Six Songs That I Might Be OK With Waking Up To Every Morning If I Was Trapped In A Groundhog Day-Like Purgatorial Existence


Today is Groundhog Day, and while rodents on the East Coast are split on whether or not 2012 will actually see something resembling winter around these parts, one thing's for sure: People will probably watch the 1993 Harold Ramis-directed Bill Murray vehicle Groundhog Day, in which the comedian plays a weatherman resigned to relive February 2 over and over and over again until he learns how to be less of a jerk, and, by extension, more OK with himself and the people around him. (It's airing on CMT tonight, in case you were wondering.) In the film, the February 2 that Murray's Phil Connors is stuck inside opens with Sonny and Cher's 1965 chart-topper "I Got You, Babe," which hits its sweetly sappy chorus just as Connor's clock radio flips from 5:59 a.m. to 6:00. This got me thinking: If I was trapped in an existential purgatory that made me have to relive one day until I got a valuable life lesson about myself and the world around me through my thick skull, what song would I be OK with as far as a day-opening jam, albeit one that reminded me of being utterly trapped? Six candidates below. Feel free to nominate yours in the comments!


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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.

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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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She's Not There: WU LYF, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, And The Value Of Absence

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Every year, ambitious young bands find new ways—fascinating, puerile, ingenious—to play the Internet, and in 2011, one of the most captivating, effective ways to do so involved near-silence. A cluster of breakthrough bands, WU LYF and Unknown Mortal Orchestra among them, caused a huge publicity ripple online by pointedly refusing to exist there—or deciding to have an online presence so cryptic as to frustrate any desire for even the most basic information. In this scenario, a band's lack of Google hits are a direct measure of its tantalizing mysteriousness. If the Internet is a musical instrument, this was its version of John Cage's "4:33."

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

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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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Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part II: PJ Harvey, Jessie J, And The Post-Pop Character Landscape

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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.

Thanks Maura! And hello Nick, Katherine and Eric.

Post-megasales megastars? Beyoncé and Gaga fit the bill, for certain. There are convincing post-rationalisations of why sales on those albums were soft—Beyoncé can do what she likes, and what she likes right now is old-school soul belters; and Gaga's mix of hi-NRG and stadium rock is a maximalist step too far. But nobody would dispute Beyoncé and Gaga's presence. If you look at the top celebs on Facebook, the appetite for musicians is endless: scattered athletes and actors cower in the shadow of pop stars living and dead, G and B among them. So perhaps pop music is becoming like comics—a minor artform, fiercely loved by enthusiasts but nugatory in revenue terms, whose real value lies in powering something else. What comics IP does for the film industry, pop does for the celebrity biz—provide a stream of garish, blockbuster characters and never mind the source material.


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Underwhelmed And Overstimulated, Part I: Was 2011 The Worst Year For Music Ever?

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A number one song from 2011. Not really helping the year's case, this.
Welcome to the 2011 edition of the Sound of the City Year-End Critic Roundtable, an epistolary back-and-forth about the year in music between five observers of the medium: Tom Ewing; Eric Harvey; Nick Murray; Katherine St. Asaph, also of Popdust; and me. We'll be discussing the year in pop over the course of the next few days, in hopes that a few healthy arguments (nothing too knock-down, drag-out) ensue, and that even if we don't figure out any answers, we'll pose a couple of new questions as the calendar flips to 2012. As was the case last year, when music editor emeritus Rob Harvilla launched this initiative, we are totally ripping off Slate's Music Club, which is currently ensuing with five different music smarties. (Read 'em all!)

To start things off, I'll pose the question in the title, which spins off the query Rob posed at the close of 2010. That is to say: Was 2011 the worst year for music ever?

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Live: PJ Harvey Takes Control At Terminal 5

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PJ Harvey
Terminal 5
Tuesday, April 19

Better than: Anything else.

Like PJ Harvey's other work, her new album Let England Shake is about longing. But she confronts something different than the sexual want she sang so explicitly about on her erlier records--here, instead, the desire is for a world not marred by bleakness and death, by the spectre of constant war and an empire in decline. The lyrical imagery employed on the album triggers visions of landscapes of endless gray and sepia, with the occasional bloodstain from a human providing the only shock of color; the often-sparse music only adds to the bleakly dreamlike atmosphere.

It was hard going in to not be nervous about how the material from Let England Shake, which was composed largely on autoharps and can sound as delicate as aged lace even when Harvey sings of soldiers' bodies being turned into carcasses, would fare in the wide-open space of Terminal 5. Mentioning the venue's name never fails to bring to mind Nine Inch Nails' video for "Wish," with everything amped up past its normal breaking point and the crowd exceptionally aggro after trucking so many blocks west from the subway. But about 10 minutes before the show actually started, the lights flickered and people started shushing one another--the first sign that this crowd was probably full of fans with similar trepidations about the marriage of venue and material.

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LCD Soundsystem, PJ Harvey Add Terminal 5 Dates

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Yes, the Great LCD Soundsystem Retirement Show debacle took another turn over the weekend: Given the profound likelihood that an appalling percentage of the tickets for their April 2nd Madison Square Garden gig are now in the hands of scalpers, the band has announced four Terminal 5 shows to precede it, March 28-31, with a pretty stupendous James Murphy rant thrown in for good measure:

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Stream PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, And Hope She Adds Another Terminal 5 Show

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James Blake has probably got Album Everyone Will Be Talking About This Week honors all sewn up for now, but roundabout next Tuesday a nation's fawning eyes will turn to PJ Harvey's fantastic Let England Shake, far from the screamiest entry in her 20-year catalog (!), but among the bleakest, hardest, angriest -- call it "pastoral punk," but not within her earshot, because she'll bury you herself. (No woman alive can make strumming an autoharp feel and sound like an act of unimaginable violence.) NPR is streaming the whole record right now -- "Words That Maketh Murder" and the minimalist/brutalist "England" are hitting hardest on first listen.


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PJ Harvey Is Playing Terminal 5 In April

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Good news for all you Foursquare enthusiasts who can't get enough of Terminal 5: On April 20th the cavernous Midtown spot will host none other than PJ Harvey, supporting her new record Let England Shake and possessed of a terrifying intensity perfect for making large places feel uncomfortably intimate: She played the Beacon Theater a few years back and it felt like she'd challenged us all to a fistfight in a phone booth. Tickets are on sale Friday at noon; below, please find the clip for England's "The Words That Maketh Murder," though be advised that if you try and "check in" during this song she will straight-up break an autoharp over your head:

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