The Year in Music

When It Rain, I Be So Fresh
New albums dissected over email.
Dec. 18 2006 12:00 PM

The Year in Music

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Jody, Carl, Ann,

Let me get this out of the way since it's going to come up sooner or later: I find Gnarls Barkley annoying. Further exposition upon request.

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Moving on—I'll take the Timbaland bait, largely because Timbaland was the most important force in pop this year, and for some of his least compelling work. There were rumblers, sure—Young Jeezy's post-Star Wars "3 a.m." and Justin's "My Love" featuring T.I., which sounded like a late-'90s New York techno superclub literally shredding into pieces. But much of the rest of Tim's work for J.T. felt undercooked, and he steered Nelly Furtado, an artist I consistently try (and fail) to find reasons to like, into far deeper water than she's capable of navigating, and he wasn't even trying that hard. Too much time in the gym, maybe. Am I wrong to miss him doughy and regional and not yet so preoccupied with people stealing his ideas that he shifts sounds every couple of studio sessions?

Speaking of throwback Virginia Beach memories, the Clipse returned with an album full of two-to-four-year-old Neptunes beats which, considering that was the production duo's heyday, still sound a couple of years ahead of what everyone else is doing at the moment. Hell Hath No Fury was practically willed into existence by rap critics and bloggers for whom technically advanced rap no longer means Aesop Rock. (The fan base might end there—first week sales were 78,000. I had 86K in the office pool—someone owes me a Snickers.) About four or so years ago, the hip-hop backpack underground hit a creative rut, as stylistically beholden to familiar tropes as anything on BET. This year was the one where mainstream rap not only took the popularity high road, but took back the complexity high road. At the moment, no one in America is rapping better than the Clipse, Cam'ron (who had two shockingly great, and largely tasteless, singles this year: "Suck It or Not" and "Weekend Girl") and Lil Wayne, who gets better the more material he puts out and the less he seems to fuss over it. There was Lil Wayne on the mixtape bruiser "Cannon (Remix)," Lil Wayne on that Lloyd single that rips off PM Dawn/Spandau Ballet, Lil Wayne upstaging Outkast on their own record, Lil Wayne indicting the president about his post-Katrina blunders, Lil Wayne freestyling over a Jay-Z beat better than Jay's written verses, and then Lil Wayne saying in an interview that he's better than the former king, and being correct.

Maybe Jay's been listening to too much My Chemical Romance of late. (The Kingdom Come conversation will have to wait for now, but … collaborating with Linkin Park, singing along with Third Eye Blind, getting produced by Chris Martin, checking out the Bravery and the Killers, and getting flicks taken with Louis XIV: The great Jay-Z-and-rock blog post has yet to be written.) As for re: MCR, though, can you blame him? They've figured out how to make scarily intimate music in a profoundly public context, and even though The Black Parade isn't their best album, it was easily the best major-label rock record of this past year, mostly otherwise notable for the lack of a Fall Out Boy record. Somewhere, Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba is in a Sephora, trying on eyeliner to see where he went wrong.

I'm running out of time, and want to save all my country musings for later this week, but one last bit before I go. I appreciate you bringing up Aventura, Jody. A song I couldn't shake from my iTunes this year was "Un Beso," which was released in '05 but charted early this year and is one of the most sublime pop ballads since "I Want It That Way." Also not to be overlooked: "Ella y Yo," Aventura's collaboration with Don Omar; "Noche De Sexo," the slightly ridiculous Wisin y Yandel song that features Aventura's Romeo; and former Aventura backup singer Toby Love's "Tengo Un Amor." This is what American pop music will sound like, or have been influenced by, 50 years hence. This, or Akwid and Yolanda Perez, depending which coast and/or immigration pattern dominates. Can you imagine what High School Musical 24 will sound like in Spanglish? (And for the record, Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus, daughter of Billy Ray, was easily the most vibrant star at the Academy of Country Music Awards this past May, but I get ahead of myself …)

Folks, I'm off to Enter the Daughtry. Wish me godspeed.

Jon

Jon Caramanica is a pop music critic for the New York Times.

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