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It hasn’t been a great couple of months for blonde alt-rock icons who meant the world to me when I was thirteen. First, Courtney Love reconstructed Hole to release Nobody’s Daughter, a meaninglessly brash update of the heartbreaking and raw solo demos that floated around the internet last summer. What has been lost from the post-rehab versions is the sense of vulnerable humanity that pulsed within the warm guitars, the open spaces of the songs, and Courtney’s disheveled croak which actually enhanced the tales of burnout and decay and hopeful redemption. In the Hole record, that croak sounds weak and thin when backed by pseudo-grunge guitar crunch, and with new songs (or rewrites of the old ones) that contain lyrics full of silly bluster; where once Courtney Love sounded as if she was staring her demons in the eye (finally!), she now sounds as if those demons are insignificant and barely worth attention.

This new iteration of Nobody’s Daughter is unfortunate because it really could have shown a new Courtney Love—an honest, poignant, sympathetic, and artful one—instead of all this hollow bluster. She really is a fantastic writer; if only she’d get out of her own way more often. Hey, Courtney: rock music is dead—at least the kind that you want to play—so do you really want to make a record that sounds like it should be played on radio stations that pump out Chevelle? Next time—if there is a next time—stick to the warm SoCal 70s acoustic guitars. They worked a lot better, and made you sound like a real person.

She’s done a lot of terrible or confusing things, but worst of all (for me) is what she did to “Pacific Coast Highway.” The original is right up there with “Malibu,” proving that for all her faults, Courtney Love is a tremendous chronicler of Los Angeles.

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Liz Phair is getting laughed at—AGAIN—for her terrible music decisions, leading people to think that the music itself is terrible. This happened most recently in 2003, when she wrote and recorded a handful of songs with The Matrix (responsible for at least two of Avril Lavigne’s best songs) on her much-derided eponymous major label debut (I myself think the record is cynical and a little cringe-worthy at worst, but contains some exuberant and occasionally touching songs).

Phair is now getting mocked for releasing her new album Funstyle—rejected by her record label, which does have a point—on her website, including the head-scratching “Bollywood,” an honest-to-God rap over a faux-bhangra beat that details how she began to work as a television composer (or something?).

Look, there are other songs here—songs like “Miss September” (which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Whitechocolatespacegg) and “Satisfied” (a song that Taylor Swift could do wonders with if she rewrote the lyrics, proving an earlier point, though isn’t it weird that Swift is now a better writer than Phair?)—but the weird joke-songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” (which seems to poke fun at her post-Liz Phair career) and “Beat Is Up” (a send-up of Chicago ladies and their self-help gurus) and “U Hate It” (appropriately the final song on the album, which is hilarious and also contains the immortal lyric “I think I’m a genius/You’re being a PEEN-IUS”) will garner all the attention. As they probably should, and certainly Phair wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because look: how long has Phair been a troll? Let’s not forget that Exile in Guyville was a deliberate response to not only the Rolling Stones, but all of Chicago and dude-centric indie rock to boot. Her Girlysound tapes contained the cowfucking diptych “California” and “South Dakota.” So these new songs, as far as intent goes, are really nothing new. You could say that even her foray into glossy pop was a large-scale trolling in line with Guyville, but directed at a much larger population. Taking all this into account, Liz Phair may actually be the world’s most successful internet troll, with Funstyle as her latest salvo.

Does this make Funstyle a good record? Absolutely not. But like Zappa, like Metal Machine Music, it makes for an interesting listen (of course, because Liz Phair is a woman with a certain reputation, the assumption is that there is no semblance of thought behind her artistic intent, which is bullshit: songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” are too galling and knowing—too self-conscious—to be anything less than the kind of pop-art statement that makes Lady Gaga look like the shallow pretender she is; hey “Little Monsters,” this is how you do subversion). Which is more than you can say about Somebody’s Miracle—to quote Pitchfork, “Now [that] is a terrible Liz Phair record.” Funstyle is the sound of Liz Phair not giving a shit, and daring you to do the same. The fact that you are angry or bemused or interested or appalled only means that Phair—loser that she may often be—has won again.

