Friday, August 17th, 2018

All Saints – After All

After “All” comes… Saints. I mean, duh…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Ramzi Awn: We all know the story: girl falls in love, girl gets her heart broken, girl winds up on a beach with her Walkman and a sea of nostalgia listening to “After All.” All Saints’ mystical synths and slow burn vocals hint at a prog rock influence, and the track would be right at home on the soundtrack of art house horror flick It Follows.
[9]

Peter Ryan: Consumed with what’s irrevocably lost, overtly nostalgic in text and sound, almost too “All Saints and Orbit reunite in 2018”-by-numbers. But Lewis’s writing plays chicken with cliché — maudlin, elegantly suspended ruminations on the barely-remembered but long-settled, bowled over by a chorus grasping fervently at a shadow of a thread — “there was something ’bout the way you used to love.” Like that one thing could be enough to transcend the inconvenient rules that bind its subjects to the present, like speaking it (there was something) could make it tangible once more. But the All Saints know that recollections only get weaker, and there’s no narrative fix for bad timing.
[8]

Ian Mathers: On the one hand if you played this to me blind, I’m not sure I’d guess that it’s All Saints, but on the other I would still enjoy it quite a bit, and I think I would guess it’s from a group that’s been around for a while. Sometimes youngsters and/or novices can pull off this level of bittersweet, but not often.
[8]

Will Adams: William Orbit’s drifting synth lines entice as usual, but then the song derails into a pile of clattering drums that crowd everything. The chorus is even worse for this, adding hi-hat skitters and snare rolls and cumbersome kicks on top of it all. “After All” aims for dramatics and leaves me yearning for an alternate Orbit/UK girl group collab that offers more warmth.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: The ethereal, almost supernatural sounding production piles on the nostalgia more heavily than even the women singing can, but it works to the songs benefit. “After All” manages to transport anyone listening to the late-90s when these power-pop mid-tempos were prevalent, and sometimes a trip down memory lane is good for the soul.
[7]

Claire Biddles: “After All” has the aloof frothiness that All Saints do well, but it’s too forgettable to stick. It’s perhaps unfair to compare this to their imperial phase, but I can’t help thinking about how “Pure Shores” did feather-light delicacy just right.
[5]

Friday, August 17th, 2018

Zedd & Elley Duhé – Happy Now

Could you look me in the eye…


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Thomas Inskeep: Elley Duhé has nowhere near the vocal presence of Maren Morris, and “Happy Now” is back to Zedd’s EDM/pop paint-by-numbers approach, best (and clearly) suited for EDC singalongs. Which is all to say that this is no “The Middle”; this is more like (sorry) the bottom.
[2]

Will Adams: More proof that Zedd should hire Grey full-time to create new singles: on his own, he thinks that a lone minor seventh chord randomly tucked into the second verse is exciting, and that “Clarity” without the drops is a good idea.
[4]

Iain Mew: One more “Only You” or “Lonely Together,” bumped clumsily up against the slow-mo riff of Daughter’s “Youth.” The best bit was mishearing one of its oddest lines as “only you know the strength of your tea” with a weight rarely given to such preferences. 
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: Zedd has a knack for choosing the right vocalists for his projects, and on “Happy Now,” Elley was absolutely the right choice. There’s a youthful energy that emanates off her warm vocals and lifts the otherwise lackluster chorus, but it really shines when Elley goes toe to toe with the verses.
[6]

Claire Biddles: Cute but dull, “Happy Now” aims for bittersweet late-summer regret but has none of the specifics to make it soar.
[3]

Will Rivitz: Of the oodles of DJs trying to transition from pop as defined by obnoxious house to pop as defined in the wake of the Chainsmokers, only Zedd has managed to sound good consistently. Maybe his stripe of house happened to be more melodic than his counterparts, maybe he’s just a better musician, but “Happy Now” at least offers evidence of his dominance if not an explanation. The transition from guitar to plucks is effortless, as is the vocodered chorus, clashing with the morosity of the lyrics in the way of the best #sadbangers around. Mellowed-out dance music for an idealized party is a good thing. 
[8]

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Shaun – Way Back Home

Sorry, Shaun, you did not score better than The 1975 today. But look on the bright side, you didn’t get any [0]s…


