Artists of the Year

Hurricanes, war, avian flu, locust plagues, that annoying song you couldn't get out of your head. It wasn't the greatest of all possible years. Nor was it halfway decent. But to prove that it wasn't all bad, we asked 29 writers to rave about the ar

Douglas Wolk lives in Portland, Oregon, and writes about pop music and comic books for Blender, The Believer, Slate, Salon, and the New York Times.


John Peel
By Michaelangelo Matos
The emotional force of my response to John Peel's death two Octobers ago was as big a surprise to me as the news itself. I knew Peel primarily through interviews and the FabricLive 07 mix-CD he compiled in 2002; I'd never heard his shows on BBC Radio 1. But the loss I felt was real. Everything about him said "fellow traveler"--a man who loved music broadly and dearly, struggled valiantly to keep up with it all, and had figured out how to make it a life's work.

There were lots of Peel touchstones this year: his autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes; the narrowly focused two-CD John Peel: A Tribute, which ignores the impossible breadth of his passions to concentrate on rock; the Fall's exhaustive, exhausting six-CD Complete Peel Sessions. But he's my artist of the year for more serendipitous reasons. In 1993, a 30-minute show he did for U.S. college radio titled Peel Out in the States lasted two dozen episodes. This summer, I found a pair of CDs containing two programs apiece in a used bin. Friends and eBay have since netted others, and I've played them more than anything else this year.

Much of the music on these shows isn't great. (Put your hands together for "Enough Is Enough," the collaboration between Chumbawamba and Credit to the Nation!) But it doesn't matter, because Peel is clearly having a blast cramming as much Afropop (Wawali Nonane et Génération Soukouss Enzene), four-track drone-hiss (Flying Saucer Attack), vintage piano boogie (Camille Howard), techno (Westbam), and indie rock (lots of it) into a half-hour as he could, tying it all together with dry, sardonic asides. In so doing, he made music seem like what it is--the greatest damn thing in the world.

Michaelangelo Matos is music editor at Seattle Weekly, the author of Sign 'O' the Times (Continuum, 2004), and a frequent contributor to City Pages.


Sarah Silverman
By Molly Priesmeyer
Viewing Bush's second-term "mandate" as a sign that many Americans want entertainment in sync with both Billy Renquist and Billy Graham, the creative powers that be quickly responded by turning 2005 into the second coming of Christ. Jesus made appearances on the cover of Newsweek in March (religious news-weekly cover stories have gone from frequent to very frequent), as a theme in NBC's Revelations in April, and in the Left Behind series that sat atop the best-seller lists for the first half of the year. It seems apropos, then, that the Prince of Peace comes up in comic Sarah Silverman's subversive standup doc, Jesus Is Magic, as some Birkenstock-wearing dude who quite possibly made the Statue of Liberty disappear in the '80s. In a Copperfieldian move, she notes, Jesus did walk on water after all.

Sure, I could've chosen one of this year's artists who made me cry my guts out or whose performances or pieces made my heart break into tiny shards that left my insides bleeding. But what this past year needed most was an unabashedly honest artist, someone unafraid to offend everyone in her wake, someone like the self-proclaimed JAP Silverman. The 35-year-old New Hampshire-bred comedian is equal parts Lenny Bruce wearing a sunny disposition and an enormous cartoon smile of piano-key teeth, and a Maxim cover girl with a mouth and mind dirtier than most of the magazine's readers'. Her smart jokes might be of the conventional one-two-punch variety, but they serve as reminders of and assaults on American stupidity and racism while forcing audiences to confront what "appropriate" means.

Every comedian portrays a character, and Silverman's is selfish, sex-crazed, dim, crass, cocksure, incongruously shiny, and a devout button-pusher. In other words, she's the quintessential clueless American. But she's also unnerving and hilarious, maybe unnervingly hilarious. To wit, from Jesus Is Magic: "If black people were in Nazi Germany during World War II, the Holocaust would have never happened. Or, not to Jews." Audiences are forced to ponder if they're laughing at her jokes because they're spot-on ironic or because they're so true it hurts. And though Silverman might be preaching to a choir of lefty nerds panting over her beauty, she's not afraid to hold up a mirror that e

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