Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Luke Combs – Hurricane

Don’t cut funding to FEMA, Preident Trump! Think of the bro-country singers!


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Katie Gill: This week’s version of ‘you’re so sexy that when you entered it hit me like a destructive force’ is (spins the wheel) hurricanes! Have fun trying to make destructive forces of nature sexy! Granted, there’s probably some personal bias slipping in here as I grew up in Mississippi, but really? That’s the metaphor we’re going with? It doesn’t help that the hurricane metaphor is only partly applied — half the chorus is talking about her in a generic sexy way and then suddenly, on a dime, we become hurricanes. It’s a very play by numbers sort of song until the absolutely weird number comes in.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Luke Combs misspelled “Drizzle.”
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Combs is a new(ish) country singer with a rich voice, and in “Hurricane,” which he co-wrote, he’s got a song worthy of wrapping his voice around. It concerns the universal topic of running into an ex — and what can sometimes happen next — and is produced smartly, reminiscent of ’90s hits from Joe Diffie and Neal McCoy. We could use more of that feel in country today, so I’m more than happy with this.
[7]

Crystal Leww: “Hurricane” is great, straightforward, sensitive bro pop country. Luke Combs has got a gruff voice that could make him suited for the boring dreck that’s dominated the conversation the last couple of years, but “Hurricane” is a story about a girl with a chorus that hooks and soars. This song’s had a slow build — I think I first heard it sometime in October of last year — but it’s starting to peak right as rain showers fit the metaphor. 
[8]

Juana Giaimo: Those Nickelback vibes doesn’t help at all to make me emphasize with Luke Combs. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: “Hurricane” is a big and earnest country-pop song with some authentic-sounding gruff radio rock touches. Combs’ voice saves it from getting too 00s Nickelback, and the crowd vocals on the end turn it into a completely acceptable lighters-waving singalong. Mentally adding this one to my karaoke wishlist.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Kinda kills the intimacy when you throw in a simulated arena crowd, huh?
[3]

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Lady Gaga – The Cure

Remember Lady Gag? She’s back! In pop form..


[Video][Website]
[4.64]

Thomas Inskeep: The edge of boring.
[5]

Crystal Leww: The other day, a friend pointed out that Lady Gaga went from “Bad Romance” to a duets album with Tony Bennett in five years. So I guess it feels apt that in 2017, Lady Gaga has abandoned her latest album after two singles and is changing direction once again, this time to something even blander than faux-country authenticity. “The Cure” is so insultingly anonymous — it could be sung by any wannabe pop star looking at the EDM vocalist route — for someone who was so dominant in pop music less than a decade ago. And yet, this is better than anything off Joanne or Cheek to Cheek and better than everything except “Do What U Want” off ARTPOP (which was only good because of R. Kelly, yikes). There’s no reason why this fall had to be so swift. Everyone deserves to be fired. 
[5]

David Sheffieck: I’m old enough to remember when Lady Gaga started trends I didn’t like, rather than jumping on ones I’d long come to ignore. That said, she sings more convincingly than anyone else in this space right now. That said, the lyric is vaguely cliched in a way that The Chainsmokers would never allow.
[5]

Alfred Soto: She may be in a commercial tailspin, but this concerns me less than the anxiety it inspires. From the received angst of Gaga’s high vocal to the sampled trill, “The Cure” could’ve been written by The Chainsmokers and featuring one of their guests, which means it could’ve been written by no one. 
[3]

Cassy Gress: This is possibly the least Gaga-y Gaga song that I’ve ever heard, aside from her usual awkward scansion (too much emphasis falling on the “with” in “fix you with my love”). A line like “and if you say you’re okay, I’m gonna heal you anyway,” which would fit right into some of the dark, aggressive pop from The Fame Monster and Born This Way, just comes off as flaccidly obsessive here. If she looked at the reception for Artpop and Joanne and Cheek to Cheek and thought that this must be what people wanted from her, it makes me sad. It’s not just that it sounds like a million other anonymous trop-house songs; it’s that she sounds so half-hearted about it.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: As much as The Fame‘s singles spawned imitations, RedOne’s production itself was never entirely original, and so Lady Gaga suddenly trying to blend into 2017 radio isn’t that extraordinary. Eschewing maximalism on a brand new release is more uncharacteristic, but the cap fits. The restorative power of love and connection is ground she knows, and she sells a belief in it here with delicacy almost as well as when it was bursting out of her on “The Edge of Glory.” It’s not earth-shattering, but pleasantly functional — a litmus test for her ability to chart well, quite possibly.
[7]

