Sunday, April 26, 2009

Looks like I was wrong about this. Good!

Also: I'm a dad now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Voice's regular Idol person is out this week, so I did this for old time's sake.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I guess I should put some sort of caveat here that Soulja Boy's "Turn My Swag On" and Kid Cudi's "Day N' Nite", both really old songs, have totally been peaking for me in recent weeks, to the point where I listen to both pretty much all the time now. These here Quarterly Reports are pretty unfair to growers like those. Some of these track below ("I'm the Shit" and "Half a Brick" especially) might be older than three months, too, but fuck it.

Also: Good songs this time! Hard to pick just ten!

1. Rich Boy: "Drop". Such a fucking juggernaut of a track. It's an "A Milli" bite, but it's also the only "A Milli" bite I've heard that may actually beat "A Milli" on its own terms, that all-swallowing bass and that maddeningly looped-up vocal sample, together, are the kind of thing I could listen to for hours on repeat without complaining. Polow must know this beat destroys, or else I can't imagine he'd play giggling hypeman all over it the way he does. And I really like the way Rich Boy actually sounds hungrier now than he ever has, staying in super-emphatic mode all through this song. With that guttural delivery, it's tough to imagine him being too cool for anything; it's like he's putting everything he has into every song he does. He's kept his career going longer than anyone thought it would through sheer force of will. It's kind of inspiring.

2. DJ Class: "I'm the Shit". Another day or two of procrastinating on this list and this song would probably be #1; it's really turning into crack for me. There is some serious Baltimore homerism at work here; it's great to see a serious O.G. club dude sort of blowing up on the strength of an actual Baltimore club track, one that doesn't really compromise this style at all, especially when deeply shitty and diluted versions of club music are reaching saturation point in hipster-cokehead dance-party circles. When I was waiting for the GZA/Black Lips travesty in Austin last month, I heard some random DJ spin a solid 45 minutes of fake-ass Baltimore club, that Lyn Collins "Think" break looped under, like, the "Sweet Child O Mine" guitar solo or "My Prerogative" or whatever, like that's all club music is: recognizable sample + "Think" break. It's hard to articulate quite what separates something like "I'm the Shit" from that fake out-of-town shit, especially when you're trying not to lapse into fetishistic rock-crit gibberish about intensity and abandon. But if you grew up with club music anywhere around you, you know this shit when you hear it. On top of that, though, "I'm the Shit" is just a great song, a simple little earworm hook delivered with serious gusto and arrogance. Lyrically, it's totally accessible exhilarating silliness: I am the coolest person in this club, fuck y'all. Class uses that cheap Ron Brownz Autotune just right, and it really works for him because, I mean, most club guys cannot sing. (Seriously, Autotune could be a godsend to Rod Lee.) It's also really fun to run around belting out a song with a chorus that's like 90% cussing right before my kid shows up and I have to clamp down on all that. (Some days, I think ending my overwhelming reliance on cusswords is going to be the hardest thing about being a dad.) There's also a Kanye remix, which is totally exciting and great, but this original is just total cheap low-budget awesomeness so it wins. I'm so happy that it exists and that people are actually getting to hear it outside Baltimore.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Zero". This band doesn't really do anything wrong. Through each new release, they manage to switch things up just enough to keep things interesting but stay the same just enough that they don't lose the basic essential great thing about them, which is that they always sound like the exact moment in your night when you're as drunk as you're going to get before you start getting tired and crashing. It's the instant when all the lights are blurring into each other and you have no idea what you're saying even though you're totally enjoying your conversation, when you just feel great. And they pretty much always sound like that, when they're in ballad mode or banger mode. It's Blitz is a totally strong and satisfying end-to-end listen, maybe the most consistent thing they've done, but like everything else this band releases, it has one clear peak, one total transcendent moment. "Zero" is a great little mission statement even though I really have no idea what it's about. It's a gloriously big and euphoric dance-rock track that doesn't bash you over the head with the dance part. And like "I'm the Shit" I get the sense that it could seriously alter my reality if I heard it on the dancefloor at the right time. I never go out anymore, but that's the sense I get. Great video, too.

