Black and (Very) White
I’m coming to a screeching halt regarding new music as the year closes. I’ve listened to maybe five new albums in the last two or three weeks, and I doubt I’ll hear many more anytime soon. That’s because I’m backloaded with about thirty records I’d still like to write something about—not because I’m terribly impressed with all of them, but because they’re big enough that they deserve at least a cursory mention.
Two notes. One is that both of these skim A level, and will most likely make top ten appearances. Amazing that in Pitchfork‘s reader poll Taylor Swift placed 43rd, yet the publication hasn’t said jack shit about the album or anything Swift’s done, for that matter.
NPR released its Jazz Critics Poll, surveying 140 jazz journalists and coming up with a top 50. Unsurprisingly, I’ve only heard maybe seven listed, but that’s because my jazz intake is very low. However, I was surprised (I guess) at how few of the records mentioned I’d heard of. I know jazz is notorious for its shit distribution and promotion, but my constant skimming of a few trusted jazz sources left me in the dark about most of the releases. And of course, my favorite jazz album didn’t make the cut.
RUN THE JEWELS – Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal): With a virtually chorus-less album save for de la Rocha’s stuttering repetition of Killer Mike and El-P’s moniker on album apex “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck),” Jaime Meline’s murky and mean-machine production improves upon their 2013 debut, which I now assume I criminally underrated. The duo spits acid from start to finish, so much anti-authoritarian venom they could start a revolution were conditions as bad as their fantasy imagines: “We killin’ em for freedom cuz they tortured us for boredom,” “You say you on the side of the righteous / I say I’m gonna hang with the wrong,” “Fuck the law, they can eat my dick.” But all the cop killing rhetoric is redeemed in the album’s arc, an evolution from violent video game-esque phantasmagoria to the reality of the plight millions face. Mike respects MLK but considers armed resistance since life on MLK is scary. “Who the fuck gon’ bully me if I got a billi?” he floats when asking “who really run that man that say he run this?” meaning he’s keyed in to the fact that uniforms on the street aren’t the ones who designed the architecture for the entrenched racism and class division he and El continually rip apart. Mike realistically renders a too-common scene of a black man getting frisked by police and planted with weed, pleading with the officers, describing the irreparable harm this deals to his wife and child. But it’s not the (murderous) political slant that draws me in time and again: it’s El-P’s monochromatic music, so dark and eerie and angry; it’s Killer Mike’s most impressive lyric delivery to date; it’s the perfectly-placed guess spot for de la Rocha, whose high tenor and manner of lagging just behind the beat stands at titillating odds with RTJ’s mathematical flow; it’s their sensibility in the face of fucking chaos: “You want a whore in a white dress,” El-P mocks, “I want a wife in a thong.” Amen. A MINUS
TAYLOR SWIFT – 1989 (Big Machine): In which Swift crafts a slick simulation of a decade of pop music she was barely born in and full-on adopts shiny, sugary synths, signifying she’s not only a smart songwriter, but also a savvy businesswoman: by severing her Nashville roots in favor for a wider audience and opting to deny streaming services access to 1989, Swift simultaneously solidifies her stance as a diva and coopts the “manufacture hits, move units, make money” ethos of the 80s. Whether she’s blurring the line between the romantic myths encircling NYC and the dirty reality of it (“Took our broken hearts, put them in a drawer / Everyone here was someone else before”) or shake-shake-shaking off the hate-hate-haters, she sings about boys and heartbreak and girl life and city kickin’ like she’s still a bouncy 17-year-old country bumpkin but with a newfound sex appeal of a mid-20s single lady. But I doubt anything more need be said other than that this near-hour of Swift power is fun, flirty, and so obvious it either floors you or flies over your head. A MINUS