Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Little Mix – Bounce Back

Little II Mix…


[Video]
[4.67]

Katie Gill: Occasionally, I worry that pop music cheese has vanished. Noticeable exception aside, so much of pop music right now seems to be devoted to teenagers and twenty-somethings who are painfully, almost cringe-worthingly earnest. Even the previous masters of cheese relegate themselves to just dropping a corny lyric and hoping that it’ll do the job. And then, Little Mix rhymes “bayou” with “by you” and I feel a little glimmer of hope that cheese still exists.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: If I can forget all the things I wanted Little Mix to be that aren’t this, I can enjoy this on its own merits as a chimera of Soul II Soul, Dawn Richard’s “Northern Lights” and Meg Myers’ “Desire.” But not quite that good.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: This is the band Little Mix could easily have become after the moment that made them — one of unfulfilled potential and over-reliance on familiarity. True, it’s a line they’ve tread successfully in the past, and this isn’t a straight-up cover, but you can’t dip into something as immortal as “Back to Life” so half-heartedly without the result being something more befitting mixtape than single status. It’s for good reason that “Word Up!” remains their second most anomalous (and perhaps anonymous) release.
[5]

Iain Mew: A mess of disconnected ideas shoved in a small box and taped together with a familiar hook, “Bounce Back” has an odd out-of-time feeling that probably comes from getting Stargate for a ’90s throwback in 2019. A couple of member changes early but right on schedule chronologically, it reminds me of the late career directionlessness that brought us Sugababes’ “Girls” and “Get Sexy.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: This would be a pretty good song if it were, you know, finished. Minimal almost to the point of being comical, this wastes the killer “Back to Life” interpolation by not supporting it with anything in particular.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: They use Soul II Soul to traverse from verse to verse, but this is in dire need of a hook that functions as little more than nostalgic throwback.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: It’s almost upsetting how much this wants to be vintage Destiny’s Child, and by how far it falls short. (The one point of note here is that, somewhere in this mush, someone has slipped the line “keep me wetter than a bayou” in; there’s no un-hearing that).
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: London has its own drill now, so I guess it figures it should get its own bounce too? The borrowing lights a fire under Little Mix’s song, and the group responds by getting out of the way, which is probably the best approach; I don’t think they’re really capable of delivering a 2019 UK “Get Me Bodied.” It is strange to hear bounce so entirely disconnected from its New Orleans roots; local musics are always adaptable, but few sounds are as intertwined with the city that brought them to life as this one. (Even Drake, whose role as cultural conduit-conquistador looms large over this track, gave Big Freedia a featuring spot during his dalliance with the style.) It seems fitting that Little Mix sprinkle only the vaguest allusions to Louisiana throughout the song: a “hot boy” who keeps Leigh-Anne Pinnock “wetter than a bayou” here, a pseudo-brass band horn line there — it’s like they’re returned from vacation and showing off their selfies sipping hand grenades on Bourbon Street, eating a po’ boy, draped in beads.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is exhausting to the point of almost being impressive — to interpolate “Back To Life,” do New Orleans bounce pastiche, and incorporate an admittedly pretty sick horn break in under 2:45 requires some gall, but the “Bounce Back” does so with a shocking degree of energy. Unfortunately, there’s not much room left here for Little Mix to make much of an impression. It’s tough, being the fourth most interesting thing on your own song.
[5]

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Sampa The Great – Final Form

Ascending to the sidebar…


[Video]
[7.38]

William John:How you supposed to be Black down under?” mused Sampa the Great in 2017, before relenting to an undulant groove. It’s not a question I can answer, but in a nation built on the genocide of Indigenous people and with a Home Affairs minister and his prejudiced lackeys hell-bent on characterising all African refugees as violent gang members, it’s likely to be something close to: “with great difficulty.” All the more reason, then, to celebrate this moment of fearlessness from an African-Australian artist (well — she’s as much American as Australian, but we do have a habit of claiming foreign high achievers as our own). A majestic, honking beat, built around the Sylvers’ “Stay Away From Me,” wouldn’t require much work from any vocalist to mould into a slapper for the ages. But Sampa takes no chances, contrasting an assonant, almost restrained chorus with verses heavy on braggadocio. “Young veteran; new classic,” she spits, beatifying herself and rewriting the unfortunate, Snow White antipodean rap canon herself with a single breath.
[8]

Ian Mathers: It takes a bold performance to not just stand up to, but dominate over those strong Sylvers horns, and Sampa is up for it. “Young veteran, new classic” is the kind of line that plenty of new performers essay, and sometimes it sees charming at best (or foolishly presumptive at worst), but with “Final Form” if anything it seems like Sampa is confident enough to underplay her case.
[9]

Edward Okulicz: Her final form emerges over a sample that makes it sound like the opening credits of a kick-ass action film, and it’s a thrilling moment. If anything though, the endless horizon of those horns blares a little too much and drowns Sampa out. But she’s got enough presence to always be in charge of her own look-at-me-I’m-awesome track, and when she says “Last name Tembo, first name Eve,” I’m not sure if she means she’s the first, or if she fancies herself as the next Eve. Either seems fine to me. Releasing this in the thick of Melbourne’s winter is perverse, though.
[8]

