Thursday, January 7, 2010

Best Albums of 2009 Pt.1

For the first time in the three years I've been doing this, the list is pretty fucking long. In fact, it's twice the length of 2008's (although I left off a good 8 or 9 albums from that list that I caught up to this year). I could blame this on a number of things, an increased number of good records, an increased leniency in what I consider "good" (clearly not, judging by that Necro record that made it in for 2007), or me just being an overachiever. Really, this list's length can be attributed to the fact that as of 2009 my interest have come into alignment with Pitchfork, who themselves have actually started writing better reviews and being less laughably biased about the scores they give albums. I've listened to Pitchfork "Best New Music" albums more than I'd like to admit this year, although this really just means they're transitioning to being a decidedly less-exclusive and pretentious "indie" circle jerk and I've transitioned to being a lot less self-righteously indignant and reactionary as I was when I started this blog. Oh and I'm learning to not write run-on sentences! Yaaaaaaaaay!

60. Brutal Truth- Evolution Through Revolution
This record/band is officially terrible, but in my compulsion to split hairs by including albums with only two to three good songs and to have this list be divisible by ten, here they are. Perfect examples of why both NY and potheads routinely fail and embarrass themselves/annoy everyone else.

59. Revocation- Existence is Futile
Not consistent or mindblowing, but cool enough to have another batch of good tech-y metal songs this year. Although, like Necrophagist, Obscura, Baroness, Mastodon, Dillinger, and a host of other bands in recent years, they'll be hyped into me hating them by meme-starved metal forum nerds. (SMNEWS.COM! WHERE METAL LIVES!)

58. Karen O and the Kids- Where the Wild Things are Soundtrack
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs will not be on this list. Probably ever again. Fever to Tell was really good, and at the very least gives me something to bond with women in my age group over, and Show Your Bones had its moments, but It's Blitz, save for "Heads Will Roll" is definitely a "too little, too late" sort of deal. Had they released that record in '07 or early '08 when it would've been timely in terms of trends, then maybe it wouldn't seem as bland. This record, however, isn't good either, but is nominally better than the YYY's album, if for nothing but "Capsize", "All is Love", and the single justification for Karen O's continued existence, "Hideaway". I downloaded this record after seeing the movie more because of my own false nostalgia of crayons and Halloween and oatmeal and suburban households and all of these vague memories that I don't actually have but wanted when I was younger and saw how all the wealthier (i.e. whiter) kids in Park Slope lived. Then again, they had to wear uniforms. For the intro, those three songs and the revelation of how much more enjoyable Karen O is when she's singing children's ballads, the album is worth downloading, with "Hideaway" the aural equivalent of Charlotte Gainsbourg feeding you s'mores and cocoa while looking lovingly into you with her aged French eyes and freshly severed witch clit.

57. Q-Tip- Kamaal the Abstract
The record is 7 years old, and the original thinking was that A)Who wants to hear a Q-Tip album when his own solo jawn, despite two big singles, didn't approach anywhere near Busta Rhymes numbers (at a time when even Static-X went platinum off one song)  and B)That it was too "out there" or "unique" for mass appeal. Also consider that this was 2002, the beginning of "weird shit getting attention in the aughts" like Cody ChesnuTT or trance-rap (aka Gucci Mane), so being too weird for a built-in neo-soul audience sounded like pretentious doublespeak for "this record is kind of crap". And it is kind of crap. Its release seems to be fueled by the relative success of The Renaissance, which was my favorite rap album of last year/the best rap album of last year (that I listened to), rather than merit. Half of the record is generic neo-soul, but there are a few half-baked portions with gems like "Barely in Love"'s organ riff or all of "A Million Times" that make this album at least a neat curiosity to check out for 10 minutes or so, if not for solid proof that sometimes record labels are right.

56. Peaches- I Feel Cream
Sure, why not. Since Impeach My Bush, I've had a feeling that I'm one of maybe 7 people still checking for her records, no because I'm convinced they'll be good, but because I know there will be one or three good songs worth downloading it (and deleting the rest) for. Now that's she's kind of ditched the LGBT riotgrrl gimmick and is just embracing the side of her that does conventional electro with bawdy Miami bass-style rhymes, there were more rewarding tracks on this record than on the previous one, namely the title track, a Chemical Brothers rip with an old-school breakbeat bridge.

