the flobots…then (jonny 5 + yak)

October 15th, 2008

I saw a poster up in my neighborhood a few months ago. Oh, huh, how about that? It’s Jamie. And last night I saw him again along with his band on Conan (including a sweet shirt.)

Of course, it’s Jonny 5 of the Flobots (myspace), now a Universal-signed hip hop group. But in college, it was my friend and housemate Farhad’s friend Jamie. The guy that’d come up from Providence to lay down some tracks all the time. Farhad did all the production on their recordings and some of it was a bit unusual. I’d be walking by his room and he’s ask me to hit record while he banged on a 5 gallon water jug in the hallway; or he’d tell me about taking inspiration from the horn hits in a Bruce Lee film.

The album eventually came out as Onomatopoeia under Jonny 5 + Yak, but the group would refer to themselves as the Flobots and had the website to prove it.

But what about the music, right? Up until that point I hadn’t liked a lot of hip hop, but the album steadily grew on me. It got to the point where the friend-relation had worn off and I was still listening to it more and more. The production was meticulous, creative and fascinating and Jonny 5’s MCing was impressive and his raps were smooth and, perhaps more importantly, thought provoking. While few people would call this one of the best hip hop albums, it certainly numbers among my favorites and most listened it.

Back in those days, there were even a few basement concerts of the Flobots, in a live set up with Jonny 5 on the mic, Farhad on drums, a bassist and a guy on Rhodes electric piano. I remember enjoying those shows immensely.

The title track is also one of the best. The D.A.R.E. section in the middle is pretty impressive just for how smoothly it goes by; it doesn’t seem forced at all.

Jonny 5 + Yak (the Flobots) – Onomatopoeia (mp3)

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I always loved how “the Last Straw” started out as so many things and then managed to merge together into one thing without one really noticing.

Jonny 5 + Yak (the Flobots) – The Last Straw, Pt. 2000 (mp3)

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Onomatopoeia is still available from amazon. The Flobots’ current incarnation are in San Francisco on November 23 at the Warfield with Matisyahu.

Jamie went on to, well, the Flobots of course. Farhad went on to rock in Night Rally, which has subsequently folded, and now Summerduck.

Treasure Island, day 1 (Antibalas, Foals, Hot Chip, Amon Tobin, Goldfrapp, Mike Relm, TVotR) by Edwin

September 23rd, 2008

Here’s a report from sometime song obsessions contributor and fellow KZSU DJ Edwin. All words and photos by Edwin.



dancing monsters and aliens

After a pleasant, uneventful bus ride from the mainland, I walked in to the Treasure Island Music Festival on Saturday to find Antibalas (Afrobeat Orchestra) playing, with a small but energetic crowd dancing away. Alien dance troupes and pirates on stilts could be spotted throughout the space, along with a ferris wheel, a village of arts and crafts (some of them even free), and stands with $7 beer. Two stages were set up at 90 degree angles a few hundred yards apart, which allowed for plenty of fluidity in the crowd during the afternoon and evening, and made it possible for diligent fans to catch every act. After Antibalas, Foals went on on the smaller, solar powered stage. Working through some technical difficulties they kept their set going with an improv percussion circle until the power came back.


crowd shot of Goldfrapp

The afternoon got into full swing back at the main stage, with Hot Chip churning out a perfectly sequenced set. I had only really listened to a couple of their singles before this, but the live setting really showed off their DJ sensibility and some great energy. After all of this dancing came two more relaxed acts – Amon Tobin’s downtempo beats, reverberating throughout the grounds, and then Goldfrapp. She emerged as a ball of blonde curls on top of a ball of colorful streamers for a dress, both blowing wildly in the wind, which had become quite strong by this point. She seemed unfazed though, and sounded great, especially backed by a full band, which included a harp. The large group did wonders for her songs, especially some of the lazier ones from her most recent album, Seventh Tree, like “Little Bird”.

After this was Mike Relm, a local mash-up artist, as the sun began to set. As it got dark, TV on the Radio came on. By this time the crowd had grown much larger. Backed by winds and percussion from Antibalas, they played a great set of songs, but without the great production of their studio albums, they didn’t sound quite as “full-bodied” as I hoped. It was fun to be treated to some of the songs from their new album, Dear Science, which comes out on the 23rd of September. After all of this, I was exhausted, and the crowd was pretty packed, so I decided to call it a night.

