – Uproar

Low – Poor Sucker

Makaya McCraven – Atlantic Black

Milo – Failing the Stress Test

Nicki Minaj – Coco Chanel (f Foxy Brown)

Roy Montgomery – Landfall (f Liz Harris)

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload

Murder By Death – I Have Arrived

Marissa Nadler – Blue Vapor

Open Mike Eagle – Relatable (peak OME)

PC Worship – Shell Shower

Petite Noir – Beach (f Danny Brown & Nukubi Nukubi)

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – GNT

Joey Purp – Elastic

Adam Remnant – Sourwood

Marc Ribot – The Militant Ecologist

Emma Ruth Rundle – Control

Saintseneca – Ladder to the Sun

Amanda Shires – Swimmer

Slowthai – Drug Dealer

Smino – Krushed Ice (f Valee)

Jon Spencer – I Got the Hits

Spiritualized – I’m Your Man

Vince Staples – Fun!

Sumac – Arcing Silver

Swearin’ – Grow Into a Ghost

Earl Sweatshirt – Nowhere2Go

Thou – Supremacy

Jeff Tweedy – Having Been is No Way to Be

Chester Watson – 40 Acres

Yowler – Where is My Light?

03 Greedo – Basehead

HM: Black Thought – Streets, Brotzmann/Leigh – It’s Almost Dark, Lando Chill – Peso (f Quelle Chris & Rey), Kilo Kish – Elegance, Nothing – I hate the Flowers, Vic Mensa – Klonopin, Panopticon – (Cowering) at the Foot of the Mountain, Soccer Mommy – Scorpio Rising, Thalia Zedek Band – Fighting Season, Throat – Shortage (version), Cloquet – Call It

The 76th Annual Golden Globes

The new year dawns, and with it, the new awards season. More than just a necessity for getting people talking about the film industry in the face of the fact that nothing good is going to come out for a couple more months, and people are trying hard to get back into the drudgery of their day-to-day lives coming off the bender of performative aspirational consuming and daydreaming that the holiday cycle begets, the Golden Globes are also an award given entirely by film critics.

The Hollywood Foreign Press is a fascinating body in its own right, and I’m not going to touch on too much of it here, except to say that I’m probably spending 2019 being even more considerate of who it is that’s sending the message in each of these awards shows.

Because 1 it is a message, and it’s being sent by a body for a set of reasons, and those reasons, it turns out, matter. We live in a world where a man can rise out of the trashiest corner of popular culture and declare himself expert enough to lead a nation. Our consideration of popular culture matters. Again, this is a point for another time, but as the first awards show of the year, it gets into the headnote here.

But all of that is a look ahead, here in the middle of what’s supposed to be a look backward at the year that just happened. The Golden Globes themselves continue to shift, but only in the direction they already had been – the “television miniseries” category continues to be the place where heavyweight prestige dramas duke it out, regardless of whether or not they have continuing seasons and all that, and a dismaying percentage of the movies involved are fucking biopics.

So it goes.

Best Miniseries or Television Film

I will give Escape at Dannemora this: it has a premise that could very easily go wacky, and a cast that basically reads like a comedy, and still manages to pull a boring-ass “based on a true story” execution out of that. Great job, Ben Stiller. Similarly, I’m surprised Russell T. Davies managed to write an entire miniseries – in this case A Very English Scandal – that managed to stick more or less to its plot, sort of. Great job, Russell T. Davies. I would have sworn that The Alienist aired more than just one year ago, but it didn’t 2, so here it is. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story had some really great moments and a couple of truly great performances 3, but was also baggy through the middle and didn’t actually help itself out any with its reverse-chronology storytelling. My misgivings about Gone Girl aside, Gillian Flynn is a very good screenwriter, Amy Adams is a very good actress, and Sharp Objects was a very good miniseries.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sharp Objects

