Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

Amnesty 2021 + Coming Soon: Reader’s Week

Yesterday’s posts represent the end of our regular coverage for the year. As we approach (at long last) the end of 2021, it is time for Amnesty Week(s)! Our annual feature — where our writers hand-pick singles we didn’t get to from this year — begins today and will run for this week through the next.

But we also want to hear from you, the readers, so we are once again hosting Reader’s Week, which will run following Amnesty. That means you can select any single from this year we missed and make us write about it! Just make sure it’s a song that can, by most metrics, qualify as a “single”, because, well, it’s our namesake, after all.

To suggest a song, please email readersweek2021@thesinglesjukebox.com including your choice of song and artist, a YouTube/Spotify/something link and why you chose it. You are also strongly encouraged (though not obligated) to submit a blurb with a score from 0 to 10, TSJ-style, and it will be published on the site alongside our reviews.

You have until 11:59pm on Tuesday 14 December 2021 to make your suggestion. When it hits midnight in whatever part of the world is last to hit midnight, that’s when we’ll close.

Looking forward to seeing what you send!

With love,

The TSJ team

Monday, December 6th, 2021

Leon Bridges ft. Jazmine Sullivan – Summer Rain

Song title also serves as the current weather forecast for Sydney…


[Video]
[6.00]

Dorian Sinclair: “You’re speaking a language no-one speaks, in a room that don’t exist — I’m just gonna shut up and bear witness”, is really an extraordinarily beautiful opening line. After that, the groundedness of the second verse, its reliance on concrete, physical imagery, is really effectively contrasted. Overall, the simplicity and laid-back energy of “Summer Rain” works in its favour, and Bridges and Sullivan’s voices blend beautifully — but with how relaxed the song is, the ending feels jarringly abrupt, cutting things off just when you’re expecting them to crest.
[6]

Leah Isobel: That sudden stop at the end is kind of hilarious. It’s like the phone is ringing, or the oven is going off; the mundane slices the moment in half. In its way, it’s just as adult as the innuendo.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: A male raspy voice and female silky voice singing a slow sexy song that can somehow manage to use sauna as an empty metaphor.  I guess it’s nice restaurant music.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Leon Bridges’s smooth, buzzy tenor is so sweet it doesn’t matter in which context it goes, and the plush, slick bass and soft, nearly flattened drums allow him and Jasmine’s rippling, gorgeous voice to spread as wide and full as they can, with little breakdowns in which the guitar and pianos are laid away for Leon, then Jasmine to croon across the guitar strumming. Leon falters, but Jasmine strides forward confidently, unfazed and unintimidated, goading Leon to follow her, and he, his confidence sky high, follows.
[9]

Alfred Soto: The faux swampy air to the mix and the warmth of the singers are the best things about this hand-me-down.
[5]

Claire Biddles: Two stunning soul voices with chemistry, let down by a meandering structure and whoever refused to politely ask them to cut down the competitive X Factor warbling.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Perfectly polite, languid soul of the Legend-ary ilk. Too polite, in fact.
[4]

Monday, December 6th, 2021

Capella Grey – Gyalis

I’m guessing Tom Steyer did not participate in the associated TikTok dance challenge…


[Video]
[5.12]

Nortey Dowuona: Absolutely perfect. Never thought I’d say that about a song created of the already classic “Vax That Thang Up,” but it happened!
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Doesn’t live up to its sample, but what could? Instead, Capella Grey uses Mannie Fresh’s imperial march as a creeping horror theme, replicating Ty Dolla $ign’s shtick from “Paranoid” in a more compact package. I’ve grown tired of these formless rap singles, but “Gyalis” is a skilled example of the style, its lack of coherent verse/hook distinction less a sign of aimlessness and more a stream-of-consciousness choice, worry and triumph all bundled in one compact package.
[7]

Michael Hong: Sounds exactly like someone who randomly starts singing their own narration.
[2]

