Friday, September 30th, 2016

Post Malone ft. Justin Bieber – Deja Vu

Haven’t we heard this before?


[Video][Website]
[3.57]

Juana Giaimo: I don’t necessarily dislike this, but there are so many artists — including Justin Bieber himself — who can do it so much better. “Deja Vu” doesn’t add anything new — another smooth R&B track with almost rapped lines. Post Malone even sounds too groggy comapred to Justin Bieber, who learnt how to mislead us with his sweet yearning voice. 
[5]

Iain Mew: Are we meant to hear this as Post Malone and Justin Bieber singing of their revitalised love for each other? A few “girl” asides and gender-specific slurs suggest otherwise, but it’s the easiest way to make sense of the allocation of lines and alternating the chorus in succession between the two. Hearing it that way certainly introduces a brief frisson of life to a song that’s otherwise nothingy at best.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: It’s two artists! But they’re one! Can’t help but read it as Post Malone being the narrator’s libido and internal dialogue, and Bieber’s playing the part of what the narrator says aloud to get what he/they want(s). I usually believe Biebs but not here.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Well, it’s a novel definition of “deja vu,” one that Drake’s lawyers might use should they hear this Malone-Bieber track after “Hotline Bling.”
[2]

Will Adams: I guess in this case, it’d technically be “déjà entendu.”
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Learn what “déjà vu” is before you attempt to write a song about it, boys. I’d mark this lower except that I kinda like the spacey production by Frank Dukes and Vinylz.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I didn’t know Kidz Bop commissioned original music now. Well, “original.”
[4]

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Diana Gordon – Woman

This is “Woman.” Hear us roar.


[Video][Website]
[5.57]

Katherine St Asaph: Surprising: Wynter Gordon, in 2016, is signed to 4AD. More surprising than it should be: her work on Lemonade, which was substantial (way more substantial than whatever fucking Vampire Weekend did), actually seems to have ingratiated her to the industry, if not yet to the critics. Unsurprising: It’s one of those “see, this is my real name, because now I’m making real music! moves. Also unsurprising: The “real music,” scuzzy blues-rock, is quite good. Still unsurprising: For its conception of feminism, she’d look to “Run the World (Girls).” Surprising (but then again, she wrote “Daddy Lessons,” so not that surprising): for her melody, she’d look to “Before He Cheats.”
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Simplistic to the point of stupidity, “Woman” thinks it’s some sort of feminist manifesto when it’s really just a laundry list. WTF does “God gave you the answer when he gave you the woman” mean, anyway? Combined with nothing production and nothing singing, this ain’t much more than nothing. 
[2]

William John: Wynter Gordon in 2016: signed to 4AD, bylining with her government name, writing songs for Beyoncé, and, with “Woman”, ostensibly writing songs about Beyoncé. This is throw-your-hair-around rock with venerational inclinations; Gordon, long relegated to the writers’ room, relishes thrashing around in the limelight, reveling in the marvel of womanhood amidst a portentous Southern Gothic arrangement. Stylistic bloodlines can be traced between “Woman” and the Gordon-assisted “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, but a more helpful juxtaposition is between this and Laura Mvula’s recent single “Phenomenal Woman“. Where Mvula’s song feted femininity with conviviality and the flavour of a jubilee, Gordon’s track is ominous, positioning itself as a battle cry, with a chorus ripped straight from the apocalypse. Two different approaches, both proffering a like and essential message.
[9]

Jonathan Bogart: I thought I was the only person who both remembered and liked the Avalanches’ remix of Wolfmother’s “Woman” (much better than the original, which is complete garbage) — but I should have trusted the former Wynter Gordon, whose “Stimela” is one of the best songs of the decade, to know how to take its rough ideas and make it not just a cute adventure in sonics, but a good song.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Of course I had no business expecting this scorcher, although Diana Gordon’s yelps and strategic gulps might have looked to Yoko as inspiration. But I also had no business expecting a cop of this huge hit from a generation ago. Maybe Gordon thought scuzzing up the track like she expected Sky Ferreira might have would enliven the platitudes. I can tell you that I expected stronger from the writer of “Daddy Lessons.”
[3]

