Thursday, May 26th, 2022

Lady Gaga – Hold My Hand

She does not take our breath away…


[Video]
[4.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Gaga dawning her best military drag while belting a stadium rock anthem will never not be a masterpiece of camp–but that doesn’t detract from the sinking feeling in my gut that “Top Gun: Maverick” is imperial propaganda about a superpower whose annual military spending is more than the next 11 countries combined. 
[6]

Jeffrey Brister: “Melodramatic ballad performed by Lady Gaga for the sequel to a beloved 80’s film” is the most logical fill-in-the-blanks thing I could imagine. It mostly delivers. There’s a swing, there’s vocal acrobatics, there’s a smeary, monochromatic arrangement that bursts into color at just the right moments. It plays to expectations, for better or worse. It is exactly what it is, but since it’s Gaga, that’s high above average.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Pro: Sure, Gaga’s a better singer than Terri Nunn. Con: But “Take My Breath Away” was cowritten by Giorgio Moroder. 
[3]

Andrew Karpan: Mimicry is central to camp, which is what makes it uncool in a literal sense; if there was a way to say “fake” without the unfortunate pejorative subtext, it would be the through-line of Gaga’s various eras. Electrodance, as camp. Glam rock, as camp. Bar piano jazz, as camp. Even her authentic era was approached as a full-body performance that was largely abandoned after the curtains has closed. Critics say this latest move is mellowed-out Gaga, as if her choice to now commit to this scale-reenacting of ’80s radio cheese is somehow less transgressive than any of these previous fronts. This is simply untrue, at least if there was anything to really learn from the era’s most self-aware chronicle (American Psycho.) This is a song whose mile-long piano chords feel meant be performed on an empty air base as a kind of Verhoeven-style metaphor for the endless junk of a dying empire. 
[4]

Danilo Bortoli: I’ve been trying to understand why “Hold My Hand” seems so soulless for a few days now. Maybe it is because Gaga herself is a better iconoclast than a storyteller. Maybe because, all the military propaganda put aside, she strives here for the kitsch and glam she perfected in Born This Way, only to come up with her corniest music since A Star Is Born or even “Million Reasons”. This is an exercise in gratuitous grandiosity, where vagueness seems to be starting and precise point. I’d even say this is reactionary, sexless and bordering on self-parody. So much for someone who once wished to turn Warhol upside down.
[2]

Kayla Beardslee: Bland and hollow power ballad gets a bland and hollow blurb.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: The pre-publicity for this song suggested it would rival the likes of its breathtaking forebear in the power ballad stakes, but while it is appropriately overblown, a lead balloon will never fly. Where Berlin’s effort had poise, atmosphere and drama, this is just a woman shouting. There’s no memorable melody, let alone any kind of dynamic progression. From the writer of “The Edge of Glory”, it’s a missed opportunity.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The last time this unironic full-throated balladry scraped the charts? Gaga’s own A Star is Born singles. Its revival doesn’t mean it’s worth reviving.
[5]

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Trentemøller – No More Kissing in the Rain

Remains to be seen whether “kissing in hail” is still permissible…


[Video]
[6.33]

Will Adams: Over the years, Anders Trentemøller has drifted away from his tech-house roots and further into dreamy shoegaze, and I worry he may now be stuck. Lacking the snap and moodiness of recent singles like “River In Me” or “In the Garden”, “No More Kissing In the Rain” opts to shroud everything — from Lisbet Fritze’s already breathy vocal to the synth pads to the drums — in a thick, albeit very pretty, fog.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The Dane has always been influenced by shoegaze, but leans back into the sound hard on “No More Kissing in the Rain.” Akin to Ulrich Schnauss’s work from the ’00s, this is has electronic textures but a wholly organic, ’90s feel. Vocalist Lisbet Fritze is perfectly icy and distanced (thanks in part to the way in which Trentmøller processes and produces her vocal, giving it Cocteaus sheen), matching both lyric and song.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The fact that Lisbet Fritze is smushed against the glass of the the massive, swelling synths and lurking, loping bass and thumbed, nearly inaudible drums makes it feel like it’s about to overwhelm your brain and leak out onto your jacket, at least until it ends. But once you begin again, the synths begin curling above, the bass loping along, the drums holding the beautiful glass structure from below, trying not to drop it. What Lisbet is trying to say about kissing or not kissing in the rain is so thin, fluffy and undefined in the mix you strain to find what she is trying to say. And once you have, you realize why; “i think we need this last goodbye/you know i know were growing colder” is so vague and undefined it makes sense that Trentemøller would blow the synths out into cinema size to hide the thin and bland poetry stapled to the top.
[6]

