Category Archives: Music

Yeezus Complex: Why Kanye West’s “Yeezus” Falls Flat

kayne_west_live_31_01_13

It’s only been a few days but after listening to Yeezus many times over, I don’t think I can sign off on it as a “good” album without serious reservations. Surprisingly, I don’t especially mind the hellish atmosphere or the spaced-out industrial grind that permeates the album. I don’t mind the fact that the album lacks the radio-ready singles that have been found on even the least accessible Kanye West albums up to this point. I don’t even mind that Kanye has almost entirely abandoned the warm soul-sampling sound that made me fall in love with his beats over a decade ago. My biggest problem with Yeezus has to do with the sexism and misogyny throughout its 40-minute runtime that has now been amped up to previously unseen (for Kanye) levels.

The overriding issue with Yeezus is that after a career spent deftly blending sharp social commentary with self-deprecating humor and fun, Kanye West now wants to be taken seriously. In the past, Kanye’s albums were smartly subversive. He would reference civil rights leaders in the same breath he talked about his super-expensive pants (one of my favorite Kanye lines from 2007’s Graduation was “I’m the fly Malcom X / buy any jeans necessary”). This juxtaposition always worked — Kanye was fun but he was also smart. I’m aware no one would consider West a crusader for women’s rights in the past, but it never seemed like he flat-out hated women either. If he disrespected a woman, he would often disrespect himself at the same time. For example, on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye toasts to “the douchebags, assholes, scumbags, and jerkoffs (who never take work off)” before imploring the woman he loves to run away from him as fast as she can. Here Kanye was admitting he was a shitty man who didn’t deserve the love of a good woman. Sure, he might have treated women poorly, but he never truly condoned his own actions.

kanye-west-yeezus-650
Fast forward to 2013, the summer of Yeezus. Kanye is now proclaiming his status as a deity and getting real dark with his dissection of American culture. Even “Bound 2,” the most warm and loving (and coincidentally best) song on the album, has lines like “She asked me what I asked for on the wish list / have you ever asked your bitch for more bitches?” This illustrates the central problem with Yeezus: Kanye no longer has his party-starting demeanor to point at whenever he reverts to cliched sexism and misogyny. His socially conscious rhymes about racial equality and civil rights on Yeezus are seriously undermined when he calls women bitches and constantly degrades them in the process. If we agree to take Kanye West seriously on “New Slaves,” a searing indictment of racism (and one of the strongest tracks on Yeezus), then we must also take the rest of his words seriously. In the past Kanye may not have been respectful to women, but there was always the underlying sense that deep down he admired them. No such admiration for women is found on Yeezus.

Back in 2005, you may remember a song where Kanye called a woman a “gold digger.” That may have been an insult, but the song was lighthearted enough to make it clear he was still the fool who stupidly let her walk all over him. On Yeezus, women are treated like trash while Kanye, no longer willing to play the fool he played in 2005, repeatedly affirms his position as some kind of deity. Ultimately I hope that Yeezus is nothing more than a muddled misfire of tone and message, but if this is how Kanye really feels about women then I hope his newborn daughter opens his eyes before he goes back in the studio to record a follow-up.

Advertisements

A Long-Winded Goodbye to Easy Street Records in Queen Anne

Easy Street Records at 20 Mercer

Today Matt Vaughn (owner of Easy Street Records) announced that Easy Street’s Queen Anne location will be closing in just over two weeks to make way for a future branch of Chase Bank. This is terrible news for all Seattle music lovers. This Easy Street location was one of my favorite record stores throughout high school; a place where I discovered many albums that would eventually become staples of my musical diet. There was a little record shop in my hometown of Puyallup, but it was a sparse place in a strip mall lacking in character and owned by a man who didn’t seem to even enjoy music, let alone love it. That record shop was just alright, but it wasn’t a friendly place with an overwhelming selection and a knowledgeable staff who loved their jobs. It wasn’t like any of the record shops I saw in movies. It was no Empire Records or Championship Vinyl. Easy Street, on the other hand, was a REAL record store. Countless rows of product, over-sized posters everywhere, loud music blaring — it was one of a kind, and I loved it.

Back in high school, I remember when I was really excited for a new album and couldn’t wait until Tuesday to hear it, I would drive all the way from Puyallup to the Easy Street in Lower Queen Anne on Monday night. They were one of the only record stores that would stay open until midnight to sell all of Tuesday’s releases to whoever was willing to show up. The anticipation of those trips and the joy of listening to the album on the hour-long drive home is something I will truly never forget. Midnight at a record store is when only the most dedicated night owls remain, browsing the racks and waiting for the new day to begin so we can purchase an album we hope will be so great that it may just change our lives forever. We all loved music and couldn’t stand waiting around for another day to hear that special new release. We needed it right then.

I’ve been a Seattle resident for over six years and I have lived in close proximity to many other record stores — currently Sonic Boom in Ballard, formerly Cellophane Square in the U-District (RIP) — but through it all, the Queen Anne Easy Street Records remained number one with a bullet. After graduating from college, I actually moved to Queen Anne just a few blocks from Easy Street (a decision no doubt subconsciously influenced by its proximity to the store).  I loved living that close to such a great record store, and especially one where I had so many great memories over the years. Things had changed a bit, and they no longer stayed open late on Mondays to sell records because that devoted midnight customer base had dwindled over the years, but I loved it nonetheless. It was a zen-like space for me, a place I could go to clear my head and wander the racks, hoping to find something but also content to leave empty-handed if the hunt turned out to be fruitless. Now those visits will also soon be reduced to memories and I must resign myself to a lifetime of long-winded, angry rants every time I pass by that Chase branch from now until the day I pass from this earth.

