Monday, January 25th, 2021

(G)I-DLE – Hwaa

Time for some K-reggaeton?


[Video]
[5.43]

Kayla Beardslee: The good: this is (G)I-DLE’s most musically interesting title track since 2019. It’s dramatic and artsy, which is the mood that suits them best, and the members get lots of distinctive, meaty vocal parts that play to their strengths (e.g. Yuqi coming in alongside the beat in the first verse, immediately followed by Minnie’s ethereal prechorus). The bad: during the chorus, something in the right channel is mixed so screechily that it verges on making the song unlistenable. And why does Soyeon hate proper final choruses?!? Please, just once, give us a satisfying ending, Soyeon, I’m begging you! “Hwaa” and its accompanying mini album move in a promising direction, but I think (G)I-DLE still hasn’t reached their full pote–
[6]

Rose Stuart: Thirty more seconds. Thirty more seconds and this song would have been great. Sure, it’s just “Hann” all over again, with some refrains taken from “Latata”, but the song is richer, with more layers and actual instruments to bulk up the synths. It finally succeeds where “Lion” and “Oh My God” failed. Then it ends. All this song needed was 30 more seconds.
[7]

Alfred Soto: It builds the drama until the reggaeton beat’s entrance, and when the track relaxes a bit in its last third I regain interest after the dull chorus. Sparks but no flame.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s fascinating to hear artists around the world using reggaeton rhythms, especially in a case like “Hwaa,” where (G)I-DLE mix it with a big-money EDM chorus and a rap — and yet what results just sounds 2021 pop: truly global and truly borderless.
[6]

Ady Thapliyal: “Hwaa” is (G)I-DLE making good on their globetrotting idol concept. There’s a slight intimation of an erhu in the intro, and then we’re plunged into a dance-pop take on reggaeton for the first verse. In the chorus we get a wordless glissando hook reminiscent of Middle Eastern vocal improvisation, the second verse brings a tabla and a start-stop trap stutter, and bringing us full circle, the last chorus returns to China with guzheng twangs. World pop of this sort are at their best when they collapse nationalistic music-myths, pointing out the historical hybridity from back before there were borders. Listen carefully to what I referred to as a guzheng in that last chorus. You hear that steely, nasally tenor, utterly unlike the mellow sound of guzheng strings? My guess is that it’s actually a sitar sample, but being played like a guzheng, or on that note, like a Japanese koto, or Vietnamese đàn tranh, or Korean gayageum. It’s a hybrid, entirely fictional instrument, a brilliant ode to the pan-Asian string tradition. Now if only the topline weren’t so bland and crusty, we’d have a real masterpiece on our hands. 
[6]

Iain Mew: It gets across the same level of high drama as “Oh My God” with a different set of musical signifiers, which is a very smart move. Unlike that song, though, when the energy of the higher tempo sections is diluted they don’t do quite enough with the space to make it pay off.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Like most (G)I-DLE singles, “Hwaa” is decidedly not fun, and this commitment to a bloodless, emotionless sort of music is frustratingly tedious. The beat lumbers forward without an accompanying groove or hint of sensuality, the horn stabs signal decorum in the most uninteresting manner, and the vocal hook doesn’t aim to be catchy as much as a signifier of Something Serious. In an era of K-pop that’s lacking in levity, (G)I-DLE’s worst singles are some of the worst offenders. To make matters worse, they don’t even try to sound snarky or mischievous or beguiling: this is too paint-by-numbers to stir up any actual feelings.
[2]

Monday, January 25th, 2021

Aina the End – Niji

Before the rainbow, the squall…


[Video]
[6.86]

Dorian Sinclair: Six unique notes, nine notes in total. Aina the End spends nearly the entire runtime of Niji looping through the same melodic figure, a simple descending line. It could be monotonous, but I find myself holding my breath for what comes next, as the unspooling instrumental and the changes in her vocal delivery build to that guttural cry two-and-a-half minutes in. The climax is surprising, but feels inexorable upon arrival — and leaves me feeling oddly bereft as she returns to that haunting descent before fading away altogether.
[9]

