Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Frank Ocean – Nikes

Let’s admit it, the real reason Blonde was so highly anticipated was for the resulting Jukebox reviews…


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Alfred Soto: Because days are weeks in the internet hypercycle, listeners should have had chance by now to form an opinion: Facebook needs you. Manipulating a voice already distinguished for an empathy indifferent to strong melody, Frank Ocean sounds like a blues crooner summoned with a ouija board to testify about the wages of greed. An undistorted Ocean raps much better than he sings in the second verse. From Robert Johnson to PJ Harvey those who summon the blues regard the form as prayer while still reveling in the sin — or at least the memory of sin. Ocean’s one of the few practitioners who eschews pleasure; it’s possible that’s why he leaves me unmoved.
[5]

Katie Gill: I’m sure the Internet’s already published thinkpieces about the interplay between the sped-up vocals and the slowed-down vocals because Frank Ocean is a Very Big Deal that I straight up admit I don’t get, but Frank Ocean legitimately uses a chipmunk voice in one of the first songs to promote his new album and I just can’t get past the utter absurdity of that. This song is full of deliberate actions that come off as giant misses or too experimental for their own good, the musical equivalent of a bad poetry jam you were dragged to as an undergrad. It’s sonic landscape is haphazard and rocky as hell. Add in a couple of references that I’m not sure if they’re well-placed or just tacky and this song comes across as an exercise in dubious taste.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: The sped up/slowed down vocal interplay is stale and shows Ocean isn’t as innovative with playing with voice as Young Thug or, let’s be honest, him out of Babylon Zoo. Ocean is torturing me all the way to the bank. Some points because I really like the last minute or so because its breathless desperation sounds like it means something. 
[4]

Gin Hart: This song is so sad. The production — sludgy OFWGKTA-style narration, that angelic voice Auto-Tuned and half-spoken, the skipping heartbeat beat — and lyrics listen like an improvised dirge. Frank’s speaking his mind, which wanders with heavy pockets through the American night. Nikes are the jump off, but they’re no refrain. Trailing in with a cry and out with a vulnerable heart’s paranoia, the track arguably deserves criticism for its relative formlessness, but for my part I love it. I love how it commits to its sorrowful, exhausted multiplicity (interior poverties, exterior wealth, surrounding cruelties both grave and frivolous), especially from an artist who knows how to crisp up the soggy edges of our most maudlin human, pop-song-worthy feelings.
[8]

Ashley Ellerson: “Nikes” is a wave of emotions and commentary that one can expect from an Ocean. Frank’s vocals are dreamy and wet throughout, drowning in substance while wading towards something (and someone) more fulfilling. It’s settling and floating behind someone who never chooses you first because they still care about you and “that’s good enough.” It’s watching the people around you choke on the waters of materialism while you swallow their tainted gestures (“We don’t talk much or nothin’/But when we talkin’ about something / We have good discussion”). It’s sacrificing more and more of yourself for this person, slipping further under their waters, while willing for change by repeating “I’ll mean something to you” as you are submerged by their existence.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: Eric Harvey has lived to regret the very 2011 formulation PBR&B, so it’s with a heaping serving of chutzpah that I suggest that what Frank Ocean is making is R(adiohead)&B — his heavily textured, paranoid, densely literate, technophilic/technophobic, pretentious/populist, critically-salivated-over (but also with a devoted fanbase), and more or less perplexing to the casual listener music reminds me of nothing more than the early 2000s. (There is, of course, plenty of R&B precedent as well, most obviously R. Kelly, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder.) And where Jonny Greenwood’s massed guitars often came in as a rockist relief from the glitchy landscape, Frank’s angelic voice, either untreated or slipstreamed by Auto-Tune, remains his vital tether to the velveteen, horny, and deeply political history of R&B.
[7]

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Snakehips ft. Zayn – Cruel

iS iT tOo LaTE tO mAkE ThiS jOKe aNymORe?


