The Week in Music, guest-edited by Sasha Frere-Jones

A Remnick addition to the New Yorker’s masthead, pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones must have been the first person to sneak the phrase “inscrutable batphones” into the magazine (as in, “not all musicians below the age of 30 are getting tattooed with runic symbols and sending viruses to each other on tiny, inscrutable batphones”). For this week’s mp3s Digest, we asked Sasha to comment on some of our favorite songs found around the web.

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Bob Dylan, “Nettie Moore”

I didn’t drink the Bob Dylan Kool-Aid until I was 35 years old. It was fun being the non-believer, but there was always this big hole in my map, and ‘60s Dylan plugged it just so. It was him, it was that guy. “Don’t Look Back” made it clear. He changed the channel on the century; turned the “She Loves You” Beatles into the “Norwegian Wood” Beatles; established the right of the entertainer to be a petulant boob; traded yes for no; was first punk; etc. “Visions Of Johanna” = crack water! (Last week, I was in Atlanta with a songwriter who said “crack water!” in response to anything he liked, especially his own songs.)

I have trouble with the Alive Dylan of today. I’ve seen him play live three times in the last two years, and I walked out once, mostly because I couldn’t hear anything he was singing or playing. The music around him was just a big mash of blues-rock that hurt my teeth. “Modern Times” worked well when I played it last Saturday during a dinner party. I enjoy it more than the last two, if I have to listen to Recent Bob. The quiet, Joe’s-Pub-style setting works for Dylan’s voice, because he doesn’t have much of a holler left; his instrument is burnt. “Ha, ha, I cheated death” is a good look for Bob. “They say whiskey will kill you, but I don’t think it will. I’m ridin’ with you to the top of the hill” is a good turn of the verb. He needs the “will” for the “hill” rhyme, but he also gets to say (1) that whiskey hasn’t killed him yet, and (2) that his bad ass still knows where to find it. Dylan tells the overly faithful not to seek his advice, and warns everyone else to “think twice” before calling him names. Not Dead Yet, and I don’t treat that sentiment lightly. We’ll all, hopefully, get this old, and I wouldn’t mind sounding like this.

I am entirely OK with this.

Danity Kane, “Showstopper”

Diddy’s MTV band doing a snap tune. No reason to listen to this unless you don’t have a copy of “Do It To It” by Cherish. I saw Cherish doing a CD signing at a Best Buy in Atlanta last week.

Leaders of The New School, “Case of the PTA”

This one was big for me in 1990, 1991—whenever it came out. My friend Dave Reid and I got into the (terrible) habit of saying “Always misbehaving and mischievous!” with great zest. Do women do that same kind of Monty Python-style quoting? Though I never did it with Monty Python movies—the TV show was great; never felt the movies—I have quoted too many things too many times, including the Samuel L. Jackson Chapelle’s Show skit. It’s unbearable, and I must stop. But. 1991: Picking Busta as the member who should go solo felt like some super-smart A&R shit. Obviously this was not a unique take on his work. Rap bands? Where’d they go? Songs about being teenagers? Samples? A different planet.

Sub Pop Records, The Singles Club

“Touch Me I’m Sick” was such a big deal when it came out. I cannot summon up the synaptic zaps and zings that would bring me back to the frame of mind that I/we were all in then. It works fine as scuzz-rock ephemera, mostly because of Mark Arm’s voice, but it’s also just a badly recorded paraphrase of Iggy Pop’s “I’m Bored” (until the bridge), which I just watched on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” DVD. Ultra-retarded. (“Must..take…off…shirt.”) I appreciate Christmas singles, so I’ll give a gold star to the Blues Explosion and Jesus and Mary Chain, who I am becoming convinced had a much longer and stronger career than anyone noticed. Or than I noticed.

Though I was mostly cursor-dropping, the second run of the Singles Club (late ‘90s, early ‘00s) is much less enjoyable than the first run. Whatever historical mojo indie rock had in 1988 was gone by 2000. Someone asked me the other day, “Have we forgotten Eddie Murphy?” Someone must ask this of Urge Overkill. Babes In Toyland have a better shot at a second life.

E-40 f/ Big Boi & Big Gipp, “Ham Sammiches & Coup Devilles”

When Jeff Chang, Dave Tompkins, Hua Hsu, and I started Sticker Shock, I am sure one of us had it in mind to post this song. (We were lazy and folded, and since Cocaine Blunts and 25 others do their thing so well, little has been lost.) This track is one of the reasons that being a music critic sometimes feels like having the super-retinal-scan pass to the Platinum Goodies Chamber. A bunch of us got this promo, and ran straight away to put it in a vault because we knew it was hellishly good and wasn’t coming out officially. The backing track is more active than anything we’d hear on the radio now, but it doesn’t change what you can find in the vocals—a little string of dotted fourth notes that stretches between the Bay and ATL, between 2002 and now. Swing is what hip-hop spent five years becoming, and now simply is. Big Boi and 40 have gotten larger, and Gipp is floating nicely. (I just found out that T-Mo’s dad works for HUD.) The Dipset get over in the South because they have some swing, a little bounce in their dystopia. Funerals that sound like parties—holler, Magnolia.

Cornelius, “Gum”

I love how Pro-Tools porn Cornelius is: all that micro-editing, the hard edges and hi-fi tweaking. Also: back to the motorik beat, why not? Not a song. Even though it’s short, it should be shorter. Or be finding a hook. I’ll still play it a bunch.

Clipse & Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)”

A nice addition to the steel-drum-and-garbage-can genre—Pharrell’s work with N.O.R.E. and Clipse, 50’s “Pimp”—and modified nicely in the masher-upper. The Clap Your Hands keyboard line adds the harmonic motion hip-hop resists because it likes the landing strip: long, flat, and steady. Are the Clipse the easiest rappers to understand, sonically, today?

Lily Allen, “Cheryl Tweedy”

I am partial to any light ska, and the “not trying” affect of Lily Allen’s voice. She stacks up harmonies because it’s easier than singing another line. Unlike “LDN” and “Alfie” and “Nan,” though, this song doesn’t tell a story, and I have no idea who Cheryl Tweedy is, unless I ask a computer.

Beastellabeast, “The Final Mistake”

Fannypack made Bad Rap its own thing. This track just doesn’t have the enthusiasm or noise to get over its own ineptness. Tigarah has an interesting take on Bad Rap, boosted with a few M.I.A.-cred moves. I still prefer Fannypack to either. Plastic Little is too mean to be good Bad Rap. Eww.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin

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