Monday, July 28th, 2014

Lenny Kravitz – The Chamber

Hey kids! Cinna has a pop career!


[Video][Website]
[6.33]

Megan Harrington: Between the massive quantity of EDM bros willing to stand together in a field and sing along to Eliza Dolittle via Disclosure or the nu-disco bros banging Random House Memories at their barbecues, men are flocking in droves to music they’ve historically rejected. It might be surprising to see straight men embracing queer music from Giorgio Moroder or Sam Smith, but in all this reclamation of dance music, women are still observers or interpreters. What’s most exciting about “The Chamber” is Kravitz’s willingness to mix his musical DNA with Debbie Harry’s. This is a womanly song, not least of all because it borrows from “Heart of Glass” (it also borrows from “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”), but most of all because Kravitz positions himself on the receiving end of the well aimed bullet. He assumes a position of sensitivity, of mortality, and he cloaks this vulnerability not in crunchy alt-rock guitars but silky synthesizers. It’s fluent in throwback jam, but also interpreting influence and emotion in futuristic ways.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Well, I certainly didn’t expect Lenny Kravitz to be re-writing “Heart of Glass” 25 years into his career — and that was before I even realized he actually says “heart of glass” in the song’s chorus. From the chugga-chugga “Miss You”-on-cocaine rhythm to the atmospheric keybs behind the chorus, this is some serious fucking retro-DOR action. And amazingly, it’s probably his best single since the ’70s-soul-isms of “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” For someone who came across as such a hippie manqué at the start of his career, it would appear that it’s the ’70s that have been the greatest musical gift for Kravitz. I guess you can teach an old dog new(ish) tricks. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: Holy hell, is Lenny turning into early-’80s Elvis Costello? I hadn’t even considered a best-case scenario for him, let alone his achieving it.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Geez, it only took twenty-five years for Kravitz to play an interesting bass line on his own. Too bad the harmonies, rhythm strums, and electronics come from the Killers’ debut.
[6]

David Sheffieck: Sorely — and surprisingly — in need of a striking guitar solo in the bridge, but otherwise an impressively propulsive and wiry song. The last Kravitz song I liked was “Fly Away”; “The Chamber” makes me wonder if I should check for missing gems in the intervening years.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: The actual content of the lyrics can stay or go — he’s made sense of “one in the chamber”, at least — but the sound of them is enough. “ONEINTHECHAMBER” itself is so satisfying; vocally the chorus more than matches up to the enrapturing pulse and eye-of-the-storm atmosphere. It does sound like thousands of other songs — not all unintentionally if the “heart of glass” line is anything to go by, though he probably wasn’t thinking of Franz Ferdinand — but then those songs are good, too.
[7]

Mark Sinker: I correct the spelling in a magazine that covers the decorative and applied arts. Long-running joke: every new feature on glassware someone will propose the headline “Art of Glass,” punning on (wait for it) “Heart of Glass”. This has gone so far beyond mutually amusing cliché no one even much notices we’re doing it any more: it’s a kind of cheerfully phatic background hum of preoccupied co-worker signalling. Via this and many similarly emptied-out songphrases, apparently largely gathered by a spiderbot concordance aggregator, over a pleasant-enough New Wave-y guitar-shimmer-throb, Lenny is trying (and failing) to pass a Turing Test of lovelorn android sentience. Unexpectedly — when the words stops and there’s only mounting instrumental overload — you are indeed put in mind of a tormented cyborg lover overheating somewhere behind its communications screen, vital information unable to pass out or in. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Lenny Kravitz is an unusual presence in the pop landscape of 2014, but then again, he’s been that for pretty much his entire career. His glossy funk-rock is machined as precisely as any R&B-pop hit du jour, but his multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter background suggests a figure of the classic rock era; he has the toolkit of an auteur and the catalogue of a session player. Yet that catalogue has no shortage of hits, and like Chris Isaak or latter-day Carlos Santana, he’s had a lengthy career of the sort that, since it’s never been a part of the Zeitgeist, could plausibly last forever and be revived at any time; can a performer who’s never been relevant turn irrelevant? Like those men, or like Nickelback or Amy Winehouse or Norah Jones, he seems to thrive by exploiting market failure; plenty of people want to hear music that sounds like those artists, but that sound has calcified to the extent it can only be reproduced with ever diminishing returns by talented newcomers who will never be as exciting as their forebears. “The Chamber” is unlike “Fly Away” or “Again” or “Are You Gonna Go My Way” in that the pop-rock form it takes this time is circa-Blondie disco-rock, and, in true Kravitz fashion, it channels adequately that era’s funk basslines and brisk rhythms. If anything, it’s noteworthy for being more faithfully populist than contemporary indie rock’s ventures into the same realm. Cue it up after that Nathan East thing, and, one thing’s for sure: your playlist will definitely not be technically made up of oldies.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Lenny Kravitz is pretty much the perfect example of middle manager, isn’t he? Technically competent, ambitious enough, connects to the right people, knows his history, acts a little — sort of like Adam Levine now or Aerosmith a generation ago, but with some survivor cred, and some decent history of counter-programming. This could have been better with a bit of a Blondie sample in the “Heart of Glass” moment, and without the spoken word bit, but it’s a Kravitz song, and you get what you pay for. 
[4]

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

Kira Isabella – Quarterback

Canadian country triumphs over all (so far)!


