“Staring at the world, have you figured it out yet”
The coming-of-age genre has always been a strong tradition of classic cinema, but it’s never really struck as strong a conceptual chord for the LP. Listening to Comfort Songs it’s tough to figure out why that is though, cause this is a perfect soundtrack to angsty development. Technically the third album by LA based 21 year-old Tyler Taormina & friends (albeit their first full release), it’s full of big ideas which are executed with a sort of admirably ramshackle naivety and an emotional tone which is fluctuant to say the least; bouncing regularly between awe and confusion; anger and sorrow; ego and ineptitude; it is drinking in the whole world and immediately throwing it all back up.
Musically speaking it absorbs what to me (and probably a lot of early-mid 20s music nerds) feels like a tangible spirit of youth; the wiry guitars and Taormina’s spirited but uneven yelps are built from a template of classic 90’s emo. On top of that the group make use of delicate piano strokes, brass wails and well placed strings to ensure there’s an elegant sadness shot through and everything takes on this interesting middle ground of youthful exuberance and stately maturity – like Braid meets Low or American Football mashed up with Bark Psychosis.
In an interview with GQ, Thicke explained: “Pharrell and I were in the studio and […] I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that [Got to Give It Up], something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it. Him and I would go back and forth where I’d sing a line and he’d be like, ‘Hey, hey, hey!’ We started acting like we were two old men on a porch hollering at girls like, ‘Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!’” On being quizzed about the racy content of the song, Thicke responded: “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’”
What fun! Sounds like a fun time with two fun guys.
This is now the UK’s fifth biggest selling song of the year. This song about how great it is to degrade women. Well done everyone.
Throughout his career, Kanye West has proven himself to be perpetually paradoxical. True to form, Yeezus is one of the most brilliant and vulgar albums of recent times, as its ten tracks perfectly sum up the baffling dualities of the man.
On 18 May, Kanye performed two new songs on Saturday Night Live, two tunes which stopped the internet dead in its tracks. ’Black Skinheads’ and ‘New Slaves’ showcased a leaner, more aggressive and militant side to West’s music; the caustic beats and stark minimalism of the melodies offered a perfect canvas for him to make a big statement. The lyrical content seemed to match as well, most notably his widely de-constructed calling out of the privatised prison system, and in recent interviews he has spoken of starting movements and placed himself in the tradition of politically motivated artists like Gil Scott-Heron. It seemed he was tapping into something big, and like many others, I was ready to be blown away by the brazen, primal voice of disenfranchised black America (as we all know, he has previous). This should be where it all falls into place. The potential has always been there – his dissatisfaction with materialism, disavowal of hip-hop’s culture of violence, and wry observations of institutionalised racism have long been tomes of his verses. Sadly, this is not quite that record. Despite being an impressively abrasive album for a multi-million selling rap artist, it also feeds back into many of the frustratingly puerile aspects of the genre which he has always seemed keen to distance himself from. Almost too much so, but I’ll get to that.
“I’m just happy to be making music and happy to be performing for y’all. You know for this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio, we ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music. Y’know like back when I used to make albums and shit like a couple years ago whatever we’d go away work on an album for like 5 months or something, then we’d always have to hold the album until like August or September, til the perfect moment and shit. Cause uh I think it mean you gon’ sell more cause you get more audience in radio and shit. But honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more. And, honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records. I’ll drop it when I want and I’ll sell more records…Because at this point, I don’t really care about outside opinions.”
I’m getting really quite psyched about Yeezus. It seems Kanye has gone mad with his own power in the best possible way, and it sounds like it might be really fucking great. This new song is.
Agree with almost all of this. Would only quibble with people not liking to be told what to think about music. I think for a lot of people who in the past would have engaged with traditional (or old fashioned or however the hell one wants to refer to it) journalism having someone critique the music they’re exposed to isn’t necessarily an objectionable occurrence, but it is simply drowned out by the constant wave of other forms of music media. The way in which it’s delivered to people mirrors the way in which they utilise the social nature of music. It effectively epitomises the use of music by many (by no means all) as a status symbol, or as a crucial part of personal brands/images. It comes across as though for a lot of music ‘fans’ who naturally rely on the internet, they now engage with their music in the same, shallow, disposable manner that is usually observed as characterising more casual listeners of Radio 1, NOVA-esque outlets, albeit through different, more accepted mediums and with different, more accepted pretensions.
I think that’s a valid point to pick up on definitely, what I mean to say with that is that perhaps a lot of people don’t think that they need someone to tell them what to think about music. As you rightly say, that’s largely a by-product of the way in which we engage with music writing these days - there’s an overwhelming amount of media so most people have one or two sources where they pick up new music, whether that’s pitchfork or radio 1, it shapes their tastes mostly without them realising it. That also applies mainly I suppose to younger generations for whom picking up a music mag and actually reading it was never a notable method of discovery for them, and who do tend to use their musical tastes as a shorthand personality and harness that knowledge as a form of cultural capital. And I think that’s potentially where the desire for proper thoughtful criticism is vacuumed up, people want to know a little about a lot. If they’ve heard a few songs by every buzz band about then that is of more use to them than having a real overview on the political impact of underground hip-hop or something significant like that. Incidentally, I wrote a uni essay last year about the way in which Pitchfork appeal to this need to hoard cultural capital and use it to their advantage, even if they do feature a lot of good writing. I may cut some of the academic rambling out of it and post it on here at some point.
The world of music journalism is exhausting. Recently I’ve been trying to think of music in wider more cultural contexts than I’m used to doing, because I was getting a bit jaded by the whole conceit of music journalism as it generally exists online. The constant stream of mp3s and album announcements and videos and streams and tediously formulaic reviews (something I don’t exclude myself from) - well, it’s mostly all bullshit. The clamouring for web hits and the diversity of music available means that everything is crying out for attention and thus very little actually seems to stand up and warrant proper focused attention over fleeting appreciation. There’s obviously a place for new music, but it shouldn’t be usurping analysis. Those that generally do receive proper focus tend to be established artists (this year the only things which have been widely buzzed and treated with a degree of thoughtful critique is probably Daft Punk, Kanye and Boards of Canada - possible exception in Savages). The vary nature of music journalism culture, or blog orientated fandom if you want, is transient. Mp3s and streams expire, reviews are buried beneath more reviews within days. It’s increasingly difficult to find a reviewer with a voice, whose opinion you can rely on, because there is an overwhelming pressure which courses unseen through the air of this imagined community, it demands new content about new bands with new tunes and new haircuts. To find any kind of voice among that din is difficult, as we end up instead churning out the same old crap you’ve already picked up from ten other sources, because there’s not time to think about things and offer a unique viewpoint. As such the only writers who seem to really matter are those who remove themselves from that completely, who offer a wider cultural context for music. Of course, invariably these are an older generation of writers for whom the above was an oncoming threat rather than an all consuming shit storm and they were able to sidestep it to some extent, with their pre-established reputations.