Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Producer Series Mix #7: Polow Da Don

1. Bubba Sparxxx f/ Sean Paul of YoungBloodZ, Rich Boy, and Pastor Troy - "Back In The Mud (Zone 4 Remix)" (mp3)
2. Rich Boy f/ Polow Da Don - "Throw Some Ds"
3. Lil Fate, Rich Boy and Gangsta Boo - "Break A Nigga Off" (mp3)
4. Ciara - "Bang It Up" (mp3)
5. Will Smith - "Party Starter"
6. Ludacris f/ Bobby Valentino - "Pimpin' All Over The World"
7. Field Mob - "At The Park"
8. Tru Life f/ Tara Lynne - "This Is The Life" (mp3)
9. Kelis - "Blindfold Me"
10. Young Buck - "Get Buck"
11. Fergie - "London Bridge"
12. The Pussycat Dolls - "Buttons"
13. Ciara f/ Polow Da Don - "Get Up (Zone 4 Remix)" (mp3)
14 . Mario - "Crying Out For Me"
15. Gwen Stefani f/ Ludacris - "Luxurious (Zone 4 Remix)"
16. Ludacris f/ Mary J. Blige - "Runaway Love"
17. Keri Hilson - "Where Did He Go?" (mp3)*
17. Jamie Foxx f/ Twista - "DJ Play A Love Song"
18. Ciara - "Promise"

Polow Da Don is someone I've wanted to include in this series since before I even started it, but I kept procrastinating with his entry and now he's kinda everywhere. Which is cool, because with monochromatic one-trick ponies like Scott Storch and Lil Jon running the game, it's been a while since there's been a hip hop/R&B producer at the top that I'm genuinely excited about. The "Back In The Mud" remix was his first track that really caught my ear and it's still one of my favorites (and Rich Boy's verse is basically the blueprint for "Throw Some Ds"). Although there's certain sounds you hear now and again in his tracks, his bag of tricks is ridiculously deep (I can still just barely get my head around "Where Did He Go?," which is ostensibly a straight R&B track). But I guess now that he has about half a dozen top 10 hits, everybody's gonna want him for their lead single and we'll see how he handles the moment of overexposure that kills a lot of producers. And as good as he is with pop and R&B, hopefully he'll do more Southern rap tracks. The Young Buck single that just dropped is a little boring, but just about everything Young Buck does bores me to tears. But maybe the Rich Boy album will be awesome. Some notable omissions: that great Mya remix that got a lot of people checking for Polow, and Field Mob's annoying "Baby Bend Over," which I didn't have room for, and Fergie's "Glamorous," which is just a lesser version of the "Luxurious" remix, same beat, same Luda verse. Also check Noz's great post on XXL last week about Polow's old group, Jim Crow.

* As revealed to me in the comments to this post, that track appears to be by Timbaland/Danjahandz, not Polow, my bad

Previously in the Producer Series:
#1: Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford
#2: Rich Harrison
#3: Kevin "Khao" Cates
#4: Chad Wes Hamilton
#5: Neo Da Matrix
#6: Carl "Chucky" Thompson


Saturday, January 27, 2007
Nels Cline + Danny Elfman = maybe the most exciting combination of names I've seen lately.

Meat Puppets + Army Of Anyone = not so much. But hey, I'm still kinda psyched about the whole return of the Kirkwood brothers, even if their first appearance onstage together in a decade was anticlimactically alongside the weird new STP/Filter installment of the endless recombination of 90's alt-rock bands a la Audioslave and Velvet Revolver. Although I guess it would've made sense if the Puppets' new drummer was the guy from Primus, but it looks like they've got a different non-Bostrom drummer now.

Friday, January 26, 2007
I tend to shy away from "hip hop used to be like this, but now it's like this" gripes, partly because any 'golden age' I can refer to with any kind of firsthand experience was between 1997 and 2003, and partly because rap is like the weather, and you can bitch about how quickly it changes all you want but at some point you're gonna have to put your coat on and adapt. But man, when did the remix overkill start? It used to seem like people would wait until a song hit the top 10 to do a remix, now doing a remix is party of the plan to get to the top 10. Which, hey, marketing, whatever, I'm not a communist. But all-star remixes featuring some dream team of MCs over a beat everybody loves are supposed to be a joyous thing, which you'd think someone would remember, given every other remix video deliberately jacking the look of maybe the original platonic ideal of all-star remixes, "Flava In Ya Ear." If anything, with the mixtape freestyle game levelling the playing field so that anyone can spit over any beat, these things should be even more selective. Instead, the big deal remix increasingly sounds like one of those patchwork things mixtape DJs throw together of 6 different freestyles over the same beat.

When a song is huge and its beat universally adored without there being an official remix, like say, "What You Know," it's almost kind of a miracle in and of itself, that T.I. didn't go for the overkill. But then, T.I. went for the slightly less heralded strategy of juicing up the 4th single with the big remix. The results were pretty good, too, and I was pretty happy that the "Top Back" video brought back the crazy manic facial expressions that Tip used to rock with when he was the least famous guy in the "Never Scared" video.

As with most things, I can blame The Game, at least in part, for reaching the nadir of the all-star remix with the clusterfuck of dozens of rappers on the "One Blood (It's Okay)" remix. Dude obviously has a penchant for big bombastic event songs that go on forever -- a G-Unit diss that goes for 300 bars! a song with Nas that's 9 minutes long! -- but dude obviously just wanted a little oneupsmanship on Busta's 3-part "Touch It" remix where only half of the artists involved were actually famous. Or maybe it was just a savvy preemptive strike to 50's inevitable tendency to blacklist anyone who collabs with Game. But smart money says that Game's 3rd album is going to have a 20-minute multi-song suite, possibly with Pink Floyd guitar solos if he decides to follow Lil Wayne down that road. Either way, I won't be listening, because dude bores me to tears. I know the word on his last album was that all his contradictory bullshit and desperate self-mythologizing had become somehow fascinating and that he was this complext character, but honestly: a guy who talks a lot of shit he can't back up and mean-mugs when everyone knows he's soft batch, isn't that what we used to call a studio gangsta? Or is that not even an insult anymore now that they're the majority?