55. Clipse- Til The Casket Drops
 Most of the time, you can tell how good a piece of art is going to be by its visuals or aesthetics. "Killa Season" is an exception to the rule, but most movies and albums that look like pieces of shit usually are, from Ke$ha to "Twilight". It's a logical conclusion. If we all care more about looks than content, and they couldn't even get the fucking look right, then what makes us think the content will be any good? Thus the fears I had about this record stemming from the disarmingly underwhelming Road Til The Casket Drops mixtape were confirmed when I saw both of the covers they chose for the album, each garish and dumb in its own way. The actually music was as garish and dumb as the post-Pharell hackjob of a .jpeg they sent to the blogs back in the fall. Three years is a long time, but I refuse to believe that it was enough time for the Thornton's to fall off lyrically. The beats are disappointing, yes, but it's the watered down, punch-less lines that made this record go from potentially album of the year to number 55 on a blog countdown of almost 60 records.

Every moment of this record feels like a compromise. Every line, hook, feature, and verse feels unsure and unsteady, especially now that they've started using a grating voice somewhere between the androgynous girl voices of "The Funeral" and the awesomely heartless and disdainful tones from Hell Hath No Fury. The thing about the Clipse is that their personality always came from that tone. They were the guys who made would glibly make reference to the Hutu's and Hotel Rwanda to brag rap while never taking off their sneer. It's not really an issue with them changing that I have an issue with, it's that all the changes that they've made, talking on tracks more, employing outside producers like DJ Khalil (no matter what anyone says, those Khalil tracks are boring and anemic), raising their voices to reveal how annoying they sound when they take it above 6 inches, putting upwards of three or four girl tracks on there? And not featuring girls per se, but appealing to the type of uncritical female who makes up 78% of 2Pac's 21st century fanbase and thinks "Hot and Cold" and "Ur So Gay" are brilliant songs. (Fuck a Katy Perry)

Clipse are infamous for pushing "Clipse numbers" in 2006, way before everyone else started bricking, 50 Cent-style. They set the standard for not selling any records in an era where only Lil' Wayne, Taylor Swift and Susan Boyle can push units. If you put out a great coke rap album that no one buys in a year where Jay-Z shits onto a DAT and goes platinum, then maybe overhauling your sound and approach isn't the issue. I'm pretty sure Til The Casket Drops is has already sold more than Hell Hath No Fury did in its first week, but a 2009 rap release wasn't so much about appeal as it was getting talked about and remembered before the decade closed. Even though HHNF bricked, everyone knew about the record and talked about it, with a polarized opinion even canonizing it as classic material. I can't say most people will regard this record as highly. When Pusha says "Third time's a charm, baby!/After two classics another stripe up on my arm, baby", it's sounds like someone trying to convince himself of that fact, rather than actually believing what he's handed in to his label and his fans is anywhere as good as their previous two albums. And on a track where they get outshined by "Nigga, Pew Pew Pew!"-era Kanye West, no less.

At least they're part of a select few that know that "'til" is short for "Until", therefore the apostrophe goes before and not after. Shit, some people even put "Till" like it's wheat or a cash register, but that's a grammer nazi aside.

54. Wale- Attention: Deficit
It's hard to write this review without making it a corrective to all the opinions I've seen on Wale, but fuck it, here I go. Wale has no charisma. The Mixtape About Nothing is boring and overrated. D.C. is not the south, no matter how country people tend to talk when you get around that Maryland/Virginia area.. "TV in the Radio" is both a lame beat and a lame song. Attention:Deficit suffers not only for the commercial compromise/sell-out/"wait until you hear what I can really do" reasons Wale himself claimed, but because lyrically the guy is still just slightly above mixtape rapper. There's insight in "Shades", but he spends more time, like seemingly every rapper on Nahright, self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizing while incessantly commenting on "the rap game", what's wrong with it and how he's supposedly going to change it. In reality, the problem with the rap game is thousands of guys rapping about the rap game instead of bothering to focus on their albums. The reason a lot of these albums feel like mixtapes is because guys like Wale break the 4th wall too often, dating themselves and their material instead of trying to even attempt to offer something cohesive. I could give a shit, and this goes to Swiss and Jada, too, about who "the realest of them all is" when "fake niggas" are making all the good music. Word to Rick Ross.

