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Project X Pits The Family Against The Critics

rihanna.jpgAs part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, he [hilariously] examines the results of the Idolator Pop Critics Poll Tracks Top 10 with some special help:

By now you’ve seen the critics’ lists of the year’s best music. But what about the folks who really count–the people? In interest of fairness and balance, I’ve decided to take the critics’ choices to some regular folks. That’s right: it’s time once again for this column to exploit my family.

This time around, I played the 2007 Idolator Pop Critics Poll’s Top 10 Tracks for my mom, my sisters, and my sister’s friend who always comes over on major holidays. The listening session took place at my sister Brittany’s apartment in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Christmas Eve, shortly after dinner and gifts (opening everything the night before is a longstanding family tradition). Also around were my sisters’ very tolerant significant others, Brittany’s daughter Veronica, and plenty of delicious leftovers. As usual, I typed everyone’s responses on the fly and occasionally paused the songs to fill in gaps.

Dramatis Personae:
Lorie, mother, age 47; listens to Christmas music
Michael, author, age 32; listens to the Marc Anthony best-of Brittany got him for Christmas
Alex, sister, age 22; kicks everyone’s ass at Guitar Hero III
Brittany, sister, age 21; listens to the M.I.A. and Billie Holiday CDs Michael got her for Christmas
Cherrelle, Brittany’s best friend, age 21; listens to her Kanye West ringtone

1. Rihanna ft. Jay-Z, “Umbrella” (Def Jam) [117 votes]
Alex: You know this song, Veronica?
Brittany: She sings it all the time. Is it this version that’s No. 1?
Michael: This is the main version.
Lorie: Is there any versions without rap?
Michael: No.
Lorie: [frowns]
Brittany: Would you dance to it, Mom?
Lorie: I can’t dance to anything.
Alex: She can probably dance better than she can sing.
Brittany: She could probably play rugby better than she sings.
Alex: She used to put on–what was it, Mom?
Lorie: A show?
Brittany: Wilson Phillips!
Alex: And she used to sing into her bedpost: “Hold on for one more day . . . “
Lorie: Are you sure I was singing and not screaming? I was pole dancing.
Brittany: I’ll scream if you say anything like that again.
[The stereo we are listening on is connected to the TV, on which a commercial for is airing]
Lorie: Is this the video? People performing surgery? I thought maybe instead of the little drapes they put over you they were using umbrellas now.
Brittany: Are you retarded, Mom?

2. LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends” (Capitol) [89 votes]
Brittany: This reminds me of Schroeder–it kind of sounds like the Snoopy theme.
Michael: This is a song by LCD Soundsystem called “All My Friends.”
Brittany: I wish I had a song about all my friends.
Alex: It’d be over by now.
Brittany: Michael, can you pass me that wine so I can drink my pain away?
Lorie: Good music. You couldn’t hardly dance to it, though, could you? I could tell you what you could do to it, but not too many people could.
Alex: Not with you.
Lorie: No, by yourself!
Brittany: I think she’s talking about cross-stitching. At least I hope so.
Michael: I’m surprised you guys like this so much; I thought the piano might turn you off. The song is basically about getting too old to party.
Alex: [immediately] No such thing!
Brittany: This is Alex’s theme song in 10 years.
Lorie: It was my theme song 10 years ago.
Brittany: Fifty.
Alex: I want people to get drunk and karaoke at my funeral.
Brittany: [after talking to her boyfriend, who is from Mexico] Miguel thinks it’s nice, too, and he doesn’t speak English. [Author’s note: He does too.] You know the twins on Peanuts who just jump? They could dance to this.
Lorie: I hope they play this at midnight mass tonight.
Michael: Why?
Lorie: So I can stay awake.

3. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (Interscope) [66 votes]
Brittany: I’ve heard this. It’s familiar. [The vocal comes in. Brittany holds up her just-unwrapped copy of Kala] It’s her.
Lorie: I’ve heard this before.
Brittany: Where have you heard this?
Lorie: I’ve been listening to the radio. [chorus comes in] I wanna go to a bar!
Brittany: Is that what this reminds you of? The gunfire reminds you of the bars you go to? [turns attention back to music] I really like this. But it’s so much different than, like, “Bucky Done Gun.” You say you like this album more? But the last album was really different. She’s more singing than shouting. Is she trying to be more mainstream? I think I could listen to this for longer periods of time if it’s all like this. Miguel, how do you like this? The gunshot [in the chorus] reminds you of the border, doesn’t it?

4. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” (Republic) [60 votes]
Lorie: All right, hey! This is the suicidal one [Veronica] sings!
Brittany: No, that’s Sean Kingston.
Lorie: Oh, I remember this song now. What happened to her?
Brittany: She’s fucked up beyond words. This is kind of Christmassy. All the dysfunctional families can relate to this one at Christmas. [after the line, "I don't ever want to drink again"] You know, if drinking makes her sing like this, she should go ahead. I feel sorry for her, though. She has a lot of underlying issues, and it’s so evident.

5. Justice, ” D.A.N.C.E.” (Vice) [54 votes]
Lorie: This sounds like the beginning of Romper Stomper Romper Room. You ever heard of that?
Michael: Sort of. Romper Room was the kids’ show, and Romper Stomper is a movie about racist skinheads in Australia.
Brittany: I thought it sounded like schoolchildren but you brought that into a whole other light, didn’t you, Mom? It’s like “Rock with You,” in the beat. They should put this on Dance Dance Revolution. That would be fun times.
Cherrelle: Romper Room sounds like a porno. This reminds me of the Jackson 5. I could listen to this, definitely.
Brittany: This would be fun to dance to . . .
Cherrelle: . . . If I was drunk.
Brittany: And you’re drunk all the time!
Cherrelle: I should just start dancing.

6. Peter Bjorn & John, “Young Folks” (Almost Gold) [50 votes]
Lorie: Oh, I love this! [whistles along]
Brittany: How do you know this and I don’t?
Michael: Where have you heard this?
Lorie: I heard it at work. I love that whistle part. It just grabs you right away.
Michael: This came out last year internationally, and did well on last year’s poll, but it was released in America this year, which is why it placed again. It was a big crossover hit–Kanye West rhymed over it on a mixtape.
Cherrelle: Now, why do you wanna ruin a perfectly fine piece of music like this? He’s been stepping out of his realm with that Daft Punk stuff.
Brittany: He’s been taking a flying leap out of his realm with that.
Alex: I’ve heard this song before.
Brittany: Where did you hear it?
Alex: I don’t remember.
Michael: It’s a group called Peter Bjorn & John. They’re Swedish.
Cherrelle: [to Alex] Well then, maybe you heard it at Ikea.

6. Battles, “Atlas” (Warp) [50 votes]
Brittany and Alex: [immediately] “The beautiful people, the beautiful people.”
Brittany: It is! It totally is.
Michael: It’s not.
Brittany: I hate to disagree with you, Michael. I didn’t know Marilyn Manson was still making records. [vocals come in] They’re singing it backwards; they’re putting in subliminal satanic messages. We could do a ouija board to this.
Cherrelle: I couldn’t listen to this alone. I’d need to turn all the lights in the house on. Let’s have a séance. This is what Marilyn Manson makes love to.
Brittany: These are probably his kids. Hey, Alex, come over here and let me carve a pentagram into your arm.
[Lorie, in kitchen, drops a cake on her foot]
Brittany: See? This music fucked her up so bad she dropped a cake on the floor.
Alex: [growling] “Red rum. Red rum.”
Brittany: Did you just say you were going to spin your head in a circle?
Michael: So, do you guys like this?
Brittany: I like it on Halloween.
Lorie: [calling in from kitchen] I’m scared to fucking death of this song!

8. UGK ft. OutKast, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” (Jive) [49 votes]
[Michael restarts the song a couple times so the group can hear the first verse]
Cherrelle: He sounds like he’s trying to be a pimp.
Michael: Sort of—it’s called “Int’l Players Anthem.” But Andre 3000′s verse is about getting married.
Brittany: Is he going to marry me? That’s all I care about.
Cherrelle: I don’t love that old crap in the background. It’s like ’60s gospel that my mother would listen to.
Brittany: I think that’s your mother singing in the background.
[Second verse begins]
Cherrelle: I like how he’s talking about marrying someone and saying “bitch” and “pussy.”
Brittany: They’re gonna get “bitch” and “pussy” engraved on their wedding rings.
Cherrelle: I like this guy’s voice.
Michael: This is Pimp C, who recently died.
Cherrelle: Well, how you gonna hate on a dead man?
Michael: OK, this is Big Boi now.
Cherrelle: They’re both tiny men.
Michael: Big Boi is much smaller than Andre.
Cherrelle: [to Brittany] Andre could wear your clothes.
Brittany: I’d let him. He can wear my clothes anytime.
Cherrelle: This is all starting to sound alike to me.
Brittany: [to Cherrelle, who's black] Racist.

