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I'm Not The Only One [Feb. 25th, 2011|10:31 am]
"I certainly enjoyed Catcher in the Rye. Read it up the same day it came. Regina said I was going to RUIN MY EYES reading all that in one afternoon. I reckon that man owes a lot to Ring Lardner. Anyway he is very good. Regina said would she like to read it and I said, well it was very fine. She said yes but would she like to the read it, so I said she would have to try it and see. She hasn't tried it yet. She likes books with Frank Buck and a lot of wild animals"

- Flannery O'Connor to Sally Fitzgerald, mid-September 1951
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Best Albums of 2010: Hip-Hop Edition [Feb. 13th, 2011|09:54 pm]

The Lady Killer - Cee-Lo Green; Teflon Don - Rick Ross (apparently it's great?); Death of a Superstar - David Banner & 9th Wonder (apparently it's also great and features a lyrically conscious Mr. Mississippi?); I Am Not A Human Being - Lil Wayne (but I don't like his album albums anyway...); Man on the Moon II - Kid Cudi (what's a Kid Cudi?)......well, ok....other than Cee-Lo, I don't feel like I missed too much.

Special Jury Prize

Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers - Wu Tang Clan vs. The Beatles

A lot of fun, but even if it’s one of the finest mashup/remix albums of all time, since it’s not a wholly original work, I don’t consider it as more than an entertaining experiment. I thought I had a near encyclopedic knowledge of Beatles songs, but Tom Caruana proves me wrong. Each arrangement sounds great and brings new life to these beloved Wu-Tang lyrics, and the likes of ODB’s “Baby I Got Your Money” over “You Never Give Me Your Money” is genius. It’s uncertain whether Chambers is better than The Grey Album, as Danger Mouse’s arrangements were among the first of their kind and launched a million copycats, but it’s damn good.

Honorable Mention

Recovery - Eminem

It’s time to admit that the guy peaked with “Lose Yourself” and has spent the last eight years trying (and amiably failing) to get back to that level. On his self-described comeback album, Eminem stylistically wears himself out and it’s mostly a pleasure to hear him rapping like he cares. But it amounts to nearly all style and minimal substance. He’s run out of interesting stories to tell and is left to spitting ridiculously layered rhymes about nothing (and not in the good Seinfeld way). Dr. Dre’s lone contribution makes him sorely missed and few of the piecemeal productions (sadly, DJ Khaled is the most frequent perp) are noteworthy. Em’s energy on “No Love” inspires Lil’ Wayne’s best verse in years, but the other guest spots are less successful: Pink’s growling fits fairly nicely with hardcore Em on “Won’t Back Down,” but the Rhianna collabo “Love the Way You Lie” is a miserable failure. That it was a huge radio hit proves how mismanaged the album was. (And the pending Best Album Grammy is meaningless.) With Slim Shady nowhere to be seen (though thankfully the odd voices that populated Relapse are also gone), it’s difficult to pinpoint Eminem’s place in hip-hop. If he could somehow free himself of the restraints to make a standard album of singles and unnecessary hooks, and instead focus on the ridiculous wordplay and flows of which he’s clearly capable (see “The Cypher”), he could produce the kind of liberating and showcasing display that his talent deserves. Until then, he may be doomed to the limitations of conventionality as seen on Recovery.

Seared Foie Gras with Quince & Cranberry - Asher Roth

Mixtapes are tricky. They’re great ways for emerging and established artists to get out a variety of tracks on the cheap and to have fun by rapping over other people’s beats. But there’s plenty that can go wrong. T.I. says “Fuck a mixtape,” and I’m apt to agree. Even the best offerings are marred by annoying DJs, unnecessary distracting scratches, and a general lack of focus. Most are good for a single listen and then might as well self-destruct. But Asher Roth is too laid back to let any of that impede on his style. There are plenty of eyeroll-inducing runback replays at the start of tracks, yet the beat selection is impeccable (Madlib, RZA, Pharrell, 9th Wonder, Kanye, Dilla, Just Blaze, Will.I.Am, and Timbaland all show up) as are the guest stars (B.o.B., Truck North, Blu, and Talib Kweli). And then there’s the stoned white boy himself, tossing around his signature cool rhymes as if he’s got a never-ending supply. As listeners await Roth’s followup to Asleep in the Bread Aisle, his mixtape debut provides an appealing bridge between records. Heck, it may as well count as his official sophomore effort.

Also Ran

LeftBack - Little Brother

LB’s swan song was supposed to be a fond sendoff, yet it’s mostly just sad. That’s not entirely because it marks the end of NC’s finest hip-hop group; it’s because the album is merely an echo of the mastery they’ve shown over the past seven years. Phonte effortlessly stacks his trademarked quotables, Big Pooh raps his heart out, and even 9th Wonder shows up for a hot second. But why junk up the tracklist with a handful of remixes from their previous album, GetBack? When Phonte says he kind of misses his former self, he’s not the only one. These days, he’d rather sing R&B as part of Foreign Exchange (I far preferred it when FE was a rap-first group) even though his MC skills are as sharp as ever. Poor overmatched Pooh is left to carry on the duo’s tradition and 9th is long gone. LeftBack is an unfortunate end for LB, but at least they leave an impressive catalog in their wake.

Thank Me Later - Drake

When Drake actually raps, Thank Me Later does fairly well. He’s got killer flow, amusing enough lyrics, and his timbre resembles mentor Lil’ Wayne to the point that you have to listen closely to determine whether or not Weezy is on the track. So why does he insist on singing corny R&B rather than spitting? Advertised as the star-studded debut of the year, it’s instead packed with forgettable production and sags under Drake’s own inexperienced ego. Jay-Z, Weezy, and Alicia Keys help carry the weight, but in the end it’s the rookie’s album and he’s unable to get the job done. The Sprite commercial on which Drake raps “Last name: Ever / first name: Greatest” felt inappropriate when he only had mixtapes to his name, and is increasingly unfitting now. The title of an Amazon review said "If you think this is good hip-hop, you probably think Taco Bell is good Mexican food," and I agree. Drake has made an interesting choice in working with The Xx on his follow-up, but for now, he’s little more than a loud flash in the pan.

Wu Massacre - Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man

Really? All that hype and sky high expectation for less than half an hour of music, including two forgettable skits? Rumors abounded about the hurry to get the album out and how few of the verses were recorded in the same room. And yet if it was actually rushed, couldn’t the Hakim Warrick line have been updated once he was traded from the Bucks? (And didn’t Jadakiss make a similar and much better play on words back in ’03 concerning Sam Cassell’s tenure in Milwaukee?) Even though it’s ultimately a gyp, it’s a nice tease and hopefully a collabo that will be revisited and revised often, as was done on Ghostface’s latest record.

