Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons w/ Logic & Ty Dolla $ign ft. X Ambassadors – Sucker for Pain

Lil Wayne featuring literally everyone except Drake!


[Video][Website]
[3.80]

Iain Mew: The division of labour applied to an average Twenty One Pilots song. Variety aside, it’s surprising how little the specialists are able to add.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: At least two of these credits aren’t so weird; Imagine Dragons and X Ambassadors are both once-promising bands that Alex Da Kid shaped into indistinguishable overproduced sensitive-bro behemoths, and Mr. Da Kid himself helms this track. The rest of the list is definitely abnormal, though surprisingly, it doesn’t sound that cluttered. Even though the chorus is predictably mass-vocaled and overdriven, there’s a nice sense of space in the verses almost never present in Alex’s productions since the Dragons became successful. Unfortunately, once Lil Wayne’s solid verse (“Dying slow but the devil wanna rush me/I’m a fool for pain/I’m a dummy”) ends, there’s almost too much space, with only some dull ad-libbing from Sam Harris closing out the song as it awkwardly peters away.
[5]

Katie Gill: This is the record execs going “congrats on getting on the soundtrack, your theme is the Harley & Joker relationship!” and the artists beating the theme to death at the expense of anything remotely resembling a good song. Points only given because that’s an annoyingly catchy chorus.
[2]

Crystal Leww: The tone of Suicide Squad seems to be “Whatever Teenage Boys But Like More 14 Than 19 Think Is Cool,” which is also what the cast of this song looks like. This is extremely cheesy, but I can see what it’s going for. Everyone involved here know the demographic and the tone and what they’re trying to go for and executes on it beautifully. It’s not my demographic, and it’s not intended to be the canon, but I do respect the purpose and I respect the dedication. My favorites here are Ty Dolla Sign, who continues to be one of the freshest, consistent brands in hip-hop music, and surprisingly, Logic, who is just having as much as possible with the format.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Pleasant commercial hip hop with a woo-ooh-ooh hook that complements the organ and gives each star a chance to show his ability to merge into a whole. If it’s not a hit, who’s the sucker?
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: A more accurate title: “Sucker for Drudgery.”
[1]

Moses Kim: Much like a gaggle of freshman boys chortling as they stretch a condom over a banana, this collective fancies themselves subversive for the most pithy aphorisms from the Book of Top 40 (BDSM as a lyrical motif is 50 Shades of Yesterday, and the appeals to underdog scrappiness would work better if they didn’t read like the scrawlings of an angry middle-schooler exposed to Fight Club for the first time). Much like any of those boys in bed, they talk a game that they can’t even finish, opting instead for a slow fade to the void at the center of this production.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Wow, think of how much more sense this would have made if, instead of Imagine Dragons, it was Fall Out Boy. Then, consider that it’s actually better this way. Actually, Adam Levine was probably the first choice based on that nagging/annoying chorus. But I like everyone’s verses fine (Wayne deserves his spot at the left of the credits, too) and I’ve been humming the “I torture yooooou!” bit for the last two weeks.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Still wrapping my head around the concept of Suicide Squad as something salable, though a crap posse cut does help to sharpen the edges. Wayne’s the only one with a conceivably lunatic verse, but he matches the cartoon-graveyard stroll of the track. It sounds like Wiz is missing 8 bars; if he gave them to Logic I’m gonna be mad. And, incredibly, Dan Reynolds discovered a 51st shade of gray.
[3]

Cassy Gress: First off: is anyone from Imagine Dragons or X Ambassadors actually involved with this other than their vocalists? There’s no auditory evidence of it. Secondly: nobody other than Logic and Wiz actually sounds like they care. Dan Reynolds yelps some Evanescence reject lyrics and Sam Harris shows up at the end to mumble (nobody already on the track could have done that?). If this is supposed to be a movie about the bad guys saving the day, featuring notable crazypantses Joker and Harley Quinn, and your music video features everyone in jail with fire and straitjackets and stuff, shouldn’t the song itself sound a bit more creepy? This sounds more like a completely sane person who has been pretending to be crazy for hours and is too worn out to put in the effort anymore.
[1]

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Britney Spears ft. G-Eazy – Make Me…

It’s Gerald, bitch! And it’s Edward with the most terrifying fact of the day…


[Video][Website]
[5.90]

