WELCOME TO THE FIRST ANNUAL PHAWKER JAZZ AND POP POLL The critics have spoken, the ballots have been cast, all chads undangled, and fed into a mainframe computer the size of an Olympic swimming pool, to be crunched with the hard calculus of SUCKS/DOES NOT SUCK and arranged in impenetrably dense type on a spreadsheet that stretches from your house to mine. Hey, who we kiddin’? We don’t even have a mainframe the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Yet. And 30,000 CDs are released every year and fuck you if you think we’re gonna listen to all of them or even act like we did. As such, this list pretends to be neither comprehensive nor definitive, it simply represents the music that made it through to our little corner of the world, meant something to us then and still does now.
ALBUM Of THE YEAR: LIVING WITH WAR NEIL YOUNG
If for nothing else, the courage of its convictions. If albums can still do anything, it’s make a statement, and this one stood up and spoke the unspeakable: Let’s impeach the president. There was a time when we would have thought the protest song had outlived its usefulness. Turns out no generation gets the protest songs it wants, it gets the protest songs it needs. Living With War is blog rock in the purest sense — or more accurately, it’s rock as blog. Brash, raw, immediate and already forgotten. Young dresses these songs up in his best distressed-jeans Freedom Rock — think Rust Never Sleeps’ garage-punk crunch — and reclaims the flag, Mom, apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way from the war pigs. But the most powerful moment is when that big, soulful choir does “America The Beautiful” — sounding fierce, wounded, and saddened but resolute. It contains multitudes: You can hear New Orleans drowning, you can hear the Towers falling and the bombs bursting in air over Baghdad. “We are the silent majority now, and we haven’t done a damn thing,” Young told the New York Times recently. “We’ve stood by and watched this happen. But there’s more of us than there is of them, and we have to do something. When people start talking and see they can get away with it, it’s going to happen everywhere. It’s going to be a landslide, it’s going to be a tidal wave. This is just the tip of it.” As fucked as things are, there is reason to believe we’ve finally reached the tipping point. Thankfully our forefathers were very wise men who wove into the fabric or our democracy hidden mechanisms to stop the slimy creep of fascism, like salt on a slug. One of them is free speech. Don’t laugh, it can stop tanks dead in their tracks.
SONG OF THE YEAR: “Day Dream” LUPE FIASCO (FEATURING JILL SCOTT)
We could gas on and on about why, but if a picture paints a thousand words, a YouTube paints a million…per second
PUNK FRIGGIN’ ROCK MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Stephen Colbert, The White House Correspondents Dinner
When Stephen Colbert hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner — the annual D.C. puppet show where reporters play pattycake with the Prez — he rode the Trojan Horse of Truthiness right up to the President’s table and unleashed its hidden contents: a disinfecting dose of reality-based reality, thinly-coated with irony for easier digestion, though impossible to swallow for those weaned on Fox News comfort food. Speaking truth to power at point blank-range, Colbert’s barbs essentially added up to: The emperor has no clothes, and all of you, the Fourth Estate, have become nothing more than royal dressers. No wonder Colbert’s performance was greeted with pin-drop silence and muzzled in the coverage of the event. ‘Tis is a sad day for the Republic when the job of truth-telling falls to the clowns. Good night, and good luck!
