Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Goes well with: Outkast, Janelle Monae
You probably thought you had Big Boi figured out by now. He's always been Outkast's straight man—the traditionalist bedrock for Andre 3000's spaced-out zaniness. And because of that, his contributions to the rap world have been diluted. But then something like Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty happens, and you're left wondering why this guy isn't contending for the “best rapper alive” tag.
Locked in endless record-label drama for the better part of three years, Sir Lucious Left Foot is as weird and wonderful as any of the great Outkast records, embodying an enthralling mixture of retro-futuristic beats, breezy ethos and old-world alt-rap technique. The album does have its token bloodthirsty battle track (“General Patton”) and club banger (“Tangerine”), but they're made up of such leftfield ingredients that it's easy to ignore the tropes and simply wallow in their oddball brilliance. “You Ain't No DJ” is easily the album's slightest track, but even there, Big Boi incorporates chintzy Hannah-Barbera drum chimes, sci-fi laser blasts and a savage verse from Alabama-bred upstart Yelawolf to save it from throwaway status. Hip-hop hasn't sounded this new, strange and adventurous in a long, long time.
Sun Kil Moon
Admiral Fell Promises
Goes well with: Nick Drake, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young
It's hard to imagine another American songwriter of the past 20 years as consistently heart-wrenching—both in the emotional content of his songs and the willfully scattershot nature of his recordings—as Mark Kozelek. It's also difficult to name another musician as willing to take such inadvisable risks, like his entire album of acoustic Modest Mouse covers, Tiny Cities, which scaled previously unknown heights of ego-stroking pointlessness.
Consequently, upon discovering that Kozelek's latest album was recorded with only voice and nylon-string guitar, the potential for disaster seemed high. But, truth is, there might not be a better traditional folk-rock songwriter in the country. As such, Admiral Fell Promises lays bare Kozelek's natural gifts, and in doing so, it becomes a testament to just how captivating a man and his guitar can be with the proper talent in tow.
Kozelek manages to transcend his self-imposed instrumental limitations by adopting the slight percussive techniques of flamenco guitar—especially on sections of “Alesund” and “Australian Winter”—which adds a surprisingly inventive flair to his playing. Elsewhere, much of the stark, beautiful atmosphere of Sun Kil Moon's April still resides, but now that Kozelek's songs are stripped completely naked, they have a transfixing, magnetic pull as we get a closer look—what may have seemed gray at first now reveals myriad shades underneath.
Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans
Goes well with: Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Madonna, Lady Gaga
It's easy to see why Uffie is loathed by many in the music press—her “flow” is more irritating than the most over-hyped female hip-hop groups of the '00s (remember Fannypack and Northern State?), and her public persona is that of an upper-class jetsetter who has a recording contract only because she's cute and fell in with the folks at trendy French house label Ed Banger Records.
But Sex Dreams is great pop music. Not quite parody, it's an album that accurately reflects the vapidity of its peers but manages to transcend them with sheer attitude and great beats. Perhaps Uffie's self-conscious incompetence annoys at times, but it's just as often hilarious. And much credit goes to producers Mr. Oizo, SebastiAn, Feadz and Mirwais, who perfectly tread the line between tacky (“Pop the Glock,” “MCs Can Kiss”) and tackier (“Art of Uff ”). The most common criticism of Uffie is that the four-year wait for her debut full-length was too long, and she's now passé. But the derision reserved for her might be better targeted at Ke$ha, whose entire shtick was ripped wholesale from our apathetic French heroine and ridden to the top of the U.S. charts within the past year. Ironically, Uff still sounds ahead of 99 percent of pop artists, which is funny considering she's barely even trying.