Friday, June 23rd, 2017

The Killers – The Man

Officially better than “Somebody Told Me”


[Video]
[6.08]
Alex Clifton: I’ve loved seeing the Killers’ evolution with every album; I appreciate their constant musical expansion, rather than cloning Hot Fuss four times (which, admittedly, I would’ve bought). “The Man” feels like a natural fit for the band: it’s ’80s Bowie and a funky bassline and Las Vegas glitz and thrillingly un-self-conscious. (I wouldn’t buy “USDA certified lean” from any other band, but Brandon Flowers delivers that line with believable swagger.) Moreover, it’s just plain fun and goofy. Yes, the chorus is a pile of cliches — “I’ve got gas in the tank/I’ve got money in the bank” — but the whole thing is so damn sweeping that I don’t even care. After Battle Born, which was too serious for my liking, it’s nice to hear the Killers take joy in their music.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Still rueing the fact that God didn’t make him gay, Flowers remembers Neil Tennant’s career advice: “you got looks and some brains and you’ve made lots of money, plus you’re a songwriter of modest talent and a singer with a mediocre parched voice fronting dudes with a cloppety idea of disco.” I’m assuming Flowers has listened to Queen’s “Body Language” a couple times, furiously licking himself as he sings this track’s ridiculous hook over what he thinks is a sexy dance beat. It’s about time a handsome male example of polyurethane design said fuck it and blew a kiss at his legion of gay fans. I mean, this is an actual couplet, folks: “You see what I mean?/USDA certified lean.” That “The Man” isn’t better is tied to Flowers’ sense of shame.
[5]

Austin Brown: What made the Killers so distinctive on Hot Fuss and Sam’s Town was their distinctly chintzy, near-slacker take on glam: on “Mr. Brightside” and “When You Were Young,” to name the obvious best of each, Brandon Flowers exploited his vocal limitations and took Strokes-style cosmopolitan cool supernova. By now, though, his ambitions (in vocal range and not much else) have gotten the best of him, manifesting on his solo albums in lovable Bowie pastiche, but here making him the histrionic weak link in an otherwise well-oiled synth-funk machine.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: It’s a wonder how it took so long for The Killers to merge with Arcade Fire. That chorus, though, sets them apart by a vast gap. Win Butler would never pull off such a thing with success. And really, who knew I wanted Brandon Flowers to sing, shamelessly, “I got news for you, baby: you’re looking at the man”?
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: You know, it feels absurd that someone as flamboyant as Brandon Flowers wouldn’t do something along the lines of “campy disco-style track with The Darkness-type falsetto bits and meat jokes about himself and his body,” so any initial shock and confusion goes away as soon as you register the first pun. However, this sounds something closer to Maroon 5 than I bet your average Killers fan would like to admit. There’s a lot of clever ideas, but it ultimately falls as flat as the purposefully upchucked ‘mahn’ on the end of the chorus.
[5]

Katie Gill: I like this because it sounds like Hot Fuss as interpreted by the Scissor Sisters but run through a layer of Duran Duran. And that sentence right there is why I’ve got a feeling a lot of more diehard Killers fans are going to HATE this song.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: They wanna be Duran Duran so bad, but unfortunately they’re nailing being Duran Duran circa the late ’90s, and that’s not a good look. That wasn’t even a good look for Duran Duran.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: This has great synthesizers and nothing else.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: When has Brandon Flowers ever been so invulnerably swaggering? There’s a sense of power in something like “Andy, You’re A Star”, for instance, but it’s bound in all kinds of tension. This time there’s no doubt, anxiety, melancholy, regret or resignation, and it’s so unusual that it seems entirely unserious. That conflict of being exceedingly lithe yet emotionally jagged holds such an appeal that losing the latter part feels very much like a loss. On the other hand, the music is lither than ever, and beyond the emotion the jaggedness is still up front. It is, too, a lot of fun; a lot of potentially participatory, performative fun. It just doesn’t completely feel like these are the people to be performing it.
[7]

Will Adams: I can’t think of a worse fit for Brandon Flowers’ limited voice than this piece of dick-swinging machismo, and yet there he goes, claiming to be the man with a plan while showing he’s instead the man with the voice crack.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: The Killers come back swinging with disco-rock, oozing with proclamations of their success. Brandon Flowers sounds especially confident in his delivery. It’s raunchy, muddy, and dirty, all while being extremely polished in the chorus. It’s, frankly, a fucking blast. I just… yeah, I can’t take it seriously. Flowers is one of the best male vocalists of our generation, by my ear, so it’s hard to hear him singing songs this pedestrian, regardless of how fun. I’m praying this is some big joke about how those with the most white privilege often celebrate it as if it’s some sort of huge accomplishment that they’ve succeeded, but I’m positive that’s my mind spinning it so I can enjoy it without guilt. If I’m proven wrong, oh well. I’ll just dance with my fellow oppressed to the music of our oppressors.
[7]