AMY WINEHOUSE Rehab
UK songstress Amy Winehouse packs a solid soulful punch with this 60s-era era throwback on a non-traditional theme-addiction and recovery. Sounds like Nina Simone soaked in Phil Spector and tossed in a blender with The Supremes. Stunningly upbeat stuff, smile-inducing for even the most miserable hipster. (Tommy Zane)
BECK The Information
As a boy I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when I grew up, but now I’m thinking I wanna be Nigel Godrich. Seriously, the “It” boy producer’s life is most people’s idea of a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp. Just take a look at his day planner for the last couple of years. Monday: Give Paul McCartney edge. Tuesday: Dial back Thom Yorke’s edge. Wednesday: Make Beck a man. Ironically, it’s the latter who suffers the greatest cred deficit these days. Some say Beck jumped the shark back at Midnite Vultures. Others lost faith when they found out he was a member of the same outer space cult as Tom Cruise. But The Information, Beck’s latest, renders all that moot. Think Paul’s Boutique meets The White Album — a sprawling, mesmerizing amalgam of dots nobody else would have thought to connect. I hear bits of Neu!, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Serge Gainsbourg’s proto-rap masterwork “Requiem Pour Un Con” and even old Beck, all passed through the most modern of sound filters and down digital trap doors, where they bounce around endlessly in the pomo hall of mirrors that is Beck Hansen’s soul, or at the very least an incredible simulation of one. The results are as arresting and ambitious as anything he’s released to date. (JV)
BELLE & SEBASTIAN The Life Pursuit
Twee, for those that don’t mark key points in their lives by the semi-obscure Scottish b-sides you were listening to at the time, is a Brit euphemism, a baby talk mispronunciation of the word “sweet” referring to something unbearably precious. The term actually dates back to the dawn of the 20th Century and was usually used in the pejorative, but in the mid-80s, a gaggle of jangly Glaswegian indie-poppers adopted the term as a badge of honor. The polar opposite of Twee is Lad, or laddishness, which has the same Maxim raison d’tre in England as it does here: get drunk, screw something, preferably a female, and barring that, come last call, kick the shit out of someone, preferably smaller than you.Twee-versus-lad is basically the latest skirmish in the mods-versus-rockers war that’s been going on since the ’60s. The haircuts may change, but the battle rages on. Ten years ago, when Belle & Sebastian released their Tigermilk debut, grunge was still, literally, all the rage. Rap-rock was ascendent. Scott Stapp, Fred Durst, Scott Weiland were the new alpha dawgs of rock, each destined for a bone of stardom they would all choke on eventually. They did it all for the nookie. While lads went out night after night and drank, drugged or fucked themselves into ass-clown status, the twee kids in Belle and Sebastian took care of themselves. They wore a scarf when it was cold. They got a good night’s sleep. They wore a Mack in the rain. They wrote and recorded songs with the dutiful regularity of homework and the giddy invention of a science fair project — or so goes the preciously crafted image. Truth is, twee kids like sex, do drugs, and even get drunk from time to time. Jocks may do it harder, but nerds do it longer. If rock n’ roll really is just high school with money, longevity is the revenge of the nerds — it’s like money in the bank. And while Scott Weiland is fronting a Gun’s N’ Roses tribute band, Scott Stapp is literally crying for a reporter from Rolling Stone, and Fred Durst is making cellphone cam porn tapes, Belle & Sebastian are on top of their game, sounding younger than yesterday, still making pure pop for now people. (JV)
BOB DYLAN Modern Times
Dylan got his songs the old-fashioned way — he earned them. Busy being born, busy dying and now busy being reborn. He’s seen it all at least twice. Those lines in his face? There are entire novels in each and every one—which is why Modern Times will fit comfortably next to Love and Theft and Time out of Mind on the library shelf on which are stocked uncommonly good late-period trilogies by cowboy-hatted American masters. (JV)
BONNIE PRINCE BILLY
The Letting Go
