Daftpop Track Reviews

Jeezy feat. Clipse: “Illin

Jeezy’s got a new mixtape out, for anyone who cares. I don’t, but I stumbled upon this track, and was taken aback by its sonic otherness. “Illin” features an insanely warbled, gnarly violin sample; it’s something from your nightmares, or maybe a zombie debutante ball in Baton Rouge, 1914. Jeezy’s husky, lumbering flow rarely conveys much of anything; the content of his rhymes is often self-aggrandizing bullshit, sometimes heart attacks, and one time about black presidents and blue Italian sports cars. But here, Jeezy is forced to hustle a little due to the presence of his guests, the every-day-they’re-hustlin’ rappers of Clipse. Jeezy + Clipse makes for a visceral clash of personalities; Jeezy’s verse is essentially about how effortless being him/being rich is, while Malice and Pusha sound anguished and paranoid, per usual. If only Clipse could learn a little something from the dumb self-assuredness of Jeezy, and Jeezy could maybe get a little writerly ambition from Clipse… then everyone would win.

Robyn: “Dancing On My Own

Apart from being Swedish, looking sorta gay, and having hot shit producers, there is yet one other element that separates Robyn from the baser spectrum of pop. This is the vulnerable and self-aware emotional center of her lyrics. I suppose this center does not always hold, especially when you consider the embarrassing lyrical content and rapping affectations of “Konichiwa Bitches,” which would have benefited from some self-awareness. But in her best songs–”With Every Heartbeat,” “The Girl and The Robot,” and now “Dancing on My Own”–Robyn acknowledges, in uncomfortable detail, the desperation and various humiliations involved in being a lover scorned. She dances on her own in this ditty, whose narrative concerns going to the club in order to see her recent ex get busy with his new woman: “yeah, i know it’s stupid/but i just got to see it for myself.” She then gets shit faced and, after stumbling over some broken bottles in stilettos, the world starts spinning off its axis. By song end, it ain’t hard to imagine our song’s heroine falling flat on her lovely YET STILL REJECTED face. My suggestion is that Robyn get with also-frequently-embarrassedly-in-love/fellow Swede Jens Lekman, and then they can make sweet music together until they die.

M.I.A.: “XXXO”

What I learned from the Hirschberg v. M.I.A. media shitstorm was that Maya Arulpragasam performs her role as musician-provocateur with perfect canniness. She is an artist, not a politician or policy-maker, and artists are allowed to provoke us in ways mysterious, inconsistent, or even morally unsavory. If art was not ambiguous, well, then we wouldn’t call it art.’ M.I.A always has a lot to say, even if it doesn’t cohere to a very orderly cultural analysis, and her new single, “XXXO,” clatters on in this same strain. The song contains a vague commentary on the identity-eroding properties of modern telecommunications; iPhones and twitter are name-dropped, while otherwise some whining ensues with the lines: “You want me be/ somebody who I’m really not.” Both the song title and the clutch of letters meant to represent a kiss are M.I.A.’s shorthand for the ways we are dehumanized by this technology; seduction and the possibility of love have been reduced to a mechanization, a screen touch, a tapping away on T9. Or so I’ve deduced. The song is a surprisingly conventional banger, and most of the lyrics are more suggestive than they are straight-up—but it keeps the listener guessing, and isn’t it better that way?

Weight of Womanly Ambition Makes Vampire Fantasies All the More Appealingly

I had assumed my new-found attachment to Twilight was special; I didn’t know I was part of a larger movement.

Check out this article about women who avoided the Twilight franchise at first, thinking they were totally above it, and then became obsessed when they dipped their toes in later.

A telling excerpt:

The people who have not read “Twilight” think they are astoundingly brilliant when they point out the misogynist strains of the series, like how Bella bypasses college in favor of love, like how Edward’s “romantic” tendencies include creepily sneaking into Bella’s house to watch her sleep, like how Bella’s only “flaw” is that she is clumsy, thereby necessitating frequent rescues by the men in her life, who swoop in with dazzling chisleyness and throw her over their shoulders.

In response: We know. We know… We wrote those arguments.

