Thursday, April 14, 2005

This is a bit late, and I haven't done one in six months, but what the hell, it's time:
Quarterly Report

Music has just been ridiculously good so far this year, especially albums. Any of my 6 to 10 would've made my top five this time last year. Any I decided to only include albums which had actually dropped during the first three months of this year, which is good, since I have no idea how the Hold Steady and Sleater-Kinney and Caribou would fit into this crazy mess.


1. M.I.A.: Arular. It's fine that her father is a terrorist and she's from Sri Lanka and she's crazy fine and she's Diplo's girlfriend, but none of that stuff means much of anything when I'm listening to the actual album, except maybe the Diplo thing since he produced the weakest track. What matters is those big, wet hooks, those cheap farty synths and hole-punch drums and ecstatic wordless chants, Maya's blithe authority when she's kicking ridiculous blank-faced nonsense choruses right at you. So goddam cool.

2. The Evens: s/t. What a gorgeous record. I saw the Evens play their second show about a year ago at a small second-floor art gallery in Baltimore that has since closed down, everyone sitting on the floor and listening attentively, little kids running around, the opening band a male-female duo that'd just gotten married earlier that day. I cannot possibly imagine a more wholesome setting for this gummi autumnal woozy grownup punk stuff. Except that I can. This weekend, Bridget and I were walking around Mount Pleasant in DC since we'd figured out that we can probably actually afford an apartment there. Bridget is going to grad school for social work in the fall, and we'll be moving, leaving Baltimore. We weren't sure where yet (there was talk of New York or Ann Arbor). But walking around this beautiful secluded little neighborhood, old rowhouses and front lawns and homemade basketball hoops in the alleys and people walking dogs with no leashes, I felt like I was already home. I never liked DC much, but then I'd spent all my time in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, places where everyone you see on the street practically secretes money and walks around like they already own the universe - I can never feel comfortable in places like this. But Mount Pleasant - I imagine Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina sitting out on a front porch somewhere working out these songs, letting the serenity of their surroundings bleed into their sensibilities. (I have no idea what "Mount Pleasant Isn't" is about.)

3. Beanie Sigel: The B.Coming. I reviewed this in Pitchfork yesterday, but to summarize: gorgeous cinematic post-Blueprint East Coast soul production: crashing strings and noir horns and chipmunked Bon Jovi. Perfect sequencing. Amazing guest spots (esp. Twista). Beanie bringing a dark, regretful bitterness, sounding distracted half the time, so mad he can barely speak. So sad. Who is that singing on "Lord Have Mercy"? That song just kills me, punches me in the stomache, makes me sick.

4. LCD Soundsystem: s/t. John Waters once wrote that ugliness is more interesting than prettiness. It draws people in, sucks their attention up. And so that's why he used to glue fake zits on Mink Stole's face and black out Divine's teeth. James Murphy does something similar; he works up these classic mid-80s-Chicago house tracks and then fucks them all up with weird whirring noises and nasty guitar clangs and pterodactyl screeches and tincan drum freakouts and sickening gurgles and his own mumbley grunts. And so these songs lurch and stagger and crash when they should glide and purr. It's not about rolling five deep to the club, doing lines off the toilet tank, laughing with your friends about how lame the scene is. It's about being stranded drunk on Sparks and alone in a neighborhood you don't know, looking for a cab, jittery and queasy and shivering and scared, rats running over your shoes, broken glass glittering under street lights. It's not pretty, but it sucks you in.

5. Geto Boys: The Foundation. Scarface and Willie D have voices that sound like they've existed for thousands of years, rumbling up from vocanoes, rolling across forests and mountaintops, echoing through canyons, scattering flocks of birds. Bushwick Bill sounds like a deranged game-show host high on PCP, wandering around the street at four in the morning with a frozen grin on his face and a meat cleaver in his hand. So when these voices are talking about killing you, they carry a little more weight than, say, Murphy Lee. And when they're crying on your shoulder, asking for help, thanking God that they're still alive, they carry more weight still.

6-10: Black Mountain, Out Hud, Run the Road, Game, High on Fire.


I'm not including "Pow (Forward)" or "Still Tippin'" here, even though everyone else seems to be. If they were on the list, they'd be something like #1 and #3, respectively.

1. Game ft. 50 Cent: "How We Do". The heartbeat drums and handclaps would by hypnotic just by themselves, but with beautiful chilly swirling eight-note synth riff, even better when they icey strings kick in, it's like when you catch yourself staring at a cherry-blossom tree for five minutes without realizing it. Game is fine, exaggerating the West Coast heft in his voice, pushing on the beat. But 50 is just magnificent, swooping in and twisting his voice all through the beat, like he's spent the past five years listening to it on headphones every night as he goes to sleep, knowing every nuance and twist instinctively. The "better than AVERAGE on tracks I'm a SAVAGE I DAMAGE..." part sweeps me right along with it, forces me to catch my breath still after the millionth time I've heard it.

2. Amerie: "1 Thing". God, those drums, crashing and swishing and leaping and dancing. "1 Thing" sounds more like the young Jackson 5 than anything since, so relentlessly funky and joyous. Amerie pretty much is the young Michael Jackson, yelping for joy and letting the track carry her away.

3. Montgomery Gentry: "Gone". I didn't even realize that this was a single until I heard it on the radio last night, scanning past the country station on my way to 92Q when I was doing the dishes. Bridget came in when I was singing along and asked if this was the country Guns N Roses or what, and she's totally right; whichever one it is singing has that total high-pitched silky ecstatic desperation thing in his voice on the chorus, howling back and forth with the background singers, who sound like a gospel choir but aren't one. The song builds momentum as it goes along, piling on the greasy riffs and juicy organ and and drum fills until everyone is just screaming at the end. Do they play this on rock radio? They should. I'll even forgive them for being right-wing assholes now.

4. Trick Daddy ft. Cee-Lo & Ludacris: "Sugar (Gimme Some)". I don't know why Lil Kim replaced Luda on the video version of this; maybe Luda couldn't show up to the shoot or the Atlantic people insisted. She did OK and all, but Luda's verse is a thing of beauty - he skips in and out of the beat like a little kid, playing with his voice and rolling his words around, having more fun than he has in years. The beat is a pretty, shiney, sparkely thing, acoustic guitar and sidelong drums baking in the sun. Cee-Lo beautifully rasps out the chorus to a Talking Heads song I've never heard, and Trick sounds like a filthy, kindly old man, which is a good look for him.

5. Juvenile ft. Wacko: "Sets Go Up". The beat is something that Mannie Fresh might've made in 1998: floating butterfly synths rippling around hard, clipped drums and Dr. Dre organ stabs. And Juvenile sounds like he did in 1998 but better: staying directly on top of the beat, riding it hard, letting his voice bleed into it. Wacko sounds just like Juvenile, which is great. Plus, it has one of those "Lean Back" ominous soundtracky string intros. I love those.

6-10: Gwen Stephanie ft. Eve: "Rich Girl"; Ashanti: "Only U"; Z-Ro ft. Devin the Dude & Juvenile: "The Mule"; Snoop Dogg ft. Jay-Z, Pharrell & sometimes Slim Thug: "Drop It Like It's Hot (Remix)"