When Kanye West released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy we all heard how Yeezy had taught Chris Rock’s girl a few things. Now, after a two and a half year wait, we finally have our hands on his next solo album Yeezus. I don’t think I’ve had enough time to properly digest this thing and give it a proper review, but it has definitely taught me some things already.
Continue reading for 10 I learned from my first few listens of Kanye’s sixth solo studio album.
Kanye West has always been influenced most by … well, Kanye West. His songs are autobiographical and his inward gaze has been the biggest key to his personal/emotional brand of hip-hop. With that in mind, it’s always fun to listen to his music and find out what’s been going on in the life of one of the most weirdest, most fascinating characters in pop culture. In this case, I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s been going to dance clubs and having lots of sex.
Sure, Yeezus has moments of social activism on songs like “New Slaves” and is clearly influenced by the sounds of punk rock on tracks like “Black Skinhead”, but the two most obvious influences on Yeezus are the sounds of electronic/bass/house music … and sex. Aside from a brief return to form on album closer “Bound 2″, Kanye’s signature soul samples have been replaced by bass-heavy electronic beats and he raps about his penis more than ever. Basically, he’s been going to a lot of elite European clubs with Kim Kardashian, then going home to, uh … make his first child. (Congrats, by the way!)
He named his album Yeezus, titled a song “I Am A God”, and told the New York Times he’s the most influential artist of the last 10 years — but he sleeps with a night light (“Got the kids and the wife life/ But can’t wake up from the night life/ I’m so scared of my demons/ I go to sleep with a nightlight”). It’s this complicated mix of self-glorification and emotional vulnerability that has put Kanye in the position he is today and it’s exactly what makes his music so interesting.
If people all around the world obsessively watched everything you did, made sure all your needs were taken care of, and idolized you as a sort of god-like figure, wouldn’t it be natural to start to feel like a God? I think so. Of course, then you’d go home and have vulnerable human emotions that would clash with this ideal. Having the chance to hear this internal dilema spill out on record is fascinating — and becomes one of the main ingredients that makes Yeezus work.
Chief Keef, Justin Vernon, and Kanye West are on a song together. It sounds like an awful idea for a mash-up that a middle schooler with a horrible taste in music and a brand new copy of Garage Band came up with after drinking too many cans of Mountain Dew Code Red (I know those don’t exist any more but they did when I was in middle school, so I’m going with it). I guess Kanye West is a lot like an over-caffeinated middle schooler in a lot of ways, so the fact that he came up with this makes a lot of sense actually. Anyway… I clicked play with a confused (but open) mind and was completely blown away.
It’s fucking incredible. Sure, Chief Keef sounds like he’s reading the ingredients list on the least interesting can of soup he’s ever seen and you can’t hear what the hell Justin Vernon is singing — but it’s so wonderfully bizarre you I can’t help but love it. If these guys formed a band and called it something awesome like “Chief Bon from the West” (ok, we’ll work on the name) I would probably quit my job, take out a loan, and follow them around the country in my Taurus. Seriously, though. Can you imagine how absurd that tour bus would be? And how awesome the album would be? This needs to happen.
We all know Kanye’s career began as a producer and that he rode those talents and connections with guys like Jay-Z and Talib Kweli to an eventual rapping career of his own. He’s always been obsessed with the sonic components of his music and has a pretty spotless record of rapping over incredible beats over the span of his long career. Until Yeezus, that is. I’m sorry, but the beat on album opener “On Sight” is a disaster. When I first listened to this record, I thought my copy was defective. I understand the idea behind lo-fi music and I enjoy a lot of it but those synths just aren’t enjoyable. I don’t even want to think about how much money went into making something that sounds like a blown out speaker. Sorry, rant over.
Autotune is weird. At first the world kinda loved it (or was at least intrigued by it) so everyone and their uncle’s evil cat jumped on the bandwagon and drove it to the ground, leading to songs like “Death of Autotune” and millions of self-righteous music fans who use autotune as a scapegoat for all those successful radio-friendly studio musicians with little talent who get by with pretty faces and fancy studios that make them sound at least halfway listenable.
At the end of the day it’s just a tool, though. A tool that can still be used by talented musicians to craft interesting art that wouldn’t be possible without it. At this point I only know of one artist who can actually do that successfully — but that artist is Kanye West. After the uneven reaction following autotune-soaked 808s And Heartbreak, I never thought he’d return to the autotune — but Yeezus is full of it (and it works just as well if not better than it did on 808s). The pitch-shifter enables him to use his greatest strength (emotion) in ways he wouldn’t be able to otherwise, creating an opportunity for an admittedly horrible singer to, well… sing. At the very least, any tool that can turn a this-sounds-like-the-worst-idea-ever on paper (the Chief Keef/Justin Vernon collaboration) into an album highlight is worth using — but only if your name is Kanye West.
