The 2016 Teen Choice Awards, Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the Teen Choice Awards! There are still so many categories! Who is supposed to have this many opinions about things? I mean, I have this many opinions about things. But that’s different. Obviously.

Choice Music: Song From a Movie or TV Show
This is the worst category I’ve ever seen.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Literally every other category from every other awards show ever.

Choice Music Next Big Thing
I think that every “next big thing” category at any music awards show should be called “next breakout artist,” especially given this one’s proximity to the “breakout artist” category. In a just world, none of these things would be a big thing, ew yuck. Anyway, Hey Violet has been kicking around for like, a million years at this point, it’s not going to happen for them. Grace, I am informed, is the singer of that song that’s on the radio all the time with G-Eazy on it. Sofia Carson is a Disney Channel person, so she probably has the best chance of actually being a big thing. Ruth B is Canadian and got big on vine. I have no idea. All of New District’s press focuses on how they’re from “all over the world.” Good for them. Leroy Sanchez does YouTube covers. I guess what I’m saying is I’m going to bet on Disney, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sofia Carson

Choice Music: Breakout Artist
I think that every “breakout artist” category at any music awards show should be called “current big thing,” especially given this one’s proximity to the “next big thing” category. Anyway, of these I definitely heard Charlie Puth the most, but I think Zayn Malik’s mountain was the tallest. So him.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zayn Malik

Choice Music: Party Song
WHAT COMES BEFORE PART B? PART-AAAAAY. Anyway, all of these songs make me want to hang myself, except the Flo Rida one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Flo Rida, “My House”

Choice Summer Tour
Never. In. Life.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: All of the time and money you’re saving not going to any of these bullshit shows

Choice Summer Music Star: Group
I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THERE ARE SO MANY CATEGORIES DEVOTED TO SUMMER THINGS. I guess because it happens in the summer. Or because they’ve attached some sort of mythological importance to summer when you’re young, and when it is a time of constant celebration and the glory of a world in which you aren’t fully-formed and are instead free to enjoy the moment itself. But, y’know, also, all of these groups are dumb.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The 1975, I guess

Choice Summer Music Star: Male
Drake’s music is sad and introverted and sad. Nothing about that screams “Summer.” He’s a soap opera actor from Canada who sings about being sensitive and shit. Pitbull, on the other hand, that dude clearly knows how to party.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pitbull

Choice Summer Music Star: Female
Rihanna, who is romantically linked with Drake, is basically the anti-Drake. As such, she’s obviously the most summery choice music star.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rihanna

Choice Summer Song
“7 Years,” in addition to being one of the most execrable songs ever written1, is also by the infuriatingly named Lukas Graham. Why is that infuriating? Because Lukas Graham is the name of the band, not the name of the dude2. That’s so stupid. I hate it. That said, I think “Work From Home” is officially one of those pop songs that’s so stupid I go all the way back around to thinking it’s brilliant. Its main marketing point is that once you hear it, you find yourself unwilling to believe anything could be intentionally made that dumb, and yet, here we are. This is some sort of pinnacle of human achievement, even if it’s the very worst pinnacle.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home” (f Ty Dolla $ign)

1 it’s right up there, in terms with how much it annoys me, with Matty Braps’ memoir
2 although the dude’s name is, actually, Lukas. It just never stops getting more annoying!

Choice Music: Break-Up Song
Two of these songs are, at least as far as we can tell, about the same breakup. That’s one fertile breakup. On the Justin Bieber front, we have a song about how ashamed Selena Gomez should be about caring about/being proud of her appearance. On the other front, we have Selena Gomez singing about how bored she is by Justin Bieber, and how she just wants more dudes. My position in this manner should be obvious.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Selena Gomez, “Same Old Love”

Choice Music: Love Song
These music categories really aren’t getting any better, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nick Jonas, “Close” (f Tove Lo)

Choice Music: Rock Song
I’m not saying I’m surprised that this is a crapfest, given that every rock category in every music-awards-granting awards-show has been terrible (like really, truly terrible) since I first started doing this. It’s to be expected. Nevertheless, this is really dire and I’m always a little sad about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Good rock music everywhere. Which, fortunately, has never been easier to find in whatever quantity you’d like

Choice Music: R&B/Hip-Hop Song
Hey, this is the first time I’ve gotten the chance to talk about “Panda”! Usually that kind of braindead, nonsense-heavy pop hip-hop is my catnip3. And yet, in this case, I’m not into it. It seems like it’s trying too hard? Like someone specifically set out to make something so dumb that it would be attention-getting, and it worked, which is making me sad. I feel similarly about Lil Yachty, who isn’t nominated here and doesn’t have anything as identifiable as “Panda”. Anyway, I guess Fox’s nominating committee is composed of the only people still riding for Iggy Azalea. That’s weird. The soundtrack of Empire is basically showtunes, and I’m not really feeling it. Drake’s “One Dance” is alright for a Drake song. Rihanna’s “Work” is alright for a Rihanna song.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rihanna, “Work”

3 see previously: Bobby Shmurda, Fetty Wap, Migos, Chief Keef, etc. Also this is ignoring the fact that some of those people are actually good rappers whose work I like. I still fell first for the braindead, nonsense-heavy pop hip hop song first.

Choice Music: Country Song
This is basically as depressing as the rock song category. What a depressing world. What a depressing awards show. Maybe instead of giving awards to music, we could get a bunch more awards for more social media networks. Periscope! Ello! Kik!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Friendster! Foursquare! Reddit! Digg!

Choice Music: International Artist
Actually, it should be called “international artist that isn’t nominated in any of the rest of these categories,” but who’s quibbling? Oh, that’s right, I’m quibbling.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Little Mix

Choice Music Single: Group
The problem with the Teen Choice Awards, and part of why these writeups are particularly detail free, is that they’ve endlessly subdivided the categories here, but they’re still nominating the same number of people, so basically I’d have to come up with something to say about, say, 5 Seconds of Summer or DNCE six to seven different times, in addition to all the other times I have to do it over the course of the music awards show year. It’s just hard to do, y’know?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home” (f Ty Dolla $ign)

Choice Music Single: Male
Especially when I’m not particularly inspired by any of the choices. I mean, I actually like pop music. I think it’s fine. I mean, not as a rule, but it’s fine about as often as any other genre of music (about 10 to 15 percent of the time, I mean). But this is some weird fallow period in some weird fallow awards show, and really, there’s just precious little to say.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Flo Rida, “My House”

Choice Music Single: Female
Part of it is also that with the television and movies categories, you can tell that we’re dealing with things that are marketed to and for teenagers10, and with music there isn’t really the same kind of structure marketing, so you’re just left with “pop music, generally, mostly as performed by young people.” So it’s kind of a bland concept, with a bland execution, for bland music.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adele, “Hello”

6 Except Shades of Blue, but what the hell is that even?

Choice Music: Country Artist
I feel like, over the course of writing about awards shows here, I have awarded more things to Blake Shelton simply because he’s the least-worst. Like, he’s not objectionable – mostly he’s pretty good! – but he’s definitely the all-time GOAT award-winner. Except on this website, because he’s always the best option in these categories. This time is no exception.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blake Shelton

Choice Music: R&B/Hip-Hop Artist
Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj are only nominated in the same categories occasionally (and I’d imagine it will be even less so as Iggy Azalea fades into memory), but it never really could shake out in Iggy’s favor, could it? No, no it could not. Anyway, Nicki Minaj is great about as often as The Weeknd4. Jason Derulo is never great as such, but he’s not responsible for anything truly awful. At least not that I’ve heard. I’m beating around the bush because I feel like I should write stuff for some of these categories, and the winner in this one is clearly Beyonce.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce

4 a lot in the early days, less so as time goes on.

Choice Music: Group
I think 5 Seconds of Summer and Fifth Harmony should have to fight it out to see who gets possession of the number.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Whoever wins in the battle of Fifth Harmony vs 5 Seconds of Summer

Choice Music: Female Artist
I am, however, not going to beat around the bush this time. In the past, this would have been a real contest between Taylor and Beyonce. It’s a post-Lemonade world, folks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce

Choice Music: Male Artist
I guess if Blake Shelton is the undisputed king of the “nothing better” vote, Drake has to be, like, an earl or a count or something.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Drake

Choice Movie Actress: AnTEENcipated
I hate it as much as you do. At the time of the nomination, the new Star Trek wasn’t out yet. At the time of the airing it is, so we’re not so much “Anticipating” Zoe Saldana as we are reacting to her. On the one hand, I like Star Trek the most out of all these choices. On the other hand, it’s worthy of note that this is the first live-action portrayal of Harley Quinn, a character who was created for Batman: The Animated Series (which is, inarguably, the best Batman). That’s pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad

Choice Movie Actor: AnTEENcipated
I like it when Will Smith is a bankable, reliable movie star and not an inscrutable flop-machine. I’m really pulling for him, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Will Smith, Suicide Squad

Choice AnTEENcipated Movie
I suppose, in the interest of honesty, at the time of nomincations it most certainly was not Star Trek Beyond. Into Darkness was real real dumb, and I wasn’t about to keep extending chances. So I guess I’d have to say the rightful winner would’ve been Jason Bourne. Because even though Suicide Squad won the acting categories here, I’m still not expecting it to be very good. The Bourne movies, though, those are pretty good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jason Bourne

Choice Summer Movie Star: Female
I mean, since they didn’t nominate the best performer in Ghostbusters (Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are just fine, but honestly, Kate McKinnon, y’all), I’m allowed to say it’s Lizzy Caplan, right? I think I am.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lizzy Caplan, Now You See Me 2

Choice Summer Movie Star: Male
At least they got Chris Hemsworth in there. I mean, not nominating Kate McKinnon is a travesty of the highest order, but including Chris Hemsworth is kind of a band-aid.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters

Choice Summer Movie
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m way into Ghostbusters here. Way into it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ghostbusters

Choice Movie: Breakout Star
I mean, all of this is fine. Brianna Hildebrand was great in Deadpool. Alexandra Shipp was great in X-Men: Apocalypse. Gal Gadot was unquestionably the best part of Batman V Superman. But this awards period included a new, great Star Wars movie. And as good as John Boyega was in it, I think Daisy Ridley deserves it more.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Choice Movie: Scene Stealer
Poor Gal Gadot. Always the bridesmaid. Maybe there should be a “the only good part of the movie” award. She’d get that one. The Teen Choice Awards would like you to believe that anyone is seeing the Diver Gent movies, or that people can still stand to watch Miles Teller. Jena Malone steals many, many scenes, but none of them were in Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2: More Colons: The Colonation. Evan Peters was great in X-Men, although he didn’t run off with X-Men: Apocalypse quite like his scene in Days of Future Past did. That leaves us with our Captain America: Civil War nominees. Chadwick Boseman was fantastic, and I’m looking very much forward to a Black Panther movie, really. But how cool was it to see a young, enthusiastic, quippy Spider-Man? No origin story, no dumb love plot (I’m sure one or both of those will be present in Spider-Man: Homecoming), just Spider-Man, webs, jumping, one-liners, everything you could want. Man, that was awesome.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Holland, Captain America: Civil War

Choice Movie: Hissy Fit
HA! Ahaha! This category made me giggle in precisely that fashion! Maybe it’s the low bar set by the rest of this nonsense, but I’m inclined to like this one. And also, Kylo Ren really did give a great hissy fit.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Choice Movie: Liplock
Hey! More smoochin’! I still can’t bring myself to care even a little bit about a Diving Gentleman movie. The smoochin’ was the worst part of the Hunger Games movies. Captain America smoochin’ on Peggy Carter’s niece was super-creepballs, and I don’t like it one bit. I guess the smoochin’ in Me Before You is ok smoochin’. Clark Kent and/or Superman smoochin’ on Lois Lane is a stalwart of the genre, and it’s hard to go wrong with. But man, the Chris Hemsworth Jessica Chastain smoochin’ is some mighty attractive smoochin’.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain, Huntsman: Winter’s War

Choice Movie: Chemistry
Aw, it’s adorable, they listed both of the “sides” from Captain America: Civil War. It’s like you can choose all over again! Of course, neither of them is the rightful winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Choice Movie: Villain
You know, this is sort of supposed to go to the actors, but I want to officially put on the record that one of my favorite things about Captain America: Civil War is that the villain basically wins. Just when you think that we’re going to get a standard “let’s team up and get the bad guy” final act, something else entirely happens, and the villain basically gets what he wants. That’s pretty great. I’m all for it. I would, in fact, go so far as to say we could use more of it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Bruhl, Captain America: Civil War

Choice Movie Actress: Comedy
Alright, alright, I know I complain a lot about the actual rightful winner not being in these things, but seriously? Kate McKinnon gave the comedy performance of the year, and she should be here. Jennifer Aniston was nominated for Mother’s Day5, but Kate McKinnon wasn’t for Ghostbusters? THIS IS AN OUTRAGE. Is it because somehow a movie can’t be “Summer” and “Comedy”? If so, that’s a real real dumb rule. Real real dumb.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not the forces of truth or justice, that’s for sure.

