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Record Reviews


Kanye West

Meg's less-talented brother, Jack, once said something about breaking unicorns into little pieces to make them more digestible. That same logically flawed approach to dieting can be utilised as a theory of compartmentation when attacking complex subject matters. Here's eleven (it's a perfectly meta, un-round number) points on Kanye West's new album, Yeezus.

1. It's becoming increasingly difficult to map the creative mind of Kanye West. This is at least partly a result of his obsession with detachment — both the widely held definition of "reality" itself, as well as his obvious frustrations with the confined nature of modern pop music that have caused him to constantly search for his own unique form of dissociation. Creatively, this separation has worked well for Kanye. He exists in his own world, seemingly unaffected by creative trends and, inadvertently, bestowing himself with the duty of operating as a forecast for an upcoming micro-era of music. Therefore, reviewing his creative work has become akin to discussing haute couture concepts and complaining about their inaccessibility. This isn't the exact way it'll be done, only the absolute limitation of where you can take it. He's the creator of the absolutes and, given his obsession with gaining recognition from the fashion world, it's arguable that this leadership role is an intentional pursuit — Kanye proudly taking on the responsibility of frequently re-aligning the endpoints of pop music.

2. It's unfortunate that at some point West's eccentric nature became widely viewed as a parodic element of his personality, even overshadowing his creative work in many respects. That now infamous New York Times article led to a disturbing number of re-blogged pieces, which simply snipped out the best/weirdest quotes from the original interview, lazily collating them under a 'Kanye Is Crazy' headline. Sure, Kanye is a unique character, his views aren't always aligned with those of mainstream pop culture and it's arguable that he's often applied headline-grabbing shock tactics as a publicity mechanism. However, these idiosyncrasies are what makes his music so exciting. Furthermore, there's no point of separation here. His skewed, outlandish, "running his mouth" viewpoints are perfectly mirrored by his creative work (or vica-versa). More ideas than time. Yeezus continues on from My Beauitful Dark Twisted Fantasy, at times tracks overflowing with conflicting focal points, creating an album that's a restless and disorganised journey, an approach which seems perfectly interlocked with Kanye's own personality.

3. This patchwork approach seems to be a direct byproduct of the album's well-documented creative process, which involved multiple artists working independently on different parts of the record, blindly collaborating via West's own vision. From the supplied output, different elements have been (often crudely) pasted together, creating a violent clash of styles across the ten tracks. Occasionally, these contrasting shifts are even loaded into a single composition, such as with New Slaves, where an aggressively forthright West is interrupted by a crooning Frank Ocean, displacing the rapper's angst-driven directness with a wonderfully composed sense of triumphant emotion.

4. On the surface level, Yeezus is a dark record. This has been the initial focus of reviewers attempting to hastily pigeonhole this album and hashtag "first" on their shortened critique URLs. The phrase 808s and Horrorcore has even been thrown about the press quote offices of the Internet. And the observation that the most distinct moments of Yeezus are it's dark components — the screams of terror, industrial electronic sputters and unnervingly rough-cut minimalism - is not completely unjustified. The unexpectedness of these elements initially overshadows the rest of the record's playfully unhinged variety.

5. Much of Yeezus as a collation of Kanye's discography to date. He returns to the ringmaster role he fulfilled so successfully on Twisted Fantasy for album standout, Hold My Liquor, utilizing Chicago gangster rapper, Chief Keef, in an unfamiliar, introspective space, then merging his sluggish thuggish mumbles with an over-autotuned Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon until the two are almost indistinguishable. Similarly at odds with the generalization of this being record being defined by it's obsession with darkness, Blood On The Leaves sounds sounds akin to the Watch The Throne sessions, literally exploding out of the speakers with it's celebration of excess and aggressive "we the best" tone, all the while conflicted by some more traditional unfiltered samples and a well-worn tale of molly water flashbacks. And then there's album closer, Bound 2, a direct evolution of West's initial College Dropout soul-on-speed approach, merging the crackling motown sounds with a sharper production knife and a greater sense of lyrical forthrightness.

