Sunday, February 14, 2016

Live Review - Kanye West - The Life of Pablo

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Yesterday, we got the first surreal taste of Kanye West's seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo... and a new Young Thug song, and a look at his video game. I liveblogged the event but didn't manage to say anything too sensible. I'm not sure if there was much sensible that could be said. So many celebrities, so many models, so many surprises. So many choices made reflecting a sensibility that is beyond us in many dimensions. And in the very core, sometimes barely audible among the internal maelstrom of comprehension, was the new album.

The whole thing reminded me a lot of Fellini's 8 ½... this sense of a project, spurred on by a singular, inexpressible vision, that spirals outward chaotically, ensnaring the efforts of hundreds of professionals, until the production itself, although perhaps haphazard, perhaps hastily planned, perhaps beyond the comprehension of anyone but the artist at its epicenter, takes on a maddening, compelling, richness of itself. He created a space where it seemed like truly anything could happen.

Analogous to the Fellini's consistently beautiful cinematography and Mastroianni's stirring performance was Kanye's soundtrack. From what we've heard, it is a project befitting and deserving of its long and (often confusingly) storied developmental history. We've got tender minimalist gospel but insane maximalist ranting. We've got trap over family love and soul over bleached assholes. He seems to be both giving us everything we could want, but also breaking under the pressure of the impossibility of that very task, and what leaks out then, we hear it too. It's held together with only a sort of manic cohesion, a narrative and aesthetic formed from the desperateness in its conveyance.

Okay that sounds sort of wormy and recursive, so let's try to look at a definite example with the controversial album covers. They've attracted a lot of detractors, but I absolutely love them. I think they make a bit more sense after you've looked at some of the other art of the designer, peter de potter (some images NSFW). There's a reoccurring sense of aiming for some "definitive", for an absolute capstone statement that can represent one's entire aesthetic/worldview, but that the explication and creation of such a thing is inevitably a struggle... the statement of someone bursting to express something illusive, mutating, but important, drastically important. After several mis-starts and false alarms, Kanye seems to have found his "this is it!!!" statement in "The Life of Pablo", and the idea that this is about his family, so the album cover reflects that, with this incessant "I've finally figured it out" imposition, and the picture of the photo... It's like, uhhh, a similar aesthetic to the episode of Girls where she tries cocaine and then writes her goals all over her walls.

I'm not sure if this is making any sense. It seems sadly appropriate that trying to describe an aesthetic of maddeningly trying to convey something would be maddeningly hard to convey. In the end all we can do is listen to it and...

Okay, I give up on this intro. It's 1AM and I just watched Kanye perform on SNL. At the end he shouted a bunch of stuff that I barely heard, but I made out "right now" and "". I think it's imminent. But I also think I have to sleep eventually.

Ah. It's here. Here we go.

Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
Live Review

1. Ultralight Beam
Hearing this on SNL made me realize it was actually the best song of all time. I have no idea what kid is being sampled here, I want to believe it's Nori but who knows. Oh man I can hear people complaining about MUH MASTERING already but WHO CARES. ahhh the way he does that "EVERYTHAAAAANG" is so endearing, and those DRUMS OMG, i am so happy rn. That lurching energy, that feeling of... struggling. Some real Jesus Walks shit. this is a god dream. OMG the chorus coming in at 1:20 is... the best. Just the best. And the amount of silence on this track. omggggggggg. "And in my holy war", omg and the vocals at 2min, that feeling of relentlessness. Truly a gospel album, albeit with the cursing. True soul. Making the samples for the Kanyes of the future. ahhhhh CHANCE, I like Chance... it's like... he's channeling his excitement about being on a Kanye song into his verse on the Kanye song. Beautiful. The way he starts really flowing. I MET KANYE WEST I'M NEVER GOING TO FAIL. "THIS IS MY PART NOBODY ELSE SPEAK", ahhhhhh. just absolutely everyone feeling themselves 100% at all times. I'M JUST HAVIN FUN WITH IT, "my ex looking back like a pillar of salt", UNGH. how do you even convey this sound to someone? it must involve waving your arms. and this outro. FAAAAAAAAAAAITH, MOOOOOOOORE. omg. ***

2. Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1
this sample is so good... it has that "desire" embedded in it i talked about with the start of "Gone", you really want to hear to see it clenched. UNNNNNNGH OMG. so good. the way the beat comes in holy shit. BEAUTIFUL MORNING. "I just wanna feel liberated, IIIIIIiiiiiii"... omg the bleached asshole line, so many people hated this lmao but it's so good lollllllll. The crunchiness of the synth is like, brain-seizing. And that wobbly little bassline. BEAUTIFUL MORNING, baaaaaaby. The way he sorta wanders back onto this theme is so engrossing... *

