Friday, January 11, 2013

Pazz & Jop 2012


1. Miss Prada: "Voodoo Pussy" (mp3)
Daytona Beach’s Miss Prada (first name Joanne) takes drag and the bitch track to new heights in headfuckery. A steadily boiling Youtube personality, Prada aims to sow confusion. Her budget bricolage glamour, her dislocated lip syncs, her transcendently NSFW harangue-raps over the hits of the day, and, most of all, her information-overloaded tracks rage at the very notion of personality (and perhaps Youtube as well). She has all the makings of a crunk Jack Smith and “Voodoo Pussy” werks like Flaming Creatures and Chumlum: a phantasmagoria you’ll never totally catalog.

What IS this thing? It functions only intermittently as a trad dance cut (albeit at long enough stretches for a group of Helsinki dancers to death drop like the rent is due) with the percussion ceding much of the propulsion to ascending bass riffs and a Valley Girl-ish sample exclaiming “Oh my god!” Up top, an array of sounds (echoes, camera clicks, hyperactive runs) refuse to sit still, recalling the bratscapes of a sugar high dubstepper like Raffertie. Prada’s vocal splits the difference between hip-hop boast and punk queen up in pumps…on the first verse. For the eternal second verse, a veritable revival meeting, she accesses the Sugarhill rappers’ genius for random invention in a torrent of nursery rhymes and non-sequiturs. Eventually, she shouts it all down like Poly Styrene screeching “Identiteeeeeeee!” and then goes head-to-head with the “Oh my god!” sample for the shocking finale. Commanding our attention but denying us an easy grasp, Prada conjures up the forces of rejuvenation in a world where Jack Smith died for our sins.

2. Dead Rose Music Company: "Faith" (Let's Play House)
Were David Toop entreated to compile a sequel to Sugar and Poison, his epochal 1996 collection reconceiving post-soul as unspecified anxiety, he’d have to consider Alicia Myers’ “I Want To Thank You,” an early morning disco sleeper from 1981. After partying to the break of dawn, its “quiet joy and unobtrusive spirituality” (to quote the great Brian Chin) betray the slightest hint of discontent, as if Myers knows she’s lucky for whatever she’s got but still craves just a bit more, that hottie that left an hour ago, maybe. Dead Rose Music Company, a mysterious duo who claim residency in Moonville, Aaland Islands, drain all that out of “I Want To Thank You” for “Faith,” the most blissed-out disco edit extant. At nearly nine minutes, it slows the original to a luscious bump with echoed elements encircling one another at unpredictable angles like gorgeous, spangly memories. Nowhere is this more intoxicating than in my favorite music moment of the year (which Michaelangelo Matos has already pumped) when right at 3:03 in the youtube below, the Company cut off a recessed phrase in the middle and return the main piano riff. This is precisely how memory works and after years of remixes, re-rubs, and roots records, disco finally has its Ulysses.
3. B. Ames: "Vogue If Ya' Nasty" (mp3)
In a year when vogue house supposedly came back (did it ever go away?), no track displayed more Charisma Uniqueness Nerve & Talent than this quasi-mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” and Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” With a bass pop from the latter sped up and looped until it gallops something fierce, "Vogue If Ya' Nasty" could burn a new asshole into your dancefloor. And pay attention to how Miss Ames slyly withholds the “Nasty Girl” chorus until the full reveal cum shot at the end, my second favorite music moment of the year. Clean up on Aisle Kevin.  

4. Nicki Minaj: "Stupid Hoe" (Young Money/Cash Money)
The swarming “Come on a Cone” or the jaw-dropping “I’m Legit” could’ve occupied this spot just as well. I chose this one because it promised early on that Minaj wouldn’t be making mawkish self-help her life’s mission. And also because a student told me she came across a site where someone “proves” Minaj’s inferiority by laying out the lyrics to “Stupid Hoe” against those of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” To which I invoke Simon Frith in Performing Rites: “Listeners…have a responsibility – to engage with the music (rather than just to contemplate it), to follow the musicians' decisions as they are made, and to respond to them. On the one hand, this is because, as in any other communicative performance, the music’s success, in rhetorical terms, depends on that response (and on the musicians’ further response to it); on the other hand, it is because the combination of feeling, interpreting, and evaluating involved here depends on listeners entering into the performing process (rather than the compositional one)” (139).

5. Jeremih Ft. Natasha Mosley, “Fuck U All the Time” (DATpiff) 
Sugar and Poison 2 will need a track to correspond to the first volume’s “Sensuality,” in which The Isley Brothers trek across the scarred surface of a dispossessed planet. Et voila. Even more barren, “Fuck U All the Time” chops up Mosley’s vocal until it flutters, screws down Jeremih to an inhuman growl, and transforms a superfluous censor bleep into a key element in the mix. Little baby robots result.

6. Gunfight!: "Raise and Fall" (Eastern District)
What these Brooklyn-based cowpunkers were doing on the odd Eastern District Presents: MOSHOLU mixtape, I couldn’t tell you. But this was the best track, a song about how shitty it is to get a raise. The chorus, mewled in an Ad-Rock whine, goes “So what, so what I don’t care if you’re rich/As long as there’s two in this ditch.” The music is beaty post-country that their producer calls “Creedence-core.” Greil Marcus should know it.

7. JoJo: "Demonstrate" (Blackground) 
Forget JoJo and remember Noah “40” Shebib who produced and co-wrote this oddly structured slice of quiet storm. The song accrues density only as the chorus is ending which means Shebib’s main goal is to show off his sound effects including a subtly reverberating guitar figure that I swear I’ve heard before (from a live album? 1980s indie? Jandek even?).

