Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Indiana – Bad Luck

The thrills of yesteryear…


[Video][Website]
[6.75]

Tim de Reuse: A sneaky action-movie instrumental produced to a mirror shine and anchored by the hidden subtle laugh in the delivery of “just one look and I got you hooked.” Restraint in composition plus flawless execution.
[8]

Iain Mew: The set-up was there in “Solo Dancing:” “music stops/and the spell is broken.” What if the spell never stopped but turned instead to darkness, one gulped threat and one bass lunge at a time? The result in “Bad Luck” is the same formidable intensity and a whole different set of thrills to draw from it. 
[8]

Ashley John: “Bad Luck” thumps like a lion circling its prey. Indiana’s voice is weighted with a consistent smirk, knowing that honesty, above evil, is the most efficient scare tactic. This is Indiana’s power: her songs are never dialogues; they are assertions. It’s up to us what we do next. 
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Sleazy darker electro tones returning to pop shouldn’t be such a surprise. The dreary pulse of certain strains of downer EDM-pop was inevitably going to shift into clear, hard, and monochromatic im a less euphoric climate. But the vicious glee all over “Bad Luck” is welcome, especially when it climaxes into that wrenched-up bridge of passion, and I hope this is maybe something we’re going to have to deal with for a minute.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: She sings oh so confidently this love will be a beautiful disaster worth risking for, but it’s tough to ignore such forceful come-ons–especially the repetition of “sucking it,” which comes off like a 13-year-old who can’t stop snickering at any trace of innuendo. The strobe-light synths impress, but if I want to hear “Beat and the Pulse,” I’d just put on Feel It Break.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: “Solo Dancing” with all the deadly serious parts replaced with camp: not as good as “Solo Dancing”; still about as good as “She Wolf,” still pretty damn; much better than the bland altsynthpopwhatever she used to make along with everyone else.
[7]

Eleanor Graham: Proceeds with passable R&B swagger, vocal touches that do Banks better than Banks does, and a glossy, audibly smiling chorus. Let down by that specific brand of lyricism so lifelessly rote (“look”, rhymed with “hook”, on the hook) it becomes grim and unnerving, like propaganda. Fails to conjure the frisson/tension/moodiness that (apparently) made “Solo Dancing” extremely not boring.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Where “Solo Dancing” gave the listener a glimpse into a solitary world they can’t enter, “Bad Luck” kicks the listener out of a world they’ve been in. This makes it less beguiling, and the hooks and vocal sound forced, not effortless. It’s still a fairly thrilling bit of electro-stalking, but where her earlier hit conjured up endless worlds, this one’s a mere scene.
[7]

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Natti Natasha x Ozuna – Criminal

Of Dominican reggaeton acts and clichéd pillows…


[Video]
[5.43]

Josh Langhoff: Ozuna’s voice, a dreamy tenor that floats like the offspring of a Human League synth line and a fluffy throw pillow, has dominated reggaeton this year, partly because it serves as ideal counterpoint to the more assertive brassiness of his duet partners. Whether he and Natasha are sing-rapping in the same range or an octave apart, they turn this midtempo romantic metaphor into something warm and inviting. Every stolen heart becomes a hug, every syncopation an invitation, each echoing synth a welcome dip into the sensory deprivation tank.
[6]

Will Adams: Somehow, Natti Natasha and Ozuna conjure up chemistry despite their differences in approach: she goes sultry, he goes pinched. The lethargic, too slow arrangement lets them down, however.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Robo-Rihanna vocal over cod reggaeton.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: Natti Natasha’s confident vocals overshadow Ozuna’s high-pitched, autotuned, and rather unbearable voice. Still, she is not enough to save this repetitive, sluggish reggaeton track.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: A nice, understated groove with bouncy and crisp drums, popping bass and clinking guitar, where you can find Natti Natasha reading and chilling while Ozuna tries too hard to have fun and not mess up the vibe.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: My existential despair, as yet another pop reggaeton single with sultry vibes manages to overpower my general conditioning against the genre. Both Natti and Ozuna work the edge of forlorn and lovestruck to suit the ebb and flow of the track, gentle rock that never works hard to convince the listener of its romantic passion but still delivers a performance of note.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Criminal” gives in to the comfort of cliché. Stealing one’s heart is far from a novel metaphor in pop. Neither is the song’s breezy reggaeton rock in 2017. But Ozuna shamelessly indulges in the predictability nonetheless, as if there’s nothing he can do but sing to shake it off.
[6]

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

U2 – You’re the Best Thing About Me

BLIND ITEM: Which editor is constantly terrified when out in public using the Music app because she is too lazy to delete the U2 album from her phone?


