Friday, October 15th, 2021

RÜFÜS DU SOL – On My Knees

The score will not prevent this subhead being What’s the [4.11]?


[Video][Website]
[5.12]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I get why these guys have played every festival in the world. This stuff is perfect for the 5:30 lull before the people you’re really there to see go on.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: An unexpected notion: this would be better if Alex Clare were singing it. In fact, it would be improved by quite a lot of people. Tyrone Lindqvist fails to fully handle the more melodic moments, left sounding like a well-connected national celebrity who has inserted himself into Eurovision. Are the elephant noises intentionally bathetic? It’s worth leaving that a mystery — the heady mix of proficient po-facedness and unclear conception of cliché makes this morning lemon entertaining.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Most of what’s going on in “On My Knees” works until the chorus, which has too much blarting horn preset, elephant noise and weirdo backing vocals to sit right. Would have made more of a splash in 2000 than 2021 (maybe it’s just that the bit after the second chorus reminds me of “Everything In Its Right Place,” but it reminds me of it in a good way). It’s like the ostensible seriousness is being sabotaged by some kind of weirdo ironic artsy tendency to put in ear-grabbing sound effects rather than have a fully ear-grabbing song.
[5]

Oliver Maier: The vocals have a Kiedis-esque warble to them which I quite like in isolation, but which deflates the erotic menace that “On My Knees” is gunning for. That in conjunction with the whoopee cushion beat leaves this sounding like boneless New Order.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The stirrings of a solid dance track get undermined by an ill-chosen vocal performance. Even masochism needs forethought.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The chattering bass is so frigid that the chanting synths rush back into their cave. Tyrone’s voice carries across their wind, drawing a team of sled kicks, marshaled by a howling vocal with a brief twinkling of synths. The snares follow, carrying Tyrone onto the sled so the kicks can rush him back, his howling vocal wrapping him tight. As they mush on, the twisted words and tipping synths duel in the sky until the howling vocal sends a cry up to them, cracking open as the sled kicks and pursuing snares fly off the snow and upwards, allowing Tyrone to sit up and see the spinning synth aurora borealis.
[8]

Ian Mathers: I like a dark ‘n chunky synth possibly even more than the next person, but after a very promising beginning it was kind of weird to get the vocals we do here. It just feels — and this is my absolute gut reaction, not sure it totally makes sense — like Giles from Buffy is singing or something. Not bad vocals, just a little out of place.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: The instrumental is inoffensive, if you can stand the way it keeps building into anticlimaxes before celebrating the energy it failed to bring. But the vocals — dear god, the vocals — so dead-behind-the-eyes, so flat, so text-to-speech, they make me physically itch. Perhaps I would be less harsh if they were not processed in such a way that the word “knees” gets a terrible strain to it every time he hits that modest peak in the melody; or, perhaps I wouldn’t mind it if the melody itself weren’t so one-dimensional in its evocation of the minor key and nothing else. If you’ve absolutely got to center an entire track around a lyrical and melodic hook that a sitcom writer would compose for a dull parody of Nine Inch Nails, could you maybe find some other things to repeat?
[1]

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

Jamie Miller – Here’s Your Perfect

And here’s your panning…


[Video]
[2.89]

Alex Clifton: Your perfect what? What’s perfect, Jamie???? This song isn’t good enough to let him get away with using “perfect” as a noun.
[3]

Aaron Bergstrom: In his 2017 run to the finals of The Voice UK, Miller performed six songs, which the Jukebox had previously scored as follows: [3.00][3.82][4.25][4.60][5.36], and [6.64]. As “Here’s Your Perfect” seems like it was written specifically to be performed at future televised singing competitions, those are the benchmarks it should be judged against, and in that context it actually comes off pretty well: the melancholy bounce of the pre-chorus adds just enough change of pace, it builds to a passable climax, and the whole thing is over in under three minutes.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The type of overwrought, submersible, market-tested anthem™ that could only be conjured by reality TV singing competitions.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Hmm. Think I might have figured out why they wanted to leave, dude.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Frankly cannot imagine anyone listening to this willingly and intentionally. A complete void of conveyable emotion or musical excitement.
[0]