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: What jargon-istas call a “reset” was supposed to happen last spring on the release of his solo album, which showed he had funny ideas about typography and not much else.  Providing a slinky sonic setting for Zayn to flaunt his own snake hips should be easy enough for Oliver Lee and James Carter. The chorus works. He’s lucky that “your body hurts me” gets buried in the verses.
[5]

Will Adams: If nothing else, Zayn’s miserable album demonstrated that he’s at least a few years away from being able to command a solo career. Snakehips offer a temporary solution, to bury him in pumping, super-rhythmic production. Zayn being Zayn, though, tries real hard, meaning he’s usually able to peek his head out of the frenzy, so it’s a half-victory.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: I encourage anyone who thinks Bieber tries too hard to listen to this for some perspective. Zayn tries really really hard to convey feelings of dread and agony about his sex drive that it almost undercuts the pleasure. Fortunately the stuffed sonics of the production have enough to latch on to.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Zayn remains a deeply uninteresting pop star, a half-awake singer who still really wants you to know he fucks. Thankfully he gets wrapped up in the SoundCloud whirlwind of Snakeships, sounding more interesting than ever when his vocals get pitch-shifted in every direction and blanketed in candy-bright synths. When Snakeships take over and just make this as unnatural sounding as possible, it works well.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: Very few artists can make a sexy danceable social themed song, and these two definitely can’t. Snakeships are enjoying the rather catchy beat completely deaf to the rest of the world or to Zayn, whose voice has no personality this time, even in that melodic outro that little has to do with the rest of the song.
[5]

Peter Ryan: It’s not hard to transpose Erik Hassle’s voice onto this, but it would be all wrong — he mopes nicely against a perky backdrop, but this needs Zayn’s huskier tones, his messier, almost-off-beat-ball-of-feelings phrasing. This also couldn’t be Hassle because our narrator is busy being Zayn — pining but proud, going on about fame and fakes and the world (and surveillance?), beautiful desolation and whatnot — but thankfully without the wild grasping at Maturity that’s riddled his solo career so far. Structurally, his midtempo banger batting average has been mixed, but it’s decidedly stronger than his slow jam game — if he wants to keep things from stalling out after album one, this is a sensible door to choose. Snakehips pack enough frenetic bells and whistles in to make it stand out while staying squarely within safe radio territory, and crucially, it’s got a great thirsty chorus for shouting. I don’t expect the next Zayn single to continue in this vein, but at the very least it stands a good chance at keeping him relevant while he figures out his next move.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Never have the letters CCTV been sung so passionately. CCTV doesn’t really “loop” of course, but the line sounds good, and so does Zayn, as well he might. How could he be more at home, singing about thinking what the hell am I doing drinking in LA as A Normal 22 23 Year Old, alongside the makers of “All My Friends” and Erik Hassle? Finding glitches in the glamour seems something they all enjoy, and this jittering dance around sincere sentimentality only reinforces that.
[8]

Gin Hart: YOUR BODY HURTS ME/LOOPING ROUND LIKE CCTV/IN ALL THIS BITTERNESS, YOU STAY SO SWEET//SUNRISE IN HOLLYWOOD/WE HAVEN’T SLEPT FOR DAYS/PERFECT DISASTER/ME AND YOU. No offense, but this is some underdeveloped dystopian sci-fi about mid-apocalyptic love, and also it’s kinda funky. I’m a sucker for genre fictions. 
[7]

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Danny L Harle ft. Carly Rae Jepsen – Super Natural

QUEEN OF IMPROMPTU BACKYARD CONCERTS


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Joshua Copperman: CRJ has built a reputation on being able to record a theme song for Fuller House, make candid comments in Billboard interviews, and release stan-favorite singles with cutesy videos in the same period of time, all while remaining self-aware but not self-conscious. PC Music encompasses most of those angles to an extent, though instead of the balance, there’s that signature smug, emotionless-uncanny-valley aesthetic rarely found in Carly’s music. That discrepancy rears its head here; PC affiliate Danny L Harle seemingly tries to undercut any earnestness she might have in her performance with an overwhelming barrage of typically cheesy jock-jam synths, though charmingly ridiculous lines like “this is easy love/everyday euphoria” and “baby it’s so bananas” manage to connect the two sides of the pop spectrum together. Amazingly, the chipmunk voices help too.
[7]

Will Adams: My well-documented disdain for PC Music and their mission to make stale commentary on pop via demented, unlistenable production has culminated in this: tapping one of my faves for a new song and leading me to believe they’re just trying to fuck with me at this point. The results, however, are just as easy to dispose as most of their catalog. The most “Super Natural” has going for it is that it’s “Wrong Feels So Right” but with slightly less terrible mixing. I initially rated this higher, but the recent release of Emotion: Side B shows that Carly Rae Jepsen is still riding a wave of creating complex and sincere work. It goes without saying that she’s winsome here, but she deserves more than playing along with sardonic takes on trance-pop.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: PC Music’s schtick of “Party Rock Anthem” x Rugrats + contemptful irony was annoying before, and it’s no less annoying with Carly Rae Jepsen, who is so much more than this year’s QT. Jepsen brings a song and personality; Harle photoshops them into a joke and a doll.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I haven’t followed the PC Music controversy or know much about them, but I know that if I were anybody with studio and sequencer access I wouldn’t imprison Carly Rae Jepsen behind rave keyboards and chimes.
[3]

