Top Whatever of ’09

January 7, 2010

Ok, I hate choosing favorites and I’m not a big fan of lists either, but you don’t really care about my personal problems, right? I’m also going to avoid any kind of pithy synopsis about what 2009 “meant” or how it “stacked up” musically. Let’s wait until the corpse is cold before we start making our diagnoses, eh?

As is increasingly true, I continue to listen to more and more music made in the past than is coming out during the present. So many delicious dance record nuggets I had yet to encounter! I was also involved in some popular music history classes (teaching and taking), so there was plenty of remedial jazz and rock ‘n’ roll listening to do as well. Nevertheless, 2009 had some contenders, listed below in no particular order.

  • Jamie Foxx – Blame It [link]. Dreamy, catchy, funny pop that proves that while T-Pain’s rewards may be getting shallower, he’s still got some tricks up his sleeve. I had an intense, very drunken late-night argument over whether this song advocates date rape. I voted no.
  • Shit Robot – Simple Things (Work It Out) [link]. DFA had a good year as usual, and this stood out for me — an evil acid house creeper in the Sleazy D tradition. And vocals about the anxiety of the modern condition (another acid staple) by Ian Svenonius!
  • The Hasbeens – You & Me [link]. Even if Clone were only a reissue label, it’d be one of my favorites. Instead, they also release new acts that are seamless companions to their mission to excavate the weird dark edges of italo, electro, house, and techno, sans ironic winking. Great video too.
  • A.B.A. – White Girl Clothes [link]. Jerk ain’t THAT special, although it’s got some good tracks and a lot of energy. This is one stands out in its flagrant playing with significations of whiteness that, for me, indelibly mark the genre.
  • Uproot Andy – Brooklyn Cumbia. This boy’s got some chops! Great sax line, and an upkey piano riff that can kickstart any mixtape (including the second ZZK comp)
  • Dam-Funk – Toeachizown. Excessive amounts of brittle icy synths, stiff idiosyncratic drums, and Prince fetishism. Yes, there is a lot of “eccentric drugged-out producer-hermit” baggage in the marketing of this, and it’s inconsistent, but it also seems so generous in its excesses that I can’t help loving it.
  • Ghostface – Wizard of Poetry / Raekwon – OBFCL2. These guys are both so good at what they do, so comfortable and confident. Ghostface is increasingly drawn to R&B-flavored love stories, while Rae provides everyone the throwback they’ve been clamoring for for a decade.
  • Azari & III – Hungry For the Power. But for the keyboards, I almost mistook this for vintage male-diva house. It’s not. It might be better.
  • Gucci Mane feat. Plies – Wasted [link]. Everyone’s probably sick of this song by now, a fate I anticipated from the first time I heard this on Chicago’s Power 92. Gucci is funny and all, but is enough credit being given to his producers? This isn’t a beat that begs for attention like Timbaland or something, but it is some of the best, most anthemic dirty south trunk music I’ve ever heard.
  • Gang Gang Dance – Bebey (DJ /Rupture and Matt Shadetek Mix) [link]. 2009 was the year I realized that DJ /Rupture wasn’t about musically connecting dots on a map. In the grand techno tradition, he wants to make sounds from other worlds. Last year he pulled it off better than he ever has — maybe 2009 was the year he realized it too?
  • Black Meteoric Star – Black Meteoric Star [link]. Like John Carpenter making acid house. Which is of course a VERY GOOD THING.
  • Mario feat. Gucci Mane & Sean Garrett – Break Up [link]. Weird, druggy, menacing, wrong-sounding. And a monster R&B hit. Kinda keeps my faith in America alive.
  • Footwork [link]. The music is so inseparable from the culture of teenage dance battles that it’s almost impossible to find online outside a few scattered YouTubes and iMeems. Not on the radio, not on iTunes, not even really on mixtapes. Yet it’s world-rending power is so compelling I can’t believe I moved from Chicago without trying to track down a few of these kids.
  • Lil Wayne – No Ceilings. Still the best, though the collabs drag this down a bit. Wayne needs a mixtape of him over the year’s best beats every year. There should be a national foundation for this operation.
  • Black Point feat. Del Patio – Watagatapitusberry [link]. Dominicano post-reggaeton club music that became a Souljah-Boy-style treasure trove of video versions. Not sure how big this is, but could get a lot bigger.
  • Wale – Pretty Girls [link]. I moved to DC in 2009, so I was fortunate that the hometown hero had a hot single out — equal doses ’70s power ballad and go-go polyrhythms. Easy on the synths, guys.
  • A million mambo remixes of Michael Jackson. He died. Everyone mourned. Many made remixes. The merengue de calle ones were some of my favorites. This one is my number one.
  • R. Kelly – Pregnant [link]. The R doing what he does best — singing an absurd conceptual seduction record completely straight-faced. There will always be a large place in my heart for this kind of thing.

