Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Ane Brun – Directions

Yes, today’s theme was People We’ve Loved Before But Now Slightly Less So…


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Brad Shoup: Surely there’s a bit of inspiration from Björk’s “Human Behavior” — the timpani working melodically, and the syncopated snare. This, plus the meta reference to drums, makes this a floorfiller in Brun’s world. She does a diva inversion, projecting confidence while crouching in the corner. It’s not exactly a buffalo stance, but it’ll kick around my brain for a little bit today.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Almost twenty seconds of something that sounds like an abstracted piano and timpani, before the angular voice of Ane Brun cuts through the music. Through the rest of the track, she rests lithely against the twinkle and the thump. It is so well constructed, glassy, isolated, and beautiful. When she starts counting steps, the work becomes corporeal, when she repeats it, it is less of a chorus than a movement through a chilling rain. Ending it with a cymbal just makes the whole thing shine. 
[10]

Will Adams: The tumbling drums are the star, and Ane Brun navigates its bold texture like she does it every day. But with all the emphasis on the “beat of the drum,” I wonder why anyone thought to add a New Age spa piano.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: What is that vibrato? You’re going for some kind of soul inflection, and you’re ending up with trembling grandma. This production is so limpid, yet despite doing very little musically its very full of itself and puffs out its chest more than a few times off the merits of what? OOOH, you threw in some dramatic sounding piano! Oh my days, are those… Are those ACOUSTIC BASS SOLOS? How bold! Never mind this middle-school poetry about wet shoes and trying to take that step. You didn’t even take the step. You’re making a big show of doing fuck all.
[2]

Jonathan Bogart: It would be hard to make a song more directly aimed at certain of my pleasure centers: a dance song, but with jazz instrumentation; archly removed but with an aching heartbeat just under the chilly surface; delivered in a wintry soprano. The fact that my mantra for the past half-dozen years has been “one foot in front of the other,” and that I can now trade it out for “step three…step…step four…step (bass solo),” is only icing on the cake.
[9]

Iain Mew: I still love her voice and there’s hints of the chilling tension she’s previously excelled in, but this one goes a bit step-by-step. The music is just too tightly controlled to match the vivid images, with too many careful details not adding up to that much force.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Ane Brun’s quavery vocal brushes aganst fairygloss pianos and jazz bass like they’re wind chimes. It’s its own little musical world, as removed from its peers as Narnia’s removed from your wardrobe, and it’s more magical that way.
[6]

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Björk – Lionsong

It’s a lion!


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Look, we’ve been over this. This is not Bjork trying to make songs about the protozoa who are slowly causing the doom of the great barrier reef. This is not Bjork taking about the power of the tectonic plates and how that is parallel to the tooth decay she’s fending off within her daughter’s mouth. This is Bjork’s voice hardwired into her heart, complete with slipshod duets with herself, vocoder-eroded wails. The sound of ones fear providing disassociation and out of body experience. Who cares if the earth is *Bjork voice* crackliiiiing, when your life is falling apart? Fuck the planet, girl, do you. Live. Survive! This is not some forced soundtrack of a National Geographic program, this is a war to breath, and Bjork has never been one to go down meekly and humbly. Even should she sink into the magma, she’s going to do it on the most triumphant and throaty note, so all who witness may comprehend that she did this to live and to love.
[10]

Will Adams: Following the outpouring of “Stonemilker” and preceding the haunted and ghostly “History of Touches,” “Lionsong” struggles to assert itself on Vulnicura. While its reliably gorgeous (those strings!), even on its own it feels complacent, meandering through keys and loosely defined structures.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Less of a slog in isolation than on the album, “Lionsong” rakes over the ashes of a relationship, Bjork and the string section in scary syncopation. It’s more powerful and interesting than compelling though. Like she says, once it was simple, one feeling at a time.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but this reminds me of nothing so much as The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir produced by Matmos. Big, weird-to-American-ears harmonies with glitchy beats. The lyrics are painful and lovely but there’s something oddly lacking for me. So many artists go from artsy to poppy; Björk has gone the opposite direction, and I’m not sure her work is the better for it.
[4]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I’ve always admired Björk’s voice: it’s strong, it belts, but it’s feathered at the edges, soft, and mysterious no matter how much she reveals; like a cloud-covered planet swooping through the skies at thousands of miles per hour, looking still and aloof from afar, but teeming with life up close. The verses here are exposed and sensual, running down small tributaries, while the choruses, for all their anticipation, sound like dirges. She holds the tension between these two — as well as the tension between her voice and her harmonized voices, between the strings and the spidery beats — as powerful and enigmatic as ever.
[9]

