It’s just some ____ you haven’t heard of
“JESUS IS KING” — Kanye West
Charlie Kenney, Associate Scene Editor
Kanye West is an artist whose records, typically, receive pretty universal acclaim. Recent albums “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy” and “YEEZUS,” although perhaps controversial in religious circles, saw near unanimous praise from music review outlets and renowned artists. Lyrics and sound didn’t always please the ear, but the production and ingenuity of his releases always seemed to win over the skeptics. And while West’s 2018 release, “Ye,” did not match the success of its predecessors, it was not disparaged by any means.
Therefore, one could have expected a warm reception for Kanye’s eagerly anticipated 2019 record, “JESUS IS KING.” But, if anything, the opposite occurred. Outlets like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and NPR gave it less-than-favorable reviews, and his colleagues seemed to decry the album as “too religious” or “overly focused on Gospel music.” At the same time, those who have typically marked West as a narcissist heathen — namely, Christians — have now embraced him as a prodigal son turning away from a life of sinful pleasure. Whether those people actually enjoy Kanye’s music or simply want to use him to spread their faith is a larger question.
I like to consider myself someone who falls in between an avid Pitchfork reader and a zealous Christian. I tend to like what music critics like, but I also attend church semi-regularly and don’t mind Christian themes in music. I also happen to really like “JESUS IS KING.” Sure, it isn’t Kanye’s best album. But it is just as well produced as his past albums, and gives a unique view into the mind of a man who seems dramatically torn between his past and his present. Kanye West, without a doubt, still loves himself in “JESUS IS KING,” but he recognizes that he shouldn’t. The record is religiously vulnerable in a way many hip-hop albums aren’t. A record may deal with coming to terms with death or depression, and it may even openly praise or bemoan God, but rarely, if ever, does an artist in an industry so self-obsessed and secular put a voice to the struggle that accompanies religion. Maybe that doesn’t make the album good. But it certainly makes it interesting.
POPping off at Scene
Dessi Gomez, Scene Writer
“You can write about how Scene will never cover pop!” – Scene Editor Mike “Donny” Donovan
First of all, I took direct offense to this statement as someone who wrote a full page about Taylor Swift’s latest album before school (and Observer production) even started in August. “Call It What You Want,” but “Lover” simply cannot be put into the category of “some ____ you’ve never heard of.” “Death By A Thousand Cuts” is both a literary AND and an auditory masterpiece. And the title track captures the essence of true love and marriage that seems more and more unattainable with each passing day. Swift’s biggest strength lies in her songwriting. I know this because, even if you don’t like her or listen to her, I guarantee that you can name and sing at least one of her songs. And there has to be some reason she was recently awarded Artist of the Decade at the American Music Awards. Oh, right: as Carole King said, Swift’s music transcends all age groups. King also acknowledged that Swift combines her powerful songwriting with intricate performances and layered vocals. @Donny, “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Now that I’ve dedicated a full blurb to Taylor Swift, I will move on to some other top pop contenders. The Jonas Brothers’ remarkable reunion album follows in Swift’s footsteps with music loved by 10-year-olds and 20-year-olds alike. Specific tracks that harness the emotional experience of coming back together include “Rollercoaster,” “Comeback” and “Don’t Throw It Away.” Ed Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations Project comes in at third place for me, because it demonstrates his flexibility through collaborations with a wide variety of artists.
And let’s not forget the genre of folk pop. The Lumineers made a tremendous return to the folk pop scene after the loss of cellist Neyla Pekarek. Not only is their third album, “III,” accompanied by a set of cinematic videos that correspond to each song, but “III” also deals with the very poignant and prevalent topic of addiction (see my other full page article about this album). The Head and the Heart also released “Living Mirage” this year, which hits the ground running with “See You Through My Eyes” and only gains momentum from there.
“Atlanta Millionaires Club” — Faye Webster
Ryan Israel, Scene Writer
On “Atlanta Millionaires Club,” Faye Webster gets all up in her feelings, and listening to the album may help you get in your feelings too. Webster sings of life and love as a 20-something, dropping lines that all us young people can relate to. “Looks like I’ve been crying again over the same thing,” she observes in the opening line of the album before telling herself that “[she] should get out more.” But the album’s not all melancholy sadness. It also includes songs like “Right Side of My Neck” and “Kingston,” which are sweet, slow, “lovey” and full of romantic emotions.
The sound of “Atlantic Millionaires Club” is the sound of the summer — not of fun, upbeat summer moments, but of the excessively hot and especially lazy ones. Webster throws in a little bit pop, a little bit of R&B and a little bit of country to create a soothing, melodic masterpiece driven by one of the coolest-sounding instruments of all: the steel pedal guitar.
Tragically, I was the only Scene member to put “Atlanta Millionaires Club” in their end-of-the-year list, further motivating me to write about this album. So I encourage you to listen to Faye, catch a vibe and maybe catch some feelings too.
“Titanic Rising” — Weyes Blood
Patrick Witteman, Scene Writer
As I perused Scene’s end of the year list, I was surprised, to say the least. I thought that my fellow scene writers would have recognized the brilliance of Natalie Mering’s fourth album as Weyes Blood, “Titanic Rising.” I, admittedly, am a massive fan of this album. I gave it five shamrocks out of five when I reviewed it earlier in the year, a rating I still stand by.
The unique combination of dream-pop maximalism and Mering’s vocals imparts a fleeting feeling of warmth to the listener. On “Movies,” Mering sings, “Some people feel what some people don’t / Some people watch until they explode / The meaning of life doesn’t seem to shine like that screen.” Mering’s lyrics are both haunting and warm, with tracks like “Movies” conjuring a kind of apocalyptic dread. Although I listed certain tracks as “standouts” in my review, I believe that every track on this album has been carefully and intentionally crafted. Emotions range from the melodrama of “Movies” to the optimism of “Everyday,” in which Mering sings, “True love is making a comeback / For only half because the rest just feel bad.” I enjoy just about everything on this album, and I strongly recommend giving it a listen if you haven’t already.
“Emily Alone” — Florist
Mike Donovan, Scene Editor
Shhhhhh. Leave me alone [lights, clicks, gags, bells, whistles, overloaded schedule]. Leave me alone [upbeat snappy uppers peppering my eyes and ears at every bar Thursday, Friday, Saturday, sometimes Tuesday]. Shhhhhh. Leave me alone with Florist — Emily, that is, in all her loneliness — so she can teach me how to celebrate the solitude, to keep eyes open and dry in the darkness of time, to bloom even when shadows suggest otherwise. For a little while, please, just leave me alone. Thirty-nine minutes is all I need — 39 minutes to spend among this liminal collection of restoratives “downers.” Because, despite their ostensible gloom, they’ve never failed to lift me up. So if you’d kindly shut the f— up, I’ll be over here with “Emily Alone.”