Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending January 18, 2020

Our writers have some more words for you to read this weekend!

  • Tone Glow, Joshua Minsoo Kim’s newsletter about experimental music, featured an interview with accomplished cellist Charles Curtis: “The process of learning for me has been intensive rather than extensive and I think that’s why I’ve stayed so closely in touch with a handful of composers and musicians, working over and over on the same pieces.”
  • Iain Mew wrote about Dogz, an ahead-of-its-time computer pet simulator, and what the game can tell us about the Internet of 1997 and 2020: “Dogz is not quite Farmville, but it begins to sketch out a space for all sorts of future approaches.”
Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Davido feat. Wurld, Naira Marley & Zlatan – Sweet in the Middle

And we close our week with a Nigerian all-star party jam.


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: If there’s any justice in this world, Davido will go down as one of the most crucial pop stars of the 2010s. His importance to Nigerian pop music is hard to overstate, and part of it is for how his countless collaborations have a tendency to bring out the best of every artist involved. Here, there’s a smart sequencing that sandwiches Naira Marley and Zlatan’s typically amelodic verses between sweeter crooning. Like so many other Davido singles, it goes down so smooth that by the time it ends you underestimate how much has actually happened. There’s a depth to the sweet talk; you can sense it in their contrasting vocal timbres, in the tenderness with which they work with the production.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Pop says it deals in sweetness, but it’s usually a saccharin. It’s hard to sing about sweetness and evoke taste, rather than anticipation. But it has been done, and it’s done here. Vybz, by the way, gets a shout-out from Marley; he’s demanding, Zlatan’s the sensualist, Wurld’s dreaming, and Davido is detached. It ends up being an idealistic, piano-padded version of “Int’l Players Anthem,” without any of the rancid bits.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Sweet on all sides, and just about every instrumental ingredient too. Naira Marley’s verse is the one that sticks out, and I’m not sure if it’s for good or bad reasons — his sounds the most different, but I also think his (relatively mild, sure) dick (having) and pussy (getting) bragging is a little out of sync in an otherwise fun and playful party lover song. What does feel in sync is Wurld referring to a lover as “my sweet potato.” I love this line, and I love this song for giving it to me.
[8]

Iain Mew: Too consistently sweet can turn to sickly, and begins to as Davido and Wurld don’t deviate from a groove too soft to stick with for that long. Relief comes from Zlatan, who provides something sour in the middle.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: After many years of autotune being in so many songs, I’m still surprised when artists find a way to make it work. In “Sweet in the Middle”, Davido’s autotuned vocals pair perfectly with the soft beat, partly because his vocal melody is also very delicate and seductve. The rap verses make this song more dynamic — although I would have loved if they were more integrated to the song!
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Upbeat, buoyant Afrobeat from one of its kings, featuring rap cameos that actually make sense and don’t feel dropped in from another song; I especially like the way that Wurld piggybacks off Davido’s lyrics. The groove is nice & summery, and Davido’s singing, as ever, just sounds so lithe.
[7]

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Alanis Morissette – Reasons I Drink

“Habits (Stay Hydrated)”…


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

Will Adams: Alanis Morissette doing her own version of “Habits (Stay High)”: better than you’d expect! There’s a bit of melodrama — the plonking piano; the “here we are!” that reminds me of “Alone”; too much reverb — that undercuts the seriousness of the lyrics. Like “Ironic,” the crux of the song is that it betrays its own title. The reasons in question are never given, and that’s the point; when drinking becomes just another thing you do every day, there’s no longer any justification needed. You do it because it’s what you’ve always done. The song scratches at that terrifying thought, but not quite enough.
[6]

Brad Shoup: That pounding piano! Thought Morissette and Alex Hope were giving us a Bareilles banger. But it settles into a circuit, content to support a typically wonderful, messy Morissette text. She draws the line between wanting and needing a drink, and all around this axis she plots these little asides about being Alanis: being rich and symbolic and an entertainer. When she hollers you can tell she’s listening to Top 40 with a real curiosity; when she slams into the chorus you can hear Heart.
[9]

