Who The Fuck Would Listen to This: Marilyn Manson Revisted

The third installment of this blog’s oldest feature was Marilyn Manson’s execrable Born Villain. The general feeling I came away with was that there was really not a reason for Marilyn Manson to be still making records in an environment where his shctick wasn’t operant, and where he clearly had no real passion for what he was doing anymore. It remains a terribly-recorded, overbaked and overproduced document of what should, mercifully, have been a document of someone who was giving up to try something that he found more fulfilling.

It was not.

This week, Marilyn Manson released his eighth album, the boringly-named Pale Emperor. And, curiousity of curiosities, it started to garner press. The general press narrative has been to call it a return to form, and talk generously of what an improvement it is on his last few records. And so he becomes the first ever repeat subject of Who The Fuck Would Listen to This.

I talked fairly thoroughly about his context, and my background therewith, in the last entry, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead I’ll say that a lot of the reviews, and many of the interviews, are centered around his claims that this is a more personal album, one in which he is shedding the Antichrist Superstar persona – which was, well, his whole thing – to be regular ol’ Spooky Brian. The problem there is: that’s absolutely not what he did. He’s still Marilyn Manson1, and the whole album is assembled out of the Big Book of Pre-Millenial Faux-Outrage Buzzwords.

Lyrically there just isn’t a change. It’s the same “I’m a big scary guy saying Deep Truths” stuff it’s been for literally his entire career. The lyrical high (?) point comes in “Killing Strangers”, which seems like a real notebook-clearer for wordplay ideas (“We got guns/better run”, a clunky “opera/operation” thing in the beginning, etc.). The oddly-constructed “You want to know what Zeus said to Narcissus? You better watch yourself”, which represents the centerpiece of Deep Six2 shows that at least he’s moved on to religions beyond Christianity, even if he is pretty solidly missing the point3.

Musically, it is at least different from the last record. Where Born Villain was busy and overstuffed, The Pale Emperor is more spacious – the cramped, airless arrangements that have actually been a part of his arsenal since all the way back on Holy Wood (in the Shadow of the Valley of Death) have finally eased up. It’s not necessarily an improvement. Part of the problem is that all of the non-drum parts have been written and recorded by Tyler Bates (the drums were recorded by metalcore journeyman Gil Sharone).

Bates’ backgrounds are in film scores – and, more to the point, big, loud action film scores4, which tend to rely heavily on a kind of musical shorthand to convey moods (as opposed to more delicate scores, which work the other way – it’s the difference between, say, the Star Wars theme and L’Estaci dell’oro). The album works the same way – Tayler Bates doesn’t have a lot of modes, and he plays all of the instruments, so the same five or six elements crop up. The basslines revolve between plodding heavy-metal-style four-note runners and pseudo-funky slapped…..heavy-metal-style four-note runners. The rhythm guitars land almost-invariably on palm-muted chugging. There are some keyboards that run through that really seem to have been built around the “Marilyn Manson” presets that probably don’t exist in actuality. Occasionally they sound like chainsaws, at one point they sound like a string section5. The most egregious change, however, is that there is a lot of guitar soloing. Like, a lot. In the most boring, predictable “weedly-meedly” way. It’s not an improvement over the “all crunchy all the time” aesthetic that had been explored previously. It’s a weird way to assemble a record, and Marilyn Manson has never been particularly well served by the high-production model. Although Tyler Bates has made his bones making music to serve’s someone else’s creative vision, it’s generally been in the service of someone else’s non-musical vision.

So who the fuck would listen to this? You know, if it weren’t for the coincidence of Marilyn Manson having been a previous entry in this series, I don’t know that I’d even wonder about hte question. Clearly there are a lot of music critics that have something invested in Marilyn Manson make a credible “comeback”. The label is clearly getting him a lot of publicity, with a smart, erudite interview in Grantland and a messy, druggy rambling one in The AV Club, in addition to extensive profiles in Metal Blade and, presumably, Rolling Stone and the like. Given that Born Villain barely got reviewed, this is a major step up. So a lot of people will listen to this.

I suppose my gut reaction was to say “but they shouldn’t,” but you know? That’s not true, either. There are worse people to be in public than Marilyn Manson, and it’s not like commerical rock music is exactly overflowing with people that don’t suck, so go ahead and listen to it. One of the songs is almost listenable, even!

1 this is both glib and meaningful. The implication of saying “this is the real me” and continuing to use your dumb stage name is that the mask is now the person, which could be its own kind of interesting, I suppose, if it were permitted to actually exist. The problem is that would require a change, and instead of a change in anything material, we’re just left with more lyrics about God and guns and sex and blah and blah and blah. So it’s just adding a layer to the persona: the “real” Marilyn Manson is this other thing on top of the existing character. Further muddying this water is the fact that the record is dedicated to his mother, who died in the middle of last year – so this album is for his mother, who gave birth to the actual real him, but is performed by the “real” him, which is to say Marilyn Manson with a layer of “real” paint on. There’s a scene in the first Tim Burton Batman where The Joker, who had already become the Joker and was no longer Jack Napier, had to look normal to go out in public, and so applied flesh-colored pancake makeup to his face to look “normal.” This is basically what he’s doing – it’s a layer over the layer that’s already over the real thing, and there’s nothing “real” about it.
2 over the course of which Manson really leans into the phonetic similarity of the words “six” and “sex”, which I think sort of makes my point about the whole “not changing” thing.
3 see, Zeus didn’t say to Narcissus “you better watch yourself” he said “because you couldn’t stop watching yourself you’re going to have to look at yourself forever.” That’s pretty different, see.
4 in total fairness, I actually quite like Tyler Bates’ soundtrack work
5 this part is weird, because the fake-string synthesizer comes in to augment or distract from some actual strings.

Making Money Selling Buggy Whips Part 3: Hi, Fidelity!

So last week we talked about music made specifically out of the limitations of the materials used to make it. Now we turn our attention to developments in the consumer market that indicate a literal scurrying away from that idea: two new impossibly high-end music-playing devices that are specifically intended to give you the kind of high-quality reproduction that is lacking from all of your digital mp3 files, you unwashed heathen.

The record industry has been in slumps before, obviously. The whole idea of an industry that sprung up around selling recordings of pre-existing music is, itself, something that exists only after a slump and panic1 necessitated figuring out how to make money out of the way people consumed music in the face of technical innovation. Historically, the way through has been to introduce a new consumer format that requires people spend a bunch of money on an existing product, shoring up money to figure out how to market content to fit into that product – essentially using the caesura of a stoppage in consumer music spending on new product to figure out the new marketing schema.

That almost certainly is not going to be able to happen this time. The average music consumer has spoken, and they’re pretty happy with using iTunes or Amazon to download piecemeal, or streaming everything2, 3. So the industry is doing what the industry always does – doubling down on trying to get people to spend a bunch of money on prestige formats.

The two major players in this arena are Neil Young’s pono player and Sony’s re-branded Walkman. Each is aimed at the portion of the market that is concerned with a high-fidelity experience. They also come from essentially opposite parts of the market.

The pono player comes from one of music’s most outspoken, ethically-driven and singular (as well as, often, batshit-craziest4) personalities. It was funded by a wildly successful kickstarter – proving something of a fairly-enthusiastic interest, if not outright demand – and has been marketed essentially as a boutique item to appeal to only the elite few. Most of this marketing has been done by Mr. Young himself. I have no trouble buying that he believes it, either – he’s long been cranky about the state of the way music has sounded (for perfectly good reason), and this seems like exactly how close to halfway a zealot can meet the commoner – he sees that the demand is for smallish digital players with a bunch of stuff on them, so he tries to bend the convenience-inspired notion into something that approaches his ideal. He’s framed it as being a savior (while also occasionally admitting that most people won’t hear a difference anyway) of music itself, which is a bit operatic in tone, since music is doing just fine even when people listen to terrible music at terrible quality – it’s the state of the industry that’s in trouble, not of the art form. Pono, then, is a singular product of one of the great singular minds, enthusiastically backed by a bona-fide genius. It’s also $400, and suggests that it would really like you to buy very expensive files from its very expensive music store. It will, however, play a bunch of other files. More on this in a moment. It’s also a triangle, designed to look, I suppose, future-y and different from the largely-samey digital music players already on the market.

The Sony Walkman A17 is marketed extremely differently. It shares its name with the first portable music player anyone over, oh, 25 or so had when they were a kid, and that older people would’ve had for a lot longer. It’s got an almost-rudimentary interface, seemingly aimed at people who are hiding behind primitivism as a reason for not adopting, or perhaps to be familiar to older people that don’t buy a lot of gadgets. It’s a full hundred dollars cheaper than the pono player, and plays basically the same range of files. It is not, so far as I’m aware, associated with anyone who played on “Cortez the Killer”.
These two products are ideas both very old and very new. The very old idea is that people will pay a bunch of money for a format that’s marketed as high-quality. This is because when new formats have taken over as the consumer standard, it’s been the “quality” that’s been touted, even when that hasn’t been true5. But the field is haunted by the ghosts of formats – quadrophonic sound, global fidelity discs, ADAT6, SACD, DVD-audio, and those are just the ones off the top of my head – that didn’t work because in order to change the format with which people listen to, you have to first change the process of listening, which requires significant incentivization. The flat record replaced the wax cylinder because of its long-term durability, the various cassette formats replaced those for portability, the cd replaced those for program length once again, but also further portability7, then the mp3 became the standard because of its balance of general-listenability with its extreme portability, and finally the mp3 is largely being dropped in favor of streaming media, which doesn’t even require you to own the hard drive8. It’s almost never about quality – but someone bought all of the formats listed above (including ADAT), which brings us to the new idea.

Pono player and the Walkman A17 could also represent the first major step forward business-model-wise. If music itself is adapting to find its own fairly-specific niche, why shouldn’t the means of playing it back? For as long as there’s been recorded audio, there have been people who have been interested in making sure that people know that the audio they listen to is “better”, or higher-quality. This isn’t entirely a step out into the void, however, as both players use the already-extant FLAC format as their basis, and there have been FLAC players without the big-name backing manufactured for a very long time – it’s also long been championed by internet-dwelling audiophiles, and is the format of choice for such titans of audio archiving as Wolfgang’s Vault and the archive.org, whose server costs must be astronomical.

So it’s clear that each product is aware that they’re aimed at a specific part of the market (adjusted somewhat to allow for all of Neil Young’s talk about how he’s going to “save music,” which is clearly not in the cards for a wildly-expensive digital audio player), and it’s the same part of the market that always buys this stuff for whatever reason. That’s fine – if someone is bound and determined to spend too much money on something, I’d rather Neil Young (or, to a lesser extent, Sony, whose lovely video game products keep me entertained from my chair) get it than a lot of other people.

The thing is, the notion of high-quality audio is only about 50% a fixed idea. There is an objective standard at the consumer level: every recording has a “master,” which is the actual original file or piece of tape that the rest of the music comes from, and you can measure loss. So at the beginning you can ask “how closely, sound-by-sound, does the resulting reproduction resemble the master?” And then, having figured out the answer to that question, you have to ask “how closely, sound-by-sound, does my playback apparatus resemble the reproduction?” The pono player and the walkman a17 are only working with the last question.

So let’s assume they’re right9, and that the sound you’re going to get out of your also-very-expensive headphones when you, I don’t know, do the dishes or whatever, is absolutely perfect. Then you are able to hear, perfectly, the reproduction of the various vogues in recording techniques – sixties-style room ambience, seventies-style close-miking, eighties-style sweetening, nineties-style digital frippery, oughts-style hammering compression –  which might be interesting, but means that you’ve now spent a bunch of money slavishly reproducing a view of the album that’s extremely dated. Or you’ve reproduced all of the recording limitations. Or you’ve reproduced all of the bits that are not, in fact, meant to be heard. The reason that high-quality audio obsessives are rarely music fans is because there’s no benefit to hearing a lot of the high-detail of that stuff, it’s too ephemeral, too hard to grasp10.

