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RED Reviews
by Brent Sallay

College Dropout
Kanye West
(out of 5)

Um, so, what's the deal? Is Jay-Z going to show up on every other Roc-a-Fella release to remind us that he’s still alive and rapping, no less than a living legend, “cuz everyone wants to be Hov/and Hov is still alive?” Well, no offense, Mr. Carter, but right now I’d rather be Kanye. Yeah, you heard me right. So necessary indeed.

After all, it was Kanye’s production that brought life to many of Jay-Z’s best singles (including “H to the Izzo” and “Heart of the City”) with his now-trademark high-pitched vocal accompaniments. And while Jay-Z is still trying desperately to establish himself as Jay-Hova—the savior of East-Coast rap—Kanye, refreshingly, is a great deal more humble, even daring at times to give his props to, of all people, Jesus.

Maybe it has something to do with the car accident that nearly took his life and had him rapping for a time through a wired-shut jaw (bravely chronicled in “Through the Wire”). Whatever the reason for his humility, there is no cockiness to get in the way of Kanye’s already well-established talents, and they are on full display on College Dropout.

The album opens strongly with “We Don't Care,” which I’m just going to go ahead and call this year’s “In da Club”—not much of a stretch actually, right down to the hand claps and the lyrical reference to 50 Cent. But where 50 Cent expressed his fondness for hugging and, um, getting shot, Kanye sets a tone for the rest of the album by addressing both the hardships and the scapegoatism of growing up on the streets (“Drug dealin’ just to get by/Stack your money ’til it gets sky high”).

Kanye goes on to rap about further ironies in love, religion, the music industry and, as the title suggests, higher education. Unfortunately, his derision of the latter rarely approach anything more poignant than what one might find scrawled above the toilet paper dispensers at most any established university. The truth is, while dropping out of college and making chums with Talib Kweli may have worked for Kanye, it’s probably not as wise a move for, let’s say, your typical CS major.

Still, Kanye manages to coax some humor out of his diatribes and most importantly, he infuses his songs with a soul and sincerity that supports his bid as one of the best producers in mainstream hip hop today. Plus, now, as the world is only just beginning to hear, he can emcee too.

Hypnotic Underworld
Drag City
(out of 5)

The four members of Tokyo’s neo-psychedelic collective Ghost have been making challenging and engaging music since 1991, but, sadly, they have gone largely unnoticed, not unlike an actual ghost.

So although you probably didn’t know they had gone anywhere, they’re back now with one of their best achievements yet: the thrilling, ever-changing Hypnotic Underworld. It is a fitting title, as this album is just as hypnotic as it is underworldly. (These reviews practically write themselves.)

Hypnotic Underworld is a perfect balance of the experimental beats of acts like Shalabi Effect and Godspeed You Black Emperor, and some more accessible ’60s-esque pop songs. (Think Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd as an example— there is even a cover of Barrett’s “Dominoes” to close the album.)

While some people may lose patience with long instrumental passages like the 13-minute “God Took a Picture of His Illness on This Ground” that opens the album, such tracks are meticulously executed and quite haunting and rewarding for those with a discerning ear.
And when the aforementioned first track finally resolves into the fuzz-bass of “Escaped and Lost Down in Medina,” it just makes it that much more powerful. This is certainly an album where the journey is more important than the destination.

In fact, for those already accustomed to this genre of music, Hypnotic Underworld really is a must-listen. Rarely does music both surprise and please as consistently as it does here. And just when some may find the album to be getting “boring” or “repetitive” (though I would never use those words), Ghost responds with “Hazy Paradise” or “Piper,” both of which would require some sort of a stone-cold heart in even the least open-minded listener to not be enjoyed.

And now, as it was inevitable after my first mention that Ghost is from Japan, if I might close with a haiku:
Ghost makes good music
Maybe you will like this band
If not don't sue me.

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