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(Post-it notes for Kanye’s studio):

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown (Remastered)”: All those people who bought this on iTunes are huge suckers. Remember like two months ago when this supposedly came out? And then a new version came out that was better? And then this version came out? Well, if rushing out an album in two weeks struck anyone as a bad idea, this is proof that sometimes it pays to tweak things until they are better. This song still isn’t going to win any awards (well, I mean, it probably is, but that’s not the point), but ramping up those tribal drums and the filling out the bassline and whatever else is different, was a really good call. Hey, there’s still a lot of post-election goodwill, maybe nobody will be upset if it takes a couple more weeks to fine-tune this album.

Kanye West – “Heartless (Remastered)”: I’m not exactly sure how this song was changed other than moving the bass on the equalizer up a little bit, but I don’t really have an ear for these things. I kind of liked the spareness on the original version, but this one was altered so slightly that it won’t make a huge difference. The video is really cool, even if animated Kanye is still a terrible actor. “Any Way” would have been a better single pick than this one, though.

Jay-Z – “History”: Oops, you mixed this wrong. This is an awesome beat, but seriously, despite the problem I mentioned on the “Heartless” note, within two seconds of this song starting I could tell the bass needed to be brought up and the vocals on the sample sounded tinny and high-pitched. I think I can fix this with the EQ dials on my car stereo, so it should be possible on ProTools too. It would be a shame to put this version on the album because this is an amazing song. In addition to the implications that this song has by being leaked the day after Election Day (the original leak version sounded a lot fuller, by the way – bring that back, that’s all), it sees Jay confronting his role as the preeminent figure in hip hop. There is obvious desire to read into the lyrics about making history and achieving victory as a commentary on Obama, but this is also about Jay’s career, and it’s deep stuff. With its personification (Victory, Defeat, Success, History, etc.) there is little subtlety, but it still is dipping into the literary concerns of poets like Spenser and Shakespeare. In his Amoretti Spenser claims “For I myself shall like to this decay/And eek my name be wiped out likewise./Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise/To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:” hoping that his poem will immortalize his love. This is not the kind of thing that it’s cool to rap about. The fact that I’m quoting a 16th century poet proves that. But consider Jay’s lyrics:

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When I tell Chinese people that Kanye West is one of my favorite musicians, they consistently have no idea whom I’m talking about. Considering that one of my preconceived notions about most conversations I have is that people know and ostensibly love Kanye, and therefore he is a safe subject to discuss (which I do, often), it’s always a blow to have this common ground taken away from me. Nonetheless, in addition to the swarms of ex-pats who rolled up to the biggest musical event in Beijing hip hop history last night (including a bunch of mysterious high-school age Americans – are there really that many embassy kids?), there were enough Chinese people to pack the Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium, which was conveniently small enough that my nosebleed seats were a lot better than my nosebleed seats from when I saw Kanye at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

In fact, the whole affair was decidedly Chinese. To get into the stadium we had to walk down an aisle lined on either side by soldiers, and the show itself had a bunch of weird regulations. By all appearances, they didn’t let the extremely limited number of people on the floor stand or dance at all until the last two songs, which both must have made those seats a ripoff and kind of killed the energy for everybody else. The most glaring issue, though, was that the sound was absurdly low. I could barely hear Kanye on many of the songs, and it often took me 20 or 30 seconds to even figure out what he was performing because the only audible part was the bass drums. Presumably there was some kind of government presence stepping in and making sure that it wasn’t too loud, since Glow In The Dark was one of the best-mixed concerts I’ve ever seen.

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That’s the cover. At least according to Amazon and a bunch of blogs. I may not totally agree with the musical direction that Kanye’s taking, but I like the minimalist aesthetic of his album covers (I’m including the Love Lockdown and Heartless covers here) quite a bit. I still love the bears, but since this album looks basically like a one-off from the overall Kanye suite, it makes sense to deviate from that look.

Enough on album covers, though. There are some new tracks out there: the full quality version of “Coldest Winter” and a new one called “Robocop.”

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So I lied about that Paper Trail review. I guess Greg wins. If you’re wondering, it’s a 7.2. Some absolutely killer singles, but enough crappy tracks and too much of the same sound that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.

More importantly, I’m leaving on vacation for a week in about half an hour, so I won’t be updating for a while. You’ll just have to rely on those lazy motherfuckers Greg and Gabe.

Anyway, new song from our boy. It’s a radio rip, so terrible sound quality, but we put up with this so we can bombard you with our opinions on everything Kanye does. So if you want to grab it, you can probably look at that link. And I’ll let someone else take a shot at breaking this one down, but I will say that it’s probably my favorite of the three we’ve heard so far.

Who says we never do anything for you? I’m out.

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How could you be so heartless? You won’t even rap?

Kanye just dropped the unmastered version of “Heartless” on his blog. It has pictures of naked women, too, if that’s your thing.