William John: What a (surprisingly) perfect swan-dive of a comeback, especially from someone not predisposed to balladry — was the last good one really as far back as “Everytime”? Each stab of synth hits like a pebble dropping neatly into a glassy pool; the flickering guitar suggests Nuno Bettencourt has been lurking backstage in Vegas. The presence of G-Eazy is bewildering — a reference to a 15-year-old film featuring Penélope Cruz even more so — but when the chorus features Britney making an art form out of wordless exclamations of pleasure, he’s easily ignored.
[9]

Katie Gill: Aw Britbrit, you are so much better than G-Eazy. You’re also so much better than that chorus, but G-Eazy???
[3]

Adaora Ede: Brit’s occasional releases in the mid-to-late 2000s never really strayed out of the realm of trendy electro pop (“Till the World Ends,” “Womanizer,” “Hold It Against Me”), and when she did move toward urban sounds, they were in the form of club stompers such as “Scream and Shout”. This time, Britney has moved past the trope of whatever’s poppin’ to the most mainstream of the mainstream — especially important in 2016, where hits can come from anywhere. But this combination of Britney’s cooing and trip-hop fanfare on a synthstep beat might be too ponderous to suit anything but a drunkenly belted-out karaoke song in, like, The Hangover 4. G-Eazy’s appearance is incidental, much more than it should be if she wanted to mark her interest in slick future R&B. But I mean, what’s the guy who rapped about being “in love with these Tumblr girls” going to do if you’re looking for an urban hit?
[5]

Alfred Soto: The most thrilling Spears singles of the last decade have presented a polymorphic essence, a disco dolly who’s so post-feminist/post-sexual/post-woman that she’s open to every sensation and good for her. Here’s another title with the direct object “me.” The bump ‘n’ grind of the verses works; we can use more availability like Britney’s on Pop Chart ’16 (is that why Ariana Grande gets the notices?). This potent slab of electro-rue would be a triumph if marketing didn’t require G-Eazy.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Another Spears single with another feature and another white rapper. Team Britney conceding (or deciding) that their artist can’t carry a song alone, that because pop remains a game of woman-woman rivalries any current pop queen would seem like a regression if they could get her at all, and that because pop radio has regressed since In the Zone a rapper-rapper wouldn’t do, you know, just because. It’s a wonder they found anyone left. Also, Britney with another delayed single, and more recycled product; if the pop&B wasn’t a clue, notice how no one bothered to cut “dangerous woman” from Gerald’s intrusion. More exhaustive prestige features have been written about Britney than perhaps any of her musical peers, and some have acknowledged the “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” inevitabilies of Britney being kept from any press that demands more than a stultified monotone, but few have addressed the obvious: her career is on the decline, probably due to mismanagement. (This is what happens when pop music is covered by celebrity bloggers and magazine writers, rather than business journalists and music critics.) Beyond all odds, aside from G-Eazy “Make Me” isn’t bad at all. Max Martin remains gone and will.i.am’s influence seems gone, so Team Britney needs new producers; in doing so, they introduce new ideas. About 15 years ago, sex in music sounded like “Showdown“: steely, less seduction than assassination, via choreographed heavy breaths and a calibrated caress by a robotic arm. “Make Me” is more typical of 2016: Miguel-like guitar wails, pitch-shifted gurgling and a plush bed of a chorus. Britney suits it; she also inspires indulgent criticking like few others, and “Make Me” is like Britney re-imagining the late ’90s to place herself not with Backstreet and ‘N Sync but Mariah and Brandy — a neat trick.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: I’m about the same age as Britney, so every time I realise her career is probably past its peak, it makes me a bit sad. But hey, at least I get to go and do my job without having to be interrupted by G-Eazy, a rapper whose lyrics are substantially less good than Iggy Azalea’s. His rhymes, which I assume he wrote, are laughably bad, barely even rhyme, have a leaden flow, and kill the mood. “Make Me…” is more in the mold of Ariana Grande; Brit sounds unsure of what to do but happy to be there in the verses. If the song’s not compositionally brilliant, then at least the sound fits Britney perfectly. Best of all, the wash of vocals suggesting desire is reminiscent of “Break The Ice” and other tracks off her true artistic peak, Blackout. But, G-Eazy. You know more people in the U.S. bought his last record than hers, right?
[6]

Will Adams: Really, it’s all good until G-Eazy barfs over everything. “Make Me” makes a solid case for Spears to be referred to more than the “‘Pretty Girls’ songstress.” That old adage of only being as good as your last performance/single/whatever is unfortunate; not since Femme Fatale has Spears sounded as home as she does here, over a skittery but warm guitar&B track.
[6]

