Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Josh Pan ft. Abra – Give It to Ya

Will Rivitz reveals us all as The Brostep Jukebox…


[Video][Website]
[7.50]

Will Rivitz: This is what dubstep should sound like in 2017. The previously-reigning shades of bro-ey maximalism have died out of the public consciousness, but their tendrils still remain, and josh pan reshapes and reforms a few of them into this positively writhing masterclass in dancefloor manipulation. Abra, who has killed every single one of her features this year (go listen to “Drugs” if you haven’t yet), doesn’t disappoint here, chunky slabs of 808 undergirding her slinkily misanthropic verses while the amorphous conglomerate of producers behind her toss all kinds of wails and bellows into the melting pot behind her. “give it to ya” is a nightmarish beast, the kind of tune that only really comes out to skulk after midnight — I can almost hear it melting into a puddle of pure malice as Abra’s hypnotic “yeahs” in the chorus ensconce themselves in higher and higher registers. It’s gorgeous and horrifying, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
[9]

Will Adams: How to make dubstep sound fresh in 2017: emulate, even the slightest bit, the cadence and off-the-wall sonics of “Independent Women, Pt. II.”
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Pumping drums, glitching, brassy bass, slick synth stabs and heavy yet nimble crooning from Abra.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Abra has the nimbleness of Aaliyah, but with a desperate freestyle edge. Josh Pan’s production encircles her with fire: drops and beds that crackle, hits that pop off like magnesium flashes. It’s the latter that’s the emotional high point; she rides its aftermath like it’s a Timbaland outro.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Like an attempt to totally flunk one of those calls for pop songs that end up as background interstitial music. Maybe a little like this: “Production should be tasteful, with absolutely no brostep, airhorns, and any connections to Skrillex bumped at least to page two of the resume. Vocals should be restrained, polished, generally on key. Spoken word is a hard sell. Don’t, like, compare yourself to a lamp.” We’ve all presumably heard the Most Wanted vs. Unwanted Songs; we know how this turns out.
[8]

Ian Mathers: If you had just told me one of the possibilities for whatever we’re calling “dubstep” (I mean, at least “emo” seems to have settled on a set of signifiers at some point) was a more BPM-aggressive version of mid-to-late period Massive Attack I would have already been on board.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: It’s a questionable choice to bring in someone like Abra, who fills her own place in a vacant room rather than let the moving parts of Josh Pan’s busy, sentient kitchen-sink dubstep guide her. What saves it is the slithering production that provides the base.
[6]

Iain Mew: The brostep Katy B track I didn’t realise I wanted. 
[8]

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Meljoann – Personal Assistant

Via Katherine, an Irish artist…


[Video][Website]
[6.56]

Katherine St Asaph: Irish artist Meljoann’s 2010 album Squick is an underrated gem: think PC Music before PC Music’s time and without PC Music’s smarm, and absolutely the kind of thing that’d go over great in 2017. “Personal Assistant” takes that album and adds a lot of polish, a lot of Janet Jackson vocals and a lot of (implied) Alexa: careening fast and ever-so-slightly wonky like a self-driving car. Headphones required.
[9]

Alfred Soto: The permafrost layer of synths and Meljoann’s high end create unceasing tension, and not once does the veneer crack. 
[7]

Ian Mathers: The sound, like Janet Jackson struggling to fight her way out of a Leverage Models production, is fantastic. There just doesn’t seem to be that much of an actual song to go along with it.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: There is a functional groove here, buried under clouds of overlapping, hissing voices, a sea of arrythmic cluster chords, and a structure that includes a tonally adventurous, discombobulating interlude for a second verse. None of these things are deal-breakers in their own right, but all at once they’re an unresolvable mess; there is so much tense, unforgiving detail that it tangles up attention into knots.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Stop-and-start bass and trembling synths that tumble and split underneath Melijoan’s searing melisma draw a line through the spikes of crackling, jutting drums.
[7]

William John: A quasi-Simlish take on Janet Jackson’s aesthetic from twenty or so years ago is an intriguing enough premise, though I can’t imagine many people gathering under a disco ball to dance to this, aside perhaps from the cast of Jenny Slate’s Catherine.
[5]

Claire Biddles: “Personal Assistant” miraculously manages to retain a consistent groove and sexiness while also being unpredictable and oblique enough to reward repeat listens. Even better if each listen is framed with the hints of submission and transgression suggested by the song title. 
[8]

Iain Mew: It feels exactly like the uncomfortable twitchy loop brought on by having too many things to do at once while sat at a machine that should help me to do all of them but instead using it to flick between inboxes. A light “email that dream” poking through the clutter is so perfect it seems wrong it doesn’t end there.
[6]

