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Thoughts on Yeezus

kanye-new-album-yeezusThe first record on Kanye West’s sixth studio album, “On Sight,” clearly spells out what the fuck is about to happen for the entire length of Yeezus.

“How much do I not give a fuck? / Let me show you right now before you give it up,” West snarls before we hear a classic Kanye-esque sample, featuring the line “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”

Exactly.

West already gave us want we wanted with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He’s so good at doing this only 10 years into his professional solo career that he pulled out all the stops, scheduled every guest rapper you’d ever want to hear on a Kanye album and pushed all the studio flourishes to the extreme because he knew Dark Fantasy would play like a greatest hits album. At the very beginning of Dark Fantasy, we hear “Can we get much higher?” Like, hello.

And you wanted that again?

I’m about to compare Kanye West to Radiohead right now. Radiohead are expected to evolve and make drastic and creative leaps and bounds forward with each album. All of that came to a head with In Rainbows – it was the best of everything that had come before it. Then The King of Limbs was released and people were pissed off because it was more challenging, didn’t change things enough and was “too short.” LOL K.

I think the same thing is happening with Yeezus, although I would say it’s more like Kanye’s Kid A. You see, Kanye got us all gassed up over the past decade, made his “ultimate” album with Dark Fantasy, and then pulled the rug out from everybody who was expecting something they could play in the club or while pre-gaming.

Yeezus is a dark, twisted fantasy in its own right. It sounds like nothing else, yet peppers in sonically beautiful moments that link to Kanye’s past, most directly to the also challenging and commercially unviable 808s & Heartbreak. All at once, it’s funny, uncomfortable, provocative, beautiful, depressing and a challenge.

Very recently, celebrated band Low played the annual Rock the Garden, and people were super pissed because the band’s set consisted of one song stretched out to 27 minutes. In response, the City Pages’ Reed Fischer complied an argument for why it was actually brilliant. I’m going to use a couple of his arguments to wrap up my thoughts:

Fischer: Rock the Garden is a Walker Art Center event, not Jingle Ball.

Low not playing “Plastic Cup” is nowhere close to equivalent to Katy Perry skipping “Teenage Dream.” Get over it. The Walker has a long tradition of supporting experimental performance that sits outside the mainstream, and Low’s choice to densely explore one track was a fitting addition to the day. If anything, this will be a Low appearance that will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, “Drone, not drones,” was a completely badass way to address the crowd. Alan Sparhawk and his band looked fearless and punk as fuck up there.

Me: Kanye West is not Flo Rida, T.I. or J Cole. He’s creating art that the masses have seemed to relate to up to this point. Kanye West will not be playing Jingle Ball.

Kanye not making “Gold Digger Part 2” is kind of the point of pushing music forward. Get over it. If anything, Yeezuz will be talked about for the rest of our lives. Plus, sampling “All the Beautiful People” on “Black Skinhead” is completely badass.

Fischer: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

Admittedly, I was initially confused by the long, billowing intro that stretched easily five minutes before a noticeable change. But as the sun started to peek its way out from behind the clouds, “Do You Know How to Waltz?” began to build into something epic. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next. Although the few lyrics of the song include the line “One more reason to forget,” I guarantee no one who was gathered there Saturday will be able to erase in their minds what they experienced while Low played. A shame for those who just wanted something less unique, less singular, and less captivating. The crowd agreed that Emily Haines was “not synthetica” later on, but should remember that we should not be passive, music-consuming drones either.

Me: Not every effective piece of art is easy to pigeonhole.

From the very beginning, Yeezus sounds like no other Kanye album out there and can initially be confusing. In an era when we’re used to getting exactly what we want with a swipe of a finger on our smart phones, it can be refreshing to have a surprise, a plot twist, a moment of not knowing what will come next, a la Yeezus and Kanye’s career in general. I guarantee no one who listens to Yeezus will be able to erase in their minds what the hell just happened in their ears, on their speakers, etc.

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When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

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Top 30 Albums of 2012

Many things have influenced this list, most notably my move to Chicago in April. Being in a new city and getting to know music through headphones while riding the L instead of long drives around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis has certainly been a different experience, and a welcome change of pace. I’ve been truly falling in love with an album or bands because of my experiences at live shows in totally new venues to me. When it all ads up, I feel like this list would look a little different if I had stayed in Minneapolis.

I’ve also been nostalgic (story of my life), which is why the list is also a little #dark and emo – musicians like Andrew Bird and bands like Ben Folds Five “bring me back” and it feels weird/sad/good all at the same time. I mean does this even make sense?

This was also a weird year in music because nothing like, totally blew my fucking mind. Don’t get me wrong, every album on this list has definitely given me super fragrant moments, but nothing was really a revelation in terms of being something sounding completely different and new. I mean, Animal Collective released a new album and it didn’t even make my list. What? There are also two Minneapolis-based bands on this list. Double what?

