T-Pain’s I’m Sprung (Jive Records/SonyBMG) Most urban music bends over backward to seem “hard” and “real.” Not so with Faheem Najm, a.k.a. T-Pain, an inscrutable R&B figure in the mold of Prince, or at least R. Kelly. Though he’s being marketed as a product of the Dirty South, one song is punctuated by Spanish guitar, and T-Pain refers to his music as “hard R&B.” It sounds like a combination of Miami bounce, Houston’s slowed-down hip-hop and the electro-funk of Zapp’s Roger Troutman. (The keyboard lines sound cheap and indie-rock, like they were generated on a $100 Casio circa ’87.) In one lyric, he proclaims he’s “a rappa ternt sanga, man,” yet the vocals are tweaked to hell by Vocoders and auto-tune. Best of all, like his predecessors in silly-slash-sexy R&B, T-Pain is not afraid to mix his romanticism with goofiness. Take this album’s hit, “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper).” The attitude T-Pain has about its titular subject is weirdly respectful. “She’s poppin’/She rollin’/She rollin’,” he sings, welling up with admiration, “She climbin’ that pole in.” T-Pain is short for Tallahassee Pain, which doesn’t refer to some gang-induced trauma but to what a bummer it was growing up in Florida’s overlooked state capital. In promo photographs, T-Pain wears one gold chain with a crucifix, and a second with a Star of David. In other words, I have no idea what the hell T-Pain’s all about, and that is why he is awesome.
The End of BlogRockT 2005’s brightest music story was the democratizing potential of the Internet in breaking young rock bands — a phenomenon I call BlogRockT — demonstrated in the Internet-buzz-driven rise of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and England’s Arctic Monkeys. But 2006 is destined to take the shine off this phenomenon, as major labels have figured out how to market in the blogosphere: In January, a pair of craptastic groups, We Are Scientists (Virgin) and Morningwood (Capitol), became blog faves. Both groups also have undistinguished back stories, and make boring music. Morningwood sound like warmed-over Pixies or cooled-down Yeah Yeah Yeahs; WAS’s take on garage rock is to the White Stripes what Coldplay are to Radiohead. They sing, “I’m not gonna wait for anything to happen/All of this at once/I’m ready for the cash-in.” Another song is titled “This Scene Is Dead.” These are promises, not observations. Expect to soon hear “organic blog buzz” on major-label wannabes like Elefant, the Subways and She Wants Revenge. The records are of varying quality; their dearth of authenticity is universal.
Love Monkey During this show’s ill-fated three-episode tenure, it managed to get just about everything wrong. Its take on indie music was jumbled. It used Jesus Lizard promo posters as set dressing, yet the young artist being shaped by A&R guy Tom Cavanagh sounded more like John Mayer. (Personally, I like both Mayer and Jesus Lizard, but the attempted intersecting of these two universes was weird.) For those who could care less about a consistent musical aesthetic, the series’ take on day-to-day existence was equally stupid. The actors were so stiff, it seemed like they were drunk on embalming fluid. End of the day, watching it was more awkward than trying to seduce your cousin.
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Kevin Federline’s music is okay “I want my one star back,” wrote one reviewer. Said another: “The record industry has completely gone to hell. Somebody just f**king kill me and end my pain!!” If you believed the iTunes user reviews of “Popozão” (Brazilian slang for “big ass”), you’d think this was, and I quote, “the worst song I’ve ever heard.” It’s not. Sure, K-Fed’s lyrics and flow are unremarkable. Actually, he sucks. But the beat stutters and rolls, recalling the signature rhythm of hipster faves like M.I.A. and Diplo. It’s the baile funk sound, South American in origin, but doesn’t sound like traditional world music. Rather it’s rapid, highly syncopated and urban. The love child of Britney Spears and K-Fed may be demonspawn, but let’s not throw the bath water out with the baby. Avoid hearing the a cappella version of “Popozão”; splurge on the instrumental.
This Heat reissued! (This Is/ReR Megacorp) A record store’s experimental-music section has a lot in common with anarchist book shops and lesbian mud-wrestling tournaments. They are all cultish domains — only experimental music is probably even more unwelcoming to outsiders. Half the names are unpronounceable in English, Jim O’Rourke makes enough guest appearances here to put Jay-Z to shame, and 90 percent of the records are two degrees of separation from improv impresario John Zorn. Thankfully, none of this is true of England’s This Heat, post-punk heroes whose albums, out of print for 15 years, are finally being reissued. The sound is stark and enigmatic. Synthesizers oscillate. Rhythms clatter along like the sound of a steel factory. Occasionally, a vocalist intones in weird harmonies. The dark, droney quality is reminiscent of industrial and gothic rock, but a better comparison is to groups like Sun City Girls or Sigur Rós. If you’re looking to join the experimental-music cult, this is a great place to start.
Gary Benchley, Rock Star by Paul Ford (Plume) This novel, which came and went in late 2005, should be required reading for aspiring rockers living in hipster enclaves like Silver Lake or Olympia, Washington. Originally serialized on TheMorningNews.org, the book posed as an actual journal by a 20-something named Gary Benchley. Later it was revealed as a hoax perpetrated by Paul Ford, Web editor for Harper’s magazine. It doesn’t hold up quite as well in book form as it did online, but you’ll fall in love with its warmth and telling details if you share the protagonist’s raisons d’être: “1) Rock out. 2) No more data entry.”
Pandora.comvs.WOXY.com In late January, a raft of stories appeared about the customizable online radio station Pandora.com. You enter the name of any artist or album and it creates a personal “station” based on that selection’s musical qualities (e.g., mild rhythmic syncopation, major-key tonality). It’s a neat party trick that doesn’t work all that well. When I entered the names Brian Eno and Metallica, for example, I got a schizo mix of thrash rock and art song, and not one track that split the difference. Ick! I prefer Cincinnati’s WOXY.com, which sponsors live sessions and programs an eclectic mix of new music rivaling KCRW or Seattle’s KEXP. Unlike those stations, WOXY has no physical transmitter, and no wealthy benefactors. If its current subscription drive is not successful, it may go out of business.