Weekend Barrel Mixtape: Bored in the USA

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Introducing the “Weekend Barrel Mixtape”: a set of songs with a (loose) theme to get you through the weekend and straight to your inevitable Sunday hangover.

This election season has been entertaining hasn’t it? Who knew our country had such ridiculous people to trot out like mangy butt-sniffing show dogs and who just happen to hold the fate of the United States in their (tiny) hands? On one side, you have a orange clown who can’t keep his hands and words to himself, and on the other, you have a malfunctioning political robot who deletes emails like she’s Lorraine Bracco frantically flushing cocaine down the toilet in Goodfellas. And for bonus comedic relief, you have Gary Johnson, who is basically Forrest Gump but without the accidental success.

These people are reality TV characters who make The Situation look like Tom Hanks, and the series finale is nigh. You can’t make this stuff up. This is high end entertainment, and on Tuesday, it’ll all be over. What the hell are we going to talk about now? Admit it, you’re going to miss the daily controversies and stupidity. This election season was the biggest entertainment roller coaster since the fifth season of Breaking Bad, and EVERYBODY was watching. Hell, the presidential debates were more popular than football, and we Amurricans love our FOOTBAW!!!

Personally, I think this whole election has been one big conspiracy by “Big Government” to get people to care about politics again. Well, guess what, it worked! We’re all watching, America. Thanks Obama! I bet you more entities are going to adopt the same philosophy to get viewers back on the wagon. Look at the MLB: baseball ratings are down? No problem. Let’s put the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in the World Series and bring it to an exciting-as-hell Game 7. Presto! Ratings are up again! Coincidence?

The election has been a frightening dog and pony show, and now, it’s all over. No matter what happens on Tuesday, know it’s all going to be okay and we as a country will still continue to move forward. We’re just gonna be a little bored.

‘Costello Music’ Turns 10

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In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were on the verge of something great. With a team built around two of the NHL’s most talented young stars – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – the Blackhawks were seeking to end a 49 year long championship drought. The organization also needed to bring back those fans who may have become disenfranchised over countless years of futility and poor management. They wanted to hit refresh and change the team’s aesthetic, starting with the celebratory goal song.

When looking for a new goal song for his team Tom O’Grady, the Blackhawks’ Executive Producer, didn’t take the task lightly. “We aggressively searched for a memorable goal song,” he said, until they heard a song called “Chelsea Dagger” by a band who called themselves The Fratellis. O’Grady heard it while watching a [Scottish Football Club] Celtic FC match and was “immediately struck by the song’s quirky and contagious chant.” Since then, every time the puck wrinkled the back of the net in Chicago, “Chelsea Dagger” blared over the cheers, becoming the team’s unofficial anthem (and the soundtrack to every opponent’s nightmares). Oh yeah, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that year (and two more times since). Call that “The Fratellis Effect.”

“Quirky” and “contagious” are perfect words to describe The Fratellis and their debut album Costello Music, which turns 10 this weekend (October 30). Hailing from the persistently damp streets of Glasgow, Scotland, lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Fratelli (born John Lawler), bass guitarist Barry Fratelli (born Barry Wallace), and drummer and backing vocalist Mince Fratelli (born Gordon McRory) introduced the world to their raucous take on Britpop normally found within the beer-soaked local pubs in the northern UK.

Every music nut has that special album in their lives that awakened previously unused musical tastebuds. For me, it was Costello Music, and it hit me out of nowhere. This wasn’t a Beatles record I borrowed from my dad, nor something I had heard on the radio. For the first time in my  life, I had found something new  and completely unheard of on my own as a high school anglophile with access to iTunes (yeah, I know, I’m SUCH a millennial). The Fratellis were MY band, and I wanted to tell the world about them.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I saw those three voluptuous women on the album cover of Costello Music, but when I heard the first few moments of “Henrietta,” the playfulness of the guitars and brass hooked me instantly. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint. This music was fun! At the time, I wasn’t sure people even made music like this. I had grown out of the “angry white boy music” phase of my life (thank God), and I was over the heavily compressed guitars and post-grunge on rock radio. So, The Fratellis found me at the right time.

