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23 November 2010, 4:00 pm One Comment

New Music Roundup: This Week In Musicland

This post was submitted by Rohan

Hey guys! This is the last round-up of the year, because starting next Friday I will be counting down the top 25 (or so) records of the year five at a time. Thanks for reading!

Album of the Year Material:

Artist: Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
What the hell is it? Kanye West’s masterpiece
Sounds like a combination of: The mixture of the last four Ye records with more maximalist production
Recommended? I don’t give a fuck what performers do in their spare time. I don’t care when rappers get arrested, and I certainly don’t give a shit that Kanye stole an award from Taylor Swift, or called Bush a fucking racist. I care about the music, and this “Chi-town nigga with a Nas flow” KILLS IT! After taking time off and retreating to Europe, Kanye holed himself up in Hawaii with 40 or so of his closest friends being flown in and out to record what will become his best record yet. Kanye has always had the talent and has gotten close to creating brilliance, but here he is focused and a better rapper: “Do the rap and the track tripled up and no assist.” The maximalist epics start with “Dark Fantasy,” a choir-aided track with a quickie from Nicki Minaj in a (bad) British accent, and background vocals from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Other than the chorus, this is one of the few all-Kanye raps on the record, but the epic beat and luscious chorus makes it truly noteworthy. Kid Cudi steps in to take the chorus on the RZA-assisted “Gorgeous,” which finds Kanye rapping into some filter that makes his vocals sound lo-fi—don’t worry, it isn’t your speakers. The track is filled with guitars and even has a guitar solo at the end. “POWER” is where shit gets real. Kanye’s bigger-than-life persona gets his “theme music” over a beat with a King Crimson sample. Kanye takes on SNL and almost every hater he has in a song that is all bravado.

“POWER” leads into the cut everyone will talk about. “All of the Lights” has already turned heads for its massive (Rihanna, KiD CuDi, Tony Williams, The-Dream, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Elly Jackson [La Roux], Alicia Keys, Elton John, Fergie, Ryan Leslie, Drake, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis) guest list, but the marching-band beat with dueling horns and pounding drums is what takes the cake. While Kanye is an expert beatmaker, he does really bring it in his flow. Kanye references Michael Jackson, a man who Kanye is kind of like. For all the trouble Michael went through, he was first known for his music. Both characters are controversial figures, but let’s face it—Kanye will never be Michael, and I doubt he wants it that way. Another posse cut, “Monster” (Ft. Bon Iver, Charlie Wilson, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj), follows “All of the Lights” and it contains the best verse on the record, as well as one of the only low points. Yeezy’s verse is pure hilarity (“I put the pussy in a sarcophagus”) but Jay-Z’s listing of monsters and “Loooove” kill the song for me. Thank god Nicki comes in and drops 16 bars of pure pleasure/the best verse of 2010. Anyone who can come up with “Pink wig thick ass give ’em whiplash/ I think big get cash make ’em blink fast” is amazing in my book. “Devil in a New Dress” once again employs Rick Ross after an extended instrumental jam. The track has Kanye’s pitched-up soul samples that made him famous back in the day, but halfway through the track the beat morphs into something you might’ve found on a later Ye record. First single, “Runaway,” was redone with samples he used at the VMAs, as well as three minutes of autotuned masturbation at the end. Kanye’s ode to the “assholes and jerk-offs” can be seen as an apology to Taylor Swift, as well as a celebratory ego-boost. Only Kanye can make a song to perform both duties without losing his edge.

“Hell of a Life” is where things get dark. The track is all about being in love with a porn star where Ye sings “pussy and religion” is all he needs. The track could be considered a throwaway, but the beat is brilliant, and then when his voice starts shifting in verse three it is just another facet of Ye’s brilliance. The darkest moment here is the John Legend-assisted “Blame Game,” built off of Aphex Twin (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)’s “Avirl 14th”. Kanye sounds pretty run down, in the same mood he was on 808 & Hearbreak. The track ends with a Chris Rock skit that many will pass off, but for a track that clocks in at seven minutes (like most of the songs on here) and is straight darkness, it really adds some relief. The last track is a soon-to-be-setlist-closer, “Lost in the World.” Kanye takes Bon Iver’s “The Woods” and distorts it to make one of the most brilliant tracks of 2010. The track feels like the end credits of a movie, providing the last bit of rush out of an album of so many highs. Vernon helps Ye out on autotune, and when the epic tribal beat kicks in, Elly Jackson makes another appearance on background vocals. The track is all in its beat creation, as Ye’s raps are forgettable, but few producers can control that much going on at once and pull it off. Everything ends with a Gil Scot-Heron’s “Comment No. 1” which sums up the record in a nutshell. No matter what you think of Kanye the person, Kanye the producer/rapper is a genius—hands down.

