The Roots: How I Got Over

RIYL: Common, Mos Def, De La Soul

The most surprising aspect of the Roots’ excellent ninth studio album How I Got Over is not that it’s something of a downer. Looking at the band’s discography going all the way back to 2004’s The Tipping Point shows a group of guys in a bit of a bad mood, which continued through their next two albums, Game Theory and Rising Down. Their gig on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show, while presumably providing a steady paycheck, has not lightened them up, at least in terms of lyrics and message.

No, what hits you first on the new album is how laid-back and confident they sound while delivering the bad news. The Roots have always drawn on soul and other strands of black music to inform their brand of live instrument-based hip-hop, but this could almost be thought of as their folk album. Guest stars include not just fellow rappers such as Dice Raw, Truck North and P.O.R.N. (none of whom outshine the perpetually slept-on Black Thought), but artists decidedly outside hip-hop circles including Monsters of Folk, Joanna Newsom and the Dirty Projectors. How I Got Over may strike some listeners as a little too mellow at first, but on repeated listens this album is almost guaranteed to grow on you. Black Thought again lives up to his name, relying less on spitting “live rounds that will penetrate a vest” and more on insights that penetrate the mind. And while many of the songs seem like an attempt to catalog as many social ills as possible in rhymes, as the album goes on it picks up in terms of energy and mood. Things culminate with the almost feel-good anthem “The Fire,” an “Eye of the Tiger” for hip-hop heads. (In one of the album’s clever twists, “The Fire” is a collaboration with John Legend, and it follows “Doin’ It Again,” built on a John Legend sample.)

That’s followed up by the straight up ass-kicker “Web 20/20,” a welcome throwback to old-school Roots, and then the album ends with the slow-rolling “Hustla,” which breaks the world down into hustlers and customers. Not the most cheery thought in the world, but what do you want? These are the Roots. They only play happy on TV. (Def Jam 2010)

The Roots MySpace page


21st Century Breakdown: Jim Washington’s Best Albums of the 2000s

As I compiled my list of the best music of the decade (a much, much longer list than you see here) one inescapable conclusion reared its shaggy head: the last 10 years pretty much belonged to Jack White.

How many other artists produced five stellar albums in the aughts, not to mention a couple of killer side projects and (that old rock critic standby) incendiary live shows?

No one, that’s who.

So, the best album of the decade really came down to which White Stripes album did you like more, White Blood Cells or Elephant.

Thankfully there’s no wrong answer. I first became enamored of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” totally fell for “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” became quite close to “We Are Going to Be Friends” and spent a lot of time in “Hotel Yorba” and “Little Room.”

On the other hand, Elephant had “Seven Nation Army.”

“Seven Nation Army,” motherfuckers. How could a song released in 2003 sound like it invented the bass line? Not just that bass line, but the whole concept of bass lines.

So as we recap our favorites of the decade, rock lives on into the new century in various forms, from low down and dirty to high and arty to pulsating and poppy, while what was once the cutting-edge hip-hop has devolved into auto-tuned disco synth. No doubt something new will emerge in the next decade to take our minds off it.

1. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (or Elephant)
2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Outkast: Stankonia (or Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
4. Green Day: American Idiot
5. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (or maybe Mass Romantic)
6. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
7. LCD SoundsystemL Sounds of Silver
8. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
9. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
10. The Strokes: Is This It?

Just a few of the runner-ups:

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf, Rated R
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Drive By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera, Dirty South
Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel the Illinoise
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
Decemberists: Picaresque, Crane Wife
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Ben Folds: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Missy Elliott: Miss E…So Addictive
The Roots: Phrenology


Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Is…Awesome!