Brad Shoup: For a few months about a decade ago, I was a personal assistant at a small healthcare company. There were about 10 employees, so it wasn’t too bad: schedule calls, purchase flights. Still, I thought there was something else for me, and I bailed, only to spend years working at factories and banks. (There were a few fumbles toward grad school in there.) Meljoann wrote this while working at a call center, the type of place at which I couldn’t seem to get an interview. Her styling for the song and video match: arch takes on a 30-year-old aesthetic. Her cadences are brittle and stacked neatly, the kind of efficiency you’d expect from the job in question. There’s playfulness, but alongside the relentless hi-hat it comes across as emotional labor: the smile you display when a last-minute request drops by your cubicle. And the synth squiggles are as fleeting as daydreams, maybe the promise of a weekend free from demands. After I got hired by my current employer, I used to go into work on Saturdays all the time to chip away at my queue of trouble tickets. Sometimes I’d see an exec, but never an assistant.
[7]

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Randy Newman – Putin

Days since last bout of controversy: five 0


[Video][Website]
[3.55]

Brad Shoup: This was corny when Randy dropped it last year. After 14 months of Putin standing in for the failure of technocratic governance, it’s excruciating. It’s a sketch of the man as rendered from a Colbert monologue: a collection of rusty zingers (the Kurds line, pretty much everything related to The Putin Girls) with rotted connective tissue. I suppose I should be thankful that he just made a mildly ambitious Mark Russell tune, rather than stretching this to Broadway length.
[1]

Alfred Soto: He’s topical and funny! He inserts details like the Trans-Siberian railroad. Through it all he sings in the thick-as-tar accent signifying that He’s Being Ironic. As usual with this dude, he goes over my head and talks to boomers.
[4]

Iain Mew: Robbie Williams’s take was more enjoyable to listen to and funnier. It was also 90% about Robbie Williams and still had as much to say about Putin as this.
[3]

Ian Mathers: This sub-Capitol Steps crap is the kind of thing that makes it very hard to remember that Newman is perfectly capable of both cleverness and decent melodies. I mean, he is, right? Have I been living a lie?
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Newman takes this barely-there song which would have to weigh twice as much to even be a trifle, and sings it in a way that’s so leaden, it crashes like a bowling ball. It’s like a really awful musical number where the writer smugly thinks that because things rhyme, they’re clever. It’s no “Putin Putout,” that’s for sure.
[2]

Nortey Dowuona: Big, shiny, cheesy singing from Newman as the swinging, chaotic piano sails through the expanding, energetic drums, tangled horns, tinkling guitars, sharply drawn strings and goofy choirs alongside the stiff and vivid bass.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This reminds me of elotes: corn covered in cheese. Randy Newman has made Putin into a cartoon villain, one that’s half-Disney, half-South Park. It’s theatrical, silly, clever in a nerdy way, and dumb if you think about it for longer than a moment. Lord help me, I like it. I really shouldn’t. But I do. Much like elotes.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Well, now I know how Mueller’s flipping everyone.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Great political art doesn’t exi-“
[0]

Jonathan Bradley: In his 1999 song “Great Nations of Europe,” Randy Newman turned the colonial powers of the West into Randy Newman characters: nasty, self-serving, and pathetic in a way that fails to dispel their malice. “Putin,” from Newman’s 2017 album Dark Matter, does the same for Vladimir; the Russian president is here an aspiring imperialist overly amused by silly puns about “Kurds and whey.” When The Simpsons had George H.W. Bush move to its setting of Springfield, the show’s executive producer Bill Oakley clarified that their parody was “not a political attack; it’s a personal attack,” and “Putin” works along similar lines. This Putin is a man who thinks a great deal of himself, and is dangerous enough to insist that those around him should too. That allows for propagandist grandeur as well as pettiness; this Putin claims everyman status while insisting at every turn of his own superiority: “You saying Putin’s getting big-headed?” he scoffs. “Putin’s head’s just fine!” Newman allows his character to wander into bombast before that character reels back his comedic excesses in recognition of their silliness. So this Putin has a chorus line that chants ribald praise, only to have it negated by a paternal scolding: “Putin hates the Putin Girls, cause he hates vulgarity.” Later, when his offsiders try to tell him the United States won the Second World War, he chuckles: “that’s a good one, ladies.” This probably has little in common with the real, nastier, more capable Russian leader, but “Putin” doesn’t need to have a lot to say about Eastern European geopolitics. Its concerns are about subjects Newman has sung of across six decades now: power, and the brazenly squalid ways those who wield it are happy to use it.
[9]

Will Adams: At the beginning of the year I complained about “Chained to the Rhythm” and its passive, inoffensive approach to the protest song format, but I didn’t know how bad it could be. Imagine that same lack of insight except with plonky piano, punching down on women and Peter Griffin levels of explaining-the-joke (“Putin puttin’ on pants!” “Kurds! Way!” GET IT?!). At the end of 2016 we were relieved the year was over, and that 2017 would be a fresh start. It’s now almost 2018 and with each day we’re wondering how many more circles of Hell we’re about to descend. Won’t the music at least sing us sweetly into the fire?
[0]