Brad Shoup: The synthbeds are familiar currency now, but there’s no trace of the insensate abandon that’s soundtracked this bummer of a year. This is the sound of pleasure savored: her shivers in the chorus nearly make their own choreography. The vibe is luxurious, enough so that the references to a bar (from Spears and her guest) made me do a couple double-takes. G-Eazy is, of course, the him? of this enterprise, spitting the kind of shit she told him to cut in the first verse.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Britney’s voice has always been flexible, fitting into the production or style as needed. It has never been generic. It has also never been particularly dangerous–except perhaps to herself. I have no idea what G-Eazy is doing here, and what he means by calling her dangerous. I wanted a return to form, and I got a failure of her genius formalist roots.  
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Woozy pop like I didn’t expect from Brit; a dull vocal like I did. And as always, G-Eazy makes everything worse.
[5]

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Jonas Blue ft. JP Cooper – Perfect Strangers

Featuring the winner of EDM Vocalist Most Likely To Share A Name With One Of Paul Ryan’s Summer Interns


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

Thomas Inskeep: At this point, I think I hate tropical house more now than I did trance-pop nearly 20 years ago. 
[0]

Crystal Leww: There are two things that I believe to be absolutely true: “Fast Car” is an absolute jam for the ages and dance music is better with female vocals. Jonas Blue traded both of those things in for his follow-up to his EDM cover of “Fast Car” that ended up growing on me as time went on. Maybe “Perfect Strangers” will do the same, but it’s already done two things less well than his breakout hit.
[4]

Iain Mew: The lesson from this in comparison to Jonas Blue’s “Fast Car” (and Sigala) is that dull dance is a lot more amiable when it’s at least got a new melody, especially if it’s aided by brass blurts. Winning the 2016 award for Stealthiest Deployment of a Vocalist Who Come the Chorus Turns Out to Sound Like Jess Glynne After All isn’t such a positive.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The sound effects — fake marimba, fake horns — compensate for JP Cooper’s fake soul.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Cooper doubles up the chirping synth filigree, but he also strains some Caribbean and South African pop into his chorus. I can shut my eyes and transpose this to some CBS studio outfit in the early ’80s: omnivorous and polished, with more staying power than I would’ve guessed.
[6]

Cassy Gress: This was going to be a [4], on the basis of how the verses are written so that JP Cooper sounds like he’s accompanying Jonas Blue rather than vice versa. I was then going to knock it down to a [3] because of how the chorus seems to heavily focus on the “go nowhere” part of “this might go nowhere but let’s enjoy the night anyway.” Then we get to the trombone bwomps and the generically “African” “comeON comeON comeONNN-a” and I just sort of throw my hands up.
[2]

Will Adams: The brass-filled drop — not unlike Martin Solveig’s latest exploits — was a welcome change from the marimba-filled template. I’m torn on the idea of “Fast Car” being a springboard for Jonas Blue, but “Perfect Strangers” is the type of slow-creeping dance song that I won’t realize I love until it’s too late.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: “Perfect Strangers” has all the elements to become a summer anthem: warm vibes, an EDM drop, lyrics about a disruption in the routine and the possibility to become someone else in the course of three months that would change your life. Unfortunately, it is predictable unlike the summer it portrays. 
[6]

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Danny Brown – When It Rain

The nontroversy keeps rolling in…


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Leonel Manzanares: Only an eccentric like Danny Brown could pull off such a weird, minimal bass-hop tune based on a classic Delia Derbyshire sample. Paul White has topped himself with the beat, a condensation of grime, ghettotech and footwork that sounds both like a perfect synthesis of Brown’s output — namely, the deeper cuts on his XXX and Old albums — and a vision of the future. The Warp affiliation is finally showing. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Danny Brown whines “Oh, you ain’t know that” like Groucho Marx asking a cigar in Margaret Dumont’s hat. The artful trickster is his pose, and, boy, have I missed it in three years.
[8]

Iain Mew: He’s still using squeaky sad samples, but this one is fast enough to fit with the chaos; the lack of half measures fits the theme. The feel is somewhat akin to getting caught out in a summer downpour, uncomfortable but with an edge of thrilling awe at the ongoing force.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This is… bizarre. Like Chicago hip-hop (and yes, I know he’s from Detroit) crossed with Nola bounce and a fair shake of psychedelics. I’m not sure how much I like it, but it’s never dull. +1 for the Cajmere reference.
[6]