So if it’s all a push, and if it’s all just separating fools from their money, why am I here talking about it? Because it remains a part of the pernicious attitude that the vestiges of the commerical industry hold toward the consumers. Part the first is that the most commercial end of the music industry itself – the end that, say Sony has a hand in every part of, the end that results in people manufacturing what are, essentially, novelty products that you’ll have to buy Harvest again for – is also a manifestation of the same bottom-line mentality that has essentially ruined commerical music recording.

It’s true that there was never a particularly utopic environment for record production, but it used to be hard, and that meant that there was less space to do the sorts of freakish, unnecessary things that currently mar commercially-produced recordings11. The war for “perfection” (itself a useless, unnecessary loaded term – perfection according to whom?) has led to songs that are barely performed: a riff is played once, choruses are copied and pasted from the best take at the chorus, as much of the song as is possible is copied, and never actually performed. Songs are literally simulacra – they are assembled from parts of performances and sewn together. Then any manner of digital fuckery (I’m trying to make this as quick and non-technical as possible. I plan on writing some about why I get annoyed with pop production fairly soon) is added to the “song” so that it has a narrower dynamic range than could be possible, and so that it will come through on a radio with a certain degree of clarity and volume. So, with “perfection” having been reached, now it’s important to not alter it by buying a four-hundred-dollar geegaw that will play it back on an already-accepted consumer format.

But that’s not even the real problem. That’s all just the machinations of the fact that many of the remaining business interests in the music industry are actually tech-company interests. The reason this is all insulting is that it, once again, takes the foibles of the death of the industry and places the blame squarely on the consumer: if music is bad, it’s because your tastes failed to include the good stuff. If music sounds bad right now it’s because you don’t want it to sound better. So you should go out and buy a pono player or a walkman a17 or whatever the next thing is, because the lack of record sales is squarely on your shoulders. Or, if you don’t want to, if it doesn’t matter, that’s fine, it just means you aren’t good enough. The marketing tack for both products leans heavily on this point: a highly passive-aggressive gesture of seeming-acquiescene: this isn’t for everyone, it’s just for the people who are serious, it’s just for the people who care.

Well, friends, I listen to more music than you do. I say this with a fair degree of certainty because I listen to more music than all but a wee handful of people that I have met in my entire life12. I listen to it while I work, while I read, while I do stuff around the house when I’m out of podcasts. I listen to music while I play video games (aside from video game scores, even the coolest of which gets hella repetitive at a point, and it’s time to go for something better). I listen to music instead of watching tv, I go to see live music whenever it’s even remotely feasible. I’ve heard hours and hours, if not literal days, of Neil Young’s material. I own his music on vinyl, on CD, and digitally in both “high-quality” and “regular-old-schlub-quality” music. Hell, I think I probably even have a tape of Ragged Glory (or it might be Freedom) somewhere in the old-music graveyard that is my car and, as mentioned, I don’t even like cassettes. I take it pretty seriously, is what I’m saying.

High-fidelity audio is not just a waste of your money, and it’s not even just a waste of your time, it is a direct and impeachable encroachment on your music as you listen to and identify with it. Don’t not buy a pono player or  walkman a17 because it’s stupid to do so. Don’t do it because there’s a lot of cool stuff you could do with $400, including, if you haven’t already, buying a bunch of Neil Young albums in the formats for which they were produced and mastered to be heard. Do it because to be cowed by the notion that you’re not doing it “correctly” or “enough” is to be disallowed the part of you that responded to whatever the music is the way you heard it in the first place.

1 “if people can buy recordings, why will they ever go out to see live music?” is the argument as it was presented at the time. While it’s true that the recording market eclipsed the live-music market for a lot of the more successful bands for a couple of decades, it is also the first instance of the people who claim that something is killing the industry were entirely, completely wrong. This, really, is the entire reason to just not listen to them when they wring their hands about how it’s all your fault that their business model is untenable.
2 this divides pretty neatly along age lines.
3 CDs also still do more of a trade than people think they do – a lot of people were happy with the CD arrangement, and for those people there’s not really a reason to commit to change. But the rest of the CD market is tipping over with the ascent of the smartphone – as even late-adopters get phones that can hold or stream music – as digital music files literally become more convenient than any other format – there is significantly less market, even among the traditional cd-buyers*.
* to wit: the oldish and the very young
4 for every principled stand about selling products with music that means something to people, or millions of dollars raised for charity, there’s pseuodmedical claptrap about epilepsy and general paranoia about….everything? apparently?
5 I’m not going to bog this down with technical details – see Greg Milner’s excellent book Perfecting Sound Forever for the basics of how this happened – but the end result is that, essentially, audio quality has both never been a major commercial concern and has, in fact, not improved in about forty years.
6 this one played back in a VCR, because for awhile the VCR had better audio playback capabilities. Ironically, in addition to the higher resolution, the BetaMax people were also 100% right about audio reproduction, of which BetaMax was a hands-down champion, and if it had survived, might have actually made ADAT an interesting contender. As it is though, remember that time you put an album into your VCR to play it? No, you don’t.
7 and the fact that a cassette is a lousy format for anything except live music, where tapes can be used effectively as sound-generators.
8 this could be me being blinkered, but I suspect that downloads and streams will coexist more-or-less like tapes and records did: you don’t own streams, and it’s hard to trust that any given record label/streaming company won’t restrict access to that stuff. Not to mention you don’t incur data charges for listening to a file off a native hard drive.
9 and, honestly, they’re not. FLAC is a high-fidelity format, which means it isn’t compressed much. But it’s still compressed off the master, and then there’s also the questions about what violence has been done to the recording by the mastering techniques themselves, but that’s not what today’s piece is about.
10 the highest of high-quality audio obsessives tend to test and/or show off their setups with sound effects records – the reasoning being that we have no idea what the platonic ideal of, say, “Down By the River” is, but we do know what a train sounds like.
11 it probably goes without saying that when I talk in this paragraph about the practices of commercial production, I’m referring to that which is a part of the commercial record-sales wing of things. There are literally thousands of records a year that are not recorded this way.
12 that said, it isn’t impossible that one of those people is among the readership, in which case I listen to more music than all of these people but you, slugger.


“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”
  • Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

So, it’s the beginning of a new year, a year filled with possibilities and predictions and as-yet uncrossed dates on the calendar. Previously, this space was meant to be filled with predictions for said year, but the upshot of all of that is that 2015 appears to be, from all outward cultural signals, a year of transition. A “rebuilding year”, to adopt the phrase that people from Cleveland say compulsively. So predictions are uninteresting. Not to mention there’s no better way to start a year than by talking about stuff that’s cool and important and meaningful.

In a couple of days, I’m going to write a piece about high-end digital audio players, and what they mean for the record-buying public. I’m probably going to talk mostly about the business apsect of their existence – that when the record industry finds itself in free-fall, it tends to figure out how to make people pay for the same product again rather than change anything about its approach, and how this is no longer possible in an environment where people are happy to stream. But that’s next week.

But that’s next week. The upshot of the whole thing is that there are two major portions of the market that are, essentially, impossible to please – the fidelity enthusiasts and the noise people. Read about the Pono Player and the new Sony Walkman next week to hear about fidelity enthusiasts, and about another last-ditch effort on the part of a flailing record industry to get people to spend actual money on their product so they, once again, do not have to change their shitty business model.

This piece is about the music.

I am very much a noise person.

So are an increasing number of people, certainly. It’s become easier to find, hear, and talk about noise music increasingly for a while now, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

But what does that mean to begin with? Part of the further problem with noise is deciding what counts – it’s easy enough to take the Potter Stewart approach, and just know it when you hear it. The definition of which I’m fond, if pressed, is “music made all or in part by non-musical sounds”, which is broad enough to cover anything that someone wants to call noise and then shrug1. But like with anything, there’s an enormous amount of interpretation involved, which is part of the appeal of noise music in the first place.

The music that works the most for me is music that’s made by people who have something very specific they’re after doing. The struggle between the person expressing and their ability to express it is what makes the whole undertaking compelling to listen to, and when the person doing the expressing succeeds despite the limitations, and communicates their idea2 in a form that’s recognizable, that is the reason for listening in the first place.

That connection – that long-distance telepathy trick – is why there is no culture that doesn’t have music. The communication of ideas by any other means – even literature or poetry or whatever – isn’t quite the same. It combines all of the intentionality of visual art or literature with the performativity of direct communication. Theoretically, the information stream is wider than we are able to utilize, as evidenced by the fact that every single day there are more effective, communicative, moving songs in the world. Part of the reason the creation and performance of music organizes itself into genres is to cut some of the work out – a rock band works in a rock idiom, using the language (literal, figurative and musical) of that idiom to give people a leg up on understanding3 the intentions. It’s not an accident that the rise in popularity of noise music comes in the era when it’s harder to establish a singular conversation about music – when it’s harder to convince people that your language is the only language worth speaking, people are going to speak other languages.

The genre, see, is a double-edged sword. It enables people to skip some of the steps to understanding, but it also creates a somewhat-narrower range of success in a lot of ways – cleave too closely and you’ll be faceless, fail to cleave enough and you’ll fail on the merits of the genre, rather than their own. The trick has to be, regardless of the genre in which you’re working, figuring out how to work within the conventions and make the conventions work for you. And great songwriters figure it out every single day.

But what noise music represents, at least in its good sense, is the rejection of convention4. The very name itself implies the existence of things people would ordinarily request be specifically left out of their music. The degree of rejection is generally left up to the practitioner – The Jesus and Mary Chain’s incorporation of feedback and volume are to take the place of Brian Wilson’s orchestras and battery of production effects in the Beach Boys songs in their heads, clipping. replace the clattering, sample- or synthesizer-reliant beats of more traditional hip-hop with loud speaker noises, countless shoegaze bands play their guitars so loudly that the notes don’t separate and instead bleed together into one constant sound. There are as many ways to incorporate it as there are people doing the incorporation.

That’s because noise is, definitionally, impossible to codify in any one way permanently. There are areas where it’s been taken over – if you crank your guitar way up and strum minor chords on all downstrokes, you’re going to sound like one of the aforementioned shoegaze bands – but in global terms, the only reason “noise” can be called its own genre is because it unites a bunch of people who have nothing in common other than the unconventional sounds they’re making with their instruments (or non-instruments). This benefits the practitioner by opening up the array of sounds available to them, as does anything else, but the lack of codification, and thus of generic “correctness” brings a greater benefit to the practitioner, which is that without anyone to declare something “right” or “wrong”, there is no set pattern into what goes into. This opens up the field, and also lowers the bar of entry5, and that’s important for the same reason that lowering the bar of entry is always important – the more people that are able to do something they want to do, the more people that are doing somethign will be the people that really want to be doing it, and not just the people that can overcome the bar.

The lack of generic codification is also important to the listener. Without the touchstones that generally take over the evaluation of other genres6, the person listening to noise music is left in their own head, to figure out how they feel about what they’re listening to. To a lot of people, that thing is going to be “annoyed.” Nothing is for everyone. But for some people, it’s not. With the freedom to make music out of the sounds that most closely resemble the sounds in your head, and the ability to communicate directly to the user’s head, the potential for real engagement with noise music is astronomical. It’s the most interactive of the genre – the practitioner is in charge of making and organizing the sound, and it’s left entirely to the ears of the listener to shape it into whatever their brain feels, naturally, counts as a “song”. The relationship is already more deeply into the two-way exchange than it would be for another genre. And I think more people are starting to value that exchange.

