Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Antti Tuisku ft. Boyat – Hanuri

There’s life after Idol. For instance, thirteen years into his career, this Finnish finalist makes his Jukebox debut…


[Video]
[5.00]

Will Adams: “Hanuri” seems built for global appeal — it’s a song in Finnish that has splashes of Latin pop, EDM flourishes, and a general K-pop energy about it — but Antti Tuisku and his thin voice don’t rise to that level of world domination. If only he could be as interesting as the video’s choreography.
[5]

Ashley John: Antti Tuisku’s career is impressive: ten albums in his thirteen-year career, all of them breaking into at least the top 5 on Finnish charts. “Hanuri” is one of the few singles coming out of 2017, and it gets swallowed trying to merge too many concepts into one track. Between the quick tempo, accordion, and trite lyrics, the parts for a hit are there but they don’t total up into anything memorable. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Antti Tuisku started out as a Timberlake wannabe, then did a great U-turn, producing one downright superb album (2006’s New York, which if you ignore the Finnish language sounds like a sequel to Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, yes, that good), then ran away from that just as quickly, and went through a phase of making a bunch of ridiculous low-budget, low-quality landfill pop with cheesy, atrocious videos made with blithe ignorance of Tuisku’s complete lack of traditional sex appeal. Now he’s trying to get a Latin pop pastiche into your ears by grinning at the genre until it gives up and goes “why not, it’s worked for Bieber.” But it doesn’t work with his voice, which is too darned thin to do anything really. Other than him, it’s a good try, but all I take away from it is Boyat’s bit, and girls slapping his buttocks from the video. His tacky phase continues, and it’s a shame.
[3]

Iain Mew: One of those songs that sound in themselves like proof their singer is a star somewhere, because it seems like the most plausible route to the confidence that underlies its chorus. Without being under direct influence from that stardom though, the bigger competing effect is that that of the song sounding like adequate R&B-pop with an accordion inadequately wedged in.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: If my translation is correct, this song is about an accordion which I think is a metaphor for something sexual. Yeah… but hey, Antti has a great voice for pop music and the beat kicks, so I’m all for it. Not enough good can be said about the chorus, which carefully avoids the common pitfalls of pop music by remaining relatively calm and not overpowering listeners with a thousand different riffs/sounds. The accordion plays well, too, and the sensual way that Antti repeats “heavenly” in the chorus actually fits the mood of the song well. Also, this song sounds so much like a Spanish song or a song that would do well in Mexico, so somebody should get on that translation real quick — or have Maluma hop on a remix. Maybe both. 
[6]

Alex Clifton: I am a sucker for tunes with accordions, although I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of EDM/accordion music. The instrumentation makes it stand out from the mish-mosh of dance music I’ve heard this year, and Tuisku’s voice carries the song well. It’s a bit earnest and dorky, but that’s refreshing to hear rather than many of the less-than-swaggering songs we’ve seen in 2017 (looking at you, Liam Payne). I’d spend my summers in Finland for this.
[7]

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Kesha – Praying

We’ve got the number one slot ready for her…


[Video][Website]
[8.50]

Leah Isobel: “I hope you’re somewhere/praying” is one of the most perfectly manicured fuck-yous I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard — and written, and thought, and sung — a lot. (He deserves them.) The music nods at large-scale drama but, rather than letting the drum and piano echo into space, the thuds stay close to the ear, like Kesha’s singing to her own heartbeat. (I’m still alive.) She fakes forgiveness but knows that, ultimately, it’s not hers to give. (Do I want to forgive him?) I can’t imagine how humiliating these past few years have been for her, to have a such a profoundly horrifying experience made public knowledge; I can’t express how happy I am that she pulled through, stayed herself, and seems more enthusiastic about life than ever. I missed her. (I once knew someone who probably hated her music, and probably would hate this song too. I hope he’s somewhere praying.)
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Praying” begins with a lie that was spoken to Kesha. What follows, though, is multiple truths. Truths about the pain inflicted upon her (“You brought the flames and you put me through hell”), truths about her struggle to overcome (“I had to learn how to fight for myself”), and truths about her self-worth (“You said that I was done/well you were wrong and now the best is yet to come”). The second verse features a particularly beautiful line: “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” That’s a reality Kesha believes in not because of private details she’ll divulge to the world but because of a confidence in self and the art she’ll create. “Praying” is a huge middle finger to her perpetrator, make no mistake, but everything always points towards Kesha and how strong she is. In the chorus, her decision to be forgiving becomes clear, and we’re forced to recognize the peace she’s come to know. In showing this grace, she unburdens herself and is positioned above her transgressor. As a result, she comes out the undeniable victor. For those who have been abused, there is hope. And Kesha will be the first to tell you that that’s an irrefutable, certain truth.
[9]

