The Short List
She may never be an Aretha, but with the entertaining Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah did add a line crucial to any diva’s résumé: triumph over adversity. The key to her return from crazy-famous-person land? Learning that, when it comes to endlessly sustained notes and octave-straddling trills, less is more.
Best Lyric, Sensitive
It was Don DeLillo, whisky neat, and a blinking midnight clock / Speakers on a TV stand, just a turntable to watch . . . / It was grass-stained jeans and incompletes / And a girl from class to touch / But you think about yourself too much / And you ruin who you love.
Bright Eyes, “Gold Mine Gutted”
Best Lyric, Arrogant Hip-Hop-Star Division
Dear summer, I know you gonna miss me / For we been together like Nike Airs and crisp tees / S-Dots with the Polo fleeces / Purple Label shit with the logo secret / Gimme couple years, shit, I might just sneak in / A couple words and like Peaches and Herb / We’ll be reunited and it feels so hood / Have the whole world saying, “How you still so good?”
Jay-Z, “Dear Summer”
Best Album by 60-Year-Olds
The Rolling Stones, ‘A Bigger Bang’
Not many bands can claim they just recorded their best album in twenty years. Mick’s lyrics are still stuck in a clichéd rut, but Keith and Ron, remarkably, continue to find new ways for two guitars to rub up against each other.
Best Pitchfork Band
Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney
The Website’s tastemaking influence over a certain effete strain of indie rock is so strong, it’s practically a genre unto itself. This duo—Bonnie “Prince” is actually Will Oldham—is so obscure that it’s members will never follow in Arcade Fire’s footsteps to open for U2. On Superwolf, they weave a haunting tapestry of country-tinged sixties rock. No less an authority than Neil Young counts himself a fan.
Best Canadian Band
The New Pornographers
With apologies to Wolf Parade (and Arcade Fire, and Metric, and Broken Social Scene . . .). The seamless, irresistible Twin Cinema confirmed the members of this eight-or-so-piece outfit—with their obsessively layered sound and allergic aversion to clichés—as pop’s craftiest songsmiths.
The Game, “300 Bars and Running”
The Compton rapper’s feud with ex-boss 50 Cent was elevated above rote put-downs and shootings of minor posse members by this fourteen-minute-long evisceration set to a clever mix of classic dis beats.
Best Obscure D.J. Mix
Logan Sama, ‘RWD AAA The Mixtape’
Britain’s top grime D.J. tears up 25 cutting-edge tunes in rapid-fire style for a scene magazine. More raw energy than anything else you will—or won’t—hear this year.
Beck, ‘The Gameboy Variations EP’
Beck commissioned tinny eight-bit versions of songs from Guero, and then art collective Wyld File turned them into bizarre visual cornucopias. The vivid, hyperreal clips—melting aliens, Yanni lounging in the backseat of a car—are rendered in bold colors that evoke early Nintendo, Saturday-morning cartoons, and highly sugared cereal.
Once a reliable hard-core seven-inch label, Troubleman’s main currency is new owner Mike Simonetti’s restlessness. In recent months, he’s tackled art-metal (Growing), freak-folk (Devendra Banhart and Jana Hunter), and spazzy no-wave (Glass Candy’s cover of “Iko Iko”). Every small scene needs an incubator, even if everyone chooses the same one.
Best Music Book
Jeff Chang, ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation,’ and Peter Shapiro, ‘Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco’
Often considered antagonists, hip-hop and disco have more in common than either remembers. Read side by side, these books form a vivid history of parallel responses to New York’s seventies civic crisis.
Best New Venue
Deep in the basement of the TRL Times Square building, the city’s most humane venue opened quietly this fall. The sound system is arrestingly crisp, whether you’re tussling stage-front or sitting in the stadium risers. And the booking policy, which has already covered everyone from Bauhaus to Dierks Bentley, is appealingly catholic.
Paolo Suarez at Knitting Factory
This will go down as the year hipsters discovered beats—not digging up old ones but finding them in the rest of the world. Thanks to Paolo Suarez, the Knit—which hosted M.I.A., Lady Sovereign, and a 3:30 a.m. rumble with OutKast’s Big Boi and friends during CMJ—is all over the trend.
Ry Cooder, ‘Chavez Ravine’
Nobody else takes the archival impulse quite so seriously. For the follow-up to The Buena Vista Social Club, Cooder tracked down legendary fifties Chicano musicians from this vanished East L.A. neighborhood (it was razed for Dodger Stadium). If the concept is overambitious, the music is unfailingly pretty.
— Jon Caramanica, Hugo Lindgren, Adam Sternbergh, and Ben Williams