5 RIP, Garry

Choice Movie Actor: Comedy
[Just pretend I copied and pasted all that stuff about Kate McKinnon and put it down here, only with Chris Hemsworth as the name involved. I’d actually do it, but, y’know, I won’t.]

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Still not the forces of truth or justice, that’s for sure.

Choice Movie: Comedy
Jesus christ the only reasonable choice here is Barbershop: the Next Cut. What is wrong with these people? I think I remember this happening the last time I did these, also. It’s terrible. They’re terrible at identifying comedies. Just terrible.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anyone who’s better at identifying comedies.

Choice Movie Actress: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
I mean, I don’t have to keep spelling it out for you, do I?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Choice Movie Actor: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
There are people who do not think Chris Evans is good at being Captain America. There are people, in fact, who hate him. I don’t understand it. I think Chris Evans is as good at being Captain America as anyone has ever been at being a superhero. I think he brings a lot ot a character that can be, and often is, a bland bowl of oatmeal. Bully for you, Chris Evans. You are doing a great job and the world is better because of it. Although I would like to say as a special aside that even though I made a bunch of jokes earlier about Gal Gadot being the only good thing about Batman v Superman, there wasn’t actually anything wrong with Ben Affleck as Batman. I mean, he’s not Chris Evans, but he was fine.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Evans, Captain America: Civil War

Choice Movie: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Once again, I am pretty sure I have made my preferences known already.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Choice Movie Actress: Drama
Ah, Joy. Fuck off with that nonsense. Outside of that, I only really have a problem with Miracles From Heaven. The rest of it is fine. Let’s say it goes to Brie Larson.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brie Larson, Room

Choice Movie Actor: Drama
Ah, The Revenant. Fuck off with that nonsense. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. played his dad. That has to be super-hard. My hat is off to that dude.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Straight Outta Compton

Choice Movie: Drama
Ah, the Point Break remake. Fuck off with that nonsense. I have nothing else to say about any of these movies. “Drama” categories are boring.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Straight Outta Compton

Choice Movie Actress: Action
This is a giant pile of Who Cares. Divering Gentlefolk, a fucking Maze Runner movie, Spectre. This is a survey of dumb shit the bottom has fallen out of. Except Deadpool. Deadpool was awesome. Morena Baccarin was pretty good in Deadpool. Brianna Hildebrand was better in Deadpool, but I guess we’re up against the “one category per performance” rule again, I guess? Anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Morena Baccarin, Deadpool

Choice Movie Actor: Action
Man oh man. Chris Hemsworth is seriously in so many movies. He’s in so. many. movies. And here’s In the Heart of the Sea, in all three of the “action” categories. So many movies. Anyway, that’s gotta be better than the Diving Maze Genter Scorch horse apples. And, while people like The Jungle Book, I’m unlikely to ever ben one of them. So looks like it’s Deadpool again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Choice Movie: Action
Oh come on. It’s Deadpool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Deadpool

And there we are! It is possible that I don’t know anything about youths, but in my defense, I don’t think Fox (or whoever controls the nominating body for the Teen Choice Awards) does either!

The 2016 Teen Choice Awards Part 1

It’s time for the 2016 Feel Super Old awards, where we learn what Fox has decided (presumably through market research) the Kids These Days want to see given a surfboard.

I still think the Teen Choice Awards are weird, and this is primarily because it’s difficult for me to get a handle on them. Some of the categories are blatant Fox cross-promotion, some of them are decidedly not. I compared it two years ago (when last I wrote about it) to the People’s Choice Awards and the Kid’s Choice Awards (separately), but it actually doesn’t have much in common with either one of those. It’s its own mutant awards thing.  

And there’s too many categories. TOO MANY.

So here we go.

Choice Selfie Taker
You know, I’m not the guy who’s going to get all uppity about the idea of selfies. People have been taking pictures of themselves with cameras for literally as long as cameras have existed, and to pretend this behavior is somehow unique to young people, when it’s really just the result of cameras being many orders of magnitude more common is foolishness. That said, is it really something we should reward, as such?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: No award

Choice Model
Well, this category makes me uncomfortable, but only a couple of these people are actually models by trade, rather than people who happen to be models1.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ashley Graham, I guess.

1 I realize this is probably precisely the wrong category to “No True Scotsman” about, but I’m an imperfect being.

Choice Dancer
I actually – and this is 100% true – have no capacity to recognize good dancing from bad. I can sort of see when people make mistakes or whatever, but I have basically no ability to critically judge dancing as a performance.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I genuinely have no idea, they all seem to be doing pretty well to me.

Choice Comedian
Are these actually the comedians teens are choosing? I would bet a bunch of money that they are, in fact, not.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: None of these people.
Choice Sports Team
Oh, like there was ever going to even be a question here. The olympic team? Go fuck yourselves.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Cleveland Cavaliers.

Choice Female Athlete
I mean, Serena Williams wins everything all the time always. But also, Alex Morgan has led the USWNT to a bunch of high-performing achievements, all while being paid, like, peanuts. So I’ll ride for her this time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alex Morgan

Choice Male Athlete
Wait. So the Cavs are clearly the sports team, but LeBron isn’t even nominated as an athlete? That’s stupid. Kobe Bryant is in here, and he’s a welcome-overstaying mummy. Why would you want to give one of these to a damn mummy? You people are weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Steph Curry, but actually LeBron James

Choice Female Style
If I were a lady, I would probably choose to dress like Willow Smith. I leave up to you people to decide what that says about me, but I have to be honest with you, my readers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Willow Smith

Choice Male Style
Of course, that said, I don’t dress like any of these people. That dude that plays Hakeem on Empire always looks great on Empire, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bryshere Y. Gray

Choice Male/Female Hottie
No awards show categories have ever made me feel as deeply uncomfortable as these two. Oh god. They’re all children. Oh god. I’m so old. Oh god, I haven’t been a teen in so long. Oh god.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oh god. Oh god.

Choice Fandom
The fandom I choose to be a part of? The fandom I choose as most effective at being fans? The fandom I evaluate as a set of people and choose to be the best of those? I really have no idea what I’m meant to be doing here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Everyone that figures out a way to nominated the thorny set of options regarding this weirdly-vague category and chooses for themselves is, each in their own way, a winner.

Choice Muser
This is why I don’t do these every year. Good grief.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Burn in hell, teens.

Choice Snapchatter
Does having a favorite snapchatter get me on some sort of watchlist?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not being on some sort of watchlist

Choice Instagrammer
I typed, and then deleted, three different sentences that ended in jokes about making “generative instagrammer,” because honestly, who is going to laugh at those?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: My powers of editorial decision, except I actually just made a fourth one and then patted myself on the back of it, so not those at all. Probably Britney Spears, then.

Choice Viner
You guys haven’t started to suspect that I have no knowledge of or interest in these categories have you?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Me, for being so cleverly deceptive

Choice Twit
HAR HAR. BECAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE “TWIT” BUT IT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT TWITTER GEDDIT?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kanye West. Now and forever. For either reading of the category.

Choice YouTuber
I have to say, one of my favorite things about YouTube is their sort of elevation to a national platform the things that used to be programmed onto public access cable by obsessives. Now the people can be less obsessive and have a lower bar of entry, and they can win a surfboard from Fox! That’s just great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: All of us, for living in a world where this category is possible.

Choice Web Star: Music
Did you know that there’s a Duluth in Georiga? It’s where MattyBRaps was born and raised, where he learned to rap, and where nobody told him to make sure his name is clearly Matty B Raps and not Matty Braps. You can read about it in his memoir. He’s 13. All of this is to distract from the fact that this category includes Christina Grimmie, who was murdered onstage in Orlando, and is thus indescribably sad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christina Grimmie, because honestly. Under other circumstances, however, it would be Matty Braps, who is actually a dude who got famous on YouTUbe and not some label creation marketed via same. Except that he has a memoir. He’s 13.

Choice Social Media Queen
I guess it has to be Gigi Hadid, since I am unaware of anything she does except exist on social media, and that points to an effective use of social media if nothing else does.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gigi Hadid

Choice Social Media King
This deserves some sort of award for being the most surreal juxtaposition of people I think I’ve ever seen

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kanye West, probably

Choice Web Star: Fashion/Beauty
It’s good to break out of my comfort zone. To explore facets of the entertainment environment that I would not otherwise be exposed to. So as someone who tried to figure out what was going here, I am reminded that I found the opinions of young people baffling when I was a young person. Truly baffling.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chaos and bafflement.

Choice Web Star: Comedy
Comedy! I understand comedy! Also, I genuinely enjoy some of this. Some of it (more of it than I’d like) is “people like this do this thing!” jokes, which, y’know, whatever. But even though it wasn’t at all in the period of eligibility, I genuinely liked GloZell’s interviews with other other people that were in the audience at the Tonight Show tapings she attended. I mean, I also like Smosh, but that’s also just pretty regular sketch video stuff. At least they don’t sing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: GloZell

Choice Web Star: Male
Well, I guess Fox is willing to nominated Nash Grier for stuff even though he’s awful. That’s cool. I’m also willing to point out that that’s pretty much not ok. Yay for discourse! I’m also ruling out his brother, who has never doubled-down on dumb homophobia, but that’s not really a reason to reward someone.  Joey Graceffa isn’t a web star, he’s a former reality-tv contestant. Cameron Dallas is tainted by association with Nash Grier. That leaves us with Tyler Oakley

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tyler Oakley

Choice Web Star: Female
Bethany Mota got famous for haul videos. Those are dumb and gross. I do not have a good handle on Jenn McAllister or Eva Gukowski, which makes it hard for me to believe they’re the best web star in the list. When I made that joke about people making jokes about how “groups of people who are like this do this thing”, I was referring partly to Lilly Singh. I still don’t like it. Colleen BAllinger is a jokey song comedian, and also her videos all seem really mean. I kind of like the Gabbie Show. Kind of.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gabbie Hanna. Kind of.

Choice Female Summer TV Star
OK, so, heads up here: the tv categories are interminable. I’ll continue to try to make this as brief as possible. Like by sometimes just choosing a name and not saying anything about why in the body of the description so you don’t know if I simply feel it goes without saying, or if I didn’t actually figure out what I was talking about.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cierra Ramirez, The Fosters

Choice Male Summer TV Star
I mean, part of the problem here in the early going is that these shows are all dreadful.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gregg Sulkin, Fakin’ It

Choice Summer TV Show
I mean, really, I don’t even know how I’d begin to go about making this decision

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Fosters?

Choice TV: Liplock
Ah, finally! The smoochin’ stuff! At least I understand what we’re doing here2. That’s leaving aside the fact that it’s all somewhat mitigated by the fact that most of the smoochin’ participants here are, y’know, young people. Ew. Surprisingly, it’s Disney who saves the day here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue, Once Upon a Time

2 alright, so actually I understand just fine all the “Summer TV” categories, I’d just rather not have to evaluate them for reasons related to their quality. That’s on me.

Choice TV: Chemistry
I mean, some of these are fine (Fuller House is most assuredly not fine), but Supernatural is entering its brazillionth season pretty much entirely on the back of Jensen Ackles and Mischa Collins’ chemistry, so I mean. The choice is obvious.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jensen Ackles and Mischa Collins, Supernatural

Choice TV: Breakout Show
Just imagine my delight that this is not, in fact, a show about skin conditions. Also I cannot imagine who thinks the audience for the rest of this stuff is watching Quantico, but I have also freely admitted that I don’t understand the first thing about young people, so maybe they are. Who am I to say? Anyway, while it’s true that darn Supergirl is just gosh-darned delightful, it’s also true that Lucifer, due to a tricksy way for credits to work3, is a tv show that features Sam Kieth’s name right there in the credits, so it wins.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lucifer

3 it’s not actually that tricksy. Lucifer is based on the depiction of the bible dude by Neil Gaiman in Sandman, and his character was designed and first appeared visually as drawn by the great Sam Kieth.

