The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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.

19 Comments:

At 8:19 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Wow...you effectively wrote my next eight posts. Stupid Bar. In sum,

1. "Wu-Tang Forever" is most definitely one of the 50 best rap albums of all-time. If people are gonna call "King" a classic because of its first six songs, we can excuse the fact that "Black Shampoo" is the worst song ever made in light of "It's Yourz," "M.G.M.," "Triumph," "Reunited," etc. By the way, if you read U-God's Wikipedia entry, you find out that he couldn't take being in the Wu anymore because they made fun of him being light-skinned. Well, that and royalties. But I'm glad he brought it up.

2. Girl Talk is the best CD I'll probably listen to a total of three times in my life. Really, it's a collection of every song I've ever loved, but it's obviously an ephemeral pleasure, albeit a very good one. I'll enjoy it now, but I can't see how I'll want to pull this out in October. I can't get too attached to what is essentially the best "MTV Party To Go" album ever.

3. I'll probably have my albums of the year thus far up. In my opinion, the year splits in half around August 23. I remember buying the New Pornographers CD and then about three or four new ones every week just to keep up.

4. I think "Avalanche" is a canny move by Sufjan. People were gonna hit him up for backlash anyway, so by doing this, he gives something that's substantial enough to ride out on, but not so much to the point where his next album won't be ridiculously anticipated. I wouldn't have been disappointed if this was his "Oregon" album or something. It's not like I can understand the state references anyways. And AMG can eat a dick; they throw out 4-star reviews like candy.

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

It's funny about Girl Talk...by the 45 second mark on the first track I had the same thoughts as you, by the third track I wanted to kill myself. I'd throw a track or two onto a mix and I'm sure I'd really enjoy it, but something about it feels like drinking an entire pitcher of Kool-Aid. One glass is excellent. A whole jug makes me sick.

I was wondering the same thing about Sufjan. However, the fact that all those songs sound identical makes you think there's some sort of master formula he's got stashed up in Brooklyn. But you're right, he can't get a major backlash about The Avalanche. You can't hate on a guy too much for an outtakes album. But you know the claws would've been out if he hadn't. Maybe he's outmarting us all. That being said, he's got one or two more states albums tops before it gets really old.

 
At 10:29 PM, Blogger The Drizzle said...

I got a hold of Okonokos earlier in the week, definitely a good experience.

I'll also continue to strongly second any praise for Sunset Rubdown. By far one of the strongest albums of the year in my opinion.

 
At 12:51 AM, Blogger Ian said...

I could care less about AMG's reviews, although some of them are good - it's one of the best reference works ever, and that's why we love it. I enjoy some of their new essays, though, and when American Idol is on their weekly wrapups are priceless.

Great post, by the way. And yeah, I'm obviously a different Ian.

 
At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Zilla said...

Jeff--

I think you are what Charles Xavier calls a "gifted youngster." You've been reading my mind consistently for the past 3 weeks.

Oh yeah, you're not really a "youngster."

"Wu-Tang Forever" is amazing because:
1) Method Man brought his A-game to every single track he appeared on from "Duck Seazon" to "A Better Tomorrow." To listen to him rhyme on anything after this album was minor heartbreak.
2) RZA's "scientifical-mathematical-alien-Voltron-gigawatts" rhymes strongly influenced a decade of soon-to-be internet nerd MC's and a thousand white guys named Caleb who "got some shit" for a cypher. "Yo my 3.5 decibal intelligent micro-criminal..."
3) Ghostface began his "Supreme Clientele" style of nonsensical bars on "Forever." We're all melodic crunch sideline eyes happy about that
4) Inspectah Deck became my favorite MC from '97-until his album dropped (umm..yeah let's not talk about that).
5) Name one other major label platinum rap album released AFTER "Forever" with a song/verse as vivid and strong and timeless as Ghostface's on "Impossible." Or Deck's "Triumph."

BTW, I saw Girl Talk play in NYC last year at Piano's. I ordered his album online the other day just based off his performance. It was rowdy and fun and insane and he was almost literraly naked on-stage when it was all over. Ian is right though--it WAS the best MTV Party To Go mix I've ever heard.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger spinachdip said...

I like, don't love, Forever.

I actually haven't listened to it in a while because I just don't have the patience to go through a double album, even if I'm skipping through songs I don't care about. And that's the thing - with me, songs that don't make the album tell you as much about its quality as much as the songs that do.

