Tag Archives: album review

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.

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Foxy Shazam Goes Gonzo

by Jeff Yerger

Foxy Shazam is about as unpredictable as they come. I lost sight of this for a while there. I was assuming their new album, GONZO, would follow the path of theatrical glam pop-rock its predecessors exceeded in. I was hoping this album would be their biggest and catchiest yet, but Foxy Shazam is anything but predictable.

I can honestly say that I never saw GONZO coming, because really, I never would’ve thought this band had it in them. This is a statement record, one few bands dare to make. They followed up a heavily produced glam rock record produced by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (The Church of Rock and Roll) with a raw piece of angry indie rock produced by the master of angry indie rock, Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey). On GONZO, Foxy Shazam have ditched their theatrics for minimalism, and are quite literally having their In Utero moment.

Recorded all in one day on Halloween this past year, GONZO is about as authentic and stripped as they come. “[The album] was written in a room, recorded in a room, all together,” singer Eric Nally states in the album’s press release. “It was a shared experience, and an easier process, and things really started to come out. It was a very organic experience, and it shows. And I can read [GONZO] like a book, like a cohesive piece of art. It’s by far the most personal album to me.”

GONZO is in fact a very dark record. It follows a loose story line about a man (or Muppet?) struggling with fame and being away from his family (something which Nally has been no stranger to singing about in the past). For a band known in the past for not taking themselves too seriously, lines like “A picture of me with a smile that I’m not faking / I wish things were the way they are when the picture was taken” in the excellent “Shoebox,” hit pretty hard. Nally sounds hurt, tired, and frustrated (“I got no cash flow man I’m working… It’s a tragic thrill. I’m finding out who I was, who I really am”). His voice is shredded and strained to the limit, like a man on his last leg, especially as he wails, “I’m not afraid to die ‘cause I’m already dead,” on “Have the Fun.” While teenage angst may have paid off well for Kurt Cobain, Eric Nally just feels bored and old.

A friend of mine pointed out that GONZO kinda sounds like an unfinished demo. While it’s slightly more professional than that, he does have a point. Even for an Albini production, GONZO sounds REALLY sparse. As is typical with Albini, each instrument is mic’d far away and indirectly, making the room itself an instrument. You can hear the sound from each instrument reverberate off every corner and crevice, and because of the polished Foxy records we’ve come to know and love in the past, this album sounds extra bare. There are no overdubbed vocals and no double-tracked or layered guitars. Everything is exposed.

Bassist Daisy Caplan said in a recent Reddit AMA that all the songs on GONZO were recorded in consecutive order with everyone in one room, and with the same set up for each song. “There are less than five overdubs on the whole record, no overdubbed vocal harmonies, and about 1/3 of the songs are actually first takes,” writes Caplan. He also mentioned that the vocals, which usually require a separate booth for recording to reduce sound bleeding, were recorded live in the room with the guitar amps and drums. “Even Steve Albini thought we were crazy.” The result is a jarring change in sound for Foxy, but the energy and spontaneity of this record is undeniable and at times, downright beautiful. For instance, there’s a moment on “In This Life” after the second chorus where the guitar and piano build upon this riff they’ve been hinting at the whole song into an understated crescendo. It’s typical Foxy grandioso, but in a different way.

GONZO is going to piss a lot of Foxy Shazam fans off. That’s just a fact of life with a record like this, but I think at the same time, this record is going to earn them tons of respect. I don’t think GONZO their best record (that would be their last one), but I do think this is their most cohesive and honest effort to date. This is a scathing record; a therapeutic primal scream from a band that could no longer laugh away the hurt. I think this is something that they needed to get off their chest, and the fact that they recorded this all in one day shows that they wanted to get these demons out and not dwell on any of it. As I mentioned before, not a lot of bands have the balls to do something like this, so you have to give credit where credit is due. With GONZO, Foxy Shazam have taken a big step in their journey. Which direction this step is in I haven’t a clue, but I’m not even going to try to predict.

Stream and download the album for FREE at foxyshazam.com.

New Music: Pool Cosby – MMHMM (remixes x mash​-​ups x edits)

Pool Cosby isn’t your typical band, and MMHMM isn’t your typical remix album. In an era where anyone with GarageBand can create a passable remix, Brooklyn’s Pool Cosby turns the mash-up genre on its head, and in turn creates something entirely organic and fresh. While the White Pandas or Girl Talks of the world rely heavily on computerized beats and blistering EDM freak outs, Pool Cosby makes smooth beats out of live instruments intertwined with hip hop and soul samples, never relying on any clichés.

Pool Cosby is Joseph Caravalho (producer/sampler), Kevin Kuh (Violins), Kristine Kruta (Cello), and Nacor Zuluaga Morelo (bass and drums), and MMHMM shows the band working together as a cohesive unit, capturing their live energy better than anything the band has released thus far in their young career.

The album starts out subtly, as far as instrumental aesthetics go, but then again, introducing your remix album with a classic Sam Cooke sample is anything but subtle. It’s a bold mission statement that says while the likes of Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, and Sam Cooke have long ago laid the foundations of pop and soul, Pool Cosby is here to respectfully and creatively gesture to a new direction. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what remixes and/or covers are all about?

Other artists like Danny Brown, Frank Ocean, Missy Elliot, Sigur Ros, and even Will Smith are juxtaposed and molded together throughout MMHMM, which isn’t exactly a revolutionary concept, but Pool Cosby’s ability to bring it all together and make it sound natural from song to song truly takes some skill.

MMHMM is a refreshing take on hip hop and electronic music because it never feels manufactured. The live strings and percussion found on a majority of this album and other Pool Cosby tracks add a human element that lots of electronic projects lack.

Download Pool Cosby’s MMHMM here, and be sure to see them at their next show on April 4th at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn.

Dum Dum Girls Follow A New Muse on “Too True”

by Jeff Yerger

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further… you know, the big purpley elephant in the room. Let’s all just agree that the album cover to the Dum Dum Girls’ third full-length album, Too Soon, is horrendous and tacky. What is Dee Dee wearing? Why is she looking at me like that? Why is she even on this cover at all? Up until now, the Dum Dum Girls’ album covers have been pretty cool, at times, beautiful. This gaudy thing belongs in the shreader, but I can’t tell if this is on purpose or not.

Right, where were we? The music. Yes, well the music a completely different story all together. In fact, Too True is yet another bold step from a band that seems to get better with every release. Voice problems be damned, frontwoman Dee Dee Penny followed her music (“desire”) deep down the rabbit hole and what has come out on the other side is a lush haze of 80s-goth inspired garage pop.

Like a flower that’s slow to bloom, Too True takes its time to open up. The first three tracks are come across as half-baked ideas that never really seem to take off. “Rimbaud Eyes” is the most generic out of the three, and like the album art, you begin to wonder why these songs were included. Perhaps that muse Dee Dee was after led her down the wrong path.

Yet, as soon as the gorgeous “Are You Okay?” comes along, Too True turns into a completely different album; the sequencing is more balanced and the songwriting is much sharper. “In The Wake of You” is an immediate stand-out, as it is the culmination of everything the band has done up to this point. Its widescreen chorus points to the future, but the rhythm and grungy guitar hint at the Dum Dum Girls’ roots in garage rock.

The great thing about Too True is that while every song on here is unique, the overall vibe and sound remains constant. That’s not an easy thing to do. I can’t picture any of these songs on another Dum Dum Girls record, and I think that’s a good thing. Dee Dee is mastering her craft, and album by album, she remains looking forward. In the past, she has made this sound easy, but on Too True it feels a little more earned. Give this album some loving care, and watch it blossom into the beautiful flower it truly is.