Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Quarterly Report: Albums

Hey, it's time for another one of these! Lots of good albums in the past three months. Apologies to Lee Fields & the Perfect Expressions, Rick Ross, Cam'ron, Dirty Projectors, Extra Golden, Passion Pit, Wu-Tang Chamber Music, Grizzly Bear, T-Rock, Phoenix, Isis, the Field, Two Fingers, Juicy J, and DJ Paul. Singles when I get to them.

1. Playboy Tre: Liquor Store Mascot. I slept on Goodbye America, like an idiot, so this was pretty much my introduction to Tre. And holy shit this guy is a complete package: Painfully honest and real personal-experience shit, righteous and ferocious but never overbearing political fury, and self-deprecating goofiness, all wrapped up in a fluid, conversational realness. And plus the guy can flat-out rap. That matters. He actually reminds me of someone like Mack 10, bringing this flat, nasal unpretentiousness that keeps his stuff from flying off into melodrama even when he's talking about his girl getting an abortion or whatever. "Pain in my left side, pain in my kidney": That's just a serious, relatable problem, rendered elegantly and dispensed almost as an aside. And I like how almost all the guests are fellow unappreciated Atlanta journeyman types: Bohagon, Homebwoi. The beats are warm and heavy and well-selected, classic Atlanta album-construction shit. The gospel stomp on "Oh My Lord" and the Gil Scott-Herren flip on "Living in the Bottle" punch especially hard. In a lot of ways, Tre feels like a man out of time. Ten years ago, he could've been the deceptively smart hardhead in a crew like the Dungeon Family, like Cool Breeze without all the drug-dealing stuff. Right now, he's relegated to cranking out these really great free mixtapes and hoping people take notice, and it really makes me happy to see that it's actually starting to happen.

2. Pink Mountaintops: Outside Love. Black Mountain does riff-heavy bongwater-sticky retro drug-rock better than anyone else, so it makes sense that their low-key side-project would do welling-up campfire sad-bastard shit better than anyone this side of Band of Horses. But Pink Mountaintops never grabbed me before this one. Maybe they got better or maybe I just got older. But holy shit, the slow-motion gospel dynamics and big-hearted stoner-blooz riffs at work here are just gorgeous. Stephen McBean has this craggy and bedraggled but completely self-assured voice, and here he's got organ sustain and sad violins and choirs of backing singers behind him, and everything just works together perfectly. The choruses are gigantic, and the band knows it because they build up to them slowly and sometimes teasingly. "And I Thank You", the best song here, draws itself out to six minutes, taking forever to get to maybe the best hook McBean has ever written. Seriously, I'd probably take this one over the last Black Mountain album, and I love me some Black Mountain. This album makes me want to go for a six-hour daylight drive past cornfields and shit.

3. Bat for Lashes: Two Suns. "Daniel" barely squeaked onto my last quarterly report singles list, but holy shit I've listened to that song a lot since then. Not to get too emo with this, but when my daughter was born, Bridget and I had to spend a few days in the hospital. For whatever reason, we listened to "Daniel" over and over again over those few nights. The rest of the album isn't nearly as sublime as that one track, but the airy drift of this whole record is really always going to remind me of those days in the hospital, which simultaneously rank as some of the happiest and most fraught of my life. Two Suns is a mysterious and weirdly imperious piece of work, and I still admittedly have no idea what Natasha Khan is singing about half the time. But it works beautifully as musical comfort food because as much as the melodies wander and twist, they're still very much great pop melodies. The creeping atmosphere is impossible to ignore, but this is still music to bask in. Kate Bush is the obvious point of comparison, it reminds me of Julee Cruise's songs from the Twin Peaks soundtracks, these deliriously pretty impressionistic things that just barely hint at very serious anxieties right around the corner.

4. DJ Quik & Kurupt: BlaQKout. It's funny: Except for his super-technical and twisty turn on "9x's Out of 10", Kurupt is almost a non-factor here. He's one of the nastiest rappers in West Coast history, but he might as well be AMG or somebody here given how completely Quik takes over. Except Quik's been saying in interviews that he worked extra hard on these beats because he wanted to impress Kurupt. So that makes Kurupt, what, the spirit animal here? BlaQKout seems notable because it's the one where Quik really drops the leash on himself, indulging his weirdest ideas both musically and lyrically. Every Quik album has come with a ton of stylistic left turns, like all those "Quik's Groove" instrumental tracks he loves throwing in. But here he's going nuts with it: Moroccan music, mutant electro, barked dance-instruction reggae. There's a lot of Dilla at work here, except it's Dilla fed through Quik's top-down aesthetic, so it's way more laid-back or approachable than, say, Jay Stay Paid. This is an album I can actually listen to for fun. It strikes me that this is the first album Quik has made without even half an eye on radio play or commercial success. I mean, I can't imagine anyone ever thought this one would sell. If Quik continues to embrace his cult hero status, I can only imagine how many deeply twisted albums like this that we might get.

5. Rancid: Let the Dominoes Fall. It's been six years since the last Rancid album, and yet these guys seem like they can crank these things out at will. So: Hyperspeed chugga-chug tempos, broken-teeth blurting, uber-simple Gibson hollowbody rockabilly solos that end as soon as they begin, ahh-ahh backing vocals, ska diversions. And huge, glorious, life-affirming, heart-expanding choruses. They still know how to write those. The overarching theme here seems to be: "Fuck you guys, we're not going anywhere," which is a great overarching theme to have. And since I've basically grown up with these guys, their persistent, defiant, weirdly adult refusal to grow past Life Won't Wait is more than heartening. It's inspirational. When you get good at doing something, you stay doing it. The last third here gets a bit unfocused, but virtually everything before it is pure fire. So glad to have these guys around, still.

6-10. Jarvis Cocker: Further Complications, Bobby Creekwater: The B.C. Era Deuce, Gucci Mane: Writing on Da Wall, Lil Boosie: Thug Passion, Dinosaur Jr.: Farm.