Saturday, December 20th, 2014

That’s all (for now)!

And with that, Amnesty Week comes to a close. The Singles Jukebox will be on hiatus from now until the new year, so we can officially crown our 2014 champion, Sofi de la Torre:

SnowfiDeLaTorre
 

(Yes, our crowns are Santa hats.)

Thank you to all of our readers, commenters, rebloggers, and general supporters of the site. We love hearing from you, and it makes doing what we do even more fun. If you missed any of Amnesty Week, you can hear all of our picks together via this YouTube playlist. Also, feel free to peruse the archives on the sidebar to catch up on all of our writing from this year.

From all of us at the Jukebox, we wish you happy holidays and a great rest of the year. Until 2015.

Friday, December 19th, 2014

E-Girls – Highschool Love

…and our last song of 2014 from Patrick. Happy holidays!


[Video][Website]
[7.14]

Brad Shoup: Again, I’m nostalgic for bygone optometrists’ offices. Those ascending “doot”s are vertiginous, the twinkles dropped into the churn suggest some ill-begotten Amy Grant comeback attempt. .
[7]

Will Adams: It’s like a bootleg remix of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Hurt So Good,” with its low end belches elbowing out the pillow-soft synths. In that sense, I can’t hate it, but none of my high school love felt like this.
[6]

Madeleine Lee: All the dizzying sweetness and spiralling passion of first falling in love in high school, tempered nicely by the lyrics’ Bechdel test-passing storyline about the everlasting connection between same-year classmates.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: My students love music, but their tastes rarely reflect what appears to sell well on Japan’s Oricon Music Charts. Those rankings are dominated by AKB48, a sales juggernaut propped up by older men who buy extra copies of the same single to keep their fandom at the top. My girl students love E-Girls, a 27-member-strong outfit that had a huge 2014 sales wise while also acting as a great counter to the dominant idol-pop clogging up J-pop. They appeal to actual women (unlike AKB48 or most other groups, aiming at men), for one, and a poll found them the most “aspirational idols” going for teenage girls. “Highschool ♡ Love” was their biggest singles success this year, and spun the idol-loved trope of “high school” around – usually, idols in sailor uniforms act cute in the school, all for the enjoyment of a male viewer. E-Girls actually sang about high school from their perspective, touching on memories both good and bad. Better still, they twisted another dominant J-pop sound — the just-gaining-momentum EDM — into something subtle, bass gurgles underneath string flourishes. Save for the perfectly timed release near the very end, a series of Auto-tuned syllables and a very brief rap). I’ve just been happy to see my students genuinely inspired by someone in contemporary J-pop.
[10]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Behold, the rare world where everyone else is in each other’s shit, and somehow we’re cool with it! Jokes aside, “Highschool” portrays the weird intergrid of community, technology, and communication in such an idealized glamorization of full integration that certainly wasn’t prevalent in any of the schools I’ve went to, and maybe that’s the point. High-school is treated like a pivot for some; whether it’s the best or worst part of the years, it’s an incredible fixation. So perhaps this song isn’t for anyone who’s actually in the trenches of high-school (to you youth across America, we salute you. Hold it down!), but a reminiscence for the rest of us still mingling with those same people from years ago when we did first “connect” and just can’t let go.
[6]

Sonia Yang: Fun, fresh, and a bit flirty, complete with cotton-candy cafeteria and classroom dance sequences that looks like someone went filter-happy with a Glee or High School Musical scene. The song seems appallingly typical on paper — standard J-Pop melody, catchy beat, no desperate “weird Japan” shock factor — but in practice, the smooth execution gives it a little magic. This isn’t groundbreaking, but if idol J-Pop continues down this route my faith might be rekindled just yet.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: English language translations can be so awkward. A highlight of this one here is the joyously delivered “I remember all our class members,” which reads like a bathetic counterpoint to The National. If they used to argue with one of them on Facebook though they probably should do, given how recent that makes it. It does makes sense – the revolving door of nostalgia means it’s always around the corner – but shouldn’t nostalgia sound a bit more wistful? The problem with “Highschool ♡ Love” is that it, concordant with those uncanny anglicisations, is rictus.
[6]

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Shura – Touch

Courtesy of Josh W.


[Video][Website]
[7.22]

Josh Winters: Around 3 a.m. a couple nights ago, I watched this gay short film called Ronny & I about two young best friends on a weekend getaway. One of them is closeted and in love with the other, and when he admits his true feelings, not only does his friend accept him for his true self, he allows for them to be together for just one evening. I ended up loving the short but it seemed too much like the stuff of fantasies, entertained late at night in vulnerable states. It was around 1 a.m. when “Touch” first connected with me, while I was doing nothing but laying in bed and looking up at the Christmas lights that encircle me. It fit the vibe of the room: it needed that specific stillness, that kind of intimacy. It demands one’s full attention, blurring everything around into abstraction. The placid pads pull you into Shura’s dreamscape and guide you along the way, passing by flickers of light fragmented from one another. With every impulse of desire she expresses, she restrains herself, forming the basis of her tense inner conflict. Yet, while every repeated sentiment feels raw and honest and brave and direct, she sounds as if she has subconsciously accepted their reality, despite the nuances of heartbreak and yearning in her voice, like when the melody lifts ever so slightly for certain words and phrases. So ephemeral, so deliberate. But it had been that long, and it did feel that way. That brief detail wasn’t just accurate or painfully relatable; it was correct. I can’t help but recall the memories of when we got lost in cars together: when we were alone and our limbs laid horizontal, when we returned to each other after running away so many times. I wonder if they ever keep him up as well.
[10]

