Monday, November 30, 2009

I've had just a couple things up on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog lately, a review of the new Architects Recording Studio mixtape Street Radio Vol. 5, and a live review of the Sugarhill Gang @ Rams Head Live, although it's since come out that apparently it was a fake version of the Sugarhill Gang with only one real member, which explains why the show sucked so bad.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 18)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

11. Reflection Eternal - Train Of Thought
(Rawkus Records, 2000)
I’ve always been in the weirdo minority that heard the Black Star album and just liked Talib Kweli more than Mos Def, but I will continue to maintain, even though Kweli’s career has been on a boring downhill slide ever since “Get By,” that Train Of Thought is kind of a masterpiece and easily a better album than Black On Both Sides. Hi-Tek isn’t one of the greatest or flashiest producers, but he’s really great at creating a front to back album experience, and he really made an amazingly wide variety of beats for this record.

12. Faraquet - The View From This Tower
(Dischord Records, 2000)
Sometimes I fret about how very ‘90s this list is in some ways, whether in terms of when the artists therein peaked or when their type of music peaked, and considering about a 2000 album by a math rock band on Dischord is one such occasion. But honestly, this album is such a perfect little tightly wound collection of snaky riffs and bombastic drumming that it’s easily one of my favorite rock albums of the decade. That reunion show last year was so worth the wait.

13. T.I. - Trap Muzik
(Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records, 2003)
Just on the strength of how many albums and mixtapes have had the word “trap” in the title since this record, there’s a case to be made about this being one of the most influential rap albums of the decade, let alone the mix of Toomp bangers and Kanye soul beats in the Lil Jon era, and the way Tip tipped his hat to UGK and 8Ball & MJG instead of the then more widely acknowledged southern forebears like Outkast. But beyond that it’s just a great album that sparked the great run T.I.’s been on for the four albums since.

14. Freeway - Philadelphia Freeway
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records, 2003)
I feel kinda funny ranking this above any Kanye album (or even Beanie, really), but to be honest Freeway really is my 2nd favorite Roc rapper after Jay, and Just Blaze at his best (which he is on his 10 beats on this album) always beats Kanye as a producer. And even though this has a few superfluous guest spots, it’s still just a remarkably solid album from front to back.

15. Chris Lee - Chris Lee Plays & Sings Torch'd Songs, Charivari Hymns & Oriki Blue-Marches
(Smells Like Records, 2001)
The night 9 years ago that Chris Lee stepped onto the stage of the old Ottobar (the building that later became the Talking Head) for a Smells Like Records showcase remains one of the most heartstopping introductions to an artist that I’ve ever experienced, and the three solo albums he released in the next couple years completely lived up to that moment, particularly the second one with Steve Shelley playing drums in Lee’s backing band. Chris Lee Plays & Sings Torch'd Songs, Charivari Hymns & Oriki Blue-Marches isn’t nearly as diverse or ambitious as its title makes it sound, but the soulful horn-driven rock of “Lonesome Eyes,” the minimal acoustic balladry of “Mount Venus,” the tropical grooves of “The Politics of Sway” and the faithful cover of Neil Young’s “On The Beach” pack a lot of influences and ideas into a cohesive and beautifully sung 38-minute package.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 17)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

16. The Dismemberment Plan - Change
(DeSoto Records, 2001)
The Dismemberment Plan were hands down my favorite contemporary band for at least a couple years around the turn of the century, mostly for their late ‘90s masterpiece Emergency & I. But during those couple years that I saw them live over a dozen times, they were constantly previewing increasingly exciting songs from the follow up, which proved to be almost as good, even if the band’s frequent nods to canonical ‘difficult fourth albums’ like Remain In Light and Kid A made Change seem like some kind of experimental studio creation, instead of the road-tested natural progression it really was. Some might see this album as the halfway point to the (somewhat, but only somewhat, unfairly maligned) Travis Morrison solo career, but any album that includes “Following Through” and “Superpowers” has to count as a band going out at the top of its game.

17. Lake Trout - Alone At Last: Live With DJ Who
(Phoenix Media Group, 2000)
The Baltimore quintet Lake Trout were probably the band I saw 2nd most in the first few years of the decade, and they even eventually linked up with the Dismemberment Plan and did a bunch of shows together and influenced each other (Change’s “The Other Side” is a direct homage to Lake Trout). Their music during that period was mostly instrumental and largely improvised live, with long stretches of rhythmic repitition, and they got pretty amazing for a while there from late ‘99, when this album was recorded, through the next couple years, until they started focusing back on vocals and songwriting, which were good but never their strong suit. The damage had been done by that point, though, at that point they were already starting to get a ‘jam band’ stigma. My one big coup when writing for Pitchfork was to give this album an 8.0, although it’s since disappeared along with a lot of my other reviews, and according to a mutual friend one of PF’s other writers from back then still characterizes me as being really into jam bands. I don't care, though, this band was incredible back then and this record is just brimming with great sounds and ideas that never made it onto any of their studio albums.

18. Aaliyah - Aaliyah
( Records, 2001)
Sometimes being in awe of Timbaland can go too far; for a long time I accepted the party line that some artists, like Aaliyah, were only great with his production, and kind of ignored the fact that a lot of the producers that were clearly following the template he created occasionally came up with pretty great stuff themselves. So the knowledge that he only produced three tracks, all of which became singles, from this album kinda kept me from checking Aaliyah out for a long time, which was dumb, because the whole record is great, and the other producers, including longtime Timbo collaborator Static Major, really hold the whole thing down and make it a perfect continuation of the innovations of One In A Million and “Are You That Somebody?” with amazing post-Timbo tracks like “Read Between The Lines” and “U Got Nerve.”

19. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War
(Universal Motown, 2008)
Even though I know on a conscious level that this album has a context, both in Badu’s career and in terms of its samples and influences, and that this is the sound of a mom recording vocals to beats sent to her while at home with her kids, there’s some whole other intangible, almost alien energy to this record that just makes it endlessly fascinating to kind of crawl inside and live in for a while.

20. Scarface - The Fix
(Def Jam Records, 2002)
The Last Of A Dying Breed, Made and Emeritus are all really good records, so I feel kind of corny making my one Scarface pick on this list predictably the 5 mic Def Jam one, but that doesn’t change the fact that this album really is awesome, and is actually amazingly committed to Face’s usual aesthetic despite the involvement of Jay/Nas/Kanye/Neptunes/etc. It kind of amazes me that a big hyped major label rap album in 2002 was able to keep things under 50 minutes, but that’s partly where The Fix’s strength comes from, it accomodated what the industry was going through at the time but didn’t bend to it.

The 2009 Remix Report Card, Vol. 11

Friday, November 27, 2009
"Angels (Remix)" by Dirty Money featuring Rick Ross / featuring Lupe Fiasco / featuring Raekwon / featuring Aasim
The original "Angels" was one of my least favorite singles of the year for the way it artlessly grafted a classic Biggie verse to a classic Jay beat and then glued them together with dreary strings and some of the worst Autotuned singing in a year full of awful Autotune abuse. And now Diddy's found a way to piss me off further by releasing a bunch of separate remixes of the song with individual rappers instead of piling them all onto a posse cut, which means I have to listen to this stupid fucking song 4 times as much (and each of them is like 6 minutes long). The cool synths on the intro to the Ross remix made me briefly optimistic that they'd stop raping the "Where I'm From" beat, but instead it came back in with Fake Biggie '09 rapping instead of the real Big, which may make it even worse. Lupe kinda goes in but only Rae actually sounds at home on the beat. I'm only even mentioning the remix with Aasim, who's been riding the Bad Boy bench for at least 4 years now, so I can link this one more time.
Best Verse: Raekwon
Overall Grade: D

"Drop It Low (Remix)" by Ester Dean featuring Lil Wayne and Chris Brown
I'd been actively avoiding this song as much as possible since the hook is annoying as fuck and Chris Brown along with a voice even more shrill than his own is a serious recipe for a headache for me. But it turns out with a rapper on this track it's pretty hot, definitely one of the more defensible beats from Polow's recent post-falling off flat-footed trance beat phase, and Wayne gets in a couple hot lines.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Love Come Down (Remix)" by Dirty Money featuring Jim Jones, Fabolous and Red Cafe
Diddy also released a remix for the other shitty single from Last Train To Paris, but for this one he at least had the sense to put all the guests on one version of the track. Plus this song is just way better, and makes way better use of a Jay-Z sample, even if it's still not a particularly good song. Fab of course kills it, and Red Cafe makes a truly regrettable pun about Oreos, and says "what else" (my least favorite rapper ad lib of '09) multiple times.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: B-