[Video][Website]
[4.33]

Iain Mew: #1 in Korea and Vietnam, but not K-Pop. Instead, an obvious stylistic debt to folk-era Avicii (though the melody is more Armin Van Buuren ft. Trevor Guthrie) but with a drop so subdued as to not even be a drop. This is EDM, in fact, with very little E or D — a convoluted way back home to folk-rock. That brings it dangerously close to being Jonas Blue – Fast Car (acoustic), but it has a balance of gentle ease and oomph that puts it in an unusual sweet spot of its own.
[6]

Alfred Soto: A guitar line that ripples as prettily as this one could stop earthquakes and the red tide off Florida’s west coast. Credit Shaun too for melding the best of Asian pop with the smoothy insouciance of Romeo Santos.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Importing one Ed Sheeran was enough.
[3]

Will Rivitz: Beneath the surface of this one’s anemic electric guitar, anemic Clean Bandit synths, and anemic falsetto, I can almost hear the H&M ad speeding my way.
[4]

Will Adams: I could appreciate the moves made here to break from the tropical house formula, but the half-asleep guitars wade dangerously close to the worst of “Waves”-wave and the deflated drops — obviously there to meet 2018’s Chill™ quotas — sound more like someone threw a wet blanket over the whole song.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A member of The Koxx who also helped produce f(x)’s “Papi” releases a single from his debut EP that serves as another reminder that South Korea really needs to step away from all things tropical. There are numerous Western touchstones here, but this mainly feels like something that came in the wake of Mamamoo’s “Starry Night.” And while there may have been controversy surrounding this song’s sudden success, it doesn’t take away from how it feels emblematic of what would top the country’s charts anyway. If coffeeshop folk turns into coffeeshop trop I’m gonna go crazy.
[2]

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

The 1975 – Love It If We Made It

Get out your popcorn, it’s time for another controversial One Nine Seven Five single…


[Video][Website]
[4.83]

Will Adams: What? It’s just an ordinary The 1975 s- *reads lyrics* OH MY GOODNESS!
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Matt Healy yelling Hot Takes™ in a wind tunnel as a warmed over INXS track plays is weirdly compelling, but not quite good.
[5]

Claire Biddles: If anyone else tried this zeitgeist-quotes lyrical trick (it’s barely a trick!) I would hate it, but a) I’m hugely predisposed to The 1975; and b) their inherent miraculousness somehow makes them the exception to every rule. The lyric tries to hold the enormity of the world and so does the music — each electronic whoosh and whizz is a digital overspill from the heady whole, like even something this maximalist and ambitious isn’t quite enough for them. 
[10]

Iain Mew: The sound is a great expansion of the omnivorous approach of the last album. Taking a beautiful twinkle and one shiny happy phrase and setting upon them with echo, reflections and a lot of noise, its sonic trip represents the overload of modernity in the compelling way that the lyrics resolutely don’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve been extremely online since way before The 1975 was a thing, but I’m already familiar with a great stream of context-free sourness and nonsense, and I’d rather not encounter any replications of it. If you’re singing “poison me daddy” and “fuck your feelings” as slogans for satire, you’re still singing “poison me daddy” and “fuck your feelings” as slogans. It’s on a level with someone seeking out the most awful tweets to quote tweet them for clowning purposes, at best.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Have these loudmouths gone and interpolated The Blue Nile? Sounds like it. “The Downtown Lights” relied on a steady pulse to put over its lovelorn message; “Love It If We Made It” relies on “The Downtown Lights” to pull a con job on fans born after 1985. I mean, why is this mix so crowded?
[5]