Oh yeah—”Bollywood” at the very least showcases better white-girl flow than anything in Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Also? That part where she goes “CONNNNNTRRRAAAACCCT” all evil-like reminds me of that skit in “Dre Day.” Finally: “I was trippin’ lookin’ at my portfolio” is possibly the funniest opening line to any song that has ever existed. God bless you, Ms. Phair. Just, you know, try to write a fucking song again, at least once in a while

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Speaking of Ke$ha, how terrible has pop radio been lately? There have been exactly zero good songs this year that have gotten any play. Lady Antebellum’s crossover “Need You Now” was the one bright spot earlier this spring, though its debut on country radio in late 2009 disqualifies it from contention (Justin Bieber’s creepiness and Ludacris’s embarrassment also disqualifies “Baby”).

At least last summer had a few certified summer bangers, no matter how terrible (“I Gotta Feeling”), slightly douchey (“Best I Ever Had”), or marginalized (“You Belong With Me,” “Party in the USA”). This year we are relegated to Katy Perry, a singer/personality so abhorrent she can’t even make a song about the superiority of California girls sound even remotely listenable or fun.

Highlight of the year so far: Miranda Lambert’s month-long country chart-topper “The House That Built Me.”

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I don’t know if it’s my SoCal homesickness, but lately I’ve been listening to two indie rock acts (GASP!) from Southern California who slather reverb and fuzz onto their specific genres. San Diego’s Wavves and Los Angeles’s Best Coast have struck a laidback breezy vibe that reminds me of SoCal beach lounging; Wavves with surf-inflected punk-pop and Best Coast with their vaguely girl-group sound. Of course, being so typically indie, the production makes both acts sound like absolute shit, obscuring the fact that some actual tunes are buried underneath all that pretension. Wavves’s Nathan Williams is hot but douchey, which is perfect for a Southern California boy, and his voice produces the exact kind of obnoxious whine you’d expect (I keep thinking Cobain crossed with someone else I can’t quite place; maybe a bit of Pete Shelley?). “Green Eyes” has the great punk line “My own friends hate me/But I don’t give a shit.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino could actually be a force if she matured beyond indie aesthetic; songs like “When I’m With You” showcase an actual songwriting talent and vocal presence sorely lacking in much of contemporary indie rock (including Wavves).

And if their aesthetic and their locale weren’t enough to have me conflate the two acts, here are their recent album covers:

I CAN HAZ FUZZPOP.

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Gilmore Girls is a show that I watched sporadically throughout its seven year run, missing most of the first and nearly all of the last two seasons. One of the pluses about the show is that, though there are several overriding arcs that sustain the show throughout its seven year run, nothing about the individual episodes ever really strays from the general tone and format of the show; every episode will contain rapid-fire dialogue, endless pop culture references (my favorite recently-watched one involves Rory and Jess in a record store asking what Slint is, and having the apparently know-it-all clerk describe them as “grunge,” a mis-identification that actually drove me crazy before I laughed at my dead indie outrage), crazy townsfolk, and some drama between the Gilmore girls and their romantic partners at the time or the Gilmore girls and their patrician lineage in the form of Emily and Richard. In essence—and completely opposite to The Wire, Friday Night Lights, and Breaking Bad, the only other dramatic shows from the oughts that I have loved—Gilmore Girls is a perfect show to watch as comfort food, out of order or in the background. It is serialized in that events which happen in one episode mean something in others, but not so much so that the minutiae in something like The Wire will be crucial in the constant build of the series.

To backtrack a bit: I had been wanting to go through this rewatch because of the fact that I missed whole chunks of the show, filling in the blanks through reruns or outright reference in other episodes (for instance, I missed the entire Max Medina debacle that occurs in season one, but knew of it because it is constantly brought up). After being excited by Parenthood because of Jason Katims (his involvement in both My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights makes him a deity in this house) and Lauren Graham (consistently robbed of an Emmy for her work as Lorelai Gilmore), I became quickly disappointed with its muddled tone and inconsistent performances, though it is a show that is certainly entertaining while not even close to being good. Graham is, as ever, one of the bright spots, and seeing her in Parenthood only made me want to see her again in Gilmore Girls—a show that was not just good, but often great. This, combined with my recent layoff (yes I am now a victim of America’s economic climate!), made Project Rewatch: Gilmore Girls a go.

