Sometimes this lofty pursuit of music journalism can be just as self-absorbed as the industry whose tail it chases. Case in point: the 33rd installment of the Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop critics' poll, published last week (pazzandjop05). Seven hundred and ninety-five contributors from outlets across the country voted back in December for their top ten albums of 2005, assigning points to each in hopes that their faves would ascend the ranks to occupy the golden throne of numero uno.
Mirroring our last presidential election, this year's Pazz and Jop was, according to Robert Christgau, the Voice's critic laureate, the closest race ever. The winner was Kanye West's Late Registration, which barely edged out M.I.A.'s Arular by a few diamonds from Sierra Leone. Aside from the White Stripes and Fiona Apple, the rest of the top ten was mostly given to bands that you've probably read about but never heard, like Antony and the Johnsons and the Hold Steady.
Beatcomber participated in the tally, but he did so against his better nature. I'm not one for ranking or itemizing; art, especially, seems to naturally eschew hierarchy in my mind, and my best-of list today would look a lot different from the one I wrote back in December. But by default, I'm part of an electoral college of sorts, the overinformed, obsessive circle of gatekeepers and town criers known as music critics. And the Village Voice, which last week was absorbed by the same parent company that owns New Times, has long been one of our tallest ivory towers.
Although popular sentiment went with Mariah in 2005 (The Emancipation of Mimi was the nation's number-one seller, SoundScanning 4.866 million copies), Pazz and Jop left her at number 54. Kanye was our candidate, the artist-king we would have foisted upon America. As if he didn't do enough foisting on his own.
In a pure numbers game, it's clear which contingent has more influence and which merely has a different opinion. So what's the use of lists like Pazz & Jop, and others like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork's Top 50s? Does anyone besides us crits give a flying Fiona Apple about lists?
"I couldn't even tell you. I'll read a magazine, and if anything, I'm checking out the ads to see what's coming out," says Mikey Ramirez, manager of CD Collector, an indie record shop in Fort Lauderdale. "Of course, you know who's gonna be on the poll and who's not. A lot of it comes down to the namedropping aspect. Like, 'Oh, obviously you're into the hottest bands in town right now.' If that's your top ten, you have to wonder: Is that gonna change tomorrow?
"You can go across the spectrum with these things. Sometimes they're black and white, totally different, but every now and then, there'll be a merger where they meet. Like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. That's kind of expected, but that's a record that was just kinda OK."
Although CYHSY made it onto a lot of critics' year-enders and to number 35 of the 1,019 on the P&J poll it wasn't a big seller at CD Collector or other local retailers. Either South Florida is off the hipster map or we're just marching to our own beat.
"People here have good taste," assures Lauren Reskin, owner of Miami's Sweat Records. "I've had that opinion for a while." A look at Sweat's top 20 reveals a slew of great indie bands, most of which are found on P&J as well. But according to Reskin, people in South Florida are influenced by factors other than just magazines and websites.
"M.I.A. is big down here, since she gets played at all the indie nights," she says. "She performed down here twice last year, which is way more than any of the other bands on this list. Also, Of Montreal have played every year for a couple of years. LCD Soundsystem is big at the clubs, and Awesome New Republic has been gigging their asses off, and that's paid off in direct record sales." ANR was, in fact, Sweat's hottest seller by far. "It is ten bucks and local, but we sold well over 100, whereas the next closest thing didn't even come close."
One hundred records might not seem like a lot and compared to Mariah's ample assets, it certainly ain't but the fact that local buyers support local music should go at the top of any South Floridian's list. And that's one worth paying attention to.
So is accuracy, by Odin. Normally infallible, Beatcomber was hipped to an error in last week's column on the death of Osiris Rising's Joe Arthur. It wasn't Ali Harris whom Arthur phoned before getting in his car; it was his girlfriend, Casey Daughtey. Apologies and condolences to everyone involved.
And another thing. Local musicians, you wanna be heard, right? New Times is your ticket to the stars, in more ways than one. Like last year, we're running a competition for local DJs: Submit a CD of your work mixes or originals to be in the running for a live slot on the New Times stage at this year's Ultra in Miami. Mail your entries to yours truly at 16 NE Fourth St., Ste. 200, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Deadline for entries is February 17.
Unlike last year, local bands can compete for a slot on the Florida Native stage at this year's Langerado festival. Submit your entries on the web at www.sonicbids.com/langerado.
If the jam ain't your thing, try your luck with the New Times stage at Global Gathering, held for the first time ever in Miami this March. Send entries to the same street address as above. Word of advice: Don't try applying for both with the same album. Trust me, there isn't much room for crossover.
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