[365 Albums In 2013 is a monthly feature in which I document the experience of trying to listen to 365 new albums released in 2013. It also features assorted accolades for the month’s best and worst music.]
Ahh, summer. The days are hot and the hip-hop is good. Musically, that seems to be the only thing that separates summer from the rest of the year. Whereas I spent 5 months trudging through albums by French Montana and Tyga, June presented most of the year’s best rap records in the span of a week. Is it just that rap is meant to be blasted out of an open window? I’m not sure, but warm weather and loud hip-hop go together like peanut butter and jelly, or my ears and the headphones that are constantly glued into them so I can finish this goddamn project. Well, at least summer is presenting less zombified tunes, so far. Even superficial head-bouncing is better than comatose listening. So I say, God bless the summer! Thank you for putting a bit of energy back into the music world! (These are words that I am sure to be eating next month when I am overly saturated by mindless summer pop.)
Kanye West “Yeezus”
If you’re looking for a thesis moment in Kanye West’s stunning, bonkers new album, “Yeezus,” look no further than 1:10 minutes into the album. In a moment that everyone could quote after their first listen, Kanye rhetorically asks, “How much do I not give a fuck?” and then proceeds to stop his ultra-distorted, acid beat abruptly, replacing it with a completely unrelated choral sample. “Oh, he’ll give us what we need,” the choir sings, “It may not be what we want.” Whether or not you actually like West, it’s impossible to deny his influence. With every album, he changes the face of hip-hop for years to come, and “Yeezus” is already poised to continue that decade-long streak. West’s darker, harsher sound is astonishingly bold, flipping many rules of commercial pop over on their head. West’s confidence is at an all time high, and “Yeezus” is the sound of a man realizing that anything he does will be huge, even if it doesn’t make sense on a surface level. That attitude results in a concise, fiery record about control. Men, women, corporations, alcohol; none of those things are going to dictate who Kanye West is. West has the reigns, and he’ll make us dance however he so chooses.
Kanye West “Blood on the Leaves”
Let me elaborate on a point. As I mentioned, “Yeezus” doesn’t really make sense on a surface level; it’s an album packed with contradictions. How can you explain a song where West boasts about being a God, and then shrieks in horror for a minute? A few listens barely scratch the surface of what is the complicated rapper’s most complicated record to date. And no single track supports that claim more than “Blood on the Leaves.” The 6 minute 808’s throwback finds West auto-tune crooning about relationships over a chopped up version of the hyper-political slavery ballad “Strange Fruit.” Huh? On first listen, it’s entirely baffling. And if you’re simply not on-board with Kanye, it’s the moment where you could choose to write-off the entire album. In fact, many already have, citing songs like this as being unforgivably sexist. It would be a fair assessment if “Yeezus” was so simple that a quick lyric scan could sum it up. But why do people hail West as a genius, yet analyze his content as if he’s 2 Chainz? Spin recently ran a piece calling out the album’s misogyny, citing “It’s art” is a weak defense. But it isn’t. Art is complicated. Art is meant to be analyzed and picked apart. We don’t watch American Psycho (a film West recently nodded to in a web video) and argue that it’s a pro-murder film. Why? Because we go into it knowing not to take it at face value, knowing that there’s an artist behind it saying something deeper. A song like “Blood on the Leaves” functions the exact same way, utilizing ugly characters and ugly themes without necessarily supporting them. If the same song had been produced by, say, The Knife, there would be no controversy. The issue is that Kanye exists in an awkward place, shunning artless top 40 pop even though it fully embraces him. “Blood on the Leaves” is a straight-up club banger, yet its content is as elusive as an art house film. Perhaps we as a society have trouble accepting that music can be both. So, we lump it onto one side or another and react accordingly. You can write “Yeezus” off as brainless, only reading it in the context of radio rap, but fuck are you missing out.
Other Notable Tracks:
- Big Deal “Call And I’ll Come”
- Run The Jewels “Sea Legs”
- Queens of the Stone Age “If I Had a Tail”
- Camera Obscura “Fifth In Line To The Throne”
- J. Cole “LAnd of the Snakes”
John Fogerty “Wrote A Song For Everyone”
[NOTE: Due to nothing being notably terrible in June, I’m revisiting a missed May turd this month.]