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Thundercat ft. Kenny Loggins & Michael McDonald – Show You the Way

We got somethin’ to say about yacht rock, yes we do…


[Video][Website]
[6.62]

Thomas Inskeep: Thundercat’s a weirdo. I mean, his resume is beyond ridiculous: the much-sought-after bassist has played with Suicidal Tendencies, received a Grammy for his work with Kendrick Lamar, and is a crucial part of new jazz great Kamasi Washington’s posse. So how does he lead off his third full-length, this year’s Drunk? With a Yacht Rock dream single (especially in 2017) featuring lyrical and vocal contributions from the twin titans of yacht, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, both of whose voices still sound like creamy perfection. And this isn’t Yacht Rock just because of Loggins and McDonald, either; Thundercat is an avowed yacht fanatic who reached out to the guys and asked them to collaborate with him, not to just sing on his record. The Yacht Rock guys — meaning, the four guys who invented the term via their web series a decade ago — gave “Show You the Way” a 66.0 on their Yachtski scale earlier this year. I’d go even higher: as a Yacht Rock single, I think this is at least a 75, maybe even close to an 80. (Modern yacht is tough.) This is smooth, this is soulful, this has the Voice of God (a/k/a McDonald) on it, and Thundercat’s not fucking around; he’s utterly sincere. “Show You the Way” dropped in January, and it’s been one of my favorite songs all year long.
[10]

Julian Axelrod: Thundercat is not fucking with you. Yes, he’s a bass virtuoso who sings odes to his cat in a boyish falsetto. Yes, he collaborates with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. Yes, he uses this outro to warn listeners to drink water while they’re raging. But this song would be unlistenable if it weren’t so achingly sincere. Thundercat doesn’t bring in these forgotten icons for an ironic deconstruction of their public persona. He works with Loggins and McDonald because he fucking loves yacht rock, and you hear that love in every bass line, harmony and keyboard squeal. And the lyrics, a tender testimony to the healing power of compassion, are similarly starry-eyed. But when it’s all so expertly executed, you can’t help but fall under his spell. Thundercat is not fucking with you, but he’s also not fucking around.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: As the Brainfeeder crew appeared to have spiraled out of the land of instrumental hip-hop into a dimension of quasi-“black prog” to succeed where the Sa-Ra axis failed to be recognized, likewise we find them beginning the strange transition away from freeform muso-experiments into a sophisticate’s MOR. So the seemingly “random” aspect of someone like Thundercat grabbing Loggins & McDonald is actually quite predictable; in fact I’m surprised he didn’t get Bernard Purdie on it, or get the remaining Brecker brother to do a solo. Nonetheless, the pared down approach for Thundercat is still a surprising home for him that the more he slips into, the better he sounds.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Feels soft and inviting. Soft, pillowy synths softly sink around the twisting horn of the bass and the muffle thump of the loose, light drums as McDonald swirls around it, Loggins tiptoes up on it and Thundercat lets himself get pulled along with it.
[8]

Tim de Reuse: Thundercat cleans his usual shtick of all the usual clutter and wah-effect resonance, even scaling back significantly on his virtuosic bass noodling. What’s left is sincere, smooth eighties schlock in slightly more modern trappings, buoyed by a team-up that I couldn’t have predicted but that still makes a kind of cosmic sense. This song is proof of Thundercat’s chops as a songwriter, and the chorus contains one of the best melodies he’s ever written, but the whole composition isn’t terribly distinctive as an example of his style; a lovely single, but one that isn’t nearly as interesting as it could’ve been given the people involved.
[7]

Ian Mathers: With a potentially gimmicky guest list and a genuinely excellent video (especially if you go back and watch “Them Changes” again first), it’d be easy to overlook the actual substance of “Show You the Way.” But honestly, even though Loggins and McDonald are clearly still up to the task of being smooth as hell and low-key but effectively empathetic, his verse shows that Thundercat could have handled this one on his own if he needed to. It’s downright lush, like the emotional inverse of a good Steely Dan track.
[8]

Alfred Soto: So long as these old beards sing through their face hair over “Minute by Minute” electric pianos “Show You the Way” does for seventies nostalgia what “Get Lucky” was supposed to. As it is, I prefer faster, disco-ier pastiches: Holy Ghost!’s “Some Children,” Michael McDonald’s own “Sweet Freedom.”
[6]

Brad Shoup: Vocally, Thundercat’s outclassing his heroes, which you can credit to their age or his giving himself all the intense imagery. Still, when he drags Loggins through shallow water, or introduces each guest, or talks about hydration, you wonder if his yacht’s run aground on The Lonely Island.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: There is no number high enough to count the Faustian bargains I would make to never again be told, usually by a man, to care about or canonize — of all the music of the ’70s and ’80s! — the limpid, diarrheically oily, sweaty-polyester-scented, sub-porn-music, unctuously synth padded, near-exclusively and incredibly male bullshit that is yacht rock.
[1]