[Video][Website]
[4.86]

Alfred Soto: After several years of lumbering failures, U2 return to the simplicity of a decent riff and a terrific Adam Clayton performance on bass, and I can sense the band’s relief. Overcoming that relief is Bono, who’s too old to be promising the “you” that he’s the kind of trouble “you’ll” enjoy and too rich unacquainted with simpler pleasures these days. Shooting off his mouth is indeed the greatest thing about him — here he’s hewing close to ad man copy.
[5]

Kat Stevens: I only stream music these days, so I have managed to get away without opening iTunes since The Incident. What horrors could lurk within? I shall never find out. All that, I can leave behind — especially if it’s anything like this patchwork of half-finished snippets (the instrumental near the end is just about passable). I doubt any of them were in the same room at the time of writing, let alone playing. 
[3]

Tim de Reuse: There’s an emotional core beyond the vague wonder-bread that fills up most of the lyrics, something about worrying that you’re going to break a good thing or even just being tempted to break it yourself, just to exercise some control over the situation. The skeleton of a compelling, introspective narrative is identifiable if you’re willing to go through the archaeology and pick each verse apart, but it’s just not fully-formed. It doesn’t help that Bono’s singing his heart out through a monstrous EQ job that cuts the low end of his voice entirely and leaves unpleasant straining. 
[5]

Joshua Copperman: To paraphase a burn I heard of Songs of Innocence: “what, was this recorded with an iPhone too?” The sound is not improved on the album’s sequel, with tinny hi-hats and Bono too far back in the mix, when he’s Bono! There are some interesting details and ideas (shout out to Davide Rosse being awesome as usual), and I actually love the bridge, but nothing coheres. The lyrics don’t help; “The best thing that ever happened a boy” sounds like Bono was singing the chorus then thought oh shit I haven’t referenced myself yet what am I gonna do I guess I’ll use the first album name BOY! Even “oh boy” would work, and it might even be that, but I can’t tell when those hi-hats and those bizarre sound effects get in the way.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: At various points the verses threaten to turn into “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” but that was always the least of their singles of that period, if better than their recent output. The scratchy riff aspires to a level of rawness they haven’t had since the ’80s, and would be good, but there’s raw, there’s polished, and there’s polished pretending to be raw, and earnest old U2 don’t fake, more’s the pity. The verses are good, but the chorus drops an awkward rhyming triplet over a strained, strained attempt to write an anthem without intensity.
[5]

Iain Mew: This sounds like every Manic Street Preachers album of the 2000s at once, which is the most I’ve liked U2 since longer ago than that.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m glad to see that Bono’s been reading Meet Me In The Bathroom so aggressively that he decided to make the boys sound like a band writing songs in that style, while the U2 of All That You Can’t Leave Behind taunts them from passing cabs. It’s a deceptive experience, because it acknowledges the sense of age and the relentless desire to keep up as U2. Will they always be in touch? No, and the fact that the band who made Zooropa and Pop didn’t feel emboldened enough to mess around in the age of track-influenced rock, but that so many of their children did, is striking.
[6]

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Stormzy ft. Kehlani – Cigarettes & Cush

Classic pair…


[Video][Website]
[6.17]

Nortey Dowuona: Smooth, deep church chords with a sweet, gurgling bass that swirls around the simple fingersnaps and kicks that buoy Stormzy’s frank, open hearted spitting and… well, just get on the Kehlani brigade now because she has made this song even greater than it is.
[10]

Maxwell Cavaseno: His Kano via Drakk tributes are almost as effective as his Dizzee tributes, but unfortunately where he goes wrong is he happily indulges in a sappiness that even the most sweetboy contingents of grime would avoid. The soft R&B vibes are schmaltzy to the point of boredom, and Kehlani is at her most rote. Plus, Large Michael’s singing voice has an amateur earnestness, but maybe shouldn’t be paired up with such cantankerously hokey saxes.
[2]

