We all know that Kanye West is seemingly as mad as your granny’s knitted frog tea cosy and that he probably has each facet of his brain compartmentalised into little miniature dustbins marked “hissy fits and tantrums”, “egotistical rants” and “incomprehensible behaviour”. We know that. What is perhaps most surprising, though, is that the dustbin stamped “G.O.O.D. Music” has, over the past dozen years since West’s label’s inception, pretty much lived up to its name. In HXLT, it may even have found its pièce de résistance. The Chicagoan’s self-titled debut album is a sprawling success that transcends genres respectfully acknowledges the past and rips up the present with joyful abandon.
The broodingly atmospheric ‘Reaper‘ is a captivating way to begin, the grey clouds of darkness eventually giving way to a piano fuelled refrain of glorious uplift. It’s the track that follows, though, ‘Why‘, which really grabs your attention; basslines of throbbing intensity before a Marco Pirroni type “Huh!” and some wonderful shimmering guitars increase the fervour still further.
‘Sick‘ sounds, at first, as though it is going to be a faithful homage to the type of jangly guitar twee pop that largely dominated the indie charts at the tail end of the eighties, but then explodes into an uproariously tantalising rap-rock song that would turn The Beastie Boys green with envy. Granted, it’s followed by ‘Tonight‘, which is the kind of modern R&B fodder that infiltrates the mainstream Hot 100 on both sides of the Atlantic these days, but really that just highlights the breadth of material on HXLT, a trend which is continued with the brilliant moody growl of ‘Rock N Roll‘ – “I wanna rock ‘n’ roll your face off,” elicits the singer/rapper enigmatically. Well quite.
Clearly, though, it is obvious that HXLT has a deep love of music of all forms. As much as I could try to persuade you that his world is informed by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, RUN DMC or LL Cool J, the truth is that it’s equally feasible that Joy Division, The Police or Fun Lovin’ Criminals are sources of major inspiration for the guy. Hell, ‘Together‘ even features vocals (from Kathleen Hanna) that sound akin to Shonen Knife performing something by The Go-Gos.
The absence of the apparent musical snobbery mindset that has become commonplace in the 21st century is a refreshing development and a path that certain other artists might do well to take heed of. A breath of fresh air.