Monday, March 18th, 2019

Vendredi sur Mer – Chewing-Gum

Mais c’est lundi…?


[Video]
[7.12]

David Moore: Disaffected French talk-sing over funky clav — c’est mon herbe à chat, even before the flute floats in.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: All the exact (steely, immense) pleasures of previous single “Écoute Chérie,” plus a synth that’s like trying to make a Game Boy sound louche.
[8]

Alfred Soto: It’s got Andrea True and Black Box Recorder on the brain: blank talk-singing over lovely instrumental filigrees. Air too. This Gallic patisserie could be faster and keep the flute and clavinet.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Sensuous talk-singing is a well-worn French staple but Vendredi sur Mer knows how to make sure it doesn’t sound like tired nostalgia for Chanson of old. The synths dot “Chewing Gum” in an assortment of colors, its many insistent pulses feeling at once urgent and nonchalant. There are splashes of synth chords that ooze warmth, and a mystical flute melody that graces the song for only a short while. Producer Reggie OfMan has created cozy beats for Rejjie Snow and his own solo work, but never have they sounded so dazzling.
[7]

Iris Xie:  My first thought was that the slinky, patient synth, the dominant melody, reminds me of the start of the “Aloof” and “Heavyweight” sections of Bob Fosse’s “Rich Man Frug” choreography, but updated and played at 0.75-times speed. They both have that same slightly sensual but mostly jaunty attitude, where you dance aspirationally to the song to the level of coolness expressed. They also both contain novel metaphors: “Aloof” shows how the elite reinforce imposing power dynamics through a plucked and pretentious guitar and harsh woodwinds, and “Heavyweight” uses boxing match chimes to show how high society throws their weight around (hah), while Vendredi sur Mer goes for something sweeter but as resigned to the circumstance. “Memories, I have tons of them; under the tables our chewing gum” is memorable and concrete, and wraps into tangible details that once traced a carefree connection. Here, the sad disco conceit is elegant and pared down to just the necessary elements — a throbbing bassline and a well-placed flute melody that hits at the heart of longing with the couplets that start with: “J’avais gravé ton nom.” Those two sections also sound like a much better-delivered version of the stilted cadences that are often not used to their fullest power in pop music: e.g. Lady Gaga in “Dance in the Dark.” But overall, the coolness is just accessible enough, especially when Vendredi sur Mer effortlessly breathes “Je crois que s’aimer ne/Je crois que s’aimer ne suffit pas” or “I think that loving each other does not/…I believe that loving oneself is not enough.” The refrain is familiar, and a sentiment that is worn through so many of us. But I could stand to be pierced in the heart again, so as long as I can dance dispassionately in acknowledgement of our collective melancholy, in this space created by “Chewing Gum.” 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Vaguely ’80s-accented synthpop that’s fine, sounds good, and isn’t all that special.
[6]

Iain Mew: A performance sounding as rich as it does cool, gliding across a simple and direct old synth sound; being familiar doesn’t mean it can’t still work. The only disappointment is the moment after a pause when she sounds like she is just about to start rapping and then inexplicably doesn’t.
[7]

David Sheffieck: The bubbly production and sleek vocals play off each other beautifully, and the titular metaphor is quietly heartbreaking. Vendredi sur Mer combines them into an irresistibly catchy sad bop, too cool for a club but perfect for a bedroom dance.
[8]

Monday, March 18th, 2019

TXT – Crown

K-pop’s new kings?


[Video]
[6.14]

Thomas Inskeep: Big Hit’s newest boy band isn’t out to make great art, that’s for sure. This is pure candy-pop unlikely to impress anyone over 25; it’s not bad, just inoffensive and unoriginal.
[3]

Alex Clifton: The first word that comes to mind is “cute,” and I want to stress that I don’t mean that as an insult. We’re heading towards spring — it’s finally nice enough for me to run outside again without freezing my ass off — and “Crown” hits me like a sudden patch of sunshine. I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first, as there’s something about it that struck me as potentially basic for Big Hit’s first big launch post-BTS success. It’s really grown on me though; the chorus has been stuck in my head for a couple of days, which is a sign that it’s doing something right. I find myself comparing TXT so far to other bands — vocalists that sound like BTS’s Jungkook, the spangle of Wanna One’s “Energetic” — which doesn’t give me a solid idea of who TXT are themselves. But if they’ve got more tunes up their sleeve that remind me there is still brightness in the world, I will be excited to hear what they come up with next.
[7]

