[Editor's Note:] Hailey and Jesse are REQUIRED to link this document on their last.fm pages to their social network accounts.
If they haven't by midnight on December 29 (they've pulled this shit in the past) you NEED to email me (email@example.com) and let me know. It's not private so I won't be able to reply but at least I'll see it.
Steven Wilson -
The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
Alan Parsons served as the engineer on this album, making this yet another Alan Parsons Project (Jesse unsuccessfully tries to stiffle his laughter).
But on a serious note: this album will kick your butt continuously for over an hour and you will thank it for the privilege. It is beyond brilliant. This is like America meets Frank Zappa (and maybe a bit of Led thrown in there, but not a dumb amount).
If you've heard of/like Porcupine Tree, none of this should be any real surprise to you. The entire album is a cheap rehash of 1970s prog rock but it does it so well and with such competency that it's hard not to at least give it some credit. Okay, plenty of credit.
The song structures are stronger than anything else that'll be released this year. That's not even up for debate. The instrumentation is absolutely wonderful. It is incredibly varied but still adhering to some pre-established tenets without becoming trite or tired. And for a 2013 album to be over an hour long and not be called tired or dragging is quite noteworthy.
It's really nice to get an album that claims to be 'progressive' (you know, asside from the fact that it regresses into an established sound, but whatever) and not have it become a total circle-jerk. It could have been nothing but an hour of dumb, improv guitar solos (trust me, it usually is) but there are some really genuine moments here. The harmonies are wonderful and pop up just enough to leave you satisfied but hoping for more.
It really does a nice job of exploring the entire prog-rock spectrum. I know that's a weird sentence for millennials to read, considering the entirety of their prog-rock knowledge comes from Muse and trying to tune their guitars without a tuner (usually in the middle of a gif, rite guyz?), but it's true: there are bits and pieces from everything in here.
If you're one of those dumb "REMEMBER REAL MUSIC!?!?!?!?!" idiots, you'll love it. If you're not, it's still pretty fantastic.
Plus the basslines on this make me giggle like a little girl.
Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
Whoa whoa whoa, hang on a second.
Guys, I don't think you get it. The chick from Chairlift makes her voice sound like a saxophone. This is important.
Coastal Grooves was easily one of the absolute best albums of 2011 and it's getting better every day, it will likely end up as one of the most significant of the 2010s.
But this? This? Did he just go and make an album that tops his last one? And it's a sophomore effort (technically, shut up)? Is that even scientifically possible? Well I don't know about all that but, in case you hadn't figured it out by now, this is going to be a positive review.
He has this very 'adult contemporary meets what is this?' vibe to his work and it's just getting stronger and more prominent with every release. Even though this record was built around more collaboration than the last one it still retains the distinct Blood Orange sound. The vocals are soulful, the synths are pregnant, and the drums are so crispy you should be paying extra.
It's nice how it sounds like the 1980s meets the 1990s, but not being overtly-nostalgic with the atmosphere at all. I think it's rather dull and dumb to worship and idealize a time other than the present and this record is a prime example why: the past is meant to be learned from, not emulated. There's no legitimate reason to go back and, with an LP like this, why would you want to?
Is this a better disco album than the last Daft Punk record? Kind of. The 'aft 'unk record is inherently more cohesive, so it gets the nod, but this certainly captures a certain soul more comprehensively.
The instrumentation and general song structure almost feels like a step up from his last album for sure. It has a weird 'tropical' feel to it sometimes that actually works and doesn't delve into a Jimmy Buffett suckfest. It embraces an 'urban' atmosphere, without going into full-on 'weren't black people in the 1990s just the best?' mode. There aren't any generalizations being made here, and that's really refreshing for an LP that takes very distinct sounds like this and mashes them together.
I think the individual tracks on Coastal Grooves were better but this is the better album overall. It has a super consistent sound that compounds upon itself (ugh, why are you still letting me type) and builds into a very strong experience overall. I'd obviously recommend pickin' it up an' spinnin' it er'ryday but you should probably pick up Coastal Grooves first, as it's a teeny bit more accessible.
But let's be honest, it really doesn't get much better than this. It's a prime piece of evidence in the argument that people who say 'there is no good music these days' should be locked in a box and thrown off of a galleon.
The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
If you were ever under the impression that our business model was unrealistically anti-commercial, look at The Knife's, it's more than practical.
For an album to be an hour and thirty six minutes and actually be good, each and every song needs to be phenomenal. And while I wouldn't call this objectively phenomenal, it's pretty flippin' good.
It's like Scandinavian electro-punk, which isn't all too prominent. Most of the instrumentation relies solely on very generic drum loops, which is a terrible idea on paper but somehow actually works in execution.
Lyrically, if you have a functioning brain and speak English, it's not difficult to decipher what political, moral, ethical, and psychological issues they're trying to address here. Whether or not you agree with it is irrelevant, as it always should be. The opinions expressed on Shaking the Habitual should have zero influence on your additude towards the work itself, similar to the situation you might find yourself in when partaking in a bit of Richard Wagner.
Personally, I support dissonance with an enthusiasm only rivaled by European football fans, so this is all precisely my cup of tea and I've gone back for refills more often than I can remember. It's not this century's Le Sacre Du Printemps but it's a heck of a start.
It's hard to willingly recommend this record to people, but that's not a statement of malice. It is easily one of the most wonderful albums of the year and will probably score highly on our end of the year list but it's far too specific of a sound to endorse to an audience with listeners of all ilks.
But make no mistake: it's an incredible album. It may not be for everyone but it certainly wouldn't hurt to check it out. I'm not going to say it's mind-blowingly innovative but you can't call it cliche.
Bonobo - The North Borders
Bonobo tends to be pretty good, The North Borders continues the streak.
It is by no means groundbreaking or challenging, but it doesn't need to be. It's not dancey and derivative either, so it's not like your brain is going to trickle out your ear after listening to it either.
The samples are sort of lazy and the drum work is a little subpar but those are about the only two faults it possesses. Even the near-hour total duration doesn't hold it back, in this case it allows it some breathing room. Note to the kids at home: don't try that, it's not as simple as you'd think.
There are a few chord progressions here that you won't struggle to think of at least fifty other instances that are basically identical. This would be an extreme fault if they weren't objectively superior to most of the chord structures people like to run into the ground. Again, kids, don't try emulating this. It never turns out this well.
It's a really great atmospheric record. Put it on while you're doing something else and it really blossoms into its own. Normally, you should be put to death for giving anything other than full attention to an album on your first listen, but this one is exempt from the standard procedures yet again in that regard.
It's not really possible to say where this sits in his discography, it's just another solid release. Ch-ch-check it out, any of his records really.
Wayne Shorter Quartet -
Without a Net
Hailey's pretty fond of Shorter so I usually try to check up on him every once in a while, which in this case proves to be a worthy habit.
First off, this is an hour and seventeen minutes. That would be a serious problem if it wasn't as cripplingly lovely as it is. Seriously homie, this is the next level.
Orbits is a sonic epitomization of everything I love about music. It's not smooth an unchallenging elevator jazz music. It has a super simple melody that just gets ravaged on all sides by all of the instrumentation. It genuinely excites and warms my heart.
It's a fun approach to jazz, it has more than enough structure but tons of improvisation too. I know what jazz is, I'm just telling you that it's more of an amplified approach to the standard formula.
The audience interaction on this is phenomenal as well. I love the lady, not yelling, but just simply saying, "Yeah" after Myrrh. The audience actually manages to provide a bit of an atmosphere that would be lost in the studio. I imagine they could do all this in one take in the vacuum of a studio (I mean, come on, it's jazz) but I am so glad they took it out and let people's reactions bleed onto the recordings.
But really, when it all comes down to it, Pegasus is something very special. At a little over twenty three minutes long, it's basically a small symphony and a very good one at that. It has absolutely wonderful, contributing, and conflicting movements. It is a delightful ride that you never want to end. It's quality can be summed up in words heard from the audience, "Oh my God!"
Many people are calling this a 'postmodern' album but I'm not sure what they're trying to say by that, except that they don't really have a grasp of the English language. If anything, if anything, it's slightly modernist. Heck, I'm pretty sure the entire concept of jazz is irrevocably locked into modernism. It's not a 'let's see what happens' record, it's a 'hang on tight' record.
But seriously, listen to this for the audience reactions. It's so awesome, a wonderful marriage of music and emotion. I will probably still be listening to this record when I'm older and more wrinkly than I am now.
Hiss Golden Messenger - Haw
You have no idea how much it means to get an intelligent folk release like this. I literally cried listening to this. Finally, finally, it's more than a couple of idiots with overalls or flannel-wearing millennials with acoustic guitars.
Finally. Between this, Fleet Foxes, and a small handful of other disciples of competence, we get actual modern folk.
This is what I've been talking about. This is what it's supposed to be. Oh it's just so relieving. I finally have another modern release to push on you knuckle-dragging Mumford & Sons fans. It's not Iron And Wine fondling a guitar and whispering literal nothings, it's a release that abides by and improves the tenants of folk music.
The composition is flippin' perfect and the song structure is invigorating. The prose and general lyrical content is nothing less than necessary. Even the almost overwrought Christian overtones suite it. This is what it's supposed to be.
None of this 'image' crap, none of this harmless and homologated approach to affecting an audience. This is music that respects your intelligence, a principle that is not utilized by ninety nine point nine billion percent of modern folk and country artists.
I can not put into words what this means. This is it. This is it. None of this Trampled by Turtles crap, we're actually getting something done here. This is important, this is substantial, this perpetuates it's own existence. This, this, is folk music.
This is music that takes on the mountain, and wins. This is clever enough to survive on its own and smart enough not to trust those who can't. This is an incredibly valuable and honorable soldier in the war against deplorable pseudo-genres being propped up by despicable musicians that are comfortable with complacency.
Albums like this aren't just the reason I care about music, it's why I continue to care about living. This music is good enough to support a continued existence. Find the nearest idiot in their twenties (shouldn't be hard to find, they all dress the same) and shove this album between their teeth. This is important music, spread this.
David Bowie - The Next Day
Whoa, it's Duncan Jones' father!
I was going to use the picture of little me wearing my Station to Station shirt but I figured that'd be too self-indulgent (and rather embarrassing due to the context).
Most people like David Bowie so much that they listen to his music all the time. I like David Bowie so much that I listen to Tin Machine non-ironically.
Skipping any sort of gradual escalation: David Bowie is not only the reason I'm in a band, David Bowie is the reason I'm in my band.
Different band names for every release? “Because Bowie.” Different personas for every release? “Because Bowie.” Different style/genre work for every release? “Because Bowie.” My voice blowing out of key any time I get excited? "Because Bowie."
“Because Bowie” became our de facto justification to Jason whenever our intentions were questioned (though all among other, more passive-aggressive reasons, mind you).
I have and always maintain that David Bowie is the most culturally significant popular musical artist of the twentieth century. The Beatles can shove it.
It's to the point where, though I believe that musical preferences are largely irrelevant in a relationship, I could never marry a girl that can't name the best Bowie album (there is only one correct answer).
With all this in mind, let's break down The Next Day.
I have every single Bowie release and I may be in the minority in saying that even his worst work is still interesting and challenging enough to be called great. His work in the 1980s - 2002 period is much better than what his new peers were releasing, as it was still almost impossible to predict his next move, all the while still remaining good.
This is clearly Bowie's best album in quite some time, maybe since Never Let Me Down.
The Stars (Are Out Tonight) is a true indicator of both this album's quality and Bowie's competency as a songwriter. This song makes me all emotional, as it is exactly like listening to Bowie with Jason and Hailey when I was a little guy. There's a brutal simplicity to the composition while his voices jaggedly slices in and out, creating a very real and exciting dynamic.
To be perfectly honest, this is a difficult review to write. I've written multiple reviews for every single Bowie album and his discography, and an album of this quality demands a certain amount of elaboration that I've already given.
The atmosphere is perfect. Bowie's voice has maintained a higher quality than should be humanly possible. The instrumentation takes most of the best aspects of his back-catalogue, both emphasizing and toning these elements down to achieve a very respectable effect.