53. Busdriver- Jhelli Beam
This album marks the exact moment in which Busdriver fell off. A glance at his lyrics over the years corroborates that he gets a lot of complaints about his music being unlistenable, but my personal assertion that this is the case with this record is bolstered by the fact that I actually love The Weather, which is one of the most difficult rap albums I've ever heard. If you can sit through Busdriver and Radioinactive rapping for themselves rather than for an audience for an hour, you can sit through anything. But this last Busdriver record was sort of painfully convoluted and despite a few bright spots completely misses what made certain tracks on Roadkill Overcoat enjoyable or what made ever album before that so great: not allowing technical ability and a dedication to complaining get in the way of the actual beats and hooks. Kind of broke my heart because I street teamed for him this summer, but too often this record sounds like Busdriver tackling muddy Three 6 Mafia b-sides, which works if you're Juicy J, but not when you're bemoaning mainstream rap for the 1,000th time to an audience that's definitely heard it from you before. Somewhere between this and the last record he's seemed to have forgotten that his fanbase is not going to get any wider and that harping on rote topic won't introduce himself to new listeners, FAQ-style, but turn off those that already into him. Next time more FlyLo and less Deerhoof.

52. Napalm Death- Time Waits for No Slave
At this point in their late-period resurgance, when you pick up/mediafire a Napalm record, you're going to get a few things: Weird pseudo-alt metal holdovers from their Earache era, tracks that are essentially really fast hardcore rather than grind or deathgrind, and grind tracks that seem to crib every band from Nasum (which Shane Embury went on the record as having done in a blurb for the final Nasum studio album) to whatever is being acclaimed at the moment. Not to suggest that they're opportunists, but rather that, like Dan Lilker, their investment in metal as both musicians and fans is really transparent. This comes across the best on "Life and Limb" which is essentially a Gojira song in its implementation of the overrated French band's post-Morbid Angel vacillating chug. But the other five tracks that I didn't delete have enough legitimately mosh-intensive moments to make trudging through a nearly hour-long grind album have some reward.

51. Kylesa- Static Tensions
Time Will Fuse Its Worth took me longer than I would have thought to enjoy fully because Kylesa fall prey to rarely ever actually presenting anything inventive in terms of riffs. Their acclaim rightfully comes from their experimentalism and songcraft, which help makes a lot of their rather stock-sounding riffs seem cooler than they really are. Both albums open with killer songs that are frequently described as "hardcore two-steps" in their respective reviews, but this album rubbed me the wrong way a lot more than the previous one. It's by no means a bad record, but there's just something missing in this band, and most of the current crop of "sludge" acts, that prevents me from really embracing what they do.

50. Souls of Mischief- Montezuma's Revenge
Who even knew these guys put out a record? Apparently just them, their label, Prince Paul and Del the Funkee Hompsapien. Like almost every rap record this year or last year, it's not great, but it's a consistent enough slab of West Coast backpack rap that's frequently relaxed vibes are only marred by a tendency to get into some macho-bullshit lyrically and say "faggot" more than you'd expect from Del associates.

49.General Surgery- Corpus in Extremis: Analysing Necrocriticism
Not to gush in the most geeky fashion, but this is the most well-produced (gore)grind album I've ever heard. Not produced so well as to take away from the rabid pig-eating-dripping-entrails sound of most goregrind albums, but enough that everything is discernible, from the single-coil pickups and gorgeous guitar crunch to drums that aren't over-metalized or too loud. Always a top-tier Carcass clone (they sneak some Carcass riffs into various tracks, albeit modified and transposed like The County Medical Examiners), they could always coast off the status they accrued from the awesome Necrology record, but instead bothered to move forward amidst lineup changes and the post-metalcore boomtown bust that's made it exceedingly hard to want to pursue extreme metal as any sort of rewarding career choice to drop a solid, preposterously named, album.

