Project X Presents <em>Sense and Sensibility</em>, Starring Kim Gordon and “Fact” Magazine

mmatos | December 17, 2007 1:30 am

As 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 tries on a pair of very different sensibilities thanks to 2007 Top 10 lists from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and the U.K.’s Fact magazine:

One of the reasons I wanted to write about lists instead of simply making them–though of course I did loads of that too–was to try and wrestle with other sensibilities. Lists by rugged individualists don’t necessarily have something over the will of the mass public (or press) in terms of intrigue, as I hope is demonstrated by some of the prior Project X columns. But usually a sensibility is particular, and its particularity is the pleasure of it. You may not want to wake up insisting on the truth and rightness of Alanis Morissette, but you’re glad someone smart enough to be able to make a case exists, just so you can think like someone else for a while.

My own early rock critical tendencies came from this place, and a lot of my work shows it only too clearly. But now when a particular writer strikes me, I try to hear what they hear the way I imagine they hear it. This produces a kind of pleasant (and usually short-lived) double-consciousness, because I have to figure out how I’m hearing it, too. Obviously if I find another sensibility persuasive enough to bask in it for a spell, there’s going to be some overlap in our perceptions: I can see where they’ve got a real thing for bells and sub-bass; mine isn’t quite so pronounced.

Recently two Top 10s got me thinking about sensibility. I know zilch about fine art, but I look forward to no magazine’s end-of-year issue more than Artforum‘s. The new Best of 2007 issue, as with each of their year-ends since the decade’s turn, is scrumptiously designed, particularly the art critics’ Top 10s in the back of the book. The layout–writing page left, lively arrangements of images from the lists page right–is clean and thoughtful, investing the lists with authority but also with air. The front of book operates similarly, though on a different plane. As it has for most of the decade, Artforum offers appetizers in the way of film and music Top 10s (five each), as well as 13 contributors’ favorite-book squibs and, under the title “The Artists’ Artists,” a smorgasbord of creators’ quoted raves.

My initial response to this year’s Music Top 10s was typical of a working rock critic all too aware of the dwindling opportunities the profession affords: I was disappointed and a little insulted. After all, I’d started reading Artforum in high school, for Greil Marcus’s “Real Life Rock Top Ten” column; the magazine kept the format but has a guest writer in the Top 10 slot every month. I wasn’t surprised, though, that each of the five contributors to the 2007 year-end Music 10s are best known as musicians, though Damon Krukowski (Damon & Naomi), Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), and avant-garde composer Alex Waterman have written notable journalism, and David Byrne keeps an entertaining Web journal. (The fifth Music list comes from singer-songwriter and fine artist Marissa Nadler.)

Kim Gordon’s Top 10 of 2007: 1. Mouthus, Saw a Halo (Load Records) 2. Charalambides, Likenes (Kranky) 3. & 4. MV & EE with the Bummer Road, Green Blues; MV & EE with the Golden Road, Getting’ Gone (Ecstatic Peace!) 5. Islaja, Ulual yyy (Fonal) 6. Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards, Las Vegas 7. “Monster Eyes” in Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet (Doubleday) 8. The Bastard Wing, To Contain Love (Ultra Hard Gel) 9. Negative Approach, Center Stage 1, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Minehead, UK 10. Karen Dalton, Cotton Eyed Joe (Delmore)

The first thing I noticed was how many of the items concern people Gordon knows well. The MV & EE albums came out on the label run by Gordon’s husband and bandmate Thurston Moore, who also curated the December 2006 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at which Negative Approach appeared, and whose solo album Trees Outside the Academy features Christina Carter of Charalambides, who also appeared at ATP.

Big deal, you might say. I do, too; of course we want an artist’s Top 10 to mention the artist’s colleagues. If they didn’t, what kind of colleagues would they be? I’m unfamiliar with basically everything Gordon lists, but I’ll hazard a guess that it falls under the general lines of sensibility she’s established as a public figure and band member. Anyway, it’s not her sensibility I wonder about here. Am I wrong to worry what it means for music writing generally when a magazine like Artforum, a long-standing champion of informed critical writing, uses no full-time critics to summarize Music In 2007? Right, I’m overreacting; freelancing will do that to you.

Another Top 10–really a Top 100–has been worrying me in a much happier manner. I know little of Fact magazine, apparently a U.K. bimonthly. When it came up on the I Love Music message board recently, a couple of English posters mentioned they’d never seen it before. When the list was posted here a few days ago, DJ and critic Philip Sherburne chimed in: “fact’s electronic-music coverage is always solid, in no small part because they’ve got the awesome kiran sande, of the awesome tape blog, writing for them. they manage to broaden their dance-music coverage beyond blog-house because unlike most dance bloggers, he actually goes out and, like, buys records, and has opinions of his own, rather than just sitting around and waiting for someone to send him a link to the latest crystal castles remix or whatever. ok, so i’m being snide, but it’s kinda true.” That’s precisely what drew me to the list; it’s got a street-level feel, not least because I’d barely heard of any of it. Here’s the Top 10:

1. LCD Soundsystem, “Get Innocuous” (DFA/EMI) 2. Roisin Murphy, “Overpowered” (EMI) 3. Vampire Weekend, “Mansard Roof” (Abeano) 4. Holy Fuck, “Lovely Allen” (Young Turks) 5. Patrick Wolf, “The Magic Position” (Loog) 6. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (XL) 7. Battles, “Atlas” (Warp) 8. Panda Bear, “Bro’s” (Paw Tracks) 9. Burial, “Archangel” (Hyperdub) 10. Foals, “Hummer” (Transgressive)

As it goes, the list mixes better-known stuff (No. 19 is “Umbrella”) with the ever more obscure. I can understand being put off by this list’s insider aura, but I’m drawn to it. The continuum it presents is a very persuasive one, and the main thing I get is a love for faded glamour, not as kitsch but as everyday stuff, and a very English sensibility (of course) that’s offhanded about its own Englishness.

Listening to the Top 10 is a little peculiar. It isn’t simply that Fact‘s writers don’t conceive of “pop” the way an American music magazine might, strewing their list with a 12-minute monster like the Panda Bear track or Holy Fuck’s instrumental, and aptly titled, “Lovely Allen.” It’s that it communicates not consensus but an argumentative aura; you get the idea that someone in London had probably fallen really hard for these songs and argued them hard into the upper echelon. Whether voices were raised in the making of this list is less important than the fact that voices were honored, not subsumed.

And that helped open me up to these songs, even ones (Vampire Weekend, Burial, Battles) that I’d heard but which hadn’t really clicked yet. This may be the main context in which I’ll enjoy them, but enjoy them I now do. Not to mention that, having stopped playing Sound of Silver and started hearing it everywhere instead, the song I most actively craved was “Get Innocuous,” the album’s first song. (That build.) Yet I’ve mostly avoided saying so, or even acknowledging it to myself, until Fact pointed out the obvious. My ears thank them again.