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The Quarter Pole: April 2008 Monday, April 14, 2008

Posted by Andy Hutchins in Rockabye, The Quarter Pole.
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At least by months, we’re officially one-quarter of the way through 2008. And because I am a blogger and enjoy both creating arbitrary segments of time for my own writing purposes and the compilation of shamelessly subjective lists, I have one of the latter for one of the former. This one’s about music.

The Five Best Songs of 2008:

5. “Ain’t I,” Jay-Z

I’ve mentioned this before on the Ave, but it’s here because it’s unlike any other hip-hop track I’ve heard this year. The opening salvo, a fusillade of double n sounds wrapped around a baseball metaphor (“I’m still winnin’/An’ I’m/Nowhere near finished/Just the first inning/And I’m gunnin’ for the pennant”) is both braggadocio and technical proficiency for a guy everyone wanted to stay retired about 18 months ago.

Jay goes on to big-up Basquiats and continue his career-long Jigga-as-God metaphor and spin a sick, stutter-flow second verse over the Flubbery Timbaland beat that allows a bit more experimentation. The hook, packaged with killer synth contrails, is the perfect rhetorical retort to the Lil Waynes of the world still throwing rocks at the throne.

It’s not a likely single from the album Jay still owes Def Jam, which could be the long-rumored The Blueprint 3, but even with an obnoxious, 43-second refrain of “And I’m never, ever/Going back, back/Oh, never that/Oh, never that,” it’s likely to be one of the stronger tracks.

4. “Time to Pretend,” MGMT

This song is the least likely of the five featured here to be on a year-end list, because I’ll bet I’m sick of it by at least July, but for now, it’s a fantastic, exuberant explosion that the Brooklyn rockers should milk the hell out of in the hipster set.

The message is timeless, one of aspiration to the finer things (“I’d like to parachute some heroin and fuck with the stars” goes one line), with the resigned nod to their elusiveness (“We were fated to pretend” is devastation writ hip), and the synths, which remind me strongly of Zelda II and give me an excuse to post this, complement the volcanic guitar and drums well enough to make this sort of sound like liberation, too.

Anyone who’s seen “21,” which uses this as the opening montage music and lets it fly over scenes of Boston, especially one of biking over a bridge on the Charles, knows that it’s got some heft.

But I’ll admit that it can be grating, and that it’s best if not kept on repeat. Also, please just listen to the video, because the actual sights may cause epilepsy.

3. “Oxford Comma,” Vampire Weekend

I couldn’t find the studio version, but this is a damn good live version of the best song from 2008’s “buzz band,” Vampire Weekend, a Columbia crew Jerkwheat recognized forever ago (and yet, somehow, about three weeks after Blogfrica at large anointed them) as a good thing.

They specialize in little Africa-influenced, highbrow confections, and this one’s the most intriguing story from their eponymous debut; over simple guitar, tapping drums, and gentle keyboard, lead singer Ezra Koenig warbles about propriety, opening with “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” in what may be the funniest rebel yell this year and serenading/lecturing what could be a love interest with literate lyrics.

Then the tempo changes, and the inevitable question (“Why would you lie about how much coal you have? Why would you lie about something dumb like that?”) is asked, and the tempo shifts, and the paean to the Tao of Lil’ Jon begins, and this becomes a little enigmatic nugget of storytelling with the most pleasant of sounds. VW isn’t necessarily a Big Important Band, but they’re really good at playing in their corner of the sandbox, and this is their prettiest fragile castle.

2. “Royal Flush,” Big Boi ft. Raekwon and Andre 3000

Ostensibly a first single from Big Boi’s summer solo LP, Sir Luscious Left Foot, this, after a decent political verse from the ballet-repping Antwan Patton (“North Korea got that shit that make L.A. look like Japan”) and a grimy contribution from Raekwon (“Your mother eating plaster”), turns into merely the showcase for the unquestioned mad-genius philosopher-king of hip-hop’s triumphant return and a reason for four hyphens in one sentence.

Three Stacks, who’s been futzing around with singing since he got bored with rap sometime around Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, somehow manages to get on a little bit before halfway through a three-minute song and spit an entire verse of quotables and give some of the best social commentary this side of the Ivy League over the jangling, burbling beat.

The highlights, “Unfortunate that if you come up fortunate/The street considers you lame/I thought the name of the game/Was to have a better life/I guess it ain’t/What a shame,” and “And I tried to enlighten but that night I learned a lesson/That the morals that you think you got go out the window/When all the other kids are fresh and they got new Nintendo/Wiis/And yo’ child is down on her knees/Praying hard up to God for a Whopper with cheese,” don’t do the whole verse justice. It’s a masterpiece, and a tantalizing glimpse of what could be hip-hop if 3000’s really back.

