Albums Of The Decade, Part 8

Now we’re breaking into the forty best records of the aughts. Stylistically, I’m all over the place with these- experimental, folk, dance-punk, drone, noise pop, hip-hop, post-hardcore; it’s hard to keep track of all the newly invented genres (that mostly sound like slurs and epithets) just to classify all these records. I would have just two genres: good and bad. Maybe a third; so-so music. Or- great, good, so-so and bad. So we got through all the good records, let’s do the great ones now…

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (Capitol Records; 2006)

TheCraneWifeOne part prog-folk song cycle, one part hyper-literate indie rock. That seems to be The Decemberists‘ formula as of late, the general idea being to make music both a listenable endeavor and as theatrical as possible. And to deliver a concept album-slash-rock opera as your major label debut, well now… I’ll let you in on a little secret, too: four Decemberists‘ records in my top 40 (really). So, if you’re not into melodramatic and sea-shanty based folk music rendered into a pop structure; well then. Here’s the review I wrote back in 2006 for this record:

Japanese folk-tale: impoverished man finds injured crane. Brings it in and nurses it back to health. Crane leaves. Enter beautiful woman, whom the man proceeds to fall in love with and marry. To make ends meet, wife weaves wonderful clothes from silk, but here’s the catch- he may never watch her at work. His greed increases, she works harder. She becomes ill. He peeks in on her to discover that she is in fact the crane that he nursed back to health and she weaves these beautiful garments from plucking her own feathers and weaving them into the loom. She flies away, never to return. Then Colin Meloy and his band sign to Capitol Records and he writes ten songs about it. I mean to say that he writes about the Crane Wife, not signing to Capitol. Although now that I think about it, I’d love to hear that album, too. Beloved indie band signs to major label. Because Colin could write about anything and I’d totally dig it, maybe even eat the peanuts out of his shit. In my world, Mr. Meloy is approaching Morrissey-level status. I mean, for fuck’s sake, he did a six song cover album of Morrissey tunes! I mean, what else does he have to do? Write the best album of 2006? Deliver the best tour of ’06 to the world? And on the seventh day he rested! Stylistically, this is closer to The Tain (prog rock) than Picaresque, although not too much unlike it. They changed without changing. So, asking me to pick a favorite song is really tough, but…

It’s funny how history can be revised, or; how that album (while still dear to me) fell from the #1 spot of ’06 and is all the way down to #40 of the decade- it should be in the top 10, but that’s how history and time can change your ears, I guess.

Key tracks: Shankill Butchers, The Crane Wife 1 & 2, The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, The Crane Wife 3

———————

Liars – They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top (Blast First Records; 2001)

liars32Debut album from noiseniks Liars; mixes danceable drums and angular post-punk guitars with shouted lyrics and heavy, oppressive bass lines everywhere. This sort of hints at where they were headed- the record’s title is a play on the media’s insistence on lumping them into the dance punk scene; they don’t sound like they share too much in common with LCD Soundsystem (much spazzier) or Out Hud (or !!! for that matter; much dirtier) or Death From Above 1979 (not as formulaic) or The Rapture (less polished) or early stalwarts ESG (although they do cover an ESG song on here, the result is sloppier and “meaner”, for lack of a better descriptor). The final track, This Dust Makes That Mud is an entire half hour of repeated riff/bassline/beat that not only tests the limits of the listener’s patience, it’s also an exercise in trend-killing; seeking to destroy the so-called genre of “dance punk” it sets about alienating its audience and proving that you can only repeat yourself for so long until people tire of you. This album changed the way a lot of those aforementioned bands would make music; some of them would break up or be forgotten, some would rise to greatness. I guess the jury’s still out on that one…

Key tracks: The Garden Was Crowded And Outside, Grown Men Don’t Fall In The River Just Like That, This Dust Makes That Mud, We Live NE Of Compton

—————————

Dirty Projectors – Rise Above (Dead Oceans; 2007)

DP_Rise_AboveI recommended this album to a Black Flag fan about a year ago; I never asked if they listened to it, but I’m guessing they didn’t because I never got punched in the face. The reason being (for the uninitiated) is because this record is lead-Projector Dave Longstreth‘s re-imagining (entirely from his teenage memory) of the 1981 hardcore punk classic Damaged. But done in an art-school sort of way; with fluttery guitars and Justin Timberlake-meets-Tiny Tim kind of croon, flutes, spastic drumming, dub basslines- on paper it sounds like a complete friggin’ mess but the result is really quite beautiful. The fear, isolation, teen angst, paranoia; all the original themes visited by Henry Rollins and crew are given an interesting slant here- if not an updated one. The fractured song structures, complete forgetting of lyrics (most often made up on the spot), everything that made Damaged a great record almost 30 years ago makes Rise Above a great record today. Musical styles may not be timeless, but the theme of man’s struggle over himself is.