Anything I miss?


Celebrity Death List 2009

December 20, 2008


To be honest I was a little apprehensive about doing another celebrity death list this year — not only is it morbid, but I felt that such an endeavor falls short of the quasi-intellectual tenor I gesture towards in this blog. Plus Charles kicks my ass every year. On the other hand, celebrity death allows an unparalleled peek at the awful economics of the fame industry — Charles’ often-brilliant commentary (unfortunately relegated to a long-dormant Myspace profile) parses who’s been unjustly overlooked, who’s been given a token farewell, who had the misfortune of dying in the same week as someone more famous or more beautiful, exposing the merciless side of celebrity (the side that includes, of course, lists such as these). So I’m doing one for 2009 — in any case, I think I’ve gotten better at this and might actually have a decent showing for once. 

  1. Nancy Reagan – Recent hip problems are the fabled “kiss of the death” for the elderly.
  2. Nate Dogg – Two strokes have left him in a coma. 
  3. Ted Kennedy – News articles are already treating him as a dead man walking.
  4. Robert Novak — Brain problems, and I don’t mean his Republican affiliation.
  5. Dick Clark – Eternal teenager no more.
  6. Dear Abby – Has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for over 10 years.
  7. Michael Jackson – It’s gotta happen sooner rather than later.
  8. Jerry Lewis – Hasn’t looked healthy in a while.
  9. Patrick Swayze – Cancerous.
  10.  Dick Cheney – I think he’s accomplished all the evil he set out to do.

Lots of Republicans on this list — wishful thinking about marking the end of an era?

The Year in Music – 2007

January 11, 2008

What a year – 2007 has to be the WORST year for popular culture since I started giving a shit. Can you feel the exhaustion of American culture yet? It smells like the decline that it is — 2007 was the year the housing bubble burst, promising to accelerate the process of the poor getting poorer and even dragging down a few rich people with ’em. Oh, and don’t forget this is the year where everyone realized how awesome capitalist democracy is — that no matter which party occupies Congress, the U.S. military occupies Iraq indefinitely. What does this have to do with music? Suffice to say we get the culture we deserve, and we have way more naughty than nice lately. On the other hand I bought records in half a dozen major American cities this year. So:

Albums that were really good

M.I.A. – Kala – thank god for buzz backlash so now I don’t have to listen to every 20something with a Spin subscription vomit forth some trite pseudo-opinion about music they wouldn’t listen to unless they were told to. This album is grimy and bitter, bangs hard in your car stereo, and is much better than Arular. Cribbing lyrics and melodies from NYC to the outback made it feel a bit mixtapey — a good thing, which I hope she pushes farther in the future.

Durrty Goodz – Axiom EP – Grime had rough years, or at least years where despite my best efforts I could find barely anything I liked. 2007 felt like a resurgence, even though Dizzee’s album sucked horribly: Wiley’s album was half decent, and Goodz put out eight tracks (yes EPs!) of hot fire. Not only can he rap his trainers off, but the beats are quite inventive with some dubstep flava sneaking in there.

