Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Picks for the Top Twenty Albums of 2016.

I should probably always call these "The Top ____ Albums I Listened To in ____" because, you know, it ain't definitive and I don't claim it to be - I'm just one man. And when I look at other year-end lists, they're really well rounded with a ton of shit I never got to, but I just exercise the myopic luxury of assuming all that stuff is garbage. It's a time-honored tradition of mine! Here are the albums that dominated my 6-disc CD changer this year:

(Oh, another note: Run the Jewels just dropped RTJ3 and it's technically still 2016, but its original release date was January 2017, so it'll be on next year's list.)

20. Vince Staples - Prima Donna

This record's dope and mad thumpy, and a sweet stop-gap between Summertime '06 and the next full-length masterpiece everyone is expecting from this dude. He'll deliver.

"Pimp Hand"

19. Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.

Kendrick flexing, showing that even the tracks on his studio floor are doper than what most rappers are leading with. I didn't listen to this one nearly as much as To Pimp a Butterfly, but I probably should have.

"untitled 2"

18. Royce Da 5'9" - Layers

Rap curmudgeons who whine about lyricism being dead in hip-hop must be caught up in a perpetual loop of hate-watching the trash-rap that teenagers go nuts for on YouTube, because there are plenty of rappers (old and young!) who still wanna go toe-to-toe with anybody. Royce has always been that dude, and since he gotten sober he's dug his heels in even further, and you can really hear it in his music. This record is dense, and you can tell he put everything into it. Mad passionate.


17. Lloyd Banks - Halloween Havoc 3: Four Days of Fury

Banks is another one of those dudes, like Royce, who hasn't slipped a bit on the lyrics, and he just won't stop dropping virtually feature-free albums where all he does is rap his ass off. He actually put out another mixtape in 2016, before this one, called All or Nothing - Live it Up, and it's solid, too. And it appears he just released another EP last week. If anyone ever accused Banks of dick-riding Fif, they best retract.

"Money Crime"

16. G-Unit - The Lost Flash Drive

You know my ears perk up for G-Unit rarities! This is such a bizarre set of songs that it somehow works, even down to the absurd, six-minute Young Buck freestyle that runs through a barrage of ridiculous beats. There's not a lot of 50 on this thing, which is curious, but I think they're interested in letting Kidd Kidd get his. Fair enough. Will this make new fans for the G-Unit? Nah. Is it crazy Tony Yayo still gets paid to rap? Indeed!


15. Cousin Stizz - Monda

Can't remember how I got turned onto Stizz, but as soon as I heard it I had a tough time shaking his track "500 Horses." That beat? Come on, man. The rest of this mixtape is equally dope, and more sweet antidote for those who think modern rappers don't have shit to say. Love this dude's voice.

"Every Season"

14. Swet Shop Boys - Cashmere

Heems links up with the cool pilot dude from Rogue One to make a record that is much more original, much less predictable, and lots more fun than that film. Pakistani beats and political raps hidden inside Heems' stony, fun-times drawl. Gets a little grimy, too. India in this.


13. NOFX - First Ditch Effort

I don't always go in for new NOFX records, but I ended up listening to this one quite a bit this year for whatever reason. They just keep doing it, man! "Oxy Moronic" is classic Fat Mike, with ridiculous puns ("Klonopinions," etc.) aimed at a very serious issue - the legal drug trade. And it's over four minutes long - these guys are growing up.

"Sid and Nancy"

12. Dumbfoundead - We Might Die

Dumbfoundead is a battle rapper, among many other things, and he's got lyrics for days. This new mixtape is dense but to the point, with ten tracks that get in, get out, and leave you wanting just a little bit more. That's the way to do it. And when Nocando shows up, you know it's on.


11. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown's weirdness knows no bounds, and it's not hindering him a bit. This record is strange as ever, but his prowess for getting beats together that match both the tenacity and unpredictability of his vocals is becoming more and more apparent as his reach grows. DB knows who to work with, and he apparently hasn't even come close to saying what he needs to say. Check his verse on the new RTJ!


10. Spark Master Tape - Silhouette Of A Sunkken City

We still don't know exactly who Spark is, but he's opening for Run the Jewels on their upcoming tour and Eminem's manager keeps yapping about him, so shit's about to get real. Either he's the next big deal or the backlash - which has already begun - will be swift and this will all be "exposed" in some shitty internet post. Whatever. I still find it interesting, though I will admit this record wasn't a huge step forward. But it was a step.

