Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

King Calaway – World For Two

At the top of 2018, then-BMG president Zach Katz called up CMA Awards producer Robert Deaton and asked, “What’s missing in music?” His answer? “A band that’s old school meets new school.”…


[Video]
[3.00]

Will Adams: Starts out bland and pleasant enough, something like “Put Your Records On” as sung by doe-eyed stock photo model boys. But then the piano rolls in, some more drums, and we’re transported to a Margaritaville hellscape.
[3]

Alfred Soto: To parse the lyrics, which are of course emphasized, is futile. I will note the way the melody lilts in the direction of Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me.” 
[2]

Katie Gill: The most interesting thing about this song is that I spent a solid five minutes trying to piece out what song it reminded me of before I screamed “Uncle Kracker!” and scared the cat. Which I guess is a compliment? “Follow Me” has at least stood the test of time, which is more than I can say for King Calaway’s eventual fate. But I doubt that country music’s hottest, most adorable blatantly manufactured boy band wants to be linked to a soft rock song off The Blind Side soundtrack.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This phony bullshit sounds like Uncle Kracker, but Rascal Flatts became country superstars, so there’s hope for these assholes, too.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Despite getting the flu shot last fall, I nevertheless came down with the flu during MoPOP’s annual Pop Conference. I missed basically the whole thing, including the panel “Most People Are Good: Country Music and the Death of Civility.” But I imagine listening to “World for Two,” particularly its opening lines, would simulate some small part of the experience. Being a “manufactured” boy band (as opposed to the more organic manufacturing of the fraternity/pageant circuit) King Calaway are being criticized by the usual folks for being “not country,” but what could be more country than the “aw, dingity-darn this world these days, so much hurting and hating and news, why not choose love and choose sleeping with me” intro? Where else do you find that? (Besides Janelle Monae’s “Screwed,” a better song.) If “World for Two” is pop, it’s the “Breakaway”/”Follow Me” style of pop that has coexisted fine and blandly with country for ages. Anyway, I imagine I’d have heard something like that, if not for having the flu. But judging by some of these vocals, I may not be the only one who’s got it.
[3]

Alex Clifton: Lord, it’s a whole band of Ed Sheerans that harmonize with one another. I would like this world for two built very far away from me, please.
[3]

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Armin Van Buuren ft. Bonnie McKee – Lonely For You

Who knew we missed Bonnie McKee this much?


[Video][Website]
[6.10]

Edward Okulicz: This is probably awful when you look at it objectively, but it’s so earnest in its deployment of Shit EDM Pop tropes — awful lyrics, obvious breaks, big and dumb hooks, a compelling vocalist, a good melody, echoes of great dance pop from the last 3 decades, wait… hang on, this objectively is fantastic!
[8]

David Moore: I kind of wish this one stuck with its Madonna pastiche in the intro — it sounds like “Cherish” reworked as a ballad — but instead it opts for glossy lite house. Maybe a singer less workmanlike than Bonnie McKee could have sold the pathos and made the mix work, but it comes off as cold and competent. 
[6]

Ian Mathers: “Guys, every time Armin releases a song there is always a pop version and trance version… That is what makes him great, he caters to the people who like the pop music and to the people who like the trance music.” [view 15 replies]
[5]

Will Rivitz: About time “Hackney Parrot” made it to the pop charts, eh? Ironic that, of all the drum & bass acts trying to translate their ragged edge into a top 40 hit, the only track that’s avoided dissolving into water-thin cheese comes from a leading producer in a genre defined by its cheesiness. I can’t quite follow the calculus, but the song is good.
[8]

