Saturday, March 5, 2011

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Published in 2010

So guess what, this is going to be the first one that I write on a computer in a while, so that means it will have longer sentences, with nice subclauses, and a bit more structure.  Writing on my iPod is good for a lot of things (mostly getting album projects done while in transit from one place to another) but it is not good for style.  I notice myself conserving words, stopping myself from ranting and raving, and generally making this a less interesting read.  However, you don't care about that, you're wondering why I have two links in my little intro up there (If you weren't, good for you, you care more about what I wrote than what I am doing.)

I have an obsession.  I am addicted to the AVClub, the sister publication of the Onion, and I have been for several years now.  As you may have noticed (music blog, general nerdy asides, limitless tolerance for pop culture knowledge, Star Wars obsession, etc.) I am a bit of a nerd.  I like to soak subjects in, and when I find a good place to do so, I will read their archives, their sidebars, and even discussions about things that I have never watched or cared about to this point.  So, I use the AVClub as one of my main soaks.  (By the way, Wikipedia is the other, but it's a little dry.  Encyclopedia Dramatica, however. . .)

The best way to get an honest opinion about something, in my opinion, is to ask them straight up about what they care about, and then ask them to break that thing down into better, worse, and terrible.  For instance, I would tell you that when starting to read Star Wars books, you could not go wrong with the X-wing Series, mainly because Wedge Antilles is a great character, Rogue Squadron is one of the most dynamic presences in the book, and your ability to be engaged with the world is much greater.  I would tell you not to immediately start out with the Young Jedi series, however, I would tell you that to understand the overarching plot for the last 15? years in the books, you would have to read through it at some point.  I would tell you to ignore the Han Solo Trilogy until you were fully locked in, and so on and so forth.  (I had to stop myself there, let's just leave it at that. Point made, right?)

When I get obsessive about something I want to consume it voraciously.  I've read nearly all of the Boxcar Children novels, because I read the first one, enjoyed it, and every day for a summer, in about an hour, I'd kill one of them.  I've more recently (in college) become obsessive about sports, or at least knowledgeable enough about them to enjoy them.  I now cruise everyday, looking for interesting stories. So, when I got a little obsessive about Pop Culture, the AVClub seemed the perfect fit.

In middle school, and to this day, the Onion is a source of laughs.  It's one of the most incredibly smart and silly pieces of humor in print today.  I haven't seen Sportsdome yet, but I'm pretty sure I am the target audience.  So, the first time I clicked over to their sister site, the AVClub, I felt like I was finding a place where my sense of Pop Culture was respected.

Sarcasm, hipsterism, Wire-obsession, and more, it was obviously a place that reflected my sense of the ridiculous and (I will say it) beauty of Pop Culture.  I think over the last four or five years, I have read nearly all of their running columns, and I have completely loved 95% of it.  Some stuff I agree with, some I don't, but it is all written with people like me in mind.

So, out of respect to the AVClub, and the den of hipster douchebags that it is, I've decided to make March "Best of the AVClub."  I'll be writing about the best of 2006-2010.  Luckily, I've already covered one, in my most abstract of essays, but Phoenix needed to be written about that way, then.  So, here we go, with the Best Album of 2010 - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

There is an amazingly schizophrenic aura to a man like Kanye West.  I am completely sure that this is where his divisive reaction comes from, and I couldn't write this essay without actually dealing with it.  So, let's do what everyone has to do when Kanye West is being discussed in a public forum.

1. What he said about George Bush: My personal opinion is that Kanye went off the cards because he believed what he was saying.  The fact that it hurt Bush so much, means that there was something there that was true.  I don't think his intention was to call the President racist, but the way it came out, it obviously had that connotation.  However, if Kanye had said something like "George Bush doesn't care about poor people, and this is the way we can help those people, so please call this number," it may have softened the blow.  However, I like Kanye, and I am not a huge Bush fan, so I might be biased.

2. Taylor Swift:  Rude: Yes.  Bad for his image: Yes. Yelled at a pretty, tiny, white girl: For sure.  Wrong: ??? Look, I'm amazed that I haven't been forced to listen to some "new country", because my friends seem to be the vindictive types who want me to do "Now 6" (Jake :glares:), but I don't like Taylor Swift.  I think her songs are pretty, but pedestrian, and really, incredibly, mundane.  Beyonce is Beyonce.  Not much more creative, in my opinion, but has a ton more personality, and at least a hint of funk in her soul.  I want her to succeed because she seems so genuinely awesome.  Also, if her and Jay want to hang out, I'm available constantly.

3. His music.

Which is the problem.  One and Two take so much away from number Three, that it makes it hard to feel like you're on his side.  I'm supposed to feel like, fuck Kanye, he's mean to people and rude, and an asshole to authority figures, and blah blah blah.

Well, fuck that.  I'll say it now, hyperbole and all, but Kanye West is perhaps the greatest album maker of the 00's.  He's incredibly complex, spectacularly equipped to make great music, and if you don't think so, you pay too much attention to the news, and not enough to the music.

