On Friday, Kanye West's seventh album, Yeezus, was revealed to the world. In celebration of this holy event, members of the Grantland staff seized one song each and reflected upon its beauty, truth, and awesomeness. Or made jokes about it.
1. "On Sight"
Chris Ryan: If this is your first time hearing this, you are about to experience something so cold. Yeezus begins with a Daft Punk beat. Or a Daft Punk something. It's everything but the beat. Music writer Piotr Orlov compared the track's major lasers to the French duo's classic "Rollin' & Scratchin'", and I hear that, but there's very little rolling going on here. The prerelease campfire talk is that Kanye brought the basic tracks of this album to Rick Rubin's Malibu musical monastery and put Yeezus on a cleanse, shedding all the excess fat from the Paris-recorded songs. I have no reason to doubt that version of things, until Kanye West jumps up in my face and raps, "How much do I not give a fuck?" At that point it becomes apparent who is withholding from whom here.
The thing about first songs — and I mean songs, not intros — on Kanye West albums is (1) they are awesome ("We Don't Care," "Good Morning," and "Dark Fantasy" are among his best), and (2) they are often about dreams. Two albums begin with the command "Wake up, Mr. West," while "Dark Fantasy" is the realization of something West fantasized about back in Chicago. (It also introduces us to Kanye as Ichabod Brain [cue Cat Stark moan].) "Say You Will," which kicks off 808s & Heartbreak, has a midsong admission that Kanye still fantasizes about the track's subject. For as real and relatable as Kanye seems, his music is often the stuff that dreams (or nightmares) are made of.
Twenty-seven million dollars. Flat. That's what After Earth, Will Smith's new science-fiction epic/offspring-stardom delivery system, grossed at the box office this weekend. Plainly, this is a disaster. Once upon a time, Will Smith wouldn't get out of one of the many mahogany beds in his 25,000-square-foot "sylvan Shangri-la" for that kind of money. Today, he may be left wondering what went wrong. To put the number in context, 16 films released this year have grossed more than $27 million in their opening weekend, and that includes the January thriller Mama, which starred Jessica Chastain and two feral moppets; 42, a period piece about a baseball player starring an actor you have never heard of; the long-shelved and mostly disliked fairy tale reboot Jack the Giant Slayer; and this weekend's no. 2 entry Now You See Me, a movie about magicians who rob banks. It is barely June.
Now, nearing 45 years old, Smith remains a massive movie star, a beloved icon of '90s nostalgia, and a purveyor of enjoyable "clean rap." But he may find himself at a crisis point.
This Monday, Daft Punk made their fourth studio album, Random Access Memories, available to stream for free in its entirety on iTunes. Grantland's Steven Hyden will be posting a proper critical review of Random Access Memories next week, but staff writer Rembert Browne and editor Emily Yoshida have been waiting for this moment all their lives and needed a safe, non-cynical space to listen to these 74 minutes of music and work out some feelings. So go ahead, hit play, and let's do this together.
"Give Life Back to Music"
0:01 Browne: ROCK OPERA. MEATLOAF. YES.
0:05 Yoshida: Daft Punk know exactly how much of a tizzy they've whipped us into these past three months, and now they are seeing if they can actually rupture our brains inside our skulls with happiness. DO YOUR WORST, GENTLEMEN.
0:17 Browne: Never mind. Rock opera was just a tease. A fantastic tease. This song feels like it belongs in a smoky room where everyone's exchanging seductive glances over glasses of whisky neat, but no interactions actually take place, with the culmination simply being a synchronized, all-room shoulder shimmy.
Yes, the day after the new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories, is streaming in full on iTunes, I am writing about Cam'ron.
AND I COULDN'T BE MORE THRILLED.
Why? Because, for his latest single, Cam dipped back into his most hilarious, oddly-genius, career-spanning schtick: rapping over beautifully cheesy TV theme songs.
There's something about the words coming out of his mouth, sometimes nonsensical, other times in the 99th percentile of vulgarity, always entertaining and full of confidence, that works perfectly with a wholesome '80s sitcom theme.
Serena Ryder is a Canadian folk-rocker whose "Stompa" has gone viral after it was featured on Grey's Anatomy, that great incubator of the modern-day coffee shop folk genre. She just won a Juno for Adult Alternative album of the year, and probably gets mistaken for Feist a lot.
