Four Tips for Your ‘Album of the Year’ Debates

D'Angelo / Courtesy of Greg Harris via rollingstone.com
D’Angelo / Courtesy of Greg Harris via rollingstone.com

It began in the onslaught of Black Friday weekend news, buried between all the tryptophan and shots of soccer moms trampling sweaty dads for kids’ toys. The first “best albums of the year” debates began.

It always begins as a humble few releasing a list of which albums they enjoyed most, but quickly, the first hint of dissent turns to savagery. Weeks later, passions are flying over which album does/does not deserve recognition on high profile lists. D’Angelo kicked a 4th quarter neo-soul timebomb fourteen years in the making to add confusion and now, even the most precious lo-fi pop band isn’t being held sacred in comment threads. In the midst of this fray, I feel it might help to offer my four truths and bits of decorum to avoid total thread bloodshed. Enough discussion has been reduced to trolls baiting impassioned music nerds to wax the same arguments over albums that not even a fifth of the US population have heard. But before we dive in, it’s crucial to prelude this with a who’s who of indie rock’s most controversial figures this year, most of whom even eclipsed D’Angelo’s year-end stunt in terms of buzz.

Sun Kil Moon told, nay, wrote two diss tracks to The War on Drugs requesting they “suck a d*ck” for no personal or logical reason. DIIV, a band that has marinated in unfortunate drama for the better part of their short career, found their bassist in the thick of a 4chan anime board throwing out a range of slurs and sexist language atop an already unacceptable anti-Semitic joke he made. But the king of drama this year in terms of coverage was Ariel Pink, who seemingly invented a story about collaborating with Madonna because most of her career has been on a “downward slide”, accused Grimes of being “angry [because he’s] the male version of her” after accusing Pink of misogyny, and joked about getting pepper sprayed “by a feminist” after he told said feminist to “shut your mouth, little girl, [and] respect your elders.” It should also be noted that Pink has recorded some pretty good psychedelic pop albums alongside his work as indie music’s clickbait superstar of 2014. I’m not a savior or a sage with handling all of this, but I firmly believe these four pieces of advice should bear repeating in this end-of-holiday music bloodbath:

Ban the question “why are you taking this so seriously?” from existence. Unless you’re about that “some men just want to watch the world burn” life, burn this question to the ground. Assume yes, the person is at least slightly serious with their claim. It’s totally fine if you ask how they differ from your view or, at the very least, ask for some elaboration if their response is short. But in the case of Ariel Pink, there are some serious sexist and misogynistic issues present…this is probably not a simple dislike of music to joke with here. It might be a good time to reign in your fine-tuned shutdowns, tuck away your .gif collection, and save that classic “u mad?” for later. Grade school kids used to spit into mean kids’ food. Adults will spread your name to all of their friends to make sure none of them want to hire, date, or associate with you. Avoid the adult version of food spit when you’re debating people. On the flip side though…

Starting your argument in a sarcastic, accusatory tone will probably tune everyone out except sarcastic people that already agree with you. I’m trying to pull from my years of music snobbery, but if I could pin one suggestion onto the entirety of Tumblr, it’d be the above without question. I have seen so many heated debates reblogged with post structures like:

Album of the Year Debates Tumblr Screenshot Blog - FDRMX

Maybe it’s something I’ve missed as an “old person of Tumblr” (i.e. any blogger over the age of 20 that doesn’t get what “Superwholock” means), but I can’t see how any movement starts when arguments read like an e.e. cummings poem. The saddest part is that arguments on Tumblr can be incredibly valid and about sincerely relevant issues that deserve further debate (ex. racism/sexism in music promotions, supporting an artist’s music and not their beliefs), but the poster’s desire to SHOW HOW ANGRY THEY ARE versus explaining it completely negates any chances of readable debate. In a less anonymous setting like Facebook statuses, I occasionally see civil comments that showcase the same anger, like so:

“Why do we celebrate the work of a sexist artist like Ariel Pink that says in interviews how he wants a complacent wife that will “stay home and make French fries and have babies” for him? He makes me sick.”

A full argument, stated as a question that (hopefully) gets real debate going, followed by some personal emotion to signify it as a serious matter. Unless anyone can suggest otherwise, that is the perfect model for effectively debating someone without abusing your caps lock privileges. Now explain to me who “Superwholock” is, youth person.

Assume the artist and their actions are being viewed separately from their art. Because, in an ideal world, that’s how art deserves to be consumed. Case in point: Morrissey. I have never finished an interview of his without the urge to down some whiskey and punch everything surrounding me (including myself for thinking it was a good idea to read another Morrissey diatribe), but The Queen is Dead is still a perfect record in my eyes. The artist and the art can be separate; it’s just very easy to forget.

I forgot just a few weeks ago in a discussion about excluding Sun Kil Moon’s Benji from my year end list. It would’ve been easy to actually say why I didn’t like it had the person not given me a patronizing rant on how I missed the anti-humor genius of Mark Kozalek’s antics against The War on Drugs. “Sun Kil Moon’s basically a meme in musician form,” I complained to another friend later. “Can’t remember the last time a meme was all that funny to me. It’s not even very interesting in terms of shock factor self-promotion either…I can’t see why I’d bother trying Benji again.” Hello elitism, my old friend.

As valid as it is that Mark Kozalek’s actions don’t inspire repeated listening for me, Benji is not his idiotic drama. Benji is a collection of heartbreaking recollections of dead cousins, gun massacres, and blue crab cakes that, for the most part, is very authentic in its delivery. I get why people are defending it so fervently, but the truth is I don’t like most of it because it’s a bit too meditative for me. And that’s all. And if that opinion changes for me in the next few years, great. Unless a culture like Insane Clown Posse’s is deeply engrained in the music, it’s can be easy to separate and make a more focused argument on the artist’s wrongs versus the album’s.

If you think a debate has begun going in circles, it probably started running off a few comments before. Close it up and try to be happy about it. I want you to impart some truths on feminism, the state of music consumption, and supporting morally decent artists, I really do. The fact of the matter though is that some people dig pissing people off over things as personally sacred as music. And hey, treating the argument with all the tips above might’ve shifted it more seriously, but this person is still coating every reply with that less-than-charming sheen of superiority.

Changing opinions is doable. Changing music listeners is miraculous. Even if they’re still baiting you, end it. Even if they’re just ripping their opinion entirely off some pontificating record store junkie’s reviews on YouTube, let it die. If you genuinely believe your opinion is a basic human belief this person is missing, restate it briefly and silently wish they also understand that putting their hand on a hot stove is a no-no. Music elitists are stubborn, so the best response you can get sometimes is, “yeah, I kinda get what you’re saying.”

Despite all of this, music debate must continue existing. Amongst friends, it can help you forget how antisocial you are up against every other party subject. With other people, new album and band recommendations can flow like honey or vomit depending on your receptiveness. Take debating as seriously as you want the next time Black Friday weekend rears its head, but don’t let it steal your soul. That’s what big department store markdowns and trampling over old people for a TV are for.

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