Luisa Lopez: I love listening to her voice, even when I can’t stand the sound. There’s a painful frequency in her music, an unruly sickness that courses through the best songs and lights a kind of nausea in the stomach. She doesn’t make it easy: love or boredom or arousal, each feeling gets stripped down to its root. When I want the ugly parts of joy, the points on a body where loneliness turns into hysteria, I come to her. There are lots of reasons to stay; here it’s one / feeling / at a / time, which becomes, for a moment, something that could be called “lovely”: listenable, bearable, light. It only stays for a moment. 
[6]

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Kacey Musgraves – Biscuits

Following her arrow…


[Video][Website]
[5.20]

Alfred Soto: Watching an audience squeeze “Follow Your Arrow” tight as the anthem it wanted to be instead of the pat, tentative, formalist gesture it is, Musgraves and her writers have created a better realized formalist gesture. Thanks to the banjo and pedal steel solos, the arrangement even breathes a little. But it plays as  if team were so in love with the title concept that they  failed to imagine an accompanying song.
[6]

Iain Mew: There’s nothing unfamiliar about “Biscuits”, which couldn’t follow more obviously on from the most successful tracks of the first album, but it’s executed well enough to stay fresh. The ideal of a certain kind of second album single.
[7]

Anthony Easton: A kind of small government, libertarian morality tale, with a perfectly suitable jangly guitar, which repeats the critically successful “Follow Your Arrow.” An extra point for how she adds some variation near the clever line about salt and sugar. 
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This feels like a holding pattern, if not out and out regression, from Musgraves after the (relatively) big success of her debut album, wherein she goes back to the lyrical well of “Follow Your Arrow.” Banjo pickin’ and lines like “mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy” don’t really do her any favors; this feels like country music for people who don’t like country music: “Look! She’s real! And liberal!”
[4]

Josh Love: Musgraves’ debut featured a few really fine songs but also evinced exactly the unfortunate tendency that flowers fully here. Namely, towards banal tolerant liberalism, which may be a preferable personality trait but is really no more artistically satisfying than banal reactionary conservatism. And the dope smoke doesn’t make the cornpone go down any easier.
[4]

Crystal Leww: This song is honestly so corny: there is a good old fashioned stomp-along, a background sing-along chorus, a banjo that twangs harder than you’d ever imagine, and the hook is “mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.” And yet, this is so endearing, like Musgraves is really just genuinely the girl who would have been a kindergarten teacher had she not ended up being a country singer. Even my dead soul can’t hate that kind of earnestness.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The theme is decent, and Kacey sells this song with that sort of pointer fingers in the cheeks friendliness, a real “Hey, cheer up you dork and come home!” big sis feeling. But “Biscuits” also feels too easy to prep into something for Shannon, Lois and Bram with the “life will be gravy” kiss off, that weird place where in an attempt to be nice and positive, sometimes you step into the marshes of Richie Cunningham sweater levels of hokey. That certainly doesn’t make it a bad song, it just feels so daycare that it offsets the potency of the comforts trying to come through.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: A load of truisms made jaunty, but no more jaunty than a song living up to its calls not to rock the boat could be. It’s a pleasant trifle, though a trifle made with actual biscuits might be slightly more novel.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Kacey Musgraves decided that either the world or her career prospects needed another “Follow Your Arrow”; in the process, she’s forgotten that what made “Merry Go Round” great was her not minding her own business.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: As if taking the axiom that it’s not what you say it’s how you say it a bit too literally, Musgraves says precisely nothing and smiles and hopes people will extend first-album goodwill. I might, but not for this.
[3]

