Thursday, September 16th, 2021

Skrillex, Justin Bieber & Don Tolliver – Don’t Go

Well… the video has expensive looking looks, at least?


[Video]
[4.14]

Austin Nguyen: A barometer for how fucked up 2021 has become: For the first time since 2015, I like — or, at the very least — can tolerate a Justin Bieber song. Paranormal phenomenon has its reasons, of course: Anything that isn’t MLK-sampling wife-guy balladry in the vein of bootleg Ed Sheeran is at least a [1], and if it also isn’t Bieber salivating over sex like that one video of Noah Centineo in a mall, then it’s a [2]. The fact that there are actual verses, however done to death its wordplay is (“masterpiece”/”pieces”/”peace”), and Bieber isn’t just belt-squeaking for a TikTok hit helps, too. In other words, there’s an actual song here — one that feels like, of all things, three Kehlani songs jolted together in a blender, minus the slide-whistling synth. Bieber has never actually sounded sweet, sexy, or savage, but this is probably the closest he’ll ever get.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: I mean, the crinkling guitar above the wilting vocal sample and soft focus drums with the cowardly bongos sounds good, and Justin and Don sound good on it. But should we be encouraging any of these men in continuing this?
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Anemic and substance-less in comparison to Justin Bieber’s iconic collaborations with Skrillex; it’s hard to be dismissive of Don Toliver when there’s not much to dismiss. 
[3]

Alfred Soto: Cynical tracks like “Don’t Go” should offer more for the experience than Justin Bieber’s Windex falsetto, the mildest of trap beats, and singing credits that read like an FBI most-wanted list.
[3]

Hazel Southwell: Honestly I really like this. I think it has virtually no musical merit but I can absolutely see myself vibing to it at some awful place I can’t afford the drinks in and it’ll probably be the best song played that night. It’s got vibes much bigger than it can deliver on melody, delivery or flow but it works somehow, as a quixotic bit of background noise clearly designed for that. But what the heck is Skrillex doing doing that?
[6]

Andrew Karpan: Subjects so often loses their permanence in Bieber records lately; the more he tells us how much Hailey Baldwin has changed his life, the less she seems to exist as a real human being. It is fitting that in his latest romantic proclamation, then, he begs her not to leave the palace of love he continues to build her. “My vital OG, that’s all on the record, you make me better,” he cries, the kind of affirmation Bieber has become better at delivering to groceries. Skrillex, who once helped remake Bieber as our generation’s premier sadboy, creates a thin background of slightly effeminate cooing and last year’s golden-voiced trap hitmaker Don Tolliver can be heard muttering something about late night calls. In the clip, the three men make these statements while surrounded by objects plucked seemingly from an auction catalog. (A stuffed moose figures prominently, if inexplicably — presumably “to show you what you’re worth.”).
[3]

Juana Giaimo: Not to criticize the Jukebox’s selectors committee, but I feel we cover a Justin Bieber song every week, and all of them sound more or less the same: a trap influenced beat, his boyish soft tone with a little bit of Auto-Tune and some guest artist we don’t care a lot about. It’s trendy and sometimes fun, but he’s also turning everyday more anonymous. I need him to disappear for two years, please.
[4]

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

Charli XCX – Good Ones

(Checks score) Checks out.


[Video]
[6.38]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “As you already know, I am an iconic figure in the arts, and have helped expand the landscape of popular music over the last decade by seamlessly traversing the underground and mainstream with my output,” ends Charli’s press release for “Good Ones.” Edicts like this are based in self-mythology, but not without merit in Charli’s case. For all of the mediocre bubblegum pop from Sucker, oeuvres like Pop 2, Charli, and How I’m Feeling Now have engendered pop’s fantabulous de- and re-construction. “Good Ones” sees Charli shedding her hyper-pop, feature-heavy exoskeleton in favor of what she calls “ultimate pop music.” Propelled by wobbly, manic synths, detailing a series of toxic relationships, and drenched with hook after sticky hook, the track is the closest that Charli has come to truly an imperial pop star moment. Not quite iconic, but certainly more than just a good one. 
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: I guess the future is here, y’all. Wassup, old Swedes?
[8]

Alfred Soto: Mmm fat sequencer lines hit the spot. But where’s the rest of the song? I need more than Charli’s grisly falsetto.
[4]

