With its cute kids and a hook that could’ve been copped from a Teen Vogue editorial, Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” sure smacked of guilty pleasure. But part of what made the track more than cosmetically compelling (besides the best hallway-full-of-lockers choreography this side of ” . . . Baby One More Time”) was its fixation on girly accoutrement. Lil Mama invoked the age-old tradition of prop-hop—spitting about what you’ve got to show how you roll—but giving the paradigm a feminist flip, so the accessories of the sparkly, feminine variety are bestowed with as much power as the boys’ guns and cars, their bling and their kicks.
Both Devin the Dude (“Broccoli & Cheese”) and Animal Collective (“Peacebone”) released songs that mention cooking broccoli. Only one utilizes the phrase “this dick is so clean.”
Brooklyn, New York
Rilo Kiley: Like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Under the Blacklight
is an inner-band breakup album. Unlike Rumours, it doesn’t sound like it was recorded under a pound of coke.
“Gunpowder & Lead” follows in the abused-woman stilettos of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.” But where that song had a certain jubilance, this is raw nerves, a lit cigarette, and a trigger finger that’s ready to pull. Miranda Lambert’s tenure as the enraged feminazi takes Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” to the Mama-Don’t-Take-No-Mess Club with venom and fury—and this song puts revenge in the hands of the battered heroine.
For me, Miranda Lambert was just another example of the symbiotic relationship that mainstream country music has always had with Nashville songwriters (of which there are a few), and the record’s aural qualities were typical Music City: a simulation of music you thought you knew, but neither the thing itself nor an advance upon it. More product—good product. And sure, she looks good in cowboy boots.
2007 saw new releases from a Gypsy punk band (Gogol Bordello), a Gypsy dance band (Balkan Beat Box), a Gypsy-influenced DJ (Berlin’s Shantel), Gypsy-inspired soul-slingers (Slavic Soul Party), Gypsy hip-hoppers (Czech crew Gipsy.cz), and a Balkan-borrower-turned-Francophile (but still kinda Gypsy-fied) indie rocker (Beirut). Is there any genre Roma music hasn’t infiltrated? Fingers crossed for a Miranda Lambert/Fanfare Ciocarlia collaboration in ’08. Personally, I really felt like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend could’ve used some tubas.
Eugene Hütz makes me miss Joe Strummer less.
Ghostface may not be spitting strange saliva like “ravioli bags” or “Godzilla bankroll” anymore (neither is Weezy now, geniuses). He’s just cracking the Dutch and telling stories in the recliner, each one more lucid and grisly than the next. So what if he didn’t record a bunch of mix tapes in ’07? Ghost, like all the members of the Wu, is getting older, but not to the point of senility. He’s wiser, humbler, or—as Jebediah Springfield would say—”embiggened.” He also has a silver tongue.
Brooklyn, New York
Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter: If you only listen to one song about nuclear-missile-silo operators tumbling headfirst into a beautiful, hopeless love, make it Ritter’s “The Temptation of Adam.” Or that one by Fergie.
Bluffton, South Carolina
Nick Cave and Grinderman reminded us that misogyny always seems far less odious when the perpetrator isn’t getting any poon. Surely “No Pussy Blues” displayed no less nihilistic objectification than your favorite hip-hop scapegoat, but coming as it did from a position of weakness rather than strength, it was (perhaps worryingly) easy to sympathize with Cave’s blue-balled plight.
Raleigh, North Carolina
When my dad had a midlife crisis, he bought a convertible. When Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos have a midlife crisis, they record a Grinderman album.
St. Louis, Missouri
Band of Horses, Cease to Begin: In which frontman Ben Bridwell breaks up with a girl and moves from one hipster hotspot (Seattle) to another (South Carolina) to forget her. Then he writes a bunch of songs about how he can’t.
Lil Wayne’s dazzling mix tapes not only struck the type of blow against ossified notions of the album that should make
Radiohead jealous, they were also the perfect iPod accessories of ’07. Da Drought 3 in one sitting gave me a hangover, but for the entire summer, any time one of its tracks came up in shuffle mode, I was in simile-addled heaven.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Snoop used to wear a Maple Leafs sweater during his “Gin and Juice” heyday, but as far as I know, Lil Wayne’s “Upgrade U” is the first time Toronto’s resident sports institution—as mythical around here as the Yankees or Packers, the difference being we’ve been in a 40-year slump—has made it into actual hip-hop rhyme (setting up my favorite line of the year: “But I’m a champion/Where’s the fuckin’ Rocky theme?”).