6. There's a noticeable increment of vulgarity on Yeezus. "Fisting" and "civil rights" separated only by a few words. Purposefully abhorrent it seems, our tolerance for shock has increased and thus Kanye, as a self-professed pioneer of musical styles, has no choice but to lower (or raise) the bar further. Kanye has forever chased an element of controversy. He, seemingly, enjoys swimming against the tide, both in the public sphere (his anti-SNL rant only a fortnight before he appeared on the show to launch his new single) and on his recording material (um... I Am A God).

7. I Am A God deserves it's own point, not because it's a standout moment on the album, but because a lot of the discussion of Yeezus has focused on the song's egocentric nature. Once again, that's just the simplified summary, the knee-jerk reaction. I (partly) agree with Lou Reed's dissection — "It's a dare. It's braggadoccio. Axl Rose has done that too, lots of people have. [...] I mean, with a song title like that, he's just begging people to attack him"". There's a distinct challenge thrown down here. The blasphemous title alone is an obvious attempt to cause a reaction and further bolster Kanye's position as a social/music outcast. But I would also argue that the song is merely a piss-take on hip-hop's stagnant evolution, playing on the idea that rappers have forever been obsessed with their position within the genre — who's the best, who's in the top five, the top ten etc — constantly spending more effort on pleading their case for their current ranking rather than actually proving their worth. Kanye parodies that whole discussion, elevating himself to a level distinctly above his competitors who are still debating who's the best "mortal" figure.

8. Yeezus is all front foot. It's the Mark "Tubby" Taylor of 2013 pop music. It's occasionally aggressive, occasionally uncomfortably blunt and almost exclusively existing in a solitary moment. And always honest. It comes at you, clearly spells out it's views and intentions. The responsibility is on you whether or not you want to simply accept this top-level entry point, or explore a little deeper. It's clear that this is the origin of the comparisons to 808s & Heartbreak, with both records sharing an obsession with musical sparseness and lyrical clarity. But it's unfair to judge this record purely on it's initial forthrightness. More time endures far better results, as subtle references to Deepak Chopra, Johnnie Cochran wordplays and double entendres about a Chief Rocka track — which are overshadowed on initial listens by more memorable, standout lines about croissants and the repetitive usage of the word "coon" — begin to rise to the surface.

9. Yeezus' split between lavish presentation and brilliantly enthralling details is perfectly at odds with the modern consumption of music. Judgement has now become a game of quick fire comparisons and single-line, 140-character summaries. Yeezus challenges this notion. It sounds like nothing else being created in modern music. In fact, it's a standalone entity even when taken with respect to a historical perspective. It's impossible to summarise (even with eleven long-winded dot points). There's no obvious points of influence. It's not an extension of any specific genre or a reference to a long-forgotten movement. It's an entirely isolated record. A rare feet in 2013 and something that definitely should be appreciated.

10. West, hunched over a laptop, angrily punching the keys in excitement. Send. And the email (probably un-bcc'd) goes out to all his friends — Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, King Louie. Thus, the creative collaborative process of Yeezus begins. Ideas are thrown back, zipped files are dropped in dropboxes, occasionally in unusable formats. Conflicting plans, 4 second fragments, eighteen hour trance sets. Professor Rick Rubin is brought in to sort out the mess and with his usual, cut-throat editing technique, is able to create a logical sense of order from all the chaos. But, under the insistence of West, he leaves parts unfused and perfectly untouched amidst their own environment. Folklore is created from small slithers of fact, slowly moulding over time to become an accurate description of Yeezus' origin. The dramatic grandeur surrounding Yeezus, more than likely just an extension of West's own approach to self-publicity, makes it impossible to not at least mind-glance at how this record will be perceived in the future.

11. You aren't requested to sit down, converse and have a Carlton Draught with the musician responsible for this album. Similarly, there's no need for you to agree with the ideas presented, nor relate to the circumstances articulated. As difficult as it is, given the tabloid exploits of Mr West and his lust for controversy and attention, your judgement for this record should be separated from your opinion of the creator, even though (as stated in point 2) the work itself is, seemingly, in tune with the public presented persona of the artist. Personally, Kanye's oversized ego and his complete lack of humility makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. But in no way does that diminish my love of this record.

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Record Reviews
Kanye West


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