This time around—and possibly this has something to do with knowing where they end up and how they get there—I find myself oddly and somewhat disconcertingly much less sympathetic with Lorelai (Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) than I am with most everyone else, including stuffy Emily and Richard (Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann, two all-time greats) and gruff Luke (Scott Patterson) and caustic Michel (Yanic Truesdale) and boring Dean (Jared Padalecki) and jerky Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and crazy Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) and insane Paris (Liza Weil) and flaky Christopher (David Sutcliffe, who looks the kind of man you couldn’t resist, making it perfect casting for a show about a girl who got knocked up at 16). Certainly they are our heroines, and complicated ones at that, but when I first started watching the show some nine or so years ago, Lorelai and Rory always seemed on the correct side of things, paragons of charm and cool and twee righteousness. Not that they aren’t this go-round, but more and more I find flaws where previously I saw none. I assume a lot of this is me getting old. Lorelai, for one, is not actually a great mother. She’s a great friend for Rory, and a barrel of fun, but whether it’s regarding nutrition or letting her own personal experiences with The Good Life sabotage Rory’s apparent (if sporadic) need for it, Lorelai Gilmore should not be anyone’s model of the perfect parent. And Rory is a bundle of naivete and bad decisions, mainly concerning boys; listen, I thought Dean was a drip and totally would have cheated on him with some bad boy wannabe like Jess too, but Rory’s very real disillusionment with having a Perfect Boyfriend and her subsequent behavior makes her into a not-very-likable girl at times (believe me, I speak from experience, being somewhat of a Rory myself, especially considering she later falls for a boy named Logan Huntzberger).

All this, of course, adds a lot of meat to the show; very much in the manner of Taylor Swift songs, Gilmore Girls has much greater depth and complication than it is given credit for, easily transcending the teen entertainment cliches it is unfairly saddled with. And much of Gilmore Girls‘ greatness rears its head when it confronts the issue of class, and with it the very real, decades-felt hurt felt by both Lorelai and her parents. The friction between Emily and Richard’s high-society life and Lorelai’s suffocation from it is a constant struggle throughout the series, and it was thrilling to discover how deeply embedded in the show it always was, specifically with three exemplary episodes from the first season:

  • In “Rory’s Birthday Parties” (episode 6), Emily throws a swanky party for Rory, inviting all her new classmates who hate her and whom she hates with equal measure, causing Rory to snap at Emily in front of everyone. Contrite, she later invites Emily to the party Lorelai is giving her the next day. Initially refusing, Emily and Richard show up to the predictably crazy bash in Stars Hollow, where Emily sadly realizes that she doesn’t know Lorelai and Rory at all.
  • In “Rory’s Dance” (episode 9), Lorelai has thrown out her back while making a dress for Rory, who is attending a Chilton dance with Dean. Emily shows up to see them off, and then stays to help Lorelai. They watch old movies and attempt to eat mashed banana on toast (a meal Emily made Lorelai whenever she was sick as a kid) and come very close to bonding, until it is found that Rory and Dean fell asleep (and nothing more) and never made it home. Emily is furious about Lorelai’s parenting skills and about Rory going down Lorelai’s path; Lorelai is in turn furious that her mother doesn’t trust Rory as well as furious that her mother could be right, and says so to Rory, who in turn is furious that her mother doesn’t trust her as much as she says.
  • In “Christopher Returns” (episode 15), Christopher returns. At Emily and Richard’s for dinner, Christopher’s parents (named Straub and Francine, amazingly) lash out at the Gilmores for ruining Christopher’s future, causing Richard to defend Lorelai for perhaps the first time in his life. Lorelai attempts to thank her father, who dismisses it, still stung by how her mistakes ruined his vision of her future. Lorelai and Christopher, alone on her balcony, where they had been countless times before, have sex. He wants to marry her, but she knows that he still isn’t ready to turn the Gilmore Girls into the perfect family picture that Emily, Richard, Straub, and Francine so desperately wanted all those years ago.

It is in these episodes—in these moments—where the glossiness of indie rock quips and coffee consumption and charming small-town preciousness melt away to reveal the big truth about Gilmore Girls: family is what you make of it. Sometimes you have to make your own family, because the one you have causes untold amounts of pain. Sometimes the family you want can never happen, so you make do with the family you have. And sometimes, even fleetingly, the family you have can be the one real thing that tethers you to something other, something greater, than yourself. When you see Lorelai shouting at her mother, feeling for all the world like a pregnant, scared sixteen-year-old girl, you see a woman who, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to grow up. And when you see Emily shouting at her daughter, you see a woman who so desperately wants to reassure her sixteen-year-old daughter that everything is okay, even though she knows it isn’t, and for the first time in her life feels powerless. These are the moments that make the show worth watching, when Gilmore Girls approaches something very near the sublime.

