Friday, October 09, 2009

The Quarterly Report: Albums

You know what's getting hard? Finding time to do any sort of writing that I'm not getting paid for. I thought about just stopping doing these quarterly reports, but I guess I'm addicted to my own opinions or some shit. Apologies to M.O.P., Memory Tapes, KD, Baroness, Dizzee Rascal, and the TrapsNTrunks Huntsville tape. As always, singles when I get to them.

1. Girls: Album. I already reviewed the thing for Pitchfork and talked about it on this weird ABC thing, and every other writer out there seems to have an opinion on this one, so I don't know if there's too much to say about this one. But there's a line that got cut from my Pitchfork review, probably for good reason. I originally ended that review by saying that we should dive into this band right now because who knows if we're ever going to get a follow-up. And it's true: This is a whole album about fragility from a band led by a dude with some serious demons and filled with guys who like drugs. The fact that they ever became a functional band feels like a small miracle. But there's something else about this band and this album that I love. They take all their press photos and shoot all their videos with their their bigass mob of friends, and that sense of mutual support really creeps into the music. Like, that's how this album gets to be so fun: Everyone involved is propping everyone else up at all times, which is kind of a beautiful thing. A whole lot of people played on this album, and all the great little production flourishes help attest to that. But there's also this whirling bruised out-of-control quality that reminds me of every scary/sad/fun Baltimore cokehead party I ever went to. This is indie rock teetering on the precipice of something heavy, which is something indie never seems to do anymore. It's music with something at stake.

2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. When I'm in the right mood, this one is #1. There's been a good amount of talk from folks like Brandon about how Cuban Linx II is straight-up regressive mid-90s revivalism, revivalism that doesn't even get the twisty mythology of that initial wave of Wu records right. Brandon's not exactly wrong there, but an album full of insular hardhead gangsta shit is pretty much the best possible thing Rae could be making right now. And more to the point, we're dealing with transcendent insular hardhead gangsta shit right here. Every one involved is rapping like this is their one shot to grab a big audience again, which it sort of is. Ghostface might be the guy with the least to prove here, but he still spazzes out on every track, bringing nauseating realism with intensity that's rare for even him. The beats are all drugged-up and heavy and evocative, which is so much better than the rote budget thud we get from so many of Rae's peers. And more to the point, this works as a subtle corrective to all the triumphal drug-dealer talk of someone like Jeezy. There's no glorification at work here. And while Rae talks about buying stuff, he's way more vivid talking about blood-spatters on sidewalks. I can't imagine anyone wanting to take part in something like "Sonny's Missing", and Beans' verse on "Have Mercy" is some seriously heartbreaking shit. In a way, then, this is humane gangsta music, or at least music that acknowledges the sickness of the life it describes. Amazing that Rae had something like this in him after all these years.

3. Freddie Gibbs: Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik. I've written about this guy a couple of times in the past few months, so I don't want to repeat myself too much, but the appeal here is pretty simple. This guy raps his ass off, picks great beats, and generally takes everything he does very seriously. His mixtapes, especially this one, sound like really good albums. He's got one of those all-time take-no-shit snarls, and because of that toughness, his beat-up emotional moments sound earned. The beats on "Murda on My Mind" and "How I Feel" and "Iodine Poison" are drunk feverish nightmare things, and he raps over them even though he'd still be great over workmanlike throwback tracks. Gibbs is a great rapper, but he's not so great that other people out there can't do what he does. And now it finally feels like we're coming out the other end of that weird blog-rap circus, reaching the point where rappers can generate buzz by rapping well over great beats instead of resorting to attention-grabbing gimmickry. Gibbs and Playboy Tre and Pill and KD and probably plenty of other people I haven't heard yet are showing that you really can do this, even now, and the proliferation of these guys kind of reminds me of the recent wave of great low-budget straight-to-video action movies like Blood and Bone and Undisputed 2, the stuff this guy talks about. When people remember how to do that simple, honest, unpretentious B-movie shit, good things happen.

4. The Big Pink: A Brief History of Love. Unapologetically epic festival-bait Britrock from two young dudes who completely get that "swagger" doesn't have to be a quality specific to rappers. The lyrics here are just droolingly dumb, to the point where it's not so much accidental as confrontational; the first song has a line about watching 10,000 naked chicks writhing. On the chorus. Musically, it ransacks shoegaze for all the car-crash noise-smears it can find. One of the two used to be in Alec Empire's band, which is kind of hilarious. But this is a band that understands how to use churning noise to its advantage, to sculpt skree into hooks that sound bigger because they sound less controlled. And when those two guys sing, they either sound like Richard Ashcroft knocking over old ladies in the "Bittersweet Sympony" video or Noel Gallagher snarling over careening breakbeats in "Setting Sun". (Or, you know, slightly whinier variations on those two, but still.) I haven't seen this band live yet, but I'm guessing they play really, really loud.

5. Beanie Sigel: The Broad Street Bully. This is lesser Beans, probably by design. No hype, unclearable samples (Queen!), released on a label that looks for all the world like some kind of janky money-laundering enterprise. Only guests are similarly embittered State Prop dudes. There's one song where Beanie uses Biblical imagery to obliquely go at Jay. There's another where he talks exclusively in cowboy-movie name-checks, which is about as goofy a song concept as you can hope for. And yet this is still a hell of an album because Beanie is just constitutionally unable to release something halfassed. (I didn't think much of The Solution when it came out, but even that sounds really good now.) His threats are genuinely scary, he puts words together beautifully, and the emotional stuff on here, like "The Ghetto", is just heartwrenching. Noz had an interesting riff on his Twitter a little while back about how the big divide between New York and Southern rappers was that NY guys hardly ever make music about the redemptive power of making music. I don't know if I entirely buy that, but it's good for making a distinction between State Prop and their NY counterparts. Because the State Prop guys, Beans in particular, almost always sound like they'll completely lose their shit if they're not rapping.

6-10. Lil Boosie: Superbad, the XX: The XX, Willie Isz: Georgiavania, Discovery: LP, the Dead Weather: Horehound.