s put forth on the New Pantheon Music Award’s website, “The concept behind the New Pantheon is to honor the most creative and artistic records of the year. Unique to any award which has come before, the award is decided by a specially selected Panel of respected musical figures (the 'Nominators'). The expressed goal of the New Pantheon is accruing audiences for what's next and what's best in current music.” The catch, as was the case for the award that preceded it (the Shortlist Music Prize) is that only albums that have not yet been certified Gold by the RIAA for sales (500,000) are eligible. Each year Stylus writers gather to talk about the nominees and who might emerge victorious on an as yet undisclosed date in March…
Animal Collective – Feels
Jeff Siegel: This band, and this album, makes for a very strange kind of squealing fanboy. The kind that will bang their heads to "Purple Bottle." Ever seen that? It's frightening.
I mean, f'reals, who else turns their awkward adolescence into some strange, gauzy, epic fairy tale about girls and banshees and metamorphosis, and maybe the most ear-piercing shrieks you've ever heard? And then mashes it all together into pop music, and pop this strange and majestic?
Mike Powell: Shamelessly, I am that guy. I mean, I'm a little disappointed that they're still as ignored/narrowly appreciated as they seem to be after this album. It was definitely the most accessible and cohesive thing they've put out; I guess people still get hung up on the screaming bit. True fun is underrated, alas.
Ian Mathers: I can't believe this record still hasn't shown up in any of the shops here in Canada. It took a while for me to come around, but Feels really does, uh, feel to me to be an honest spiritual inheritor of the greatness of those first couple of Mercury Rev albums, only with folk instead of rock at the core, or something.
I don't know—it's such a loose record that it's kind of hard to sum up why it's so wonderful. It makes me want to hibernate in a cave and go running through some fields at the same time. And it's so good it makes writers get all twee like I just did.
And yet, I'm not sure it would have gotten any more votes if it had been more widely heard—if my experience is anything to go on, you really do have it to give it a chance (that I did is 100% to Mike Powell's credit). But once you're inside, "Did You See The Words", "Bees", "Banshee Beat", "Turn Into Something" et al hit you in a manner that is actually surprisingly like a good drug high. And I don't say that lightly—this isn't druggy music, it's euphoric. If everything else was as capable of giving you this kind of body buzz, maybe I'd stop playing Feels all the time.
Brad Shoup: Upon hearing it for the first time last week, I have no problem with Feels, either winning the award or as a record itself. And it's sufficiently in its own cozy realm to masquerade as a Modern American Original. Pick this and all kingmakers involved will have done the best they could with that shortlist.
Todd Hutlock: There is no way on earth this should win. Good, by no means great. Sort of annoying in places even.
Ian Mathers: This was my exact reaction on first listen. I might have even said it in those words to someone standing nearby.
Which doesn't prove Todd would like it if he kept listening, or even that he should keep listening (it's up to him whether it's worth it), but there really is a sort of loose-limbed joy to the whole thing (alternately woozy and giddy) that I can't get enough of.
Todd Hutlock: Okay, stuck it in the car player and it is growing on me after popping up randomly in the changer for a week or so. I actually found myself humming one of the melodies this morning, which I didn't think was possible with this record. Still not the best thing on this list, but getting better all the time.
Ian Mathers: Given how you feel about the music, Hutock, what would you think of it winning, especially considering the ostensible aim of the prize and the competition?
Todd Hutlock: I'd be pretty shocked, honestly. It isn't a very immediate record. It takes a while for the stuff to burrow into your head. And I just don't see your average voter taking the time to let it do that.
Antony and the Johnsons - I am a Bird Now
Brad Shoup: Can you win the Mercury and the Mercury West in the same year? Is it cool if we make that a rules violation?
Actually, I'd take the Ant over anyone else. He's not defibrillating a movement; he just recorded a wonderful album.
Josh Timmermann: I love that Elton John voted for this. Actually, more specifically, I love, on principle, the idea of Sir Elton sitting around listening to this. It's just sort of perfect. Maybe he'll show up for a duet on the next one!
Todd Hutlock: I too love the Elton connection... if Elton had ever officially come out when he was still halfway decent, I like to think this might have been the sort of record he would have made. Instead, we got Rock of the Westies. And Caribou.
Todd Burns: Well, there was Victim of Love.
Ian Mathers: I've still only heard "Hope There's Somebody", and this still seems like a better choice than a good half of the picks here. That one song is actually both chilling and pretty, touching and strange, qualities most of the rest of the nominees lack. Which is unsurprising, as the weirdly beautiful in this kind of sense tends to be so in a kind of idiosyncratic fashion, and these ten records are all consensus picks. Which only makes Antony's appearance all the more impressive, unless you're willing to cynically put that down to his victory over at the Mercurys. I do know that unlike, say, Feels, I Am A Bird Now is on sale in the 2/$30 section in my local HMV, which can't have hurt its chances.
Brad Shoup: His ability to wring ache from bathos is terrifying. I'd forgotten: my introduction to the man came from his unsettling take on Lou Reed's "Perfect Day."
Mike Powell: I really hoped that people would spend as much time talking about how utterly gorgeous this record is as they fuss about Antony's existential "weirdnesses": his gender ambiguities, the voice, etc. I'm not gay, so I guess it sounds sort of reactionary to say this, but I hate the fact that he's sort of been absorbed into the "gay mafia" (Elton endorsements, Rufus & Boy George Cameos); I mean, let's not forget that their first record came out on Durtro, David Tibet/Current 93's label. It's strange, overemotional, vaguely transcendental; I bristle at the idea of this becoming an album people just put on to chill out on their sofas. I can hardly listen to it; when I do, I'm really swept by it. Cough.