RIYL: Old school hip hop, hipster bands, your children

Anyone who was lucky enough to snap up a copy of 2008’s here-today-gone-yesterday Yo Gabba Gabba! CD will likely be disappointed with Music Is…Awesome!, the newest release of songs from the TV show that’s a hit with both kids and stoners. Eight of the 13 tracks from the previous release are here, along with songs from the Shins, Chromeo, Of Montreal, I’m from Barcelona, and Money Mark. That’s a whole lotta hipster, right there, and the decision to include the hipster bands over acts that actually had our kids singing along – there is no excuse, for example, for the exclusion of the Aggrolites’ “Banana” or GOGO13’s fantastic ska tribute “Pick It Up” – is a curious one, to say the least. Then again, the soundtrack supervisors had positively tons of bands to choose from (The Bird and the Bee, the Ting Tings, Mates of State, Jason Falkner, MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, Datarock, the Clientele, etc.), not to mention original songs (“Hold Still,” “Please, Thank You”), so it stands to reason that they were going to leave some essential YGG moments out. Be that as it may, Music Is…Awesome! is good, but not quite as awesome as it could have been. (Filter/Fontana 2009)

Yo Gabba Gabba MySpace page
Click to buy Music Is…Awesome! from Amazon


The Dirty Projectors: should I believe the hype?

A couple months back, I watched the Dirty Projectors perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” They played “Cannibal Resource,” a song off their newest album, Bitte Orca. I’m very critical of new music. Often, I’ll immediately disregard a band if they look too young, have multiple keyboard players, have stupid haircuts, or use unnecessary, flashy instruments. Yeah, yeah, it’s unfair and mean-spirited but in this day and age where billions of bands are thrust at the public, I think I’m in the right. There’s too much of everything.

On “Letterman,” I really wanted to like the Dirty Projectors. They didn’t seem obnoxious and I appreciated their simple set-up. However, I just felt the odd rhythms didn’t mesh with the fluid singing. Well, I think they hit the ball out of the park on “Fallon.” They opted to play a non-album track called “When the World Comes to End.” Listen as the female gibberish bounces throughout the studio in wonderful harmony. When the lead singer and guitarist ventures into that meaty solo, it just works. This song reminds me of something Stereolab might write. Now there’s a great band.

As you know, the Roots are the house band over at “Fallon.” Band leader and drummer, ?uestlove, invited the Dirty Projectors into his dressing room to see if they were they real deal. That meeting is below.

I don’t know. What do you guys think about this band?


Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jim Washington’s picks

It’s the dawn of a sunny new day in America, but we’re still working through the past in this year’s batch of music. But great art can come from great pain, right? Some people deal with it by making sad music, others try to lift you up. There was plenty of super music from both camps this year.

Best albums of 2008, in no particular order.

Beck: Modern Guilt
Take some Beck, add a little Danger Mouse and a lot of existential angst, what do you get? A killer album from an older, wiser and more bummed-out Beck.

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
You can’t possibly be in a bad mood while listening to the upbeat, world music-infused indie rock of VW. This is the album I probably played more than any other all year. Really, who does give a fuck about an Oxford comma?

The Black Keys: Attack & Release
After leaving a Black Keys show this summer a buddy of mine said, with echoes of Jack Black, “That rocked so hard my stomach hurts.” That about sums them up.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters: Momofuku
EC is riding high these days with a cool new TV talk show, but it’s this raw, energetic album, banged out in a few weeks, that tells us he still matters.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
Ryan Adams, newly clean and sober, made two really good albums this year and last combining his pop and alt-country pasts. Here’s hoping he stays on the straight and narrow in ‘09 and beyond.

My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
“Highly Suspicious” turned off as many people as it turned on, but tracks like “I’m Amazed” put this solidly on the list of feel-good albums of the year.

TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Art rock? Dance rock? Yes. TVOR produced an album of tortured songs about love in a bleak time.

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Death Cab created a darker, and yet more uplifting sound on this album, which produced a new classic anthem for stalkers with “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds
Not to be too much of a homer, but Pharrell and company (who hail from my neck of the woods) put out a freakily brilliant album this year. Alongside home girl Missy Elliott, it makes you wonder what’s in the water down here.

The Roots: Rising Down
The perfect rap album for the end of Bush’s America, chock full of anger, fighting and hate. Here’s hoping the next one will be just as good, but a little sunnier.

Welcome to 2009 everybody!


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