Fifteen years after being written off as an Appalachian faker, Will Oldham has quietly mastered his craft as a songwriter and performer delivering his most consistent disc yet. Oldham rises and falls with his choice of collaborators, and with Dawn McCarthy of freak folkers Faun Fables filling the Emmylou slot and dramatic strings by Bjork/Philip Glass arranger Nico Muhly, the Bonnie Prince invests a deepening gravity into his oblique Biblical ballads. (Dan Buskirk)
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT
Brightblack Morning Light
Living in a hippie hole somewhere in the aromatic cannabis orchards of Northern California, Brightblack Morning Light are firmly in the tradition of Opal/Mazzy Star — rubbery Rhodes clangor, tremolo-ripple bass, woozy slide guitar, sex-fogged vocals and whole lot of crystal blue persuasion — but with a much more adventurous approach to rhythm, poly- or otherwise. In fact, perhaps in a bid to keep the non-high from getting bored, Brightblack sometimes employs the neat trick of making the drums play twice as fast as the rest of the song, giving the proceedings a disembodied dub vibe. Think a Calder mobile, or Ladies and Gentlemen -era Spiritualized with a mesmerizing boy-meets-girl harmonic convergence replacing Jason Pierce’s tinny warble. Wonderfully dreamy, blissed-out stuff.(JV)
The Seeger Sessions
Easily the best Springsteen album, E Street Band or no E Street band, since Nebraska. The problem heretofore was that there were only two kinds of Bruce: Springsteen that’s good for you and Springsteen that feels good — jugband or “Jungleland.” There was either the big rolling chromewheelfuelinjected rock n’ roll hot rod of the E Street Band or there were these solemn folk records, the musical equivalent of the Boss riding one of those old-timey bicycles with the big front tire. Problem is, people in Jersey think those bikes are gay. The unintended irony is that despite The Boss’ efforts to the contrary, those big arena-rockin’ bar band anthems are the folk music — you know, music for folks — and the folkie records are kinda for highbrows and elites. At best, those records and shows are endured, if not flat-out ignored, by your 700 Level sittin’ working man, who waits patiently for another brewski-hoistin’ E Street album or tour. The Seeger Sessions will change all that. It’s fuckin’ hoot: Dixieland stomps, blue grass highs, mountain rags, porchfront hoedowns, pass the jug-a-wine gang-yell singalongs. It’s gonna sound great up on lawn seats, where we will join arm in arm, beers in hand, and sway. And on this much we will agree: That we think we’re so clever classless and free, but we’re still fuckin’ peasants as far as we can see. Still, we shall overcome. Someday. (JV)
What binds these two is a borderline artistic personality: blurry, unstable self-images mood swinging in and out of recognizability. Are they who they sing they are? For Destroyer this is a parlor game, for Cat Power it’s closer to a plea for medication. Destroyer is essentially Dan Bejar, inscrutable weird-beard Vancouver pop savant, perhaps better known for contributing the best songs on New Pornographers albums. Every Destroyer album seems to have amnesia about the one that came before — it could be shambling, pretzel-twist indie-pop; could be guitar-less synth-pap or it could be classic rock burlesque. But each can be counted on for any number of things: nimble playing, verbal jousting, eviscerating wit, rug-pulling plot twists, absurd putdowns, ridiculous assertions, outrageous dares, unnanswered prayers, curses and imprecations, tasty licks and a few killer hooks. If ever there was a songwriter who writes for the critics, it’s Bejar. And the funny thing is critics give themselves hemorrhoids trying to explain the why and the what-it-all-means, but with Bejar that’s beside the point. Mostly, he’s just fucking with you. And still they soft-shoe around their typewriters like vaudeville hams, desperately trying to pull the Titanic out of a top hat. Bejar chuckles at their tongue-tied folly and shrugs. “I’m just another West Coast maximalist exploring the blues, ignoring the news,” he sings on the new album as if daring them to drop it in the review, before pirating the ghost ship of Neil Young’s “Down By The River.” On The Greatest, Cat Power is just another Southern folk-blues minimalist exploring R&B who makes the news when she gets spooked and cancels a tour. Cat Power is, of course, the lovely Chan Marshall, 10 years into an acclaimed career as indie’s most spellbinding, yet