Moon & Back Music Presents :: Album Of The Year 2010

And the winner is…

With the year quickly coming to a close, Ian and I felt it only right that we do some kind of end of year awards thing. I asked every member of the M&B staff what their top 5 albums of 2010 were, and the results were pretty surprising. There’s something here for everyone Whether you want futuristic R&B, tales from New Jersey or politically charged punk anthems, look no further.

After dealing with a debilitating addiction to prescription drugs, Eminem is back with Recovery. The rapper’s seventh studio album still isn’t a patch on his early work, but it easily beats out the likes of Encore and Relapse. The new record hearkens back to the old days, with Marshall being increasingly self deprecating, even going as far as commenting on the poor quality of his recent releases. Recovery is a gem in the sea of shit that is modern hip-hop.

Since signing with Sire Records in 2005, punk fans have reacted pretty harshly towards anything with Against Me!’s name on it. With the release of White Crosses earlier this year, the cries of the band ‘selling out’ continued. However, it’s hard to see why this is being aimed at Tom Gabel and co. Both this record and it’s predecessor New Wave may have been released on a division of Warner Music, but the music remains very similar to everything before that. As Ian would be quick to point out, it’s the same chord progressions and lyrical content as ‘old’ Against Me!, it’s just better produced. It’s Moon & Back’s fourth favorite of 2010 and I think fans should take a second look before dismissing the band outright.

Janelle Monae was the artist that most surprised me in 2010. Her debut full length The ArchAndroid: Suites II & II was the soundtrack to my summer, and it’s good to see that it’s not just me that took notice (cheers Jodie, for pushing this into our top 5). Miss Monae is, without doubt, the most exciting woman in R&B at the minute and this record is a soul-filled throwback to times passed. This is real R&B and I for one am tipping the 25-year old, Kansan songstress, for big things in the future.

Coming in at number two, sadly -because I think it should have won – it’s Fake Problems’ new record Real Ghosts Caught On Tape. The Floridia-based indie/punk four piece have wowed many with their fresh, upbeat sound and off the wall antics, both on and off stage. 2010 has been a big year for these guys: RGOT released to rave reviews, they’ve toured all over the US on the Vans Warped Tour and even did a stint with the winners of this years award. With catchy lyrics, great production (Ted Hutt is a genius) and a fun, retro take on ‘pop punk’ I can’t help but think this record has been a tad overlooked. These guys best tour the UK next year!

This year’s Moon & Back Music Album Of The Year goes to…American Slang. The Gaslight Anthem’s third album seems to have had an effect on the Moon & Back staff (though Ian remains adamant of their ability to bore him). The New Jersey group’s tales of murky cities and urban saviors might not be for everyone, but the follow-up to, 2008’s, The ’59 Sound has secured messieurs Fallon, Rosamilia, Levine and Horowitz a place as one of the best bands of recent years.

So there we have it. That’s Moon & Back’s verdict on the top 5 albums of this year. If you don’t agree, you’ll have your chance to vote on all the albums picked by the Moon & Back staff in the ‘Readers Choice’ award coming later on this week. This will be followed by the ‘2009 Album of 2010’ award – awarded to the albums of last year that we only got around to in 2010.

Album Review :: N*E*R*D – Nothing

Nothing Special

With the release of In Search Of… N*E*R*D offered hip-hop fans something different. It was rap with a bit of substance, with real instruments and great production. It wasn’t like anything else out there at the time, and these guys knew that. They definitely haven’t lost it, but they seem to have misplaced it. Nothing is far from a bad album, but it’s not what I’ve come to expect from Pharrell and co.

I’d love to think that was because, as a genre, hip-hop has gotten wise to this new movement; that a shift in the way rap music is made is why this doesn’t feel as fresh as it used to. It’s not though, is it? For the most part modern hip-hop has become the same cookie cutter bleeps and bloops as new R&B, with a few more rhymes involved. Nothing is definitely not like that, but it’s leaning in that direction.

N*E*R*D were providers of great, well produced, party tunes, that were contrasted with a semi-punk rock take on hip-hop. The latter seems to have taken a backseat and, for me, that’s a problem. Tracks like ‘Help Me’ still keep that part of the band alive, but Nothing is riddled R&B style ‘slow jams’ that can’t be to anyone’s taste. I thought it’d be clear to Mr. Williams by now that he can’t sing. Surely someone must have told him that his whiny falsetto tones just don’t work? I guess not. There’s nothing here that’s on par with the likes of ‘Fly Or Die’ or, breakout hit, ‘Rockstar’ and that’s a shame.

The highlight of the album is definitely the production. Everything Pharell touches turns to gold and he really pulled it out here. Even the more R&B-esque tracks have good beats behind them. Songs like ‘Hot-N-Fun’ and ‘Party People’ (believe it or not) are bound to get you on your feet, and are really catchy. I even liked T.I.’s inclusion on the album’s opener. Don’t get me wrong this is not a bad album, it just relies to heavily on it’s singles. Those are great, but almost everything else pails in comparison to what they’ve done before. There’s a lot of funk-infused stuff here that’s a bit hit or miss. ‘Perfect Defect’ is a great example of this done well, but for the most part it seems like an album filled with ideas that aren’t all well thought out.