Mo Kim: I didn’t so much cut ties with the Christian church as I drifted away over time, leaving behind a sea of small miseries too heavy to float over. The pastor who preached peace with one hand and wielded a belt with the other. The retreat where sneering youth leaders baptized their unwilling siblings in rundown pools. The room of worshipers nodding vigorously to a man who wanted to cleanse the earth of fags like me. What can I say? It’s not always one event we salvage out of our unspoken histories, never just one moment at which we learned how much pain a person can inflict on us. And maybe that’s the frustrating thing about trauma: that it slips out of your hands the moment you try to name it, even as it worms into our being in ways that transcend its details on paper. I wonder how much of Kesha’s story we will never know; how much of what she endured at the hands of Dr. Luke has been lost in the shuffle of testimonies and court statements. But I listen to “Praying,” and the music says everything that words cannot. I lose myself the way I once wished I could in worship, in soaring piano lines and drums that sync themselves to my pulse and vocals so sharp I fear they’ll leave chapel wood splinters in my fingers. These sensations feel grounded not only in what Kesha has survived, but also what she has salvaged, building a holy place that can bear the weight of both her pain and her strength. And even as I cannot claim either as my own, I still find myself on the floor every time this plays, knees bruised, hands clasped together. 
[10]

Joshua Copperman: I’ll talk about the note first; a shout into the insurmountably toxic void, the climax of a harrowing vocal performance that nonetheless feels fully in control, refusing to truly be angry. It’s the song in miniature, which never becomes a kiss-off and remains empathetic despite everything that’s happened to her. Indeed, “Praying” is not just about forgiveness, it’s about the perhaps vain hope that she can forgive at all. The F6 is empowering, symbolically taking back control over her own voice, but it is also despairing. As Kesha says herself right before, “some things, only God can forgive.” On the production side of things, Ryan Lewis properly uses the power that usually just propels Macklemore’s indulgences, wisely choosing to accentuate the already clear dynamics of the song instead of going over the top. There’s the way the drums come in without so much as a warning swell, the haunting counter-melody in the bridge, and the vocal distortion when Kesha finally belts on “the best is yet to come.” It’s not Ryan’s song though; he’s only there to accentuate Kesha’s intensity. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: In a singer less powerful and committed than Kesha, the piano melody would send me under the covers. In any other song than “Praying,” I wouldn’t give a shit about autobiographical details.
[7]

William John: Release a ballad promoting empowerment and the need to remember one’s worth, include some big notes, and set yourself for the throngs of pale imitators on music reality television. That’s the conventional narrative. But courtrooms have availed us of specifics in this case, and in such context, “Praying” carries with it so much more catharsis, so much more voltage than other songs of similar denomination. There’s also an unusual contrast between the go-for-broke-ness of the F6, the way the drum thuds enter with all the momentum of an avalanche, the rasp and ferocity of “they won’t even know your name!!!”, and the unexpected chivalry of wishing nothing but the best for that person who has wronged you. One would think that sentiment would undercut the song’s clout; that the message should be “fuck it all and go to hell,” and that’s the end of it. But “Praying”‘s potency is all the more extraordinary for its positing of the perpetrator as the true repository of shame and humiliation. “Praying” is evidently personal and critical to Kesha’s own healing, but if that scream is enough to allow one victim of abuse to realise that their internalised shame is their perpetrator’s cross to bear, and not their own, then the song has served its purpose.
[10]

Alex Clifton: I first heard this song at 8:45 on a Thursday morning; I wept openly in my cubicle. I can’t actually listen to this song without crying. This is a song that’s more than Just a Song: it’s emblematic of Kesha’s entire fight with Dr. Luke, and it shows her finally able to control her life again. It’s soaring, glorious, chilling. It’s exactly what she needed to put out, and it’s perfect.
[10]

Stephen Eisermann: I have a hard time listening to this song. The rawness in Kesha’s voice, the honesty in the lyrics, the piano melody, and the choral backing make for an atomic bomb in music form. Every time this song comes on I hear a new vocal tic or I hear a lyric differently, and every time I just want to sit with, cry with, and hug Kesha. Here she both takes on her assailant (fuck you, Dr. Luke) head on and with restraint; she is both vengeful and forgiving, or at least she’s trying to be the latter. Best of all, though, is Kesha’s decision to sing her truth. None of this is “pretty,” “beautiful,” or “inspiring;” no, instead, Kesha gives us the ugly truth of rebuilding yourself after relentless sexual abuse. I haven’t ever suffered from it, but I always struggle with hearing songs about bouncing back from serious issues like Kesha’s — it feels as though in an effort to be inspiring, most songs ends up trivializing major issues. Picking up the pieces in the aftermath of such abuse isn’t easy, and it’s about damn time someone plainly said so in a song about one of the worst things that can happen to any human being.
[10]

