Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Coco Jones – Let ‘Em Know

Tell’em!


[Video][Website]
[5.17]

Jonathan Bogart: An energetic, maybe even overenthusiastic, performance is let down badly by the plodding midtempo whoosh of the production. I kept wanting something percussive to come in and give her some support — those middle-eight fingersnaps are far too little, far too late.
[5]

Natasha Genet Avery: I assume that “Let Em Know” was pitched as a breezy summer hit that would launch Jones’ career. I don’t think it’s going to work. “Let Em Know” should have been transposed down: while Jones is a proficient singer (and I suspect, an alto), she struggles to belt those Fs in the chorus (“LA-dies go hang up your halos”) and loses pitch, deflating the chorus’ lift. The track itself is similarly uninspired. Only one synth line differentiates the chorus from the verse, and while great songs have ridden on much less, the melody is not strong enough to keep me engaged. Lyrically, “Let Em Know” is lazy, failing to carry through its fairly straightforward concept by cramming in a bunch of non-sequiturs in the verses. While there is nothing egregiously wrong here, “Let Em Know” is a half-assed effort all around.
[4]

Will Adams: A hook that powerful requires a bit more explosives in the production. Coco’s commanding performance is a saving grace, but the track’s lack of dynamics lets her down.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Former kiddie-pop R&B vocalist becomes less kiddie-pop (at 17!), but no more distinctive.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: “Let ‘Em Know” would not be out of place on a Danity Kane album — but that’s not a bad thing.
[5]

Alfred Soto: This Nickelodeon Kids Award winner sports a decent voice that sounds commanding over “Simon Says” beats. Even better: the chorus hints at one of the melodies threaded through Ledisi’s great “I Blame You.” She lets’em know.  
[6]

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Future – Fuck Up Some Commas

Not the only thing he fucked up this year.


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Jonathan Bogart: Possibly the least gleeful ode to making it rain ever recorded. I know his thing is to sound always on the edge of tears, but by the end of the track the exhaustion in his voice no longer sounds merely stylistic. If I were being paid for a thinkpiece I might squeeze in something about income inequality, but pop is a tool to express personal, not socioeconomic, pain.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The title is the best description of how Future and Young Thug treat sentences. Giving e e cummings the boom boom bap, their rhythms are their own, and when they’re at full strength they give English some sinister machinations. But he runs out of tune after two minutes of repetition.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: After Honest tried and failed to legitimate Future once and for all as the artiste singer-songwriter of the futuristic era, not to mention the failure of his relationship with Ciara, Nayvadius appears to be rebounding by trying earnestly to return to the streets who have turned to several of his sons into replacement father figures. “Commas,” laced up by longtime collaborators DJ Spinz and Southside, was from his Monster project, which saw the former heroic and noble future embrace slovenly nihilism. It was the first one of three mixtapes (included the all-Zaytoven helmed Beast Mode and the Southside administrated ‘conceptual’ mixtape 56 Nights) that show Future devolve horrendously as a rapper in favor of extravagant gestures of attitude and “coo.” What they have showcased, however, is a sad case of insecurity. “Commas” is in reality a rejected filler track from Honest (as is nearly all of Monster) over a generic banger — the standout from his recent shallow and disposable material. This is coming from a man who’d openly cried on records about his sister’s anemia and money desperate hitmen begging him for “help.” A sort of ‘wilderness year’ is expected given Future’s sharp turn from prestige. Yet I hope Future gets himself together and delivers something more inspiring from the ashes of his wreckage.
[3]

Ramzi Awn: The best thing to be said about Future at this point is that he had the good sense to fuck up some commas in his relationship with past, present and future R&B princess, Ciara. Apart from that, there is hardly a need to comment on the rapper’s consistently mediocre spit, flow, and auto-tuned output.  
[3]

Josh Langhoff: Future ruthlessly chops off his syllables inside a sonic horror movie, the third verse fracturing into rhythmic abstraction. Don’t go in his money shower!
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The minor key synths recall John Carpenter’s Halloween score, giving this track an interesting horror-trap feel. Unfortunately, Future’s endlessly over-AutoTuned rapping goes over the subjects of blowing money and how “we don’t give no fucks, yeah,” which means that unfortunately, neither do I. With a compelling rapper on top of this track it might do something. 
[3]

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Zhala – Holy Bubbles

Robyn labelmate comes up with her own kind of effervescence.


