Yesterday's class session showcased a handful of arguments regarding hip-hop and the "direction" it's heading in. One statement in particular was pretty adamant that rap music was not all there was to hip-hop, and that the culture of hip-hop was far bigger than the music; big enough for the other aspects to exist on their own, and that any consideration that could be made about them could be made independently of rap music.
After many frustrated attempts at trying to clarify her statements, one girl finally just said:
"Why can't we talk about hip-hop without having to refer to the music? Soulja Boy isn't hip-hop, and I don't think we have to talk about rap in order to discuss what hip-hop culture really is."
I have to respectfully disagree with this stance completely. There may be components of hip-hop that comprise the culture as a whole, rap music is precisely what gave birth to the entire movement. Things that hip-hop has come to affect and shape over the years - fashion, vernacular and colloquialisms, mainstream music trends, drugs, media, etc. - are areas that have been directly influenced by rap music, and are able to exist peripherally because of rap music's extensive reach.
Rap might not be all there is to hip-hop culture on the cusp of 2011, but it is arguably the biggest component of hip-hop culture, by far. To consciously omit rap from any consideration of what hip-hop is or the direction it is going in is outrageous, and willfully ignores the primary force that has driven hip-hop culture and its deep mainstream penetration since its inception. If one is attempting to divorce his- or herself from the projected shortcomings that tend to dominate present day rap dialogue (material fixation, misogyny, homophobia, etc.) because that person believes that the heart and soul and hip-hop as it "used to be known as" has fallen by the wayside, that person is just being idealistic. That is one person's concept of what hip-hop culture ought to be, and not how it exists today.
The subject matter that preoccupies much of the rap conversation in the mainstream did not just come out of nowhere, either. These topics have been floating around since rap even started; they have just been pushed to the forefront lately now that mainstream hip-hop has witlessly cornered itself into a lyrically narrow scope. And boy, it shows.
As far as the specific dig on Soulja Boy goes, I don't really have an ounce of love or respect for his output, although I can't knock his success overall. Is his brand of "hip-hop" somehow less authentic because his personal history is bereft of a struggle that has led him to fame and fortune? Or is hip-hop and being hip-hop a malleable quality that varies from person to person? Are you more legitimately hip-hop if you're black or at least colored versus being white? I think hip-hop culture has permeated the world in economic and sociopolitical ways that we can even hardly begin to fathom, and they have long abandoned their racial fault lines.
Nas famously proclaimed that hip-hop was dead at the tail-end of 2008. Whose hip-hop? There definitely seems to be a stark disagreement about what hip-hop is to begin with, so it is even feasible to have this argument without any sort of consensus?
I've been enrolled in a hip-hop class for December intersession here at the University of Oklahoma for almost the last three weeks (the class is over this Friday), and one of our tasks was to start a blog documenting at least nine entries that pertained to hip-hop in some way. The blog could literally be about anything we wanted it to be about, so long as it tied back to hip-hop in some fashion, and had to be a minimum of 300 words.
I have, of course, taken things a slight step further, and have used this assignment as a platform to break my two-year silence in writing about music. My period with being disillusioned and disenfranchised by the music scene is pretty much up, and I've pretty much revaluated my entire approach to music in general and have made a few tweaks along the way during my break.
With my writing in particular, I'm focusing on self-editing my length and proclivity for being long-winded. With the help of my various essays and research papers over the last couple of semesters, I've figured out how to be academic without having to be excessively verbose and racking my brain trying to be creative (which contributed a lot to my burnout to begin with).
Finally, for anyone out there still using Last.FM, it will be a good opportunity to possibly reconnect with old friends and acquaintances still interested in this level of immersion in music.
I'm migrating these entries one by one over the next week from a blog I shared with one of my former roommates. If you're interested, the link to the original entries is here.
Thanks for reading, as always. Glad to be back!
Sorry, Ryan - I'm hijacking this joint blog of ours for the next three weeks for my hip-hop intersession class. Just so you know what's going on, I have to write at least 9 hip-hop-related blog entries, and I plan just writing about whatever comes to mind.
You can have this bad boy back in 2012.
I still can't decide whether or not I am actually incredibly annoyed at the free pass Kanye West has gotten this year with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or if I think that the groupthink that has ensued in both the press and popular consensus is fascinating phenomenon, or both. I concede that it's easily the most enjoyable album since his debut with The College Dropout, and that it is probably the most elegantly produced album of the year, period. From a sonic aesthetics perspective, West is in as fine of form as he's ever been, and it's somewhat of a relief for me to be able to enjoy his output again (especially after coming down off of horrible, emo, autotuned warble of 808s & Heartbreak).
Conversely, there are a lot of things to dislike about the record, too. He has an entirety of one genuinely funny punch-line across 14 tracks, and the rest of it is a catastrophic mess of thoughtless and outright bad lyrics, and the fact that Twisted Fantasy is West's best rap showcase in the last three years hardly persuades me that West is more than above-average in that category at best. There are a handful of moments where West allows the subject matter to drift into thoughtful introspection, but the rest of the work is badly marred by a lot of his questionable rhymes.
It's pretty mind-blowing how universal of a consensus the music press have granted this album, considering that these highly childish, witless and predominantly misogynistic lyrics will forever be held in the same company of other five-star, Perfect 10 records belonging to the likes of Wilco, Radiohead, and The Flaming Lips. As a (former) music reviewer myself, I understand that hip-hop criticism is accompanied by a different set of criteria, but under no circumstances should the standards be actually lowered. Truly bad lyrics on an otherwise great hip-hop album should not get a pass simply because mainstream hip-hop has a tendency to be lyrically vapid.
One evaluation of the record (courtesy of TinyMixTapes) interestingly noted that "Kanye West is so big, he's indie." This is pretty illustrative of how 1) "indie" as a descriptor continues to be meaningless on the cusp of 2011; and 2) the sea change of hipsters rushing to legitimize themselves as avid admirers of all genres is finally revealing itself in a really bizarre way.
Although I pretty much call bullshit on this, it is very interesting to see how deeply this album has moved and penetrated the music criticism community, and the hand job domino effect that has followed.
There's no way i would ever casually attempt to choose my 10 favourite songs, or even try to justify that any 10 are better than the next 10 - apart from a couple of true outstanding constant favourites, i've never given it much thought.
I decided the easiest way to separate the top 10 from the rest in my head, would be to choose songs that are specifically important to me, had some sort of deep resonance with me or were responsible in some way for a shift in the way i was thinking about music/life in general at the time, and hopefully also fulfilling the criteria that it could be widely considered a true classic tune.
In no particular order, other than a loose chronological timeline...
This is currently my most favourite song ever, and from one of my favourite bands. A fun and happy, yet heartwrenching song about love. Simple, yet complex and quirky in melody & lyrics. The greatest pop songs are always deceivingly simple. This song is perfection on many levels, and it will stay with me until i die. It took the #1 position from...
...If you asked me which artist best encapsulates the sound and feel of the 80s, i would say The Cure. If you asked me what song, it's this. Not that anyone would ask me. It's undeniably 80s, but it transcends time. Easily one of the greatest songs ever made, a song that has been in my subconscious since i was a child, festering, waiting for me to finally realise its greatness.
So Television's Marquee Moon album was a classic way before i ever heard it, and i'd already made many inroads into my musical preferences when i first heard it. But this album, and the title track straight away went up the top of my favourites in my head. Marquee Moon is a perfect song from a perfect album, unmeasurably influential, and arguably the highlight album and song of punk's golden year, 1977. At the risk of sounding clichéd, at 10+ minutes this song actually takes you on a journey. The final guitar part in the last solo, nine minutes in, sounds like you're flying.
Don't know what to say about this, other than Portishead are a band that i was totally obsessed with when i was in my late teens. This is my favourite song of theirs, a favourite of mine full-stop. Listening to the live version shows the true ethereal beauty and untapped emotional power this song has... such a travesty that the world doesn't know this song and hold it in the same esteem i do. And i wouldn't even know it if it weren't for...
Another true classic. A song i instantly fell in love with, and totally changed my mind about what music i thought i liked. This is the song more than any other that is responsible for giving me my open mind towards different types of music...
I was 12 when this song came out, and i had the censored version of it on a "Hits of '92" compilation cd - i loved it without realising the proper version existed, and when i finally did hear the "Fuck You, I Won't Do What You Tell Me" ending... it planted a mind-seed that would incubate over the years and it subconsciously opened up doors of future acceptance to other darker, harder genres, especially metal. It's one of the most powerful songs ever, and getting heavily into Rage Against The Machine in your formative years does things to your thoughts.
The Smashing Pumpkins - trying to sum up why i love them is hard, choosing one song is fucking hard. SP were like the first rock band where i was old enough to consciously love them, their music, not just a song i heard on the radio or whatever, realising they were part of a musical genre relative to the decade, and that i was living through this time that i knew would replay in my head as my soundtrack to my life in the future.
I knew immediately they would have a place here - but which song. I can't seem to think back to the one song that made me love them, it just feels like they've always been there.
I've chosen Today, it's probably not my favourite anymore, but it's one of the obvious choices. I think this may have been the song, the song that someone said to me "Today is the best song" and realising how good it is, how good they are, how much i loved them and this type of music, and music for me was never just a song on the radio that i liked anymore, it was now a big part of my life.