Alfred Soto: Antony's brand of transcendence gets wearying, even on an album as brief as his. All that emoting and pouting grates like Rufus', except that Rufus once in a while (but not post-Poses) enlivens his tempos with jokes, musical or lyrical. I mean, I'm gay, and maybe I'm too accustomed to leavening sincerity with a horse tranquilizer's worth of irony. When that pretty, pretty voice launches into the fourth or fifth lament I start to get a transcendental itch to listen to Robert Plant.
I should add that my favorite Antony moment is on the live version of Lou Reed's "Tell it to Your Heart" found on 2004's Animal Serenade.
Matt Sheardown: I think this may have been the only album I heard all year that I was in complete awe of the first few times I listened to it. There were others I got enjoyment out of, but it wasn't until the fifth or sixth spin that I could even start to dissect it. I felt that some of the guest appearances were a little intrusive (except for Lou Reed on "Fistful of Love," I quite liked it there), but I'm happy they didn't put one of these collabs in the first three tracks, because that's where Antony gets the spotlight and reserves his right to it for the rest of the record.
Josh Timmermann: I think the "Help, brave rogue" bit at the end of "Spiralling" is the precise take-it-or-leave-it moment on this record. You're either feeling it—or you're not. I really can't imagine there being much room for ambivalence.
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Derek Miller: This record is already eight years old, isn’t it?
Justin Cober-Lake: This is easily my favorite of all the choices. I was won over on a first listen, play it regularly, and my love abides. They push the brink of melodrama in a way that makes me feel like I can only describe it in hyperbole, to capture the fact that I honestly still do get goosebumps from "Tunnels." It's also more artistic than its detractors give it credit for—those codas might seem random in a musical sense, but they're fluid emotional developments.
That said, it won't win—the Pantheon will go to someone who's more of a slow burner and less of an instant-success buzz band.
Brad Shoup: But why?
It's so hard for me to quantify popularity. Sufjan's record sold about 70 thousand last year, but from the hall-of-mirrors world of the interweb, you'd think he'd released The Massacre.
Anyway, to a different panel, Funeral (released what seems like ages ago to us) would be old hat, but maybe Elton did some blow off the CD at Bowie's place last month.
Ken Cheesy: In the world of groundbreaking crossover success, this album is so mediocre it's not funny. If Pitchfork had given Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes a 9.7, “Staring at the Sun” would have been on TRL every however often it comes out.
Funeral is tasteful, but so is Martha Stewart.
In the paraphrased words of Mr. Show, brilliance scares people. Better to do with muddled hoowaw.
Brad Shoup: We should present 16 choices and let our readers knock 'em down in one-on-ones for four weeks. I mean, Ken's TRL thing is apt. How many more outlets does the Arcade Fire need? Does the winner get a slot on Zach Braff's Prozac Nation soundtrack?
Josh Love: Please explain how Funeral is "tasteful." That's a pejorative that gets thrown around all the time often without actually meaning anything, much like the terms "dull" and "boring" Nick Southall lampooned in his Soulseeking piece a while back.
I mean, you can accuse the Arcade Fire of a bunch of nasty things (though I wouldn't agree)—being whiny, precious, self-indulgent, overblown, death-obsessed, and occasionally sounding like Conor Oberst—but I just don't see how "tasteful" fits in there at all.
Erick Bieritz: I can understand why both Sufjan Stevens and the Arcade Fire have received their accolades. Both are good enough to distinguish themselves from the masses with which they share college radio playlists, but neither is so radically different that they keep themselves from selling 50,000 to 200,000 and being mainstream enough for NPR, large music publications, David Bowie, etc. Good, but you know, not too good and not too obviously different.
Quite the contrary: Like ...And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead's Source Tags and Codes and several of the other most hyped indie records of the last several years, Funeral wins its praise by summarizing some of the major indie trends of the preceding decade (and when paired with Broken Social Scene, neatly wrapping up the two biggest branches of Canadian underground pop). This album encapsulates comforting elements of the recent past more than it opens the door to a new or different future, and the first achievement has always been as valued as much by critics as the second ("If not more," cries the cynical voice from the back).
These award selections seem to do a better job of carrying the banner for the critical establishment (and validating its existence) than they do of selecting the most innovative album—but then no one could have seriously expected that Khanate or something similar was going to be a contender.
Ken Cheesy: Josh: Would you describe Funeral as un-self-consciously meandering through aimless experimentation? Or rather intentionally crafting a pop structurally based masterpiece?
I say tasteful only in that it keeps itself in check so as to identify itself as the culmination of the culture described by Erick, and not a Hail Mary at achieving something grandiose and romantic. The romance comes from the intent of a beautiful creation, not the hopes of becoming synonymous with bad-ass rule breaking.
That's where I think BSS comes through with a whole different world of success... if they didn't break any rules, they at least set a few new standards in their own right, where such standards hadn't previously existed. The only standard Funeral set was the amount of hype it got.
Justin Cober-Lake: I think it's pretty un-tasteful to be sentimental; DCFC has a more tasteful sound—it might be heart-on-sleeves, but it's constrained and limited; emotions are offered in accepted manners, without unnecessary shouts, without formally coded pleas, and without such high-school hut. It's a manner that, if it sums up a cultural movement, could be a representation of post-irony, but post-irony is more about sterility, rather than a scattered inability to control ourselves. Funeral sounds like an album that they fucking needed to make, that had to make itself if nothing else. Funeral is overwrought and high-strung and yet still manages to be consoling, and it does that without any sense of being a balancing act.
