20. SBKTRT – SBTRKT [UK]
As a man who finds it difficult to keep up with the critical designations of the things that happen in British electronic music (maximalism is in, apparently), I might not be the best placed person to say this, but there was something really weird about the SBTRKT record the first time I heard it. Not that it was that sonically weird in an overall context. In fact, the weird part was that it sounded like it already existed. Like it had always existed. Like a cross-section snapshot of all British electronic music since the 90s, from rudeboy garage to James Blake keening over 0.75 drum hits per bar. Not that it sounds retro, though. It sounds bracingly current, somehow, even though there’s a track that sounds like that most disrespected genre, Pro Evo loading music. I get people telling me to listen to various “post-dubstep” things often, so I’d built up a wall of scepticism. SBTRKT is immediate in a way that none of that seems to me. Wildfire, with Little Dragon singing, is good in a really appealing way, an exhortation to dance but executed with what can only really be described as taste. Maybe that’s what’s good about the whole thing, like it’s, abhorrent as it might sound, a safe version of genre tourism. Pieces of everything, with an assurance of quality.
SBTRKT – Wildfire
19. Gucci Mane – Writings On The Wall 2 [US]
Everything in me wants me to just type “excuse me for being gangsta, I’m crazy” and leave that as the review of this tape, because that’s Gucci Mane. An insane gangsta rapping about being an insane gangsta who got arrested for being a gangsta and then got out of going to real prison because he’s insane. It’s perfect. What does he do as soon as he comes out? Raps about avoiding consequences for being gangsta by claiming, fully legitimately, that he’s crazy. There is nobody in the world like Gucci Mane. It’s not like this mixtape is wildly different to what you’d expect. It’s got roving 808 kicks and trap raps about trap stuff where he says roughly the kind of thing you’d expect him to stay but he still makes you go “…hold on, what?” and rewind it. Like bragging about having an iPhone. Or “I call my secretary my sexetary, I sent that bitch a picture of my dictionary.” It’s more subtle than it used to be. But there are great songs (Tragedy and the for-girls Brrr (Supa Cold) especially). And it’s got DJ Holiday Season shouting “HOLIDAY SEASON!” and talking about retiring the word crown. What’s better than that?
Gucci Mane – Tragedy
18. The Babies – The Babies [US]
I fucking hate Woods. As far as I’m concerned, they’re responsible for the downfall of that couple of years of lo-fi I fell in love with, when bands of no major consequence were putting out great, shoddy seven inches and it seemed like there was a 50% chance I’d like any American band booked in Dublin. They made it boring, elevated “vibes” over melody and split opinion. Pitchfork called them a litmus test. I came out whatever colour is bad. I was surprised, then, that a dude from Woods could collaborate with the more annoying-sounding Vivian Girl and still end up making something I really liked. “Muscle” is definitely the wrong term for what they found, but by coincidence or design, they ended up with songs that sound like songs, with hooks that make good songs. Meet Me In The City could be one of those “great, shoddy seven inches” and Personality, surprisingly, is just a punk song. All of a sudden, with a solid basis, the couch potato bullshit of Woods records and Cassie from Vivian Girls’ physically-incapable-of-being-arsed thing become endearing. And it’s a boy-girl record, which you kind of have to cherish when an alright one comes around.
AV Club uses various humorously meaningless music critic-type similes about this. “Passing vocals back and forth as if the mic were an ice-cream cone” indeed.
The Babies – Meet Me In The City
17. Cousin Fik – Hacksaw Ben Thuggin’ [US]
The initial topic of general discussion about Cousin Fik is, inevitably, whether he’s the cousin of anyone in particular or just a general cousin. He’s from E-40’s Cork-sized home city and he’s on E-40’s record label, which is usually a pretty good guide for whether or not people are related to him. At one point on the tape he even says “call me Lil Wayne cos I’m stuntin’ like my daddy,” which just confuses matters. He’s not E-40 though. He can rap really fast, but it’s more like a lightweight boxer than a mental octopus or whatever the fuck E-40 is. He steps in, hits a technically sound volley like Cory Gunz or someone, then steps out and drops a punchline about wrestling or horror movies. You could probably present him on paper as a post-Odd Future rapper if you wanted, but you’d lose the crowd once a note of music played. Because Cousin Fik manages the not unimpressive job of making a song about having a crew consisting of Freddy, Jason and Mike Myers or being Hacksaw Jim Duggan actually sound like hard, ‘street’ rap music. The beats range from cloudy to Just Blazey and Fik stays on top of them all. Because he’s not just good, he’s interesting.
Cousin Fik – Hacksaw Ben Thuggin
16. Young L – Domo Kun/As I Float (The Great John Nash)/Praktica [US]
Cliché at this point on certain areas of the rap internet that Young L is being underrated and that he should be Lex Luger rich and famous, or at least Clams Casino rich and famous. It’s true. Like those other two dudes, he’s under 25 and he basically staked out a new subgenre for himself with his beats. Unlike those two, though, there isn’t really anyone else in Young L’s subgenre yet. Young L-E-N, from last year, still stands as the manifesto: “nothing but that Martian knock”. There is, indeed, “nobody making this type of slap,” and it’s only developed further this year. Loud Pockets, off the Domo Kun mixtape, is the best example yet, unequivocally the best song of the year. Arcade Pussy, off the Praktica tape that just came out, is fairly conclusive proof that, even if there’s a temptation to call Young L a producer first and rapper second, nobody has developed a decent enough conception of his beats yet to rap better than he does over them. “Not even music,” is how a friend who was attempting to listen to Common put it, and I decided not to disagree. Call it anti-music if you like. Huge low end, Super Nintendo Sega Genesis high end and a dude shouting “respect my motherfucking dick”. If that doesn’t sound appealing, listen. If it’s still not appealing, fine. He made another mixtape this year that was a go at Imogen Heap samples. And that was great too. Young L is a genius. The only reason this isn’t higher is because there’s chaff on each tape. Combine the three and you’d be in top 3 album territory.
Young L – Same Reason
Young L – Arcade Pussy