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Natasha Genet Avery: “Holy Bubbles” never stops moving. Zhala drops us straight into a driving ’80s scando-pop/’00s Eurovision soundscape (that synth in the intro is wild), but quickly scales back to a tom heartbeat hinting at where she’s headed. I love the way her airy phrases slowly intensify into confident vibrato through the verse. The song takes a tiny breath at 1:39 – just for one measure, but long enough to build some suspense – before launching into that anthem of a chorus. While many a songwriter would rinse and repeat, Zhala expands on established ideas.
[8]

Nina Lea Oishi: It begins with the slow hum of what sounds like a space orchestra tuning up, quiet and eerie. And then it becomes an alien dance party in a space cathedral, with Zhala as the extraterrestrial Mother Superior of the whole enterprise. But despite the space-opera/Scientology vibes, “Holy Bubbles” is slightly…boring, relentlessly drumming in its high-minded galaxy church concept without doing much else.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: The zany synths lamp-posting “Holy Bubbles” are out of place, but Zhala’s voice is not to be underestimated.  A versatile dance instrument best suited for a much needed freestyle comeback.     
[5]

Alfred Soto: When she says she’s excited I believe her, especially with that phalanx of organs and sequencers and hurdy gurdys and hints of the Middle East protecting her. More exciting than her label mate has shown in years. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: What happens when YouTube browsing for weird Italo-tinged global pop records puts you to bed, and they echo in your skull instead of letting you dream.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: For someone being explicitly sold as weird and artsy, she plays it uncommonly safe musically. Strip off a couple layers of burble, and it could be trip-hop revival.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Not quite as distinctive as “Prophet” – imagine this performance on your anodyne local awards show of non-choice – but equally not as easy to latch onto as it should be, because it’s nonetheless melodically weak. If only this had more of a tune, it would be firing on all cylinders.
[6]

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

TSJ Eurovision 2015 Liveblog – Semi Final 2

Archived liveblog below the jump. Join us on Saturday for the Grand Final!
(more…)

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Wyvern Lingo – Used

Totally robbed of a Pitch Perfect 2 cameo…


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Anthony Easton: I await the Strawbs/Pentagle revival with baited breath, and I love Steeleye Span deeply — and although this is supposed to sound like Laura Marling (and it kind of does in its way), its historical borrowings are closer to those 70s creations of myth out of whole cloth.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Wyvern Lingo sounds like it has the promise of being the most street-savy, needlessly awe-inspiring modern dragon slayer ever. The kind of inexplicable cool of a Dungeon Master with a haircut that involved careful consideration from a barber, who wields authority in a t-shirt without an ironic joke and True Religions. What you get is an acapella trio with Lilith Fair songwriting who let their crystals back home with the Dead Can Dance CDs, but were ABSOLUTELY sure to overpack every last bit of self-seriousness (just in case). The kind of thing that turns that name from a promise into a letdown.
[2]

Alfred Soto: The minor key keyboad rumble and this Irish trio’s voices remind me of Joni Mitchell’s “Shadows and Light,” especially the confidence with which it stop and starts verses, the subtlety with which they imbue “take my advice” with sadness. Too precious for my taste, though.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: If I wanted to hear a cappella folk music… no, actually, I never do.
[1]

Nina Lea Oishi: Oh, but this is gorgeous. They’re singing about pain, but it couldn’t be more captivating, rendered in such heart-wrenching harmonies. Like Haim, Wyvern Lingo’s resolutions of strength (“I can’t be broken twice”) are amplified by the power that is three women, singing together, making perfectly synchronized melody. Hozier is a lucky guy to have these ladies as his backing vocals.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Honesty isn’t always the best policy, but somehow it works against the backdrop of a chorale of beautiful singers. The straightforwardness on “Used” successfully eulogizes a wasted love in a way that Björk wasn’t able to, but Dolores O’Riordan was.
[6]