Will Rivitz: It’s been a bit disheartening to see my Twitter timeline — most of which rightfully loved every bit of EMOTION — snarking the PC Music-ness of “Super Natural,” given that Carly Rae Jepsen’s love of spun-sugar bubblegum pop is what got me into Kiss four years ago. Different strokes for different folks, I guess — CRJ is magnetic as always, Danny L Harle is a pop savant as always, and I still maintain that the PC Music camp makes great pop music. Is this what it feels like to be a J. Cole fan on the internet?
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: [huge breath]Carly Rae Jepsen singing over a song created by a guy most associated with PC Music is a perfect fit. Despite being oil and water to many music writers (one being defined by “Call Me Maybe” and the other by a series of question marks to most casual music listeners), both Jepsen and Danny L Harle dabble in maximalism, sonic and emotional. “Super Natural” is a blissful example, Harle’s music skittering about and digitally la-la-ing forward, a busy but never overwhelming compliment to Jepsen’s dizzy lines about “everyday euphoria.” A very basic emotion — time-tested love, the day in and out stuff — gets the IMAX treatment it deserves.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: If you want to capture the euphoria of something like “L’Amour Toujours” or “The Way” or “Come With Me” or “Shooting Star” or a million other songs vaguely in this ballpark, you could do with being far more melodically dynamic. As those songs prove, you can be relentlessly upbeat and still make time for variation, imagination, and often even sadness. Carly Rae Jepsen’s performance does actually sound like it comes from something more dynamic, but as loud as this wants to be, the energy is slightly flat. Best course of action: swap CRJ for CMC and Danny L Harle for Jurgen Vries.
[6]

Peter Ryan: She’s probably one of the few earthly entities that could make this dude sound the least bit fun and carefree, which, relatively speaking, this is! It’s more of a real song than his past swipes at Actual Pop, and he wisely doesn’t process the vocal within an inch of its life. But “more human” doesn’t cut it, and he’s still a self-proclaimed “fucking cool riff”-aficionado whose squiggling around repeatedly kills any hints at momentum. Plus, CRJ would never loose a lyric this devoid of a solid perspective on her public, not even as a B-side. During a bumper crop of Carly Rae content, it takes a lot to stand out.
[5]

David Sheffieck: Carly Rae Jepsen has somehow managed to release two albums’ worth of material in the past year, and there’s not a dud in the batch. “Super Natural” extends the streak again. Jepsen’s delivery was distinctive from her start, but the earnestness — the near-giddiness — that emanates from her every syllable here is a demonstration of just how well she’s honed her voice since then. She sounds like the sun feels on the first day of summer, and she’s more than enough to make up for any production deficiencies. What do you call an imperial phase completely lacking in commercial success?
[7]

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Temi Dollface – Beep Beep

Somehow her lowest scoring track to date…


[Video][Website]
[7.40]

Gin Hart: This is my new favorite jazzy retro throwback girl power self-love anthem. Its vocal and instrumental modesty serves as a droll underline for “I’m not one to toot my horn, but…” Temi believes in Temi, and it ain’t even a thing. “When I’m bad I’m very good, and I still maintain my halo” isn’t even clever, it’s just perfect. A lot of folks would like to channel the classic, but Miss Dollface has it down. 
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: “Beep Beep” is a chaotic crumpling: musique concrete filtered through nightclub sass and Gilded Age vibes. Temi Dollface is compère as well as starring attraction, purring patter as she brings the background chatter to silence. The punchline to the hook — “I’m not one to toot my horn” — hits like an expletive: “but beep beep.” This is an updated “Bootylicious,” and confirmed: Temi can handle this.
[8]

Alfred Soto: “I’m not one to toot my horn,” she sings, but no one with ears believes her. The predictable comparison is to Janelle Monáe, another artist who pledges her troth to Transcending Genre and Awkward Segues. The last minute’s ooh-ooh wipe the horse sweat from the track.
[6]

