Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Hip Hop Albums of 09 in Videos

My top hip hop albums of 09 is up at RapReviews now. Here they are, alphabetically, in video form (I didn't realize that half of 'em didn't have videos when I started this...):

Brother Ali, Us 

Danny!, Where's Danny?

Del and Tame One, Parallel Uni-Verses

Doom, Born Like This

Madlib, Beat Konducta 5-6

Mos Def, The Ecstatic

Oh No, Dr. No's Ethiopium

P.O.S., Never Better

Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II

Skyzoo, The Salvation

Best albums of 2009

Originally posted on
My year-end list isn't actually "best-of," but rather a list of the albums released this year that I loved the most. I listened to a ton of music this year, and a lot of it was good. The following are the albums that resonated with me, that I kept coming back to, that I told all my friends to go buy, and that I wouldn't want to live without.

Port O'Brien, Threadbare. How much do I love this album? So much that I bought it on vinyl after paying for the digital version, just so I can have a physical copy of it. So much that I can't stop listening to it, even though it breaks my heart every time. I loved last year's All We Could Do Was Sing, especially the quieter songs like "Don't Take My Advice" and "In Vino Veritas." Threadbare is basically an album full of quiet, sad songs that document the loss of singer/songwriter Cambria Goodwin's brother. It's a cohesive song cycle that gives me hope that there is still life left in the album. Beautiful, beautifully sad, and essential.

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest. I was reluctant to admit it at first, but this album is as great as everyone says it is. It is the perfect example of a lot of the music coming out this year: rooted in folk, and yet subverting the genre with odd song structures, delicately constructed songs, and gorgeous harmonies. It's not easily digestible, but each time I listen to it, I get something new out of it. Download the version of Michael McDonald singing "While You Wait For Others."

Thao and the Get Down, Stay Down, Know Better, Learn Faster. Upbeat, rocking songs about heartbreak and disappointment. Also one of the best live shows I saw this year, second only to Bon Iver.

Madlib, Tha Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6 and Oh No, Dr. No's Ethiopium. The Brothers Jackson drop two more solid hip hop instrumental albums, continuing label Stones Throw's streak as the number one label for innovative hip hop. Madlib's is a fitting eulogy to the late J Dilla, and Oh No's is a body rocking blend of hip hop and Ethiopian music. Madlib is quirkier, while Oh No plays it straight, but both are head-nodding, creative, and excellent soundtracks to whatever you're doing.

P.O.S., Never Better and Brother Ali, Us. These two albums, both on Rhymesayers, prove that hip hop still has a lot of juice left in it. P.O.S. combines rap and punk into a hybrid that manages to capture the excitement and energy of both genres. Brother Ali gets his grown man on, proving himself to be equal parts street preacher and battle rhymer over some of producer Ant's best work.

Sonic Youth, The Eternal. While I love early Sonic Youth, I had written them off in the early nineties as played out. Then their 2004 album Sonic Nurse convinced me that there was still worthwhile music left in the old farts. This year's The Eternal is not as innovative or essential as eighties masterpieces Daydream Nation or Sister, but it is full of the band's signature sound, done really, really well

Wilco, Wilco (The Album). Yet another group of old-timers proving that they can still write good songs, and have fun doing it.

Del and Tame One Parallel Uni-Verses. There were a lot of hip hop superduo albums out this year (Buckshot and KRS One! O.C. and A.G.!), but Del and Tame One's collabo has stayed in steady rotation on my speakers. It's an underachieving record: basically two old dudes talking shit, smoking weed, and rapping about back in the day. But their styles perfectly compliment one another, and Parallel Thought's beats keep it all cooking.

DOOM, Born Like This. Daniel Dumile, AKA MF DOOM, AKA DOOM, AKA King Geedorah, AKA Victor Vaughn may wear a metal mask, but he's no clown. He's always used his comic book persona to deal with real issues, and his goofy rhymes hide some deep subject matter (ok, maybe not the funny but homophobic "Batty Boyz"). He's been on hiatus for a few years, and came back full of piss and vinegar, telling everyone and their mother to go stuff themselves. "Once sold and inbred skinhead some nigga jokes," he raps on "Gazillion Ear," which sums up how he feels about a lot of his fans. Born Like This is inconsistent, but when he's on, DOOM is almost as relentless and unstoppable as his comic book namesake.

Yellow Fever, s/t. This is a seemingly slight, inconsequential album that I can't get enough of. Maybe it's Jennifer Moore's beautiful voice, or the incredibly catchy songs, or the deceptively complex songwriting. Maybe it's the fact that the stripped-down sound of the two-piece is the perfect antidote to a lot of the more lush, baroque sounds coming out of indie-land these days. Or maybe Yellow Fever are simply really good. I'm going to go with the last one.

Honorable Mention:
Here are seven more albums I loved almost as much as the ones in my top ten:
Phenomenal Handclap Band, s/t
Dragon Turtle, Almanac

Adam Acuragi, I Am Become Joy
Danny!, Where's Danny?
Basement Jaxx, Scars

Antlers, Hospice

A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Ashes Grammar

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bob Dylan's Christmas

Bob Dylan's Christmas album, based on the two tracks I've heard, is laughably horrible. The video for "Must Be Santa" confirms that he is fucking with everyone. Nice wig, Bob. Merry Christmas, hope you like crap.

Sareem Poems and Thundamentals Reviews

I reviewed Sareem Poems Black and Read All Over: The Deluxe Edition this week on RapReviews. He's from Long Beach. Solid, positive rap with Theory Hazit and Oddisee on the boards.