Adaora Ede: The best part of Gordon’s new single is its situation as an intentional reappropriation of the gritty lofi soul sound from white duderock bands who have been jocking vintage black sounds for indie cred for decades because this is a style that has been missing from black popular music for a while, sans a sordid ~label~. The dismaying part of this is that you can only do so much with an alternate rhyme scheme and rhythmic distortion. Songwriters behind headliner artists (Gordon herself, writing for Bey and Rih) often find their hamartia in forming a pronounced face to their music, not even qualifying themselves for the small font on the marquee. “Woman” undoubtedly spells out a motivating message, but doing alla that with rehashed version of what sounds like a bricolage of a Santogold b-side and a Lemonade throwaway? Maybe not.
[5]

Will Adams: I might be the only person who still enjoys Wynter Gordon’s dancepop career — even she appeals to the “that wasn’t me” narrative upon reflection. But it speaks to Diana Gordon’s strength as a songwriter and performer to embody so many styles as well as she does. If the two Human Condition EPs and critically ignored Five Needle EP, released 2012 and 2015 respectively, represent a bridge to her 2016, Lemonade-boosted profile, then “Woman” represents a landing strip instead of a rocket launch. With its crunchy pop-rock and brash attitude, it’s a clear and concise mission statement, but the kind that amps you up for what’s to come rather than what is currently happening.
[6]

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Beyoncé – Hold Up

Do you love us like we love you?


[Video][Website]
[7.71]

A.J. Cohn: It doesn’t sound like it should work: dancehall mashed-up with snotty indie rock–Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig gets a writing credit–punctuated by airhorn blasts. And yet marvelously, it does, finding unexpected confluences in seemingly divergent genres. Just as marvelous: the song’s celebration of the liberating power of righteous anger and fierce joy to be found in this.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: An amazing Frankenstein of a song, including elements from Andy Williams’s “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On,” and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” along with songwriting contributions and production from Diplo and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, plus input from four other people including MNEK, and that’s not even counting the queen of the fucking world (I assume Diplo just contributed the airhorn). It’s a testament to Bey’s individuality and just how big her damn personality is that, even hearing her repeating the “they don’t love you like I love you” refrain from “Maps” — a pretty damned iconic song in and of itself — it didn’t occur to me that that was from “Maps” until I re-read the song’s Wikipedia page. She has this rather remarkable ability to alchemize all sorts of source material and make it her own. Karen O’s vocal on “Maps” is a marvel of simultaneous strength and vulnerability, in a league with few singers, notably Sinéad O’Connor and Polly Jean Harvey. That song pierces my heart every time I hear it. Beyoncé, on the other hand, turns it defiant, almost a dare. “I’mma fuck me up a bitch,” she sings, daring you to doubt her intentions. “What’s worse, being jealous or crazy? … I’d rather be crazy,” she answers. She’s out for blood, and wants to make sure you know it. And even with all of those bits of other songs and other producers and other writers, the track itself, on which her vocals rest uneasily, is barely even there; it’s minimalist almost to the point of being air. Yet Beyoncé owns it. No one else could pull off a song like this in the current pop universe. And we know it.
[9]

Katie Gill: For someone saying she’d rather be crazy, this is a remarkably calm song. I don’t know whether this is a lack of commitment or a perfect example of music/lyrics dissonance. Of course, the fact that the instrumentation sounds weirdly like “Orinoco Flow” doesn’t help being crazy in the slightest.
[7]

Crystal Leww: If you ever wondered about the power of Beyoncé, “Hold Up” took an already iconic love song of the 00s, flipped it on its head, and turned it into a massive fuck off anthem. There are countless great moments in Lemonade, but “Hold Up,” which sounds as cool and collected as the yellow dress she wears in the visual accompaniment, stands out as being hard and ruthless as a hard rock song done with a smile on her face.
[10]

Alfred Soto: I love “Hold Up” — as an introduction, not a single.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Lemonade works best as a full-length experience: album, video cycle, VMA centerpiece. Even then, “Hold Up” would be about the seventh best single.
[6]

Will Adams: The contrast of the music’s gentle sway and Beyoncé’s brewing anger is not lost on me, but a production this relatively sparse needs some support. On Lemonade that support came by way of the slow plunge of “Pray You Catch Me” and the firestorm that is “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” On its own, “Hold Up” exerts its power in several flashes but is otherwise flimsy.
[6]

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Tieks ft. Dan Harkna – Sunshine

Let’s raise the mood and the temperature a few degrees.


