Friday, May 25th, 2018

Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX – Girls

Tag yourself I’m…


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Pedro João Santos: It’s 2018: the world’s grown more colorful and “I Kissed a Girl”‘s pseudo-sapphism has been duly revised. Yet somehow those involved in writing “Girls” didn’t think it would open up a can of worms to repackage just that. Surprise: it did and Rita Ora’s second era is now a landscape of chaos. (She did say “take me anywhere.”) Other elements are, rather than offensive, flat and uninventive. The trap-lite, synthetic backing comes off as a perfunctory rehash of Lily Allen’s “Our Time,” Rexha’s contribution is actively grating, Cardi’s verse is, amusing, if not her best; Ora is really just there. XCX’s palatable hook is of note, but even its simplistic nature belies her admirable pop nous. What’s most insensitive about “Girls” is how it nears pop indigence.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Writing about Ricky Martin and Elton John + George Michael a few days ago, I noted the existence of songs written about women by queer writers whose experiences with women extend no further than their own material. Whether anyone in the credits has experience with queerness matters less than the Bush II-era garishness of the approach. No one knows what the hell she’s doing or what she’s supposed to express except the most vaporous solidarity.
[1]

Stephen Eisermann: I didn’t think Rita had entered the queer-bait for controversy part of her career, but here we are. It’s too bad that this half-baked, too-many-cooks mess is how she chose to drum up controversy, though.
[2]

Lauren Gilbert: As a Certified Bisexual™, I would like to affirm that getting drunk on wine and wanting to kiss girls is indeed Bi Culture. More seriously, this song has attracted all kinds of controversy for its portrayal of bi women, but a) it’s a jam, b) I feel like it accurately depicts a queer version of the same party-all-the-time-get-drunk-and-kiss-some-hot-people sexuality that Rita Ora (and Charli XCX) have made a career out of. This isn’t Serious Queer Content; it’s a gender-switched “Boys” with all the objectification that implies — a “Boots and Boys” for the queer eye. It is not a bisexuality of late night crying of girls who will never love you (not that I speak from experience), but of “when I think about the bliss / of looking at the girls.” It might have some cringe-worthy lines that imply sex exists for a male gaze, but the same can be said about many songs written by men and sung by women. If this song existed in a wide continuum of songs about girls who like girls, it would likely have attracted little attention. But we don’t live in that world; Hayley Kiyoko is the exception rather than the rule. I am not sure that it is this song’s fault, though; it is Fun, even when the lyrics are Questionable. It isn’t “Bloom,” and that’s… fine by me? Pop songs can go pretty far on cringe-worthy lyrics and a decent hook, and the perfect (representation of queer culture and of queer lives) need not be the enemy of the good-enough. Queer girls need ludicrous party jams, too.
[7]

Alex Clifton: Look, I’m glad we’re getting more queer music overall. I’m here for songs that use same-gender pronouns unabashedly, and in that sense “Girls” has nothing to hide. It’s unapologetic and sugary and loud. But it’s also kind of boring. Repeating the word “girls” seventeen times in the chorus feels generic overall. I get no sense of these girls that they want; they’re just nebulous ideas, flitting away. It’s like a summer dream with the haze of “kush lovin'” floating over it; that seems better articulated than any of the girls sung about in the song. Quantity is good and needed, but I want the quality to be up there too, and sadly “Girls” feels like it’s lacking in spirit.
[4]

Juan F. Carruyo : A line-up reminiscent of the ’69 Mets devote a paean to a late night hangout with friends that suddenly turns sexy. A lot of the lyrics just seem readymade for instant memeification (“’68 chevy, just rolling j’s”) which is a bit of drag. But the sentiment is honest and the production is adequate. Hoping for the male remake now. 
[6]

Mo Kim: I’m more offended by the laziness than the sloppiness of the subtext (which, to be fair, is a byproduct of the laziness): “Girls” lands like the debrief of a party even the teller only attended via Snapchat, such a simulacrum of queer joy that even the choice of car is most significant as a pop culture callback. And whereas the lyrics are light on substance, the performances are lethally leaden. Take it as a peculiar kind of equality that bisexual women like Rita Ora get to have their mediocre summer hits too.
[4]