Artist: Robyn
Album: Body Talk
What the hell is it? Final release from Ro0by’s ambitious Body Talk projects
Sounds like a combination of: Intelligent pop/the antithesis to mainstream stuff
Recommended? I have already reviewed 10 of the 15 tracks here, so let’s just do the new material, and let me say there isn’t a duff song. Like previous Eps, “Indestructible” is here in a fully fleshed-out electronic form, and it is fantastic. Though it is not as immediate as “Hang With Me” or “Dancing on my Own,” it is an excellent single. “Time Machine” pairs Robyn with collaborator and pop wunderkind Max Martin. The track explodes in the chorus, and just seems so fit for Robyn. “Call Your Girlfriend” is both sad and uplifting at the same time. Robyn commands a guy to break up with his girlfriend so he can fully be with her and while we hope it ends well it could just end in failure. “Get Myself Together” and “Stars 4-Ever” are two perfect pop songs. In overall quality this batch of new tracks is better than Part 2 and reaches the height of the brilliant Part 1. Robyn includes ever great track (including the better radio version of “Dancing on my Own”) from the first two volumes making this the disc you need. If you have the other two records already just download the five remaining songs, you won’t be sorry.

Really Good:

Artist: Muscles
Album: Younger & Immature
What the hell is it? New EP from the formally retired dance producer
Sounds like a combination of: Happiness encapsulated into dance jams
Recommended? Australian producer Muscles was supposedly retired and got into a fight with his label and decided to quit everything after his debut Guns, Babes and Lemonade dropped in 2007. Now a full three years later he is back with more happy techno that, while the title states he is Younger and Immature, this is anything but. The sugar rush of his debut is still intact, but there aren’t any tracks that reach the levels of “Sweaty” here. Opener “Forever” works as a reintroduction to the brilliance of Muscles. The track is the most buoyant song on here, as lead single “Girls Go Crazy” is a darker track that has a slight Captain Ahab influence, just not as vulgar. The five-song EP ends with “Northern Beaches,” an all-around party track. If you’ve never heard of him buy his debut record, but for those who missed Muscles, just be known he’s back.

Artist: Girl Talk
Album: All Day
What the hell is it? A new record from Girl Talk, released for free
Sounds like a combination of: You know the drill by now
Recommended? This record has no surprises. It is way better than Feed the Animals, not as good as Nightripper, but instantly enjoyable. You’d think his schtick would’ve been played out a long time ago, but he delivered a record that we didn’t know we needed till you listened to it. I mean, Fugazi and Rihanna? Brilliance. We’ve all had this for a week so there has been some unpacking, but a full digestion will take longer.

Artist: Girls
Album: Broken Dreams Club
What the hell is it? Brand new EP from the Californian rockers
Sounds like a combination of: Soul Asylum at the beach with horns and shit, Elvis Costello
Recommended? People love Girls. They have painfully bad lyrics, but they make the kids go crazy. Their debut had moments of brilliance, but not enough for it to be an album of year. This new stopgap EP is actually a move forward for the band. “Oh So Protective One” unleashes a new trick for the band, horns. Christopher Owens sings in his lower register and gets a tiny bit Elvis Costello. “Heartbreaker” is traditional Girls territory, though it seems as if they have polished off their lyrics and added more oomph to their jangely rock. “Broken Dreams Club” is a waltz of a rocker with pedal steel guitars. It is an ultimate indie-rock slow-dance song. The highlight here is “Carolina.” The track starts with a psychedelic vibe and takes a full three minutes before the vocals start. When the song reaches the chorus at minute four it resembles a Girls track, though the backing music is still much different than anything they have ever done, though the verses have the progression of “Hellhole Ratrace” but it takes the track further.

Artist: Russian Futurists
Album: The Weight’s On The Wheels
What the hell is it? A Brand new Russian Futurists record. First in 5 years!
Sounds like a combination of: Electronic Indie Pop
Recommended? Matthew Adam Hart knows how to make jams, and this record has its share of them. It just seems that after five years of silence more could be asked for. Unlike previous records, Hart employed an outside producer pushing the project into further hi-fi zones. Bouncy opener, “Hoeing Weeds, Sowing Seeds,” is an excellent start to the album. After five years it shows why we missed the RFs. The track is punchy and danceable. The only other full-on dance euphoria is “Tripping Horses” which is just as good. Hart goes for hip-hop in the semi-spoken rap of “100 Shopping Days Till Christmas” which is a standout. “Plates” has a beat that is part hiphop and part chillwave that is equally passable. The true highlight is the duets “One Night, One Kiss.” For all the catchy choruses on the record, this takes the cake. If you are in need of a pleasant indie-pop record look no further. Hart is a perfectionist.