Claire Biddles: Your flight touched down last Monday, but you still haven’t gotten used to this heat. You can see it rise from the concrete like it does in films. You’ve finally managed to sneak out from the early morning shift Natalie hooked you up with at the motel and take a smoke, your first glimpse of the day’s white-hot sun framed by high-rise blocks. You’re about to crush the end of your spent cigarette to the ground when you see a car pull up. Everything’s oversized in Vegas — buildings and billboards standing on their tip toes to outsize each other — but there’s something about this mid-century car, and its Stetson-wearing driver, that feels even more towering than its surroundings. The driver gets out, takes off his hat and — wait. You recognise that face. Something peripheral from ten, fifteen years ago? You were a teenager then, still living back East. What are the chances of someone from that shithole winding up here too? He walks towards you — actually, who are you kidding; he walks towards the casino entrance that you’re standing beside, you must seem invisible to someone as handsome as him, older than you and a little weathered around the temple, sure, but with a face like a kick to the gut. A face you’ve seen before. Then it hits you, and your body feels like it’s shooting upwards and falling through the ground at the same time. It must have been 2004, your last year in high school. It was all over the local papers and some of the national ones too: ‘Jealous Lover Kills Football Star’s Sweetheart’, ‘Local Girl Slain In Gay Affair Scandal’. The girl — Jenny something, you can’t remember — was in your English Literature class for two years, but you didn’t speak. Blonde, beautiful, dated a guy on the football team. Andy something. There’d always been rumours about Andy and this other guy, but nothing concrete until he was taken in for questioning when Jenny’s body was found washed up on the beach the next town over. He was never charged, but everyone thought he did it — ‘he’s sure pretty but there’s something about his smile that I don’t trust’ your mom once said over dinner, thumbing the 12 page report in the paper with the innocent accused splashed across the front page. And now he’s in Vegas, with the same sly smile on his face but the rest all changed: his tan deep and his teeth done and his boots and hat just the right side of costume shop. He counts through a wad of hundreds flashily as he disappears inside. Nobody knows him here. Probably think he’s some big shot. You wonder what will happen when they find out.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: First thought: “blowhard syndrome” in song form. But really, what the hell in the canon isn’t?
[6]

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

SZA ft. Travis Scott – Love Galore

Late to the party but we’ve brought feels…


[Video]
[6.56]

Stephen Eisermann: Quick PSA: SZA’s album is terrific, so if you haven’t heard it yet then buy/stream it. “Love Galore,” a song about a woman yearning for an ex-lover, is a highlight that finds SZA trying to convince herself that she doesn’t need her ex, all while convincing us that she knows how to breathe life and passion into even the most minimalist and down-trodden beats. I read that SZA said she took Rick Rubin’s advice about not letting production get too loud, as it forces writers to come up with a meaningful/compelling lyric if the production is left more in the background. I’m so glad she opted to take that advice. Here, the bass and drum loop serve as the canvas, and SZA takes the rest into her own hands and shares the thoughts of a woman fighting within herself. “Promise I won’t cry over spilled milk… Give me another valium,” she sings with enough stank in her voice you know she means it, but the choice she makes in starting those lines with layered vocals and then pulling them away is a great indicator of the hesitation she feels saying that. One caveat: Travis Scott wasn’t necessary on the track and I think the vulgarity in his verse only does a disservice to the song. Still, it’s so hard to not be whisked away by the beauty of SZA’s voice and the rhythm.
[8]

Austin Brown: I hate the numbness that ambiguity breeds. Breakdowns in communication are the most potent manifestations of that fear of vulnerability which unexpected intimacy can so swiftly curdle into; once that fear calcifies, it’s the death knell for a fling’s honeymoon period. With that in mind, I didn’t like this song the first few times I heard it, mostly because I foolishly thought it worked in denial of that pain. The verses and the loping circularity of the production sounded like an implicit endorsement of “chill” and braggadocious dismissal of a former lover. But every listen to “Love Galore” reveals more doubt and emotional reflexivity and betrays that both SZA and Travis Scott aren’t nearly as confident in their sexual independence as they might let on. “I don’t love these n*ggas,” she says at the beginning of the first verse, but the chorus exposes that as oh so relatable bullshit.
[8]

Ashley John: “Love Galore” repeats itself often, but each time we hear something familiar it is uniquely framed. The melodic repetition through the chorus might sound trite from someone else, but SZA begs, demands, and questions all with the same word. Her sweet and snappy voice is absolutely perfect dancing over the clever wordplay. Travis’s monotone offers a contrast that’s not really needed but does well enough if only to provide a believable dialogue. 
[7]

Julian Axelrod: I didn’t realize this wasn’t a love song until the 30th or 40th listen. I mean, it is a love song, but not a song about falling in or out of love. It’s a distinctly modern ballad about the trivial bullshit we go through in search of companionship, and the empty ache we spend decades trying to quell. SZA sells the lyrics with the passion of an old torch song, but imbues them with the same complexity that makes her debut Ctrl so indelible. She can sound flippant and tender and lonely and self-assured in a single line, with equal scorn for the fuckboys who lied to her and the woman who believed them. (SZA gives Travis Scott a chance to defend said fuckboys. He does not help their case.) It’s a song full of questions and contradictions and short on answers. But SZA keeps searching. What else is she supposed to do?
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: SZA makes feels audible, physical and impossible and hard enough to crush your heart and flatten your soul. (Travis doesn’t ruin it, at least.)
[10]

Will Rivitz: SZA’s Ctrl is one of my favorite albums of the year so far, a wistful and snarling beast of a release. I’d recommend all but three or four of its tracks to someone looking to get into SZA’s discography as a good starting point; “Love Galore” is one of those few. The musician’s magic stems in large part from the tenacity girding her understated songwriting. Her songs tend to be slow and careful, but their thick shells cover a neutron star’s worth of emotional energy, a rush of joy and despondency and anger yearning to break free. This one is, indeed, slow and careful, but it’s tepidly so. None of the subtle stabs of vibrancy present all over the rest of Ctrl come out of hiding here, and the song plods with all the urgency and fire of a dose of Nyquil. Travis Scott, whose best work succeeds for many of the same reasons as SZA’s best, fails here for many of the same reasons SZA does as well.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: SZA is who people will be telling you to like for a hot minute. Will it be more than just a summer fling? It depends on the singer’s savvy rather than her vocal chops, which are as borrowed as they are blue.  
[5]

Alfred Soto: The melancholy of the synthesizer complements SZA’s determination to make the relationship work; the last third, in which she forces herself to walk the city, is classic urban heartbreak. Then we meet the lover and his name is Travis Scott.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Imagine making a record so dreary and thinking a good way to break up the moldy skim of SZA’s attempt at a “I suck/You suck/And that’s why we’re stuck” song of unsatisfying romance would be to bring on Travis Scott. It feels like the anemic, affected revamp of Tinashe’s “Pretend” (appropriate because Travis sounds the most A$AP Rocky-like he’s ever been) and it’s cheap and dissatisfying to process. I can’t find anything in this bleak song that could be quantified in ‘galore.’ Maybe that’s the joke.
[3]

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Undercover

Our 2015 high scorer returns… what could go wrong?