Alex Clifton: I really love how the piano line sounds like it was stolen from a Sara Bareilles track, mostly because that’s not what I ever expected from Alanis. In fact, if Alanis didn’t have such a distinctive voice, I might’ve guessed that Sara Bareilles wrote this on a (very dark) bad day. Jagged Little Pill was such a landmark album in the 90s in part because Morissette is so good at channelling naked emotion through her voice, and while this doesn’t sneer like some of her older material, it’s still got some bite. “Even though I’ve been busted/I don’t know where to draw the line ’cause that groove has gotten so deep” strikes me particularly hard, if only because I have my own finely-worn ruts of maladaptive coping skills. Reckless behaviour comes easy after a while. Admitting you’re destroying yourself is harder. I can’t tell if the jauntiness of this song is meant as a distraction from the content of the lyrics, or if it’s ironically detached. Either way, it sounds good.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: Despite the familiarity of the chord progressions and rhythmic piano jabs, Alanis Morissette’s longstanding disdain for rhyme schemes and her bracing vocal high-wire act — belting this out like a showtune — keep “Reasons I Drink” sounding slightly off-kilter. She’s still such an unusual lyricist — a lot of her lines here are blunt to the point of being slightly uncomfortable (“nothing can give me a break from this torture like they do”) but then there’s a peculiar, dramatic declaration about buying a Lamborghini, and intonation that makes “sick industry” sound like “sick in the street”, and a chorus that crams in “long overdue respite” for, really, no good reason. In both its strangeness and familiarity it feels a bit like a ’90s anachronism, but for better or worse it’s definitely her anachronism.
[6]

Leah Isobel: I believe that pop music is inseparable from its context. A great pop song pinpoints its performer in that moment and then transcends it; through performance, phrasing and word choice, its images and ideas grow bigger until they become abstract symbols. It’s tempting to write a song in those big, abstract platitudes, but the specificity has to come first or else it’s meaningless. Here Alanis demonstrates that it’s also tempting to only write the specifics, and in doing so creates a piece of musical theatre without a play to hang itself on.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Another discovery on our mutual march to inevitable death; it is possible to be genuinely happy to see an artist from your earlier years still doing their thing and to discover their thing is no longer anything you yourself need to listen to, and these things don’t contradict each other at all!
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lyrics are far from her most memorable works, but her voice flagellates enough to create large, theatrical swells. She justifies the staid piano chord plinks, transforming the song into a martial anthem for the adult contemporary set.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The 2010s-now-2020s are bad — blistering take I know — but when did they get so bad that an alarming number of musicians are finding escapism, or at least career pivots, in the most saccharine, jaunty piano stomps that sound remarkably like Emeli Sande’s “Next to Me”? To be fair, “Reasons I Drink” also sounds a great deal like Heart’s “Alone” and fun. — and if we’re really being honest and damn the connotations, Amanda Palmer circa Who Killed Amanda Palmer — but what it doesn’t particularly sound like is an Alanis song. It’s written like an Alanis song, obviously. The subject — drinking being crushing and fun, the music industry being crushing and more crushing, millennial burnout as experienced first by Gen X — aren’t novel, for Alanis or anyone. But what other songwriter would crash the word “medicated” out of the scansion, or decide at the last possible minute to throw into her chorus something about getting lit, or generally grover together so many bad writing habits that the result is an unmistakable individual voice? (No, the answer to that last one isn’t me.) But it’s not an ideal Alanis song, not least because Alanis at her peak, when writing a song called “Reasons I Drink,” would produce an itemized list of 55.
[5]

