A tale of two debuts: Kanye’s faith and Weezer’s anomaly


Anderson .Paak – Ventura (Soul / R&B)

Give me soul Anderson .Paak over rap Anderson .Paak every day of the week. Twice on Sunday. He’s bringing the Marvin Gaye on “Make it Better.” “What’s Going On?” era Marvin Gaye. The best Marvin Gaye. And he’s pulling off some “Brown Sugar” D’Angelo funk on “Winner’s Circle.” He even managed to lure Andre 3000 (of Outkast fame) away from his self-imposed exile to drop some bars on the relentlessly groovy opener “Come Home.” After “Oxnard,” where .Paak and producer Dr. Dre (notorious for his heavy-handed methods) diverged toward hip-hop, I was worried that his days of soulful R&B were over. His effervescent personality (and pearly white smile) were less present than before. It wasn’t as fun. This shit is jammin’. There’s not a single track that doesn’t groove. Anderson said he was given more leeway from Dr. Dre to produce this record than “Oxnard,” hinting that he was just a “vessel” for Dre on “Oxnard.” But this is 100% throwback soul Andy. Cheeky Andy. The best Andy. (“Come Home,” “Make it Better,” “Winner’s Circle,” “Good Heels,” “Chosen One,” “What Can We Do?”)

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Indie Pop)

I saw Weyes Blood in concert when she was opening for Father John Misty during his “Pure Comedy” tour at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. From my vantage point, her long hair that fell in front of her face made her appear as a gorgeous sounding Cousin Itt; a beautiful, operatic voice. “Titanic Rising” (named after the unmade sequel to James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic”) turns out to be the perfect vessel for such a voice; 10 tracks of symphonic Sgt. Pepper’s pop – the most Sgt.Pepper-esque being “Everyday”; the kind of quirky pop song Zoey Deschanel would record if she could actually sing and felt a crushing loneliness on the daily (doesn’t everyone?). Comparisons to her aforementioned label mate Misty are apt on the musical approach, not all too different from his grandiose “Pure Comedy”; cinematic strings stir and melodies just sort of float around above it all; like a high-value theater production. But humorous musings aren’t really her style; more earnest reflections. “Movies” is the most ambitious, “Picture Me Better” is the most heartwarming. Listen to it in whole for the best experience. (“A Lot’s Gonna Change,” “Andromeda,” “Everyday,” “Movies,” “Picture Me Better”)

Weezer – Weezer/the Blue Album (Rock / 25-Year Anniversary)

Coming on the heels of the grunge and punk movements that formed Nirvana, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo proposed a radical new idea: instead of screaming over distorted guitars about our social anxieties, what if we crafted them into a lovely sweater analogy instead (I cannot overstress how much I love “Undone – The Sweater Song”)? It’s an album that helped give rise to the great alternative movement of the late ’90s (Radiohead, yo). Cuomo’s such a lovable protagonist, the nerdy everyman protagonist; an introvert armed with some poetry and a six-string Fender. Sometimes he’s goofy (see “Buddy Holly,” where he disregards the societal judgement of him and his lady friend with the infamous line “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl”), sometimes he’s romantic (see the crushing romantic anxiety of “Only in Dreams,” a moving eight-minute ballad with a kick ass guitar solo), and sometimes he’s galvanizing (see “My Name is Jonas”). But through it all, he’s the same character; charmingly romantic if a bit dweebish. Maybe that’s why he appeals so much to us music writer types. (“My Name is Jonas,” “Buddy Holly,” “Undone – The Sweater Song,” “Surf Wax America,” “Only in Dreams”)

Kanye West – College Dropout (Hip-Hop / 15-Year Anniversary)

Before Taylor Swift, MAGA hats and Kardashians, Kanye West was an underdog; the kind of rapper that couldn’t just rally an entire community around him as a personality, but to bring people together through his music. West’s street cred is dubious at best; the son of an influential English professor, it’s hard to believe that he was ever “drug dealing just to get by” like he supports of those in his community. But that didn’t matter, because in 2004, it was hard to root against Mr. West.

Kanye’s breakout success as a solo artist was because of his chipmunk soul production chops (the byproduct of speeding up vinyl records) but also his lyrical themes of personal insecurity, religious faith and the celebration of black culture. This was a far cry from the macho posturing of 50 Cent and DMX, a revelation to the mainstream that rappers could be intimate and personal without coming off corny. Raw expressions of faith like “Jesus Walks” don’t hit radio often; a gospel song in hip-hop drag. Hell, there’s a traditional gospel cover of “I’ll Fly Away.” This is the music of a man devoted to unwavering faith; faith in his community, faith in God, and, as would become much more evident later in his career, faith in himself. “Through the Wire” gave a glimpse into his relentless work ethic (through a wired jaw no less), “All Falls Down” flaunts insecurity under the guise of a club hit and “Slow Jamz” is … well it’s exactly what it sounds like. There’s so much more going on here thematically than a mainstream hip-hop artist has any right to toy with. But that’s a large part of what makes this album, and Kanye in general, so exceptional. (“We Don’t Care,” “All Falls Down,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Jesus Walks,” “Slow Jamz,” “School Spirit,” “Through the Wire”)