Will Adams: The ornate arrangement reminds me of the melancholy narratives that The Cinematic Orchestra explored on Ma Fleur. On “Used,” however, the texture is stripped down to three voices (though multiplied to sound like a hundred) and a low organ that adds the necessary somber affect.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: A metaphor last visited, with similar feel and empathy, by Ashley Monroe. “Used” is more of a sketch than that, or than a song, and the lyric can’t decide whether it wants to be stately or blunt; but I spent too much time in too many formative years listening to sketches like this, and the prospect of this austere sort of female vocal trio being discovered almost justifies Hozier’s omnipresence.
[6]

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Nightwish – Élan

Finnish metal!


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Alfred Soto: A sea chanty crossed with the “Jeopardy” theme — now that’s something. Although they play metal, this Finnish band is closer to electronic pop with power chords. Not unpleasant either.
[6]

Will Adams: Well, it is Eurovision season, after all.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Post-Tarja Nightwish has revealed a surprisingly unfortunate weakness in their operatic power metal, and it’s the fact that the band is a little long in the tooth for this. Vocalist Floor Jansen is adequate and like both her predecessors, remains unique while doing well for the field of Nuclear Blast nerdcore that is still inexplicably paying a shit ton of rents out in Europe while other metal sub-genre acts are panhandling. Yet the old hats she’s coming in to assist… These old Finns don’t bring it anymore. For god’s sake, they sound like Styx at this point, just eagerly cashing in on their past dazzlings. As far as symphonic metal goes, Nightwish have always been more eager to mug it up than wilder acts like Therion, Arcturus or Wintersun. But at this point, all they’ve got is the desire to please, and not much actual reward. 
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: When people say lyrics don’t really matter to them, I wonder what they think of songs like this, where the only defining element is the love-it-or-leave-it lyrics. Anyway, this is the sort of metal I slowly back away from at all opportunities. 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Is that a pennywhistle? On a supposed symphonic metal track? This is so toothless it’s barely hard rock, let alone metal. And is that Sarah Brightman singing lead?
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I am more pro-shameless AMV-bait/Evony-ad symphonic metal than taste should permit, even late-career cuts as anemic as this, but even I have limits. They’re located somewhere around the “Titanic” theme.
[3]

David Sheffieck: Chugging guitars aside, it’s a bit too much of a light touch to really land the melodrama promised by lyrics like, “Come / Surf the clouds / Race the dark.” Yet even if it doesn’t quite manage the heights it could reach, it’s a rare song that can pull off a lyric like that with a straight face and not seem insufferable — Nightwish’s lightness helps as much as it holds them back.
[6]

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Billy Currington – Don’t It

We continue our How The Mighty Have Fallen thread from yesterday, though in this case it’s been four years


[Video][Website]
[4.57]

Anthony Easton: Billy, you and I both know that a weekend in the country or an hour in the woods isn’t love, no matter how good it sounds or feels. One of the problems of your genre is the continual separation of love and lust. Shania should have taught you that. 
[3]

Alfred Soto: It doesn’t offend, doesn’t try to charm your fingers into unbuttoning that blouse — it relies on organ washes and a by-numbers solo to find as many rhymes as it can with its title.
[6]

Nina Lea Oishi: Everything about this song screams generic, from the weak “hey”s at the beginning to the unremarkable guitar lick. Billy Currington is not trying that hard either. “Baby, don’t say no so quick,” he begs in the first line, but fun fact: he’s not talking about sex, he’s talking about this actual song, pleading with you not to give up on it before the 0:20 mark.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Yeah, this might as well be a Rob Thomas’ single, and the list of ‘come ons’ and leers dribbling over this dude’s lips and onto his chin don’t have nearly enough of a chance to fly out of him with the grace and ease as he thinks they might.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: Solid smooth talk, but that’s about all he’s got going in his favor. 
[5]