Brad Shoup: “I only need you to be French with me,” says Shura, and sister, believe me, I’ve been meaning to learn the stuff. It’d really impress Cat’s grandmother. Anyway, the track is spare, shellshocked: Shura layers in crowd noise like she’s on Christine and the Queens’ train platform. The lack of touch in the track plays well with the text, but the lightness in the delivery makes it harder for this song to land as something other than exhumation.
[6]

Iain Mew: I can remember the moments of being with That Person, no longer a couple but with just enough ambiguity about whether it should stay that way there to make every glance take on massive significance. At every silence, the world seems to move in slow motion even before something as breath-catching as a brush of skin against skin. That’s the experience that Shura takes on and completely inhabits in “Touch”, mentioning history and three years and desire and pushing it all back in. The song stays hushed and prickly, and its sense of heightened awareness is as gorgeous as it is uneasy.
[9]

Anthony Easton: The lacunae is such an example of erotic control that it makes Eurobosh both high camp and low serious. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Another entry in a fecund branch of electronic R&B, indebted to Aaliyah, brought to Pitchfork by Solange Knowles, and culminating in albums by Tinashe and Jhene Aiko. It requires a plaster cast stillness: tremble an inch and the illusion is gone. Let the gradations in the keyboard lines do the work.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’ll never quite understand how whenever more ‘indie-ish’ acts like say Shura or The Inc. or Blood Orange attempt their takes on R&B, there’s such aspirations for this oceanic vibe; maybe it’s their attempt at mimicking the static and distortion coming from YouTube digging old tracks like this and emulating their feel, or maybe a natural barrier to the earthy and blaring quality of the mainstream’s blaring GOTTA HAVE SOUL tendencies. Maybe they listened to Sade on a Walkman while visiting a beach in their pasts — whatever. But where do they all seem to generate this tropicalia sub-reach of R&B that needs to be windswept and ready to plunge into depths? I’m asking for a friend, you see…
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: “I want to touch you but there’s history” is the splash of cold water that made me snap out of just thinking this sounded like an icy glide. It isn’t about flat-out heartbreak, but something far more sad, which is the how relationships change so quickly (“three years”). Far more painful than a lot of similar sounding sad stuff. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: What I wanted Jessie Ware’s second album to sound like: sleek, downtempo alt-R&B. 
[8]

Sonia Yang: Underwhelming upon first listen but starts to dig into a bittersweet nostalgia with each subsequent play. It almost hits the mark but narrowly misses too many times; the tender longing fades as quickly as it begins. I feel like this is the kind of song a HAIM cover could do great things with.
[6]

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Christine and the Queens – Saint Claude

Thank you, Will.


[Video][Website]
[7.44]

W.B. Swygart: ‘Be Mine!’ in a world where she doesn’t actually know them, and they surely don’t know her. Christine (not her real name, doesn’t matter) projects her hatred for the city she lives in onto a girl on the bus/tram/train – someone new, someone different, someone who makes her think she’s not alone in this part of town. “We are so lonely” – in her head the click is instant, a kinship suddenly springs to life, complete with fully formed pasts and futures; that sudden giddy rush where you want to be right so very hard that you confuse that for being right (who’s projecting on who, again?). This being a modern charting pop single (in France, but the rules aren’t that different), the heroine doesn’t perhaps have quite that level of self-analysis going on – but: “Here’s my station/But if you say just one word I’ll stay with you”. She needs to be noticed, too; she needs to be affirmed, to be right. She can’t have it just be her that feels this way. “Et cette ville est morte, je sais bien/Toi seul garde de l’audace” – in this imaginary conversation they’re having, she’s putting her words in the stranger’s mouth so she can agree with them. With no conversation, nothing beyond glances (accompanied by what sounds like some furious mental note-taking on her fashion statements), this stranger has become something Christine needs, prays to be true. ‘Saint Claude’, then, is one of those songs where single moments blow up into something enormous, and all the bottles inside you just start spilling out; even if you don’t show it. Because you’re on a bus. Those bubbly synths are fantastic too; snapping as the dream begins, then floating away as it dies.
[9]

Josh Winters: My 2014 in music has been largely defined by a collection of soft electro-pop (and I’m using that genre tag as a vague catch-all) singles – all with varying scope, perspective, and potency – made by introverted twenty-something women experiencing complex narratives of urban isolation and longing, their stories mirroring my reclusive life in a number of ways I’m still trying to understand. I’m amazed to hear strains of those songs in this one, from the majestic strings in Rae Morris’ “Do You Even Know?” and the placid pads in Shura’s “Touch,” to the deep synth burbles in Indiana’s “Solo Dancing” and that piano in Sofi de la Torre’s “Vermillion” that feels like the weight of a thousand hammers. A compilation containing these songs would easily be my favorite record of the year. I see this one as the closer, with Christine traversing across this mythological city they all seem to be stuck in, acknowledging each of them from afar as she goes her own path.
[9]