Alfred Soto: It wasn’t him!
[3]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: A stream of consciousness trainwreck, its issues exemplified by the line “So I call her on the FaceTime”. It’s breaking an already unstable flow for what feels like a needless reference. It feels like lazy, thoughtless lyric writing, the kind of thing you cut on your first or second run through. But with the song struggling to find any rise and fall in its short runtime, it seems that every half-baked line counts. 
[3]

Ian Mathers: Someone send ArrDee some notes; this one 1. is at least charismatic 2. at least has some hooks that weren’t just awkwardly lumped in from a better song (the problem isn’t interpolations, the problem is shitty interpolations) 3. is also less than 3 minutes long but doesn’t feel like I’m slogging through it.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Not an original idea to be found here, but then again, I’ve never had one myself, so I’m not going to gripe too hard. Sounding as if this might be the first and only draft of these words, and occasionally like the first time he’s heard of any of the words to begin with, Capella Grey is that most poisonous creature: a lazy and charismatic guy. Horrible if the welcome is overstayed, which it’s not here. 
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: He raps a little, he sings a little, he’s got a slightly reggae-ish flair, but I’m not sure we’d even be noticing if not for the “Back That Thang Up” sample. 
[5]

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

BE:FIRST – Gifted.

Nominative determinism fun: it’s our first post of this week.


[Video]
[5.43]

Nortey Dowuona: First thought: Damn. There are 7 of them!?? Thirteenth thought: oh, that’s why, none of them are good enough to carry one song. Fifty-fifth thought: all of them could carry an album. I need to find it.
[10]

Katie Gill: This feels like a song that had twelve different ideas and, instead of committing to one or two of them, decided to commit to ALL AT ONCE. Sultry strings, a vaguely trap beat, enough of a beat that you can dance to it but not too much of a beat — we want this to sound artsy, after all. The end result is that a chorus that sounds like a goddamn mess and that’ll make you check your tabs because surely something else is playing, right? It’s an interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I honestly wish they’d taken the impulse that had them layer in that wheezy, screechy little violin(?) loop on the chorus and applied a lot more of that energy to the absolutely generic-feeling verses. No matter how many undeniably talented young people they throw at songs like this, the vocals (I’m sorry) always sound kind of the same (I’m sorry!) to me (k-pop fans, I am painfully aware that I listen to plenty of music that all sounds the same to the 99% of the population that hasn’t bought in, I get it). But it’s really just that lil’ violin dude staving off boredom here for me.
[5]

Tobi Tella: The verses are crooning and mysterious, lulling you into a slow-jam security that gets ripped away by the chorus doing… that. I’m not opposed to a dated sounding drop, or even a squeaky falsetto but combining them makes it feel like the song just decides to do a 180 into being terrible. Much more “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” than Frankie Valli.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Points for production choices that sound like if you lit fireworks in an orchestra, anti-points for doing nothing interesting melodically or lyrically over those choices.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: That chorus has some really impressive orchestral arrangements, but it doesn’t work for me. Their high registers clash with the violins, which are also pretty high, instead of complementing each other (in fact, the backing vocals in the last chorus show that a lower register would have provided more interesting layers). The verses are more sparse and seem to be there just because there has to be something between choruses. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: If you like your boyband J-Pop overdramatic and militaristic, have I got the single for you.
[4]

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Nilüfer Yanya – Stabilise

On firm ground…


[Video][Website]
[7.38]

Harlan Talib Ockey: I was going to write a lengthy paragraph about how perfectly this song portrays the strung-out spiral of catastrophizing where it feels like every little thing is eroding you and life never gets better, but I could probably just sum it up like this: listening to “Stabilise” makes me want to vomit.
[9]

Iain Mew: “You’re going nowhere” and it sounds like it in a pretty unique way: voice boxed in, echoing unnaturally and scratching its way out through narrow gaps. The result is that when the chorus hits like The xx, with a vast new clarity and space, it’s a revelation. Not that Nilüfer Yanya stays there long before managing to find yet another effective mode.
[8]