Eleanor Graham: The 1975’s music has this quality of dancing around your own mind in the stale air of Tory safe-seat mid-late teenhood in an endless cycle of UCAS and grey skies and girls and boys and club toilets with peeling paint. I don’t expect anyone to be able to relate to that, but please don’t equate my specificity with cosy familiarity. I’m talking about “Robbers” cutting straight to the core of everything that hurts about growing up within its first 30 seconds. Uncomfortable? Oh, god yeah! But when something so closely resembles the inside of your head, it is churlish to deny that you’re a fan. All of this goes to say: I am incapable of being objective about “Love It If We Made It.” Because it is essentially a dystopian “Robbers,” with the same yearning indie thrum and a new urgency; because, well, you know, everything’s decaying; because aren’t we all thinking about the death of the republic on some level at all times, but don’t we also need bangers? Of course, we should be cynical about pop songs that make half-hearted jabs at the administration and reference the deaths of children, which both 1975 singles have now done. In its defence, this one at least makes the statements “I moved on her like a bitch” and “thank you, Kanye, very cool” sound terrifying and surreal enough to remind me that “terrifying” and “surreal” should not have become platitudes. Is it toothless? Is it exploitative? Or will it be read in twenty years simply as addressing the elephant in the room? They’ve thrown the chorus in there — raw, open, pleading, trailing off like a comet in the night sky — to make all of those questions feel inconsequential.
[8]

Juan F. Carruyo: A shocker in gloomtown, the song starts with a bang and it never lets up, swallowing everything in its path. The moody production suits the enveloping soundscape and it’s worthy of mentioning how the bass plays against the keys in the refrain. By the time the song ends, it feels like this is the soundtrack for the rapture. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: I’m massively fond of the 1975, but this is puddle-deep where it’s trying to be ~meaningful~ and ~edgy~ and ~zeitgeisty~ and it’s a hookless joy after the previous single’s buzzy earworm. Big-name artists probably think they’ve earned the right to release indulgences, but we shouldn’t pretend singles like this are anything more.
[2]

Will Rivitz: Leave it to The 1975 to build off an earth-shatteringly good teaser single with a follow-up nearly as bad as the first was good. Look, I’m all for politically conscious songwriting, but these lyrics could have been written by any of the interchangeable and smugly ineffective liberal Facebook pages my high school friends repost material from. I can overlook the awful lyricism of “Give Yourself A Try” (“Like context in a modern debate, I just took it out,” eurgh) because a) it’s only occasional and b) is utterly drowned out by an ecstasy of electric guitars, but here Matty Healy’s slacktivist garbage piles are given main billing. One point for the Lil Peep shoutout, one point for the glorious jangles after the second chorus reined in too soon in favor of a bridge that is somehow worse than the verses, and absolutely nothing else.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I have to give credit where credit is due: this is an evil song that utilizes its structure as a means to elevate and justify its conceptual gambit. Matt Healy reads off a list of provocative phrases that act as a simulacrum of the discouraging news headlines, ironic shitposts and self-impressed hot takes that crowd numerous corners of the internet. The pulsating beat and claustrophobic mix amplify that particular dread, and the swirling harp is the only sound that feels unstuck from it all. It hints at a hope that is later projected in the chorus, but it turns out to be nothing more than a red herring. I don’t expect Healy to provide answers — I’d argue that he took the more effective route in providing a moment of release over anything concrete — but I don’t believe him at all when he says he’d “love it if we made it.” This is the sort of dude who finds joy in crassly exploiting the tragedy of others for the sake of art, and it finds its roots in how he decided on the band’s name. When the chorus finally breaks free from the monotony, his voice has a smugly arrogant tone that snaps everything into place: Healy is eager to be the source of relief for the trigger warning-necessary lyrics that he doled out in the first place. He can only be a savior for the bullshit he pushes on you, and he’ll cover it up by touting we instead of I. As a political statement, this has virtually no worth. As a piece of music, the bridge makes exceedingly clear that this is just an edgy “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” As a depiction of narcissistic manipulation, this is excellent — perhaps the best of the year.
[0]

Vikram Joseph: Even without the viral billboard advertising campaign, “Love It If We Made It” is much larger than life, but offsets its pretensions with self-aware hyperbole and a streak of pitch-black humour. The genuine venom towards a society that permits Donald Trump and “a beach of drowning three year olds” is undercut by an awareness that we’re all tied up in this mess — they can get away with railing against modern existence without sounding aloof or curmudgeonly, because they’re so self-evidently part of it, and, to some extent, in love with it too. The chorus is equal parts earnest optimism and grim humour, which just about epitomises their brand. There have been a lot of “We Didn’t Start The Fire” comparisons, but it actually makes me think more of a half-speed, tongue-in-cheek “Ignoreland”; The 1975 feel better having screamed, don’t you?
[8]