Brad Shoup: The split between languages is a perfect division between internal monologue and actual conversation. Even if the text is screenplay-precious, when Letissier floats into the chorus it’s quite moving. The track is bashful, full of quietly exhaling hi-hat and narrow pillars of bass: the sound of things barely left said.
[7]

Alfred Soto: “A mix of music, performance, art videos, drawings and photography,” I read about Héloïse Letissier’s project. It might be. I’m judging her act on song alone: twinkly and arranged with care, but with a voice too coy for my taste.
[6]

Iain Mew: My internal retreat soundtrack continues apace. This one offers a glimpse of possible escape, but Christine conveys powerfully that the oncoming storm of loneliness was always favourite to win out.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: So when are we going to get past the garageband IDM songwriter stuff? I don’t care if someone considers it ‘synthpop’ — The Human League was amazing whereas this production beyond the saw/theramin howls bringing us in and opening the door for our escape has been redundant for years. You took the time to go beyond the simple strum of the acoustic guitar, but you should at least take the time to be your most unique if you want your songs to truly part the sea.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: “Here’s my station” is inherently final — I always think of the “Stina Nordenstam song” — and usually a subliminal plea: something could happen here, but it won’t. This is the musical correlative: gorgeous as possibility, swooning and delicate as worlds we keep inside our heads, and tiny as worlds we never seem to bring out of them.
[9]

Will Adams: What a year for lonely city synthpop. “Saint Claude” is reliably gorgeous, its wistfulness derived from its feather-light production that sounds a breath away from dissolving into the glass harmonica sobs that open and close the song. The kicker is the ending, when the French and English lyrics intertwine, but never quite touching. “We are so lonely,” goes the English; “Pour que l’orage s’annonce” (so the storm comes) goes the French. This is the type of tranquility you’ll find on a late night train, the steady tempo of the tracks droning over your headphones, drowning out everything but whatever is most important for you to hear.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: A pretty good representation of how I wish ballads in the 21st century sounded. 
[7]

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Tink ft. Jeremih – Don’t Tell Nobody

And this number’s recommended by Crystal.


[Video][Website]
[6.88]

Crystal Leww: So rarely do artists have that moment that hits you like a fucking sledgehammer, when they burst out with a track that makes your ears buzz, body move, and mind scream. Azealia Banks did it to me with “212.” I had this moment with Vic Mensa and Tkay Maidza earlier this year. Supposedly, “Don’t Tell Nobody” is the moment that Timbaland knew. And it’s hard to see why not: Tink raps well and sings well, but like everyone else I’ve already listed above, it’s a quality in self-assured, confident, and showy work without seeming braggy about it. That second verse gets to me every time: the confident coo of “I’mma text Brian, Facetime Ryan, call up Keenan, tell him I need him” or the rapidfire staccato of “You creepin, I’m leaving, you call me, I pick up, I hang up, you text me, let’s link up, and I just say ‘fuck it’ and we end up fucking,” which sounds as rhythmic as this terrible pattern that she’s in with this dude sound like Tink fully realized. At 19, I spent a lot of time chasing after ain’t-shit dudes and falling into terrible patterns, but I only wish I sounded as comfortably unnerved and angry as Tink does here. She sounds so much like herself.
[10]

Brad Shoup: R&B needs a little light torture every now and again, and Jeremih sounds positively glum. The track drifts and bloops, a space-age caress for a specially fucked-up couple.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Tink has some spectacular flow, and the move between anger and sangfroid is emphasized with some genuinely gorgeous glitched out noise and some solid percussion…Jeremih’s erotic begging is a mild gender fuck, but adds to the tension of the whole piece. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: Tink sounds great — she always does — but the rhymes aren’t up to her flow or the spare Dre & Vidal-worthy beat, although “in the back seat sweatin’ like an athlete” was good for a chuckle.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Tink’s tone continues to sound like a desperate need for Mucinex DM, her songwriting continues to leave me cold, and this beat is some soundcloud gold of boring ideas from years and years go.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: I’m not a big fan of Jeremih, but he has his moments, and this is one of ‘em: at his best, he’s Chris Brown without the baggage. This is also a fine example of how to use Auto-Tune the right way. “Don’t Tell Nobody” shows off rookie Tink’s nimble raps (I’m a sucker for the line “As much as I hate ya/I still wanna date ya”) and some lovely, plush-yet-skittery production from Da Internz (I’m not sure how they pulled that off, but they did). I grew up two hours from the Chi, and this makes me miss it a bunch.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Giving Jeremih an actual bit rather than just making him a dumb hook singer who’s more subject than actor detracts from Tink’s impact. That’s a bit of a disappointment because the second half of the second verse is the absolute best stuff I’ve heard from her. She gives us nimble rhymes and wonderful bit of acting, fleshing out the words with convincing depictions of the conflicting emotions of the relationship she’s describing.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: A clever song with a great beat and singing. Maybe you could wring a “modern love” essay out of this, but I’m enjoying the bubbly track.
[8]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Marcus Wiebusch – Der Tag Wird Kommen