I think one thing I'd like out of these remixes is a little bit of thematic unity. I mean, Jim Jones could have cut the lineup from the "We Fly High" remix in half so that it was just him, Birdman, and Diddy, and it could've been a great statement of solidarity among non-rapping CEOs, but then they had to bring a couple of actual rappers (and Juelz) in on it.

Every year or so, of course, has its ubiquitous remix accessory, and Lil Wayne is a pretty good one to have as far as those go, even if there's something a little depressing about how eager he is to jump on board with any R&B munchkin that will have him on their song. Dude even opened for Chris Brown and Ne-Yo on tour last summer, and didn't seem at all demoralized about being a rap vet warming up crowds for rookie R&B singers. But that's kind of just one of the many paradoxes that Lil Wayne embodies. He's a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an ugly BAPE hoodie.

Chris Brown's "Poppin'" remix is especially egregious, and not just because it's Chris Brown, who, as I've mentioned before, makes my ears bleed with any song other than "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)." I mean, Def Jam is bleeding the one-time-platinum album dry for a 5th single, and this might be the most awkward, unpleasant one yet. And with both Juelz and Wayne on there shortly after "Run It" and "Gimme That," it's like A Chris Brown Carol with The Ghosts of Chris Brown Singles Past. Is it a self-referential thing, or could dude just not think of any other rappers to ask? T.I. was busy, maybe? Chris's previous videos have already gone out of their way to link to other singles (the snippet of "Run It" at the beginning of the "Yo" video with the snippet of "Gimme That" at the end, and the tease of "Poppin'" in his headphones in the "Gimme That" video), so I'm wondering if the "Poppin'" video will end as some Fall Out Boy-esque mess of winking references to 'iconic' scenes and costumes from his other videos -- the dudes dancing with flashlights from the end of "Run It," the guy who does the skits on Kanye's albums jamming with Chris's earbuds and hell, maybe Omarion doing that hilarious impression of Chris's dancing in the "Yo" video (one minute and 19 seconds, funniest shit ever).

A couple old dudes are maybe making unlikely bids for next remix MVP status right now, which is always at least bound to be more interesting than letting Busta clamp down on every remix for a year again. Andre 3000, maybe salty that noone noticed when he finally started rapping again on Idlewild, is suddenly all over the place with at least 3 remixes in the bag. "Walk It Out" was a little surprising, even if Oomp Camp are kind of an ATL institution, simply because it's the kind of goofy dance song that you imagine made Andre start turning his nose up at rap in the first place. And of course, he uses the opportunity to diss the kinds of XXXXXXXL white tees that half the people in the video are wearing ( you wonder if he feels like he got away something with that), and then does a chorus himself, which might be the most annoying thing I've heard since "Hey Ya." His verse on the "You" remix (btw, how weird is it for Lloyd of all people to have the Best Rapper Alive on his single, and then two yesteryear BRA's on the remix) is the kind of corny shit about a meet cute in Whole Foods that makes you think the movie role he's really out in Hollywood looking for is a Meg Ryan-style rom com. I don't think the "Throw Some D's" remix he's supposed to be on has leaked yet, but it's hard to imagine even him ruining that beat.

The other old dude elbowing into the remix game is R. Kelly, who threw his hat into the ring by trying to fit his head inside a girl's ass on the "I'm N Luv Wit A Stripper" remix, and has kept it up recently with the "Make It Rain" and "Promise" remixes. All these kind of break the mold, whether by an R&B singer jumping into a rap posse cut and getting his own verse, or by using the remix format to turn a solo track into a two-singer duet. But admittedly, the results were a little disappointing. But based on those tracks, and that great song with Bow Wow and the new single I heard the other day, '07 should be a good year for R. after '06 was the first year since the golden shower video controversy broke that he hadn't released a box set's worth of material. I don't even really care if we get more installments of "Trapped In The Closet," but I wouldn't complain if we did.


Reading Diary

Thursday, January 25, 2007
1. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson has written a lot of humorous travel books that my girlfriend is a fan of, and after she read this, which is kind of a super-condensed, highly readable account of the sum total of humankind's scientific knowledge, she reccomended it to me as some good light reading. She's a scientist, and I am emphatically not, so she's always trying to explain to me what she does at work and I just smile and nod, so she understood my need for a layman's guide to science. This book's only a couple years old, and I really wish it'd been around when I was in middle school and struggling through boring science classes. After I told my mom about it and she thought it sounded interesting, she picked up the new illustrated edition that was released recently, and that kind of thing would probably be better for explaining this stuff to kids (or science-adverse adults) than the text books they have in schools.

But then, since I'm a total layman, I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate the stuff is, although it seems to have been received pretty well by the scientific community, aside from one Amazon reviewer who says it's full of errors. Bryson's an American who's spent most of his adult life in England, and his writing style has kind of a dry British humor to it. He uses a lot of analogies to express the overwhelming scale of things like how long Earth's been around relative to the history of the universe, or how long humans have been around relative to the history of life on Earth, makes all this huge, intangible stuff just a little more intangible. And he focuses a lot on the individual scientists that made these discoveries with little compact biographies, even of the guys who were wrong, many of whom dedicated their life's work to some absurdly specific corner of scientific knowledge, only for their findings to become obsolete 20 years after their death. It really just impressed upon me how noble it is for anyone to try and expand human knowledge with the understanding of how slim the odds are that they'll discover anything significant.

