Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Idiot Listens to Jazz

The most fun thing in the world, to me, is listening to music from a genre I know next to nothing about- especially one that I'd previously handwaved as being "not for me"- and having my mind blown. Then I get to go down the incredibly rewarding path of being entry-level in a genre for the millionth time, eagerly snatching anything that's widely hailed as a classic in the style, past the wrinkled brows of people either wondering what the hell I'm on about or amazed that I hadn't been listening to that album since birth.

I'm not going to write a long review of On the Corner because the point of this post isn't that a Miles Davis album is good; and I'm not going to try to say that everyone should have an open mind towards all genres, because it's all like just music, man. The point is that you need to periodically give yourself the opportunity to be blown away by something different, even if it's something you previously thought was shit and don't know why people keep going on about it. If you're actively listening to different genres on a regular basis (as I like to think I am), you should be giving yourself different reference points. That King Crimson album might sound like wanking for grandfathers when you're 17, but if you come back to it after a long journey through the discographies of Sonic Youth, Can, Neu, and The United States of America, it might make a lot more sense.

To get pseudo-neurological about it, that's how the brain works; we have bits of information connected to other bits of information, so it's a lot easier to listen to music on opposite poles if you listen to all the in-between artists first. Or, to make an analogy more people on the internet will understand, imagine the main map in Super Mario World. Time/music works the same way.

There's nothing wrong with having genres you loathe, just be prepared to backpedal when you like just that one artist, then just that artist and a couple other two that are in a similar style, and on and on until you're an admitted fan of the genre. The only way to avoid this is to have zero genres you swear off (and god help you if you try to tell me that post-grunge isn't irredeemable), or to not be constantly expanding your taste into different styles. And if you're not doing that, you're missing out.

Back to the Miles Davis, anyone that's a fan of weirder funk or extended amelodic grooves should check it out. But that's pretty obvious, since I'm the last person on earth to hear this album.


Oh, and I got Herbie Hancock - Head Hunter halfway through listening to the Miles album, but it's way too "lite"/"bordering on pleasant background sounds" for my taste. So there's your VICIOUS PANNING for the post.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chillwave Is Boring

Sometimes, it’s not exactly clear why a musician decided to start making music. Hopefully, there was at least a bit of anger in there to keep things interesting, maybe a deep desire to prove oneself. Chillwave seems to come from an inexplicable need for these musicians to show the world how non-threatening they are. Say we’re in a movie about the rise and fall of a great founding chillwave artist. They would form a band from a ragtag group of the one guy in his bedroom, because that’s all you need to make chillwave. Then this person (let’s call them “they”) would have to overcome tough obstacles, like putting the music on for the first time around their friends who have never heard it before, and not getting any sort of reaction at all because it’s nearly impossible to notice. In disgust, they play it for their parents as the ultimate “fuck you” move only to find that they find it rather pleasant and don’t even notice when it starts repeating.

In case you don’t pay attention to dull cracker music and are unfamiliar with the term “chillwave,” just hop on over to gorillavsbear and listen to basically anything, or watch this:

It’s often billed as being “summery,” which shows an obvious bias toward the type of summer that rich college kids have where they lay on their floors and talk about how bored they are. Have you considered maybe doing something more interesting with your summer, like adding bass to the sounds you’re making? The genre seems to be a conceptual tribute to David Foster Wallace since instead of putting melodies in the songs they've hidden them in footnotes.

The problem isn’t that no one is making cool guitar music. There’s a ton of it. But sites like gorillavsbear and pitchfork have bizarrely decided to construct a narrative where people are mostly listening to this type of music instead of something with chords and yelling and feedback that are the cores of what make for good indie rock. At least when you do that, it sounds great to blast it through your windows, whereas no matter how high you turn up a chillwave song, it never gets any louder.