Music is getting harder to market at people. The venues by which people would ordinarily have music thrust upon them – the radio, magazines, etc. – are dying out and no longer thrusting quite as vigorously. But there remains this space in our heads, and in the part that makes us humans, that needs there to be music. So the people who have this need go and they find it, and it turns out that it’s easier than ever to find people that are saying exactly what you want to hear. But in between there’s an entire environment – an environment that’s increasingly clamoring for your attention, that’s focus-marketing using the things that you’re “supposed” to like. The convesation – online and in the meat world – is about amassing, enumerating, accumulating. And out of this constant barrage, everyone7 has to choose what’s worth keeping, essentially plucking things out of the air from amid the detritus of the things that are hurled at you every moment.

That action becomes a part of the process – it’s acknowledged that now, in order to get to something worth having, there has to be a lot of sifting. So why wouldn’t a genre that’s based on that very principle be a genre that would gain traction? For many years, noise music was incidental. Much of it was disposable8, and its commentary was on the consumption of music as object, and the nature of most music as being listened to. That’s still a lot of the idea in a lot of ways (just go to bandcamp and you can download something like a year’s worth of indifferently-produced, completely-disposable squealing in about an hour), but increasingly it isn’t. Increasingly there are people who are willing to take seriously this thing. Increasingly, in an environment where it’s never been easier to hop over the line between performer and audience, the line is meant to be thickened9, so why wouldn’t a cooperative form, one that requires both the audience and the performer to act at the same time to make the thing complete, be easier to get into?

An interesting thing happened last fall: in the run-up to the release of her juggernaut 1989, someone in Taylor Swift’s team uploaded a few seconds of white noise to iTunes, and her fans downloaded it.

And then they complained, but many of them complained because they didn’t get it. That might not sound like a big deal to you, so allow me to elaborate: amid the comments that said “this is just noise, it must be a mistake” were several that said, in effect, “I don’t know what you’re doing, Taylor, but I trust that you do.”  While it’s true that those people wouldn’t know Merzbow from Clara Bow, it’s also true that they listened to and evaluated several seconds of literal noise as a song. That seems, to me, like a climate that is primed for things to be a lot more abstract. That’s close-listening of the sort that can’t help but make somebody happy.

And sure, none of those people are going on to buy Skullflower records, none of those people are going to turn out at Prurient shows. But that’s ok10. The environment is out there, the music is there for people to discover.

Let’s talk about a form, briefly, that’s basically at the opposite end of the spectrum from the freewheeling, anything-goes world of noise music. In the few public gathering places that were available to black people in the twenties and thirties, two forms happened simultaneously – one, jazz, would go on to become one of the foundations of experimental music on one hand, and completely co-opted by dorky white dudes on the other and the other, the blues, would eventually die out as a commercial force due to its singular functionality (albeit living on for several decades after its natural death as….something completely co-opted by dorky white dudes). The blues also had very little barrier of entry: you had to know a couple of chords, a couple of melodies, and a handful of folk standards, beyond which you could improvise a couple of tunes about how you’re drunk and sad. It was, in its strict conventions and immutable forms, a way of freedom for precisely the opposite reason that noise is a way of freedom – the blues enabled you to communicate with someone directly because if they were there to see the blues, they were already all in  on what you’re saying. The blues, more than any other form in American musical history, were a direct reflection of their environment – nobody was listening, so they made their sounds their own, and repeated them to each other, the result becoming like a koan, or a prayer. The blues became the gospel, the voice of a culture that was so rejected, so isolated, so on its own that the repetition became a way of keeping, of preserving the identity and the mind of the people that were in on it. It was so deeply ingrained that it stagnated after the introduction of the commercial market for it – it was too much a product of its own mien (you won’t find any significant blues practitioners after about 1965 or so – it’s all just going through the same  motions other people went through).

That was almost a hundred years ago, and while it’s impossible to deny the historical effect of the blues, that idea – the idea that if you make everything as homogeneous as possible, it will speak to people more effectively – is the over-arching idea not only of the artifacts of the culture, but of the culture itself. Our lives are full of that kind of thinking, of that kind of extremely formally-bound communication. It’s even likely to say that the air itself is….noisy with the constant, generic reaching of the people who learned, a hundred years ago, or eighty years ago, or fifty years ago, from the blues that if you speak to people like they just spoke to you, it’ll work.

Last summer, the mighty and unimpeachable Atsuo, of noise-rock titans (and one of my all-time favorite bands ever) Boris said to The Quietus that “noise is Japanese blues.” What he meant was that it was a result of the environment – that noise was everywhere, that it was in the air, and that reshaping it and spitting it back out was the way to say to the environment that you, too, were a part of it. That’s absolutely true, and I don’t think he goes far enough. Noise is, for the people that believe in it, for us, everyone’s blues. Or, more accurately, our blues. Noise shares the immediacy – the point isn’t that there’s something wrong with the world someday, there are no lofty ambitions, the point is that there is something wrong right now and the world is out there and I just need someone to hear me listen to me listen to me LISTEN TO ME.

And that urgency is important to some of us. And that agreement is important. And rather than by doing it by following the hidebound traditions of a restrictive form, it’s by blowing forms up, or ignoring them, or not even bothering to consider them in the first place. It’s by droning, or screaming, or pounding, or screeching at the people that understand, and by doing so in a matter that is literally exclusionary to the people who are not inclined to get it.

This is not, however, a celebration of keeping people out. This is an invitation. This is how the trick is played. This is how it works. There is no secret – just listen. It sounds like it’s just noise because it is just noise. But you should come give it a try.

It turns out you can get a whole lot of yourself into and out of “just” noise.

1 You don’t have to worry too much about what it means. Lord knows I don’t. Obviously it’s easy for this to lead down arguments that require a definition of music (“tones in sequence” always does me fine) as well as what constitutes a sound that is non-musical with such a broad definition (“any sound made as part of a piece of music that is not a part of the accepted or intended use of the instrument” is clumsy, but if someone is really pressing you for these definitions, it should make their eyes glaze over).
2 idea is, literally and precisely, the wrong word for what I mean. It’s basically so ill-suited for the purpose for which I have enlisted it. What I mean here by “idea” is “pretty much the exact opposite of an idea” as it’s something without thought. But since there isn’t actually a word for that thing, “idea” has to be understood metatextually as “the idea of a thing that is perfectly and completely not an idea”. This is why this piece is so long in the making, because it involves saying and thinking a lot of things like that.
3 this can, eventually, go so far that the generic markers become their own kind of communication: various heavy metal subgenres are the worst about this, evaluating music almost entirely based on some kind of imaginary checklist. Gansta rap and folk music have a similar problem, (called “realness” or “authenticity,” respectively) which is basically the same thing and, not coincidentally, became a part of the conversation for those genres as they started to fade from commercial concerns.
4 sometimes. Sometimes, especially on the power electronics/post-industrial end of things, things are just as heterodox and restrictive as anything. Part of that is because that’s the end of noise music that shares the most fans with the similarly-rules-obsessed metal dudes, and part of it because there’s really only so much you can do by making an awful noise on a keyboard and screaming about nazis.
5 just because there isn’t a codified “bad” doesn’t mean there is no bad noise music – there’s tons of it. Just like any other form, the overwhelming majority of what gets produced within it isn’t really worth bothering with. Bad noise music is generally the product of people that never get any further than “that sounds cool and it’s easy to do”, which is as far as most people take noise music in the first place, which is also the same thing that happens with rock musicians when they turn their guitars up real loud.
6 and even the most stalwart listener ends up relying on them in some point – on this very blog you can find me praising things for going outside of their usual genre, while still being aware that the idea that “outside of genre is good” is still making a decision based on proximity to genre.
7 and here I actually do mean everyone – everyone sticks with what they like and rejects what they don’t
8 I may write someday historically about it, but for right now the important thing to know here is that a lot of noise music in the eighties was in Japan and Europe on limited-run cassette releases – a disposable format for a disposable idiom.
9 it’s possible that television has a lot to do with this, but it’s actually a problem in the field of comedy (witness: literally every article written about stand-up comedy for the last four years that hasn’t been about women or Bill Cosby). I do see some heckler types at music shows, but they’re easier to shut down because they invariably fail to be louder than the PA. Although one did ruin a Ryan Adams show late last year. Fuck that lady.
10 quite frankly, there are enough toddlers with interesting haircuts at those shows already, I do not need to compete for space with the Swifties, thank you very much**.
** he said, waspishly.  

Amazon Bestsellers: A Blog Post

So in this blasted, post-apocalyptic world in which we live, the idea of a bookstore is basically theoretical – even avid readers can go months, if not years, between setting foot in one. Only the warm, robotic embrace of the easy, ubiquitous, and sometimes-drone-assisted Amazonian teat keeps us connected to a world in which books are actual items, rather than a distant memory of a thing that old people and weirdos use1. And, of course, because Amazon exists as an entity on the internet, they make available all sorts of data about who is using their service to buy what.

So what does it say about us that these are the things that we spend our ever-weakening American dollars on? Let’s see.


Handily enough, Amazon divides its lists into print and kindle books (they also provide lists for “Music”, “Songs”2 and “Video Games” but we aren’t going to deal with those, because this is my goddamn list). That helps a bit, as you’ll see

Tom Rath – StrengthsFinder 2.0
WHAT IT IS: An attempt to capitalize on the mind-boggling popularity of a book that should, in a just world, be just another item consigned to the eventual pulp pile, because seriously, what the hell is wrong with people?
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That if you can find a way to combine the reassuring pseudoscientific nonsense of a self-administered quiz with the quasi-meaningful business speak of a career mananger, you can successfully merge the monetary success of Cosmopolitan quizzes with that of the seemingly-bottomless market for assuring people that they don’t have to make meaningful changes in their personality in order to succeed3. This all makes me want to hang myself.

Victoria Saxon – Frozen Little Golden Book
WHAT IT IS: The Little Golden Book version of film and merchandising juggernaut Frozen, naturally.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That despite adults being barely-literate, we still encourage our children to read or, at least, to look at pictures. That’s probably good. It’s tempered somewhat by the fact that in the time since Little Golden Books have been introduced, we still have to live in a world where the most-purchased book on Amazon is fucking StrengthsFinder 2.0.

Rob Elliott – Laugh Out-Loud Jokes For Kids
WHAT IT IS: It’s a book of laugh out-loud jokes, aimed at children. I promise that eventually these descriptions will become more necessary. That will happen shortly after the top-selling items on this list stop being children’s books.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: The cold facts are that the best people in the world at telling joke-book style books are third-graders. Many of my favorite setup/punchline joke-book style jokes are the same as they were when I, myself, was a part of the joke-book market, and I think it’s good and natural and healthy that this book is so high up, because it meanst that the true essence of comedy is being propagated across our nation’s playgrounds4.

John Green – The Fart in Our Cars
WHAT IT IS: Farty fart-stories about fart cancer and the farty love story that it propels with its farts.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we love farts. Farts farts farts. God I hate this book.

Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul
WHAT IT IS: Jeff Kinney’s evergreen YA graphic novels are almost impossible not to like at least a little bit. I like them even more than a little bit, despite the fact that I haven’t read the last several. This one’s about about a family trip, though, which means it’s probably great.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: The book shot up to #5 here despite having only been released in mid-November, which is also a good sign. It says that, somehow, we are getting it through to our kids to read better books5.

