Monday, January 11, 2010

The Quarterly Report: Albums

Hey, I'm not too terribly late this time! You guys know what it is. I was working on this around the same time as the Gucci Pitchfork review that ran today, so there's some recycled sentiment here. Apologies to Bear in Heaven, Young Money, Miranda Lambert, the Flaming Lips, and Fuck Buttons. Singles when I get to them.

1. G-Side: Huntsville International. It's tough to say just what, exactly, pushes G-Side so far beyond every other mixtape-rap entity currently clogging up my RSS. I mean, it's not hard to say why they're good. They have basically no weak spots. Both dudes rap their asses off, and they bring an emotional weight to everything they do, so there's an urgency there even when they're talking about doing interviews with bloggers, the sort of thing that's be wince-inducing from pretty much any other rapper. The Block Beataz tracks bring classic Southern-rap thump but add all these little stoned, spacey ideas that keep things interesting without compromising their force. G-Side and the Block Beataz both know their way around a hook. All that is pretty easy to describe, but none of it quite explains how compulsively I've had this thing on repeat since downloading it, how it unexpectedly barnstormed my Pazz & Jop ballot so completely that I didn't feel right putting it anywhere lower than #3 the day I turned it in. To get into that, I have to get real vague and talk about how the whole thing has this intuitive intensity-- dudes absolutely overwhelmed with what little success the internet has brought them, totally understanding what makes them great and amping up all those elements, not afraid to get real psychedelic with their beats. The closing one-two of "Rising Sun" and "So Wonderful" immolates me every single time.

2. Converge: Axe to Fall. Converge was always one of those bands I always liked but never loved, on record at least. Hugely important band, obviously, and they win points, I guess, for pushing hardcore from grunted-out thuggery to all-out nerve-wracked expressionism. But Converge songs would come up on shuffle, and I'd hear the screeches and berserk math guitars and everything piling on top of itself way too quickly, and I'd just instinctively hit skip. I don't do that with any of the songs from Axe to Fall. It's only really a toned-down record in that they've slowed down the riffage and added some builds and dynamics and choruses, and plus there's that weird song where the Rasputin guy from Neurosis pretends to be Tom Waits. But most of the tracks here aren't any less intense than anything on Jane Doe; the riffs just now have the space and structure they really need to wallop you in the eyeball. And good lord, that's just exactly what this band needed. Because everything about this band that was always good (Jake Bannon's death-roar, the serrated grandeur of the production, the band's commendable habit of tossing eight-minute slow-churn epics in with all the two-minute catharsis-blasts) is now great. I haven't spent enough time doing spin-kicks in sweaty Boston basements to call this one their best album with any authority, but I can sure call it my favorite.

3. Gucci Mane: Movie 3D: The Burrprint. I can't call this the moment it all came together for Gucci, since it came together over and over, all year. And this tape isn't even a perfect representation of his aesthetic, since its overall horror-movie heaviness misses some of the loony joy you hear on a track like "Lemonade". Still, this is my favorite Gucci mixtape to date, an end-to-end monster with no filler tracks, no real crossover attempts, barely any outside guests. It helps that all the So Icy guys come off way better than they usually do on the posse cuts, and it helps that the beats never depart much from the catchy/cheap Zaytoven model. But the real great thing is just how consistently on Gucci is throughout. The way he puts words together without falling off beat is probably the most consistent evergreen musical pleasure I had all year, and some of the extended punchline-heavy verses where he keeps the same rhyme scheme throughout can compete with anything Cam or Wayne did during their respective mid-decade peaks. "Poppin' Cris, think that I need Alcohol Anonymous / 45 in the club, I could kill a hippopotamus": I could listen to that shit all day, and some days I do.

4. The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come. When you name all the songs on your album after Bible verses, you're pretty much guaranteed to evoke all sorts of gut-reaction weirdness in every recovering Catholic in your audience. That's what John Darnielle did with this one, and it sure worked; I spent a good afternoon frantically Googling every last one of those verses and trying to figure out how they interacted with the songs themselves. But even without that associative connect-the-dots game, this is probably my favorite Mountain Goats album since The Sunset Tree because it feels more personal. Personal to me, that is; not necessarily personal to Darnielle. The quick image of meeting your kid for the first time on "Genesis 30:3" tears me to pieces. I took my brother to see the band just after his dog died (and just before my dog died), and I just barely kept my composure through the extinct-animal song "Deutoronomy 2:10". Stuff like that. Point is: It's getting impossible for me to talk about Mountain Goats songs without dredging up all this messy emo personal stuff. That seems to be true of just about every Mountain Goats fan, and it's a pretty amazing thing to be able to make everyone who loves your music think about their lives (as opposed to your life) when you write these songs. Darnielle always does it. Dude's a beast.

5. Gucci Mane: The State vs. Radric Davis. Especially after the all-around tragedy that was "Spotlight", it didn't seem like there'd be any way the eventual Gucci album could fuck with all the mixtapes. But this one does a pretty good job reconciling Gucci's perma-blunted insanity with actual commercial expectations, resulting in the kind of thing we don't hear too often anymore: A compulsively listenable major-label rap album that fits the same structureless base-covering model of most major-label rap albums. Gucci's got this weird way of making all the Scott Storch and Jazze Pha beats sound like Zaytoven beats just by rapping on them (or maybe he just picked those guys' most Zaytoven-esque beats). Almost all the guests come hard. The opening seven-song run is hard as fuck. A few songs, like "Heavy" and "Gingerbread Man", are just ridiculously catchy. The mid-album stretch of R&B tracks fucks with the momentum considerably, but even some of those tracks are really good, "Bad Bad Bad" especially. The album isn't anywhere near as good as Tha Carter II, but it works along those same lines, giving focus and direction to Gucci's all-over-the-place brilliance. Too bad it sold jack shit.

6-10. The Very Best: Warm Heart of Africa, G Mane: Sunday on Da Porch, Lil Wayne: No Ceilings, Big K.R.I.T.: The Last King, Slayer: World Painted Blood