48. New Boyz- Skinny Jeanz and a Mic
The stuff I ended up listening to the most this year were things that actually had life to them. As much as I enjoyed a lot of the rap records released this year, a lot of them were missing any of the freshness or fun that ,say, Nicki Minaj brings. Thus the New Boyz record, which was better than it had any right to be but unfortunately might end up in the same domain as the much less rewarding The Pack album; forgotten to the point that just bringing them up in polite conversation gets an immediate gasface from even the most open-minded heads. You can't help but enjoy two kids who are cocky in the endearingly incorrigible way teenagers are and not in the "who the fuck does this guy think he is?" way that Lupe or CuDi or Kanye or any rapper who has ever made an opportunistic WorldStarHipHop video. You don't get guys who say shit like, "Met this girl named Laniece, a freak but ugly/Stripped for me once and her butt cheeks was musty/Every time it got loud she would sneak a small fart/Chick passed so much gas she could make a car start" on the East Coast. Or at least not dudes that get signed.

And I dare anyone to demonstrate how the New Boyz aren't more traditional old school MC's than anyone on Nahright.

47. Cam'Ron- Crime Pays
Very little of this record stands out, which seems to be the opposite problem that plagued Purple Haze and Come Home With Me, his best albums. Those records had a bunch of standout tracks but weren't at all consistent. The only real flaw with this record is that it, like a lot of the rap albums this year, falls short in terms of freshness and lyrics, which is odd considering that as recent as 2007's awesome Public Enemy #1 mixtape Cam was on point lyrics-wise. Now he fumbles and drops dull lines and cliches like a young Jay-Z. Cam's still got charm and ridiculousness on his side, though, no matter how early Soulja Boy his production gets.

46. Meshell Ndegeocello- Devil's Halo
Meshell's last record to get any sort of mainstream attention was Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, which sported not only a Missy Elliot and Redman feature, but it's own ad near my house on the side of a bodega. Since then she's churned out four low-key albums or slightly proggy, sometimes sexy R&B. Although R&B is a lazy characterization of what she does. Devil's Halo has it's own nervous new wave song in "Lola" as The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams had its own Prince and Bloc Party homages in "Relief (A Stripper Classic)" and "The Sloganeer (Paradise)" respectively. As a grown-ass woman and a survivor of the 90's, she has a well-hemmed aesthetic in place and a virtuoso's touch. When she wants to make floaty lover's rock, she does with aplomb (in fact, "Love Song #1" is probably the sexiest song of the decade that no one has heard) . When she mixes rock with her reggae it sounds very much like the kind of chick who once auditioned for Living Colour and dueted with John Melloncamp; a virtuoso's touch with a affinity for tasteful prog in terms of ideas. She's more likely to ruin her bass tone through a filter for dynamics or let backward-looped guitars take control of a song than indulge in jazz fusion bass solo wankery. Meshell tends to make concept albums with great individual songs but, in line with her experimental nature, songs that sometimes fall flat. Of all of her R&B releases this decade, this might be the most consistent one, and the slight increase in her profile is well-deserved for a woman who, like Badu or Jill Scott, has her own decidedly unique standpoint and approach.

45. UGK- UGK 4 Life
Everyone was skeptical about this record, and the intro is kind of creepy in light of Pimp's death, but leave it to Bun B to deliver a final tribute to his partner without Afeni Shakur-ing the whole endeavor. "Harry Asshole" is awesomely filthy and most of the album is the same quality of warm, car-ready country rap tunes.

R.I.P. Pimp C

44. Major Lazer- Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do
One side of the discussion about this record claimed it was a hipster-tainted cultural pillaging of Vampire Weekend proportions, while the other side claimed that Diplo and Switch are geniuses who have improved a genre that's in a lo-fi/violent rut. Neither are right, although there is a weird stench to the album that makes it hard to like. In itself, it just plays like a dance compilation, as half of the tracks are actually Baltimore club or house, rather than entirely dancehall or reggae. The only tacks on the record that even aim for orthodox dancehall, or at least in a 2009 conception, are "Keep It Goin Louder" and "Anything Goes". The rest is a valiant attempt at manufacturing new riddims from the musical standpoint of someone who used to fuck M.I.A.