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – Killing Patton
WHAT IT IS: The fourth book in the Killing series, this one posits a conspiracy and cover-up for the death of Patton, attempting to discredit the official explanation (which is, in the book’s favor, really fucking weird to being with).
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: We love conspiracy theories, we love reading about murders, we love when we recognize an author from the tv, we love World War II. All pretty normal stuff, really.

Randall Munroe – What If?
WHAT IT IS: Webcomics great Randall Munroe boxes up a bunch of his question-answering columns with some new stuff that isn’t on the attendant website. Science ensues.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That if you present science entertainingly, and make sure something massive explodes every few pages, that you can make science interesting to just about anyone, contrary to what the nattering nabobs of negativity would have you believe.

Rick Riordan – The Heroes of Olympus Book Five
WHAT IT IS: Rick Riordan’s cinematic, indefatiguable saga6 continues! This is the conclusion of another series, which means another series is likely to start up any time soon.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: I suspect the utility of Rick Riordan is much-appreciated by adults who don’t know what to buy for bookish children. The books are un-objectionable, there’s a couple of movies adapted7 from the first couple of books of the first series, and there are, like, a million of them.

Sarah Young – Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence
WHAT IT IS: Another in the endless, probably-not-that-different series of devotionals to come from Sarah Young
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That the masses associated with the art of devotionals has spoken, and it has pronounced Sarah Young its foremost practitioner.

Lauren Hillebrand – Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
WHAT IT IS: A story of a former-olympian’s trip through World War II
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: We still love World War II, but also stories about World War II that end pretty well for people. Which seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but who knows what inconsistency lurks in the hearts of men?

So theoretically, at least, the market for physical books is made of people who don’t read enough to justify a Kindle8, people that are buying gifts, and kids who don’t have a kindle of their own. This would lead the bestsellers on the Kindle platform to be a more representative taste of what people are buying for their own reading. Theoretically.

John Green – The Fault In Our Stars
WHAT IT IS: A test of my willingness to keep typing the word “fart”
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That there is no standing up to it. Resistance is futile. Walls come down, barriers are broken, defenses penetrated. There is no escaping it. We are all cancerous children. We are all in love. The stars themselves are not faulted, but rather devoted singularly to making sure none of us escape. God help us all.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl: A Novel
WHAT IT IS: A novel about a girl who is gone.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Since the advent of mass-printing, the murder mystery has, perennially, been the most sought-after commodity in the popular fiction market. And for the most part, the murder mysteries that become perennial classics are the ones that do something novel with the form. So what Gone Girl‘s success says is that people are behaving as usual.

Veronica Roth – Divergent
WHAT IT IS: Another young adult dystopian book series, this one about placement tests gone all crazy and shit.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That you can market just about anything into existence, if you make it cheaply available and make a movie out of it, even if no one actually sees the movie. It also says that a whole great-big book phenomenon can kind of happen without me reading a word of it, which would be humbling if I weren’t so thoroughly convinced that all of these people are wrong.

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
WHAT IT IS: A universally-beloved Pulitzer Prize-winner from Bennington’s favorite daughter9.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That the people who read and take books seriously can all band together and bang on about a book for long enough that people actually go out and buy it. For their Kindles. Probably on sale for cheap.

Veronica Roth – Insurgent
WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Divergent.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That a bunch of people bought the sequel and didn’t keep reading, but that a whole lot of people did keep reading. Stay tuned for more on this subject.

Veronica Roth – Allegiant
WHAT IT IS: The third one in the -gent series.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: The same thing that the second one does, but with a smaller gap, it says a whole more people are just sticking it out rather than leave 67% of the way through the series.

Liane Moriarty – The Husband’s Secret
WHAT IT IS: A philosophically interesting treatise on the lives of women. It’s also Australian, which is neat.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Similar to how the highfalutin’ literary fiction crowd can galvanize around The Goldfinch and get the masses to pay attention to it, so can the Post-Austenite literary fiction10 crowd. Also, apparently I think of literary fiction people as organizing into crowds, which is sort of the precise opposite of what actually happens.
Laura Hillenbrand – Unbroken
WHAT IT IS: I suppose the presence of the Kindle version means that a lot of people were reading this themselves, which also skewers part of my other print book theory, which is that people were ordering print books from Amazon to have them delivered to themselves on vacation. I should look at the best-selling books in airport bookstores, where people buy physical books because you (theoretically) have to turn off your Kindle on the plane.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Fewer people are reading it on planes than I thought.

Gayle Forman – If I Stay
WHAT IT IS: Book one in the If I Stay series, which is helpful. It’d be weird if it were, like, book six. Anyway, a bunch of the characters in these books are aspiring musicians, so this is sort of YA Fidelity. Or something.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That YA is literally the only genre in which you can write if you hope to sell any books, but if you have a reasonably-snappy book jacket blurb, the world is your oyster.

Christina Baker Kline – Orphan Train: A Novel
WHAT IT IS: Elsewhere in the talking-about-books portions of the internet, there are periodic debates about drift in the meaning of the word “novel,” and what is meant when we talk about novels. But then there’s all these people just smashing “: a novel” at the end of their shit like it ain’t even a thing. Maybe the secret is to announce your medium at the end of your title.Orphan Train is a novel by even the most closed-off definition, which is handy. It’s a coming of age story about a Penobscot girl who cleans out a lady’s house and everybody learns some stuff. Poignantly.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we like coming of age stories and people learning stuff. Poignantly.

1 like typewriters, or quill pens, or buggy whips.
2 yeah, I don’t know either
3 an idea that never seems to conflict with the notion that you just paid twenty dollars for this nonsense
4 actually, it’s entirely likely that the notion of the playground joke will, in fact, outlive the notion of the playground.
5 among the differences between John Green and Jeff Kinney is the fact that the former is a huge crossover hit, with grown-ups comprising a huge portion of – and, honestly, probably the majority of – his fans, and Jeff Kinney existing almost entirely among children. I suppose it’s not fair to take a swipe at authenticity or whatever, but it’s hard to not be heartened that kids are not entertained by that maudlin claptrap.  
6 or, well, I suppose “epic” is the more appropriate word, given the source material
7 extremely poorly-adapted, but adapted nevertheless
8 which, as national reading statistics bear out, is a depressingly large number of people. These are the people that are going to buy, say, that Bill O’Reilly or Lauren Hillebrand* book and probably not another one for themselves.
* literary nonfiction, especially historical literary nonfiction, is a huge percentage of the purchases in this market
9 I mean, she was tied with Jill Eisenstadt for awhile, I would imagine, but a Pullitzer win really pulls you ahead in the “favorite daughter” sweepstakes.
10 there are two reasons I will not use the term “chick lit”. The first is that it’s a term that, at this point, can pretty much only be used to make people angry and the second is that it’s a needlessly dismissive term, even if it does describe a subgenre that doesn’t have a lot else going in the name department.

The 2015 Golden Globes

Of all the awards shows, the Golden Globes are almost unilaterally the easiest ones to write about. They don’t have a lot of categories, their choices usually make some kind of sense, and they only combine two disciplines, which has the simultaneous effect of meaning you don’t have to figure out who the best key grip on a movie was, while also keeping it from a people’s choice awards style morass.

So here are the 2015 nominees!

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie
It’s with the Golden Globes, see, that I get my wish: all of the television formats are smooshed together, which eliminates a place to quibble, as well as meaning that there aren’t fifty people to sift through for every minute difference. This also makes the field stronger, as you aren’t dealing with a bunch of people from a series, a bunch of people from a mini-series, and a bunch of people from a TV movie. Anyway. I quite like Colin Hanks in Fargo.


Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie
Is Allison Janney really a supporting actress, though? Do the producers of Mom make that call, or the Golden Globes themselves? That’s a little confusing. Michelle Monaghan and Joanne Froggatt are both fine. Kathy Bates is doing ok work on AHS: Freak Show, but her accent remains absolutely unforgivable. The award goes to Crazy Eyes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie
For the leads, the series actors are separated. I suppose that’s fair, but given that the rules for what is a series and what is a mini-series are still somewhat crazy and hard to parse, I don’[t know how much slack to cut it. Mark Ruffalo is out of his weight class here. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton both did some pretty good work on Fargo, but this was always going to come down to Woody Harrelson vs. Matthew McCounaghey, and even that isn’t much of a question.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew McCounaghey, True Detective

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie
Two Franceses! This answers the musical question: how many Franceses1. Anyway, the Franceses cancel each other out. Allison Tolman was fine, but, ironically, didn’t really live up to the performance of another nominee in this category2. Jessica Lange is kind of doing the same thing in this season of American Horror Story that she was in the last couple, so she’s probably not due for an award. But also, you knew where this was going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman

Best TV Movie or Mini-Series
So The Missing, The Golden Globes would have us believe, is one of the best TV Movies or Mini-Series but didn’t have any of the best actors? That seems unlikely. Pity poor Olive Kitteredge and The Normal Heart, they never stood a chance, because clearly this is the year of the crazy-ass murder show.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I can’t make the call, so here’s what let’s do: let’s murder somebody with the golden globe, then turn the casts of True Detective and Fargo loose to find the murderer. Whoever figures it out is clearly the better murderer-finder, and gets to keep the award.

Best Actor in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy
I feel like Derek continues to be nominated for stuff even though nobody actually likes it3. Louie is a truly great show, but Louis CK’s acting isn’t really why. Don Cheadle is a truly great actor, but his work on House of Lies isn’t really evidence of that. William H. Macy and Jeffrey Tambor are both doing some crazy things with their hair, but only one of them actually used all of the talent they were given for their role.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy
Long-running shows are really at a disadvantage here – it’s really hard to get as excited about someone continuing to play a character as it is to get excited about someone starting to play a character. So while it’s absolutely true that Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is great, and Edie Falco is still fine, they’re also still doing basically what they did last year. Lena Dunham is also doing what she did last year, but it’s considerably less compelling. Taylor Schilling did something somewhat different from what she did last year4, but also the show did a lot of transitioning away from her being the actual lead, and more into an ensemble drama. So, by process of elimination.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin

Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy
So once again, we have a case where a show (Silicon Valley) is nominated despite none of its actors being nominated. In this case it’s something of an oversight – Martin Starr is, consistently, one of the most underrated hilarious people in the world, and TJ Miller is capable of being funny just by wearing a sweater – so it’s good that they have this chance to rectify their mistake.


Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama
There are a lot of hammy, scenery-chewing anti-heroes in this list. Truly, we are in the age of the scenery-chewing anti-hero.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Let’s just have a chew-off between Kevin Spacey, Liev Schreiber and James Spader, shall we?

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama
I am heartened by how none of the women in this category are doing the same thing as the other – it can only be a good thing to increase the breadth of roles given to women in dramatic television. That said, I don’t actually like any of these shows. Claire Daines and Julianna Marguiles have the fourth-season problem, Robin Wright and Ruth Wilson are both doing fine work on shows that don’t, generally, know what to do with them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder

Best TV Series, Drama
If it is the time of the scenery-chewing anti-hero, it is also the time of the Complex Web of Politics Drama. Do you know why the prospect of the Duplass brothers having a tv show makes me happy? It’s because that means, if it’s good, there stands a chance of there being a show nominated in these categories that isn’t a crazy-complicated mythology-driven politics drama. I have nothing against crazy-complicated mythology-driven politics dramas5, but they are rapidly becoming not only synonymous with “good dramatic television,” but their codifiers are becoming the only way to determine “good dramatic television”. Anyway. There’s nothing wrong with any of these shows, and certainly I’d rather have too many complex, rich shows than not enough. I just think that a little more variety in what we reward shouldn’t be too much to ask.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs Coach’s hair, which is a dense, complicated, rewarding web all of its own.