Jeff Siegel: Ken: I really can't see where your Pitchfork-as-hype catalyst stance is going here. Yes, PFM's review was the first I read, as with many, of Funeral, but you're not honestly suggesting that PFM got the Arcade Fire on my TV all by itself? Think of it this way, Keith Fullerton Whitman scored a 9.1 for Multiples, and I don't see him twiddling knobs on Conan.
Is it at all possible, in some alternate universe somewhere, that the Arcade Fire picked up steam months after the PFM review through word of mouth, energetic live shows, and songwriting that is sweeping, romantic, and well-executed; basically traditionally-rockish while still differing substantially from anything else on the radio? And is it at all possible that quite a few of the people who listened to Funeral, and took to it, don't even know what Pitchfork is? And what does any of that have to do with quality anyway? You aren't tying a perceived hype and marketing blitz to quality, are you?
That said, Funeral is one of those records, like Arular, that I was obsessed with for like a month, and then basically forgot about until, well, now. If I remember correctly, it's lushly written, epic in scope, bit gothy around the edges, and a fun time all around, though forgettable in the end. Sounds like a pretty good pop-rock record, the sort that tends to get people's attention who are tired of normal MTV and radio fodder, but aren't about to get all theoretical or into noise or anything. The sort of record that, you know, tends to take off with a larger audience and get nominated for awards like these. You could take that as MOR or whatever if you like, but that isn't pejorative by default.
Todd Hutlock: I just don't buy it. I think all of you are overestimating the power of PFM in the actual PURCHASING marketplace. VERY WILDLY OVERESTIMATING IT.
John Cunningham: It's sort of like how the name Madison has been among the top ten girls' names for the last eight years. The name wasn't even in the top 1000 before 1985—the year in which, guess what, Madison was the name of Daryl Hannah's character in Splash. So for a couple of years in the mid-to-late '80s, you have all these moms watching Splash and thinking, "Hey, that sounds like a pretty name, maybe I'll use it on my own kid!" But of course, Madison wasn't the third most popular name in 2004 because America can't get enough of some silly Ron Howard movie from twenty years ago. Starting around 1990, parents who had never even seen the film began to observe that their friends' daughters were named Madison, and regardless of where it originally came from, it had a nice ring to it. And hence, it began to build.
Basically, what I'm saying is that I blame Ron Howard for the Arcade Fire's success.
Alfred Soto: Let's not underestimate celebrity endorsements. That four-song EP collab with Bowie sold like gangbusters on iTunes. No one under 25 gives a shit about Bowie, true, but combine the endorsement with blanket MTV2 airplay, the print coverage, and their nonstop touring, and you have a mini phenomenon.
Brad Shoup: Fuck a Napoleon Dynamite. Any band with a curly fro is right out, and I'm dismayed I didn't know about this development sooner.
Remember when "indie" didn't refer to club kids arranging state-park sing-alongs? Remember when it just stood for "independent recording and distribution," and could apply to everyone from Sexual Harrassment to 7 Seconds? Yeah, neither do I; I was three. Indie is a marketable aesthetic—who could argue otherwise?—in the kids' argot, it's "indie pop" or "indie rock," not Kevin Blechdom or Keith Fullerton Whitman. Except in Britain; I think they consider McFly indie.
Funeral is a decent record, a bit heavy on the build-up/group chant formula, but the artwork's historically evocative and Americans have this innate attraction to The Canadian People and Their Ways. Maybe I'm getting too old to have a record change my life, I dunno.
Ian Mathers: As a Canadian, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to hate and fear all Canadians who mysteriously become more successful than they're "supposed" to, but honestly hearing the singles from Funeral on the radio at places like the mall is such a nice chance I'll give them a pass. I get the sneaking suspicion that if I were still who I was at 18 I'd adore this record to distraction, but I'm not sure who is really losing out from the fact that I don't.
Alfred Soto: No one has mentioned how fuckin' marvelous "Rebellion (Lies)" is after a few drinks. It hits you in the same way as the Strokes' "12:51" or Pulp's "Disco 2000"—suddenly everyone in the dance floor looks desirable and accessible, and when you move in for the kill the mindlock between you and the respondee is chilling.
(This is all based on firsthand experience last Saturday.)
Derek Miller: Is this another one of those homeless transvestite stories, Alfred?
Alfred Soto: S(he) was not homeless, m'sieur Derek.
Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
Erick Bieritz: I have only heard half of the finalist records, but this one was far and away the only one of those five that I would seriously consider near the most creative music of the Pantheon's period in question.
Josh Love: I think these guys definitely have a better album in 'em somewhere, Silent Alarm showed a great deal of promise (i.e. the first half of the album), but was also remarkably uneven (i.e. the last half of the album or so).
Nonetheless, I do dig that wacky Radiohead-for-dummies (nebulous left-wing rhetoric + beatz) thing they do. And I really do mean that in a nice way, really.
Mike Powell: I liked a handful of tracks off of this; "This Modern Love," actually, was one I felt like really fell under the radar. Maybe I'm just a wuss. Still, I didn't think it was as good of an "album" (i.e. didn't hold up straight through for as long) as the others. That Radiohead comparison is totally left-field to me, though.
