Thursday, April 01, 2004

Oh my god! It's the...
Quarterly Report

I doubt I even saw five new movies or read five new books in the first three months of this year, and I definitely don't watch enough TV or know enough about news to pretend to be any sort of authority there. This is going to be strictly a music thing, and it's something I'll come back to every three months and maybe use to help myself come up with a good list at the end of the year. I know I do a lot of list-type stuff on this blog, and I know that lists aren't exactly the most constructive or enlightening form of criticism. I know that it's an affront to the art that people make to arrange it into some sort of sequential order. But whatever, fuck it, I like doing it. It's fun, and I have time to kill. So here we go.

Top Five Albums
This isn't including the new Hold Steady joint, which I haven't managed to obtain yet. It'll be considered for the next quarterly report.

1. Kanye West - The College Dropout
Like there was ever any doubt. Kanye has had way too much hype, yes. He's not exactly one of the most commanding voices in hip-hop, the album is too long and uneven, and all the anti-college stuff is just weird. He isn't going to save hip-hop or anything like that, and I've already played it so much I'm sort of sick of it. But this is still a glorious album. Musically, it's dense and full and often just heart-wrenching. The choirs, the violins, the glitchy vocal samples, the thwack of the drums - it all sounds great. And Kanye's persona, though thoroughly crafted, is still something new. He has room for self-deprecation and searching insight and bad puns and sly humor and knuckleheaded misogyny and acknowledgement of said knuckleheaded misogyny. I'm really happy that it exists.

2. Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healed
In general, I don't care too much about lyrics. They just don't matter too much to me. I have no idea what some of my favorite songs are about. I love Ghostface, for instance, and his lyrics generally mean nothing to me. I love him because of the timbre of his voice, the force of his delivery, and the way he runs figure eights all over every track. But some writers (Craig Finn, Jay-Z, Travis Morrison, Corin Tucker) just destroy me with their words and the way they match those words to music. John Darnielle is one of them. His lyrics don't read on paper any better than the (brilliant) writing on Last Plane to Jakarta would sound if put to music, but the way he really gets me with the way he delivers his absurdities with absolute conviction. He's practically spitting nails on "Home Again Garden Grove". From what I understand, We Shall All Be Healed is a radical departure from his low-fi past. I'm a newcomer, but I can only think that's a good thing. As it is, he's a perfect fit for 4AD; the lush, full-bodied music makes a nice pillow for his ragged-ass voice. And like Kanye, Darnielle deploys violin to ridiculous effect.

3. TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
I still feel like I'm just beginning to sink my teeth into this one. There's just so much there. The word atmospheric is way overused in music reviews, but that's what this album is. It's a deep, grey, smokey haze that surrounds and engulfs you. It fogs up your head, your thoughts trail off, you zone out on that smudge on your window. You breath it. Jessica Hopper will let you know what they do way better than I ever could (March 27th entry).

4. Madvillain - Madvillainy
A lot of hip-hop, even bad hip-hop, feels like it just has to exist, whether it's because someone just needs to say something or because someone needs to get rich or a party needs to get started. Madvillainy, on the other hand, sounds like something Madlib and DOOM did some night when they were bored and nothing good was on TV. It's a languid, distracted examination of absolutely nothing. The beats sound like rain hitting a car windshield, and the lyrics are what Ghostface probably says when he's talking in his sleep. And that's what I like about it. It's, um, atmospheric.

5. Cee-Lo Green - ....Is the Soul Machine
This album, on the other hand, is a sunburst, and explosion of laughter. It drags at times; there are way too many plastic-ass soul songs. But when Cee-Lo is on, it's a delight. The cartoony primary-color beats nicely compliment Cee-Lo's helium teddy-bear rasp, and dude can hit those high notes. This is what I was hoping The Love Below would be.

Top Five Singles
These are singles that I think were released this year, though some of them are off albums that were released last year.

1. Beyonce - Naughty Girl
"Crazy in Love" was great, but this is roughly one million times better; it's the best thing Beyonce has done since "Bootylicious" or "Jumpin' Jumpin'". The Donna Summer sample is completely appropriate; this is the sort of song Donna Summer would be making now if she were just coming up. It's an incredibly sexy record, all languid coos and sparkley whooshes being driven forward by a subtle but ridiculously propulsive elastic bassline. And I swear my opinion of this song is in no way enhanced by how hot Beyonce is. Really, it's not. Dude, I'm serious!

2. J-Kwon - Tipsy
If a good album is an album I'd rather listen to that "Tipsy" on repeat for 45 minutes, then there aren't too many good albums coming out right now. The beat is enormous, all-encompassing, and the synth smears go straight to my frontal lobe. J-Kwon kindly steps aside and allows the beat to utterly dominate the song.

3. T.I. - Rubberband Man
Hey! Crunk can be charming! T.I. is a great MC in the Jay-Z sense; his loose lyrics and pauses and vocal inflections get stuck in your head almost as much as his serious hooks do. And this is a serious hook, a celestial double-dutch whoop. David Banner should make a children's album.

4. Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris - Yeah
My enthusiasm for this one has been dulled by constant repetition, but what a great way to reintroduce Usher. One more great thing about crunk - its hectic harshness leaves no room for R&B melisma. The beat forces Usher to reign himself in and serve up the hooks undiluted. Ludacris keeps things grimey, and the great thing is that he's not really needed.

5. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
There's something really playful about this song, how it flirts with the disco groove before launching into it full-on. And then when that chorus hits it's like you're driving home from work on a beautiful afternoon with money in your pocket and flowers blooming everywhere.