Moses Kim: My favorite part of this is the way the vocals stack up on the “do-do-do-do” part, building into a chorus of harmonizing Temis before some of them begin breaking into Sunday School solos: each voice on “Beep Beep,” though, belongs to her, whether she’s citing her favorite scene from Some Like It Hot or asking you to play her trumpet in three-part harmony. “Beep Beep” gets both the immediate satisfaction of its brash chorus (with its onomatopoeic hook) and the longer burn of a performer slowly unfurling “it’s me” like a promise of multitudes contained.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: Is there a musical artist more committed to teasing out the complexities of colonialism and historical nostalgia than Temi Dollface? She makes Janelle Monáe look almost unambitious by comparison. The Joy Division namecheck here is fearless on two fronts (though engaging the specter of the Holocaust is far more important than engaging the specter of post-punk), and the Busby Berkeley choreography serves as a pitiless reminder of Hollywood’s continued global imperialism. But just as impressively as her playing with the signifiers of whiteness is her deep engagement with Black culture: the braggadocio of the verses is in deep conversation with the blues and the dozens, and the rhythmic underpinning goes back to early jazz, when Duke Ellington embraced the term “jungle music” as an advertising slogan, selling faux-Africa to whites, and eventually, to Africa itself.
[9]

Lauren Gilbert: Temi, what do I have to convince you to release an entire album? Really, that’s my major reaction; that this is good, that “School Your Face” and “Pata Pata” were also good, and that I would like more. Temi Dollface is able to completely inhabit her character, to sell lines like “what I do with grapenuts is pure poetry.” The chorus is a bit weak; it doesn’t showcase the same ingenuity that the verses do (“my pecan pie’s among the eulogized”), and I feel like the jazz club music video has been done before — albeit perhaps not with dancing reminiscent of synchronized swimming.  These only are nitpicks, though; would that all other musicians had half her style and panache.
[9]

Jessica Doyle: The transitions don’t work for me as well as they did in “School Your Face,” and I wish the instrumention hadn’t retreated so thoroughly during the second verse. But if it were possible to wipe any previous connotations from the phrase “joy division” and declare it hers alone, I’d do it. Bonus: the return of Truth Juice!
[6]

Josh Langhoff: Temi Dollface raids Fela’s “Swegbe and Pako” for one useful measure and repurposes Joy Division’s name for actual joy, so she’s hard to dislike, but I’ll try. In the song’s first half, all those carefully choreographed Temi voices add up to an offputting forced cheer; she’s like an overaggressive youth leader yelling at me to smile more, when I just want to study how she built the little humming madrigal at the end.
[5]

Brad Shoup: She’s spread clingwrap on the jazzy drums: clicks become crackling, like they kept a constant small fire on. And with her resurrecting a specific strain of cabaret, maybe there’s something to burn. She riffs on “Technologic” and anticipates any fake-deep accusations. This one’s a treasure chest of omniscient asides.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The morning after dozens of celebrities tried to convince me, stridently and pinkly, that their meme soufflé to the face was FUN!, it’s a relief to hear something that is.
[8]

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Usher ft. Young Thug – No Limit

Make ’em say…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Alfred Soto: The peripatetic way in which the label has handled Usher since 2012 is no way to treat the creator of what is likely one of the last diamond-certified albums in music history, but fortunately we haven’t missed much, “Good Kisser” aside. The throbbing, stuttering “No Limit” won’t trouble anyone who isn’t already persuaded that when it comes to sex talk Usher Raymond is old enough to count as influence on Jeremih and Jason Derulo, and Young Thug knows it.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: This song isn’t for the kids. No, the sex talk here is tame, but I mean it more about its reference-driven chorus. Do the teens know “Make ‘Em Say Uhh,” a single which turns 20 next year? Do they know where those hilariously garish mixtape covers take their aesthetic from? They’re savvy enough to figure it out, but “No Limit” is for the slightly older crowd who’d rather go out to hear late ’90s/early ’00s Usher than late ’00s/early ’10s Usher. Usher knows who he’s speaking to. He’s just giving them the nostalgia they crave from the man they tag #TBT for.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: The title is repeated with the exact same half-enthusiastic flourish over and over, hypnotic and vapid, but, thankfully, the general tone on display here doesn’t imply that we’re supposed to be so impressed. Nah, it’s a song for lazing around, talking big, and doing nothing, and it succeeds in its lack of ambition. Whether or not you consider this a success probably depends on whether or not you find the empty, circular bragging that constitutes the meat of this track endearing or irritating.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Young Thug’s wild and warped flow is a good template for an R&B star, which is something Usher recognizes: his stop-and-start, repetitious phrasing ghosts his guest’s style. He’s also not the ideal singer to realize this hybrid; I like Usher best when he floats above the track, voice skipping like the impossible footwork of an accomplished dancer. Thug’s curious appeal stems from his expanding and contracting physicality, his ability to be gravity-bound and exospheric all in the same bar. What winds up most notable is Usher’s ever-professional execution and a not half-bad Master P pun.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Asking Jeffery to do his best Mystikal would’ve been the only way out from these dreadful No Limit puns, sung by Usher in a tone a world apart from P’s salesman patter. Letting Young Thug do his own thing, though, is somehow a more cynical move: his miraculous invocation of kerosene sits awkwardly by his host’s forced gags.
[5]