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
I legitimately like the Jennifer Lawrence song from Mockingjay Part 1. Somebody involved clearly knows from folk music and did a great job with it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mockingjay, Part 1

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Why, and how, is Whiplash not in here? Does it somehow not count as the score if the actors play the music? That’s dumb. Anyway. I feel like Alexandre Desplat can only do one thing, and frankly, we’ve already heard it. Ditto Hans Zimmer. Trent Reznore and Atticus Ross do two things, but we’ve also already heard both of those before, and Gone Girl is the less interesting of them. The Theory of Everything’s score seemed to come out of the Scores for Dummies big book o’ prefab scores. So Birdman it is.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Antonio Sanchez, Birdman

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is built on a great idea, but I think it’s also getting nominated in lots of categories it didn’t quite earn. Wes Anderson wrote a Wes Anderson movie6. Graham Moore adapted an actual person’s biography, and Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel. Those are easier jobs than making a script that is actually about a play about a superhero that stands up to people seeing it that didn’t know what they were in for.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alejandro Gonzalez, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – Birdman

Best Director – Motion Picture
So really this category comes down to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which is a marvel of patience, not to mention not losing track of what you’re doing for a very long time, and is built around a truly novel way of working and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is a Wes Anderson movie. Boyhood, for all that its means of production were interesting and novel and impressive, is still pretty straightforwardly-directed. It seems unfair to punish Wes Anderson for continuing to be Wes Anderson, given how many people try and fail to be Wes Anderson every year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Sometime several years ago, supporting actors and actresses started getting better parts than leading actors and actresses. That makes these categories somewhat harder, to say the least. Luckily, JK Simmons is just great.


Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
The field of women in television has broadened considerably, but in movies we’re left with two characters who play long-suffering spouses (Patricia Arquette and Kiera Knightley), one wish-fulfillment girl (Emma Stone) and one full-on, flat-out witch (Meryl Streep). Sigh.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jessica Chastain, who also plays a suffering spouse, but she’s suffering, y’know, immigration and stuff, not her wacky and/or difficult husband.

Best Foreign Film
I am not proud of the foreign film gap in my consciousness. But I’m not going to dwell on that here. Want to say it’s Tangerines? That sounds good.


Best Animated Feature Film


Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
How possible is it to evaluate someone’s (in this case Joaquin Phoenix’s) performance in a role that is a weirdly-adapted version of the least-comprehensible part of an incomprehensible book (in this case Inherent Vice)? I’m not going to be able to answer that here. St Vincent and Big Eyes were, generally, pitched successfully at their lead actor’s ability to be good in stuff, but which were, generally, mispitched, despite Bill Murray and Christoph Waltz being generally pretty great7. That leaves us with Ralph Fiennes or Michael Keaton.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Michael Keaton, obviously

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
The Golden Globes, more than any other film-award-granting body, is super-duper susceptible to the awards-bait drama. So we can just ignore The Hundred Foot Journey and Maps to the Stars. We can also ignore the major musical releases this year, on general principle, so that takes care of Annie and Into the Woods. That makes this a lot easier.


Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
I feel like after all of my typing, I’ve pretty much made my point about The Grand Budapest Hotel, here. Big ups to Birdman, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
See what I mean about lead actors being a snoozefest? It would probably help, generally, if I was ever at all impressed by biopics. I pretty much never am. That leaves a lot of things out. I’m also not as caught up in the “comedians playing serious roles” hype as people seem to be – we knew Steve Carrell was a good actor. He’s been one for fifteen years. That’s why his movies work. This category makes me cranky.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A moment of silence while we all think about what we’ve done.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Oh, they’re not any better on the woman’s side, except for Reese Witherspoon who, while playing a real person in an adaptation of a memoir, is at least playing an interesting version of a real person in an adaptation of a memoir.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Motion Picture, Drama
Oh fuck it.


That does it for the Golden Globes! Tune in alarmingly soon to hear me try to figure out something else to say about basically these same movies when it’s Academy Awards time!

1it is too a musical question. shut up.  
2 See, Frances McDormand was in Fargo the movie. Do try to keep up.
3 this is, honestly, something that blows out to Ricky Gervais’ work in general: The Office was so good that it’s almost impossible to believe that anything else that’s come out of his head since is anything less than incredible. But really, I’ve given him as many chances as anyone, and I just can’t get back on the Gervais train.
4 second seasons are, generally, the easiest seasons in which to give award-winning performances – the character is established in the first, so that their limits can be tested in the second.
5 I even like some of the shows in this category, but that’s entirely beside the point
6 albeit a very good one
7 special quizzical opprobirum for Christoph Waltz’s decision to not do anything about his extremely Austrian accent while playing the very American Walter Keane.

The Best of the Second Half of 2014

In lieu of a Spotify playlist, here’s the annual writeup of the very best songs of the second half of the year, in alphabetical order. If you click this link right here, you’ll even be able to download a folder full of all of them. And then you will truly know happiness.

Ryan Adams – Change Your Mind
Ryan Adams took a couple of years off, and then jumped back into a level of productivity he hasn’t seen in a decade. His full-length record (Ryan Adams) was fine, if just about what you’d expect a Ryan Adams album to be. The subsequent series of singles were generally better, if only because they tended to show sides of Ryan Adams that rarely make his records. The best of those is 1984, which doesn’t actually sound much like 1984, except in the very specific sense that it sounds like Minneapolis in 19841, and the highlight of that is, perhaps ironically, the most Ryan Adams-y song on that record, which is “Change Your Mind,” which sounds like one of his downer songs played at double speed.

Jhene Aiko – To Love & Die (f Cocaine 80s)
The seemingly-bottomless well of weirdo downtempo R&B of a couple of years ago has started to show its bottom a little, but one of the surprisingly-durable figures is Jhene Aiko, who manages to still fill records with sad, oddball songs. Her attempts to become a pop figure are probably a part of the appeal, but they’re also probably doomed. No ID does a better job producing here than he has in years, and that doesn’t hurt.

Aloonaluna – Bleed With the Moon
Aloonaluna is a quiet woman from Asheville, North Carolina. Her songs are surprisingly conventional, given that they’re also very much in the same drone/noise/near-ambient tradition as Motion Sickness of Time Travel, with whom she split a tape a couple of years ago.

Aphex Twin – CYRCLONTA6A (Syrobonkus Mix)
Prior to its release, I was convinced that the run-up and prerelease shenanigans would be the best part of Syro. Oh, I had no doubt that it would be a fine album – there are no bad Aphex Twin albums, after all – but the list of equipment, the list of completely crazy track-names, the fact that this all came out over TOR, it all seemed like the show was going to be better than the meal, as it were. I was, naturally, completely wrong, and what was even more comforting was that, despite Richard James’ output being largely concerned with flirting with populist forms, Syro had moments that were wierd as hell. So while lead single “Minipops” got all of the love and end-of-year accolades, I still found myself coming back to “Cyrclonta”, and trying to figure out what made all of that woozy looping so compelling.

A-Wax – Jetsons
One of the best things about Method Rappers2 is that they completely obviate the truth value of whatever it is that they’re claiming to live out – it doesn’t matter if A-Wax is still the weary, dejected criminal that provides narration for his songs, because it’s clear that the character is real to A-Wax, even if not to anyone else. Even without A-Wax’s insistent personality, “Jetsons” it’s an offbeat, sweet little song about a friend serving time – “by the time he’s out as a parolee/we’ll have a robotic maid we call Rosie/like The Jetsons” is how the chorus ends, and it’s a great enough way to say it that it makes it a great song.

BADBADNOTGOOD x Ghostface Killah – Gunshowers (f Elzhi)
Ghostface Killah had a year of real ups and downs – the “reunited” Wu-Tang Clan made a record that was mostly notable for being a lazy mess, and 36 Seasons was ok, if not a particular standout. So this, the advance single from this year’s collaboration with jazzbos BADBADNOTGOOD was pretty much the brightest spot of his year. Which is unsurprising, as BADBADNOTGOOD are consistently pretty great, Elzhi is a criminally slept-on talent, and Ghostface can still pretty generally come up with bars when he has the right facilitation.

Courtney Barnett – Pickles From the Jar
I don’t know that I would have predicted that the thing the world needed was an Australian Holly Golightly3, but we got one anyway, and I certainly can’t offer any complaints as a result. Also, I may be betraying my own plebeian status here, but just how else, exactly, is one meant to eat pickles?

The Beverlys – Bad Company
The commercial decline of rock music remains a mystery, because the form, as evidenced by not only The Beverlys, but a ton of other very similar bands, is still pretty easy to do a good job in. “Bad Company” is not a song that’s doing anything new. It probably even sounds like something you’ve heard before. And that’s why it works.

Black Milk – Detroit’s New Dance Show
If there was a “theme” to the stuff I heard a lot of in 2014, it was the idea of repeating yourself. Acts whose musical existence is seemingly dependent on a mercurial sense of self and mutation took a breather and trod on familiar ground. What ended up being surprising is that, for the most part, it worked out – Swans, Flying Lotus, Xiu Xiu, and here even Black Milk made records that sounded, basically, like the last record they’d made4. At least this sounds like it could, credibly, be a dance, albeit a really unnerving one.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy – So Far and Here We Are
I suppose if Black Milk brought to mind how many acts looped around to let people catch up, it’s fair to point out that professional weirdo Will Oldham continues to seemingly take direction from the most confounding ideas he has, even going so far as, for the last three or four records, making it really hard to even figure out that they exist. Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues is the best record of original material he’s made since 2006’s The Letting Go, which is a comfort, as it continues to the trajectory of last year’s good-but-still-kind-of-cobwebby Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

Busdriver – Motion Lines
I always feel like Busdriver songs are not as good as they should be. I have no reason to believe this, except for occasionally, when there’s a song like “Motion Lines” that comes around and is great, I feel like he’s met some sort of potential, and it always makes me very happy.

Busto Power Trio – Negotiating
If I have one musical weakness, it’s shoegaze. If I have two musical weaknesses, the other one is nineties-style surf-revival music. I can’t say it actually sounds like any surf music that actually exists, and there aren’t a lot of practitioners, and probably they’re all jsut filling the void left by the distinct lack of Man or Astro-Man material, but I could listen to this stuff all day. And I often have. And in 2014, many of those sessions were anchored by “Negotiating”.

Cold Specks – Old Knives
I first became aware of Cold Specks, like a lot of people, when she covered The Swans’ “Reeling the Liars In” a couple of years ago, and then didn’t really get around to listening to her records until Neuroplasticity came out5, which is a bit of a shame, as it’s awfully impressive stuff. The Swans connection is clearly a cultivated one (Michael Gira also sings on Neuroplasticity), which leads fairly easy to saying that, generally, she sounds exactly nothing at all like Jarboe. Hope that helps.

Cut Hands – Parataxic Distortion
On the tally sheet of artists where a wide variety of sonic experiences is the expectation, Cut Hands would fall somewhere near the bottom. For Whitehouse’s tenure, William Bennet had basically one set of sounds, that he then jettisoned in favor of his tribally-inspired, percussion oriented Cut Hands sound. It was a surprise, then, when Festival of the Dead included some pretty surprising branching-out, including this almost-pretty, funereal cut that reminds us that there are lots of reasons for tribal music, and that one of them is mourning.

Daephne – What Summer Felt Like Behind Your Bedroom Door
While it’s true that they’re killing me with their novel-length song titles, Daephne’s Family Vacation Demo was a handful of really sweet songs that sound like songs that were orphaned somewhere in Champaign/Urbana in the mid-nineties and migrated to Boston in the meantime. Which is probably a complicated way to say that they sound somewhat like a very young Juliana Hatfield fronting Hum.

