Friday, December 30, 2011

My last Radio Hits One column of 2011 is about how Billboard's year-end charts show how Hot 100 peaks can be deceiving as far as measuring a song's true degree of success.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I contributed to the Baltimore City Paper's annual Top Ten issue as usual in 2011, and in The Year In Music I wrote blurbs for Mullyman, White Life and Celebration. I was also one of the many voters for The Year In Music, although I wrote no blurbs and the only album I voted for that made the top 10 was Beyonce (my ballot as submitted on the CP site is slightly different from the 'final' top albums of the year list I finished posting on my blog a couple weeks later, since I'm always making last minute changes to those things).

The 2011 Remix Report Card, Vol. 7

Tuesday, December 27, 2011
"Bait (Remix)" by Wale featuring 2 Chainz, Rick Ross and Trey Songz
I was surprised to see an all-star remix of this song out since they've been playing it 24/7 on D.C. radio for months but I haven't seen it on any national charts and it's not even on every copy of Ambition, it's just a bonus track on the deluxe edition. I mostly find this song annoying but the original has a certain amount of momentum that the remix loses, partly because of the way the other rappers flow on this and partly because of not having that stupid "WORK WORK WORK WORK" chant upfront. I hate to give him props but Wale sounds the least awkward on this beat, and Trey Songz sounds by far the most awkward.
Best Verse: Wale
Overall Grade: C-

"Body 2 Body (Remix)" by Ace Hood featuring Rick Ross, Wale, Chris Brown and DJ Khaled
I know this is a big hit and all but it's not the kind of song anyone ever wants or expects a remix form, and it's kind of funny to hear them go all-out, Ace writing a whole new 16 and Khaled doing a goofy Puffy quote intro. Wale's topical Penn State punchline is just painful.
Best Verse: Ace Hood
Overall Grade: D

"Fly Together (Remix)" by Red Cafe featuring Trey Songz, Wale and J. Cole
This track ends with Red Cafe doing the same Puffy "Big Poppa" ad lib quotes that Khaled does at the beginning of the "Body 2 Body" remix, no joke. Small minds think alike. Yes, three remixes in a row with Wale. What the fuck is happening to the world. This song always kinda bummed me out because I hoped after "You Be Killin' Em" that Ryan Leslie would start producing a bunch of rap radio bangers and so far this has been the only one since then and it's kinda lame. At least Trey Songz acquits himself more admirably here than on the "Bait" remix with his verse and improves on the R-Les hook.
Best Verse: Trey Songz
Overall Grade: C+

"Good Life (Remix)" by OneRepublic featuring B.o.B
This is one from months ago that I missed at the time and am including for archival purposes. Obviously B.o.B is a fucking shameful joke and his presence on songs like this just further confirms that. I thought he was done after those bars at the beginning and then he came back later and it was even worse.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Hard White (Remix)" by Yelawolf featuring T.I. and Slaughterhouse
This is such an inert and commercially doomed attempt at a club banger that loading it up with a bunch of indulgent punchline rappers just makes it more depressing.
Best Verse: Crooked I
Overall Grade: D

"I'm A Boss (Remix)" by Meek Mill featuring T.I., Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Birdman, Swizz Beatz and DJ Khaled
I love this song so I was just so amped to hear it get probably the most star-studded event remix of the year. The new Swizz addition to the hook is pretty pointless and I can't believe Birdman is still tagging along with Wayne on posse cuts, but T.I. and Meek murder it and I like the way Ross handled his first verse after those seizures.
Best Verse: T.I.
Overall Grade: A

"Magic (Remix)" by Future featuring T.I.
All Future songs suck, even a decent Tip verses doesn't really change that.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"The One That Got Away (Remix)" by Katy Perry featuring B.o.B
A few months ago, people called foul when Katy Perry dropped a remix of "Last Friday Night" on iTunes to get her fifth consecutive #1s. Now she's trying to get a sixth, and after selling the song for 69 cents didn't quite work she's back to the remix well, with an insipid guest on an insipid song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Shot Caller (Remix)" by French Montana featuring Diddy and Rick Ross
And once again, we have some '90s Puff Daddy quotes, this time with Mr. Combs himself getting involved. I'm really bummed out that French Montana is becoming too famous for me to pretend that I think that's the name of a sandwich at Arby's, but this song is dope, or at least the beat is. Diddy in the mix and bringing the hook full circle is cool, but giving Ross the "Benjamins" Biggie beat is so offensive I yelled "fuck you!" at the radio the first time I heard this.
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: B-

"Sleazy 2.0 (Remix)" by Ke$ha featuring Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, T.I. and Andre 3000
The only thing more disgusting that Ke$ha's voice on this track is the most appalling Wiz Khalifa fake laugh yet. Supposed perfectionist recluse Andre 3K jumping on a Ke$ha album track a year ago was pretty goofy, but now throwing his verse in the middle of a posse cut makes a little more sense, although T.I. totally upstages him.
Best Verse: T.I.
Overall Grade: C-

"Stay (Remix)" by Tyrese featuring Rick Ross and Faith Evans
I'd seen this song on the R&B charts for weeks and weeks without ever actually hearing it on the radio, so I had to pull up the original on YouTube before checking out the remix and it's a pretty nice, sweet song, definitely better than what I'm used to hearing from Tyrese. Once more we get some Puffy quoting ("you know we had to do a remix, right?" over bottle clinking) with Big's widow and his new generation wannabe on the track, but the actual track is jacked from Jay's "Politics As Usual," which is appropriate since at least half of Ross's songs get their whole aesthetic from that track.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My birthday is on January 6th, and I rarely have a big birthday party, I think largely because everyone, including myself, tends to be kind of partied out after the holidays and New Year's Eve. But I'm turning 30 this time around, so the weekend of my birthday, on Saturday, January 7th, 2012, I will be having a big old birthday bash at one of my favorite clubs in Baltimore, The Windup Space. There will be music from two great Baltimore acts, the hip hop band Soul Cannon and the instrumental duo The Water, and perhaps some more surprises.

I made a Facebook event page for the show, and have invited some folks on there, but really it's open for anyone who wants to come, whether they know me well or not at all. I just want to hang out and drink and hear some great music and be around people I love. It is a concert, so admission is $5, so you can consider paying that your birthday gift to me, if you like. But whatever, it's gonna be fun, if you're in Baltimore that night I hope you stop by. Doors open at 9pm and music starts at 10pm.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My latest Radio Hits One column for the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog is about the grim realization that 5 of the biggest chart hits of 2011 featured relentlessly catchy and/or annoying whistling melodies.

My Top 50 Albums of 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011
The album will never die, not just because people like me are still obsessed with that particular unit of measurement as the ultimate object of music consumption, but because recording artists will always record lots of songs and will want to release all of them, not just the occasional 'hit.' Whether we put the album on shuffle more often than not or cherrypick those hits and favorites after the initial listens doesn't matter, the 'new song bundle' or 'annual single artist playlist' or whatever we end up calling it is going to remain a commercially and artistically viable medium to whatever extent music itself will. At least, that's what I'm telling myself this year.