9. Feist, “1234″ (Cherrytree) [48 votes]
Brittany: [immediately, to opening strums] “The beautiful people . . . “
Alex: This is the video with all the kids all skipping rope. [imitates choreography]
Brittany: [after the line, "Teenage hopes arrive at your door"] “Teenage hoes”?
Cherrelle: She keeps saying “ho.”
Brittany: Very Christmassy.
Cherrelle: [sings] “1-2-3-4, you a ho.”
Brittany: [sings] “5-6-7-8, your momma’s a ho too/9-10-11-12, your grandma’s a ho, too.”
Cherrelle: If we weren’t so mean, this would probably be a nice song.
Brittany: If we weren’t so fucking cynical, we could enjoy this. If we hadn’t just listened to Marilyn Manson . . .

10. Kanye West, “Stronger” (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam) [35 votes]
Brittany and Cherrelle: [immediately] “Intergalactic, planetary, planetary, intergalactic . . . “
Cherrelle: I love this song.
Michael: Based on what you said earlier, I thought you didn’t like it.
Brittany: No, I said I thought he took a flying leap out of his realm.
Michael: I misunderstood, then.
Cherrelle: Yeah, this is my ringtone.
Brittany: [deadpan] And that says a lot. You’ve really got to be a hardcore fan to have someone’s song for a ringtone. And everybody turns around and says, “Hey, ‘Stronger’! Let me holla at you!” [to Cherrelle] Does this ringtone make you stronger?
Cherrelle: [sardonically] I feel empowered. [song continues for awhile] I felt bad when his mom died.
Lorie: You know recently I just took a day off when my father’s wife died.
Brittany: You know what’s a big factor of why I don’t like this song? Those awful fucking sunglasses with the blinds. They look retarded.
Cherrelle: You look like you have Down’s Syndrome when you have them.
Brittany: Camp Courage sunglasses. [to Michael] Don’t put that in there.
Michael: Can I please?
Brittany: If I get shanked for this, Michael, it’s your fault.
Lorie: If you get shanked for this, I get a day off!

Parsing The Pop: Chuck Eddy’s 150-Album Top 10

Obviously with all the tabulated lists to pore over, Idolator Pop ’07 offers plenty for music geeks to read and argue with. The year-end mixes, which will go up later today, will offer yet more fodder for banter. But let’s not forget the individual ballots, several of which make pretty good reading on their own. First prize for going over and above the call of duty undoubtedly belongs to Chuck Eddy, who not only offers an extra list of his 10 favorite EPs of 2007 but extends his Top 10 Albums to a whopping 150. In addition, he breaks them down by genre:

Market share for unarguably “country” releases within my top 150 is 25.33%, slightly edging out unarguably “metal” releases’ 24.67% (though for fairness’ sake, both of those numbers discount country-verging rock by people like Kid Rock, Black Angel, John Waite, and Mississippi Mudsharks, and both also exclude punk/glam/garage-leaning titles by people like the Sirens, the Eat, Black Lips, and Crash Street Kids). Market share for albums released on non-major-distributed indie labels (thus, disqualifying imprints like Big Machine, Show Dog, Wind-Up, Shout! Factory, and Blue Note) is a whopping 69.33%–104 albums out of 150. Only a baker’s dozen or so of those, though, would be likely to pass muster as Pitchfork-approved “indie rock” (though big-label releases by Lily Allen, M.I.A., Simian Mobile Disco, the Hives, White Stripes, and Modest Mouse probably would, oddly enough), which may well mean I am properly supporting alternative entrepreneurs in the age of cut-throat mega-merger post-capitalism without kowtowing to any widely marketable bohemian subculture per se’. For eight of the albums below, the only “label” I could come up with was a band website, and for probably at least another ten or so, I have serious doubts that any other artists record for the band’s label. So who knows–maybe I’m more indie than you are.

Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t, but it’s probable that Eddy is crazier than all the other voters combined. Salut!

Ballot: Chuck Eddy [Idolator Pop Poll]

Parsing the Pop: Categorical Errors, Sez They

Inevitably, some of the ballot comments in this year’s poll have taken our methodology to task. Fair enough–you can’t satisfy everyone. And even if we can’t help but respond to something like Julianne Escobedo Shepherd’s suggestion that we eliminate albums and ask everyone to vote for 100 tracks with a knee-jerk, “Why, do you wanna tabulate it?,” we still understand and appreciate the suggestion. Still, the most entertaining of these cavils comes from Kurt Gottschalk, who takes issue with our nomenclature.

First off, singles are singles. Ever since the pilgrims. I know the I’olator says it can be whatever songs we think are worth mention, but that’s weak. Uphold and cherish the single, I say! Even if it’s a single released via cell phone or something, like Prince’s killer “Guitar.” A tacky bit of shilling to be sure, but still better than Elvis Costello playing concerts only for people who hold the proper credit card.

