Thursday, February 15, 2007

kiss out the jams second-guesses 2006

The man?

Look, it's no secret to anyone who knows me that I eat, sleep, shit, breathe Robert Christgau. I develop withdrawal symptoms when his new Consumer Guide column is announced for February 1 and arrives three days later. I am fucking psycho for that shit. All-time greatest this, genius that, blah blah blah. . . he is more in tune with my taste than any other critic past, present or future and that is the hard fact. No one else is even close. When Pitchfork puts Wussy or Oruc Guvenc on their year-end list then we'll talk. Cynics berate that he just goes for the throat about major-hyped albums, or that he goes out of his way to state in print that he likes things like John Mayer and Brad Paisley more than Gnarls Barkley or Death Cab. But I admire him for that because he's obviously trying to piss people off. Who else is? Pitchfork pisses people off but won't acknowledge they're doing so; I don't know anyone who thinks Silent Shout was Album of 2006 or even close, but the 'Fork states like it's a hard fact and the rest of the world has to catch up. I read it daily--those are some thorough, up-to-date motherfuckers on that reporting staff--but I only agree with them when they are duh-obvious (The Woods, Fishscale). They fall victim to the worst tendencies of hype though, and Christgau is a refreshing anti-that. So I'm willing to ignore the fact he deliberately baits people by putting Outkast's Idlewild in his top ten over Clipse (why is that album suddenly underrated just as I get into it?) and Maria Muldaur's Ronstadt-like collection of Dylan's (Christ) love songs higher up than Ghostface, previously the only rightful A+ he's dubbed in years. INFURIATING, yes. But I'd rather be infuriated and still know who Wussy, Jesus H Christ And The Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse, Thunderbirds Are Now!, that dog and Imperial Teen are.

Anyway, my worst nightmare as a snob occurred and that new Christgau column (more than usual) forced me to look at some 2006 albums again that previously horrified or annoyed me. I'll have you know that Ys and St. Elsewhere sounded just like they always did, solid and excellent respectively.

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury

This one's been official for the last month or so, when I was basically in denial of how often I listened to it. Ultimately relieved when both Jackin' Pop and Pazz & Jop honored Ghostface first, I now feel bad for making such a big deal of what noncompetition this is. I was wrong; I know all of twelve of these by heart, even the difficult ones. The Neptunes have a gift for making the laziest trial-and-error beats transcend the simple and the discordant. Now, the rather inaccessible "Ride Around Shining," "Trill," and "Keys Open Doors" shine like beacons, albeit ones with a broken lens. "Chinese New Year," "Wamp Wamp," and "Momma I'm Sorry" remain the anthems, the masterstrokes. "Hello New World," "Nightmares" and the hypercatchy "Dirty Money" are the pallet-cleansers. If there's filler, it's still "Mr. Me Too." But there isn't. A

The Knife - Silent Shout

I can live with this record. I was not looking forward to hear it, with those stupid masks and all, but there really are some serious synth workouts here, even if the Pitchfork-approved title song and opener ain't one. Still, I wouldn't categorize this as something I'd go out of my way to listen to. It's just better than the Junior Boys. B

Lily Allen - Alright, Still

This one I just ignored. I don't know, something always puts me off about that token Year-End Rap-Related British Import on everyone's list (Dizzee Rascal, Run The Road, Lady Sov) and I wasn't impressed by the supposedly "wicked"/"clever" single. Joke's on me. Turns out "Smile" is one of the least realized tracks on a bright, fun album brimming with otherwise. Try the rollicking cocktail piano of "Knock 'Em Out," which has too much Mike Skinner for my girlfriend, or the slo-mo salsa-bounce "LDN," which has just enough. B+

Lupe Fiasco - Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

This and Nas were the two rap records this year that I respected but just wasn't interested in. I knew there was content in their flows and low-key beats but who wants subtle when you're preoccupied with Clipse, Ghostface and Lil' Wayne blowing shit up? I haven't gotten back to the Nas yet, but this one certainly repaid my attention better than I remembered. To give him a context: this is the new A Tribe Called Quest. People are calling it skate-hop, but it's hardly the first smart and chill album to wax rhapsodic about suburbia. So while "Kick, Push" is one of many tracks on here that originally read better than it sounded, this record is truly a nice, relaxed grower, even with its four or five filler cuts. B+

TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain

Ah-ah. Sorry. Ain't happening. Still boring as ass and duller than dull. Proof I was waiting for that they have no sense of humor: this week they accused the Village Voice of intentional racism even as its colleagues kissed their asses, for a cartoon of Bob Dylan running over their most recognizable member (not the singer). If Bob was running over Joanna Newsom would it be okay then, boys? Seriously, not winning any points. I can make out three actual songs at this point, albeit after a good five or six plays. Two of them are decent: I'll concede that "Playhouses" builds actual tension if you concede "Wolf Like Me" is competent but no one's Song of the Year. And the third one exemplfies the dealbreaker: you either love those sour horns and intentionally badly-chopped samples that kick off the "I Was A Lover," or you don't. My girlfriend and Christgau, two of the minds I trust the most, do. I don't. C