It's funny cause i never listen to Daft Punk anymore - even though lately there has been a widespread resurgence in their popularity and a general realisation of their influence on any kind of electronic music today - but i when i heard this song and saw the filmclip simultaneously for the first time back when it came out, i just fell in love with it. I didn't just love the song, i tried to base my life on it somehow, trying to personify the song by living life extra funky in a futuristic, but strange style, similar to that of a life size talking man-dog that roams city streets at night, a secret alter ego. Apart from the fact that the album is a classic and didn't leave my car stereo much for a year after, it formed a solid foundation for my love of electronic music.
I can't have a top ten without having a rap tune in here, rap took up a large portion of my listening preference in my teenage years. It's easy to pick the contenders - but choosing just one was quite hard. The best rap group ever and my favourite rap group, the timeless A Tribe Called Quest, also released what i consider the quintessential rap album, Midnight Marauders. What The Cure is to the 1980s, ATCQ is to the golden era of rap. But choosing one of their songs over all others is like splitting hairs.
Problem is, much like Love Will Tear Us Apart is my quintesssential song for the 80s, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)" is straight up, condensed, concentrated hip-hop in a can, arguably the greatest rap song ever.
ATCQ holds a greater place in my musical taste, but i'd say They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y) trumps any song ATCQ put out, only marginally though. If the lyrics of 'Electric Relaxation' weren't all about sex, i may have chosen it over T.R.O.Y.
This has for a very long time, been such a sad song to hear for certain reasons that i could only bear to hear it every now & then. However over the last year it has become much more personal in a happier way, and has cemented its place with me, i think it took this list to realise it though. To kinda quote the lyrics: i think its its strange i never knew.
I could've mistakenly lumped these Aussies in with all the other 80s revival indie dork bands, but a few cracker tunes have kept me interested, and i'm glad i grabbed the album. They sit more on the dirty side of music, i'd say they're a post grunge/post punk band, with pop tendencies. Any band that sings about science, space travel, evolution and outer space is a winner with me.
Not as good as The New Normal. Although interesting subject matter, they need to stop with the conspiracy/David Icke shit and just make music. Saw them host Rage and they almost insinuated that the Queen was reptilian.
One of the most important Australian bands currently. The Drones have been doing their own style of dark, country/folk inspired Australian rock n roll for years, never compromising on their own style or vision, and the result is another slice of some of the best music in the world. Australian music is great, however the market is so small here compared to other countries that most bands curb their aspirations to fit within a sound that will play well with radio and the youth channels. Although there is a huge market and audience, and the music is of world class calibre, it leads to a severe lack of experimental/avant garde type of music getting out of oz. This is what happens when a great band and songwriters just do their thing, and luckily they're being heard, not just here but around the world. It's albums like this that will inspire future generations of Australians to make internationally successful music that will stretch and create rules and genres, and not just safely abide by them.
I think expectations from people who've been waiting 11 years for this album are different to those who haven't been waiting as long. It's definitely not disappointing considering they've been out of action for over a decade. It's actually unbelievable they managed to create not only a brilliant album, but a new work that sits apart from their other stuff whilst sounding like it belongs in 2008. Easily one of the best records of this year.
They've dropped a fair bit of the surf rock/psychobilly-ish-ness that made their last album so fun, but they've really hit their sound on this one. This is much much darker than the last record, more avant-garde, more post-rock experimentalist and more cohesive. Basically what i said about The Drones before, applies here. One of the most important Australian bands around.
Absolute indie pop rock perfection. Their Scottish accents and dark folk edge may not be for everyone, but i fucking love it. Is an all time favourite of mine for sure. I've read quite a number of best of 2008 music lists and i am failing to see this anywhere, so its obviously not getting the attention it deserves. These guys are so fucking underrated its unbelievable.
Easily one of the best Aussie releases of 2008. Smooth as. Love the dudes voice, like an Aussie Morrissey. I'm just glad to hear a singer that isn't trying to sound like fucking Robert Smith of The Cure.
These guys and MGMT are easily the best of the over-hyped indie-pop/hipster/trendwhore bands of this year. However, i think this will turn out to be one of the standout records of this decade when people start looking back.
Very little left of their southern rock sound, theres only 6 songs of 11 that i like. I have a feeling that percentage will drop on future albums, considering the massive success of this one. Because of the Times is much better than this.
The first two singles released before the album came out contained some really corny lyrics that i thought were going to dog all the songs, and deem it unlistenable. Thankfully the other songs escaped that cruel fate and the album as a whole is quite enjoyable (to me anyway).
I'm not a fan of this post-hardcore/metalcore crossover stuff. The band really shines when it displays it hardcore roots, and the album wanes when it does all the metal stuff. Suffers from corny generic angsty lyrics. The result is another unremarkable metalcore record.
I really dislike this album. Are You Involved? is such a great album, and was such a leap forward from their debut, and this is mostly really boring, showing only faint remnants of the songwriting of Are You Involved?. Too glossy, they were really aiming for commercial success with this, obviously it hasn't really taken off and I can't see myself interested in anything else they will do from here on. Horrible album cover also.
This will be my first review as PopMatters' newest R&B specialist. It's what they consider a "high priority" release, so I imagine they'll be getting this published within the next week. It's been a weak-sauce year in R&B, though, so I'm being allowed to steer clear away from the genre for awhile. Upcoming albums I have in the pipelines are by country artists Heidi Newfield and Jessica Simpson (?!); Roman electronic connoisseur Jacopo Carreras; Israeli surf rockers Boom Pam; singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell; and a bunch of indie rock cats who call themselves Ten Kens. I'll keep interested parties posted in the coming weeks.
It’s really not much of a secret anymore these days: R&B has spent the bulk of the last several years falling off a cliff. There have been a lot of arguments offered pertaining to where and why the genre has taken this near fatal swan-dive into systematic mediocrity, but many sources consent that R&B’s gradual merger with hip-hop has been an undeniable contributor to this disaster. The new century has seen a slew of top-shelf hip-hop producers strike Top 40 gold with both rappers and crooners alike; and as long as their paycheck has a sufficient number of zeroes, they all seem to be equally and frighteningly indiscriminant with who they contract their services out to.
While this boom in collaborations culminated between the two genres has certainly resulted in a handful of genuinely enjoyable hits in recent memory (Justin Timberlake’s ‘My Love’ immediately springs to mind), the reverse compatibility between backing R&B and rap tracks has – in the end – arguably produced more bad than good by having the unintended consequence of severely narrowing the sonic palette of R&B. Unique traits that the genre has touted for years (danceable mid-tempo jams with a strong, often interesting sense of melody) now sound exhausted and formulaic. Alternatively, even the most average of rappers benefit from this fusion greatly, as the assimilation of R&B’s inherent base for melodic progression has gone long ways to diversifying the soundscapes of hip-hop. The days of being able to actively distinguish between hard-hitting rap anthems against the smoldering balladry of rhythm and blues on the basis of production are nearing an end.
Lloyd Harlin Polite, Jr. is one of the latest in a long line of young, fashionable and artistically faceless R&B vocalists peddling this precise trend. Not one to break the mould, Lloyd has spent his entire career (which is now surprisingly three albums deep) reheating worn-out street love truisms and simplified innuendo; naturally, this would also mean that he has made almost no discernible strides in the direction of trying to differentiate himself from his peers.
Lessons in Love’s missteps are numerous, and with the witless kitsch of ‘Sex Education’ leading off, it’s not very difficult to ascertain how the rest of the album will play out based on this introduction. Dull lines like, “Give me your permission to take a trip with me / To satisfy you is my mission and a bed is all we need” are rife throughout the record, but some of you may shudder to hear that this instance is probably the least severe of the lyrical offenses. Not far around to corner is the synth-heavy slow jam ‘Year of the Lover,’ which houses this nefariously laughable come-on: “Don’t make plans for dinner / I’mma put you up on the stove and take off all your clothes / Girl, watch me cook.” This admittedly wouldn’t sound as scrawny or awkward if he had half of R. Kelly’s charismatic verve or performance flair (whom he is very clearly trying to emulate) in order to properly sell the conceit.
Lloyd’s own syrupy tenor, as pleasant and innocuous as it is, presents an array of problems with each passing track, as well. He has a tendency to sound tinny and childlike against the backdrop of warbling guitars and droning bass. Lloyd is able to wrench attention back from the insistent production whenever he delves into his falsetto, but this is also where his vocal frailties are even more accentuated when he’s forced to compete against the rest of the track. ‘Girls Around the World’ is a crisp ‘80s groove that tries to mask Lloyd’s thin vocal presence behind a veil of multi-tracked harmonies, but ends up having the reverse effect of marginalizing his presence in a muddle of over-production. Even the glimmer of opportunity for Lil’ Wayne to salvage this legitimately engaging track is squandered, as he decides instead to rest on the laurels of his most recent commercial triumphs and sleepwalks through some of the most forgettable and uninspiring 16 bars of his career.
Occasionally, even Lessons in Love's strongest suit in production will yield less than favorable outcomes. Most records – especially those of the hip-hop and R&B variety – would normally benefit from the fluidity and uniformity that accompanies the use of two or three likeminded producers. What ends up happening here instead is that a bland homogeneity in the overall sound of the record emerges, and entire tracks start running together (most notably during the four-track stretch between ‘Year of the Lover’ and ‘Have My Baby’). Lloyd’s generally two-dimensional songwriting, being as prevalent as it is, does little else but punctuates this distinct lack of variety.
