Rihanna and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

Ever since I got interested in the work of Kanye West, I have been paying attention to projects he worked on.  Earlier this week I listened to the new Rihanna single Bitch Better Have My Money.  I’m on the fence about it, but part of the problem is that I can’t take it too seriously.  (Not that it’s necessarily meant to be taken seriously.  The deep voice at the end gives you the sense that they were laughing while making it.)  Whenever I hear it I remember the above scene from the blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

Add on:  I don’t like the snarky way in which so much work is disregarded on the internet.  However, when you title a song as ridiculous as the new Rihanna single, with the movie scene up above out there, it might be fair game.  I feel on the fence about it for the following reasons.  Unlike a lot of modern pop, if you listen to the song on headphones it actually sounds like a human singing, despite there being some doubling and vocal effects.  That is net positive.  I like the idea of the song flipping the script on the word bitch, when sung by a female.  It’s pretty clear that she is singing about a male.  But the lyrics also dabble in a kind of throw away consumerism that is troubling in modern pop music.  The melody is also average.  However, one other thing that I do like about it is the fact that the arrangement is not overtly complicated.  Although it is synthetic, like a lot of modern pop, which doesn’t bother me in and of itself, there is space allowed into the sound.  It’s not so dense and compressed that it the music sounds indistinguishable from everything else that is out there.  


No Church in the Wild

I’ve been listening to this track lately.  It’s batshit insane and I love it so.  Whether it is Lou Reed or the orchestral piece Sensemaya, I love music that sounds like it is going through the looking glass.  I of course love many many different types of music, of all different emotions, but there is something about when artists sound like a modern day Icarus, like they are flying to close to the sun, that appeals to me.

I’m not traditionally a huge hip hop fan.  Nothing appeals to me more in music than a unique singer singing their truth.  (Public Enemy has always been the one exception.)  However, I have tried to be more open to it lately, as I have often loved a lot of the production on hip hop records.  As a musician I have found myself being drawn to a lot of the stuff that Kanye produces because it is often quite musical.

Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, and What I Hope to See More of In Pop

I really like the collaboration between Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna.  It’s nothing more than a pop song, but it is a really good one.  I’ve always liked Paul McCartney, and have long thought Kanye West to be brilliant, especially his Yeezus album.  I haven’t payed much attention to Rihanna, largely because the music she makes seems really generic, although one can see with this song that she can really sing.  I wish pop music would take a hint from this song, that with a great singer and melody you don’t need all of the gimmicks and tricks that reduce artists so often to mere minor characters in their own hits.  I’m not even necessarily talking about big productions vs. the acoustic guitar simplicity of this song.  I love epic productions as much as I love folk songs.  What I mean is that a great pop song should have a strong melody, and that the singer should also be represented in some kind of way where their humanity gets across.  That is so important, that the singer’s voice in a pop song should be allowed to express emotionally what the singer is feeling, and not be covered up in either the production or the mix in a way that makes it seem less human.  I didn’t like the last collaboration with Kanye West and Paul McCartney very much, though I haven’t listened to it a great deal, because the excessive use of autotune bugged me.  I also didn’t think the melody was as strong as this song.  Now I know that West used autotune extensively on his album 808s and Heartbreak, and I actually like that record, but that is because the use of that technique there was specifically to make his singing sound emotionally distant.  I like Daft Punk too, but again what they are doing with autotune is part of their concept and not just part of a trend or to cover up the fact that someone can’t sing.  Autotune is fine if it is used in a way that fits conceptually, but a real human voice, naked in its emotions, will win almost every time.

P.S.  It is a common production trick now to use autotune on a lot of pop songs in a subtle way that is harder to detect to fix flat notes.  I have no idea if this is the case on this song.  I haven’t listened to it on headphones yet, but at least Rhianna’s vocals sound natural. She has great phrasing on this song as well.

