Dec 17 2011

Most Disappointing Albums of 2011

A recent NBC/WSJ poll revealed 76% of Americans consider 2011 to be a “below average” year or “one of the worst” in their lives. Certainly times are tough in the world. Obama is a lame duck, and the competing Republicans are clinically insane adulterers and fundamentalists. The economy remains on the brink of collapse; Congress is a brainless, yelling mob of idiocy. REM broke up. Limp Bizkit got back together.

Musically speaking, do I consider 2011 to be a disappointing year overall? Not really, but I don’t consider it to be a revelatory one either. So I’m indifferent. That said, as is the case with every year, 2011 had its share of disappointments. Maybe in these five cases, my expectations were set unreasonably high. But for at least a couple, I don’t think that’s the situation; some of these albums just flat-out suck.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

This is a good album. Not a great one. And when it comes to Radiohead, “great” is the caliber the world expects. Perhaps that’s unfair, but it’s realistic. It took them a while, but they finally churned out a dud. Is it challenging? Yes. Is it ambitious? Absolutely. Does it sound forced, lost, sometimes even lazy? Unfortunately, but definitely. I look forward to hearing the next great transformation in the sound of Radiohead, because this was obviously a stumbling transition of some sort.

Tyler the Creator – Goblin

It’s incredible how one album can utterly silence an excited mob. Count me as one of the many who saw Odd Future at SXSW, on Jimmy Fallon, and was psyched to hear Tyler’s new solo outing. With the exception of “Yonkers” this is a complete mess from start to finish. It is patently offensive in an auditory, not lyrical, sense. The real disgust lies not within the misogynistic, homophobic verses, but the tuneless, boring dreck that surrounds them. Unlistenable.

Washed Out – Within and Without

Speaking of boring….I guess I should have seen this one coming. Abandoning the fun, infectious, danceable influence evident on the excellent Life of Leisure EP, Ernest Greene conjured up a full-length full of mood, but absolutely nothing that stands out.

The Strokes – Angles

That dreadful, thrown-together album cover says it all, doesn’t it? How bummed were you after hearing this all the way through for the first time? What a sinking feeling. Exactly three tracks here are great, even if they’re not exactly progressive. The rest is uncharacteristically confused. The listener feels the same way the band probably did after finishing this: what?

Justice – Audio Video Disco

It’s generally expected when you take four years to make a follow-up to a critically acclaimed debut, that means you’re taking some risks, trying some new things, and the result will be an interesting one. That’s exactly what Justice did. In fact, that’s all they did. Going the way of MGMT, there’s very little here that sounds even remotely like the 2007 French house duo that isn’t Daft Punk. More prog than anything else, Audio Video Disco throws a lot of spaghetti at the wall, and almost none of it sticks. Props for changing the formula, but I would have preferred a simple Cross Part 2.


Dec 1 2011

Grammy Predictions: Bon Iver is No Arcade Fire

Grammy nominations are in, and Kanye’s been snubbed again. I mean, it’s nice and all that Yeezy leads the pack with seven nods, but no Album of the Year? No, instead that goes to….Bruno Mars? Oh, Grammys. Missing the mark….at least there’s something consistent in the music industry.

The aforementioned Mars earned six nominations, few of which he will win; Foo Fighters got the same amount, being deservedly recognized for their best album in years. But Adele, also in the six category, is the artist who will clean house this time around. She’s the perfect safe, AC-friendly, Grammy-loving, overrated nonsense the world rallies around. Like Taylor and Norah before her, Adele will bore us to tears with each tearful acceptance speech. God, please let Yeezy get up there and start yelling.

And then there’s Bon Iver, who scored some notable categories, including Alternative Music Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist (which in Grammy terms means “first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist”, so….yeah….can you say “arbitrary?”). So of course already he’s being hailed as the next Arcade Fire, who upset Grammy Nation last year by winning Album of the Year. Which was amazing and awesome. Unlike Bon Iver’s new, underwhelming, undeserving, overrated second album that’s ALREADY making everybody’s year-end list.

Here’s the straight poop: while Arcade Fire may have pulled the underdog bit last year, it’s not happening this year. I’d be surprised if Bon Iver walked away with anything at all. Alternative’s going to Radiohead. Record and Song are going to Adele, as is everything else. So who gets the BNA curse? It’s either the Band Perry (who I wouldn’t mark off right away, the Academy has shown in the past they love this lethargic style of country….remember Lady Antebellum?) or it’s going to Nicki Minaj, who has just blown up this year. So sorry Justin Vernon, you’re no Win Butler.