Tim de Reuse: Sometimes you want your breakup to feel like the twist ending on a season finale, so you tell subtlety to leave the room for a minute, and under those circumstances all this blustery instrumentation is perfectly justified. The excess of Miller’s performance is a different type of over-performance that does not work nearly as well with the subject matter. Every little creak and whimper in his voice feels manicured, every tender little gasp rehearsed, whine so over-tuned it reads as cynical and calculated: a Jenna Maroney sadness. I don’t expect performers to actually be going through heartbreak every time they open their mouths, but I expect them to convince me to suspend my disbelief a little!
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: The clinking piano behind Jamie’s thin, static voice limply thuds as Jamie strains and yelps, while the lopsided, barely on tempo drums lurch behind. Then it ends.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Quite literally taking notes from Julia Michaels as much as the whole canon of Clintons Cards elegies, Jamie Miller proffers a nevertheless soft-edged proposition. To his credit, the six diverse rhymes before the chorus are the mark of a craftsman, and he’s on top of the fundamental trick: making the moment momentous. It’s the conceptual crystallisation of an identifiable anguish — but also quite boring.
[5]

Alfred Soto: An Earth-3 Olly Alexander, doomed to play Ne-Yo tracks for the girlfriend he can’t love.
[1]

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Wet Leg – Wet Dream

From the Isle of Wight straight to the sidebar…


[Video]
[7.27]

Dorian Sinclair: This is a lot of fun, isn’t it? Lyrics at that intersection of the banal and the absurd that works so well when done right, delivered with arch panache over a great groove. It’s the vocal performances that really make the song, particularly the imperious turn on “let’s begin” (particularly particularly the iteration that abruptly shuts down the end of the song). Overall “Wet Dream” is slick, quick, and enjoyably untidy — a sentence I did not initially draft as setup for a joke but have resigned myself to now that it’s written.
[8]

Aaron Bergstrom: I love a good UK hype spiral. I find it weirdly endearing that there are publications out there who have zero qualms about calling an act like Wet Leg “quite clearly the best new band on the planet” on the strength of, at that time, literally one song. Never change, UK press. That said, it certainly helps if the band in question is actually deserving of those breathless accolades, and so far Wet Leg seems up to the challenge. “Wet Dream” might not be quite as clever as debut single “Chaise Lounge” (“Baby, do you want to comе home with me? / I’ve got Buffalo ’66 on DVD” is good, but “Is your muffin buttered? / Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” is better), but it’s just as much of an earworm and cements the band’s identity as a kind of detached, pastoral CSS, which is something I didn’t know I needed until right now.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Honestly, I’m not sure where exactly the line is between a new band strongly establishing not just a sound but a world for themselves and “Guy who has only heard ‘Chaise Longue’, listening to his second Wet Leg song: Getting a lot of ‘Chaise Longue’ vibes from this…”, but this is still very funny in a not-suffering-fools way, still pretty deadpan, still driving in a deeply compelling way. Which is to say, err, I’m getting a lot of “Chaise Longue” vibes from this, but in a good way, not a running-out-of-ideas way.
[8]

Andrew Karpan: Of the RIYL comps getting thrown at this two-person hype machine, the correct one feels like the early Arctic Monkeys; a musical project occupied with the urgent work of remolding clichés in its own bratty image and drawing up tense us/them dichotomies for whatever worlds are paying attention. But what they’re fighting now aren’t the legions of uncool but the dicta of quaintness that threatens to sort and smoother them into playlist fodder and it outfits the song’s anxious, underlying subtext: what makes you think you’re good enough?
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: The early 00’s are back, baby! But seriously–I found it really easy to get lost in that velvety-smooth groove. There’s not a lot going on, but what’s there is pretty good. Those bits where the kick stutters break it up just right. There’s a very narrow band of intensity here, but the restraint mostly works. Just a pleasant lil tune.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I wonder a lot about the increasing retrofication of everything. Even our science fiction aesthetics are increasingly caught up in the futures of prior generations, let alone the more straight-forward nostalgia of something like this garage rock track. Yet even as I recognize the toolkit that Wet Leg is playing with as a tired one (what’s the count on the number of distinct garage rock revivals this century?), it’s heartening that their take is weird enough to not fall into rote past-worship. The vocals squirm and dance out of classification, and the beat does the same — nodding at various points in rock history without embracing any of them.
[7]

