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The Year I Didn't Discover Rap

By Alan Baban | 27 December 2005

I’ve been spurred on by various acquaintances, who, after years of enduring my “‘holier-than-thou’ indie rock posturing” (aka one frickin’ mixtape) and having discovered a relatively meager point of musical vulnerability, conspired to plug in their light guns and shoot me down quicker than you can say “Clap Your Hands Say Backlash Yeah.”

So, I don’t listen to that much rap. Okay, I don’t really listen to any rap, but that Cadence Weapon album a couple of weeks back kept me from indulging in a Destroyer itch for a couple of hours. My friends keep on reminding me what I’m missing, but for every reference to an affable lyric (“I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man” sticks), the same douche recounts to me some stale backstory. Just this last month, I’ve heard some this one about Cam’Ron contorting his being a victim of gun crime into a spiked act of self-promotion at least five times. But even with all this extraneous critic-speak junk, I’d hate feeling that my only solid exposure to rap has been an ill-fated stint as a young Marshall Mathers fan and The Blueprint. I came to the conclusion, amid the non-frenzy that predictably precedes the final minutes of each year that 2005 would be the year I would “discover rap.” As with most New Year’s Resolutions, the idealism got lobotomized, and I was left with the gradually less palatable substituents of “2005 is the year I will discover rap starting tomorrow,” “2005 is the year I might discover rap starting next week,” and, finally, “2005 is the year I will decide whether I want to discover rap next year.”

So, what was the problem? Well, I never anticipated 2005 to actually yield this many resoundingly great records. Between the New Pornographers, Sufjan, Sleater-Kinney, Malkmus and Wolf Parade you had an indie rock banquet. Did I mention Bloc Party? Amazing. How could I expect myself to “discover rap” when I had yet to fully suss out the fluctuating subtleties of a treasure trove of my favourite acts? And who the hell expected Face the Truth to be, well, good? 2005, for me at least, held an embarrassing abundance of surprises, the greatest and, yes, most infamous blindside being CYHSY. But what about Ryan Adams turning in one and half albums only marginally less impressive than Heartbreaker? And that damn Kelly Clarkson song that made me want to listen past the first 20 seconds? Her fault, not mine.

But if anything hindered my attempts to bring rap into the fold this year, then it was Spoon. They nailed it. What always gets me is how intrinsically perfect those eleven songs must have been before being fed into the Eno’s meatgrinder and skewered up into some tasty morsels, with just about the right amount of rubber to chew the fat with. For a record entrenched in studio wizardry, Gimme Fiction still sounds inspired and exciting, the way the George Harrison-esque frayed bizarro asides on “The Beast and the Dragon, Adored” eventually give in to the chopped clap’n’board, every unruly additive exterminated, reveals a band as much in love with the development of its craft as its song writing.

If next year is anything like 2005, then I might just have to give up on rap once and for all, unless we get some weird Chuck D / Iron & Wine collaborations. The thing is, I love indie rock, even if the indie rock that gets bandied about these days as “indie rock,” isn’t particularly independent, nor does it petulantly anchor itself to rock’s medulla as if our cerebral hemispheres were nothing more than bruised crash helmets. The way Alec Ounsworth’s voice languishes rhythmically around his final incantation of “child stars” or the colossal weight of Brownstein’s guitar around the 2 minute mark of “Rollercoaster” – this is not such fuel for clinical exercises in critical parsing, this is, first and foremost, liberating music, and not some candy floss metronome jig for my feet. Every year will have its fair share of new order Franzalikes and assorted trailblazers, but 2005 seemed to be a year of unprecedented fruition if you sifted long enough through the corporate quagmire. It also kept Natalie Portman’s effusive “this band will change your life,” surely the stuff of nightmares, out of your head long enough to say “I’m vibin’ wit’ this.” Ok, I’m sorry, that was pretty lame.