If you need some context for Scott’s rock-fueled pick, perhaps direct yourself to the (subtitled!) music video…


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Brad Shoup: It’s the worst nightmare of the ESPN comment section: longer than “Hotel California,” not written by Zeppelin, and all about willing gay football players to empowerment. To be fair, this would be a slog for most people: an unceasing raspy singsong with  strutting one-channel guitar and flattened brass low-end. I feel like this would have made a very good Facebook post.
[5]

Iain Mew: I sometimes wonder if subtitles to voices in a language I barely understand is the best way to receive a message. It can supply feeling and precision, but having to do the work to put the two together helps filters out much of the potential for a negative gut reaction to something sounding false or too much. I don’t know how much that adds to the combination of the strong elements of “Der Tag Wird Kommen”, but I find the song incredibly powerful. I love the way it sonically jumps straight into the fray with a kind of grim determination, with grinding bass and Marcus Wiebusch spitting words in a way that says there’s a long way to go, in the song and in society, but there’s no question of not getting there. Talking from my own privilege here, but I think the narrative approach is a good one, of making himself a secondary fictional figure, acknowledging his privilege but stopping the song from being all about him by centring the tale of a friend making the football big time. It works that he treats it as a momentous story in its own right that would ideally be bigger than the friend’s sexuality. He tells that with mounting tension that leads to a complex narrative that underpins the elements of frustration and invective elsewhere in the song. It convincingly makes the case for coming out and the case for how heavily the personal stakes of potential negative response could weigh. When it culminates in the pushing back of earlier positive words — “one will do it, but it won’t be me” — the silence afterwards is gut-wrenching. The song heads on with reassurance and a smartly chosen phrase from football culture. We’re not there yet, it says, but walk on with hope in your heart.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Great message that flies well beyond borders and language in 2014, but the actual music is mostly a trudge. 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Euro-Macklemore with even more clunky rapping and generic production is a thing. People love to find abstract significance in anything sandblasted into universality to give their lives meaning in the mundane, so I’m sure the fact that this song is so self-assured that you (the audience) know how IMPORTANT their message is has a lot to do with that. And I’m happy there’s a specific message here. Yet this is the ultimate problem I have in seeking universality with rap: it coddles the listener. It implies that they need to feel sonically safe if it’s some “musical music.” It’s not really comprised of any real music, because this pop rap sound doesn’t sound like any pre-existing genre of music. This could serve as an argument that the vampiric post-modernist aspect of rap production being based in the sounds of other genres is a moot point. But it might also be that people are beginning to want nice friendly vehicles that doesn’t ward away people who can’t relate to R&B, rock, jazz, EDM, or the millions of other sounds you can rap over. And if people are honestly that cowardly about sounds, how can you trust them with words and ideas?
[2]

Kat Stevens: It’s rare to find issues-pop that’s optimistic, determined and realistic all at once. The story needs telling, but it might be 2 minutes too long for this format.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: It’s “Lose Yourself” except it’s by a German dude and it’s about gay footballers! And instead of gradually intensitifying verses, it’s more like a few distinct bits of poetry nailed together with no obvious musical structure, like a musical mini-movie (hey, I don’t watch the video when deciding if I like something). It might be my privilege talking, in that because I can get up and do “Work It” by Missy Elliott at karaoke replete with gestures in front of my boss and not risk losing mega-euros in endorsements, but only parts of Wiebusch’s delivery hit home. The section from about 90 seconds in and the piano closing are two of these. Unfortunately, the rest struggles against the unforgiving stream of consonants that makes German a language better sung than it is rapped, particularly when Wiebusch is not up to rousing me to care.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Thorough: a tale not just of an individual, but the evolution of a sport, society and man. It works best on that micro level though — a character study greatly enhanced by the video, bringing humanity to the media’s genuinely insatiable appetite for “the first.” Wiebusch is just as vague as them when his player says it won’t be him — who does count here? Fashanu, Hysén, Davis, Rogers? — but that stark vow of silence is saddening. Really, this can’t be best experienced without the video in mind, as on a macro level, for all it says, little is new. The comparison to terraces racism doesn’t really pass muster either, invisibility rendering it baseless, and the implicit heterosexism of “their sex is their business” does feel like the work of a once-radical, straight, 46-year-old ex-punk. It’s no act of Macklemoreing, no backward step in the guise of progress, but still somewhat retrograde, occasionally not quite “getting it”. Perhaps that’s apt — the issue remains stagnant — and perhaps the persistent trudge made of its forward motion is too; lurching, boulder-carrying, yet convinced of its title. Things needn’t always be so dramatic in reality, and haven’t been, played outside of the media hall of mirrors, but the turmoil in this instance is so meticulously drawn as to suggest otherwise. A kind of success.
[7]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

ZelooperZ – Plateau

From Megan, a Detroit rapper with the perfect reaction to our varied scores…


[Video][Website]
[5.78]