Josh Langhoff: These are 21 things that I want in an Alanis song. 1) Indifference to rhyme. 2) Indifference to making syllabic stresses line up with musical accents. 3) The sense that this “indifference” is actually a formal choice. 4) The sense that these formal choices are actually, partly, trolling. 5) Along those lines, heretofore unsingable phrases like “give reprieve” and “long overdue respite.” 6) Likewise, weird slang (“lily pad”???) that I’m guessing nobody else uses but maybe I’m wrong because Canada. 7) Vocal hectoring. 8) Also braying. 9) Several different vocal timbres per song. 10) But at least one of them should be obnoxious, they can’t just be variations on breathiness. 11) Gigantic hooks… [Note: So far so good!] 12) … that don’t sound like anyone else’s. (I’m hearing Heart’s “Alone” in the chorus, and my wife spotted Emeli Sandé in the piano groove.) 13) If they do sound like someone else’s, at least the possibility that such copycatting poured forth as part of the same unfiltered spew as the words. 14) Vocal treatment that doesn’t obscure the word “respite” because we pay to hear that shit. 15) I mean come on — does she have to sound like she’s trying so hard for a Hot AC add? 16) Still, I love that her idea of retail therapy is buying a Lamborghini rather than a car anyone in the past 20 years has thought about. 17) Evidence that we’re around the same age and level of self-awareness. 18) The sense that she’s trying too hard to fuck with structural paradigms. 19) Motherfucking lists, baby! 20) A whiff of unrealized ambitions, because that’s just Life.
[8]

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Mura Masa with Slowthai – Deal Wiv It

From Guernsey; from Northampton (but he’s also lived in Scunthorpe)…


[Video][Website]
[6.08]

Vikram Joseph: Well, this was more fun than I’d anticipated. Over a brash, bassy Mura Masa beat, Slowthai — irrepressible, ridiculous, hugely endearing — dismisses a series of grievances at short order, and runs through a few of his own for good measure (“People say they’re busy, well FFUUCCKK OFFFF!”). It sounds a bit like a 2020 grime-punk update of “Parklife”, but whereas you’d cross the road to avoid Phil Daniels’ narrator, you’d happily spend Saturday afternoon drinking with Slowthai.
[7]

Brad Shoup: I legit laughed at “that’s deep innit”. Mura Masa gives a plain bass progression riff heft and spikes, and it’s a shame Slowthai couldn’t really push things to absurdity. He tells me to deal with, like, ten things. I wish he’d gone for sixty and made them as picayune as possible.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: A fantastic oversaturated bass-and-guitar arrangement in search of about 150% more quotable punchlines.
[6]

Iain Mew: Slowthai’s matter-of-fact forcefulness is engaging and he has some good lines on gentrification and other change. Any through line gets ripped away by Mura Masa, though, cutting everything up to push it into a monochrome, barely-as-spiky “Parklife.” 
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Slowthai is so goddamn British-sounding that you have no choice but to consider “Parklife” and The Prodigy as precedent. But the nervous funk of Mura Masa’s beat and the tense way that Slowthai chants his lines ends up sounding more like middle American early new wave, a more muscular David Byrne or a sedated Mothersbaugh. It works more than I would expect, an unlikeable song that’s brazen enough to loop back around to charming.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: As much as it sounds like someone has dusted off an old, mislabelled “Parklife (Audio Bullys Remix)” MP3, “Deal Wiv It” has spades of the vitality lacking in most releases from artists lauded by headline writers as the voice of whatever generation they’ve invented that week. The incoherence of Slowthai’s contributions does feel like the result of being dashed off, but also like the incoherence of simmering frustration. With Mura Masa meeting him with controlled chaos, he reaches an aggressive contentment. It’s exactly the thing that the same old people have fetishised since forever, but on its own terms it rings legitimate.
[8]

Ian Mathers: I didn’t like The Streets that much, what makes you think I’m going to like what sounds like The Streets taking the piss?
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Talk about incredibly unexpected reference points: between the way Slowthai talk/raps and the no wave/funk groove that Mura Masa is working, this reminds me more than anything of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” On top of that, lyrically, “Deal Wiv It” gives me a little bit of Dizzee Rascal. So, in sum: a) 2004-ish and b) thumbs way up.
[8]

