Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ATTIC MUSIC'S TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2009!

So I wasn't so sure if I was going to do this or not.

Every year all the magazines and blogs bombard you with their lists of the top releases, and it's usually bullshit. Some blogs will tell you that only indie bands released anything good this year, while magazines like Rolling Stone will probably say Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, U2 or Bruce Springsteen (or some other old guy/old guy band that you didn't even know put an album out this year) edged out the competition once again.

Well, in regards to my pathetic attempt at furthering this very same tradition that I just got done talking shit about, do the both of us a favor and just see the following as a list of recommendations. No need to become upset. These are my picks for the 10 Albums of 2009, the ones I find to be essential in summing up the year in music. It's not just about which albums were the most popular, and its certainly not about which albums took 25 listens to get into either(we're looking at you, Pitchfork).

Regardless of whether or not you agree, please check the albums you're unfamiliar with out! Take my word for it; over the course of 2009, these are the albums I was most impressed with. Be sure to click on the album covers to check out a review and explanation for each choice.

Read. Comment. Listen. ENJOY!


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Best Albums of 2009: 10. The Horrors' "Primary Colours"

10. The Horrors “Primary Colors”

So The Horrors really like Jesus and the Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and The Shangri-Las. But get past their fairly obvious influences (and get off your high horse while you're at it) and you'll have a hell of an album in front of you. After their campy, garage punk debut album came off as a little too heavy on gimmicky madness, the band closed ranks, enlisted Portishead’s Geoff Barrow as the project’s producer, and came back with a brand new sound, and the most effortlessly creepy indie release of the year.

There’s some post-punk, a nice handful of shoegaze, and a whole lot of goth as well, and the results are quite stunning. “I Can’t Control Myself” has a subtle relentlessness that is positively hypnotic, and the epic “Sea Within A Sea,” clocking in at nearly eight minutes, is a murky, chorus-less, jaw-droppingly brave first single, complete with busy synths and vocalist Faris Badwan’s ghostlike incantations.

In 2009, all anyone could talk about was Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, but if you ask me, but they should have been talking about The Horrors.

Best Albums of 2009: 9. Drake's "So Far Gone"

9. Drake “So Far Gone”

Hey, remember when I told you guys Kanye’s “808s and Heartbreak” would end up being crazy important and potentially set the course for hip hop’s future? Well judging by the success of Drake, as well as Kid Cudi, this past year, I’m thinking I was absolutely right.

Don’t kid yourselves, Drake isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and he can thank the brilliant “So Far Gone” for that. “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful” tore up the airwaves this summer, and rightfully so. The genius of Drake is the middle ground he’s found between pop and hip hop, which is exactly what Kanye attempted on 808s. You can hear that album’s influence all over So Far Gone; and by adding in elements of contemporary R&B, Lil Wayne’s slurred delivery, Jay-Z’s self-assured mic presence, and Kanye’s emphasis on introspection, Drake crafted a sound and style that is all his own, and it made him a superstar.

And get this; he never once had to mention shooting anyone.

Best Albums of 2009: 8. Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster"

8. Lady Gaga “The Fame Monster”

The best things about The Fame Monster are its length and its rejection of an overreliance on variety. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it doesn’t come off like your average cookie-cutter, “throw a bunch of singles at the public and see what sticks” pop release. This is an album; an album so good that even Gaga’s biggest detractors may have to back down from their blind, misinformed “she all style, no substance” claims. Unlike The Fame, which was exhilarating but messy, The Fame Monster is tight, tuneful and sharp as a tack conceptually.

“Alejandro” and “Bad Romance” make it clear that Gaga is the dance-pop gold standard of the moment, with “So Happy I Could Die” not too far behind, but it’s with the epic “Speechless” and the evil “Teeth” that Lady Gaga makes her definitive statement; this woman is capable of anything.

Best Albums of 2009: 7. Rihanna's "Rated R"

7. Rihanna “Rated R”

It’s hard not to let the heart wrenching story of the woman behind this year’s best pop album not seep into a review of her work, so I won’t. Rihanna shows incredible bravery and strength throughout “Rated R,” facing the hurricane that was her personal life head-on over the course of thirteen impeccably written and produced tracks.

Whether she declares that “I’ll never play the victim/I’d rather be a stalker” over a storm of synths and rock guitars on the shitkicking “Rockstar 101,” scolds herself for falling so hard for the wrong man on the gorgeous “Stupid In Love,” or confesses “I just want to set you on fire/So I won’t have to burn alone/ Then you’ll know where I’m coming from,” on the album’s definitive highlight “Fire Bomb,” there’s never any doubt that she’s telling the whole truth and nothing but. Chris Brown’s new album finds the disgraced performer stuck in self-pitying, victim mode, and thankfully Rihanna didn’t go that route; she was too busy surviving, and in the process releasing the best album of her career.

Don’t they call that poetic justice, or something?

Best Albums of 2009: 6. Gallows' "Grey Britain"

6. Gallows “Grey Britain”

Gallows’ sophomore release, entitled “Grey Britain,” opens with the stunning “Riverbank.” The track begins with quiet, deeply unsettling violins and slow-building feedback that erupts into a towering beast of punk-metal guitars and lead vocalist Frank Carter wailing “Great Britain is burning down/We’ll be buried alive before we die/The Queen is dead/So is the crown!” And from there, the band never lets up, spewing venom every bit as earnest and raw as the Sex Pistols when they swore there was no future, or The Clash when they said they wanted to riot. “Misery” is too bruising and honest to be cliché, and “The Vulture (Acts I & II)” sees the band make a successful foray into unabashedly melodic territory, but it's with “The Riverbed,” the sequel to the similarly named opening number, that Gallows achieve near perfection, with a dizzying, hard-as-nails riff and the heaviest, thickest groove any metal song had this side of Sepultura’s “Roots.”

Best Albums of 2009: 5. Florence + the Machine's "Lungs"

5. Florence + The Machine “Lungs”

When you talk about Florence Welch, vocalist and leader of the collaborative project Florence + the Machine, her soulful, indie-friendly voice always takes center stage in the discussion. Somewhere in between Annie Lennox and Lily Allen, Welsh is prodigiously talented. But what makes Florence + the Machine stand out amongst their post-Amy Winehouse, British female singer-songwriter peers, and what makes their debut album “Lungs” so special, is some of the richest, most nuanced and exciting songwriting anywhere in the current landscape of popular music.

“You hit me once/I hit you back/You gave a kick/I gave a slap/You smashed a plate over my head /Then I set fire to our bed” opens the masterful “Kiss With A Fist.” Propelled by a shady-but-fun, Stooges-like musical backdrop, Welsh recounts a mutually abusive relationship with a disturbing resignation. Powerful stuff, but not at all overshadowing the other fantastic compositions to be found here; particularly “Girl With One Eye,” a brilliant song that shuffles along, building momentum before exploding into a deeply emotional catharsis that enthralls and haunts in equal measure, and “Hurricane Drunk,” which boasts the best vocal performance on Lungs, with Welsh howling “I’m going out/Gonna drink myself to death” at the start of one of the albums most memorable choruses.

Best Albums of 2009: 4. The Dream's "Love vs. Hate"


4. The Dream “Love vs. Money”

The only thing more fascinating than The Dream’s many phenomenal pop hits is the lack of attention paid to his far better solo albums.

Last year’s “Love/Hate” showed great promise, but “Love vs. Money” is an entirely different beast; going places mainstream R&B never seems to these days. Things begin exciting but expectedly so; leadoff single “Rockin That Shit” opens with luxuriant, majestic synths, and Walking On The Moon,” featuring Kanye West, and the Mariah Carey-assisted “My Love,” come complete with airtight hooks and rich, layered production, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

No, it’s when we hit the album’s middle section that The Dream really pulls out all the stops, unleashing a haunting song suite that is at the very heart of album’s power. In stark contrast with everything before it, the title track, “Love vs. Money,” boasts frantic, percussion-heavy production, over which The Dream rails bitterly against a girlfriend lost to another man. “Love vs. Money II,” immediately follows and it is stunning. The hard-hitting percussion and purposefully cluttered production on the previous track suddenly disappears, leaving whining, dissonant synths, thick bass, and lone finger snaps, over which The Dream airs out his former lover and her new man for their naivety, imploring “Kiss that nigga/Hug that nigga/Love that nigga to death/Go ahead and please that nigga/Feed that nigga/In time you’ll see the problems yourself/Cause when love is the problem/Nothing can solve it.”

Next comes the 6 and a half minute “Fancy,” the albums riskiest moment; lacking any discernable chorus or structure, it slowly winds along, constantly shape shifting over light piano, swirling strings, chopped-and-screwed vocals, and the occasional Polow Da Don-styled “EY!” It’s an incredibly bizarre arrangement; taking familiar elements and configuring them in a brilliantly unfamiliar way. In other words, you’ve failed big time if you haven’t heard this album yet.

