The End of an Era…

This edition of “how many records can be reviewed with as little words as possible” will sadly, be the last for me of this specific type. I’m channeling my energies into something slightly different; this whole trying-to-keep-abreast-of-new-releases thing is pretty freaking exhausting. The entire site is slated to undergo a change, so the morphing of my writing has been a long time coming. Further ado? I think not…

Meanderthals – Desire Lines (Smalltown Supersound; 5/12)

meanderthalsBased on the main components of Meanderthals (an electronic-based outfit; Two English dudes and a Norwegian guy) I’d say before even listening that it’s a recipe for disaster, but surprisingly it’s quite good. Using steel drums, tablas, growling basses- employing some different sounds than what I’m accustomed to hearing in electronic music (and while they may be made on synths) they sound organic. I can remember (vaguely) eating lots of ecstasy at the latter part of the nineties and listening to this Ibiza-chillout music early in the morning as it’s more or less “wearing off”- this is what that’s like (and probably what’s causing the warm feeling in my spine as I listen to it). Conventional wisdom would say this isn’t a great record, but nostalgia is winning out here. 7/10

Finding Fiction – Idaho By The Sea (self-released; 6/2)

finding_fiction“I know the bass player, man…” Whenever I hear people say that about a band I’m always like, “dude, go fuck yourself…” But I really do know the bass player in Finding Fiction, so- I’m one of those guys (tell me to go fuck myself next time you see me). Bassist Tim Farr, along with Mario Santana (vocals and guitar), Scott Eisenberg (drums/percussion) and Josh Coleman (guitar) craft a melodic brand of indie rock that’s short on irony and long on sincerity; which is a good thing- all too often the indie landscape is cluttered with bands that hide their weak chops behind a wall of insincere poseurism. Finding Fiction is refreshing in that they don’t have to hide behind that shit- wearing a huge heart on their sleeve and being proud of it; reveling in authenticity while displaying mastery of their respective instruments. Be that as it may, Idaho By The Sea is a by-the-numbers-indie-rock record; meaning that it’s merely a good album, but the elements are all there for FF to make us a great rock record in the future (based on the three exceptional tracks Time Of Day, Home and I’ll Buy). 7/10

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (Warp; 6/22)

ambivalenceThis is probably the best electronic album to come out this year; actually- it’s probably the best to come out in the last few. Bibio is Stephen Wilkinson and you’re about to hear him everywhere (from Toyota commercials to LL Bean), going down the Moby route to riches. Drawing heavily on influences like Boards Of Canada (the most obvious), Paavoharju (for his oblique take on electro/trad-folk) and steel guitar aficionados (he’s a pretty accomplished player in that department), he’s made a really beautiful record- situated halfway between the psychedelic folk of Nick Drake, the stunted beats of Kruder & Dorfmeister and the dark sound of Portishead‘s Adrian Utley & Geoff Barrow. Mixing folk with ambient electronica shouldn’t work; but on Bibio‘s Ambivalence Avenue it does to great success. 9/10

Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps (Parlophone; 7/20)

riceboyIf you’re someone who likes ambient string-based music, then you’ll probably say this record’s near perfect. If you like hooky, short structured pop songs; you’ll probably hate this. I’m somewhere in the middle of those two statements, so in effect they sort of cancel each other out- I can sit for long-ass stretches of time just listening, or my ADD can get into hyperdrive where I don’t even finish songs (clicking >> over and over…). Since Jonsi is the mastermind behind Sigur Ros (and I think all of their albums are supremely awesome) I was pretty excited to hear what this side project was all about; it’s basically him, his boyfriend (visual artist Alex Somers) and the four lovely ladies from Amiina (who provide almost all the string work for Sigur Ros‘ recorded output). It’s as pretty a piece of music you’ll find all year (rivaling both MountainsChoral and OAE‘s self-titled debut)- that is if you can sit for 67 minutes just listening; this isn’t “car ride” music or biking to the store tunes, it’s “active” listening music- file under “headphone/eyes closed” music (for lack of a better term). 8/10