Will Adams: The choir and the big drums and the strings and the triple-forte piano chords don’t mean shit — all the force comes from Kesha herself. Growing steadily from simmering to explosive, her resolve while staring a monster in the face remains intact. No matter any of the song’s weaknesses; this is a triumph.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: This track is such a sensational strategic coup, a flat-out fuck you to her abuser that he has no hope of responding to without losing the battle, that it’s beside the point whether it’s a great pop song for anyone else. I find it vocally impressive, emotionally vivid, and extremely believable, but also something of a chore to listen to, and the preying type may not be the praying type. But it’s not me who needs to hear this song. I can only applaud Kesha for grabbing the upper hand in her fight in such brilliant, brutal fashion. May her detractors be tarred and feathered and her album be stuffed with bangers.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The inherent wrath of Kesha’s last few years makes the strengths of the ballad undiminishable and its weaknesses forgivable. The tragic note is that all of her talent in show as a weapon is now a trapping of redemption. Many will look at the early material in a light of disgust given it’s tragic associations with Dr. Luke, ignoring that the only way it had succeeded in the first place was her talents. “Praying” ends up discarding humor and a certain kind of visual excess in order to become someone who can be given the respect she’s always deserved. All the same, it’s not her fault that people need the most obvious of metaphors for how hard she’s struggled.
[7]

Katie Gill: The most common refrain you hear about Kesha is people not realizing she can sing. Someone’ll pull up a video of her performing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the comments are inevitably something along the lines of “this is the ‘Tik Tok’ girl?” With “Praying,” Kesha firmly puts those doubts to rest. It’s an amazing single that straight-up yanks on your heart, especially when you consider the real world struggles that poor Kesha’s had to go through in the past few years. Everybody’ll talk about that amazingly high note after the bridge or how Kesha pushes her voice to new heights and strong, powerful levels, but the soft moments in “Praying” are just as touching. That brief moment at the start of the second verse where she sings “I’m proud of who I am” makes my heart flutter every time. Welcome back, Kesha. We’ve really, really missed you.
[9]

Monday, July 24th, 2017

St. Vincent – New York

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of…


[Video][Website]
[5.60]

Will Adams: Trading in the unique electronics of her last album for sweeping orchestral pop, Annie Clark mourns the loss of a love and a city that housed it. The fragile pulse is lovely, but were it not for another similarly paced song built around piano and the harsh loneliness of a big city, I could recommend this more.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: I can’t recall a song where Annie Clark sounded more like us mere mortals than “New York.” Friends, lovers, or, hell, even a mention of geography: these details seem so foreign for a St. Vincent song as much as her straightforward writing, which clearly spells out this cloud of deep, deep loss.
[7]

Eleanor Graham: The way the soft-focus piano and electro pulse are twin forces here reminds me of “Supercut.” I’m obsessed with this one taut, pained line that looks almost as good on paper — “New love wasn’t true love, back to you you, love/So much for a home run with some bluebloods” — as it sounds over those quivering synths. There are so many amazing production flourishes on that line alone: the sound of the synths “powering up” at the beginning, the seamless build, the sound that’s an electric guitar until it’s violins, then the sheer drop into silence. That’s the high point. The chorus is cinematic but the strings over-sweeten it. This song needs a sharp edge or a lit fuse. Make it Plath’s New York; send something fizzling along the slick marble and plate-glass fronts.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: Many could argue that “New York” is St. Vincent going back to her roots — when her voice was angelic and her noisy guitar didn’t invade her songs. The church-like backing vocals and the return of violins may remind of her beginnings, but, unlike then, now there is no place for irony and fake innocence. Only the title of the song proves this is a new road for her: New York is the city of chaos where there is only one “you” who could give her warm comfort; New York is the city where she tries to find herself; and above all, New York is a city of loss and reminiscence. 
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’m reminded of “Champagne Year” and “I Prefer Your Love,” two relatively straightforward but highly personal songs from Annie Clark. Both are reflections on truths that become clear during young adulthood — the former on the disenchanting reality of one’s career and life, the latter on the mortality of one’s parents. The pangs of heartbreak find Clark in a similar situation here, but instead of crafting a meditative space in which to find serenity, she shoots for widescreen melodrama to transmit her new-found loneliness. The verses are beautifully intimate: keys flutter like snowflakes, providing warmth to the racing heartbeat of a synth line. In contrast, the chorus is spacious and laden with strings, capturing the numbing dejection of urban isolation. The problem is that the chorus sounds painfully corny, and it prevents the song from feeling as personal as it could. Even worse, it makes clear how uninteresting these lyrics are in comparison to the rest of St. Vincent’s oeuvre. If this were to soundtrack a film, I’d suggest one by Baumbach, but only if he started working for Hallmark.
[4]

Alfred Soto: A multitracked beauty of a chorus anchors a cool person’s lament for a New York that perhaps never existed — she loves it but it’s bringing her down. Sentimentality is like that.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: Prediction: I’m the only motherfucker on this site who won’t “get it.”
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: How do you manage to make “motherfucker” sound like you’re affecting a possibly racist caricature-accent and come off like a haughty blueblood matriarch who everyone wants to die, but they can only wish for that in silence? Moreover, why do you do that on this tepid break-up ballad? Why is Annie Clark out here writing tepid break-up ballads?
[2]

