Thursday, April 15th, 2021

Royal Blood – Limbo

We follow up our ’00s rock nostalgia with some more ’00s rock nostalgia…


[Video][Website]
[5.08]

Scott Mildenhall: The newfound ambition of Royal Blood has led to some divertingly urgent singles — “Typhoons”, “Trouble’s Coming”, and the latter’s Purple Disco Machine remix — but “Limbo” goes a step too far. The tautness remains, but it’s wrapped up in a sprawling mess of semi-baroque semi-psychedelia. It’s less limbo and more pole vault, but still fails to clear the bar.
[4]

Will Adams: When Pranks Go Too Far: This Brighton Band’s A&R Guy Told Them “Yeah the song’s pretty solid but can you make the chorus sound like Chromeo?” And They Didn’t Realize He Was Joking.
[4]

Jeffrey Brister: Sleazy disco-rock? Snarling, snotty, glammy vocals? YES. “Limbo” has a appealing sleekness that clashes perfectly with the growling saw-blade bass. And Mike Kerr’s bluesy voice growls, yowls, and howls with ease, generating a neat little “menacing late-night drive” atmosphere.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: See, this is how you make (what used to be called) dance-oriented rock in the 2020s: you don’t have to abandon the “rock” portion of the equation, as so many bands seem to have done these days. RIYL “Mr. Brightside,” obv., though Royal Blood’s guitars carry a bit more heft.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: They do such an impeccable job of replicating the signature fake-guitar crunch of 2007 electro-house that they think it entitles them to a one-and-a-half minute wordless outro in which no new musical ideas are introduced. It doesn’t. They’re still not a dance act. But what an impressive feat of audio engineering, though.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Royal Blood is, at its core, a rhythm section with vocals. They’re at their best when they recognize what makes that work: synchronization. It’s on full display here, with the FX-cloaked bass and hard rock drums joined precisely at the hip on the verse, and bolstered by synths on the chorus. Kerr seems to have internalized at his core one of the most important lessons a bassist can learn: always play on the kick. Pair that with disco-inspired synths and vocals, and you have what feels like a perpetual motion machine, giving us a moment to breathe only on the chorus. 
[8]

Claire Biddles: Chillingly reminiscent of mid-to-late 2000s indie disco sounds, “Limbo” is so sleekly produced that any interest slips off it like water. To be successful, rock bands dabbling in pop or dance music signifiers have to give themselves over a bit more, tart themselves up, and risk losing some of their machismo in the process. It’s ironic that they’re called Royal Blood, because this is so safe, so laddish, so bloodless, in comparison to the heights that they’re aiming for.
[3]

Harlan Talib Ockey: If you close your eyes, you can see this song’s Pro Tools file. Everything is rigidly snapped to grid, nothing is the correct volume, and the guitar plugins are labeled “chainsaw” and “garbage disposal.” Almost every aspect of “Limbo” is brazenly, hilariously ugly, careening from stiff Waveshaper-y synth presets, to the steel-gargling bass guitar tone that renders any actual notes unrecognizable, to Kerr’s strained and tuneless efforts to be heard above the cacophony. The song doesn’t even offer us the courtesy of a cohesive structure, since there’s no attempt to stitch any of its discrete sections together. (God, they’re separate Pro Tools files, aren’t they?) The chorus dials the tumult back just enough for us to hit a half-decent groove — we have melodies! chord outlines! — but it’s hardly worth the whiplash it takes to get there from the verses.
[1]

Samson Savill de Jong: I dunno what to tell you, man. I like Muse, and this is pretty much a Muse pastiche, so it appeals. I was promised wild, but this isn’t that; it’s far too controlled at all times to be considered unhinged. But it tickles the right parts of my brain, and I can’t help but be alright with it.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Freeze-dried sleaze, for those still psyching themselves up to someday get back out there with the real stuff.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: “Limbo” immediately reminds me of bands from the indie post-punk revival that didn’t survive very well past those years — We Are Scientists, Blood Red Shoes, The Bravery come to mind. Those were the first bands I listened to as a teenager, and at the time, I thought they were unique. I listened to them not because I felt emotionally attached, but because of the sounds they created. The combination of raw guitars with polished synths of “Limbo” has some of the excitement I heard in those songs but never becomes more than playful but superficial experimentation.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Nostalgia has to settle on fresher referents. The faint mirrorball swirl of “Limbo” has Fisherspooner or, I dunno, The Darkness in mind and enough fuzz to keep the rock pedants in 2004 appeased. Maybe it’ll work in 2021.
[4]

Thursday, April 15th, 2021

All Time Low – Once In A Lifetime

The logical next step in name-dropping: a single called “Jon Bellion“…


[Video]
[5.75]

Katie Gill: A Fueled by Ramen song in the year of our Lord 2021 that sounds pretty damn close to a Fueled by Ramen song from the year of our Lord 2011. So basically, same as it ever was.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: The verses are cut as short as they’ll go, the mix compressed is to drum-and-bass levels, and the tempo is fast so you spend as little time as possible in the boring parts. This song is unabashedly a flimsy wrapper around one of the most immaculate pop-punk choruses in recent memory. The half-rhymes, in particular, ride a fine line between graceful and groan-worthy, especially considering how they’re used to emphasize syncopated half-beats, like the singer’s particularly proud of them: “Life time” / “Right time,” “Forget you” / “Pretend to”, “We had” / “This bad?,” and grab “Loneliness” / “Another mess” from the second verse, while you’re at it. These are deliciously inelegant couplets to base an entire song off of. If it weren’t for the tune’s barrelling momentum denying you a moment to think about how hackneyed it all is (notice how the title drop at the end of the chorus rides on a single note, denying the end of the chorus any proper resolution as if eager to get to the beginning of the next one) it’d probably start to stew in its own downer narrative. Instead, it wrings good energy out of self-pity — and isn’t that the miracle of all great emo-adjacent pop punk?
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: If the whole of “Once in a Lifetime” sounded like its chorus, this would be about a [7], because there, All Time Low successfully plumb the early ’00s emo/Warped Tour sound of their genesis. But the verses rock about as hard as Twenty One Pilots, and ain’t nobody got time for that. 
[4]