One thing I can't get over is how cool the instrumentation is. It's hardly complex at all but totally compliments the vocals and lyrics. It's a masterclass of songwriting. If only other artists realized that this is simple music, not the chord-rock they're spewing out.
Comparing it to the entirety of his discography, it certainly is one of his better albums. Best? Not by a long shot. Worst? Never. It is much better than an 'average' Bowie album as well.
Personally, I find it refreshing that there aren't any blatant singles on the record. There's not much worse in this world than a millennial walking around with a Aladdin Sane t-shirt on with only six Bowie songs on their iPod.
Then you have songs like Valentine's Day, where I'm genuinely excited for some media outlet to completely miss the mark and play it on February 14th without thinking anything of it. Bowie, as a lyricist, has never been less than perfect and this album perpetuates that notion. Clever, clever little man.
There's nothing really left to say. Bowie, for anyone with half a brain, has always been synonymous with quality and this album brings the average rating of his work up a little more.
Welcome back, don't be so eager to leave us again. We love you and that is a fact, we love you and that is that.
Phoenix - Bankrupt!
Hey twerps. It's been a few months, might as kickstart the comeback with this one.
I think Alphabetical is a largely underrated record. It's not overtly poppy and the vocal work (at least in terms of mixing) is great.
I think in the large scope of pop-culture, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is going to be the most well-known and 'best' album Phoenix is ever responsible for, and that's not very fair.
I've been listening to the band's work since Alphabetical and I found them to be a decent little outfit years before they did WAP. United is a fun little eclectic album as well. It's Never Been Like That marked a point of maturity in the band that I'm not sure they really needed.
So let's start the discourse regarding this album. How does Bankrupt! stack up against 2009's Album of the Year? That remains to be unseen, at least for a while longer.
Entertainment is a prime example of what is wrong and right with this album. Is it good? Undoubtably. Does it make any sense? Not in the least. What purpose does the Asian-ish chromatic percussion serve? None. It's wasted sound, there's no reason for it to be there. The Blood Orange remix is infinitely better, and calling a rework better than the original work is very dangerous to an album's credibility.
Look, I get it, they're playing with Korean soap-opera motifs. Heck, I even admire them for not taking the super easy way out and playing with k-pop techniques. They deserve to be flogged for going with a 'WHOA-OH-OH-OOAAAA' bridge though.
But, at the end of it all, Phoenix have yet again proved that they are a phenomenal pop band. Mars crooning "I'd rather be alone" over the super jumpy drum track is probably one of my favorite musical moments of the year thus far (admittedly I am behind a bit, sorry)(actually, no I'm not you buncha dweebs).
I remember being very excited when they hinted that they wanted their next album to be more experimental than the others. This isn't the most radical release I've ever heard, but it is pretty bold for a poppy record. I've always been a big advocate of drummachines in an otherwise conventional band setup and Phoenix have very nicely incorporated and improved the technology into their sound since WAP.
It actually makes me smile because in many ways it sounds like more like an advancement from United than a follow up to any of their other works. It has that sort of adult-contemporary rock-pop vibe to it. It's a nice, radio-friendly sound that also happens to be a bit rougher around the edges than its watered-down contemporaries.
It's a rough call, critiquing this album. The melodies are far from unpredictable but it's not like they're strumming the same three chords over and over. Trying to Be Cool is a notable example of this battle between nice and not new. It's a neat little song but it really sounds like it would have had a better home on It's Never Been Like That.
Regarding cohesiveness, this is right up there with WAP as an album with a great tracklisting and flow. It's not a simple collection of singles, the material becomes full of wrinkles when put into the same setting. And we all know that wrinkles add character, something Phoenix hasn't ever lacked significantly.
And boy howdy does the title track rock my flippin' socks off. Absolutely wonderful, people should get married to that song. Ultimately for me, and perhaps you, none of the other material on this album lives up to the pure euphoria that is that song. It's fine though, such was the case with WAP and Love Like a Sunset.
But in all seriousness: I've been listening to Phoenix since about 2004 and they just released an album with a song that could be called one of their best. Their mellow efforts still prove to be the most worthwhile, but the agressive ones are closing the gap.
You can debate whether or not they've always had it, but it's certain that they never lost it. They usually misstep a bit, but only because they can't decide whether to skip or sprint. A great effort from one of today's better bands.
I will probably continue to give Mars crap for occasionally lip-syncing when performing live though. No need for that, mannnnnnnnnnnnnnn.
James Blake - Overgrown
While it's true that I've personally warmed up to Blake since James Blake, I still stand by my review. While that album certainly mastered subtlety, it was a long way off of substance. Did he fix the faults and give us a decent sophomore effort? To say the least, absolutely.
This is what Thom Yorke thought they were doing on The King of Limbs. It's super minimal but completely extravagant. The melody is allocated to the bass, in ways that can only be described as clever and resourceful. It is dangerously close to what songwriting should be.
Everything about this record just screams competency. The production is a billion times better, it is superior lyrically, and the compositional work is leagues ahead of the standard. This is supposed to be the 'norm'.
In a genre blend as simple as his (post-step/neo-soul) it is amazing at how 'different' these songs sound, all while being even more cohesive than what should be possible. If this is what soul albums have become, sign me up.
But really, what's more than impressive is that it's only been about two years since his last album. Not only is that a pretty good turnaround, to improve a billion-fold in only a matter of months is remarkable. As in: worthy of remark.
It's a bit frustrating to hear people shrug off all modern music as being inferior to 'classics', 'oldies', and 'real' music when artists and records like this. Retrograde alone is an instant classic, and its brothers and sisters don't lag far behind.
I'm not going to go out on a limb here and predict our Album of the Year, but I wouldn't be surprised if Overgrown pulls some serious punches and lands near the summit.
M.I.A. - Matangi
Remember back when the NFL, who are totally accepting of endorsing violence, drugs, alcohol, and sex to a young audience, fined this lady for displaying her middle finger? Yeah, good times. Have fun with your country, you morons.
Mathangi Arulpragasam is one of the artists that keep modern music healthy. She is very unique, well-intentioned, and innovative, in a world where having even one of those attributes is rare. She takes 'ethnic' music and puts not only a Western spin on it but an original one. As long as she's taking this approach, she'll be making albums worth listening to (not that if she stops she won't, mind you).
This album is just further proof that she's making better 'beats' than most hip-hop artists these days. You don't even need to go father than the title track to see this, though I would recommend exploring the entire record at least a dozen times a day. She really exploits a wonderful relationship between rhythm and song structure in a way that very few have even attempted. I'd encourage you to applaud but not too loudly, you're going to want to listen to this.
An LP like this is usually what happens when good graphic designers make good music, there's multiple facets to it that simply don't blossom on other standard releases by artists that want to decorate their comfort zone. There are some very adventurous moments here, it's an ambitious record, and it hardly falters. It's going to be very hard to criticize an album that attempts to blaze its own trail and actually appears to be succeeding in doing so.
It is an absolutely stellar album and there isn't a 'best' track on it, that's a very good indicator of quality and cohesion. The atmosphere that it creates and compounds is impeccable. Each song has a different emotional tone but they are perfectly paired and entwined in each other. Just listen to Warriors and Come Walk with Me back-to-back, like they are on the tracklist. I'm telling you, it's like finding faults in architecture. I can do it, but it'd detract from the fact that any missteps this record makes are incredibly endearing and add a whole lot of charm.
More than most albums released this year, it feels like an album made by humans, for humans. Everything is skewed and stretched and contorted to illicit an emotional reaction out of the listener, with no regard to adhering to structure. Which is exactly what music is supposed to be, providing the futility of order through emotion. She knows what she's doing and thank God for that.
Is it a little long, total duration-wise? Maybe, but that's a stretch (hence the italics). Every song is necessary and none of them overstay their welcome or feel rushed or unfinished. Everything is vital and everyone can find something to enjoy in the LP. I wouldn't go as far as calling the total length of the album an issue at all. In fact, I'd venture as far as proclaiming it the most efficient release of the year by far. It's fifty-seven minutes long and each one is completely necessary and worth investing in. Yeah, I know, we're in very unexplored territory here.
Even the lyrics, which little white teenage girls could totally worship are really, really good. She is incredibly sarcastic and satirical in relating modern first world technology to basic tenets of Hinduism. More so than dumb hip-hop artists relating everything to their Jesus pieces, there is actually conviction and intrigue produced when she smashes shallowness with spirituality. None of the songs are about one thing and one thing only, and that is very refreshing, to hear someone who understand the lyrical content is entirely dependent on perspective relative to perception.
I'm not going to call it 'perfect' but it is incredibly difficult not to be completely enamored by every aspect of this album. It is brutally distinct, stands on it's own, and throws some killer punches every chance it gets, with most of them not only connecting but shattering your glass jaw.
I won't call it faultless but I will call it a triumph. You know, another one for Ms. Arulpragasam.
Not just a round of applause, a standing ovation.
Death Grips - Government Plates
“Genre: Rock & Roll”
If you don't consider Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" to be a nice bedtime story, this record probably isn't for you.
We are getting dangerously close to that point where society finally admits that just because dissonance sounds unpleasant doesn't mean it actually is. It happened in the 1910s and 1970s and holy crap it looks like it might happen again. Welcome to the party, leave your comfort zone at home.
Death Grips is just the best, I mean they really are.
Yet again they have completely changed their sound and yet again it is completely unique and competent.
They continue to mix rock, rap, punk, hip-hop, and general electro in the most original and truly experimental ways to such an extent that it'd be a blatantly lie to even suggest that they aren't profoundly and culturally relevant.
People thought that Yeezus was ripping off of Death Grips (even though anyone with half a brain knows it isn't) and how do they respond? With this, an incredibly powerful record that proves that the trio is simply in an entirely different realm. I would love to be pointed in the direction of someone making better music, objectively, than Death Grips.
The production is immaculate, with fistfuls of grit and grime smashing into beautiful pockets of a synth-punk fusion. It is so ugly and abrasive that it just gleams. There is truth to rubbing dirt in an open wound and Government Plates is it.
Each song is very distinct while all standing on each other's shoulders to assemble some incredibly awesome Power Rangers-like super-mech. They each take turns skewing and contorting the entire atmosphere of the record in an insanely astute way.
The instrumentation and composition is sublime, it simply can't be beat. None of it feels even half of a fraction of a percent contrived. The shifts and changes in the composition are dictated by the songs' needs, not the artist's ego. It is ever so refreshing to actually hear someone who actually knows what they're doing.
And Stefen is still a fantastic lyricist and obviously passionate singer. This record won't silence those that complain that they can't understand what he's saying, but that would kind of defeat the point. If the songs preach paranoia, anxiety, and anger then why should he be toning it down at all? If it's supposed to sound beautiful make it beautiful and if it's supposed to sound anxious make it sound anxious. It's just reeking of competence.
Death Grips are cranking out music so fast and at such a consistent quality while still varying their atmospheres that I don't know how anyone can live with being anything but fiercely proud of them. I think I'm going to cry, this is like watching a child grow up and get offered a scholarship while they're in diapers. They are just so far ahead of not only where they should be but everyone else.
I wouldn't call this their best record but it doesn't trot too far behind. Trust me, they've got four unfathomable horses in their stable now and it's a photo-finish every time you try to rank them. Some bands try to raise the bar for every release, and it usually results in a spectacular crash and burn when they inevitably fail. Death Grips has never changed the quality of their release, instead opting for a change in sound and this is what will secure their legacy. The discography isn't bulletproof, it's indestructible.
Though this is raising the stakes for each release. They need to keep hitting these marks over and over again. It'll be tough but they're so far removed from standard methodologies that I think they just might be able to pull it off.
And they gave it away for free, just like the last one. I swear to God, you certainly don't have to like Death Grips but you better respect the crap out of them. They are self-producing and giving away the best albums of the 2010s, that deserves at least a brief head-nod of respect.
Think about this: Death Grips are simultaneously releasing the best modern punk and hip-hop, with seriously notable rock and electro contributions, all in the same records. They are mashing genres into each other so hard that you can hear the collision a few miles away, and they're so responsible while doing it that they wear seatbelts. It's a disgusting, post-industrial tar pit but it's the best spa in the world, bring a towel.
