Top 10 Music Writers — 2012’s Compelling Cultural Critics

Top-Ten-Music-Critics Bleecker Street BeatLists have received a lot of flack this year, some of it for obvious, warranted reasons, and some of it just because people love to find particular things to hate on. Honestly, lists are one of the best ways for people to delineate their varied levels of interest in different pieces of art, and to rank art based on its masterfulness. To say the propensity toward list-making has reached an all-time, absurd high is an understatement. But, to write lists off completely doesn’t make sense, as they remain the most effective way of distilling impact, ranking influence and organizing art within the world. To that end, the majority of lists at this time of year focus on the idea of “best,” which seems silly within any form of art, particularly one as subjective as music. Yet, whether it be the aristocracy in our past or the competition instilled in us by Darwin, the idea that one thing must supersede others unabashedly perseveres.

Some of my peers postulate that the world of music criticism is existentially similar to high school — that cliques and gossip populate the hallways of thought more ably than the pursuit of art or culture. I must voice a serious disagreement to this watering down of the career that music writing aims to be. The music writer, the music critic, the rock scribe, the puzzling gazer-in on the world of musicians and music, seeks to convey to culture and to themselves, why specific works of sound and lyric carry great meaning. The highest end of a critic with a truly sharp perspective is to glean the deeper leanings of music and thrust them into the light for everyone to see, and, on the opposite end of that spectrum, to shun the half-hearted efforts of fame hoppers or untalented capitalism machines. The line is a difficult one to walk and it takes an alarming amount of insight and an incisive wit to convey the highs and lows of music in a way that is meaningful and on-point. But, I would also argue that this role, the position of the music critic, is an essential one for a culture that becomes more and more immersed in music. Below I have ranked the writers that affected me this year, whose analysis moved me, whose perspective challenged me, and whose writing just plain made my heart beat faster. Please know that I am a very subjective human just like you, and this list is not an end-all-be-all or meant to hurt or unnecessarily hype anyone. It’s just a list of people that challenge me every time I read a piece, as I too strive to become the best possible music critic I can be. Continue reading

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Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Rings Shrines Review Bleecker Street Beat

From the center of every human female emanates a white blue energy, in waves of quiet fire it orbits her throughout her lifetime. It seeps in and out of hips and legs, it appears gossamer and fine at the fringes of smiles and frowns, and every once in an achingly long time, it shows up in music, caught like a spider in amber. Purity Ring’s debut release Shrines gives us the séance-stood-still moment of this energy, feminine energy, caught entirely on tape.

I relate to this album so deeply and on such a personal level – I relate to this record as a woman, a defining name that I cling to more closely than I do to the title of “human.” Human, what is human? There is much that is human that is not me, but woman, I know what that is and it is me. I love the messy, curvy, liquid body I possess, I love grooming it into submission. I love the spiritual witchiness innate in girls, collected in trinkets and spoken into being through token symbols from a very young age. Continue reading

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Mumford and Sons – Babel

The opinions expressed below are expressly stated to be the personal opinion of Caitlin Cristin White. In no way do I claim them to be facts. However, I think they’re pretty good.

Music Critic Game: Hubris Fail
Guess what? Music doesn’t exist on a good versus bad scale like we so desperately want it to and sometimes convince ourselves it does. It doesn’t and cannot exist amidst the world of fact and truly objective measures. Isn’t that why most of us are drawn to it anyway? Music isn’t truth nor is it lie, it’s music and that’s why we love it.  A rating system is a made up thing to make the lives of lazy writers easier, to allow for less thinking and more smugness, to allow for less showing and more telling of the writer’s own musical knowledge. Music has, and always will, exist within communities, serving different purposes and offering different touchstones. However, to say it doesn’t exist within gradients of talent, purpose and inspiration would be foolish. Continue reading

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Heart Skips A Beat – MaG’s “Freedom”

MaG (yes, that’s how prefers it be spelled) is a New York based MC out of the Bronx who describes his rap style for us on the track streaming below “Freedom” in movie metaphor: “My flow? / Ocean’s 11.” This song is off his most recent EP of the same name, and his forthcoming LP, also called Freedom is hosted by DJ Mick Boogie and sponsored by

I’m not sure what that sample he’s using with all the horns is but I love it. Reminds me of some of the stuff Jay-Z uses on Blueprint 3. I’ve been listening to a lot more hip-hop/rap lately, especially for work, and I like the direction this guy is going in. Another great line “We just throw it in the air / And we say screw ladders.” He also name checks Lupe and Obama in the same verse, which is pretty sweet.