Jay-Z - Kingdom Come

This is the one I'm embarassed about. I should've known better not to trust the same blogosphere that hypes The Black Album and Reasonable Doubt like they're Revolver and Rubber Soul (that would be Vol. 3 and Blueprint) and shits on the completely solid Blueprint 2 and Dynasty. Relisten, I beg you, because even with what Murs calls "deterioration of the skills," there is only one bad track ("Show Me What You Got,") for the first, count 'em, eight songs. "Oh My God" and "Kingdom Come" are classic Jay and Just Blaze, absolutely slamming with their rearranged "Whipping Post" and "Superfreak" samples. "Lost Ones" rides an excellent, loping piano beat and I'm willing to forgive the line "Sorry I'm a champion" whenever that Erykah Badu-alike croons it. "30 Something" is actually very funny rather than whiny and defensive, and I shouldn't have put it past him to be so. And "Dig A Hole" is funny, too, in a whole different way; it's funny like the Jay-Z of old, the bratty kid who put out "Takeover" to earn his crown. There's still a lot of shit, though. Ruining Beyonce on "Hollywood" is inexcusable, and I'm not convinced by "Minority Report" any more than "Get Ya Hustle On" as a truly effective Katrina survey. "Beach Chair" is still dogshit. So leave it Rolling Stone to have provided the most accurate review in the first place, which I had every reason to believe was just one of their usual suckups. I'll up this a notch just cuz I love rooting for an underdog, a corner Jay's unwittingly (intentionally?) and deliciously put himself in again. B+

John Mayer - Continuum

Not my thing and I'm not having it. I like the single fine and pass on the album the way an Ambien user likes his rest but doesn't want to be in a coma. C+

Nellie McKay - Pretty Little Head

I've tried a few times to scour this disproportionate mess looking for gems amidst the tripe, and I've just given up. As much as I'd like to enjoy this record, to reaffirm McKay's overflowing cache of talent, I cannot get to the end of it. Even "Cupcake" or "Columbia Is Bleeding" aren't tracks I return to, even though I can stand them, and those are just the two I didn't force-feed my ears. Yes, there are decent songs scattered throughout here, and no, they aren't worth your time searching. Still a shame. Hopefully, Regina Spektor can keep picking up the gauntlet (and Xgau underrates her too). C

Cat Power - The Greatest

OK, so I missed less than three good minutes when I was ripping this apart. The blandly sweet "Could We" can now be added to the pantheon shared by "Hate" and "Love & Communication" as Songs From The Greatest That Don't Make Me Throw Staplers In Frustration. C

Crunk Hits Vol. 2

Only Christgau sticks a record like this in his top 4, and fuck, I won't even argue. Both this and TVT's new Hyphy Hitz comp have given me more ridiculous, goofy, drunk-ass pleasure than any other "party" record I can remember. Songs I hated become harmless, songs I liked become juggernauts. One after another, this is the best dirty-ass pop music money can buy. A-

Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped

Here's a new one. The most lauded album in ages by one of my favorite bands ever, agreed upon by myself, my favorite critic, every other critic, even my dad, bores and grates the shit out of me when I play it recently. Not that I ever put it in this year's top ten, or even Sonic Youth's top ten, but I felt my top 20 was appropriate. Now I'm not so sure. The first four tracks lock into place good as ever, but after "Sleepin' Around" I find everything so scant. Sonic Nurse moved, why does this just stop? I might change my mind in a month but for now this one just stagnates for me. Definitely nothing special in any case. A-

New York Dolls - One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This

I never had a bad opinion on this at all, it just never occurred to me as a Top 10 album until Christgau bet all his chips on it. It's just so normal, 13 straight rock songs with piano ballads in 2006? Doesn't that contradict all that fancy Ys/Cooke Mountain/Silent Shout jazz? But, fuck, does it keep getting better. And listen to the lyrics, they are smart. I've been playing this nonstop and I wouldn't even count it out as my fave Dolls album. So why shouldn't this be in my top 10? I'd certainly now put this and Clipse ahead of the Eef Barzelay if not Gnarls. Oops, that's that Christgau influence talking. Oh well. The pleasure's all mine. A

My 2006 top 15 would now read something like this:

1. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
2. Wussy - Funeral Dress
3. The Roots - Game Theory
4. Be Your Own Pet
5a. The Replacements - Don't You Know Who You Think I Was? The Best Of
5b. The Format - Dog Problems
6. Clipse - Hell No Hath Fury
7. Eric Bachmann - To The Races
8. New York Dolls - One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This
9. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
10. Eef Barzelay - Bitter Honey
11. The Rapture - Pieces Of The People We Love
12. Neil Young - Living With War
13. Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
14. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
15. Man Man - Six Demon Bag


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