Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Music

10 - 1

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA


cover art

Big Boi

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

(Def Jam; US: 6 Jul 2010)

Review [6.Jul.2010]

10



Big Boi
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty


Dear Jive Records: you screwed up big time. Sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to sit on an album for two years if you feel that album has limited commercial potential. It’s rather unreasonable, however, in the case of Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, which features 14 surefire hit singles by my count. The label hassles would prove to be blessings in disguise. With OutKast partner Andre 3000 legally barred from appearing on the album, Big Boi is finally forced to stand on his own. And stand tall he does. With his bonkers, tongue-twisting MC skills in top form, Big Boi scores key assists from an impressive roster of top rappers and producers, none of whom try to detract our attention from the man of the hour. From the trunk-rattling thump of “Shutterbug” to the breezy, Janelle Monáe sung “Be Still”, there’s more musical ideas and styles at work here than you’re likely to see on a dozen lesser hip hop albums. We’ll be picking at this overstuffed funhouse of an album for years to come. Daniel Tebo


 

 



cover art

Gogol Bordello

Trans-Continental Hustle

(Columbia/American; US: 27 Apr 2010; UK: 26 Apr 2010)

Review [26.Apr.2010]

9



Gogol Bordello
Trans-Continental Hustle


Wherever Gogol Bordello goes, they drag the world around with them, violent and gorgeous thing that it is; a reflection, if you will, of the peoples who are pushed, pulled, forced to make new lives in strange lands. The core message of Trans-Continental Hustle is perfectly captured in “Uma Menina”: “And so I took a knife and then I carved out… New life line on my palm”. The (currently) nine-member band of immigrants that comprises Gogol Bordello is truly the heir to the Clash in terms of punk energy mixed with a smart political message and world beats. Frontman Eugene Hütz growls in his coarse, masculine voice about the gypsy/immigrant curse – forever marginalized, forever demonized. “You love our music / but you hate our guts” he howls in “Break the Spell”. At once joyful and attractively angry, poignant and playful, this is pure poetry with a punch. I haven’t yet figured out what “My Companjera” is about, but the line “Your baby claw stuck in my chest” perfectly illustrates the passionate imagery that leaps from these lyrics.

Perhaps the best song, composition-wise, is “When Universes Collide” which, with its stark lyrics, drags the listener down into the slums with it, then gives her heart a hard, hard squeeze. Joy abounds, too, particularly in “Pala Tute” (#9 on PopMatters Best 60 Singles of 2010), an unabashed ode to the joy of sex combined with a critique of the religious strictures that would have us all remain uptight, unhappy virgins. This is smart, infectious music that feeds one’s head and heart, as all good music should. I can see Joe Strummer up in Heaven now, shaking his head and smiling. Karen Zarker


 

 



cover art

Titus Andronicus

The Monitor

(XL; US: 9 Mar 2010; UK: 9 Mar 2010)

Review [15.Mar.2010]

8



Titus Andronicus
The Monitor


Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is a record of delirious, towering ambition. It’s a concept album that uses the Civil War as a metaphor for personal turmoil, complete with eight-to-14-minute songs and excerpts from period-appropriate speeches. At the same time, though, it’s also the best punk rock record in years, with beery, raised-fist singalongs presented with frantic, joyous abandon. This type of combination—high-art complexity mixed with good, old-fashioned volume and passion—is everything that rock ‘n’ roll can and should be, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see bands like Titus Andronicus finding new and compelling ways to fuse these elements. The Monitor is smart, loud, tuneful, exciting, and damn near perfect. Not only is it one of the best records of 2010, but it has set the bar pretty high for the coming decade. David Gassmann


 

 



cover art

Beach House

Teen Dream

(Sub Pop; US: 26 Jan 2010; UK: 25 Jan 2010)

Review [27.Jan.2010]

7



Beach House
Teen Dream


One could argue that what pop music needed most in 2010 was a healthy dose of mystery. As this decade closes and a new one begins, it’s fair to say there’s never been a smaller divide between artists and fans. As Twitter and Facebook have exploded, music listeners have been able to shrink the mystical shadow that surrounds the creators of popular art. At first, it was cool being provided a wider glimpse into the worlds of our favorite bands. But the more we find out about what Kanye ate for lunch at some posh hotel, the less revelatory our discourse becomes. Beach House’s Teen Dream exists refreshingly outside of this media-soaked mess. And it’s not because of their social networking habits (they have Twitter, too, after all). It’s because of their jaw-droppingly beautiful music, which feels indebted to no particular time, place, or social movement. These ten tracks simply speak for themselves, each a patient, irresistibly catchy exercise in economical grace. The sonic ingredients are familiar, Victoria Legrand’s husky alto floating over minimal organs, synths, and modest beats, often bathed in an ocean of reverb. But Legrand and instrumentalist Alex Scally manage to fashion these glowing, ambient pop lullabies into towering, emotional landmarks. With Teen Dream, Beach House have made the most mysterious album of 2010, and likely the most resilient. Ryan Reed


