Sunday, January 30, 2005

Single file:

Each and every time I hear Jennifer Lopez's new "Get Right," I just want to hear her sing "horny horns!" It'd fit perfectly, because this track rides a superb Rich Harrison-produced sax riff to infinity and beyond. That chorus is mighty plush, too. A

"Since U Been Gone" is the solution to the equation laid out in Freelance Hellraiser's infamous Strokes-plus-Christina-mashing "A Stroke of Genius" bootleg; it's basically the Strokes' pop take on indierock, only with the perfect lead singer for the song - in this case, Kelly Clarkson. She doesn't hit you with a great voice, but she hits you with her best shot. We could use an '05 Benatar, frankly, and Clarkson'd fill the bill fine. A

It's Gwen Stefani and Eve doing Fiddler on the Roof, with yet another of those references to harajuku girls, what more do you people want?!: "Rich Girl." A

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Guess who's back, back again. Meanwhile, in a land down under, it appears almost every ranked player is back heading into the quarters.

Subjects for further review: "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye

Ignore the social commentary of the lyrics (what most focus on) for a minute, and just listen to the string arrangement - that's how fucking genius Gaye was.

FYI, I've started a "movies 2005" column on the sidebar. This is simply keeping track of what I see in the theater, no more, no less. Interesting for me, and hopefully (?) interesting for you, too. [Plus it's part of a challenge I've got going with Gaz for the year.] I'm thinking of keeping a similar list for my '05 reading - anyone have any thoughts?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

There's a poll being done over on ILM, where Mike is soliciting people's favorite UK #1s. He asked for 50; here are mine in order:

01 "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan
02 "Vogue," Madonna
03 "Ignition (Remix)," R. Kelly
04 "Return of the Mack," Mark Morrison
05 "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson
06 "Crazy In Love," Beyoncé
07 "Freak Like Me," the Sugababes
08 "You're the First, the Last, My Everything," Barry White
09 "Back to Life (How Ever Do You Want Me)," Soul II Soul f/Caron Wheeler
10 "Ride On Time," Black Box
11 "Professional Widow (Armand Van Helden Remix)," Tori Amos
12 "Careless Whisper," George Michael
13 "You Don't Know Me," Armand Van Helden
14 "Are Friends Electric?," Tubeway Army
15 "Free," Deniece Williams
16 "Firestarter," the Prodigy
17 "Jack Your Body," Steve 'Silk' Hurley
18 "It's A Sin," Pet Shop Boys
19 "World In Motion," England New Order
20 "West End Girls," Pet Shop Boys
21 "Two Tribes," Frankie Goes to Hollywood
22 "Can't Get You Out of My Head," Kylie Minogue
23 "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," Culture Club
24 "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," New Kids on the Block
25 "Night Fever," the Bee Gees
26 "Spice Up Your Life," Spice Girls
27 "Never Gonna Give You Up," Rick Astley
28 "Too Shy," Kajagoogoo
29 "Stand By Your Man," Tammy Wynette
30 "19," Paul Hardcastle
31 "Brass In Pocket," the Pretenders
32 "Let's Dance," David Bowie
33 "Lady (Hear Me Tonight)," Modjo
34 "Always On My Mind," Pet Shop Boys
35 "Jailhouse Rock," Elvis Presley
36 "Theme From S'Express," S'Express
37 "The Only Way Is Up," Yazz & the Plastic Population
38 "Don't You Want Me," the Human League
39 "Say You'll Be There," Spice Girls
40 "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinéad O'Connor
41 "The Masses Against the Classes," Manic Street Preachers
42 "Pure Shores," All Saints
43 "21 Seconds," So Solid Crew
44 "Pump Up the Volume," M/A/R/R/S
45 "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," a-ha
46 "Beat Surrender," the Jam
47 "Atomic," Blondie
48 "Under Pressure," Queen & David Bowie
49 "Uptown Top Ranking," Althea & Donna
50 "Do They Know It's Christmas?," Band Aid

He'll be revealing the top 100 tomorrow, while the 1000th UK number one still is at the top. [Which is Elvis's "One Night," for those who've missed it.]