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Waxahatchee – Under a Rock

And now we get to the other one-third of Wednesday, in the genre… well, uh…


[Video][Website]
[5.86]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Waxahatchee has been bubbling for a minute, threatening to turn into her generation’s Cat Power, though for the life of me I can’t get it. It’s not like her turn of a phrase is any poorer, or the new choice of alt-rock backing thud any particularly worse. And yeah, her voice sounds a little more like Lisa Loeb now that it’s going pro-league. But the conventions of this song just feel a bit too conceding, like it was all too easy a step to make. The rock she was under — well, she wasn’t exactly hiding there with an intent to stay, y’know?
[4]

Josh Love: The high praise I can give this raucous, full-throated country-rocker is that it inspired me to investigate whatever happened to Kathleen Edwards (incidentally, she’s stopped making music and opened a cafe near Ottawa, which, good for her, but bad for those of us who care a lot more about her lyrics than her lattes). Katie Crutchfield might just make a worthy heir if her new album proves her capable of maintaining this level of grit and gusto. At 128 seconds, this is just really good instant coffee.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Cerulean Salt, a solid album, also inspired a couple of good festival performances. “Under a Rock” sounds designed to fade into the post-lunch fog around which festival attendants wander from stage to stage. The arrangement has no surprise at all. They should have released the new album’s synthy one.
[5]

Anthony Easton: I want her voice to not be overwhelmed by the racket of the other instruments. The Lomax brothers went to Alabama trying to find that pure southern sound, and to claim it as authentic; Waxahatchee live in Brooklyn now, and my nervousness about their distance from Alabama is a kind of claiming authenticity, which is equally problematic. But while these might be aesthetic choices, they are aesthetic choices that contain so much baggage.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I keep changing my mind of who Waxahatchee reminds me of. Before it was Cat Power or Kristin Hersh, almost; now it’s Tanya Donelly (this always seems one riff switch away from becoming “Pretty Deep“) or Anna Waronker, solo, particularly how her high notes go plaintive — which seems a better fit with her colleagues. If you, like me, have searched the 2010s landscape fruitlessly for those songwriters’ successors, here’s a project to follow.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Oh, power pop! I know how to process this. You’ve got the lyric that sounds better than it scans — I see you, “I got to you, imparting” — and those root notes that peal like a siren. If this is actually a Tom Petty song I don’t give a shit.
[9]

Moses Kim: Anger and half-buried resentment seeps out of those drawn-out guitar chords; the drums, on the other hand, thump with resignation, as if the only thing to do in the aftermath is to move on. This sort of thoughtful, intelligent composure isn’t always as satisfying as the immediate catharsis of a “fuck you,” but this song suggests that learning to take the high road is half the battle of adulthood.
[7]

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

The Darkness – Barbarian

There’s an elf in front of you…


[Video][Website]
[4.60]

Mark Sinker: In which Nogbad the Bad meets THIS (never forget) as the mumblecore Queen draw back the curtain on the pre-Anglian gap years aka THE DARK AGES, long before the United Kingdom was United. Ivar the Boneless is unexpectedly historical: a Berserker, he possibly suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta and was carried into battle on the back of a shield. He also (possibly) ordered the assassination of Edmund the Martyr, who thus became patron saint of All England for a long while. Who these guys should look at next is HARALD HARDRADA, who sailed to the edge of the world and possibly America, definitely worked as a mercenary in Russia and an imperial guardsman in Byzantium, and very nearly combined Norway Denmark and Britain into a single Viking entity kingdom (and thus clearly TOP NATION) just days before the Battle of Hastings (you know how that turned out). Also Harald’s son was known as Olaf the Flashy. All of which is way funnier than The Darkness, especially Nogbad the Bad, and also more interesting. 
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Still the biggest thing to happen to Lowestoft since continental drift, and with a sound progressing even slower. Looking back over their hits, though, they had more hooks than a Mark Twain convention, even into the second album. That was central to their power, and as “Barbarian” has none, they are shorn of it, wielding only riffs that just about transcend nondescript early-level Guitar Hero fare.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: These muppets are back? The first single was ass! I’m pretty sure that’s a Stone Temple Pilots riff, and he doesn’t even have the stupid pixie falsetto anymore. God, get this fucking weirdo away from me. He smells like Monty Python skits.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Justin Hawkins is oddly toned-down, yet the lyrics are like something out of a D&D fantasia, while what sounds like circa-’98 Stone Temple Pilots grind on behind him.
[1]