easily freaked, folkie. Her new album finds her working with a cast of Memphis soul session legends, guys with names like Teenie and Flick who’ve backed up the likes of Al Green, Booker T. and Aretha Franklin. She recorded in Ardent studios, birthplace of Big Star’s Sister Lovers, the Rosetta Stone of artily damaged mope-rock. But this time out she never sounds mopey or damaged, having traded her Ophelia-with-a-guitar persona for Dusty In Memphis’ white go-go boots. If it sounds like a mid-career stab at being a grown-up, she wears it well. Sure, grown-ups can be a little drifty and dull at times, but they don’t flub their lines and they finish their songs like the vegetables on their plate. (JV)
“Hell Hath No Fury”
With their long-delayed sophomore push, the boys in Clipse have seemingly ensured themselves a hefty percentage of the next Grand Theft Auto soundtrack. That’s if RockStar sees what I hear in “Hell Hath No Fury,” because if there ever was an album that personified the feeling of crusing seedy backstreets where scores of pedestrians can be mowed down at a moment’s notice, then shit man, this is it! Shockingly minimalist, with an intellectualized nasty streak all but absent in hip-hop this year, it’s the sonic equivalent of a Michael Mann film — sleek and moody, with a side of “soulful heart” and WAY WAY WAY more cocaine. (James Doolittle)
At War With The Mystics
Having become sentient in the mid-70s, somewhere in the middle of that vast mountainous Pennsyltucky between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, I had a front row seat to one of the places where the 60s went to die: the hinterlands. While more cosmopolitan zip codes were sampling disco, cocaine, Members Only jackets and punk, all I could see growing up was ex-greaser shitkickers in dirty bellbottoms, Greg Brady haircuts, faded Dark Side of The Moon T-shirts and knocked-up girlfriends in peasant dresses billowing with pre-natal pulchritude, blasting Zep, Floyd and Yes in souped-up Camaros as they raced off to yet another kegger in the woods. I have it on good authority that the Flaming Lips grew up under similar circumstances in Oklahoma City. And much of their early career sounds like a band failing wonderfully to recreate their older brother’s classic rock album collection — without the pedigree, chops, major label magnanimity or luck of being at the right place at the right time that helped make so much of that music unforgettable. By the early 90s, they had that discovered syrupy melody and radio-ready precision only complimented their appetite for noise and whimsy. By the late 90s, they had fully copped to their love of gatefold prog-rock, which was only then recovering a measure of respectability after years of punk’s libelous whispering campaign. By the 21st Century, the Lips had fully embraced electronica, J-pop and pumping house music, and ingeniously grafted the best elements of those to recreate their tangerine dreams. At War With The Mystics — how’s that for a zeitgeist-capturing title? — finds the Lips re-calibrating the ratios of clicks/buzzes/BPMs to classic hesher-rock, striking a balance that older rockist fans will more pleasing all the while retaining the gravity-defying superpowers that point-and-click production techniques afford mere mortal guitar-bands. As such, the album should please all facets of the Lips surging constituency: the ex-ravers that have seen the light; indie-rockers in search of father figures; aging acid casualties still trying to go further; and the people that choose music for commercials. Yet another reminder that the Flaming Lips’ psychedelic hot air balloon is still the most reliable transport to book when you wanna go somewhere over the rainbow.(JV)
Screw everything else that Q102, MTV and “The O.C.” attempted to break in ’06 — with Gnarls Barkley in the room, there was little space for commercially certified crap to collect. After wandering aimlessly since jettisoning himself from the Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo Green finally got his groove back, proving himself equally adept at working up a gospel fervor as laying claim to a Violent Femmes cover. But perhaps the most notable notable in regards to St. Elsewhere is that the cross-genre mastery of Danger Mouse’s production was truly something that everyone could get behind, be they hipsters, funkheads, soul daddies or your best friend’s mom. The ubiquitous “Crazy” was just the jumping off point for an album that proved “populist” isn’t a dirty word anymore. It really isn’t. (James Doolittle)