Jonathan Bogart: The single joke of the title gets pretty old by the end of the song’s running time — Master P, get it? — but Usher’s fluid command of seduction aesthetics and, just as importantly, Young Thug’s bugging-out sincerity makes up for a thin premise and relatively uneventful production with personality, and then some.
[6]

Jessica Doyle: As a transit geek and proud member of the MARTA Army, I was quite pleased to hear Young Thug’s sage observation that a train will outperform a Ferrari: his feelings for his beloved are strong enough that he will not subject her to the Downtown Connector between 3 and 7 pm, obvious status symbols be damned. Of course, the first 2:46 of “No Limit” is Usher doing an uninspiring monotone; the wait for Thug to show up gets tedious, kind of like… the wait for a MARTA bus. Perhaps this song is actually a carefully subtle pro-expansion vote, or just a message to Keith Parker and crew to keep doing what they’re doing. I mean: Clayton County is in; Gwinnett County is not the anti-urban monolith it was; the Atlanta Business Chronicle is now talking up transit-oriented development. No limit, indeed
[4]

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Blackpink – Whistle

New from YG…


[Video][Website]
[6.33]
Alfred Soto: Whistling, finger snapping, and hooting, each vocalist redeems the mustiness of these activities. If you’ve ever wondered what fifteen years of American pop sounds like given a tickle and a tease, just put your lips together and blow.
[7]

Leonel Manzanares: “Whistle” is the “Bae Bae” to sister-single “Boombayah”‘s “Bang Bang Bang.” While the latter engages in full party-starter mode, “Whistle” kinda comes out of left field. That moment, when the beat shifts from that easy bounce to the countrified hook, seems lifted from the “Bae Bae” experiment, but this time producer Teddy has perfected that formula, which is especially noteworthy in the track’s dembow finale. This is a brilliant debut single; it effectively showcases the girls’ voices, personas and abilities — Lisa’s rap in particular is amazing — but above all, it’s a great example of the sonic fluidity and genre-skepticism that made so many of us fall for K-Pop in the first place.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Blackpink feels like nostalgia for 2011, when K-pop’s global ascent felt thrilling and intro guides to Korea’s pop scene hinted at great things to come. There is a chance that “Whistle” — and the far more forgettable “Boombayah” — conjure up this mood because they quite possibly are songs originally intended for 2NE1, currently in limbo. Either way, “Whistle” sounds like a reboot, not necessarily of 2NE1 (though c’mon) but of a specific time when the genre blurring and coke-bottle tapping would have been truly attention grabbing. Which isn’t to say its bad — “Whistle” is pretty good, though it feels more like a collection of interesting ideas than something defining a new group beyond “give YG your money please, 2016 has been rough.” Blackpink is bursting with talent, but “Whistle” isn’t really the best display of it. Rather, it feels like a reminder of how different K-pop has become in five years.
[5]

Moses Kim: After a prolonged period of hype, YG’s new girl group comes out with… this, an aural smorgasbord seemingly engineered to cover all four quadrants of the 2NE1 discography (guitars that got lost on their way to Luke Bryan’s tour nestle themselves between cowbells, synth swells, and tight percussion). But 2NE1’s strength was never in its arrangements so much as its members’ ability to imbue even familiar expressions with nuanced meaning, something that has thankfully carried over into this quartet’s debut: Jennie and Lisa render the hook’s bravado playful; Rose and Jisoo do heavy lifting on the country-inflected chorus. And the final bridge and chorus, in which familiar elements meld together in unexpected ways, are sublime.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: Man, that middle eight, bringing everything together with almost audible satisfaction — ah, okay, this was where we were headed all along. In all fairness, Hyuna did something similar a while back with her middle eight, but her team didn’t have Teddy’s flexibility (or Rosé’s range). So it’s not groundbreaking. Neither is the covering-all-bases quality of the lyrics, alternately lovelorn and bragging; and maybe even Lisa’s cheerfully speeding through hwi paraparaparabam has a precedent. So the parts might not be that fresh; but assembled so nicely, there’s a victory in it. Every time I hear that middle eight I light up as if I had something to do with making it.
[7]

