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July 7, 2013

You know, I don't even know why I bother "critiquing" music when I have masters like this out there to contend with. It's really discouraging. But with such differing opinions on the quality of Kanye West's latest work, I figured I should at least try to counter his position. And a precursor – if you're considering reading my review in lieu of actually listening to the album itself, close this window now. And if this page isn't a window, it's a tab, first of all, don't be a smartass. Second of all, close this tab now.

Opening with "On Sight," Kanye quickly drops a line that should be heeded as truth throughout the album. Asking "How much do I not give a f*ck?," he immediately replies "let me show you right now for you, give it up" and the electro background cuts entirely in favor of a wholly clashing Holy Name of Mary Choral Family sample. He also gets some of the vulgar and offensive lines out of the way early so that there are no misconceptions, like "Ye's gone soft" (begging to "get this b*tch shakin' like Parkinson's"). But another underlying motif emerges early on – that of Kanye's act being polished here and truly "On Sight."

"Black Skinhead" rocks a huffing beat reminiscent of Depeche Mode's gasp-driven "Personal Jesus." A tribal drum beat contributes to the overall BIG feel of the track, wherein Kanye admits to being "devoted." "I Am A God" doesn't rely on subtlety to express feeling, and by the end of it, the listener is likely no longer in question as to whether Kanye is indeed a god of rap. Come on, the album is titled Yeezus. What were you expecting?

"New Slaves" was for many their first taste of Yeezus, and it represents the album quite well. With a twangy bassline similar to "On Sight," "New Slaves" speaks something to the effect of society's slavery to commercialism. Whether entirely on point or otherwise, it's message is feasible at least at surface-level. And sporting another bizarre outro sample and the line "Ya'll n*ggas can't f*ck with 'Ye," the track is not one easily reprimanded.

For length's sake, I'll only comment on the heavily produced autotune vocals of "Hold My Liquor," and their fitting contribution to the overall "unholy matrimony" of darkwave and hip-hop. "I'm In It" features rasta-style vocals courtesy of Justin Vernon against another dark bass backdrop. Easily the most memorable and disturbing moment on the entire album comes at the 2:30 mark, but I'd like to note that it's best heard in context (of the full song, at the very least).

Now, the Nina Simone sample prominently featured within "Blood On The Leaves" has gotten plenty of press, but the punchy and powerful horn melody merely confirms a longstanding belief – Kanye KNOWS drama, and while "Guilt Trip" can hold its own no question with its haunting piano backing, the track (and the album) really hits its stride almost exactly halfway through with more hysterics in the form of a string ensemble and KiD CuDi's heartbreaking contribution "if you loved me so much then why'd you let me go?"

Another memorable sample, Beenie Man's "Memories" makes an appearance in "Send It Up." One of the more heavily journaled aspects of Yeezus is its numerous unusual samples – the likes of which I intend to spend a full afternoon looking up their origins. Closing on a high low note, "Bound 2" cries "I know you're tired of lovin', of lovin' with nobody to love," in a moment that seems to lend itself well to Kanye's life, whilst serving at the same time as a fantastic sing-along moment – cut short by the recurring "uh huh honey" sample which adds some matrimonial comfort and setting.

When all is said and done, you might not be a better person for having heard Yeezus, but at least your Kanye-hate will be somewhat more educated. The album is, at the very least, an "instant classic" and in this critic's humble opinion, an innovative, yet antique masterpiece.

June 29, 2013

With the intention of penning my own opinion of Kanye West's latest effort, I dug into some previously posted reviews on Amazon.com for context.

Now, the views of the following piece do not necessarily reflect my own (which will be posted in due time), but I thought they were worth sharing. And so without further adieu, I present "Not One Of His Greatest Albums In My Opinion - Sorry ... :-(" by Amazon Feedback Person, as originally posted on Amazon.com.