Will Adams: Despite trance being his primary genre, Armin Van Buuren has released his share of breaks-heavy pop singles —  “In and Out of Love” and “This Light Between Us”, for two. What makes “Lonely For You” different is the choice to go full-throttle pop, both in the prominence of the drum break and a more distinct vocalist. It lacks the airiness of its predecessors, but in exchange we get tighter songwriting courtesy of McKee that evokes the same late-night melancholia of Jax Jones’s “Breathe”. It’s odd to hear Van Buuren sound this relatively un-cheesy (recall the hysterics of “Alone”), but I welcome the novelty.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: For a few years in the early 2000s it seemed like an inviolable rule that pop radio would always allot one or two slots for something like “Rapture” or “It Feels So Good.” We should bring the rule back.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I never thought we would hear from Bonnie McKee ever again, let alone on a dance track. It’s got the flair I look for in a good Eurovision song, but like most good club fluff it’s out of my mind as soon as it’s over. It is nice having a dance tune that sounds like 2005, though; I forgot you can make songs without building up to a drop.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The vocals range from the too unhinged to the rather polite, in keeping with Armin’s fitted shirt of a house arrangement.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “I quit you like cocaine, life changing” is a hilariously on the nose lyric, but it’s the only part of this track with any personality at all.
[4]

Iris Xie: Whoa, how did Armin van Buuren make a superior version of Hyosung’s “Good Night Kiss”? They both have the same technique going on, where they contrast one single chorus, verse, and bridge to create an entire song. “Lonely For You” is an improvement due to the small details in the transitions between the verses and choruses that flip between measured lamentations, clipped phrasing, and drop in and outs of that breakbeat and drum instrumental combo. Bonnie McKee’s vocals slide between featherlight cooing and a not quite bombastic chorus, and how the toplines become more intricate makes for an incredible mixture for a vocal and dance routine. The melody has enough suspension that allows one to follow the arrangement and pick it up, resulting in its establishment as a more subtle pop song, rather than one that requires being smashed in the face with the hook. I also definitely feel this would roll as a great K-pop demo, and this was the song BlackPink needed for a comeback after the completely mediocre “Playing With Fire.” Overall, surprisingly refreshing and reminiscent of early 2010s electropop.
[6]

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Kane Brown ft. Becky G – Lost in the Middle of Nowhere (Spanish Remix)

Today’s the day we find out how much reader crossover we have with Saving Country Music, then.


[Video][Website]
[5.88]

Jonathan Bradley: It’s less arrestingly peculiar than Lil Nas X, but in its own modest way, “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere” is the more revolutionary contribution to country music. It’s a Southern-accented middle-of-the-dial rock ballad in a mode very familiar to Nashville — think Midland or Lonestar, for instance — combined with a gentle dembow representing a reggaeton sound quite alien to the genre. That it’s performed by a black man and a Latina woman, both of whom sing some of the lyric in Spanish, and yet create a country song so unnatural that it’s nearly too innocuous is demonstration of how expansive this music can be when it’s not cramped and defensive. Latin sounds are not unheard of in country, but they usually come in “Margaritaville” guise — exotica summoned to evoke vacation and play. Here they are comfortable and familiar surrounds for a pairing that experience them as home.
[7]

Tobi Tella: I mean…sure? I can’t pretend I’m not confused by this existing, but for what it is, it’s not bad. Kane Brown is mildly more interesting than a lot of other male country stars, and I’ve really liked Becky G’s foray into reggaeton and she sounds great and slick here. Unfortunately, a generic country love song is still a generic country love song, even when half of it is in Spanish.
[5]

