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Thread: Kanye's New CD?
12-02-2008 07:56 PM #1
Kanye's New CD?
What does everyone who listens to that type of music think about it?
12-02-2008 08:22 PM #2
Let me preface this by saying that I'm not really a Kanye West fan. I don't particularly like his voice or his flow when he raps, and his beats (at least the ones that you hear on the radio) all sound too similar for my tastes after a while. When you consider that you're hearing all of that style on his albums, in addition to the various other songs he produces for other artists, it's a simple case of overexposure that's soured me on his production.
As for 808s & Heartbreak, it's certainly a departure from his normal fare. You can hear a lot of pure emotion in the songs, and they seem a lot more... personal than most of his other work. Lyrically, there's not much that is extremely profound or intricate, but the songs are all pretty well put together.
The one thing that I greatly dislike about the album is the (over)use of voice modulation. Every time he's singing, and some of the time he's rapping, he's putting his voice through an auto-tuner, which I'm generally not a fan of. I'm all for electronic music and whatnot, but in this case I think it detracts from the emotion he's trying to express. Perhaps it's just a simple case of him not having the pipes to sing without the assistance of such modulation, but to hear it every song really grates on me. I've yet to listen to more than three songs in a row mostly because of it, though I've heard the entire album.
All in all, it's a pretty decent album. I'd give it an 8/10. He'll probably garner a Grammy nomination or two for it, since it's a pretty big difference from his "normal" music. He took a risk with the music on the album, and I can certainly respect that. I have a feeling that this will be one of those albums that is loved by critics and tossed aside by the fans. People expecting a typical Kanye album may be disappointed in it, despite its quality.
12-02-2008 08:28 PM #3
808s and Heartbreak
[Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam; 2008]
Buy it from Insound
Download it from eMusic
Poor Kanye West. The guy was already a ball of conflicts and contradictions-- hand-wringing over his consumption one moment, boasting about his wealth the next. He's someone as driven by ego as he is plagued by doubt-- in other words, a wholly human pop star. This year, however, was particularly rough: He and his fiancée broke up, and his mother, Donda West-- who alone raised Kanye from the age of three-- died from complications after cosmetic surgery. Kanye blamed himself for his mother's death, singling out his own vanity, wealth, and pursuit of glamour and celebrity. His response? He's made 808s and Heartbreak, which as the title hints is an introspective, minimal electro-pop record steeped in regret, pain, and even more self-examination than a typical Kanye West album. And as you've no doubt heard, on 808s West sings everything through Auto-Tune rather than rapping, a decision that for some has made this record a non-starter.
The recent embrace of the common studio aid seems akin to pro wrestling saying, "**** it, this isn't real" and making it more transparent and scripted (and successful). But vocal manipulation isn't only the practice of radio-ready rap, of course-- it's been a signpost for "futuristic music" ever since Joe Meek heard "a New World" almost 50 years ago. In this decade, records like Radiohead's Kid A/Amnesiac, the Knife's Silent Shout, and Daft Punk's Discovery were heralded in part for screwing with vocals; last year both Battles and Dan Deacon revived the old Alvin and the Chipmunks trick of shifting pitches and speeds; and Bon Iver's forthcoming EP features a song sung, T-Pain style, through Auto-Tune. And, lest we forget, Kanye West himself made his name as a producer in part thanks to his "chipmunk soul" vocal samples. So why is this approach, from this guy, now such a problem?
In part it's because it's not what people want or expect from Kanye West. Stylized Auto-Tune seems to be on about every third song on top 40 radio these days, making West seem like an opportunist or a bandwagon-jumper. But Kanye has always been more of a master assimilator: He's achieved in part because he's used wealth and fame to explore the wider world-- culturally and artistically-- rather than shut himself off from it. If this guy was jumping on a radio fad here, we'd likely get an LP's worth of "Put On"s, his summer hit and collaboration with Young Jeezy. Instead we get bedroom pop, quiet ruminations in which after staying up night after night pursuing and living the good life, Kanye wakes up to a cold, lonely dawn.