Lauren Gilbert: See, I wrote an entire blurb about how this is “New Americana” v. 2018, and then promptly deleted it to write about what it means for modernity to have failed us. Spoiler alert: Modernity has not failed us, but the specific iteration of modernity of which Healy writes is certainly Not Great. Capital M Modernity is more (and less) than drugs and borders and Trump. At the risk of sounding like the pedantic graduate student I am, modernity is characterized by industrialization, market economies, nation states, individuality, and secularism (surely not the “Jesus save us!” Healy mentions). Healy’s Modernity-as-characterized-by-this-song is not that. He’s writing about the dissatisfactions of a left-leaning person in the Trump/May/dear-god-why-is-Boris-Johnson-still-around era, a modernity grounded in the specific sociocultural norms and events that shaped how certain rich English-speaking countries experienced in 2018. And if we consider that particular experience of modernity as the only possibility we have, it’s pretty easy to conclude “modernity has failed us” and write a “We Didn’t Start The Fire” of terrible things. And I’ll give Healy some credit; “Love It If We Made It” does sound and feel like living in twenty-fucking-eighteen. But modernity the concept does not imply that we must live in our specific instance of modernity; we do not have to accept Trump and income inequality and in-the-future-everyone-will-be-famous-for-fifteen-minutes Modernity.  And more than that, that specific (miserable) modernity is not even the only modernity happening right now. Around the world, people are living longer, healthier lives; fewer people live in extreme poverty; there are fewer wars. Healy’s Modernity may feel like a prison, where we are trapped forever in endless cars on endless roads to places we don’t want to go, but it is not the only game in town.  I (and many others) am alive today because of modern(ity) medicine & honestly, I’ll take Donald Trump and Brexit and “thank you, Kanye, very cool” as the price of being alive. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for a band known for its cynicism to consider a fuller context, and the very real positives in the world we live in, but hey, why give themselves a try?
[4]

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Alice Merton – Lash Out

Other potential shampoo taglines: “No More Tears Left to Cry,” “Shampoo’d Up,” “Delicate”…


[Video][Website]
[4.86]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is just “No Roots” again, down to the title that sounds like a faux-edgy shampoo brand. Second time through is less interesting, as always.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Hi-hat + “I can feel it in the back of my tongue” should = euphoria. So why does Alice Merton sing as if she’s more comfortable with a concept like “Speak Softly”?
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Best to think before you lash out, else you get hit with a lawsuit for lashing out with the riff to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Except today’s lawsuits aren’t about biting the notes so much as biting the vibe, which the mildly rocking “Lash Out” does not. But even the mildest of rock can earn you a sleeper hit from people who long for Real Guitar Music (but sniff at country and Warped Tour and other places it does exist). And the mutedness makes some sense, since the track’s about not lashing out, deploying a lot of the tricks “Tongue” does. It works, within confines.
[6]

Iain Mew: I’ll happily take it that she intended to make something that sounds like The Ting Tings minus the fun. I just wish I had any idea why. It doesn’t even really go with the identity that “No Roots” established.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Alice Merton is too plummy and measured in the chorus to make me believe she’s going to lash out against anything. If she evinced some actual anger, or just gave up and went full disco, this would actually be a great song. As it is, it’s stuck halfway between the rage of a rock song and the liberating glee of disco.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: I have an anger problem, which is to say: I have a problem getting angry. Even in situations where outrage would be wholly justified, I can’t move the needle much beyond “frustrated,” if that. Maybe this lack is why I’m drawn to “Lash Out” — maybe my imagination is captured by its expression of something so alien to me. Or maybe the song is just a bop.
[7]

Ian Mathers: It’s almost painful that, no matter how sincere an expression of rage and/or catharsis this is, it still feels like it’s been focus-grouped to an unmoving pulp.
[2]

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Carly Pearce – Hide the Wine

And no one speculated on just which records she’s hiding…


[Video][Website]
[7.25]

Thomas Inskeep: Pearce, on this bluesy slow burn, sings how she should hide both “the wine” and “every one of them records that turn me on,” among other things, because an irresistible ex is back in town. I mean, it sounds like a smart idea to me, especially hearing the way Pearce is clearly moved by said ex. This rising country star conveys a helluva lot with her smart, sultry voice, and makes “Hide the Wine” a seductive killer.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: “Hide the Wine” finds Carly Pearce singing a deceptively easy melody with flair. The punchy guitar riff would be right at home on a ’90s indie record, and Carly has a way of making the hook sound like something you’ve heard a million times before.       
[7]