Will Adams: There’s always a spectrum between charming and repulsive in these come-on songs. “Don’t It” seems to just fall to the former side, which means the slightly swung jangle is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.
[5]

Leela Grace: Billy Currington is the cheesiest sheepdog around, but he means well. Who knew that “microphone” could be a verb and it’s true, I’m not wearing any rings, let’s celebrate that, and this sounds better than pretty good, in fact, it sounds amazing.
[8]

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Vic Mensa ft. Kanye West – U Mad

And yes, in case you were wondering, it’s How The Mighty Have Fallen Wednesday, also known as More Like Singles Crankbox Wednesday…


[Video][Website]
[3.83]

Maxwell Cavaseno: His generation’s Mad Skillz, Vic Mensa is the greatest argument for competency without ever bothering to develop a personality. Instead, he’s worked really hard to be an impressively G.O.O.D. rapper. But the reason why Vic’s more dancefloor collaborations work is that he’s a perfect textural complementary piece. Ask him to be the centripetal force on something as dull and gorilla-chinned as this beat (one of its producers, because more than one guy was required for this generic bit of SoundCloud trap, is named Smoko Ono, come ON) and he reveals that he’s little more than a slightly more aggressive J Cole in his posturing and pivoting. Kanye shows up because the song is such an infinite Getty Image of the last five years of Kanye’s career, he needs to make sure you understand whose life Vic’s emulating. A shame, because his verse is almost equally disposable.
[2]

Alfred Soto: If Kanye wants new sounds, he can hook Vic Mensa up with Tyler Farr. What he’s come up with is the hip-hop equivalent of “A Guy Walks Into a Bar.”
[4]

Will Adams: The Sturm und Drang production (bells! choirs! brass!) helps Vic Mensa’s posturing be a bit more convincing. It makes Kanye’s presence a bit unneeded, like a stage dad cheering his son from the wings of the stage.
[5]

Nina Lea Oishi: This is the second Kanye/Mensa collab we’ve heard this year, but “U Mad” eschews the melancholy of “Wolves” for booming, explosive sound (that growling guitar and fat horns), serious swagger, and actual humor (Kanye: “I just talked to 2 Chainz and he said ‘tru'”). The idea that Kanye West and Vic Mensa “don’t know nobody” is hilarious, that deadpan “I guess I don’t” even funnier — and the best part is, we’re in on the joke. Mensa is Yeezus’s star pupil, and the young Chicago rapper is reveling in his newfound fame and travels (“At the Louvre in Paris, still be on the block like a corner store”). But here master and protégé are clearly having fun together, two wordsmiths basking in the glow of their success and laughing at their haters, dancing and stunting and swaggering around that beat. I’d give this a [9] easy, but subtract for the Ray Rice line and you get…
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: “But if she bad I might hit a bitch in the elevator like Ray Rice.” Aaaaand we’re done here. A shame, too: Vic’s got an urgent, pushing-against-the-beat style to his rapping, Kanye does what Kanye does, and the production is all David Banner 2004 horn samples. But I can’t even, with this.
[0]

Ramzi Awn: Mensa ushers Kanye West in seamlessly, and the Nintendo-tinged horns hold their own. Vic’s trips and tricks roll right off his tongue — but he lost me at Ray Rice.
[4]

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Matoma & The Notorious BIG ft. Ja Rule & Ralph Tresvant – Old Thing Back