(full disclosure[1])

song obsession friday! (for the week endings August 15)

August 15th, 2008

Song obsessions are those songs that we listen to on repeat. I noticed that my obsessions are often a week long. I also thought that other people might have similar obsessions. I’ve collected a panel of a few like-minded individuals and gotten their “song obsessions of the week.” Quite often it’s easy to explain why the song is good; it’s much hard to explain why we’re obsessed. Maybe you’ll become obsessed with one of these.

Adrian (me):
Heiruspecs – 5ves (mp3) (buy)

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This isn’t a new tune, not even to me, but it was the tune I wanted to listen to the most while traveling this last week. It’s a hip hop tune with a silky groove and compelling (and not bitches-and-hos) lyrics. I like his voice and the scratching and the keys.


Chris:
Girl Talk – Play Our Part (Pt 1) (mp3) (buy)

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i still prefer the spastic-ness of night ripper, but the opening to the new album is sweet: gimme some lovin + international player’s anthem. so good, like pb&j


Keith:
Margot & the Nuclear So Sos – Bookworm (mp3) (buy)

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I don’t know much about this band beyond their cringe-inducing name and the fact that their full-length displayed a lack of focus that I interpreted as either too many cooks in the kitchen or not enough discipline at the board. Either way, this leadoff track from their new ep is either a hidden gem in a rough patch of a harbinger of sweeter sounds to come.

Kevvy Kev’s Bang the Drum 2008 (24 DJs, 24 MCs)

August 13th, 2008

KevvyKev is a legendary bay area hip hop DJ and the host of the world’s longest continuously running hip hop radio show. The Drum runs on Sundays 6-9pm PST on my own station, KZSU as it has for 24 years now.

To celebrate 24 years on the air, KevvyKev’s hosting yet another free Bang the Drum concert, featuring 24 DJs and 24 MCs for an afternoon of hip hop in Golden Gate Park.

You can attend on Sunday, August 31 from 1-5pm in Phoenix Meadow in Golden Gate Park. There’s an after party that night 10pm-2am at the DNA Lounge. Don’t worry it being late, either–you probably have the next day, Labor Day, off.

Here are some of the scheduled performers:

Canibus
Das EFX
East Flatbush Project
Oakland Faders
Dan the Automator
Peanut Butter Wolf
Rec League
4OneFunk
Pam the Funkstress
Foreign Legion
Delinquent Monastery
Boom Bap Project
D-Sharp
LCJ
Radioactive
Motion Man
Bash Brothers
Bayliens
Lunar Heights
Secluded Journalists

I think this will be a pretty amazing event.

Update: KevvyKev provides this map of the concert location.

song obsession friday! (for the week ending July 25)

July 25th, 2008

Song obsessions are those songs that we listen to on repeat. I noticed that my obsessions are often a week long. I also thought that other people might have similar obsessions. I’ve collected a panel of a few like-minded individuals and gotten their “song obsessions of the week.” Quite often it’s easy to explain why the song is good; it’s much hard to explain why we’re obsessed. Maybe you’ll become obsessed with one of these.

Adrian (me):
KiD CuDi – the Prayer (mp3) (free)

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Gorilla Vs Bear turned me onto this track. Based on duh, this is one of my favorite hip hop tracks in a while. I


Rob:
Steven Delopoulos – 12 West Front Street (mp3) (buy)

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It’s been a while since I’ve been on top of things enough to send one of these in, and so I’ll ease back in with some safely slick S/SW fare from Steven Delopoulos, whose Greek-tinged FM bleat is on my permanent list of voices I’d love to have. Aside from the vox, he plucks a solid
six strings, though that particular talent is often cushed into a pile of production, as on this cut. The “obsession” of this song can mostly be attributed to the fall-off melodic hook at the end of each verse (“ro-o-oad”, etc.,) which gets stuck in my head way too fast, and overall there are enough changes going on underneath the surface of acoustic pop to hold my interest at least for a week.

David (not Dave):
the Blakes – Lint Walk (mp3) (buy)

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Sometimes I feel like I’m just reposting the-best-of-the-best-of KEXP’s finds. Apparently, the key to my heart is 80s vocal stylings and 90s lofi/e6 keyboards. Who knew.