Will Adams: “Girls” shares a problem with “2002” in that its references are deployed carelessly and, as such, create implications that are at best questionable and at worst harmful. “Red wine” was the sticking point for many, but the kicker is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the song. Substitute anything else with two syllables — Big Red, key limes, cheese puffs — and nothing changes. But like Malibu or Chevy ’68s, red wine is evocative of something, so red wine it was, which made listeners connect the dots from that to “cherry Chapstick” even more quickly (though it doesn’t help when the artist makes the connection for you). I sympathize with Rita Ora’s desire to write from her own experience, but “I’m fifty-fifty and I’m never gonna hide it” is an awkward way to go about it. Really, the most detail we get is the first line: “her name is Laura.” The rest is a song that can’t decide, per its co-stars, where it belongs: a giddy-yet-hazy crush song from True Romance (Charli XCX), dominance via a lion taming metaphor (Bebe Rexha), or unfazed, detached swagger (Cardi B). Rita’s apology was heartbreaking for several reasons, most of which being the realization that as lead artist of the song the burden of the backlash fell on her — a woman attempting to explain her sexuality — instead of the fact that there were too many cooks, in writing and in artist billing, all trying simultaneously to be relatable to everyone and ending up nowhere. Sometimes we just wanna fit in.
[4]

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Loco x Hwasa – Don’t Give It to Me

Korean rapper and singer remind us of basically everyone…


[Video]
[4.33]

Juan F. Carruyo : Bluesy intro straight off an ’80s blues record–the chorus effect is the tell–then it dovetails into Mariah circa “Fantasy,” by which I mean breathy diva offset by rap interludes that don’t threaten to overtake the singer’s authority. Then, we get a reggae outro. Good shtick. 
[5]

Iain Mew: Appropriately missing: that sweet, that funky stuff. 
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: The lightly syncopated, tasteful guitar-licking intro put me in mind of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.” The rest of it didn’t do enough to wash that taste out of my mouth.
[4]

Crystal Leww: Loco’s nasally raps come across as sneers rather than romantic, Hwasa whispers to no effect, and this backing production is like lite Santana. While I, too, yearn for the early aughts rap-sung pop duets, this is like a meme where ‘The Man She Told You Not to Worry About’ is Ja Rule and Ashanti, and “Don’t Give It to Me” is Jhene Aiko and Big Sean in Twenty88. Yikes.
[4]

Alex Clifton: Man, I wish this were just a Hwasa solo song. Her voice slinks right along and it sounds so easy and I found myself losing myself entirely in the song. Then Loco appeared with a flat delivery and it completely took me out of the moment, and it was hard to recover. It’s a shame how much it unspools after his verse, but the first uninterrupted minute or so was glorious.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I appreciate how watching Hyena on the Keyboard, the show from which this song spawned, grants “Don’t Give It to Me” a bit more depth. I like how the episode begins with the different musicians drinking “wine” that turns out to just be grape juice, I like how Loco plays a voice recording of himself drunkenly singing the chorus of “Post It,” I like seeing the two leads flirting with each other. These moments make it feel like the song–one about abstaining from alcohol to avoid falling in love–was actually birthed from the show naturally, and Loco saying Hwasa’s real name during his verse feels slightly more personal. While the guitar tone brings to mind Dean’s “Instagram,” this is an identifiable Woogie production a la Sik-K’s “Ring Ring,” Jay Park’s “Stay With Me,” and Loco’s own “Still.” Unfortunately, Loco’s voice sounds harsh in comparison to Hwasa’s, and it takes one out of the song’s intended bar room haze. The active bass line that appears partially alleviates the issue, but it also makes the song feel disjointed. Very welcome is the switch to reggae, but it ultimately makes the final third of “Don’t Give It to Me” feel like an overlong coda, especially since the official audio doesn’t find the two vocalizing at the same time. What should snap everything into place only leaves one wanting and unsatisfied: surprisingly appropriate?
[4]

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

LSD – Genius

Pictured: Labrinth’s Andalite cosplay, Sia’s ongoing Sia cosplay, and Diplo’s head.


