Just in time for Christmas, here’s a list of recent releases for those of you who are literally waiting until the last minute to finish up your holiday shopping. We’ll cover a wide array of genres and artists, so soak it in, get off the damn computer, and finish up that shopping, procrastinator!
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
Hip-hop / Pop / Electronic
Pros: We see a more somber side of Kanye as 808s and Heartbreak is his first album since the untimely death of his mother late last year, since which he’s also coped with a failed engagement and a firestorm of media scrutiny. A complete 180 from earlier material, Kanye decides that it’s time to slow things down, like with the ambient “Welcome to Heartbreak” and “Bad News”, though the album isn’t without its obligatory club track, in the Auto-Tune-laden “Heartless”.
Cons: Auto-Tune is seriously all over the f*cking place. If you think T-Pain sucks, this will be a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how much of an artistic statement it is. Lil Wayne makes an appearance in “See You in My Nightmares”, where the two have a bit of an Auto-Tune circle-jerk. And I’m not sure what to make of the symphonically tinged “RoboCop”, which comes off as sort of humorous more than anything. This will be a polarizing album for Kanye, sort of like his Amnesiac—fans will either appreciate the artistic liberties taken and love it, or they will not get it and think it sucks. And then there will be fans like me, who would have absolutely loved it if not for all of the god-damned Auto-Tune.
This would make a good gift for… your buddy who just got dumped. Hey, it beats Dashboard Confessional.
Oasis – I’m Outta Time [EP]
Big Brother Recordings (12/9/08)
Rock / Alternative
Pros: As arguably the best song from the band’s recently-released Dig Out Your Soul, “I’m Outta Time” still shines in a stripped-down “remix” version, and the demo version is even more moving. A remix of “The Shock of the Lightning” (also off of Dig Out Your Soul) by UK-based producer/remixer Jagz Kooner carries the same filthy tech-rock goodness (though a bit less aggressive) as his version of Primal Scream’s “Swastika Eyes”, while the remix of “To Be Where There’s Life” by Neon Neon (a side project of Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys) is evenbetter than the original.
Cons: It’s sort of irritating how they’re marketing this with the hopes of passing it off as an EP. If anything, it’s a maxi-single, and that’s backed up by the fact that the album version of the song appears as the first track on this EP. But even calling it a maxi-single is a bit of a stretch, as those usually have more than five tracks. You’re not getting any new songs other than remixes, as all three tracks appear in their original form on Dig Out Your Soul.
This would make a good gift for… the anglophile in your life.
Soulja Boy (Tell ‘Em) – iSouljaBoyTellEm
ColliPark Music / Interscope (12/16/08)
Rap / Pop
Pros: Just when we thought we were rid of this kid, he’s back, and trying to capitalize on last year’s 15 minutes of fame with more of the same crap. If you somehow were caught up in the hype of last year’s “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)”, you should kill yourself after you finish reading this column. Seriously. I suggest jumping into the bathtub with a toaster. Because we really don’t need you around. Seriously. If you are offended by this, then you just don’t understand—you are helping to kill hip-hop and chances are you don’t plan on stopping. If you are offended because your kid might read this and end up killing themselves, (a) keep a better eye on your kid and their damn Internet activity, and (b) if your kid likes Soulja Boy, you are a FAIL of a parent and give up your kid for adoption before he/she falls down a well. But anyway, if you really did like “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)”, this album sounds like that repeated a dozen or so times, so you’ll be in pizza-face paradise. And the beat for “Kiss Me Through the Phone” isn’t too bad, either. That’s not to say that the producer should be up for a Grammy, but it’s not as horrendous as the rest.
