Number One Song of 2010: Rick Ross – “BMF”

At first I was sure it was this song (admittedly heavily influenced by Funk Master Flex’s histrionics):

But after listening to the entirety of Rick Ross’s Teflon Don, I think it might be this song:

The Drums – S/T (Island/Moshi Moshi)

The Drums are like The Smiths reincarnated poorly, and yet they made my top ten list of albums this year. Fey? Yes. Pretentious? Absolutely. Overwrought? You bet. But isn’t that what makes them so good?

Das Racist – Sit Down Man and Shut Up Dude

Das Racist’s entry into the scene was the stupid/smart blog hit “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” If that’s the only mark this Queens-bred, multi-racial hip-hop duo had left, they would have fast faded away. Fortunately, two mixtapes later, Das Racist has proven that there’s more to the trick than just post-modern observation. Yes, they kinda have that backpacker mentality which is sometimes nerdy and too self-referential and annoying. But bottom line is Das Racist make better hip-hop than a lot of other artists out there right now. Stream-of-consciousness rhymes, sometimes literally broken into fragmented one-word ideas, play out over excellent beats, both original and jacked (see their take on Ghostface’s “Nutmeg”). Can’t wait till the album drops.

Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)

I had ignored Beach House for a few years, but their 2010 release, Teen Dream (Sub Pop) really made me take notice. Victoria Legrand’s vocals are just beautiful – earthy, throaty, and vibrant – and Alex Scally’s guitar playing is deceptively simple. He can carry a song with a simple guitar line and just a few effects. I got the chance to see the band at Prospect Park this summer… well, not exactly “see” since really I sat outside the walls of the concert and just listened. But that was good enough.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)

Deerhunter’s latest album, Halcyon Digest (4AD), is musically a bit quieter, a bit more melodic and laid back than the band’s previous efforts, but it’s an emotionally stirring and emphatic statement. The recording and production is raw and immediate, which makes Bradford Cox’s personal and worldly observations that much more effective.  If you miss Jay Reatard, take a listen to their tribute to him, “He Would Have Laughed.” It’s moving.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge)

Of course, this album is going to be on the top of almost everyone’s year-end lists, and for damn good reason. This is the best work the Arcade Fire has ever done, and The Suburbs (Merge) is an incredibly bold, varied, and creative musical statement. At times driving, at other times pleasantly meandering, with a healthy dose of modern-era paranoia and occasional optimism, Win Butler and company’s arrangements have never sounded better.

Countdown to Year’s End – Band of Horses – Infinite Arms

I usually geek out on year-end lists, but really, what’s the point? Instead, I am just going to post some thoughts about and music from albums that meant a lot to me this year – one a day until the new year. And maybe for a few days after that as well.

My favorite album of 2010 – one that surprised and slightly embarrassed me – was Infinite Arms from Band of Horses (Columbia/Fat Possum/Brown). I was completely obsessed with BOH’s first album, Everything All The Time (Sub Pop), mildly infatuated with their second, Cease To Begin (Sub Pop), and at first, kind of turned off by Infinite Arms. BOH has always done no-frills but incredibly catchy indie rock very well, but the band’s new album gets into country, ’70s rock, and schmaltzy singer/songwriter territory. Deep. Maybe it’s the fact that I started listening to the album obsessively on my wedding day this past June and into Hannah and my amazing Italian honeymoon, or maybe it’s just Ben Bridwell’s incredible ability to write good pop-rock, but this album grew on me mighty fast. I’m not listening to it so much these days, but it was a highlight of this past year for sure.

Sorry, these are only watchable on YouTube, but just click on video for quick links.

Glaciers of Ice Vol. 52

Boston MC Dagha has a new EP out, Noise is the Trigger (Progressive Compulsive). The project is a collaboration with producer Psyche Major, who provides a backdrop of beats that are hard-hitting and just off-kilter enough to satisfy those interested in more experimental soundscapes. Dagha has some interesting things to say, and his flow makes listening to his lyrics appealing, whether he’s spitting on his own on the excellent “Wildfellow” or trading rhymes with Lil’ Dap or Smoothe Da Hustler.

Hell Razah, former member of Sunz of Man and Wu-Tang affiliate, is getting kind of soft and sentimental in his old age, but that’s a good thing. The title of his new album, Heaven Razah (Nature Sounds), is also what he seems to prefer to be called these days. The album’s production follows suit, employing a melodious blend of r’n’b and funk samples that float over beats that softly tap out in the background. Razah’s rhymes are part mystical, part spiritual, and part street – in the vein of Killah Priest or RZA’s more esoteric subject matter, but much more accessible. Heaven Razah is an accomplished new effort that should not be ignored.