Iain Mew: One fresh idea (it’s in the title) and a whole set of different established marks to hit, which they do every time. Maybe once they’ve established their place they’ll be able to make everything a bit more fun and less like everyone’s looking over the shoulder waiting to be judged.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: I still have yet to see anyone get whistling to work for a pop song (Pitbull might be an exception). Blackpink taps into a nostalgic corner for me with them muting everything but the snaps like they knew I was going back to some old Juelz Santana. It’s a shame they don’t add anything new to a formula served in 2005. The cue to drop it down low should have evolved somewhat since then.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: “Whistle” is a retrograde step for the debut single from the group at YG’s vanguard: the production evokes mid-’00s snap and the hook a decade of often dreadful tracks devoted to making the music with your mouth. Whistling has been the central concern of dismal tunes, or sometimes just made a dicey proposition of otherwise decent singles; unlike in real life, it’s usually at its best when it’s used to suggest a catcall rather than a rumpled carelessness. This Blackpink track is most similar to one of the more lecherous, and one of the better, whistle tunes of recent times, Juelz Santana’s similarly sparse “There It Go (The Whistle Song).” This “Whistle” shares that minimalism, and it doesn’t objectify like Juelz’s did (though his rapping is more versatile), but it also makes less sense: if missiles whistle, they don’t do it like this hook does. A brief respite from the pop atavism arrives in a guitar-embroidered bridge that exemplifies the Hallyu wave’s typical restlessness, but it’s barely enough. The untold secret to a good whistle song, though? Go for the sporting kind.
[6]

Josh Langhoff: “Juelz Santana gone Mustard-core?” is a legit hypothetical question. The correct answer is not, “Let’s keep interrupting it with nondescript teenpop.”
[5]

Katie Gill: It is very hard to make whistling in pop music actually work and not sound overly cutesy or too tacky. I don’t think “Whistle” succeeds at that, partly because of the whistling itself, which doesn’t cross the threshold out of obnoxious, but also partly because the rhyme “make’ em whistle like a missile,” while technically true, is a bit trite and prone to overthinking of “well actually…” That being said, the rap is appropriately fun and the bridge before the chorus where Blackpink slips into an entirely different song for a moment is sublime.
[7]

Will Rivitz: Proof that catapulting between three or four distinct styles with no real rhyme or reason usually isn’t a good thing.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: What first attracted me to K-Pop back with 2NE1’s “I Am the Best” was what I perceived as a glorious unconcern with genre lines, mashing up all kinds of sounds into a free-wheeling, hyper-saturated kaleidoscope of signification and juxtaposition. That’s still what I respond to the most, in K-Pop or anywhere else, so this song, with its kiddie-pop (not to say Andy Griffith Show) hook, trap verses, and Sheryl Crow-descended breaks, was an immediate source of surprise and pleasure. Listening again and again, the sonic detailling, and the way their voices coolly ride the always changing beat, are only more impressive.
[8]

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Isaiah Rashad – Free Lunch

We love lunch!


[Video][Website]
[6.17]

Josh Langhoff: It’s a thin line between hypnotic, narcotic, narcoleptic, and then just uttering an endless bunch of eighth-note syllables ’cause you’re about to topple over to the floor and you can’t stop yourself. What were we talking about?
[3]

Jonathan Bogart: I bet someone’s already written about the thirty-year drift from rappers with booming, authoritative voices like Rakim, Chuck D, or Ice Cube to rappers who slur, hiccup, and release their words as commandingly as they let smoke escape their lips, and better than I could. But as someone for whom rap has always been the sideline rather than the main event, Rashad’s genial delivery stands out as qualitatively different from the rap I grew up hearing, in a way that I’m still not entirely used to even as I recognize that it’s entirely of the present moment.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Two years after Cilvia Demo, this purr-voiced Tennessean reminisces about summers spent in go-carts, Steel Reserve, and getting head or perhaps daydreaming of head, to the accompaniment of rim shots and guitar ripples. The last verse is a promise, not a valedictory.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The bumpy chorus got a lot of fun words to pick apart, but what makes this song stick for me are the names, places and slang Isaiah Rashad scatters throughout his verses. “Cool as me front of Kanku’s store.” “In my hood, we call it buck.” “Free Lunch” plays best as a scene- and atmosphere-setting exercise, and not much else,  but the breezy beat blows a faint, delightful flashback laced in the smoke.
[6]