At the same time, it almost made it harder to arrange this list, as a lot of albums could have been traded out for others equally as worthy – it’s just one song or a personal experience or another thing that determined which album one which slot.

Anyways, I’m sure I’ll feel differently about this or would have added other albums and will want to eat my own words six months down the road from now, because that always happens and I’m constantly discovering new music no matter what year it was released. So with all of that, here goes:

30. Poliça – Give You the Ghost

Polica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust, I have lots of issues with this band, this album (I tweeted something to the effect that it basically sounds like GAYNGS 2.0), but damn if “Wandering Star” doesn’t take me places every time I hear it. Whatever.

29. Sun Kil Moon – Among the Leaves

Sun Kil Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A kind album with kind music made for shuffling down Lincoln Avenue in the crisp air, especially while listening to “Sunshine in Chicago.

28. Yeasayer – Fragrant World

Yeasayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This album kind of kicked off a theme of big names releasing albums that were good, just not great, or as great as their previous efforts. Sorry Yeasayer, I’m talking about you. But this was still decent, and album closer “Glass of the Microscope” does really nice things to me.

27. Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N 2 It

Perfume Genius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s pretty. It’s depressing. It’s pretty depressing. I like it.

26. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Sharon Van Etten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really solid album, with a live performance at The Cedar to put it over the top for me.

25. Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game

Rufus Wainwright - Out Of The Game Lyrics_monsterlyricsblogspot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly not Rufus’ best work, but still enjoyable. This one may be more of a nostalgic pick for me, but you can’t deny the man’s skillz.

24. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

Delta Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry I’m not sorry.

23. Woods – Bend Beyond

Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very prolific band who released their best album yet this year.

22. The Shins – Port of Morrow

Print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I’d prefer to be a little bit more emo when spending time with The Shins, this is a solid album for a return.

21. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

Ben Folds Five

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean hiiiiiiiii, grade school, high school and college memories smacking me in the face. I really, really enjoyed this album.

20. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

Kendrick Lamar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.

19. Here We Go Magic – A Different Ship

Here We Go Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A personal favorite of mine. I just love everything about this band. As for the album, it’s all fantastic, but “How Do I Know” is just pure fucking genius.

18. Shearwater – Animal Joy

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Again, I was honestly expecting something just a little more from Shearwater, especially for a debut on Sub Pop. Little gripes aside, I Shearwater are a great band and Animal Joy is still a joy.

17. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

first-aid-kit-lions-roar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These ladies kinda came out of nowhere for me, but The Lion’s Roar is a sweet album filled with thoughtful songs that tug all the right heartstrings.

16. Passion Pit – Gossamer 

Passion Pit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After reading that Pitchfork feature, I think everyone just wanted to give Michael Angelakos a big hug. So I’m already emotionally vulnerable and then we learn all of that #dark stuff and then we have an album that sounds like a party on the surface but is actually just super sad? Sign me up Oh, also, my twin is in the band.

15. The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aaaand again, not my favorite album by The Walkmen, but Heaven still definitely has its moments.

15, Horse Feathers – Cynic’s New Year

Horse Feathers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t groundbreaking music, but frontman Justin Ringle’s voice is just so nice, and these folk tunes are simple yet gorgeous at the same time, welcoming repeat listens for whenever you want to feel cozy. Yeahhh.

 

13. Grimes – Visions

Grimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My goal in life is to become a Grimes backup dancer. Holy chic.

12. Tame Impala – Lonerism

Tame Impala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know what more I can add to the discussion of how good this album is, other than to say how good it is. It’s really good. “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” is one of the best songs of the year.

11. Hot Chip – In Our Heads

Hot Chip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know if people just forgot about how good this album is, but In Our Heads has been snubbed on many other lists. Again, it’s nothing totally radical for Hot Chip, but it is some of their best work yet.

10. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Lana Del Rey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEAVE LANA ALONE!!! But seriously though, I really love this album, including the new songs added to the Paradise edition. Just give into it already.

9. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory

Andrew Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lovely Mr. Bird returns with another lovely album.

8. The xx – Coexist

The-xx-Coexist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess I’d call this album dense, in the best way possible. You just kinda get enveloped in the whole thing. The xx just keep getting better.

7. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

Lost in the Trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This album is about the suicide of lead singer An Picker’s mom. She also had cancer. Just know that going into this. The brilliantly arranged strings that swirl around these folk-tinged songs do Picker’s mom justice. It’s not the happiest album of the year, but there can be beauty in death, and A Church That Fits Our Needs emotes that in the best way. I saw a lot of shows this year and I think Lost in the Trees’ performance at Lincoln Hall was my favorite.

6. Grizzly Bear – Shields 

Grizzly Bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted something just a little more from Grizzly Bear, but again they get away with sounding like they’re playing by the numbers, because by the numbers for Grizzly Bear is extraordinary.

5. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Frank Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pyramids.