Truth be told, however, Lessons in Love is not entirely an unlistenable affair. Where Lloyd tends to falter with absurd sexual propositions and drippy, clichéd love ballads, he tends to fare better with club-oriented material. Pulsing, mushrooming synth pangs swell over the mechanical beat-keeping of space-age snares and bass in producer James “J. Lack” Lackey’s best impersonation of The Neptunes. The focus is shifted away from Polite’s fragile vocals and placed squarely on the track’s persistent, transmittable dance groove.
From a soundboard standpoint, the agile lead guitar as well as its accompanying rhythm guitar flourishes on ‘Love Making 101’ easily makes it the album’s greatest production accomplishment. It’s a surprisingly meticulous and layered song, and Lloyd himself even sounds in command of the entire track itself with his creamy vocals barely rising above a whisper before the chorus. ‘Treat U Good’ slightly picks up the dance pace and also showcases how powerful an ally vocal restraint is to Lloyd; the entire song is almost bereft of him indulging in the upper registers, and he sounds noticeably more robust and melodic as a result. The strengths of his immediate vocal range go a long way toward imbuing his syncopated enunciation on both tracks with a more pronounced punch, as well.
This handful of keepers is unfortunately not enough to redeem what is otherwise an entire record’s worth of vapidity. Run-of-the-mill airwave fodder is exactly what the public has been conditioned to expect from R&B and consume for the last several years, and Lloyd has done nothing but contribute to its slowly deteriorating state. But do you want to know what greatest tragedy behind Lessons in Love is? – It’s that the album’s sporadic moments of charm and promise make it incredibly tricky to dismiss Lloyd’s efforts all together. Somewhere buried underneath Lloyd’s artistically fruitless four years in the mundane genre trappings of urban radio lies what could potentially be, if not a unique voice, a winsome and entertaining personality. Of course, presenting the mere possibility of being enjoyable doesn’t earn artists extra credit in the world of criticism, and that will (hopefully) be the single greatest lesson that Lloyd takes away from his third album’s imminently short shelf life.
Disclaimer: This month’s free association space is going to be filled with an excess of extraneous drivel that you may or may not be interested in, so if you’re just here for the usual goods, use the [CTRL+F] on your tidy browser and search “JULY” so you can skip past the ensuing wall of text.
For those of you who have already made the intrinsic observation that this month’s header image is not really all that different from last month, I firstly have to point out that I’m terrible at Photoshop. Photo-editing is a trade I picked up solely to spruce up these journals, so my expertise doesn’t extend much farther than having preset image dimensions and slapping on text wherever it’s convenient. If anyone out there who is more adept at this sort of thing wants to volunteer their talents for future endeavors, then by all means. Also, I apologize for featuring quite possibly the ugliest freak-folk band ever in this month's header image, but I can't help it if I'm really lookin' forward to some new Espers material.
Anyway – Ryan, one of my three roommates, has recently developed an interest in writing reviews and approached me a couple of weeks ago with the idea of a collaborative blog. It’s an entertaining notion for a number of reasons – the most prevalent would have to be that out of everyone I’ve ever lived with at college, Ryan superficially seems like he resembles me the least in terms of personality and lifestyle. Regardless, I’ve had the opportunity to spend these last 5 years to really approximate the depth of the overlap of our interests and tastes (especially with music and comic books), and the results have been pretty astonishing. That’s not to imply that we necessarily like all the same things. On the contrary – it seems like we butt heads more often than not when we start dissecting the minutiae of certain segments of the arts. What’s important, though, is that we both tend to approach art criticism with a similar, analytical (although some of our friends might accuse of being overly so) frame of reference.
Currently, we have chosen to tentatively title the blog Best of Both Worlds for our first few trial entries. It’s an inside joke referencing a particularly terrible superstar collaboration between Jay-Z and R. Kelly from a few years ago, but we’re hoping to cultivate some sort of readership by playing off any inherent difference in opinion we might have. I suspect Ryan and I will be dealing with film, music and comic books primarily; I don’t dedicate blocs of my spare time toward non-fiction like I used to, so Ryan will probably take up the bulk of any existing book commentary. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming months. There’s not much to look at right now, but if any of you are interested in checking it out, you can take a look at Ryan’s first entry here.
This blog opportunity also doubles as an outlet to get my writing out to more people. Until I see exactly what this new revamp of Last.FM spells for the future of journal connectivity between users, spending on average 3-5 hours on an entry only to have 2 or 3 people read it just isn’t cutting it for me anymore. Plus, I’ve discovered that dedicating this space to free-associating with various other things knockin’ around in my head goes a long way with keeping my fluctuating interest in music invigorated – even if no one here is particularly interested in what I have to say about politics or the latest box-office powerhouses.
My last few Upcoming Attractions installments have featured recurring meanderings regarding things like movies and politics, so I’m going to see what splitting up these thoughts into distinct categories does. There’s definitely a double-edged sword aspect to this: while it might help me to organize my thoughts more coherently, it also eliminates all free association elements by assigning specific groupings to thoughts that I might not even necessarily have regarding a category on a certain day. As always, we’ll see how this plays out.
• Politics Things are just as slow with the presidential coverage as the election looms ever closer on the home front, but luckily the international pulpit saw some significant developments in the Darfur controversy over the last few days. According to The New York Times, a prosecutor representing the International Criminal Court has actually mobilized to formally request the proper seizure and arrest of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity” that have transpired over the course of the last 5 years in the Darfur territory of Sudan. As a primer for those of you who might intentionally ignore international current events, the situation in Darfur can probably be best summarized as the worst case of a true, ongoing humanitarian crisis. In a nutshell, insurgent factions of have sprung up in opposition against the Sudanese government over the existing oil in the region. It’s widely believed that al-Bashir, in a reactionary stance, contracted the services of the Janjaweed (an Afro-Arab militia) to quell the rebellion through their brutal brand of structured violence. Hundreds of thousands of people – most of who are believed to be indirectly related to the conflict at best – are estimated to have been raped, tortured or murdered by these mercenaries.
This is substantial news for a number of reasons, but I’m mostly still stunned that – in the midst of a repulsive amount of apathy and cynicism that’s been tossed back and forth between pundits and casual observers alike – the very notion of another regime actually being punished for the blatant perpetuation of human rights contraventions has even been able to crystallize in such a volatile political climate. I’ve heard most of the counterarguments regarding U.N.-sanctioned military intervention, but to me they’re all weak-sauce variations of the same, unpersuasive themes. Detractors claim that the Darfur conflict is overblown and sensationalized; that the situation is not as severe as the liberal media depicts. Pragmatists argue that mounting any sort of offensive against the Janjaweed will upset the convoluted web of diplomatic relations with all parties directly involved in the Sudanese arms and oils trade.
Then there are people who just flat out don’t give a fuck. The retort usually consists of some argument pertaining to the fact that “Americans have better things to do” – which, considering the state of our economy and the colossal $1-billion-a-day deficit that we’re drawing from in order to fund our GOP circle-jerk in the Middle East, is a fair argument that conservative-minded foreign policy experts like the Republicans enjoy trumpeting. It should be noted though that being at a (self-inflicted) disability to properly uphold universal human rights for everyone is one thing – subconsciously conditioning the American public at large to not even be aware of the issue, however, will always stay with me as one of the Bush Administration’s most tragic failings.
Have I already mentioned that November can’t come soon enough?
• Television I’ve been following the entirety of Season 2 of America’s Best Dance Crew, and I’m surprised at how entertaining it’s been so far. Kaba Modern and the JabbaWockeeZ were, hands down, the best 2 crews from last season, and it’s really been difficult for many of this season’s crews to follow suit after the trail they blazed. Regardless, I’ve taken a great liking toward this season’s premiere B-boy crew, Super Cr3w. They fall short of the JabbaWockeeZ in terms of technical precision, but they have a real knack for creative concepts and entertaining choreography. The following is a video of their performance from Episode 3 – the challenge for the week was to craft an entire concept around the song each crew was assigned:
This is, for many obvious reasons, indubitably their best performance yet and arguably the sickest set of the season thus far. ABDC is easily the most entertaining reality show on the air right now.
• Film I’ve been seeing a lot more movies lately. Last year, I think I seriously saw only 7 ’07 flicks, and I feel like I’ve already seen twice as much at this point in the year. I dedicate so much time to music that there’s seldom any room left for even half-hearted film analysis – luckily, Moore, OK is one of 4 cities in the entire country fortunate enough to be blessed with a recently-opened Warren Theatres establishment. That only is impetus enough to go out and watch more movies, even if most of it has been popcorn garbage.
I caught Wall*E with my roomies Kyle and Ryan and our friend Sarah during opening weekend a couple of weeks ago. Pixar has a strong track record for putting out kids’ movies that are literally entertaining for all age groups, and Wall*E – for all intents and purposes – extends that streak. The movie’s storytelling gimmick should be pretty familiar to everyone by now: it features the quotidian exploits of a lone maintenance robot on an abandoned Earth in a virtually dialogue-free first half. Obviously, the absence of words leaves visual cues with the bulk of the workload to carry; luckily, the ideas and emotions are admirably simple and beautifully conveyed.