Alfred Soto: From the Sylvers sample to the first-recorded use of “melanin” in a hook, “Final Form” has buoyancy that’s unreal. I’m not sure it’s a classic yet, but I wanna hear it again. And again.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Silentjay’s anthemic production and slick sample-flipping are strong enough to warrant a completely instrumental version, and the existence of the extended intro indicates that everyone involved was aware of this. It finds a strong partner in Sampa, her voice overflowing with the confidence needed to sell both the music and lyrics here. Still, it’s all rather tired and unexciting in 2019, and the slickness of Sampa’s delivery — something more evocative on a track like “Energy” — is absent here, overtaken by a need to create something a bit more declaratory.
[5]

Will Adams: The track’s admittedly a bit stationary, but Sampa’s urgent delivery sells it. And then it inexplicably, frustratingly ends on a fade out. A mission statement this forceful deserves punctuation, not a trail-off into nothing.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Sampa’s flow spits and crackles effortlessly over bombastic, peacocking brass, and the segue between the first and second verse is exquisite, the two linked by a tantalisingly brief soul sample which, unfortunately, is barely seen again. It’s a shame that the chorus feels like such a lull; at the very least, each iteration of it is twice as long as it needs to be, sapping momentum from a song that relies upon it.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Silentjay’s production job here is near-flawless — both the sample flip and the original synth bits. It’s the platonic ideal of a soul-sampling beat, mixing in The Sylvers both vocally and instrumentally until the lost love of the original track is completely denatured and turning it into something triumphant. And yet, the production here is completely overshadowed by Sampa Tempo herself, who truly lives up to her chosen moniker. Her command of her choppy, playful flow is so skillful that she bends the beat to her will instead of the other way around, and her lyrics, which literally stride the globe in their ambitions, match her skill. It’s a full barrage of a song, an unrelenting display of talent for three-and-a-half minutes.
[10]

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending June 22, 2019

Now that we’ve all calmed down, here’s some new pieces to enjoy by our authors:

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Madeon – All My Friends

Wunderkind’s bildungsroman… is what this text would say if he were German…


[Video][Website]
[5.57]
Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Fittingly for an artist returning from three years in the wilderness, Madeon cobbles together a return single that sounds like all the pop-EDM tricks he missed out on while he was gone. He’s supremely skilled at putting them together — the bass slaps harder, the flutes and synths groove better — but there’s no real innovation here. Yet just hearing Madeon make music with such joy again is worth the admission price, and hearing him contribute his own vocals just adds to the fun.
[7]

Will Adams: I guess it truly is 2019, if a producer as fluorescent and loud as Madeon can turn out something this chill. “All My Friends” shows promise at the outset, especially during the flute melody that appears in the pre-chorus. But what we get is a drop that conjures the same numbness of “Can’t Feel My Face.”
[5]

Isabel Cole: Grooves along competently but without much interest. Conceptually I’m kind of into the contrast between the warped vocals in the winding, repetitive chorus that starts the song off, and the more open, straightforward vowels in the verses and especially the pre-chorus which inclines briefly upward — something about the brief stirrings of a wish for connection which almost feels like hope dissolving back into a closed loop of paranoia — but actually listening to it, eh.
[4]

Alex Clifton: I can’t remember any words from this song but the main melody has been stuck in my head for a good half an hour, so that’s a success. It’s a little more boring than some of Madeon’s other works (mostly I’m just mad nothing else will ever be as good as the “Pop Culture” mashup) but it’s still enjoyable.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The anonymity is the point. So are the post-Scritti electrobeats and keyboard curlicues. “All My Friends” does what it sets out to do. There, happy? Give’em a gold star.
[5]

Iris Xie: I really wish Madeon had given this demo to a K-Pop boy band, because it would make such a good low-key summer song. The sudden elevation of the melody and twinkle synth at 1:30 adds contrast to the mild build-up and rather well-tuned drop, and makes you feel like you are gently flying and grabbing a bunch of candies along the way. But the muddled and indistinct vocals of the chorus, along with a strong need for a more interesting hook, mean that this is ultimately a missed opportunity. The execution isn’t quite there, and that’s fairly disappointing.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: It’s got a sincere, beating heart of Daft Punkian French house (my personal kryptonite, and something that I’m pleased to see Madeon has retained after all this time), but it’s also got a full buffet of empty-calorie bells and whistles: the ever-present atmospherics, the overlapping vocal takes, the breakbeats that keep worming their way in on the way to the criminally unnecessary build-up. When it’s got momentum, the simplicity of the titular chant makes for an absolute treat, but I worry that if this trend continues he’ll be pivoting entirely to tropical bells by 2021.
[7]

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Taylor Swift – You Need To Calm Down

The one that’s on our mind, 365, all the time…


[Video][Website]
[3.65]

Will Rivitz: The Singles Jukebox — Corrections, June 21 2019: The author of this blurb has previously stated that the selection of Meghan Trainor as LA Pride headliner would forever be the nadir of Pride-related programming. The author regrets the error.
[1]