 

 



cover art

LCD Soundsystem

This Is Happening

(DFA; US: 18 May 2010; UK: 17 May 2010)

Review [16.May.2010]

6



LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening


LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy has built his band’s reputation over the past decade as a great singles act. Even the Soundsystem’s critically-acclaimed second album Sound of Silver, solid as it was, got by mostly on the strength of its two incredible standout singles, “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”. This Is Happening goes a long way towards proving that Murphy and company can keep up that level of quality over an entire album. It’s a good thing, too, as Murphy seems intent on keeping his promise that this will be the final LCD Soundsystem release. The spectacular opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean”, is like a microcosm of everything the band does well. Murphy sings with wit and humor while the music softly rolls along on a bed of percussion, then adds a simple synth line. After over three minutes of this, the song explodes into a full-on dance song, then continues for almost six more minutes. From there the album is one highlight after another, from goofy single “Drunk Girls”, to the warm, cathartic “Home”, with its perfect wordless chorus of “Ah"s. In between there’s the twin self-pitying love songs “All I Want” and “I Can Change”, the sarcastic “You Wanted a Hit”, and the hilarious critics vs. artists rant of “Pow Pow”. This Is Happening may not break new ground for LCD Soundsystem, but it hones their sound to a finely sharpened musical point. If this is indeed the way Murphy intends to retire his brand name, he’s going out on one hell of a high. Chris Conaton


 

 



cover art

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs

(Merge; US: 3 Aug 2010; UK: 2 Aug 2010)

Review [1.Aug.2010]

5



Arcade Fire
The Suburbs


If Funeral was in part about the urban neighbourhoods that united friends, Arcade Fire’s third album The Suburbs focuses on life in the fringes of the city—which essentially makes it an entire record around a loose concept previously explored in Rush’s “Subdivisions”. One half a love letter to the ‘burbs, and one half a nuking of the idea of the nuclear family, Arcade Fire have delivered a disc that can be endlessly parsed for all sorts of meaning. No doubt a Ph.D. thesis could be written about this dense, multi-layered album that offers a great deal of rewards, especially upon repeated listening. The front half, in particular, is loaded with catchy, hook-laden tunes that should become a part of the indie rock canon for decades to come. If Neil Young ever had a love child with New Order and Depeche Mode, what you’d get is the result here. And what a glorious, yes, sprawling mediation of growing up on the outskirts looking in is what is offered in The Suburbs. Ultimately, what Arcade Fire has delivered is yet another masterpiece, proving once again that these Montrealers can apparently do no wrong. Zachary Houle


 

 



cover art

Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

(Def Jam; US: 22 Nov 2010; UK: 22 Nov 2010)

Review [23.Nov.2010]
Review [21.Nov.2010]

4



Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


The operative word in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is my, the signpost for the intersection between West’s personal issues and his possessiveness. Small wonder the first word he utters is “I”. Previously, 808s & Heartbreak purged his personal ills through an icy, though not soulless, Auto-Tune filter. Eclectic and ostentatious, West’s Fantasy offers a warmer, brighter palette. The language glows. The choruses soar. Verses are delivered by monsters, and populated with porn stars, abusers, devils, and centaurs (or “fat booty Celine Dion"s). The songs are longer, roomier, with venturesome flourishes: guitar riffs, vocal effects, a vocoder solo. Fantasy‘s epic sound speaks to West’s uneasiness with his stature. He is a mass of contradictions, the illumination of which forms the core of his appeal as an artist. As both star and collaborator, his statements are grandiose, grasping, a hip-hop King Midas who’s done with being undone by his detractors. Fantasy is Kanye West’s self-portrait, in Cubism: complex, petulant, somewhat paranoid, but bursting with ideas and never boring. Quentin B. Huff


It wasn’t instantly that I fell in love with Kanye’s latest hip-hop attempt. A friend of mine recently hit me with the question of whether or not I had during a listening session, and the response that I hadn’t somewhat shocked her given the review I submitted to this site a month ago. Tellingly, our counterpoint from Matt Fiander just a few days later addressed many of the concerns I felt on my first, second and third listens. Portions of the album feel bloated or excessive—we can point to Fergie’s nonsense on “All of the Lights” and the mangled Auto-Tune four-minute coda to “Runaway” as two easy examples. But ultimately, it was the experience that grabbed me. The way the album devolves from a hedonistic, materialistic experience into a humanistic, lonely experience. Musically, I can admit to the myriad of reasons hip-hop and R&B heads will assume this release is either not hip-hop, not successful at vocalization, or just not accomplished enough musically to capture whatever it is is My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy is all about. But this album, for me, is not about it’s shortcomings. Sometimes, I wonder what albums are. My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy succeeds on the back of its ethos, of its character. It survives on that sort of je ne sais quoi that defines great art. Personalization. Contemporary narrative. Ups and downs, shades of grey dominating over flitting moments of white and black.