Claire Biddles: I don’t come to Stormzy for slow jams, but then I just imagine that he’s my dirtbag boyfriend and he’s doing his bad singing at me while I’m giving a disapproving look and suddenly I can’t give this a bad score? I mean have you seen how tall and beautiful he is? Kehlani is good too! And the lil’ saxophone bit towards the end. But seriously, he’s so handsome? And he’s saying that I won’t ever let him down? And he’s admitting that he fucked up badly! I think this time he’s really gonna change, you know?
[6]

Alfred Soto: I like hearing songs about relations dependent on indulgences. “Cigarettes & Cush” is unusual for its supper club vibe and delicate Kehlani performance complementing Stormzy’s kush-blasted plaints. Yet remove Stormzy and the result is a sly where-are-you that would’ve been a high point on Kehlani’s excellent debut released in January. The damn thing’s too long.
[6]

Josh Love: From a purely sonic perspective this song is quite staid, yet it manages to still be extremely memorable on the strength of a lovely refrain and lyrics that have a powerful, consistent through-line. Essentially it’s a love song for potheads with a breakup coda. Rather than wander off into generic platitudes, it hews tightly to depicting two people who love getting high together, and all the tenderness and abdication of hard truth that kind of chemical romance implies. In that light it’s actually somehow moving rather than ridiculous when Kehlani says “I’ll still pass the bong to you.”
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: Sappy R&B ballad about the unifying tendencies of cigarettes and cush that is sold primarily by the throwback composition and the wonderfully juxtaposed voices on the chorus. I imagine that with your eyes closed, sitting on a beach, next to your significant other, with a finished blunt sinking into the sand, this track and the saxophone take you to places romantics only dream of; but, that’s far more rare, and in sobriety this is just sort of… nice.
[6]

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Lil Peep ft. Lil Tracy – Awful Things

Conclusion: “awful” > “bad”


[Video][Website]
[4.43]

Joshua Copperman: The first time I heard of Lil Peep, it was from a stray Pigeons and Planes list that came across my Facebook feed. I didn’t end up listening, but the random name-drop of American Football surprised me and stuck with me. That comparison wasn’t as overly (ooovverrllyyy) dramatic as it may seem — Peep sounds like a strange combination of Mike Kinsella and Mark Hoppus, with glitches that take some slight influence off Meteora. It’s an inherently divisive song, as anything that fits the description “emo-trap” should be, but the central guitar strum keeps everything grounded. “Awful Things” all but begs you to hate it, but honestly? I kind of like it. 
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: This is nice enough, with bouncy 808 drums and solid guitar noodling with ear scraping scringing by Peep. Then Lil Tracy comes through with the gift his talented parents passed down to calm and ground this song in the agony that it’s thrashing around for.
[6]

Alfred Soto: “Bother me, tell me awful things” is a novel twist on a worn trope, and for embodying passivity so thoroughly Lil Peep sure is loud. I’m sure I have friends who yell at smartphones in empty rooms.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: Just like every other song I would hear on 93.7 Jack FM while staring dramatically out the window at night while my high school best friend’s dad gave me a ride home, this is probably mind-blowing if you’re 13 and unlistenable if you’re not.
[1]

Tara Hillegeist: When I was 18, a girl I knew from the internet died the same month my uncle did. I didn’t mourn my uncle; I wrote her name on my hand in Sharpie and I rewrote it on there every day for weeks. I’d watched my uncle die for years before he finally passed away and I didn’t have anything to say about his life because all I’d ever known of him was as a man on his way to dying. But that girl I never met was a life I only knew in words on a screen, and if I didn’t memorialize her then it felt like she wasn’t ever really real. It’s no way to move forward with your life, caring more about how the people you meet on the internet make you feel than the people you have to live next to. But it’s the kind of thing an adolescent mind does; it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, you don’t understand how to have a life when you’ve only seriously had one for a little over a decade. I hope this song is meant for someone who doesn’t know how to get a life yet, like the stupid teenager I used to be; whoever it’s for, it’s not for me. I never liked Blink-182 at all.
[4]

