Reader's Choice: Madvillain - Madvillainy
Like most great albums, Madvillainy creates discussion. It dichotomizes people and they either love or hate the album. The argument usually comes down to what type of hip-hop fan you're talking to. Those who love modern hip-hop (or glitz-hop as I’m gonna call it) seem to hate this album. They like their hip-hop to be more glamour than street. They like the private jets, gold teeth, and stunner shades. They like it produced, cleaned up, autotuned, and Californicated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but my experience has been that the people that hate Madvillainy seem to like the leaves of the hip-hop more than the roots. On the other side are the guys that love Madvillain. These guys like their hip-hop raw, off the cuff, and like they’re hearing it coming out of the streets of an inner city block party. These guys typically have little time for the bells and whistles that have made their way into modern hip hop (ala autotune, orchestras, suits, and diamond studded cups). They like the basics of the genre… the pennies, not the pounds.
Regardless, much of Madvillainy’s success came as a result of its timing. Its commercial achievements were moderate, so it didn’t really take the masses by surprise, but it was an album that caught the attention of the mainstream critical audience at a time when hip-hop had fully embraced its $$$ side. It had gone from being a street art rooted in social change to a full-blown mainstream cash-money formula. Whether they liked it or not, by 2004, the world’s music audience had been saturated by glitz-hop. Nelly’s southern pop-hop was in full swing and the Grammy’s had just rewarded OutKast with best album for their most commercial record to date. For better or worse, critics and the masses were inundated with forms of glitz-hop, so when Madvillain released a record that was everything glitz-hop wasn’t, it was a major shot in the arm. The songs were short, they felt lifted directly off a turntable, and MF DOOM’s flow was low, crunchy, and blindingly quick. It wasn’t a huge development on the street level, but from a mainstream top-level view, it was huge.
Madvillainy was just a little quicker, a little dirtier, and a little more authentic then the all things hip-hop circa 2004. The surprise wasn't really that this music existed, it's that it suddenly existed in a critical sphere that traditional hip-hop didn't travel in. Madvillain gave us an album that actually sounds like traditional hip-hop. You listen to these guys and in your head you see turntables, and a mic. It’s not the hip-hop we had all been acclimated to, and because of that this album creates dialogue. Love it or hate it, anytime Madvillain comes up people have an opinion… and the only way a musician can transcend their presence beyond an album’s immediate release is to create something that people care enough about to continue the discussion. Well, it’s 2009 & we’re still talking.
PMA’s Choice: Arcade Fire – Funeral
I didn't give Arcade Fire much of a chance in 2004. Funeral came out in September of that year, and it got so hyped, so fast, that I had a really hard time getting excited about it. The critical response gave me a natural aversion to the band and I mentally shelved it. However, like any other truly amazing album, all it took was time. Over the last few months of 2004 and into 2005, the hype moved past the critics and into the fans. I had so many people ask me what I thought about the album that eventually I felt like I HAD to give Funeral a real listen. I didn’t expect much. It always seems that hype is created more for the critics and less for the band, and so internally I just downplayed it and walked in with some healthy skepticism. Well, by the time I finally sat down, put it in, and gave it one full listen I was sold. I mean, sold, sold. Done.
It was awesomely different. I knew that this band played multiple, strange instruments… accordions, French horns, xylophones… I expected that. What I didn’t expect was for them to play these instruments like a rock band would. They literally play rock on folk instruments, and while doing it, create this thick, strong sound. It was different than almost anything I’d heard before, and by the time I got 30 seconds into “Neighborhood #2 (Laika), I realized that I, like all my friends and all the critics I had read, was going to be part of the hype machine.
The whole thing truly blew my mind (and if I hadn't have been blown away then, I certainly would've after I saw William Butler's insane performance on New York’s Randall's Island years later where he climbed 50 feet of scaffolding violently banging his drum all the way up). The band’s supporting tour got rave reviews, and had to be moved (progressively) to larger and larger venues. The album ultimately won a place on practically every top ten list of 2004 and most “Best of” lists of the 2000s. It’s hard to say for certain that the band started the folk revival that Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are enjoying today (since, despite their instruments, AF aren’t really a folk band), but Arcade Fire’s success with Funeral certainly provided a stage to uniqueness, which opened doors for many other supporting acts to follow (not to mention giving mandolins and the hurdy gurdy a helping hand out of the 1800's and back into mainstream acceptance). For me, Funeral showed me that musicians could live up to the hype, and after hearing Neon Bible they have shown that they can continue that tradition. Without question our choice for Best of 2004.