Claire Biddles: I can’t catch the beat because it’s constantly changing pace, switching immediately from a slow, grinding verse to a jittery pre-chorus. The haunted house bassline threatens to make the whole thing ridiculous, but instead holds things together.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: It’s eerie how phrases change shape depending on context. This is how the chilly idiom “when it rains, it pours” works, but it also goes for “hit it from the back” as well as “get your ass on the floor now.” Both of the dance floor chants, the first an old Traxmen & Eric Martin reference, turn into descriptions of casualties in Danny Brown’s universe filled with gunfire. That said, his most powerful message lands starkly straightforward: “Now your best friend gets shot in the head.” And that punctuating “damn” lands with the blood-boiling stress fueling the rapper’s great XXX. I only hear glimpses of that dread in “When It Rains,” but it’s enough for now.
[6]

Crystal Leww: Danny Brown has such an expressively textured voice that it’s almost surprising that it’s not able to carry songs by itself. I was wrong about “Attak”; that song went off like fireworks on dancefloors because Rustie provided a production that was dramatic enough to complement a raspy “tell you bitch to suck my dick.” “When It Rain” is all build — Brown never relents, and when that beat finally hits halfway through the song, it still doesn’t quite feel like payoff.
[5]

Brad Shoup: A sort of “Bombs Over Detroit” — it’s jittery but not nervous, cos that’s our job. It’s haunted by techno and thoroughly uninterested in any real build, just four-on-the-floor pulse and a keypad-access melody.
[7]

Will Rivitz: The craziest thing about “When It Rain” is not its paranoid clock ticks and thudding transition into torrential kicks, Danny Brown spitting like he’s stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Rather, it’s that it shows, without a doubt, that even after XXX (my favorite mixtape ever) and Old (a worthy follow-up album), Danny Brown might not even have come close to his ceiling. Based on “When It Rain,” Atrocity Exhibition could very well be Brown’s best release, and given the strength of his previous work, that prospect is incredibly enticing.
[9]

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Gepe – Punto Final

Canción final…


[Video][Website]
[7.71]

Will Adams: Horns ahoy!
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Like many songs in Estilo Libre, “Punto Final” deals with Gepe’s own memories. For this, he recollects his childhood and channels its fond warmth but also its fleeting briskness into music. The specifics — a walk through Gran Avenida and San Miguel — pass by in a blur like a gaze out the window of his metro rides. More than a wonderful flashback, this is yet another badge of hometown pride by Gepe: he embraces his upbringing to share with others outside of his world. And the slicker his music gets, more of his pride seems to shine through.
[7]

Cassy Gress: I don’t have a Facebook account and haven’t for years, primarily because it was quickly shaping up into a way for people I hadn’t been friends with in high school to pretend that we had been friends, and for people I had been friends with to disappoint me with how differently we turned out. This recycles the beat from “Hambre” and turns it into a paean to lifelong friends and the relative democracy of childhood; it tugs on the same darkened, walled-off part of my brain that my mom tugs on when she sends me emails about how the kids I grew up with are doing (because she’s still in touch with their parents, of course). It’s not meant to be melancholy, but I’m sort of uncomfortably sad anyway.
[7]

Moses Kim: Those horns! Those chilled-out guitar licks! That whistled hook! That voice, nimble and buttery and breathy in all of the best ways! Gepe gets this one over almost on aesthetic quality alone, but there’s an irresistible momentum to the way this jumps from strength to strength before throwing the listener another hook, another production trick, another rhythmic variation.
[9]

Iain Mew: I’ve occasionally wondered what would have happened if Jens Lekman had taken his contribution to Javiera Mena’s amazing “Sufrir” as more of a pointer for himself and add some of that musical style to his winsome songwriting. Now the position already being taken is a pretty good reason not to, though.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Like his compatriot Alex Anwandter, Gepe’s plainsong is his strength; he approaches romantic trauma with the mien of a Pep Boys mechanic peeking at the radiator. The charm of “Punto Final” is the hermetic sound of the demo, which excuses the organ and canned horns. 
[7]

Juana Giaimo: Alex Anwandter recently complained about how apolitical the Chilean music scene is. It isn’t a coincidence that he recorded an album with Gepe in 2012, since although he isn’t exactly political, it does feature social commentary as simple as remembering childhood and our values. His music evolved from quiet bedroom songs to a blend of massive genres of the streets combined with the newest trends. As he himself says in the spoken bridge of “Punto Final”: “Ableton Live and a charango and bombo.” I remember how his infectious brass succeeded at making me dance so freely at his show and how I sang along so passionately to his always smooth vocals that learnt how to get loud by rapping. At that show, I met three Chilean people currently studying in Buenos Aires. I saw how one of them reacted with excitement when she casually found another Chilean who grew up in the same place she did. I can’t remember the name of their hometown, but she could just have said, like Gepe sings in the chorus, “I saw you yesterday walking in San Miguel!”
[10]

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Ayumi Hamasaki – Mad World

We (don’t) find it kinda funny, we find it kinda… good!


