A group to discuss what you think are this year’s best albums. No genre discrimination. It would be nice if you could narrow down your albums to ten and list them like so:
Band – Album
Genre (if you can)
A blurb about why you think the album is good.
Hope this group isn’t a stupid idea. Feel free to let me know if it is.
Not a Stupid Idea
July 8, 2014 at 9:09 am #112634
Sam MacParticipant@samcmacLevel 3
Could use a group avatar though.
#1: Wussy – Attica!
Indie-rock, alt-rock, unsung heroes
Along the Yo La Tengo—Sonic Youth continuum Chuck Cleaver’s post-Ass Ponys indie-rock outfit has been judged against, their latest is more the latter, all dense sonics and tribute songs to the Who and Lisa Walker making like a more approachable, countrified Kim Gordon. Her and jittery husband Chuck Cleaver split vocal and writing duties just about evenly on their best album, and true to form both come up with an array of poetically beguiling takes on love (“Attica!”), mortality (“Beautiful”), and, er, lightning (“To the Lightning”). Christgau’s been toting this couple since their collaborative infancy, and while their melodic and lyrical gifts have never been in question, early albums tended tentative with regard to studio competency (2005’s ‘Funeral Dress’) or sonic sameness (2009’s ‘Strawberry’). This one, though, has just the right variance of tones and tempos and instrumental change-ups, making it their strongest set musically, with their established gifts suffering no loss in the process.
#2: Future – Honest
Hip-hop, R&B, punk (no, really)
Hip-hop/rap is at the point in its evolutionary process when it should begin to assimilate its influence into the make-up of whatever contemporary music is, and artists like Kanye, Future, and ok fine, Drake, understand this. They’re forward thinking enough to recognize the potential of their principal art form taking on a hybrid through their own personalized influences. With future, that personal style is built around a trifecta of hip-hop, R&B/soul, and punk, with a foundation in such a strikingly assured sense of melody that it almost seems cheapened by its ease. But he’s just that gifted. ‘Honest,’ specifically, is a personalized mission statement: from the opening “Look Ahead,” by far the most adventurous sampling (Santigold and Amadou and Mariam) on a record largely devoid of samples, to “T-Shirt,” a great semi-retrospective move, both in its formal qualities — bearing resemblance to Future’s early club bangers more than anything else on this record — and its lyricism, which is a stock-taking catalogue of self-referents (“I woke up in that new bugotti”; “freebandz”) grounded in the affecting, myth-making sentiment of “being on a t-shirt,” or more specifically the symbolical power and influence that achievement represents. The rest of ‘Honest’ is less structurally rigorous than theme-fitting, running the gamut from dope-dealing reminscence-cum-nightmare to a few well-chosen blasts of his new-formula punk aggression, beta tested in “Same Damn Time,” perfected on “Shit!,” which gets a bonus track status here (probably because it’s just too big for this album; descendants “My Mama” and “Covered N Money” are inferior but don’t fuck the flow as much). It’s not surprising that the hip-hop core isn’t taking to ‘Honest’ like the year’s best hip-hop album that it is, like so many ‘heads didn’t take to the last two Kanyes. But the fact is Future, like Kanye, is an artist more concerned with the long game. And his ‘Honest’ is excellent product as much as it is genre (and sub-genre) terraforming for the, er, future.
#3: Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott – What Have We Become
Pop, British, singer-songwriter
Worrying his latest toward the heights of his best with acclaimed cult group the Beautiful South, Paul Heaton recruited one-time singing partner Jacqui Abbott to flesh out ‘What Have We Become,’ and spent extra-long tinkering with the songs, amounting to a 13-track album with a 16-track deluxe edition most prefer. No duds anywhere on either set. It’s pop in its sheen, in its melodicism, but highs include Heaton telling Sting and his yoga to fuck off and Abbott insisting that Phil Collins must die, so don’t think these Brits are any less the loveable sods they’ve always been.