Joshua Copperman: I want a mix with less Antonoffiness – the songwriting is simple but strong, so there’s no reason for the kick drum and gang vocals (his only major contributions, apparently) The wistfulness and nostalgic rush worked well with Lorde, but it clashes here to the point where the “motherfucker” line feels forced, and the song doesn’t feel as intimate as it should. I love how Annie draws out “forgiiuives me” like Laura Marling, and the chorus’s chord progression is surprisingly minor key when I expected I-vi-IV-V, but it also contributes to the overall feeling of self-consciousness — as if the mind-meld that producers and singers often talk about didn’t quite happen. Still gorgeous, though!
[6]

Kalani Leblanc: Out of everything in the St. Vincent catalogue, “New York” must be the strangest, since it’s more of a Harry Styles or 2013 Vampire Weekend (without Rostam) ballad than what St. Vincent is known for. Not to imply that I expect Annie Clark to be David Byrne’s puppet forever but something is missing in this single — hence the lyrics. Clark leaps out to deliver each line to you — gripping your hands and staring in a “I need to let this all out” way. Yet, Annie cuts herself off after hardly two minutes, like “Oh sorry did I divulge all of that? Uh bye now.” There’s no way to not make this sound like a sad YA novel line, but Clark should’ve let herself break further.
[7]

Friday, July 21st, 2017

AJR – Weak

An adequate description…


[Video]
[2.50]

Alfred Soto: Insisting on weaknesses with immersive synths — stop being so damn pushy.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Take the worst elements of Twenty One Pilots, EDM-pop, and Magic!, fold them together but make sure you leave a lot of lumps, and you have this shit casserole. 
[1]

Joshua Copperman: Sleepaway camp pop, the kind of loud, ‘alternative’, yet still saccharine music that came from kids blasting their iPods in the bunk. (See also: 3!0H3, “Can’t Be Tamed”-era Miley, pop-era Cobra Starship, etc.) The opening line of “no thank you” makes me want to snarkily repeat it back, because when you’re in middle school you find that sort of thing cutting-edge humor. The “boy-oh-boy” chant and oowaahhhhyeeyaaahh makes me want to sit with a friend on the side and lament that whoever was DJing didn’t play ‘real’ music, which back then meant Mumford and Sons, but still. The key change is just ear-piercing.
[3]

Will Adams: Pop quiz! Which is the biggest self-own? A) wailing “I’M WEAK” and making that your chorus; B) recreating “Never Be Like You” with Casio-quality synth brass; C) that horrifying key change; or D) all of the above.
[1]

Cassy Gress: “Weak” starts with “No thank you,” followed by a pause, and the slight tic at the end of “no” incites dread in my brain, like water pooling under a door. Then, “I should have been in bed, but,” he mutters as an aside, and my eye twitches. “One sip (bad for me), one hit (bad for me)”, and now I’m thinking of “mi fa volare“, which is much less grating. By the time we get into the chorus, where he’s more or less punching the air going “hell yeah, I’m weak!” I’m ready to dump him, and this song, but especially him, into the trash pile. Fuck, it’s still playing, WHY IS THERE A KEY MODULATION. WHY DOES HE KEEP SAYING “NO THANK YOU” LIKE IT’S CHARMING.
[0]

Scott Mildenhall: With the most audacious key change since the French tried to scrap AZERTY, this must be at least Thirty One Pilots, if not more. Shimmering close to “Love In This Club”, it joins the dots between Taio Cruz-core, the celebratory fatalism that that precipitated, and the celebratory defeatism that this revels in. Unsuccessful guest slot in the Louisa Johnson Establishment Efforts incidental; this sounds like a valuable anthem.
[7]

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Aja, Alexis Michelle, Peppermint & Sasha Velour ft. DJ Mitch Ferrino – C.L.A.T.

“On April 13, 2017, VH1 renewed the series for a tenth season, tentatively scheduled to begin airing in March 2018.”


[Video]
[5.83]

Thomas Inskeep: I will grant that if you’re not a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, this may not do much for you. But at the same time, as a big fan of RPDR myself, this is easily one of my favorite records of the year. The track itself is a simple, stripped-down NYC house track; Ferrino is also the man behind last year’s “Purse First” for Season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen, but this time, he took the music in a different direction than that death-dropping vogue track. The admittedly clunky title “C.L.A.T.” stands for “Club Legend Art Theatre,” each noun referencing one of the four queens here, the NYC queens from Season 9 of RPDR. They include this season’s top two finishers, runner-up Peppermint (Legend) and winner Sasha Velour (Art), along with Aja (Club) and Alexis Michelle (Theatre). Each gets her own verse, lyrically very much in each queen’s style, with Aja even getting Ferrino to switch up the beat for her final verse, fitting as she’s the young’un club kid. Michelle is the Broadway dame, Peppermint the NYC legend (she’s been a drag star in the city for over a decade), and Velour the arty one (she often performs bald, for starters). Each verse makes perfect sense for each of the queens, and all that’s really required of Ferrino’s beat is just to keep things moving. Many of the lines here are memorable as hell (especially Velour’s “Gender is a construct/Tear it apart!”), and no song has been stuck in my head in 2017 as much as this one. If you love house, and/or if you love drag queens (and especially RPDR), you need this in your life.  
[10]