Ashley John: In “Awful Things” Lil Peep borrows emo’s culture of vulnerability without accountability. The heartbreak and desperation is palpable, but I can’t buy that I’m supposed to be the protagonist, just the plot device. Being a girl and a fan of emo meant, for me, to participate in an ecosystem that craves you and blames you in equal measure. I kiss him; he burns; I turn to dust. 
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I used to make the same friend over and over again, as I moved from high-school to high-school, community college to community college, across three different states. Like radar I always picked up on her (always her; guys HATED me for years) and we’d inevitably become best of friends. Their names and faces weren’t the same, but it’d be a series of clichés… Loud, bold, tomboyish, loyal, warm. Flattering dark clothes, receptive yet shady families, homes tucked out of the way. Uncouth conversations meant to show off how “edgy” and “unconventional” we were, soundtracked to films and records and nursed by drinks (on their part) of “bad taste.” It was always the same soundtrack too. A lot of grating nu-metal or the trashier early branches of emo or post-hardcore as genre would later allow me to dignify. Ozzfests and Warped Tours, scrawled lyrics on school supplies, thumbing through magazines in drug stores (and rarely, if ever, paying for them). A lot of us (me, and invariably all of them) hiding bruises and scars, making a racket with awful off-key singing, bestowing weird gifts and struggling to properly figure out what each of us meant to the other. Later, I would keep reading and hearing insistently from those who weren’t there that we lived in a swarming sea of testosterone-addled young men with violent frustration being coaxed by toxic scavengers, the absolute death-end of rock as a culture. It wasn’t a wrong assumption, but it seemingly erased all the coping and sympathy in that mire we thought was meant for us, the place we managed to make our home. It’s too easy to parse past Tracy’s guest verse providing brief winks at rapper persona or those attempts at 808 snare rolls to modernize this sound; put on “Awful Things” and I’m back in that trailer in Howell, or the guest cottage on Eagle Ave or walking past dried up reservoirs in Phillipsburg. Precedent to call this rap might have been established by your BONES or XXXTentacions (for better or worse that’s who made it happen), but a record like this doesn’t invoke the same feelings as rap used to do for me. Songs like this are for ghosts. Ghosts in the world who we give lip service to as being sad and lonely, but then bemoan for not putting in the effort to learn how to keep up with our expectations. Ghosts who live to the fullest of what they’re able to manifest through their confusion and lack of guidance, and then seemingly burdened overnight with the lack of glamour in their failures. The ghosts of those smiles of the people who I knew I could trust because instinctively I just knew that those were the persons who could trust me for one minute, and I could feel like I was wanted, and that they maybe knew the same from me. This record isn’t my friend. But it reminds me of them and it makes me miss her, and her, and her, all the same.
[4]

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Hyuna – Babe

Baa ram ewe… baa ram ewe……


[Video][Website]
[7.10]

Ryo Miyauchi: Coincidentally or not, the digital breeze of “Babe” unwinds Hyuna from her more commandeering presence and returns the singer emotionally to the age of her debut — exactly a decade ago. After 10 years of showing different ways how she can capture attention, she flexes effortlessness over stylistic flair here. While she still switches between multiple hats, the soft, toy-box sounds make all of the role changes feel like a breezy stroll. It may lack glamor for such a personality, but she has more than earned a moment to just lay back.
[6]

Jessica Doyle: So last time she came out with something defiant and dance-focused and I said it sounded lonely (and Kogan disagreed); now she comes out with something more seemingly insecure and seems… much happier? As in, smiling all over her lives (and shrugging off the lip-sync even more than usual) and having her backup dancers turn the official dance practice into a Try Not to Laugh video. I do have opinions about “Babe,” namely that calling it her least catchy single since “Ice Cream” is praising with faint damnation, and that Following is probably my favorite album of hers so far, and if “Tell me I’m your babeh, babeh” didn’t come from the same songwriting session as “Natbodaneum bame wa” then I will eat LE’s eyeliner. But mostly I’m just happy that she’s happy.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Bouncy, clinking synths slide over the both slinky and at once filling bass and cascading drums. Even the trap breakdown doesn’t feel appropriative. It also helps Hyuna’s a superb pop singer, swagging on her beat with so much chill it feels powerful.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: I’ve accepted that certain parts of my mind are practically locked in amber because of my age. Like, how I’m probably never going to hear music that truly tilts me off my axis the I did before age 25. Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop!” was such an instance, one of several K-pop songs that found thrilling new angles to American-born sounds and made me want to learn everything about this world. “Babe” feels reflective, both for this younger self and for a time when Korean pop seemed decade-ahead of everything else. Echoes of global pop circa 2016-17 abound, from the pitch-shifted syllable squeaks to the whole “tropical house” tempo, yet the song never feels like something emptied out of “Shape Of You”‘s grease trap. The small details add a lot, like that 8-bit glow around the chorus and the slight beat changes, but ultimately it’s the feeling of twisting the conventional around — lacking in a lot of K-pop, much of it prone to recycling. Yeah, it’s nostalgia, but “Babe” indulges in it too, the subject of the song sparking up feelings that fade over time and even twisting it into a joke by the end. Hyuna time travels backwards, and finds a familiar joy here.
[9]