3. Pt. 2
Ahhhh and then the intensity building. This sudden lurch into feelings for his father... so desperate, so yearning... I feel it. AWWWW YEAHHHH PANDAAAAAAAA i have no idea why he sampled this song besides the fact that it KICKS ASS. i thought this was future when i first heard it LOL. man that song is so good. PANDA PANDA PANDA PANDA PANDA. holy shit though don't you just wanna wild tf out but he just was talking about his dad? and now its SAD again. and now a DAFT PUNK SORTA ROBOTY OUTRO, this album man, i had forgotten about that. this is too insane. this is like his "Smile" sorta LOL. **

4. Famous
is this rihanna? I think so... ohhhhhhh man the way that beat comes onnnnn.... gotta let it rock jesus wow. I FEEL LIKE ME AND TAYLOR MIGHT STILL HAVE SEX, I MADE THAT BITCH FAMOUS, meme line of 2016 confirmed. i can't believe he's doing the "kanye [word that rhymes with west]" thing lmao. And the sort of "Gospel sweetness" on these interludes. PUERTO RICAN DAY FLOATING hell yeah. Copped a jet to fly out of personal debt, he tweeted about this too. omg the part at 1:50, jesus, this is such a beautiful celebration, howowowow how does he dream of such a sound. way too lit, way too lit, way too lit. a confirmed masterpiece already. twice over. so much fun being had. yeeeeeeeahhhhhh. **

5. Feedback
ahhh yes give me all that sonic energy. SNOOOOOOOZE makes me happy. And the super dissonant tone at like 0:30, the aggressiveness. HANDS UP WE JUST DOIN WHAT THE COPS TOLD US, jesus man "I be saying how I feel at the wrong time", the self-awareness, the self-narrativization, and the triumph??? "Name one genius that ain't crazy". oh man this crazy ranting verse. Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin. Drivin in the same car that they killed Pac in. THE GHETTO OPERA, oh man, this album is so nuts. *

6. Low Lights
huh interesting, so I think this isn't a new song, but just the first part of Highlights separated now. The length of this sample man, the sort of "devotion" implied by this... this gospelish feeling of "devotion", allowing things to play out thoroughly and completely... wait is this whole part just gonna be the sample? I guess so wow. Crying now. It's pretty emotionally powerful. I can see why he did this, I think.

7. Highlights
THUGGERRRR I wish he had like a proper verse on this but he's doing his thing. Again launched into this smoooooth groove with like, gospel piano and stuff. wishin my dick had go-pro jesus that will never not be hilarious, the emphasis with which he delivers that line. dude is a high efficiency meme machine. and I BET ME AND RAY J'D BE FRIENDS hahahaha. any lines about his son makes me go crazy. BRING THAT SHIT BACK. this verse is so nuts oh man, just spilling his guts nonstop. I dunno what Equinox is, some sort of club maybe? The way he latches on to these sorts of single concerns feels Kozelek-esque. hell yeah tho this song. *

8. Freestyle 4
RAP GOD SHIT, man this spooky ass beat, I have no idea where he got this idea. Ahhh man, the intensity, this is like some demon not yet contained. Wanna fug right now. WHAT IF WE FUCKED RIGHT NOW IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS MOTHERFUCKING DINNER TABLE? There is a sort of feverish intensity to this, to this sort of thinking. Is THIS Future?? Unsure. And this ending. Jesus. What fresh hell. *

9. I Love Kanye
I STILL can't believe he did this, and I've heard it twice now. I didn't think this sort of stuff got to him but why would I believe that? I just wanted to believe it. His use of the joke at the end is heartbreaking. He probably has heard it more than any of us. And then that laugh... *

10. Waves
HOLY SHIT THIS BEAT, CHANCE THANK YOU IT WAS WORTH WAITING FOR THIS. This is like fifty waves at once washing over at me, half of them gospel and half of them from outer space. That shit's the waaaaaaave. Omg that stuttered sound is so godly, it really feels like the end of something. Ooh at 1:40, the introduction of these other voices, this is pretty slick... "I'm still gonna be here in the morning", "Waves don't die"... there is a sort of reassurance in these words that implies some problem that hasn't been fully spoken. jesus though. this sound. how did he do this? how??/ **

11. FML
Oh man this one is BRUTAL. the hook is so brutal. and this structure is so good too, the long lines at the end of each stanza, how's he do that? "For my children I will die for those I love". Oh man... this is real life breakdown sorta stuff. Knowing that he could have been recording this just days ago. I WISH I WOULD GO AHEAD AND FUCK MY LIFE UP, mannnnn... this soaring falsetto... so beautiful. oh man the Lexapro line, and these references to specific incidents... jesus... oh man that gigantic bass at 2:20... how does he make these sort of bold moves? so deep into everything... how does he see this stuff? AND THE DRUMS AT 2:50, JFC, and these vocal effects!?? this is the sort of thing i'd expect to see buried deep within some depressing folk album, some "phil elverum has really lost it" shit LOL, but here we got a beat and Kanye auto tune and guess what it's just as depressing. Wowwwww. Howwwwwww. This disoriented destructing voice. ***