Alfred Soto: “Nowhere” is a cruise ship where this act plays wan reggaeton to passengers in floppy Tommy Bahama fatigues.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: This remix turns a decent country record into a great reggaeton-lite record that, somehow, still sounds country to my ears. But in this age of Lil Nas X (and, hell, Sam Hunt), who’s to say what’s country, anyway? Your ears, that’s who. Kane and Becky sound great together, too.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I’m infatuated with this song — it’s really the only way to describe how I feel. The inevitable protest of ‘IT’S NOT COUNTRY’ will plague this release for sure, but what strikes me as most interesting is that this song seems more interested in being a cool guitar-driven reggaeton track with a guest vocal by a country artist than anything else and it succeeds at that! Becky G is reliably romantic and provocative with her vocal, but Kane Brown really delivers and the chemistry is electric when they sing together (AND MY GOD THAT VIDEO!). I’m all in, y’all.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Spectacularly bad luck: right as Kane Brown is being (unfairly, but unsurprisingly) held up as the legit country exemplar against Lil Nas X, his latest single is not remotely country, but the most blatant “Despacito” rip in a few years of “Despacito” rips. It’s not a bad one, and Becky G in particular is effervescent. But this is baffling and cynical, as if some exec thought Shania’s Up! remixes were great but wished there was one disc for every format, “I’m In Your City Trick”-style.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: Becky G sounds right at home, and Brown does a good job of turning country on its head. The two deliver a rollicking hook and make a bizarre pairing sound perfectly natural. It isn’t often that a song ends too soon. 
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The beat here is very Kidz Bop “Despacito” and both Kane Brown and Becky G don’t display anything in the way of personality, but the general vibe cultivated here is charming in spite of itself. It’s the rare pop collab that is unequivocally more than the sum of its parts, an anonymous earworm that I’ve listened to way too many times this week.
[7]

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Holly Herndon – Eternal

Our first time covering her; extremely not our first time having thoughts about AI…


[Video]
[5.43]

Alfred Soto: A manipulation of vocalese and sampled percussion that will keep Grimes fans happy, albeit not danceable or catchy enough.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: I like the lack of any discernible song structure. I like the scratchiness of the vocal harmonies that loop throughout. I like the jittery percussion that flings noisy chirps indiscriminately across the stereo field. I even like the rapid-fire orchestra hits, if only for their sheer audacity. I don’t like how all of these elements fight for attention; how nearly every line is punctuated by dramatic, descending timpani rolls; how the tune is so eager to show off every mind-bending trick it has up its sleeve that it stuffs them all into the first two minutes and then doesn’t have anywhere left to go. Technically impressive, aesthetically admirable, bursting with interesting ideas — absolutely! I just don’t really enjoy listening to it.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Proto, Holly Herndon’s upcoming album, is being heavily touted as a “collaboration with AI,” specifically a machine learning suite called Spawn. I usually have two reactions to this sort of thing. The first, generally a grumbled “have none of you ever heard of Vocaloid,” is petty. The second is less, I’d hope: there’s a whole field of artists collaborating with machines, whose insights can be pulled in. In Emily Short’s The Annals of the Parrigues, explicitly billed as “collaborating with a machine,” she outlines five principles of procedurally generated writing: salt (systems for systems’ sake; perfectible code over perfectible output), mushroom (repetition, scads of data, Markov chains, bowls of oatmeal), beeswax (homespun/hand-crafted elements), venom (tight editing, surprise, connotation; a fish hook, an open eye), and egg (coherence, authorial intent, human curation). She applied the principles to prose, but they could easily be applied to music. Sampling is beeswax. MIDI may be salt. “Soundscapes” are mushroomy. Choruses are venom or egg (compare “Smells Like Teen Spirit” vs. “…Baby One More Time”). None of these are value judgments, or if they are, they only are because of what you value. I gravitate toward venom and egg — thrilling music with a purpose — but so much experimental/”AI-enhanced” music doesn’t seem to. “Eternal” gets closer than most, the beats thrill, the vocals stab. There does seem to be a point, albeit one that is mostly “this exists.” Mostly it just sounds like Miriam Stockley (who herself has a Vocaloid), but is anything really ever new?
[7]

Edward Okulicz: As proof of concept, yes, as a sketchbook of impressive ideas, yes, as a little song-as-manifesto of what’s possible with some daring, yes. As something that gives me any pleasure at all to listen to? Absolutely not.
[3]

Ian Mathers: “I don’t want to live in a world in which humans are automated off stage. I want an A.I. to be raised to appreciate and interact with that beauty.” Part of being genuinely avant-garde is that Herndon isn’t quite there yet, probably, but equally part is that you can hear and appreciate how this and her other work is moving us closer. I’m not sure how many others here will have been coincidentally listening to Sacred Harp singing just before playing “Eternal”, but try looking some up just after playing this song (and maybe throw, I don’t know, some Glasser or some of Julianna Barwick’s more outre moments in the mix) and see what kind of connections you start forming.
[8]