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Thandie Newton continues to be underappreciated for her work in Westworld, even as I also believe that Westworld itself is somewhat over-praised. It’s not enough to get her the win here, but I think it’s worth acknowledging. She’s certainly better than Yvonne Strahovsky is in The Handmaid’s Tale. Penelope Cruz did a good job playing her literal actual real-life friend 4, but it wasn’t that good, and I’m also not sure how much of a feat that is. Patricia Clarkson did a good job on Sharp Objects, a generally good show. Alex Borstein was the only thing that was watchable about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, so it goes to her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

It’s nice to know Alan Arkin is still out there, certainly. He’s still a good actor or whatever, even if he’s basically given a fat ball down the middle playing a cantankerous agent. Given that latter information, though, I have decided not to reward pandering. Kieran Culkin continues to be the more interesting Culkin, acting-wise 5, but still not actually very good at it. Edgar Ramirez is in The Assassination of Gianni Versace for like twenty total minutes, despite being the title character, and while he does a fine job, he’s not that impressive 6. A Very English Scandal is very English boring awards-bait, and Ben Whishaw (who I like, generally) does not rise above this. So that leaves us with Henry Winkler’s excellent turn in Barry.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film

Longtime readers will remember that it used to be a running joke that when I couldn’t come up with a winner or didn’t have an opinion about a category in any given awards show, I would give the award to Mrs. Coach’s Hair. I abandoned the practice a few years ago, as all running jokes must eventually be allowed to run their course 7. Everyone in this category except Patricia Arquette (which: what?) did admirable work in the category. But, with apologies to Amy Adams, Mrs. Coach’s Hair is only attached to one of these women, and she also did a great job of actoring.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Connie Britton (and, by extension, Mrs. Coach’s Hair), Dirty John

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film

Hugh Grant and Benedict Cumberbatch could have one hell of a boring-off for their work this year. It pains me to say that, and yet here we are. This is why more people should consult with me before they nominate people for awards. Or, alternately, before they write stupid television. Anyway, Antonio Banderas is a fine Picasso. The Alienist was fine, and Daniel Bruhl is a big part of the reason why. I must, however, single out Darren Criss, for doing such a great job of capital-A acting that I was able to put aside – if only briefly – how annoying I find capital-A acting and be impressed by his abilities. He really turned himself into Andrew Cunanan, and I can’t help but be really impressed by it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Candice Bergen joins the “inexplicably nominated for awards for playing a character she played for many years many years ago.” She can join Debra Messing up at the head table of that particular club. Rachel Brosnahan does a fine job as the Standard Issue Amy Sherman Palladino Protagonist. She’s not very convincing as a standing-up comedian. Alison Brie is doing truly incredible work on GLOW, and is genuinely impressive episode after episode. Kristen Bell is the central part of the best ensemble, as part of the best television show currently on the air.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kristen Bell, The Good Place

Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Oh, right. The best show except Atlanta. Maybe. I have a hard time choosing, guys. Anyway, this is the season with “Teddy Perkins,” and Donald Glover is nominated in part of rit, and frankly, that’s the best television episode to air in a very, very long time, Good Place be damned. The rest of these people are fine and did fine work, and maybe next year that will matter.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Donald Glover, Atlanta

Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama

This Golden Globes has the misfortune, for Caitriona Balfe, of appearing after a season that disappointed pretty much everyone 8. Much was made of Julia Roberts’ television work here, and her finally deigning to appear on some prestige television. She’s still just Julia Roberts, though, so while I suppose kudos for jumping on the thing of the times, fewer kudos for being the least of the acting Robertses. Elisabeth Moss is fine. Sandra Oh was fine in the surprising Killing Eve. Keri Russell managed to deliver a series of really excellent performances, that remained surprising and worthy of praise all the way to the end of The Americans, and that’s something to appreciate.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER:: Keri Russell, The Americans

Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Pretty much all the stuff I just said above except this time for Matthew Rhys. Pose was a nice surprise, and Billy Porter was a big part of why. Stephan James on Homecoming and Jason Bateman on Ozark, on the other hand, continue to be indicative of why this whole peak-tv prestige business is pretty underwhelming. I have very little to say about Richard Madden in Bodyguard. See? Matthew Rhys. He’s great, he deserves it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Welp, Atlanta isn’t here because the Hollywood Foreign Press is dildos, so it’s gotta be The Good Place. Now, admittedly, I think I’d have a much harder time choosing, but it’s only the one, so it’s obviously The Good Place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place

Best Television Series – Drama

Eh. Killing Eve and Pose are at least entertaining, but I really don’t see how anything tops The Americans, which climbed the mountain of figuring out how to stick the landing. You heard me. I said they climbed the mountain to stick the landing. Blow me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans

Best Animated Feature Film

So, Isle of Dogs was a fun little variation on the Wes Anderson thing. Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet were both worthwhile sequels to great movies, even if neither scaled the heights of the original. Mirai is beautiful. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just the best Spider-Man movie ever made 9, not just among the very best superhero movies ever made, but might have actually been my favorite movie of the year, animated or otherwise. It’s so good, you guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Original Song

It really should be one of the songs from the Christmas-adjacent Spider-Man tie-in thing, but I suppose “All the Stars” is an awfully good song. Especially when put up against “Shallow” 10. The matching up of Jonssi and Torye Sivan is fine, and kind of inspired, but ultimately kind of boring. I have very little to see about “Requiem for a Private War”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Original Score

We got another example of Alexandre Desplat doing what Alexandre Desplat does. I’ve never much cared for Marc Shaiman, and I’m not super into it here either. With First Man, Justin Hurwitz may finally have done something that wasn’t the coolest part of the movie for which he was hired. Ludwig Goransson has done every Ryan Coogler movie, and while I here his music basically every time I look at Michael B. Jordan as a result, I actually didn’t think that Black Panther was his best work, although I did like the score. Marco Beltrami finally got to put his horror-movie-scoring talents to use in an interesting and creatively-fulfilled way with A Quiet Place, and that’s pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marco Beltrami, A Quiet Place

Best Screenplay

I have a fear that Green Book is going to be nominated for too many things. I really genuinely have this fear. I do not like this fear, because it implies that I am a joy-hating jerk who doesn’t like nice things, and that’s kind of true: I am a joy-hating jerk who doesn’t like nice things, and Green Book is very, very nice. I think that there’s nothing wrong with Roma, and I appreciate that Alfonso Cuaron wanted to at least do something interesting with the biopic, but none of that is the screenplay. Adaptations are tricky, and If Beale Street Could Talk is based on one of my actual all-time favorite novels, and I’m almost always unable to glean how much of that sort of thing is the source material and how much is the screenplay. It’s nice that they didn’t drop the ball, though. The problem, then, is that The Favourite is a goddamn period drama full of inter-court machinations, and Vice is a period-piece about the relatively-recent past. So maybe I’ll just call it for If Beale Street Could Talk and be happy with it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron and Bradley Cooper are both here for their passion projects. They both got to make the movies they wanted to make the most, and the result in both cases was so unspectacular that I kind of wonder why they were so hung up on it 11. I think I’ve already made it clear that I’m not here to praise Green Book. I think Vice was an interesting bit of business, but I dunno. Spike Lee is surprising in his continued ability to surprise and make the most of his work, and BlacKkKlansman was astonishing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Well, at least nobody from Green Book is here. Two of the people from The Favourite are, though. It’s not going to be any of them. Amy Adams did an Amy Adams-y job in Vice, and that’s good for her. Claire Foy did a uh…job in First Man, and that’s I guess good for her also. I’m left praising Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk, which is good for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Here’s some more of that Green Book! Gosh, I was almost worried I wouldn’t have to keep considering it every goddamn time. Timothee Chalamet remains delightful, but I have no idea why he’s nominated for his nothing-special work in Beautiful Boy. Perhaps because he’s him. It’s nice to see Richard E. Grant doing good work again 12, but I’m not really sure this is winner-caliber stuff. I love Sam Rockwell, and I love Adam Driver, and Adam Driver was in the better movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