Joshua Copperman: The discourse for “ME!”: “What does this mean for Taylor’s next era?” The discourse for this lyrical clusterfuck: “What does this mean at all?” It’s a much more interesting production, without stock horns and with some nice “Royals”-y vocal layering, but it’s the most incoherent thing she’s ever released. Is it about stans? Is it about homophobes? Is it a coming out song? Did Taylor throw the first shade at Stonewall? What is HAPPENING?? I’m sorry, I need to calm down. 
[3]

Will Adams: Taylor said “Gay Rights!” Kind of! Sort of. Well… it’s complicated. Not necessarily because of her status as a cis straight woman, but because the message itself is so damn muddled. Stans and trolls and bigots and music journalists are lumped in the same mass of “haters,” and while it’s worth noting that this by no means the first anti-haters pop song to exist, the overt political text here results in lots of crossed wires. The song suffers as a result too, throwing half-formed catchphrases at the wall to see what sticks: the chorus is a melodic void (odd considering Taylor’s songwriting strength); the “gowns” reference is too subtle to register; the patter results in odd scansion throughout (“like it’s PUH-trón”); and “snakes and stones never broke my bones” is no more clever than “don’t need opinions from a shellfish or a sheep.” Speaking of Katy, also wrapped up in all this is a resolution of a beef that never seemed that important except as something for either party to mine for big single launches. It’s all too much, especially for a not-bad track that fizzes just fine on its own. It’d be churlish to ask Taylor to take her own advice; for now all I ask for is coherence.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: Taylor Swift has always had a talent for deploying sharp and piquant phrases, the sorts of lyrics that tell blunt little stories like animated gifs. It’s an opportunity for her to go broad and get funny: “Some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” for instance, or “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend,” or “I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” “You Need to Calm Down” is like an entire song built from these lines, and it whirls by like a Twitter thread or an Instagram story. Taylor sass is a lot of fun, and many of these ripostes are satisfyingly catty in their insouciance (“I’m just like, ‘hey… are you OK?'” might be the best of these). Swift has shrugged off detractors on “Shake It Off” and “Mean,” but she is more single-minded this time, and that focus paradoxically dilutes the intent. Swift’s greatest strength as a songwriter is her interiority; she’s adept at examining and interpreting her own feelings. But a consequence of that is that she is far less certain when she needs to step outside the bounds of her own head. The worst song she has ever released was a charity single called “Ronan,” in which Swift sung in the voice of a mother who had lost her child to cancer; so talented at realizing her personal traumas, she proved incapable of reconstructing her sympathy for that bereavement in her own voice. “Calm Down” has some things to say about homophobia, and in this terrain outside her own experience, Swift’s words are not so much unpleasant as awkward and a bit superficial, particularly in their uncertain invocation of “shade” as bigotry. (If stan theorists needed evidence that Swift is indeed as straight as she publicly presents, it’s here: a queer Taylor would not have written a second verse as disengaged as that one.) But even diluted, Swift singles are still constructed tight. This one continues finding the pastel inversion of Reputation‘s skeletal synth sound, and echoes “ME!” with a hook of vowel sounds as palilalia — “oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh…” this time, rather than “me-hee-hee.” It’s a tic that works — in moderation.
[7]

Alex Clifton: (Puts on music critic hat) It’s stronger than “ME!” (which isn’t hard but worth noting), I’m glad she takes swipes at homophobia but equating that with personal shots is a little bit weird, it’s super catchy but the lyrics are still a little lacking, and I still can’t remember all the words even though I have the melody memorized. (Takes off music critic hat, puts on bisexual Swiftie stan hat) EVERYTHING IS RAINBOWS AND MY BRAIN WON’T STOP SINGING THIS AND I WOULD MARRY TAYLOR SWIFT, HAPPY PRIDE!!!!!
[5]

Alfred Soto: I’m sure it will sound fine on the radio, especially played beside “Bad Guy” and “Old Town Road.” The maximalist intentions behind the Everest-sized synth bass and her rat-tat-tat delivery bespeak a mind that recognizes it’s the one needing calm. Except for the “parade” line, I wouldn’t have known this alludes to Pride if I hadn’t watched the video. I don’t feel pandered to as a queer man because, after all, a Pride parade is superficial performativity anyway.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Give her this: the stacked-up arpeggio in the chorus is an absolutely brilliant hook, particularly the second time when it goes over the top. The rapid-fire prechorus is pretty good too. But the beat is the same freezer-burned “Paper Planes”/”With Ur Love”/”Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” chill, the accents are so far from the right syllables they’ve filed a misSING perSONS REport, the conflating of trolls with professional critics with the literal Westboro Baptist Church is bad (as is the weird class shit in the video, as if you can’t be anti-gay and present like a Pleasantville star), and all this was done much better on “Mean.”
[5]