Jackie Powell: After the triumph that was “Monsters,” a single that found a way to integrate Alex Gaskarth’s soaring vocal alongside blackbear without transforming it into a hip-hop edgelord crossover, “Once in a Lifetime” is All Time Low coming back down to earth. The lackadaisical intro, where Gaskarth belts the song title twice while backing vocals are overdubbed underneath it, is just unnecessary. If the single began with the opening couplet of “I wanna drink, wanna think, write a song about it/I wanna smoke, make a joke, try to hide the damage” it would have been a thousand times more compelling. The 10-second lede throws away my concentration and foreshadows the hook, which is a forced burst of emotion inconsistent with the delivery of the verses. I can’t help but cringe at the name-drop in each chorus. What’s most frustrating is how All Time Low is swimming in emotions on this track. Are they going for nostalgia, pandemic angst or straight-up sauce?
[4]

Juana Giaimo: “Once In a Lifetime” sounds familiar but also fresh, showing that pop-punk doesn’t need to be attached to trap to be alive today. I like how the opening backing vocals also appear in the chorus, and how the verses start kind of spoken before the melody changes and becomes gentler with “I wanna drive this car over the edge.” I don’t know what the effect is that they added in the pre-chorus, but it makes the song faint slightly enough only for the chorus to have a bigger impact. Also, extra point for casually name-dropping their own name.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Just out of curiosity, do they put the band’s name in all their lyrics? Give ’em another point if they do.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The craft is obvious: verse-middle eight-chorus move more confidently than the lyrics’ rote paternalism. Dashboard Confessional didn’t write tunes this hummable. Who gets to hear “Once in a Lifetime” — whom did All Time Low record this for? — is another question.
[6]

Will Adams: Whenever I encounter this type of pop-punk radio candy, I feel like I’m always apologizing for it. I wonder if I’m only endeared to it via nostalgia — in this case, the chug of “Ocean Avenue” — or if I feel ashamed about connecting with a genre that unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve. For now, I’ll continue to give in: “Once In a Lifetime” has razor-sharp hooks, and its charmingly dated features — the woah-oh backing vocals and brief, cheesy synth runs — only sweeten the deal.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: I like the guitar plucking and indie wailing from the lead singer, and the soft The Social Experiment metal drums and the American Authors guitar shredding bridge, but I don’t know why the hell a bunch of young white kids in the comment section of Billboard Breakdown want this to be the entirety of popular music in the 2020’s. Can’t it just be Kurtains?
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I tried to forget you too, All Time Low. Your muddy, over-compressed guitars already made that easy. There’s no definition to anything but the vocals, which are substandard pop-punk fare, lacking the power that’s fueled the genre’s recent revival and reimagining. And yet I feel like the rest of the band is a football field away (though in the final chorus they just make it to the 50-yard line), while Gaskarth is weakly screaming in my face. There’s no attempt at riff-making, nothing to give any semblance of catchiness, just seemingly meaningless word-vomit. I feel justified in not having thought about this band for ten years, and look forward to ten more.
[2]

Jeffrey Brister: I just like rock songs with hummable melodies and choruses that soar and glow. It’s no “That’s What You Get,” but really, what is?
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: All Time Low came on the scene at just the wrong time for me. By 2008 my adolescent music snob tendencies were in full bloom, and I saw them as part of a cohort of bands — Mayday Parade, the Maine, We the Kings — which existed solely to cash in on the emo-pop trend and lacked any connection to the genre’s hardcore roots. Why listen to a band named after a New Found Glory lyric when I could listen to New Found Glory? Then came the Defend Pop Punk hoodies, and the Pitchfork emo reviews, and “American Apparel underwear,” and “all my friends are dead.” Through it all, the boys from Baltimore somehow managed to stick around, like pop punk cockroaches, culminating last year in their first genuine radio hit. “Once in a Lifetime” feels like both a response to that belated success and an reflection on the band’s entire career, with its moderate tempo and soaring harmonies encouraging the listener to take them seriously as an unlikely veteran act. In the verses, Alex Gaskarth’s breathy, percussive vocals bring to mind Don Henley in “The Boys of Summer,” a proto-emo song if there ever was one, while the fanservice chorus pays the favor back to “Head on Collision” after 19 years. Though these efforts at conveying grandness sometimes overshoot and result in a muddied production, they still succeed in bestowing an air of genuine maturity on the band, without sacrificing their core identity or audience in the process.
[7]

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Julia Michaels – All Your Exes

No mention of Texas.


[Video][Website]
[3.58]

Andy Hutchins: “All Your Exes” is quintessentially Julia Michaels, overwritten to the point that it has to rhyme “logistics” with “Christmas” but with room for the gem that is “When your friends tell stories about 2017 / I know there’s parts that they leave out to be considerate of me.” Michaels’s work with longtime partner Justin Tranter has generally worked in a way that I haven’t found her stuff with new collaborator/partner JP Saxe to, because it balanced her loquaciousness with Tranter’s punchier instincts. (I’m guessing, to an extent, but Tranter’s the one with the credit on Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries.”) Saxe seems far more indulgent of Michaels, so “Exes” ends up halfway between what could have been a more amusing fantasy and what should be a more satisfying, blood-soaked romp. At least the video gets out a chainsaw that the song never quite needs, thanks to Michaels botching the delivery of “I’m the only thing you see / Yeah, I fuckin’ better be.” (Saxe the co-writer indulging what seems like unbridled narcissism is probably something Saxe the boyfriend could more productively work out with Michaels in therapy than in song.)
[4]

Al Varela: There are definitely pieces of a great song in here. I like the way the instrumentation shifts from soft to sharp, loneliness to vengefulness. I like how the writing is angry enough to convey the irrational bloodlust curdling underneath Julia Michaels’ desperation, but with its tongue buried enough in its cheek that I can have fun with this ridiculous revenge fantasy. Still, Michaels’ voice is too soft and monotone to sell either the danger of the campiness. It’d probably work better coming from someone like Ashnikko or even Doja Cat. Oh well.
[6]

Austin Nguyen: Chainsaw-wielding Scream Queens sociopathy demands “Ruby Blue” at minimum, not a 2019 beabadoobee single left in neutral.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: This is basically Fight Like Apes’ “Recyclable Ass” with the horny/mean/possessive ratios tweaked heavily toward possessive. It’s also an acoustic ballad — which speaks for itself, really — and also an exercise in songwriting. Telling: “I think I’ve got them accurately demonized.” Showing: “THAT ONE’S A HOMEWRECKER! LOOKS LIKE WOODY WOODPECKER!”
[3]

