Money Be Green
2015 YEAR-END BALLOT1. “I’m All Wrong,” Juan Wauters: In honor of Carly Simon finally putting to rest a 40-year- old mystery everybody had already figured out anyway--if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re living very much in the here and now, and good for you--this is the most singer- songwriterly record I’ve ever voted #1. The version in the great Bela Tarr-like video (“Of course, the people are all wrong for Bela Tarr, aren’t they?”) doesn’t have the second guitar snaking around in the background that for me elevates it from a good song to a great one, something in the neighborhood of the Velvets’ “Some Kinda Love.” The awkward plainspokenness of the opening line (“Like a movie that is good/You require my attention”) makes me wince and smile at the same time. I think they should reshoot the video, keeping everything the same but making room on the bike for the second guitar player. 2. “What’d You Say?” Go! Team: I liked “Grip Like a Vice” from a few years ago, but it also felt like of one of those complicated hippety-hoppity art projects out of Britain that I don’t naturally gravitate to. This is plain old pop music, immediately accessible, ebullient and pixilated. No idea what they’re singing about, or how such a mundane question could in- spire such happiness. 3. “Alagarta,” Niagara: Or maybe it’s “Niagara” by Alagarta, how should I know? Todd Terje’s “Inspector Norse” is my favorite song of the decade halfway through, so I’m very receptive to anything that catches some of that feeling. This isn’t epic like Terje’s song, but it bubbles along with the same kind of herky-jerky melodicism. 4. “Classic Man,” Jidenna: I came close to voting for Leon Bridges’ “Coming Home,” the kind of careful, deferential attempt to recreate a classic ‘60s soul record that almost always leaves me cold. That one’s just about perfect, though, especially the vocal. “Classic Man” sort of comes from the same place, but it’s got polygamy, hygiene, leprechauns, Nat King Cole, and swear words--it’s not especially deferential. The title seems to use “classic” in a decidedly pejorative sense. “I can pull the wool when I’m being polite”--I hear a liar and a con artist there who’s very much aware of his machinations. 5. “Summertime,” Magic Words, and 7. “Vacation,” Florist: I wish country music sounded like this, and somewhere along the line, I think some of it did. I’ll count the Magic Words song as keeping my streak of voting for Wussy intact at six years and counting, even if I’m a lit- tle hazy on the relationship between the two (Lisa Walker, I know, but why do Wussy songs turn up on Magic Words records?). The singer in Florist broods about some of the same things I do: she’s half my age, asks good questions*, and appears to be a lot closer to figuring out answers than I am. 6. “Fuckin’ Up the Count,” Freddie Gibbs: I hear maybe one-tenth of one percent of the hip- hop that’s out there right now, so to say I’m disengaged would be something of an understate- ment. I was interested in where hip-hop would go during Obama’s tenure, and now that he’s about to leave, I’ve completely lost the plot and have no sense of that. “Fuckin’ Up the Count” checks some of the same boxes that Lil Wayne’s “Upgrade Me” checked for me eight years ago--druggy, profane, a kind of mournful slow-motion death march--so nothing seems to have changed much for me personally in terms of what kind of hip-hop is most liable to reach me. Obviously, in the news, not a great year to be black, and in my own little world, I’m not helping matters (i.e., middle-school black students, especially boys, are not as accom- modating when it comes to the stubborn, autocratic ways of a 54-year-old white middle-school teacher as their non-black counterparts are). When I returned to school this year in Septem- ber, right after Sandra Bland, I wanted to ask one of my students from last year, a girl who keeps right on top of the news and thinks about such stories very thoughtfully, if, to some of her friends, I was basically the cop in that video. I didn’t: wasn’t sure if that was an unfair question, and I knew the answer anyway. 8. “The Glass City,” Pender Street Steppers: Terrible name--reminds me of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and “Zoot Suit Riot.” Great driving music, like the Marshall Tucker Band (“Of course, the people are all wrong for Marshall Tucker, aren’t they?”), highly recommended to the woman in Florist as a good way to forget all those troublesome questions. 9. “N.M.S.S.,” Elvis Depressedly: Good name, or at least as good as Thelonius Monster. I’ve been conducting an informal Elvis Watch among my grade-school students the past 20 years, and every year fewer hands go up when I ask “Who’s heard of Elvis Presley?” on his birthday. I’m down to maybe a quarter of the class now--there are even fewer who’ve seen E.T., though, so maybe he’s not doing so bad (“homework” also fares poorly these days). This year, looking at the Warhol Elvis print I have hanging on the wall, I even had a student ask a) if I’d painted it, and b) if it was me in the painting. Elvis Depressedly confronts one of the most pressing issues of our time, the need for an answer song to the mid-‘80s hits of Billy Ocean and Elton John. Big surprise, the title’s a ruse--they sound very sad. 10. “Comme Ça,” Domenique Dumont: Came down to this, Diet Cig’s “Breathless,” or Justin Bie- ber’s “What Do You Mean” for the 10th spot. Diet Cig would be the obvious choice for me--this year (#s 5, 7, and 8) and every year, I seem to be forever pretending it’s 1994--but I’m trying to get outside my comfort zone a bit. I thought “What Do You Mean” might end up being my #1 for the year the first few times I heard it, and it’s been very durable--still sounds great. I’m too Elvis Depressedly most of the time these days to feel any connection to the world of big hits, though, and for that and other reasons I don’t need or want to get into here, I’d prefer to keep that stuff off my list. (The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” Pitbull and Ne- Yo’s “Time of Our Lives,” and even Adele’s “Hello” were also in the running.) The austere, anonymous beauty of “Comme Ça” lets me off the hook--I don’t have to think about 1994, about big hits, or about anything. *Some years ago, I read a film piece where somebody attacked somebody else for his sloppy command of detail--“impressionistic” film criticism was the charge, I think, where accuracy and precision give way to a general sense of what happened in the film being described. The writer then went on to catalog a number of factual errors in the other critic’s account/ analysis of a particular scene. Guilty as charged. I was listening to “Vacation” in the car today, and I counted the number of questions asked by the singer; exactly zero, it turns out. What she actually does is equivocate a lot, just like I do, and because of that, the entire song ends up sounding like one big question to me. I’m quite sure I make mistakes like that all the time.