Tobi Tella: I’d rather a commitment to full sellout, rather than another half-hearted Splenda version of hyperpop, and this certainly fits the bill. Has the vocal melody been done already? Probably. Will that stop me from constant replaying, like a gay Odysseus lured in by the Top 40 sirens? Absolutely not.
[7]

Austin Nguyen: I’m hoping, for my own sanity, that this isn’t the True Romance 2021 Charli promised, but part of some larger Frank Ocean-esque scheme to release two albums for the sake of contractual obligation. After all, the producer isn’t Ariel Rechtshaid of static-shuddering, neon-strobe glory, but Oscar Holter of “Blinding Lights” fame. Which makes sense — this isn’t so much a “Stay Away” sequel as it is a blatant rip-off of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” that tries to strut like “Womanizer,” but just sort of… briskly walks, like a Great British Bake Off contestant who forgot their pie in the oven: a bit sweet, mainly dry.
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: It’s God’s gift to any playlist based on Wall-Shaking Club Bangers, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d think to open Spotify and type “charli xcx good ones” into the search bar. The main synth line and vocal hook are far too generic to randomly stab me in the hippocampus at the grocery store, with the former immediately morphing into “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” whenever I try to call it up. Even its spectacular momentum is sustained mainly by its brevity. Lastly, I assume someone else will discuss the Jekyll-and-Hyde-ness of Charli’s career in more detail, but man, is it jarring to see this drop only a year after “Enemy.” 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Charli finally materializes from the hyper-quasi-semi-pop cloud and makes corporeal music again. Or maybe more accurately, she’s returned to her roots, i.e., MySpace pop at the exact moment it became The Fame. It’s still not True Romance, but at least it’s a nostalgia cycle I can get behind. What’s Alice Chater up to lately?
[7]

Leah Isobel: Charli has spent her career waffling between genuine shots at big pop stardom and oddball plays for artistic respect — a good way to appeal to RYM bros and gay people who use Twitter, demographics who love to denigrate pop music by imagining that their favorite stars are somehow “elevating” or “subverting” it, but not a good way to actually achieve her ambitions. As far as I can tell, this inconsistency came from a deep-rooted ambivalence towards what being a pop star (not just a “popstar”) might mean about her as a person. If she really committed to her love for pop, if she accepted her status in the industry, would she be a sucker? Would she lose it all, would she fuck it up? “Good Ones” finds her on the other side of the divide, looking back at her past doubts. She smiles and nods — yes, she would do all that and more. And she’d do it again. She’s not a hipster icon, not a subversive anarchist, not the anti-pop goddess her cult has wanted her to be. She’s not magically separate from the industry that she’s worked in for a decade. She’s a fucking pop star. It’s kind of funny, though, that the pop star she wants to be is Tik Tok Natalia Kills.
[7]

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

Farruko – Pepas

Remember football in stadiums?


[Video]
[6.14]

Al Varela: One of the stranger but more charming Latin hits in recent memory. “Pepas” is destined for football stadiums for years to come. The chanting chorus is built for jumping up and down and shouting at the top of your lungs. The squeaky synth and joyous trumpet trot along to the catchy drumbeat, while Farruko glides through the track with ease. It’s fun as hell and feels emblematic of a post-lockdown world: Things are a little unstable, but we’re finding bliss in the few moments we do have. 
[8]

Michael Hong: Uses its expansive time to run the same melody through a couple of scenes: the sing-along chant that feels like an outdoor festival, the horns that set the track ablaze, and the electronic squiggles that feel like a silent rave. “Pepas” stitches these ideas, blurring them together to make any location with Farruko a club party in constant motion.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Tipsy, infectious dancefloor magic both aided and adulterated by the fact that the electronic hook sounds from about 20 years ago. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: On hearing the airhorn and trumpet solos, I dove under my desk like my parents were taught to do in 1962.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Sounds exactly like 2010, by which I mean it’s the exact midpoint of Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service” (the beeps) and Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight” (the melody). But alas, 2010 is gone and never coming back — which perhaps explains why the should-be-obnoxious hook sounds distant and faint. It’s like hearing the ghosts of the Vengaboys.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: I know it’s time to party again (or maybe not? Who knows by now!), but I can’t avoid thinking how silly an extra-loud song about taking drugs and dancing is in this context. “Pepas” doesn’t even talk about a communal experience, just the individualistic pleasure of the moment: “You live your life, I live mine.” At least it recommends that people drink water too!
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: I’ve heard this song at least 34 times throughout the year, and every time I’ve heard it it slapped. And even in my piddly little earbuds with no bass, it bangs. Please listen to it immediately.
[10]