Dorian Sinclair: “All Your Exes” is unquestionably a mean-spirited song, but there’s a gleeful unhingedness to lines like “I’m confident I’ve got them accurately demonized” that makes it a very fun listen. It helps that the music is in on the joke: The sad indie guitar accompanying the first verse is perfectly undercut by the moment of absolute silence before the chorus. If the rest of the production doesn’t quite live up to that nonverbal punchline (though the feedback at “well yeah, I fucking better be” and the abrupt halt at the end come close), it still does its job and does it well. Sometimes you just need to have a little tantrum to set you back on an even keel, and mine are rarely as well-constructed as this.
[7]

Ian Mathers: I know, I know. We’re playing characters, we’re being “outrageous,” we’re venting. Except the kids (and adults) in the comments and on Twitter and TikTok aren’t, and the real-life version of what’s being presented here is unhealthy and miserable. It’s the kind of thing you’re trapped in when trauma of one stripe or another makes you think that real love requires “drama”; when it doesn’t occur to you just how fucking weird and awful it is to be in a relationship where one or both of you is terrified by the notion of talking about your exes as if they were just, you know, people. I don’t know Julia Michaels, and I don’t know how she relates to this song, but nobody should want to date a person like the one narrating here, and nobody should want to be that person either.
[0]

Anaïs Escobar Mathers: It’s been years since I’ve walked these halls and reviewed a song, but overhearing Ian listen to this brought me to the edge. Greetings: this song would be the result of the world’s worst AI trying to create a Taylor Swift song. 
[0]

Samson Savill de Jong: There’s nothing wrong with making music about inherently ugly emotions. Some of the best artwork is made exploring the darker part of our psyche, and sometimes we just want to to revel in a shitty attitude that we feel anyway. The gleeful possessiveness of “All Your Exes” inarguably fills a niche, and is no doubt a feeling many men and women have had, but I can’t say I’m one of them. Indeed, I find romantic jealousy, particularly this historical kind, incredibly off-putting, and find this neither romantic nor relatable. Something well made can allow experiences you wouldn’t imagine you could relate to feel familiar, but “All Your Exes” doesn’t pull that off. The lyrics are sharply written, but Michaels’ Lorde-style singing and the pop-rock backing track are just fine.
[4]

Jackie Powell: Every lyric and dynamic change with Julia Michaels is intentional, and that doesn’t change here. An acoustic guitar part accompanies her contralto vocal, setting the scene for the story she’s about to tell. The cheeky but also quite morbid plotline reminds me of P!nk’s Funhouse, and Michaels’ disturbing but sort of hilarious music video is very in the vein of “Please Don’t Leave Me.” Also, it’s awesome to hear rock instruments on a Michaels track rather than straight synths. JP Saxe’s lead guitar makes its grand entrance in the chorus, and it’s riveting; I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear where this riff goes. And then it just doesn’t. I expected Michaels to rock out. She’s got the swagger to do so. She’s holding a bloody chainsaw (pun absolutely intended) on the single cover. But the vocal explosions of tracks like “So What” or “Sober” on Funhouse just don’t happen here. I’m not saying Julia Michaels has to become P!nk, but I wonder which direction her full-length debut Not in Chronological Order will go after the sultry synth bop “Lie Like This” and now “All Your Exes.” But did Michaels just troll me? Is the whole point that her new record isn’t necessarily cohesive?
[7]

Michael Hong: In theory, this is really interesting: a stream-of-consciousness song that bends the production at the turn of each thought. But in execution, the lyrics prioritize being diaristic over flow or melody, and that first chorus feels like Michaels chasing a guitar line she’ll never catch up with. The performances on the later choruses feel discordant, a rolling guitar line matched with an aloof vocal. And then it just ends.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: The slung-over guitar cracks in the glass while Julia lilts, waiting to parse out why her partner has so many other names on their belly. Then, over a pirouetting bass and cardboard drums, she slits the throats of their partner’s exes, grinding them up and picking her teeth with the bones, then SERIOUSLY THIS IS SCARY AF WHAT THE FUCK JULIA’S PARTNER GET AWAY FROM HER IMMEDIATELY GET AWAY GET OH NO OH FUCK SHE’S IN MY APPLE MUSIC I’M GONNA DI–
[3]

Alfred Soto: I bet Julia Michaels and her producers think the guitar interruption matches the putative novelty of their lyrics. Both suck. If this non-heterosexual person has any critiques to proffer about the majority of the population, it’s the tendency to treat relationships like discrete vacuum-packed experiences, an ever-unspooling present. This is stupid. Don’t take yourselves so damn seriously. 
[1]

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Bree Runway – HOT HOT

I guess “DECENT DECENT” doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely…


[Video][Website]
[6.12]

Austin Nguyen: Moon Willis’ track record with Bree Runway has always felt a bit too constrained and safe for her personality to burst through with swagger, and “HOT HOT” adds one more mark to that tally despite the buoyancy of the Busta Rhymes sample. The only difference is that she barely bothered to show up to the songwriting front either, repeating lines just to surpass the 2-minute mark.
[5]

Leah Isobel: Bree’s considerable charisma carries “HOT HOT” through its repetition; I could listen to her toss off the line “it’s a runway kitty like her name is Kate Moss” for at least an hour. It’s a pity that the song is so short.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The words are fine, it’s the weak-ass chorus I can’t get past. There’s a sense that the production suppresses her natural spritz.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: “Damn Daniel” was a riotous, combustible 2020 success story, but it seems to have taken a lot out of Bree Runway if the lassitude of “HOT HOT” is anything to go by. It’s a serviceable Timbaland-lite R&B jam but lacks any real character in either lyrics or production (very high levels of self-confidence still do not, in themselves, amount to a personality). “Ride it real fast like a foreign car,” Bree urges — now I do not claim to know much about cars, foreign or domestic, but this has all the vibrancy of the off-white Nissan Micra my mum used to drive.
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: In the previous Bree Runway songs we’ve covered, I was impressed by her charisma, specifically her energy and sense of fun, without necessarily finding her actual lyricism something worthy of writing home about. Charisma can only carry you so far though, and “HOT HOT” is where it runs out for me. “Ride a boy face like a Yamaha” is a stellar bar, but outside of that the lyrics are once again not worth committing to memory. But the production doesn’t trouble the memory banks either, unlike previous efforts. It’s a serviceable dance floor ready beat without anything that allows it to rise above base functionality. I can see people liking this, but I just find it disposable — not bad, just something that I’ll never feel the need to listen to again.
[5]

