Friday, December 28, 2007

2007: I'm so over (and under) the year in music

Posted By on Fri, Dec 28, 2007 at 11:38 PM

Dear Andisheh,

My heart goes out to you. And my ears. Though I didn't suffer from sinusitis, I did buy an iPod for the first time in '07 and, yeah, it did kinda freak around with the way I listen to music.

In some ways that was a good thing. But whatever the iPod and downloadable music has done to my listening experience, I'm just glad it hasn't deterred artists from making (or attempting to make) real albums — rather than random songs strung together on one CD. Of course, some succeeded while others sucked.

Here are some of the overrated, underrated and old albums I dug and dismissed in '07. Maybe some of these will help you get over your 'year in music' blues:

1. Best and most slept-on album (I think): Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise and Fall of NiggyTardust — I'm starting with the big category first because, as you revealed, the iPod has your attention-span all jacked up and I know I could lose you quick. So you know the story with Radiohead, Prince, the Eagles — they all dropped nontraditional releases (online, Wal-Mart, etc.). Well, Saul Williams did, too. But instead of limiting his boldness to his method of distribution, he actually hooked up with Trent Reznor who produced the album. Need I say more? Actually, I will. You can download it for free, with liner notes and artwork included, or you can pay $5. Who does that? The reason why I "think" it was the most slept-on is because I just haven't heard much buzz about it. But it was better than his first two albums, and it was free. Uh, I mean $5. (Think I just told on myself.)

2. Most disappointing album: Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams — Turned out all the talk leaking out of the Wu camp was semi-correct. RZA produced a pretty uneven album, shifting between that "ooh baby I like it raw" Wu fans have come to expect and some borderline campy stuff. Not necessarily commercial, but compromising (the joint with George Clinton is straight corny). I was surprised. If anything, I expected the complaints from his crew about his beats meant he was leaning too far to the left. Guess it's hard to score Hollywood flicks and keep it grimy simulaneously. Oddly, RZA sounds better rapping over his own beats than he ever has.

3. Most over-hyped album: Kanye West, Graduation — Yep, there were a lot of Kanye West dick-riders in '08. And honestly, I don't blame them. It's hard out here for a mainstream critic. A lot of disposable music rises to the top. And I think that's because, like the industry, a lot of music writers are still depending on the old label system for the bulk of their music. But I digress. Kanye West put out another damn good album; I can't hate. But it was a minor triumph next to Late Registration. It makes sense that he thinks Graduation is his best ever, as he spouts in every interview. He accomplished what he sought out to: achieve stadium-status by making an album full of big, bombastic songs. You can't compete with "Can't Tell Me Nothing"; it's the song of the year — not "Stronger" as Spin magazine proclaimed. And the ode to his tenuous relationship with Jay-Z, "Big Brother," is probably one of the most honest sentiments expressed in a rap song since Scarface said "day by day it's more impossible to cope/I feel like I'm the one that's doing dope." I could go on, but the point is Kanye made some of the best songs of his career. Just not the best album.

4. Most surprising release: Jay-Z, American Gangster — Jay-Z is not a rapper; he's a hustler. He's told us so for years. But this year, for the first time since his Reasonable Doubt debut, he stopped trying to convince us with words and showed us with pictures. Jay made a better movie than Denzel and 'nem by turning down his dag-blasted ego volume and tuning into his feelings ... woah, woah, woah feeel-ings.

5. Best reissues: Betty Davis, self-titled (1973), They Say I'm Different (1974) — She was on that untamed vibe before it was fashionable for black chicks. Almost 30 years before Erykah Badu turned Andre out, Betty turned Miles Davis on to the wild side and his jazz-rock fusion was born — or so it's been said. So maybe it was me living vicariously through the music as I imagined what it would have been like to have Betty Davis as my personal muse. Or maybe it was just so funky.

6. Old joint I vibed to: Philip Glass, Glassworks — The classical music does set the tone for work, so I feel you on the mood music, man. But for me, I'd rather have a trigger than a sedative. Something about all that repetitive reduction stuff he does that just fires the synapses, you know? So yeah, I keep some Philip Glass on hand. Makes me feel productive even though I'm constantly doing the same thing over and over again.

7. Anticipated re-release I could've lived without: The Bee Gees, Greatest — I got a Bee Gees record player with a microphone for Christmas when I was seven, so I have fond memories of the Brothers Gibb singing falsetto in those fresh as hell Saturday Night Fever suits. But alas, my rekindled love affair was short-lived. The CD only made it one weekend in my iPod rotation.

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