“Love vs. Money” is the best R&B album of 2009. Period.

Best Albums of 2009: 3. Mastodon's "Crack The Skye"

3. Mastodon “Crack The Skye”

The key to Mastodon’s continued success has got to be their willingness to change. They have yet to repeat themselves once, moving from concept to concept, and taking great care to ensure that the concept is fully realized lyrically, visually and (most crucially) musically. Whereas 2002’s “Remission” saw the band evoke the general theme of fire, 2004’s classic “Leviathan” dealt with the theme of water (and specifically Moby Dick) and 2006’s “Blood Mountain” centered on earth as its general theme. Surprise, surprise…this time around they’ve chosen the sky. So what winds up being most impressive about 2009’s “Crack The Skye” is how they’ve tailored the sound of their most recent epic to reflect this idea; and it works astoundingly.

The band injects far more melody into this project than previous ones, allowing for standouts like “Quintessence” and “Oblivion” to anchor themselves with clean singing, unpredictable, jazz-influenced percussion and incredibly intricate, whirlwind guitar work, rather than the typical howling, pounding and pummeling, sledgehammer riffs. The songs also feel longer and more freewheeling than their previous work, taking multiple, unexpected twists and turns throughout, and at times actually are longer than their previous work, with the album’s epic, “The Czar,” clocking in at a filler-less 9 minutes and 47 seconds. It all lends itself to the infinite expanse of the sky above us, and it consistently feels as exhilarating as hurtling through space or floating amidst the clouds.

Mastodon can truly do no wrong.

Best Albums of 2009: 2. Raekwon's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...II"

2. Raekwon “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II”

“Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II” is to Raekwon what “The Chronic 2001” was to Dr. Dre; though it would be virtually impossible to match the power and sheer freshness of the original, OB4CL2 is seriously as amazing as anyone could possibly want it to be, and gets as close as it ever could have gotten to besting the original. And that’s saying a lot.

Set up as a continuation of the first installment of the OB4CL series, we find Raekwon at the top of the drug game, left to survey its bittersweet smell of success and the damage it inflicts on everyone it touches. Nowhere is this motif more successful that the Ghostface Killah-assisted “Cold Outside,” undoubtedly the best rap song recorded in 2009. Over a rich bed of crying horns, and anchored by a haunting chorus from guest vocalist Suga Bang Bang, Rae and Ghost weave one of their most vivid and intricate webs of rhymes and imagery, with Ghostface vividly lamenting “They found a two year old strangled to death/With a “Love Daddy” shirt on in a bag on the top of the steps.” The attention to detail from Raekwon, Ghostface Killah (who, as with the original OB4CL, serves as Rae’s copilot throughout), and every guest emcee involved in the project easily places OB4CLII far above any other rap album of 2009, based solely on sheer lyricism alone.

Meanwhile, the production, supplied by the likes of RZA, Dr. Dre, J Dilla and The Alchemist to name a few, is impeccable, perfectly capturing the decadence, guilt and relentlessness conveyed in the subject matter. “Baggin Crack” literally sounds like someone taking a razor to a coke-covered mirror, the Dr. Dre-produced “Catalina” hits the jackpot with a fantastic chorus from Lyfe Jennings, and the grand finale, “Kiss The Ring,” features ridiculously fitting sampling of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” as Rae celebrates his ascent to the top once again.

Many tried, but nobody in the rap game did it better than Raekwon in 2009.

Best Albums of 2009: 1. The Dead Weather's "Horehound"

1. The Dead Weather “Horehound”

Clearly Jack White assembled his latest side project, the utterly brilliant Dead Weather, with one goal in mind; to make the bluesiest, sleaziest, sweatiest, dirtiest, sexiest, most villainous album of the year.

Well, he achieved this goal, and in the process made the best album of the year as well. The masterfully evil Alison Mosshart takes center stage on Horehound, howling away over one near-perfect-yet-perfectly-imperfect, blues-drenched, hard rock number after another, coming off like Patti Smith fronting Led Zeppelin in some backwoods bar joint in Louisiana somewhere. You can practically feel the sweat trickle down your cheek when White and Mosshart feign choking during the drunken, disorienting “I Cut Like A Buffalo,” and the tension only gets thicker when Mosshart croons “There’s a bullet in my pocket burning a hole/You’re so far from you’re weapon and the place you were born” on the slow burning “So Far From Your Weapon.” But its “Treat Me Like Your Mother” that finds the band hitting on something almost supernaturally good. The song strikes out like a caged animal from the second it opens; Mosshart rails against an ungrateful, no good man, wailing “Look me in the eye now/You wanna try to tell a lie?!/But you can’t, and you know why?/I’m just like your mother.” The tumultuous, stuttering verses give way to an eerily steady, droning chorus, with Mosshart repeating “You came home/Too late!” in the kind of tone you’d hear from a woman whose already made up her mind what she’s going to do about her man’s transgressions. No more talking, and no second chances.

“Rocking Horse” sounds like it should have been on the soundtrack to Wild Things (particularly the threesome scene), and the raucous Dylan cover, “New Pony,” which opens with the following lines: “Once I had a pony, Her name was Lucifer/I had a pony, her name was Lucifer/She broke her leg and she needed shooting/I swear it hurt me more than it could ever hurt her,” fits in just fine, don't ya think?

Inevitably, when we reach the end of our journey, at the haunting “Will There Be Enough Water,” in which White and Mosshart wonder “Just because you caught me/does that make it a sin?,” you may get this sinking feeling that perhaps you’ve just taken a sonic journey straight to hell. And you’ll be absolutely right.

This is the devil’s music, you know.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Robin Thicke's "Sex Therapy": Time Is Seriously Running Out, Robin...

Rating: 2.5/5

You see guys...as far as I can see there’s certainly room for Robin Thicke.

On one end of the spectrum there’s the incomparable Maxwell, whose most recent release, “BLACKsummers’night,” astounded with its smooth instrumentation and majestically-vintage melodies. Way at the other end of the current R&B auteur spectrum is The Dream, whose ubiquitous, synthesizer-heavy sound has resulted in not only some of the finest pop songs of the past decade (“Umbrella” and “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” to name a few), but an outstanding debut album, and an even better follow-up, the criminally-overlooked “Love vs. Hate.” Robin Thicke, relying on Marvin Gaye(or Maxwell)-influenced falsetto crooning while not shying away from hip hop-influenced, dance floor-ready production, lies somewhere in between.

And with his latest offering, the aptly-titled “Sex Therapy,” Thicke makes this all the more apparent. 2007’s largely self-penned and produced “Something Else,” with its heavy-handed, 70’s soul-inspired sound, was a dud both commercially and artistically. Thicke’s ambitions were admirable, but the results were just plain boring. This time around Thicke has stepped away from the producer’s chair however, enlisting the assistance of the likes of Polow da Don and Teddy Riley, and racking up an impressive roster of guests, including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Jazmine Sullivan, Kid Cudi and Game. The results clearly demonstrate Thicke’s mainstream R&B balancing act, at times recalling his earlier, retro-leaning sound before shifting into synth-heavy, 106 & Park territory.

And yet somehow, Sex Therapy ends up almost just as boring. Content-wise, things basically center on sex, sex, and then more sex, but that's to be expected, and isn't really the problem. No, unfortunately the blame can be laid firmly upon the shoulders of the man himself. Thicke’s Achilles heel is his voice, without question. Maybe he’s going for a sultry, sexy sound, but that’s no excuse for sounding as paper-thin as he often does. Once again, Thicke’s ambitions are admirable; he obviously admires the vocal stylings of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, but he simply lacks their dynamic, emotion-drenched delivery (something D’Angelo and Maxwell have mastered). Consequently, whether Thicke is tackling a mature, grown-and-sexy sound with the shuffling “Mrs. Sexy,” spare, low-key funk on “Make U Love Me,” or a frantic, booty-clapping heatrock like the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy,” the results are always listenable…but bland. Very, very bland.

Now there are definitely moments on Sex Therapy where the writing and production is just too good for this to be such a big problem. “Meiple,” featuring a show-stealing Jay-Z, is genuinely inventive and fun, and Kid Cudi’s stellar, spaced-out, hard rocking contribution, “Elevators,” takes Thicke into new and almost-exciting territory. But at the end of the day, Sex Therapy glaringly lacks a singular, driving personality underneath all the gloss. And it’s just kind of inexcusable when you’re entire album could be sung by someone else, and no one would really care.

Like I said, there’s definitely room for you, Robin.

Just don’t get too comfortable, maybe?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Grammy Nominees...And My Meaningless/Longwinded Predictions And Complaints!

The annual announcement of Grammy nominees is usually a cringe-worthy event for any music nerd, and this year is basically no exception.