Natasha Genet Avery: With crisp percussion and Neptunes-like synths and sound effects, “Hot Hot” somehow sounds more ’00s than its source material. Bree Runway’s delivery is breezy and confident, swapping the harsher edge of “Apeshit or “ATM” for a more playful, endlessly quotable self-confidence booster. More than anything, “Hot Hot” is a perfect post-pandemic summer song: I want nothing more than to hear this blaring on a bar patio or dance floor, with tipsy people proclaiming their intent to “Ride that boy face like a Yamaha.” Vroom vroom.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: The plinking keys lope alongside the Timbaland drums and gurgling bass stabs as Bree hops them, chuckling about all these all these pretenders looking like known abuser Trey Songz while riding her Ray Fisher’s face like a Yamaha. (BTW, she’s Ghanaian, so she is getting a 10.)
[10]

Thomas Inskeep: I like the way the sample from Busta’s “Touch It” is utilized, but wish that Runway did more in response. Her lyrics are clever as always, but her delivery leaves me a little lacking. When you’ve set the bar as high as she already has, we expect greatness every time — and this is merely good, not great.
[6]

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Beabadoobee – Last Day On Earth

So dance dance like it’s the last last day of your life life…


[Video][Website]
[7.20]

Alfred Soto: With Wild Nothings and Mazzy Star in its DNA, “Last Day on Earth” aspires to a heavenly reward but ends up wanly stuck on terra firma. The obscenities are a plus.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: If Beabadoobee hadn’t said “fuck” a couple of times, I could’ve easily mistaken this for something from The Princess Diaries‘ sound track, maybe faded up as Anne Hathaway walks to her school with her new hair hidden as Robert Schwartzman gazes longingly. Laus’s vocals pull off that perfect early 2000s disaffectedness, the chorused guitar hazy under “Amen” drums as she sings about doom, destruction, and just plain boredom, with a casual disregard cultivated by a year of rolling lockdowns. The layers of instruments seem to be lost in a noisy mix by the end, but the simplicity of the vocal line and scatted chorus complement the somewhat overstuffed instruments. Perhaps the simplicity itself is what speaks to me rather than a bombastic, dramatic take, Laus’s vocals and her and Healy’s lyrics bely numbness, complete with anesthetic guitars lifted from 2001.
[8]

Will Adams: The sepia-toned fuzz and windswept vocals are clearly geared toward the ’90s, but I also hear the brightness of lot of early ’00s John Shanks productions. It’s a comforting sound that’s only sweetened more by the upward bassline, the “doot-doo”‘s and the “yeah!”‘s. But then… it just keeps going, without any variation, and toward the end I’m looking at the clock.
[6]

Iain Mew: I grew up listening to music of the ’70s and ’80s before throwing myself totally into new music at the start of the millennium. Someone much younger than me reviving ’90s indie sounds as a going concern is inherently appealing because of that gap, because I experienced the aftermath of that era as current but never the thing itself. “Last Day On Earth” and its rolling wall of sighs and jangle is packed full enough of life to make it more about vitality than nostalgia (even as some of the verses lean more on The 1975 phrasing than ideal).
[7]

John Pinto: Songs are best when they’re brand-new. If you’ve ever written a song (or a poem, or a story, or told a joke that killed, or been a person at all) you know the scene: a few verses and a chorus scrawled on a legal pad/piece of scratch paper/pizza box, your instrument of choice still warm from your touch and cast aside on the bed/couch/floor, and you flouncing about in a state of semi-dressed bliss. Then you come back to your song a few hours later and realize you lifted the melody from a car insurance commercial and rhymed “funny things” with “funny things.” Your song has now gone from the best it will ever be to the worst it will ever be. Things might improve should you revise your song, but it will never again touch the world-ending power it had in the moments that followed its birth. The first post-Fake It Flowers release from Beabadoobee is a dramatization of this exact scenario, right down to it sounding a whole lot like a song that’s already been written. Besides the whole “looming pandemic/apocalypse” thing it’s a charmingly low-stakes singalong, all nonsense words and lines that seem to either pack too many syllables or stretch out too few. It’s a strong first draft about second chances.
[8]

Ian Mathers: This already sounded a bit like Hatchie covering “Walk on the Wild Side” (but in the spirit of positive nihilism, you know?) before the whole tape suddenly gets dunked in water and miraculously emerges out the other side unscathed, still freewheeling; and then Beabadoobee is interrupting her own chorus with “wait, I’ve got something to say” but no matter where the song goes that drum loop just churns away steadily. First thing I’ve heard in years that really evokes those times (seemingly mostly at night) where it really does seem like anything could happen or nothing could, right then or for the rest of your life.
[9]

Dorian Sinclair: For me, “Last Day On Earth” brings nothing to mind so strongly as the apocaly-pop of the early 2010s, and in particular Kesha’s “Shots on the Hood of My Car“. Both have a certain musical dreaminess that’s at odds with some of the sharper lyrical turns, and the metrical collapse and talky delivery in LDOE’s second verse are definitely of the same lineage as Kesha’s work. Existential dread in 2021 is a very different shape than a decade ago, though, and where Kesha faced the dark with a party, Beabadoobee turns inward. The simple candor of the verses is really effective, as is the way words fail entirely during the chorus. With relatively few words, she captures a mood I know well; seeing disaster around you and finding something to anchor yourself to as a way to ride through the storm. It’s bittersweet, but it’s beautiful, and I think that’s a knife’s edge a lot of us are used to riding these days.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: The shaky, shining guitars and smushed drums obscure the crushed up bass that fades behind Beabadoobee’s soft voice, while a shaking bass echo follows her across the melting fringes, singing she do, bedoobedo, while the ice melts away. Bea crosses, the echoes multiplying but hanging back to not break the ice, then flying into the puddle formed at the bottom of the rocks, singing she do, she do, bedoobado.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: For the latest trick from her grab-box of ’90s nostalgia, Bea Kristi filters a Radio Song-adjacent chiming, arpeggiated riff through a Chocolate-covered lens to giddy, delirious effect. The spirit of her friends in The 1975 runs deeply through “Last Day On Earth”, but she’s channeling an iteration of them that we don’t hear too often these days — the freewheeling, bittersweet alt-pop that first won them a cult following in the grey dawn of the 2010s. That music can feel so exuberant and transportative while being ostensibly so lightweight is one of the great pop paradoxes — Kristi’s lyrics here might be self-reflexive semi-nonsense, but this is a thing of rare joy, made for strutting down city streets in the sun, drinking next to canals, hopping on trains and all the other things that are capable of lifting the weight from our lives.
[9]