Katie Gill: In a way, this song is hellishly brilliant. Taylor Swift has provided her standom with a weapon, something that they can wield against any form of criticism. Want to write an article criticizing the fact that Swift seems to put “homophobia” and “me having internet bullies” on the same level, the fact that the video tactlessly paints rural Americana as the enemy of LGBTQ+ people instead of the Mike Pences of the world, or the fact that the second verse leans way too close to the sort of tactlessness that only aggressively woke allies can pull off? Expect a flock of Twitter replies telling you condescendingly that “you need to calm down” and “you’re being too loud,” as people ignore the half-assed condemnation of standom during the song’s third verse in favor of using Swift’s lyrics as a cudgel against any perceived haters. For all that Swift is trying to shed the sneaky snake image, traces of it still linger between the lines.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: The people who said “Heartbeats” by The Knife was the future of music were right in 2003, and based on this, have now been right for 16 years and counting. That enormous synth-bass takes a song that should have been awful on paper (ugh, a thematic sequel to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which itself is why we can’t have nice things, like good Taylor Swift songs), with the second verse featuring the worst lyrics Swift has ever written, and makes it frisky and playful. The “uh-oh uh-oh UH-OH!” hook is legitimately her best in years. Obsessing about someone is tedious, obsessing about those people is even more tedious, but for once, Swift sounds like she’s legitimately above it, even if I don’t think she knows what “shade” is. I wanted to hate this for its posturing, but I can’t, because of the “uh-oh” bit. But just between you and me, I liked Katy Perry’s last single more.
[6]

William John: I’m always happy to hear songs that approximate the “Heartbeats” melody, and the layered vocals here sound lovely, but Dorian Corey didn’t keep a mummy in her house for fifteen years for “shade” to be misinterpreted so flagrantly.
[3]

Danilo Bortoli: Is it fair to demand political accountability from artists? The question remains thorny these days, but when Taylor Swift blatantly goes after pink money, the answer is yes, loud and clear. The case made for “You Need To Calm Down” has pulled the identity politics card (as usual, The Onion put it better). That is, Swift’s song oversimplifies an ancient struggle for recognition, making up a narrative that isn’t Taylor’s to call her own. But what is more infuriating is the sugarcoating: the fact that pride should come only from within, and the naive and painful suggestion that a homophobe would go silent after a line as awful as “shade never made anybody less gay”. That is to say, when it comes to protest, I prefer it the French way. Which is why all of this begs the question: Would you tell Richard Spencer to “calm down”? No, of course you wouldn’t.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There are probably 2300 words elsewhere in this post about the politics and rhetoric of Taylor’s words here (and I’ll get to that), but first I feel obligated to talk about how “You Need To Calm Down” works on a purely musical level. It sounds like ass. It takes the bag of tricks that Swift used on “Ready For It?,” the most musically captivating of Reputation‘s singles, and sands off all of their weird edges. Yes, there’s a bass thump to welcome you in, but without the distortion it just sounds like Taylor’s doing “Royals”-lite (I mean, Joel Little did produce.) And with the fangs off the verse, the lift to the chorus fails to land. It’s all just sound, an undifferentiated, imperial wave of midtempo banger signifier without a real hook. Even Swift’s vocals, which have always been her most compelling tool, can’t sell the song’s vibe — she’s confused not giving a fuck for calm. Of course, it’s not entirely clear what “You Need To Calm Down”‘s vibe, or point, even is. It’s trying to be clever, with its winking references to stale LGBTQ and feminist symbology, but by conflating (or at least juxtaposing) those struggles with the problems that Taylor Swift has as a widely hated famous person, it ends up saying nothing at all. In the end, “You Need To Calm Down” is less a coherent song in itself than a Potemkin village to situate endless thinkpieces in. Make it stop.
[3]

Ashley Bardhan: I know the title is “You Need To Calm Down” but there are no human words that can aptly describe how much I hate this song. Think of a young pigeon cooing as it flies through a fish market, weaving over and through the glistening crates of silver-scaled fish and ice. Oh no! There’s a problem with a shipment! The owner angrily tosses a fat fish into the air, and its scales glint as it smacks the pigeon mid-air and onto the ground with the full brunt of its weight. The pigeon sees the fish market, its final flight, behind its closed eyes in a hurried blur. It weakly wheezes its final birdsong, and then… nothing. Yaaas, hunty. 
[0]

Iris Xie: 🤷 This is so tired, I can’t even be that mad about it. The only question I have, because this song and MV isn’t even worth a QTPOC-centered thinkpiece from me is this: when is the Post Malone + Swae Lee + Taylor Swift collaboration happening? This sounds so much like “Sunflower” and is just as deadening. Even the excitement of one of my besties sending me an ~*urgent*~ text message about Katy Perry and Taylor Swift making up over their imaginary feud, once they realized it hurt both of their fanbases, can’t even ignite an ounce of care from me. (Bless your heart, my dear friend.) If she really wanted to pander to the gays, she could’ve just written a sequel to “Look What You Made Me Do” and become a slicker conduit for the less graceful parts about being in queer scenes, which can be about petty, messy drama, rather than being the subject of rage and apathy about being another harbinger of happy happy HAPPY gaypropriation. Like, whatever, she can have her extremely meaningless self-declared ally medal. I’ve been calm, just give me actual music. 
[2]

