Reviews for Normal People

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Music News-ic Track-by-Track: “The Life of Pablo” — February 15, 2016

Music News-ic Track-by-Track: “The Life of Pablo”

It’s finally here. After three years, four titles, and about a dozen tracklists, we’ve finally got what Kanye claims is one of the best albums of all time. But does it live up to all that hype? Here’s my two cents on The Life of Pablo.

1 . ULTRALIGHT BEAM feat. Kirk Franklin, The-Dream, Kelly Price, and Chance the RapperRight off the bat, we’ve got one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. The vocals are heavenly, pleading, desperate, while the beat is lonely and solemn. It follows in the same vein of MBDTF’s “Dark Fantasy”, but is decidedly less boastful. Chance the Rapper delivers what might be his best verse ever, and the guest vocals from The-Dream and Kelly Price are beautiful. A+

2. FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT 1 feat. Kid Cudi

Pretty solid. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens when Kanye and Metro Boomin work together on a song. It usually turns out a lot better than one would expect. This one definitely features a few trademarks of the two. It’s an interesting trap-soul track wherein Kanye laments not wanting to get bleach from Amber Rose’s anus on his t-shirt. I laughed my ass off when I heard that the first time. Still, the song feels like a significant step down from the opener. B+

3. FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT 2 feat. Desiigner 

I think I enjoy this one better, but it’s kind of weird. Apparently, Desiigner’s part is taken from a whole different song? It just doesn’t really fit. And the song ends with two other samples, so this song sort of plays out like a really solid Kanye song interpolated with a ton of unnecessary samples. B-

4. FAMOUS feat. Rihanna

This song contains the already infamous “I made that bitch famous” line (referring to Taylor Swift, who was literally accepting a VMA at the event that supposedly made her famous). Aside from that, though, it’s kind of amazing. Rihanna has been blowing people away recently, with a series of killer features and her spectacular new album ANTI. Her hook on this track is another stunning moment of artistry from the pop star. Kanye’s bars are fun and floaty, the samples work together much better than they did on “Pt. 2”, and Swizz Beatz peppers the song with ad-libs that are actually pretty enjoyable. A

5. FEEDBACK

This is the first solo track on the album, and while it certainly doesn’t feel out-of-place, I do think it would be a much better fit if it were on Yeezus. It sounds and feels and acts exactly like any song on Yeezus does. Probably the weakest song on the album so far. C+

6. LOW LIGHTS 

This is where the gospel element of the album comes back into play. Serving mainly as an intro to “Highlights”, the song features a sermon by Sandy Rivera over a cool piano-and-synth beat. I don’t really consider it a song, but it certainly adds atmosphere well. B-

7. HIGHLIGHTS feat. Young Thug

Hype for this song has been building ever since Be El Be claimed that he was “pretty sure” Thugger was on the album. This one’s beat is a bit of a Graduation throwback, with soaring synths, gratuitous Autotune, and cool drums. On the one hand, it features The-Dream and El DeBarge. On the other, it contains lines like “Sometimes I’m wishing that my dick had a GoPro”. This dichotomy of brag rap and gospel is a common theme throughout the album. A-, because the outro is underwhelming.

8. FREESTYLE 4 feat. Desiigner

On a casual listen, this could be misinterpreted as another brag rap, but it’s definitely more sinister than that. It sounds like a trap horror movie. It represents an erratic, uncontrollable, heavily intoxicated side of Kanye, a brand new side of Kanye that reflects both his vulnerability and his grandiosity. One of the conceptual highlights of the album, but not all that impressive a song on its own. B

9. I LOVE KANYE

This one seems to be just for find. It is really fun, though. It’s a beatless 45-second verse mocking those who say they “miss the old Kanye” and poking fun at his public persona. It’s just a really fun track, even though once again, it doesn’t really qualify as a song. B+

10. WAVES feat. Chris Brown

This whole album was delayed a day because Chance the Rapper demanded this song be on it. Is the world better because of it? Maybe not, but the album probably is. It has one of the most interesting beats I’ve ever heard, and it grounds the album back in its increasingly-decent gospel roots. It’s inspirational, catchy, and beautiful. A

11. FML feat. the Weeknd

The truth is, while certain parts of this album feel more underwhelming and messy than others, there’s always an amazing song at the center. “FML” is a pretty solid contender for best song on the album, with its unique beat and bittersweet lyrics. The first two acts of the song are great enough, but it caps off with an exceptionally odd outro with Section 25. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before. A

12. REAL FRIENDS feat. Ty Dolla $ign

This one’s been talked about to death already, but man, what a great song. It sounds great, it feels great, it’s really lyrically and rhythmically interesting. It makes you wait on the edge of your seat for every new observation. It’s a melancholy masterpiece. A+