"Wasted (Remix)" by Gucci Mane featuring Lil Wayne, Jadakiss and Birdman
I'm glad this finally got a proper posse cut remix, after the debacle with the first remix that Gucci's label tried to use to swap out Plies for OJ Da Juiceman on the official single release. This time I feel like Wayne's camp screwed over Gucci, though, by (I'm assuming) muscling Birdman onto the remix as a condition of Wayne being on the track (because why else would anyone else want Birdman on their song?), and then leaking just Wayne's verse as a teaser from No Ceilings way before the whole remix, so most DJs only ended up playing his part. It's a shame, too, since Wayne's verse is kinda shitty and Gucci really put an effort into coming up with a whole new flow to attack this beat with, which is one thing I love to hear an artist do with remixes of their own songs.
Best Verse: Gucci Mane
Overall Grade: B

"Whatever You Want (Remix)" by Consequence featuring Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Common, Big Sean and John Legend
I was joking with someone recently about how the original version of this sounds so shitty and poorly produced that it's almost like Kanye and John Legend told Consequence they'd only be on his single if they weren't squandering some surefire hit they could save for their own albums. Even the video (directed by Hype Williams!) looks kinda low budget, like everyone was giving him their least possible effort. It's also kind of a poor song to use as a springboard for a posse cut trumpeting the G.O.O.D. Music roster, although the weird structure with everyone spitting just 4 bars at a time alternating with a chorus is at least novel, even if it's also super annoying. Big Sean is the saddest Kanye wannabe in a long line of sad Kanye wannabes, and I already hate him for ruining one of my favorite songs on the new Mario album.
Best Verse: Consequence
Overall Grade: C

Thursday, November 26, 2009

As much as I love the two albums the Boredoms made around the turn of the century, Super Ae and Vision Creation Newson, they have such a large and daunting catalog of releases and side projects that I've never really gotten up the nerve to dive much further into that world, and I was never really sure what any of the other stuff sounded like. But I'd always been interested in one of the many offshoots, Yoshimi's other band OOIOO, and decided to check out their new album, Arminico Hewa. As it turns out, though, OOIOO sounds a whole lot like VCN-era Boredoms, so maybe all the stuff they've been doing since then is in the same basic aesthetic, and I shouldn't have been so intimidated. There's some pretty cool sounds on here, and great drumming on "Irorun," but I think ultimately if I wanna hear a girly garage band version of the Boredoms, I much prefer Ponytail.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I reviewed the new album by Jason Dove & Vacation Face for

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 16)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

21. Young Jeezy - The Recession
(Def Jam Records, 2008)
This album is just a monster, I know a lot of people would rep for his first album or Trap Or Die as the definitive Jeezy record but in my opinion he really obliterated his early stuff with this one. “Who Dat,” “Circulate,” “Put On,” Word Play,” “Don’t Know You,” man, just bangers for days. There’s a reason this is the only major label rap album from the past 2 years on this list.

22. Fall Out Boy - Folie à Deux
( Records, 2008)
The arc from Fall Out Boy’s 2005 mainstream breakthrough, From Under The Cork Tree, to their current state, with several consecutive flop singles and the band taking a ‘hiatus’ that everyone is speculating is really a breakup, is lined with bad decisions and indulgences in tabloid celebrity culture that helped to alienated the band from their fanbase. But along the way, they actually rapidly improved as a band, going from being an emo band with ridiculous lyrics and better than average vocals to an omnivorous power pop band with an incredible way with bombastic hooks. There’s not really anything Folie à Deux does that 2007’s Infinity On High doesn’t (pianos and strings, drum machines, famous rapper cameos, R&B influences), but it takes that step forward and improves on it in every way, and there aren’t many songs I’ve listened to more in the past year than “The (Shipped) Gold Standard” and “The Disloyal Order Of Water Buffaloes” and “Coffee’s For Closers.”

23. Wye Oak - If Children
(self-released, 2007; reissued by Merge Records, 2008)
Sometimes covering a local music scene, you wonder if you’ve got blinders on, or whether the whole geographical filter colors your ability to tell the good stuff from the good-for-local stuff, and I grappled with that a lot when figuring out what Baltimore artists to include on this list. But this was one of those albums that I never had to think twice about including, and never thought twice about whether it was good enough to sit next to any indie record any band in any other city was putting out, even well before the little band called Monarch that I saw in some hole in the wall right before in early ‘07 changed their name to Wye Oak and got signed to Merge and started to become a sorta-kinda big deal.

24. Kanye West - Late Registration
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records, 2005)
Every phase of Kanye’s career as a rapper has had its own impediments, whether it was the Ma$e-like delivery and overeager punchlines on his early stuff, to the dumbed down U2 stadium rap approach to lyrics on Graduation, to the insufferable poop joke wannabe Wayne phase of his last couple years of guest verses. But right around Late Registration, he was as close to a great rapper as he’ll ever get, still trying too hard but actually getting somewhere. Add to that some of the most ambitious beats he’s ever made, with or without Jon Brion’s embellishments, and this is damn near the complete package, even worse fake Bernie Mack skits than the first time aside.

25. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse
(Geffen Records, 2004)
After long jammy tracks like “Wildflower Soul” and “Rain On Tin” made for some of my favorite moments from the second half of Sonic Youth’s long career, my favorite band continued their unlikely 21st century hot streak with even more long jammy tracks like “Dripping Dream” and “New Hampshire.” The last two albums were really good too, but I wish they never started moving back towards more concise songwriting, as far as I’m concerned they can keep stretching out like this forever.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 15)

Monday, November 23, 2009

26. Trick Daddy - Thug Matrimony: Married To The Streets
(Slip-N-Slide Records/Atlantic Records, 2004)
Trick’s made so many good albums, but this is the one that has a perfect balance of filthy sex raps (“J.O.D.D.”), fight music (“Fuckin’ Around”), bass jams (“Down Wit Da South”), pop singles (“Sugar”) and adorably gruff inspirational songs with children singing the hook (“I Wanna Sang”).

27. Sloan - Never Hear The End Of It
(Yep Roc Records, 2007)
Given that Sloan have at least a couple records that dragged at just 12 songs, there was no guarantee that an ambitious 30-track opus would fly at all, especially on album #8 after a long downward slide in quality control. But the band’s four songwriters rallied together and came up with the best they had, while still staying within their own “just plain old power pop” wheelhouse, and made one of the best White Album-meets-Abbey Road epics any wannabe Beatles has come up with in decades.

28. Raphael Saadiq - Instant Vintage
(Universal Records, 2002)
For a long time, Voodoo would’ve occupied this spot on the list. But at some point I realized that three of my favorite songs D’Angelo’s been involved in were co-written by Raphael Saadiq (those being “Untitled,” “Lady” and Instant Vintage’s lead single “Be Here”) and that I really just prefer the latter’s songwriting, voice, and aesthetic choices. I mean this guy is just a genius.

29. Blaq Starr - I’m Bangin’
(JB Starr Productions, 2006)
This is a shaky analogy, but I really feel like Blaq Starr’s impact on Baltimore club music about halfway through this decade was similiar to Timbaland’s on hip hop and R&B in the mid-’90s. His initial hits, including “Get My Gun” and “Get Your Hands Up,” as collected on here, were so huge with local DJs, and his approach to arranging drums (pummeling kick drums, sometimes with no snare at all), samples (wordless voices chopped into percussive loops) and vocals (his own airy falsetto) was so utterly original that the producers that followed him couldn’t help but be influenced by it. Though subsequent mix CDs and EPs, including I’m Bangin’ 2, have been better distributed and heard by more people, this first mix with no artwork or tracklist that Blaq Starr gave me when I interviewed him a few summers ago remains, to me, his single best release, in 27 relentless minutes compiling nearly all of his amazing early hits, including the original versions of “Ryda Gyrl” and “Slyde” and “Hands Up, Thumbs Down” before he remixed them for local rappers that only dragged the songs down.

30. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Shake The Sheets
(Lookout! Records, 2004)
Shake The Sheets is kind of the dark horse of Ted Leo’s big four Pharmacists albums, the one that followed the year after the breakthrough Hearts Of Oak and made almost none of the big year-end lists that its predecessor did. But Hearts was a couple great songs padded out with filler and bad production, whereas Sheets is by far his tightest and best-sounding (if not outright best) album, with laser-focused songwriting and a road-tested rhythm section.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 14)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

31. Pitbull - M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is A Major Issue)
(TVT Records, 2004)
It’s funny to remember back when “Culo” dropped and how it was kind of confusing to see this Cuban rapper come out doing a song with Lil Jon over a reggaeton beat and not really having any idea what this guy was going for. With every subsequent single and guest appearance for the next year or so, though, it became quickly apparent that Pitbull was the best and most versatile rapper to come out of that whole mid-decade pop crunk movement, able to kill any beat from rap to reggaeton. For a while I thought he was destined for superstardom, then his next couple albums were kinda duds, then he came back pretty much out of nowhere this year to become the big new cheeseball dance pop rapper a la Flo Rida, which is a little depressing in its own way, but it’s good to see him still out there.

32. Nas - God’s Son
(Columbia Records, 2002)
It’s interesting to think now about Jay-Z’s “one hot album every ten year average” barb now, at the end of a decade in which Nas made 5 albums, none of which was even remotely Illmatic, but all of which have their strong points and their defenders (hell, I’ll even go to bat for Street’s Disciple as the second best of the bunch after this one). At the time I was a Jay partisan all the way, and it was really the one-two of “One Mic” and “Made You Look” that made me turn around and admit that Nas wasn’t completely out of good ideas, which God’s Son confirmed and then some. Was listening to this album the other day and “Get Down” is just incredible. But yeah, Pitbull was better than Nas, at least for a little while this decade.

33. Destroy All Nels Cline - Destroy All Nels Cline
(Atavistic Records, 2001)
Nels Cline’s long term projects as a bandleader, mainly the Nels Cline Trio in the ‘90s and the Nels Cline Singers in this decade, are usually power trios, foregrounding his brilliant guitar work while still letting the rhythm section carve out its own identity. But along the way, he’s formed a lot of interesting larger ensembles for albums like The Inkling and New Monastery: A View Into The Music Of Andrew Hill. And of those outfits, the one that I wish had stayed together as a continuing project and not just a one-off project the most was Destroy All Nels Cline, the sextet featuring four guitars (sometimes expanded to a septet with Zeena Parkins on electric harp) that whipped up perhaps the loudest, rowdiest wall of sound in Cline’s immense catalog, fleshing his compositions out with lush layers of strings that his various trios would just never be able to capture.

34. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
(Razor Sharp/Epic/Sony, 2000)
As I’ve said before, one of my big deficiencies as a white guy who listens to rap is that I’ve never been a huge huge Wu Tang fan, as much as I love a lot of Wu Tang music, so this is one of their canonical big records that I’d only even heard in the past year or two. And it’s kind of funny to think how many people peg something like this, that was released in January 2000 and just sounds so ‘90s, as the best rap album of the decade, but at the same time I can’t hate, it’s pretty dope.

35. Tim Trees - Dalton Vol. 1
(Bdamore Records, 2001)
As much Baltimore hip hop as I’ve devoured over the past few years, I may have yet to hear anything as consistently enjoyable and thoroughly Baltimore as the record that Tim Trees and Rod Lee moved a few thousand units of at the beginning of the decade off of local radio smashes like “Bank Roll” and “We Don’t Love ‘Em.” Trees has a slurry, heavily accented delivery and the production sometimes sounds cheap, or too tuned to club music to appeal to national audiences, but in my head I love to think about if this had blown up and been a big underground sensation in the No Limit/Cash Money era. I wish more rap records opened the way “Spit” does on this, with a few cavernous kick drum notes and then straight into a ridiculous double time flow.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carla Bozulich's post-Geraldine Fibbers career has always seemed to move in fits and starts, always starting a new project and only recording one album, if that, before moving onto the next one: Scarnella, Night Porter, one-offs by design like Red Headed Stranger. So it's been cool to see her 2006 solo album Evangelista kind of gradually involve into a steady outlet, become the band Evangelista that released last year's Hello, Voyager and now the new Prince Of Truth.

Where Evangelista was a little too bleak for my tastes, and Hello Voyager's wider variety of sounds and moods made it my favorite Bozulich project in years, Prince Of Truth unfortunately ends up somewhere in between but not as interesting as either. I've listened to it 5 times now and just can't quite get a bead on most of it, which is as spare and bare as Evangelista was but not nearly as intense or attention-grabbing. "You Are A Jaguar" is kind of the album's climax by default, but even that is kind of this seething midtempo that never quite builds to the explosion it feels like it's heading towards, much in the same way as Hello Voyager's "Lucky Lucky Luck," and "Crack Teeth" has an interesting ticking-clock kind of rhythm. But for the most part the album kinda washes over me without leaving a huge impression, and it's pretty hard for Carla Bozulich to bore me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This week I have a piece in the Baltimore City Paper about the Rapdragons, a new hip hop duo I saw at the All-Rap Round Robin, a few months ago, which was actually only their 3rd show ever. They're playing at the Windup Space this Saturday, and their album is available for download on, but what I'm really excited to hear is their next record, Featuring Baltimore, which is going to be all samples of Baltimore bands with Baltimore rappers guesting on tracks with them.

(photo by Rarah)

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 13)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

36. The Boredoms - Vision Creation Newsun
(Birdman Records, 2001)
I tend to think of Vision Creation Newsun as a lesser sibling to Super Ae, if not necessarily a sequel or retread. But in truth the amazing June ‘99 show at the 9:30 Club that made me a devoted fan of the Boredoms (or at least, this particular phase of their career) for life was probably closer to the period where they made VCN, and this album is pretty awesome in its own right.

37. Jay-Z - The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records, 2000)
In the rockcrit narrative that elevates The Blueprint (along with Reasonable Doubt and, ugh, The Black Album) above the rest of Jay-Z’s early catalog, all those icky albums with numbers and colons in the titles that don’t have a calculated ‘classic album’ atmosphere, that album was the daring departure that bet it all on Kanye West and Just Blaze and Bink!’s soul beats. But in reality, it was on that uncool crew album from a year earlier, with Jay at his jiggiest, that he started working with all three, as well as the Neptunes, having temporarily left behind pretty much all of the established all-star team that had produced much of his last couple albums (Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier, etc.). Sure, it really isn’t a better album than Blueprint, thanks mainly to stuff towards the end like “Squeeze 1st” and that Memphis Bleek solo cut, but “1-900-Hustler” and “This Can’t Be Life” and “Change The Game” still stand out as Jay and Roc-A-Fella at their absolute best.

38. Beanie Sigel - The Truth
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records, 2000)
Of course, it would be just as wrong of me to say that Jay discovered Kanye and Just and Bink on The Dynasty, when in reality Sigel handpicked tracks from all three for his debut 8 months earlier, and really this album is the genesis of the Roc-A-Fella sound. It’s also the career peak that Beans has never been able to quite return to, even as he’s arguably improved as a rapper since then, because he was just so totally confident and committed to his aesthetic and his subject matter, even on the pop joint with Eve, and that same word rhyming style was still pretty fresh, although it took me a few years to come around to really respecting what he was doing.

39. Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
(RCA Records, 2004)
When virtually half of an album is comprised of huge hit singles, it’s kind of difficult to evaluate the sum and not the parts. Still, that opening quartet of smashes is enough by itself to make this one of the best pop albums of the decade, and the rest of the album sounds like songs that mostly could’ve been hits themselves if they’d been given a shot.

40. The Roots - Game Theory
(Def Jam Records, 2006)
When Jay-Z signed the Roots to Def Jam a few years ago, there was some vague expectation that he was going to give them some big commercial push (which nobody needed, given how the whole Interscope/Scott Storch single thing turned out), but instead they were part of Def Jam’s new phase of just pushing a lot more underachieving albums out into the marketplace and just letting them sell whatever they’re going to sell, which I think is generally a great idea, since I think we were all getting sick of so many albums languishing unreleased. And their first for Def Jam was actually one of their best ever, a late career rally with tons of ideas and sounds and guest MCs that all fit together will (still kinda wish Peedi had joined the group as once rumored). And for once, ?uestlove actually lives up to his rep as a brilliant producer/percussionist, and gives nearly every song its own uniquely spine-tingling drum sound, while the rest of the band has never had more low end.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 12)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

41. Cex - Being Ridden
(Temporary Residence, 2003)
About 9-10 years ago, when I was a Baltimore teenager going to Dismemberment Plan shows all the time, I became intrigued by this other Baltimore teenager who was opening Dismemerment Plan shows and remixing them and making his own records and kind of forging a career out of being an oversharing IDM weirdo. For a while, Rjyan Kidwell’s personality and ideas came out a lot more in his live show than on his mostly instrumental records, but he started to outline his philosophy more explicity on the 2002 indie rap album Tall, Dark & Handcuffed, and a few months later followed it up with what I consider to be his defining statement and most ambitious album, still working the rapper schtick somewhat like a schtick but packing a huge amount of real talk into every song and getting Craig Wedren to flesh out the melodic parts. One of my more surreal concert memories of the past few years was seeing him open for the Postal Service, right after this and their record had just came out, and he performed the amazing “Wayback Machine” in the middle of the crowd, probably scaring the hell out of all the Gibbard fans.

