Sunday, December 27, 2009

Critical Beatdown Round 3: 2009 Wrap-up

Destroyer, "Bay Of Pigs"
AM: Hard to say what this is, or why Dan Bejar might have undertaken it, though the first line provides a clue. So vastly different from the wooze-pop of his last two albums...and so much worse. The vocals are great, but the song has no kick before the guitar comes in around seven minutes. 2.5/5

NS: Like a lot of 13-minute songs, this one has a lot of chaff, and it takes the beginning in particular a while to get going. Still, there are plenty of good musical ideas which pop up occasionally, and I especially like the apocalyptic imagery, which is evocative and playful in a manner similar to Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." 3.5/5

DJ Quik & Kurupt, "Nine Times Out Of Ten"
AM: Doomed to be compared to "Grindin," but like that song, damn good. Barely more than Kurupt's tense, terse rhymes and a drum machine, the latter of which practically ruptures space-time. 5/5

NS: This beat is a grower. Augmented by a Neptunes-ish drum pattern and a female vocal sample, Kurupt proves his lyrical worth even as his flow lags somewhat behind. Tests the limits of what I find refreshingly minimal in rap, but still an enjoyable listen. 3/5

Grizzly Bear, "Two Weeks"
AM: I really tried to resist the prim, wussy sounds of Grizzly Bear--hated Yellow House, saw them open a generally boring show. And yet..."Two Weeks." It sounds like a lost Wings single, played at 25 rpm. That's a compliment. 4.5/5

NS: Man, those pianos sound punchy, don't they? Yet another example of Grizzly Bear's inimitable instrumental touch, which finds no equal in any other band. The high vocals kill me every time, and as usual Grizzly Bear's drummer proves his mettle with a gentle instrumental flair unmatched in the business. 4.5/5

Flo Rida, "Right Round"
AM: I'm not sure if there's a rapper out there with less cred than Flo Rida. He leaves no imprint on this song whatsoever. Thankfully Dr. Luke has enough sense to dress up his graft in cool noises. 3/5

NS: Would I have at least enjoyed the sample this song is based on more had I never listened to the original Dead Or Alive song? Would I have liked the Watchmen movie if I hadn't read the original comic? Probably. Doesn't change the fact that awareness of this lazy piece of musical thievery does indeed color my critical judgment. Sorry. 1/5

Drake (Feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Eminem), "Forever"
AM: I resent Drake--he came from the world of Canadian teen soaps, never really proved himself before superstardom, and seems to be hedging his bets between singing and rapping. Remarkably little gets accomplished in this song's six minutes, unless you count lazy guest verses or faux-epic beats. 2.5/5

NS: The highest compliment I can give this song is that it is indeed a perfectly calibrated companion to the Lebron James documentary it features on. The force and punch of the beat on this song is beyond what popular radio is accustomed to, and I can imagine it becoming a perfect stadium jam. Of the rappers, Kanye is oddly the weakest. 4/5

Wale, "Pretty Girls"
AM: The only song I've heard off Attention Deficit with the horn-assisted smoothness of last year's killer Mixtape About Nothing--it brings back aptly-titled production team Best Kept Secret. Alas, not as lyrically intelligent as MAN's "The Manipulation," but this is a beat made for riding. 4/5

NS: I love this song despite its cruel intentions (essentially, to mock ugly girls at the expense of prettier ones). Horn samples pop up all the time in rap songs these days, but I've never heard a horn sample that sounds like this. Everything about the song, from aforementioned horns to Wale's delivery, is sheer quality. 5/5

Vampire Weekend, "Horchata"
AM: Much better than that other single, though not quite Ezra's guest spot on The Very Best's "Warm Heart Of Africa." Progresses from one nice bit to the next, the jumpy orchestral section being the best. 3/5

NS: I'm not a Vampire Weekend hater by any means, but I have to say that, despite some really good songs, they often indulge in certain musical practices that I find extremely lame. Unfortunately, this song has several of them, chiefly a sensibility that can be described as "overly chipper." 2/5

Fucked Up, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
AM: If nothing else, proof that FU understand internet-era humor. The cacophony is toned down, but it's pretty fun. My favorite guest is Bob Mould. 3.5/5

NS: Weirdly righteous. I congratulate Fucked Up in finding the hidden awesome core of a song I simply assumed was irredeemable. Fucked Up is a band of many talents. David Cross' line, aping Bono, got a big laugh out of me. Merry Christmas. 4/5

Stay tuned for 2009's final Critical Beatdown, our Single Of The Year nominations.


  1. I hope this won't be taken the wrong way, but it has occurred to me that Nathan might be an invention of Aaron, a sort of critical project or maybe an early April Fools prank. If so, Aaron has successfully created an interesting and consistent viewpoint that is not his own.

    Also, the original "Do They Know It's Christmas" is awesome.

  2. Not the case, but extra points for reading closely enough to think that.

  3. The original "Do They Know Its Christmas" is a veritable torrent of terrible moments, including not only Bono's line (admittedly my liberal guilt buttons are pretty easily pushed) but also the horrendous duet of Sting and George Michael, the chintzy Christmas bell, Phil Collins breaking it down for like five seconds, the fact that the song is sung entirely by white dudes, and basically the title itself, which is offensive and insulting to begin with. Even if it was written by Midge Ure, it still sucks.

    I know it's way too fashionable to mock Live-Aid, but nevertheless, virtually none of that money made its targeted destination, it inspired a series of similarly terrible events, and it had career-worst performances from Led Zeppelin and The Who. The only band who gave a decent performance that day was probably the Cars.

  4. My attachment is entirely to the non-vocal melody, which I guess must be Midge Ure's doing. I didn't remember those other parts, which do sound pretty bad as described.

    Your "veritable torrent of terrible moments" reminds me of the opening line of Ebert's review of "Transformers 2," a "horrible experience of unbearable length."