5-1

5. Oh My Darling Don’t Cry/Love Again – Run The Jewels, Gangsta Boo

El-P and Killer Mike are career men in their field, slogging through underground releases with the help of famous friends and Internet hype for the last twenty years. So that they finally hit it big pushing 40 years old, while not unprecedented, certainly warrants another look. That they recorded the rap album of the year while closer to AARP than the legal drinking age warrants dropped jaws. And it’s not like RTJ2 hit the top by default off a bad year for rap (although that did play a part); it’s legitimately a classic album filled with trunk rattlers, chase scenes, sexual escapades, progressive anger, and Zack de la Rocha, of all contributors. If “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” doesn’t get your blood going to the point of breaking pointless objects surrounding you, then I’m sorry, I’ve lead you in the wrong direction, and you should probably turn back before it gets worse. Because while “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” feels like the core piece to a seminar on the concept of a banger, “Love Again” is the *kisses fingers like a cliché Italian chef * of sexual anthems, disorienting its listener through a dark and confusing path of consensual ecstasy. And because El-P and Killer Mike are old and wise and understand that it takes two to tango, they provide a platform for Gangsta Boo to relay the nasty things she’s been trying to say for the last fifteen years. And after listening, if you don’t have “dick in her mouth (or clit in his mouth) all day” stuck in your head, then once again, I’m very sorry, but you’re missing out on brilliance.

“Love Again”

4. Carissa – Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelak released the album of the year in February, and then spent the rest of the year pissing everybody off. The whole “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock” fiasco was a disappointing display of violent language, and his behavior to the people of North Carolina wasn’t much better. But if you take a spin on Benji, all you need to do is listen to the first few lines of the first track “Carissa” to get a sense of the pain in Kozelak’s words. There isn’t much imagery or metaphor, only Hemingway-like simple observations of a tragic death of a family member he barely knew. He even provides a summary near the bridge for those that lose track: “Carissa was 35/raised kids since she was fifteen years old/then suddenly died.” There’s no fussing with his emotions, and it becomes pretty clear how a now-famous musician turned out to be such a curmudgeon. If his biographical pieces on Benji are real, then it’s stunning that Kozelak can provide clear pathos for such obviously painful situations. And if they’re fiction, well, that’s arguably more impressive, a testament to Kozelak’s narrative brilliance. “Carissa” could be a poem and it would still soften the hardest of hearts, and through such confusing times, Kozelak provides a stunning argument for clarity through all the pain.

3. I Just Bought a Bugatti – Young Nigga, Ice JJ Fish, Damonte, L-Boy

We’re in year five of the ten year reign I predicted for Odd Future after “Yonkers” ranked high in the inaugural edition of this countdown back in 2010, and it hasn’t gone exactly as I predicted it would. 2014 was an off year for Ladera’s finest, not simply because they didn’t release any noteworthy material, but also because they hardly released any material at all. And sure, while 2015 looks to be a prime year with Frankie, Tyler, and Earl set to drop new albums, it’s hard to escape the idea that OFWGKTA has sunk into irrelevancy.

But even in their off year, Tyler the Creator and co. chugged on with Loiter Squad, Odd Future Radio, and the massively successful Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival. In between it all, they fucked around and released the most scathing rap satire ever under Tyler’s Young Nigga character (although a clever strikethrough suggests it’s just Nigga now). Like the two other Young Nigga releases, it’s rapped over what seems to be a parody of an Odd Future beat and includes the familiar tropes of llamas, shooting people in the dick, and expensive pasta. YouTube famous Ice JJ Fish and Jasper Dolphin character Damonte incompetently spit amongst a sea of dancing girls who try hard to hold their laughter, all while swinging oozies like hammers and rubbing elbows with rappers infinitely more talented than them. And as L-Boy finishes off the song with the threat of “uprooting your carpet…and putting hardwood floors in…” the monotone chorus chants “I’m happy…I’m happy…” like a hoard of mindless drones claiming the exact same feeling in every rap video ever created. Odd Future has always been about having a good time making great music, but sometimes the deepest social commentary comes from something that doesn’t even try to scratch the surface.