Artist: Yelawolf
Album: Trunk Muzik 0-60
What the hell is it? Debut from the Alabama rapper
Sounds like a combination of: Eminem if he was a meth dealer
Recommended? I’ve mentioned Yelawolf on the site before. The first time I heard him, he was performing at the Fader Fort at SXSW in March. Months later we get his official debut following his free mixtape Trunk Muzik. This record takes classics from that mixtape and amps them up, putting them around newer tracks. Of the new material, “Get The Fuck Up” brings heavy bass and gunshots to an all-out party jam. “Daddy’s Lambo” has one of Yela’s signature choruses, and the Gucci Mane-featuring “I Just Wanna Party” cements Yelawolf’s pop crossover. Yelawolf knows the southern streets as well as he knows meth. His drug-induced tales aren’t that high-quality shit, but redneck basements and tales of killing motherfuckers who want to step. He isn’t as sadistic as Eminem, but it is a starting point, not only because they are both white and have been around drugs, but the cleaner production on this record makes Yelawolf sound even more like classic Em than ever before. The older hits like “Pop The Trunk” and “Good To Go” have been remastered, adding deeper bass and a more oppressive beat, which makes this a real thrilling listen.

Artist: My Chemical Romance
Album: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
What the hell is it? The fourth album from the alternative, formerly emo, epic Queen rockers
Sounds like a combination of: Less pomp and circumstance and more party in the destroyed world
Recommended? If there was ever a record that would mark being over a previous period, this is it. No longer a dark moody band making a Queen-sized epic based on cancer, the band have brought in the synthesizers and bright colors for a different concept. Really I don’t get the concept, and the story is hard to follow. If you want to know what is going on, use your search engine and Wikipedia it. Otherwise Gerard Way and his motley gang are back and are ready to just have fun and nothing says that more than opener “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” with it’s really odd/funny lyrics (“Fuck like a Kennedy,” “Hit the party with a gas can”). It is a gleeful singalong that is miles beyond the band’s previous material. There are the slower, more moody songs, like “Bulletproof Heart” and “Sing,” but those morph into upbeat rockers, the former sounding like a slower version of “Party Hard” (same chord progression, at least). The first concept for the record was to make a Stooges record, and while they abandoned that there are traces of garage rock in tracks like “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W,” “DESTROYA” and closer “Vampire Money.” MCR have been a guilty pleasure for me, and really this record proves them as a great band. They know what they are doing, and it is probably the most intelligently created thing on modern alternative radio right now.

Artist: Ke$ha
Album: Cannibal
What the hell is it? Cash in EP from the trash queen
Sounds like a combination of: Brushing your teeth with a bottle of jack, partying all night
Recommended? Ke$ha is a punching bag around these parts. Her lyrics are dumb, but she has her subgenre on lockdown. She writes songs about partying, accompanied by the magic that is Dr. Luke and Max Martin. She dresses like a whore, and in general is slut-core. But honestly we need her. With other pop songstresses like Lady Gaga trying to take themselves too seriously it is fun to have someone willing to take the piss. Cannibal is what Ke$ha does best, and compared to the scattershot Animal it is the most focused release in her meager discography. I enjoy most of the tracks on here, but let’s start with the duds. “Cannibal” is pretty horrible. It is one of the few times her lyrics just grate on you, plus she makes a pretty unforgiveable grammatical error. But it is almost all aces from there. “We R Who We R” is a fun dumb song, just what she does best. “Sleazy” is just that, a dirty tune made even better by the Bangladesh beat. The beat is really what makes the song work, especially in chorus two when the tinkling piano rolls in. “Blow” and “Crazy Beautiful Life” are more club songs, while “The Harold Song” is the only moment of weakness. It actually is a passable enough ballad to not skip. “Grow A Pear” is where things get a little sketchy. It is akin to Katy Perry’s (offensive to some, but not me) “Ur So Gay.” In the track Ke$ha whines that she can’t “date a dude with a vag.” Most readers here will find this offensive, but I don’t think it is enough to condemn her. This isn’t for everyone, but I don’t care how indie-rock-scenester-bullshit-punk-rock-asshole you think you are, at least one song on here will make you nod your head. Don’t fight it.