Choice TV: Breakout Star
Hey it’s Quantico again! Still doesn’t make any sense. There are a bunch of Newtons4 I’d sooner watch a television show featuring than fucking Cam Newton. The Shadowhunters tv show is based on The Mortal Instruments, which, for whatever reason, the Teen Choice Awards have been riding for for years. I’ve not watched much of the tv show, but it failed as a movie first, and frankly, that seems like something that should have happened. Tom Ellis is fine as Lucifer, really. Stitchers is a kind-of-ok blend of Dollhouse and Orphan Black (sort of), the upshot of which is that Emma Ishta is doing some pretty impressive work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Emma Ishta, Stitchers

4 Juice, Isaac, Wayne, Huey P., fig

Choice TV: Scene Stealer
Some strong choices here, and some perennial favorites (hi again, Mischa Collins) but really Empire appears to be building its show on moments of scene-stealery. This year they had a couple of them, in the form of Hakeem’s ladyfriend Tiana Brown, and ambitious Valentina Galindo (she left Cookie’s label for Lucious’s!). Valentina does more with less.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Becky G (who, as I helpfully didn’t mention, played Valentina Galindo), Empire

Choice TV: Villain
A question I’ve always had for the people who complain about spoilers nonstop: do you avoid awards altogether to avoid hearing about something like “Lea Michele is the villain of Scream Queens”? Because the “who is the killer” mystery is pretty much the entirety of the plot there. So if there’s such a thing as a spoiler5, this is one. It’s also certainly evidence of the most fun had on television all year, so it wins here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lea Michele (who plays one of the killers, obvi), Scream Queens

5 there really isn’t. None of the good parts of Scream Queens are the reveal of the killer, which, because it’s an explanation in a Ryan Murphy show, doesn’t actually, in any meaningful sense, “reveal” anything except that it doesn’t actually make any sense. Without derailing entirely, I will say: nobody thought about anyone’s height throughout the season, and the reveal raised some very real questions about it. Various people’s heights, I mean.

Choice TV Show: Reality
Remember when Masterchef Junior was a fun show about kids doing stuff and not a nauseating study in kids that are aggressively stage-managed? Oh, I’m sure there was more than a little aggressive stage-managing in those early seasons (there’s always aggressive stage-managing on reality shows, especially ones on network television, and especially especially when kids are involved), but it really seems like there’s a lot more #onbrand speech and action in this most recent season. It makes me feel genuinely bad for the kids, in the same way that I feel bad for, say, child athletes and most child actors. Also I had to look up the cast to even remember which season they were, so all of that #branding and all of that stage managing isn’t even working. Anyway, that’s the best of these shows, even existing as it does in the present, because this category is a garbage fire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A smack on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper to all of these people.

Choice TV Show: Animated
So, as ever, here’s Family Guy and The Simpsons and not Bob’s Burgers. These people are dumb. At least Stephen Universe is pretty good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Stephen Universe

Choice TV Actress: Comedy
So, throwing Fuller House out yet again, we’re stuck with Liv and Maddie (the Disney channel Patty Duke!), which is Disney Channel good (that is to say: actually bad, but better than the very low bar one sets for Disney Channel shows), and Austin & Ally, which is Disney Channel mediocre. Luckily for all of us, this one has Gina Rodriguez, who was pretty great on Jane the Virgin, and both Lea Michele and Emma Roberts from Scream Queens, which I really enjoyed. I will fight all of you. ALL OF YOU.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lea Michele, Scream Queens

Choice TV Actor: Comedy
Now wait just a damn minute. You’ve got two of the ladies from Scream Queens up there, but no Chad Radwell down here? This is almsot as stupid as the lack of LeBron in the sports dude section. Luckily there are other, better options.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Choice TV: Comedy
ENOUGH ALREADY WITH FULLER HOUSE ALREADY. I have no more to say about Austin & Ally or Liz and Maddie, except that I appreciate that one uses a written-out conjunction and the other uses an ampersand. Modern Family is a fair distance past the point where it was funny. Jane the Virgin is fine. I’m going to keep riding for Scream Queens.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Scream Queens

Choice TV Actress: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Truly, where would these awards be without the CW. This category would be very differently populated for starters. Anyway, the people on The Vampire Diaries do the same thing year in and year out, and we all know where I stand on that as a criterion for acting awards. At this point, I think that’s true for Arrow also. The 100 has a pretty killer premise, but I’ve never really noticed the acting. I do think that Lana Parilla deserves credit for finding a bunch of different ways to play the same character (over the years), and this last year was a pretty good one, so let’s go with her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lana Parilla, Once Upon a Time

Choice TV Actor: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
See above w/r/t The Vampire Diaries, and add The Walking Dead and Supernatural to it. I’m not sure if that logic should apply to The Originals, which is a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries, but Grant Gustin is one charming-ass Flash, so that question is already answered.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Grant Gustin, The Flash

Choice TV Show: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
I feel like I have to do these every other year until these shows are all cancelled, because I can’t keep coming up with things to say about them. There are like two things to say about them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: iZombie

Choice TV Actress: Drama
Wait, which teens are choosing Shades of Blue? Fucking no one is choosing Shades of Blue, teenaged or otherwise. This is a lie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The truth!

Choice TV Actor: Drama
There are five thespians nominated over two categories for Pretty Little LIars, and I will be absolutely damned all the way to Dante’s hell if I can figure out why. I’d like to believe it’s because I’m old, but I’m not entirely sure it is. Anyway, that leaves the guy from The O.C.6, who is now the guy from Gotham, and the male principals from Empire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Taraji P. Henson, who is not a man, but deserves the award more than any of these people, and I made a joke instead of giving one out in the last category.

6 don’t call it that

Choice TV Show: Drama
You know, I really want to like Gotham. I really do. I want to like it a bunch. And yet, here we are, in the really real world, and I don’t. I am unwilling to believe that the inclusion of Grey’s Anatomy is anything more than another of these straight-out lies I keep running into here. Shades of Blue finds itself included again, and, seriously, what are these people doing. Empire started strong and has failed to ramp things up entertainingly, except occasionally. Rosewood, blah. Pretty Little LIars, blah. I think the problem I run into here is that I don’t like television dramas. Which is a pretty big problem, ultimately, but, y’know, I’m the one writing the thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ah, what the hell, Pretty Little Liars. I still don’t get it, but it sure does seem like the Teen Choice Awards people want me to.

And that does it for part I, the internet and television. Tune in in a couple of days for the considerably more exhausting part 2: music and movies. I’ll be there!

A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Records of All Time, Part 1

Previously, I discussed (again) the direction of the record selling industry, and the continued futility of trying to demand that any given market conform to your exact expectations. It did not touch upon a sort of truism, which is that the product largely available from the record selling industry is mostly crap anyway. So, thinketh I, how crap is it1?

1 it may have been my inner audience responding to my inner Buddy Ebsen, but, y’know, we’re going to treat them like they’re one and the same.

What makes an album a gajillion-seller is a combination of factors so incoherent that it’s more-or-less impossible to llist or talk about them in any real sense as a class – each gajillion seller is different in its genesis. At a certain point, however, the primary force behind a record selling a bunch of copies is momentum. More copies sold means more chart presence which means more press presence which means more people exposed to it which means more people hearing it which means more copies sold. These records have reached a point where they have a kind of gravity – they accrete sales at this point, rather than achieving them, planetary bodies around which other records orbit, touchpoints for people to find and recognize while they find other, more personal planets.

That said, many of the best-selling records of all time are not specifically good or bad. I’m not going to bat for most of them here, but there’s usually a reason. What that reason is is sometimes anybody’s guess (and sometimes it’s more a success in marketing and stuff than it is in actual music). So, in the interest of figuring it all out, I listened to them. All of them. Even when it was painful. Even when it was really painful.

So I bring you this extensively-researched, closely-examined regarding of the biggest-selling records of all time2.

2 according to Wikipedia

Michael Jackson – Thriller
WHAT IT IS: The Michael Jackson record and, by extension, kind of the pop record. Even if you’ve never intentionally put this record on to listen to yourself, you’ve heard most of (if not actually all of) its songs. Historically, this record went a long way to ending the record-selling slump in the early eighties.
WHY IT’S HERE: It happened at a time when it could take advantage of everything the music industry was able to do to market things – one of the first huge “event” videos, a ton of songs that wound up marketed to radio.
AND…?: It’s fine. It’s super-dated. Michael Jackson was a very good singer. It’s hard to say how much of this would actually hold up, given that for many years there was a ton of music that sounded like this. Michael Jackson is an interesting case in a lot of ways, because his music would shift stylistically pretty wildly, but it always sounds basically like Michael Jackson’s music.
THE BEST SONG: “Wanna’ Be Startin’ Somethin’”, which in addition to being the best song, also has the best dropped g’s.

AC/DC – Back in Black
WHAT IT IS: Whatever could be meant by “rockin’,” Back in Black is pretty much its apotheosis.
WHY IT’S HERE: Tunes that it’s hard not to like, wrapped up in tight, radio-friendly production. Actually, in terms of its outright sonic influence and general sounds-like-itself-ness, Back in Black has a lot in common with Thriller3.
AND…?: I mean, it’s fine. It sounds like it sounds. Not else sounds very much like it. When I sit down with AC/DC (which doesn’t happen that often) I’m always impressed, at the very least, by how, no matter how much they sound like a band that’s easy to imitate, they really kind of aren’t. That’s pretty cool. They’re pretty cool. I’ll probably not listen to this record all the way through again until I do something like this again and give it another spin.
THE BEST SONG: “You Shook Me All Night Long”

3 provided you’re not actually, y’know, listening to the music.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
WHAT IT IS: The longest-charting record of all time4. Probably the worst Pink Floyd record made while Roger Waters was in the band. Another album you know all the songs on, mostly because of classic rock radio.
WHY IT’S HERE: It was on the album charts for sixteen non-consecutive years. Whatever else, everybody bought this friggin’ thing eventually.
AND…?: For all that you’ve heard it all way too often and for all that Pink Floyd has done much, much, much better, it’s not bad. But there’s a lot of studio wankery going on here, and it doesn’t serve the record particularly well. I suppose it earns its longstanding reputation as a good record to use to test your hi-fi. Y’know, if you have a hi-fi.
THE BEST SONG: “Brain Damage/Eclipse”

4 861 weeks!  

Whitney Houston/Various Artists – The Bodyguard
WHAT IT IS: The soundtrack to The Bodyguard. Whitney Houston was in it opposite Kevin Costner. It would literally be impossible to remember were it not for this album and, specifically, its single.
WHY IT’S HERE: Movie soundtracks used to be enormous business (there’s several forthcoming on this list5), especially movie soundtracks with a hugenormous single attached to them. People used to have to buy the album to get the song, and the song had the advantage of being in the movie they were watching and having feelings about. The soundtrack itself was actually nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars for two different songs6, but most of the songs are pretty bog-standard early-nineties soundtrack stuff. Really, this soundtrack is about Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You,” which probably deserves every accolade ever heaped upon it in terms of Whitney Houston’s voice (which was a force of nature, and is put to better use here than on any other song she ever recorded), and prooooobably doesn’t deserve much credit for being a very good song in the first place7. Anyway, that’s why this album sold in the gajillions – Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.”
AND…?: There’s basically nothing else to recommend it. There’s a song you’ve  heard seven hundred million times and a bunch of other songs that I’m struggling to remember even after having just listened to it.
THE BEST SONG: Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”

5 spoiler alert!
6 one of which was written by Linda Thompson, of all people.
7 I have a complicated relationship with Dolly Parton, which I may have gotten into previously, whereby I think she, as a person or as a public presence, is 100% great, but as a songwriter is pretty much not at all good. I do not like her voice. I do not like her songs.