It's not going to win over any new fans but it goes above and beyond proving its worth while still leaving you hooked and wanting more. A fantastic record, easily one of the best of the year.
[Author's Note:] I'm kind of mad that this is the highest we've ever ranked a Death Grips album but that's just a testament to how sucky 2013 was. Seriously. This is the 'worst' Death Grips album, it should be in the 20s or 30s on a normal year. What a disgrace.
But you really should listen to Death Grips, dawg.
Daughn Gibson - Me Moan
I'm not going to lie: I just got back from camping, so the mere concept of listening to music through headphones is kind of blowing my mind. It's like my brain is the music.
But seriously, what is this? It makes absolutely no sense and I love it.
Is this his natural singing voice? It's blowing my flippin' mind.
The song structures are just spectacular. Simply astounding. This guy get it. How is this not a bigger deal? The entire record makes me smile so hard my cheeks hurt.
This is making my head spin. How is it possible to do everything so correctly? It's super original while be incredibly familiar, this is it, right here, this is the golden ratio.
This record is the one David Lynch thinks he's making. It's eery and dark with such a bubbly atmosphere and poppy approach, this is why people are supposed to listen to music. New feelings, new emotions, new approaches. This has it all. It's flippin' weird, man.
Alternative-country is definitely the most applicable genre you can attach to this. It's a fitting score for that episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes on his vision quest. It's so much fun and it's so unsettling and it's just so necessary. I mean come on, there's flippin' bagpipes on this!
Personally, I'm probably going to have to call this one of my favorite releases of the year. I don't know if it's the best though. It's somewhat try hard, not exactly one hundred percent sincere. And it's not that it gets repetitive, it just has a vibe that I'm not sure you're going to want to expose yourself to for forty-five minutes. I mean, if it was me, I'd spend the money and go climb in a dark hole and listen to this until my ears bled, but that's just me. It's not exactly easy listening but it is insanely catchy.
Honestly, the guy is mixing glitch-sampling with dark country music, and it's not even my birthday.
And the lyrics aren't even bad, why do I even have to listen to other things this year?
Get it. Go out and get it. Download it. Don't even think about it. Get a copy for your grandma. Your neighbor. The Mexican selling oranges at the intersection. Don't avoid eye contact this time, no, hand him a CD-R and whisper, "Para usteddddddd". He'll be confused at first, but you're doing good with each copy of this you distribute.
Daft Punk -
Random Access Memories
Well, I suppose this is it.
Let's get the standard crap out of the way before focusing on the release specifically.
I was first introduced to Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo through the notion of them collaborating with Todd Edwards. Back when I was a wee lad, I was constantly listening to Steal Your Heart at the time and wanted to get my hands on any and all 'sample-rock' as I called it.
Jason mentioned that he (Edwards) was working with Daft Punk. I didn't know who that was. Being the man that he is, this came across as sacrilege and he quickly gave me a copy of Homework. As suddenly as he had bestowed it upon me, I fell in love. This was not my first encounter with house music (I was listening to Edwards, remember) but it certainly was my best.
I then asked him for their new album. This is somewhat significant because this technically counts as my 'first' album. Previously, Jason would give Hailey and I a little bit of everything. I did not pay for Discovery but it was the first work by an artist that I asked for myself. When people ask what the first album I ever owned was, I say Discovery, because it was.
I almost blew our cover with my review of Human After All, as the only person on the face of the planet that seems to understand that the title and purposefully anti-polished studio sound might not be coincidental.
If I may speak for Hailey and I, I'll go out on a limb and say that one of our largest initial musical inspirations was probably Daft Punk. Anonymity? Daft Punk. Live show emphasis? Daft Punk. Convection-based electronics? Daft Punk. Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch. But know this, aside from the band, Sexy Defects wouldn't exist without the inspirations of three entities: DJ Shadow, Boards of Canada, and Daft Punk.
Now let's analyze some social implications before we get to the music itself. I know, I know...but we have to get through the thick stuff before pillow fights can be had.
First, and most notably, Daft Punk forswore the use of samples on this album. A very interesting choice, given their back-catalogue, but it is understandable that they would want to take conventions and spin them on their head. What is not understandable is the completely pretentious, arrogant, and all-around self-entitled approach they are taking to express this new direction.
They've spent the past few months criticizing electronic musicians for being lazy and banal with their composition, condemning electronic sampling and repetitive song structure.
Pot, Kettle. Kettle, Pot.
Daft Punk used to epitomize the notion that electronic music and sampling had artistic merit, now they're advocating for exactly the opposite ideology. They have regressed from spearheads of one age to knuckledraggers from a lesser.
They used to be the one musical outfit that one could look to as a positive contributor to the idea that recycling, remixing, and remaking have some measure of artist merit (not that I stand behind that message 100%). Now they have basically adopted the arguments of their critics and let it permeate into their composition.
Will it affect their musical impact? We'll get to that in a second, we're almost there.
On the other side of the coin, Daft Punk are almost objectively correct in completely reversing their stance on artistic creation, as they have truly created a monster and that moster is called 'Modern Pop Music'.
I can not tell you how many times throughout my life I have had to point out to someone that using a vocoder is not the same as using autotune. Sure, it's a novice mistake, but they doesn't mean the party in question has any innocence after accusing an artist of vocal forgery.
I'm pretty sure One More Time ruined modern electronic music in the best possible way. 'If it sounds like a robot, it sounds cool'. Millions of records were sold in the last decade with that mentality. That's Daft Punk's fault and I think they realize it.
What function will Daft Punk's fourth LP serve? Let's find out, now.
It is a very reassuring start to the album, just looking at the tracklist. It's nice to see that they remember their club roots, trying to make sure they match quantity with quality.
You know what? Let's do a track-by-track review, those are always handy.
Give Life Back To The Music is probably the best way this album could open. The human-like vocoder effect provides an amazing bit of foreshadowing/subtext to the themes of the entire work. And the instrumentation isn't super poppy or happy, it's got this nice 'We NEED to party' vibe to it. Again, a very good and subtle way to subvert expectations and preconceived notions away from the rest of the album.
When I first heard the opening of The Game of Love I had a literal and audible "Awwwwwww yeeaaaaaaaaahhhhh" moment. This is what I signed up for. I don't rank Daft Punk albums against each other but this song, at the very least, indicates that it may be a Discovery-caliber release. This is some modern Something About Us stuff right here.
Giorgio by Moroder is an interesting little risk. Don't get me wrong, having Giorgio Moroder narrate the history of his career and the philosophy of music is super nice, it's just a little risky to put before the instrumental. It's an okay song, it's a little dry and repetitive (in a bad way) but at least it takes some interesting turns every once in a while. Don't lie to yourself: it's a fun and nice song but it certainly isn't going to end up as your most listened to track from the record. It's not self-indulgent by any means but it does lack a specific point.
Within really should take you by surprise though. Piano? On a Daft Punk song? It may cushion the shock if you remember that a piano is just an acoustic synth. The track has a really fun vocal melody on the chorus but I'm not sure I understand what they're going for with the rest of it. The vocoder isn't really working here and the lyrics aren't simple enough for them to get away with the message being sent here. But again, that chorus is wonderful. More of a missed opportunity than anything here.
I quite like The Strokes so I was looking forward to Instant Crush (feat. Julian Casablancas) and there is absolutely no disappointment detected in this sector. Hearing his angst crooning through a slight digital effect is such a cool combination. Most of the instrumentation leaves something to be desired. But again, this is what I signed up for, the slow headbangers.
Lose Yourself to Dance (feat. Pharrell Williams) very quickly reminds you that this is an impeccably produced album if nothing else. This is a wonderful track in the vein of what Daft Punk are trying to do: modern disco without simply resorting to rehashes. Disco is mostly devoid of both thought and genuine emotion, it's nice to see someone reestablish one of those ideals, occasionally both, on each track. It certainly feels very Kavinsky-esque while still maintaining that nice Niles Rodgers feel. There's only one thing to be said.
Touch (feat. Paul Williams) is a great example of this weird 'neu-nostalgia' vibe that emanates from most of the music here. It's very Close Encounters of the Third Kind-ish before delving into a weird orchestral-funk vibe. It does lack cohesion though, it's hard to argue against that. It's oh so fun, rest assured, but don't put too much mental stock in it. I love the choir towards the end though.
I'm at a little bit of a loss at how to analyze Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams), seeing as how I (much like millions of others) listened to it a few hundred times before the album was released. I do indeed love this mix much more than the single/radio-edit one, not that this opinion should be exclusive to less than everyone. I was still bobbing and bouncing my head and shoulders listening to it, which is a great sign for replay-ability. They took away the chance for a flippin' synthesizer solo, which is super annoying, but whatever.
Not going to lie: Beyond makes me want to make a Pokemon film and have Daft Punk score it. Again, what I signed up for: this. I'm noticing a trend here, almost like the songs with features are the most fun but the songs without featured artists are the best. Weird, maybe it has something to do with who's name is on the cover. This is top-notch stuff. This is progression from the Discovery-style of music, neu-disco refined. Ah yeah, this is where it's at.
And just listen to the semi-experimentalism on Motherboard. It's groovy and comfortable all while being restless and hard to pin down, it's an absolute delight. Like some of the others, it loses its way about halfway through but it's not like it's torture to listen to.
To be fair, not trying to abuse the phrase, but Fragments of Time (feat. Todd Edwards) is literally what I signed up for, though I probably shouldn't have. Not that anyone should be upset with unmet expectations, but I want my flippin' sample-rock if you're putting Edwards on a track. Yeah, this is nice, but it's not what it should have been. And yes, I'm arrogant enough to say that. This is an audible abortion. It's nice to hear the Digital Love vocoder back in action again though.
Panda Bear certainly made up for Fragments of Time's transgressions with Doin' It Right (feat. Panda Bear). Holy balls, this is what a song is supposed to be. This is perfection. Holy crap, skip the bullcrap and just start pairing Daft Punk with Animal Collective every few years, you literally can't lose. Possibly the 'unarguable best song of the album', no question.
Contact is Daft Punk featuring NASA. Vocals from the Apollo 17 mission are played over super snazzy 1980s synth-rock track. To be honest, it's a bit of a dumb excuse to just play the drums along a synthesizer loop for a while but it really does evolve into a 2001-like wormhole around the three minute mark. And the last minute will probably leave render you a brain-dead vegetable, in the best possible way.
So you listen to it once (probably fifty times) before asking yourself: where does this leave us? Well, let's break it down.
First of all, who ever played and mastered the drums for this album is a hero to our species. They're just incredible. It's not a matter of technical ability but they sound so crisp without being overbearing.
In relation to their discography, it does a more than acceptable job at holding its own.
Lyrically, it's par for the course for Daft Punk. No impossibly deep philosophical theories but just some very simple ideas. Like little kittens playing with yarn, you can't help but appreciate them for what they are.
Composition wise, it's not near Discovery but it is indeed leaps and bounds ahead of Human After All, squeaking out ahead of Homework for sure.
Instrumentally, it's pretty flippin' nice. It's a house record played with standard and mostly convectional instruments. It's not the most original idea in the world, but it is a very fresh take on it.
My only problem with the album doesn't have to do with the music, it deals more with the relentless hype machine the band perpetuated and the stupid populace that bought into it. Look, I'm not bragging because this would be a stupid thing to brag about, but I probably love Daft Punk at least a billion times more than you. Even then, I wasn't sold on this album's advertising campaign for a second.
Daft Punk was never going to be a savior of modern music and free us from the chains of dumb pop. Because, at the end of the day, they're Daft Punk, it's not like they're the most wildly experimental band that's ever existed. They are pop.
I know I can preach this until I lose my voice (or fingers) but please stop not only participating in hype but even believing in it. You people hear about a new album or film or anything and you build it up in your heads to be something that it will never be. Then it is released, doesn't match your preconceived expectations to cater to your needs exclusively, and you have the gall to criticize it.