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Katherine St Asaph: No no no no no no no, just no — I do not listen to Susanne Sundfør for stodgy piano ballads one step away from Adele. If Ten Love Songs turns out to be Sundfør’s Love’s Victory March — dark, propulsive, world-destroying grandeur cast aside indefinitely for vintage-repro slowcore — I will be livid.
[3]

Alfred Soto: I hated this the moment when her voice ascended in the line, “You’re a teasing little twister.” I don’t listen to Susanne Sundfør for lovingly vacant valentines — when has she ever given the impression that she wishes she had a lover?
[3]

Ramzi Awn: Sundfør’s textbook training is impressive, and “Undercover” sounds great from another room — like a lost Kate Bush recording. But on another listen, the imitation/flattery is on the nose to the point of distraction, and the lyrics are a banal rendering of the nuance of love.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: This feels as if it is floating, with nothing to tether it to the sullied world of the living. As Susanne sings of undercover love, the shimmering piano keys and cavernous voices build until they tower over her, surrounding and raising her higher and higher into the atmosphere until it dissipates.
[7]

Peter Ryan: Not counting “Reincarnation”, this is about as close to “innocent romantic sounds” or “Dolly Parton-inspired” as one could reasonably expect, given the album’s title and who its purveyor is. Sundfør usually installs a couple of pseudo-subdued pieces on each album to offset their extroverted siblings, but their typical stateliness is missing here — for all its profound dejection at the outset, “Undercover” transmutes itself into homespun transcendence. Nina Persson-Scandinavian-slide guitars languidly uncoil the first two-thirds’ tension into that extended haze of an outtro, Sundfør gliding off on a pair of golden wings she’s materialized in under three minutes. All signs point to it being a fake-out — “innocent romantic sounds” are to be mixed in with “industrial and dry” ones, her inspiration playlist — but if so, it’s a glorious one.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: What the fuck is this, a self-produced 1973 private press women’s music album? Well, no, because the vast majority of women’s music was much more interesting than Sundfør’s “I’m singing with (mostly) just piano accompaniment so you can hear how much I mean it” bullshit here. If you’re looking for some superb, intimate music, seek out Cris Williamson’s landmark 1975 album The Changer and the Changed, and run as far away from this as you can.
[1]

Will Adams: I imagine this will be more powerful in context of the album — something like the first minute of “Memorial” before the power ballad drums fire up and the strings sweep in. But there’s plenty of power in “Undercover” on its own. The ornate arrangement is arresting enough, but then the song pans out to reveal a cathedral’s worth of emotion. The sudden declaration of “It wouldn’t even matter!” sounds like Sundfør breaking through the surface of the choir mass around her. As always, it’s her voice, her commitment to the theatricality of it all, that puts it over the edge.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: As an opener, or an interlude, or part of a movement this would be fine (it would fit between “Kamikaze” and “Memorial” on Ten Love Songs), but it’s thin meat while I bay for a full-blooded opus to follow-up one of the greatest albums of my lifetime, or anyone’s lifetime.
[5]

Iain Mew: The kind of insubstantial song balancing old and new that’s perfect for piquing my interest for a new album — familiarly uneasy lyrics; a new wistful warmth; that pedal steel! — but which I will never listen to on its own again.
[5]

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Julia Michaels – Uh Huh

This time, it’s us with issues. (Sadly not a Tkay Maidza cover.)


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Joshua Copperman: This delirious, overdriven hair-whip will either implode upon impact to pop radio or launch Julia into the upper tier of pop stars as well as pop songwriters. “Uh Huh” feels as close to a genuine gamble as anything she’s done, especially considering how safe the production of “Issues” felt. It doesn’t seem that weird at first, but when Julia reaches the hook, the whole thing just blows open, with a bizarre non-melody and lyrics that more or less boil down to those opening lines from that one R. Kelly song. Those mocking, spelunking pianos only add to the rush of ridiculousness. It’s inspiring to see someone be this outlandish and defiant when even those known for outlandishness are either reining it in or merely confused where to go next.
[8]

Alfred Soto: After a compelling performance of the okay “Issues” at the Billboard Music Awards last month, I thought Julia Michaels was on her way to a decent career of Kelly Clarkson-indebted psychosexual explorations. Turns out I’d no idea. The screeches and hard acoustic strums, the sense of play — not bad. If she gets this into the American top ten, I’ll think we crossed some Rubicon. 
[6]