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Iain Mew: The video gives the game away: the song’s as of the moment and as eager to please as a Check Out These 21 Dogs Having A Great Time At The Beach article, and about as deep and individual.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Pushing this at the back end of last year wasn’t the smartest timing, but it would have been wrong for it to go without another airing this summer. If anything, it sounds like it should have been released in 2013: shiny, buoyant house pop of the sort that has somewhat died a death in the charts more recently. It’s tough to try and create something so uplifting without it sounding cloying or mandatory, but Tieks has managed it.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Polite house trying for pie-eyed optimism with a weak Philip Bailey impression. 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Lovely, upbeat vocal piano house. I love this kind of thing when it’s done well, and this is done well.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: As light and perky as this song’s piano house is, I find the chorus repetitive and oppressive, much like the Sun itself. It has occurred to me that pop, like the weather, is largely a matter of taste and the failing might be mine, but I don’t really think so.
[4]

Will Adams: Dime-a-dozen house that leaves little impression other than something akin to the regret felt immediately after ordering your fifth frozen strawberry banana margarita.
[4]

Brad Shoup: What works for the worst of summer — dry mixes straining for escape — also works for fall, as long as the synths are dialed down. Here, they’re nowhere: it’s just piano and bubbling-up guitar noodle. In his falsetto, Harkna sounds like Timberlake; out of that, he’s channeling Stevie.
[7]

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Krewella – Broken Record

They’ve at least broken the record for Highest Scoring Krewella Song on The Singles Jukebox.


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Katherine St Asaph: Why aren’t the Veronicas doing this?
[7]

Katie Gill: I can’t decide if this text painting is lazy or brilliant. That jerky, shattered drop after “broken record” is brilliant. It takes the typical sort of scattered, disoriented approach of most modern drops and matches it to the text, instead of the usual alternative where the drop is HORRIBLY out of place. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s just a halfway decent drop, the mild repeat on “repeat” is the oldest trick in the book, and the vocals are borderline strained as the bridge ends. But hey, can’t fault ’em for trying.
[5]

Iain Mew: It’s easy to imagine a chorus swap out turning “Broken Record” into the epic ballad it almost is, and it would be one that could have fitted in at any time from at least the 90s on. As it is, the EDM drop comes off distractingly compartmentalised, even as it’s integrated into the bit of song it occupies with a lot more care and success than pop-EDM songs coming at this stuff from the opposite side tend to manage.
[6]

Brad Shoup: The post-chorus vocalizations are fantastic: super current in their displacement of emotion onto alienating pitchshifting. The hollered vocal is something that maybe only Pink can get away with, though, until they chop “record” into three syllables and throw some drop-D chug over it.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: EDM that’s emo as fuck, but it’s a testament to the strength of the songwriting here that you can easily hear “Broken Record” as screamo instead of EDM. There’s real emotion here. Neither of the Yousaf sisters (who make up Krewella) are particularly distinctive as singers, but based on this they sure can write. 
[6]

Tim de Reuse: There are cliches in the bombast of the orchestral sci-fi instrumentation, in the riser-drop-repeat structure, in the chopped and screwed drop that tries to cram unearned gravitas into a one-bar melody. Luckily, Krewella sound monstrously sincere, enough to put some real heart under rhymes that are mostly just by-the-numbers — ugh, damned if they doesn’t just make it work, ramping up the defiant spark in tone smoothly over the song’s course. An extra point: the inclusion of a grand finale that decides to depart from the song’s previous motif by slicing in a grungy overdriven guitar chug-chugging along. I mean, yeah, it’s not a huge thing, but it makes me smile to think that the producer could’ve just copy-pasted the last drop, which I don’t think anyone would have been surprised by, but they decided not to waste the listener’s time instead.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The best pop songcraft would demand that after the declaration “I’m a broken record,” the real chorus would then kick in. Instead, there’s a drop. And at the end, some shouting. Sometimes what is real and felt still comes out like a bit of a cliche.
[5]