Manifesto - Inspectah Deck

Long, unfocused, and far too many solo tracks = violation of Wu success 101. Listened to it once and almost instantly forgot it.

The Top 10 - Hip-Hop

10. Season of the Assassin - Vinnie Paz

For an angry white guy from Philly with technically one style (um, angry) and a predictable AAAA BBBB rhyme scheme, Vinnie Paz can make a diverse album. The lyrical leader of Jedi Mind Tricks and Army of the Pharaohs, the Pazmanian Devil delivers his trademark dark rhymes over equally dark instrumentals, and while there’s plenty of violence in his words (song titles include “Drag You To Hell” and “Kill ‘Em All”), he’s too talented to let it limit him. With “Keep Movin’ On,” he likens a laid-off factory worker and a wounded, discharged soldier to his struggles to succeed in the music business, and on “Same Story,” he pens a loving dedication to his recently deceased stepfather, thanking him for being good to his mother and providing him with a strong male influence, and manages to balance tenderness with his gritty style. With standout spots from Clipse, Beanie Sigel, and R.A. the Rugged Man, plus a range of production styles (it’s as if the producers looked up “hardcore” in a thesaurus and came back with 21 different answers), Season of the Assassin is the year’s best work by a white rapper.

9. The Adventures of Bobby Ray - B.o.B.

In a fantastic year for Atlanta hip-hop, newcomer B.o.B. turns in one of the year’s most fun albums. Riding high on big worthy singles like “Airplanes” and “Magic,” it’s between these tracks where B.o.B. truly shines. He twists Vampire Weekend’s “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” into a literal commentary on inner-city children and on “Ghost In the Machine,” he dials in from outer space over an arena-sized beat that demands greatness. The dude can sing, and it’s worth noting that Big Boi tapped him for a Sir Lucious Left Foot guest spot for his pipes, not his rhymes. But the dude can certainly rap, too. “Famous” sports a machine gun lyrical attack and everyone on “Bet I” rips it hard to the point where I wondered if I’d misjudged B.o.B.’s mentor T.I. (I hadn’t.) With oodles of mainstream appeal, B.o.B. is popping up all over the music scene. Here’s hope that he keeps his chameleon act strong for years to come.

8. The Archandroid - Janelle Monae

Monae has received attention for working with Big Boi and Of Montreal on the same album, but the real question is why not more far reaching collabos? With her deft handling of R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock, Broadway, and whatever else is hiding in The Archandroid, she can surely do it. Her full-length debut is just as ambitious and sprawling as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and better edited, but the highs aren't as momentous. The overarching story is apparently a Metropolis-inspired tale of an android searching the universe for love or something like that, but it's lost on me. (Remember, this is the same guy who still can't piece together American Idiot.) What isn’t lost is hit after interesting hit, from speed-pop of “Cold War” to the aforementioned hook-up with fellow ATLien Big Boi to the impossibly catchy chorus for “Wondaland,” lifted from a sexy robot dream via Candyland. With memorable turns on Big Boi’s and B.o.B.’s albums, there may be a new queen of R&B amongst us.

7. Apollo Kids - Ghostface Killah

Is it wrong that I most enjoy Ghostface, and his Wu-Tang brothers, on posse cuts? Isn’t that what made Shaolin great from the start? On a disc that slipped in right before the calendar flipped, Tony Starks does all he can to make up for last year’s unlistenable Ghostdini and practically plays a supporting role on his own album. No complaints here. It’s a formula that’s worked wonders his whole career, most recently on Cuban Linx Pt. II, and surrounded by rollicking old school beats, it’s an impressive though short return to the form we knew he was already at, Ghostdini or not.

6. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

Kanye’s most sonically interesting album, but also his most erratic, and one in which his rhyming took a giant step backwards.  (How many references to the man’s ass do we need?)  Still, it’s likely that no one pushed music forward more in 2010. He reaches fantastic new heights production-wise, from uniting a symphony of all-star voices (“All of the Lights”) to manipulating his voice to emulate an internal argument (“Blame Game”) to reminding us just how damn cool Swizz Beatz and RZA sound (“So Appalled”). On the lyrical front, he’s hit-or-miss, but a bevy of guests pick up the slack. Pusha T gives Yeezy a master class on his pair of appearances and the much-ballyhooed Nikki Minaj verse on “Monster” is as raucous as advertised, while Jay-Z’s Dark Knight embodying turn on “So Appalled” is goosebump-inducing (and makes up for his disturbingly subpar one on “Monster”). Then again, the extended auto-tune solo at the end of “Runaway” is one of the most horridly self-indulgent moments in the history of music, and while Chris Rock’s foul-mouthed skit tacked onto “Blame Game” is funny the first time, it’s not one to be revisited the same way as Bigger and Blacker. Despite the immense contradictions, it’s one hell of an enjoyable ride and worthy of the great debates that it should spark far into the future.

5. (tie) Melatonin Magik - Canibus

Freshly signed to Warlab Records, Bis brings immense energy to the first of his two 2010 albums. Meeting his unparalleled lyricism are a slew of independent producers who match his hunger, and the convergence gives him his most sonically interesting album since Rip the Jacker. The consistently jaw-dropping tandems build upon one another, feeling simultaneously indie and epic. Even the Eminem attack “Air Strike,” in which Warlab tricked the other four members of D-12 into recording ambiguous diss verses that, alongside Canibus’ stabbing daggers, makes for one of the most interesting battle tracks to date. But then after a dozen strong tracks of Bis Gone Wild and some quality guest spots, the album devolves into a bad mixtape, ending with four posse cuts that derail the show. Stopping the disc after “Stomp On Ya Brain” makes for a terrific, focused album, but since it must be judged on its entirety, Melatonin Magik exists as an unnecessary director’s cut of an immensely strong work.

C of Tranquility - Canibus

Technically a 2008 release (references to 10 years since Can-I-Bus and an as-yet-unelected Barack Obama are the only giveaways) but mysteriously shelved for two years, C of Tranquility puts the focus back on Canibus himself. Though not as ambitious and awe-inspiring as the highlights of Melatonin Magik, it’s better edited, never straying into formulas that distract from the lyrical mastery on display. The beats are strong and lean more to the indie side without bringing the corniness that plagued the likes of C:True Hollywood Stories and Hip-Hop For Sale. There’s the long rumored and memorable collabo with DJ Premier (“Golden Terra of Rap”) and “Good Equals Evil,” which takes the folksy strums of and blankets it with intergalactic blips to make for Bis’s finest overall track since Rip the Jacker's "Poet Laureate II." It’s been a good year for Canibus, whether that year be 2008 or 2010, and if his typical output is any indication, more should be on the way soon.

4. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty - Big Boi

Let’s call this Big Boi’s second solo effort, since Speakerboxxx was clearly his. A decidedly Southern album, filled with more crunk than what’s allowed on the typical Outkast disc, the group’s more consistent and grounded MC keeps his quality rhymes coming. With the help of some unexpected production by the likes of Salaam Remi, Scott Storch, and Lil Jon (where have those guys been hiding?), along with usual suspects Organized Noise, Big Boi paints a diverse sonic landscape that feels both global (“Daddy Fat Sax” and “General Patton”) and firmly planted in Atlanta (“Fo Yo Sorrows,” “Turns Me On,” and “Shine Blockas”). Lyrically, he sounds incredibly fresh and nimble for someone with nearly 17 years in the industry, yet there are a few clunky moments. T.I. does little with “Tangerine”’s fun beat and there’s only so many times one should hear Yelawolf’s junkyard flow or (gasp!) Andre 3000’s clunky production on “You Ain’t No DJ.” Yet despite his misstep, there’s the the overarching feeling that the album is missing Andre. He and Big Boi work so well together that while their “solo” and solo efforts are some of music’s best, their collaborations are often the best.

3. How I Got Over - The Roots

As big of a Roots fan as I am, I’m ashamed that I’ve yet to tune in and see their nightly performances on Jimmy Fallon. If this was back when I was a Letterman connoisseur, I would have tuned in nearly every night or at least taped it for viewing the next day. (Really, what I should do is DVR Fallon and only watch the musical segments.) So considering how much work the Roots put into their day job, it’s extraordinary that they were able to record their best album since Things Fall Apart. Unlike with their last record, the inconsistent Rising Down, ?uestlove’s rhythms and Kamal’s keys exceed their usual teamwork to reconstruct the unique backbone on which the great Roots records were built. Black Thought is as focused as ever, building on the sense of urgency he created on Game Theory and reclaiming his spot as a Top 5 MC. Joining him on the mic is the usual smattering of quality guests, including regulars Dice Raw, Truck North, P.O.R.N., and another scene stealer from Peedi Peedi. But it’s the union of Phonte and Blu on the same track (!!!) as Black Thought (!!!) that tops the bill. The album builds with increasing intensity and complexity, throwing in the likes of John Legend, another brilliant re-imagining of another group’s track (Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God”), and a surprisingly fitting Joanna Newsom sample, until it climaxes with...an auto-tuned crying baby? Yeah, we’ll just pretend like “Hustla” never happened. But the rest of How I Got Over definitely did and it’s another strong statement of lyrical conscience and musical wizardry from the legendary Philly crew.

2. Revolutions Per Minute - Reflection Eternal

At long last, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek come together for hip-hop’s most anticipated reunion outside of, well...Kweli and Mos Def’s Black Star. Whereas the “too much of a good thing” virus hampered Train of Thought outside of the unfuckwitable first ten tracks, forcing it to crumble slightly beneath its own greatness, the second go-round is tighter and more entertaining as a whole even if it never reaches the individual peaks of its predecessor. Hi-Tek, relieved of his self-imposed purgatory as G-Unit's in-house producer, surrounds Kweli with beats that simultaneously sound vintage and fresh, the sure sign of a top programmer. There’s a lot to be said for employing a single producer, something that most discs on this list didn’t do, sometimes to their detriment (Eminem, I’m looking at you), and when matched with Kweli’s Top 5 lyricism, there’s truly something special at work. Album MVP "Ballad of the Black Gold" does for oil what Mos‘s "New World Water" did for H2O. Kweli draws Jay Electronica, J Cole, and Mos for the year’s best posse cut (“Just Begun”) and on solid opener “City Playgrounds” he lets loose one of the calendar’s best lines: “Time gets suspended more than DMX’s driver’s license.” (And with apologies to Pitchfork, Black Eyed Peas wish they could make a track as catchy as "Midnight Hour." As if computer-smoothed Fergie could ever sounds as raw and human as Estelle on the chorus.) Hi-Tek beats have appeared on the majority of Kweli’s post-Train of Thought albums and there’d been rampant hints from both camps that a reunion was eminent. Nine years is a long time to wait, and hopefully it won’t be that long before the next full-length collabo, but it should definitely be worth the patience.

1. Distant Relatives - Nas & Damian Marley

I’ve previously shown my appreciation for this modern classic, and nearly a year later I firmly stick to those comments. A “peer-reviewed” Nas is a beautiful thing to hear and with the Marley’s tackling the production side, it’s a spectacular pairing. Mr. Jones’s latest three-album stretch is the finest consecutive output of his career and his latest may be the closest he’ll come to replicating the freshness of Illmatic...not that we’re holding him to it or anything.
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Best Albums of 2010 [Jan. 18th, 2011|10:30 pm]
Overall, it felt like a much more personally productive music year, thanks to Pitchfork’s Twitter feed and, most importantly, AmazonMP3. The combination of these two resources (especially Pitchfork’s Best New Music reviews and Amazon’s daily and $5 monthly deals) allowed me to stay informed on a diverse batch of artists and support them on a budget. As a result, it also felt like an exceptionally strong year for music, though I’d like to think that every year produces a batch of records this solid, if you're able to find them.

Considering the abundance of strong music, it seemed appropriate to separate hip-hop from “rock,” while Janelle Monae made even that seemingly simple step difficult by refusing to be classified as either (or anything, for that matter). Then there’s the issue of timing. Last year’s #2 album, Sparklehorse + Danger Mouse’s Dark Night of the Soul, had its official release in 2010, but it’s staying put in ’09. On the other side, The Xx’s self-titled debut entered my playlist early this year, but came out in ’09. Otherwise, it would be #6 on the rock list.

Omissions sadly include some of my favorite artists, but I just wasn't able to listen to them in time: Lonely Avenue - Ben Folds and Nick Hornby; We’re Having Fun Now - Jenny and Johnny; Write About Love - Belle and Sebastian; Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens; Genuine Negro Jig - The Carolina Chocolate Drops; Teen Dream - Beach House; Have One On Me - Joanna Newsome; Crazy For You - Best Coast; Sign No More - Mumford & Sons; Shame Shame - Dr. Dog; God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise - Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs; Band of Joy - Robert Plant; Easy Wonderful - Guster .....but don’t worry: all have been ordered and are being cataloged for the library.