Alex Clifton: The sound of Damon Albarn, the jittery energy of the Kaiser Chiefs, the punchy delivery of Courtney Barnett, a touch of LCD Soundsystem’s arrangement — all comparisons I can make, but this stands entirely on its own. This is punk as hell. I have listened to it five times in a row, and I will force everyone I know to listen to this, too.
[8]

Alfred Soto: The artists hedge their bets, lord knows why. Nice bass, though.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Not obnoxious enough, really. Even the chorus’s trick — an edit of the titular line that renders it all the snarkier — is an obvious sort of clever.
[4]

Kayla Beardslee: What makes “Deal Wiv It” so gritty yet endearing is the way it flips between careful consideration and sarcastic indifference. The thoughtful line “Every second you waste is a second closer to the pearly gates” is followed by the self-aware “Ah, that’s deep innit, that’s deep mate”; the detailed, artificial vocal chops contrast the wild guitars and Slowthai’s frustrated shouts; the chorus is structured but still invites yelling along. On the surface, the production sounds abrasive, but I suspect that the high energy and flippant, observational lyrics would make the song feel appropriate for just about any mood.
[7]

Oliver Maier: The sense that Slowthai’s friends and neighbourhood are growing distant from him, not to mention his recent superstardom, are not enough to dispel the feeling that his day-to-day experience is still the same as it ever was, cyclical and unglamorous and often quite shit. “Deal Wiv It” is full of small contradictions like this, expressed via a rant that calls to mind Parklife and Original Pirate Material and lands somewhere between the two in terms of sincerity. Slowthai’s ramble seems always on the verge of a laugh, and he rebukes his own instinct to frame his dilemma in explicitly existential terms (“Every second you waste is a second closer to the pearly gates…. ahh that’s deep innit?”). He flirts with a few topics like this before swinging on his heel and jovially dashing each train of thought with a “deal wiv it!”, and the distorted flurry in the hook seems to drive the point home: Slowthai isn’t looking for answers or even really asking questions. It’s surprising, and maybe even a step back coming from an artist whose debut so often grappled with the political, but there’s something to be gained from the bratty catharsis. Mura Masa’s contribution is less vapid than usual, a brutalist dance-punk backdrop for Slowthai to air his gripes over, and in the middle eight it becomes apparent that the airing-out is the point. “They say I can’t speak my mind or vent my frustration”; now having the freedom to do exactly that and following it up with nothing but a shrug is the sniggering heart of “Deal Wiv It”. Somehow, it ends up being a victory lap.
[8]

Friday, January 17th, 2020

Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani – Nobody But You

Love. Angel. Music? Erm…


[Video]
[3.50]

Brad Shoup: Gwen Stefani’s migration from ska-punk to country-flecked adult contemporary mirrors my lifepath so closely, I’m in an existential crisis. There’s a possessive hunger here: a devouring dressed as a duet. The Coldplay-style guitar delay would theoretically suit Stefani — a veteran of all pop energies — best, but she’s forced to orbit Shelton’s microphone to make any impression. She can’t even get her own bridge?!
[5]

Alex Clifton: Serviceable but boring. I will say it is neat how Shelton and Stefani sing the melody together without harmonizing, as that’s an unexpected move and ensures the track is free of overwrought high notes, but it also makes me wonder why this is even a duet in the first place. Still, I’m glad that there are people out there who can write love songs without referring to their partner as having that “yummy yum” — I’ll take mediocre and fine over that.
[5]

Josh Langhoff: This song sounds like death, i.e. “Chasing Cars,” but it’s nice the happy couple can celebrate shared interests. They should’ve kept “Nobody But You” to themselves and God — although as we know from the prophet Amos, even God has standards.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It’s funny thinking about the non-CCM Christian artists I heard growing up and how the pressing question fans would ask was whether the “you” being addressed was a cute girl or Jesus Christ (who, after listening to these bands, you would be convinced was the cutest of all). “Nobody But You” is one of those country songs that has the opposite problem: it’s clearly not about my Lord and Savior but sure sounds like it is. This has less to do with pronoun ambiguity than “Nobody But You” being an anesthetized love song: a love song for people afraid of love being complex, of being more than greeting card bullshit.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I already resent how much I’m probably going to have to hear this song next wedding season. 
[3]

