JAY-Z Goes Kanye

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Hova airs issues, introspective at Kanye, that’d be so Kanye”

It isn’t worth going deep on what everybody has already said about Jay-Z’s new album: it’s personal, it’s arresting, and a revelation.  It’s not that I would disagree with those assessments.  Jay-Z, like many hip-hop artists of a certain vintage, have struggled with being honest and genuinely introspective.

Yes, Jay-Z already released introspective tracks with personal lyrics.  (See: the Blueprint I for a few examples).  Those tracks, while they cannot be discounted, were often undercut by the very next song.  That has been a consistent crticisim of mainstream hip-hop artists.

However, 4:44 is (ironically) more about Yeezy than Jay-Z.  If we are being honest, Jay’s later-career albums have been more about protecting a legacy, how great it is to be him specifically, being rich, and would these lesser rappers stop taking shots at the King.  This approach worked for radio play and for generating singles about how great Jay-Z is.

It took a true iconoclast like Kanye West to pull mainstream hip-hop out of the well-worn tropes that have characterized (and plagued) the genre (again focusing on the mainstream only) since the late 1990’s.  You know the tropes: (1) I’m rich, (2) I’m real (haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from), (3) I’m great (WAY better than the rappers that I passively aggressively reference), (4) “M.O.B.” etc.  And who else, besides Jay-Z, is a bigger symbol of mainstream hip-hop post 1997?

4:44 is leaner and  devoid of hooks or gimics.  I believe Jay’s relationship with Kanye has slowly changed his music for the better because it pushed him creatively.  (You can hear the beginnings of this with “Watch the Throne.” Jay-Z was outshined by Kanye, hands down, even if he did creep outside of his MC comfort zone more.) This slow evolution brings us to 2017 where Jay-Z is comfortable enough to move beyond his need to assure everyone that Jay-Z was beyond reproach.

Jay-Z may or may not admit it, but “4:44” probably wouldn’t be but for his relationship with Kanye.  Sure, they obviously have experienced a personal fall out.  Sure, a lot of that fall out can probably be attributed to Yeezy’s tortured genius.  Nevertheless, could anyone see “Kill Jay-Z” coming without Kanye?  Forget about the creative dissing of other rappers and Eric Benet, its Jay-Z’s metaphorical self-immolation on 4:44 that stands out.  Now, magazines and the internet are praising Jay for being real, for being honest, for being raw, for being self-aware.  If those writers were being honest, they are praising Jay for putting out a Kanye record.

What would I recommend?  I would defintely buy and/or stream this album.  Unlike some of Jay-Z’s more recent solo work, this album will stick to your ribs.

 

Via Bandcamp: the Menzingers “After the Party”

TL;DR Haiku:

“New Jersey emo, they don’t sound like Bruce Springsteen, a solid album”

Look what has come around again:

The Menzingers just released a new album and it will probably sound somewhat familiar to you, not that there is anything wrong with that.  The Menzingers give me an aural-recall to early-Aughts emo bands like Further Seems Forever (with the original line-up) and countless others from the late 90’s through 2000-something.

Personally, in the choruses especially, I also hear some early Jimmy Eat World.  I don’t get the Bruce Springsteen comps that I have seen thrown around, but I imagine that comp is pushed on every band from New Jersey at least once.ersonally, in the choruses especially, I also hear some early Jimmy Eat World.  I don’t get the Bruce Springsteen comps that I have seen thrown around, but I imagine that comp is pushed on every band from New Jersey at least once.

While the Menzingers don’t do anything to change your life, most bands don’t either, so don’t be such a music-snob for once, Straw Man.  The songs on this album are upbeat (at least musically), well produced, and catchy.  I dare you not to like these songs almost immediately.  It’s a well put together album and I can see why this band is getting some recent buzz with this release.   I’ll be interested to see what kind of staying power they have in my personal rotation after several listens.

For $8 for a digital copy of “After the Party” on Bandcamp:https://themenzingers.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-party, I’d say do it.

https://themenzingers.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-party, I’d say do it.

 

 

 

Focus Grouping with AFI

TL;DR Summary Haiku:

“AFI album, it’s boring and uninspired, I would not buy it”

The first review up is AFI’s “Blood Album” which is great because I am nothing if not an AFI apologist.  And let me say, they have made it almost impossible to defend this album with my usual: “it’s just different” refrain.  I don’t like to be negative and I would rather be constructive…but, it is really hard with this album.  I don’t expect bands to stay the same forever and I don’t mind when they change their sound.  This is different.

This album feels like AFI’s record label put a cross-section of their fans in a room with a one-way mirror and asked them to describe what they would want in a new AFI album.  This album sounds like a band that is trying to check off every box to please the different “generations” of fans but accomplishes nothing because they put every piece of fruit they have into the blender and produced a tasteless mess.

You hear classic AFI in some tracks with the chanting, the choruses, and the background vocals.  The difference here is that it sounds like a cover band without the intensity, without the fire inside (see what I did there?).  You also hear some pop, synth-pop,  pop-punk and, whatever other genres you can throw at me.  And, whatever, I’m fine with that in theory.  They don’t have to remake Black Sails just to be great again.

Honestly, there is probably a good EP in here somewhere because the music is not as bad as the execution.  The problem for me is, the tracks aren’t universally bad, they are just boring.  Oh, and it is time to talk about the Davey Havok in the room.

It’s not the music, it’s the songs.  I don’t usually get caught up in what the lyrics mean but it is another thing to be constantly distracted by bad poetry.  How many times can you repeat “strange” or “stranger” in a song without annoying the listener?  How many times can you sing “white offerings” before it gets old?  How can a band mature in reverse with the content?  Davey annoys with aplomb on this album, and this is coming from an avid AFI fan.  (I still have my limited edition turn of the century AFI vans).

So would I buy this album? Stream it? Avoid it at all costs?  Check them out on tour first?

I would stream it a few times more.  Maybe it will grow on me (says the apologist).