The Quarterly Report: Best New Singles
Butterfly tattoo, we hardly knew you
The real obvious #1 song here should probably be Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke's "Shooter," which is definitely my favorite song to be released in the last twelve months and which finally got released as a single sometime last month with its own shitty video treatment and everything. But this song came out ten months ago, and I wrote an entire column gushing about it then; it almost seems like Wayne just rushed it out as a single just so critics would stop bitching at him in interviews. I would've loved to see this one get a billion-dollar helicopter-chase video, but no, it's just Wayne and Thicke yelling at a wall, so it almost seems like the whole "Shooter"-as-single thing never really happened.
Anyway, "Shooter" excepted, here are my ten favorite singles of the last three months.
1. The Game feat. Junior Reid: "It's Okay (One Blood)." I should really be sick of this one by now, considering that I've written a column and a half about it, but "One Blood" stays compelling because its hardness is almost psychedelic. The Junior Reid sample would've been transcendently fierce just by itself, but here it layers up and pounds down like hail, Reid never able to finish singing the word "Blood" before the next one comes in. And those monstrous drums and shrieking synth-strings keep punching through that storm. This onslaught of a beat should drown out just about any rapper, and it's to Game's credit that he manages to stay on top of it and inhabit it completely. His violent and misdirected hatred become the song's engine. Game is a limited rapper, certainly, and he has a few clunker lines here, but I'm not convinced that anyone could have handled this beat as well as he does. Listening to someone like Young Dro is always a tense experience for me; this guy has all these expensive beats at his disposal, but he always feels like he's fighting against the beat, kicking and biting and scratching just to keep up with it. Game's ire is endless, and he needs something that sounds like a swarm of missiles to adequately express it. I love the idea of Game taking on the entire world, dissing people and immediately retracting the disses so that we're not even sure he knows what he's mad at. Whenever I play Grand Theft Auto, I get to a point where I'm sick of playing, so I just abandon my mission and start randomly shooting all the passersby I can until I've got police helicopters and tanks and shit pounding down on my, wearing me out until I'm dead. On this song, Game sounds like he's at that point in his career, like he doesn't even care about staying afloat as long as he can drag the rest of the world down with him. Unfortunately, "Let's Ride (Strip Club)" is the sort of boilerplate club-rap nonsense that safe-playing rappers release when they're absolutely not interested in fighting the current, and that makes me dread hearing the actual album. But I guess one explosive blast of misanthropy is enough for now.
2. Sally Shapiro: "I'll Be By Your Side." I live in Greenpoint now, and the Polish dudes who live there generally don't blast rap really loud out of their cars the way sane people all over the world do. Instead, they go for cheesed-out over-the-top Euro-house, and I'm still getting used to seeing musclebound baldheads pulling up to stoplights with something that sounds like a hi-NRG remix of Cher's "Believe" booming out of their trunks. So maybe that means I'm increasingly sympathetic to a song like this one, which pulls huge globs of swoony ecstatic drama out of thumping four-on-the-floor drums and glistening faded-out keyboards. Supposedly, the story is that Johan Agebjorn, a Swedish house producer, heard Shapiro singing a Christmas carol and immediately decided to record her, so the two of them bashed out this perfectly lovely piece of fluff in two hours and unleashed it on the world fully formed. I don't know if I should believe a story that perfect, but I love the idea that a gorgeous throb like this could've come into existence almost by accident. Musically, it glimmers more than it thumps, with those decaying-grandeur synths humming and cooing and slip-sliding over the massively muffled drums like someone playing along with the heavy industrial machinery clanging five blocks away. And Shapiro's sad little quaver just dances over everything, flitting in and out of the music like a sparrow. "Time to Let Go," Shapiro's follow-up single, is almost as good; I can't wait until someone convinces her to make an album.
3. Booman feat. Labtekwon: "Hammerdance." As I write this, I'm in the middle of a long e-mail interview with Lab, and it's fascinating reading about the development of Baltimore club music from someone who was on board every step of the way but who's still mostly associated with tangled, multisyllabic rap metaphysics. For those just catching up right now, Baltimore club is my hometown's indigenous dance music, a hammering, insistent take on Chicago house that was all over Baltimore radio for years before anyone out of town noticed. In the last couple of years, a lot of Baltimore rappers have been figuring out that they should hit up local club producers for beats, since those rattling snares scream local pride to anyone born within the 410 area code. But club music is too fast for most of these guys, so they slow the tracks down, and the effect is an oddly emaciated and ugly mutation; it doesn't sound much like dance music anymore. But Labtekwon has his fundamentals down, and so he stays on top of a burner like this one without needing to slow it down, finding the track's pocket and staying there, spitting equal measures of sex-talk and "my revelation is the seventh seal" like there was no contradiction between the two because really there isn't. And Booman's track is the sort of rippling cacophony that I never get to hear anymore now that I live in New York. If Al at Government Names hadn't posted this one, I probably never would've heard it; he's doing us all a public service.
4. The Pack: "Vans." Adidas Superstars are the only half-decent sneakers that come in my size, so I don't really give a shit about the novelty of a rap group repping for skate shoes, though I do like the line about "some punk rock shoes so they get real dirty." And I never gave a shit about hyphy; those Rick Rock beats always sounded like a lot of superfluous clatter with no central thump. This one is supposed to be hyphy, but it doesn't sound anything like that stuff, so I guess I have no idea what that word even means. I love the way this one sounds; its humming pulse is an obvious descendent of "Drop It Like It's Hot" and "Wait (The Whisper Song)," but it has more of a wobbling elasticity than either of those tracks. And the gaggle of teenage MCs on the track have a grade-school enthusiasm that shines through even though they're trying to mutter all quietly. "Vans" is basically a song-length advertisement, but it seems like these kids did it for no reason other than the fact that they really like the shoes, and somehow that matters. And the chorus is intriguingly mystifying: Why do they look like sneakers? They are sneakers, right?
5. Killers: "When You Were Young." The lyrics are a confused muddle, something about Jesus and hurricanes and who even knows, and the album may turn out to be one of history's all-time great sophomore-slump catastrophes. But none of that matters much when the single has this elegant, dazzling sweep. The guitars sound like keyboards, the strings sound like guitars, and Brandon Flowers' mannered but histrionic vocal swoops blenderize every grand, preposterous, glorious arena-rock cliche ever. (He wants to be a cowboy! Just like Poison!) All of it completely defies meaning, like it doesn't have time to stop and ponder its own ridiculousness on its perilous road to transcendence. The part where the sad, elegiac bridge turns into a disco bass-throb and then suddenly into an enormous glacial guitar-squall is the best dishwashing-soundtrack moment that radio-rock has given us since, like, "Clocks." Also worth noting, though Anthony Miccio did it first: Flowers was totally biting Craig Finn on SNL last weekend.
6-10. Escort: "Starlight"; Jessica Simpson: "A Public Affair"; Reverso 68: "Tokyo Disko (Part 1)"; Luomo: "Really Don't Mind"; Clipse feat. Slim Thug: "Wamp Wamp."