Batshit Insane Vol. 2: Yeezus


Kanye West – Yeezus – Kanye West’s album sounds front to back unlike any other record ever made.  Oh there are recognizable pieces all across the record, but it is the combination that is unique.  Electronic noises, Marilyn Manson drums, strings, melodic choirs, and atonal noise all rear their head at different moments.  It’s mood evokes everything from David Lynch inspired dread to raunchy comedy.  It is a hip-hop record only in the vocal delivery, a few of the beats displayed, and its cut and paste genre bending aesthetic.  I get a physical high every time I listen to this album from both it’s sonic insanity and intensity, and his seeming willingness to sacrifice himself to the judgmental and often hypocritical gods of common decency.  West begins the record:

Yeezy season approaching
Fuck whatever y’all been hearing
Fuck what, fuck whatever y’all been wearing
A monster about to come alive again

From that start through the rest of the record West seems like a man unhinged.  It is as if all of the press scrutiny he has faced has been internalized and is being spit back out with maximum venom.  But the record is not a humorless affair.  After spouting one particularly vulgar line, you can hear West start to crack himself up at the end of his delivery.  This is not a dumb record either, as it is masterfully constructed to take an art form to a new level.  The record is also emotionally complex as West plays with the public perception of him as an extremely arrogant yet successful African American, who has overstepped his bounds.  There is pain in certain parts of the record, but there is no mea culpa.  There are times when he is purposely playing into the monstrous version of himself that the media has created around him, but he slips out of any easy categorizations, always one step ahead of those that want to define him as a one dimensional caricature.  It is a dark and visceral listen by someone willingly putting his head on the chopping block and having fun while doing it.  A masterpiece.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

Passionless Voices and The Death of Sex in Music

“It’s a miracle that I’ve lived this amount of time without having destroyed a person. But I still have a little bit of time.” – Maurice Sendak

I got a bunch of iTunes gift cards yesterday for Christmas.  I was combing the indie rock websites Louder than War and Pitchfork hoping to discover the great new indie band.  Fucking hell it was frustrating.  It just seemed like style after style with no substance, or great music with an incredibly dodgy singer.  Everything just seemed like an elaborate rouse with an empty center, kind of like most Christopher Nolan movies.  Especially if you compare the indie scene to the great post punk indie scene of the early 80’s, it just seems like children playing with toys.  (And I was too young to enjoy that scene when it was happening so you can’t peg me with nostalgia.)  Too many musicians that figured out how to make cool sounds, without understanding how to organize those sounds for maximum impact.

I kept thinking about this Camille Paglia article about Lady Gaga called:

Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex

Now of course I realize that Gaga isn’t indie.  But these two paragraphs really struck me and also make me feel like you could insert any number of indie bands in place of Gaga’s name:

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion. 

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.

Although there is a lot of new music that sounds somewhat emotional, it is that fiery passion, that ability to do something visceral to connect, that seems missing.  One of the reasons most of my best albums of 2014 were older artists, some of them my Dad’s age or older, is that those artists have a strong personality that cuts through any musical style that they might be attempting.  They have something to say and aren’t afraid to say it.  Not only that, but their singing voices are the voices of those that aren’t afraid to communicate passionately and directly.

My Dad and I were talking last night about why there is no strong social movements like there was in the 60’s.  He even commented that he felt music was one of, if not THE, leading force in changing peoples’ consciousness so that they got involved at a political level.

Now I think that one reason that strong passionate music is not on the airwaves, whether that be mainstream or indie music, is that radio DJs are now exponentially more constricted than they were in the past.  Unless it is public radio there are very few radio stations that are driven by restrictive playlists.  There are music lovers that like me will sift through music for hours to find something inspiring.  However, a great deal of people are only going to be made aware of something if they hear it in some fashion.

On top of this, again, I think you have too many singers that cannot use their voices to communicate true passion.  Autotune is obviously partially to blame, as it robs singers of their personalities in order to make singing more perfect.  (I do like when Autotune is deliberately used to make something sound like it is emotionally distant as on Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreak or Laurie Anderson’s Homeland.)  But too many singers now, those that sing with their natural voices, seem to have thin reedy voices that by their very nature do not sound passionate in anyway.  Even the ones seem like they are trying to sing passionately seem more like they are imitating it than actually feeling it.  Music is a highly emotional art form.  If you don’t convey what you want with any real passion, can you really complain when nobody gives a fuck about what you have to say, in a way where they actually might be moved to do something different in their lives?