"All About the Money"

09. Descendents - Hypercaffium Spazzinate

They've still got it! Maybe this record is why I dipped into the NOFX one. 16 tracks, none touching 3 and a half minutes - you know what you're getting into here. The hooks are hooky, Milo sounds refreshed and ready, and songs like "No Fat Burger" lean heavy on the old-school noddery without resorting to self-parody. Tough to do! That's why the Descendents are good.

"Shameless Halo"

08. David Bowie - ★

Would I have listened to this record if Bowie hadn't died this year? Maybe not, but I did, and anytime an artist with status like David Bowie kicks off a record with a ten-minute song, I'm interested. Most artists can't do that, wouldn't dare do that. Bowie does, and it's only the intro to what is a massive record, one that does somehow seem to shut it all down. Of course he put something out right before he died. It would've been odder if he hadn't.

"I Can't Give Everything Away"

07. Alex Cameron - Jumping the Shark

Alex Cameron doesn't really have those scars. It's all part of...something that takes way too long to explain. Listening to his music gives some insight, but not nearly enough, and it's all working to keep me fitfully intrigued. But it's the songs that are really great, with the stark and chilly videos adding to the overall impression. It's a bleak one, but hey: you can dance to it.


06. Young Thug - Jeffery

Thugger can pull together a full-length, man. This one's a little more "look at me and where I am!" than Barter 6, but dude's getting supremely famous and it would fuck with anyone. So yeah, the hunger's gone, but the beats and hooks are still there, as is that wonderful dress he's wearing that got so many rap dudes pissy. Keep it coming.


05. Kevin Gates - Islah

I'm going to live long enough to hate Kevin Gates, and when it happens, I'll gladly let it wash over me. Until then, I will continue to sporadically listen to his music, especially this album, which features - and honestly this is the single most shocking thing I could say about a rap record in this day and age - NO FEATURES. This is his record, front to back, and it really does hit you when you listen to it. It's just one big lump of this dude's life, which is constantly on fire. He's loving his kids one moment, ending your shit the next. He's telling you material things are worthless, than rapping about his diamonds. And throughout being chillingly polite about ALL of it.

"La Familia"

04. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead are in that aforementioned Bowie category where they can skip the system, put something out just the way they want it, and you better be ready to deal with it, extensively intricate intros and all. This one is, not shockingly, a terrific record, because at this point this band is apparently incapable of really dropping the ball and laying an impenetrable brick on an unsuspecting public. I think there are still those hoping for some weird regression into the guitar-effect onslaught of OK Computer, but it ain't happening. Sounds like they're sampling snores and using them as rhythm devices. We're wayyyy past "Paranoid Android" here. I mean, I'm not even sure if the drummer's in the band anymore.

"Burn the Witch"

03. DJ Shadow - The Mountain Will Fall

Shadow still getting it done! He's hindered, like a lot of "breakthrough" artists, in that he's never going to be able to sufficiently replicate the influence and overall undying majesty of Endtroducing..., which is something he shouldn't be held to, especially considering the real strides he's made in developing and expanding the trademark sound of his music while still staying true to the sample-based shit he's known for. This record is pure Shadow: mostly instrumentals but with some guest spots that enhance, not distract. Thick beats.

"The Mountain Will Fall"

02. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White - Hella Personal Film Festival

Art rap for the masses! These beats aren't exactly of the kind Mike Eagle usually rides; they're way more 70's-AOR samply, but when paired with Mike's equally buttery vocal effortlessness, it all comes together. I saw Open Mike Eagle perform here in Portland earlier this year and the crowd there was as diverse as any you'd see. I wasn't the old dude, I wasn't the young dude - I was just another person in this group of everybody. It kind of reminded me of wrestling a little bit, in that there's something for everyone in this dude's music. Can't say that about a lot of musicians or rappers. And he even raps about wrestling! It's all there.

"Admitting The Endorphin Addiction"

01. Kristin Kontrol - X-Communicate

I was a casual fan of the Dum Dum Girls, but man: this one caught me by surprise. I definitely listened to this record more than any other in 2016, and in fact I'm really shocked this album wasn't more of a big deal. Sounding as much like it came out in 1986 as it does 2016, this is a no-filler lineup of 10 synth-pop songs that all deserve to be there. Maybe it's taking folks a second to put together this pivot that the former Dee Dee made this time around, because it was a big one, but these songs are strong enough to stand alone, no backstory needed. Hope I get to see her live soon, because I'd love to see these songs pulled off on the spot.

"White Street"

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Early October Record Shopping at Reckless in Chicago, Part Three: The Loop.