Isabel Cole: It’s like this: A while ago I was catching up with an ex who mentioned he’d recently come back into contact with someone we’d known in high school — acquaintance of his, frenemy of mine, a few sparkling months of giggling BFF-ship deteriorating across a year I spent defending her while she shit-talked my fashion sense in the girls’ room to the local blabbermouth — and he told me, with an ironic arch of the brow, that when my name had inevitably come up she’d said, “Isabel and I used to be so close; I wonder what happened.” Reader, I spent like a week losing my mind, repeating the story and relitigating the history to anyone who would listen while bitterly making fun of her internet presence. Was this because I am petty and emotionally volatile? Yes. But it was also because there is a certain level of willful detachment from reality which I do not have the cognitive capacity to process adequately. Taylor Swift having the gall to tell any human on earth to calm down makes me feel insane the way it makes me feel insane to see someone citing as evidence of their incurable adolescent unpopularity the dorky AIM screenname they picked based on an affectionate joke I made. Taylor Swift saying “take several seats” makes me feel the same combination of spiteful and enraged as reading a line recycled from Livejournal in 2005: please learn like everyone else to disguise the extent to which the human brain is a machine wired to seek validation, the transparency of your desperation is making all of us uncomfortable! God, I wanna snub her in a lunchroom so bad. The song is unappealing in ways that barely merit mentioning — verses that sound like they were reverse-engineered from a MIDI file of the superior but hardly sublime “Gorgeous,” chorus that throws in the plodding piano of roaring bravery — but even beyond the equivalency it implies between Twitter making fun of her and, like, hate crimes, I find the bridge particularly embarrassing, because of how artlessly it reveals its origin: Taylor Swift literally read a Tumblr post (or, the algorithm we call Taylor Swift processed several hundred Tumblr posts) from 2011 saying “stop pitting female artists against each other [handclap emoji etc.]!!!!!!!!!!!” and thought, Wow! Feminism! As for the possibility that this is another masterful turn from Taylor the troll (or troll!Taylor as there is a distressingly high chance she’d say) and by falling for it I’ve let her win: (1) Taylor Swift is always already winning, this is exactly what Marx was talking about (2) Let me kick it back to my ex one more time: when I asked what she was like these days, he considered and said: “I thought she’d developed self-awareness, but then I realized it was just self-identification.” Yeah.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: You know sometimes, when you read the annotations on genius.com, how their deductions and inferences appear to have been made by algorithm? For instance, the notion that this being released on that loud American guy’s birthday “seems to support the theory” that one line is about him? This is what would happen if that algorithm was tasked with writing a satirical song.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: My take? This is more lazy allyship than commercialization of pride. Plus, it’s kind of a bop. Sucks, then, that Taylor completely misunderstands what shade is — but did we really expect any better? 
[6]

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Jay Som – Superbike

Of course, the definitive “Here’s Where the Story Ends” was by Tin Tin Out and Shelley Nelson…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Ian Mathers: Every so often I hear a song and go “hmm, maybe indie rock was worth it after all.”
[8]

Will Adams: As a ’90s kid, I’ve done enough cruising down PCH in the backseat of a hot car with the radio humming away to never not enjoy this type of sun-streaked alt-rock. Especially when parts of it sound like “Here’s Where the Story Ends.”
[7]

Alfred Soto: The crunchy strumming of the first half doesn’t prepare me for the trance-like pleasures of the second. It’s not quite a superbike, but I did feel the wind through my hair as I pedaled past the lol-’90s aural signifiers. 
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Jay Som makes songs that work like ASMR videos for me, full of textures and soundscapes that scratch weird sonic itches in my brain. “Superbike” is no break from that trend — starting with its first guitar riff, the song seems like an excuse for Melina Duterte to subtly flex all of the different guitar production tricks she knows. And yet, “Superbike” also represents an inflection point in Jay Som’s artistry — it’s the first song of hers where all of the textures and ideas coalesce, building in its structure to a gorgeous guitar solo, full of musical catharsis. The vibe is still chill, the moves are still gradual, but the bedroom pop haze is beginning to clear into an ever more brilliant dawn.
[9]

Iris Xie: For something that’s supposed to be airy and gauzy, the end result is pretty cloistered and dusty. The intro is really promising, maybe even a little old school ’90s alt-rock, as interpreted by the early ’00s. But combined with the muddled singing and compression, “Superbike” sounds more like mumbled exhaustion after a long journey. The guitar leads the entire song but is also compressed and buried underneath everything, including those slightly lucent chimes, and Jay Som’s vocals compete among the textures of the instrumentals. It’s a little perfunctory and under-developed in its outlook, like it only said half the things it wanted to say.
[4]