Addendum: the results are being posted here.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

DJ/rupture is a/k/a Jace Clayton, and he's got a blog. That should really be enough to get you reading.

Also, Harvard Extension School's Music E-145: Electronic Music is a/k/a Best. College. Course. Ever. It's taught by Wayne Marshall, and he's got a blog, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

In brief:

House of Flying Daggers is good but it's no Hero. B+

The Aviator is Hollywood filmmaking at its finest, the kind of film only Scorcese's making these days, which is fine, because he's about the only director around capable of fully pulling it off. Give him his damned Oscar, already - not only does he deserve it, he deserves it for this film. The second-best film of '04 (behind Sideways). A+

Sunday night, the bf and I went to see Deaf West Theatre's astounding revival of Roger Miller's 1985 Tony award winner Big River. Simply put, Big River is the story of Huck Finn put to music - but in this production, it's so much more. Deaf West has each role signed and sung, sometimes by different actors. It's a truly stunning experience; if you get a chance to take in their national tour, I highly recommend you do so. A

Subjects for further review: "My Red Hot Car" by Squarepusher

If Coldcut were much more non-linear. If Aphex did breakbeat(ish). But they weren't, and he didn't, and Squarepusher did, if only once. And what a once.

Subjects for further review: "Contagious" by The Isley Brothers featuring R. Kelly and Chanté Moore

"Down Low," the sequel, just as designed. Plus Ron Isley singing "your ass is grass" - what is this, some '70s CB-infused action flick?!

Subjects for further review: "In My Eyes" by Stevie B

Like a cool kiss on sun-warmed skin, Miami's king of freestyle nailed it on this '89 groover, relaxed rather than hectic. He wasn't all bathetic balladry (cf. "The Postman Song"), you know - that was, in fact, his exception rather than his rule. If you like(d) Noel, you should like Stevie B at his best, too.

Subjects for further review: "Who We Be" by DMX

As "Party Up" aptly showed, X damned near could've been another Jay-Z or Biggie, balancing pop hits and street cred (or grime, in his case) as the King of New York. But he didn't, and he wasn't, and I'm glad; X belongs in/to the streets, fucking shit up.

Subjects for further review: "I Am Music" by Timbaland & Magoo featuring Static and Aaliyah

Like "The Beautiful Ones" rewritten for an artform.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Razorblade Runner: on some other shit. Get get down.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Please read Sunday's Boondocks. Not only is it a fine tribute to MLK, but it's damned funny.

Good on NBC/Universal for running Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope tonight. I wish, however, that they hadn't stuck it on the least-watched night of the week, Saturday. And I really wish that they hadn't opened the proceedings with Madonna ripping the heart out of "Imagine." As the bf said, if her performance had been an audition on American Idol, she would've been sent home posthaste. How positively dreadful, good cause or no good cause.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Speed round:

Stylus is pretty standardly pretty great writing, but they've outdone themselves with their list of the top 50 singles of the '00s. Great list, great blurbs, superb.

I rejiggered some of my links around, particularly the blogroll. If I delinked you, as Jermaine said back in '89, don't take it personal. My blogger pendulum has swung back, hard, to musicblogs this past year. Check out the new additions, too.

Eric Goodman's Child of My Right Hand is heartbreakingly good, maybe the best novel of 2004. If you dig midwestern-set novels, novels about the complexity of adult relationships, and/or novels about gay teens, go for it. And actually, you should even if you don't. A+ I'm now rereading Felice Picano's Onyx, my second-favorite of his novels (after the sprawling, epic Like People In History), and his most readable (and sexiest, frankly).

I'm still working my way through H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights, too, and it's as-good-if-not-better-than the film, which is out on DVD this coming Tuesday, by the way. You can betcher ass I'll be picking it up. It includes one of '04's best performances, from Billy Bob Thornton.

If you couldn't figure it from the "aural" file to your right, that promised Amy Grant piece is being birthed right about now. Hold tight.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Nate. Back. [I've known this for like a month, but forget all the time to mention it here.]

