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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
One Be Lo
Fat Beats Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

March 10, 2005
Throwback albums are tricky business. With recycling being one of pop music's foundational tricks of the trade, intertextuality is not only to be expected, but demanded. There does come a point, however, at which an album's debt to its forebears begs the question of why it's worth listening to instead of those other the records in the first place.

One Be Lo (whom you may know as One Man Army, half of quasi-legendary combo Binary Star) forces the listener to confront this question throughout S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.. To a large degree, the entire album hearkens back to early 90s hip-hop; it chooses to remember a day when gangsta rap had not completely taken hold of the mainstream, and more accommodating groups like Arrested Development, Digable Planet, and A Tribe Called Quest had massive fan bases that transcended race-, class- and gender-barriers that earlier rappers faced with their audiences. From his jazz-inflected samples to the pre-War on Terror/Patriot Act social problems that he tackles, One Be Lo would have fit in perfectly at a middle school dance circa 1992; hell, this album probably would stand as a certified classic if it had dropped then.

It didn't drop during the first Bush's term, though, and like it or not, context does practically affect the way that history remembers a pop album. With this being the case, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. probably won't be mentioned in the same breath as contemporary masterpieces like Vaudeville Villain and Fantastic Damage, and it may even be written off as an exercise in nostalgia by many.

Taken on their own terms, though, the songs leave an indelible imprint that cluttered crunk catharsis, pretentious Anticon wankery, and the now-stale Def Jux formula often don't, and to be fair, One Be Lo does betray his era in some of his darker sonic tapestries and schizoid, speech sample-spliced cuts.

The sheer breadth of engaging material immediately makes this a noteworthy album; at 22 tracks and almost 80 minutes, it appears to be yet another bloated, eyes-bigger-than-its-stomach hip-hop disc, but only three of the songs are filler interludes, and the rest of them consistently elicit vigorous head-nodding.

Two tracks in particular, "Axis" and "Sleepwalking", straddle the line between lean, underground aesthetics and mainstream accessibility remarkably effectively, sounding a bit like MF Doom might if he stopped rhyming about weed and started trumpeting brotherly love and if he quit drawing from the cheesier end of the jazz aisle and started sampling, say, Cannonball Adderly. Rather than bludgeoning listeners with shallow hooks, One Be Lo and his producers build wide-open arrangements that could seemingly go on for eternity without grating, and these two songs demonstrate this sensibility most fully.

High falutin' concepts, crossover potential, and quirkiness be damned - S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. is straight-up hip-hop, son, and if you think this pill needs a spoonful of sugar to help it go down, then you're paying attention to everything but the actual songs. For every world that One Be Lo isn't shattering, he's making ten more a hell of a lot more fun to live in.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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