The AP's Year-End Album List Proves What We Already Knew: Rock Critics Are Assholes
Rocks Off has previously lamented the dearth of critically popular acts that truly rock many times. We just can't get over the fact that adding distortion to your guitar is a virtual guarantee you won't get scads of rock critics jizzing all over you with steamy loads of orgasmic praise (unless you're Jack White). What happened? How did we get to a point where rock critics don't like music that fucking rocks anymore? We could find only 15 reviews for Future of the Left's stellar album Travels With Myself and Another on Metacritic (although, to be fair, almost all the reviews are positive), but over twice that for Animal Collective's quiet, whimsical Merriweather Post Pavilion. It seems like everywhere we go, nobody has even heard of Future of the Left, while every douchebag with an Internet connection is tripping over themselves blogging about how awesome that Animal Collective album is. Oh, don't worry; we'll address said album at greater length a little later. No year-end list of 2009's greatest albums sums up the problem better than the Associated Press's litany of dismal, non-rock albums that their gaggle of junior-high girls masquerading as rock critics chose as this year's favorites. Oh, you were finished? Well, allow us to retort.
10. Regina Spektor, Far This is a good one to start out with, because it lets us make the point that just because something is quiet and of the non-rock variety doesn't mean we don't like it. Case in point: Regina Spektor. Most of the Rocks Off team adores her. The problem is, this isn't anywhere near her strongest album, and it in fact moves away from the riskier, stranger material that drew us to her in the first place, settling instead on chipper, less challenging pop fare. Which is fine, she's still pretty good at it. But it isn't rock.
9. Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi This is a fucking jazz album. Slow, bluesy jazz with a little bit of a Dixieland inflection, to be specific. They might as well have chosen the new Backstreet Boys album, for all the relation this has to rock and roll. Fine if that's your thing, but this list was supposed to be rock albums, you AP shitheels.
8. The Flaming Lips, Embryonic Here it is, kids - one of two albums on this list that even vaguely wants to rock out. It starts out well with the excellent, pounding single "Convinced of the Hex," then staggers off into more typical late-period Flaming Lips noodling for two songs before picking the pace back up on track 4, "Aquarius Sabotage." Despite their tendency in recent years to descend into prog-rock goofiness or outright adult contemporary for the offensively twee, this is actually a pretty strong album from the Lips, utilizing its quiet points and louder points to decent effect with only a few stumbles. Congrats, AP, on picking a non-embarrassing rock album for your Top Ten list.
7. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest Rocks Off only just now heard the term "glo-fi," and we're already sick to death of it. Must we? Must we invent a subgenre for absolutely every unique sound that pops up? Anyway, this album starts off well enough with the engaging "Southern Point" and the catchy "Two Weeks," but soon descends into self-indulgent, snoozy soft-rock with so little impact you may very well listen to the entire album and then find yourself wondering "Wait, did that album even have drums?" Yes, it does, but they're so far back in the mix they sound like a neighboring band's drumming accidentally leaked into Grizzly Bear's recording studio. Causing critics to raid their thesauruses (thesaures?) to find words like "textured" and "sonorous" to describe their ethereal, barely-there sound, the popularity of this album is further proof that entirely too many rock critics smoke entirely too much pot.
6. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul Oh, for Christ's sake. Leave it to a bunch of rock critics to heap praise upon an album that doesn't even fucking exist. In case you didn't know the back story: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse recorded a bunch of songs with an admittedly impressive slew of vocalists, including Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Vic Chesnutt and many others. Then, for once reason or another, they got into some kind of legal imbroglio with the record label, EMI, and were unable to release the actual album. What they did instead was release a blank CD-R in a case accompanied by a book of photographs taken by David Lynch, emblazoned with the advice "For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will." We always like it when artists give a big fat middle finger to the studio executives, so we were disappointed when the product (which you can find online, illegally) turned out to be so underwhelming. Containing only a few interesting songs, this album wound up way less engaging than we would have thought possible from so much talent. It's like almost everyone involved aimed for mediocrity and reached their goal exactly.
5. A.C. Newman, Get Guilty Along with The Flaming Lips album, this is the only other album on this list that doesn't make us fall asleep (or desperately wish to). The New Pornographers front man still retains some of his edge from that band, and even though his compositions can get a little slow and glo-fi-ish at times, it's never long before they swoop back into something more interesting. It's good to see a performer who still has the balls to be at least a little aggressive, and although this album is plenty "tuneful" and "melodic" (two buzzwords which rock critics are throwing around quite a lot these days), that very aggression undoubtedly kept him from placing higher here.
4. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love The Decemberists themselves know that they are only tangentially related to rock, preferring to call what they do "folk opera." That fact evidently has escaped the folks at the AP, who make this the third non-rock album on their "Best Rock Albums of the Year" list. Everybody see what's happening here yet?
3. Wilco, Wilco (The Album) Now, we'd like to start off by saying that this album is leagues better than 2007's criminally boring Sky Blue Sky, which was so quiet and slow, people are still waking up from the comas it induced. Nonetheless, a move backward into pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot AM-radio country-pop-rock territory could only be interesting for the first four songs or so, before it just sort of fades into background noise. Even worse was when we realized where we'd previously heard this kind of inoffensive, edgeless, laid-back California-style rock that's heavy on the harmonies and centers around the acoustic guitar, piano, and organ: Wilco has finally made a god damn Eagles album. Looking back over their last two albums, we really should have seen it coming.
2. Franco, Francophonic Vol. 2, 1980-1989 We don't get African music. We didn't get it when Ali Farka Toure's album Savane became the fifth-highest-rated album on Metacritic in 2006, and we don't get it now. Undoubtedly this is the result of some pretty significant cultural differences, which is fine; you listen to your thing, we'll listen to ours, we'll all be happy. But even we are exhausted by the fact that we must once again iterate that, right at the top of the article, it says that this is supposed to be a fucking list of fucking rock albums. Franco's forte on these albums is a heavily Latin-influenced series of salsas and rhumbas, which never come close to even a traditional rock beat, let alone something that would get a rocker's blood pumping. The AP's "Best Rock Albums of 2009" list is now nearly half non-rock, which is just embarrassing. Did no one even take a look at it before it went to print?
1. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion Well, here it is: the highest-rated studio album of the year, outdone only by live concert recordings from Nirvana and Leonard Cohen. Let's look at some of the superlatives thrown around in these many, many glowing reviews, shall we? "Rich and rewarding"; "orgasmic"; "dizzying"; "transportive", and, oh my, "effervescent." Gracious. However could Rocks Off deride such a complex and well-received album? We'll tell you how: because it can be summed up in four words. Ready? "Pet Sounds for hipsters." There you have it. It doesn't rock. It barely even moves. Sprinkled heavily with dreamy, glimmering effects and instrumentation, this album features nothing resembling an actual composition, instead lightly floating from one half-finished idea to the next. If a doomsday cult armed with enough synthesizers to make the 80's jealous dropping ecstasy and singing hymns to their blessed teddy-bear god is your idea of a rockin' time, then by all means, buy this album. Otherwise, stay the hell away from it, and just listen to Brian Wilson do absolutely everything on this album first and better.
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