[Video][Website]
[8.25]

Anthony Easton: One of the things that happens in the back of the truck, in the back woods, is that women get raped. Though this song talks about learning “the hard truth about love,” with the forced drinking and the narrative of powerful men taking advantage of young women, it suggests that Isabella knows about rape in the woods. One of the problems of bro-country, and the absence of female voices, is that these stories don’t get told. I do not know if the recent attempt at pushing harder or pretending to be one of the boys means that voices are heard. There are other, more complicated ways. The backlash against bro-country, then is one that is deeply rendered, and listening to Musgraves or Clark, one thinks about the rhetorical forms they are engaging in, which is melodrama. One of the purposes of melodrama in our culture is the construction of women’s narratives. Often, country music written by women is profoundly melodramatic. This song is a melodrama. The whole town talking digitally is the only update — and it could have been sung by Dolly or Loretta. Her voice does not quaver; it takes its strength, and its moralist tone, from tour mate Terri Clark. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: A sports metaphor inverted to show the rot beneath the referents. At first the strings don’t work — they signal that This is Meaningful in a high school English class way — and Isabella is breathy when she should bite hard on those syllables. For male critics it’s of course too easy to praise the Miranda Lamberts and Martina McBrides for responding to trauma with the wit and power too often in 2014 ascribed to men; when the subject is the girl in “Quarterback,” she’s turned into an object, a pathetic thing to be pitied. That’s where the strings and rudimentary acoustic chords interfere: they reflect the girl’s experience in a marching band playing awkward and often awful music. Best, that’s how Isabella’s vocals triumph: compassionate, lived-in. Note the way she cuts to the truth in the verse about the drinks: “Before she knew it she’d had three mo-o-o-re.”
[7]

Josh Love: Describing the protagonist as a trumpet player in the marching band initially put me in mind of the Dixie Chicks’ “Traveling Soldier,” where putting the girl in the marching band telegraphed her lowly social status and reinforced the anonymity of her fallen epistolary sweetheart. That designation works sort of the same way here, only to a far more chilling end — here the point is to emphasize the tremendous social gulf between the girl and the quarterback, and the improbability of his affections. Which means either she must have offered herself up on a silver platter, or worse still, even if she didn’t, she should consider herself fortunate rather than a victim. Isabella doesn’t need much more detail than that; the horrifying specifics already played out in Steubenville and innumerable elsewheres (though evoking the “bonfire party ” allows for an even deeper fracturing of good-timin’ country’s idyllic facade). We talk a lot about finding antidotes to bro-country when often that merely means giving women agency over their own lives and their own fun. This song reminds a country listener that a far more sinister road gets a little easier to travel when certain cultural mindsets are allowed to fester.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: 1) “Quarterback” is a song about current events, but the brilliance of its songwriting is that it’s also a song about popularity, and who we deem to matter. The main character of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, the canonical required-reading book on this topic, has maybe one-third of a friend (she mostly uses her for free fundraiser-prep labor), teachers and administrators think she’s delinquent, and that she finds a resolution at all — lacrosse team ex machina — is acknowledged as mostly luck. I was lucky, growing up; nothing of the sort happened. I was too far off the social grid to even be bullied much. But in elementary school there was this one kid who, every day, would scratch up the backs of my hands until and after they bled. One day I came home and asked my parents if I could wear gloves to school. Horrified, they confronted the administration. The administration, who’d previously encouraged my mom to withdraw me, suggested I was cutting myself. This was first grade. The sorting starts early. 2) In college, someone once told me a school-paper colleague took advantage of a girl at a party. She didn’t say who; maybe she was protecting her, maybe she was a freshman or a newcomer, like Isabella’s protagonist, never matriculating to mention. He has a career now. People seem to like him. Judging by my college’s past M.O. for rape cases, it is likely there were no repercussions. I am hesitant to mention this not only because it’s hearsay, but because it seems banal. Everyone has a story like this, with the same participants in the same parties and the same social strata. 3) Kira Isabella’s been vague about what “Quarterback” was written in response to, but it seems likely to be Steubenville. What made Steubenville especially harrowing weren’t the facts of the case, though plenty harrowing, nor the peanut-gallery cyberbullying; what the whole town posted on Facebook, they’d have said at barbecues or playdates, with even fewer repercussions. No, it’s the way the usual litany of condemnation — she was drinking, those boys had promising futures — became socially charged: she went to the party alone, she didn’t have friends there, she wanted to social climb, and thus, and thus. It’s like a twisted version of that Echosmith song. Being a girl in high school is like walking a minefield; being an unpopular girl means walking that minefield alone. 5) “Quarterback” was first pitched to Carrie Underwood, who passed, as Tony Romo was also the quarterback — it’d send the wrong message It was since shunted off to Canada, and thank God; the production, unencumbered by post-Idol bombast, knows when to keep quiet and listen. Isabella’s light, unforeshadowed delivery of on the story makes it sting all the more when she bites the verse on “the whole town too,” and Marti Dodson’s songwriting, particularly how “how do you explain” fades into “who you gonna blame.” The video may make this go viral, attempt to make this an Issue Song (albeit a necessary one); even then the song would transcend that.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: This is very good and very horrifying, taking on the issue of sexual assault by high school (and by extension, college) athletes. Well produced, well written, superbly sung by rising Canadian country star Isabella — but it’s disturbing enough that I don’t necessarily want to hear it again. That said, after living with it for a week, it’s stuck in my head, and I say that to its credit. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: How incredible is it that Isabella is capable of depicting hunter and prey? So many lines are delivered at a register mixing disbelief and disgust, especially the title itself. The song proceeds like a closing statement, from scene-setting to laying out the facts to the plea for justice; the arrangement accrues forcefulness as well, switching from a legato string figure to something more anxious and lacerating. A Canadian country masterpiece, and a thematic milestone for the genre.
[10]

Edward Okulicz: It makes sense that the football player should take some of the load of being The Desirable Male Archetype from the cowboy in a genre that’s evolved to take into account the demographics of urbanisation. The small-town heartbreak treatment is a bit antiseptic, but the words here have real bite, and Isabella’s voice is by turns cautioning and condemning. We hear about the girl in the hushed verses, but the chorus simply summarises the protagonists by their status, and it’s very effective as commentary. The song puts a mirror up to the reporting around young men who commit acts of rape; the boys are promising athletes or students whose bright futures are being jeopardised by all this scrutiny from some girl who’s nobody. The final verse, where we are reminded that allegiances operate independently of truth and justice, subverts the teen-movie soundtrack surroundings brilliantly. If Isabella sounds a bit detached at times, consider the horror of what’s being narrated.
[8]

Will Adams: We were just six kids left alone on a hot summer evening, stumbling back from a day of drinking to sprawl on the living room floor and keep drinking. We passed around a fifth of vodka; I sipped a cheap beer slowly. We tried to keep a semblance of party alive, playing drinking games we didn’t know the rules of, turning up the stereo. We were tired but still restless. We were just kids. I lost track of everyone, fiddling instead with the playlist. And then some of the others snickered wildly; he had just taken her by the hand to a bedroom. Their quiet laughs turned to howls as they realized this was his first time, that he was totally smashed. Her friend shook her head and said that she’d promised herself she wouldn’t this weekend. And I was there too, stunned at what was happening in front of me. I couldn’t change it. At least, I didn’t think I could. I felt sick inside for a long time afterward. I felt confused — why did I feel so responsible? That’s when I realized that these stories, unfortunately common, have an unspoken third character: the bystander. Two summers ago, it was me. In “Quarterback,” it’s Kira, it’s you, the listener, it’s everyone. It prods that scar, and it hurts. But it reminds you of what happened, and that it’s a story you’ve been a part of. But it asks you to change it.
[8]

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Maggie Rose – Girl in Your Truck Song

There’s something called “bro-country,” see


[Video][Website]
[3.50]
Megan Harrington: You want to be inanimate? You want to be a collection of words some guy wrote, not even about you? You want to be two-dimensional, 36-24-26, underdressed and oversexed? You want to play for three minutes and then exist only as a memory? No thoughts, no feelings, no mind of your own? Maggie Rose, I don’t believe you.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: People on the Internet are angry, or at least unimpressed, by this song. The commenter debate is about what you expect (“Sixteen and Pregnant!” “But it’s female empowerment!”); the bloggers are skeptical of two Nashville bro-country answer songs coming out on the same day. Sure, I can see that, monetizing every side to the bro-country story: Jason Aldean tweeted about “Truck Song,” but “Country Song” is on Florida Georgia Line’s label, and Unilever owns Axe and Dove and so forth. Then I get to “having guys that learned how to treat women from 90?s hip-hop songs dominating country music… [resulting] in actual behavioral changes in young women” and asplode goes my brain, right onto the wall. Guys do a horrid job of learning how to treat women by growing up as guys in the South, and girls have loved or capitulated to it just the same; if you really cared about Maggie as an artist you’d call her Margaret Durante, and acknowledge that she had a career before being the girl in your inbox. “Girl in Your Truck Song” isn’t even interesting as an answer song, anyway; it’s far more compelling if you assume the bros ignore her, making the lyric a resigned “fuck it”: “you like tailgates and beer? I can like tailgates and beer — now will someone like me?” Even then, only the lyrics would hold mild interest. The music would be nothing.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Stepping out of a Luke Bryan song like Emma Flaubert in “The Kugelmass Episode” is a shrewd conceit that perfunctory writing and singing don’t illuminate. That’s all she is: a girl in your truck song, strumming behind a mandolin.
[3]

Iain Mew: I can understand the urge to keep fanfic close to canon, but if you’re taking on an underdeveloped character it’s a waste to add as little development as Maggie Rose does here. The saving grace is that this is a song and not only fanfic, and the way the guitar shivers and she sings the title has a reverence that places bro-country as her “Springsteen.” The relationship with the music is the deepest and most appealing one in the song.
[5]

Josh Love: What  damns this song the most is its self-awareness. Shorten the title to “Girl in Your Truck” and it could’ve simply been a flirty little lark.  Unfortunately, Rose is doing more than that. She’s explicitly  identifying with a specific trope that exists in songs in the real world  and reinforcing its validity. I won’t indict this song for happening to  appear in conjunction with Maddie and Tae’s because I don’t know if  that was intentional, but I will indict it for propping up a boring,  dumb, played-out, regressive fad.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: How in the world is it somehow seen as “progressive” for a woman to sing that she wants to be the objectified subject of hundreds of bro-country songs? Stringing together a bunch of titles of “girl/truck” songs: not impressive. Mandolin added for extra “country” cred: not impressive. Rose’s voice: not impressive. Lyrics: actually kind of offensive.
[2]