David Sheffieck: ZelooperZ is one of the most exciting young artists out there, a confluence of the mainstreaming experimentation of Young Thug et al. and the confrontational outsider-music of someone like Scott Walker. He’s more focused on “Plateau” than in earlier releases, but he still sounds like he’s transmitting from an alternate plane. The multiplied voices, the punishingly industrial track, the absurdist humor of the lyric: they form a sound that can be traced to an extent yet still seems completely singular, impossible to imagine until you actually hear it. ZelooperZ may never be the sound of the future — at least not without a few compromises — but he sounds futuristic nonetheless. His voices are calling out in the wilderness, pointing the way for those who are able to follow.
[10]

Patrick St. Michel: So this is the borderline between “unique delivery” and “extremely grating.” 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Much how mentor Danny Brown pilled himself out into a mentally regressed Juicy J for the “I don’t really like a lot of rap, but…” crowd without half the humor or the craftsmanship, ZelooperZ is a one-dimensional shallow pursuit of doing rapper things. He lists off every cliché, and his rapper’s ego prevents him from ever actually connecting his dorky exaggerated whines to the beat. And for the love of god, he needs to stop with the self-conscious “HEY GUISE I’M RECLAIMING AWFUL STEREOTYPES AND MAKING THEM A PART OF MY IRONIC CHARACTER POSE” because it doesn’t make him any more interesting than the rest of the massive deluge of Z-List blog rap that gets infinite exposure because of their cool friends. Lil’ Silk said “whips like master” on his own “Rapper” not too long ago, sure, but he didn’t make this an obnoxious costume he broke out to pretend he wasn’t a mass of unoriginal and a void where talent could be. Maybe one day ZelooperZ can figure that out and be a promising underground rap icon, but until then he’s just the worst rapper in Bruiser Brigade and evidence that sometimes you’re outside the box because you don’t deserve to be in the box.
[0]

Brad Shoup: As punk as the Golf Wang crew would be if they didn’t fret so much about being rap’s last epoch. ZelooperZ’s careless about meter, half-hearted about jokes, felonious about irony. But what he’s great at is voices: barks, whines, taunts. (Think Son of Bazerk recording nothing but ad-libs.) He’s destroying his own breakout from the foundations, and that’s worth something.
[4]

Sonia Yang: Minimalist yet high octane. Starts and doesn’t stop; even when it does stop the aftershock reverberates in my head. Unfortunately, that mosquito buzz drives me up a wall.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The insistence with which he raps against the beat is almost a talent, but the brain-dead rhymes and imagery aren’t.
[3]

Kat Stevens: The first Depeche Mode song I ever heard was “People Are People,” an instrumental snippet of which was used as the theme to CBBC’s (half-sneering, half-embracing) inventions programme It’ll Never Work. My brain naturally linked this 10 second proto-industrial clanking to the endless parade of Stomp-a-like dudes I’d seen on Blue Peter, clanking together dustbin lids, hitting pipes with other pipes and whooping the end of bright yellow plastic tubes with table tennis bats. This must be what music made in a factory sounded like, made by jerkily-moving Japanese robots. Lurking at the back of the same dusty junk shop full of creaky spinning bicycle wheels and saucepans and radiators is the beat for “Plateau,” but ZelooperZ is not the sort of robot vocalist that obediently does your dishes — in fact he has just smashed his way through the door and squirted ketchup everywhere. Elevation! ALTITUDE!
[7]

Anthony Easton: I don’t know what to do with this — I continue to be intrigued by how it sounds, the abrasive vocals, the dense production, even the speed of it. But the context escapes me, and I don’t want to stand on any landmines. So, I wanted to note my score, and note how valuable I find the Jukebox for pushing me towards things I wouldn’t hear before, which is another gift of Amnesty Week.
[8]

Megan Harrington: It’s immediately jarring to hear such an absence of production. I was raised on abundance, pitch shifting and Autotune and mash ups. But ZelooperZ has little more than a high whistle and a tumbleweed rolling down the boulevard. He’s abrupt, even avant, but this approach never stops him from peeling off a catchy bar. As lean and spare as ZelooperZ sounds he’s equally hilarious and playful in his braggadocio and nonchalance. There’s a space between the overstuffed neon mainstream and the greyscale underground and he lives and breathes in its greenery. 
[10]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Deadmau5 ft. Colleen D’Agostino – Seeya

Will’s pick is also dance music from Canada, albeit with a less ambitious agenda…


[Video][Website]
[5.80]

Crystal Leww: Deadmau5 in 2014 is sad. I’ve heard this at raves, and it’s sad. I’ve heard remixes of this at raves, and it’s still sad.
[2]

Will Adams: “EDM” is a frustrating concept. It’s either a misnomer (often meant to denote popular festival genres like big room, dubstep, or progressive house; often deployed by people too lazy to learn about the wide range of genres a festival comprises) or a meaningless umbrella (because, when taken literally, “electronic dance music” refers to an overwhelming majority of pop music). As such, there’s been an emerging group of purists — from a trance mainstay like BT to the more underground, progressive-leaning Matt Lange — who have spoken out about how “EDM” is crowding out quality dance music. It’s rockism for the millennial set, though that may be an unfair, reductive metaphor. What might actually be at play is that frustration of “EDM” becoming a catch-all for anything with a pulse. All of which leads to Deadmau5 — one of the more acerbic and unpalatable personalities in this down-with-EDM discourse — releasing the challenging, lengthy while(1<2), which flits between thwacking electro house, spooky industrial pieces, and cinematic piano interludes. “Seeya,” the final track, shines like a light at the end of a long tunnel. It’s a sharp turn from everything that preceded it, with Colleen D’Agostino vamping over an infectious electric bass hook and scarfing bass wobbles. What’s amazing is how it doesn’t quite fit into any category: too slow for most DJ sets (though, luckily for me, its tempo perfectly matches my walking cadence; I strutted around New York to this song all summer), too funky for electro but electrified enough to ward off Daft Punk comparisons, and like most of Deadmau5’s vocal songs, adorned with a mysterious, ominous lyric. “Seeya” seems to be in a class of its own. And, in another divergence from the typical festival banger, the whole track is perfectly mastered; rarely does dance music sound this cleanly mixed. Even in his concession to dancepop, Deadmau5 goes against the grain, offering a vision of the beautiful diversity of genres that can’t possibly be contained by three capital letters.
[9]

Anthony Easton: This is a solid piece of craft, an embedded example of a master working through long-standing traditions with little innovation but much skill. There is a desire to see some higher risk/reward ratio, but enough details stymie that instinct. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Apart from its luxurious sound, a triumph of tempo shifts and instrumental fills. For once it is all about that bass, crowned by Colleen D’Agostino’s perfervid vocal.
[7]

Brad Shoup: A martial disco tune about the power of PLUR to save you from wage slavery and Seasonal Affective Disorder, but the fascinating part is D’Agostino’s unadorned vocal. Unadorned by her, that is — Deadmau5 lets the sandpapery bass graze it at every opportunity. But a day under the covers would be a fantastic alternative to this midtempo bog.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: A.k.a. “While My Computer Gently Farts.”
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Imagine “Get Lucky” but slightly more ambitious. 
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The bass is “Another One Bites the Dust” as described by someone who heard it from another room 30 years ago and not since. But it’s clumsy, not crisp, and interferes with a really commanding performance from D’Agostino. As a producer, Deadmau5 has really clipped his own songwriting wings here.
[5]

Cédric Le Merrer: Is a bassline that sounds like it’s played by a duck walking keytar player enough to sustain a song for this long, however awesome it is? Probably not, but you can make an awesome 3 minute radio edit by just hitting the pause button at the right time.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ve already described one track this year as Tieranniesaur fronted by Kylie, and this gets even closer. The bro-est and nerd-est of EDM acts (see also: Skrillex signing Hundred Waters) might secretly have the best taste.
[8]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

A Tribe Called Red – Burn Your Village to the Ground

Suggested by Anthony: EDM… with a mission.


[Video][Website]
[5.92]

Anthony Easton: I’m white, and so you have to be careful about tourism and colonial creep, but indigenous re-working of culture and the appropriation therein has been incredibly vital to me in the last few years. It is deadly serious (of course, a response to genocide), but often deeply funny and also generous/smart about how it constructs meaning from the shards of other cultures. (Just this year: Brian Jungen’s deer hunting video for the AGO, Sonny Assua’s visual remixes of Haida imagery and Emily Carr paintings or Nadia Myer’s bead-work rewriting of the Indian act, the magical realist fable of the pawn shop by Sherman Alexie in the New Yorker, the moral necessity of Thomas King’s An Inconvenient Indian, Frank Wain’s EP about the Keystone pipeline, Tanya Tagaq’s radical political refusal of oil graft in her Polaris winning album Animism or the Light in the Attic comp of First Nations rock and roll.) There are a number of things to note in this trend — that the aesthetic is radically different, that it concerns itself with the ongoing problems of technology and modernity, that they often use the cutural tools of the hegemony against itself, disproving Lorde’s line about the master’s house, but also a Pan-Indian mixing. It’s absurd to think that Inuit or Haida or Spokane or Caygua or Lakota can share anything, but what they have in common is functioning against the ongoing erasure of their cultures. One of the ways of returning from erasure is knowing what the culture is doing and being smart about the history of culture and returning it back. When I saw A Tribe Called Red this year in Montreal, this remix aesthetic of indigenous and Euro influences were heady, but also bodily, featuring reworks of Johnny Cash, Cher, and Buffy Saint-Marie into this perfect dance melange. That the show featured a filmic collage behind the band featuring both scenes from Addams Family Value, but some weird Cherokee in Space cartoon, Avatar, Nanook of the North, and dozens of westerns, and, on the front of the stage, a hoop dancer. ATCR knows that the only way to work culture in favour of themselves is to remix everything. It becomes a way of controlling the means of production, especially in this new culture that rests more on information than other more material qualities. This song for me, done on Thanksgiving, with the inclusion of a movie that is apparently beloved on reservation but in the middle of a profoundly well-constructed, hip hop infused EDM masterpiece; how it rises up to introduce Wednesday Addams; how they are in on the joke, but how it isn’t anywhere close to a joke, is prophetic and necessary. That Tribe released this on (American) Thanksgiving — and that they constantly release new music — suggests that this is part of a rolling discourse, constantly dipping in and out of the culture, working with it or at oblique angles to it as needed. This track is the sound of the year, and I cannot hear it outside of everything else they do, and I love it more for that.
[10]