4. Dark Dark Dark – Who Needs Who

Dark Dark Dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best breakup album in recent memory.

3. Beach House – Bloom

Beach House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach House never disappoint. Another situation where a band just keeps getting better. Put on “On the Sea” if you wanna see me cry in public.

2. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

FatherJohn_fearfun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nearly perfect album. It’s funny, touching and beautiful at the same time, with harmonies for days. You can listen to it over and over and it never gets old. The songs just drill in your head even deeper. The man can also dance.

1. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

Fiona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean have we met? We’ve been waiting for a while for this one. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when I heard she hadn’t really teamed back up with Jon Brion – the songs are some of the most stripped down and spare in her career – but this just highlights Fiona’s voice and the subject of each masterpiece. Sure there are musical flourished but only where they absolutely need to be, hitting at the perfect place to really pull at your heart, or head. She’s one of the finest songwriters around. The Idler Wheel was worth the wait and more. It was the best album of 2012.

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Fiona Apple @ The Chicago Theatre 7.10.12

It would be stupid of me to post this review and not acknowledge the fact that it’s been nearly seven months since my last post, however I think it’s fitting that the post is a review of a Fiona Apple concert.

Ms. Apple must be inside my head or spying on my life or something (yeah I’m kinda a big deal), because she seems to only release new music during transitional times in my life. I was wrapping up my life at the University of San Diego when the leaked, Jon Brion version of Extraordinary Machine flooded the internet and made girls at the on campus coffee shop I worked at come up to me and gasp, “is this new Fiona Apple???” It was also during this time, my freshman year of college, that I truly grasped the meaning behind many of the songs on When the Pawn…

By the time I had moved back to Minneapolis, the “proper” version of the album was released and provided the soundtrack to the typical emotions of a 19 year old.

Fast forward seven years and Fiona releases her first album in that same amount of time just as I begin to get settled into my new life in Chicago. The songs on The Idler Wheel… showcase a still emotional Fiona who is also more mature, focused, and, in some cases, particularly on “Anything We Want,” maybe even a little happy. I can relate.

This is what happens when you move to a new city where you don’t know anyone else who would pay $100 for a main floor ticket to see Fiona Apple at the Chicago Theatre – you go alone. I figured I could at least cry in peace.

I hadn’t seen Fiona perform live since she toured for Extraordinary Machine with Damien Rice in 2006, a cathartic one-two punch of a double bill, and as the lights lowered in the Chicago Theatre, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. If she stuck to the same setlist that she had performed at the handful of shows before her Chicago stop, I was in for a treat.

Apple quite literally roared on stage, starting the show with some of her more ferocious songs including “Fast As You Can,” and “On the Bound,” during which she writhed and danced on stage like the songs and their lyrical content had actually infected her small body.

Moving to the grand piano on stage, we were next treated to the emotionally charged “Shadowboxer,” Apple sounding no older than the 19 year old who originally recorded the song for her debut album, Tidal. Still sounding timeless, fan favorite “Paper Bag” delighted the very enthusiastic, sold out crowd, as nearly everyone sang along as Apple shuffled about.

“Paper Bag” segued seamlessly into “Anything We Want,” the audience’s first live taste of one of her newest songs. As widely reported before, and as Apple has admitted, when she performs her music, she relives those memories all over again in the present – I don’t know what inspired “Anything We Want,” but during the lyric “Let’s pretend we’re 8 years old playing hooky,” Apple was smiling wide, even hopping around a little as she sang “I’ll draw on the wall and you can play UFC rookie.”

During “Daredevil,” Apple grasped a drumstick in her right hand, slapping her own thigh as she wailed, “Look at, look at, look at, look at me, I’m all the fishes in the sea.” Her four-piece band expertly reproduced the intricate beats and myriad percussion sounds found on The Idler Wheel… and the rest of her catalogue, even as Apple jumped over to a bass drum to pound out the rhythm near the end of “Daredevil.”

Since Fiona Apple is a scarce commodity in the musical world, the audience cheered on her and her quirks during “Extraordinary Machine” and respectfully settled down as she through the quiet “I Know.” Throughout the entire show, Apple’s vocals were impressive and piercing (in the best way possible), effectively searing the lyrics and melodies of each song into the audience’s heads. However, it was during the closing number, a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe,” that Apple’s vocals truly swelled above the music and certainly left my jaw on the floor.

Fiona performed quite the cathartic exercise and we, as music fans, should be appreciative that she shares those moments in her life with us at all, especially through music.

Setlist:

1. Fast As You Can
2. On the Bound
3. Shadowboxer
4. Paper Bag
5. Anything We Want
6. Get Gone
7. Sleep to Dream
8. Extraordinary Machine
9. Werewolf
10. Tymps
11. Daredevil
12. I Know
13. Every Single Night
14. Not About Love
15. Carrion
16. Criminal
17. It’s Only Make Believe (Conway Twitty cover)

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