Facebook’s Village Voice Pazz and Jop Rip Off Poll 2020, Reviewed
Iman Lababedi and I recently participated in the 2020 Facebook “Village Voice Pazz and Job Rip-Off Poll” administered by music biz veteran Glenn Boothe. There were a total of 434 participating voters with over 1,500 albums (yikes!) receiving at least one mention. Here’s some quick thoughts about the Top Ten albums.
10. “Alphabetland,” X. When X debuted, they sounded frighteningly raw and angry. Now, they sound like an old school roots rock band. “Alphabetland” is an unexpected visit from an old friend – a completely solid record filled with fast paced rockers. Unexpected moment – Exene sounds like Debbie Harry fronting the Ramones on the title track. Thoroughly enjoyable (skip the last “song”), but nothing life changing. Grade – B+
9. “folklore, Taylor Swift. Having conquered country and pop music, Taylor turned folkie by dropping the genre in the album title, but continued to mine the landscape of marked like a bloodstain “sensual politics.” No matter the genre, Swift remains tied to the story telling narratives of country music and the observational lyric “The wedding was a charming, if a little gauche/There’s only so far new money goes” realigns the wit of Chuck Berry into modern day skepticism in the best possible way. If we’re lucky, love will remain eternally fatal for Swift. “folklore” was in my personal Top Ten (#2 in mine -IL). Grade – A
8. “Women in Music Pt. III,” HAIM. If you’re idea of a good time is updating Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell by tossing Vampire Weekend into the equation, then party on. Well produced aural Ambien from my perspective. Grade – B
7. “Untitled (Rise),” Sault. For the uninitiated, Sault are “a pseudonymous British music collective that make a mixture of rhythm and blues, house and disco. They frequently foreground black-centric issues.” (Wikipedia is my friend). “Rise” is beautifully produced dance music and the orchestral interludes have that undeniable juice of the ghost of disco’s past. For those of us that don’t live on the dancefloor, this album also is a reminder of the genre’s three biggest problems – repetition, repetition, and repetition. Still, maybe it’s time for us all to reevaluate the contributions of the Silver Convention. (Of “Fly Robin Fly” fame. From 1975. Damn, I’m old). Grade – B
6. “Untitled (Black Is),” Sault. Just like the last entry, but with harder beats. Grade – B+
5. “Punisher,” Phoebe Bridgers. “What should we release as the single? “ “How about the one where she doesn’t sound suicidal?” “’Kyoto’ it is!” Compared to this album, the concept of heroin withdrawal is the equivalent of winning a multi-million dollar lottery. Grade – C-
4. “Saint Cloud,” Waxahatchee. Kate Crutchfield moved away from indie rock guitar driven rock to a folk pop sound on “Saint Cloud,” not losing any of her skills in creating strong melodies in the process. The mood of the album? Where does one go when unconditional love still isn’t enough. Crutchfield sounds like she’s purging her soul, exorcising demons, but does so in such a matter of fact manner that you know she’s going to be fine. A sober, somber, yet resolute set of songs. Like “folklore,” “Saint Cloud” was in my personal Top Ten. Grade – A
3. “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Bob Dylan. Dylan sounds better vocally at 79 than we have any reason to expect and is correct when he states that he contains multitudes. Despite his advanced years, he’s not feeling rushed – over half of the songs on this album are six minutes or longer, often conveying a late night, bluesy vibe. There’s nothing great or horrible on this album and when a legend releases a solid LP, it gets overrated for appreciation of its (and the artist’s) existence. Grade – B
2. “RTJ4,” Run the Jewels. The attitude of “Nations of Millions” era Public Enemy updated with modern rap hooks. Forty minutes of channeled, wholly justifiable anger. Grade – B+
1. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Fiona Apple. This album was some kind of weird litmus test for 2020 – one critic apologized in the “Pazz and Jop” forum for not sufficiently liking the record, like having guilt for not recycling or donating blood. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is filled with lots of interesting noises, but there’s nothing that resembles a strong melody on the entire album. Fiona sounds like a less disciplined, distaff Tom Waits. Yay. Grade – C+
So, five albums I have rated B+ or higher, not bad since I’m an out of touch crank. Farewell, 2020. Don’t ever come back.