2014 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “Down on My Luck,” Vic Mensa: He’s lost in the town, wiping fog out of his eyes, Wednesday morning comin’ down. I checked a lyrics page on this--its video captures the vertiginous rabbit-hole of getting drunk as well as Harvey Keitel and “Rubber Biscuit” in Mean Streets, or the 10-minute accordion hootenanny in Satantango (with a spiralling, house-of-mirrors narrative out of Tarantino or Christopher Nolan), and I wanted to see if the song was literally about the same. No--the club just happens to be where down-on-his-luck Vic Mensa ends up, brooding about what seems to be the illusions of some woman he was in love with, illusions he’s seen through (“Ooooh, look at you, look at you”--meant for her, but in the video timed perfectly to the moment where he gets cuffed). Twice everything stops for a few seconds of P.M. Dawn. Only three-and-a-half minutes, but feels as majestic and as epic as Rhythim Is Rhy- thim’s “Strings of Life.” 2. “How Can You Really,” Foxygen: A friend tried to get me interested in Foxygen a couple of years ago; I listened to parts of two or three songs, and that was that for Foxygen. They evidently went back to the records they study--Something/Anything being the most obvious example, but I’m sure there are lots more (Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” seems to make a brief cameo appearance)--and this time they pass the blindfold test: “How Can You Really” approximates a kind of ephemeral early-‘70s sound I carry around in my head quite brilliantly. Ephemeral’s the best I can do; I’ve always found it difficult to articulate that sound when writing about Something/Anything, or the even- better Ballad of Todd Rundgren, which I’d never heard till a couple of years ago, and there may be an extra layer or two of irony and distance here, and that gets me tangled up even more. If the great video means anything (must be the first year in ages where two videos influenced my list), I don’t think so--the singer looks to be completely in the moment as he frolics around in his glam costume, quite excited to have just invented rock-star glamour. 3. “Something About Geography,” Chumped: Minor variations on a song I’ve heard and loved a million times before. (Or I’ll pretend there are, anyway--don’t ask me to act- ually identify the variations.) It’s funny and a little sad when they modestly drop a “fuck” in there--the word was probably startling coming from Grace Slick in 1969, and it still seemed worthy of attention when Bikini Kill and Liz Phair and She Mob sang it 20 years ago, but today it amounts to a Nicki Minaj clean version. I have a theory about difficult students, that if you’ve got one who’s really tough and suddenly a new kid even worse joins your class partway through the year, the first kid looks over at the new one and says “I can’t keep up with that,” after which he just retreats. 4. “Halloween,” Wussy: Wussy’s at the same disadvantage that Yo La Tengo was on my bal- lot last year: a lot of the stuff I end up listing I don’t hear until I catch up in December, whereas I’ll fixate on a certain Wussy or Yo La Tengo song much earlier and wear it out by the time Pazz and Jop happens. “Halloween” was far and away my most played song this year--it’s one of five on Attica I love, along with “Teenage Waste- land,” “North Sea Girls,” “Home,” and “Beautiful.” In September, to start the school year, I set up a bulletin board in my classroom that was loosely based on Rick Perl- stein’s Invisible Bridge, with images of Nixon and Patty Hearst and the famous Ted Landsmark bussing-riot photo; for text, I put up the opening lines from “Beautiful.” “Halloween,” meanwhile, melted into Boyhood, which I saw twice and have been thinking about ever since. I think this is probably their second-greatest song; I doubt that they’ll ever top “Airborne.” It would seem they’re going to finally do pretty well in Pazz & Jop. I’ve spent the past few years wondering why they got so little attention beyond Christgau, now I’m a little tired of reading about them. (Being part of the Ex- pert Witness group on Facebook doesn’t help.) The first three words on Attica are “Do you remember?”, and no one talks driftin’-back like Wussy right now. I especially appreciate that some of their reference points are as clunky as mine. 5. “Archie, Marry Me,” Alvvays: Not as good as “Wedding Bell Blues,” which would be close to impossible; better than “Chapel of Love,” though. Does anyone ever name their kid Archie anymore? Did anyone ever name their kid Archie? I can only think of four Archies in the entire history of the universe: Archie Bunker, Archie Moore, comic-book Archie, and Archie Holmes, a Scottish guy who lived on our street when I was a kid. He was short, Scottish, and had red hair and a thick accent. I still remember him walking around with a big grin on his face and a drink in hand, in shorts and a loud patterned shirt of some kind, during a street party our first or second year in Georgetown, ’68 or ‘69. If the Alvvays’ Archie had been that Archie, he’d have been pretty much ready to marry anyone, even though he already was. The song on this list that does the best job of making me sad. 6. “2 Is 8,” Lone: I’ve really come to love and seek out these little snippets of ambient serenity I’ve been voting for the past few years. Some are dancey (“Inspector Norse”), some sort of industrial (No Age); some are stately (Boards of Canada), some, like “2 Is 8,” bubble along; Yo La Tengo’s “The Fireside” is an extremely lengthy snippet, but I’ll throw that in too. As Chris Penn says in Reservoir Dogs, that’s the beauty of it, we’ve got little snippets of ambient serenity all over the place. 7. “Superstitious,” Elisa Ambrogio: Listen to the girl, as she takes on half the world, Bill Murray whispers, Scarlett Johansson listens, Japan, neon, echo, whisper, chord, echo, etc., etc. 8. “Six Ways to Sunday,” Purling Hiss: Rambling guitar reverie. The five minutes where they sing is fine, and I yelp along (making up my own words, because I can’t decipher much beyond the title: “Hollywoooo-oooooo-ood/How do you do?”); the two minutes where they don’t is better, and then they come back at the end and sing some more. In a rare show of restraint, I won’t name-check the guy who invented this kind of thing. 9. “Don’t Let It Go,” Beck: You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago. (I used that line earlier this year on Facebook in connection to someone else. It’s a great line.) Beck seemed lost and mopey 12 years ago when he put out Sea Change; my Top 10 in 2002 was exceptionally strong, with “Work It” and “When the Last Time” and “Fell and Love with a Girl,” and I almost voted for Beck’s “All in Your Mind” in the midst of all that, in part because I found it touching how much of a ghost he felt like back then. I lost track of him after that--I think there was a record a couple of years ago where there was no record, you instead paid some money to a website in South America and he came over to your house and sang some new songs to you. He’s six times mopier and more lost on “Don’t Let It Go” than he was 12 years ago, which suits both him and me fine. 10. “Boss Ass Bitch,” Nicki Minaj: “Pussy this, pussy that”--as Chris Penn says in Res- ervoir Dogs, that’s the beauty of it, we’ve got pussy all over the place. Tinashe’s “2 On” just missed this list, and that’s got a touching cameo by Schoolboy Q about pussy- in-my-mouth; also almost voted for Perfect Pussy’s “Interference Fits.” I haven’t heard Mannequin Pussy yet, #9 on Rob Sheffield’s album list--I feel bad about that. (In 1995, I was somewhat taken aback by the forthrightness of Adina Howard’s great “Freak Like Me,” which had barking dogs as a barely euphemistic stand-in for sex; we’ve moved on.) No one talks pussy like Nicki Minaj, though--her PPM is off the chart. Rule #2 is my favourite of her three rules; #1 and #3 are just okay. I’m not qualified for such de- tective work, but this seems to be influenced by that weird Zebra Katz record from a couple of years ago, especially the half-spoken interlude. Probably the filthiest rec- ord I’ve ever voted for, at least until next year. “Ask Lil Wayne what a five-star bitch is”--love that line. I have other questions for Lil Wayne.