Brad Shoup: The best thing about this is when or if it’s talked about in casual conversation, it’ll be referred to as “the girl in your truck song”. Look, reply records, from “The Wallflower” to “Soul Girl” to “Fuck You Right Back,” are always with us, and that’s awesome: the zeitgeist wagging a finger at itself. Sometimes these tunes are (merely) straight cash-ins, sometimes they’re songs about wanting to fuck a Beatle and the lust steams off the platter. This is a cash-in, sung by a mortified-sounding Rose. The three-scratch guitar figure at the end of the chorus underlines her D4W cred, or maybe the producer’s realization that an actual truck song must have melancholy or bite, and he supplied neither.
[3]

Anthony Easton: Il n’y a pas de hors-texte – Derrida // You’re a little bit of J-Lo/A little bit of Kim Kardashian/It’s big, it ain’t tiny, I’m diggin’ that hiney/It’s a classy one/Might be a bullshitter/But I ain’t no ass kisser’/Least I’ve never been one before/But if there’s anybody’s ass I’d kiss, I’d want it to be yours, whoa, whoa, whoa – Justin Moore, “I’d Want It To Be Yours.” No one fragment carries the totality of the message, but each text (which is in itself a whole) has a particular urgency, an individual force, a necessity, and yet each text also has a force which comes to it from all the other texts. – Hélène Cixous, Writing Blind // And there’s somethin bout a girl in a red sun dress/With an ice cold beer pressed against her lips/In that farmers field, will make a boy a mess/There’s somethin bout a girl in a red sundress – Kip Moore, “Something About a Dress” // Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents. // If you wanna call me, call me, call me./You don’t have to worry ’bout it baby./You can wake me up in the dead of the night;/Wreck my plans, baby that’s alright./This is a drop everything kind of thing/.Swing on by I’ll pour you a drink.The door’s unlocked./ I’ll leave on the lights/Baby you can crash my party anytime – Luke Bryan, Crash My Party.” // We have been compelled in our bodies and in our minds to correspond, feature by feature, with the idea of nature that has been established for us. -Monique Wittig, “One is Not Born a Woman.” // You’re shakin’ that money maker,/ like a heart breaker,/ like your college major was/Twistin’ and tearin’ up Friday nights/Love the way you’re wearin’ those jeans so tight/I bet your kiss is a soul saver, my favorite flavor, want it now and later – Thomas Rhett, Get Me Some of That.
[8]

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Maddie & Tae – Girl in a Country Song

or: “Girl in a Better Song”


[Video][Website]
[7.00]
David Sheffieck: A gleeful pastiche of bro-country that embraces the style’s production while tweaking its politics. Maddie & Tae seem perfectly timed to provide a corrective to the genre, a T-Pain-covers-”Royals” for modern country, and they do an admirable job. The real test will be whether they’re given the opportunity to build a career off of it.
[8]

Josh Love: I especially like that these are actual young girls who aren’t already stars throwing down this gauntlet. It’d be one thing if this was Miranda or Carrie calling out Nashville from their perches, but it’s downright punk-rock to hear this riposte from a couple of teenagers you could very easily imagine getting propositioned to be pickup truck accessories. And the “yeah baby” in the background kind of annoyed me at first but now I grasp its charm. These girls want to party and be carefree too, they just need to set a couple of quick ground rules first.
[7]

Anthony Easton: A necessary push back to the ongoing problems of bro-country, but it is a novelty that I am not sure will sustain itself. The brilliant PR campaign, including both traditional radio and smart twitter responses, are better than a song that might be just a little bit on the nose.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Of course it’s not revolutionary. Maddie and Tae probably couldn’t have gotten this released without hitching it to the same ol’ reactionary same ol’ (Bring back the days of Conway, Conway didn’t talk about this! “I’d Love to Lay You Down” and “Tight Fittin’ Jeans” are about things other than sex and tight-fittin’ jeans.) They probably couldn’t get anything released if they weren’t “marketable,” i.e. the sort of 18-year-old thin blonde girls who’d look right at home in a country song. But the music, while still not revolutionary, is at least interesting. The guitar stuttering reminds me, weirdly, of Purity Ring (now there’s a loaded reference out of context), and the percussion emulates ’00s teenpop; the standard Southern-rock chorus arrives on time, but at least I’m not already bored.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Three listens later, I don’t know if this material requires a wink or a blow to the head. My instincts tell me that with voices this sub-Miranda the wink is all they’re capable of and not enough. To admit you’re a part of someone else’s fantasy affirms the validity of that fantasy.
[5]

