Record Bulletin

Record Bulletin, 11/22

Almost Famous

Commonplace for rappers to take on multiple aliases over the course of a career; a bit rarer to invent entire character histories and give them their own album. Tha Grimm Teachaz features Serengeti, a Chicagoan whose Kenny Dennis EP and full-length C.A.R. were released this year and will soon be featured on this blog. Plug 1 and Plug 2 of De La Soul put out a fantastic hip-hop album under the guise of First Serve, two layabouts not too dissimilar from their real-life counterparts. Looking at grades, this would put First Serve in my top three along with Jens Lekman and Todd Snider, only I feel this one’s riding the line between A– and A. Would be better to give it yet another spin before posting a review, but I’m no professional and have no qualms about changing my mind. As for Honorable Mentions, do check out Action Bronson’s Blue Chips, which I wished to give an A-grade but couldn’t bring myself to do. Still cleaning out Lemons I sat through during the summer. On hand I have about ten more A-albums, though this number is subject to fluctuation as I comb over a list I’ve tagged “Possibles.” Suggestions are welcome.

De La Soul’s Plug 1 and Plug 2 Present… First Serve (Duck Down Music): May or may not be an official De La Soul release, but contains 2/3 of the original crew and counts as their first album since 2004 in my book. Dave and Posdnuos chronicle the rise and fall of First Serve, a fictional hip-hop duo comprised of Deen Witter (Dave) and Jacob Barrow (Posdnuos) whose longtime friendship buckles under the pressure of success, causing them to split and eventually reform. One of the funnier albums I’ve heard this year, my favorite bit being Mrs. Witter, Deen’s mother, who constantly refers to Jacob as “Maurice.” French DJ duo Chokolate and Khalid’s arrange blistering beats and bass lines accented with sampled soul vocals or sprinkles of synths and strings at all the right moments, from funky soul-disco to organ ‘n harmonica blues-rock, one after another after another. Not much useful commentary from the critical field: “Something the pair obviously made for fun,” whines the guy from PopMatters, as though having fun shouldn’t be the point. “Little deviation from […] sticky basslines and boom-bap rhythms,” complains the fool from Q, as if neither help propel the MCs’ rhymes and aren’t enjoyable in their own right. So 2012 might remember the freshness of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean better than the reflections of Plug 1 and Plug 2. Wouldn’t diminish the legitimacy of First Serve’s claims that record companies profit off the backs of talent; wouldn’t change the fact that music played for love rather than money is the life worth pursuing, something Lamar and Ocean should keep in mind. Critics, too. A

THA GRIMM TEACHAZ – There’s a Situation on the Homefront (Breakfast Records ’11): Serengeti and Hi-Fidel employ alter egos KDz (Kenny Dennis) and PMDF (Prince Midnight Dark Force), team up with DJ Koufie to form Tha Grimm Teachaz; a lost rap group whose 1993 would-have-been debut remained in purgatory for nearly two decades only to be discovered by Kenny’s brother Tanya while cleaning his garage. PMDF’s high-register hyper-enunciation plays well against KDz’s sonorous mushmouth, spitting enough truth that Jive thought them too subversive and had to shelve the project. Quite an elaborate backstory concocted for an album most will never research much less understand its unencumbered joke: Serengeti’s poke at those who nostalgia hard over the golden days of hip-hop and make careers out of hijacking the sounds of eras gone by. A MINUS

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
ACTION BRONSON – Blue Chips (Fool’s Gold): Doesn’t want to be compared to Ghostface and wastes enough time porking hos and smoking herbs you wouldn’t bother were it not for the impeccably similar register. (“9-24-11,” “Steve Wynn”) ***
LEE RANALDO – Between the Times and the Tides (Matador): Son of Sonic Youth’s first nail in the coffin. (“Angles,” “Lost”) ***
ELBOW – Build a Rocket Boys! (Fiction ’11): Dickensian romantics overextend their emotional ballads, make Chris Martin look like a womanizer. (“Lippy Kids,” “The Birds”) *
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Bloodshot): Title has a double meaning: Nashville Americana singer-songwriter’s fifth LP no different from his first four, so by now you’re hip to his Harlem River brand of blues or you’re not. (“No Different Blues,” “Look the Other Way”) *
THE XX – Coexist (XL Recordings): So minimalist they almost forgot to make the album. (“Sunset,” “Try”) *
JAPANDROIDS – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl): Literal fireworks open and close, songs ‘n words fill the middle. (“The Nights of Wine and Roses”) *

CHOICE CUTS:
ATLAS SOUND – “Lightwerks,” “My Angel is Broken” (Parallax, 4AD ’11)

LEMONS:
GRIZZLY BEAR – Shields (Warp)
GRIZZLY BEAR – Veckatimest (Warp ’09)
THE KILLERS – Battle Born (Vertigo)
NIKI AND THE DOVE – Instinct (Sub Pop)
ROCKET JUICE & THE MOON – Rocket Juice & the Moon (Honest John’s)
TY SEGALL – Goodbye Bread (Drag City ’11)
TY SEGALL & WHITE FENCE – Hair (Drag City)
SUN KIL MOON – Among the Leaves (Caldo Verde)

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