Ideological objections aside, I was prepared for shitty writing. Not to sound too high-minded, but I rarely even read contemporary literature, sticking to the comfort of the classics, so I knew I was in for some gagging. My sister told me she read the first 60 pages of Twilight and had to put it down, so clumsy and poor was the prose. I doubted I could make it through–but I am on page 300 and lovin’ it. I don’t even care that Meyer is the most inefficient writer of all time. As noted in the above-linked article, she uses three adjectives when she only needs one. An observation of my own is that roughly a tenth of the book is repetition of information. Meyer doesn’t even try to hide it. Many sentences go a bit like this: “Again, I was dazzled by his statuesque musculature,” or, “Again, my heart started racing when his Adonis-like figure approached me.” Her concept of detail and exposition is totally bogus, bogging down the narrative in absurdly wordy descriptions of walls in a high school (they featured student awards, really?) or the layout of a particular building (it had how many windows?). Really though, it hardly matters.

It’s easy to understand why one would dislike these books. Yet it sure is difficult to explain what we love so much about them. The books are so embarrassing to read, so obviously silly. The article notes that the books recall the fiery passion of being 17. Okay, agreed. But the article doesn’t offer why we need to feel like we are 17 again. As noted in my other observations about the movie New Moon, I think the Twilight series is so exciting because it allows an escape that we women often deny ourselves. Hold on, this particular theory is more elaborate than my last. The demographic specified in this article–bookish, wordly women in their 20’s and 30’s–are too busy these days to escape. We work, try to move up in the world, have serious pursuits, need to prove ourselves. One acceptable escape is via some fruity concoction on a Friday night; you know, girls’ night out, Sex and the City, all that. Or maybe we’ll get a massage, or watch Oprah to escape the exhausting ambition we carry around all day. But all the afore mentioned activities are still part of the modern gal narrative, whereas reading a romance novel is something quaint, a hobby for middle-aged women.  Maybe we read to escape at times, but it’s more likely that, to retain some respectability, we would flee to the mystery/thriller genre, not to harlequin romances with ripped bods/bodices on a glossy cover.

And maybe that’s why we’re overdoing it a bit: we are so unused to the ecstasy of escape offered in Twilight. One of the women in the article named all three of her dogs after some of the werewolves in the books. She also claims she’ll be naming her daughter after a character in the novels. (?!)

For now, though, I’ll be keeping my Twilight in the realm of fantasy…

Hey, shut up, Kid Sister is pretty good

de colores... de kid sister

Kid Sister’s debut album, Ultraviolet, finally came out yesterday after a couple years of hype. I need not get into the whole drama, cuz many others have already done so. The point is, 2 years ago we heard/were amused by the song “Pro Nails.” Kanye was slightly less ubiquitous then, so when he guested on that song, peeps’ ears perked up, and Kid Sister got a hometown boost from fellow Chicagoan Kanye.

I have just one thing to say to Ultraviolet‘s haters: this album should be heard in the context of what we hear on the radio. The production sounds like it cost about a million dollars more than any Jay Sean/Jason DeRulo/Treyz Songs/Drake/whoevs ’90sesque club single. Defmute asked me, all concerned, “Are there Chris Brown synths?” This means: “How generic and cheap does her production sound?” My answer: Not bad. Heard on hi-def headphones, the opening eurodisco stomp of “Right Hand Hi” sounds pretty darn expensive.

True, Ultraviolet is not in league with genre-bending high-minded pop, a la Kanye or M.I.A. But let’s not punish this album for what it never tried to be. This album is a cheerful throwback, all ’80s neon and Bassment Party rap reminiscent of last year’s big shit The Cool Kids. This album is a more successful Santigold, because I am certain that no one, other than the critics who ludicrously endorsed her, actually listened to that album. I think people will listen to and enjoy Kid Sister–she’s goofy, she’s pretty, she raps about Payless and Bath & Body works (that is to say, she is humble), and she has some good producers. This album also taught me a couple things about dance genres, and though the experts might scoff, dudes, I don’t know what kind of manic tom makes good juke, and if I hear some distortion that reminds me of MSTRKRFT, I will be happy. Hence Kid Sister sounds like fun dance music to me.

