Macklemore x Ryan Lewis – The Heist – Review

Holy white hipster rapper, Batman!

The Heist

I have two warnings about The Heist. One: This album will blow you away. Be prepared to  sit down and listen to it from start to finish, because stopping halfway through is not an option. Two: This album is political. Not everywhere, but strongly in places. I have said before that I hate being preached at when I am just trying to enjoy some music, but this album is so good, that I don’t even care.

Six months ago my fiance said “Hey, have you heard this Macklemore guy? He’s some local rapper with this huge indie following.” She was right, but I didn’t get around to listening to him until now, when “Thrift Shop” is suddenly everywhere. You know, that goofy rap song you keep hearing on the radio with the funky saxophone hook. Actually listening to the lyrics, talking about shopping at thrift stores, and criticizing people who overpay for fashion, with lines like “Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch. I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business” I am wondering who this hipster rapper is, and then I find out he’s from Capitol Hill. Ooooooohhhh. Got it.

For people who aren’t from Seattle, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s gay neighborhood. It’s a lot of other things, but it is generally a region of the city where indie theater, angry music, and the LGBT community thrive. So when I hear something like “The Tea Party is marching on Capitol Hill” I picture Sarah Palin in the middle of a Pride rally. Capitol Hill is a haven for hipsters. Really, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Seattle to produce an artist like this.

So what do you get when you take an urban hipster, educated at Evergreen State College, and mix him with a vibrant indie music scene, powered by macbook pros and leftwing convictions? Macklemore x Ryan Lewis.

From the start, Macklemore’s rapping has a relaxed tone, with clever rhymes, and a crisp, frantic pace that sometimes matches that of Twista. It must be pointed out that Macklemore doesn’t suffer from Asher Roth syndrome; this white rapper sounds nothing like Eminem.

Macklemore’s lyrics throughout The Heist talk about some heavy stuff. Struggles maintaining faith with a religion that is out of sync with the community and the world he lives in, trying to maintain a sense of self in a homogeneous sea of consumerism (“apps this good, who has time to make friends?”), not selling out to The Man at the record label, relapsing while serving as a role model for other addicts.

Which isn’t to say Macklemore can’t party. “Castle” is all fun, with 80’s synths backing up random lyrics of wizards, pirate ships, and eating coyotes, asking “will you come party in my castle?”. “Thrift shop” is as fun a fun gets. I always find out how loud my stereo goes when it comes on.

I blame the whole speaker-blasting thing on Ryan Lewis, though. The Heist is full of real acoustic instruments, horns and strings and drums, perfectly layered with backing vocals, mixing with thick hip hop beats and sparing use of electronic sounds and effects. They say that the mark of great production is that you don’t notice it. The Heist doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now, but it also doesn’t sound out of place. They call that “classic”. Listen to “Harder than you think” by Public Enemy. It didn’t sound like anything else out at that time, but it didn’t sound out of place. It still doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, but it doesn’t sound dated. Ryan Lewis has figured out that formula. The Heist stands out from the mass-produced, electronic dance chip-hop of today, without being radical.

If political music bothers you, or if you lean to the right, you should just probably skip “Same love”. Macklemore is really genuine on this track, and the backing vocals of Mary Lambert are really great. Let’s just say that Macklemore is probably ecstatic that Washington state voted for the gays in the past election cycle.

The closest artist I can liken Macklemore to is The Flobots, considering the horns, the rapping, the convictions laid out in the lyrics. The Flobots have a more jazzy, soulful sound, while Macklemore is climbing the hip-hop charts.

When you look at The Heist on Amazon, you are informed that customers who bought The Heist also bought The Lumineers. When I reviewed The Lumineers, I said that The Lumineers were for people who were fans of music, and that holds true for Macklemore. If you like music, you will like Macklemore.

I give The Heist five pounds of fur out of five. You’re right, Wanz, this is fucking awesome.

Imagine Dragons – Night Visions – Review

Inhale… Exhale… Imagine… Dragons. 

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

Imagine Dragons is a young band with too many ideas. Sometimes it bothers me when a band has been around for a while and can’t come up with a real name for their debut album. But in this case, Imagine Dragons has already released four EPs, three with ambiguous names, and then releases their first LP with another ambiguous name. I think the fact that they released Night Visions as Night Visions, instead of  self-titled, means they can’t confidently say this is the sum total of Imagine Dragons. This defines us.

They can’t let go of any ideas. They can’t trim. Night Visions is all over the board. The opening track, “Radioactive” is really high energy, and kind of dubsteppy, reminiscent of Alex Clare’s “Too Close”. And then, suddenly, “Tiptoe” tiptoes its way through the 80’s.

“It’s time” is the song that gets the most play. I have shazamed it a couple times, trying to figure out what the song is playing behind the climactic montage of a dramatic TV show like Vampire Diaries Shameless or Grey’s Anatomy The Newsroom.

“On top of the world” sounds like a missing track from The Lion King soundtrack. There’s a bunch of clapping, and some whistling sounds, and a full chorus in on the vocals, and it’s all very confusing where it came from.

If you told me that “Hear Me” was a Killers song that was accidentally burnt onto the wrong CD, I wouldn’t even question it.

The rest of Night Visions is just variations on the same. There are a few highlights, with a little bit for everyone, but everything for no one.”Radioactive” really stands out if you are in the mood for something that is aggressive, but isn’t metal or underground rap, or full on Skrillex. “It’sTime” is super infectious, and will get stuck in your head. If you like Augustana, or maybe The Script, you might like some of this album. Imagine Dragons is sort of like a weird mash-up of FUN. and The Killers, so if you would put “Mr. Brightside” on the same playlist as “Some Nights”, then Night Visions is definitely your huckleberry.

I liked parts of Night Visions, but it just isn’t a cohesive album. Overall, I give Night Visions three sub-genres out of five.

Dear Rihanna, get off my radio

Dear Rihanna, Get off my radio.

Shine Bright, Like A Daiymonn!

I know that isn’t likely to happen, considering the regularity with which your songs rise to the top of the charts. You know, the songs with deep lyrics that are reiterated until the meaning becomes clear, like “CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE! CAKE!” If you refuse to remove yourself from the airwaves, then please, for the love of all that is holy, enunciate! No matter how many times you say it in your latest song (39), I don’t know what a daiymonn is. I would shine bright like one if I thought you would go away.

Love, Jeff

p.s. the word count of your latest song is 386. “daiymonn[s]” occurs 39 times, meaning your song is 10.1% daiymonn. Here is a pie chart that illustrates the effect. Yay infographics!

Daiymonn pie chart