Oliver Maier: A dance punk-ish single that hearkens back to the genre’s cheeky second wave at the turn of the century (think Le Tigre, bis, Datarock, and so on). In keeping with many songs from that era, it’s neither as clever or as fun as it thinks it is.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: There’s so much I could say about this near perfect two minutes and twenty seconds, everything coordinated in its specificity. But I find myself fixating on the structural disintegration of the hi-hat fill in verse two, getting shakier and shakier as the Wet Leg’s addressee gets ever closer to, shall we say, awakening. 
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: This song is called “Wet Dream.” This song should instead be played when u actually make love. Do it in the rain, if possible.
[8]

Alex Clifton: I’m not crazy about overly sexual stuff, but I am absolutely into music with this much energy that also mentions Buffalo 66, so it’s a good compromise.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Good not great fun to which I may have paid some mind on a 2005-era dancefloor. 
[7]

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021

Sun-El Musician ft. Simmy – Higher

Title checks out…


[Video]
[8.00]

Ian Mathers: If someone asks me why the Singles Jukebox seems to be so fond of both Simmy and Sun-El Musician, I’m just going to sit them down, hit play on this song, and grin like an idiot at them for the whole 8:13.
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I know this is saying a lot given the sum total of what these two have put together over the past five years or so, but this might be the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s simpler and also subtler; the melody is pared down to the edge of a velvet knife, with Simmy gliding over it like there’s nothing else in the world she could possibly do. Sun-El Musician’s production is just as immaculate — the way he leaves the first and last minutes of the song completely bare, as close to just drums as his style allows, is a flex on its own. It’s a song like the rising and the setting of the sun: constant and reliable while never losing an inch of glory.
[10]

Alex Clifton: I have zero attention span these days (blame it on TikTok, a malfunctioning brain, anything really) so listening to anything over five minutes takes an effort from me. For Sun-El and Simmy, though, taking the time is not a chore. Good electronic music can go on for a long time but never feel overwhelmingly long, and not a second here is wasted — the song builds and flows so gorgeously, with Simmy’s voice fading in and out like little lights on a distant shore. It’s both electric and soothing, which is not a combination I hear often. Then again, if anyone can strike that balance, it’s these two musicians. It’s nice to hear music that encourages you to stay present and enjoy every moment that comes your way, a reminder that not everything needs to be fully experienced in thirty seconds or less.
[10]

Dorian Sinclair: I appreciate a song that is willing to take a bit of time to show its hand. “Higher” slowly builds its texture piece-by-piece, and that first chord being struck a minute in, after you’ve listened to all that groundwork being laid, feels like a revelation. Simmy’s voice, once she joins, has much the same impact — she has the same warmth she always does, and hearing her explore over the soundscape that’s been created is absolutely beautiful. All that said, the outro, as everything that’s been built gets taken apart in similarly systematic fashion, feels a bit like Sun-El Musician spinning his wheels, and I do think it could have been a bit shorter. It doesn’t spoil the song, but nor does it add much of anything.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Intermittently gorgeous, as almost anything with Simmy’s voice is going to be, but I find my attention drifting in and out when I listen even when I focus — there’s so much that is more dreamlike than dancefloor-friendly about this song that it’s probably intended. And I don’t think that editing this song down to say, 4:30 in length would make it any less like a looming sunrise. Maybe that means I should be listening to it at 4:30 in the morning?
[7]

Will Adams: Both Sun-El and Simmy can always be relied on for some of the most beautiful music you’ve ever listened to. But “Higher” settles for mood more than anything, and the result is a pleasant, 8-minute drift that lacks the euphoric hit the pair so often provide. The repeated hook is a more muted iteration of “No Stopping Us”, which adds to the feeling that we’ve been here before, and it was stronger then.
[6]

