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Pazz and Jop Crib Notes: The State of Pop Music Made Easy

Albums poll winners Animal Collective.

Long before the Internet even existed, the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop music poll opened its pages to hundreds of critics across the country, tallying their votes, publishing their fragmentary comments, and assigning them extravagantly think-y essays about the state of music. Since this year’s package was published last night, we have, with some success, been trying to digest it. But we can no longer hold back from regurgitating the juiciest bits.

Sean Fennessey, addressing the state of rap (via Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” the poll’s No. 1 single), notes with resignation that:


[W]ith the perennial P&J favorite [Kanye West] absent on the album front, not one rap record made the 2009 Pazz & Jop Top 10 list for the first time in 15 years. Oh, wait, that's not right. It's just that an album from 1995 slid in there somehow. Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx ... Pt. II clocks in at #8, a nostalgic — regressive, in fact — choice that valued sonic efficiency and storytelling detail, if not innovation.

But later adds:


If anything, rap is more alive than ever, atomizing with aplomb, from the Black Eyed Peas' shameless but irrefutably glorious disco-house futurist anthem "I Gotta Feeling" to Jay Electronica's arresting Nas update "Exhibit C" and all the way down to Das Racist's hilarious and faithful shot across the bow, "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell." Satire = love. Prankster, pundit, or proletariat, rap lives because it exists everywhere, in all forms.

But a certain label proves key to two of the package’s best essays. Animal Collective won Pazz and Jop’s albums poll — on the same day, interestingly, that Vampire Weekend made it to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart — and looking over the “most whimsically insular prissy-pants indie-rock-centric top ten albums list in Pazz & Jop history,” Chuck Eddy wonders if there’s “too much consensus” among post-Pitchfork critics. (Full disclosure: Eddy invokes Kevin McFrench, a fictional rock critic we invented in 2001 as an exemplar of what Eddy affectionately calls the “the corniest, rootsiest, stodgiest, most clichéd and clueless white-bread biz-sucking middle-aged middlebrow Midwestern Springsteen-to-Wilco do-gooder dad-rock critical tastes you ever saw.”)

And like all musicians, Das Racist also hate labels (in their case, “joke-rap”). Maura Johnson looks at this age-old dilemma through the prism of a year in which iTunes designations seemed more irrelevant than ever, Solange Knowles introduced Beyoncé and Jay-Z to Grizzly Bear, and Grizzly Bear ... complained about giving music labels.

But a certain label proves key to two of the package’s best essays. Animal Collective won Pazz and Jop’s albums poll — on the same day, interestingly, that Vampire Weekend made it to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart — and looking over the “most whimsically insular prissy-pants indie-rock-centric top ten albums list in Pazz & Jop history,” Chuck Eddy wonders if there’s “too much consensus” among post-Pitchfork critics. (Full disclosure: Eddy invokes Kevin McFrench, a fictional rock critic we invented in 2001 as an exemplar of what Eddy affectionately calls the “the corniest, rootsiest, stodgiest, most clichéd and clueless white-bread biz-sucking middle-aged middlebrow Midwestern Springsteen-to-Wilco do-gooder dad-rock critical tastes you ever saw.”)

And then, pondering the disconnect between The-Dream’s success and his lack of recognition in P&J, Mikael Wood observes the following:


Love vs. Money received the most points of any album per ballot "by a wide margin," according to the Voice's statistics guru. Those who liked it really liked it; those who voted for it really voted for it. In other words, r&b devotees grasped the significance of what the dude has done, even if "Trapped in the Closet" tourists didn't ...

No disrespect to the xx, whose sleek goth-groove debut finished seven spots ahead of Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night, but is our need for baby-making music really now being met by a group of sickly looking Brits?

Finally, Wood asks: “A Prada-wearing papa whose carnal understanding exceeds his demand for mathematical precision? How could so many of you resist this guy?”

But they couldn’t, of course, resist Animal Collective. Comparing Merriweather Post Pavilion with Where the Wild Things Are, Mike Powell tries to explain the appeal of the album, then hilariously lands on an anecdote in which his mother enjoys seeing the movie with him, then says, when he puts the album on the car stereo, “Sorry, I can't ... This music just gives me a headache.”

And there’s more: the excellent Zach Baron on MJ (“As always, Michael Jackson was at the vanguard, providing the ur-death that gave a grim year its unifying theme”); Rich Juzwiak on Lady Gaga (worth reading so you can understand this line: “You barely need to listen at all: She's like a self-cleaning oven who'll eat the food and then burp for you”); and Clover Hope trying to connect Gaga, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Taylor Swift (something about them being bad girls — really bad girls). Finally, Voice music editor Rob Harvilla — having indulged his writers as they deserve, at least once a year, to be indulged — offers a wonderful palate cleanser: a cogent, uncomplicated, and inspiring ode to Phoenix, “the only band on Earth capable of selling Cadillacs to mortified Americans on the cusp of another Great Depression.” Try to put a label on that.

Photo: Getty Images