702: “Where My Girls At?” (from 702, 1999)
702: “Where My Girls At?” (from 702, 1999)
CM Punk, enjoying life.
CM Punk, enjoying life.
It makes sense for me to do this, right? Someone will care? Because professional wrestling is fucking awesome. There is so much good stuff out there, and so much that I haven’t watched. I devote probably too much time to this stuff, but so far this year, I’ve only seen one Chikara show, no Dragon Gate, no non-NJPW Japanese stuff, no lucha, barely any TNA. And I’ve still seen so much good wrestling. Here are my favorite matches, with video if I can find it.
1. Young Bucks vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (PWG Tag Team Championship, DDT4, 1/12/13). Here’s the story behind this one: Steen, a happily deranged loudmouth fat-guy psychopath, and Generico, a pale redhead Canadian who pretends to be Mexican and who takes an ungodly amount of punishment every time he wrestles, were tag team partners for years, then spent years bitterly feuding. For this show, a single-night tag-team tournament that PWG has every year, they teamed up again for the first time in forever, and it had further resonance because Generico somehow got signed to WWE and this would be one of his last indie shows. The team made it through the first two rounds of the tournament, in a couple of great matches, with Steen starting out showing pure white-hot hatred for Generico but gradually getting won over as Generico kept doing stuff to save him. (Generico is one of wrestling’s great underdog good guys, and he’s got years of indie-fan goodwill built up, so that helped, too.) They make it to the finals and face PWG’s dominant tag team, the sneery vainglorious hair-flipping self-obsessed brother team the Young Bucks, who are maybe indie wrestling’s single greatest tag team. Together, they have this crazy long destructive matches, everyone hitting gigantic moves on everyone else. PWG matches tend to be all spectacle without much storytelling, and this was mostly that, but it was that aesthetic perfectly realized. And then, after the Bucks cheated to win, Steen gave an honest-to-god heartfelt and emotional goodbye to Generico, the crowd gave him a hero’s sendoff, and Generico gave a broken-Spanglish goodbye speech without breaking character. I loved everything about this. The video below doesn’t have the whole match, but it does give you some idea what was going on.
2. CM Punk vs John Cena (Raw, 2/25/13). I was not excited about this match. These two have wrestled each other a fuckton of times over the last couple of years, and while the first one was a straight-up classic, they’ve had diminishing returns and screwjob endings lately, especially in their free-TV matches. But this match! Holy shit, this match. This was two top-dog wrestlers with inhuman chemistry going full-on Flair/Steamboat, building on little storylines from past matches, avoiding traps they’d fallen into before, reversing big moves, pulling out moves we’d almost never seen from them, doing everything they could to keep each other down. Punk did an old-school piledriver, a move that’s been banned in the WWE for years. Cena Ligerbombed Punk, and I literally jumped off my couch. Cena only squeaked out a win after doing a goofy-as-fuck hurricanrana that left Punk stunned for long enough to fall for another finisher. These two probably won’t wrestle each other again anytime soon, but they finished the rivalry up the right way.
3. Prince Devitt vs. Low-Ki vs. Kota Ibushi (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Wrestle Kingdom, 1/4/13). Wrestle Kingdom is Japan’s annual bigtime stadium-show Wrestlemania equivalent, and it’s also the first full Japanese wrestling show I’ve ever seen, because I am a total neophyte and not an especially great wrestling fan. But this was a good show to start with anyway, a total beginning-to-end blast once I acclimated myself to the foreign-language commentary and the new rhythms, an easier leap than I expected. My favorite match, though, was the one that would’ve fit most cleanly on an American indie show, three smaller guys throwing themselves and each other around with the gravity-defying fuck-it-all superball glee of the WCW Cruiserweights I used to love so much. Low-Ki is an American indie veteran infamous for his humorless intensity, so this match makes him dress like a video game character and keep his shirt tucked in the whole time. Ibushi, a Japanese heartthrob type, does this amazing floppy dive to the outside and then casually walks up the walkway like nothing happened. And Devitt, the Irish champion, does absurd aerial stuff with a straight-faced toughness that makes it look like a perfectly reasonable way to fight.
4. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (Raw, 2/4/13). A match with nothing on the line, with Punk’s opponent determined through social-media voting or something (and to hear Jericho tell it, the WWE expected Randy Orton to win), but it’s a super-fun all-over-the-place physical match where both guys look great but one wins definitively. These two wrestled each other at last year’s Wrestlemania and had a whole big dumb built-up storyline about how Jericho was going to make the straight-edge Punk turn to alcohol. The Wrestlemania match they had was great, and the others they had were good too. But this one, which came out of nowhere and served no purpose beyond being awesome, was probably my favorite of all of them. Two of the all-time greats going at each other on a big televised stage for bragging rights: More of that, please.
5. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Prince Devitt (NJPW 41st Anniversary Show, 3/3/13). Tanahashi is New Japan’s rough John Cena equivalent, its dominant bland good guy who’s been on top for years and who almost never loses and never, ever stays beaten. Except he’s a goofy lug, big (for Japan) with feathered and bleached hair and a ridiculous habit of playing air guitar whenever he’s not dragon screw leg-whipping somebody. At this year’s biggest New Japan shows, he’s had great title defenses against Kazuchika Okada and Karl Anderson, but this one, at a relatively low-key show, was my favorite, even though he didn’t actually defend his title. Tanahashi and light-heavyweight champ Devitt are both babyfaces, and when guys like that wrestle each other, there’s usually this mutal-respect buddy-buddy sensibility that keeps the match from escalating for a while. But this time around, both guys start out throwing fucking bombs at each other. Tanahashi does a good job acting enraged that a big chunk of the crowd is chanting for Devitt, and he throws everything he can think of at Devitt so he doesn’t have to face the humiliation of letting this smaller foreigner beat him. And Devitt throws everything right back; his running dropkick to Tanahashi, when Tanahashi is sitting on a chair outside the ring, is a thing of brutal beauty. More Devitt main events, please.
6-10. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Karl Anderson (IWGP Heavyweight Championship, New Beginning, 2/10/13); Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki (New Beginning, 2/10/13); Jack Swagger vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kane vs. Mark Henry vs. Randy Orton (Elimination Chamber, 2/17/13); Young Bucks vs. the Unbreakable Fucking Machines (PWG Tag Team Championship, DDT4, 1/12/13); Young Bucks & Kevin Steen vs. 3.0 & Gran Akuma (All Agents & the Superhuman Crew, 2/9/13).
I read books, too. Still haven’t cracked some of the ones I was hoping to get to in the past three months: The Richard Hell memoir, the Sam Lipsyte short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Also, all the books on this list are by white men, something I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this. Sorry about that. But! These books are all good. (Also, I wrote something about Kurt Angle for it, and you can’t buy it, but the Classical ebook, the one sent to people who pledged a certain amount. Fucking rules. The Tom Scharpling piece on Shawn Bradley is no goddam joke.)
1. The Book of My Lives by Aleksander Hemon. A couple of years ago, I read Hemon’s story about watching his baby daughter die in the New Yorker, and it fucking leveled me, ripped my heart into bits. This book of reminisces, half memoir and half essay collection, has that same essay sitting at the end, and I knew, the whole time I was reading it, that I was going to read that piece again, that it would make me feel godawful again. I still did it. It’s an amazing piece about unspeakable sadness. And the rest of the book, which tells Hemon’s story about growing up in Sarajevo and becoming a displaced foreigner in Chicago when Bosnia erupted, isn’t exactly short on heartbreak. Hemon’s writing style is hard and unadorned and extremely effective, and I’d always thought that had a lot to do with writing in English even though it’s not what he grew up speaking. In the book, though, he credits his “angry” style to a great literature professor who turned out to be a fascist when the Bosnian civil war broke out — that style, then is a refutation of that one professor, like Hemon started writing like this to spite him. I’ve always liked his fiction, which always seemed to be part-memoir. But when Hemon writes about pooling his money to buy Bowie’s Low on cassette when he’s abroad with his sister, or about his family sneaking his dog past military roadblocks, or about the moment when he started to see fellow Bosnian refugees popping up in his Chicago neighborhood, or about playing soccer in all-foreigner games in a Chicago park, the real stories pull me in even more than the ones he made up.
2. Tenth of December by George Saunders. Saunders is, in my mind, pretty much the reigning OG of American short story; almost every writer I care about speaks about him in hushed, reverent tones. And his antic-dystopian stories always have a sense of empathy at their core. But with the stories in this book, for the first time I can remember, Saunders’ characters themselves bring a certain empathy, and that serves to make his stories less fucked-up and distant and cold than they’ve been. Saunders is still writing about stuff like imprisoned medical-testing subjects and immigrant women being used as lawn ornaments and a family who keep a toddler on a dog chain, and his people still speak in a combination of corporate neologisms and forced pep. But now, these people seem to be looking out for each other, or at least attempting to look out for each other, and so just about every story has a profoundly moving moment or two. This is Saunders at his softest, and that’s enough to make this one probably my favorite Saunders collection.
3. Donnybrook by Frank Bill. Movies about illegal underground pitfighting tournaments pretty much make up my favorite school of cinema, so I went into this one expecting a fun and pulpy book about dudes mashing each other in the face, and this book is that. I did not go in expecting post-Cormac McCarthy brutalist transgressive noir shit, minimal rhapsodies about brain matter sinking into trailer-park soil and meth-lab-explosion burns bubbling skin and people unflinchingly executing coworkers, but this is somehow that too. I generally stay the hell away from Dennis Cooper and sadistic fucks like him, but the sadistic-fuck elements of this book come encased in a seriously compelling story with a rich cast of bad people, all of whom are doing the best to fuck over all the other bad people around them, to the extent that it’s hard to believe anyone in this universe survives into adulthood. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book this quickly. It was probably The Hunger Games or something.
4. Rage Is Back by Adam Mansbach. This one is a fun post-Lethem/Diaz New York heist-caper thing, with the twist being that almost all the characters are legendary fictionalized veterans of New York’s graffiti golden age, all plotting against the Giuliani figure who murdered one of them and chased the rest out of town. The character is the weed-dealing private-school angry son of one of them, the crazy one who blew town and turned into a legend. And it’s got a great sense of place and a healthy disrespect for the iconic figures of the past. There are some serious problems — a narrator too excited to show us how cool he is, some magic-realist bits that don’t quite pan out, an extended description of a psychedelic trip that bored me to tears and served no vital story function. (Nobody ever needs to write about the experience of tripping on anything again.) But there’s a great and unbelievable set piece at a just-got-out-of-prison yacht party and some seriously fun final payoff scenes, and the entire sensibility is so cartoonish and genial that it almost never made me think of The Wackness.
5. Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. Total pulp, begs to be made into a heist movie. This one tells the story of an elite supercriminal who helps other criminals disappear after heists, and it involves lots of crushing microchips and deciphering tire-skids. It’s got that same Rage Is Back issue where Hobbs has his narrator explain what a good person he is way too often when he should just go about his business and shut up. But there’s a ton of care put into the actual mechanics of the various crimes here, and it has some of that Parker-novel sense of watching professionals who are very good at committing crimes, though it’s got nothing of that Parker-novel economy. And when they do make it into a movie, the scene where the ghostman fights a couple of Nazi skinheads is going to be fucking awesome.
Yeah, I’m doing more of these, can’t help myself. Unfortunately, I’m kicking this thing off after a deeply underwhelming three months for movies, especially after last year’s unexpected early-on Haywire/The Grey bounty. And anyway, I didn’t see a few of the movies I really wanted to see over the past three months: Snitch, Bullet in the Head, GI Joe: Retaliation, Side Effects, Olympus Has Fallen. I’ll get to all of them eventually and, if they’re good, count them toward the next Quarterly Report. (I hope I’m not being too ambitious here.) But I did see a few movies that I liked, and I’m going to talk about them here.
1. Spring Breakers (Dir. Harmony Korine). Do you ever get the feeling that a movie was created completely for you, and that maybe you shouldn’t like it because it’s pandering to your sensibilities too much? I never cared much about the state of Florida or the entire concept of spring break, but here we’ve got Gucci Mane yelling “burr!” before peeling off in his Ferrari, Jeff Jarrett playing a wincingly sincere youth-group leader with an Affliction shirt and a cross tatted on his neck, Skrillex going emotive Tangerine Dream on the score, James Franco imitating a Riff Raff Worldstar video with nunchuks mounted on his wall, Vice City camera angels, one of the stars of High School Musical bringing all her underlying skeezer tendencies to the surface, an inevitably over-the-top gun battle, and a visual sense of beauty that’s like Terrence Malick if Terrence Malick movies weren’t so goddam boring. And we’ve also got some no-joke flattening emotional moments elbowing their way into this hyperactive candy-color haze. I can’t help but love this ridiculous thing. I am powerless.
2. John Dies at the End (Dir. Don Coscarelli). Coscarelli made every Phantasm movie and motherfucking Beastmaster. He is an old master of gory tripped-out low-budget B-movie creepiness, and the fact that he even has a new movie out is a small miracle. This one is disguised as a horror-comedy, and I wish it didn’t have its snarked-out slacker protagonist, quite possibly the entire movie’s least interesting figure. But it’s really more of a full-on rocket-to-your-brain headlock. It tunnels into alternate timelines and soul-projection and ghost limbs and giant insects and death foretold, and it still somehow ends up being vaguely cohesive. Paul Giamatti’s reaction to the sight of a spider-creature might be the finest moment in his entire mostly-worthless acting career.
3. The Last Stand (Dir. Jee-Woon Kim). Kim’s Korean movies I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad & the Weird are nihilistic bloodyminded delights, so I was probably way too amped that his first American movie would be the one that returned Arnold Schwarzenegger to B-movie-land, now that he’s returned home. Unfortunately, the movie only has traces of Kim’s cartoonishly sadistic personality, though it was fun to see what Kim does with a Harry Dean Stanton cameo. It’s also smaller and more contained than any of the other Kim movies I’ve seen, which is pretty weird when you consider that this is the first time he had a Hollywood budget at his disposal. And Johnny Knoxville’s half-retarded gun-nut character would’ve been an inept stab at comic relief even if it didn’t give critics an excuse to get sanctimonious about movie gun violence. But this still has more than its share of enjoyably loony set-pieces, and it’s pretty viscerally satisfying to watch Scharzenegger figure out how to escape a cartel boss’s armbar while he’s suspended over a desert canyon. Bonus points for Peter Stormare’s occasional attempts at a redneck accent. This movie will have its moment in the daytime-cable sun, and when that happens, you will enjoy it.
4. Mama (Dir. Andres Muschietti). Standard but effective ghost movie with some very cool and unsettling effects and a deeply shitty ending. But the opening, with the wild-eyed office shooter coming home and grabbing his daughters and heading out the door, is gripping and cold shit, something that powerfully drew me in from jump even though I watch every PG-13 ghost movie with the clear expectation that I will hate it. (I don’t know why I keep watching PG-13 ghost movies.) And Jessica Chastain’s suburban punk character was so great, so profoundly and subtly realized, that I want to watch a whole series of movies about her, one that does not necessarily have to involve ghosts. Throw her in a romantic comedy or a Die Hard ripoff or whatever, give her this unsettled kid and this dark past, just bring back the haircut.
5. The Grandmaster (Dir. Wong Kar-Wai). Hong Kong seems to be churning out movies about Ip Man now the way it was churning out Wong Fei-Hong movies in the 80s, and the two Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen ones are straight-up instant classics. (There’s a third one coming, and holy shit I can’t wait.) I was seriously amped about the idea of Wong Kar-Wai doing his own, but Wong, for all his gorgeous cinematography and emotional resonance, cannot put together a coherent fight scene to save his life; he must be the only prominent director in Hong Kong who can’t figure that shit out. When you’re telling the story of someone famous for being good at fighting, that’s a major problem. Also, as someone who did not grow up hearing the Ip Man story, I had no idea what the fuck was happening way too often here. But Tony Leung is all class and stillness and handsomeness, and Zhang Ziyi burns people with her eyes (figuratively; don’t get the wrong idea). Some of the isolated images in this one are just impossibly gorgeous. And Wong remains better than just about anyone at depicting unrequited longing. If this had great fights and a legible-to-foreigners story, it could’ve been so good!
This year has had some goddam motherfucking jams, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to hate even the obnoxious omnipresent stuff like “Thrift Shop” and “Harlem Shake.” If Charlottesville had a tolerable radio station that played new pop and/or rap music (as opposed to Saturday morning Dead bootlegs, which is cool too), I would probably have even more nice things to say about it.
1. Ace Hood: “Bugatti [ft. Future & Rick Ross]”. At this point, long-running punchline status notwithstanding, I have enjoyed Ace Hood’s career more than those of any of the non-Curren$y jokers who shared his apocalyptic-in-retrospect XXL-freshmen cover. (He made “Hustle Hard” too!) And even though his verse just kind of shits out with that “yeeeah,” Ross sounds like he lives on beats like this. But this song is obviously all about that triumphantly sinister adrenaline-firing Future hook and that Mike Will beat, the way it goes from eerie churn to punch-you-in-the-ear the second the hook kicks into its second gear. (And is that Future on the “woop-woop-woop” ad-libs? If it is, Jesus.) I’ve ambled around my house half-consciously mumbling that chorus so many times that my daughter Clara, not quite 3 yet, flipped it her way: “I WOKE UP IN THE CLARA BODY!” I am so proud. Woop woop woop.
2. Pulp: “After You”. A cheat, obviously. The song is built from a pre-breakup old demo, and the James Murphy-produced version hit the internet sometime late last year. But I have played the living hell out of this thing over the past few months, and I demand that it be counted. The Pulp/Murphy connection is one that totally works, with Pulp cheekily sliding their way toward disco, the way they’ve always been great at doing, and Murphy making sure the guitars slash hard and the beat has a chance to ride out for a while before things end. And those “ooh” grunts? That rubbery Moroder-born baseline? The awesomely cheap synth-strings? The way Jarvis Cocker intones “a paaahty in Hackney”? If Murphy and Pulp made a whole album together like this, it could be the best legacy-act album ever, right? Like, better than Swans’ The Seer or Scarface’s The Fix or Time Out of Mind or whatever? I think it would.
3. Disclosure: “White Noise [ft. AlunaGeorge]”. My three favorite genres of music are as follows: Headknock rap, feral punk, breezy bass-heavy Afro-Caribbean Nike-trackpants South London Notting-Hill-Carnival-soundsystem sophistifunk dance music. The moment I first became cognizant of pop music was the year my family lived just outside London, and it was an early golden age for that third genre: Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry, Adeva, Beatmasters, D-Mob, S’Express, Bomb the Bass, the British-for-all-I-knew Detroit acid house guys, all of them all over Top of the Pops right alongside Bobby Brown and Poison and Midnight Oil and whoever. This is that style, filtered down through the generations, executed to perfection: Vocals precise but urgent and longing, drums always pushing forward in push-pull lockstep, little counter-melodies sneaking up out of the mix to grab you. And that little plinky-plonk keyboard line is easily the riff of the year. It’s an actual hit in England now, and that makes me so happy.
4. Syron: “Here”. More of that London soundsystem shit, but now slower and sexier and more graceful, shot through with a sparkly-clean Ace of Base robo-reggae lilt until the chorus, when everything reaches for the stars and Syron sounds like she says “nigga” but she doesn’t. (It’s “near ya,” random Stereogum comments-section goon.) God knows American pop radio is never going to do what I want it to do, but if it threw in a few songs like this — still sweaty electro-synth Euro-dance songs, but slower and more considered ones — I might not just scan through the local top 40 station looking for One Direction songs. I might actually stop and listen to the thing.
5. Jeremih & Shlohmo: “Bo Peep (Do U Right)”. You can’t just put two talented people in a room and expect wonderful things to happen because chemistry and creativity don’t really work like that. And yet Yours Truly is somehow still batting 1000 with its “Songs From Scratch” series, and I don’t know if they just have curatorial ESP over there or what. This one, with Shohmo transforming L.A. Brainfeeder music into sinister Klonopin club-rap rumble and Jeremih singing lick-you-up promises over the canyons of empty space, sounds like the work of a small army of canny music-biz professionals, not something two guys bash out in an afternoon. But process is less interesting than result, and this is a great result.
6-10. Problem: “Like Whaaaat [ft. Bad Lucc]”; Beyonce: “Bow Down/I Been On”; Ciara: “Body Party”; Lil Wayne: “Rich as Fuck [ft. 2 Chainz]”; NORE: “Built Pyramids [ft. Large Professor]”
I’m doing this again, at least for now. And actually, over the past few months I’ve been doing my best to keep track of things that I care about, so I’ve got a bunch more lists like this to come over the next few days. I’ve only really loved one album this year, but I’ve really, really liked a whole mess of them, and I didn’t have anywhere near enough room for all of them in the arbitrarily decided 10 here. So apologies to the Dropkick Murphys, My Bloody Valentine, Iamsu! & Problem, Pissed Jeans, DJ Angelbaby, Atoms for Peace, the Underachievers, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Gucci Mane like five times over, Le1f, A$AP Rocky, Autre Ne Veut, Joe Moses, Bleeding Rainbow, and Fidlar. Extra apologies to Kvelertak, who were at the 10-spot on this list until yesterday, when I figured out how much I like that Kasey Chambers album.
1. Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt. I saw Waxahatchee a couple of times at SXSW, and both times, the band played this shambolic, falling-apart cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble.” It was a ridiculous choice, of course; virtually nobody could pull off the quasi-spoken verses here. But when Katie Crutchfield hit the back half of the chorus, the “way we look to a distant constellation” bit, Crutchfield’s voice hit this completely craggy and vulnerable new tone that just ripped my heart apart. A lot of the words written about this, her second album as Waxahatchee, make reference to early Cat Power and talk about how her lyrics are all gut-scrape personal disclosure, and that’s certainly a big part of this album’s power. (It was a bigger part of American Weekend, the mostly-acoustic debut that I slept on for too long.) But Crutchfield also has a big and bright voice, one that can communicate equal measures of joyous exhilaration and exposed-nerve roundedness, sometimes at the same time, and she knows her way around a sparkling melody. Crutchfield hates being called emo, but Cerulean Salt is the best emo album I’ve heard in years, and it would’ve ruled my world in college. It rules my world now. “You’re Damaged,” the last song on the album, is the sort of song where I want to crawl inside it and live there. And when I’m in the right mood, I could say the same about just about every other song on the album. (I wrote about it here.)
2. Yo La Tengo: Fade. Once upon a time, I made fun of (slightly) older friends for listening to bourgie coffee-shop chin-scratch music like I Can Hear the Heart-era Yo La Tengo instead of, like, Against All Authority. I am not at all mad at Destroy What Destroys You now, but I was obviously an idiot. Because now that I’m old and I’ve got kids, Yo La Tengo have dropped what might be the most bourgie coffee-shop chin-scratch album of their entire storied career, and I like it so much. Fade is an album made with surpassing grace and wonder, and its melodies just float and twinkle. I don’t know how much I should credit producer and post-rock don John McEntire for stuff like this, but little touches like the extended string-section coda on “Before We Run” are enough to make this my favorite YLT album since that one I made fun of my friends for liking. Fade is the best sunny-Sunday-afternoon album I’ve heard in forever, and I’m equal parts proud and ashamed to say that that’s all I really need at this point in my life. (Wrote about it here.)
3. Kevin Gates: The Luca Brasi Story. The Luca Brasi Story isn’t Pluto. It’s not close. I want to say that straight out before I start drawing parallels. But there are parallels: Two full-lengths from Southern rap cult heroes, guys who have open and bleeding hearts, who possess sneakily commanding melodic sensibilities and cracked, broken voices. Gates and Future are both, also, fucking weirdos; On Luca Brasi, Gates has a song called “Twilight,” and it’s about Twilight. And both made full-lengths that I initially liked, but which really snuck up on me in the weeks after, buried themselves deep in my brain. Gates can’t write songs like Future, but he is a certifiable rap animal in a way that Future never will be (closing a cappella story-song “IHOP” is just nuts), and choruses like “Narco Trafficante” have a mesmeric quality that has them burping up out of my mind at inopportune moments. This guy’s been around forever, and maybe I’m an idiot for not paying attention, but here he’s made a piece of work that continues to grow on me. I’m more excited to see what he does next than to play catchup with the back catalog. (Wrote about it here.)
4. Free Energy: Love Sign. There’s something so noble and quixotic and amazing about these guys releasing shit on their own and traveling under the radar but cranking out absolutely heavenly circa-‘88 wind-in-your-hair corporate-rock hookfests without an actual corporation anywhere near them. These songs move from peak to peak like Tarzan swinging from vines, and other than maybe Paul Sprangers’ awesomely blasé vocal delivery, there is nothing remotely punk about the actual music they make. Instead, this album is all alternate-universe prom jams that reliably mash my endorphin button every time the next chorus comes in. (Wrote about it here.)
5. Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience. The megabudget corporate-synergy pop&B version of the Yo La Tengo record I wrote about above: A lazy blissed-out love-drunk float of an album that stretches out into the ether without worrying too much about concision or even direction. Timbaland’s EDM period has been so godawful that I almost forgot how much I loved him, but his late-period take on Dap-Kings retro soul turns out to be as endearingly weird and dorked-out as I could’ve hoped, and I love that he’s still doing the vikki-vikki mouth-percussion stuff that seemed goofy in 1997. JT himself sounds great even when he’s vamping out on “Don’t Hold the Wall” or “Let the Groove Get In,” but when he goes in on an actual chorus, as on “Mirrors,” he still sneaks his way into a majestic sort of gravitas that seems like it should be so far beyond him. I even like Jay’s verse on “Suit & Tie” now, fuck it. (Wrote about it here.)
6-10. Dawn Richard: Goldenheart; Toro y Moi: Anything in Return; Master P: Al Capone; Kasey Musgraves: Same Trailer, Different Park; the Men: New Moon.
Stereogum’s big top-50 list ran today. I wrote the intro, and I was one of five guys submitting ballots. Since I already made a top-50 list, and since I’ve more or less given up on quarterly reviews, I figured I might as well vomit this list up on this site today. So: My picks.
1. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
2. Screaming Females: Ugly
3. Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
4. Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
5. Swans: The Seer
6. Future: Pluto
7. Japandroids: Celebration Rock
8. Action Bronson & Party Supplies: Blue Chips
9. Jessie Ware: Devotion
10. El-P: Cancer for Cure
11. Cat Power: Sun
12. Nude Beach: Heaven
14. Spiritualized: Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
15. Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream
16. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
17. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory
18. The Evens: The Odds
19. Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music
20. Roc Marciano: Reloaded
21. Baroness: Yellow & Green
22. Tragedy: Darker Days Ahead
23. Rick Ross: Rich Forever
24. Taylor Swift: Red
25. Jack White: Blunderbuss
26. Neil Young: Psychedelic Pill
27. Cult of Youth: Love Will Prevail
28. Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions
29. Ceremony: Zoo
30. Four Tet: Pink
31. Mouse: Millionaire Dreamzzz
32. Converge: What We Love We Leave Behind
33. Meyhem Lauren: Respect the Fly Shit
34. Split Cranium: Split Cranium
35. Titus Andronicus: Local Business
36. Neurosis: Honor Found in Decay
37. Usher: Lookin 4 Myself
38. Torche: Harmonicraft
39. The Crystal Ark: The Crystal Ark
40. How to Dress Well: Total Loss
41. Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror
42. Joey Bada$$: 1999
43. Chromatics: Kill for Love
44. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
45. The Men: Open Your Heart
46. The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten
47. Horseback: Horseback
48. Tanlines: Mixed Emotions
49. Old Man Gloom: NO
50. Future: Astronaut Status