(from l-r: Alicia Keys, Estelle, Cool Kids, Lil Wayne
Chico Mann, Menahan St. Band, Q-Tip
Robin Thicke, Solange Knowles, Mayer Hawthorne, Raphael Saadiq)
(This post began life on Side Dishes and has “evolved” since).
As I suggested in PART 1, my tastes in 2008 were decidedly retro. Even the new songs I liked still sounded like they were recorded in 1968. But I’m not going to artificially stack my list below to make it seem like I wasn’t stuck in some weird throwback mode for most of the year. Here’s my favorite new songs of the year:
When I first heard this in early summer, I kept thinking, “it’s got the build-up of a Supremes song but then never delivers. The Neptunes’ beat just felt weird as a result and I initially dismissed it. Yet, each time I’d hear it, I’d just want to keep listening longer, maybe subconsciously waiting for the “real” beat to drop, but whatever the case, I soon enjoyed it for what it was – infectious pop in the best tradition of Ross and her Supremes. This was, much to my surprise, my favorite pop single of the year.
Estelle: No Substitute Love
From Shine (Atlantic, 2008)
Of course, Solange was hardly the only femme getting her retro-twist on. Besides her, there was also Little Jackie and Estelle, whose Shine album was one of my favorite of the year (see below). I had a hard time choosing which of her various songs were my favorite – I guess I could just have easily gone with the ragga-fied “Magnificent” or the swinging, uptempo “Pretty Please” (produced by Jack Splash, aka my new favorite producer). But “No Substitute Love” (produced by Wyclef) lingers a touch longer in the ear for some reason – it’s really all about the hook and the way Estelle pulls her notes out and milks those long vowels.
Q-Tip: Getting Up
From The Renaissance (Motown, 2008)
Not that I haven’t already written enough about Q-Tip this year but I’m still marveling at how good a comeback he’s made. It’s one thing to want to champion an artist, it’s another thing when they exceed your expectations. Q-Tip’s return was set off by the excellence of this first single that told you some of his ol’ magic was back.
The Cool Kids: 88
From The Bake Sale EP (Chocolate Industries, 2008)
Rappers for the hypebeast generation, I like the Cool Kids even if I have little interest/love for their hyper-hipster consumerism. But hey, I’m not that into the crack trade either and that never stopped me from enjoying rappers who only seem to rhyme about Pyrex and fish scales. In the end, pair two decent flows and production that sounds like Magic Mike-meets-Rick Rubin-meets-Salih Williams and that’s a good combination.
Raphael Saadiq: Seven
From The Way I See It (FYE Exclusive) (Columbia, 2008)
For all my reservations, I still think Saadiq pulled off one of the best crafted albums of the year, bringing together a masterful blend of ’60s soul styles onto one album. However, my favorite song of his this year was actually a bonus cut from the “FYE exclusive” version (who the hell is FYE?): “Seven.” I was told that this song is actually a veiled reference to Michael Vick (#7) and if you listen to the lyrics with that in mind, you can hear it. Even without that weird, pop culture nod though, I like how everything on this song comes together: the reverb on the melancholy guitars, the tap of the tambourine, and most of all, that synthesizer that comes in on the chorus with its buzzy texture. (Thanks to Eric L. for the hook-up).
Chico Mann : Dilo Como Yo
From Analogue Drift (forthcoming)
Captain Planet: Boogaloo
From Jazz Loves Dub (Rudiments, 2008)
My DJ partner, Murphy’s Law, put me up on both of these by playing them at Boogaloo[la]. Of course, one could cite nepotism in the case of Captain Planet’s tune since the two of them are brothers but hey, family relations aside, “Boogaloo” is a great, catchy instrumental that moves with a snappy step and some deft drum programming (love the fill that takes the song out of the bridges). Likewise, the yet-to-be-officially-released “Dilo Como Yo” (“as I say”) has a slick Afro-flavored rhythm section and speaks the universal language of tooty-synthesizers.
Menahan Street Band: Home Again!