Alfred Soto: "So Here We Are" is Radiohead-served-with-strawberries-and-cream and not tasty at that.
Andrew Unterberger: This record is the only one of the (admittedly few) albums I've heard from this list that I actually enjoy listening to all the way through. Quite possibly the most solid, if not the most spectacular, rock album of the decade.
Alfred Soto: Yeah, objections noted, this and Arular are by far the best items.
Ian Mathers: It's only after hearing some of the tracks here (particularly "Helicopter" and "Luno") pumped through a bar's sound system that I really appreciated how good the guitar is. The rhythm section too, yeah, but I think the guitarist gets overlooked just because he sounds like the guy from Gang of Four. That's a bad thing, suddenly?
I'm not sure I follow the "uneven second half" comments—when I first heard this I liked the second half a lot more. From "The Pioneers" on I think this is pretty close to perfect, and I love how a few tracks are noticeably post-disco.
It's not earth shaking, any more than the Arcade Fire, but it is pretty loveable. And it sounds great on headphones.
David Drake: "Like Eating Glass": that one’s a winner. I don't remember much else from this, honestly.
John Cunningham: There's a reason you remember "Like Eating Glass," Drake: it's the best thing on the album. So propulsive. I still maintain that the direct antecedents for the dazzling guitar work on this album aren't Gang of Four or whatever canonical post-punk act rock critics like nowadays but actually turn-of-the-millennium American melodic-emo bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves. (Listen to the opening riff of "Helicopter." And then keep listening, because Silent Alarm, unlike any PGMG album, actually boasts more than a couple outstanding songs.)
Mallory O’Donnell: This is one of the very few albums from last year that I still end up listening to a lot. I even play it at work, where I pretty much never play anything I've heard even once before. In fact, I think it's up there with only two or three records that I've played there more than twice (Different Class and Beauty & the Beat being two more), played them simply because I needed a hit to set me straight.
I think this is one of those very few albums that has a high ceiling to its' listenability. It might not be the most original album on the list, but it is probably the only one people will be bothering to hear in ten years. Certainly not the bloody Arcade Fire.
John Cunningham: Yeah, it's strange: through most of the year, I never would've imagined this would have ended up in my top five, except for the mere fact that I kept putting it on and never got sick of it.
Ian Mathers: And I think a large number of listeners have had that response. I sure didn't expect it to end up where it did in my top twenty. I've only really, really loved it for brief periods, but I always like it. That's counts for a surprising amount.
Scott McKeating: The only praise I can give this group is that the drummer is OK.
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Dom Passantino: Every night I hope that Vivian Stanshall will rise from his grave and bring zombie vengeance upon DCFC for stealing his song title for such a moribund, unimaginative, useless band.
John Cunningham: The first few tracks here aren't bad—"Soul Meets Body" is beautifully spacious and propulsive at the same time, and the bassline on "Summer Skin" is really catchy—but then the album turns into a major snoozefest. As an official apologist for the band, I can say they've done better.
Patrick McNally: Why did they jack the name? Anyone know?
Brad Shoup: They got it from the movie Magical Mystery Tour.
Patrick McNally: “Magical” and “mystery” are not words I would associate with Death Cab for Cutie.
Justin Cober-Lake: Given Gibbard's involvement with the Pantheon, this one should be thrown out. Given that it's not as good as most of the other nominees, it shouldn't matter anyway.
The thing people seem to be missing on this one is how well-produced it is. It might be a step sideways for Gibbard's writing, but Walla seems to be benefiting from all his time indoors. The sound on this album is very precise, appropriate, and often as affecting as the performances themselves (if it's possible to distinguish, which it might not be).
Andrew Unterberger: I actually kind of hope these guys win because it would piss a lot of people off. Plus "Soul Meets Body" is really good.
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Todd Hutlock: The fact that this, Arcade Fire, Sufjan, Antony, and Death Cab all got nominated makes me fairly confident which way this award is leaning... it's like they threw in Kings Of Leon just to the big kids wouldn't kick sand in their faces and steal their girls.
Brad Shoup: This is the one with the song about the whale. I'll give you "Sixteen Military Wives," but the period-grab-bag approach is keeping them from writing a stem-to-stern killer. If they could pull off an album-length theme, then we'd be getting somewhere.
Justin Cober-Lake: Picaresque seems like the oddest nomination to me. It's a big step sideways for the band. Good, but not their best, and entirely predictable (period pieces, Renaissance-y orchestration), and I'd bet a large percentage of reviews of this album were written without the author having finished the CD. Heck, probably some without the writer having started it. I'd rate it in the middle of the bunch in terms of enjoyability and overall quality, but it just doesn't seem award-worthy to make an album exactly to type (see also Illinois). Unless you're an old rocker who hasn't done much in a while (see also the Grammys).
Josh Love: I think you may be responding at least somewhat to the lack of buzz that surrounded this one relative to some of the other nominees. Certainly that's partially a factor of it being a thematic placeholder for the band, but I don't think that should be held against 'em. I understand your comment is meant more to fall in the "who will" rather than the "who should" category, but I still think it warrants reiterating that it's better to reward music for being good rather than for being buzzworthy or for making good copy (and I'm sure you'd agree).
It’s not the best of the bunch, but I think they've been unfairly maligned in almost every corner. What they're doing is really out-there I think in terms of being so wholly submerged in fiction and storytelling to the complete exclusion of any real personal or autobiographical content whatsoever. I know they can feel kind of precious and slight at times, and I admit they're not the kind of band you can build your world around, but I at least admire Meloy for being one of the few guys to realize the world needs another first-person indie band like it needs a hole in the head.