Katie Gill: Easily the worst part of “Issues” was Julia Michaels’s boring, flustered delivery of the song. So why on Earth is she doubling down with that delivery on the verses?! The chorus is the most interesting just because it sounds like the chorus was arranged and produced by an entirely different person than the vocals.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Its mixed like the ugliest record on Jamie Lidell’s “Compass”, made all the more worst by that painfully apparent acoustic guitar bit. Meanwhile Michaels here is a relentless vocal presence who can’t seem to crayon within the lines. All in all, this might be the one of the most jarringly capricious productions out there, perfectly tied to a voice that’s now somehow able to be harnessed for its uneven quality. Wild.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I fucking hate her twee-by-numbers voice, and have serious trouble getting past it to hear anything else. But once I do, I find a dull song based around campfire acoustic guitar with some truly terrible lyrics, so there’s that.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: How did we get a world where Julia Michaels is the best hope of a woman making the Top 10 by herself? Or that, given roughly equal starting fanbases, the songwriters who successfully go pop — Michaels, Sia, probably Kesha — are the ones who sound far less polished, less sure-thing, than the ones who don’t (mourn pop’s loss of Bonnie McKee)? Distribution of industry money, probably, but part of it’s also got to be listeners wanting authenticity. “Uh Huh” has it in shambolic excess: autotune vocal crack glissandos, lyrics splayed in and around the confines of their chorus, the general air of a gawky Gwen Stefani (for whom Michaels has written). Fitting that the song about confused crushing is the one where I can’t decide whether it’s actually good.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lovestruck lyrics, the clanging keys, the squeaking voice–a song with this many affectations risks being derided as grating. But Julia Michaels gets it: all the best music regarded as twee is highly performative, so you might as well double down.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Lazy chorus but pretty lyrics. Julia’s a good enough singer to sell this, but not good enough to be hampered with a chorus that stops the song dead and knocks the life back out of it every time it builds. Nuh-uh.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: This feels like something Andy Grammer would record, and I don’t like Andy Grammer. Between the random guitar stops and inflections in Julia’s voice, it’s hard to keep track of what she’s really trying to say in the song. I think she’s expressing how turned on she is with her weird vocal shifts, but it’s hard to tell if she did that for effect or if that is just how her voice sounds.
[3]

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Halsey ft. Lauren Jauregui – Strangers

Well, it’s no “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” (But what is?)


[Video][Website]
[6.42]

Katherine St Asaph: Halsey presumably wrote and arranged the lyrics, not Greg Kurstin, but I still can’t shake the thought that this might have been better by Kurstin’s best collaborators, Tegan and Sara. “Strangers” is being pushed as the rare radio-friendly love song between two women, which is laudable — certainly less cynical than that t.a.T.u. nonsense — but the song just doesn’t work as one. Halsey said in one interview that the song depicts “what happens when Halsey’s and Jauregui’s characters meet at a house party,” but lines like “the mornings with you laying in my bed” or “she doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore” are clearly about an existing decaying relationship, or at least a decaying thing. And the standoffish hookup Halsey and Jauregui sing about doesn’t seem like it could be either of their characters, who both long for more. Which leaves three possibilities: the song’s a duet between two women unable to reconcile their attraction to women, let alone this particular woman — which would make sense but probably isn’t what Halsey, who specifically sought a vocalist who wasn’t straight, was going for. Or it could be a wistful remake of “Same Girl” or “The Boy Is Mine,” sung about a third party: yearning, nuanced, but also doesn’t seem like what Halsey had in mind. Or they’re two ambivalent, unreliable narrators, which would be a remarkably subtle narrative for pop radio but one I’m not sure the lyrics or vocals get across. Maybe Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar, Halsey’s ideal vocalists on this, might have.
[5]

Alex Clifton: Look, I’ve never been a Halsey fan, but “Strangers” is a goddamn jam. Her first album felt young and ham-fisted to me, both lyrically and sonically, but this song hits all the buttons I need — some blippy electronic noises, a chorus that sticks in your head, and real, raw emotion. It’s remarkable that we have a radio hit about girls loving girls by two bisexual women; I can’t remember the last time we had anything this overt go mainstream (“Same Love” and “Cool for the Summer” not withstanding; the former was more a mediation by Macklemore on The Gays, and the latter was definitely gay but more veiled and teasing about it). It’s a delight to hear “she” repeated four times within the first verse alone. Halsey’s voice intertwines beautifully with Jauregui’s; they both sound starved for feeling as they sing “to be touched, to be loved, to feel anything at all”, and it’s wrecking me. Happy Pride, y’all. 
[8]

Eleanor Graham: It’s a genius move from Jauregui to introduce herself as a solo artist on this sophisticated, boring track which gives away nothing whatsoever and is difficult to justifiably dislike. Rich, night-time synths are my favourite thing in pop right now. Here they effortlessly, immaculately outshine Halsey and drape over a croaky Jauregui like Armani Prive. The chorus gently chimes and surges and bubbles in a way that may yet prove irresistible on some summer drive. It isn’t an interesting song, but I think that’s the point. It’s waiting to wrap itself around a perfect moment: blank for your own message.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Without Lauren Jauregui, “Strangers” would be more blankly anonymous electrodisco instead of merely anonymous electrodisco. “To feel anything at all,” she and Halsey sigh over the outro. I’ll dance to it and worry later about why a track so uncomplicated sounds so expensive.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The sound of someone listening to Vangelis not to their fantasies of a cyberpunk dystopia but rather to their romantic fan-fics. There’s the usual sort of gloss and overt ‘teen topical edge’ that’s either a point of derision or endearment to Halsey depending on your perspective on her activities. Yet there’s an unmistakable desire to be something specific that so many of her peers in the genreless blank of ‘Pop for Millennials’ that you should at least tip your hat to. Better to be a bit too much sometimes than to have been nothing of note.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Yesterday we reviewed Liam Gallagher’s single co-produced and -written by Greg Kurstin, which only sort of works, because Liam only sort of commits. Halsey, on the other hand, is a perfect fit for Kurstin’s popcraft, and proves it unquestionably on “Strangers,” a sleek, slightly dark, and entirely synthetic (in the best of ways) pop song. Musically, this is an [8], at least. But then there’s the lyrics, which are a tale of female same-sex relationship, sung as a duet between two openly bisexual women, Halsey and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui. The song itself rings incredibly true, thanks not just to having two women singing who are themselves attracted to women — because of that, there’s a commitment to their vocals that you wouldn’t get from a female singer just trying it on for size. Halsey and Jauregui inherently understand what they’re singing. And thanks to that, their vocals have more heft to them than in, say, “Closer” or “Work from Home,” to name two big hits with their voices attached. This is the kind of record I’ve often wished Tegan & Sara would make (ironic, since they’ve worked with Kurstin themselves), and this is a mightily well-made record.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: When Halsey first became a thing, I immediately banished any memory of her music to MileyAppropriationWorld. Now, as I hear Halsey sing with a surprisingly strong tone and Lauren muse with a sad yet stainless hum, my own arrogance stands naked and defenseless. Yet, since this is not a song that lashes out, I remain unharmed, safe from pain and from passion. As do they both.
[6]