I didn’t see this one coming. Leading up to its release, we heard this album would be inspired by the sounds of punk rock and dancehall music — but no one said anything about random Jamaican dudes yelling through “I’m In It” or Kanye shouting confusing lines like, “I hit her with Jamaican dick, I’m the new Shabba.” and “How you gon’ be mad on vacation? Dutty wining around all these Jamaicans!” I’m so confused. Is Kanye Jamaican? Is Kanye’s dick Jamaican? Does he owe the Jamaican government money? What’s happening???
Remember that time you broke your Mom’s favorite lamp and had to spend like three days easing her into the idea that she’d never see her favorite lamp again before she actually realized that the lamp was broken and she’d never see it again? Yeah. I feel like Kanye’s been doing that to with his whole career. First he pissed off the world when he grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift, then admitted to being a douchebag on MTV, decided to dress up like Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, and now…? Now?!? He named his album Yeezus and no one is surprised. That’s fuckin’ crazy.
On paper, this should be a pretty awesome time for Kanye. He’s in a seemingly happy relationship with the mother of his first child (who was born two days before the release of Yeezus) and much of the backlash from the whole Taylor Swift ordeal has faded. Judging by the scowl that’s been stuck to his face for months and the dark, gritty aesthetic of this album — he’s still mad about something, though. It could be his disgust of modern culture and the circular self-fulfilling stereotypes of his peers. Or he could be holding on to anger surrounding the media backlash following the Taylor Swift incident and anytime he interacts with the world (which is mainly through his music now that he’s decided to be relatively tight-lipped) his message is fueled by that anger and frustration. Regardless, it’s a natural progression in the emotional evolution of an emotional man — and it’s all sorts of entertaining to listen to. I’m not mad about it. Sure, for the sake of his general well-being he could probably use to cheer up a little, but for the rest of us it makes for pretty interesting music.
At Governer’s Ball earlier this month, Kanye went on a rant about his position in the current music landscape (probably the least surprising thing in the world, but whatever). The most interesting quote was his perspective on radio: “Honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more. Honestly at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records.” At the time I sorta digested that as I do the senile old man who comes into the coffee shop I work at and rants about the same things seven days a week. Then I listened to Yeezus and realized he was right. None of these songs will ever end up on the radio. Kanye was serious.
As he’s proven throughout his long career, this guy can churn out Top-40 hits in his sleep — but he intentionally made an album of weird, abrasive sounds that would confuse the hell out of his audience. There are multiple reasons why this could have happened: Maybe it’s his habit of reinventing himself every album, his seemingly biological need to shock the world, or maybe he just loves his music to the point of not wanting it alongside Miley Cyrus’ recent emotional breakdown that she decided to call a song. Regardless of the reason, he intentionally made an album that’s hard to digest. He didn’t fall off or lose his magic. If you don’t hear any of this on Hot 97, it won’t be because he failed. In a weird way, that’ll be the biggest sign of success for Kanye.
Every point on this list leads to the same thing: Kanye West has reached the rare point in the career of a pop superstar where he can actually do whatever the hell he wants. He’s moved beyond the stage of needing to please record label executives. He could put out a CD packaged in the same clear plastic jewel case that your little sister uses for her mix CDs, full of abrasive music that sounds nothing like the stuff his fans have grown to love, and it will still sell a ridiculous amount of copies. Actually, that’s exactly what he did — and I love it. One of the most inventive artists of our time has all the resources in the world and the freedom to do whatever he wants with them. That’s amazing.
As much as I hate to admit it, over the years I’ve come to view the word “experimental” as a synonym for “unlistenable” whenever I hear it used to describe a band’s sound. To a lesser extent, the same is true for anyone claiming to blend the sounds of indie rock and hip-hop (am I wrong?).
Thankfully, Scottish trio Young Fathers just smashed through that stupid wall of close-mindedness I’d built up around myself with an inventive album called Tape Two and a beautifully unsettling music video for album opener “I Heard”. Taking advantage of an ominous production style that draws from too many genres to mention as well as the talents of vocalists who appear just as comfortable coming up with unique melodies as they are delivering precision raps, Young Fathers is one of those rare acts who deliver on a promise of uniqueness. Their innovative style is enough to jolt jaded bloggers like myself out of our annoying broodiness to realize that everything hasn’t already been done by now — reminding us that there are exciting artists out there using all these new tools and influences available to them to create art unlike anything we’ve ever heard before.