Jonathan Bradley: Where languid becomes flaccid.
[3]

Cassy Gress: 70s smooth rock through a shimmery kaleidoscope. Sounds sort of like the feeling of when you tip your chair back too far and start falling, stretched out into four weightless minutes.
[7]

Julian de Valliere: I read a genuinely lovely tweet about sex a few days ago. It read, “The most damaging reality warp of porn is that porn acts like sex is SERIOUS when the best sex involves lots of laughs, giggles, teasing, chatting, and playing around to get things right for everyone.” I thought back to this while listening to “Show You the Way,” because Thundercat seems to subscribe to that same belief. “Show You the Way” is unafraid of being earnest, and sensual, and playful — all at the same time. These characteristics are best displayed in Thundercat’s parting words, when he reminds you to bring a bottle of water with your vodka. Sure, he wants you to have a good time right now, but he’d also really like you to stick around for a while after.
[8]

Rebecca A. Gowns: The recorded single is good in a mystifying kind of way. After listening to it, I click through to a live version of this song, which is even more mystifying. Thundercat could have performed this with a wink, but instead, he presents it with 100% reverence of Loggins and McDonald. On his own, McDonald, plonking away at the keyboard with white hair, hand up to his ear to nail the harmony, looks like any other older man performing with his weekend band at a coffee shop. Loggins looks like he’s performing his favorite deep cut at karaoke night. Thundercat looks like he’s jamming in his garage on a sleepy Saturday morning. But the looks that they all give each other have a passionate energy — each one of them nodding and egging on the other two, encouraging each other to solo and riff and keep those vocals going. This isn’t Thundercat featuring yacht rock samples as a joke. This is Thundercat featuring two musicians he admires greatly, and, it must be said, the feeling appears to be mutual.
[8]

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

Haiku Hands – Not About You

Let’s get bratty…


[Video][Website]
[7.12]

Will Adams: What it is about: the thwacking intro from Onuka’s latest stormer, brattiness distilled from decades of the stuff, from Gillette to Icona Pop, the brashness of M.I.A.’s underrated Maya and, lest you get too serious about it all, the enduring credo of “CHIIIIIIIILL.”
[9]

Claire Biddles: Bratty shout-a-longs are best when their attitude is met with charm, and “Not About You” has heaps of attitude and heaps of charm: in its wild rhymes (“I’m going to tear up the lexicon with a hexagon and my sexy thong on”!!) and their delivery; heavily accented and with just the right amount of comic timing. This sits between “Mind Your Own Business” by Chicks On Speed and “Trouble” by Shampoo on my getting-ready-to-go-out playlist and it has already served as the precursor of innumerable nights of dancing and shouting and drinking cheap white wine, which I think Haiku Hands would deem appropriate.
[9]

Tim de Reuse: Sounds like a bunch of friends having a blast, and it’s infectious; the occasional sections where it sounds like they’re just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks (“I’m gonna kick your arse…”) are far outweighed by lines like “You look like a tortoise / Your issues are enormous,” which is possibly the most fucking incredible rhyme I’ve heard in my entire life.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Imagine Tom Tom Club or the Raincoats over the crummiest drum program they could find. “You look like a tortoise/Your issues are enormous” is funny because it’s true and funny because it’s funny. “Not About You” should be twelve minutes long.
[7]

Iain Mew: I haven’t heard something new like this since the UK industry decided to pretend The Ting Tings never happened. I’d welcome the return even if Haiku Hands didn’t bring even more scrappy energy and such great brags and threats to kick arse.
[7]

Katie Gill: I mean it’s cute? But cute can only go so far, especially when the song just seems too juvenile. The way of singing (cheering?) is a schoolyard chant that occasionally matches the schoolyard chant lyrics. The beat just sounds basic and dull, like someone just discovered this fun setting on the keyboard to use. I’m certain that if you’re drunk and screaming along with it then this is the best song in the world, and I can see why this would have appeal. But then again, I thought the Ting Tings were just okay when they first came on the scene as well.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Bouncy, echoey drums, rubbery and light of foot bass bounce together with scatterings of synths and bubbles and noises as Haiku Hands hi-five, dap and secret handshake across the beat.
[6]

Brad Shoup: I thought they were laying the shut ups too softly, but the track’s less shit-talk than trash talk. It’s nearly as posi as prime youth crew, but the punks couldn’t rhyme. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Haiku Hands give 2017 its own update of Confidence Man, but while the electro thunk remains rudimentary, the sass is more fun this time around. You can go a long way with a Fight Like Apes-level couplet like “you look like a tortoise/your issues are enormous.”
[6]