I also reviewed Thundamentals album Sleeping On Your Style two weeks ago. They are an upbeat Aussie crew. A little pop for my taste, but not bad for what it is, although the video for "Movie It Up" makes me like them less.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

CounterParts LP Review

My review of the CounterParts LP is up at RapReviews. They are a multi-racial, NorCal/SoCal crew who do positive, golden age hip hop in the vein of People Under the Stairs. It's partially produced by Fatgums, who I'm a fan of, and is the first official release from LBC label/store Beat Rock. Worth your time, and the ten bucks they are charging for it at the Beat Rock store.

Here's a video of them playing life at the Beat Rock store:

Horse Stories Review

Horse Stories
November, November

Toby Burke, the man behind Horse Stories, was born in Melbourne, spent time living in London, and eventually moved to L.A., where he formed the group. He's also released a solo album, done scores, written fiction, and done art installations. In short, he's a renaissance man, keeping himself busy by dabbling in multiple creative projects. He may be from Australia, but the music he makes has more to do with the country-tinged singer/songwriters of 70s Laurel Canyon than anything coming out of the land of Oz. Maybe that's the influence of his adopted home, L.A.'s hip Silverlake neighborhood. Whatever the reason, November, November, his third album as Horse Stories, is full of gentle alt-country and Americana.

A word of warning: November, November isn't an exciting or dynamic album. Horse Stories concentrates on subtlety and intimacy. The songs are delicate, quiet, and intricately constructed. The tempos are slow, the instrumentation sparse. Burke's beautiful, soulful voice whisps out of the speakers. It's the kind of music that can be richly rewarding, but is also easily overlooked and ignored. He probably gets talked over when he performs live as an opening act.

He does offer some uptempo moments. "To Anyone" is gently rocking, with a driving back beat and organ accompaniment, and "To The Light" has a Western swing. Most of the music is more along the lines of "Telephone Message (November, November)" on which Burke's voice is accompanied only by his guitar, a piano, and a cello. The stripped-down arrangement allows space for his voice to shine. "Oh, though the world must change/Can we be the same?" he asks, before concluding, "Well your letters weren’t enough/So I am on this bus/I hope that your address is still the same." Burke's lyrics, as with his music, are efficient and economical, getting ideas across with the minimum of syllables.

The mood of the album is both melancholy and hopeful. Several songs are about long-distance friends and lovers, and the music is full of both heartache at being apart and the joyful expectation of being reunited. Things might be lonely now, but better days are just around the corner. It's similar in both sound and mood to Aimee Mann's work, but Burke is optimistic where Mann is clinically depressed.

It took about five listens for November, November to really click for me. The first few times it seemed too subdued, too slow, and frankly a little boring. Finally I got it, and I was able to appreciate the sparing use of piano, the gentle tones of the french horn, and the way his voice and lyrics create a mood. You need to spend time with November, November to truly appreciate it, but it is well worth the effort.

The album will get a full release in January. In the meantime, you can pick up the vinyl here or check out the artist's website.

Originally posted on

Yellow Fever Review

Yellow Fever
Wild World Records
It's fitting that Yellow Fever's self-titled debut is on the Vivian Girls' Wide World Records. Like the Vivian Girls, Yellow Fever are so rudimentary and primitive that they could almost be considered naive art. The Austin duo is comprised of singer/guitarist Jennifer Moore and drummer Adam Jones, although they are occasionally rounded out live by an additional guitarist or keyboardist. They forgo the Vivian Girls punk fuzz, and instead concentrate on stripped down indie pop. Jones' simplistic drumming would make Meg White proud, and Moore keeps her guitar work to basic chords. The end result sounds like a slightly more capable and infinitely less snotty Stains, the fake band featured in the cult classic Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

Album opener "Rat Catcher" sounds like 90s K Records, and "Cutest Boy" steals its melody from a children's song. "The cutest boy I ever saw/was drinking cider through a straw," sings Moore, and you begin to fear that you are in for a tweefest. Cutesy-pie lyrics, unaspirational musicianship, it's enough to make you want to go crafting and write a zine about your cat. Which is great if you love twee, but I've always been irritated by the gratingly childlike posturing of the genre. To me, a bunch of young adults pretending to be in elementary school seems escapist and kind of pathetic.

Thankfully, Yellow Fever are not twee. They certainly flirt with twee-ness, but they never dive full in, owing to their two main strengths: Moore's voice, and their songwriting. Moore has a pretty voice that sounds like an American Leticia Sadler of Stereolab fame. She makes lyrics like "why won't you recognize how psychedelic I am?" palatable. Her voice is paired with good songwriting and strong melodies: Yellow Fever may be minimalist, but they are catchy as hell. There is a strong sixties garage vibe to Yellow Fever, albeit filtered through 90s Northwest indie pop. While their straightforward garage jams are fun, songs like "Alice," "Hell Fire," and "Culver City" point to a fuller, more complex sound that could and should be the future of the band. These songs show a maturity that proves that there is much more to Yellow Fever than three chords and jokey lyrics.

Yellow Fever may not offer virtuosity or dense layers of production, but they do offer some catchy tunes and a sense of light, breezy fun. Like the White Stripes, they use their minimalism as a challenge, a constructed constraint within which they create great pop songs. Fans of the Vivian Girls, Mecca Normal, and 90s Northwestern indie pop will definitely want to catch this fever.

Originally posted on

Addendum: I really like this album - I've been listening to it a lot, even after the review is over. Here they are playing "Donald" live:

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