Edward Okulicz: This might actually be too legitimately heavy to work as well as the early Darkness singles did. There is that feeling of high camp and lightness that is missed. But the falsetto yowl is funny and effective in at least the same way that those early singles were.
[6]

Moses Kim: Pure acrobatics, all of it: the guitar riff alternating between two notes; the antiphony between the vocalist’s measured lines and the guitar’s noodling; the solemn delivery of the verses positioned against the goofiness of the chorus. Sometimes entertainment is best taken as entertainment.
[6]

Brad Shoup: It’s “Immigrant Song” crossed with “Run to the Hills,” filtered through “Enter Sandman”. I really thought the math would turn out differently.
[4]

Zach Lyon: They’ve traded the spaceship for an unadorned suburban basement with beige carpet and a single table covered with Pathfinder bestiaries and plastic figurines. Guys, you aren’t supposed to sound like that on purpose.
[3]

Iain Mew: The way the chorus boils down both metal crunch and Justin Hawkins’s squeal to their most basic appeal is great. The awfully unfunny monologue does rather kill it, but I wasn’t expecting to be surprised or pleased by anything about a new single from The Darkness, so they still come out ahead.
[6]

Kat Stevens: In Asterix and the Great Crossing the Gauls are rescued from North America by a troop of Vikings with names like Herendethelessen and Steptøånssen. Their dog Huntingseåssen (a Great Dane, of course) makes friends with Dogmatix! ‘Barbarian’ is to “Immigrant Song” as Huntingseåssen is to Scooby Doo, i.e. a delightful piss-take that is funnier and more enjoyable than the original. If the video contains looping gifs of kittens I’ll upgrade it to a [10].
[9]

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Muse – Psycho

It’s Two-Thirds-Glam-Rock Wednesday! Which really spoils the surprise of who we’re covering, actually, doesn’t it…


[Video][Website]
[3.30]

Alfred Soto: “Jean Genie” riff, distortion, and five minutes later, they went through this trouble to prove they’re ready for arenas.
[2]

Iain Mew: After m-m-m-m-mixing things up slightly last time, this may be the most straight down the line rock Muse single ever, and the riffing sounds a bit worn out. Matt Bellamy using his best sing-for-absolution voice for the line “your ass belongs to me” is a hilarious new development, but it shows up the sticky ground they’re on: ridiculous is fine for vague conspiracy theories, but when you start tying it to specific protests against the military you can end up way out of your depth.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Plod plod plod. Let’s party like it’s 1974 and Mud is still one of the biggest bands in the UK. Mud, Muse: see? Not that different, in any way. Lazy glam is the order of the day.
[2]

Brad Shoup: Ah, a return to the supercreep beat. Since I was 40% under correctness for “Madness,” I really really want to give this the benefit of the doubt. But if I couldn’t identify the best U2 parody ever — this includes Negativland, by the way — I don’t know how I’m going to properly peg a dead-on Marilyn Manson rip.
[5]

Will Adams: Thing is, using a 12/8 stomp to signify edge was played out when “Uprising” came out, so what use is “Psycho”?
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s a mathematical ratio, you see. Take Radiohead, divide by Alex Jones and Bill Hicks, while combining it with Full Metal Jacket subtracted by the attention span marred by smugness and weed, now multiply it by Queen minus Freddie Mercury’s presence or having a soul, to the power of South Park, and you have Muse’s career goals. Just don’t be confused if your grade is a V For Vendetta mask sticker with a motivational slogan wrapped around it.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: It might be the obvious thing to say, but at this rate Muse’s next album will just be a t.co link to David Icke’s website. Somehow, though, “Psycho” doesn’t sound absurd enough. It runs for almost as long as “United States Of Eurasia” and “Knights Of Cydonia”, songs that more than live up to their titles, but just sounds bloated. Its sole idea of yabbering between samples of killing machines over this beat has been done, too – it’s called “Doctorin’ the Tardis” and it is brilliant. So brilliant that Muse did another, far less dull version of it six years ago, calling it “Uprising.”
[5]