13. WOLVES feat. Frank Ocean

This song concludes the album’s narrative, so while there are other tracks on the album and I do intend to cover them, this could be considered the “end” of The Life of Pablo. And what a way to go out. Yeezy managed to bring Frank Ocean back from the dead for this outro, which casts Kanye as a sinner who fell from grace and also as Joseph, so…? I think the wolves represent Kanye’s inner demons and he’s talking about his own inner turmoil about whether he’s righteous. It ends with him throwing aside these debates in order to protect North and Saint, followed by Frank’s heavy metaphorical closer about how trapped one can feel by the “wolves”. A

14. SILVER SURFER INTERMISSION feat. Max B

This transition between the heavy content of the album and the lighter fare of the coming tracks is a phone call from Max B to Kanye West. Wiz Khalifa recently called Kanye out for appropriating Max B’s “wavy” mantra by calling his album WAVES. While the titled has since been changed, it seems that Max has taken Kanye’s side in the beef. All in all, not a song, not very interesting. I understand its importance as a bookend to Wiz and Kanye’s beef, but it could just as easily have been shortened and tacked on to the end of the “FACTS” remix. D

15. 30 HOURS feat. Andre 3000

What long-awaited hip hop album would be complete without a lazy Andre 3000 cameo? The song itself is a pretty chill bonus track about an old pre-fame girlfriend of ‘Ye’s. The outro features Kanye just shouting people out for a while while 3 Stacks repeats the phrase “30 hours”. I can’t hate this song. B

16. NO MORE PARTIES IN LA feat. Kendrick Lamar

A lot less serious than most of the better songs on Life of Pablo, but “No More Parties in LA” is still one of the best. It’s straight bars from Kendrick, it’s straight bars from ‘Ye, it’s a really cool beat from Madlib, and it all comes together beautifully. I just love this song so much. A+

17. FACTS (Charlie Heat Version)

I think we all agree that “FACTS” is kind of a shitty song. But how does it fit in the context of the album? Well, the beat from Charlie Heat makes it seem less like a Drake rip-off and more like a jocular parody. On the back end of an album with very little rapping on it, the verses are kind of refreshing. But yeah, it’s still trash. C

18. FADE feat. Ty Dolla $ign and Post Malone

Once again, I totally get why this song was left off the album. It’s too much of a carefree banger to really fit into a gospel album. But damn. It’s so good. It’s ridiculously catchy, has a really impressive beat, uses Ty and Post the way they’re meant to be used, and it’s just so gosh darn fun. A

So overall, is it Kanye’s best album? Well, maybe. It’s definitely Kanye’s most conceptually interesting album, and it has enough A’s to make it a top contender for best. The songs mostly fit together really well, aside from the occasional bad apple. Overall, I think I’d give the album an A. I’ll need to let it digest for a few months before I have a full ruling on how it fits into the Kanye canon (the CanYe).

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Review: Is Deadpool the Funniest Movie of the Decade? — February 14, 2016

Review: Is Deadpool the Funniest Movie of the Decade?

Perhaps best known for having the most annoying fans this side of Death Grips, Deadpool has become a fan favorite in the Marvel Comics universe, so hype around his first solo film was massive. People were worried that Fox may have fucked him up as they did in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the promotional material put those concerns to rest. Clearly, this was the Deadpool movie fans wanted. But still, it seemed like a long shot. I mean, a hard-R superhero movie with a pansexual lead and no established heroes in it? A considerable amount of analysts thought it would flop.

These analysts failed to account for a number of factors: the Fox hype machine, which made the film practically unavoidable this past month; the aforementioned fans, who make up a sizable portion of the young adult demographic; and of course, the fact that it was coming out pretty much unopposed on Valentine’s Day. Really, I’m not at all surprised by how well this film is doing.

I am glad, though, because it’s like, really good. It doesn’t just have good action (but it does have phenomenal action), and it’s not just a good X-Men movie (undoubtedly the best in the franchise), but it’s also one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen. Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and TJ Miller light up every single scene they’re in. It’s a hundred jokes a minute and 80% of them hit. It’s written by the duo behind Zombieland and directed by first-timer Tim Miller, whom I’m very excited to see more from.

I really don’t have any complaints. See it. I give it an A. Run along now.

Top Ten Best Songs of January 2016 — February 5, 2016

Top Ten Best Songs of January 2016

10. HELP ME RUN AWAY – St. Lucia

St. Lucia is an act that has flown under my radar for quite some time (ever). Apparently, he’s a South African synth pop musician who’s gained some indie cred thanks to Neon Gold Records, who also recently launched the careers of Charli XCX, Marina and the Diamonds, and Tove Lo. This song off his new album Matter is an downright Duran Duran-esque pop throwback about running away from the voices in his head. Also, some sort of deconstruction of the American Dream, I think. It’s a bit dense. Which is cool.

9. HOMETOWN GLORY (INTERPRETATION) – Kamau

You’ve probably never heard about Kamau, unless you and I have been reading the same Pigeons and Planes articles. He’s an experimental hip hop artist whom some have compared to Andre 3000. This one starts out as a fairly simple and accurate Adele cover before ramping up into one of the best verses of 2016 over an epic remix of the Adele beat. It’s just a really passionate experience.