Crystal Leww: “Alive” was a critically underrated EDM-pop jam when it came out, and Krewella have been through a lot of shit since that single. They kicked out Kris Trindi from their trio, got into a public fight with deadmau5, became the target for sexists in EDM, and reportedly, their first try at a follow-up to album Get Wet was rejected by their label. Ammunition feels disjointed as far as dance styles go, sometimes sounding like straight up drum n bass and sometimes sounding something like “Broken Record,” which is a little like dance music’s take on hard rock. Even if there’s not a lot of sonic consistency, there’s an undercurrent of angst, anger, and aggression that runs through the EP. And while that emotion is certainly compelling, especially a time where everything on the pop charts skews more sad emo pretty EDM, “Broken Record” only feels like a high when one of the Yousaf sisters is screaming.
[5]

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Marshmello – Alone

Now this is controversy!


[Video][Website]
[5.42]

Juana Giaimo: When I go back home on the bus from classses, the whole city is coming back with me. The bus is full of people and I’m standing up there wishing to arrive home as soon as possible. “Alone” reminds of that moment in the bus: the noisy drop and upbeat spirit contrast with the lyrics and the distant pitched-up vocals — which always transmit to me a melancholic feeling. They seem just like the lights of the city and all the cars with my own mind. There is hope — the idea that there is a “you” waiting — and a subtle desperation in the knowledge that those are just dreams. 
[7]

Crystal Leww: An assortment of memories about Marshmello from this summer: 1) One of the times that I was back home in Dallas, I remember telling my nineteen year-old brother that I was really into “Alone” by Marshmello, and he laughed at me and asked me if I was in middle school. 2) Throughout the summer, I watched as my Twitter timeline descended into utter chaos as music fan after music fan realized that they were “kinda into” the tunes of a man who dresses up as a human marshmallow. 3) I worked for a couple of months back and forth between Chicago and New York, and on Thursday nights, I would always be cutting it a little too close for my flight back home. One of those evenings, I had just frantically flagged down a cab, and the miserable, exhausting, inexplicably long work week caught up to me. I put “Alone” on repeat and when the cab finally hit the bridge and the traffic cleared just enough for us to be going fast enough for me to feel the breeze from the window on my face, I dozed off with this still pinging in my ears. Marshmello is kind of weird and lame to like, but this feels inexplicably beautiful. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: The synthesized string passage aside, “Alone” distills the essence of frathouse electronic music: replete with gimmicks, unsurprising, and grooveless.
[1]

Iain Mew: It turns out it’s possible to do an even less nuanced take on Anamanaguchi! They must be kicking themselves not to have come up with the outfit gimmick.
[6]

William John: The masked DJ is one of dance music’s most absurdly pompous tropes, and there are none sillier than Marshmello, who dresses like he’s ready for s’more and makes music like a restrained, Kidz Bop version of Rustie. The tawdry trap drop works in theory, but unfortunately the song’s topline melodies seem to have been devised by a child learning to play the recorder, and the incessant hiccuping synth does little to evoke the pathos of loneliness on the dancefloor.
[3]