Edward Okulicz: This song’s guitar is fantastically sour, perfect for a caution about backsliding with an ex. And the lyrics are just so perfect too — can’t remember if I’ve heard “two buck chuck” in a song before, but Pearce sings that, and so many other fine details, with accurate and all-too-relatable revulsion, but not one that suggests mistakes won’t be repeated. If Maren Morris goes for those EDM dollars full time, aspiring writers and co-writers should be pitching for Pearce’s next album immediately.
[8]

Will Adams: A benefit to hearing “Hide the Wine” is learning that there can exist a reaction to a former flame visiting town that isn’t total mortification. Instead, Carly Pearce opts for a coy smirk, a knowing subversion of the words she’s saying (hear how “turn up the lights/kill the mood” works just as well if sung as “turn down the lights/spark the mood”). The production could have been more adventurous to match this spirit; the most we get is the heavily chorused guitar riffs and backing vocals.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Better Shania pastiche than the actual Shania pastiches this year, with a brash, stumbling-across-the-bar guitar riff and piano stabs out of a Mutt Lange production job, and corny, bassy backing vocals directly out of “Nah!” Not to mention the scenario, so transparently implausible (hiding your records does precisely nothing in the Spotify age; hiding the wine’s pointless if he’s already at your house) and angst-free that it’s really just an excuse to revel in gleeful, campy lust. If anything, Pearce’s vocals are too polite for the job — the bridge, in particular, makes me wonder what Elle King would have done with this.
[7]

Iain Mew: The chaos of guitar grumbles and organ interjections is a perfect background for a compelling internal conflict. They’re like all of the different messages that she’s getting and/or trying to push away, and it makes sense when she responds by pushing responsibility out into the drink and music and everything else. It seems just as likely that she’s setting herself up to go ahead anyway while saying she’s done the best she can — she gets in the line about getting burned again and again first, after all. 
[7]

Alex Clifton: “It’s a dangerous thing, pouring alcohol on an old flame” is one of the best lines I’ve heard all year, and it’s wedged in there rather than being made the centrepiece of the song or beaten to death in the chorus. For that alone, it’s an [8].
[8]

Juan F. Carruyo: The ever-threatening menace of sex with your ex deserves extreme precautions, and it damn well deserves a song chronicling them. 
[7]

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Jason Mraz – Have It All

Sadly, Jason only received 37.5% of it all…


[Video][Website]
[3.75]

Juan F. Carruyo: 10 years removed from über hit “I’m Yours,” Mraz attacks with another extra-positive, happy-go-lucky Hallmark card of a song. May he skank on this lightly forever. 
[5]

Alex Clifton: Here’s a thing you need to know about me: Between the ages of 13 and 21, I was a Jason Mraz stan. He’s one of the reasons I got into music; I doodled all his lyrics on my folders, contributed to Mraz fansites, saved up my money to buy all his albums, downloaded concert and live bootlegs of his stuff because it always sounded better live, and was over the moon when “I’m Yours” was picked to back my senior year Homecoming dance. I couldn’t figure out why my friends found him irritating when I was in high school, but after a string of bad Mraz impersonators (looking squarely at you, Ed Sheeran) I could suddenly understand. It didn’t help with the uber-hippie heel-turn of 2014’s Yes! where he went full-on avocado farmer, literally singing about gardening while scatting. But I always loved Jason for his positivity and relentless optimism, his determination to give you a burst of sunshine with his music, no matter how corny it might be. “Have It All” is basically “I’m Yours” but less a love song and more a blessing of success to the listener, and it’s kind of twee and shiny and very, very silly. I’ve also kept returning to it and humming the chorus on days when I feel sad. The world is dark enough as it is and only gets darker; in a recent interview, Mraz talked about how he wants to “be a reminder that everything’s okay.” Everything isn’t okay, but for three minutes I feel like I have reason enough to hope again. And that’s good enough for me.
[6]