42. Electrik Red - How To Be A Lady: Vol. 1
(Radio Killa/Def Jam Records, 2009)
The-Dream is a talented guy and all, but I just can’t handle that squeak toy voice most of the time, and would much rather hear him write for another singer, preferably female. And the irony of his ‘anonymous’ girl group full of no names that couldn’t move units with the biggest songwriter in R&B in their corner is that these girls have more personality than most of the superstars Terius writes for. They also got better beats.

43. Demi Lovato - Don’t Forget
(Hollywood Records, 2008)
The-Dream Nick Jonas is a talented guy and all, but I just can’t handle that squeak toy voice most of the time, and would much rather hear him write for another singer, preferably female. But seriously, this is just a killer power pop record, and I can’t wait to see what this chick does in the future.

44. Two Dollar Guitar - Weak Beats And Lame-Ass Rhymes
(Smells Like Records, 2000)
Two Dollar Guitar was a band that I blindly checked out on the basis of their being in the Sonic Youth file in the record store, which is something I did a lot as a teenager, but Tim Foljahn’s songs ended up resonating with me way beyond just the curiousity of wanting to hear who else Steve Shelly was playing drums for. Although Foljahn released another more low key TDG solo record a couple years ago, this album kind of stands as the band’s last big hurrah to date, although it’s about as low key as a big hurrah can get, and the biggest name guests on it are Nels Cline and Smokey Hormel. And even though it’s not quite the personal touchstone that 1996’s Burned And Buried is, it definitely has a lot of Foljahn’s best songs, from the tuneful “Kilroy” to the cathartic “T-Shirt” and the sarcastic “Everybody’s In A Band.”

45. Young Dro - Best Thang Smokin’
(Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records, 2006)
It’s pretty much standard for every major star in hip hop to get to underwrite a whole slew of albums by their posse or their brother or their hypeman, and for those coattail riders were happy to play mini-mi to their beneficiary’s style, or were simply blank slates with no style whatsoever. So credit goes to T.I. that at the peak of his powers, he went back and found a guy who had underground records out back at the same time he did with actual skills and let him do his thing. Dro’s commercial profile doesn’t quite defy the stereotype -- his debut didn’t go gold, and his biggest single had Tip on the hook. But the fact that he’s still considered something of a force 3 years later, with no sophomore LP yet and his boss locked up, is proof enough that he’s got something going with his dense color-oriented wordplay and infectiously slurry delivery. And to be honest this album isn’t hindered by its instant C-lister status in the slightest, and token introspective joints “We Lied” and “Hear Me Cry” are better than any punchline rapper’s token introspective joints have a right to be.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 11)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

46. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott - Miss E...So Addictive
(Elektra Records, 2001)
It’s been longer since I listened to this than probably any other album on the list, I lost my copy of it like 3 apartments ago. Still, I remember it being a shitload of fun, and Timbo was on such a good roll that year, this might be my favorite Missy album.

47. Karmella’s Game - The Art Of Distraction
(Speedbump Recordings, 2006)
I’ve seen these guys live in Baltimore so many times over the last few years, and they’re really just a tremendous pop band, with big girly harmonies and screaming portamento synth lines and chunky guitar riffs, and this album really sums up so much of why they’re great into one package. My iTunes play count for “Skip The Funeral” is ridiculous.

48. DJ Quik & Kurupt - BlaQKout
(Mad Science/Fontana Distribution, 2009)
So many fading hip hop stars were gradually exiled from the mainstream over the past 10 years, and those that kept recording on an independent level generally went in one of two directions: make low budget trend-jumping pop rap in hopes of one day returning to the big leagues, or make deliberately ‘underground’ rap that tries too hard to play up some quality that wasn’t even in their music to begin with (hi, horrorcore Slaughterhouse bullshit). Quik and Kurupt managed to do none of the above, my making an album that was so creative and fun and unencumbered by either industry pressure or fanbase second-guessing that it should make mainstream rappers jealous.

49. UGK - Underground Kingz
(Jive Records, 2007)
Double rap albums, or really double albums in general, didn’t have a very good decade (even the one other one on this list, Diplomatic Immunity, doesn’t really feel like a double or at least doesn’t benefit much from being one). But UGK were in the perfect position to make the rare one that doesn’t suck, between Bun B’s prolific guest spot run and Pimp C’s pre-mixtape mentality of stockpiling material for albums, and the general comeback atmosphere that made the album seem like an event, something special. It was also a way for them to satisfy each of their fanbases, new and old, with enough new jack guests and enough classic country rap that you could pretty easily carve an ideal single disc album out of this no matter what your preferences are.

50. Ken Stringfellow - Touched
(Manifesto, 2001)
The Posies are one of my favorite bands of the ‘90s, but I didn’t totally realize that until the first couple years of this decade, after they’d broken up (for the first time, anyway), and I started to dig through their back catalog and realize how consistent they were. And as Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow splintered off to do seperate projects, it was the latter that quickly became the more interesting and prolific artist outside the band (whereas in the band their talents were shockingly well matched). I remember the summer before his first proper solo album was released, I was living in Newark, Delaware down the road from a record store that had an EP by his short-lived post-Posies band Saltine, that included versions of two Touched songs, and his 1997 demo-ish album This Sounds Like Goodbye, which had another future Touched song, so I was already totally obsessed with like a quarter of this album’s songs before I even heard it.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 10)

Monday, November 16, 2009

51. Three 6 Mafia - Da Unbreakables
(Hypnotize Minds/Columbia Records, 2003)
Triple 6 and HCP turned out such a huge volume of music this decade, so consistent in a if-you-like-one-you’ll-like-them-all way, that it seems almost arbitrary to pick one or another to hold up for praise on a list like this, but they definitely deserve a spot, and this album is a worthy one, kind of in that transitional era with Crunchy Black still hanging out and mumbling an occasional verse and Paul & Juice still working the goth synth sound with “Testin’ My Gangsta” foreshadowing the Willie Hutch overkill that would follow soon after.

52. Parts & Labor - Stay Afraid
(Jagjaguwar, 2006)
A good number of the albums on this list are by people that I’ve interviewed or met or been in some contact with at some point, but Christopher G. Weingarten, Parts & Labor’s drummer on this album, is pretty much the only one that’s on my AIM buddy list and that I shoot the shit with on a regular basis. So take that with a grain of salt, but they were an awesome awesome band with him behind the kit (and still are without him, last year’s Receivers was great too), and they really nailed their particular brand of bombastic screaming noise pop on this record.

53. The 410 Pharaohs - 410 Funk
(Strictly Rhythm/Ill Friction, 2008)
The last few years of Baltimore hip hop and club music have seen a ton of attempts to mix one with the other with limited success and, often, even more limited creativity, a few great tracks aside. So it was pretty exciting when veterans from both scenes, Labtekwon from the former and DJ Booman and Jimmy Jones from the latter, got together to create a definitive fusion that felt both natural and offbeat.

54. Beyoncé - B’Day
(Columbia Records, 2006)
After the ballady bloat of Dangerously In Love and half of its singles being total shit, it was a genuine and refreshing surprise for B to hole up in a studio for 3 weeks and rush out a brash 38-minute album, not counting the bonus track reprise, where even the softest cut is a ruthless breakup anthem (and make no mistake, I’m talking about that stripped-down 10 track original album, not the deluxe edition full of duds like “Listen” and “Beautiful Liar”). Rich Harrison may not have upped the ante, but the introduction of Swizz Beatz to R&B was an inspired move that’s still paying dividends today. It’s kind of crazy to think of how many sounds and templates in countless hits over the past few years were introduced on this album: without “Get Me Bodied” there’s no “Single Ladies,” without “Upgrade U” there’s no “I Can Transform Ya,” and without “Irreplaceable” we wouldn’t have dozens of strummy Stargate tracks. Or we would, but none of them are nearly as good.

