Halsey sits in that awkward position of being an extremely, very, absolutely great artist, but at the same time being weighed down by almost being suffocatingly overrated by some corners. Also, she’s often really annoying.
Now that last (factual) statement may actually be problematic. Would I refer to Halsey’s objective annoyingness if she were a man? Truthfully, if she were a man I’d probably call her a ‘cunt’, but I’m always aware of how vicious it can sound to use such violent language when referring to a woman, so I’m slightly more polite. Is that sexist? To self censor my language and treat women more ‘gentlemanly’? Am I actually doing it because I feel that the curse is hilariously infuriating to a man but actually hatefully offensive when said to a woman? Is that idea sexist?? Should I maybe not be calling anyone a ‘cunt’??
Jump in any time, these are good topics.
One of the reasons Guinevere Tossack-Fritz (if that’s even her real name!*) vexes me so is her dogged refusal to be considered a pop artist, which always strikes me as a difficult stance to take while involved in a career 100% dedicated to making pop music, but I dunno. She has said that she should be deemed alternative, and that it’s her gender that makes people automatically** assign her to that genre. OK, lot to unpack here. Firstly, there might be something here, but every male artist I can think of who is currently making similar music and presented in a similar way to Halsey (Ed Sheeren, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, even the freaking Weeknd…) are frequently referred to as ‘pop’ artists and nobody really gives a shit. There are issues with labelling musical genres and what that can lead to, but that’s largely from issues like FKA Twigs’ frustration at being labelled ‘R&B’ rather than ‘dance’ solely because of her identity, or fricking Sam Smith (perhaps the closest to a male Haysey equivalent) winning all those MOBO awards despite being the poppiest thing since the weasel popped so hard it entered itself into Eurovision… And do we need to talk about Old Town Road again!? Do you really want to be considered ‘alternative’? Is that the hill you’re willing to die on??Fine, it’s easy: pick up a guitar, and get maybe 23% less attractive. Not ugly, gosh no, as we still demand that all of our female entertainers are attractive (and, by goodness, isn’t that are far more worthy issue to get behind??), but just like ‘hottest girl at your old school’ good looking. Boom. You’re ‘alternative’. Wasn’t that all absolutely worth the effort?
(*it’s not, her real name is, honestly, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane. Hey these things I do make me laugh, and that’s all that matters)
(**she also points to- oh yes- Kendrick Lamar not being considered a pop artist despite his many collaborations with pop artists as somehow proof of the double standard. Which is a bit like Hulk Hogan not wanting to be called a wrestler and pointing to how Mohammed Ali still being called a boxer despite appearing at Wrestlemania as proof of the discrimination. People tend to consider the rest of his career and what he made significant contributions to. She also said in the next breath, I shit you not, “I don’t know if it’s an urban thing”. See what I mean?! She is such a c… ringeworthy person…)
Halsey further irritates by so obviously dreaming of achieving so many tropes of a huge POP STAR. She’s already got all of her feuds going, which is as mandatory in the post-Twitter age as insisting on your virginity was in the early parts of the century. And she’s so obviously desperate for her and her on/off White Rapper Boyfriend to be the next Britney/Justin pop power couple, to the extent that she even shelled out big cash money to be able to use the “You don’t have to say/What you did/I already know” line from Cry Me a River in her song Without Me. Firstly: really? Your relationship with White Rapper Boyfriend is as big a part of culture as Justin and Britney was? Secondly: no it absolutely isn’t, mostly because literally nobody in the world has any fucking idea who White Rapper Boyfriend is. Seriously, that’s probably isn’t even his real name. I found one photo online after a week and a half of searching, and I’m not even 100% sure that’s him. Thirdly: Justin Timberlake? Britney Spears? Nobody was ever calling these people ‘alternative’.
Halsey needs to decide what exactly she wants to be. Unless her status anxiety is the main reason that she’s able to produce albums as good as this. Did I mention that ‘Manic’ was good? Well, it is.
I hate this record sometimes. When I first heard the Boston band’s 2019 eight recorded- which they wisely brought in Seth Manchester to produce for easy Necessary Evil clout- I hated the record all the time. I thought it was not even a single digit percentage as wry and as smart as it so obviously thought it was; self-consciously ‘epic’ when no such scale was in any way warranted; and insufferably self-important. And not ‘self-important’ in your standard “Heed one’s requests to place upon this song a banging donk” achingly over arch and over exuberantly mannered Son Luxesque sort of way. That sort of self-importance I can get with, as it simply represents an impassioned and worthwhile stretch at significance in a world that’s always seeking to deny it. Have you noticed how I sometimes use long words? That means I’m really smart.
