Jesus, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been kind of experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately. Not sure why. But since we’re at the end of the year, I thought I’d give out my picks for the best records of the year. And here we go! (Note: Re-issues, don’t count otherwise I would have had Dylan and Springsteen on my list.)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it,” He declares on “Power”. Sure he might be boasting, but when you deliver songs like “Runaway” with its haunting piano there’s a reason to. Sonically, the songs are all over the place – “All of the Lights” is rap/pop at its best, then there’s the slow-stoner burn of “Gorgeous” complete with a distorted guitars, and a song that uses a choir chanting endlessly in the background, plus a King Crimson sample should not work, but somehow “Power” does just that. Kanye West may be everyone’s favorite whipping boy at the moment, but he’s moved onto the future and everybody has to play catch up. As he says in “Monster”: “I’m living the future so the presence is my past. My presence is a present kiss my ass.”
The New Pornographers – Together
I admit I was actually bored by the NP’s last album, Challengers. It seemed to be lacking something, and I could never pin it down. Luckily, the band probably had the same idea, and discovered their love for power-pop with Together, while adding some new ideas into the mix with the Black Sabbath-esque riff of “Your Hands (Together)”. The hooks are there again, and the harmonies between Carl Newman and Neko Case never sounded sweeter as they do on songs such as “Silver Jenny Dollar” and “Moves”.
Elvis Costello – National Ransom
While the last few efforts by Costello have been of high quality (Momufuku, Secret Profane & Sugarcane) with National Ransom, Costello digs deep and delivers one of his best albums in years. Costello ever being the musical nerd (and this is a good thing) like Dylan in recent years draws on pre-rock influences – “My Lovely Jezebel” sounds it was written in the mid west, circa the late 1890s. Bluegrass also seems to be an influence on many of the songs as well particularly “Dr. Watson, I Presume”. Even the straight-up rock of the title track has an old-time feel to it. Costello may not rock like he used during the hey-day of the Attractions, but with albums such as National Ransom it’s clear he hasn’t entirely mellowed out.
Matt & Kim – Sidewalks
My girlfriend introduced me to Matt & Kim last year and at first I was not sure what to make of them. Was this mix of dance/punk serious or were they being ironic? I couldn’t tell despite liking some of their songs. But with this year’s Sidewalks, Matt & Kim have proved one thing: it’s okay to have poppy songs once in a while. Just make sure it’s covered in enough noise and irony so that that the hipsters don’t cry “Sell outs!”
Cee-Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Leave it to Cee-Lo to bring the old school R&B sound back, with a twist. ”Fuck You” might be the album’s stand-out and quite possibly the best song of the year, but “Bright Lights, Bigger City” recalls 70s disco records. Throughout the album, Cee-lo’s voice stands out, not only because he is one of the few male stars that can actually sing, but he has conviction. Cee-Lo is believable in his updating of Motown, and that’s what makes it a success.
(Check tomorrow for best movies. I know this is a music blog, but it’s the end of the year.)