Watsky and the art of complaining

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Hip hop as a genre has never managed to hold my attention. That’s not really the fault of the music, it just isn’t for me. In spite of that though, I have always had a soft spot for Watsky. From humble beginnings as one of YouTube’s earliest hits, Watsky was always determined to be more than a novelty act or one-hit wonder. You may not know about it, but Watsky has been turning out full-length albums since 2009’s Guilty Pleasures. His back catalogue spans numerous projects, albums, EPs and collaborations that show off a huge range and willingness to explore every facet of his own personal style.

All of that exploration comes to a head on COMPLAINT, Watsky’s fifth LP and first release since 2016. It’s a short album and it’s not as ambitious as his previous concept album X Infinity, but it’s everything it ever needed to be. The album is fun and easy listening, filled with Watsky’s usual brand of accessible but groovy beats and lyrics that perfectly balance sincerity with humour.

A lot of these tracks reflect Watsky’s personal philosophy of compassion, kindness and love above everything else. The lead single, “Welcome to the Family”, is a gorgeous song about loving yourself and others no matter your personal demons. “Limo 4 Emos,” possibly my favourite track on the album, is about wading through sadness to find the happiness on the other end (and accepting the help you might need to get that done).

There are a few other interesting things going on here too: “All Like Whatever” is a delightful tongue-in-cheek love song that satirizes the way our society encourages burying our feelings deep. “Mean Ass Drunk” is pretty self-explanatory, but it stands out in Watsky’s back catalogue, both in terms of its lyrics and rock-influenced beat. Similarly, “Feels Alright” is a heavy and aggressive track that’s only matched by “Midnight Heart” from X Infinity. It’s an eye-opening and incisive take on the general, societal numbness that “All Like Whatever” gestures towards.

The closing track “Whitecaps” is one of the most lyrically fascinating things Watsky has ever made. He places the ending of a relationship into the wider context of human conflict, wondering aloud what more he could have done for his former partner, or for women’s rights, or the ice caps. It’s not the strongest track on the record but it’s a fascinating note to close on; throughout COMPLAINT, Watsky has shown a way to grow without necessarily experimenting. While it’s not the bold new direction X Infinity was, it’s still nothing like we’ve heard from him before. Instead of becoming something entirely new for this record, Watsky has allowed his style to mature and the results are spectacular.

 

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