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
WHAT IT IS: A grab-bag of late-seventies hard rock styles (kind of proggy, occasionally throwbacky, always enormous), carried on the back of Jim Steinman’s more-is-more arrangements, Meat Loaf’s enormous opera voice, and Todd Rundgren’s impressive ability to give all of the kitchen-sink-inclusive songs room to live their lives. It has a couple of sequels (because of course it does), neither of which is as good as this one.
WHY IT’S HERE: Between this and The Bodyguard, I’m starting to think people just really want there to be people with huge, loud voices on the radio8. It’s also got some really impressive numbers for its chart success in England, which I’m not sure I can explain.
AND…?: I like Bat Out of Hell. I heard it roughly seventeen thousand times in my house growing up, and it still sounds much like it did then: it’s huge and engaging and impressive in its bombast.
THE BEST SONG: “Bat Out of Hell”

8 see also: a future installment’s treatment of Adele’s 21

The Eagles – Their Greatest Hits
WHAT IT IS: The Eagles are widely maligned, and that’s for a very good reason: they’re awful. This is awful, boring music. This record doesn’t even have the decency to have “Journey of the Sourcer”9 on it.
WHY IT’S HERE: Classic rock radio playlists would be denuded without these morons, so the familiarity necessary to buy the records is definitely programmed into everybody by the time they’ve got spending money.
AND…?: Smooth harmonies. Unending guitar solos, followed by more guitar solos. Don Henley is a better singer than he is a drummer, but the songs he plays drums on and doesn’t sing are the better songs. For a value of better. Too much production. Too much fingerpicking. Too much everything, except anything that would make this tolerable.
THE BEST SONG: I guess “Desperado,” because at least then you can remember that one Seinfeld episode and be happy for a minute.

9 aka the theme to the BBC’s Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Bee Gees/Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever
WHAT IT IS: The soundtrack to Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.
WHY IT’S HERE: Really, I was previously underselling the number of people that would buy soundtracks albums to movies that are ungodly huge, especially if they have a song that ends up on the radio every day forever everywhere on them.
AND…?: You people are on your own. This is worse than The Eagles.
THE BEST SONG: Kool & The Gang, “Open Sesame.” Sort of.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
WHAT IT IS: The record everybody knows about the making of (a bunch of them divorced or broke up with the rest fo them, and also a tonne of drugs). As an anecdotal aside, my life has been full of people trying to convince me that this record is somehow underrated, despite literally selling 40 million copies. That annoys me almost as much as trying to listen to the goddamn thing.
WHY IT’S HERE: It has a tonne of hits (as many hits as drugs, really), and it has a super-easy-to-grab backstory, which makes it a cinch to remember, easy to write about, easy to talk about, and easy to dig into – people have always loved to be voyeurs into this kind of psychodrama, and have always been interested in the relationships of the rich and famous, and this record allowed them all to imagine it all playing out through the lyrics, which is a potent hook for buying it. And then, of course, it’s all over the radio all the time and peole just know it. Plus every tenth goddamn person thinks it’s underrated. 40 million copies. Underrated. Give me a break.
AND…?: Lindsey Buckingham was a really interesting guitar player. Mick Fleetwood was a good drummer. They should have been in a better band together. Some of this is fine (if bland), a lot of this is seventies California radio rock, and just isn’t worth the time it takes to hear to try to dig through it to see if there’s more good bits hiding down there. I also hate the way it physically sounds (like production-wise), but I’m willing to mark that down to my own idiosyncracies than anything to do with the record itself.
THE BEST SONG: Probably “Secondhand News,” but I might also argue for “The Chain”

Shania Twain – Come On Over
WHAT IT IS: The apex (in terms of popularity) of the country music boom in the nineties10, Come on Over is the hardest of these records to listen to (weird that the most difficult ones are all in a clot here).
WHY IT’S HERE: It sounds like the radio in the nineties, and is extraordinarily dated, but also, since nearly every fucking song was worked to radio as a single, and many of them were impossibly enormous crossover hits, an unholy number of people end up with this one. You full-on could not turn on a radio, anywhere, and not hear a frigging Shania Twain song eventually. It’s presence here, then, I think has something to do with both its ubiquity and its distinct evocation of a time and place – it sounds like the nineties, and signifies “country” in a way that other things don’t necessarily, while actually just being a shiny pop object with occasional twang. It’s worth comparing this to, say, Garth Brooks11, who didn’t sell as much (weirdly), but was a country singer who happened to get extremely popular. Shania Twain would have sung whatever was put in front of her, but she wound up singing country. And so she made a radio-friendly, hugely-of-the-moment record with her husband, who specialized in radio-friendly, hugely-of-the-moment records, and got exactly what they both wanted. Plus, seriously, these songs were everywhere. It was miserable.
AND…?: It was a terrible record then, and now it’s a terrible record that has aged poorly. Shania Twain is nothing more than a competent singer. These are not good songs. There are things that I hear, twenty years on, and think “oh that was cute,” but they are things that it’s possible to hear in other places.
THE BEST SONG: “Come On Over,” since I have to pick one. But rest assured you do not have to listen to it unless you’re doing some kind of blog piece about the best-selling records of all time.

10 which wasn’t a boom in buying as much as it was in reporting the sales that were already there – the country music “boom” was a result of the switch from self-reported totals from record stores to a point-of-sale scanning system that reported actual copies sold. It was discovered that people were buying way more country records than the stores were reporting, and thus there were new people to market to and new ways to market to them.
11 who doesn’t make this list, which is worldwide, but makes the best-selling albums of the US list twice for Double Live and No Fences, both of which are, on rough estimate, six thousand times better than Come On Over.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
WHAT IT IS: Another good record, finally. Led Zeppelin IV is a legitimately great record that has, rightfully, become hugely popular and that everyone has heard. Proof that sometimes good things happen in this world, even to people who stole heavily from blues musicians and probably had sex with a bunch of underage girls. Even to pretty icky people, is what I’m saying here.
WHY IT’S HERE: Led Zeppelin’s rise came with the increased focus on FM radio12, which was instrumental in transferring the unit of musical importance from the single to the album. Albums were much more profitable to manufacture, but it was difficult initially to convince people to switch, so FM radio helped to encourage people to think of singles as kids’ stuff, and the album as the fully-formed unit of grown-up musical thought. Led Zeppelin were among the recipients of the effects of this push, to the point that they mostly didn’t bother with singles. Since IV (aka Zoso aka Four Symbols aka Technically This Record Doesn’t Have a Title) is the one you probably know all the songs from (except maybe “Four Sticks”), it’s the one you’re most likely to buy when you’re buying a Led Zeppelin record.
AND…?: It’s great. I mean, Led Zeppelin is one of those bands that earn the reputation they got, and IV, despite taking up too much real estate on the radio, is a great record.
THE BEST SONG: “When the Levee Breaks”

12 it’s worth noting here that it also came contrary to the concomitant rise of popular rock music criticism, which largely was set against Led Zeppelin. For the first forty or so years of rock music criticism, loud music wasn’t taken seriously until it was very old.

Michael Jackson – Bad
WHAT IT IS: The follow up to Thriller13. See above w/r/t Thriller and move it forward in time a couple of years. It’s the same, in most terms that matter.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because it’s the same as Thriller, in most terms that matter, including a whole ton of singles, and a bunch of videos and stuff.
AND…?: I mean, I hate to only have one thing to say here, but it’s a lot like Thriller. Oh, the production is slightly different (it’s four years later), but that’s about it.

13 well, the studio follow-up to Thriller. There are a bunch of compilations between the two (they’re four years apart), but this is the next actual album of material MJ recorded after Thriller.

Alanis Morisette – Jagged Little Pill
WHAT IT IS: Yet another record to get lumped in with Celine Dion (see below) or Shania Twain or The Bodyguard soundtrack – people bought a lot of records in the nineties, and this sure was one of ‘em.
WHY IT’S HERE: Marketing really did work in the nineties, guys. Remember when every couple of months one print magazine or the other did a “women in rock” issue? This was part of that. It really captured a moment. Such as it was.
AND…?: It’s fine. Of the records I compared it to a couple of sentences ago, it’s infinitely better than Come On Over or Falling Into You, and pretty clearly better than The Bodyguard soundtrack. Unique among the pop records on this list, it has some excellent drumming on it (that is mostly sidelined by the particularly cruel nineties radio production) courtesy Canadian Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins.
THE BEST SONG: Oh, it probably really is “You Oughta Know.” Why not?

Celine Dion – Falling Into You
WHAT IT IS: IT’S TWENTY YEARS OLD? Nothing on this list is making me feel as old as the fact that this album is twenty years old. I know there are older albums. This makes me feel old like those older albums don’t. It’s just not fair that time keeps marching inexorably forward.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because it has a bunch of radio hits. Hits that were on the radio twenty years ago, because I am old.
AND….?: Uh, it’s also pretty bad. If nothing else, it has the worst cover of “River Deep, Mountain High” ever recorded, which I guess means something historically.
THE BEST SONG: The Jim Steinman-penned “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”14

14 which actually has quite a history – it started out as the single from a girl band that Jim Steinman attempted to Svengali into popularity called Pandora’s Box. It was then covered by Celine Dion, who had an impossibly enormous hit with it. It would, eventually, be covered as a duet with Marion Raven on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell III

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
WHAT IT IS: While it’s true that I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I would be willing to guess that this is the record that is most often called the best record ever made, or at least the best rock record ever made. It isn’t (it isn’t even the best Beatles record), but it sure gets a lot of credit for being so.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because when you call something the best record ever made enough, a bunch of people are going to buy it. Many millions of people, in fact.
AND…?: Oh, it’s fine. I’m not even not necessarily saying it’s not a great record. I’m just saying Revolver and Abbey Road and Let it Be are all better. Also Rubber Soul. And Help. And The White Album.
THE BEST SONG: “A Day in the Life”

The Eagles – Hotel California
WHY IT’S HERE: Because we live in the darkest timeline, and not enough people agree with The Dude. The greatest hits record is one thing. This overbaked pile of nonsense is just unconscionable.
AND…?: [thirty minutes of vomiting noises]
THE BEST SONG: The first, like, seven seconds of “Life in the Fast Lane” is kind of neat. So, that.

That wraps it up for part 1. Tune in in the future (there’s an awards show and another thing before I get back to this) for the next handful of these records, provided I don’t actually lose my mind first!



Alan Vega

As mentioned previously, I only really even try to write about dead folks here when I feel like I have something to say about them – a perspective or a special appreciation or whatever.

Alan Vega died, peacefully and in his sleep, at age 78, in his home, and he died a hero.

Not a spectacular, over-the-top, splosions-and-sacrifice kind of hero. The kind of hero who is prepossessed of a singular drive to do something and, in so doing, creates a space whereby, since it has already been done, it is safer for others to follow.

Suicide, Alan Vega’s musical partnership with Martin Rev,  It was spare, minimalist music that came with a whirlwind, high-voltage, feral singer. While Martin Rev approximated rock music to the best of his ability with his limited equipment, Alan Vega did his best to summon the best rock and roll frontman – the best combination of, say Elvis and Iggy Pop1 and some yammering rockabilly wildman – that he could possibly be. He wanted to engage the audience directly, to make them a part of the music, which meant being aggressive, confrontational, occasionally goading the audience to violence – key early live document “23 Minutes Over Brussels” is the audio of a Suicide show that ends in a riot. Hearing it on record is being removed from the audience-baiting aspects of it, and just hearing Alan Vega attempt, to the best of his ability, to try to engage the home-listener in the same way: even the relatively-staid “Cheree” or the rock-and-roll-ism of “Rocket U.S.A.” still sound charged up with the kind of aggression that fuelled more obvious cathartic ragers like “Che” or “Frankie Teardrop”2.

1 he has said that he was inspired to start Suicide by seeing The Stooges perform
2 actually, those two songs are the entirety of side 2 of Suicide’s debut album.

For Suicide’s second record (and their last as a continuously-existing band), Martin Rev and Ric Ocasek (see below) would work together to make something that was, while still fairly out-there, also much more traditionally-oriented. Vega remains the same kind of vocalist, however, unaware of his limitations, unaware of the fact that the music is trying to be extremely likable. “Touch Me” still sounds like more of a threat than a reassurance, “Mr. Ray” loses some of its early menace (it had been recorded around the time of the first record), but gains a lot in its clear bellicosity. And, of course, the record’s enduring classic, the “hit” as it were, “Dream Baby Dream” remains a pretty easy way to get into Suicide’s “thing” without having to beat your head on the first record. Then the band drifted away to reform every few years, occasionally making other records.

They would, as the obituaries point out, be a huge influence on enormous swathes of music that would pop up in its wake: in addition to being the first band to use the phrase “punk music” to describe itself, they made a huge mark on noise music3, drone music, and various and nigh-uncountable electronic genres. And, of course, through their occasional mainstream successors, like super-fan Ric Ocasek4 or frequent cover-er of “Dream Baby Dream”, Bruce Springsteen (whose song “Highway Trooper”5 also shows that Bruce Springsteen could’ve taken a lot more from Suicide, and I would’ve been a lot happier).

3 every time you see a dude at a keyboard and another dude jumping around yelling stuff*, that’s Suicide making themselves heard again.
* admittedly, the number of these bands you, the average reader, are made aware of is probably somewhat lower, but I’ll tell you this: I hear about one of them a month.
4 who, as mentioned, produced both Suicide’s second record and several of Vega’s solo records, and who also, when he had to come up with material for a hurry for the Cars second record, came up with “Shoo-Be-Doo”, a genuinely-inspired piece of weirdness that is also pretty clearly a Suicide pastiche.
5 a brief, Boss-related aside. His covers of “Dream Baby Dream” (the live one from that one record, and the studio one from a couple of years ago) are great, because of something that is peculiar to Bruce Springsteen that, as I think about it, is something that he very much shares with Alan Vega: an inability to turn down the intensity at any time, which infuses even something as simple as DBD with a kind of jumpy, nearly-threatening energy that makes it much more interesting than most other Suicide covers – most of which fail miserably, because it’s hard to do anything to the song to carry it without damaging the alchemy. Bruce could do it, because he’s a great frontman in the same way as Alan Vega, even though as workers they are at entirely different ends of the spectrum.

After Suicide, Alan Vega made records that were occasionally brilliant. The first solo record, called Alan Vega and made just with him and the guitarist Phil Hawk is an impressive show of his ability as a vocalist, and his first traditional-rock-band record, Collision Drive, marks the beginning of his exploration with rockabilly, and includes a killer cover of “Be-Bop-a-Lula”. His work through the eighties would continue to get bigger and, while it was occasionally good, it lacked the brilliance of Suicide’s work (to be fair, nearly everything lacks the brilliance of Suicide’s work). In the nineties, he met his wife (Liz Lamere) and started a series of collaborations with her and others that found him returning to minimalism  His 1996 collaboration with Ben Vaughan and Alex Chilton (of all people), Cubist Blues is a particular favorite. He also sang about half of an Etant Donnes record called Re-Up that I like a lot6, and he scored the film Sombre effectively.

6 Genesis P-Orridge sings the other half. Lydia Lunch also sings a song. It’s a great record.

Vega had a stroke-related health scare a few years ago, and he had been a painter. I don’t know much about the painting scene, nor do I have anything specifically to say about his paintings in and of themselves, the whole of this story taken as a narrative is that of someone who followed their own artistic impulses wherever they took them – who made the records he wanted to make with the people he wanted to make them with, who painted when that was what he was doing. Even his records that I don’t like (early solo record Just a Million Dreams, the Suicide record Why Be Blue) aren’t necessarily bad, in that they are clearly the records that it meant something for Alan Vega to be a part of, and represent what his creative impulse was at the time. Well maybe not Just a Million Dreams. At least not entirely.

But his solo career, or his painting career, or whatever else, aside, it’s absolutely impossible to overstate the greatness of his first act, or the greatness of even being in Suicide in the first place.

Suicide was a preposterous idea. In the early 70s, in New York City, in the wake of progressive rock and right around the birth of glam rock7, they were a “band” composed of a dude who had a beat-up, mostly-repaired secondhand farfisa thing and a beyond-basic drum machine, and a guy who made as much noise with his voice as the instruments did, but who also kept jumping offstage to engage with people. Generally while also screaming. And who kept doing it. Every night. They not only didn’t have enough instruments, but the ones they had would play, oh, three to four notes (notes) per song. Chords were occasional. Mostly just the notes. The drum machine was more likely to be pulsing or hissing than it was to be making actual drum sounds. And then the guy that had just jumped into the audience was crooning. He was also holding a motorcycle chain. For most of this period, they didn’t even have a record out. Just loud, confrontational, challenging sets that sometimes ended in violence.

7 specifically they came out of the scene that formed around the Mercer Arts Center, which also begat the New York Dolls (kind of).

And eventually, armed with Alan Vega’s abilities, and his philosophy of engaging the audience, of not being a backdrop or a static work, but of being a part of a thing with the audience, they got over. They made a record, they opened for Elvis Costello, they eventually, slowly, got to be fairly well-known, such as it is. And without ever really running with it, or doing much to try (ok, except for Just a Million Dreams. Yuck.) to trun with it, he managed to construct an impressive legacy, anchored by having made one of the absolute hands-down greatest records ever made.

Alan Vega bet heavily that he was right about his vision, and how it could work, and then he did that thing until it went over. And he won – he was right, it did go over. His mania and his vision created an audience for itself – an audience that was often as passionate as his work was. That’s heroic – that’s changing the world. That’s making the world more like the way you want it to, one audience member at a time.










Buggy Whips, Part 5

So it appears that, whatever else, the (somehow still) shambling corpse of the record selling industry has landed on streaming. I mean, they’ve been circling for awhile, so there’s not necessarily anything new to report there (especially not with 2016 being, as reported, the lowest-selling year for records across formats since the dawn of the SoundScan era – about which see below). But with the forces of the industry (or at least the most visible and vocal part of the forces of the industry) themselves galvanizing around Apple Music and Tidal (soon, if reports are to be believed, to be one entity, mirroring the satellite radio merger of a decade or so ago), and foursquare against YouTube, it’s fair to say that the support is in the camp of the elite, preferred streaming services over the people’s chosen service1, continuing in a now century-long pattern of trying to force people out of easily-shared, easily-reproduced recorded sound and into difficult-to-mange, highly-proprietary forms2 – YouTube must be bad, because there’s no way to funnel the content, so you’ll have to use AppleTidal.

1 One of the things that could, potentially, come out of this is a new, useful metric for what popularity actually means, and also what’s going on with how music is consumed. That will be interesting, and is practically inevitable, given how much of the record selling industry is devoted to tracking and making use of that kind of numbers. But even without a hard measurement, it is still apparent that YouTube has a great many more listeners than anything else – estimates show it as a matter of several orders of magnitude, and even the available anecdata suggests that there aren’t very many people at all who have ever used YouTube that haven’t used it to listen to music in some fashion.
2 this battle is literally as old as the ability to sell physical reproductions of music, and includes sheet music, Edison cylinders, every cassette format, vinyl records, CDs, and several dozen abandoned formats that were meant, for one reason or another, to be the future.

I mean, there’s always going to be someone making money off of selling the artifacts and experiences associated with listening to music. The absurdity here is not that the corporations formerly in charge of selling records want to get more revenue out of people’s listening behavior (which is what they’ve always done), but rather that they’re trying to build a barn and coax all the horses back into it by offering them less product for more money, with the promise of “exclusivity” with, I don’t know, fancy carrots or something3. The point of which is, they’re doing what they always do.

3 I mean, horses are proverbially associated with carrots, right? I’ve never eaten dinner with a horse. I prefer to dine in more formal settings.

The idea, of course, starts from a flawed place. This Pitchfork piece does a good job of outlining the problem in this kind of thought4, which is the idea that the revenues should climb back to where they were in the physical scarcity, radio-controlled nineties. Leaving aside, for now, the idea that this winner-takes-all, lottery-ticket approach to running bands worked for functionally no one5 that to say “this system is what’s best for the artists” is only possible to sell to people that aren’t really paying attention. If you’re interested in the vagaries of why that argument, people have written at great length and with great passion about it. Most of them are in ground-level bands that have a better artistic life as a result, and their words aren’t hard to find.

4 it also does a good job of illustrating the problem with Pitchfork (or any other big construct taking charge of reportage on such matters – it’s not unique to Pitchfork), which is that it’s got a huge stake in being part of the promotional mechanisms of the record-selling industry, and is therefore bound to their interests.
5 that is to say, it worked for such a teensy percentage of people, many of whom are now, unsurprisingly, the people who are coming out strongest against YouTube and in favor of the old-guard-controlled streaming platforms, that statistically it works out to just about nothing. In the case the apparent discrepancy is that the people for whom it worked are so high-profile, and penetrate the culture so deeply, that there’s no easy way for people who aren’t specifically interested in this problem itself*
* “this problem itself” being perhaps best expressed as “How do the arms of industry come to enfold artistic output in an economy that favors industrial qualities over personal ones and how, given that those arms have (largely) been pried off and the content itself wrested out of their control and into the control of the people listening, do those arms reassert themselves?” This is the central question of the Buggy Whips piecesa, so of course the first time I’ve ever typed it out, I’ve buried it here in a footnote. Obviously.
a a title which is, itself, short for “Boy, the Automobile Sure Put a Lot of Buggy Whip Salesman Out of Business, Didn’t It?”

No, I’m more interested in dragging out people that were successful at the end of the record industry boom, and talking about how the end of the physical-medium era6 is going to spell the doom of all popular music everywhere. The boom at the end of the nineties was not a real thing. Oh, it really happened. There’s no denying that. But it was a confluence of two marketing rivers, and sustaining it was never really an option – people engineered a system whereby a bunch of people could make a bunch of money, and are now in the process of acting like they were entitled to it the whole time (and still are).

6 this is an imperfect thing to call it. People still buy music on physical media, and I’m very much one of them. It’s merely meant to differentiate between now and an era where there was literally no choice.

For several decades, the record-selling industry controlled the radio, and even used the radio to shift the way the public bought records7, and then, over the next couple of decades (from about the early seventies to the late nineties), used it to tighten their control over what happened – they were so capable at that point, that even when music videos and a growing network of underground music distribution and touring channels had opened up through the eighties, they were still pretty well primed to absorb the change in consumer habits (i.e. Hip-hop and a shift in rock music away from glam or whatever you’re going to call it8). Hell, the third major change came from the industry itself – when they moved away from the self-reporting era of tracking record sales and started using SoundScan, which actually tracked items at the point of sale, they discovered that a bunch more people were buying country records than they had previously thought9. All of which was easy to move around in, because it was just a matter of resupplying the existing radio stations (who depended on the product being marketed by the radio promoters) with whatever kind-of-different thing they could find while they figured out how to retool the existing mechanisms around the new sound10.

7 through a fairly long story that isn’t really worth opening all the way up, but it has to do with using the concurrent forces of popular record criticism (Rolling Stone, et al) and FM radio to convince people that singles were kid stuff and serious grown-up people bought albums. Please note at this point, also, that not everything the record-industry ever did to sell more stuff was bad, and I’m not arguing against format length, of all things.
8 I am uninterested in differentiating between strains of glam music. I fyou have big dumb hair and spend as much time on your stage choreography as you do playing your instrument, you play glam music and I almost certainly am not interested.
9 the country boom, at least in the beginning, was actually less a “boom” in popularity and more of a “boom” in knowing that it’s being sold, and thus more effectively marketed. It’s worth noting that country records are among the only ones that sell consistently across a genre.
10 the evidence of this, in addition to the aformentioned country music thing, is the brief period where super-weird but tameable bands made major-label records in the nineties: the move away from one hard rock form (glam) to another (grunge) meant something of a vacuum in the minor leagues (i.e. the bands that were using the structures of the underground to pretend to be a real band until the label deal came along), which meant money was dangled in front of people to make careerist, possibly-lucrative moves. Obviously very few of them worked, but, y’know, it was a weird time anyway.

With an ability to move so (relatively) quickly, the radio maintained dominance over what was heard, and thus created a direct channel for everything that was easy to find, and was able, therefore, to allow radio listeners to construct the illusion that what they were hearing was everything there was, and that they therefore didn’t have to do much other looking around11, but also that if they wanted to not rely on the capricious and fickle tastes of radio programmers (disguised as popular opinion/other listeners), they would have to go buy the records anyway. That’s where the CD stores come in.

11 it is at this point that I will go ahead and say that that is kind of a broad stroke – I don’t think I know anyone who only heard new music on the radio, even if you include MTV or whatever as a sort of visual radio. The point is more that it was easier, then, for the people selling records to rely much more heavily on the radio than it is now.

The CD was a boon to everybody. It was the fancy portable format of the future – it necessitated buying new equipment on which to play it, it necessitated buying all of your music yet another time12, on top of which they were the most portable format – they were so small, and could be kept easily in a binder as opposed to the clunky, oppressive cassette tapes. Cassette tapes were never much in favor, at least not from the record-selling industry itself13, but even so, it was now possible to make it so that people had to buy their music all over again if they wanted to listen to it in their cars or whatever (when they weren’t listening to the radio, of course).

