Like my favorites from last year, Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Sufjan Stevens’ Come on, Feel the Illinoise, this was a multi-structured and -layered, genre-crosser/bender that defies industry and audience expectations. But big deal, right? Hundreds of indie releases come out every year that do the same, if not more so. The difference is, this semi-concept record (about personal – and therefore social, cultural and political – war), with its thematic riffs, ROCKS! If Peter Gabriel released a contemporary record with Genesis and some session players from Stax – who are required to mute their instruments – and kept most of the songs under five minutes, this is what it would sound like. “I was a lover / before this war.”
Pigeon John – Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party“Who rocks the mic / who rocks the mic / What?” The MC who never seems to take himself seriously – after all, this is the guy who invented the Pigeon Dance (where he puts his fists on his skinny ribs, struts his pelvis forward and furiously flails his arms from the elbows back and forth) to lift up his spirits, and his audience – tackles subjects as forbidden to mainstream rap as God’s benevolence in an uncaring and dying world, lust, loneliness at the clubs, and his wife. And he does it with flair, humor, a penchant for sunny and childlike melody akin to – though not copped from – Eminem, and hooks that would do his heroes (which he’s listed as various as A Tribe Called Quest and Phil Collins) proud.
Over the Rhine – Snow Angels
“All I ever get for Christmas / is blue.” Although not the classic that Drunkard’s Prayer was last year (#3) or the double-disc
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Long Walk to Freedom
Most of this isn’t new, culled as it is from Paul Simon’s
Gnarls Barkley –
From the wordplay of the name of the group and the album, to the beautifully inspired compositions, to the soul and gospel influenced singing, to the ubiquitous thumping two-note bass-line / irresistible groove that begins the hands-down single of the year, I can’t get enough of this album. I know just about everybody else can, but they’re idiots.
I was going to list this as an honorable mention. But then I listened to it one more time. Loud. I have to admit, it's a bit of a let-down after the two-year anticipation legal woes kept this album on the shelf. And although it's not as good as their other, more recent albums - I'm thinking specifically of their remix, BackWaterProphets - it still boogies, swings, bites and punches with force largely unmatched in underground hip hop. "Heaven Scrapes the Pavement" rocks the mic and "More" lets Ahmad Jones (of soul/rock/hop outfit 5th Avenue Jones) out of his cage while they all opine for justice and something more out of life than its brokenness insists is possible.