"Like everyone else , I have all his other album releases on CD in my music collection. Kanye's attempt to go into a different realm of musical direction really makes this album unusually awful for me to listen to personally. I don't know about anyone else. I'm sorry that I don't like it. I like all his other albums better. Seems like a lot of rappers these days like to use that talk box robotic voice musical device too much & try to be too creative & unique to the point of over doing it. I don't like this album completely. I'm sorry to say. It's mostly because he rhymes the same single words over & over again in one sentence in ever song, not using any other available rhymable words instead of the same words over & over again & it gets annoying to me to hear. I believe he needs to find other alternative words to rhyme instead of being steady with the same word(s) to rhyme with over & over again for several rhyme sentences or versus in a row. This is not the Kanye' I know when it comes to his other more creative & well thought out & planned album releases. I know Kanye' can do better than this. I don't know what Kanye' is thinking in this album , but it seems like he doesn't know what he wants to say from one rhyme to the next because he seems to keep using the same words to rhyme sentence after sentence. It makes me wonder whether he wrote the rhymes he raps in all of these songs on his album or were they all freestyled & came out in a pressure cooker type of unpreparedness when the rhymes were said. I have heard better Kanye' West albums. Maybe his next album where he goes back to rapping the way he did in all his previous albums would be more suffice & more appropriate rather than trying so hard to go into such a completely different direction of sounds & beats. I thought I was listening to drum & bass music rather than rap. The two types of music don't go together , drum & bass & rap music. Not at all. I hated the mixture of the two types of genre. I only like all of Kanye's other albums. Not this one unfortunately. I sure wish he would go back to the way he rapped in all his other previous albums before this one. They were all better than this album for sure. That is where I know for sure his comfort zone is. His original rap style. In his other albums he never rapped the same words 3 or 4 times in each sentence in a row like he did in this album & on pretty much all the songs. He was very reptitive. Kanye' has made better albums. I will pass on buying this album altogether. I hope he goes back to his usual rhyme style & skills in his next & further future released albums. No offense to any Kanye' West music fans. I am one of them , but I have to be honest , I know that he has recorded better rhymes , songs & better albums than this one. Sorry , no offense to Kanye' or any of the other mutual fans reading this. Thank you."

I don't even know where to begin with this one...

I guess I'm just thankful the author didn't fall short where Kanye apparently did - you know, by SAYING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

And then of course there's my personal favorite: "I only like all of Kanye's other albums."

*sigh* Everybody's a critic...

June 23, 2013

The Limousines return this year with a follow-up to their sparkly-eyed, dream-deferred debut Get Sharp. Now, I might be a bit biased by the fact that I'd already loved the band and their frank view of the world (from "Very Busy People": "there's crusty socks and stacks of pizza boxes making trails straight to the bed / and when we're done sleeping, we'll stay busy dreaming of the things we don't have yet"), and my having contributed to the creation of the new album via their Kickstarter campaign, but damn!

Opening with lead single "Love is a Dog from Hell," The Limousines deliver a true-to-their-roots, long-time-fan-satisfying single that sets slowly like the sun on a warm summer's eve. Singer Eric Victorino's endearing, smoker's voice tells a tale of love lost which will populate much of the remaining lyrics: "I remember kissing you back then / we cupped our cigarettes against the wind / and when the rain began to fall, we pressed ourselves against the wall / in two square feet of heaven all our own." This single in and of itself sells the entirety of the album.

"Stranger" recalls the band's early internet days with the line "I wanna love you in real life," and begins the descent into darkwave which much of the album's remainder can be classified. "Bedbugs" makes it blatantly obvious by its vocal-centered mixing that Victorino's lyrics are not to be missed ("I could lie and tell you we could still be friends, but you know it ain't true"). They're poetic enough to be considered art, but forthright enough to understand and relate.

"Fool's Gold" and "Haunted" are two stand-out tracks on a stand-out album, the former featuring a sax solo reminiscent of M83's instant-classic "Midnight City." "Haunted" incorporates a chime(?) melody that is hard to describe, but easy to link to. I'm an English major, and yet words escape me.