Will Rivitz: If you told me to distill Monstercat’s massive, frenetic, and wildly inconsistent discography down to five minutes worth of music, something along the lines of this song would likely be the result. Discounting the brostep that catapulted the label into the upper echelons of YouTube music stardom a few years ago, “Alone” has it all: geeky hard-dance intro, pop-house chords and supersaw lead, sugar-rushing vocal chops and pitched-up hook, and the tried-and-true “future bass” drop. It’s a maelstrom of disparate pieces, none of which work together in the slightest, but everything locks into place when the song drops into a nasty patch of distortion at its peak. I realize none of the above sounds particularly positive, but the thing about Monstercat is that, regardless of how cheesy or schlocky any of their music can get, the undeniable energy their best material – “Alone” included – exudes more than makes up for any awkward trance or childish Baby’s-First-Dubstep that comes with the territory. I can almost taste the Minecraft Let’s Play that inevitably starts when this song ends, but let the kiddies have their fun.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s arrived at last: the moment I become one of The Olds. It was nice being liked by you.
[3]

Joshua Copperman: The structure of this, at least the full 4 1/2 minute version, is very strange – there’s an opening instrumental melody, then a ‘drop’, (whose vocal snippets inexplicably remind me of “The Leanover”), a high-cut filtered emo verse, then a pre-chorus break, then there’s another break, then another filtered emo verse, then a new slightly different drop, then back to the other drop, then oh no I’ve gone cross eyed. What makes it even stranger is how random each melody is, with the exception of the verse – this seems better enjoyed as individual parts than as an entire song, playing like a medley of ringtones. They are pleasant ringtones, though, and even though DeadMar5h doesn’t do anything new, the haphazard design makes “Alone” oddly riveting.
[7]

Brad Shoup: It sounds like a boshy pop-punk remix, with the bawling part about roots excised and set against poncey synthrise. If this were 25% faster it might be an all-timer.
[6]

Will Adams: Marshmello has essentially made a megamix of all the highly disposable, sugary Euro trance that was everywhere a decade ago, so I really can’t be upset, no matter how stitched together it sounds.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Not only is his schtick stolen from Deadmau5, so is his lame-ass would-be festival-filler (literally) faceless EDM. 
[0]

Edward Okulicz: Fuck yes. For all the times when I was in my early 20s and I could have gone raving and didn’t, and for my failure to realise the profundity of Alice Deejay when they were having hits, I have no choice but to completely fall for this. If it had featured a faceless house diva or a faceless Europop hook singer on it, it’d be half as good but get half as much shit. But the yelping sounds (are they snatches of voices or something else? I don’t even care) do everything those would have done and more. The beginning reminds me of “Emerge” by Fischerspooner, which is still a fucking great record. Rather than just banging one big dumb stupid synth hook into the ground, this has like four, all excellent. This is immense and it has total control over my very ass right now.
[10]

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Radwimps – Zen Zen Zense

Provided: opinions on pop-rock, football chants, stop-starting…


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Sonia Yang: When Radwimps’ drummer announced he was going on hiatus, I wondered how this would impact their music because one of the greatest draws of RADWIMPS is their tight chemistry, both in the studio and onstage. How would they follow up their previous LP, X to O to Tsumi to (“wrong, right, and sins”), a testament to their growth in arrangement work but a bit clinical in comparison to the resonant warmth of earlier albums? Frontman Yojiro Noda has been quite the busy man this year, penning a single for ballad singer Aimer and releasing a new album for his solo project in later fall. When I heard RADWIMPS was writing the soundtrack for the new Makoto Shinkai film, I was initially concerned that Noda was stretching himself thin creatively. However, “Zen Zen Zense” knocks those worries out cold by meshing the best of both worlds; at the core it is an “old Radwimps” song with lyrics hearkening back to the insightful, grandly romantic gestures of songs like “Futarigoto” (“soliloquy for two“) and “Yuushinron” (“heart theism“) while pushing the newer, more aggressive power-pop sound they started in the Zettai Zetsumei era and honed in X to O to Tsumi to. Hearing the track take off with Akira Kuwahara’s trademark clean, lilting riff felt like coming home. The chorus melody is an insistent earworm and I’m loving how clipped and abrupt everything sounds without being disjointed. To top it off, the bridge inserts a clever “whoa-oh-oh” section to give the song audience singalong potential for future tours. Radwimps have always managed to wrap deep, existential themes in universal, down to earth packages and to toe the line between accessible and artsy without swinging too banal or pretentious, and as both a standalone and tie-in to Kimi no Na wa (“your name”), “Zen Zen Zense” is an all-around masterpiece.
[10]