A sensible person might bring up the fact that chillwave is “very 2009” and that I should get with the times. But that brings us to the real issue here, which is that this boring electronic remix music has been slipping out from its confines of a group of a dozen artists that do nothing but collaborate with each other and into the greater umbrella of indie rock, bringing us “shimmery” “fuzzed-out” “incessant” “aaaaaaaaaa” bands like Girls and Beach House that are even worse than last year’s beeps and boops in chillwave.

Aren’t we moving backwards? I was under the impression that part of the founding concepts of making such bordering-on-ambient washes of sound was to show people that you can have a bland single with a pop melody that’s based on samples instead of guitars, and now the guitars are rising up in response to show that they can be more boring while appealing to people that want to see live music, so we have a brilliant combination of intolerable music and ROCKISM. That’s right, I’m calling you out, every single artist that’s influenced by chillwave, you are a rockist. The only way to attone is to immediately drop all current musical projects, leave Ariel Pink off your Best of 2010 list, and go back to power chords and two-minute songs. It’s the only way to be sure.

Essay question: In five years, will a chillwave artist be declared the inventor of computers and/or guitars and/or whispering by a glowing review in the New York Times, or will indie rock get closer and closer to Music For Airports until it dies a merciful death and we all renew our Maximumrocknroll subscriptions?

Follow-up: can someone send me some copies of Maximumrocknroll?

End note: I do not want this to be taken as some sort of attack on electronic music. I would be even happier if they all switched genres and made ragga jungle the hot thing of 2011.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Discussion with Deadmau5 Fans

Earlier tonight, I downloaded the new Deadmau5 album 4x4=12 with the intention of writing a humorously negative review, but it had other ideas. Instead, I'm left rather confused, as it sounded so incredibly generic/stock/rote/whatever you want to say that I have absolutely no other thoughts on it. It had a four-to-the-floor beat, synths, and dubsteppy bassline, all of which are regular inclusions in this style of house in 2010. So, I have to turn to the fans of the artist and ask: please, tell me what makes Deadmau5 unique. What are you hearing here that makes you want to listen to him, rather than another artist in the genre?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

These New Puritans - Hidden

Like every true music fan, I get all my culture news from Hipster Runoff, so I was intrigued to see the other day that NME released their list of the top 50 albums of the year. Not only had they given up trying to find a loophole to somehow give the top prize to Joy Division, they had given the honor to an album I hadn’t heard (the title of which was given away by the headline of this post). I then decided that, as a serious music critic, I would refrain from giving a blow-by-blow review of it the first time I heard it; that’s for amateurs. No, I would save this sort of unprofessional treatment for the second time I listen to it, which is mere moments away. My initial reaction to it was that it was bad, and there was no way in hell I would voluntarily give it another chance, but these are the perils of true journalism. Sacrifices must be made, and this time they are in the form of listening to unbelievably tedious “art-rock.” Before we get started, a quote from the band’s Wikipedia entry (since I surely can’t be expected to research them beyond that):

“The band has had support slots for Crystal Castles, British Sea Power, The Kills, Blood Red Shoes, Klaxons, and The xx.”

Look how unbelievably British that lineup is. Sure, you might raise the issue that Crystal Castles are technically Canadian, but who’s on Canadian money, smartass? Upon seeing this, I prepared myself for an onslaught of unfiltered Brittania, filled with moping, accents, guitars, and big words.

Track one: Time Xone (and god does it hurt to type “Xone” and know it’s not some speculated-upon Microsoft product) doesn’t disappoint (unless you are disappointed when the first song isn't a song), with an opening of some sort of mopey horn section that was probably meant to soundtrack the beginning of another Oliver Twist movie while the camera is panning around on street level to show how desolate and dirty and filthy and brown and oddly romantic everything is. This is such a tragic misuse of a horn section. Why are you doing this to me, trumpets? Why have you decided to bring neither funk nor noise? Can’t you hear your wind instrument forefathers calling you to play James Brown songs instead of this mopey bullshit?