Special Jury Prizes

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Whitmark Demos 1962-1964 - Bob Dylan

These archive collections continue to impress. This time, it's stripped down versions of Dylan's early catalog, many of which are in their infancy, itching to be recorded and distributed.

In Person and On Stage - John Prine

Having seen John Prine in concert, this album faithfully captures and preserves the sonic experience. Now, if only it came with some bonus video of the old man bouncing around with his acoustic/electric.

Crazy Heart Soundtrack

Country music can be cool after all, but only if it's true to its roots and is primarily sung by the surprisingly gifted Jeff Bridges. If only the film itself had been as wonderful as its music.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Soundtrack

"We are Sex Bob-omb! One, Two, Three, Four!" Music from the year's coolest film, including Scott's most excellent rock band, contributions from Beck, and Nigel Godrich's Nintendo-esque score. Fun Canadian times abound.

American IV: Ain’t No Grave - Johnny Cash

Cash's last of the American sessions (unless he's currently recording with 2Pac) is a somber meditation on death, cut in the last months of the man's life. You can nearly hear the Grim Reaper singing back-up.

Honorable Mention

High Violet - The National

A slower, moodier detour from the more distinct and varying melodies of Alligator and Boxer, High Violet isn’t as appealing as The National’s previous two albums, but there’s clear musical growth here. It’s only just arrived in my collection, and it’s gaining momentum with each listen as its sounds and lyrics ingrain themselves in my mind, but for now I don’t see it cracking the Top 10.

Volume Two - She & Him

A worthy, if overly similar followup to the first go-round, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward again deliver a pleasant mix of throwback folk. But in a year when so many artists dug deep and with staggering results, Volume Two stands as a good, not great record, even if it is compulsively listenable.

Le Noise - Neil Young

Just Neil, his guitar, and an amp. Under the guidance of Daniel Lanois, this stripped down approach is highly refreshing and results in a simple but moving album. With little in the way, Neil’s lyrics hit harder than even their usual megaton force, none greater than the self-evident “Love & War.” Dylan’s recent output is a lot of fun, but Neil is right behind him, turning out a steady stream of quality music that keeps the old guys right with nearly anything put out by the current generation.

Transference - Spoon

Yawn, yawn...another solid album from Spoon. Who do these guys think they are? Male Aimee Manns? As with Ms. I’m With Stupid, consistent quality is not an issue with Spoon and neither is slightly altering their style the moment it began to whiff of staleness. Choruses are sparse on Transference and many tracks begin without warning, like the standout “The Mystery Zone.” Otherwise, there’s the reliable give-and-take of piano and guitar, plus Britt Daniel’s voice to guide you through the numbers, leaving you equally (if not more) satisfied and ready for the next helping as after Spoon’s other recent efforts.

IRM - Charlotte Gainsbourg

Gainsbourg crooning Beck tunes? Sign me up. It's an extremely pleasant and soothing album, but feels more like a placebo than something of significance.

The Black Dirt Sessions - Deer Tick

John McCauley’s voice is a revelation. Like Kurt Cobain with a tin can implant in his throat, he brings an added spark to gritty, guitar-featuring tracks that feel as if they could have been written by Robert Randolph. The band also earns bonus points for contributing the standout track ("Unwed Fathers") to the year's otherwise so-so John Prine covers album (Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows).

Fang Island - Fang Island

Impressively stacked multi-part harmonies feel strangely at home over extensive electric anthems that seamlessly blend into one another. Frequently accompanied by a spacey organ, it a quasi religious experience that progressively builds to “Davy Crockett,” a nearly six-minute event that comes with its own dance-and-thrash instructions. Fang Island nearly made #10, but its wandering organization, though beautiful, keeps it from being sufficiently grounded. (Not that the band seems to care. They're clearly having way too much fun, as is the listener.)

Also Ran

To The Sea - Jack Johnson

It’s fine, but is JJ relevant anymore? I enjoyed the Curious George album, but that was four years ago. Everything he put out up to that point was consistently enjoyable and yet any track off To The Sea could have been on Brushfire Fairytales. Maybe growth is not in the guy’s toolbox, but as late as 2006, I could have sworn he had some more surprises for us. Hopefully I’m wrong.

The Top 10 - Rock

10. Astro Coast - Surfer Blood

In early Spring, I was listening to bands with names like Vampire Weekend, Fang Island, and Surfer Blood, which made me feel far too connected to Twilight and True Blood culture than I was comfortable. It turns out that neither group is purposefully, jump-on-the-bandwagon related to the current bloodsucker craze (though I’m still trying to make sense of VW’s contribution to the Eclipse soundtrack, surprisingly next to Beck and a few other personal all-stars, other than the exposure factor) and there’s little crossover in the Team Edward/Jacob camps...which is kind of a shame. Surfer Blood in particular turned out a wildly accessible guitar rock album, packed with single after potential single. It’s the kind of warm, distorted but appealing jams that Robert Pattinson acolytes and haters alike can gobble up. For now, Surfer Blood will stick to the shadows, but when the time is right, they’ll be ready to emerge and sink their teeth into the general listening public.

9. Brothers - The Black Keys

The Akron, Ohio duo have always had a great raw, bluesy sound, and a pair of knockouts (“Everlasting Light” and “Next Girl”) start off their latest disc, a preamble to the greatness that follows. Dan Auerbach’s grimy vocals do well whether in his intended octave or wailing falsetto, his tales of mysterious love and pulp fiction soaring alongside one catchy riff after another from his electric guitar, while Patrick Carney drums up more tempos than a two-man band feels capable of producing. There’s variety aplenty with merely two instruments, but when the guys mix things up and throw in an organ, to great effect, on the saloon favorite “Ten Cent Pistol,” they take their talents to another level. Jack White has proved (still, I’d say, better than anyone) that there’s a plethora of sonic places that a guitar-and-drums group can go, and with Brothers, the Black Keys prove more than ever that they belong in the same conversation as the Stripes.

8. Odd Blood - Yeasayer

In a year filled with interesting sounds, no album was more sonically captivating than Odd Blood. With each track of diverse synth-rock, Chris Keating & Co. conduct a wild ride of unexpected yet instantly gripping melodies and vocal arrangements that seem broadcast from an unexplored corner of the universe. Could this be the new breed of space music? Is Yeasayer crafting some of the most creative noise since Bowie in his prime? And is that the world’s best Tomahawk Chop remix on the chorus of “Madder Red”? Yes, yes, and yes.

7. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

Lauded more than the second coming, Win Butler and crew turn in an ambitious concept album that successfully comments on the spoils the titular expansions and our instant gratification society. It’s a mini epic, and as with a film like Gladiator, there’s a good deal of filler (here, an excess of repetitive tempos and melodies) between the handful of glorious battle sequences and scenery chewing (“Modern Man,” “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” “We Used to Wait” and “City With No Children” are all anthems). Despite its flaws, The Suburbs is already a classic for some and should only improve with age, but there’s an undeniable feeling that it could have been even better.

6. Man of Few Words - Brett Harris

I’d be impressed with this album even if its Durham-based creator wasn’t a friend.  As is, it’s like seeing your buddy go off for 50 points in a basketball game, and you saying, “I knew he was good, but damn!” Following a pair of wildly promising EPs (both of which made the Best of ’08 list), the Durham artist’s full-length debut rivals Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley in his mastery of different tempos and styles, and like Jason Schwartzman’s Coconut Records projects, Harris can (and has, though he's joined this time by a full band) played all the instruments on his album. He also out “Over and Over”s Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him as his song of that name smokes theirs by a good bit. Maybe all Harris needs is a Hollywood connection like the above thespian/musicians to get the attention he deserves. For now, he’ll have to be content that he ranks among the best singer-songwriters working today.

5. Plastic Beach - Gorillaz

Oh, how I have sinned!  On first listen back in February, I dismissed  the “cartoon” band’s latest as a synthtastic mess.  Come the fall, each time I heard a track played on The World Cafe, I liked it and wondered if I had made a mistake.  It was a huge mistake.  Damon Albarn lays down a symphony of electro tropical jams that sound like steel drums mixed with an 8-bit Nintendo soundtrack (in a very very good way). He’s joined by guests ranging from Mos Def and Snoop Dogg to members of The Clash and, most memorably, Lou Reed (on the phenomenal “Some Kind of Nature”). But Albarn reserves the best for himself, lifting “On Melancholy Hill” to the upper reaches of his Blur catalog and generally bringing the key facets of his previous band’s highlights to this, his new group’s top accomplishment to date.

4. This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem

These are some of the shortest long songs you’ll hear.  Clocking in at an average of nearly seven minutes, each is an epic and their king, “All I Want,” is one of the finest tracks ever recorded (and if it didn’t go all squawky towards the end, I might have the confidence to play it in front of friends). Nine tracks comprise over an hour of music, yet clicking midway through to the next track never enters the mind. There’s too much here to enjoy, from the layered electro-rock grandeur to the insightful tales of growing pains at an age when the damage was supposed to have subsided. James Murphy has created a masterpiece, and if it ends up being the final LCD Soundsystem album, he’s clearly made the most of his time under the band’s name.

3. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

After collaborating on Dark Night of the Soul, James Mercer of the Shins and Danger Mouse reunite to create some of the year’s most interesting sounds, the likes of which we’ve come to expect from the brilliant mind behind The Grey Album and Gnarls Barkley. Anchored by the exceptional tracks “The High Road” and “The Ghost Inside,” the album’s layered, eclectic approach falters slightly with the snoozy “Citizen,” only to rebound with a rousing end that rivals its impressive opening. The group appears to enjoy working together, so here’s hoping for more joint projects in the future. No other artist has sounded better over DM beats and it would be a shame for this to be a one-time event.

2. Contra - Vampire Weekend

Not quite as good as their self-titled debut (the best discovery of the year.  Where was I in 2008?), but instead of repeating their Baroque-pop masterpiece (a la The Strokes making an Is This It? sequel with Room on Fire), the Columbia grads evolved as artists while exploring (and arguably mastering better than anyone, with the possible exception of LCD Soundsystem) the electro-pop-rock sound that’s currently so vogue. Ezra Koenig has written another impressive set of masterfully-crooned songs and the instrumental genius of Rostam Batmanglij is increasingly undeniable here. But Contra is a true group effort, equally aided by above two leaders as by steady but active bass lines from Chris Baio and Chris Tomson’s rollicking drumming. Haters abound for Vampire Weekend, but I am far from being one of them. Instead, I’m ready for whatever they create from here on.

1. Gorilla Manor - Local Natives

Multi-part harmonies over some of the year’s catchiest melodies form the standout rock record of 2010. Part Fleet Foxes and equal parts Devotchka, Local Natives blend exquisite vocals with diverse, complex compositions that remain full of surprises with each listen. Styles range from the soft and contemplative life do-over of “Airplanes” to the intelligent, verge-of-a-mosh-pit booms of “Sun Hands.” As the sonic shifts continue while maintaining cohesiveness (including a strong cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign”), the good times roll, propelled by tracks that begin modestly, only to bloom into beautiful, often wordless choruses. Contra continues to impress, but for now the top spot goes to the boys from L.A. and their debut named after their insanely appealing recording studio. Keep up the good work.
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Nas and Damian Marley - Distant Relatives [May. 26th, 2010|05:35 pm]
Welcome to Queensbridge via Jamrock, a journey that has produced Nas' most sonically and thematically consistent album since Illmatic. The bling is gone, replaced in full by social consciousness and a fascination with Africa, both of which Nas has been struggling to disentangle from his gold necklaces since the Puffy-induced coma of the late '90s. When bling resurfaces, as it occasionally does, it's handled primarily in a self-deprecating manner in keeping with the album's purpose. Some of it is old-fashioned braggadocio, but what's a rap album if not for a little boasting? The general reservedness with which Nas approaches his lyricism this go-round is refreshing and largely PG. But he can't take all the credit.

The Nas of Distant Relatives is the peer-reviewed Nas: with a worthy, album-length collaborator (The Firm doesn't count), he's able to remain focused on his lyrical content, rhyme over beats that are not only top-notch but complement one another, and keep the album to an acceptable length. Hip-Hop Is Dead and Untitled were worthy attempts at the concept album, but each fell short to the occasional aberration [i.e. the Snoop-assisted (instant red flag!) "Play on Playa" and the abysmal "We Make the World Go Round"]. No such inconsistencies are present here. Providing the soundscapes and accompaniment to fully flesh out this collaboration is Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley, Bob's youngest son. In lending his share of verses (and the bulk of production, with his brother Stephen), Marley doesn't so much channel his father as he embraces his own modern version of reggae. His muscular choruses anchor each song (even when deferring to the softer-spoken Stephen) as Nas ignites lyrical firecrackers around his staff-stomping comrade.