Now, It's entirely possible to get hung up on these first five songs and thus never finish the album, but I wouldn't recommend it. The second "half" is nearly as good.

"Little Space" incorporates some hip-hop hi-hat samples that are just about the only thing one can identify that might not seem at home on SiriusXM' 80s on 8 station. The synthline of "Undercover" is catchy AF, while "Wrecking Ball" and "Scream Please" sound like they could be 30 years old – but in a good way. An iconic sample in the final half minute of "Scream Please" is impeccable. "GRB 09042" may just be filler, but it connects the preceding and following tracks well enough that it's function as an interlude is just.

"The Last Dance" features more of that aforementioned hip-hop hi-hat, and a simply mesmerizing bassline, and "Gimme Control" seems to be an unconfirmed synthpop rendition of Ratt's "Round and Round." Is it bad to say it's better than the original? No? Good.

Finally, I'd like to make a timely (at least now), but very soon to be outdated reference: a very fitting outro/title track, "Hush" is the ultimate supermoon theme ("Hush little wolf, don't bother howling at the moon, because the moon can't hear you").

So all things considered – Hush is pure magic. One listen through and every song is committed to memory. After that, don't hush – feel free to sing along!

Pro-tip: Build a playlist of this album, Capital Cities' In a Tidal Wave of Mystery, and Empire of the Sun's Ice on the Dune. Put on "shuffle, repeat all" for the perfect, endless summer soundtrack.

September 4, 2012

Sporting a substantially more provocative album cover than 2010's Tourist History, Two Door Cinema Club's sophomore effort picks up where their debut left off, but seemingly in search of a more mature sound. Sadly, the terms "Two Door Cinema Club" and "mature" don't seem to meld well.

From the beginning, it's apparent that the band may be trying just a little too hard to live up to the expectations of fans, and it shows in the album's more calculated, yet somehow less fluent ascent. The stimulating electrobit melody of "Next Year " does not follow suit with its less-than-nourishing chorus, though does lead to a more satiating ending culmination. The light hi-hat of "Handshake" eases the listener into dreamland, but the later bland drums actually work to tense the situation. The track seems to be at odds with which direction to take: optimistic or overcast, finally settling for mere dull. The funky bassline of "Wake Up" is fitting for when the dynamics pick up, floating back and forth between reserved and rock.

More funky guitar and bass interlaces with trumpets in "Sun['s]" step in the right direction, and "Someday" returns to the more eclectic and fast-paced pop of their previous works, though all Beacon's preceding lack a sense of urgency and angst that pushed listeners to jam along. "Sleep Alone" is a highpoint with its driving percussion pace and semi-catchy chorus. Lyrics reflect darker motifs as singer Alex Trimble observes "he knows that they're just ghosts, and they can't hurt him if he can't see them." The ethereal guitar alone is enough to put this track ahead of the pack.

The phenomenal female accompaniment of "The World Is Waiting" may lead listeners to wish more of the same is to come, backed by a 5 o'clock somewhere guitar melody. But those wishes go unfulfilled over the course of the next 14 minutes. "Settle" is the last track worth attending, and suggests we may have to settle for a dramatically gentler second entry in the TDCC catalog. "Spring," "Pyramid," and "Beacon" bring up the rear, making for an effective end to an album apparently meant to lull adolescents into deep slumber.

Not exactly what one might call a "sophomore slump," Beacon does have its moments, but they are scrubby as a result of a more calculated and mature chic.

Go Download: "The World Is Watching (with Valentina)," "Sleep Alone"
Coming Soon: Imagine Dragons' "Night Visions"

August 28, 2012

Being a longtime fan of Anthony Green's perfectly pacifying, yet shrieking expression, one can imagine how anticipatory of the new album I've been. I can honestly say that Violent Waves delivers, but sadly it ain't no Papa John's at the door. Clocking in at just over 55 minutes, the album sounds off as an instrumental soundtrack to an ethereal space battle action movie, only there's something missing – the action.