#4: Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Indie-rock, punk, Not Pavement
Brooklyn indie kids as sure as they are slackers/stoners, because just as they feign vague ADD incompetence on their instruments for the cheap thrills of DIY rock at times, the great versatility they showcase on both the guitars and in the rhythm section at others contradicts it; and just as Parquet Courts are based in Brooklyn, the band really hails from Denton, Texas, and their music bears the marks of that region more than it does, say, the quicksilver hook-laden pop-rock of a Vampire Weekend. They can play fast, but they also play so so slow. As slow as a couple bros sipping beers in a blistering Texas summer. And it’s the country-drone side of their aesthetic that makes the greatest impression on their second record.
#5: Kelis – Food
Having secured entries in synth-pop and electronic dance music for a resume that once consisted of “merely” some of the finest Neptunes/Pharrell-produced singles, the still-recent mother and Nas-divorceé Kelis sets her shape-shifting rasp on a new trajectory, and as an artist who’s routinely if subtly skipped across popular forms of black music (R&B –> vocal house), the kind of gritty soul of ‘Food’ is as sensible a choice as any. Choosing TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek as producer was the gamble, and while sometimes I wish for a sonic scuzz to bring out the gorgeous grain of Kelis’s rasp, the contrast of the two is generally more rewarding than detrimental. Sometimes Sitek even manages to defy any reasonable expectation that could’ve been set up based on his work with TVotR or that one Scarlet Johannson record of Tom Waits covers he produced by mustering up a muscular Fela tribute like “Jerk Ribs” or the spaghetti western swagger of “Friday Fish Fry.” Mostly this is the Kelis show though, with her sassily ordering for “that tall drink of water in the corner” and the weird but never overbearing food fetish that’s all over this album (mostly it stops at song titles like “Cobbler” and “Biscuits N Gravy”). Most important of all, though, is that voice. There’s never been another like it; such control, authority, and yet beguiling vulnerability — and in how and when it breaks, unpredictability. It’s as rich an instrument as any of the many — strings, brass, all kinds of percussion — on this densely produced record. And should Kelis choose to keep mining black music traditions, going further back in time — although ‘Food’s never sounds especially retro — I look forward to hearing her pained rasp on a blues record.
#6: Romeo Santos – Formula, Vol. 2
Crushing any and all doubt, if his tenure with Ventura could’ve left any, that Romeo Santos is the king of contemporary bachata (sorry, Prince Royce) ‘Formula, Vol. 2′ is a solid hour-plus of deliciously sticky melodies poured over hot bachata polyrhythms that never let up, but still find enough variance to hold attention (Santana’s guitar counterpoint on “Necio,” the hairpin tempo-changes in “Cancioncitas de Amor,” the percussion laying out for a short rhythmic guitar solo just before the bridge of “Eres Mia”). Where Santos’s first solo effort sagged around a handful of excellent singles, with some half-hearted crossover attempts muddling an otherwise distinctive voice, this one is an entirely assured vision, bending even marquee names like Drake and Nicki Minaj to his genre preferences instead of trying to blend his vulnerable vocal into others’ ill-fitting hip-hop tracks. Drake sings in Spanish; Nicki raps in it, for a bit. Romeo, always, is the center of attention, especially if you consider his bachata rhythms merely an extension of his singing, which more so than even on his best band albums with Aventura, the “beats” here feel of a piece with Romeo’s consistently engaging vocal melodies. The sum is the best genre-specific album by a Dominican artist since Arcángel’s ‘La Maravilla.’