Get to know MaG:  Twitter | Facebook | Bandcamp

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Heart Skips A Beat – Kissed Her Little Sister’s “I Ain’t Got A Friend”

This song. I was alerted to it by the ever wonderful Tom, editor at GoldFlakePaint, several weeks ago, but I just keep coming back to it. Los Angeles based Kissed Her Little Sister might actually be the most perfect band on earth to me, because they mixed folk with a hip-hop rhythm sensibility. But that’s not all, add a lo-fi drone, horns for days and lyrics that are actually meaningful. I’m hooked on this one.

And in the dismal days of late when I’ve felt like I haven’t had a friend, this song has been a pseudo-friend to me. Oh also they write everything in all lowercase which is my secret desire to constantly do even though I don’t do it on this blog. It has a lot to do with e.e. cummings for me. Ask me about it sometime if you’re interested. But first, go to their bandcamp page and get their whole album “Sailor” that was released just last month for free, or stream this song below. Because it is an intersection of musical sounds that will probably please your ear.


Get to know Kissed Her Little Sister: Facebook | | Bandcamp | Soundcloud

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Heart Skips A Beat – Abadabad’s “All The Bros Say”

Abadabad, I love you. Listen to their new track it is, as the kids say, dope. It’s the first single released from their latest EP The Wild and it’s called “All The Bros Say” which is pretty amazing just on stand alone value. Continue reading

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Heart Skips A Beat – Jonas Carping’s “Underground”

Underground EPYou know those times you feel a really intense connection to someone and it seems super meaningful, not just to you, but to them too and then suddenly inexplicably they are just gone? They don’t feel that magic you felt and apparently don’t care if they ever see you again. That happened to me last month, right around the time I first heard this track from Jonas Carping’s forthcoming record All The Time In The World. I think he beautifully captures that feeling of loneliness as something that buries you, that takes you away from the open air, leaves you underground.

Also, he does this little thing with his voice at tail of end of when he sings “underground” that nips at my heart that extra heartbreak bit. Beautifully sad. Listen if you’ve ever been senselessly brushed aside by someone you trusted with your heart. Stream the rest of his initial EP “Underground” over on his Soundcloud page.

Get to know Jonas Carping: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Swing Lo MagellanIt’s nice, amidst the playground of bullshit that the music industry has in many ways become, to see genius projected out into the great unknown. Listening to Swing Lo Magellan I smile and nod, I gape in awe, I listen over and over again questioning, but mostly, I just hover on that brink of emotion right between crying and laughing. This is the first record by the Dirty Projectors I have ever listened to for some reason, and though I look forward to hearing the rest of their back catalogue, I’m glad it was this one I fell in love with. I explained how I felt upon hearing this record to a friend last night as something like discovering a new window in a house you’ve lived in all your life. Familiar like childhood, far away like home and funny like fate, this record is the answer to a question I was too scared to ask for fear no one knew the answer.

But receiving the answer without having to ask? A meeting of many souls within a black vinyl record? This is the type of exultant space the ear and mind occupy while listening to thundering guitars of  take-no-prisoners album opener “The Offspring Are Blank.” This song delivers unabashedly powerful Guns N’ Roses guitar noise and drums, heedlessly skipping past the over-used and over-worshipped Beatles and Stones rock tones.

But to hear Longstreth’s lyrics, the band’s harmonizing, his philosophizing, the birth of innumerable new weird electronic noises, the incorporation of tribal-like drums on the second track? It sounds like no one. It sounds like no one else. It sounds like the Dirty Projectors. This secretly unique sound that starts off “About To Die” contains a sex appeal and a foreignness usually reserved for steamy jungles and ancient rituals.  Following upon the heels of this is the James Bond drama of “Gun Has No Trigger” adorned with choir-like harmonies that would put the Mormons themselves to shame. To hear it hung all together like a series of trapeze artists or the most elaborate airborne mobile decoration, is pure bliss.

