Saturday double-post: #MoNM: Kanye West and Juana Molina

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

It looks like I’m gonna be that guy who liked 808s and doesn’t get My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I swear I’m not just being contrarian here. Maybe I’m not giving it enough time. With all the five-star reviews, 100 per cents and “instant masterpiece” claims, I’m willing to believe that I’m the one at fault here. Because My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy just isn’t doing much for me. And that’s fully admitting that there are some monstrous beats here, along with superbly slick production and guest spots so high-profile that my mind should probably be melted.

So what’s missing? It’s hard to say. After the minimalist 808s and Heartbreak, the maximalist approach on Fantasy should be refreshing, but it’s also distancing. Ye’s lyrics are about as good as they’ve ever been, but the delivery’s still not particularly versatile. A track like “POWER” is pretty indicative – it starts out strong, with a powerhouse tribal beat and King Crimson providing the hook, but it grinds itself down before it hits the five-minute mark. “All of the Lights” follows it up with another stunning beat, but West’s vocals don’t so much ride it as just sit on it. It’s telling that “Monster,” one of Fantasy’s most guest-heavy tracks, is also one of the best; at least Jay-Z and Rick Ross know how to take advantage of Kanye’s production.

The reviews are right about a lot – it’s clear this album is meant to be a grand artistic statement, it’s muscular and confident with some truly soaring moments in the arrangements, but I’m still finding it oddly unwelcoming. I’ll come back to it another time – especially because a lot of those G.O.O.D. Friday tracks were killer, and these should be the same – but for now, consider me disappointed and confused.

Juana Molina – Un Dia

Molina’s music used to get filed in the world section, but now the style of low-key, multi-layered, globally influenced songwriting she proffers has crossed enough into mainstream consciousness that we can probably just call it pop. Not that Molina falls back on traditional song structures or hooky ear-worms to get by. There’s nothing conventionally easy-listening about Un Dia, but it’s somehow accessible despite itself.

Even with an assortment of electronic burbles and a production style that favours looped vocal snippits and multi-tracked melodies, Un Dia is an organic album at heart. Even when the mood is dark, the sounds are warm, with acoustic guitars, hints of horns, atonal whistles and Molina’s expressive voice all adding to its gentle pulse. If there’s a secret to the album’s success, it’s probably in just this contrast – the timbre of the instruments and the mood of the music never quite mesh, giving an otherwise ethereal album just enough grit to stick.

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