2. Consider The Lobster: And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
I got this back when it came out a little over a year ago, but kind of slowly made my way through it because about half of it was re-reading slightly different edits of pieces I'd already read when they first ran in various magazines and lit journals. I think I'll always value Wallace more as a non-fiction writer than a fiction writer, and A Supposedly Fun Thing is my favorite thing he's done, so I was looking pretty forward to this, although I don't think it ended being on the same level as its predecessor despite some really good pieces. It's still has some of the kind of observational detail he's great at, but Lobster feels a little like the work of a moralist, and an extremely squeamish liberal one at that, from the hand-wringing about boiling lobsters that derails the title piece from being a travelogue in the Supposedly vein to the obligatory 9/11 piece to the right wing radio host profile, which was nonetheless a pretty engrossing read. The John McCain campaign trail thing is pretty fascinating though and deals with politics in a more basic, honest way than anything else he's done. I guess I just wish there was a little more about the stuff he really cares about, like books (the Kafka and Dostoevsky pieces) and tennis (the Tracy Austin thing). The dictionary review, "Authority And American Usage" might be my single favorite piece he's done, though, ever it was originally published as "Tense Present" in Harper's. The Roger Federer piece that was in the NYTimes a few months ago was pretty good, too, I'm glad he's still doing essays for maybe a future collection. As much as people obsess over whether he'll do another novel after Infinite Jest, I think that's what I'm more interested to read. Actually, I'm not sure I've even read a novel since I was last required to for a college course, I've been on a big non-fiction tear for a while. So, if anyone has any good novel reccomendations, let me know.

3. Desperate Networks by Bill Carter
This was kind of an impulse buy I made while I was out in California and realized I'd be done with the Bryson book before the end of my trip and wanted another book to read. Carter is the NYT television critic who wrote that book about the Leno/Letterman late night wars that was turned into that really cheesy-looking TV movie, and this is his recent book about network politics and the convoluted process by which shows get on the air and become hits or flop. I just kind of have a fascination with hardcore show business backstabbing type stuff, which is why I tend to read Defamer as much as any music blog these days. Maybe because TV is, more than movies or music, the one medium where noone has any illusions that it's more commerce than art, and every action is made based on that understanding.

The writing isn't anything special, and a lot of times my interest is directly proportional to whether I actually watch the show it's discussing (like, I couldn't care less how Desperate Housewives got on the air, but reading about how C.S.I. came about was pretty interesting. I always thought that the pilot, where the young rookie C.S.I. officer got killed in the line of duty, really deliberately set the tone for the show, and I had no idea that that didn't happen in the original pilot but Les Moonves thought the actress was too pretty for the part and had her killed off). I sometimes wish the stories went a little further back into the history of network TV, not necessarily back to the dawn of television, which would be a whole other book, but at least further back than the Must See TV era (for instance, Friends is discussed extensively, and Seinfeld is not).

Monday, January 22, 2007
Joe Lally - "Sons And Daughters" (mp3)

I'm starting to develop a penchant for noticing similarities in vocal timbres between musicians and non-musician celebrities (you may remember the Tego Calderon = Ernest Borgnine episode from a few months ago), so feel free to disregard this as just one of my crackpot theories. But Joe Lally's recent solo album There To Here gave me a nagging feeling in the back of my head that I knew the voice from somewhere other than the handful of songs in the Fugazi catalog he'd sung lead on, and on my second listen it hit me that it was David "Squiggy" Lander. Of course, I never really watched Laverne & Shirley, so my familiarity with his voice is owed mainly to his portrayal of Doc Boy, Jon Arbuckle's brother, in the Garfield Christmas Special, the dialogue of which is practically tattooed on my brain from countless childhood viewings.

As for the album itself, it's kind of hard to listen to even without that comparison entering my head (and I may have already ruined the album for Jess when I revealed this theory on ILM). I was thinking about checking out Lally's show at the Ottobar this week, but in light of my experience with the album, I don't think I'll bother (although I am kind of curious what his touring setup is). As I mentioned in my 2006 wrap up, I was rooting for it to be better than The Evens record before I'd heard it, if only because I love underdogs and tend to have a lot of love for bands' 2nd or 3rd most prolific songwriters/vocalists (see also: my Lee Ranaldo obsession). But unlike the Jarvis Cocker record, this one wouldn't have made a dent on my '06 list even if I had heard it in time. It's weak in pretty much the way you'd expect it to be: a lot of meek vocal performances over strong basslines that would sound badass in the context of a Fugazi song, but kind of go nowhere here. If I were gonna post one of the best songs I'd probably go with "All Must Pay," but "Sons And Daughters" is a cappella and therefore the most cringe-inducing and the track where the resemblence to Squiggy is most evident.

Friday, January 19, 2007
Tonight J.G. and I went to see Jim Gaffigan at the Lyric, which I got tickets for as a Christmas present for her last month when I heard he was coming to town. I always thought he was pretty funny whenever I'd see him on Conan or Dr. Katz back in the day, and last year after watching his Comedy Central special we were probably saying "hooooot pocket" to each other for months. I don't usually go to see live stand-up comedy much, but when I do I usually enjoy it (Lewis Black at the short-lived Baltimore Improv a few years ago, Charlie Murphy and other Chappelle's Show guys performing at my college). Although Gaffigan did some of his more popular material and that weird voice he's known for, I was pleasantly surprised by how much unfamiliar material he did, especialy in the first half of his set. The opening guy, a Southern guy with Neil Young/Wolverine sideburns named Rich Brooks, was pretty good too albeit with very trad standup subject matter. I don't think I've ever seen him on TV but if he was on I'd watch it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Jarvis Cocker - "Big Julie" (mp3)

In my mad dash to hear all of the 2006 albums that I thought had a good chance of warranting a spot on my year-end list, there were only a few I didn't get around to by the end of December. So in the first few days of '07, I made a point to pick up a couple of those while I was still feeling motivated to, even if the listmaking incentive was gone, and got them on a stop to Amoeba when I was in San Francisco on my California trip. I'd been there once before, four years ago, and was simultaneously overwhelmed by not having enough time to seriously browse their selection and disappointed that they didn't have a couple things I was counting on them to (being the old fart that I in many ways am, I'm still loathe to buy CDs on the internet unless I'm sure I won't be able to find them in a store, so I still excitedly anticipate any visit to a record store with a wide selection, especially one I don't get near often).