Taylor Alatorre: An attempted shortcut to generational profundity through the counterfeiting of antique apathy. On the other hand, however, it must be admitted: shoop doo, shoop doo ba doobadoo. Pretty hard to disagree with that.
[5]

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

NF ft. Hopsin – Lost

What eight Jukebox blurbs does to a NF…


[Video][Website]
[4.38]

Thomas Inskeep: NF has always wanted to be Eminem — a quick listen to any of his records proves that — but on “Lost,” he takes it a step further and attempts to create his own “Lose Yourself.” Spoiler alert: he fails.
[2]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: “Listen, remember last year, when Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced Eminem at the Oscars and everyone got confused and vibed to ‘Lose Yourself’ while Scorsese tried to nap? I want something with the energy of that moment, but more boring.”
[3]

Mark Sinker: Probably it’s shtick by now to hear formalism in this more than insight or honesty, but there’s just something about two guys (one a storied Christian, one too well known for heedless beef) stepping opposed mood-paths round the double spiral of the ole Eminem spitting-lyric ratchet. Taken just as a technical display move this is well realised: great build, superb management of the upward gear-shifts. Lost in what though? It has lines to enjoy but the exploration still mainly feels like psychobabble as controlled pissyfit.
[6]

Dede Akolo: The darkness within that introduction reminds me of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” (looking up the song I found that they sound nearly identical). The thing is that I like “Sail”; that song brings darkness that remains throughout the song that NF lacks. “Lost” itself is good. It suffices. It has nutritional value. But does it wow me? No. There is this satirical slam poetry, that millennial Eminem tiktok cringe quality that I think will reek itself throughout White rappers (with a capital ‘W’). I don’t know what can be done about it. How do we save these White men from corniness? Chet Hanks save us!
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Crouching, purring strings and Zack Snyder bass roar behind NF as he tries to stack the bricks higher than Babel, the shaking trap patterns lifting him as he continues to assemble his quixotic tower, seeing the clouds and beginning to pass them. The cloud WOOMPS, trying to shake him, but he continues to build while Hopsin quietly builds the foundations and tries to keep it strong, even as the clouds try to WOOMP him away. He pulls them away for NF to climb to the sun… and burn to ashes.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: Credit where it’s due: NF has done a fantastic job of making me appreciate Hopsin’s talent for the first time. The notoriously verbose “Ill Mind” rapper sounds downright economical when placed next to NF’s Substack essay of a verse, and the well-timed variations in Hopsin’s flow help his all-consuming rage come across as more believable. It’s not enough to make up for the faux urgency of that “chorus,” but retreads of Recovery-era Em have the potential to be much less bearable than this.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: “Lost” is not fun to listen to. Both rappers are so self-aware that they are talking about serious and heavy stuff from the deepest deep of their soul that they forgot to put some charisma to their rapping, and they’re just spitting words fast and angrily. 
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: Get beneath the menacing beat and the aggressive, fast-paced lyrics and really listen to what NF is saying here, and you realise that he’s on the same level as all the derided Christian rap that came before him. But this is not because faith and rap music are an impossible square to circle. Rappers like DMX or the current GOAT-apparent Kendrick Lamar avoid the label of Christian rap despite being Christians who make music that directly deals with and is a consequence of their faith. They avoid the label and all of its negative connotations because their music shows real struggles and shows how they really wrestle with their own personal interpretations of their faith. Even if you disagree with them (side eyes towards Kendrick saying slavery and racism is God testing black people as they are the new Israelites), they’re clearly saying something that is deep and personal. NF exposes himself with the line “Failing’s how you grow and learn your lessons, kids”. This is said unironically, and shows him up as a youth pastor trying to be inspirational and relatable. All his supposed examples of his failings and flaws are just empty generalities; there’s no real account of struggle for us to relate to and thus be inspired by. It’s why this is so obviously “Christian rap” despite the fact that NF doesn’t mention God at all. (Hopsin, who’s changed his mind on this a bit through his career, is the only one to actively bring the bible up). Eminem, who NF is so desperate to rip off stylistically, made a ton of references to the kids, but he was doing it ironically, making fun of the kind of hypocritical blemish-free know-it-all who handed down wisdom from on high, i.e. the exact thing that NF comes off as. The song isn’t bad; it’s competently produced, and NF has more skill than a literal youth pastor, while Hopsin avoids some of the traps that have got him this cornball label in recent years. But the point is it’s all artifice, and there’s no real depth here to actually understand any of the struggles that they claim they’re going through. NF is still a Christian first and a rapper second, and his music won’t improve until he’s able to flip that order around.
[3]

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Brockhampton ft. Danny Brown – Buzzcut

Moving into their final phase


[Video]
[7.00]

Dede Akolo: Hearing that this single is rolling out the carpet for Brockhampton’s last album sent a lump in my throat. I have a very sentimental history with the group. My little sister was a stan when they first broke out with the Saturation trilogy. We met them when they performed at the Danforth Music Hall (I still have the photos on my phone). I saw The Longest Summer in America, one of their documentaries, the day it premiered. The event and fallout of Ameer’s departure signaled a definitive shift in both my and my sister’s lives. Things became real. The mist and sublime of youth shifted and a darker future took hold. Enough about my life. The ringing in this beat. It pulses and yet retains this near irritating pitch that doesn’t aggravate me somehow. Knowing that Brockhampton can still keep it weird through all these years is heartwarming. It’s extraordinary really. Hearing it, strangely, makes me feel safe. I don’t know. I’m sentimental. 
[10]