Radiohead, Skrillex, Lil Wayne, Foster the People, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Mumford and Sons round out the top nominees, and Daft Punk received recognition for their score to Tron. Also, I think I saw Fleet Foxes in the Folk category somewhere. So yeah, don’t let the nominations cloud your thinking….just because it seems like who they pick has been improving, who they actually award has not. Same as it ever was….I’m getting bored just typing this. February can’t get here sooner!


Jul 13 2011

Disappointments/Overrated Albums of 2011 So Far

The Disappointments:

Washed Out – Within and Without

Ernest Greene has made the age-old mistake most sophomore slumps make – he has focused too hard on form, and not on content. Abandoning the sharp pop of the impressive Life of Leisure EP for a bland, boring follow-up, Greene has created a sleepytime comp, but not in a good way.

Tyler the Creator – Goblin

Never since the invention of the good ol’ Internet/blog hype machine has an artist been so lauded and built up to impossible expectations, only to release an irredeemably bad album and lose all that praise.  I mean, man.  What a terrible record.  No one has fallen harder than Tyler the Creator.  At least, not yet.

The Strokes – Angles

This album is a giant mess, with the exception of exactly three songs. Possibly worse than not living up to hype (see above) is watching an established band return after a long hiatus and produce what is arguably their worst effort yet.  We all know the first two can’t be beaten, but it would’ve been nice to see these guys try.

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

It is apparent that, well inside their comfort zone, Radiohead have settled into trading in hooks for ambient experimentation and a lack of depth or cohesion.  There is nothing memorable here; the group phoned it in for their first mediocre album since Pablo Honey.  Perhaps this is a transformative period, and we can all look back and laugh at this stepping stone record.

REM – Collapse Into Now

At least Radiohead was progressive – most REM albums are always claimed to be a “back to basics” or “return to form,” but this time it’s for real.  Unfortunately, Stipe, Mills, and Buck forgot to bring the sharp melody and memorable kick back from 1995, and the result is somewhat dated and underwhelming.

The Overrated:

James Blake – S/T

This is a noble debut from an up-and-comer; it shows promise, warts and all.  Apparently the critics didn’t notice most of the album is not necessarily songs, but experimental sound and structureless production.  Maybe in the future Blake can rein it in and produce an album worthy of all the praise it’s getting.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

I guess I’m missing something here, but the sheer uninspired tone of boredom Vile likes to deliver his songs in is just grating to me.  I don’t pretend to understand why this album has received the unjust praise it’s received.

Foster the People – Torches

It’s Maroon 5 trying to replicate the hits of MGMT.  It’s repetitive.  Its success is uncanny and undeserved.  “Pumped Up Kicks” is the prime example for an album of one-note structure beating you in the head until it’s stuck in your brain.  Just because you can’t stop singing it doesn’t mean it’s good.

Juliana Barwick – The Magic Place

I have to give credit here – what Barwick has tried is pretty creative.  The main instrument here is layers of Barwick’s haunting voice, and the result is original and intriguing.  Unfortunately, it’s also frankly boring, especially for an entire album.

Bon Iver – S/T

There’s just not enough here to warrant the praise this sophomore slump has been receiving.  I feel this is a transitional album, that Vernon just needs to get his creative juices flowing again, instead of letting the celebrity status take control and half-ass a disc that only picks up on the last two tracks.


May 27 2011

My Top 300 Songs of the 2000s – The Top Ten

Today I conclude my ongoing feature showcasing my personal picks for the best songs of the past decade, posting the final ten songs.

10. Justin Timberlake – SexyBack (feat. Timbaland)

JT’s sophomore solo album was miles different from the R&B-influenced debut Justified.  For one, it was dirtier, sexier, raunchier.  Timberlake had all but washed himself clean of the boy band label he had established in ‘NSync, and on the other side was a sharp dressed man with smart production and crisp, Prince-leaning erotic pop.  The surprisingly simple, yet undeniably infectious “SexyBack,” the album’s first single, is producer Timbaland at some of his most creative, and catchy, creations.


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Apr 1 2011

Quarterly Review – January-March 2011

Once every three months I list the best of what I heard in albums/songs/remixes for the quarter. I do this to personally keep up with all the awesome music I hear, as it ultimately helps me at the end of the year when I do my overall listing for the previous twelve months. I also do it to introduce you cool cats to tunes you may have missed independently.

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Feb 19 2011

Culture Greyhound Podcast 2/19/11

Every Saturday, I post a 15-20 minute podcast featuring some tracks I’ve been jamming the previous week, as well as some commentary and random musings from yours truly. Enjoy!