Will Adams: I can dig this for being a mainstream song in which bisexuality isn’t used for titillation or shock value. I can dig this for Greg Kurstin’s synth pulse, like a dark spin on his most recent Carly Rae cut. What I can’t dig are some minor choices that end up creating big problems: 1) the dead air before the first chorus; 2) a lack of crescendo near the end; and most of all 3) the different vocal processing between Halsey and Lauren — one chorused and blurred, the other upfront and present — so it doesn’t even sound like they’re singing about each other.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: I never expected to rate a Halsey song this high, but she hits every mark she aimed for with this tune. The tale of a sapphic almost-relationship falling apart is all too familiar in gay culture, where you cling to whatever affection and intimacy you can find with dear life (it’s why people continue to look for love on Grindr, even with all of its shady shortcomings). The song’s reveal that these ladies were nothing more than warm bodies for each other is unsurprising, yet devastating, and it is in no small part due to the melancholy but emotive delivery that both Lauren and Halsey give. Sure, the production is run-of-the-mill 80s infused dance-pop, but even if it feels a tad generic, the unique story and striking delivery more than makes up for it. Maybe I connect more because I’m gay, maybe I rate it higher because I’ve lived through this pain before, maybe a straight person won’t find this story as tragic as I do, but maybe that’s ok because my community, the LGBT community, is criminally underrepresented on the top charts.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Halsey has it on lock right up until the chorus of cliches. The verses are solid.  
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Works better as a single than most tracks on hopeless fountain kingdom but falls short because of the misguided decision to deliver the chorus in such a cold manner. It may seem clever and appropriate, especially in the context of the larger concept album, but it only drains the (perfectly fine) lyrics of their potential. It’s a second rate Greg Kurstin production either way.
[5]

Ashley John: For every action there is an equal an opposite reaction. For every duet that Halsey steals from a Chainsmoker, a Fifth Harmony member steals one from her. If Halsey is destined to get the most success from clunky collaborations with heavy handed lyrics, please, let this be this one that charts higher. 
[7]

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Everything, except a score over [5.00].


[Video][Website]
[4.77]

Ian Mathers: If you asked me to guess what Arcade Fire coproduced by half of Daft Punk and the bassist from Pulp sounded like, never would I in a million years have picked something nearly as close to the overstuffed, awkward but goodhearted, clumsily soaring post-“big music” rock epics of my late-80s/early 90s childhood. It feels like I should be listening to this between, I don’t know, Crowded House and Midnight Oil records (despite sounding nothing like either), or on the radio between embarrassingly Rattle and Hum era U2 and Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” or something. And that’s down to the clearly Branding(TM) related point they’re trying to make in the video (probably the album) as a whole. Perversely enough, it’s the most I’ve enjoyed listening to them in a while.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The brilliant Laura Snapes on the brilliant Unbreak My Chart podcast: “I hate this band. I think they are pompous, and pretentious … They so often mistake saying something about what it means to be human for actually saying something human. All of their songs are very ‘Oooh, make you think! We’re so clever!'” Me: SAME. She adds that “Everything Now” is a guilty pleasure for her, because she likes the song in spite of her intense dislike of the band. I feel no such guilt because I feel no such pleasure. This is the sound of a bunch of holier-than-thou-fucks going “Look! We can make pop music, wink wink!” Except that they refuse to go all the way and are just putting on airs. A sheep in wolf’s clothing, and it’s not very good at all. 
[2]

Alex Clifton: The first time I heard this, I was overjoyed; the second and third times, less so. It’s like Neon Bible and Reflektor had an anti-capitalist disco baby, which is definitely not a bad thing. The lyrics, however, feel a bit on-the-nose: “I pledge allegiance to everything now” definitely marries the concepts of consumerism and nationalism, but it sounds stupid said aloud. With this single pointing to an album about consumerism, technology, isolation & instant gratification, I’m looking forward to seeing this track in context, but I wanted more for a first single.
[4]

Claire Biddles: Ten massive points to the intro that sounds like a 70s wedding band covering Steps, but the rest of this is very laborious. Intellectually speaking it’s quite neat for Arcade Fire to conceptualise the trope of the try-hard indie anthem that they helped to invent. Down to its title, “Everything Now” is so inherently maximalist and desperate to make festival-goers cry that it becomes knowing pastiche, like the “Love Love Peace Peace” of 00s indie rock. Once the pan flutes come in after the first chorus I’m certain they must know what they’re doing. But I’m a sentimentalist, and analytical exercises in niche musical styles are never as good as the earnest, well-intentioned classics that they’re intellectualising
[5]

