May your Xmas morning be filled with nothing but The Legend of Zelda and rapping 10-year olds.
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If you smashed videogame soundtracks, G-Funk, R&B, Hip-Hop, Grime, Jungle, Dubstep and orchestral film scores into the Hadron collider, you’d get an album approximating Bristol producer Guido’s Anidea. Taking English dance music to melodic extremes, Anidea is dubstep’s best pop move in a year full of awkward crossovers, the logical progression of a genre born out of darkness that’s increasingly facing the spotlight. Simultaneously, it’s the rare bass album that feels wholly accessible to hip-hop oriented North-American ears, owing equally to Swizz Beats’ plastic horns and Timbaland’s shuffling high-hats, and Mala’s sub-frequencies and Skream’s metallic synthesizer licks.
The vocal tracks are obvious entry points. With its sultry-vocal and shiny production, “Beautiful Complication” could have made the TRL top 10 a decade ago, while “Way U Make Me Feel” updates the melody from Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and twists it into a post-disco anthem for the lovelorn. Elsewhere, “Mad Sax” sounds like Pete Rock and Dr. Dre trapped in a space-elevator with nothing but a cheap laptop to keep them company. “Shades of Blue” offers a shadowy contrast to the album’s hyper-color spectacle. Beyond the highlights, Anidea stands as full-length listening, varying the mood while remaining coherent, sucking listeners into its world and spitting them out 48 minutes later dazed, confused, slightly stoned and ultimately, punch drunk like the label it was released on. If you’ve been tempted by all of this UK Bass stuff I’ve been raving about, but don’t know where to begin, try Anidea. It’s a gateway drug and like many gateway drugs, it’s better than most of the hard stuff. –Sach O
I refuse to believe this album wasn’t recorded in a make-shift, Brooklyn basement studio over the course of a particularly gray week in the winter of 1993. As far as I’m concerned, some particularly crooked record industry shadiness prevented “Marcberg” from seeing the light of Brownsville for nearly two decades, keeping Roc Marciano from his rightful place as one of the icons of 90s New York gangster rap. It strains belief to think this record was recorded in 2010. Rappers don’t want to make records this hard anymore. The biggest gangster rapper of 2010 was far more concerned with describing his love of gaudy luxury items and the taste of sundry seafoods than trying to make the listeners poop their pants in fear of running into him in a dark alley.
Marcberg restores hip-hop to it’s antisocial, underpants-shitting, stab-yours-testicles-with-a-rusty-steak-knife-and-laugh-as-you-slowly-bleed-out-on-the-concrete glory. Roc’s flow is all mean-spirited grumblings spit through gritted teeth and spiteful resentment. That’s my kind of rapper. Some may argue that Marc mumbles too much, but that belittles the tricky intricacy of his rhymes. The album’s best song, “Panic,” is a clinic of sneering, misanthropic lyricism. Meanwhile, the beats thump as though caked in a layer of graveyard dirt, played through the echo of project winds. Do you really care if Marciano can’t really write a hook or that the gangster lifestyle he’s describing hasn’t really existed in New York since the mid-90s? If so, you need to hop off the unintentional comedy stylings of Rick Ross’ fevered self-delusions. I can’t collab with y’all crabs, anyway. —Doc Zeus
At 26, Danny Brown has enough perspective on life to reminiscence on his childhood spent on a street corner on “Nowhere 2 Go” and enough hard-won wisdom to laugh about it on the 93-raw “Re-Up.” On the latter song, he recounts selling narcotics to a former Dramatic, who attempted to sing for credit, possessing the rare gift to turn the tragic into vivid, hilarious tales. The Hybrid found him progressing dramatically from a clever punchline rapper into a song writer capable of immense sensitivity, yet never saccharine or soft.