Leah Isobel: My little sister graduated from high school last month. Whenever I’m talking about her, no matter who I’m talking to, I say the same thing: “she’s the coolest teenager I know.” I don’t know many teenagers but I think I would feel the same way even if I did. She’s smart, wickedly funny, and confident in a particularly 17-year-old way — I can see, or maybe I’m just imagining, that it’s a performance, but one she’s good at putting on. She’s not my blood relative and we’ve never lived in the same house, so we have to build our relationship step by step; of all the roles I’ve aged into, big sister is the one that I feel least able to perform effectively. I want to be a good role model, always available to listen, always ready to dispense wisdom, but I can’t. We’re separated by a thousand miles and my feelings of inadequacy. Watching her walk across the stage, cheering for her, and stomping my heels on the bleachers was one of the only moments I’ve had in the past year where I could show her how much I love her, and it didn’t feel like enough. This song — incandescent, fleeting, more guitar texture than concrete lyric – reminds me of her, or maybe of me relating to her. I hope she’ll be okay. Somebody tell me. Somebody tell me.
[8]

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Blanco Brown – The Git Up

If Blanco Brown really wanted this to be the new “Old Town Road,” he should have just called it “Town Road.”


[Video]
[5.25]

Katherine St Asaph: At least the “Old Town Road” ripoffs are interestingly bad.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Okay, gang, here we go: a song to inspire three dozen second-rate pieces about black Americans and country. Unlike “Old Town Road,” Blanco Brown’s stresses are country, not hip-hop; only the drum machine would give it away, and Dolly Parton was using them in 1983. I’d rather line dance to “The Git Up” than “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” especially if those backup vocals — there’s your hip-hop influence — keep chirruping. 
[7]

David Moore: This was the first obvious cash-in from “Old Town Road” I heard — there are others, like this one or this one or this one or even this “Git Up” follow-up — but it also feels a lot more like hip-hop engaging with country on its own terms: a straightforward line dance number that only really lets its guard down at the end, when Blanco Brown, either bored or amused or both, gives up on giving instructions altogether: “do whatever you like right here.” And he ends with a refrain that sounds almost apologetic: “That was not so bad, was it?” Fuck it, dude, let’s do-si-do. 
[8]

Will Adams: Ah, I should have known that “Old Town Road” was too good to be true, and we’d eventually have to pay for it in the form of brazen attempts at recreation. Less hooky, less tuneful, now twisted into a boring line dance exercise that’s nearly twice as long as the original, it’s an outright failure. I fear what is to come.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Altogether wonderful hook saddled with an indifferent performer and verses that aren’t even there– the country-trap equivalent of ringtone rap.
[5]

Iris Xie: I sincerely really like the Cha Cha Slide and am always happy to do it whenever it pops up. This is not the Cha Cha Slide. This is capitalization on a trend slide, a slide into the recesses of your mind where one tries to distance oneself from “Old Town Road” but fails miserably and ends up making a weird post-modern purgatory without smart homage but still could be called “country” kinda slide, a slide into a weird unknown depths of a really bad group dance song kind of slide. I wasn’t aware you could make a silly line dancing song so…dry? But the overwhelming amount of “country” motifs and affectations are so try-hard that it distracts from the simple elegance of following the lyrics, which is what “Old Town Road” excelled at through its mixed genre understatement — at least it felt like you were putting your horses in the back. But I do give “The Git Up” points — for trying. But I have to admit, I eagerly hope there are more “Old Town Road”-inspired group dance songs, so I can hear what a good one sounds like.
[4]

Joshua Copperman: Like “Old Town Road,” but more fun to listen to on headphones. If “Road” was an accidental smash hit, this feels deliberate and intricate, down to the “to the left” and “to the right” ad-libs panned to the respective sides. Yet it doesn’t have the same earworminess as All Glory To The HypnoRoad, so I can’t give it the higher score. That song had the Easy A “Pocketful of Sunshine” effect on me (if it also functions like “Firework” did for Alex Clifton), but “The Git Up” is too slick and not quirky enough to leave the same impression.  
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: “The Git Up” exists in a post-“Old Town Road” world, but where that song was opportunism that forced its way into country music, Blanco Brown’s track just sounds country. A genre that has, over the past decade and change, found room for the JaneDear Girls, Cowboy Troy, and “Honkytonk Badonkadonk” — heck, even “Hoedown Throwdown,” which presages this remarkably — shouldn’t blink at “The Git Up” and its good ol’ boy dance-calling. The most charming part is Brown finding room in his steps for dancers to “do whatever you like right here,” and even if it’s a thin song made of a strip-mall beat and a Walmart slide guitar, that just highlights its connection to makeshift dance songs like “Chicken Noodle Soup” or “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Cornball novelty gimmickry is a treasured part of country history. As a quick cash-in, this is weirdly authentic.
[7]

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Unperfect – Looking For A Hug

Unperfect, but certainly Unbad…


[Video]
[6.12]

Pedro João Santos: Whereas “Gots to Give the Girl” was charming but insubstantial, this is a much frailer statement from a group that shouldn’t be treading shaky ground on just their second release. Xenomania’s circular, impersonal production suggests cold feet regarding the budding girls’ sound, disregarding the continuity — a nexus that only pops up once in their Yeah, Why Not EP, during “Rope” — that is required for building an identity and individual/combined talents on a somewhat pivotal moment. Circular, faceless faux-Ibiza really can only dissolve you into fodder for Ministry of Sound summer compilations — those have long bitten the dust; hopefully for Unperfect, “Looking for a Hug”, which isn’t exactly vying for longevity either, this might be a fluke.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The instrumental filigrees are the stars of this Xenomania production: the unexpected harshness of the strums, the pop reifying of Herbie Hancock keyboard textures from 1975, the unrelenting percussion. More blank than frank, all the better for it.
[7]