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Subjects for further review: "Race For the Prize" by the Flaming Lips

Try it with headphones (the Lips are made for 'em, anyway) - I never realized how the drums, on the non-verses, are so fucking loud. But the entire messily gorgeous/gorgeously messy song, their ultimate triumph, is layered with nuances you can only catch through 'phones. There's a very direct line between Brian Wilson and Wayne Coyne.

As you may have heard, we've had a little rain here lately - 22" in downtown L.A. in the last 15 days. Having a dial-up connection, that's limited my ability to get online (our phone's been all kinds of staticky), so I've not been able to share with you that I finally finished updating submeat '04 for the last time. Who's ready for submeat '05? [It's coming sooner than you think...]

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Demos I belong to: Caucasian, 30-something, homo, newly Los Angeleno, blogger.

My ballot is weird this year, even by my standards. While my singles list is dominated by big, shiny R&B and hip-hop hits, the albums I voted for are entirely all over the map, and that wasn’t a conscious thing. I had a tendency towards electronic-based obscurities, though – at least, that’s how United State of Electronica, M.I.A., Junior Boys, and Erlend Øye’s mix record feel, obscure (with Ghostly International’s shoegaze revivalists Dykehouse not too far away). I suppose it’s possible that a year or two down the road, Junior Boys could land a car commercial and some MTV2 spins à la Dirty Vegas, but I wouldn’t bet my autographed copy of Maxinquaye on it. But there was a heavily human component (I don’t know how else to put it) to all of my album choices, maybe especially the mix disc topping my ballot.

Øye’s DJ-Kicks is one of the most astounding mix albums I’ve ever heard, largely for what I’m sure some call his gimmick: he sings over many of the instrumental tracks he spins. And he’s not just singing anything, he’s singing classics like “Always on My Mind” and “Venus” atop German technoid wonders. Oh, did I mention that he makes it work, utterly and completely? This in the midst of playing other such gems as Avenue D’s deliciously filthy “2D2F” (which includes my favorite lyric of 2004, “Don’t pass out goin’ down on me/or I’ll wake you up with a mouthful of pee”), and the Kings of Convenience remix of Cornelius’s “Drop” (which improves both artists). Preceding Avenue D is one of the singles on my ballot, Alan Braxe & Fred Falke’s “Rubicon,” the best French single of the past decade not involving any member of Daft Punk. It’s house for indie fans, but in a different way than, say, U.S.E.

United State of Electronica take what VHS Or Beta kinda-sorta did on their first album (but definitely not on their sloppy second), add in a ginormous helping of Discovery, multiply with vocoders (Roger Troutman, your influence is much bigger than you knew), and shake-shake-shake your booty. With a twist, though: they get the midtempo/ballad-ish stuff, too. Is this what Phoenix should’ve sounded like, I wonder? “Night Shift,” even with (maybe more because of – it throws the rest of the song into stark relief) its incredibly white-boy rapping, is so musically pretty and lush as to have the Frenchies (especially Guy-Manuel) checking their record collections. And “Open Your Eyes” is the dance music indie rockers dream of, much more so than art-damaged folks like Interpol or !!! (pretentiousness, thy name is…). Shit, if they could afford to buy their way on to the radio, it could be bigger than “Take Me Out.”

For those keeping score, I’ve got 5 indie albums on my list, with another 4 on majors and from gold-or-more-certified artists. Then there’s Sonic Youth, but I’ll get to them in a minute. Foremost among the big’uns is ‘04’s rookie of the year (she’ll prove more important and influential than Kanye, just watch), Gretchen Wilson, the only artist to appear on both my albums and singles ballots. “Here For the Party” does what “Redneck Woman” promises: gets down and dirty. She may be from Illinois, and her sound may be more akin to Southern rock than anything else (with some notable exceptions, such as the killer C&W torcher “When I Think About Cheatin’,” which is as nu-classic honky tonk as shit gets these days on major labels), but she’s bad, she’s nationwide. In case you didn’t notice, too, Wilson can sing her ass off, and she’s got the tunes to back her up. “Redneck Woman” is a great single by any means, but “Party”’s the one that nailed me, maybe ‘cause it just seems even more real. And who among us isn’t/hasn’t been?

