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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!
Tonex certainly lays it on thick. His 2004 double album, Out Of the Box, received a Grammy nod for Best Soul Gospel Album and won him a bunch of awards. Since then, he's been preaching at his father's church and planning his comeback. Unspoken (Battery Records) finds him back behind in front of the microphone with an r'n'b-heavy effort that is as silky as it is cheesy. There are some more spirited tracks, such as the opening "Fiyah," with a beat that sounds kind of like a Neptunes throwaway. And "Love Me 4 Me" has a thumping Timbaland-style beat under more sugary vocal thrills. But overall, hip-hop heads will probably pass this one by.
The latest post-humus J Dilla release is called Dillanthology Vol. 1 (Rapster). This is a collection of his production work for other groups, including De La Soul's "Stakes is High," Common's "The Light," and The Pharcyde's "Drop." Any hip-hop fan probably has most of these tracks on their original albums, but it is nice to hear them all together in this compilation. Is this another attempt to market the late, great producer's legacy? Maybe, but it's a legacy worth remember.
Pigeon John and Flynn Adams have teamed up as Rootbeer for a new EP, The Pink Limousine EP (Cornerstone RAS). I really wanted to like this one, but there's something a bit Black Eyed Peas about it. The first track, "Chimpanzee," showcases the interesting production found throughout, acoustic guitar strumming set against synths and monkey noises. But by the second track, "Girlies," the party vibe is feeling a bit forced and shallow. Trust me, there is nothing wrong with feel-good music, but the pop conventions here seem to outweigh the individual talents that both members have in abundance.
The Living Legends' Eligh has undertaken an ambitious project with his mother, Jo Wilkinson, called On Sacred Ground: Mother and Son (Legendary Music). Taking cues both from Wilkinson's folk music background and Eligh's underground rap oeuvre, this is unlike anything else you've heard. Guests like The Grouch, Pigeon John, and Slug help push the hip-hop, but tracks like "Angels" are straight-up folk anthems. Some of the conventions are a little clichéd, but overall this release works for its sincerity and Eligh's spot-on production.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have Eligh once again, this time teaming up with The Grouch for Say G & E! (Legendary Music). This is an interesting album with some excellent production from Flying Lotus ("Old Souls") and some questionable use of what sounds like AutoTune ("Teach Me The Way"). Rick Ross and Zion I's Amp Live also step in as producers, although Eligh can definitely handle his own. The best moment, or at least the most interesting production-wise, comes during "Worried About The World." The song samples Band of Horses' "The Funeral," an unexpected but effectively eerie choice. Overall, this album features the same old school but forward-thinking hip-hop the LL crew has given us time and time again.
The newest MC to come out of Detroit isn't exactly that new… Finale will release A Pipedream And A Promise (Interdependent Media) this month, the culmination of seven years of hard work. Featured producers include Black Milk, Nottz, J Dilla, Oddisee, and Khrysis. Combine that talent with Finale's gruff flow, and this is one worth checking out. From the grimy '70s funk of "Pay Attention" to the warbling synth bleeps of "The Waiting Game," Finale is aiming high.
The Bay Area's Kero One is a DIY success story. The MC/producer self-released his first single in 2003, sent it out to a few stores, and was immediately snapped up by a Japanese label, becoming a sensation in that country. He has since transferred his popularity to this country, but judging by his second album, Early Believers (Plug Label), I'm scratching my head as to why. From the album's lead track, "Welcome To the Bay," Kero One sets himself up as the Hall and Oates of hip-hop - bland, smooth, "positive," and only slightly funky. His beats rely heavily on a smooth jazz backdrop mixed with shades of neo-soul and house, and his rhymes are unspectacular. I guess I can understand his appeal to those tired of the violence and sexism that dominates much of hip-hop's lyrical content, but this just isn't doing it for me.
Back to the gritty… Coalmine Records will release The Foundation this month, a compilation produced entirely by Germany's Shuko and mixed by DJ Dutchmaster, featuring guest spots from Heltah Skeltah, Talib Kweli, Canibus, the underused Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Hell Razah. The mix kind of reminds me of DJ Green Lantern, but that's a compliment, not an accusation. The beats are sometimes run-of-the-mill dark and gloomy, but they are brisk and energetic, and every MC involved sounds up to the task. Dutchmaster does a good job bringing it all together as well.
LA's MC Kahlee's new album, Man of Many Hats, joins the ranks of the West Coast underground with a unique vision and statement. Kahlee has previously worked with Cypress Hill's Sen Dog, but he seems completely comfortable stepping out on his own. His slightly squealing voice doesn't hide the emotion and grit present in his rhymes, which are enhanced by surprisingly accomplished production work for such a low-key release. Featured guests include Wild Child, Free Speech, and Q-York.
I was fully prepared to completely write off Big B's latest, American Underdog (Suburban Noize). This 330-lb. Las Vegas rapper is on the Kottonmouth Kings' label, for starters. But somehow, his fusion of blues rock and trashy white hip-hop works in its uniquely stupid way. The album's intro track, "To The Moon," takes its cues from Everlast's singer-songwriter catalogue, but Big B doesn't sound half bad when he sings. "Hot Women" lowers the bar just a big with the repeated refrain, "Hot women! Cold beer!" I'm not saying I'm immune to the stuff, I'm just not gonna shout about it. Unwritten Law's Scott Russo shows up on "Sinner," but unfortunately it sounds like a Sugar Ray song. But Big B gotta be who Big B is, and no one's gonna hold him down.
El Michels Affair has recreated classic Wu-Tang tracks, or really the basis for their samples, with a great amount of skill and care. Enter the 37th Chamber (Fat Beats) finds the band obtaining that vintage soul sound covering songs like "C.R.E.A.M.," "Duel of the Iron Mic," and "Criminology." These songs aren't new to them, having backed Raekwon on tour before. But it's really impressive to hear vintage instruments without any cheesy synth tracks performing songs we all know and love.
OK, that's all for now, so until next month… e-mail with thoughts and insults, and send me yer shit! I'll listen to it. Glaciers is ghost like Casper.
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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