By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
JB: I would say 90 percent of the stuff I really liked. Because, based on the whole aesthetic atrophy thing, I simply wasn't listening to new music. I used to buy a shitload of new music. It was a thing I used to do — every week, I'd go to the record store and buy one or two, maybe even three new records. But over the past 10 years or so, I stopped doing that, so if I hadn't done Nothing Not New, I probably wouldn't have bought much new stuff at all. If I were in L.A. or something and it was, like, "Let's go to a record store and drop $100," I'd probably buy a lot of reissues or some obscure thing from the '60s that I'd always wanted to hear. But most of the new stuff, while I would be aware it was out — I'd hear the names and read about it — I wouldn't actually ever hear it. In recent years, I've read more about new music than I actually listen to.
MC: What about Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest, your favorite record of the year?
JB: No chance. I would have said, "Deerhunter: Oh, another band with deer in the name." I would not have heard it. No Age is another one I wouldn't have listened to. Even Dead Weather — I wouldn't have even bothered with it. I might listen to one song on YouTube and think, "Oh, that's cool," but I wouldn't go drop $12 on the record, like I used to do.
Most played song on my iTunes: (tie) "Better Things" by Magnetic Fields and "Bad Blood" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Favorite single of 2010: "Summer Nights Lakeside" by Gospel Claws
Favorite concert of 2010: Mike Watt and the Missingmen at the Rhythm Room
Favorite record of 1970: The Stooges' Fun House
Estimated amount of music I listened to in 2010: 192 hours of new music, or eight days' worth.
Ideal length of a record: 11 songs and/or 35 minutes. This really isn't debatable.
Favorite insult left on one of my posts: (tie) "You pile of old cock" and "You should just fucking die."
I was wrong about (good to bad): She & Him's Volume Two. I gave it an A-, saying "To call it indie pop would be an insult. It's pure pop." That was in March; now it just sounds cloying as hell. Also: Gorillaz' Plastic Beach. Another A-. I still like the song with The Fall's Mark E. Smith, but I can't even listen to this record now.
I was wrong about (bad to good): Foxy Shazam, which I initially gave a D. It's pure cheese served on a Queen-size platter, but few relatively unknown bands sound bigger than life so seemingly easily. Also: Best Coast. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I ripped Bethany Cosentino a new one for her simpering lyrics back in July, but I can't deny the bright spots on Crazy for You.
Biggest surprise: MGMT's Congratulations. Their first record was mall pop of the blandest variety, even though it was dressed up as Indie (yes, with a capital I). Turns out they were slumming all along, because Congratulations is very nearly a psychedelic rock tour de force — a challenging gem of a record that succeeded on its own retro terms.
Biggest disappointment: After releasing in 2008 the stellar Primary Colours, a record that Spoon declared as the biggest influence on their making the critically acclaimed Transference, the Aussie band Eddy Current Suppression Ring dropped the ball on what was supposed to their breakout, Rush to Relax. The formula hadn't changed between records, but the material wasn't too hot.
Biggest trend that I should've loved but grew weary of quickly: Lots of bands — from Strange Boys to Best Coast to Dum Dum Girls to countless others — combined 1960s melodicism with a reverb-laden sound that critics and fans alike wanted to desperately to call "lo-fi." Here's hoping in 2011 that all those highly paid producers and engineers put the faux-"lo-fi" production gimmick somewhere on their hard drives where they'll never find it.
Most offensive band of 2010: Sleigh Bells, whose Treats is a disgustingly vapid and crass sugar rush of a record. Somewhere, Le Tigre is rolling over in its grave.
I agreed most with Pitchfork on: OFF!, the L.A.-based revivalist act that is sort of like the Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings of punk. The difference is that half of OFF! (singer Keith Morris and bassist Steve McDonald) were there for the first go-round of SoCal punk in the late '70s and early '80s.