Katie Gill: How fitting that the ‘T’ stands for ‘theater.’ There’s this concept in musical theater called the “I am” song, where a character sings out their motivations as well as aspects of their personality. It’s things like “Not For the Life of Me”, “My Strongest Suit”, “Man of La Mancha”, “Master of the House”, and so forth. “C.L.A.T.” is one of those, giving each of the queens a verse to talk about who they are, show off their personality, and show off their vocal chops. Does it do much else? Not really! The beat is stale and the chorus is confusing. But it spectacularly succeeds at the “I am” bit that I can’t fault it as much for the song’s other failings.
[6]

Alex Clifton: I can’t really call this a great song. RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni such as Adore Delano and Alaska have put together much stronger tracks that are dancier, catchier, and better song. However, this song gets points from me solely due to Sasha Velour’s verse and the line “gender is a construct, tear it apart.” Yaaaaasssss! We need more songs calling for the destruction of gender binaries. The rest of “C.L.A.T.” is uneven to say the least–that chorus is awful, since none of their singing voices work well together, Peppermint’s outro goes on too long, and the repetition of “C.L.A.T.” as an actual word makes me want to die–but it’s oddly charming. 
[5]

Cassy Gress: “C.L.A.T.” is only about four minutes long but it felt substantially longer to me for some reason; I don’t think it’s any of the queens’ faults, and I’m not even sure it’s DJ Mitch’s fault. It’s got that early 90s house vibe that mostly brings to mind RuPaul (for obvious reasons), but “Supermodel” inspires you to be fantastic by exhorting you to do it, and “C.L.A.T.” aims to do the same by just talking about how great they are. Which, they are great! And I’m on board with tearing apart gender and reads better than hairy and/or Harry, but this just sort of flows around me without actually smacking me in the face. It makes me feel like a lame old fart, but I guess I relate better to the song that was my first exposure to non-cis culture, back when I was 10.
[5]

Will Adams: Because most of the RuPaul’s Drag Race periphery (arguably more important than the show itself) exists on YouTube, the subculture moves at breakneck speed; within hours of new content, there is already a slew of inside jokes, references, and accepted truths splattered across the comments section. This is why the music feels increasingly less significant; I won’t fault it for existing purely to enhance its performers’ branding and career, but as with “Purse First,” the novelty factor is diminishing. As a song, “C.L.A.T.” is unremarkable — the season 9 queens, whose rapping skills range from perfectly suitable (Aja) to verging on arrhythmic (Alexis Michelle), fawn over New York (another sour note for me; I’ll never see what anyone does) while Mitch Ferrino doles out some basic vogue-ready house. At this point, fans are already chirping about who is slated to be on the show’s tenth season and its third all-star season — they will have their own iconic moments, and we will similarly forget what preceded it.
[5]

Claire Biddles: Cheap house is always fun and “Don’t need a museum, this club is enough” is a killer line, but I’m too indifferent to drag in general and RuPaul’s Drag Race specifically to really get this.
[4]

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Alex Anwandter – Cordillera

We liked a single from this album last year, and we like another one now…


[Video]
[7.29]

Jessica Doyle: Amiga is one of those albums I still have yet to listen well to all the way through because I keep wanting to hear a particular song over and over again, and the song in this case is “Cordillera.” I can’t get over how meaty the song feels: those crashes of strings, the groans like storm winds, the beat serving as floor for the second half of the chorus, the swell of voices that immediately follows the reference to singers. That it ends on an orchestral swell feels entirely appropriate.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Another song in which Alex Anwandter guards his dreams in a place where it’s always Friday en su corazon. In the video the monsters of Chile’s past add additional torment; for Anwandter, the hunger of memory is best left unsatisfied. As for “Cordillera,” the strummed bits are rather staid; it could use some urgency.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: Although “Cordillera” may not have the instant pop punch of “Siempre es viernes en mi corazón“, it still works as a single for its powerful chorus focused on Alex Anwandter’s vocals which are taken to their limit, joined only by an acoustic guitar — or maybe a charango which would make sense given the lyrics are full of references to Chile, starting from the title, which means “Mountain Range”. But this isn’t a song dedicated to Chile; it’s rather the song where he questions Chile as if it was possible to have a conversation with the abstract idea of a country: “Is this land a place that doesn’t want us and won’t let us talk, think, march, get drunk with dancing?” The idea of being rejected by the land itself reflects the discrimination suffered constantly by the queer community, but Alex Anwandter won’t give in: “This can’t end here because I want to fight.” And, as so many other queer artist have done in the past, his way of fighting is dancing
[8]

Cassy Gress: I would like the world to change for many reasons, but one of them is so that Alex Anwandter can stop having to desperately fling himself against walls.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: “Cordillera” throbs, but politely; I’d rather it went for full-on Moroder-esque disco release, especially because Anwandter’s got the voice for it. 
[6]

Will Adams: The interplay between the synths and guitars — blurring together as they provide the same gorgeous washes — is the most interesting detail here. As someone who is on the more lukewarm end of the Alex Anwandter love, even I can tell this is a half-awake iteration of his more impactful material.
[5]

Ashley John: On my first listen, my favorite part of “Cordillera” was the “la la la la la” at the end of the chorus, which sounds like relief compared to the desperate rhythm of the rest of the song. When I looked up a translation I found that the full line is, roughly, “And the singers sing ‘lalalala/ And nothing more.” My throat tightens up just typing out the line. I think of coming home from the club when the world is still shiny in the night. Laughing and pulling my friends in closer for one last hug and laugh, and then walking the stairs to my room to lay spread out on the floor alone. I’d put on this song to try to stretch the night out a little longer, or at least until the room stops spinning. “Cordillera” is the best type of music-particularly dance music-because it forces all our feelings to coexist even if the pieces don’t fit together nicely. We can dance and sing and be sad all at once. 
[9]

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Stokley – Level

A level of consensus!


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Iain Mew: I like the slick spaceship vibe just about enough to be convinced that the arrogance of “I found someone on my level” is a necessary component to powering this instance of it.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The rhythm guitar tugs at the verses and chorus, urging them forward. The former lead signer of Mint Condition’s rich purr, reminiscent of contemporary Raphael Saadiq’s, is the attraction
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Mint Condition’s singer branches out on a cool, relaxed R&B cut. Over a quarter-century since MC’s debut album, Stokley’s voice sounds as perfect as ever; I can listen to him sing anything. “Level” is on some “real music” Isleys-in-the-’70s guitar-centered ish, which makes perfect sense when you remember that Mint Condition are a band and always have been; organic instrumentation is his thing. This sounds organic and fresh and light and summery as fuck.
[7]

Ashley John: Stokley’s voice carries this safe, solid track and elevates it from hollow to warm. “Level” sits at an even tempo but in a way that is comforting rather than boring. Stokley has witnessed and weathered the trends of the past thirty years, and “Level” smartly synthesizes them with classic R&B sensibilities.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: Stokely has something off about his voice. This track is light, breezy, romantic, and very nostalgic, but Stokely’s vocals range from effortless to karaoke-like. His performance on this track reminds me of various “American Idol” or “The Voice” performances from recent years: the vocal isn’t bad, it’s just not particularly unique or engaging. As Simon himself would say, I’m sure I’ve heard this same vocal performance at various open mic nights across this country and Stokely will have to do a hell of a lot better than this if he hopes to make a major splash. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: That chorus lyric is confusing me, the way Stokley sings makes me unsure whether he’s smugly celebrating meeting someone of his status, or being amazed that he met someone just on his kind of wavelength. The generosity and lushness of the track, especially the backing vocals, tips me over to the latter. It’s nothing if not easy to please and tasteful, after all.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: R&B out of era; the waterfall glissandos, trap percussion and guitar suggest entirely different decades. Stokley floats between them all like a breeze: as effortless, as insubstantial.
[6]

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still

Come here for crimes against punctuation and geography.


[Video][Website]
[5.57]

Ashley John: I want to take this song at face value. “Feel It Still” worms its way into your head and latches on strong, with an easy chorus and smooth harmonies. The drums and bass give it all a punchy kick behind the soaring vocals. I want to like it in a vacuum, but the video is about #theresistance and the song was supposedly inspired by Bernie Sanders and the title of the album is “Woodstock,” for goodness sake. From an apolitical stance, the bass line makes my brain go blank with the need to dance. And that is my main takeaway from this song, whether Portugal. The Man want it to be or not. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: The mild funk is an emetic, not an aphrodisiac, but this is sufficiently weird in its creamy attractive normality to warrant a replay or two.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Do me a favor and put on “AKA M80 The Wolf” by this band right now. No seriously, do it. Consider the fact that as far back ago as last decade, this band’s been around making ponderously regroovable but impenetrable art-rock for scenecore kids who grew up and tend to flip through Danielewski texts and post Facebook statuses about how ’embarrassed’ they were by their flat-iron swoop bangs era on their lunch breaks nowadays. Now that doesn’t have any real variation on how “Feel It Still” could easily be a Fitz & The Tantrums song and likewise will be used in so many commercials and reality shows. It’s still an abstract swamp of words that need sifting as John Gourley works really hard to one-up Cedric Bixler-Zavala at his own game (while displaying a lot less of his idol’s flamboyance),  but it’s an unmistakable desire to invite a whole new realm of people to be heard. They’ve been esoteric for a decade, so I can’t demean them for a shameless go.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: References to “feeling it since 1966” and “a war for peace” and “is it coming back?” evoke a vague pro-social activism stew that doesn’t get much more elaboration, so the song as a whole ends up being about not much more than, like, the world right now, and everything, you know, crazy, right? It’s just an excuse for inoffensively clean squeaky-voiced funk; and it does groove, and it’s pleasant, but it’s not much of anything else.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: White-boy “funk” that thinks Beck’s Midnite Vultures is somehow meant ironically. 
[3]