55. Radiohead - Kid A
(Capitol Records, 2000)
There’s something inherently pompous and ridiculous about a rock band with three guitarists and a boring rhythm section stripping away the guitars (on 6 out of 10 songs, anyway) to focus on “beats,” and a certain unconvincing false modesty about them holing up for 3 years to follow up a huge hit, and then deciding a big epic double album would be gauche and releasing two records a year apart, with no singles. In the big grand Radiohead fan narrative, this was them being genius mavericks, but as far as I can tell they were pulling a lot of the same moves as a lot of bands that were really full of themselves have throughout rock history. And it was the beginning of them painting themselves into a corner so tiny that whatever sounds that escape from it now, like In Rainbows, sound completely dead and bereft of ideas or energy. Still, for a second here their ambitions (or contrarian aspirations to not be ambitious) didn’t totally get the best of them, and they ended up with a pretty good-sounding album.

Movie Diary

Sunday, November 15, 2009
a) Anvil! The Story Of Anvil
I'm such a nerd for rock lore and music career stories that I've watched plenty of movies and even read books about artists I've never owned an album by. So it was kind of weird to watch this, after all the hype about it being so moving and engaging, and just not be able to give a fuck. These guys are kind of entertaining characters and their career is somewhat interesting, but the way it's framed in the film is just kinda dull and in a way it's almost offensive how much they put these guys on a pedestal for still making music and pursuing their dreams with normal working class finances as if that's exceptional. Also, how funny is it that the trailer is full of really schmaltzy power ballad rock background music that sounds nothing like Anvil sounds?

b) Seven Pounds
This movie has maybe some of the most egregious backstory-rationing of all time. I think the main reason I wanted to see it, despite all the negative (and accurate) buzz, was that the trailer was so ambiguous about what the story actually is, and as it turns out practically the entire movie is about stringing you along and making you continue to wonder that. And then when all is revealed, it's vaguely 'profound' but when you think about it kind of headcrushingly stupid, particularly how incredibly unlikely Will Smith's character's plan is to work.

c) Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
In the same way that Modern Girls is the perfect encapsulation of movies hilariously distorting '80s youth culture, or, say, Reality Bites did for the '90s, this is that movie for the '00s. I wanted to stab myself in the brain for sitting through any of this just to stare at Kat Dennings.

d) Ghost Town
I kinda feel like Ricky Gervais seems like a one-trick pony (and I wasn't even that crazy about that trick in "The Office") and I thought this looked like some lame-ass Ghost Dad shit form the trailers. So I was pretty shocked to find myself actually kind of loving this movie. Director David Koepp, who's done seemingly exclusive action and suspense movies in the past, slowly teases out the dramatic, poignant elements of the story by the end of the movie (I cried a little, seriously), while setting up the premise and the dryly witty tone of it really well, and really everyone in it is great. Really big, pleasant surprise.

e) The House Bunny
The depressing unspoken thing about this movie is that Anna Faris has had so much work done on her face that she's really well cast as a Playboy chick in this, I mean you'd barely recognize her from the Scary Movie days.

f) The Promotion
It's weird to channel surf and see that there's a recent movie on that looks like a normal theatrical wide release and has familiar actors (in this case John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott), but you don't have any knowledge of existing and never saw so much as a TV ad or a print review. Apparently this had a tiny theatrical run right around the time I was out of the country last year on my honeymoon, but I feel like I wouldn't have heard of it either way. Anyway, I can't really blame the studio for brushing this under the rug, it's pretty bland and unremarkable. Like Ghost Town, this is directed by a guy who hadn't done much comedy before, and it feels like he saw Election and decided to just make the exact same movie more or less, with a different story and setting but identical tone and narration and overall arc, and of course, not nearly as good.

g) The Strangers
This is definitely really scary, and it gains some of its power to scare from the lack of backstory or explanation, of just watching a horrible thing happen and then it's over, no motivation or subtext or revelation. But that doesn't mean it also doesn't kind of feel like a lazy ripoff that just kind of cops out of having to write an actual plot.

h) The Grand
Ahoy running theme: yet another comedy directed by someone who usually doesn't do comedy, in this case superhero movie screenwriter Zak Penn doing a painfully faithful wannabe Christopher Guest mockumentary (Best In Show at a poker tournament is the most accurate description I can come up with). It's also weird that it's not bad, if inconsistent, and had a ridiculously star-studded cast all hanging out and doing goofy big parts, including Werner Herzog of all people.

i) Be Kind Rewind
This was pretty fun, and kind of weirdly sweet. I still don't really understand why Mos Def is a successful actor and wish they'd cast someone who's actually funny (or even just an effective straight man/emotional center for the movie). It's like when he stops rapping all his charisma disappears.

j) Run, Fat Boy, Run
It's weird how Hank Azaria's movie niche has become playing the musclebound guy who steals the girl from the main character in comedies (see also America's Sweethearts, Along Came Polly).

k) This Filthy World
I like John Waters movies, but I love John Waters the person and the persona and the Baltimore icon, so it was really entertaining to watch this filmed version of his one man show, with all his hilarious droll stories about his career, which I never get tired of. My favorite part of this was that his dream job as an actor would be to star in a Don Knotts biopic, which I now kinda of want to actually happen.

l) Josie And The Pussycats
Finally sat down and watched this after years of hearing about how funny and subversive it is and, well, it does lay on the satire a bit thick, but it's still pretty funny at times. Shame Rachel Leigh Cook isn't really in movies anymore.

Saturday, November 14, 2009
Back in August, Raymond Cummings of Ill With The Composition invited a few dudes, including myself, to participate in a "dad-rock roundtable" discussion, discussing the dad-rock genre/pejorative as well as music and fatherhood in general. The first installment went up recently, although some stuff I say in there is already out of date (especially the part about me expecting a son, who has since been born).

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 9)

Friday, November 13, 2009

56. R. Kelly - Chocolate Factory
(Jive Records, 2003)
It’s funny to think that for a good year or two, it seemed likely that R. Kelly’s career was probably over, and then Chocolate Factory came along. ‘03 was just in general a great year for R., maybe one of the best years any hitmaker had this decade (also including “Laundromat,” “Busted,” and “Feelin’ Freaky” among its highlights), and this album is its crown jewel. “Step In The Name of Love,” “Ignition” and its remix (the way they’re meant to be heard here, as one continuous 6-minute suite), the title track, so much great stuff on here. And really, this was the last time he had the perfect balance of soulful and rowdy, sincere and silly, that he’s thrown off so much in the “Trapped In The Closet”-heavy years since then.

57. The Strokes - Is This It
(RCA Records, 2001)
I mostly stayed out of The Great “Rock Is Back” Debates Of 2001, rolling my damn eyes at the whole thing too much to pick a side. But when the smoke cleared, the Strokes’ album was the one out of all those that turned out to have 3 pretty great singles, and that I was never mad to hear when I friend put it on. But it really helps if you put all the bands they were compared to completely out of your mind (Television could swing, dammit), and just accept them as this weirdly colorless, dry, brittle version of new wave that somehow became the perfect format for their big pop hooks.

58. Styles P. - A Gangster And A Gentleman
(Ruff Ryders/Interscope Records, 2002)
Jadakiss is by far The Lox’s most respected MC and biggest star, but throughout the decade he had three tries at making a solid album and he struck out every time. Meanwhile, Styles had no trouble making one satisfying project after another, with lowered sales expectations, a greater commitment to the D-Block aesthetic, and frankly, a lot more to say beyond clever punchlines than Jada ever had. It’s kind of hard to believe this album came out and went gold in the middle of the Blueprint soul sample era, the year before Get Rich Or Die Trying, and is just as dark and nasty and gangsta as the stuff G-Unit supposedly brought back (even the helium chorus single, “Good Times,” goes kinda hard). “Ass Bags” is one of the decade’s funniest rap skits, “Nobody Believes Me” one of its weirdest and most clever high concept rap songs about personifying guns and other inanimate objects, and “My Brother” one of its most heartfelt R.I.P. dedications.

59. J Roddy Walston and the Business - Hail Mega Boys
(Morphius Records, 2007)
A few years ago, a group of old-fashioned rock’n’roll barnstormers migrated up to Baltimore from Tennessee, and I don’t know if their original hometown sufficiently appreciated them, but they’ve become kind of the toast of the town here. But the really remarkable thing is not just how ridiculously fun they are live, but that, unlike a lot of Baltimore’s best live bands, they actually were able to translate to record amazingly well on their first full-length.