Joshua Copperman:  I don’t get why everyone says it sounds like tropical house, or like the Chainsmokers. In fact, this sounds like “The Fame”-era Gaga to me. The same person who wrote “Million Reasons” is the same person that wrote “You and I” is the same person that wrote “Paparazzi” (which actually shares a similar obsession theme with “The Cure”), and so on and so forth. It’s easy to think of this as a regression or one last attempt at relevancy before signing off to do albums with Tony Bennett forever, but this song is a cool way of bringing all the Gagas together, and I hope that it brings her all the success she’s clearly going for here. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: And to think that circa Born This Way she actually was veering toward The Cure. The personnel make me think this has gotta be old material, as does how it kinda sounds like it began life as a rnbass take on Britney’s “Sometimes.” The lyrics, free of any complications, make me think she can’t have written it for herself. It’s not the first time Gaga’s been smothered by commercial necessities — Artpop had Zedd, “Just Dance” had Colby O’Donis and RedOne when he rated — but it certainly continues a regression. Stefani’s a theater kid — when did she forget it’s better to be big and wrong?
[3]

Leonel Manzanares: It’s kind of painful to hear such an iconic, unique performer follow a trend instead of leading it, and that fact alone is exactly what kills this otherwise solid tropi-pop song. Miss Germanotta is a gifted topline maker, and the way she frames the melody in the pre-chorus, jumping on that D# chord, is masterful, but considering the surroundings — vocal-synth hooks, Kygo by-the-numbers atmospherics and the most generic-ass beat you can find on Soundcloud — it all just feels like a missed opportunity. Most shockingly, it all sounds so NORMAL. AND IT’S A GAGA SONG. COME ON. 
[6]

Will Adams: Gaga’s had to deal with an implacable audience ever since Artpop failed to recoup its $25 million budget. Make a conceptual electropop record, she’s overthinking things. Make a country-pop album, she’s stuffy. Record some jazz duets, what the hell is she doing? Join the 2017 current, she’s desperate. By some definition, “The Cure” is very of the moment, but apart from the vocal-as-violin thread, I can’t find that much of a departure from her early work. It’s a bit like “Do What U Want” without the paparazzi context (and more “Cater 2 U” by way of Munchausen), and her powerful voice is front and center as always. If she’s not going to reinvent the wheel anymore, at least she can spin it in her own unique way.
[6]

William John: Though it may not have succeeded in every respect, I admired the resolute contrariness of Joanne and its campaign. For an artist whose rise to the top of the charts was meteoric, Lady Gaga’s recent projects – the kaleidoscopic Artpop, the Tony Bennett collaboration, serious Dianne Warren balladry, the veering into country – have felt very out of step with pop trends. Some might see this as deliberate obtuseness, but my impression of Joanne was one of sincerity; this was an earnest genuflection to a genre she’d only dipped her toe into previously. Lady Gaga has bills to pay too, I presume, but it’s a shame that she’s resorted to something so stale to do so. The classic Gaga singles from the latter part of the last decade constitute the apotheosis of mainstream electropop at that time; “The Cure,” meanwhile, has the air of something drawn from one of the Chainsmokers’ backup hard drives, all chirruping and jerky, expunged of any uniqueness or specificity. As a Chainsmokers single this would be fine — that’s their modus operandi, after all. As a Lady Gaga single, it’s dismayingly paltry.
[3]

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Kevin Ross – Long Song Away

Adult R&B chart-topper continues our mild enthusiasm…


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Alfred Soto: A strummed hook that Color Me Badd and Babyface might have enjoyed animates this adult R&B hit with a couple of surprising chord changes that justify its length.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Of course this recently topped the Adult R&B chart; even though Ross is young (and this single leads off his debut album), he’s got an older soul and is loaded with talent. He’s also a romantic, which certainly helps when making what I affectionately refer to as “grown folks R&B.” The songwriting brings to mind the classicism of Babyface, and Ross has got a damned pretty voice, too.
[7]

