Rockin' Our Turntable: Kanye West
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 24, 2008 6:05PM
It was a rough year for Kanye West, though you may not have known that. Headlining Lollapalooza, selling oodles of albums, and skating through the stratosphere of superstars, it would be easy to claim the past year or so and a victory lap of sorts for West. However, underneath all of that lay two much darker events; the death of West's mother and the dissolution of his relationship with his fiance.
It's those two flashpoints that provide the overarching tone of West's newest disc, 808s & Heartbreak. Forget all of the egotistical braggadocio West throws around at award shows or spit out in interviews, the Auto-Tunes vocals he delivers on the slab of nuanced monochrome points more truthfully towards what drives the man. We can already see some who will find fault in the lack of tonal variety on the new album, but we think it succeeds in painting the barren Winter that seems to have settled over West's heart. The metronomic tempos on the album serve to seduce and lull, and creates the barren mood West has taken great pains to craft.
West's genius is in how he subtly tweaks his songs to deliver on the emotional charge he's feeling while still keeping things sonically interesting. Things like the stabbing and soaring strings that suddenly flourish amongst the power-tool rhythm base of "RoboCop" snap the listener back to attention and out of their fugue state. The distorted shimmer working behind "Street Lights" only underscores the sadness in West's delivery, and goes toward creating one of the most emotionally affecting songs we've heard all year. Throughout the disc, West creates bare bones masterpieces that take seemingly simple beats and noises and combines them into stark webs waiting to ensnare the listener.
808s & Heartbreak is going to piss a lot of people off, only it's not West's ego that's going to stir up controversy. This time it's West's naked honesty that folks are going to find hard to process, but we think if you take the time to really submerge yourself in this album you'll find it's both complex and emotionally satisfying.