The "Whoops, I'm In The Wrong Genre" Award, Single Division: Mystikal, "Shake Ya Ass" (Jive)
With Master P & Co, Mystikal had always cut an imposing figure both aesthetically—with his loosely dangling braids—and lyrically—with his well-penned narratives and incomprehensible voice. But damned if Mystikal didn't clean up his act for "Shake Ya Ass." The braids are now cornrows, and the vocals are pure James Brown. Over a perky horn beat by the Neptunes (one that's, ahem, a little too close to the one they gave Ol' Dirty Bastard for "Recognize"), Mystikal stabs in his lines with ferocity, emphasizing the spaces between as much as the words themselves: "Shake ya ass/ Watch yourself/Shake ya ass/Show me what you're working with." Not quite the godfather of conscious soul, but a strip club king? Fa sho.
The "Whoops, I'm In The Wrong Genre" Award, Album Division: Photek, Solaris (Astralwerks)
Remember jungle? Well, neither does Photek. With his much-heralded micro-sampling pastiche and sinister, aggressive aesthetic, Photek slapped the genre in the face for its impending popularization, aiming to maintain and reinforce its obscurity. But now, some three years since his last album, jungle is a lost cause. And Photek, poor Photek, has made a record that bears little, if any, resemblance to his home genre. Instead, Solaris is a warm, syrupy house and techno album. What he's done is take the same bass he's used previously—fat, stretched, vibrating tones—and instead of sequencing them rapid-fire, he's let them luxuriate and melt into each other. At times, he even slides into disco territory with his newfound joy. It's oddly fey, yet makes a stronger case for house as an album genre than any other producer who's tried of late.
"Reason That Despite The Weather, The Brits Are Still Cooler Than We Are" Award: Various Artists, INCredible Sound Of Gilles Peterson (Giant Step/Epic)
For longer than most of us have been on dance floors, Gilles Peterson has been turning records no one's ever heard into massive club and radio hits. Here he collects an unthinkable collection of songs and makes it work. The 4Hero remix of "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun" is certainly one of the most optimistic dance songs ever created, and here it blends with a bopping MJ Cole 2-step garage track. Two tracks later and it's Minnie Ripperton singing your blues, and then it's back to the Handsome Boy Modeling School. Most of us would be lucky to hear all these records in a year, or longer. Peterson does it every night and packages the experience more than adequately.
Most Unlikely Instance of Visionary A&R, Fashion and Sports Divisions: Tommy Guerrero, A Little Bit Of Somethin (MoWax/Beggars Banquet) and Nigo, Ape Sounds (MoWax/Beggars Banquet)
MoWax head James Lavelle sort of thinks he's Gilles Peterson, what with his globe-hopping record-shopping trips and reputation for a keen eye. Indeed, he was among the first to appreciate the talents of DJ Shadow and he helped influential Japanese hip-hop label Major Force West gain some Western exposure. But of late, Lavelle's been something of a hipster prig, trading in his crate-digging card for VIP treatment at London's chichi Met Bar. The acts on MoWax aren't even musicians anymore: Tommy Guerrero's an old-school skateboarder, and Nigo owns the insufferably hip Japanese clothing line Bathing Ape (expensive, too—T-shirts retail for about $80, if you can find them, which you can't). Somehow, though, Lavelle has managed to pull off a minor coup. Who knew a skate dork and a fashionista could make such engaging music? Guerrero's is a lo-fi post-rock thing (yup, Tortoise gets shouted out), and while it's no, say, Tortoise, it's still a charming little art curio. Nigo's affair is slightly more baffling; at times there's piss-poor rapping (I swear he's saying "fight the power"), Japanese traditional music, and girl soul. Compared to Guerrero, he's blazing new ground, but compared to people who do this for a living, he's still in the bathtub.
Kid606 "We're All In The Same Indie-Prog-Electronic Noodler Gang" Award: Mice Parade, Collaborations (After Hours/Bubble Core), Pluramon, Bit Sand Riders (Mille Plateaux), and Slicker, Remixes (Hefty)
These new electronic kids are making me dizzy. Every month brings a small handful of remix albums, emanating as if from some odd orgy of samplers, sequencers, and weed. Of this trio, Slicker's got the best friends. Richard Devine and Scott Herren turn in a masterly neo-electro track, Matmos creates what sounds like a noise-rock take on hip-hop, and Superesp flips dubby techno styles. Mice Parade, who also appears on the Slicker collection, has a quieter indie-rock aura to his collection—lotsa reverberating guitars and raindrop synths. Even the Jim O'Rourke mix, save its excursions into feedbacky din, sounds cookie-cutter in this context. Meanwhile, Pluramon (Germany's Marcus Schmickler, a Can associate) has assembled a far wider range of talent. On the mellow end, he's got Sensorama, Matmos, and the High Llamas. At the acerbic end, he's brought in Hecker and Japanese noise don Merzbow. Song to song, it's never clear where Pluramon wants to go, but maybe that's the idea. Nevertheless, I'll wait for the guaranteed sonic gunfire of Kid606 and Friends, Vol. 2, thanks very much.