I disagreed most with Pitchfork on: Joanna Newsom, an extremely talented harpist/singer who released a three-disc record (even The Clash failed at that!) that was pure pretension and folly.
Best old-timers: Grinderman, Waylon Jennings, Neil Young, Steve Wynn, Devo, and Crowded House, of all things.
Worst old-timers: Chrissie Hynde, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Glenn Danzig
Best local records: Tierra del Fuego, Man About a Dog, Automatic Erasers, Destruction Unit
After 12 months of expanding my horizons, I still don't "get" it: Kanye West and, sorry, hip-hop in general. Maybe that's the way it was supposed to work out.
Best hope for rock 'n' roll: The Soft Pack. In my eyes, the San Diego quartet did everything right on their self-titled record. The one "new" indie band whose exploits I will look forward to following in 2011.
The worst record of the year: Midlake's The Courage of Others. A record I listened to on January 20 unbelievably stood up as my most abysmal listening experience of 2010. I wrote, "There's a place for everything thing in this world, but a prog-folk revival? Let's hope it doesn't come to that." Amen, brother.Visit www.nothingnotnew.com for more on the project.
MC: Is there anything from these bands where you know it's their second or third album — maybe like Deerhunter — that you love and it makes you want to go back and hear their early stuff? If I was in that position and I loved a new record from a band, I would ache to go back and hear their early stuff.
JB: No, not really. I can't say I'm dying to hear anything. Maybe something like Belle & Sebastian, where I liked the new record enough, and I know they have a huge back catalog. I didn't love it, but I liked it, and people say, "Well, you have to hear this record that they put out in 1995." So I guess I'd like to hear the quote-unquote "classic" albums from acts that put out an album in 2010 that I liked, but everyone says, "Oh, you've gotta hear this one."
MC: It seems you and your wife, Laura, ended up disagreeing on a few records, like the Girl Talk album you hated and she liked. Did others like that pop up? What did she think of this whole project?
JB: I didn't hate the Girl Talk record. I listened to it, and I couldn't help but be sucked in. That's its danger. This is a trite analogy, but it's like junk food. I could sit there and eat McRibs all day long and love it but know it's not good for me. Like drinking Bohemia at two in the afternoon on a workday.
But getting back to your question about Laura: Yeah, there were a lot of things where she asked what I listened to today and I was, like, "Hey, I kinda liked this," and more often than not, [from her] it'd be, "Naw, I'm not digging it."
MC: Was her aesthetic atrophy as advanced as yours?
JB: Yeah, if not more so. I think she's even more skeptical than I am — but it's not just her. A lot of people I know, they like what they like, and they don't seem that interested in new bands. They like what they like from that key moment in their lives when music was the most important thing in the whole world to them. After that period in your life, as your life changes, you're stuck at that apex. If it happens to be 1987 and you're a senior in high school and The Smiths is all you care about, then nothing is ever going to be as good as The Smiths.
MC: How did you pick what you were going to listen to throughout the year? What would pique your interest in a record?
JB: The great undefinable quality attached to the word "buzz" would definitely be one thing — buzz from people I know at work and socially and from taste-making websites like Pitchfork or The Onion's AV Club.
MC: Buzz is such a weird thing, and no one really knows where it starts. Everyone wants to write about the bands everyone else is writing about, and no one knows why or how. How is it that a band gets buzz and that people want to listen to it and write about it? It can't all come from Pitchfork.
JB: I think you need one key person to say, "Listen to this," and people will do it. If the right person sees Sleigh Bells at some Brooklyn venue where there are 14 people watching and says, "Sleigh Bells are the next big thing," then they're the next big thing.
MC: Can you think of a band that's doing something old — a style, a genre — better than anyone has ever done it before? Something that's been part of rock 'n' roll for a long time that's now being perfected? That's a thing that I think is a symptom of aesthetic atrophy: When people say, "Well, there's nothing now that's better than what there used to be, so why listen to it?"