Imogen Heap – Ellipse (Megaphonic; 8/24)

imogenMan, the chick from Frou Frou has really come a long way- even though she did her first solo album before that collaboration; that’s the one that introduced the world to Miss Heap, so for all intents and purposes we can say that’s where we first know her from. So let’s thank (or smirk, or roll our eyes at) Zach Braff for including Frou Frou on that Garden State Soundtrack. In fact, that’s pretty much where Imogen’s music plays best at- apparently she’s had tracks featured on The O.C. (I’ve never seen it, was it a good show?) so that’s firmly entrenched in my mind as I listen to her newest. Basically, I’m listening to the background music when the two main characters on Grey’s Anatomy finally kiss (unless they already did, then I guess it’s suitable for two lesser characters to make out to one of these tracks; maybe the single First Train Home, or the track Swoon, it doesn’t matter because these songs are all very similar…) Either way, Miss Heap‘s pigeonholed her music into the whole “coffee-shop-and-sweaters-let’s-watch-One-Tree-Hill-together” set, which will probably sell her a ton of records. Good for you! 5/10

Datarock – Red (Young Aspiring Professionals; 9/1)

datarock-redNorwegian electro-rock duo known for the awesome songs Fa-Fa-Fa and Princess from 2005’s Datarock Datarock– here on Red there’s less electro and more rock; the songs work more cohesively as a full album. That being said, Datarock is still doing it Datarock style- which is to say: tongue-in-cheek lyrics, synth-driven explorations, pounding drums (both live and machinated) and clean guitar riffs. If these guys had a TV show everyone would be all “Flight Of The who…?” because these guys write funnier songs (their overall, self-deprecating vibe plays much better over the funky, disco-punk thing) and are much better musicians (plus the fact they’re Scandanavian; catchy hooks are written somehow into their DNA coding). Comparisons aside; the whole nerds-with-guitars-and-Pro-Tools thing is pretty rad; even if your biggest shows are to SXSW crowds you’re still rock stars, albeit not in the traditional piles-of-coke-with-groupies-on-the-tour-bus way. If there was ever a sequel to the awesome 80s BMX movie Rad, please have Datarock do the soundtrack. 8/10

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation; 9/8)

blueprint_3I’m going to do something that I usually don’t do as a review; a track-by-track “running” review of Jay‘s Blueprint 3. So, as it goes-

Song 1; What We Talkin’ About (with Luke Steele): kinda cheesy, I mean; it’s the dude from Empire Of The Sun on backing vocals over a synthy track that doesn’t work as an album opener at all. 3/10.

Next; Thank You: awful; that vocal hook is terrible. The music itself is more representative of what Jay‘s all about, but still- that weak attempt at a hook is so detracting: 5/10.

D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune): finally a Jay-Z track, dismissing the use of auto-tune (hopefully this will effectively sound the death knell of that terrible T-Pain et. al…) 7/10.

Run This Town (featuring Rihanna & Kanye West): one of the year’s best tracks, everything Rihanna touches turns to gold. And Kanye; at first I hated his verse, but it’s grown on me (and after his Taylor Swift debacle it’s more and more obvious the man is seriously crazy, as is his dis of his own fans on this track: “whatchu think I rap for? / to push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” I mean, really? About 90% of your fans push something similar to a Rav-4 and that’s how it is? You’re a sick fuck, Ye…) Jay kills; it’s a classic. Anyway; this is a great song, so here’s a 10/10.

Empire State Of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys): another nice track, the same can be said about the peerless Miss Keys as I said previously about Rihanna; now that’s a fucking vocal hook- you got me with this one (production from Al Shux is super tight as well, reminiscent of “that ole Jig rhythm“…) 9/10.

Real As It Gets (with Young Jeezy): meh. Filler material. Jeezy can’t flow like Jay, he slows the momentum with his southern version of DMX‘s style- he’s just a weak rapper, why would you feature him, Jay? And the backing track isn’t anything special. 4/10.

On To The Next One (feat. Swizz Beatz): again; blase blah. Swizz sucks, always has- I just went through his production credits; he’s got nothing. Nothing, yet the man has tons of work. I must be out of my mind. Anyway; this whole track is just awful. Pure shit. 1/10

Off That (feat. Drake): three weak-ass tracks in a row; oh, how Jay has fallen. Drake blows. This record is strating to make me angry; it’s really just sub-par to mediocre guest after guest (with the exception of Rihanna & Alicia Keys every collaboration is a head-scratching WTF moment). Yo Jay, your boy Drake need to shut the fuck up. 3/10

A Star Is Born (feat. J. Cole): not a bad track; not a great track. J. Cole is alright; the track is so-so, what makes this song decent is Jay‘s roll-call and shout outs to all the NY rappers over the years; he gives his props where props are due. Much respect. 7/10.

Venus vs. Mars (feat. Cassie): awful. Again, more shit piled on top of more shit doesn’t hide all the shit underneath. 2/10.