Gin Hart: Unspooling languidly, but not lazily, the sound is ripe with un-selfconscious intimacy — a quick mind kicking back. A thick summer-on-the-porch sound. The instrumental is golden, sensuous, muted without haze or buzz. The lyrics have one foot on mundane solid ground, dipping the big toe of the other foot in a neutral-tone surrealist dreamscape. 
[9]

Iain Mew: “Today was… a keeper:” hesitant, put-upon, but ultimately positive; a picture of the song and its oh so constructed atmosphere in miniature.
[6]

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Kenny Chesney ft. P!nk – Setting the World on Fire

We’ll see if it sets the world alight as much as Paisley-Lovato did


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Thomas Inskeep: Two years ago, about Chesney’s “American Kids,” I said, “Chesney likes to go to the well of reminiscence a lot — he’s done it on 2001’s “Don’t Happen Twice,” 2004’s “I Go Back,” and 2010’s “The Boys of Fall,” to name just a trio of top-two country singles — but it’s something he does well because he makes you believe him.” As he approaches 50 (!), it makes increasing sense for him to keep it up (it’s certainly served Alan Jackson well), and as he’s approaching 50 and Country Radio Never-Never Land, it also makes sense for him to call for backup. Which helps explain the presence of P!nk, singing her lungs out as she tends to do on such inspirational material, as much  aspirational too. The production stays out of the way. And Chesney, as ever, is sturdy. The pairing is a smart, savvy, and ultimately good one.
[7]

Katie Gill: P!nk on mediocre songs about fire continues! The mixing on that chorus is abysmal, with P!nk steamrollering over Chesney’s vocals. I suppose it’s payment for the fact that she doesn’t really do anything in this song. P!nk’s undoubtedly expensive, a bigger name in the music industry as a whole than Chesney, who’s main contribution to his genre is a beachy puka shells aesthetic and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Why have her on your song if she’s not even gonna get a verse?
[4]

Edward Okulicz: If Chesney had “being eaten alive and shown up completely by Pink” on his life goals list he can consider it well and truly crossed off. I like soft rock AOR as a sound on Pink (see “Try” for a relatively non overplayed peak) and she knows how to do windswept soft focus special effect dream sequence nostalgia. Chesney sounds like it’s his first take after a lobotomy.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Hell, if Brad Paisley can sing with Demi Lovato….This one begins with a wistful synth cloud through which Chesney gazes at stars and piers and empty beers and “meers” or whatever lipstick’s smeared on. P!nk sounds a hell of a lot more present than Chesney — she knows how to make sentimental garbage like this count. But why pay her fee for just a chorus?
[4]

Cassy Gress: Why would Kenny Chesney and Pink set a country song about being young and reckless in West Hollywood? He’s from Tennessee and she’s from Pennsylvania; La Cienega Blvd. is oddly specific, and if this were a more storytelling or fictional sort of song it would probably be set in third person. I think it’s more likely that they’re singing about being middle-aged but acting like 20-year-olds and screaming on the pier and writing in lipstick on the mirror. As someone approaching middle age herself, I’m put off by it. Strange sentiment aside, I almost wrote that this sounds like riding in a convertible on the highway at sunset, but it doesn’t — it wants to, but it sounds so soullessly generic about it.
[3]

Gin Hart: This sounds romantic and nice and oh god I’m very embarrassed. 
[7]

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Lady Leshurr ft. Wiley – Where Are You Now?

All hail the queen!


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Scott Mildenhall: Lady Leshurr has an air of certainty of her own hilariousness that ever so slightly grates, but reading her talk of her distance from the grime scene brings home how she’s swimming against the tide. She’s a woman from Solihull — practically the moon to some Londoners — who’s only getting this kind of major label shot now after building a level of success it does not guarantee under her own steam. Whoever she’s actually talking to here (and that could be no-one in particular), it’s easy to take her side. This is funny, even more so for the reliable, subtle absurdity of a Wiley line like “I got a shop and we sell sports shoes”, and like some of the biggest hits to emerge from grime over the past few years, it is eminently accessible.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: The ephemeral nature of pop stardom has been a standard topic in pop music since basically forever, and if the great innovation of hip-hop was to turn it into a taunt, that too has been around for a while. Lady Leshurr’s doing nothing new here, but arguably she’s not trying to. The video and music are throwbacks to grime’s above-ground emergence in the early 2000s, full of cartoon brightness and hyped-up whoops. That’s part of the taunt, of course: the slight nostalgia of the production is another reference to the last time the song’s subject was any good. (The identity, if any, of said subject is a red herring; we can all think of someone who fits the bill.) What’s more immediately important is that the song marks Leshurr herself as having arrived, not just in getting a cosign from Wiley, who sounds a bit defensive about the whole thing, but in breaking a single that isn’t a mixtape freestyle.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The only tangible thing Leshurr lists that places her above the has-beens is how she now raps for money. But she didn’t even have to explain that, given how her charisma and voice speak for itself. Her whoops make her stand a head taller than others, above that brass, even above a half-there Wiley. And that energy is all she needs to show she’s living better than the rest of ’em. She throws the question around like take a good, hard look at yourself. Hopefully, the suckers get a clue where they went wrong before Leshurr calls out attennntion!
[8]