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Kacey Musgraves – Justified

If we blurb just a little / and score high just a little…


[Video]
[7.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: There’s a lot of beauty to pick apart on “Justified” — the lead single off of star-crossed, a three-act, Greek-tragedy inspired follow-up to 2018’s Golden Hour written in the wake of Kacey Musgraves’ divorce to Ruston Kelly — but one would be remiss not to appreciate the opening lines. “It was a fun, strange summer / I rolled on, didn’t think of you” hits with a precision of emotion and awareness of the world that can only be described as arresting. The rest of “Justified” is just as a intentional and smart in its songwriting: whereas Golden Hour felt like a personal invitation to singular love story, “Justified” aspires for mass catharsis. The song is at once a search for healing and justification for pain. But the narrative is far from a black-and-white, scorched earth breakup: the evolution in the chorus from “You should have treated me right” to “I should have treated you right” injects a nuanced layer of self-reflection, rare in most pop narratives. It’s an effective emotional reset from what we’re used to from Kacey, one underscored by her voice which gleams and flickers with memories, melancholy, and maturity. 
[8]

Alex Clifton: I will admit that I had high horse hopes for the Kacey Musgraves Divorce Album Extravaganza, only to be greeted with a muted album that didn’t do a whole lot to break my heart. It’s a shame, because I think the writing on “Justified” has some lovely, sad little details: “To touch somebody / you know I tried to make that you” and the switch from “you should have treated me right” to “I should have treated you right” are both great lines. I do like it well enough, but I just wish it had a little more oomph to capture my attention.
[6]

Al Varela: “Justified” is an interesting midpoint between Kacey’s flirtations with pop and her roots in country. Fluttery and car-ready enough to have that country rider sound, but soft and dancey enough to have those traces of pop within it that don’t quite fit with the Nashville sound. But they both still come together really well as Kacey mulls over the mixed emotions of her relationship being over, the back and forth between being in love with him and being angry at the way he treated her. It’s unclear what her ex-husband did to cause this rift between them (not yet at least), but it’s enough to set the stage of what was likely a difficult, miserable divorce that tore apart the optimism of Golden Hour.
[8]

Michael Hong: There’s some really pretty moments here, particularly the line “healing doesn’t happen in a straight line” that defines much of star-crossed and the flip from “you should’ve treated me right” that feels obvious only in retrospect. But blame the mixing and production because like much of star-crossed, everything comes across muted, its wide range of emotions just feels like ambivalence.
[6]

Austin Nguyen: The main criticism levied against star-crossed, at least as far as I’ve seen, is that it’s muted and middling, too tidy and polished to be a divorce album. Which, uh, sounds like a familiar reproach. If ever there were a resurgence of The New Boring, would it not be now? Lorde, Taylor Swift, Clairo, not to mention “Your Power” and Ed Sheeran’s return, have all traded in their synths for something more quiet and reflective (whether it’s the pendulum of time swinging back or the pandemic, it’s happening). Musgraves follows suit: She doesn’t take the shotgun off the wall and blow Ruston Kelly’s brains to bits (antithetical to The New Boring 2.0 is the post-“good 4 u” pop-punk wave, a symbol of rage and mess and catharsis, and I’m wondering if all narratives of betrayal swallowed into the recent memory of SOUR, which is basically a mini-franchise in itself at this point, must now meet some secret threshold of teenage-diary angst). Instead, she feigns composure, lingers on platitudes as if she were hearing them for the first time, but it doesn’t seem staid so much as it feels guarded with a wounded grace. However vague, the memories are re-traced with the colors washed out — a photo negative of “Drive,” the promise of a future made cavernous.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The twangy guitar that begins the song feels as wistful as Kacey sounds, and feels so soft it settles around your body as the drums and slithering bass and circling slide guitar wait for her to fall. But Kacey keeps walking, strumming her guitar and placing the bass on her back, hopping on the drums and cycling away, the circling slide guitars following her, curious now. As Kacey kneels at the stone that commemorates her marriage, she sheds a single tear, then rises, strumming her guitar and summoning up her echoes as she disappears into the dust.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: Hot, honeyed and forceful like the late summer that Musgraves’ voice carefully carves out, “Justified” is a moment of revelation, the urgent hum of taking account before the leaves begin to fall and the year begins to end. The song’s architecture glitters inside the confines of country without reinventing them and instead the loose and distant production has the effect of making the record eventually feel voluminous, a container to store the resignation and betrayal discovered at its very start. A therapeutic exercise for hurt cowboys everywhere.
[7]