Luisa Lopez: I want to hear the song which, in another more righteous universe, comes after that opening. I don’t know what it would be — a progression of increasingly damaged chords; a parade of villainous verses; sinful shrieks punctured by unctuous murmuring — but it would definitely be better than this mess. 
[4]

Edward Okulicz: I don’t hate this, but I think it’d be more fun if it were sped up and put through some cool distortion effects. Oh, then it’d be “Supermassive Black Hole,” which we already have. We already have “Uprising” too. The bit where Matt Bellamy sounds like he’s impersonating Marilyn Manson is quite funny, though.
[4]

Moses Kim: For something so critical of the toxic masculinity and dehumanization found in the military, this song sure embodies a lot of the toxic masculinity and dehumanization found in listening to Muse. If I felt more generous I’d peg the instrumental as satire, but then I think of the six (six!) times Matt Bellamy draws out the word “assssssss” and by then I’m gigglesnorting too hard to take any of this seriously anymore.
[3]

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Paulina Rubio ft. Morat – Mi Nuevo Vicio

Fortunately, we can’t keep giving you Dudes With Feels for each entry.


[Video][Website]
[5.17]

Jessica Doyle: Acknowledging off the bat that my knowledge (and love) of Paulina Rubio is twenty years out of date: I found this charming even before the banjo kicked in. She’s low-key, relaxed — too much so, arguably, disappearing midway through; but I want to give her credit for going with the flow. Is there a special name for the genre of music that seems to invite you to dance to it with a beer held aloft?
[6]

Alfred Soto: Cursed by a frantic arrangement, “Mi Nuevo Vicio” crowds out Rubio and lets Morat get away with banjo and swooping harmonies like it’s the latest vice — oh wait.
[5]

Iain Mew: It’s cool to hear the fast banjos and “oh oh oh woah oh oh” being used for emphasis in something that doesn’t back them up with dance beats or take itself super seriously, for once. It would still be better if they weren’t the highlight.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Nothing in particular is gained by having Morat pop in for part of the  second verse, but the mix of female lead and male backing works nicely. The part at the end of the chorus where the banjos come in under the “whoa” chant is really cool though, especially the second and third times when it does so with a beat giving the ear-catching wobbly quality a further kick. Props for the restraint in not plastering the entirety of the song with it, but that’s the song’s best hook and the rest of the song is only pleasant.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Nice sway to this, but ultimately a little too easy-going to hook me in. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Lumineers without borders.
[4]

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Nick Jonas – Chains

Yes, it’s Love is Pain day. Here, have a metaphor.


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Alfred Soto: For a moment I though this was The Weeknd, and why not? She wanted his soul when he offered his heart, she’s got him in chains, and so on. On his last (superior) single, he still got jealous. 
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This is not R&B, man! This is draped in the signifiers of R&B and hip-hop, with those little quick squelching edits, the pitch-warping on the vox, the drums. But man, this stuff could have easily been backed by “real music” drums and some hard alt-rock style eighth note riffs for drama and been the same damn song. In that regard, I still fuck with the blatant way that Nick Jonas suggests and impresses that he’s robbing, without really trying to swim among the school (he’s not Robin Thicke). This song is just a blatant, well-designed pop hit; I think I’ve forgotten each lyric every time it’s come out, and the melodies are just as irrelevant. It’s the EASE of this transition, the way he’s selling it. This is a kid who sold being a fake rock band so easily, and likewise he’s selling a fake-out of R&B just as casually. He never makes it sound like an overt steal, because it isn’t. He takes the same tropes and sterilizes them so that they no longer have the context they once held, there’s no real root. It’s evil, but in a world of garish Riff Raff lazy juxtapositions or Drakkonian curatorial excess (“Yo,” a nasal voice intones as he leads you through his manor “Look at my Migos Versace Jacket… it’s so #trill and #swaggy, right?”) where people want to show off the accessory to indicate “taste” regardless of how lame one looks while doing so, it’s refreshing to see someone being evil and doing it RIGHT.
[5]

Iain Mew: Possibly an over obvious question here, but is it coincidence that this is belatedly climbing the Hot 100 alongside The Weeknd and Ellie Goulding? It doesn’t have much else going for it beyond its theme and Nick Jonas’s commitment to sounding pained.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: He wants to be Justin Timberlake so fucking badly, but when you’re working with no-names who’ve come up working with the likes of Demi Lovato and Jason DeRulo, this greatly diminishes your chances. Also, apparently “chains” and “change” sound similar. This is really, really dull grown-up-boy-band-pop. 
[2]