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Katherine St Asaph: Not a cover, to its improvement or detriment. The piano riff is an almost note-for-note recreation of… what? (Yeah, yeah, I’m the critic here, but it’s not “All My Life,” not “Around the World,” not anything I remember of Charlotte Martin or Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan or Frank Wildhorn, so… what?) If I favor the clearly worse song of today, blame my craving for musical drama.
[6]

Will Adams: The opening piano line made me think some major cheese was approaching, but what followed was robust pop-rock with ornate accents. I’ve usually had reservations with Hamasaki’s voice — tightly coiled, with harsh appoggiaturas springing out — but “Mad World” begins to offer a setting where it could work well.
[6]

Iain Mew: A dramatic ballad complete with sad piano, a weeping guitar solo and Hamasaki sounding powerfully on edge, but played at twice the speed all of that suggests. A neat trick.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Hey — a power ballad! The piano tinkle and gargled vocal aren’t complements, but when the song proceeds down its familiar path the reassurance of convention takes over.
[6]

Moses Kim: Those chord progressions, stop-start percussive motifs, and twinkling keys are straight out of latter-day P!nk’s playbook: if P!nk swept these elements up in a narrative about endurance and perseverance, however, Hamasaki captures more of a questioning in her lyrics, a reckoning with both the beauty of the world and the violence that threatens it. It’s a compelling dimension to read into the same sound, and the songwriting and instrumentation (generous orchestral swoops meeting their match in harsher guitar distortion and heavy percussion) work wonderfully in tandem to bring these themes color. 
[7]

Leonel Manzanares: Other than the chord progression in the pre-chorus (Dm – C – A# – G) and that drumless final hook, this would be some average mid-tempo piano rock tune, but Ayumi’s nostalgic-but-no-less-dramatic performance is worth the price of admission. Also, those lyrics are darker than i thought; lines like “The god of fortune laughs/at our immense arrogance” would make my 13-year old metal fan wet his pants. 
[6]

Cassy Gress: Ayumi turned that sine-wave vibrato of hers into a quavering sob, and that somehow yanked all the heartstrings I thought I was immune to. The tremolo’d guitar solo lights up the song like sun breaking through clouds.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: “How am I supposed to keep going?” is a loaded thought to begin with, but Hamasaki expands the scale of the issue tenfold by literally asking the natural world — the trees and the winds — for how it copes. Her voice pours out emotion ’til she’s bled dry, with her over-enunciation still working as a barrier for me. And yet, she asks her question casually like a friend seeking another  for advice: “Hey, just let me know what would you do at a time like this?” Her emotive vocals read less as hopelessness than being exhausted from having to search for the answer on her own for now almost two decades.
[6]

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Katy Perry – Rise

And you’re gonna hear me riiiiiiiiiiise…


[Video][Website]
[3.23]
Iain Mew: I like the continuity from the last Olympic theme which sees “Survival” followed by a song with the first line “I won’t just survive.” Indeed, “Rise” works 100% for the bits which sound over-committed enough that they could have been given to Muse again (“you will see me thrive!” “Victory is in my veins!” “I will not negotiate!”) and about 20% for everything else.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Did we ever doubt “victory is in [her] veins”? Blasting enemies from the top of sequined towers like an agent of Mordor, Katy Perry can’t open her mouth without reminding listeners of her effort and strength. This Olympic theme is the snuggest set of clothes she’s worn since Teenage Dream. No one will remember it in August — that’s the best part.
[3]

Katie Gill: I usually like generic sports anthems but this one’s a boring sports anthem. Katy’s wheelhouse has never been big ballady numbers (remember “Unconditionally?” We try not to.), and that’s remarkably apparent here. Besides, if you’re going for slow ballads with a pseudo-phoenix theme (rising, surviving, lyrics about fire, etc.), then I’m sorry to tell you but the best one’s already been done.
[3]