Alfred Soto: Colin Meloy's best writing of 2005 was his Let It Be book for the 33 1/3 series.
Justin Cober-Lake: In some ways, maybe the fact that it lacked the buzz or the story suggests that it has a better chance of winning, given that people might be most likely drawn to it purely on listening terms.
Ian Mathers: I think Josh is right about the interest in them being primarily due to their avoidance of a lot of lyrical/thematic clichés that befalls their contemporaries, but for me it's more in the sense that I'm glad they're out there somewhere, doing their thing, than in the sense that I actually find it interesting.
For some reason my brain persists in thinking of the Decemberists as a less extreme version of the Fiery Furnaces, lacking the occasional great chorus that the FF can crank out but without the intense annoyance of the rest of their music.
John M. Cunningham: My problem with the Decemberists is that every album of theirs has like two really great songs and then the rest is mind-numbingly average. So I mean, hooray for the melancholy jangle of "The Engine Driver"—which I'll swoon for as much as I did "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect" and "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground"—but you won't find me trudging through the rest of Picaresque, especially not that pointless whale song, which not even audience participation can save live.
At the same time, I like that they've become the new Belle & Sebastian in the sense that they're now the default favorite band of 23-year-old lit-major girls.
Mike Powell: This is easily the most I've ever seen any group of people talk about this band. I don't know if that says more about me or about you guys.
Josh Love: I think I'm going to make it my life's mission now to shepherd this poor bespectacled little indie band through the critical valley of darkness—they're not my own favorite band by any stretch, it just seems like they've become the default band-of-ridicule for popists and ILM types to prove they're down, like "Decemberists are teh gay" is the new secret handshake of the "I'm SO over indie" set.
Dom Passantino: I can never remember if Colm Meany is the lead singer of this band, or the Irish dude from Star Trek.
Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
Josh Timmermann: It's interesting that Fiona's nominated for this, as she's certainly the only legitimately (in?)famous contender in the bunch. I don't care for (either version of) her album, but I'd kind of like to see the loophole (it flopped=it's eligible) nominee top the indie folks. It would be a bit like Antony winning the Mercury Prize all over again, no?
Todd Hutlock: No. Nothing on Sony should be rewarded by anyone for any reason, regardless of merit. Especially given their whole "copy protection software" thing from late last year. If the "spirit" of this reward is for the underground artist, how on earth is this even being considered?
Scott McKeating: If you haven't already, get a hold of "Red Red Red" at the very least. If the LP was only half as incredible as that one track...
Brad Shoup: I was so out to lunch on this record I learned about it from Rolling Stone. That said, it still runs with that LA crowd (Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, the Donnie Darko dude) of pleasant first-person pablum. Neither version did much for me, but I don't live in a loft.
Derek Miller: More lore than product.
Jeff Siegel: I still like Brion's production better, I don't care what you people think. I mean, how often do you hear calliopes anymore?
Ian Cohen: Since I first heard it, Extraordinary Machine sounded tuneless and inert. While watching the Mark Romanek Director's Collection DVD, I heard "Criminal" for the first time in years and it made it all the more obvious that she doesn't have to write tuneless, inert songs. I think I'm seasoned enough in the industry game to know that a lot of times, the label's right. If these songs were called "non-commercial," it's because they're boring as hell. Too obtuse to be catchy, too dull to be "pretty," too always-starting-with-lyrics-like "I'm undecided about you again."
Of course, you're probably going to tell me how I need to hear the Jon Brion sessions, and to be honest, I haven't looked that hard for them, seeing as how his more recent collaborative misadventures (see, "Registration, Late") serve more as cautionary tales about the futility of turd polishing.
Derek Miller: I won't tell you anything of the sort. None of this needed to be heard.
Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
Todd Hutlock: No hope whatsoever here, and deservedly so.
Justin Cober-Lake: It's actually quite a good album for what it is, which isn't the type of thing likely to win the Pantheon. There's no artiste in this record, no auteur work, or cultural statement. It's not emblematic of a movement or ripe for hipster/popster dissection. It's just a good rock 'n' roll record, and part of me thinks it's a little sad that it can be dismissed so easily because of that just.
Todd Hutlock: I just don't even think it is a particularly great simple rock record though. Good, not great. I can't remember a single tune off of it...
Justin Cober-Lake: Don't get me wrong, I do think it's outclassed by most of the other nominees—I just think it's a shame that the type of record it is pretty much renders it unlikely to win, no matter how good it is.
Todd Hutlock: I suppose I think that if a straight-ahead rock record of this type were that good, it would have sold more than 500,000 anyway, as it would presumably have some sort of crossover success.
Ian Mathers: I can understand where Justin is coming from (I think most of us have records like that, that kind of get lost in the rush due to a lack of formal ingenuity), but like Todd I heard this and couldn't remember anything about it, other than a sneaking suspicion the Followills don't actually like girls very much.
The exception, and a glorious one it is, is "The Bucket". Even in the context of the album it just sounds weird - the lyrics are willfully idiotic, the vocal style so awkward it's endearing (Anthony Miccio was absolutely right when he said it sounds like Adam Duritz gone reggae) and the "eighteen / balding / star" bit that might be the chorus makes me laugh every time.
Also, how did this get into the top ten if only Keith Urban nominated it?
Derek Miller: This is a far better record than most suppose, despite its crude lyricism and heart-on-sleeve sound-thievery. It was dead before release though, pushed at those who are full of hipper-than-thous for such a shrewdlessly targeted pop record. Still, the reasons for its nomination here are obvious: I got friends in middling places. . .
Patrick McNally: Is that dude from the Mavericks still ghost writing their songs on this one?
Brad Shoup: Dirk Nowitzki doesn't write, he yells at Jason Terry.
M.I.A. – Arular
Scott McKeating: You cannot be serious.
Brad Shoup: Seconded!
Josh Timmermann: Hands-down my favorite record of the year, and probably of the Oughts, thus far. It'd be nice to see her win here, if only to bolster those depressingly meager sales numbers; in a better world, she wouldn't have to compete in such willfully marginal company. But I guess this is pretty much a two-horse race between a pair of albums (Arcade Fire, Surfjan) that I couldn't care less about.
Todd Hutlock: Oh, I disagree that it is a two-horse race, and that this will help sales numbers either...
Patrick McNally: If the voting panel saw her sour face and early exit at the Mercury Awards, she won't be winning that's for sure.
Brad Shoup: Worst car commercial music ever.
Josh Love: I'm just disappointed the "suck a dick'll help you" line wasn't included in the advert.
Mike Powell: I've said elsewhere that I think the M.I.A. backlash is silly; I think if she wasn't as weirdly overexposed in very small, shaded corners of the world (i.e. the internet) as she was, more people would still be appreciating or at least listening to this album. Not everyone; that'd be an idiodic claim. Still, I think it's a good record but she's suffered a unique and unfortunate fate: an underground artist who got hyped to death but never broke; at least Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (or other internet phenomena) are starting to get "real" fans. M.I.A. seems to be attracting negative energy without making it up with a new listener base. Weird, if you ask me.
Andrew Unterberger: I think that the hype for M.I.A. was more-or-less deserved, but that it should have peaked in 2004 when "Galang" and "Sunshowas" were huge (well, in our little bubble anyway). Arular is a mess of an album that all the critical angles in the world couldn't save, even though 99% of them were applied (much of it seemingly encouraged by the woman herself, which is pretty annoying to begin with), and those two tracks are by far the strongest on the album.
Justin Cober-Lake: Those are probably my two least favorite on the album!
Jeff Siegel: I loved this album immensely for a brief, shining moment, then the pop wore off—normal enough for pop music. It had to be inevitable that someone would make a pop album out of the grime and South Asian sounds that apparently bubble up out of London (so I hear), like when Madonna hitches her wagon to whatever the New Club Sound is every few years or so, only Maya did it minus the cultural clout. It's a plenty-good pop record, hype or no hype, but—as bad as this is—I can help but think of Neneh Cherry when people talk about this. Does that make me a bad person?
David Drake: The thing I don't understand is really what makes this a better album than, say, Rihanna's release, which is similarly straining various global musical trends through a pop filter into a kalaidescope of sounds. Also, I prefer Rihanna's voice. "Pon De Replay" and "Galang" were even similarly overrated!
Ian Mathers: She's another Franz Ferdinand for me—one great single (someone should totally try to combine "Galang" and "Take Me Out") followed by an album I just can't bring myself to care about. Among the circles that did talk about the album so much of the music got overlooked in favour of gender/political/genre/whatever concerns that I'm pretty sure most of those conversations stopped being relevant to Arular a few lines after they started. It's an interesting enough sound, but something like "10 Dollar" lacks the sort of spark that "Galang" had, and I'm not sure what we're supposed to be intrigued by instead. I'm torn between thinking she definitely has a better record in her and wondering if she'll just vanish from music altogether.
John Cunningham: I wonder why so many of us listened to this so voraciously at the time but little since. It's true of me as well: I put it in my 2005 top ten but mostly as a recognition of how into it I was at the beginning of the year, and I keep wondering if maybe someone else deserved the slot more. Or maybe I just don't know how to listen to the record: it seems like there should be an appropriate time and place for it, but I can't seem to make it fit anywhere.
Ian Mathers: Maybe that's why I never got M.I.A.—I'm in Canada.
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Brad Shoup: OK: he's ambitious; he's an instrumental polymath; he tosses off anthems with ease; with Soul-Junk and the Danielsons, he's of a collective (that's cool, kids!); and Passantino's opinion notwithstanding, he's cute in a Die Mensch-Maschine sort of way. He takes himself so lightly, and the music so seriously, he gives his songs titles that Atom and His Package would think twice about. He gives good interview and he's got a dope-ass first name. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of indie fans have a Contemporary Christian skeleton in their closets. I liked the album, loved four or five songs, and wouldn't smirk if I saw the Pantheon sticker on the shrinkwrap where Clark Kent used to be.
Todd Hutlock: I'm not a huge fan by any means, but I'd be hard pressed to find a more genuinely moving tune than "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." on anything else released last year. It gives me chills and makes me nauseous and swoon all at the same time. A brilliant piece of music, but I don't think the album as a whole deserves to win by any stretch of the imagination.
Ian Mathers: Gah. I've only heard six or seven of his songs, but that's because I can't bring myself to go any further. The two best that I've heard ("John Wayne Gacy" from this and the title track from Seven Swans) are also the two most frustrating, because their dour, fearful moralizing just reminds me that America was founded by the Puritans, and I get enough reminders of that these days thank you.
