Posted by Matt D'Ippolito on 03/01 at 06:15 PM
Kid Cudi’s foray into rock with producer Dot da Genius isn’t bad, but it certainly won’t wow listeners. Upon first hearing about the project, the first thing so many Cudi fans surely thought was, “this will either be great or terrible,” as is usually the case when artists cross genres. Somehow, the WZRD duo managed to fall right in between those two extremes.
It should be noted, though, that WZRD‘s eponymous debut can’t be strictly classified as rock—Cudi’s hip hop background is clearly evident on most tracks, especially early on in the album. Songs like “The Dream Time Machine” and “Brake” straddle the space between rock and hip hop, which should come as no surprise based on the heavy rock influence in much of Cudi’s earlier work (see “Erase Me”). In fact, “Brake” has the same droning vocals that can be heard on some of the big hits from his first album, like “Day ‘N’ Night” and “Pursuit of Happiness.” The major difference is its edgier sound, which contrasts sharply with the smooth tunes we’ve come to expect from Cudi.
The introductory, instrumental track “The Arrival” gets the album off to a cool start, combining Cudi’s dark guitar riff and a canned rock drumbeat with even darker synths and orchestral chords to provide an undercurrent. It sounds like something out of a dystopian action film before WZRD launches into the second track, “High Off Life,” a rock-hip hop fusion song with a chorus that features Cudi shouting out the song’s title in a manner similar to something the Beastie Boys might do. Despite that, it provides a decent pump-up song.
If any one song on this album is sure to be a big hit, it’s “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie.” The track was originally released as one of two singles—the other being “Brake”—on the original expected release date, January 30 (Cudi’s birthday) to hold fans over until the album was finished.
The song is a soft, yearning love song about the feeling of loneliness in a long distance relationship, probably during college, based on the opening lines “getting in from the airport, you getting in from the study group / the only thing missing now is bona fide chillin’ time with you.” It’s the kind of sappy, heartfelt song that is sure to melt girls’ hearts and drive them crazy (in a good way).
After an intro that starts with high strings accompanied by a crackling that sounds like a vinyl record was just started, reverberant synths begin climbing up in pitch with snaps and bass drum beats announcing the end of each bar. Cudi’s reverb-saturated vocals come in next, at a soft, intimate level. Finally, the guitar fades into a relaxed rhythm and Cudi whines out a stronger version of his signature vocals, crying out how much he misses his girl as the bass drum and cymbals keep a more forceful beat. At the hook, the synths get more bassy and ethereal female backing vocals join in. It’s every bit the longing love song, and easily the best on the album.
“Love Hard” may also be set to become one of the more successful songs from this venture with its catchy hook. He hits the last word hard and allows the pitch to cascade down as he repeats the line “Follow your heart.” But at the same time, it seems as though he reached so hard for a contemporary rock and roll tune that the final product feels cliche and uninspired. It also gets a bit disjointed, quickly picking up at the break after the second time the chorus plays before abruptly moving into slow ‘80s synths.
“Live and Learn” is another one of the more closely straight rock tunes on the album. Its verses have the slightest tinge of a Caribbean influence on them that gives them the feel of a Police song. It is based around a very simple guitar riff with a tapping cymbal and snare beat. In the chorus, the song suddenly shifts to a heavier hard rock, almost metal sound. At the end, the song falls off into an extremely slow beat with a rather annoying grating sound repeating itself. The whole thing, while catchy, is unfortunately a little bit awkward.
One of the most intriguing tracks had to be WZRD‘s cover of Nirvana’s rendition of traditional American folk song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” The cover is strikingly similar to Nirvana’s in all but the timbre: as opposed to Kurt Cobain’s jangly guitar and rough voice, Cudi utilizes a fairly standard electric guitar sound and heavy synthesized bass with an electronic drumbeat moving the song forward underneath. Halfway through the song, he adds a creepy, omnipresent vocal line with a lot of presence.
Most of the remaining songs on the album are pretty forgettable, such as the dark but boring “The Dream Time Machine,” which lasts too long and sounds like something Roger Waters might have written while entirely too stoned. “Dr. Pill” is equally lackluster, despite starting out with what could have become a promising dance beat and having a really catchy hook, “when I look in the mirror I don’t know who this dude is / staring right back at me.” The electronica-sounding song does nothing very exciting and feels out of place on this album, especially considering it comes after the only acoustic track, “Efflcitim.”
“Efflictim” consists only of Cudi’s lyrics and awkward humming over rapid guitar strumming, with occasional cello underneath and an ebbing and flowing piano that comes in halfway through. But the song, like “Dr. Pill,” doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything exciting.
The album finishes well, too. “The Upper Room” is one of those songs that sounds more hip hop or electronica than rock with its heavy use of distorted, otherworldly synth sounds and lofty strings and bells. The heavenly soundscape contrasts with some of the more arrogant lyrics, like “if you walk in my shoes / would you survive?” and the humorous “most people are pussies,” while fitting well with other, triumphant and enlightened ones.
As a whole, the album is okay, with a few good tracks and a lot of lukewarm ones. If you’re only going to download one song from this album, make it “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie.” Most of the other songs just seem like they had a lot of potential and were on the verge of being something great, but didn’t quite make it. It’s like they’re missing a little something. The major influences on this album that Kid Cudi claimed, such as Pink Floyd, the Pixies, Nirvana and Hendrix, are obvious, and the fusion of rock and hip hop was not unnatural, which is unsurprising based on Cudi’s past work. It’s just that this album had no wow factor.
On the other hand, Kid Cudi’s first two albums had set the bar very high. And WZRD‘s debut did prove that a bad day for Cudi is still better than a good day for so many other artists.
Author: Matt D'Ippolito
Bio: Matthew D’Ippolito is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at Penn State with minors in political science and music technology. He plans on writing for Rolling Stone or Variety one day. Matt enjoys reading, playing sax, hiking and fishing. He enjoys a wide variety of music, but some favorites are punk, indie rock, classic rock, dubstep, jazz and classical. His favorite bands at the moment are Titus Andronicus, Streetlight Manifesto, Cloud Cult, Explosions in the Sky and ZOX.
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