More importantly, their brand of experimentalism isn’t just listenable — it’s surprisingly accessible and immediately enjoyable. I was hooked after listen #1 of “I Wonder”. Watch the music video and a couple of my other favorites below, stream the project here, and pick it up on iTunes here.
Kids with toy guns, creepy old clowns in cowboy hats, and piñatas.
That’s the only way to turn one of the most useless things in the world (lyric videos) into something awesome. Seriously. When’s the last time you saw a lyric video and thought, “Oh man! I’m so excited to READ! I don’t want to watch something entertaining. I don’t trust myself with listening to these words on my own. What if I hear it wrong? I just want to READ!”? Actually, that’s probably happened before, but whatever.
Lyrics are for sketchy karaoke bars where you forget the lyrics to your favorite song because you ran into one of your old high school teachers who bought you too many Dirty Shirley’s and now you need help getting through “Who Let The Dogs Out” (that’s totally a hypothetical situation that definitely didn’t happen to me in real life by the way). Anyway, I’ve always thought of lyric videos as a lazy substitute for actual entertaining videos. Until today, that is. For their new single, AWOLNATION took an awesome music video and overlayed lyrics so you can sing along karaoke-style in your underwear while being entertained by an old man catching on fire at a kid’s birthday party. Genius.
After an eleven day hiatus from blogging due to the alternate reality that was Sasquatch Music Festival, I really wanted to return in a blaze of glory and share an awesome mix of songs for you guys. In between new episodes of Arrested Development and frequent naps, I put in work on a playlist that I was fairly satisfied with. Then I came across “TRACK ADDICT VOL. III”, a mixtape put together by buzzing electro-pop duo MS MR that was full of awesome new pop music from a bunch of artists I’d never heard of — and it completely put my dumb little playlist to shame. So instead of sharing my mix, I’ll hand it over to the professionals.
I have a terrifying feeling they’re pushing aside the middle man (myself) and that my place in this whole music discovery situation is becoming obsolete because of things like this, but I have to share anyway. This stuff is too good. Stream a couple of my favorites below before you dive into the entire stream, and download it all for free with one easy click right here.
The Neighbourhood have been releasing songs about California since they first grabbed our attention with “Sweater Weather” last year and lead singer Jesse Rutherford’s background as a solo hip-hop artist has never been a secret. Those influences had never jumped to the forefront of a song quite like they do on new single “West Coast”, though. The song features tight hip-hop drums, a laid-back whistle that’ll remind you of “Gin and Juice”, and is clearly influenced by California’s rich hip-hop roots.
Rutherford flips the traditional “everything is wonderful here” vibe that we’ve grown to expect from indie bands who write songs about the sunshine state and instead throws in more realistic lines like “I’d say it’s happy here / but it’s depressing” and reminds us that “this California shit is rigorous / they say it’s happy here / happiness is figurative / I’m happy because of me / doesn’t matter where I’m living”. Can’t argue with that.
Maybe it’s because he’s a genius. Or maybe it’s because every time Kanye West steps on stage, there’s an unpredictable feeling that at any moment shit could hit the fan and we’ll witness another famous “Kanye moment”. Either way, it’s always worth paying attention whenever Kanye shows up on live national television — especially when it’s to release new material.
Last night he dropped by Saturday Night Live to perform two new songs off of his next album (rumored to be called Yeezus) and both of them carried dark, defiant vibes. These are definitely not obvious radio singles, but at this point in his career he doesn’t really have to play by the rules anymore. At this point he can do whatever he wants and we’ll all still pay attention. Even if you don’t enjoy these songs or you think Kanye is a self-centered douche who takes himself and his art way too seriously, you have to appreciate his ability to create the feeling of an ‘event’ whenever he steps on stage or releases new material — and whether you agree with the lyrics or not, you’ve gotta appreciate that they’ll inspire conversation through controversy.
Anyway, watch Kanye perform “BLK SKN HEAD” (a song clearly inspired by punk music) and the politically-charged “New Slaves” below. I’ll update this post with CDQ streams/downloads when they’re available.