43. Jay-Z- The Blueprint 3
My mistake since getting to college is listening to all the other Jay records that I hadn't gotten the opportunity to before was building his catalog in my mind to match his stature and legacy. It's cliche to mention that he's the most successful rapper of all time, but something that isn't discussed often by stans and the public is that he never once put out a classic album. Ever. The Blueprint has too much filler and Reasonable Doubt was always kind of too vague, stuffy and overlong. Jay's catalog can be evenly split into "great" and "shit/weedplate status", except The Blueprint 3. If you also include American Gangster it's the second Jay album in a row that I can say is just okay and not great or terrible. Everyone has their own opinions on Jay's oeuvre (I've always held, and apparently Jay says this himself, that In My Lifetime Vol. 1 was just a few tracks away from being a near classic or classic album), but I've been surprised at the willingness for people to make this record out to be better than it is.

There's a sad fact that Jay cannot rap that well anymore. For all that talk 6 years ago about being "bored" with rap, he, unlike Andre 3000, hasn't done anything late to demonstrate that he had reached an upper echelon high enough to find it such a droll endeavor. Case in point, "D.O.A.", which is a a song I've only seen championed by the desperately out-of-touch and/or desperately old, and "Empire State of Mind", on which Jay can't even find a meter of cadence to run with. Whenever he flubs the placement of the lyric "Right next to DeNiro/But I'll be hood for-eva", I wonder why neither he nor any of his weed carriers caught that rookie mistake. When he rapped like Juicy J on American Gangster, I took it to be simply good taste and not a senior moment. Thematically, his condescension and self-appointed status as "guardian of hip-hop" belies his role as one of the originators of bullshit low-budget street movies.

Even as a Jay fan, I find it harder and harder to not give him the gasface. He's quick to tout Ne-Yo, Young Jeezy and Rihanna as achievements refuting accusations that he's never done anything for anyone, or at least not successfully, but I wonder what exactly these things have done for rap. Actually, I call shenanigans on this "I know what's best" complex dude has in light of his signing of Young Jeezy. Young Jeezy not only just learned how to rap last year (on "Who Dat"), but he for a long time prided himself on just Tony Robbins-ing over beats instead of bothering to flow or write a decent lyric that wasn't caked with cliche. If Jay really thinks Jeezy is good for hip-hop, then he's just as easily impressed and out of touch as other oldheads like Rakim who've gone on record as co-signing C-level rappers like Juelz Santana or KRS-ONE, who thought that Curtis  was better than Graduation. And if he's employing guys like Jeezy for the sake of commerce rather than rap ability,, which would seem par for the course for his career and decision-making, then how is that different that what Ron Brownz does/did, churning out auto-tuned crap to scrape together some ends?

Aside from his hypocrisy and unwarranted sense of dictating what's tr00, the actual album only suffers production-wise when anyone but Kanye and No ID helm the beats. The raps are mostly meh, and if they're not stiff or poorly constructed than they're just plain bad, like the majority of "Death of Autotune". If this was anyone else but Jay would we be humoring this record so much? That's not to imply that Jay doesn't shine in parts. Clearly he has to, or else we wouldn't even be able to enable this grandpa rap shit. But "Thank You" is the exception, not the rule, now that the dude's reaching GZA levels of trying-too-hard.


42. 50 Cent- Before I Self Destruct
Had this come out instead of Curtis, they're probably be a lot less schadenfreude towards 50 than there is now. He did what he said he would, limiting the number of saccharine Ja Rule songs to three, and even those three are actually well made. Alright, maybe not so much the Ne-Yo feature, but "Do You Think About Me" is a legitimately touching song on a joylessly competent NY "gangster rap" album. That lack of joy is a big factor, because sonically this is the best-laced 50 album since GRODT , but there's nothing abut it that, like Jay's album, elevates it from just being another good over-30 rap album to something you'd rapidly fawn over to anyone who would listen. None of what makes "I Get Money" is here, and the phoned-in thuggery comes about 4 or 5 years to late to safe his image post-"Candy Shop", but it's still not a bad way to bookmark a career. Maybe all that effort should've been put towards not pushing Rick Ross numbers?

