Monday, December 26, 2011

BEST OF 2011 - #10 - THE ROOTS "undun"

I've heard people describe The Roots' undun as kind of being their Kid A or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I don't quite agree with that: it's not as difficult to get into as Kid A, and it doesn't mark a radically new direction like YHF. Although it does have it's very different elements: the second track (the first real song on the album) "Sleep," sounds unlike what The Roots have done before. And the LP ends with a suite of very interesting songs, starting with Sufjan Stevens' "Redford." It's not The Roots covering the song, it's actually a recording by Mr. Stevens.  Odd choice. It then goes into "Possibility (2nd Movement)," "Will To Power (3rd Movement)" and "Finality (4th Movement)."  The last three parts are instrumental and veer from classical to jazz.  You would have no idea that they were from a Roots album if someone played them for you cold.

According to the band, undun is "an existential re-telling of the short life of one Redford Stephens (1974-1999). Through the use of emotives and Redford’s internal dialogues the album seeks to illustrate the intersection of free will and prescribed destiny as it plays out ‘on the corner’. Utilizing a reverse narrative arc, the album begins as the listener finds Redford disoriented–postmortem–and attempting to make sense of his former life. As he moves through its pivotal moments he begins to deconstruct all that has led to his (and our own) coming undun." As a middle class white guy who grew up in, and lives in, the suburbs, I don't feel like I can address the subject matter (and the last thing I'd want to do is be a clueless white guy trying to address how things play out "on the corner").

What I do know is that there are great songs on the album: I especially dig "Kool On" (featuring Greg Porn and Truck North), "The OtherSide" (featuring Bilal and Greg Porn) and "Stomp" (featuring, yes, Greg Porn).

I like that the band doesn't bother with big name producers or huge celeb guest MCs, there's a real consistency on the album.  But I don't understand why they use other MCs (like Greg Porn, Truck North and Big K.R.I.T.) when they have the guy who is probably the best out there right now, Black Thought.

Of course, I kind of always root for The Roots: they're one of my favorite groups, and their last album How I Got Over was one of my favorite LPs of last year. (I prefer that one to undun, but I still obviously think highly of undun). And I definitely enjoyed Questlove's "snark that can no longer be tweeted about": his decision to cover Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" when Michele Bachman was on the Jimmy Fallon show.  I actually wasn't totally comfortable with the "bitch" part, I thought that Joan Jett's "Little Liar" would have been a more appropriate choice. But funny as hell and on point, nonetheless.

Anyway, this was a really ambitious album (but also is shorter than 40 minutes, making it digestible) and I think they deserve credit for doing it.

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