Kalani Leblanc: “Babe” feeds the grand K-pop trope of incorporating age with femininity (see: IU’s magnum opus “Twenty-Three” and Song Jieun’s originating  “Twenty-Five”) in the most Hyuna way possible. The xylophone might be Hyuna riding on the back of worn out trends, but it sounds uncannily fresh since it’s paired with the most passioned effort in her solo releases since “Red.” Shinsadong Tiger’s detailed background even adapts to the singing and perseveres through that rap. If you wanna give Hyuna enough credit, the lyrics like could be a mutter of annoyance to the watchful public, who still see the bright eyed 4Minute member, hiding like E.T. in a blanket under a boyfriend plot. 
[8]

Alex Clifton: Hyuna pulls a Benjamin Button in front of her crush, going from a worldly, confident 26-year-old to a “baby girl.” I get the sentiment, although the de-ageing process makes me feel a bit weird as someone Hyuna’s age. (What does this make me, an old maid?) Musically, “Babe” is weirdly disparate, featuring a seductive xylophone intro, chipmunked vocals I don’t hate, and a hearty synthy chorus, all pulled together with a killer hook. It does get a bit grating after so many production changes, preventing me from immediately hitting the replay button, but it’s a nice change of pace from Hyuna’s previous solo work.
[6]

Ramzi Awn: The textbook production on “Babe” fails to take advantage of its candy-coated sweetness. Hyuna’s delivery is commendable, but the song falls short. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: As soon as the trop house sequence and manipulated vocals started, I mourned the lost evening. Turns out “Babe” has overdubs and tricky changes commensurate with the lustrous vocals.
[7]

Adaora Ede: Vintage synth gets thrown in line with the overall ageless theme, polkadotted across the entire track are subtle post-post-punky vibes, Hyuna LITERALLY coos her verses, and it all goes together in a not-mashed-up-together way. Weirdly, I am somehow reminded of early-Charli XCX’s witchy house a la 2013’s “You (Ha Ha Ha)”. “Babe” is good because you don’t know where it going to go. Sonically, it’s not as deliberate and set in method and genre as other Hyuna hits (read: “Bubble Pop!”‘s, well, bubbly summer jam and “Red”‘s snotty trap) but it’s a seamless trip into the world of space pop.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: A mantra-like scale of deceleration (26…) tethered to a classically nasal whine (25…), “Babe” works like a regression to childhood far (24…) from Freud’s creepy insistence on some shit involving startling horses and your mom (21…), but more or less closer to Cobain’s insistence that it’s infants (19…) who have the ability to truly express our joy with one another. Chimes (17…) are used in gestures of esoteric wisdom but are also simple lullaby tricklets (15…) falling down alongside you as you fall further and further back alongside Hyuna. By the time the record ends, her voice moved from nag to coo to cyber-quartzed gurgling. The love is so infantile, so strange, it doesn’t even feel like something human or rational. It just is.
[8]

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Why Don’t We – Something Different

Once more unto the boy band breach…


[Video][Website]
[4.78]

Katherine St Asaph: You forgot the “do.”
[3]