Will Adams: Really, the only thing separating me from enjoying Jason Mraz and his carefree, white guy-does-slam-poetry schtick is the absence of cod-reggae. But “I’m Yours” was the big hit, so here we are. “Have It All” seems tired of the routine; by the second verse, he’s leaning so far into corniness that he crosses over into absurdity (“may you be as fascinating as a slap bracelet”). Self-aware lines like that keep this from being fully excruciating, but the more Mraz does these kind of songs, the more he sounds like the royalty-free music YouTubers use for their daily vlogs.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Christ, he’s still putting ukelele on his records?!
[1]

Iain Mew: I’m surprised to like something which sounds like the extrapolation of a line drawn from “Where is the Love?” through “Price Tag,” but it overcomes that through the rare generosity right through it. There’s few songs that take a message like “I want you to have it all” and are this convincing that the I isn’t the important one there. It’s nice that generosity extends to keeping a flow of different happy bubbles of sound, too.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: We’re in another music-industry bubble, it seems — now Jason Mraz’s been commissioned to remake Natalie Imbruglia’s “Want” for a Sweetgreen tie-in! But in all seriousness: what the hell is this? If it’s the “inspired-by-a-Buddhist-greeting” whatevercraft he says it is, what’s with the “It’s a Beautiful Day“/”Love Yourself”-esque “here’s to the fact that I’ll be sad without you”? If it is a breakup song, why do half the lyrics sound like they’re directed at someone graduating high school? If it is a graduation song, then why — and so on; you could spend days at this, trying to guess whether this suspiciously beaming grin conceals bitterness or nothing.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Even worse with impressing the audience with polysyllabic words than a college freshman.
[1]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This sounds like if Lin-Manuel Miranda made children’s music, and it’s surprisingly tolerable in spite of that.
[4]

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Blood Orange – Charcoal Baby

Another return for the man best forgotten as having once been part of Test Icicles.


[Video][Website]
[5.86]
Julian Axelrod: Even if you’ve seen Blood Orange live before, you have to see them next time they come to town. Dev Hynes can be one of the most engrossing and impenetrable artists of our generation, but seeing him live reminds you of a few things. First off, Hynes is a low-key guitar virtuoso. He can shred like a motherfucker when the mood strikes, but he’s equally adept at unspooling long, languid riffs like the centerpiece of “Charcoal Baby,” the kind that wrap themselves around your brain and never let go. Second, Blood Orange is a one-man project that celebrates community and collaboration. “Charcoal Baby” feels like the musical equivalent of the potluck depicted in its video, with flutes and saxophones and sunrise synths that mingle and intertwine like long-lost cousins on the Fourth of July. But most of all, hearing Hynes off the record — no embellishments, no narratives, no spoken-word interludes — reminds you how powerful his hymns of hope can be when he’s at his peak. I heard “Charcoal Baby” for the first time when I saw Blood Orange last month, and it instantly sounded like a classic. Everyone in the crowd just looked at each other, unable to sing along but feeling like we’d heard it a million times before. I feel lucky that I got to experience this song in a live setting, but I feel even luckier that it lives on in recorded form, something I can return to whenever I need a reminder that I’m lucky to be alive.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Snappin’ strings, slipping between the backup singers, keeping out of the synths’ way, Blood Orange has joined the band. He sings pretty nothings prettily.
[5]

Ian Mathers: But really, is there any form of joy that isn’t complex?
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Sounds like a noodle-ier version of Raphael Saadiq’s solo work. Which isn’t a compliment, because I don’t care for most of Saadiq’s solo work.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: It feels horrible to say this about something so skilfully put together, but I don’t like any of the individual pieces it’s been put together from and I find it ponderous and rather grating.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The riff at the core of “Charcoal Baby” is a haunting, ramshackle thing. From the stop-start intro onwards, it sounds always at the edge of collapse, of folding in on itself. Even as Dev Hynes adds on his customary layers of female backing vocals, synths, and pianos (as well as more unexpected flutes and police sirens), the drama of “Charcoal Baby” is in that lonely duet between Hynes himself and his guitar. It’s a compelling interplay, augmenting a barebones lyric full of arresting images of black charcoal, swans, and queens.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: The best Blood Orange songs (and there are many) have a certain duality to them; breezy and lush enough that they could be played in your local cafe without causing anyone to spill their flat white, but suffused with a simmering intensity and emotional volatility that make them feel truly vital. “Charcoal Baby” sounds extremely pretty, but given that it’s an exploration of race and identity, feels disappointingly flat. There’s some lovely jazz guitar and pristine, distinctive harmonies and progressions, but it lacks the seething chaos of, say, “Uncle A.C.E.”, or the emotional heft of “Hands Up” or “Augustine”, all of which resonated so much stronger with me about the peaks and troughs of otherness than this does.
[6]

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Billie Eilish – You Should See Me in a Crown

And Billie should see your editor in a tiara.


