Yeezus, Wolf Eyes, and Fisting

Yeezus, Wolf Eyes, and Fisting

“Lose your mind in an empty street.
Empty minds please stay asleep.”

--Wolf Eyes, “Choking Flies

“Black girl sipping white wine,
Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.
Grabbed it with a slight grind.
Held it 'till the right time,
Then she came like *robot orgasm*
That's why I'm in it and I can't get out”

--Kanye West, “I'm In It

What is it that Kanye can't get out of? Is it that daughter-bearing “pussy”? Is it the shackles of wealth and fame, the omniscient gaze of a paparazzi society? Is it even just life itself? “I'm in it and I can't get out” is basically the premise of every story by Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka, and Michael Bay. The only other rapper with the balls to fixate on existential dread for an entire album was Biggie and they shot him for it. Of course, Biggie came in the midst of lyrical trends that were constituted on hardness, while today's rappers are more concerned with getting high than selling drugs. Street violence is nowadays the lyrical territory of rappers with names like Gunplay and gunshots are more likely to show up as a snare hit in a trap song than as the topic of a verse. In the age of Drake, Miguel, and Old Man Jay-Z, it's pretty bizarre to hear an album that's the equivalent of screaming at your drug-smeared visage in the mirror.

Equally bizarre is the jarring genre-smashing and the remarkably uneven balance between smooth samples and harsh electronic tones. So, how about we avoid comparing Yeezus to a rap album for a moment and start thinking about it in terms of some major noise releases that dropped this year? Daft Punk's synthesizers on “On Sight” and “Send It Up,” for instance, wouldn't sound out of place on Pete Swanson's Punk Authority, if only they were farther in the red. Consider, too, Swanson's implicit goal of dancefloor catharsis, often achieved by blessing bodily rhythms with aggressive synth fuckery. Going down this particular path, you could relate Prurient's more techno-oriented work to Yeezus, considering the combination of stark hi-fi with world-weary adult emo-tion. On that note, it would be so sick to hear Kanye say “Give birth to something dead/Give birth to something old." Of course, with both the Swanson and the Prurient examples, the obvious link to Yeezus is Industrial music. Admittedly though, if it in fact bears any meaningful relation to either of these two artists, Yeezus is a remote branch on the family tree.

But you may be familiar with this band of dad-aged dudes from Michigan called Wolf Eyes, whose music was once featured in a Halloween episode of The Office. When not busy soundtracking the droll banality of corporate servitude, the boys in Wolf Eyes have been known to swing maces and faux-seizure on stage while playing songs with titles like “Lake of Roaches” and “Stabbed In the Face.” They are not only a noise band, but basically The Noise Band. For about a decade and a half, they have been freaking out the squares and causing tinnitus. This year, they sharpened their musical blades by creating an album that maximized impact and brutality by stripping production back to the barest layers. Wolf Eyes never gunned for the same manic grandiosity as Kanye, but their previous album, Always Wrong, was as cacophonous as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was showy. Regardless, both follow-ups-- No Answer: Lower Floors and Yeezus, respectively-- have been lauded as triumphant exercises in focus and concision by men who dominate their respective fields.

To harp on the question of sonics for a minute, “Black Skinhead” may sample renowned pederast-on-the-lam Gary Glitter, but its beat is most reminiscent of the gnarled thud on “Choking Flies,” the opener of Wolf Eyes' latest album, No Answer: Lower Floor. That awful, melismatic Auto-Tune solo on “Blood On the Leaves” questions the utility of music as enjoyable sound, not unlike the very concept of noise as music. But more importantly, it stands as an example of overt stylization via vocal processing, much like the anti-coherent chops on No Answer: Lower Floors's semi-title track, “No Answer." For both acts, these vocal touches function as a nod to the dehumanizing functions of electronic musical tools. Instead of being used musically, they're used to make the human voice strange.