Keith:
Katy Perry – Self Inflicted (mp3) (buy)

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Every once in awhile something seriously foreign to my oh-so-erudite tastes worms its way into my consciousness and takes hold like a deer tick. Such is the case with Katy Perry, who first came to my attention through an aural discretion of the exemplary 80’s power pop hit “Your Love” by The Outfield. For some reason (probably the cleavage) I paid attention, and when the full length came through I was on board. This one’s sloppily written, hideously overproduced and yet has somehow climbed way up my personal top 10.

Update: I managed to have the wrong mp3 for David’s selection earlier. It’s been changed.

links links links (and a couple videos)

July 22nd, 2008

Daytrotter posted their Bon Iver session yesterday. The version of “Lump Sum” is magnificent. “Flume” and “Re: Stacks” are really good. And I’m going to pretend that version of “Creature Fear” doesn’t exist.

Gorilla vs Bear posted one of my more favorite hip hop tracks in a while: “The Prayer” by Cleveland-based Kid Cudi. It’s off of a mixtape and the sample he raps over is from those sometimes Walmart-loving Seattlites Band of Horses.

In case you missed it, John Vanderslice posted a teaser video of recording from his next album a couple weeks ago:

The Bay Bridged announced the Rock Make Music and Craft Street Festival they’re organizing with Whizbang Fabrics and Best Bay Area indie band Tartufi. The same day as the last day of Outside Lands, this will be DIY where that is corporate and free where that is really expensive.

Anyone’s Guess posted this really funny video called “Everyday Normal Guy Rap Song”. Watch out! Explicit lyrics! (Audio NSFW.) It’s got some pretty quotable lines: “I’m pretty good at making spaghetti sauce, motherfucker!”

Did you know there was such a thing as the Bay Area Indie Festival? Hard Rock Chick pointed to an SF Weekly article that accuses the promoter, 3 Udders, for being a disservice to the local scene for still not having paid bands from last year’s festival. The promoter says the article is not fair, but admits that he hasn’t paid bands. I don’t know, I think if you’re not paying bands then you’re not exactly helping things. (Also, I find it funny that he accuses the writer of having “very little knowledge about how the music industry works” and then complains that the SF Weekly ran the article while he dilly-dallied on getting them more info. Here’s how the print publication industry works: deadlines.) The promoter also cites this rebuttal if you want a different biased opinion.

Slate has an interesting piece about Jay-Z weaponizing Oasis’ “Wonderwall” when he covered it at Glastonbury (which was a response to the fracas that ensued when Noam Gallagher said that Glastonbury was for guitar-based music.) It also dives into all the subtle and not-so-subtle things people are saying with cross-genre covers. Is Ben Gibbard being serious, like he says, when he covers Avril Lavine’s “Complicated”? Read on.

little jackie makes catchy retro soul (plus some)

July 19th, 2008

As you probably know I’m no stranger to retro soul sounds, so when Soul Sides wrote (twice) about Little Jackie–a group made of Imani Coppola as songwriter and Adam Pallin as producer–I paid attention.

What I found when I listened to some songs and eventually the album, the Stoop, was catchy melodies over some retro soul music–akin to some of the girl group production from the 60s but undeniably updated. There re also some hip hopish vocals and some other quirks to it. Though this is undoubtedly a mainstream release, it is far from being generic or stamped out by a hit factory. It’s got a lot of style to it.

In a way, the Stoop overall reminds me a Sean Kingston ditty you may remember from last year. Both have retro charms. And both are extremely catchy and fun, and are suitable for light summertime listening. It’s yet to be seen but I feel like the Stoop has more depth than the Kingston song and will stand up to more listens.

“One Love” has got some great production and melodies at every turn. The part that I find really intriguing is the vocals in the 3rd verse, where Imani doesn’t really sing (but isn’t quite rapping in a conventional sense either). They have a heavy swing and lots of style to them.

Little Jackie – One Love (mp3)

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For a few more days, you can stream the whole album at Spinner (update: you can still stream the album, but it’s been moved to here. You can pick the record up at insound.

my most obsessive songs of 2007 (a “most of” but sort of like a “best of”)

December 24th, 2007

This is the songs I’ve been most obsessed with in 2007. I have been doing the song obsessions weekly series since nearly the beginning of this blog, giving me a good record of what I’ve been obsessed with this year. Most of them (click to see full list) were among mentioned previously in the song obsessions series but some were before that time and some were other peoples obsessions that I then became obsessed with or some were just slow-burning obsessions (if there can be such a thing).