[Video]
[3.62]

Juan F. Carruyo : A stuttering vocal hook for the chorus largely carries this anodyne collaboration. 
[4]

Iain Mew: “Only a genius could love a woman like she;” only a Labrinth could mangle a line like that. “Genius” is shot through with his excess, and how tolerable that is varies wildly with how slow and how sentimental the song it’s applied to is. This is neither, and Sia is a good match, so while it’s not quite “Earthquake,” it’s ridiculous in an enjoyable way. 
[7]

Dorian Sinclair: I must not be a genius, because I am finding this song very difficult indeed to love. I am a noted Sia apologist, but nothing here is really working for me. The hook is inane, the transitions too abrupt, and things overall just fail to cohere.
[2]

Joshua Copperman: Whoever put Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo in the same room is a genius in their own right — I doubt anyone saw this collaboration coming, much less a song as gloriously goofy as this one. At first I thought that the song was Sia’s version of “Issues” or any other “I’m complicated someone plz be broken with me” song, but it’s actually the opposite — instead of Sia being complicated, it’s Sia literally being beyond the comprehension of mortals, with the exception of Labrinth. It’s a bid for deitydom like Florence or Bey, a burst of hubris that is a surprisingly natural fit for Sia. Her second verse especially is as playful as she’s been in years. Labrinth matches her energy, with his “gee-gee-gee” hook and shouts of “only a genius could love a woman like she!” My brother recently told me about a general who favored the clever and lazy over the dumb and diligent, and while Sia’s choruses were starting to fall into the latter, overwriting without purpose, Labrinth’s hook is proudly in the former. The production is clever, diligent, dumb, and lazy — even the smallest detail, like a castanet, is creatively panned or processed in some way. Yet when things start to get too weird, like the post-chorus vocal sample, the pop instincts kick in a measure later, and that balancing act pays off.
[8]

Matias Taylor: The only part of the song to achieve a solid groove is the pre-chorus, with Sia’s staccato hook bouncing off the descending trap synths, but the chorus then regresses into the kind of senseless monosyllabic repetition that stopped being a thing half a decade ago. You can practically hear her phoning it in in the booth and half-expecting Diplo and Labrinth to ask her to try something else. So much could have been done with the “genius” conceit; instead, the best Sia comes up with is name-dropping Stephen Hawking with no follow-up.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: As if the weird composition wasn’t pretentious enough, the lyrical concept — a man complimenting himself for being able to… love his girlfriend? ugh — is so gross and makes it really easy to figure out where these incels have come from.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: Synths that are probably supposed to suggest ~genius composers~ but end up around Drake’s “Headlines“; vintage Max Martin piano stabs that weren’t used on a Liz song (the mock-seriousness to the melody is very “bridge to ‘Oops (I Did It Again)’, too”); whistling that wasn’t used in 2012; a rickety Lego version of trap; utterly sincere talk of geniuses, of Einsteins and Newtons, with zero irony whatsoever besides the band name. It’s not genius, and not good, but it is camp.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The mixture of arch vocal mannerisms and stuttered hooks is certainly not genius.
[2]

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Mason Ramsey – Famous

The Wikipedia views of its “Yodeling” article spiked from a few hundred to over 5,000 a day.


[Video]
[1.89]

Juan F. Carruyo : Novelty records made by children used to rely on charisma, personality and the charm of a couple off-key notes to remind the audience that they were prodigies. Nowadays they pump ’em full of autotune and crank up the corn factor so that whomever is milking this poor kid’s 15 minutes of fame makes sure they get every damn dime. 
[1]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hell yes, a meme that got popular because yodeling isn’t taken seriously amongst generations of people whose only exposure to it is Sandy singing about Texas in Spongebob. And now the kid who’s the star of it all has an ultra-generic country pop tune charting because people want memes to reach their logical conclusion of being as successful as possible — truly hilarious. While I hate this on principle for not actually being funny, it’s also not interesting as novelty. It’s not as profound in its naivety as The Shaggs or The Children of Sunshine, as musically worthwhile as Jr. and His Soulettes or Chandra’s Transportation, or as heartwarming as an album of babies improvising with toys or recordings of a music therapy class. It’s a blatant, exploitative cash grab that’s built on musical ignorance.
[0]