Wall*E unfortunately loses a bit of its luster when human characters are introduced to the mix, and that’s where the story slowly begins to devolve into a somewhat middling, computer-generated affair. This isn’t to say that the movie became unwatchable after this point, but there was something inherently less captivating once the setting was shifted on-board a prototypically sterile spaceship full of overweight humans.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, although I’d be hard-pressed to rank this anywhere near Pixar’s best efforts.
Hellboy II: the Golden Army marks my third excursion into the superhero genre in the last couple of months. Director Guillermo del Toro has a very distinct visual approach when it comes to source material involving otherworldly mysticism and weird science genetic anomalies. This puts del Toro right at home with the Hellboy franchise, which has always been oriented towards a mix of science and magic and religion with gothic overtones. The imagery is fascinating and provocative throughout, and Ron Perlman’s portrayal of Hellboy as a playfully irresponsible, loose-cannon government agent makes for a welcome diversion whenever del Toro’s bizarre vision threatens to alienate the audience.
What causes it to ultimately fail however is del Toro’s over-dependence on the actual comic book canon of the franchise itself. More often than not, the plot advances itself in seemingly inexplicable directions without even so much as 2 seconds worth of dialogue to explain what’s going on. People who have previously read the comics (including myself) might not feel these effects, but the strength of a successful comic book adaptation ought not to depend so heavily on mythos previously established in an entirely separate medium. Hellboy II was equipped with all the proper trappings to be a solid, accessible flick from beginning to end, but the film is eventually unraveled by glaring holes in logic – as well as a teeth-pullingly bad case of a classic deus ex machina copout finale.
Insert any variation of unbridled excitement for The Dark Knight here.
[Even in 2008, I’m still amazed that 50 Cent has never been involved in a record that remotely resembles anything entertaining. I need to spend a little more time with Vanessa Hudgen’s sophomore set, although I guess it’s worth mentioning that the first listen was completely unmemorable.]
8 July 3.Beck – Modern Guilt 4.Daedelus – Love to Make Music To
[Anyone who’s ever read any of my journals will know that I’m pretty resistant when it comes to production that is Danger Mouse-related; at best, he’s a precocious, fleetingly interesting producer whose sensibilities gravitate toward left field for no other sake other than to be unconventional. With that being said, it’s with a heavy heart that I admit that Beck’s latest benefits greatly from Danger Mouse’s heavy editing hand – the majority of the affair is very listenable and clocks in barely over a half-hour. Beck’s last two installments tended to be deluges of sonic meandering, but Danger Mouse manages to restore a sense of immediacy and uniformity that’s been missing for a long time. It’s too early for me to approximate where Modern Guilt sits in the Beck discography, but I can’t imagine you’d actually be doing yourself any wrong by checking this out.]
[Although it was probably against my better interests, I was hoping against all odds that David Banner would turn an album full of catchy, mindlessly fun radio singles and club anthems. What I got instead was his misguided stab at pop culture relevance and superstardom, and the end product is one of the absolute worst hip-hop records of the last 2 years.
The Hold Steady’s latest bored the snot out of me.
It’s worth mentioning that, although I enjoy Illmatic like everyone else, I am by no means a fan of Nas. I like precisely 2 albums by the man (his debut and Stillmatic), and I firmly believe that everything else he’s put out in-between both these records have been complete, unlistenable garbage. Nas is notorious for having a terrible ear for beats, and that makes my job a lot more irritating since I generally listen to music for texture and sonic aesthetics; lyrics take a distant second place on my list of priorities. No amount of minstrel-like ingenuity can override the distractions of a dour and shitty track, something that characterizes the overwhelming majority of Nas’ catalogue. Having more street cred than your peers running wild over in the hipster-hop scene doesn’t give you a pass to be just as lazy as them.
Untitled alternatively represents Nas’ most enjoyable effort since Stillmatic: a savvy marriage of a perfectly acceptable selection of beats and Nas’ trademark penchant for layered lyricism and supple wordplay. As always, Nas sometimes loses sight of his ability to rein in his passions, he often gets unnecessarily heavy-handed with his messages, but that only occasionally detracts from the overall satisfaction of the record. Even at that, Nas – with assistance from Busta Rhymes – demonstrates one of his most multifaceted political approaches ever with his clever hand at satire with the Mark Ronson-produced ‘Fried Chicken’. The inherent genius behind this track really comprises the bulk of my delight with the record. I heartily recommend this to everyone.]
[Ne-Yo’s recent barrage of uninspired singles and guest-spots has me worried that he’s on the cusp of demolishing all the good faith he built with his fantastic sophomore release last year. And I’m really confused about Oberst’s solo record; wasn’t he running the whole Bright Eyes show to begin with anyway?]
[Best to my knowledge, Calexico has never really turned in what I would consider a bad album. I’m constantly impressed by their level of musicianship as well as their penchant for multi-instrumentalism, so I’m pretty eager to hear what they’ve got in store.
If I recall correctly, Kimya Dawson is that really terrible tart who was all over the Juno soundtrack, so I’m more looking forward to thrashing her record.
Ben Folds is a long way from relevant these days, and his last excursion or two into the studio have yielded some less than memorable results. Luckily, he’s always been a solid and enjoyable artist on the whole, so I’m more than willing to afford him some benefit of the doubt on this one.
I was in no way a fan of the last Parenthetical Girls record, but I feel compelled to give it another go.
It took me a long time to get around to listening to Robin Thicke’s debut, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. He’s gone on record in an interview or two recently to state that he wants to deliver something new and fresh on the next go. That’s pretty much a stock answer in most interviews these days, but there was something persuasive about his conviction that I’m inclined to take a leap of faith with. Hopefully he manages to channel his current disenchantment with the R&B scene into something spectacular. If not, I guess we’ll all just have to make do with having our thumbs up our asses while we mark time for the next John Legend joint.
I read something on MTV a few nights ago that just about ruined my night: a recent collaboration between T.I. and Fallout Boy is currently contending for a spot on the final cut of Paper Trail. Granted, Fallout Boy can occasionally be catchy, but this seems more like a gratuitous exercise in genre-blending for the sake of doing so. It doesn’t help that the track is described as “somber” and “emotional.” There’s only so much of Patrick Stumpy’s wailing that I can take before my brain starts hemorrhaging. In more related T.I. news, I have officially heard 7 different songs that might end up on the final product. My favorites so far are the Drumma Boy-produced ‘What Up’ and ‘Swing Ya Rag’ by Swizz Beatz. None of these quite approach the same monolithic stature of ‘What You Know’, but I’m still holding out nonetheless.
[Cold War Kids were absolutely horrendous at last year’s Austin City Limits, but when have I ever been opposed to second chances? Things have been pretty quiet on the Common front; even the delays barely register as a whimper in the blogosphere. Dido needs to get on the ball with this Jon Brion-helmed record of hers. I finally heard Keri Hilson’s lead single the other day, and I couldn’t help but be a tad bit disappointed. Kid Sister is the latest talent in a long line of Kanye West-approved MCs, but I do remember having my attention caught the first couple of times I heard her last year. It’ll be an interesting record, for sure. I don’t really have much to comment on with Kings of Leon or Mogwai, other than I despise 2-dimensional indie blues and post-rock.]
24 September 50.Everlast – Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford
[After closely following the trajectory of Ani DiFranco’s career for the last 8 years, it felt strange to have to wait an actual 2 years for the first signs of new material to surface. Anyone familiar with DiFranco knows she’s a self-made success story: she reportedly started her own record label in ’88 or ’89 with $50, and has self-released full-length LPs almost every year for the last 20 years she’s been on the grind. She’s a decidedly less fiery, liberal presence these days, and her records are actually mellower and more interesting as a result. Red Letter Year is supposed to feature a slew of collaborators, and most of my favorite Ani cuts usually feature full band arrangements (to this date, nothing beats the all-star assemblage of Ani, Andrew Bird, Noe Venable and Todd Sickafoose on one track). Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to this.
Tom Morello seems like his primed for Round 2 of Adult Acoustic Contemporary Wank Sessions. He’s getting to be just as senile as Chris Cornell, or – even worse – Fred Durst (his level of middle-aged absentmindedness must be seen to be believed).]
[Can’t be any worse than any of Hillary Duff’s stabs at radio supremacy. And normally, news that The Neptunes will be handling the bulk of the production chores would be relieving, but I’m not so confident anymore now that they have to their credit one of the worst albums of 2008 with Seeing Sounds.]
[Not to cry wolf, but I smell a monumental delay of Big Boi’s solo joint ‘til mid-autumn. Michelle Branch is back in the studio for her new solo album, and she’s bring a little bit of her roots sensibilities she honed in The Wreckers. I’m really dying for this to be a left-field alt-country blowout.]
[*deep breath* Okay. So Timbaland has apparently produced the entirety of Chris Cornell’s upcoming third solo album. This is perilous news for a couple of reasons: Timbaland currently sucks, and Chris Cornell currently really sucks. Cornell’s been on a gradual songwriting decline since the inception of Audioslave, and his last solo disc was characterized by the prototypical sophomore slump in every way imaginable. With the exception of Flo Rida’s ‘Elevator’, everything that’s been in Timbaland’s sole production credit since the scattershot Shock Value has been nothing short of abysmal. And that’s not even the worst part – Timbaland claims that his studio sessions with Chris have yielded some of his best work ever. It was sort of jarring to hear what Timbaland regarded as rock ‘n roll on the last five tracks of Shock Value, so I have no idea what to expect other than something catastrophic. Still, I’ve got my fingers crossed for this one.]