Anthony Easton: The less minimal beat, the less interesting this gets; the higher his voice gets, the more he rests on a history of boyband theatrics. The first minute and the bit around 2:30 of this would be a better song than the rest of the dramatics. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: The legitimacy — even praise! — given to Nick Jonas’s R&B dilettantism makes me think that the entire critical establishment is engaged in some kind of elaborate kayfabe or Madoff scheme, or perhaps that everybody is secretly fucking Nick Jonas, which judging by “Chains” would be a very sad experience consisting of three hours of tugging and prodding and coaxing until you give up and he cries into the necktie hanging limply from his waist. His falsetto is seldom on pitch; when it’s sharp it sounds like he’s trying to let out a fart that won’t dislodge; when it’s flat it sounds like a whining drill; when it’s loud it sounds like the first recorded attempt to go AYY LMAO in song. The chorus literally goes “you’ve got me in chains for your love / but I wouldn’t change this love.” Perhaps next he should try gags.
[0]

Luisa Lopez: There’s something about Nick Jonas’ voice that sounds plaintive in all the wrong ways (that falsetto!). His throat seems to close painfully around every run, turning what must have been meant as howls of desire into long bubbles dragging themselves through each verse. The song is a harmless whine, all that extra sound too desperate and too smug. Strange, then, that it’s saved in certain moments by its own odd nothingness, the guttural grumblings beneath the words and its sudden ending. 
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Real nice verses here, with Jonas’s impression of pain more or less being as good as the real thing. I even imagine that ticking noise and the throbs could have placed this as an R&B rip of “Teardrop” or even Tina Arena’s song of the same title. Alas, it’s the equal of neither, as its chorus falls apart on the very hook it tries to rest on. Yes, love and pain is a dogeared trope, but one must do better than attempting to exploit how “change” and “chains” have a few letters in common. That’s a lyrical pair not yet overused for a reason.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Props to Nick Jonas for making the Jason Voorhees comparisons explicit.
[5]

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The Weeknd – Earned It

So now he’s having top 10 hits and duetting with Ariana Grande, now we need a new indie verison of The Weeknd, right?


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Britt Alderfer: This sounds like it was recorded in the Christopher Nolan-era Batcave. And look, though everything to do with the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise needs to be so explicit, The Weeknd still managed to pull off a track called “Earned It” while resisting the urge to add the sound of actual change falling into the till, or the whisper of cash, smack even, if you flip through a stack of bills fast enough. Because he knew they were meant to be together in the end anyway, this capitalist love story and our dead-eyed, drugged-out lothario of the lowlands. But, I know a good power play when I hear one. Picture a hand lovingly massaging a throat, yours, to get a bitter pill down more easily.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I tend to run very hot and cold on the Weeknd, and I find him incredibly overrated, but this is a pretty sharp marriage of film-score-feel and pop/soulcraft; it actually brings to mind a slow-tempo Bond theme. I feared that since this is related to that movie, and considering what the Weeknd’s capable of, that this would be inexorably sleazy, but it’s the precise opposite: this oozes class, maybe even too much for its own good, but I’ll take it over the alternatives. 
[6]

Luisa Lopez: Not to implicate a beast not even on trial, but this is the whole problem with Fifty Shades of Grey: it never takes the joke as far as it should. 
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m still riding for this kid, because if it wasn’t for him, Chris Brown would still be making apology power ballads about his human weaknesses and I’d be still screaming from auditorium seating, “STOP LYING! YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE AND WE ALL KNOW IT!” But if there’s anyone who doesn’t get what makes Abel great, it’s himself. “Often” and “King Of The Fall” both suggested strides to return to form, and he follows it up with retro balladeer suave for Fifty Shades Of Grey. For what it’s worth, he lets the association do all the talking for us, much to our eyerolls and gritted teeth. And not for nothing, it is interesting to hear Abel dwell within “normal” music and not something that feels like a drugged-out haze. The hiccuping bit on the chorus is a bit absurd though, and I’m disappointed that his pen game is still deteriorated from that initial rush of fantasy in the mixtape-era. Regardless, I’m here for the long haul, fed up and disapproving, but still here. For this asshole.
[6]