12 it would be interesting, I suppose, to know if they ever considered the long-game benefit, also: while much of the early CD marketing included hyperbole about the durability of CDs, they’re also a format that will corrupt if you do nothing at all to them, all by themselves. That sort of temporariness must have been an enticement, even if the format didn’t dominate for quite long enough to take full advantage of it.
13 they had less than a decade as the dominant format (tapes started outselling records circa 1985, CDs started outselling tapes in 1993), and they started out, basically from their introduction, as the bogeyman by being the means of people sharing music with each other without industry intervention, hence the “home taping is killing the music industry” campaign from the eighties – but with portability, size and convenience covered by the new format, they fell spectacularly*.
to be revived a few years ago by well-meaning but frustrating young people who run tiny labels and put out music on cassette for reasons that remain baffling to me.

Regardless of any number of reasons14, the CD took off. And while there was a booming business in catalog reissue (more on this in just a moment) – you already own Brothers in Arms, but do you on Brothers in Arms on CD? – there was also the fact that CDs were quicker, easier and cheaper to make15, so there were new ones more quickly. The sheer number of pop stars16 There were more radio stations, ticketmaster was making it possible for labels to prop up more bands, and the end result was that there was a huge amount of music that was being marketed at whoever you were, and you needed to buy more of it just to keep up.

14 someday I may write about why I think the “skip” button is more responsible for much of what follows than it gets credit for, but this is not that day.
15 part of the speed with which they could be made was due to some extreme, nigh-unbelievable (but for the fact that it actually happened) mishandling on the part of the actual mastering of the recordings, but that’s another story for another time.
16 ”pop stars” in the general sense – this is not only the era of boy bands and Britney and all, this is also the era of the pop-stars-as-rock-bands that included the rap-rock morons and the apres-grunge nonsense that clogged the radio in the late nineties.

And then the genius happened! What if we could make everybody buy everything again – if, by using the hold they had on the magazine publishing world, and the idea of classic rock radio, they could convince everyone that not only did they have to get the catalog items in addition to the new things that were coming out at an alarming rate, they should also get the super-deluxe-expanded reissue version with bonus tracks and a live album and seventeen minutes of Glenn Frey coughing into a microphone and everything! In glorious remastered sound17! At the same time, labels started churning out inexpensive “Greatest Hits” collections (Sony BMG’s Essential series and UMG’s 20th Century Masters are the two that spring directly to mind), some of which were…. let’s say particularly inessential, but were an easy way to scrape a few more dollars out of the market that still somehow existed for Rainbow (or whoever – seriously just about everyone got one of those frigging things).

17 to be fair, I mentioned in FN15 that some of the early CD mastering closely resembled a Three Stooges film, and it was a good thing for many of these records, which had botch-job CD masters. Sometimes it’s necessary, or at least welcome. Again, not every marketing idea is a terrible one. I’m also not going to touch really on SACD, or those weird dual-discs, or any of the other gimmicky marketing formats that proliferated and, largely, died. They’re special cases, and there’s not much point in considering them.

The upshot of all of this is that, no matter who you were, there was literally as much content being marketed at you as someone could think of18. That in and of itself is good, but the more lucrative aspect of it is that they controlled the price of the objects they were flooding in (and crowding out the other, non-industrial product by result). Since the radio is controlled by very few people, and they’re the people who are currently convincing you to 1) buy their new product and 2) invest heavily in their catalog, you ended up with a captive audience who you could convince they needed to have it all, and would pay a lopsided amount of money17 to do so.

18 one of the worst effects of which was crowding the physical shelf space – which was an important consideration when it was actual, physical space being taken up – so that the people who were releasing actually good product, who did exist, and, generally, continue to be great to this day, and couldn’t afford the same kind of grift to get it in there, were left to compete for less space.
17 the price of CDs was always something of a sore spot – there was a lot of vocal complaint about it at the time, and there were times when it was patently absurd ($18-19 for a regular old new release)

And then that stopped being the case. The internet enable you to hear about things outside of the carefully-policed channels18 much more easily, as well as the ability to hear more things – outside of the radio or television – than you were before, largely at your own direction. I probably don’t have to detail all the ways that the internet changed the ease and simplicity of finding what you were interested in, rather than just what was brought to your attention by organizations with huge amounts of money. The end result being, of course, that organizations that had previously not been particularly associated with the provision of musical content to listeners (Apple, Amazon, any of several dozen startups of various stripes, including the might Bandcamp and Discogs) entered the fray, and altered the market in a way that was so fundamental way it changed the way people think about and interact with music. And what was once “piracy”19 became “the way that we share music” in a lot of ways.

18 this was always possible, of course. If people hadn’t gone out of their way to hear things that weren’t specifically supported by the industry itself, there’ wouldn’t have been any kind of sea change, because there wouldn’t have been a thing to change to.
19 Avast, ye swabbies! I’m boardin’ your mizzenmast! Yo you got that Kevin Gates on your mizzenmast?

So for the last eighteen or so years, the record selling inudstry has been left playing what they call a game of catch-up. There were stopgap measures in the form of iTunes (and, eventually, Amazon), where you could pay for the songs individually, at the control and permission of the same people that were filling the record stores previously, but it turns out that what people actually like is the ability to listen to the radio, or an even better, improved facsimile thereof. Enter Pandora (which billed itself as a radio station, or rather a series of interlinked radio stations, and suffered greatly for their existence), and, eventually, the stream-on-demand services that are currently battling it out. They leave inventory management to someone else ,they enable you to hear whatever you want (kind of) whenever you want to (mostly), and you don’t have to worry about paying a la carte, or keeping track of whatever it is20. It trumps the convenience of basically anything else, and convenience has been proven, time and time again, to be the primary force behind these consumer decisions21.

20 as a brief editorial aside, things like Spotify and, yes, YouTube are great for hearing new things, or for listening to half-remembered old things, or for occasionally listening to things I don’t care about enough to entertain spending money on them. I used to own CDs that I had bought in case I wanted to hear something somewhere down the line*, and now there’s YouTube. But for things I actually care about, I’m probably going to spend some money on them so at the very least I have access to the files themselves (if it’s really important I’m going to shell out for something physical), because all of the libraries of content that are currently streaming are doing so at the pleasure of a company or a set of people who have nothing vested in my musical best interest, and it’s better to rely on yourself in that situation.
* I freely admit this is a completely insane practice, but I was a weird young person, and also I knew a bunch of other people that were also doing the same thing, so it seemed somewhat less insane at the time.

21 as opposed to things like permanence (actually, the history of recorded media has, at least for the last few decades, been a tale of a journey toward impermanence), sound quality (despite the record selling industry’s continual arguments otherwise) and, y’know, actual quality.

And, of course, that’s a tremendous garden to try to build a wall around, so it’s an uphill struggle to fight against the forces that are keeping people from driving down to Best Buy to buy a Coldplay record or whatever. So the trick is to start your own services – Apple Music and Tidal, in this case – and convince people that these are the things you “should” use to listen to music (they are the things that are the most expensive for the least content), and they’re doing what they always do: tacitly implying that the problem is you, by attacking (now) YouTube22.

22 after this very tactic failed to sink Pandora, or Spotify. I guess it did take Grooveshark and, in the long-ago, Napster.

You see, there’s no real evidence that people aren’t just doing what they’d do naturally. The technology allows them an unprecedented ability to do it – that is, listen to whatever they want whenever they want at the point of lowest effort and lowest cost to themselves – and the audience, such as it was, is no longer captive. So now there’s a big “A Bunch of People You’ve Heard Of” petition being signed, and YouTube has thrown the sop of YouTube RED23, and I’m sure by the end of the year there will be some highly public “treaty” or whatever governing (or, well, “governing”) the way YouTube and the record selling industry interact.

23 which, I will admit, is attractive because it includes the feature where you can pay some money to have YouTube videos play on your phone without keeping the app actively open and the phone on the whole time, something that has plagued the YouTube phone app for as long as there’s been one. Plagued, I tell you.

All of which requires a lot of song and dance because, really, what they’re saying is that you, the person who watches music videos, the person who streams stuff rather than buying it, the person who plays Pandora at their office, the audience and consumer base for musical product, are wrong in your behavior. In actuality, the thing the record selling industry should probably realize – as many, many industries based around outmoded ways of doing things have had to realize before – is that the nature of their music business has changed. That things were good for them (and for the highest-level recipients of their business practices, i.e. the people signing petitions and whatnot) beyond all possible reasonable measure, but they aren’t now, and it’s time to become a different thing. It’s going to have to happen inevitably (and it is happening, in its way – the transition to industry-supported streaming is at least an acknowledgment that people are listening to music differently, even if it comes with a pile of blame and stuff), and that spending the intervening time shouting at people to stop doing what they’re doing and give them a bunch of money like they used to24.
24 there are also economic realities at play – there was, for a large amount of time in this particular dramatic movement, a recession going on. These have, at least traditionally, ended in a new dominant consumer format – the recession in the 80s, after all, ended with the CD on its way to ascendency, if not already ascendent. The reasons for that particular thing – the shift in consumer media formats at the end of a recession – is probably due to multitude of factors, and they are probably worth looking at at some point, but maybe not right here in this footnote.

So they’re trying to get people to shovel money at them by dint of rarifying the content itself – Tidal is a single point of sale (its revenue is solely through the membership you’re buying), so the opportunities to increase the value of that sale are focused on exclusives, and on keeping content off of other services – at least putatively, and at least at first. Apple music is slightly more vertical – you can still buy the songs on iTunes, after all, and thus focuses largely on being the first to play something, and on the curatorial sort of nature of its centerpiece, Beats 1, a kind of streaming-based radio station (more like a satellite radio station than a terrestrial radio station). In both cases, the idea is to get people in the door with something they want, then rely on inertia to keep them there25. It doesn’t take much to notice that these two complement each other as services, and so a merger would be beneficial (largely to Apple, but it would present an option other than “slow failure” for Tidal). And, although I try not to make serious predictions in this space26, my best guess would be that whatever is brewing with YouTube is going to be another attempt to wall something off, and that it will (because it’s the Google way) probably be tied to or merged with one of Google’s other dumb music services.

25 to point out that it hasn’t worked is true, but also kind of unfair: as of the time of this typing, not a single streaming service has turned an actual profit.
26 largely because they tend not to be correct, and there’s very little point in an incorrect predicition

And all of that, however it shakes out, will last until the next time the technology changes, at which point this will all happen again, with whatever remains of the record selling industry once again pointing the finger of blame at people who are only really interested in hearing the damn things. But things are unlikely to become more difficult to hear, or even more difficult to buy27. It’s hard to put those horses back in the barn, no matter how much money you have available to try, and even so, it’s unlikely that it’s going to lead to the sort of return to the Glorious Nineties that the record selling industry would like. But regardless of all that, it’s never the customer’s fault when an industry has to change the way it operates, and it’s definitely nobody’s fault but the people involved in falsely inflating the whole thing with the expectations that revenues would never fall.

27 I can count on one hand the number of times I have, as an adult, gotten interested in a record and found no way to buy it. Sometimes cost was a factor, but it was never actually impossible, or even particularly difficult beyond the dollar amount.

And really, this schismatic change in the way the industry has to operate is leaving aside the most obvious function of the whole thing – when the record selling industry was in charge of the promotion, distribution and sale of an overwhelming portion of the product (or at least that which was visible to most people), it was hard to know that there were things available that were more to your taste than the things presented, and you made more compromises (which, in this case, means that you paid more money to the people doing the promotion, distribution and sale). Now it’s as easy as finding a bandcamp site, or a tumblr, or a soundcloud page28, all of which are ven before you get to the nigh-infinite repository of YouTube. That’s going to naturally fragment the audience – when you can’t funnel people into the same three things and expect them to choose the one that is the most like something they might like, and instead they have access to exactly what they’re looking for (or a reasonable approximation thereof), those first three things are going to lose a lot of customers.
28 although it must be said that, as a result of these very fights, Soundcloud is kind of transitioning into something less useful. It’s difficult to tell how hamstrung it will ultimately be, but there’s already a bunch of unhappiness with the way it’s turning out.

Of course, all of this notwithstanding, it’s possible that, for the time being, gaining some measure of control of streaming services could grant the powers that sell the kind of stability they’d like to launch the next wave of promotion (as opposed to having to shotgun Event Marketing everything that sells). Until the next time the technology people use to listen changes, at which point we’ll return to this point, squabbling over the price of buggy whips.  


First Half of 2016

We’re halfway through this thing we call a year, and that means it’s time to take stock of the fifty songs that have set my toes a-tappin’ the most in the past six months. As usual, there is a folder with all of these songs in it here, and you should listen to them and go buy a big pile of records as a result.