Iain Mew: I’m here forever for the feedback howl as revelation. In that one horror movie moment in the song, the creaky old door is finally opened, the dark pool bubbles and spills over, the smashed screen sparks to life by itself, all at once. Amazingly, Aina’s intense vocal and the constant flow of catharsis from there actually manage to live up to it. 
[8]

Madi Ballista: Oohh I just can’t get enough of those beautifully haunting vocals and the sheer atmosphere in this song. The lyrics are simple but evocative; she channels so much emotion in her voice, and I really dig a song that stands on the strength of a single riff. I’m in love with the way she wails along with the guitars — the more hoarse her voice, the more distorted the guitar, and the resultant sound is wonderfully textured. It does something fantastic to my brain, and I would like more.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The guitar racket comprising most of its length seared my eyebrows: a representation of a haunting.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Storm clouds approach, the sky darkens and turns that sickly green “tornado sky” (US Midwesterners know what I’m talking about), the temperature drops 15 degrees as a cold front moves in — but then no rain falls. “Niji” threatens and threatens to do something, something that’s implied could be big, but never does; it’s stuck in neutral and thoroughly disappoints.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: Considering how rough-edged voices such as Aina the End’s have historically given off an aura of ambiguous emotional darkness — I immediately think of Shiina Ringo as the archetype — the gothic arrangements of “Niji” reinforce that trend rather than transcend it. That said, it feels fresh to hear Aina’s voice in this cryptic murmur in the verses after having her mainly lay down punk-rock screams in BiSH songs, and it adds an eeriness to a line like “you’re always a ghost/I’m always human/I can’t ever see you.” She has always teased this macabre side (hence “the End” in her name); she’s finally properly exploring it.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: That ominous moment of feedback before the tempestuous, wailing guitars come in at the one-minute mark is exquisitely done, and Aina’s piercing howl lends “Niji” a cathartic immediacy that elevates it considerably, landing somewhere between “Zombie” and “Bring Me To Life” in the grungy melodrama pantheon. It doesn’t have the reach or the range of either of them, though — there’s only so far Aina’s vocals and her effective command of quiet-loud dynamics can carry a song that has the same vocal melody for its entire duration.
[6]

Monday, January 25th, 2021

I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME – Leave Me Alone

“I used to be in a band where punctuation was a big deal, so I just wanted to take the opposite approach and get rid of it all…


[Video]
[4.00]

Thomas Inskeep: Who could’ve guessed that arch, super-new-wavey vocals atop a synthier take on Thompson Twins — there’s some Flock of Seagulls influence, too — would top the Alternative Airplay chart in early 2021? Not that I’m complaining, mind you: if more pop/rock sounded like this today, I’d listen to a lot more of it.
[8]

Rose Stuart: I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME is a band that I respect more than I like. Ironically for a band built on ’80s influences, the more they embrace the ’80s the worst they get. “Leave Me Alone” has a killer bass line that could be directly lifted from a Talking Heads song. Dallon Weekes’s vocals perfectly ride the line between ’80s and modern rock. The hook is an ear worm and a half. And yet every praiseworthy element flies out the window with every second of that screeching synthesizer. It sounds exactly like the ’80s, but some things should remain in the decade where they came from. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: This thwacking performance wants to evoke 1987 stadium rock, hence the ironic title, and hence having nothing to offer except a cartload of referents.
[4]

Iain Mew: They’ve got the bright, full sound down, even if it’s a little too close to just being “Love Me,” but the vocal needs to absolutely command the space to complete the approach, and it’s way too tremulous to pull it off.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: Disco-funk of the sort that the 1975 flirted with on “Love Me” and “UGH!,” and got away with largely because Matty Healy sounded like he was having fun. IDKHBTFM sound like they’re trying very hard to convince us that they’re having fun, but everything from the vocals to the arrangement (which, for the most part, sounds like a pre-set track on a keyboard) sounds strained. “Leave Me Alone” is forced fun, like a team bonding exercise or a drinking game that no-one really wants to play.
[3]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Streamlines their geeky analog weirdness into something so slickly anonymous your ears just slide right off it. The beat does bang pretty hard though.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Comes off far too stiff and calculated to get me excited, but you can tell these guys aren’t aiming to sound loose given how caged-in all the rhythms feel. The ending hints at how this could’ve all been fine if they had flashier synth parts throughout. Really, they just put too much stock in the big vocals.
[3]