Brad Shoup: You gotta fight farts with farts, I guess. They’ve nailed the “Boys ‘Round Here” sound, and the hick-hop flow. So they’ve gotten the guys’ attention; the text is strictly for the women to nod along. I can’t remember anyone recently telling their date to shut up, but neither is there a lot of talking, either. Either way, the charges in the chorus are equally damning and startling for being sung and not typed.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: When I first read about this single, I had high hopes, which I’m delighted to say are all fulfilled; “Girl In A Country Song” delivers the goods. Not only is it quite clever lyrically (and it makes me very happy that Maddie & Tae themselves co-wrote this), but the fact that the song’s production is itself very much akin to most bro-country on the radio is a smart move. This can rub up against the very subject (and songs) it’s criticizing, and it does so with affection – there’s no malice to be found here. I hope this is a huge hit, and who knows, maybe even a rallying cry. I’m also eager to hear more from these two, because based on their debut single, they’ve (probably/hopefully) got a bunch more in ‘em. Every element of this “Song” works.
[9]

Megan Harrington: I was initially tempted to qualify how enjoyable “Girl in a Country Song” is, but instead I’m choosing to believe that even casual country listeners can immediately appreciate how important it is to reject the complacency that coats bro-country with a grimy film. It’s genuinely insidious to suggest there’s a girl out there who majored in drinking and flirting or to believe that the stewardess can’t wait to get you into the airplane bathroom. “Girl in a Country Song” is, of course, also a great way to divert some of the shine on Luke Bryan over Maddie & Tae’s way. It’s an excellent gambit from a publicity standpoint, it’s a sentiment overdue for shouting, and it’s a fun four minutes.
[8]

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Dear Jack – La Pioggia è uno Stato d’Animo

Hope you like swing rhythms…


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Iain Mew: When I saw a free outdoor pop event in Rome recently where Dear Jack were crowd favourites, their heartthrob qualities were to the fore, but it was also obvious that they had a song with instant appeal. They borrow heavily from the Doctor Who + Blondie groove of Muse’s “Uprising,” but turning that song’s best bit into a chorus is a smart move, and they do a better job of evenly spreading the dramatic intensity too.
[7]

Brad Shoup: The grand gestures get to me. Alessio Bernabei’s got a kind of untechnical swoop: he has the pipes, but can’t slide between notes. The strings promise one kind of grandiosity, but it’s a feint. The martial shuffle takes over. Bernabei gets to howl (against what sounds like a theremin), but Dear Jack’s banking on the groove.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: Not even the last “hey hey”‘s could save this song. 
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Muse. It sounds like Muse. If helmed by a man with even more theatrical tendencies than Matt Bellamy. Theatrical Muse is the best kind of Muse, as the reflection of “Strict Machine” in the mirror this holds toward “Uprising” attests, but only when done well. Whirly tube noise to vocal, this is, exactly the level of performance a song called “Rain Is a State Of Mind” from an album called “Tomorrow Is Another Movie (Part One)” deserves.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Tolerance of Panic! at the Disco is a state of mind. Extra point because I don’t speak enough Italian to know whether the lyrics are bilge.
[6]

Kat Stevens: I am intrigued how the particular subset of Italian music videos I’ve encountered (admittedly mostly Eurovision entries) take place in high-ceilinged but sparsely-furnished rooms. I don’t know what the Italian equivalent of late Victorian/early Edwardian decorating is – Vittorian? Emmanuelleian? Let’s say Neo-Classical even though I swear I walked down a bunch of streets in Rome called Via Vittorio Emanuele and zero streets called Via Neo-Classicale, but whatever it’s called, here it’s completely inappropriate for this spooky, light-hearted indie schaffel-bounce, which should be located in Count Duckula’s castle, i.e. GOTHIC REVIVAL.
[6]

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Victoria Duffield – More Than Friends

Because “Snapchat Me Maybe” didn’t really roll off the tongue that well…


[Video][Website]
[5.17]

Anthony Easton: The chorus is anonymous, but the drum break is pretty great, and some of the digital updating of the usual pining are fantastic. But, why doesn’t she ask him?
[6]

Iain Mew: Does the CBC take as dim a view as the European Broadcasting Union of mentioning the names of tech companies? I can’t think of another reason why the social network theme of “More than Friends” should be so half-arsed.
[5]

Alfred Soto: She clicks through our memories, alright: Kool & the Gang rhythm licks, Britney syllables, and, oh, “Call Me Maybe.”
[4]

Juana Giaimo: I consider myself really bad at pointing out similarities in between songs, so please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks the chorus is basically a crappy copy of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”.
[3]

David Sheffieck: I don’t mind the Carly Rae-biting production and hook, if only because a little late-90s callback like this is still an outlier on the radio. But the lyric really lets this down: “I’ll be the top hit up on your timeline” seems embarrassing now, and I can’t imagine a future where it doesn’t sound like MySpace shout-outs do now. More than that, though, it lacks the emotional stakes and release that Carly nails — where “Call Me Maybe” is about her taking a chance, “More Than Friends” is about Duffield “on the sidelines,” waiting for someone else to make the first move. And while that’s relatable enough, it’s also not easy to invest in.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Hews ridiculously close to the “Call Me Maybe” model, with a little bit of disco, or perhaps a lot of “A Public Affair”. And everyone knows it, and it’s all OK.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Doesn’t quite emulate certain pop hits so much as add them to its friends list: ingenue voice and spiny tinsel production of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Hurt So Good” or “This Kiss” (thought I was gonna say that one, huh? WRONG), buttrock riff from “Teenage Dream,” galvanizing-but-gruff chorus shout, like if you got a room full of middle managers to do the Lumineers “HO!”, a few bum lines (you don’t “fit together like a puzzle piece,” unless maybe the dog’s been chewing them), worse mixing, and a social-media metaphor — a crush so strong you wanna tell the whole NSA? — that’s neither gimmicky nor subtle enough.
[5]

