September 2010


Another installment of my series keeping tabs on Mr. Kanye West’s GOOD Friday leaks.

I’m getting this in under the wire, but while there’s still some Monday left, let’s bash this out. First, some low-hanging fruit on “So Appalled” (featuring: Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz, The RZA, Cyhi the Prynce).

  • Who keeps letting Swizz in the damn studio?!? This is one of the dumbest choruses to ever grace a Kanye track ever (looking at you “Barry Bonds”).
  • This is, sadly, the best verse Jay-Z has dropped on a GOOD Friday cut.
  • Was the RZA just chilling in studio when they recorded this or could he not come up with a legit verse?

“So Appalled” is what has quickly become Kanye’s M.O. over the brief course of this serialized mix-tape (I hope most of these aren’t ending up on a proper record): long, sloppy, and so full of promise that, ultimately, disappointment is the only verdict if you haven’t already severely dampened your expectations. “So Appalled” does boast one hell of a beat, like most bombs dropped by Yeezy on GOOD Friday, this time, he drops the soul loops and works out on a slow, tense jam which sounds like a Wu-Tang update. It’s not all about the beat though, like almost every other recent Kan cut (this discussion will no longer include the “Runaway Love [Remix],” it’s not fair to anyone), there’s been at least one truly winning verse, often from a young MC. Nicki Minaj’s frantic verse continues to be one of the only continually listenable portions of “Monster,” Clipse’s Pusha T makes all the waves on “Runaway” and “Good Friday,” and upcoming Antlanta mic-rocker Cyhi the Prynce absolutely kills “So Appalled.” (more…)

As long as Kanye West continues release a new track, care of his Twitter feed, every Friday, on his Evangelical-baiting series called GOOD Fridays, I think I can manage a few hundred words on each new track. (I’ll also include updated rankings of GOOD Fridays releases.) Apparently Yeezy will also unveil tracks from artists on his GOOD Music imprint too, but thusfar, he’s only uploaded his work–personally, I’m looking forward to more peeks into the Pusha T solo debut.

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Black Milk – How Dare You EP (EP of the Year)

1/2

I’ve already raved up and down about Black Milk‘s splendid full-length release (the ever more aptly-titled) Album of the Year, and I’ll try to limit the hype a bit, however, I have a lil’ more to dish about. It turns out, unlike many artists, Black had very few remnants on the cutting room floor when AotY was finished. In fact, he only had, according to a few different sources, a little under nine minutes of false starts and aborted beats/ideas.
On 2008’s totally boss Tronic, Black found a home for these undeveloped ideas by constructing interludes after a few tracks. Granted, it takes a bit of the life out of one of the most exciting hip-hop records of the last five years, but when you’re building your reputation on the back of your beats, showing off a few more ideas might not be a bad call. This time around, for Album of the Year, Milk trimmed the fat and now he’s serving it up, like scraps to a pack of dogs, on this EP. (more…)

I can’t imagine I’ll review days (of the week, month, or year) all that often, but this past Tuesday was pretty epic.

Tuesday, September 14th saw the release of several big-time indie-rock records by the likes of The Walkmen, of Montreal (which I won’t review), Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, Superchunk, and Grinderman plus “urban” flavors from Black Milk and Bilal as well as the indie-alt-country stylings of Justin Townes Earl (how much more great pedigree could he cram into his name?). I realize a good number of Tuesdays could be equally if not more auspicious, but “in a world” where release dates mean less and less, this one seemed to carry some significance, if only for me. Since I’m still unemployed, I have the time to review all of these records. I’ll keep it short to both dip my toes back in the reviewer’s waters and to test the reader’s patience a bit less. All reviews are on a 5-star scale. Additionally, aside from the Black Milk release, I’ve only listened to each album a few times–I don’t anticipate that being the case many times more.

Black Milk – Album of the Year (Fat Beats) 1/2 of 5
Detroit Producer/MC Black Milk brings drums bigger than the Willis (ex Sears) Tower. Milk’s follow-up to 2008’s Tronic ups the ante on percussive creativity, going so far as to add more live drums than some records by The Roots. But it’s no surprise that someone who turned in some of the most idiosyncratically enjoyable beats this side of J. Dilla would continue to push his compositions and production. What is worth noting: Black Milk is slowly shedding his amateurish mic skills. Some verses still come off clunky and awkward, but his lines are stronger and no one, I mean no one, navigates Black Milk’s beats better than he does. Arguably the best dis line of the year: “My shit is Martin Luther, your shit is Martin Lawrence.”
Check out the video for the single “Deadly Medley,” try to ignore the laughably small scrum of “paparazzi.”

Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Epitaph)
Grinderman is Nick Cave and some of his Bad Seeds getting down and dirty, really dirty. Every sleazy, sneering rocker since Carl Perkins penned “Blue Suede Shoes” has been distilled and bottled for your pleasure by this act. Their second go-round, with the very imaginative title, is a bit cleaner on the production front, but even slimier. With Cave’s almost nauseatingly sexy vocals a bit further up in the mix, the creeper come-on’s are more pronounced and the sleaze is more up front. If you thought Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds just needed to have more balls and be creepier, not in that macabre way, than you need to get on the Grinderman.

Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin (French Kiss)
Root for Ruin, only Les Savy Fav‘s fifth studio LP in 15 years, is sharp. Not only is the instrumentation almost mathematically precise, Tim Harrington’s lyrics are also tersely brilliant. There is nothing revelatory on the level of Dylan or drunken literary spewings of The Hold Steady, Root for Ruin is full of tongue-in-cheek anthems. It’s a confluence of the reckless abandon of youth and over-educated word play of a college graduate; the perfect balance of angst and education to get the brother with a B.A. and a sibling still in junior high.