Alex Clifton: I’m reminded of some of Sufjan’s cluttered backing vocals from Age of Adz, but his voice can anchor down those arrangements. “Eternal” becomes too ethereal for my liking. A bonus point added because the beginning of the music video made me think of these foxes.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Eternal” is driven by an overwhelm of the senses. The grand harmony of screams feels so immense in volume, it’s blinding as it is loud. Hearing Herndon’s voice feels psychedelic from all of the post-production effects doctored to it. All of that noise is essential to properly express what’s at the core: an undying love bigger than one can physically contain. It feels this overpowering to be faced with it, and it can also feel this impossible to suppress when it starts to grow inside you.
[6]

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Flume ft. JPEGMAFIA – How To Build A Relationship

Our official crossover with Wikihow


[Video]
[7.29]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: On Flume’s studio debut, 2016’s Skin, the big-name outsider rapper that he collaborated with was Vince Staples. Three years on, both sides of that pair have chosen chaos– Vince Staples works with Kenny Beats and SOPHIE now– and the natural outcome of that is Flume working with JPEGMAFIA. “How to Build a Relationship” is a perfect showcase for Peggy — the Baltimore rapper usually raps over grimier material, so Flume’s comparatively luxurious track allows him to demonstrate his more showman-like tendencies. The pairing works well, even as JPEGMAFIA shouts his way to the song’s end.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: Flume’s detour from pop ends up in a nerdy corner of ’00s hip-hop that includes Adult Swim and the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack. The wonky spaceship synths wouldn’t be out of place on a Def Jux single, while the drunk boom-bap drums worship the late J Dilla. JPEGMAFIA is a fitting match, with Flume’s beat not too different in feel from the crunchy internet detritus of his own projects.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: I admire the decision to keep this thing going for a minute longer than was strictly necessary. This type of wonky, glitched-out noise rap is typically best in small doses, but the febrile chemistry between these two deserves to be allowed to play out on its own terms. Each plays their part in forging an atmosphere of rollicking menace, with Flume exhuming the sci-fi bleep-bloops of ’80s electro-funk and Peggy threatening to run up on Gawker(?) before inventing a bunch of dumb, hilarious nicknames for himself. It’s a miracle the end product is even halfway coherent, let alone invigorating.
[8]

Will Adams: Glitch-rap! This goes even further than the Deadmau5 / Cypress Hill collab in creating a confronting, squelchy environment for its vocalist to inhabit. Flume pushes his usual tricks into the red to bracing effect, eventually justified once JPEGMAFIA reaches his mid-song “FUCK.”
[7]

Iris Xie: You know, I believe in the power of representation, but I never knew that I needed an auditory representation of my anger about the time I was being surprise recruited for a pyramid scheme. A friend of a friend decided to give my phone number to her classmate, who tried to sell me on the pyramid scheme she was running, something about making my life better through vitamins or something and how I could be part of “a great new opportunity.” Needless to say, I am not a fan of being the subject of both predatory capitalism and privacy violations. So I addressed both of those folks, first by telling the salesperson clearly that MLMs are not legitimate businesses and she better realize what kind of shit she’s peddling and it’s irresponsible as a human being to recruit others into such exploitative practices. I then contacted that friend of a friend to never give out my number without permission, and what the hell was she thinking, and just, never do it again? Yikes. JPEGMAFIA is incisive, precise, and targeted here with a wave of cold anger. Flume does some cool video game blips around 1:35 that bring a cute bounciness, amplifying him through a sideways reference to being popped, and the giddy yelling is startling with its unbridled enthusiasm that contains both joy and frustration. But really, “Don’t, don’t, don’t call me unless I gave you my number (Hahahahaha) / That’s, that’s, that’s how relationships built.” Like, same, honestly. 
[6]

Will Rivitz: On paper, JPEGMAFIA’s ragged, vicious flow should torpedo a beat insubstantial and shimmering as a mirage, but nothing Peggy delivers should ever be confined to paper. A tightrope between cheeky and deathly serious must never slack, and the meticulous execution of Flume’s production remains stretched taut from end to end.
[8]