From Make the Road By Walking (Dunham, 2008)
Funk instrumental albums are a relatively rare breed but Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band pulled off one of the slickest albums in that vein this side of the James Brown Band circa Popcorn. Off that, I couldn’t stop listening to “Home Again!” which has this beautifully laid-back feel thanks to the mellow guitar and horn section. Not sure why they put a ! on the title of such a languid composition but I’m more than happy to shout its praises.
Lil Wayne: Let the Beat Build
From The Carter III (Cash Money, 2008)
I still think Carter II was the better album but hey, I’m not going to begrudge Wayne his success this year (the record industry needed some good news). But even if Carter III didn’t quite exceed expectations, Wayne still came with some killer cuts. “A Milli” made a huge impact but the song that I kept coming back to was “Let the Beat Build.” What can I say? Gospel-tinged vocals + Wayne’s verses + slowly evolving beat = untouchable. So sick it gave birth to ill twins (see Honorable Mentions below).
Mayer Hawthorne and the County: Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
From 7″ single (Stones Throw, 2008)
This Detroit native turned L.A. transplant takes Allen Toussaint’s drums and lays it under a simple but catchy melody and then unleashes that soulful falsetto to get the groove right. Heartbreak rarely sounded so achingly sweet.
Erykah Badu: Honey (DJ Day Remix)
From 7″ (Day1, 2008)
Take one of the best songs from one of year’s best albums and then give it a fantastically smart and intuitive remix and you get this. In hindsight, it probably seems obvious to remake Badu’s “Honey” with Delegation’s “Ooh Honey,” but Day gives the pairing a natural depth (something he excels in as heard previously in that Marvin Gaye edit) that, dare I say, makes his remix sound better than the original.
Robin Thicke: Ms. Harmony
From Something Else (Interscope, 2008)
As I wrote in the L.A. Weekly, Thicke’s sweetest confection off his third album was “Ms. Harmony,” a bossa nova-flavored blend of dreamy guitar melodies, Latin percussion and Thicke’s own, mojito-cool vocals. I don’t much more to add except to say that I’ve been playing this as an “end of the night” song for parties and my, my, my, does it work nicely.
STUFF THAT’S RELATIVELY RECENT BUT I ONLY DISCOVERED THIS YEAR:
Alicia Keys: Teenage Love Affair
From As I Am (J Records, 2007)
I know this album came out in 2007 but, um, I just started to listening to it this past week and “Teenage Love Affair” has been on constant rotation since. Single-song-repeat rotation. Part of why I’m so taken by it is how Jack Splash juices up the loop from the Temprees and gives Keys’ tune such a richness and catchy drive. The other half is how Keys handles this song with just the right blend of burgeoning sexuality and chaste coquettish-ness. I think I have a school boy crush on “Teenage Love Affair.”
Quantic and Nicodemus: Mi Swing Es Tropical
From Ritmo Tropical EP (Tru Thoughts, 2005). Also on Shapes.
Like the Ray Barretto I wrote up on Part 1, I owe my discovery of this to Rani D. I love both songs for the same reason: electric piano + Afro-Latin sabor = unbeatable combination. That and, on this song, Nicodemus’ vocals lend a gruff contrast to the soothing sweetness of the melody. I can’t believe I never heard this until this past year since I’m a big fan of Quantic. This is easily my favorite track of all his tunes.
1. Busta Rhymes: Don’t Touch Me
2. Freeway: Let the Heat Spill freestyle
3. Lauren Flax: You’ve Changed
4. Al Green: All I Need
5. J-Live: The Upgrade
6. Johnson and Jonson: The Only Way
7. Little Jackie: 28 Butts
8. Lone Catalysts: Make It Better
9. Roots: Rising Down
10. Usher: In This Club
1. Erykah Badu: New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War
2. Cool Kids: The Bake Sale EP
3. Estelle: Shine
4. Final Solution: Brotherman OST
5. Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreaks
6. Q-Tip: The Renaissance
7. Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
8. LIl Wayne: The Carter III
9. Menahan Street Band: Make the Road By Walking
10. V/A: Verve Remixed 4