Review of Watsky’s xInfinity

Watsky at Howard Theatre, November 2014

Watsky at Howard Theatre, November 2014

I’ve been a fan of Watsky dating back to his Cardboard Castles era. Known for his fast rapping abilities, Watsky’s music is an incredible blend of rapid fire witticisms, brilliant commentary on political and social issues, and heartfelt poetry about love, life, and death.

In November 2014, I even attended once of his concerts. There is nothing quite like standing in a crowd of several hundred people as everyone chants “work” at the start of “Moral of the Story.” It’s the kind of feeling that not only motivates you, but gives the sense that something is happening here. And if Watsky’s performance doesn’t sell you, then maybe the line of fans waiting to meet and chat with Watsky after the show will. And Watsky’s happy to say hey, take goofy pictures with, and sign a CD for anyone and everyone.

Since Cardboard Castles, Watsky has released two other albums. 2014’s All You Can Do and recently, x Infinity (pronounced “times infinity”). Most fans (myself included) struggled to imagine a follow-up to these incredible albums that could astonish and deliver as his music is known to do.

There is no way to prepare yourself for x Infinity. It is sexual, political, humorous, and other worldly. This is Watsky’s most ambitious work yet, that pushes the boundaries of rap along with the listener’s own opinions and perspectives. It’s eighteen (EIGHTEEN!) tracks of flithy beats, poetry spit like fire, and a soundscape that transports you to possible futures and imagined pasts, grappling with the issues and world that plague us in the present. This album is a grasp at infinity, a constellation of questions, ideas, and memories that are larger than Watsky, us, or even the world.

Preferred Way to Listen:  headphones, dark bedroom optional

Watsky’s x Infinity Track-By-Track Review

1. “Tiny Glowing Screens, Pt. 3” (5/5) As far as opening tracks go, this is stellar. Not only does it provide an invitation to the listener to partake in the world Watsky is opening the door to, but it builds a bridge between All You Can Do, where the previous installments of “Tiny Glowing Screens” can be found, and this new era. And the world Watsky is inviting is into? It’s a celebration, the prologue of a dystopian novel, a piece of Watsky’s psyche. This is humanity at its best and worst, cut and thrown like confetti into your earbuds. You can’t help but be stoked for what follows.

2. “Talking to Myself” (3/5) After such a punchy opening track, this piano, percussion, and poetry driven track is an abrupt shift. However, the hook and the gradual build in Watsky’s delivery are reminiscent of his past work. Even the topic of mental health isn’t a far cry from where he’s wandered before. Yet, this still feels fresh and adds to the multitude of topics tackled on this album. I don’t think it’s the best of what Watsky offers on this album, but it does a great job of touching on mental health issues while steering the listening for what comes next.

3. “Chemical Angel” (3/5) To me, this song is the natural progression from All You Can Do. It’s a trippy tune that once again speaks to Watsky’s own gripes with big phrama. Of all the tracks on this album, this is the one that sounds the most un-Watsky-like, yet is well tied into the issues Watsky doesn’t shy away from critiquing.

4. “Little Slice (feat. Danny Skyhigh McClain)” (3/5) This is what you get when you get topics of older Watsky with the sounds and collaborative talents of newer Watsky albums. Lyrically, it reminds me of sentiments expressed in “I.D.G.A.F.,” “Strong As an Oak,” and “Kick Monday.” The beat driving this song stops and starts, twists and turns, a motif throughout this album. It’s not as catchy or easy to sing along to as comparative tracks, but the soundscape and lyrics remain inviting and enjoyable.

5. “Springtime in New York” (3/5) This is an entirely different side of Watsky the rapper. It seems more in line with his spoken word poet self. Yet, despite my struggles with where to place this track within Watsky’s universe, it does a great job of setting the tone for the strengths of this album. It’s a rich soundscape, a narrative with touches of terror, and vocals that go a bit weird toward the end. This isn’t so much a song to sing along with, but a story to listen to and try to understand (it may take a couple of listens and some googling). I think it’s strangeness is what’s most compelling about this track.

6.  “Pink Lemonade” (4/5) This is where x Infinity really finds itself and begins to deliver social commentary and aggressive, well crafted sounds. The heart of this song’s message is the idea of “pink lemons,” a metaphor for all the fake things society sells us on from presidential candidates to diets.

7. “Don’t Be Nice” (4/5) What’s a Watsky album without a track celebrating his skills and prowess? The erratic beat returns, paired with hilarious lines (“your butt made me cry / I call it a boo-hooty”). While I don’t think it’s as strong as previous tracks in this vein such as “Whoa Whoa Whoa,” but the witticisms woven together and delivered perfectly along the scattered tempos are enough to remind the listener that Watsky is one talented dude, who is more than just someone who can spit it sick.

8. “Yes Britannia” (4/5) Again, another track whose sound doesn’t quite follow previous albums or even previous tracks, it does offer inklings of beats and tones from All You Can Do. It’s one of the few songs on this album that speaks to personal, romantic relationships. Yet it doesn’t ignore that the world is full of problems much bigger than the downfall of this relationship (cancer, shootings in Paris). It’s a surprisingly tender song to come from Watsky, but it isn’t unwelcome.