The music on Costello Music was loud, fast, infectious, and unapologetically glam. Every song was one big drunken sing-a-long, with one arm around your neighbor’s shoulders and the other with a fat mug of beer raised high as you sing the chorus to “Baby Fratelli” at the top of your lungs. Jon Fratelli sang stories in a thick Scottish accent about fictional characters named Henrietta, Chelsea, Vince the lovable stoner, Little (pronounced “Lih-ull”) Steven and Joanna – all of whom made the people from “Piano Man” look like designated drivers. The Fratellis knew how to party, and the whole album sounds like one big celebration.

But why should you care about Costello Music? After all, I was an impressionable high-schooler with… let’s say… an underdeveloped musical taste. That’s hardly a vote of confidence, I know. Yet, when I revisit Costello Music today, it sounds just as fun as it did 10 years ago. I think a lot of that has to do with the production, as the band recorded the album at Sunset Studios due the vintage equipment there and  Jon’s desire to create an old-fashioned, analogue sound.  More importantly, the songwriting is strong. “Whistle for the Choir” and “Ole Black and Blue Eyes” remain two of the most endearing ballads I’ve ever heard, and “For the Girl” is another rambunctious album highlight that belies the aching love song inside. This album is full of drunken anthems, but it never staggers. It’s one of the most fun albums I’ve ever listened to, and it continues to be this day.

So, go! Go grab a pint, grab a friend, grab another pint, and come live amongst the has-beens and the addicts with the Fratellis and their memorably zany debut album, Costello Music. 

A Deeper Side of Phil Collins

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Phil Collins, 2016, in need of a shave

Do you like Phil Collins? If you’re anything like me (or Patrick Bateman), you answered that question with a rabid “HELL YEAH I DO!” before realizing that you’re the only person in the room with foam coming out of your mouth.

Believe it or not, Phil Collins isn’t exactly the most popular person on the planet today (I know, I’m surprised too). Peter Gabriel would rather go on a nostalgia tour with Sting than team up with Collins and the Genesis gang again. Even Adele isn’t answering his calls, and as we all know, she LOVES talking on the phone.

Why has Phil Collins been seemingly shunned by the rest of society? Well, it’s probably because there was a point in time when you couldn’t get enough of Phil Collins. For most of the 80s and 90s, the man was EVERYWHERE: your car radio, MTV, both locations of Live Aid (Philadelphia and London), and Miami Vice. He couldn’t even take a shower without having to entertain somebody somewhere. Not only was Phil Collins’ solo career taking flight, that other band he was in, Genesis, was reaching the peak of their commercial success at the same damn time.

But one can only be under the spotlight for so long before burning up, and Phil Collins was in it longer than usual. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? Well, Phil kind of did both.

Other than his Academy Award-winning single for the Disney movie Tarzan, “You’ll Be In My Heart,” (which spent 19 weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart), the critics were relentless towards Phil’s music, as was the case throughout most of his career in front of the drums in Genesis. Collins’ last original studio album, 2002’s Testify, was the worst-reviewed album at the time of its release.

Physical health was beginning to become a concern as well. At first, he was having issues with his hearing. After his reunion tour with Genesis in 2007, it was revealed that Collins could no longer play the drums after dislocating vertebrae in his upper neck, affecting his ability to hold a drumstick. All these years of constant performing (not to mention the constant dissent from critics) had physically and mentally worn Collins down. His self-esteem, once his defining trait on and off the stage, had hit an all-time low. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Collins was painted as a lonely old man who was more interested in collecting artifacts from the Alamo (of all things) than playing music again. He even alluded to feelings of depression, claiming that he had contemplated committing suicide, but resisting for the sake of his children. So, for the first time in his career, Phil Collins stayed quiet.