A good friend of mine said that “If you haven't heard” Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, “you really didn't experience country music in 2004.” He’s so, so wrong. I mean, hello, Gretchen? Her Muzik Mafia mates Big & Rich, saving horses across the nation all year long? Toby and Shania and Nelly’s pal Tim, oh my? Loretta’s triumphant “I’m still here” isn’t country music of 2004, though it’s a great album. Pretty much any and all Jack White-and-Loretta comparisons to Rick Rubin-and-Cash are accurate, and not unwelcome. White revitalizes Lynn – she wrote the entire album, for the first time in her career – by giving her a new platform, a new base from which to work. “Portland, Oregon” may harken to her classic duets with Conway Twitty only in that it’s a (future) classic duet; apart from that, it’s one of the most outré entries in her vast catalog, and all the better for it.

Sonic Youth are so easily taken for granted, in large part because they’ve essentially held up a gold standard for 20+ years. We expect, and oftentimes assume greatness from them, which isn’t fair. We should be thankful for their brilliance, and for the fact that more than 2 decades into it, they’re still making albums as gorgeous as Sonic Nurse, a record as awash in colors and warmth as anything they’ve ever done. “Unmade Bed,” for one, coaxes yet another classic vocal performance out of Thurston Moore, yet also shows that his singing has become more rich and resonant over the years (shades of Dylan?). I’m not sure the Velvets or the Pixies would’ve sounded this amazing so far down the line, yet Sonic Youth just keep finding new musical vocabularies. We still need them more than you know, or realize.

Junior Boys seem fairly simple to me: microhouse as pop. Good pop. I’ve been waiting for this logical conclusion, and didn’t even realize it. Just like I wasn’t aware how much I needed a (one-man) band like Dykehouse in my life, mixing blips and bleeps with shoegaze circa ’89 and sounding like they could maybe save my life all over again. R. Kelly’s life, apparently, has been saved by Jesus – we’ll see if a jury agrees – but boy, has dialing it down ever helped remake his music. The first album of Happy People/U Saved Me is stepper’s heaven, and is accordingly the smoothest, most soulful album of his career. And amazingly, his gospel second album in the pairing is superb as well, better than anything on the last Kirk Franklin album if a bit clunky at times. But you know what? He sells this stuff so well that I’m buying without reservations. I actually believe him.

Trick Daddy may be the south’s answer to Jay-Z (and before him, Biggie) in that he so effortlessly makes pop and street records without ever seeming to stretch (sometimes, at the same time: “Let’s Go,” anyone?). M.I.A. may be Neneh Cherry times Dizzee Rascal, but that’s the lazy equation. In reality, she’s a total original. Her single “Galang” didn’t kill me the way it has many of my voting brethren (I can’t imagine it won’t place in singles), but the Diplo-mixed mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism does – with another month of play, it might’ve been my #1. Mixing her really “wow!” cross-cult raps across not only her own tracks but others’ beats (and mixing in others’ songs: hello, Bangles!), Diplo makes a totally fresh, totally refreshing record, one of the most astounding to come down the pike in ’04. I know it’s not an “official” album; I also know I don’t care.

The singles I voted for are largely cut from other cloths. Kanye’s not the rap savior he’s purported to be (moderation, people), but he’s awfully good, and “Through the Wire” is an undeniable single. He’s rapping with his jaw wired shut! [And doing it well, natch.] “Confessions Part II” got me before it was a single, just for its sly, slinky beat. “If I Ain’t Got You” is “Careless Whisper” for 2004, a raw, honest love ballad that we’ll be hearing in 25 years, and is the clearest example of how The Diary of Alicia Keys improves upon Songs In A Minor; Keys is just starting to make good on her talents.