Songs like “Shootin’ Moves” work perfectly in this format, stellar brag rap that boats Outsidaz-worthy jabs about struggling with child-proof doors while he’s “shining like the silver on an Air Max ’95.” But The Hybrid’s back end offers three thematically tied songs that present his strongest writing yet. “Thank God” sings the praise of food stamp bridge cards: “they say the hood starving but we eating faking Lawry’s sauces.” While “Drinks on Me” is a thoughtful examination of the alcoholic life, the phased guitar drifting like a lush’s wandering mind — Brown moves from describing his encounter with a one-night bender to a sensitive portrayal of his alcoholic aunt. “Generation RX” attacks prescription culture, asking how can you get locked up for a dime bag when you can get a note for viagra without a problem? But Danny doesn’t excuse himself either, even endorsing adderal as a writing aid, jumping from thoughtful breakdowns of social ills to claiming “bitches say the dick taste good like Mickey D french fries.” The Hybrid proves Danny Brown is a worthy heir to Marshall Mathers’ legacy. Early in his career, the erstwhile Slim Shady represented the perfect blend of dark comedy with empathetic writing. At the moment, the title of the song “Greatest Raper Ever” is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not as far off as you’d think. Crown the new king of Detroit with a swisher and a Tiger fitted –it’s about time. –Aaron Matthews
In the end, it all worked out well for Big Boi. After the excruciating delays and label chicanery, Antwan Andre Patton ended up with the year’s best rap album. The inexplicable inaction leading up to this album’s release is simply staggering in retrospect. You mean to tell me that two whole record labels filled with allegedly qualified music executives could have listened to the music that Big Boi was leaking for the better parts of three years and not realize they had a classic album on their hands? Who is the brain trust behind that particular travesty? I could understand if this was some newbie with questionable commercial potential, but this is one half of the most successful duo in hip hop history! L.A. Reid, you signed Outkast when they were just teenagers! How did you not see this coming?
Sir Lucious Left Foot is a refreshing throwback to Outkast’s glory days and positions Big Boi as a solo artist with a singular style. It retains the sensibilities of ‘Kast’s weirder and more eclectic material, but excises some of the more outlandish adventurism, replacing it with a more grounded, singular focus. What we get is an album that seems timeless, yet sounds as if it could easily win the Grammy in 2015. Pick a song on the album and you’ll find a tune that could easily top the endless string of best single of the year lists. “Shine Blockas” is a triumphant soul bomb of southern gangster feel-goodery, while “Shutterbugg” is a slice of new millennial funk pie. If you want classic Outkast futurism, there is Andre 3000-produced “You Ain’t No DJ” or if you want pavement-crushing trunk rattle, there are the world-conquering horns of “General Patton.” “The Other Guy” in Outkast has snatched the best-rapper-in-the-group crown out of the hands of the group’s chosen one. All hail the conquering hero. —Doc Zeus
I have to be honest: I usually turn to beatz records for my drug and drink music. But there was a point in the middle of this humid Midwestern summer where the record spinning circle hours on my home stereo was Tame Impala’s excellent Modular debut, Innerspeaker. In texts and e-mails, Jeff and I quickly wowed to this band that sounded something like the Swedish beardo-psych troupe Dungen fronted by Kevin Parker’s vocals that naggingly and, frankly, unavoidably bred comparisons to the echo-lost John Lennon of the Magical Mystery Tour/Pepper’s era. But once these simple handles subsided, what I appreciated most was how Innerspeaker rehashed the famed full-lengths of the mid-seventies. Records of monolith renegotiated here as a kind of sun blistered psych-rock symphony without the dreaded “concept” structuring. If the young band has already developed a very keen sense of melody and transitional phrasings—and I’m not undermining these dudes’ sense of tunecraft, trust me–they don’t really dice Innerspeaker into distinct, separate-able standalones. I mean, I’m still not sure I know any of these song titles.
