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LITERATURE» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
The Bundles - The Bundles (K)
Like Jonathan Richman, or more accurately, the Velvets' underrated third-in-command Moe Tucker, Kimya Dawson is a cult artist without a cult--wave that Juno soundtrack at me and I'll ask K for the Bundles' sales figures. And unlike Jonathan Richman, she's unlikely to ever outgrow it. Her antifolk supergroup with Jeffrey Lewis follows a children's record called Alphabutt with a "fuck school" anthem that also praises pizza bagels. But it's amazing how great that shambolic amateurism sounds with a band again: "Pirates Declare War" (with a bassline!) is the most she's rocked out since "Downloading Porn With Davo" and "Who's Got the Crack?" both 2001 with the Moldy Peaches, who no one called sensitive. "Ishalicious" she even caricatures a macho voice to try and match the Nuggets-worthy garage-'n-soul beneath. If it stood a chance to convert anyone, this is where you could say her appeal is beyond lyrics. "Shamrock Glamrock" is one of those displays of guitar so singularly amateur and off-the-cuff it accidentally sounds like Ali Farka Toure. Now name a Daniel (or Calvin) Johnston record where you hear that.
Nas & Damian Marley - Distant Relatives (Universal Republic/Def Jam)
"We tryin' to build some schools in Africa with this one," says a man who's assuredly no longer bragging to Large Professor about his Tech on the dresser. Is the boring music Nas' problem if he claims it's intentional, to undistract you from the words? Here it sort of becomes one, though I really mean it when I say you should go back to that record he almost named the n-word. After all, how many "boring" records had more than one of the most musically pleasurable songs of the 2000s? Besides, it's not spareness that's why you wouldn't revisit this often if you like it at all--his simmering Wu-Tang feature "Let My Niggas Live" had little music in there at all. It's the arena-rock sensibility, the "only the strong will continue/ do you have it in you" that makes these the least ingratiating jock jams ever. Reggae singing, crunch guitars, maudlin pianos, the attractive synth-wave violins of "Tribal War"...it could all be much worse, and "As We Enter" is a swinging intro. But they could learn something about showmanship from guest star K'Naan, whose own Coca-Cola-sponsored Olympics hit is really worth waving a flag to.
Freeway & Jake One - The Stimulus Package (Rhymesayers)
A man obsessed, Freeway's flaunting every last Benjamin all the way to the unemployment line. Naming his most lo-fi release ever The Stimulus Package, encasing it in a fake CD wallet with fake dollar bills, and threatening to stick your mom for her riches, someone permanently dialed 1-900-HUSTLER and left the phone off the hook. Is he overly concerned with snitches? Yes, he is a rapper. But the reason Freeway was once next in line for Jay-Z's Roc-a-Fella vanguard was about delivery, and he exuberantly pumps up tracks like "Microphone Killa" and "One Foot In" with a flair only a dolla-chasing rapper could ever bring to Rhymesayers. Best of all though, Jake One gives him the most unusually gorgeous production of his career, with drums pattering like rainwater and orchestral piano swooshes like Kanye gearing up again to make a Common album sound like the ultimate J Dilla, only further. In fact, it's a rap record that resembles nothing so much as the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin.
Quasi - American Gong (Kill Rock Stars)
Sam Coomes is Freeway's polar opposite in every way. Besides his minorly formidable status as a non-rapper from the West coast, Coomes hates the hustle so much he even wrote a seven-minute morality play likening it to selling one's soul in 1999 and one about breathing happiness in Jetsons-like bubble homes the year before. But don't think the recession hasn't worn even more enamel from his weary bones. Barely able to tickle the fuzzed-out keys of his Roxichord anymore, world-class drummer and ex-wife Janet Weiss cheers him on in sludgy one-handed guitar bursts here--the first one's called "Repulsion." Screech-and-jangle that peaks on a token country raver -- that's what I call the 90s album of the year no matter what Blink-182 records Wavves cites as influences.
Jaill - That's How We Burn (Sub Pop)
Sub Pop's second truly ignored debut this year is being roundly damned with respectable ratings that shrug and stop at its lack of originality. But none of them actually seem to mention who it's supposed to be aping. I'll help: it's as tight and tuneful as Surfer Blood with the clever chord changes of Blitzen Trapper, without sounding at all like either. In fact, I've never heard their triangulation of bar-band twang-rock intercut with odd key-change riffage before--late highlight "Demon" is a perfect example, with a bright and shiny guitar hook ribboning out from an otherwise uncontrolled, yet sprightly arrangement. But then the straight, flatfoot "How's the Grave" could be the Gaslight Anthem, by way of the Nerves. "Everyone's Hip" lives up to its title's inclusive angularity just as "Summer Mess" lives up to its title's back porch dementia. "She's My Baby" breaks rank though, with bizarro dissonance you wouldn't expect of a song called "She's My Baby," with a coiling hook and a surprisingly rockabilly guitar break. As indie-rock grab bags go, it'll do you better than the new Wolf Parade. Respectable indeed. But also fast, surprising, bursting.
Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Contrary to popular belief, this isn't the best rap album in years. Underrated DOOM, Ghostface and Serengeti last year see to that. But it 1) is Big Boi's best album after Stankonia and 2) he didn't need the glorious Andre 3000 reunion "Royal Flush" to get there. It might even be the best rap album of 2010 if you're as okay with the man's inability to change the world (or the industry) as he is. Big Boi's rhymes are humble, in-check, but not placeholders. His ability to rhyme them is to play double-dutch with syllables, jumping them back and forth with his jaw and stripping down the essential rhythm of good funk into cadences and breathing. Musically he's downright cornucopic: Ennio Morricone whistling, hard-block piano, talkbox and wah guitar on the intro alone, with back-to-back "Follow Us"-"Shutterbugg"-"General Patton"-"Tangerine" waiting in the wings. A three-song middle snag excepted and the finale beats it out with George Clinton smoking in your face, Gucci Mane outshining and outgrinding a heavenly soul sample and General Patton's own back-up plan to back up his back-up plan. These days it's better to bet on the back-up planning artist than the world-changing artist.
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.
See other articles by Dan Weiss.
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