By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Do the Collapse
Guided By Voices
The record it always sounded like Robert Pollard wanted to make, back when he was fucking around with a four-track in his garage and drinking beer in almost heroic amounts. (Well, he still does the latter.) Meaning: The drums are no longer a well-kept secret, and the guitars match Pollard's mike-swinging bravado for a change. And if you think the move to solid production -- courtesy Ric Ocasek -- has softened Pollard's taste for bizarre lyrics, try telling that to the man who refers to himself as "a born-again boot-stomping witch-humper" (on "Liquid Indian"). The anthemic "Teenage FBI" might be the best song Pollard has ever written, vying with "Motor Away," "Tractor Rape Chain," and "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" for top honors. If nothing else, it's the best teen angst song ever written by a 42-year-old former elementary school teacher.
So...How's Your Girl?
Handsome Boy Modeling School
Tommy Boy Records
Black on Both Sides
The only two hip-hop records of the year that really matter -- sorry Q-Tip, Method Man, and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Handsome Boy Modeling School -- Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Merriweather, better known as Prince Paul and Dan the Automator -- could claim that honor based only on "Holy Calamity (Bear Witness II)," a team-up with DJ Shadow and DJ Quest that would have Bob Dole doing the Cabbage Patch. Points are also awarded to Prince Paul and Dan the Automator for basing the entire disc around an episode of Chris Elliot's late, great TV series Get a Life. Of course, because of the eclectic guest list -- everyone from Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori and Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire to Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Grand Puba and Sadat X of Brand Nubian -- more than a few people wouldn't even consider So...How's Your Girl to be a hip-hop record; suckers. After listening to Black on Both Sides, you might not think it's a hip-hop record either, especially after catching Mos Def give a nod to Marvin Gaye and HR of Bad Brains on the Jekyll-and-Hyde "Rock N Roll." And in many ways, it's too intelligent, too ambitious to be tagged as anything. In the end, though, Black on Both Sides is a hip-hop record, and probably the most exciting one since The Wu-Tang Clan's debut. But pay attention: Mos Def just might be bringing hip-hop down from the inside.
69 Love Songs
Like the subject of all the songs on this three-disc marathon-manifesto, 69 Love Songs is strange, contradictory, and utterly charming. Stephin Merritt runs through every feeling that matters of the heart -- broken and otherwise -- produce, in an equally wide variety of genres. (And at least one too many: "World Love" has gotta go.) Everyone will find themselves in one of these songs, even if they're all written by a sardonic gay man with an impossibly, almost comically, deep voice.
Olivia Tremor Control
So what if Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss and the rest of this loose Athens, Georgia-based group stole their Smile from Brian Wilson? As long as someone is keeping Wilson's sweet insanity alive, no harm, no foul. But Black Foliage only swipes its between-song shenanigans and its ba-ba-backups from Wilson's unreleased (but often bootlegged) masterpiece. It's not as sophisticated, coming off more like a flea-market orchestra with found instruments recorded in bedrooms and on front porches. Which, for the most part, is exactly what it is. It's that rambling, shambling quality that makes you forget you've heard it all before.
The Promise Ring
Jade Tree Records
I'll believe that rock and roll is finally extinct when they pry this disc from my cold, dead hands. Very Emergency is where a good band gets better, simplifies without sounding simplistic. The group pares each song down to the only things that matter: loud guitars, melodies you already know by heart, and Von Bohlen's lyrics, which get more out of a few words ("Losing my voice just talking to you about talking to you," from "Living Around") than most writers can accomplish with entire albums. Capping off the disc, he asks the question that accompanies the hangover of heartbreak that comes with the end of a relationship on "All of My Everythings": "Why did ever we part and give back our hands?" You'll spend hours listening to Very Emergency trying to figure out the answer.
A guilty pleasure at first, but now I don't feel so guilty about it. Time to 'fess up: I stayed up late every night for a week hoping to catch the video on MTV until I finally cut out the middle man and got the album. There are other songs on Fanmail that come close, but none stick the landing quite as well as "No Scrubs," which turns the tables on the Supremes' "I Hear a Symphony" with turntables, and bumps that shit. Everyone needs a little TLC, even if it's just this song.
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