Listening Journal 06-21
Kanye West - Yeezus - “Black Skinhead” is the most gripping, dogged, and immediate track here for my buck (and the best candidate for a hit single), but up until 2:50 into “New Slaves,” I worried it was a fluke. I don’t even know a single word West raps on “On Sight” because that acid backing track is too busy slapping you in the face with its ‘craziness,’ and “I Am a God” is weak and silly when it wants to be grand and imposing (you can’t not laugh at the croissants line). I liked the spacey production and spotlight-poetry-jam slant of “New Slaves” on SNL—“Hamptons” section aside—but as soon as that aching, beautiful Frank Ocean coda kicks in on the record, it shatters the spell of edgy, wonky techno rap and the album is free to wander. “Hold My Liquor” has the muddled, gray wash of a good vulnerable-mode Kanye track, meaning it wouldn’t have been entirely out of place on his two previous albums. The Important song, “Blood on the Leaves,” works better than I would’ve expected. It’s a song that’ll need a lot of unpacking as the year goes on, I think. Most of the other tracks, though, haven’t done much for me. “I’m in It” needs an editor, both to curtail Justin Vernon and to address West’s, um, disquieting lyrics. “Guilt Trip” kinda just floats by in the wake of “Blood,” while “Send it Up” can be actively annoying. I’d like “Bound 2” a lot more if it weren’t for all the “Uh-huh, honey!” interjections, even if it is just an “Int’l Players Anthem” redux. An interesting, often frustrating, sometimes rewarding, and certainly risky album. Oh, and apparently Kayne is romantically involved with a caucasian woman? 
Elanor Friedberger - Personal Record - Y’know, I always thought Gallowsbird’s Bark was the best Fiery Furnaces album. The rock opera stuff that followed—9 minute existential travelogue songs and all that—seemed precisely calculated to be off-putting. That and, when I saw them live on the Rehearsing My Choir tour, they were so grumpy and full of contempt for the audience that it just ruined the band for me. In that setting, it was basically Eleanor Friedberger’s job to cram as many $5 words, names of far off places, and general smart-kid smarm into every line as she could. Here, on her second solo album, it’s a slightly different story. She’s still an extra-literate traveller, but more often than not, as the title suggests, these songs are about relationships and feelings. Relatable things. Sung over economical, bluesy guitar pop, there’s a similar vibe to later Furnaces albums, especially I’m Going Away, and something like, say, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s work with Beck. These songs have an immediacy that ensures you can at least let the record play in the background without much fuss, but they’re worth spending some time with to glean the emotional core behind the lyrics. “Echo or Encore,” “Other Boys,” and “Singing Time” are my particular favorites. 
Wampire - Curiosity - Imagine Ariel Pink dressing up as The Unicorns and you’ll be pretty close to this band. Fuzzy but not totally lo-fi, leading with the bass guitar (very 70s), borrowing kitschy organs from 60s pop via Jon Brion, hinting at an 80s new wave sensibility, setting it over canned drums, yelped vocals through a busted mic—you get the idea. The test of a band like this is whether or not their skill with a pop song transcends their stylistic quirks and historical costumery, and Wampire are actually OK in that regard. The songs don’t have a lot of sticking power, but they don’t grate or otherwise offend much either. They have the beginnings of a fun sound here, and if they stick with it and hone their tunesmithing, they could be a band worth watching. For now, though, this album is less of an oddity than they clearly want it to be, but it’ll fill the gaps between Bauhaus songs on your Halloween playlist.