You're right, when you have 9 MCs, each with his own army of carriers, you have to do a double album. But cut the running time to 60 minutes or so, it would've been an undisputed classic, not to mention an "outtakes" album a la Amesiac.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Drizzle-Glad you're feeling that Sunset Rubdown. It's certainly weird but I can't stop listening to it. If Pitchfork had more balls they'd have given it a 9.7 just like Funeral and it would be widely regarded as the best album of the year. Either way, I'd put those two as the best two albums made since I can remember. Giving Danielson a better score than Sunset Rubdown is plain laughable (though I do like the Danielson album)

Zilla, if you haven't heard the Party Fun Action CD that came out on Def Jux in 2004. You need to. It may be the funniest hip hop parody album ever made (I don't even know if there are any others but it's incredible. Shoot me an e-mail if you don't have it, I'll sendspace you the copy. Nerd rap mocked to the nth degree. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Spinach-it's definitely worth another spin, if nothing else to remember how much it stands out with everything today. back then, I had the same thoughts as you but now I'll hear Rick Ross on the radio and be forced to reevaluate everything.

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger spinachdip said...

Man, the last bit of my comment made no sense. Basically, why do a double album when you can pack the best songs into a classic album, then further add to your legend with a b-sides album? It worked for Nas, didn't it? Sort of?

 
At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Big Z.I. said...

Prof. Xavier--

I have the PFAC album. That's how hot Def Jux was 2-3 years ago--I bought the album on the strength of the label, plus I heard the song "Every Thug Needs a Lady" and fell over laughing.

In fact, that album was almost as good as this chai.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger CrimeNotes said...

Bring on October 3 and the new Hold Steady album.

Except for Living With War I have been very bored this year.

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Agreed...I pretty much bought everything Def Jux put out that didn't have the name Mr. Lif on it. Though Lif has definitely improved a great deal since the beginning, but ultimately he's a bit too radical for my tastes. My worst buy: definitely SA Smash. Camu Tao is pretty good but I dunno what they were going for on that one. You'd have to eat a lot of blue corn tortilla chips and listen to a lot of MC Noel Weissman to get into that (my friend and I have always wondered if Barman's heard that..I hope so.)

Notes--I'm seeing CSNY on July 31st. I've never seen them and I hear they're playing a lot of solo Neil stuff. Can't wait. I can't wait for that Hold Steady either. I'm definitely seeing them when they come to LA again. They're just ridiculously good...Ian hold the vitriol.

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Oh, man...you should hear me freestyle Hold Steady lyrics. "So we passed out in back of a shut-down White Castle, but we found some tasty babes and Tastykakes to keep us satisfied." It helps to say it in his voice and think of the riff from "Cat Scratch Fever."

 
At 1:37 AM, Blogger G. Cornelius Harris said...

Actually I have Fishscale and Murray's Revenge in the disk changer...I guess great minds think alike..And the new Roots joint, been leaked since June...But dig the blog...I'll keep you posted

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger Commish CH said...

I seem to remember KRS saying something similiar to the "Katie Chung" line with a line like "your lyrics are stiff like David Koppel." Might've been on that D&D AllStars track with Mad Lion.

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger CrimeNotes said...

I tried too late to nab tickets for CSNY and curse myself for it, even if the Y is the only part of the quartet I care about. Seeing him wail out a 10-minute version of Powderfinger with Crazy Horse on St. Patrick's Day a couple years back was something like a religious experience. Of Neil's many incarnations, CSNY is among my least favorite, but from what I've read it sounds like this tour is mostly Neil dominating the show. As it should be.

 
At 3:05 PM, Anonymous silawe said...

Uhm...Ya know that Avalanche is a cd made up of b-sides and outtakes right?
How good is a record like that supposed to be?

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

considering I mention the fact that it's an outtakes and demo collection in the piece, yeah I'm aware that it's an outtakes collection. I don't know how good it's supposed to be. But I know that as a writer if I got a novel published, I certainly wouldn't release what I'd cut from the book as separate collections of short stories because it would cheapen my original work. That's all.

 
At 6:07 PM, Anonymous silawe said...

But as a record collector you should always buy the B-sides and 7"'s.
It is like saying that you hate The Beatles "Anthology". Useless as a record but fun to own none the less.
And no I am not saying Sufjan is a good as The Beatles it was just the example I used.

 
At 3:36 PM, Blogger terriblist said...

this is totally random, but i believe that street life is conflating Kaity Tong (local newswoman in NYC) and Connie Chung, as both are Asian female newsladies.

the MCing on Wu-Tang Forever is off the charts. it's hard to handle, actually.

 

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