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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
Zion I
True & Livin'
Live Up Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

July 18, 2005
Zion I is getting closer to the Promised Land; there's already enough milk and honey to go around on the smooth-flowing True & Livin'. Having pawned off slick drum-and-bass grooves for more soulful, organic jams, Zion I turns over a new leaf on its third album. More socially aware than ever before, the Oakland underground hip-hop duo sets out to raise consciousness with serious-minded, uplifting lyrics that get up and stand up for the rights of the disenfranchised. Lead, follow, or if you're going to get out of Zion I's way, at least go home and try to effect change on a smaller scale. That's where the real revolution begins, doesn't it?

For Zion I, the fight began in the studio, with producer Amp Live working with a whole new set of tools and a desire to go live, as in live music. Modeled after The Roots' concept of drum-propelled, kaleidoscopic funk, Zion I composed its new sound with real instruments, or at least samples of real music, and touched it up with some air-brushed electronica. Laid-back and sensual, True & Livin' is as sultry as a hot summer day in the inner city. The beats run the gamut from tight and minimalist to round and fat, like on "Temperature", which features Talib Kweli throwing out lassos of rhymes about staying positive and surviving hardship. Every so often, episodes of syncopated handclaps crop up, and, in the jazzy, Digible Planets-inspired "The Bay", they set hooks that pierce right through your cheek.

Free to do what they want now that they have their own record label, Zion I experiment with a variety of styles. Jazz is still the pair's default option, but with Zion I, it's not just about brushed drums, flickering torch piano and bowed bass lines; there's also the dusky, sunburned trumpets patented by Miles Davis that Amp Live uses to draw Sketches Of Spain on the joyous "I Need Mo" and the confessional "Doin' My Thang", Zion I's declaration of independence.

Not down with Miles? How about some Marvin Gaye? On "Bird's Eye View", Zion I rewrite What's Goin' On? and incorporate sweeping wind instruments and string sounds, gently crumbling pianos and breezy backing vocals; with these elements, they offer a sincere, eyes-wide-open look at a relationship from the perspective of one who's taken a step back and can see it for what it was - something flawed but beautiful. For even more variety, there's the ecstatic, popcorn-machine beats and infectious, De La Soul-style psychedelia of "Soo Tall", complete with its unexpected flurry of country fiddle. Moving on down the road, the closer, "Oh Lawd", gets an acoustic Delta blues workout, and just when you think that Zion I has exhausted its influences, the group checks in with its next joint.

Confronting social and political ills like unchecked consumerism and poverty, Zion I enlist mercenary rappers like Del the Funky Homosapien and Gift Of Gab in the cause. With its Middle Eastern horns and serpentine groove, "Poems 4 Post Modern Decay" sees Zion I taking on the Patriot Act and corrupt authority figures with a determined, cool zeal. Aesop Rock takes his turn on the mic and drops vicious truth in rhymes like, "Okay, who are you consumers? Why are you not filtering the poison air spooning/Where are you gonna be when the murder rate starts ballooning?" Not in Oakland, I can tell you that.

A gallery of ghetto vignettes of single mothers, aimless youth and the homeless, True & Livin' is a soul-searching journey that starts in the 'hood and goes to Tibet to find peace. "I got some issues to solve/It's like a blew a circuit," raps MC Zion at one point, giving us a glimpse into the turmoil that stirred inside the boyz in Zion I and caused this enlightened transformation from players to preachers. Give Zion I your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free and all the rest of the downtrodden. The meek shall inherit the earth - and maybe win a few Vibe awards.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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