One of my purchases was Jarvis, which definitely would've been top 10 material, maybe top 5, had I heard it in time. I saw it in a Maryland record store a while back, but at the time wasn't sure if there was an imminent U.S. release that it would make paying for the expensive import a little foolish, so I passed on it. By the time I came back sure that I'd have to settle for the import, it was gone, so I'm glad Amoeba came through. I expected Jarvis to fit pretty well into my recent listening habits of side projects and solo albums that yield diminishing returns from the band it was spun off from, but I think I like this album as much or more than We Love Life, which was a little problematic but had a few songs I loved. The appeal isn't in a faded glory way like The Who album, where I'm kind of revelling in how hoarse and old they sound while still kind of excited that they're still doing something resembling their peak material even slightly.

Really I'm just glad that Jarvis Cocker is still writing songs at all, let alone ones these good, since it seemed for a while like he was pretty happy to retreat into the French countryside or whatever and forget about that pop stardom lark. And the act of making this a solo album is still kind of in keeping with his humble, unambitious post-Britpop regular guy thing; it sounds more or less like a Pulp record, and given his history as the only consistent member of the band he has a right to put the Pulp name on anything he does. But doing that would mean competing with the past, taking a serious stab at the U.K. singles chart or headlining Glastonbury, shit like that. Usually I'm kind of disappointed when a musician opts for a change in the name on the front of their product if the product is just as good as the old stuff and not too different; it's almost a given that it means less publicity, less name recognition, taking one's self down a rung in terms of fame. That kind of thing happens in indie rock all the time; a good band has one minor lineup change and decides to get a new name and become a whole new band, and half their fanbase doesn't get the memo and never hears the 'new' band's stuff, which is suspiciously similiar to the old band's stuff.

In Jarvis Cocker's case, though, I can kind of understand why he'd do that. There's less of a shadow to come out from under. It's a new beginning, more humble almost by design. No still trying to wring an event or comeback out of every album like Oasis, or getting progressively more pretentious while occasionally stumbling onto garish crossover success like Damon Albarn. Jarvis feels like it wants to be small even when some of the songs swagger and ring in your head as much as Different Class. Pulp are practically one of the only British bands of the past 20 years that I really gave a shit about, and for a while after We Love Life I wondered if they'd leave behind any significant legacy. These days, their legacy seems pretty assured, even if it's mostly signified by shit I can't stand, like dude performing with CSS, crap covers by Franz Ferdinand and William Shatner, and hipster haircut hell taking its name from a Pulp song.

I haven't read enough about the record to really know what people consider the highlights, but "Big Julie" is hitting me as the really amazing one that I've been fighting not to listen to over and over and burn myself out on since the first time I heard it. Got even better after I got around to reading the lyrics, which of course I felt compelled to self-consciously follow his "please do not read the words whilst listening to the recordings" request, as if he'd find out if I did. But I sneak looks at it during that long silence between "Quantum Theory" and "Running The World," which again I'm obediant and/or OCD enough to actually let play at least part of the way through. "Running The World" is more the classic Jarvis sentiment, but "Big Julie" is the one that's just killing me right now, like almost overwhelming, heart-explodingly good. And I don't throw around that kind of hyperbole often.

Netflix Diary

Saturday, January 13, 2007
1. Undeclared
After renting and enjoying Freaks & Geeks, we decided to rent this one too, which had a lot of the same cast and crew, and was even more short-lived. I watched and identified with both shows a lot when they were on at the time, maybe especially because F&G was on when I was in high school, and Undeclared was on when I was in college. In retrospect this show definitely got a little too overly silly and slapstick-y at times, but it was still pretty consistently funny, and it was good to finally see the episodes that were never aired. Judd Apatow is pretty consistent in a middlebrow comedy kind of way, but I think what's interesting about him is that he situates his characters in the pop culture-obsessed world we live in, instead of only making references that are supposed to be either hip or ironically unhip like most comedy does these days. In F&G it was less notable because it took place almost 20 years in the past, but was still more lived-in and believable than, say, the references in That 70's Show. Sometimes it felt a little out of touch in Undeclared (college kids worshipping Beck in 2001? Really?) but for the most part it was pretty well done. Monica Keena is so hot, I even watched a little of a goofy Christmas TV movie because she was in it, I wish she'd had more guest appearances on Entourage. And Seth Rogen is hilarious, I'm really looking forward to Knocked Up.

2. Hide And Seek
This was pretty dreadful. It was one of those movies where the 'twist' was super obvious to J.G. and she figured it out almost immediately, and I could kinda see it coming too, but I wanted to believe it wouldn't be something so stupid, so I kept up my suspension of disbelief for as long as I could. Also, because the scenes with the neighbors totally threw me off, I guess they were supposed to but apparently there were more scenes with them that got cut, so it was probably more confusing than it was supposed to be. This movie has a dead cat in it, which reminds me of the hilarious graphic that the City Paper ran alongside two recent book reviews.

3. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
I remember when this first came out on video, my brother would always try to tell me this was good and get me to watch it but I just couldn't, because of the awful pun in the title and because it looked like a clusterfuck of bad late-90's indie film trends, a Pulp Fiction knockoff combined with a Trainspotting knockoff. But J.G. put it on our Netflix queue and I finally gave it a shot, almost a decade later. And it was OK, I guess, some nice plot twists. Jason Statham definitely had a lot of charisma in this, not surprising that he went onto have a pretty good career.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A couple weekends ago, I went to the 1st Mariner Arena to see Baltimore's own Bossman and a whole lot of little R&B singers and boy bands perform at the Scream Tour, and wrote about it for the City Paper.

(photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele, although I'm pretty sure the right side of the photo is incorrectly captioned in the article as Pretty Ricky when it's actually One Chance)


In My Stereo

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Sonic Youth - The Destroyed Room: B-Sides And Rarities
Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
Parts & Labor - Stay Afraid
Ne-Yo - In My Own Words
Lil Wayne/DJ Drama - Dedication 2
K-Swift - Jumpoff Vol. 8: Next Level Edition
ShellBe RAW - Do You Like It Raw?
Jon Boe - Before The Storm
NC-17 - Deleted Scenes
The Homicide Rapper - Money In Da Bank

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Thursday, January 04, 2007
Rod Lee- "25 & Older" (mp3)

It's funny how in Baltimore club music , DJs always seem to shout out the "25 and over crew" when they're playing some classic that the youngins wouldn't know. I'm about to turn 25 on Saturday, so I guess that makes me an old head now. I'm flying out to California to spend a few days with my girl and her family, so it'll be nice to have my birthday out of town. I'll resume posting next week when I get back. Rod Lee dropped a new album a few weeks ago, btw, but I haven't heard it yet.


Narrowcast's favorite albums of 2006

Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Putting together this list made me feel old, if for nothing else than the median age of the artists on it. I think a certain amount of closed-mindedness is healthy for any critic, because it's a fool's game to think you can keep up with every genre and every new media darling or come up with anything worth saying about it aside from announcing that you're aware of its existence. But my "stick to what you know" philosophy sometimes results in a closed circuit, like this year when I rarely ventured far out of the specific kinds of mainstream rap I like, the specific kinds of indie rock I like, and all manners of Bmore shit.

And I'll be the first to admit that the abundance of artists on this list that I've been listening to for years and years isn't due to all of them miraculously making late-career masterpieces in the same year. With a few exceptions, most of these records wouldn't even be in the top 3 albums by the people that made them (the exceptions are generally people who have 3 or fewer albums that I own). A few relatively young rappers and a couple of newish indie bands made the cut, but they're surrounded by a lot of geezers. I think the indie zeitgeist passed me by a long time ago, probably before I even wrote for Pitchfork 6-7 years ago, and my tastes have only lined up with it sporadically (Ted Leo, maybe a couple other bands kinda sorta?), so since then I've just kind of politely ignored it, especially these days since I have little to no interest in dance music. And unless some indie rock mp3 blogger kidnaps me and forces me to listen to The Knife or Hot Chip or whatever and I actually enjoy it, I'm not going to go out of my way to check out the shit getting all the plaudits.

This list is also very much a result of the crunch time I referred to back when I posted the October draft of this list, which is dramatically different from the end product (come to think of it, so are my ballots for the City Paper and Stylus, which I only submitted a few weeks ago). I always get to about that point in the year where I'm really afraid of my list coming out weak and full of stuff I don't really like, usually because I didn't hear enough but this year more because I copped a lot of albums I knew would probably be subpar for the purpose of reviewing them, which is one of my resolutions to do less of next year.

Maybe I'm being too apologetic here for my own tastes, which I shouldn't be, because I do stand by my opinions. But in general, I like a lot and love little. I've never had a review published with any rating higher than a B+ or 8.0. Some days I'm not sure what a A+ or 10/10 album sounds like or if I've ever even heard one, but that's fine with me. I neither expect nor particularly want perfection from art. The whole critical industry, but particularly in these "best new music"-obsessed times we live in, depends on the idea of a certain number of jaw-dropping masterpieces being released every year, and I've just never bought that. If you're doling out breathless hyperbole for every fifth album you hear, odds are I'm going to assume you're easily impressed or are desperate to inflate the status of anything you like and gain tastemaker points. Maybe there have been a bunch of 9.0-worthy albums in 2006, but if the top-ten lists I'm seeing are an accurate representation of them, it's mostly stuff that wouldn't appeal to me regardless of quality, and that's OK. I don't need some amazing album I can listen to every single day, I just need enough albums I can listen to now and then to fill up my days.

And oh yeah, I'm doing this list from the top down. Enough of that pretending there's some suspense to vertically counting down a list if you're posting it all at once. You know that people can just scroll down right away if they want to, right?

1. T.I. - King (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
T.I. - "You Know Who" (mp3)

When was the last time the best-selling rap album of the year was actually one of the best albums released? Has that ever happened before? I mean, I guess it took a weak year in sales for that to happen, but it's still kind of nice that for once it wasn't some bloated Aftermath shit.

2. Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Geffen)
Sonic Youth - "Lights Out" (mp3)

Sonic Youth are my favorite band of all time, so unless they start making subpar albums like NYC Ghosts & Flowers or some other band starts doing remotely the same thing remotely as well (and no, Trail Of Dead and Blonde Redhead do not count), they're always going to be at or near the top of these lists. Rather Ripped might actually benefit in the long run from being the first SY album in the last decade that I didn't listen to way too much in the first few weeks of its release. After being initially underwhelmed, songs like "Lights Out" and "Jams Run Free" very gradually hooked me. It kind of annoys me that they do most of their touring so soon after releasing an album these days, I think their only show within a reasonable distance of me this year was less than a week after the album's release, and even if I wasn't broke at the time and went, I wouldn't have appreciated it as much as if I got to see them play this album live after having a few months to digest it.