Playlist:

tUnE-yArDs – Bizness
PS I Love You/Diamond Rings – Leftovers
Radiohead – Lotus Flower
The Hood Internet – Dutty Disagreements (Sean Kingston and Nicki Minaj vs. Stewrat)


Feb 14 2011

News Bits and Commentary – February 14, 2011

I don’t usually post about current news so much, I figure that’s what Twitter and Google News are for, and there are plenty of blogs/zines out there keeping us all abreast of what’s going on.  But on this Valentine’s Day, things are shaping up to be an exciting spring in the world of music, and I figure I would try to sort it out a bit.

First of all, the Grammys were last night, and Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, the coveted top prize in music awards, or so they say.  While so-called “music experts” are scratching their heads as to why Eminem didn’t take home the prize, as was predicted, I believe Village Voice acted as the megaphone for the rest of us, you know, people that actually listen to music.  Others, meanwhile, are trying to figure out who the hell Arcade Fire is, and saying hilarious nonsense in the process.

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Jan 20 2011

My Top 300 Songs of the 2000s – 70-61

Today I continue my ongoing feature showcasing my personal picks for the best songs of the past decade, posting ten songs at a time.

70. Band of Horses – Is There a Ghost

The first track off Cease to Begin is a great introduction to Band of Horses’ second disc – it’s a beautiful rising track with the simple, repeated lyrics “I could sleep” and “When I lived alone, is there a ghost in my house.”  What follows is a near-flawless album that embodies the Southern spirit and indie charm this now-immensely popular group delivers.

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Dec 23 2010

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – In Rainbows

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

44. Radiohead – In Rainbows

Released in October 2007 digitally (for a price of your choosing) and physically dropped on New Year’s Day 2008, In Rainbows was the end of the longest gap in between albums for Radiohead.  Whether you agree or not, the album is generally credited with establishing a new business model for a crippling music industry, offering a “pay what you want” scheme for the digital copy, exclusively from the band’s website.  It seems fitting that Radiohead would do this; they had just split with EMI, and In Rainbows was their first album not on a major label.  This idea has been adopted by many independent artists since the media storm surrounding the inventive self-leak.  But what In Rainbows is remembered for is not necessarily what makes it great – it is, for a group like Radiohead, quite shockingly amorous.

Thom Yorke once described the mood and lyrics of In Rainbows as “seduction songs,” and it’s hard to argue with that.  For the most part, the album is softer, more down-tempo, and, well, more romantic (in a weird Radiohead kind of way) than anything they’ve ever done.  Take the piano chords and easing texture of the sensual “All I Need,” or the creeping crescendo of “Videotape.”  Even songs that channel the 21st-century electronic-noodling side of the British group, such as “15 Step” and “Nude,” are less raw and foreboding than the highlights of Kid A and Hail to the Thief.  Meanwhile, the guitar-based Bends and OK Computer-era tracks, referring to “Weird Fishes” and “Reckoner,” show maturation, and, lyrically speaking, poetic contemplation.

With 2011 fast approaching, the talks from Johnny Greenwood are already aplenty regarding a follow-up to this fantastic disc, one of Radiohead’s best hands down.  And as their track record shows, in terms of ingenuous marketing as well as growth in musicianship, we can expect something completely different and amazing all at once.

      1. Radiohead - 15 Step
      2. Radiohead - All I Need
      3. Radiohead - Reckoner

Aug 24 2010

Five Videos Pitchfork Missed Monday

For the most part, when browsing Pitchfork’s recently-posted Top 50 Music Videos of the 90’s, four names dominate: Chris Cunningham, Hype Williams, Michel Gondry, and Spike Jonze.  And all four of these men completely deserve their recognition – they all, in their own way, directed only the finest of what is considered to be the best decade for music videos.  MTV was still influential and watchable, and the medium of video promotion was still powerful in the music biz.

This burgeoning new phenomenon had transformed into a well-produced, highly-financed, ultra-creative artistic landscape that the 80’s products couldn’t touch.  By the time of the 2000’s, however, the luster was lost – the best videos were buried in the over-saturation of the Web, and the “music” cable channels ceased music programming.  Still, we have the 90’s – the golden age of the music video, and Pitchfork, more or less, covered the highlights.

There are many personal favorites of mine that didn’t make the cut – perhaps one day I will compile my own list of top videos from the 90’s.  While video lists usually lean towards either ranking in terms of influence or innovative spectacle, Pitchfork teeter-tottered between the two, leaning toward the latter.  With this in mind, it’s a decent list – like most lists, it has some glaring omissions, which are recognized after the jump.

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