I’m not picking these songs; they picked me, getting jammed in some little nook of my brain that made me need to hear them many times, often on repeat. This list isn’t simply my most played songs this year, though that does factor in–obsession requires a need to hear it again. I also take into account the urgency of that need initially and the urgency over the longer term. The level of my music evangelism of each song–that is, how much I wanted to tell others about it–also was taken into account.

In a way this is the third of my best of series of year-end “best of” 2007 pieces, after concerts and releases (albums, EPs, box sets).

The songs that I’ve been most obsessed with in 2007 in order of approximate level of obsession:

  1. Jenda Wight Luxury of Time (original post)
    I actually used the phrase “holy shitballs that’s a beautiful song!” and threatened not to be friends with people who wouldn’t listen to this it back when I first heard this track. The instrumentation is unbelievable and Jenda’s just-breathy-enough voice works wonders. That this track came seemingly out-of-nowhere and that surprise factor definitely helped me get hooked.

    Jenda Wight – Luxury of Time (mp3) (available at artist’s myspace)

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  2. Beatbeat Whisper Lulu (pre-song obsessions)
    Again the surprise factor help me get hooked. This track combines an anglo-folk ballad style that I like and I’m familiar with with ethereal sounds in a way that make it seem like it’s floating right into the deepest part of my brain.

    Beatbeat Whisper – Lulu (mp3) (buy)

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  3. Magnolia Electric Co Shiloh Temple Bell (original post)
    This song breaks my heart every time I hear it; I am arrested in whatever I’m doing or thinking for the three minutes and nine seconds of the song (and probably a few afterwards). Jason Molina (also of Songs: Ohia) has written some pretty amazing songs in his time, but this might be his best and it is certainly among my favorites. It’s deadly simple: just a guitar and his warbling voice; it’s not even recorded that well (his vocals clip) but somehow it’s so much more than just that.

    Magnolia Electric Co – Shiloh Temple Bell (mp3) (buy)

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  4. Or, the Whale Call and Response (original post)
    The wow-now-it’s-time-to-wake-up! lead-off track to the surprising debut album (and number 1 album of the year) from Or, the Whale. I listened to this track like crazy when I first got it and that continued for months in my car and on my ipod. I was also playing this track for anyone who would listen.

    Or, the Whale – Call and Response (mp3) (buy)

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  5. Lightning Bug Project Message To Myself after Franny was Born (original post)
    Brian Miller (who is tLBS) emailed me and it was when I heard this song that I knew I wanted to hear more. The opening’s piano part and vocals are good good, but it’s really when the chorus and then the slide guitar hit that I took notice. It’s just a gorgeous song.

    The Lightning Bug Situation – Message To Myself After Franny was Born (mp3) (buy)

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  6. Port O’brien I Woke Up Today (original post)
    I was (and am) fascinated by how this song somehow stays in control despite how wild it seems.

    Port O’Brien – I Woke Up Today (mp3) (buy)

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  7. Mobius Band Friends like These (original post)
    As soon as the circuit-bent keyboards came in under the melancholy vocals, I am pretty sure I was hooked. The juxtaposition of dancey beat with the melancholy vocals and keyboard probably helps it get its hooks into my brain.

    Mobius Band – Friends Like These (mp3) (buy)

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  8. Coconut Records West Coast (original post)
    Catchy catchy catchy pop. It’s like someone made a pop song that was perfectly engineered to gain access to my head-nodding mechanisms.

    Coconut Records – West Coast (mp3) (buy)

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  9. Octopus Project Queen (original post)
    The seemingly simple but rhythmically-off time main figure, the catchy and interesting beat and follow-the-scale-up-and-then-down vocal line are, I’m pretty sure, what does it for me on this one. This is a song that shows no sign of getting old…well…ever.

    Octopus Band – Queen (mp3) (buy)

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  10. Kanye West Everything I Am (original post)
    Easily my favorite off of Graduation. Mix Kanye’s railing against pretensions and violence in hip hop with a fantastic sample and tasteful scratching and you have a winner, in my eyes.

    Kanye West – Everything I Am (mp3)

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  11. Madvillian Money Folder (Four Tet Remix) (original post, Dave’s obsession)
    This has been a slow burner. A few repeat listens one week and a few the next and a few the next. Four Tet’s production is crazy, dark and awesome and Madvillian’s flow seems is great. They seem to work very well together.