Alfred Soto: An 11-year-old who sings country? Of course it’s cornpone. Critic-proof like a CD of versions of “Oh Susanna” bought at Cracker Barrel, “Famous” is designed to make y’all go awwww.  
[0]

Will Rivitz: Sweet, romantic, aw-shucks country music succeeds or fails on the strength of the lead singer’s conviction. The more the artist can sell the hammy warm-and-fuzzies, the more charmingly and sincerely they can represent the purity and strength of their love, the easier disbelief can be suspended, the easier the listener can resonate with the song’s emoting. Mason Ramsey’s tinny, quavering voice sells this song’s passionate romance about as well as the average 11-year-old could convince an adult that what they have with their crush is true love.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: Can we not teach young boys to put this kind of pressure on girls at such a young age (or, ever, really)? Also, does no one else feel gross about having an 11-year-old sing about love like this? It was weird enough having Bieber do this at 14. This feels even more exploitative. 
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Mason Ramsey, being a child, has nothing to do with the song beyond reciting it; credit/blame adult writers Sarah Buxton, Tyler Hubbard, Canaan Smith and Corey Crowder for this dippy plea to be referred to in headlines, or at least the local paper, as “Trey Trekker Humphington III’s wife” — because outside Down-Home Humility Glurgeland, the people who are “famous for loving you” are women. Which artist do you think would’ve gotten stuck with this song had no one virally yodeled?
[1]

Julian Axelrod: I don’t know if this is charming or creepy. I can’t tell if this is an implicit rejection of fame cleverly applied to a child thrust into the spotlight against his will, or the gross sexualization of a kid who hasn’t even hit puberty yet. But here’s what I do know: We now have a country radio hit that sounds like Reba McEntire sucked helium and sang a gay love ballad, and that rules.
[5]

Iain Mew: If ever there was a song that could have done without being in unspecific country girl second person, this is it. 
[3]

Will Adams: Cool that he got to meet Ellen, I guess.
[2]

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Aya Nakamura – Djadja

And finally in Bad Poetry Tagline Wednesday, it’s Aya Nakamura and her kiss-off bravura.


[Video][Website]
[6.00]
Jonathan Bogart: When this popped up for review only a few days after I’d gone through all of Aya Nakamura’s singles in an effort to beef up my awareness of current French-language Afropop (and/or French pop of African origin), I admit I was a little startled: are the Jukebox selectors watching my YouTube history? But no, “Djadja” is charting in France, which is no doubt why the algorithm served it up to me in the first place, and while it’s not my favorite of her recent singles (that would be the rather more sinister “Drogué”, from January), it’s a solid vaguely tropical pop song, a kiss-off to a guy spreading rumors about her. The rather lycée-age topic feels a bit odd coming from such a self-possessed thirty-two year old, but songs about fuckboys are evergreen.
[6]

Crystal Leww: The song starts with a some steel drums, a “Hello papi, que pasa?,” and the dancehall beat kicks in, so it’s a bit of a surprise to hear that “Djadja” turns out to be in French! Aya Nakamura is supposed to be giving a dude attitude, but something about her tone and the production feels too light and sunny to fit. This can’t figure out if it wants to care about him or not — either give him hell or act like you’ve above it, girl! — and ends up leaving very little impression at all. Aya Nakamura ends up looking like that fine but eh girl you ghosted earlier this year.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: An airy, half-empty trop-pop template, in which Nakamura seems to be having fun — not a lot, but at least she’s not phoning it in. The stretchy rhythm of “en Catchana baby tu dead ça” is pleasant on the ears and slightly hilarious before it’s repeated and repeated and slightly revised and then repeated some more.
[5]

