Thursday, September 23, 2010

Albums That Are Totally Worth It: The Q3 Report

Groove Armada are on a boat.

End-of-year lists keep creeping earlier and earlier, and I'm as offended as the next guy. But once list-making season arrives, I'll probably be tied up with a Christmas program of some sort. So, before the deluge, I will put my ducks in a row.

CAVEAT: I can't claim to be definitive. That said, you might find stuff on here worth checking out. So far this year I've consciously processed 164 albums, including reissues and late '09s I missed, which is way more than any sane person needs to hear. However, this barely touches what most of my more esteemed colleagues have heard, and it's roughly ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT OF THE ALBUMS THAT'LL BE RELEASED THIS YEAR. Do you believe that? According to the esteemed Mr. Kot, 2008 saw the release of 115,000 albums, only 6k of which sold over a thousand copies.

I have not been picky! My main method of hearing new CDs is the library system, which lets me reserve up to 25 albums at a time for inter-library loan. I regularly go through the list of what's available and reserve what sounds interesting, what other people are repping, or what genres I need to brush up on. Occasionally I just reserve stuff willy nilly, which is how I heard a Christian bachata CD. (Ug.) Some worthwhile jazz and metal I've bought from eMusic on the recommendations of Phil Freeman. I've also received a trickle of promos and listened to MSN Music's Listening Booth.

Of those 164 albums, 69 or so are Worth It. What's that mean? You know it when you hear it, but mostly an album is Worth It if it doesn't feel like a chore to sit through again. Usually "being surprising" and "exceeding genre expectations" play a part. Doubtless my taste will change, and some of my Worth Its and Not Worth Its are pretty borderline. For example, the new Erykah Badu didn't do much for me, but I wouldn't hate you for liking it. Ariel Pink is a different story.

Of those 69, 12 are Totally Worth It. That is, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get to vote for them on a year-end Top 10 list. Thus do I guarantee myself disappointment. Here they are:

You're probably wondering whether you should trust me. (Or maybe my Ke$ha love gave you your answer.) To examine where my subjective interests lie, I've applied some specious statistical analysis to my Worth Its. If we assign each Worth It a point, and each Totally Worth It two points, and divide by 164 total albums, we get a batting average of .494 (synchronistically, also the number of my address). This means that fewer than half of the CDs I listen to are things I'd wanna hear on a regular basis. Given the array of genres in question, I'm sort of surprised it's that high. From there, I've broken my lists down by genre and figured up the batting average of each genre, along with their deviation plus or minus .494. Rap won.

Top 6 Rap (17 albums, .706 avg. +.212):
Sho Baraka--Lions & Liars (Reach)
The Roots--How I Got Over (Def Jam)
Rick Ro$$--Teflon Don (Def Jam)
Meth, Rae, & Ghost--Wu-Massacre (Def Jam)
Big Boi--Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Daddy Yankee--Mundial

I still need to hear Curren$y. Please comment and let me know about other things I need to hear, too. Yes, that is a lot of Def Jam albums. And yes, a Christian rapper made a better album than any of 'em.

Next up is the awkwardly named genre of Melodic Electronic Dance Pop That's Not Rap (MED Pop?), which I assumed would win, before I started factoring in stuff that's like Four Tet but not as compelling.

Top 6 MED Pop (Non-Rap) (20 albums, .700 avg., +.206):
Ke$ha--Animal (RCA)
Diana Reyes--Amame, Besame (EMI Latin)
Sleigh Bells--Treats (Mom + Pop)
Groove Armada--Black Light (Cooking Vinyl)
LCD Soundsystem--This is Happening (DFA/Virgin/EMI)
Kylie Minogue--Aphrodite (Astralwerks/EMI)

That list should probably include salsa albums too, but I don't think they occupy the same space in my listening psyche. Next up, country:

Top 6 Country (21 albums, .619 avg., +.125):
Drive-By Truckers--The Big To-Do (New West) (They object to being called country, so we'll include them in the indie rock list too.)
Jerrod Niemann--Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury (Sea Gayle/Arista)
Trace Adkins--Cowboy's Back In Town (Show Dog/Universal)
Gary Allan--Get Off On the Pain
Chely Wright--Lifted Off the Ground (Painted Red/Vanguard)
Intocable--Classic ('09)

CAVEAT: I'm still working on Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song. Right now he occupies the same mental space as Midlake's The Courage of Others: sounds cool when it's on, especially on overcast days; expertly recorded; sort of sounds like the interstitial sections of an art-metal CD; and I don't particularly wanna hear it. This doesn't bode well for his inclusion on my list, but I doubt he cares. Wouldn't be surprised if he walks off with a Grammy for Album of the Year, actually.