For decades, Phil was always there – always ready to provide a drum fill or score a Disney movie. So, we in turn took him for granted, and you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, right? For Phil Collins, the recent years of solitude have done wonders for his reputation. During Phil’s time off the face of the Earth, Genesis has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and festering Genesis reunion pleas from fans have only grown stronger. More telling is the fact that many of today’s top musicians have found an appreciation for his music. For instance, members of Arcade Fire, The Strokes, and Bon Iver covered “In the Air Tonight” a few years ago in Montreal. Electro-pop duo Phantogram recently released a cover of “Take Me Home” (so did JoJo, who apparently still does things). Even rappers like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Nas, Cam’ron, and Action Bronson have all sampled Collins’ music (because, you know, when I think of rap, I immediately think of Phil Collins). As the kids would say, it’s lit! Now, notable indie music blogs like Stereogum and Pitchfork are even covering Phil Collins news (including his recent performance at the US Open tennis tournament in New York in September) in between their daily Kanye West features.

It seems the time is right for Phil Collins to stage a comeback of sorts. After rereleasing his solo albums earlier this year with his now age-worn, wrinkly face spread on the covers, Collins is now set to publish his new memoir Not Dead Yet on October 25. We’ve all seen his face on those album covers, and now we’ll finally get a glimpse inside his head.

The book promises to be an honest look at the iconic pop singer’s life and career, one which many people think they know when in reality, only the surface has been scratched. Phil’s rise to stardom is already a fascinating story, because there was a chance it never was going to happen in the first place. The drum kit was Phil’s sanctuary – a fort of cymbals and toms to hide behind while the theatrical and charismatic Peter Gabriel ran the show in Genesis. When Gabriel quit the band, Collins was shoved into the spotlight on a whim, and in turn, he managed to overtop Gabriel at his own game, without the help of any mask. It’s sure to be an entertaining and enlightening read.

So, since the world is about to get a deeper view into the life of Phil Collins with Not Dead Yet, I figured why not take a moment and listen to some of the deeper cuts from Phil Collins’ storied musical career (“Gabriel-only” Genesis fans need not apply).

Genesis – “Please Don’t Ask”

One of Phil’s first tracks he wrote for Genesis, “Please Don’t Ask” is a brutally honest song about a man going through going through the motions of being newly-divorced and learning to deal with his new life. It’s Phil at his most vulnerable, which you can hear clearly in his voice, and it’s perhaps his most endearing performance.

Genesis – “More Fool Me” (live 1973)

This early live rendition of “More Fool Me” (from the Genesis Archives box set) features a young and uncharacteristically timid Phil Collins at the mic for the first time as a member of Genesis, and only Phil could deliver a song so touching. Collins practically coos into the microphone, with his voice soft to the touch. His singing would become more powerful and confident in the years to come.

Genesis – “You Might Recall”

I don’t understand why Genesis decided to leave this song off Abacab and put the goofy “Whodunnit?” in its place. It would’ve made for a perfect centerpiece to an admittedly disjointed album. But hey,   Abacab has since become certified double Platinum – selling 2 million copies worldwide – so what the hell do I know?

Genesis – “Los Endos”

Hard core Genesis fans know this gem from A Trick of the Tail, as it has been a staple in their show for years, but casual fans may have missed this frantic instrumental. On the band’s first record without Peter Gabriel, Genesis sounds rejuvenated with Phil at the helm, and “Los Endos” sees them firing on all cylinders. Although Phil doesn’t sing on this one, his finger prints are all over this. This was his baby.

Genesis – “Fading Lights”

We Can’t Dance might not have been a fan favorite, but you have to admit, THIS is how you close out an album. On “Fading Lights,” Genesis not only ended the album in style but they also put an emphatic punctuation mark to close this chapter of the band’s history. (By the way, can we all pretend that We Can’t Dance was the last Genesis album? Yes? Great! So it’s settled: there were no Genesis albums recorded after We Can’t Dance… none whatsoever… certainly none with a different singer and drummer, because that would be ridiculous. In fact, that wouldn’t be a Genesis album at all.)