Jibril Yassin: A refreshing slice of dancehall that has Aya Nakamura casually breezing past the bouncy percussion, rattling off verses with the energy of the kiss-offs they happen to be.
[6]

Rachel Bowles: Aya Nakamura seems to be thoroughly over her recent love d’un voyou immediately shaking off any starry eyed dreams of Byronic anti hero thugs with a barbed “Hello papi mais qué pasa?.” “Djadja”‘s irresistibly danceable afrobeats belie just how serious Aya is as she proves that she is not a lady to be fucked with (“Catchana baby tu dead ça….”) It’s not a surprise that the Malian French singer hails from the griot tradition, her seamlessly polyglot vocals offer a smart, flippant counterpoint to the song’s rhythms — perfect for hip swinging as you low key simmer about your douchebag ex.
[7]

Iain Mew: She named herself after a character from Heroes, everyone. Appropriately it’s the sense of larger-than-life revelling in drama that is the most charming thing about “Djadja.” She’s so over what this guy is doing that the only thing left to do is turn it funny, to give all the details in a “can you believe this shit?” tone, as withering as something more direct, but more enjoyable for her.
[7]

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Jess Glynne – I’ll Be There

More like… less.. win..?


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Juan F. Carruyo : Knowing next to nothing about Jess Glynne, I read up and found out that she hails from the United Kingdom. So it makes me wonder why does this smash hit sound so much like modern country? She definitely has a lot of twang in her voice, plus she also rides a couple of horses in the video. Stealth crossover move or just coincidence? I’m going with the former. Sadly, there’s nothing too remarkable about the tune, but I can see this turning up in a jukebox –or the Spotify equivalent — in 10 years time. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: An ain’t-no-mountain-high-enough plea garnished with a looped synth motif. Jess Glynne brings whatever conviction she can to a rote sentiment.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Based on a couple of the other singles we’ve covered, Glynne’s voice never sounds quite… right, and here whatever processing or production is used appears to have dumped her right in the uncanny valley. If this sounded either fully human or fully manipulated I might like it (it avoids some of the more toxic mutations of blue eyed soul her other work sometimes succumbs to, at least), instead the artificiality is impossible to ignore but never feels like a genuine aesthetic choice rather than an attempt to sandpaper and/or spackle over her actual voice. Still, this is more inoffensive listening than some of the other singles.
[4]

Iain Mew: This is the rare Jess Glynne single that shows some awareness of the quiet qualities that made “Rather Be” so enjoyable – – some of the synth sparkle is lovely and the beat just about shades into subtle rather than weedy. That makes the decision to go yodelly for the chorus even more grating and baffling. 
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Ah, you’re never alone with Jess Glynne around. She’s following you, always in the background — her warbling like the sound of crickets at dusk, and her belting like the sound of emergency sirens. She’s with you in the car, in the supermarket, and in the background of a heart-warming human interest story about a man reunited with his missing-presumed-dead dog. The best songs, and the best singers can make saying they’ll be there comforting and profound. Jess Glynne honks the boilerplate sentiment out as if she’s got a megaphone and a three-minute deadline to achieve maximum platitude. It feels churlish to hate her good-natured fluff, but here we are. It’s more of the same thing that’s just rubbed me the wrong way in all her other singles, and I have to admit that I hate it.
[2]

Matias Taylor: The UK has an unfortunate tendency to ignore its female stars after their breakout album (see: Alexandra Burke, Emeli Sande, Duffy), so the title reads not just as empowerment anthem word randomizer, but also as something of a mission statement from Jess. The singles from her last album were ubiquitous, and with this song, Jess promises to keep delivering on her brand of advert-ready, uplifting dance-pop as a remedy for those moments “when you come home and all the lights are out.” That last line is the only moment in the song that approaches genuine insight and the sense of empathy the track so badly wants to project, so the rest of the lyrics, with their vague references to heartbreak, being lost, and feeling bad, are even more forgettable in comparison. Meanwhile, the sonics don’t give any reason for hope; the hook works, but it doesn’t approach the carefree adrenaline rush of “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” The production ticks all the right boxes for a 2018 pop single, but it falls oddly flat. The song’s coda, where she repeats the title refrain with little reverb and no backing vocals, and, refreshingly for an artist who often conflates volume with passion, in a quieter voice, is far more emotional and interesting than the rest of the song, but it’s too little to redeem an obvious retread of her past hits.
[4]

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Shawn Mendes ft. Khalid – Youth

Today, we are not bitches about that guy who did “Stitches.”