41.Claws- S/T
No matter how revered Razorback bands tend to be in terms of nostalgia for old school death metal, they usually end up being pretty lame. The aesthetic and lyrics are always there, but the music tends to lag far behind, being boring retreads or badly written thrash and etc. Claws and Hooded Menace were the exceptions and not coincidentally, like most Razorback bands, made by the same person: Lasse Pyykkö. The Claws record came out this year, and was a disarmingly well-made early 90's death metal record, all rot and filth like Autopsy and all the acts before death metal lost its sense of atmosphere. As opposed to something like, say, Origin, this record captures what the point of the genre was, a feeling of decay and dread. Even the fast parts lurch, and that lurch is the essentially part of a good underground death metal album. Not everything standouts out, but it's a solid metal record in a year of sludge also-rans, boring hardcore, and overrated Decibel fappings.

40. Curren$y- This Ain't No Mixtape
"Backpack rap" as a term today sort of just means you rap about the same rote topics as everyone else, except you portray a cool, non-violent version over jazz beats. Considering that supposed conscious rappers like Tribe were homophobes who rapped about "keeping hoes in check" , clearly trying to delineate rap genres by lyrical content is futile. If Curren$y could be considered a conscious rapper it'd be more in the vein of pre-Graduation Kanye, where conspicuous consumerism, materialism and a dated viewpoint on women are mutually exclusive to the "vague hippie" brand of conscious rapper Common embodies. Curren$y's career arc is weird, going from the 504 Boyz to being Young Money's first marquee artist and rapping on stuff like "Where Da Cash At" to getting his elevator rap on with (SUNY Purchase's own) Amanda Diva. Although considering Wayne's transformation into an L.A. hipster over the last few years, the change isn't that surprising. A lot less ambitious than what Lupe does, but a cool record in a year where Blue neglected to release an album.

39. Lady Gaga- The Fame Monster
If for anything, for being a ridiculous, pretentious fagette and the song "Telephone".

38. KiD CuDi- Man on the Moon: Shitty Pretentious Title
Now for the Festivus grievances: Cudi is only good for hooks.

The Cudi story is something like "Boring and average hipster runs away from home, gets a job at hipster clothing company, parlays ability to pen great hooks into a career sing-rapping somehow, ruins own immaculately produced, near-classic debut album by simply being on it himself all while convincing himself and trying to convince others that he's a misunderstood and 'unfairly' derided genius of Lupe/Jay-Z levels"

The problem with the album and Cudi is like this. He's boring. It pains me to still have to use the adjective "hipster", but essentially that's all the kid is. It's insulting, not only in his fascination with his own boring personal problems, but in how poorly he writes, raps, and sings about him. Being able to write hooks should not be an automatic pass for what is sub-Rihanna crooning and sub-Gangsta Boo rapping. Nate Dogg, who is pretty much the template for Cudi, could actually sing yet he himself never got as far as Cudi has (actually he got a massive stroke for all his troubles). The post-808s soundscape on the record is great minus "Up, Up and Away", which is unforgivably dumb and seems like a pop-rock cop-out on a solidly MGMT-ed to death debut LP.

Not that there isn't a consensus that the dude can't sing or rap for shit. Only the most Express for Men magazines thought the album was any good, and the one time this year I've agreed with Tom Briehan's qualitative opinion on anything was his shitting on CuDi unwarranted ego and sense of self-importance. Minus "Day and Nite" and "Alive", most of the tracks would benefit, as well as this record's ranking, had CuDi been scrubbed from the mix entirely. I enjoyed everything else about the record enough that I tried to overlook these things, but when some ever-so self-impressed Beta-male dickhead really gets Common to put down the Boca burger long enough to actually narrate that, "In this world being a leader is trouble for the system we are all accustomed to. Being a leader in this day and age is being a threat. Not many people stood up against the system we all call life. But toward the end of our first ten years into the millennium we heard a voice. A voice who was speaking to us from the underground for some time. A voice who spoke of vulnerabilities and other human emotions and issues never before heard so vividly and honest. This is the story of a young man who
not only believed in himself, but his dreams too. This is the story of The Man On The Moon."