Claire Biddles: Like a musical reverse google image search, Trentemøller has constructed the exact song that one expects to hear with the title “No More Kissing in the Rain”. Drums like drizzle! Girly reverb vocals! Vaguely shoegaze-y vibes! Disintegration-lite wall of sound! More like a fence of sound? What I’m trying to say is it doesn’t quite hit the sides.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I don’t know what I expect from Trentemøller at this point, but “somewhere between Mew and M83” is both not it and a perfectly pleasant surprise albeit I’d rather just go listen to Visuals again. A classic 6.5 but the vibe is good so why not bump it up.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A recent article highlighted that in Chicago, only one of 42 days this month has been sunny. “No More Kissing in the Rain” is the type of song you’d want to listen to on one of those cloudy days, something to sink into and forget before you suddenly emerge on the other side. 
[7]

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

Carly Rae Jepsen – Western Wind

We like it maybe?


[Video]
[5.57]

Thomas Inskeep: CRJ coos some generic ideas about California while Rostam’s track is stuck in neutral, an entirely forgettable 3:45 of nothing. Jepsen’s worst single in a decade.
[3]

Tobi Tella: More of a breeze than a wind, the queen of maximalism embracing my worst enemy “chill pop” is a little disappointing. But it DOES make me want to put on a caftan and move my arms around in a storm, so I guess mission accomplished?
[6]

Jeffrey Brister: CRJ is not suited to canned “California Vibes” production presets. Low stakes, low effort, has zero chance of causing me to have a moment of spiritual transcendence.
[5]

Danilo Bortoli: It feels like every “nature is healing” 2020 think pieces packed up together in the form of a song.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Solar Power, Part II: Electric Boogaloo, Now With Wind Turbines!
[7]

Alfred Soto: Melancholic as the moment requires, chirpy as the moment doesn’t, “Western Wind” has the makings of a song whose title came first. CRJ sounds thin and quashed, as if backed against a wall. This needed a sirocco, not a sea breeze.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Something about the production, especially the drum loop, makes me think of the halcyon days of White Town and Primitive Radio Gods. Putting a chorus so diaphanous and glowingly joyful over that backing is genius, especially when she throws in a brief Durutti Column homage (what????). This is the sound of someone finding a whole new gear and it’s glorious.
[10]

Monday, May 23rd, 2022

Flume ft. Caroline Polachek – Sirens

But are we inexorably drawn?


[Video][Website]
[6.38]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Diaphanous, otherworldly, and rapturous. The first time I listened to “Sirens,” I literally found myself holding my breath and clutching my pearls, with my mouth agape. This is a stunning display of Caroline Polachek’s acrobatic vocal talents and Flume’s facility in founding unexplored sonic landscapes; I’m still recovering from it. 
[10]

Micha Cavaseno: It makes sense that this collaboration went down! Flume is in many ways, a harbinger of left-field bloggertronica types going on to found Hyperpop and beyond but actually make it pop-leaning. And Caroline Polachek’s album basically took the idea of being a glitchy hyperreal WAY TOO ONLINE type popstar and gave us good songs devoid of retrofitting and filler. Maybe they weren’t the big exciting new thing, but they were excellent bridges that made the possibilities of the new make more sense to the present. So here we have a song that perfectly synergizes what the two of them do best and it’s so logical it’s almost redundant. One thing is for sure, I’m going to play this in the direction of Jam City’s L.A. Apartment as he tries to turn himself into an indie folk boy and bray like a hyena in the hopes that he realizes he blew his shot because he isn’t as talented as either of these two. Good music makes you petty like that.
[7]

