Status’s dog does his award-winning Lil Wayne impression
I do these things every three months (the most recent one is up here), and the last one of the year is always the weirdest because I’ve already filed all my year-end lists and because usually there aren’t too many great albums released in the last three months of any year. This list has one great album and nine really good albums. Still, there was stuff that I wanted to list and didn’t have room for: the Kano mixtape, Broken Social Scene, Jens Lekman.
1. Lil Wayne: Tha Carter II. This shouldn’t shock anyone who’s read my column over the past month; I’ve probably written too much about this guy’s sudden metamorphasis from pretty good also-ran Southern rap guy to absolute monster. With Tha Carter II, he set out to make a sweeping cinematic masterpiece, and he did it: huge anthemic soul samples, uber-hard fuck-you-up young-lion tracks, and the sort of lines that get stuck in your head for days, that you repeat under your breath when you’re stuck in traffic, that no one since (fuck it, I’ll say it) Black Album Jay-Z has managed to let fly with any sort of consistency. The tear-stained soul tracks (“Receipt,” “Feel Me”) are great, but the real show is in the unbelievably savage stormy crashing stomp tracks like “Fireman” and “Oh No” and “I’m a DBoy,” all hungry toothy grin and knife-edge wordplay and effortlessly devastating authority. And then there’s “Shooter,” a swollen funk orchestra played as a drawn-out sigh, maybe my favorite song of the year. Late Registration is still my favorite rap album of 2005 for all its puffed-up ambition and stately elegance and cross-genre sprawl, but Lil Wayne did rap on rap’s terms better than anyone else, nailing every genre convention hard enough to pull something transcendent out of it.
2. V/A: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ Original Soundtrack. The movie was nothing special, and people are getting justifiably sick of 50 Cent, but this album is everything great about G-Unit swept up into one darkly compelling package. 50 limits himself to one bullshit love-jam and buries it at the end, focusing instead on singsong taunts and chillingly matter-of-fact gun-talk. Lloyd Banks does the purring paranoid half-lidded baby-50 thing better than he did on his own album. Young Buck absolutely wrecks his three appearances, sinking his weirdly passionate throaty burr right into the pocket of his tracks. Tony Yayo is oddly effective in his one showcase track, flexing a blunted snarl over a monstrously blaring lazer-synth and a breathless soul sample. New recruits M.O.P. and Mase burn through a few severe and impressive verses, though Mobb Deep sounds a bit lost. Spider Loc and Olivia don’t do much. But, as always with G-Unit albums, this is mostly about the beats, heavy shuddering windswept things from mostly unknown or near-unknown producers: crushing acoustic guitars on “You Already Know” and shivery pianos on “I Don’t Know Officer” and foghorn tubas on “I’ll Whip Ya Head,” sweeping and smashing without resorting to regional signifiers or wormy synth melodies, the real reason 50 Cent has pretty much conquered the world.
3. Rachel Stevens: Come and Get It. There are any number of reasons to overlook this album: it’s cheesy Euro-pop, it’s not even out in the US, it didn’t even sell in the UK, Stevens’ voice is pretty thin, the song with the Cure sample is pretty boring. But it’s rare to hear a pure pop album this expert in its execution: huge unstoppable deadpan choruses, epic and hard-rolling production, zero-gravity hooks flying in from all directions. The pseudo-glam stomp-riffage on “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)” somehow manages to keep the hair-flipping flasy insouciance of actual glam-rock while at the same time co-opting it into a slick, streamlined dance-pop jam, and “Dumb Dumb” and “Negotiate With Love” are exactly the kind of synthed-up starry-eyed gliding neo-disco that Madonna couldn’t quite manage to pull off on Confessions on a Dancefloor. Now that I think about it, Come and Get It isn’t much different from the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack, a pop album so flawlessly huge that it becomes sort of overwhelming.
4. Chrome: Straight to the Pros. This isn’t the best of the four Hypnotize Minds albums released this year; that’d be Three 6 Mafia’s Most Known Unknowns. It is, however, the one that best recalls everything I loved about the Three 6 Mafia in the first place: the disorientingly spooky DJ Paul and Juicy J production, the insular and nihilistic worldview, the sense that you’ve discovered a local secret from a place you’ve never visited. On Most Known Unknowns and Frayser Boy’s Me Being Me, Paul and Juicy prettied up their sound with airier compositions and Willie Hutch samples, but here they’re back to the heavy, forbidding horror-movie shit they do better than anyone else, ghostly piano chimes and gurgling synths and handclap-drums hard enough to make your head snap back. Chrome, Paul and Juicy’s newest discovery, is a helium-voiced squeaker in the mode of Lil Boosie or I guess Eazy E; he’s not amazing, but he does just fine on beats like this. Really, just about anyone would.
5. The Clientele: Strange Geometry. I’ll always have a weakness for staring-out-a-rainy-window British mope-rock, but even so, the Clientele’s last album, The Violet Hour, never quite clicked. It was too whispery and diffuse and barely-there. Strange Geometry is also pretty whispery and diffuse, but now the band has started playing around with airy Hammond organs and 60s-soul string-sections and actual hooks, and the result is basically what I wish Belle and Sebastian would’ve turned into after they started messing with Motown orchestrations about six years ago, a hazy floating sigh of a record that changes the air in the room when it comes on.
6-10. Kelly Polar: Love Songs of the Hanging Gardens; Youngbloodz: Ev’rybody Know Me; V/A: Big Boi Presents Got Purp? Vol. 2; Love is All: 9 Times That Same Song; Ladytron: Witching Hour.