Ady Thapliyal: “Leave Me Alone” sounds like Brendon Urie sing-yelling over the synths from “Time To Pretend.” What’s different, though, is that P!ATD and MGMT are genuinely funny, while iDKHow both here and throughout their discography are completely bereft of the gift of wit. “Leave Me Alone” is a stream of cliches (money doesn’t buy you friends, the Devil you know, etc.), each one sung in the tenor of extraordinary revelation. The few original punchlines are of the quality of “Go fly a kite until you’re tangled in the hanging tree.” Does iDKHow know what a hanging tree is? No, of course not.  
[0]

Andrew Karpan: A ghoulish dispatch from the territory of bad taste, the song indicates that the ever-bizarre ’80s renaissance goes on left of the dial, kind of like how “Blue Monday” was in that Spielberg movie or the whole general direction of Brendon Urie’s Panic! at the Disco project. These guys, however, approach the decade by way of a curious and occasionally inspired bit of Duran Duran karaoke that reaches its zenith when singer Dallon Weekes, himself an erstwhile Panic! player, sings a strange little line about finding god with such glammy pizzazz that, in those fragile seconds, he could pass for a humble Kevin Barnes-type journeying deep into the dark night to find his own unique way of imitating Prince.
[4]

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending January 24, 2021

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

Jam & Lewis x Babyface – He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It

If you’ve ever wondered what a Jam & Lewis song might have sounded like, well, we’re none the wiser after this either…


[Video]
[5.14]

Katherine St Asaph: As advertised, a Babyface song — and syrupy even for him.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: On paper, the idea of the 80s titans teaming up with an artist who defined a large part of 90s pop is confusing and a little bit unappetising. The way “He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” squares this circle is to sound exactly nothing like Jam and Lewis and quite a lot like Babyface, who I have never liked as much as a performer as a songwriter. And oh no, the song marries its most gooey, glorious hook (the middle eight) with the grossest bit of its crappy poor-shaming lyric. Maybe her man has had to move back in with his family due to COVID-19, Kenneth? Kenneth? Maybe this man doesn’t have that Toni Braxton money. So what stays with me is how this makes the kinda offensive sound inoffensive.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Fascinatingly, the first-ever single credited to Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis sounds less like them and more like their guest vocalist (and ’80s/’90s rival as a superproducer/writer) Babyface. “He Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout It” has the elegant feel of many of ‘Face’s best ballads — on one hand, I suppose that says that Jam & Lewis melded well with Babyface’s own style, but on the other hand, where are they on this record? 
[6]

Rachel Saywitz: There is always something that bothers me when straight men feel the need to tell a woman what to do with her current partner, as if a woman can’t make her own choices in a relationship. “But ‘he’s still living at his momma’s home!'” Babyface might croon, not realizing that he’s a celebrity who probably lives a life similar to someone who lives with their mother. “He ‘can’t even get a loan!'” Well, maybe not everyone can afford to live in a capitalist society that prioritizes individual greed over mutual aid! Anyway, the song’s fine. 
[5]

Leah Isobel: A rich slab of harmonic precision with a generous helping of cheese on the side.
[6]

Tobi Tella: I didn’t expect to make such an alliance with the oldheads, especially on a song that shares a conceit with a Shawn Mendes song, but there’s something addictive about this. What saves it from the black hole of nice guys is positioning; they’re not asserting themselves as the Normal Man she needs, more like a Greek chorus of acknowledging abuse and well-meaning misogyny. The groove is ultimately what matters, though; it’s slow and ungainly but that might make me enjoy it more. There’s something meticulous here, planned out and unconcerned with chasing the perceived taste of The Youths. It doesn’t feel like it’s pandering (unless you’re the girl the song’s about, in which case letting both that man and Babyface go might be the best option).
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: Sounds like the Lonely Island parody of itself. Which essentially means it’s completely generic. “How can a guy think he fly/When he’s still living at his momma’s home?” cuts deep though.
[3]

