05 December 2006

'tis the season

already? yeah...i guess so.

my bud bedbugs is already pulling out his hair re: ye olde year-end reckid-reckoning extravangantza. seems a bit early to be sweatin' it, but then he's semi-legit at this game, and i'm just a has-been poser. still, unlike last year (when i got goofy with the adjectives, and ten days late to boot), i'm back down with the pose, pumped for some numeroquantic arbitrication, and fully intending to fill out and submit my questionably-valid p'n'j ballot. (hey, this is a "publication," right? i've got at least as much integrity as the voice music section.)

besides, i'm just in better shape for it now. my fandom was politically reinvigorated in '06, as my idiosyncratic lists will attest; there's more at stake than simple darnielle-worship. i've been following along pretty well, and i'm ready to play. haven't yet tallied my ytd album purchases, but i am prepared to frighten myself. meanwhile i've got my "2K6 singles" itunes playlist up and running (74 and counting.)

i can pull off this cheer, this year.

i put together a first-stab albums list today. very much subject to change of course, but i am fairly confident about the contents of my top five, if not necessarily the order: paris, girl talk, the knife, the ark, and junior boys. all of them significantly poppy and electronicky, and all very fresh-sounding, but also (in some cases unexpectedly) remarkably cohesive and listenable. when i actually think about, it's striking how varied a group those five are in terms of image and origin given their musical affinities, but my more immediate reaction is that that list doesn't very well reflect the diversity of my listening habits in '06.

for one thing, it's not like i gave up on guitar-indie as a whole (camera obscura, pb+j, belle and sebastian, and neko case are all serious contenders), or even straight-up rock (the strokes are currently holding it down at #6, and unlikely to slip.) that said, i'm not the least bit interested in tokenism; indeed i'm rather pleased that i may well end up repping for album-format chart pop with a clear conscience, assuming that cassie and b'day continue to hold up. (the veronicas have potential too, and i've still not heard fergie and jojo's albums, among others.)

don't really want to harp on the list though, not yet. there's still a lot to be worked out. here are some more or less recent additions to the stack that are giving me food for thought these days:

right. so thus far i've had more to say about ys, allusively and in passing, on reminced than here. which is fine; bloggers the 'sphere around have me covered there. hoopla (which in this case i find myself refreshingly, albeit not atypically, indifferent to) aside, i've all along been more than eager to accept it as a full-blown masterwork - it's just such a seductive proposition, immacutely pedigreed and all, even more a safe-bet new literary epic than against the day... - and i still have no doubt that it is; that's not the issue. but i'm a little afear'd i might have too facilely mythologized it on a personal level, that my relationship with it has gotten too involved and co-dependent, too deep too fast to second-guess, before it's even had a chance to really develop. so like i start to panic when i put it on and i'm not immediately enraptured. okay, naturally something with this level of self-consciously signified magnificence is going to take patience and presence of mind to engage with honestly, first-blush headrush notwithstanding. (and no matter how effin' pretty she-slash-it may be, moron.)

maybe by next time i'll have something to say about the music (and not just rehash what those other trend-jumpers have to gush but what it really means to me alone, don'tyouknow it was a sign that i was pedstruck on the way to her concert...) (to be honest, i'm still majorly bummed out that the meteorite chorus is blatantly factually inaccurate, what are you, trying to tease us jo, what? what does it all mean??) in the meantime (sigh) i leave it at #7 on my list, earnestly wanting to believe that it deserves to be on top, waiting for it to put its hand on its heart and whisper its deepest secrets to me. (if nothing else, i should be more careful about when i decide to put this on.)

'nuff heartbreak. rhymefest's debut, which i picked up almost on a whim a few weeks back and was pleased to find easily surpasses the superficially similar lupe fiasco record, will definitely not land in my top 10, but these days it's got a good shot at 20, as i've been listening to it as compulsively as anything. not much to say about him as a rapper - a couple of lines stand out but in general he seems merely adequate, or average (whichever is better.) some sticky subject matter (as xgau warns) minorly gums up the midsection, but at least he keeps the tone light throughout. much credit for that is owed to the bouyant, sample-happy production: this is gloriously, unabashedly hook-snatching pop fare, offering almost girl talk-calibre cheap-deep-thrills in places.