Oliver Maier: Sun-El’s beat doesn’t quite take off like usual — the underlying chug is stiff, and the flourishes insist on beauty in a cloying, perfunctory sort of way, like a too-HD timelapse of a blooming flower. Simmy, I have to say, kind of phones it in, crooning prettily over the beat but never feeling in conversation with it. On top of everything else, it’s just too long.
[5]

Mark Sinker: His upcoming EP (which this is from) is called AEDM, for “African Electronic Dance Music”, and I wonder, I suppose, if there’s anything of it that a newcomer would hear as (South) African, assuming they didn’t already know who made it or who sang. I wonder this, but only very mildly — I’m not sure that it matters. Sun-El’s song “Ululate” features him ululating, for example — but Simmy’s vocal here is so gentle and caressingly soft and besides, the aimed-for mood is “universal transcendence”, so maybe local touches just aren’t the point.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A leisurely tour through the muddy river of mutant disco, King Sunny Ade, and the nightclubs of Western Europe, “Higher” offers another example of glistening electro-disco. It does not look easy. Sun-El’s devotion is ascetic in its concentration.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Higher < Higher ≤ Higher < Higher ≤ Higher ≤ Higher < Higher < Higher < Higher ≤ Higher ≤ Higher < Higher ≤ Higher < Higher < Higher
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Once the bubbling, dripping toms are looped in, you could live within the raindrops forever, the crackling lightning synths buzzing between as the hi hats and shakers shimmer. Then the warm synth chords cluster them all and the kicks and snares thunder, booming as Simmy’s voice guides you away from the storm into its eye, which is the only ray of sunlight, her voice doubling with each sunbeam, widening the eye of the storm until you emerge from the rain drops, beginning to dry off. And all you have to do is chase Simmy’s voice, the rain a distant memory now as you are warm but not scorched, knowing you are safe as the rain blankets the land. As the world rejoices, you are alone in the sun, which begins to recede and fade, as the rain washes over you, soothing your sunburnt skin and refreshing your throat. You smile. A final sun ray shines away the last clouds, the sky a darkening blue.
[10]

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

Anna Sedukova – Набирай меня

…mozhet byt’?


[Video]
[5.86]

Dorian Sinclair: The titular plea of “Набирай меня” (it means, roughly, “call me”) is sung a dozen times in the less than three minute runtime of the song — more, if you count the English. It’s undeniably repetitive, but there’s just enough variation in the backing vocals that the effect is slightly more hypnotic than tedious. The beat is suitably woozy and urgent for this late night cri de coeur, but it’s serviceable more than great. The track’s best trick is its last; you think it’s ended, then Sedukova rallies for one last groggy entreaty before, one assumes, collapsing into unconsciousness, phone still in hand (been there!).
[6]

Jessica Doyle: This starts with a promisingly menacing air, but it never stops  generating dread long enough to actually do anything. The breakdown  feels like it ought to be a transition into the climax of the song, not  its coda. Ted Gioia recently suggested  that it does nobody any favors to cap songs at a mere three minutes;  somebody should give Anna Sedukova some room to test his hypothesis.
[5]

Ian Mathers: One of those videos where the fact everything is filmed on a bright sunny day and there are lots of colourful outfit changes make things feel more foreboding, not less. Listening to this song I feel like I’m going to wake up in a bathtub full of ice missing an organ. Not a complaint!
[7]

Leah Isobel: The diffuse rhythm in the verses is pleasant, if a little textureless; Sedukova slides over the synths without grabbing on. This slippery quality means that the chorus snaps into place with a welcome, propulsive shock the first time around. It’s not as compelling when it’s repeated. But the third shift into a grinding, slowed outro? That keeps on giving.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Tries valiantly to get free of the generic dancefloor stuff — those stutters are fun, at least — but the underlying beat is so straightforward and Sedukova’s vocal performance so by the numbers that it cannot possibly extricate itself.
[5]

Oliver Maier: The little details and “Sweet Dreams” bassline aren’t enough to save this from monotony. The Eurythmics made listlessness sound vast and compelling; Anna succumbs to it and delivers very little.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Serviceable in the best sense: a vocal appropriately anonymous, a beat decently danceable. 
[6]

