Kanye West’s own songs stand out on G.O.O.D. Music compilation
By THOMAS CONNER firstname.lastname@example.org September 17, 2012 7:59PM
Updated: October 19, 2012 6:11AM
Various artists, “Cruel Summer” (G.O.O.D.) ★★½ A year and a half ago, Kanye West trotted the roster of his G.O.O.D. Music record label across a Texas stage in the middle of the night, like a musical fashion show. Then we waited for the compilation to be released.
And waited. It was delayed, and delayed again.
Finally, on Tuesday (and after a handful of previews and a few online leaks), “Cruel Summer,” Kanye’s latest collection from his boutique rap label is due.
Worth the wait? Yes and no. Like Kanye’s full-length collaboration last year with Jay-Z, “Watch the Throne,” the looming hype casts too great a shadow for the project to shine on in own merits. Plus, the star power of this comp’s guest list is blinding, including G.O.O.D. folks (Big Sean, Pusha T, Cyhi the Pynce) and other pals (2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, a rare appearance by Ma$e). As Jay-Z describes the crew, it’s “The Dream Team meets the Supreme Team” (“Clique”).
It’s Kanye’s party, though, and his eight contributions stand out. “New God Flow,” the hardest and best track of the set, finds Pusha T railing and Kanye comparing himself to allegedly kindred targets (MLK, Biggie, Lebron, Jesus) and marveling at the turnaround time in his celebrity during the last year (“Went from most hated to the champion”). Dressing up “Don’t Like” with the now-notorious Chief Keef and others, Kanye reels off a blazing list of his least favorite things (“snitches,” “b------”).
Other highlights: Kid Cudi rolls through an anxious, pitch-lazy shuffle (“Creepers”); Kanye’s overdue official duet with R. Kelly is surprisingly not creepers (“To the World”), and John Legend, as usual, injects a bit of class into the proceedings via a chilly, funky Prince groove with old-school synths (“Bliss” with new find Teyana Taylor).
Laced with Kanye’s Chicago shout-outs — “Chi town till I’m on my back,” “This is Chi, right?” and “I’m from 312” (though he grew up mostly in 773) — “Cruel Summer” is an apt title for the city currently. Still, Common, Kells and Keef seem to be the only other real locals in this posse.
The Sea & Cake, “Runner” (Thrill Jockey) ★★★★ The Sea & Cake is the sound of 21st-century Chicago. In a metropolis slowly but surely evolving beyond its big-shouldered blues legacy, this artful, deceptively easygoing quartet remains a big tent of influences (plus rich collaborative resumes) while remaining relentlessly consistent; regardless of what they may color their edges, the Sea & Cake always sound like themselves: crisp, clean, humble, utterly modern. Technically, yes, they’re post-rock, but without the sonic cubism common to bands usually saddled with that hyphen. “Runner,” their ninth full-length (and a swift follow-up to last year’s expressive EP, “The Moonlight Butterfly”), is another cool lake breeze — 10 more songs worthy of careful listening (each player is vital, inextricable, wholly present in the mix) or just as easily employed as zone-out music on the L. Supple grooves, subtle electronics, guitar artistry, singer Sam Prekop’s long, sweet sighs — the city’s perfect band. In concert: The Sea & Cake will perform Oct. 29 at City Winery.
James Iha, “Look to the Sky” (The End) ★★★A more muted version of the sunny-day pop he unveiled on his out-of-print 1998 solo debut, “Let It Come Down,” the latest from the Smashing Pumpkins’ founding guitarist offers just as many easygoing reveries. America’s Johnny Marr, Iha has been ping-ponging through disparate projects (Tinted Windows with Taylor Hanson, touring with A Perfect Circle) and shows up with this well-written, beautifully played set as a gentle reminder of his talent. Great modern guitar tones, Iha’s dusty croon and numerous sunshower melodies (“Summer Days,” “New Year’s Day,” “4th of July”) make every song a holiday.
How to Dress Well, “Total Loss” (Weird World/Acephale) ★★½ Soundcloud’s visualized sound wave telegraphs the white-noise conclusion in this album’s opening track — an inevitable blizzard after the song’s chilly dub piano and icy R&B falsetto — as well as the come-down crash in “Say My Name or Say Whatever” and the soulful slow-down in “How Many?” It’s OK to look, though; this stuff’s nothing if not cinematic. The second full-length from singer-producer Tom Krell, an occasional Chicagoan, conjures more ethereal sounds from the netherworld over which Krell applies his cool coo. It’s a one-note gimmick, but when it works — more than half the time — it kills — and chills.California Wives, “Art History” (Vagrant) ★★★ — Some debut albums self-consciously demand attention. Chicago quartet California Wives laid these 11 breezy tracks before listeners without fanfare. “Art History,” indeed — this is airy, accessible pop that’s easy to stand back and regard. They’re sketches and sound paintings of the band’s new wave, guitars-and-synths influences, old and new. Singer Jayson Kramer is dry and deadpan, very much like the Sea & Cake’s Sam Prekop; the band isn’t as intricate and daring, but there’s real beauty in their New Order simplicity and M83 widescreen view.
The Hood Internet, “Feat” (Decon) ★★ — Chicago DJ duo the Hood Internet’s rep as party meisters earned national acclaim for their manic mash-ups of hip-hop and indie rock. Which makes the overall downbeat tone of this first album of purely original material (due Oct. 2) all the more surprising. Even a song called “More Fun” is minor-key and moody. Crowded with guest vocalists — most tracks pair a rapper with a rocker, like Donwill with My Gold Mask on “Do You Give Up Now,” A.C. Newman with Sims on “One for the Record Books” and the great BBU with Annie Hart on the album’s greatest and liveliest feat, “Won’t F--- Us Over” — the duo’s underlying music is ruminative and introspective. They’ve definitely stopped the fancy footwork.
In concert: Try the music live when the Hood Internet headlines the Metro on Nov. 2 (the previous Sept. 20 date was postponed).