"Birth of the Economic Hit Man," the album's 7-minute opener is cold and calculated, respectable and relaxed. Populated by an anthemic, but restrained chorus, prominent bass lines drive the ballad-esque build-up to an ultimately unsatisfying finale. "Sharp Practice" opens with beastly guitar work, but quickly devolves into another low-key power-ballad that's so close to being good, it's depressing.

"The Lottery" promised influence by Geoff Rickly of Thursday-fame, but lets down in his brief features. The math-driven leads were not even fun to try and follow, and the song itself hints at a sluggish continuance of track after tiresome track. By the time song 5, "My Only Friend" rolls around, the listener is frantically searching for something to fill the void of eagerness that the album leaves. I suggest throwing the album on as background noise, because otherwise the listener will be zoning out worse than me renewing tags at the country courthouse.

"Phantasmagoria" had potential from the very first chord, but the following progression is awkward and anxious. The groovy drum accompaniment is one of the track's only redeeming features, before the wholly unmusical "Think Of Me When They Sound" kicks in. This pretty yet petrified piece may have been single material, were it not followed by another minute and a half of excellently excessive outro.

"Bird Sounds" doesn't sound anything like the sounds birds make (it's much less enjoyable), and the final two tracks string out in a perfect build-up to the inevitable power-nap the album will induce. Fans should do themselves a favor and stream this sleeper before buying, as they may be unpleasantly surprised.

Go Download: "Phantasmagoria"
Coming Soon: Two Door Cinema Club's "Beacon," Imagine Dragons' "Night Visions"

Follow Elijah Kampsen on Twitter here.

August 20, 2012

It would be a stretch to say that the fourth studio album from acclaimed electro-punk outfit Bloc Party, appropriately titled "Four," has "a style all its own." Influences, whether acknowledged or otherwise, seem to play a large role on the album, but they're not what one might classify as good role models.

Opening with prominent drum-work and a melody that's about as infectious as an NCD, "So He Begins To Lie" sets the bar low, in order to build to an epic finale I presume (incorrectly, I might add). Sporting a sort of grunge throw-back feel, but laced with classic Bloc Party chic, longtime fans will likely not be disappointed, but I propose that the same can't be said for new listeners. System Of A Down could've easily made a guest appearance on "3x3," which isn't necessarily a bad thing, though the "no means no" call and the sexually-charged "yes" response are thoroughly awkward to listen to with any relatives in the vicinity.

"Octopus," the album's first single, appears to have been mixed by a very bass-inclined producer, as the vocals are in effect drowned out by mildly interesting band chorale. The chorus is significantly catchier than anything preceding it, but the "Thunderstruck"-style guitar solo, while impressively analogous, seems out of place. "Real Talk" sounds like what I imagine Radiohead getting into a fight with OK Go and losing would, but a little more bland than such an actual event might be.

"Kettling" seems to draw from Incubus' grimier moments and Hoobastank's less radio-friendly efforts, and it was at this point that I began to notice a pattern. It appears the record was heavily influenced by late 90s/early 2000s radio-rock which, if you recall, is not exactly a time period worthy of remembering; it was a dark time for rock and not particularly anything I want to relive. "Day Four" features alluring guitar in its final moments, but such final moments seem to drag out a bit too long, and "Coliseum" opens with a sort of western style which was "kind of working, I guess," but quickly devolves into truly dull, straightforward rock.

"V.A.L.I.S." had potential to turn the album around, but the percussion accompaniment is less than moving, and "Team A" sounds like a third take on "Octopus."

Now, I could go on with similar comments about the closing rock anthems ("Truth," "The Healing," and "We Are Not Good People"), but I'd like to save us both some time and sum up the final moments quickly. Much like the whole of the album, its concluding numbers are not bad per se… They're just not… good…

Go Download: "3x3," "Octopus"
Coming Soon: Our Last Night's "Age Of Ignorance"

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