Cons: Let’s start with the fact that Soulja Boy is a shit lyricist. Let’s then add that the beats all sound the same, and they are all wack. Combine that with a whole slew of worthless guest appearances (including impresarios like Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Shawty Lo, Sammie, The Showstoppas… and Sean Kingston, bringing together a duo who respectively brought us two of the worst songs of the summer of ’07) and this is a complete shitstorm. “Bird Walk” not only tries to start another retarded dance craze, but it sounds almost exactly the same, even using the same “YOUUUU!” as “Crank Dat”. And it’s just plain laughable when the teeny-bopper “Hey You There” (complete with a shout-out to the fat rent-a-cop at the mall) is juxtaposed with the gunshots and attempt at being hard that is “Shoppin’ Spree” (featuring the aforementioned fellow Collipark acolytes Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti). OK, Mr. Collipark, the jig is up. We all get the joke. We got it with the first album. Now please stop this nonsense, right now. Otherwise the anthrax will be mailed.
This would make a good gift for… your worst enemy. It’s much more painful to have to withstand than that punch in the face that you were thinking of giving him.
Heaven 17 – Naked as Advertised – Versions 08
Absolute Zero / Just Music (11/30/08)
Synthpop / Electronic
Pros: I thought for sure that this band’s best years were behind them, as they’ve been together since 1980, had a flurry of success in the decade that would follow, but ultimately ended up in the mire that is the middling Cleopatra Records tribute album series (see also, Dead or Alive, Information Society, although it should be noted that their cover of “Holiday” for the Virgin Voices series was damn good). It appeared as if their days of producing quality material was behind them. But with this EP release, the band proves us wrong, as Naked as Advertised contains a small collection of rerecorded tracks, including two great renditions of material by the aforementioned Human League, with “Being Boiled” and “Empire State Human” (the former of which carries a wonderful house groove to kick off the set), and a stripped-down and vulnerable cover of The Associates’ “Party Fears Two”. Other high points are a techno rework of “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” and a version of “Temptation” with dance diva Billie Godfrey, which will have all of the circuit boys creaming their jeans like a new crop of Ricky Martin beach photos.
Cons: This is just too short. Yes, it was supposed to originally be included in a package alongside the DVD for the band’s recent Steel City Tour (also including the Human League and ABC), but even a few more tracks would have made this already fantastic collection even better. And while this is most certainly geared towards the band’s core fanbase, it’s a bit surprising (and dare I say, disappointing) that their biggest mainstream hit, “Let Me Go”, is nowhere to be found.
This would make a good gift for… your gay uncle. Come on, we all have one. In fact, I have two!
Ghostface Killah – GhostDeini the Great
Island Def Jam (12/16/08)
Hip-hop / Rap
Pros: The third consecutive Ghostface album to be released before the holidays, GhostDeini the Great is an elaborate collection featuring old favorites compiled alongside exclusive new tracks, most of which are remixes of previous songs, this this featuring a new lineup of guest emcees. And what we have here is easily one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. F*ck what ya heard about Lil Wayne, even though he does make a surprisingly tolerable appearance on a nice remix of “Run” (alongside Jadakiss, Raekwon and Freeway). Other highlights include “Slept On Tony”, “Back Like That” (remix featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo), “The Champ” (remix) and the legitimately dope and apropos-for-the-season “Ghostface X-mas”, which, along with new Christmas offerings by Weezer and The Raveonettes this year, makes 2008 one of the better years for new Christmas material.
Cons: I honestly can’t really find anything worth writing about that is is a downside oft his album. I suppose the fact that it includes old tracks like “Cherchez Laghost”, “Street Opera” and “Apollo Kids” might keep some people from buying it since they already have those tracks (even though they’re all dope), but the previously unreleased material more than makes up for it.
This would make a good gift for… any and every hip-hop head out there. Even the ones who like Lil Wayne will be happy to see that he’s on this album, while the ones with more discerning taste will enjoy the pairing of classic Ghostface material with new stuff.
Common – Universal Mind Control
Geffen Records (12/9/08)
Hip-hop / Rap
Pros: If Like Water for Chocolate was a Roots album disguised as a Common album, then Universal Mind Control is a Neptunes album disguised a Common album. It’s interesting to see Common take to a more decidedly electro sound (as evidenced in the Afrika Bambaataa-sampling title track and first single), as he’s been evolving quite obviously on each album since the aforementioned Chocolate, and it works to create a few club tracks, something for which he’s never really been known.
