(UPDATE: Pazz & Jop lives to see another year and my ballot has been submitted!)
This year would have been my 30th or so voting in the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll, which for years was a labor of love of the dean of rock critics, Mr. Robert Christgau.
For a budding young music writer like myself in the 1980s to know that Christgau knew my name, at least in passing from seeing my ballot even momentarily, was a thrill.
While I might be embarrassed to see some of my previous ballots – we all have our flirtations with guilty musical pleasures – I’ve never given up on Pazz & Jop, even as the number of voters has skyrocketed. There were more than 400 ballots last year. It was always the most respected poll out there – like a Grammys for good music.
Despite the fact that the Village Voice ceased publication this summer, I will make my list for 2018 and check it twice, and at the moment, barring any last-minute revelations, here’s my ballot.
Critics in the poll had 100 points to share any way they pleased among 10 "albums," but I have always just given 10 points to each and will do the same this year. In later times days, unlike in earlier years, reissues were not separated out into their own category, so they're integrated here, too.
The Beatles – The Beatles (White Album) deluxe reissue
On its 50th anniversary, this lengthy classic gets the much-more-extended treatment it deserves, with a new mix of the original double LP by George Martin’s son Giles, a disc full of demos and more. While "Sgt. Pepper" always gets the credit, the Beatles were endless tinkerers and inventors in the studio and the so-called "White Album" was perhaps their most ambitious in spirit and quirkiest in results, with everything from the tender "I Will" to the raucous "Helter Skelter" to the playful "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" to the seemingly random "Why Don’t We Do It in The Road" to the loop madness of "Revolution No. 9." If there had ever been a real Beatles v. Stones debate, the Fab Four used the backs of their shovels to tamp down the dirt with this one. I’m enjoying comparing the alternate versions, the new mixes with the old and trying, at the same time, not to think about how 50 years before 1968 was 1918.
Tracey Thorn – Record (Merge)
Fans who worried that the end of Everything But the Girl would mean the end of hearing Thorn’s unique voice and her melancholic melodies have been proved wrong on a regular basis thanks to her solo records that are, in some cases, at least the equal of her band’s best moments. This one is, again, a solid mix of pop and dance, fueled by literary lyrics and THAT voice.
Field Report – Summertime Songs (Verve Forecast)
I like to think this record would’ve made this list even if Field Report wasn’t a Wisconsin band, but that’s moot because it is. "Summertime Songs" is here for its great songs, for its basic, honest performances, for the perfect arrangements and sympathetic production and for the gorgeous cover photography, too.
Paul Weller – True Meanings (Parlophone)
Weller has been in the center of my radar since about 1979 and I’ve followed everything he’s done and I give him credit for doing whatever he wants to do; following his muse. This mostly acoustic set is something he’s said he has no plans to do again, but the arrangements, he added, best suited the material. That’s definitely true for great moments like "Aspects," "Gravity" and "The Soul Searchers," and the rest is fine, too. Is it his best? No. Is it good. Yes.
Durand Jones & The Indications – s/t (Dead Oceans)
The retro R&B wave continues with this slightly longer than an EP disc that sounds like it could’ve been recorded in the 1960s. Jones’ voice is stellar, the songs memorable and the drumming quite nice, too. Can’t wait to hear more.
Gorillaz – The Now Now (Parlophone/Warner Bros.)
This CD has spent so much time in my car that I’m thinking of getting it a booster seat. The mix of breezy ‘70s soul pop (thanks George Benson) with hip-hop, dance, electronica and rock has proved so infectious that I sometimes hear my kids humming or singing these songs. I especially adore what I consider side two: "Idaho," "Magic City," "Fireflies," "One Percent" and "Souk Eye."
Hollie Cook – Vessel of Love (Merge)
British singer Hollie Cook’s third record is an airy and breezy U.K. reggae record with some roots undertones and pop overtones and, interestingly, all the drum tracks are sampled from another record, which has surprisingly nice results and never fails to make me ponder how they accomplished the arrangements. Cook, of course, is the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, and was briefly a member of The Slits (which you know if you saw The Slits rock-doc at the Film Festival recently). There’s great bass playing by Jah Wobble, who (along with Keith Levene) made Public Image’s best records great, and it was produced by Youth, who – similarly – helped make the best Killing Joke records great. I’d love to hear some Adrian Sherwood mixes of these tracks.
Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today (Atlantic)
The first DCFC record I’ve really listened to since 2005’s "Plans" has been in heavy rotation in my listening station, aka car. That’s not because it’s groundbreaking or an amazing new direction. No, these days I think DCFC is sort of alternative adult contemporary – especially considering the sort of mid-life issues up for discussion in the lyrics – with great melodies and just the right amount of melancholy for the morning commute.
Various Artists – Natural High: The Bongo Man Collection (Studio One)
Yep Roc hasn’t been churning out the Studio One reissues at a rapid pace and I think that’s good. Instead, it’s working hard to create quality reissues of classic sets and slipping in themed compilations of long-unheard – and sometimes unreleased – music like the roots reggae gems that populate this double LP and CD. Please keep them coming.
Neko Case – Hell-On (Anti-)
Neko Case knocked me off my feet with "Furnace Room Lullaby" at the dawn of the new millennium and I’ve remained a fan ever since. I didn’t quite get "Hell-On" until I saw her play the songs live at The Pabst and those performances opened the door for me and this is now one of my favorites of hers in recent years.
I don’t generally vote for too many singles these days, because back when I did I felt there was too much overlap with my albums votes. But I always vote for a couple that aren’t reflected in the long-playing ballot. No points are allotted here.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.