Now not everything here is completely terrible, but sometimes it really does boggle the mind how off the mark the Grammys can be. Who voted-in some of these nominees? How is it that people like Eric Clapton walk away with a nomination every fucking year? I didn’t even know he’d put anything out.

Beyonce garnered ten nominations this year, which is pretty crazy/awesome, although I’m still trying to figure out why “I Am…Sasha Fierce” is a double album when the two discs combined run a total of 41 minutes (which doesn’t even fill one disc). Anyway, the constantly-in-your-face, can’t-get-rid-of-her Taylor Swift wound up with eight nominations, and my current obsession, Lady Gaga, grabbed six.

Alright, enough rambling. Here’s a list of the nominees in the categories I know you care about, buoyed by my meaningless commentary on who should win, who will win, and who had absolutely no business even being nominated.

-Record of the Year
Beyonce “Halo”
The Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon “Use Somebody”
Lady Gaga “Poker Face”
Taylor Swift “You Belong to Me”

Who will win: Pretty boring, right? I can assure you that the last person I want to win this is Taylor Swift. And of course…that is exactly who will win this. “Poker Face” is too fun, and “Use Somebody” would just make too much sense. The Grammys rarely make sense guys.

Who should win: “Poker Face” and “Halo” were everywhere, as was “Use Somebody”, so any of those three would sit well with me. Oh what the hell…I’m going with “Poker Face” because the video is the shit.

WTF!?: The only Black Eyed Peas I like are the ones on my plate. Sorry.

-Album of the Year
Beyonce “I Am…Sasha Fierce”
The Black Eyed Peas “The E.N.D.”
Lady Gaga “The Fame”
Dave Matthews Band “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King”
Taylor Swift “Fearless”

Who will win: Let’s not even talk about the fact that none of these albums are actually the best albums of the year. They’re really not, though. Well…maybe The Fame, but that’s definitely not winning. Bet on either Dave Matthews or Taylor Swift walking away with this one, you know…since they’re the boring ones.

Who should win: Let me reiterate that none of these albums should win…but The Fame is the shit.

WTF!?: How did the Black Eyed Peas find themselves in this category?

-Song of the Year
Lady Gaga “Poker Face”
Beyonce “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
Maxwell “Pretty Wings”
Kings of Leon “Use Somebody”
Taylor Swift “You Belong to Me”

Who will win: Ok, keep in mind that this is a songwriting category. It’s all about the songwriting. Now think about which of these songs is the most poorly written. Figured it out? Yeah…that’s the one that’s going to win. Congrats Taylor! I mean damn, why is she nominated in every category? “Party in the U.S.A” is way better anyway.

Who should win: Seriously…”Pretty Wings” is gorgeous. Masterfully written. And Maxwell was robbed out of an Album of the Year nomination. Just sayin….

WTF?!: There isn’t much of a “what the fuck” moment here, to be honest. Everything is pretty much as you’d expect it to be. No rap songs, of course. Nothing really adventurous or different, either. Top 40 all the way.

-Best New Artist
Zac Brown Band
Keri Hilson
MGMT
Silversun Pickups
The Ting Tings

Who will win: Zac Brown Band, of course. They’re the country band. The Grammys love country.

Who should win: Anyone under 30 is probably thinking MGMT on this one (including myself). Of course, they stand absolutely no chance.

WTF!?: Keri Hilson had a couple hits this year, but Best New Artist?

-Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Beyonce “Halo”
Adele “Hometown Glory”
Katy Perry “Hot N Cold”
Pink “Sober”
Taylor Swift “You Belong to Me”

Who will win: It seems unlikely, I know. But I’m telling you, Taylor Swift is going to win everything. Just wait…this time next year you’re going to hate her with a passion.

Who should win: Adele.

WTF!?: I’ll give it to the Grammys on this one. This category has no “what the fuck” moments at all. Everything here basically makes sense.

-Best Dance Recording
Lady Gaga “Poker Face”
The Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”
David Guetta and Kelly Rowland “When Love Takes Over”
Madonna “Celebration”
Britney Spears “Womanizer”

Who will win: Gaga all the way on this one.

Who should win: Umm…Duh!

WTF?!: There were many, MANY better dance songs than “Celebration” this year. I got mad love for the Queen of Pop, but c’mon!

-Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood “Can’t Find My Way Home”
Coldplay “Life in Technicolor II”
Green Day “21 Guns”
Kings of Leon “Use Someobody”
U2 “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”

Who will win: U2 could fart into a tape recorder and it would win song of the year at the Grammys. This awards show is obsessed with them. Expect them to win every rock category they’re nominated for. At least they didn’t get an album of the year nom though, because they’d win that too.

Who should win: “Use Someobdy,” without question.

WTF?!: What did I tell you. Sure, this wasn’t the best year rock has ever had, but did we really need to nominate Eric Clapton here?

-Best Hard Rock Performance
We’re just gonna skip this one because it’s atrocious and the Grammys suck.

-Best Metal Performance
Judas Priest “Dissident Aggressor”
Lamb of God “Set to Fail”
Megadeth “Head Crusher”
Ministry “Senor Peligrino”
Slayer “Hate Worldwide”

Who will win: One of the old guy bands for sure (which are 4 of the 5 bands nominated, actually). It’s as if the Grammys think metal bands ceased to exist after 1986.

Who should win: I wouldn’t mind Slayer taking this one. “Hate Worldwide” is actually pretty amazing.

WTF?!: Did the Grammys not get the memo that Mastodon released one of the best metal albums ever this year?

-Best Rock Album
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood “Live at Madison Square Garden”
AC/DC “Black Ice”
Green Day “21st Century Breakdown”
Dave Matthews Band “Big Whisky and the Groogrux King”
U2 “No Line On The Horizon”

Who will win: Since Dave Matthews Band are also nominated in the album of the year category, logic would tell you that they’re taking this category for sure. But never underestimate the undying love and appreciation the Grammys have for U2. Seriously, Bono is like the God of the Grammys.

Who should win: Say what you will about Green Day, but 21st Century Breakdown is actually fantastic. They were robbed out of an album of the year nod as well.

WTF!?: Seriously though, have the Grammys not heard of Mastodon? How about the Dead Weather? They’ve definitely heard of Eric Clapton though. Haha that’s for sure…

-Best R&B Song
Jamie Foxx f/ T-Pain “Blame It”
Jazmine Sullivan “Lions, Tigers & Bears”
Beyonce “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
Maxwell “Pretty Wings”
Pleasure P “Under”

Who will win: Beyonce should have this one locked up, but watch out for an upset from my man Maxwell.

Who should win: I really want to say Maxwell or Jazmine Sullivan, but I just can’t do that. I mean, I’m gonna finish this article in a minute…but “Single Ladies” is one of the best R&B songs of all time! OF ALL TIME! (I had to do it.)

WTF?!: Pleasure P?

-Best Rap Solo Performance
Drake “Best I Ever Had”
Eminem “Beautiful”
Jay-Z “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)”
Kid Cudi “Day N’ Nite”
Mos Def “Casa Bey”

Who will win: “Casa Bey” is a phenomenal song, but Mos Def stands no chance here. I’m thinking either Jay-Z or Eminem (bet on Eminem).

Who should win: Believe it or not, I’m actually going with Drake on this one. I basically like all of these songs, but the impact of “Best I Ever Had” is actually quite remarkable. I mean c’mon guys…this was a mixtape track!

WTF?!: These nominees are pretty solid. No complaints…although we could definitely use a little Raekwon here.

-Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
Beyonce and Kanye West “Ego”
Keri Hilson f/ Kanye West and Neyo “Knock You Down”
Jay-Z f/ Rihanna and Kanye West “Run This Town”
The Lonely Island f/ T-Pain “I’m On A Boat”
T.I. f/ Justin Timberlake “Dead and Gone”

Who will win: Hmmm…this is actually a tossup. Beyonce, Keri Hilson and Jay-Z could all take this one, but I guess I’d bet on “Run This Town,” mainly due to the star power in the collaboration. But watch out for an upset from Keri Hilson. “Knock You Down” was a huge hit.

Who should win: Definitely “Run This Town.” Rihanna absolutely nailed the hook on that song.

WTF?!: Yes, “I’m On A Boat” really is nominated for best Rap/Sung Collaboration. It’s shit like this that makes you wonder if the Grammys even care anymore?

-Best Rap Album
Common “Universal Mind Control”
Eminem “Relapse”
Flo Rida “R.O.O.T.S.”
Mos Def “The Ecstatic”
Q-Tip “The Renaissance”

Who will win: Eminem, for sure.

Who should win: I’m on the fence about this one. Q-Tip’s album was pretty great, but the frontrunners in this category are definitely Mos Def and Eminem. Great albums from both guys, but “Relapse” was perhaps the more meticulously-produced and crafted album, which scores some points in my book. I’m going with Eminem.