Leah Isobel: There are touches throughout “Justified” that bring to mind Kacey’s Golden Hour bliss; the synths drip with light, the harmonies peek through like sunbeams, and the prechorus’ switch into a major progression almost positions the song as triumphant. Then the electric guitar hits in the chorus, leading the chord changes and the vocal melody down and down. Her voice’s natural warmth plays against the song’s movement, and it mostly works. She reads as apathetic, which makes the encroaching darkness feel deeper but also — just a little — more distant.
[7]

Dorian Sinclair: I’m a very technical listener; when I like something, I enjoy picking it apart and articulating precisely what I like about it. I’ve been trying to do that with “Justified”, and I’ll admit it’s been tricky! Sure, I can gesture at specific things it does well — I enjoy the hyperabbreviated phrases and the sing-song melodies, which are echoed by the back-and-forth Musgraves has with herself in the lyrics. The production is sleek and effective without being obtrusive; I’m especially fond of that walking bassline. But ultimately, it’s just a really frictionless listen. I’m not convinced it’s great, but everything about it is good, and I think a high mark on that basis is more than just a little, well, you know.
[8]

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Onuka – TY

No, thank YOU…


[Video]
[7.12]

Will Adams: The genius of Onuka is that even when they aim for a more conventional sound (in this case Spotify-core; check that vaporwave breakdown!), is that it’ll be a gorgeous, elevated rendition of that sound. “TY” may be less exciting than their previous singles, but the elements remain just as appealing: textured percussion, brass functioning as a robust bass section, sopilka fluttering about, and Nata Zhyzhchenko’s icy soprano. I don’t believe I could ever deny their formula.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “The message of Onuka,” bandleader Nata Zhyzhchenko declares in the documentary accompanying “TY,” “is a combination of folk sounds with ethno components and with layers of modern music through which you can show these ancient codes for young people who understand the language of modernity.” Rarely are artists able to so pristinely declare the ethos of their creation without bullshitting. “TY” sounds at once like an ethereal, mystical journey in Ukrainian history led by banduras and flutes, and a dystopian, futuristic pop rave feeding off of horns and vocoders. Onuka’s ability to bring these two worldviews seamlessly together is nothing short of fantastical. (Now, can someone just explain to me how and why this track is sponsored by a Hennessy Instagram challenge?)
[9]

Ian Mathers: I actually really like that adenoidal flute(?) hook, kind of wish they’d done even more with it since it’s the most interesting part of the production. Wait, isn’t that basically how I felt last time? Ah well. Nevertheless,
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: A flute is one of the most beautiful instruments created, since its high pitched whistle can communicate with birds and hold your attention all by itself. It’s why even when synths became the dominant creation of songs, flutes never went away, they just created emulators and kept plucking them in the middle of the mix. ONUKA does this at the beginning and in a detour throughout the song. They lay the keening flute emulator atop the chomping drums and swampy synth horns, hiding the sweeping chorus behind them, until the last of the flute leads us away. Absolutely beautiful.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Burial? Vaporwave? They fit Onuka, who start “TY” with the expected clicks and clucks before the entry of marvelous screeches and synth horns. What I expect a 007 anthem to sound like in 2021.
[8]