I’ll come out and say it, I’m a pretty big fan of the hook on this. This is a way catchier song than “Love Lockdown,” and it probably deserves to chart. I wish Kanye would rap, though. It would also be nice if the drums hit a little bit harder. This song kind of just flounders in terms of excitement. I’m really not feeling this whole R&B kick, and I love R&B. I could see a song like this fitting into an album really well, though, so I won’t despair yet. But, uh, it looks like we’re looking at an album of this, so I’d start getting your heartbreak jokes ready.

I say it looks like we’re looking at a full album of it because of this FADER listening party review that compares it to Thom Yorke solo work. Which is actually something I like. Who the fuck knows. Although it looks like this is basically a one-off breakup record that was made with the philosophy that “Auto-Tune is fun.” I guess I can’t really argue with that, even though it doesn’t necessarily say much about the music. Also, the listening party is the context for all the naked women linked to above, if you’re wondering.

P.S. The album’s only guests are Jeezy and Wayne. None of that Talib or Mos Def bullshit this time around.

Kanye West – “Heartless Main Pass”

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Because if you did, you would know that I totally called that “Live Your Life” would be inescapable in the next few months. Unfortunately, I can’t actually prove this because I didn’t actually write it when the song first dropped. But I have been pointing out to anyone who will listen (usually while they’re claiming the Numa Numa sample is dumb) that this song is going to be extremely popular. Call the sample dumb, but this is what vindication looks like.

I’m mostly pointing this out because usually I have a terrible finger on the pulse of what people actually like. For instance, I thought that “Love Lockdown” blew (it still does), but a lot of people who don’t write for music blogs thought it was great. So at least I called it with “Live Your Life,” which, conversely, is a pretty good song. On a related note, for a good example of super-cool music that people actually will like, check out Gabe’s mixtape. I’m banging my head to that shit as I type this.

And speaking of Paper Trail, expect a review in the next couple of days. Although as regular readers know, this statement is usually the death wish for a review actually happening (see Stay Positive, The Recession, The Stand-Ins, etc.).

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Preview of Kanye’s second single off of 808’s and Heartbreak, now officially turned in and due out November 25, “Heartless:”

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This is from a guest appearance at some MySpace thing where he came on during T.I.’s set to do his verse from “Swagger Like Us,” which T.I. erroneously calls one of the greatest records ever at the end of this video. My thoughts on “Heartless,” although I can’t really hear anything, are that it actually sounds pretty good. I mean, I actually like AutoTune sometimes, and the hook here seems like a pretty appropriate use of it. The good news is also that Kanye is rapping (I think, like I said, I can’t hear). That’s about all I can say based on this video.

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Those of you who bought “Love Lockdown” on iTunes, shame on you. The last thing Kanye needs is encouragement to make more stupid songs where he sings.

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The story

The video

On a lighter note, did you notice what he was wearing? I guess if Kanye was ever going to get arrested, he was going to do it in custom Louis V.

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The Mountain Goats & Kaki King – “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle” (via Stereogum): The Mountain Goats were probably my first great love in the realm of indie music, and I still would rank The Sunset Tree and All Hail West Texas among my favorite albums ever. On the other hand, I never even listened to Heretic Pride, so it’s safe to say that The Mountain Goats have kind of fallen off my radar. Until now. This song, off of a 6-song collaboration with Kaki King called the Black Pear Tree EP, is absolutely great. Reflecting the polished production of other recent Mountain Goats work as well as John Darnielle’s typical spartan touch, the song is barely more than Darnielle’s vocals over slow piano and jazz drums. The climax comes when Kaki King and a glockenspiel chime in for one line: “Yeah when you came in, I could breathe again.” It’s the kind of totally simplistic line like “The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it’s you and that you’re standing in the doorway” that John Darnielle has a singular talent for delivering with heft. I really like the fact that this song is so powerful for no discernibly obvious reason.

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown” (VMA Video): I’m pretty impressed that Kanye managed to debut a song on live TV in the age of the internet, but TV was probably not the best medium for debuting this song, since the whole performance was Kanye singing alone onstage. The drumline bits were pretty damn cool, and the hook isn’t bad, but who the hell wants to hear Kanye sing a crappy autotuned R&B ballad? I’ll have to listen to a recording quality version of the song before I can judge more, but I kind of wish Kanye would go back to just having tons of sweet guests on his songs instead of just autotuning the fuck out of everything he does. (Seriously, what was the last song Kanye was featured on where he didn’t use autotune?).

T.I. feat. Rihanna – “Live Your Life” (VMA Video): The video for “Whatever You Like” was a kind of cool concept that was terribly done. The performance with Rihanna was absolutely great, although largely because of Rihanna. She has become a pretty damn charismatic live performer, and the outfit she’s wearing is sweet. Also, even though it may be the first song to sample the Numa Numa dance, this song undeniably makes good use of it. It’s too bad T.I. kind of blows his part of the show, but this still strikes me as a great song. I really can’t wait for Paper Trail. On a side note, the one shot of the black guy in the tuxedo vest dancing to this song is priceless.