Vikram Joseph: Bringing in Gwen Stefani to simply have her sing pleasant backing harmonies is by a country mile the boldest decision on “Nobody But You”. That aside, it’s a staid and distinctly maudlin power ballad, with a twinkly guitar riff which is so unimaginatively late-period U2 it practically downloads itself onto your iPhone.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: On this evidence, Gwen Stefani is not a country singer; if anything, she’s a backing vocalist with her mic up too loud. This is a duet inasmuch as a quattro formaggi makes for a varied meal, and contrary to what you might expect this blurb to say next, is less cheesy. But what is a quattro formaggi pizza without cheese? Mostly, bread. Gwen Stefani can do a lot more with a metaphorical pizza base than this.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Post-New Wave poseur Gwen Stefani, I suspect, has an acquaintance with the Lou Reed-John Cale tune of the same name, a confession of complicated love in which hatred plays a robust part. This “Nobody But You” co-sung with a Blake Shelton shorn of his frontal lobe, a CVS Pharmacy valentine, has no ambition except to generate cover stories for supermarket glossies.
[1]

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Coldplay – Everyday Life

Everybody hurts, especially Thomas…


[Video]
[3.86]

Alfred Soto: “What kind of world do you want it to be?” Chris Martin mewls on this well-arranged example of generalized despair, for despair is easier and chic-er when you’re super-duper rich. He wants a return to “In My Place, “The Scientist,” even “Yellow” — is this the world he wants? 
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The problem with Martin & Co. is that they express simple profundities in ways that beg to be read as mawkish. Largely responsible for this is how songs with presumably meaningful messages are best delivered with personal anecdotes, and Coldplay are often averse to doing such a thing; Martin’s idea of a moving lyric here is “everyone hurts, everyone cries” (thanks bud!) He ends this song of the Shared Human Experience by singing hallelujah multiple times–the irony is surely lost on him.
[3]

Josh Langhoff: After some ill-advised forays into Songs Acknowledging The Existence Of Dancing, the world’s most secular praise & worship band returns to its bread and bread: Songs Gesturing Toward Solace And Inspiration. Chris Martin’s fascination with ancient ritual remains constant; “Got to keep dancing when the lights go out,” he advises, as though this is a pungent metaphor and not simply the way people dance. Like many worship slow jams, “Everyday Life” also fits into the category Songs That Have Heard About Music For Airports, though it’s hard to tell whether the band’s ambient soundscape is supposed to be echoing off the stadium ceiling or the heavenly throne. “Fix You” has grown on me over the years, so don’t trust my snap judgments, but the day I trust Chris Martin to create a liminal space is the day I start noticing people’s eye color.
[3]

Brad Shoup: The string arrangement and the text are the same industrial-grade flavor of sap. Martin’s string of banalities — everyone hurts, loves, dreams, doubts — are shrugs masquerading as a caress. I’ve no doubt he feels something while intoning “hallelujah” in his lower register. But the only thing that transmits it is the piano.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Not just Chris Martin mewling over his piano, but Chris Martin mewling inspirational lyrics over his piano with strings, for fuck’s sake.
[0]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’ve successfully navigated Coldplay’s eighth album cycle having completely avoided listening to anything until now. It’s not that I’m not a Coldplay fan–I grew up on Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto and earlier workrather, my avoidance comes from having just barely stomached their last couple of albums. Listening to Coldplay now just feels like running into an old friend with whom you still feel a familiar sense of warmth–but the conversation never moves past small talk because it’s obvious that times have changed, that you’ve both grown, and you no longer that have that much in common. Nothing about the reach-for-the-stars power balladry “Everyday Life” is bad, but nothing is particularly inspired either. Classic Coldplay tracks like “The Scientist,” “Fix You,” and “Yellow” can bring tears to my eyes; this doesn’t inspire anything but nostalgia for a band that’s clearly past its prime. 
[6]