The very least I can say for The Favourite is that Olivia Coleman is very Queen Anne-ish. Emily Blunt had the willingness to take on a giant, iconic role 13, and that’s a worthy decision, but, y’know, not the thing that wins here. Constance Wu was as good as everybody else in Crazy Rich Asians, a movie that I’m happy exists and that I’ll also be happy to stop thinking about. Charlize Theron was dunked back into the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody well, and while it’s a fine outing for the triumvirate, it’s not as good as Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a pretty admirable piece of storytelling, and Elsie Fisher does a great job.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

There is no way that Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves an award for his performance in Mary Poppins Returns. I’m willing to die on that hill. Green Book is also back, here, and I’m not happy about that either. It’s a shame, because I generally like both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Viggo Mortenson, and here I am being upset with them. Life is pain. Christian Bale and John C. Reilly both played real people, and I’m not a fan, although I appreciate that there’s a Laurel & Hardy biopic out there in the world. That brings us to Robert Redford for The Old Man & The Gun, which is pretty good, and he’s pretty good in it. Hell, he’s Robert Redford.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Robert Redford, The Old Man & The Gun

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

The Wife is a serious attempt to grapple with an important and timely issue, and Glenn Close is very good in it. I shouted out Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me earlier, and I’ll do the same for Melissa McCarthy: she’s a gifted actor who doesn’t stray outside of her usual lane often enough, and I really wish that she would. Probably not the best here, but still pretty good. Destroyer is at least an earnest attempt to make Seachers-style rescue movie with a woman, and I think it brings Nicole Kidman one step closer to her character-actor-identifying magic phase 14. A Private War is trying really hard to do a big job about an embedded journalist, and it’s got some interesting parallels to Destroyer in execution, if not in philosophy 15. I’m not giving this award to Lady Gaga, because A Star is Born is stupid.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Glenn Close, The Wife

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

I suppose 2019 is, in addition to the year where I talk about awards shows and what they’re here for, also the year where I make it clear that I do not like biopics. I do not think they are a good thing for the world in general. I think that there is no way to fictionalize someone’s life in such a way that doesn’t diminish the people around them, I think that narrativizing something as complex and disordered as a human life is a great way to sell the idea of the human experience short, and I think that even good (or, well, “good”) biopics unfairly set the story of something in stone in a way that does violence to the world that it existed in, even if minorly, even if unintentionally. The acting in biopics, then, is even worse than usual acting, but also works to support my point in microcosm: it’s an impression with feelings in it, and its relationship to creating a performance out of words is the same as creating a story out of the cannibalization of events from the past – I think that it’s diminishing and not as good as, y’know, literally any available alternative. All of which is to say: Rami Malek is a good actor, but not as Freddie Mercury, and Willem Dafoe is a good actor, but not as Vincent Van Gogh. Lucas Hedges is probably a fine actor, but not as Garrard Conley, even with the names changed. Bradley Cooper worked very hard to make A Star is Born, and then turned in a Kris Kristofferson impression to anchor it to, which makes the whole thing seem even weirder. John David Washington was good in BlacKkKlansman.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

I don’t wish specific harm to any of these movies, except maybe Green Book, but I also can’t imagine getting particularly excited about any of these. The last couple of years the Golden Globes have made some really left-field choices in these categories, and this year it’s just super-boring. Ah, well. I guess it’s a good thing Crazy Rich Asians was good enough.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Crazy Rich Asians

Best Motion Picture – Drama

This is a surprisingly good field, considering that every category up until now has been pretty lackluster, but I have to land in favor of Black Panther if only because it avoids the Dork Age trap that superhero movies are on the edge of. When superhero movies want to add moral ambiguity, they generally do so by having the character teeter on the edge of interpersonal violence or brooding or whatever. Black Panther did it by having a philosophical difference between the good-hearted but imperialist protagonist, and the well-intentioned extremist antagonist. There are lots of reasons to love Black Panther, and that one is very much the result of it being a masterful example not just of that kind of storytelling, but of superhero storytelling in general, and it’s always impressive when something can carry out a story that works beyond its genre while still remaining of its genre.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Black Panther