Alfred Soto: A fabulous rap, above average video game effects, ideal length. “I’m not nice,” JPEGMAFIA warns. I don’t believe him.
[8]

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Nav ft. The Weeknd – Price On My Head

n.b. Price must be paid in toonies…


[Video]
[4.29]

Ryo Miyauchi: The only thing that distinguishes a bounty from a net worth in “Price on My Head” is a mention of paranoia. But anxieties hang on the periphery as a cheap accessory to dress Nav and the Weeknd as some outlaw insomniacs without any worthwhile exploration of the actual threats on their life. The lack of believable biographic details I can excuse, but their lazy acting as pop-gangsters isn’t worth sitting through.
[4]

Taylor Alatorre: Performative paranoia doesn’t get any more captivating when you sing about it in an even higher register than usual. And as much as I want to give Nav recognition for coming up as a “brown kid in the Southside Rex,” his rapping remains stuck in the hazy zone between “serviceable” and “hopelessly generic.”
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The only way to get me to enjoy a Nav song is to pretty much entirely remove him from the equation, as it turns out.
[6]

Will Rivitz: Take Mr. Can We Call Him A One-Trick Pony If His One Trick Isn’t Any Good off this track and it ends up excellent; Abel Tesfaye’s Angelica-Schuyler-in-“Satisfied” delivery of “I heard these niggas want to take my life” is genuinely chilling, as is the flip to Auto-Tune in the chorus that fully deserves the otherwise trite “ethereal” descriptor. As it is, Nav plays the children’s-chorus counterpart to The Weeknd’s world-class one, using two definitions of “giving top” so carelessly and randomly that I’m not sure whether he’s trying to be clever or just didn’t edit properly.
[6]

Alfred Soto: At last — The Weeknd bifurcates his boring-ass Madonna-whore complex so that he doesn’t bear the awful burden. This bifurcation results in nothing more than inert rapping and a trap beat so lethargic that I thought I was listening to the oven timer going off.
[2]

Will Adams: Not so sure about the male version of “Monopoly.”
[4]

Iris Xie: Nav and The Weeknd have this really weird “good angel/bad angel” mood going on like they are almost merging into a single entity. The last time I saw something like this was Dua Lipa with St. Vincent at the Grammys, or the fact that Dua Lipa looks just like that one character in Parks and Recreation that is also oddly intense. But other than the hook of “price on my head,” I really can’t remember anything about it, except that I like Nav far more than The Weeknd here, because he has an almost boyish frankness on this track. But this is strangely middling: the atmosphere is stark and doesn’t really do much else.
[4]

Monday, April 15th, 2019

Lil Uzi Vert – Free Uzi

Please do not contact us about the free Uzi…


[Video]
[6.29]