Andy Hutchins: Remember Esmée Denters? (Remember Tennman?) She would never have been caught dead singing words on a lyric sheet cribbed from a word cloud of Mashable posts circa 2010. And she came up on YouTube!
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s only natural that more and more things I come across make me feel old… or, more accurately, definitely out of loop with the generation before me. My first reaction to “More Than Friends” was “a pop song about Facebook? What a crazy idea!” But then came the slow realization… this is probably business-as-usual material for the kids this song is actually aimed at. “More Than Friends” makes that pre-birthday dread all the more powerful.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: So she wants to make it “Facebook Official”? Maybe in 20 years this won’t sound so clumsily contrived — maybe it doesn’t to everybody. But songs about the internet never sound native, because they’re about it, suggesting the time hasn’t yet come for it to be taken as a given. 1998′s “I sent a message through the internet but it rejected” sounds quaint now, but this is somehow more tin-eared. It does hint at an exploration of legitimised stalking, but it’s too wide-eyed to even see it that way. As well as slightly weird, perhaps that does make it native.
[5]

Megan Harrington: Are we at the right spot in the “Ho Hey” life cycle for me to admit that I just love vocal punctuation? Victoria Duffield sings “I can’t lie! I wanna be more than friends” such that the exclamation point is voiced as a group shouted “HUNH.” Maybe it’s too soon, but of all the little details cobbled together here from pop’s recent past (some shiny nu-disco, a bit of synthesized whoosh), my favorite is the faux-folk yelp.
[6]

Will Adams: So, yes, the verse lyrics are embarrassing — a run-through of social media terminology handled with the grace of a 40-year-old writing a thinkpiece on millenials (though the line of “clicking through your memories” is a wonderful encapsulation of how Facebook catalogs our lives). Bu-bu-but: the chorus is indelible. The synths whir like the best moments of Kiss, the bass slaps like early Britney, and the conceit of wanting to take that fateful leap toward something more is as classic as it gets. “More Than Friends” desires a more skilled vocalist, but for now, I’m smitten.
[8]

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Becky G – Shower

Squeaky clean!


[Video][Website]
[6.31]

Andy Hutchins: Becky G is going to be a super-duper-duper star — rivaling Taylor and Bey is not unrealistic — and it is going to take obviously summery songs to get her to that level sooner rather than later, because she’s a little too young and a little too Cali to bear the trappings of winter that Adele will wear for years to come. Blessedly, “Shower” is less obviously angled as a pop smash than most Dr. Luke/Cirkut productions. While they have drowned out Kesha and Katy, they show an incredible amount of restraint with Becky, whose ebullience is the draw in the skeletal verses and the killer feature of the fuller-bodied hook, which has some of the best rosy young love imagery this side of “Teenage Dream” or “Call Me Maybe.” Becky’s coming whether we are or she is ready or not, but “Shower” is her first swing at a pitch in the majors, and it’s a very strong cut.
[8]

Cédric Le Merrer: I still don’t understand this campfire clubbing wave seemingly started by Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” Do clubs have bonfire and s’mores nights now? Are group handclapping and boy scout harmonies the new trend that corrupts our youth?
[4]

Crystal Leww: Radio Disney pop is a genre of music that critics are loath to think about, despite the fact the acts produce decently catchy material that also ends up charting well on the Hot 100. What’s more, the acts coming out of that corner of pop music seem to be much less depressing diversity-wise than the pop landscape overall, which has become increasingly more white. Radio Disney pop is where Zendaya and MKTO got their starts before crossing over to the greater pop sphere. Becky G began her career as a straight-up tribute to Jennifer Lopez, and like J. Lo, she’s kept her sound connected to urban radio. I can’t deny that “Shower” doesn’t lean much more straightforward pop: the la-de-das, the general concept of singing in the shower being the hook, violins, and acoustic guitar as percussion are dead giveaways. But the whole song is grounded by that wonderful bouncing beat that reminds me of skipping double dutch ropes, reminiscent of what Zendaya did with “My Baby” last year, plus those “woo”s, which are so silly they sound like they could have been sampled from your favorite Migos song. This proves that we should listen to the youth more.
[6]

Anthony Easton: This is baby powder fresh, with some great musical ideas: the slightly dampened handclaps, the floating chorus, the slightly off-beat rhymes, and how she sings “shower” with a remembrance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” It forgives some of the worse clichés. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Strings used for classical class on a Dr. Luke recording — a tease, right? Then the strings reappear to buttress a chorus of crazy ordinariness. Singing in front of the mirror in multitracked giddiness is one thing; singing in the shower while five thousand versions of her clap and play flutes and stuff is batshit I can appreciate. As loopy as only teenagers can be. May she never forget this info.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: There’s irony in such unselfconscious acts as “dancing in the mirror” and “singing in the shower” being spelt out so plainly. Becky G doesn’t show, she tells; it’s two steps from being called “Experiencing Emotion”. The verses paint a bit of a scene, but with little colour lyrically or sonically. There’s the guitar-based cleanness of recent Dr. Luke productions like “Wild Wild Love” and “Ooh La La”, but where that soared all the way through to the chorus, this just tails off into more of the abstract literalisms.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: The bulk of “Shower” is a well-constructed bit of alternative-summer-jam music — the jump-rope beat, the campfire-ready shouts in the chorus, the central imagery. But… those violins! This easily could have just been an energetic bouncer — and it would still be solid as such — but those subdued strings add sweetness.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: The hook is so fun and perfect to sing along to it, but the rest of this song is rather annoying. And the lyrics don’t help much, either. Seriously, who thought “you light me up inside like the 4th of July” or “baby, you make me hot like an oven” were good lines? 
[3]