Cassy Gress: When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a dorm on the same floor as a girl who blasted Ginuwine’s “Differences” on endless repeat. Whatever enjoyment I may have been able to get out of that song was bashed into oblivion. “Long Song Away” loops B minor-A minor stubbornly and gently enough to remind me of hearing that muffled keyboard pattern and bass every day from four rooms down, but if she really was playing this, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get annoyed. The “slow down and let’s dance to the radio” sentiment makes me roll my eyes a little, but if this song is any indication, Kevin Ross would be stubborn and gentle enough to convince her to go along with it.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: This is a slow-down song based off of a workable but barely-evolving four-bar loop, thus offloading all the heavy lifting to Ross’s voice. He sounds squarely in his element and occasionally delivers a nice melodic turn, but it’s all rigidly unambitious, aiming for nothing higher than “pleasant.” The only sensation it evokes is something like sitting through a beautiful day off with absolutely nothing to do.
[6]

Will Adams: The production, a heat haze of unsteady minor chords and soft handclaps, is an R&B dream, but Ross can’t match it. While technically competent most of the time, he slips into nasal territory too easily on the longer notes, and I often find myself more drawn to the hushed backing vocals.
[4]

Crystal Leww: This is like watching a child put on a tuxedo and trying to act grown. Kevin Ross is undoubtedly talented with a nice voice, but there’s a reason why urban adult contemporary belongs with folks like Babyface and Toni Braxton. This passes by like a breeze when it should feel a lot more dramatic. 
[4]

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Saturn

Non-Canadian indie supergroup(?) thinks new things, difficult things…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: What’s this — Anderson, Bruford Wakeman & Sufjan? No, just a collective known for creating some of the most miserable dude laments of the last 15 years messing around with synths, vocoders and adenoids. “Melancholy” and “Capricorn” appeared at some point before things got symphonic.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: For its first two minutes, this reminds me of a sped-up version of Isao Tomita’s take on Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1 (famously used as the theme for Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler, often the last thing aired by PBS stations prior to sign-off in the ’70s and ’80s) — which befits “Saturn”‘s spacey theme. But I certainly didn’t expect to hear Sufjan Stevens singing with heavy Auto-Tune warping his vocals, or for this to become a throbbing Moroder track 2:15 in. For my non-indie-fan money, this is the most interesting music that both Stevens and the National’s Dessner have been involved with.
[8]

Joshua Copperman: I’m disappointed in the lack of orchestration, especially considering Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly are on the list of collaborators, and the melodramatic delivery wasn’t nearly like that in the live videos. “Tell me I’m evil/Tell me I’m not the face of God” seems a little bit proggy and over-the-top for this group of musicians, especially when Bryce’s heady composer side is normally grounded in Matt Berninger’s Berningering. But I do like the trippy, self-serious atmosphere, even if the electronics and vocoder effects are nothing new for Sufy.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: If we must keep reviving the decade, I far prefer the space-obsessed prog ’70s to the licks-and-leisure-suits ’70s.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: There are little bits and pieces here to love. There’s the wide burst of shimmering distortion that balloons out right when that anemic kick drum gets into gear, or the scraps of emotional strain in Sufjan’s delivery of “Tell me I’m evil/Tell me I’m not the face of God” that survive the hellish vocal processing — just enough to convince you that the people involved with this aren’t completely out of their minds. The other 80% sounds like the obnoxious Europop people would rig to autoplay on joke webpages in 2004.
[3]

Will Adams: “Saturn” orbits around the likes of Moderat and Jon Hopkins (or, more accurately, Jon Hopkins remixing Moderat), its anxious shimmer adding even more uncertainty to the vocal before everything comes crashing down midway through. And like those acts, the rumination on human evil is more a lament than an indictment. Sufjan’s modulated voice bespeaks a self-shame that, given the state of things, hits home.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: kosmische self-flagellation doesn’t make for enjoyable music, especially when a bunch of people are just really really too into sounding like the exact edge of good and bad Tangerine Dream. But to their credit, the assorted co. of this song decided to make such a pained record sound transcendental and not like self-combustion. The insistence of the right to live has been denied so many times, and to blur the sounds of humanity like this says a lot about our failure to see ourselves in others. I’ll never listen again to a song like this, but no doubt I’ll see its echoes more than I’d care for.
[6]

