Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Cai Xukun – Pull Up

Ending the day with some non-controversial boy band alum R&B, because dammit we deserve it…


[Video]
[5.22]

Tim de Reuse: Things to like at the outset: The crisp mesh of guitars and the impeccably produced snap of the snare drum. But it gets sweeter and sweeter as it goes on, thick with synth strings and a cloyingly romantic vocal performance — I think the point might’ve been made just as effectively with less flourish.
[6]

Iain Mew: The way that “Pull Up” combines an easy mastery of ageless soft pop with a certain carefully wielded innocence reminds me of Shura. It’s written too broadly to have the same emotional impact, but still a pleasure to listen to.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: “I’ve been going nowhere,” he sings, and the music gladly obliges. But that’s pretty apropos, considering the subject matter. Cai (or Kunkun, as his fanbase adorably calls him) languishes in his situation as the most hopeless of romantics do, begging for a second chance not because he actually believes it will work out, but because he likes the way the words sound. In this case that’s not a dealbreaker, because there’s an ersatz sincerity to his anxious fronting; it’s a peek behind the mask rather than the mask itself. Still, if he’s going to keep emphasizing the “singing” part of sing-rapping, he could use a vocal coach sooner than a relationship one.
[5]

John Seroff: Stick an actual singer with a little charisma at the helm of “Pull Up” and I think you’ve got a halfway decent album cut along the lines of “Same Ol’ G.” As is, this is a slog even at three minutes.
[3]

Jessica Doyle: I stand corrected: turns out I am not the only person on earth who really liked Zhou Mi’s “Rewind.” Unfortunately Tao is too busy getting that beer money to break things up with a rap; as compensation Cai Xukun receives some very nice R&B production. But the lyrics are a mush and it’s hard to discern any uniqueness. I suspect this plays better if you’ve already watched the reality shows, or at least the unhelpful guides.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The lyrics would have you believe that Cai Xukun is under some torturous pain but he makes no effort to make that clear with his delivery. The spidery guitar melodies feel slightly constricting but his voice then breaks out of it to sound gloriously sensual. What am I supposed to feel from this?
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The combination of unfurling guitar lines and those synth-string sustains is luxurious as all hell, and Cai’s vocal performance is appropriately silky. Who cares if the lyric isn’t going anywhere?
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: The chill, early-’00s R&B acoustic guitar is a nice touch for sensual pop, though it’s not exactly a logical match for uncontrollable desire. Cai Xukun adds some emphasis to his vocals, too, to express exactly how wild he feels inside, but it’s not too convincing set against the languid music behind him.
[5]

Anna Suiter: Cai Xukun might rely on his personal appeal, but he certainly has it in spades. It’s deserved, too, after winning two different survival shows (and winning first place on one of them, even). That charisma is enough to float him along on a song that otherwise might seem uninspired. At least this song settles into it’s own groove, as much as that’s possible, and Xukun probably will too.
[6]

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Jessie Ware – Overtime

Yes, Jessie, we like it when you do house music, please keep doing that, yes, thank you.


[Video]
[7.73]

Thomas Inskeep: Now, this is more like it: Ware gets back on the dancefloor with this heavy house track, co-produced by Bicep and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford. This isn’t of the early ’90s house revival so hot in the UK now, though; this goes all the way back to the halcyon days of Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse in Chicago. Ware lets you know what’s gonna happen (“Baby, when we kiss, [it’s] gonna tear the roof off”), and is perfectly in sync (in tone and lyrics as much as rhythmically) with the music.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Whenever Jessie Ware takes her introspection for a turn on the dance floor, the beats open expressive possibilities (see “Imagine It Was Us,” the extra track highlight of Devotion). On this banger it isn’t just a lover she gets down with — it’s a shopworn title conceit. Why she didn’t continue in the “Imagine It Was Us” or “Confess to Me” direction I’m not sure. Perhaps she thinks “adult” material is progress.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: The obvious comparison is “Imagine It Was Us,” Jessie Ware’s only great track, but the better comparison is Disclosure collab “Confess to Me” or MNEK’s “Tongue“: tense yearning, compared to tasteful. “Overtime” isn’t as weird as the Disclosure track, but almost monomaniacally straightforward: heavily reverbed percussion, relentless synths, low spoken word, dramatic strings. The track isn’t perfect — “Rhythm is a Dancer” lurks a few steps from the melody, and the chorus ends a little flat — but unlike 90% of Ware’s recent music, this evokes genuine frisson, rather than something that’s been air-dried, sprayed with matte paint and pinned to a department store display.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Really makes you wonder what Jessie Ware could’ve been had she committed to the dance music route instead of becoming fodder for the hipper post-Adeleian adult contemporary crowd. At this point, listeners have been subjected to her voice for so long that they’re familiar with the full scope of its dullness. This is ostensibly why listening to “Overtime” is more tiresome than energizing. But in reality, this isn’t too different from her typical work: there’s a strong reliance on the instrumentation to transmit any and all emotion, and Ware is sort of just there to play her part.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: I’m more sympathetic to Jessie Ware’s Ed Sheeran phase than most, but it’s a relief to hear her back in her wheelhouse: sweaty, unrelenting R&B-house with a decidedly British frigidity. The busy drums threaten to overpower Ware, but she emerges victorious with the same weapon she uses to wrestle ballads into submission — her pained, passionate, perfect voice.
[7]