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Selena Gomez – De Una Vez

Only one of us mentions her namesake…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Al Varela: So soon after my middling score for “Boyfriend”, Selena Gomez finally gives me a really good song to latch on to! Spanish is evidently not her first language, but her sultry voice over Tainy’s phenomenal production makes her music so much more engaging while taking advantage of her softer voice and not making any drastic changes. She could have done a bit more to really make this song click, but it’s still an excellent song.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Prettier than Princesa Alba’s best tracks, and more tender than anything Gomez has done her entire career. As she sings about getting over an ex, every guitar melody and rim click drips with an underlying sense of longing. She’s over it, but she’s ready for the future, for the past to stop coloring her present. “De Una Vez” is short but feels the perfect length: Gomez expresses a deep melancholy, but doesn’t want it to linger for much longer.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Somewhere between Latin dreampop and Latin Disney, but eludes either genre like gas does your grasp. Might just be the language barrier, too, but it’s nice to hear a Gomez single that doesn’t rely on the alluring-vulnerability act.
[6]

Alfred Soto: She doesn’t sound “better” in Spanish so much as more elegantly moody, and she floats over this piece of shiny silk like Lana Del Rey with inferior song titles. Tougher material suits her.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: I have two memories of English-speaking artists singing in Spanish before reggaeton took over the world. At the end of the ’90s, many pop artists did Spanish versions of their hit singles. I guess record labels realized it was an easy way to win the Latin American market (and I actually enjoy some of these versions more than the original ones). I also remember that in 2009, Nelly Furtado released Mi plan, an album in Spanish where she explored different genres just because she loves Latin pop music, releasing a few singles that did well in the continent. It was a risky move considering it would have been expected she’d make Loose 2. When I listen to Selena Gomez’s “De una vez”, I’m conflicted. On one hand, I hear that genuine interest of Nelly Furtado to connect to the Latin American public. The song almost seems like an interlude but it doesn’t need to be longer, because it’s like the introduction to a new era. I like how delicate it is (the reggaeton beat isn’t invasive and the guitar is warm), but also how her voice is stronger than ever, finally getting rid of that whispery tone. I don’t want to question her connection to her roots, but at the same time I wonder why she is doing it now and not before and I can’t avoid thinking, “Oh, another pop star wanting to jump on the trend.”
[7]

Aaron Bergstrom: It’s always a fool’s errand to act like we really know anything about an artist’s motives, but on the heels of a rash of bloodless, transparent attempts to chase that sweet, sweet Latinx crossover cash, it’s refreshing to see an artist who honestly seems more interested in exploring her cultural heritage than opening up a new market segment. “De Una Vez” might not elevate Gomez to the status of her namesake just yet, but it has a pleasantly organic quality to it, a warm and inviting meditation on healing that seems to shed emotional baggage as it goes.
[7]

Rachel Saywitz: Elegiac and graceful, the brush of synths in “De Una Vez”‘ first few seconds lead to a slow reggaeton groove that continues to build upon itself with echoing guitars and a slight crescendo. A soft whisper of a track that complements Gomez’ voice more than any song she’s put out in recent years. It’s a beauty to listen to. 
[8]

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

How does she fare when the culture isn’t so lit anymore?


[Video]
[4.91]

Aaron Bergstrom: “Black Helicopters Over The Boat Parade.” “Mole People Under Mar-a-Lago.” “Flat Earth At Fashion Week.” Is this anything?
[5]