Hot Chip might be the M of our times and that’s good enough for me. It reminds me of being 10 years old and on rollerskates, dreaming of New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody talk about mmmm pop music. I wanted to be the new wave mannequins in the video and I wanted to be pop music. I still do. (Sara Sherr)
LADY SOVEREIGN Public Warning
So here’s the thing about short women. If you’re 5’1″ and weighing anywhere below the mid-100s, you’re always fighting for space. In a crowd, you have to declare your space and fight for it. You have to walk, dance, talk faster than everyone else. Or else you’ll be jostled, punched (usually by accident), interrupted –- usually by taller dudes checking out taller women. You do things not to be noticed so much, but for survival and space. That’s why we’re likely to make unusual and colorful hair and fashion decisions. So it’s no surprise that Lady Sovereign became a star and this is why there should be more short female rappers with big mouths and bigger ponytails. I wanna carry her around in my purse and pull her out the next time someone steals my space. If you love me then, thank you! If you hate me then fuck you! Love me or hate me, its still an obsession. (Sara Sherr)
LOVE IS ALL
Nine Times That Same Song
The postpunk thing is probably done to death, but that’s mainly because most bands haven’t done it right. The Gang of Four rack at the Retromart is picked clean, but most groups haven’t spent enough time on the women’s side of the store: The Slits, Delta 5, Kleenex/Lilliput, Mo-dettes, The Raincoats. Not only do those sounds look good on almost anyone, there’s room enough for your own personality, and it has nothing to do with being cool enough. In fact, the less cool you are, the better. Who invented typical girls? When I saw Love Is All open for The Go! Team at the Starlight Ballroom earlier this year, I fell in love. I was standing next to teenagers who could have been my children but I felt like I was 16 too. Singer/keyboardist Josephine Olausson has a voice full of wide-eyed innocence and possibility, especially on songs like “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” which should be an anthem. She chirps the title over marching band drums and rubbery basslines straight out of the white mouse disco, as if falling out and making up are the easiest things in the world to do. Play this song as a peace offering if you need it. If you don’t make up or make out, at least you’ll be dancing. (Sara Sherr)
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
The fifth album from Case in nearly twice as many years marks her emergence as a major player. Long praised for her leather-lunged, clarion tone — like God’s private car alarm, some have opined — and take-exactly-no-shit-from-anybody chutzpah, Case reveals herself to also be a cunning linguist. Some have taken issue with the album’s elliptical ambiguities and animal kingdom allegories, but I think they push her whole act into wholly original territory, an intriguing X-factor that sets off the relative familiarity of the settings: spare desert-blown Americana from the Calexico/Giant Sand savants, deep-bottom guitar twang from the Sadies, the Band’s Garth Hudson’s spectral organ and piano, and miles and miles of reverb. But it is Case’s voice that pulls this train through the tunnel, over and over again.(JV)
ROGUE TRADERS “Voodoo Child”
Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” gets a new re-working on this souped up, irresistible dance track. Even the biggest disco haters can’t sit still when this new wavey
cut blares out of the speakers. Gorgeous Australian blond bombshell and British TV “Neighbours” soap star Natalie Bassingthwaighte heats up the vocals as well as the music video. If electro rock this good is the future, sign me up front and center. (Tommy Zane)
Still Valentine’s Day 1969: The Matrix, San Francisco
Rising in the early sixties alongside the now legendary John Fahey, Sandy Bull skipped between guitar, banjo and out to mix folk, rock and ragas into lengthy jams that predated rock’s first dabblings in similar exotica. Producing only four LPs before disappearing from the scene for a decade and a half, this newly unearthed live set is the most revealing example of his visionary genre-bending fusion. Drawing his repertoire from the four B’s (Bach, Luiz Bonfa, Chuck Berry and himself) Bull shines brightest when he straps on his electric guitar, distilling the reverb-soaked tone of Pops Staples into a gorgeously lonesome pulsating sob. (Dan Buskirk)