As per my tradition here, I'll be posting each of the 50 entries in the list one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts
My initial opinion of Thurston Moore's first 'song-based' solo album, 1995's Psychic Hearts was that it was just a bunch of silly riff-based songs he wanted to knock out while Sonic Youth was on hiatus. Over time, I realized how significant it probably was that the first album he'd ever made without his wife and bandmate Kim Gordon while she was tending to their newborn daughter, was full of meditations on girlhood and womanhood and references to some of his female musical heroes (Patti Smith, Yoko Ono). Similarly, one can't help but listen to Demolished Thoughts at the end of 2011 differently than upon its initial release earlier in the year, in light of Moore and Gordon's recently announced split and the album's quiet, elegiac tone and vaguely relationship-themed lyrics. Maybe there is no connection, but with someone whose lyrics are often as opaque and abstract as Moore's, it's actually kind of helpful to get some sense of his inner life informing the music.

49. Yellowbirds - The Color
Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds is also a member of the great Boston band Apollo Sunshine, and was responsible for all of their amazing guitar solos but only wrote and sang some of their best songs. So his solo project is a predictably mixed bag as a collection of songs, but comes off pretty well as a whole thanks to generously textured production and beautiful pedal steel playing.

48. UNKLE - Only The Lonely EP
Coming about a year after after 2010's Where Did The Night Fall, I expected Only The Lonely to be some kind of odds and sods EP maybe padded out with some remixes. Instead, it was a surprisingly substantial-feeling collection of 5 new songs, including some guests as big (Nick Cave) and some songs as good ("The Dog Is Black") as anyone or anything on the preceding full-length, continuing in UNKLE's unlikely evolution into some kind of brooding modern rock act.

47. Diddy-Dirty Money - LoveLOVE vs. HateLOVE
Like that EP by UNKLE, LoveLOVE vs. HateLOVE is a kind of supplemental follow-up to a 2010 release that ends up feeling like a pretty impressive entity in its own right. This mixtape fearues reviously unreleased songs like "Sade" that rival the proper album's best tracks, while a surprisingly rich selection of remixes expand on the Last Train To Paris sound and mood.

46. "Weird Al" Yankovic - Alpocalypse
Although not as good as the late career peak of Straight Outta Lynwood, Yankovic's still got that silly chart pop parody magic. And now that everyone samples and remakes everything with relative easy thanks to technology, the detailed note-for-note reproductions of his targets are less impressive than the way he's able to rewrite the lyrics syllable-for-syllable so that, say, Miley Cyrus is signing about murdering people for the CIA. Also, "Polka Face" is his best polka medley in well over a decade.

45. The Lonely Island - Turtleneck & Chain
Ordinarily "Weird Al" wouldn't have to worry one bit about having the best musical comedy album in any given year, but he had to drop his latest within a couple months of the new kids on the block. Track for track 2009's Incredibad is funnier, but Turtleneck & Chain continues to develop both the rhythm of their joke writing and their ear for articulating every stupid joke smartasses like me wish we could think up while listening to rap mixtapes.

44. Yelawolf - Radioactive
In 2010, Yelawolf emerged as the first remotely exciting or commercially viable white rapper in years with the great Trunk Muzik mixtape and slightly less great major label re-release Trunk Muzik 0-60. In 2011, as he aligned himself with predecessors whose successes he can't possibly hope to match like Eminem and Kid Rock, much less talented white rappers like Mac Miller and Kreayshawn enjoyed greater visibility and chart sucess. So his proper major label debut landed with a thud, packed with too many power ballads aimed at radio formats that will never play him, but there's still a decent number of songs containing that spark that made him so exciting just a year or two ago.

43. Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra
The Bizkit finally got back with Wes Borland and made an album in the same vein as Chocalate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water, but by that point the backlash had set in so thoroughly that they sold about 3% as much the first week as they had 11 years earlier. I kind of have to give them credit for staying true to their sound, though (and really, I never had a problem with that stupid, ugly, joyous sound). This concludes the white rapper trilogy portion of the list.

42. Incubus - If Not Now, When?
Like Limp Bizkit, Incubus were on the Family Values Tour back in the day and hilariously still have a DJ in their lineup, but otherwise they've gone as far in the opposite direction as possible in the years since then. If Not Now, When? is basically an adult contemporary album that rarely raises its voice or quickens its pulse (the band's big breakthrough ballad, "Drive," would be one of the liveliest things here if it was on this album). And while it's bizarre to even think of a band like Incubus maturing and mellowing out, and their idea of maturity is kind of a silly superficial one, they still actual made a pretty sonically rich album with a satisfyingly sustained mood.

41. Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows
I've been overrating Kweli since I was 16 and opining that he was better than Mos, and even now as I kind of shake my head at my own fandom of the guy I just can't quit him. And that's partly because after that dull letdown of a Reflection Eternal reunion album, Gutter Rainbows is actually kind of a return to form, with some impressively ambitious producing and rapping on "Cold Rain" and a monster banger on "Palookas" featuring Sean Price.

40. Styles P - Master of Ceremonies
Styles, like Kweli, is a NYC perpetual second-stringer whose days of even arguable significance are behind him that I will probably always be irrationally loyal to. I'm slightly less embarrassed about being a Styles fan, though, because dude has a great ear for beats and a unique way of putting together words, even if this is one of his more generic solo projects.

39. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
The way people talk about The King of Limbs being an almost laughably flimsy, incoherent album from a band that's gotten awfully good at selling that kind of thing as minimalist mystique, I remember that that's basically how I felt about In Rainbows. But honestly while parts of the album have that screensaver blankness of a lot of their recent work, some of it, especially "Giving Up The Ghost," make for the most I've enjoyed anything from Radiohead in a long time.

38. Gucci Mane - Writings On The Wall II
In 2011, Gucci Mane released probably a hundred songs over half a dozen albums, mixtapes and collaborative projects, and none of them made anywhere near the impact of his 2009 peak or even his already anticlimactic 2011. Writings On The Wall II, despite being a kind of depressingly convenient sequel to one of his best 2009 tapes that also coincided with his release from one of many stints in jail, was the closest he came this year to recapturing that earlier buzz or the effortless listenability of his best work.

37. Patrick Stump - Truant Wave EP
It should be no spoiler to say that Patrick Stump's album Soul Punk is very high on this list. But for most of the year I spent anticipating that record, I obsessed over the six songs on Truant Wave and got acclimated to the Fall Out Boy frontman's solo sound. And while the full-length contains most of his best songs, "Love, Selfish Love" alone is too great for me to simply let the EP fall by the wayside as a forgotten appetizer.

36. Social Distortion - Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes
After a few years of enjoying the hyper referential Americana punk of the Gaslight Anthem, it was fun to hear something new from the band that was basically their equivalent 20 years earlier, still plugging away at their weathered greaser mystique more and more convincingly over time.

