This is a picture of a sword. My friend took it. I like it.
1. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale. This is a little different from the version I heard at a listening party a while ago: no “Charlie Brown,” one extra bullshit R&B track, a different version of the monster-banger “The Champ” (Just Blaze told me that the sample wouldn’t clear, so he had to bring in a live band to play it, which he’d never done before). But it’s still a dazzling, confusing piece of work, Ghost making like an unstable nuclear reactor, throwing his voice like a boomerang. On “Shakey Dog,” he goes all breathless telling a robbery story with more urgency and tension and detail than just about any I’ve ever heard, which is saying something. On “9 Milli Bros.,” every member of the Wu-Tang Clan comes unbelievably hard in quick succession, and the effect is just shattering. On “Jellyfish,” he and Trife and Cappadonna get all emo, doing love-rap with genuine feeling over some sunkissed MF Doom organ samples. And “Underwater” is as surreal as anything on Supreme Clientele, totally bizarre and compelling and sort of heartwarming. I was a bit skeptical about the idea of Ghost playing to his backpack fanbase on this record and working with so many underground producers, but he sounds a lot more easy and natural over Doom tracks than Doom usually does. This record isn’t going to bring New York back, and it isn’t going to sell shit (managed to outsell Rob Zombie in its first week, so that’s something I guess), but it’s another near-perfect display of naked, gurgley passion, and I have a hard time imagining that anything better will come out this year.
2. T.I.: King. The Pitchfork review dropped today, so I’ve already said plenty about this, but I’ll say it again: this is the moment where T.I. makes the leap, where he weeds out all the squirmy uncertainty and blatantly embarrassing pop moves and bleh sex-jams, where he steps into the role of huge, titanic star, the guy who moves 500,000 in his first week. It all sounds so easy for him. I mean, I can’t really imagine anyone else over “King Back” or “I’m Talkin’ to You”; those tracks are just too dense and hectic and unrelenting, and still he sounds easy and natural on them, even when he has to bust out his old double-time flow to do it. But the mid-album mid-tempo rollers are the stretches I love the best: cool royal horns on “Ride Wit Me,” breezy early-90s club sheen and gentlemanly courtesy on “Why You Wanna,” throaty DMX snarls on “Top Back.” A couple of years ago, I remember thinking T.I. was an idiot for trying to step to Lil Flip, that his career would be over in a minute and “Rubber Band Man” would be his one little brush with fame, that his dumbass tendency to commit felonies and challenge better and more famous rappers would be his undoing. Now, he’s stepping onto the A-list, pulling up the chair that was always waiting for him, not breaking a sweat or remotely compromising his style as he becomes one of the biggest rap stars in the world. It’s pretty amazing.
3. Juvenile: Reality Check. If you were one of the few smart and lucky ones who bought Chrome’s Straight to the Pros and listened all the way to the end, you noticed a weird moment on the last song. Every HCP album ends with an all-HCP posse cut (usually just called “HCP” or “Posse Cut” or something like that), all the Three 6 guys and affiliates talking shit and repping Memphis and building off each other’s momentum. But after DJ Paul and Frayser Boy drop verses, Juicy J abandons the formula for a minute and starts unexpectedly talking about Hurricane Katrina over Woody Woodpecker giggles and Dragnet-theme synths: “You know the storm hit em hard down in New Orleans / Now they got them niggas on the roof strapped with M-16s / And they wanna call us refugees? What the fuck you mean? / Cuz a nigga ain’t ate in three days and his clothes ain’t clean?” And then it’s back to the gun-talk. All of Reality Check is like that; Juvenile opens up with “Get Ya Hustle On,” this confused and warped and sad and angry Katrina rant, and then he’s back to the formulaic journeyman Southern banger parade, and it’s not even a lost opportunity because it was so startling to hear him talking about it in the first place. Maybe it says something bad about the state of commercial rap when it’s a surprise that someone from New Orleans would candidly discuss the absolute destruction of his hometown on a song, but (I say this all the time) with Southern rap, it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it. Juve’s voice is this swampy gutteral slur, and he sounds tired and defeatist, doing rap shit because it’s his job. And he’s great at it; “Sets Go Up” is a small masterpiece, and virtually everything on Reality Check has a fierce trunk-rattling authority. It’s only ambitious for four minutes, but it’s deeply satisfying for more than an hour, and I’ll take that.
4. The Sword: Age of Winters. I’m new to this metal shit, and so it feel unbelievably lame and new-jack to be repping this quartet of retro-ass jeans-jacket-rocking Elefant labelmates; I’m going to feel like a total poser if (when?) I blow off the Morbid Angel show at BB King’s Sunday night to catch these fools at CBGB’s. And, as everyone has been tripping over each other to point out, Age of Winters is totally derivative of Black Sabbath. But Jesus Christ, this stuff is hugely satisfying: enormo-crunch riffs, echoed-out howls, lyrics on some Lord of the Rings shit, no blast-beats or screamo choruses. Walking around outside on a warm spring night, just about nothing sounds better than this on my iPod. This may be worth exactly nothing, but I haven’t enjoyed a metal album this much since Mastodon’s Leviathan.
Voice review: Brandon Stosuy on the Sword’s Age of Winters
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones. This album is right now being met with a resounding critical meh, but from where I’m sitting, when a band ditches its gimmicky attention-grabbing party-up steez and taps into a hazy, crashing primal throb on its second album, that’s a good thing. The yips and squiggles and chop chop chops were fun and all, but I’ll take the searing whooshing sun-dazed achy desert shit instead. This is sort of like the new Liars album if they’d decided to write some songs or something. Also, fuck it, I like “Phenomena.”
Voice review: Nick Catucci on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones
6-10. The Knife: Silent Shout; Jenny Lewis: Rabbit Fur Coat; Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Ballad of Broken Seas; Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; In Flames: Come Clarity.