WTF?!: Common, Eminem, Mos Def, Q-Tip and…Flo Rida? GTFOH!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Clipse' "Til the Casket Drops": I guess the dirty money really ain't that bad...

Rating: 3.5/5

Clipse certainly have a lot to live up to with their new album, don't they?

Gloomy, paranoid and downright suffocating, Clipse’ 2006 sophomore effort “Hell Hath No Fury” is a masterpiece. Among the most critically acclaimed hip hop albums of the past ten years, Hell Hath saw the brothers from Virginia Beach channeling all of their frustrations (with their asshole label Jive records, in particular) into the album, forsaking mainstream pop sensibilities entirely. The album plunges the listener into the madness of the cocaine business; murder, greed, paranoia and regret abound, underscored by some of the best production the Neptunes have ever been responsible for. It pleased the hell out of critics, as well as the group’s adoring fan base, but received a positively ice cold reception at record stores. Faced with the dilemma of balancing artistry with the allure of a platinum plaque, Clipse return with “Til the Casket Drops,” a fierce statement of defiance and success, though also a considerably lighter affair.

Often, the results are absolutely brilliant. Opening with the hard rocking “Freedom,” Clipse make it clear that they couldn’t give two shits about critical opinion of their work, with Pusha T proclaiming “I’m only finding comfort in knowing you can’t replace me/What a thing to say/But what am I to do?/I’m role playing a conscious nigga/And true is true/Cocaine aside, all of the bloggers behoove/My critics finally have a verse of mine to jerk off to/I own you all.” From there, the duo runs effortless through no less than seven tracks without a single blunder. Jittery, high wire synthesizers propel the Cam’ron-assisted “Popular Demand,” and “Kinda Like A Big Deal,” anchored by a rumbling, percussion-heavy monster of a beat, is Clipse at their arrogant best (although they do get just a tad outshined by an overachieving, hilarious Kanye West). “I’m Good” is glamorous, self-aggrandizing, fun, the reggae-tinged, anti-snitching juggernaut “There Was A Murder” entertains and disturbs in equal measure, and “Never Will It Stop,” featuring Re-Up Gang member Ab Liva, is as intense and musically unrelenting as its title would suggest.

But then Clipse make two near-fatal mistakes, practically bringing the momentum of Til the Casket Drops to a standstill with the Keri Hilson(?) assisted “Eyes On Me” and the equally forgettable, Nicole Hurst-assisted “Counseling.” Not only are these songs entirely unnecessary and unremarkable R&B collaborations (i.e. obvious attempts at radio airplay and mainstream acceptance) that, within the context of the album, stick out like hot pepper flakes in a gram of cocaine, but they’re sequenced back to back, and thus bringing the otherwise inventive, hard-edged proceedings to a halt. Unlike Hell Hath’s “Dirty Money,” which felt more like satire of the common practice in hip hop of including a customary “song for the ladies” on an otherwise misogynistic, testosterone-drenched album, there’s just no sarcasm to be found on “Eyes On Me,” a basic, run-of-the-mill exercise in the art of the club banger; something that Clipse don’t do very convincingly.

The group recover nicely though, returning to the epic, remorseful, organ and synth-heavy anthems that they do do convincingly, on stellar tracks like the DJ Khalil-produced “Footsteps” and the stunning, Kenna-assisted finale, “Life Change.” The album ends on a decidedly triumphant, positive note; quite a departure from the fearful, weary-eyed “Nightmares,” Hell Hath No Fury’s dreary conclusion. In contrast to that album’s bitterness and malevolence, Til the Casket Drops is a celebration of life; a decidedly immoral, illegal and potentially deadly life, to be exact. It explains the overall lighter tone and their ill-advised dancefloor ambitions, and the results easily best almost every other rap album released in 2009. But after an album as lean and mean as Hell Hath No Fury, the results are sure to be just a little jarring for even the most steadfast Clipse aficionado.

Gotta love that dirty money though, right?

John Mayer's "Battle Studies": Where The Hell Is John Mayer?

Rating: 2.5/5

Guys, I think John Mayer's holding back on us.

After coming across like a tepid, bland Dave Matthews wannabe on his first two albums, John Mayer’s “Continuum” seemed to come out of nowhere. Boasting a molasses-thick blues sound and simple, elegant songwriting, Continuum was definitely one of the best albums of 2006, and it’s probably among the finest pop albums released this decade. Lyrically, the album saw Mayer reach much deeper than on previous efforts, allowing the listener into his world to find parallels with their own hopes and fears. The songs were memorable, warm, and relatable.

And all of this makes Mayer’s new album “Battle Studies” all the more disappointing. To an extent, most of these songs are actually pretty good. The slightly hard-edged “Assassin” comes equipped with a hard rocking chorus, and his cover of the blues classic “Crossroads” sees Mayer almost, sorta, kinda make good on his promise as a potential heir to the bluesy white guy, singer-songwriter throne. But often Mayer seems to be settling into an airy, U2-inspired sound that just doesn’t hold up, with songs like “Heartbreak Warfare” and “War of My Life” sounding like Joshua Tree b-sides.

“All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye” is a total snooze-fest meanwhile, and the Taylor Swift-assisted “Half of My Heart,” though possessing a fairly solid lyrical motif, lacks any edge whatsoever. But don’t get it twisted; there a moments on Battle Studies that work fantastically. The slow burning “Edge of Desire” is a perfect example of the beauty in subtle, nuanced songwriting, and first single “Who Says,” is definitely among Mayer’s best compositions. Why, you ask? Well, for starters it conveys the guy’s sense of humor. Ending with the knock out line, “It’s been a long night in New York City/It’s been a long time since 20 too/I don’t remember you looking any better/But then again I don’t remember you,” this is Mayer at his most intriguing and convincing.

For most of Battle Studies however, Mayer seems to be playing it safe. The guy is just being too nice; too conservative when it comes to injecting some of that charming, charismatic personality we’ve all been forced to contend with since his ridiculously unlikely descent into tabloid fixturedom. These songs always sound good, but there’s much left to be desired in terms of establishing a connection with what you’re hearing.

C'mon John...how's about opening up a little bit next time?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Adam Lambert's "For Your Entertainment": He Will...He Will ROCK YOU! (sorta)

Rating: 3.5/5

At the start of “Strut,” track 4 on “For Your Entertainment,” when Adam Lambert croons “I wanna start a revolution,” one can’t help but see it as the album, and the man’s, mission statement.

I mean, Adam Lambert’s very existence is pretty damn revolutionary. There have been many openly gay pop stars, but certainly not at the start of their careers. The sexual orientation of George Michael, Elton John and Freddie Mercury was perhaps an open secret throughout their respective heydays, but Lambert is beginning his career open, honest and unapologetic about whom he is, and that’s important. Gay youth (and straight youth, as well) across the globe can turn on the radio and hear a young, talented and confident gay man treat his sexuality exactly the way he should, rather than as some dark secret to be ashamed of and hide at all costs. While this is exciting and, well…awesome, it places quite the burden on the 27 year-old American Idol alum; can he live up to not just the hype, but the responsibility of forging new ground for a community in the throes of a vital, ever-intensifying battle for equal rights?

Well, the second part of that question remains to be seen (and would be quite the daunting task to judge). Musically, “For Your Entertainment” is a respectable, accomplished debut album however, showcasing Lambert’s exceptional pipes over slice after slice of fun, life-affirming, Queen-inspired glam-pop. It’s a bit disappointing that things stay at the shallow end of the pool lyrically, oscillating between carefree, “life is good” sentiments and lover’s lament. But sometimes the results are spectacular; “Pick U Up” is a blast, and album highlight "Sure Fire Winners," Lambert's response to "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions," actually rocks pretty hard. The aforementioned “Strut” is a perfect example of songwriting that marries concept with sound perfectly (the song really does...strut), and the Lady Gaga-penned “Fever” is the album’s sexiest and most confident moment, perhaps in part due to the fact that it’s the only song where Lambert has the balls to use the pronouns “he” and “him” to describe the object of his affections, rather than playing it safe.

Elsewhere though, the album begins to falter with cookie cutter, mainstream pop numbers, like lead single “For Your Entertainment” for example, that do nothing particularly spectacular and seem to just lumber along until they’re over, relying on Lambert himself to carry the song. "Aftermath," for example, boasts a phenomenal vocal performance, as does just about everything here, though the song itself is actually quite bland.

But when things slow down, the results are quite stunning. “Soaked,” written by Muse, is absolutely gorgeous. Boasting the best vocal performance on the album, Lambert sounds like Jeff Buckley reincarnated. “Soaked” is gloriously heavy-handed, but its twin, album closer “Broken Open,” utilizes a subtle, Radiohead-inspired electronic sound, and a beautiful, effectively-restrained performance from Lambert, to end the album in haunting, contemplative fashion.