After Dark comp / Chromatics album / various Glass Candy Tour CDs – Sublime neo-disco from the Italians Do It Better label touched me in special places this year. A nice comedown after six months of listening to loads of electro and booty bass for the thesis — like switching from a daily diet of blunts and cheap beer to a bottle of red wine.

Burial – Untrue – I liked the first Burial album well enough, but this one I love, and it’s all about the disembodied male R&B vox put through the digital wringer. I even went through an abortive 90s R&B phase after first hearing this album. While I enjoy a lot of pop R&B, I don’t often love it; but when a good remix or reappropriation can tamp down the cheesy aspects but keep that vulnerability and yearning intact… mmmm… See DJ Screw’s remixes of R&B hits for a similar effect.

Britney Spears – Blackout – Her best album yet. The further she gets from Swedish maximalist teen pop, the better — here she’s going for that electro-disco sound that’s been all the rage since like ’04, but it works so well for Brit. All the autotuning and pitchshifting of her vocals re-emphasized her out of control personal life, divorced of the idiotic morality play plot line that the tabloids keep forcing on her. She’s not apologetic, she’s not slowing down, she doesn’t give a fuck — she just wants more. It’s all she knows how to do. Maybe the album that says “2007” to me more than any other.

Blaqstarr – Superstarr EP – More spooky male R&B vox, this time wedded to some intricate B-more riddims. Oh, and a fucking BANGER with “Shake It To The Ground” featuring some precocious lil girl rapping, which everyone knows is like the best thing ever. I rinsed this and Blaqstarr’s 2006 EP like CRAZY for weeks, finally snatched Superstarr up on wax when I was in NYC.
James Murphy – Fabriclive 36 – Guess what? LCD Soundsystem’s albums sort of suck, and they sort of sound the same. This mix, on the other hand, made me want to weep sassy brassy NYC disco tears while spinning in circles. I will clean my apartment to nothing else.

Justice – – Sort of sick of it now, but still pretty good. Actually, I would LOVE to have the original EP since my favorite track is “Let There Be Light” (and the DJ Funk remix is smokin’), but this is just fine — bangs pretty hard, doncha know?

Tego Calderon – La Abayarde Contra-Ataca – Tego’s always been the most inventive reggaeton star, and he gets even further away from the Luny Tunes cul-de-sac, throwing in some Kanye-style chipmunk-en-espanol beats, salsa, and oh yeah, lots of bass!

Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams  – This album is slooooow, a lil spooky, a lil rough around the edges, but quite good. You forget how fucking good the Clan are as MCs (even U-God!), and the RZA backing, while not always breaking new ground, definitely grows. It’s maybe the closest Wu Tang in sound to the old melancholy Stax stuff that has long been RZA’s inspiration. Oh, Ghostface’s album was nice too.

Singles that I liked for about a month, then was completely done with

Rihanna – Umbrella. Liked it enough to cop WBGU’s 12″ copy. Have yet to play it.

Sean Kingston – Beautiful Girls. “Suicidal” no longer radio-friendly.

Simian Mobile Disco – Hustler. Yeah, I listened to too much electro this year to really get into nu-electro. Sue me.

Lil Mama – Lip Gloss. Something about the structure of this song began to grate on me after a while… maybe a re-edit in 5 years or so?

Mims – This Is Why I’m Hot. Mmmm, tautological.

Cupid – Cupid Shuffle. Ok, I still sort of like this song.

50 Cent – I Get Money. I was like, “Hey, this song is actually pretty sweet!” when I first heard it. Then I realized it was just a rip of Cassidy’s “I’m A Hustla” but with those heavy preset synths all the hip hop producers are using these days. Ho hum.

Singles that are actually still great

50 Cent – Ayo Technology. The only actually good song on his album, and Timberland/lake totally steal the show. Oh, and it’s about the alienating distance of text-message flirting. Or internet porn. Or something.