3. The Roots - Game Theory (Def Jam)
The Roots f/ Wadud Ahmad - "Take It There" (mp3)

Might be the best-sounding rap album of the year, in terms of production, which I really never expected from them. It's a shame that A-list MC's only seem to fuck with The Roots when they're playing SNL or Unplugged or the Grammys, because I would love it if they had done some nasty beats like the ones on Game Theory for some of this year's big 4th quarter releases. Shit, if will.i.am can do it, why not ?uestlove?

4. Parts & Labor - Stay Afraid (Jagjaguwar/Brah)
Parts & Labor - "A Pleasant Stay" (mp3)

I'm not in the habit of boosting indie rock bands whose members travel in the same blog/message board circles as I do (no Mountain Goato), but Parts & Labor's earlier stuff was reccomended to me by Mat a couple years ago and I liked what I heard enough to check out their new one this year. I love how there are these really catchy, well written rock anthems lurking just underneath the blanket of squealing noise.

5. Birdman & Lil Wayne - Like Father, Like Son (Cash Money/Universal)
Birdman & Lil Wayne - "Ain't Worried Bout Shit" (mp3)

Let's address, for a second, the developing trend, exemplified by the Clipse last year and Dedication 2 this year, of mixtapes placing high on a lot of year-end lists. My feeling is that this has more to do with critics rallying around artists in years when they didn't put out retail albums than with the supposed amazing transcendence of these mixtapes. Which I think is a little goofy as it is (I mean, c'mon, it's like bigging up a live album or b-sides comp as the album of the year), but the thing is that Wayne did put out an album this year, and it was better than Dedication 2 or any of his other recent mixtapes. Granted, it's not on the level of Tha Carter II and probably won't be as good as Carter III, but in the time in between, this is what I'm rolling with. The beats are almost uniformly great, and Birdman is pretty decent as far as non-rappin' CEOs go, no more distractingly the weak link now than he was with the Big Tymers. And Wayne only doing half of the verses isn't exactly stingy, since that's about the rate a lot of rappers do on guest-heavy solo albums. But really, the main thing for me is that as good as mixtapes can be, sometimes better than the corresponding artist's album, I still think of them as not-year-end-list material, at least the ones that are heavy on freestyles and remixes. A great rap album, in my mind, is the product of original lyrics and original production, not an MC cherry-picking the best beats of the past few months and plugging new words into the flows already created by the artist who originally bought the beat. This might get me labelled a "rockist" (oh no!), but I think of that as secondary creativity, like what "Weird Al" does or, hell, what music critics do, building on someone else's work (this opens up a can of worms about stuff like sampling, but I'm going to be a hypocrite and ignore that). So even if Dedication 2 is the best mixtape of the year, which it might be, I still enjoy Like Father, Like Son more (no homophones), and respect it as an album way more.

6. Nas - Hip Hop Is Dead (Def Jam)
Nas - "Money Over Bullshit" (mp3)

I've never had any special reverence for Illmatic -- I mean, I like it, I respect its importance, but it seems like its impact is very much of its era, and I'm not going to pretend that I was some old school head whose mind was blown by it back in 94 and not a kid who just digested it as part of the entry level rap canon years after the fact. The under-achieving contradictory Nas is the only Nas I've ever really known, and I accept him for who he is. Street's Disciple was my shit, all the bad ideas and stiff delivery is part of the package, I know what I'm getting into when I hear a new Nas album. And I like this album in the same way (although I have to say I was disappointed that "Where Y'all At" was left off the album). I'm kinda tired of all this hating on the production, too. Like, picking beats is definitely not Nas's strong suit, but the problems with his later albums have nothing to do with Salaam Remi or L.E.S., and I'm not sure that the results he'd get from working with Premier or Just Blaze would be any better (the whole Nas/Premo working together thing has been so overhyped at this point that I just want them to get it over with and fuck already, like a will-they-or-won't-they sitcom couple).

7. Jon Auer - Songs From The Year Of Our Demise (Pattern 25)
my Stylus review
Jon Auer - "You Used To Drive Me Around" (mp3)

Like I kinda predicted back when I reviewed it, as bland and unimpressive as the album is on one level, the craftsmanship of the songs is strong enough that I ended up loving it anyway.

8. Ray Cash - Cash On Delivery (Columbia)
my Stylus review
Ray Cash - "Fiends, Fiends, Fiends" (mp3)

Ray Cash gets this year's Ebony Eyez Award for a major label flop on my list that noone else I know copped or acknowledged at all beyond the single (as opposed to, y'know, flops that every critic and their cousin raves about, like The Clipse). Ray sometimes comes off as kind of T.I. copycat, but unlike Young Jeezy, he can actually rap. This is one of those rare rap albums where, though there aren't many great songs, there isn't a single wack song, you can let it play all the way through.

9. Portastatic - Be Still Please (Merge)
Portastatic - "You Blanks" (mp3)

As much as I love Superchunk, even the mellower later stuff (Cup of Sand got a lot of spins around here), it's pretty dumb that I waited this long, 5 years since it became Mac's primary outlet, to bother copping a Portastatic album (shit, I think until maybe a year or two ago I thought the band name was Portastic). There are some charmingly meta lyrics ("all my songs used to end the same way," "I know my voice is like a sickly shrew/ if I could sing a song of sweetness and light for you/ oh honey that's just the first thing that I would do"), and while I could do with a little less violin (apparently the strings haven't left since they came in a decade ago), it's really a wonderful little album and nothing's sounded better to me in the middle of the night lately. And though I'll probably never listen to Merge bands like Spoon and the Arcade Fire, I'm happy they're popular enough to give Mac the kind of well deserved retirement fund that few indie lifers get these days.

10. Asobi Seksu - Citrus (Friendly Fire)
Asobi Seksu - "New Years" (mp3)

This is an album I kinda stumbled across that I probably wouldn't have sought out on my own, when I kinda grabbed a random stack from the Stylus promo pile, although someone else ended up reviewing the album for them. It really grew on me, not really for the whole "nu-shoegaze with a Japanese chick singer!" thing so much as the fact that a lot of their songs have massive jangly 80's college radio hooks that remind me of stuff like "Melt With You" and "Just Like Heaven."

11. Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor (Atlantic)
Lupe Fiasco f/ Matthew Santos - "American Terrorist" (mp3)

I'm not crazy about him, but I can't deny that he's got some nice lyrics. The production's pretty good, too, generally. But, I mean, it doesn't really matter to me that he's a nerdy skateboarder, but it's a shame he takes it as a cue to sing like Pharrell on a bunch of the hooks, which kinda kills some of the songs for me.

12. Young Dro - Best Thang Smokin' (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
Young Dro f/ Sunshine - "Getting Rich" (mp3)

I won't belabor the point that Young Dro is a much better rapper than you'd expect of someone whose name starts with "Young," has a hit song about leaning instead of dancing, and is dismissed as, in the parlance of our times, a "weed carrier" for committing the unforgivable crime of being only the 2nd most famous rapper on his label. Mostly because Noz already said it better than I could've. But the beats are generally solid (if there's any kind of meritocracy within Grand Hustle, Lil C earned at least a couple spots on T.I. Vs. T.I.P. with his work on this album) and Dro's rhymes are incredibly dense with metaphors and wordplay. And unlike most punchline rappers these days, dude is actually funny (I mean, c'mon, they're called punchlines for a reason). I didn't get this album at Best Buy, but I did unwittingly pick up a used copy that has 2 "Best Buy exclusive" tracks tacked onto the end of the CD, and one of them, "Getting Rich," might be my favorite song on the album.

13. John Legend - Once Again (G.O.O.D. Music/Sony Urban)
John Legend - "Another Again" (mp3)

There are few genres where the sophomore slump is a more common affliction than in neo soul. You could rack up plaques and Grammys all over the place with one album, and then get kicked to the curb as soon as you drop the follow-up (just ask Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Macy Gray, India.Arie, etc.). Time will tell if John Legend will fall victim to that phenomenon to any extent, but he at least did his part by making a better and more varied album than his first.

14. Styles P. - Time Is Money (Ruff Ryders/Interscope)
Styles P. - "Leave A Message" (mp3)

It would've been nice if this dropped in 2005 like it was supposed to, especially since at 12 tracks he probably got discouraged and stopped recording any new songs after the first couple delays, but better late than never.

15. The Evens - Get Evens (Dischord)
The Evens - "Cut From The Cloth" (mp3)

This is only a couple spots higher than their debut was on my list last year, but trust that I like it probably twice as much. They're finally starting to expand their palette and sound like their own band, distinct from Fugazi, instead of sounding vaguely like the Instrument soundtrack with a chick singer. I wanted to pick up that Joe Lally solo album too, is that any good?

16. Prince - 3121
Prince - "Love" (mp3)

What I heard of Musicology sounded kinda boring, but this felt a little more like a real comeback, even if doesn't touch 80's Prince (but then, what can?). Really it's just a lot of fun to hear him fuck with some nasty drum machine beats again, and the smoother funk stuff is kept in balance.

17. Field Mob - Light Poles And Pine Trees (DTP/Def Jam)
my Stylus review
Field Mob - "Blacker The Berry" (mp3)

The forced zaniness of Field Mob's personas used to grate on me ("Sick Of Bein' Lonely" might be the most irritating pop rap confection of the past decade that wasn't popular enough to annoy through sheer overexposure), but I've come to realize that that same goofy quality is responsible for their most entertainingly outlandish punchlines. My hope is that at some point Smoke will get his turn as the rapper we get to hear on every remix for a year, because his flow is insane.

18. Carla Bozulich - Evangelista (Constellation)
Carla Bozulich - "Evangelista II" (mp3)

I spent most of this year broke and as anxious and depressed as I've ever been, and I still wasn't able to connect much with an album as bleak as Evangelista, which probably says more about my naturally upbeat disposition than anything else. But Carla Bozulich remains, as I discussed here a couple months ago, one of my favorite rock vocalists, and hearing her blood-curdling scream over a scorched earth orchestra of doom was one of the most frightening and extreme listening experiences I had all year.

19. The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers (V2)
The Raconteurs - "Intimate Secretary" (mp3)

It took the existence of Wolfmother for me to realize that, at least as far as screechy indie imitations of Robert Plant go, Jack White isn't that bad. And in tandem with Brendan Benson, who I've always had a soft spot for, he's finally made an album I can not only tolerate but enjoy.

20. The Who - Endless Wire
The Who - "Mike Post Theme" (mp3)

The oldest geezers on this list by far, and while there's a lot of reasons to not care about a new album (like, say, carrying on after the deaths of one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time), Townshend and Daltrey have made too much music that I love for me to not want to hear what they're doing in their twilight years, even if it's not going out on a particularly high note. They sound as old as they are on here, breathless and faded, but the mini-opera second half features a nice surge of energy, and I love that Pete still has enough of a sense of humor to write a song about Mike Post.

21. Rhymefest - Blue Collar (J Records)
Rhymefest - "All I Do" (mp3)

In spite of the bad ideas with Mark Ronson's fingerprints all over them that hinder this album (Strokes samples, Citizen Cope guest spots, ODB singing "Build Me Up Buttercup"), Rhymefest is a really engaging performer. And honestly, I'm rooting for the dude just because I can actually relate to a conscious rapper that talks about how most people are stuck in shitty jobs instead of dealing with abstract armchair politics or obsessing over the small percentage of the population that deals or does drugs.

