Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Quarterly Report: Singles

Hey, I'm finally getting around to doing this! I didn't have to. Don't bitch. Next time I do one of these, I'll probably do it on the Tumblr that I've been meaning to start for a minute now. This is less long-winded than I usually run with this sort of thing, if only because I now have way less time to be long-winded. Oh, and because my ridiculously lax posting schedule makes things pretty fucking confusing, a clarification: These are my ten favorite songs of the last three months of 2009.

Holy shit, it's almost time to do another one of these.

1. Jay Electronica: "Exhibit C". It's hard to really articulate what makes "Exhibit C" so much better than every other piece of Illmatic revivalism in the past however many years. Brandon says it's the busy, coming-from-all-angles drums, and that's definitely part of it. But more generally, there's an energy and a sense of purpose here that's rare in any rap subgenre. "Exhibit C" is an instant classic on the level of, say, "What You Know", and just like with that song you can tell that everyone involved knew they had a monster on their hands at every single step of the process. Jay Elec's obviously a classically great rapper, and I love how he refuses to put songs in generic categories, just jumping into digressions and lingering over details instead. He makes it all tangible: sleeping in rain, shitting out chains, U-Haul truck robberies. Just Blaze's beat is the sort of big swollen destroyer that I thought he'd quit making. And I love the idea that Jay Elec could follow this up by releasing a straight-up classic album or just by fading back into obscurity. He's an open question, and when's the last time we had one of those?

2. G-Side: "Rising Sun [feat. Kristmas]". The moment on Huntsville International where it really, forcefully becomes apparent that you're hearing something special. The Block Beataz beat knocks the way all their beats knock, but it's also emotionally resonant, a slow-building stomach-punch that weaves in all these sad little shards of melody and builds them up slowly and intuitively. And G-Side's rapping just works perfectly with it. "Rising Sun" is a song about working hard, doing it legally if you've got half a chance: "I know dudes who know the work and still go to work", "You ain't a G; you a doo boy / I'm a W2 boy". I interviewed these guys a little while back, and somehow, learning that they had actual honest-to-god jobs (gas station, barbershop) made it land that much harder.

3. Vampire Weekend: "Cousins". Their Rancid cover was butt, but it's been fun seeing VW talk up the ska influence that was always there in interviews lately. (The hey-hey-heys in "A-Punk" were Op Ivy as fuck.) Relatedly but distinctly, there's also a certain basement-show hardcore influence at work, especially on this song. When they want to, they play fast, and "Cousins" is the moment where they fit all their tricky melodic sophistication into a song that just rockets so quickly that you barely get a chance to make up your mind about it. It takes confidence to try something like this, and panache to pull it off. Zach wrote that it was like the Monorchid covering Elvis Costello, which is as close to precise as you're going to get with something like this. The church-bells breakdown at the end is absolutely glorious, the sort of thing more actual hardcore bands might try if they (a) had money and (b) weren't afraid that all their friends would laugh at them. And this is also one of those situations where the video makes me like the song even more than I did already.

4. Kelis: "Acapella" I'm really hoping we get more stuff like this in the wake of "I Gotta Feeling": overblown Jersey Shore cheeseball-house sinking its teeth into commercial pop and R&B and all things both commercial-pop and R&B. And so now we get Kelis, out of nowhere, hooking up with cheeseball auteur David Guetta to make a completely delirious and ridiculously catchy house-diva wailer with none of the icy cool-kid restraint she brought to almost all her actual hits. More like this, please.

5. Gucci Mane: "Heavy". This isn't Gucci at his most quotable, and David Drake isn't going to post an entire transcribed verse on So Many Shrimp or anything, but holy shit this is catchy. Shawty Redd's berserk seesawing beat is exactly the kind of thing I'm going to miss if he disappears, and Gucci's chorus, about how he can't lift his neck because his chain's too heavy, is just stupidly brilliant. ("Brilliantly stupid" feels backhanded, and I have absolutely no shame in how much I love this record.) In all the bazillions of words written about Gucci on this here internet, one thing that can get lost is his energy; he's got the charisma and the carton conviction to make a ridiculous premise like this sing.

6-10. B.G.: "Niggas Owe Me Some Money [feat. Soulja Slim, C-Murder & Lil Boosie]", Portishead: "Chase the Tear", Snoop Dogg: "I Wanna Rock", LCD Soundsystem: "Bye Bye Bayou", Ludacris: "How Low"