I mean, "John Wayne Gacy" in particular sounds amazing (it's bold as hell to have Sufjan sing the parts about Gacy killing people as if he's getting excited too, all shivery and tense, and it works), but by the end of the song the moral equivalency he's set up just makes me want to throw a brick. Unless Stevens has some disturbing habits, he's not "really just like" Gacy, Original Sin or no Original Sin.
Brad Shoup: I don’t know where the idea of his moralizing comes from, unless my four-point Calvinism has blinded me. For myself, I thought the bait-and-switch of "Gacy" was unnecessary; the details up to that point were testifying just fine.
John M. Cunningham: "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," was one of the first tracks here to really captivate me: I listened to it once with two friends, and we were all absolutely still the entire time. But you're right about the end, Ian (it's annoyingly pat)—which is why after a few weeks I found myself returning more often to "Casimir Pulaski Day" when I felt like breaking down behind the wheel in the Trader Joe's parking lot. It's one of the few songs on the record that doesn't feel like a history lesson; its only connection to Illinois is a brief reference to the holiday in the title. Instead, it's a heartbreaking narrative about a girl dying of cancer, told from her sweetheart's perspective, and like "Gacy," it's filled with all of these precise, poetic details that just kill me every time. So that and the ambitious arrangements are what really sold me on this record. I'll concede the orchestration is sometimes overcooked, especially toward the end (zombies!), but whenever I read someone bashing Sufjan for being "boring indie," I think "if only there were more indie acts taking musical cues from Vince Guaraldi and Steve Reich."
Mike Powell: I've found his stuff both overly precious and overly ambitious; I know that's part of his charm—the ambition, at least—but I feel like he occupies this reserved space in the music world where we're actually supposed to dignify unabashed long-windedness, cutesy moralism, and flagrant oboe. I dunno, I like his songs here and there, but I don't hear the bells of the savior tolling.
Justin Cober-Lake: Mike is on the money: its existence seems to be its own value, which doesn't mean that Sufjan never nails it, just that he's excluded from certain critical analyses, such as the use of restraint. Someone, maybe John Irving, has said that writing is all about decisions, but Sufjan never has to make any. All instruments and all phrases into the song. Not that I want him to hold back good ideas, but some selectivity in the creative process might work.
Brad Shoup: If there's one thing that holds him back; it's his reflexive use of all four beats, and Illinois' failure to be (as Justin noted) a stand-out in his career output. A simple shift to the oom-pah-pah made Seven Swans' "The Transfiguration" subtly propulsive. But 70 minutes of 4/4 steadiness with the same brass, string, and choral toppings by the end of every song gets to be much. It's as if every track is a concept song.
Josh Love: One thing about Illinois that bears mentioning though is the totally amazing specificity and attention to detail of the lyrics, which really do a great job of pinning down his more nebulous ponderings, making them feel more believable and vital. I've never lived in Illinois or even been there at all so I guess I can't say with any certainty how accurately he captures the state, I just know it was cool to be watching something on the Discovery Channel about the ghosts that haunted Greenwood Cemetery after the overflowing of the Sangamon River and unearthing of Civil War skeletons, and thinking to myself "I wonder if Sufjan mentioned that" then checking the lyrics more closely and sure enough there it was.
Jeff Siegel:: I wasn't that enamored with Illinois either. But there are moments when that polyglot, kitchen-sink approach makes a quality anthem ("Chicago"), and he can write chilling, beautifully simple songs when he wants ("... UFO Sighting...", "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."). He just doesn't go whole-hog and do either nearly enough.
Brad Shoup: I think we're all agreed then: too long, too consistent, too precious?
John M. Cunningham: Even as the biggest champion of the album here, I'll agree with that. I'm realizing that I'm perhaps being overly lenient about the album's failures because so much of it is great, so many moments are worth remembering. I mean, I don't have a problem separating the wheat from the chaff if the wheat is fairly abundant, as it is here. Which, come to think of it, is essentially what I did with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, too.
Mike Powell: I feel pretty resolved about him, but I gave it a good listen last night and I can see why people like it. I still think that he gets let off the hook way too often. Anyway, the second half of the title track is near-brilliant; flush all this grand Americana horseshit, Sufjan should make a disco record! I'd take those 3 minutes over whining in 7/4 any day. In a way, I am secretly happy that someome is making explicitly *American* music—in the way that I think the Mountain Goats often do—I’m just disappointed it came out so blubbery.
Dom Passantino: I’d say Not-So-Pretty Tony, because its the only album here that actually feels like it exists in the real world.
Jeff Siegel: I'd have to go with Animal Collective; it feels like the only album on this list that's really done anything to push the form forward a bit.
John M. Cunningham: Push what form forward? And why should form-pushing that be the sole criterion here?
I have mixed feelings about this: Illinois is my favorite record in contention, but I don't know that Sufjan deserves any more hype than he's already gotten. Anyone who cares enough to pay attention to the Pantheon Music Awards will have already heard about the whole 50 States project. So even though I'm not even all that keen on Feels (I liked Sung Tongs better), it'd be kind of cool for a band like Animal Collective to win, just to shake things up.
Jeff Siegel: Form of: pop music.
Well, it's my criterion for "best" at the moment, as far as creating a pantheon is concerned. That's what I think of, a pantheon as an idea of documenting a sort of march of history ever-forward. It's also the album I like the best, so even if my rationale changes, the choice won't. Win-win.
Brad Shoup: But what gets shaken up? You shake down any psych major in a campus coffeehouse, and five Pantheon noms spill out. I'll take Sufjan, just because Glen Galaxy may show up in a rented tux.