22. Trick Daddy - Back By Thug Demand (Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic)
Trick Daddy f/ Jaheim and Trina - "Tonight" (mp3)

The big-duh irony of the title is that Trick Daddy has never been in lower demand than he is right now, maybe because it's been a couple years since his last album and the field of Southern hip hop is a lot more crowded than it was when he rose to prominence, maybe just because this is the first album since his first that doesn't have a fairly big single (hell, it debuted on Billboard at #48, compared to the last album hitting #2 on the chart). So because of the lack of buzz, I went into it with low expectations, and while it's definitely a little one-dimensional compared to his last couple albums (no inspirational kid songs or bass jams), it's still pretty solid. What does he need to get noticed, a Gangsta Grillz? "Tonight" encapsulates one of my favorite things about Trick Daddy, which is that even when he makes a girl song with an R&B singer, it's so ridiculously filthy and sexually explicit that there's no way it could be cleaned up for radio.

23. Two Dollar Guitar - The Wear And Tear Of Fear: A Lover's Discourse (Smells Like Records)
my Stylus review
Two Dollar Guitar - "Lying And Cheating" (mp3)

I wish I could rate this higher, since I may be, in all likelihood, the biggest Two Dollar Guitar fan in the world, but it doesn't quite hit me like Tim Foljahn's best work and I'd prefer to hear this stuff with a full band.

24. Donald Fagen - Morph The Cat (Reprise)
Donald Fagen - "What I Do" (mp3)

It's kind of frustrating how indistinguishable a Fagen solo album is from a Steely Dan album (hell, SD toured this summer when this album came out), but I like this better than Everything Must Go or Two Against Nature so I guess I'm OK with getting my Dan fix sans Becker these days.

25. Jay-Z - Kingdom Come (Def Jam)
Jay-Z - "Prelude" (mp3)

OK, before anyone accuses me of being a Captain Save-A-Hov for including this on the list at all, even down at the bottom, bear in mind that I'll be the first to admit that this is probably dude's worst solo album. And it doesn't exactly stick out like a sore thumb here anyway, considering that almost a dozen entries on this list are by people who've made at least 4 or 5 better albums. But even in his hobbled state of whiny flows and beat selection that's sometimes almost impossibly bad relative to the his options, "Trouble," "Kingdom Come," and even "Beach Chair" are still better than 99% of the shit that's ever come out of Dipset.

Duds and near misses
These are albums that I considered including but pissed me off for some reason or another, and yes, that means I think these are actually less enjoyable than Kingdom Come:

- Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds
It's amazing how quickly some artists cycle from pop pariah to guilty pleasure to critical favorite. In 2002, I'd been impressed enough by "Gone" and "Girlfriend" that I was rooting for Justin to make the leap to straight up R&B successfully, but when I watched him debut his single on the VMA's, most of my friends that I was watching it with just sneered derisively and made jokes. A year later, I was at a party with some of those same people and they were listening to Justified and talking about how great it was. I guess that's what you call a paradigm shift. But some of my goodwill for Justin started to evaporate at about the moment he announced the horrible title of this album and released one of my least favorite singles of the year, "SexyBack." Still, "My Love" was great enough for me to give the album a chance. And honestly, it's pretty OK, even if Timbaland, in his sudden resurgence as a hitmaker, still sounds as creatively burnt out as he did a couple years ago when he was firing blanks like "Headsprung" (and it seems increasingly clear, anyway, that Danja is doing most of the work and Timbo just shows up at the end to beatbox so that people don't doubt that it's him). And I really can't respect this as an R&B album, not as much as good but less overtly 'adventurous' efforts from John Legend, Jaheim, Shareefa and Ne-Yo, when every other song is a shameless Prince rip. The album's probably better than it would've been if the Neptunes were his go-to producers again (supposedly Pharrell opted out of working on the album in protest of Jive at the height of the Clipse ordeal), but Justin has still made more great songs with them (at least 7 by my count, including "Girlfriend" and "Signs") than he's made with Timbaland so far, including this album. At the moment it seems less filler-heavy than Justified, but that probably won't be the case once all the singles have run their course.

- Killer Mike - I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind
Another entry in the overrated-ass mixtape sweepstakes. Is it just me or is this annoying as hell to listen to? And I don't just mean because it's long. Not to be some herb who complains about universal rapper shit like namedropping their label constantly, but I swear dude says "Grind Time Rap Gang" every 10 seconds, like he just went back and filled in every empty space in the vocal track with that phrase. Shit is maddening. And dude used to sound, well, like someone named Killer Mike, now he sounds like a woman with one hand on his hips, complaining about a bunch of boring bullshit, even when he's dissing other rappers.

- My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade
I wanted to like this as much as Three Cheers, but honestly if you're gonna throw around this many classic rock signifiers in earnest, you should have the tunes to back it up (see also: The Hold Steady). There are some great songs in the second half ("Disenchanted," "Teenagers"), but it's all too little too late.

- Shawnna - Block Music
I was surprised to see this album on 2 other people's ballots in the City Paper poll. On one hand I was kinda glad because she is overrated, but I was pretty underwhelmed by this album.

- Young Jeezy - The Inspiration
Popular rappers frequently make crappy "Candy Shop" type singles that you hate for its pandering, but "I Luv It" is loathsome simply for its laziness; recycled "Trap Star" chorus, recycled "What You Know" beat (hey Jeezy, stop reminding us that you're in the same lane as T.I., it only throws the disparity between his talent and yours into stark relief), and sloppy ass lyrics that barely ever actually rhyme even at the end of lines. There are a few admittedly pretty good songs on here, but the whole thing is just so suffocatingly witless that it's a chore to listen to.

- Lil Wayne - Dedication 2
See the rant above, re: Like Father, Like Son. It's good but, dudes, calm down. "Georgia... Bush" isn't that clever.

- Junior Private Detective - Erase
Up there with Asobi Seksu as one of the best generic indie albums I heard this year, but it just fell a little too flat to stick with me.

- Juvenile - Reality Check
Disappointing only because "Holla Back" might be the most awesome song I heard this year and barely anything else on the album isn't terrible.