There’s a certain yearning that exists among some of us, that denies our involvement in a culture that has produced the monstrosities we now live with, that begs there must be more, that looks around helplessly for companions among a sea of blank, pallid faces. “Dance For You” captures this yearning with a pinprick precision so full of pain, hope and wonder I started crying before I even finished my first listen and cry every time since. “There is an answer / I haven’t found it / But I will keep dancing till I do.”

When I listen to this record I feel a connection to something I have been searching for my whole life. I hear my same concerns and visions spun into incredible melodies and harmonies that sting me with their similarity to my own emotions and that stun me with their vivid originality.

The ability to weave in and out of the past and the present, to sift through the expanses of time we are confronted with, that long dry desert of time, and come across the only oases within that deathly stretch, without falling prey to the mirages, is a feat within itself. While songs like “Swing Lo Magellan” and “Maybe That Was It” tip their hats to the past, they’re never mired down in navel-gazing folk obsession or rock imitation, both tracks raise their weary heads and march forward, leaving the tempting genres of the past to the past.

The correspondence of the best parts of the past marching alongside soldiers of future sound is what turns this record into a cipher for us. We’re the generation of too much debt, very little chance at any sort of job we care about and even less chance at finding any love or meaning in a fractured, phobic and foolish society. We’ve seen too much, spent too much, we’re too cynical and too broke, we’re too tired and too guarded. We are constantly hungry and flush with plenty, we are indolent and impoverished. This record calls out the strength in us to drop all that we’ve been saddled with, to instead search out, cull our past for its wonders, not with backwards glancing, but with our eyes fixed firmly on our own time, our own purpose. Not to ignore the future or wonder about it — but to create it. The Dirty Projectors created 2012 with this record, they shaped the attitude surrounding music for the rest of the year. They re-instilled within me the singular will to contribute to a better future. To look to the horizon with hope and power instead of despair and exhaustion.

The ingredients through which a feat this large was achieved include self-realization, love and passionate performance. Has anything good ever come into the world without at least one of these three things? Don’t think there’s a chance that in an age of achievable digital perfection “Unto Caesar” is accidentally set in the mode of a live recording session. A hodgepodge of purposefully imperfect harmonies, a hair or two off the mark, the inclusion of criticism of the song in the recording, a solitary male performer clapping at the wrong times and indiscernibly wailing along with the rest. Longstreth gives us the poem and the marginalia – a feat that reflects not only his artistic stance in a world of filler and fluff – but fleshes out our perspective on the band in a way we crave, in a way that with a record like this, we need. The heavenly realization that these are kids, just like us, messing around in the studio, just trying to make some art they love.

In closing, Dave, for he feels like a first-name basis best friend at this point, delivers “Irresponsible Tune” with the solemnity of a closing benediction and the sturdy hope of a pioneer. He takes out the secret talisman usually kept safe in a carved ivory box or only passed down in oral tradition and freely gives it to us: “with our songs, we are outlaws / with our songs we’re alone / but without songs we’re lost and life is pointless, harsh and long.” We are outlaws, the structure of our society forces us to head for the hills out into the back country and make our own way, because those in charge have become irresponsibly corrupt. We’re alone out there as we scheme with our meager supplies and the powers that be against us, but within this freedom we also find the strength to rediscover what we want our lives to be, and the will to make them into that.

If for some reason you haven’t heard this record yet, do yourself a favor and stream it over at The Guardian, (top notch publication that Guardian too).

Get to know the Dirty Projectors: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Mermonte – Mermonte

mermonteLike a music box that suddenly realized it had vocal chords, and began to sing as well as tick away lovely refrains, Mermonte pitter pats out of nowhere across landscapes of nursery rhymes and French countryside. Releasing their first LP on Father Figure Records, the Danish based independent label recently started by Mimas frontman and Dad Rocks! mastermind Snævar Njáll Albertsson, Mermonte feels both foreign and wonderfully familiar. I feel like I have certain ideas in my mind when I hear about a “French Pop Band” but this self-titled release by Mermonte blows these prefixed notions out of the water.

The aching, tumultuous “Monte” is the perfect introduction for a band that relies on the synergy of their sound rather than focusing solely on vocals like many American pop bands tend to do. The vocals don’t even hit in this song until a third of the way through, beautifully setting up the track as a whole. “David Le Merle” follows a similar structure, placing the entrance of vocals again, late in the song, and using them more as just another noise than any sort of central fixture.

As someone who studied French for five years, I appreciate that some of the vocals, when they’re there, are sung in French. There is a crocheted sort of elegance in the way French words mesh in and out of rhythms with each other that English is incapable of capturing.  But as someone who studied French now five years ago, it’s nice that there are English songs included as well. My favorite track might well be the second one, “We’re On The Same Way” that feels like a celebration of two hearts in tune, two minds in agreement.
I can’t really escape the ocean as a metaphor for these songs, partially due to the cover art which features a woman walking along the surf, right where the water and sand meet. That playful, beachy scene reflects a lot about how the album sounds as well. The music roars and swells, laps and falls into rip tides. Choruses and verses stretch out like beautiful beaches, littered with bright hints of glockenspiel like shells embedded in sandy shores.

Speaking of which, can I for one just say how happy I am that glockenspiels are used on this record? That funny little chirp of an instrument adds this feeling of birdsong to so many songs on this record. It creates a feeling that wouldn’t be possible.

But the acoustic guitar parts on tracks like “Jamie” or album closer “Filtz” bring their sound right back into the folk realm, as do their crystalline harmonies. This little record shines like a ray of sunshine on a white, barren beach, perfect for drives to the sea, quiet evenings alone, or to soundtrack a romantic dinner for two.

Get to know Mermonte: Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp

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The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen occupy a special place in my heart because the first time I ever heard them I was visiting New York for only the second time, and I still lived in LA. I was toying with the idea of moving here and I was in a coffee shop in Brooklyn called Cafe Pedlar near where I now live. Ironically, I often go there now to write album reviews, especially if I have bad writer’s block, for some reason it always clears up if I go there. Anyway, Lisbon had just been released and the barista was playing the record. When I asked him who was playing he began to excitedly tell me about this band The Walkmen and how good their new record was. It might be hyperbole, but I think that was the exact moment I decided to move to Brooklyn. When I got back to LA, I immediately downloaded “Lisbon” and was helplessly drawn into the mirroring circuitous rock these men make with no hope of returning. So the gossamer strands of their recent release Heaven have fallen upon open ears.

Listening to this band is like encountering a package that needs to be carefully unwrapped, that includes lots of little pieces which must be carefully assembled. It’s time consuming, but when the endeavor is finished, it feels more valuable because of the energy and attention you had to put in. That’s always how it is for me with their records, they grow and grow in magnitude upon each listen until I finally feel as if I have some cursory understanding of the heart of the record.

What is the heart of Heaven? It’s the marriage of the pony express and gas stations, the wild wild west and the freeway, the magnificence of a palatial ballroom and the unending track of a dirt trail. The queen who fell in love with a peasant – an unending combination of elegance and meagerness – and an upending of their stratified separation. This is the essence of why they’re such a renowned rock band – their tinge of of folk, just the slightest hint, like honey in your tea.

This album is called “Heaven” and with good reason. It’s clouds and sunshine and all the loved ones you lost and maybe God himself on some of the songs, like on that final crescendo of the opening track ‘We Can’t Be Beat’, he appears in marvel and glory, then goes back to his magisterial business so we can focus on the real joy, the music.

Take the initial easy jaunt of ‘Heartbreaker’ which is suddenly buoyed by guitar parts so stringent they sound like horns and lead to the climax of the song with so much tension that it captures the feeling of unrequited love itself. Then there’s the apocalyptic tunnel of sound punctuated with wailing ahs and organ on ‘The Witch’.  Give me plucked out, subdued and naked honesty of ‘Southern Heart’ and then take me over to the rawness and ache of ‘The Love You Love’.  These men are walking circles around other contemporary “rock” bands. Their sound is simply more adult, there’s more flesh on the bones and the bones themselves are assembled in more complex skeletons.

Hazily royal, this record feels like a peek into the sumptuous lives of Victorian aristocrats, that is, if aristocrats could shred guitars and sing in indolent harmonies. Buy this record.

Get to know The Walkmen: Facebook | Twitter | Website

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