Claire Biddles: A new single by Nilüfer Yanya is always an exciting prospect — I usually love her fizzy, unpredictable songs, and how she utilises her voice and guitar as their twin unreliable narrators. From its drum machine opening, the propelling consistency of “Stabilise” serves to iron out all the musical kinks that make Yanya such an intriguing artist. Her deadpan vocals rising slightly to meet the chorus is a nice slow-burn vocal trick but otherwise this is just too 6 Music also-ran to meet my high expectations.
[6]

Oliver Maier: Taken on its own I might find the hook here too staid, even with the fun surf rock incisions running through it. Taken in conjunction with the off-kilter, Tirzah-ish verses however, the whole thing is eccentric enough for a thumbs-up.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Manically moving but steadfast, not unlike the matter of an atom vibrating in place. “Stabilise” is less a display of stability than it is an argument against its necessity. 
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Congratulations to this year’s winner of the Charly Bliss Prize For Excellence In Angular Guitars.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Flirting with DOR but reluctant to commit, she double tracks her murmuring, occasionally strumming chords that evoke Franz Ferdinand and an era as distant as the Pleistocene.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The sidewinding guitar line under Nilüfer’s soft voice nearly buries it, the hammering kicks and screwing hi-hats and snares surging beneath, until the bass trips over its feet joining in and buoys the chorus. It’s almost as if Nilüfer is beckoning you to come a little bit closer, to pay a little more attention since she’s not going to shout, and so you creep closer, and closer, and closer until she disappears, and the guitar and hammering snares snap shut, cutting your throat.
[6]

Saturday, December 4th, 2021

SwitchOTR ft. A1 x J1 – Coming for You

Representation win! Quite possibly the first UK hit to feature the word “bisexual”…


[Video]
[4.89]

Nortey Dowuona: The churning sample and plush keys carried by the lurching bass, shattered percussion and sandfeeted snares sound gorgeous. J1 and A1 follow up with a rough, gnarled verse, then a silky, soft-edge croon. SwitchOTR holds the whole song together with a sweetly phrased tribute that turns to a threat, and a well-written verse that has another weird bisexual punchline.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The beat is so maudlin that it makes the incompetence of the verses seem more charming — it’s one thing to talk about how your bullets are bisexual over standard drill beats and another to do so over, of all things, an Avicii sample. Sublime.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I don’t even like “The Nights”, but it still deserves better than this. The flow is boring, reliant entirely on our presumed affection for the hook.
[2]

Alfred Soto: One of those tracks I get once in while that leaves no impression despite replay. It reminds me of the easeful, vaguely gross American R&B of the early ’90s but without the vocal hooks.
[4]

Iain Mew: The rapping verges on plodding, and has a couple of lines that thud (video game collectibles and choice seems an odd association when the more prominent one is the urge to catch ’em all). There is an inexplicable jump in volume at one point that calls into question the basic competence of the mixing. And yet the swelling sweetness of the sample, and the contrast against the matter-of-factness of everything else, makes it worth it.
[6]

Mark Sinker: So the gulf between the sweet high chipmunky sadness and the revenge fantasy underlines that it’s just fantasy — and doesn’t that make it sadder?
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: British hip hop, especially the highly charting stuff, seems to have a knack right now for sing-songiness that’s lyrically really dark — if you don’t catch the intent here, there are some conveniently placed gunshot sound effects to guide you. That’s not my issue with “Coming for You,” though, it’s that there’s nothing new or fresh here, just the same ol’, same ol’.
[3]

Katie Gill: It’s a pity that they picked something so notable to sample — thematically, it fits “Coming for You” really well. But it definitely gives the first impression that “The Nights” is doing all the work when really, everybody is pulling their weight. The chorus is a bit of a thematic mess, but SwitchOTR’s verse is quite good and has a few moments where his flow stands out and seems quite impressive. But I can’t help wondering if a different sample would take this from good to great.
[6]

Oliver Maier: The Avicii interpolation walks the dangerous line between affecting and naff — at any rate it’s the best part of the song. A1 x J1 walk down another line, AKA the one at the middle of the road.
[5]

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Jack White – Taking Me Back

A [7.00] rating? Hardly!