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

THE ANXIETY, WILLOW, Tyler Cole – Meet Me At Our Spot

Eleven years now since Willow made her Jukebox debut…


[Video]
[5.38]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The antidote to the plodding doldrums of 2021 is… a languorous pop-punk cut from March 2020 (a whole album cycle ago) revived by TikTok? “Meet Me At Our Spot” delivers on its promises of a vibe: WILLOW and Tyler Cole’s voices intertwining, dancing, and bleeding into each other with spellbinding effortlessness.  
[9]

Andrew Karpan: I was disappointed to discover that the 16-second edit of the record that made this early-2020 release randomly a hit on TikTok last month actually slices out much of the pure angst that make it otherwise an another entirely pleasant exercise in pure Girls-core, a genre that hangs ominously over a collectively burnt out youth. (A CNN SEO-blogger, struggling to write about the largely forgotten album upon its release, took note that the Willow Smith-fronted act “call themselves The Anxiety and have been open about their struggles with anxiety.”) Instead, the edit on our feeds is reduced to pure vibes, the rush of driving in a car and going nowhere. But maybe the market is right and that’s the point. We can only get the vibes we deserve. 
[6]

Alex Clifton: TikTok may have ruined this for me (I think that’s what happens when you hear the chorus a hundred times divorced from the rest of the song) but even without that I think I’d be kind of “meh” on this one. I’m bored all around. Maybe I’m too old for songs about escaping into the night for a moment of freedom at this point, but “Meet Me At Our Spot” stays in the same place the entire time, which seems counterintuitive to me. I suppose there’s something to be said about how popular this has become with quarantine, but I’m not feeling it.
[4]

Oliver Maier: Everything you can expect from WILLOW — self-impressed, aimless, annoying to a level that probably counts as a scientific breakthrough — now with the aid of a chap with the exact same problems. Who says romance is dead?
[1]

Nina Lea: As it is, “Meet Me At Our Spot” is fine, a punk-rock-inspired, mid-tempo, sort-of-boring track that sounds like the TikTok zeitgeist. But it contains hints of a better, more interesting song: one where Willow Smith’s rangy, mellifluous voice can actually give space to the restless, desperate undercurrent of youthful anxiety that “Meet Me At Our Spot” glimpses but never really captures.
[5]

Ian Mathers: The vocals (for both singers!) are much stronger in the live version that seems to be picking up steam right now, and there the performances really are the highlight. I’m now old enough I’m able to go “you kids are too young to be this tired” and also viscerally remember how often I felt this weary and wasted at their age. (I don’t know what to tell you — it gets better! Also worse! Frequently at the same time!) Which means that “Meet Me At Our Spot” manages to both hit me where I live and make me feel very removed from where I used to be living, which is a neat (if faintly unintentionally cruel-feeling) trick.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Every couple months I play a single whose purpose and audience eludes me. I can hear The Waitresses and Haircut 100 post-punking the schoolyard chants. In its current form, it has the shape of a demo by people who refuse to be too clever for their own good.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Some real teen movie climax shit.
[5]

Monday, October 11th, 2021

Bonny Lovy – La Cumbia Boliviana

Turns out it’s one of our preferred types of cumbia…


[Video]
[7.14]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I sat down to write something, and then I started dancing, and then I started drinking, and then I think I just paid for international shipping to buy a charango. 
[10]

Andrew Karpan: Pitbull may have trademark-protected his grito but that isn’t stopping Bolivian singer Bonny Lovy from letting loose with a party record that floats between urgent dispatches of such likeminded buoyant yelling mixed with his own tender chanting, a warm sound that dangles in the night air. Lovy’s voice is a charismatic hang and his urgent chest-beating hums with the vibe of a good time. Don’t call it fair use, call it fun use. 
[7]