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Alex Clifton: The BBMAs performance of this song — Parkland choir and all — made me cry. It’s not just that it’s a song about kids facing adversity, or that Shawn Mendes and Khalid are close in age to the Parkland kids. It’s a really beautiful song, but it hits harder in 2018 than I expected. It hit me harder on Sunday that the Parkland kids had to go up and sing a song about not having to give up their youth directly after another goddamn school shooting, when the Parkland rallying cry has been “never again.” “Youth” lingers in a way that reminds me that it shouldn’t have to; while it’s a beautiful song, I’m sad that there’s a need for it because our kids no longer feel safe. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: This chiseler is too young to be feel long in the tooth even if he plays guitar like an arthritic senior. 
[3]

Juan F. Carruyo : This is straight out of Ed Sheeran’s playbook with delicate finger-picked acoustic guitars against an ominous synth bass that make the song way more menacing that it needs to be. Such is the way of music production in this post-EDM world that even what strives for intimacy also needs to be stadium ready. Rather sad. 
[3]

Juana Giaimo: I really appreciate Shawn Mendes’ unexpected change of direction. Both the fancy “Lost in Japan” and the deep “In my blood” show his intent to do something different from just being the new Ed Sheeran. “Youth” tries to portray today’s generation surrounded by bad news and how difficult is to cope with all the stress growing up in the 21st century means, and I’m sure many listeners will find this song healing, but I feel something is lacking here, maybe because the chorus is too repetitive. They sing  “You can’t take my youth away” so many times that it almost lacks meaning: what is youth today and who wants to take it away? By being so general, part of emotion is lost. As for Khalid, he doesnt add much — Mendes’ slightly trembling voice is convincing enough.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: I wish I wasn’t too cynical to enjoy this tender, pulsing mid-tempo, but so many things have happened these past few years. While Shawn and Khalid trade verses about fighting against the darkness of the world we live in, I sit here and think of the innocent children of undocumented immigrants being forcibly split from their parents, of the LGBTQIA+ youth who have to grow up without the support of this administration, of the Palestinian teenage protestors who died, of Trayvon Martin, of Tamir Rice, of the Parkland, Santa Fe High, and other school shooting victims because they had or are having their “youths” taken away. Thus, I can appreciate this song as a rallying cry for those young people who haven’t yet succumbed, but for me this is nothing more than a pretty, well-meaning track that makes me long for the days when I was lucky enough to be ignorant of the darkness.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: The heart’s in the right place, but the execution is too  resigned-sounding to be the defiant song of power it wants to be, and should be. Khalid tends to have a sedative effect on me too, but there’s a grain of real anger and half a strong tune here, and I wish there were more.
[6]

Tobi Tella: Shawn Mendes’ recent trip into making decent music/becoming the 2010’s John Mayer has been significantly better than the teen pop he was doing beforehand, and if the John Mayer analogy continues, this is his “Waiting On the World to Change.” Similarly to that song, it feels like it wants to be a protest anthem but ends up feeling sort of non-committal. While the lyrics are some of the best of Mendes’ career, the instrumentation and vocals are exceedingly sleepy, something not helped by Khalid’s presence, who sounds bored even on his own good songs. It’s the worst song from Shawn’s album yet, but he’s gone 3 for 3 for decent singles, something I would’ve scoffed at 2 years ago.
[6]

Matias Taylor: This is really a song about wanting to go back and experience the abandon of falling in love for the first time after getting to know heartbreak, and Khalid’s aching croon embodies the caution and despondency that follow experience. Shawn’s boyband warble is compelling as the idealistic, starry-eyed counterpart, and he sounds almost angry on the bridge, as if he feels a pang of doubt at having to remind himself that he’s still young enough to start again.
[6]

