Obviously, at year’s end the opinion-based media puts out best of/worst of collections to (again, obviously) serve as “year-in-review” without going month-by-month, the same way that respected publications don’t review albums track-by-track, instead covering the highlights of the “grand scheme” of the album, then investigating the highlights of particular tracks. Pitchfork Media, which is one of the leading internet-based music sites is known for their devotion to “indie” music, though they do review non-indie music, specifically higher profile hip-hop/rap albums. To get a feel for their editorial slant, the best comparison is that the way that Spin seems “indier” than Rolling Stone, Pitchfork Media is just as “indier” to Spin. In fact, Pitch Fork Media sometimes makes even Spin seem like Tiger Beat (to keep the magazine theme going). To get an impression of Pitchfork’s expecations, Weezer’s most recent album, was given a 0.4 out of 10. Weezer never really spent much time as an “indie” band, as “The Sweater Song” and “Say it Ain’t So” were rather successful singles from their debut album, but their other albums have been reviewed in less than a favorable light, and needless to say 0.4 out of 10 is the type of review you’d give to a band that has carnal knowledge of one’s mother, especially considering how much other music came out in 2005 that they didn’t even bother to review. For those of you concerned about bias showing up in my review, don’t fret; I didn’t like the most recent Weezer album either, but it wasn’t 0.4 out of 10 bad, more like 5.5 or 6. Keeping in mind that if I were to give them a 0.4, I can’t imagine to what degree my personal reviewing index would be messed up if I had to somehow figure out what I’d give a Scott Stapp CD. With such strong opinions, they’ve developed some “haters.” Tuning Fork is a blog which (supposedly) reviews Pitch Fork’s reviews, and Sub Pop made a parody site entitled Popdork News. Enough about Pitch Fork Media. They gathered lists of the top 50 albums and singles of the year, and I’m going to review their top picks.
First and foremost, this review will be of both the top picks together. That way, it’s a bit more than just reviewing the top album and single, it also leaves room for nitpicking of the pitchfork folks, though honestly, I’ll focus on the music, as the musically pretentious are usually critic-proof, if not critics themselves.
As the top album selected, Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois is quite the challenging pick, if only because The White Stripes released an album in 2005 and music critics love The White Stripes. In full disclosure, I had previously heard two songs from from the record on the radio, but I didn’t actually realize they were from this record, so I was pleasantly surprised that once I tracked down the album, I could finally place the songs that had wondered about months prior. Well, the album itself is quite a collection. Mr. Stevens apparently has designs to make an album about each of the 50 states, but he’s in his 20’s and only has Michigan and Illinois to show for it in three years. That doesn’t change the quality of the music, but unless he ramps up his output, he’s going to be one of the busiest 140 year-olds I’ll have heard of.
The album which, as the title suggests, involves the state of Abraham Lincoln and covers all sorts of Illinois-centered topics, including such random topics as Casimir Pulaski Day. I’m not reading between the lines: track 10 is titled “Casimir Pulaski Day.” In terms of whether or not the album meets the stringent requirements of Pitchfork Media? Let’s investigate.
- singer-songwriter vibe? — check
- bizarre instrumentation? —check
- simultaneously straight-forward and “deep” lyrics? — check
- a bit off-putting on the first listen-thru? — check
Moving away from those categories, in all seriousness, it’s a particularly solid album. Most every song is memorable, and none sound alike yet aren’t out of place. The highlights, Track 1: “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland Illinois,” Track 3: “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!,” and Track 9: “Chicago.” Whether or not it’s fair to be called “The Best Album of 2005” is not something I’m prepared to answer. Music critics live ina weird world where they seemingly are only interested in current music. Reviews aren’t released for albums that came out months ago and were missed; that’d show that the critics weren’t on top of things, and they lose “indie rock cred.” Needless to say, they listen to a lot of music in a calendar year, so being that I probably haven’t heard much of it, I’ll reserve judgement. Being that I’m not a music critic and have the luxury of seemingly have “older” music be my “new” music, I’ll say that “Give Up” by The Postal Service was probably my favorite album new to me in in 2005, though it came out in 2003. All of that in mind, I’d consider “Illinois” to potentially be a fair pick for 2005 once I have enough hindsight working for me.
Pitchfork’s top single was a bit less agreeable to me. They picked “Hope There’s Someone” by Antony and the Johnsons. Nothing like (what I assume to be) a big sweaty white guy plaintively singing love songs like a big sweaty black woman. I’ll mention that his schtick is of the variety that “those that get it love it, and those that don’t get it never will.” Oh, I get it, and it stinks. People that can’t stand sardines aren’t “not getting it;” they’re just more sensitive to crap. To be fair, I’m talking only of the single, “Hope There’s Someone,” I’m not sure of the whole of the album, but Pitchfork didn’t pick it as its #1. The song itself…well, I’ll let the opening lyrics speak for its “message”…
Hope there’s someone
Who’ll take care of me
When I die, will I go
Hope there’s someone
Who’ll set my heart free
Nice to hold when I’m tired
Now, let it be said that there’s nothing wrong with those words, in fact, if I didn’t have to keep up my tough-guy persona, I’d even call them “nice.” But, are they, as a Pitchfork writer called them part of a “quiet, unself-conscious elegy for that long-lost bohemia, which was eventually decimated by AIDS, drugs, gentrification, and, perhaps, its own success” No thank you.
Musically, you’d like listening to Antony‘s singing if you’re intrigued by someone singing just like Aaron Neville, but in the Alto range instead of the Soprano. Strike One. You say you also liked to listen to that guy in highschool who’d sit and the piano with the knowledge of three chords and that banging the keys makes everything more dramatic. Strike Two. Being that this is Canadian Baseball, the song’s out.
Pitchfork Media’s Top Album and Top Single of 2005 receives three stars due to their insistence on keeping up their “indie rock cred” no matter what the cost. Of course, their top 10 singles were all over the place in terms of the whole indie rock thing (though “Since You Been Gone” does deserve a place on the list), but there’s nothing wrong with expanding horizons, at least temporarily. The top album was a great choice, but their top single fits the stereotypes just too well.