Brand X – “And So To F”

Oh yeah, Phil Collins had another band: Brand X. Collins played drums for this British jazz fusion outfit on and off in his spare time for about 5 years before finally leaving to focus on Genesis and his solo career full time. This track, off the band’s 1979 album Product, is a great example of Phil’s unique drum styling and timing.

John Martyn – “Can’t Turn Back the Years” feat. Phil Collins

British singer-songwriter John Martyn collaborated with Phil Collins a few times over the years, with Collins playing drums and singing backup vocals on Martyn’s albums Grace and Danger and Glorious Fool (which was also produced by Collins). Before Martyn’s death in 2009, he and Collins recorded this track (originally on Collins’ Both Sides) for an album that was later released posthumously in 2011 titled Heaven and Earth. Martyn’s weary vocal delivery here adds new meaning and depth to Collins’ words. While Martyn made the song great, it’s still nothing without Phil Collins’ knack for a catchy ballad.

Phil Collins – “Colours”

Say what you want about Phil Collins, but there’s no denying the man has a knack for writing epic songs that provide the most bang for your buck. Sometimes they’re in short, compact tunes like “Against All Odds,” but other times, Phil can’t help but write a longer song that could’ve fit on a latter-day Genesis record like this one from …But Seriously.

Phil Collins – “It’s In Your Eyes”

Ok, I realize this isn’t THAT much of a deep cut since it has an official music video, but any chance to see Phil Collins play a guitar is pretty rare. Since this song is from an album that was released WAY later in his solo career (1996’s Dance Into The Light), it’s been unfairly neglected. It’s a delightful little pop song in the vein of George Harrison. Speaking of whom, did you know Phil Collins played the congas on “Art of Dying” from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass? I guess being an audience member in the film for A Hard Days Night wasn’t Phil’s only Beatles-related claim to fame. The more you know!

Phil Collins – “Thunder and Lightning”

Funky Phil Collins is the best. And… wait… this song has a music video too?! I thought I was being so clever with these “deep cuts.” What the hell, man? You’re making me look bad! I think Phil just loves being filmed while walking around casually as he lip-syncs his songs. He’s probably making a music video right now while he brushes his teeth. I bet he’s wearing suspenders too.

Phil Collins – “We Said Hello, Goodbye (Don’t Look Back)”

As a B-side to “Take Me Home,” this song tends to get overlooked, which is a shame because it’s one of his best ballads. No way would this song have fit on No Jacket Required, one of the most essential albums of the 80’s, but it’s a clinic in tasteful pop songwriting. That echo-y piano plunk, the build-up, the climax… it’s Phil Collins pretending to be Elton John, but without the glam.

 

 

 

 

 

To WXPN, with love

I’m in love.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something here, but I have a burning in my heart that MUST be shared with the world. I feel like Buddy the Elf, twirling into his father’s big meeting with the “angry elf”. I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!

Yes, I am in love. I am in love with 88.5 FM WXPN, Philadelphia’s best and most vital radio station.

How did this happen? Well, as chance would have it, I was driving on I-76 into Philadelphia (well, “driving” may be a stretch… more like slowly seeping eastward), and I felt the need to listen to something other than my collection of music on my iPod. So, I turned to my old friend the radio, something I don’t normally do. The last time I honestly enjoyed listening to the radio was probably when I was still driving around with my mom and “How Bizarre”  was being played.

After I switched the radio on, WXPN was the first station I landed on, right there at the beginning of the dial. And what to my wondering ears should appear but the XPN Morning Show with Kristen Kurtis and Bob Bumbers, playing one of my favorite artists – Courtney Barnett – on the radio of all places, a medium usually reserved for teeny-boppers and Rihanna.

From there, I was hooked. It didn’t take much. That morning, I was serenaded by some current & old favorites of mine, but was also introduced to artists like Sarah Jarosz, Lake Street Drive, and Oh Pep!. They even played a few great tracks off of the Day of the Dead compilation (including the great rendition of “Sugaree” by Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis & Friends). It was love at first listen, I tell ya.