Anna Suiter: TXT are nothing like their seniors BTS, not even at their most sentimental. TXT gleefully embrace the pitfalls of young love, but the joys of it too. Crown might not be groundbreaking, but it leans so much into the charms of the bright boy band sound that it’s hard to be too picky about the ways it might feel generic otherwise. So I sure do still love it, just as “Crown” loudly declares itself.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The pre-chorus is a nice moment of serenity in an otherwise busy song — the vocal melodies in the chorus, for example, are much livelier than they would seem on paper — but it’s all a bit too perfect. This would go firmly into the “well-crafted but ultimately generic” category of K-pop singles if it weren’t for the bizarre inclusion of the dissonant, morse code beeping in the bridge. It spells out the title, which is cute, but it could’ve spelled out anything and been a delight to hear. It makes the song slightly less pristine: a definite plus.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: Indulgent synths splashing around the careful boyband arrangement had me confused; “Crown” sounds on first listen more like classic J-pop. The contours are carefully delineated and the energy apportioned accordingly. The precision works in its favor, but a rapped second verse with 808 hits and au courant as-libs (“skrrr!”) coincides with a threatened full-on Phil Collins turn towards maximal AOR-bop that never arrives. More’s the pity.
[7]

Alfred Soto: This new boy band’s vocals chops are no big deal even massed, but when they gather ’round to echo the synth string melody with whoa-oh-ohs I get the goose pimples anyway. And are they imitating Migos in those verses? 
[7]

Iris Xie: Sounds like Namie Amuro’s “Golden Touch” but with the production turned up to maximalism, softened, and given more dimension. There’s a sense of the song being passed back and forth between the singers, due to the interplay of the drums and fizzy and spunked out synths. Unfortunately, the vocal melodies are all woefully underpowered to accompany such a bright and rich soundscape, and the lack of fulfilled potential ends up reminding me of other incredibly safe K-Pop boy group songs. I also adore how the bridge has a satellite call signal, which is a underused metaphor and something I haven’t really heard besides ORANGE RANGE’s *Asterisk and TWICE’s Signal. But overall, I understand that TXT trying to go for a vibe of casual joy, but it’s a little underbaked and neatly slots into the mediocre “boba shop genre” playlist I’m building.
[6]

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending March 16, 2019

Did you not get enough Jukebox words this week? Well, check out more!

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Maruv – Siren Song

We’re not entirely enchanted off course…


[Video]
[5.50]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The instrumentation is as cheap and stodgy as most Eurovision fare — just listen to that awkward hi-hat — but “Siren Song” still captivates because of Maruv’s enticing vocals. The post-TNGHT horns aren’t as ubiquitous now, so that helps, but the outro’s half-time breakdown is the real treat: an inescapable vortex that actually feels dangerous. It’s wisely short-lived.
[6]

Ian Mathers: So, nothing about “Siren Song” itself has anything to do with why it won’t be representing the Ukraine at Eurovision… I suspect it’s harder than normal not to over- or underrate the song according to context and your own feelings thereof but before I realized this was that track I found the match between the acoustic guitar loop and the big, basso profundo horns blurting all over the chorus a bit rough. Maybe especially for something like Eurovision I’d have been fine with it being overtly OTT all the time, especially when presented as something irresistible.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Bog standard dance pop whose distinguishing characteristics are a melody that’s closer to Latin pop than the Ukranian singer-songwriter’s roots. Or maybe they are. 
[5]

Katie Gill: Will music ever be able to escape the influence of the Robin Schulz remix of “Prayer In C”? Based on the verses of this song, probably not. Still, it’s a jam! While Eurovision songs often take the route of copying the previous winner’s style, Maruv’s dark and moody spin draws more from the runner up than the actual winner. I doubt it would have won overall, much less placed. But it’s definitely something that I could see in regular rotation in clubs or (more cynically) wordlessly scoring car commercials.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Maruv sets the scene with a soft touch and a refreshingly understated pop vocal. The melody is low pressure, and the production on the single is playful but dexterous. Overall, a fun and tasteful break from the American vein of overproduced and overwritten siren songs.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: Excise the groan-worthy references to “devil’s door” and the atmospheric bits that just pad out the valleys between the drops, and you’ve got yourself a dense little core packing a heady, menacing swagger. If you don’t mind your rhyming couplets a tad insipid, the big centerpiece is nearly worth the surrounding fluff.
[5]