Will Adams: All the super serious, cumbersome drama of a Eurovision song that finishes in nineteenth but probably didn’t deserve to make it to the grand final in the first place.
[4]

Claire Biddles: This is so middling Eurovision — close your eyes and you can see Katy atop a revolving podium, fibre optic dress trailing 12 feet below her, “You are unable to cast a vote for this song in your country” flashing below her on screen as you order your fourth bottle of fizzy wine from the bar. Aside from when she unleashes her trademark bellow of the song title, Perry feels like a rent-a-star on this, which, as a Katy-hater, means I like it a little more than her usual soundbite wailfests, but not enough to actually want to listen to it again.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Behold (the simplification of) the era: America watches Eurovision, HBO’s several years into a swords opera, fashion is smitten with floor-length elf robes, everything is dystopia, Celine Dion is back, and Katy Perry is also back and fits right in. A scatter of trap percussion dates this alongside “Kiss It Better,” but otherwise this is full symphonic power ballad, and if I’m on record anywhere saying Perry’s voice best fits Matrix-y pop-punk, mea culpa. Her kitten-at-a-scratching-post cadence suits the waify heroines that culture casts and fans imagine in these stories, and if she doesn’t (or can’t) go for the final high note this so clearly needs, neither did Conchita Wurst. The lyrics are nothing — if she’s beyond the archetype, why does she then list every single one? Are we battling or transforming or sportsing or Jesuslazarusphoenixing? — but the drama is shameless and palpable and all this needs.
[7]

Moses Kim: With the passing of each four-year epoch, the Olympics feel less like the grand universal spectacle I once believed them to be and more a bloated relic of a more optimistic time in national history. Give “Rise” some credit for capturing our contemporary mood in its plodding, monotonous weight, where the simmering racial and economic tensions of the last few decades have been rendered explosive thanks to a pompous wig with a man attached to it; where each morning feels punctuated with news of distant gunshots; where hope is demanded even as it feels impossible. There is much in the United States to rise from right now, yet Perry sings of rising against nothing more specific than the funeral-dirge trap of the instrumental (meanwhile, everybody in Rio is scrambling to hold the illusion up). “Oh ye of so little faith,” accuses the pre-chorus, but I smell the sewage under the shrine, and if that’s what “Rise” demands, it makes an atheist of me.
[2]

Edward Okulicz: I don’t care for the Olympics beyond the faster, higher, stronger events that make sense within it. I am unmoved by the hero-worship of 99% of athletes. I find Katy Perry to be about the least inspiring pop star in the world. I can’t stand the lyrics of this, not just bad and trite, but perverting the melody’s scansion. It’s really hard to listen to this and conclude that it was written especially for the purpose, because the words feel so unnatural and plonked. I will give Perry credit and/or blame for believing every syllable of this piffle, though.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: How could something so ponderous possibly rise? And how could it possibly be considered as a theme for TV coverage of the Olympics? At best this is a half-baked Bond theme demo, possessing an uncertain portentousness that could be attractive if it actually went anywhere, but doesn’t. Perhaps it might play better with American viewers, but from here it feels uninspiring in every sense of the word.
[4]

Danilo Bortoli: Putting sportsmanship and competitive nature inside a song can be tough. It can lead to patronizing anthems and chants of blind and vague chants of self-congratulation (comporting a few exceptions of course). Yet, “Rise” makes sense: nobody tries harder than Katy Perry, the popstar who acknowledges she is far from being the “epitome of effortless cool“. That means everything about this song is forced: the lyrics are vague to the point of soullessness, acquiring the same emotional impact you would get from a postcard. That is, by addressing everyone, she reaches nobody. When it comes to the Olympics, timing and faith are crucial, as they have always been, but that is not the point. The question now is: Why so inauthentic?
[3]

Will Rivitz: “I won’t just conform,” says the most malleable pop singer around, over a track so cloying it’s almost physically painful. I didn’t think it was possible to push through Katy’s impenetrable mediocrity — apparently, I was wrong.
[1]

Cassy Gress: There once was a stream of famous Olympic songs all about achieving the dream and having that perfect, glorious moment. This one follows more in the 2012 tradition; it’s about glaring and stomping and steam coming out nostrils á la bull in Bugs Bunny cartoon, FUCK YOU YOU CAN’T STOP ME, and thus it sits in a weird place where it’s too victory-themed for a normal pop song but too oddly angry for an Olympic anthem. The Olympics have been a financial and infrastructural nightmare for years now, but I still, perhaps stupidly, get all excited every year for athletes from all over the world coming together and fighting and winning and glorying — this is too boring for that.
[3]