[So it appears Justin Hawkins is out of rehab and eager to get back to recording again. The Darkness were good (vapid) fun, but I can’t imagine what he has in store in the future that wouldn’t be aping Freddy Mercury all over again. Plus, Hot Leg is a terrible band name.]
I 107.India.Arie – Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics
[I’ve been diggin’ all the MJ tracks that have been floating around for the last few months. When is he finally going to get the ball rolling on this? Also, MTV.com reports that Timbaland has once again been tapped for production duties on Jay’s next record; this time around, however, Mr. Carter apparently wants Timbo to do the entire thing. The online clip recounts Jay’s biggest international hit, ‘Big Pimpin’’, and how he and Timbaland want to do at least ten songs that are just as big as that. Jay-Z is one of the very few artists that I think Timbaland has had a 100% success ratio with (meaning I really don't think there's one beat Timbaland's given to Jay that I didn't love), so I have extraordinarily high hopes for this reuinion, even if Timbo is still coming off a crest of creativity at the moment.]
[My roommate and I unanimously agree that She & Him sounds precisely like the album Jenny Lewis should have made with her debut. Let’s see if she can deliver on the second go. Also, Good Charlotte is apparently slated to appear on Ludacris’ next record. And I thought Fallout Boy was a ill-advised artistic decision.]
In trying to stay honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve been operating on minimal activity mode these last few weeks since the semester let out. I’m still currently bumming around in-between part-timers, so most of my time is spent eating, intermittently working out, playing Mario Kart Wii or Super Smash Bros.: Brawl, and cruising the web. This wouldn’t be completely annoying if it weren’t for the fact that – especially for the last couple of weeks – I haven’t really been reading or researching anything particularly constructive online, either.
Beforehand, I used to dedicate a lot of my online activity on CNN.com, The New York Times and a couple select blogs by political pundits for their presidential election coverage. If I wasn’t doing that, I was usually scanning my 6 or 7 other music-related websites for miscellaneous news artists or album releases. But ever since Senator Barack Obama was able to clinch the Democratic nomination earlier this month, my interest in politics has noticeably waned. Similarly, I haven’t felt very motivated in keeping tabs on upcoming releases, and even my interest in new music is somewhat suffering from both a largely stagnant, disappointing ’08 scene and a bloated queue of recently-acquired records that I haven’t really mustered up the fascination to pound through quite yet. And on top of that, my 2007 year-end list still isn’t done yet.
This is probably one of those inexplicable and contradictory instances in my life where I truly do have way too much free time on my hands for my own good. I’m hoping that this pending job and a trip back down to Dallas for my buddy Jeremy’s wedding in a couple of weeks will reinvigorate my pursuit in, um, doing things again.
On a related tangent, I fear that American politics have entered a lackluster phase of glaringly trivial news blurbs and occasionally lopsided outbursts by one candidate detailing how narrow-minded or hypocritical the other one is regarding this and that policy issue. Perhaps this can be directly attributed to the fact that the Obama camp has (prudently) maintained a largely defensive posture throughout the majority of the Democratic nomination process against Hillary Clinton; however, pitting this stance against the still-shockingly obstinate, mono-dimensional campaign approach of Republican conservatism unfortunately makes for severely dull politics. It’s arguable that I just think it’s boring because the Obama camp more or less has my fixed vote in November at this point, but there aren’t really any notable policy conflicts between these two candidates that I find very intriguing at all.
I guess my current disinterest can also be chalked up to the fact that the Republican Party has engendered a balking distrust in me so severe over these last 7 and half years, that it’s effectively repelled me from even the objective consideration of a non-Democratic nominee. It’s difficult to admit how biased the logic I used to arrive at this decision is, but the Bush Administration’s astonishing level of head-scratching ineptitude on both fronts of international relations and fundamental bureaucratic micromanagement at home has been (perhaps irreparably) damaging to our economy, security, and national credibility as a competent sovereign state. Once upon a time, I would have voted for John McCain in a heartbeat, Democrat or not. Now, I want to be able to vote for a candidate who not only has a realistic chance of winning, but is also outfitted with the resources to succeed in the long run.
Hillary acted like a skank sometimes, but her fiery vigor for offense-oriented politics never failed to make for exciting headlines.
Moving along, the two biggest movies I’ve seen so far this season have been Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
Iron Man was enjoyable, as expected: Robert Downey, Jr. turns in probably the most accurate depiction of a once-carefree billionaire playboy in Tony Stark that appropriately fit the bill of the film’s origin framework. Alternatively, it took me about a week to get over the initial buzz of seeing the flick, but once that wore off, it definitely seemed considerably less like the movie that was being described as the greatest comic book movie adaptation ever. There’s an undeniable presence of a Hollywood editing hand through the movie, something that both the special effects and the plot’s predictable narrative trajectory betrays. Suspension of disbelief aside, Tony Stark’s miraculous leaps in quantum science as well as his seamless transition into the rigors of being an armored superhero jars at logic more often than it should, and even Downey’s portrayal – just when it seems like his character is about to elevate to the third dimension – sometimes drowns himself in a flurry of punchy one-liners. Regardless, Downey’s interpretation of the source material is mostly impeccable, and the magnetism behind his performance easily makes Iron Man great, and may very well the movie’s biggest draw.
Having said this, I’m still surprised at what I’m about to say next: I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk more than Iron Man. Granted, I headed into the viewing with significantly lowered expectations – I wasn’t too fond of Ang Lee’s version, nor was I pleased to hear that Edward Norton himself was disappointed with the final cut of the movie. But despite that, I was amazed at how easy it was to get lost in the film’s immaculate balance of fine-tuned character development and riveting action. The storyline of the movie is arguably The Incredible Hulk’s least important component, but the movie mostly benefits from this simplicity. Bruce Banner’s slow-boiling trials with his rage and mutation really seemed as if it were a legitimate struggle, and the relatively small gains the Hulk makes in both cogent speech and rational decision-making at the end of the movie seem like monumental payoffs for the character. It also had something that Iron Man lacked – a bad-ass third act.
On a numeric rating scale, the differences probably seem negligible at the end of the day, but I won’t hesitate to give both movies my full-fledged recommendation.
In the meantime, if any of you scrubs want to challenge me to an online match of Brawl or a race in Mario Kart Wii, take a few moments to consider your request with the gravest of gravity: is a broken spirit and a shattered self-confidence in your ability to compete is worth the risk of going toe-to-toe with a legend?
[Unsurprisingly, Ashanti’s latest effort ended up being a complete drag. I’m beginning to think her career will never recover. As far as Weezer goes, I’m similarly convinced that I’ll probably never be able to enjoy these guys. Maybe Rivers Cuomo ought to take a short break from being such a archetypal narcissistic dick-hole ravaged by premature fame and a bloated sense of self-importance so he can consider taking the most important advice he ever gave anyone: get Timbaland to produce your next record. Seriously, stop making music.]
[The Boxmasters is Billy Bob Thornton’s latest country project and a strong contender for worst record of 2008.
Jakob Dylan’s solo excursion is predictably frothy and shallow, devoid of even the simple lyrical elegance that he reputably made a staple of in earlier records with The Wallflowers. It’s a real unfortunate artistic decline from an artist I used to really enjoy listening to.
Emmylou Harris sneaks up on us with an obligatory late-career covers album. I’m not usually crazy about this format (unless your name is Mandy Moore and your most creative record happens to be stuffed with excellent renditions of pop favorites), but it could be a lot worse than what the album actually is: serviceably pleasant.
After much deliberation, Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III is, miles and away, the best hip-hop record to come out this year. As with many rap records, it’s not without its flaws; it could be contended that the record suffers from sounding a little too glossy for a Lil’ Wayne album, and it closes a generally successful listening experience with a trio of misplaced stinkers (including a compulsory, nearly 10-minute hip-hop monologue about nothing but bullshit), but top-shelf production and a torrent of droll and deft punch-lines allow the most hyped hip-hop record of the last 2 years to stick its landing. It might not be the best thing he’s ever put out, but I don’t think there’s any other hip-hop artist as weird and prolific as Lil’ Wayne that’s more deserving of having the first Billboard entry to clear the 1 million unit mark in a 1-week period for the first time in over 3 years. Props to ya, you sinfully unattractive little man.
Alanis’ Flavors of Entanglement is not very good.
Somewhere else in the hip-hop sector, the brilliance of a production genius lurks in the darkness, trapped in the recesses of Pharrell’s body. You would think that after a teeth-pullingly terrible case of the sophomore slump on N*E*R*D’s Fly or Die, an inexcusably repulsive solo debut, and countless of tracks he’s ruined with his tuneless falsetto that the guy would catch the drift and let someone else more qualified shine on the hook of one of his jams. What we have instead is Seeing Sounds, a cluster-fuck of a rock album that cloys more than it amuses. As usual, N*E*R*D’s strongest suit in varying and detailed production is squandered by Pharrell’s indulgent impulse to step behind the mic – would it really surprise you that much if I told you that two of the record’s best songs are coincidentally the ones that hit the hardest and features no real singing on Pharrell’s part? The egos of renowned hip-hop producers are strange and immutable things, indeed. In small doses, The Neptunes’ newfound penchant for rock production can be a genuinely agreeable sensation; their 2 or 3 tracks on The Hives’ most recent album are supremely well-done, and Chad Hugo’s bits on Ashlee Simpson’s Bittersweet World were even a few notches above functional. Honestly, the only thing standing in the way from The Strokes possible making a great rock record with The Neptunes is Pharrell’s narcissism. I guess time will dictate how this one plays out…
17 June 16.Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends 17.Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
[Although Viva la Vida benefits greatly from Brian Eno’s production hand, Coldplay still manages to completely suck. I tried really hard this time, too.]
