17 January 2011

2010: Caribou, Cee-Lo Green

Released April 19, 2010 (Merge)

Short Notes: IDM that doesn't bring much to the table, even for a minimalist album.

Brandon: B-

I’d been wanting to check out a Caribou record for a few years. Dan Snaith is one of the major figures in the so-called IDM (“intelligent dance music”) scene, synthesizing more standard pop with house and electronica techniques and sounds. His music is less dance-y than bands I’m more familiar with (Hot Chip, eg.), more atmospheric, suited for headphones more than the dancefloor. And if you like that sort of thing, I can see how this record might be an outstanding example--lots of sonic variation, clever and carefully composed, it flows beautifully. But for me, it also wasn’t vary engaging. I found it too subtle for attentive listening, and too busy for reading. I'm sure it's good, but I can't imagine I'll be listening very often.

Lin: C

It's funny how the mind makes connections. I thought I had listened to -- and liked -- one of Caribou's previous albums, so I came into this thinking it had a decent chance of being slightly better than mediocre. I started it, but it quickly became obvious that I didn't much care for it, so I became curious and went back to this previous album to see if it was still good. But I couldn't find another Caribou album that had any metadata. With some creative searching, I finally found the album that I was thinking of -- it was from Califone, which has nothing to do with this album. Still, I imagine that I'd still not like Swim even if I hadn't gone into it with elevated expectations. It's too boring to be good dance music and too tame to be good noise music. Pass.

Cee-Lo Green
The Lady Killer
Released November 5, 2010 (Elektra)

Short Notes: (Brandon:) Probably his best “solo” record, but still pretty uneven. (Lin:) One of the best albums of the year despite losing momentum towards the end.

Brandon: B-

1) Listening to this record a few days ago was the first time I had the chance to hear the unedited, unchanged version of Cee-Lo’s hit “Fuck You.” The vastly modified version getting all that airplay is catchy (I first heard it on Glee. Yeah, I watch Glee. Screw you.), but really has nothing on the much more snide, biting, but also disarming original. In fact, the differences between the two versions have gotten me thinking about how much I’ll end up modifying my language when Kim and I finally start having children. Most people who know me know that I curse like the proverbial sailor, my daily speech peppered with a pretty wide range of curse words, which I believe I use reasonably artfully. I like swearing, and I’m not going to want to give it up just because I have kids who might pick it up. Obviously, I’m going to have to make some concessions--I don’t need my children getting singled out by prudish school principals and scandalizing the parents of the children I’ll probably want to make friends with. But I’m also not convinced that regular and creative swearing has a strong link with moral degeneracy. What I’m inclined to do is to reduce my use of sexually-oriented curse words (like Cee-Lo’s go to send-off) in favor of the scatalogical swears. Some people really are assholes, and observing the proprieties don’t really change that. The kids will be all right.

2) This record is the most conventionally “modern soul” record Cee-Lo’s done. While I think it’s pretty good, as far as that goes, there’s not a lot of other highs on the record to match “Fuck You.” The second track, “Bright Lights Bigger City,” with some Philly Soul strings up against a “Billie Jean”-style beat is also pretty good, but the mid-tempo songs that make up the bulk of the album sound pretty interchangeable to me. For what it’s worth, I found the much more overtly backward-looking (“retro,” if you will) Aloe Blacc record far more enjoyable.

Lin: A-

Let's start with "Fuck You," the first single, since that's what's bringing most people to the album, I imagine. It's undeniably catchy, don't get me wrong, and don't forget that I do like the song despite the upcoming criticism. I heard it when most of you probably heard it: the original viral 'video' version consisting of moving typography over brightly colored backgrounds. This method did a disservice: forcing the lyrics front and center makes them the "important" aspect of the song and, ultimately highlights a story that doesn't hang together tightly as it should (cf. Jarvis Cocker's "Running The World for a video that does this right). The above official video is much better, but the catchy vulgarity makes "Fuck You" fundamentally a novelty song -- a great single, but a track that distracts from the flow of the album. (For what it's worth, one of my favorite albums, Palace Music's "Viva Last Blues, also makes this mistake with "The Mountain Low" -- i.e. "If I could fuck a mountain, Lord, I would fuck a mountain...")

It's not fatal because the rest of the album, for the most part, is just as catchy, interesting, and, goddamnit, fun: with all the depressing and bleak music I generally listen to, I often forget that there's good music that's also enjoyable in a traditional sense. Cee-Lo is COOL in the way old funk is COOL, and that's what ultimately makes The Lady Killer succeed. This is neo-whatever done right, hanging modern tapestries on a classic framework, calling into question the trappings of both eras. (Remember, if you meet the Buddha on the road, you need to kill him.) "I Want You" is my favorite track here, the fuzzy horn backing an honestly romantic if off-kilter (...like most of the album) love song. Other highlights are "Bright Lights Bigger City" and "Love Gun," the latter being one of the more explicitly funky tracks in all it's double-entendre glory.

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