8. PILLOWTALK – Zayn Malik

All eyes were on Zayn when, almost a year after splitting from (and ultimately, splitting up) One Direction, he finally announced his first solo single: “Pillowtalk”. Would it be the sort of breathy, lurid sex song the title seemed to imply? Would it be an epic, emotional “Cry Me a River”-style deviation from his boy band roots? Definitely the second one. It’s an expansive, raunchy number about “dirty and raw” sex and all the pleasure and pain that comes with it. It’s pretty rare to hear a pop song, or son in general, talk about sex in something other than total support. Zayn paints sex as an emotional rollercoaster, and as a result, he seems to know what he’s talking about much more than a lot of pop stars (looking at you, Meghan Trainor). It’s not what I expected, but it just might be better.

7. REAL FRIENDS – Kanye West feat. Ty Dolla $ign

When Kanye dropped the underwhelming “FACTS”– on New Year’s’ Eve, no less– people started to get worried about whether or not his next project, then titled SWISH, would be any good. Thankfully, Yeezy silenced those concerns with this track, released one week later as part of a short-lived G.O.O.D. Friday’s revival, “Real Friends”. Kanye is back in full Late Registration mode to talk about how he’s a shitty friend and family member. It’s the cleverest song we’ve heard from Kanye in a year and it bodes well for the currently-unnamed album dropping next Thursday (God, this album is a mess).

6. LA CONFIDENTIAL – Tory Lanez

I’ll admit that I never really paid attention to Tory Lanez until this month. I knew he was an up-and-coming R&B singer from Toronto, but it wasn’t until this song that I started really listening to him. It’s smooth and fun, with potential to be a huge hit if Lanez has a good marketing team. The song follows ol’ Tory going to LA to cheat on his girlfriend. Certainly not a brand-new concept, but it’s one exceptionally well on this song, trust me.

5. KNICKERS – Jidenna

It’s rare that a song makes me laugh as much as this one. In it, rapper Jidenna croons an ode to his knickers (say it out loud if you still don’t get it). There’s a ton of super clever double entendres. Is he talking about systemic racism or fancy pants? The world may never know! It also has a really unique beat. It has a DJ Mustard-esque modernness to it, but still feels vintage, fitting the song’s themes. It’s really an exceptional song, and in any old month, it could be #1. But this isn’t your grandma’s month. This is January 2016. So here’s four better songs.

4. CHASING SHADOWS – Santigold

Recent Vampire Weekend dropout Rostam Batmanglij produced this new jam from pop critical darling Santigold. It’s really cool. Santigold’s unique vocals are always a treat, and Batman(glij)’s lightweight beat is a delight. It’s basically the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson movie. Stylized, incomprehensible, but oddly delightful.

3. ‘TIS A PITY SHE WAS A WHORE – David Bowie

Would this have still made the list if Bowie wasn’t dead? Eh, maybe. But it is really fun for a song about World War I. I never expected to hear David Bowie say “Man, she punched me like a dude”. I guess it was on his bucket list. I couldn’t have let this list go without mentioning Bowie’s final effort, Blackstar, and this was my favorite song from that record. So yeah.

2. UNTITLED 2 – Kendrick Lamar

While we’re on the subject of Blackstar, why not talk about the artist who inspired it? Best rapper alive Kendrick Lamar has created a truly unique experience with his “Untitled” series. You never know when it’s coming, you never know what it’ll be, and you never know what happens next. This time around, backed by a live band on The Tonight Show, he started by performing his verse from Funkadelic’s “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard” before diving into an irresistible track about the ups and downs of having money. There’s also this whole Cornrow Kenny thing. Basically, he did a concert a little while ago where he had text on screen behind him that said “Never trust a n***a with cornrows”. Later, in the “God is Gangsta” video, we see a flash of text that says “Always trust a n***a with cornrows.” On this song, he calls himself Cornrow Kenny (and was wearing cornrows at the time). I guess we’ll find out what that’s all about.

Before I get to my #1 pick, here’s a couple honorable mentions:

MY SKIN – Lizzo

BEGGIN & PLEADIN – Brandy

GENGHIS KHAN – Miike Snow

SERIOUS – Young Thug

GPS – Saba

YAMBORGHINI HIGH – A$AP Mob

CHEWING GUM – Nina Nesbitt

HEAR ME – A$AP Rocky feat. Pharrell

And the #1 song of January 2016 is…

1. NO MORE PARTIES IN LA – Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar

Kanye West. Kendrick Lamar. Madlib on production. What more could a hip hop nerd want? Kendrick delivers a really solid verse, and the beat from Madlib is catchy and reminiscent of “Otis” (though technically, it was made before “Otis”), but at the end of the day, Yeezy takes the cake. His verse on this song is one of the best he’s ever written. It’s so fun, so well-made, so energetic. And there’s the thing: this is also a pretty clever song. It’s an ingenious deconstruction of both rappers’ public personas as well as the Hollywood lifestyle in general. I know it’s only January, but I’m getting a little bit of a “song of the year” vibe from this one. We’ll see.