Monday, May 31, 2010

Critical Beatdown: Round 8

A tip of the hat to readers Corey S. and Juell S. for their suggestions.

The Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs"

NS: I'm finding it harder and harder to defend the Arcade Fire's brand of melodic comfort food--surely music this sentimental has to be a con, right? And yet after three albums a track like "The Suburbs" still ends up being somewhat irresistible. I'd suggest giving another listen to the lyrics, though--they aren't as good as you think. 3/5

AM: A great band can take material that's just decent, and sell it. That's what the Arcade Fire do here, dressing up Cat Power's "Living Proof" in Neon Bible's gloomy bounce. It's nice to hear Win's voice again. 4/5

Madvillain, "Papermill"
NS: It's immediately apparent this is another classic Doom/Madlib pairing. The sample and guitar work is compelling enough on its own to make a great 1:45 even without Doom's oddball raps, but the only possible criticism I will allow is that the flow of the piece ends rather abruptly. 4.5/5

AM: Even at Madvillainy's immaculate best, the songs sounded tossed-off. "Papermill" does too, albeit not quite so brilliantly, but I can't hate a song that bites the helium guitars of "Rapp Snitch Knishes." 3.5/5

Kanye West feat. Dwele, "Power"
NS: Yes, there's the occasional lyrical groaner (does anyone belt out more banal pop cultural references than Kanye?), and our boy is as self-obsessed as ever. But this is one of those rare anthems that never lacks for new ideas, even as it barrels towards its last minute (kind of like his early high-water mark "Jesus Walks"). I look forward to a Kanye-led King Crimson resurgence. 4/5

AM: Lead single from a universe in which 808s never happened, but the VMAs did. West scowls and sneers his way through this one, and you can almost hear the chip on his shoulder. The production, a collaboration with Symbolyc One, is iced lighting--when 'Ye boasts the "power of making life so exciting" you just accept it. 4.5/5

Francis and the Lights, "Darling, It's Alright"
NS: Electro-funk that my dad could dig, possibly. If you can get over the lead singer's Phil Collins vibe, there's something pleasant and refreshing about the way Francis and the Lights combine dance tropes with the slightest hint of jazz fusion. It's no Manzel, but it will do. 3.5/5

AM: Well-executed but extremely insubstantial pop. Two-thirds of the way through, the singer starts shouting about a breakdown, but "Darling" avoids intensity of any sort. 2.5/5

The Rolling Stones, "Following the River"
NS: A pox on Mick Jagger for continually refusing to understand that Exile On Main St. is brilliant because of those buried lead vocals, not in spite of them. This is a beautiful gospel-tinged ballad that demonstrates the Stones during their greatest period--too bad it had to be tarted up with new vocals and instrumental parts that are about as far from Exile as you can get. 2.5/5

AM: This Exile "outtake"--which appears to have Jagger vocals of very recent vintage--aims for "Moonlight Mile" but falls short. I'm a sucker for this side of the Stones, and, after a couple minutes the bluesy balladry of "River" sweeps me in, even though the backup singers sound like they care more than Jagger. 3/5

Reflection Eternal Feat. Estelle, "Midnight Hour"
NS: Talib Kweli and Estelle seem to be under the mistaken impression that retroness allows for corniness. Kweli is fine here--I've always thought he seems to have a habit of interrupting his own flow--but there's a lot of noises here that are unnecessary (why a police siren at the end?), and "Midnight Hour" doesn't merit much thought or repeated listening. 3/5

AM: Talib usually plays for the hip-hop pedants--you know, the type who only listen to real hip-hop--so this vaguely Cole Porter-ish jam is something of a headscratcher. I loved Estelle's "American Boy," but I've yet to hear her do anything half as fantastic as that tune, this included. 2/5

B.O.B. Feat. Bruno Mars, "Nothin' On You"
NS: B.O.B. isn't a bad rapper, and it's always nice to see hip-hop stars who run counter to the prevailing gangsta mode make good, which is probably why it bothers me so much that he devotes his album to sentimental trash like this. If I ever grow old enough to want this bullshit played at my wedding or something, shoot me. 1.5/5

AM: Way too close to "Drops Of Jupiter" for comfort. 1.5/5

Dum Dum Girls, "Jail La La"
NS: It's impossible for that bass tone not to kill me, every time, I swear. I'd never bothered giving Dum Dum Girls a listen until now, and as often happens, I'm missing out: while "Jail La La" is hard-boiled, all-business pop, there's a flightiness and breeziness that still makes the 2:30 go by rather quickly. 4/5

AM: The sort of wimpy, lo-fi indie-pop that was old hat by 1987 but is still awesome now. More bands should aspire to be Talulah Gosh. 4/5

Phosphorescent, "Los Angeles"
NS: Immediately redolent of Neil Young (particularly his longer jams), "Los Angeles" loses some of its juice about halfway through, but nothing can take away from the dopeness of the steel guitar and Matthew Houck's voice. I'll file this under "to be repeated when I have more time on my hands." 4/5

AM: I don't know if the boat has sailed on singer-songwriters or what, but it's been a long time since I've heard anything that deserved comparison to On The Beach. "Los Angeles" isn't as jaw-dropping as that album, but shares the mixture of defeat and defiance, as well as the wistful guitar heroics. 4/5

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