Ian Mathers: Some of the lines are a bit whiffed, but that infectious chorus chanting (complete with plenty of slight shifts in meter) redeems a multitude of sins. Which is why the middle here, where they go too long without it, drags a little. It’s no “I Love It,” but what is?
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s a sign of the times really. The 00s version of white-girl electro-rap was all about the ironic detached nihilism pose of Uffie where everything was like, the coolest post-Kittin bomb-out of sick parties that sounded both more glamorous and more sordid than the hollow reality of what actually happened. Now, in the 2010s, we get a hollow sort of ideological boasting, solidarity as pep rally which is meant more as some kind of shield rattle than any offer of strength or genuine unity. You can hear in its industrial pulse, the grinding and pressing of many a “Queen of ___” meme ready to be imposed and impressed on any subject regardless of worth or merit, just to say they can. Frankly, one would just hope the music might do something a little different between then and now as well.
[2]

William John: I suspect my submission of a blurb for this song contravenes its titular tenet. But I thought it worth mentioning that an aesthetic of “zippy shout-a-long to something that scans like a sped up instrumental of M.I.A. and Afrikan Boy’s ‘Hussel'” is one I wholeheartedly support.
[8]

Will Rivitz: It’s the last week of the semester where I’m at, and stress is approaching untenable levels. This song’s making me want to throw my textbooks on the library floor and stomp out, making as big a ruckus as I can. It’s impossible to put into words how unreasonably humongous this song is – try to encompass it in any manner and it immediately bursts the seams of whatever you’re futilely attempting to contain it with. This grabs all the best elements of Justice, Erol Alkan, Boys Noize, Shiny Toy Guns, and really anyone else who caused a nuclear reaction by fusing synthpop and electro, and shoots them into the stratosphere with the force of a cannonball.
[9]

Rebecca A. Gowns: At last, we get 2017’s very own Gravy Train!!!! Fun as hell and makes me feel 15 years younger. (And then, like an ancient crone, I have to stop my frenetic dancing when I start wheezing for breath.)
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: “212” by Azealia Banks without the lyrical bite, but just as fun to dance to. I haven’t wanted to go to a gay club in quite some time, but now all I want to is drink too much, pop something I shouldn’t, and get sweaty on a dance floor with my boyfriend.
[8]

Julian de Valliere: The past two years have been an amazing time (at least in terms of quality) for pop music, but they’ve also been a not-entirely-stellar time for me. I’m gay, brown, and fighting every day to somehow crawl out of this homophobic hellhole of a country that I so foolishly decided to get born into. This means that I spend a good part of my time retreating into frothy pop tunes that can afford me some respite from what’s typically an emotionally exhausting day. It also means that when it comes to the media I consume, I don’t really subscribe to the idea of separating the person from the product. Needless to say, it’s been fairly garbage having to accept just how little pop stars care about the things that matter to me. As the planet reveals itself to be even bleaker than I imagined, songs that previously brought me comfort have become tainted by the actions – or inaction – of the people performing them. New releases don’t fare any better. No matter how desperately I need to escape into those earworms, the voice at the back of my head just won’t let me forget how one-sided these relationships are. And it stings. It stings because I have no fond memories left, it stings because I can’t make new ones, it stings to watch other people enjoy these songs unphased, because they have these beautiful, vibrant, synth-heavy safe spaces to escape into and I don’t, because whenever I try to step inside, I can only notice how the guest list has my name directly below the host’s favourite homophobe. And every tweet, stream, download, and new chart peak reminds me that I’m in a spectacular minority of people being affected by this, and it’s so intensely isolating that I’m still not entirely sure how to put it into words. So yes, that’s not ideal. And at the same time, I know I’m not the only person having a rough time. There are so many people who aren’t being spoken for, who maybe I haven’t even thought of myself, and being aware of that stings too. And that’s what makes all this kumbaya bullshit being peddled by supposedly progressive acts so infuriating. No one should have to sit down and have a meal with someone who’d rather just spit in their drink. If someone’s being wilfully ignorant, they don’t deserve a seat at the table. They don’t even deserve a polite “just so you know” in a corner of the room. They deserve to be told to shut the hell up, as forcibly and loudly as possible, preferably with a megaphone involved, until the entire building reverberates with the shock of just how wrong they are. And that’s what “Not About You” does. I know Haiku Hands aren’t singing for me either, but I’m so ridiculously glad that at least a few other people have been given somewhere to run to whenever they need it. And I’m also glad it’s such a full throttle banger, because if you need the defence that Haiku Hands put up, god knows you deserve some fun too.
[10]

