7.1 out of 10. Definitely a passing score, right? It won’t get you Pitchfork’s coveted “Best New Music” or anything but it isn’t a critical lashing. If you’re a lo-fi minimalist electronic artist from Detroit biting your nails in worry over the career-deciding Forking of your debut offering, upon opening the page and seeing that 7.1 stamped in bold on the right hand side you’re going to breathe a sigh of relief. They like me! Sure, there’s a few things they aren’t into, but overall they like me and my Spotify streams will increase and I’ll get gigs and interviews for at least the next year.
Now let’s say you’re that same artist and you open up your review and, instead of looking at the official rating, you skim the text first. Lines such as these start leaping out at you like axe murderers from your closet:
“It is undoubtedly a low point in (his) career.”
“Seven tracks he farted out”
“The diminutive title feels appropriate.”
“Vacant of soul”
“Attempts at iconoclasm building up to exactly nothing”
“It would be convenient to say that (this record) fails because of his persona. It remains unclear exactly when (he) lost the map.”
“The production is a re-gifted grab-bag”
“Thoroughly, exhaustingly boring”
“Feels rickety, almost, as if removing a bassline would send the whole thing toppling”
“It’s as if he’d completely forgotten the music.”
Oh man, you would be thinking. This is a very severe critical panning right here. This is going to be a 4.2 for sure. Maybe even lower. Maybe they’ll just go all Jet on my ass and post a video of an ape pissing in its own mouth. Either way, I better finish that last year of school and relegate this music thing to the hobby zone.
If this really were a review of an obscure lo-fi minimalist electronic artist from Detroit, it would definitely be a 4.2. But instead it’s a review of the new Kanye West album, an artist about which their very own site has spent a good decade spreading wide scale cultural propaganda. They haven’t simply enjoyed the guy’s music over all these years. They’ve elevated him to the level of an infallible genius at life itself. Everything he said or touched was spun into instant gold in the Arial fonts of the Fork headquarters at such a pummeling volume that they helped to create a mass-acceptance of this “fact” from the mainstream media on down to the kids at the skate park saving their allowances for that next pair of Yeezy kicks.
But then Mr. West done went and started thought crime-ing, doing and saying things that went directly against the always-shifting foundations of Fork-mandated behavior, thinking lines, and ideals. Their “genius” had run amok! Their poster boy was malfunctioning and tearing up the house! Their little angel was struggling at school! And like all baffled parents, they just haven’t known what to do about it. The years they’ve invested building this guy into a cultural icon. The endless column space. What will Conde’ Nast think now? We’ve co-signed a guy who proudly rocks MAGA hats and lives in Wyoming for chrissakes!
Even worse, he’s started putting out actual bad music. But still they can’t bring themselves to pan it. They can’t bring themselves to admit that they were, yes, wrong about something. This horrifically sub-par record still gets a 7.1 even though Meaghan Garvey clearly hated it, as starkly evidenced by her own pen in the pull quotes above.
We usually enjoy Garvey’s reviews, but she falters quite a bit here under a monstrous task: Stating the obvious about this being a half-assed piece of trash record while simultaneously attempting to justify her Fork Overlords’ long love affair with the artist, a sordid makeout fest that has played a major role in the artistic breakdown being covered here. This is a horrible assignment, and Meaghan most likely didn’t want it. What infraction has she committed around the Fork office to be saddled with this? It wasn’t just failing to empty the K Cup container on the Keurig machine. This had to be something major.
Right from the start Garvey falls into the easy trap of equating questionable politics/behavior with bad artistry:
“West proudly donned a Trump-autographed MAGA hat, sputtered that slavery seemed like a choice, and offered a steady stream of empty platitudes urging his followers to “stop thinking so much””
We know all this stuff already, of course, since it’s been hammered home by every single news feed/blog etc. for months on end. But what about the music? Is Garvey trying to tell us that this behavior is what had led to a bad album? Hasn’t the guy always been a prick? What if he had released something revelatory in light of all this? Something that slapped way hard? This rundown of sins would still be in the review, for sure, but it would be followed with a spiel about how, in light of all this off-brand behavior, our boy done gone and built a masterpiece. See! It was all just a ruse performed by this demented genius! In light of this, Garvey’s laundry list of naughty Kanye deeds falls way short in helping to explain away a mess of an album.
And then there’s this:
“It is at the very least not West’s alt-right album.”
But what if it was? And what if it was awesome? Like Yeezus on DMT? Wouldn’t that be a conundrum? But alas the record is not awesome, and the fact that it isn’t an alt right propaganda piece is being used by Pitchfork Media to justify giving it a 7.1 rating. We can’t even…..