  1. and, again, I think this is probably the year where I really buckle down and finish the thing where I limn the reasons why I do this all the time, which will double as a sort of defining document for the site itself. 
  2. 2018 was, as has often been remarked, one of the longest years on record. 
  3. Finn Wittrock isn’t nominated for the episode that dealt with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but very much should have been. 
  4. although the rumour has it that they’re not exactly such anymore. 
  5. this used to be more meaningful than it is now. 
  6. see also Penelope Cruz, above, although Edgar Ramirez and Gianni Versace were not in fact personal friends. 
  7. also it seemed unfairly reductive, and it had become pretty far-removed from its own origins. 
  8. although if I’m not mistaken, she’s nominated here for the season prior. 
  9. meaning Tom Holland got like a year and a half as the best one 
  10. the other radio song 
  11. please note that I don’t actually think either movie is bad as such, I just don’t understand what the draw was – how did the ideas contained in those movies sustain their directors through the process of not only making them, but of managing to convince people to help them make them. 
  12. I really love Withnail and I 
  13. iconic is not a word I use lightly, but jeez, if anything is iconic it’s Mary Poppins. 
  14. I think it’s coming, guys. She’s got a super-crazy intensity that’s almost Cage-ian, and I think she could really pivot into some truly insane work if she tried. She’s already made Practical Magic and The Paperboy 
  15. although I suppose they’re also entrants in a contest to ugly-up two of the literal most beautiful women in the world, which is an interesting development, such as it is. 

The Best Records of 2018

One of the things that has been interesting, upon surveying other folks’ lists this year, is how little continuity there is. It seems like everybody heard different stuff 1 and everybody liked different stuff, and the world is a vasty panoply of opinions. This is probably the result of there not being a proper new Kendrick record this year.

In any event, the whole thing seemed nicely wide-open, and there was tonnes of new stuff that got in, and tonnes of stuff by people I already liked who really kicked it up a notch, including 2018’s biggest surprise: a Low album that is so good that it was actually shocking. Now, I love Low, as longtime readers will be aware, but this thing is incredible. It gives one hope that anybody can step up, even if they were already great to begin with.

And there’s forty-nine other albums that are nearly as good. Truly, an embarrassment of riches.

    1. Low – Double Negative
    2. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3. The Body – I Have Fought AGainst It But I Can’t Any Longer
    4. Busdriver – electricity is on our side
    5. Grouper – Grid of Points
    6. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
    7. Jeff Tweedy – WARM
    8. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything is Fine
    9. Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    10. Vince Staples – FM!
    11. Sumac – Love in Shadow
    12. Fire – The Hands
    13. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
    14. Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken
    15. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
    16. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man
    17. Carla Bozulich – Quieter
    18. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
    19. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
    20. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
    21. Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
    22. Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
    23. US Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
    24. Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road
    25. Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh – Sparrow Nights
    26. Joey Purp – Quarterthing
    27. Sleep – The Sciences
    28. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
    29. Milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
    30. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
    31. Hinds – I Don’t Run
    32. Yob – Our Raw Heart
    33. Chester Watson – Project 0
    34. Yowler – Black Dog in My Path
    35. Petite Noir – La Maison Noir/The Black House

 

  • Adam Remnant – Sourwood

 

  1. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – Ghost Forests
  2. McKaya McRaven – Universal Beings
  3. Mezbow – MONOAkuma
  4. The Internet – Hive Mind
  5. PC Worship – Future Phase
  6. Rico Nasty – Nasty
  7. Hypnodrone Ensemble – Plays Orchestral Favorites
  8. Lando Chill – Black Ego
  9. Keiji Haino & Sumac – American Dollar Bill/Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face-On
  10. Noname – Room 25
  11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  12. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
  13. Ill – Ill Will
  14. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes

  1. at least, once you got past the Carters and Cardi B and Ariana Grande and all that sort of thing. 