Edward Okulicz: What starts like a simple trashy pop rock thing, as if a ’90s drama comedy TV theme tune were discovered in the wild, keeps attention with the energetic rhythm even more than the guitar. Bet the whoa-oh section brings down an arena — “See You Again” probably ruined those for everyone, but I’m still into them.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: I consider the bridge a crucial part of a song, and filling it with empty chants that are more appropriate for a football match completely bummed it out. But as for the rest, “Zen Zen Zense” has the energy much Anglo rock music is lacking these days, with vocals that transmit both a passionate urge and warm sentimentality.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: If “Three Small Words” took way longer to get to the chorus and didn’t quite trust it. That’s still quite a high score to start from.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Kinda like Muse without the bombast, on a big dose of amphetamines. That’s not a good thing. 
[3]

Iain Mew: They waste no time getting to the best bit, in the wildly zig-zagging guitar riff, emphasised more by a neat stop-start phasing effect. After that comes competent rock which it’s easy to see working as part of a soundtrack to a movie with record-breaking success but perhaps less so on its own. There is a later, even bigger version of the stop-start waiting as a reward, though.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Radwimps offer none of Gesu no Kiwami Otome and Sakanaction’s formalist tricks, but the stop-start structure has its pleasures.
[5]

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Röyksopp ft. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever

Won’t you come and take me out of this black hole?


[Video][Website]
[7.78]

Josh Winters: As someone who named her most recent album Ten Love Songs yet often associates her amorous desires with savage impulsesSundfør portrays herself more as a siren than just a simple romantic, alluring prey into her dangerous web to do whatever she pleases to them. When Röyksopp invite her into their mad scientist laboratory, she becomes a megalomaniac surging with power, gripping on to exposed cables as tightly as she is onto her unfortunate lover. She’s the same as she ever was; all that’s different is her disguise, and she’s just as dangerous.
[8]

Iain Mew: I don’t know how much of it comes from associations with Sundfør’s own work, but I hear so much depth and darkness under the surface in her vocal. There are leagues lurking within “I’ve been dying to see you,” and whether I hear the last line of chorus as either a cheerful “now that I’m in love” or “not that I’m in love,” the implications are disturbing. And all that is beneath a surface so dazzling it would be satisfying on its own, even before Röyksopp and Sundfør use the bright chunky synth sounds and chopped-up vocals to go on an expansive tour through pure pleasure in sound. It matches the giddy joy of the bridges in Robyn’s “Indestructible” or Perfume’s “Spring of Life.” and the only question left is the fact this is tagged as an edit of a complete version — could it really get any better?
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: A perfectly fine, if slight, reprise of “The Girl and the Robot.” But I prefer the Sundfør of “Accelerate” and the Röyksopp of “Compulsion“; the Sundfør tracks on The Inevitable End disappointed me for not being that, and this isn’t it either.
[6]

Alfred Soto: When she writes and produces for herself, Susanne Sundfør mixes melancholy and a grand manner with uncanny power; working with the Norwegian electro pop act she’s Ellie Goulding with a catch in her throat.
[5]

Cassy Gress: Man, this is a [10] with some stupid stylistic choices bringing it down. The entire song sounds like a rocket, but not the initial explosion of liftoff or the silent soaring through space; it’s the part where it’s shuddering and shaking through the atmosphere. It’s fiery and forceful and expansive, and Susanne Sundfør’s voice sounds like a meteorite. Then Röyksopp fucks it all up by jolting things to a stop in every chorus on “I don’t wanna cry,” then flatly ending the song on the downbeat. Either fade it out or end it on the upbeat — otherwise, the last memory I have of your song is of being suddenly underwhelmed.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: “Never Ever” is catchy and professional, and that is definitely enough. But the slight lack of satisfaction comes from those moments where Sundfør rises as if towards an emotional peak, and this song is much less full-blooded than anything on Ten Love Songs, so it never demands the same level of physical or visceral surrender. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it — it’s just that the stakes and payoff are lower. The imperious terror hiding behind the fairly open, simple lyrics doesn’t emerge, and I badly want it to.
[7]