    Madvillian – Money Folder (Four Tet Remix) (mp3) (buy)

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  12. Dr. Dog Heart it Races (original post, Oz’s obsession)
    Listen listen, head nod, clap along, (potentially embarrassingly) sing along, (almost definitely embarrassingly) dance around. That’s how it goes just about every time I listen to this track…and then I press repeat.

    Dr. Dog – Heart It Races (mp3) (buy)

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  13. The Berg Sans Nipple Mystic Song (pre-song obsessions post)
    I was telling almost everyone I knew to have a listen to this track. Something about tracks with nice beats, deep synth bass lines and breathy vocals seems to work for me.

    The Berg Sans Nipple – Mystic Song (mp3) (buy)

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  14. Andy Samberg & Adam Levine Iran So Far (original post)
    It’s somewhat embarrassing to have an SNL song, a comedic song, as a top song obsession. But if they didn’t want me to listen to it simply as music, they shouldn’t have made it so catchy! Yes, the original sample in good, but the beat and vocals actually work really well, too.

    Andy Samberg and Adam Levine (and Richard James) – Iran so Far (mp3) (buy the original Aphex Twin tune)

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Listening back through this list I feel like I could get obsessed with each all over again.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Acorns Dents
  • J Tillman Crooked Roof
  • Or, the Whale Fight Song
  • the Dodos Notes

I think I’m out of lists for a few days now…

best of 2007: releases (albums, EPs, box sets)

December 18th, 2007

This is my second in a series of “best of” lists for 2007. You can see my picks for best concerts. I also made “best of” lists for the following years: 2006, 2005, 2004.

For more “best of” lists, check out largeheartedboy’s master list of 2007 lists (meta!).

I call this my best releases of 2007 but that’s not quite true for a number of reasons [1] including that it’s a bit ridiculous to define my rather arbitrary taste as the one that matters. See below for a full explanation. In short, I try to balance how good I think it is (which is swayed by my expectations), an “objective” rating of goodness, and how much I wanted to listen to it (translating into how many plays it got).

If you want to see what albums I seriously considered for this list, look here.

Best dozen releases of 2007

  1. Or, the Whale – Light Poles and Pines (original post)
    This wasn’t supposed to be this good. It’s a debut indie country rock album from a San Francisco band. From the first listen, I knew I liked this album: it had great singing and orchestration, catchy songs and a certain energy about it. and I was alternately obsessed with “Call and Response” and “Fight Song” (and “Prayer for the Road” and…). But I say that it wasn’t supposed to be this good because while I was surprised by it, it’s not life-changing or transcendental; it’s just a really consistent set of really good songs. This year I’ve played this album (according to last.fm and that doesn’t count the repeated plays in my car) almost twice as much as any than any other single album.

    Or, the Whale – Call and Response (mp3)

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  2. Magnolia Electric Co. – Sojourner (box set) (original post)
    This is a pretty stunning collection of three album-length CDs, one EP and various other things (DVD, medallion). My love is mostly concentrated in the gliding full band sounds of Nashville Moon and the often-breathtaking, stark and solo Shohola. The Sun Sessions EP and Black Ram are also not without their merits. “Shiloh Temple Bell” off of Shohola–a song that has broken me with its beauty more than any other this year–is practically enough to get this box set into this list, but there are many other strong efforts and each disc presents a new and consistently good sound.

    Magnolia Electric Co. – Shiloh Temple Bell (mp3)

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  3. the National – Boxer (original post)
    This is the first National album I really listened to and after hearing it and becoming obsessed with it, I listened to Alligator and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers quite a lot. This is their best yet and what sets it apart is the orchestration. “Fake Empire” is a brilliantly arranged song, for instance, with the slow build of layers after the vocals end. It’s not just anyone who thing to write brass parts like that. The album works well from front-to-back as well. It has stand-out songs, but they never break the mood and neither do the weaker songs–though, wait, are there any weaker songs? I’m not remembering any…

    The National – Fake Empires (mp3)

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  4. Candie Payne – I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (original post)
    I’m still surprised when I hear this album. Somehow someone found a brilliant, unreleased gem of a 1966 album (uncommon, as most of the albums in those days were a couple singles and a fair share of filler), added some heavier drums and released it in 2007 (only the U.K. so far). Okay, that’s not the real story, but, as a person that loves and grew up on much of the music that’s called “oldies”, it’s nice to hear something that give me that kind of joy in production and pop songwriting. Candie’s voice gradually reveals itself to be a strength of the songs as well. I know of no other album this year or ever that when I heard some of it, made me buy the import copy and when I realized that what I’d bought was the import single of the same name, go out and buy another import copy, this time of the full album.