Key tracks: Police Story, Rise Above, What I See, Thirsty And Miserable

————————–

Jay-Z – The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella Records; 2001)

jay-z-the-blueprintShawn Carter just turned 40 years old last week, which is a pretty big deal considering where Jay came from (his story of running crack on the streets of Trenton and Brooklyn is legit; unlike his targets on the dis track Takeover, where he pretty much slaughters all his competitors with crisp and sharp lines like):

I don’t care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews / You little fuck, I’ve got money stacks bigger than you / When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight / you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya

and

You said you been in this ten / I’ve been in it five, smarten up Nas / Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide / That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due / One was nahhh, the other was Illmatic / That’s a one hot album every ten year average

The Jigga wasn’t taking any prisoners on The Blueprint, it basically established him as the emcee to beat this millennium- as far as mainstream circles go. You’ll eventually see a few more hip-hop albums on my list higher than this record (and Jay would eventually lose his crown); but they don’t have the reach and scope of this record (they also don’t have the luxury of major label distribution). They also don’t have killer beats from Just Blaze & Kanye, and an appearance from Eminem. But hey, if you had the net worth of Jay, you’d drop gems like this too:

I rhyme sicker than every rhyme spitter / Every crime nigga that rhyme or touch a mic because my mind’s quicker / I’m a eighty-eighter, nine-six to Reasonable Doubt / Temper short, don’t take much to squeeze you out / Yeah you shinin but the only thing you’re leavin out / You’re a candle in the sun, that shit don’t even out

– from Hola’ Hovito.

Pure swagger.

Key tracks: Takeover, U Don’t Know, Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love), Never Change

——————–

Fugazi – The Argument (Dischord Records; 2001)

fugaziI was reading an article recently by writer Simon Reynolds (click here) about the slant of most critics’ decade-end lists leaning towards the first four years of the decade- which is also true for mine (somehow 2006 was the third-best year for music in my poll, maybe I’m just being overly sentimental there…) Anyway; this record, which would also be Fugazi‘s last since taking an indefinite hiatus in ’02 has stood up amazingly well- another album that sought to smash the confines of a media-imposed genre conundrum. It takes a bow in every direction; towards jazz, math and post-rock, dare I say prog? It’s all held together by airtight drumming from Brendan Canty as he lays out irregular and odd time signatures (not to mention drastic rhythmic changes as well), creating a pocket for Joe Lally‘s superb bass fills and groove-oriented mechanics. The whole thing is presented by both Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto‘s guitar dynamics- both intricately woven up and around each other, all the while having as much freedom as they need to make these huge walls of noisy, aggressive feedback. Lyrically, it’s as politically charged as ever- themes range from poverty, living in the nuclear age, nationalism, greed, modern ennui, globalization and then there’s self-examination; quiet introspection, detachment and selfishness. It’s Fugazi‘s most mature offering, recorded around the time they were all turning 40. It’s an enduring statement from four of the most ethical and intelligent musicians to ever grace the stage; to stare millennial dread right in the eyes and come away from it not only intact, but stronger and on their own terms.

Key tracks: Oh, Cashout, The Kill, Epic Problem

And if you haven’t gotten a chance to, please vote in The Musicologists 2009 Reader’s Poll…

Albums Of The Decade, Part 7

Right around the time this first album came out was right around the rise of the iPod (I wouldn’t get my first until 2006; but then again, I got my first cell phone in 2003, so I’m kind of slow to the punch, technologically speaking); Apple introduced the device in 2001 and up until now have sold around 220 million units. I think it’s a testament to 1) how much people love their music and 2) the status that (was once considered elite) electronics project; I think now more than ever people associate themselves with what they listen to more than ever. So in a sense, we’re projecting ourselves through our tastes out into the world via blogs and websites (like this one) and social networking sites that enable us to make playlists for each other (Lala, last.fm, Mog, etc.). I for one, think it’s all good…

Jay-Z – The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella Records; 2003)

jayz_black_albumWhat the hell are you waiting for? Encore, do you want more? If this actually was Jay-Z‘s farewell album, he would’ve went down as the Michael Jordan of rap. Wait, Michael came back to play for the Wizards and well… yeah. HOV dropped this banger, retired and… ugh. But this ain’t about Kingdom Come or The Blueprint 3, this is about L’album Noir– a game changer and what should have been the definitive statement from one of the best in the league. Every song has an old school aesthetic with a new school vibe; it’s as if Jigga handed the keys to his Bentley to the entire class of underlings and said “Drive it- if you can…” There was about a six month span from November of ’03 until May of ’04 when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting one of the singles from this jam; especially 99 Problems- maybe the best thing Rick Rubin’s ever done (using a bad-ass hook from a Mountain song over a Billy Squier beat with some Ice-T samples thrown in for good measure). For Jay-Z to be at the top of his form and make such an outright and in-your-face career-affirming moment like this; it’s a shame he came back with such crap to close out the decade. You can’t be at the top forever…

Key tracks: 99 Problems, Dirt Off Your Shoulders, Threat, PSA (Interlude)

