Alright kids, Matty G here with day two of the quarterly review. We've only got four albums for you today, because finals have squeezed my mindgrapes dry. So for you Shilzzz fans out there, soak up the extra juice he's giving you today and we'll both be back tomorrow for the final part of this Ken Burns rivaling series. Dig it.
(It's come to my attention that some of you aren't familiar with IMEEM. You see those little boxes at the bottom of each review? Click the big, green play button to hear the toons. No MP3s right now because we're poor and can't afford hosting. Deal with it.)
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Matty G: It took me a little while to warm up to this one, but then again I've never really dug anything associated with Animal Collective on the first listen. I caught the snipped of "Bros" when it first leaked and promptly deleted it. But Shilzzz and Thomas Hanks wouldn't shut the hell up about it, so I decided to give the album a shot. I listened to it once, then filed it away in the giant stack of CDs sitting on my desk. As I was getting ready to take a rather long drive one day, I was scanning the stack for something to play and decided to give Person Pitch another shot. I couldn't have planned a better combination of beautiful weather, country roads and feel-good jams if I tried. I was hooked.
"Take Pills" sounds breezy and laid-back until it breaks down and all of a sudden you're in the middle of JAM CITY. "I'm Not" come dangerously close to sounding like that Moby song that was used in the X-Files (at the end of the episode where Mulder finds out his sister is dead), but it's still one of my favorites. The lyrics are straightforward almost to a fault, but they're incredibly endearing in an entirely dorky way. Panda Bears blunt honesty and good vibery is something that I've been missing from music for a while. I read an interview with Panda Bear where he said that he thought walking old ladies across the street was really cool. I would hate him for being a hippie if he wasn't totally right.
Shilzzz: By far the album of the year, and honestly, unless Animal Collective really does release another full length this year, I can't see much fucking with the ranking. Nearly the perfect record. Someone, can't remember who right now, said this album sounds like if the Beach Boys (don't front, "Pet Sounds" was the ish) and Aphex Twin(or some electronic group) were having a party across the street, and that is about as apt as it gets.
For only having seven tracks, five were released as singles. "Bros" is twelve and a half minutes long, and I don't want it to stop. "Take Pills" seems to be an ode to the rest of his crew, and while the lyricism isn't profound or tricky, it is honest and cutting - something too many writers forget to be. While I wish I had bought the 12" for "Carrots" when in Chicago a while back so as to have that and "Good Girl" split up, it's for no good reason because it is great as one track. Does it get repetitive? Yes... but not to a fault as some suggest. It works, and the songs get stuck in my head for hours at a time. With the incredible melodies here, this is not a bad thing.
Menomena - Friend and Foe
Shilzzz: Another one that came out of nowhere. At first this was my shit. Very funky, as if parliament leaned more towards indie rock and their studio was in the middle of the gaza strip. One can easily hear Menomena's influences on "Friend or Foe"-- a marginally better disc than their debut "I am the Fun Blame Monster"-- which are spread widely, from DJ Shadow's "Private Press" on tracks like "Air Aid" when the bass and piano & effects get all deep green and static; they delve into something between a beatnik club where Amiri Baraka is spinning spoken word poetry and trolls humming beneath a bridge. There are Arcade Fire-esque church organs and strings on "My My" minus the fullness(lack of better word) of Win Butler's sound, even the vocals here are closer to Win than anywhere else, when the singer gently strokes his guitar and sings "what if everyone is right?" There are also hints of the Fridmann/Drozd drums sprinkled throughout.
Don't get me wrong when I say they sound like a million other bands -- this is not the worst possible thing, because Menomena, as a group, are a very creative band of motherfuckers. "Fun Blame Monster" had a flipbook for it's cover art, and this album's sleeve can be switched around into, iirc, 8 different covers, each different yet familiar and distinct. but although you don't listen to the cover, as cool as it may be, it is indicative of what the listeners find here: indie-rock gumbo, done as beautifully as can be done, whatever that means.
El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
Matty G: This thing sounds like the motherfucking apocalypse. El-P is one of those dudes you either love or hate, and I'm planted firmly on the "love" side. Maybe it's my own pessimistic tendencies, but I find the album's nihilism and despair totally engrossing. Themes of doom have always been present in El-P's music, even his beats, but he's never articulated this well before. He almost delights in pointing out the fact that humanity has totally and completely fucked itself.