Track two: We Want War. Suddenly the non-JBs end, as another movie soundtrack starts, this one announced by some sort of big Samurai-style drum being hit (presumably by a rather large person) as vague synth buzzing occurs. I have to give them credit for a fitting title, since I definitely want to run around Braveheart-style when I hear any sort of echoey huge-ass drum. The hero of the movie should be getting the soldiers all pumped up now, but instead we get the first vocal of the album: some incredibly vague whisper-mumbling that makes Nick Drake sound like Lil Jon. Come on, guys, announce yourselves a bit better than that, no one else in the class can hear you introduce yourself when you talk into your crotch. The drums are sounding a bit livelier now and the buzzing is coming in stronger, oooohhhh they must be trying to use dancey rhythms, in the proud British tradition of half-danceable music. “Secret recordings were made in the marsh,” he says, but that’s impossible, the goo would leak into the tape recorder and the whole thing would sound like Daniel Johnston. Now we have some sort of shimmery sound effect, like a sword getting taken out of the sheath. This must be what “immersion” in music is. Now the mumbley dude is backed by a somehow-almost-as-mumbley chorus; are these the angels taking him away to the afterlife and/or mandatory British standardized testing? Drums replaced by vague clicking of someone tapping their fingernails on the desk waiting for the song to end. This is a long song. Really, it’s two songs that keep taking turns; we have huge-drums-and-clicking song intersperced with usual-college-age-guy-being-incomprehensible-so-that-we-know-it’s-an-indie-rock-album. The horns are back with a minute left to go. They’re in a minor key, so it sounds either mournful or like the “wrong answer” horns on The Price is Right (look ‘em up). Longest song on the album now over.

Track three: Three Thousand. Big drums from the previous track have been shrunk down to fit in a box that is seemingly free to time travel between last decade’s hip hop and early-80s goth synth noodling, and the vocals definitely are more of the Bela Lugosi’s Dead variety, but without the potential to do the cool higher stuff Peter Murphy did. Instead we just get more of what sounds like the protagonist from Children of Men telling us how his day is shit. Horns again, but in the background this time, pitch-shifted to sound somewhere between “really depressing” and “farts.” Background vocals sound like the vocal preset on the keyboard I had when I was five.

Track four: Hologram. Light military-style drum greets me alongside piano bar-style tinkling, and the singer is apparently attempting to make a pop song. “Shut the doooo-ooooooor,” he sings, probably so no one will find out you’re trying to fit in with 19 year-old Brits with dyed black hair. Something tells me this is that promotional single that’s ten times more accessible than the rest of the album so that REAL fans of the band have a song they say they dislike despite it being the only well-known song the band ever made. Surprisingly, this track is so genial and nonthreatening that it could be American indie.

Track five: Attack Music. Back to drums that sound like gunshots, though to be honest I'm a much bigger fan of music that uses actual gunshots in songs. The fact that the band keeps replacing and tinkering around with their drum sounds is fairly disorienting and distracting, like using a different synonym for “said” after every line in a twelve-page conversation (he explained). Dissonant guitars inform me that FUCK you, ASSHOLE, that last song was just an anomaly, we’re not afraid to fuck some shit up, as long as it’s kept to brief portions of time because we have to spend hours setting up this prepared piano. More sad horns. Cheer up, horn section, they might do something less drear-tastic next time. The chorus-thing is back, except this time it sounds like a creepy group of children from a horror movie, I guess because horror movie children are the ones that don’t get vocal training or musical education about what a “key” is. These complaints shouldn’t be interpreted as saying that all dissonant or atonal sounds are bad; quite the contrary, they can be used well when used by people that know how to create a half-decent song. A melody that makes me involuntarily dig my fingernails into each other is probably not the best-crafted one.

Track six: Fire-Power. Oh hey, this is my favorite drumbeat: it’s Galang, this is a great song. What the hell, this isn’t how that vocal goes at all. Now he’s saying “fire, fire, fire” because he doesn’t know his Arular tracks nearly as well as I do. Do your homework next time, scrubbo, lest you attempt a cover version where you fuck up songs as simple as that. Now he’s laying over the guitar that sounds like the intro to Wipeout (the song, not the video game) and singing “my words evaporate” I assume because they were written in water? You’re supposed to write down secret messages in lemon juice, idiot, or else it just goes away but I guess you just had to find that out the hard way. Drums still clanging, this time with some keys or something added. Not piano keys, I mean literal dangling-keys-in-front-of-a-baby sound, I assume because their mother is trying to make as much racket as possible to get them out of bed. Now the track ends with Sad Horns 3: Sad Harder.