Tim de Reuse: Kevin Abstract is at the top of his game technically and his uncharacteristically high-energy delivery segues well into Danny Brown’s Danny Brown. On the other hand, Brockhampton in 2021 is using similar subject matter as Brockhampton in late 2017, and as compelling as these verses are, it’s funny to think of Kevin and the gang as plucky upstarts, especially with a beat that’s been polished so smooth. Perhaps I feel a little cool on it because their rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness structures are old hat by this point — or maybe some of the more interesting edges of their aesthetic have gotten rounded down over the years as they figured out what they wanted to do.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: I lost the plot on Brockhampton after the Saturation content flood of 2017. Like a buzzy teen drama in its third season, an influx of new faces and behind the scenes turmoil drowned out the narrative. “Buzzcut” could be considered a return to form, if Brockhampton ever had a defined form in the first place. It’s streamlined, focused, and very much sounds like it was recorded by a group of friends fist fighting in a glitched-out void. Danny Brown’s scene-stealing verse has karmic resonance, as a firebrand turned trash-rap elder statesman teaches a ragtag group of teen idols how to turn sustained chaos into a career.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Prolific and prolix, BROCKHAMPTON have a mixed record of proffering fully realized queer hip-hop of attractive density. “Buzzcut” begins with a clamor that won’t let up: a police siren ringing as if from beneath the Hudson, Kevin Abstract waxing despairingly about shit not changing, Danny Brown garbling a Raekwon-Nas line. 
[8]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A key changes, a bridge starts, and an exercise in jubilant rage becomes a dirge. The drums are nowhere to be found in the last measures, the rhythm left to floating backup vocals, a keening saxophone taking us out. Placing this after two exuberant lyric-stuffed verses from Kevin Abstract and Danny Brown, where the beat knows when to take a step back to service the rhymes, takes this song from good to great. 
[9]

Ian Mathers: Kind of tails off at the end, but up until then the surprise isn’t that Danny Brown absolutely destroys over this production, it’s that the Brockhampton guy doesn’t do too bad either. Could absolutely end after about two minutes though.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Whatever you want, just please make Brockhampton’s Kevin Abstract and guest Danny Brown stop rapping. Their vocals on “Buzzcut” are loud and obnoxious, which I’m guessing is the point, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Not a bit. They sound as if the non-Busta members of Leaders of the New School had actually sucked.
[1]

Nortey Dowuona: The hurtling synths hide behind the bass kick and scattered percussion and starched snares. Kevin lopes over it, poison dripping from his fangs as he bites down and pushes you out, the hook swinging. Then Danny spikes the listener and gobbles him alive, spitting out a swirling synth bridge with cascading echoes as Joba wails demonically and Merlyn asked what is God to us. A crowning horn caps the bottle, leaving us floating away poisoned on the wind.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: Kevin Abstract’s verse is a setup for a great punchline but is otherwise largely unmemorable, which is no fatal flaw in a song that’s all about unshackled energy and relentless forward momentum. Danny Brown, on the other hand, lands his punchline at the beginning and is much more adept at channeling his energy into canny, hard-hitting bars. He acknowledges his veteran status in one breath and interpolates Raekwon in the next, displaying a blasé assurance of his place in the larger pantheon. The blissed-out beat switch arrives just as the aggression is starting to wear out its welcome, tying the whole thing together into one erratic psych-industrial package.
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: For someone with such a unique voice and flow, Danny Brown is a surprisingly versatile feature artist. He meshes perfectly with Brockhampton’s (and specifically Kevin Abstract’s) energy here, and both of them bring it in their verses. The production for their verses is immaculate as well, and although I wasn’t initially convinced by the beat switch post-Danny Brown, I’ve decided I like the eclectic nature of the soundscape there too. The song sounds like it’s about something, but I’m not entirely convinced it is; topics are alighted on and flown away from too rapidly for them to be expanded upon and explored. This is not at all uncommon in hip-hop, and often inevitable when featuring somebody, so it rarely prevents a song from being good, but it means I have my fill of the song slightly quicker and am less likely to come back to it over and over.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Saturation feels as old as the early 2000s aesthetics that these guys hint at here, and everything else Brockhampton has done since 2017 has felt muddled and transient — even their pop hit only really came into focus when they threw Jon B and Dua Lipa on it. “Buzzcut” feels like a double-throwback, both to East Coast rap circa 2001 and to the clarity of purpose Brockhampton itself had on its debut. Here, the protean nature of its style works to its strength, the sung verse sounding less like a meandering interlude and more like a natural kinetic progression out of the rap section. Danny Brown fits into this beautiful chaos perfectly, performing his own sort of self-nostalgia as he gets back into his Atrocity Exhibition style. Even with all of the pasts exhumed here, though, “Buzzcut” never seems overly mannered or self-parodic. It grows via its history.
[7]

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Bausa vs Apache 207 – Madonna

Will we get into the groove?


[Video]
[5.17]

Ian Mathers: Not 100 percent sure this one needed verses, to be honest.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The weeping synths hide as Apache wails, a lurking bass slinking around his feet, then hopping back and forth to spin his eyes, then cycling around on the hot bun kicks and swaying back and forth. Dragging the snares behind the wheels, the bass flings a cartwheel in front of Apache, then kicks dust and flies up to ride the drums, the snares now tucked in the spokes, and the synths come out to drag Apache back to the house.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Overly Auto-Tuned rapping from a pair of Germans, sure, with a minimal EDM track accompanying them, but with lyrics like “Everyone goes crazy ’cause you’re like Madonna/1986, MTV, Madonna” — well, I am who I am. 
[6]

Tim de Reuse: The four-chord loop? Not much to write home about. The melody of the hook? A lazy stepladder without the tiniest melodic surprise. The pleasant clunk of the synth bass is the only sonically memorable thing going on here, and even that’s only the barest development on the trop-house timbres that swept through Europe in the mid-2010s. This is the kind of thing you might hum to yourself when you’re trying to remember a much catchier song but forgetting all the interesting details.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Without watching the music video with all the screams from the public that interrupt the song, I realize the backing track is darker than I thought, especially with those kind of misty keyboards appearing at the beginning. Unfortunately, the loud Auto-Tuned vocals don’t help in maintaining that mysterious vibe, and the song soon turns into another anonymous dance track that actually doesn’t make me want to dance.
[4]

Iain Mew: There’s a hint of Madonna flexibility in the way they hop between different sounds from section to section, but it gets hung up on the chorus, which ultimately reveals how little they have going on beyond one fun reference.    
[4]

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Brave Girls – Rollin’

(Air Raid Vehicle)


[Video]
[6.67]

