Pazz & Jop 2011: Michael Tedder On Fucked Up's Majesty, Danny Brown's Cunning Skills, And The Joy Formidable's Outro Power

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, Michael Tedder breaks down his entire ballot, and along the way he talks about about the operatic heights of Fucked Up, the shredding ability of Annie Clark and Ritzy Bryan, and the power of the "boof."

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Fucked Up, David Comes to Life (30 points): I was starting to get a sense of the way the wind was blowing for this year's roundup, and I'm generally aware that aggressive music, no matter how smart and inventive, has a ceiling for critical support. (I should point out that I submitted my ballot before the Spin endorsement.) So, just like I did last year with Titus Andronicus' The Monitor (I will not accept the idea that anyone this decade wrote a better album about America now, or a better album period than that), I went all in, points wise, to try to get my favorite album in to the top ten. Like last year, I failed, and I regret nothing. Anyway, people focusing on the intentionally confusing plot of this rock opera are not paying enough attention to the operatic arrangements (that term is not used as loosely as you imagine) Mike Haliechuk and company are offering up here, like some bizarre amalgam of Crass, Queen and Chavez. Also, I still don't know how Veronica died, and I'm surprised that in these #OWS days no one is discussing the working-class fatigue subtext ("those better days have passed us by") on display here.

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Radio Hits One: Foster The People, Cage The Elephant Lead The Charge Of New "The" Bands

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Back around 2001, a Transatlantic cabal of music critics led a media hype machine declaring that rock was "back." To further this thesis, it grouped together a disparate set of bands offering variations on the stripped-down "garage rock" template who were often cheekily referred to as the "The" Bands—The Strokes The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, and so on. I always thought that was kind of a silly way to label those bands, since a huge number of band names have always started with the word "The," with a slightly smaller subset of that group naming their bands "The [blank]s."

Looking at Billboard's year-end Alternative Songs chart for 2011, however, you might wonder if a decade later we quietly experienced a new wave of "The" Bands, only this time with names that had words on both sides of the "the." The top two spots on the chart are occupied by Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Cage The Elephant's "Shake Me Down", with Young The Giant's "My Body" at No. 14. Like the "The" Bands of 2001, there's not much uniting them other than the fact that they're all fairly new (only Cage The Elephant enjoyed any chart hits prior to 2011) and offering major-label-sanctioned, radio-friendly versions of musical and vocal styles usually associated with indie rock.

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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: Foo Fighters Enjoy Themselves At Madison Square Garden

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Benjamin Lozovsky
For more photos from the show, check out our gallery.
Foo Fighters w/Social Distortion, The Joy Formidable
Madison Square Garden
Sunday, November 13

Better than: Some band with only two guitar players playing for only two hours.

Dave Grohl is often called the nicest guy in rock. Don't think he doesn't use this to get away with murder. During their performance at Madison Square Garden last night General Grohl led his Foo Fighters through "Stacked Actors," one of the deep cuts fans point to whenever detractors complain about "Learn To Fly." It's a great song. It has pointed lyrics, an insistent groove and just enough pop-polish to make the slash and burn riffs and throat shredding go down easy. It is not a song that benefits a great deal from instrumental vamping. But that didn't stop Grohl from running across the MSG floor to a second stage in the middle of the arena and then indulging in an extended back and forth solo off with lead guitarist Chris Shiflett. And it just kept going.

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The Joy Formidable's New Video Would Have Been So Awesome On "120 Minutes"

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One of the problems I have with the YouTube era of music-video distribution is the way that the period between a video's debut and a video's disappearance from the landscape has diminished to something slightly more fleeting than the blink of an eye. Sure, when videos dominated MTV's programming, there were quite a few clips that got a play or two on one of the specialty-video shows and not much else in the way of airtime; I'd argue, though, that the difference in the way those clips were disseminated and consumed—broadcast to a bunch of households that were tuned into a channel at a specific time, as opposed to being the pot of gold at the end of a series of clicks that represent discrete decisions on the part of viewers who are probably distracted by ten billion other things going on in the background of their browser—resulted in memories of those bands/videos that did break through (which was itself, obviously, something of a trick) sticking around in a more prominent way. (Surely those of you who watched a lot of MTV at a formative age have a band or two in your memory bank who only appeared on 120 Minutes or Headbangers' Ball once or twice.) What winds up sticking, instead, is the already-familiar, or the cheaply eyeball-grabbing (seriously indie bands, enough with the "NSFW" videos, you're all starting to look sorta pathetic); meanwhile, bands that have the gall to "only" put out high-quality songs with videos that are visually appealing can get overlooked in the wake of the screamingly obvious grabs for attention.

All of which is to say that the Joy Formidable, a corking Welsh trio who meld the squawk of shoegaze with the sweet melodies of early indiepop, have released a clip for the pealing, gorgeous "A Heavy Abacus," off their long-in-the-works Stateside debut The Big Roar. Watch it below.

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SXSW 2011 In Photos, Starring Odd Future, Trash Talk, Das Racist, and Other People Who Like To Break Things

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You don't have to go home, Tyler, but you can't stay here. All photos by Rebecca Smeyne.
Another SXSW is in the books, granting great relief to those of us who were just subjected to five straight days of partying-related Twitter updates, and great sorrow to those who became accustomed to the 80 degree weather and not getting snowed on in freezing cold New York City. But all things must come to an end, even for Odd Future's Tyler, the Creator, who had to go home to his mom's house like all the rest of Austin's expatriate population come Monday morning. Our recap of the actual festival is to follow; in the meantime, intrepid photographer Rebecca Smeyne was there and brought back photos. Many involve people breaking things in convention centers (or maybe that's just Das Racist?). Either way, her selected photos are below (you can see the rest in full at our at our slideshow):

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Live: The Joy Formidable Soothe Alt-Rock Die-Hards At Bowery Ballroom

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Ritzy Bryan's famous cat not pictured, thankfully. Pics by Laureen Krawse.
The Joy Formidable/Grouplove
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, November 16

Better than: At least 60 percent of the Shrieks of the Week.

Welsh power trio the Joy Formidable is one of those bands that might get lost among the Sufjan Beat-hungry masses, as they're just a newish act with an across-the-pond pedigree and a couple records under their belts -- there's no hyperactive Twitter feed, or feuds with other artists, or famous cat, or seedy backstory.


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