Track seven: Orion. Past the halfway point, sweet. The drum keeps kicking a couple times, wondering when the other instruments will get the cue and join it. When they do, we’re greeted by warbly backing vocals and the same ol’ leading vocals, like every other song on this album, over the same “pay attention to meeeee” style drums. Was this song on the disc already? Skipping the rest.

Track eight: Canticle. Ooh, now we get the sweeter-sounding clarinet and shit, that’s a good change. This track is only a bit over a minute long, so it doesn’t do anything at all other than let them boast that their album has a clarinet on it.

Track nine: Drum Courts - Where Corals Lie. This time, the drums are joined by a super-low Peaches-style synth bass and some Space Invaders sounds. Pew pew I bet I get a bonus score for saying the exact same things I said earlier about his whispered vocal. Skipping around this track, it seems to get all sweet and vocal and we actually have a vocal melody at three minutes in holy shit, before we get back to clatter clatter bang bang. I get the feeling these guys listened to a Liquid Liquid song and took away completely the wrong idea from it. Big drums are cool when they make me want to move my ass around, either in a dancing way or in a throw-shit-about-the-room way. This does neither. It’s so big and ever-present but it keeps me glued intently to the seat. I couldn’t even do the dishes to this, it would make me want to lie down and read about psychology or whatever. Is being unnerving its only goal? Okay, I’m unnerved. Do something else please.

Track ten: White Chords. Well, there’s some honesty in track naming, because no one of color is getting near this art school bullshit. I’m not hearing too many chords though, just some eerie notes on a keyboard/synth/obscure instrument of questionable utility. Oh, this is another one of their crossover attempts, except they’re going more directly for an early-era Cure sound, instead of just indirectly dancing around it. Sorry, not dancing, that’s impossible here, sighing around it. Crystal Castles skipped the middleman and just got Robert Smith to sing for them, can’t this band do the same but just put a Cure song on the album? Not a cover, no, they’d fuck that up, the original version of any album track, unless it’s from 17 Seconds because I hate that album.

Track eleven: 5. So close so close so close. We have some sort of multi-instrument jamboree with tinkly bells that wants me to call it “mirthful” despite the invisible timer counting down to when they’re going to come along and ruin this by trying to make it into a real song. It’s rather telling that the band has me looking forward to these time-filling interludes just to get away from the incessant banging. This must be what it’s like to be a middle-aged parent and your nine year-old son just brought home a replica of the drum set that the dude from Rush has. Oh, this song is halfway over and nothing else has happened, must be a closing non-statement that they couldn’t come up with another song, which I’m fine with. Doodley doodley doo, wordless chorus of angels taking me away to a land of milk and vodka, DAMMIT HE’S BACK. Go away, I was so close to being rid of you. Phew, gone again. Final reprise of the sadhorns brigade.

Listen number two has been accomplished. Going back to the good ol’ Wikipedia to tell me what they were thinking, the label’s press release said the following:

"Six-foot Japanese Taiko drums, a thirteen piece brass and woodwind en-semble, sub-heavy beats, prepared piano, a children’s choir, Foley recording techniques (including a melon with cream crackers attached struck by a hammer, used to simulate the sound of a human head being smashed), and the ethereal voice of Heather Marlatt from dream-pop group Salem."

I didn’t hear any heads cracking, and the music was sparse and dull enough that if something as cool as that was really on the album it would have caught my attention. The singer sounds so melancholy and British that he was probably too busy politely asking the head whether it was acceptable for it to be cracked open, if it wouldn’t be too much of a bother today (or tomorrow, doesn’t really matter that much).

