05. Graduation, Kanye West
Dear Mr. West,
You egomaniacal mad man, you. How is it, exactly, that you scale yourself back so gracefully, yet still come off as a boastful preteen on your latest album Graduation? The third part of a trilogy, after all, is always hit or miss. You, however, seem to miss so spectacularly sometimes that we can forgive even your most arrogant of mistakes. Graduation is such a ridiculously calculated effort, showing an almost complete lack of organic chemistry, that it is in battle with itself for most of the album’s duration. If we didn’t know you so well, we would think that this is all bad news. Fortunately, you reluctant genius, we can see this method and all its pratfalls for what they really are: the overly large vision of a conceited nutcase with the actual talent to back it all up. Graduation is many things, but scattered it is not. Despite its uneven nature, you effortlessly set a uniform tone that really shouldn’t even fit with the album at all. You bring it all home by hitting us with that not-so-gentle swagger we’ve come so accustomed to these past years, and blend it with a (god help us) genuine sense of honesty. You’ve made a beautiful mess, Mr. West. I thank you for it.
04. A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party
There are a lot of things to enjoy on Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City on a superficial level. They forcibly switch their style up, you could say. It is a cold night, neon-lit concept album taking place in one dissolute London weekend. There are pulse-pounding jam rock gems; post-punk gazes of existential angst; straight-forward ballads of lament and paranoia. Bloc Party is arguably one of the more interesting rock bands around right now--even if only in terms of song construction. They are a mercilessly tight band that has a willingness to lose control of any given track, while never really relinquishing their hold on it. More interesting though, is that there seems to be a number of elements on A Weekend in the City that don’t initially “work.” It is surprisingly difficult and needlessly down-trodden. However, A Weekend in the City is only difficult because it seems to go off the rails so early on in the album. What we miss is the stifling nature that the production has on Bloc Party’s want to simply become too big for their “britches.” A Weekend in the City has a vision; it’s a morose, defeatist vision, but a vision nonetheless. The fascinating dance that the band performs with their seeming to desire to spread themselves thin and their inherent need to communicate their frustration is nothing short of intoxicating. A lot of times, the albums that are the most fun to love are the ones that are kind of difficult to enjoy.
03. Kala, M.I.A.
When discussing M.I.A. you are prone to hyperbole. I am personally guilty of this. Whether it is a negative criticism or a positive note, you tend to deliver it with the same vigor and spastic joy in which she delivers her music. From the start I’ve acknowledged that Kala is not an album that everyone will love. I note this, not because it is some indescribable masterpiece that only certain people will “get;” I note this because the style in which Mia has grown accustomed is becoming a little tired, if not predictable. Kala is simply a masterwork in carefully coloring outside predetermined lines. Upon closer reflection, I've realized that it’s actually nothing new--especially not for her. What I love about Kala, though, is the deft maneuvering and splendid confidence that is shown through out the album, giving it such a shockingly unforced identity. Kala works kind of in spite of itself and this makes me love it all the more. These are blistering, novel ideas that M.I.A. has. She just has a tendency to deliver them with an aforementioned shtick that is not going to last her much longer. For me, however, they work ingeniously on Kala. The production is expectedly all over the place; the shcitzo structures; the shimmering grime; they all add up to a massive cluster of playful ideas, ideals, and seeming social conscience seminars. Kala is manic because it wants to be and amazing because it needs to be. Mia will ride this pony until the trick becomes new all over again
02. Mirrored, Battles
I pegged Battles for my favorite album of the year some time ago. Sure, I happened to hear one album that I feel delivered on its vision a little better, but Mirrored largely goes above and beyond almost anything released this year by a mile. It is not only the most intense album of the year, but also the most intriguing. This is something of a rare occurrence in my experiences. Battles effortlessly meld militant formations and arrangements with flippant, fuck-all experimentation. Mirrored becomes something of a shrewd exposition on the merits of blending percussion and harmonics. Its cadence carries over into its larger theme of progress and innovation, but surprisingly finds a soul amidst all the wreckage of genre. Mirrored is sleek when it calls for it; choppy when it feels like it; robotic at all times. It is a well-oiled machine that has become self-aware somewhere in the dark of night. For all of my hyperbole though, the album is mostly grounded in reality. It doesn’t use any extravagant methods to get its point across, nor does it press an issue to any sort of pretentious height. Part of what makes Mirrored so spectacular is the overwhelming sense of urgency that is created from such…uncomplicated means.
01. Flying Club Cup, Beirut
It is increasingly evident that Zach Condon just doesn’t know when to quit. The 21 year old prodigy (also known as Beirut) makes dense, elaborate opuses of traditional, Eastern European inspired folk. The band members can range anywhere from just himself to sixteen other members. The songs are intricate and delicate, led by Condon’s almost inhumanly delicate timber peppered with jarring power and pain. Officially with a full band, his second release under the Beirut moniker entitled Flying Club Cup is a marked improvement over his debut and a sinking reminder of what a true talent we have on our hands.
Startling brass arrangements and a plethora of strings and deliberately odd instrumentation gives Flying Club Cup its inviting signature; it is Condon, though, that gives Beirut the identity that proves to be so deeply layered and ultimately satisfying. His lyrics are strange and heartfelt, and his vocal work calls to mind the echoing halls of a cathedral or palace that you might visit if you ever had the cash to put down or the will to understand its past. Condon’s bellow is the actualization of a dream inspired portrait of a soon to be tortured genius.
Flying Club Cup moves in graceful oddities like a painter may dabble in water colors. The construction is deft but never impenetrable or esoteric to a fault. The tracks pour out slow but full into a jug not yet topped off but nowhere near empty. There is a tingly, awe-inspiring aura communicated through these thirteen tracks that mainly focus on otherworldly endeavors that stir up cloudy misgivings of affliction and contrition. And it just doesn’t stop. Flying Club Cup is relentless in its elegant aesthetic, and relays its smoke screened vision of the world in a finely tuned, brilliant fashion.
***Thanks for wasting some time with me. It's been fun. I hope that you, at least, mildly enjoyed yourselves. Happy New Year!