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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lupe Fiasco- Lasers Review

Lupe Fiasco- Lasers (1.5/4)


Although Lasers is cited as a Lupe Fiasco album, the studio big shots at Atlantic Records had just as much a hand in this album as the young rapper. Beneath the radio-friendly auto-tuned exterior of Lasers, there is probably a good album somewhere. After all, many of the leaked songs from as far back as 2009 were amazing. As in, some of the best work of Lupe’s career. “Shining Down,” “I’m Beamin’,” and “Go to Sleep,” are all masterful. Unfortunately, none of those three tracks made it onto the album. According to an interview with Lupe himself, those songs were cut at the label’s request, and replaced with songs that Lupe had no part in writing.

However, song selection isn’t the only hand Atlantic had in Lasers. Missing from Lasers is any uniqueness or signs of the real Lupe Fiasco, the man who wowed hip-hop fans with Food & Liquor and The Cool. Lupe’s usual producers and guests have been replaced with more mainstream counterparts, including auto-tuned singers, club producers, and guests that clearly had their parts laying around somewhere prior to the recording of Lasers. Needless to say, the production is annoying, and it rarely fits with Lupe’s rhyming. “Beautiful Lasers,” for example, is one of the most heartfelt and personal songs Fiasco has written, as its lyrics deal with depression stemming from the saga of releasing Lasers. The song would probably be masterful if placed with either a dark and ominous beat or a trademark Lupe sound. It has neither, and instead is produced like a club song, complete with an annoying beat and a heavily auto-tuned chorus. This type of neglect is found throughout the album, although some of the blame needs to be handed to Lupe himself.

More than half of the tracks have lazily thrown together lyrics that may impress mainstream rap listeners who aren’t used to intelligent wordplay, but anyone who is familiar with Lu’s work should be able to see past that. Just about everything here has been said before and said better by Lupe himself. “Words I Never Said” is a dated, watered-down version of “American Terrorist” from The Cool, and many of the tracks don’t even live up to that. “The Show Goes On” sounds like a generic radio single that Lupe tried to make his own, but without taking away the radio-friendly element. It doesn’t work, mostly because when you start with crap it’s hard to make something listenable out of it. Once the unbearably awful “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now” rears its ugly head, it becomes apparent that Lasers is not just awful in comparison to other Lupe albums. It’s a truly awful album period, and the lack of Lupe himself is a major reason for this.  “Never Forget You” sounds like a John Legend song, and “Out of My Head” sounds like a Trey Songz track.

Only one song on Lasers sounds like an actual Lupe Fiasco creation, and it’s no coincidence that that song is far and away the best on the album. “All Black Everything,” a powerful track about racism through history is simply outstanding. Lu’s wordplay is at its best, his flow is excellent, and the beat actually fits.

Fans have been pushing for the release of Lasers for years now, protesting and petitioning for the album to see the light of day. Throughout all of this, something happened and the album that fans desperately wanted has been replaced with something that resembles more of the album Atlantic wanted. Honestly, the whole saga has been sickening, and reading interviews about the ordeal has been painful, both as a critic and a fan of Lupe Fiasco. Even ignoring the process, the album that has been released is awful. There’s no getting around it. Lasers is a terrible album that has no business being in Lupe’s discography, and I would discourage even the most hardcore of Lupe fans from buying it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Assorted Reviews

Belphegor- Blood Magick Necromance (3/4)


It’s always strange when a band that relies almost entirely on being heavy changes things up. After a string of disappointing albums, Belphegor have dropped the death metal and added a new melodic element to their sound. It takes a bit of getting used to, but Helmuth shows some surprising talent as a songwriter. He still uses the same style of over-the-top anti-religious lyricism of past Belphegor, but Belphegor’s equally over-the-top musical brutality doesn’t suffer from the melodic influences. Blood Magick Necromance is a very solid melodic black metal album, and it’s one that even hardcore fans of traditional black metal might be able to get behind.


Cake- Showroom of Compassion (3/4)


Compared to their contemporaries, Cake have always been the “mature” part-comedy part-alternative rock band. While Ween were crude, The Presidents were random, and Weezer were full on pop parody, Cake were the more simple and sophisticated of the lot. Their music is simple but wildly unique and creative, and their lyrics range from parody to literary references. Showroom of Compassion is the first Cake album in seven years, and it shows the band growing as musicians. Some alternative fans may be put off by its almost avant-garde oddity at times, especially on tracks “Teenage Pregnancy,” but listeners who embrace Showroom of Compassion’s mix of the weird and the accessible will find Cake’s best album since Prolong the Magic and maybe the most consistent album of their career.


Cold War Kids- Mine is Yours (1.5/4)


There gets to a point where an album like Mine is Yours becomes absolutely useless. Its brand of indie pop/rock has been popular for years now, and just about anyone with interest in indie rock has heard an album almost identical to the latest from Cold War Kids. Everything about this album is completely by-the-numbers. You have your “ooh” and “aah” melodies, slow building ballads, and everything else that has become a staple of modern indie rock. It’s boring, predictable, completely unoriginal, and impossible to recommend.