Anderson.Paak – “Come Down”
It’s just a damned delight to live in a world that has Anderson.Paak making music in it. Malibu came with high expectations, and it lived up to basically every single one of them. Half the record could have been here, but I went with “Come Down” because even in a something-for-everyone environment like his debut full-length album, this song is a whipcrack of high-energy R&B. Which everyone could use, really.

The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra” (f Danny Brown & MF Doom)
It is possible to forget how much you like a band when they take fifteen years off. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, but in the case of The Avalanches, it did – I don’t think I’d thought of htem much in the years running up to this summer’s deluge of new material, but I’ll be damned if “Frankie Sinatra” didn’t bring all the reasons to love them back. Plus it’s got Danny Brown on it (see below!)

Yasiin Bey – “Dec 99th – Tall Sleeves”
I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure if the “Dec 99th” is technically a part of the name of the song or not, given that there are a couple of other loosies with that in their name. Yasiin Bey continues to be confounding, and to make weird, quiet, left-field rap music1 that seems as unsettling as it is unsettled.

1 I don’t know what a tall sleeve is, guys

Beyonce – “Formation”
Sooo…Lemonade, huh? A cultural event, a massive release, and a deeply personal, idiosyncratic record about identity and decisions and relationships and stuff. Nathan Rabin wrote that the theme of Beyonce’s music could be reduced to “I’m awesome. Fuck you,” and for the first fifteen years of her career that was an inclusive, “us, not them” sort of awesomeness, and the “you” being fucked was a nonspecific, nonlistening “you.” Lemonade is not necessarily inclusive – it’s a record about Beyonce’s experience as Beyonce, a black woman from Texas who is also in a marriage and has a family and stuff. As such, it works better than any album she’s made so far – narrowing the scope seems to also have upped the intensity, especially in the record’s barnburning first half. “Formation” comes at the very end of the record, after the disappointment and potential reconciliation have come up, and is the most old-style Beyonce song on the record – it was the advance single, and the Super Bowl performance got a great deal of attention – and, as such, is probably the most effective. It also contains the greatest narrative reveal of 2016 – “Formation” was the advance single, and then, several months later, we find out that Hot Sauce is a baseball bat. M. Night Shyamalan wishes he was that good.

Black Milk & Nat Turner – “The Knock”
Black Milk records are always a treat, but a Black Milk record made with the incredible Nat Turner (who were his live band on his last tour), is a double-treat. The Rebellion Sessions is a quickly-recorded (like, the whole thing was made in a week), surprisingly-minimalist record, with Milk performing the same role on the loose, dancey jazz/funk that he does on his other records, bringing the whole thing together, composing, acting as producer (in the traditional sense) and MC (in the traditional sense). It’s a stunning set of songs, but I especially like the brief, sketchy “The Knock,” which seems to imply a whole other set of songs as it floats by.

The Body – “Hallow/Hollow”
No One Deserves Happiness is something of a step back for Earth’s greatest art-metal band – there aren’t any outside collaborators (which have marked their last couple of records), it’s not a split record. The two of them just make all sorts of ungodly noise while (unofficial third member) Chrissy Wolpert provides melodies and, occasionally, big bursts of vocals courtesy her voice arrangements. The result keeps the expansiveness of Christs, Redeemers and I Shall Die Here, but also strips back to the directness of All the Waters of Earth Turn to Blood, while forging forward by incorporating more inhuman sounds and straight-up noise elements. It still sounds like The Body, however, which is probably the best possible thing I could say for it.

Danny Brown – “When it Rain”
Making his second appearance here2, Danny Brown’s surprise single is everything you could want out of a new Danny Brown single – it’s loud, it bangs, it’s weird as hell, it was accompanied by an absolutely bananas video. It’s possible that Danny Brown is the best rapper currently going. It’s almost certain that he’s the most interesting.

2 and “When it Rain” is an advance single for an album due out later this year, so he’ll probably also be on the year-end list, if past performance is any indication.

Chance the Rapper – “No Problem” (f 2Chainz & Lil Wayne)
Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book is a gospel-rap album on which the line seems to be mostly about joy and exultation. I can hear the exultation, but the joy itself seems to be missing from my copy. That creates an interesting sort of tension between the content – uplifting gospel-rap of the highest order – and the actual performances, which seem like they’re the wrong kind of manic, all high, jittery energy and gulping for breath. Anyway, “No Problem” is a threat, rather than a celebration, and it manages to get a good verse out of 2Chainz (which is cool) and Lil Wayne (which is increasingly rare), and so is impressive enough for that.

Chimurenga Renaissance – “Girlz With Gunz”
Eclipsing the byline as a Shabazz Palaces side project, Chimurenga Renaissance made a groove-heavy, drum-intensive record that manages to sound urgent and laid back at the same time, and that has a pretty powerful earworm of a chorus.

clipping. – “Wriggle”
I suppose it comes as some reward, as someone who wrote about the shared thematic ground between’s clipping.’s early horrorcore and power electronics, to hear a song built a sample of power electronics innovators (and generally-unmatched titans) Whitehouse, but I’m too busy enjoying how much it bangs to make any such connection.

The Comet is Coming – “Journey Through the Asteroid Belt”
There’s a lot of mystery-cultivation in The Comet is Coming’s music – pseudonyms, claiming that one of the members3 just sort of wandered into the band, that sort of thing – as well as a lot of high-concept talk about myth and cultural reification, much of which is pretty interesting. But none of it would be nearly as interesting without the music being as good as it is. This is a spacy groove record that lives up to its promise to let you sink into the music and rise up into the cosmos.

3 a guy who’s working triple time as the saxophone player in the great Sons of Kemet, as well as in Melt Yourself Down

Death Grips – “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”
It’s always a bit of a wonder to hear the amount of ground Death Grips can cover within what seems to be a pretty narrow range of sounds. Bottomless Pit is a study in relentlessness, with each song coming on hard, and not letting up until it’s done. The song that goes down easiest, in fact, is the leadoff track, “Giving Bad People Good Ideas,” which may be why the song also sticks around the most effectively.

Dutch – “MNNSLTR”
Dutch came out of seemingly nowhere4, and “MNNSLTR” represents, as far as I can tell, 50% of his total output. But what an output it is – Dutch arrived swinging big, and “MNNSLTR” is a huge, schizophrenic blast of hot, angry music. Here’s hoping we hear a bunch more from him.

4 well, Toronto, but metaphorically out of nowhere

Open Mike Eagle – “Drunk Dreaming”
Continuing one of the lowest-key hot streaks presently going in music, Hella Personal Film Festival is another homerun from the former Hellfyre Clubber (RIP), especially when you consider it only came a few months after the incredible Cavanaugh record he made with Serengeti. At this point, “consistent” really isn’t even a strong enough word.

Fire! – “She Owned His Voice”
Stepping away from the Fire! Orchestra, then deciding to step even further back than their initial albums as a three-piece, Fire! Made a record that was more mysterious, and more spare, than their earlier (more rock-loriented) pre-Orchestra records. It’s still a record led by Mats Gustafsson, and it still manages to be very loud and very propulsive, but it comes from some unexpected directions, and leads to some unexpected places.

Flatbush ZOMBIES – “Glorious Thugs”
I continue to ride for the Beast Coast just about every time I write one of these things. This should come as no surprise. I have probably mentioned before, however, that it’s a scene I enjoy pretty thoroughly, and yet never find myself with much to say about it. “Glorious Thugs” is a good song. Maybe I’ll think of something by the time I get to the Underachievers song at the bottom.

Robbie Fulks – “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Girls”
Upland Stories is Robbie Fulks’ strongest album in years, and is full of high-quality Robbie Fulks songs, which means you probably know what to expect. “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Girls” manages to find the balance of sad and funny that forms the space where most of the great RF songs dwell, in addition to one of his sweetest-ever melodies.

Gotobeds – “Real Maths/Too Much”
The only real problem with the Gotobeds is that they spend too much time not rocking. They should spend all of their time rocking, and then all of their songs would be as good as “Real Maths/Too Much” and I would be much happier with their records. That is all.

Steve Gunn – “Park Bench Smile”
I mean, I suppose I understand the impulse to say “why don’t I stop being a country weirdo and start being, like, artsy Kurt Vile?” It seems like it might be easier on the bank account, at least. Anyway, Eyes on the Lines isn’t a bad record, and when the parts align, like they do on “Park Bench Smile,” it makes his move toward making Extremely Likable Music make all the sense in the world.

Tim Hecker – “Music of the Air”
Tim Hecker continues to tweak his sound in hugely rewarding ways. On Love Streams he ups the humanity (the record basically lives up to its title, even, which is surprising enough) and opens up his sound. The result takes a little bit longer to sink in than the propulsive, intense Virgins, but ultimately insinuates itself even harder into the eardrums. Parts of this record pop up in the strangest places while I’m going about my business, and “Music of the Air” is the song that most often appears in my thoughts.

Horse Lords – “Bending to the Lash”
It looks like it’s been another great half-year for sax. On Interventions, the first Horse Lords record I’ve paid serious attention to (I’ve heard another one and a couplel of their mixtapes), they figure out how to focus their weird, off-kilter drones in a way that highlights the changes when they finally do happen, and, frankly, while that sax players does some really incredible stuff.

The I Don’t Cares – “Hands Together”
It is somewhat surprising how good The I Don’t Cares record is. Lead single “King of America” is a standard-issue Paul Westerberg lead single, but buried in there are some genuine, actual great songs. The story goes that Westerberg had his bandmate, Juliana Hatfield, cull through some songs he had written and not used yet, and choose the best of them (along with what may be a ringer, or perhaps a special request, in the form of “Born for Me”, which previously appeared back on Suicaine Gratifaction), and they made the record together. “Hands Together” is probably the least-surprising track – it’s a Westerberg Weeper, one of which has appeared on every album he’s written songs for since Stink – and, as such, is probably the best. Paul Westerberg albums, more than anyone else’s, are not really about novelty or discomfort, but rather about familiartiy, and seeing the same things in new ways. It’s always a pleasure to have more of his songs in the world.

The Julie Ruin – “I Decide”
The Julie Ruin roared back to life again this year (the new album is forthcoming!), which was great, since their last record, Run Fast, was a truly fantastic record. So far the advance singles from the next one have been up to par, with the tense, slow-burning “I Decide” possibly even setting a new benchmark.

Vic Mensa – “16 Shots”
There are so many great rap records coming out of Chicago, but Vic Mensa’s There’s A Lot Going On might be the best of them. Highlight “16 Shots” is a tightly-wound ball of intensity that somehow manages not to let off all of it steam in the shoutalong chorus, leaving you even more tense than you were going in in the end.

Anna Meredith – “The Nautilus”
I am, I confess, somewhat guilty of not putting a lot of “fun” music on these lists. This is, in my defense, because I don’t listen to very much “fun” music. Anna Meredith’s music is a blast. The best of it (represented here by “The Nautilus”) sounds like crazy-ass circus music. Even the worst of it just sounds like slightly-less-crazy circus music. But the good kind of circus music. Like, really loud circus music that’s also made of really cool electronic sounds. That kind of circus music.

Merzbow, Keiji Haino & Balazs Pandi – “How Different the Instructions of the Left From the Instructions of the Right (Part III)”
This is from another top-flight collaboration between Merzbow and drummer Balazs Pandi, this time with Keiji Haino picking up guitar duties (always a welcome addition). “How Different the Instructions of the Left from the Instructions of the Right” is the weaker of the two pieces on An Untroublesome Defencelessness, but the third part (featured here) is the strongest, most easy-to-grasp piece of music on the record.

Mogwai – “Tzar”
As Mogwai continues to develop into a synthier, rockier type band, they’ve begun to find their new footing, and strike out to make more interesting music once again. They’ve also recently undergone a major lineup change, which seems to have further altered the things they rely upon for their sound, meaning they’ve made better use of the newer, less “classic” Mogwai elements. Atomic is a pretty strong album, as best exemplified by “Tzar”.

Bob Mould – “Black Confetti”
There are no bad Bob Mould albums. There are enough great Bob Mould songs to fill a warehouse5. “Black Confetti” is a great Bob Mould song. There is very little else to say here.

5 although, it must be said, there weren’t really enough to fill Warehouse. Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

Nothing – “Vertigo Flowers”
I often wonder what someone would conjure up, sonically, if asked to describe what they think Nothing sounded like, given only song and album titles (the album titles are Guilty of Everything and Tired of Tomorrow). Would it be “the catchier, summerier end of shoegaze”? I have no idea, but that’s what they continue to give us. I’m told the lyrics are as bleak as the titles would have you believe, but I’m unlikely to start listening to lyrics now, so I’ll have to take the word of others on that count.

