Album Review: Watsky – Cardboard Castles

George Watsky, more commonly known as just Watsky, is an American rapper, spoken word poet and musician. He is originally from San Francisco, and has to date released six studio albums. Today, I will be talking about my personal favourite release, Cardboard Castles, which was released on March 12th 2013. This album made up the soundtrack of much of 2013 and 2014 for me because I became obsessed with the songs on it, Tori B Bearly and I just could not stop listening to it for a while. In fact, when Watsky was on tour for the release of this album, we immediately bought tickets as soon as a Glasgow date was announced and we were lucky enough to be able to see him at the O2 ABC on March 12th 2013. It was an amazing experience, and Watsky, at one point even climbed up onto the ceiling via a low overhang that passed over the stage. Anyway, I love this album, which is why I’ve decided to start here, but if you guys like what I’m doing I’d be happy to review his newer releases.

Also it’s not super relevant, but I regularly re-watch the Epic Rap Battles of History video where he plays Edgar Allan Poe, and you can and should check that out by clicking here

‘Fireworks’ opens with what sounds like the lighting of a firework, before blending in a high energy percussive beat, with fireworks exploding, and over that Watsky slams forward with a high energy, hard delivery. I really like the almost harsh backing, it’s high energy and really demands your attention as the track unfolds. I’ve always found that Watsky creates really fun, interesting rhymes and it’s one of the reasons why I like his music so much. 

‘Strong as an Oak’ also opens with a slightly esoteric percussive beat, it feels very acoustic, but blends with a really fun, and high energy guitar beat, and Watsky matches the vibe with his vocal delivery, still strong beats, but where the previous track was harsher and so the delivery was similar, this one is softer and so he mirrors that. I actually really liked the flow of it, it actually kind of reminded me of a sort of reggae beat. 

‘Moral of the Story’ is one of my favourite tracks on the album, it has weight to it, the fanfare and the frenzied melody really build and you begin to really see Watsky’s rap skills, he blends in faster, free flowing lines with more melodic elements to create a really richly texture and really clever track. I also love that he really hammers things home, not afraid to use expletives or graphic imagery, but it doesn’t come across as extraneous or unnecessary. 

‘Ugly Faces’ has an electronic driven melody, and it’s goofy too, I like that he doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s just something that loves performing and creating impressive wordscapes. I will admit back in 2013 I didn’t really care for this song, but it really grew on me, I’m not even sure why I didn’t like it back then except perhaps that I took myself too seriously at the time. But it’s a really strong song, with some tremendous lyrics, a whole lot happening vocally, and a really heavy, pervasive beat throughout. 

‘Skit #1’ much like with Ninja Sex Party, I have a soft spot for these little interludes where it’s just kinda silly, and this one in particular is really funny. 

‘Kill a Hipster (ft. Chinaka Hodge)’ is another highlight from this superb album, it has a really nice melody, and the back and forth between Chinaka Hodge and Watsky really works. Obviously their vocal styles are very different and the result is a song that blends in a quirky sort of contradictory energy. I’m amazed though by how much of the ambient noise is generated by Watsky though, these little vocal bits that add to his performances and flesh out the whole thing. Hodge was amazing in this by the way, as I said she works contrary to Watsky, cleaner, to his choppiness, but both incorporate together to create something really rich. I especially liked the Hipster invading the song, shaking up the style and melody towards the end of the song. 

‘Hey, Asshole (ft. Kate Nash)’ blends in the beautiful vocals of Nash with a softer, more melodic track, showing that Watsky has real range and skill. Again, I’m impressed by how he manages to absorb the ambient style of the track while still remaining authentic to his natural rap style delivery. This song is so catchy by the way, so much so that the summer after hearing it I accidentally sang it under my breath while out shopping and got such a dirty look from someone who thought I’d just called them an Asshole. 

‘All I Need Is One’ changes things up again, it’s feels far more familiar as a rap song, and again I am just blown away by Watsky flow and style, he creates a really charged vocal performance, and isn’t afraid to change things up, so you never know quite what you are getting. In this I particularly liked the rhymes and slant rhymes in the middle section, it was really clever and really fun. 

‘Tiny Glowing Screens, Part 1’ is a truly sensational track, both this and part two, they represent one complete musical experience that is both incredibly true and authentic, and again, he’s talking about the pervasive nature of technology creeping into our daily lives, and yet he expresses it in a way that’s genuine to himself. Like I said in a previous song, he takes his point and makes it well but isn’t afraid to be a little farcical as well. I really liked the discordant tones towards the end, like a computer dying, which ties in with the imagery of the track really well. 

‘Tiny Glowing Screens, Part 2’ expands on the previous section, but also really allows Watsky to dive into the spoken word poet aspect of his musical identity, and it’s really clever and really powerful. The objectively simple but poignant musical backing, against his strong delivery creates something really powerful. I am still so obsessed with this more than a decade later, it’s not just the overall impact, because honestly there’s not a wasted line, each word is like a sledgehammer just hitting you with relentless grace. 

‘Sloppy Seconds’ is another song that became part of my day to day soundtrack, the previous song is for sure my favourite on the entire album, it’s just amazing, but it’s also not one you can listen to on repeat just because of the specific nature of it whereas this one is more chill and care-free and it really works, it’s catchy with a nice beat and vibe and you just get caught up in the story telling and the high energy rhythm of the track. 

‘Dedicated to Christina Li’ slows things down again, ambient tones and softer guitar creating a smoother, softer backdrop, it’s nice because it adds a little diversity to the overall sound of the album. Again, I don’t remember this track back from 2013 but listening to it now it’s a really incredible piece of music, bittersweet and melodic and really pure. 

‘Skit #2’ adds in a little brightness after an objectively sadder song, and again even though they are a little bizarre I just love these fun little skits and interludes between Watsky and Norton Leufven. 

‘The Legend of Hardhead Ned (ft. Dylan Saunders)’ is kinda an outlier compared to the tracks, it’s a very fun inclusion and it really shakes things up but it doesn’t feel like it works as cleanly as part of a greater whole than the other tracks. That being said, it’s really cool, Watsky really knows how to tell a story. This actually reminds me a little of ‘Captain Albert Alexander’ by Steam Powered Giraffe, which I talked about here. But yeah, it’s just really clever and fun, and I suppose that fits thematically with the rest of the album even if the music itself doesn’t as much. 

‘Cardboard Castles’ opens with more melodic vocals, where we hear Watsky harmonising with himself creating a really rich musical blend. Not only does this track shoulder the responsibility of being the title track really well, but it’s also a super good track. It’s catchy and memorable and flows really well. 

‘Send In the Sun’ closes things off nicely, opening with some more quirky percussive elements before mixed vocals explode forward, overall much like ‘The Legend of Hardhead Ned’ this one is different from the vibe from the overall album but it’s really enjoyable, it has a nice energy to it, and ties things together really well. 

So that’s what I thought of Watsky’s album ‘Cardboard Castles’ and if you want to check that out for yourself then head on over to Spotify. While you’re at it, make sure and support the artist by following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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