Will Adams: Like “Coachella — Woodstock On My Mind”, a wordy title with quaint juxtaposition. Chemtrails? Over my country club? It’s more expected than you’d think. Elizabeth Grant has spent over a decade examining a particular version of the (white) upwardly mobile middle class, so its logical conclusion is reclining on a chaise longue by the pool, looking up her birth chart and thinking, “hm, interesting”, as fighter jets soar across the sky. Whether this character is someone she merely portrays or fully embodies, it’s compelling nonetheless. The slow build and eventual, drums-only outro recalls “The Greatest”, where the conclusion is not so much a grande finale as it is a bleary-eyed dimming. I’m numbed enough now to appreciate the irony in watching the world burn as the waiter hands me another Bellini.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: A trail of vapour in the air afforded intrigue on account of its emptiness. These things write themselves, and it would be no surprise if “Chemtrails” actually had. As if born from a Del Rey word cloud, its listlessness in the uncanny valley of the dolls stands alone without substance. Not only is there little hint of humanity, but its intentional absence meets no consequence. Zero friction, zero story, zero analysis and zero feeling.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Could “chemtrails over the country club” be any more of a Karen phrase? No, of course it couldn’t, because LDR is nothing if not the fucking definition of white privilege – and that definitely impacts how I hear the song. As for the rest of it, it’s a wispy little nothing (kinda like a chemtrail, whaddaya know) with which Del Rey, as usual, attempts to show off how dramatic she is, with an odd pseudo-jazz-drumming outro (what gives, Antonoff?) that adds nothing. And to paraphrase Billy Preston, nothing plus nothing equals nothing.
[0]

Alfred Soto: She’s unequalled when it comes to titles: it’s as if she jots them down, then finds tunes for them. More languid than I’d like, but “more languid” and “Lana Del Rey” is like complaining about artificial sugar in a frappuccino. But the languor suits the subject: privileged women luxuriating in wealth and idleness. 
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Delightfully languorous, which is to say that it’s knowingly unremarkable. It’s the sound of a certain lounging around allotted to the upper crust of society. She “contemplates God” and finds delight in the “chemtrails” adorning the sky, but it doesn’t ever really matter what she’s doing, because everything just points back to the glamor of her carefree lifestyle. It’s an irresistible and privileged world to live in, enough so that her music hasn’t needed to evolve much throughout the past decade: a longing for this sort of fantasy only increases with every hellish year. I’ll give her credit and say that her songwriting has gotten better over the years, but there’s no evidence of that here.
[5]

Leah Isobel: “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” finds Lana ensconced in suburbia, stumbling over a chorus melody that turns the phrase “contemplating God” into syllabic mush. There’s a pleasing ambiguity to how she renders the title phrase — less like the chemtrails are over the country club, more like she herself is so over the country club — but the way she leans on her archetypal images (sports cars, jewels, swimming pools) and the audible warmth when she sings about “normality” doesn’t let that ambiguity do much more than sit there. It ultimately feels like Another Lana Song: she’s once again pointing out the links between luxury, aesthetic pleasure, hegemonic power, and apocalypse as if simply exposing the connection is enough. When I was confused and lonely at 17, it was. But now, the glamorous ennui that originally drew me to Lana’s work, that embodied beauty while cultivating lyrical distance from what that beauty was supposed to signify, just looks a lot like complacency. 
[5]

Rose Stuart: Oh, Lana. This is exactly what I didn’t want from you. Norman Fucking Rockwell was a record that felt like the end of an era. Nay, with a song like “The Greatest”, it had to be. Like any great ending, the sequel needed Lana to push herself in a new direction, show growth, and demonstrate her maturing as an artist (my hopes will be eternally pinned on her embracing the rock edge that she has shown in her demos and the remixes she performed on her “LA to the Moon” tour). Sadly, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” does the worst thing it could possibly have done: be a Lana Del Rey song. It’s “Video Games” with a “Norman Fucking Rockwell” twist. It covers no new ground. It shows no growth. It’s just a retread of her classic hits. And the worst part is that, like any bad sequel, it retroactively makes “The Greatest” worse. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Once every few years Lana finds a track that sounds like it’s meant to be this slow, and a vocal that doesn’t sound bathed in mucus and melatonin. But that shouldn’t be worth congratulating someone for, and even here there’s more thrill in the past minute of stumbling percussion waltz than her past several singles combined, the start of this one included. And while she still writes great titles (though with this one you almost feel the secondhand writer’s strain of picking imagery that’s conspiratorial, but not too conspiratorial), that doesn’t extend to the rest of the song. Being a Cancer sun and Leo moon is really not that deep.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: We’re definitely in more-vibes-less-plot territory here — Lana painting a loose, impressionistic picture of affluent, becalmed lives and inviting us to form our own judgements – but it’s hard not to read something into the hum that rises up behind the delicate piano-and-strings waltz, or the nightmarish transition halfway through the “Chemtrails…” video. The woman in question (Lana herself?) seems to have made peace with the comfortable numbness of her lifestyle, embracing picket-fence suburbia, kids’ swimming pools and trips to the market. But there’s a complexity to her hazy narrative that makes us wonder whether something is pulling her back to her old life, where she could be “strange and wild” without judgement. Much like the protagonist, “Chemtrails…” finds Lana in her comfort zone — she turns out gorgeous vocal melodies in her sleep these days – but with just enough unresolved tension to keep it from dullness.
[7]