This is the Reckless location that was about five blocks from my hotel, but I made the last one I went to so I could just walk it back and not take another Uber. Though I did have a fun time getting rides in Chicago. Got the vibe that the drivers weren't usually picking up or dropping off people at record stores. But hey, that's me: I'm fucking cultured.

I had spent a good amount of my allotted dough at this point, so I went into the Loop Reckless - the smallest one; it's not cramped, but it's close - looking to get some bang for my buck. I ended up with a bunch of weird stuff, some of which I'm just now remembering buying. What a whirlwind!

The Halflings - "A Kiss for Christmas" 7" (1995)

Even more for my Christmas collection. This is on red vinyl, but of course there was a green edition, too. That's the spirit. And that's some 90's punk.

Richard and Willie - Waitin For Gas (1979)

Laff Records, of course. Ribald stand-up comedy, no doubt. With track titles like "Leon Spinks" and "White Dudes," I'm figuring this is right in my wheelhouse.

Jackie Kannon's "Prose from the Cons" (196_)

"A comedy album recorded live and featuring convicts of Southern Michigan Prison." Sounds hilarious.

Hal Masters - The Funny Side of the Street (1961)

This thing was in crazy good shape and there's a naked lady on the front, so I needn't further convincing. The back describes him as "controversial," and I'm a little scared to find out what that's referring to. Probably a number of things, but really, isn't he just pointing out our differences?

Victor Buono - Heavy! (1971)

Stand-up comedy that seems to focus on his weight. Should be uncomfortable!

Wildman Steve - Wild! Wild! Wild! Wild! (1970)

I've been lucking into these "party records" lately. Dirty stuff. Wild, even.

Franklyn Ajaye - Don't Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair! (1976)

Another comedy record. This one's on Warner Bros. but I'd never heard of this dude. Great cover, weird title - I hesitated for a second but then made my move.

Bill Carty "Blasts Off!" (196_)

This cover is as terrifying as it was the first time I saw it. Jesus, Bill.

Wayne Juhlin - My Kinda Town (1975)

Private-press spoken-word/comedy thing from mid-70's Chicago. Looooove shit like this.

The Marillac Chorus Orchestra and Jazz Combo - Music from Marillac (1972)

This is another gem, a private-press LP of a recording of an orchestral and choral performance by a Chicago-area all-girls private high school in the early 70's. Looks like it's never been played. Nice topper to all the rando records I copped this trip.

And that was it. And thanks to Southwest's new no-fee baggage policy, I got it all home for free. Dude, I'm getting really good at this.

Reckless got some great stores, son.

Early October Record Shopping at Reckless in Chicago, Part Two: Lakeview

My last day in Chicago was a Monday and I had to be on a plane around 7. I got up early, checked out of my hotel, and by 10:30AM I was at the Reckless on Broadway, their biggest location and the one where I've had great luck over the last few years. This time around I didn't come up on any big scores, vinyl-wise, which was odd, but I did get a bunch of cassettes. I picked up a few the first night, too - this is all of 'em:
Not bad at all. They had tons more rap tapes the last time I was there, though, and I've been retro-kicking myself for the last 12 months, regretting not pulling that trigger. But what's done is done, and I'll come up on that King Tee tape some other time.
Here are the records I did get:

Mosquito - Mosquito 7" (1992)

Jad Fair and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley crank out some distorto-jangle weirdness. One dollar.

Rappin': Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1985)

I am pretty sure I've never seen this movie but I couldn't pass this up for three bucks. Peebles. Never been cool. Oh he'll try, but he just can't get there. At the same time, the late, legendary Larry Smith ("My man Larry Larr, my name DJ Run") produced a bunch of tracks on this thing and I can't front on that.

Monie Love - "Monie in the Middle" - The Remixes 12" (1990)

Oh I'll get down with some Monie Love. This is a 3-song 45RPM 12" from the UK that features 3 remixes that are mad club-ready and seem more suited for overseas than here, but that was often part of her struggle. Though if you listened to her, you'd think she was from Brooklyn or some shit. A very underrated female rapper. Latifah knew.

MC Ren - "Same Ol' Shit" 12" (1993)

Three-song 12" single with a radio, album, and instrumental version. Ren in '93 on Ruthless. I bought this just so I could have it and flip by it and remember how awesome MC Ren is.

Edwin L. Baron - Relaxation and Self Improvement (1955)

This was made in Chicago and while I don't think it's a particularly rare or sought-after LP, I probably wouldn't have found it in Portland. More photos of this relax-master right here.