Milky Chance has a name that’ll make middle school boys laugh and a voice that’ll make you cry. (Sorry, that was my attempt at a clever opening sentence – I think I’ve been reading too many ‘How To Be A Journalist’ books). Anyway, Milky (maybe I should just call him Chance?) is an artist from Germany who’s working on releasing his debut album Sadnecessary on May 31st — and if the songs we’ve heard so far are anything to go by, it should be one of the better albums of the year.
Chance’s stuff is rooted in the sounds of folk music, but it almost takes on a modern EDM structure as rhythmic acoustic guitar riffs mingle with steady bass thumps to form pulsing backdrops to his weathered vocals. Check out a few songs from the upcoming album below and look for Sadnecessary in a couple weeks. You might have to order it from a record store in Germany (no word on a US release yet), but the extra shipping should be worth it.
Today I came home from my embarrassing day job, sat on the couch, and opened my laptop to do what has become second nature over the last few years: look for new music on the Internet to share with you weirdos. At this point, I’ve worked out a pretty efficient (and totally nerdy) system of sifting through the intimidating daily stream of new music to find the good stuff without too much hassle. (Hint: Reeder is your friend). Even with these tricks, finding anything worth sharing just doesn’t happen sometimes, though.
Today was one of those days.
I spent three hours listening to hundreds of songs recommended by bloggers I have a lot of respect for, but for some reason nothing jumped out and grabbed me. This had to be something wrong with me, right? It wasn’t like all the talent and creativity was just sucked out of the world on a random Tuesday, leaving me with nothing worthwhile to listen to… right?
When I finally clicked play on a song called “Cherry Lips” by Australian rockers Loon Lake, I had my answer: There was totally something wrong with me. I’d become a fuckin’ music snob. All day I’d been listening to a bunch of music that was undoubtedly worthwhile but had passed it up because I was taking it all too seriously and was looking for specific sounds, ignoring anything that didn’t fall into my stupid set of made-up requirements. You know, typical music snob stuff.
Then Loon Lake came through with a song about ‘putting cherry on your lips and shaking your sexy hips’ that shook me out of my funk and reminded me what life was like before I became an annoying music snob. Even though the song was everything I had trained myself to hate (glossy radio-friendly production, surface-level lyrics, etc.), I found a big stupid grin on my face as it played through my speakers. The song reminded me of all the corny bands I listened to in high school and all the careless fun I had listening to them. I remembered what it was like to put on a record without thinking about deeper meanings, feeling the need to dissect every little flaw, or worrying about how listening to something sorta corny might detract from my carefully guarded sense of ‘music taste credibility’ (whatever that even means). I remembered what it was like to take music for what it is — and in the case of Loon Lake, that’s providing the soundtrack for a really good time.
So I turned it up a little too loud and danced around the room like a complete idiot. My cat looked at me kinda weird — but other than that, everything turned out great (my cat’s super judgemental and mean anyway). My brain didn’t rot, I didn’t suddenly become a huge Justin Bieber fan, and my friends still think I have a decent taste in music. Actually, I probably have a better, more well-rounded taste now (and my weekends will have more appropriate soundtracks too).
Hear “Cherry Lips” and two other Loon Lake songs that just soundtracked my awkward dance session below.
Contrary to the words inside the parentheses above, I don’t think everybody wants to be a cowboy. Actually, I think most people would like to be anything but a cowboy — because most people are lazy (or they’re like me and are terrified of being associated in any way to Tim McGraw). People love to romanticize being a cowboy, though. We love the image of a badass guy riding through a pasture at sundown, free of the heavy restraints of society. We love the idea of independence and the thought of feeling so relaxed and free that we’d be able to just roam around and whistle to ourselves.
As Bon Iver proved over the last couple years — everyone also loves sensitive guys with angelic voices and outdoorsy appearances. With the release of Lowing’s new song “I Will Wait For You (Everybody Wants To Be A Cowboy)” those two worlds finally collide through two and a half minutes of awesome handclaps, acoustic guitar, soaring vocals, and whistling. Catch a stream below.
After listening to this crazy song from French experimental psychedelic indie pop band Niagara, I really wanted to sit down and type out a detailed write-up describing all of the awesome things that had just happened in my headphones.
Then I realized I had no idea what the hell just happened in my headphones. There were definitely ukeleles and what I’m assuming were human voices — but besides that, everything else collided to create a bizarre (in the best way possible) song that I’m finding difficult to describe. I usually subscribe to the thought of “less is more” and am naturally attracted to more simple, minimalistic songs… but in this case, the complexity is where the magic happens. Get lost in the weird sounds of Niagara below.