Best-of lists are starting to appear. I won’t say anything about them other than my surprise at how well Arctic Monkeys have done thus far; for an album I thought nearly unlistenable, it’s doing incredibly well. Just another loosened notch on my belt of agreement with the mainstream press. Either way, here are two stellar albums, the latter a serious competitor for my number one slot.
BEST COAST – Fade Away (Jewel City EP): Classified as an EP even though its 26-minute runtime is only five short of 2012’s The Only Place and infinitely superior to either of their previous releases. Increasingly hooked on big-chorus arena rock tendencies, Bethany Cosentino and crew drop the bombs hard and heavy: no apologies ode to empty beds “This Lonely Morning,” self-deceptive “Fear of My Identity,” “I Don’t Know How” an electric doo-wop ditty that never was. Looking for love too hard, no wonder they shortened the runtime; Cosentino’s designated the threshold of 30 as the time lonely hearts go to die and she’s yet to figure herself out as evidenced on “Who Have I Become?”, so she better get on that shit quick. A MINUS
M.I.A. – Matangi (Interscope): Between mastering both the arts and supreme knowledge, it seems the only quality Mathangi Arulpragasam hasn’t inherited from her same-name Hindu deity is controlling her enemies—i.e. the ever-bloodthirsty Stateside music press—which she duly notes in 75-second “Boom Skit”: “Brown girl, brown girl / Turn your shit down / You know America don’t want to hear your sound.” Certainly her grip on musical masterfulness wobbled post-Kala, with questionable performances (depending on who you ask) at the Grammys and Super Bowl, not to mention her head-scratching follow-up LP Maya. But in question is why she ever got big in the first place. “Paper Planes” is almost unfortunate in its catchy chorus, whose gunshots and barrel-cocking white college kids heard not as the punching of register buttons and cash drawers opening, mistaking it for some sort of thug culture instead of a satire of xenophobic stereotypes of immigrants. Taking the electronic schizophrenia of Maya and pumping up the Eastern rhythms Kala admirers were infatuated with, she doles out synth hit after bass buzz after vox-boxed vocals and hitting them out of the park every single time. At its heart, this is M.I.A.’s loudest anti-capitalist/pro-wealth distribution diatribe, imparting truths so simple they could be campaign slogans: “There’s trillions of cash / And billions of us / And millions of things that can happen with this stuff” she delivers in staccato on frantic pinball “Only 1 U”; “You keep on telling me you want to have it all / Tell me what for,” she croons on Weekend-sampled “Exodus.” Celebrating Saudi women’s right to drive in “Bad Girls” and recalling her Vicki Leekx and Kala days, she’s reclaimed her status as a “goddess of words,” and she ain’t too bad with a good beat, neither. Too bad us silly Americans keep writing her off (Pitchfork: 6.5/10; A.V Club: C; Allmusic: 3/5); her swords are far mightier than our pens. A