Monday, February 8, 2010

Critical Beatdown Round 4

Besnard Lakes, "Albatross"
NS: I've said before that I have a hard time arguing with effective wooze, but the saturated flange of the first three minutes of this track doesn't really go anywhere. Since this is a 4 1/2 minute song, the arrangement does end up going somewhere cool eventually, but overall I find this to be a less-than-impressive example of the genre. 2/5

AM: Their last album sounded like Low with a touch of the Beach Boys, but "Albatross" adds Bilinda Butcher vocals and nicks, subtly, the rubbery guitar of "Needles In The Camel's Eye." Whatever the equation, this is lovely music, well-worn yet fresh. 4/5

"BedRock," Young Money
NS: Group songs like these basically beg the fair-minded critic to evaluate what he or she likes best, and then slowly move his or her way down the like/dislike continuum. The absolute best thing about this song is the hook, and the way Lloyd's chorus line sort of dances around it. So the production is irresistable--but of the rappers, I'd put Drake and Nicki Minaj at the top, Lil Wayne's deeply unimpressive verse near the middle, and everyone else (especially Tyga) basically doesn't need to exist. 4/5

AM: What explains Lil Wayne's continuing credibility? If Rick Ross guested on "Let It Rock," or Jay-Z put out a terrible nu-emo album, would we still respect them? I have no answers, but I would like to point you to the insufferable pap-rap of the Wayne-curated Young Money crew and their "BedRock." Such triviality would eviscerate the street cred of any lesser rapper. Drake's verse is OK, and I can't deny a certain charm, but what is the deal with Nicki Minaj? 2.5/5

"Hide It Away," Retribution Gospel Choir
NS: Confession time: I kind of prefer Alan Sparhawk's amped-up side band to Low, in terms of listening to music for pleasure. In many ways, the difference is purely instrumental. Sparhawk's voice carries the day on this one, and there's a feverish intensity that really marks this performance as something different in the Sparhawk canon. Everything about it is anxious and heartfelt. 3.5/5

AM: Inaugurates Alan Sparhawk's difficult "muttonchops period." Like anyone with muttonchops in 2010, he's not interested in pushing boundaries so much as old fashioned good times, and "Hide It Away" has dour rock attitude to spare. Mimi Parker is missed, but that's some pretty badass drumming. 4/5

Jay-Z, Bono, The Edge, and Rihanna "Haiti (Mon Amour)"
NS: What is it about the best intentions of others that brings out the worst in me as a critic? I swear that this charity collab single would be horrendous no matter what cause it was shilling for. Everybody seems to be at their worst: the Edge's one guitar line is one of his lamest and most reverby, Jay-Z's cornball verse is technically a complete dud, and Bono and Rihanna aren't exactly a great vocal pair. Add that fetid Dido beat, and you have a song that simply sucks. 0/5

AM: Star power and good intentions combine for another turgid charity single. "Empire" aside, Jay-Z has never been one for uplift, and I can barely even hear Rihanna here. You knew U2 would appear, and Bono actually sounds the best of the participants. The absence of Haitian musicians is regrettable. 2/5

Hot Chip, "Take It In"

NS: Among their dancepunk brethren, Hot Chip have stood out as a band that really knows how to write coherent, complex pop songs. "Take It In" definitely ranks up there with their best songwriting efforts. The vocals uncannily manage to sound both detached and menacing, and the keyboard line is Passion Pit-level sweet. So is the chorus, when the menace temporarily bottoms out. 5/5

AM: Well-constructed, as all their efforts seem to be, but I still prefer Wye Oak's song of the same name. This shade of UK grey has never been my cuppa, but there's some menace hiding in the verses. 3/5

Editor's Note: Hot Chip are insanely menacing

Surfer Blood, "Swim"
NS: When you need a reminder that great punk songs are still being created on a daily basis, I would suggest giving this song a listen, if you can get over an inordinate amount of echo at the beginning (you get used to it after a while). I'm not sure Surfer Blood can sustain this kind of energy and ingenuity for a whole album, but this does just fine. 3.5/5

AM: When I saw Surfer Blood (opening for the great Art Brut), I got the impression of a talented young band not quite in control of its songs. On record, things sound a bit different: wild melodies make "Swim," an unhinged number with plenty of good vibes. 4/5


  1. Have to disagree with your takedown of "BedRock" severely--liking this song in no way means that I find his forays into nu-metal acceptable. And as I stated earlier, Nicki Minaj's verse is just about the best one on there. Surely better than Wayne's, at least. Sure, there isn't much content there, and I find her persona equal parts lame and alarming, but she definitely doesn't have any duff lines ending with "grocery bag." Or rhyming "Oxygen" with "ESPN."

    And you (wisely) forget Jay-Z's collaboration with Linkin Park, Rebirth's most obvious musicial antecedent.

  2. good point re: "collision course"

    about nicki minaj, i guess the "exciting new rapper" tag--am i wrong in presuming people are excited about her?--made me expect something else. her verse is particularly hollow. wayne, on the other hand, is kind of charming when he's clearly not trying.

    i like that they're watching "a milli" in the young money household during the "bed rock" clip. that's probably the best thing i can say about the song.

  3. You really didn't like that beat or the backing track or Lloyd's singing? For me, that's what made the song great, and I anxiously await a remix where they get some better rappers to replace Gudda Gudda and Jae Millz.

    I really like that melody, whether it's a keyboard line or whatever, I can't really tell, but it really sticks.

    As for Nicki, I'm always way behind on figuring this out, but my impression is that she is tapped for stardom. The state of the rap industry is such that a female rapper can't really make it without an enormous amount of sex appeal. And whether or not that is the case for Nicki, I think she has a sense of flow and timing that goes beyond most of her male peers in Young Money.

  4. i don't like the beat. i would agree that lloyd is the best part of the song, but i could never foresee a scenario in which i would rather listen to this song than past lloyd and lil wayne collaborations ("you" and "girls around the world" are the ones i like)