Iris Xie: The thuds sound like farts, and the horns sound like announcements to those farts. Combined with the timed “uhs!” and I’m just overwhelmed by how it sounds like an anthem to queefing, and who better to deliver it than an Ukrainian ice electro queen who refuses to be a political pawn? Does this make it a bad song? No, maybe? but I also can’t unhear any of this now. The outro is clattery and forced in a way that suits the exit. (Am I going to regret writing this blurb? I’m submitting it anyway)
[5]

Alex Clifton: When we covered Sunmi’s “Siren” a few months ago, I wrote that sirens should be memorable. At the time I didn’t care much for the song, but over the next few weeks it made itself a nice little nest in my brain with that breathy “la-la-la-la-la” hook. Like sirens, I think good Eurovision entries should be memorable. Think of Moldovan Saxophone Guy, Verka Serduchka’s entire “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” performance, or the way Jamala’s voice cracks in “1944.” All those stick. I know Ukraine has had to withdraw from this year’s competition due to political issues, but I can’t say I would have seen this get past the semi-final stage. The only bit I end up remembering is that trombone-y synth that stabs repeatedly in the background. The rest, including Maruv’s vocals, are sadly forgettable. If this were playing from an island to tempt me to go off-course as a sailor, I would be able to ignore it pretty easily.
[3]

Friday, March 15th, 2019

The National – You Had Your Soul With You

Ooh, you had your soul with you…


[Video]
[5.20]

Joshua Copperman: I Am Easy To Find is the most challenging The National have been to date, for both intentional reasons and some less intentional ones. All the hallmarks of a great National song are here: production loaded with ear candy (like that guitar line or the third time they’ve abruptly entered a string interlude), Bryan Devendorf’s torrential downpour of snares. But Gail Ann Dorsey merely fills in for Matt Berninger on the bridge rather than complementing him, and the lyrics, written by Matt’s wife Carin Besser with Thomas Bartlett, sound increasingly like self-parody — “I had only one last feather left/I wore it on the island of my head” is like someone threw Boxer into a neuralnet. High Violet has aged well because its songs were whittled down into their best possible forms, the band’s internal tension giving way to external effortlessness. I Am Easy To Find has elements of that effortlessness, but this first single is one of a few moments where high-budget gimmicks just barely elevate mid-tier National songs. Yet, they do.
[8]

Alfred Soto: The National record music for men who order Pink Rabbits on weekends and smoke too many cigarettes when their wives “let” them go to concerts. No National single lacks for odd hooks: here, the distorted guitar figure ping-ponging between speakers, an ace string section interlude, and the usual Bryan Devendorf kinetics behind the drum kit. Momentum and an attractively meaningless title — ho hum, another National single.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: So, what is this — rather, what was this supposed to be? Dry, cluttered electronics under heavily-compressed drums under a soppy string arrangement under a nursery-rhyme melody: none of these pieces fit together. The more you listen, the more incomprehensible details float groggily to the surface. Why does it feel like they forgot to unmute the bass track before exporting? Why are the hi-hats exiled to the edges of human perception? Why feature a guest vocalist if you’re not going to let her do anything? Perhaps the most confusing part is that The National could’ve easily continued selling out stadiums for decades to come by just writing High Violet over and over again, which shouldn’t be hard given that from 2005 to 2013 they basically released one really good album four times with increasing amounts of reverb. That’s not the outcome I dream about for a band I have this much emotional investment in, but I’d rather daydream about that than listen to this awkward pileup.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: This doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard recently; it sounds original, the sound of a band in the studio doing lots of things they’ve never tried before because they’ve realized they can. And on this song at least, the National can — this is dynamite, especially drum-wise. And that’s before the unexpected vocal appearance of Gail Ann Dorsey, whose rich, full voice initially sounds as if dropped in from another song. And her harmonizing with Matt Berninger is gorgeous.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Matt Berninger’s rich baritone was always one of The National’s big draws, or at least one of the only things that made them stand out. The other: Bryan Devendorf’s ability to make his drums sound simultaneously austere and elastic. Removing one of these elements isn’t a complete dealbreaker, but the skittering electronics here are shallow ornamentations that show how the band is running out of ideas.
[3]