35. Fishboy - Classic Creeps
The most endearing nerds from Texas this side of Sheldon Cooper returned this year with an album with an even more tangled and confusing storyline than 2007's secret classic Albatross: How We Failed to Save the Lone Star State with the Power of Rock and Roll, which they help explain this time around with a tie-in web comic, just to underline how absurdly geeky they are.

34. Marsha Ambrosuis - Late Nights & Early Mornings
Marsha Ambrosius began her post-Floetry solo career in earnest as an artist signed to Aftermath Records, which meant guesting on tons of huge Dr. Dre-produced hit rap albums but never releasing one herself. After half a decade on the shelf, though, she finally got the same itch that all Interscope artists stuck in Jimmy jail get, and left to restart her career elsewhere, and finally landed a couple of hit solo singles (including the instant classic "Far Away") and released a terrific album. The covers on the album feel a bit forced as statements ("Butterflies" to remind us that she wrote Michael Jackson's last great single, "Sour Times" to remind us that she's British), but the thing still holds together really well as a consistent listen.

33. Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne
For almost a decade there were few people making music I enjoyed more consistently than Jay-Z, and for the later half of that time Kanye West was his biggest competition. My worship of them as artistically viable musicians still making great records ended a few years ago, though, and sometimes I wonder if it's afterglow or brand loyalty or something even dumber that's kept them still #1 and #2 in the hearts and minds of so many millions, still, after some of the garbage they've made. So I was pleasantly surprised to like Watch The Throne more than any album either of them has made since Graduation, mainly for "That's My Bitch" and "New Day" and "Gotta Have It," but even the lesser tracks aren't Blueprint 3 bad or anything. Shame about the Kanye honk, though.

32. J. Cole - Cole World: The Sideline Story
Cole made a slightly better record than the two guys he pitifully, transparently bases his entire existence upon, mostly because as a producer his sound is still pretty fresh, and his earnest star struck persona doesn't dominate his lyrics as much as, say, that other lame from Canada.

31. J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
The previous albums J Mascis released under his own name never felt too distinct from the band he's best known for -- a solo acoustic live record full of Dinosaur Jr. songs, and two J Mascis & The Fog albums that sounded exactly like Dinosaur but just happened to be branded differently. Now that he's gotten back together with Lou and Murph for a couple of good albums and a bunch of tours, though, J Mascis has finally decided to forge a distinct musical identity as a solo artist, even if it's just about exactly what you'd expect or hope for as far as a mellow and gorgeously produced acoustic studio album from J.

30. E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift
E-40's two latest installments in the Revenue Retrievin' series are the loudest albums I heard in 2011, and I don't mean that as some kind of euphemism about how hard the beats hits anything. I mean they are literally, by far, the loudest music on my iPod, so much so that they've kind of made my playlist of 2011 albums impossible to listen to on shuffle -- every few songs some E-40 slap comes up sounding twice as loud as the last song I had on and makes my ears bleed. I don't know if it's a quirk of mastering or what, and in truth it's kind of aggravating, but it also seems appropriate for such vibrant, relentlessly inventive and upbeat rap albums.

29. Dawn Richard - A Tell Tale Heart Mixtape
If E-40 made the most robust-sounding albums of 2011 that I had to turn down my iPod to listen to, Dawn Richard made the best one that was so poorly mastered (if it was mastered at all) that I had to turn my iPod up to listen to it. Of course, lots of rappers make low budget mixtapes that come up short in the production or post-production, but that often fits their grimy aesthetic. Dawn Richard, an R&B singer who was one of the driving forces behind one of the best and biggest-sounding major label albums of the past couple years, Diddy-Dirty Money's Last Train To Paris, deserves better. Ostensibly, that should happen whenever she gets to release the album A Tell Tale Heart that this 'mixtape' exists to promote, but really this feels pretty substantial in and of itself.

28. Deleted Scenes - Young People's Church Of The Air
The first time I heard the Washington, D.C. live favorites Deleted Scenes play the song "Bedbedbedbedbed" at a show last year, it had the kind of instantly familiar feeling that made me wonder whether they were playing a cover I couldn't put my finger on. And when they released their 2nd full-length with that song on it, I got the same feeling again and googled and racked my brain trying to figure out if it was somehow derivative of something. I've since given up and resolved myself to the idea that that's just the feeling you get sometimes when a song is that immediately catchy and appealing that you wonder how nobody wrote it before.

27. Evangelista - In Animal Tongue
Just four albums in, Evangelista is already the longest running and most preductive recording project Carla Bozulich ever maintained, even if both the personnel and the music have been amorphous and inconsistent, more of a free flowing supply of grim and gripping words and music from Bozulich's dark imagination than a band. I've never heard someone who seems so content and fulfilled making such unsettling music.

26. The Roots - Undun
It continues to amaze me that decisions like signing to Def Jam and becoming Jimmy Fallon's house band have somehow resulted in The Roots releasing darker and artsier albums at a quicker pace the last few years than they were able to at any earlier point in their career. Undun is less sonically arresting than Game Theory but moody in a more involving, seductive way than How I Got Over, and even if the whole narrative aspect of the album kind of goes over my head "The OtherSide" knocks.

25. Chevelle - Hats Off To The Bull
I used to use it as kind of an insult to say that Chevelle are a more pop Tool and a less weird Deftones, because ostensibly sanding the edges off of two of the more unique hard rock bands on mainstream radio in the last 15 years should be a bad thing, right? But the fact is, Chevelle really have gradually staked out a territory that is uniquely theirs, and the short, hooky songs they make really are more my speed than those of their most obvious influences.

24. Craig Wedren - Wand
Craig Wedren's voice, persona, lyrics and aesthetic are so fundamentally different from virtually any angular post-punk auteur you could possibly compare him to that he remains a singular, fascinating mind. And Wand is the kind of assured late career tour through all the different sounds he's touched on in the past that would so easily be kind of boring if Wedren wasn't still so hard to pin down or pigeonhole.

23. Jennifer Hudson - I Remember Me
Jennifer Hudson's self-titled 2008 album was by no means bad but was in many ways a misfire, coming along too late to capitalize on Dreamgirls and not featuring much from its all-star cast of producers and songwriters that made the most of that big, amazing voice. I Remember Me is not a very different album but is subtly superior in almost every way (despite not having a knockout hit on the level of "Spotlight":). This time the murderer's row of R&B hitmakers turns in more top shelf material, including Alicia Keys, who seems to be making the most of her maternity leave from stardom by writing some pretty good songs for others, and J-Hud just seems more comfortable and assured of what kind of music that voice should be accompanied by.

22. Parts & Labor - Constant Future
Parts & Labor made my top 10 three years in a row from 2006 to 2008, and when they took three years to follow up that run, the album they came back with was not really any kind of drop off, but I think I finally had more than I needed of their glorious, skronky, bombastic sound. So I can't say I'm heartbroken that these guys finally decided to pack it in a few months after the album's release; they had a good run, and a more consistent decade than most bands of their era.