The Ravers - It's Gonna Be a Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

On Rhino Records with crazy festive vinyl. This was surprisingly cheap and it's in great shape. My Christmas-record collection is two crates deep at this point. I'm a force come December.

Chartbusters: Hit After Hit (1984)

I love K-Tel comps from the mid-80's. I keep records like this in the front room of our house. They make great mixes for cleaning or eating or just hanging out. And they sometimes have the deeper cuts that they thought would end up being big hits but weren't: This one's got "Adult Education" by Hall & Oates and "She's Strange" by Cameo. Pretty sweet.

And that was it for the Broadway shop. Here's a few more pics:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Early October Record Shopping at Reckless in Chicago, Part One: Wicker Park.

Chicago: The City On the Go. The Windy Apple. The Jewel of the Nile. Yes, I'm practically a Chi-land local at this point, so how 'bout dem DA BEARS, huh? Gimme a sec, just need to wring the kielbasa juice outta the ol' push-broom.

Well son of a fuck Ditka, I ended up back in Chicago again this year. The weather was mild, my leisure time was little, but I still managed to hit all three Reckless Records locations over the course of a consecutive evening and an afternoon. Was in town for three days before I had a chance to sneak off on Sunday night and hit the Wicker Park location, which I think is the newest one, but maybe not super-new. Either way, it's the one I hadn't been to before, so I wanted to check it out this time around if I did nothing else.
It's a great little store, essentially a slightly smaller version of the Broadway location, which is their big'n. It was my first record-shopping stop of the trip, so I had to limit myself a bit to leave room for two more stores worth of digging. I left an NM copy of An Evening With Wild Man Fischer on the shelf, and I'm feeling tinges of regret. But it's too late now. Here's what I did get:

Frank Zappa - The Old Masters Box Two Sampler (1987)

I used to own this record. I bought it when I lived in Eugene in probably '95 or '96, most likely at House of Records. I sold it on eBay in the mid-2000s along with a few other records that I immediately regretted getting rid of and have felt stupid about ever since, enough to ignite my ongoing mission to replace those records and make myself whole again. While I still haven't found the limited-edition Mr. Bungle picture disc I sold in a moment of true darkness, I did finally find this, a fairly inconsequential LP in the larger scheme of things, but one that is important to me. I feel good about it. And it's even got the catalog inside, just like my old copy did. Sampler of Zappa remasters with one unreleased Mystery Disc track.

Big Daddy Kane - "All of Me" 12" (1990)

This is my least favorite Big Daddy Kane single, and maybe my least favorite song from his entire catalog, though "I'm Not Ashamed" is always very tough to beat. "All of Me" is a duet with Barry White that is a huge whiff and overall really not good. And there's an extended remix on here! Fantastic. I somehow did not have this but I do have a test pressing of it. Deep.

Mykill Miers - "Raw Shit" 12" (2001)

Mykill Miers! This was a buck I think. Tracks from his second record. I loved rap like this in the early 2000s. Still sounds dope.

LA Dream Team - Kings of the West Coast (1986)

Sealed for three bucks. Before Dre and the Wreckin Cru, there was The Dream Team.

Side F/X - "A Swift Kick" 12" (1989)

I had never heard of these dudes but I liked their baseball uniforms and hey: that name is pretty clever. 5-song EP-ish type thing.

West Coast Crew - "Jail Bait" 12" (1985)

Electro-rap that is not quite as troubling as the title suggests, but certainly troubling nonetheless.

V/A - The Compton Compilation - Sound Control Mob "Under Investigation" (1989)

Catchy title! This comp is a year past Straight Outta Compton and features Lonzo from the Wreckin Cru overseeing the whole thing and eating some crow along the way. Cash-in? Eh, I guess. Features tracks from CMW and others not as notable. An answer to NWA and the Posse in a way. This was one of my more high-priced items on this trip, though it was only $15.

Teenage Talk-In (1969)

Hey kids, let's rap! Whatever's on your mind, though you know I'll be swingin' the ol' convo right back to Jesus every time! Here's a picture of The Beatles to make you think we might not suggest you ignore your overwhelming urges and instead channel that energy toward respecting your parents.

Yo-Yo - Total Control (1996)

Yo-Yo, deep into the 90's. Never heard this one. She's got a hot new look.

V/A - Rap It Up (1986)

A K-Tel rap comp that I don't think I ever owned, but definitely eyed when I was a kid. Two songs from Timex Social Club and one from Full Force was not sweetening the deal. Let's be careful what we call "rap" here.

And that was that for the first night. Much more to come.