[One of the most transcendent moments in mash-up history is featured on ‘Still Here’ from Gregg Gillis’ Feed the Animals – the song features brilliant beat-mixing interplay with Teddy Riley’s syrupy introductory vocals to Blackstreet’s biggest hit, ‘No Diggity’, over the hypnotic slow-burn of Kanye West’s ‘Flashing Lights’. The album has a few other ingenious moments like this, although none of them pack quite the same wallop. Occasionally, Gillis shifts gears too fast and doesn’t allow some of the better instances of phrasing and beat-matching a proper opportunity to congeal, and some of the mash-ups just don’t work very well together; but you’d be hard-pressed not to consider this a generally seamless listen from a record based solely on being a patchwork of previously existing songs.]
[Reductively speaking, I’m interested in seeing whether or not Beck is able to break the gradual monotony of getting progressively worse with each album. Alternatively, I’m genuinely fascinated at what kind of political ruminations The Game might have in store for us. By my count, he’s never put out a truly bad album, which is more than I can say about his former compatriot, 50 Cent.]
[So how does Nas deal with being stripped of his right of titling his upcoming record Nigger? – he sidesteps the matter completely and releases a new album sleeve featuring his bare upper back with a series of whip lacerations patterning the letter “N.” Totally, mind-fuckingly brilliant. This isn’t even mentioning that he’s even got a truly awesome lead single attached to one of his projects for a change (Nas serves up another lyrically sprawling monologue while Polow Da Don continues to blaze a path of dominance in the production realm on ‘Hero’). God save us if this album ends up sucking too, however.
[The beat to ‘Put On’ is pretty cool, even though Jeezy still sounds lazy as hell, and even though Kanye ruins the entire thing with his T-Pain-aping vocoder effects. I’m not expecting too much out of this one.]
[With how great ‘Party People’ is, I’m not sure if pushing Brass Knuckles back this late into the summer is a very smart move. You’re conceivably going to need a second single to fill the void while people mark time for this album to drop, and I can’t imagine anything else being quite as awesome as ‘Party People.’ I’ll hold my breath, I suppose.]
[Missy’s never had a particularly strong penchant for creative album titles, but I’m fine with settling with this, considering some of the asinine options that were getting tossed around by in previous fan submissions. As for the bad news, three singles from this oft-delayed set have already leaked or dropped, and none of them (even the Danja-helmed ‘Best Best’) are very captivating. I love and respect Missy Elliott as one of the most premiere rappers in the game period – and not just “for a female” – but I’m not very confident she’ll be able to completely snap her drought of weak-sauce singles at the moment, even though she has all the resources to do so.
Solange Knowles, on the other hand, is possibly poised to release the winsome Freemasons remix of ‘I Decided’ stateside as the lead single, as opposed to the original mellower (read: more boring) version by The Neptunes. I’m curious to hear how the rest of this R&B/throwback slant on her album plays out.]
[So, it seems that official word on Nicole Scherzinger and all related projects is that she’ll be resuming Pussycat Doll duty full-time again for the upcoming release of Doll Domination, while the current version of her solo debut will be scrapped in favor of something – I presume – more listenable next year. In a pop climate that revolves around relentless aural consumption and instant gratification, this is probably the best move that she could have made. Nicole is a talented singer and performer, and not a single one of her songs, leaked or otherwise, really did her any justice.
I guess you could also say I’m mildly intrigued at the idea of new Fujiya & Miyagi material.]
[Michelle Branch is slated to drop a new solo record sometime this year, continuing in a similar vein set off by her project with The Wreckers. Although pleasant, I’m hoping for something a little less mainstream sounding on the second go.]
[Common’s reportedly aiming for a fun, summery dance joint on his upcoming album, but his first single, ‘Universal Mind Control,’ doesn’t really showcase anything that made Common likable in previous lifetimes. The futuristic beat by The Neptunes is definitely at odds with the man’s typical style, and he just sounds horribly misplaced on a club jam. Oh, well – after his last album, I guess there’s really nowhere else to go but up at this point.]
[Congratulations to Mr. Kelly for being acquitted of all 14 various charges of child pornography are in order, for sure. I was afraid I was never going to hear another jam like ‘I’m a Flirt’ ever again, but I’m glad that my fears were premature at best.]
I’m back in Dallas for a few more days, but I’m think I’m just going to use this intro space to free-associate with some segments of pop culture I’ve been recently exposed to; those of you interested in the albums portion of this journal should feel free to skip past this. Otherwise, here goes:
As my massive legion of readers all know, my fallout with American Idol is a well-documented event in contemporary American history. Simply put, it was the show’s gradual nosedive into vocal mediocrity with each passing season that finally drove me to call it quits on the program before the start of Season 6. We’ve been experiencing a seemingly endless surge of vocal artists with the ability to sidestep technical shortcomings in their voices through dubious alternative means, and this lack of transparency often makes it difficult to approximate the true quality and potential of vocal talent, especially on a glorified karaoke pulpit like Idol. Jordin Sparks, whose hopelessly inescapable single ‘No Rain’ is making a run at the Top 10 at the moment on mainstream radio, is particularly demonstrative of how even a brawny (and admittedly somewhat capable) vocalist like her can easily fall victim to facelessness and artistic meandering. Conclusively, being a passable, even half-decent singer doesn’t really cut it anymore these days – at least for me.
As a former fan of the show, however, I realize how easy it is to eschew the show’s inadequacies in favor of consuming basic, lowbrow aspects of each weekly installment. There’s something undeniably appealing and instantly gratifying about having the opportunity to become a critic every Tuesday night and scoring specific performances with superficial rating assignments (“Jesus, that was fucking terrible!”). That said, even monolithic dynasties such as this can only coast on the pillars of success of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood – the show’s only two notable commodities – for so long before people start to smarten up and abandon the program. I mean, c’mon, Clive Davis – do really expect Idol to rebuild any foundation of credibility on the back of David Cook, a seventh-rate Daughtry who in turn was already third-rate Scott Stapp (who, incidentally, was the Arbiter of Suck completely responsible for sapping the soul out of radio during the mid-to-late ‘90s)?
Luckily, even though the waning flagship program (as evidenced by its steady decline in ratings) will always be remembered as one of the first shows to open the reality television floodgates, Idol thankfully won’t always be mimicked in quality. One of my roommates Kyle and I had a pleasantly surprising time indulging in 2 or 3 back-to-back reruns of So You Think You Can Dance this past Saturday. The marathon was spiraling toward the close of the Season 3, but watching the show again reminded me of how much I enjoyed parts of the second season. ProTools, auto-tune, studio wizardry and a winsome, photogenic smile might land you a recording contract with a major label, but one would be hard-pressed to effectively “fake” dancing: you can either do it, or you can’t, plain and simple. On that front, viewers are at least guaranteed that contestants are – on the whole – reasonably talented dancers. Barring a couple of uninspired moments of weak-sauce choreography, there wasn’t really a single contender that I ruled out as being outright incompetent. The routines were consistently engaging, the contestants were sincere and likable, and even the hit-or-miss fashion presentation of host Cat Deeley managed to win me over more times than not. I, for one, am genuinely anticipating this summer’s fourth installment of the show.
The only thing truly tragic about this show is that the grand prize is some negligible amount of money as well as a slot as a performer in Celine Dion's blow-hard Las Vegas show. Winners and losers alike on Idol are landing recording contracts left and right every season; the least Fox can do is stick these guys in a freakin’ Justin Timberlake music video.
In continuing my elongated reconciliation period of sorts with reality TV programming these last few days, I spent four hours earlier yesterday afternoon immersed in a marathon of one of Donald Trump’s latest reality television excursions, Pageant Place, on VH1. I really don’t have a good enough reason for enjoying this show as much as I do outside the fact that it’s constant eye candy for a solid half-hour, but I don’t have any qualms with that. In the midst of the Miss Tennessee answer debacle at last year’s Miss Teen USA pageant last spring, however (which this show also conveniently covers in the latter half of the season), there is something oddly humanizing about the way these girls grapple with overnight stardom, more so in the monumentally catastrophic life mistakes the show’s 2 blondes commit. I was also rather fascinated with the ethnic representation in brought forth by both Miss USA (Rachel Smith, mixed black and white) and Miss Universe 2007 (Riyo Mori, Japanese). What’s not to like about a smart, gorgeous Tennessee bombshell with genuine philanthropic ambitions and the warmth of an endearing Japanese titleholder struggling with the nuances of the English language?
Other garbage reality shows that I’m going to try to (re)dedicate to the queue as time allows this summer are John and Kate Plus Eight, Top Chef, and America’s Best Dance Crew. Kaba Modern 4 Life!