Brad Shoup: It is a perfect depiction of the elite athlete: the one for whom excellence is not enough, who must silence the one doubter in a sold-out arena, who takes on the unneeded burden of reaching the theoretical notes struck by performative worship. It’s not the ultimate joy, but there is no joy, I guess, that feels quite like the one which shames your haters. That joy, here, is in the hovering: the way Perry’s echo etches her proclamations. The timpani is infernally forged; the snares strain like tendons. It’s tailored to the 40-yard touchdown pass in an NFL Films joint and the endless tease of an NBA-recapped alley-oop, to the atomic narrativizing that sportswriters reach for to make the impressive merely eternal. For this reason, Perry’s anthems have always been her worst songs, and her trifles the best: in the latter, the thrill comes from the doing, not the deed. I’m sure this will be a smash for the Olympic athletes. But take it from a great athlete who won’t be there: it’s less about the rise than the surprise.
[4]

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Drake ft. Popcaan – Controlla

Yes, let’s all do what Drake tells us to, that will be fun…


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Leonel Manzanares: Was the new version with the Beenie Man participation so necessary? Popcaan effortlessly slays this late-night gentle grinder of a track. Hell, he even slays “Too Good” from that little sample box. It’s kind of fun when Drake plays faux-Caribbean, but his low-toned “romantic” — by that i mean creepy — delivery falls short when it’s sharing the track with an actual Caribbean. My point is, Views needed way more Popcaan than what we ultimately got.  
[5]

Alfred Soto: Ominous and confident about his sensuality, Popcaan shows up the superstar, vocoder and everything.
[3]

Anthony Easton: Along with that Rihanna single, Drake keeps hiring people who sing better than him. I am not convinced that there aren’t two dozen singers who could work in a similar capacity in St. Thomas Parish. Extra point because I am amused that something so bottoming and needy makes the argument about control. 
[3]

Claire Biddles: I don’t know what’s hotter; the push and pull of lyrical dominance and submission, or the anticipatory syncopation in Drake’s delivery — “you like it/when I get/aggressive/tell you to/go slower/go faster” — a rhythm that drips with sexual maturity. 
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: For the life of me I can’t quite figure out what this song’s about — pretty sure Mr. Toronto and Popcaan find a girl “sexy” — but it’s a pleasant enough, plush dancehall-lite record.
[6]

Natasha Genet Avery: So I guess Drake’s fake patois is less a momentary lapse of judgement and more of a directive. The most I can hope for is that this middling attempt at a summer jam helps Popcaan reach the international stardom he’s increasingly well-positioned for.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: *peeks head into zeitgeist* What’s Fucking Drake up to these days? Curating Caribbean and African artists? Laudable! Droning robotically and still failing to get through a love song without bemoaning more girls? Unsurprisingly unchanged.
[5]

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Metronomy – Night Owl

Cruel summer ’08…


[Video][Website]
[6.17]

Katie Gill: The song starts off so slow I had to double check that my volume wasn’t muted. Once it starts up however, we’re left with a remarkably good piece of electronica that’s somehow chill and peppy at the same time.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I always forget what Metronomy actually sounds like and expect toothless, pleasant soft-rock. Toothless, unpleasant cod-funk about a whiny vocalist and his ex’s dreaded Lady Gaga music is not an improvement.
[2]

Claire Biddles: Some break-up songs are relatable because they are universal, and some are relatable because they filter a familiar feeling through specifics. “Night Owl” is from a record called Summer 08, so it’s clear from the start that this is going to be about a particular person. At first I thought the date might be in reference to when they broke up, but it’s clear from the smarting bitterness in the song that it’s when they got together. A reference to “FM radio hosts playing ‘Paparazzi'” situates the story of the song in a fixed time and place, but also perfectly evokes the moment when a soundtrack to a love affair becomes unlistenable as love rots away — I think of all the songs I’ve deleted from my computer, all the records I’ve hidden at the back of the stack, only to hear them in a bar, unavoidable and daring to remain omnipresent when I want to forget. “Night Owl” is bitter and cruel and pathetic and self-loathing, but haven’t we all been those things?
[8]