12. Real Friends
Okay I've heard this song like 500 times and even now I was excited to hear it again. That "crushed" distorted feeling, that feeling of it being "already over"... Alright like... think about this. The album starts with stuff about his parents (assuming "Ultralight Beam" is the sort of "transmission to heaven" that I'm imagining it is), and he said the album is about family (as seen in the picture on the album), but by the end the narrative goes from this love for his parents to the admission that he is a shitty cousin. And then after this, Wolves is about protecting his kids. so it's like... he's made his own family. or. something. there's a narrative here, i glimpsed it, it was very powerful. TILL THE WHEELS FALL OFF, TILL THE WHEELS DON'T SPIN, TILL THREE AM... man... the idea of Kanye calling a friend at 3AM just to talk is so painful. That idea is always painful for anyone but man. Kanye. And blackmailing cousin man, I can't get over the insanity of the anecdote/him mentioning it. I GUESS I GET WHAT I DESERVE, DON'T I... and this outro... it all makes sense with all the other "gospel interludes" on the album. Ahhhhh soooo gooooood. ***

13. Wolves
WOLVES MOTHERFUCKERS. Slower than the previous version. Also prolly missing Sia D: RIP SIA'S PART. THAT WAS MY FAVORITE PART. Kanye how could you. The vocal effect is different too. Closer to how it was on SNL, I think. The bass guitar is so good. AND THE VIOLIN/VOCALS/IDK WHICH IT IS, a very good addition. And then the echoing with the "raw" voice. IF YOUR MAMA KNEW HOW YOU TURNED OUT, YOU TOO WILD, AND I NEED YOU NOW... that weird sort of drum interjection... and then this verse... man. corniness. the greatest fear, corniness. AND THE PITCH SHIFT, going doubling down... i just wish Sia was here... and man. JOSEPH AND MARY IN THE CLUB. the fucking wolves. the narrative of kanye retreating to this little fortress of family he has made, in the manger. Oh man... this outro... the howling wolves... the beat... this is crazy... FRANK OCEAN??? yeah dude it has to be. i believe. i listened to nostalgia ultra and channel orange today lol. LIFE IS PRECIOUS, WE FOUND OUT, WE FOUND OUT. wow. ***

14. Silver Surfer Intermission
So I feel like that's like... the real ending and this is bonus? MAX B CONDONING THE USAGE OF "WAVE" FROM PRISON LMAO. WIZ BTFOOOOOOOOOOED. BIG TSUNAMI. SILVER SURFER. that's sick. good job kanye.

15. 30 Hours
oh man the "ex gave me the best years of her life" is brutal. ALL CHEST NO LEGS, made myself a smoothie. Man there's a looot of sex tape references. Really feeling himself on this one. Still drove 30 hours, his voice getting a little tender on the admission, I feel it. Rapping for Jay and Cam, damn man, the old Kanye LOL. "Skrt skrt like a private school for women" hahahaha. LOL this waffle house anecdote. All that's open! THREE STACKS HELL YEAH, Andreeeeee greatest hip hop musician of all time. Ride out to it~~~ it'd be sick if he did a verse too, y'know? Regretting the open relationship?? devolving into "scratch track" demo lyrics, riding outttt~~~ oh man just hearing that little taste of Andre's verse is so holy. THIS THE BONUS, yeah i guess so. "My favorite album had bonus joints", wait did he just say "I was just at that Madison Square Garden", like, he recorded this yesterday??? rock out for thirty hours, yo im down i gotta sleep during part of it though. im down for a lot longer than 30 hours tho. this album is gonna be addictive as hell. "Peace, it's Yasiin Bey", OMG his ringtone LOL. 30 hours~~ **

16. No More Parties in L.A.
alright yeah we've heard this one too. Just Kanye and Kendrick going nutty for 6 minutes over a instaclassic Madlib beat. the GHOSTFACE SAMPLE. I wonder if he'll put Yasiin's verse on it, like he asked him to on the voice message. Kendrick's verse is so fun, he has so much fun when he's rapping, like, you know every verse he does like this he's like "ok im gonna try to make the BEST ONE YET", he's been doing that since the Control verse or perhaps earlier. the "spin around and say the alphabet backwards" line is hilarious. And his flow at 1:48ish is godlike. SCARY! SCARY! And Kanye just going absolutely crazy, like, complete stream of consciousness Kozelek-core, get it all down on there. "The next generation will be the real victims" is genuinely chilling. And this little anecdote about hearing his therapist's kids... SAINT IS BABY YE, man saint is such a good name, I really liked it ever since I started watching this guy Saint on Youtube that plays obscure video games lol good tangent idiot. my assistant crashed it as soon as they backed it out hahaha. Got Nori dressing like Cam, hahahaha. Man. This song is so good. I FEEL LIKE PABLO the anthem line of the year. The "you can get through this" line of the year. EVEN THE ONE THAT STOLE THE LAPTOP YOU DIRTY MOTHERFUCKER. please. doesn't seem like we're getting mos def's verse. well I guess it wouldn't fit in that well. **