No, ‘I’m You’ is self-important in the even less sufferable ‘First year arts and humanities student who’s just read Catch 22’ sort of way. It’s not necessarily bothered whether or not its over elaborate words of common sense wisdom inspire people to talk of them in the same way as Keats, Slavoj Žižek and Keith Raniere. In fact, ‘I’m You’ is more likely to smirk and roll its eyes at the suggestion, and suggest that “The only cult I’m interested in is blue oysters, my dear boy”, as if that made any sort of fucking sense. ‘I’m You’ thinks of itself as a 21st century PG Woodhouse, who though it would never actually say out loud that the type of hardnosed satire it believes it deals in is far more powerful than any gun, protest or sincere opinion, but it would certainly want you to say it. After you did, it would simply smirk while sipping its Kombucha and let the unarguable truth float in the air for a second. Before eventually breaking the silence by loudly proclaiming something like “Pro Test? Would that make me anti Albert??”. OK, it probably wouldn’t make quite so many 90s wrestling references. I mean, just look at that prick on the cover with their big tool sun head. Don’t you just want to slap them across their big dumb face of exploding hydrogen? No? Well, wait until they say something like “Of course, the thing about Ernest Hemmingway is that he rather earnestly had a way with hemmings, did he not??”, which everyone guffaws at because they know they’re supposed to but are also too wary of pointing out the obvious bullshit unless there’s something they’re missing.
Just… give it a rest, alright?
Of course, the more I listened to it, the more difficult it became to hold onto these reactions. Because- oh lordy-lou- this album’s really freaking good in places. Actually the sort of perceptive and ready minded rock music that often seems to be in short supply at this end of the quality scale. Much as I might be loathe to admit it, this is actually the closest Seth Manchester album to his (and, y’know, modern music in general’s) creative opus, ‘Goodness‘.
So, yeah, now I only hate it some of the time.
Remember the start of last year’s list? Hmmm? Whadda ya mean “No“?? When you saw that December was approaching, did you not read every single post on this blog in preparation for this year’s list?? Are you not worried that you won’t be able to completely follow the plot of this year’s list, and the knowledge of references and backstories required will mean some of the most incisive and well thought out jokes and commentary goes over your head? Before you saw Before Midnight for the first time, did it not a least occur to you to perhaps remind yourself what happened in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset?? Did you just dumbly sit down to watch The Ridiculous Six dangerously unprepared by not first cramming in The Ridiculous One, The Ridiculous Five, The Ridiculous Three, The Ridiculous Four and The Ridiculous Two?? Did you not worry it might all seem like incoherent shite without the proper research ?? Yeah, sure, you saw the sequels Lucky Number Slevin and The Hateful Eight, but everybody had lost their passion by that point and those two self-indulgent messes are considered non canon by the conniseurs. Late on, there’s going to be an appearance by the colour blind bowliards player Clemency St Clusters, who is very much a fan favourite, and you won’t even understand what’s so intoxicating about him!! Pfff, your loss, philistine.
Anyway, I went off on a bit of a tangent on one of the entries and discussed by BandCamp collection, a quick glance at which saw me notice the debut album by the Kansas native and bemoan “Why didn’t I stick with Jordana‘s album? It looks like exactly my kind of shit, doesn’t it?”. Well, the lords gave me another chance in 2020, as Jordana revived, reproduced and rejigged the record, and I got to properly consider what a fantastic little gem it is. There’s actually a universe, not too different from ours, where I actually name ‘Classical Notions of Happiness’ really high on this list- it’s such an astonishingly accomplished record that’s often adorably unconvinced of its own genius. There’s something very ‘high teens/lower reaches of the top 10’ about the record that I find often goes to somewhat similar but largely inferior artists like Snail Mail. Listening to it again for this list and being constantly surprised by how many many high points the record hits…
Bollocks, I might have missed the boat again… can you rerelease it again in 2021, please?
Now, I have not missed this freaking boat, and motherfucker is only going to get bigger. You know what? I’m going to say it: Dua Saleh is an even bigger prospect than Lil Yachty.
It’s still early days- the fabulous ‘ROSETTA’ is only her second EP. They’re not even the highest place person called ‘Dua’ on this year’s list, which you’ve gotta imagine they would have assumed was a shoe-in. The potential of Dua Saleh though, is mind boggling. They make music that isn’t quite like anything else on Earth, like if PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom co-wrote Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye‘. And Tricky isn’t the artist Tricky, but the actual song Tricky by Rum DMC. The song Tricky, yeah? That song managed to gain sentience and co-write a whole album. And that album’s a bit like ‘Maxinquaye‘. Only featuring PJ Harvey and Joanna Newsom. Listen, it’s complicated, just enjoy Dua now before they get so well regarded that you have to start thinking of reasons to consider them overrated. I see you.