Edward Okulicz: I don’t think I’ve ever felt so actively embarrassed for a “serious” band before in my life. I mean, any rock band from the 80s would have been crucified for this.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Win Butler tackles The Future  less gracefully than expected, leaving less a message than pure commentary. Had this been written in the “this world is bullshit!”-era of Reflektor, the brightly galloping piano line would’ve been an unfortunate vehicle to deliver a not-so-glamorous snark; an otherwise poignant line in 2017, “’til every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without” had been sung as a more antagonistic lyric. Though it’s still hard to tell whether or not he’s more at peace, “Everything Now” came as bit of a surprise.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This pierces through charmless glitch electronica to go to the sound of a bad Bryan Ferry impression over someone who thinks ABBA was good ‘in spite of themselves’ and has to attempt weird FX piercing through every other moment to point to the artiness of ones’ ambition. Arcade Fire’s worst aspect is that they have everything in them to make anthems that are dull but have great follow through, yet they insist on displaying a self-reflexivity and neuroticism against their sense of pop. Shame is an ugly tic to force into your creations.
[5]

Austin Brown: Musically, so much more effusive and openhearted than anything off of Reflektor; lyrically so much more tight-assed.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: There are certain moments of “Everything Now” that make me outright adore it: the upfront, confident acoustic guitar in the first verse, the intense Owen Pallett-arranged strings at around 2:45, “every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without.” But then there’s the unnecessary crowd screaming, the buried but somehow still OTT choir, and the pennywhistle. That’s probably the point of this song (“let’s write a tune that makes fun of excess while being excessive ’cause we’re clever like that”), but even the moments that work are obscured by the haughtiness and bad taste of some other part (“we need to include a verse about how families are torn apart purely by the eeeevils of technology”).  Yet as the day goes on, the lower my blood sugar is, the less my guard is up, the more I totally fall for it. “Everything Now” starts to feel like an acceptance of the Infinite Content age, rather than an indictment or even a celebration. This is the way it’s gonna be, the news will just get faster, and we’re not going back to whatever we were before, so we might as well try to exist within it rather than rally against it. My wistful train of thought is soon interrupted by that incessant goddamn pennywhistle.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Unthreatening, bland and weak drums. Come on, bruh.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Call me shallow but the fact that “Everything Now” samples and is a direct response to Francis Bebey’s “The Coffee Cola Song” really softened me to its message. I can easily admit to my own overconsumption of stuff, but hearing someone tell me exactly that can leave me peeved. Which is why Win Butler’s own admittance keeps this from sounding snobbish or didactic. Even better, it prevents the song from feeling utterly hopeless (the light disco arrangement helps too). The half-serious “And every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without” is cutting but this is a song that asks more for acknowledgement than action. And that is, if anything, the biggest evidence that “Everything Now” is capturing any sort of zeitgeist.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: The musical correlative, I guess, is every song off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack at once. Not the worst of prospects, but the soundtrack had actual singers.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Arcade Fire going “Dancing Queen” isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, even if Win Butler’s idea of mirrorball moves is to cough worried phlegm. 
[5]

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Liam Gallagher – Wall of Glass

…so here’s a Gallagher, bringing the “sick, fucking funny, well tasty,” and oh right, the CONTROVERSY!


[Video]
[4.20]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Pity Liam Gallagher. He is a man wedded to a misremembered memory that grows more garish with each passing moment. Every day, Oasis’ glory becomes more and more distant, and the heights seem as fantastic and unreachable as the Beatlemania they were often flung against. So much of “Wall of Glass” is made to feel like Liam’s finally back to his prime, his voice nearing the sneery glides that crested along clouds on those early records and the guitar squall echoing a time where he led the charge, draped in a Union Jack, looking like a lobotomized and e-handy angel to save us from the swarming rot of dancepop and over-pretentious Pop with capital Ps. Of course, that’s the problem here, in those ghastly choirs and the overzealous guitar honk: now Liam’s just as bad as anything.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Greg Kurstin gives Liam the co-producer and co-writer he needs to succeed at pop music (just listen to Beady Eye — or better yet, don’t) without having Noel by his side. “Wall of Glass” works hard to split the difference between Oasis-style rock and chart-ready pop, but it’s an oddly-fitted straitjacket for Liam.
[5]

Alex Clifton: God, Liam Gallagher’s a stinker. He needs someone else there to temper him, otherwise his ego (and his voice) overwhelm any good he could possibly do. This song symbolizes everything I hate about him. The vocals, guitar, and harmonica all reach a similar level of whine; there’s a weird line in there about One Direction, marking the second time in recent weeks that a Liam has made a jab at 1D in a song; and the entire song does, indeed, feel like a wall of glass shattering around me, to the point where I have a headache. Where’s Noel when you need him?
[1]

Austin Brown: First things first: if you’re gonna take aim at some of the most consistent British pop-rockers this decade, make sure your own songwriting chops are in order first. I’m not sold on Gallagher’s attempt to split the difference between… Crazy Horse and the Arctic Monkeys? The harmonica in particular sounds like it belongs in a different song, unmoored as it is from the slight funk and Gallagher’s still-arresting swagger. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Slower or with more snarl this could almost have passed for a Noel Gallagher composition, albeit one from Oasis’s fattier period. Someone involved almost has a way with a tune, and I’m not mean enough to assume it isn’t Liam. But what an ugly-sounding record this is, the harmonica and backing vocals just plonked artlessly on top of a meat-and-potatoes rock song as if that would magically give it some real flavour. You could flail around sweatily to this at a gig, but it’s too clattery to cut loose played loud, and as an opening salvo to pop radio? Nah, the listeners don’t even know you’re born, Liam.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: Whatever comes in contact with those guitars would shatter like glass, really. The riffs are compressed to the core, like Liam was trying to re-engineer the jet-engine roar of “D’You Know What I Mean?” This may have the volume to be a relative of the ’97 banger, but it’s nowhere close to its ego — for all the vitriol that makes him a viral retweet, this is a very polite gesture to get the pests off his lawn.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Wall of glass: noun; the often-impenetrable expectations that ensconce members of notorious supergroups once they try to go solo. How fucking Gallagher is it to contort the glass-houses metaphor into something that A) blithely, unthinkingly evokes the glass ceiling and/or cliff, and B) like the rock that is apparently a boomerang here, gets himself this owned? About as much as it is to sneer about One Direction and “designer vaccinations” — you get the idea he wanted to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” it — over mechanically separated Oasis rock product. I should really hate this more than I do.
[6]

