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#5: Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe 2

Rob Zombie’s albums, I’m sad to say, have never been that good. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a giant fan of his–I saw him live this past summer, playing a double bill with Alice Cooper–but on CD, his ideas struggle to fill time before he and his band can get out on the road and do what they love best. Hellbilly Deluxe 2, despite a title that says it’s more regressive than progressive, is his first album to be filler-free. Not only that, it’s 100% fantastic from the opening ominous tolls of “Jesus Frankenstein” through the demented stomp of “Mars Needs Women” and demented surf-rock of “What?” and “Werewolf Women of the SS”.

Closing with an enchanting and hypnotic drum solo, lasting minutes, separating the song from the final chorus of “The Man Who Laughs”, this album is all killer, start to finish. Also showing a marked improvement are Zombie’s lyrics. Whereas previously, he’d used his creepy-crawly imagery and little more, his lyrics now have a self-aware humour to them, as though he’s going past how very ridiculous he can make it on purpose. It’s badass, it’s a grand improvement on everything he’s done before–it’s Zombie’s best and a must for any music fan who can handle a zombie-tongue in their cheek.

#4: Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer

Proving that there’s no music like soul music to cure what ails you is Cee Lo Green at #4 with The Lady Killer. If you have ears and live anywhere near a civilized nation, you’ve likely already heard the infectious hit “Fuck You”–an obscenely cheerful update of the classic jilted ex soul song. What you likely haven’t heard is the reason it sounds so familiar: not only does it feature drumfills lifted straight from Motown’s finest, Cee Lo Green is the vocal half of duo Gnarls Barkley, the best soul group this side of the year 1985.

Without Dangermouse behind him, you’d expect Cee Lo to lose direction or creativity. And while his direction has certainly changed on The Lady Killer, he’s still as fascinated with the sweet soulful textures and themes of the 1960’s as he has been since 2004’s Cee Lo Green is… The Soul Machine. Giving entirely in to a super-saturated, loose retro feel has only complemented Cee Lo’s delightfully imperfected vocals and straightforward lyrics. A vocal album free of autotune, a soul album deserving to be ranked along the best of the genre, Lady Killer also hosts some of Cee Lo’s finest songs, including–Well, every song on the album, really.

#3: The Kleptones – Uptime/Downtime

The longest album on this list, Uptime/Downtime is the latest in a series of concept albums from master culture-screwers The Kleptones. Mashups have yet to be recognized by the world at large as art, something DJ Eric Kleptone seems unintentionally intent on changing. Uptime/Downtime is the first of its genre that I’ve heard to be divided by feel and texture instead of by artists sampled. Uptime is Barney Stinson’s ideal mixtape, starting off with a roar and a bang with the Beastie Boys and the Prodigy, journeying through 76 minutes of club-bangers and basement rockers that never let up in intensity for a single second.

Downtime, by contrast, is the first downtempo and contemplative mashup album I’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure that it’s the only one in existence. From “Interlude”, to the beautifully isolated textures of “Resignation”, Downtime is a work of art. It’s an album of such depth and complexity I haven’t heard from people who aren’t confined to using other people’s material. For a DJ to sacrifice club play for 75 minutes of high quality songwriting shows that Eric Kleptone doesn’t simply want to sample the most artists he can in the least amount of time–he wants to write songs that stand the test of time.

#2: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I will always stand beside Kanye West, not because I approve of his real-life actions or just want some entertainment. I stand by Kanye because he makes good music. And there is no better proof of this than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Changing his style of production again for his new album, Kanye has brought an unfinished, painterly attitude to his work. Vinyl crackles through most of the samples, vocals are unevenly mixed–as if daring us to look at the brushstrokes that comprise his genius in action. And to look is to be fascinated with what you see.

Deep undercurrents of dark hatred and self-loathing permeate lyrics that have returned to the standard hip hop imagery of self-aggrandisement. Kanye hasn’t left the themes of 808s & Heartbreak, instead developing them into a new sound that is at once hip hop and far beyond what his peers have accomplished. The frequent guest appearances don’t distract from the album as they should, everyone instead being brought into line with Kanye’s unique vision. Fantasy is an album of such heartrending honesty and emotional nakedness that you can’t help but sympathize with a man who made his own crown, and is now struggling to lift his head under the weight.

#1: Devo – Something for Everybody

Unless you count Stephen Colbert as an artist, Devo are the only artists alive portraying the new nature of America. Sanitized, corporatized, digitized and synthesized in equally outlandish measures, Something for Everybody presents itself as the culmination of creativity by committee. In its twelve tracks, it honestly lists all of the faults assailing the good U.S.ofA. since Reagan took office. Lyrics read less like original poetry and more like a satire of news copy. The music is as harsh and unforgiving as the truth behind it: we are doomed and it is our fault.

The songs rock harder than they ever have before on a Devo album and the lyrics have sacrificed the trademark irony of their early efforts to instead assault the listener with the various reasons and methods by which they suck. Song-of-the-year “Mind Games” portrays a 21st century romance, doomed to failure as human beings are divided by things as inconsequential as gender. Several songs take unorthodox looks at the industrial-military complex, sympathizing with Obama and soldiers/terrorists alike. Devo have captured the first ten years of the new millennium in song, and the result is as frightening and angry as it is hard-rocking and rooted in American Culture like the bacon cheeseburger or gasoline.

There it is. Those are my five. Discuss in the comments section, and see a rebuttal by my friend Dan HERE!