21. Sonic Youth - SYR9: Simon Werner a Disparu
Meanwhile, you'd think I'd have had more than my fill of Sonic Youth by this point, but being as they are my favorite band of all time, I was pretty well freaked out by the prospect that they may be breaking up or perhaps even just not recording a new album anytime soon. As such, the latest and perhaps greatest installment of the SYR series represents not just perhaps their best long form instrumental work to date but maybe their last full-length collaboration, and feels all the more essential for that.

20. Sloan - The Double Cross
Now that Sonic Youth may be ceasing to be my favorite working band defying the odds to make good records past the twenty year mark, Sloan are stepping to celebrate XX years in the game with The Double Cross, continuing an impressive late career resurgence. The album is even more crisp and succinct than 2008's Parallel Play, but the opening three tracks retain the seamless running-into-each-other rock opera feel of 2007's Never Hear The End Of It. Unfortunately, the copy of The Double Cross that I bought from eMusic has big awkward pauses between tracks that totally ruin those segues.

19. Mouse On Tha Track - Swagga Fresh Freddie
A lot of really consistent and promising hip hop producers have quickly fallen the wayside if the label or star they were attached to goes out of the spotlight, and that certainly seemed like a foregone conclusion for Mouse On Tha Track when Trill Ent.'s hits started to dry up and Lil Boosie went to jail. So it was a pleasant surprise when Mouse not only kept up his visibility with this tape but turned out to be a capable enough rapper that it didn't feel like he was wasting good beats on himself. Probably the party record of the year.

18. bb&c - The Veil
Although I continue to voraciously consume virtually every release Nels Cline has any hand in, I definitely tend to prioritize projects in which he's a bandleader or composer, or a sideman to a songwriter I enjoy, over his more collaborative instrumental improv records. But this live debut by the trio bb&c, with saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Jim Black, is one of Cline's most molten lava hot sets ever, just an ecstatic, unrelenting thrill ride of skronky melodies and propulsive rhythms.

17. Beyonce - 4
Beyonce created an incredible 8 song cycle of all the feelings of infatuation, exhilaration, frustration and vindication that come with love and marriage, complete with some of the most daring music and thrilling vocal performances of her already impressive career. And then she padded it out with some shitty singles like "Party" and "Run The World," because 4 was apparently named for the number of songs you need to remove from the album to make it a solid listen.

16. They Might Be Giants - Join Us
There's an art to the playful whimsy of They Might Be Giants' best songs: they're not jokes that exist solely for comedic value, or puzzles to be methodically taken apart and decoded, or even random bursts of absurdity to be enjoyed merely as catchy nonsense. Most of the songs on Join Us, their best album in at least 15 years (and that's saying something, since those have been 15 very prolific years) often threaten to be one or all of those things before ultimately becoming none of the above. "Can't Keep Johnny Down" and "When Will You Die" and "You Don't LIke Me" and "2082" and "Canajoharie" are like strange little short stories in song form, written by guys whose imagination is just bottomless in a way that might strike you as obnoxious but can also be something to behold.

15. Fiend (International Jones) - Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos
No Limit survivor Fiend released something insane like 5 mixtapes this year of his new smoked out suave James Bond persona, and to be honest I don't know if I need 5 mixtapes of anything, much less that, but I'm still bumping that first one that dropped back in January.

14. Butch Walker And The Black Widows - The Spade
Butch Walker made my #1 album of 2010, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, and while the follow-up didn't have the same kind of impact on me, perhaps because it wasn't the first album I heard by him, it helped cement him as one of my favorite songwriters in the world these days, while his backup band the Black Widows continue to gel into a perfect foil for him, even making contributions to the songwriting on The Spade.

13. Robin Thicke - Love After War
Robin Thicke's unlikely status as the only white guy in urban music who has virtually no pop crossover ("Sex Therapy" was an R&B chart-topper that scraped the Hot 100 at No. 100) makes his evolution from son of a sitcom star to soul music sex symbol kind of funny, but the truth is this guy is fucking talented, and 2008's Something Else remains one of my favorite R&B albums of the last few years. Love After War is a much longer and almost inevitably less consistent record, but it shares many of its strengths while showing that he still has some ideas up his sleeve, including a husky, almost raspy midrange that he sounds increasingly comfortable with after years of leaning a bit too hard on smooth falsetto.

12. The Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Sometimes I wonder if other people have more sophisticated expectations from rock music than I do, because for them, the huge power chords and singalong choruses and propulsive drumming of Foo Fighters songs just isn't enough for them. And granted, Dave Grohl's songwriting is a bit formulaic, and his lyrics can be kind of a mess ("the heart is a clock/ just like a bomb it keeps on ticking away" is the most appalling mixed metaphor of 2011). But when these guys are on, they're pretty fucking good, and they were on for more of Wasting Light than nearly any other album they've ever made.

11. DJ Quik - The Book of David
His last album, 2009's BlaQKout with Kurupt, put its playful creativity up front and buried some pretty serious and hard won widom just beneath the surface, while The Book of David is an ostensibly more personal solo effort that puts its ugliest dirty laundry and hardest beats on prominent display while still being boatloads of infectious fun in its own right. I tend to prefer the former to the latter, but I respect both as formidable creative achievements.

10. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
Stone Rollin' has largely been sold or discussed as a spiritual successor to 2008's overly faithful Motown pastiche, The Way I See It. And while the early rock'n'roll homages of Stone Rollin' root it in a similar retro aesthetic, the truth is it's a much more interesting and creative album, bridging its classic influences with a modern sensibility that's uniquely Saadiq like all his best work, from Instant Vintage to Tony! Toni! Toné! When all is said and done and this inevitably makes far fewer year-end lists than The Way I See It, please know that critics jumped the gun and rallied around the wrong album.

9. Tity Boi (2 Chainz) - Codeine Cowboy
For years I repped for Tity Boi as one of the most underrated Southern rappers wandering around the lower rungs of the major label system, back when he was saying memorably goofy shit like "my ring look like I peed on my pinky" on Disturbing Tha Peace posse cuts. But it remains a bizarre but kind of pleasant surprise to me that this tall, dorky looking old industry C-lister (who says he's 27 but c'mon, no way) has changed his name and shifted his career momentum to become the hottest rapper in Atlanta with no major deal. He's not an expert punchline rapper -- even his funniest lines are basically dad jokes -- but he's more clever than he gets credit for and a strange kind of everyman charisma.

8. Lou Reed & Metallica - Lulu
No, this is not a joke. No, I am not sure. But honestly, this is one of the more exhilarating listening experiences I've had. Metallica and Lou Reed have both made music that have meant something to me over the years, although not nearly as much as one or the other has for a lot of people, but the fact is neither of them was ever going to make anything by themselves at this late date that would be remotely as interesting as Lulu. And really they got where they are by not giving a fuck what anyone thought for decades, so why would they start now? The reaction to this album was very similar to Chinese Democracy, but the difference is that album was boring. This is the furthest thing from it -- the music and the lyrics live up to the album's conceptually ludicrous existence over and over and over, for 90 minutes, and I love it.

7. Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Lady Gaga came into public consciousness as the queen of the iTunes era, a #1 single factory who people vaguely respected for her musical talent but didn't necessarily want to hear a full-length record from. In 2011, though, her singles campaign for Born This Way did just fine but not excessively well (leaving Rihanna and Katy Perry to fight over the crown), while the album itself held together as a cohesive aesthetic statement about her commitment to both '80s retro and millenial club beats. She's the kind of artist whose albums should feel wrung dry by the end of the promotional cycle, but five singles later it's still full of deep cuts I love.

6. E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift
Does this deserve to be so much higher on the list than its counterpart, Graveyard Shift? Probably not. But E-40 did release four of the best rap albums of the past two years (and has three on the way next year), and this one has the most songs I enjoy on it, so I wanted to make sure at least one got into my year-end top 10.

5. Meek Mill - Dreamchasers
As rap becomes a stratified layer cake of a thousand "everyone's a cult hero to somebody" micro-movements and nobody's happy with where their favorite artist lands in the pecking order unless it's someone from Young Money, you take your comfort with the new order where you can get it. For a young old head like me who just wants to be able to hear something that really knocks on the radio, seeing guys like 2 Chainz or especially Meek Mill on the come up in 2011 gave me a little bit of hope that I wouldn't have to totally give up on the new generation of Big Sean-type bullshit. "Ima Boss" and "House Party" were instant classic singles but the whole of Dreamchasers is full of songs of that caliber and very little else, especially that great title track and "Middle Of Da Summer." Now I'm in the awkward position of not even anticipating Meek's major label debut all that much because it's hard to imagine him capturing his voice and sound more perfectly with the right amount of pop sheen than he does here.

4. The Disciplines - Virgins Of Menace
Ken Stringfellow became one of my favorite songwriters of all time as co-leader of the Posies, mostly because he had such an unheralded talent for putting a little venemous punk rock energy into the band's gorgeous harmony-laden power pop. But he soon eased into a mellower solo career full of lo-fi acoustic ballads and piano pop and country twang, So when Stringfellow started a scrappy garage band with a bunch of Swedes for the Disciplines' 2008 debut Smoking Kills, it felt like kind of an odd left turn for its own sake from a guy with an increasingly scattershot discography. So I was amazed when the band's second album turned out to be a 34-minute thrill ride of scorched earth punk rock from a guy who learned enough from his tenures as a member of Big Star and R.E.M. to sneak a jangly hook into just about anything.

3. Lloyd - King of Hearts
If anyone should be able to oversee and exec produce a great major label R&B or rap album, it's Polow Da Don, but his first three attempts for his Zone 4 imprint, one by Rich Boy and two by Keri Hilson, fell short. Then the label picked up an established star on the rebound, and Lloyd became Polow's perfect foil, a little too sunny for his hardest beats but not so much that the contrast was more jarring than charming. At times Lloyd might have strained under the weight of trying not to be such a helium-voiced sweetheart, such as on that Trey Songz collab, but even on a strip club anthem like "Shake It 4 Daddy" he can't help but goofily address the woman giving him a lapdance as "miss stripper lady."

2. Patrick Stump - Soul Punk
"I'm not from Williamsburg or Silver Lake/ does anyone have any other obvious complaints?" is Patrick Stump's opening joke on "Cryptozoology," the second part of the 8-minute centerpiece of his debut solo album. By the end of the song, he's yelling out to the indie tastemakers that he knows will never give him the time of day "I don't have to prove myself to you," but the fact is you don't play and sing every note of an entire album yourself and put so much of your life and ideas and beliefs into the lyrics of each song if you don't have something to prove. Stump proved what a brilliant, talented guy he is on Soul Punk for anyone who might have enjoyed Fall Out Boy's classic swan song Folie A Deux who might not believe he could make as good an album on his own, but of course even fewer people are listening now than were listening then. I'd give anything for this guy to switch careers with Bruno Mars.

1. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
I wish every rock band was as loud as they were hooky as they were unpredictable, and were able to take whatever their particular sound and sensbility is to the hardest rocking and most shamelessly pop and restlessly arty extremes. If you can balance out all three of those qualities, you've got me. I don't expect that to happen very often, especially on a debut album, but The Joy Formidable reminded me that it doesn't have to be a futile pipedream.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This is Dean Pelton, a character played by Jim Rash on NBC's "Community."

This is Richard DeLongpre, a character voiced by French Stewart on FOX's "Allen Gregory."

I am not the first person to note a similarity -- before I watched the first episode of "Allen Gregory" a friend of mine told me, "Allen Gregory's parents are 2 men! One of them is the dean from Community." Even after I realized his error while watching the episode, the other friend watching it with me said "Is that the dean from Community?" If you google, say, the terms "Dean Pelton" and "Allen Gregory" together, you'll see that this has been pretty widely noted discussed (although some, apparently, have compared DeLongpre to another bald, bespectacled cartoon character, Rusty Venture from "The Venture Bros.")

Here is small contribution to this conversation that I haven't seen anyone else make note of yet:

This is Jeremy, Richard DeLongpre's life partner on "Allen Gregory," voiced by Nat Faxon. The show frequently implies that the handsome Jeremy was a straight man that Richard initially forced into a gay relationship, which aside from being one of the many really strange and discomforting plot elements on "Allen Gregory," brings up another "Community" parallel, since the sexually ambiguous Dean Pelton has often seemed attracted to the show's handsome main character, Jeff Winger, and over time the show has been more overt about Dean Pelton being clearly gay and sometimes deliberately forcing Jeff Winger to spend time with him in somewhat romantic or sexual situations.

Now here's the weird part:

Here is Jim Rash, the Dean Pelton actor and Richard DeLongpre doppelganger, with Nat Faxon, the actor who voices Jeremy, Richard DeLongpre's life partner. In real life, Rash and Faxon are longtime collaborators and writing partners, who wrote the screenplay to the new George Clooney movie The Descendants together. You have to wonder if Faxon was ever aware of the similarities between these characters as he worked on "Allen Gregory," or if perhaps there was ever plans for Rash to voice DeLongpre, something that NBC could've nixed since "Community" upgraded Rash to a regular cast member this fall, around the same time "Allen Gregory" debuted on FOX.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Last Monday when premiered the new Los mixtape The Crown Ain't Safe, hosted by DJ Ill Will and DJ Drama, I was one of the first to listen to the mixtape and liveblogged my reactions for the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.