Already Home (feat. Kid Cudi): Kanye should stick to what Kanye‘s best at: PRODUCING. This is a really tight track; unfortunately (again) an awful vocal hook by Cudi ruins what could’ve been a great song, and one thing this album needs is great songs because all I’m hearing is shit. Slightly above average, 6/10.

Hate (ft. Kanye West): I don’t know why I like the vocals in this song, they’re both playing back-and-forth, kinda jokey and corny but for some reason I’m digging it. Uh oh, this must be “pity”. I’m feeling sorry for Jay (after all, Reasonable Doubt & The Blueprint are two of the best hip-hop albums of all time) and who doesn’t both hate and pity Ye these days? Damn, they getting points from pity… 7/10

Reminder: this is only the third track from B3 that doesn’t feature help from anyone; it’s a somewhat decent* Timbaland-by-numbers leftover that probably got nixed from either the last Missy Elliot or Nelly Furtado record. I can see Jay calling Tim: “Yo, you got anything for my Blueprint 3 coming up?” Tim: “Oh-oh, uh, yeah I got a brand new track I been working on…” right after Missy was all, “Tim, this sounds like 2001 all over again, I ain’t gonna use you on my next record.” Because this song just reeks of estrogen. * – somewhat decent = just average: 5/10.

So Ambitious (ft. Pharrell): yeah, this doesn’t work for me either. Remember that Pharrell/Jay-Z collab from 2003, Frontin’? That was the best song that year. I guess lightning only strikes once, fellas… 3/10.

Young Forever (ft. Mr Hudson): this song appeals to me because 1) it’s basically a hip-hop version of Alphaville‘s Forever Young; 2) Jay saying (reluctantly) good-bye to his youth; and 3) Kanye does a great job on the track, again; this is just another reason why he needs to stick to PRODUCING and just SHUT THE FUCK UP. 9/10.

So, in summation: 81 total points divided by 15 songs equals 5.4 overall. I’m basically seeing a trend with Jay-Z‘s work this decade; every OTHER album is great, the ones in between are pretty much shit. Case in point: The Blueprint (almost perfect), followed by the crap-tastic Blueprint 2, then coming back with a game changer like The Black Album (again; near perfect record), then the “comeback” record Kingdom Come (I listened to it once and deleted it off my hard drive; it’s that bad- the fucking Coldplay guy is on it for fuck’s sake) followed by his “real” comeback album American Gangster (not a “soundtrack” album per se, more of a concept album based on the movie; it’s some real gangster shit yo). Now here’s the instantly forgettable (musically regrettable) Blueprint 3. Do yourself a favor; skip this, skip every other Jay-Z record. On a good note, conventional wisdom dictates that Jay‘s next album is going to be awesome, though… 5.4

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II (Ice H2O; 9/8)

raekwonOf the two most anticipated hip-hop releases this year (both released on the same day), guess which one is better? No brainer; obviously The Chef‘s is gonna be the tighter of the two- whenever an album has Ghostface Killah on it, along with an absolute all-star production staff (that beef between Rae & the RZA has been squashed over the production of 8 Diagrams– more on this squabble later…) Tracks by Dilla, Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, The Alchemist, Dr. Dre and Mathematics, guest verses a-plenty from Tony Starks, Inspectah Deck, Meth, RZA, GZA, Masta Killa, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel & Slick Rick. How could this album not be completely awesome? Four years in the making, label changes, beefs arise and beefs quashed, it’s the best hip-hop album of the year, a title previously held by both DOOM and Mos Def’s terrific records from earlier in ’09. So many standout tracks- House of Flying Daggers, Cold Outside, Black Mozart, Gihad, Penitentiary, Surgical Gloves, 10 Bricks, the ODB-tribute Ason Jones and contender for track of the year New Wu (with Ghost & Meth, produced by Bobby Dig) which revisits the classic Wu style of yesteryear. Even if i give this record a ten, that only makes it twice as good as Jay-Z’s, when in actuality it’s 4 to 5 times better. 10/10

More on the rift between Rae & RZA- Chef thought the beats and production for the last few Wu records wasn’t up to par, so he took away the full production credits from Rizz for this record, basically giving tracks to whoever would do them. Apparently RZA has hundreds upon hundreds of tracks just “sitting around” and didn’t want to give up his best stuff, instead saving it for the next full Wu-Tang record (which is fair). You may have heard that Rae, Ghost & Meth are doing an album together- so what’s up with the future of the Wu? Stay Tuned…