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
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
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”
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
This is what I thought The Pistol Annies were going to sound
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
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
8. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top
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.
Labels: Pazz and Jop