Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Zedd ft. Liam Payne – Get Low

Done and done, is [4] enough?


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Alex Clifton: Oh boy, Liam Payne released another solo song about sex. This one is far less terrible than the monstrosity of “Strip That Down,” mostly because Zedd’s production is better. And I shouldn’t be judging the lyrics of sexy songs, but here I am trying to understand this mess: “sensitive tough, you don’t get enough” (what?), “we’re the sound of lovers blowing crazy in the wind” (what?), and consistent metaphors comparing this girl to an ocean while also saying “I’m up for the climb” which make me question if Liam knows how to swim. What did we do to deserve Liam’s post-1D career? What god did we anger?
[3]

Katie Gill: In one of the saddest interviews I’ve read in a while, Louis Tomlinson describes Liam as “all about getting the crowd going, doing a little bit of dancing.” This kind of fits it? It’s definitely a light club jam, meant to be played at a dance as teenagers awkwardly shuffle along to it. It’s trying to convince you to let loose and dance, even though the instrumentation never really matches what the words are trying to say. But we’ve already got one “Get Low” that’s perfect for getting the crowd going, and this certainly ain’t it.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Serviceable thumper, less so if you’re persuaded by Liam swinging his hips from the bar and winking. 
[4]

Claire Biddles: Let’s be real, Liam was always going to be the 1D member with the most embarrassing solo career. He was embarrassing earlier this summer on his debut single “Strip That Down”; he was embarrassing again when he promised to, um, strip if that single went to number one (sadface it didn’t); and what do you know! He’s embarrassing again on “Get Low,” seducing his ladyfriend with almost Alan Partridge-standard lines about “swimming in your ocean” and (I can barely type it out!) “I like the way you touch yourself.” But unlike “Strip it Down,” “Get Low” also has charm, and Liam comes across as a slightly tragic but loveable mate who you still want to hang out with on a group beach holiday, rather than a recently-divorced middle-aged uncle. Zedd brings tropical ~flavour~ to the production, but thankfully has restraint with the steel drum effects, making “Get Low” an old-fashioned summer dance hit rather than gimmicky streaming-bait ephemera.
[8]

Austin Brown: Melodically impeccable, texturally repulsive. That goes for both Liam Payne’s inability to convey anything beyond inoffensiveness and Zedd’s at best serviceable attempt to pivot from maximal electro-house to the chart sound du jour of day-glo dancehall.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Zedd offers a meatier version of trop-house about one and a half years after discerning listeners asked for one; all those tracks of Zedd repeating himself were at least repeating himself. Liam’s voice is a particular sort of nasal, as heard through boogers. Somewhere in here is sex, I guess, though Liam’s (songwriters’) repeated “you got the vibe” suggests it’ll happen without his input.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: You needn’t be Peter Trudgill to note the prevalence of mid-Atlantic accents in British singing voices, and it’s perhaps in part due to that prevalence that they generally go by unnoticed. Push it too far, however, and you stick out like an Oreo in a biscuit tin. Liam Payne can’t be knocked for his commitment — he certainly sounds like he believes himself here — but that is what’s the problem. Robbie Williams he isn’t. Maybe he should stick to the instrumental side, where a change in style like Zedd’s on this can be quite successful, or mitigating, at least.
[4]

Will Adams: If only Liam Payne’s vocals had followed his own advice and gotten lower in the mix. Not only does his over-presence obscure Zedd’s sticky-sweet arrangement, it emphasizes his inability to elevate bland songwriting. 
[4]

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

BoA – Camo

K-pop mainstay we last covered in 2012, unless you count all our Britney reviews…


[Video]
[6.29]

Adaora Ede: What’s this? A current K-pop release that isn’t an amalgamation of five different songs in six different styles? She’s even left out the obligatory rap verse. “Camo” could be 2011 Britney as much as it could be 2003 Britney, which, aptly, the bulk of BoA’s earlier image in the OG days of SM Entertainment was derived from. We’re given a bursting synth bassline and an electro melody and surprisingly, not much else? Admittedly, it’s a bit cold and unfeeling in the way a lot of sleeker electronic music can come off, but I’m enjoying this newly revitalized area of cyberpop that shows it can easily be as orchestral and orotund (see: that upsweep of a chorus and pre-hook) as it is industrial and assembly-line.
[6]

Will Adams: I love a mechanized stomp, and “Camo”‘s falls between the slick confidence of 112’s “Dance With Me” and the wallop of BoA’s own “Eat You Up.” The chorus could have offered more, though; the drawn out “camera fla-a-a-a-ash ooh-ooh” is infectious, but it’s not followed up with anything, and the energy drops as a result.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Camo” refits the slick fuzz of “Peaches and Cream,” though BoA poses opposite 112’s flirtiness. Her warrior-like steeliness not only draws out the iciness of the machine beat but also her camouflage tactic. She’s not emotionless, just tough and experienced as hell.
[7]