#7: Miranda Lambert – Platinum
Miranda Lambert may never make another album as sleek and masterful as the ten bulletproof tracks that comprise ‘Crazy-Ex-Girlfriend,’ but that’s mostly because her ambitions are just too great for that now. As 2009’s ‘Revolution’ informed everyone, Lambert is a careerist of her time, because that record drew as much from country as it did from other popular genres, at least formally. Specifically (and stay with me now) I’m talking about hip-hop; ‘Revolution’ was one of the key records (Brad Paisley’s ‘American Saturday Night’ was another) in a movement that hijacked the practice of CD-R maxing albums from hip-hop culture and wielded it as a means of breaking genre borders — and with them, airplay ones. It hasn’t really worked; you can put heavy metal riffs or a rapper on your respective country songs and it won’t, immediately anyway, give you access to rap and rock stations. And that’s not totally Miranda’s agenda anyway. Instead of throwing L. L. Cool J. on a song to show her range she uses her latest big 16-track would-be-blockbuster to flex her eclectic taste in music, leaving space for the country-pop women’s anthem “Girls,” the swinging Tom T. Hall cover “All That’s Left” (with featured backing band the Time Jumpers), and the metal-indebted, “Thelma & Louise”-cum-“Bonnie & Clyde 2003” Carrie Underwood duet “Somethin’ Bad.” And that’s not even mentioning the absolutely gorgeous track she sings with Little Big Town, “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” which even in its thoroughly shimmering, contemporary production gets at the kind of choking-back-sadness nostalgia traditional country was built on. More even than the excellent ‘Revolution,’ and despite the worst single of her career (“Automatic” and its get-off-my-lawn-isms), ‘Platinum’ is a consistent, fireworks-laden display of Lambert’s unfailing craft, taste, and intelligence.
#8: Rick Ross – Mastermind
I call bullshit on the people calling bullshit on Rick Ross. Plenty beloved icons in the hip-hop world get by on personality or their ability to at least build a persona that’s compelling in some fashion, and Ross isn’t even just that — he’s had his fair share of lyrical moments, he absolutely has gravitas even when he isn’t lyrical, he’s had aces hooks, and sometimes he’s just downright funny (“make grilled cheese for you the best”; no more or less embarrassing than any number of lines from foodie Action Bronson). Something Ross the Boss hasn’t had going for him in the past was a top-to-bottom-solid album, something ‘Mastermind’ finally takes care of. ‘Teflon Don’ had the highs, and ‘God Forgives (I Don’t)’ had the title, but it’s this cartoonishly paranoid romp that seals the deal, both when it takes itself too seriously and when it doesn’t. Because even when it takes itself too seriously, against all logic, it often convinces that you should too. “Nobody,” for instance, is an elegantly constructed meditation on a Florida drive-by attempt on Ross’s life, with Puff Daddy intro-ing, interrupting the mid-section, and finishing off the track with a vigorously angry, unnerving rant about trust, and French Montana of all people convincingly, if brazenly, interpolating the hook from Biggie’s “You’re Nobody (Until Somebody Kills You).” It shouldn’t work; it works because Ross wills it too, and because his assured attitude toward his own myth and significance is so fervent that just approximating the moves of the greats without (only arguably, I’d say) the full extent of their talents is its own brand of brawny entertainment. And then there’s “Sanctified.” Aside from that snippet of “God Level” in a World Cup ad, the only post-‘Yeezus’ production work Kanye’s gifted the world, and it’s a major one. Live, not sampled, soul legend Betty Wright; the most diamond-hard DJ Mustard synths; that “grilled cheese” line from Ross; a programmed bass pulse that eventually seeps into even the soul-situated Wright passages; and… Big Sean. But the less said about him the better. In terms of pure production inventiveness, nothing in 2014 touches “Sanctified,” the lofty high of ‘Mastermind’s decadent duration. But the whole thing, especially the deluxe package, exudes Ross’s larger than life presence, with a consistency of purpose (which means, yes, completely ridiculous but utterly compelling brags about wealth and power) he’s never pulled off before.