Not So Hot:

Artist: Rihanna
Album: Loud
What the hell is it? The fifth record from the RNB popstar
Sounds like a combination of: A return to form for Rihanna who tried to go dark after being abused
Recommended? Pop stars like to reinvent themselves all the time. Rihanna has worn many hats over 5 albums. From the Barbados flavor of Music of the Sun to the 80s-sampling but still reaction leaning of A Girl Like Me, to the big pop moment of Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna’s progression as a pop force was cemented in tons of singles and releasing albums at head snapping speed. Last year’s misstep Rated R was so dour it was no fun. After the album of her career RiRi was too bad feeling sorry for herself that she created this dark persona that no one could believe. The one standout, “Rude Boy,” served as a place to come up for air, but the rest was too murky for crossover. A year later RiRi has red hair and is softer than ever before, but she has taken all of her personas and put them into one hodgepodgey record with a few brilliant songs and too many damn acoustic guitars. Lead single “Only Girl In The World” is big and lives up to the album’s title. It is a pure pop rush that when around shit tracks like “California King” and the unforgivable “Cheers (Drink to That)” it sticks out like a sore thumb. Opener “S&M” has a beat like “Only Girl,” but I can’t see Rihanna really into “whips and chains” and the thought of “sex in the air, I don’t care I like the smell of it” disturbs me. Drake’s cameo in “Rude Boy,” akin to “What My Name,” is pleasant, but RiRi steals the show. Along with Nicki Minaj’s “Raining Men,” the three highlights of the record are easy to spot. The inclusion of “Love the Way You Lie (Pt 2)” was a mistake, as that song sucks as much as the original. Overall this is a record perfect for iTunes. Buy the hits, fuck the rest.

Artist: Nicki Minaj
Album: Pink Friday
What the hell is it? Nicki’s debut
Sounds like a combination of: Something that could’ve been incredible, gone incredibly wrong
Recommended? Nicki Minaj has proven herself one of the most adept rappers in the world. Since her scene-stealing moment on the “Five Star Bitch” remix, to her brilliant mixtapes and DVDs, and her appearance on the Young Money record, Minaj is your go-to if you need a verse. And everyone has hit Minaj up, from Mariah Carey trying to make a last single grab, to Usher trying to revive his lothario ways after a divorce. But where does this leave Nicki? This is her moment, the first time she can put all of her different sides together, because for the biggest cartoonish rapper in the game, there has to be a way to keep the crazy in check. Pink Friday is overworked and while it has brilliant moments, whoever told Minaj to go pop should be fired. This is the bitch who dropped the best verse of 2010 (Yeezy’s “Monster”) and who is known for her quick wordplay and going batshit crazy. This Nicki is tame and where her Barbie World mixtape was able to showcase all of her sides this just fails. “I’m The Best” would be great if the beat was a little harder and Minaj sounded harder or even hungrier. The only time she gets hungry is on the brilliant “Roman’s Revenge,” where she takes on her haters (see: Lil’ Kim), cutting them down in just eight bars. Then you have Eminem on some evil shit that is probably the best thing he’s done in a while. Nicki claims to be a “bad bitch” and a “cunt,” but after this face-melting track everything feels like cotton candy. “Did it On ’Em” doesn’t try to go pop, which is a relief, but her “shit” jokes just feel a tad stale. Sure, Nicki’s verses “If I had a dick I would pull it out and piss on them” are great, but the chorus is lacking.

“Right Thru Me” is one of the worst records of 2010. Sure it is soft Nicki, but it is pretty awful. “Fly” featuring RiRi would’ve sounded better on Rihanna’s record, and while the drum & bass beat of “Save Me” is pretty awesome, it is utterly wasted on Minaj. The trio of cameos, “Moment 4 Life” w/ Drake, “Check It Out” w/ will.i.am, and “Blazin” with Kanye West, fill out the middle second and all three are passable songs. “Check it Out” should fail, but Minaj’s verses are awesome, but of course will.i.am just brings things down. “Blazin” is a high point, sampling “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and is the last great track off the record. There are no words for “Dear Old Nicki” and “Last Chance” with Natasha Bedingfield (?!?). Nicki is a great guest character, much like another go-to-rapper-for-12-bars-with-a-comic-personality Ludacris, except this isn’t Nicki’s Back for the First Time, more like her Release Therapy.

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