Not all songs are solid gold, but I would say that 50% of the album is great, including “Right Hand Hi,” “Life on TV,” “Control,” “Get Fresh,” and “Switch Board.”

So check it out and stop hatin. And for god’s sake, Pfork, don’t say Sister’s rhymes remind you of “actors in teen movies rapping for laughs.” Maybe it’s cuz you haven’t heard a woman rapping and having fun at the same time… like, ever.

 

Ghostdini is sometimes Sexistdini

I am always super-hesitant to comment on, express thoughts about or write up reviews of any albums by a former Wu-Tang Clan member. Peeps have been dedicated to these guys for several decades; I’m a relative new-comer to hiphopdom, and I don’t want to come off sounding stupid about this group of living legends.

That caveat aside, can I just say, I really love “Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry?” I know this album is a big departure from previous Ghostface Killah, since it’s more R&B and less hip hop. The album is full of soul samples and catchy hooks; there’s even a classy rag with Estelle. Ghostdini nods to contemporary commercial hip hop (with some auto-tune) but does not cowtow to it; the first few seconds of the first track punches you with a RUN-DMCesque sample, asserting that this is still the work of a hard Shaolin mofo. Among the album’s curiosities, the song “She’s a Killah,” is a surprise and a half. Part party jam (complete with Patron reference, homies sayin’ “Oh!”) and part call to prayer (a minaret warble like something from Radio Algeria), this song has the most creative use of auto-tune I’ve heard yet. You really have to hear it to believe it.

Ghostface and all his guest artists on Ghostdini are all like, oh, baby baby, let’s make love, I’m so tender, I love this baby we’re makin’ together, blah blah.

So if you love ladies so much, Ghostface (aka Dennis), why you gotta be like: “That’s what’s wrong with our people and shit… They put our women equal to men. We’re not equal.” ?????

You will be amazed at how much he trails off mid-sentence and says “n shit…” in this video. Pretty sure he smoked an acre of weed the morning of that interview. This is a dude who makes his money off his way with words and calls himself a ‘Wizard of Poetry,’ though you wouldn’t know it from all the shit he talks n shit in this video, n shit. He rambles incoherently for a little while until he begins ranting about promiscuity in women:  suddenly he has amazing clarity about the mathematics of hoe-dom: 12 men a year x a couple years = Ghostface will “never wife” a lady who done that.

WHY GHOSTFACE WHY? The only thing I will give him credit for is at least he is logically consistent. Right wingers, MTV and most of America reinforce a chastity double-standards (women who have sex = shameless sluts, men who have sex = celebrated as paragons of their gender) while still pretending to believe in the equality of men and women. Ghostface starts on another principle entirely (inequality) and runs with it.

Dude, if a lady you were interested in were to see this video, you’d definitely have to ask her for a “Do Over.”

Pitchfork Continually Surprised by Talented Women Musicians

Pretty, pretty princess who you maybe could possibly take seriously, i mean, if you're into the earth mother goddess sort thing, dude.
Pretty, pretty princess whom you maybe could possibly take seriously, i mean, if you're into the earth mother goddess sorta thing, dude.

Like many music enthusiasts in the world, I have a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork. My most exhilarating encounters with music criticism occurred while reading Brent DiCrescenzo’s outrageous (yet emotionally stirring!!!) reviews while I was still in high school. Pitchfork has informed the way I conceptualize music; it created the first paradigm for richly informed, detailed, obsessive music criticism, thereby driving the blurb-driven snark machines of Rolling Stone and Spin into the bitter, bitter dirt of irrelevance.  Also, Pitchfork has contributed to my vision for a blog like this one, in which I deconstruct a Beyonce single in like 1000 words.

Back in 2005, DiCrescenzo wrote a column chronicling various indie prototypes created in Pfork’s reviews, among them an intellectual female artist known as “The Stef,” and the freak-man-boy known as “The Sloth.” In it, he describes Pitchfork writer’s analyses (both underlying and upfront) of women musicians:

Specifically, writers paint Fiona Apple and Cat Power’s Chan Marshall as hormonally capricious victim-savants and read all their lyrics like Psy.D parents unlocking a daughter’s pink diary, while Devendra Banhart’s jabberwocky skews as fecund genius.

and later…

When convenient, male songwriters slip into omniscient skin to amuse and illuminate, while female songwriters meddle in their first-person emotions, unable to escape the black hole of their romantic astrology. Naturally, emotional analysis always overshadows technical musicianship in Stef reviews.