i'm frankly ashamed to admit i didn't even spot the double sharon jones sample (!!!) on "brand new," which is built on a guitar lick and an (unconscionably obnoxious) snippet of sharon's voice, from two different tracks on dap-dippin'. that was the lead single, and it's mildly disposable (the atypically un-pc chorus doesn't help), but it is a reasonably accurate representation of the album. which is the point: this is almost the hip-hop version of so-disposable-it's-worth-keeping-around no-pretensions pop (would that be extreme?) check out the ridiculous "fever" for another example (not kylie, that's la lupe doing peggy lee.) not that that makes the album unique - i love how willing tough-guy rappers are to flow over totally goofy tracks. the dearth of skits may not be unique either, but it's nice; the two sermon-like spoken interludes are well-incorporated.

what does make blue collar somewhat unique is how much stronger it gets in its second half. the album's true highlights are kept in reserve until close to the end, from the cheekily strokes-cribbing "devil's pie" on (serious shades of jay-z's "lucifer" that one, only wish they hadn't spoiled the fun by giving the sample away at the beginning) to the funky, harder-hitting "bullet," based on a sample and guest spot from citizen cope (about whom i know nothing.) easily the best thing on here, though, is the final track, which basically consists of ol' dirty bastard singing "build me up buttercup," with 'fest contributing cute boy-meets-girl lyrics and a WHMS shout-out. after a dozen listens it has never failed to give me a big stupid grin - the album is almost worth picking up for that alone. shimmy-shimmy-ay-shimmy-eye-shimmy-oh.

a dark horse, this one. and sort of a puzzle. for one thing there's the question of why i haven't been hearing about this album all over the place, something i've been wondering ever since i picked it up (for four bucks) mostly on the basis of the eccentric guest list and robyn association. it's either because i haven't been listening, or nobody else has. i think. on the one hand, this album feels way, way, way too easy, like it's a never-true cliche but honestly almost anyone could have made it. of course that complaint is not only overly glib, it's irrelevant; the correct comeback is: "okay, but only teddybears actually did." and what exactly did they do? apart from getting neneh cherry, elephant man, mad cobra, iggy pop (!?), and (via mp3 bonus trax) annie and diplo all to appear on one album, which is (mega-bizarre) accomplishment in itself.

well, they made an unexpectedly cohesive record - despite generous borrowings from/excursions into dancehall, sugar-rush girl-pop, "punk", motorik minimalism ("magic kraut"), and even dubby ambient lounge ("alma") (and - oh yeah - despite the fact that these guys used to be a "hardcore noise band"!?!), the ever-present heart of soft machine's sound is unadulterated electro-pop. not the "sleek", "icy" variety purveyed by some of their fellow scandinavians, but warm-blooded, muscular, full-throttle electro, with a luscious sonic density (fleshed out by guitars, often as not, but who's complaining?) that i'm hard-pressed to liken to anything else in the current pop landscape. all that on top of an everpresent club-ready pulse, keeping the whole thing eminently danceable despite ample layers of sound and personality that disguise its stark utility.

the songs average about one melodic idea apiece, which generally has to serve as both verse and chorus, with minimal alteration. the impossibly shiny "yours to keep," for instance, does little more than reiterate its uncannily satisfying three chord loop beyond any reasonable notions of "song structure," and somehow it works. and "cobra style" hardly even bears mentioning, the sort of thing that already felt ubiquitous the first time i (consciously?) heard it. kind of weird that an album so focused on blatantly simple hooks would function so well as a cohesive unit, without feeling piecemeal or annoyingly samey. doubly so since with the cavalcade of guests one starts to wonder where exactly the teddybears are in all this. key to both of these puzzles are the three or four instrumentals (the only tracks not to feature guests), the almost subliminal glue holding the whole thing together, which demonstrate that these guys have a decent, possibly mylo-ish ("black belt" in particular) instrumental electronic record in them. good thing they decided instead to hook up with some friends and come up with what's either one of the more remarkable pop albums of the year, or else a frighteningly addictive bit of novelty fluff whose appeal will soon become as mystifying to me as its unheralded stature is right now. i can't deny that heaps of it smacks of disposability...but somehow that's getting be less and less of a dirty word around here.

