Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Quarterly Report - Albums

Yes, I'm still doing these. Apologies to Nachtmystium, Sugarland, Heltah Skeltah, Wire, Brightblack Morning Light, Rex the Dog, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Harvey Milk.

1. The Gaslight Anthem: The 59 Sound. Holy shit, I love this type of band. The straight-ahead belty raw-throated grown-man punk bands. The bands who don't sound like they're playing all that fast even when they are. The bands who don't play ironic punk covers of non-punk songs. (Occasional exception: Bouncing Souls). The first bands you call when you're putting together a Johnny Cash tribute album. Social Distortion. Against Me. Avail. Alkaline Trio, pre-eyeliner. Jawbreaker sometimes. Bad Religion at their most monosyllabic. The type of band where the singer eventually releases a terrible acoustic folk solo album. The bigass Gibson hollowbody bands. The at-least-two-members-look-like-mechanics bands. The whoa-oh backing-harmonies bands. I haven't seen the Gaslight Anthem live yet, but I already know what their shows are like: sweaty drunk brodown shoutalongs, the shows where you could lose your glasses or break your nose and not even be annoyed about it until three days later. It's not exactly inevitable that I'll love a band like this. (Smoke or Fire? Yikes. No.) It's just probable. And when these bands have these huge tearjerk choruses, the ones about dead friends and wishing you lived someplace else, it's a wrap. I'm done. The Gaslight Anthem are a little more florid and classicist than some of these bands. Nobody can ever resist pointing out the young-Springsteen fixation. Bits and pieces sound acoustic even when they probably aren't. They're almost heroically unashamed of cliche. There's one chorus about your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos, another about listening to Tom Petty, another about washing your sins away by the river's edge. There's one lyric about "no surrender, my Bobbie Jean," and not only do they mean it, they repeat it a ton of times. Not a damn thing innovative about any of this stuff. Most of the time, it's almost anti-innovation, and I couldn't possibly love it more. This is life-affirming shit right here.

2. Young Jeezy: The Recession. I really liked The Inspiration, sorry Al. It was lazy and uneven and a retread, yeah, but it worked on this infinite-repeat doom-metal level: straight uninterrupted epic evilness. But The Recession is just so much more thorough and realized. The thing about the whole recession theme, even though it's part red herring and part cynical PR ploy, it that it actually fits with the way most everyone I know is experiencing this whole apocalyptic economic mess. It's like: life goes on just like always. I go to work every morning, and Jeezy keeps talking about what a drug-dealing superhero he is, just like we were doing before. Except now the occasional practical concern surfaces (maybe I shouldn't have bought that watch, "I didn't know gas was gonna be a bill!"), and now there's this general overhanging sense of existential dread all over everything. And Jeezy's at an advantage there because that dread was always in his music. And because this is just a really great Jeezy album, that dread comes through way more sharply and powerfully than it did on the last album. During the best moments (I'm thinking "Welcome Back" and "Who Dat" as well as the obvious "Put On"), that dread becomes weirdly exhilarating. And even more than on the last two albums, Jeezy never interrupts that churn; Akon and R. Kelly never show up. Some of Jeezy's lines are great, and some of them are terrible, and at some point I lose track of the difference between them. But the whole thing captures a mood perfectly: things are going OK now, but they are going to stop being OK any minute now.

3. TV on the Radio: Dear Science. The live shows were always incredible, but I never felt like the last two TV on the Radio albums really fulfilled the promise of that first EP. More than anything that came later, Young Liars, the title track in particular, sounded huge: blaring hooky arena shit, done through some scuzzed-up post-Radiohead filter. The albums were way too turgid and depressed to get near that again. "Wolf Like Me" was the soundtrack to a training-montage scene in Never Back Down, but it's totally not training-montage music, and I think maybe the soundtrack coordinator was just trying to make people think he was cool or something. But now all of a sudden they sound like they're having fun. The songs still have those freaked-out falsetto yips and gangly Afrobeat horns and immaculately decayed guitar-sounds and everything, but they've also got big wailed choruses and itchy cross-rhythms and bad jokes. A few weeks back, I walked into the office when my boss was listening to this, and for a second I thought it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I'm not sure how exactly that's a compliment coming from me, but it totally is. Maybe it's just because Tunde was in a movie with Anne Hathaway, but these guys have finally loosened up. And now that they're having fun, TV on the Radio are practically the motherfucking Talking Heads at this point. They can do just about anything. Most of this album is just pure liquid joy.

4. David Byrne and Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. Not to get all emo up in here, but I heard this for the first time immediately after getting a really, really amazing bit of personal news, and I'm having a tough time imagining a better soundtrack for that particular moment. (This is vague as fuck, but I can't go airing out everything here. Those of you who know me well know what I'm talking about.) I don't know exactly what I was expecting from these two getting back together, and frankly in retrospect I'm surprised I even bothered to listen. I love Bush of Ghosts as much as everyone else, but it's not like either of these guys has been wrecking my universe lately. In any case, I definitely was not expecting a work of total optimism like this. This is just a gorgeously light and delicate record. Byrne's called it their "digital gospel" album, and I completely agree, even if it doesn't sound particularly digital or gospelly. There's a real lived-in warmth and contentment at work here. Sometimes it's awkward, like the fake bossa nova groove on "Strange Overtones" or pretty much all of "I Feel My Stuff." But I hope I'm still capable of this kind of loopy humanism when I'm as old as these two.

5. ABN: It Is What It Is. So apparently Z-Ro and Trae are beefing now? And this album was actually a contractual obligation, a bunch of random old tracks and freestyles slapped together with Rap-A-Lot house production? That's what I read on a blog or two, anyway. Really, who even knows what's going on at Rap-A-Lot. Z-Ro put out another new album a week or two ago, and I still haven't heard it because I still haven't found it. I'm sort of fascinated with Rap-A-Lot in general, this label with a vast history and a still-pretty-incredible roster, haphazardly chucking great albums like this into the void, like they're determined to maintain their air of mystery even if it means nobody ever hears their albums. Really, I could imagine It Is What It Is as a slapped-together outtakes collection, and I could imagine it as the masterpiece that these two locked themselves in the studio for months to make. Even if somebody just ProTooled old verses together, Z-Ro and Trae have this incredible chemistry, those two deep grumbly voices rapping ridiculously quickly about being mad at the world and then Z-Ro crooning these heartwrenching blues choruses. And that Rap-A-Lot house production fits them perfectly, gives them this cheap but melodic backdrop that gives their voices plenty of room to just sink into the tracks. And they're just point-blank great rappers, too. I love hearing them on UGK's "Three Sixteens" beat, giving a classic original a run for its money. In a way, I'm glad Z-Ro and Trae are on Rap-A-Lot, cranking out these great albums that nobody ever hears rather than languishing on a major label shelf somewhere like so many other great rappers. They might not be getting famous, but at least they're working.

6-10. Diplo & Santogold: Top Ranking, Lindstrom: Where You Go I Go Too, T.I.: Paper Trail, Glen Campbell: Meet Glen Campbell, Krallice: Krallice