People are getting so upset at negative reviews for this album, that's a terrible two way street. If people are giving the album terrible reviews, they've obviously fallen victim to hype. If people give a crap about someone hating an album they like, they've obviously fallen victim to hype. It's so stupid and you people do it every five minutes and I mean that literally. It was not fifteen minutes after Random Access Memories leaked that people already moved on to hyping the next Kanye West album.
Again, I know this plea is all for naught, but I'd still prefer to say that I stood on one side of the fence.
Some years produce a record that is objectively better than all of the other music released that year. This is not that record, but it certainly is a contender.
When you break it all down: I am an incredibly jadded and bored music reviewer and I couldn't wipe a big, dumb grin from my face for seventy-five minutes listening to this in addition to the following months thinking about it.
But be careful, I wasn't paying attention when I was listening to it and now I'm pregnant.
[Author's Note:] Here's a fun game you can play with your friends. The amount of excitement (either positive or negative) that someone has is conversely proportional to how long they've been listening to Daft Punk.
Example: If someone says “This is the greatest musical experience that has ever been brought to human consciousness” or “This album is worse for humanity than every genocide ever committed”, they've probably been listening to Daft Punk since TRON: Legacy.
Whereas anyone shrugging, “Eh, it sounds like a Daft Punk album, I like it” has probably been listening since Darlin'.
This is going to sound really elitist but I really miss the days when meeting another Daft Punk fan actually meant something. The fanbase very quickly transformed into a Radiohead-like following with nearly zero credibility. I don't know, wallow in whatever you want.
[Author's Note:] Also, to anyone thinking this album is entirely original, I dare you to listen to an Air album.
Boards of Canada -
One of the very first songs I used to teach Hailey how to sing was Aquarius. One of the very first cover songs we ever did a guitar+French horn+synthesizer rendition for was Dayvan Cowboy. At the very, very first Sexy Defects show I wore a shirt that said 'Bored of Canada'. So yeah, I'm familiar with their work.
When I was younger I used to listen to Corsair all the flippin' time and that's probably the root cause of any brutal anti-socialness I posses. Most super hardcore drug addicts' brains turn into mayonaise after continued substance abuse, the same has probably occurred with my consciousness after listening to far too much Scottish electronica during my mentally formative years.
We're about to get extraordinarily pretentious, don't say I didn't warn you.
Boards of Canada may be one of only entities to ever exist that actually produce art that can be classified as objectively superior. Most music is bound by the health of the civilization or culture that it spawned from, whereas Boards of Canada exist on a basis borderline irrelevant to the rest of the planet. Due to the nature of the genre they occupy in combination with their approach to field sampling and unobtrusive synth work, they are almost entirely original.
It's important that we remember all this. It's never just standard electronic music, it's never just standard music. Whether or not it's a truly seminal record that they put out, it is always worth something. By their nature, it would be very difficult for them to 'sell out' and cheapen the value of their compositions. It's always very pure and viciously effective, like a brick of coke, but whether or not we've received another primo supply of neuron warpers from our Scottish brothers can only be assessed on a case by case basis.
Let's take the plunge again, stick out your tongue and county to sixtyten.
Orange! Yeah, that's right.
I am going to cry so hard the day Boards of Canada stop making music.
They're just the best, I swear. On paper they are nothing more than a dumb, one-trick pony but in execution they're a cloud of winged horses, working like locusts to destroy the very notion of whatever works beneath them.
First off, the cohesion is dumb. BoC albums are supposed to flow like one big song, this has very pointless fades and hard cuts. Nuh-uh, doesn't work. We are very lucky that the tracks are deliriously wonderful to make up for the lack of teamwork going on in the tracklist.
But holy mother of God, these songs. A league of their own, entirely. No one touches Boards of Canada and they have yet again proved that they don't know how to fail. It's incredibly pointless to rank their albums, as they're all far too similar and different from one another, but this certainly is among their best work.
It is unnervingly simple. It is hopelessly and magically simple. It is perpetually effective.
The synth work on this is so 1970s while being so VHS decayed, it's an impossible tightrope that they manage to walk. The percussion work on this may be their best, in terms of production. I don't even know what to believe anymore. It's well-produced, well-mixed, well-performed. Not a blemish in sight.
Atmospherically, it's better than perfect, as per usual. It provides a better mood than most of their other work, though it certainly lacks the immediacy of Music Has the Right to Children or Geogaddi. Seriously, they make better albums than most filmmakers make films. There's a very deliberate attention to the context of the partaker, and that's so rare to get that kind of competency out of an artist.
You get music like this an you turn into a bit of an evangelist. Seriously kiddos, these are some tasty treats. Hop in the van and I'll give you so more. Go ahead and get your parents, they need to hear this too.
Top notch, homerun, wonderful. It's not their best work (then again, what is?) but it is absolutely up to standards only they seem to be able to meet.
[Editor's Note:] It took me a week to cut this review down enough to fit on last.fm. He went on for at least twenty pages and it was all really great but there was no way the coding would work unless I either placed it as it's own feature or cut out 90% of it. Sorry I went with option B (we don't have enough time for option A) but you probably know where to find the full review anyway.
Kanye West - Yeezus
[Editor's Note:] Hahaha...yep. This will be fun!
Let's just say that back when Kanye took the microphone from Taylor Swift and everyone was freaking out, J+H did an entire show of Kanye covers, wearing shirts that said "Mothers Against Kanye West". So yeah...this isn't the first time they've gotten up on the soapbox.
Mentioning anything about Kanye is absolutely the easiest way to get Hailey or Jesse to launch into angry tirade, so their reviews were a bitch to edit. On one hand, they made very good points that make me proud of them as human beings. On the other, they were incredibly offensive and mean spirited about it. So, I edited a lot out of both of them.
Please don't think of this as censorship, it's not. Jesse's review was somewhere in the range of eighty pages and just be honest with yourself: not everyone is going to read all that. They're going to scan it and notice that his language becomes more hateful. That becomes a public relations nightmare because it would be very easy to pull quotes from his review and use them in a negative way with no context of the original intention.
I know this sounds really silly, but it's not. Both of them wrote probably the most angry reviews of their careers (how fitting). It's not that I'm worried about them offending people, I'm worried about the last.fm versions of this, because those are almost context-less. People from last.fm either know Hailey and Jesse personally or not at all, that's a bad situation. These aren't people that have listened to Ones and Zeros and understand that J+H are an authority on hip-hop.
(Seriously, if you haven't heard Ones and Zeros, you should probably find it and listen to it to see why Jesse and Hailey are a reliable voice on hip-hop/rap. "PUT YOU UNDER THE WEATHER, WITH YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUDS/SHE'S GOT INFRA-RED LIPSTICK (PLEASURE), JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT/NO CROWNS ALLOWED IN PRORATION/NOBODY CALLED AND THEY ASKED FOR YOU!/YOU MARKED THAT A MUTILATION? CUTE! CUTE! CUTE!" hahaha)
Jesse went through an incredibly-detailed breakdown of hip-hop, from its roots, through backpackers (the original ones), the ringtone era, and up to today. Hailey broke down advancements in composition and rhythmic structures that hip-hop has given the world. But they both believe in 'objective art' so they are very intolerant of anyone who doesn't at least appreciate a work of art even if they have to disregard their personal opinion.
So here is Jesse's very abridged review. I tried to eliminate as much as I could (for space sake) while still keeping his main point intact. If it's not enough, I'm really sorry, but it's not like you can't fine the entire original document on the internet (HINT HINT WINK WINK).
And last.fm readers, one more thing, don't assume Hailey and Jesse have a Kanye West bias. They don't, trust me. In fact, this is the first time they have ever named one of his albums as the best of the year.
"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." -Mark Twain, because all you little piss-ants just love quotes
All rise, court is in session.
The United States of America vs Kim Kardashian's boyfran.
The Defense, in short form:
Who is the best character in Star Wars? Darth Vader. What is Star Wars about? Darth Vader.
The Defense, in long form:
Booooooooo Raaaaaaadley, come out and play!
Any track that isn't outrageously and upsettingly ostentatious pushes this record to an entirely higher tier than any other album released this year, based on sheer artistic merit alone.
If you do not know who this man is (don't reverse Google search it, you little immoral dolts), I don't want you reading my review. Because you are objectively too ignorant to reason with regarding Kanye West. I'm not joking. Stop now. You are so completely far out of your element that I don't want you embarrassing the both of us.
And also, for white people who like to pretend like they know anything about music just because they like to listen to it, here's a little required reading.
As long as music is being written, recorded, and released, the idea of music having a subjective value to a specific individual will always be a credible ideology. But if we are to agree to that, we are to also agree that West is objectively one of the single most talented musicians of any era he has inhabited.
Let me kneel down and get the kids up to speed: you don't have to like what he does, but you belong in time-out if you honestly think he's anything less than culturally significant.
You people are beyond insufferable. You can't have it both ways. You can't like Doctor Who and hate Kanye West. You need to step back and think about that for a second, because it's absolutely ridiculous. There is something clinically wrong with you. All of you. I'm sitting here defending West, so there's definitely something wrong with me, but it's nothing compared to the condition you people are suffering from (though you do see to be enjoying it, I bet the high horse offers a pretty nice view, instagram it for me).
This is it, this is the last time I even bother explaining to anyone why launching an ad hominem attack on West is an incredibly juvenile and idiotic thing to do. Yeah, we know he's confrontational and brash, but that has nothing to do with his music you dumb idiots. I swear to God, I've been saying the same thing about West records for almost ten years now and you people still think that your opinions are valid simply because you have them.
I, like anyone, am not perfect. One of my many flaws is that I'm a little too judgmental of people. I forget that everyone has their specialties in life and it is impossible to be adequately versed in any and every context-minded situation life could throw at you.
This has gotten me in more than a few...let's call them 'disagreements', regarding Kanye West. If one admits a prejudice but refuses to change or better themselves, they are ignorant. That's a fact. I may be ignorant in ways I'm unaware of, but not regarding music and not regarding Kanye West. So, if I offend you at any point in any review, but more specifically this review, just know that I am incredibly uncomfortable with self-expression unless I am brutally competent in the field/subject of the discussion. So there's just a chance that I might know what I'm talking about in this instance.
Now that we got that out of the way, pop a squat in your booster seat, young blood.
I genuinely feel like people that take a breath to denounce West or devote a single braincell to thinking negatively about him (in an artistic or personal sense) need to exiled to an island north of Siberia. There was a point in time where a negative opinion of West could be tolerated and accepted, but we are so far beyond that point. I don't care about him as a human, he's an artist. 'Person' and 'art' are two different words because they have two different definitions.
Have you ever produced music before? I have and, contrary to the beliefs of every twentysomething sticking their thumbs up their butts and feeling entitled to express opinions about a world they know nothing about, it is incredibly difficult (at least it should be, otherwise you're just contributing to the deafening blandness). It is incredibly similar to painting a painting, or filming a film. There's a thousand more teary nights and months of self-loathing than meets the eye/ear.
We have a serious problem with Generation Y, and I should know as I'm a member. I think the Baby Boomers are arguably the worst human beings that have ever walked the earth, but Gen Y is certainly going to try to contend with their levels of despicableness when they get the chance.
Without the Internet my band wouldn't exist. As intriguing a concept as that is, I would give up everything we've ever done in a heartbeat if it meant even denting the entitlement that Generation Y has wrapped around themselves like a chastity belt of sorts with the advent of instantaneous mass-communication brought forth by the digital age.
Everyone thinks that everyone gives a total crap about anything they could ever say. Think about that sentence for a second, as teenage as it sounds it's not even the least bit exaggerated.
Somewhere, some blonde-headed twenty-whatever-year-old is chewing gum, texting her boyfriend, chatting on Facebook, and listening to this album while watching television. And then goes on any stupid social networking site, expresses her opinion on Yeezus, and thinks that anyone cares at all. And it gets worse: people actually do.
Now don't think you're above this. Change the hair color, gender, add or take away a few aspects of the multitasking, and this is you. Whether you're jacking off over a Neutral Milk Hotel album and climaxing with a "Hold me Arcade Fire!", rubbing baby oil all over yourself with Mumford & Sons playing on your car stereo while shouting, "Adele is my spirit animal!", surgically replacing your nipples with record needles to play Frank Zappa albums in your basement while whispering, "Nobody puts The Beatles in the corner", or anything in between...this is you.
