I'm posting a little early today for I have a date with Rufus at Carnegie Hall tonight. I've always been a sucker for sentimentality, and Christmas songs and Rufus Wainwright plan to bring that to a whole new extreme. So here's an early present for you guys to look at before the real deadline comes.
15. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
It was a fine summer day in Brooklyn just like any other. All of us laid under a tree sipping wine and eating fine cheese, watching an old nature film by a dead Frenchman on sea creatures with newly improvised background music by Yo La Tengo. They stood behind a screen, and for all we know, it could have been any band on the planet. But we all knew it was them, because while they were playing instrumental passages to coincide with the mating of jellyfish, they sounded EXACTLY like you'd think Yo La Tengo would sound. So even on this album, when they hammer on the distortion in one song, then cool back and sing little pop ditties, it's all recognizably our favorite band from Hoboken. Less exploratory than their past classics, this one is the reassured hug of a band that knows it's powers and is not afraid of what noise they create.
14. Bob Dylan - Modern Times
For some reason, I think this is the last album good album Dylan can make. As his voice keeps disappearing into the hole where it was born, all instruments seem to bully for prominence in the song. On Love and Theft he was content to let the band really swing, but he's not as cocksure as he once was. The songs, long winded Americana standards, are still here and they are still mesmerizing. But his band has backed off considerably, letting brushes substitute for drumsticks, and letting guitar solos merely fill the time instead of ripping it apart. And in that way, it's a sad album, even if Dylan is still lively and cracking jokes. But as his voice leaves, so does the essence that makes Dylan Dylan, and it's impossible to say where he can go from here. So this will remain the last time a Dylan album can truly be compared to his brilliant and manic output from the 60's.
13. Girl Talk - Night Ripper
I'll try not to debate the merit of the art too much, for Michael's excellent post yesterday stands on about as solid ground as there is. Enjoyment for its own sake shouldn't be discounted as a means of understanding pop music, and in the case of Girl Talk the essential question comes down to whether you'd derive any pleasure out of this album if you didn't recognize the samples. It's an interesting question, because the lasting nature of the disc depends upon people discovering it and relating back to the music that it cuts up and rearranges.
But I do know the samples. I know when "Scentless Apprentice" looped under "Tiny Dancer" and "Juicy". For most of my life I assumed that rap acts had the beat and rock acts had the melody. Think about how hard rock acts tried to incorporate beats into their sound so they could be hip. But here alternative bands lay down the beat, while rappers lay claim to anything that is put before them. It's fascinating that it works at all, let alone consistently over this disc. There is nothing particularly shocking about this collection. In fact, the best complement that be paid to this album is how fluid and listenable it is. Sure the styles are twisted, the beats run over, but the stitching is impeccable (Listen to how "Galang" ties together two tracks). Anything that brings this much enjoyment needs to be praised, because collections this engaging don't just happen all the time.
12. Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
Oh Mike's going to have to pay for this one. I was perfectly content to not have this record in my life. Things would definitely have been more pleasant. This thing is cold and unrelenting. It's also perfectly edited, exceptionally produced, and flawlessly performed. Another case of running out of time, this would probably have scored much higher had I actually had more than a couple weeks to listen and break down all the songs. But while it is quite dark, I somehow found the little things to love about this album. Whether it's the wicked humor, "By no means am I in love with a stripper/You understand that then you fittin the glass slipper," the clinging metal in "Keys Open Doors", or other witticisms that they seem to spit out every other line: "While i'm shovelin this snow, man, call me frosty!" This is lean focused album which other rap albums can only dream of.
11. Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards
I didn't need any convincing about Tom Waits, so he didn't need to drop a minefield of odds and sods so bewitching it ranks among his best work. I'd been happy with another Alice, Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones, or hell even Real Gone. But instead of picking and choosing his form of attack, he decided to drop them all. It's an enormous embarrassment of riches that I still can't plunge deep enough into. Once I think I've gotten far into Brawlers, I jump to the middle of Bawlers where I lose myself on some weepy tune before I skip to the spoken word exchanges of Bastards.
Deciding which album works best is a taxing job, and one that I just can't decide at this moment. The Brawlers are the ones that are the most immediately engaging, but really it's whatever Waits that you identify with the most. As for me, I'm an Alice fan, and the Bawlers disc is stuffed full of torch songs to bring a tear to any old sap.