Speaking of metal, I haven't yet heard enough to make it a statistically significant genre, so I'm throwing it in with indie rock. (If Phil Freeman actually read this, I'm sure he'd be thrilled.) Yes folks, that's WASP with the second best indie rock album of the year.

Top 12 Indie Rock (Including Metal) (44 albums, .523 avg., +.029):
Cathedral--The Guessing Game (Nuclear Blast)
WASP--Babylon (Demolition ‘09)
Sleigh Bells--Treats (Mom + Pop)
Frightened Rabbit--The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fatcat)
Drive-By Truckers--The Big To-Do (New West)
Vampire Weekend--Contra (XL)
LCD Soundsystem--This is Happening (DFA/Virgin/EMI)
The Like--Release Me (Downtown)
New Pornographers--Together
Art Museums--Rough Frame
Ludicra--The Tenant
Grong Grong--To Hell 'n' Back (Memorandum '09 REISSUE)

Do LCD Soundsystem count? Even though they have major label distribution? I don't understand how these things work.

Our final marginally positive genre is Latin! This includes regional Mexican subgenres like norteno and duranguense, along with Caribbean dance genres like reggaeton and salsa. It'd also include straight-up Latin pop/rock if I'd heard anything good. Diana Reyes and Luis Enrique probably come the closest, and Tito "El Bambino" has some good songs.

Top 8 Latin (18 albums, .500 avg., +.006):
Diana Reyes--Amame, Besame (EMI Latin)
Daddy Yankee--Mundial (Latin)
Los Cuates de Sinaloa--Puro Cartel (Sony Latin)
Adolescent's Orquestra--Sellos de Mi ADN (Venevision/Universal)
Los Titanes de Durango--Los Locos del Corrido
Intocable--Classic ('09)
Luis Enrique--Ciclos (Top Stop Music/Sony)
Los Tucanes de Tijuana--Retro-Corridos

With a few exceptions, the Christian music marketed as such has sucked. Good stuff still exists, though. Yes folks, that's WASP with the best Christian album of the year.

Top 6 Christian (17 albums, .471 avg., -.023):
WASP--Babylon (Demolition '09)
Sho Baraka--Lions & Liars (Reach)
Marvin Sapp--Here I Am
Various Artists--Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) ('09 REISSUE)
Nneka--Concrete Jungle (Christian)
Gary Lucas and Dean Bowman--Chase the Devil

And then there's jazz. You really shouldn't seek my advice for jazz, except when I tell you that library jazz is a dire scene. These are likable, though.

Top 6 Jazz (18 albums, .389 avg., -.105):
Henry Threadgill Zooid--This Brings Us To, Vol. 1 (Pi ‘09)
Mikrokolektyw--Revisit (Delmark)
Sun Ra--College Concert Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is... (ESP REISSUE)
Terje Rypdal--Crime Scene (ECM)
Carlos Barretto--Labirintos
Matthew Shipp--4D

What’s This? A Good Major Label Rock Album?
David Bowie--A Reality Tour

And finally, because it includes the long-awaited-on-CD Bert & Ernie Singalong, one of the most delightful albums ever recorded, here's the list of top reissues.

Top 10 Reissues (Music Made Before ‘09):
Various Artists--Next Stop Soweto: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga (Strut)
David Bowie--A Reality Tour
Original Cast--Sesame Street Old School Vol. 1 [including Bert & Ernie Singalong]
Various Artists--Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) ('09)
Sun Ra--College Concert Vol. 1: The Complete Nothing Is... (ESP)
Youssou N'Dour--Music from the Motion Picture I Bring What I Love
Grong Grong--To Hell 'n' Back (Memorandum '09)
Nneka--Concrete Jungle
Was (Not Was)--Pick of the Litter (1980-2010)
Various Artists--Minimal Wave Tapes

Oh yeah singles, about which I'm hardly authoritative, except to say that these are all really good; and also most of them are actual singles! I checked. (Can you spot the one that's not?)

Top 10 Singles:
"Vida en la Noche"--Daddy Yankee
"All the Lovers"--Kylie Minogue
"Your Love Is My Drug"--Ke$ha
"Paper Romance"--Groove Armada
"Baby"--Justin Bieber feat. Ludacris
"Get Off On the Pain"--Gary Allan
"Praise You Forever"--Marvin Sapp
"Soldier of Love"--Sade
“Alles Neu”--Peter Fox

That's it for today! More will follow at the appropriate time, but I wanted to get that out of my system. Will rap maintain its lead? Will a major label release a decent rock CD recorded in the past year? Will chillwave and crabcore please go away? Stay tuned...

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