I’m tempted to say that with something like “Upgrade U,” hip-hop is officially into its
Exile/Riot phase—all that Christgau stuff about anomie and layers of murk—except that that probably already happened 20 years ago on Schoolly-D’s first album. The layers get uglier and druggier all the time, though, and to that end, I can hear the appeal that the schlocky horror-show sample from Beyoncé’s original might have had for Lil Wayne. It almost functions like Elvis’s “Let’s get real, real gone for a change,” except here the invitation reads “How low? This low.”
The effects of the last wave of New York innovation from the holy trinity of Animal Collective, Black Dice, and Gang Gang Dance seem to have struck everywhere except the place they started, and unfortunately, this influence has thus far led to little more than lower-fi imitators. But MySpace reveals a strong American underground growing, from West Virginia’s neon-core (Narwhalz of Sound) to Michigan’s alt-noise (Our Brother the Native) to Portland’s hippie ambient-distortion (Yellow Swans). U.S. underground has strong niche pockets of regional sound-gangs!
Brooklyn, New York
Justice’s music has roots in French house, but the influences extend to jagged Michael Jackson rhythms, all-treble-no-bass black-metal fuzz, a seemingly genuine hint of Christianity, and, well, everything else ever: Cross begins as a Daft Punk derivation (“New Jack”), becomes hipster effrontery with the one-two punch of “The Party” and “DVNO,” and then morphs into an all-out George Romero dance party for the undeniable trilogy—all this God stuff can’t be a coincidence—of “Stress,” “Waters of Nazareth,” and “One Minute to Midnight.” Justice are the side of the French that loves Jerry Lewis and Edgar Allen Poe, the side that’s daringly anti-elitist. To get real fancy about it—something the group would never do—Justice are more Barthes than Baudrillard?
Forest Hill, Maryland
It was a roar that echoed through clubs and out of laptop speakers in 2007: YOUUUUUU! YOUUUUUU! “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” is the bizarre dance sequence that high-schoolers could do to varying levels of perfection while anyone born before 1990 watched in amazement (and frequently, disgust). YOUUUUUU! post yourself Cranking That on YOUUUUUU!tube, just like a host of other amateur Crank-ers. YOUUUUUU! Crank all those other things that Southern club rappers proposed you Crank this year, including but not limited to “That Roosevelt,” “That Robocop,” “That Spiderpig,” “That Pac-Man,” “That X-Man,” and “That Jackie
Chan.” YOUUUUUU! watch SpongeBob SquarePants, Winnie the Pooh, and Simba from The Lion King Crank That. And don’t YOUUUUUU! even try to make sense of the song, or the teenager with his name lettered across his sunglasses.
“Crank That” was like the dance it inspired: fascinating, bizarre, more than a bit ridiculous, and fantastically fun, even if you should’ve been doing something more responsible, like, say, doing your math homework or listening to a Papoose mix tape.
Kotara South NSW, Australia
50 Cent, “I Get Money”: The yin and yang of 50 Cent and Kanye West is, what—Stones/Beatles? It was Kayne who wouldn’t make nice after Katrina, though—and besides, the idea that the Beatles ever represented wholesomeness, even in 1964, is silly. Manny Farber’s termite art vs. white-elephant art? 50 doesn’t make a very good termite—sells too many CDs, wears too much gold. In any event, there’s something insidiously sensuous going on in “I Get Money” that I don’t get from any of the half-dozen songs I’ve dutifully auditioned from Graduation. Kanye might look more dapper, but it’s 50 who’s what I believe hardcore gangstas call the “Buddy Love Flow,” and he’s got it, like, all the time.
Years from now, people will listen to Burial’s Untrue and imagine what it was like to be alive in 2007. They’ll see hooded-up toughs roaming empty city streets at 3 a.m., kids staring out taxi windows choked up, empty coke bags chalked with residue, a sky as gray as the sidewalk. And they’ll hear us, distrusting and deeply feeling, smoking a cigarette in the dark.