June 20, 2013

YeezusPieceArt

Adam Wray is still waiting.

I’m not ready to pass judgment on Yeezus. Its early appraisers no doubt feel they’ve got a handle on it, and I’ve surely read some thoughtful, nuanced takes, but I have a hard time making a quick reckoning with works so polarizing. I’m too skeptical of my own ears and too mercurial in my tastes. And besides, I am in no rush: there’s no substitute for time and spins to unpack a record so deliberately confounding. I’ll say this, though: Yeezus has made me feel a lot of different ways since last Friday afternoon. It’s repulsive and alluring and evocative and powerful and galling and sometimes really funny.

I keep coming back to “Bound 2,” the record’s concluding statement and the one I’m most immediately fascinated by. It sounds nothing like the rest of the album. The previous nine tunes are of a piece, but “Bound 2″ doesn’t fit at all. It uses a different sonic palette, eschewing icepick synths, hip-deep drums, and booming dancehall vocals in favor of a tool Kanye’s otherwise abandoned: a pitch-shifted soul loop, lifted from Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound.” A decade ago, Ye would’ve sculpted that richly patinated vocal into a world-beating summer jam, blanketing airwaves à la “Golddigger” and worming its way into your life whether you liked it or not.

Here, though, the loop’s chopped sloppily, stuttering, slowed slightly and cloaked in crunchy distortion, like it’s being played back on a junk shop turntable. It’s devoid of low end, lacking any drums or bass beyond what’s survived in the sample. The tune sounds like it’s melting, like Arnold at the end of Terminator 2, its flesh peeling back to reveal its skeleton, components failing before your ears. It sounds cudgeled together rather than finessed.

It’s meant to sound this way, of course. According to Rick Rubin, “Bound 2″ was a “middle of the road R&B song” that was torn up and rebuilt with “a punk edge in the Suicide tradition.” It sounds like Kanye had a hit on his hands, but he gutted it and gave us this instead. Why? Is “Bound 2″ Kanye parodying himself? Is he calling on his old methods to ridicule them? Is he teasing us? Or is this just what happens when you filter his old tools through his new aesthetic framework? Whatever his intention, “Bound 2″ is a major success. It manages to both satisfy Kanye’s conceptual urges and provide a traditionally satisfying listening experience. It’s weird, it’s inventive, and it slaps.

“Bound 2″ is also a lyrical departure from the rest of Yeezus. Ye veers between spitting bile and drizzling pre-cum for most of the record, but here he’s reflective, approachable, loose, charming, and funny. You get both his unbridled, fuck-you-hard-on-the-sink id and his self-deprecating, “I can’t remember when we first met” bruised ego. He’s conflicted, too. “Bound 2″ is a love song, but it’s grim as all fuck. “When a real nigga hold you down, you s’posed to drown,” should settle like a brick in the stomach of anyone who’s been in a serious relationship. If most of Yeezus has Kanye resisting the responsibilities of parenthood and partnership, “Bound 2″ is about surrender and submission. It’s about fighting with a partner until you’re too spent to do anything but sink into each other, about pushing through uncertainty while feigning conviction. Here is a guy who knows that a committed relationship is infinitely more fulfilling than a parade of groupies but wants the groupies anyway, a guy who’s thinking of his relationship on a month-to-month basis. Kanye sounds hopeful when he suggests that they might make it to Christmas, but how convinced are you that this relationship is going to work out?

“Bound 2″ is beguiling, frustrating, sad, and weirdly touching. You know, like its creator. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about Yeezus as a whole in a few months’ time, but I suspect that “Bound 2″ will go down as one of Kanye’s most enduring songs.