Vikram Joseph: Bryan Devendorf’s percussion has always been the National’s secret weapon, giving their songs a skittish, propulsive anxiety that tessellates perfectly with Matt Berninger’s strange metaphors and sad non-sequiturs. But despite its kineticism, it feels effortless, an integral part of the song. On “You Had Your Soul With You”, the percussion becomes a jarring, distracting sideshow, as if it and the jittery synths are pursing each other around the back of a stage while a key expository scene unfolds in the foreground. It’s no coincidence that the strongest part by far is the lush, string-soaked middle eight, where guest vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey delivers the best line in the song: “You have no idea how hard I died when you left.” Her vocals fold beautifully into Berninger’s, and the many female guest slots on the forthcoming album bode well (who can forget the shatteringly beautiful duet between Berninger and Annie Clark on their cover of “Sleep All Summer”?). The band’s clumsy, scattershot use of electronics, however, does not.
[5]

Josh Love: I feel like a hypocrite pushing back against this brighter, more dynamic iteration of The National after I’d gotten so ground down by their miserablist shades of gray that I didn’t even bother giving their last album a fair shake (and I counted myself a big fan even up to and including Trouble Will Find Me). Still, “You Had Your Soul With You” just sounds like Vampire Weekend’s or St. Vincent’s nervy, busy aesthetics lazily grafted onto Matt Berninger’s solemn vocal burr.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: A genuinely striking intro — those 15 seconds of jerky guitar panning are both arresting and a great test of whether one of your earbuds has crapped out — built on the watery foundation of a song by Coldplay, or for that matter The National. The former sinks into the mush; the latter twitches with the fripperies too much to swoon.
[5]

Iris Xie: “You Had Your Soul With You” just reminds me of the discomfort of trying to listen through some of my brother’s early ’00s alt rock as a 10-year-old, and trying to understand what was so good and “adult” about it, and was I missing something? (The answer is no.) This sounds like someone trying to make a drum and bass track, but with… actual instruments? The sensation of listening to this song is like watching a Windows Media Player equalizer move and shudder around, and you pay more attention to the little spiky discrepancies than the song. I do like the post-chorus instrumental where the discordant drum work suddenly opens up, like the sun after the rain has ended, but then the muddiness resumes. Combine this with a smooth but slightly suffocated delivery, and I feel messier and scattered than before I started listening to the song. I guess that suits the lyrics, but the song sounds unclear, even to itself.
[5]

Iain Mew: For all the superficial electronic additions, it sounds vital in a classic, immediately familiar way that The National haven’t in a while. Matt Berninger is once again a man suspended in crisis, picking his way between collapsing velvet walls in total calm while the drums tell of secret adrenaline surges. Well, the first half does anyway. The second half is new in a different way, with its open expanses, Gail Ann Dorsey guest vocals and accelerating string arrangement that had me searching “You Had Your Soul With You” + “Owen Pallett.” They each work, but the resulting feeling is a bit awkward: two contrasting styles of “return to form,” squashed into one track.
[6]

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Dave – Black

It’s pronounced six-lack.


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

Nortey Dowuona: A deep plush row of piano chords swirl around a rumbling, thunderous set of drums as Dave patiently, carefully and craftily pulls the vivid shades of black that color his life, his music and his family.
[9]

Vikram Joseph: It is, frankly, extraordinary that BBC Radio 1 DJs had to defend their decision to play this song, because none of this should be remotely controversial. It’s gripping, raw and quietly furious, certainly, but whether diving deep into black history or examining his day-to-day experience as a black person, everything that Dave raps on “Black” feels thoughtful, considered and contextualised. It’s sombre and restrained musically, just an unfolding piano figure and a shuffling, dignified beat, which has the effect of foregrounding Dave’s poetry — if this was a Kendrick Lemar song it’d be sonically more adventurous, more abrasive, but you get the feeling Dave’s not interested in that, or at least not here. Some observations stick with me particularly; “Black is so confusing, ‘cos our culture? They in love with it; they take our features when they want and have their fun with it,” refers to the fetishisation and appropriation of black people for profit, sex and humour. Remember the white “liberals” who got upset about the idea that perhaps they don’t have the inalienable right to use gifs and memes with black people in for comedy value? Presumably, they’re the ones phoning the BBC saying that “Black” is — wait for it — racist against white people. What makes “Black” special is Dave’s ability to trace prejudice and inequality (“working twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than”) back through time, to broken nations, disrupted history and severed family trees, while grounding it in the present and in a message that is, despite everything, positive. The response to it, of course, completely validates the need for its existence.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lyrics are potent and ever-relevant on their own, and Dave commands attention as if he’s speaking to everyone and specifically you at the same time. Because of this, the decision to have these melodramatic strings and piano melodies drive his message home is upsetting — there is absolutely no need for heavy lifting from extralyrical elements.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: UK Rap regressing to the Swiss/Klashnekoff/Black Twang era isn’t exactly a promising direction. Musically, “Black” might be one of the most bleak and pragmatic singles that’ll emerge over the year, relying on the most rudimentarily placating approach. Content-wise however, there’s no denying Dave’s done well at making something poignant and powerful to convey a positive and complex message. Perhaps not every offering should have to push boundaries or challenge expectations in the sonic realm, but sometimes it’s sad to think that impressing upon society is the only way to feel you can make an impression these days.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Backed by a snapping snare, a mournful string section, and a simple piano melody, Dave raps a treatise on being black on “Black,” and it’s heavy and beautiful. His lyrics are meant to be the star here, and they are; fortunately, he’s an ace rapper and delivers these lines in just the right cadence to get them across. This isn’t a fun record, but it’s a fine one, and an important one.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The table-setting for “Black,” all pianos and strings and vaguely martial drumbeats, gave me the wrong indication on first listen. Instrumental tropes like these, especially when employed on a song about deeper socio-political issues, tend to hint at a deep corniness — I was half expecting a soaring R&B chorus to come in whenever Dave took a pause between verses. But the reason why “Black” works is that he refrains from that obvious sentimentality. His affect is almost businesslike as his walks through the realities of his identity as a Black Brit, unpacking complex dynamics with neither an oversimplifying touch nor the self-righteousness of many a conscious MC.
[8]

