The singles list is slightly more complicated than the albums list; it’s a lot more fluid and subject to whim, and there’s no guarantee that any of these are going to end up on my year-end list (though I’d be surprised if most of them didn’t). More importantly, many of these singles didn’t come out between July and September 2005; they’re here in this quarterly report because that’s when they wormed their way into my consciousness. If possible, this list is maybe even more subjective than my album list.
1. Maceo: “Nextel Chirp.” Trust Southern rap to turn the most irritating sound in the universe, the high-pitched walkie-talkie bleep that you hear all the fucking time on the bus in Baltimore, into a regional anthem. Maceo is from Atlanta, a city that has become the country’s leading exporter of drug-dealer rap, and Maceo fits right in with T.I. and Young Jeezy; the song’s lyrics are fascinating stuff about how dealers shouldn’t be talking to each other on the phone, yet another music equivalent of The Wire. The best part: Maceo’s examples of people who fucked up: Irv Gotti, Jamal Lewis. This is heavily treaded territory, though, and “Nextel Chirp” wouldn’t be anything special if it weren’t for its space-bending hypnotic beat, floating whistles and aquatic gurgling beat and slow-motion drum-tics. Maceo’s voice is a greasy, high-pitched slur, playful in its menace. This is first-rate reprehensible drug-rap, the equal of virtually anything Jeezy or T.I. has done. It’s not villainous heroics or cold historical revenge; it’s career advice, simple practicality, more in tune with the day-to-day mechanics of the drug trade than the rewards or the consequences. Swear to God I had this all picked out before Maceo got the Fader back cover.
2. !!!: “Take Ecstasy With Me.” I don’t know the Magnetic Fields original, but I imagine that !!!’s cover starts out pretty faithfully, gorgeous synth washes over a chunky Peter Hook bassline and locked-in drums, Nic Offer doing his best impersonation of Stephin Merritt’s fussy, wounded baritone. But !!! just keeps piling all these bits on top of it: chicken-scratch funk guitars, swoony strings, berserk congas, blissed-out synth bits, white noise. But even as !!! stretches the song out to nearly eight minutes and transforms it into this ridiculous, triumphant dance-funk odyssey, the band keep the song’s puppy-dog-eyed melody firmly intact, and so the gloomy romanticism and dancefloor insanity feed each other and become this inseparable goth-rave monster. This 12-inch dropped in early June, but I feel like I’m still discovering it; the B-side, a ten-minute cover of Nate Dogg’s “Get Up,” may be even better. !!! may not be able to write their own songs with any kind of consistency, but they can cover the fuck out of other people’s songs.
3. Slim Thug: “Diamonds.” Already Platinum isn’t anywhere near platinum, and that’s mostly because the singles have been weak. The gleaming, emaciated blips of “Like a Boss” and “I Ain’t Heard of That” have nothing to do with Slim’s strengths; the dude sounds lost and confused on fast, minimalist Neptunes tracks. But when he gets ahold of a harsh, muddy, disgusting track like “Diamonds,” he just murders it. Mr. Lee’s beat is exactly the sort of ugly Houston monster that Slim always needed, all distorted sandworm bass and hollow echoey handclaps and disembodied vocal samples. The violin (I think it’s a violin) on the hook is sad like its dog just died, and it’s almost cruel to put it on a track this hard and violent. And Slim is just nasty, snarling in that haughty guttural drawl and just dripping with contempt whether he’s bashing Lil Flip or bragging about his steering wheel.
4. Teairra Mari: “Make Her Feel Good.” On a purely aesthetic level, it’s breathtaking, Sean Garrett swiping the tiny bells of “My Melody” and suspending them in the heartbeat drums and synth whooshes of this open, spacey track, Teairra Mari filling her thin voice with a tragic, desperate longing. But the track is also something else. Young R&B divas are thick on the ground these days, but their singles rarely get into feelings beyond the flush of initial attraction (“1 Thing,” “Turnin’ Me On”) or erotically charged self-confidence (“Goodies,” maybe “Girlfight”). But “Make Her Feel Good” finds a young woman dismayed at the assholism of dudes in general, how hard it is to find someone who treats her with anything resembling respect: “Do I have to apologize for my emotions?” Seems to me that there must be a whole lot of young women feeling like that nowadays, but you wouldn’t know it from pop music.
5. Art Brut: “Good Weekend.” A blast, swaggering skeletal staccato guitar over snare thwaks, simple and fun and propulsive and frayed like Bratmobile or first-album B-52s, cooing harmonies smoothing things out, an exclamation point at the end of everything Eddie Argos blurts. “Good Weekend” is a dude-rock take on Amerie’s “1 Thing,” a song about the dizzy rush of meeting someone that actually captures something of the stupid-sprung vertiginousness of those first couple of weeks. The thing that keeps Bloc Party and Maximo Park and, fuck it, Franz Ferdinand from graduating from good to great is their slick professionalism, the sense that they’re too busy trying on new pants and polishing up their guitar parts to put their heads down and just fucking go for it. Someone needs to tie those dudes to a chair and blast this song at them until their teeth get sharp.
6-10. Fall Out Boy: “Sugar, We’re Going Down”; Faith Hill: “Mississippi Girl”; Montgomery Gentry: “Something To Be Proud Of”; All American Rejects: “Dirty Little Secret”; Dem Franchise Boyz feat. Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, and Bow Wow: “I Think They Like Me (So So Def Remix)”