1. “Bleeding Love,” Leona Lewis

And yet, my top pick is a pop song in the traditional belters’ vein. But that’s because “Bleeding Love” is just that good.

Leona Lewis is a phenom, an effortless singer who breezed through Britain’s answer to American Idol and was only criticized for lack of confidence. Her voice is the attraction here, of course, but it wouldn’t be nearly as appealing without the fantastic track, written, in what may be the most surprising supporting actor job we’ll see all year, by the lead singer from sub-mediocre wimp-rockers OneRepublic. Ryan Tedder’s lyrics give Lewis room to breathe, emote, and ooze talent all over the place.

And, oh, God, she does. The clean drums and rubbery bass are scenery for the greatest female vocal ballad America’s gotten since Mariah’s heyday. Lewis is restrained for the lion’s share of the first two verse-chorus segments, with some scatting here and there, but at the bridge, she rockets to the stratosphere (“I’ll be wearing these scars for everyone to see-ee-EE!” gives me goosebumps every time) and stays there for the rest of the song.

It’s an instantly classic love song, and a strong contender for any awards at year’s end. But the scariest part of it is that Lewis doesn’t ever sound like she’s stretching.

If this is effortless, I’m waiting for the tour de force.

The Five Also-Rans, In No Particular Order:

Touch My Body,” Mariah Carey: Hey, Mimi’s not forfeiting the three-way diva battle with Lewis and Madonna without a fight. This one’s a sugary, airy treat with a dark edge, a temptress’ winking acknowledgment of her sex appeal in the chorus and a smirking lioness’ threats in the bridge (“If there’s a camera up in here/Then I best not catch this flick on YouTube/YouTube”). It doesn’t hurt that 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer’s in the very funny video.

See You Again,” Miley Cyrus: I resisted the Hannah Montana bandwagon for as long as I could, but this song’s just too infectious to be denied. Cyrus’ breathy voice is like a country-tinged pre-crazy Britney, and the Disney-pop dance beat gives the meager support necessary for the tweens’ delight. I won’t lie: At first listen, I though this song was Ashlee Simpson, and decent, and when the Rockette and I heard it several times while together over Spring Break, we concluded that Billy Ray’s little girl has the sexy-bubblegum niche on lock. Don’t believe me? Ask a 10-year-old girl.

Back In the Go-Go,” Wale ft. Bun B and Pusha T: DC’s finest, the only rapper who could make the leaked track from a Seinfeld-themed mixtape (The Mixtape About Nothing, natch) zing with two hip hockey references (“Do it for the Capital/Wale Ovechkin” and “More or less Lindros/Flyer than the rest of ’em”), jumps on a Jay-Z-sampling track and, with the living half of UGK, Bun B, almost gets the junior member of the Clipse to smile. Almost.

Flashing Lights,” Kanye West ft. Dwele: It’s one of the lyrical gems of Graduation, with ‘Ye painting his vacation (“I’m more of the/Trips to Florida/Order the hors d’oerves/Views of the water/Straight from the page of your favorite author”), and comes accompanied by an intro that sounds like the spring in “Bambi” if “Bambi” were about largesse and played by an orchestra with flutes.

A Milli,” Lil Wayne ft. Corey Gunz: After a rather underwhelming opening Vocoderized single (“Lollipop“) to Tha Carter III, Wayne’s back as his usual archangel of rap self with a decent sidekick for once. It’s too bad Gunz’ slippery double-time flow couldn’t hold a candle to Weezy’s thoroughly entertaining lyrical gymnastics here, as one-liners zing everywhere (“If hip-hop is dead/I am the embalming fluid,” “I don’t owe you like two vowels,” “My criteria applied to your career just isn’t fair”) and Wayne re-establishes Tha Carter III as an album to watch for.

Five Albums to Watch For:

Coldplay’s “Whatever It Ends Up Being Called, It’ll Sell“: It may be the curtain call for Chris Martin and Co., and after dabbling in hip-hop and helping be responsible for Kanye’s “Big Brother,” so you know there’s going to be grade-A tunes to sleep to. And maybe an epic song or two.

U2’s untitled project: I’m a fan, and though I know How To Dismantle… was maybe not the album the Bono Four should have grabbed a handful of Grammys for, I thought it was damn good. The follow-up could either be better or disaster; I’m not thinking there’s a lot of middle ground.

Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III: That cover’s ridiculous, for one, but Wayne’s saved at least some of his best from the two-year haze of weed and sizzurp for his real album, right?