My Top 50 Singles of 2011

Monday, December 05, 2011
I've always enjoyed writing about singles and the singles chart, but this year more than any other I feel like that's been the biggest and most rewarding category of my music writing. Between the Singles Jukebox, my new Radio Hits One column, and the Monthly Report here in which I pick my five favorite singles every month, I've gotten to keep track of what I like and how it's doing pretty closely throughout the year. The interesting thing, though, is only about half of this top 50 was featured in that Monthly Report -- a lot of songs I was excited about when they were new kind of dropped off the charts quickly and I didn't have a chance to really appreciate how they'd hear on a daily basis like the best pop singles. Meanwhile, a lot of songs that I hated at first and gave low marks on the Singles Jukebox or just didn't think were anything special slowly wormed their way into my heart. So I feel like the end of the year is a good time to just admit which songs I really liked, whether I wanted to or not.

As per my tradition here, I'll be posting each of the 50 entries in the list one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Jennifer Hudson - "No One Gonna Love You"
From 2002 to 2005, Rich Harrison was one of the most exciting ascendant producers in R&B, mixing the sample-driven funk bombast of hip hop with subtle songwriting and a sumptuous sense of texture. And then, for some reason, the hits dried up, and even the occasional megastars that still worked with him didn't pick his tracks as singles, while his girl group brainchild RichGirl was a bust. 2011 finally offered a little bit of hope, as Harrison scored a couple of great minor urban radio hits, "No One Gonna Love You" and Marsha Ambrosius's "Late Nights & Early Mornings," that retained his strengths as a songwriter and producer without clinging to his over-the-top signature sound.

49. Lil Wayne f/ Rick Ross - "John"
Rick Ross has been a part of a lot of great songs, but is so rarely the best thing about them. I can count on one hand the solo tracks he's done that I actually consider really good and memorable, and "I'm Not A Star" is one of them. So as odd as it was for Lil Wayne to invite Ross onto a remake of a year-old album track as one of the advance singles for Tha Carter IV, I enjoyed that he breathed new life into a good, kinda slept on song, and that Polow Da Don brought a little something new to his version of the original J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat. Shame about the title, though, seems just stupid to name the song so awkwardly after that stupid Lennon namecheck.

48. Britney Spears - "Till The World Ends"
I'm on record as hating pretty much every Britney single besides "Crazy" and "Toxic," but this one gradually got past my defenses bit by bit after the local Top 40 station played the remix with Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha into the ground. Still a pretty overrated song, but not bad.

47. Rihanna - "S&M"
Another song that I warmed to after a remix involving Britney, but in this case it was because Britney sounded so incredibly timid and wrong trying to sing that chorus that it made me realize how great Rihanna sounded ripping into it. It's pretty pathetic that this was the best of the SIX singles from Loud, though.

46. Sick Puppies - "Riptide"
Last year's "Odd One" was the Sick Puppies song I really like, but this one has a pretty nice triplet-heavy hook, and a prominent bassline for no other apparent reason than to give the hot chick bass player lots of face time in the video. It just cracks me up that there's a band with a name like Sick Puppies whose frontman basically sings like Jamie Walters that co-writes all their songs with Rock Mafia (who produced most of Miley Cyrus's hits).

45. New Boyz f/ The Cataracts & Dev - "Backseat"
Rap history is full of opportunists who stumble onto the charts via a buzzing regional scene, and then jump any bandwagon they can to stay in the national spotlight, but few have done it faster or more shamelessly than New Boyz, who are featured on the current Hot fucking Chelle Rae single. But I gotta say, I like this song better than "Like A G6," it's just some catchy, cool-sounding garbage.

44. Taylor Swift - "The Story Of Us"
I don't begrudge Taylor Swift her success but I really do wonder what the critics I know who worship her hear that I don't, because I feel like everything she does well as a songwriter is equalled by Sara Bareilles or any other garden variety VH1 adult contempo type. But now and again she comes up with something that actually has a pulse and I do get hooked in.

43. Sara Bareilles - "Gonna Get Over You"
As I alluded to above, Sara Bareilles is my Taylor Swift, I just adore her and almost every song and video she does for some reason. There are some singers where I just kind of have a crush on their voice and get all daydreamy whenever I hear it (see also: Kelly Clarkson, Keri Hilson, Eleni Mandell, Kelly Rowland).

42. Jason Aldean f/ Kelly Clarkson - "Don't You Wanna Stay"
Unfortunately, nothing on Clarkson's latest album made me swoon like this song. Man she needs to do a country album.

41. The Red Hot Chili Peppers - "The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie"
At first I hated this as much as most other recent RHCP hits, especially once I realized how much that stupid "hey now, we've got to make it rain somehow" chorus resembled their last hit, "Snow (Hey Oh)." But something about the groove of the song and the way it kind of stretches out and builds this nice relaxed atmosphere eventually grew on me, against all my better instincts. And these lists are about being honest about what I enjoy above maintaining my dignity, for better or worse.

40. Three Days Grace - "Lost In You"
Three Days Grace is one of those post-grunge bands bands that you're absolutely sick of if you listen to rock radio, but have barely even heard of if you don't (alongside Seether, Theory Of A Deadman, Shinedown, etc.). But trust me, these guys are pretty awful and you'd hate them more than Nickelback if they were as visible. But this, the fourth single off their 2011 album, turned out to be a rare moment of tasteful restraint with a great guitar tone, and was somewhat predictably their second-least successful single ever.

39. Nicki Minaj - "Super Bass"
I don't really like most of this song all that much, and kind of feel like people have overrated it since it's so much closer to what a good Nicki Minaj solo single should be than earlier efforts like "Your Love" and "Right Thru Me." But the bridge has a strangely strong emotional effect on me, it wa really one of the best middle eights in pop music all year.

38. Rebecca Black - "Friday"
The whole Rebecca Black thing ceased to be any fun about as quickly as any other meme, but this was still one of the funniest, strangest, most accidental novelty hits the internet era has given us, and every moment of the song and the video is tattooed on my brain forever.

37. Katy Perry - "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"
I thought it was weirdly sweet of Katy Perry to kind of take Rebecca Black under her wing (particularly for one of the actual good singles from the neverending Teenage Dream campaign), because I think if everyone's really honest about it there's really not much of a talent gap between them.

36. Michelle Branch - "Loud Music"
I'm bummed that this song didn't really pop off, it sounded like such a hit to me. Would've been huge if Katy did it, obviously.

35. Maroon 5 f/ Christina Aguilera - "Moves Like Jagger"
This song seemed like the most garish desperate mistake on first blush, but as it quickly dominated the charts and pop radio I realized that I really like the vocal melody and Adam Levine's performance, and don't really mind the rest of it either. At any rate, it's an improvement on the uninspired initial three singles from Hands All Over before this bonus track swooped in and saved the project from being a total flop.

34. Diddy-Dirty Money f/ Trey Songz - "Your Love"
For most of Last Train To Paris, Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper basically act as the Greek chorus of Diddy's oddyssey of heartbreak, tenderly singing out the emotions he can't quite express with his own voice. So it's kind of jarring, in a great way, when "Your Love" shows up with filthy come-ons like "want me to be your little slut?" or "LET YOUR TONGUE WALK ON THIS PUSS-AY!" In the context of the album it feels like one of the less adventurous cuts, but when it popped up on the radio it stuck out as one of Polow Da Don's most dramatic and thunderous productions yet, with all that subsonic bass and gorgeous vocoded backing vocals.