Dorian Sinclair: I really like a number of the components of “TY”; the ghostly sopilka at the top of the song (which recurs in the beautifully understated first section of the later instrumental breakdown), the stuttery percussion, and as ever Nata Zhyzhchenko’s voice. The song is structured well too, albeit with an ending a little more abrupt than I would prefer. What lets it down are just a couple of production choices. Zhyzhchenko jumping up the octave on the second verse feels like a misstep — albeit one I understand as an attempt to build intensity — but the real problem for me is the synth chosen to restate the instrumental hook, first at 1:18 and then at 2:25. Onuka’s instrumentals are usually really resonant and full, but this particular synth lead is just so dead-sounding. It stands out dramatically from the soundscape around it, and not in a way that I think helps the song at all.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Orchestral instruments in an electropop song usually serve the role of sonic packing material (with all the flavor that implies) but this tune avoids that pitfall by forcing them into a rubbery, stop-start rhythm on one end and a Bollywood-style shrieking violin on the other. The immaculate sound design is, unfortunately, not enough to elevate the plucky warble of a melody that passes for a main hook.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Hints at more than it delivers; the sonic melange of the intro into the Kelela-esque robot funk of the verse implies some grand work of sci-fi pop, but everything is just slightly too mannered to be truly great. Putting together all these disparate elements is still an accomplishment, but when it’s all wrapped up in a slightly-dated drop structure you can’t help but feel slightly let down.
[7]

Sunday, September 12th, 2021

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending September 12, 2021

Today’s post rounds up work published by our contributors between late July and early September!

New album reviews:

Retrospectives:

Misc. interviews, essays, and more:

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Saint Etienne – Pond House

Whatever you do, don’t say “she’s on the phone”…


[Video][Website]
[6.46]

Ian Mathers: Excellent sample (White Lilies Island is underrated), and a top notch use of it — although it’s left relatively intact, something about the backing and the way the track keeps going over it and over it winds up feeling like it’s shimmering in the heat haze of nostalgia, becoming pliable in the distortions of memory. 
[8]

Jeffrey Brister: “Tasteful and restrained” are the words coming to mind, and that’s not really a good thing. A song that plods along with the same melodic and rhythmic figures goes well as bridging filler in a DJ set, but in any other context it just sits there, inert, waiting, signaling that something has ended and something else will begin soon. It’s a loading screen, a checkpoint, menu music, etc — all stuff to note a calm, impermanent space. But there’s nothing more to it than that.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: “Pond House” shows that repetitiveness isn’t necessarily a consequence of repeating something, because while we have the main melody again and again, it doesn’t feel tiring at all — partly because the build-up is so detailed, but also because that vocal melody is so intriguing. As someone who will probably never choose to listen to this kind of music, I would be very pleased if I’m somewhere and this song starts playing. 
[6]

Jessica Doyle: Lately I’ve been spending more than a reasonable share of time working with various lo-fi streams on in the background. Like most multitasking attempts, this is a cheat that makes me look better than I actually am — in this case, that I’ve been listening to music that has actually drifted by without my noticing (though I did, fortunately, pay enough attention to this playlist to discover Jean Tassy). So I’m grateful that “Pond House” is less a drift-by-your-head song than it looks at first glance. It’s not lo-fi, for one thing, but it’s also not relaxed, or relaxing. I want to read a spikiness into it, a potential skepticism that could be directed towards the comfort of nostalgia. I don’t want to take anything away from the YouTube commenter who wrote, “I miss the old Saint Etienne. The big-bag-of-samples Saint Etienne. The in-love-with-London Saint Etienne. The C86ers-on-pills Saint Etienne,” but I do think there’s room here for those who want to mutter about the London of Cool Britannia not being all it was cracked up to be even at the time. (And I say that as someone who will never not be in love with “He’s on the Phone.”) It’s worth breaking my usual habit and forcing myself to pay attention.
[7]

William John: A treacly “Beauty on the Fire” remix in a style that sits somewhere between Télépopmusik and Groove Armada, this leans into Saint Etienne’s idiosyncrasies almost so far as to seem predictable.
[5]