In other miscellaneous news, 18 May saw a noteworthy milestone in the Barack Obama Democratic nominee/presidential campaign: he, in conjunction with a free concert put up by The Decemberists, was able to draw the attendance of a whopping 75,000 people. Naturally, conservative pundits have hastily marshaled a half-baked counterargument to the presses stating that it was Colin Meloy and Co. who were an equal if not greater draw on the ticket, but based on The Decemberists’ past touring history and the small venues that they reputably frequent, these paltry attempts to downplay the man’s accomplishments can be regarded as, at best, fucking absurd. I hope you guys haven’t been applying any of your stellar proficiency in mathematics in crafting the budget for your War on Terror in the Middle East.
Keep up the bang-up job, kids, and we’ll see you bitches in November. Obama ’08!
[The new side project by Arctic Monkeys front-man Alex Turner almost slipped past me, but I’m glad I managed to log in some time with him and The Last Shadow Puppets. Turner really reinforces his natural talent as a songwriter on this go and even delivers some surprisingly varied material musically. I gave Nouns one quick listen as well as a second one to make sure the record was still nothing more than a wall of static as well as complete shit; Kayo Dot was similarly off-putting in its inaccessibility and generally oblique musical direction. Clay Aiken, Craig David and Gavin DeGraw all expectedly turned in duds. Moving along…]
[Great, Death Cab notches down their first #1 album ever. Of course, it’s more worth it for me to slag Ben Gibbard off for being perennially irritating than managing the completion of his sellout cycle. Duffy establishes an arguably higher profile this time with the same level of sucktitude, and Dosh continues to break my heart with boring studio releases. I don’t recall too much of what Pitchfork darlings Titus Adronicus sounded like, but I think it’s safe to say that they most likely are terrible, as well.]
[Bun B manages to one of the best rap releases of this year and last year with his ode to Pimp C in II Trill. I’m always hard-pressed to name a song that Bun B or UGK were featured on that I truly just don’t like, and that’s mostly because Bun B is and has been the most consistent and authoritative voice in Southern rap for over a decade.
Islands trail in a close second place with their catchiest and most accessible indie record to date. After a couple of more revisits, Scarlett Johansson gets effort points for ambition and creativity, but massive deductions for having a truly terrible voice. As far as Re-Arrange Us goes, I’m typically predispositioned to loathe everything related to Mates of State, but thoughtful full band arrangements and the scaled back dissonance of Jason Hammel’s backup harmonies probably make this their best album by default.
Jason Mraz once again fails to impress with his third record, although it’s worth noting that the only song I kept off the set was his collaboration with Colbie Caillat. It’s a track that embodies virtually everything that I hate about the both of them and makes it no secret that it was crafted entirely to pander to audiences, but there’s little you can do in these instances of love at first site. AMIRITE?
The Ting Tings serve up probably the biggest disappointment of the month with their major label debut. This was somewhat to be expected – sales of the album are almost entirely going to be marketed on the basis of the 4 or 5 towering singles that have been making their blogosphere rotations these last few months, so there’s feasibly little incentive for the remainder of the tunes to be anywhere near as good. Still, it’s worth pointing out that parts of the record suffer from avoidable ailments of terrible track sequencing and even moments of musical identity crisis. These oversights are unfortunately too glaring and obtrusive for me to enjoy, even for a record designed to be a big, fun, dumb dance number. ]
[Well, I finally had a chance to hear both Ashanti and Jewel’s respective lead singles recently, and I at least think Ashanti’s on the right track for a change. She’s had a really underwhelming string of choice singles since – honestly – ‘Foolish’, so the fact that I even like this song is definitely a step in the right direction out of the limbo Christina Milian’s been banned to. Conversely, I was surprised and slightly disappointed at how much Jewel’s interpretation of country pandered toward that overly familiar brand of prairie side twang and independent brass sported by the likes of Miranda Lambert. I was hoping for murder ballads, psychotic monologues and crypt-keeping confessionals – or at least something a little more alternative sounding than this.
Ladytron and Aimee Mann maintain their consistent track record and don’t do anything particularly surprising on these follow-ups, but I firmly believe that fans of either will find plenty to enjoy regardless.]
[There will always be a soft spot for The Wallflowers in my heart, but as with most bands and artists from the ‘90s that I used to adore, Jakob Dylan’s going to have to seriously floor me with this solo effort before I kick him to the curb with his other compatriots (I’m lookin’ right at you, Chris Cornell).
Joan Wasser doesn’t steer her sophomore effort into a direction that completely breaks the solemn, mid-tempo mould of her debut, but she makes the best of it and turns in an elegant follow-up comparable to her staggering first record in almost every way.
I don’t have fully fleshed-out impressions of My Morning Jacket’s latest album, after resolving their past issues with unmanageably thick and overlong records with 2005’s Z, they’ve unfortunately fallen into old habits again here. That’s the only concrete comment I have to make at the moment.
I have mixed feelings about Alanis’ first single (in all fairness, nothing she’s done after Jagged Little Pill has ever managed to come close to its colossal greatness), but she looks pretty smokin’ in the video, so I’ll put my reservations on hold for now.
I have nothing to say about either tracks that have leaked off of N*E*R*D’s upcoming album, other than they’re both pretty awesome.
[One of my buddies and I tuned into some Top 10 video countdown on FUSE last week, and we saw a video that had Busta Rhymes, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda running around in the video. I thought it was a Fort Minor track featuring Busta and Bennington, and he thought it was a Linkin Park jam featuring Busta; suffice to say, we were both wrong as it actually was a Busta Rhymes track featuring Linkin Park. *shrug* As far as the song goes, it’s actually not bad – like I said before, though, Busta hasn’t seen the light of a decent record in years, so it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of his album plays out.
Alternatively, ‘Violet Hill’ – the first single off of Coldplay’s upcoming album – is a terrible, warbling mess. I’m no fan of their to begin with, but I’ve always recognized that Chris Martin has always had a distinctly acute ear for catchy pop melodies. This, by contrast, sounds like him sifting a slur through a broken megaphone. Oy, vey.]
[The biggest problem with twin vocalists is that you can never really tell who is ever singing lead vocals, or even exactly who contributed what to any track. That problem permeates the entirety of Fire Songs by The Watson Twins, and the album’s distinct lack of variety makes it a very plain listen.]
[So – this is what life has to offer 50 Cent after being ceremoniously spanked by Kanye West in last year’s hyper-publicized Clash of the Titans? Another shitty G-Unit album, this time with only Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks?
I sincerely hope this gets pushed back to T.I.’s release date slot.]
[Ne-Yo’s first single ‘Closer’ isn’t really anything to marvel at, but it shows promise of production that may very well be as diverse on his last album, which ought to be a good thing. Right?
And there’s finally some movement in The Pussycat Dolls’ camp. Everything related to this group has been mired in missteps and controversy: The Search for the Next Doll winner Asia Nitollano’s suddenly deciding to pursue a solo career, Carmit Bachar’s expulsion from the group, and lead doll Nicole Scherzinger’s constantly delayed solo album, most likely due to poor reception of her singles. The group’s official first single, ‘When I Grow Up’, is unfortunately not much of a step up from all of these things.]
[Perhaps it’ll be a great year in rap, after all. Preliminary single ‘No Matter What’ is not being promoted as the first single, but it seems like it’s a necessary reintroduction to a man who sounds hungry and ready to dominate the game all over again.]
[If the remainder of Nelly’s Brass Knuckles is anywhere near as infectious as ‘Party People’ (his flagship single), it’s safe to say that we are all in good hands. Producer Polow Da Don is currently blowing up the top half of the charts this year with his fantastic soundboard work on Usher’s ‘Love in This Club’, and that tenacity and ingenuity is no less apparent here on his hardest-hitting track this year. Additionally, Nelly hasn’t sounded either this eager or agile on any track in literally years, and Fergie’s presence actually goes a long way toward infusing the entire experience with an even more legitimate street sensibility: she jettisons her previously hijacked Gwen Stefani-styled talk-rap and convincingly makes Orange County SoCal sound like a pro factory filled with the hardest thugs and gangstas in the world. Plus, anyone who can trade triple-time verses with Nelly is pretty fucking straight in my book. I won’t lie, though: I completely prepared to be utterly disappointed.]
I’ve been struggling with my writing a lot lately, especially now since I’ve effectively decided to delay my ’07 year-end list ‘til after this semester’s finals are all said and done. Fortunately, positive feedback regarding some of my work has slowly been trickling in these last few weeks from people I would have never thought would have any vested interest in this sort of thing, so that is encouraging in the very least. Funny how people can get bored enough on Facebook to sift through someone else’s imported notes.
Anyway, I actually had impressions and a header image made out for the month of March, but between spring break and not being very motivated to do anything school-related for the first couple of weeks back in class, I ended up playing catch-up for the rest of the month and missed out on getting it posted. Sans a couple of early standout albums, I haven’t been completely captivated by anything that’s dropped this year. Luckily, there has been a fair share of interesting and interestingly bad musical excursions that compel me to write, so I’m just going to go ahead and throw up my thoughts on last month’s round of records anyway.
