4.5 / 5
I mean, you always knew this was going to be awesome, right? How could it not be? Kanye West has gotten so far past the whole “emperor’s new clothes” analogy . . . if he walked down the street naked he would CREATE beautiful clothes as he strolled.
The songs are fantastic. “Black Skinhead” is one of the most infectious bangers of the year and “Blood on the Leaves” is beautiful in its sampling of Billie Holiday’s powerful classic “Strange Fruit.” Still, this is Kanye’s “angry” record, and he’s more venom-spitting here than he was even on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne.
Maybe he was trying to get all his bile out before his new daughter came into the world. Maybe he’s just really being torn down by the Kardashian hurricane. Maybe his own genius has driven him over the edge. Yeezus is at times violent, brutal, offensive, and abrasive. Throughout, West is equally brilliant and fucking bonkers. That’s why we love him.
Wakin on a Pretty Daze
2 / 5
Have you ever had that awkward encounter where your dad or uncle declared it was time to have you listen to some “real” music (i.e.: music from his youth). He would put on some dusty record from the 70’s and glance over at you with a sense of premature satisfaction as he arranged himself on the couch; “Wait till you hear this!”
As warbly acoustic guitar trickled out through his ancient turntable and shitty speakers (Seriously, what’s the deal with old people never changing their fucking turntable needles? My dad never shut up about loving his old record player, then when I tried to play one of my records his worn out needle scratched the shit out of it. When asked, he’d always insist “Oh, you just can’t find record player needles anymore. . .” You ever heard of a little something called Radioshack, old man? For a generation of people who yearn so much for the golden days, they really can’t be bothered to do 20 minutes of research.), your dad/uncle would lean back in his seat and close his eyes, lightly drumming his fingers on his belly along to the beat. As you nervously glanced across at your dad/uncle, considering how much this song faintly filling up the living room sucked, you realized that this record isn’t just about the music for him. He’s reliving being young, driving his first car with the windows down, making love to a girl he knew decades ago.
Listening to Wakin on a Pretty Daze is kind of like this experience, except that instead of being grossed out imagining your dad/uncle boning some girl who could be someone’s grandmother by now, you’re just listening to listless acoustic guitar strumming and thinking about how bored you are.
The Lonely Island
The Wack Album
It’s really easy to write this record off as silly buffoonery, but I have to say that it makes me feel really happy that people are still making comedy albums. Remember how happy Weird Al made you when you were 12? Besides, the greatest thing about The Lonely Island is that they make songs that actually sound good. With guest stars like Adam Levine, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, T-Pain, and Robyn, The Wack Album is equal parts Bad Hair Day and Now That’s What I Call Music
When I played this for my wife in the car, she liked the first half a lot, but by the second half, she said she had pretty much had enough of The Lonely Island. I think that’s accurate: The Wack Album is fun in small doses.
1 / 5
What’s the point of being a rapper if you just insist on sticking to the exact same flow throughout all of your songs and sitting back while ultra-uninspiring guest MC’s just sort of fuck it up more? None of these songs are necessarily horrible on their own, but taken as a whole, they sound like a soupy nothingness that has no reason to exist.
By the way, look at that cover. In a time when everyone’s debating and struggling with hip hop’s prevailing attitudes towards women, Bronson decided to go with an image where an exposed, seemingly exploited woman bends over a toilet with a disturbing look of distress on her face (Is she hurt? Is she sick?). Bronson himself hulks behind her, leering and threatening. His lyrics emphasize a similar misogyny. Again, we’ve got enough of this kind of shit in the world already, so Saaab Stories really didn’t need to be made.
Race: The Portrait of a Town
4 / 5
Allan Pray makes me a little nervous. He admits he has a hyper-obsessive personality, modeling his image and life after Luke Wilson’s reclusive tennis-pro character from The Royal Tenenbaums. For a few years, he played tennis constantly, 9-10 hours per day, until one day he decided it was time to redirect all his energy and time into making music. Now he carefully constructs acoustic guitar and string-filled chamber folk in his home studio and performs it with a 7-10 piece ensemble (all dressed in matching white shirts).
His lyrics, too, reveal a daunting level of focus. His whole first album centers on memories of his sister’s wedding, while his second record focuses on a single walk in the woods he took with his siblings. On Race: The Portrait of a Town, Pray is delving even further into the infinite depths of self-reflection: his mother showed him a tiny model town she had formed in her attic and named “Race.” It was filled with homemade doll representations of people she had once known, 71 in all, and Pray felt compelled to sit amongst them and write songs relating to the people whose images had been forged out of old action figures and paper mache.
Race is an ostentatious offering: spread out over twenty tracks on four discs (each disc named for the cardinal directions). Pray manages to make his songs sound at once fragile, precious, and dense with melody and detail. It’s an amazingly pleasant listen. Its scope is so dramatic, however, that I fear I’m missing a larger conceptualization of the work that’s eluded me. I suspect Race requires many listenings to fully absorb.
If you’re a fan of Sufjan Stevens or Iron and Wine, you’ll feel quite at home here. It’s always nice to hear unique music out of our fair city, and Pray is definitely out of left field. His hyper-focus makes him an complex and perhaps slightly intimidating figure. Maybe he’s just an image of what Richie Tenenbaum’s life could have been like if he took up guitar instead of hawk-training and smoking.
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