Will Adams: Lady Leshurr’s taunting gets a bit repetitious after a while, though she’s smart enough to add in enough wackiness (“You fell off, you have!”) to keep her afloat. The overcrowded production, meanwhile, puts a damper on the whole thing.
[5]

Gin Hart: This track sounds like Mattel MGA Entertainment (lol) mildly thugged out a camo-clad Bratz doll and set her loose, which I… don’t hate? I love that the premise is, like, MC hide-n-seek, and am charmed and furious that Lady committed to a dud like “You look like 86 years old” as a rap lyric. Whatever. It makes me feel like I’m in an off-brand inspirational dance crew movie. 
[5]

Cassy Gress: With a tempo this fast and a looping riff this dramatic, you need someone to do exactly what Wiley’s verse does: rapid-fire rhythm, with minimal pauses for reaction. Lady Leshurr is rapid-fire too, but she throws a lot more syncopation into the verses than Wiley does, and with a beat this fast, syncopation just gets muddled.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Boasting like we’re supposed to know who the hell she is, the lady soon earns it. Transcending the expected musical tropes are her and Wiley, the Gaye-Terrell of grime, spitting lines as if each was alone but lighting the fire as if they were eye to eye.
[7]

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Banks – Fuck With Myself

This one is a bit of a deep cut.


[Video][Website]
[4.86]

Alfred Soto: A worried, mumbling number that strikes back against a cruel lover with a wasp cloud of synths. She fucks with us, not herself.
[7]

Claire Biddles: The ambiguity of the title is interesting — self-sabotage or self-love? — and the percussive introduction hints at something lush and sensual, but I’m bored of alt-R’n’B that sounds like this. The song’s skittering production is blandly fashionable, and Banks’ reedy delivery lacks the personality and masochistic sexuality of someone like FKA Twigs, who increasingly feels like the model for this diluted, overused sound.
[4]

Will Rivitz: I really got down with Goddess and London when they dropped a few years ago, but now that something like eighty percent of Soundcloud divas are hiding behind shrouds of “dark electronica” or whatever the term du jour is nowadays, what Banks is doing is no longer as special as it once was. If Banks is to remain worth our time, her sound ought to evolve, but this sounds like a B-side from 2013.
[4]

Natasha Genet Avery: I might be the only person here who liked Goddess. I spent a whole winter taking in Banks’ big, wobbly synths and nodding along to her even bigger proclamations (Banks was always in danger, drowning, begging, running away, etc.). On “Fuck With Myself,” over sparse percussion and dissonant strums on a koto, Banks makes the leap from theatrical to theater-kid. She doesn’t do weird well; note the punctuated/distancing delivery of “fuck with myself more than anybody else.” Banks’ small, unsteady vocals can perfectly capture pain but don’t project the confidence necessary for a title this bold or a track this minimal.
[5]

Will Adams: I missed the Banks boat the first time it sailed around, and now I’m still not sure I want to climb aboard. Over a plain base of percussive skitters and dark synths, Banks makes several attempts to give menace to the title, whether via whispers, detached exhale, or an incredibly annoying, gulped delivery (of course, she does that one the most). No matter how ineffective it is, though, she continues throwing darts at the board, making “Fuck With Myself” feel way longer than three minutes.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Banks always comes off like she’s doing karaoke of someone else’s songs — like how you always think you sound better than you do while singing under your breath — and “Fuck With Myself” is no different.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: I love how the intro plays with silence, but the track doesn’t get better with more density. It’s still quite an eerie listen, and Banks’ voice works well with it until the points where she really sings because it seems out of character for the song — the “IT’S OUR LOVE!” bits in the chorus don’t fit right with the mood or the narrative built up so well with the rest of the song. She’s like an unwanted guest on her own single!
[6]