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Broken Social Scene – Halfway Home

Canadian supergroup returns, remains less than super


[Video]
[4.86]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Indie music entitlement finally gets its “We Built This City.”
[4]

William John: The best Broken Social Scene songs walk a tightrope between rousing bombast and the spare aesthetic that’s often appropriate when conveying crushing sadness. “Halfway Home,” from the band’s first new album in seven years, is certainly loud, what with its enveloping, amorphous guitar clouds and relentless drums. But the polyvocalism, once the band’s trademark, works against them. There are too many voices, too many ideas, too many things happening that never coagulate in the way that the work of Drew, Canning & the remainder of Canada has historically managed to. The band is back together, but they haven’t figured out how to communicate what they need to say.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Indie that actually rocks, propulsively. For what it is, it’s pretty solid.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: The beginning is everything I want from indie rock, with the thundering drums and gorgeous waves of tense guitars, but this thing just keeps going and going for five minutes, gradually losing any sense of form. There’s little dynamic shift in the whole song, even though grand crescendos are the reason to even make a five-minute indie rock song in the first place. There’s only so much I can take of a gaggle of Canadians maniacally throwing their instruments at a brick wall before I get a headache.
[6]

Alfred Soto: When the singer mumbles while the zealously mixed guitars aggregate into an imitation of a wall of sound, I admit it sounds pretty. But Built For Spill sounded pretty too. Then the singer mimics Bono.
[4]

David Sheffieck: The breakneck pace reminds me of the second best BSS song — “Major Label Debut (Fast)” — but this replaces the massive hook of the original with a whole lot of clutter: in the backing vocals, in the chaos of the guitar parts, and especially in the messiness of the mix. I want to like it, and the energy is infectious — but only to a point, dissipating as quickly as the feedback fades.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: BSS’s last few records sounded messy, but they were jumbled and cluttered in a way that had a bite. Every individual element was bright and sharp in its own corner of the mix. This is reminiscent of their past output, but it sounds like a soft drink gone flat (seriously, do a little A/B testing against some cuts off Forgiveness Rock Record), in part because most of the song consists of back-to-back dramatic gestures compressed into structural fuzz. They wanted to make a triumphant return, so they released a comeback song that spends most of its time trying to seem like a grand finale.
[4]

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

A Tribe Called Quest feat. Busta Rhymes – Dis Generation

Dis Controversy!


[Video]
[6.43]

Joshua Copperman: This, “We The People,” and “Solid Wall of Sound” were easily my favorites off of last year’s We Got It From Here…, and “Dis Generation” is extra special for its hook, syncopated, simultaneously infuriating and mesmerizing. I love the way all the members play off of each other here too — they literally trade bars, often down to the measure (which has the byproduct of Jarobi only getting four lines in the entire song, but apparently that’s just a thing at this point). Perhaps it’s because I still need to delve into ATCQ’s back catalogue, but I love how they’re tight enough to convincingly finish each others sentences — again, literally. What really makes this awesome, though, is how they’re praising the younger generation of rappers in a passing of the torch. Even as the names shouted out are predictable, it’s still pretty cool to see legends praising younger rappers who either want to be legends (Cole), are arguably already secured in the canon (Kendrick), or those who have the potential to get there (Joey, Earl.). It’ll take more than an unstable administration to make songs like this feel less than defiant. 
[8]

Will Adams: The importance of this symbolic torch passing is not lost on me, and the samples used create a robust foundation. But I’ve never been one for “Hey, you’re all right!”-type sifting for the “real” music among the detritus, no matter how easily everyone involved is trading their lines.
[6]

Mark Sinker: Black music evolving ways to address its own pasts and future — ways that escape pop’s endless present-centred event horizons — is so totally my jam, back nearly to the moment that Musical Youth were actually in the UK charts (I started writing the following year), that I really really wish this did more with the idea. 
[5]

David Sheffieck: The tradeoff between the rappers is technically stunning, while the laid-back beat makes it sound easy. Like you’re sitting in on a bull session that happens to have a soundtrack and a hell of a rhythm. Are they saying anything worthwhile? Almost entirely beside the point: they sound good — great, even — saying it. That the hook comes from Musical Youth seems like proof this is the Tribe song that could get me to listen to a full Tribe album; that Busta Rhymes doesn’t get more to do is an example of why I never have before.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Getting to hear Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Busta Rhymes swapping lines back and forth is a thrill, always. Hearing them praising a new generation of MCs is, too; they’re keeping the faith. And Q-Tip’s track, which samples Invisible, Can (!), and Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” (for its chorus), is perfection.  
[10]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Appallingly egotistical, one of the most abysmal rap groups of the so called “golden-age” have returned to the sycophantic glad handling for their pandering milquetoast MOR bullshit they once reaped for almost a full decade. Elevator music instrumentation to save people from the awfulness of modern rap production, best designed for festival cash-ins and swaths of listeners who like the idea of using “real music” as a lapel pin to read of inherent moral superiority. Who of the youth does Q-Tip cite as the leaders? Kendrick Lamar, a hyper-moralist, industry-coddled pseud who loves to deny racism exists. Joey Badass, a deluded ret-conning child actor playing the part of ideal rapper for the whims of disgusting old men and voyeurs. J Cole, a vapid poseur fond of slut-shaming and posing himself as some sort of revolutionary icon. Considering this is the same Q-Tip who once brattily called southern rappers “sub-humans” because he couldn’t get a release date for his unlistenable jazz-rock solo-excursions, it’s no fucking surprise. A Tribe Called Quest are still a sacred cow of bloated largesse in which centrist respectability wank gets disguised as liberalism because they tipped the hat at the delusions of the “woke” adolescents who see the rare elder making inane statements that support them and denounce the spectral bogeymen of the overtly right-wing. Little do the souls getting hoodwinked realize that they’re being conned by an absolute sell-out who’s disgustingly using the death of a partner he frequently abused and cheated of money as a totem for redemptive narrative alongside the waves of social grieving for a nation in crisis. Of course the only thing that could make this more musically repulsive is none other than their eternal protege Busta Rhymes looking like a bloated golem of B-Boy Generation insecurity and sounding as lifeless as ever no matter how much he gurgles and pantomimes at effort. Vile, vile stuff, and the world deserves better.
[0]

Alfred Soto: The crowd noise, Busta’s superb performance, the riff — all throwbacks, all a delight because Tribe use their past to accentuate what has changed without getting fusty about it. They couldn’t have released it in 1993 because they still believed in daisy ages. Despite the darkness, I suspect they still do.
[8]

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Rae Sremmurd – Swang

Par!


[Video]
[5.83]

Alfred Soto: Hearing this deluxe edition extra track on the radio a few weeks ago surprised me — I thought my affection for it was a private matter. Swae’s weary tones suggest exhaustion with lifestyle if not form, making “Swang” one of the few good recent singles about the hard knock life that eschews smarm. Swae and Slim’s snotty attitude ensures a wisdom-free listening experience.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: What Sremmlife 2 singles gave up in instant meme-ability, they’ve made up for it by allowing Swae Lee to vocalize more freely than ever. His elastic exhale is the main draw of “Swang,” but what wins over is his cracking falsetto that I wish he would one day indulge more in a record where all he does is sing.
[5]

Will Adams: “Swang” seemed airier when I listened without headphones; upon closer inspection, there’s a giant bass anchoring everything. Rae Sremmurd still keep it light, though, and Swae Lee’s sudden falsetto leap is particularly charming.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The deliciously woozy production from Mike WiLL protege P-Nasty is fine, but what makes this — as with most Rae Sremmurd tracks — is the exuberance with which Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee rap.
[7]

