Various Cruel Summer

VariousCruel Summer
Every project Kanye West has been attached to so far has had a unifying, well-executed concept, elevating his artistry in the process. Even middling efforts like 808 and Heartbreaks had a binding idea at its core. Cruel Summer is a showcase for West's stable of G.O.O.D. Music artists and is definitely not his latest solo album, yet it's a curious release that's bereft of West's usual attention to quality control. It's not that West is absent from the proceedings; he's in the spotlight on several already released tracks like "Cold," so it's hard to finger what issue prevents this project from attaining the same level of cohesiveness as his past work. However, having to consciously accommodate others doesn't serve West well. On Cruel Summer, Big Sean, Pusha T, CyHi the Prince, Kid Cudi and 2 Chainz, among others, clamour for mic time. While there are definitely some worthwhile moments on "New God Flow," featuring a cameo from Ghostface, and "The Morning," with Raekwon, not to mention the speaker-rattler "Mercy," some of the posse cuts come off as tedious and directionless despite the inclusions of R. Kelly, Jay-Z and Mase. The production remains on the ornate and epic side throughout, so it's slightly disappointing that the lyrical content doesn't match the sonic ambition on display, which is the clear highlight. West enlists Hit-Boy and Noah '40' Shebib, among others, to help out, but Scottish beatmaker Hudson Mohawke makes the most favourable impression. His best contribution is "Bliss," a glorious, pixie-dusted R&B jewel that propels Teyana Taylor out of near-obscurity in a star turn alongside established crooner John Legend. Cruel Summer has too few of these transcendent moments and is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. (Universal)