Kayla Beardslee: Not a lot of good things have happened in the past year. My one consistent consolation slash coping mechanism slash form of escapism during the pandemic has been following pop music: 2020 was a genuinely great year for the genre, but in the first few months of 2021, major Western pop releases have slowed down significantly. Even in K-pop, where things are always happening, the biggest drops of Q1 were mostly bullying allegations. I’m tired all the time; I’ve been staying at home for over a year; I desperately want opportunities to live vicariously through other people’s art and experiences right now. Enter Brave Girls. In late February, this under-the-radar K-pop girl group and their 2017 single “Rollin'” went unbelievably viral in South Korea thanks to this video. In the span of just a few weeks, they went from the literal brink of disbandment to breaking streaming records, winning music shows, and gaining the enthusiastic support of K-pop fans and the Korean general public alike. It was nothing short of a miracle, and following their rise has been one of my biggest sources of joy in 2021 so far. In a world that sometimes feels hopelessly unfair, “Rollin'”s success is a reminder that good things can still happen when people work hard to achieve them; that patience and perseverance remain powerful, invaluable traits; that even for those who can’t envision a better future at this moment, there may still be a miraculous light waiting for them at the end of the tunnel. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the song that saved Brave Girls’ career is a bubbly, dancey, optimistic summer anthem from another decade: we all just want to be anywhere but here, in any time but now. Eventually, we’ll get there. And in the meantime? Well, I’m no expert in optimism, but try to hold on to the happy feelings. Personally, I’m going to go watch this video again.
[9]

Katie Gill: I can see how this fell through the cracks for… what, four years? It’s fun! It’s cute! And it was a song with a summer vibe released in March; that music video is doing them no favors and an even catcher summertime bop was released later that year to utterly dominate the summertime bop conversation. I’m glad that the Brave Girls are seeing success now, but I have to wonder how damn good a compilation video that was to elevate this perfectly serviceable yet kind of forgettable song to viral status.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The sudden revitalization of “Rollin'” is welcome given that Brave Girls always deserved better (both this song and “Deepened” ruled). Still, it makes sense why it wasn’t popular upon release: It’s somewhat slight compared to what K-pop singles usually entail, and compared to previous Brave Brothers productions, this is fairly anonymous due to the simplicity of the production and the lack of distinct vocalists (c.f. AOA, SISTAR, and 4Minute). Still, it also makes sense why “Rollin'” moved so many people in 2021 beyond the annoying Korean military backstory: it’s refreshingly simple in a way that K-pop singles rarely are today. As I think about the past 10 years of K-pop, the dominant story is that of a genre stripped of all its playful charm, transforming into something firmly, regrettably serious (I blame Western cultural imperialism, in part). “Rollin'” thus stands mighty tall today, just as it did back in 2017 when trop-house singles were ubiquitous; good or bad, Korea’s attempts at such summery pop never dared to be as barebones as “Rollin'”–it’s AOA “hey!” chants, a curlicue synth, and a barely there beat. It works because it injects a lightness into our current everyday; music doesn’t need to be such a big deal.  
[7]

Juana Giaimo: I love fun and fresh songs like “Rollin'” — yes, it still sounds fresh to me even when it’s four years old — that capture the light feeling of having a new crush. The playful synth that appears after the chorus and it’s silly choreography immediately puts a smile on my face, but it’s Minyoung’s voice who makes the difference here and caught my attention the first time I listened to it. The line distribution is not well-balanced, but nobody complains. With this kind of song, you’d expect sweet vocals, but instead she appears with her loud nasal voice that sets this song apart from the rest. I have to also mention that I love the way Yuna pronounces “baby” with such confidence in the chorus. It’s not a revolutionary song, but it can surely make you have a really good time — and honestly, that’s a lot in this life.
[8]

Dede Akolo: The success rate in K-pop is so slim that stories about these groups that get that stroke of luck always make me so happy. Happy that their stages are taking more of the bright, summery feeling rather than the vampire aesthetic popular in 2017. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I know this is from 2017 so it technically doesn’t count as the thing I’ve been noticing more and more, but the world can apocalyptically implode centuries into the future, and it will still be too early for a revival of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”
[4]

Michael Hong: Producers Brave Brothers wanted a more mature (read: sexier) concept. So much that their music video requires you to sign onto YouTube to view it. “Rollin'” itself can’t seem to decide whether it’s sexy or whether it’s fun, rolling through smooth, sensual verses but bursting with a chorus that feels like summertime. So four years later, Brave Girls are deciding. They’re having fun: the version the public wants to see, the version that went viral. And K-pop is so much better when it’s fun. It’s not perfect — there’s a line in the second half of the chorus that comes too fast and too strong, momentarily bursting the bubble — but nothing can detract from just how much fun Brave Girls are having.
[7]

Joshua Lu: There’s like a dozen different vocal deliveries going on here, all sequenced without regard for cohesion. First they’re coquettish, then it builds up in intensity, then it suddenly simmers down to a neutral tone, then it throws in some falsettos before that rollicking “ROLLIN-ROLLIN-ROLLIN!” slams in, then it’s all subsumed by a rather ugly rap. None if it really works, especially when laid out over a disappointingly un-chaotic instrumental, but I can’t deny that it still turns out to be rather fun — those South Korean soldiers were justified in their reactions.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Another time, another place: 2017 feels as remote as 2008. A bop is a bop. 
[7]

Friday, April 9th, 2021

Olivia Rodrigo – Deja Vu

Olivia Rodrigo – Deja Vu


[Video][Website]
[7.75]

Dede Akolo: The drum breakdown was what sold me. Its release from the tension of the verse breaks my heart a little. This feels like the jokey-quirky cousin to “Drivers License” and the summer deserves it. I would be jealous of this zoomer if it wasn’t for the fact that I just love pop music. Rodrigo reminds me why I love pop music.
[9]

Alex Clifton: You can’t own an experience, like playing someone your favourite Taylor Swift song for the first time or showing them your secret spot in the library where you get a view of campus from the third floor. I know this. But logic never factors into my feelings, and it feels like a giant betrayal when you share vulnerable slices of yourself with someone only for them to take those and appropriate them for their next relationship. You end up wondering how important you were in the first place. I love how Rodrigo turns this on its head by being vitriolic at her uncreative ex rather than the new person they’re dating. It’s delightfully petty (something I revel in, even as I close in on 30) and cathartic beyond words. The production is occasionally a little cutesy (the background “ha-ha-ha”s, “singing in harmony” kicking in with another voice) but those are minor quibbles. I have fun every time I listen to it, despite being far away from dramatic teen relationships, and continue to enjoy watching Rodrigo blossom as a songwriter.
[9]

Katie Gill: This song lives and dies on all the little details. Strawberry ice cream, sharing jackets, playing a Billy Joel song (that honestly I’m not entirely sure why he’s playing to begin with, “Uptown Girl” isn’t one of his piano songs, Olivia). It’s all very aggressively teenage in the same way that “Drivers License” is. And hey, it doesn’t sound as aggressively store-brand Lorde as “Drivers License” did. But I kind of wish the song was a bit… more. Like I said, it lives and dies on all the details. All three of them. Likewise, I kind of wish it was a bit more angry? It feels like there should be some real anger behind this. But instead, the main emotion is just “loud.”
[5]