West's singing is shaky, of course, which is in part why he leans on the Auto-Tune. But it functions here as a democratizer as much as a crutch, because like all Kanye West songs, these are primarily about the experience of Being Kanye West. These are expressions of the specific feelings of one guy; there is still, to West at least, more emotional nourishment to be wrung from song than speech, which certainly colored his decision here. But filtering these ideas through John Legend or Chris Martin or whomever would essentially kill the whole effect. This isn't new: Kanye West's music is about being a specific celebrity more than anyone's since the solo works of John Lennon. Sure Eminem weaved biography into his songs but he also wore multiple faces and worked in and out of character when it suited him; West, on the other hand, is one of the few hip-hop artists without any pseudonyms, let alone characters.
Colleagues at Pitchfork have therefore wondered why this wasn't a private record West made for himself, but again nothing he's done is private, and that's in part why he's been so compelling. The album does, however, sound purposefully removed from the start. Opener "Say You Will" boasts one of the record's biggest vocal lines but eventually runs out into a three-minute, table-setting outro-- a patient, defeated-sounding collection of choral vocals and drum machines. (A similar trick is repeated, to much worse effect, later on "Bad News".)
But the album is much larger and brasher than it would first appear-- the closer it hews to a mix of sad-sack indie pop and elegant, monied Patrick Bateman commercial 80s sounds, the better it works. The strings on "RoboCop", the relatively busy sounds of "Street Lights", the clapping drums on "Love Lockdown", and the 909 and descending synth on "Coldest Winter" are among the sonic highlights, though even these are subtle. From West's vocal delivery to the stuttering rhythms, the album reveals folds and layers on repeated listens where at first it seems almost horrifically one-note.
It's no surprise that 808s is a bit of a grower: The record's best songs-- "Paranoid", "Street Lights", "Coldest Winter", and "RoboCop"-- are often its most dismal, with cavernous production giving the Auto-Tune vocals more of an echoing desolation than a pop sheen. By contrast, the more pop aspects of the album are where it relatively stumbles. "Heartless" and "Love Lockdown", both very good songs, work surprisingly well on the car radio, but they're second-tier Kanye West singles. And when the mood is broken up by outsiders or actual rapping, the results aren't pretty: The two songs featuring superstar guests-- "Amazing" with Jeezy and "See You in My Knightmares" with Lil Wayne-- are also the proper LP's low points.
In the end, whether you care to envelope yourself into West's pain and self-torment largely depends on what you already think of the artist. He isn't at his most eloquent here-- raw emotion and rolling expressions of self-doubt don't seem to be ripe for poetic expression (and, woof, the tacked-on "Pinocchio Story" is a wtf curiosity at best)-- but very few songs, perhaps only "Welcome to Heartbreak", ask you to care about specific rather than expressive language. For the most part, West's pain is articulated in ways that, while borne from his experiences, can be easily translated to the listener's. The kind of universality is a staple of great pop, but it's also something that many indie-centric fans don't find appealing.
That West's ego is a roadblock has long been a lament to me, but I think it's ultimately his strength. To twice paraphrase the wisdom of "The Daily Show", the guy is aiming to be the biggest pop star in the world-- he should feel bigger than us; too often, though, we instead ask for artists to be just like us or worse. West is endowed, however, with a sense of purpose and drive that pushes him to make records with Jon Brion, to crib from French house, to put on events rather than shows, to valorize art along with commerce at a time when major labels are circling the wagon and becoming stiflingly conservative, and to break out of his comfort zone when he wants to create a record as uncomfortable as 808s. Nobody else on a large scale is coming close to firing imaginations on this level, and if the guy wants to make a record for himself he's earned the right to do it-- even if the public ultimately prefers his big, brash summer jams more than blubbery Notwist-like bedsit indie. If you're in the former camp, don't worry: Kanye has claimed he'll have another record out by June.
12-02-2008 11:48 PM #4
Honestly, I'm skeptical. The first single is ok, but I'm not sure about the whole "voice-box singing" theme.
I'm sure every song has an immaculate beat to it, but it's a shame that those beats could be wasted with the silly singing over top of it.
12-03-2008 12:02 PM #5
12-03-2008 03:11 PM #6
12-03-2008 06:14 PM #7