Did you know that the Hold Steady received no nominations, but Ric Ocasek tabbed Matisyahu? That the Mountain Goats got no love, but the Bravery found favor from Ocasek and Chesty Bennington? Elton John nominated Leela James!
If we truly want a pantheon (I agree with Jeff's literal take on the title), let's vote on albums released five years ago. Take a step back from the pressure of crowning this hour's kings. I thought Kings of Convenience was the shit in '01.
Josh Love: Bill Simmons seems to think he invented the concept of the Pantheon, so I'll go with his interpretation, that it represents someone or something that's attained insta-legend status, a totally unfuckwithable person or moment that nominally stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the all-time greats.
I think there's also a "lightning in a bottle" element involved here as well, which obviously would work to the detriment of relative veterans like Animal Collective and the Decemberists who released great albums that just happened to represent the next logical step in their continued evolutions. The Arcade Fire's influences are of course suitably prominent, but still something about their success feels more sui generis since it's their only full-length effort to date. Plus I think Sufjan's got an even better album than Illinois in him somewhere.
Patrick McNally: Being English, I don't really know who all the nominating panel are, but from what I do know of them you're not going to get any surprises. They're all looking over their shoulders. You've got three people from the OC there which should say something. And two from Linkin Park. Both of whom vote for a record that one of them is on!
Josh Love: I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the stunning lack of any non-indie-lifestyle records on this list. When I first read over the rules I thought the criteria was the record couldn't have sold more than 50,000 copies (surely Bloc Party and DCFC have topped that I should have figured) when actually it's 500,000 of course.
I mean, without taking the time to look up the actual sales figures, did Paul Wall go gold? How about David Banner? Shooter Jennings? Kelly Osbourne? Beanie Sigel? I know Sharon Jones couldn't possibly have moved half a mil. Dalek? Shelly Fairchild? Hell, what about Robyn?
Erick Bieritz: Frankly I thought it was so outside the realm of possibility that non-indie music would have a shot at this that I wasn't even planning on complaining. But yeah, the list is pretty clearly one-dimensional.
And who is surprised? The nominators are overwhelmingly drawn from either indie rock groups, indie-favoring critical publicatons or mainstream rock groups (who, unable to vote for their 500,000+ teammates, naturally look to minor league call-ups like Death Cab For Cutie). And the two nominators who come from R&B/hip-hop were apparently just excited to see Fiona Apple return.
I don't think 27 people from any variety of backgrounds could really cover the vast stretch of creative music that comes out each year—but come on, two members of the same band? It seems like the organizers weren't even trying.
Alfred Soto: Although my reactionary formalism abhors PC in its all its forms, the absence of any hip-hop, country or R&B in a list of nominees already blessed by Pitchfork, Pop Matters, Blender, Magnet, and our site suggests that the nominating panel needs to get out more. Who on earth thinks Sufjan Stevens and Animal Collective need more publicity? Neither do Bloc Party's good album and M.I.A.'s great one. I'm kind of surprised Beck, Mr. Readymade himself, didn't spice up the list.
Josh Love: Am I the only one who thought Frodo's picks were the raddest by far?
Justin Cober-Lake: Maybe I'm just half-asleep still or missing something, but is anyone else bothered by the nearly 100% inclusion of disdain in our comments? Surely there's someone who actually likes the albums that have been nominated, especially given that they've shown up on our year-end lists and have been praised in the Stylus pages or forum before. But now that it's time to talk about some vaguely relevant, indie-lookin' award, we all clam up and bring the snark?
Which of these albums do you people actually like?
Matt Sheardown: I would like to say Arcade Fire should win, but the album came out so long ago that I can't fully support that argument. I would like to say Sufjan should win, but he's been getting an awful lot of recognition already. I would like to say Animal Collective should win, but I honestly think it's going take a few more months before I can get the real true appreciation of the album (if it's even in there).
That leaves me with really two albums I think should win: Bloc Party and Antony & The Johnsons. Antony's already pulled off a huge win this year with the Mercury, but that was such a left-field surprise that I could definitely get on board with another alike success. With Bloc Party, I've gone from really hot to cooling down to really enjoying Silent Alarm from its release until now. It is, quite simply, very listenable and very good indie rock—not deep or heartbreaking, just a damn solid record. These types of albums are going underappreciated more and more.
Mike Powell: I'm going to have to side with either Antony or Animal Collective (and not just because they're my favorites). Of course, I understand that the stated ambition of the award is a kind of insincere idealistic gesturing that pays lip service to "values" (i.e. let's praise "creativity" but nominate several highly derivative and unoriginal, if extremely well-crafted records).
Still, I find it hard to see Death Cab, Bloc Party, or Arcade Fire amongst "the most creative and artistic records of the year"; I think there's something in that ideal that concedes a certain set of flaws that frankly, those records don't fuck with—they're relatively safe (as is M.I.A.'s to a certain extent), whereas Animal Collective and Antony are, in my opinion, incredibly distinctive and indelible, even if you ultimately see them as loaded down with failures.
That sentence was long. But the length only goes to express this weird tic I have about the award's recognizable kind of playacting; of course I don't think AC or Antony will win, but I think that the records they put out were more successful in a kind of artistic stubbornness and originality than most others this year. I concede that Sufjan falls into this category too, though I'm not really taken with him. Anyone care to join me in the dreamer's box?
Brad Shoup: They should just make the New Pantheon a blog and be done with it.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-02-13