There’s something to be said for the way Adam Lambert injects his unique personality into this music; this is definitely his album. Hopefully next time he’ll be able to match his admirable ambition with song craft that works all the time, rather than just some of the time.

But for a first try, “For Your Entertainment” is nothing to be ashamed of.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster": Your New Favorite Album

Rating 4.5/5

Is Lady Gaga even human?

Ridiculous question, I know, but upon snagging my first listen to “The Fame Monster” last week, I’ve been pondering this mystery ever since.

I mean, what can't she do? Her music videos and live performances are quickly becoming must-see media events (did anybody else see her break a massive glass barrier surrounding a piano with a microphone stand, set this same piano on fire while playing it, and then smash empty vodka bottles on its keys throughout her performance at the AMA’s last night?), her fashion sense (or fashion philosophy, perhaps) and public persona fascinates even her biggest detractors, and her music has basically held every club and radio station hostage for the past 8 months or so.

Lady Gaga owned 2009

And with The Fame Monster, she will undoubtedly own 2010 as well.

What I find most intriguing about The Fame Monster is how cohesive and satisfying it is. Running at just over 34 minutes in length, it’s hard to believe that The Fame Monster was supposed to be some measly collection of bonus tracks for the rerelease of the massively successful “The Fame” album. Don’t be confused or misled; The Fame Monster is a brisk, consistently entertaining album, and it’s better than The Fame. For one thing, It’s more interesting musically, going in some ridiculously unexpected directions. “Speechless”, most definitely the centerpiece of the album, is a new songwriting plateau for Gaga, stripping away the synthesizers and sound effects to reveal an actual heart underneath all that glitter and makeup (and fire and blood). Her vocal performance is masterful; powerful and sturdy at first, and then fragile and movingly unhinged the next. It's a near perfect exercise in epic, glammed-up power balladry that would definitely make Freddy Mercury crack an approving smile.

But the true gem here is the depraved, deliciously evil “Teeth”. Sounding like The Doors' “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” if it were produced by Timbaland, the song is meant to signal the point where Gaga gives in to that dastardly fame monster; she sings, “Got no salvation/Got no religion/Take a bite of my bad girl meat/Show me your teeth.” It’s one of the oddest pop songs I’ve heard all year, and it’s truly a testament to Lady Gaga’s talent that it works so damn well. The song struts along like a drunken supermodel teetering off the side of a runaway, at once sloppy and thrillingly fierce.

Elsewhere the songs may hold a bit closer to previous hits like “Paparazzi” and “Poker Face”, but it’s in the details, both sonically and lyrically, where Gaga takes things to the next level. “Bad Romance” has got to be her best moment lyrically, embracing the ugliness and misery of a relationship, and even conjuring a few clever Hitchcock references, with lines like “I want your psycho/Your vertigo shtick/I want you in my rear window/Baby, you’re sick.” Meanwhile, “Alejandro” comes complete with a fun, unforgettable hook, and “So Happy I Could Die” is a blissful, dreamlike send-up to a carefree, shit-faced night out with friends.

And did I mention that track 6, entitled "Telephone" feautures Beyonce?!

Say no more, right?

All in all, The Fame Monster is what’s happening right now. This is the pop album of the moment, and you’d have to be remiss or deaf to let it pass you by. In other words, it’ll be the soundtrack to you getting ready to go out to the clubs this weekend, and then it’ll be all you hear in the clubs once you get there.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, the year of Lady Gaga is upon us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rihanna's "Rated R": It's a MADHOUSE!!!

Rating: 5/5

When Rated R’s intro, “Madhouse,” opens with towering, horror movie organs and a mysterious, creepy voice announcing, “Ladies and Gentleman, for those among you that are easily frightened, we suggest you turn away now. To those of you who think they can take it, we say…Welcome to the Madhouse,” it becomes quite clear that this is a very different Rihanna.

Was it a calculated move on the part of her camp to return to the scene with an album as honest, raw and, at times, hardcore as Rated R? Or is this what happens when a young artist suffers the way Rihanna has over the course of this past year? I don’t know. What I do know is that Rated R is nothing less than a triumph; while there may not be another “Umbrella” here, what we have instead is a consistently adventurous, hard-edged, and surprisingly badass pop album.

There are multiple aspects of Rated R that stand out initially, one of which being Rihanna herself. The girl has finally arrived, matching Beyonce’s fiery, rapidfire vocals with her own funky, patois-inflected style, rather than simple mimicry. Rihanna’s swag (I hate that word, but bear with me) is intoxicating and endlessly entertaining throughout, particularly on 2nd single, “Hard”. Produced by The-Dream and Trick Stewart, and featuring a masterful guest verse from Young Jeezy, Rihanna sounds like Hip Hop’s response to Ronnie Spector; she plays it cool and detached, bragging effortlessly “All up on it/Know you wanna clone it/Ain’t like me, that chick too phony/Ride this beat, beat, beat like a pony/Meet me at the top, it’s getting lonely.” Rihanna has developed an incredible knack for selling a song with sheer force of personality, recognizing and exploiting the humor in some of the lyrics and then calculatedly enunciating them for maximum impact (check the way she sings “I’m such a fuckin’ ladaaaaay” on the much-maligned/completely underrated “The Wait Is Ova’” for proof). And when she has to take it down a notch, she does it with subtlety and class; “Take A Bow”-styled ballad “Stupid In Love” succeeds mainly because of the sweeping melodrama of the arrangement and Rihanna’s pained, emotion-drenched performance on the effectively-repetitive chorus.

Rihanna’s emergence as one of the most charismatic and effectual pop vocalist of her generation is welcome but not surprising; she made that very clear with her show-stealing performance on Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” earlier this year. What is most shocking about Rated R is the brash, honest and all-around badass lyrical content. Rated R is what Britney Spears’ Blackout would have been if Spears had chosen better songwriters/producers and had made the crucial decision not to pretend that the intense pressure and drama of her real life didn’t exist (the obvious exception being “Piece of Me”). Rihanna does not make this mistake, and has definitely given significant input into the songwriting here. “Russian Roulette” tells the story of a dangerous, ticking time bomb of a relationship, while the stunning, Justin Timberlake-penned “Cold Case Love” is definitely addressing Rihanna’s now infamous initial decision to rekindle her relationship with Chris Brown in the weeks following the assault. Over a spare, haunting organ, she croons plaintively “On my roof/Dark and I’m burning a rose/I don’t need proof/I’m torn apart and you know/What you did to me was a crime/Cold case love/And I let you reach me one more time/But that’s enough.”

Remarkably, the album is careful to respect the range of emotions one must feel in a toxic, volatile relationship, presenting an incredibly human picture of Rihanna and the struggle she’s endured. “Fire Bomb”, like a darker, better “Shut Up and Drive”, tells the story of star-crossed lovers, fated to destroy themselves with the intense, self-destructive love they share. And the bridge will give you chills, with Rihanna pleading “Baby we were killing them/They couldn’t handle the millionth degree/We were criminals/As we were burning the world called the police/Fire department, ambulance/You can call me crazy cause I believe/The only move for me and you/Is to blow our flames.” Three songs later comes “G4L”, a bitter, violent revenge fantasy and (perhaps ill-advised) rallying cry for battered women, complete with a horrifying opening line: “I lick the gun when I’m done/Cause I know that revenge is sweet/So sweet.” Rihanna once again takes a distant, almost maniacally detached tone, this time over a murky, simmering bed of synths, calling herself a “Gangsta 4 Life” and boasting “We’re an army/Better yet, a navy/Better yet, crazy/Guns in the air/Guns in the air/Guns in the air/Can’t hurt us again when you come around here.”

Rated R has its lighter moments as well, and the results are just as risky and electrifying. “Te Amo” may be the most musically and lyrically intriguing song on the album, telling the story of a brief, whirlwind lesbian love connection over a brisk and bright, latin-influenced arrangement. Elsewhere, Rihanna is in rare form, brashly proclaiming “Six inch walker/Big shit talker/I never play a victim/I’d rather be a stalker/So baby take me in/I’ll disobey the law/Make sure you frisk me good/Check my panties and my bra” over a storm of synths and heavy metal guitars on “Rock Star 101”. And as for the dance floor moment of the album, that award goes to “Rude Boy” a playful, in-your-face, dirty talk session over a dancehall-influenced beat. Rihanna mocks and taunts her partner throughout, asking “Come here rude boy/Boy, can you get it up?/Come here rude boy/Boy, is you big enough?/ Take it, Take it/Baby, Baby/Take it, take it/Love me, love me!” Yeah…like I said, this is a different Rihanna.

You’re going to hear a lot of things about Rated R in the coming weeks. Some people will hate it, and long for another song like “Disturbia” or “Don’t Stop The Music; others will disapprove of the content, perhaps finding it to be excessive or (my personal favorite) “setting a bad example.” Well, those people will be completely wrong.