Hannah Jocelyn: Surprised a Caroline Polachek song called “Sirens,” with that topline and that video, didn’t already exist. On that alone, it’s very good. Unfortunately, this is not a Caroline Polachek song, this is a Flume song, and the two don’t quite match. It feels like a remix of a song that was probably better without the risers and synth stabs, maybe a more ambient one like “Insomnia.” The fault isn’t only Flume’s though, as I’d love to see Polachek do some wilder vocalizations for these kinds of tracks, giving into the bombast instead of contrasting it. 
[6]

Ian Mathers: You could imagine the wrong singer sounding cowed or overshadowed by the fractured, fracturing production but Polachek is just about perfect in the middle of it. The result sounds as intense and otherworldly as her best solo stuff, although it’s more of a mood piece than her own singles tend to be. Thinking about this kind of sonic approach applied to more of a banger, though… it’s compelling.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Polachek sounds absurdly overprocessed and shrill on this incredibly generic EDM track — just what I’d expect from Flume, only worse. This is unlistenable.
[0]

Will Adams: Perhaps one day I will be able to explain why I consider “sounds like it got stuck in a garbage disposal” high praise.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: The new Flume is new age, chilled out, and it’s not surprising to hear Caroline Polachek taking the place of the anonymously bluesy EDM vocals that dominated the Australian festival sensation’s earlier efforts to conquer the tops of that world’s various mainstages. Well, he did it and now he’s doing this. Polachek’s voice cuts into his gentle electronica-sound like a knife, the words barely discernible, using the song as a platform to present a compelling image of the singer as a kind of hyperpop Björk.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: For the past decade, Caroline Polachek has perfected her style of humanistic vocal computing, honing her melodies into breathtakingly simple patterns, vehicles of subtle awe that sound even better the more you think about them. “Sirens” is the apex of her style, with Flume’s industrial Bolero giving her the ideal arena for her endless oscillation of a melody. It’s a rocket reaching exit velocity rendered in synths and voice.
[9]

Saturday, May 21st, 2022

Big Bang – Still Life

Is this the way the band ends?


[Video][Website]
[4.33]

Thomas Inskeep: The boy band’s return comes not with a bang, but a meager whimper.
[2]

Micha Cavaseno: To say that there’s some irony in “Still Life” being the title for the termination of Big Bang’s existence is understating the issue. We’re looking at a song that features a young man who literally attempted suicide and endured drug addiction as a result of the pressures of being an “idol” of Korean society. And similarly, there’s a glaring, Burning Sun-sized hole where another member should be. The jig is up; all the years of Big Bang’s peacocking have been revealed as nothing more than the jism of the South Korean government, YG Entertainment and its pedophile svengali, and organized crime. If G-D offered anything more than the most weak and tossed-off of ballads as a farewell for him and his brothers, it’d be more appropriate for the memory of this group who are aborted. Stillborn. Dead as FUCK. But that’s not appropriate for us. So go off, into the night, boys. T.O.P will hopefully be allowed to live and breathe in freedom, while mayhaps Seungri will end up UNDER the jail for a chance to let his nation feign innocence from the sins of their favored son. Good music? That’s for the ghost of Big Bang. This is what necrosis sounds like.
[2]

Tobi Tella: I know this is schmaltzy, PG slow jam fodder, but something about those plucked chords and the seasonal imagery has charmed me past the point of better judgement, damnit. Being manipulated into sentiment feels good sometimes!
[6]

