Wednesday, May 2, 2018

album review: 'beerbongs & bentleys' by post malone

I've made it no secret that I have issues with Post Malone. Hell, most of you probably have seen my review of Stoney where I panned the record for being flaccid, sloppily produced, excruciatingly performed, awfully written, and generally a complete chore to get through, or you've seen how he's wound up on multiple year-end lists for the worst hit songs of various years. And that's before we get to his comments surrounding hip-hop as an artform and how if you're looking for emotional, evocative music, don't listen to hip-hop, which reveals far more about the mercenary attitude beneath the good-natured, doofy demeanor that makes all the posturing look utterly transparent. And frankly I didn't know how he can walk away from that - for Post Malone to be within the culture and not aware of artists who can deliver a poignant, powerful message, he'd have to be impressively ignorant, utterly callous, or a complete moron - possibly all three.

But the unfortunate truth is that he has been enabled and allowed to walk away from it, because his massive audience of white kids just looking for something to vibe to don't give a shit about hip-hop culture that inspires the art form and aren't going to stop listening to him on Spotify, which is why this album is breaking streaming records. But I do care about hip-hop culture and history: yes, I know I'm not really a part of it but I can sure as hell respect it, and when I look at my long-standing qualifiers for artistic culture exchange - know and respect the foundation points and history, work with those in the community, and then deliver something of quality - Post Malone at most gets one out of three. And thus while I knew for this channel's viability that I had to cover this record - yeah, 'Candy Paint' is on it, but so is 'rockstar', a song I genuinely despise, and the damn thing is over an hour long - I cannot say I was looking forward to it. But hey, Post Malone has made songs that are tolerable, maybe this won't be that bad?

Alright, here's the truth of it: I don't think it can be denied that beerbongs & bentleys is a better record than Stoney. The production is markedly better, Post Malone is marginally more competent on the microphone, there's a little more forward momentum, and just the existence of 'Candy Paint' elevates this project. But also by its existence it illuminates the vast expanse of droning empty trap warbles that you have to endure to get to it, and the second you dig even a little deeper it's easy to uncover a much more unlikable record than you would expect from someone like Post Malone. And yes, I am going to call this out because even if you're not supposed to think about this music, you just know that if this record had meatier content the fans would be trumpeting it to the high heavens - he's not getting out easy here.

And might as well start with Post Malone himself, and let me get the personal nitpicks out of the way first: even by the standards of oversold autotuned crooning, Post Malone gets on my nerves. I don't deny that like an artist like T-Pain or early Kesha Post Malone is using the autotune to accentuate whatever personality he has, but he's doing it to accentuate his ugly warble that sounds like a cross between vibrato, yodeling, and getting tazed in the nuts. It sounds absolutely grating, and with every added layer of autotune it only seems to accentuate how limited he is as a singer to hold a damn note. And that's a real problem when you consider the persona that Post Malone is trying to project, because not only does he want to be seen as rich and successful, but also as a sensitive and introspective artist-type - and added layers of forced artificiality add a significant crack in that veneer.