I’ve never been more glad to not be a subscriber to NME. Say what you will about those bands they toured with (they are bad) but at least Klaxons could come up with a melody and a steady beat without having to resort to recording themselves falling down the stairs and using that as their drum sound.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pink Friday

If Nicki Minaj isn’t yelling at the studio execs whose grimy little cracker hands are all over this album, I’ll lose all faith in her. Someone who enjoys music snuck into the studio to put a few good tracks at the beginning of the album (the good tracks are the ones where Nicki raps like a crazy person, because any vocals that sound like a mental patient are good times, as any Iggy Pop or Gun Club fan will tell you). She even gets to rap over actual hip hop beats before being told that she’s out past her curfew, and has to atone by doing a series of increasingly mediocre R&B singalongs apparently co-written by the people that make Tiesto songs and some children’s music writers with some 2004 drum machine samples to let you know that it’s supposed to be a hip hop album. God forbid they let the new rapper with a bunch of different styles actually show them off, instead of going back to the aging computer that generates songs for black singers to use as album tracks. She sings on one song, then the next one features Rihanna and I genuinely could not tell the difference at all. Why is Rihanna doing the hook here? Does Minaj seem like the sort of artist that needs Rihanna around for sex appeal or to get [demographic that enjoys Rihanna] to buy her album? Part of me wants to say that the decent songs need to be spread out through the album, but then I involuntarily choke myself for thinking like a major-label executive instead of its polar opposite, a person that enjoys hearing music.

Like a lot of people, I wasn’t intending on listening to this until I heard her verse on Monster. Kanye claims that he and Jay worked on it nonstop with her for four days, which seems completely implausible to me. First of all, if he came up with something that good after four days of work, wouldn’t his album have a hundred incredible verses instead of one? Wouldn’t he have, at some point in the past, spent a couple weeks and just blown the roof off everyone? Sorry Mr. West, but I’m going to give her the credit for that one, and just assume that other people spent four days on all of her other verses to make sure they were as generic as possible.

It’s fairly obvious that the label has no confidence in Minaj’s abilities at all, especially when it comes to rapping, seeing as they get fucking Drake to do a verse in between her semi-autotuned choruses that, again, SOUND LIKE RIHANNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA MAKE IT STOP. It even has string samples, and not even with a cool mid-90s east-coast “I’m going to beat you to death with this viola” vibe.

Then it’s the track, and I would just refer to the Kanye review where I already called everything has ever done awful but seriously, we’re talking about a guy that decided to rap over Imagine and then sell it to use in an ad, so I really doubt he has the judgment to decide that he should stop making any sort of sounds. This track is so bad it actually makes me dislike the Think break, but in my defense I’ll dislike any song that has bubblegum “oh, oh” with toy-sounding pianos and fucking-hell-I-thought-we-moved-past-autotuning-every-single-vocal-a-while-back.

But thank god, we get another hip hop track after that to apologize and she actually gets to make non-singing sounds with her mouth. Okay sure, there are those lame dance-pop synths again, but they’re at least a little more acceptable here. Kanye shows up to remind us that Minaj is a much better rapper (I knew that already thanks, get back in the studio and remix this album).

Okay so quick hits on how to make the next Minaj album better:
-rap more
-sing less
-rap in those different personalities, those are cool, especially the angry-sounding ones
-get hip hop producers not r&b producers
-get rid of THOSE synths, the ones that sound like third graders’ recorders
-when you make an incredibly good song like Massive Attack (note: that's the song with the video in the desert where she shows off her clones of the girl from Lazytown), put it on the album

How To Write About Music

So you’ve tried your hand at a music career, made your songs, sent them around, and been informed that you unintentionally covered Whipped Cream and Other Delights in its entirety. Time for a new career path. Have you considered music criticism? All it takes to review paint-by-numbers music is a write-by-numbers guide to saying snobbish things about it. Just follow these rules and you’ll have a publication that won’t be taken seriously until after Green Day handwaves away your review, saying in an interview to NME that they don’t care what the music press thinks.