Alfred Soto: “Slip into the hole up your ass/You might get a pass.”
[1]

Jibril Yassin: While the mix is a total mess, clipping all over the place and clearly meant to be played loud over radios, it’s nice hearing Liam over something not entirely seem out of place on an Arctic Monkeys album — something modern! Definitely Maybe came out eons ago, and it’s a nice snapshot of Oasis being a band somewhat with the times before falling to their Beatles worship. “Wall of Glass” invokes that spirit with its glossy sheen, funky bridge, and bluesy stomp. It also does a great job at excusing the fact we allowed Beady Eye to happen. 
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Trapped within the exceedingly dull parameters of acceptable transgression, Liam Gallagher once more has a song to match. The man is so retrograde that he’s practically Daniel O’Donnell with a guitar, and thankfully that comparison does imply a commitment to melody, on this occasion at least. “Wall of Glass” actually does sound like it belongs on the radio: focused and punchy, unlike much he’s done post-Oasis. The promise of more of the same is less enticing, but even if such criticisms get old, this type of music can’t, because there’s no way it was ever young.
[6]

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Sistar – Lonely

Saying goodbye is not so controversial…


[Video]
[4.83]

Ryo Miyauchi: Love and memories prove to be finite in Sistar’s farewell song, written in a form of a break-up note. It’s bittersweet coming from a group who celebrated one of the most tight-knit sisterhoods in pop, but it’s also a sign of growing up: here, they sing a deeper, more personal kind of loneliness than the one they sang in 2012.
[6]

Will Rivitz: The adult contemporary of K-pop: impassive, sophisticated, and boring.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Diane Warren was capable of prettiness, and “Lonely” is how I imagine a Warren-written K-pop ballad to sound like.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Given recent farewell songs from Wonder Girls and 2NE1, that “Lonely” doesn’t play to Sistar’s strengths and opts instead for superficial melodrama is both unsurprising and disappointing. The track’s a slog, and Black Eyed Pilseung should have at least switched things up mid-song like they did with Niel’s “Lovekiller.” Imagine if Sistar left with a song that started off moody and ended with something chipper. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: A big midtempo production, ballad-ish in nature, that’s pretty enough but never really goes anywhere.
[5]

Iain Mew: Instead of another farewell ballad, here’s a heartbroken ghost of a banger. Drops rev up but don’t drop; everyone sounds aware of the stage lights turning off around them. But while they’re still on, they’re going to seize their moment.
[7]

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Poppy – Computer Boy

The Renaissance woman of 2017: YouTube shitposter, musician of sorts, recorder of sleep albums this side of the Dude — oh, and harbinger of CONTROVERSY…


[Video]
[3.42]

Will Adams: Poppy has been living a double life for years, simultaneously being the face of a fake-deep internet art project about celebrity culture as dismantled by a Shining twin ghostchild as well as being a backburner project for a major label churning out bland pop and making the promo circuit. Only recently have the persona and music begun to merge, but ironing out the dissonance doesn’t make the social commentary any less shallow, the music any more compelling, nor the sub-Black Mirror weird-for-weird’s-sake aesthetic any less irritating. “Computer Boy” takes an already familiar premise, pulling inspiration from way better sources — including Sky Ferreira (digitized electropop grind), Robyn (robot-as-human-and-or-sex-object), and the Vengaboys (lol sex jokes) — and doing absolutely nothing innovative with it. The song thinks it has a lot to say, but there’s as much content as you’d get from hearing Poppy repeat her name for ten minutes.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Sky Ferreira’s “One” rewritten to transpose the robotization onto someone’s fantasy boyfriend (complete with dick jokes! Naturally, it appears to be tied into some PC Music-esque satirical art project, which is less interesting the more you suss out the cynicism that’s pretty obvious from jump. Shame that more attempts to poke fun aren’t being done from within rather than from snotty outsiders.
[6]

Alfred Soto: “I’m so in love with my man of the future,” she sings over bleeps from an Atari 2600 game. Also, they sing about floppy disks entering hard drives, ho ho. Its concision and sense of play — I relish Poppy’s experimenting with voices — put much of it over anyway.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The lyrics are moronic, and the music sounds like someone took an old Commodore 64 and just hit all the keys. I suppose it’s meant to be “wry” or “knowing” or “ironic,” but it’s really just stupid.
[0]

Scott Mildenhall: The thing is, the Vengaboys were selling awful computer-based innuendoes to children for real seventeen years ago. This will never be as weird as the bona fide chart music of that era, so if that was the point… well, who knows what the point is? In any case it’s not lacking for purpose: the choruses are the repeatedly welcome peaks of a committed driving force throughout it. Whatever the intent, there’s a vitality.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I went from listening to the NoSleep Podcast (a horror story podcast, for those unaware) to this song, and I’m still unconvinced that I am not now the protagonist of one of those short stories.
[0]