    Candie Payne – By Tomorrow (mp3)

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  5. Morning Benders – Boarded Doors (EP)
    This band has been showing quite a bit of growth. (Having heard some of their yet-to-be-recorded songs surely is some influence as well.) Their brand of heartfelt-but-not-too-wimpy indie pop is informed by decades of pop–they’ve covered Phil Spector (the Ronettes) and Roy Orbinson and sound great next to such acts in a mix tape. Frontman Chris Chu’s voice in uncommon in it’s effortless range and purity. This, their second EP, is a good step up from their previous Loose Change in terms of recording quality and songwriting. I’m really looking forward to their full-length.

    Morning Benders – Boarded Doors (mp3s)

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  6. Kanye West – Graduation (original post)
    While this isn’t my favorite Kanye album so far (that would be Late Registration), this album is a mostly really good combination of good production and sometimes meaningful lyrics, save the annoying two-fer of “Barry Bonds” and “Drunk and Hot Girls”. To all the hip hop purists, I’d like to note I’m not saying this is the best hip hop album of the year. It’s probably better categorized in my rather-indie-centric world as a good pop record that happens to have rapping and big beats.

    Kanye West – Everything I Am (mp3)

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  7. Jens Lekman – Night Falls over Kortedala
    I realized I hadn’t even posted about this album probably because of course Jens will put together a great album. I’m a Jens fan. I’ve liked his quirky but thoroughly catchy and over-the-top pop pretty much from the beginning. When I got Night Falls I emailed a friend to say something like “Yup, Jens is still the king of over-the-top Swedish pop.” I’d already heard the album’s best effort, “Opposite of Hallelujah”, so I unfortunately didn’t have the surprise of hearing that song for the first time in the album’s context.

    Jens Lekman – Your Arms Around Me (mp3)

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  8. Kings of Leon – Because of the Times (original post)
    I’m not going to be able to issue a big list of why this album is good intellectually or why this is good art (though, that’s not to say someone else couldn’t), but I just like listening to this album. It spent a huge portion of the year–months–in my car’s 6-disc CD changer and despite a rotating cast of other albums to choose from, I kept coming back to this one anyhow.

    Kings of Leon – Knocked Up (mp3)

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  9. On No! Oh My! – Between the Devil and the Sea (EP)
    With just 5 songs, just over 15 minutes of music, this EP was a dark horse. I was doing my last listens-through of various 2007 releases and I had a “wait, this is really good!” moment. I liked their debut album (buying the pre-order CD-r version, in fact) but it was inconsistent. This is a step up in both consistency of songwriting and loveliness of melodies. The end result is just a really fun EP of quirky pop songs.

    Oh No! Oh My! – The Party Punch (mp3)

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  10. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha (original post)
    Andrew Bird is extremely talented but–I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again–talent doesn’t necessarily make good music. Talent certainly helps the live show a ton, but in an album it’s just one part along with songwriting, production, orchestration and so on. I’m going to state this simply: I don’t think this is a complete album. “Plasticities”, “Simple X”, “Scythian Empires”, “Yawny At The Apocalypse” are four great songs that hold this album up among three other good songs (“Fiery Crash”, “Heretics”, “Dark Matter”) and a handful of average-to-boring ones. Still, those four songs are great and make this album well-worth the listen and deserving of its place on this list.

    Andrew Bird – Plasticities (mp3)

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  11. Benni Hemm Hemm – Kajak (original post)
    Benni Hemm Hemm somehow does the beautiful instrumentation and dynamic builds of post rock while still having concrete, and often soft, songs in there, like a Sigur Ros that has Reindeer Section sharing the stage some of the time. The end result is beautiful songs that pulls on you in many different ways.

    Benni Hemm Hemm – Brekkan (mp3)

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  12. John Vanderslice – Emerald City
    John Vanderslice is the man. But besides that point, he also writes really good songs and is one of the best working producers today. Recorded with a full band for the first time, this album has the most cohesive feel of any of his. JV has set a really high standard with his last two albums, Pixel Revolt and Cellar Door (both in my best-of lists for their years) and while I feel this isn’t quite up to that standard, if I take a wider view, this is still a very solid album.