Ian Mathers: The kind of swelling ridiculousness that works despite itself. Or at least, I don’t think the rapping astronaut or the boat-on-dry-land-with-a-bible-verse behind it or the shoutout to Tchaikovsky are intended to be farcical. Big Bang are big enough that those things probably register for fans or anyone else inside their sphere of influence as not even faintly baffling. Even from out here there are some nice moments.
[5]

Alfred Soto: An interminable plaint whose arrangement choices bespeak anxiety, “Still Life” can’t decide whether to mourn and move on or move on and celebrate, a tension that might’ve produced a fascinating single if the sentiments weren’t so drippy.
[3]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: I understand why so many people have read this as a farewell song from the mighty Big Bang, but I don’t believe that to be true. There’s a doleful, valedictory atmosphere, to be sure, but to me it’s the feeling of being in your mid-thirties and realizing how many books you’ve already closed; the friendships that have morphed and lapsed; the internal worries that have turned into external — family, work, possessions. Of course there are fresh joys in maturity but it’s a different tenor now, and that’s difficult to explain until you actually get there. “Still Life” does get a minor demerit from me for being chorusless — I would say it meanders more than it propels, though that languidness does add to the general vibe. The noodling guitar and chanted la-la-las are amusingly melodramatic and T.O.P is tremendously good, as are both vocalists. GD’s doubtless pointed decision to keep Teddy out of the track was surely an appropriate one. It’s not exactly the party anthem that we know best from Big Bang, but “Still Life” sure feels satisfyingly apt at this time. 
[8]

Friday, May 20th, 2022

Pusha T, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams – Neck & Wrist

Shakira’s hips consult lawyers…


[Video][Website]
[5.14]

Ryo Miyauchi: While Kanye simply wanted bars after bars from Pusha, Pharrell apparently urged him to start thinking outside the box when recording It’s Almost Dry. And to perhaps satisfy Pharrell, he channels his old self in Lord Willin’, pinching his voice to loosen his stiff bars. It sounds impressive as an idea, a back to basics effort, but the vocal techniques fail to cover up the fact that the guy lives and dies by the punchline, especially when the bars feel so exposed in front of a sleepwalking beat. 
[4]

Micha Cavaseno: I’m just glowering at Terrence for not letting Pharrell take the hook on this one properly. Anyway, his verse feels like a parody of himself on Til The Casket Drops, which I’d be fine with were it not for the fact that Jay is doing Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2/Hell Hath No Fury Push mixed with Pharrell more convincingly. And this is the man who was doing Kingdom Come at the same time. HUH!?!? Also this beat sounds more like The Cool Kids at their peak ripping off Clipse but worse, which leads me to ask… When the best guy encapsulating your sound is the one who wasn’t present for your peak… Is it good that you can’t even do good fan fiction of your best work?
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Reminiscent of We Got It 4 Cheap, this is peak-excitement Pusha T, in no small part because on It’s Almost Dry he’s gotten the best work out of Pharrell in eons. Of course, no one raps about the coke trade like Pusha, and for that matter, few rap on his level on any subject, period. Jay-Z sounds fine, but is kinda phoning it in. Though when Pusha and Pharrell are giving this much, it doesn’t matter.
[9]