Ian Mathers: The energy, and energy level, is quite different between this and “Gots to Give the Girl”, but there’s something between them that feels like they’re taking the same (so far, very successful!) approach: precisely calibrated/crafted, loop-based production that makes these songs swirling whirlpools with an inexorable tug. Given that the production on these songs is more interesting on its own than a lot of their peers’ material, it’d be easy for any singer (let alone four) to either overwhelming it to the song’s detriment or pale in comparison. Instead all of them manage the difficult task of meshing in with the song while still seeming like actual people with actual personalities, and furthermore making it look easy. In both videos we’ve covered so far, note how all of them seem at times to be as much singing along to the songs as singing them, which if it was just slightly off could read as disengagement but instead comes off as a real power move. Anyway, any chance we could get an album soon?
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Finally! Proof that I won’t love every up-tempo pop song with needlepoint guitars.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: My 2019 Xenomania banger of choice (a phrase I wouldn’t have expected to type, oh, three years ago or so) is Paige Cavell’s “Predators and Monsters,” but the guitar hook on “Looking for a Hug” is very much on that level. Too bad the song doesn’t either commit to that, or commit to the languid meandering that “Gots to Give the Girl” did.
[6]

Iris Xie: The title is deceptive, because it’s not that they’re looking for a hug, it’s that you are looking for a hug. This attitude towards being carefree about being an object of desire and acting on their ability to elicit said feelings matches the windy and almost careless way the rest of the production moves. It’s the less sophisticated and splashy big sister to Simmy’s “Umahlalela,” but like an awkward adolescent on the verge of greater maturity, “Looking for a Hug” has its own charm. The fiddly, twitchy synth after the initial verse matches the coyness of their words, which belie the tension present if the boy were to really follow their lead. The chorus turns on the verses before and asserts a dignified stance, with the way that ‘shut it down’ bounces off before the next few bars in such a modestly unhinged manner, and how the outro switches around between “I walk and run in my shoes, boy” and “shut it down” before ending in a sunny guitar melody that recalls their debut single, “Gots to Give the Girl.” The breezy attitude is a lower-key version of Betta Lemme’s “Play,” the sticky bouncy synths and disparate but continuing song arrangement are reminiscent of Perfume’s “Hurly Burly”, while the movement, lyric content, and motif make me think how it is a narrative twist on one of my favorite f(x) songs, “Step.” So, watch her move, all the while she is watching you.
[7]

Will Adams: While the lack of clear pop structure on “Gots to Give the Girl” turned out to be its most appealing quality, on “Looking For a Hug” it works to its detriment. The guitar-based house groove provides an excellent base, but it goes nowhere, looping its sections with little development until the very end, by which point I’ve checked out.
[5]

Vikram Joseph: Sounding more like Roisin Murphy’s recent singles than anything by the pop acts that spawned Unperfect, the sticky disco of “Looking For A Hug” shimmers on the horizon like the mirage of water on tarmac. It’s pleasant and tingly like a faint breeze on a sweltering day; heard in Doppler effect from the window of a passing car on a city street, it might even sound fleetingly sensational.
[7]

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Ciara – Thinkin Bout You

We’re mostly thinkin bout other songs…


[Video]
[6.91]

Katherine St Asaph: What I wanted to hear from Ciara in 2019 wasn’t really a near-remake of a Jason Derulo song, but at least she picked one of the cheerier ones.
[7]

Will Adams: “Thinkin Bout You” is admittedly modeled on the same chunky-beat lite-disco that was a mini-trend via the likes of Jason Derulo and others four, almost five years ago, but it’s nice to hear Ciara having a go at it and managing all right. It’s an adequate way to pass the time waiting for a song that never comes.
[4]

Tobi Tella: Listening to this, I felt like I SHOULD hate it for being a complete sell out. It’s nothing like I could remember Ciara doing, a far jump from woozy R&B, dance pop, and club bangers. The longer it went on, though, the more I was won over- it’s carefree and fun, even if it is watered down funk and the lyrics are empty. Sometimes I just want to turn my brain off and jam, and this is a perfect candidate for that.
[6]

David Moore: I like that this song appears to have no verses to speak of, or rather, the verses have been absorbed into some more fundamental unit of song, like Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine,” which is just as ruthless in giving you a good time you didn’t ask for. My attention span is all shot to hell, so I wish that this song was at least a minute shorter at the same time that I wish someone would make a 10-hour version of it, but in this darkest timeline of stray melodies groping in the dark for a chorus, I can appreciate how easily you could turn any fifteen seconds of “Thinkin Bout You” into a greeting card
[8]