What truly unites Yeezus and No Answer: Lower Floors spiritually is the shared fascination with evil and insanity. One day, Kanye realized that his expensive car helped him transcend a class barrier, but fortified a trivializing stereotype about rich rappers, and, in turn, successful black men. This truth, just like many others divulged on Yeezus, drove him a little insane. Kanye was among the first to tell a post-Katrina America that the government didn't care about black people, and now he's the most prominent rapper to point out how our materialist society uses cars, chains, and clothes to placate the loudest contingents of one of the most actively oppressed groups in our nation. Somehow, every material good and carnal pleasure meant to assuage Kanye led to him making an album full of screams and anxious preaching.

Insanity is a common lyrical trope in heavy music. As Wolf Eyes leader Nate Young noted in a recent interview, it's a theme that bridges his lyrics with Metallica's. Negative, aggressive music exposes sides of the human psyche that are generally glossed over by the Justin Timberlakes of the world. Noise music tends to deal with insanity, apocalypse, and social disintegration, because these are things that pose threats to the status quo that the summer-jam pop song often reinforces. It is Kanye's threat to this status quo-- through cartoonish misogyny, blasphemous self-deification, discordant sampling-- that makes Yeezus such a remarkable and unlikely Billboard chart-topper.

On Yeezus, Kanye adopts a peculiar form of rapping which could really only be likened to street preaching. Instead of pacing up and down a block shouting about Jesus, he's doing it from a studio in Paris. Such rants have been his M.O. for the past few months, as he stands alone on stages in weird masks, half-singing about whatever catches his ire. The fact that his on-album rants are coupled with helpless screaming lends his man-of-god persona this deranged kind of pathos, which makes “I Am A God” seem less like an assertion of deity than a self-motivational demand that he must be a god, maybe because if he isn't, then he is only a member of the subjugated masses-- a new slave, even. Nate Young advises that you “lose your mind on an empty street,” and you get the impression that Kanye took that cue months ago.

So it may seem mighty strange that the only power Kanye really assigns himself is sexual: sentiments like “one more fuck and I'll own you” and “cum in her Hamptons mouth and cum on her Hamptons blouse” and, of course, that fisting thing. It's a bit problematic, especially because he seems to only have ill intent in wielding it. Joseph Roemer of Macronympha once said, “Dick's got power. It's nice to use a dick ramming into something... Dicks have their place but you wouldn't just want to see a dick sitting there.” What both Roemer and Kanye are executing, though, are not physical acts of sexual violence, but language acts of sexual violence.

Violence is perhaps power's most direct form of action, and assuming the language of power is often the best way to reveal its horror. It's thorny to try to convince those who feel otherwise that such language only functions ironically-- as a negation of bigotry-- but Kanye at least seems to adopt more cognitive dissonance than any other casually misogynist Hot 97 rapper. Nate Young pointed out in that aforementioned interview that naming a song “Stabbed In the Face” never meant that Wolf Eyes wanted to stab people in the face, while conceding that “ I can only imagine people who might take a 40-year-old seriously when he says, 'I wanna stab you in the face.'” But he quickly added that, “There is that Dungeons & Dragons kind of aspect-- brutal as a card, like my brutal force is 10.” But instead of dressing up like a wizard, Boyd Rice dressed like a Nazi and Whitehouse masqueraded as empty-headed Thatcher-ists. In both cases they adopted these personas as a means of castrating mechanisms of terror via parody. And as proven by recent accusations of fascism leveraged against Whitehouse founder William Bennett, misreading art's complexity, ambiguity, and revolutionary intention is often as simple as jumping to a conclusion.

But the difference between any given noise musician who employs shock devices and Kanye is that a large amount of people actually give a fuck about Kanye West. Saying that Kanye West made a noise album suggests that he made something that was overly difficult, inaccessible. The fact of the matter is he didn't. He managed to corale some of the brightest minds in music-- Rick Rubin, Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke-- to make an album that appropriates the most popular strains of music today-- EDM, trap, whatever Justin Vernon does-- to air his societal grievances in the loudest, clearest way possible. You see, noise albums are by definition obscure and inaccessible. Wolf Eyes are preaching to the converted when they say “empty minds please stay asleep.” But Ye has the chance to actually make millions of people stare at each other's wretched faces.

blog comments powered by Disqus