Monthly Archives: October 2011

October 2011 Consider/Avoid

Same format as the last time, with some surprising names falling in the avoid column. Laura Marling improved a quantum on her second album, and the Joni Mitchell-lite of her third is a letdown I didn’t see coming. Speaking of letdowns, Lil Wayne’s turgid post-prison comeback album—for me, the most disappointing of the year—doesn’t even sound like the work of the same freewheeling genius who gave us all those free mix tapes a few years back. Notable from the consider column: Steves Merritt (his album a collection of outtakes) and Malkmus (his a proper studio album) honor if not improve their own legacies, Bill Callahan’s pomo folk both impresses and grates, and truly evocative singers Feist and St. Vincent still leave me wanting more in the song department.
 
CONSIDER
Stephin Merritt: Obsucrities (“Forever and a Day,” “Plant White Roses,” “Take Ecstasy With Me”)
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Mirror Traffic (“Brain Gallop,” “Forever 28,” “Fall Away”)
Cymbals Eat Guitars: Lenses Alien (“Definite Darkness,”“Another Tunguska”)
Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (“Drover,” “Baby’s Breath”)
Feist: Metals (“Graveyard,” “A Commotion”)
Abigail Washburn: City of Refuge (“City of Refuge”)
St. Vincent: Strange Mercy (“Champagne Year”)
Matraca Berg: The Dreaming Fields (“South of Heaven”)
 ***
AVOID
Laura Marling: A Creature I Don’t Know
M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Earl Sweatshirt: EARL
Lil Wayne: Tha Carter IV
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Frank Ocean/Tyler, the Creator

Divisive LA crew Odd Future has been the rap story of the year; even New Yorker subscribers not necessarily known for their horror-core affinity have heard a thing or two about them. I’m in the camp that contends their glib shock-rap—especially that of leader Tyler, The Creator—goes absolutely nowhere. The exception is singer-in-residence Frank Ocean, whose voice will be familiar to anyone who’s heard Watch the Throne, and whose brainy brand of R&B is by far the greatest thing Odd Future hath wrought.

Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, Ultra
What this guy understands that his Odd Future cronies don’t is that real candor is more exciting than any blatant attempt to shock. It’s usually more shocking, too. “They say you can’t miss something you ain’t had/Well I can/I’m sad,” he says of the father he never knew and the grandfather he met once. If those words look flat on your screen, trust that they’ve got plenty of dimension when Ocean sings them. They’re also awfully soft for a guy whose key affiliation is with a gang of rape-and-pillagers. Other highlights on this debut mix tape include Ocean’s improvement of Coldplay and Eagles songs you’ll recognize, one about a lost weekend with a future dentist/current porn star that Ocean likens more to Novocaine than ecstasy, and another detailing his frustrations with the girls who turn off his copy of Kid A (“What is a Radiohead, anyway?”) in favor of Drake and Trey Songz, both of whose “songs for women,”Ocean is chagrinned to discover, said women prefer to his own. If all the above doesn’t make you want to know Ocean a little better, you’re aware of more innovative modern R&B than I am. He’s such a breath of fresh air that you wish he didn’t under-stay his welcome. Things end abruptly with his fantastic reworking of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” effectively reminding us that this is a mix tape, not an album. Other artists have blurred that distinction. Ocean nearly obliterates it. A-
***
The problem isn’t—as many have asserted—that this 20-year-old Odd Future ringleader is socially irresponsible; it’s that he’s boring. Tyler rapes and stabs his way through a coma-inducing 15 songs in 75minutes, the scope of his vision summarized thus: “kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” Forgive me if I like my rebel yells just a little more interesting than that. His “Random Disclaimer,” along with his introductory declaration that he is not a role model, along with pretty much everything he does, clearly evokes early Eminem, but this is closer in spirit to Relapse than The Marshall Mathers LP. Speaking of that one, wasn’t the whole point of Slim Shady raping his own mother even though they gave him the Rolling Stone cover—a near rhyme funnier and more shocking than anything here—to render moot the dull gross-out fantasies of dweebs like this? “Her,” in which Tyler discovers that even goblins can get stuck in the friend zone, comes as a relief not so much because it gives the goblin himself some depth, but because he leaves the ‘her’ in question unmolested for a change. “I’m fuckin’ radical! I’m motherfuckin’ radical!” he shouts at us, as if shouting alone made it so. C
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Arctic Monkeys/Old 97’s

Words up front, guitars not far behind.

Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See
Turns out the bludgeoning desert rock these normally nimble Brits turned in on 2009’s Humbug was just an aberration. Phew. Main Monkey Alex Turner weds quip to hook with far too much finesse to settle for brawn alone. A bit of Humbug’s heaviness remains, but it comes with the sorts of angular guitars and turns of phrase that marked the band’s surprisingly durable 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. And Turner, always precociously self-aware, is beginning to do genuine feeling almost as well as come-ons and kiss-offs. “Love Is A Laserquest” maps the moment young people start feeling old with a cartographer’s precision, and the title track—it’s British slang for “give it a try,” in case you were wondering—suggests that Turner may go on to write the sorts of wry love songs that become standards. If, for now, it sounds like he’s still a few genuine feelings away from that, give him time. Four albums in, he’s still only 25, and getting deeper. B+
***
Old 97’s: The Grand Theatre, Volume Two
How is Rhett Miller, who has built a long and fruitful career out of using train mishaps as metaphors for romantic dysfunction, just now writinga song called “I’m A Trainwreck”? Everything here sounds like something the 97’s could have, should have, or actually have done before, and your degree of affection for the band will determine whether you describe this little brother to last year’s Volume One as freewheeling or merely stitched together. The two volumes should have been edited down to one, sure, but the keepers here prove this is still one of the few bands whose live chemistry translates to record, and Miller more than meets his quota for lyrical jewels: “He said, ‘Can I buy you a drink?’/What he meant was, ‘Can I buy you?’/Yeah his eyes were pits of despair/But his accent recalled the bayou.” That’s almost as good as “I keep turning up The Wedding Present/You’re too tired to turn me down/Well you’reprobably gonna tell me that this sounds a little adolescent/But counting me there’s 1.3 million lonely people in this town.” You barely notice that sly little ‘counting me’ the first time around, which is exactly how Miller wants it. B+
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