#9: Gucci Mane – Trap House Four
Speaking of dudes who are all persona… Rodrick Davis is pretty much as close to that as it gets. No doubt people will make a case for Gucci Mane’s idiot savant lyricism, and I’d even like to hear that case, but having followed his career pretty closely, at least until his largely agreed upon downfall at the end of the Aughts, I’d tell you that Gucci’s genius has never been anything but sporadic, if that. And due to Jail time, drug-induced Twitter tirades against basically everyone in the entertainment industry, and… well, that’s enough isn’t? All that, it basically torpedoed a career of increasingly lesser returns a few years ago. And yet, at the height of all this madness, there were signs of a comeback. His 2012 mixtape ‘Trap Back’ got higher marks from critics than any of his many releases had seen in some time, and there was support for both that same year’s ‘Trap God’ and ‘Trap God 2’ mixtapes, as well as his 2013 studio album (his eighth since 2005) ‘Trap God III.’ I had to double back to catch that one after finding Gucci’s latest, ‘Trap House Four,’ to be if not a revelation, at least a surprising jolt of vitality and focus from a rapper I’d pretty much written off at this point. This seems to be a new development; while ‘Trap House III’ opens with a string of some of the best production Gucci’s ever had, and with Gucci attentive and ready to make the best of what he’s been given, it sags mightily in the middle and tails off again at the end. So, not quite a comeback, in part also because the record is stacked with guests that frequently upstage the main talent. ‘Trap House Four,’ however, remedies this: it’s pretty much all Gucci — after the year he had, he wasn’t gonna get another Rick Ross or Wiz Khalifa feature — with a modest smattering of kids from the new mixtape generation (Chief Keef, Young Scooter, and Fredo Santana) young enough to be oblivious to all the bridge-burning Gucci’s done with past collaborators. And with a platform pretty much all his own, Gucci kills it, track after track, over hard beats and catchy hooks. Simple formula for a back-to-basics record that might be Gucci’s best. Of course, this record is coming to us from a man who will be incarcerated until, at least, late 2016, thanks to his umpteenth gun charge. Who knows when most of this material is actually from, or how much more of it there is. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear anything better from this self-destructing star.
#10: Drive-by Truckers – English Oceans
Ranking the Drive-bys records inevitably turns into a process of wondering if you can really consider the band that made, say, ‘Pizza Deliverance’ to be the same one responsible for 2008’s colossal ‘Brighter Than Creation’s Dark,’ or if the collective that recorded that record could really be considered the same one as that which made ‘Go-Go Boots’ or the new ‘English Oceans.’ This is because songwriters come and go, though there’s always been one constant: Patterson Hood, whose songwriting has defined the band’s hyper-literate but unapologetically Southern outlook. There’s another constant too: Hood’s always had a strong partner to cut against. With Jason Isbell long gone, finally, perpetual third-stringer Mike Cooly has stepped up to the plate, and even upstaged Hood a bit, taking the sorta-title song here (“Made Up English Oceans”) and nearly half of the rest. And it’s his contributions that make ‘English Oceans’ if not a great Drive-by Truckers record, then yet another new kind of really good one.July 20, 2014 at 12:38 pm #143804
Not a bad idea really.
Haven’t heard much new albums this year that interest me, and there’s about 2 I remember off the top of my head so here goes.
#1 (Favourite album of the year — So far) Mastodon – Once more round the sun
What can I say about Mastodon that hasn’t already been said before. The band is a juggernaut in modern metal, and some of their past heavier stuff is simply mindblowing, though I will say the same about their new slower work. The album is heavier than The Hunter (their previous release) and in my opinion better. The guitar playing is once again amazing, and all three singers have a chemistry when singing together on a track, though they are equally strong when singing on solo tracks.
#2 Killer be Killed – This album was deemed for greatness as soon as it was announced. A super group featuring members from Mastodon, Soulfly/ex-sepultura, Mars Volta and The dillinger escape plan. The album turned out great and the three singers have a good chemistry
(I’m not much of a reviewer but I did my best :))July 26, 2014 at 1:16 am #144217
Bro….this is a joke right? Future’s album was 80% garbage.May 5, 2015 at 4:05 am #182961
The concept of “trap” music itself on a lyrical measure is sh*t (not sure if we can curse on here). I present to you an excerpt from one of Futures songs: “Bought the ho a hunned pair of red bottoms/Thats a quarter milly on a hand job my nigga”
Despite the fact that most of traps verses are worthless, the beats and words themselves are still pretty catchy. I fu*ks w/ it. Rejecting Mike’s comment, please excuse me while I bump 56 Nights. (Peace Sign Emoji)
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