That's right, "Mr. Alternative Radio is the only radio I will listen to" is saying that Kanye West, for better or worse, is one of the greatest artists of our time.  His contentious personality would overshadow this, but that would be if his personality came anywhere near as bad as his albums are good.  And let's be clear, Kanye's albums are spectacular.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the last in a string of incredible fucking albums.  808's and Heartbreak is one of the most haunting and interesting albums I have ever heard, and is the only justified use of Autotune outside of Mr. and Mrs. Autotune themselves (T-Pain and Akon[T-Pain gets to be Mr. because did a song with Lonely Island and was on Aqua Teen Hunger Force).  Graduation - "Stronger", "Can't Tell Me Nothing", "Champion", do I have to list the whole album?  Late Registration is one of the best sophmore albums ever made, and it came out one year after his first. And if you don't like College Dropout, you need to stop eating lead paint, but some headphones on, and listen to that shit.

Look, I'm trying to calm down on this, but seriously, I could write an entire month on Kanye alone.  I love his albums, because they are made as albums, and even distracting ass side skits don't take it away.

One thing I've discussed with friends, and I think I read this on the AVClub, is the idea of a Pop Culture pass.  For instance, no matter what Christopher Walken does, I will always love him, because he is an amazing actor.  He earned his pass when he appeared in the watch scene in Pulp Fiction, if not in Deer Hunter.  Same with Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Jackson, Ian McShane, and the list goes on.

So, I have to do this.  Kanye, barring any unforeseen circumstances, where you do something more incredibly dumb than the brilliance you show in music, I hereby bestow upon you a Pop Culture Pass.  I don't give a shit who you tell off, I want you to charge the stage if you want to, I don't care what you say, if you keep putting out albums, I'll keep listening to them and buying them.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is in the running for the best album Kanye has ever done.  However, with his five albums, you have to anticipate that every one of his albums is in the running.  Personally, 808's and Heartbreak is probably my favorite, but that depends on mood, of course.

Listening to this album is to hear . . . brilliance?  Perfection? Insanity?  Who makes an album in these days, that has a theme, a consistent sound, and is intended as a whole?  Why is Kanye West so much better than everyone else?

The sound of the album, to me, is an orchestral beat pumped through a classic game boy speaker, with lush vocals and samples on top of the spectacular backgrounds.  The beats are well done, the whole thing sounds lush and full.  The autotune of 808's is used sparingly, if at all.  The difference between the albums is pretty astounding, to hear that two years later, this is his new sound.

Maybe that is part of it, that it always sounds new.  No one else sounds like Kanye.  The Neptunes (another of my favorite producers, and I love N*E*R*D) are sometimes as good as Kanye, but I find their brilliance to be less consistently through the roof.  There is no missed opportunity, no wasted time.

The guests are tight, doing their best to slam out incredible performances.  If you haven't heard Monster yet, that would be the track that I would say is the best of the album, however, I can tell you that if you put it on shuffle, one would be hard pressed to catch a bad song, since I haven't heard one on here.  Now, some are less than others, but when you're on the 30th floor of a building, and everyone else is down at the third or fourth, the 29th floor is pretty high too.

I'm listening to Runaway right now, and while the intro is slow, the song is actually doing something that few pop songs do.  It's building.  It's building to a new level, and to a new verse, and to a climax.  He's using sparseness to create a full and rewarding upward slope.  The verses are nice, and the chorus is well done, but the developing beat is fucking spectacular.  Even when something drops out, it is in the service of something bigger coming back on.

I think one thing that might be hard for some people is the language and subjects he chooses to talk about, so let's talk about that for a second.  Yes, it's all about money, sex and power, but of course, so is everything else.  In some ways, the bluntness of it is refreshing, and the words that are used are poetic in a way that you almost need to divorce from the voice to appreciate.  The lyrics are fast and unrelenting, but, and this must be said, clear and distinguishable.  As much as I love Necro, I can't hear what the fuck he is saying a great deal of the time.  This is not a problem with Kanye.

Look, I'm going to tell you a secret.  If you divorce yourself from reading about pop culture, then the art is just art, and you can listen to it unbiased.  However, if you read the pop culture, and understand that it is the most meaningless of news and enjoy it for it's novelty, you can appreciate the art just as much.  The moment you take it seriously, though, you are lost.  If Kanye has proven anything, it's that he needs to be on the mic, because what he creates on a mic and in a studio is frankly astonishing, and whatever he does after that, I don't need to care about.

This album is a hedonistic, destructive, apocalyptic, maniacal, self-centered, insane, schizophrenic, mess.  If you don't hear it once, you've missed out.  It is firmly Not Optional.  With this, a masterstroke, I give one Kanye West, his lifetime pass.

Next week, on the Album Project - The Best of the AVClub: TV on the Radio's - Dear Science, 2008's best album.

"I shall unleash a firestorm of humility the likes of which the universe has never seen."

PS.  I figure I should do the Album that I listened to most of the year and the one that I think was probably my favorite of the year, what with this being number 1 March and all.  So, my number one is, of course, Plastic Beach, by Gorillaz.  Too good to ignore, I listened to it on repeat for days.  Some Kind of Nature is one of my favorite songs ever.

PPS.  The AVClub just did an article on one of my (obviously) favorite subjects, how long does it take to get an album.  It's written articulately and well, and is much like my own opinion on it.  Also, it's better than anything I'll write this year, so thanks to the AVClub for making my writing pale in comparison!

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