Plenty of online discourse regarding Friday Night Lights‘ fourth season has centered on its increasing resemblance to The Wire, which seems inevitable considering the appearance of not one but two Wire alums who have shown up alive—and, well, if not happy then at least breathing—in East Dillon, leading Vulture’s Andy Greenwald (my favorite FNL recapper by a longshot, because who else but the author of Nothing Feels Good can snark that Julie’s Habit for Humanity guy looks like someone in All Time Low?) to christen it The Wire: West Texas. The comparison is valid, of course, as no other show has picked up The Wire‘s mantle of entwining community politics, various societal issues, and personal dramas in concurrent, reflexive narrative strands. The only difference really is that The Wire‘s resolutions have always seemed neat (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by Greek tragedy), whereas FNL has always been much messier (which is fitting considering the show is influenced by, what, Austin indie- and post-rock?). I would like to say that I saw this happening last year, though. But it’s easier to point out when there are black people on the tv, eh Variety?

Aside from that faux pas, Brian Lowry’s article is full of so many on-the-money insights that it makes you want to shout “Hallelujah!” One of my favorites is this comparison between the two shows:

As for other areas of overlap, the fact that the two series have been largely ignored by Emmy voters speaks to a kind of myopia within that organization. While it’s impossible to collectively put members on the couch, the TV academy has historically had trouble identifying stand-out work by younger or minority performers — two categories represented in abundance on each of these shows.

Aside from large ensemble casts that make it difficult to single out individual players, these programs are so sharply executed by the casts and writing staffs as to make the characterizations look almost too easy, as if the performers must be barely acting at all.

Which is absolutely right on. But as with both shows, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, by the end, both will have had five glorious seasons of impeccable drama (my two favorite shows ever), and considering FNL‘s start, that’s as much of a miracle as the show’s expansion from great television to great art.

Just doing my weekly check of the Hot 100 and my initial “guh, Ke$ha is still #1” disgust was tempered by seeing Taylor Swift’s Valentine’s Day song “Today Was A Fairytale” at #2, already tying the peak position she got with “You Belong With Me” (though “Fairytale”‘s success is almost wholly due to digital downloads).

Followed by a delightful surprise:

Looking quite handsome lately, Ms. Swift!

Also what the hell is “Baby” by Justin Bieber ft. Ludacris?…After one listen, it is hilarious that Luda has followed up his collaboration with former tween sensation Jesse McCartney (“How Do You Sleep?”) with a collaboration with current tween sensation—and Jesse McCartney v2.0—Bieber, meaning some crazily mushy rapping that includes hilariously insincere-sounding pronunciation of “my HEARRRRT” in both songs (you know he really means to talk about his dick).

Because why the hell not?

Albums:

1. Taylor Swift, Fearless Platinum Edition
A total cheat considering Fearless came out last year, but I only discovered it this year. But because the Platinum Edition came out last month, I’m gonna say this counts, as it improves on the regular edition by giving us more Taylor; six more songs, in fact, all of which are generally tossed-off asides whether they are easy-breezy (“Jump Then Fall”), achingly pretty (“Untouchable”), or achingly sad (a piano-and-cello version of the album’s sarcastic “Forever and Always”). If she sounds this good when she isn’t trying, imagine how good she is when she does: constructing an album where the songs dialogue with each other, building up archetypes (“Love Story”) only to tear them down (“White Horse,” “Fifteen”), with charisma for days (“You Belong With Me”) even when she’s moping about (“You’re Not Sorry”). And finally, it takes a big heart to write something like “Fifteen” for the girls who are coming after you while also writing something like “The Best Day” for the woman who came before you.

2. The-Dream, Love vs. Money
Terius “The-Dream” Nash, along with producers Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Carlos “Los da Mystro” McKinney have crafted remarkably symphonic r&b on this record; there is endless amount of noise to be fascinated by here, which makes it even more impressive that Terius’s personality shines through on his obsessive and often funny lyrics. He likes to talk about fucking. He likes to talk about love. He likes to talk about money. He worries that money is more important than love. But most of all, he wants to mess yo shit up. One of the (many) lines of the year that are contained here: “Girl, call Latisha, your beautician/Cuz your hair is gon need fixin’.”

