In With the Old
Kicking off 2013 by reviewing on two of 2012’s smash hits. Nice to be on a similar train as critical consensus; it allows for a better understanding of how the critical world’s going about the rest of its business. Even though I have a few more albums on the queue that I imagine will make it into my best-of list, I’ll probably go ahead and post the list along with some comments on music in 2012 later this week. I haven’t seen a single individual list I thought was all that good, but that’s why I’m making my own (which I also think isn’t all that good), and either way lists by reputable writers serve better as guides to albums as-of-yet unexplored. It’s less productive to go to Rolling Stone and leave a comment along with the droves of others with wild and different expectations demeaning the work they do because they fail to cater to the niche market to which you subscribe.
Metacritic’s compilation reveals a landslide for Frank Ocean, who deftly defeated Lamar by twice as many points. I have some reservations about their polling method, but this isn’t akin to 2011 where Adele and PJ Harvey competed for the top slot only to be topped by Tune-Yards in the Village Voice‘s ‘Pazz & Jop.’ I remember how excited I was when it happened because my #1 had also been Tune-Yards and I couldn’t get on board with Harvey’s Let England Shake. In retrospect, I probably like Malkmus’s Mirror Traffic or The Roots’ Undun more than Whokill. Ocean will surely win top spot in the ‘Pazz & Jop,’ and he should, but he isn’t my #1. Awful close, though.
KENDRICK LAMAR – good kid, m.A.A.d city (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg): Subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” an easy way to signify the album’s a Big Deal and a trick that works in 2012 because concept albums are abundant and often ill-applied. But the film footage amounts to audio clips of beleaguered characters all on differing points of the crooked morality scale. So serious is Lamar that comparisons to Illmatic are understood: plenty of unsurprisingly accurate accusatory social statements weaved into grittily detailed stories of youth suckered by violent gang life in the Compton hood slowly draining his soul. Personally I’m reminded of The Roots’ Undun, which was better because it was short and had great grooves. This isn’t short, and it never gets groovier than the Eiffel Tower-sized dick song. Never gets much funnier than that, either, a problem when you go on for over an hour. But he’s a talented wordsmith and raconteur who’s convinced everyone he’s made a masterpiece, so it’s nice critical consensus agrees on the obvious even if no one’s willing to call bullshit on the ‘short film.’ A MINUS
FRANK OCEAN – Channel Orange (Def Jam): I’m not on the train of critical consensus surrounding Ocean’s Nostalgic, Ultra. Good album, sure. The smoke message of an upcoming genius, okay. Genius in itself, I don’t think so. I hesitate awarding such epithets not merely because he lays down new lines on “Hotel California” or MGMT’s cover of “Electric Feel,” but because I’m not terribly impressed with either of those songs to begin with, so regardless of whether Ocean’s versions are superior I still don’t care much. But Channel Orange cuts the sampling size down to the bone, leaving original compositions that may not fly as high as some NU cuts but are at worst memorable and groovy and at best signs of the Second Coming; only “Pilot Jones” and the roundabout minute transitions are disposable. True enough is Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal: “hip-hop and R&B can be woefully conservative when it comes to sexuality,” even though I think this is universal—sure, there are militant lesbo rockers or patently homosexual dance gurus, but they’re at the difference and largely miss the mainstream. So kudos to Ocean for opening up and making an album adequately exploring both sides of the aisle. The voice in the back of my head tells me, however, that love songs are love songs, and how the lover addresses the loved hasn’t stopped people from applying it to whomever they want. Which is what they should do. That’s what the songs are there for. A