On Yeezus, Kanye West sets out to be an equal-opportunity offender. Over the first week of official listening and reacting to it, the Internet seems to be awakening to this fact, as reviews describe the lyrics as everything from carelessly thrown-together to profoundly self-aware, stopping along the way to note the racism, misogyny, and determined cruelty toward pretty much every group, community, and culture. Advocacy groups for Parkinson’s began the official outcry against the album on June 20th, two days after the album’s official release, though the broader Internet had been decrying the record’s misogyny since its initial leak.
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On Vampire Weekend’s first two LPs, lead singer and lyricist Ezra Koenig name-dropped Lil’ Jon, Peter Gabriel, and Jackson Crowder (identity not important) more times than he did God. In fact, Koenig’s lone reference to the divine was merely colloquial in nature: On “I Stand Corrected”, he sings, “Lord knows I haven’t tried”. That hardly counts. Though memorable, Koenig’s lyrical concerns back then didn’t register as all that weighty or ruminative. They instead had the mark of privileged, idle-time eccentricity, e.g. punctuation distinctions, sartorial refinement, and milky Spanish beverages. What came to the fore through such imagery, especially on the band’s eponymous debut, was a vivid sense of place. Fleshed-out themes weren’t a priority.
On this count, Vampire Weekend’s newly released third record—far and away its best—is a much different and more interesting animal. Though Koenig hasn’t jettisoned his colorful and digressive wordplay, Modern Vampires of the City comes through as a very theme-driven collection of songs. Both the sunny Ivy League provincialism of the band’s debut and the confident post-undergraduate worldliness of Contra are in the rear-view. In their place: aging, death, and the Man Upstairs, the last of these perhaps most overtly. Modern Vampires of the City is indeed a deeply God-haunted work, with song titles that include “Unbelievers”, “Everlasting Arms”, “Worship You”, and “Ya Hey” (think “Yahweh”). Now Koenig doesn’t give any indication he himself is a believer (more often just the opposite), but there is a recurring sense of engagement with God throughout the album, a sense of wrestling with the implications and impossibilities of faith. By accident or, more likely, by design, this builds and builds until Koenig puts everything on the table and addresses God directly.
If Best Coast’s Crazy for You was a concept album, the premise would be blissfully simple: a young woman, struggling with the aimlessness of work and home, searches for love in California. The idea is not unlike a younger, humbler, West Coast version of Sex and the City. And, like that renowned television series, Best Coast’s debut clicks with a diverse audience, one beyond what may initially appear to be its distinct appeal. I know at least a handful of people whose affinity for Crazy for You is unmitigated by disagreements of gender, lifestyle, or romantic disposition. I am myself among them.
Bethany Cosentino sings about passion and need. She is always the forsaken, never the forsaker, and she is confused but never apathetic. She is your typically carefree girl, hemmed in by the realities of commitment, involvement, and closure. Her favorite rhyme, fittingly, seems to be ‘crazy’ and ‘lazy’—it appears twice on the album, conspicuous in each instance. She sings on “When I’m with You”: “The world is lazy / But you and me / We’re just crazy”. Craziness is essential to her condition. It also comes upon her as a result of love: “You drive me crazy but I love you / You make me lazy but I love you”.
Last year when Flo Rida’s album R.O.O.T.S. dropped to chart-crushing popular acclaim, it was easy to miss the peculiarities of the album’s fourth single, “Be on You”. Perhaps tempered by the influence of the rapper’s several other hits that year, including “Sugar” and the number one Billboard hit “Right Round”, the sheer oddness of “Be on You” went pretty much unnoticed. And what, exactly, is so unique about “Be on You”, one might ask? Oh, nothing except that the song’s chorus and title are lifted wholesale from the Will Ferrell comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). While many dance pop tracks have made the sexing up of one’s significant other their subject matter, this may be the only song that can truthfully tout itself as “baby-making music”. Flo Rida’s “Be On You” is not just another rapper’s homage to Scarface but a musical tribute to a character who describes his dog/life coach as “a miniature Buddha, covered in hair”. Knowing this, is it even possible to take this song seriously, and by “seriously”, I mean even on the level dance-pop is meant to be taken? Is the song meant to be earnest (as far as any pop music is earnest), ironic (insofar as pop music is capable of irony), or staking a claim in some post-ironic netherworld of genre definition where the likes of the Insane Clown Posse reign supreme?
Before proceeding, a definition of “post-irony” should probably be attempted. At least in terms of the minimum understanding required for conversation’s sake, and with an all-encompassing disclaimer in terms of the actual ins and outs of nascent terminology: A) when hipsters listen to Britney Spears because they think her music is awful, ever saying to themselves “Ha, look how awful she is, how clever I am, etc.”, their appreciation is ironic; and B) when the same hipsters have been listening to Britney Spears way too long for their appreciation to be truthfully called “ironic” anymore, their appreciation is post-ironic. The hipsters have, in fact, started to genuinely like Britney Spears. Their enjoyment happened by way of irony but is not actually ironic. Now that that’s out of the way…
An earlier version of this post appeared on pcmunoz.com on August 16, 2005
“Home Again”—Carole King
Written by Carole King
From Tapestry (Sony, 1971)
Though “It’s Too Late” might be a little more famous, and “You’ve Got a Friend” certainly gets covered more often, I’ve always felt that the piano ballad “Home Again” is the emotional center of Carole King’s classic Tapestry album. It begins with a starkly direct confession:
Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever gonna make it home again
It’s so far and out of sight