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Bad Gyal – Jacaranda

In bloom…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Brad Shoup: It’s remarkable to hear this much quiet satisfaction on such a deep-hued dance track. During the pre-chorus, Dubbel Dutch pulls notes off the table while Bad Gyal asks a dude to get real close; it’s like they’re conspiring to fuck with his focus.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: LED synths blink as Auto-Tune spins Bad Gyal’s voice into their own ribbons of light. The effect is a dazzling one, even if the dancehall rhythm never finds enough propulsion to turn “Jacaranda” into something that does more than glow.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Almost sounds what life might be if you suffocated to death beneath a sea of bedazzlement or whatever the verb for the process of getting smothered in faux-crystals might be. Via a particularly pinched Auto-Tuning of the Gyal and an artery furrowing sweetness in Dubble Dutch’s riddim, “Jacaranda” is a pixilated faerie gif of a record, gaudy and slight at the same time.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The fuzzy glow of the synths and the Auto-Tune-baked vocals unwind the dance track to a dreamy slip, though they also cast a certain shade of loneliness. The craving for a body inspires the bodily ticks and stutters behind the swing of this digital dirty rock, so perhaps it’s appropriate for Bad Gyal to sound as if she’s dancing on her own.
[6]

Ian Mathers: This feels less energetic than “Fiebre” (and honestly a bit worse off for it), but the vocal processing works for me, making Bad Gyal’s vocals just another digital element ping-ponging through the mix, the whole assortment somehow achieving a hazy, blurry feeling even while each element is still distinctly in focus. Neat trick.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Bass synth stabs, slight synth squeaks, heavy and collapsing drums, solid Auto-Tune but flat singing.
[5]

Will Rivitz: I often describe my ambivalence towards the dancehall-adjacent Drake by emphasizing that I like “everything Drake but Drake himself.” He combines immaculate production and an incredible ear for hooky glory with delivery and lyrics that suck away most of the power bestowed upon the song by the non-Drake elements, sort of like having all the ingredients for an excellent cake but finding out midway through the baking process that the milk is spoiled. I feel about the same way about “Jacaranda”: the instrumental trips over itself sleekly, arpeggios sinking lower than any listener’s posterior in whatever venue this tune plays, but Bad Gyal’s limp Auto-Tune, sounding much like Drake’s own in its flatness, vacuums up a bit too much of the song’s bounce. Elements of Bad Gyal’s delivery suit this song phenomenally, particularly a lazily melodious pitch correction that pushes her vocal timbre closer to a Future or Young Thug, but by and large it just deflates everything else. Bad Gyal brags that she has “culo pa rebotar” (loosely translated, “ass to bounce”) — it’s just a shame that this bounce isn’t quite emphasized enough here.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I like the quiet, robotic insistence on the power of her culo; no one has to remind her, thank you. The rest of the beat is on the timid side of aerobicized.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: “Jacaranda” is a song of how self-confidence results in an honest proposal of love. It has a fun dancehall beat as well as super loud post-chorus, but there is also warmness in the cadence of the last words of the chorus. That’s why the lyrics mixing lines about dancing and about genuine love aren’t contradictory. Like the Colombian band Bomba Estéreo, Bad Gyal also sees the dancefloor as the means to reach spirituality. She sings that she has “an ass to bounce,” but she also sings that she expects to marry her loved one because what they have is “something spiritual.” In Buenos Aires, the Jacaranda trees are in bloom and the light-purple flowers cover their branches as people walk beneath them with light summer clothes. I have no idea why this song is titled “Jacaranda,” but I feel this is the time of the year to make a dancefloor out in the streets, to own them and to share them.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Jacaranda is a genus of trees native to Jamaica that features beautiful purple-blue flowers. It’s been cultivated in numerous countries around the world, one of which is Spain. As such, it’s an appropriate title for Bad Gyal’s colorful, dancehall-indebted single. Much like “Fiebre,” “Jacaranda” captures the rapturous joy of dancing with someone via a glitzy collage of synths and Auto-Tuned vocals. In the pre-chorus, Bad Gyal asks someone to come closer to her. Producer Dubbel Dutch responds by having the instrumentation constantly recede, focusing the attention on Bad Gyal herself. But when the chorus hits, she doesn’t aim for an overt hook to lure this person in. Instead, all her lines pan hard left or right, directing our attention to the song’s syncopated rhythms. “I don’t need words,” she asserts, and it becomes clear that she wants her dancing to do the talking. In “Jacaranda,” Bad Gyal’s vocals are simply another tool that’s used to grant the song momentum. This blending of singer with instrumentation points to the act of dancing: when you’re dancing with someone, you’re not just dancing with a person, you’re dancing with the embodiment of the dance floor’s transformative properties. After all, it’s not just the music and space that contribute to the dance floor’s sensuous atmosphere, it’s every individual person. As “Jacaranda” closes, a straightforward dancehall beat plays low in the mix. It’s as if we’ve been transported outside, hearing the music from a distance while walking on home. It sounds plain, but it acts as a reminder of how engrossing the dance floor is when one is actually there. With a final repeated line, Bad Gyal summarizes the experience succinctly: “Es algo espiritual.”
[9]