The Decemberists- The King is Dead (2.5/4)


The King is Dead is a Decemberists album for the fans that aren’t interested in the band’s weird and often demented stories. This is a safe, forgettable album, but it’s one that has a clear audience in mind. The music is almost entirely acoustic, and the songs are all self contained. Again, if you like The Decemberists softer material, and don’t mind the lack of a concept this is an album you will probably enjoy.


Iron & Wine- Kiss Each Other Clean (2/4)


Kiss Each Other Clean is the Iron & Wine album I never wanted to hear. After gaining popularity among indie fans with 2007’s brilliant The Shepherd’s Dog, and even getting some mainstream recognition with his inclusion in the Twilight soundtrack, it’s not surprising but still disappointing that Sam Beam has decided to go in a more accessible direction. Iron & Wine’s sound has transitioned from minimalist folk rock to a more band-oriented indie pop. That’s not to say that folk is better than indie pop, and it’s great that Beam’s music is being appreciated by a larger audience, but the problem is that Kiss Each Other Clean ignores nearly all of Sam Beam’s strengths.

Usually an extraordinary lyricist and storyteller, Beam struggles to tell a coherent story on this album, largely because he focuses on trying to create catchy melodies and longer songs. While some of the tracks are catchy, none are particularly memorable. “Tree by the River” is an example of that, as it’s an all too generic indie pop song that is completely lacking in substance. Furthermore, the full band was implemented far better on The Shepherd’s Dog. There is simply too much going on here, and the misplaced brass instruments are annoying and detract from the music. “Rabbit Will Run” is the only worthwhile song here, and that is mostly because it sounds like something that would fit on The Shepherd’s Dog. It pains me to say this, but Kiss Each Other Clean is a bad album that contains none of what makes Iron & Wine great.


Lil B- Angels Exodus (3/4)


How does one critique an album like Angels Exodus? I assume it would be similar to how a movie critic would asses “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” an infamous b-movie that is undeniably horrible, and yet it’s unintentionally one of the best comedies ever made. Does the unintended comedy make it a good movie? Lil B’s music is very similar to Plan 9, although I’m almost certain that the self-proclaimed “based god” is in on the joke. Apparently, Lil B has over 150 Myspace pages, all containing awful hip-hop that has Lil B either repeating a celebrity name over and over again (with someone yelling “swag” in the background) or the rapper “based freestyling,” which he describes as freestyling without regard for whether the words rhyme or even make sense. Furthermore, Lil B describes his music as “based,” a genre that he is a “god” of, and one that’s music is “very positive and very rare.” All of this is ridiculous, and again, I’m convinced that this is a fairly genius parody of hip-hop artists that take themselves too seriously. Even if I’m wrong, and Lil B really is just a garbage rapper who happens to be messed up in the head, it doesn’t change the hilarity of his music.

Angels Exodus is a little different than the music Lil B has previously released, as this album is more listenable and at times even more hilarious. The beats are pseudo-ambient tracks that parody more conscious hip-hop beats. The beats are actually quite clever, as well as surprisingly listenable. Lil B’s rapping often does rhyme, and his storytelling is hysterical. He starts to tell stories (“I remember this one time motherfuckers forgot about me”) and then dives back into his nonsensical verses about his positive outlook on life and the troubles that come with being a based god. Regardless of whether its humor is intentional, Angels Exodus is a very entertaining album. I don’t know if that makes it a “good” album, but I’m recommending it nonetheless.


Talib Kweli- Gutter Rainbows (2/4)


Released exclusively as a digital album, Gutter Rainbows sounds like an album of outtakes. There are moments where it lives up to Talib Kweli’s talent, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is just a warm up for a new and better album (Kweli has another scheduled to be released later in the year). The production is a huge indicator for this, as the relatively bland beats on Gutter Rainbows are far removed from the Hi-Tek and Kanye beats Talib Kweli has rapped over in the past. Maybe Gutter Rainbows is proof of how great Talib Kweli really is, as even the emcee at his worst is listenable and sporadically entertaining despite seeming like a watered down version of a true Talib Kweli album.


Times of Grace- The Hymn of a Broken Man (2/4)


Heavy on breakdowns and light on originality, the new project from former Killswitch Engage vocalist Jessie Leech and current Killswitch guitarist/producer Adam Dutkiewicz doesn’t drift far from Killswitch territory. The Hymn of a Broken Man is a metalcore album through and through, and only Leech’s strong vocal performance separates it from other melodic albums in the genre. There also a few ballads to mix things up, but even those become predictable. Fans of metalcore will find a listenable, albeit formulaic album here, but there are simply too many similar and better albums to recommend Times of Grace.