Indeed. We’re still happy with calling it Tracks–how else could I have voted for track 11 from the Jens Lekman album?–but someone’s gotta stand up for beleaguered old-school hit-making. Or non-hit-making, as the case may be with . . . the vast majority of the songs Kurt Gottschalk voted for!

2007 In The Mix: Idolator Pop ’07 Gets Personal

One of the reasons I was most excited about this year’s Idolator Pop package was that my bosses gave me enough rope to hang myself with allowed me to pursue a project that enhanced the poll proper. Back when I edited a music section, for Seattle Weekly, I eschewed year-end Top 10s and asked a handful of writers to write and annotate a single-CD-length mix at the end of every year. The results were always illuminating, and I thought it might be cool to do that again this year–and given the scope of the poll, to ask a whole bunch of writers we admired to participate. That many of them said yes was even better–at least, we think so. So we present 2007 in the Mix, a series of write-ups we’ll add to each of the remaining days this week.

First up: a baker’s dozen that takes in everything from Joshua Alston’s year in slow jamz, Jon Caramanica’s roundup of posse-cut hip-hop remixes, and Chuck Eddy’s all-over-the-place selection to Tim Finney’s salute to the nu-Balearica, Matt Goldenberg’s survey of the year in metal, and a blog-house extravaganza from Eric Grandy.

2007 in the Mix, Part One [Idolator Pop]

Let’s Do It Again: The 2007 Idolator Pop Critics Poll is Live

idolator-pop-logo-2008-01-06.pngWe’ve been waiting as patiently (or not) as you have, and it’s finally here: The second annual Critics Poll is now open for business–and this time we’ve expanded it a little. Today, you get the poll proper: Albums, Tracks, Reissues, Artists, plus essays by myself, Jess, and Maura. And then, a few other treats. We’ve commissioned a number of our favorite music writers to create a year-end mix-CD and annotate it for us–and you–and those will be rolling out, a few per day, throughout the week. We hope you enjoy it.

Idolator Pop ’07 [Official site]

Bring It Back Again: Idolator Petitions For The Return Of “Hit Me Baby One More Time”

hitme.JPGSo two years ago NBC ran a summer replacement program titled Hit Me Baby One More Time that almost no one wrote about apart from John Darnielle, renaissance man and Mountain Goat. And he was right: the show was really awesome, particularly the debut episode, in which the one and only Tommy Tutone blistered through his one-hit-wonder “867-5309 (Jenny)” and then rocketed through Blink-182′s “All the Small Things.” But don’t take Darnielle’s or my word for it: the clips are after the jump.

First, the song that put Tutone on the map:

And then the cover version:

Tutone is apparently a computer analyst in Portland these days. But two years ago, for a few minutes on television, he was something like a pissy little god.

Project X Takes On A Culture Bully

nellllyyyyy.jpgAs part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, he examines the health of the bootleg mash-up thanks to a list compiling the year’s best in bastard pop:

Five years ago, when I submitted my lists to the Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop survey, the albums I selected were:

1. Boom Selection_Issue 01 (Boom Selection import) 30
2. The Streets, Original Pirate Material (Locked On/Vice) 30
3. Sleater-Kinney, One Beat (Kill Rock Stars) 5
4. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 1 (Waxed Soul import) 5
5. The Best of Boom Selector Vol. 2 (bootleg) 5
6. Clipse, Lord Willin’ (Star Trak) 5
7. Playgroup, Party-Mix Vol. 1 (Playgroup promo import) 5
8. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 3 (Waxed Soul import) 5
9. 2 Many DJ’s, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (PIAS import) 5
10. The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever (No Label import) 5

It was, of course, a stunt ballot; in year-end critics-poll terms, that’s second only to the protest ballot in terms of annoying petulance. Yet any regret I’ve had over it was short lived. The reason, I think, is that voting for seven conglomerations of bootleg mash-ups–No. 1 was three CD-Rs of MP3s–was a way of voting for Pop 2002 itself. That’s the way it seemed to me at the time, anyway. 2002 seemed like the cap of a stunning amount of pop activity, an impression that’s only deepened since. These stitch-togethers suggest why: hip-hop, R&B, indie rock, dance music, and mainstream pop seemed to not only be moving in interesting directions, they seemed to be part of the same conversation, nowhere more so than the bastard pop made from them. I’m also glad I risked foolishness by bowing to a pop moment rather than attempting to look good for posterity.