4. Cam'ron: "I Used to Get It in Ohio". I can't even tell you guys how amped I am about Cam's impending return. I don't know how it went away in the first place, and I don't know how it came back, but that guy's ability to make me hang on every word is fully back. Everything I've heard off Crime Pays has that same combination of syllable-swirling sideways wordplay and effortless, unflappable cool that made me like him in the first place. "I Love My Job" is goofy and maybe too on-the-nose in its recession-rap conceit, but it's also fun and warm and weirdly heartening, hearing Cam taking a break from talking about how cool he is to empathize with other people's struggles. "Cookies and Apple Juice" is a weirdly refreshing genre detour, Cam letting everyone know he can wreck over barely-there Casio-rap sort of like how he wanted to show how "Adrenaline Rush" worked just fine for him on Purple Haze. But this one is the one where it sounds like he never went away. Nobody makes these sort of budget epic tracks anymore; I could imagine this beat showing up on, like, a Mac Mall or No Limit record from ten or fourteen years ago. And Cam just sounds like he belongs on tracks like this, shortening his delivery into hard little information-packed couplets, letting himself wander off into weird detours like that onslaught of color-talk ("Silver bullets, purple piff, blue pills, Grey Goose") without ever sounding like he's getting lost. And there's another weird little personal resonance in there, one of my favorite New York rappers suddenly reemerging with a video about taking shit over in the Midwest at the exact moment I move from New York to the Midwest.

5. Raekwon: "Wu Ooh [feat. Ghostface Killah & Method Man]". Once again, these guys in their element, showing they can tear an eerie little piece of boom-bap to pieces, their chemistry fully intact right when you'd expect it to be gone forever. The beat is simpler and more direct than most prime-era Wu-Tang stuff, but it works beautifully for the controlled harness all three guys bring here. And seriously, all three of them go in hard as hell, none of them willing to let anyone else control the track. Ghost wins it, not too surprisingly: "I'm like Urlacher, beastin' at the top of the pile / Kneeing niggas in the nuts, damn I'm foul." But it's close. If the eventual video has some of that old chaotic mojo, fifty dudes climbing over ice cream vans or whatever, I feel like these guys could have a moment again. Of course, I thought the same thing about 8 Diagrams, and we all saw how that turned out, so maybe nobody should listen to me there.

6-10. Attitude: "Money [feat. Jackie Chain]"; Kelly Clarkson: "My Life Would Suck Without You"; Lil Wayne: "Yes [feat. Pharrell]"; OJ Da Juiceman: "Half a Brick [feat. Gucci Mane]"; Bat for Lashes: "Daniel"

Monday, April 06, 2009

Yes, I'm still doing this. For the past couple of months, this blog has maintained a sort of nagging existence at the back of my mind; I want to jump on every so often to say that, like, Watchmen was way better than anyone wants to admit. But when I haven't been working, I've been putting cribs together and stuff like that, or I've been hanging out with my wife because we won't have too many opportunities for alone time in a month or so. I still haven't hung out with any of the Chicago people I've been meaning to hang out with, and I still feel a bit like I'm on an extended visit or something. By the time I do another of these quarterly reports, I'll have a daughter. So maybe this will be the last quarterly report? We'll see. Apologies to Lil Boosie, Keri Hilson, the Juan Maclean, 8Ball, Franz Ferdinand, Absu, Bruce Springsteen, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Doom, Dalek, Tombs, Slim Thug, and the surprisingly banging Jim Jones.

1. UGK: 4 Life. They really pulled it off: A posthumous tribute album that doesn't sound anything like a posthumous tribute album and which may actually improve slightly on the last couple of albums the duo made when Pimp was alive. I loved Underground Kingz, but the scope could get to be a bit too much, and it lost some of its force of personality by roping in so many different sounds and outside collaborators. Here, they're fully within the old wheelhouse: slow funky fleshed-out beats with pointed, authoritative Bun verses playing counterpart to Pimp's slithering, defiant arrogance and hard-melodic twang. Pimp on this thing sounds just so alive, so completely at ease with himself, and it's entirely possible to forget he's actually dead listening to this thing, at least until Snoop's R.I.P. ad-lib gently shatters the illusion. All through this thing, he just drips with attitude, and it's easy to imagine him building on it, singing those Ron Isley or Sleepy Brown hooks himself. Someone, Bun or whoever took all these unfinished tracks, filled them out, and made them work together like a real album-album. Even the one clanging misstep that everyone's pointing out, the Akon track, at least is funny because it's Akon crooning sweetly about his boner. I'm hoping there's some Dilla-sized vault of unused Pimp tracks out there somewhere so we can get a few more albums like this, but I know that's probably not the case. This is the last UGK album, but it's still a real UGK album, so fuck it.

2. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion. Always hated this band. Always. Saw Avey Tare and Panda Bear play to maybe twenty people at the Talking Head like six years ago and had no idea what I was watching: two dudes making animal squawks and punching a drum? The fuck? All through their whole rise to the top of indiedom or whatever, I kept listening, trying to hear what everyone else loved so much, but it just wasn't there. And then they made an album that basically addresses every single problem I ever had with them and seems to pander directly to me. They come out with a song, a lead single, about wanting to make a good life for your wife and daughter a few months before my wife and I have a daughter. They name the album after the suburban Maryland shed venue where I saw Peter Gabriel and Arrested Development in 1994 and where I graduated from high school in 1998. They knock off all the goddam animal noises. They take the only things I ever did like about their music (the spaced-out harmonies, the trancey beats, the we-are-all-friends vibe) and expand on them to the point where those things essentially make up everything that happens. They stop all their songs from going past six minutes, and they build honest-to-god dynamics, climaxes and breakdowns and slow meditative intros, into their thing. And all of a sudden I totally love them. So am I completely predictable? Was I crazy before? I have no idea what to make of all this.

3. Project Pat: Real Recognize Real. Even more than with any other HCP affiliate, you know exactly what you'll get whenever Pat cranks out another album: Weird intonations, beyond-nasty punchlines, earworm choruses, churning beats, heavy dark comedy. This one doesn't vary from the formula at all, and in a way, the total absence of even the most halfhearted attempted crossover hit is sort of a bum-out. But then again, it makes this one work that much better as an unbroken mood piece. And more important, this is just better than anything the Three 6 dudes have done since Most Known Unknowns at least. Everything punches hard, the gothy organs push more evocative horror-movie buttons, the soul-rap detours ("Keep It Hood", "I Be Fresh") sound simultaneously more expansive and fast-and-cheap than usual. And Pat is just in ridiculously great form throughout, both his threats and his sex-talk in super-disgusting mode. Also: Maybe the funniest drunken rambling outro yet from Paul and Juicy. Bonus points for recording it on Election Night: "The pundits have proved us wrong!"

4. Heartless Bastards: The Mountain. I fuck with alt-country basically never, but this has swagger and grandeur and riffs and beautifully fleshed-out but understated production. And it has Erika Wennerstrom, who is pretty much the perfect singer for this kind of scorched-earth roots-rock thing: languid and smoky even when she's ripping the ceiling off, tough and snarly even when she's being quiet. And plus she's got this great deep drawl that I can't imagine how the fuck she could've picked up in Ohio. My line on this record, one I already used when I talked about their SXSW set in Pitchfork, is they're what would happen if the Geraldine Fibbers, who I loved, suddenly got back together and decided they wanted a piece of that Band of Horses keening expansive festival-rock thing. It's huge and elemental and gorgeous, and it makes me nostalgic for I don't even know what.

5. Kylesa: Static Tensions. I'm, like, biologically predisposed to liking any band with two drummers. (See: Black Eyes.) So it kind of bummed me out that you essentially couldn't hear that Kylesa had two drummers on Time Will Fuse Its Worth, especially after I watched them rip shit up onstage. This new one is the first one where you can really hear both of those guys dropping bombs, and it's just an incalculable leap forward for this band. It really helps that each drummer gets his own speaker channel, so you get this weirdly nauseating off-balance effect when you listen on headphones. But more than that, this is just a straight-up whoop-ass crusty metal album. As much as I like the new Mastodon, I wish it just roiled and blared and stomped as hard as this one does. There are a few pretty quieter moments in there, and the choruses are huge and catchy, but the band never lets any of that fuck with their overwhelming onslaught here. When you can come out with an album of grimy riffage at the same time as Mastodon and actually beat them at their own game, you're doing something right.

6-10. Mi Ami: Watersports; Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It's Blitz!; Fever Ray: Fever Ray; Mastodon: Crack the Skye; Bonnie Prince Billy: Beware

Singles when I get to them.