Austin Nguyen: Turns “Beauty on the Fire” into a rich, sprawling mirage, synths evaporating into the churning thicket of air, each syllable smudged over with the mist of memory. Not exactly “atmospheric” (an understatement at best), but what I imagine it’d sound like in the glistening time-space-folding-into-itself bubble of Penguin Highway.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The decelerated drum machine is a callback to “Calico,” and the rest of this aural reflecting pool glimmers, a tribute to how pretty Saint Etienne can make found sounds. Those of us who want songs as tasty as Words and Music and Home Counties‘, though, may tap our feet, impatiently. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The plucked piano chords barely whir underneath the heavy drums as Natalie Imbruglia’s voice is smushed and erased, then hidden as a limp synth line wills itself to the top of a circling bass loop. Bob and Pete have created a flushed, warm sound with the spiraling synth pads and off-kilter synth riffs, but there is no animating presence to enliven it, to make it anything more than a churning machine, at least without Sarah. And the Natalia clip can barely make the song move, feeling more like a bored snipe at the crumbling synth and snare work. 
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The Natalie Imbruglia nostalgia did not register to me until I started reading the YouTube comments, but it doesn’t even matter — regardless of experience with the sample or with this group’s work I’m still moved by this. It’s the kind of massive marble slab of sophisticated electronic music that I prefer at an eight-minute length rather than four, but I’ll appreciate the grandness of this at any speed.
[7]

John Pinto: Pulses ahead like a latent and half-right memory of the Natalie Imbruglia track it flips. It reminds me, bizarrely, of a different 2002 curio: Gus Van Zant’s Gerry, a film where one minor divergence from the path early on leads to monotonous catastrophe. You missed a turnoff somewhere long ago, but remain convinced that just up ahead, for sure, will be the way back. 
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Is that Southampton or the south of France? Claude Puel himself couldn’t tell you. British torpor blends seamlessly into Continental languor like they were one and the same, and in the process reveal that they are. A Red Funnel sunset is the same as a cruise ship’s; equally recurrent. Lustrous and refined, “Pond House” encapsulates that flow.
[7]

Leah Isobel: When I was 18, I thought I was way more tasteful and cool than I was, and I listened to a lot of cool, tasteful pop. “Pond House” is like a refraction of those songs, which I now realize were certainly in Saint Etienne’s lineage (particularly “Peanut Butter“). In turn, it feels like a gestural memory of a moment of my life. It’s a funny comparison, given that the repetitive and abstract lyrics point to memory and feeling, or the memory of feeling — the line “here it comes again” floats in and out, slipping off-time, pulling the song backwards, glazed by burbling synth. The bass organ is carnivalesque, but the layers over it are so sweet and vague that its goofy specificity becomes an asset. Being profoundly goofy, I would’ve loved this at 18.
[6]

Mark Sinker: Bob I’ve known for more than 35 years: we both wrote for NME in the 80s and I’ve acted as editorial consultant on his two histories of pop (the second is due next year). Pete is the beloved son-in-law of an old and close friend of my sister’s. By all means assume that my response to this pleasing slice of ambient dance is shaped mainly by these professional and social ties — because of course I like it.
[7]

Friday, September 10th, 2021

Sleepy Hallow – 2055

The boy is nice, but what about the song?


[Video]
[4.67]

Katie Gill: So does this “Peaches,” Masked Wolf, “Build a Bitch” genre have an official name yet? The genre where the song is build entirely around a 10-30 second hook, used exclusively to back TikTok videos, and awkwardly padded out to a 2-3 minute track so that the artist can toss it up on Youtube and Spotify and get chump change from the views. Because if not, at this point, somebody really needs to come up with a snappy name. It’s a good hook. It’s pleasantly lethargic — Sleepy Hallow isn’t really doing much on this track, but it’s a track that isn’t designed to do much in the first place. In fact, it feels like every sort of TikTok bgm track that’s gotten popular: ephemeral background noise. Points for the optimism, though: I highly doubt we’ll have those parties in the sky by 2055, it’s gonna be at least 2155 at the earliest.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: One nice guitar lick is enough for a simple beat, with wilted vocals that can’t snatch away the interest from Sleepy this time. Unfortunately, his lyrics and low, dulled tone can’t drag your attention away from the intrusive vocal sample and the humming in the back. I do like the beef/fries punchline though.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: At least this bore of a hip hop record (whining over an acoustic guitar, how original) is only 2:02. Unfortunately, that’s still 2:02 of my life I’ll never have back, complete with inane lyrics like “Heart cold like some water with some ice.”
[1]

Mark Sinker: A snapshot of one of those scenes in a half-good sci-fi thriller which afterwards we return to bcz the mood and the look of the moment are so much richer than the actual story (which you all saw elsewhere a hundred times).
[8]