Dama/Libra – The Chant
Joel R.L. Phelps was the original singer for Silkworm, and has had a long and troubled time in and around the indie music business ever since leaving (spontaneously and due to alcoholism) his erstwhile band. In 2013 he made a pretty good record with the Downer Trio, and then took a sharp left turn last year, and teamed up with G. Stuart Dahlquist (formerly of Goatsnake and Sunn0))))6, brother of deceased Silkworm drummer Michael Dahlquist, to make a droning, organ-heavy, seascape-like record of queasy, tense, funereal music. Here’s hoping this one wasn’t a one-off.

Deafheaven – From the Kettle Onto the Coil
Deafheaven are a band that, somehow, just missed being written about a number of times last year – their record really grew on me7, and seeing them live a few months ago really cemented what a wonderful thing we have in Deafheaven. This song also went a long way toward elevating my opinion – Sunbather was really long, but this punchy, sweeping single really gets their whole “thing” across in the most direct way possible.

Doomtree – .38 Airweight
The first Doomtree song released since No Kings was always going to have a place on this list, so it’s probably a good thing for me that it’s such a good one.

Earth – Torn By the Fox of the Crescent Moon
Of all the acts making surprisingly mainstream-oriented inroads, it’s perhaps Earth that is the most surprisingly. Once so far out-there that they essentially invented a subgenre (drone metal) and a mode of working (near-formless, pulverizingly loud heavy-metal-style drones8), Primitive and Deadly has songs with structures, drums, melodies, and even vocals. Oh such things the world comes to. Luckily, Dylan Carlson is enough of a forceful presence  that even when his records are ostensibly normal, they still sound like they’re perpendicular to anything that’s easy to listen to.

EMA – False Flag
EMA has a wide array of songs, in a bunch of styles. She’s a guitar player who writes songs that rely heavily on screaming, whining synthesizers, and combines the elements of her band in a lot of different ways. And sometimes, when it all comes together, the result is pretty amazing. And sometimes they all beat on their instruments really loudly and kind of rip off “Sonic Reducer” and it’s even better.

Ex Hex – Don’t Wanna Lose
Remember in the nineties when people would trip and fall all over themselves in the music press to show how little regard they had for riff-rockin’ style classic rock? Remember how dumb that was? Mary Timony remembers, guys. A year ago I wrote “I’d still like ten or eleven more of [“Hot and Cold”] on an album” and I was totally right – that’s exactly what we got, and I love it.

Flying Lotus – Never Gonna Catch Me (f Kendrick Lamar)
While the world waits to see if Kendrick Lamar has lost his marbles or if “i” just represents a colossal, crushing step backwards, with none of his 2014 output being either comforting or damning w/r/t Kendrick as a long-term prospect. Still, though, it provided some pretty awesome traction on this slippery, bendy FlyLo track, so at least we can hope for some good features here and there.

Foie Gras – Cliffs
Foie Gras is one woman from San Francisco with a guitar and a bunch of synthesizers. While this leads to a lot of mental comparisons to the Oregon-based Liz Harris9, her music is only superficially similar, as it is considerably more outwardly-directed, and much more performative. “Cliffs” is her most conventional song (it’s the least ambient-y, at least), and doesn’t have much in common with her other output, despite being a tremendous song.

Forest Management – Natural Light
Cleveland minimalists Forest Management closed out their most record with this song, and it is a perfect, engrossing pressure release of a track. While it’s tempting to let ambient music be, as its name implies, the music of the background, this is a piece that really rewards letting it be the only thing on your mind.

Grouper – Clearing
Liz Harris herself, then, released an album that she recorded alone on a beach in Portugal with an upright piano. The whole record is as intensely, fiercely honest a document of aloneness and (often pointedly named) loss and regret as there is, and it also has a quality of eavesdropping, which, if you’re someone like me, increases the general discomfort. It rewards the difficulty of listening closely by being a delicate, gorgeous piece of work, with “Clearing,” which is actually one of the more forceful songs on the record, being especially cathartic.

Theophilus London – Get Me Right
I don’t know, man, sometimes you just gotta dance.

David Mayfield – Ohio (It’s Fake)
Another Mayfield of the Kent, Ohio Mayfields (his sister is Jessica Lea), David Mayfield’s third record, Strangers, is easily his best. This song is in keeping with his mien – finding, somehow, new ways to shine light on some fairly-traditional songwriting ground, mainly by being a really impressive guitar player and having a crazy way with a melody. That said, Ohio is totally real, guys. I keep all my shoes there and everything.

Mark McGuire – Noctilucence
Mark McGuire’s music is getting ever more buoyant and driving. Apparently having been freed of Emeralds for some time, he’s now propelled to ever-greater levels of velocity and shiny, tightly wound parts. “Noctilucence” sounds very much like a happy robotic horse.

Mellowhype – Bars
Quietly and unassumingly, MellowHype somehow became the most consistent and reliable force to come out of Odd Future10. They’ve put out a bunch of music in the last couple of years, a lot of it has been very good, and none of it has particularly been an embarrassment. “Bars” is, like much of their work, lacking the formal interests of Earl Sweatshirt, and lacking the joie de vivre of Tyler, but it’s still a solid track, and another step in the continuing documentation of Hodgy Beats’ improvement as a rapper.

Mono – Recoil, Ignite
As I’ve already said, I have no problem with an act taking a minute to more deeply explore some already-covered ground. I’m also over the moon about a band deciding that they’ve figured out the best possible way to say something they’ve already said. There’s nothing about “Recoil, Ignite” to set it apart from other great Mono songs, except that it’s probably the greatest of them. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it this right.

Noxagt – Someone Calls You Every Night But Says Nothing, You Can’t Sleep…
Noxagt are a bunch of really intense Norwegians. A few years ago they swapped out their viola player for a guitarist, and their records since have been steadily getting back to the level of their first record. While not all of Brutage is as good as the Iron Point, there are moments that are pretty far up there, including this terrifying little number.

Old Man Gloom – Burden
The most appropriately-named band in heavy metal is also the one that gets the most entertainment out of twitting its audience – following up 2012’s barely-promoted, surprise-released No11, The Ape of God was first leaked in an incomplete teaser form, then given the full double-album release and a “nyeah nyeah” note baiting the people that downloaded the “leak” in the first place. The better part of the joke, however, is that the single-album leaked version is missing “Burden,” which is the best song Aaron Turner has written in a decade, and is more than worth putting up with any sort of release shenanigans.

Pere Ubu – Golden Surf II
The members of Pere Ubu are old. David Thomas followed his yelping, quacking muse all the way from Cleveland to London decades ago, and has taken various lineups with him through all sorts of twisty, bizarre forms of rock music. The band is coming into something of a third renaissance here in the last couple of years, as this year’s Carnival of Souls is, unbelievably, even better than 2013’s The Lady From Shanghai. “Golden Surf II” is a double-super-extra surprise, then, as it’s also one of the most aggressive, intense pieces Pere Ubu have recorded in a long, long time.

Pharmakon – Body Betrays Itself
Taking inspiration from some pretty terrifying medical happenstance, Bestial Burden ended up a great concept album – more focused than Abandon, and still more interesting than most of the power noise stuff that floods the market every year. It’s impossible to think that “Body Betrays Itself” would have done anything like encroach on the mainstream, but it almost did12 and that’s pretty cool.

Run the Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) (f Zack de la Rocha)
I don’t have to keep telling you how great Killer Mike and El-P are, do I? I didn’t think so.

Shabazz Palaces – #CAKE
I always have a soft spot for when art-rap weirdos make songs that sound like they could go off in a club, if the club was full of completely insane people.

Shellac – Riding Bikes
It might not be fair to call Shellac underrated. They’re generally lost in the wash of their guitarist’s status as Cranky Old Guard Analog Producer Guy General (although it is also the case that that probably increased their prominence), and rarely considered as their own entity. But leaving aside any of the non-band identity of any of the members, Shellac remain one of the most unique and consistent bands in the world (not to mention having hands-down the best rhythm section in rock music). They’re sonically interesting, they’re often funny, but at their best, they’re also a mind-blowingly intense band, as evidenced by “Riding Bikes”.

Bobby Shmurda

Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends
I am completely and hopelessly unable to be impartial about the existence of a new Sleater-Kinney song. I suppose if it had been actively bad, that might be a different conversation, but I genuinely have no idea if I would even notice. It’s a new Sleater-Kinney song, it’s from a new Sleater-Kinney album, it’s going to be promoted by a new Sleater-Kinney tour. By all accounts, they’re back in semipermanent form even. So basically this song’s greatness was established by the fact of its existence. That it also manages to be – I think (once again, I am completely incapable of being accurate here) a pretty great song (and the other advance single, “Surface Envy” is also very good, and something of a curveball) is heartening, and encouraging, but at the end of all that, I’m still pretty much left with incoherent excited noises at a new Sleater-Kinney song.

Sleevenotes – Gutting the Spires
While 2013 saw me tripping constantly over new Explosions-style post-rock bands, such was not the case for 2014, with Sleevenotes being a notable exception (and also more like Mono than Explosions in the Sky). There isn’t a lot to say about this kind of thing, except that it’s especially impressive when a band can get all of the normal build/crescendo/unbuild stuff into a piece that’s only six minutes long.

Spoon – New York Kiss
It seems like the first paragraph written about any Spoon record for the last three or four records has to mention consistency. I will one-up this particular trend: not only are Spoon a rock-solid, completely dependably great band, but their album-closers are always, always top-notch. This is the closing track from They Want My Soul, and it more than holds up its end as a Spoon album-closer.

Stalley – Navajo Rugs (f De La Soul)
It was only a short couple of years ago that MMG seemed like an exceptional collection of talent. That’s hard to believe in a year that saw a terrible13 Rick Ross album, as well as a less-terrible-but-still-pretty-bad Rick Ross mixtape, an endlessly-delayed Meek Mill record, increasingly inconsequential Wale material, more French Montana material than anyone needs (which, honestly, is pretty much any French Montana material), and even the seemingly-unquenchable Gunplay releasing the most annoying mixtape in recent memory14, the last bastion of hope seems to be slow, steady Stalley and his surprisingly-good album Ohio. The best thing about it is the longish, unfolding “Navajo Rugs”, with spiritual fathers/all-time greats De La Soul.

Vince Staples – Blue Suede
It would be possible to be the rapper that bridged Odd Future and TDE and be a total mess. I would not predict that such a rapper would have Odd Future’s fire and TDE’s bars, but I would not have been able to imagine Vince Staples if he didn’t already exist. “Blue Suede” is a perfect example of what makes Staples so special, and why we should all be looking forward to him for (hopefully) a long time.

Trampled by Turtles – Come Back Home
Why are so many modern bluegrass bands so boring? Maybe Trampled by Turtles just make it seem unfairly easy, but it sure seems like you should be able to make some pretty compelling elements just by using the tools that have been available to bluegrass musicians for the last hundred or so years. “Come Back Home” is two things that are rare for this list: happy and rollicking. That’s probably a good thing for when you listen to all of these things.

Twin Peaks – Making Breakfast
Twin Peaks, as a band, are fine. There are several dozen power-pop bands doing just about the same thing. Fat White Family is a better band. The Gotobeds are a much better band. But neither of those bands are here, because while both of those bands have great songs, neither of them are responsible for the finest moment in rock music of 2014. To wit: “AW YEAH, MAKIN’ BREAKFAST” is one of the all-time great yelps, and my hat is off to Twin Peaks for that.

