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song reviews

Tapes 'n Tapes

"Freak Out"

7

Like a blog-buzz phoenix, Minneapolis' Tapes 'n Tapes tries rising again to the hype-making garage rock that first earned them Internet love five years ago. This galloping mix of distorted guitars and wild yelps is their strongest effort since. Gallery: Random Notes, Rock's Hottest Photos | More »

January 3, 2011

The Decemberists

"Row Jimmy"

6

The bookish Portlanders cut a loose cover of the Grateful Dead's two-step, with Colin Meloy doing a spirited Jerry. It's like closing time at the library's special-collections room. Gallery: Random Notes, Rock's Hottest Photos   | More »

December 29, 2010

Avril Lavigne

"What the Hell"

7

Avril Lavigne is pop's presiding mean girl, sneering and snarling like a punk kewpie doll with Tourette's over some of the most sticky-sweet melodies ever to hit the Billboard charts. "What the Hell" is Avril in a nutshell: Co-written by Max Martin, it's an anthem about a good girl who goes on a crazy-bender, staying out late, swapping boys and exacting psychological revenge. She starts out defiant ("All I want is to mess around") and quickly turns vicious: "I am messing with y... | More »

December 27, 2010

Snoop Dogg

"Wet"

7

Created for Prince William's bachelor party ("and all bachelor parties around the world to follow"), Snoop's new single is a bit of seductive minimalism that packs an R. Kelly album's worth of sex metaphors into four laid-back minutes: "Be my head coach," "I can give it to you rough, like a first draft," "I'm in between your lips, like a cigarette." Amusing stuff — but what would the Queen think?  Gallery: Random Notes, Rock's Hottest Photos | More »

December 23, 2010

Lil Wayne

"6 Foot 7 Foot"

8

Wayne's first post-prison single (which he cut for Tha Carter IV) suggests his teeming brain was eating itself during all that time alone: Rarely has the man sounded so virtuosically loopy. Over thick synth burble and a "Banana Boat Song" sample, he makes up for lost nooky ("Never met the bitch but I fuck her like I missed her") and sprays intense metaphysical graffiti all over: "Life is the bitch and death is the sister/Sleep is the cousin/What a fuckin' family picture." Gallery: ... | More »

December 21, 2010

R.E.M.

"Discoverer"

7

Peter Buck's psychedelic guitar intro gives a tantalizing taste of the new-model R.E.M. — like Jefferson Airplane circa Surrealistic Pillow covering Sonic Youth's "Eric's Trip." A track from the eagerly awaited Collapse Into Now (due in March), "Discoverer" has the widescreen presence of R.E.M. classics like New Adventures in Hi-Fi. But when Michael Stipe bellows, "Hey, baby, this is not a challenge," you don't believe it. Gallery: R.E.M., A History in Photos | More »

December 16, 2010

Kanye West

"Christmas In Harlem"

7

Kanye's tinsel-tinted stocking stuffer sounds uncharacteristically tossed-off, as if he's preoccupied with the Xmas shopping spree he says he's planning. But actual Harlem R&B hopeful Teyana Taylor offers warmth from the wind chill, eventually slipping into the comfy melody from the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23." And gruff-rapping Atlanta Santa CyHi Da Prynce promises presents for non-Christian kiddies, too — hauled in a Porsche-speed sleigh. ... | More »

December 15, 2010

Adele

"Rolling in the Deep"

7

With the follow-up to her Grammy-snagging 2008 album looming, this London pop-soul singer made a surprising choice for the disc's first single: "Rolling in the Deep" finds the 22-year-old in bluesy gospel mode, sounding powerful but not particularly pop. Starting with a stroked acoustic guitar, this breakup-mourning track builds to a stomping, hand-clapping climax that affirms the English knack for rejiggering the sound of American roots music. "I can't help feeling we could've... | More »

December 13, 2010

Paul Simon

"Getting Ready for Christmas Day"

8

"Got a nephew in Iraq/It's his third time back," sings Paul Simon, pondering the fate of a relative spending Christmas abroad. "Jingle Bells" this ain't. The first taste of his forthcoming LP is built around a 1941 sample of the Rev. J.M. Gates (from the gospel comp Goodbye, Babylon), and the end result recalls Simon's golden era, all warm tunefulness cut with mischief. "I may be layin' in some lonesome grave," laments the Reverend. Then Simon's sunny chorus chases th... | More »

December 10, 2010

Panda Bear

"Last Night at the Jetty"

7

The Animal Collective crooner evokes the sound of a woozy man stringing together bits of doo-wop at the bottom of a well, backed by wobbly synth, hand claps and the odd shriek. We'll have what he's having! | More »

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »
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