Will Adams: I tend to think of shower-sung melodies as throwaways, half-baked musings that don’t go anywhere. It’s only appropriate, then, that “Shower” is so dull; Becky G doles out unimaginative lines while Dr. Luke and Cirkut hit the snooze button. This should have gone down the drain.
[4]

Brad Shoup: What I love about this song is its interior nature — it’s sung in second person, but Becky holds the thoughts so close. Dr. Luke’s thinking the same thing; the close features the most languorous handclaps I can recall in a pop song. The melody is modest and playful, exactly the sort of thing that jumps off the tiles.
[9]

Megan Harrington: The sheer manpower required to build “Shower” from a hummed melody to background noise for CoverGirl cosmetics and Core Water is almost always enough to make a youthful song sag with age. I’m thinking of proto-tween machines like Mandy Moore’s “Candy” and Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time,” songs sung by teenage girls but songs wrinkled with the language of adulthood. “Shower” has somehow maintained its adolescence. Partially this is a component of Becky G’s highly stylized vocal, but mostly it’s a quality of her magical chorus. Dancing in the mirror and singing in the shower — I suppose it’s as pervy as you want it to be, but at least these are tried and true high school girl pastimes. 
[8]

David Turner: I talk to myself all the time. It must’ve started on early days of staying home by myself when my parents were off working, and I was old enough to not be shipped to my grandmother’s house. That talking made every step down the dark hallway and every house creek less frightening when I couldn’t run to another person. Now I avoid talking to myself or singing in the shower for fear that these personal moments aren’t so, and can be easily overhead and and mocked by another. But Becky G is gleefully singing in the shower, and I just want to be like STOP DON’T YOU KNOW SOMEONE CAN HEAR YOU, but she does it anyway. People, stop falling in love, it’s so stressful.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: You don’t hear many pop choruses made of ocarina and strings. It’s a subdued effect, and alongside the faraway crowd chants it strikes an odd late-summer note for a happy crush song that explicitly mentions the Fourth of July, but I kind of like how muted this is. Bigger feelings can come later.
[6]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Perfume – Cling Cling

Dissipated perfume, more like…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Iain Mew: There was a period in late 2012 and early 2013 when Yasutaka Nakata had running three distinct acts all sussed out. Electronic and mood experiments to Capsule, other fun experiments to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Perfume to perfect his precision pop designs, all three on top form. Since then, though, keeping up with the demanding schedules of the latter two has seemed a struggle, resulting in a series of flawed singles. “Cling Cling” brings the different strands back together, a gleaming Perfume dance track injected with enough of the playfulness of the best Kyary songs to sound fresh. It’s there in the “Invader Invader”-style bursts of plastic dubstep and in a freewheeling melody with an echo of “Pon Pon Pon”. It makes the dance floor sound like a fun place to be again, even as the group keep the poise and emotional force too.
[8]

Will Adams: Perfume can always be relied on for polished, maximalist dancepop with killer production from Nakata and wonderfully braided vocals from the trio. But “Cling Cling” stops there, offering an OK “Pon Pon Pon”-esque chorus that nonetheless misses the ebullience of their past singles.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I want to like this group, but to date I’ve heard little rhythmic or harmonic variation. The enthusiasm feels rehearsed.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Can’t unhear it as “cloying, cloying,” sorry. Hyper-maximalist pop is great, but there’s something aggravatingly twee about this chorus that feels like nails on a chalkboard.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Synth throbs! Handclaps! Clinging to chests! So why does this sound so sad?
[5]

Brad Shoup: This sounds like a prog interlude, wherein Perfume introduce you to a new theme. It doesn’t have that burble, or that interplay between man and machine, that makes their work so magickal.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s easy to think that producer Yasutaka Nakata has been phoning it in a bit with Perfume — he’s practically admitted as much dating back to 2011, and he seems way more excited working with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who he’s constantly photographed with and DJs with, and indulging his own ideas with Capsule. Perfume’s singles, accordingly, have tended to follow a bubbly, bright template for a while, recently spiked with EDM. They are never going to be the thrilling, game-changing force they were in 2007, but nothing wrong with releasing a steady stream of catchy pop numbers like “Cling Cling,” which is basically “VOICE” unraveling at a slower tempo with slight dashes of wub thrown in.
[7]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Doprah – Stranger People

Facebook: “A sinister and evil cult which lures young people into drug-taking,” which, arguable…


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Alfred Soto: “All hail the arrival of another odd-pop export from New Zealand,” crows the SPIN article (ten years ago it would have said “odd girl export,” so I guess that’s progress). I don’t hear the oddness at all so much as singers doing what they do best: luxuriating in self-provoked noises. For all that, though, there’s not much else.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: “Doprah began under the name Doprah Winfrey,” and there’s still time to further change it. Still, it is at least memorable, and that does at least allow a segue into how unmemorable this song is, so much a series of reference points that it’s a scattergraph. The lyrics seem best lost in the haze, but what can you latch onto of a haze?
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s creepy, I get it. 
[5]

