Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Quarterly report: Singles

Well, here it is, what, five weeks late? Having an infant at home is time consuming! Just to be clear, the cutoff point here is the end of June; I've ignored everything new I've heard since then.

Anyway. Good songs coming out right now! really kills me that I couldn't find room for "You're a Jerk" or Gucci Mane's "Awesome" or Basement Jaxx's "Raindrops" or that "Who's Real" remix with the entire peak-era Ruff Ryders lineup.

1. Rancid: "Last One to Die". There's a moment in the "Last One" video, where Tim Armstrong, standing on a beach somewhere, slurs, "We knew from the very first show what it was all about" while he points at a couple of hefty, busted-up looking old punk dudes standing behind him. And I have to wonder: Are those the other two guys from Operation Ivy? Or are they just two dudes who were standing there? Kinda doesn't matter; either one is great. As a Rancid song, this shit is top-notch. Everything does its job: the kinda-pretty backing vocals, the galloping drums, the great half-surf riff, the soaring chorus. And all of this is pressed into service of a sentiment I can seriously get behind: We still exist, fuck you. "We got it right. You got it wrong. We're still around. Last one to die." If you're older than 25 and you can't relate to that shit, you're doing something wrong. Obstinate defiance is an honorable thing.

2. 8Ball: "America". This hits a lot of the same buttons for me that "Last One" does: Craggy old motherfucker who's seen it all and let it all creep into his voice, letting you know he can still tear shit apart when he feels like it. On the Memphis All Stars album, you had to wait through a five-minute sermon from some preacher before the song actually started, and I still played it more often than the rest of the album. But thank god Ball decided to rescue this one from its intro, making it a video and everything. I love how he switches it up here, kicking hard fuck-you-up shit for two verses before switching into some unbelievably bleak and depressing everything's-gone-wrong talk for the last verse, never really giving any outward indication that he's talking about different stuff. The beat just glimmers, too.

3. Gucci Mane: "Gorgeous". If Status Ain't Hood still existed in 2009, there would be at least 10 posts about Gucci. But Gucci seems fated to be sort of underrepresented on a list like this because his appeal isn't about a single track or even a mixtape; it's this full-immersion thing where you just know you'll get another track from him every time you finish clicking through your RSS feeds, that he'll come with another couple before you finished digesting the last one. That's how he's become the rap story of the year, as Brandon and Noz and (especially) David and Jordan have totally shown again and again in some ridiculously great pieces. One of the reasons I'm loving Gucci so much lately is that he's inadvertently helped prove that great criticism still exists. Can't remember the last time a single artist inspired so much good writing, but then that's what good writing does, and Gucci's a great writer. I'm sort of cheating in using "Gorgeous" to stand in for so many other songs, the ones named after single-word adjectives in particular. This one fits perfectly into Gucci's onslaught: cheap-as-hell minor-key Zaytoven beat, unbelievably sticky chorus, absurdly great ad-libs, and at least a few lines that I wish I'd written: "Your jeweler is a loser," "Watch like thunder, chain like lightning, my pinky game scary, my chain so frightening." And I love the idea why Gucci's so obsessed with jewelry is that he keeps on hearing voices telling him to ball. That's why he keeps on buying Porches. It's a funny line, but it lends this weirdly spooky force to everything else.

4. Black Eyed Peas: "I Gotta Feeling". Look. I know. I'm sorry, OK? I never meant for this to happen. But one of the prices of claiming you don't believe in guilty pleasures is that sometimes you have to rep for things that you know are just unbelievably lame in so many ways. The Black Eyed Peas have done so many things to annoy me in so many ways over the past five years (at least) that I had a hell of a time admitting to myself how I felt about this one. But there it is: Gigantically hooky jock-jam about getting ready to go out at night, with a perfectly executed techno-rock stomp and a riff the Killers would've killed for. And the way Will.I.Am and Fergie deliver their lines, every last line ends in an exclamation point, which is exactly the sort of dumb shit I love: "Fill up my cup! Mazeltov!" Those strings just kill me. This is big-money all-cylinders pop done just exactly right, and real talk, we should all be glad that this sort of thing is still allowed to exist. I hate to even bring the man into this, but it seems weirdly appropriate that this song managed to cling to iTunes top dog status even immediately after Michael Jackson's death; it's proof positive that the monoculture that Jackson came to represent for so many pundits still exists in some battered form. I don't know why I think that's a good thing, but I do.

<5>Mr. Hudson: "Supernova [feat. Kanye West]". Speaking of shameless! Kanye decides he's going to create his own Donnie Klang out of mid-air, so of course he grabs some British dude with a sci-fi dye-job who sounds exactly like Chris Martin. Then the two of them streamline Coldplay's already-streamlined uplift into straight-up synthpop, jacking a significant chunk of Madonna's "Ray of Light" chorus in the process. And then Kanye decides he's going to sing at least half the song himself, not only taking a full chorus for himself (pronouncing "chance" in a British accent for absolutely no reason), but actually allowing himself to sing runs all over the coda while the actual singer on the track gets relegated to backup status. You really just have to love that kind of audacity, and it sure helps that it's in the service of a great song and that Kanye's Autotune allows him to sing like an actual singer, sort of. So: a windows down dumb-as-fuck adult-contempo jam that's as much fun to think about as it is to bleat along to. I'll take that.

6-10. Gucci Mane: "Neva Too Much Remix [feat. Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat, Yung Joc & OJ Da Juiceman]", Killer Mike: "Man Up", Beyonce: "Ego Remix [feat. Kanye West]", Polvo: "Beggars Bowl", Simian Mobile Disco: "Audacity of Huge [feat. Chris Keating]"