Juana Giaimo: “Feel It Still” has a good beat and that falsetto is on the border between catchy and unbearable, but Portugal. The Man should stop telling Mexican band The Chamanas to cover their singles — the original versions finish being mere background music in contrast with the hypnotic sound of The Chamanas.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: Literal commercial rock done right, with pristine but uncrowded production and an insanely catchy chorus. “I’m a rebel just for kicks” alone is inspired, and even as the band has no idea what the rest of the song is about, there’s something brilliant about 1. the way it fits over the “Please Mr. Postman” topline and 2. how it’s intended as a subtle commentary on taking sides just to take sides. The hook and horn stabs do their job as synch-ready music; the actual content of the song elevates it way above other Driving Rock.
[7]

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Olly Murs ft. Louisa Johnson – Unpredictable

If you bought tickets for Olly Murs’ cancelled concert…. then you won’t have to hear this song. Rejoice!


[Video][Website]
[3.40]

Claire Biddles: The headline act at Straight Pride 2017
[2]

Iain Mew: Adding Louisa Johnson as partner for the single release recasts “Unpredictable” compared to Olly + backing vocals. Rather than a jarringly jolly tale of relationship Stockholm Syndrome, it’s now a song about two people who may possibly be happy together, but will definitely tell you how ker-azy and random they are until you never want to hear from them again.
[2]

Alfred Soto: I come down hard on songs with titles like “Unpredictable” because, fairly or not, I judge them by the title. Nothing on this duet rises to the level of “unpredictable” unless I refer to the tuneless singing and chorus worthy of a Doritos commercial.
[4]

Will Adams: I can’t stop chortling at the idea that anyone involved thought this sub-“Good Time” packing peanut of a song could be anything more than an anthem for the most boring couples on the planet, whose idea of “unpredictable” is probably whether they’re gonna buy regular or light mayo from the store.
[2]

Katie Gill: Man, the jokes just write themselves. ‘There’s nothing unpredictable about this.’ ‘Unpredictable? More like cookie cutter!’ ‘I like us when we’re unpredictable, which this song certainly isn’t.’ It’s every song about a hot and cold relationship sung by two people with a combined charisma that barely gets higher than lukewarm.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: If “midtempo stomper” is a thing, then this is a midtempo stomper. X Factor alumni Murs and Johnson’s voices blend quite nicely on this (slightly) lyrically unconventional love song; it’s not gonna change the world, or music, but it sounds good enough. Wish they’d turned up the bass, though.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Some questions for the UK music industry: why was Olly Murs’ stirring last single, “Years & Years”, AKA “Dear Darlin’ (Stg. V) Acceptance”, not number one for seven weeks? And why was it not subject to a cover, by Years & Years, retitled “Olly Murs”? Whoever is to blame, this is the consequence: a doubling down on the runaway success of Murs’ Demi Lovato-assisted supermarket jingle “Up” with a somehow naffer, strictly in-house collaboration. Granted, there’s a nostalgic charm to it being effectively a Frankie & Calvin kids’ TV theme, but it’s still very, very dull.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: I went back and heard the original version of this song upon learning that there was one, and was surprised to learn how much it feels like album filler; it’s just as polished but without much energy or soul to back it up. This new version of “Unpredictable,” feels more like a lead single — it’s possible to hear the guitars, the synth effects feel louder, and even details like the piano in the first verse feel jarring in the first version and smart in the remix. The chorus in the original is bloodless; the chorus here is as explosive as a pop chorus should be. The way Olly Murs and Louisa Johnson bounce verses off each other shows some good chemistry, too. I could do without the actual lyrical content, but in its current form, “Unpredictable” is a total joy to hear.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: As unhealthy as the subject relationship sounds, the song is worse.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: “Looking for a partner in crime!”: the song: the Kidz Bop cover.
[0]

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

K’naan ft. Snow Tha Product, Riz MC & Residente – Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)

From 2016 (a bit has changed), but just got a video…


[Video]
[4.57]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: That one of the most widely popular and critically acclaimed works of art in recent times involves minorities and rapping should be a cause for excitement. And for many, it genuinely is. Personally, I can’t shake the depressing irony of how exorbitant ticket prices essentially bar the working class from seeing Hamilton. Such is the nature of Broadway, but equally inherent is the wholly unremarkable rapping that would have to be present in an art form whose audience is primarily older, affluent white people who don’t enjoy much rap. Virtually every track sounds like something a high school student would make for their history class if they chose the “create a rap song” option in lieu of a typical presentation (never more clear for me than when I saw this). The Hamilton Mixtape isn’t nearly as egregious, and its existence allows for the masses to hear music that touches on undoubtedly important topics. Unfortunately, “Immigrants” suffers in a similar way to the musical: the prioritization of clarity, both in the message and its delivery, leads to a song that’s only conceptually interesting. And for how many words these four rappers want you to hear, I’d be hesitant to call “Immigrants” lyrical; there’s no impressive wordplay or thought-provoking images, just corny lines that act as the song’s entire wellspring of impassioned rallying cries. The artists merely “get the job done.”
[1]

