Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The idea that hip-hop albums are autobiographical is nothing new. Virtually every up-and-coming and established hip-hop artist alike touts their albums as reflections of their lives. Biggie let us into the darkness of growing up in the projects on the groundbreaking Life After Death. Big L was the first gangster rapper to gush about his flamboyancy on The Big Picture and Kid Cudi took us right into his “fucked-up” head on Man on the Moon: The End Of Day. On his latest release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West one-ups all of them…in typical Kanye style. ‘Ye’s latest batch of songs outshines the musical autobiography that most excellent hip-hop artists conjure with their flow, and moves us into a larger, more cinematic territory. Granted, Kanye’s ambitious short film Runaway did help to add colour to the pictures, but the sketches were laid down well beforehand thanks to the G.O.O.D. Friday song releases.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy opens with narration from Kanye’s now frequent collaborator Nicki Minaj, as well as some tastefully auto tuned crooning from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Before the beat has even dropped Kanye has proven that he knows exactly what today’s modern listeners want. They don’t want their music pigeonholed. They want music that mixes genres together to create something fresh, and Kanye isn’t one to discriminate.
If you’ve turned on a television in the last couple months chances are you’ve heard Kanye West’s theme music. “Power” was featured in The Social Network’s trailor. In fact, it replaced Radiohead’s “Creep”. Chock that up as another victory for Kanye West. Sorry Mr. Yorke. Things get a tad dramatic on “All of the Lights” which is proceeded by a short, related interlude that could easily have been plucked out of a movie score. A fast-paced drum and horn combo, as well as Rihanna’s beautiful voice quickly replace the strings from the interlude and Kanye does the chorus big on this one. Titanic big. Everyone from Elton John to Kid Cudi to John Legend to Alicia Keys and many more lend their voices to create a classic wall-of-sound feel on “All of the Lights”.
Midway through the album comes “Monster”, a vicious attack song featuring hip-hops A list rappers trading verses for five straight minutes. The blunt chorus “everybody knows I’m a motherfucking monster” illustrates where Kanye stands at this point in his career. The man dominates the headlines, insults U.S. Presidents and steals spotlights regularly. West clearly titled this one after himself. He’s a monster who has no time to be hiding under beds. He’d rather be eating the rap-game and public media alive.
Remember when Jay-Z declared himself as “rap’s Grateful Dead” on “Encore”? That title now belongs to Mr. West. At nine minutes in length, “Runaway” maybe the longest hip-hop track in recent memory. In fact, the Grateful Dead rarely produced studio songs of that length. With an extended introduction and a seriously extended outro, “Runaway” sums up Kanye’s ambition in one song. This is an artist who is not afraid to take risks. Scratch that. This song was never a risk, it was always a sure thing.
The final “wow” moment of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy comes thanks to a impressively re-imagined Bon Iver song “Lost In The World”. Once again, ‘Ye makes you re-think what hip-hop should sound like. “Lost In The World’s” hip-hop-meets-indie-rock beat is nothing like you’ve ever heard and Justin Vernon’s auto tune skills trump T-Pain’s.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a groundbreaking, genre-bending hip-hop album from one of the most loved, hated, controversial, inspiring, and outspoken artists of the decade. Kanye West sets the bar high on this masterpiece, so the only question that really remains is, what will his next musical fantasy be?
Thursday, November 18, 2010
After an unsteady set by opener Al Tuck, Jason Collett took the stage promptly at 9:30pm and played a set heavy on songs from his newer albums, Pony Tricks and Rat A Tat Tat. While the songs were all well played, the absence of a backing band resulted in many of the tunes coming off as quietly unvaried. This was largely due to the fact that each song followed the same slow tempo while lacking stylistic differences in playing. “Rave On Sad Songs”, “Bitter Beauty”, and “Bitch City” along with other new songs were well received, and the audience clapped loud and hard for those.
What did save Collett’s overall lackluster set were his stories, and there were a lot of them. Each followed the same humorous theme, the intersection between pot, women, and music in Collett’s life. First, he recalled his initial meeting with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, smashing heads with her underwater after smoking a joint at a hotel pool. Next came the story of Collett’s first meeting with Sharon Jones of the Dap Kings in France. The two met and bonded over a good Canadian-style joint and discussed the downfalls of European-style tobacco-heavy joints. The last notable story Collett told harkened back to his days in Grade 10. He took a girl he had a huge crush on to a school dance and the two shared a joint before entering the school. The cherry had fallen into his polyester shirt and needless to say, upon walking past his principal, the shirt erupted in flames. The two were promptly kicked out of the dance where they proceeded to smoke another and fool around. It sounded like quite the school trip, and one many of us could probably relate to.
Collett did end his set strongly with “High Summer” and the classic “I’ll Bring The Sun”. On the whole, the show was just okay. I really do like Jason Collett’s music, and his albums are worth the listening time, but I think his songs are much better suited to having a backing band, such as when he plays with Zeus, or when sung with Broken Social Scene, rather than played solo acoustically.
Photos by Amanda Fotes
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
We're really into this new music site called Listen.in.