Young Leek – Shake And Jiggle It. Another Blaqstarr production, and unsurprisingly it’s all about the beat.

T-Pain – Buy U A Drank. Probably colonized more of my consciousness than any other song this year.  DUMB fucking lyrics and extra autotune gravy only make it that much more endearing.

Britney Spears – Gimme More. I absolutely love how they pitchshift the “mores” in the chorus so it almost sounds like she’s barfing or retching. Or maybe she was actually barfing.

Britney Spears – I Got A Plan. Icy, eerie, spooky. No song this year conjures the pathological need for the desire of the other, which sums it up almost too neatly. It’s like the Britney-bot is running down, but she’s begging for the diddick, almost going to cry for it (‘cept she can barely register emotion any more. Definitely need more neo-Italo with smeared screwed-&-chopped vox from our pop stars PLEASE.

Rich Boy – Throw Some D’s. This song is a masterpiece. I can’t really say anything that will do it justice.

Soulja Boy – Crank Dat Superman. Still slays. Single of the year.

R&B Songs that provided perfectly serviceable filler on hip hop radio

Lloyd – Get It Shawty, Chris Brown – Poppin, R. Kelly – I’ma Flirt, Diddy – Last Night, Beyonce – Upgrade U

Best Trend of 2007

Crank Dat songs. I have over 40 of these now. I love them. It’s all about Fruityloops presets, a clever angle, and lots of SPACE in the beats (viva SNAP)… and they each have their own dances!

Shit that sucked in 2007

Fergie. Someone get this fugly perpetual-celeb hooked on meth again. It’ll be funny.

New LCD Soundsystem – Mr. Murphy, do not sing. Please continue your excellent production work & DJing. Only release 12-inches. And make me a fucking sandwich while you’re at it. No mayo.

El-P – I’ll Sleep When Yr Dead. I can’t remember one song off this album, but I do remember a very lame performance on Conan that made me feel embarassed. The prodcution was too… tight, or something; I much preferred something sloppier, more chaotic.

Kanye West – Graduation. “Stronger” is not good, certainly not better than Daft Punk or Edwin Birdsong. This album smells like ‘ye was cramming for a final exam on A-Trak’s hipster hits and managed to get a C-. “Flashing Lights” is pretty ace, most everything else is sappily mediocre (“I Wonder”) to shockingly bad (“Drunk and Hot Girls”).

Dizzee Rascal – Maths and English. Ok, he’s shooting for the UK pop charts. Unfortunately the UK pop market is absolutely atrocious.

Other shit that was pretty righteous in ’07

Dondolo – Dondolisme, Still Going – Still Going Theme, Dopplereffekt – Calabi Yau Space, Gang Gang Dance – Rawwar, Ricardo Villalobos – Fabric 36, Wiley – Playtime Is Over, Stephen Bodzin – Liebe Ist, Swizz Beats – It’s Me, UGK – Underground Kings, Calle 13 – Residente o Visitante

Best Shows

I was stuck in rural Ohio for a while, so shows were not exactly forthcoming. Things improved once I moved back to Chicago.

-DJ Godfather, DJ Nehpets, and Gant-Man, Smartbar. Juke takes over the northside, and it was free.

-Bonde Do Role, Empty Bottle. Free again (thanks Jim), fake blood, and they broke up a couple months later! What could be better?

-Metro Area, Studio B. DJing the slickest disco you’ve never heard before. Viva Brooklyn!

Foreign Genres that gave me jollies

Bassline House out of the UK, Kwaito out of SAfrica (late to the party on that one), Central/Eastern Europop, Senegalese rock-funk-soul
Shit I’ll be keeping my eye on in the coming year

The Juan Maclean, Black Ops, DJ Cleo, XXXchange, Mr. Oizo, Audion, Dem Franchize Boys, Blaqstarr, Gant-man, Dexplicit, ravier baile funk, juke mixshows, Glass Candy