Instead, fittingly, given the era on which Tame Impala’s fixed its ears, Innerspeaker is very much a long-player. What I remember are not entire songs but its fascinating sonic passages. The off-kilt drum rush that opens “Alter Ego”; the candy-pop intro and John Bonham brawn of “Lucidity”; the spacious daydrift of Parker’s vocals on “Expectation”; the way “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds” suddenly switches midstream into this space-rock stretch that sounds like liquidized audio; or the bruised and battered lament that introduces the John Mayall-esque “The Bold Arrow of Time,” arguably the record’s most scabrous blues cut. Ordinarily, it’d be damn tempting to call Innerspeaker the ultimate summer-drive record—an Australian take on the autobahn record–but frankly it’s best for those errant moments in the night when you ain’t at your behind-the-wheel best.–Derek Miller
Most electronic music artists give you the sound after it’s been mixed, but Actress’ brand of diagonal electronic music sounds remarkably unfiltered, caked in silt and tiny shards of metal. Like Throbbing Gristle in 3D, Splazsh is the kind of album that people say is “forward-thinking.” But what’s amazing is how entrenched it is in the past, whether it flosses mid-‘90s house, glitchy post-punk electronics, or experimental noise. Actress could have given us anything, but thankfully, he gave us Cabaret Voltaire’s entire career in miniature, ostensibly impenetrable, drawing you in to its serrated bobble. — Tal Rosenberg
MP3: Actress – “Purple Slazsh” (Left-Click)
Dan Snaith’s fifth full-length and third as Caribou, Swim, sounds like a break-up record, even if it’s not. It’s an album where attempts to work through complicated emotions are stymied at every node along the way — two-step(s) forward and dubstep(s) back. It’s as if the people that Snaith sings about are looking to the dancefloor for the answer to their problems, and all he can do is shrug his shoulders and say, “There’s only so much I can do.” But he does a lot. The people that populate Swim might be luckless, but Snaith imbues them with prid and a lonely grace that can’t help but be admired, if not desired.
There’s a retro-futuristic meld on Swim, where Snaith’s previous forays into 60s psychedelia still bleed through. The dancefloor-friendly tempos combined with the album’s chilly uneasiness produces a constant knot-in-your-stomach, evoking the same tension that good dubstep does. Swim is dance music with its head plunged into water. The gnarled synths of “Odessa” sound like pterodactyl cries. “Hannibal” eats itself from the inside. With its fog-like bass that hugs the ground, “Sun” makes stereo panning exciting for the first time since 1976. The lower end of “Bowls” crawls like a slow-moving pressure system. “Jamelia” simmers before boiling over, a glorious rush of blood to the head that provides a much-needed catharsis. And then, as quickly as it began, the track collapses back on itself, like a supernova gone cold, leaving nothing but a universe of empty space — and that beat. —Renato Pagnani
MP3: Caribou – “Odessa”
Most Americans think that dance music can’t convey complex emotions. I’m not talking to you, Internet Blog Reader, who caught the Caberet Voltaire reference in the Actress blurb, and has had the Dachau Blues since the death of Captain Beefheart (RIP Willie the Pimp.) I’m referring your friend who thinks that dance music is what Jersey Shore whores beat up the beat to. In the last month, I have heard two separate diatribes against the house music takeover of Los Angeles (DJ RONY SEIKALY, YO). We are a nation who compartmentalize: holistic thinking is fringe, acupuncture is voodoo, dance music is strictly Mozarella trance with artery-clogging synths and...un-cha, un-cha..un-cha...
There is Love in You is an electronic album, a dance music album, a house album, a classical album, it’s even sort of a jazz album. But really, it’s none of those things. It’s Kieren Hebden’s attempt to transmute a wealth of ineffable emotions into something tangible. He scans both the terrestrial and the skies — “Angel Echoes” opens the album like a vault of ancient coins, blisteringly bright and triggering the atavistic unconscious. The layers are so condensed and powerful that it trips a synaptic nerve — angel’s echoes are understood as both weird myths and minor miracles of diurnal existence. That’s why he samples a newborn’s palpitations on “Pablo’s Heart.” Four Tet has his stethoscope attuned to things that scarcely exist, unpolluted sounds only capturable by foreign instruments or auspicious wiring.