In other words, reviewers focus on the emotional qualities of women artists’ work, while they are more generous with men, granting them agency over their identity.

Too bad no one ever heeded his words over at the magazine. Despite Pfork’s “Best New Music” section featuring a larger proportion of women-led acts than perhaps ever before, the language of the reviews stirs in me a reaction similar to that of feminist bloggersresponses to The New Republic’s recent profile of Sonya Sotomayor. (That’s a whole ‘nother controversy, but one that revolves around the reading of a female subject through a lens of motherhood and unhinged emotionality.) Do a close, or fuck, a distant reading of some of these reviews, and all the acceptable feminine identities are neatly rolled out in a matter of four goddamn sentences, then the woman artist in question will be shoved into each and every niche, until she is a sex symbol, a princess (!!), a mother, and an earth-goddess.

So, czech out the latest example, from the review of St. Vincent’s Actor.

Annie Clark, the musician otherwise known as St. Vincent, projects an aura of eerie perfection– beautiful, poised, good-humored, and well-adjusted to a degree uncommon for rock performers, let alone ordinary people. She’s clearly not oblivious to her disarming qualities. On the covers of both her albums, her wide eyes and porcelain features give her the appearance of a cartoon princess come to life, and in the songs contained therein, she sings with the measured, patient tones of a benevolent, maternal authority figure. The thing that separates Clark from any number of earth mother Lilith Fair types, however, is her eagerness to subvert that effect. Her album covers may showcase her pretty face, but her blank expression and the tight framing leave the images feeling uncomfortably ambiguous. Her voice and arrangements are often mellow and soothing, but those sounds mainly serve as context as she exposes undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden just beneath a gorgeous façade.

Clearly, St. Vincent has an authoritative presence; but the critic here qualifies her assertive vocal tendencies as “maternal,” for no reason I can tell other than Ms. Clark has a woman’s voice. And, Lilith Fair? I don’t hear much 90’s lesbian music going on here; St. Vincent is more akin to those indie musicians pushing the classical envelope. Again, the only thing I imagine would conjure such a comparison would be her womanly voice.

Also, she’s a pretty pretty princess.

If Dicrescenzo is arguing that critics assume an insulting lack of agency on the behalf of women artists’ identities, this review pats St. Vincent on the back for being shifty; she has stealthily avoided all the traps pfork has set up for her.

Behold:

With that in mind, the album is perfectly titled, as Actor proves St. Vincent as an artist capable of crafting believable, complicated characters with compassion, insight, and exacting skill.

“Thanks, guys! I am capable!” I’m certain that’s what Ms. Clark was thinking when she read that.

You know who else is capable? Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan. Check out the last sentence of the recent review of Two Suns:

Not only does Khan hold her own, there are moments when she holds his, too [on the song The Big Sleep]. That she’s capable of doing so is evidence enough that we should be paying attention.

Apparently Pfork needs a lot of proof from the women artists they review. I find it uncanny, not to mention lazy, that these two reviews end almost identically. Furthermore, the fact that Khan “holds her own” with a man is supposed to prove to us we can pay attention now? Thanks for the permission.

Then again, I am relieved that the critic even came to that conclusion, given his best efforts to totally undermine the seriousness or aesthetic worth of Bat For Lashes in his opening sentence:

Natasha Khan likes pretty things: fur, gold, melody, the moon, feathers, things that sparkle, chords that resolve.

The thing I am most shocked about is the weird lack of awareness running through these articles. Aren’t these music critic dudes at all sensitive to the potentially cringe-inducing usage of words like, “capable” or “pretty” or “maternal?” Didn’t these hip young men ever take a gender studies class? Don’t their girlfriends get annoyed with them? Have they ever talked to a woman?

I am not proposing censorship, I am proposing a little sensitivity. I am delighted that women artists are being reviewed favorably by Pfork, but I won’t be satisfied until they apply the language they use in reviews of dude bands/acts to the womenfolk.