Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Critical Beatdown: Round 12.5

The Strokes, "Under Cover Of Darkness"
NS: Forgive me if I once again choose to believe the hype. Contrary to public opinion, the Strokes never "fell off" per se (the first half of First Impressions Of Earth is amazing, if you bother to listen to it), but clearly Casablancas and Co. want to reverse-engineer their lo-fi roots. A dangerous proposition, to be sure, but this impressively busy track is capped by a delirious Albert Hammond, Jr. solo, a real scorcher. 4.5/5

AM: A song that masks its fear of failure in myriad hooks, none of which are given room to connect. The overstuffed but clean "Under Cover" zig-zags along, evoking just enough of what made the band worth listening to in the first place. 3/5

J Mascis, "Is It Done"
NS: Mascis has always been a great, quaky singer with an intuitive songwriting style, which is why his Dinosaur Jr. antics translate just as easily into an acoustic number like this. No telling what Lou and Murph could have done with this, but I'm glad when some fleet-fingered electric playing enters the mix at 2:34. 3.5/5

AM: Shot through with the sweet uncertainty that's colored Mascis' songwriting since "Repulsion." His fabled Jazzmaster makes a brief appearance, but the C&W twang in his voice carries this one. 4.5/5

Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah and Jim Jones, "Rock N Roll"
NS: Nothing I've heard from the Wu crew lately has risen to the level of Raekwon's previous, but given Rae's perfectionist tendencies (which, unlike Dr. Dre, don't seem to demonstrate latent OCD), I have high hopes for Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, and lo: this song feels like a real return to form. Ghost is better than I've heard in forever, and even if the production isn't next-level, these guys never needed it. 4/5

AM: DJ Khalil's beat tries to marry crossover appeal with Rae's punch you in your face ethos, and ends up with neither. The central metaphor--of rock and roll being like crack rocks sort of in some way--is empty, and even Ghost and Rae wring nothing out of it. 1.5/5

XXXY, "Ordinary Things"
NS: It's not a song big on variation, nor is it likely to change the mind of House skeptics who feel these sorts of Mancunian dub-techno epics never really go much of anywhere. But if you like a good, ponderous type of music build, "Ordinary Things" will set ecstatic expectations nicely. 3/5

AM: This recombinant cut splices together the DNA of a Missy Elliot production with rubbery synths and chipmunk vox. "Ordinary Things"--which is borderline extraordinary--just keeps floating up and up. 4/5

Boris, "Party Boy"
NS: Another great female guitarist I forgot to mention in my piece on Marnie Stern: Boris' Wata, maybe the most stoic Les Paul slinger in Japan, possibly the world. "Party Boy" may sound surprising to Boris fans more accustomed to the band's drone metal roots, but there has always been a heavy pop psychedelic streak underneath all the fuzz, and "Party Boy" juggles both sides of the band's personality with ease. 5/5

AM: Acid-tinged bubblegum pop. "Party Boy" won't set your next social event on fire, but it's soft, burbling groove might freak out your neighbors. 4/5

Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
NS: I didn't like the last Fleet Foxes album, and this track sounds exactly the same as the first, but I don't want to be accused of contributing to the Internet hate, so I'll stop there. Except: is "If I had an orchard" the most boring rock lyric ever? 1.5/5

AM: After a very lovely intro, the predictably rustic "Helplessness Blues" runs its unremarkable course. Alas, Fleet Foxes are still in need of a Levon Helm. 2/5

Pusha T, "My God"
NS: As Pusha probably learned in his pre-rap days, sometimes the best recipe for a chorus is the simplest ("My God." Not much need for fancy wordplay there). This mixtape highlight is anchored by some appropriately reflective versage, but I still must ask (if you don't mind me pilfering a favorite TV show) Where the fuck is Malice? Huh? (Oh, he also has a solo joint coming out this year, never mind.) 3.5/5

AM: This mean march sounds like a Booker T & the MGs jam from the ninth circle. Pusha T raps better here than he did on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even if a few of his weird empahses are West-ian. His expression on the cover art--a sneer masquerading as a smile--really says it all. My god. 4.5/5

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