Above are my choices for Top 10 albums and singles for 2015 (ignore what I thought were my Top 10 albums, below). In addition to being invited to submit a ballot (100 points distributed among 10 albums, no fewer than five points, no more than 30, per rekkid), we can mail in an essay or more scattered “commentary,” which is usually all I have time to do. For those on tenterhooks, here is my attempt to put shit together in a world of chaos!
“If a year-end best-of-pop-music Top 10 lacks the presence of anyone 70 or older, it’s lying. As has been proved over and over again, though pop was, perhaps, once actually a youth music, the older guys (and gals) not only know what it’s all about, but they really have it all worked out. I think Gram Parsons sang that. Just before he died at 26.
Though my Top 10 has more fresh blood than maybe any ballot I’ve ever submitted—Courtney Barnett is absolutely irresistible, the comparatively ancient Kendrick Lamar an irrepressible force whose growing confidence I hope isn’t dulled by pessimism—it’s got plenty hair sprouting out its ears. Made in Chicago: Muhal Richard Abrams 85, Roscoe Mitchell 75, headliner Jack DeJohnette 73, Henry Threadgill the pup at 71, all celebrating the AACM’s 50th anniversary—and not with a bingo game. Welcome Back: Irene Schweizer, 74, and Han The Man Bennink, 73, joining forces to improvise racket and rhythm into beauty once again after two decades. Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at The Yellow Ghetto: John D. Morton, 62, and Craig Bell, 63, proving that a very bad attitude, ugly noise, and irreverence aren’t the exclusive property of the kids—and also pushing siblings Willie Nelson, 83, and Bobbie Nelson, 84, to #11 and off the ballot. I feel a little guilty about that decision—but Willie shouldn’t have recycled so many songs. This is serious business.
Really, though, looking at my list, it isn’t mostly about age. It’s about time and race. Between the 1885 formation in New Orleans of the first “black Indians gang,” The Creole Wild West, and the hands-across-the-‘hoods of the 79rs Gang’s Fire on the Bayou, on which New Orleans’ 7th Ward Creole Hunters and 9th Ward Hunters team up on a rare stripped-down Mardi Gras Indians record, lay 130 years of self-defense and self-preserving “social clubs” that shouldn’t still be necessary.
Between the first Chicago meeting, in 1965, of a group of young musicians debating the laws and details of an impregnable artistic sanctuary and classroom called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (its first record, Sound, by Mr. Mitchell, arrived in ‘66), and Made in Chicago’s defiant proof of the founders’ and the organization’s undiminished power stand cultural, financial, political, and aesthetic obstacles Hercules would have been hard pressed to surmount.
Between Alex Haley’s “faction” of an 18th century Kunta Kinte and Mr. Lamar’s “King Kunta” testify 250-plus years of deliberate oppression that shape-shifts with every hard-earned challenge. Maybe you’d argue that this isn’t how I should put a year-end best-of-pop-music Top 10 together. I’d counter that the records are that good, and they may be that good because of what sprawls across the expanse of time and presents itself to us right now. Or maybe not.
Some further notes about time and race: Jeffrey Lewis’ Manhattan-leading “Scowling Crackhead Ian”’s persona wearily and compassionately peers back across the years—all the way to grade-school horrors perpetrated by a human he stills sees regularly, 20-some years later. He wonders when the two of them can just…shake hands and put the past aside. That was the most moving line I heard all year, and I couldn’t help but hear it, too, as a metaphor for our country’s own near-fatal stubbornness. And Allen “The Maine Monk” Lowe’s mournful, angry, questioning jazz march “Theme for the Nine (Murdered in Church, Parts 1 & 2)”—smeared with the haunting blues baritone of Black Artists’ Group founder Hamiet Bluiett, 75 years young himself—was the first serious musical response to the Charleston massacre. Have there been others? I don’t know. But I expect them.
The best thing about listening to the music I liked most in 2015 was that it forced me to wonder whether we are capable of the change we need to make, and question myself about whether I have been doing enough to make that change happen. Also—I will be honest— whether I even want to be part of this continuing social experiment that refuses to unmask itself, for its own good. Time and race—I can’t get them off my mind.”
The lucky blatherers get either a few sentences or, in select cases, whole essays excerpted in the corrupted old Village Voice itself. I’ve been excerpted four times, and this strange offering is not likely to get published fully. But it’s fun to try. And I really believe it: pop music is youth music, but way more–it’s an avenue for old farts to pass along wisdom as to what to expect! Aren’t you interested?
Some of my favorite “singles” for 2015: