Know what sucks? Two things: the last few weeks of school and artists who tour in December. Here's all of the concerts I at least would have tried to attend in Chicago if they were earlier in the semester:
Jay-Z & Kanye West (Nov. 30/Dec. 1)
The National (Dec. 6)
Bon Iver (Dec. 9)
Ryan Adams (Dec. 11)
Wilco (Dec. 12 and like five other days)
Last year about this time those of us with an eye on the hip-hop world were for the most part preoccupied by what has generally come to be regarded as Kanye West's magnum opus, the best record of the still-new decade, and above all a new kind of hip-hop record, one that avoided categorization and held a much broader, but stranger appeal than the typical blockbuster hip-hop record. The album in question is, of course, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--released a year ago late last month, but leaked a few weeks before that.
As that record began to settle in the minds of fans and critics alike, one of the most prevalent questions that was being asked was, "How will this album change the hip-hop, or popular music landscape in the future?" We all seemed to think that it would, but I don't think anyone had a clear idea of how exactly.
Not included in the seemingly never-ending list of star-studded cameos on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a certain Canadian whose rise to fame had seemed to culminate last summer with the release of his debut album. Drake recorded a verse for Kanye's smash "All of the Lights," but the verse was cut somewhere in the latter stages of Yeezy's manic-obsessive creative process. But Drake, like Kid Cudi (who was featured on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but seems to be falling apart creatively as we watch), is obviously influenced by Kanye. Sure, calling Drake a "Kanye 2.0" is anything but fair or accurate, and Drake doesn't have the production capabilities Kanye does, just as Kanye doesn't have the smooth-toned R&B voice Drake does--but the similarities are evident.
Is Take Care further evidence of Kanye’s legacy? Yeah it kind of seems like it. Drake, like Kanye, has made an expansive record which prominently features a star of the indie world in The Weeknd, who is (to a certain extent) to Drake what Justin Vernon was to Kanye on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In said record, Drake somehow manages to make us feel sorry for him for being rich and famous and having lots of sex. Yes his persona may be different than Kanye’s in some ways, and Take Care may sound a whole lot more like 808s and Heartbreak than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but the comparison is valid nonetheless.
I don’t know what the fuck any of this means. I’m just making some observations. It seems like hip-hop is headed in a new direction in a lot of ways, and so far I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Take Care may not be receiving the unanimous applause that Kanye’s record got last year, but it’s still one hell of an album and certainly a step up for Drake. Stay tuned.
2010 turned out to be an amazing year for music, for many reasons. First of all, several of the biggest names in indie rock released arguably the best albums of their respective careers: The National, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, etc. (Okay I don't really mean that about Arcade Fire.) Also, the indie scene saw a slew of young bands put out solid debut efforts, namely Fang Island, Sleigh Bells and Best Coast, who are a few of my favorites.
Secondly, it was a fairly solid year for hip-hop. New Orleans-based stoner rapper Curren$y released a pair of excellent albums within about four months of each other. Drake finally got that major-label debut out, and haters go to hell 'cause I loved it. Weezy put out a shitty album, went to jail, put out another shitty album, then got out of jail. Did you expect something different? And then there was the 800 pound gorilla in the room--Kanye West. There is of course the album--which I guess I can shut up about because you've probably heard about it--but then there were the endless guest spots, a couple of key production creds, the inspired videos ranging from about a minute and a half to about thirty-five minutes, the GOOD Friday tracks--the list goes on.
Finally, I guess it started a few years ago, but was this the year straight-up rock 'n roll became cool again? There appears to be somewhat of a sub-genre emerging that is somewhere between indie rock, pop-punk, alt-country, and mainstream alternative rock. Bands such as The Gaslight Anthem, The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Free Energy, The Drive-By Truckers, Banquets (if you haven't heard of them go listen now), Ted Leo & the Pharmacists and Lucero could all be pretty fairly classified here. You'll notice all of those bands except Lucero put out great albums this year--and Lucero's 1372 Overton Park, released last year, is one of the finest examples of this genre.
What does this mean? Is this a new trend, much as garage rock saw a huge resurgence at the beginning of the last decade? (See: The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, The Black Keys, The Libertines and a million other bands, mostly with "The" at the beginning of their names.) It kind of would make sense I guess. And there certainly does seem to be a trend in this direction--and it's not all good. One band that kind of became a whipping boy for this on this site is AM Taxi. They seem simply like a gimmick to me, trying to cash in on the recent semi-success of bands such as Gaslight Anthem, and that simply nauseates me. I'm sure Tom Gabel had none of those intentions, but White Crosses definitely went in the whole rock 'n roll direction, and none of it was that great--besides "Bamboo Bones," which is the best song he's ever penned, real talk. Hell, even MCR kind of tried a rock 'n roll album. And failed, naturally. Kinda unrelated, but I still think that if they'd drop the stupid gimmicks and Gerard kept his hair the same color for two albums in a row they could be a decent rock band now that they've at least halfway shed the whole "emo" craze.
One way or another, allow me to say I am very excited about the new year. In the realm of indie-ish stuff, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Panda Bear and The Decemberists should keep me happy for the first part of the year. The Get Up Kids are finally putting out another full-length, which is awesome. That Yeezy/Jigga collaborative album should be fairly sick, and hell maybe Tha Carter IV will be decent. "Six Foot, Seven Foot" sounds promising at least. As far as my "new-school rock 'n roll subgenre" theory goes, I don't really know what releases there will be. Drive-By Truckers are putting out a new album, but besides that...New Lucero maybe? More from Banquets? More Titus? Patrick Stickles seems like a pretty prolific kind of guy. But most likely, unless my theory is dead wrong, more new bands will begin to emerge who fit that classification--some won't be that good probably, but a lot might be. Who knows?
Oh yeah, and then there's Radiohead? New album? Please?
That's all I got. If you actually read this, thanks a bunch. Comments are always appreciated.
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It's only been a little more than a month since Kanye dropped his magnum opus, but it already seems as if there is truly nothing left to be said about Kanye's success this year or this album itself. In the last month he has been hailed as everything from the new Michael Jackson to the biggest douchebag ever to top the charts; both labels are not far from the mark. But in the end, through all the controversy, all the bullshit, all the hype from the blogosphere, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is in fact an instant classic that is at the same time deeply personal, fantastically beautiful, and darkly twisted. Good work Kanye, you win.
2. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Out of all of the great records released this year, few aimed higher, rang truer or fought harder than The Monitor. However you choose to interpret the confused narrative mess that intertwines the Civil War, frontman Patrick Stickle’s odyssey from New Jersey to Massachusetts and back again, and a rather messy break-up, the real focus on this album is the band’s pure shit-kicking ability. Incorporating everything from bagpipes to honky-tonk piano, the band has taken the raw sound of their first full-length and made it into something incredible. The enemy is everywhere indeed.
3. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
A lot of people on this site already knew that The Gaslight Anthem are the band that have the potential to “save rock ‘n roll.” However, American Slang might well be remembered as the album that proved that to the world—or at least those who were listening. At the very least, this is the album where the band really stepped up and cemented their own sound, and the subsequent tour proved that they are indeed the best live band in America. These guys haven’t even peaked yet. Lennon, Dylan, Chilton, Springsteen, Strummer, Westerberg, Malkmus, Cobain...Fallon?
4. The National – High Violet
After releasing two of the best albums of the last decade, The National holed up for a year and came out with the most expansive album of their career to date. The album retains the half-drunken beauty of its predecessor Boxer, but augments it with a dark sensation of emptiness and futility alluded to on their previous records, but never entirely brought to the forefront. Beyond that, the album sounds both incredibly passionate and incredibly detailed at the same time. The band is not afraid to rock the fuck out: take note other indie "rock" bands (see "Most Overrated Album" below).
5. Vampire Weekend – Contra
You either like Vampire Weekend or you don't; that's just the way it is. If you saw any worth in their debut album, then chances are pretty good that you enjoyed this album as much if not more. Apart from the arrangements becoming more sparkling and the melodies getting even more pitch-perfect, the biggest thing that sets this album apart from its predecessor is lyricist Ezra Koenig's willingness to examine and critique life as a part of the upper crust, rather than simply documenting it for those of us who didn't go an an Ivy League school and aren't fond of sweater vests.
6. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever
7. Spoon – Transference
8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9. Jimmy Eat World – Invented
10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
11. Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing
12. Matt & Kim – Sidewalks
13. Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
14. Best Coast – Crazy for You
15. Curren$y – Pilot Talk II
16. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
17. Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life
18. Fang Island – Fang Island
19. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
20. Ryan Adams – III/IV
1. Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union
2. Kanye West - Runaway
3. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Sink/Let It Sway
4. The Gaslight Anthem - Stay Lucky
5. Jonsi - Go Do
6. Vampire Weekend - White Sky
7. Cee Lo Green - Fuck You
8. The Hold Steady - Our Whole Lives
9. The National - Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
10. Kanye West - All of the Lights
11. Against Me! - Bamboo Bones
12. Sufjan Stevens - Too Much
13. Banquets - Eleanor, I Need a Garden
14. LCD Soundsystem – All I Want
15. Jimmy Eat World - Movielike
16. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
17. The Black Keys – Tighten Up
18. Spoon - Is Love Forever?
19. Motion City Soundtrack - Her Words Destroyed My Planet
20. The Gaslight Anthem - The Spirit of Jazz
21. Wiz Khalifa - In the Cut
22. Free Energy - Free Energy
23. Titus Andronicus - A Pot in Which to Piss
24. Gorillaz - Stylo
25. The National - Lemonworld
Other Good Shit
Banquets – This Is Our Concern, Dude EP
The Get Up Kids – Simple Science EP
Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
Panda Bear’s various 7” releases
Albums I Really Missed Out On in 2009
1. Lucero – 1372 Overton Park
2. Passion Pit – Manners
3. Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day
Most Disappointing Album
Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Most Overrated Album
Beach House – Teen Dream
Best Live Act
The Gaslight Anthem
Artist of the Year
I mean, come on…You’re not gonna not.
Currently Listening: Bruce Springsteen - Racing in the Streets