The 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards

Goodreads has chosen, everybody! These are some of our more interesting awards, because they really are just nominated and selected by the populous, or at least that section of the populous that is represented by the users of giant book-review-site Goodreads. As previously discussed, this creates an interesting window into the workings of how and why people choose and enjoy books.

As such, it’s worth looking at less as a standard awards-granting ceremony, and more as a view of what it is we’re getting out of the books that the people who are willing to spend their time publicly expounding about them find it worth publicly expounding 1 about.

So let’s look upon the expoundment, and come to some conclusions!

Fiction

Jojo Moyes – Still Me

WHAT IT IS:The third in the “Me/You” series of books, which started with the mega-popular Me Before You series, which was made into a movie starring Danaerys Targarayen and Finnick Odair. It’s here in the “fiction” category, and nowhere to be found in the “Romance” category, which is the result of either some “no true Scotsman” nonsense or the same weird anti-genre impulse that says anything that gets popular and respected can’t possibly be from its original genre ghetto. I suppose which of those things you think is in play depends on which vector your cynicality about the nature of book-expounding comes in from 2.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s a bit of a boring way to start out here, but it says that people love both romance novels (even if they aren’t calling them that) and already-familiar properties, which leads to a bunch of sequels winning this kind of award.

Mystery & Thriller

Stephen King – The Outsider

WHAT IT IS: A new book from a gigantically-famous writer, working outside of his usual genre (horror), or even the genre of the majority of his non-horror work (crime fiction).

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like Stephen King. He’s a wildly-likable writer who usually does interesting work. He’s also long done some expounding of his own about how much he loves mysteries, so it’s probably gratifying to be recognized as such for his contribution to the field, I suppose.

Historical Fiction

Kristin Hannah – The Great Alone

WHAT IT IS: A story of the hardships of going to Alaska in the seventies, and trying to survive that decision.

WHAT IT SAYS: The aphorism goes that history is about the time it’s written, the time it’s set, and the time it’s read. I think that historical fiction skews more heavily to the time that it’s written, and so it’s useful to see what people are interested in in terms of historical fiction at any given time. I also think that historical fiction is, somehow, given a frisson of pseudo-respectability 3 because it comes with a sort of implied promise that you could “learn something,” as though all fiction wasn’t instructive about something. This is a rant for another day, I suppose, but The Great Alone’s win says a lot about the thoughts of the people who enjoy this particular re-framing. What it says (and I know I’m kind of dodging here) is probably better guessed by someone who would ever read it, a set of people of which I am not a part.

Fantasy

Madeline Miller – Circe

WHAT IT IS: A re-imagining of The Odyssey from the point of view of the titular character, and an examination of a very particular archetype in classical stories.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s not just the movie-going public/film industry that’s into remakes 4, and when there’s one that’s as thought-provoking, compelling and competently-executed as this one, people really respond to it.

Best of the Best

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give

WHAT IT IS: So this category is here because it’s the tenth Goodreads awards, and this was the one that was voted better than all the other winners. I suppose it makes sense that it’s a genuine actual popular sensation, with an attendant movie that’s currently in theatres (and has been for, like, months), and that everyone who’s encountered seems to enjoy.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if you execute a piece of literary work that speaks deeply to people, they will reflect that by giving it awards. If this seems like a precise for basically this entire write-up, well, it kind of is, but in something that has been named the non-specific “best,” it’s hard to pull out specific reasons. The Hate U Give is about the best choice going in the category, so I’m pretty happy that I don’t have to try to figure out, say, A Court of Wings and Ruin or The Fart in Our Cars.

Romance

Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient

WHAT IT IS: A well-received debut novel that seems a little left-field for an awards program without a lot of left-field candidates 5.

WHAT IT SAYS: It beat out some real titans of the field, and also the execrable E.L. James “reimagining” that came out this year, so it says that the Romance field was ready for this kind of left-field stuff, I suspect.