Mark Sinker: “Coulda went to school to be a doctor,” asserts Slim Jxmmi two-thirds in, and it’s like we pull focus on the stately funeral-march synth brass and Swae Lee’s party squeaks and lazy what-me-worry bravado into the brutal bleakness of the lack of a way out, forwards or backwards. Resigned melancholy seems almost inevitable, even if that’s my tremendous age talking, onlooker at something awful that hasn’t quite arrived: silhouette shadows heedless-dancing up against a watchfire on a blasted headland as the invading navy makes landfall…
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Rae Sremmurd and their benefactor Mike WiLL have to be some of the most boring things going on in rap. Mike WiLL gets how to craft magnanimous-sounding beats that rarely occupy the current climate by belonging to a certain style in vogue. In a strange way, it’s a bizarro land Timbaland approach, except replacing the excess of exertion with inflation. The beat and performers on “Swang” sound colossally gaseous and aimless, with Swae Lee turning in a performance that borders on effortless and thoughtless (a particular skill of his). But with all that laconic glaze comes a smeary, sticky grossness that feels hardly sustainable. Empty calorie pop rap, which is starting to make me puke when I hear it.
[2]

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Future – Mask Off

Flute loops!


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: With help from Frank Dukes, Metro Boomin wraps a melancholy flute melody from 1973’s “Prison Song” around a trap beat, resulting in Future’s most becoming backdrop since 2015’s “Blood on the Money.” As usual he’s obsessed with mumbling and Percoset and mumbling while on Percoset, so take my score as an indication of how well he pulled off the tried and true.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: All credit due to Metro Boomin for the genius use of Tommy Butler’s “Prison Song” that gives us the flute loop that gives “Mask Off” its haunting quality — and thanks to a hot new meme sweeping the internet, has turned “Mask Off” into the biggest (pop) chart hit of Future’s career. Lyrically this is Future in confessional who-I-am mode, which I find his most meaningful; his lyrics pair superbly with Metro Boomin’s track. The way MB flips the sample, though, and pairs it with the contemporary beat, is everything. 
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Wow, that’s a great loop. And up in the front of the mix? That’s a once great rapper phoning it in and doing fuck all. And that there right behind him? That right there is a shitty beat. How long ago was it when this guy actually demonstrated songwriting chops and had bars and more than two flows?
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Future builds quite the exquisite world around that almighty flute, antique yet gleaming like someone had to blow the dust off the treasure. What sticks out of the murk are the proper nouns: Las Vegas, Calamari Wednesdays and Rick James, 23 chains. The rest sink to the bottom of what’s at best a mood piece.
[6]

Katie Gill: This is the most chill rap song that I’ve ever heard. Between Future’s trademark unintelligible mumbling and that relaxing flute solo, “Mask Off” mostly makes me want to do yoga. It’s the weirdest take on “do drugs, get money, started from the bottom now we here” that I’ve heard in ages.
[4]

Joshua Copperman: Every once in a while there’s something like “Fuck Up Some Commas” that’s infectious enough, but I’ve never understood the hype about Future (and even if I did, I’d have to sift through the hundreds of songs in his back catalog — in a recent interview, his engineer Seth Firkins boasted that he and Future recorded vocals for up to ten songs a session — so I wouldn’t know where to start if I wanted to truly understand). Obviously, that’s because Future’s music is not meant for someone like me, but I at least wanted to find out the origin of his appeal. Between Metro Boomin’s beautiful, flute-based beat and Future’s storytelling, I’ve started to understand. As far as I can tell, part of why he’s praised is the melancholic subtext behind even his party anthems, and I can finally see it here. Of course, it’s also the soundtrack to yet another dance #challenge meme; fittingly, the one time I get it, “Mask Off” becomes part of a joke to everyone else. 
[6]

Mark Sinker: Dropping in late on an overcrowded oeuvre, half aware the world is lately underwhelmed at same, I’m drawn mostly to the Canibus-style trudge-loops I loved 15 years gone, all pretty robot flutes dancing in tiny trapped cycles. Future zeroes in something even smaller and more fragmentary — not much more than a couple of cryptic mumbles — and the flutes no longer dance as prettily.
[6]

Monday, April 24th, 2017

IU – Through the Night

…and how do we feel about ballads?