Alfred Soto: I suppose the bleeps and bloops accompanying this boyish quartet make for something different, but the song doesn’t go beyond its titular conceit.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: What exactly is the “difference” here that should indicate Why Don’t We as anyone to listen to? It’s less in the boys themselves and their functionally restrained performances (nice as they seem). “Something Different” works in the light muzak calm to all their crunchy distortion licks and flangy flutters; a strange midpoint between barely present and faint irritant, almost like musical tinnitus. While that sounds actually obnoxious, it’s a subtle trick that this record never goes out of its way to bombastically announce and conquer you, but linger in the back of your mind. Someone took the concept of “earworm” perhaps a little too literally.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: With a band name built to precede the phrase “since Nick Jonas turned it down,” Why Don’t We are in the right ballpark. They do sound very scared to leave it though. It almost sounds like they’re doing their best not to expose any vocal limitations, but it would be wrong to assume. It’s equally possible that “Leon Jean-Marie with any identifiable edges smoothed off” was the impetus, and why not?
[6]

Anjy Ou: When you’re young and in love you always think you’re more special than you are, that your experience is magical rather than mundane. “Something Different” is a pretty good example of that illusion. More of an interlude than a song, more of an attempt at singing than a performance. Yet with its production and R&B stylings ripped from Zayn who ripped them from JT and JC who ripped them from [insert R&B singer here], it hits that sweet spot of ’90s/early 2000s boy band nostalgia — one that most of Why Don’t We’s fans probably can’t appreciate. I think I only like this song because I’m old(er) and cynical but I can still remember what all that feels like.
[5]

Andy Hutchins: The production, highlighted by an appealing mix of crunchy and airy in the verses and what sound for all the world like horns made of rubber in the hook, is, yes, something different. The try-hard faux-Zayn vocals, not so much. But this is a trifle that goes down easy.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: I was worried going into this, just because it’s vaguely associated with Jake Paul (via his brother Logan, one of six co-producers on this song and the director of their actually pretty slick video) That said, I actually like the production here; it’s simple, but the Bangarang-y synths are a nice touch. Also an improvement on “Jerika” are the lyrics, which are somewhat meaningless but almost refreshingly inoffensive. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: You know, I’m still kinda bummed New District never happened. But that’s OK; maybe Why Don’t We is here to be the boy band that maybe we’re all looking for even though we don’t yet know it. “Something Different” is, um… hoping that what we’re looking for is The DFA? With R&B verses Auto-Tuned into Lloyd’s “You”? This is the buying-a-record-player-and-a-vintage-distressed-band-tee-from-Urban-Outfitters of pop groups, which is fine in concept, though even James Murphy sometimes remembers you need a chorus. I watched the video, wondering if some latent charisma could make up for the reserve, but, gosh, what a buncha dweebs. The clip’s a high-concept thing that works overtime to take the attention off these lads’ personality. Bad sign.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Nice, bland white-bread singing over simple heavy bass, scattered synth lines, and lumbering drums. Meh. Not bad enough to hate, not cheesy enough to actually enjoy. Kinda like the Tostitos nacho sauce they sell at AMC now.
[4]

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug – Havana

East Atlanta affair…


[Video][Website]
[5.27]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Young Thug plus Latin grooves has typically been an automatic victory lap, so it’s not going to be any surprise that Jeff in Denis O’Bell mode is going to be satisfying. What’s interesting is that in this chunky affair, Cabello actually manages to feel a sense of restraint and avoid indulging herself far too much. Yet at the same time, perhaps a more energetic vocal that didn’t feel far too withdrawn might’ve hit just the sweet spot.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: It took a while for this song to stick with me; I couldn’t get past the piano hook, which isn’t a sample but sounds like one. The rest of the beat feels watered down from the sultry jam it could have been, though the piano break when Young Thug comes on and does his thing is a cool little moment. Camila’s performance even has some interesting quirks, but not even a crack team with Jeffery, Ali Tamposi, Frank Dukes, Starrah, Pharrell, and Trumpet Flourish can make it into a bona fide banger.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Nice salsa keys but awkward as heck bass and drums, while Camila is really not making a good case for her solo career. Young Thug is sadly subdued and caged in the beat. Meanwhile, Camila stuffs the song too full with all of her scratchy-voice cooing.
[5]

