Music

Hip-Hop’s Heartbreak: Kanye West – “Paranoid”

On "Paranoid", Kanye West takes a break from the haunting percussion sounds and counters with a glorious trip to 1986.

Ahhh, finally we get to take a breath on 808s & Heartbreak. Or, well, kind of, at least.

"Paranoid" is the perfect soundtrack for the point in a relationship that entails the following: "The end is near, but hey, let's shut up and party, if only for a night. And even though we know we are going to wake up tomorrow and start bickering just as much as we did today, let's do the best we can to ignore that notion for a few hours to drink, dance, and even turn that burning hatred we hold toward each other into a form of passionate love as the evening comes to an end."

It's also the song that seems like the only real break in action on the album. Still, one has to wonder how much of a relief the song actually is when examining the words a bit closer. Sure, the 1986 electronic drum effects and killer pop synths reflect a welcome change of pace that evokes fluorescent colors and cheesy, big-haired music videos. But honestly: exactly how different is "Paranoid" from the rest of the songs West offers here?

"Tell me right now / You really wanna spend your whole life alone? / A little time out might do you good / Might do us good 'fore we be done for good", the rapper recites during the song's first verse, all but promising that while the colors for the painting might look a little different from its surroundings, the backdrop of conflict and demise remains firmly intact. He may have changed the dark vibe for these three-and-a-half minutes musically, but with the lyrics that color in the lines on "Paranoid", West wants us all to know that his head is still in a place that isn't all that far from "Love Lockdown" or "Say You Will".

But that doesn't mean the song doesn't stand well on its own. Think about the track's texture. Yes, when Kanye sings "All of the time you wanna complain about the nights alone / So now you're here with me, show me some gratitude / Leave the attitude way back at home", or "All of the time, you be up in mine / Checking through my cell phone, baby no / You wanna kill the vibe on another night? / Here's another fight, oh, here we go", it certainly doesn't exude rainbows and picnics. But the way those defiant, antagonistic words are framed--basically on the floor of an '80s dance party--is an example of how smart a songwriter West can be.

He knew he couldn't continue down the violent path of "Amazing" or the inquisitive, whiny nature of "Welcome to Heartbreak". So the Chicago native offered the antithesis of a sad song from a musical standpoint. It's a remarkable accomplishment not only for its innovation, but also for how successful this trick turns out to be. Nobody would ever look at this track on a surface level and conclude it's anything like the others that appear on 808s.

But a surface level is not a level Kanye West typically works from.

The best moment comes within the first 30 seconds as the listener hears a female voice cackle to the pumping synths in a way that when broken down, turns out brilliantly as her laughs line up directly with each downbeat. What makes that moment even more valuable is the lightning-quick tremble of laughter any listener can hear in West's own voice as he begins the line "Why are you so paranoid?" It's an accidental moment of sincerity that lines up perfectly with the candidness of the rest of the album.

And that's precisely why "Paranoid" is so essential. The track feels like it is the one light-hearted song on the record. A further examination proves that while it serves as that aforementioned break, it also doesn't veer too much from the divergent current that rolls through the disc as a whole. We've all been there--that point of specific inevitable demise in a romantic relationship--and so has Kanye West. The only difference between us and him is that he knows how to make that part of a relationship sound way more fun than all the headaches the next day promises to provide.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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