Peter Ryan: This begins with a malfunction: “get (get) / get you / (I) / I don’t / (get you) / I don’t / oh / oh / oh / oh-ohhhh”. It’s at odds with the jaunty surroundings, but from artists that traffic in various poppy shades of doom it’s a welcome signal that we won’t be subjected to any unnecessary levity. What follows is nothing but gloriously bad news — infatuation from afar transmogrified into “NOW THAT I’M IN LOVE!”, tacit acknowledgement of the prospect of rejection amid active efforts to will it out of existence — another entry in the storied tradition of putrefied crushes set to deceptive arrangements. A master of hooks in even her artiest solo work, Sundfør tempers Röyksopp’s meandering impulses — they’ve created a precise racket with her vocal stitching everything together, lending itself at once to choppy robo-treatments and moments of soaring human desperation. It’s my new favorite thing to stomp down the street to.
[9]

Cédric Le Merrer: Probably a great cardio training song. Röyksopp and Susanne Sundfør go hard and fast, treating the beat like a punching ball. Or maybe the “you” in the song is the one being punched. “Never ever let you go now” sounds as much menace as promise.
[8]

Will Adams: Sundfør’s terrifying and fatalistic vision of love is still here, but it’s the contrast with Röyksopp’s peppy arrangement that makes “Never Ever” even more sinister. “I’ve been dying to see you,” she begins over the bright electropop, making her intentions clear. From there, she distorts the love story until the central line — “Never ever gonna let you go now/Now that I’m in love” — has become a taunt. She’s already won by the final chorus, and the funk guitars and astral synths carry you to your grave.
[9]

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Red Velvet – Russian Roulette

We’re not done with this title yet…


[Video][Website]
[7.73]

Madeleine Lee: Possibly the cheeriest song ever to use Russian roulette as its central metaphor. Albi Albertsson’s production is going for Yasutaka Nakata, but the melodies are pure 2010 Girls’ Generation, especially that prechorus (even if it tries to hide it by throwing an accidental in there); with a full-on nostalgia wave for 2009-2011 K-pop imminent, that’s a point in its favour.
[7]

Adaora Ede: The “red” in Red Velvet, as offered as in their dual-sided concept to the public, is a mark of the bold and fun sound of the majority of their standout singles. But their “red” tracks seem like the weaker part of the dichotomy, a futile hack to rise to K-pop popularity with a formula of loudness and mesmerism that never amounts to anything more sonically groundbreaking. “Russian Roulette” is a slightly electro-oriented continuation of their smoke-n-mirrors brand, featuring a lot of bleeps and not one, not TWO, BUT THREE singable hooks that you will love to hate until you realize that Red Velvet’s fringe K-pop is not trying to be f(x) or wipe SNSD off the face of the earth or do anything but give you a pop song to get stuck in your head for the next two weeks.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares: “Russian Roulette” wants to represent a middle point in the band’s signature duality — something that’s both the “red” and the “velvet.” Instead, we got a pretty decent SNSD throwback with bouncy hooks and technicolor synths, but not much substance. I’ve marveled at Red Velvet’s previous singles for their delicious messiness (“Ice Cream Cake”) or twisted elegance (“One of These Nights”), so of course it’s a bit disappointing when they search for balance and only find blandness.
[6]

Iain Mew: I can’t believe the number of people I’ve seen saying that this sounds like Girls’ Generation as if that’s a disappointment. I mean, it does, but it sounds like their run of giddy weightless brilliance in 2009-10 with added arcade power-up music thrills! Where’s the problem?
[8]