Science Fiction

VE Schwab – Vengeful

WHAT IT IS: It’s about superheroes, and their scary dystopian experiments and stuff.

WHAT IT SAYS: People love scary-ass stories about how well actually, superheroes are scary and fascists. Seriously, our 6 taste for this stuff is almost-bottomless, and it seems like all of it gets praised to the high heavens. This is also a book in a series, and those do well because of the aforementioned familiarity business.

Horror

Stephen King – Elevation

WHAT IT IS: Stephen King’s second Goodreads Choice award of the year.

WHAT IT SAYS: That Stephen King is a familiar and crowd-pleasing name, especially among horror readers, and his work is good enough to easily reach consensus in something like this. It’s a dull answer, but it’s a true answer. Unfortunately his popularity chases away anything that would otherwise be communicated by the winner of this category. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it, only that it’s hard to see anything when he wins a popular-vote award other than his popularity, which is extreme, especially in literary terms, even now.

Humor

Tiffany Haddish – The Last Black Unicorn

WHAT IT IS: The most recent result of Haddish’s meteoric rise to top-tier funnypersonism.

WHAT IT SAYS: This one has most to do with Haddish herself – she’s a lively, captivating storyteller – and the compelling nature of her narrative, which includes some truly harrowing origins and a genuinely inspiring triumph over same. Since a feel-good story is much loved, and Tiffany Haddish’s rise to fame was quick enough to make people curious about it, and the book itself so satisfying, it stands to reason that people have a lot of good things to say about it.

Nonfiction

Michelle McNamara – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

WHAT IT IS: The work of true crime writing that may someday inspire its own work of true crime – it led to the arrest of the titular character after the author’s death.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s hard to beat the meta-story here, of a deceased true crime writer actually solving a case. It’s also got the fact that the police insisted that she did not, in fact, deserve this credit, despite using her exact information and methods, and that it’s a gripping, exhaustive reading of a very captivating situation. Plus she set out to bring a monster to justice, and then it happened, even if she didn’t live to see it. Let it be a lesson that a job well done, centered around a thing that is important to the person doing it, is often its own reward, and could be so much more. It’s chaos, be kind.

Memoir & Autobiography

Tara Westover – Educated

WHAT IT IS: An account of a woman who managed to achieve the titular education, despite her origins in a survivalist cult in the middle of nowhere.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we probably find it comforting – for reasons both obvious and not – to read a story about how you can, no matter where you start, overcome those ideas and be a different person 7.

History & Biography

Maxwell King – The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

WHAT IT IS: A thorough biography of a guy who we all spent a lot of time with on television when we were kids.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that everybody likes Mr. Rogers, and there’s something especially attractive about spending time learning about someone who devoted his life’s work to kindness, and preached of neighborly love to everybody. It’s also got deep appeal for pedants who like to tell people that, in fact, Fred Rogers was not a sniper.

Science & Technology

Stephen Brusatte – The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

WHAT IT IS: It’s sort of half-biography of an extinct set of species (it tells the entire history of dinosaurs, as far as that goes), half-travelogue.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that dinosaurs are awesome, and people like it when other people write about going to far-off places. I’ve spent several minutes trying to come up with a joke whose punchline is “Eat Prey Love”. Get it? Because dinosaurs and prey. I’ll try harder next time, I promise.

Food & Cookbooks

Chrissy Teigen – Cravings: Hungry for More

WHAT IT IS: It’s the newest cookbook by former 8 model and Instagram celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

WHAT IT SAYS: Cookbooks are a weird market that I don’t always understand, despite owning several dozen of them myself. Since it’s less permeable than other aspects of book-selling, famous people tend to do well. When a famous person puts together a well-done collection of well-photographed and of-the-moment recipes, then the result is something that sells a lot of copies.