Anjy Ou: A polished throwback track that’s really more about the slick dance moves than anything else. It’s not quite as appealing as “The Shadow” or “Copy and Paste,” possibly because the hook simply takes us back to the verses instead of capitalising on that fantastic pre-chorus. But it’ll do to tide me over until she puts out a new album. 
[6]

Leonel Manzanares: BoA’s natural sense of rhythm — her particular knack for beat-riding — is the main attraction. I just wish her vocal matched the punch in those synths and the hook went as far as that extended prechorus promised. 
[6]

Julian Axelrod: Everything here feels perfectly in place, but while I like a lot of the production elements (a touch of cowbell here and there, some Ratatat-esque synths on the chorus) I wish it was a little less restrained. This sounds like the kind of club banger Britney Spears isn’t making anymore, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.
[6]

Will Rivitz: All I really need in my life is music that sounds like peak Britney, and I’ll be OK.
[7]

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Jennifer Lopez ft. Gente de Zona – Ni Tú Ni Yo

Happy belated birthday, J.Lo! We got you this set of mostly lukewarm blurbs…


[Video]
[5.71]

Anjy Ou: A classic reggaeton track to announce Jennifer Lopez’s first Spanish album in 10 years. Her vocals would ordinarily be drowned out by the energy of Gente de Zona, but she clearly took vocal direction from Marc Anthony (executive producer of the album) for this one. And it pays off — Anthony’s signature dramatic flair matches the exuberance of the lyrics, and ensures that you maintain a little shimmy in your seat as the song plays. Or maybe that’s just me? Would definitely pull out my two-move Latin dance arsenal if this were playing on a dancefloor.
[6]

Alfred Soto: If I hadn’t glanced at the credits, I would’ve said, “Who’s the singer?” Steely and assured, Jennifer Lopez has almost twenty years of craft to draw on for this garrulous “I Will Survive” progeny.
[7]

Iain Mew: Rich horns and a series of lines running each into the back of the last one set it up well, but then the chorus just seeps out to be swallowed by an empty summer sky.
[4]

Will Adams: The verses seem tailor-made for Lopez, who shows how warm she can sound when given the right material. The chorus, conversely, goes anonymous with a call-and-response hook that isn’t strong enough to stand up to the thump.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: J.Lo has yet to break her success streak playing along with current pop trends since the beginning of this millennium. But like her other hits, “Ni Tú Ni Yo” leaves a feeling that another artist could’ve made it an even better single. The heaven-sized love here can use a more powerful voice to carry it upon its back.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: J.Lo has been working really hard on her Marc Anthony impression, that’s for sure. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this song — the energy is high, the horns provide the perfect accompaniment to the Spanish percussion, and the lyrics are romantic and lovely. The problem, really, lies in J.Lo’s performance; in her effort to sound just like Marc Anthony (I bet there’s a demo somewhere with his vocals on this) she comes across as very karaoke and doesn’t sell the song as her own. I’ve never been a fan of J.Lo’s musical output (in large part due to her middling voice), but when she was paired with the right song (“Jenny from the Block,” “Que Hiciste”), her attitude and conviction could carry the track. Here, however, the chemistry is missing and the fit isn’t quite right. If I wanted to hear a Marc Anthony track, I’d spin one. I wouldn’t look to his ex-wife for a tepid version.
[5]

Austin Brown: No chance of crossover with an instrumental this genre-bound, but no matter when it’s as well-crafted as this. A softly insistent horn accompaniment thickens the mix just so, and Lopez and Gente de Zona deftly wind through the song as their characters flirt and brush past each other. When they finally intersect at the end of the second verse, on “pero prefiero la tuya” (“but I prefer yours”), there’s a deeply felt truth to their infatuation that renders the song into something undeniably singular.
[7]

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Everything Everything – Can’t Do

Bands, books, movies… is everything called “Everything Everything” nowadays?


[Video][Website]
[4.86]

Claire Biddles: Kid A on poppers!
[7]

Joshua Copperman: The thrill of listening to Everything Everything is seeing how far they can push their sound, and the only constant is the bands’ tightness and Jonathan Higgs’ absurd lyrics. Ever since their second album, they’ve almost never crossed the line, developing and expanding their sound. So it’s a bit disappointing to hear them put out a safe step back, with a repetitive, relatively uninspired chorus. Even as further listens reveal the quirky touches typical of the band, that’s the problem — it just feels typical.
[6]

Iain Mew: Everything Everything are so good at applying a wide-eyed intensity to juxtapositions of the bizarre and everyday, and blurring the boundaries until the normal is the one which sounds baffling and chilling. My favourite line delivery on their last album was “Blast Doors'” “did you pack your bag or did somebody pack it for you?” and “Can’t Do” nearly matches it with “I want to be done by twenty to four” in the lithe verse, scarier than any horror on the phone. After that it’s mostly sticky, pepped up post-punk that they’ve done well before and will again, but their approach does pretty well at staving off the dullness of musical routine.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Have you ever wondered what 4th tier late 00s “Indies looking to open for Muse” bands like Mutemath would sound trying to reflect tasteful interests in electronic music? Well folks, look no further because these funkless drums and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter-smooth falsettos are completely devoid of character and radiate a relentless desire to say things without meaning a thing. Ironically the thing they can’t do is Not Suck.
[2]

Alfred Soto: I can understand flinging New Order riffs and Radiohead spook into this dirty cauldron, but no one deserves the falsetto. 
[3]

Tim de Reuse: Gorgeously grungy production and a beefy drum machine and sharp, expressive vocals and an immediately engaging, expertly conveyed nervousness and momentum like bouncing down a mountain — and then, 44 seconds in, a hysterical, dull, terrible hook.
[5]

Austin Brown: The recursive “writing a song about writer’s block” thing usually appeals to me, but here it feels like it simply distracts from the real problem with the song. It’s not that it’s underwritten lyrically. It’s more that the indie R&B (throwback, y’all) shuffle waffles between aiming for transcendent, asexual catharsis and arty, slinky Talking Heads cool without ever coming to a conclusion. 
[4]

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Fall Out Boy – Champion

You’re about five points short of that, dudes…


[Video]
[3.50]

Katie Gill: What a shock, Fall Out Boy gives us another preening pump-up egotistical training montage swaggering rock number. We’ve heard this song at LEAST three times from them before. It’s getting old.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Still the most rancid sort of ego-stroking disguised as being meant for the masses. The further this band become an irrelevant series of repetitive gong clashes of psuedo-importance, the more they become nothing but pure distraction.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: Fall Out Boy’s jock jams always had a touch of ridiculousness that kept my attention: “I’m gonna change you like a remix” in “The Phoenix”; the desperation in “Centuries”; the I’m on fi-yaaah! in “My Song Knows What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up).” The gassed-up swagger in this, though, runs generic like a pump-up tune behind the latest athletics ad. Worse, I almost expect a rap verse from a C-lister to cap it all off when really Patrick Stump and gang’s memorable rap guests were always the unexpected ones.
[4]

Alfred Soto: If Fall Out Boy needed a cheap contract fulfillment for the end credits of a Marvel film, they should’ve covered, I don’t know, Genesis’ “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” or something.
[3]

Eleanor Graham: A slice of Sia generica with blank sheets of guitar and a flatline ‘chorus’ that literally no one has the charisma to resuscitate, least of all this dude whose name I can’t remember because I never had an emo phase. At a party last autumn my friend put on “Miss Missing You” and the yearning 80s synths and whiny guitars and hyperreal suburbia and big, trashy, dangerously satisfying rhymes are still burning their way through my brain. “Champion” is the reason misandrous pop elitists like me don’t believe bands like this can make them feel like that.
[1]

Alex Clifton: This song has Sia’s fingerprints all over it, which is maybe not the best thing. Like them or not, Fall Out Boy’s strength has always come from the fact that their music sounds like them (or, more specifically, like Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump). It starts off strong, but becomes repetitive. “If I can live through this / I can do anything” is a fine rallying cry, but there’s not really enough content in the rest of the song to prop that chorus up. It’s also a strangely muted FOB track; for a track from an album called MANIA, I’d expect something more electrifying. There’s energy here, of course–Stump wails throughout–but somehow I expected more from these guys.
[5]

Austin Brown: After two albums of promises to save rock and roll that seemed to feel the best way to do so was lean clumsily into hi-fi Big Pop tropes, suddenly they rein it in and make their best song in years. The theater kid vocals and loud drums that characterize nü-Fall Out Boy are still there, but deployed with purpose and a tautness that’s direct and undeniably affecting. Martial rhythms only go so far, and I can’t help but miss the hyperactivity that used to invigorate Fall Out Boy’s compositions from below. But when it all leads up to a vocal run like Patrick Stump’s in the final chorus, I’m willing for the first time ever to set aside my nostalgia and entertain the idea Fall Out Boy might actually have something new to say in the 2017.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: “Centuries” on a shoestring, the grandiosity and eccentricity (“Tom’s Diner”, “Lux Aeterna.” and “I-i-am-the-opp-o-site-of-am-ne-si-uhhh”) replaced with “if I can live through this/I can do anything” and some perfunctorily thundering drums. “A Couple of Months”, maybe.
[3]

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Antti Tuisku ft. Boyat – Hanuri

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


[Video]
[5.00]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Kesha – Praying

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


[Video][Website]
[8.50]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24th, 2017

St. Vincent – New York

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of…


[Video][Website]
[5.60]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21st, 2017

AJR – Weak

An adequate description…


[Video]
[2.50]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21st, 2017

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

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


[Video]
[5.83]

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

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

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

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

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

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