Brad Shoup: I mean, they’re not wrong.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Overt infiltration is a tricky thing. Weird comparison, but look at Zach de la Rocha rearing his head again in recent years. When his Rage Against The Machine was in full-effect, many were dismissive of his attempts to use corporate money for noble intent and to commercialize late 80s-early 90s hardcore into nu-metal arena rock for goonbags. It seemed that no matter how informative he was, he’d ultimately be watering down, compromising, and serving the needs of huge crowds where many wouldn’t give a care (also unleashing some of the worst drumming ever via Brad Wilk, but that’s another story…). So I feel sad about A Tribe Called Red’s honorable attempts to politicize the goonier elements of EDM. Partly because I think they suck at making a genre I’m already kind of snobby about, but also when you’re trying to deal with anthemics, information, and that realm of mass media infiltration… can you truly pull it off?
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: So much EDM builds up only to drop down into cliche youth-is-great! sentiments or knucklehead anger. A Tribe Called Red grab the format and use it for time-bending political aims. It doubles as a great electronic song, but that it is a popular genre usually used to sell kids energy drinks reconstructed into something this pointed is fantastic. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: With a gait as uncertain as this act’s name, this electronic track mixes spoken word doggerel that doesn’t rise to the level of agitprop and beats that change because its makers said so.
[3]

Sonia Yang: The Wednesday Addams sample is cleverly used, transformed from darkly humorous to something more sinister. This is because the context is exactly the same, except this time it’s not a TV show — horrible, real things happened (and are still happening) to real people. The build up takes the song from eerie to almost menacing and while one can’t literally scalp their oppressors and burn the village to the ground, they can do so to the white man’s romanticized view of colonialism.
[7]

Josh Langhoff: Surely this deserves a place on any self-respecting Thanksgiving playlist, but the anticlimactic monochromatic thwacking that follows Christina Ricci’s refreshingly goofy war declaration means once a year will suffice. Oh well — it’s not like I need to hear “Alice’s Restaurant” outside November either. “Slurf Song,” though, could play any day. I’m not sure whether that says anything about the self-satisfied privilege of American bohemianism.
[5]

Sabina Tang: I first became acquainted with Bear Witness in a gallery setting, via his humorous, thought-provoking video supercuts of aboriginal representation in popular media. My boring, academic instinct is to frame the ATCR crew as another facet of the art project: as if they weren’t great, populist DJs with the breadth of taste and confidence to mash up hip-hop/reggaeton/EDM with native chants or Buffy Saint-Marie, and keep a crowd moving regardless of whether its consciousness has been raised. ATCR’s live set focus, though, does mean their tracks are designed for functional mixing rather than as pop singles (the transcendental “Sisters” aside) — or as protest songs (cf. “Woodcarver”) — or, in this case, both. It’s not got a beginning or end or much in the way of non-linear development; download and listen to the rest of their work for context. Extra point because Wednesday Addams’ Thanksgiving skit just gets more real with time, like Agent J’s explanation for why little Tiffany had to die.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Points for taking something that was hilarious in its original context (while being a stealth truth bomb at the same time) and making it sound like a real, not pantomime, polemic. No points for the flat EDM of its new context, alas.
[3]

Will Adams: I like this more for its mindfuck potential — that a throbbing EDM tune can unexpectedly take a turn for the political — than for what it actually does as a song. The first two acts augur a killer third, but it never comes.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: It opens with a beat as turgid as Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” but does nothing with it other than lapse into some generic EDM. The lyric is politically important but works better as a monologue than as “lyrics.” The music here does a gross disservice to its words, and epitomizes the phrase “wasted potential.”
[3]

Madeleine Lee: I didn’t know what the sampled speech was the first time I listened to this. Reappropriation and recontextualization is an integral part of A Tribe Called Red’s aesthetic, but even without the added complexity of recognition this still sounds vital, and propulsive, and thrilling, and strong.
[9]

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Bullet & Snowfox – The Heart