Katie Gill: Oh my gosh, this is perfect pop. It’s bright, it’s bubbly, it’s fun. The song’s got a beautiful cartoon aesthetic, reflected wonderfully in the video. The synths aren’t overpowering, a perfect light and happy compliment. And those beautiful kick drums? Those electronic trills in the last thirty seconds? That wonderful stammer on “heart b-b-b-beat”? Urgh, I’m in love.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh god, this is good. Ebullient, even. Totally ’80s-shiny, but also reminiscent of the perfect pop of the TRL glory days, especially the TRL behemoths “Come On Over Baby” and “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy” (both of which I proudly voted for at the time), only jacked up a bit in tempo.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Pleasant and zippier than the competition, but K-pop at its best reconstitutes the beats of its American and British counterparts with what I love about the kinetics of Italo disco and freestyle but with vocals whose devotion to formal restraint results in three or four minutes of chewing-on-nails tension. If “Russian Roulette” sounds sinister, I’m not hearing it.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Appropriate for a song based on a game of ultimate gambling, Red Velvet throws a confetti-filled parade of nervous tics: a cross feed of incessant dial tones, countless gasps, and hearts skipping multiple beats. A ticking time bomb shouldn’t sound this fun, but with a feeling teetering on such high risk, what’s really the difference between anxiety and thrill anyway?
[8]

Cassy Gress: There’s a chord progression in the prechorus, E♭ add 9 sus 4 – E♭/G, with a movement in the bass that rings “late 80s adult contemporary” bells for me, and those little background jolts of recognition from sampling or genre mimicry are always neat to spot. It’s followed up with A♭m7 – B♭, which adds a glint of ominousness that gets quickly glossed over with 8-bit sparkles. Every new Red Velvet single I hear makes me like them more: they have this great ability to sing and perform parts of energetic, peppy songs with a dead-eyed tone to their voice, and it works especially well when you mix that with an electronic comparison of a crush to a suicide game.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The figurative use of the term “Russian roulette” has definitely surpassed the literal in use to the point where it’s nearly meaningless a term of high stakes. The song “Russian Roulette” might as well be meaningless to me, but it doesn’t feel like that bceause I have an immediate reaction to those ’80s platform game jump and fall noises that add a bit of silliness and retro charm. The entire production is stuffed (not over-stuffed) with detail but produced so slickly that everything bounces out of the speakers.
[9]

Mo Kim: Love-as-lethal-game metaphors work best if the arrangement and lyrical execution are up to snuff, both of which are on “Russian Roulette.” Joy wraps menace in a polka-dot handkerchief (“This place is as dark as night / Even the shadows get lost,” she chirps), while Wendy and Seulgi charge through the chorus like they’re flipping through all the chambers of their voices. Pair this with a pastel-eriffic music video that filters this bad romance through the aesthetic of Looney Tunes cartoon violence and you’ve got one of the most thematically intriguing releases from SM Entertainment of the year.
[9]

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Zion & Lennox ft. J. Balvin – Otra Vez

Seasons change…


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Claire Biddles: Is the season of landfill reggaeton coming to an end now it’s almost October? This is the kind of pleasant-enough for essentially forgettable summer hit that we’ve heard 4,197 times so far this year, with a combination of bland and macho-gruff vocals that does nothing to elevate or differentiate it from the rest.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Apt title — yet another slab of generic reggaeton.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: In this airy and pleasing song, it’s hard to understand what is Lennox trying to do. His more aggressive part is upsetting, but don’t worry because J. Balvin — I’m so sorry for being a constant supporter of him! — is here to save them, not only because his smooth flow is sweet and seducing, but also because he — and Maluma too — mean hit singles.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Reggaeton with a lighter touch: Lennox raps hard, Zion sings oh-so-sweetly, and J. Balvin drops by to add some superstar seasoning. The sound of summer encapsulated in three and a half minutes.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: I have a lot of affection for Zion y Lennox (almost as much as for Chino y Nacho, slightly more than for Wisin y Yandel), and this gliding thump goes down smoother than even usual, thanks to an assist from Medillín’s current favorite son.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The star duo practically rolls out the red carpet for their guest. While Zion shows how smooth the beat is made to glide across, Lennox lets his gravelly voice wiggle around to see how much you can do with such space. J Balvin then nails the suave and the technical teased by the two with ease. As the duo backs him up on ad lib duty, he stamps the single as his more than Zion & Lennox does to claim their own.
[6]