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Katherine St Asaph: The other day at Panera — yes, I know, I’m chronically dehydrated and chronically on deadline, and they have both wi-fi and enormous cups for tea — I realized I’d sat behind some high schoolers talking about music. This happens occasionally, and it always makes me feel self-conscious, like I’m some kind of spy (given that the world’s actual spies get drunk and brag about being spies, it’s not that grandiose a thought), or like one glance and they’d realize the person behind them is Washed Oz, churning out their content with wet hair and a banged-up laptop in a Panera. It’s also that the artists they talk about usually seem, to me, like watered-down versions of the dramatics I loved as a teen, or sterile interchangeable stuff that substitutes sass for personality. So when someone brought up Billie Eilish, complete with Billie Eilish fan in-jokes, I was stunned, as if I’d recognized someone’s Twitter avatar at the DMV: this artist I know primarily from the Internet is also apparently mega-popular among Actual Teens, and both of us think she’s brilliant. She solicits perfume samples from her fans and wears a crown full of fuck-off nope-gif spiders. Her songs quote The Walking Dead and, on “You Should See Me in a Crown,” Moriarty from Sherlock. The commenters hear Lorde in “Crown,” unsurprisingly and correctly, but also “Army of Me,” Crystal Castles, Pink Floyd. There’s a sound in the verse that I swear is the sound of a CD burner once it’s done ripping a CD; another commenter hears Skype. Her cowriter isn’t a Joel Little/Liz Rose/Gino Barletta/Sebastian Kole Svengali, but her actual brother, which probably accounts for her lyrics’ lack of hello-fellow-kidsing. One of her early singles was about serial murder, and “Crown” is genuine sadistic teenage revenge fantasy: “Look Who’s Perfect Now” for people who grew up on “Yonkers.” Basically, as Allie Lindsey wrote in the comments, “She’s sixteen and just made everybody listening to this feel like a badass.”
[9]

Alex Clifton: A meditation on power from a teenage girl titled from a line in Sherlock. That sounds messy, and in some ways it is–very heavy bass that ends up drowning out the chorus, almost no strong melody to speak of–but remains appealing. I’m a huge fan of teen girls exploring their darker, less savoury sides, and I really liked Eilish’s “Bellyache” for that reason. This song feels more personal, even if she is still playing a character. To sing a song like this, you need a certain amount of swagger; whatever other faults the song has, Eilish certainly has the confidence to sell it. I fully believe that if Billie Eilish stepped on my head she would immediately crush it, and I am fine with that. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Distorting her voice to match the gnarled emotions that others project on her is a gimmick disguised as a trick for many performers less spooky than Billie Eilish. The title conceit works too: watch out, assholes, for if you give her a little power she’ll destroy you all.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: This song so badly wants to be featured on Riverdale but I just don’t see that happening, especially because the show has just recently gone off the rails and this song is… as cookie-cutter wannabe-bad as they come.
[3]

Will Adams: Alternately skitters and booms similar to Reputation‘s most exciting moments, with the added layer of unrelenting tension via Billie Eilish’s throaty delivery. The references to blood and the muahaha-kindgom-all-mine cackling verge on posturing, but I’ll take it any day over gloopy balladry.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve heard from Eilish so far, and “Crown” suggests her instincts for pop are fantastic — she knows how to get the most from her voice and how to wrap her songs in sounds for maximum, brutal impact. My one complaint is that the implied threat inherent in a fragment like “if you think I’m pretty….” is so much better than what actually comes after it. Otherwise she’s in fine, terrifying form again.
[7]

Dorian Sinclair: I wasn’t expecting the production on “You Should See Me in a Crown” to be as downright sinister as it is. There’s a real menace underlying the entire song, the tension helped along by how tautly the verse is delivered before things unfurl in the chorus. The lyrics may not be the most illuminating, and the abruptness with which things conclude is jarring, but when it comes to atmosphere, “Crown” delivers.
[6]

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

YG ft. 2 Chainz, Big Sean & Nicki Minaj – Big Bank

Still waiting for that posse cut that shouts out for credit unions.


