The few tidbits of information we were given about Yeezus leading up to its release indicated this would be West’s protest album. Turns out that was all misdirection and it’s actually his sex album. And like sex, Yeezus is exciting, primal, exhausting, disgusting and, well, pretty mind-blowing.
West’s songwriting strength has always been his hooks, and so the boldest move in an album full of bold moves is his decision to abandon earworm choruses, betting that each song’s sonic assault would stay with listeners the way the refrain from, say, “Gold Digger” did. And it’s a winning gambit — industrial scrapes grind your speakers down to dust, depth charges of bass rattle your gut, jagged synths slice through yawning emptiness. Kanye described it as his “minimalist” album, but we probably could’ve guessed that Kanye’s minimalism would still create an unholy racket that makes everything else out there — rock, rap, dubstep — sound like little puppy sneezes.
Executive producer Rick Rubin sandblasted away all the extravagance of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne, as most songs fall in the three or four minute range. But the rhythmic shifts and codas survived the purge and came out stronger, making the intra-song detours more unpredictable. Right when you think a track has hit its groove, the beat disintegrates and morphs (see: the “New Slaves” and “I Am A God” outros, Charlie Wilson‘s “Bound 2″ refrain, etc.). As a result, Yeezus never lets the listener get comfortable, instilling a sense of unease and restlessness.
(If this all sounds unenjoyable so far, I assure you that the clanging and rumbling is tamed just enough to make the material suitable for your workout mix or at two in the morning in some shadowy, sweaty den of debauchery.)
As with all of Kanye’s albums, the opening stretch of tracks is pretty much unimpeachable. The first four songs are as invigorating as they are foreboding, initially making Yeezus seem front-loaded. But it’s actually the middle of the album where things get radical. “I’m In It” takes the most doom-laden dancehall foundation West has ever used, along with the creepiest screwed-down vocals he has ever used, and combines that menace with filthy, Weezy-esque sexcapades. To cap it off, Bon Iver‘s gentle Justin Vernon does some mecha-crooning about starfuckers.
West follows that with even more lunacy on “Blood On The Leaves,” probably his most dissonant, self-indulgent song to date. On top of TNGHT‘s monstrous trap stomp (which sounds like the Inception trailer on all the steroids), Ye samples the civil rights classic “Strange Fruit,” and proceeds to use it as a motif for a song about child support and side beef. By the end, West’s Auto-Tuned mewling, Nina Simone‘s screwed yelping and TNGHT’s blaring foghorn tangle into an obnoxious, hypnotic bleat.
To close things out, after nine tracks of demonic, “Mercy”-style throbbing, 808s sadtronica and Dark Twisted
Fantasy Nightmares, West suddenly tosses the sinister stuff to the side and offers up the soulful, playful “Bound 2,” as if to fuck with everyone who can’t fuck with post-2008 Ye.
This resurrection of early Yeezy serves as a clever reminder that Yeezus operates on the pop scale, and will likely shift that scale. With this album, West has brought the dark underbellies of micro-genres like glitch and grime into the mainstream arena — similar to how Radiohead introduced countless rock fans to minimalist electronica via Kid A. Like many significant albums, Yeezus serves the essential function of being a musical shepherd.
So, yes, we may have wanted a more political use of “Strange Fruit.” We may have wanted an album full of “New Slaves”-style rhetoric. Hell, we may have just wanted a damn melody. But as the choir in “On Sight” declares, “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.” Nobody asked Kanye to do a witch house song about fisting, but it turns out that’s exactly what pop music was missing.
Idolator Score: 4.5/5