And Katherine brings us an L.A. pop-rock band and a short autobiography, maybe…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Katherine St Asaph: Bullet & Snowfox is the project of Kristen Wagner from Shut Up Stella, the greatest teenpop band to never release an album. There’s cachet around teenpop and all things teen, much of it misguided and some of it actually predatory; the Radio Disney model, relentlessly peppy-bowdlerized; the Taylor Swift model, crushingly idealized (for everyone who grimaced at “Welcome to New York”‘s glibness, that’s how it felt for high school) or the Sassy/Rookie model, which is awesome for the few who can live up to it. But Shut Up Stella made music that felt how being a teen actually felt to me: aimless, pointless, stranded in parking lots and SAT-test rooms and small towns and shitty relationships you can’t get out of, constantly drunk or high because it kills the hours faster, adult kids who aren’t alright: these are the days that we won’t remember, and if we ever wanna go back, we can smoke a pack and pray for a heart attack. They mattered to me; they could have mattered to the world. Then came promo and pilots and fights and Ryan Tedder cowrites; they split, perhaps acrimoniously, and all three went their own ways into hardworking obscurity. This is where the cachet ends; the pop industry doesn’t care, the pop music press is either uncaring or too dead to care, the music-criticism press is crumbling like an island of baking soda, and even the poppiest, teen-est, major-est artists might end up with… well, with dead-end teens and striving careers, reinventions and small success. Jessie Malakouti’s gone through about five reinventions, now picking up a sprinkling of radio adds as Eden XO; Fan_3, now Allison Jayne, fronts spiky/drifty band Yell For Help; Wagner’s been in Bullet & Snowfox since the beginning. Specifically, since 2009, when I was writing a game called Broken Legs, needing a snottier soundtrack than Sarah Brightman or Kate Bush, reading a little much pop criticism — including this very site — on some willful Google whim. For months they were all I listened to; then came Bullet & Snowfox, whose Metric/Franz-loving dance-rock was both sticky and closest to what I’d loved. It was the first pop I’d adopted in years, and I suppose I told myself it was “different”; it also led directly to admitting I liked other pop, then indirectly to this crappy career. If it hadn’t happened I would have been laid off in August of 2011 with the rest of the copy desk I was on, which is more reassurance in hindsight than many people get; but if I’d gotten into chess or church or opera or coding-coding or anything else I could have, would that have been right? Which brings me to “The Heart.” Shut Up Stella was managed by Kay Hanley, and “The Heart” is Bullet & Snowfox’s best stab at her early-’00s sound — a heart-stab, with hooks everywhere, relentless energy, closing-credits ebullience, perhaps underlying darkness but mostly hope: hope that’s earned. I often struggle with describing bands I adopted before adopting the music-writing vocabulary and canon, the comparisons and promo lines and dismissals to wield against them; they feel different, and they feel important, but they also feel lonely, because there are fewer and fewer ways to get your fandom across to another human. (An editor, who will remain unnamed, once looked at me like I was some moronic dilettante and gave me the “andnoneforgretchenweinersbye” brushoff when I suggested in person that Hanley was formative.) I mean, how do you do it? How do you score an artist so intrinsic to yourself today, with all your fucking faults, with a song so surging it affirms them anyway? Like so.
[10]

Brad Shoup: Pneumatic pop-rock straight out the Legally Blonde 2 soundtrack, a splice of Neil Diamond’s “America” and Ladyhawke’s “Black White & Blue”. This could make you nostalgic for any of thirty years.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The second single we’ve reviewed to cite Woody Allen’s smarmy defense, it also isn’t as fun as Selena Gomez’s, which at least zipped through its incoherence. “The Heart” plays like “Breathless”-era Corrs on Quaaludes. 
[3]

Edward Okulicz: This is an underappreciated genre, and this chorus is a massive rush of desirous power-pop. Not sure if I’m overrating it because it draws on decades of terrific ladies with shiny guitars that radio never quite got behind — other than maybe Hilary Duff — but could always be relied on for a soundtrack single. Might be a [10] if I get the idea that the verses stack up (they probably don’t) or if I imagine Kay Hanley belting it out while on top of a tall building like the ending of 10 Things I Hate About You.
[8]

Zach Lyon: A general rule: if it comes within several hundred miles of maybe fitting in on the “Josie and the Pussycats” soundtrack, it’s just fine.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s the big, climactic song to make the end credits of a movie — something with national distribution, but not a summer blockbuster. It seems a bit too high-energy for the part where you find out who the grips were, but it sticks with you. Would probably sound even better live. 
[6]

Anthony Easton: So sugary, it might give me an insulin shock if it lasted longer than it did. 
[2]

Will Adams: Totally forgettable pop-rock pummeled with cliché, sure to make any Disney Channel Original Movie music supervisor squeal with glee.
[4]

Sonia Yang:Sweeter than Fiction“‘s more world-weary cousin who seems to actually know what her heart wants.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I appreciate what they’re trying for here — big mid-’80s closing-credits uplift — but with lines like “the heart wants what the heart wants/and I want you” it’s all so painfully clichéd (music, lyrics, and all) that none of it works. 
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: The one thing letting “The Heart” down is Kristen Wagner’s voice. She doesn’t really sound like a singer. It’s not even a technical thing, it’s just the tone, and that tone, when exposed in the verses, veers eerily close to Rebecca Black’s in the seminal “Person Of Interest”. She just about gets away with the chorus, swept along by the music, but even that suffers with her yawpy expressionlessness.
[5]

Megan Harrington: Often we’re forced to choose between our best selves and our realest selves. Women especially are forced to pick one face and present it, to stifle any second or third dimension because it’s too confusing to be two things at once. “The Heart” is both quietly unsettled on the verses and a cliché sledgehammer through the chorus. Bullet & Snowfox refuses to pick a mold and we get a song that’s a little bratty, a lot in love, and the most ready for an impromptu karaoke. 
[10]