Alex Clifton: By far the best track from The Hamilton Mixtapes, based on one of my favourite lines from the musical, “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” is more prescient and timely than ever. It’s an eclectic bunch but nobody feels awkwardly shoehorned in; the verses are stunning, representing perspectives from all over (Somalia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Puerto Rico). As we battle a xenophobic, racist president and nationalist movements around the world, we need more media reminding us all that freedom isn’t free. “It’s America’s ghost writers, the credit’s only borrowed” is a phenomenal line: let those ghosts be heard, their voices amplified.
[9]

Alfred Soto: I’m embarrassed for the four artists credited. Good intentions in this dark time produced this grotesque, horribly rapped manifesto. I know more than a few conservatives who like Jay-Z and Future.
[1]

Lauren Gilbert: This is unsubtle in the same way as Hamilton is — another immigrant coming up from the bottom. It’s not intended to be subtle, but a shot across the bow, a Statement of Purpose and of #resistance. And yeah, it’s easy enough to be cynical about that; are we really going with “all you have to do / is see the world with new eyes”? Is that all it takes? But as I listen to K’naan here, I keep coming back to one passage in Ben Rawlence’s City of ThornsCity of Thorns is a biography not of a person, but of a place: Dadaab, the second-largest refugee camp in the world. And K’naan holds a place of honor in the residents’ eyes; K’naan is a hope, that one can be Somali and something more than a footnote, forgotten by the rich countries who occasionally remember to send some of their largess to Dadaab. In the words of Tawane, one of the residents, “we are not vulnerable people, we are super humans. Refugee is a state of mind. Look at the examples of Madeleine Albright, of K’naan.” Tawane arrived at Dadaab in 1992 when he was seven years old. He is 32 now, still striving to become “implementing partner” in his own life. And no matter how hard he tries — or how often he says “I will be in the White House” — it is likely he will stay in Dadaab for the rest of his life, hoping for a relocation or a chance at a life where he is a citizen, not just a temporary resident. And he will watch this video, and his friends will watch this video, the same way some of his friends in the camp watch Manchester United and dream of a life playing soccer. I think of him, and the Somali refugees now banned from the country that was still “the lodestar in the refugee firmament, the model, for better or worse,” and I can’t hold the heavy-handedness of “who these fugees / what they do for me / but contribute new dreams” against the track. It feels like this song isn’t for me — white, native-born, celebrating fireworks earlier this month in a country that has nurtured me even as it has excluded so many others. This track is for the kids who will never have that life, and for bleeding-heart donors who might kick a few dollars to organizations that support them. There are worse things than wide-eyed optimism, than trying to bend the arc of history towards justice, one $10 donation and one (pretty fire) verse from Snow Tha Product at a time.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: I like the intent of this. And K’naan, Residente, and especially Riz MC are all awesome rappers. (I’m not as big a fan of Snow Tha Product, just because something in her voice rubs me wrong; that said, she has some of the best lyrics here.) The problem is Residente’s main man behind the boards, Trooko. “Immigrants” has a slow, sludgy, militaristic feel, and it’s not any fun to listen to. So while I applaud this, I don’t actively enjoy it. 
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: In Hamilton, this title is a quick-witted applause line in an energetic account of the American Revolution. As a hook for this derivation, it becomes a mantra, not a victory dance, which drains it of much of its verve: the sober voice of millions of people demanding dignity and rights, not the exultant Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette dunking on the English. The translation from celebration to seriousness and Broadway to mixtape treads a rough path and not always a felicitous one. Hamilton is a hip-hop-inspired musical, which is something different to a hip-hop record (the churlish types upset by its dissimilarity to their fav rap album haven’t really considered that, likewise, Illmatic is a crappy piece of musical theater) and it’s fun to hear its songs given over to their creative roots. To my ears, the Spanish verses from Snow Tha Product and Residente come closest to the thrill of “Yorktown” in the pop-song form. From the mixtape, though, what you really want is Ashanti doing “Helpless” and Kelly Clarkson’s crushing “It’s Quiet Uptown.”
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The ascendance of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton as cultural icons are thanks in part to an audience who likes the idea of rap in theory but want it without the perceived “sullying” of rap culture, drastically removed from any tropes that inspire discomfort in dealing with cultural or ideological dissonance. If Barack Obama had posed next to Shawn Carter or Kanye West while they freestyled about America in a YouTube video, 2016 or not, we’d still see all kinds of complaints about who the president forced upon us. With the Hamilton Mixtape we now also have this bizarre world where rappers are allowed to express themselves and be considered stars — so long as they occupy the sanitized conventions of this bright and shiny Artistic Work, which their own discographies might not be anywhere close to. And while I’m not “a fan” of the works of most of the cast of this song, I know that individually they deal with greater political and identity-based questions in a way that honestly tends to appeal more to that crowd. Yet they still will find possibly some of the biggest success in their careers propping up this musical’s legacy, rather than their own.
[2]