3. Sunn O))), Monoliths & Dimensions
There is nothing quite like this record, a unique and terrifying experience. There can be terror in 17-minute drones, because, as with darkness, most of the terror comes with what you think is there. I would kill to see this band live, except I can barely deal with them on record.

4. Miranda Lambert, Revolution
I’ve said a few things here and there, but the more I listen the deeper this album becomes, and I daresay it’s her best. At least until the next one. And my hypothesis was proven right: It sounds perfect in a car.

5. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
I say some things here.

6. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
His most complete album, and a portrait of a modern man—grateful for America’s mongrel consumerism (“American Saturday Night”); grateful for America’s past, present, and future (“Welcome To The Future”); grateful for his children (“Anything Like Me”); grateful for his wife (“Then,” “She’s Her Own Woman”); and hell, he even thinks wearing women’s underwear can be enlightening (“The Pants”).

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz!
Is it possible that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are underrated? After the yowly stomp of Fever To Tell and the misstep that was Show Your Bones, YYYs return with their best album to date, marrying the sounds of dance music to the propulsion of their punk-derived guitar music, creating a beautifully messy swirl in the process. It’s Blitz! starts off with their two best bangers (“Zero” and “Heads Will Roll”), setting you up for ass-shaking, only to build downwards to the fragile beauty of closers “Hysteric”—a song so good it could’ve been on Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage—and “Little Shadow.”

8. The xx, xx
I say some things about it here.

9. Electrik Red, How To Be A Lady, Vol 1
Terius Nash and Christopher Stewart construct a girl group; how could anything possibly go wrong? They write the music, the melodies, and put words in the girls’s mouths, and yet somehow the forcefulness of Electrik Red’s personae obliterate any kind of Svengali charge. Alternately vulgar (“W.F.Y.” or “We Fuck You”), sweet-sounding (“Friend Lover”), subservient (“Bed Rest”) and demanding (“On Point”) but always hilarious. Also responsible for one of the lines of the year: “I thought I wouldn’t really give a fuck/But now a bitch all in love.”

10. Shakira, She Wolf/Robin Thicke, Sex Therapy: The Experience
The awesome:hilarious ratio on both records were unparalleled this year, whether it was Shakira hoping your trip to France includes fleas and bad plumbing, or Thicke’s cheeseball lounge traxxx and the Snoop song where he sounds like Billy Crystal impersonating Sammy Davis, Jr. Shakira wins for condensing the hilarity into 12 songs (3 or which are Spanish renditions of some of the album’s tracks), Thicke wins for durability, we all win as listeners.

Singles:

1. Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”/“Fifteen”
I don’t think I need to say anything more about these two songs than I already have.

2. Brad Paisley, “Welcome To The Future”
Starts off praising technology with a “Glory glory Hallelujah” that sounds like trademark Paisley wittiness, but the gravitas in his voice betrays the over-the-top words; when the same words appear after the final Obama-inspired verse, the song becomes incredibly powerful. A great song by itself, but even more so in the context of country music, where social progressiveness and the concept of change are hardly embraced. Unsurprisingly, Paisley has gotten a lot of flack from country fans, but I’d bet he’d shrug that off as much as he does when he sings, “Wherever we were going, well, we’re here,” neither overstating the case but also letting the profundity speak for itself. Here is his moving performance of this song at the White House. The look on Obama’s face is wonderful.

3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero”
I stand by what I said about Karen O’s vocals previously, though the more I listen the more this song actually does sound transcendent, and one of the YYYs few absolutely perfect songs.

4. Electrik Red, “Drink In My Cup”
Banger of the year? Cup, sip, yup…Yurrrrr!

5. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
A slow-burn of a song, all gauzy drunk ache and pain. Simmering and downright erotic if you listen right, with an absolutely gorgeous piano line and “One Headlight” riff rip.

6. Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
One of the biggest musical douches of 2009, so of course he thinks “You da fuckin’ best” sounds sweet and charming. And, like a lot of douches (am I projecting?), it manages to sound sweet and charming. Even a broken clock etc.

7. Robin Thicke, “Sex Therapy”
I love the sound of those drums, I love the layering vocal production, I love how he seems to be channeling Prince, I love the Lesley Gore rip. I would hate that he references Twilight, except it is funny as shit. I would hate the title except ditto.