Make no mistake: this is an album ripe with revolution and reflection. Nas and Marley open with the Jadakiss/Styles P back-and-forth of "As We Enter" and refuse to let up. Flanked by tribal drums and smooth Caribbean beats, the pair provide one of the most eclectic musical experiences in recent memory. "Land of Promise" opens with some of the album's finest storytelling, courtesy of Marley, in which he likens Africa to the U.S., matching the nation's notable areas with their American equivalents, over a Jamaican dance hall banger. The silky smooth guitar that opens "In His Own Words" is reminiscent of Des'ree's "You Gotta Be," instantly invoking the peaceful power of the latter. Then there's "Nah Mean," nothing short of straight up, raw hip-hop from both parties. As if the diversity of the team's respective strengths wasn't enough, K'naan pops up on "Tribes at War" and makes the track his own with a spellbinding tour through a web of conflict. For eleven solid tracks, the album glides along, feeling at once worldly and accessible.

It makes the absolute turkey that is "My Generation" all the more baffling. Backed by a chorus of children (rarely a good decision), Joss Stone wails without direction as if she wandered in off the street and off her medication. Out of nowhere comes an unnecessary Lil' Wayne verse that finds the incarcerated MC hypocritically attempting to sound like the philosopher that he neither is nor will ever be. (By the way, Weezy, it's Revelation. Singular.) Nas and Marley remain consistent, but their surroundings are nearly enough to derail Distant Relatives from classic status. But then again, Aquemini had "Mamacita" (though Dre kills it on his verse) and The Blueprint had "Girls, Girls, Girls," (though as with "My Generation," minus Weezy's part, its quality verses are soiled by an awful chorus). As Nas has painfully learned in the past 16 years, not every album can be as perfect as Illmatic.

Fortunately, the dreamy "Africa Must Wake Up" steers the record back onto the road and closes the project with class. In tracing each genre's legacy to Africa, the duo illustrate the shared lineage of their music and, as the title suggests, themselves, successfully marrying reggae and hip-hop in album-length form. Distant Relatives is an inspired piece of music from two of the industry's brightest minds. For Marley, it's a chance for his production genius (which Nas likened to Quincy Jones') to reach the audience it deserves. For Nas, it's an opportunity for his gold medal lyricism to be filtered and refined through the aid of a collaborator equally talented in his own regard. For listeners, it's a sonic treat to be bumped all summer and for years to come.
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The Forgotten Three [Apr. 30th, 2010|03:46 pm]
On my 2009 music retrospective, I failed to mention three standout albums from last year that definitely deserve a spot on the Honorable Mention list:

Bill Cosby presents: The Cosnarati, State of Emergency

Can an album full of "I Can"s work? Absolutely. The long-awaited "Bill Cosby rap album" turns out to be better than anticipated, though Cos never actually raps (nor does his voice appear at all). The featured MCs provide an engaging, PG-rated look at inner-city issues and the production isn't bad, either. It's not an album that I'm going to play for many friends, but when my kids are small and want to listen to rap, I won't hesitate letting them spin State of Emergency.

Asher Roth, Asleep in the Bread Aisle

Being pasty and a rhyme-writer, you could say I'm a fan of white rappers, but since there are so few worth listening to (Beastie Boys, Eminem, Vinnie Paz, and Joe Scudda come to mind), when a noteworthy MC comes along, I take note. Asher Roth is the latest to cross hip-hop's invisible color barrier, and as far as I'm concerned, he can stay. He's lyrically intriguing, his beats are diverse and fun (two of which sample Weezer's "The Sweater Song" and Ben Kweller's "Falling," respectively), and you can tell that he's having fun. Ultimately, the album's positive vibe is what's important, and with Cee-Lo and Busta Rhymes supporting him, who's to disagree?

Rapper Big Pooh, Delightful Bars

The clear second fiddle to Phonte in NC's own Little Brother, Big Pooh still can't be called a slacker. He may get consistently outshined by his rhyming partner, but he's trying his hardest while staying true to his style. On his 2nd solo album, he's stronger than before even though 9th Wonder isn't around as much as he was the first time (read: once) to coat him with his textbook R&B-sample/FruityLoops beats. Instead, the bulk of production falls to fellow Justus Leaguer Khrysis, who's proved that he fits LB as much as anyone outside of 9th. Otherwise, Pooh is backed by some of the most unique independent production in years and brings along some familiar faces for guest verses (Chaundon, Joe Scudda, O. Dash). And, oh yeah, Pooh's pretty good, too.
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The (Other) Experience Music Project [Feb. 26th, 2010|12:25 pm]
In association with my plan for a simpler life, I'm buying less new music and am instead listening to albums that I already have. Honestly, how many CDs do you listen to each month? Each year? If you're like me, you have a familiar circle of tunes and a constant flux of new music, whether it be new to me or new to everyone.

On the peripherals, I have artist phases where I get really into one of my favorites for a couple of months. Beatles phases. Bob Dylan phases. Ben Folds, Beastie Boys, and Rage Against the Machine phases. Whenever I get on one of these kicks, I feel ashamed that I ever stopped listening to the artist in question. But that's simply what happens. It's difficult to constantly listen to all of your music all the time. It's probably not healthy, either.

The main question is: How many albums that you'd like to revisit get swept under the proverbial carpet, forever at the corner of your mind, reminding you that you've forgotten something but you can't remember what? Perhaps it's merely a personal issue, but I often think about what I have that's gone unused for longer than I'd like to admit. There are albums I bought years ago that haven't been spun outside of the month of purchase. Others I amassed from new age key parties, also known as CD Swapping Socials, and have literally gone untouched. Basically, there's too much as is, and with new music coming out weekly (and sometimes daily), how much is too much?

Well, I don't know. But I do know that I want to become more familiar with my music collection. So, I'm going to be keeping a sort of music diary where I revisit each album and share my thoughts. I'll be using the following template, or a close approximation thereof:

Personal history with album: (i.e. past memories, relative date acquired, favorite tracks, etc.)
New thoughts:

It'll be a fun way to reconnect with my investments and further explore my musical tastes...especially once I get a CD changer for our new stereo. Until then, it'll be rip-and-play on the iPod on my 50-minute round trip commute each work day.
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The Simple(r) Life [Jan. 6th, 2010|04:44 pm]
In an effort to spend less this year, I'm going to be purchasing the bare minimum of new music and will instead be catching up on all of my CDs. I probably won't finish all of them in one year, but it's time for me to revisit what I already have. As for new tunes, I can listen to nearly all of it for free on Grooveshark, but unless there's an app for using that program in the car, I'll have to stick to home and work listening.