WXPN, a non-commercial, member-supported radio service of the University of Pennsylvania, strives to connect artists and audiences with a particular emphasis on new and significant artists and music. You won’t hear any commercials clogging up airtime (other than the occasional PSA). What you WILL hear is a celebration rock, blues, folk, and world music, giving many local and indie artists an opportunity to be heard. The next song you hear could be your new favorite band, and your new favorite band could be living next door (or hey, it could be me… sorry for the shameless self-promotion).They’ll play The National, David Bowie, Car Seat Headrest, The Strokes, Kurt Vile, Bruce Springsteen, and… well, you get the picture. Hell, any radio station that is willing to play “Watcher of the Skies” by Genesis in the middle of the day has my heart forever.

Since that fateful day cupid took a hold of my car radio, DJs like Helen Leicht and Dan Reed and programs like “New Music Tuesday”, “Throwback Thursday”, and “Friday Mixtape” have given me faith that radio, at least in Philadelphia, can still play a vital role in a community. WXPN also produces the live music program The World Cafe with host David Dye, a program that distributed nationally to over 200 stations across the country through NPR Music. 88.5 FM WXPN is proof that radio can still expand your musical tastes and not simply pander to it.

Yes, I am in love with a radio station, and it is a love that grows stronger with every listen.

You too can fall in love with WXPN on your computer here: xpn.org.

 

 

V for Validation – Villanova Wins!

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Villanova Wildcats, 2016 NCAA National Champions

by Jeff Yerger

NOTE: I wrote this yesterday, April 5, 2016, hence the time frame here. 

It’s been nearly 24 hours since Villanova’s historic NCAA Championship win over the University of North Carolina, and I’m still giddy with the emotions from last night. My calves hurt from jumping uncontrollably after Kris Jenkins nailed the game-winning three. I think I have a bump in my head from jumping into a TV. My legs ache from walking/jumping/skipping a Lancaster Avenue jam-packed with ecstatic fans like me from Gullifty’s Bar in Bryn Mawr to Villanova’s main campus. My face hurts from smiling like an idiot during the whole celebration up until I went to bed. And I’ve never felt better.

77-74, Villanova wins… is this real life? Did any of this actually happen? Did Jenkins really make that three, or is it still in the air? Was that actually Charles Barkley bouncing up and down like a school girl? To Villanova alumni and/or fans like me across the globe, this has been fairy tale material. Villanova’s not supposed to win these kinds of games. Only Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and UNC are allowed to win championships, right? Not some Catholic school outside of Philadelphia. Four years ago, Villanova was written off. Today, a group of scrappy kids who grew up in the greater Philadelphia area have transcended into college basketball legends. Kris Jenkins has become a folk hero. Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu blossomed into superstars before our eyes in four years. These are our guys, man. They did it!

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Villanova vs North Carolina

Yeah, I’m still at a loss for words as to how to describe this feeling (although the word “relief” and the phrase “I can now die happy” come to mind). Last night was everything I dreamed of and more, and yet, I’m not sure I could’ve pictured a more perfect moment. It was so damn perfect. This is why we love sports. We live and die by one game, one shot, one play, one moment. Games like last night’s are why we subject ourselves to years of agony and frustration, because the reward can be so damn sweet.

On a personal level, Villanova winning the national championship means the world to me, and it is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Villanova has always been a huge part of my life. Most of my family attended Villanova. My grandmother worked at the law school, while my grandfather was a professor in the library science department. My sister and I literally would not be here if it weren’t for Villanova, as our parents met there during their senior year. I’m so so lucky that they were able to afford to send me there when it was my time for college, and I don’t thank them enough for it.  To me, this win is for them; for us.