But a moment it was, at least for me. Within a year I had pretty much stopped paying mash-ups much attention, and though I enjoy them occasionally I rarely go back to even my favorites. So my curiosity was piqued last year when I saw that Chris De Line, on the blog Culture Bully, had put together a list of the best mash-ups of the year, just as the site had had the year before. He put up a 2007 list as well. Here’s the Top 10:

Culture Bully’s Top 10 Mash-Ups of 2007
1. Copycat, “Knowing the Rhythm Is Right” (Nelly Furtado vs. ABBA vs. Sagi Rei)
2. A Plus D, “Close to Konichiwa Bitches” (Robyn vs. the Cure)
3. Arty Fufkin, “Liar in a Brianstorm” (Arctic Monkeys vs. Beyoncé feat. Shakira)
4. DJ Morgoth, “Starz on the Boogie” (Just Jack vs. Jay-Kid)
5. DJ STV SLV, “Lose My Waters of Naza(b)reath” (Justice vs. Destinys Child)
6. Lenlow, “Bjorn Slippy” (Peter, Bjorn & John vs. Underworld)
7. ABX, “Tambourine Reckoning” (Eve vs. Radiohead)
8. Dunproofin’, “Fiddy Fiddy Fiddy Fiddy” (50 Cent vs. Kaiser Chiefs)
9. DJ Erb, “Ecstasy of Gold” (Ennio Morricone vs. Nas)
10. ABX, “Wouldn’t Grip Far” (The Game vs. the Go! Team)

Listening to these the first time was faintly embarrassing, like seeing a picture of myself during my ill conceived eighth-grade rat-tail-and-Zubaz phase. At first all I could hear were the joins. Take Copycat’s No. 1 entry: Nelly Furtado’s vocals have been clipped slightly, throwing off the easy cadence of the original “Say It Right.” On subsequent plays it sounds a lot smoother over its new bed–per Mashuptown, ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” as well as Sagi Rei’s cover of Snap’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” and some added instrumentation. (I now remember another thing I liked about mash-ups: listing their sources ate up my word counts, making them relatively easy to write about.)

That isn’t to say Copycat’s track isn’t pure stunt work. Most of these tracks are; that’s sort of the idea of mash-ups in the first place. And plenty of them are egregious: Arty Fufkin’s “Liar in a Brianstorm” might make Beyoncé and Shakira sound relatively right over the Arctic Monkeys’ hectic pounding, but it doesn’t make any of them sound especially interesting. On the other hand, “Lose My Waters of Naza(b)reath” (horrible title, like most of them) makes hay with Miss B’Day by looping and manipulating Justice’s track till the two things build momentum together, a reminder that arranging ability and not mere Vocal A + Music B was what separated the good from the bad.

Or, a lot more often, from the mediocre: take Lenlow “Bjorn Slippy,” which, actually decent title aside, merely pastes that ubiquitous whistling song over the beatless intro from Underworld’s greatest hit. It works, I guess, but it’s pretty one-joke, and when Karl Hyde comes in it just seems cheap. DJ Morgoth’s “Starz on the Boogie,” on the other hand, alternates Jay-Kid’s Jackson 5 cover with a Just Jack track to pretty good effect–though it might just seem that way since I didn’t know the Just Jack track beforehand and don’t find it distracting.

Of course, such juxtapositions can be their own ends: ABX’s No. 7 entry pairs Eve’s exuberant hit with my favorite track off the new Radiohead album, and DJ Erb makes Nas’s rising-momentum “One Mic” over with the help of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western theme. Both prove their points nicely enough, neither will take the place of either the originals or anything else like them, and all of it convinces me that one year of wallowing in this stuff was quite enough.

Culture Bully’s 15 Favorite Mashups Of 2007 [Culture Bully]

Idolator Pop 07 Update: Bugs Fixed, Slightly More Time To Vote

So beginning around midnight last night, a bug hit the Idolator Pop 07 ballots, freezing into place a number of ballots that had not, in fact, been set to lock. It took a while, but the tech department fixed it, and if you had a ballot yet to be finalized, you can now go ahead and get in and tweak away. Another thing: because we lost some time, we’re adding some: instead of 5 p.m. EST, the deadline has been moved to midnight EST tonight. Thanks again for your patience, and happy voting.

Idolator Pop 07: Time’s A-Wastin’

Hello all you kids in computer-land. Just reminding you in my pedantic way yet again that if you’ve received an invitation to vote in the 2007 Idolator Pop Critics Poll, that you should do so before the deadline, which is tomorrow, December 21, at 5 p.m. EST. If you’re having any kind of tech trouble, feel free to e-mail your ballots to Thanks again.

Idolator Pop 07 Update: Glitches Begone!

Quick update: The glitches affecting some of the Idolator Pop ballots have been repaired, so go back to voting for your favorite albums, tracks, reissues, and artists of 2007, dear colleagues. Again: two more days!

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