Edward Okulicz: If you told me that someone had invented a rap version of a Vocaloid, I’d be sceptical, but having heard this, not entirely dismissive of the idea. Because really, this does sound like a 30 second TikTok thing that someone needed to beef up to full length (2 minutes, of course), and maybe they  used some super-advanced extrapolation technique to do it.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: Straightforward, twangy, sonically unambitious; under most lyricists, good for a yawn and not much more. The melancholy here is intense enough to be compelling on its own, though — note the immaculately crafted refrain “Heart cold like some water and some ice,” made all the more self-deprecating by its clunkiness. Most tunes that contain a line like “I don’t really want friends” don’t make it believable, but I think I believe this one.
[6]

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Santana, Rob Thomas and American Authors – Move

Not fun not fact: when “Smooth” came out, your editor thought Rob Thomas was singing “like seven inches from a minty sun.”


[Video]
[3.50]

Ian Mathers: It’s… not a hot one, I’m sad to report.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: As a fan of a shockingly large percentage of Carlos Santana’s 50 year catalog I am happy to discover that he absolutely still does have it. His play on “Move” is exciting, a masterclass in his signature style of jazz and blues-indebted latin rock guitar. Unfortunately everything else about “Move” is deeply unpleasant. The vocals are split between the faux-soul guy schtick of Rob Thomas and the completely anodyne presence of American Authors, the drums and horns sound like karaoke presets, and Santana himself is relegated to a marginal presence on the track. On his best work, from the late 60s onto the early 2000s, his music blended Latin and Anglo rock tendencies into an ambitious, almost-prog fusion. Here, he’s an exotic garnish appended to tired alt radio bait.
[3]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A curse on the incessant beeping synth and overly busy horns and backing vocals for removing any potential this had to be a hot one. 
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: The swinging guitar created by Santana over the loping bass barely holds Rob’s electrified voice and the heavy drums, before the soaring horns sweep down, with the background singers and the shuddering bongos emerge at the second verse, before American Authors snatch the song back, before Santana pries their finger loose and swirls everyone around his startling guitar, launching us all into the air, even letting American Authors get in on the jam, and they land gently on the ground.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: I’m sure someone else will make the same joke, but this is definitely not smooth. Rob Thomas sounds too loud (maybe screaming at me to move won’t actually make me move) and Santana’s guitar is just randomly pasted and never fully blends in with the rest of the song. 
[4]

Jeffrey Brister: I’m honestly at a loss. No idea what to say. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. It moves along pleasantly, operating on the assumption you’ll be thinking about “Smooth” the entire time. It’s not plodding, it’s not annoying, but that also means there’s nothing distinctive about it at all. “Move” is flavorless paste infused with something that makes it smell like food. Not terribly filling, and certainly not worth revisiting, but it provided meager nourishment.
[1]

Alfred Soto: How much you wanna bet these clowns chose “Move” as a title because it sounds like their megahit a generation ago? At least Carlos Santana sounds like he’s — well, if not moving, then swaying in place to those sour notes he plays, his specialty. The rest is a horror of massed vocals and ill-placed drums.
[4]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: Since my dominant personality attribute is no longer Very Serious Teenage Radiohead Fan, I’ve developed some fondness for “Smooth,” and was honestly kind of looking forwards to reviewing this second collaboration from Santana and Rob Thomas. Here on “Move,” unfortunately, the pivotal production choice seems to be the absolute wall of autotune every vocal glissando from Rob Thomas is slammed through. It sounds pixelated, every note a shelf you could stack your books upon. The effect is so distracting that I’m struggling to remember any other feature of the song — probably not the effect anyone was going for on what is ostensibly a Santana record. There was definitely guitar present, some decent hooks too, but, nothing lyrically as sticky as that honest-to-god pop magic opening line from the OG. Feels like I’d like this better if I heard it on AM radio, perhaps?
[3]

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Olivia Rodrigo – Traitor

Among Us tie-in being finalized as we speak…


[Video]
[6.45]

