The Cheap and Dishonest Redefinition of "Best New Music"
Thurston Moore released a really great solo album, Demolished Thoughts, this year, and Grayson Currin wrote a glowing review of it for Pitchfork. It was given an 8.1, but the Best New Music tag was withheld. The Mountain Goats released the excellent All Eternals Deck this year too, and it fared similarly: the review was a rave, the rating an 8.1, but it wasn't named Best New Music. Marissa Nadler? J. Mascis? Bill Callahan? Same story across the board—the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but Pitchfork as a whole, which has built its reputation (and its business model) on the act of constantly championing new acts, for some reason won't go to the mat for them in the one way that, sadly, really matters. This wouldn't be such a big deal if so many others didn't shamelessly take their cues directly from the site, ultimately leading us into an unpleasant scenario where we prize the new and theoretically exciting over established artists who are nonetheless still producing great work.
As indie rock further permeates mainstream culture, it's picking up some of the mainstream's nastiest habits, like doing everything in its power to keep career artists from having much of a career.
Post-everything, the Ultimate Importance of Taste
We’re at a point in the discourse now where any notion that certain sounds and genres are “cool,” “uncool,” or have any kind of intrinsic worth at all is hopelessly buried and blurred. Critics who’ve spent two years shitting on the soft-focus chillwave version of the early 80s had to admit that Destroyer managed to polish those tropes back towards perfection. In that context, don’t we also have to give Bon Iver’s Sting-channeling sonic khaki some extra-wide slack? No! It was deadly dull. Sleigh Bells' dance metal sounded fresh in 2010, JUSTICE’s sounded like shit in 2011. It’s time to stop getting caught up in the “haven’t heard this in a while” game that fuels Internet discussion, try to better focus on songwriting, talent, intent, and, above all, taste. Who didn't embarrass themselves? Who made it work? The old rules are dead, so it’s up to all of us to pay sharper attention.
We’d like to say that all this is purely positive, that preconceptions about what is and isn’t hip were just shackles holding everyone back, and there’s never been a better time to blaze your own idiosyncratic path as an artist. But we’re still just going to end up with eye-strains, rolling them so hard at what people try to pass off as cutting edge. So, it's a wash.
Hardcore's best year since the 80s?
With waves of political protest and general unrest cresting on every shore, 2011 was the perfect year for hardcore punk—loud, fast, righteously angry, unfailingly intense—to reenter the zeitgeist in a big way. Black Flag and Circle Jerks lifer Keith Morris toured the country with his new group OFF!, bringing young Sacramento vets Trash Talk (newly visible behind their critically lauded Awake EP) along for the riot. Though cross-pollinated with gother impulses, the blazing drums and bloody foreheads of Denmark’s Iceage were a vivid reminder that Europe isn't exactly a cuddly socialist bed of roses these days, either. But the year truly belonged to the most ambitious of this new breed, Fucked Up, who stretched to find room in hardcore’s growling intensity for expansive, theatrical musical flourishes at which an earlier generation might have spit a cracked tooth in disbelief.
While an explosion of angry energy was perhaps long overdue (remember all those think pieces about the anemic punk response to the Bush administration and the start of the Iraq War?) there are few things as one-note as reverent hardcore. Will thrash still sound apt if things get better? Will it run out of ideas as things get worse? Dunno. At the very least, Fucked Up’s popularity might encourage bands to find new influences and sonic combinations beyond fastest, loudest, maddest, crash!