Cons: While a lot of The Neptunes’ work is classic, the dominance of Neptunes beats makes this sound more like one of their side projects than an album by one of the Midwest’s most dominant emcees. On “Sex 4 Suga”, the subject matter is just laughable, while the whole thing comes off as an aping of Nelly Furtado’s Timbaland-produced “Promiscuous” without the back-and-forth dialogue. “Punch Drunk love” is another weak one, featuring Kanye West, who could have at the very least produced that track in order to break up the Neptunes doldrums, which carry on in the bumpin’ “Announcement”, which should have been better suited for Busta Rhymes or The Clipse. By the time you get into the second half of the album, you just want the clunky club beats to stop. The lyricism on “What a World” is vintage Common Sense, but the hipster-dance-type beat, while a bit of a change-up, still doesn’t do him much justice. I’m sure the intentions we good, but this whole thing just comes off as a massive mismatch in style.
This would make a good gift for… the pop-rap fan who needs a gateway into Common’s better material.
Plastilina Mosh – All U Need Is Mosh
Nacional Records (12/16/08)
Latin (Alternative / Pop) / Electronic / Synthpop
Pros: If you were wondering what hipsters in Mexico like to listen to, this Monterrey-based duo would definitely be on the list. That may be a “con” for some of you, but the music for the most part is really good. And for you jingoistic types who also happen to be hipsters (all two of you), the large majority of the album is sung in Spanish, so you don’t have to learn anything new before listening. But this also gives the band (who have incidentally been around for over a decade) the opportunity to be crossover hit throughout North America, as this album has the right sound to make it big. Album opener “Toll Free” is possibly the best track on the album (not necessarily a good thing), driven by a funky bassline and equally funky electro beat, while “Cut the Crap” has a nice punk-infused tone sure to make those kids jump right out of their tight pants.
Cons: Like many hipster bands, Plastilina Mosh’s album has ironic tracks, like “My Party”, with its “ironic” reference to Paris Hilton and hook “everybody wants to go to my party,” and the brooding “San Diego Chargers”, with its cheering-crowd/referee-whistle samples, is just kind of odd. And while the aforementioned English lyrics bode well for crossover potential, at times they get downright nonsensical, and while Beck might be able to get away with that, he had to earn it first.
This would make a good gift for… your hipster cousin. She’ll be the coolest one in her group when her friends think that she discovered this band on her own. She might even buy you a case of PBR and a carton of Parliaments if it goes over well enough.
Mark Farina – Mushroom Jazz Six
Om Records (10/28/08)
Electronic (Downtempo) / Jazz / Hip-hop
Pros: As many artists tend to evolve throughout their careers, Mark Farina is, too, evolving his Mushroom Jazz series into a more jazz-centric compilation. We saw this with the last installment, and volume six continues that trend. And like always, this is chock-full of downtempo gems, including offerings from The Jazzual Suspects, J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science and an exclusive track by Farina himself.
Cons: For those of you who’ve enjoyed the hip-hop tinges included in past Mushroom Jazz collections, this one tends to eschew hip-hop a bit, with only only one rap track out of the set. There’s also a nu-soul-type track—”Wasn’t Really Worth My Time”, by Flash—that really doesn’t resonate well amid the rest of the selections.
Maroon 5 – Call and Repsonse: The Remix Album
OctoScope Music (12/9/08)
Pop / Rock / Electronic
Pros: For a radio-staple band whose songs all sound painfully similar, this is a welcome alternative, with remixes by everyone from ?uestlove, Pharrell Williams and Mark Ronson to Deerhoof, Of Montreal and Cut Copy. Needless to say, we get a plethora of different sounds, which would probably be off-putting, where is supposed to read as an album, though since it’s instead more of a bits-n-pieces collection, it’s actually quite refreshing. Highlights include Cut Copy’s Galactic Beach House Remix of “This Love” (fantastic), A Tribe Called Quest producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s remix of “Better That We Break” and a surprisingly good club mix of “If I Never See Your Face Again”, which still features Rihanna.
Cons: It’s Maroon 5, so there’s no escaping star-f*cker Adam Levine’s whiny vocals, even with lush layers of production thrown over it. Also, it’s not really certain exactly what demographic this is aimed at, since most of Maroon 5’s core fans are yuppies, who will probably be turned off by tracks like a Southern rap-laden remix of “Wake Up Call” featuring David Banner and might not get the more ambient tracks like the aforementioned Deerhoof’s version of “Goodnight Goodnight”.
This would make a good gift for… …you know what? Screw it, buy this for the Maroon 5 fan in your life. We’ve all got one, face it. If anything, they might not necessarily be down with everything on here but (a) they’re bound to enjoy a great deal of it, and (b) they’ll more than likely be surprised to find out that the band slipped a new release out there under the radio without any radio hits to back it up. And if you happen to be lucky enough not to know a Maroon 5 fan, this would likely make a great gift for a DJ who spins at either a strip club or a college bar. You will be doing him a service by getting him even more poontang than he was already getting. Who knows, maybe he’ll be nice and share.
Señor Coconut – Around the World
Nacional Records (12/16/08)
Latin (Salsa / Dance) / Electronic
Pros: German-born, Chile-trained musician Uwe Schmidt has returned with yet another collections of salsa-infused covers, this time focusing on tracks from different performers originating from different countries around the world. True to the title of the album and the concept therein, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” gets a short tribute, while other standout tracks include a sped-up version of Laid Back’s “White Horse” and
Cons: The most recognizable tracks off this album will probably be the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and Prince’s “Kiss”, though they are far from the best tracks on the album. In fact, they end coming off as contrived and relatively uninspired. Sure, there’s a salsa edge to both, but you can only do so much with that. To think of all of the bands to come out of England, there could have been a much more intriguing selection there. And while Prince is a great representative of American music, not coming off as too cliché (Springsteen comes to mind), perhaps a lesser-known Prince song might have worked better. I would have liked to see him run with either “Dirty Mind” or “Raspberry Beret”. And the cover of Jobim’s “Corcovado” was really good up until he had to go and break out that godforsaken Auto-Tune.
This would make a good gift for… lounge lizards, or fans of eclectic covers à la Richard Cheese.
Fall Out Boy – Folie à Deux
Island Def Jam (12/16/08)
Pop punk / Alternative
Pros: As is to be expected here, the production on this album is sparkly and fantastic. I absolutely detest Pete Wentz, his stupid haircut and everything the two of them stand for, but I’ve really got no beef with the rest of the band. That said, though, they’ve put together a pretty good collection of songs for people who like this kind of crap (read: teenage girls and the guys who like them). I feel absolutely filthy writing this, but this album is actually good for what it’s supposed to be taken as—pop punk fodder for the masses. Expect Grammy nominations aplenty. Also, Elvis Costello decides to sell his soul to the devil and makes a cameo on the cameo-laden “What a Catch, Donnie”.
Cons: Unfortunately, said cameo by Elvis Costello is marred by accompanying cameos from a horde of choads including Brendan Urie of Panic at the Disco, Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes, Gabe Saporta of Midtown/Cobra Starship and William Beckett of fellow affluent Chicago suburb-based crappy band The Academy Is…—all of whom take turns rattling off lines from previously released Fall Boy Boy songs. This might have been a decent collaboration for something like the MTV Video Music Awards, but here is just comes off as contrived and rather self-indulgent. (And speaking of which, the album’s title, Folie à Deux (“a madness shared by two”), is a French term referring to a type of psychiatric phenomenon where a particular form or symptom of psychosis is transmitted from one person to another—possibly referring to the method by which this band’s fanbase was created.) And once again, Pete Wentz is a tool.