While the album has it’s notable flaws, so do all great, canonized works. That is what confirms their humanity, their unconcealable nature as beasts of the Earth, doomed to leave some fault, somewhere. So while “All of the Lights” can rightly be nitpicked for a myriad of factors, all that really matters is the visceral reaction the song receives when Kanye first lets the chorus erupt from the belly of the track. All too often, musicians seems to fall short of its potential by avoiding the visceral nature of their art, folding to social trends and corporate pressures. This album, to me, avoids all of that, standing out as a remarkably singular and zeitgeist-capturing event. It may not be the pinnacle of musicianship in this decade, but it is something like outsider art crafted through the monolith of corporate greed. A truly fascinating thing to experience, every time the record starts to spin. David Amidon


 

 



cover art

Flying Lotus

Cosmogramma

(Brainfeeder/Warp; US: 4 May 2010; UK: 3 May 2010)

Review [3.May.2010]

3



Flying Lotus
Cosmogramma


From progressive free jazz to spaced-out psychedelic soul to surrealist hip-hop, Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma clashes together some of the most left-of-center black music of the past half century with otherworldly electronic beats to create a still undefined sound that is uniquely his own. But as forward thinking as Cosmogramma is, the LP defies the current iTunes epoch of cherry-picking albums for a few select cuts and ditching the rest of the release. Broken apart, Cosmogramma leaves an unfocused impression. Taken together, it coalesces into a dazzling illumination. As demanding as it is rewarding, Cosmogramma is a brilliant splattering of ideas that interlock to form its own Afro-futurist universe. At bottom, it is the soothsayer and the thrown-down gauntlet for all other electronic music albums in the upcoming decade. Eric Allen Been


 

 



cover art

The National

High Violet

(4AD; US: 10 May 2010; UK: 11 May 2010)

Review [9.May.2010]

2



The National
High Violet


In 2009, Animal Collective found their next-level breakout by buffing and shining their eccentricities into an expansive yet palatable sheen. The National found a similar new level in 2010, but they went a different route to get there. High Violet is dark and disjointed, huge and unsettling, but it manages to avoid the back-handed “grower” tag. Deep under the troubling guitar tones, the overcast strings and keys and horns, the intricate thunder of the drums, are deeply infectious hooks. The songs hit immediately, but then leech into your skin and stay there. Of course, it helps to have singer Matt Berninger, the closest thing to an American Morrissey we’ve got. He may play it less arch than Mozz, but he takes similar chances, he’s darkly funny, and he risks the melodramatic image to brilliant effect. Voices swallow souls here. Brains are nearly eaten. But as Crooner for the Underground, Berninger delivers it all with a sly yet weary charm. High Violet is a tough record for tough times, but it’s no shelter from the storm. This isn’t a way to put your head down and wait for the looming darkness to pass. On High Violet, Berninger and company stand up, spines straight, pulling sharp grins into the teeth of that dark, asking with a shrug, “Is that all you got?” Matt Fiander


 

 



cover art

Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid

(Bad Boy; US: 18 May 2010; UK: Import)

Review [21.May.2010]

1



Janelle Monáe
The ArchAndroid


Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid proves she’s the whole package. Fashion? She wears tuxedoes and rocks the sculpted pompadour of a 1950s crooner. Dancing? Her moves must’ve been inherited from James Brown. Musically? Her diverse sound incorporates soul, funk, rock, new wave, and folk, along with rap, jazz, and classical, yet she wields a singular vision. That’s no easy feat considering her album’s epic storyline about an android in the year 2719 falling in love with a human and aiming to stop the time-traveling tyranny of a secret society. Vocally? Monáe fully inhabits each musical style, from the straightforward funk of “Tight Rope” to the shimmering effects in the Monáe-doing-Prince-doing-Hendrix “Mushrooms & Roses” and the Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson leanings of “Locked Inside”. A dynamo, Janelle Monáe glides over Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” as deftly as she issues the primal screams of a fembot coming alive and experiencing self awareness. Quentin B. Huff


 
Related Articles
17 Sep 2014
New Orleans musicians rarely disappoint. They come from a world where music is practically akin to religion, and they always seem to know how to rise to the occasion.
By Simon Ravenscroft
7 Sep 2014
Like Kierkegaard did more than a century-and-a-half ago, Arcade Fire has the courage to ask whether our experience of the world is really as spectral, thin, and shallow as it sometimes seems.
5 Sep 2014
The New Pornographers teamed with NPR for a unique performance at the Brill Building - the place that inspired the title of their newest album Brill Bruisers.
26 Aug 2014
Brill Bruisers, with its blaring, neon keyboards and deep hooks, is both a prototypical New Pornographers record and another variation on the band's established themes.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.