Andy Hutchins: I liked these keys better on “Dedication to My Ex” and the “oh na na”s better on “What’s My Name,” but credit is due to the dearly departed member of Fifth Harmony for at least mostly trying to stop doing entire scales every bar. Trouble is, that moderation makes her sound a bit too much like Selena Gomez, and the instrumental is far too busy and layered for someone to stand out while riding it — even Cabello, who tries her typical tricks in the pre-hook, and Thugger, who has the good sense to not stray too far from the undulations in his verse.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: If I can stop thinking this is “Same Old Love” pitched at Lana Del Rey (enough writers contributed enough parts that some of it might be), this is pleasant reheated drama. Only problem is, if half of her heart’s in Havana, so is half of her chorus.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: Camila Cabello was born in Cuba. Havana is the capital of Cuba; the name is an anglicized version of what might be a hispanicized recasting of a Taino name. Young Thug was born in Atlanta, the capital of the US state of Georgia. Atlanta is an anglicized version of what is ultimately a Greek name. “Havana” has a rolling Latin piano riff submerged in the murk that characterizes Southern US hip-hop in 2017; you might imagine Metro Boomin remixing “Havana” and making it even gloomier and more dissociative. If that were to happen, perhaps Young Thug could contribute another, more memorable verse. “Havana,” as this song demonstrates obsessively, sounds a lot like “Atlanta,” even though there is little linguistic link between the two. Is it fun to join the dots like this? Is it fun listening to the dots being joined?
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Camila is Cuban and Young Thug’s an ATLien, sure, but these associations that “Havana” wants us to make are shallow and cipherous, distractions meant to lend credence to a song that fails to capitalize on the strengths of either vocalist. For all the clamorous uproar that occurs whenever Camila decides to sing, one would hope that there would be just as much disdain for a relatively reserved approach that’s worse than her most ostentatious moments. But no, many will praise her restraint here or feel indifferent to it, failing to recognize that she needn’t restrain her vocalizing for a song that’s ostensibly less suitable for her histrionics. Like Young Thug a few years ago, Camila’s simply in the process of discovering how to best use her voice, especially now that she’s flying solo. But she overshoots (er, undershoots?) here, sounding more bored than ever, stymieing the chemistry she could have had with Young Thug. Even then, it’s clear that Jeffery could’ve been more unhinged too — just imagine the intense back-and-forth that could’ve been present between the two if they engaged in varying degrees of unpredictable vocal delivery. The tension that occupies the interstitial space between salsa dancers? That’s not here. Which means that there’s no heat able to radiate outward to all of Camila and Thugger’s onlookers.
[3]

Alfred Soto: No fan, I succumbed without fuss to the “I Feel the Earth Move” lilt of the piano and Camila Cabello’s ease with the verse melody. There’s nothing Havana-esque about “Havana” despite the singer’s ethnicity, though, unless a trumpet solo = Latin.  And there’s no fucking reason why Young Thug should share space except for streaming hits.
[6]

Josh Love: This is a perfectly fine song with a reliable trad-Latin melody but it could have been so much more if Thugger had been given room to breathe. Not sure why you call him in to do a feature that any number of anonymous artists could have delivered. It’s like the old adage about buying a Ferrari and then only using it for trips to the grocery store.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: The only reason “Havana” isn’t a Bond theme is because there hasn’t been a Bond film worthy of a Young Thug verse. Isn’t it wild how we go on for months pretending songs like “Pillowtalk” are sexy and then something like this, which finds the exact musical midpoint between 1966 and 2006, comes out? What a shame.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares: Certainly her strongest solo single — a mid-range cooing instead of a blaring Camila is definitely more appealing — but the motionlessness of its structure takes a lot of strength from both her vocal and the rolling Young Thug verse. Still, that danzón/chachachá piano (of course, that unmistakable i-VI-V chord progression echoing decades of Cuban music) and Frank Dukes’s clattery beat show a step forward for Cabello. I do want more of this, but better. 
[6]

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Bonzai – I Feel Alright

Irish R&B, anyone?