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Serebro – Proydet

Russian girl group readies for the winter…


[Video][Website]
[7.20]

Will Adams: Never did I feel as seen in 2017 as when Serebro fully pivoted to a sound that time forgot but I remembered: Soul Solution remixes, wistful trance, yearning guitar hooks. There are other examples, but “Proydet” is the most urgent. There’s resolve in the trio’s homophony, but the deep bass and spacious pads belie their tentativeness as they turn their gaze upward to an uncertain future.
[10]

Jonathan Bradley: Something about the shorn economy of trance music, the unidirectional determination of its thump combined with its commerce-minded hedonistic imperative, can turn it into a very lonely music. It’s not simple dancefloor melancholy, but a kind of psychic loneliness, a generated fugue state that wrenches the unreachable caverns of one’s own mind out on to the dancefloor and turns them into physical space. When the party’s going right, this effect is a liberating and dissociative one, even as it carries obscured within it that abyss. “Proydet” is icy like electro — a style more apt to embrace its darker impulses — and its lurking bass and echoing guitar figure is frozen and solitary. Serebro still want us to dance, and their production has an upmarket sheen, a façade of luxury reassuring us nothing actually is all that wrong. I wonder what it would be like if that were to fall away.
[6]

Iain Mew: “Proydet” sounds like both a UK #5 trance hit from 2000, probably with a soft focus video on a beach, and a classy if slightly wooden girl group ballad from, well, Eurovision circa 2007. The mixture works well enough to elevate it above either, and make me wonder why these sounds aren’t tried out more often.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Yearning Euro-trance that stops just short of rote house or “Clocks,” as not to break the spell.
[7]

Ian Mathers: The nicely pulsing beat and sweeping synths are foundational, sure, but it’s in that sad-ass guitar lick that the backing for “Proydet” really comes together. Once that all locks in, all our singers need to do is give the right shading of ache to their voices and neither over nor underplay their surroundings, and these three nail it.
[7]

Alfred Soto: With its fat sequencer and faint ripple of a guitar line, “Proydet” is melancholic for a dance and a girl group tune. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe could’ve been written it for Eighth Wonder in 1987.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Like all good trance-pop tracks, this sounds like a missive from the ring of a slowly rotating planet. The guitar pings recall the downtempo acoustic craze of a few years ago. But those songs feinted at singer-songwriter realness, and thus tried to offer some warmth. Even Serebro’s promises drift like January breath.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Chilly. A solid drumbeat cartwheels along as a soft guitar crinkles above, as the heaving sea bass lifts the smooth harmonizations of Serebro.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The hands-in-pockets dance beat provides nothing close to a redemptive hook, and neither does the song’s post-breakup narrative. “Proydet” instead chips at that slight emptiness of a partially recovered heart. Serebro sings a clouded optimism, though it’s mostly naïveté talking for the sake of security.
[6]

Julian de Valliere: “Proydet” is the long walk back home from the club you slunk out of early after discovering that the boy who you knew wasn’t really into you is, in fact, not really into you — during which you soothe your freshly-battered ego with the completely sound reasoning that you can do far better in terms of potential partners because you would never be as inconsiderate about another person’s feelings as he was, but also while checking your phone just in case he sends a message wondering where you went.
[8]

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Josh Ritter – Showboat

Welcome to Amnesty 2017! And what better way to begin than with some Americana?


[Video][Website]
[6.20]

Alex Clifton: “Showboat” is a take on machismo, with the central character too proud and masculine to cry; it’s slightly more serious than the Flight of the Conchords’ “I’m Not Crying,” but not by much. In four minutes, Ritter paints a portrait of a desperate showy guy who keeps refusing to face the truth with remarkable lyrical dexterity and affection. He’s overdramatic and swaggering, bemoaning how it never rains hard enough to cover his tears while also powering through to dance on tables. The best part, though, is that while the song is fun, the narrator never becomes a caricature. We might laugh at this guy, but there’s a real heart to his story; Ritter cuts deep into that feeling of maintaining a happy façade but with the emotion spilling over. That last verse in particular is phenomenal, a tense, breathless buildup of boasts that finally ends with the tacit admission that, yes, he really is sinking. While Ritter’s characters always feel like they’ve hopped out of a novel, he inhabits their stories so fully that they become real. That’s always been the calling card of a great folk artist, and Ritter is far and away one of the greats.
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: Musically, this is a groovier “”I Am… I Said,”” but Josh actually sings throughout this track, whereas Neil spends the early part of his first verse talking on a beat. Stylistically, even, these tracks aren’t all that different, with Josh putting up a bit of a façade in the face of a failed relationship and Neil tearing his façade down on his track. These comparisons are important because I love that Neil Diamond song tremendously. Naturally, I’m pretty stoked to have come across this song.
[7]

