Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best of 2010: #2 Das Racist - Sit Down, Man

While the phrase “hashtag rap” made the rounds on some blogs in discussing Drake’s punchline delivery style, Das Racist were hash tagging within hash tags and essentially dumping entire Wikipedia pages on listeners all year. Yes, the “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” guys.

Sit Down, Man is the better of two mixtapes DR released this year, that could come to define a new strain of underground rap or could just turn into a once in decade landmark hip-hop release in the vein (and possibly on the artistic level of) Paul’s Boutique. Big words, for sure. And while the wide array of beats from a veritable who’s who of new and established producers does not quite match the sample overload of the Dust Brothers, Das Racist are easily matching the Beasties’ classic for ideas per minute.

Das Racist are nothing if not hyper aware of their perception as Rap outsiders and they play to it. “White Kids play this for your black friends/Black friends smack them.” Das Racist know they're legit, but they don’t expect anyone to understand that. So it goes, they let their rapping do the talking. (Which your dad might say: “is kind of what rap is, no?”) The barrage of references alone can make your head spin. These guys rap like people who get lost in Google land as often as your favorite office drones.

Musically too Das Racist are pushing the conversation forward. To see beats by indie-rock leaning up and comers like Keepaway and Chairlift, to established taste makers Diplo and El-P, and even a beat from Drake associate Boi-1da all on one release further shows the scope of influence being incorporated into the Das Racist world view. It’s honestly the most cutting edge hip-hop shit of the year, goofy as it all may be.

In some ways, Das Racist have spent the past 12 months rehabilitating their image. It’s the kind of rehabilitation that on paper seems impossible. Running from a novelty “hit,” what some might see as a racial handy cap, reportedly disastrous live shows (including one in which they were supposed to perform Paul’s Boutique, but instead yelled over an iPod). They soldiered forward, making intellectual arguments with New Yorker writers, having “cartoon offs” with an editorial illustrator, refining a live show that is now winning raves. All this work has made them a unique and exciting cultural force. But all they really needed to “rehab” their image was this mixtape. Then again what do I know, I’m white and I have a blog.

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Best of 2010: #3 LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

“Dance Yourself Clean” is the best album opener of the year. It’s initial two minutes and change are mumbled and slight. Forcing you to focus, listen closer, listen harder, and then just as it’s about to lose you there is an ungodly shift in volume and a fresh pounding synth. It’s a coy musical move from a guy who knows from coy musical moves. The arresting nine minutes of “Clean” lead to the first single; “Drunk Girls.” The song almost felt like a retread of James Murphy’s lead singles from his first two records, after a few spins the apparent similarities also feel like a coy musical move.

James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem put out smart LPs. Every beat, sequencing choice, verbal aside, is earned if not upon first brush then by a second spin. You get the sense James Murphy exits in a our world with all currently available musical technology and travels back in time to a place where artists were encouraged to go bigger longer and knottier on their records. Maybe he goes back to the 70’s, but more likely he goes to a time that never existed. People reach for Eno and Bowie when talking about Murphy and it isn’t just the clear musical referencing to those artists(though it’s that too), it is the auteurist nature of what he does. It also, at this point, happens to be the fact that he’s gone from simple studio rat to expert front man and band leader.

This Is Happening may edge out it’s predecessor(Sound of Science) in every Conceivable category other than getting there first. Justifiably this is on pretty much every year end list. It’s honestly been a forgone conclusion for most of the year. Perhaps it’s because what Murphy does is what most rock critics really want to be doing. He has filled his sandbox with his favorite influences. German techno, Bowie ballads, wheezy fuzzy guitars, a seemingly endless supply of rhythmic ephemera, etc. He has all of these things at his disposal and then he finds himself in them all, over and over again, finding angles and portions of what makes him tick. And what occupies his brain is what occupies so many in the “list making community’s” collected minds.

The main subject as always are these damn kids who just don’t seem to be partying right, who just don’t seem to know what their letting get passed them. Which in the end is really a reflection on what Murphy perceives to have passed him by. Which suggests that putting this on your list is an acknowledgment that it’s passing you(me? us?) by.

Oh fuck.

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