Claire Biddles: So, an Internet superstar singing about wanting to fuck a laptop over a tinny amalgamation of all the streaming trends of the past 6 months — we’re truly through the PC Music looking-glass now. I know that’s the point, this infinity-removed post-ironic distance from feeling and authenticity, but it’s just so boring now, isn’t it? Call me old-fashioned, but critiques of internet fame and pop trends are only interesting when the rot and horror and desperation can be seen through the gossamer-thin avatar.
[0]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Poppy’s schtick fails to deliver on multiple fronts. It lacks the authenticity of other odd projects, music-related or not. Even @horse_ebooks offered the occasional bit of post-modern poeticism. What’s most disappointing about her music is that it isn’t even off-putting. I’d expect more brand commitment from someone with numerous videos featuring expressionless phrases and Badalamenti-inspired ambience. Ditto for mastermind Titanic Sinclair and his other projects.
[3]

Kalani Leblanc: Poppy can’t dodge PC Music comparisons — even though she imitates current obsessions, while PC artists like Hannah Diamond adopt what the early 2000s thought the future would look like. I just wish Poppy would push harder to get what the PC troupe does especially well — composing twisted pop — instead of selling short with a condensed version of a Disney sitcom theme. 
[6]

Austin Brown: I, for one, am overjoyed we’ve stripped back the accelerationist pretense from PC Music-adjacent pop and admitted that it’s basically Hatsune Miku slash fic, but if only this sounded as in on that joke as the lyrics.
[3]

Iain Mew: Making floppy disk jokes in 2017 is hopeless — so far beyond outdated it could almost be enjoyably strange, if it weren’t stuck next to a cut-and-paste assembly of laptop and attachment references and “make me come… alive.” The lazy thunk of the words is even more annoying when the music is so much more thoughtful and wide-ranging, from the strutting neon chorus to the menu of beeps that give each bit of the track its own retro flavour, and hang together as something new and not just “here’s something familiar, will this do?”
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Mad Decent wants some of their very own PC Music: predictable. Said PC music being delivered by a Vine-era Ana Voog in millennial pink: also predictable. Except where the original label sounds like MIDIs of rave synths, Poppy sounds like the tinkertoy pop machines of Sugababes’ “Push the Button,” Robyn’s “Fembot” or Sky Ferreira’s “One”: an improvement. But in a world that contains the suffering vocals and yearning, earnest erotics of “Deeper Understanding,” I don’t need snotty-voiced BBS gags about floppy disks and hard drives. (It isn’t 1993 anymore; in 2017 we upgrade thumb drives to solid state.) A cliché authenticity plea, sure. But it’s one her fans (who don’t seem astroturfed) seem to share given how diligently they scrounge around YouTube — like, literally going through strangers’ beauty haul videos — for Poppy’s old memory-holed pop music covers, which basically sound like acoustic Halsey. Now that’s satire.
[2]

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Foo Fighters – Run

Not a Younha cover…


[Video]
[4.22]

Thomas Inskeep: LISTEN TO US, WE RAWWWWWWWWWWK!
[2]

Alfred Soto: Check out that clatter! Has Dave Grohl been listening to those Nine Inch Nails albums he may have missed the first time? Listening to him wail is like imagining Ezra Koenig in twelve-inch dreads, however. For one of America’s few rock bands that go instant platinum, these wrinkles count as progress. Let’s see if fans bite.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dave Grohl is so assured about his place in an industry as codified and weak in the ass as the rock industry that he’s releasing Probot songs under his regular band’s name (and sadly with his weak-ass voice)! People keep asking for bands who can actually rock, but give me your most sadsack Twenty One Pilots song over this wretched geetar version of *applies clip-on bowtie* grown-man swag.
[4]

Austin Brown: The Foo Fighters’ response to political instability, apparently, is to make a halfhearted pivot towards thrash metal. It’s eye-catching, yeah, and adequately performed by the band, but Grohl’s everyman persona just doesn’t really have the snarl necessary to carry the whole thing.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: To where we’re running, and what we’ll do after we tire out, the Foo presumably have no idea either. At least we’re running, right? While we do that, let’s enjoy Dave Grohl do some impressions of the nu-metal voice.
[4]

Josh Love: “Run” starts off a plodding midtempo slog, and glancing at the 5:23 running time left me wondering how I was possibly going to survive until the end. So I suppose some credit’s due the Foos for abruptly veering into thrash metal before careening back into anthemics. Rinse and repeat. It turns a dull song into a trainwreck, and I’m not sure if that’s an improvement, but at least I didn’t see it coming.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s a half-decent track here, but you have to get past the twin horrors of thrash vocals out of the Foo Fighters and an intro that’s disturbingly close to “Unchained Melody.”
[5]

Brad Shoup: As we switched centuries, the Foo Fighters shifted to meat-and-potatoes rock. But over time, they got stingy with the entree. This is a typically starchy example of rock’n’Grohl: vocal distortion to put him over; halfspeed, Harrisonian melodic sighs; and the kind of existential exhortation done best by the really rich. No knock on Dave — as always, he’s nearly got enough personality to compensate — but he’s gotta convert his capital into seed money.
[4]

Julian Axelrod: Personality has never been an issue for Foo Fighters; after all, they boasted one of the last legitimate rock stars of a post-rock-star era. And even when Dave Grohl’s songs didn’t have much personality, you could usually put a name to the power chords. So it’s weird to hear the band go through a severe identity crisis. The song hops from early-90s power ballad ambience to a Mumford-esque buildup before settling on a Metallica Jr. riff, only to realize they’ve run out of tricks. The novelty of a (slightly) heavier Foo Fighters wears off quickly, especially after you sit through a directionless guitar solo and about 500 run-throughs of a chorus that sounds like a pre-chorus. At the very least, you could always count on the Foo Fighters for a shot of adrenaline. But here, they just sound tired.
[4]