11.21.2008

808s & Heartbreak/Auto-Tune, Please Go Away!

kanye_west

Stereogum had a link to Kanye West's blog today where you can stream his new album 808s & Heartbreak. So, I figured that I'd head on over and give it a shot. This, despite the fact that I'd been underwhelmed by the early leaks off of the album.

I'm disappointed to report that the whole exercise was a waste of my time. From what I heard (before I gave up), this album is a total dud. The most obvious flaw is the excessive use of Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune is a pitch-correcting vocal processor that leaves vocals sounding lifeless, filtered, somewhat robotic, and totally devoid of a human touch. Nearly every song features this device. Top 4o listeners, by nature of the fact that the songs that make it to that list nearly always fit the above stipulations, will be rather familiar with the Auto-Tune sound, which was most familiarly used on Cher's abysmal 2002 hit, "Do You Believe In Love."

Am I really surprised? Not terribly. But, I've always thought that West brought something unique to hip-hop music, even when I didn't love what he was doing. I respected his production, innovation, and willingness to step outside of the boundaries that constrict so much mainstream hip-hop music. I can't get his back this time though. If this is what happens after Graduation, Yeezy needs to go back to school.

Neko Case probably can't either. When I started listening to the album I was immediately reminded of a 2006 interview that she did with Pitchfork. During the interview she had much to say about the Auto-Tune. One of the relevant quotes:
-When I hear auto tune on somebody's voice, I don't take them seriously. Or you hear somebody like Alicia Keys, who I know is pretty good, and you'll hear a little bit of auto tune and you're like, "You're too fucking good for that. Why would you let them do that to you? Don't you know what that means?" It's not an effect like people try to say, it's for people like Shania Twain who can't sing. Yet there they are, all over the radio, jizzing saccharine all over you. It's a horrible sound and it's like, "Shania, spend an extra hour in the studio and you'll hit the note and it'll sound fine. Just work on it, it's not like making a burger!"
And, later in the same interview, when asked her opinion of Top-40 music:
- And I'm not going to say I don't love the new Kanye West record (Graduation). I do. There are things about the production I'm not crazy about though. People mix records to be heard in cars and to have the bass incredibly loud so the vocals have to fight with everything so there's no dynamic left, and that's kind of a bummer. That may not be my taste but I'm not going to go, "Kanye's not very good," because he's pretty badass.
I wonder how Neko feels now. In case you live under a rock or something, Neko Case has one of the most amazing voices in music right now.

You can buy her solo albums here.
You can buy her albums with the New Pornographers here.
You can read the whole Pitchfork interview here.
You can read Stereogum's post here.

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