Alfred Soto: As tenderer and more rhythmically astute acts assimilate his legacy, The Weeknd sounds like a normal asshole these days. The strings — Massive Atttack and “Forget About Dre” after four strong puffs of crippy — are of course the stars. The falsetto’s nice too. Don’t trust this guy’s criteria or empowerment doggerel though.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Elegant, stately, slightly undermined by lyrics so banal that it’s a struggle to end this description of them. It’s the immediate assertion of grandeur that carries it, intriguing and quite unusual to hear on the radio. Weirder still is that placing aside the tokenistic deference to themes of earning and deserving, between this and “Love Me Like You Do,” 50 Shades seems positively lovely.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Pretty sneaky how he puts two whole minutes between the hacky “magic/tragic” rhyme. You almost got away with it, The Weeknd! This is four minutes of vamp, a ponderous slow jam begging for Tesfaye to layer several different vocal attacks, instead of stringing them in series.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Given my blurb the last time we went to this particular well-well-well I am perhaps too far into the snark gallery to talk, but how is it possible that The Weeknd can record a song called “Earned It” for Fifty Shades of Grey with a chorus that goes “girl, you earned it / and you deserve it” without one hint of innuendo that you don’t read in? Obviously a blockbuster budget-deredding romance film can’t soundtrack itself with NIN and Depeche Mode, or for that matter with Echoes of Silence, but given that Twilight and The Hunger Games have both snuck genuinely noteworthy tracks in with their label-placed filler, would it kill Abel to be more perverse than a randomly selected desires_exe meme? Despite the odd incongruous line (“I’m so used to being used,” bullshit) this is over-scrubbed, overly safe, and classed up until it approaches dumpy. The spiritual source of the strings, beyond “expensive-sounding bordello music,” eluded me until the very end: the Weeknd is every dude you’ve ever met who still fucks to Portishead in 2015, can only recognize songs that aren’t “Glory Box” on muscle memory, and yet continually finds people who fall for it. People love to rag on 50 Shades‘ upper-class fantasy, as if they’ve forgotten that the economy is still shit and people have always turned to Little Orphan Annie stories as escapism from their hard-knock lives, but make no mistake: Abel is more of a ruthless capitalist than its entire viewership put together, and his song a far guiltier pleasure.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: My desires are… conventional and boring. 
[2]

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Sun Yan Zi – Radio

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Iain Mew: What is the thing in the first verse that sounds like someone dropping a steel drum down the stairs? It’s the most obvious moment of many where Sun stretches the MOR sheen so thin that the song’s not so much smuggling in a bit of strangeness as waving over radio’s customs officials and saying “oh, go on.” I’m engaged by the personality and moments of wistful wonder, and the strong yodelling chorus bridges the song’s extremes successfully enough that they never seem forced.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: There are some weird production choices early on here (particularly the deployment of the “accidental second tab open” technique), but the breathless chorus is very insistent. A lot of the extended metaphor may be lost in translation (could those production choices be too?), but the catchiness is unavoidable.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Pseudo-alternative pop yodeling on Mars, full of less inspired Auto-Tune slurs and hopefully inspiring someone to be themselves yet sounding like Ryan Tedder fodder all the same.
[2]

Alfred Soto: This Singaporean phenomenon plays with the melodic possibilities of the title as if reminding listeners of the medium’s possibilities. The arrangement reminds me of its constrictions too.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The metaphor suggests Dawn Richard’s excellent “Frequency“; the rest suggests an EDM remix of Dolores O’Riordan singing Jason Robert Brown, something I’m not sure it’s even possible for anyone to have asked for.
[4]

Brad Shoup: I’m here for the chorus, where Sun turns in a dusky yodel with a faraway look while a pixellated stomach churns underneath. If the whole song could be that it’d be great, even if I end up with indigestion.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Fidgety and tricksy, even before the yodeling comes in. But it awkwardly stops before the ideas all have a chance to breathe — there’s a lot going on, too much for three and a half minutes.
[7]