This year in review is going to be a little different than my previous ones. As always there’s tons of discussion about whether or not 2015 was a good year for music, always a fun discussion, but for me the answer is unquestionably yes. New albums by a lot of my favorites, including Susumu Hirasawa, Echolyn, Rip Slyme, Magma, Glass Hammer, Dan Deacon, Flynt Flossy, Todd Rundgren, They Might be Giants (twice!), and Datarock (sort of), among other stuff I’m a fan of, like The Tangent, Dam-Funk, Steven Wilson, Sons of Kemet, Towa Tei, The Orb, Sufjan Stevens, The Black Dog, Beardfish, Battles, IZZ, and Squarepusher. Among several others I can’t remember right now. Now none of this is making the year-end lists, except of course the Sufjan album. Sadly I’m not really able to make a list myself, as there’s just been so much good stuff that I haven’t really been able to digest it all, not that I’ve been able to the last couple years either. I have no clue what my “album of the year” is going to be and probably won’t until we’re well into 2017. It’s just been that sort of year. So instead, I figured I’d put together some disparate thoughts on a few albums I’ve listened to this year and call it a day. Year end lists are kinda dumb anyway. So let’s get started:
Swagger: Flynt Flo$$y is his own favorite rapper
When the Quietus asked their writers for their top ten songs of the year, I put “Naughty Farmer” at #1. Not because I wanted to give a much-deserved shout-out to some of my favorite dudes in the biz right now, but because according to the iTunes play count feature, “Naughty Farmer” was simply the song I listened to most this last year. I also put “Treat Me Like a Pirate” on the list, and had this album not been released after the list got sent in, I might have included a few more. Don’t get me wrong; 2013 was a really terrific year musically. But none of it has yet inspired the sort of full-on addiction that these guys do.
To put it bluntly, Turquoise Jeep makes the kind of music that should be on the radio in 2013. They have distinctive voices, write tunes with great hooks, and are funnier than a thousand Lil Waynes. They’ve already conquered YouTube and become a successful touring act, but they have yet to really enter the public consciousness. Part of this is their insistence on doing everything themselves; they don’t license their music nor have they signed with a record company, so if you want to hear them you have to either go through their YouTube channel or get one of their digital releases through Amazon or iTunes – there is no physical product. Though this approach has likely hindered them commercially (how much money would Jeep Riders blow through playing these songs on digital jukeboxes? Christ, I’d be in for a fiver every night…), it does allow them the freedom to do basically whatever they want. I mean, for starters, nobody really knows who they are. Group photos show them looking half like a hip-hop collective and half like a group of superheroes; a few members wear plastic masks, and their leader hides behind sunglasses and a cartoonish moustache. In an era where we know too much about everyone, this is refreshing; we don’t know their real names, we don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know what they do when they’re not being Turquoise Jeep.
Still, it only feels like a matter of time before they stumble upon some sort of commercial breakthrough. Their first album, Keep the Jeep Ridin’, features a number of truly classic tracks, but had a sort of rudimentary feel to it, like the bedroom production that it probably was. You could have slapped the “novelty rap” label on them after “Stretchy Pants” and “Let Me Smang It” came out, but not so much anymore. Their songs are still liable to make you burst out laughing (as I did many times listening to this) but they don’t really do punchline rap anymore. In fact you could argue that they never did – their best lines aren’t exactly quotable (“I like to mix it up/I like to do stuff” is the one Yung Humma line that gets me every single time, even if it doesn’t look so hilarious on the page). Their rhymes are arguably more clever than ever, but they’re more subtle this time around. It’s worth mentioning that their videos (which are really where it’s at with these guys) are probably better than ever now – check out the one for “Taste You Like Yogurt” and tell me that isn’t the most confounding music video you’ve ever seen. But for a group that made its name as an internet meme, a lot of this is played rather straight.