Joshua Lu: The intrigue of reading into the politics of Lana songs is much less enjoyable when you know the underlying politics are bit rotted, huh? You’re just left with a narcissistic ballad in need of better mixing.
[3]

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Troye Sivan ft. Kacey Musgraves – Easy (Remix)

The scores can’t all be split…


[Video]
[7.00]

Leah Isobel: Troye Sivan is the brave artist who finally answers the question, “What would an emotionally vacant twink do with a pop music career?” I mean that as a compliment!
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’ve been critical of Troye Sivan in the past, but the solo version of “Easy” he released last July was easily my favorite single of his career: a glittering emotional gossamer woven from the tension of how easy it can be to fall in love and how hard your heart aches when it doesn’t work out. It felt like he had finally settled into a signature sound, where he could convey the heartbreak and complexity of a queer love story with crushing, tactile rawness. I like to think of this Kacey Musgraves version less as a remix and more, as the video suggests, a sequel. Not only has Mark Ronson really done a number on the production (the opening “WOO!” is nothing if not jarring), but Musgraves’ presence turns the vibe from solitary anguish to a wine-drunk friends-night-in after initial heartbreak. When she sings “We knew what was under the surface/And lived like it wouldn’t hurt us/But it hurt us” during the bridge, the song is no longer about a singular love story, but about the toxicity pervading the entire romantic ecosystem. The intimacy of the original is still top for me, but who am I to deny company this thoughtful, this commiserative?
[7]

Joshua Lu: The original “Easy” was atmospheric and evocative but typical of Troye Sivan’s music, with echoing, vocoded vocals and vague synths that were likely meant to seem wistful and meaningful but instead sounded like excess noise. This updated instrumental grounds the song with an actual buildup and a steadier rhythm, but the echoing vocals feel like they’re constantly getting in the way of the song. Kacey Musgraves’s voice is lovely, and thankfully free of that effect in the second verse, which is the real bonus — the new lyrics enhance that angle of self-blame undercutting the song, giving it a much-needed extra dimension. Yet it still feels as though the song could have been pushed much further, in terms of both sonics and content.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: You’re hot and you’re cold, you’re yes and you’re no, you’re really making me wish Kacey, who sounds gorgeous and floaty here, went full pop alongside her country peers.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Hearing Kacey Musgraves on a sparkly, ’80s-esque Mark Ronson remix is initially jarring, but her vocal pairing with Sivan is ace, as is the song, as is Ronson’s remix. “You made it easy” is right.
[7]

Aaron Bergstrom: I certainly didn’t expect Troye Sivan to pivot to early-2000s Norwegian synth-pop, but it’s hard to argue with the results. “Easy” sounds like it could be a single from Melody A.M. or Riot On An Empty Street, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment. Erlend Øye is a treasure.
[8]

Alfred Soto: This impossibly wan Australian has worked to hone his music so that the moos of longing and the damp confessionals resound less than the gem-like expressions of lust. “Easy” straddles both sides of his songwriting. The original “Easy” earns a [7] for coming on like Timothée Chalamet getting quite comfortable with his Elio side (the “woo!” helped too). But Kacey Musgraves, late of confessionals but never damp about them, has no place on a queer love song. 
[6]