Iain Mew: I thought the first verse’s absurdly extended riff on hiding tears in the rain was a nice joke to start things off, and looked forward to finding out where else the song would go. Ha! I hadn’t yet grasped the form of Josh Ritter’s showboating: proving he can juggle one ball blindfolded, with his hands behind his back, and in the face of a brass onslaught, before ever moving on to picking up another ball.
[6]

Brad Shoup: He’s got the lilt of Waylon aiming for the variety shows. And a conceit (rain concealing tears) that was deployed about 800 times in the 1960s, before the umbrella was invented. A lot of those songs used jollity for additional irony, but it’s still nice to hear the horns. He summons a great ragged commotion from a well-spaced mix: at one point, the organ shudders like a harp with a bandsaw on its soundboard.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Loudon Wainwright, John Hiatt, and their ilk flash in Josh Ritter’s delivery and songwriting. You know who I mean — the guys you’d see displayed next to the latest Van Morrisson at a Barnes & Noble in 1998. This gentle mockery of machismo takes its cue from Ritter’s conversational cadences, although he could use a temper instead of letting the horns get peppier. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Ritter’s band reclines into an unhurried soft rock groove, their Laurel Canyon vibes belying the unfussy professionalism at work. Out front of these restrained polyrhythms and carefully tasteful guitar licks, Ritter is a workmanlike presence, his delivery too blocky and unambitious to do much more than take up space. As the arrangement crescendos with pumping organ and grunting horns, he tries to keep up, but the best his monotone manages is a more hurried delivery. If, as the lyric suggests, he’s masking his emotions, it’s an act he pulls off too well; this has all the anxiety of a Sunday afternoon pint while a beer garden bar band plays the background.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Maybe fittingly, the place I can most easily imagine relaxing into this enjoyably minor “It Never Rains in Southern California”-meets-“Little Green Apples” groove (with just a titch of John Prine in the back somewhere) is in some non-fancy bar bullshitting with friends. Not sure I’d put it on the jukebox myself, but I’d probably find myself humming along.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Ritter’s recent elaborate production seems at cross grains to a lyrical nimbleness. The entire brass band kind of works better than other recent examples, maybe because the writing is less nimble, and because it fits so seamlessly with the theme of the writing. I am still a little bored, which is sad, because I love Ritter. 
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: This feels comforting. A fuzzy, blurry mess of organs and horns swirl around the rocksteady but rigid drums, the lumpy, passive bass and the raspy, gravely tones of Ritter. Good comfort food.
[6]

Mo Kim: There’s something in the rhythms of this song, waxing and waning behind an upbeat arrangement of horns and guitars, that lends “Showboat” a quiet desperate intensity; Ritter, a skillful storyteller, stays his hand until the levees break over the bridge and he spills over the chorus. 
[8]

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Readers’ Week 2017 – the rest

That’s it for this year’s Readers’ Week. We received many good suggestions this year and it was hard to narrow it down to just 15. Here are the rest of your nominations, with words where we received them. A YouTube playlist of all of the picks (that are available on YouTube) can be found here. Thanks for sending them in, and thank you as always for your readership.

Next week: Amnesty!

(more…)

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

Taemin – Move

Happily, Taemin. And thanks, Emily!


[Video][Website]
[7.50]

Kalani Leblanc: Every knob is screwed in so tightly there’s no room for mistakes. I used to wonder why Taemin was SM’s favorite child, but with “Move” the question becomes obsolete. With every solo he releases, he inches further towards something greater. Danger was dramatic and begging for Michael Jackson comparisons, Press Your Number/Drip Drop took the formula and matured it, but Move stripped the formula further. Taemin’s admittance of flaws and refusal to stop learning makes me wonder what is to come (and how he could ever top this).
[10]

Leonel Manzanares: The track’s named Move, but you can’t help but feel trapped in this robot funk. Luckily, Taemin knows how to glide with grace through such small aural room. 
[7]

Madeleine Lee: Where Taemin’s previous solo singles cloaked him in the work of other artists, spiritually (“Danger” and Michael Jackson) or literally (“Press Your Number,” co-written by Bruno Mars), on “Move” he reveals his own vision: matte-surfaced, ambiguous, and at enough of a remove to compel you to follow.
[8]

Alfred Soto: I suppose when I want good Weeknd it should sound like “Move”: twitching synths that don’t telegraph their sleaze, vocal that doesn’t telegraph its acquaintance with evil.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Solid, flat drums, soft, scraping synths, jumpy, rumbling bass and soft stabs of piano fill Taemin up as he coos with a raspy, throaty intensity and his smoothed out vocals cheer him on from the sides of the synths.
[7]

Will Adams: Like “Into You” at 60% power.
[6]