As for the rest of us, Villanova becoming national champions is validation with a capital “V” – validation for every “Piccolo Girl” tear, every early March Madness exit, and every player who has set foot in the Pavillion. It is validation for Big 5 basketball, and the great basketball culture the city of Philadelphia has to offer. It is validation for the “Nova Nation” – for every student, parent, professor, staff, alumni, and fan. It is validation for every sleepless night studying. It is validation for every dollar spent on student loans. It is validation for taking a chance and submitting an application to attend Villanova University. Villanova’s win validates the pride we all have for this great school and its community. It’s way more than basketball.

This year’s Villanova Basketball team played with an unmatched amount of heart, courage, and sportsmanship. They always hustled, and they never faltered under pressure, winning many games and countless hearts in the process. Every player on this team played an important role in this championship, from the walk-ons to the video coordinator, because that’s what great teams do. We always knew we had a great coach in Jay Wright, who now has a new ring to add to his spectacular wardrobe. We always knew we had a great team that was capable of great things, and it’s about time we got some validation. We earned it.



Slonk So Hard

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Slonk Donkerson, Mercury Lounge, New York, NY  2.26.16 Photo by Jeff Yerger

I have no idea what the name Slonk Donkerson means. It could be a sandwich, a disease, or the name of an alien from a galaxy far away. Frankly, I don’t care what it means, but it feels like it’s been around forever.

Slonk Donkerson, a Brooklyn-based band of long time friends Dylan Vandenhoeck (bass/lead vocals), Zack O’Brien (formerly drums, now guitar/backup vocals), and Parker W. Silzer IV (guitar/vocals), absolutely rocked the Mercury Lounge in New York City Friday, February 26. They’re everything you could possibly want in a band: poise, attitude, rawness, and slick rock and roll that pays homage to The Replacements, Husker Du, and even the bands those groups stood against like Van Halen, 80’s Genesis, and Rush. Plus, Vandenhoeck is a mullet-clad frontman who plays a fretless, five-string bass…  I mean, come on, how cool is that?

On paper, this concept sounds so insincere and perhaps a little cheesy, but man, Slonk Donkerson is the exact opposite. It’s not just enough to sound like bits and pieces of these bands, you have to evoke the feeling and energy that comes along with the sound. Slonk brought that kind of musical excitement to the Mercury Lounge Friday. It was a kind of excitement that I haven’t felt since I saw The Replacements for the first time at Forrest Hills in 2014. Plus, they’re crowd-pleasers. I have the utmost respect for a band that’s not too proud to play a song or two that the crowd wants the hear. I’m not even sure “Watching Every Channel at Once” and “Build Something / Break Even” (my two immediate favorites) were on the setlist, but when the crowd shouted out for them, they played them.

Their new album, The Lunar Martini Motorbike Club and Their Respective Destinies is…well… weirdly named but wildly fun. Slonk has a unique talent for combining a million different sounds and different ideas into one 3:00 song. While it’s evoking familiar sounds, Slonk Donkerson is so different than anything coming out of Brooklyn. It’s refreshing. I highly recommend seeing this band at one of their many shows in the New York City area (here’s hoping they travel down to Philly where I am now). They’re a great band with a bright future and a killer live show. It’s as Slonk as that!

Go listen to their album on Soundcloud or better yet, buy it on iTunes.

 

The (Frustrating) Life of Pablo

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”

It’s finally happened. Kanye West has actually gone insane. His mind has always been in a perpetual state of motion, constantly redirecting his attention from music to art to fashion to Twitter and to God-knows what else. On his latest The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s ego has finally the better of him. The rollout for TLOP was an absolute shit show of empty promises and false starts (it still is). The album itself is an absolute mess. I’m not even confident it’s finished. In fact, I hope it really isn’t finished. If TLOP actually turns out to be an experiment on how the music media will seemingly eat up anything he shits out on both Tidal and Twitter, then I will certainly tip my “Yeezus” cap to him. Until then, I cannot sit here and defend this record.