The Underachievers – Caprice
We had to wait almost all year for Cellar Door. 2014 was already the Year of the Pushed-Back Hip-Hop Release, so I suppose at least we’re lucky enough that it came out at all. It was, as all of their tapes have been so far, pretty great, and “Caprice” is a wonderful song, but as with the last three of these writeups, I find myself with very little to say about The Underachievers. It’s good. If you liked the last several, you’ll like this one. I will say at this point I find it kind of baffling how few people are excited about them. It’s almost like they’re……..underachieving15.

Whirr – Clear
Whirr was started after the singer left Deafheaven (see above) and their most recent record, Sway, was recorded after he joined Nothing (see the first half of the year writeup). That, my friends, is a band that is pitched directly at me. That is also a gentleman that’s had a busy couple of years. In any event, they’re heavier than the current crop of shoegaze revivalists. They’re also one of the few to legitimately sound like My Bloody Valentine. And “Clear” is such a good song.

Kierston White – Alcohol
Kierston White appeared midway through this year, and I had never heard of her even remotely. She’s based out of Oklahoma, Samantha Crain produced this record, an interview reveals that she alternated shots of whiskey and olive oil while recording this record. I don’t know, man. I do know that it’s a pretty compelling record in general, but that lead track, first single and all-around great song “Alcohol” is far and away the best country song of the year, and one of the best songs full-stop.

Wreck and Reference – Stranger, Fill This Hole In Me
I generally don’t use the “post-” prefix for a genre unless it seems completely necessary. It’s come a long way in the decade or so since it was used to describe everything, but it’s still pretty annoying. That said, an act like Wreck and Reference really sort of demands to be called post-something, as what they really sound like is music made sometime after the collapse of civilization in general. “Stranger, Fill This Hole in Me” is the vocalist’s strongest moment.

Xylouris White – Pulling the Bricks
George Xylouris plays a Cretean Lute (which is not, for various complicated taxonomical reasons, a bouzouki). Jim White, as he always does, plays the drums. The resulting record is a pretty dazzling display of musicianship, often moored to a distinctly nonwestern idea of what constitutes a melody. At its best, it sounds like “Pulling the Bricks,” and is great music for winter.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars teamed up to make “Uptown Funk,” which might be the best Bruno Mars song yet, but it’s still just a little too long. Mogwai’s “Teenage Exorcists” is a crazy power-pop direction for them, and might be kind of exciting, although the rest of the EP it was on didn’t give nearly the same impression of a change of direction. Nothing’s “July The Fourth” was another crushing, mighty song from a crushing, mighty band, but was clearly a leftover from Guilty of Everything, and basically failed to stand up to the rest of Nothing’s output this year. Tape’s “Alioth” is a very pretty song that didn’t really make the list. Anjou’s “Sighting” is a nicely meandering piece of atmospheric rock music. Tweedy’s “Low Key” has a fantastic video, and is a pretty great song besides, if lacking any sort of wallop. The Gotobeds’ “Wasted On Youth” has plenty of wallop, and is, in fact, very little but wallop, and I look forward to more cool stuff from them in years to come.

1 the Husker Du/Replacements Minneapolis (1984 was the year of Zen Arcade and Let it Be), not the Prince Minneapolis. It does not sound like Prince.
2 I’m kind of making the term up, but the idea is it’s the rappers that claim to live all the way inside their persona. Like A-Wax, or Rick Ross in 2006, or Ab Soul, or, going back a little further, Tom Waits or Sun Ra or George Clinton.
3 the singer, not the movie character
4 I mean, within reason. This strikes me about bands that don’t repeat themselves in a way that it doesn’t for, say, Mono or Spoon or even Run the Jewels – who despite being made of two extremely progressive musicians, literally repeated themselves to wonderful effect. Context is everything, I suppose.
5 it probably wasn’t hurt that this appearance was on the heels of her also singing on Swans’ To Be Kind a month or so before.
6 few things in this world give me as much pleasure as being able to close parentheses after that band’s name
7 I’m not one to revise old lists, but if I made my forty favorite records of 2013 it would not only be on the list (it was on the long list, but got cut when I made the final thing), but it would be as high as #20.
8 see also: Any of Stephen O’Malley’s output, (including subgenre apotheosis Sunn0))))* Boris’ weirder output, Nadja (and probably one out of every 10 or so Aidan Baker records in general), The Corrupted, and Moss
* still pretty satisfying, not going to lie. I love you, close parenthesis.
9 whose excellent project Mirrorring also stunned me with a song called “Cliffs,” coincidentally
10 I suppose it’s also surprising, depending on how you look at it – I don’t think anyone genuinely expected anyone in Odd Future to be consistent, except maybe Frank Ocean, and the only thing keeping Frank from the “most consistent” crown is his apparent hibernation.
11 which was, itself, released after eight years of silence on the part of the act
12 well, relatively
13 no, really. It really was quite bad. Stop arguing.
14 three to four tags on every track? Really, DJs Epps and/or Nasty? Really?
15. *Roger Daltrey scream*

The 2015 People’s Choice Awards

If It’s a new year, it must be time for the weirdest, most-bullshitiest, most categoriest awards show of the year: The People’s Choice Awards! CBS, the network with all the shows your parents watch, has hired the stars of one of those shows1 to wave their arms at a bunch of people who are going to pronounce your opinion about…well, just about literally everything. So here we go.