Rated R is exactly the album Rihanna was supposed to make at this stage in her career. It may not sell as well as Good Girl Gone Bad, but it's undoubtedly the better album, revealing an emotional depth that, though previously dormant in Rihanna's music, was absolutely necessary for her to convey in the aftermath of her struggles.

And did I mention that its seriously badass?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beanie Sigel (and 50 Cent) vs. Jay-Z: What happens when you make a deal with the devil?

It is a turn of events no hip hop fan wants to see.

On October 30 2009, Beanie Sigel released “What You Talkin’ Bout,” a freestyle over the similarly titled, lead-off track from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint III. The song is a scathing, emotional tirade against Sigel’s former boss and mentor, in which he insinuates that many of the subliminal “get on my level”-esque boasts on Jay’s new album were directed at him. Obviously, Beans was none too pleased by this, and took to Philly radio station The Beat to further air out the situation, explaining that he felt he’d been under-utilized, underpaid and poorly marketed during his time with Roc-A-Fella Records. And though Beans sounded angry and genuinely hurt, it also seemed as though the situation could be hashed out privately.

But after Jay-Z responded, during a press conference, by (justifiably) criticizing Sigel’s spending habits and reminding everyone of the fact that Sigel had never even gone platinum, but was still given his own record label, group, clothing line and film(all entitled State Property), all bets were officially off.

Enter professional opportunist, 50 Cent, who is reportedly signing Beanie Sigel to G-Unit. Never one to stroll past a fire without adding fuel to it, 50 has taken things a step further, recording a song with Sigel in which both throw multiple jabs at Jay-Z. The song, entitled “I Go Off”, is available below, if you’re interested.

You know, I find it to be more than lame that every single time 50 Cent has an album to promote he initiates unprovoked, phony beef with whoever seems convenient at that time; examples include Ja Rule, Nas, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, and now Jay-Z. Sadly enough, this time he’s taking advantage of Beanie Sigel, who has legitimate vitriol for Jay-Z, but could have worked the situation out quietly; instead of provoking a lyrical/financial giant like Jay-Z, who has enough money, power and fans to ruin Sigel’s career, whether that be with another “Takeover,” the fact that he owns Sigel’s publishing, or even through blackballing him out of the industry. Or maybe Jay-Z simply doesn’t respond at all (he definitely does not have to), leaving Sigel on the outs with the most successful rapper in the game right now, and instead aligned with the universally-hated sinking ship that is 50 Cent and G-Unit.

“I Go Off” is a great diss record, that’s for sure. But if you ask me, Beanie Sigel has made a deal with the devil. Bad choice Beans...

Beanie Sigel f/ 50 Cent - I Go Off





Courtney Love (FINALLY) Set To Release Long-Awaited "Nobody's Daughter" Album!

FINALLY!

After multiple stints in rehab (in order to avoid jail time), a slew of shambolic, one-off performances, and botched release date after botched release date, Courtney Love will finally release her long-awaited “Nobody’s Daughter” album in January of next year.

Surprisingly, and perhaps refreshingly, the album will not be released under Love’s name, and will instead be considered a new album from Hole, making Nobody’s Daughter the follow-up to the band’s glammed-up 1998 release, “Celebrity Skin.”

Love began writing for Nobody’s Daughter way back in 2005, while taking part in court-mandated rehab at a facility in California, and soon afterwards began recording sessions with Billy Corgan and Linda Perry. She would eventually decide to scrap the product of those sessions, and had been working with producer Michael Beinhorn and a new band ever since.

According to Rolling Stone, who interviewed Love for its next issue, much of the album was inspired by David Bowie, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and 80’s goth, and will center around “greed, vengeance and feminism” thematically. Sounds like a plan to me!

Check out the classic Hole video for “Doll Parts” below, as well as an amazing track entitled “Never Go Hungry Again”, performed passionately by Courtney back in 2007. “Never Go Hungry Again” is rumored to be included on the upcoming Nobody’s Daughter release, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.

Not getting my hopes up, but excited nonetheless....


Doll Parts



Never Go Hungry Again

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slayer's "World Painted Blood": BLOODY SATISFYING!

Rating: 4/5

Listening to Slayer’s 1986 Thrash Metal classic “Reign In Blood” for the first time is like a baptism for metal fans (Well…a baptism in blood, of course). It’s a rite of passage for anyone and everyone that considers themselves to be a true metal head. If Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is the Godfather Pt. II of Metal, Reign In Blood is Apocalypse Now; brutal, bloody and horrifying. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, Reign in Blood was truly one of a kind upon its release, faster, darker and uglier than anything metal had to offer before them, and basically gave birth to the genre of death metal.

Fast forward to 2009, and metal is quite a different genre. But while there may be bands out there faster and heavier than Slayer, nobody does dark, evil, blistering heavy metal insanity quite like Slayer. I guess it’s the difference between the teacher and the student. Other metal frontmen may have learned how to screech out an ear-shattering scream with ease, but Tom Araya really sounds like he’s singing while being burned alive in the pits of hell.

Slayer do an incredible job of creating the illusion that they aren’t faking it, even though they’re in their mid-40’s and probably take showers with water in the morning, rather than blood. Hard to believe, right? One might even assume that after over 25 years of singing about blood, murder, dismemberment, the evils of religion, and necrophilia, perhaps Slayer might want to branch out a bit, and maybe touch on a few fresh topics this time around. Well, how does snuff films, burying dead bodies, human sacrifice and American Imperialism sound?

It sounds fucking amazing, actually. Slayer’s new album, “World Painted Blood” begins with the title track, a song that absolutely shreds through anything anyone else is doing in heavy music right now. Everything is a ten, including the production, which puts everything right in your face (an acquired taste perhaps, but I’m digging it). The third track, gloriously titled “Snuff,” is what Slayer does best; pure sonic chaos and terror. The song surges forward from the very beginning; lightening fast drums, mindboggling guitar work from Jeff Hanneman and the great Kerry King, and evil vocal work from Mr. Araya, who at one point shouts maniacally “Action, torture misery/Endless suffering/Torment, agony/Captured for eternity/Action/You’re the main attraction!” And Slayer do a great job of incorporating elements of not only the lightening fast Reign in Blood, but many of their slower, wonderfully eerie moments, exemplified best on their other indisputable classic, “Seasons in the Abyss.” The masterful “Beauty Through Order” and the beyond creepy “Playing With Dolls,” even hint at out-and-out melody, before being swallowed whole by pummeling double bass and scorching guitar mayhem.

Seriously people, this is some of the best metal money can buy. If you like metal, and especially if you like Slayer, World Painted Blood is beyond satisfying; it’s better than their last two albums, and may even stand up with some of their best work. Sure Slayer’s been on this same shit for 25 years now, but who cares? The question is not when Slayer’s going to grow out of this nonsense; it’s when people like me will.

And the answer to that is definitely…NEVER.

Video of the Day: Marilyn Manson's "The Dope Show"

For some strange (yet completely justifiable) reason, everytime I watch anything from Lady Gaga I immediately think of Marilyn Manson.

For one thing, Gaga's postmodern concept of Fame (singing about fame and its perils, embodying fame through her clothing and imagery, etc.) is almost exactly what Marilyn Manson tried to do in the mid to late 1990's with his "Antichrist Superstar" and "Mehcanical Animals" albums. Just as Gaga is supposed to be a surreal, hyperbolic version of the idea of the "starlet" or glamourous pop superstar, Marilyn Manson was supposed to be the ultimate version of the malevolent, irresponsible, satanic rock star. It is literally all he sung about for years.

There's no doubt that Gaga has certainly been influenced by the work of Marilyn Manson, as both understand and execute the visual side of their work like no one else. Check out 1998's "The Dope Show" for example, and you're sure to find similarities to Gaga's new video "Bad Romance" in terms of the art direction, fashion design (all white body suites, for example?), the cinematography, and the bizarre, yet quite similar storylines in both videos.

If Manson was the King of Shock Rock, is Gaga the Queen of...Shock Pop?

Anyways, check out the video of the day, Marilyn Manson's classic 1998 clip, "The Dope Show"!



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures: The Supergroup Done RIGHT!

Rating: 4/5

Supergroups.

*long sigh*

If “Supergroup” were a word in the dictionary, it would probably say something like “Supergroups are overhyped, dream collaborations, consisting of members of established, amazing bands, that inevitably amount to absolutely nothing special whatsoever and pale in comparison to said members’ previous bands.”