33. My Chemical Romance - "SING"
As much as I can't stand "Glee" and think the shower of shitty covers it fills the Hot 100 with these days is abhorrent, and kind of respect the rock bands like the Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon who refuse to have their songs featured in the show, I like what it says about My Chemical Romance that they didn't give a shit and were fine with it, especially for a song like this that actually makes sense on "Glee."

32. Lady Gaga - "Judas"
It's a testament to the enormity of Gaga's success that this is the lowest charting of her first 11 singles and widely considered a flop but still cracked the top 10. I kind of get why people think this is annoying or too similar to her other RedOne collaborations, but I still think it sounds really kinetic and inventive, and over time I've slowly come to prefer it to the bigger hit it was supposed to be the follow-up to, "Born This Way."

31. Miguel - "Quickie"
This song could so easily be too smugly obnoxious to stand, but the unexpected richness of Miguel's harmonies on that "I don't wanna be loved" hook and the creeping, swinging pace of the Fisticuffs beat make it just sound too damn good to dismiss.

30. Black Eyed Peas - "Just Can't Get Enough"
No matter how ridiculous and cartoonish BEP get, I can't help but appreciate that still buries all this rap nerd detail in their songs, like the "Jam Master Jay" drums in "Just Can't Get Enough" that are so deep in the mix on "Just Can't Get Enough" that virtually nobody talks about it.

29. Melanie Fiona - "Gone & Never Coming Back"
Melanie Fiona's 2009 single "It Kills Me" went #1 on the R&B charts and left me could. This huge-sounding stadium soul banger stalled at #37, and she issued the relatively subdued "4 AM" as a follow-up that did even worse at radio. Hopefully that album will drop in 2012, though.

28. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake - "Moment 4 Life"
This is really one of the best beats of the year and I'm not sure why there weren't a billion freestyles over it. Nicki's singing on this is awful and her rapping isn't much better but Drake steps up for possibly the one and only time when he's the best MC on a collaborative track.

27. Young The Giant - "My Body"
A totally moronic, ridiculously anthemic song of which there just aren't enough on rock radio these days. According to the band they just threw it together one day in practice as a way to blow off steam, and then it became their first hit that they, for some strange reason, got invited to play at the VMA's. Not a promising band by any means, but the singer's voice is really unique and appealing so they've probably got a future.

26. R. Kelly - "Love Letter"
R.'s gradual commercial decline in the last few years has been a real bummer, especially because he clearly still knows how to write a great song but has lost his 'touch' in other, more intangible ways. When the Love Letter album was preceded by the nightmarishly desperate retro of "When a Woman Loves," I kinda gave up hope on the whole project, but then the album turned out to be pretty good and the title track was a great little sleeper hit that seemed to stay on the radio all year.

25. Chris Brown - “Yeah 3X”
I never really felt any kind of guilt or conflict about continuing to enjoy R. Kelly's music after he was revealed to have done some morally questionable things in his life, but I kind of strongly disliked Chris Brown's whole personality and voice and everything even before he turned out to be an abusive shithead. But the frustrating thing is that his music actually kinda got better after what should have been a career-ending ordeal, and so it became increasingly hard not to grudgingly enjoy at least one of his dozen or so post-comeback hits. For most people the track they made exceptions for was Chris's tribute to the rap stylings of Jermaine Dupri, "Look At Me Now," but personally I thought the cheesy Europop single he had out at the same time was, well, one of the best cheesy Europop R&B songs of the year. It says a lot about Chris's state of mind, though, that one of the most upbeat songs he's ever done still tells haters to "shut the fuck up" (while his biggest seductive slow jam of the year repeatedly berates a woman, "don't you be on that bullshit").

24. Pink - "Fuckin' Perfect"
By the time Pink released a greatest hits collection, I felt like a full blown fan of her singles and especially her last album, Funhouse, so I was happy that she threw a couple new songs out there and kept her hit parade running a little longer before having a baby and taking a well-deserved break. "Raise Your Glass" was nice but felt kind of short-lived, while "Fuckin' Perfect" seemed to hang around much longer and took a while to really grow on me, but it did. I still think the post-Cee Lo "look what kind of song title we can get on the pop charts" name of the song is kind of lame though.

23. Lupe Fiasco - "Show Goes On"
I'm fine with artists selling out if I have no real respect for their true artistic vision. The advance singles like "I'm Beamin'" that Lupe Fiasco released for his third album were horrible and after the album was (justifiably) shelved, fans protested and, according to Lupe, Atlantic Records basically gave him this song, told him not to say anything too deep or political on it, and that they'd use it as his lead single and release the album. It worked, his career's on a huge upswing, and he owes it all to making this stupid, catchy song (which I already really liked by the time I even had any idea about that damn Modest Mouse interpolation).

22. Incubus - "Adolescents"
"Adolescents" hit rock radio as Incubus's 'weird' new single, midtempo and brooding but also not quite one of their heartthrob power ballads. Then the album If Not Now, When? revealed that that was the closest thing to a radio single they'd written, and the song kind of started to sound huge and anthemic in the context of the album, which made me appreciate it more on the radio.

21. Meek Mill f/ Rick Ross - "Ima Boss"
E-40 has a song called "Rick Ross Horns" but I feel like horn loops have been sorely missed in mainstream rap lately, including in Ross's music and especially the kind of cheap synth horns that make "Ima Boss" sound like such a great hard plastic banger.

20. Coldplay - "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall"
Coldplay are forever teetering between major backlash and widespread "OK, they're not that bad" resignation, and I've been personally firmly in the latter camp ever since Viva La Vida, so I was happy to embrace a song with a title as designed to ignite the former sentiment as "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall," especially since it was so beautifully assembled and produced.

19. Lloyd f/ Awesome Jones!!!! - "Cupid"
There were murmerings of Polow Da Don doing a solo album after he upstaged his own artist, Rich Boy, on his biggest hit, "Throw Some D's," but it never seemed like something he was actually interested in pursuing. So Polow's odd relationship with the spotlight took a new turn when he started doing basically mixtape shouts on R&B songs, screaming "NEW LLOYD!" and "NEW SHIT" at the top of verses all over Lloyd's King Of Hearts and for some reason giving himself a featuring credit as 'Awesome Jones!!!!' on the album's best single.

18. Death Cab For Cutie - "You Are A Tourist"
It's weird to realize that two of the biggest indie rock success stories on mainstream radio over the past decade are bands that I still kind of think of as "Built To Spill wannabes but more mellow and songwritery" (Death Cab) and "Built To Spill wannabes but more rough and eccentric" (Modest Mouse). And it remains that the Death Cab singles I like the most are the ones that make me think "why is Built To Spill on the radio?" the first couple times I hear it, between "Cath..." and especially "You Are A Tourist," which actually has some BTS-y guitar leads.