Taylor Alatorre: “Free Uzi”: is that a command or a description? The pitched-up vocals may be his cheeky protest against an allegedly stingy contract, but they also make him sound younger and less established, an effect heightened by the use of a 2012 drill instrumental from a then 16-year-old G Herbo. It’s not only label restrictions from which he’s freed himself, but the mercurial demands of hip-hop trendiness; this is a space where he can imitate mixtape-era Lil Wayne to his heart’s content. Beyond the superficial thrill of hearing an unrestrained Uzi go to battle with the very concept of dead air, there aren’t any lyrical corkscrews of Weezy caliber, and the verbal parkour preempts his usual talent for melodic phrasing. This is a statement record that says very little other than “Uzi is still out here,” which, all told, is still worth a listen.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: The first time I heard this, in the woozy hours of the evening when its streaming futures were uncertain, the progressively pitched-up vocals made me think it was fake. Maybe the choice was a sly legal maneuver to sidestep Atlantic’s legal team, but it’s also the perfect garnish for Uzi’s motormouthed cartoon cadence. It feels like he’s been trapped in a cave for 30 years writing punchlines about getting head, only to burst free and rap so fast he transcends dimensions. (Shouts to G Herbo, whose original flow is more earthbound but no less urgent.) It’s honestly wild that rappers are still subject to label drama and “delayed” projects; it feels so 2004. But watching bitter MCs work through label frustrations by turning a throwaway mixtape beat to mincemeat will never get old.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Many will properly observe that “Free Uzi” relies on DJ L’s beat for the older song by G Herbo (then Lil’ Herb) “Gangway.” Few besides that will observe that, unlike the preceding record, “Free Uzi” features an actually competent street rapper. Yes, yes, enough talk has been made about Uzi being a “rockstar” or implying that he’s actually a Fueled by Ramen kid trapped in the body of a tattooed rapper, a narrative that’s thoroughly misguided and racially patronizing in ways that rarely get taken to task. But thankfully we have a record such as “Free Uzi” to dispel that. It’s deliberately within the style of East Coast hard-nose rap, which remains in drill territory these days and is an influence on him via the generation that brought us Durk and Keef — so why not revisit the classics? It’s a constant battering of machine-gun flowing and bars that demonstrates his abilities to fit in with the contemporaries you never knew he was actually among. Despite his inconsistent releases in the last year or so, it’s fair to say Uzi’s more than equipped to fit in wherever the present requires him to.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The good and bad of “Free Uzi” stem from its very nature — it’s a leak-that’s-not-a-leak and a stab at creative revival from an artist who has seemed creatively disengaged over the last year. So, fittingly, it’s both full of energy and bad ideas (shouts out to the Big Bang Theory.) It’s uneven and probably should have stayed in the fault, but there’s just enough promise here to remind listeners of why they wanted Uzi back in the first place.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Considering Lil Uzi Vert is an internet darling more for singing along to Paramore, and the fact SoundCloud rap as a genre gets attention more for how its artists take inspiration from outside of rap, it’s perhaps natural that I don’t really have a good grasp on what rap music Uzi listens to besides the ones made by his peers. So Uzi swiping a Chicago drill beat used by G Herbo in 2012 was quite revelatory in that he’s a rapper’s rapper first no matter what other interests float around his orbit. He approaches the recycled beat in a manner that recalls ’00s mixtape-era Lil Wayne: a new dexterous flow, a bars-first mentality, and a very loose handle on pop structure. The chorus blends with the rest of the oversized verses, and he spits in such breakneck speed, he doesn’t give enough time for the punchlines to properly digest. But his high-pitched taunting voice oozes with confidence that every chirp still feels like a punch to the ego.
[6]

Iris Xie: Damn, I was actually hoping that I didn’t hear the word “ejaculate” in the song, like I thought I misheard and that he said “coat check” or something, but I checked and no, he said ejaculate. But I’m actually impressed by his non-stop demeanor here, as Lil Uzi Vert sounds like the Roadrunner trying to outrun himself and everyone else coming for him, but — whoops, he’s gonna switch and run on them! His pace is the sonic equivalent of those incredibly, ridiculously fast zombies in Train to Busan. Also, there’s a bracing urgency to his flow, punctuated by the trap beats that sound like sharp aluminum clinking on other metals, which provide an ace backdrop to his relentlessness. Regarding the lyrics themselves, I guess it just occurred to me now that there’s a purpose to the detail of bravado and come-uppance in rap and that it’s not just bluster, because it helps reinforce the messaging of the hustle presented in the music. Also, wordplay abounds — “Wonton, flood the block with some Wock’ in it/They saw I was comin’ so they all just start hoppin’ fence” is just one of many really nice examples of consonance and assonance. Specifically, that wonton, block, wok line is a fun callback to how both Asian and Black cultural production do influence each other quite a bit and permeate the inner dialogues of a lot of artists. But overall, there’s a lot to enjoy about this song, even if I was thrown off at first.
[6]

Ashley John: “Free Uzi” is the incessant buzz and stab of a tattoo needle. Uzi pummels forward so confidently you forget when the track started or if it has always been this black whir in the back of your head. Uzi’s grit coupled with his muscle memory melody remind us of the hole that exists in modern rap when he’s not around to fill it. 
[8]