This is actually a fairly risky move; once you get that novelty tag it’s hard to shake it off. But Turquoise Jeep can and do back it all up. All six members (including newcomer Moonrock, who adds a welcome female presence to the group) are considerable talents, and their production has gotten a lot more sophisticated in the last couple years, with a full, club-ready sound and multiple vocal overdubs. These songs have gone from dudes rapping over a Casio beat (“Stretchy Pants”) to modern, chart-ready singles – all 12 of these songs have a lot going on. The fact that they sound so professional makes the bizarre stylistic choices stand out even more; things like Slick Mahoney hitting a high note on a song’s very first line (“Crotch Rock That, Girl”), Whatchyamacallit belting out “nipple rings” on bridge of “Taste You Like Yogurt” (and for that matter, Flula Borg’s pronounciation of “yo-gort”), or “Return the Favor” making so many sexual metaphors out of musical instruments. Who can explain this stuff? This is what the Jeep does.
None of this is really worth analyzing; in fact Turquoise Jeep songs tend to make less sense every time you hear them (“Shuyamouf” from the first album is the best example of this). I mean, just look at that album title – what the hell does Existing Musical Beings mean anyway? Was their existence ever in doubt? They do have a tendency to get stuck in your craw, though. One of the nice things about having a rotating cast like this is that it gives you to use different permutations on every track, allowing every song to be its own thing. That’s important; both Flossy and Humma have their own distinct style but I don’t know if either of them could carry an album by themselves. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; you have to imagine Turquoise Jeep like the cast of Seinfeld, where focusing too hard on any one character is probably a bad thing (in this analogy Slick Mahoney would definitely be Newman – he doesn’t come around much, but he knocks it out of the park every time). Either way it allows Flossy to mostly stick as a guest rapper, which he’s excellent at, and gives more versatile guys like Whatchyamacallit and Pretty Raheem some more time in the spotlight. Most importantly it leaves you wanting more of everybody. In particular, Pretty Raheem just owns everything he touches here – the closing track “Fire Love” is about as good an imitation of ’95 New Jack Swing as you’ll find.
Of course there isn’t much point referring to this as a de-facto album, since it’s not really designed to be listened to as such. I remember being somewhat disappointed when I found out that my favorite Jeepjam “Why I Gotta Wait?” wasn’t on it, only to realize how stupid that complaint is in this era, when you can download it from anywhere and just append it to the album. So let’s look at Existing Musical Beings for what it is – four songs that you should own anyway (“Treat Me Like a Pirate”, “I Want Pie”, “Taste You Like Yogurt”, and “Naughty Farmer”) and eight new ones. Of those, the new Slick joint is my favorite (“Crotch Rock That, Girl”) – true story, I put this song on repeat for about half an hour before moving to the next one. It’s that good. A lot of these songs require a ton of swagger, which the Jeep does not lack – Pretty Raheem is one of like three dudes I can think of who could pull of a tune like “Nasty While I’m Ashy”. That tune also benefits from some excellent vocal harmonies, which also carries songs like “Three is Not a Crowd” and “I Want Pie”. The more club oriented tracks don’t work quite as well (“Make Me Sweat”) though it may be because they’re messing in the area that they nailed so perfectly before with “Did I Mention I Like to Dance”. Moonrock’s feature works pretty well (“U Gotta Work”) though I feel she’s still kind of searching for her niche at this point.
As for the lyrics, a lot of them are quite disgusting, but when you’ve spent the last four years of your life coming up with new ways to tell girls you want to have sex with them, I guess you kinda have to start mining that area. The best lines are the ones that come out of nowhere (i.e. “Girl, I wanna gobble that cobbler”) though like always it’s all in the delivery. Most of the lines that aren’t overtly sexual tend to be a little confusing (“Not-good at geography/but I know where you will be”), but they do at least get the meters right.
Anyway, this is really not an album band, but that didn’t stop me from making this my 2013 Album of the Year anyway. Quite a feat, considering its December 22 release (or, a total overreaction on my part). Most likely, you start riding the Jeep by spending an hour on YouTube devouring all their videos, then download the tracks later when you find yourself wanting to yell things like “You a freak, girl!” while you’re at work. I mean, talk about replay value; these are songs you want to repeat right after they’re done playing.