I swear, I've tried to play this every way I can. Politely, professionally, scientifically, none of it works. People still don't understand that subjectivity doesn't inherently exclude objectivity.
Would you argue with a chef about food? No, because you're not a chef. That's their area of expertise. You can't say "this specifically sucks for everyone" because that's not true. "I don't like it, I don't care for it," that's all you can say with any certainty without actually taking the initiative to learn about the respective outlet yourself. But remember, objectivity exists, you little idiots. All humans can drink water, no humans can drink potassium cyanide.
This is why I absolutely can not tolerate anyone on the planet using the word 'taste' outside of describing what goes in your subjective mouth. The words "You have great taste in-" should get be responded to with an instant spot on death row. Too many stupid idiots, perpetuated by the cyber megaphone given to Generation Y, seem to confuse the word 'taste' with 'preference' in the same way that no one under the age of eight hundred seems to understand what 'irony' actually means.
I've cancelled friendships over misuse of 'taste' and 'preference'. Saying the words "You have great taste in-" is arguably the most self-righteous thing a human being could have the gall to utter. You would never say that unless someone else admitted to having preferences exactly akin to yours. You are effectively climbing up on your own pedestal, calling your own 'taste' 'great'.
Let me put this in a more realistic context. You're at a party, talking to a [insert whatever gender you're sexually attracted to here] and they start naming off interests that you happen to share. If you actually say, "You have great taste" you are subtextually saying, "Does my huge/tight, throbbing ego excite your genitals? Because if it does, let's go have self-righteous intercourse and in a few months we can pretend we're both confused to discover how utterly vapid our entire existences are. And then we'll blame each other." Man, relationships are hard.
I've really missed the mark about tying in this whole 'Generation Y'ers are self-entitled dolts' message to this new Kanye West album (which I'll get around to, you know, actually reviewing here in a second).
This is an opinion that actually exists in the world. I'm at the point in my life where I don't trust anyone about anything, because why should I? No one has any idea what they're talking about and yet they still maintain some mystical quota of opinions-per-minute.
Honestly, I don't know a single thing about cooking a soufflé. Nothing at all. Which is why I don't talk about cooking a soufflé. But see, it goes further than that. I should be reprimanded and denounced if I shared an opinion on cooking a soufflé, because I have absolutely no credibility. And credibility is a requisite for discussion and perspective, without any you have none. See, that's what Gen Y doesn't realize: you can throw a fit all you want, but credibility literally can not be an entitlement, its entire existence is based on experiential acquisition.
The point is that first world citizens live like kings, no matter how many stupid protests and fits they want to throw. This has robbed them of any and all context of how the world actually works. This is mostly the fault of their parents' perverse attraction to the immorality of postmodernism, but that's a dissertation for another day and an older audience (no offense intended).
People are beginning to see art as just a process and not a product. I'm in a band, we do albums, and it takes somewhere around six years to get it done. An hour or more to listen to, six years of my life to make. And this isn't for lack of time to make the record, no, this is quality control. I don't want to hear crap so I don't make crap. People don't just fart out paintings, films, records. And if they do, the quality usually reflects that.
Let's do this, let's all take a second to remember that buildings are art. Architecture is an art. It doesn't take five seconds to build a building. It takes a good cathedral at least a few centuries to be built. Yet it takes you fat Americans half a millisecond to take a snapshot on your crappy zillion-pixel camera what generations spent their entire lives to complete just to turn around and fart out, "Hwuares tha neares Starbuks?"
This is not to say that work on something is indicative of its quality. Daft Punk just released their first album in eight years. Do you honestly think, with your fully-functional(?) human brain, that they spent every millisecond of the time between their last album and now working on their new record? And even if they did, why would that make it inherently good?
But people, young people, just don't seem to have any concept of what art even is. Everything is just this 'super-instant-everyone-needs-to-hear-my-immediate-and-undeveloped-opinion-about-a-work-in-a-medium-I-have-no-grasp-of' mentality.
Remember when you actually had to think about things and then decide about whether or not you'd actually verbally tell someone something? Pfffttttt, nostalgia, I know, but that's one process that we need to engineer back into the public consciousness.
People ask me crap like, "What do you think about Kanye West?" and I just go all tunnel-vision and concentrate with every fiber of my being. "Okay, I need to be able to say this with a whiff of brevity but not let conciseness get in the way of competency" I think to myself before carefully and deliberately expressing my stance only to be met with, "I hate him, he's crazy and a jerk."
And it...it just...it just begs the question, "Why do I even exist?"
We coddle everyone's opinion on everything and it has just forced the average value of existence to naught. People will be 'polite' and 'accept' your 'opinion' no matter how much work you put into it, so what's the point? Nothing has any flippin' weight anymore. The scale is broken, this must mean that all of you are correct about everything all of the time.
I wrote a Mumford & Sons review last year and I got as many criticisms as compliments. That's what an opinion is. I took time to actually formulate a thought on something I have been given an authority on and took the measures to properly insure I was accurately expressing myself. People were caught off-guard, both positively and negatively. I got nasty personal emails and awards for it. That's what life is supposed to be, doing actually things that actually move people.
I do this crap each and every time Kanye West releases an album. I have written, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, released, arranged, and performed music so maybe I have a slightly different perspective than most (certainly not all). But I am just so sick and tired of doing this, like there's some sort of incompetence labeled onto me because I defend some guy who is outspoken in an unorthodox manner.
I remember performing stuff before [LP1] and people backstage asking me what albums I was liking at the moment. I'd say Late Registration and get all this, "Really? Hmm, guilty pleasure?" from all the guitards with their six-string-sixties fantasies. I can't even articulate the intense emotion sprung from Hailey when put in the same scenario. We were already dealing with issues of agism at the time (not to mention being hopped up with the amplified hormones and adrenaline that accompany a live performance in your early teens) so these debates usually ended with me saying very brash things that weren't always the most appropriate words for the moment. I haven't gotten much better (she took the much more rational approach of saying 'screw everyone' and refusing to talk to anyone, smart lady).
The fact is that Kanye West is the best modern music producer, bar none. Not a debate. Get your Steve Albinis and Brian Enos out of here. There's a reason why every single release he's ever put his name on is sonically impeccable, he knows his way around a studio. He's worked with a flippin' orchestra before, ya buncha kooks. Do you know who Jon Brion is? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Lyrically, he's certainly not the best but certainly a clever little guy and you'd be an idiot stuck in a pseudo-innocent world to deny it. But in his sampling he brings incredible dialectics and thematics to his work that you, again, must be criminally idiotic to deny.
And ego-wise, you people are idiots. It should not matter, at all, what an artist does outside of their work. Artists are not their work and you idiots need to start realizing that. Back when we did [LP2], I had to be Scott. Jesse, ME, had to be Scott. SCOTT. Now, to the people who know who Scott is, do he and Jesse have anything in common? AT ALL? Exactly. Scott is the anti-thesis of everything I am, because I don't suck up the farts that instruct me that artists have to be exactly like their art.
You like this? Yeah? You do? Yeah, sorry, that means you're an anti-semite because you can't separate an artist from their work, ergo you can't separate the creator from the partaker. If the creator is their work, than anyone admiring it must also share their attributes tenfold.
Listening to Edward Droste doesn't make me anti/pro-gay. Listening to What's Going On doesn't make you anti/pro-war. The art you enjoy should have zero impact on your personal beliefs and if it does I want you out of my country because you are prime evidence that propaganda is effective, corrupting the entire concept of politics more than it already is.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut, while we are on the subject of artists' personal actions, there's not much that Kanye has done that shouldn't be condoned.
Calling Bush a racist for an inadequate response to a hurricane that predominantly affected lower-class African-Americans? Hardly out of line when this is the rebuttal.
Jumping on stage to tell an incredibly mediocre musician that her work isn't universally accepted, especially over more qualified candidates? Be honest, do you even remember the video that beat Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)? No, because you're not a stupid preteen girl that can't recognize a cultural impact when she sees one.
Oh, wait, what's that? He had a kid with Kim Kardashian? Interesting. Uh, quick question: what was the last book you read? Oh, no reason, I'm just really at a loss as to how big of an uneducated waste of skin you have to be to care about something as trivial as pop-culture relationships.
And his kid's name is a thousand times better than your little brat's. Again, what paint are you huffing to make you care about such idiotic things that don't concern you in the slightest? I might name my first kid after the noise a double-blown diffuser on a Formula 1 car makes, big flippin' deal. Oh but what about the kid, won't they get bullied, I feel so sorry for them. Piss off, if the name of a child causes other kids to pick on them, that's not my kid's fault, it's yours. You're the sucky parent, not me. West's going to give that little chick a better life than any parent who gives a crap about names is going to give theirs. (I realize this has nothing to do with anything, lasso me back next time please)
Look, I understand that people don't react well to honesty. Kanye means what he says (when he actually manages to say something coherent) and takes unpopular approaches at expressing his opinions. I get it. But here's the thing, I don't have to agree with something to condone it. I know, it's a super advanced concept to wrap your head around. Once you graduate from fifth grade you might learn that the world is a little bigger than black and white answers to everything.
You people that like Death Cab for Cutie should be ashamed of yourselves. Remember when they pulled that whole 'awareness campaign' for 'anti-autotune', like they're even remotely competent musicians? That's something worth getting pissed off about, musicians with pea-sized comprehension trying to dilute the medium with some delusional sense of purity.
The problem is one of pop-culture. I don't really support affirmative action but have you ever noticed that everyone is white? No, I'm not talking about general demographics, obviously the majority of the country is white. But just look at popular culture for a millisecond, everyone is white. Okay? Remember that.
What is currently the most dominant form of cinema? Super hero movies. Squeaky clean white people with PG-13 problems that find resolution at every turn. They're polite and smart and articulate and witty. Okay? Remember that.
What is the most dominant sub-culture at the moment? Nerds. Big Bang Theory, big glasses, intelligent internet debates, pseudo-literature, dapper dressing. Forget the fact that West helped popularize this about five years ago, he's different now. Okay? Remember that.
What is largest current wave of music hitting the most listeners? Indie-folk. Falsely-earnest, wooden instruments, harmonies. Young, white kids in their twenties. Humility is a virtue, even if you have to fake it, right? Okay? Remember that.
Now enter: Kanye West.
Black guy who doesn't sugarcoat his words, trying to bring an avant-garde approach to trashy fashion. An anti-hero who doesn't seek validation through the normal avenues, who is very easy to fluster into an incomprehensible rant due to unrefined social skills. His music is largely synthetic and, as of now, he is more concerned with pushing the boundaries by giving melodies to what would otherwise be considered 'unlistenable'. All on purpose. Everything he does, on purpose. And he refuses to apologize for it.
Tell me, when did he even stand a chance? This entire situation was doomed from the start.
Let me tell you a little story. Pretend this is from Pixar, right?
Kanye West grew up with a single mother, a university Professor of Literature. She had a history of being arrested for Civil Rights protests, as a child.
He began writing poetry at five years old.
He began rapping in third grade.
He and his mother spent a year abroad in China.
The only foreigner in his class, he was forced to learn the language through his mother's home-schooling as he was bullied by his classmates and teachers in school for being unable to communicate.
Through an administrative error, he was placed back in third grade when he had already passed fourth grade. He would remain two years behind his intended grade level throughout his scholastic career, causing him to become bored and act out.
He spent his childhood designing games on his computer.
His passion for music came from composing music for his games.
He saved up and bought his own sampler from mowing lawns.
He began selling his compositions to other artists while still in school.
He got all A's and B's in high school.
He attended art school on a scholarship but dropped out to pursue a career in music.
He ghost-produced many artists' records, not having his name on the final product or receiving credit.
He was eventually signed to produce for Roc-A-Fella Records. He is almost single-handedly responsible for reigniting JAY Z's career. If you're a young white kid, he's responsible for all the best Jay Z songs you've ever heard.
He was repeatedly denied recording contracts because he didn't fit the gangster image that hip-hop had at the time. Along the fact that he wore pink sweaters and backpacks full of Motown CDs to and from the studio.