Al Varela: Another grand slam for Olivia Rodrigo, whom I’m just about ready to crown the queen of Gen Z teenage angst. Once again, what she’s doing is incredibly simple: the heartbreak of seeing an ex move on makes all of your ugliest emotions leak out uncontrollably. But unlike “Good 4 U,” which unleashes the raw anger and fury building up inside Rodrigo, “Traitor” is a sad kind of angry. She wants to lash out further but is so overwhelmed with hurt and sadness that all she can do is wail and stomp her foot as she loses control of her emotions. It’s not a pretty scene. At a cursory glance, you may call it immature and pathetic. But that doesn’t matter when Olivia’s intensity and quivering voice overwhelm any sense of common sense or rationality; it really does feel like a betrayal. And that final chorus where she crescendos into a powerful high note sends chills down my spine like you wouldn’t believe.
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Nortey Dowuona: The song begins with warm, soft vocals and pianos, and every chorus fades into silence at Olivia’s bitter utterance of her ex’s treachery. And each time the song builds and strums, it never blows up: it simply hums as Olivia swings in the air, then fades into blackness.
[7]

Austin Nguyen: You already know the story–this time, wounded two-part SSAA vocals set to a funerary church organ and years-old churning underwater thumps. The only surprise is that Mazzy Star hasn’t received a couple hundred thousand dollars for that lilting guitar strum. Or is it supposed to be Taylor Swift?
[4]

Edward Okulicz: The thing about doing something a whole bunch of times is that eventually you hit on the best version of it. “Traitor” is the best track on Sour, the one where her breakup story feels most visceral and her performance is the most vivid, and the one that you can enjoy or get catharsis from in the most ways. Want to sway and mope? Want to wail and cry? Want to yell the lyrics at a mirror while ripping up photos? This song is the ideal soundtrack to any of those, and a genuine successor to “You Oughta Know” or “Caught Out There.” Yep, that good.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: I’m sorry, but if I had this single when I was 15, I’d give it away and exorcise my teenage angst with music that sounds like angst. The word “traitor” is well chosen, a girl grappling with the realization that there are more ways to be hurt by partners than there are words for them. (Works better in a chorus than “backburnering,” at least.) Toward the bridge, Olivia’s singing finally loses its measured hesitance to sound like she might actually be hurting — but hurt is too strong an emotion for the sedate Christina Perri arrangement to permit or indulge. Amazing how that can make me not relate to something you’d really think I would.
[3]

Michael Hong: The drama of “Traitor” is best in its dynamics, like the swoop of the chorus as Rodrigo suddenly finds herself and chooses her words with precision to eviscerate an ex. “Traitor” is honest until it isn’t, and when Rodrigo’s words become melodramatic exaggerations on the bridge, it feels easier to feel pity toward her than sympathy. Meanwhile, the music — especially the monotonous melody — could probably use a little bit of drama.
[5]

Oliver Maier: Does Phoebe Bridgers get a writing credit for this one? At least a vocal coaching credit, surely.
[5]

Jeffrey Brister: Rodrigo does a pretty good Hayley Williams impression. The hard breaks in the melismatic runs, that slight guttural snarl when leaning into notes, that ability to shift between steely and weepy without trying — it checks all the boxes, and adds another layer with that back-of-the-throat singing that’s so en vogue now. But it still feels like a middling musical theatre performance of Hayley Williams. No amount of big choruses and swooping melodic lines with dense harmonies can hide that.
[6]

Alfred Soto: A summer-long exposure to “Good 4 U” and “Brutal” convinced me: I prefer Olivia Rodrigo in pop-punk brutalist mode. While her untutored empathy blunts the power of the guitars, it’s left to its own devices on a ballad and I tug at my collar. Subverting six decades of girl band expectations has its own power; she’s not Ronnie Spector but closer to Lesley Gore, not giving a fuck about who sees her crying.
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Few songwriters are able to craft hooks with the precision, vulnerability, and bite of “Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor.” Olivia sings “I know that you’ll never feel sorry” with enough affect to make the intended feel sorry after all. 
[8]

Alex Clifton: “Traitor” feels very young. That’s not an insult — I just can’t access that same kind of headspace anymore now that I’m nearly 30. But my heart remembers just how bad it hurt whenever she sings “god I wish that you had thought this through / before I ever went and fell in love with you.” Some of the rhymes are a little clunky, but the hurt in her voice really carries the song. I’ve preferred the more upbeat songs from the album but there’s nothing quite like a vulnerable ballad for your worst days, is there?
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