The cleric of psychonaut rap returns to the manic-depressive zen of his Man on the Moon records with a new set of introspective dance anthems for the afterparty crowd.
Coming down from his forays into Cobainian alt-rock, Kid Cudi blends turbulently spiritual poetry and doped-out atmospheric cadences in Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ — to make a triumphant statement as an artist who has long stumbled through the desperate limelight of compulsive hedonism and fame.
His sixth effort, this album is not so much a collection of songs, but rather an experiment in transcendence, clarity, and the enthusiastic abandonment of both in the throes of existential crisis and lumbering depression. If that doesn’t sound theatrical enough, it’s divided into four acts (much like Man on the Moon).
Cudi sets the stage with the opening track “Frequency” — an ambient, deep-roller laced with dirty southern rhythm revealed through the psychedelic lens of producers Mike Dean and Plain Pat. This track drips with the kind of subwoofer seduction generally reserved for 3 a.m. warehouse parties on the outskirts of town. Its hypnotic, salacious lyrics invite you to “tune on into the frequency” of love, sex, drugs, and spirituality like the Kid himself.
The album progresses as an opera of opposing and convening forces. Throughout, it explores themes of trust, doubt, candid eroticism, and unabashed rebellion with varying levels of clarity. From loquacious eruptions to chant-like repetitions, it is as fluid consciously as it is lyrically.
This is exemplified in tracks like “Swim in the Light,” where Cudi’s alternating current of hope and conviction rolls over tumultuous autotune in an arrangement that is constantly drowning or breaking the surface. Or tracks like “Releaser,” an electrified gospel of Cudi’s angels and demons that could easily be mistaken for a hymnal if taken out of context.
But in all its explorations, Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ necessarily diverges into the experimental and downright weird. “The Guide,” a fetishistic collaboration with Andre 3000, is built on the rhythm of high-heeled shoes and punctuated with close-mic heavy breathing. This reckless foray into the great velvet unknown is a far cry from a track like “Dance 4 Eternity,” a redundant and almost comically cliche R&B number that makes you wonder whether Cudi is satirically straddling genre boundaries or simply proving that he can do it better than the pop personalities who make their living that way. These songs may not fit together aurally, put they play thematically into Cudi’s evangelicalization of debauchery and contradiction.
As the album plays out, its deep introspection resurfaces for some much needed air in uplifting tracks. Cudi redeems his own anguish with songs like “By Design,” a Caribbean exaltation of life in all its confusion that acknowledges the lows of consciousness and then shakes booty in the face of existential dread:
Whereas the standout track “Does It” underscores Cudi’s ineffable flow and seems to excuse the redundancies of other tracks as artistic necessities, then takes aim at his detractors and demonstrates his own greatness as fact rather than posture.
It all comes to a close on “Surfin’” — a bouncing celebration of self that comes across as more hard-won than arrogant. This is the final monologue of a winding narrative that has passed through the sacred and profane, sensed the oneness between them, and returned with some wisdom and certainty at the edge of something new.
If Kid Cudi’s music finds peace in the harmony of highs and lows, Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ finds salvation in the depression that’s implicit of artistic genius, which even the mania of success cannot cure. Kid is still dancing, but it’s not the spotlight he’s dancing in. It never was.