This would make a good gift for… that 16-year-old girl who works at the Hot Topic in local mall. Wait… no, don’t buy her a present, and stop pretending to go to the pretzel place next door just so you can ogle her from outside the store. That’s creepy.
The All-American Rejects – When the World Comes Down
DGC / Interscope (12/16/08)
Power pop / Emo
Pros: Oh, come on! First a new Fall Out Boy, and now this? OK… like Fall Out Boy’s album, this one has sparkly-shiny, polished production, and is led by single “Give You Hell”, in which singer Tyson Ritter emanates the aforementioned Maroon 5 choad Adam Levine, which I guess is good, because even though both bands suck, Maroon 5 is definitely more tolerable than The All-American Rejects.
Cons: Let’s ignore the fact that this is whiny, vacuum-packaged pop-rock for the masses, and that I hate it. Instead, we’ll focus on how the band has fallen off from previous releases, instead opting to fall inline with The New Found Glory Continuum. While earlier releases were unmistakably emo, this band has morphed into yet another carbon-copy, Disney-grade band, with When the World Comes Down lacking any discernible hooks, edge and/or genuine emotion. And an “emo” band should at the very least have the third. The aforementioned radio single (and a large majority of the album, in fact, like the entire middle block of the album) may suck less, in theory, by channeling Maroon 5 and the like, but in the process it’s kicking all of this band’s core fans in their collective nutsack. Come on, All_American Rejects, haven’t they suffered enough by devoting themselves to you, in the process wasting x-amount of years that they could have been listening to good bands? For shame.
This would make a good gift for… the slightly hefty 16-year-old girl who works at the pretzel place in local mall, because the one at Hot Topic shut your ass down.
Seal – Soul
Warner Brothers (11/11/08)
Pop / Soul
Pros: Seal is a good singer.
Cons: While Seal is a good singer, this collection, as a whole, comes off as a painfully contrived pandering towards the older yuppie contingent. If you’re not sure of the group about whom I’m speaking, think of people who used to go to bars back in the ’90s and play The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You” on the jukebox. And the covers, while sung well, are most of the same R&B songs that everybody else covers (“It’s Alright”, “If You Don’t Know Me By Know”, “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”. At least a few more offbeat selections would have made for a more unique collection to match Seal’s earlier work, not to mention some genuine emotion.
This would make a good gift for… the married mother-of-three who drives a Volvo and lives next-door to your parents, that you’d like to sleep with sometime while her husband’s away on one of his many business trips.
Shinichi Osawa – The One
Dim Mak Records (11/4/08; originally 12/11/07, on Phantom Sound & Vision, Japan)
Dance / Electronic (Electro house)
Pros: Hipsters rejoice, you have a new favorite electro-house album. Signed to Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak Records, Osawa brings plenty of that sweet electro on The One, kicking off the festivities with an ethereal cover of The Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar”, and moving into the dirty house realm with the filthy “Detonator”. Osawa moves things around in just the right spots to keep the set interesting, going from a downtempo pop sound in “Our Song” back into more filthy stuff with “Push” (which is very Spank Rock-esque), and finally into some volatile techno with “Rendezvous”, which is sure to turn any dancefloor on its ear. And the fun just keeps coming, with the break-a-rific “The Golden” and Hooverific “Maximum Joy”. God bless the Hoover. I propose much less Auto-Tune in popular music, and much more Hoover in popular music.
Cons: “State of Permission” sounds like the best Britney Spears song that she’ll never do, so any über-hipsters out there will either be turned off by it or will ironically embrace it just like they ironically embrace everything else.
This would make a good gift for… yourself. Go on, spoil yourself. You’ve earned it.
Tags: ABC, Britney Spears, Busta Rhymes, Common, Daft Punk, Elvis Costello, Fall Out Boy, Ghostface, Ghostface Killah, Jadakiss, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Oasis, Prince, Rihanna, Soulja Boy, Timbaland, Weezer