When the review really gets wokedy-woke is when it really starts losing its grip.
“Yeezy Yeezy trolling OD, ha!/Turn TMZ to Smack DVD, ha!” he scoffs in an anesthetized Juvenile flow on the aptly-named “Yikes.”
This line actually sounds really clever to us. Remember Smack DVDs? Not a whole lot different than TMZ, right? If this were to come from the pen of, say, Chief Keef on his latest mixtape it would most likely be praised in Fork Land. But no, this is Kanye and Ye has officially stepped out of line.
“He is referring to his recent visit to the gossip site’s headquarters, where he was duly humiliated by a newsroom employee after suggesting slaves should have simply emancipated themselves and invoking the right-wing dog whistle of black-on-black crime in his hometown of Chicago.”
Look, we’re just trying to enjoy the only banger track on this record, ok? We can’t do that? Oh god, here they come again:
““Yikes” offers no further insight into West’s beliefs”
Since when does a hot rap track have to provide insights into the artist’s beliefs? Didn’t ya’ll just praise that last Playboi Carti record to the skies? This review even goes so far as to take what many consider to be one of the greatest rap world disses of the year, a line that’s the best thing on this record and a brief glimmer of that old “genius” lurking beneath the mire, and ruin it by completely missing the point:
“He flips Russell Simmons’ rape allegations into a cringey #MeToo punchline; his conclusion is relief that it isn’t him in the hot seat.”
Was Kanye not simply pointing out that Uncle Rush vilified him for his political thoughts and then was exposed as a monster in his actions? It seems like the entire internet got this one (check out that meme going around) except for Pitchfork, but this is keeping in line with their consistent slandering of any artist that walks against one of the many Conde’-age Zero Tolerance Policies firmly in place at their publication. Take for yet another example this line referencing a track Kanye wrote for his daughter:
“This from the guy who once defended, in all caps, Bill Cosby’s innocence.”
So a guy with an admittedly icky opinion about something can’t love his daughter, Pitchfork? You wouldn’t have even brought that up if the song was in any way good (it isn’t).
At several points the review veers dangerously close to the anti-art category, a place The Fork seldom goes and would be wise to avoid in the future. Over several lines criticizing the opening track, Garvey falls away from legitimate complaints about negligible beats and half-baked wordplay and into the terrible trap of criticizing artistic expression itself:
“These are not easy statements to hear.”
Since when does art have to go down easy? When wielding this line as criticism you’re officially in dangerous territory, and Harvey doesn’t do very well in trying to climb her way out:
“In his world, self-expression justifies itself, and speaking your most twisted thoughts out loud is an act of bravery, one that makes “I Thought About Killing You” not just a fine thing to write and share, but a work made from a place of love.”
It’s inquisition time at Pitchfork, people. It’s back to the book burnings. It’s the PMRC. Keep that art clean! Or the massive Fork shall blot you right out. Unless, of course, it happens to be a banging track, because if “I Thought About Killing You” was indeed a banging track (it’s not) then none of this anti-artistic expression propaganda would be here in this review.
Of course, Meaghan Garvey is too stellar a critic to falter too hard. There’s a very good critical panning buried within all the “DEAR GOD LOOK AT THE MONSTER WE’VE CREATED” flailings on harsh surface display. Garvey’s Nas fantasy is dead on and is one of the top lines of the year:
“You can almost picture Nas in the Jackson Hole ski lodge, resting a solemn hand on West’s shoulder: “You’re 40 now, Ye. It’s time for your ‘as a father of daughters’ song.””
It’s a real shame she wasn’t allowed to run with more of this imagery. Flat-out making fun of this record would have been a lot more effective than scolding Kanye right into think piece territory. Seriously, how dead on is this:
“As an art-making ethos, “first thought, best thought” works great for beat poetry and hardcore.” (but not for Kayne, obviously)
Also effective are her takedowns of “the foul inner mechanics of brand management” and the massively overused “canceled” term. Garvey goes way hard at West’s record release party as well, accusing this alleged “free thinker” of purchasing the goodwill of the music industry (she’s so right). All of this makes you wish upper management would have let her run with the dagger piece she so clearly thirsted for, sidestepping all the behavioral chastising and moralizing and getting right down to just how much this record blows.
A good lawyer could probably get Pitchfork off on self defense for this scam 7.1 rating. After all, running a dagger through an artist they’ve spent years hyping as the “generation’s most reliable innovator” would be like stabbing Pitchfork itself.