    John Vanderslice – Numbered Lithograph (mp3)

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(There are more releases that I wanted to include here. I might need to do an “honorable mentions” post later in the week!)

Four releases that would have made the list but were included in previous lists (in alphabetical order):

  • David Bazan Fewer Moving Parts
  • Bishop Allen Month EPs/ the Broken String[2]
  • Elvis Perkins Ash Wednesday
  • Fionn Regan End of History

Voted most likely to have me kicking myself for not putting it on this best list once I have enough time to sit down and really listen to it:

  • The Lightning Bug Situation – A Leaf; a Stream (original post)
    This is a soft, tender, affecting and gorgeous album, but with all the found-sound and field-recording-type spoken sampled, I don’t think it has really had a chance to fully sink in. I’m sure there are a few albums from this year that will grow in my estimation after in the next weeks, months, years, decades, but if I had to pick one that I was most sure would, I’d say it’s this one.

    the Lightning Bug Situation – Message to Myself After Franny was Born (mp3)

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[1] This list isn’t the best albums on a global level, just on my personal level. I say “of 2007″ but really it’s “of 2007 when considered in mid-December” and I’m sure if I’d made the same list a month (or even a week) ago or a month (/week) from now, it’d be different. While I try to consider albums fairly subjectively, “best” is also not really on an absolute scale as my expectations of an album effect how I rank them. If I thought an album would be amazing and it’s merely really good it might rank much lower than an album that I thought would be mediocre or bad or didn’t have any expectations of at all and is equivalently really good.

[2] Let’s be honest with ourselves, two new songs doesn’t really make it that much different. And, while we’re really being honest with ourselves, the Month recordings are as good or better than the Broken String ones.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang

December 12th, 2007

I finished Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (amazon; wikipedia) a couple of weeks ago. It’s a hefty book, weighing in at 500+ pages and it’s not a quick read like some of the mostly light fiction I’ve been burning through since, but I found it a compelling read.

I was looking for new books at an Eslite here in Taipei and saw this book. I’d heard of it before and I’d thought about getting it when I saw it at the Kepler’s in Menlo Park a few months ago, but had too many unread books at the time. Now with too little to read and plenty of time, I picked it up without hesitation.

Given that it is a non-fiction history of art in a sub-culture for 30-some years, its a surprisingly smooth read. It’s well-researched and all the various areas and stories are fit well into an overall story arc. It gave me a new and interesting perspective on the culture and socio-economic background that spawned this art.

The subtitle is important here: it’s not a history of rap music or the history of hip hop culture (though the latter is closer), it’s a history of the hip-hop generation. Hip hop, as defined in the book is the four arts of MCing, DJing, b boying and graffiti. If you’re only looking for a history of the music, you’ll find extra material here. There are also points of the book that delve into areas that are integral to the history of the people, but not of those arts, necessarily. For instance there is a chapter or two–many pages–about the LA riots following the Rodney King trial and the impact on the music is only discussed for a page or two.

There are a few points I feel like I should bring up is this: one is that I think the book’s racist. Here’s one example. The book makes the distinction in a few places that things can be pro-black without being anti-white. In most instances, this book is unflinchingly pro-black and that’s fine. But when a book specifically uses the following nomenclature consistently, one has to wonder if it’s also anti-white: Black, Latino, Korean, Asian, white. (Granted Korean is properly capitalized–can anyone find me a style manual that says the others should be as well?) Pro-everything-except-one-thing is sort of like being anti-the-one-remaining-thing in my book. If you pick every kid but one for a basketball team on a playground and tell each one that they’re all great, some one would be sure to mention that you’re not treating the last kid very well, even if you’re just being pro-all-the-other-kids. There are other points in the book where there are many black characters that are described and talked about in great detail (as one may expect from a book about the history of a hip hop culture) while some groups of whites are painted with a pretty broad brush.

Another thing I found myself grumbling at while reading was that while most of the book was meticulously footnoted and referenced, there were some claims about the causes for such-and-such [1] that weren’t referenced and, even if they weren’t wrong–and I remember thinking at least one didn’t agree with my understanding of economics–they certainly weren’t self-evident. Obviously the book was well-researched and the claims may not have been furthering the overall story so I would have just left them out.

[1] I regret not having particular passages from the book to reference here.