[Just to fill in the uninitiated: the February issue of Maxim featured a mostly negative advance blurb review of the latest release by The Black Crowes. Someone in the Crowes camp caught it fortunately and realized that it would have been impossible for anyone to have reviewed it as they hadn’t even sent out promo or advance copies to any publication. When confronted with the issue, editors immediately wrote it off as “an educated guess preview,” subsequently retracted that statement, and then issued a public apology.
The greatest irony here? – roughly half of anything published in Maxim is guaranteed garbage, but Warpaint did, indeed, suck. Give Stephen Malkmus a spin here and pass on everything else.]
[Don’t bother with anything here. Besides Snoop’s all-too-brief flirtation with artistic innovation on ‘Sensual Seduction’, it’s probably safe to say the guy’s most creative days are long behind him. Fat Joe, who’s usually good for at least 1 or 2 decent party tracks, drowns in a pap of its own self-imposed hip-hop mediocrity. Moby and Kaki King are both unbearably vanilla, and Randy Jackson can piss off for screwing over Kaba Modern on America’s Best Dance Crew. Status Quo? – Trash. Go headline a circus show at Wyclef Jean’s Crazy Calypso Carnival.]
[Be Your Own Pet thrashes through another 40 minutes of strident, unimposing indie racket. Danity Kane turn in a surprisingly serviceable sophomore effort that benefits greatly from top-shelf production from the likes of Danja, although some of the beats tread perilously close to a very distinct Blackout aesthetic, borderlining outright theft. DeVotchKa’s anticipated follow-up to the super-stellar How It Ends is, disappointingly, little more than a hollow extension of what came before it, but it still manages to be perfectly listenable. Flo Rida seemed like he was poised to garner the title of being 2008’s breakout hip-hop juggernaut, the overbearing aftertaste of platitude is all that remains after the 4 or 5 entertaining songs pass by on his debut. Yael Naim might be the new voice of Apple, but her debut betrays a considerably more exceptional feat: she’s even duller and more predictable than Feist. Finally, The Kills illuminate the dark and desolate 2008 scene with a punchy and rousing garage rock record full of snarl, grit, and (surprisingly) a beguiling competence for seamlessly weaving in catchy pop elements – easily their best effort to date.]
[This is a weird record, and I unfortunately mean that with less of the positive connotations that might have accompanied their debut 2 years ago. Fyfe Dangerfield’s vibrant ambition is only effective when tempered by some semblance of sonic cohesion, and Red regrettably succumbs to almost all the pitfalls that befell his earlier EPs in terms of inconsistency. Still, there are some remarkable instances of gratifying pop takeoff on a number of tunes, and is worth a cautious recommendation for people who don’t mind a little bit of cinematic bombast with their indie rock.
Blondfire’s long overdue LP was, one the whole, a run-of-the-mill disappointment. Did I really just wait 4 years to have my heart broken like this?]
[*deep breath* Man, this date is positively bustling with overrated-ness.
This just in: previous reports of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer outfit putting out yet another unspeakably dreadful record were, in accordance with minority belief, not exaggerated.
Gnarls Barkley fails to turn in anything remotely resembling the serviceable catchiness of ‘Crazy’, subsequently chalks it up to the press as wanting to not tread the same trodden trails, and secures their stature as one of the wackest, most overrated clusterfuck duos with The Odd Couple. My brain started hemorrhaging at the realization of how hollow of a producer Danger Mouse truly is, and that Cee-Lo is living, empirical proof that something as infallible as soul music can be atrocious. This white boy-pandering hip-hop shit has seriously got to end.
The tricky thing about the wildly popular emo darlings Panic at the Disco is that they’re often too easy of a target to pick on. My seething ire for the band has always been sifted through a filter of begrudging acknowledgment for at least the marketing genius behind their curiously theatrical ambitions. Now, though, the moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived, and the scorecards have been tallied up: you can’t fool the public twice with the same shitty record. I feel truly, madly, and deeply emancipated to be able to never give two shits about you fools ever again. I’ll gladly take My Chemical Romance any day.
Speaking of shitty records, have any of you guys ever heard of The Raconteurs before? They tried to pull a fast one on the press 3 weeks ago by rush-releasing their sophomore album online, so that everyone would have the equal opportunity to marvel at how weightless and faceless their super-group brand of sterile, one-take garage rock can be. Jack White resumes his role as the scripted MVP by proxy of the fact that either nobody knows or gives a flying trip who Brendan Benson or The Greenhornes are. How this is even as banal as their debut and simultaneously manages to be the worse entry is beyond me.
I never thought I would say this, but Jack is worthless without Meg. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.]
[Oh, Leona Lewis. How fortunate you are that today’s music listeners are so singles-oriented into their consumption, otherwise everyone would realize how asininely MOR your record really was. I have no problems with making the concession that ‘Bleeding Love’ is a beast of a catchy single, but only time will tell how much longer you can get by with riding on the coattails of your X-Factor triumph before bitter record label moguls crush spirits in a heap of artistic ruin. Enjoy your stay in the top slot this week before Mariah comes back again to pwns you all the way back to Sunday burrito brunch in London. With the newly-widowed Corrine Bailey Rae. At the local petrol station.
In other news, Peter Morén, the man who is 1/3 responsible for the obnoxious ‘Young Folks’, embarrasses himself with an epilepsy-inducing acoustic clunker of a solo album. I really don’t have much more to add other than I loathe Peter Bjorn and John.]
[Even with my proclivity for easygoing pop, I was still surprised at how much I enjoyed Mariah Carey’s latest. Her usually limited range of subject matter has benefitted greatly since her quasi-reinvention into (ironically) a media sexpot, as it’s been accompanied with a newfound sense of refined cool credible and convincing enough to guide current hip-hop and R&B trends as opposed to chasing them. Perhaps more unexpectedly, Carey makes accommodations for the deployment of vocal production tricks that we would’ve never dreamed she’d succumbed to 5 years ago (things like vocoders and auto-tune) to yield some interesting loops and effects; additionally, there’s also a great deal less of her trademark vocal grandstanding on this record, where she typically opts to obliterate our fine china around the 3-minute mark of almost any of her previous songs. This shift away from technical showboating goes great lengths to contributing to her leanest and arguably most focused effort, probably ever.
[I’m mostly unimpressed with everything I heard here. A couple of interesting points about Ashlee Simpson’s new record, though: parts of it were produced by Timbaland and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, and I think it’s worth mentioned that Hugo really is a great deal more instrumental to the creative impetus of The Neptunes than most people will give him credit for. Timbaland ends up recycling similar guitar loops he exploited on Shock Value last year, and it all ends up being not very good.]
[Considering how terrible of a megastar collaboration ‘4 Minutes’ turned out to be, the remainder of Hard Candy almost has no right whatsoever being as good as it is. Pharrell roughly splits production duties with Danja and Timbaland, and these three gentlemen actually manage to turn in some of their best, most engaging work in a long while. The entire ordeal still predictably ends up being an assortment of trend-chasing club tunes when you take into consideration all parties involved, but Madonna makes the prudent decision to ebb and flow with her collaborators’ melodies instead of fighting to make her imprint. A cautious achievement, if ever there was any.
Alternatively, Portishead absolutely astonishes with – dare I say it? – their best album ever. I sincerely hope I’m not shooting myself in the foot for this one.]
[Well, I really don’t think Missy Elliott’s album is going to be out on time for this date, so if anyone comes across official news of a delay, holla back. Estelle’s (sophomore?) album was decent on the first couple of go-throughs, but I haven’t spent enough time with it quite yet. Subtle’s latest is disappointing on the sheer basis that there’s virtually no sign of rapping on it whatsoever. It’ll be awhile before I get over having my feelings hurt and re-evaluate it more objectively. And holy mackerel! – Robyn’s eponymous international hit is finally making its way stateside. If this bitch doesn’t become a U.S. superstar, there is no God.]
[I’m certain I’m in the virtually imperceptible majority on this one, but I think Arm’s Way is the most enjoyable manifestation of anything ever related to either Islands or The Unicorns. I can see it being slighted for its greater accessibility and ease of listen, but the arrangements are a great deal more meticulous and remarkable than anything else they’ve ever done, and front-man Nick Thorburn has never been as compelling behind the mic as he is here.]
[One of the greatest musical moments of 2008 occurred 3 weeks ago when a remix of ‘Love in This Club’ featuring T.I. popped up on a hip-hop blog. Up until that point, I had been seriously contemplating what the song would have sounded like if Jeezy’s more superior ATL colleague were spitting fire on the joint as opposed to him, and I had my prayers answered. This will probably be the best R&B record of the next 45 years.]
[Ladytron’s upcoming album isn’t anything terribly different from what’s already out, but it’s a solid electronic listen regardless. My excitement for everything else here is well-documented, and I’m even willing to give Ashanti a fifth chance to dazzle me.]
[I’m repelled by pretty much everything Spencer Krug has ever been affiliated with, and Coldplay seem poised to ruin themselves on the basis of that terrible title alone. I have my fingers crossed for both Busta and Ice – neither one of them have seen the light of a truly decent rap album in quite a few years.]
[What really surprised me was that Sophie Barker, one of the many rotating door of vocalists of Zero 7, even bothered updating her website to let everyone know about her sophomore album coming out sometime soon.]
[Well, I’ve lost count after the third or fourth tanked single, but Nicole’s really got to get her shit together and develop the sense of mind to get rid of will.i.am as fast as humanly possible if her debut record is ever going to be up to snuff for public consumption.]