2. Bedtime Story – Radiator Hospital

There’s a beautiful sincerity to the love stories in Torch Song, the newest album from Philadelphia indie outfit Radiator Hospital. For one, it doesn’t seem like lead singer Sam Cook-Parrott expects too much out of the one he loves, evidenced by the opening line on “Bedtime Story”: “Take me out/outside the house with you/make me feel whole/or warm/or mildly amused.” For another, the band takes its biggest musical cues from Counting Crows and Radiohead circa The Bends, and is unashamed to proclaim its mid-90s sounding contentedness to the world. But instead of orchestrating sweeping gestures and crafting boisterous explosions, they seem happy with elaborating upon the simple pleasures of flowers and fireworks and sleeping in on cold mornings. Sad songs make them sadder, they got lost in beautiful eyes, and love may be the most important thing, but it certainly doesn’t have to be all that serious. The “About” page on their website claims they are “…just trying to stay alive through the power of song and dance,” but I’d say they’re doing more than that. They’re truly living, and if their realities reflect their bedtime stories, then their lives sounds perfect.

1. On The Regular – Shamir

Azealia Banks appeared on the scene about three ago with an instantly likeable song, a wondrous array of talent, and the promise of continuing her career as one of the most important rappers in the country. Since then, she’s been signed and dropped from a major label, started numerous Twitter fights filled with hateful language, released a tepid mixtape, waged a war on record labels and white hegemony, slowly crawled back into the spotlight with a decent debut album, and most recently started a worthwhile beef with international superstar Iggy Azalea. Needless to say, it’s been a wild, disappointing, and yet hopeful ride for the talented 23 year old.

What does this have to do with my favorite song of the year, you ask? Well, I’m sure you can find a resemblance between Las Vegas newcomer Shamir’s “On The Regular” with Ms. Banks’s groundbreaking “212.” And sure, any accusation of Shamir taking Young Rapunzel’s house rap style sounds reasonable, especially considering Banks’s penchant for calling out artists that make money doing a lesser version of her music. But if you’re going to steal from any source, “212” isn’t a bad place to start, and on his debut single, Shamir Bailey proves that he is more than capable of doing the sound justice.

“On The Regular” bounces with colors and streamers and unadulterated pleasure thrown in every direction possible. The video places our young hero underneath disco balls, on an exercycle, breaking balloons filled with pigment and whipping walls until they explode with animation. He dresses himself in three different hairstyles and half a dozen different outfits, gives us the bird as he adjusts his heart-shaped, gold-rimmed, rainbow reflecting glasses, and plays with toys like he was babysitting a four-year old ghost. If this is Shamir on the regular, then what on earth does he look like when he actually tries?

The song’s not perfect, of course. I cringe every time at the “guess I’m never ending/you can call me pi” line, and there are dozens of juvenile one-liners throughout that don’t nearly approach Banks’s mind-blowing creativity on her verses. Where he and Banks do cross is with their impeccable instincts, most notably with Shamir’s shameless veneration of James Murphy’s holy cowbell (which gets its own extreme close-up in the video) and with the bridge that shows off Shamir’s more than capable tenor. “Don’t try me/I’m not a free sample,” he croons while standing with a baseball bat below a spinning disco ball; it’s possible to poke holes in his ability, but the video shows that his confidence is impenetrable.

My biggest regret over the course of five year-end countdowns is not awarding “212” the top spot in 2011. It was so clearly the best song of the year when I first listened to it, and the only reason it fell to #3 was because I hesitated to identify Azealia Banks as a truly talented artist after only a couple weeks with her music. I’m not making that mistake again. Just like how it was with “212,” I knew “On The Regular” was the song of the year just two verses in, and I still had that bridge and heart-stopping breakdown to go before finishing it. 2014 could have been a lot better, but at least Shamir gives us reason to hope that this year’s potential will not go to waste in 2015.

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1 Comment

  1. […] been a fan of Radiator Hospital for the last couple of years, and I hope the rising tide in Philadelphia will float their melodies to public attention. Until […]


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