Pazz & Jop 2011: Alex Macpherson On Pistol Annies, PJ Harvey, And Why You Should Always Trust Diddy

To supplement this year's Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. Here, the British critic Alex Macpherson finds protest music and love songs that were worth holding on to past the end of the calendar year.

Every year, I cavil about the limitations of the Pazz & Jop ballot: the run-up to submitting mine traditionally comprises weeks of attempting to cram a week's worth of music into a ten-piece summation of my year that, like a suitcase on the eve of a holiday, resolutely refuses to expand to fit everything I need. On the other hand, having a mere 10 places at your disposal makes the process wonderfully Darwinian: the weakest contenders are weeded out ruthlessly. No room for those esoteric semi-favourites, it's about the music that formed an integral part of my life in 2011: Miguel's "Sure Thing", sneaking into my heart through sheer loving understatement; Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass", memorized entirely by July thanks to months of hearing it as a go-to house party anthem and trading lines with friends while on public transportation; Todd Terje's "Snooze 4 Love", for all those times on the dancefloor that the first hint of those arpeggios sent the crowd into raptures.

Too much solipsism makes for a pointless list: there were albums that seemed to capture something important about 2011 as a whole. The windswept incantations, elegiac tributes and weary trudges of PJ Harvey's Let England Shake dominated my winter—but her journalistic documentation of the suffering inflicted on ordinary people at the hands of governments also resonated strongly in a year when not just England but the world shook with protest. It seemed ironic that it should cement Harvey's position as part of the British rock establishment—the woman who had been an outsider heroine of my teenage years—but it was also appropriate that she wound up performing to two British prime ministers this year.

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Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part III: Occupying The Year Of The Woman Cliché In Hopes Of Blowing It Up

Kanye West at Occupy Wall Street; confused woman.
Sound of the City's year-end roundtable, with contributions from Tom Ewing, Eric Harvey, Maura Johnston, Nick Murray, and Katherine St. Asaph, continues. Follow along here.

Hello all, and thanks! I'm honored to be here. Let's talk about the collapse of the global economy.

Or rather, let's not; as tempting as it is to link early 2011's glut of apocalyptic dance or late 2011's druggy numbness to financial panic or cultural malaise, you'd have to glibly ignore 99% of both music and the cultural moment. Even the arguments that almost worked didn't, like the reductive meme that Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne was just about being rich, not about the experience of being black and having become rich. And speaking of the 99%, it's far too soon to anoint any Occupy Wall Street anthem. (Sorry, Jonah, Miley's track is just a fanvid.) There's been music on the ground, of course, and there's an album coming out, but it's telling (of my now-bastardized Google Reader feed, if nothing else) that my main associations between music and Occupy are three things: the Radiohead non-concert that turned out to be a new-media bro's prank, the musicians whose Zuccotti cameos were probably out of good intent but in practice indistinguishable from photo ops, and the albums in Occupy's library, which was seized after the NYPD raids—alas, the cloud couldn't save it.

Nor can megastars—they're too busy mythologizing themselves to survive in lieu of those megasales. There are exceptions; candor in interviews and mega-megasales aside, you can't really call Adele a "celebrity," at least not using that term. (Contrary to rockist belief, this is not a selling point.) But take Rihanna, who's wearing herself out being better at this sort of thing than anyone else. Icky news stories? Out-ick them on Twitter! Gossip cackling about Chris Brown? Tease it in the "We Found Love" video! Moral guardians carping about being too sexy? Send racks of raunch down the Talk That Talk assembly line!

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The Many Faces Of "Marvins Room": Ugh, To Be Young And In Love

It should never be surprising that the sort of R&B that burns up the charts and draws chatter at youth hubs like Twitter is the kind that adolescents identify with. And that's what "Marvins Room," in all its various incarnations, is.

The original "Marvins Room," released by Drake in early June, is all semi-lucid, pseudo-pensive "sleep with me" plea to an ex who Drizzy insists "can do better." It's a drunk dial set to music (Drake starts with rosé and moves on to XO) that includes what sounds like an actual drunk dial, and it's a doozy—mostly because of producer Noah "40" Shebib, whose woozy, liquid production that sounds very much like the voices in the head of a lover wondering where it all went wrong.

Drake being Drake, though, the obligatory rapped verse complicates matters. "I think I'm addicted to naked pictures/ And sittin' talkin' 'bout bitches that we almost had" makes the song less remorseful and more repugnant; a line about "makin' monsters outta the women I sponsor" does nothing for Drake's reputation as a feminist. Really, women smartly soaking Drake for his money makes them monsters?

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