17. Trey Songz f/ Drake - "Unusual"
In a year when both of these guys were badly overexposed, it was nice that they had the decency to occasionally grab a really hot beat.

16. The Joy Formidable - "Whirring"
It's interesting how when this song was released on an indie EP as they were an up-and-coming band, it was a 3-minute pop song, but by the time it became a major label radio hit, it was a 6-minute monster with a long noisy instrumental outro (although a lot of stations still played a shorter edit). In either incarnation, though, a great great song.

15. Travis Porter - "Bring It Back"
I didn't much care for their breakthrough hit "Make It Rain" (partly because what is even the point of having a song with that title after there was a much bigger hit with a much catchier Lil Wayne hook by that name not long ago), but this one was really just a blast, especially when the drums drop out for the chorus and that weird synth that sounds like a woman singing comes in.

14. Waka Flocka Flame f/ Kebo Gotti - "Grove St. Party"
Even though Flockaveli was one of my top 10 albums last year, I was never really that big on any of its first three hit singles. So I was happy when one of my favorite tracks became the late-breaking fourth single, as well as one of the first Lex Luger tracks on the radio that didn't sound like all the others people were used to from him.

13. Avril Lavigne - "What The Hell"
I feel kind of bad for Avril, her singles were surprisingly good this year but she kind of fell by the wayside of all the other girls with lesser Dr. Luke tracks crowding up the charts.

12. Marsha Ambrosius - "Far Away"
After sinking most of his post-Roc-A-Fella career into the supposedly important careers of Saigon and Jay Electronica, it's nice to occasionally hear Just Blaze remind us that he can actually make great left field radio hits. The times when I'd hear the full 7-minute album version on the radio were really special.

11. Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"
Every once in a while a song seems to just steamroll over the world with such a massive sense of ubiquity and consensus praise that I feel like whatever I have to say about it good or bad matters even less than usual. And while I would still occasionally throw my pointless, powerless dissenting opinion at a song like "Hey Ya," this is one of those times where I'll just say yeah, "Rolling In The Deep" is pretty fucking good, but you knew that already.

10. Kelly Rowland f/ Lil Wayne - "Motivation"
I never thought I'd see a year in which Kelly Rowland had a bigger hit than Beyonce (the biggest hit from 4, best thing I never had, peaked one spot higher on the Hot 100 than "Motivation," but only went gold where "Motivation" went platinum). I also never thought Destiny's Child's resident nice girl beta female would pull of such an ominously sexy femme fatale slow jam. I was happy to be proven wrong. I wish I could just wipe Lil Wayne's whole presence off of the song, though.

9. Cee-Lo Green f/ Melanie Fiona and Philip Bailey - "Fool For You"
A year after every cornball who doesn't really listen to R&B lost their shit for the horrible Bruno Mars-penned retro novelty "Fuck You," Cee-Lo finally got the biggest urban radio hit of his long career with an actual gorgeous soul song, dueting with one of my favorite new female voices in R&B over lush harmonies by a member of Earth, Wind & Fire.

8. Brianna - "Marilyn Monroe"
With most new female rappers following Nicki's wacky lead and crisply overenunciating in goofy fake accents, it was refreshing to hear Miami's Brianna casually knock out all these punchlines in such a loose drawl. This song still hasn't really hit big but every time I hear it on the radio it just feels so perfect and destined to be huge.

7. AWOLNATION - "Sail"
An electronic side project by the singer of post-grunge one hit wonders Home Town Hero, AWOLNATION provided rock radio with its most arresting and unlikely hit of 2011. In the year of shitty electro alternative like Foster The People, "Sail" was the perfect dark tangled flipside to the braindead hooks of "Pumped Up Kicks." And now it's in its 44th week on the Alternative Songs chart, and is still in the top 10.

6. Pitbull f/ Ne-Yo, AfroJack and Nayer - "Give Me Everything"
Early in his career, Pitbull seemed poised to become a major star, a fun, charismatic rapper who was at the center of several movements just then peaking in popularity (Miami rap, Lil Jon's crunk empire, and the new wave of Latin rap and reggaeton), with each single from his debut album hitting bigger than the last and some great guest verses raising his profile. Then, his momentum stalled and a half decade after everyone kind of forgot about Pit, he emerged as pop radio's rapper of choice at the exact moment when the clubby dance rap he excels at became the sound of popular music. I don't like most of his new music as much as 2004's M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is A Major Issue), but "Give Me Everything" was a pretty perfectly little encapsulation of what he does well intersecting with what's popping right now, and remains superior in every way to the song that supplanted it at #1 and ultimately became a bigger hit, LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem."

5. The Foo Fighters - "Rope"
Once a band has a greatest hits collection as packed with hits as the Foo Fighters and then keeps on releasing radio singles as good as "Rope," they're basically just showing off, going into overtime. The fact that they finally broke with the "All My Life"/"The Pretender" formula for a different kind of taut, brooding lead single with a more spacious groove and a buttrock cowbell jam section and a more unique, unpredictable melody just makes it even better.

4. Meek Mill f/ Young Chris - "House Party"
Instead of Kid N Play nostalgia or a more calculated club banger, the most fun single from 2011 rap's grimiest new star is an appropriately ugly, twisted jam detailing one fucked up party over creepier bells and synths than most of the year's street rap anthems.

3. Lady Gaga - "The Edge of Glory"
Clarence Clemons playing a solo on a huge top 10 hit for the first time in decades weeks before his death was both one of the most exhilarating highs and heartbreaking lows of 2011 pop music. I'm still really pulling for some kind of Clarence tribute, maybe at next year's Grammys, where Gaga and Springsteen sing a medley of this and "Hair" and some E Street classics.

2. Beyonce - "Countdown"
Every week that "Party" sits higher on the Hot 100 and R&B charts than "Countdown" just kills me. Why is this song not joining the pantheon occupied by "Crazy In Love" and "Single Ladies," or even just reaching the heights of a sleeper Beyonce classic like "Get Me Bodied"? Like my Gaga/Springsteen fantasy, I like to imagine this being refashioned as a New Year's Eve anthem and rocketing to #1 in the last week of 2011.

1. Miguel - "Sure Thing"
This was such a sleeper hit, slowly crawling both into heavy rotation and the deepest recesses of my consciousness, that I didn't even expect after "All I Want Is You" left me cold, that even when I first wrote about liking it, I ranked it lower than Rebecca fucking Black. But gradually this strange, offbeat track full of hamfisted metaphors revealed itself to be both an amazing production and a perfect vocal performance, and I drank in every second of it every single time it came on the radio, often singing it to my son in the backseat, because it's the kind of love song that's really easy to alter the lyrics to so it's not necessarily a romantic sentiment but just a song of total commitment and devotion to anyone you care about.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Playing Armchair A&R With The Singles From 2011's Biggest And Best Albums is the name of my latest Radio Hits One column, which is about what singles I would've picked if I had any say in that kind of thing.