Rule One: Know Your Audience

Words mean nothing unless you know exactly who is going to be reading them. If you’re just writing for some little music blog that you send around to your friends, then sure, maybe you can do without the market research to determine the exact series of words to describe a Bieber song in the correct manner, but we’re trying to make some cash here. If you’re not sure that your audience will understand something, be sure to lay it out for them so that they’ll see you as an authority on the subject.

Rolling Stone writing example:
Raekwon (pronounced RAY-kwon) is a New York City rapper who once rapped with other rappers in a group of rappers called Wu-Tang Clan. He raps about selling drugs and killing people, but sometimes he does so in a manner that sounds pretty good. If you want to hear more rap music, this is a pretty good album to get, but first you should get the rap music that Wu-Tang Clan made (they are no longer making music as a group). Raekwon is also black, like Jimi Hendrix, not that it matters.

Not all music publications will require you to do this. When writing for more niche outfits with readers that pride themselves on the knowledge they already have, especially if they don’t really care what YOU think about this album, scrubbo, and just want to know if you have the right opinion. In this case, you should always attempt to one-up them in any manner possible, bringing the sledgehammer of superior knowledge on them until they relent and admit that you are the reviewer, not they. If you get them to admit that Muse might not be the best rock band currently recording, that’s an acceptable consolation prize.

gorillavsbear writing example:
This band makes extensive use of Scott 4 production; Upsetters; 1972 dollar-bin albums; the opening of Snickers bars; mix CDs from college girls; Cybotron; we haven’t actually listened to this song but it’s from an artist that people keep telling us they like so here is and they’re from Sweden.

Rule Two: Have A Distinct Style

Just like a song by [POPULAR ARTIST] is instantly identifiable even if it’s a brand-new song, your writing should tell readers that it was you that wrote it, not anyone else, because those other publications are idiots that can’t write for shit and listen to shit. Be unique. Your words should become a comforting blanket to your readers, who can come home from a long day of not working to snuggle up with your descriptions of an artist’s specific brand of mediocrity.

Pitchfork writing example:
Convalescent duressing objectification of the achingly beautiful Man Machine filtered through the ostracization of getting stuffed in gym lockers; omnipotent unknowing production of alienation, an eternity of starfelt daisy chains from the club floor to house shapes in architectural being of paladin-esque saviorship.

Q writing example:
The Who were so great. Like really great. An album of theirs just got reissued. Oh my god. The Who. Holy hell. Good lord this is good. Mmmmm ohhhhhhhhh baby yes oh Pete yes yes

Your style should tell the world everything they need to know about your music tastes. If you’re writing about hip-hop, you should obviously use some “street slang.” If you’re writing about suburban indie rock, you should use the same slang, but only in quotation marks when reviewing an album the previously-mentioned hip-hop publication covered months earlier. If you’re writing about alternative rock for high school mall kids, stop that, just cut up some pictures, take a gluestick to the backs of them, and throw them at blank pages of a magazine until it looks like a layout, then change anything that looks like reasonable graphic design. Actually, that’s not a fair thing to say, and I apologize. I’m sure that the people in charge of assembling Alternative Press have perfected a process to making their publication, like asking major labels what they should print in Alternative Press and then saying “okay.”

Rule Three: Make A Big List

The only time that music publications, even the biggest ones, cross the border between passively existing and a segment of the public briefly caring about them is when they assemble a big list of the best of somethingorother. This way, people can join together in a unified way to slam their heads into walls at your complete idiocy for calling Rumours the best 1977 album instead of Marquee Moon (for which they’d be totally justified, you’d have to be pretty silly to think the answer isn’t Marquee Moon).

Pitchfork list example:
Top Ten Artists That You, Reader, Have Only Heard of Because of Us
Neutral Milk Hotel
DJ Shadow [editor’s note: this fulfills the requirement that 10% of Pitchfork lists be hip-hop of some sort]
Arcade Fire
My Bloody Valentine
Animal Collective
Sufjan Stevens
The Avalanches
Harry Nilsson
Sonic Youth (???)