Juana Giaimo: The main flaw of this song is how it was turned into a mess in order to seem eerie. The childish vocals and the violins are a perfect combination for a horror movie, but it’s still the desynchronized beat that we first notice. The prechorus comes in too soon, when we are still puzzled about what’s going on, and the chorus is disorganized, both vocalists competing for the listeners’ attention without caring to complement each other. 
[5]

Megan Harrington: The trick of burying the vocals under shimmering piles of noise and a clacking beat is probably meant to situate the listener in an aviary or space station, but it’s the sonic equivalent of a bad haircut. My only instinct is to sweep their messy bangs back so I can see their faces. 
[5]

Anthony Easton: I like the perversity of hiding most of the vocals of a singer you are trying to make a case for. When the vocals pop through a jangle of noise, I am profoundly bored, which means the strategy must succeed somewhat. 
[6]

Brad Shoup: This is what a Lana Del Rey song sounds like to people about to hurl.
[4]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Echosmith – Cool Kids

The angriest you’ll see Brad all year, perhaps…


[Video][Website]
[4.62]

Brad Shoup: I know that when the KISS-FM DJs give me bullshit biographical info before playing a song, it’s a bald shill. It happened with the Madden Brothers, it happened with Katy Tiz (whose cover of Rock Mafia’s “The Big Bang” is stuck at #100, two slots worse than the original’s peak), and it’s happening with Echosmith, who make garbage music about garbage sentiments, the kind of sentiments that only Taylor Swift seems to get away with. And that’s because Taylor Swift is a pop-emo icon, horcruxing herself into every stormy night and pair of glasses and probably those Diet Coke bottles in the commercials. Also, her narratives tend to resolve. I think the takeaway from their repeating “cool kids” literally two dozen times is that these dummies don’t know they’re beauti-cool, what with their arrhythmia and their unsteady gait and their existence as a pop band made of siblings. This is pre-movie-trailer music: baleful and tuneless, ingratiating and structurally flat. Cool was never in their reach. They need to focus on not being embarrassing.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: The Radio Disney/Clear Channel thresher, as threshers do, produces a lot of chaff, but it also produces acts like Echosmith. “Cool Kids” is the Saving Jane to Taylor Swift: gawkier, with patchier makeup, breathy-dreamy in a way that suggests “Echosmith” isn’t just usual band-name nonsense but a sonic statement, and relatable outside invented high schools. Adults don’t stop wishing they’re the cool kids; if anything they wish harder, because the stakes are higher: not prom but promotions at work, or work at all, or nights not alone, or playdates for their own kids. A portion of a generation will replay this wistfully at age 25 or 35 or 65, making “Cool Kids” valuable deep down.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The vocals are breathy, earnest, and androgynous, the sentiments rote: the cool kids drive the fast cars but the received sensitivity of the music — echo cool enough for Bloc Party in 2005 — gives no hint that the uncool kids could do anything in those cars besides become new cool kids, plus ça change and so on. The uncool kids need pumped up kicks in their songs.
[4]

Josh Love: The alienation felt by the uncool kids is never tempered at all, yet everything else is shimmery and nonchalant. Hayley Williams and Taylor Swift have so capably conveyed the feeling of being a teenage outsider, but Echosmith’s vocalist lacks the former’s spitfire defiance or the latter’s narrative eye. If “Cool Kids” was sung in a foreign language you’d have a far easier time convincing me it was a sun-kissed celebration of being popular rather than an ode to misfits.
[3]

David Sheffieck: As sibling bands go Echosmith are no Hanson, but there’s something about this more-honest take on “Royals” that charms nonetheless. If nothing else, the semi-ironic chorus suggests that in five years or so, it’ll be a great karaoke pick for anyone who’s exiting high school at the right time to imprint on it.
[6]

Anthony Easton: The kids who were cool when you were 15 are selling insurance and live in places like Chino. The uncool kids at 16 move to the city and learn to fuck or dance or play guitar. I recommend not worrying about being cool at 15, and moving out of Chino. Unless you are being ironic, which has enough emotional distance that I would recommend moving to Silver Lake. 
[6]

Will Adams: Musically, you can get the real deal (i.e. pop rock as wistful as it is groovy) from a handful of other bands, even without counting the non-sibling ones. Lyrically, you can get the real deal by stealing a seventh grader’s diary.
[4]

Megan Harrington: Listening to “Cool Kids” it’s easier than it should be to slip back into my 15-year-old brain. My younger self would have deeply resented and distrusted a song like this and its tangle of loose ends. The cool kids I knew had lives as misshapen and misfitting as any high schooler, and the kids who looked like Echosmith (or the kids who didn’t but could sing or had a garage band) were cool. But the ache of “Cool Kids” is real, and knowing that the band is formed of four siblings speaks to an isolation that can’t be disguised with a California wardrobe. They’re also competently churning out dreamy pop with a consistency that rivals bands a decade older; it’s hard not to imagine these kids tucked away in an attic practicing while their peers learned to drive to Taco Bell. Maybe Echosmith do wish for a life of seeming normalcy.
[7]