Ian Mathers: I don’t know enough about the form to know what makes this cumbia Bolivian specifically; maybe it’s the way the whole thing seems to sway slightly, drunkenly, even the stiff, clomping beat? Maybe it’s the way the ends of some lines are doubled by what might be the bald guy from Aqua? Or maybe it’s just that “La Cumbia Boliviana” is so dang fun.
[7]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Some people might be scared off by those blaring synth-flute lines, but frankly, nothing says real modern Cumbia than that. Of course, the charango is what puts this closer to actual Bolivian-style cumbia, but yeah, you can’t take back the sheer Argentinidad in the final product, with the cheap reggaeton beat underneath it all.  
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The pulsing bass and shivering percussion tricks you into thinking this is gonna be a slumber. Then it gets saddled by the heavy reggae drums, the taut guitar strums and the horn skips, tricking you into thinking this is gonna be a big, massive song. Then you play it on good speakers and you realize the bass is the only thing that’s actually moving. The rest of this is a 2D picture of a party you were invited to and never made it to before it ended. And now you’re tricked out, and you decide to leave with that irritating synth melody and realize you’ve been tricked into thinking the song was about to end and now you’re stuck for another minute, and by the time the beer chorus comes in, it’s too late. You got tricked into waiting for the drinks and now they’re all gone.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Ok this guy maybe supported the coup in Bolivia but this still goes moderately hard.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I can think of few malaises that a cumbia can’t cure, and while Bonny Lovy sings rather harshly for the genre and needs less generic titles, this things swings
[7]

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Dermot Kennedy – Better Days

At least he’ll always have Soccer Aid 2020


[Video][Website]
[2.86]

Claire Biddles: It’s a shame that this is coming out after The X Factor has gone on hiatus, because never has a song felt more specifically designed as consoling incidental music for some poor bastard being told they’re not making it to judges’ houses.
[2]

Ian Mathers: For such a straightforward Beefy Man Empathizes With Your Problems ballad (in the “effortful striving” rather than “sadly sincere” division), it’s a real surprise when the little choral parts pop in and out, eventually feeling somewhere between Coldplay and “Return to Innocence”. Your mileage here is still likely to depend mostly on your current hunger for Beefy Man balladry, but if that scratches your itch you could do a lot worse (even if my brain consistently insists “the rain it ain’t permanent” is going to be “the rain it ain’t perfect” every single time it comes by).
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Completely acceptable Global Citizen-core undercard stuff let down by a vocal performance from Dermot Kennedy that can’t quite decide what degree of soulfulness befits the situation. The pianos indicate restraint, but the choral bits are egging him on to go real hard. It can’t help that he sounds ill-equipped to do either well.
[4]

Austin Nguyen: The latest in a long line of bland comfort ballads, “Better Days” rewrites the cliches of “Let Her Go,” filters them through the faintest tint of Aloe Blacc soulfulness, and hopes a Gaelic choir is enough to keep your attention from Ed Sheeran or Lewis Capaldi. It’s like they say: Capitalism breeds innovation!
[1]

Andrew Karpan: The more I listen to this arrestingly bland Irish pop singer, the more his mediocrity pushes and pulls at my spirit. The way the octaves of his choirboy voice open like the gills of a fish around the hard consonants of words like “train”, “rain” and “togеther”, slurring them into a crude pantomime of religious experience. The spigot of mud-colored rain that washes over his half-naked body in the clip. But these are universal experiences: needless to say, I, too, have waited for public transportation that has yet to arrive and have experienced, surely, extended moments of “hurting.” The good news may be that my story, as he sings, is about to change. My train will perhaps arrive and the hurt will be replaced by dancing in the sunlight — the latter an even more peculiar image, generic beyond recognition. A pop critic for the Irish Times, amid his otherwise effusive praise (“he shares with Hozier the ability to articulate heavy feelings in an expressive, empathic and generous way”), uses the record to wonder why the stars from his native land always seems to be “a bloke” who looks and sounds like Mr. Kennedy and who even Dan Nigro can’t make sound unblokey. I don’t have the answer, unfortunately, but I can hope that this rain, “it ain’t permanent.”
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: Dermot Kennedy’s favoured dynamic of rhythmically talking before SUUDDEENNLY BELLOWING is as predictable as almost everything else about “Better Days” (the quavering Gaelic choir being the exception). No crime there, but to freight it all with such insisted import ensures it has the tedium of an unsolicited lecture. If it brings people solace, great, but perhaps you needn’t deliver it to them from the bucket of a JCB.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I hate to criticize something that seems so genuine, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t emoted with the overripeness of a brown banana being circled by fruit flies and which should have been thrown out days ago. 
[4]

Friday, October 8th, 2021

Zakes Bantwini & Kasongo – Osama

But what does it mean? To us, it means “straight to the sidebar.”


