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.