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Saturday October 25th 2014

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Ears & Fingers 6/27/13

by Jason Leger

Kanye West – ‘Yeezus’
Kanye West is unavoidable. He pops up in more places than he is probably wanted and the world is forced to pay attention. His presence is understandable for a few reasons. He is immoderately confident. Even when entering new territory or being declared less than the best, he always views himself as the top dog. He is incredibly arrogant. Self-promotion in our culture is very common, but Kanye with his antics and his words, elevates self-promotion to a level that is almost slimy. He is also undeniably talented. I am not a huge fan of Kanye West as an individual; however, I am a huge fan of Kanye West as a performer.
From the very first track on his new LP, “Yeezus,” Kanye is giving us the absolute best of what he offers. Crude, creative, catchy, and delivered with simmering self-confidence, “Yeezus” is 40 minutes filled with NSFW experimental hip-hop gems. This is easily Kanye’s most ambitious and impavid work to date exploring the worlds of minimalism, the unapologetic mind of a narcissist, and unconventional beats and samples provided by a series of producers, including Daft Punk and Rick Rubin.

Personally, my highlight, and arguably the catchiest track on the album, is “Black Skinhead,” which contains the line, “I ain’t finished, I’m devoted. And you know it, and you know it.” There is an inarguable truth in that statement, and its glare is at the very core of “Yeezus.” Kanye West is arrogant, unapologetic, rude, and narcissistic, but he is also an artist who is devoted to his craft. With every new album we get from him, he stretches himself and is able to stay at the top of the game without fail. He seems to prove time and time again that no matter what he does, he’s going to have our attention. “Yeezus” is out now via Def Jam Records.

Listener – ‘Time Is a Machine’
If there were one musical element that I would pinpoint as always piquing my interest and forcing me to pay attention, it would be urgency. I love music for music’s sake, but when there is a message behind the music, which the artist feels a strain within their soul to get out, I’m sold. Dan Smith is a musician with an urgent message, which he presents with such fervency in every song he writes, that it’s difficult to not pay attention. He has such a feverish need to get through to his audience with lyrics wrapped in realist sadness delivered with a hopeful smile. Smith developed “talk music,” a genre which incorporates spoken word over compositions brought together with the help of guitarist Kristin Nelson and drummer Kris Rochelle.

Last week, Listener released “Time Is a Machine,” its fourth full length as a talk music act, and first as a full band. Within a couple of spins, it felt very familiar. Moody, sometimes boisterous, sometimes moving music pieces, trademark swaps between endearing and aggressive vocal patterns, and lyrics which often seem they are being presented tongue in cheek, but are actually quite somber and poignant. On the other hand, this is the most straightforward rock album of Listener’s existence. The addition of a full-fledged drummer between albums has made significant changes to the songwriting process, which is mostly notable in upbeat numbers like “Good News First,” “I Think It’s Called Survival,” and lead single “Eyes To The Ground For Change.”

Personally, I feel the lyrics are the center of Listener’s appeal. Smith’s gift with wordplay is what drew me to his art several years ago. It seems as though the lyrics provide something for everyone to grab on to, even if you find the music or Smith’s delivery as difficult to digest. Otherwise, it would seem as though you aren’t listening, and, considering the band name—I think Smith would add “with all due respect”—this isn’t for you. “Time is a Machine” is out now via the band’s bandcamp page listener.bandcamp.com.