Monday, September 12, 2005

Report Card, September 2005
(with apologies to the Dean)

Students of the month
Alan Braxe, The Upper Cuts
Now, why couldn’t the new Daft Punk have sounded like this? Granted, The Upper Cuts is a comp, but fuuuuuuck, what a comp it is. Where Basement Jaxx take house tracks and make pop songs out of them, Braxe (and company, most notably his frequent collaborator Fred Falke, with whom over half of these tracks were made) takes pop songs as his source material and make luscious underground house tracks out of ‘em. “In Love With You” has Godley & Crème written all over it, “Rubicon” is your ‘80s pop dancefloor wet dream (or at least mine – it was my #3 single of 2004), “Intro” actually samples an ‘80s R&B track (is it S.O.S. Band? I can’t rightly tell), and “Link’n’rings” (credited to Rec) is Solesides gone French (albeit with a Yank rapper) – and frankly, Solesides always sounded like the underground analogue to the like of Skee-Lo and Coolio to me. “Penthouse Serenade” even has a very Paul Davis kinda texture to it. Really. If you’ve ever had any inclination towards French house, particularly its less poptastic impulses, you need this album. A+

Kanye West, Late Registration
As good as it’s supposed to be, living up to every expectation attached to it, and damn him to hell for it. I wanna hate on ‘Ye, whose ego gets bigger with each unit Soundscanned, but Rolling Stone nailed it when they plugged their 5-star review on the cover with “As good as he says he is.” Kanye saved his best productions yet for himself, is improving steadily as a lyricist and rapper, knows precisely how to use but not overuse guest stars (Jay-Z’s verse on the “Diamonds” remix is his best in years, Nas’s on “We Major” continues his rehabilitation, and Brandy’s the perfect chorus vocalist for “Bring Me Down” – for pete’s sake, he only has the Game utter the chorus on “Crack Music,” he doesn’t even get his own verse!). Bringing in Jon Brion to coproduce was a bold, brazen, throwing-down-the-gauntlet move, and it works like you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t hear it; Brion brings an added richness to Kanye’s tracks, piling on even more layers (strings, keys). All this and only one chipmunk-voiced sample. I could sing of my love for Late Registration forever – it’s actually better than his debut (which I liked and respected but never loved). Say hello to the new king of hip-hop. A+


Bloc Party, Silent Alarm Remixed
Truth in advertising: 13 tracks on Silent Alarm, 13 tracks duly remixed here. Of course it’s wildly uneven, with 13 different artists taking on the Bloc. I particularly like Four Tet’s take on “So Here We Are” and the Phones Disco Edit of the ubiquitous-in-certain-quarters “Banquet.” You may have other favorites. B-

Faith Evans, The First Lady
Best when it looks backwards, with the exception of the Neptunes-produced opener “Goin’ Out,” a good, weird keyb-heavy club track. “I Don’t Need It,” for example, is built around a chunk of the Jones Girls classic “Nights Over Egypt,” and is all the better for it, while “Until You Came” has a track which could’ve been by the Persuaders. The key is Faith, who gets the mood of these tracks right, complementing them rather than simply riding ‘em as most of the new babydivas would do. There’s something to be said for vets, and Ms. Evans certainly qualifies with 10 years in the game. What a joy that she’s learned a few things in that decade. B+

Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi
Thank goodness for “We Belong Together,” or after the abortion that is “It’s Like That” (sloppy even by Jermaine Dupri’s so-so standards) I never would’ve investigated the comeback of the – year? Decade? I’m glad I did, and you likely will be, too. By no means is this a great album, but it’s a good one, and certainly the best Mariah’s made since who-knows. “Shake It Off” improves in context, the pretty Jam & Lewis-helmed “Mine Again” would’ve been a monster R&B smash 18 years ago, and all you need to know about “Say Somethin’” is Neptunes + Snoop. Unfortunately, there’s the Neptunes + Nelly of “To the Floor” (less inspired than either “Hot In Herre” or “Flap Your Wings”) and the bland balladry of “Joy Ride,” but the joyous, midtempo gospel (yes, gospel!) of “Fly Like A Bird” which ends the album leaves you with a sweet (not cloying) aftertaste. It’s been a while since who-knows, so let’s hope that Mariah’s as happy with her return as she deserves to be. B+

New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
The album they’ve always had in ‘em but never cut, until now. Better singing, better songwriting, better chops, better all around. Should make ‘em the kings of indie, but probably won’t ‘cause indie kids tend to be dumb and willfully obscurist that way, and prefer morons like the Decemberists. One of the best North American rock records of ’05. A-

Neil Young, Prairie Wind
It’s Neil doing his country-folk thing, a notch or so below Harvest Moon. B+

Slim Thug, Already Platinum
Much of the first half of this Houston prince’s debut is fairly pedantic gangsta shit (“3 Kingz,” “Click Clack”), but stay tuned and things get more interesting. Hearing Pharrell produce a Houston album is definitely interesting, because it’s weird, forcing Pharrell out of his comfort zone (and the same for typical Houston hip-hop). “The Interview” has a somewhat annoying structure, but it works for the song and succeeds despite it. “Ashy to Classy” sounds like defintive Neptunes, but with Slim Thug at his best on the mike (“Haters can you hear me now? I can barely hear you”), and “Incredible Feelin’” shows that Jazze Pha is still at the top of his game behind the boards. Uneven as hell, but better than it probably should be. Just not as good as I want. B

The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
Maybe their best album, certainly their most daring one, but not one for newbies. You’ve gotta at least take Elephant as a gateway drug for Satan. Jack’s use of marimba is startling and gorgeous – his pairing it with the piano on “Forever For Her” is delicious – but don’t forget what a superb arranger/songwriter he is (cf. the jarring guitar/drum stabs on “The Nurse”), nor his knack with Americana (the blues of “Instinct Blues,” the Appalachian country of “Little Ghost” [clearly, his experience working on the Cold Mountain soundtrack has stuck with him]). Especially as the album wears on, this is the epitome of uneasy listening. Not that that’s a bad thing. A-


Parent’s signature required
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!
Only if you promise to shut the fuck up. The year’s most intensely annoying talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’ buzz band, and that’s sayin’ somethin’. C-

editor's advice: cut all the lines on the CYHSY review except the first.
You know, I almost did just that. This is why I can stand to have an editor from time to time...
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