From Audioslave to Velvet Revolver, supergoups are usually like what happens when you take a bunch of really pretty watercolors and haphazardly mix them up, resulting in an ugly, shit-stain brown. You end up bored and disappointed, and the supergroup either gets bored as well (Audioslave), or their already too-big-to-fit-through-the-door egos clash and inevitably rip the band apart (Velvet Revolver). But every once in a while a Supergroup comes along that just sounds…right. Them Crooked Vultures is one such example of this; a supergroup that may not set the world on fire, but definitely will not suck. And how could it? You’ve got Dave Grohl on DRUMS(!) and Josh Homme handling guitar and vocals. The last time these guys collaborated on a full length, we wound up with “Songs for the Deaf”, the best hard rock album released this decade (according to this writer, at least), and a masterful homage to 70’s-inspired, Zeppelin-esque hard rock. So who better to handle bass than John Paul Jones himself, the legendary bassist for Led Zeppelin?

See what I mean? Them Crooked Vultures makes sense. But does the music?


Oh yes, the music makes sense alright; that badass, no frills, take-no-shit kind of sense. Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled debut album is a complete success; quirky, heavy and fun as hell. Lead single “No Fang” is a pleasurable jam, and the infectious stomp of opening number “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I” gets things off to a great start. But midway through the album is where things start to kick into high gear, beginning with “Elephant,” most definitely the standout of the entire album. The band are obviously channeling Zeppelin throughout, but they do it with love and respect, and “Elephant” exemplifies this good-natured, we’re-just-having-a-good-time vibe of the record. The song is a beast, strutting along with confidence and vigor. You feel like this could have fit in great on Zeppelin II, but it doesn’t make you want to turn on “The Lemon Song” either. You’ll be totally into it, having a good time right along with them.

“Scumbag Blues” keeps the partying going, propelled by an airtight groove, courtesy of the band’s world-class rhythm section (We’re talking about Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones for god sakes!), and some pretty stellar guitar work from Josh Homme. Meanwhile, “Bandoliers” is probably the most Queens of the Stone Age-sounding song on the album, complete with a damn catchy main riff and amazing vocals from Homme. The albums is filled with highlights, and there’s quite a few surprises here too, especially a trippy, psychedelic tangent, lovingly entitled “Interlude with Ludes.”

Like I said, this album is a complete success. Sure, it sounds exactly the way you probably expected it to; but is that such a bad thing? We all thought a band with Rage Against The Machine’s fiery, funky hard rock as a backdrop for Chris Cornell’s jaw dropping, Robert Plant-styled vocals would be a perfect match. We knew how that was going to sound…and it sucked, big time.

At least these guys actually got it right.

Lady Gaga's Brilliant Video for "Bad Romance" Finally Unveiled!

The moment has finally arrived.

After weeks of crazy hype and anticipation, Lady Gaga's brand new video for "Bad Romance" has finally dropped...like an anvil on your fucking house!

I honestly don't know where to begin here. Shall we start at the brilliant, Thriller-inspired choreography, the incredible fashion (and sly usage of many of her previous looks and motifs), or maybe the disturbing yet beautifully-conveyed "kidnapped by fame" storyline? There are far too many details to list, so I won't. But suffice it to say...if you thought her other videos were out there, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Watching this video, it's obvious that Gaga wants to give us the sense that something is ending, and something else is beginning. I guess that something else will be unveiled on The Fame Monster, scheduled for release on November 23rd, and also with her upcoming sold out, headlining tour this winter. Regardless, I can assure you that you have not seen a video like this in a long time. There's fire, there's nudity, there's people coming out of coffins; it's truly a feast for the eyes. Helmed by "I Am Legend" director Frances Lawrence, it lies somewhere in between Michael Jackson's "Scream" and Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People." Gaga looks positively otherworldly, donning styles that allude to her previous looks throughout, before being reborn towards the end of the clip into a glammed up, hyper-surreal looking monster. Wait, could she be a...Fame Monster, perhaps?

Lady Gaga's meteoric rise to the top of the pop heap has been an incredible one, and with the video for "Bad Romance," something tells me we are about to see her take things into the stratosphere. Like Madonna circa "Like A Virgin" or Eminem circa "The Marshall Mathers LP", this may be the moment when an artist with loads of promise and potential, and just on the brink of world domination, somehow makes good on that promise, and does something revolutionary.

Welcome to the big leagues, Gaga!


Monday, November 9, 2009

Video of the Day: TLC "What About Your Friends"

So here's the deal...

Everyday I'm gonna brighten your day with a music video.

Now we ain't talkin bout just any video. This is the Video of the Day; nothing but throwbacks! You will never know what possesses me to choose the videos I choose, you will always be blindsighted by my choice, and you will never see the next one coming either.

First up...TLC. Words truly cannot express my love for TLC. Literally the first artist/group I ever liked, TLC could quite possibly be the greatest girl group ever.

Why, you ask?

From The Supremes to Destiny's Child, the one and only flaw that can always be found in girl groups, in spite of the sublime harmonies and wonderful, bad girl posturing, is the disposability of its "lesser known" members. Almost every girl group in history consisted of one main star, and then a couple of faceless, nameless backup singers, lovingly-placed about 5-10 feet behind the main star. Who are these main stars; these HBICs, you ask? How about Diana Ross, Beyonce, Ronnie Spector and Patti LaBelle, just to name a few. Now...off the top of your head, can you name the other members of Labelle, Patti's orinigal group? (Don't worry, I'll wait...)

Exactly.

But TLC were different. When we speak of TLC as a "group", we actually mean a group. Can you imagine TLC without the laid-back cool of T-Boz, or the bad ass craziness of Left Eye, or the sultry, sexy swag of Chili? I didn't think so. Each member brought something indispensible to the table, and it only made them better. They weren't the best singers and they weren't really the best dancers either. But it was this unique chemistry between TLC that made them the best (as well as the best selling) girl group of all time.

So I'm taking you back...waaaaaaay back to go ole' 1992. This is one of my all-time favorites, TLC's "What About Your Friends"

Enjoy!



Nirvana's "Live at Reading" Rating: 5/5


Rating: 5/5

It’s been over 15 years since Kurt Cobain took his own life, and since then the legend of Nirvana continues to grow, alienating as much as it compels. In other words, it’s very easy to leave Nirvana off your list of favorite bands, or go a year or two without pulling up Nevermind on your iTunes. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana are so important and ubiquitous within the landscape of popular music that it may not even seem possible that there could ever have actually been a time when their brilliant Beatles meets Black Sabbath meets Sonic Youth sound was exciting, innovative and new. But there was…and this is it.

“Live at Reading” will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest live albums ever released. Recorded on August 30th 1992 at the Reading Festival in the United Kingdom, this is Nirvana at the very peak of their popularity; you could probably argue that this performance is the climax of their career. Nevermind had hit number one on the Billboard 200 earlier that year. The album was a massive, entirely unexpected hit, heralded as the watershed moment alternative rock had been destined to have. Meanwhile, the rumors surrounding Nirvana, and particularly those concerning Cobain’s drug use and relationship with Courtney Love, were reaching a fever pitch, and his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, had been born only 12 days prior to this concert. And somehow, all of this comes through on this incredible recording. You can practically feel the excitement and uncertainty in the band’s performance; these guys went from nobodies to superstars, scruffy, punk rock rejects (from Seattle, at that) to the spokesmen of a generation, in less than a year. Cobain’s performance is passionate and riotous, heartfelt and joyous. This was just before things went sour within the band, when the media attention, the drugs, and the feverish devotion of the fans (the very fans that can be heard literally drowning out Kurt’s voice during an astonishing performance of “Lithium” on this recording) ultimately imploded both Cobain’s personal and professional lives.

To me, this is what rock and roll is all about; their performance is combustible, defiiantly imperfect, beautiful and fun. Furious numbers like “Breed”, “School” and “Negative Creep” display the band’s relentless punk sound, while “Lithium” and “All Apologies” are sure to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; you may even shed a tear. And forgive me for being cliché, but the real stunner here is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” No one blames Kurt for inevitably wishing that this song would disappear from earth forever, but when the opening riff starts midway through this album, and you hear the massive audience erupt in giddy pleasure, you will too. There may never be a more perfect hard rock song, and everybody knew it; Kurt did too.

Hard Rock hasn’t been the same since this band ceased to exist, so I don’t blame anyone that ignores the most recent releases from the genre. But if you’re even a casual fan of Nirvana, you have no business not owning Live at Reading. As a matter of fact, if you only buy one rock album this year, do yourself a huge favor and make it this one.

Flawless.

50 Cent's "Before I Self Destruct": The Death of Mainstream Gangsta Rap?

Rating: 3/5

It could be said that 50 Cent is the last, great Gangsta Rapper.

Rising from an unknown Queens drug dealer to an underground hero/industry target…then from a bullet-ridden mixtape rapper without a deal to the most successful gangsta rapper of all time, 50 Cent’s career is absolutely fascinating. He makes enemies with practically everyone, he’s shamelessly lent his name to any endorsement deal with the right bottom line (and made millions and millions of dollars in the process), and since the release of his classic debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” 50 Cent seems to have completely forsaken any kind of artistic innovation, settling into the formulaic and radio-ready on 2005’s “The Massacre” and its disappointing follow-up, 2007’s “Curtis”. Yeah guys…he didn’t name the album (or the movie) “Get Critically-acclaimed or Die Trying,” you feel me?