Not that he needs me to. For all the shit Kanye West gets for is actions outside the studio (some of it deserved, most of it not), people tend to forget that he is a truly gifted musician. Kanye West is a man with a unique gift of musical knowledge and a golden touch for sampling and producing. He is a smart person brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, who can be as articulate as a professor when he wants to be. That’s why it’s frustrating that Kanye West would release such a deliberately half-hassed product, but I like to think he knows what he’s doing. It’s like Kanye knows that even if he farts in a microphone, critics will love it anyway. After listening to some of these lyrics, he did exactly that. He spewed a lot of that sort of crap on Yeezus, but at least on that record, the music had purpose and razor-sharp focus. Every word he spoke came across like an exorcising of demons, and we all bought it. On TLOP, the lyrics are cringe-worthy just for the sake of being cringe-worthy, and now I find myself wondering if everything that was said on Yeezus was just as cheap and insincere. As attention-getters, the X-rated lyrics work, but in the end, many of the songs suffer for the ignorance.

But it’s not just the lyrics that are way sub-par. The music, 90% of it not even produced by West himself, is consistently inconsistent and relentlessly frustrating. You keep waiting for songs like “FML” and “Highlights”, which have SO much potential, to become fully realized. Instead, they feel tossed aside from a man bored with his own creation.

Take the track “30 Hours” for example. Initially, it’s one of the best songs on the album, as Kanye raps like he’s still wearing pink polos over a beat that would fit right in on The College Dropout. It’s hard-hitting, direct, and damn good. That is, until it isn’t. Like a NJ Transit train headed to Penn Station, Kanye inexplicably stops. He just gives up on the song, turning a potential show-stopper into a glorified demo. Instead of finishing the song out, he blabbers on about bonus tracks, mumbles a barely conceived verse idea, and even answers his damn cell phone. He just leaves all of that in there! Critics will tell you this is art – the sound of a scatterbrained man at work – but I’m here to tell you this is bullshit. Any track that features Andre 3000 but doesn’t actually have Andre 3000 rapping (or doing anything, really) on the song is bullshit. The two rappers had a chance at a banger, but instead settled for an under-cooked piece of meat. It’s the story of this album, really. Kanye settles; he never attacks. And he wants Tidal users to pay $20 for this? Come on, man. Would you buy a car with no wheels for $50,000?

Now, that’s not to say that TLOP doesn’t have its moments of clarity. Like I said, it’s easy to forget that Kanye West is a gifted producer. The skeletal “Ultralight Beam” delivers on Kanye’s Twitter promise of this album being a “gospel album.” Ever the curator, Kanye lets the young Chance the Rapper steal the spotlight with the most captivating verse on a Kanye West album since Nicki Minaj’s ferocious debut on “Monsters”. The first true taste of TLOP back in January, “Real Friends,” is another understated but beautiful gem, with a moody, haunting piano setting the scene for Kanye to once again play the bad friend and even worse family member. It’s one of those songs that reminds you why you root for Kanye in the first place. The best song on TLOP by far is “No More Parties in LA,” and it’s one of the best songs of the year so far. It’s a perfect example of what makes Kanye West so great, and also what makes this album so frustration because of how it could’ve been so much more. Kanye, along with Kendrick Lamar(!), just let loose on this track. The three samples on here, including Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy,” have no right being on the same track together, yet it sounds so seamless and captivating. It’s the most fully realized this album gets, and I can guarantee you’re going to be hearing a lot more of it blaring out of car stereos this summer.

I want to sit down with Kanye West. I want to tell him that he’s capable of so much more. We all know this, and I think he knows it too. So, why is he settling for this? I want to know why he isn’t pushing himself to be better, like all the greats. Or maybe he’s pushing to hard… no one man should have all that power, right? I’m not looking for the old Kanye; I’m just looking for a sign that the man is still willing to continue to push himself musically, and not merely settle. Give me a chance to interview him, to buy him a beer he desperately seems to need. I want to ask him all these things and more. He’d probably tell me to fuck off, and if he did, I’d be happy because at least that would mean the fire isn’t out.