Bilal – Airtight’s Revenge (Plug Research)
Bilal is one of many victims of major labels sweeping up scads of R&B and hip-hop acts looking for the next big BET hit (the same mentality would lead to the ring-tone wars just a few years later). His debut, 2001’s 1st Born Second , was released with almost no promotional push from Interscope who subsequently shelved his follow-up, Love for Sale, which was leaked in 2006. Bilal’s found a home on a supportive indie Plug Research, who not only gave him room to create, but has, with it’s meager resources, actually promoted it. We need to thank Plug cause this is the sexiest, craziest, most startlingly fresh R&B record since Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part I: 4th World War (2008).

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Kanye West appears to have put Taylor Swift and 808s and Heartbreak (2008) behind him. 2010 looks to be the year of The Yeezy. Since Mr. West joined the ranks of Twitter, he’s been unleashing a new single every week to promote his new, as yet untitled, album and his new label (GOOD Music) as part of series called G.O.O.D Fridays. Thusfar, GOOD Fridays has been, at it’s absolute worst, interesting and at it’s best, totally amazing. The other day I bashed out a simple ranking of the singles on my Twitter account, I’ve decided to explain my rationale and review each of the tracks Kanye has put out over the past several weeks.

1. “Good Friday (featuring: Common, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Big Sean & Charlie Wilson)
“Good Friday” is already one of best cuts from Kanye’s eight year (!) recording career. The bottomless beat gets you primed for dancing and debauchery, the silky piano trills and pulses all but slip you into a martini and a tuxedo; “Good Friday” is a love song to a city that knows you’re coming (“I know the city gettin’ ready for me”). Wherever you roll, the jukebox will have your favorite tunes, the tapper will boast the best beers, and, well ain’t that a bitch, your favorite whiskey is the drink special tonight! (Shit makes me miss Iowa City hardcore…)
To the alienated: this is the sound of acceptance. If Charlie Wilson (of The Gap Band) rattling the rafters doesn’t make you feel warm and welcome, you’ll never know what it is to be wanted. If Pusha T (half of rap duo Clipse) just burning down this track–like Frank Sinatra sipping a drink–doesn’t get your blood pumping, you may need a mortician. And the nearly gospel closing, making zealots out of party girls and alcoholics, more than saves the song from Kid Cudi’s juvenile verse. Who needs a drink?

2. “See Me Now(featuring: Beyonce & Charlie Wilson)
“See Me Now” has only one problem: it’s too long. Charlie Wilson spreads his velvety voice all over this track, Beyonce delivers two slamin’ verses, and Kanye has concocted this bouncy, bubbly, string-laden beat; then Ye takes the good will he built up over the first four minutes and rides it for another two. The closing minutes are full of unnecessary vocal acrobatics from Wilson and trifling ad libs and banter from West. There’s still hope: since none of these cuts have been put out in a physical form, edits are still possible. Maybe Kanye will realize the infectious energy of the track could sustain his brand of effusiveness live, but it won’t hold up on record. Keep your fingers crossed for a 4:30 cut of “See Me Now” on his album.

3. “Power”
You wanna find yourself in the good graces of the critical community?Effectively sample one of the greatest prog-rock songs ever (King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man“). Better still, if you’re Kanye, just release a sonic sequel to your breakout hit “Jesus Walks.” Once again, Yeezy has an angelic, military choir backing his beats for a cut that may just lead us marching out of the recession into a new golden age.  “Power” is huge and there’s a reason, beyond the insane video, that this cut has attracted the attention of almost everyone: “Power” feels like old-school Kanye West.
Full of hubris and insecurity, Kanye’s the conflicted MC he once was. He’s aware of the miscues of the last couple years, specifically his out of control ego, and he’s not apologizing for anything, but embracing his fallibility with fucking gusto (“No one man should have all that power”). There’s something winking and ironic about an admission this grandiose, standing on a towering, Grecco-Roman pillar declaring your weaknesses, but that sort of blustering humanity had been his signature for his first two stellar releases. “Power” is the evolutionary step a lot of people wanted after 2005’s Late Registration. Skip Graduation (2007) and 808s and Heartbreak, just move on to “Power” and whatever Yeezy gonna name the new bomb he’s dropping.

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I find myself in Chicago, unemployed (though, thankfully only waiting for a start date), and without an outlet for all my opinions. Since I’m a stranger in a strange land without income, I am often lacking the means to get out and make friends beyond my girlfriend’s circle of well-wishers and acquaintances. I have a unique way of interacting with the world, therefore, I’m sort of an acquired taste. Knowing this, I have been almost endlessly pleasant and quiet for over two months as I’ve met and interacted with her friends. This is not to say that all my opinions are negative (though many can and will be), but I can be very intense, and passion can be blinding and veer off into terrible, offensive territory, or can be perceived as anger. This leaves me then with an audience of one who, to her credit, has listened and discussed quite often, but can only be subjected to so much of my bile and repartee. So I had the realization the other day: what better place to deposit all this bile and misdirected anger than the Internet?!?

What better place indeed. I doubt my audience will be much larger, in fact it may be smaller, but the illusion is all that is required.

I’m not sure what this blog–ew, that feels sort of dirty, I will try to find a euphemism I can tolerate–will be, it may never be more than a repository for my thoughts and barbs. However, I still receive multiple e-mails a day from various PR firms regarding indie music releases, so this may become more professional or clumsily grope near the pulse of something resembling a scene.