Oddisee – “Long Way Home”
The best parts of Oddisee records are the beats, and so a collection of Oddisee instrumentals is probably my favorte Oddisee release yet. “Long Way Home” is, as one might guess, a loping, take-it-easy piece with a weird Shyamalan twist at the end, which keeps one on one’s toes, at least.

Cecil Otter – “Cross Countries”
Someday we might get a full-length Cecil Otter record6. “Cross Countries” was released out of nowhere, and found itself the leadoff track on Dear Echo, Otter’s first solo EP. It’s a brief, jam-packed minor masterpiece of an EP. Cecil Otter continues to be my favorite member of Doomtree (see below) – if making music is the price that we pay for such high-caliber work, then it’s worth paying.

6 he keeps telling us we will, anyway. I mean, I’d like to believe him, even.

P.O.S. – “sleepdrone/superposition”
My second-favorite member of Doomtree was nearly killed by his own kidneys a couple of years ago. His return to making music has been somewhat slow (this is completely understandable. I mean, kidneys are pretty serious things), but has so far been enormously fruitful7. And, really, this is an eleven minute track that covers P.O.S.’s challenges both physical and mental, where he’s joined by fellow survivor Kathleen Hanna (see above), fellow Minnesotans Lizzo, Allan Kingdom and Astronautlius, and his own son, Hard R, and even with all of that, it seems like it could easily go on for two to three times its eight minute length.

7 there’s been another P.O.S. single and a Doomtree loosie since then

Pity Sex – “What Might Soothe You”
I am powerless before shoegazey power pop. You guys know this about me. I can’t help myself. This has the added catnip of sounding like it was poorly recorded inside of a shoe. I just can’t stay away from that.

Rangda – “To Melt the Moon”
The dude from Six Organs of Admittance and Sir Richard Bishop (and a drummer) get together to make weirdo pan-global folk music that also sounds like rock music. “To Melt the Moon” is as immediate as anything else I heard this year, and features some really fantastic playing.

RLYR – “Slipstream Summer”
Sometimes a group assembled of the members of other groups is recombinant in a way that divorces them from their other work. Sometimes it isn’t. RLYR is exactly the kind of crescendo-worshipping riff-directed heavy stuff that you’d think would result from combiniIng people who have been in Pelican, Locrian and Russian Circles. But when the result works this well, why try to be surprising?

Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – “Quit Being Dicks”
I’m very much glad that Rob Crow’s retirement didn’t stick. About as surprising as the RLYR song listed above, “Quite Being Dicks” is, nonetheless, a great, jumpy Rob Crow song, in the long tradition of other great, jumpy Rob Crow songs, which, y’know, you should probably become familiar with if you aren’t already.

Savages – “Adore”
This is (happily) a continuation in the consistency sweepstakes – more highly physical new wave revivalism, this time strapped to a huge, anthemic, blowout chorus. It sure makes a pretty compelling argument for adoring life.

Signor Benedick the Moor – “Maiden Voyage”
Deathbomb Arc’s youngest affiliate, SBtM manages just about every year to release something that leaves me gasping in awe. This year it’s the suitably voyage-ish eleven minute tiny epic “Maiden Voyage,”8 which covers an enormous amount of ground, and contains more ideas than a bunch of full-length albums I ended up hearing this half-year.

8 although really, it also could have been 1200am, released as the b-side and featuring the aforementioned Daveed Diggs

Sturgill Simpson – “Call to Arms”
This is not everyone’s opinion, but I liked A Sailor’s Guide to Earth more than Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – the country elements on A Sailor’s Guide to Earth seem a little more lived-in, and seem to come up a little more naturally than they did on Metamodern. “Call to Arms” is more of a band cut than usual (his band is, generally, more present on Sailor’s, which is probably also part of what I like so much about it), and includes a generous spoonful of rockin’, a thing at which Sturgill Simpson is quite good, but doesn’t always do.

Swans – “Finally, Peace”
The last song on the last disc of the last album of the current incarnation of Swans was always going to have a certain weight, in the same way that every sort of planned-exit last song does. In this case, after an album with somewhat less thunder than usual (insofar as Swans albums can ever be truly devoid of thunder, anyway), “Finally, Peace” lives more-or-less up to its name, ending the record in a very Angels of Light-esque swoon, albeit one that still sounds like it was played with a hammer.

Teen Suicide – “It’s Just a Pop Song”
So, Sam Ray also makes music as Ricky Eat Acid and as a member (or whatever – their website specifically claims they don’t have any members but SOMEBODY IS MAKING THE MUSIC GODDAMMIT) of Julia Brown, and so he obviously needed to revive the band name that’s 1) pretty uncomfortable and 2) much harder to google. I mean, I’m not saying these things are important to Sam Ray, and obviously he has his reasons. And, actually, Julia Brown and Ricky Eat Acid are more similar to each other than either act is to Teen Suicide, which has a nice sort of upbeat Sebadoh-ish quality that I think is just swell. I guess they’re going to keep making music together under a different name, which also goes a long way toward my initial statement in this paragraph.

Thermals – “Hey You”
Man, if only every band could apparently need a return-to-form after an album as good as Desperate Ground and then actually return to form. I mean, Desperate Ground wasn’t the best or anything, but there wasn’t much wrong with it. We Disappear, on the other hand, is goddamn fantastic, and “Hey You”, especially, is the kind of shout-along candy that one hopes to get out of a Thermals record.

Tortoise – “Shake Hands With Danger”
The Catastrophist is way out of left field for a Tortoise album, largely because it sounds exactly like a Tortoise album, but also very much like Tortoise trying to make straightforward pop music, or at least extremely likable music (I mean, the dude from U.S. Maple sings a cover of “Rock On”). It’s a fasinating listen, mostly because it’s neither fish nor fowl: Tortoise restrain themselves, and instead pour their bursts of inspiration and free playing into shorter, more contained outlets within the pieces themselves, but it never quite coalesces as a record where you’d expect to hear Georgia Hubley sing (a thing that happens somewhat after the U.S. Maple guy). Much was made of this being the Tortoise record with vocals on it, but really, that’s only the surface trick. The reality is that this whole thing seems more formal than their other records. I’m fairly certain that, in five or so years, my opinion on this record will have coagulated into either “this was a failed experiment” or “this was a brilliant attempt at brevity and highlighting the importance of The Moment in performance,” but right now I kind of can’t decide. There’s a handful of songs, though, that I’m going to stick with, and “Shake Hands With Danger” is foremost among them.

Twin Peaks – “Butterfly”
It’s probably the case that Twin Peaks are going to spend a bunch of albums being a band that has a couple of really great corkers per record, with the rest of the album sort of there to prop them up. It is probably also going to be the case that none of these will top “Making Breakfast” on the all-time list. “Butterfly” comes pretty close. “Walk to the One You Love” a little less close. It’s all worthwhile.

Underachievers – “Play That Way”
Every six months I sit here and try to think of something that I have to say about Underachivers (seriously, they make like every single one of these writeups), and every six months I come up somewhat short. I suppose that’s not hard to believe – It Happened in Flatbush was pretty good, but it’s also the case that Underachievers don’t change much from record to record, and while occasionally there are stretches of white-hot rapping that pull the whole thing together (of which “Play That Way” is one), there arent’ as many as there have been on past Underachievers releases. Maybe AK stepping out on his own a bit will shake the juices up and give us something a little newer. But even if it doesn’t, if they can manage a handful of songs as good as “Play That Way” every year, I’ll still ride for them.

Chester Watson – “Deserts”
Chester Watson is becoming more prolific over time, with his songs not so much an outward flow as a diaspora – no sooner is one project made available than it’ll be time for Watson to pivot and come up with something like the wandering, mysterious “Deserts”. There have already been a couple of great Watson releases this year, but “Deserts” is the most exciting, taking his minimal approach and slowing it way down, making even the lyrics an impenetrable fog.

Kanye West – “No More Parties in L.A.” (f Kendrick Lamar)
There’s almost too much to try to touch on when one tries to talk about The Life of Pablo. Kanye’s attempt, and inability, to keep it on one platform, to fuck with it endlessly, seemingly to not even release the damn thing at all. That said, it’s picked up some momentum, at least for me, over time, and parts of it are hugely engrossing in all of their smeary, messy glory. “No More Parties in LA” has that Kendrick verse, of course, and that’s genuinely some of the best rapping of the year, and certainly on the record. But it’s really Kanye’s completely bugfuck close-out verses that keep the song in rotation – every time I think I’ve got a handle on whatever it is he’s doing there, I turn out to be wrong. It keeps surprising not because it reveals new things, but because it remains, every single time, itself.

Wussy – “Donny’s Death Scene”
I often wish that term “psychedelic” hadn’t been abused to death. Wussy aren’t quite shoegaze folk, but they’re kind of like that. My early experiences with them always made me feel (largely through context) like they were more of a country band than they really are. Whatever it is they’re doing in the realm of layered, dreamy rock music, it’s been pretty incredible for the last couple of records, and “Donny’s Death Scene” is a towering ballad. So in short, it’s like that stuff. All that stuff I typed right there.

Xiu Xiu – “Into the Night”
You know, I generally don’t care much about Record Store Day, for most of the reasons a lot of (although by no means all)  serious music people don’t9, but Xiu Xiu has really killed it these last couple of years (see also: Bardo Pond). This year was an album of covers of Angelo Badalamenti’s songs from Twin Peaks, for no discernible reason other than Jamie Stewart wanted to, as far as I can tell. There’s a bunch of noise-tinged freaking out, but one of the things that sticks the most is “Into the Night,” a song that’s as regularly-structured as can be, and that anchors the record in being so.

9 to wit: it was a pretty cool idea that kind of got turned into a long marketing exercise, and is now dominated by major-label forced-scarcity “event” records that rather ruin the whole idea.

Zelooperz – “ISBD”
Zelooperz is one of Detroit’s own, a member of Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade, and he shoudl be dead. He should be dead. He should be dead. He should be dead.

Honorable Mentions: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas’ “The Wreck of SS Needle” is a good song, and, actually, is longer and contains more distinct musical ideas than some EPs I’ve bought this year, but stumbles a bit in the middle (part of the problem here is that I’m lukewarm on Cult of Luna, and quite like Julie Christmas). Jordan Raf is probably the best of the fake Weeknds, and his “Hollywood” is a pretty great downer ballad, with a fantastic verse by Chester Watson, who, as mentioned, filled the last six months with fantastic verses. Explosions in the Sky didn’t do anything wrong with “Disintegration Anxiety”, but they did exactly what they always do, and, as always with Explosions in the Sky, the album is much better than any individual track.  Purling Hiss continue to be an enjoyable player in the game of power pop with “Fumble Tumble”. Saul Williams’ albums are always an event, and MartyrLoserKing is no exception. His “All Coltrane Solos at Once” is a high point, barely missing approbation in the list proper. Yndi Halda’s “Together Those Leaves” makes it seem like the best idea in the world to pretend to be Mono, Joey Purp’s “Photobooth” has a phenomenal beat, but the beat is kind of leading Joey Purp, rather than the other way around. Doomtree’s “Spill Me Up” is certainly a good song, but isn’t up to the level of the solo Cecil Otter (who contributes a spirited but baffling verse to this one) or P.O.S. tracks. A$AP Ferg’s “New Level” is a joy to hear on the radio, and pretty much anything Future touches is better for it these days, but I’m not sure how much I’m into it outside of that context, necessarily.


The Best Albums of July 2016

1. Swans – The Glowing Man (the final album of this incarnation of Swans, whatever that may end up meaning, very much sounds like the final album of this incarnation of Swans, and manages to bring some form of closure)

2, clipping. – Wriggle (the title song has an absolutely genius Whitehouse sample. The leadoff song has a rhythm track created of the members of clipping. firing guns. It was released 48 hours after Daveed Diggs won a Tony award for Hamilton. Signor Benedick the Moor is on it.)

3. Sumac – What One Becomes (Sumac’s second record is slower, heavier, and more generally Sumac-ish, while also not sounding much like Isis, or Old Man Gloom, or any other Aaron Turner band really. It’s a pretty impressive bit of business.)

4. Merzbow, Keiji Haino & Balazs Pandi – Untroublesome Defencelessness (Another month, another top-flight Merzbow collaboration, another happy notice around these parts)

5. Vic Mensa – There’s Alot Going On (Title [sic]. Please forgive him. The record is much better than its title)