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God bless the local library.
Ken Stringfellow – Danzig In The Moonlight
I’ll have much more to say about this one, but right now there’s too much to wrap my mind around on a strange album that finds Stringfellow in the mode of last year’s marathon performance in Minneapolis: confident, a little insane, inexhaustible to the point of exhaustion. A man at a piano will play ballads, but if he plays long enough he’ll start hearing symphonies from his fingertips. Danzig does a remarkable job of translating the energy in his crazy head with its often lavish arrangements. Stringfellow has made meticulous studio creations before, but this one sounds unusually imaginary, like a fine replica of a musician’s imaginary triumph. Made real.
Dum Dum Girls – End Of Daze
Only slightly less remarkable than last year’s already classic (in my mind) Only In Dreams, End Of Daze takes that album’s death woes and reflects them back on the self as a means of possibly moving forward, greeting the dawn divine. The tone is primary, buoyant, and Dee Dee still writes the simplest, most significant rhymes with the fewest words.
Patti Smith – Banga
Her Just Kids album, not because it touches on the stories of her memoir, but because it finds her still in a sweet, sentimental (melodic) mood, nowhere more so than the wonderful “This Is The Girl.” She’s our greatest eulogist: “This is the wine of the house, it is said.”
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
To complement the lyric sheet of the year (sparse category), which Perfume Genius’s Put Your Back N 2 It has all sewn up, here’s the lyric sheet of the year (dense category). A huge album, from its smallest, most historically significant details (Rakim echoing behind the refrain of “Jo Jo’s Chillin’”; the awkward, audacious, Cubist enjambment of a single word, “arter-y,” on “Don’t Die”) to its broadest strokes (the buzzing heroes anthem that ends the album; the synths that hover behind “Ghetto Gospel”) and loudest words (“I’ll leave you with four words: __________”; “__________ is still all I gotta say”). But the greatest moment is Mike’s paranoia/clarity at the end of “Reagan.” When he imagines “they might be at my door,” you, too, feel like you might get in trouble for listening to something so much the opposite of bullshit. I haven’t felt that in a while, but it’s almost as good as the opposite feeling, that an album was made just for you, and has the similar effect of turning you into the only one listening. Delusional, of course, but thrilling.
Nas – Life Is Good
By his account Nas still has a lot to prove (he hates doing interviews because he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, according to “Back Then”), but Life Is Good wears its title not like some kind of wishful thinking or challenge to his critics, but like a simple fact, and yet not an excuse for retirement into wealth and irrelevance.
Cat Power – Sun
Chan Marshall saw some synthesizers and decided to use them, and more than adding a superficial layer to her songs, they changed the very fabric of her songwriting. Sun isn’t exactly unexpected, but it’s unlike anything else she’s done. These songs are timely, convicted, hopeful, but also a bit apocalyptic (the opposite of timely), via densely musical, not skeletal, means. The best moment is the announcement, the album’s opening swirl into existence.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
The danger of collaboration, especially between two like-minded artists, is that it will turn into a session of mutual affirmation and neither artist will push the other beyond what’s comfortable (this recently happened on Project Runway). That might be what happened here, but I don’t see why it matters, since the results are beyond ordinary human comfort, and pulse and agitate, with a teasing onset of rhythmic momentum, at all the right times.
Whipping Boy – “No One Takes Prisoners Anymore” 7”
The a-side is the kind of orchestral pop smash we knew Whipping Boy could probably still make 12 years after “Bad Books” and 17 years after “When We Were Young,” if we’d hoped they’d make anything at all. The b-side, “Earth’s Last Picture,” is just as good, at least lyrically, imagining the end of all things, and then, even better, like Perfume Genius’s recent “All Waters,” imagining meaning beyond that.
Zola Jesus – Conatus
I’ve come around on this one. I still sort of blame for Zola Jesus for Anthony Gonzalez’s adoption of her singing style on M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which is still the thing that keeps me from fully engaging with the album (along with my creeping suspicion that it sometimes shows signs of the (en)forced ecstatic quality that is the worst thing to happen in music this century. Boo to the tyranny of modern music’s joy police, as I’ve dubbed them; Godspeed You! Black Emperor recently put it more bluntly …though they might be talking about something different.) But: that style of tight-throat vocalizing suits her own grayer music, mainly because her own voice is not big and operatic as sometimes described, but has a small, distant, diminished quality, as the limitations of recording technology often happily lend to sounds that are otherwise too vivid or boisterous. If we’re experiencing a joy division, I’ll take the lower dot. Or: Dead can dance, let the living sit still for once.
Real Estate – Real Estate
Days anniversary, in a few days. In celebration, Real Estate’s debut, which didn’t arrive fully formed in my ears, but which convinces me that Real Estate arrived fully formed, the more I listen to and funnel this gentleness into appropriate areas of the brain. “Back where I long to be…”
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