He began dating Alexis Phifer, eventually proposing to her.
He was in a near-fatal car crash. Despite the fact that, because of extensive reconstructive surgery, he had his jaw wired shut, he recorded Through the Wire to symbolize his dedication to his career.
He was signed to make his first album and pushed the release date back three times, building the scope and scale of the record on every song.
His mother began working as his manager.
He was told that he'd never get an album with such prominent gospel and Christian themes to sell but it not only charted, Jesus Walks was played in constant rotation in dance clubs for months.
As citizens of the United States wondered why FEMA wasn't assisting Hurricane Katrina victims imediately after the storm, West proclaimed that President George Bush "doesn't care about black people" and pointed out the hypocrisy of the media coverage, " If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food."
His moved to chamber orchestra and string quartet sounds on his second album, producing the only successfully selling album of the autumn of 2005.
A feud eventually developed between West and 50 Cent, both representing different public personification of modern hip-hop. This came to a head when both Jackson's and West's newest albums were scheduled to be released on September 11, 2007.
Designed with stadium rock and classic rock chord progression in mind, West's third album paved the way for mainstream use of electronica elements in music. It shattered sales records and bested the numbers put up by Jackson's album in regards to both sales and critical acclaim. It proved to be a moment in time mainstream hip-hop where turned on its head, killing the 'gangsta' persona required to sell records.
A few months later, West's mother died from complications arisen during a reductive cosmetic surgery procedure, which he had paid for. Welcome to the watershed.
West broke up with his long-time fiancee.
West released his fourth album, a soul record that juxtaposed synthetic drum machines and traditional African drums. Subject matter ranged from grieving from his mother's death to angst from his failed relationship. Reviews were initially mixed but sales rose as did critical reception.
He began dating model Amber Rose.
He was arrested for breaking a paparazzi camera.
He was arrested for a scuffle with another paparazzi member months later.
While she was accepting an award at the VMAs, an intoxicated West took the microphone from Taylor Swift and proclaimed that she didn't deserve the award. This particular gesture generated an immense amount of controversy, despite the fact that he'd done it a few times before and certainly wasn't the first to do so. For most of the world, West did not exist before this point.
He broke up with his girlfriend.
He retreated to Hawaii to quietly record his fifth album, employing mixers in shifts so that he could stay in the studio for up to twenty four hours at a time. Using a dream team of artists and producers, he released the record to unrivaled praise and adoration, eclipsing his previous transgressions in the eyes of many.
He began dating socialite Kim Kardashian.
In 2012, he released a short film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
His daughter was born.
With an emphasis on minimalism and experimentalism, he released his sixth album with little promotion, though it became his sixth consecutive number one debut, earning both rave and condemning reviews from critics.
He scuffles with a paparazzi photographer once again.
He becomes engaged to his girlfriend.
He has won a total of twenty-one Grammys in nine years, become the eighth most decorated artist in the history of the organization (not that this is something to celebrate, but it is always an excellent counterpoint for the soccer moms).
He is one of the top selling artists of the twenty-first century and one of the few to have equal critical and fan reception.
That's all very basic information that even the most thick-headed peasant could learn, let's tie it together in the most respectful way possible.
Kanye West is a very intelligent man but lacks basic social skills. This does not detract from his intellect or excuse his lack of tact.
He was raised in a manner very similar to an Army brat: constantly leaving any friends he could be connect to for most of his formative years. Couple this with the fact of the language and race barrier he was forced to overcome for simple interaction with children his own age and you have a pretty simple formula for social anxiety.
He exists in a world that praises extroverts and exercises in a industry where only that system of interaction can function. As an obvious introvert, he is constantly uncomfortable in the medium that requires a spotlight.
His ability to excel in poetry, programming, sampling, and fashion indicate a high intellect in those fields, along with his grade point average and college record. These are all the ingredients for prodigy, but due to his lack of social skills and basic contrary beliefs, this wasn't allowed to be. And thus, contempt is born.
He was constantly told by every single person around him, outside of his medium, that he wasn't good enough and wasn't going to succeed. Except for his mother, who remained the only constant means of support and moral base for him.
Through every setback, including the literal restriction of speech in the form of his jaw being wired shut, he kept a form of blind faith exclusive to radicalized zealots and actually succeeded. This turned him into his own worst enemy, his strength is his flaw: he wasn't allowed to succede so he began to force the issue. And it worked, teaching him to take what he wants, regardless public reception. His sensibilities were validated and justified. This led to a feelings he'd never felt before: self-esteem, confidence.
At this point, any wall becomes a speed-bump, for better or worse. He changes the 'look' of hip-hop, the general atmosphere, and the entire genre's attitude in just a few years.
And then his mother dies, and he goes berserk.
The only person to ever truly support him, his moral compass, his foundation, and the only source of checks and balances, suddenly disappears. Every single aspect of his personality bounces to every end of the spectrum. He looses all self-confidence but his ego grows a billion times larger than normal. He wants it all and he wants to destroy everything.
Everyone goes through grief, but not everyone is enabled and antagonized by billions of people, with their every move under a microscope.
As his mother represented the only real reality he had ever known, he simply rejects any that don't fill that void. And none are ever going to fill that void.
He breaks up with the girl who hates the spotlight just as much as he does. He begins dating a girl known for excess and with a dangerous appeal. He acts out. It bites him in the butt.
He dumps the dangerous girl and throws everything he has into an album. It works.
He finds a girl that's just as villainized as he is, filling some of his inner voids (as he fills some of her's, right guyz, lol sex jokes so funny such a slut I'm so cool with my witty humor I need to go post this on reddit). This puts him in the spotlight in a way he's not accustomed to, as he's making headlines without actually acting out.
He responds by removing himself completely from his music and creating something of pure emotion. ANGER. LOVE. FRUSTRATION. COMPASSION. He calls it Yeezus.
Suburban white people call him crazy and egotistical for comparing himself to God, because reporting in the twenty-first-century is completely devoid of all context.
West preaches that he wants to be Jesus. Suburban white people call this sacrilegious, despite the fact that the literal definition of Christian is 'Christ-like'.
It's an issue of intolerance of contrary methods of social interaction.
And religious persecution.
And a complete lack of empathy on the part of the American public.
And the whole thing is just exactly why super hero movies suck. The world is not a black and white place.
There is a problem with the world and that problem is Nazism. Nazis=bad, right? Sure. But the problem is that there isn't a black and white definition to the word 'Nazi'.
Was every single German in the 1940s a Nazi? No. But have you every watched a WWII film?
"YEAH, 'MURICA, KILL THE GERMANS-I MEAN-KILL THE NAZIS."
It happens because it's easier, faster, and more acceptable but that doesn't make it right: white-washing. Every single thing in modern culture is 'us vs them'. I'm not going to point any fingers, but this might have been a national overreaction to a certain tragedy where "If you're not with us, you're against us" was actually deemed a civilized train of thought.
This is it people, this is everyone in the world slowly clashing over the debate as to whether cowboy movies in the 1930s were actually a good thing.
And it's not even racial, it's just a matter of generalizing.
WHY is it cowboys vs indians? And WHY is the cowboy always wearing the white hat?
Sure, a ton of people snapped out of their pathetic little fantasy world after Vietnam, but it didn't stop them from raising generations that fall for the same schlock.
This is it people, look at Kanye West right now. He lost his mind after his mother died and he makes incredible music, but that's irrelevant. He is our Forrest Gump, he is the catalyst.
Why will we never solve racism? Kanye West.
Why are we always going to be intolerant of the opinions of others? Kanye West.
Why haven't we evolved past the 'hunter/gatherer, protect the herd' mentality? Kanye West.
He doesn't represent man's disdain for change, he's a product of it. He is the personification and embodiment of everything wrong with everyone. And this isn't something to persecute him for, no, he's just the one holding up the mirror up for you. Whether or not what you see is right or just, don't kill the messenger.
He is, by far, one of the the most polarizing figures in modern history. And he's not even politically significant. Let that sink in. Everyone who denounces him says he'll be forgotten in a few years. Will he? He got almost two dozen Grammys last decade, who's to say he won't go for it again? And even if he doesn't (which he shouldn't), who's to say that his work isn't going to be remembered even more fondly as time passes? I'm telling you, go listen to The College Dropout. It sounds better every day, as do most of them if we're being honest (except Graduation, if we're being honest).
And have you ever noticed that he's a hip-hop artist, yet has also rattled the cage of two presidents? Yeah, let's all keep thinking that his fifteen minutes of fame are almost up when he currently has a monopoly on manufacturing the clocks culture is measured by.
I'll say it, and I'm not even close to the first to say it: Kanye West is a genius. If you disagree, you seriously need to do your homework and read about anyone else ever called a genius. They tend to be absolutely nuts. They tend to have rationality removed from their brain as a way to cope with insane talent. Kanye's a genius, I don't want to hear otherwise.
I think I'm done. I think I've contextualized the situation as much as I need to. Oh wait, just remembered something.
I really don't want to hear any crap about him (objectively) as an artist after the way this album was released. West has become even more anti-celebrity and anti-music industry with this album and he needs to be given some respect for that.
Your favorite artist promotes and whores out the press for their newest release, whether or not your stupid butt wants to admit it. They benefit from interviews, commercials, advertisements, and all that other crap and it's become so commonplace that you don't even view it as the despicable act that it is. They devote time and attention to centering themselves in others' attention and that should be enough to make any sane being vomit.
People act like all these music industry profit tricks are for their benefit, or just 'how things should be'. Everybody's getting pissed on and putting on their water wings, it's infuriating. This isn't how things are in a rational and sensible universe, you Earthlings are not only drinking the Kool-Aid, it's coursing through your corporate-emblazoned veins.
Trust me, you think this doesn't apply to you, it does. You think your 'indie' bands and love of Radiohead save you. They don't. This isn't some liberal 'anti-corporation' crap, it's not. This is some 'anti-money' crap. You stupid idiots, for the last thousand years, have forgotten that money makes art and you're a traitor against your race for even attempting to reverse the order.
And have you ever noticed how defenders of REAL music never really pick up on the fact that Kanye is the most prolific crate-digger of his generation, maybe even ever? I'm willing to bet that in some sort of music trivia competition, West would best anyone that listens exclusively to rock music. Seriously, I listen to a metric butt-load of music, of all eras and genres, and can easily admit that Kanye is ridiculously well-versed in music history. Some, maybe even the majority, of his samples are from insanely overlooked and dismissed records, making him an incredibly ethical musician as well.
Oh, you see that? Yeah, all the classic rock fans just read that and started leaking brain-fluid. Somebody get a napkin, hurry, before they start arguing that he doesn't play any REAL instruments. You know, again. Uh-oh, they're pretending like they know what auto-tune is, hurry!
Here's a fun game you can play with your friends who suck their own farts. Kanye West isn't REAL music, right? Because he doesn't write his own lyrics or play an instrument, you know, like that Frank Sinatra guy, right? Dang, I forgot that he actually does write his own stuff and does play instruments. Well crap...oh but Kanye sometimes uses autotune, right? Cool, so how about you hop up on daddy's lap for a second and tell me what autotune is. Because people who complain about autotune totally know a lot about music, yessiree.
And one last note, please piss off with this whole 'how can Jesse like Kanye West?!?!' thing. It's getting really old. J+H wouldn't be where it is today or what it is today without West. Back when I was teaching Hailey and Charlie how to sing, our first proper cover was of Spaceship. I did the Marvin Gaye sample and West's verse and choruses, Hailey did the GLC verse (beginning the ironic tradition of giving her the 'low' register), Charlie did the Consequence verse, and we all harmonized on the "Heaven knows" background vocals and other points of emphasis. If there's a God, and there's a Heaven, then I look forward to reliving that memory as it's one of my most dear.
Okay, I'm done. I'm spent. You know me (spoilers).
Whew boy, sorry about that, I need a glass of water. I haven't gotten that worked up since the last Death Grips debate. Speaking of which, let's review this before your butts get numb.
Kanye used to be really into spinning an interesting twist onto neo-soul but starting on Graduation he began jumping into a bit more experimental territory, and I'm glad he did.