The Year of Credits As Unwieldy As Their Associated Ideas continues…


[Video][Website]
[4.75]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Biggie has been the subject of millions of remixes, a figure I’m guessing at but seems incredibly feasible. The man’s been subjected to Puffy’s ever frequent THISISTHEREMIX-ian need to extend the legacy further with duets, proving the timelessness of his friend’s music not by hailing his achievements but by placing those great verses in repetitively modernized new contexts. Then there are the many awkward legacy duets, where Biggie might be placed up against his arch-nemesis or other people for whom fans equate artistic stature  with artistic similarity. This constant reworking has diluted Biggie’s resonance over time, whereas the aesthetic of his peers — Nas, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, and many others beloved by dudes in dorms who have the patience to sit through KRS-One lectures — remains so fixedly enshrined. Here, over Matoma’s goofy party cruise of SoundCloud producer chillout further enhancing the removal, it’s impossible to feel the root of the rapper’s aesthetic, even though he was a notorious pop-rap servicer to the point I’m amazed his peers never regarded him as a sellout. Maybe it’s childish to demand some respect to the dead, but one day, nobody will be able to know who the man in that sawdust pile was.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Years later the exhumations continue — Biggie’s too. Lawrence Welk used to perform soap sud-soaked versions of the hits too.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Rest assured I did not expect to be blurbing a single with a “featuring Ja Rule and Ralph Tresvant” credit in 2015. Such an odd idea: take a posthumous Biggie joint cobbled together over a decade after his death (and tacked onto 2007’s Greatest Hits; it sounded old then), and add a lightly loping, sax-riffing Eurodance rhythm track to it. The original was entirely inessential, and this doesn’t improve upon it.   
[4]

David Sheffieck: I’m not sure I’d like this so much if I knew the original first — it’s the kind of tone shift that was jarring going the other way even when I was forewarned. But the production’s warm and inviting and just funky enough, making it easy to ignore Ja Rule’s verse and easier to focus on how good Biggie still sounds. It’s far from the goofiest beat he’s had to posthumously contend with, after all.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Summer in a Pathfinder is definitely a good look. “Old Thing Back” belongs on the same playlist as “Dedicated” by Mariah Carey, and it’s the kind of old-school ease that will never get old. Brooklyn in the barbershop with a 20oz slushy never sounded so good.       
[9]

Will Adams: I can’t think of anything more of the moment: bullshit frozen margarita house that decontextualizes hip hop greats until they can be both laughed at and laughed with at any Cape Cod summer party.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: This sounds precisely like the cut-and-shut it is, and the brass parps can only be described as parps, but it’s also completely joyous. In light of the self-serious portentousness of Kygo, something so carefree becomes especially appealing.
[7]

Nina Lea Oishi: Palatable at first, but the more I listen to this, the more I find myself deeply annoyed by the overly cheerful Euro-dancepop-lite backdrop (including that sax). Biggie deserves production with more substance than this.
[3]

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Disclosure – Bang That

O, how the mighty have fallen…


[Video][Website]
[3.71]

Will Adams: Ha ha, nice try, Jukebox. Decent attempt of a prank to pass off this subpar deep house as a Disclosure song, but there’s no way they would have released this. Not with those drums so poorly mixed; usually their percussion sounds clean and sharp! Also, not with the rushed production on the breakdown and lazy use of a vocal sample. You can’t fool me — I’m not stupid, you know.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: This is how I was hoping Disclosure would come back: less early ’90s pop-house, and more a late ’80s straight-up jack track. Sampling (and slowing down) 313 Bass Mechanics’ ghetto house “Pass Out,” they mutate it into a four-on-the-floor banger. It’s definitely a club track rather than a pop song, but that makes it no less great.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Disclosure’s inevitable descent into the bro, born of endless polo-shirted beer tanks screaming “Latch” at all comers and the fact that lads right out of college will be lads, reaches its inevitable conclusion. If “twerk that” showing up in a Disclosure song surprises you, you should start paying attention to something other than the Internet.
[3]

Alfred Soto: So long as I can move to the beats I’ll bang that, but as soon as the awful distorted voice and lyric start (“twerk” — really?) I’m grabbing a vodka soda. 
[5]

Iain Mew: You’d think the vocal sample would provide some kind of driving force, but Disclosure take almost the whole of five minutes to go anywhere with it. Up until then, the track is curiously shapeless, meandering its way tentatively around a small set of synth sounds to little effect.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Fun is great, and it’s always worth remembering a huge chunk of people mostly want music to serve as a backdrop for good times. Great! But that also doesn’t mean one has to settle for a song that sounds like the sort of track they’d play between acts at a Mad Decent Block Party. Especially coming from two guys who were really good at hitting the emotional sweet spot dance-pop could contain.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Yep. Disclosure are still boring.
[2]