8. Beyonce, “Halo”
Beyonce is not actually a human being, a fact shown in her glorious cyborgness in the “Single Ladies (Put on a Ring on It)” video (Kanye was right btw, too bad he was such a dick about it) and which also proves that “Irreplaceable” is in fact her best single because it manages to make her sound like a person. Beyonce in 2009 was in full-on robot mode, and the triumph of “Halo” is that, in its beginning lines—”Remember those walls I built?/Well baby, they’re crumbling down”—it approximates emotion so well that you swear you can hear a tear short-circuiting her system, causing those walls to crumble, only to be rebooted to shouting-to-the-heavens perfection by the end.

9. Shakira, “She Wolf”
Most hilarious song of the year. Awoo, motherfuckers.

10. Justin Bieber, “One Time”/Jesse McCartney featuring T-Pain, “Body Language”/Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA”/Demi Lovato, “Here We Go Again”
An explosion of tweens! Even though Jesse McCartney is 22. Justin Bieber is basically Jesse McCartney part 2, but even less convincing when he says “shawty.” “One Time” sees him ride a Terius production through to desexualized pubescent gloppiness (“She makes me happy”? Awwww), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the bounce. McCartney is at least funny when he reappropriates “That thing you got behind you is amazing,” which Terius wrote for him last year in “Leavin’,” and his “Who cares what you have to say? That body says it all!” reduction of female sexuality actually seems sweet. T-Pain adds nothing of value, which is par for the course. The universal body language of throwing one’s hands up to pop music that bridges all cultural/social/temporal lines is a big reason why “Party in the USA” is such a great song, coupled with its surfy guitar lines and synthy spray cheeze topping; part of why it is tied for #10 instead of being the rightful song of the year is Miley’s abhorrent vocal presence, as well as usage of “taximan” (not an actual word). Lastly, Demi Lovato takes the sad winsomeness of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and makes its repeated romantic mistakes sound joyful and liberating, because why even try to stop fate when you can give in and ride its wave? The guitars are why Disney princesses should listen to metal more often. Who knew that teenage-ish girls (Clarkson, Avril, Ashlee, Taylor, Demi, etc) would rock harder and better than a lot of the boys this decade?

The most played songs on American radio from a roadtrip beginning in New York City and ending in Virginia, and back again. Who says the monoculture is dead? Note to radio: Start playing some new songs please, but no “Tick Tock” thanks.

11 plays
Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
I must be the only New Yorker who actively dislikes this song. Jay-Z’s flow is as lazy as the rest of his late-period output (couldn’t he have stayed retired??!), with the added bonus of sounding like he’s holding in a belch on the second verse. He is decently mediocre on his third verse, which sounds like a miracle in comparison. Alicia Keys provides the proper bombast that the chorus necessitates, except she continues to sound like Alicia Keys: strained and strident and serious, and as if she’s constipated. Gassiest rap song ever? Only played once outside of the NYC/Philly area. Sounds perfect while on the BQE in Brooklyn Heights as Manhattan twinkles across the river, otherwise 5/10

Owl City – Fireflies
Sub-Postal Service twee nonsense, full of lines aiming for “clever” but ending up at “cloying.” Gained in popularity the further south we went. A moratorium must be placed on men who sing like this. 2/10

10 plays
Iyaz – Replay
Incredibly irritating chorus melody that actually serves as a meta-comment regarding the song’s content, becoming slightly charming even if there is no actual “Replay” setting on an iPod. Nice that he wants to cook her favorite meal, shame about the lousy grammar. 5/10

9 plays
Kelly Clarkson – Already Gone
OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder sells Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson the same song; Beyonce’s sounds stately, dignified, and slightly stiff while Clarkson’s is simultaneously messier and more frigid, sounding more human in the process. Quite possibly the best and most complex-sounding vocal performance of Clarkson’s singles career. 7/10

8 plays
David Guetta feat. Akon – Sexy Bitch
Akon: “I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.” David Guetta: “Damn, she’s a sexy bitch.” 8/10.

Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne – Down
Asian Ne-Yo sweet blandisms can only put off the Requisite Terrible Weezy Verse for so long. 4/10

Britney Spears – 3
Britney is always best when she’s saying absolutely nothing of worth, and this ode to menage-a-trois is as good and human as she’s sounded since “Toxic,” even if she seems to run out of batteries when she’s counting. Bonus points for making the threesome MMF and including the line “Let’s make a team/Make him say my name.” Gay sex acts on the radio are fine so long as you aren’t male. 7/10

7 plays
Jason DeRulo – Whatcha Say
I want to say that the blatant rip of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” (made popular due to The OC and an SNL parody of same) is incredibly lazy, except it actually fits the song’s narrative perfectly. Doesn’t make it any less irritating, but props due where they are earned, I guess. 6/10

6 plays
Beyonce – Sweet Dreams
Another example of the music in pop becoming gayer and gayer (see also: “Sexy Bitch,” “3”). Beyonce’s ridiculous charisma means she can pull off these bangers in her sleep; the only difference is this is more synth-oriented than beat-oriented. It’s a good look on her, as just about anything would be, even if it’s not at all Beyonce at her best. 7/10

Taylor Swift – Fifteen
Fitting that the only singer in 2009 more charismatic than Beyonce is Taylor Swift, and partly because her style of music and sound—clean, clear, and uncluttered—is so exceptionally different to everything else on pop radio. And then you get to the lyrical detail and message of the song, making it stand out even more so: A song by a young woman for young women, urging them to realize that there is more to life Out There, that there is more to life than boys and the petty dramas of high schools and small towns. A big-hearted miracle of a song, a beacon of quality in pop music, whose only flaw is its five-minute running time meaning a truncated version gets played on the radio, lopping off the final narrative twist. 9/10

Hey, remember this?

Well, Taylor Swift has now released a video for “Fifteen.” Does the look remind you of something?

Seriously y’all. Two great tastes that taste great together. I am the next Jon Hamm.

Also, new Friday Night Lights episodes start airing on October 28th. Taylor Swift’s “Platinum Edition” of Fearless will be released the day before. BEST WEEK EVER is what that will be.

My second contribution to 10Listens is a long (too-long) write-up regarding Miranda Lambert’s long (too-long) new album Revolution. I wanted to expand on some ideas here, considering how long (too-long) that review was already.

As an objective listener and critic, the album is a definite success–a refinement of many of her lyrical themes while also allowing for new shades to her considerable songwriting prowess. This is, without a doubt, a Next Step record: one that makes the statement, “I am everything you thought, and more.”

As a fan, however, the album is a little disappointing. For one, it is much too long, and Lambert’s insistence on proving her maturity is both unnecessary and not fun. Because part of what made Crazy Ex-Girlfriend such a great album was that for every badass pose like “Gunpowder and Lead” or the title track’s uncontrollable bouts of rage, you had a rueful almost-not-quite apologia like “More Like Her.” The balance of those extremes on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend made for a full, satisfying listen; you got the sense that Lambert was completely in control of this image as a full-bodied representation. She had a temper, but knew it had its consequences. It was a smart and effortless presentation of Lambert as an artist.

Some of Revolution seems like too much effort, like Lambert proving she can play that Nashville game by blanding out her sound on “Dead Flowers” and “White Liar,” the two awful choices for singles. I wish I’d never heard either out of the context of the album, where they provide wonderful depth and nuance to a record whose seeming sole intent is to showcase same; as singles, however, they don’t resonate at all. And I realize she didn’t want to just be seen as the Tough Gal again, but something like the rip-snortin’ “Only Prettier” or the totally classic-sounding “Me and Your Cigarettes” (the other Classic–as shown on “Famous In A Small Town,” Lambert has a knack for these–on this record is “Airstream Song,” which would never get radio play because it sounds like an old standard that Emmylou Harris would’ve popularized 35 years ago) would’ve been great choices.

But I realize a lot of those concerns are extra-musical. It’s just great to have Lambert putting some energy in country music; much like Jamey Johnson last year, Lambert is proving that being true to one’s artistic vision can lead to success in country music. Just not enough to be Carrie Underwood or Kenny Chesney. But then, artists like Lambert and Johnson wouldn’t be half as special if that’s who they were trying to be.

Huzzah! After 79 months, the Black Eyed Peas are finally dethroned from the Hot 100’s perch by…a song much worse than “I Gotta Feeling,” called “Down.” Eh, we’ll take it I guess, even with the terrible Lil Wayne guest spot. Jay Sean is apparently the “Asian Ne-Yo.” Okay. Mazel tov! L’chaim!

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