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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With early returns from Mojo, Uncut, and Paste already pouring in, we’re beginning to develop a clear picture of what this year’s Album of the Year race is starting to shape up as, and it’s pretty darn interesting.
Presently, with a #2 showing at Mojo, #5 with Uncut, and a penthouse position with Paste (on top of glowing reviews from all across the spectrum), it’s safe to say that Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE is 2012’s universally accepted favorite. Additionally, there is a good 90% chance it will top Pitchfork‘s tally, and numerous other publications will have it easily in their Top 10, most likely keeping it in their Top 3. Yet Ocean’s victory comes at a price: while channel ORANGE is quite extraordinary and often very gutting, what a lot of critical institutions will “hear” is the backstory, with Ocean’s heartfelt admission of his sexuality being accepted in the hip-hop community taking more ink than the music that inspired his revelation, these two events in tandem marking a watershed moment for a notoriously homophobic genre that will be celebrated for years to come. This being said, keep an eye on write-ups that appear about channel ORANGE, and see if the conversation is more about the album itself or what Ocean’s closet-destroying moment signifies in a cultural context. Critics very much want to be on the right side of history, but is channel ORANGE an achievement for its bold sexual politics or because it’s just a great album?
A writer whom I respect recently made an offhand observation that I’d like to challenge—not because his opinion isn’t valid but rather because it seems representative of a casual and, I’d argue, uninformed impression shared by entirely too many folks.
Let’s name names: in his otherwise thoroughly enjoyable deconstruction of the monster hit “Frankenstein” by everyone’s favorite albino, Edgar Winters, Chuck Klosterman shares his feelings about the saxophone solo. He doesn’t dig it. In fact, he doesn’t dig the saxophone in rock songs. More, he doesn’t particularly dig the saxophone, period. Klosterman states, “I guess I’m just anti-saxophone; I feel like there were better options available. Certain extraneous instruments add more to rock songs than others, most notably the cello and the bagpipes.”
Since the ‘80s, British-born/American-based writer Simon Reynolds has been showcasing his analytical, articulate, and occasionally quite humorous approach to music criticism in most any major publication one can name, ranging from Melody Maker and Spin to The New York Times and The Guardian. He’s also a notable presence on the music section shelves of book stores due to his authorship of tomes including Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 and Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture, the former being the definitive and most engaging account of that genre/movement to be found. His newest book is Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (released in the UK on 2 June and due out in the US on 19 July), wherein he takes a broad-based yet more personal look at the 21st century’s increasing obsession with retro sounds and signifiers in lieu of the futurism and stylistic innovation that so motivated pop styles in previous decades.
In this interview, PopMatters and Reynolds not only chat about the origins of and questions posed by Retromania, but touch upon other subjects including the modern state of pop futurism, the changing nature of music criticism in the era of digiculture, and just what exactly one of the music press’ foremost proponents of post-punk and electronica thinks about alternative rock’s retro-adoring standard-bearers from the ‘80s.
In the year 2300, alien inhabitants will revere Paul McCartney in the same way Mozart and Beethoven are today. Paul McCartney is an artist of the first rank. The notion that he is talented yet slight (particularly in regards to his solo years) simply doesn’t exist except through the lens of Rolling Stone‘s post-Beatles breakup John Lennon worship. McCartney’s effortless mastery (with no suffering artist gimmick) robs him of the serious consideration he deserves.
Paul McCartney just isn’t hip. This week’s reviews of McCartney and McCartney II by Pitchfork are steeped in irony. The site gives the album that molded the entire sound of Pitchfork-branded indie of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s a 7.9; while a record that eclipses the presently hyped synthpop-chillwave fare received a 7.2. McCartney doesn’t get much love from the Rolling Stone old boys club either. An album like Ram is far better than the likes of the usual “top 10 album” mainstays like OK Computer and London Calling. Furthermore, Ram is the only solo Beatles album that maintains the impeccable standard of the ‘65-‘69 Beatles albums, a run that was largely orchestrated by McCartney. Argue whether Lennon or McCartney wrote better songs during this period if you must, but make no mistake: McCartney was the visionary behind every Beatles album starting with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.