Kanye West flips Bon Iver's 'Woods' into modern classic of epic proportions
Bon Iver's "Woods" is an amazing, mesmerizing song, a sort of Daft-Punk-gone-acapella existentialist mediation on loneliness and self-doubt that deftly exploits repetition and Autotune to make a gothic, isolationist point about how every man is, ultimately, an island.
It's the sort of song that doesn't seem like it could seriously be improved upon -- until, that is, Kanye West got his paws on it. West tweaked the levels, gave the song a spine, legs, sinew, tribal percussion, additional vocal oomph, re-recorded verses from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, dealt in samples that lent the whole a sense of vague political import (that looped "who will survive in America" bit is still giving me chills, even though it isn't expressly linked to any particular social group or struggle), and titled the thing "Lost in the World."
Thus, suddenly, what had until recently seemed like a Walden-esque shit-fit ("Woods") metamorphosed into a (probable) disquisition on man's alienation from his fellow man, how terrible we as humans are at understanding and accepting and sympathizing with one another ("World") -- "lost in the woods" giving way to "lost in the world," a minimalist expression of angst giving way to a maximalist expression of anxiety so totemic and accessible that it threatens to overshadow everything else Bon Iver and West have achieved heretofore.
A less canny MC might have made the mistake of tagging every inch of "World" -- which feels, you know, Peter Gabriel/Sting/world music without being too Vampire Weekend/Rainbow Arabia about it -- with punch lines and platitudes. But West, who broke into the music world as a producer, knew he had a beast of a beat on his hand, and was smart enough to spit a few, quick meaningless verses and get the fuck out of his own way, letting the native drums and roiling chants and cascading momentum take over, surging, forging, persevering.