I'll be doing the same thing with DVDs and, to an extend, books. I bought the majority of my DVDs because they were editions that can't be rented from Netflix or the sadly departed Flick Video, discs with loads of bonus features and commentaries that I planned to watch...except I've only done that for a handful of them. So, buying DVDs is no longer part of my plan. Instead, I'll enjoy what I have (much of it for the first time), will listen to the commentaries that made the discs so appealing in the first place, and will stick with Netflix and the library for rentals.

For books, I won't be buying any of those, either. I recently downsized my library checkouts to 5 books and zero DVDs. (It was about 20 books and 8-10 DVDs until Monday.) Even though the books I was stashing for later weren't in demand, I don't need to be holding on to more than a handful. That's just greedy. And for movies, having a tall stack just because I think I'll get to them sometime, while I typically don't get to them for a month or more, is bad practice. If I know I'm going to watch something, I'll get it, watch it when it arrives, and will promptly return it. I've also stopped following the Amazon DVD deals on Twitter to remove the temptation to buy and am planning on reading more of the books that Sarah and I own. She has a lot of good ones from her collection that I've been meaning to read for years. There are also countless books given to me as gifts that I've never cracked open, and Sarge gave me a few boxes full of books at the wedding.

Additionally, I've decided to stop collecting mixed paper, steel, and glass, none of which Cherokee County recycles, but which I've been bagging up, storing in the garage, and saving for the Transylvania County dump on trips to Brevard. The bags pile up far too quickly and I'm never able to fit the entire load in the car when we visit my parents. Plus, I'm really not supposed to be using the Transylvania County dump, since I'm not a resident. So, to cut back on those items taking up space in our new place, I'll sadly be putting those recyclable items in the garbage. To curb our intake of those items, I'll be more conscious about getting beer in cans (hooray for Amstel Light!) and wine in boxes (hooray for Corbet Canyon!). That's the bulk of our glass output, and since aluminum is recyclable in Cherokee County, I'll feel good about buying cans. I'll also see what I can do to get glass, steel, and paper recycling in our county, though I don't know how flexible our version Jeff Brookshire will be.

These are my plans for a simpler, more cost-efficient life. If you have any thoughts on these decisions or suggestions on how best to implement them, I'll be glad to hear them.
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2009 Music: Best and Worst [Jan. 6th, 2010|04:31 pm]
The Ugly
Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, Ghostface Killah
-Misogynistic, corny, and just plain bad. In a year when he's arguably at his best, winning Best Supporting Actor on the Raekwon album, Ghost's own album is a joyless travesty. Filled with awful R&B hooks and forgettable lyrics, it's a disc to be avoided in order to preserve Ironman's reputation.

Back on My B.S., Busta Rhymes
-When Busta says he's back on his bullshit, he means he's rapping like he did on his forgettable first album, The Coming. His latest album is a surprising embarrassment, especially on the heels of 2006's The Big Bang (his best album in years), the solid Dillagence mixtape, and a string of recent song-stealing guest appearances. On "Respect My Conglomerate," he holds his own with Lil' Wayne and Jadakiss, but then he turns around and messes with autotune and empty, cheezy, say-nothing tracks, only to provide a glimmer of hope near the end with a beautiful John Legend/Mary J./Jamie Foxx/Common collabo. Inconsistent is an understatement. What happened, Busta?

The Shoulder Shrugs
Blueprint 3, Jay-Z
-Each year, there's a place for Jay-Z in the disappointment box. Once again, Hova sounds lazy over some of the year's best beats, rarely infusing his track with any emotion. We'll keep this spot warm for his next release, though there's always hope that he'll drop another Blueprint or Black Album.

Them Crooked Vultures
-Maybe I'm not enough of a Zep Head (is that even the right name?) to dig the interminable hard rock tracks from John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme. Grohl's drumming is outstanding and some of the guitar riffs are super catchy, but it's all too much noise to amount to anything warranting repeat listenings.

-Mos Def, Raekwon, and Q-Tip know what to do with a rock track, but the likes of RZA, Pharoah Monch, Jim Jones, and Jay-Z sound-a-like NOE sound lost over the grimy grooves of the Black Keys. A missed opportunity for sure and one that deserved better collaborators.

The Last Kiss, Jadakiss
-On the heels his instant classic Kiss of Death and a solid DJ Green Lantern mixtape, expectations were high for Jada's latest, especially since he took 4 years to work on it. On his first Roc-a-fella release, the lyrics and raspy voice are there, but the production and hooks come up short. Still, there are some gems, including the token (but solid) back-and-forth with Styles P ("One More Step"), a pair of retrospective tracks ("Things I've Been Through" and "Letter to B.I.G."), and outshining Nas at his own socially-conscious game (the unofficial "Why" sequel, "What If"). There's a lot of promise, but also a lot of fat that needs trimming.

The Good (Soundtrack Edition)

Away We Go
-Alexi Murdoch, you da man.

(500) Days of Summer
-The best indie rock soundtrack since Garden State? Could be.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
-Sure, the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones entries are great, but Burl Ives and the Alexandre Desplat score (filling in for the suddenly long-absent Mark Mothersbaugh) are the real stars.

Inglourious Basterds
-Tarantino's love affair with Ennio Morricone continues, and it's a beautiful relationship.

-Outstanding '80s compilation that far outshines the accompanying "film."

The Almost There

Noble Beast, Andrew Bird
-Came out so long ago that it might as well have been '08. Plenty of bossa nova grooves to love here, plus some Ennio Morricone-inspired moments

The Fall, Norah Jones
-Like all her albums, it's hard to knock, but you wonder how long she can keep up her act.

Til the Casket Drops, Clipse
-Guess the Virginia Beach bros. worked out all the anger from Hell Hath No Fury. A kinder, gentler Clipse is still enjoyable, but where are the top-shelf Neptunes beats on which we've come to rely?

The Crow, Steve Martin
-The name draws you in, but inspired bluegrass instrumentation and production keeps it in your regular rotation.

The Good (Original Album Edition)

10. Relapse, Eminem
-After a 5-year absence, Marshall Mathers' latest is like a bad Faulkner novel: the language and control are so good that it can only be so bad, but compared to his other works, it's clear that he's capable of more. Good thing Relapse 2 is on the horizon, hopefully full of more tracks like the standout "Beautiful."

9. Blackout 2, Method Man & Redman
-The year's (and decade's?) ultimate party album. Somehow, in the last 10 years, Red and Meth collected some of hip-hop's freshest beats, pooled them together with vintage lyrics, and topped the original Blackout. Plus, there's the mystery satisfaction that I may be one of the chanting fans on "Dis Iz 4 All My Smokers."