9. “Love Letters (5/5) A track that speaks to Watsky’s work ethic and approach to his craft isn’t anything new. Following in the footsteps of “Moral of the Story,” “Bet Against Me,” and “Never Let It Die,” Watsky spits a fierce piece of gratitude to his fans and other muses from musicians of a variety of genres to poets both dead and alive. Rich with references and wordplay, this is a great look into the world Watsky has made a place for himself in.

10. “Stick to Your Guns (feat. Julia Nunes)” (5/5) Originally released as a free track prior to the announcement of this album, this song bares a timely message about shootings and our responses to them presented from three different perspectives–shooter, the media, and a politician. It’s an enjoyable song that speaks to something larger and darker than this song might initially let on. It’s political and critical without shoving an opinions down your throat.

11. Brave New World (feat. Chaos Chaos)” (5/5) This track is rife with sci-fi references as a future not to far away for our world is painted. Sonically, it’s lush, building this world through haunting female vocals and other sounds shimmering briefly. The rapping is classic Watsky: catchy and witty with a twist of humor. This song deserves more than just to be heard; it’s something that rises and grows into something gargantuan meant for large stages, fireworks displays, and 4-D rides.

12. “Going Down” (5/5) It’s not Watsky without a track that’s sexual and tongue-in-cheek (See “The One” from All You Can Do). While some might initially write this off as a juvenile and raunchy discussion of oral sex, it’s really an incredible, sex positive (“fiendishly til you cum infinity times / and baby that isn’t a crime”) track that explores the social conditioning surrounding gender roles and fellatio. Of course, the brilliant examination is cushioned with hilarious lines such as “Let’s assume that the penis we’re dealing with sparkles the cleanest of all / penis penis on the wall / with those well proportioned balls.”

13. “Midnight Heart (feat. Mal Devisa)” (5/5) Watsky is a master collaborator, and this track speaks to his genius as knowing who to bring in on his projects. With vocals by Mal Devisa and the drumming done by twenty one pilots’ Josh Dun, it’s no wonder this song is so compelling. Dun’s drumming provides an incredible momentum for Mal Devisa’s shouts and Watsky’s rapping. This is one of the songs on this album that shows while Watsky can deliver on his own, his collaborations are crafted well above many of the pairings blasting on pop radio.

14. “Lovely Thing Suite: Conversations” (5/5) A heartfelt recounting of several conversations between Watsky and his father, both about death, approaches themes of growing up and parent-child relationships not uncommon to previous albums. The storytelling aspect of this suite is not unusual for Watsky who is known for exploring existential questions over the course of several tracks (See “Tiny Glowing Screens”) or recounting memories through lines are neither too prose-y or poetic to turn away the listener.

15. “Lovely Thing Suite: Knots” (5/5) Departing from Watsky’s own life experiences, this track dives into the history and psyche of a talented young pianist who attempts to take his life. It ends on a cliffhanger of the pianist tying the noose. Beautifully orchestrated lyrically and aurally, rap and piano melds together to form a visceral experience.

16. “Lovely Thing Suite: Roses” (3/5) While the themes in this song fit nicely within the suite, to me, it is the weakest of the four songs woven together. It’s meaning and narrative are a little harder to grasp and require some further reading and googling. Still, it provides a rich landscape of sound, that carries the listener through with ease.

17. “Lovely Thing Suite: Theories” (4/5) This song finishes out the suite, continuing where “Knots” left off, later pulling in Watsky’s father to the narrative, and tying together all the themes grappled with throughout the suite. This resolution to the story unfolded in the previous three tracks coalesces as a true testament to Watsky’s ability to take a variety of topics and tales and weave them together under a unifying theme not initially apparent. Most interestingly is the ending, Watsky’s line cut off and fading into the quiet chatter and sounds of a city street that the album started with.

18. “(Bonus Track) Exquisite Corpse [feat. Dumbfounded, Grieves, Adam Vida, Wax, Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Chinaka Hodge]” (3/5) This fun bonus track brings together Watsky’s love for storytelling and collaboration in the form of an exquisite corpse exercise with a dystopian theme. It’s a fun little extra that plays well with the themes on the album.

Overall Score: (4.1/5)

This album is bigger than Watsky, full of sounds, topics, and collaborations that stab at the world’s problems in an easy and enjoyable to consume manner. An eighteen track album without a single album that feels like it was crafted and tossed in with apathy is no easy feat. There’s growth in Watsky’s skills and sound without denying the listener the aspects that initially attracted them to him. The album falls short on tracks that set the listener on the sidelines of the party Watsky’s opening track invited the listener to join in and are hard to participate in. The strengths lay in the wit, critiques, and humor Watsky weaves with ease that have won listeners over in the past and will undoubtedly continue to earn applause and support.

Recommended Tracks:

“Tiny Glowing Screens, Pt. 3,” “Pink Lemonade,” “Stick to Your Guns (feat. Julia Nunes),” “Brave New World (feat. Chaos Chaos),” “Going Down,” “Midnight Heart (feat. Mal Devisa)”

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