Let's break out the track-by-track review, this one has earned it.
On Sight really is pretty terrible. It's got this pseudo-experimental approach to it that sounds more like distortion for the sake of distortion than any sort of artistic statement. The child choir interruption is great but doesn't save the lyrics or general composition. What an absolutely horrid first impression. Though, as we learn, it's not to be trusted.
Black Skinhead is one of the best songs Kanye West has ever made. The percussion is insanely simple but works incredibly well on several levels, proving that, at the very least, West isn't capable of inefficiency. The song structure is rather simple as well, but not in any sort of detrimental way. All of the little atmospherics really add to the experience in a not-so-subtle way, which is actually to its advantage in this case. Though, it must be said, the three hundred Spartans were, quite obviously, Greek, not Roman. Not a huge issue though, moving on.
Tracks like I Am a God are the main reason that Yeezus isn't his best album. It's just so pretentious and stupid. Don't get me wrong, I understand the message (I love Jesus so much that I want to be more like him) but the entire track is just so unnecessary. It has this quasi-acid house feel to it that doesn't display any competency at all. And, of course, this will be the track that Yahoo! posts to let their users debate about, "Hey, listen to my thinly-veiled racism disguised as music criticism." The five seconds of Justin Vernon doesn't save this one, why would it?
Bassline of the year is awarded to New Slaves, another one of the best songs West has ever been responsible for. It's chaotic and harmonious at the same time, the percussion is understated, and the atmosphere can't be beat. His message, lyrically, is a noble one as well. It's very 'anti-hip-hop', expressed somewhat eloquently. Then the super harsh transition to the auto-tuned-up-the-butt, semi-soul ballad is just perfect and sets the perfect tone for the entire record.
Hold My Liquor is a tricky little one indeed. Overall, the song isn't really doing much. But, the problem is, that it's actually a pretty decent little track. It loses a majority of anything it has going for it in the second half but boy are those first two-thirds something nice. For Yeezus to be Kanye West's best album, this would have to be the worst song on the album, and it's not. It doesn't really have an overarching statement either which, on this album specifically, means it isn't entirely necessary.
I'm in It is just quintessential Kanye West. It's so ridiculous and slapsticky while still maintaining this aura of professionalism that it almost single handedly makes the entire album shine. It's like four songs in one with some amazing little transitional elements thrown in to separate it from the other tracks. Vernon really, really shines on this one as well. If you were to take only his segment and repackage it as a radio-single, it'd do rather well. But again, this is just fantastic. It's all very clever and efficient. The lyrics? Eh, they're pretty stupid. It's this new 'everything must be sexual' brand of West, while still maintaining some sort of humorous slant mind you, that just doesn't work well at all. But again, if you need proof that West can produce the balls out of any track with completely unorthodox song structure, look no further.
Blood on the Leaves is one of two songs that sound like a mix of every style West has ever dabbled in. I am very very familiar with Strange Fruit. I took a history of rock and roll class back in high school and we had to do a fake radio show assignment where we turned in a playlist of old big-band and jazz songs and I was graded down because I very cheekily nestled Strange Fruit into the setlist between two cheery songs. Then, you know, Tom stuff obviously. So I'm not quite sure why West didn't go with the original Holiday rendition for his sample but this works very well nonetheless. It sounds very much like The College Dropout meets 808s & Heartbreak meets My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and marks a very definite progression in West's sound. This right here, this is why West has cultural relevance. Goosebumps while headbanging.
It's really hard for me to discuss Guilt Trip without some personal bias bleeding into the discussion, because I really flippin' like it a lot. It is nowhere near the best track on the album but it is insanely well done. It feels very Cruel Summer-y (which isn't a real album, by the way) with the super-pitch-altered lead vocal sample, bombastic drums, and shoehorned strings. It has two very distinct halves that work rather well together. Again, another solid, solid song.
Send It Up is decent-at-best. It helps strengthen the overall tone and atmosphere of the record but doesn't really contribute anything unique to speak of. It's another weird 'not built for the club or deep introspection' type of song that doesn't really hold the album back but certainly does nothing to move it forward.
Bound 2, however, holy crap. This is some straight up College Dropout goodness here. It's almost like a sequel to Gold Digger, with Charlie Wilson straight up killing his part. It's a testament to his production abilities that the very repetitive sample doesn't get old, it actually gets even better as it goes on. It's an absolutely wonderful conclusion to the record.
This, his most experimental album yet, hits more than a few exceptional highs but not without the occasional flounder. It provides for an interesting tracklist when On Sight, an abysmal effort, is placed right next to Black Skinhead, one of the best songs of the entire year.
Also, regarding the album's 'sound', it's not Death Grips-esque. It's not. It draws from the entire concept of dub and is heavily reliant on acid house. Not that this is an issue, but just because a bunch of white fifteen-year-olds read Pitchfork and think that any sort of abrasive hip-hop must be attributed to an Mc Ride influence doesn't make it true.
I understand what West was trying to do with this album, but I'm not sure it worked. I get the whole 'pure expression' aspect he was going for, but the overall song structure has suffered as a result. It's not necessarily broken but it does begin to retroactively undo some of the energy harnessed in the moments proceeding it.
The whole 'anti-consumerism' aspect of it provides a neat clash though, there's some honest confrontation here and it should be appreciated in a world where 'drama' is artificially manufactured. Kanye's never really been contrived, so it's nice to see the trend continuing. Contradictory? Sure, but it's a fun conflict to encourage.
It doesn't utilize the huge, grandiose approach taken on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy so we definitely can't mark him down for being repetitive. The features are nice though with collaborations from Daft Punk, Mike Dean, RZA, Justin Vernon, and Kid Cudi providing yet another diverse record in West's discography.
There is a serious issue with this though, and I'm not being a conservative baby here, but the subject matter in West's songs have taken an immediate nose-dive since MBDTF. Every song is just jam-packed with sex and not in a clever or original way. He's not taking an interesting approach to social commentary like on Gold Digger, he's just thinking of clever ways to add 'pussy' to every other line. He's still the most innocent offender but it's getting worse.
I don't know, I feel like the songs that he's started to be responsible for aren't built to maintain relevance like they used to. The College Dropout could be released tomorrow and would still be an incredibly original and culturally significant album. Yeezus, while one of this year's best albums by far, feels like a slight drop in competency. It's all really good but there's hardly any strong cohesion that we've come to expect from him.
But, make no mistake, it is an incredible album and West has extended his bulletproof discography even further.
Deny it as much as you want, but the man already has a cultural legacy. Your kids are going to know and probably respect him, long after he's done making music. I know, I know, it's a travesty and all that, just try to keep it down so the rest of us can enjoy.
His message on this album is contradictory, lacking any sort of elegance or enunciation, he's beginning to suffer from an extreme form of cognitive dissonance, and his sense of entitlement is ballooning incredibly fast...but his intentions are completely pure and honest, making him the easiest modern artist to respect and acknowledge.
"I just think-"
*takes another picture of self*
"-that Kanye West-"
*changes profile picture again*
"-is so self-"
*likes own picture*
*likes comments complimenting appearance*
"Seriously, he has such an ego."
*goes to bed, warm with enlightenment*
Please send check or money order to "Democracy and Mob Rule definitely aren't totally the same thing", 14834 Subjectivism Is Great Avenue, P.O. Box: Your Mom's Butt.
Standard rates apply.
Ask your doctor if being a complete idiot is right for you.
[Author's Note] I don't feel that Kanye West is immune from criticism though, far from it, that's not my point. This is easily his second-worst album, easily. But there's a huge difference between a negative thought about him consisting of “I think the production on his sixth album was a bit rushed” and “He's just such a big meanie.”
People that want to criticize Kanye need to grow up and find more substantial things to find fault with him. Ego doesn't matter, public actions don't matter, criticize the art. Trust me, Yeezus is a perfect setup to pointing out some objective faults.
But, come on, like we aren't going to give album of the year to the album that put this kind of soul on the same disc as this kind of anger, combined them, and actually made it work?
(I swear to God if you don't respect the crap out of those flippin' dogs barking in sync to the percussion, what do you even want art to be?)
[Author's Note:] And as someone who makes films and jokes, I've lost all hope in humanity. Is it any wonder the world didn't understand the satire of the Bound 2 music video when memes are an actual source of joy for the majority of them?
It's genuinely depressing. I have a really hard time approaching comedy and filmmaking and art in general after seeing the general reaction to both Yeezus and the Bound 2 video. It's really not hard to see what they're doing, I thought it was incredibly obvious and very creative/necessary, but no one (relatively) picked up on it.
You people deserve the crappy culture you complain about. You can say that you don't 'get it' but stop insisting it isn't there. Trust me, it's soaked in it.
KANYE WEST ISN'T REAL MUSIC, ONLY CLASSIC ROCK IS REAL MUSIC.
KANYE WEST DOESN'T KNOW AS MUCH ABOUT MUSIC AS I DO, RAP IS ALL JUST NOISE ANYWAY.
ALL RAP MUSIC AFTER THE 1990S IS CRAP MUSIC.
KANYE WEST IS OUT OF CONTROL, HIS EGO IS DISGUSTING AND HE HAS NO CONCEPT OF REALITY AND DEFINITELY DOESN'T PUT ON AN EXAGERATED PERSONA WHEN I WATCH VIDEOS OF HIS INTERVIEWS THAT ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT TAKEN TOTALLY OUT OF CONTEXT. HE SHOULD DIE.
He lacks tact and that will be his eventual downfall, like countless emperors and generals before him, but it's just ignorant to disregard the territory West has objectively conquered.
His mind moves a lot faster than his mouth, he's not very articulate. He's no orator (on purpose, at least). But I'm not going to sit here and pretend like the instances where he remains on-point and brevitous aren't some of the best musical moments of any given year.
Or we could just boil the public reaction down to, “When I don't understand what someone is saying it means THE'YRE the stupid one” and end it there. In fact, let's.
[Hailey and Jesse Note:] We're not saying that all critics have a credible opinion on music, but it is AMAZING how everyone can look at West landing pretty consistently in the top five of all these end-of-the-year charts and go, “Wow, everyone EXCEPT ME is so wrong! WOW, music journalism is so dead!” He really did earn the 'acclaim', stop with the whining already.
And for you five year olds out there: no, as always, we did not put him at the top of the list just because everyone else did. Our album rankings are submitted about a week and a half before most other lists are published. This album has been at the top of the list since it came out and we were REALLY hoping that something else would top it, because although there's no problem saying it's better than everything else this year, it's certainly not 'Album of the Year' material. This thing would land at maybe the teens or twenties of any other year but it just comes down to the fact this was simply a terrible year for music.
We didn't really want to give this 2013's top spot, because it is severely flawed and it's just another minor way to enable and condone West's exaggerated public persona, but it'd be very dishonest to act like this wasn't the most impressive release of the year.
So yeah, the best album of the year is an album that wouldn't be any higher than maybe the 20s or 30s on any other year's list. And you wonder why we're so pissed off.
And don't even send us one flippin' email. What do you want us to do? Really, what do you want from us? You want a Debussy or Xenakis discography review at the top spot? You want us to hold your hand and walk you through parallel harmonies or Kolmogorov extensions? We've been doing this for sixteen years, you think we're just going to put Yeezus at the top for 'fun' or because we don't have any idea what we're doing? Because you're all totally listening to Shabazz Palaces and Henry Cowell all the time, right? Anyone listening to Soap&Skin? Exactly. You people have done nothing but contradict yourselves for almost two decade now and we're done. We're throwing in the towel. No, we're not surrendering, we're gathering ingredients to waterboard your butts.
Art is objective, preference is subjective. Get over it. Grow up. Stop burning down the proverbial Library of Alexandria every time someone says something you don't like or, HEAVEN FORBID, pushes you outside your comfort zone. Just because you don't agree with something doesn't make you right and doesn't make the issue a matter of opinion.
[Editor's Note:] Jesse won a Critic of the Year honor and a grant for this review alone (I didn't want to say that up front and ruin your first impression). I cut out huge chunks of it for the last.fm version, I hope it retained some of the full edition's impact.