Favorite Album
So, one of the facts of the “listing the categories awards are given to” on awards show websites (as in their broadcasts) is that the “unimportant” awards are at the bottom (and generally aren’t televised). In the case of the People’s Choice Awards, this means an album category. This is mostly interesting because nearly every other non-video-oriented music awards show considers the album to be the sacrosanct document. But in the People’s Choice Awards, you’re voting for the dancer, not the dance. Anyway, the only good album of this lot is Girl. So there you have it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams, Girl
Favorite Song
So. “Bang Bang”. When it came out, I thought it wasn’t terrible. I was wrong. I was tremendously wrong. That song is so bad it actually hurts to consider that I once thought any part of it was acceptable. It’s so bad it makes the rest of these songs look much better than they are. Luckily, Sam Smith and Maroon 5 are both existentially annoying, and “All About That Bass” wasn’t my favorite, because saxophones are better than upright basses.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taylor Swift, “Shake it Off”
Favorite R&B Artist
Last year I mentioned how charmed I was that rather than pretending to be choosing the “best” you’re just choosing your “favorite.” Unfortunately, that makes it harder for me to be game and play along with this whole charade – my favorite R&B artist is Frank Ocean, or possibly Jhene Aiko, or maybe even Blood Orange. It is most certainly not Jennifer Hudson or Usher. John Legend would be a pretty good compromise, but it’s also easy enough to keep giving Pharrell awards. He’s earned them, after all, even if it wasn’t specifically for Girl.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams
Favorite Hip-Hop Artist
Jay-Z still wasn’t any good this last year, Iggy Azalea still isn’t any good at all ever, Drake put out three songs last year, one of which was alright2. That leaves Nicki and TI. Nicki had some rough output, although The Pinkprint is way better than its singles. T.I.’s output this year includes Iggy Azalea. So that makes the choice pretty easy.
Favorite Pop Artist
What the hell is Jennifer Lopez doing in here? I had to do research to even figure out what her output was last year3. I still can’t get on the Sia train. I’ve tried. I get it. I like songs she’s written. I found her voice to be the weirdest part of Zero 7, and I find it to be the weirdest part of her own songs. Obviously I don’t mean this “weirdest” in the good way”. Jessie J finally made a single happen in the USA. Good for her. It’s terrible (see above). That leaves us with Taylor Swift and Beyonce. The Unstoppable Force and the Immovalbe Object.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce. Taylor Swift, predictably, made good singles this year. That Beyonce record is still top-drawer.
Favorite Country Group
Boy. Rascall Flatts. That’s an act I would not have predicted would still be up for awards in 2014. I also still have nothing good to say about the Florida Georgia Line. That said, the other three are all just fine.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Probably The Band Perry, although that would make Zac Brown sad, and I would feel bad about that. Maybe they can let him hold their award or something.
Favorite Female Country Artist
Aw, you guys know where this is going.
Favorite Male Country Artist
I really should run the numbers on just exactly how often I’ve had to decide between exactly these five people. I feel like these are the only five men to ever be nominated, and while I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes, I also feel like regular readers can probably just fill in the blanks here.
Favorite Breakout Artist
It’s not that I get 5 Seconds of Summer and Fifth Harmony confused, it’s that I forget that Fifth Harmony exists and just assume they’re 5 Seconds of Summer. They’re both dreadful though, so there’s that sorted. Sam Smith and Meghan Trainor certainly both broke out, but they could’ve been more entertaining about it. You know, like Charli XCX.
Favorite Female Artist
Does Katy Perry just get nominated for these things automatically? Holy smokes. It’s not her. And after that we have basically the Pop Artist category with Iggy Azalea swapped in for Jennifer Lopez. It shakes out the same way, folks.
Favorite Male Artist
Each of these gentleman has something in common: I would almost unilaterally rather hang out with them than listen to their music. Except Sam Smith. He seems really extra-sad. Anyway, Pharrell is the official savior of the People’s Choice Awards. Yay for Pharrell.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams
Favorite New TV Drama
AAAAAAAAH THERE ARE SO MANY NOMINEES. OK. Of the literally 12 shows that are nominated in this category, I have watched one (Constantine) and did not enjoy it at all. So. No one?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: TV Drama’s that aren’t CBS-approved, obviously
Favorite New TV Comedy
Honestly, the one of these that I like the most is Black-ish, which I like unreservedly. Especially the little girl and Laurence Fishburne. The runner-up would be Selfie, which was much, much better than it had any reason to be. But this category is about something more important. Marry Me should, given its cast, be absolutely hands-down the funniest television show on the air. And it is not. So instead of presenting this award to the winner, I believe a public castigation is in order for Ken Marino and Casey Wilson.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The public castigation of Ken Marino and Casey Wilson.
Favorite Animated TV Show
The youngest of these tv shows is on its fifth season. That’s literally two decades younger than The Simpsons, and over a whole decade younger than South Park or Family Guy. American Dad deserves points for ending its run, but that’s only because it was terrible, and no new episodes of it are a force for good in the world.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bob’s Burgers, as always.
Favorite Sketch Comedy TV Show
It’s a little sketchy4 that CBS ran through nearly the entire lineup of (Viacom-owned) Comedy Central sketch comedy shows, but included Drunk History and not Broad City. What the hell, guys?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Well, it’s Key & Peele anyway, but it still should have beaten out Broad City, and not Drunk History.
Favorite Actress in a New TV Series
Oh my god the only way I could care less about this category would be if it was made out of rock salt5. Everyone on the list is fine – I’ve liked all of them in other things – but the stuff they’re nominated for this year is a snoozefest.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not watching tv at all, I suppose? Certainly not watching CBS comes out ahead here.
Favorite Actor in a New TV Series
The only thing keeping this category from rocksalt-dom is the inclusion of Laurence Fishburne. Although this category is dragged way down by having Scott Bakula and Dylan McDermott in it. The hell?
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Laurence Fishburne
Favorite TV Character We Miss Most
This is a really oddly-named category. Did the characters die? Did their shows become cancelled? Are the Spoiler Brigade angry about this callous announcement about the deaths of these characters? Anyway, it’s always sad to lose John Francis Daley.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley), Bones
Favorite TV Duo
I mean, all of these shows continue to exist, in one way or another, because of their core duos. But only one of them pretty much only has that duo. I don’t know of any other reason to watch Supernatural6.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jared Padalecki & Jensen Ackles, Supernatural
Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host
I don’t have much of a dog in this fight, except that I think Craig Ferguson got a bum deal. Giving him a fake television award won’t make that right, but it’ll keep awards out of the hands of Jimmy Kimmel, which is something.
Favorite Daytime TV Host
This category remains as difficult to deal with as any category in any awards show. Given the four or so hours of daytime television I’ve seen all year, I guess it’s going to have to go to Ellen.
Favorite TV Icon
I don’t know if we’re meant to be judging them by their current output or their historical output, but that doesn’t much matter. Tim Allen’s show is abyssmal, but Home Improvement was somewhat watchable when I was 12. I think. Mark Harmon deserves full marks for never changing his haircut, but he was Dr. Blandy Blanderson on St. Elsewhere, then he was Dr. Boring MacBoring on Chicago Hope, and now he’s Special Investigator Dullyawn Snoozefest on NCIS. That’s consistency of a kind. I have no idea what Tom Selleck is doing here, I’m not on the Betty White train, but I do like her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I can’t imagine enjoying Sons of Anarchy, I could live happily in a world free of Married: With Children, but my love of Futurama is so great that this category was already lost by all of those people.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Katy “Turanga Leela” Sagal
Favorite Competition TV Show
This CBS-centric awards show sure does seem to be working out pretty well for Fox. The main problem with America’s Got Talent and The Voice is their sheer mass. America’s Got Talent is very long, and the Voice runs two seasons a year, and frankly, that’s so much to keep up with7. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t actually a competition show, it’s a months-long Gordon-Ramsay yellathon. Dancing With the Stars is seemingly funded and operated by the gossip press for slow news days. But Masterchef I quite like8.
Favorite TV Dramedy
Well, I can sort of get behind making “Dramedy” its own category, but it’s only going to make it harder to figure out when a tv show is one. MARK MY WORDS, PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS NOMINATING BODY, YOU WILL REGRET THIS DECISION. Anyway. Oranges: The New Black is fine. Suits is fine. The rest of these shows are dumb.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oranges: The New Black.
Favorite Cable TV Actress
Once again we hit the point where I am frustrated by the fact that none of the dramas I watch are ever nominated, so I always have to do a ton of research to figure out who deserves these things. I’m not doing that here. This one goes to Veronica Mars, for whatever show she’s on. I think it’s House of Lies. I think.
Favorite Cable TV Actor
I’ve watched like, six episodes of Shameless. I can’t say I was paying a whole lot of attention to the acting. That’s the only one of these shows I’ve seen at all.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Can we also give this one to Kristen Bell? Like, maybe she can put on a fake mustache or something?
Favorite Cable TV Sci-Fi/Fantasy
The only show I find more unpleasant to watch than Outlander is The Walking Dead. Game of Thrones would probably be good if it was less faithful – i.e. if stuff actually happened in every episode instead of, you know, not – Doctor Who has improved immeasurably, and American Horror Story is still gold-plated garbage.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ah, who am I kidding, I love garbage. American Horror Story: Coven
Favorite Cable TV Drama
You know, maybe the problem with the “Dramedy” category isn’t that it confuses the issue more than would be appropriate, it’s that it isn’t enough. Clearly with Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story and Pretty Little Liars clogging up the pipes, we need a “best melodrama” category. Anyway, it’s not Sons of Anarchy or Pretty Little Liars. It’s also not Bates Motel. True Detective was good by any objective measure, but I also stopped watching after about the third episode. I don’t like Rizzoli & Isles. Unfortunately, that’s all of the nominees. Fortunately, I don’t concern myself with such formalities.
Favorite Cable TV Comedy
These are getting increasingly difficult. Apparently sketch comedies on cable aren’t cable TV comedies. I cannot explain this. What I can explain is that every single one of these shows is terrible. Ugh.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The eventual heat death of the universe.
Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actress
On the one hand, of these five, Jennifer Morrison is actually giving a pretty good, genuinely-meant performance. On the other hand, American Horror Story basically exists as a vehicle to give Jessica Lange a bunch of scenery to chew on, and that’s all it needs to be.
Favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Actor
This category, on the other hand, can fuck right off.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: What about, like, Dennis O’Hare? He’s pretty cool.
Favorite Dramatic TV Actress
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach (and her hair)
Favorite Dramatic TV Actor
I spend a lot of these categories obviously not giving a shit, and it is equally obvious that I don’t have much taste for dramatic television9. That said, Dax Shepard does really, truly wonderful work on the recently-ended Parenthood, and that’s no joke.
Favorite Comedic TV Actress
All of these women are capable of being very funny, and many of them are on shows that are not using their talents very well (well, except for Sofia Vergara). That’s a shame. But it’s going to be a bigger shame next year, because there won’t be any Parks & Recreation.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation
Favorite Comedic TV Actor
The comedic actor category has something of an inside out version of the comedic actress problem: the shows are better in this category, but the actors are much worse. So Ty Burrell, who is the only tolerable part of Modern Family left, is the winner.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Favorite Network TV Sci-Fi/Fantasy
It’s valiant of CBS to try to make Beauty & The Beast continue to happen10, and it’s even kind of admirable that the show has made it to a third season. Still and all: not the winner here. Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries are less hopeless, but they’re also not terribly good. Agents of SHIELD continues to have more promise than it actually delivers on, and Once Upon a Time mostly delivers on promise it doesn’t really have11. I tend to coach the runner with bad form.
Favorite Network TV Drama
Ah, the “Things That I Put in My Hulu Watchlist and Never Get To” category. All of the usual suspects are here. That’s nice.
Favorite Network TV Comedy
On the one hand, CBS makes the only comedies that lots of people watch. On the other hand, they don’t make very many good comedies. Neither does Fox, which is the only other network represented here. But since the hosts are already there, and Mom is by no means objectionable, let’s reward the hosts.
Favorite TV Show
So. We put all of the categories together and what we end up with is…these five shows? Also, if any among you are people that watch NCIS, can you let me know who you are and why you’re watching? This is baffling to me. Anyway. Game of Thrones is the best of this lot.
Favorite Family Film
Favorite Movie Duo
I mean. The problems with this category do not end with Shailene Woodley, but they certainly begin there. Actually, they end with the most glaring omission in all of awards-show-dom.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rocket Raccoon and Groot, duh. What were they thinking?
Favorite Dramatic Movie Actress
Here’s something interesting: the television parts of these awards are split up comedy/drama/sci-fi and fantasy, but the movie parts are split up comedy/drama/action. Now, I actually think that having a separate category for action movie acting is a great idea12. Anyway. People are also nominated for their whole body of work this year, which means that Shailene Woodley, whose three major films range from good (White Bird in a Blizzard) to dull (Divergent) to execrable (The Fart in our Cars) is the tough one to make a judgment call. I guess it goes to Meryl, then.
Favorite Dramatic Movie Actor
I feel like this category was assembled, like, five years ago and just brought out this year. I cannot explain some of the people in it, and of the ones I cannot explain, I do not agree. This is insanity.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oh who cares. George Clooney? Let’s say George Clooney.
Favorite Comedic Movie Actress
The problem, as alluded to above, is that there are fifty thousand categories in this awards show, and most of them are total bullshit that bear no relation to anything. Furthermore, there is simply no way to tell what you’re meant to be evaluating other than “general vibe of output for the year”. Anyway. All of these women except Drew Barrymore have been funny in the past, and all of them have made terrible movies in the last year, so let’s give it to Tina Fey on general principle.
Favorite Comedic Movie Actor
At least with this one it’s easier to know where I stand. Adam Sandler is terrible all the time. Zac Efron is bland all the time. Channing Tatum is doing a fine job being handsome in things. Seth Rogen is still batting about .500, which is unfortunate. So that leaves Jonah Hill, who’s generall great.
Favorite Action Movie Actress
You know, in all of my excitement about Guardians of the Galaxy, I have managed to almost completely skip over my enthusiasm for Days of Future Past, another comic book that I have a long history with13, and specifically Jennifer Lawrence’s excellent job with Mystique. She’s even nominated here, which is really cool, except so is Zoe Saldana.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zoe Saldana. I’ll always have eyes for Gamora, quite frankly.
Favorite Action Movie Actor
Almost as unforgivable as the leaving-out of Mrs. Coach back in the tv drama category is the leaving-out of Chris Pratt in this movie. It’s almost as unforgivable because 1) Guardians of the Galaxy was really an ensemble movie and 2) he’ll be nominated next year for Jurassic World or heads will roll. Nevertheless, his omission from this list is unacceptable.
Favorite Movie Actress
So, craziness of craziness, Shailene Woodley was nominated in the dramatic and action movie categories, and not in this one. I’m not exactly what you’d call a huge fan, but doesn’t it seem like nominations in two of the categories this is drawn from should guarantee your nomination in this category? I think so yes.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Shailene Woodley, because clearly the rules are very stupid.
Favorite Movie Actor
In an example of podcasts spilling over to my real life, Dan Van Kirk’s excellent podcast-borne Mark Wahlberg impression has absolutely destroyed my ability to take Mark Wahlberg seriously. Often have I said that there needs to be some sort of award for it, and now I believe that award has presented itself.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mark Wahlberg, but actually Dan Van Kirk
Favorite Dramatic Movie
At this point I know what you’re saying. You’re saying “stop complaining about how terrible these categories are, no awards show ever gets it right, etc. etc.” And I appreciate you saying it. But see, these are five fucking terrible movies. Like, lamentably, memorably bad. Awful awful terrible awful. So it’s not me, and it’s not awards shows in general, it’s this terrible set of choices.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The death of American cinema. Or the death of everyone involved in The Fart in Our Cars, whichever happens first.
Favorite Comedic Movie
So a family movie can’t be a comedic movie? I was willing to let it slide that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated much because it would mostly be in the same categories as Guardians of the Galaxy, but come on. That is easily the funniest movie of the year.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Lego Movie. Do better, People’s Choice Awards
Favorite Action Movie
This category is at least all the way right: all of these movies are action movies, three of them (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past) are legitimately good movies, and even the ones that I don’t care for (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Divergent) have their merits. It’s a shame, then, that in spite of the potential to have a spirited self-debate up in here, that it was won before the nominations were even announced.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Guardians of the Galaxy
Favorite Movie
See above, except some of the movies nominated are different. It all comes out to the same anyway.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Guardians of the Galaxy
And there it is! Later in the week is the Golden Globes, which is at least not beholden to a production studio, and so should have some different choices.
1 to wit: The great Allison Janney and Anna Farris, who, as the woman who stole my husband, I am disallowing myself to like.
2 this still puts him ahead of Jay-Z or Iggy Azalea
3 it’s mostly a song about butts she made with Iggy Azalea, which is, I suppose, at least on-brand.
4 sorry.
5 rock salt being, of course, the most boring salt.
6 NB: I do not watch Supernatural
7 The Voice has put out a borderline-absurd 173 episodes since 2011. What the fuck is that?
8 while Masterchef has also been running two seasons a year for the last couple of years, the second season has been the sublime Masterchef Junior, which is different enough in tone and scope that it’s only the same show in name. Even the judges behave completely differently.
9 tv is for funny things. The end. ‘
10 the show is interesting for rights reasons: it’s on The CW, of which CBS is an operator, and it’s a remake of the 80s television show that CBS ran in the first place. So it’s essentially CBS being able to take money out of its own bucket.
11 with the exception of the Frozen storyline, which was just dumb all over.
12 I would split them both four ways: comedy/drama/action/romance, because there are basically four different sets of skills required there
13 actually, I was an X-Men loyalist more than anything else in my comics-readin’ days, and every past X-Men movie has been the movie that I’ve looked forward to the most in that year, even though the third one was a pile of shit, and the first solo Wolverine movie was somehow even worse.