The Roots’ Rising Down: Because it’s The Roots, because their first video features a porn star, because Wale’s on it, because they were the best thing on that Night of Too Many Stars abomination, and because there are rumors about a Roots-Kanye-Wayne remix of one of the songs. I may die when and where I hear it, or it may never come out, but that would be an epic remix.

Scarlett Johansson’s Anywhere I Lay My Head: It’s full of Tom Waits covers, it’s ScarJo, and it’s going to be picked apart by the media. It’ll be worth a listen or two.

One Album to Avoid:

Various artists, Punk Goes Crunk: If you meet anyone involved in the greenlighting of this album, you have my permission to shoot on sight.

Three Songs I’m Not Sure About:

“Love Song,” Sara Bareilles: Am I supposed to like this or am I supposed to compare it to one-hit wonder Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” in tone and style?

“New Soul,” Yael Naim: Am I supposed to think you’re the second coming of Feist (see what I did there?) or dismiss you as repetitively lilting?

“Love In This Club,” Usher ft. Young Jeezy: Am I supposed to be excited for the coming album or shake my head at you trying to ape the Akon/T-Pain wave with a low-rent shotgun man?

And that’ll do it for this effort. Tune in tomorrow for some other aspect of pop culture.

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Comments»

1. DougOLis - Monday, April 14, 2008

Wasn’t American Idol our answer to Pop Idol technically?

Good to see MGMT finally get some love on DeadOn after I recommended them several times awhile ago. Grrr, take that Jerkwheat. They’re a fantastic live set by the way.

Vampire Weekend is easily my favorite album of the year so far (honorable mentions to: Kathleen Edwards, MGMT, Jonny Greenwood {There Will Be Blood soundtrack} and Nick Cave). It took a listen or two to grow on me but I can honestly say that I like every song. M79 is probably my fave though (I’m a sucker for string accompaniments).

2. Greek McPapadopoulos - Monday, April 14, 2008

I haven’t really picked up too much in 2008, but it’s been pretty solid so far. I’ve enjoyed the Vampire Weekend debut, and am digging the new Black Keys (I’m liking the addition of the organ on some track, adding some color). But my favorite release has been British Sea Power’s “Do You Like Rock Music?”

As for upcoming albums, how can you leave off My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges”? Have you not been wowed by the majesty of “Okonokos”? At least pay attention when they’re on SNL on May 10th.

3. Matt_T - Monday, April 14, 2008

The Raconteurs “Consolers of the Lonely” has been my favorite release so far this year.

I’m looking forward to the new N.e.r.d. “Seeing Sounds.”

I hope this is Coldplay’s last album, I’m one of the few, but I can’t stand their music or the hype it gets.

4. Rockabye - Monday, April 14, 2008

Forgot The Raconteurs and MMJ; not a big fan of either one, but will try to find their older stuff and give it a listen prior to the next musical edition of this.

I really hope it’s the last Coldplay album, too; I really like the music, but Chris Martin’s charm is long worn off and I could do with some more attention on smaller, more deserving bands, like Arctic Monkeys or Vampire Weekend or Bloc Party.

Curious about N.E.R.D. in a positive way; the first single’s bananas, but I know them as a singles band. Apparently, they’re playing all their own instruments now. Will be seeing them, with Kanye, Rihanna, and Lupe Fiasco, in Tampa on May 7th, so I’ll report back.

5. Greek McPapadopoulos - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I think this performance of “One Big Holiday” helped convince Conan of MMJ’s awesomeness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0Q9iAcPjzc

I’d start with “Z” then move backwards.

As for Coldplay, I think they’re done. Much more effective as “the little band that could”, instead of “next U2”. Third record was absolute shite.
I’m more interested as well in how those other bands develop (especially Bloc Party, since I was one of ten people that really liked “A Weekend In the City).

6. DougOLis - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I can’t wait to see My Morning Jacket next week at Coachella; they’re probably the band I’m most looking forward to. Roger Waters doing Dark Side of the Moon should be pretty cool too.

I was never a huge fan of Coldplay but they were tolerable enough for me. I lie somewhere between the mainstream love and the indie hatred. I think what I actually despised most about them was the “next Radiohead” comparisons; I’m not sure if they even thought that so maybe my judgment is a bit unfair. They do seem pretty smart though and Chris Martin was fabulous in his guest appearance on Extras.

7. Rockabye - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Well, I really liked the third record, personally; I thought it was their best on the strength of “Fix You” and “Till Kingdom Come,” both really moving love songs.

But they weren’t and will never be the “next” anything. They’re just Coldplay, that band that plays “bed-wetters’ music” and charms the mainstream. And I can deal with that; they help me sleep.

8. 2OOBIE - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nice blog, got you bookmarked!


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