Monday, April 15th, 2019

Lafawndah – Storm Chaser

From the Egyptian-Iranian artist’s debut Ancestor Boy


[Video]
[6.86]

Alfred Soto: The drums are the stars, so much so that Lafawndah should step aside for the lissome clatter. On occasion she has made her universalist maxims signify by themselves, though.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The steely, heavy drums slam against the heart, freezing as they fly from the sky and shatter, then melt into the chibi synths and rumbling bass, prompting either fear or acceptance. It all compliments the oblique lyrics written by Nick Weiss and Lafawndah, which show a feeling of awe and fervor, and the piercing and constructing vocal production — especially on the lyric, “Whenever I’m cold” — leading a bristling croon through the warm, tumbling production: a lonely voice pleading with the wind and thanking the bullet rain.
[10]

Will Adams: “Storm Chaser” booms with the militant drama of Dawn Richard or Onuka at their best, and Lafawndah’s powerful voice is more than up to the challenge. Unfortunately, repeat listens allow the bombast to become familiar, leaving room to look closer at the vague, self-serious lyrics.
[6]

Iris Xie: Back in late 2017, when I was fortunate enough to see Kelela live, I was not prepared for her opener, Lafawndah, at all. We had an hour-long set of her being so raw and unfiltered on stage that I felt like I was being taken apart and left to re-assemble by the end. When she thanked us and left the stage, the crowd murmured in both admiration and exhaustion. So listening to “Storm Chaser” is an interesting experience, for she pulled back on that rawness slightly as to better channel her own inner connection to the chaotic, unkempt parts of nature and the world. This results in a far more cohesive sound that takes you on a journey and allows you to come back together in the end. Lafawndah’s direction is represented by layers of instrumentation, which have an expert flow between whip-like crystalline percussions, fluttering synths like the slowed flapping of bird wings, and echoing drums that sound like waves crashing. They oscillate and pull in and back out around her vocals, which alternate between sharp melodies and catchy R&B hooks. I do think she could have leaned in more in several parts of the track here, for there are also some good and slightly edgy transitions here, with “Don’t turn around, don’t turn around and miss her” landing straight into pre-chorus. There are also some instances of evocative images with Lafawndah’s intense cadence at “she seals her fate.” Speaking of leaning in harder to Lafawndah’s sound, I’m going to be honest: it really does sound like a Björk homage here sometimes, especially to the “Biophilia” album, but instead of immediately writing Lafawndah off, it makes me wonder about my own limited knowledge. Is this due to how they have a similar praxis in exploring themes of spiritual and emotional focuses on nature and connection to their ancestors, with sticky hooks, percussion, and ambient instrumentation? Is Björk’s output and cultural notoriety so prominent that we don’t really hear other examples of musicians exploring similar inspirations and making their own take on working within the same sphere? Lastly, is this an issue of how this type of work is often slotted into the “weird but cool” category and now they have their token faerie, we don’t really hear the others? Or is Lafawndah really just not doing things that are that much different from Björk? I ask these questions mostly because it makes me think about how much more I have to learn about more experimental and genre-blending musicians and not just stop at Björk, and the issue of representation regarding all other pop music that isn’t allowed to grow and expand into a whole genre in itself. I’d like to hear and hear more songs with these elements. Aside from that, my only major desire is that I wish this was six minutes long total to express the full potential of the track, but I understand that this is supposed to be a pop single in length. But after hearing Lafawndah’s work with the inimitable Midori Takada on “Le Renard Bleu,” I wonder what would have been revealed in the song were more time and space allotted. 
[6]

Tobi Tella: Strange, unexpected, and other-worldly. Part of me wanted some more backbone rather than the completely free-flowing experimental structure, but at a certain point I was completely enveloped into Lafawndah’s sonic world.
[6]