Alfred Soto: A woozy synth line and clattering percussion track keep things stable, and while Pusha’s verses are fine, his and Pharrell’s decision to jump up a note on the penultimate syllable of every goddamn line is an active annoyance.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The first verse from Pusha T reminds me that rappers can indeed age and keep their blades sharp — as much as they can. The Pharrell hook tells me that it’s very difficult if they’re not inspired. The Jay-Z verse and the loong intro remind me why most don’t — cuz they got lazy.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I love Pusha T’s music dearly but this is thoroughly middling — not just relative to his high standards but the broader drug rap scene in 2022. It’s Almost Dry is as solid as anything he’s done in the last decade, but here his previous gift for translating the grandiose visions of his albums into perfect singles — surprisingly hooky microcosms — fails him. It’s one thing for Push and Jay not to match their classic eras, but it’s another for “Neck & Wrist” to pale in comparison to a collaboration that’s only a half a decade old. Pharrell doesn’t help either — instead of the uneasy blend of paranoia and nostalgia that his and Ye’s production on the album tracks often conjures, here he contributes a beat that sounds tedious and a hook that fails to get anything profound or catchy out of repetition. It’s a song of three iconic figures failing to live up to the billing.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: Proof that capitalism doesn’t really work: on some level it must be strange how much more likable Pusha T has made being a decades-removed drug dealer than Jay-Z, who is ostensibly the person who turned that idea into a whole business, man. Even on Pharrell’s most coherent collection of glass funk beats since he randomly cut that divorce album for Beck, the elder statesman of elder statesmen of New York City rap can’t quite sell that he actually cares very much about Biggie Smalls. Instead, his bleary, fatalist soliloquy on matters of the late ’90s just reminds me that money can’t insulate you from the ordinary stuff of petty grievance. But the bars from Pharrell’s former Virginia Beach neighbor turn out to be made of the durable stuff of total nonsense. The floor plan is nothing like the model? Put the first 500 in the safe and lose the combination? How would you ever open it? Stuff to think about. 
[7]

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

Bonnie Raitt – Made Up Mind

Made-up minds rate? Interesting idea…


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Alfred Soto: The Bros. Landreth’s jam gets a simmering interpretation, with Bonnie Raitt once again showing the depth of an adult, fully engaged sexuality. Her band greases up a melody “like a rainstorm tin roof symphony.” Almost boring.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: So solid and sturdy, just like much of Raitt’s 50-year career, “Made Up Mind” is the sound of a woman who knows what she needs and what she wants, and what she’s gonna share with you. There’s so much assurance in her vocal; younger generations should be taking copious notes.
[7]

Harlan Talib Ockey: This is a pitch-shifted version of the Bros. Landreth original. Several of the licks are the same, several of the vocal nuances are the same, and the backing vocals and keyboards are not only near-identical in their parts, but also in their timbre. The solo is technically different, but it’s still slide guitar working through the same scale over the same chord changes in the same single-note style. The only truly notable difference in the arrangements is that Raitt has added arpeggiated chords to the chorus. I’m not sure how to grade this; how about [5] for the Bros. Landreth’s songwriting, minus [2] for Raitt’s lack of creativity?
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: When the Bros. Landreth created “Made Up Mind” with producer Jonathan Singleton, they did not know that they would one day be covered by a seemingly ageless Bonnie Raitt. She coasts smoothly on Glenn Patscha’s plush electric piano and gently welds on the rippling slide guitar, lifted up by Glenn and Ricky Fataar’s firm, bouncy kick pattern.
[9]

Jeffrey Brister: Everything I like about this song — sleek, professional, no-frills, performed with tasteful restraint — makes it sound boring, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s something so appealing about a song so at ease with itself, making it look so pitifully easy. That’s a mark of mastery of craft. The worst I can say about it is that it’s perfectly average, but even that isn’t much, considering the skill on display.
[8]

Ian Mathers: It’s outright astounding that Raitt’s voice and guitar appear not to have lost so much as a step since I was a kid and my parents were playing her records. Sure, the first word that pops into mind about the actual song is the dreaded “tasteful” (kind of praising with faint damns there), but in the kind of way where I definitely don’t mind it as it plays. There are many, many worse things than still making the music my parents like.
[6]

Saturday, May 14th, 2022

Eurovision 2022 – The Grand Final

The time has come! Join us over on Discord to watch this year’s 25 finalists duke it out for the title of “will have to host next year” via methods including, but not limited to: hand washing! spacemen! tight leather pants! Invite link here: https://discord.gg/MwYJdyAx

Event starts at 9pm CEST / 8pm London / 3pm New York / 12pm Los Angeles / 5am+1 Sydney