But when Kanye West’s “Graduation” outsold Curtis in the first week of their simultaneous release and spawned multiple smash hits (while Curtis quickly fell from the charts), many, most definitely including 50 himself, began to wonder if the public had finally gotten over the hedonistic allure of gangsta rap in general and 50’s antics in particular. 50 had allowed himself to turn into some kind of real life, rapping Supervillian; wealthy and powerful, but unscrupulous, mean-spirited and wholly self-interested. So 50 retreated to the studio and made what he claims to be a return to the intoxicating brutality of his earlier work, and his best album ever, “Before I Self Destruct.” Well…he’s wrong. But get passed that little problem and you’ll probably be quite satisfied. The record is definitely somewhat darker than his previous album, and aside from the Neyo-assisted first single “Baby By Me”, one of the few moments here where 50 is obviously reaching for radio play, the album forgoes the mind-numbing pop collaborations that bogged down Curtis.

50’s definitely not trying to soften up his image. Over a formulaic but effective sample from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “If I Was Your Woman”, 50 spews “I’m pretty like a Harlem nigga/A shooter like a Brooklyn nigga/I’m as hustler. It don’t get no bigger/Queens! Southside til they bury me.” On the ominous, Dr. Dre-produced “Death To My Enemies” 50 sends a few shots at Game and Lil Wayne, boasting “I bring money to my niggas that bring death to my enemies.” And 50 has no trouble keeping up with Eminem on “Psycho”, one of the album’s definite standouts. “Crime Wave” is where 50 Cent hits pay dirt however, adopting an at once both arrogant and menacing flow over a razor-sharp, hard-as-nails beat. The song works perfectly, as do many others on Before I Self Destruct. But it’s nothing new. Nothing you haven’t heard before.

Unfortunately, Before I Self Destruct’s true significance may be the way it highlights how stagnant, uninspired and boring mainstream gangsta rap has become.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Clipse ft. Rick Ross "I'm Good (remix)" Music Video

A few thoughts on Clipse' just released video for their remixed new single, "I'm Good":

1. It is a complete travesty that Clipse have yet to attain the level of success that they obviously deserve.

2. That, of course, doesn't matter at all.

3. Though the original version was pretty great, this version featuring Rick Ross is actually better. Better flows, better rhymes, and Rick Ross actually adds something worthwhile to the song. Could it be? Has Rick Ross become...a good emcee?!

4. The video is literally chock-full of excess; shark tanks, glasses of champagne, shiny Lambos, guns being used as paperweights for wads of 100s, Close-up after close-up on an assortment of iced-out watches and chains, and Rick Ross lighting up blunt after blunt after blunt are just some of the wonderful images to be found here. Yet somehow they've managed to be unabashedly cliche while at the same time balancing that with a certain realism that's actually quite effective. The club scenes look kinda real and the excess seems quite geniune and almost...heartfelt?

5. Do not sleep on "Til The Casket Drops", set for release on December 8th!

Clipse ft. Rick Ross "I'm Good (remix)"



Monday, November 2, 2009

Chris Brown Unveils (Bad) Album Cover, Rihanna Releases Tracklisting & Announces Tell-All Interview!

So is it just me...or has there been some kinda tit-for-tat thing going on with Chris Brown and Rihanna?

Over the course of the past month, the two have been simultaneously releasing new singles, music video stills, and cover art...like, literally within hours of one another. And today was no exception, with Chris Brown releasing the cover art for his forthcoming album, "Graffiti", and Rihanna unveiling the tracklisting for her upcoming "Rated R" record.

I won't deny that I think Chris Brown is a complete and utter douchebag (an opinion that has been made clear to just about anyone I talk to on a regular basis). However, I will not deny that Brown's Lil Wayne-assisted first single "I Can Transform Ya" is flames. But guys, this album cover looks absolutely ridiculous. What is he going for exactly? He looks like Neo from the Matrix, but the hipster-"rockstar" version or something. Whatever...nobody buys music anymore anyway, so if you're just dying for this new album, I doubt you'll have to grapple with the album cover. Like I said, the song is hot.

Anywayz, Rihanna released the tracklisting for "Rated R" today (which has a far better album cover, imo), and I'd say things are still looking quite promising. Track titles include "Madhouse", "Fire Bomb" and "Cold Case Love", and confirmed guests for the outing include Young Jeezy, Will.I.Am and...Slash?! Check below for the full listing...

And on a side note, a tell-all interview, featuring Rihanna, has been announced as well. Set to be split into two segments, one for Good Morning America this Thursday, and the other to be aired the next night on 20/20. The interview will be Rihanna's first since the infamous altercation with Chris Brown earlier this year.

Set your TiVo's people....


Confirmed tracklisting for Rihanna's "Rated R":
1. Mad House
2. Wait Your Turn
3. Hard featuring Young Jeezy
4. Stupid In Love
5. ROCKSTAR 101 featuring Slash
6. Russian Roulette
7. Fire Bomb
8. Rude Boy
9. Photographs featuring Will.I.Am
10. G4L
11. Te Amo
12. Cold Case Love
13. The Last Song

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Julian Casablancas' "Phrazes for the Young"

Rating: 4/5

So I don’t know about you, but I miss The Strokes.
After the brilliant one-two punch of their landmark debut “Is This It?” followed by its (slightly better, imo) sequel, “Room on Fire”, fans were thrown for a loop with 2006’s “First Impressions of Earth”. Taking risks is a great thing for any band, but when the bat and ball don’t connect like they should, that’s called a strike, plain and simple.

And then there was collective silence from The Strokes, with individual side projects undertaken, and vague and increasingly pessimistic-sounding status updates coming down the pipe every once in a while. And now, three years since their last record, lead singer/chief songwriter Julian Casablancas releases “Phrazes for the Young,” his first solo album. And to be honest, I don’t think many people are expecting much from this record, such is the power of The Strokes as a band; Casablancas successfully going solo just can’t be a good thing for a band in which he writes basically all of the material. And one listen to Phrazes for the Young makes it very clear that those fears may actually be justified.

The most shocking thing about Phrazes for the Young is how truly fresh it is; it’s not a rehash of The Strokes material, and it’s not some ill-conceived, cringe-worthy image and sound overhaul either (*cough*...Chris Cornell?). First track “Out of the Blue” and “River of Brakelights” are about as close as the record gets to anything truly reminiscent of The Strokes’ material, beyond Casablancas’ wonderful, trademark croon, which is as infectious and haunting as ever. But even those songs lean far more to the future than the past, with the incredible “River of Brakelights” beginning with glitchy, stuttering drum programming and reaching its climax with an epic, industrial-tinged chorus. Elsewhere, the soulful “4 Chords of the Apocalypse” is a definite stand out, sounding like Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” produced by Trent Reznor. In other words, this is genuinely intriguing music.

Celebratory synths and a funky drum beat drive the endlessly fun and surprisingly danceable first single “11th Dimension”, and “Ludlow St”, Casablancas’ ode to the Lower East Side, may be the album’s craziest and most compelling moment, adopting a just-a-little-kooky-but-not-dumb country swagger over which the tribute is funny, fun and quite touching, actually. Later, “Glass”, anchored initially by a twitchy breakbeat and a lush bed of synths, opens up into a stunning chorus that is among the most melodic and cathartic moments on the album.

And inevitably that is precisely where Casablancas’ strength as always been; the incredible melodies. That was the backbone of The Strokes’ addictive garage-pop sound, and it is absolutely the bread and butter of this stellar solo outing.

Lil Wayne's "No Ceilings" Leaks!

Somewhere along the way, did you forget how Lil Wayne became Lil Wayne?

Did all the autotune, shitty guitar solos, and Rebirth release date pushbacks cloud your memory of the essense of what made Lil Wayne compelling in the first place?

Well consider Wayne's latest mixtape "No Ceilings" your official reminder. As with previous classics like "Dedication 2" and "Da Drought 3", Wayne hops on hot beat after hot beat (everything from "Swag Surfin" to "Make Her Say"), and takes ownership of every single one of them, astounding every step of the way with his now legendary wit and uncanny ability to make truly bizarre connections.

I won't say much more. But this is why you loved Lil Wayne in the first place.

And you can download the whole thing at NahRight.com, after the jump...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mos Def, Black Thought & Eminem: Does it get any better?

This is what Hip Hop is all about.

Tonight BET aired their annual Hip Hop Awards Show, and it basically sucked...except for an incredible cypher straight out of any Hip Hop fan's dreams.

Mos Def. Black Thought. Eminem.

Check it out!