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YEAR IN MUSIC: Bay Area rock staked its claim while critical darlings turned bogus in 2010

Abe Pedroza, Shaun Durkan, and Kevin Johnson of Weekend brought Bay rock bliss

On Twitter, Hunx pretty much called the dominant website out on its bullshit when it omitted him from its "Top 40 Artist Twitters" list. Packed with sharp observation about music and day-to-day moments, the Twitter feeds of SF musicians such as Hunx, Cooper, Alexis Penney, and — showcased in this issue — swiftumz offer more than self-promotion. They're full-fledged creative diaries, and in some cases, spaces for comic or gay performance. It's no accident that today's most extreme example of a self-created musical Twitter or YouTube star — Lil B — also hails from the self-inventing Bay Area. On his own, jettisoning major labels, Lil B is a one-man Warhol factory, endlessly duplicating and multiplying and morphing his image.

In recent years, Pitchfork and other New York publications have tended to patronize the rock music coming out of San Francisco while staunchly championing the thrilling likes of the Drums and the Beets. This year, that practice had perhaps started to fade, maybe thanks to the sheer dynamic variety of sounds from San Francisco. At the tail end of 2010, Girls' Broken Dreams Club hit the site's "Best New Music" category, while Weekend's Sports garnered a high rating, and the Soft Moon's debut album was previewed and promoted in different contexts. Earlier in the year, Sonny and the Sunsets were blessed with a billing at Pitchfork's fest.

These national nods count for something, and the past twelve months have also seen solid-to-exceptional releases from Moon Duo, the Fresh and Onlys, the Mantles, Tamaryn, and more. Still, while new albums by the Alps and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma were championed by New York's Other Music, they've gone ignored on Pitchfork. Singular Bay Area labels such as Root Strata and Dark Entries are unveiling strange sonic worlds to excited audiences, though you wouldn't necessarily know it if you went to national music publications for your information.

Meanwhile, Pitchfork's influence — the inevitable wave crest of a sensibility (if you can call it that) cultivated by the echo-chamber of various blogs — has generated some truly dubious critical darlings in 2010. It's one thing to simply not care for a lauded artist. That kind of thing happens all the time. It's another, though, to listen to a celebrated phenom and feel that it is entirely bogus. Such is the case with How to Dress Well, whose Mr. Bill reinterpretations of '80s and '90s R&B have me racing for my Aaliyah collection and early Mary J. Blige recordings so as not to become wholly dispirited. Similarly, 2010 will also bear the scarlet letter of being the year that "witch house" broke, as the similar sub-musicality of Salem was taken seriously at face value — at least until some mind-boggling live performances began to circulate on YouTube.

Perhaps all too late, this critic inherently questions the value or existence of pop music criticism a little more with each passing year. At times, my disillusionment blooms into an outright alienation from an entire genre. I'll come right out and admit that frustration with commercial hip-hop has turned me off with no change in sight for a while, and I feel similarly about R&B. Janelle Monáe's android act leaves me cold, and no amount of pioneering or vanguard or even artistically challenging production moves by Kanye West will get me to successfully ignore or bypass the fact that he annoys the fuck out of me. Is this dubious? Maybe so. Tell me why. I'd like to feel enraptured by these genres, but right now, I don't.

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