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: They came from across the land to hear it, the world’s most annoying fuzz. “Surely, Mr. White can’t have made his signature sound entirely grating,” they said, clutching their pearls as they approached the speakers, hoping for a serviceable song to showcase Jack’s particular proclivities. And as the curtain rose, the clippy, buzzing monstrosity almost overwhelmed the shape of the song itself — but only almost.
[4]

Harlan Talib Ockey: All right, I’ve been an obsessive Jack White fan for longer than I’d care to admit, so I’m legally obligated to weigh in on this. First of all, these lyrics are atrocious. It sounds like he’s desperately trying to wring something witty out of the double meaning of “taking me back” and just hitting wall after wall. I can’t believe the guy who wrote “That Black Bat Licorice” even brought these to the first draft phase. Second of all, as tempting as it might be to read any upbeat single with a recognizable riff and structure as an attempt to back away from the polarizing experimentation of Boarding House Reach, this is still… disquieting? Subversive? Pretty strange? The breakdown about two minutes in is definitely more abrasive than anything on that record; I feel like my skull is being crushed in a vice. There’s also the subtle weirdness of how solitary this is. White’s solo work has never actually been solo work, not once you factor in the plethora of guest vocalists, strings, keys, and so on. All of that is stripped away here. For the first time, it’s just White alone, limited to whatever sounds he can make himself. It’s a great Man vs. Wild episode, and it’s compelling to see him explore a kind of minimalism that sounds acutely unlike the White Stripes. But ultimately, I think I appreciate this song’s constituent parts and concepts more than I enjoy listening to it as a whole. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to rewind and get my skull crushed again.
[5]

Oliver Maier: OH BROTHER, THIS GUY STINKS.
[2]

Iain Mew: The moments of guitars slamming into a brick wall and of retro synth glitter could be plenty enjoyable in isolation. Making them part of something that’s split equally between doggerel and theatrical knowing winks manages to finish off even that, though.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I admire Jack White’s commitment here to embracing all the ugliest parts of his music and none of the pretty ones — he’s stripped down the baroque arrangements and nostalgic winks of late-period White Stripes and his early solo music but has not returned to what made him so interesting when he first arrived. It’s unclear if he wants to, either. The only thing left in “Taking Me Back” is a fundamental rage and discontent, a brute force demonstration of talent in the service of divorced dad vibes.
[2]

Alfred Soto: I spent last Sunday listening to Billy Squier singles. They’re faster, hence schlockier. Jack White can’t distinguish shtick from schlock. 
[5]

Ian Mathers: When you watch a lot of YouTube stuff as background while you work, the fact that you’ll see or hear the same ad dozens of times a day gets old real quick. There’s one right now for some buttrock Call of Duty game (or CoD-style, I honestly wasn’t paying attention) with a super annoying stompy musical sting. “Taking Me Back” starts up and I was all prepared to write this blurb about how amazing it is that Jack White now makes music that’s not that different from shooter video game trailer music, and then just as my brain went “wait, doesn’t the guy in that go ‘you’re taking me back’?” White starts singing and I realize it’s the exact song from the trailer. It’s also the most I’ve enjoyed a song he’s sung since “Seven Nation Army”, mainly because it’s nothing but that dumbass clip part repeated over and over, White’s vocals sound a lot less like “Jack White”, and the synths sound like he’s been listening to “Myxomatosis” and Dead Rider or something. I know it’s going to be 50/50 at best whether I find this song deeply aggravating any time I run into it in the future, but it also feels like the kind of song I don’t like most of the time and then would hear on the PA at a bar like five beers in and go “wait, this rules”. You could say I’m having a hard time separating my disdain and respect here.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: In some ways this sounds like a White Stripes take on the sort of rock they sounded so fresh against 20 years ago. If squelchy buttrock from Jack White is your idea of alluring and sexy, I’m afraid I have no words for you. But it is rather amusing, so on this occasion I have no words for myself, either.
[6]

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Clean Bandit x Topic ft. Wes Nelson – Drive

Given all the 6s, is this an episode of Kinda Like Island?