Q list example:
Top Two Bands That Are The Who
1. The Who
2. Jet

NME list:
Top Artists That Somehow End Up On Our Covers In 2010
1. Oasis

Your list should summarize what you want your readership to look like. A standard rule of thumb is that 80% of the albums on the list should be ones that an average reader has heard already, 10% should be ones they haven’t, and 10% are randomly selected from another publication’s list just to give it some variety, so if you’re ever wondering why Supreme Clientele is on this or that list as the only album that isn’t boilerplate indie rock and whether it’s there by accident, the answer is no, except sort of.

Above all else, be unique, but only in ways that other music press has been unique in the past. Have your own special bands that you constantly mention, like how each supermarket chain has its generic line of groceries that they sell for cheap. This way, people will keep coming back to you for the short period of time before they realize that modern music coverage is pointless.

All Day

When you have one good idea, you can make a good album out of it. That’s what Night Ripper was, one good idea (40+-minute mixtape of nothing but a bunch of smallish samples) and a good album. Another album with the exact same idea, well, sure, it can have its moments, but it’s just more of the same gimmick. Eventually, a gimmick artist needs to either find a new gimmick or go away, lest they make an album as dreadful as All Day. Even four years ago, people were commenting that mashups were a bit past their prime and losing their initial appeal, but now they’re just unbelievably tiresome when you have a hundred thousand of them being made daily by anyone with Ableton. This isn’t just about an idea that’s no longer new, though, it’s that Girl Talk just isn’t making good music any more.

What started out as the sort of mashups you’d go crazy about how strange a combination they were (Boston and Ludacris?!) are now going more and more into one new hip hop song over the beat from a different hip hop song. And they just. Go on. Forever. Not only do we hear an endless mashup of the Single Ladies vocal over the Ante Up beat, we then hear the Ante Up vocal over... something, I forget what, but you get the point. And it’s not like it’s the first time he did that trick on the album; the first track has Blitzkrieg Bop’s vocal followed by Missy Elliott rapping over the instrumental. GT used to give people just little tastes of these things, not an entire verse then an entire chorus over the same beat without changing it up at all. This also means that the parts that just sound terrible (Shimmy Shimmy Ya over Creep with extra bonus fun handclaps and drums) go on endlessly with seemingly no hope of it changing ever ever ever. That particular one even degrades into bedroom-producer style one vocal playing at the same time as another.

The overall sound is just so much sweeter and cleaner than it used to be. Night Ripper had some moments bordering on abrasive, or at least not just a vocal over some syruppy-sounding pop song. I’m sure it won’t be too long before we start hearing these mashups on mainstream radio, chasing the coveted spot of the second-ever mashup to cross over to #1 pop hit (yes, this has happened before, look up the history of the Sugababes version of Freak Like Me).

The best moment comes early on, again in the form of Ludacris over a 70s rock song, which leads me to conclude that he just needs to stick to making rap-rock remixes of Luda. I might get some strange looks for this, but the world does need more decent rap-rock beats that don’t remind people of RATM or nu-metal, so Gillis should go on making songs like that. Please. Go do that instead. Stop making these albums. Or go back to making weirdo glitch music, because at least that was doing some new things instead of just serving as self-promotion for live shows to play to people that “don’t really like hip hop, but.”

I would write more here, but I’m approaching the point where I had to turn the album off due to its sheer tiredness the first time I tried to listen to it. So this is all the album gets.

Good Ass Job

Kanye’s new album (which will be abbreviated as Good Ass Job, because why isn’t that the name of this album?) came out last week, and it seems like all the reviews of it are on the same page: that it’s incredibly good. So, both because I’d hate to go against the consensus on anything and because it’s true, I’ll just accept that as an agreed-upon premise and go from there. It really seems like the only thing preventing people from calling it an album that’s up there with the best since the genre started is that people have been obsessively following what Kanye has said to the media, and oh no, apparently a musician is a jerk. Can’t have that. Every review seems to just be trying to tell his story and apologizing for him because look the album is just good, jeez! Talk about the music for once.

