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2011: Talya Cooper

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Our Brooklyn writer will remember 2011 for a larger than life writer and a slightly smaller record.

2011: Talya Cooper

Writing on the release of Out of the Vinyl Deeps, a compilation of music reviews written by former New Yorker pop critic Ellen Willis, N+1’s Erin Sheehy observes:

    Willis understood the importance of identification in the fan-star relationship, and some of her most interesting writing in Out of the Vinyl Deeps occurs when she explores the filters that women use to make that identification possible: what we forgive, infer, adjust — both consciously and unconsciously — in order to make rock music a means of self-expression.

I have waited for this conversation for my entire life, from the moment I demanded guitar lessons as a tiny brat so I could be just like George Harrison. The Willis collection is wonderful; less than her individual opinions of artists, the critical framework she uses remains current in its refusal to separate her appreciation of rock music from her radical feminism. She scab-picks insistently at the points where she can draw these two aspects of her identity together — and it is, of course, rock that will always ultimately fail her. Alongside the book’s release, the commentary it has prompted (along with the vogue riot grrrl currently enjoys thanks to Tavi Gevinson and Sara Marcus’ late 2010 tome, Girls To the Front) has been this year’s most welcome musical development for me. The role of women as consumers and as producers of music has been the subject of writing from Simon Reynolds’ timely New York Times piece on female synthesizer musicians to Pitchfork’s overdue acknowledgement of the two cardinal rules of writing about female musicians: we’re not all riot grrrls, and just because we’re female, you don’t have to compares us exclusively to other female musicians, or to the entire trajectory of Women In Rock.

But look at the gender breakdown of Pitchfork’s staff of writers — shit, look at Dusted. There’s a lot more to talk about and work out, and the fact that people like Daphne Carr and Gevinson and Osa Atoe and Layla Gibbon and Mary Jane Regalado and Amy Klein and Bryony Beynon and Jamie Johns and Alexis Stephens and Tobi Vail and Mimi Nguyen and countless others are on the case points to a brighter critical future.

In that spirit I will write about the record I listened to most in 2011: The Babies’ self-titled LP. Dismissed by some as minor, this represents the most major minor-rock of the year, a modest record that sounds like best friends made it even as it turns itself into your best friend: when you need someone to remind you, there’s Kevin Morby sing-talking “hey / kid / it’s only love.” Morby and Cassie Ramone’s John/Exene vocals dialogue through lyrics that sound well-worn — not clichéd, just preternaturally familiar — and memorable Neil Young-via-Replacements melodies. For some reason the world sees fit to dismiss Ramone’s singing voice, a complaint that, as she herself points out, critics seldom level against male singers whose voices “have character.” She sounds perfect here, distinctive and honest.

I don’t care if this record is great or not. It is what I want a record to be, and I wish “Breakin’ the Law” were on every jukebox in America.

By Talya Cooper

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