60. Jaguar Love - Take Me To The Sea
(Matador Records, 2008)
As I mentioned in the lone Blood Brothers entry on this list, I got into them in kind of a backwards way from a more recent offshoot band, and I feel odd putting this album higher. Still, canon or not, this is a pretty awesome album regardless of who made it, and I like hearing that whole squealing vocal sound and amped up aesthetic filtered through something a little more jangly and traditionally indie.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 8)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

61. Bubba Sparxxx - Deliverance
(Beat Club/Interscope Records, 2003)
Alright, so he spends like half this record whining about how his first album didn't sell as much as he expected, even though it almost went platinum and is still the commercial peak his career (every whit rapper is emo, even the ones that aren’t). And he works the whole hillbilly angle even harder than you'd expect someone who performs under the name 'Bubba' to. But that's OK, because all the hayseed themes just give Timbaland a chance to stir fiddles and harmonica into his pot in place of squealing babies and Bollywood strings for a change, resulting in, for my money, the guy's last truly inspired album-length production (a few Organized Noize tracks aside). And all that handwringing about industry success just creates a somber contemplative mood that suits Bubba surprisingly well, and he's a truly thoughtful, heartfelt rapper at his best. I just wish I could take off the horrible original "Back In The Mud" and end the album with the Zone 4 remix instead.

62. Nels Cline - Coward
(Cryptogramophone Records, 2009)
Nels Cline says he’d been thinking about doing a record like this, just him and his guitar unaccompanied, for over twenty years, and I’ve probably been waiting for him to do it for about half of that time myself. Somehow, someone who gets in the studio with various bands and collaborators and backing ensembles often enough to release several records almost every year just never found the time to book a solo session until pretty recently. That’s part of the reason that Coward is a momentous records; the other part is that it actually lives up to all my years of anticipation, with 70 minutes of music both acoustic and electric, live and overdubbed, spontaneous and looped, improvised and written, by one of my favorite guitarists of all time.

63. Amerie - All I Have
(Columbia Records, 2002)
Even though they’ll probably both be most remembered for the popcorn drums and infectious onomatopoeia of 2005’s “1 Thing,” and have spent the years since then collaborating with many other artists to diminishing returns on both ends, Amerie and Rich Harrison pretty much found the perfect sound together on their very first album. And even if there’s nothing quite as flashy and explosive as “1 Thing,” Harrison’s lush sound is already fully formed here, with more mellow midtempo numbers than what he ultimately became known for, and interesting experiments in rhythm like “I Just Died” and “Hatin’ On You” that he never returned to later on.

64. Kanye West - The College Dropout
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2004)
Kanye became my favorite producer in hip hop around 2002 (as much as I loved “This Can’t Be Life” and The Blueprint, for some reason I never really learned the name and checked for him until “Guess Who’s Back”). And around early ‘03 when I heard Get Well Soon, and realized he was this kind of earnest and amateurish but also kind of clever and strangely compelling rapper, he quickly became pretty much my favorite musician period for a while. For a solid year I snapped up every beat, every freestyle, every mixtape, every little thing that trickled out as anticipation mounted for his debut, all the time hoping he’d at least get a release date and sell enough to go gold; as much as I was a fervent believer, I didn’t really have a clue he’d become one of the biggest stars of the decade. And when he did, maybe I lost a little bit of interest because he wasn’t just my pet obsession anymore, but really I still considered myself a pretty big fan at least until all that frequently lousy stuff from Graduation onward. For a second it was really exciting, though, to see this guy I had rooted for actually make good on all his ambitions and have this huge event album that convinced everyone else of what I’d known. It’s really far far from a perfect or classic album, though -- would’ve been a bit closer in the pre-release version with “Keep The Receipt” and “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” and none of those boring-ass skits.

65. Lungfish - Feral Hymns
(Dischord Records, 2005)
As one of the canonical Baltimore bands (if not the, canonical Baltimore band), I’ve always felt more of an obligation to listen to Lungfish than an instant, effortless connection to their music. Still, as I work my way through their ‘90s back catalog and slowly start to ‘get’ them more, I’m surprised that the last album they made keeps coming back up as one of my favorites. Their malevolent lurch rocks pretty hard at times on this one, and “Sing” might be their catchiest song ever.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
NPR's All Songs Considered is running a special called The Decade Defined this week and next week about the last 10 years of music, and part of that feature involved a survey sent out to a number of writers and music types, including myself. Some of my responses are already up on the Monitor Mix Blog and I guess there'll be more over the next week or so.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Baltimore Scene held the Baltimore Crown Awards at 5 Seasons on Sunday, and I decided to stay home with my son that night, but I ended winning a "golden pen" award to match my "best blog/website" award from last year. So thanks to them and the voters, and congratulations to the other winners, full list below:

Hip Hop Artist of The Year: Mully Man
Poet of the Year: Taalam Acey
Vocalist of the Year: Chyna Doll
Band of the Year: Soul Cannon
Mixtape of the Year: Comp "The Man with the Hand 2"
Photographer of the Year: Kelly Connelly
Graphic Designer of the Year: Skarr Akbar
Blog/Website of The Year:
Studio of the Year: Architect Studios
Manager of the Year: EC (Frank Lewis)
Promoter of the Year: Tay Tay of Tayland Promotions
Under the Radar Awards: Tonio from da top
Most Likely to Succeed Award: Mully Man
Best New Artist: Black Sunn
Best Live Venue: Rams Head Live
Best Poetry Venue: The 5 Seasons/Warm Wednesdays
Best Hip Hop Venue: Club Reality

Golden Awards: Awarded to artists that take it beyond being artists and use their talent and energy to contribute to the scene/community

Golden Mic: Ogun
Golden Pen: Al shipley
Golden Stage: 5th L

Special Appreciation Award: Ahk of 88.9
Special Contribution Award: Lisa Stant

Baltimore Legend Awards
Inductees to The Baltimore Hall of Fame
(Joining: Fertile Ground, Labtekwon, Taalam Acey, D Chase, and Ogun)

Mr. Wilson (RIP), K Swift (RIP), Vicious V, Sonny Brown, Lo Key, Brown Fish, Comp, and Skarr Akbar.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 7)

Monday, November 09, 2009

66. My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me The Workhorse
(Asthmatic Kitty, 2006)
As far as I can tell from other critics’ lists, a lot of pretty young women made a lot of pretentious chamber pop and indie rock albums in the past decade that I haven’t heard. I ended up stumbling upon this one, though, because I saw My Brightest Diamond live and was pleasantly surprised to find out that she made a dark dramatic guitar album that actually rocks pretty hard.

67. T.I. - King
(Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records, 2006)
It may not be his breakthrough album (Trap Muzik) or his best-selling album (Paper Trail), but King nonetheless represents the absolute apex of T.I.’s career, the moment when he seemed to be at the center of the entire hip hop world, not just the south, and it felt completely justified. By leaving behind the bland crossover experiments of Urban Legend behind, he managed to cross over even bigger, with one colossal banger after another, and kind of a rare miracle when a big bloated 75-minute statement of dominance makes for a great rap album too. Even that Pharrell/Common song is kinda dope, against all odds.

68. Blink 182 - Blink 182
(Geffen, 2003)
Lots of pop punk goofballs started taking themselves seriously this decade and abandoning the qualities that made them popular in the first place, and some of them ended up with big boring blockbusters in the process (this is the part where I say fuck nu-Green Day). But Blink 182, in their awkward growing pains, led by the indulgences of the kind of brilliant drummer Travis Barker, ended up with something a little more interesting than anything they made as an efficient teen anthem-producing machine, extravagantly produced and well played but as hardheaded and adolescent as ever. Plus it was nice that Tom DeLonge got out one last great song, “Always,” before aliens started eating his brain or whatever made him do all that Angels & Airwaves stuff.

69. Robin Thicke - Something Else
(Star Trak/Interscope Records, 2008)
Almost everything I said about #92, John Legend’s Once Again, applies here too: R&B singer with a big acoustic hit decides to follow it up with an eclectic and old-fashioned album full of confident genre experiments that ends up hanging together really well as an album. Thicke’s even doing a more contemporary, hip hop-influenced album afterwards, just like Legend. He doesn’t do much new on Something Else, but he does all of it well: disco funk, quiet storm, haunting blues, bossa nova, driving rock, even the obligatory Lil Wayne collab.