Brad Shoup: As I understand it, the whole record’s literally about the summer of 2008. Less understandable is this song’s choice to recreate a casually sour reaction to a breakup. Gothic pronouncements alternate with the magnetic pull of downtown parties; he references “Paparazzi” just to tweak it. I wonder what utility there is in resurrecting a shittier you, especially when so many of our past shitty selves are amply documented. I also wonder about the artistry in it. His track’s more willing to interrogate the past than his text is (though he does get in a cracking rhymeset on the chorus). It doesn’t sound like the mutant disco of Nights Out: the grim danceability and rigid interplay are more of the same, if not a step forward. But they — along with Joe Mount’s acidly resigned tenor — suggest someone coming home from those parties and putting on Neon Bible. That shit was always bad.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: He doesn’t actually date the reference, but as pop songs are one of the most enduring bookmarks of a moment in time to be placed in the mind, Joe Mount should be aware that “Paparazzi” was a hit in ’09, and not Summer 08. Fair enough if he’s making that connection though: the memory is hazy and the writing is lazy — or at least not “thoughtful,” as he protests. Haziness and laziness, remembered and in remembering, are in any case “Night Owl”‘s key. To a knackered production flitting in and out of the whirling synth of its dream sequence chorus, Mount seems to be simply looking for a beacon.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Not a Gerry Rafferty cover, nor a band effort — Joe Mount recorded “Night Owl” by his lonesome. That nagging single note played on his guitar is the kind of simple hook that mediocre bands spend forever trying to find. The breathy Junior Boys-indebted vocal should be resisted at all costs, though.
[7]

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Wonder Girls – Why So Lonely?

Cruel summer…


[Video][Website]
[7.25]

Katherine St Asaph: Dunno, why so forced?
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: More gleaming pop from the Wonder Girls, only this time they’ve gone for light skanking instead of the ’80s gloss of last year’s Reboot. Their lyrics are as sharp as ever (really, gentlemen, you should do right by them), and so is their sound. I just prefer the ’80s.
[7]

Moses Kim: Sticky, sweet, and summer-ready; listening to this makes me want to lick a popsicle plaintively whilst leaning against the moonlit wall of a 7-Eleven.
[8]

Cassy Gress: So many artists put out songs in the summer and call it a “smash summer jam” or similar. This is the first one I’ve heard this year that actually put summer in my mind; it’s probably just the reggae inflection, but “why-y-y I’m so lone-lyyy” has just the right lean on it to evoke heat mirages on the highway.
[8]

Katie Gill: The inescapable summer beach stylings have made their way to K-Pop. Thankfully here, the steel drums and UB40 keyboard don’t sound as cliché as they have in other endeavors. Wonder Girls’ tight harmonies, a fun rap break, and the purposeful lethargy of the track make a wonderful final product that I’ve just been listening to over and over again.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: It’s a truism that reggae-pop always sounds best in summer, and since I dislike summer, I like reggae-pop best when it’s depressive rather than sunny. Wonder Girls make immaculate pop about subtle shades of emotion, so of course their depressive reggae is going to hit my spot hard.
[8]

Adaora Ede: An insistence on breaking out of the “idol” mold to become an artist is more aligned with the graduated mass idol culture of Japanese pop, yet Wonder Girls’ recent forays into self-composition and production show them breaking out of the less niche-oriented K-pop. In Korean pop music, the musical variety is so great that writing your own songs or even straying out of genre to styles like rock or hip-hop will not instantly separate you from the idol label. WG’s Park Yeeun has vocalized her aspirations for Wonder Girls to be considered artists, not products for mass consumption. However, their first band attempt, “I Feel You,” lacked the authenticity to level Wonder Girls past idol status: the music didn’t require a staged band set for their improved euphony to shine through. “Why So Lonely” does break barriers by standing away from the mediocre power-pop/Maroon 5-esque pop-rock sound that signifies band concepts in K-pop, with every member putting their instruments to good use. Yes, It’s slightly difficult to take to cruise ship vacation reggae-rap at first, but the artistry being conveyed without the help of the JYP machine makes it innovative.
[8]

Will Rivitz: Everything here is really unsettling. The music is a weirdly processed piece of pop-reggae, MAGIC!’s “Rude” with a layer of dust on top. The video takes this strangeness up three or four notches: Wonder Girls don’t quite play their instruments in sync with the music, and look uncomfortable while doing so to boot; nihilistic binge-drinking is casually mixed in with the rest of the video’s relatively innocuous destruction of a man(nequin); and everything’s colored this strange pastel palette which jives poorly with the music and visual content. Has anybody coined the term “unKanny valley” yet?
[5]