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Troye Sivan – Bloom

Planting a seed on our sidebar…


[Video]
[7.12]

Will Adams: Troye Sivan’s reliance on breathiness to communicate intimacy finally works… once I’m past the feeble first verse. The chorus is brilliant, a rush of wintry wind akin to Betty Who’s “A Night to Remember” that nails the feeling of opening up. Maybe soon his voice can do the same.
[7]

Alfred Soto: I liked “Bloom” in seconds: the floral conceit, the willingness to acknowledge passivity, the vocal choices especially (he’s coquettish, not desperate). How many songs do we get about bottoming, for chrissakes? I’m less impressed with “play me like a love song” and those synth clouds that to the under-thirty set qualifies as “’80s sounding.” 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The spoken-word bridge is just the right side of cheesy; the noncommittal vocal (think “Teenage Dream” if it were only verses) just the wrong side of demo track. This would be better if it were released earlier than 2018, when every song didn’t have an industry mandate to sound chill.
[6]

Ian Mathers: At first, the way he kind of rushes through the first couple of verses combined with whatever production makes Sivan’s voice sound oddly colourless didn’t do much for me. But the song, err, blossoms nicely enough with the chorus and that great gated drum machine that the rest of the song plays better on subsequent listen. (Although surely we can all agree that “we’re dancing with the treason” would have been a more interesting line than “trees and.”) The end result is a sweetly diffident earworm.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Don’t know what’s going on here, but where I can listen to an entire Hidden Cameras album replete with descriptions of gay sex, this, er, flowery paean to the same sort of thing with airy synths actually makes me blush to listen to it. Must be the fact that Sivan is putting his unflinching take on sexuality in an unflinching pop song. If the world flinches while or before enjoying it, so much the better.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: To those unfamiliar with the concept of bottoming, this song is a fun sunset, a summer fair jam, but to those in the know, it’s so much more: a declaration. The anxiety around being penetrated are unsurprisingly universal, but when you set the right mood with some easygoing electropop and a dulcet voice, then goddamn it can be really good.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: “Bloom”‘s breezy, windows-down vocoder-pop initially sounds a little one-note, unwilling to set its phasers towards an ecstatic dancepop heaven in the same way that the chorus of “My My My!” did. This actually turns into a strength of sorts; Troye Sivan exudes a casual, quiet confidence here, which meshes well with the song’s low-key feel. For a song so overtly about sex, it feels like breathless pillow-talk rather than coming off as performative, to Sivan’s considerable credit. The garden metaphor is obviously kind of daft, but Sivan knows it, and it remains very satisfying to hear him sing with such self-assured ease about stuff that straight artists have been singing about for decades without anyone thinking it remarkable.
[7]

Claire Biddles: Queer adolescence can happen at any age. We can have our first times — our real first times; sexual or self-actualising or both — at 26, or 32, or 65. How many of us have laid on our beds or sat at our desks or stalled in the front seat of our cars listening to “Genie in a Bottle” or “Saving All My Love For You,” thinking about what we want but isn’t ours yet, feeling simultaneously too old and too young? We’ve all narrowed our eyes so that these familiar anticipatory stories go out of focus and re-form to fit our own narratives, like sonic fanfiction. “Bloom” is a bottoming virginity rewrite of “Teenage Dream,” may as well be note-for-note, but that’s the point. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were the lead single from a thousand song queer cover version compilation album of teenage rush-of-love, fully-formed-for-the-first-time, I’ve-waited-my-whole-life top 40 hits rewritten for rights of passage that could be our own?
[8]

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Darius Rucker – For the First Time

Okay but which R.E.M. song do you think it is…


[Video]
[5.50]

Alfred Soto: Yet another entry in a series of blandly digestible and country tunes sung in Darius Rucker’s blandly big voice, “For the First Time” is more beach party bingo on the order of Kenny, Keith, and Luke. Yet he mentions R.E.M. in the first verse — when was the last time anyone mentioned R.E.M. for the first time?
[6]