“99 Problems” is the video of the year, by far, just like “Hurt” was last year’s; Mark Romanek knows his way around legends, doesn’t he? So does Rick Rubin, doesn’t he? If the Beasties circa Licensed to Ill had been smart instead of stupid, and if (let’s be honest) they’d been black, even then they couldn’t’ve made a single this glorious, this bombastic, and it’s not like they haven’t tried. But Jay-Z is capable of doing shit like this in his sleep. The trick is that he doesn’t. Hova’s girl B came back not exactly hard, but good enough with her girls on “Lose My Breath,” the best thing Rodney Jerkins has laced in years. Yeah, it’s not the most original production – but he knows how to take ideas and make ‘em go pop like almost no one else. That opening snare tattoo is one of the moments of ’04, no less, and Beyoncé’s good to share the love with Michele and Kelly.

My #1 single feels so obvious to me, like how could it not be everyone’s #1? After not thinking the Neptunes could top themselves years ago (with the Clipse’s “Grindin’”), they did so in ’04 with another masterful minimalist track, Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Not only is this a high-water mark for Chad and Pharrell, it’s a high-water mark for Snoop as well – and the track wouldn’t work the same way, or so well, without him on it; it’s not all about the production. Snoop’s rap is so laconic as to match the track perfectly (and Pharrell’s verse fits nicely, as well, as it damned well should). THIS IS PEOPLE MAKING CLICKING NOISES WITH THEIR MOUTHS! YOU MUST WORSHIP AT THE ALTAR OF PHARRELL AND CHAD!

2004 was that kinda year, wasn’t it?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Lee Ann Womack's "I May Hate Myself In the Morning" is the first great single of 2005. This is the epitome of classic country (as is apparently the point), with Womack finally putting her voice around some material which, frankly, deserves it. [The bf pointed out that "it's very Tammy" (Wynette, and he's right).] The upcoming album There's More Where That Came From is reportedly a total exercise in classic '60s Nashville - right down to its cover - which makes it an early contender for album of the year. Down to the song's lyrics, its twang, and its sterling string section, this is the single Womack's fans have been waiting for her to make - and if you've not been a fan before, you might now. A+

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Reason #really-high-number why I love NPR: this commentary from today's All Things Considered, "Reviewing the Record Reviewers."

Just in case you were wondering, here's where Billboard is hiding the stash of their year-end charts - all of 'em (as opposed to what you can find in the year-end print issue, or on I shouldn't still care, but I can't not. Casey Kasem, I still blame (read: thank) you.

And yes, I will get around to doing the final update over here soon, hopefully later this week.

Bad Education, the latest film from the phenomenal Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodovar, isn't phenomenal, for starters; it's not on par with the shocking brilliance of Talk to Her. But it is very good, and it should be seen for a couple of reasons.
1. This might be Almodovar's most visually stunning, sumptuous film. It's like swimming in a heavy, rich oil painting.
2. The storytelling style, cutting between real life, fictionalized life, and a movie within the movie, is challengingly clever. It's not Memento, but it shouldn't be.
3. Gael Garcia Bernal gives one of '04's strongest performances all-around as three different characters - including a drag queen vaguely reminiscent of Julia Roberts.
Flawed Almodovar is like bad pizza; you know the rest. B+

Adam Berlin's novel Belmondo Style is a lovely book, a real find, written in an original voice about an original (to me, at least) situation. Its narrator, Ben, is a 16-year-old NYC denizen, a talented runner who's also gay. He lives with his father Jared, who lives life according to an ersatz code picked up from Jean-Paul Belmondo in (of course) Breathless, and whose profession is pickpocketing. Jared, a notorious ladies' man, appears to have met the one (shocking him and and his son), when Ben is the subject of a gruesome hate crime. What's most important, though, isn't as much the events of the novel as the way they're told. In Ben, Berlin has a superb storyteller, a teen wise-beyond-finish-the-cliché-yourself who's largely unflinching in all ways to all people. And his father is the kind of character film producers beg for, though I'm not sure this could (or should) be well-adapted for the screen. Maybe HBO? A fine way to start 2005, with one of '04's finest novels. A

Subjects for further review: "'Mufridite" by Count Lasher & Williams with Lyn Taitt & the Baba Brooks Band

A 1966 reggae record about discovering that your wife is a - wait for it - hermaphrodite?!?! Yup. I believe the word the Brits use is "gobsmacked." And I am, utterly. [It's also a smooth-as-key-lime-pie piece of soulful Jamaican vibes, in case you're wondering.]

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