Alfred Soto: A monologue with a half-interesting backup, as half-interesting as many of Solange’s similar expressions of self-worth. 
[3]

Iris Xie: This sounds like “Black Gold”‘s younger, more moody brother. The plaintive piano notes, the violin strings, and the heartfelt sincerity make me feel like I’m all the way back in the early 2000s sound-wise, and the flow is dogged to prove all of its points. The lyrics also have ace references and the lived experience permeates all throughout it. I don’t really have much else to say other than I nod in agreement, and appreciate Dave’s unapologetic statements.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Black” reminds me of Meek Mill’s post-prison run when his releases were driven intensely by something inside telling him he had to make it, not at all concerned whether it had hooks or whatever else that would make it a proper song. Not that Dave can’t rap here: he handles his chosen topic delicately, and his verses maintain depth in content without having to resort to filler lines as buffer to keep the complexity of the rhyme schemes. It is a glum listen by design, though, and the maudlin piano beat makes that intended glumness a little too clear.
[5]

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Benny Blanco, Tainy, Selena Gomez & J Balvin – I Can’t Get Enough

Us, on the other hand…


[Video]
[2.71]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Reggaeton with all the sensuality removed and inexplicably replaced with an antiseptic sheen. The vocal sample and twinkling sound effects are cute, but they run contrary to the steamy lyrics. Based off the middle eight, the goal may have been to create a song more dreamy than palpable, but the beat’s thrust is too rigid and unsexy to convince listeners of any emotion or feeling.
[2]

Iris Xie: I don’t understand how Selena Gomez can say “I can’t get enough,” because she sounds like she’s having the most boring sex of her life here, complete with a muffled toy-kazoo beat that is supposed to represent lust? (Maybe if her lust was made out of styrofoam.) Understatement does not have to mean anonymity, but the blankness is dominant, and the shoutout of “Latino gang” has more form and is more energetic than the actual features themselves. Props to the audio engineer though, here Gomez doesn’t sound hoarse. 
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Everyone sounds like everyone else’s second choice here — even the synths sound deflated. Who asked for this, anyways?
[3]

Alfred Soto: Wait, this is reggaeton? Naggingly deployed stutter-mumble, Balvin channeling Pitbull (“Vamo’ a calenatar” — with what, a toaster?), the production as erotic as day-old sushi.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Talk about Spotify-core: start with a vaguely Latin EDM/pop beat (in this case, a kind of reggaeton shuffle), add English-language choruses and Spanish-language verses, and PRESTO! Worldwide Spotify domination. Shame that it’s all so dull. And that the English-language singer is Selena Gomez. And that Benny Blanco wouldn’t know a good beat if it hit him in the face.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: It’s hard to find the words to describe a song that leaves as little a mark as this one. I’m always game for more bilingual songs gaining traction in American pop music, but this sounds more like electro-elevator than electro-pop and I’m growing pretty tired of Selena’s robotic coos on every one of these tracks. Find a new singer, find a new style, find better lyrics (you’re not in the clear, J Balvin), just try harder.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: “I Can’t Get Enough,” Except Every Time Someone Thinks They’re About to Interpolate the Depeche Mode Song Selena’s Vocal Track Gets Clipped a Little Shorter
[4]

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Blueface ft. Cardi B – Thotiana (Remix)

How much Blueface is enough?


[Video]
[5.67]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The problem with all these “Thotiana” remixes is that the featured artists water down the thrill of the original with 1) longer runtimes and 2) more traditional rapping. Cardi B’s energy is magnetic and her verse is relentlessly pornographic to fit the song’s themes, but it’s a net loss with all things considered.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The original “Thotiana” was a perfect candidate for fluke rap hit of the year: its beat, a candy-encrusted LA facsimile, was undeniable, its hook deeply memeable, and Blueface’s verses on the right side of amateurish. Yet the song’s remix, which brings in Cardi B to double down on the cartoonish sex rap of the original, improves on the formula simply by having less Blueface except where absolutely necessary. Where he played lines like “I’m every woman’s fantasy” with a half wink, unsure whether to come off like an actual sex god or a meme of one, Cardi fully commits to the horniness of her verse, taking lines that I’m not sure I can quote without sounding deranged and giving them such a confidence that they come off as normal boasts. On “Thotiana,” Blueface sets out the original outrageous claim, but it’s Cardi that does the work of shifting the Overton window right into it.
[7]

Crystal Leww: The original is easily a [8], if only for it’s weird, off-beat (literally) energy. The song’s concept has been done to death, from Juvenille to Sage the Gemini, and Blueface adds his own, completely serviceable entry to the mix. A remix with a Cardi B verse to add a big name is wholly unnecessary and slightly worse than the original. Still good though, if only because of Blueface’s weird charm. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: One reason I enjoy Blueface so much is that, at a time in which many of rap’s most popular figures are using melody to push their flow into new places, his deliberately akimbo delivery turns his words into abrasive protruberances. There’s a transgressive pleasure in hearing something so ugly. The “Thotiana” remix has a lot of Cardi B, whose Bronx vowels make her stand out in a different way, which means it has less Blueface: a loss, to be sure. It still has his percussive hook, however, which he likely repeats so often because it’s really fun to say. It’s paired with a drifting and addictively simple piano line that gives the song a hazy, late-night feel; it belongs on the freeway home as much as it does to the strip club. The combination of theme and beat is a malleable one, and I’d be happy to hear a dozen rappers over it. Bring back the posse cut — and then bring back Blueface.
[8]

Iris Xie: If disorganization is the destination, “Thotiana” works, with the way the compressed slings of the rhyme work with the tinny piano, the bass, the hazy bells, and that it goes against the beat. But with the vocal tracks on top, it gets more confusing: Blueface sounds like he’s weaving and drifting through the track — either with ease or he’s hella faded? Cardi B pumps the track with charisma and conviction, as usual, solidifying her reliability as a stamp of approval, but she sounds like she’s tripping a bit towards the last few bars of her section. But honestly, I think this song is probably best enjoyed with a slower cognition, either from being high or from sleep deprivation, to smooth it all out into coherence and to take in properly how the beats step up and down. 
[6]

David Moore: “Thotiana” is shaping up to be this year’s “Slide,” the song where every iteration after the original improves it in some new way, leading to an embarrassment of riches from unexpected corners and viewpoints and reinterpretations. Except this one’s not quite embarrassing yet, as the riches aren’t breaking free from the original, which itself isn’t as provocative as FBG Duck’s “Slide” was as a foundation and also has way too much Blueface left in it (which is one reason why Nicki’s and Young M.A.’s versions are more interesting). Here Cardi strides commandingly through another leg of her featured credit imperial phase without breaking a sweat.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: In case you’re not sure just how bad a rapper Blueface is, listen to him vs guest Cardi B on this remix of “Thotiana” — he’s just half-talking, mumbling his way over the track, while she rides its rhythm with flair. If this were just Blueface’s record I’d give it a [1], but at least Cardi’s parts are listenable. Trash this and listen to “Please Me” another time.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Is there some way that I can explain to whomever of the half-dozen labels that Blueface is supposedly contracted to that we liked the clips from the viral songs that Twitter boosted, not his flat and lifeless radio singles? Already on it’s 2nd remix, “Thotiana” isn’t even the most exciting club record in the (admittedly sparse) Blueface catalog, let alone out of LA in the last couple years, but it’s apparently worth flogging to death in spite of the generic quality of the beat and the generally underperforming Blueface verse. Cardi, to her credit, is a significant boost for the record, but even that can’t float this dead weight.
[3]

Will Rivitz: A slightly better “Look Alive,” where the high-profile feature is so domineering that the track suffers because of it. I can forgive Drake, because he’s so thoroughly unable to not be Drake that his verse on Blocboy JB’s sleeper hit is unremarkable, but Cardi, who has demonstrated her exceptional malleability time and time again, should have been able to play off Blueface’s immutable Bluefaceness in a more interesting manner. The Cali rapper’s original is tight, goofy, and syntactically stellar, a cute Fiat chugging along the highway; Cardi’s Maserati diminishes its charm.
[5]

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Summer Walker x Drake – Girls Need Love (Remix)

But do they need a remix?