Iain Mew: Pick one: leaning back on a jet black Chevy, dancing and singing R.E.M. vs. dancing on the hood of a Mustang singing the algorithmic chorus of 1998-2003? The winner would be this one except that doing a song about trying something new and taking so evidently few risks with it is self-defeating.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: The lone, exciting first-time that Rucker brings to the table might be his choice of an R.E.M. record to soundtrack an otherwise tired scene set by well familiar country-music narrative props. That said, surely unintentionally, the very lack of freshness in a song selling freshness ends up speaking less about Rucker than the futility of searching for something electric as an idea as the Very First Time.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo : Somewhere around 2008, Darius Rucker went country; finding the Nashville grass much greener, he just kinda stayed there, banging out hits at a reasonable rate. I enjoy that his idea of a good (first) time involves both R.E.M. and two dollar wine, but overall this comes out just on the wrong side of corny and it could stand being 45 seconds shorter.  
[4]

A.J. Cohn: Normally dudely come-on’s don’t do it for me, but this dorky dad-core with its references to smoking and listening to R.E.M. together is slyly sweet. 
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Funny how in some ways Hootie & the Blowfish (like John Mellencamp) have become a touchstone for plenty of today’s country, because this most definitely isn’t what pop-country sounds like today (Hunt, Rhett, et.al.). This great single, the second from Rucker’s 2017 album When Was the Last Time, references the past (its first line mentions dancing to R.E.M.) without wallowing in it, and musically, it stays in Rucker’s lane of easy-going, amiable (almost to a fault) country rock. In 2018, this is what I want country radio to sound more like.
[8]

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Hatchie – Sleep

Sleep sounds nice. Oh, also the song is good too…


[Video]
[6.83]

Alfred Soto: The Brisbane native has constructed a sugar-pop swirl of influences: a little Wild Nothings here, some Chvrches there, a dollop of Cocteau Twins. At its best when the the synths and sequencer can’t shut up, “Sleep” is innocuousness at its most tuneful.
[6]

Claire Biddles: Like her contemporaries Pale Waves, Hatchie makes the kind of spacious, effortless dreampop that sounds tailor-made for soundtracking movie montages or the train journey to meet someone you love: “Sleep” is all movement, potential, possibility. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s basically a dream-pop Hoku song, which is to say, entirely my shit.
[7]

Ian Mathers: I am an unabashed sucker for any place where synthpop and shoegaze meld together/realize they weren’t that different anyway [someone: “isn’t that just dream pop?” someone else: “nobody uses that unless they’re talking about the Cocteau Twins, and this only sort of sounds like them, plus you can make out all the words”], so I was predisposed to like this from the start. It helps that they lead with the vastly superior chorus, before going into the overly matchy-matchy verses (you don’t have to try to rhyme everything, kids). Those are kept to a minimum and the rest of the song is great, but it’s just enough to keep this song from the [8] it otherwise deserves.
[7]

Juan F. Carruyo : It’s wise to lead with your chorus if it’s the catchiest thing in the track. This time it’s so damn infectious that the song refuses to let it peter away, repeating it five times throughout the track. The verses are only a mere breather before the chorus hits you again with all its magnificence.
[8]

Julian Axelrod: Hatchie has crafted a shimmering, sweeping synth storm with a delectable sense of longing and an instrumental earworm sticky enough to transcend the ’80s pastiche. That song is called “Sugar & Spice,” and it’s one of my favorite singles of the year. “Sleep” is… not that, but it’s certainly going for the same vibe. Maybe it’s not fair to judge this on the merits of its predecessor, but everyone (including Harriette Pilbeam herself) seems to think “Sleep” is Peak Pop, and I am nothing if not petty. This is perfectly competent, but I wish everything about it was dialed up a notch or two: the Depeche Mode Jr. synth line, the halfhearted hook, and especially that awkward afterthought of a bridge. It’s hard to reconcile my vastly different reactions to two similar songs by the same artist. I forget about “Sleep” before the song’s even over, while “Sugar & Spice” has been lodged in my brain since I first pressed play.
[6]