70. Death Cab For Cutie - The Photo Album
(Barsuk Records, 2001)
I don’t really believe in guilt as a motivating factor for listening to music or not listening to it, whether it’s guilty pleasures or indie guilt, but I have to admit that Death Cab is the one band I’m most embarrassed to have on this list. I thought they were overall pretty corny at the beginning of the decade just as I do now, but they happened to make a pretty enjoyable album the one year that a friend of mine tried to sell me on them hardcore and they toured with one of my favorite bands, the Dismemberment Plan (really odd now to think that they were at one point at the same level of popularity to co-headline with Death Cab). It’s also the only album they made with a drummer with any sense of forward momentum, and there’s a nice variation of tempos and sounds to keep it out of total indie sadsack territory and make the more droll lyrical touches come across well. I never thought being a more bookish Built To Spill seemed like a really bankable niche, and if anything their music has gotten less hooky as they’ve become rock radio mainstays, but hey, if it works for them.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 6)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

71. Bossman - Law & Order
(Double Down Entertainment/1Up Productions, 2004)
When this album dropped, I was still just kinda dipping my toe in the Baltimore hip hop scene, checking for a handful of artists I knew of, and this was the first record that really felt like an event in the city and lived up to the hype and really inspired me to delve into the scene more deeply. In the 5 years since, Bossman had one major deal that went nowhere, then got another and is still waiting on a big national debut, and has released a ton of good mixtape material and a few great singles (and a few really bad ones), but in my mind he’ll probably never top this album. “Off The Record” and “Dat Night” are incredible songs.

72. Brendan Benson - Lapalco
(Startime International, 2002)
Brendan Benson’s 1996 debut One Mississippi was the kind of D.O.A. major label alt-rock album that probably ended up with more units in used bins than in paying customers’ record collections, which is the kind of thing that might understandably leave a musician moping around for 6 years before releasing a more subdued sophomore album. And while Lapalco doesn’t have the lightening in a bottle power pop energy of its predecessor, it’s nonetheless a relentlessly tuneful and strangely cozy album that I played the shit out of in college at a time when I wasn’t buying a lot of new albums and really valued the ones I did hear more.

73. Prodigy - Return Of The Mac
(Koch Records, 2007)
The second half of this decade saw a mass purging of ‘90s rap icons from the major label rosters and willing or unwilling exiles to independent labels like Koch that were still happy to release their music to a remaining cult audience. Some of them faltered without major label budgets, some of them just survived, but now and again someone like Prodigy that everyone had already written off as too far gone managed to thrive, turning out a terse little 40-minute masterpiece of paranoia and tough talk with Alchemist behind the boards.

74. Grand Buffet - Cigarette Beach EP
(no label, 2002)
The difference between Grand Buffet's surreal, hook-filled and surprisingly subtle brand of dorky white guys making underground hip hop and the whole world out there of corny 'nerd rap' is something that I'll probably never be able to convince a lot of people of. In fact, besides the people I know from Baltimore who became part of the Pittsburgh duo's strangely huge Baltimore following back when they started playing shows here constantly 6-8 years ago, I don't know if there's anyone I can talk to about Grand Buffet without sounding like some kind of ironic indie rap dickhead. But I'm just saying, these guys are geniuses, and I became fully convinced of that right around the time they dropped the second EP of their 'Trilogy of Terror.' "Nate Kukla's History Of Lemonade" sums up almost everything I love about these guys in 2 minutes and 16 seconds.

75. The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
(Mint Records, 2000)
The beginning of the decade was the last time I really made any effort keeping up with indie as if it was a proper genre with significant mandatory artists that everyone needs to hear in order to follow like pop music, before I just said fuck it and kind of went down a more personal path of stuff I actually felt a connection with. But in that time where I half-assedly got on Napster and downloaded shit that just wasn’t my bag like De Stijl because I’d heard good things about it, the handful of songs I got from this album, particularly “The Body Says No,” always stuck with me, even though I never really followed up and got the whole album until fairly recently, and it’s pretty awesome.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Who Got Next, the latest Baltimore hip hop DVD that I'm apparently going to be on is having a release party next weekend -- they just taped my interview yesterday, and I think for once I actually managed to say some shit, hope it all comes out well.

Friday, November 06, 2009
My latest piece for Splice Today, Overcoming Reality, is about the curse of reality shows dooming musicians to never again have success in the music industry.

Monthly Report: October Albums

Thursday, November 05, 2009
1. Gucci Mane - The Cold War: Guccimerica
I have kind of a love/hate thing going on with the Cold War series. One one hand, I think it's kind of a dickish publicity stunt to drop 3 mixtapes at the same time, a week after another mixtape, and it sets a bad precedent for what everyone will do to try to make a splash in the already saturated mixtape market (Game and Soulja Boy are talking about releasing multiple simultaneous mixtapes now too, like anyone needs that). On the other hand, a while back when writing about one of Gucci's regular-length mixtapes, which even at their best can get kind of wearying to me, I said that I "generally like him in small doses," so it turns out that these 30-40 minute little releases are the perfect serving size for me. And even though this is the one with multiple Drake guest spots, it's still far and away my favorite of the three, mainly for that great opening trio of "Street Cred," "Diamonds" and "Follow Me." As much as I like Gucci having his own sound and his own producers, and am apprehensive of him doing an album full of generic super producer stuff like the single with Polow, he sounds really good on these Timbo and Drumma Boi tracks. Great Brrritain and to a lesser degree Brrrussia are good, too, and have more funny accent interludes, but just aren't as consistently enjoyable. "Danger's Not A Stranger" might be my least favorite song on all these tapes, though.

2. Freeway - The Calm Before The Storm
If Gucci is pretty obviously the rapper putting out the greatest volume of quality music these days (quality being the operative word, so I don't mean like Charles Hamilton or whatever), then my humble suggestion is that the unlikely runner-up is Freeway. To summarize: in December of last year he released a song a day, and in January all 31 songs were collected on the shockingly consistent Month Of Madness mixtape, and in April he released his third official album, the disappointing but still decent Philadelphia Freeway 2. Two weeks ago, he dropped another great mixtape, The Calm Before The Storm, and apparently has another, The Beat Made Me Do It, on the way this week, with an album with Jake One, The Stimulus Package, due out in January. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he's also doing an Eminem tribute mixtape called Freelapse (which seems like a weird idea, but could be awesome considering that the first track on Calm, "When I Rap," is an amazing double time flow salvaging the beat from a shitty Em b-side called "Bully"), and recently denied the existence of an album someone announced called Streetz Is Mine. He's also signed to Cash Money now, I guess, but I'm not holding my breath for them to ever actually release a Freeway record, and anyway they don't need to as long as he keeps up this pace with mixtapes and independent projects. This is the kind of thing Beanie should be doing instead of throwing hissyfits and making diss records, even if it wouldn't get him nearly as much attention in the short term.

3. Gucci Mane - The Movie 3-D: The Burrprint!
Again, this might be technically better than Guccimerica and I may reverse my position on them at some point, but right now the 70 minutes of this just kinda drag compared to Guccimerica, and the highlights like "My Shadow" and "Trap Goin' Crazy" feel fewer and further between. Still, feeling this more than his other CD-length tapes from this year, Writing On The Wall and The Movie 2.

4. Young Dro - R.I.P.
The amount of time that passes between a rapper's first album and the follow-up seems to be the litmus test for whether they have a decent career ahead of them or are going to get lost in the shuffle, and as the chasm between Best Thang Smokin' and the continually delayed P.O.L.O. widens from 3 years to maybe 4 at this rate, things aren't looking good for Dro. People are still paying attention, though, apparently, because all I heard when this dropped was that all the good songs were already out there for a few months. I don't really follow leaks of individual songs that much, though, so it's all new and all good to me, more or less, although some of Dro's slurry mumbly delivery just gets out of control and incoherent on a few tracks. "I'm Fresh" and "Da Core" are awesome, and it's fun to hear Dro and Tip rap over "Mo Money Mo Problems." That's right, it's all mixtapes this month. October '09 might be the biggest month for mixtapes in recent memory.

5. Lil Wayne - No Ceilings
In terms of career narrative, 2009 will pretty much go down as the hangover after Wayne reached his pop culture apex in '08, but in truth his output tells a pretty different story; aside from the better half of Tha Carter III and a stray guest verse here and there, his music pretty much sucked last year, and has had a pretty decent uptick since then. Sure, you gotta take a shitty Rebirth leak or phoned in verse like "I Can Transform Ya" for every good track, but that still leaves a lot of tracks he was great on: "The Leak," "We Be Steady Mobbin'," "I Get It In," "Every Girl," the "Renaissance Rap" remix, even his "Forever" verse was the one part of that song that I liked (I loved "Always Strapped" too, but I'm not counting that since all the Wayne parts were originally released in '06). So a new mixtape being pretty strong isn't a surprise, even if a lot of the hype around this probably just comes from Wayne releasing a new tape that isn't marred by AutoTune and Young Money flunkies like Dedication 3. Anyway, the title track and the "Run This Town" and "Sweet Dreams" freestyles are pretty great, I just wish there wasn't a bunch of stupid tracks with singers re-recording the choruses to "I Gotta Feeling" and "Wetter" with pointless lyric changes.