When a band have got such a great back catalog, it’s a shame when they release something even the slightest bit sub-par. I think high expectations spoiled this record for me. Whilst the previous albums were far from perfect, they seemed to get the balance right. Here it feels like the guys have made something directed at a more mainstream audience. I can’t fault the production and the singles are great but, as a package, it falls short of the standard N*E*R*D have set.

Album Review :: Eminem – Recovery

This review has been branded ‘Parental Advisory’ for explicit content.

2009’s Relapse (and the expanded release Relapse Refill) was, rapper, Eminem’s comeback release after a few years in the musical wilderness. Taking time out to focus on his family, grieve for his best friend and beat his addiction to prescription drugs, the Detroit native seemed to have lost the fire that made his pre-Encore work so good.

This week sees the release of Recovery and it’s a massive improvement and harkens back to his past works. He’s never going to top The Slim Shady LP or, it’s follow up, The Marshall Mathers LP, but this album shows us that he deserves to still be up there with the best of them.

Honesty was always a big part of Eminem’s work and that honesty is riddled throughout Recovery. The rapper goes as far to criticise his own work saying: “those last two albums didn’t count/Encore I was on drugs/Relapse I was flushing em out”. Tracks can be somewhat self-depricating, but not to the point that he’s wallowing in a pit of despair. To me, this album feels like Marshall trying to confront everything that has gone wrong over the past few years and help himself.

For the most part, the album is a very solid, serious experience that deals with Mathers’ struggles. However, there are breaks in this trend. A few less serious tracks are offered up. I can definitely see songs like ‘W.T.P.’ and ‘Wont Back Down’ – a track that features guest vocals from P!nk – taking over charts and clubs the world over. Don’t get me wrong, these tracks are still good, they just don’t pack the punch of tracks like ‘Going Through Changes’ (which samples Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’) and, album opener, ‘Cold Wind Blows’.

Alongside honesty, violence and humour are also make up a lot of Emiem’s lyrical content. Right from the off we’ve got lines like “you’ve never seen such a sick puppy/ fuck it a sick duck/I want my duck sicked mummy” and “might as well let my lips pucker/like Elton John/cos I’m a mean cock sucker”. Punchlines have always been a big part of Eminem’s work and I’m glad to see them return so prolifically. As for the violent side of things “grab the scissors and saws/cut out your livers, gizzards and balls/ throw you in the middle of the ocean in a blizzard with Jaws”.

Of course, lyrics like this are not for everyone and part of me thinks some of them are there purely to try and offend the listener as much as possible. However, don’t let this put you off. Recovery is a great album with something for everyone. It’s great to have someone as talented as Eminem back to his best.

Album Review :: K-Os – Yes!

And the award for most underrated rapper goes to…

After bursting onto the scene in 2002, Kevin Brereton, better known as K-Os (pronounced “chaos”), has yet to really make his mark on the majority of hip-hop fans (myself included). However, with Yes!, the Canadian rapper might finally get the recognition he deserves.

After listening to just one track I could tell I was in for something special. Yes! isn’t your typical rap album. Those coming in expecting tales from ‘the hood’ will be sorely disappointed. That isn’t K-Os’ style. In fact, it’s pretty hard to determine what his style actually is. The one thing I can say is that the man is highly influenced by a lot of different musicians and genres. I could hear everyone from Daft Punk to Wyclef Jean to The Beatles in this album. That’s not a bad thing and derivative is certainly not a word I could use here.

I mean, in what other rap album would you find a mix of smooth neo-soul, awesome guitar riffs and synthesiser work any electronic musician would be proud of? There’s not many out there than can create an album that sounds as eclectic as Yes! does, but still make it feel like a cohesive musical experience. Each track is great in it’s own right. Some, like ‘I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman’, hit you straight away and it’s hard to get them out of your head (as I write, this that track is playing. I am singing along). Tracks like Mr. Telephone Man took a little more time to burrow their way in, but after a few plays they were in my head and there to stay. It’s a cohesive album, without a track I feel the need to skip. That said, I can see myself overplaying some of them. Surely that’s testament enough to how good Brereton’s songwriting and production actually is?

Lyrically, this is one of the best hip-hop albums I’ve listened to in a while. It’s great to hear something that’s not a mindless collection of rhyming words and big brand promotions. Anyone who can reference Batman and Charles Dickens (especially whilst sampling the theme from The O.C.), and make it sound cool, has got my vote.

The one thing K-Os does very well is strike a good balance between the serious and playful sides of hip-hop. At times the album can definitely make you think. That’s something that I really admire on a rap record, and something that’s very rarely seen today. There’s certainly tracks here that could be this summer’s big party anthems, but, sadly, I think they might be overlooked in place of something a little more mainstream. This album certainly secures Mr. Brereton’s place as a prominent player in the hip-hop world. Hopefully people will wise-up and start to pay attention to this man of many talents.