Placement, by Watsky
Suggested by Rico James
When I saw Watsky’s name pop up, I was genuinely thrilled.
I’ve reviewed Watsky’s work before, you see. Back in Album 169, I reviewed his fourth album, X Infinity, giving it a wholly impressive 8/10. The score ain’t the whole story, mind; I rated as one of the best 8/10’s to date, and after two hundred albums it was firmly in my Top 10. In my review, I called it a brilliant album, and praised Watsky for his exacting, polished density, and songs that oozed talent.
Placement is Watsky’s latest album, released in March 2020, and thus represents his current state of mind and approach to the rap genre. Sadly, it’s evident almost immediately that while the same machine-gun technique and rapid-fire lyrical precision is present, Watsky himself appears to be mired in some dark places that shroud the album in a fury that’s part impenetrable and part acridly hostile.
In X Infinity, I made a great deal of noise about Watsky’s variety and range, as the songs on board were intriguing, buoyant and uplifting. The majority came from confrontational and shadowed places, sure, such as the incredible Stick to Your Guns and its school shooting narrative, but they were always engaging and they never felt bleak. From track one of Placement, the pseudo-titular Advanced Placement, to the final track Black Hole Eyes, this album is delivered with a strange mix of anger and derision that does little to draw me in and excite me in the manner I’d hoped.
Lyrically, Watsky is as acerbic as ever, but here he dawdles down the unfathomable road of Being Impenetrable, like so many rappers before him. While in X Infinity I lauded his clarity and directness of message, in Placement, in the speedier sections of songs such as Undermine or the sprawling Dreams & Boxes, I find myself losing the flow, comprehension adrift, becoming an outsider looking in rather than someone in the thick of the story and emotionally attached. There are fragmented high spots, such as the great line in my standout Border In My Heart – “If that was too vague / Donald J Trump is a thug and a plague / and if he signed your check you belong in the Hague” – but these high spots serve to again highlight the difference between this and X Infinity. I find highlights in Placement appear as pinpricks across a darkening sky, but in X Infinity I loved the entire damn tapestry.
Maybe it’s the music that’s underpinning the verse. It’s more cohesive and themed across the whole album, rather than the eclectic and invigorating piecemeal of his earlier work. It’s still layered, but I feel the nuance is muted, and the lo fi chic isn’t aspirational or provocative. I much preferred the open-air twists and turns of X Infinity to the dusky and dangerous back alleys present here.
As with all Watsky’s output, there’s definitely a lot of stuff to pick out and absorb in the 5/10 Placement. But unlike his earlier work, it seems the artist is not particularly bothered if you want to get involved. While that may be a measure of Watsky’s maturation as a rapper, I do mourn the more electric and emotive younger man that has been left behind in this dash for modern relevance.