Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DJ Tanner's top music from 2010 (Part II of IV: Songs for the Weekend)

I can't stand the radio.  I used to just not stand the top 40 station and could tolerate the rest, but it's all the same when it comes down to it.  All of them have (what I'll call) a "jukebox" they pick from, and it's the same songs over and over again.  Even oldies or classic rock stations use the same perfunctory method when it comes to playing music.  Listening to the radio at work everyday is like living in the movie "Groundhog Day."  You have a classic rock station and you can pick from tens of thousands of songs, but yet I still hear the same three Rolling Stones, Beatles, or Elton John songs everyday.  It becomes so trite.  And don't even get me started on 90% of what I hear out in social settings.

That rant of a preface was to set the stage for the top 4 songs from 2010 that I wish I heard more in public settings such as a bar, waiting on line at Chipotle, or socializing with friends.  All four of these songs are singles, but only one I have heard out in public and on television.  Without further ado, I present the top 4...

4) "Tell Me Why"
    by M.I.A.

M.I.A. just has a knack for extremely catchy songs.  It's arguably her biggest downfall, too -- that she has a few amazingly memorable songs per album and part of the rest misses the mark.  That being said, Maya, while not complete, is certainly a step in the right direction.  "Tell Me Why" is a standout.

Backed by a heavy military drum beat and a sprinkling of auto tune (which I normally dislike), M.I.A. poses the question "Tell me why / Things change but they feel the same / If life is such a game / How come people all act the same?" in the chorus.  I think what makes her original is her ability to meld relevant social topics in her lyrics with amazingly poppy and enjoyable songwriting.

Perfect evidence of that occurs at the 2:30 mark of the song when a wiggly bass line enters the picture and conjoins with the drum beat.  It also contains my favorite lyrics:

I got roof on my head, I got food in my pot 
And the old ways are dead with the new ones we got 
There's water in my pot and I'm half and half not 
And the old kind is broke with the new kind we bought 
I drink alcohol, know the words to Wonderwall 
I rewrite the code while I do my time on road

Interpreting lyrics is no science and often times is nebulous, but to me I enjoy these lines because it seems to have a theme of tradition versus progression and change over time and how we are all fallible.  Think about it for a second but not too long because you are tossed right back into the addictive chorus as the song concludes.  And that is what makes M.I.A. an extremely fun listen.

3) "Bright Lights, Bigger City"
    by Cee Lo Green
    The Lady Killer

Sometimes when I listen to Cee Lo Green, I wonder if his voice was cryogenically frozen for decades only to be broken out in the present day in order to save the world.  Ya know, kinda like Austin Powers but for music instead of espionage?  Somethin' like that.

Either way, when I first heard this song I was captivated because it is the ultimate "it's Friday and I just got out of work!!!" song.  There is nothing like being in a good mood and having a song to perfectly capture it.  This song accomplishes it to the fullest degree.  Cee Lo agrees.  Here is what he said to MTV News:

This song, I think, just has a broader appeal, because it's just not talking about me, it's talking about us. It's a song about the nightlife and just kinda being out and living for the weekend. It's kinda got that 'working-class hero' quality too; I reference, you know, songs like Johnny Kemp's "Just Got Paid". So it's a story that's been told before, and it's so true to life. ... We all work pretty hard throughout the week, and Friday and Saturday, you know, will always be special, so this is just a song to commemorate that.

It starts off with some synths and then before you know it, strings, bass, and drums all kick in, giving off a "Billie Jean" meets the Bee Gees vibe.  Turn the clocks back about thirty years and enjoy the next three minutes.  

He starts off by singing, "I've been living for the weekend / But no, not anymore / Cause here comes that familiar feeling / That Friday's famous for."  If you haven't enjoyed the song up until this point, I don't know what to tell you.  Maybe you just don't like Friday.  Cee Lo has the perfect remedy, "Now Friday is cool / But there's something about Saturday night / You can't say what you won't do / Cause you know you just might."

While the rest of the album's roots lie in the 60s and early 70s, "Bright Lights, Bigger City" takes on the challenge of reviving the effervescent Studio 54 days of the late 70s and early 80s.  It passes with flying colors.

2) "Shutterbugg (feat. Cutty)"
     by Big Boi
     Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

As Big Boi himself aptly puts it on another track "General Patton," he is back "As one half of the OutKast return like ghost of Christmas past."  It has been a while since we've heard substantial material from either member of one of hip hop's greatest acts of all time -- OutKast.  On this breakout album, "Shutterbugg" places the listener in the midst of a club where I'd certainly like to be.

Strapped by a memorable hook, a catchy guitar bridge, and excellent change of pace, this song is a delight from start to finish.  Here is the hook:

Now party people in the club it's time to cut a rug
And throw the deuce up in the sky just for the shutterbugs
I'm double-fistin' and if you're empty you can grab a cup
Boy stop, I'm just playing, let me dap you up

Baby baby, you're in my system
Baby baby, tell me you're listening

The bridge then gives a shout out to the guys and girls in the club:

Now this goes out to all my playas in the back
Sippin' 'yac, bendin' 'round corners in the 'lac
Cut a rug, playa, now cut a rug
And throw yo' deuces in the sky for the shutterbug
And this goes out to all my ladies in the front
What you want? You make me wanna breed, girl freeze
Cut a rug, lady, now cut a rug
And throw yo' deuces in the sky for the shutterbug

This is an absolute softball for a DJ to play in a bar or club, and yet I did not hear it once at all the entire year.  Maybe I don't go out as much these days, or maybe I don't live in a legitimate city that plays new or good music out at bars and clubs (Ahem: Reason #13443 to move to New York).  

Either way, any song that can repopularize the term "cut a rug" gets my stamp of approval.

     by Kanye West
    My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The stylization of the title, with it being in all caps, pretty much sums up the entire song best.  Kanye West is damn good, and he damn well knows it.

The combination of two samples, one being the heavy guitar of "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson and the other the backing harmonies of "Afromerica" by funk band Continent Number 6, join forces on a song that packs a bigger punch than any Kanye West single has seen before.  That in itself is incredibly bold and challenging, but it's an easy task for Mr. West.  It might seem like a daring statement, but it is not -- this is his best single to date.  The lyrics that accompany the beat are equally impressive.  I really enjoy how Kanye expresses his disdain for those critical of him and how he acknowledges and embraces his vanity.  There are two parts of the strong that incorporate this theme, and it initially appears in the second verse:

Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
He know, he so, fuckin gifted
I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind, but couldnt open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catchin up with me
Takin my inner child, I'm fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece

Then in the breakdown of the song, it gets to a point of narcissistic rage while a delicate piano eventually comes to the forefront:

Lost in translation with a whole fuckin nation
They say I was the abomination of Obama's nation
Well, that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation
At the end of day, goddammit, I'm killin this shit
I know damn well yall feelin this shit
I don't need yo pussy, bitch, I'm on my own dick
I ain't gotta power trip, who you goin home with?

While some hip hop tracks have a predictable verse, hook, rinse, wash, repeat method to it, this is far from it (As I will expound later, it's a noticeable trend on this unique album).  At this moment, however, Dwele provides the final haunting vocals as the song shifts gears.  Dwele was excellent on Graduation's "Flashing Lights" and he fits perfectly in "POWER" as well.  Overall, this is a song that immediately grabs your attention but never lets go over time.  Kind of like Kanye's iron fist over the rap game.

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