The Best Albums Pitchfork Hated This Year
Since Purity Ring, Death Grips and Tame Impala didn't exactly take off this year like Arcade Fire or Animal Collective, Pitchfork's cultural influence might be cooling off, which is bittersweet since their writer stable is probably better now than it ever was (some of us don't miss those novelty reviews), and their point-of-view has gotten less indie-elitist and more friendly to female artists, pop and r&b in particular in 2012. But the overarching editorial tastes still tend toward a certain narrative that so many artists do not follow, the whole "victory lap" adage, people ascending until their career crashes and burns, before a triumphant comeback. This sort of sensationalized trajectory really doesn't happen with most artists, who sometimes make good albums and sometimes make disappointing ones. And many artists who've stagnated or are on their way "down" still make more essential music than whoever du jour is on the rise. So here's a bunch of good records that Pitchfork missed the forest for the trees on. (Full disclosure: I've written there in the past. We didn't agree a lot. Also a few fellow Sound of the City people write there too, don't judge them based on my haterade.)
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David Byrne/St. Vincent - Love This Giant
Pitchfork rating: 5.9
What they said: "With precious few exceptions, neither Clark nor Byrne seems willing to push the other into new musical territory that might contain revelations about either. The songs merely stand apart from life and dryly comment on its strangeness."
Au Contraire: As someone lukewarm on St. Vincent and completely astringent towards Byrne's post-Talking Heads career, I'll definitely vouch for the falseness of that first part. The herky-jerky horn arrangements give Annie Clark an upright, marching urgency that her own albums lack (this year's Big Black-channeling "Krokodil" single also helped show she can do more than boring art-prog indie), and somehow she must've edited Byrne's songwriting into funky little nuggets again. The leadoff "Who" and oddly danceable "Lazarus" take rhythm ideas from tUnE-yArDs, while "The One Who Broke Your Heart" unabashedly recalls Buster Poindexter's '80s craze "Hot Hot Hot." That's not new musical territory? Giant is Byrne's best venture since Music for the Knee Plays, which was also horn-based. As for the dry comments on life, they have their moments, like Clark's gorgeous Occupy-inflected chorus for "Optimist": "I'm the optimist of 30th street/ How it is is how it ought to be."
s/s/s - Beak & Claw
Pitchfork rating: 4.8
What they said: "The downcast, emo-rap slam poetry he works in has a perilously high carnage margin, but he keeps from plummeting off a cliff here"
Au Contraire: As a huge Serengeti fan, I've gotta shut down that "emo-rap" claim right quick. Serengeti is a Chicago-based indie rapper who creates sitcom-like characters he raps as, most notably Kenny Dennis, a 40-ish suburban husband who loves non-alcoholic beer and the Bears. Maybe it's "emo" or "slam poetry" to work completely outside of the rubric typically associated with rap (drugs, money, swag blah blah), but more likely the involvement of Sufjan Stevens on this experimental one-off is the reason the reviewer signed on. So yeah, of course he keeps from plummeting off a cliff, he's goddamn Serengeti. This is one of four very good records he made this year.