He donated the grant funds before I could even ask him what he was going to do with the money :)
If you can, I strongly suggest you read an essay he wrote this year ('Regardless of the Self: The Art of Ego') about the irrelevancy of ego in art. It's a really interesting read and puts pretty much everything in context, it's a good partner to this review.
Fan art courtesy of Kayla B (thanks!)
We can escape the fray/
of this torrid soiree/
for we caught all the carpe/
from the bay of today.
If sabers unsheathe/
we will stub our toes/
on their front teeth/
when it comes to blows.
Take from the young/
and give to the meek/
always biting their tongue/
as it lives in their cheek.
There's no use whining/
as neurons fire no more/
revealing the silver lining/
of this black hole.
-My favorite words from the best singer/worst dancer ever, circa 2005
Well hello there! It was a rather sparse year for J+H, though that's not to say it was boring. Oh hell no. In November, they performed the [Synth Soul Planets EP] show to about six thousand people in Commerce City, Colorado. It was really fucking awesome and you should have been there.
They also, um, hmm, how do I say this? Well, in July, they, uh...
Let's just put it this way.
That's right, as of today, I am proud to confirm that J+H is responsible for [LP4], released to the world on July 9, 2013 A.D.
And now, A TREAT! Last.fm readers, you are not going to fucking believe this, but I actually got you access to the 2013 Junket! It's heavily modified and edited but it's still got a ton of great info and behind the scenes goodness (kind of haha).
Have you ever wanted to learn more about everything J+H has ever released? Ever wonder just how pissed off the world was getting that we were restricting [LP4] downloads? Want to hear the Sexy Defects show or a J+H soundcheck? Then this is the junket for you!
Here's a quick taste of some of the [LP4] reviews contained inside, just so you know I'm not basing the junket on the worst album ever hahaha
(This is the first album of theirs that I've been PR manager for so I'm proud as fuck of them, so you bet your ass I'm posting this shit on a public site hahaha)
The first, from a fellow artist (I can't say which, but you would easily recognize them, they're a household name):
The Conquestial Collective strike again! We're so proud of all of you! From smashing guitars and microphones to...smashing oboes and grand pianos, there's never been a band better at giving the world a well-deserved musical middle-finger. We love the new album and can't wait for the show! Hugs and kisses from your friends in [redacted]! P.S. Please produce our next album? Please? xoxoxoxoxo Next, exerprts from a few from various publications' reviews:
First interview I ever saw of them, with bin bags on their heads. Didn't know what to think of them. That was a decade ago. They're two of the best there's ever been, this new one's more proof of that. Still don't know what to think of them.Mark my words: the key change/meter shift/tonal transition at 3:52 on [LP4 – Track 2] will put this group in the history books, whenever they decide to reveal themselves of course.For the uninitiated: imagine if Ofra Haza, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and John Coltrane started a band. That's a fraction of what J+H is and what they've done with [LP4]. They're the nerdiest people in existence but they know exactly what they're doing and it's NEVER been done before. They mean a lot to people outside of just being a great band, they're breaking barriers and generating a zeitgeist all their own, completely regardless of what expectations are piled on them.If they aren't the dominant figureheads of their generation I don't know who is. [LP1] redefined the idea of an album. [LP2] redefined what it is to be a musician. [LP3] redefined music in general. [LP4] redefines art as a whole. They're indestructible. I remember listening to Track 8 in my first car and it blew my mind just as hard as MSD does today listening with a family of my own in the car. Never faltering, in a league of their own, I don't care how you say it: the kids are still untouchable, now more than ever.The future has been claimed: with [LP4], J+H have clearly proven that their wondrous rise to artistic paragon is not linear but exponential. A collage of the infuriating and the inspiring: more so than any other, it shall prove to be imperishable.My very first exposure was seeing the Fashion Police State music video and it seriously changed my life. I found it on a foreign torrent site and watched it at least a hundred times the first week. It's a few minutes of someone in high heels doing tricks on a skateboard and then spending a little time at the end smashing the skateboard. It was so simple but I had never seen or heard anything like it. The same can be said for [LP4]. J+H have gotten me through some very rough times and this new one is enough to get me through anything.Whoever they may be, they have succeeded in creating the greatest musical work in at least a century. They have invented an entirely new mode, macrophonicism, with music that is as advancing as it is addictive. A very daring and irreverent record indeed.I first met Hailey and Jesse when I was about nineteen after a show (a few thousand people singing along to “where the boys act like girls and the girls act like MEN!” remains one of my most fond memories) and their personalities haven't really changed. Both are still very quiet and nice but you wouldn't know that seeing them live. She turns into an absolute force of nature and he turns into an agent of pure chaos. But then you meet them backstage or at a party somewhere and they are like two big teddybears, blushing whenever you admit your admiration for them and vehemently denying your praise. [LP4] is bold, brave, and beautiful and that's why I know it's their's.Ten years ago she told the world that "rhythm and harmony are the same thing." Ten years ago he told the world "under no circumstance should people be given what they want." For the last decade, from humble garage rock beginnings to leading an international symphonic orchestra, they have not only firmly placed their stamp on music history but with [LP4] they have essentially broken the barrier and produced one of humanity's defining works of art. And the best part? If they ever heard me say that, they'd probably scoff and tell me to "piss off.”Jesse and Hailey remain the greatest collaboration in the field of music. With [LP4] they are now simply eclipsing everyone of not only contemporary status but historical. There has never been a entity as innovative or uncompromising as they while still somehow, at the heart, making incredibly accessible music.The moment when he soothes us with "a writhe, wriggle, and STRAAAAAAAAAIN" before she and the drum and horn sections explode into a thousand bits is all the proof the world will ever need that J+H sit atop the pinnacle of organized sound.The piece is very novelistic actually, with the relentless lyrical prose and leitmotif-esque nature of the arrangements, the listener feels as if they are part of an intense escape from the predictability and traditional essence of music itself. There is some incredibly unorthodox and dangerous work with scales and general tonality present throughout but it not only proves its worth, it actively begins tearing into your confidence in other pieces you may have encountered previously.(...) but this is of no surprise to those informed of their existence, correct? They always been extraordinarily deceptive with the simplicity of the lyrics and extremely moving with the tact of the instruments, [LP4] magnifies this sentiment.
Any example will work, but let's dig up 2008's [redacted] in the interest of time. There is a song on it that uses the word “pickaninny”, which is a term for a derogatory caricature of an African-American baby. This is spun into a relationship with the chess definition of pickaninny, which describes certain movements of black pawns. This is fitted, quite amazingly, to a parable about brown shirt fascists during the Jewish riots in November 1938. This is mirrored and filtered through a what is essentially solipsist argument relating to what can be described as absolute reality. But if you were to ask my son, who loves listening to this song in the car on the way to grade school, he would tell you that it's about ants eating other bugs. And my husband, who also has a PhD as well, thinks it's a love song to the Enlightenment. And they're both right. The lyrics are very specific and detailed, but bound to no one specific interpretation. It is a metaphor plus an allegory multiplied by personification. All in a little over two hundred and fifty words!
And the actual music itself is so powerfully profound. The drum machine is set to a very unconventional 9/4 before slowly increasing to a 13/4 (not counting the numerous but brief meter shifts throughout). Her french horn provides a more commanding bassline than any guitar could. The horn is then cut up into pieces with a controller as the guitar slices through, providing a positively heavenly melody. As the song concludes, we are taken away by the sounds of the piano, as some broken chords fight amongst themselves. With the captivating beauty of his voice along with the perfection of their harmonies, there simply is no reason not to be completely taken by this song.
Remember, I'm speaking of a song that's five years old now, they've only gone skyward since. [LP4] is an unrivaled masterwork.Some begin playing music out of boredom, some for a desire for fame, some for sex, and some for the lifestyle. But J+H was born from spite, and that has made all the difference. They have transformed art into a sport, and they remain undefeated. Our God in heaven, Hailey be thy name. Let Jesse come, and do what must be done. For you so loved the world that you gave your only begotten [LP4], so that whoever listens to it shall not despair, being free of internal strife. Amen.And my favorite two, about the performance in November:
Watching him finish with small, desperate scream and then jump to the big ass tribal drum like a coked-up spidermonkey and bang on it with maracas while she breaks into a brief, speed-of-light solo before lifting her guitar above her head and proceeding to smash it into pieces like it owes her money really makes you think "Hmmmm, I say, I rather do struggle to think of a somewhere else I'd rather be." And that was only the end of the fourth song, little did we know that they'd continue to up the ante, in typical J+H fashion. 10/10 would attend again.If there were ever proof that Hailey should be doing the music for his movies, its the brilliantly nuanced transition from Terra to Mars. And if there were ever proof that Jesse should be modeling for her clothing lines, it's that fucking t-rex dance he does hahahaha
And the last one is something I'm very proud of. They won another lifetime achievement award but this one was the first one I actually accepted on their behalf (it will be a cold day in hell when Jesse or Hailey actually show up to accept an award anymore hahahah). The ceremony took place in Vienna and I would like to share a little piece of what the man who presented the award said about J+H:
There is a notable picture of the girl cleaning the mud off of her shoe with a small golden statue, so I'm sure this honor will fall on deaf ears but it's important that we remain on the right side of history and acknowledge J and H's importance to music. Everyone has a favorite lyric from their music and I would like to share mine. It deals with the turmoil of leadership, but from the point of view of the oppressed subjects, showing that not all situations are as simple as they appear for either party:
“The grass is always greener on the other side, as it's watered with the wharfing blood of the idealist's tide, it's high time we washed the light out of each other's eyes, and cast out our pride, along with the guide. For he's no captain of mine, his bones in the hemoglobin brine, should forge a fine wine, if you'll pardon one's opine, sharpen up and get with the tines, it's a mutiny and it's all mine.”
They could have very easily just have sung, "Heavy is the head that wears the crown" but that would not have been good enough. Or, in their case, original enough. It's not the story of typical rebellion or revolution, they have very clearly taken a contrary and otherwise obscure argument to the entire concept of tyranny vs anarchy. I'll give you a hint: they aren't using the word 'opine' as a verb. To attempt such a maneuver of language is not only a glimpse through the window of genius, but to do so over three chords simultaneously contradicting and complimenting each other proves that the young American organization exists in a phylum all their own, because just as they say, “Being human isn't good enough.” It has been a long time coming but now that they are finally eligible it is my honor and pleasure, on behalf of the International [redacted] Federation, to award J+H the [redacted] Award For Lifetime Achievement.
So click the picture or link below and enjoy the juicy goodness that is the 2013 J+H Junket!
NOTE: You will need software capable of reading .flac flies in order to listen to any of the audio. Jesse and Hailey have a very strict 'only lossless' policy so that's the only format I'm allowed to include.
And NOTE: Unlike last year, both Hailey and Jesse have authorized this information to be made public. Neither proofread it (hahaha, imagine either of them actually reading what people think about them) but I had to submit a super-thorough spreadsheet of everything included. And I received written permission from Jason, Hailey, and Jesse to let last.fm users download a modified version so let's hurry before they change their minds!
And we're done now! That's the end of the list, thanks for reading! Instead of having it end really abruptly before the playlist link down there, I'm going to share two quick Hailey and Jesse quotes that I think are relevant to both the end of their music journalism careers and the revelation that they created [LP4].
Jesse (as Scott), 2008 - “Failure is irrelevant when the results are self-evident.”
Hailey, 2011 - “We're a band, not something important. Reverence is just an antiquated excuse for people to worship themselves through others. There's no honor in what we do, stop pretending like this is noble.”
And, following tradition, here's the latest picture of Hailey or Jesse (depending on which last.fm page you're reading this from in this case). If it's Hailey, it's some pictures I took of her when we were in New York for a few days this fall. If it's Jesse, it's some pictures I took of him after the [Synth Soul Planets EP] show for a school project.
J, circa 2013
Thank you very much for reading. It took me many hours to edit, code, and put all this together and if you've read up to this point it means it was all worthwhile. I hope you follow us to the junket but if you don't: thanks for reading, it really means a lot to me!
Public Relations Manager for J+H
For a sample of each album, click the picture below.