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Leaks of the Week: Chinese Democracy and Kanye


This is what the internet looked like when Chinese Democracy should have been released

Big week on the internet this week for music, as the last wave of high-profile 2008 releases are making their way to the masses.

First, Chinese Democracy is here. If you're reading this, chances are you know what Chinese Democracy is by now, which means you also know it has its origins in the 1990s. And it sounds like it. Had this album been released between 1997 and 2001, it would have sounded very much like a reflection of the prevailing trends in music, only with fewer passages of syncopated half-spoken vocals and with more pompous ballads. Had it been released between 2002 and 2006, it would have sounded like a desperate attempt at a late cash-in, catching the train as it's pulling out of the station.

But it's coming out in 2008, too soon for a retro revival, and too late to sound current. So instead, it just sounds like a representative of a time and place, the musical equivalent of digging up a time capsule you'd buried ten years ago, from a time when a lot of bands sounded like the weird cross between Korn and Primus that exists on "Shackler's Revenge." Or when this level of overproduction was the norm and not a gross display of excess.

It's not very good, of course, but it seems hard to imagine anyone expecting it to be. I do think a portion of listeners were hoping for "listenable," and it veers towards listenable at times ("Catcher in the Rye" is not awful). I suspect just as many were hoping for a massive trainwreck that could make for some guilty pleasure listening, and it isn't really that, either. It's just bad. Blandly, anachronistically, boringly bad.

808s and Heartbreaks, the latest from perennial music critic/pasty dude fave Kanye West, also has leaked. 808s is Kanye's breakup album, and it's also - again, as you may have heard - characterized by its difference from other Kanye albums: he doesn't rap on it or use his typical samples; instead every song is based on an 808 drumbeat and Kanye's voice filtered through a vocoder. This, in its way, is also an instantly-dated record, as anyone who revisits it down the line will instantly recognize it as reflecting the dominant sound of hip-hop in the last three or four years or so - and Kanye himself is also late to the party. 

I'm not going to claim to have much insight into Kanye West's brain here, but 808s sounds like a genre exercise to me, so it's probably best to regard it as one. If that's the case, due credit to West for taking a sound we've all been inundated with the last few years and doing something somewhat interesting with it in spots. 808s gets a little tiresome over its full length, but in short spurts it's pretty fun, particularly the run of "Love Lockdown," "Paranoid," and "Robocop," the last of which features orchestration that reminds me of the music you hear on a merry-go-round. It's not for everyone, though, and it's a poor substitute for a "proper" Kanye release. 

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