Somewhere between Fantastic Damage and I'll Sleep... El-P actually learned how to rap. He wasn't really bad to begin with, but there are more quotables in "Tasmanian Pain Coaster" and "Drive" than almost all of Fantastic Damage. El-P has stepped up almost everything. His beats are more abrasive and fucked up than ever, but now there's an underlying melody and soul to them. I guess you have to have soul to begin with in order for it to be crushed. I'll Sleep... just reminds me of the time five or six years ago when Def Jux was consistently putting out great music that didn't sound like anything anyone else was even thinking of. The label has always existed on another plane than the rest of hip-hop, and I hope this is just the first step towards getting back to that.
Shilzzz: Anybody else ever seen the Def Jux 'Robots' DVD (ahhh, my EYE!!!)? It became blatantly obvious how bad a case of attention whore-icit disorder El-P has when he shuffled around his flat post 9/11 N.Y.C., talking about the apocalypse in jokes that were neither clever nor ironic. With that said, he does have a decent grip on what's going on around him: what art styles are hot, who is doing what in music, politics, and, seemingly enough, a decent taste in literature. Thusly, his label and signees are eccentric and often waaaay out in left field. It's funny to me that these guys are called "intelligent hip hop," and is maybe more of a case where dumbass white kids, in their ever fervent search for something out of the ordinary, latched onto jukies like Aesop and Can-Ox(Cage is in another league compared to these guys) after Rawkus Records' spot got blown. WARNING TO WHITE PEOPLE: BIG WORDS ALONE DOES NOT MEAN A RAPPER IS SAYING SOMETHING RELEVANT.
This is already long, I know, and have yet to get to the record. A perfect example of "I'll Sleep..." is "Smithereens." All of Producto's great taste is filtered through N.Y.C.-tinted lenses--everywhere you listen there is a taxi cab driving through construction and a bodega and a grandmother being mugged for her dentures and Derek Jeter dry humping Alex Rodriguez: just too many layers upon layers. But once the song is over, El-P drops the simple piano sample or whatever that one can tell the song resulted from, which is, other than hearing Chan Marshalls voice at some point, the high water mark of the record. Ain't that a bitch? It's better than his first solo album, but only marginally at the fringes. His use of vocal effects is interesting in the contexts of rap music, but not anything you didn't heard Radiohead do seven years ago, or better yet, Paul Wall more recently. He sounds like he wants to be good, and works really hard at being good, but wasn't born very good. plus he's still not exactly on beat, which is maybe the most frustrating part. WARNING TO WHITE PEOPLE: BEING OFF BEAT DOES NOT INHERENTLY MAKE YOU "ARTISTIC"...he has gotten better, and I'll give him credit for the work, but really, don't try so hard doggie. Oh yeah, before I forget, can we get a Cage and DJ Shadow full length? I'm salivating.
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
Shilzzz: I wish rock and roll people did direct disses like they do in rap. I severely want Ben Gibbard to dis Bright Eyes how Mr.'The Serial Killer's in 4E' Cam'ron did 50 Cent, on the song "Cuuuuuuuuuurtis." Connnnnnnnnor! Wake up. YOU ARE NOT BOB DYLAN. Folk is one thing, but COUNTRY MUSIC IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. Really. Much like El-P, one can tell that Oberst isn't necessarily Ramona Cordova when it comes to sincerity on the mic. But that is part of the reason why Conor Oberst is such a fascinating enigma: for all of is overplayed, behemoth-ist lyricism he still has the uncanny ability to pull at the listener's heart strings, so I continue to buy his work, even though the mixed feelings will always be there.
A couple years back Bright Eyes and them released two albums simultaneously: the folksy I'm Wide Awake and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Wide Awake holds a shit ton of nostalgic meaning to me, yellow bird and all, so while I do go back to that one, Digital... was more up my alley, musically, with it's dreamscape electronica. Cassadaga shows, now with a steady lineup in the band, which direction he fell. So it seems now, after the see-sawing of "Lifted" and earlier works, that the two previous were attempts to even out his work, and in that sense this album is successful. Where it fails is that it is, essentially, country music. It's no doubt bias alone,but I can't stand that shit. Tracks 3-7 work well, when he involves more string arrangements ("Soul Singer in a Session Band" is honestly great), but other than that, it's typical Conor fare, with a few long interludes that are totally unnecessary. Also, his voice, in spots, has grown incredibly strong. If you are a big Bright Eyes fan, you will probably like it. However,if you are on the fence with his work, you are probably going to fall on the side of not.
That's it for day two. Check back tomorrow for the final piece of the puzzle.