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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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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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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
Outlook Records

Rating: 2/10 ?

February 27, 2006
Listening to this album gave me a grand idea. In the imaginary comedy teen movie that has just been concocted in my mind there will be a scene where a hopeless white boy is desperately trying to romance the cool chick at school - "the girl all the bad guys want" to quote somebody, somewhere. Knowing that the right music can set the scene for love, our lead character (think Jason Biggs in American Pie) puts on some R&B and gets his groove on, mouthing the words "if you want me baby, there's one thing you have to say". How can a mid-90's R&B slowjam ever fail to impress? However, it doesn't have the desired effect, as the object of his affections (and the target of his rhymes) sits, awkward and unmoving. The notion of geeky white boy trying to be cool (therefore by association, trying to be black) is all-too-evident on the opening track of New York electro/dance quartet 33Hz's self-titled debut album, 'If You Want Me'.

If ever an album has opened on a weaker note, I am yet to hear it. "If You Want Me" is appalling, a song that so desperately wants to be slinky and smooth but instead sounds pained, derivative and contrived. The obvious point of reference is Prince but 33hz just get it so, so wrong, sounding like the drip-fed R&B-lite that was served up by many a C-list boyband in the mid 1990's. Especially painful is the repetition of the "Yeah... come on" so favoured by AJ from the Backstreet Boys in their 'golden age', moments that make your toes curl with embarrassment. It is a false start so numbingly bad that it sets the whole album off on the wrong course, and the end result is a wretched mess of ineffective jams and sleazy, unsexy vocals.

Clearly marketed as achingly hip, über-cool scenesters, 33hz's MySpace page describes them as possessing a sound evoking "memories of what they consider the golden age of pop (1977-1983) while soldiering on towards a glowing, beautiful future". That mission statement is so bold, and yet so unnervingly misleading and off-target, because this album is packed to the rafters with the kind of lifeless R&B that went out of fashion many years ago crossed with Air/Daft Punk electronica stylings. Take the Kraftwerk-go-to-the-cheapest-disco-in-town cut "Digital Lover," for example. For a band that want to demonstrate their worth on the dancefloor, they sure do write songs that are completely undanceable. "I wanna know what you're doing", vocalist Ben Lowe demands, but the vocoder-enhanced vocal is so unsexy that one wonders what lady would answer him.

Elsewhere, "Uncomplicated" - an ode to "the girls of the city" - sounds like four white boys taking things far too seriously in trying to play up to a sub-Prince "Loverman" image. Which, essentially, it is. Having proved beyond reasonable doubt that they cannot write upbeat songs, 33hz proceed to demonstrate their inability to compose slowjam numbers. The slow songs of 33hz are abysmal creations and are the album's nadirs, which really says something when one considers the number of faults it has. The tinny R&B of "I Know" evokes Gwen Stefani's weak "Luxurious" and comes across as an awkward hipster slowdance moment, a chance for those who simply try too hard to slow down. Were 33hz asleep when this style of music stuttered out of fashion all those years ago?

By the time "Angels & Devils" comes along, you feel like forcibly removing your ear drums with the nearest sharp implement rather than listen to embarrassingly awful lines like "I hope that bed is made now" and "Take it to the limit tonight". "Not Ready (To Give Up Just Yet)" is an exercise in the slushy R&B slowjam perfected by the likes of Jodeci and D'Angelo, and you wonder why 33hz even bother, the results are so dire.

You could almost forgive the players in this sorry saga if you could detect traces of irony in their music. Indeed, their professed influences include Steely Dan and Roxy Music, perhaps two of the most literate bands to tread the earth. But the results are laughably bad, completely irony-free, and the result is downright dreadful. Those influences must be in the abstract, as there is certainly no evidence on this album of a likeness to either band. Nor is there the breezy funk of Earth, Wind & Fire or the cutting-edge cool of Chic, two more cited influences with spirits completely absent from this album.

There are some highlights here, although this is strictly comparative. "Chemical Reaction" manages to evoke one of Prince's best numbers, the sexy-quirky "Raspberry Beret,"without sounding too derivative and as a result is one of the albums more listenable cuts. "Call Me Up" also has its merits, sounding like Wham-meets-Daft Punk at the country mansion of Barry Gibb, while "Lovely" again references Prince, this time with a twist of the Scissor Sisters' sleaze-pop. However, these are hardly diamonds in the rough, more like bits of rough that aren't quite as rough as the rest of the rough.

Clearly, this album intends to score with the too-cool-for-school hipster crowd, but it is hard to foresee a triumphant return even in a market brimming with an unbridled eagerness to jump on passing trends. Indeed, it is hard to see just who could possibly enjoy listening to this album from beginning to end. Perhaps this is music for robots of the 'glowing, beautiful future' 33hz desire, as certainly no human could dance to this mess. This is a deeply unsexy, unfunky and impossibly banal album that could kill just about any party. Now, to get writing that movie script.

Reviewed by Ryan Thomas
A contributing writer from Washington state, Ryan Thomas recently relocated to the UK, where he continues to contribute to LAS.

See other reviews by Ryan Thomas



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