If you’re also saddened by this news (or saddened by the closure of your favorite neighborhood coffee shop, book store, or grocery store), please join me and remember this feeling. Hold onto it. If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, I humbly suggest you make a commitment to buy local whenever possible. Don’t buy a single album at Best Buy or Target in 2013. Obviously there are reasons that those stores exist (for example, if you need a DVD player or some face wash), but there is no reason to buy music from them when there are plenty of incredible locally-owned record stores here in Seattle selling the exact same products. There is a satisfaction that comes with making a purchase, helping a local business, and opening a physical product that you will never get from an iTunes download.

I don’t enjoy being preachy, but please allow me to briefly remain up on this soapbox. If we continue to let large corporations slice off bigger and bigger pieces of the economic pie, we will forever be saying goodbye to our favorite independent businesses and discouraging entrepreneurs from opening new ones. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where independent record stores don’t exist, every coffee shop is a Starbucks, every cheeseburger comes from McDonald’s, and the only place to rent movies is a vending machine outside Safeway. I vote against this kind of future with my wallet every chance I get, and I encourage you to do the same. The Best Buys and the Targets of the world will always be there if you need them, but today’s news is further proof that good things don’t always last, even when they should.

R.I.P. Easy Street Records, Queen Anne. You will be missed but never forgotten. See you soon in West Seattle.

-E

If You’re Not Doing Anything Tonight: John K. Samson Concert

First of all, I know I haven’t written much lately — sorry about that. I’ve been pretty busy with school and other things, but I promise I’ll pick up the pace again soon.

Anyway, if you’re not doing anything tonight (April 1st), you should come to the Tractor Tavern in Ballard for the John K. Samson concert. He is the lead singer of The Weakerthans and is currently touring in support of his debut solo album. Tickets are only $12 and it’s going to be a great time. Up above is the first single off his solo album, which is about trying to finish school work while being distracted by video games. While I like his new solo stuff I am also hoping he plays some classic Weakerthans songs. This is one of my favorites, clever songwriting at its best:

“I’m broke like a bad joke 
Somebody’s uncle told 
At a wedding reception in 1972
Where a little boy under a table with cake in his hair
Stared at the grown-up feet as they danced and swayed
And his father laughed and talked on the long ride home
And his mother laughed and talked on the long ride home
And he thought about how everyone dies someday
And “When tomorrow gets here, where will yesterday be?”
And he fell asleep in his brand-new winter coat

I need a shiny new machine 
That runs on lies and gasoline
And all those batteries we stole from smoke-alarms
It disassembles my despair
It never took me anywhere
It never once bought me a drink”

Melancholy never sounded so good. Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll see you at the Tractor Tavern tonight.

-E

Moment of Clarity: Breakfast and Bob Dylan

We have all experienced those rare moments in life when we stumble upon the sudden realization of something obvious, yet important. In these moments, for a split-second, it feels like things inexplicably snap into focus. Please allow me to share my Friday morning epiphany.

Right now I’m sitting here at the Hi-Life in Ballard, having just taken advantage of their weekday “Not-So-Earlybird” breakfast and drinking some delicious Stumptown coffee (Hair Bender Blend — it’s wonderful). I’m studying torts, which is not all that interesting at the moment, and through the din of the kitchen and conversations of other patrons — I hear a Bob Dylan outtake on the stereo called “Let Me Die In My Footsteps.”

 

Unless you’re an expert on early Dylan, you may not be familiar with the song. I had only heard it in passing on Dylan’s Bootleg Series and it had previously made no great impression on me. It was originally recorded during the sessions for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but was replaced before the album as released. Ostensibly, the song is about a man who chooses not to lay down and die against his will, but rather stand up and live for something he believes in. It has the usual early Dylan-esque references to impending war and tales of traveling across country, but like all the best Dylan songs, it can (and should) be interpreted in many different ways.

 

Continue reading

Tagged , ,

The Kanye-Westification of Fun: A Review of “Some Nights”

 

I should have known it would be dangerous to review the follow-up to one of my favorite albums of the past few years, but I didn’t expect Nate Ruess and Fun to throw me a curveball like this.

Every song on Fun’s 2009 debut album “Aim & Ignite” was strong — the album was a 40 minute blast of high energy sonic happiness. It wasn’t exactly rock music but it was far too strange to simply be considered pop music. The theatrical vocals and intense delivery of singer Nate Ruess evoked comparisons to the legendary Freddie Mercury while the musical compositions were all over the place, but in the most endearing and listenable way possible. This album sounded like a group of friends banging on their instruments and creating really big music in a very small room. Some tracks were stuffed with instruments, but the entire thing avoided overproduction. Nate’s voice sat just above the music in the mix, and rightfully so, as his delivery was the most important aspect of this band.

Now, Fun has returned with “Some Nights,” and it seems that their direction has changed. The vibe of “Aim & Ignite” was that of a band on the run, escaping the pressures and expectations and everyday life by pounding away on their instruments and screaming into microphones. “Some Nights” evokes a band in hiding — a quieter, more polished, occasionally overproduced group of musicians making music that fits more readily into today’s musical landscape. On my first listen through the album, I hated every little tweak they had made to their sound and especially bemoaned their use of a T-Pain-esque vocoder effect on multiple tracks.

Continue reading