Graphic Novels & Comics

Sarah Andersen – Herding Cats

WHAT IT IS: A collection of the tremendously, alarmingly viral slice-of-life webcomics that you’ve seen shared on [literally any place where people can share webcomics] a billion times.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we still like books of comic strips when they pop up. The resilience of the joke-a-day comic strip is a truly awe-inspiring thing, and while it’s true that their form has moved to one that’s more hospitable than “printed three inches high next to Dear Abby”, it’s also true that the actual inherent qualities of the joke-a-day strip have changed surprisingly little in the 120 or so years since they started existing, and that’s pretty incredible given how much the modes of doing business with them have changed in that same time period. Anyway, people like these comics, so they like books of these comics, just like they always have. Joke-a-day strips are, it seems, a constant.

Poetry

Amanda Lovelace – The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One

WHAT IT IS: The sassy follow-up to The Princess Saves Herself in This One, this one about witches instead of princesses, information you could probably have gleaned from the title. You’re so smart.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like sassy revision of very old stories (see above w/r/t our insatiable appetite for remakes). Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me, as is the reception to most poetry.

Debut Author

Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone

WHAT IT IS: A YA novel that reads like a sort of amalgamation of a bunch of other YA-stuff that people like, only considerably more West African.

WHAT IT SAYS: Adeyemi certainly wrote a very good book, and also revealed a particular talent for getting herself in public, so a lot of people heard about it. It’s easy to read, and it’s a window into a set of cultural storytelling tools and devices that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, which I suppose comes across as a “twist” on some fairly-normal YA storytelling.

Young Adult Fiction

Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Offbeat

WHAT IT IS: A YA book about a young lady who isn’t like all the other girls who finds love in high school and it’s bittersweet and also did we mention she’s not like all the other girls?

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that the portion of the YA audience that votes on Goodreads does not have a wide variety of interests

Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

Sarah J. Maas – Kingdom of Ash

WHAT IT IS: The final book in the Throne of Glass series, each of which has won this award, which is pretty impressive, in its way.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if the YA lit pack is after stories about girls who are proudly different and fall in love (bittersweetly), then the YA fantasy pack is after the very highest of fantasy, and specifically that they want Ms. Maas to write it.

Middle Grade & Children’s

Rick Riordan – The Burning Maze

WHAT IT IS: If Sarah J. Maas’s run is impressive 9, then Rick Riordan’s is twice so – he’s won this category eight years in a row. They might as well name the thing after him.

WHAT IT SAYS: This category actually has surprisingly more variety (to a degree) than the YA categories, which is why I’m less flippant about this one I guess. But seriously, eight Rick Riordan books in a row says “we the Goodreads awards voters really like Rick Riordan”

Picture Books

Grace Byers – I Am Enough

WHAT IT IS: It’s a picture book. I’m not heartless here. It’s got pictures and a message.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says “I Am Enough” is a very good message for a picture book.


  1. There’s more to say about this, and I keep meaning to get off my duff and write the thing I’ve got notes for about why I write about awards so much – I think it’s an interesting bit of cultural flotsam – left behind by the crashing of the cultural view into the mass of art that it inevitably crashes through to get to something like a “consensus” – for varying views of consensus. 
  2. I tend toward the latter, as could probably be gleaned from my previous writing on the subject. 
  3. it has its own genre-barriers to contend with, so it’s not actual respectability, it’s not like HF novels win literary awards very often. 
  4. I mean, it’s also the video game industry (see the re-ports of basically every game ever) and the YouTube-viewing audience (see the indefatiguable appetite for people that cover songs on YouTube) and the television audience (see the reboots, and also the clot of shows where people sing and/or lip-sync to pre-existing songs). It’s something about the media-consumptive behavior of Americans, to be sure. 
  5. see, for example, especially the YA categories, which are dominated by the same couple of people, and also a bunch of the non-winners but finalists, who tend to shuffle around in each category from year to year. 
  6. by which I mean “the audience for this sort of thing” I, myself, have no taste for it 
  7. although she does manage this parting of ways without scorching any earth or what have you, which is probably also comforting in its way. 
  8.  it is entirely possible she still works as a model, I guess? 
  9. and, as noted above, I do think it’s impressive