Of course, the much bigger crack is the content - and here's where I'm going to say something surprising: I don't really mind Post Malone flexing or reveling in pure shallow debauchery. There's a place for that sort of music, and one of the reasons 'Candy Paint' is a genuinely great song is that it captures that glossy, quietly exultant feel of being on top - it sounds content in a really chill, appealing way. But then you see the rest of this record in contrast and you realize two things: one, on most of his party songs Post Malone doesn't sound like he's having any fun; and two, his attempts to place himself above the debauchery feel either hypocritical as hell or just flat out bullshit. In the first case, this is more of an issue of the production, but the flagrantly unconvincing flexing is just as much of a factor, with 'rockstar' being the biggest example of this as he tries and fails to equate himself with rock icons because of his debauchery but he's such an unthreatening and unconvincing presence that it makes an already miserable song that much worse, especially when you realize he and 21 Savage don't compare themselves to other rappers because that would expose how damn shallow they are within the larger genre. And 'Paranoid' falls in a similar category - not only does the production fail to cultivate any menace whatsoever, the paranoia feels about as unsupported as Drake's did on Views - and of course then you get the lines about not picking any sides after a reference to politics, which exposes that a.) you've long had enough privilege not to care and b.) you're just a shallow fence-sitter anyway. But then we get the kiss-off songs at women he thinks are shallow like 'Spoil My Night' even as he mentions her 'beautiful boobies', or how on 'Same Bitches' he always sees the Instagram models at the club who he thinks are trying to leech off of him - dude, if they have a million followers on Instagram, they're probably doing just fine without you! And when you factor in how angry he tries to get on 'Over Now' or the 'sluts grabbing on his nuts' on 'Rich and Sad', it's very hard for me to take him seriously or feel sympathy when he has the drunken mess of 'Takin' Shots' where he says he speaks 'drunkanese', or with the empty flexing of 'Psycho' or 'Blame It On Me' where he tries to halfheartedly step away from the debauchery and fails. Again, it's not the flexing that bothers me so much as the hypocrisy and the pretension that he's above it, and that's not even getting to his post-breakup bitching like on 'Rich And Sad' and 'Better Now' and 'Otherside', which bring a pettiness that really clashes with his delivery in an ugly way - and that's not even getting to songs like 'Zack And Codeine' where he's complaining about people copying him when if it wasn't for Future and Young Thug Post Malone wouldn't have a career!

And I can't say the production really helps him here. Yes, it's marginally better in that there isn't so much ugly tonal clash between the trap percussion and melodic backdrop, most of which consists of watery guitars and keys suffocated in reverb. But even slightly improved mixing doesn't help the fact that so many of these songs embrace a downbeat melancholic vibe that doesn't so much feel introspective or thoughtful but turgid and dank, with a lot of songs starting to run together. It's one reason that even though the overblown drums on 'Over Now' sound utterly ridiculous - seriously, they sound like something a Soundcloud rapper would try - they at least add some character along with those sharper, minor key strums. And then we get the damp keys that might feel a little atonal like on 'Spoil My Night' and 'Ball For Me' - the latter really only saved by Nicki Minaj not trying - or even that shimmering tone that clashes with the odd beeps on 'Sugar Wraith', which tries for a weird interpolation of Sugar Ray's 'Fly' and really is only interesting for the Anthony Fantano reference. I mention them more because they feel distinct rather than outright good, unfortunately, which is much of the same case for the acoustic cut 'Stay', where to Post Malone's credit he at least seems to ride the muted bass and electric solo decently to characterize falling into debauchery to avoid dealing with relationship issues... even opposite lines on the prechorus where he talks about 'putting this girl out of her misery', which has a much darker connotation that I think he knows! Hell, that's even the case with songs like 'Blame It On Me' which actually has a darker trap groove but is not sold all that well, or 'Jonestown (Interlude)', which could be subversive with the brighter tones chosen on the guitar, until you realize it's just framed as an excuse for Post Malone to keep on flexing, so there's no real arc whatsoever and any sense of pathos is forgotten.

And that's really where I fall most on this album: if it was content to just wallow in empty flexing against brighter production... look, it'd be pretty one-dimensional but I'd probably like it more! Instead Post Malone spends a much bigger chunk of this record complaining or miserable and he has nowhere close to the dramatic presence as a performer or the writing to pull it off. It's painfully shallow but it's been enabled by privilege and an uncaring audience to be convinced of its depth, when in reality it's the sort of flimsy slog that'll burn out the second the trend dies from overexposure. And for me... yeah, 4/10, not really recommended, but 'Candy Paint' is at least a good song, and the rest... yeah, it's only a matter of time before Post Malone falls out, probably in the same overexposure album bomb that has hurt plenty of trap acts this year. Really, just a matter of time.

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