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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Summer Walker’s yearning is so pure that Drake comes off as only slightly sleazy as he sells her on “dick with no complications.” This is a vibe record so unassailable and nondescript that not even Drake can capsize or colonize it — there’s barely a song for him to take over, just two smooth singers not talking about much.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Girls Need Love” finally feels complete: with Drake’s sentimental crooning, we witness the tragedy that comes with being discouraged from declaring one’s desire for love. For some, Drake is the closest thing to an understanding partner they’ll ever hear. Others will see through him, yet remain content with settling — the seeming impossibility of filling a loveless void can lead to chasing hollow romance. Arsenio Archer’s unhurried beat situates listeners in a 3am haze, like someone recognizing the small pleasure and underwhelming banality of intimacy mid-coitus. It’ll do. After all, why would you think you could do better?
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Tobi Tella: The original was one of my favorite songs of last year, an incredibly honest slow jam. I love the pointing out of the double standard, how guys can talk about wanting a girl all they want but when a woman does it, it’s clingy and desperate. It felt like an honest declaration from the heart. But then Drake jumped on it, attempting to be the “thug” the lyrics describe despite his hardest bars of last year being about taking medication to sleep on a flight, and I just tune out. Summer Walker, I know girls need love but like… does it have to be from him?
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Ryo Miyauchi: Summer Walker deserves better than a sleepwalking Drake for this remix, though his lack of engagement also underlines the song’s point that men don’t listen to women and their needs. Drake also subtly cosigns the song’s woozy, screwed-up R&B production that he brought in his wake, and Walker provides a nice counter to the male narrative often accompanied by that aesthetic. She sounds trapped, unable to realize her own desires, in an emotionally suffocating OVO-informed world. That said, the beat’s slow crawl kills a lot of the energy put forth by Walker, who needs to ditch this passive-aggressive sound to really speak her mind.
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Ian Mathers: Ah, the paradox of Fucking Drake; I almost certainly wouldn’t have heard this perfectly fine song without his presence getting it more attention, but the version without him is absolutely better.
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Iris Xie: Drake is the equivalent of a slow jam snake who seeps into the airwaves and provides faux warmth. Also, dammit Drake, why do you always got to make it all about you? “You don’t really call on me like you should,” like really? He is re-directing himself as a symbol of that desire that could fulfill that need? I’m so sick of how his singing lulls listeners into a false sense of comfort that smooths over the really insidious lyrics he continues to sing, creating an aural sensation of premium fuckboy. This song is also saddening, if only because Summer Walker’s lines about “girls can’t say” are unfortunately very true (thanks for reinforcing said bullshit, misogyny and sexism!) There’s also a moment where Summer Walker sings, “Please don’t get in your feelings” to take a stab at him to not get feelings, because he’s just as fallible too. But that little jab is overshadowed by Drake, for his narrative is practically omnipresent. He is still being the nice guy who will fuck her and give her what she needs, no sweat, he understands when he sings, “I get it, I’m on your side, guys get their way all the time.” But we get no sense of aftermath — this is just a fantasy for a vacuum-sealed desire, set to a Ziploc bag of airless alt-R&B. Sure, a girl can fuck like a guy too, what a tired trope, but even that sense of agency is skewed. Why? Because Drake always manages to warp it back to re-centering around him, always him, “I get it, I’m on your side, guys get their way all the time.” We don’t get her reply afterward, just a re-iteration of her original desire, “Girls need love, too,” now overshadowed because it fits so neatly inside of his ability to give in such precise ways that are convenient to him and his desires. This is meant to be an ode to consensual mutual sex without feels, but “Girls Need Love” comes off as a display of Drake’s special brand of opportunism. 
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Katherine St Asaph: Summer Walker’s part is low-key to a fault, as if turning her “lazy singing Drake” into an entire career pitch. Drake remains Drake: lazy singing, waiting three whole seconds before saying the words “like you should.” But he’s finally found a duet partner as soporific as he is. How is this a track where she mentions screaming and he mentions BDSM, yet from beat to vocals, everything sounds like they find foreplay a little too strenuous?
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Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Tierra Whack – Only Child