There are no real vocals on There is Love in You, merely kaleidoscopic smears of syllables, as out-of-focus and colorful as the album cover itself. Hebden took off a half-decade off between Four Tet full-lengths, but his travels reveal themselves — the time spent as a resident DJ at London club Plastic People road-testing these lachrymose bangers until they evoked the precise chemical voltage. His time collaborating on Moth/Wolf Cub with former schoolmate Burial taught him well, as Hebden reveals an ability to chop and pitch vocal samples that evoke a rare intensity — an unpainted beauty capable of staggering even those antithetically opposed to rapid rhythms. This is dance music, but it’s only occasionally danceable — a perfect symmetry between head and foot. It goes for the heart without resorting to cheap tricks or conciliatory gestures. What’s not to love. –-Jeff Weiss
Pop will eat us all. For better or worse, it’s merely a matter of time before every musical innovation filters down to the pop/rock world only to be applied to another sad-sack cliche about heartache and loneliness. Why do music critics STILL generally consider this musical form inherently superior than a rap or EDM track? I’m uncertain, but I suspect a surplus of useless Lit degrees among album reviewers and a penchant for depression. You’d think that I would be ready to tear Dark Star limb from limb for abandoning bass music for synth-pop, that I’d paint them as retrograde or carpetbaggers appropriating bass music’s sonic innovations for evil “rockist” ends. But North stands as the best pop album of the year, the rare album-length statement that accurately captures post-millennial dread and anxiety.
North shatters paradigms, proud of its high fidelity and careful recording, without falling prey to the ostentatiousness of a major label album. It’s dark to the point of bleakness but also sleek and inviting, drawing you into its grayness like few albums since OK Computer (I went there). It draws on electronic music’s complex, next-level production but applies a classic narrative form, proper songs (hah!) that dare you not to care even as the vocals teeter between electronically treated robotics and rough-hewn humanity. When this site awarded 808s and Heartbreak our album of the year nod in 2008, we never for a second imagined that it would lead to the turd Ferguson’s that were CuDi, B.O.B and Last Train to Paris. North doesn’t make up for those, but it comes closest to realizing the potential of Kanye’s emotronica, dropping the overbearing ego and cheap pop moves in favor of actual emotion, understated human drama and some of the best pop songwriting this year. –Sach 0
Madlib is ideological without being an idealogue. He’s committed his life to soak wisdom from the scrolls, the closest cognate contemporary hip-hop has to a medieval scholar. But no medieval monk smoked this many herbs or head-nodded with so much soul. Madlib communicates to a certain type — not necessarily those who live in the past, but those who draw strength from it. Don’t wrongly mistake these 10 volumes as an attempt to resurrect lost worlds, but rather a modern refashioning, a generational duty to preserve the spirit of parchment and Parliament, more Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead, less Shakespeare at your local playhouse.
Lambently gliding across the worlds of stoned 70s prog-rock, free modal jazz, classic reggae, boom-bap, boogie, disco, Brazilian jazz, funk, and tropicalia, dirty African psych, and the occasional Pee Wee Herman sample, almost nothing escapes Madlib’s brilliant compulsions. Simultaneously, it surveys the entire career of one of the most prolific and gifted producers of his generation. There are outtakes from the Jaylib album, unearthed and excellent beats from four or phases ago. Not only is Otis Jackson, the Medicine Man, his nepenthe’s come in every shade and every strain. Madlib’s spot at the top of this list is both the acknowledgment of lifetime achievement and the dazzling trick of releasing a dozen solid-to-great albums in one year. The weed bill alone is staggering to contemplate. In 12 months, Madlib released more good music than most artists create in an entire lifetime. After taking all this medicine, all you really need is food and clothes. –Jeff Weiss