Anyway, I need to go take a musical shower with some records that don’t make me feel like I’m listening to someone on Xanax…

Kanye West, Paul Westerberg, and Self Defense

Kanye West Power Lyrics

I’m livin’ in the 21st century
Doin’ something mean to it
Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it
Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it
I guess every superhero need his theme music

No one man should have all that power
The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours
Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power
(21st century schizoid man)

The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open
We ain’t got nothin’ to lose, ma’f-cka, we rollin’
Huh? Ma’f-cka, we rollin’
With some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands
In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen
So goodnight, cruel world, I see you in the mornin’
Huh? I see you in the mornin’
This is way too much, I need a moment

No one man should have all that power
The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours
Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power
‘Til then, f-ck that, the World’s ours

And then they (Go)
And then they
And then they (Go)
And then they (21st century schizoid man)

F-ck SNL and the whole cast
Tell ‘em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass
More specifically, they can kiss my asshole
I’m an asshole? You n-ggas got  jokes
You short-minded n-ggas’ thoughts is Napoleon
My furs is Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in
Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic
He know, he so, f-ckin’ gifted
I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts
Got treasures in my mind but couldn’t open up my own vault
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catchin’ up with me
Takin’ my inner child, I’m fighting for it, custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my dia-mond-encrusted piece

N-gga, no one man should have all that power
The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours
Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the power
‘Til then, f-ck that, the World’s ours

And then they (Go)
And then they
And then they (Go)
And then they
And then they (Go)
And then they (21st century schizoid man)

Colin Powells, Austin Powers
Lost in translation with a whole f-ckin’ nation
They say I was the obamanation (abomination) of Obama’s nation
Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation
At the end of day, goddammit, I’m killin’ this sh-t
I know damn well y’all feelin’ this sh-t
I don’t need yo’ p-ssy, bitch, I’m on my own d-ck
I ain’t gotta power trip, who you goin’ home with?
How ‘Ye doin’? I’m survivin’
I was drinkin’ earlier, now I’m drivin’
Where the bad bitches, huh? Where ya hidin’?
I got the power, make yo’ life so excitin’ (So excitin’)

Now this would be a beautiful death
Jumpin’ out the window
Lettin’ everything go
Lettin’ everything go

N-now-now this would be a beautiful death
Jumpin’ out the window
Lettin’ everything go
Lettin’ everything go

Now this would be a beautiful death
Jumpin’ out the window
Lettin’ everything go
Lettin’ everything go

You got the power to let power go


Paul Westerberg Self Defense Lyrics

Cheekbones and hormones
Your only self-defense
Lying through dinner
And your rock and roll teeth again
You’ve harbored a coward
Fed him full of broth
This nocturnal sadness
Leave you pale as this tablecloth
Careful don’t you spill your dinner
That would be a good defense
Then you wouldn’t have to sit here
On the fence

Cheekbones and hormones
He’s the accidental man
Tell you in a stage whisper
about the boy who cried benefit
As the poet drags the darkness
Within him to the light
It’s only in self-defense
That they drag you out into the night
Careful don’t you spill your dinner
That would be your best defense
Careful what you wish for

An idiot and a genius
Standing up to dine
Breaking manmade laws
Cause I only follow those that are divine
And only when you’re chased
Do you ever run fast
And it’s wrong to commit a suicide
It’s only in self-defense


I was listening to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy today while cleaning and the single Power came on.  The song is one half egotistical boast and one half cry for help.  Notice the lines at the end of the song after some of the more boastful ones earlier in it.  I started thinking about the Paul Westerberg song Self Defense from his Suicaine Gratifaction album.  Westerberg’s song is probably one of the best song’s ever about the self destructive streak in rock n roll music. 

I started thinking about how different works of art can allow you to interpret other works of art.  I was also thinking about how art can open up windows of empathy into other people’s lives. 

When most people think of Kanye West they think of an out of control egoist.  He may or may not be all of the things that people say he is, but I don’t know him.  Most people that are constantly bragging and puffing themselves up and bragging about themselves are hiding some kind of despair or lack of inner self confidence.  They are often overcompensating.  That’s not always the case, but it often is.  As an Eagles fan I remember watching Terrell Owens’s meltdown in front of the camera’s while he played for them.  On one hand he seemed completely wrapped up in his own ego and self confident.  There also seemed to be a tremendous amount of pain under all of that bravado.  

In rap music there is a ton of boasting and bragging, often by young black men.  Sometimes I discount some of this music because of this factor.  It seems excessive.  However, we live in a country where our prison industrial complex is out of control.  Young black men make up a disproportionately large amount of our prison population.  When people go to prison they do not simply pay their debts and return back to normal life.  Prison often follows people for long after if not the rest of their lives.  When people go to prison for nonviolent crimes it often punishes them disproportionately in light of the crimes committed.  Families are destroyed and chances for meaningful employment are often lost. 