Alfred Soto: Ciara’s had a second career getting written about for the record company mishaps of her first career, so when she gets a winner it’s reason to mix bellinis. A bass-heavy tune in which she reminisces about a guy who kisses girls and takes names, “Thinkin Bout You” represents what I want out of Ciara. Forget exclusivity, she wants to know if she at last made his list.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Ciara makes it sound easy on “Thinkin Bout You,” a deceptively simple display of power pop that shows off her nimble voice and puts a stamp on CiCi’s legacy status. It is probably the closest she’s come to her Jackson roots yet, and the pitch-perfect production is clean as a whistle. In a career that has taken many musical risks, “Thinkin Bout You” is a moment of cashing in. This is a melody that was found, not written.             
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I didn’t get “Level Up” at all when it came out– it felt like manufactured fun, the kind of song written for Target commercials or dance party scenes in mid-tier comedies that can’t outgross the third weekends of Marvel movies. “Thinkin Bout You” instead makes the case that Ciara is actually fun, a musical dynamo that bounces over a joyfully elliptical funk-pop riff. It’s repetitive and hooky without ever being boring, self-assured without being self-serious.
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: This song, much like “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae, proves that Prince inspired tracks can still be great, as the combination of funk and pop just works so well when done right. Ciara gives the perfect provocative vocal necessary to sell the song and the lyrics do a good job of defining the feeling of infatuation. It’s all so romantic.
[7]

Alex Clifton: Did I know Ciara could channel Carly Rae Jepsen? Did I ever expect it? No on both counts, but I guess we’ve found the actual follow-up project to Emotion.
[7]

Iris Xie: I did not expect Ciara’s new song to basically sound like the funky, downtempo falsetto version of SISTAR’s “Shake It,” but the introductory verse is basically identical in melody structure, but while Hyolyn works hard to be the sexy, fun summer girl who wants to have the best time, Ciara is…just there?  I don’t really get who she’s trying to appeal to here, because the quiet, midtempo nature combined with the vocals can’t seem to make up its mind on how to be. It has none of the slinky alluring nature of what I would usually associate with her sound, and perhaps that’s the saddest part about anticipating an artist’s new sound. You would expect that it develops and builds on what made them so well-regarded in the first place, but even if they switch their sound, it would remain infectious and with a perspective. For Ciara, I always viewed her as an interesting figure of my preteen years, in Aaliyah’s shadow and as Missy Elliott’s protégé, who was trying to make an identity for herself and knew how to work a groove to get you to follow along with her. On “Thinkin Bout You,” she is no longer that, and this Ciara is now singing on a discarded track from Carly Rae Jepsen’s album, “Dedicated.” It has a feeble pulse, and it’s just a little sad to listen to. 
[4]

Leah Isobel: I hate having crushes.
[8]

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Sakanaction – Nylon no Ito

Meanwhile, a Japanese rock act we last covered in 2015 cracks the [7]s once more…


[Video]
[7.17]

Jonathan Bradley: A Sakanaction hallmark is their ability to absorb tension into a groove, clamping down on their dance-rock pulse until the point at which they can finally permit themselves to let go; the resulting gush is an emotional release as well as a physical one. “Nylon no Ito” is a slow burn even by their standards, and it is not until the two-minute mark that they allow the track to pick up even a moderate sense of momentum. Before that, it is studied, its guitar arpeggios almost post-hardcore, augmented by complex little beats constructed from drum patterns and soft hand claps, and filled out with watercolor synth blooms. It is all pretty enough as is, and even though the eventual crescendo is more restrained than usual, its yearning still hits hard when the tide washes out and Ichiro Yamaguchi incants “kono umi ni itai” again and again.
[7]

Will Adams: An act as consistent as Sakanaction can afford to retread the same ground — in this case, literally so, seeing as the chorus melody is lifted from a deep cut off their last album. Their real skill is stretching a slow-build-with-expertly-timed-release format across five minutes. So even if the sound leans more toward the band at their most Coldplay affect instead of something bracing like “Tabun Kaze,” the song holds attention from start to finish.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Not quite as mind-blowing and singular as the last time we checked in, but that’s the kind of expectation that can ruin a band (and this is still very good). “Nylon no Ito” is more of a ballad, as aqueous in its build as the video suggests, reaching for the same kind of complicated yearning as I’d expect from (say) later period Mew. You don’t need the lyrics translated for the end to rip your heart out.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A dazzling exercise in tension and release, drawn out over such an extended period that by its end your own self begins to feel distilled.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Pretty and sorta-sweeping as usual; also, limpidly sung as usual.
[6]

Iain Mew: Big moments in life don’t always come with an appropriate physical accompaniment where you are. Sometimes your heart races and it feels like the world should be exploding around you and instead it does the reverse and you’re still standing in a drab corridor but now it’s one which is thickly silent too. “Nylon no Ito” starts off like that moment, an recognisable intense Sakanaction epic smothered in fabric haze, trying not to feel the pain and feeling nothing and everything instead. I love its slow effect, and I wish they found a way to develop it to an ending that wasn’t to let the air in and turn it into the standard that it very much isn’t before that.
[7]