David Moore: Starts intently and imperiously Björkish, but that’s a red herring, or at least a limited frame. The better referent, ultimately, is Dawn Richard, though Lafawndah is more futuristic cosmopolitanism than cosmopolitan futurism. You can hear a little bit of everywhere and nowhere, lots of space, veering left turns, a dune buggy joyride. 
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Edward Okulicz: More free-association collection of sounds, lyrics and melody than anything coherent, but the thunderclap drums are stormy indeed. Lafawndah has a powerful presence and ties it all together through the force of her mystique. She conjures an intriguing figure in her words while making me intrigued about her own character. 
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Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending April 13, 2019

The Singles Jukebox’s 10th anniversary celebrations will commence in earnest next week! But to keep you busy during the wait, we’ve got lots of new creations from our writers:

 

 

 

Friday, April 12th, 2019

Peggy Gou – Starry Night

Some sumptuous house to lead you into the weekend…


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Alfred Soto: What a sumptuous mix! The Korean producer weaves an elementary bass line around house chords, 1984-era hand claps, and catchphrases from her native tongue. It sounds like July barbeques, and it’s only April.
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Kat Stevens: Peggy has been consistently churning out this sort of quality elastic-band house, full of spring and space and snap. “Starry Night” is basically breakfast techno, something that will get you up and out of the house in time to pick up the parcel from the sorting office before work.
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Leah Isobel: Peggy Gou walks a specific, sublime line between lush textures and plastic camp. She builds “Starry Night” on a smorgasbord of digital sounds that sit just left of the real; the spiky handclaps, the city-pop synth pads, the chintzy keyboard, the vworp-y bass that defies the rules of physical noise. The beats drive the song forward with a relentless velocity, while she barks with military precision: “Moment. Now. Us.” Her music asks if it’s possible to engineer feeling from sheer determination; my body moves for me, answering yes.
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Nortey Dowuona: Slinking, poppy bass sidewinds alongside bubbly, strolling drums as chipper piano chords are followed by ghostly wailing synths and bottled, flat-smacked percussion. Gou breathily sings, then issues soft but firm chants over boiling synths that are finally laid like a blanket over the whole production.
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Katherine St Asaph: Immaculately tasteful house in the Todd Terje vein, the sort I’d be immensely pleased to hear out in the wild, but a little safe and stakes-less to seek out specifically.
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Will Adams: I wasn’t sold on this genteel house workout until the trance chords started pumping through the right side of the mix, and I was even more intrigued when the thumb piano followed it. “Starry Night” builds patiently, perhaps too much, but the payoff is worth it.
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Iris Xie: This week I’ve been dropping this in at various points during Jayda G’s “Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF),” and the transition is so smooth and clear like freshly washed glass. The house music instrumentals are lively and have funky vitality, and the subtle marimbas in the back bring in a lively feel of participation that is infectious and feels a little visceral. Combined with Peggy Gou’s own proclamations, and I’ve been thinking about how interesting it is to see how house music, which is originated from queer Black people, and the way both of these songs have their own particular ways of bringing out the particular energies and focuses of these particular artists. In this case, Peggy Gou goes for a different type of effortless, driving cool that is more grounded in getting you up and dancing by using the instrumentals to get you back up and moving spontaneously, in contrast to Jayda G asking you to take up space in very refined and posed forms. Both valid, but still very interesting to witness and participate in.
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Will Rivitz: Say what you will about lo-fi house — creatively bankrupt, a constant reminder of streaming’s algorithmic churn, what have you — but its explosion has led to a seepage into myriad other sub-genres and scenes, and its omnipresence has meant that of the many strands of its diffuse hybridization that have been thrown onto walls of speakers, a few of them have stuck. In particular, its tongue-in-cheek ethos matches nicely with the less darkly and stoically serious mélanges of house, particularly the Terjeified funk of “Starry Night.” Gou’s track is a masterclass in doing less with less, six or seven disparate loops interweaving with little variation into a tightly-knit scarf of warm disco. As anything more than a lovely accompaniment to a night out or an afternoon of work, it’s a little listless, but as an accompaniment, it is sublime — and, honestly, most house that tries to be more ends up overwrought and undercooked. See you on the floor.
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