8. Together Through Life, Bob Dylan
-Another enjoyable chapter in the latest phase of Dylan's career. Every time I think I can see a pattern in his new music, like a talented rapper he switches up his style. The most recent incarnation is heavily influenced by zydeco, prompting several critics to say that the tunes feel ripe for a Mexican bar. It's just Dylan to me, which is more than enough. But even more enjoyable is...

7. Christmas in the Heart, Bob Dylan
-...his Christmas album! Graveling his way through holiday classics (on first listen, Sarah asked who the drunken old man was), Dylan redefines the Christmas album, taking it places it hadn't gone since the Barenaked Ladies' entry, and surpassing even that outstanding effort. Dylan's finest moment? The bijou-infused "Must Be Santa," featuring a memorable bridge that names the reindeer alongside 8 of the past 11 U.S. Presidents, all in rhyming fashion.

6. Davy, Coconut Records
-Jason Schwartzman is closing in on that Renaissance Man title. Sure, he was great as Phantom Planet's drummer and had a nice solo at the end of Slackers, but who knew he was a one man band? On the brief, Beatles-inspired Davy, Schwartzman plays all of the featured instruments and crafts distinctly West Coast melodies with instantly catchy choruses. In addition to memorable turns in Funny People and Fantastic Mr. Fox, it's been quite a year for Max Fischer. Let's hope there's plenty more to come.

5. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix
-Impossibly catchy pop-rock from a band who, like the Coneheads, comes from France. Apparently Phoenix has been making quality music for years, waiting to break through, and this album did it for them in a big way. It's simply one solid jam after another, endlessly listenable, layered, and delightful.

4. The Ecstatic, Mos Def
-Regular readers will know my fondness for comeback stories and returns to form. Martin Scorcese's The Departed and Nas' Hip Hop Is Dead were top choices in their respective 2006 categories, and the love continues with Mos Def's long-awaited triumph. His novella of an album presents a worldly Mos, traveling the globe and having a damn good time. After the OK concepts of The New Danger and the unfortunate lack of just about everything (including promotion...or an album cover) on Tru3 Magic, it's wonderful to have Mr. Black on Both Sides back where he belongs.

3. Troubadour, K'naan
-The Somalian native delivers one of the year's best hip-hop albums, spitting fire better than most native English-speaking MCs. Sprinkle in a little Marley here, some metal there, and you've got a clear recipe for success. Perhaps the most versatile man on the mic (other than Mos Def, who appropriately guests along with Chali 2na, Maroon 5's Adam Levine, and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett), K'naan's fusion of cultures is an engaging musical journey, full of flavor and spirit. It's an album capable of converting even the most stubborn hip-hop hater, which is exactly what the struggling genre needs.

2. Dark Night of the Soul, Sparklehorse + Dangermouse
-Static King (and part-time Hayesville resident) Mark Linkous teams up with Music Industry's Most Wanted (interpret that how you will) for the year's most intriguing album that lives up to the hype. Co-sponsored by David Lynch (yes, that one), the talented pair recruit notable friends, including Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), and James Mercer (The Shins), who channel Linkous' lyrics over the sonic landscapes of Mr. Mouse while helping shape the tune with their own unique sounds. It's some of the most impressive music to come around in a long time, which only adds to the shame that it's not more widely distributed. EMI, likely still heated over The Grey Album's uncleared Beatles samples, are blocking the album's official release. NPR still has it streaming in its entirety, but I acquired a download from an undisclosed site and was fortunate enough to snag one of the 5,000 accompanying books, which could apparently turn my $30 investment into a $100+ profit, something I might look into. In the meantime, be sure to look into Dark Night of the Soul. It's a genuine musical experience.

1. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2, Raekwon
-Speaking of a return to form (at least in album-length form; he's been a scene-stealer for years), Raekwon takes us in a time machine back to '95 and unleashes the fury that made his debut a hip-hop classic. Everyone involved understands the potential greatness of the project and responds with their best. Jadakiss (the primary mafioso torchbearer), Beanie Sigel (free from prison!), Busta Rhymes (proving that he's not a complete bimbo), and the large majority of the Wu-Tang Clan are all lyrically hungry, while a Who's Who of producers (including Pete Rock, J Dilla, Marley Marl, Dr. Dre, and, naturally, RZA) back them up with absolutely shimmering tracks. But the real stars are Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, each seemingly at the absolute peak of their respective powers. It's the most sonically cohesive hip-hop album in years and ranks among Rip the Jacker, Hip Hop Is Dead, Blueprint, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below as the decade's finest.
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Best Books of 2009 [Dec. 23rd, 2009|04:40 pm]
If you'd like to read my reviews on any of the books I read this year, please visit my GoodReads page (and become a member yourself...and friend me on there so we can talk about books).

Best Books of 2009
1. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
2. Open by Andre Agassi
3. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
4. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
5. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
6. Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
7. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
8. Going to See the Elephant by Rodes Fishburne
9. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
10. The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

Honorable Mention
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Border Songs by Jim Lynch
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by John David California
The Associate by John Grisham
Stitches by David Small
Best American Comics of 2009, Ed. Charles Burns
Literary Life by Larry McMurtry
The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb
My Father's Tears and Other Stories by John Updike
Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! by Art Spiegelman
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (currently reading)

Best Books not from 2009, but Read in 2009
The Likeness and In The Woods by Tana French
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Indignation by Philip Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Serana by Ron Rash
Saturday by Ian McEwan
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
On Writing by Stephen King
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
How Fiction Works by James Wood
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Invisible by Paul Auster
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed

Disappointments of 2009
The Women by T.C. Boyle
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
The Humbling by Philip Roth

To Read from 2009
Under the Dome by Stephen King
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord
War Dances by Sherman Alexie
Ford County by John Grisham
Game Six by Mark Frost
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford
Columbine by David Cullen
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga
Book of Rhymes by Adam Bradley
Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
How to Rap by Paul Edwards
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On Cats [Dec. 21st, 2009|09:21 am]
"Cats is smart, allowed the old man. Course it could of been a common everday housecat. They'll tear up anything they come up on, a cat will. Housecats is smart too. Smarter'n a dog or a mule. Folks thinks they ain't on account of you cain't learn em nothin, but what it is is that they won't learn nothin. They too smart. Knowed a man oncet had a cat could talk. Him and this cat'd talk back and forth of one another like ary two people. That's one cat I kept shy of. I knowed what it was. Lots of times that happens, a body dies and their soul takes up in a cat for a spell. Specially somebody drowned or like that where they don't get buried proper" - The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy (227).
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