[Video]
[5.00]

Iain Mew: Clean Bandit’s top-5 hit-making years covered a versatile range of styles and guest vocalists, but they were always very recognisably Clean Bandit. Beyond a couple of minor string frills here that’s not the case. And not even all the goodwill built up by watching the 2018 season of Love Island in a new parent haze can help convince me that Wes Nelson is bringing the personality to compensate.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: The loping bass below Wes Nelson’s serrated, thin voice makes it seem stronger and more tender it is. TOPIC wisely plays the background near the clicking house drums and the strumming violins and cellos, allowing Wes to lift higher and higher, his thin voice beginning to set aflame, TOPIC below him to carry him further.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: Wes Nelson seems sheepish at the mic, ducking in and plucking out words like he’s worried the mic’s going to snap at him; the string section is equally scared to let any note linger for longer than a fraction of a second. The result is a stilted, plasticky environment, competent on most technical levels but just off enough to make me itch. The bottom line: given that the last few decades have left us with no deficit of of warm, smooth, inviting romance-techno, why would I ever listen to this?
[4]

Ian Mathers: Maybe I’m just nostalgic for strings that sound like this in dance music tracks, because in a lot of ways this feels kind of undistinguished (which isn’t the same thing as bad!), but I keep listening to it anyway.
[6]

Harlan Talib Ockey: I feel like I understand Clean Bandit less and less with each release. They’ve been consistently described to me as “EDM meets classical,” but it’s hard to discern anything classical at all in their latest singles. Even when the strings are there, they sound more like an accessory than a load-bearing pillar. “Drive” is immensely pedestrian progressive house-pop, and while it’s easy to see Topic’s influence as a progressive house-builder himself, I’m genuinely not sure what Clean Bandit brought to this other than an ineffectual sprinkling of nu-disco strings. There’s a real lack of detail and nuance in the production that just ends up feeling like a lack of identity. The lyrics, too, are underdeveloped to the point of being vestigial. The verses are so short and empty that I can only speculate what the song’s narrative is. The driving motif works, I guess, but it’s never clear why it’s even being used here, since it only appears in the chorus. More positively, I was surprised to learn Wes Nelson is a Love Island guy at the very beginning of his music career; he’s pretty inflexible through the choruses, but once he’s allowed to ease off the gas pedal during the bridge he proves he has a decent amount of emotive range. For most of “Drive,” however, he’s anonymous, much like everything else.
[3]

Michael Hong: Its lousy metaphor isn’t really all that surprising for Clean Bandit, but you’d expect the group to at least put some flair to their track. The strings arise only for seconds as sharp little cuts that can’t even slice through its dull atmosphere.
[2]

Mark Sinker: It’s just nice having these old-school string shivers on such a glidingly smooth song. Not much happens and Wes doesn’t make a fuss about it and it works. 
[6]

Leah Isobel: Clean Bandit insists on the vocalist as another instrument — if not supplementary, at least not particularly important — which is fine, but it also makes their songs as indistinct as they are hooky.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I don’t believe the fear of “the darkness,” but I believe the electrobass thud, disco strings, and the decent Wes Nelson vocal. I usually like these tracks faster.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Wes Nelson works a lot better as an anonymous-but-moderately-charming dance vocalist than as a rapper — as a cog in the sound machine here he acquits himself nicely nestled between Clean Bandit’s surprisingly effective application of strings and Topic’s deeply generic beat. It’s a perfect piece of slightly exciting radio filler for a long drive, the kind of song that gives you no reason to change the station when it comes on and no reason to miss it once it ends.
[6]

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

Maxwell – Off

And yet so very on…


[Video]
[7.86]

Thomas Inskeep: Nobody does woozy, sexy R&B like Maxwell — no one, no matter how long he takes between records (akin to his spiritual siblings in Sade). And in case you forgot, “Off” is here to remind you. 
[10]