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: No one’s on their A-game here, and the last time a similar group convened was much more fruitful. Moreover, Big Sean’s verse is bad even by his low standards, unjust Madden-related censorship aside. Yet, as the tweets suggest, there’s something undeniable about the energy of “Big Bank” — perhaps not enough to make it good, but definitely enough to make you want to blast those opening bars out of whatever you can get your hands on.
[6]

Alfred Soto: It’s easy to believe no one knew what the hell they were doing here besides showing up, and, in Big Sean’s case, admitting he’s as awful threatening to fuck himself as when he turns his eyes on other women. Where YG once wore his better than average slinging modestly, it’s like he can’t be bothered to be an awake Travis Scott.
[4]

Julian Axelrod: Whenever I feel like spiraling into an existential crisis, I think about the countless hours I’ve spent listening to subpar posse cuts with an eye-catching feature spread. It’s a can’t-miss formula — take a simple beat and let some charming motherfuckers spit punchlines all over it — that always seems to miss. So maybe I’m grading on a curve, but “Big Bank” gives me everything I want from a sleek summer smash. The buoyant beat bops like a stone skipped across a solid gold lake, adding a bit of oomph to punctuate each verse without fucking up the flow. (Extra points for the image of Mustard on the marimba.) Then again, it’s not like the rappers need the help; you can practically hear everyone smiling through their verses. YG holds the track together with one hand, Nicki sounds more inspired than anywhere on Queen, Big Sean manages not to fuck everything up, and 2 Chainz proves he can still steal a song in 30 seconds. I’m a simple man with simple pleasures. Give me Tity Boi comparing himself to a dinosaur over brain-melting 808s and I’m sold.
[7]

Tobi Tella: This is the kind of unabashedly dumb song that I can get on board with — the kind of banger that I’ll likely be hearing at parties next semester and scream all the words to. The “big bank take lil bank” hook is one hell of an earworm, and despite the fact that the song’s kinda stupid, there are actually some clever and political lines in both YG and Big Sean’s verses. Points off for 2 Chainz: “big shit like a dinosaur did it” is easily one of the worst lines of the year.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: DJ Mustard’s minimalist dinking and tinkling is playful but unobstrusive enough that you can treat it as a focal point or ignore it, and pay attention to the assembled talent on top. And that’s a bit of a mixed bag. 2 Chainz isn’t even trying with some of those rhymes, though I always raise a smile when I remember that he used to call himself ‘Tity Boi’ and that he somehow isn’t ashamed to admit it. Nicki Minaj is trying with the delivery (which is deliciously smug and imperious) though less so with the actual writing. Big Sean throws in some of the densest, best lines but I enjoy them more on screen than in my ears. And YG is… struggling to leave much of an impression on me other than that the hook is kind of dumb.
[5]

Will Rivitz: If I remember correctly from the intro macroeconomics course I took in college, big banks turn profits by borrowing from their patrons, pocketing investment returns made off money that isn’t theirs on the assumption that they’ll pay their customers back on demand. That seems an apt reference point for “Big Bank,” a study in what might most charitably be called “borrowing”: Mustard cribs from Grant Kirkhope, Big Sean cribs from, uh, Macklemore, and the whole crew cribs from decades of uninspired minimal-beat posse cuts.
[3]

Iain Mew: DJ Mustard’s plinkyplonk production has the air of the bit of a soundtrack in a family drama that’s meant to signify comic hijinks. That’s disruptive enough that “Big Bank” becomes all about how each person interacts with the resultant feeling. YG doesn’t do much with it, Nicki’s uninspired and mostly a capella verse literally doesn’t engage with it, while 2 Chainz and his Santa jokes lean in that bit too hard. That leaves the unlikely scenario where Big Sean is the most on point, “rare as affordable health care” the exact mood to hit. 
[5]