Joshua Copperman: Everyday Life was the most pleasant first listen (and most fun writing a review) I had last year, a band I grew up with finally growing up with me. Sure, this isn’t a great example; the chorus is like an attempt to sing R.E.M. from memory, and the second verse is barely there. But that second verse is most indicative of their direction: “How in the world I am going to see/you as my brother not my enemy?” Convincing everyone that we share the “same! fucking! blood!” is easier said than done, and instead of providing an answer they actually ask a challenging question. Melodically and sonically, this is also a top-tier Coldplay ballad. That outro alone is as purely beautiful as anything they’ve done since “The Escapist”, the most maximalist band in the world realizing they don’t need much more than Chris Martin singing ‘allelu’ to get their point across. Well, that and a string orchestra. 
[7]

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Miranda Lambert – Bluebird

Lambert makes a little bluebird in our souls…


[Video]
[7.36]

Alfred Soto: The title should make readers with the most stalwart hearts tremble, but “Bluebird” is a lithe mid tempo number with drums that booms and a Lambert who trills even through life-gives-you-lemon cliches rehearsed nine years ago
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Lambert draws from a Bukowski poem of the same name and refracts the meaning of the titular bluebird. I always understood it to be about emotional guardedness, of the need for posturing as defense mechanism, of the impossibility of vulnerability after being wronged. Lambert sees it differently: such an avian creature represents an optimism that transcends suffering. I can see it if I squint: Sometimes, it’s best to keep such thoughts close to your chest when the rest of the world is eager to drown you in cynicism.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Yeah, she’s a rhymer, able to pair sleeve and drink without tilting the listener’s head. This is dreamier than I expected, with an electric sitar figure and foggy steel keeping things gauzy. But there’s a firm backbeat, locked to Lambert’s hip: a perfect driving tune.
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: No matter how novel the wordplay might seem, Miranda Lambert, with her emotive vocals and southern charm, never comes as across as annoying. Instead, “”Bluebird”” finds a nice balance between being a reassuring, mid-tempo, country-pop bop and a laundry list of annoying inspirational quotes. Sure, my eyes rolled a bit while listening, but I also couldn’t stop smiling. 
[6]

Joshua Lu: The majority of Wildcard feels derived from “We Should Be Friends,” with the dominant, somber part of The Weight of These Wings left behind. Even on the more melancholic songs, sadness is expressed with cheeky turns of phrases, offsetting every frowning moment with a wink and a nudge. This style of lyricism, like a sprig of brightness in a murky cocktail, is a mainstay of country music and Miranda Lambert’s discography especially. On “Bluebird,” though, it feels more earned than usual as she coos through metaphors about her determination in the face of hardships. These metaphors do lead to genericness — it’s unclear what exactly she’s struggling through — but it’s still enough to bring a grin to your face. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: “If love keeps givin’ me lemons, I just mix ’em in my drink” is such a great lyric, and such a Miranda Lambert lyric (the song was co-written with Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick), it practically gets the entire song over just on that one line. But it’s more than that: Jay Joyce’s production is nice and airy, allowing different elements to peek through, like a mandolin here and a bassline there. And Lambert’s vocal is perfectly easygoing, very “I got this.” Even though nothing about “Bluebird” sounds like an album’s first single, this should’ve been Wildcard‘s first single.
[7]