Vikram Joseph: The original mix of “Easy” felt like both the consummate Troye Sivan song and a step forward — the motorik-pop pulse of “Bloom” sprinkled with the soft-focus, glittery synth melodies of the Blue Neighbourhood singles, but with more complex, adult emotions than he’d taken on previously. Kacey Musgraves is rarely an unwelcome presence, but her verse offers Sivan’s protagonist a form of absolution that undermines the song a little. We see her taking on blame (“I know I’m not easy, darlin'”) where in the original second verse Sivan had to face up to “the rock in my throat / the hair on my coat / the stranger at home.” I also miss the deeply corny, painfully ’80s synth solo after the second chorus. That aside, Mark Ronson thankfully treads lightly on the remix — it’s slightly faster, a few flourishes here and there (and that iconic “woo!” left intact). For its protagonist “Easy” is full of guilt and regret, but for us as listeners it’s a jolt of serotonin, a simmering night-drive bop to keep on ice for when we’re actually allowed to drive somewhere again.
[8]

Al Varela: Troye and Kacey Musgraves make an excellent duo, each with their own brand of yearning that sounds magnificent coming from their voices — especially Kacey’s, whose delivery of the line, “Cuz you made it easy, darlin'” melts my heart every time. There’s something about music that makes you feel like you’re blurring past the city lights flashing against the cold night sky, taking in the sights with your past love in your mind, all the emotions of their love and their departure rushing through your head as you lose yourself in the world around you. That’s what this remix of “Easy” feels like: a rush of light that goes through so many emotions and hits you with every single word.
[8]

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

AJR – Bang!

In the good old grade school days nobody had to read any rooms…


[Video]
[3.44]

Al Varela: Even as they become legal adults, Gen Z seems to cling to their adolescent instincts. Some may see this as a bad thing, but I see it as a way to hold on to whatever innocent joy and happiness you feel amid the reality of actually living in the so-called real world. That’s probably why I find “Bang!” so comforting. AJR know they have to grow up sometime, but they also don’t want to lose the creative spark and reckless instinct of being a kid. As such, the song is an awkward, jerky mess that’s loud and blaring, but at the same time grounded and in control. Because growing up isn’t as easy as wising up and being a bigger person. It means you have to learn about adulthood in small steps, like filling out taxes and keeping quinoa in your fridge (apparently). It means being confused, not immediately understanding the actual weight of being an adult. And you may be scared to face that reality, but dammit, you’re going to face it, and you’re going to be the best adult you can be. So when AJR give out that big explosive hook with the blasting horns and crowd cheering “bang, bang, bang”, I find myself charmed by their stupidity and immaturity. I’m in the middle of being a kid and being an adult myself. I get the fear of having to take that responsibility and wanting to retreat back into a simpler time. So that’s how I found myself coming back to this song so often that it accidentally became one of my favorite hits of the past year. Oops.
[10]

Vikram Joseph: POV: you’ve been tragically orphaned at the age of 12, but a friendly travelling musical comedy troupe has taken you under their wing and incorporated you into their performances. You don’t remember doing it, but apparently you signed some sort of legal paperwork, so this is your life now. Everything they say and do is incredibly annoying, but on the plus side, you’re constantly in rehearsal so you haven’t really had time to process your grief yet.
[2]

Alfred Soto: These brothers write and produce their own material, as if we needed Ryan Tedder sequels tripled. 
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: This is nothing but a gimmick, the gimmick being that each line ends with a choral “bang! bang! bang!” As an added bonus, AJR’s lead brother has an incredibly grating, whiny alt-rock-in-2020 voice — and the song is a plod, to boot.
[0]

Aaron Bergstrom: If the phrase “adulting like a boss” was a song.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Yes, “Bang!” is chipper musical theater of the perpetual punchline sort. Yes, it’s so dorky that in 2032 an incoming senator will get clowned for tweeting about it at The Fader. Yes, AJR repurposed it into an ad for a seltzer machine. But it’s not about millennial #adulting but millennial burnout, and specifically for AJR fame burnout: burning your youth until it’s gone, facing several upcoming decades of nothing, and thinking you’d rather just have your finale now: a curtain call with gunshots, bang. Its theatrical counterparts evoke jazz hands as much as acid vaudeville: Avenue Q‘s “For Now” or, bleaker, Falsettos‘ “You Gotta Die Sometime” or The Full Monty‘s “Big Ass Rock” — or, to sample some continental cheese, Ace Wilder’s “Busy Doin’ Nothing” or Betta Lemme’s “I’m Bored.” It’s a song for those handed bitterness and having no skills to deal with it besides transforming it into #content. They’re gleeing through it.
[7]

