Album Review: Cardboard Castles

An album review from Teen Blogger, Jonathan

"There’s seven billion, forty-seven million people on the planet and I have the audacity to think I matter.” Have you ever heard a lyric that just hits you like a ton of bricks and changes your entire worldview for a second? 

George Watsky seems to be an expert in crafting those kinds of lines. The spoken word poet made his rap debut with Watsky, but his second album, Cardboard Castles was where he really started to pick up speed. The album combines all the best elements of spoken word and rap in a way that makes it accessible to those who have no experience with either genre.

Aside from the lyrics, the most unique thing about Cardboard Castles is its focus on acoustic instruments, something that's relatively rare in rap music. Most songs on the album feature prominent acoustic guitar parts, usually coupled with bass guitar, piano, and drums. The album’s instrumentals often sound more like Roots than Hip Hop, and that sound is integrated differently to match the theme of each song, like the laidback trumpet section in “Strong As An Oak” or the gospel choir of “Send In The Sun.” This creates a melodic backing for Watsky’s rapping, and is one of the things that makes the album so accessible. The album’s hooks aren’t just brief interludes from an onslaught of syllables, they all genuinely add something to the song. The album also has its share of clever sampling, such as creating an intricate drum beat out of recordings of fireworks in the opening track.

The instrumentals are great, especially for the genre, but the real draw of Cardboard Castles is the lyrics.

I mean, Watsky is literally a poet right?

And as I mentioned before, the lyrics are nothing short of phenomenal. The album tackles so many deep and complicated themes, and handles all of them with both cleverness and sophistication. “Dedicated to Christina Li” talks about realizing a person’s worth too late. “Fireworks” describes Watsky’s uphill battle to make it in the music industry. “Send In The Sun” talks about suicide and the way some people are pressured into always being happy.

The album is filled with absolutely shattering lines like the one I quoted at the start of this review (from “Tiny Glowing Screens Part 2”) or “Y’know the red giant in sector 2? Yeah, Hector, true, he was a depressing dude. I think he thought no one thought about him and now that I think about it I’m liable to guess it’s true” (“Send In The Sun”) The being said, the album does a good job of spreading these out with lighter songs so that the listener never gets overwhelmed. “Strong As An Oak” is a laidback song about enjoying life, even at its hardest. “Kill A Hipster” simultaneously parodies hipster culture and gangster rap. These songs give the listener a mental break, but still bring a lot of interesting themes to the table.

Cardboard Castles is a brilliant album that manages to appeal to both fans of rap and people who have never seriously listen to it. The creative and melodic backings for each song make the album accessible, while the astoundingly deep lyrics make it unforgettable.

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