Spare 80’s electro beats grimed up and coated with Vaselined lewdness became downright transportive with the endlessly inventive debut from the inter-racial duo of producer Exxchange and rapper MC Naeem Juwan (aka Spank Rock). While the background whizzes and whirrs like a malfunctioning Terminator, Spank’s rhymes ridiculous old-school boasts and tongue-lapping come-ons while high as a kite behind his GameBoy. Such unforgivable slackness hasn’t sounded this fun and revolutionary since the first Beastie Boys disc crashed in the mountainside. (Dan Buskirk)
TV ON THE RADIO, Return to Cookie Mountain
From the minute Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere dropped in June, it seemed a foregone conclusion in my mind that the disc would top the year’s best-of lists — including my own. It just seemed like the easy, logical choice, and to be fair, most of the disc bore out the promise of “Crazy.” But it bothered the hell out of me — especially after I heard the Kidz Bop version of the single. (That’s the family-friendly, thoroughly evil series that complies mixes of chart-topping hits, re-recorded “by kids, for kids.”) By Labor Day weekend, I’d figured out that despite Cee-Lo’s heart-and-loins tugging singing and Danger Mouse’s mastery of the latest incarnation of old school soul, there was something just short of brilliant, just the teensiest bit unsatisfying, about St. Elsewhere. And truth be told, I almost felt guilty about it — wasn’t this supposed to be the 2006’s masterpiece? It wasn’t until weeks later, listening to TV On the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, that it became clear that no amount of wizardly production or dj skill can withstand the challenge of a song like “A Method,” which employs hand claps, whistles and the judicious use of wooo oooo oooo-ing to produce a multi-layered, entirely original feast. But it’s a meal not to be hastily, or easily, consumed; and a good reading of the lyrics will help with the digestion. The purposely awkward dissonance of “I Was a Lover” makes a lot more sense when taken with the lyrics, which speak of that feeling of being fundamentally altered, by war or love or heartbreak, or all three.Of course the trendy backlash came hard on the heels of the initial critical love-fest, and that’s OK. I remain buoyed by the assurance that “Wolf Like Me” won’t show up on the next volume in the Kidz Bop! library. (Amy Z. Quinn)
Were this, say, 1976 in Philly, this Aussie power trio’s long-player, complete with a groovily mythic-looking cover by illustrator Frank Frazetta, would be as ubiquitous as a Levi’s jean jacket, feathered hair and a pack of Marlboro reds among the WYSP hard rocker crowd. In 2006, that level of cultural penetration can be gauged by the number of album tracks that show up, in various forms, on TV. “Woman,” the uncomplicated headbanger that has become the band’s most recognizable song, has been sliced, diced and sampled into a musical shorthand for T&A. But given the intervening 30 years and Wolfmother’s youth, singer Andrew Stockdale, a wiry lad with Young Ozzy’s voice and Young Robert Plant’s stage presence, doesn’t seem so much a throwback as a direct descendant. Songs like “Joker & The Thief” are so ’70s it hurts, but if you weren’t around to hear this kind of rock the first time around, consider it a Cliffs Notes version. Yes, there are moments where even the most casual listener can pinpoint a nod to this or that entry in the Classic Rock canon (“Where Eagles Have Been” and “Colossal” are the best examples of this), but it doesn’t seem so much a ripoff as a natural evolution — the sum total of months spent recording in L.A.-area studios that also birthed “The Wall,” “Nevermind” and “Rumors.” It’s just a hell of a rock album. (Amy Z. Quinn)
MY TOP POP EPHEMERA OF 2006
BY ED KING When you’ve seen what I’ve seen, and you’re never sure anymore just what may stick from now until your dying day, you learn to enjoy life’s ephemeral moments for all they’re worth. In due time, the bloom will be off the rose. In some cases, over the past year, the bloom has already left the building. Herewith are my Top Ephemeral Pop Moments of 2006.