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The age old saga of an artist mistaking softness and acoustics for value in the wake of their pop career. The arrangement’s fine, but if this were anyone but IU, I’d wonder how this got as far as it did. Even then I have to wonder how so boring and generic a song got indicated as a good idea for a single.
[2]

Will Adams: It’s hard to fault “Through the Night” when its delicate acoustics are executed so well (thanks mostly to IU’s up-close singing). I’m just wondering if we’re ever gonna get another “Sogyeokdong.”
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The video helps explain why IU’s singing so soft and why she’s dancing around her words. Her bashfulness gives way to a tender ballad that wraps up her new album nicely. But charming as she makes it, her love letter unravels a little too slow as a first impression for her comeback.
[5]

Madeleine Lee: “Through the Night” falls into the genre of ballad that’s comforting to listen to for its predictability. IU’s delicate singing is always a treat, and it’s the only thing that makes this song stand out; when it’s placed as the second of four consecutive quiet, slow songs on her album’s tracklist, it fades into the background.
[5]

Leonel Manzanares: IU does acoustic, folkish ballads better than almost everyone in K-Pop, but this is far from a back-to-basics approach. There is a deep sense of growth in the cohesion of this track, from the playing of those guitar chord progressions to the sound mixing, and IU’s sweet tone carries the song exquisitely, even when it feels more restrained than usual in this setting. Perhaps “Through the Night” is a bit too long for its own good, but what an effective slow burner it is. 
[7]

Mark Sinker: Whether you’re 15 or 38 or 85, the magnificent, goofy thing about falling in love — or just feeling in love — is that it does two things at once: first is bring you down to the exact same foolish frightened animal level as all the rest of the world; second is (paradoxically) convince you it’s an affair the like of which never was or again will be. IU has been too professionally busy since forever probably to have been the tongue-tied smitten shy newbie outsider the way you or I once were, and only able to converse to her diary about it in burning clichés — but she’s been working, all that same time, as a consummate craftsperson dealing in the source of many of them. This is a song literally made of nothing you haven’t heard elsewhere: her held-in strength as a performer, her precise iron-clad reserve, brings something to it that’s interesting and true, really a kind of fragile anonymity.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: IU is a careful balladeer, and “Through the Night” is characteristically delicate. It is all the more lovely for it. There is no tension in its dappled calm — to my anglophone ears it sounds like spring sun with no hint of twilight — and its art is in the slow-motion glimmers it arranges against a light of brilliant nothing.
[5]

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Clubz – Popscuro

Moderate enthusiasmz!


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: This amalgram of Classix, Kashif, and Italo disco is too mild to offer anything but faint pleasure, but since I’ve played it a half dozen times in the last half hour while on hold with a hotel and talking to my boss I won’t underestimate it further.
[6]

David Sheffieck: This sounds a lot like something I would’ve stumbled upon on SoundCloud five years ago, and I mean that as a compliment. The spacey synths and popping bass are a window to a potential ’70s revival that was snuffed out by Pharrell’s overwhelming influence on our current nostalgia kick; any evocation of the decade since 2013 has been filtered through his take on it. Which means the vibe Clubz evoke doesn’t sound tired: there’s still plenty to excavate, and they’ve latched onto a promising vein of ore. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: One of the weird things about when people from an “indie”-aesthetic attempt to approach older R&B styles is a certain self-conscious desire to do much more than their influences did. Perhaps, if you believe the theory that as retroactive fans they’re interlopers into a genre, they feel that way and have to do something “more” to feel like its their own. In the case of “Popscuro,” really it almost feels like Clubz hit the perfect point of emulating Kashif, but the busy feeling of that bass-part feels like Working At being funky as opposed to just being it. Still, I’m a sucker for any decent unnecessary synth bridge that can sound so wistful.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: The lounge vibes are plenty chic, and the trebley guitar almost works itself up into a nebbish frenzy worthy of Phoenix themselves. I’d be more kindly predisposed if the quite energetic bassline exhibited even the slightest hint of funk; “Popscuro” extends its concern no further than the waist.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Clubz’s candy guitar-funk in “Popscuro” would fare well in the era of mp3 blogs and the rise of bloghaus. But more than the honey-thick keys or the tease of the marimbas, I imagine the duo’s slightly detached presence hitting a chord. Their voices come off as a lonely echo, like the record is an eavesdrop of a shy boy practicing a voicemail he wants to leave.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: As always, I wish as much care was spent on the vocals as the licks. Sorta caps the track at middling Booka Shade vocalist.
[5]

Claire Biddles: A promising start, but the song ultimately drags, feeling way longer than its four minutes — I wished for a stronger vocal to bring interest to the kind of plodding backing.
[4]

Mark Sinker: This is a route New Order should have taken.
[6]