Alfred Soto: I cringed when she cooed/coyed her way through the first chorus as much as she uses a memory about “Uptown Girl” as reflexive commentary on her own songwriting. But the Antonoff-indebted production clatters and tumbles, and the backing vocals alternate between taunts and encouragements. Here’s hoping pop radio has no trouble with the distorted guitar bit on the outro.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: The smartest thing about “Deja Vu” is that its subject matter hands it an automatic defense mechanism. Can you really criticize a song for sounding too much like Lorde or Taylor Swift or the bedroom pop artist of your choice, when it contains the lyric “she thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused”? But this metatextual armor wouldn’t hold up as well if the song weren’t so structurally cohesive and thematically sure of itself. The main villain here is not really the ex, but the teenage veneration of uniqueness and authenticity, an ideal which can seem like the most important thing in the world until you run up against its obvious limits. Rodrigo jabs at this ideal when she points out that both she and the other woman are actresses, a casual aside that uncorks a world of meaning. Maybe those cute but dorky date activities were never the product of a genuine, unmediated attachment; maybe all it was, all it could ever be, was a scripted performance. Thankfully, Rodrigo leaves it up to the listener to dwell on the heavier stuff, while she instead keeps the show rolling with her shoutalong vocals and scuzzy synth lines and sly interjections of attitude. In doing so, she transforms a diary of private insecurities into what all the best break-up songs are: a socially sanctioned display of righteous pettiness.
[9]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s more daring to sound bitter than it is broken, not least as it’s less likely to be embraced, but that’s what makes “Deja Vu” more interesting than “Drivers License”. The smirking self-satisfaction is more feature than bug, and more maladaptive pain than satisfaction in the first place. As the expurgation of the feelings of someone in the throws of believing they are the first to ever be burned in this way, it is — gossip-baiting aside — sharp.
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is just delightfully catty. If the last one was a good encapsulation of teenage melodrama, this is at least as good an encapsulation of teenage bitchiness, and it’s fucking funny. It’s also musically superior to “Drivers Licence”, which was carried by its emotional authenticity but wasn’t a particularly good song to listen to. I think this has got more ideas in its music, sounds more surefooted about what it wants to do, and as a result is a lot punchier. We’ve had denial, this one is anger; presumably Olivia will be making bargaining, depression and acceptance songs before she’s done with this break-up, and then hopefully she’ll find something else to talk about because I imagine this will wear thin.
[7]

Austin Nguyen: “Deja Vu” is supposed to prove Olivia Rodrigo can have teeth when she wants to: On top of ice-cream-jingle piano keys (and the closest thing I’ve heard in pop to “deadinthewater”), she offers forced and lackadaisical laughter, smirks with the head-tilting pretension of Regina George, and wrings sarcasm out of the same portamentos that collapsed out of abandonment on “Drivers License” (see also: the chorus of ooh’s that came back for round two). Of course, that also means another pro forma stab at Sabrina Carpenter (who is probably in the process of writing “Flesh”), but the moment that we should be clinging to is the one that barely cuts through, a glimmer of introspection that grasps at the reason why Olivia is still churning out songs from the same source material: that “I love you” whispered around 2:14. It risks undercutting the rest of the song’s bitterness, and yet, Rodrigo only comes back bolder afterwards — until she’s belting in her own “Bad Blood” moment.
[7]

David Moore: This reminds me in vibe and melody and maybe a bit in structure of Radiohead’s “No Surprises”: subtle song-length crescendo, repetition of a phrase after ambiguous verse/bridges. (Oh, maybe “Drivers License” was her “Lucky”? *O*R Computer? Is that anything?) The little hops up to falsetto in a stealthy first chorus kickstart a second half that rocks much harder than it needs to — the drums! And I especially like the part where she imagines the old “him” telling the new “her” he loves her “in between the chorus and the verse,” which, appropriately, is where this song lives, never quite deciding on the proper delineation.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Take 2: the poppin pianos listing behind Olivia’s flowing croon evoking even more Lorde as the hobo synths hover. Then the drums fall out of the sky, wings burning from the flame of the ripping match synths, and Olivia is stabbing it, her contempt and regret oozing from the punctured kicks, wishing and hoping bitter thoughts as ripping synths snatch her away from emo hell into the claws of the Mouse —
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Rodrigo leans into the Lorde-isms on “Deja Vu,” and let’s be real: how great that Lorde is becoming increasingly influential on a legion of teenage pop stars. The production here (by Dan Nigro) sounds v Antonoff x Finneas, and that’s not a bad thing, either; Nigro and Rodrigo’s songwriting on “Deja Vu” is whip-smart, too. These two know what they’re doing in the studio. I believe her vocal, and the emotion she delivers through it.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Olivia Rodrigo is too clever and tapped into the pop discourse she inhabits for a line like “Let’s be honest, we kinda do sound the same” to be a mere coincidence, right? Sure, following up the biggest single in the world was always going to be a challenge, but Rodrigo has had the unique misfortune of trying to brand herself as something more than just a Disney Channel version of Lorde or Taylor Swift. To a certain extent, the comparisons are fair game — the way she shouts “I know you get deja vu!” sounds so Swiftian I did a double take — but I’m much more interested in how Rodrigo is building off the foundations laid forth by her predecessors, rather than simply emulating them. What I hear in “Deja Vu” are some genuinely fresh and compelling songwriting perspectives. Yes, Rodrigo is doing the thing where she blows up the hyper-specific details of a relationship into universal proportions (Glee, strawberry ice cream, sharing jackets), but in other ways, she is flipping the trope on its head. There’s an unexpected rejection of romanticism and sentimentality in lines like “She thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused” or “A different girl now, but there’s nothing new.” She’s directly talking about the ways relationships — and the musical tropes that come with them — have been recycled and commodified. Maybe it’s because of the way that Gen Z grew up doom-scrolling through circular TikTok, Twitter and Tinder content, or because Rodrigo rose to fame on a show literally named High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but I can’t help but feel like “Deja Vu” has some baked-in meta-commentary about societal and generational malaise that has never been explored in this aesthetic package. It’s enrapturing, complex, gorgeous — and for the moment, feels like something entirely of her own.
[8]