Tag Archives: my beautiful dark twisted fantasy

The Ten Most Important Artists Of The Last Decade – 2. Kanye West

Kanye West begins his 2010 song Power with line: “I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, doing it better than anybody you ever seen do it,”   It’s the public personality of Kanye West put to music – a song full of boasts, and shots at his critics.  Yet, at the end of the song as the chanting and electro-rock beat that drives the song dies down, West pulls back from the egomaniac we know – and admits that death seems comforting –  “it would be a beautiful death, dropping out the window”.  It’s no surprise that West would use a choir chant as the background like he did with “Jesus Walks”.  It’s a sonic link between the struggles of earth, and ultimately salvation.

The struggle between his ego and his insecurities is at the heart of some of West’s best music – “Through the Wire”, “Jesus Walks”, “Stronger”, “Runaway” etc. Bragging has always been a favorite past-time of many rappers, and while Kanye does plenty of that – he’s not afraid to shed his skin.  There’s a reason why Kanye never took a stage name – he’s never had to create a persona.  From the outbursts to his music, Kanye is telling his audience and his critics exactly who he is.  Even the detour into his tortured psyche – 808s & Heartbreak was interesting and bold (even if it didn’t reach the heights of his previous albums.)  Even through the auto-tuned vocals, West revealed a side of himself that few rappers (and even other musicians) have dared. It’s the hip-hop equivalent of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band – the soundtrack to a man who’s witnessing himself spinning out of control.  Time has been kinder to this album – it’s become the blueprint for what can now considered to be “emo-rap” influencing other artists, particularly West’s protege Kid Cudi.

But what really sets West apart from other artists, is his ear for music and sound.  Sampling has always been a tool for hip-hop, but West is one of the few producers to actually master it.  Instead of just sticking a sample in the song – West uses samples from all over the music world, particularly soul that become the driving force behind his beats.  Who else would think of using “Diamonds Are Forever” as a hook?  “We Major” contains of West’s best lyrics, but it’s really constant horns that make the song truly memorable.  “All Of The Lights” is a collage of sounds (horns, weird beats, over 40 vocalists) that on paper shouldn’t work, but has already become something of a classic.   The piano of  “Runaway” (perhaps West’s best song) pulls you into his dark twisted fantasy where the douche-bags and assholes deserve toasts. This is even before the song take a left turn into 3-minutes into a mix auto-tuned vocals, distorted guitars, and violin turning the song into a perfect mix of traditional instruments, and post-modern synthetic sounds.

Throughout the past decade, West has constantly defined what records can sound like.  His latest offering My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been called “the Pet Sounds of hip-hop” for its scope, vision, and sound.  His personality, he can sometimes be insufferable.  But West not only pushes himself, but all of music.  He’s a true visionary, whose influence will continue for years to come.  As West himself says, “no one man should have all that power”.

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Best Of The Year

Jesus, it’s been a while hasn’t it?  Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been kind of experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately.  Not sure why.  But since we’re at the end of the year, I thought I’d give out my picks for the best records of the year.  And here we go!  (Note: Re-issues, don’t count otherwise I would have had Dylan and Springsteen on my list.)

 

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it,” He declares on “Power”.  Sure he might be boasting, but when you deliver songs like “Runaway” with its haunting piano there’s a reason to.   Sonically, the songs are all over the place – “All of the Lights” is rap/pop at its best, then there’s the slow-stoner burn of “Gorgeous” complete with a distorted guitars, and a song that uses a choir chanting endlessly in the background, plus a King Crimson sample should not work, but somehow “Power” does just that.  Kanye West may be everyone’s favorite whipping boy at the moment, but he’s moved onto the future and everybody has to play catch up.  As he says in “Monster”: “I’m living the future so the presence is my past.  My presence is a present kiss my ass.”

The New Pornographers – Together


I admit I was actually bored by the NP’s last album, Challengers. It seemed to be lacking something, and I could never pin it down.  Luckily, the band probably had the same idea, and discovered their love for power-pop with Together, while adding some new ideas into the mix with the Black Sabbath-esque riff of “Your Hands (Together)”.   The hooks are there again, and the harmonies between Carl Newman and Neko Case never sounded sweeter as they do on songs such as “Silver Jenny Dollar” and “Moves”.

Elvis Costello – National Ransom


While the last few efforts by Costello have been of high quality (Momufuku, Secret Profane & Sugarcane) with National Ransom, Costello digs deep and delivers one of his best albums in years.  Costello ever being the musical nerd (and this is a good thing) like Dylan in recent years draws on pre-rock influences – “My Lovely Jezebel” sounds it was written in the mid west, circa the late 1890s.  Bluegrass also seems to be an influence on many of the songs as well particularly “Dr. Watson, I Presume”.   Even the straight-up rock of the title track has an old-time feel to it.  Costello may not rock like he used during the hey-day of the Attractions, but with albums such as National Ransom it’s clear he hasn’t entirely mellowed out.

Matt & Kim – Sidewalks


My girlfriend introduced me to Matt & Kim last year and at first I was not sure what to make of them.  Was this mix of dance/punk serious or were they being ironic?  I couldn’t tell despite liking some of their songs.   But with this year’s Sidewalks, Matt & Kim have proved one thing: it’s okay to have poppy songs once in a while.  Just make sure it’s covered in enough noise and irony so that that the hipsters don’t cry “Sell outs!”

Cee-Lo Green: The Lady Killer


Leave it to Cee-Lo to bring the old school R&B sound back, with a twist.  “Fuck You” might be the album’s stand-out and quite possibly the best song of the year, but “Bright Lights, Bigger City” recalls 70s disco records.  Throughout the album, Cee-lo’s voice stands out, not only because he is one of the few male stars that can actually sing, but he has conviction.  Cee-Lo is believable in his updating of Motown, and that’s what makes it a success.

 

(Check tomorrow for best movies.  I know this is a music blog, but it’s the end of the year.)

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