8. G-Dragon: "Crayon" (Big Bang)
Sadly, Kwon Ji-yong, aka G-Dragon, will probably never take in the States. It’s not just that he looks amazing in full femme-real drag or that he raps about being a pretty boy (or that he raps period). He looks disturbingly post-human, as if bits of Swatch Watch have poked through his fingers and temples. But that just deepens the cray cray pleasures of this calling card which has the two-songs-in-one trick down pat.

9. Train: "50 Ways To Say Goodbye" (Columbia)
Okay “Call Me Maybe” is a fine single. I dig its teeter-tottering majesty, its heartfelt post-chorus, its sorta kinda progressive video. But after dozens upon dozens of listens, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t reaching Single of the Year status for me as it had for so many others. Then Rob Sheffield deemed it the top song of 2012 in Rolling Stone and suddenly, it clicked. “A song that forces you to keep making up new verses just to keep that melody flowing” is how he describes it and in typical Sheffieldian fashion, he proceeds to write lyrics that reference Mark E. Smith and Caesar and Queen and Heidi Klum and Seal and Captain and Tennille and DeBarge and THAT’S what “Call Me Maybe” is missing: proper nouns, stuff, things, shit. And that extends to the music as well which lacks info bytes that possess the sample-like clarity of proper nouns. It’s all just a bit too contained for pop heaven.

By contrast, "50 Ways To Say Goodbye" has Superman, Yom Kippur, a crappy purple Scion, a mariachi band, and a melody lifted from the Phantom of the Opera roaring out of the radio. It’s fitting that the video takes place in a supermarket because the song sounds like lead singer Pat Monahan’s been extreme couponing for years and has finally loaded his cart full of goods. Look, I’m as surprised as you are that the former Worst Band in the World contender created anything remotely listenable. And one could claim that their blatant opportunism here reveals the ultimate fecklessness of their more “authentic” music (as with Jewel when she went disco and, to a much lesser extent, Maroon 5 as they become ever dancier). But so what? This is pop where greedy land grabs can push the music to greater heights. Besides, Carly Rae will be okay. So the guy she wants is gay. Big deal. Monahan has much bigger problems on his hands, lyrically and artistically. He needs our help.

10. Kacey Musgraves: "Merry Go 'Round" (Mercury Nashville)
This is what I thought The Pistol Annies were going to sound like.

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana (Reprise)
Having conceived of his career as all one song, Young takes the next logical step and does the same with American popular music history. “Oh Susannah,” “Clementine,” “This Land is Your Land," “Get a Job,” a “God Save The Queen”/“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” mashup, whatever ya got are here presented in, what else, that inimitable Crazy Horse lumber. Folk process, my ass. From the monochrome choral repetitions to the scandalous album cover that replaces Geronimo’s face with Billy Talbot’s, this is the rock process – remaking the world in your own obnoxious image. All that’s missing is an attempt to steal back “Whip My Hair” from Jimmy Fallon. Next step: a Christmas album. Long may he reign.

2. Tom Zé: Tropicália Lixo Lógico (Lapa) 
As with censoring swear words, efforts to frustrate downloaders can result in a wilder and ultimately definitive version of an album. The unofficial (right?) version of the Brazilian master’s latest cuts off many tracks towards the end, wedges in brief, Tom Zé-esque sound/voice fragments (courtesy of who exactly?), and infuses some welcome angularity into a touch-too-sappy album. The future is here.

3. BBU!: bell hooks (Mad Decent/Mishka)
This Chicago crew straddles so many lines, all variations on a struggle between conscious rap and street and/or party rap, that their goal of providing “the soundtrack to Malcolm’s By Any Means"
threatens to bland out altogether. Instead, they’ve delivered a denser, tougher, funnier album than The Coup managed this year (or Das Racist ever will again RIP).

4. THEESatisfaction: awE NaturalE (Sub Pop)
And this is what I always wanted Floetry to sound like – an Anita Baker record stuck in a warped hip-hop groove. The playful pretensions of Seattle duo Stasia "Stas" Iron and Catherine "Cat" Harris-White extend to the 30-minute running time. Each track catches you short and defies your expectations so that you just have to hear the entire thing again. And again.

5. Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now (2nd Story Sound)
Remembering sex with Dame Edna, duking it out with Rufus, pining for another lifetime with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, cataloging his meds, the 65-year-old Wainwright fashions a great death album, a great family album, and a great old man album all in one. That’s more than most musicians could manage over three lifetimes. Take a bow. Not too low, now. Here, I'll help you up.

6. Kellie Pickler: 100 Proof (BNA) 
American Idol and new boobs behind her (well, those are in front of her, actually), Pickler bids for Tammy Wynette-level immortality and, never thought it possible myself, she comes pretty damn close. That twisty chorus to “Tough” is built to last and, because it took “God’s time” for her daddy to get sober, she leaves no doubt as to why the clever title track finds intoxication in monogamous love rather than the bottle. 

7. The XX: Coexist (Young Turks)
Cheaper than a massage or Xanax. Loudon Wainwright should try it.

8. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) 
Like so many musical dramatists before him, Lamar sacrifices the legible contours and hooks of individual (and hit?) songs for the narrative forward motion of his “short film.” Fortunately, he’s such an astute dramatist that his adoption of various personae and bracing use of sonic space create enough variety within each track to hold your attention while powering through the libretto. Not quite ready for Hollywood yet. But Broadway could sure use him. 

9. Iris DeMent: Sing the Delta (Fiarella)
Here’s hoping the 2038 album features the same startling living room intimacy. Why yes, I WILL have a butter cookie. Thanks.

10. Death Grips: The Money Store (Epic)
This is the probably most uncompromising album released by a major label since The Boredoms' Pop Tatari. And what each has to say about their respective eras should please those longing for the world to end. To paraphrase Loudon Wainwright (such a font these days), if capitalism didn’t break apart, I suppose there’d be no need for art.



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