Best YouTube Comment: "I thought this was the james bond song by adele, turns out its just awesome" —yaimthatguy
It's interesting to learn, in times of turmoil, just how capable your brain is of emotional compartmentalization. In the past four days, I've learned that I'm pretty horrible at it. Even after writing articles all week, I can honestly say that for the past 80 hours, I haven't been that invested in what my brain has instructed my fingers to type. Even at this moment, while preparing to segue toward the topic of this article, I'm refreshing Twitter every 30 seconds, watching news coverage on television, and texting friends in Cambridge, checking to see if they're safe and sound. So yeah, weird week.
Among all the madness and sadness, it's only healthy to take a break from the news cycle and distract oneself. I've found a few temporary distractions this week, with the most effective [cue segue] being a new "music discovery" venture, "Twitter #Music."
1. Avicii & Nicky Romero, "I Could Be The One (Dank USA Remix")
I have already endorsed this generic summer choon in two previous installments of Grading the Charts based mostly on its video about an office worker gone wild on a tropical dream vacation. Dank is a DJ who runs his own label called Funky Element Records. This makes me feel like a sketchy teenager, but for something so bass-heavy it weighs almost nothing.
Best YouTube Comment: "I could be rawwwwwwwrrrrrrr wieueueeueue pfrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ksssshhhhhhhhhh" — JanGraaf
I have made no secret of the fact that I am rooting for Psy, against my better judgement. Of course, pop stars cannot live on record-breaking billion-plus YouTube hits alone, and the "Gangnam Style" backlash has come and gone with nary a note of new material from Oppa. The wait for a new single has been long and not entirely encouraging, but today, at last, Psy has descended from viral Valhalla and given us "Gentleman." Take a moment to listen to it, then let's chat.
Calibre 50 are a regional Mexican quartet from Sinaloa. The 19th-century immigration of German settlers to Mazatlán introduced elements of polka into the local music, which is why this sounds like oom-pah music. Lead singer/accordionist Eden Muñoz has a beautiful voice. "Aqui Estoy" put me in a perfect summery mood.
Best YouTube Comment: "buena rolaaa!!!" — felipeavalos
During my stay in Austin for South by Southwest, one of my more random encounters was a 10-minute interview with LL Cool J. I had no real reason to talk to him, but the opportunity seemed too interesting to pass up. So we chatted before he hit the stage for his music showcase, sponsored by Doritos. The interview never ran because, quite frankly, I've historically had a great deal of love for Cool James. And what transpired in that interview, and the way he tackled questions, just wasn't the man I was expecting. And, at the end of the day, I simply didn't feel like clowning him.
I didn't delete the interview, however. Even though I felt as if I was doing him a favor, I still wanted some of his answers for my own personal enjoyment. Because they were from another planet.
And then this morning, news broke of a collaboration between LL and country singer Brad Paisley.
In the early ’00s, the Strokes (along with the White Stripes) helped to usher in a wave of sharp-dressed, retro-leaning “return of rock” bands that were supposed to wash out the nu-metal and post-grunge clogging up mainstream rock radio. While this wave wasn’t entirely successful in that regard, several of these bands have proved enduring, including Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Killers, Kings of Leon, and the Black Keys. Many more bands were swept into the historical buzz bin. In honor of the Strokes' new album, Comedown Machine, and with apologies to the Vines, French Kicks, Louis XIV, etc., here are 10 songs from the period’s lesser lights that I still put on personal playlists. And to listen to all of them, here is a handy Spotify link.
Only three men appear in the top 10 highest-ranking singles from American Idol winners, and one of them is Chris Brown. Despite a woman not winning over American Idol's voting audience of boy-crazy teen girls since Jordin Sparks in 2007, they've come out well on top when it comes to chart performance.
With the 12th season of American Idol finally at the voting stage, Billboard.com has presented the top 100 highest-charting singles from Idol contestants. Kelly Clarkson straight dominates the Top 10, notching six slots, including the top two: "Since U Been Gone" and "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)." She's also holding down the fourth and fifth slots ("Behind These Hazel Eyes" and "Breakaway"). The only non-Clarkson entry in the top five is Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown's duet, "No Air," just sitting there at no. 3, daring you to admit that it's a good enough song to override the inherent squickiness of enjoying a Chris Brown song.