Apparently, Wu-Tang Isn't Only For the Children
Two thoughts before getting into a much over-due links post. So I'm at the gym today and the song "Hellz Wind Staff," from Wu-Tang Forever comes onto the iPod. Great right? But this immediately makes two things come directly to mind. First off, how in god's name did the Rza allow Wu-Tang carrier Street Life to start off the song, "So get your brain crashed by my Hellz Wind Staff/while the feature broadcast is splashed to tell the news like Katie Chung."
After all, this might've been the best verse Street Life ever rapped in his life and somehow not one of the 400 Wu-Tang Clan members/weed carriers they inevitably had lingering in the studio could've told him that her name was Connie Chung. Was Street Life getting Katie Couric and Connie Chung mixed up? I'm confused. And does this mean Street Life also watches Maury Povich? We may never get the answer.
The second thought was that in light of how downhill rap music went shortly after Forever was released, does this make Forever underrated? I remember at the time that the overwhelming sentiment was that it was another bloated double-album and in many ways it is. However, taking a look back at it and comparing it with what followed, I think it's safe to say that Forever is easily one of the 50 best rap albums ever made.
Granted, there's stuff in there they could've cut, "Deadly Melody" and "Black Shampoo" seem more than superfluous and "The Dog Shit," is good only for laughs, but there are a lot of classics on Forever. There's no way anyone could've ever followed up Enter the 36, not to mention Tical, Ironman, Only Built For Cuban Linx, and Liquid Swords. Expectations were just a bit too high. And let' s be real, there were nine dudes in Wu-Tang not including Capadonna. They practically had to do a double album just to give everyone their fair share on the mic. Give it another listen if you haven't heard it in a while. If this is a disappointment, I wish rappers could be this disappointing more often.
In other news, Pitchfork bestowed the Best New Music distinction to the album Night Ripper, from Girl Talk. Though I now am officially a member of the Stylus staff and am therefore biased, I'm siding with Cameron's McDonald's B- Stylus review that he did a little while back. If you're gonna' name your group Girl Talk you better deliver a great album and though this album's heart seems to be in the right place creatively, the end result is nothing more than an hour long headache. I can't get past three songs of the song without wanting to scream for mercy. The premise is pretty simple, a whole bunch of samples stitched over raps from the likes of G-Unit, Jermaine Dupri, the Ying Yang Twinz, and Dem Franchise Boys. The bottom line is, I don't care if you layer Mozart samples over these dudes, the end result will still be an abomination. Don't worry, Avalanches, we're still waiting for you.
Speaking of Stylus, if you haven't checked out the site's Best 100 Music Videos List, you should. It's pretty great and I can safely say that I'd be writing this even if I hadn't gotten hired. (well, perhaps not, but it's a damn fine list)
Also, as many of you probably now, The Roots' new album Game Theory has also leaked and judging from the comment section on Bol's blog, people seem to be feeling it. After a few listens, I'm cautiously willing to say that it's a return to form for the group. Is it Illadelph or Things Fall Apart? Definitely not. But who expected that? It's a pretty decent album, which is all one can expect from the Roots at this point. Sure, they're probably past their creative prime, but by album seven what group is in their prime? Sonic Youth fans calm down.
Game Theory seems a lot more political than past Roots efforts and to be honest, the parts of the album that dealt with politics kind of bored me. That being said, this is a much better effort than The Tipping Point and a whole lot better than the still-born Phrenology. It's doubtful this is going to win the Roots any new fans, but if you've liked their stuff in the past, it's worth at least a few listens.
But out of any of the albums, I've been listening to of late, the best of the bunch is My Morning Jacket's forthcoming live album Okonokos. It's not slated to come out for a little while longer, but this album is ridiculously good. I don't even like live albums for the most part, but this one does a faithful job of replicating the brilliance of MMJ's live show. Regardless of whether you like this band or not, it's a must buy album.
As the year is already half-over a lot of bloggers have been doing their Best Of Lists of the half-year. If you like hip-hop then I highly advise you to check out Straight Bangin's List of the Best Albums and Singles Thus Far. I haven't heard all of his choices, but as far as his 1,2 picks of Ghostface's Fishscale and Murs' Murray's Revenge, I'm definitely on-board with those two as being the best hip-hop albums made this year.
As for my own list of the best overall albums made in the first six months of the year, Skeet on Mischa basically already started my list for me, naming The Islands' Return to the Sea, Fishscale and Sunset Rubdown's Shut Up I Am Dreaming, as three of his top four (I haven't drank the TV On the Radio Kool-Aid just yet). As for the rest of the top ten, I'm not sure where these albums will all end up when I get around to doing a year-end Best of list, but in addition to the ones Skeet mentioned, I'd go with The Black Keys Chulahoma, Voxrot's twin EP's, Tapes N' Tapes The Loon, Guster's Ganging Up on the Sun, Kelley Stoltz's Between the Branches, (easily the most underrated album of the year), Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit, and Beirut's Gulag Orkestrar.
Also in the list game this week was Spinach Dip who posted a very honest and very funny analysis of this summer's big pop songs. And from the sounds of it, he's also aboard the Justin Timberlake backlash I'm hoping to cook up.
Also, if you haven't already bookmarked it and you like baseball, you need to check out the Naughty Baseball blog, which is fast becoming one of the most hilarious sites on the Internet. I can't even pick out a specific post to pick from, they're all great.
Another singer beginning to see a backlash for his efforts is Internet hero Sufjan Stevens, witness Stephen Thomas Erlewine's trenchant takedown of Stevens on All Music Guide. (on another note when did All Music Guide start publishing essays? Not like I'm complaining or anything).
I don't necessarily agree with all of Erlewine's points, but for the most part a lot of them make a sense. I can't deny that I did and still do consider Illinois an outstanding album, but on some levels, I think that a lot of it has to do with the ambition and scope of the concept. It's certainly a gimmick, but a very well-executed one at that.
However, the truth about Illinois is I don't listen to it all that much and I suspect others don't either. As a whole, it's too long, too self-indulgent and should've probably been cut in half. Like Erlewine points out, there is something alienating and insular about it. That being said, I almost never listen to Ok Computer and I'll acknowledge it's a great album even if I think Thom Yorke is the most alienating person on the planet.
More important to Erlewine's argument is a fact that he briefly touches on in the essay:
"Most songs on Illinois and The Avalanche, this week's outtakes and demos collection assembled from the same sessions, all bear strikingly similar arrangements, all assembled from Stevens' by now familiar trick bag: wispy choruses, tempo changes, whistling woodwinds, cutesy harmonies."
By releasing the Avalanche, Stevens opened himself up to a whole lot of criticism, mainly because of the similarity of the songs. The truth is, if Illinois had never come out and you put "Chicago" "Casamir Pulaski Day," and perhaps "The Man of Metropolis," on The Avalanche people would've rushed to hail it as genius as well. However, there is something a bit disturbing about The Avalanche, as it makes Sufjan look like he's some sort of one-man factory, creating songs with similar arrangements and about things he's studied really hard to learn a whole lot about. Any artist should be careful to reveal to the world the method's behind their art and by releasing The Avalanche, Stevens seemingly showed the world that it wasn't all that hard to do, relatively speaking.
In a way, it cheapens Illinois, leaving me with the feeling that it might be more an effective and disposable product rather than a timeless work of art. In magic, a magician is supposedly never supposed to show you how he does his tricks. If music bears any similarity to that adage , then Sufjan definitely violated that rule.