The short explanation for Listen.in is that it's like Twitter for your music. It's the easiest way to share music with your friends by giving you and providing them with access to music and playlists.
I really can't stress enough how easy this site is to use and how addictive it is. Bottom line, signup and start sharing and discovering some awesome music with friends.
Here is the long-winded explanation found in the Listen.in about section:
Listen.in is a real-time music information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and tune into what people are listening to.
Listen.in asks “What’s playing” and makes the answer spread across the globe, immediately.
What Listen.in Does
At its core, Listen.in is a new tool that allows you to share and discover music in real-time. We provide you with a way to listen in on what musicians, artists, celebrities, music bloggers and your friends are listening to. It’s a new way to discover some cool music and connect with people.
It’s a new avenue for musical connection. If you’ve ever wondered what music your favourite artists are currently listening to, then Listen.in is for you. If you want a simple way to listen to the bands that music bloggers are writing about, then Listen.in is for you. If you want to be able to listen to what your friends, family, associates, well-wishers and comrades are listening to, then Listen.in is for you.
The music you listen to on your iTunes is automatically broadcasted onto your Listen.in profile, allowing your ‘followers’ to stream a 30 second clip of the song via your newsfeed.
Listen.in has the capability to decipher the music you are exploring from the music you actually like listening to. For example, your news feed will state that you are “checking out” a song if you’ve only listened to it once, as opposed to “listening to” a song if you’ve played that song multiple times.
Listen.in has a ‘love’ button that adds a song into your ‘favourites’ playlist on your homepage. This feature further emphasizes the difference between songs you just listen to, and songs you really enjoy. Any playlist you have created in iTunes will be available for you and your ‘followers’ to listen to on your homepage. The use of playlists will give users a better sense of your musical taste.
For every song you stream on Listen.in, we give you the ability to watch the music video on YouTube, read the lyrics or the artist’s biography, check out some photos of the band, buy tickets to their up-coming concert and even purchase the song from Amazon, all at the click of a button!
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Having just finished up a two month long national tour with These United States and Yukon Blonde, you could tell the band was happy to be back home among familiar faces and family. Playing to a surprisingly sold-out Lee’s Palace, The Wooden Sky was ready to deliver their unique left-of-center folk rock to the packed venue. The vibe for the night was particularly energetic, with the crowd really embracing the sounds of both opening acts. So when The Wooden Sky finally took the stage the crowd seemed ready to erupt. The band’s set drew heavily on newer material from 2009s If I Don’t Come Home, You’ll Know I’m Gone but there were more than a few surprises in store for the night.
On record The Wooden Sky are really quite mellow. They do have the tendency to produce huge building crescendos of sound thanks to thickly layered guitars, violin, and the impressive vocals of lead singer Gavin Gardiner. Those grandeur moments were in full force at Saturday night’s show. The haunting “My Old Ghosts” built slowly off of Gavin’s delicately picked guitar lines, while the pounding bass and snare drums helped to create mounting tension. Those in the audience relished the opportunity to scream along with Gavin during the last powerful minute of the song. Riding off the crowd’s energy, The Wooden Sky took the opportunity to play The Animals-influenced “Angels”, a brooding song with strong biblical references to animal sacrifices, Jesus and the star of David.
Showing their trust for the hometown audience, The Wooden Sky treated us as musical guinea pigs and tested out two new songs. These new tunes followed similar themes to those heard on If I Don’t Come Home, You’ll Know I’m Gone, and while beautifully played, they weren’t overly memorable. Likely recognizing this little hiccup, Gavin dedicated the next song to the guys in These United States and hit us with a spot-on and rather jammed out cover of Tom Petty’s anthemic “American Girl”. Soon after the band invited both Yukon Blonde and These United States on to the stage to add some extra bass drum action to the tense “Something Hiding For Us In The Night” set closer. Bass drums were being played with traditional drumsticks to beer bottles and everything in between. The set seemed curiously short, but just as they finished Gavin announced that the group would be playing behind Lee’s Palace in a couple of minutes!
A group of around fifty to sixty people rounded the corner and headed to the back of Lee’s Palace and proceeded to wait eagerly to see what The Wooden Sky had in store. A large circle was left open for the band, who warmly invited everyone to huddle in much closer when the time to play finally came. Gavin led the crowd through an acoustic version “Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)” before taking the request of “Oslo”. He asked that we all be whisper quiet for this number, but that only lasted about thirty seconds, as everyone seemed to know the words and quickly added their voices to the song. Gavin seemed a bit at a loss as to what to play next, so he posed a question instead. “Who wants to get fucking arrested?” Well, needless to say everyone cheered along to that, and The Wooden Sky began to play the often overlooked Bob Dylan tune “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, all the while marching the large group into the middle of Bloor Street West. Amid honking cars, taxis, and bemused on-lookers, our group belted out the beautiful words of Bob Dylan in a truly surreal moment that bonded band, song, and community. I know it’s a cliché, but The Wooden Sky’s Saturday night performance was an exceptionally magical evening of music, and one that will be very hard to top.
Photos by Michelle Cortese
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
My review of Mookie & The Loyalists over on blogTO.