(and all that said, it didn't quite make the top 20 on my current list. but we'll see.) hokay. good enough for now. next time maybe i'll see what i have to say about henrik schwarz, peter bjorn and john and the pet shop boys, all of whom are vying for top 10 slots. (camera obscura's is fairly secure, though that will bear some discussion too.)

singleswise, i'm a ways off from any sort of commitment ('cept the #1 slot has been sewn up since february), but here are a couple noteworthy jams that for whatever reason have escaped notice over at dave's neurotic master list:

Belle and Sebastian, "Blues are Still Blue", "White Collar Boy"
Beyonce, "Irreplaceable", "Ring the Alarm"
Camera Obscura, "Lloyd, I'm Ready to be Heartbroken", "Let's Get Out of this Country"
Cassie, "Me&U", "Long Way 2 Go"
Cat Power, "The Greatest"
Charlottle Church, "Moodswings"
Ciara, "Promise"
Jojo, "Too Little, Too Late"
Junior Boys, "In The Morning/The Equalizer"
Justice vs. Simian, "Never Be Alone"
Justin Timberlake, "My Love"
The Knife, "Silent Shout", "We Share Our Mothers' Health"
Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push"
Mountain Goats, "Woke Up New" (not sure if there's a single, but there's a video)
Okgo, "Here it Goes Again"
Pet Shop Boys, "Minimal" (better: Trentemøller's mix of "Sodom", and Mayer's of "Flamboyant")
Peter, Björn and John, "Young Folks"
The Rapture (?)
Rihanna, "Unfaithful"
Scissor Sisters, "I Don't Feel Like Dancing"
Spank Rock, "Sweet Talk" and "Backyard Betty"
The Strokes, "You Only Live Once"
Sway, "Products", "Little Derek"
Teddybears, "Yours to Keep"
T.I., "What You Know"


Anonymous said...

Wow I do need to update that list. Cassie (for instance) is in my top 20 singles. Lessee...haven't heard the new B&S yet except once in Old Navy or something, both Beyonce songs are very good but don't make my list (ditto the album, though maybe it just hasn't clicked yet. I actually have a very similar reaction to her and Timberlake, where I recognize something in it but don't really care to go back. Which I will do anyway, so who knows...more of a chance of clicking with Beyonce than Timberlake, anyway), Ciara and Jojo are both awesome (I put "Get Up" on my list and "2L2L" just missed it), think I gave that OK Go song its highest score the week they dangled it in front of the peanut gallery, meh on PSB, actually prefer "Unfaithful" to "SOS" at this point but neither made the list, still don't "get" the Knife, "Kick, Push" = good, haven't listend to PB&J really, love those Spank Rock tunes but they haven't stayed with me, meh on Scissor Sisters, TOTALLY forgot about the Strokes this year, even though I kinda liked their album, can't remember what that song sounds like though. And speaking of guitars, the Raconteurs single that's technically eligible for voting on Radio Disney is pretty darn good. (Also forgot about Camera Obscura, that song's lovely but probably wouldn't make top 20.) OK Stop.

Frank Kogan said...

The Teddybears alb had one of these incredibly floating release dates, finally came out in Aug. or Sept. but as a small release to indie stores, with a big release due early in '07. Mixed feelings about the alb; weak songs beyond the top three or so, and of those three, the Teddybears' did 'em better in versions that aren't on the album: there's an original version that I haven't heard of "Punkrocker" from back in the day without Iggy, then there's Thomas Rusiak's "Hiphopper" which was "Punkrocker" with different words and far better than the Iggy; there's the Teddybears' first (I think) version of "Yours To Tell" f. Paola, even better than the Neneh Cherry version; and there's Robyn's recent version of "Cobrastyle," better than the Mad Cobra. (And for that matter, Blog 27's cover of "Hey Boy" is better than the Teddybears', neither of which is on this alb.) Teddybears can write great material, but they have this tendency to undercut themselves, too many distancing effects or something. I felt the same thing about the Caesars (f. one of the Teddybears). They don't have their own frontperson, so star presence and charisma are often missing.

Frank Kogan said...

Teddybears don't have their own front person, that is.

Ross said...

haven't heard the earlier versions of the teddybears songs so i can't comment. i don't think the robyn version is better except inasmuch as it's robyn and the synth part is really cool, but it doesn't make much sense except in reference to the mad cobra version.

i think the thing that impresses me (and that i find so strange) about the album is that it has a consistent underlying feel despite the crazy range of frontpeople, and despite the songs being inanely simple and unsophisticated. (and if the songs are even better in other incarnations, that's all the more impressive.)

i'm not sure it'd be quite so exciting except it seems like nobody else is doing this particular aesthetic (poppy electro-rock, i guess), at least not at the moment. more than anything it reminds me of some fatboy slim stuff.

DAVE: you don't get the knife because you don't like techno. is that it?