——————–

Mastodon – Leviathan (Relapse Records; 2004)

leviathanMy hands down favorite metal album of the decade- I’ve heard Mastodon labeled as “hipster metal” or “metal for people who don’t like metal”. Whatever. All I know is that this rocks; there was a good six months where every time I skated I listened to this on the pod. It’s aggressively progressive, isn’t full of that god-awful cookie monster singing that “metal” has stooped down to embrace, it’s hard and heavy yet not abrasive or grating, the riffs are pure power and thematically it’s about Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, so it goes wrong absolutely nowhere. It’s their most listenable record, it’s both a nod to their many influences (sludge, hardcore, southern rock, that whole school of second-wave British Heavy Metal aka Maiden & Priest, a wink in Metallica‘s direction as if to say; thanks for the torch, bitches) as well as their coming out party. And it’s produced by the guy who produced the next record on the list!

Key tracks: Blood And Thunder, Iron Tusk, Seabeast, Hearts Alive

———————–

Minus The Bear – Menos El Oso (Suicide Squeeze Records; 2005)

Menos_el_OsoOh, this album was like a kick in the face when I discovered it- a “blind” buy; my term for more or less walking into a record store and buying something not only completely unheard but completely unheard of. Mad props to Wes from the Main Line Repo Records in Rosemont (R.I.P.); that jawn was my favorite record store since high school until they closed down in ’05. But alas; mom and pop record stores back east don’t enjoy the same loyalty that they do on the west coast (let’s start a dialogue on this). So yeah, this actual record review? Menos El Oso my intro to this band, and lo and behold this and their previous offering (Highly Refined Pirates, album #32 of the decade- review coming soon…) are the only two records in their oeuvre worth mentioning. Even this record, when I’ve played it for friends has brought sighs of derision and outright dismissal, but I love it. It’s techy and ProTooled to the max, a driving and danceable brand of indie rock for the jaded- the album’s main theme seems to be detachment; moments lost and never recaptured, that sort of thing. The fractured and staccato guitars scream over deep and funky basslines with tight, metronomic drumming pinning the whole thing down. It’s a formula that I wish they would’ve stuck to, but it’s hard to catch lightning in a jar and hold onto it.

Key tracks: Pachuca Sunrise, The Game Needed Me, Drilling, The Fix

———————–

Girl Talk – Night Ripper (Illegal Art; 2006)

night-ripperI was raised in the suburbs, five miles west of Philadelphia. My formative years (musically) were from 1984-1994. I can only think that Girl Talk (Pittsburgh’s Greg Gillis) was on the same shit I was on during this same time. Crunk rap mixed with 90s alternative? Grunge and soul? Boston and Ludacris together at last? Notorious B.I.G.‘s Juicy mixed with The Pharcyde‘s Passing Me By mixed with Elton John‘s Tiny Dancer? Mike JonesBack Then with Seals & Croft‘s Summer Wind? Remember that song “whoa- oh, it’s magic, I knooow..” from those Time-Life 70’s albums? The band is Pilot and Gillis cuts that shit with Kanye‘s Gold Digger. So hype, it’s just too much to process in one sitting- it’s a testament to our ADD-fueled childhoods mashed into our strobe-lit adolescence crossed with late-teenage psychedelic experimentation; a soundtrack to a culture that’s been playlisted to death.

Key tracks: Smash Your Head, Once Again, Bounce That, Hold Up

———————-

Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. (Kranky Records; 2008)

microcastleMicrocastle would be the obvious direction that Deerhunter‘s sound was headed after the Fluorescent Grey EP; I can hear how those four songs act as a natural bridge over the gap from Cryptograms to here. And Weird Era Cont. sort of works as a stop-gap between the afforementioned EP and Microscastle, even though it’s been packaged as a complimentary piece (I like how it works as a pre-cursor to the album instead of an after-thought or “extra” release). Either way, two albums put out simultaneously was a risky move- but it ended up paying huge dividends as the Atlanta quartet’s conceptual continuity remains undisturbed. All the hub-bub surrounding the release of these records (accidentally leaked by lead singer Bradford Cox, through his blogspot) completely makes up for any “bad vibes” Cox said he felt he was putting out by telling people not to steal his music, lambasting his fans but later retracting his outburst, offering an apology and putting out thirteen extra tracks and calling it Weird Era Cont. for no additional cost. What a rad guy. Anyway, back to the actual music- Deerhunter‘s sonic architecture is par excellence, earning them much-deserved comparisons to such a vast array of their influences like Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, The Beach Boys, Electrelane– hell, throws those bands in a blender and set to puree and pour out today’s pre-eminent autuers in the self-created genre of ambient garage noise pop.

Key Tracks (from Microcastle): Nothing Ever Happened, Saved By Old Times, Agoraphobia, Never Stops; (from Weird Era Cont.): Vox Humana, Operation, Vox Celeste, Focus Group

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…