Best of the Best of 2012: Rolling Stone

Remember the movie Inception? The premise was something about having a shootout in people’s dreams and stealing their secrets or whatever. One of the things they talked about was how dreaming inside of a dream made you old really fast. Remember that? I barely do.
Anyhow, the Rolling Stone list of best albums is like that. If reality is reality, and the dream is the level of delusion you get from Pitchfork and A.V. Club and whatever other internet-based music publications I’ve been making fun of so far, then the Rolling Stone best of 2012 list is a dream within a dream, and it will make you old SO FAST.
Reading it, I found myself rooting for these guys to get something “right” and put Sharon Van Etten or Purity Ring in there, and I hate Sharon Van Etten and Purity Ring. Now that I’m familiar with the records that people are saying are supposed to be the good ones, I’m like, “No no no, Rolling Stone, didn’t you get the memo? You’re supposed to say you like Bat For Lashes now, not Band of Horses! You’re 4 years behind! Come on, buddy, get with it!”
And that’s probably how these lists end up looking so much like each other. It’s not so much hive mind as it is thousands of individuals afraid to stick their neck out and say something potentially embarrassing. What we consumers get at the tail end is the averaged-out version of what’s already happened, with all of the edges smoothed off. I say “we consumers” because I’m a fan, not a critic. If I’m not “doing this right” that’s only because there is no right way to listen to music, and anybody who thinks “how dare he” when I make a “silent but deadly” joke about Cloud Nothings needs to get over themselves.
Anyhow, I salute Rolling Stone. They have the courage of their convictions, and they are completely embarrassing and awful. They’re so embarrassing and awful, even the most embarrassing and awful of the embarrassing and awful current online music press gets to point at Rolling Stone and hold their noses and say “get with it, old man.”
Here is what the year in music looks like in an alternate reality where the music industry never collapsed and print journalism is still going strong:
50. Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan
In an interview, Dave Longstreth accused Rolling Stone of being a “total bozo magazine.” More than anything in my life I desire both the existence of and a subscription to Total Bozo Magazine.
49. Amadou and Mariam, Folila
I’m glad two blind people from Mali are out there making music for America’s divorced aunts.
48. The Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania
How psyched do you think Billy Corgan would be if you went to his house to tell him you liked this album? I bet he would assume you’d want to hang out with him all day. Next thing you know you’re out picking up Billy Corgan’s dry cleaning and answering his questions about what’s your favorite song on Siamese Dream (“uh, Silverfuck, I guess”) and sitting through his boring stories while yawning and glancing at your watch. By the end of the day you’d have a new best friend that you absolutely would not want.
47. Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables
Sure, this Americana singer-songwriter jangle is the kind of folksy grown up tunesmithing I don’t ordinarily touch with a ten foot pole, but I could see why somebody with that bent would want to make a case for it. It’s at least unselfconscious.
46. Muse, The 2nd Law
If listening to entire Muse albums is a part of the job of being a serious music critic, then I guess I’ll just have to be stuck with “not very serious non-critic.”
45. Rick Ross, Rich Forever
I wish I knew where Rick Ross stood on Money v. Bitches.
44. Garbage, Not Your Kind of People
Shirley Manson is 46 years old and still singing songs called “Beloved Freak” about how you shouldn’t worry about being a social outcast because you’re special. 46 is old enough to have children who are old enough to be over it.
43. fun., Some Nights
I like “We Are Young.” It’s like putting “Rosalinda’s Eyes” on at a dance party except you don’t have to wait 25 years for it to be hilarious.
42. Allo Darlin’, Europe
I just realized that YouTube thinks I like all kinds of dumb shit now. I wish there was a “jokes” button I could press. It’s gonna take me years and years to get back to the point where it recommends “Beat Beat.”
41. The Avett Brothers, The Carpenter
Speaking of YouTube, thanks a lot “Avett’s bassist on daughter’s cancer.” Now I feel like a real asshole for wanting to make fun of these heroically bland folk singers.
40. Escort, Escort
Hold on. Goddammit. I love this. Electronic disco music, danceable and fun? Something’s wrong. Can somebody please explain to Rolling Stone how we only like to party to some art school dropout with a futuristic haircut moaning about their feelings? It’s 2012.
39. Passion Pit, Gossamer
That’s more like it. Call me old fashioned, but I like my synthesizer-based pop to sound like I just poured a whole tube of whiteout into my ear.
38. Titus Andronicus, Local Business
Titus Andronicus decided to suck in a third of the time it took for Liars to make the same decision, so that’s pretty good.
37. Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
Terri Schiavo’s favorite singer/songwriter. Don’t ask me how I know, I just know, okay? #believe
36. Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe
This has almost the same cover as a Puffy Areolas 7” and it gets me unfairly excited every time I see it. I would pay a thousand dollars to see Bobby Womack front Puffy Areolas. I would pay zero dollars to see Bobby Womack front Blur.
35. Grizzly Bear, Shields
Grizzly Bear is the one that goes bah dum plunka plunka plunka “woo eee ooh,” right? Or is that Phoenix?
34. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
Did anybody catch their performance on that PBS show “Stay In Friday Night While Drinking A Half Bottle Of Wine On Your Leather Couch And Pretend You Went Out To See Some Tepid Live Music?” I heard it was great because they sang songs and there wasn’t any traffic.
33. Grimes, Visions
I know an old grump who once went 17 years between dental checkups, and when he went in the second time and had no cavities, the dentist commented on how remarkable it was, and the grump said something like “I think that says more about your profession than it does about me.” Anyhow, here’s Grimes. It’s not rocket science. She flosses.
32. Hospitality, Hospitality
Here’s some perfectly acceptable twee on Merge that none of these other lists told me about. Looks like a lucky dartboard strike for Hospitality. #32 on the Rolling Stone list! Like Comment Share.
31. Taylor Swift, Red
People on the internet love to photoshop this person’s face onto porn. I saw one that was just a picture from a magazine that some dude jazzed on and then posted on the internet as if to say, “Hello world, I’m the saddest.” If you want to jazz on a photo of somebody, do it the old fashioned way: while drunk and crying, on a picture of an ex-girlfriend, and in private.
30. Azealia Banks, 1991
She’s 21 and she raps about sex things and Rolling Stone loves it and that makes me uncomfortable. Look at the rest of this list and visualize a one person composite who loves all of this stuff, and then imagine that person calling Azealia Banks’s 1991 a “great appetite-whetter.” It’s like if Jabba the Hutt did the Buffalo Bill dance.
29. Dave Matthews Band, Away From the World
Apparently Dave Matthews is cyberpunk now. Ha ha, made you look.
28. Beach House, Bloom
Beach House is about as interesting as a coat of paint in a boring couple’s living room. Wait ‘til you hear the story of how they chose that color. It’s a real mindblower.
27. Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu
Can you guys believe the Redskins made it to the playoffs this year? I mean, sure down the line, but THIS YEAR? After going 3-6? It’s like some crazy dream. I’m sorry to throw sports in here, but if you’re actually listening to Gary Clark Jr. without also thinking about The Posse, I don’t want to be your friend. It’s like the deep cut version of Calvin Johnson/Calvin Johnson.
26. Django Django, Django Django
So we’re nostalgic for the 1981-1984 period where all the bands that were previously pretending to be punk started playing keyboards? I’ve read stuff from then and it’s striking how earnestly hopeful people were about Adam Ant taking things in a new direction. I realize I’m being naïve, but the extent to which everybody decided to start sucking instead of continuing with rocking is just incomprehensible. It’s like music’s money-versus-art Antietam. I’m real glad nobody in the music industry is making money anymore, because this is the kind of thing that happens when Mtv steps in and floods the market with cash.
25. Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos
When I was nineteen I had a summer job at the Coffee Beanery, and one time this extremely drunk middle aged dude came in at like 4pm and without any apparent prompt started blurting about “fuckin’ Steely Dan, man, good fuckin’ tunes.” Not me nor the 45 year old Nepalese guy I worked with had any idea what he was talking about. Presumably a Steely Dan song was on the satellite radio they made us listen to, and I had just completely tuned it out and couldn’t piece together that he was referring to something that was actually happening, and I thought he was just enthusiastic about Steely Dan in that moment and wanted to share. Maybe also he was mistaken and the song was really “Roundabout” by Yes. I can’t remember anything vividly except for the guy’s big sweaty head and “fuckin’ Steely Dan.” As the years go by, my perception of this memory has gone from ironically awesome to actually awesome to ironically sad to actually sad. It’s all of those things.
24. G.O.O.D. Music, Cruel Summer
I fucks widdit. Not really, but I wanted to say that as a joke one time before some grandmother in an Adam Sandler movie says it while footworkin’ at a skate park.
23. Divine Fits, Thing Called Divine Fits
I just cleaned up the apartment and found a mixtape I made for an old girlfriend in 2004. She must have given it back because she didn’t have a tape player in 2004. It starts off real smooth, full of great stuff she’d like, then loses interest and sort of meanders into some real weird territory that’s just whatever I felt like at the time, and then eventually it’s just filler I put in there to get to the end faster. Pretty appropriate metaphor for the relationship. There’s a Spoon song in the “I’m sure she’ll like this but pretty soon I’m gonna be out of ideas” portion, which is a metaphor for the music press’s relationship with music.
22. Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream
I’d listen to this, but I don’t want to catch menopause. I hear it’s hell.
21. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
When people describe what they like about this, it’s like they’re talking about other better albums that came out this year and just don’t know it. Tyvek, Cheater Slicks, and Apache Dropout come to mind. Those are just the ones that would also incorporate all the condescending musings about being stuck in the Midwest (living here is a justifiable choice that some people make even though it’s cold and has no “culture,” because people here act like human beings).
20. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music
“Old guy lets loose” is Rolling Stone’s favorite genre of everything.
19. Band of Horses, Mirage Rock
Look out Leonard Cohen Old Ideas, there’s a new sheriff in the town of Albumtitlesthataresospotonitishilariousville.
18. Nas, Life Is Good
Because I love the idea so much I’m just going to assume this is Nas’s collaboration with Joe Walsh. You can’t tell me it’s not. Lalalalala infinity.
17. John Mayer, Born and Raised
What if this guy just said “fuck it” and decided to shred? Couldn’t he shred? Why won’t he shred? John Mayer: if you’re reading this, shred. It’s the only thing you could do that would make any sense at this point, because your life is Dave Navarro but your music is James Taylor.
16. Cat Power, Sun
I’m tired of making fun of Cat Power. Cat Power is great, you guys. Go buy this Cat Power album. What the fuck, right? #YOLO
15. Dr. John, Locked Down
You know what’s scary, you guys? After you turn 30, you’ll have entire days of your life when you want to listen to the blues. You won’t even be like “yeah but I don’t want to be one of those blues guys” about it, you’ll just go and listen to some blues and like it without even thinking about anything. It’s up there on the inevitability scale with going up a pants size or unclogging the drain and realizing it’s all your hair.
14. Best Coast, The Only Place
I think she used to be one of the Dum Dum Girls. (yes I am joking ha ha ha)
13. Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas
Leonard Cohen’s debut album is as old as the entire human of Vanilla Ice.
12. Jimmy Cliff, Rebirth
This is here because Rolling Stone correctly assumes that the world in 2012 needs a Jimmy Cliff protest song called “Afghanistan” in which he sings the word “email” and the chorus is “Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan Afghanistan.” I just hope this is the tipping point in an eleven year old war that we’ve already decided to end.
11. Mumford & Sons, Babel
These guys are for people who think the idea of music is cute.
10. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill
Oh look. Rolling Stone finally threw Guided By Voices a bone. Turns out all they had to do was be Neil Young.
9. Japandroids, Celebration Rock
These guys are almost as good as Green Day.
8. Green Day, ¡Uno!
7. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Here
I heard Alex Ebert HATES Mumford & Sons and said not to bring that limey pussy shit over to this side of the pond. No I didn’t, but roll with it. Also: use hashtag #dothedew for a chance to win cool prizes. Come onnn internet.
6. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city
Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Lamarrrrrrr. Uhhhhhbububububububuh. Remember those fake GI Joe PSAs?
5. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser . . .
I’ll say this for Fiona Apple: she might set your car on fire but at least she’ll break up with you instead of dragging you to couples counseling and nagging you to get an MBA.
4. Bob Dylan, Tempest
If you haven’t gotten into Bob Dylan yet, this is a great place to shart.
3. Jack White, Blunderbuss
We’ve officially entered the phase of Jack White’s career where he’s just killing time until somebody invites him to guest conduct the London Philharmonic.
2. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
I’m so excited for this to be the last time I try to come up with a joke about Frank Ocean, it’s like using premature ejaculation as a birth control method.
1. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
In the interest of science, I calculated the average age of every solo artist on this list. (Solo acts because you can easily Google their ages; I’m not gonna go whole hog with this thing and average out every Cloud Nothing bassist or Garbage drummer) So solo artists only, using their name or a pseudonym only and not a band name even if it’s just Billy Corgan dicking around in a studio alone. Also disqualified, though old: Dave Matthews for putting “Band” at the end of his name, and Neil Young for insisting on additional billing for the also crazily old Crazy Horse. But I’ll count Cat Power, just because it’s funny to think of people saying “hey Cat!” or “excuse me, Ms. Power” to Chan Marshall.
There are a total of 22 solo acts on this list with an average age of 45. That feels like somebody throwing up their hands and saying “music hasn’t been good in 20 years!” If lists like this were the only way I heard about what’s happening in music, I’d feel the same way.