Most of us have masterbated at some point in life. It’s okay, don’t be shy or ashamed about it; it’s a completely normal, human thing. But most of us haven’t recorded ourselves masterbating and tried to sell it to the world. Unless you’re Creedance Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, in which case, you definitely have. There is no way to describe Fogerty’s latest solo record (pun intended), “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” than by calling it out as a musical equivalent to jerking off. You be the judge: Fogerty invites some of the biggest names in country music to come into the studio and sing his own hits with him. How else can you sum it up? With very few exceptions (Jennifer Hudson sings a mean “Proud Mary”), the album ends up feeling like an egotistic karaoke session, with singers like Kid Rock belting out CCR tracks, rather than the fresh blend of past and present that I can only assume Fogerty was going for. So, the album title ends up playing as cruelly ironic; the 14 tracks here are truly for no one but Fogerty.
Best Friends Forever Award
Run The Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P) “Run The Jewels”
“Killer Mike and El-P, fuck boys know the combination ain’t healthy,” raps Killer Mike midway through “Run The Jewels,” his collaboration with producer/rapper/BFF El-P. In fact, that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, El-P and Mike have a healthier relationship than most couples I know. The two created two of 2012’s finest records (P’s “Cancer 4 Cure,” and Mike’s “R.A.P. Music”), and they spent most of their interview rounds praising one another. In 2013, the two decided to take their relationship to the next level, forming a power couple under the name Run The Jewels. Their debut album is a victory lap, capitalizing on their successful 2012 collaborations with equal gusto. Both artists have tremendous skill that’s only amplified when they’re together, weaving their flows together with flawless precision. “Run The Jewels” may just be a simple boast record for the most part, but it’s so loud and proud that it’s hard not to grin along with the two. It’s certainly a more successful collaborative product than Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne,” an album which Mike explicitly puts down… which seems a bit odd, considering that Mike was featured on Jay’s Blueprint 2 stand-out “Poppin’ Tags,” produced by West. Okay, maybe these guys need to slow down just a little…
Album That Could Have Benefited From Less Marketing
The Lonely Island “The Wack Album”
When it comes to marketing, The Lonely Island’s “The Wack Album” is the anti-Yeezus. While West dropped no singles beforehand, the comedy trio released almost half of their album before its release date. Granted, this isn’t new for The Lonely Island, whose tracklists are usually filled with years worth of Saturday Night Live digital shorts. But this time around, Samberg and company decided to release all of the best tracks beforehand, leaving very few new songs to get excited about at release time. Look, there’s a reason that it’s customary to drop only one or two singles in anticipation of a new album. A few songs give you a taste of what to expect without spoiling all the best moments. Not only does it make us excited before an album, but it keeps us excited when we finally hear the whole thing. As hilarious as “Spring Break Anthem” and “I Fucked My Aunt” are, it’s somewhat disheartening to hear a bunch of filler between them. Don’t get me wrong; “The Wack Album” is still filled with plenty of laughs. Just don’t expect to be replaying much other than what you’ve already been playing. (NOTE: The one exception here is “The Compliments,” which is basically a more hilarious version of the entire “Run The Jewels” LP.)
Album By A Friend That You Should Seriously Check Out
Sutton Dewey “High-Rise”
There’s a ton of music out there. If you’re only following label-released records that manage to snag a review slot on your favorite music blog, then you’re missing out on a world of great music from tiny artists. Take, for example, the work of Sutton Dewey, a good friend of mine who has been creating fascinating hip-hop instrumental work for years. Dewey’s sample-heavy jams are incredibly fresh, often chopping up vocals and recontextualizing them as percussive elements. There’s a great deal going on in his compositions, yet the songs all maintain an incredibly chilled-out vibe. His latest album, “High-Rise,” is out just in time to beat the heat, with hip-hop instrumentals that hit like a cool breeze on a sweltering day. Atmospherically speaking, you couldn’t ask for a better summer record. So, rather than relying on Pitchfork’s Best New Music tag to find hip new music, take a trip over to Bandcamp to check out some small artists creating original work that deserves your attention: http://suttondewey.bandcamp.com/album/high-rise
Worst Album Cover
Empire of the Sun “Ice on the Dune”
Are you fucking kidding?
Other Noteworthy June Albums:
- Camera Obscura “Desire Lines”
- Queens of the Stone Age “…Like Clockwork”
- Big Deal “June Gloom”
- J. Cole “Born Sinner”