Pazz & Jop 2011: Seth Colter Walls On Craig Taborn, Matana Roberts, And Voting From The Fringe

To supplement this year's Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. We'll start off the series with Seth Colter Walls of New York City, who has a constant itch to do the deep dive and find the single-voter albums out there. Find his ballot here.

Damn do I ever love voting in, and then reading, Pazz and Jop. All these serious music-listening people, expressing opinions, mostly with a high degree of sincerity: admit it, it's a nice break from the social media-enabled review cycle, in which a lot of people apparently feel obliged to sound off on topics about which they may only kinda sorta have an aesthetic stake. (Read: The Internet.)

Consumers (and/or voters) often look to the number ones, to talk about the consensus where it exists—me, I liked but did not love Merrill Garbus's poll-winning record, outside of the stunning tracks "Powa" and "Bizness"; I suspect her masterpiece as a composer may yet be written for forces larger than her multi-tracked self—but in times where a 10-vote album ballot feels ever more confining and statistically unrepresentative of broader listening habits, I'm always fascinated to look at the sheer number of lonely minority reports on this side of the poll.

Critics cited 1,734 different full-lengths this year; way more than half of those titles had only a single champion. Multiple votes for albums only start to occur with real consistency around poll position #341 (Gang of Four's Content). If you're a true Pazz freak you're gonna do the deep dive, and try to find something new in that glut of passions rebuffed (or ignored) by the hivemind. As in: wow, East River Pipe put out a record this year? I didn't know that. Same-ish thing goes for Brooklyn Rider and their disc of Philip Glass string quartets.

Naturally, I have a rooting interest on this front: three of my favorite albums of 2011 were specific to my ballot, while others had only precious few allies—and I'd like to think other people might give those fucking recordings a chance. Such solitude is par for the course, though, when you don't segregate your pop from your other genres. But y'all still need us, if for no other reason than that we can't really call it Pazz and Jop anymore unless a few people are willing to talk about (steel yourself) jazz.

I've been bothering people about Craig Taborn's Avenging Angel all year, and I was pleased to see the Times' Nate Chinen join six other balloters in encouraging non-jazzheads to check out the album's solo-piano brilliance. It had a surprising high placement at position #129—tied with Internet cause John Maus and nearly touching Björk. (Don't let the album's clean production and quiet intro tracks fool you; it gets pretty wild/wooly/loud.) Not a single Taborn voter submitted a straight-jazz ballot.

Doing even better on this jazz-intrudes-on-your-world front, at position #78 (well trumping T____, the Fucking C______, not for nothing), was Matana Roberts's stunning, form-busting avant-jazz concept album, Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres, in which the alto sax player narrated a personal take on the ancestral journey of Africans in America with piercing screams and radical blues playing. (Thanks for cosigning, Chuck Eddy and Christopher Weingarten.) Liturgy's divisive (at least on metal boards) Aesthethica also cracked the top 100—in part because I gave it the maximum 30 possible points on my ballot, as I did with Taborn. "Generation" is a great song too, album track or not. (Hunter Hunt-Hendrix told me in an interview this year that he originally wrote it as a John Adams-style piece of minimalist chamber music in school, which makes sense. Hot jam, in any event.)

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