Nortey Dowuona: The first thing I heard was that Maxwell got the cornrows back. The second thing I heard was his tenor, tumbling yet careful, the swirling synths and shimmying drums, the snare just a half step ahead, the smooth, lurking bass circling in the mix. The next thing I heard was the lingering piano chords leading him away, so warm yet heavy. That’s how you do this, Anderson.
[10]

Ian Mathers: Despite the rhetoric, doesn’t get quite as far off the launching pad as was intended. The chorus is beginning to get there, but the verses are kind of damp squibs, and nothing ever feels like it properly builds up. Still, there are plenty of worse ways to spend four minutes.
[6]

Claire Biddles: I’ve rarely heard a more corny, weirdly removed description of sexual climax than “If I hit that spot/Accept the mission/And go off”… and yet “Off” is so supremely, confidently Adult Horny that I am willing to forgive Maxwell’s cornier impulses. Maybe it works so well because it isn’t afraid to be corny, kind of like how the best sex is always with someone you can have a laugh with, and how this usually happens when we’re old enough to know better than to hide our goofy selves.
[8]

Alfred Soto: The sumptuousness of the mix — the hiss of cymbals, the delicacy of the reverb — would be a pleasure in itself if “Off” sucked. But Maxwell is on. “If I hit that spot/Accept the mission/and go,” he sings before offering his lover a lemonade. I’d prefer a port or Campari. That’s how much I’ll cede to Maxwell.
[8]

Oliver Maier: Maxwell’s vocals are a bit Original Broadway Cast Recording, but it’s deeply refreshing to hear a R&B song this effortful in a genre full of half-songs and the same fucking keyboard presets everywhere.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Maxwell’s vocal is a bit too thin and quavery for this ’80s action movie of a sex jam: tiny breaths where the moment wants wind machines. Basically any of his peers would do it better. But basically none of his peers are doing it right now, so…
[7]

Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

Amaarae & Moliy ft. Kali Uchis – Sad Girlz Luv Money Remix

:'( <3 $$$


[Video]
[5.86]

Al Varela: As the dancehall trend continues to grow, I’m excited to see an artist I saw a lot of potential in go viral with one of the best songs from their debut album. “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” is a blast, and the remix with Kali Uchis is even better! A wonderfully textured groove, Moliy and Kali Uchis have seductive voices and words, and it’s got a really great hook that sinks into the atmosphere, placing you directly in a bright club and drawn to the night ahead of you.
[9]

Mark Sinker:Get the fuck outta my way” sung tiny-cutie-girlie-style is a super-complex yasskween move of course, especially with the title leant so bluntly against any sentiment here being even slightly straight-faced: yes big pop success is about money but I’m just different! Like, too many layers of irony or too few? Last year’s unmixed version — Amaarae and Moliy but no Kali Uchis — is less coolly streamlined and maybe less glassy but it also wasn’t the big viral hit, so who’s to say which constitutes best value here?
[8]

Claire Biddles: A waste of a god tier song title, which unfortunately isn’t fleshed out by either the song’s repetitive delicate beats, or its space-filling lyrics about liking to party AND someone’s body. I personally can’t stand that little girl whisper voice, so having three near-identical versions on one song is a significant barrier to enjoyment.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The skittering beat would complement singers weren’t exerting themselves to sing in scratchy whiskery upper registers. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: The simple, stripped-down beat and ’70s fusion keys work for me; Amaarae and Moliy’s obnoxiously tinny, high-pitched voices definitely don’t. Kali Uchis’s guest verse is a neutral value prop.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Kali Uchis’ verse is electric — even though she’s not saying anything that wasn’t already covered on Isolation she’s so charismatic that it doesn’t matter. Everything else is replacement-level chilled out pop, too restrained in performance for any of the provocations of the lyrics to make an impact.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The gluey synths are stuck to the shimmering drums so tightly Amaarae’s plaintive voice has to hide between the holes between the lurching bass so it doesn’t get crushed by the mix. Kali’s paper thin voice fares no better and is sprayed all over the place since it’s panned all over the mix to seem wider than it is. Moliy’s own sickly keen teeters close to completely talked with only a bland melody. But the drums are shining in the sun, so it can’t be that dry.
[6]