Michael Hong: Over the past decade and more, Miranda Lambert has effectively played every trope of a woman in country music when it comes to romance — the vengeful woman scorned, the heartbroken holding it together for appearance’s sake, even the treacherous heartbreaker — but she was almost always a chaotic storm of a force. It’s then a great pleasure to hear that Lambert in settling down loses none of the charms of her histrionics and what would have been a plain country song about ageing is made adventurous by the way Lambert seems to sneer on the chorus and her playfully optimistic knack for wordplay. Every setback is shrugged off with the casual nonchalance of someone who’s finally content. You’ll have trouble finding someone who’s handled turning 35 better than Miranda Lambert.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Applauded as a kicker of asses, Miranda Lambert also excels at pensive balladry, as she does here. A whip-smart lyricist, she can make a wordless hook — this song’s repeating melodic coo — speak chapters. She’s a cataloguer of sometimes outsize mistakes, but she’s realistic and optimistic. And as such a well-rounded character on record, when she sings something simple like “I’m a keeper” and “I’m a giver,” it means something. So while “Bluebird” isn’t her terrifying peak, it’s a great song and a reminder of what a well-rounded artist she is. Even her second-string ballads beat most artists’ first, especially when so tenderly performed and lovingly produced. Best on the record? No, not even close. But when you’re the best in the business, it doesn’t matter.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Miranda Lambert has been releasing songs like this — beautiful, cleverly written, self-aware nuggets of country-pop– that it’s almost hard to appreciate how good each individual one. “Bluebird” is the best thing she’s done since “Vice,” a breezy take on self mythology that makes itself something grand through its self-effacement. Every detail is carefully wrought, the trills of mandolins and swoons of the guitars complementing Lambert’s voice expertly.
[8]

Alex Clifton: An issue I’ve had with bro country is that country is a great genre for storytelling, but so much of it comes across as generic. Miranda Lambert, of course, bucks that trend and makes this song all her own–her fingerprints are all over this, and I believe every word she sings. There’s an immense sense of calm on “Bluebird” I admire, particularly with the lines of “keep a light on in my soul/keep a bluebird in my heart.” As we go into 2020 and the world gets more terrifying each day, I hope to bring this peace with me throughout the year.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s absolutely only the title that reminds me of “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” though they share a similar midtempo geniality. If anything, the cooing and the optimism and the utter lack of meanness make this a strange fit as a Miranda Lambert song, but I suppose she’s earned some OOC.
[6]

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Anitta, Lexa & Luisa Sonza feat. MC Rebecca – Combatchy

Happy Thursday — it’s dance-off time!


[Video]
[6.00]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Favela funk rarely gets better: electrifying in its prismatic honk-and-splat beats, “Combatchy” finds every vocalist making their voice a percussive weapon to sharpen concomitant dancefloor assaults. You’d sense a pugilistic energy even without the boxing bell.
[8]

Kayla Beardslee: Four people are not necessary for this sub-three minute ode to butts with a synth riff that sounds like evil “Mamma Mia.”
[3]

Brad Shoup: Four artists in well under three minutes is a damn miracle. Even more so given that only the wordless dental-consonant hook shows any panic. I wish the rest was as kinetic, but it’s still haughty funk carioca, so I want to run through a wall.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: The chorus demands it being played in a live setting and nowhere else. The rappers feel secondary to the song, just another detail to hype up the grand beat. But the narrative of a multi-round battle is a nice twist to what could have been just the choreography-instruction structure of countless other dance songs.
[5]

Will Adams: The four players on “Combatchy” wisely trade off lines in the verses; instead of the disparate sections one typically finds on a posse cut, we get the playful chemistry of a girl group along with some razor-sharp favela funk. A side effect is that the verses are far more engaging than the hook, which wears thin even in a song this short.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Some fantastic use of voice, and vicious funk, but the “turudum” hook wears a little thin, taking up so much of a relatively short song, though I love the “chka-chka-doom” backing vocals there. But it’s the verses that cut deepest and dig into my brain; MC Rebecca booming “bo-ta pra de-scer” with those R sounds like she’s spitting actual fire. I wanted more of that.
[6]

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Jackboys – Gang Gang

Not the supergroup with Skrillex, Diplo, and umlauts, but the supergroup with Travis Scott, Sheck Wes, Don Toliver, and no umlauts…