And we conclude our Songs Whose Subheads We Can Vaguely Tie To The Idea Of Parents Wednesday (we’ve had more cohesive theme days), something we like a bit more…


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Julian Axelrod: Tierra Whack made her name on small songs — not just the bite-sized bops on her breakout Whack World, but vignettes that inspect everyday problems through a surreal storybook sheen. So while “Only Child” tacks on a few minutes to her average song length, it still feels small-scale, like a fight you’d overhear walking through Target. The concept of “only child syndrome” was weirdly omnipresent in my last relationship: Every time my partner and I would argue about where to eat or what movie to watch, they’d fall back on their lack of siblings as an excuse for being stubborn. The issue was a tiny bug that got under my skin over time, much like this unassuming earworm burrowed into my brain. It’s simultaneously scathing and empathetic, gleeful and morose, a deathly serious standup routine. Above all, it’s a minor-key sentiment from a major talent.
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Alfred Soto: My mistake for missing Whack World eight months ago. The ease with which the Philadelphia teen changes timbres and approaches is impressive, and after dealing in minute-long vignettes it’s a pleasure to listen to a four-minute track she sustains without strain. 
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Josh Love: Tierra Whack has already demonstrated a level of conceptual bravado that ensures she’s worthy of notice. Four times lengthier than anything on Whack World, “Only Child” is a fairly promising indication her work will translate to more conventional formats and structures, though I can’t say for certain she can reward attention for an hour or even 40 minutes (though, to be fair, maybe that won’t be her goal). In keeping with the general thrust of Whack World, “Only Child” is a vehicle for its creator’s colorful personality and admirable ear for a hook (I’ve been singing “I should work at Friendly’s” in my head for days) that nonetheless doesn’t offer you many places musically to get lost. Basically, she’s a theater kid, like Chance or Tyler; their shtick has had a relatively short shelf life for me, but I’m cautiously optimistic Whack proves more resilient.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Only Child” leaves me skeptical about how well Tierra Whack can craft songs that are longer than a minute. On Whack World, the songs were quasi-interesting because they were vignettes, the dearth of ideas readily apparent if one imagined any track stretched to longer runtimes. This is baby-voiced twee with a backing track fit for lullabies. More than anything, it reminds me of work by various Chicago rappers if they were less charismatic.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Only Child” is the sound of Tierra Whack playing with her food. She’s been more focused than this before– when you release a tape of minute-long tracks, you learn precision well. But “Only Child” represents the Philly rapper at her most creative. She stacks two gorgeous hooks– one rapped, the other crooned– on top of each other, barely leaving space for verses. But when those verses come, they’re almost hookier than the hooks themselves, full of quick flow changes and charming turns of phrase. It’s an almost effortless flex, the kind of warm-up loosie that’s more telling than an album track.
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Thomas Inskeep: Not nearly as good a rapper as she thinks she is.
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Nortey Dowuona: Pulsing, bulbous synths linger behind a skipping drum beat as Tierra coos, hisses and snarks over it.
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Iris Xie: Slam the door in the face of your arrogant lover who starred in Post Malone x Swae Lee’s “Sunflower”, take over the chill downtempo vibe, and propel yourself into your own narrative, and that’s “Only Child.” I see “Only Child” as a direct reply song to “Sunflower,” and the simpering coos and pleading has dissolved into selfish inattention. The protagonist of “Only Child”‘s irritation boils over into personal attacks about his childhood history, held loosely by the measured beats and the little flourishes Whack adds throughout. The lines “Used to arch my back for you and now I’m your arch-nemesis/All men should be feminists, Donald Trump fucks immigrants/I don’t want to work it out, so cancel our gym membership” are fun, political, and witty, but the line “Darling, darling, I’m praying for you” stands out for its caustic compassion, of trying so hard to be nice and understanding while suppressing bitterness. If I were the music supervisor for Insecure, I would definitely play this song for the next messy post-breakup crying scene, overlaid with all the permutations of dysfunctional lovers. 
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Iain Mew: Repeated pleas of “what about me” and assorted low-key jabs send one message, but the philosophical tone and the placid, lovely loop send another. It’s not a song that sounds detached from the situation, exactly. It’s just she gives it a perspective that suggests its attachment is a tether that has now extended all the way out into space. 
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