Alex Clifton: If this had come out ten years ago, I would’ve said that AJR had done a bang-up job, but I’m not sure I can say the same now. The instrumentation explodes into the chorus, which sounds great, but the lyrics lack spark. I can’t imagine “do my password begin with a one or a two” successfully igniting any crowd.
[3]

John Pinto: AJR makes music to receive approval. “Well, duh,” one might think, “anyone who releases their music publicly wants validation and approval on at least some level.” But even though it’s unfair (and pointless) for me to guess the intents of total strangers, I can’t shake this hunch that AJR’s raison d’etre is to be patted on the head and told they did a good job. Consider the stupid elaborate Berklee-core beats, the dangerous lack of edge, the “responsible” messages about moving out or pursuing a capital-c Career or not wanting to grow-up because you’re scared of drinking, the parent-approved lyrical shticks (“Well, you know, my boys skipped prom to play on TV!”). Time after time the Brothers Mets run to big societal norms and institutions with a relieved glee that borders on reactionary. Fine — I guess these are just some nice, kinda square boys! Even on the muddled The Greatest Showman castoff “Bang!” they display competent chops. I suppose a lot of adulthood is just paying taxes, buying quinoa, feigning familiarity with pop culture (for instance, I’ve never seen The Greatest Showman, which I imagine to be an electro-swing fever dream where Hugh Jackman relitigates Pan). But is that all music — and adulthood — is supposed to offer? A few toothless songs about nothing to get you through all that grinding for extra credit, and then you die? When I look too long at AJR, I see the most passive and timid version of myself. And, dear reader, that repulses me.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: TED Talk pop music is not good.
[4]

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Caamp – Officer of Love

We begin our Wednesday with some reading of the room…


[Video]
[2.71]

Vikram Joseph: Lord, grant me the confidence of these three men in cowboy hats releasing a song with the same chords, tempo and strumming pattern as Waxahatchee’s “Can’t Do Much” six months later and hoping that no one will notice. “Officer Of Love” is a fairly whimsical, anodyne, weightless thing, a copy of a copy of a copy of any number of early-2010s men with acoustics (they wish they were Whitney – dream big, boys! — but more closely resemble palliative-stage Wilco with a hint of Mac DeMarco’s unbearable smirk). And where “Can’t Do Much” swung into a gorgeous chorus, Caamp opt instead for the patently ridiculous line, “She is an officer of love, and I’ll obey her every word.” This isn’t actively unpleasant, but it also doesn’t need to exist.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Raspy male vocals, a relaxed, strumming acoustic guitar, a quiet beat, lyrics about love on a road trip… are you sure this isn’t a parody? I can imagine it being the background music in a bar owned by three friends who thought it was cool and rebellious to quit their jobs and start selling their own brand of beer.
[4]

Will Adams: Bullshit. You know why? One month prior to “Officer of Love” you dedicated a single to “those fighting against climate change and racial injustice.” Which means you’ve followed that up with a song about following orders from a lady cop (who you wonder might have “a gun hidden up her sleeve” — christ) that you don’t bother giving a decent vocal and ending your cutesy collage video with a “Vote for love” message — in this current climate. Which means racial justice is just as much a slapped-on marketing tool as the empty folk pastiche here. Per your press release, you ask of us, “Let’s all choose love.” Uh, she’s a cop, dude. That’s choosing violence.
[0]

Aaron Bergstrom: Fun Fact: The extra “A” stands for “ACAB.” (It doesn’t.) With a hook built on a pledge of obedience and scattered references to guns, pickup trucks, and an army of religious zealots marching into battle, this is either indecipherable allegory or just unfortunate timing for a harmless Foxygen homage. I’m going with the latter.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: ACAAB
[0]

Thomas Inskeep: Musically, this reminds me of Camper Van Beethoven’s “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” only slowed down. Lyrically, I mean, c’mon: it’s titled “Officer of Love,” FFS. Actually, come to think, lyrically this could almost be late-period CVB. That’s not a compliment.
[4]

Iain Mew: Take a walk on the mild side.
[3]