Never Better from P.O.S. was my album of the year from 2009. That was a time of incredible flux for me, when I was trying to make life decisions that I knew would have far-reaching effects. I found the realistic themes of Never Better to be particularly uplifting as I sorted through them all. I owe P.O.S. for providing some refuge during that time, so I really wanted to give We Don’t Even Live Here a fair shake.
But its late October release date posed a problem. Year-end lists are a fun way to look back, but in reality, it’s hard to give an album that has stood the test of time since February the same kind of attention that I give to that which is immediately in the player. Late fall releases are easily overrepresented because they are novel or, conversely, slip through the cracks, not to reemerge until sometime in spring. I find I'm forced to be more cautiously objective than usual.
Which is kinda silly, really. After all, New Year's is just another tick of the clock, right?
Anyhow, even after the release of We Don’t Even Live Here, I had intended for The Roots’ brilliant concept piece Undun to kick off this year’s Top Twenty list just to show how great my year in music has been. Both of these albums are incredibly creative hip-hop offerings, but their artistic success comes from different angles. I still genuinely love and respect the maturity and overall statement of Undun, but We Don’t Even Live Here crosses boundaries between electronica, rock, and hip-hop with an adventurous, organic flair that I just couldn't ignore. What other hip-hop artist out there is releasing live videos with two drummers and a synth hook that could put Miike Snow out of business?
There is, however, an unfortunate, nagging feeling that We Don’t Even Live Here isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, which kept it in the lower half of the list. It seems that P.O.S. made an effort to consolidate the eclecticism from Never Better into something more succinct and perhaps widely accessible. This is understandable and perhaps respectable, but in my opinion, Never Better benefited from its broad variety. While P.O.S. has not compromised his sincere, anarchistic, and often thought-provoking stance, We Don’t Even Live Here doesn't seem as instrumentally broad as its antecedent. It is, however, musically stronger than virtually all of the hip-hop I hear (Death Grips notwithstanding).
What I don’t want to do is get into a Soft Bulletin/War of the Mystics standstill with We Don't Even Live Here, which is conceivable since Never Better was such an influential favorite for me in 2009. Even at the cost of Undun, I feel pretty justified in including P.O.S. in the top twenty. For one thing, The Roots enjoy a pretty high profile right now, while P.O.S. remains a relatively underground innovator. I feel that it is my responsibility to advocate for him if for no other reason than to widen his visibility. Don’t misunderstand, though - my rationalization for putting We Don’t Even Live Here in the top twenty doesn't come from a sense of obligation. It stems from the strength of the album’s fierce musicality and playfully anarchistic ideology. It is a great hip-hop album that really has only one major fault – it follows what is for me a phenomenal classic.