It's hard not to shit on this KiD. At least Lupe and Jay have backed up their ridiculous opinions of themselves with discernible talent. But fuck this kid and his Livejournal bullshit. "A voice who spoke of vulnerabilities and other human emotions and issues never before heard so vividly and honest". Ever. By anyone. And why human emotions? Why not animal emotions? Are jellyfish not as cosmically in-tuned as your average Armani Exchange employee? Would it be wrong to to demand people quantify their narcissism before they start threatening to retire? Why does Young Jeezy have a career? Why did Bush blow up them towers?

37. Portal- Swarth
Everything that needs to be known beforehand about Portal is in this video:

They're Australian. They're creepy. They wear impeccably-made costumes. And up until Swarth they fucking sucked. Not for trying or nothing. Conceptually, it's awesome. Between clockhead (who himself reminds me of Silent Hill 2), the dusty monk's ropes, and the fact that they're Australian and evoke a really arcane horror aesthetic that is more Caligari than Freddy, they can't lose. Except that their previous two records, which I checked out in preparation to seeing them at Maryland Deathfest, presented them as a black metal Immolation, which is terrible. Essentially sounding like that last Deathspell Omega record, except embracing sonic muck rather than tech-y skronk. But somehow they've gotten their shit together and evolved enough to actually put out the record Immolation haven't been good or interesting enough to. Where later-period Morbid Angel and bands like Angelcorpse conjure up the image of a maelstrom, Swarth actually fucking sounds like it. It's what hell sounds like for adults who realized Slayer were fat alligator-wrestling Catholics and Glenn Benton beats his wife.

36. The Widest Smiling Faces- S/T
Aviv is another really talented Purchase kid to have put out a record recently. I usually describe him as a mewling, trippy Elliot Smith in terms of the quiet and vulnerability of his work. Everything is gently fingerpicked and sang, even when he comes across angry or indignant, like on "Edge of a Knife". It's a short record, but almost the same length as the Neon Indian album and with a similar vibe; there are interstitial mood pieces and sound compositions strewn about the album. It's a headphone album, meant to be enjoyed in a quiet space in the dark and one that has rightfully earned Aviv a reputation in blog reviews of being "better than John Frusciante." He should probably just call his next record that.

35. Project Pat- Real Recognize Real, Juicy J- Hustle Till I Die, DJ Paul- Scale-A-Ton
These solo albums were like slaps in the face. Not so much the Project Pat LP, but the Juicy J/DJ Paul albums. The quality of each were so good, J for his raps and Paul for his production, that they records confirm what "Lolli Lolli" and the new Tiesto song suggested: that Three 6 Mafia are trying really hard to remain a crossover rap act, relegating their best stuff to solo releases. This isn't a new thing, clearly they've been doing this for a minute now. But Tiesto? The level that they seem determined to sink to to not be forgotten by programmers and drunks is embarrassing for how desperate it comes across. Tiesto?! At least "Lolli Lolli" had some menace lurking in the background of its knockoff T-Pain vibe. Juicy J's album had a couple of great tracks which would've done well to augment the 11 or so similarly great tracks on Paul's, plus Paul's rapping would've improved the staleness and shout-rap redundancy of Scale-A-Ton. Together, it would've made the first outstanding Three 6 record since Da Unbreakables , instead of what the last and next record will probably be, a combination of  classic Three 6 and sad pandering.

34. U-God- Dopium
So as of this album, the only member's of Wu-Tang not to have put out a good album are RZA and Inspectah Deck. Which is a "Triumph" in itself, considering Golden Arms' claim to fame is 1. being high yellow, 2. being widely considered the most expendable member of the Wu, and 3. only good for about 8 bars at a time, if a verse. And unsurprisingly, a whole album of U-God rapping is a lot to digest. Under close scrutiny, he does is lyrically better than most would think, if at the least enjoyably disjointed. It's his flow, like most Wu members and affiliates, that gets in the way of what he's actually saying. Thankfully, the album is chock full of features and some of the better non-Ghostface beats on a Wu project in a while. "Lipton" and "Hips" are really cool left turns, while Scotty Wotty goes from a rumor best known as a name drop on "Nutmeg" to the shining star of the record, making his drug-related absence from the Wu that much more unfortunate as he rips "Train Trussle" with a cadence that comes across like an awesome mix of Grand Puba, CL Smooth and Liquid Swords-era GZA.