We also live in a country where many people admit to crossing the street when they see a certain kind of black mail walking on their side of it.  Growing up under these circumstances, even if you are not directly affected, would be enough to drive anyone insane.  The culture surrounding you alone must be maddening. 

When you hear bragging and boasting in these songs can you not imagine that it is a way to overcompensate for the image that society has thrust upon them?  If no one is going to tell you that you are of worth, maybe you need to tell yourself.  My mom just sent me an email about how when no one would write reviews of Walt Whitman he just wrote reviews of his own work and later quote from those reviews as if someone else had written them.  Is this bragging and boasting not some form of self defense? 

Kanye West’s Yeezus

I have become transfixed with the music of Kanye West lately.  Whatever you think of him, and like me you probably have an opinion of him even before you have heard a note of his music, he is definitely an artist.  He allows all of the contradictions in his personality, both the good and bad, to come through in his music even when it makes him look less than flattering.  More importantly he has become a first rate sonic architect.  His latest album Yeezus, and my favorite, is batshit insane in the best way possible.  I like his work from best to least in reverse order, though I will admit I am least familiar with his first two records.  The stranger his music gets the better as far as I’m concerned. 

His lyrics, while it would be wrong to say they are not intelligent, are not intellectual in a true sense.  Although they have many moments of playfulness and bizarre humor, in some way they seem less constructed than delivered.  It’s almost as if we have a ticker tape of the subconscious.  This is both their strength and weakness.  That’s why I believe his lyrics work the best when they are either a direct representation of how he feels, or are completely crazy on something like I Am a God.  The very best are when you have a tough time telling the two apart.  When he is singing something like I Am a God I believe he is just having fun, trying to be provocative.  He has found a small bit of virgin territory, which is harder and harder to do these days, and is staking it out, probably laughing at all of the people that are going to freak out. 

Other than being a huge Public Enemy fan I am not a big rap fan.  I am trying to branch out and learn more as it is one of the areas where I feel my musical education is lacking.  I’ve always felt that the singing voice is the quickest way to some kind of emotional truth in music.  When someone sings it is almost a window into their soul.  In rap that nonverbal emotional element is missing and the words really do matter.  That’s not to say that a rappers delivery can’t communicate emotions, it is just not the same as singing though.  Also, and this goes for any genre, one of my pet peeves lyrically is of the moment pop culture references.  They seem to date something instantly.  That’s not to say that you can’t reach some universal truth while doing so, but you have an uphill battle.  Too often rap not only exists in the world of the ego, which rock n roll has been doing since it began, but in the world of the temporary.  I feel like the best lyrics either make you think on some deeper level, or stay out of the way of the melody completely and let the emotional quality of a piece of music do the talking.  If you are thinking, but at a very rudimentary level, you are being taken out of the emotion of the piece as far as I’m concerned.  No one would say that Bernard Sumner was a great poet, but his lyrics have an almost blank slate quality that allows you to project your own imagination into the song.  They don’t get in the way of enjoying his effervescent melodies.  I’m trying to rethink my personal prejudices when it comes to lyrics, at least when I listen to rap, as I realize it is a different form with different rules. 

I became interested in Kanye when both Lou Reed and David Lynch talked about their love of his new album.  They are two artists that I respect greatly and I had to see what they were going on about.  I was instantly impressed with Yeezus and wanted to learn more. 

I see the lyrics on Yeezus as both a mixture of raw pain and again as someone just trying to have fun.  It’s a strange blend, but compelling because of it.  Part of the detective work of the listener is trying to determine where he is being serious and where he is not.  Sometimes he is playing with his media perception and other times he is letting those inner thoughts, the ones that most of us keep secret, come to the forefront.

Sonically the juxtaposition of opposing ideas again makes this album incredibly captivating.  Primal drums, screeching synths, and screams will suddenly give way to beautiful moments of soul singing.  Often you’ll get one or the other on a record, but rarely both.  He is playing with both melody and noise often in the same song.  This record is one of the few times when I have heard something and I feel like something is being done new sonically.  Sure, everything has been done in some ways, but he is painting new colors in the margins.  He is combining things in a way that they have never quite been combined before.  It’s exciting.