Monthly Report: October Singles

Wednesday, November 04, 2009
1. Pitbull - "Hotel Room Service"
I initially dismissed this as part of Pit's recent hot streak of hits that have left me cold, but it's really grown on me in the last few weeks, great big obnoxious hook. Also, on an eye candy level this is probably the best video of the year.

2. Trey Songz f/ Fabolous - "Say Aah"
My favorite single of the year, Jamie Foxx's "Blame It," is ostensibly part of the endless T-Pain hit parade, piggybacking on trends more than starting any, but the swing of the song's groove has made it kind of distinct from other stuff on the radio, with its own uniquely addictive appeal. So it was just a matter of time before someone piggybacked on that, and here we have a weird offbrand Swizz Beatz soundalike version of "Blame It" with a much looser, louder feel, a similar drunken lyrical theme, a nearly identical chorus, and Fab's verse even referencing "Blame It." I'm kind of pleasantly surprised that this is getting the big push as MMTS's next video while the more goofily memorable but less catchy "LOL :)" and "I Invented Sex" are getting more airplay.

3. Alicia Keys - "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart"
I used to think that if there's anyone in hip hop or R&B right now that's recession-proof, and relatively immune to release date delays and multiple lead singles and all that kind of desperate industry maneuvering, it'd be Alicia Keys. But maybe I was wrong, given the way "Doesn't Mean Anything" kind of landed with a thud and the album got pushed back a couple weeks with the follow-up rushed out already. Thing is, I thought that song was perfectly nice (even if it didn't scream 'hit'), and that she's been on kind of a hot streak lately between wriing "Million Dollar Bill" and being the only reason "Empire State of Mind" is tolerable. Sure, she's kind of a bore and probably deserving of a backlash, and The Element Of Freedom is the most eye-rollingly Alicia Keys-y album title ever, but this song is still pretty good and there'll probably be more like it on there.

4. Dead By Sunrise - "Crawl Back In"
I really had no expectation that a hard rock side project with Chester from Linkin Park would yield anything good, since the parts in LP songs with him screaming over chunky guitar riffs are only listenable when balanced out with bleepy techno pop and Shinoda Ice raps. But oddly enough, this is catchy as hell. Plus it's funny for a guy whose big breakthrough hit was called "Crawling" to make a song called "Crawl Back In" like it's a sequel or something.

5. Keri Hilson - "I Like"
Keri's album has done well enough at home, but weirdly enough my least favorite single from it, "Knock You Down," became some kind of huge international hit, going top 10 in a bunch of different countries. And that's the only reason I can figure that she apparently has a new single out from the soundtrack for some German movie called Zweiohrküken. Hopefully it'll get promoted domestically with some project, whether a new album or whatever, too, because it's really good and catchy, kind of on the more dancepop side of things but not shitty like "Return The Favor."

Monday, November 02, 2009

My reservations about The-Dream are many and well documented, but there's no denying that he's on a hot streak, and has already made two of the best R&B albums of the year (Eletrik Red's and his own). So the possibility of he and his production team, Tricky Stewart and LOS Da Mystro, pulling a hat trick with their third full-length project of 2009, Mariah Carey's Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel, was kind of enticing. And it was only once I sat down with the album that I quickly got over my excitement and remembered what my reservations with The-Dream were, mainly his shallow bag of melodic tricks and obnoxious R. Kelly Jr. punchlines, and why those qualities are a terrible fit for Mariah. "Touch My Body" was silly but palatable enough, and "Obsessed" is kind of awesome if still pretty silly, but most of this album is like a study in why these two should not work together (which, by the way -- do you think Terius and Mariah ever had awkward afternoons in the studio where they had to make sure Nick Cannon and Christina Milian didn't both come visit them at the same time?). Now and then, there's a hook like "Inseparable" or "More Than Just Friends" to pull me in, but most of the time I'm just rolling my eyes so hard that my head hurts.

Memoirs opens with the horrific "Betcha Gon Know" which, along with "Standing O," is the album's worst example of Mariah doing The-Dream karaoke, basically sounding like she's singing over his guide vocal for a Love Vs. Money outtake. His penchant for goofy repetitive vocal riffs and odd lyrical details are just plain a bad fit for one of the most famous multi-octave belters of all time, and visions of Pebbles Flintstone dance through my head on half the songs. That weird line on "Up Out My Face" (you know the one) is so awkward and cringe-inducing that it makes the "bathing in Windex" line on "Obsessed" seem restrained and dignified by comparison. These are two hugely successful, pop-savvy artists who have each made tons of #1 hits, while at the same time being kind of eccentrics at heart, but together all they've got is a (relative) commercial dud that's too samey and similar to their previous work to be much of an artistic statement. The album actually gets way more enjoyable and laid back toward the end, when iti> enters this weird suite where pretty much every other track is a weird interlude or prelude or outro or reprise of one of the full songs, and all these recurring ideas and melodies get fleshed out in interesting ways. The news that they're rushing out a remix album to try and recover from the disappointing sales of Memoirs is unsurprising, but strangely encouraging, because it seems like Mariah and her producers were already toying with and expanding on these songs the first time around, and still have more tinkering to do. Anyway, they can't make a lot of these songs any worse.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 5)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

76. My Chemical Romance - Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge
(Eyeball/Reprise Records, 2004)
They got bigger but not better on The Black Parade, trading in all the hooks and humor that made them great on their breakthrough album for some kind of goth Up With People bullshit rock opera. But for a minute there, My Chemical Romance was a pretty amazing storm of histrionic power emo, with as much classic rock in their riffs as there was punk and enough blood-soaked imagery to momentarily make emo almost as scary to parents as metal used to be.

77. Avec - Lines
(Civil Defense League/Doghouse, 2007)
One of the frustrating things about covering indie rock in Baltimore the past few years is that it’s never been a better time for a band to be from here, in terms of what kind of buzz and conntations that can produce, but it’s still more often than not certain kinds of bands that do well, and a lot of great ones outside that type that get ignored no matter how great they are. Avec are this great brooding proggy quartet with male/female vocals who are amazing live and made a really strong album a couple years ago, but pretty much nobody noticed it seemed like, at the peak of the whole Wham City excitement. There’s so many weird grooves and brilliant melodic and rhythmic ideas in this record that sometimes it makes my head spin.

78. The Diplomats - Diplomatic Immunity
(Diplomat Records/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2003)
The half decade since this album have somewhat warped my perception of it, from the giddy embrace of Dipset among goofballs who treat rap like internet memes, and the questionable deification of Cam’ron and the fake classic status of Purple Haze, to Juelz and Jim’s respective phases of depressing ubiquity, to the diminishing returns of an army of 2nd and 3rd degree weed carriers that would put peak era Wu Tang to shame. But back in ‘03, all we knew was that Cam was having a good run and taking the Roc sound and kinda bringing it together with a different new vibe, and that even though his crew didn’t seem too promising and it was totally unnecessary for them to drop a double album, somehow that ballsy gamble paid off and they had so many joints that it became the soundtrack of the summer.

79. Usher - 8701
(Arista Records, 2001)
Sandwiched between the six times platinum My Way and the diamond-certified Confessions, the measly four million units that 8701 moved mark it as one of Usher’s lesser blockbusters. But in a way it might be his defining statement, the most mature and resonant album in a career full of constant calculated displays of emotional catharsis and declarations of adulthood. There’s a reason he keeps rewriting “U Got It Bad” over and over.

80. Firewater - Psychopharmacology
(Jetset Records, 2001)
Using music as a jumping off point to talk about or draw parallels to 9/11 is one of the most pervasive rock critic cliches of the decade (you could base a drinking game off of unnecessary 9/11 mentions in Pitchfork’s P2K list) and one I’d rather avoid. But pretty much everybody had at least one record they listened to obsessively that fall and started overanalyzing in that context, and for me it was Firewater’s third album, released in July ‘01. In particular, “The Man With The Blurry Face” opens with “it started off like a regular Tuesday” before outlining some vague disaster scenario, and the next song is titled “Black Box Recorder,” and the rest of the record features enough of a general air of dread and catastrophe, along with the usual droll black humor and wordplay of every record Tod A has ever made, that it became kind of my go-to record around that time. But beyond that, it also features some of Firewater’s best songs ever, including “Woke Up Down” and the surprisingly moving ballad “Seventh Avenue Static.”