Nels Cline is one of my true musical heroes, and usually every year I end up picking up at least a couple new projects from him. Last year was a quiet one, though, aside from that one song he did on the Evangelista album and seeing him play with Wilco at a festival, and he hadn't been updating his site as much so I wasn't sure if I had just missed some good under the radar albums he played on recently. So when I checked his site again recently and found a big update with news of a just-released solo album, and a bunch of other upcoming releases, it was some seriously joyful Christmas morning-type shit to me. Best of all, it's a true Nels Cline solo album, no backing players, just the man with a guitar overdubbing multiple tracks of pre-written melodic instrumentals, which is something I've always wanted to hear from him, and it does not disappoint. He even includes a new version of one of my favorite songs of his ever, "The Divine Homegirl" (which originally appeared on the Nels Cline Trio's 1995 album Ground).
2. 8Ball - Memphis All-Stars: Cars, Clubs & Strip Clubs
8Ball & MJG are one of those elder statesmen rap groups that I wish I had more music by, less out of an obligation to catch up on rap nerd history than because I simply love all of what little I do know by them. So I snapped this up as soon as I saw it on eMusic's new releases the other day, and I really have no idea how it compares to old Ball & G albums but this whole album is fucking solid from front to back in a way that overstuffed posse albums like this almost never are. There's enough MJG appearances that it pretty much feels like a duo album that just happens to feature a ton of other Memphis guests (Yo Gotti, Tela, various Three 6 people) and if someone asked me to illustrate what my ideal for Southern rap production is I'd probably point them to just about any random track on this. Even the weird psychedelic guitar spoken word track at the end turns into a hard-ass 8Ball rap track out of nowhere and it's one of the most awesome things I've heard in a minute.
3. The Lonely Island - Incredibad
I've always been mildly annoyed at the way the phrase 'SNL Digital Shorts' has kind of became a brand with its own cachet in the past few years, as if the show hasn't been doing pre-taped sketches (although not on a digital camera, OK, like it fucking matters) for forever. Still, the Andy Samberg/Lonely Island stuff definitely has its own sensibility that's kind of distinct from the rest of the show, and I'm glad they've collected all the musical ones together on a CD, which is probably my favorite comedy album in years (granted I don't know a ton). The preponderance of awkward white raps in the vein of "Lazy Sunday" actually ends up being more of an asset where I would've thought it'd be a problem, mostly because this album helps cement the fact that pop culture is now at a point where white guys rapping is no longer a joke in and of itself, but merely an extremely popular medium in which to deliver jokes. I'm probably going to be pretty obnoxious constantly referencing Santana DVX and boiled goose for a few months.
4. Eleni Mandell - Artificial Fire
I checked out Mandell's last album, 2007's Miracle Of Five, on the strength of Nels Cline playing on it, but was slowly drawn in by the sleepy-eyed charm of her smoky voice and the gentle lilt of the music. Given that I still haven't heard her earlier stuff, I don't know if that album was the norm or not, but I was kind of suprised by how much Artificial Fire is kind of an uptempo rock record, not terribly fast or loud but still a big step in that direction. And what's more surprising is that it actually works, especially when the arrangements taking on this nervous jumpy early-Elvis Costello quality that I never would've thought would work with her voice.
5. Jadakiss & Green Lantern - The Champ Is Here Pt. 2: Kiss My Ass
The first Champ Is Here is a modern mixtape classic and always kind of overshadowed the album it was supposed to promote, so one of the most exciting things about Jada's new album finally getting a release date (which has since been pushed back AGAIN) was that he reunited with Green Lantern for another promo mixtape. Like most sequels (especially hip hop sequels), it disappoints if you hold it up to the original, but it works as a little 40-minute appetizer for an album that I still have fairly high hopes for. Jada's in top form and the beat selection is unpredictable in a good way, although the Green Lantern remix of "Letter To B.I.G." is pretty lame (no cool cuts or Biggie samples, just a straight blend with "T.R.O.Y."). This DJ Finesse tape compiling every R&B track Jada's ever done is pretty dope too, and a great reminder that he's one of the few mainstream MCs that can do those kind of songs without softening up his flow or his persona.