The Niceguys new album, The Show, is being released as a free digital download, but one wouldn’t be remiss to pay for this music if they were charging for it. The Houston-based group, consisting of rapper Yves Saint, producers Cristolph and Free, and DJ Candlestick, are the living reincarnation of Little Brother, from their sultry, jazzy beats to Saint’s laid-back flow to their forward-thinking subject matter. Sometimes serious, sometimes just joking around, The Niceguys’ contribution to the hip-hop class of 2010 is worth listening to.

Canibus always sounds like he’s spitting venom, no matter what he’s rapping about. Chalk it up to his vocal tone and cadence, but the dude sounds hungry and a little bit bitter even while forming the most articulate and loquacious rhyme schemes. On his tenth album, C Of Tranquility (Interdependent Media), the MC who once sold half a mill of his debut has gone completely and solidly indie, and the results are stunning. Working with some of hip-hop’s finest producers (including DJ Premier on the ridiculously dope “Golden Terra of Rap”), Canibus is in fine form.

Pigeon John is back with his latest for Quannum, Dragon Slayer. The music comes courtesy of General Elektriks‘ Herve Salters, resulting in a collision of funk, jazz, soul and pop-rock. John sings as often as not, giving songs like the opener, “The Bomb,” a sound that is something like an updated “Hey Ya” or “Crazy.” That’s not to say that Pigeon John is aping styles. Instead, he creates a tableau of the big and little issues in life, all set to his own musical vision – one that is completely unlike any other in hip-hop.

Zumbi (also of Zion I) and producer The Are (also of Trackmasters) are The Burnerz, and their new album, Zumbi & The Are Present: The Burnerz (Jah Works) is a force to be reckoned with. The two met on tour a few years ago, and their collaboration is a great success. Zumbi’s slinky flow plays out perfectly over The Are’s beats, a mash-up of styles and samples that elevate this album from the indie hip-hop trenches. Zumbi also has an album out this month with his core group, Zion I, called Atomic Clock (Gold Dust). This is a very different affair, as eclectic producer Amp Live twists knobs and comes up with a melange of reggae, electronic, and dub beats to provide a background for Zumbi’s rhymes. Always interesting and ever shifting, I prefer The Burnerz to this Zion I release, although both are well worth your while.

One of the best albums of the past few months has got to be El Da Sensei and The Returners GT2: Nu World(Coalmine Records). I’ve never heard of The Returners before this, but apparently they are a Polish production team that makes really dope beats. Ex-Artifacts member El is as solid as ever, calmly explaining his New Jersey state of mind with the help of guests like Treach (Naughty By Nature), Rakaa (Dilated Peoples), and Sean Price (BCC). Sounds good to me.

cap D is an author, cartoonist, lawyer, and MC all at the same time, but his multitasking isn’t hampering his style. The Chicago MC’s new album, PolyMath (All Natural, Inc.) continues his tendency to smoothly enunciate life’s trials and tribulations, honed during his days with the group All Natural, and buttressed by beats from No ID and ILLMiND. This is smart rap music with deep soul.

Bomb Zombies are Nocando and DJ Nobody, and their new EP, Sincerely Yours (Hellfyre Club), picks up where The Cool Kids left off. Nobody’s simple but layered, lo-fi, futuristic beats provide the background to Nocando’s no-nonsense rhymes. This is one of the better releases to come out of LA underground hip-hop since Aceyalone’s Accepted Eclectic. And that shit was a long time ago.

Sometime Army of the Pharoahs member Celph Titled and producer Buckwild have collaborated on a new banger, Nineteen Ninety Now (No Sleep Recordings). This is a throwback to Golden Era hip-hop, as Buckwild’s crate-dug samples and old-school drum sounds attest to. For old bastards like me, and possibly you, this is a very good thing. Listen to the jazz basslines, horn stabs, and snare hits on “Swashbuckling” and try not to be nostalgic. Listen to this now.

Another throwback album of sorts is the new effort from Statik Selektah and Termanology, 1982. I don’t know if this teaming up of seasoned producers with veteran MCs to make nostalgic, quality hip-hop is a trend that will last, but it’s a good one while it’s going. Guests galore, thumping beats, and Termanology’s quick wit make this one a keeper.

Copywrite’s latest, The Life and Times of Peter Nelson, (Man Bites Dog Records) is personal underground hip-hop that hits all the right notes where and makes up for that other white rapper who makes personal underground hip-hop, Cage, has failed lately.

Space Invadas is a new collaborative project between producers Katalyst and Steve Spacek. Their new EP, Done It Again (BBE), ranges from Curtis Mayfield-style soul to Motown soul, featuring some very capable singers over the two producers’ vintage sounding backdrop of funky beats.

MP3: Brand Nubian – “Slow Down (Hellfire Machina Remix)”

Dubstep via Brand Nubian. I prefer the original, but still: