Ode to the Ghetto
Pitchfork can suck it. Those pastoral-pandering pricks panned this, Guilty's debut album; maybe they're not into Stones Throw pairing their typically critically lauded producers with little known street rappers (the first being the underrated Roc C). It puts me in mind of the label's scores of neckbeard fans, who probably can't stomach hardcore hiphop—mellow stoners and frail indie-bros who'd corner you at a party to spiel for hours about Madlib's use of negative space, but don't know shit about the Lootpack. Oh hell no!
This is definitely the hardest record Stones Throw has dropped, and it is already one of my favorites. Ode is the best Detroit hiphop album to drop since Slum Village's self-titled '05 album, showcasing the vicious rhymes of Mr. Simpson, whose bellicose, boiled-down-to-syrup wordplay owes everything to a man both venerated and underrated (as an MC, that is), the man who put him on, J Dilla.
In one fell swoop, Guilt-Man takes the "saying more with less" crown, making vivid portraits of his hood's desperate, trifling characters sparkle with personality while utilizing the slickest of double entendres and rhyme schemes so deceptively simple as to seem stunningly elementary.
The hardcore often gives way to the hilarious as well. Simpson's frequently on display sense of humor is so damn dry, it's BBC. His ease on the mic, and over the future-primitive production from the Stones Throw coterie (Oh No, Madlib, Black Milk, J Dilla, and DJ Babu fit Guilt with an ensemble of gravel-grit digital menace that will have nerds crying for an instrumental version), reveal him as a fully formed hardcore MC who'd sound as natural next to Bun B as he does Sean P (on the fucking flambé "Run").
Stones Throw, I feel it, and I'm fuckin' with y'all—let's reclaim this underground rap shit. Clack clack! LARRY MIZELL JR.
What is it about Norwegian dance acts, anyway? Are we really hearing that chilly-frosty thing invariably mentioned when trying to describe their music—"they" meaning Röyksopp, Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas, and now diskJokke, christened Joachin Dyrdahl in Oslo—or are we willing it into our ears based on a story too good to resist? Europeans are as exotically other as anyone, after all. But in the mind's ear, it's hard not to hear much of Staying In echoing off icy tundra walls while disco lights do wondrously kitschy things to the snow.
Take Staying In's title track, which laces a wobbly musicbox tune with effervescent salsa horns, like tomato sauce on an off-white canvas. "I Was Go to Marrocco and I Don't See You" (not a typo) owes Daft Punk's riff mastery, Carl Sagan soundtracks, Billboard Hot Club Play Top 50 tripe, and the trend for (as one 2007 comp put it) milky disco, all more or less simultaneously.
"Interpolation" is superb blip-funk electro tempered with a lovely, clacking percussive overlay. "Cold Out" is iciest of all, and not just for its title: steel drums turned to peaches in a can, blips marking time and territory, percussion chasing buzzing low-end up a tunnel. It's not hugely ambitious, but Dyrdahl's grasp of the groove and sonic basics is distinctively impressive. What the album Staying In reminds me most of is Röyksopp's Melody A.M. While nothing on diskJokke's album is as surefire as "Eple" or as widescreen ambitious as "Röyksopp's Night Out," Dyrdahl comes close often enough for it not to matter, and fashions the better whole. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Trouble in Dreams
Smart people who care about lyrics have bowed in Daniel Bejar's direction for so long that I've always wondered what I was missing. As a New Pornographers fan, I've enjoyed his songs on their albums, sometimes for their own sake ("Myriad Harbour") but more often as changes of pace. Bejar's albums as Destroyer mostly left me blank, even if I could hear how smart they were—particularly 2006's Destroyer's Rubies, which was a creative leap plain even to a relative outsider like me. Some people have guilty pleasures; for me, not understanding a band loved by people I admire is the reverse of that—guilt induced by lack of pleasure.
I wanted to write about Trouble in Dreams largely as a make-or-break, and guess what? It worked, sort of. Because while I now can officially say I like Destroyer, I still don't hear the words as far to the fore as others do. Bejar's lyrics are smart and put together well, and they're so offhanded the envy he inspires in fellow songwriters is understandable. But I come back to this record for the music. The guitar-powered coda of "My Favorite Year" is the most satisfying part of the song; the droning guitar and show piano steal "Shooting Rockets (from the Desk of Night's Ape)" from its dramatic lyric; and while "Blue Flower/Blue Flame" is certainly ear-catchingly wry ("A woman by another name is not a woman"), it's the song's sweet and simple tune that draws and holds. MICHAELANGELO MATOS