Rogue Bosoms, Bouncing Booties and Pac-Man Raps

Looking back on the '04

So that auld acquaintances won't be forgot, let's go into auld lang syne mode, whatever that means…

For rock and roll, at least, 2004 was another big year for Karen Berg. And who is Karen Berg, you might ask? Good question. I just found out about her myself. As it turns out, she was the mid-'70s Elektra talent scout who signed Television, the Cars and the B-52s, three bands that, along with Television's CBGB compatriots Blondie and Talking Heads, pretty much defined the sound of cool rock all these years later. (The Ramones -- another CBGB band -- are the forefathers of both the punk and garage scenes. So if you hung out at CBGB in 1975, you saw just about every rock band that would be relevant 29 years later.)

Today, you can still hear plenty of "Rock Lobster" guitars in Franz Ferdinand and a surfeit of Greg Hawkes's warm synths in the Strokes sound, and just about every rock vocalist who's not trying to be either Johnny Rotten, Joey Ramone or Eddie Vedder sounds like David Byrne. (Except for the Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic, who sounds like Elton John and, as my wife noted, prances exactly like Mick Jagger.) And as the cliché goes, almost all the guitars in all the cool rock are "angular," just as they were in Television and XTC.

Meanwhile, everybody -- rappers and rockers alike -- sang or rhymed about going out and scoring. For every "Take Me Out" or "Somebody Told Me" on the rock side, there was a "Yeah!" or a "Freak-A-Leak" on the hip-hop/R&B tip. In short, urrrbody was in da club gettin' tipsy, all year long, and then going home and doing it missionary with their toes crammed against the headboard.

The rock and hip-hop approaches toward this end were as different as night and day. Here's Petey Pablo describing his ideal night out and his dream girl in "Freak-A-Leak": "Sniff a little coke, take a little x, smoke a little weed, and drink a little bit / I need a girl that I can freak wit, and wanna try shit, and ain't scared of a big dick." To hear a certain song of Franz Ferdinand's, you'd get the impression that FF front man Alex Kapranos would fill that bill, as long as that big dick belonged to "Michael." And murky sexual politics was also a hallmark of "Somebody Told Me," with all those boyfriends who looked like girlfriends, etc. So while hip-hoppers forged ahead musically, they stayed pretty square sexually. Rockers, on the other hand, did their exploring in beds, if not in recording studios.

The year 2004 was also when crunk jumped the shark. Once "Yeah!" hit big, the shit had hit the fan. I heard it blaring at rural lake houses. I saw the video on VH1 all year. And when I heard it played at my son's elementary school carnival a couple of months ago, I just suddenly realized that this music had strayed way too far from the thug-ridden Atlanta clubs where it was codified. Although the kids at Poe school are pretty crunk.

Still, Lil Jon again dominated the year -- you can't go 15 minutes on the Box or the Party or even Mega 101 without hearing one of his nihilistically elemental productions. (His music also furnished one of the impromptu musical highlights of my year. Late one night during the Super Bowl festivities downtown, a DJ had set up shop in a deli on a seedy side street, where he was serenading a group of festive, beer-drinking people with "Get Low" while they waited for Fifth Ward-bound Metro buses. A couple of them -- two extremely fat ladies -- were booty-dancing in the street. Everybody was embarrassed and tittering at them for some reason, so I nudged the guy next to me and asked what was up. "They both mens," he said. Coulda fooled me.) Coming up right behind Lil Jon is Kanye West, an absolute musical genius, a worthy successor to jazzmen like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Yes, his beats really are that tight.

Houston, led by Lil' Flip's Pac-Man rap, made some more baby steps toward catching Atlanta as the hub of Dirty South rap. To finish the job, we need a local producer to break through with a definitive and distinctive local sound -- one that doesn't rely on chug-a-lugging copious codeine to be truly appreciated. With or without a local producer, next year local rapper Slim Thug will break big nationally, big things will come out of the Swisha House posse, and the city's hip-hop scene will have its best year ever. (After hearing it once, I feel safe in saying that Thug's new Neptunes-produced single "Like a Boss" sounds like Evander Holyfield working a cornered opponent's rib cage and that it is a 100 percent-certain smash hit.)

Signs are also encouraging on the local rock scene. This month, for the first time in ages, a great local indie rock compilation crossed my desk. (It's called I Hate It Here, I Never Want to Leave -- watch for a review in these pages soon.) And bands like Clouseaux, 8Track Charade, the John Evans Band and Michael Haaga released killer records that have inspired me to write the "poetry" you can find below. It was also a good year for Houston musicians who have picked up stakes and left -- especially those who moved to San Francisco. Greg Ashley (a.k.a. the Gris Gris) and Jolie Holland each released fantastic albums and put on stellar homecoming shows at Rudyard's, and Graham Lebron's return home with Rogue Wave was equally triumphant.

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