Friday, May 13th, 2022

Beabadoobee – Talk

Lay back…


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Why’d you have to be so complicated?” Beabadoobee deadpans, almost exactly two decades after Avril Lavigne released her infectious debut single. (Beabadoobee was two years old when it was released.) I hate to speculate about the musical connections that went into making “Talk,” but I hear some of Avril’s grunge, I hear The 1975, I hear Green Day, and I hear a million other rock bands with boring white dudes leading them. Except: Beabadoobee is doing this way more interestingly than any of them ever did. She’s basically the Asian grunge girl I wish I had been when I was in high school. 
[9]

Micha Cavaseno: People desperately want to recapture the feeling of the music that occupied teen movie montages from the era when people wanted to go out and pay to see teen movies. I don’t know if you can find it in the songs themselves these days, especially if you remake them. So I hope someone encourages Beabadoobee to get away from making the sonic equivalent of early millennial adolescent comfort food, even if I’m mostly disinterested in her switching between various cliché pastiches for career phases. Can I blame the Adam Sandler film-twitter renaissance for this? Worth a shot.
[3]

Danilo Bortoli: Y2K nostalgia as saccharine noise pop. Also, shout out for leading me right back to the best Avril Lavigne song there is. It’s been a while. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Is she lo-fi Lorde or grungy CRJ or a 2000s Liz Phair throwback? Whichever (or all of the above?), this is the best thing I’ve heard from her; solid, crunchy pop-rock reminiscent of strong ’90s college rock.
[7]

Tobi Tella: The pop punk revival is in full swing, with everyone from white rappers to Disney stars jumping on the bandwagon, so TikTok indie singers were the logical next step. The guitar plods along nicely and there is something to the contrast between it and Bea’s fairly soft vocals; it feels like the instrumental is saying everything the vocal line can’t. Unfortunately, too much of this feels cribbed from much better examples of the genre, from the clear “Complicated” reference to the idea of releasing something fierce and rollicking with a pretty ho-hum subject matter. Hayley Williams managed to make a quiet evening alone feel like a battle cry; going out on a Tuesday feels destined to be Instagram-captioned for a week before everyone forgets this exists.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The lyrics wink obviously at Avril Lavigne but everything else is much more modern in its styling — she takes the cleaned-up shoegaze of Jay Som and Soccer Mommy and shines it even further, leaving us with a song that is at once pristine and filled with fuzz. It never regains the energy of its first few seconds — the drums in particular dropping way down in the mix to the song’s detriment — but even at 75% energy Beabadoobee is a compelling performer, taking the uncertainty and longing of the lyrics and transfiguring them into a hazy sort of joy.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The fuzzy, shuddering guitar work by Jacob Bugden is the core of this song. Beabadoobee’s lyrics are pretty soft but tart — “a silhouette that’s in my head” — but not tart enough to stick out, just being swallowed up by the guitar, even with vocal doubling. Both the bass and drums are also nearly gobbled by the guitar, which takes up so much space in the mix that it nearly swallows Bea too. Thankfully, it’s vibrant and fun enough to carry the whole song itself — and the song is short.
[6]

Ian Mathers: It’s no “Last Day on Earth” but then neither was anything else on that EP. I still liked it, and I really like this more compact, aggro version of that basic sound too. In fact, this is absolutely the kind of thing I’d have been stoked to hear as an album track on one of the CDs I bought as a kid when that was the only way to find out what they actually sounded like, and I think it’s weird that I’m supposed to like it less just because a younger generation is doing it now.
[8]

Alfred Soto: OK if your system needs less fraught Sky Ferreira to function.
[4]

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

Eurovision Song Contest 2022 – Semi Final 2

And so the fun continues! We’ll be covering the second Semi Final of Eurovision 2022 today over on our Discord server. Link here.

Join us at the following times depending on where you are.

9pm CEST / 8pm London / 3pm New York / 12pm Los Angeles / 5am+1 Sydney

See you soon!