[Video]
[8.50]

Scott Mildenhall: Zakes’ supralinguistic search for a spiritual euphony is thought-provoking, but the voice it gives to “Osama”‘s pulse moves on a physical level above all. The familiarity of its timeless smoothness is also given a jolt by the prominence of symbolically futuristic sounds, though it’s still a slighter electrification than can be had elsewhere. Far from a distraction, it illuminates with its own light — this is no less centred for it, just differently orientated.
[8]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: The lyrics are literally untranslatable, outside of a few names that need no translation. The invocation of Fela Kuti feels particularly appropriate as “Osama” is built from the same persistent rhythms as Afrobeat with four on the floor as foundation. The reverb on the vocals lends them a feeling of communal expression, of voices uplifted in an airy space, in dialogue with their higher selves. 
[8]

Ian Mathers: “Osama” is mostly built around the kind of sleekly, almost beatifically minimal techno pulse that you don’t actually have to add much to for it to work (which is a good thing, because it sticks around pretty unadorned for a bit at the beginning). And yet the very beautiful singing (at least partially glossolalia, apparently) over it not only feels totally natural in that context, it kind of feels like it’s unlocking the potential of the very focused production the way that, say, a sampled hook might not. You watch a video of “Osama” being played live and it just feels like… yes, of course these things were always supposed to go together.
[10]

Juana Giaimo: Maybe it’s because of the artwork, but as soon as this started I felt I was suspended in space. And I think “suspended” is a good word to describe it. It feels still (not slow or repetitive), but in a positive way, like a break from reality, like its own suspension of time. 
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The lyrics are perfect house music nonsense — 80% glossolalia, 20% inter-genre reference. The kwaito beat is even better, a constantly pulsing loop that just builds and builds, never getting old as it pushes inexorably to the grand synth fanfares of the song’s climax.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: When we begin this song, the single synth chord underneath the arpeggios warn of a new possibility for the song to go. And then, Zakes and Kasongo take it there, with loping piano chords and shuffling percussion swiping the ground out from under the thudding kicks, with the synths taking over as the kicks drop out and so does the percussion. Zakes’ and Kasongo’s voices connect and tighten, then the percussion and kicks slide in as the bass slowly emerges from the background, grinning, then lifting the synth strings out. The percussion and kicks recede, as do the bass and synths, leaving the strings to play us out.
[10]

Edward Okulicz: People trying to work out what the song is about by reading the lyrics, and I confess I’m often one of these people, are completely missing the point on a song like this. This is simultaneously otherworldly and earthy, and the lyrics just being whatever makes them both tantalisingly obscure and immediately comforting and universal. There’s as much or as little meaning as you need, but alwas enough to move to; “Osama” drips with reverence as it moves you in so many different ways.
[9]

Alfred Soto: The massed vocals are beautiful in themselves. I’m here for that sequencer: a line of beauty. Why do so many artists get this wrong?
[8]

Friday, October 8th, 2021

NCT 127 – Sticker

127 is also the number of opinions we have about the song.


[Video]
[6.50]

Jessica Doyle: I had heard so much advance adverse publicity that I expected to file this song alongside “Zimzalabim” and “Next Level” in the category of SM-just-because-you-can-doesn’t-mean-you-should. But “Sticker” works! Part of this can be credited to the vocalists — Taeil and Doyoung, obviously, but Jungwoo deserves a best-supporting nod. Part is that “Sticker” is centered around an idea, but unlike the underexplained and off-putting Aespa mythology, the idea is “being an NCT fan is fun and enjoyable; sign up so hot guys can sing and dance and flatter you.” The guiding principle of almost all K-pop is a pretty firm base to build a song on. So “Sticker” is neither as off-putting nor as novel as it seems at first weak-flute pass. An NCTzen good friend of mine (direct quote from her email: “Yuuuuuutaaaaaaaaa”) said she thought it close kin to “Don’t Call Me“; I’d agree, and add that “Sticker” probably shares some songwriting DNA with Super Junior’s underrated “House Party.” All right, SM production team, I concede: you can and you should. Just quit giving the less cooked-through ideas to the female groups.
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: NCT’s particular brand of bullshit is generally not for me (with a few notable exceptions), so I had no intentions of checking out this comeback. Yet, on release day, I saw so much buzz about how weird and indescribable this song was that I somehow found myself opening YouTube and watching the music video anyway. “Sticker” tries some mildly interesting things and has an unexpectedly catchy hook among all the quiet gorilla vibes, but, like multiple other SM releases this year, it’s too content to stop halfway at mediocrity rather than push into excellence and/or innovation. Yet I still gave into my curiosity and listened to it anyway — and that is precisely why NCT is the way that they are.
[4]

Andrew Karpan: A constellation of high-energy sounds, “Sticker” surveys pop style with a precise scalpel and an energetic flute riff that feels both buoyant and futuristic in unexpected ways. I don’t expect them, and then they arrive. I listen again and remain surprised when the record suddenly breaks into a torch song before leaving it for something else. The agile jumping between English and Korean befits the record’s antic energy; at times, the boy band’s bars feel literally sticky, the words squeaking through and then freezing in the middle of the air.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Not every component in the throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to the production of “Sticker” sticks, but the resulting conglomerate of sounds (pan flutes, piano, record scratches, trap beats, synth arpeggios) is stitched together with the ambition of “SICKO MODE” or “Countdown.” Elsewhere, it’s all about the way that they stretch, tease, and invert the titular phrase into something so sexy it’s almost unrecognizable.
[7]

Alex Clifton: It’s certainly, uh, unusual. Very… different and creative. Can’t say I’ve heard anything like it before.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A single with sounds as weird as, well, any of this would normally temper its own weirdness: take the flute loops and off-kilter rhythms and stick them in the verse, but make sure the chorus has something more palatable (or vice versa). Here, NCT 127 doesn’t do any of that– the conventional instrumentation on the bridge comes in so late to the song that it sounds incongruous. I can’t remember the last time I was this genuinely amused by a pop song, though. It’s not just gimmickry for the sake-of gimmickry, either. The bizarre beat choices match up with the ideas of desire expressed by the vocalists– rarely has a song captured how weird hotness is better than this.
[8]

Alfred Soto: I imagine Timbaland at his sub-prime producing this record: the synth bass rumbles, the crisscrossing percussive elements, the Timberlake influence. Pretty good at conveying teenage lust.
[6]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: “Sticker” might be the first title track from the NCT 127 unit that’s successfully managed to capture SME’s desired tension, whilst also being an actual good song. The song effectively balances dissonance, highly melodic and occasionally distorted vocals, and an incredibly spare yet gleefully mismatched instrumentation — flute, piano, and some absurd bass synth. It is indeed an absolute racket — that’s dissonance, baby — but that dissonance is deployed with skill, as a compositional tool. The effect is more than the sum of its parts and way more enjoyable than when these dudes were always hollering at me about new things or whatever. This is still a very annoying song, but I’m pretty damn amused by it, in much the same way I’m amused by my favorite hyperpop songs. 
[8]

Michael Hong: Without a doubt, the funniest song of the year. There’s not a bit better than whatever the hell that flute is doing behind Mark’s rap.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: “Sticker” starts one idea only to break it. First, there’s Taeyong’s autotuned rap, in a higher register to what we’re used from him. It doesn’t have a clear structure, then out of nowhere, it’s interrupted by Doyoung’s “BABY,” also a lot more intense than his usual soft tone. Then there’s that piano, which is so important not only because it fills in the space, but also because a warmer acoustic instrument is really welcome in this strange musical atmosphere. There are more short moments I enjoy — like the silly “mellow drama”, “mono drama” rhyme or Heachan’s growl when he starts his line in the second chorus — but the end lacks something. SM is known for their bridges, but I find it incredibly funny that they all suddenly start screaming “Roll up to the party! Roll up! Roll up!” and then go back to the chorus as if nothing happened. I guess I should be thankful they aren’t screaming “Bruce Lee!!!” anymore.
[7]