Yeezy season is upon us. Act accordingly, or don’t. It’s really a choice now.
The earliest James Blake songs were depressive dance music. His first few EPs, from The Bells Sketch through Klavierwerke, created impressionistic stories out of clipped samples and minimalist beats. Over the years that followed, he’s dabbled in a ton of different modes, from singer-songwriter confessional to icy production whiz to hollowed-out shell, but his most recent output has been evocative of the stuff he started out with.
This year’s “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead” and “Don’t Miss It” are both masterful works of sonic abstraction, terse and sparse and emotionally wrecked. How he mutates his voice on “Don’t Miss It” is beautifully sad, open and raw in the best possible way. The middle of the song, when he lists all that he needs to avoid, is most reminiscent of his early work, and now he has the dexterity to turn that into a chasm of pathos: “I could leave in the middle of the night/ But I’d miss it/ Don’t miss it like I did.” The croon of his words, the white space he surrounds them with… “Don’t Miss It” is barren in its loneliness, a stop and a start and a collapse. –James
The Father John Misty character Josh Tillman has constructed over the course of three albums is stripped of conceptual embellishment on God’s Favorite Customer. We’ve come to know the sarcastic, analytical Father John Misty— the drunken wiseman, the neurotic poet, the realist to a fault. Tillman used these personas to demystify social constructs and deliberate their effects. But now — after his “life blew up” last year — it seems as if he’s unable, or maybe just unwilling, to put on the FJM hat. His new album introduces us to Father John Misty’s creator: Josh Tillman. “Please Don’t Die” is a lovesick letter, presumably to his wife Emma. It sits in the middle of the ten-track album and sounds almost like something off of I Love You, Honeybear, but with a distinct sadness that sets it apart. “Honey, I’m worried about you / You’re too much to lose,” he croons as if he’s already lost her. “You’re all that I have.” There’s no character here, just Tillman. –Julia
The Kamasi Washington songs that usually bowl you over first are the towering epics, the ones that rise and fall with choral parts built for retro interstellar voyages. That’s in “Street Fighter Mas” too, but a six minute runtime means Washington’s latest single is lean by his standards. And accordingly, “Street Fighter Mas” is a punchier one, too — riding a sticky groove throughout, Washington’s lyrical saxophone dancing around the entrance of those big choruses. If you’ve ever seen Washington at one of his many festival appearances, you know that his sets can erupt into ecstatic dance parties, and “Street Fighter Mas” seems destined to be a perfect inclusion there. But his sound is, as ever, too expansive to simply sound like a jam; even a more contained song like “Street Fighter Mas” conjures up whole other worlds. It’s another alluring glimpse of the place Washington creates in his music, the hint of utopia his saxophone and cosmic arrangements always suggest. –Ryan
If you know, you know. When Pusha-T fired a few stray shots at Drake on “Infrared,” he knew what he was getting himself into. When Drake responded with “Duppy Freestyle,” he really, really didn’t. The last time Drake got into a rap beef was with Meek Mill, and he won that through strategy, responding as quickly as possible and then doing everything in his power to manipulate the news cycle and make Meek look like a clown. When Push came at him with the same ghostwriting allegations, he probably thought he could do it again. But this time, he couldn’t. This time, Pusha beat Drake at his own game.
Pusha knew about the photo of Drake in blackface. He knew about Drake’s alleged secret baby. If we believe what he says at the end of “The Story Of Adidon” about peeling things back “layer by layer,” he knows even more. As soon as Drake mentioned Push’s fiancée in an off-handed line, the gloves came off, the Infinity Gauntlet came on, and he used all of that information to annihilate Drake, going after his mother, his father, his child, even his producer. It’s some savage shit, and it almost doesn’t even matter if all the stuff he says about Drake being a deadbeat dad is true. He said it, and we’re thinking about it, and Drake looks bad. Pusha controlled the narrative — the “story” of Adidon.
He sounded good doing it, too. Above all else, “The Story Of Adidon” is a diss track, an evisceration, a cold and calculated character assassination. But it also works as a song. Pusha hijacks No I.D.’s beat for “The Story Of O.J.,” and the sample of Nina Simone singing “my skin is black” serves to underscore the blackface photo and Push’s barbs about Drake’s conflicted racial identity. But it’s also just a great beat, and Pusha sounds great rapping over it. And somehow, the cruelest, nastiest, most unforgivable part of the track, when Push mentions Noah “40” Shebib and his multiple sclerosis, is also the part that sounds the best. When he counts down the clock on 40’s life, rhyming “tick tick tick” with “sick sick sick,” it’s the only time that his voice betrays any real emotion — demented glee. It might be fucked up, but it’s infectious. –Peter
So much has happened since Daytona dropped a week ago. Last night, the seven-track album’s superstar producer, Kanye West, premiered his own new seven-track album with an ostentatious, Man Of The Woods-reminiscent listening party on a ranch in Wyoming. Two nights before that, Daytona’s star, Pusha-T, disemboweled rap’s biggest pop star with the most viciously effective diss track in recent memory. “The Story Of Adidon” had the potential to overshadow an album Pusha had been hyping up for years, and for about a day, it did. Now that the smoke is clearing, I keep going back to Daytona, a true marvel of boom-bap craftsmanship — which means I keep coming back to “If You Know You Know,” its remarkable introduction.
The simplicity is stunning: beats, rhymes, and a life-giving organ swell nipped from occult-infatuated ’70s hard rock. As ever, Pusha is more concerned with the material than the spiritual, once again mining trap-life memories that should’ve long ago been stripped bare yet still coming up with gold: “Dance contest for the smokers/ I predict snow, Al Roker/ I only ever looked up to Sosa/ You all get a bird, this nigga Oprah.” He remains casually clinical throughout, in full control of his powers. On the rare occasions he does raise his voice — “Where were you when Big Meech brought the tigers in?!” — it’s easy to picture his eyes widening, a smile creeping out of the corner of his mouth. You can almost hear him realizing how special this record is in real time; if you know, you know. –Chris