JOANNA NEWSOM Ys
Show of hands, please: Who else found Mackenzie Phillips’ annoying kid sister character in American Graffiti kind of hot and wished that Paul LeMat’s Milner character would drop his noble rebel pose and give the girl the ride she deserved? As I listen to Ys, Joanna Newsom’s new rallying call for indie guys who love art school girls, sadly for the most part, from afar, and as I work hard to tune out constantly repeated critical buzz phrases like “classically trained” and “Van Dyke Parks,” I’m reminded of the desire my young, twisted teenage heart felt for homely kid sister Carol. I’m also reminded of the desire my slightly older, more twisted heart felt for the character I imagined in the music of Kate Bush’s The Dreaming. Later Bjork would briefly wield this power over me and for a briefer time yet, Victoria Williams. It’s the musical equivalent of falling for one of the awkward ugly ducklings nearing the end of her duckling phase in a Robert Altman film, say Shelley Duvall in Thieves Like Us or Sissy Spacek in 3 Women. As aural erotica for guys with certain tastes, Newsom is This Year’s Model. Musically, however, it’s all the greasy, pimply, gum-snapping, precociousness that Milner should have reigned in and developed. I didn’t suffer through high school working toward the overthrow of Journey, Kansas, and Styx so that young people today could get their groove on to something that sounds like a late-80s Nonesuch release of modern-day practitioners of madrigals. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool scoring the free copy of said Nonesuch release from the book store where I worked back then, but its use on mix tapes was limited. The Dreaming served me well, even introduced me to a few of those characters I’d imagined lurking in its songs, but they weren’t my destination. I had my own drive to complete. Like Milner, I’d keep my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel.
BECK ON SNL
So good to see this guy dropping the up-close-and-personal thing from a few albums ago and putting out some fun music again. The make-your-own cover art is brilliant, and that SNL performance — in which his bandmates played percussion at a dinner table, the whole act being mirrored by marionettes — was the sort of moment this modern age should exist to serve.
ROCK N’ ROLL ON WXPN
With the inclusion of Y100 programming, lists totaling the 885 Greatest Whatevers, features like Highs in the ’70s, and the addition of The Geator with the Heater, WXPN has slowly embraced rock ‘n roll with a big beat. Those 885 Greatest Whatever weeks invariably include stuff like Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols, which must stir the atrophied loins of people who flocked to past Singer-Songwriter Weekends to see folksy chicks with three WASP-y names and balding guys in berets and wire-rim glasses. Can you dig it? Now ditch Michaela Majoun and get my man Dan Buskirk back on the station before my buzz wears off.
THE OK GO TREADMILL VIDEO
For the first 2 minutes of the popular “Here It Goes Again” clip, I felt like I truly belonged to this modern age. I wanted to buy one of those iPods with a 2″ screen so I could download it and show it to all my friends! Then the song and the schtick went on and on, and I reached for my Stones vinyl.
I was shopping in San Francisco’s Amoeba records when the sound of acoustic guitars, searing dual fuzz leads, and Led Zeppelin III -style phased effects wafted through the store and made me feel like running out to the score some dirtweed and get high for the first time in years. I asked the store clerk who this was, only to find out it was an offshoot project by some guy from The Fucking Champs, or some such band I hear the kids dig! Damn, I felt hip! This is the kind of stuff my friends and I used to make up when stoned, sitting around a 4-track. The bloom is fading, I’m afraid to say, but I know if I can hang onto the slightest bit of it just long enough to play this album for a friend who now lives across the country, I may keep hope alive. “Nice Cuffs” [mp3]
MY MORNING JACKET “Christmas Curtain”
The first time I heard the new live version of this song on the somewhat rock resurgent XPN (see above), I was pulled in by the Classic Rock articulation of riffs that trace a path from Springsteen through U2 and back again. It was as if these influences were played through the filter of John Hughes’ breakthrough teen film. Before the second chorus, however, the initially endearing self-absorption and attention to grand gestures would lead to shameful remembrances of my own teenage years. I won’t tell you which member of The Breakfast Club I identified with. (MMJ + The Boston Pops, below)
HOLLA: 2006, THE YEAR IN
BY JAMES DOOLITTLE I can’t think of a better jumping-off point for ‘cappin’ ’06 in its ass than by replaying last week’s Monie Love/Young Jeezy dustup over Nas’ assertion that “Hip-Hop is Dead” – four sterling minutes of two C-listers having at it like in-laws at the Christmas table, fighting over the few chunks of dark meat left on the bird. In the case of the doings at WPHI, that means a whole lot of yelling, with well-timed sound effects supporting rickety platitudes. Personally, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry every time I hear Jeezy ask whether Nas “bus’ his own gun.” For all you new passengers who haven’t properly versed themselves in Jeezy’s brand of “thug motivation,” this means we’ve just arrived at the apex of inconsequence . . . unless you count Monie having to join me in the unemployment line, which, I’ll say for the record, I wouldn’t mind. Grrrrrrr.