17. Facts (Charlie Heat version)
lol i love the idea that Kanye LOVES this song even though it's completely insane and lots of people hate it. this song is wonderful/nuts. PERFECT. and a NEW BEAT??? the weird off-beat feeling is bizarre. it's a NIKE DISS TRACK. like really think about how insane that is. it seems like they're deliberately snubbing Drake these days. Like how they cut off his verse in Rihanna's "Work" when they played it in the after party... this beat is really nutty, and the way they cut it down to isolate the "Nike Nike treat employees just like slaves" line, which is just... so insane. The cinematic menace of this beat makes it seem like Kanye's gonna kill somebody because of this somehow. And oh man the Bill Cosby line, I don't even want to touch that. COUCHES COUCHES COUCHES WHICH ONE SHOULD I PICK? is really good too. LOL and then the outro from the original beat.

18. Fade
I read that in some comments when I downloaded it
in b4 it comes out February 14th 2017

Ahhhhhhh well.

That's it!

Ahhhhhh. What an INSANE album. What an EXHAUSTING album. What a BRILLIANT album.

You know, it's telling that Kanye's last four records have been released in a narrative of "breakdown". Like 808s, people said "oh, his mom's died, he's lost it, he's drowned himself in autotune and singing all the time, the album's insane." Then MBDTF - "he's cracking under the pressure, he thinks needs to make a masterpiece, he's doing everything at once with everyone, the album's insane." And, of course, Yeezus - "he's just making noise now, he doesn't care at all about his fans, he wrote the lyrics in five minutes, the album's insane." And yet he survives, he thrives, and the critical legacy of all of these albums grows by the year.

And the narrative around this one? Where could I even begin? Or rather, at this point, it's probably better to look at where we ended up. It is, in many ways, a frustrating album. I will admit that. As we saw the credits dynamically evolve on the legendary notepad, people's dreams of Thugger verses and Andre verses and Earl verses, and rumours of Drake, and the always lurking possibility of Jay or Pusha T... it becomes so easy to just think "just put [whatever rapper] on here and have him do his thing, and the song just gets BETTER!". Or even more immediate... why'd you take off Sia's part on Wolves, Ye??? I loved that part!

I think the temptation to have these vague, inchoate fantasies about the lost potential of the album is due to what it still contains, which is, in a single word, "everything". All eras of Kanye have been resurrected in some sort of time-crisis and are battling it out, Highlander-style, to...

Oh I just got the proper Fade, let's listen to that. "When no one is around, I think I think too much", that's a pretty brutal line. And this super bass line, pulled from classic Chicago deep house, how could anyone not feel this. Oh man the kick that starts around 1:30, panned to the right a bit, it's so visceral... oh man the outro here too, the way all these elements pick up, how does he have such a grand vision? I feel it fade!

Okay okay.

Uhh, as I was saying, this album is nuts. It seems like the central struggle here is that... Kanye has people he feels a lot of love towards, and wants to protect with everything he has, but his ability to do so is predicated on him working his ass off, and thus having less time and energy for those very people, and this conflict also pulls him in a third dimension, at a right angle to either goal, one of self-destructiveness and abandonment. He's looking to his parents as models and trying to really drill down into what made him who he is, a question vital to understanding who his children may become. This pan-question has him examining himself in the public's mirror, his family's mirror, his own self-perception...

Everything, this is everything. This is an environment that supports tearful cries to his father and Desiigner's hot trap banger "Panda" on the SAME SONG. This is an environment with gorgeous heavenly gospel singing, and also chops of that same style, and also outright harsh noise. This is an album with Street Fighter samples and Kanye rapping about going off his Lexapro. There's a mixture of disturbing intimacy and distant alienation... Kanye feels like that distant friend that suddenly drunkenly spills his guts, and you understand only maybe half of what he's talking about.

It's powerful, it's jarring, it's often beautiful. Sonically, it proves that Kanye is still second to none in the scope of his vision and his ability to harness centuries of experience in talent to bring it about in the most glorious ways... Man, I have no idea. It's 3AM, I'm tired, I think I love this album like I think I am sane. I hope you enjoyed it too. Something like this doesn't come along very often.

Oh I just remembered I was gonna talk about how this felt like his Smile but I'll save that for later I guess.

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