What makes this album unique is how no one else is capable of it. Not just because no one else is as talented a producer, but when you listen to a lot of rock albums, you get the impression that “oh, yeah, if I had twelve fantastic song ideas and a garage I could have made this album.” You could not have made this Kanye album, because you do not have $2 million of your record label’s money to spend on it, and this is a record that really sounds like it cost that much. We’ve moved past the eras of Kanye where you can just loop two bars of Mayfield or Daft Punk and add some drums over it (at least, he releases those sorts of tracks for free now instead of putting them on the record). Every song has a million things going on in it at the same time, elements coming and going for different parts of the song. Not just the sampled piano/synth line/drum beat/vocal like people expect, but choruses, orchestral flourishes, distorted basslines, and the comically large number of guest appearances. Minaj claims in her verse that she got $50k for it, which actually seems pretty low, if you look at it as a percentage of the total cost for the album, especially considering that she has the best verse on the entire thing. It was so good, in fact, that I downloaded her album and even listened to it all the way through. (Okay, fine, I skipped the track, but cut me some slack over here. When I saw the credit, I assumed it was some sort of inside joke, or that has just become what producers use as an alias when they don’t want to be associated with the album any more, like the Alan Smithee of rap.) Even the three-ish minutes of orchestral stabs with Kanye mumbling into a fauxcoder plugged into a distortion pedal isn’t something anyone else would have dared to make, because you’d probably think “who gives a shit and why would I listen to it?” But it ends up working perfectly, somehow.

The coolest thing that Kanye has discovered is that you can distort hip hop and have it sound amazing. Steve Albini (RIP) would be proud of the buzzing bassline into crashing noises on Hell Of A Life, and the lyrics about marrying a porn star and gangbangs would even be perfect for him. Someone get on this cover version, because it’ll get you so much blog traffic and I can’t make it due to lack of talent. This style is the wave of the future right here; cut it out with all those tinkly piano samples and gentle drum patterings and go for fartbasses with pounding drums into weirdo voices with lots of effects into Gil Scott-Heron sample. Albums are judged largely by the influence they have on people, and this record probably won’t have that impact immediately. Record producers will try to figure out what’s going on until their ears melt and they curl up into the fetal position and go back to making g-funk beats again. See what you’ve done, Mr. West, you’re just going to kill all the producers. Shame on you.

Okay, back to talking about what other people think about this album. Maybe the reason people are hesitant to immediately put this album in the Truly Great Albums bin is because monumentally important hip hop is expected to have lyrics that aspire higher than “listenable.” To be fair, Kanye doesn’t embarrass himself 100% of the time, and he managed to get a good verse out of Jay-Z, even if it was overshadowed by the aforementioned Minaj. Apparently Hova and Kanye are doing an album-length collaboration, which could even mean that Jay will finally make a song explaining to everyone where he came from, maybe something about how he made ends meet as a teenager. On the other hand, the beats Kanye made for Blueprint 3 were reduced in sound quality by their nature of being delivered exclusively via phone, but he was probably too busy making this album and pretending that, sorry guys, those beats were really the best I can do. Jay must be a pretty forgiving guy, because damn, I’d be pretty mad if I had a producer holding out on me like that. Maybe instead, Kanye will attempt to expand on one of the best parts of the album and just exclusively produce for Gil Scott-Heron. Seeing as GSH’s last album had a total man-bites-dog moment of sampling Kanye, it’s not too far-fetched of an idea.

The only way I can conceptualize the idea of “is this an all-time classic?” is thinking about whether I’ll play it all the way through every six months from now until the end of time, and be taken aback when someone mentions they’ve never heard it many years from now. Yeah, I can see both of those happening. Already, trying to listen to other new hip hop, even good stuff, is kind of a letdown, like “why does this sound not-completely-new-and-unique instead of being great like Kanye?” Fine. It’s the best album of the year, best album since [other album], 10/10, whatever.