[Video]
[4.50]

Jibril Yassin: A$AP Mob will be relieved to know they are no longer the worst rap group attached to a superstar.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: More Travis Scott goop. As with almost everything he does, it’s familiarly sedated and nocturnal, leaving little to latch onto: it’s not catchy enough, dark enough, exciting enough, hypnotic enough. It’s a problem when posse cuts remove the individuality of every participant.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Like a group project where everybody actually does the work and shows up for the presentation, even the guy who won’t shut up in class that you’d started to get tired of, and that one kid you’d never actually met before and knew nothing about. Like one of those comic books where a bunch of unrelated heroes beat up some chump supervillain so well they decide maybe they should just form a super team. I still like Sheck Wes the best though.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: Sheck Wes and Travis Scott don’t rap as much as fill space and coast on the boring fact that they are indeed Sheck Wes and Travis Scott. But Don Toliver makes his chorus shine by putting some fresh energy into his label boss’s Auto-Tune formula.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Scott’s big enough that when his collaborator talks about giving cash to the troops, he could have been talking the Army. Too bad he wasn’t. It would’ve been the most memorable thing here. Instead, it’s Don Toliver himself, switching speeds and jumping to the ceiling. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: Up and down it goes, skittering and gliding, the parties involved warding off narcolepsy. 
[4]

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Tokyo Jihen – The Lower Classes

Please stand by for your daily Jukebox posts…


[Video]
[6.12]

Ryo Miyauchi: Tokyo Jihen sound like they never left, partly because Japanese alternative rock has sounded like Tokyo Jihen for quite some time. Shiina Ringo and gang join the crowd of hipster musicians pitching the sound of tomorrow by re-contextualizing Showa-era sounds with today’s genre-agnostic sensibilities. “The Lower Classes” stands out for its hyper-current lyrics about the noise of technology that brush against the retro-obsessed music. Despite how delightful Ringo makes the smartphone lifestyle sound — “one click, one touch, one chance” — she prefers to log off and experience something real. Her voice is surprisingly restrained during those small moments of catharsis, retreating quickly into the calm, collected funk. But her restraint is a wise choice: she comes off less didactic and more a grand observer in a sea of millions, happily distracted by everyday noise.
[6]

Ian Mathers: “What if everything, but too much?”
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I adore Shiina Ringo and Tokyo Jihen’s music to bits, but this comeback doesn’t quite satisfy. For one, it doesn’t have enough of Shiina’s voice — the quavering and built-in tension of her vocalizing always adds color to even the tidiest of compositions. Furthermore, “The Lower Classes” builds to a delightfully messy ending that doesn’t quite climax. Given the loping and hookless first half, the payoff is disappointing.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Where’s Shiina? I can’t hear her through the smushed-up faux funk.
[5]

Iain Mew: There’s not a lot of restraint in the song, so it’s disappointing that one thing that is sparing is Shiina Ringo’s vocal contribution. The hyper guitar section is a moderate compensation. 
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The moment about half-way through “The Lower Classes,” where the jazzy backbeat drops out and a tidal wave of synthesizers flow in, is stunning. It’s psychedelic and organic-feeling, a musical moment that feels like your consciousness expanding in real time. It’s a real-time reframing of the song, retroactively making the tight grooves it is surrounded by sound more virtuoso, the vocal interplays all the more playful.
[9]

Tobi Tella: The back-and-forth works perfectly and the song balances smooth and groovy without overstaying its welcome.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Casually flashy is a great look for prog-pop; I suppose I’m old enough that this technocratic uber-confidence soothes me, like indulging in a daydream. I love the passage with staccato harmonization, their voices literally and metaphorically synthesizing. It’s all a treat, really: the sudden stylistic changeups, the way everyone knows when to play up the futurism and when to scuff it up. I’ll take this over Annie Clark’s ongoing panopticon job in a heartbeat.
[8]