But truthfully, I poke in jest at the conversation on the table because I’m gonna ride the fence on this one . . . but only because Nas is. As this year’s last big rap release (and with over 200,000 moved in its first week on the shelves, its last #1 album), “Hip-Hop is Dead” promotes an attempted idealization of the way things “used to be,” giving mad shouts to the heroes of yesteryear and pondering the community that the form was built around. That was way back, before mass consumption, mass commercialization, Diddy, MTV and Cristal, er, Krug. Yet the album still genuflects at the altar of The Now – 10 tracks longer than it should be, with a prerequisite Snoop Dogg appearance and the crafted polish of one Scott Storch. So obviously, hip hop ain’t THAT dead to Nasir. If it were, why play along?
But enough postulation. Cut through the bullshit, and what all the aforementioned playas are hemmin’ and hawin’ about is simply the inevitable growing pains that hip-hop is experiencing as it moves into its third decade in the public’s consciousness, especially in regards to now having to be so many things to so many different people. Basically, rap is where rock music was in the 70s, filled with Framptonesque personae and KISS-ish indulgence, the spectre of punk lurking just out of sight around the corner. A change is gonna come, and it’s gonna be sweet, so relax, my people’s people. If it were dead, then what the hell was all that good vibage we got from the likes of The Coup, The Roots, Clipse, Ghostface, Mr. Lif and the indelible Cee-Lo Green — music that kept us sated in ’06, living through a cold front dominated by a Sucker-Free Countdown that simply ain’t living up to its name.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the confusion. ‘Twas truly the year of the Hip-Hop Bewilderbeast, which for the record, I picture looking a lot like Tommy Lister if he co-starred in “The Howling”. Let’s review the obvious signs of the beast: The Three Six Mafia . . . Oscar winners?!? A subpar Outkast outing? Jay-Z making peace with Nas, but feuding with . . . Diamond Dallas Page? Russell Simmons vs. Ed Zwick? Not one shitty Ice Cube movie to be embarrassed about . . . I mean, WTF, right?
So, much like Al Gore (but lacking the knowledge of how to construct a PowerPoint presentation to prove it), I’m gonna lay an inconvenient truth out there for ya’ll: January’s debut of VH1’s “Flavor of Love,” where a hip-hop icon’s reputation was all but discarded in favor of concocting the most ungainly reality show ever, completely and utterly fostered this state of perplexity. And I would know, considering (A) my undying respect for Public Enemy, (B) my addiction to reality television, and (C) the time I spent watching each episode two, three, four times, working through the rotation with stunned glee, an analytical eye and a final sad determination that hip-hop — as both a musical force as well as a movement — is no different than any previous cultural tsunami. We so wanted it to be, and Nas obviously wanted it even more, but it ain’t. Eventually, even Flav sells out, and despite the fact that he played The Joker in Public Enemy’s multi-layered assault on the nation’s fabric nearly 20 years back, this dude still talked the talk about fighting the powers that be. But this year, he not only bent over twice (“Flavor of Love 2″ bowed in the fall), but he told a fine young mouthy thing named New York her time was up. “Cause if you askin’ why is hip-hop dead / there’s a pretty good chance you the reason it died man,” Nas exalts on “Hope,” with which my time is up. Flav, where’s my clock?