We can all relate to that, right? Any childhood trauma, no matter how relatively insignificant or potentially even forgettable it might seem to adult eyes, can end up framing and even altering your adult life. My second album, which was unfortunate not to make this year’s list (mainly because it’s a hot pile of garbage), covers similar themes:
As appose to Alex Falmer’s self-indulgent and remarkably bigoted sophomore effort, ‘Little Dominique’s Nose Bleed’ is an astonishingly great record. The Koreatown Oddity builds an exciting, off kilter, often hilarious but always engrossing world in which he explores the trappings of nostalgia and explores how even the smallest childhood memory can stay with your subconscious forever, never mind an actual car accident or two.
You know what Laura Jane Grace is? Dependable. Whether with Against Me or recording a quick and furious raw Steve Albini produced record kicking loudly against the imposed box of lockdown, you’re guaranteed amazingness. ‘Stay Alive’ only occasionally reveals the limitations of its recordings- the fourteen tracks often repeat motifs and don’t always sound completely different from each other- but on the whole this is a fabulous achievement, and at the very least stands up to comparison with the best of Against Me- the greatest punk band of the 21st century.
(With Against Me). I told you they were good. Considering how I usually feel about punk, them getting judged that highly on Necessary Evil is like Mel Brooks beng named Man of the Year by the Nazi Party)
Listen, I know, we’ve all got a lot of time for 100 gecs, they’re fun, they’re never anything less than engaging, and we all use the line “You talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck” roughly four times a day, as the doctor recommends. I named them as the 43rd best album of last year, you think I play with that shit? I’m just not sure that the wider embrace of 100 gecs is necessarily a positive thing for the hyperpop genre. 100 gecs are memeable, they’re often very funny, and you can’t shake that declaring fandom of them is some sort of ironic raised eyebrow from so many sources. In short, 100 gecs are still kind of a bit of a joke. A joke they’re absolutely in on, but a joke that suggests the only way to appreciate such music is through forced irony.
fraxiom may act as a far better representative of the genre. They don’t use the form to inspire laughter at the ridiculousness of the 1500 bpm autotuned insanity, none of the lyrics on the extremely appropriately titled ‘Music’ will end up slapped across an image of a perplexed Nick Young, there will be no YouTube reaction videos to this record. Instead, fraxiom shapes the music to back moments of real, actual, genuine emotion, and frequently reaches moments of pure beauty. Also, 13 minutes is probably about the sensible limit for albums like this
Aqua Girl also recommended this album when I interviewed her. She’s doing a lot of good work.
I fucking love Wednesday, and I don’t care who knows. I might even say they’re the greatest band with a day of the week in the title ever. Better than The Saturdays, who have only released one good song and even then it turns out, after doing the research, that was actually by Little Mix. Better than Taking Back Sunday because, eugh, fuck that noise. Better than On A Friday, because, seriously, fuck Radiohead. Better than Friday Night Gunfight, whom you’d never heard of before reading this post. Better than Shrove Tuesday Bloody Shrove Tuesday, whom who also haven’t heard of, but that’s probably because I just made them up. Better than the Happy…
OK, not as good as the Happy Mondays, their bizarre and unexplainable genius is difficult to match, and they made the best album of 1988,according to science. However, that band crashed and burned pretty quickly after the commercial peak of 1990’s ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches’, so Wednesday could at least confidently state to the press that they’re the best band with a day of the week in their name for over three decades! My only complaint about their last album as that they weren’t on Twitter, but even that has been rectified now! Talk about growth between records.
I am just here for future now. He’s managed to switch my brain into his particular frequency, gas lit me into believing that this is all I’d ever want, and now I’m just going to meekly accept that whatever he offers up is more than worth the investment. I just get what he does now, and welcome the next 37 records he releases over the space of maybe 20 months with open arms. His unique tics, his Soma fueled detached delivery, it all just works for me, to the point that it doesn’t matter that 90% of his output is pretty interchangeable.
Is this one of Future’s better records? Absolutely not, and I’ll be demanding a work as phenomenal as ‘Beast Mode 2‘ before too long. But it is a Future record, one that won’t win any new converts but that will happily tie over those than have already seen the light.
‘Muthaland’ is a bit of a marvel- it’s 25 tracks and 63 minutes long, but manages to keep the barometer of quality among its 20 songs amazingly high. Even the five skit tracks aren’t that… No. No, they’re fucking awful. When will this cursed practice ever go out of fashion? But the songs are good!
Then, despite the release of one of the most distinctive and well received hip hop debut albums of recent times seemed to suggest a launching off point for a long and well loved career like any other, bbymutha declared the process and frustrations of making an album as being so stressful that she declared it her final record and retired to- and you’ll like this- an apothecary. She’s also hinted that she may release an EP in the future exclusively available on- and you’ll like this as well- her Only Fans account. So, yeah, this album might be the ultimate statement by bbymutha is so many ways, but did you not hear about all the stuff she’s got going on? She’ll be fine.