33. DJ Quik and Kurupt- BlaQKout
I owe Noz for finding out about this record. I troll Cocaine Blunts once or twice a week in the hopes of reading an asinine circular flame war between beardos and beardo enablers or to catch a stray Busdriver post. "Ohhh!" got posted months ago in a quick write-up about the album and that alone made me go and do something I never had the intentions of doing before: Listen to a Kurupt or DJ Quik album. Nothing against either of them, but it's a lot like Spice 1, where there wasn't any interest besides trying to be comprehensive in my opinions about shit, including West Coast rap where my tastes run more backpack/E-40 than anything else. I was surprised to find out that Kurupt is more than the obnoxious dude on "The Next Episode", but an ill rapper on his own, delivering an old-head West Coast-by-Philly style that lights up "Blaqkout" and "9x Outta 10". It's another good, sometimes great over-30 rap album that, in light of that the xx album, bolsters my long-standing belief that people under-30 tend to make shit.

32. Burnt by the Sun- Heart of Darkness
I never knew how to codify Burnt by the Sun in my head. They were never math-y or angular enough to be mathcore, although they had the feel of a mathcore band. They were never prone to derivative minor scale licks of copy-and-paste breakdown sections, belying any categorization as a metalcore band. Despite Dave Witte's best efforts they never approached a tempo that would make grind anything but an influence. Even metal-archives imaginatively labeled them "grindcore-influenced metalcore". Ever since speed-, thrash-, fast-, crust-, and grind- become confusing prefixes for post-'82 hardcore bands, it's been a lot simpler to just call every band either hardcore, metalcore, or grind for the sake of simplicity and not having the headache of bands that run pretty incongruous to the tenets of the genre. After seeing BBTS's "last" US show at the Cake Shop last fall, I think I can definitively say they're just a mature metalcore band, the sort that were quickly forgotten when the Bullet for my Valentines and Attack Attack!s of the world became the standard. Martyr AD, Premonitions of War and Zao are a few other awesome "old man metalcore" bands, and ones that all had a command over THE CHUG RIFF that still makes them memorable even under the ashes of the boom-bust MTV2-era of 2002-2006. As a last record, it's a great return and demonstrates to bands like Emmure how to properly make a mid-paced chugXcore album while still being catchy.

31. Manchester Orchestra- Mean Everything To Nothing
One of a handful of asbolutepunk/Alternative Press bands I got put on by my bandmate Mike since we started this courtship four years ago. Since I only dug Taking Back Sunday for about a year (the heady pre-Myspace days of 2002), any hype or developments within the NINJAPIRATEZOMBIEUNICORNGRAFFITIOMGGED post-emo/alt set just goes completely unnoticed. The album was criticized for sounding too much like a compilation of other bands, which is apt, but decrying musicians for unoriginality is cliche at this point. Without going into a critical essay on the nature of genre and the Western diatonic scale, there's going to be a lot of derivation in bands over time. It's accepted that what's important is that the songs hold up. If a band emerged today that sounded exactly like Sing The Sorrow-era AFI but with better songs, my concern wouldn't be to deride their xeroxed guyliner, but if they put together a good album. Manchester Orchestra did that, and though the instrumentation, vocals, and lyrics read no different than any other band in the genre from the decade or before, the improvements on the blueprint, and all that seething, can't really be overlooked.


Anonymous said...

Yo! I had totally forgotten about that Claws album. Then again, the only two RB bands I listened to this year were Fondlecorpse (who ruled) and Revolting (who have a very tired shtick). Good list so far.

raythedestroyer said...

Great list so far, somehow I totally missed that Portal album this year but they sound pretty decent. I was also really disappointed in that Clipse album save for a handful of tracks. Way too many chick songs like "Counseling" that totally throw off the whole shit. I mean like I know dudes gotta eat but Pusha T had a great verse on Pharell's "Stay With Me" which is about as baby shit soft a song as possible. Even with the smooth jazz background he still had that classic Clipse mixture of being introspective and a complete dick that's at the basis of all their strongest shit. And also Champion? Pharrell recycled them a beat he originally gave Baby? WTF?

floodwatch said...

Can't wait for part two. On point as always, with one exception: Portal will never, ever make a record that will top Close to a World Below.

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