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Julian Axelrod: Bonzai is not alright. She makes that clear from the jump. She’s having trouble communicating with her partner, she feels disconnected from her surroundings, and she wishes she could have another life completely. But she has her words, and she knows her words have power. So she speaks her happiness into existence, which sounds like the kind of obnoxious bullshit rich people say about their already amazing lives but somehow it’s not. This is a skill I only learned in the last few years. I became way happier when I realized I don’t have to ignore the quiet voice in my head assuring me I’m not completely fucking up my life all the time. In fact, I can encourage it! And amplify it! And affirm my own happiness! So goddamn, it feels good to hear an army of robot Bonzais shouting “I feel I feel I feel ALRIGHT” over and over until they float into the clouds and explode. The fact that it’s a catchy, confident pop song is icing on the cake. It’s just nice to have those words bouncing around my brain for once.
[8]

Ashley John: “I Feel Alright” sounds like the soundtrack to a ’90s teen movie, where the lead just finished her makeover and is walking confidently through the halls while heads turn in slow motion. It’s a smile with the knowledge that the hard work to be happy might not be evident to anyone else, but it’d be too convoluted to explain any way. Bonzai nails the hesitant, talk-yourself-into-it optimism that Jack Antonoff wanted to achieve with “I Wanna Get Better,” but without the clutter. 
[7]

Katie Gill: This is an odd mix. The 2000s melody and verses never manage to gel with the odd, chopped up pop drop right after the chorus. Still, each part is executed amazingly well. Pair them with Bonzai’s light, breezy vocals and you’ve got a final product that doesn’t really mesh, but remains wonderful due to the strength of the individual parts.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Bonzai makes turning this simplistic tune into a success sound easy, and she commits to the beat sincerely. In somebody else’s hands, “I Feel Alright” would not have fared so well. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: India.Arie meets Nelly Furtado over a dividing line of the most corny sample pitching being paraded as a hook. If it’d actually taken a defiant step in the face of deciding to either be exhaustingly middle of the road or actually trying to sound weird, maybe it’d have something.
[1]

Nortey Dowuona: Wilting, twitching, and soaring synths; sharp claps; popping bass; and bouncing drums are risen by Bonzai’s full, energetic voice, which switches from a soft whisper to a powerful yelp to a winding falsetto without her losing herself.
[9]

Anjy Ou: Okay, so maybe this song is just about getting high — on love, on drugs, pick your poison. But what if it was about the trouble of existing? Bonzai tells us that she’s looking for another life, but she doesn’t ever make it feel safe — just temporarily appealing. There’s a creepy undercurrent to the pounding beat and the catchy lyrics, just as there’s danger involved in breaking ties with your current reality. I’m not talking about escapism here, because there you still have an anchor: the break will never be complete, you just pretend that it is. The type of escape I mean involves breaking yourself apart — maybe separating spirit from body, or being different people in different places while you try to find a place where you’re safe. And what if that gets too much, too exhausting? What if nowhere is truly safe? Maybe instead you try to make peace with(in) yourself and then move through existence without truly taking root. Or maybe you jump through realities like America Chavez and just enjoy the ride. Bonzai is putting words to an experience that may seem far out, but to me is intensely familiar — and we’re not alone. So yeah, she maybe seems high or crazy, or maybe she’s just trying to live.
[7]

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Lindsay Ell – Waiting on You

And WE’RE waiting on a less rote song…


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Julian Axelrod: Despite the chorus’s lovely bottle rocket metaphor, Lindsay Ell doesn’t need any fireworks to get her message across. Instead, she tells off her almost-lover in the gentlest terms possible. You can tell that she’s hanging on to her last shred of patience, talking to this clueless guy like a weary mother telling her toddler to please stop wandering off in the grocery store, Brentley. But the pleasantries only make her words hit harder. If I have one criticism, it’s that Ms. Ell is clearly too good for this schmuck.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Chill, anodyne country as Lindsay reapplies the lessons of Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain with the twangy at times fuzzy guitar, slick sliding guitar, unobtrusive bass and heavy, clumsy drums.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Could easily imagine this as a cut from any of a dozen women over the last ten years, perhaps Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions with a bit of glamour from Maren Morris’s Hero. Those are positive things to be compared to, as this is a tight, classy song that draws from quality AOR as much as anything. The frustration is palpable even through the warmth.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I adore the bluesy, southern-rock composition and guitar solo, but the chorus just really holds this back. The pedestrian lyrics are one thing, but Lindsay’s emphasis choice in the chorus feels off and almost happy in what should be a soulful number with some ache to it. Stylistically speaking, it just doesn’t make sense.
[4]

Alfred Soto: She and the guitars growl with conviction, but the similes might’ve come from a dictionary I search of rhymes.
[4]

Ashley John: A John Mayer song but by a female country singer. In other words, a significantly better version of John Mayer but a solidly middle of the road country song. 
[5]