Pedro João Santos: “This is no Glasshouse 2,” the piercing combo of snares and cymbals announces, and the drilling synth bass accentuates. This is the rare occasion in which working overtime doesn’t require union contract agreements (and the title might be more than metaphorical, as she’s been touring and podcasting, etc., while the last LP has barely been out for a year). It’s something to replenish the mind and ignite a new (artistic) fire. Or put it out, if we consider the aflame evocations of romance in Glasshouse: it produced some career peaks and a seamless listen, but one too many tracks parked at the MOR. From Jessie, who recalls Oh No-era Jessy Lanza on this track, you might expect something more adventurous; that’s the accurate result of this superb, unremitting house-pop call-to-arms.
[9]

William John: Last year, Jessie Ware began podcasting with her mother, inviting guests around to her house — the likes of Clara Amfo, Sadiq Khan and Nigella Lawson have made appearances — for a meal, and recording the ensuing conversation. Listening to the way Ware playfully teases her mother as they talk about desert island meals and culinary propriety has inspired me to throw my own dinner parties, which I find fulfilling and an antidote to the loneliness often involved in “going out.” “Dinner party music” is a descriptor that’s been attributed to Ware’s oeuvre since the beginning of her career, and especially to her most recent record Glasshouse, perhaps her cosiest and most sentimental album, in spite of its severe title. It’s a term that suggests something pleasant and non-irritating, but also bland, as if it’s only worth hearing in bits, between mouthfuls. It’s an unfair term I think, because dinner parties shouldn’t be bland — they should be filled with vibrant laughter, plates of warm vegetables slathered with butter and salt, simple pleasures, invigorating discussion. It sort of makes me think that those that use “dinner party music” as a pejorative just haven’t been to any good dinner parties. Certainly they’ve not been to a dinner party where, once dessert is over, the chairs are shifted aside and the highlights of Overpowered are thrown on at a loud volume. I’ve no doubt that, on certain occasions, this is precisely what happens chez Ware when the Table Manners microphones are turned off, and “Overtime” and its hollered, dazzling disco chorus seems to confirm my theory.
[8]

Ian Mathers: I do like this, a lot, but it’s borrowing at least some of my affection for it from the fact that it keeps getting Hot Chip’s “Night and Day” (similar burbling background, similar hardworking sentiments) looping through my head instead of “Overtime” itself. I actually had to go play that song again to refocus on this song properly, and sure enough there’s more than enough room for both in my listening.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I really like this, but I kept wondering what RuPaul would do with this backing track, which ended up being more of a distraction than I wanted it to be. Needless to say, I’d kill for this to be a Lip-Sync For Your Life on Drag Race.
[7]

Danilo Bortoli: Jessie Ware is usually at her best when she finally embraces the house vocalist she is destined to be, but “Overtime” succeeds for other reasons. Here, she finally mingles her initial work’s penchant for pensive, reflexive, soulful pop — the musical equivalent to a beautiful yet harmless painting standing over at a museum — and her most recent output, the cathartic pop whose emotional outpouring needs immediate release (Bicep produced this for a reason). It’s the stylistic crossover that feels logical when given thought, yet pleasantly unexpected. For the first time in a while, her whispers are not only romantic suggestions. They come off as a command. 
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A lesson in the power of vibe and attention to detail — there’s not all that much going on here, and the pre-chorus doesn’t hit quite as big as it clearly aspires to, but every little moment of “Overtime” feels perfectly calibrated to conjure up hazy memories of nights out, the best moments rising up like synth pulses and the most vivid sticking like the almost-whispered chorus.
[8]

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Charli XCX ft. Troye Sivan – 1999

We love hate have mixed feelings about the ’90s…


[Video]
[4.76]

Tobi Tella: I wasn’t even alive in 1999. Neither of the artists behind this were over the age of 7, but that doesn’t mean they can’t channel the feeling back to the audience. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t here for 1999, the song manages to make me feel the same playful nostalgia as it does for people who were. I think this is a lot more clever than it seems on the surface (a Charli staple). Also closest I’ve ever come to liking Troye Sivan, so points for that!
[8]

Alex Clifton: There’s so much that I want to say — about the power of nostalgia, about the fact that the 1990s have come to signify for millennials the last full safe time we had before 9/11 and global wars and financial catastrophes, about how delightful it is to hear queer boyhood represented through Troye’s fantasies of Justin Timberlake, about how incredibly loving the video is with its treatment of ’90s fads, about how catchy that Eurodance piano is (my ultimate weakness!), about how I’ve not been able to get this out of my head for a week — but all that pales in comparison to one thing: I no longer have to fight Ed Sheeran. Charli did it for me. This is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.
[10]

Vikram Joseph: The deep and widening chasm that Charli XCX has forged between her mixtapes and her singles is remarkable and quite possibly unprecedented. She’s found a way to explore the extremities of her musical identity — glitched-out, bracing, exhilarating avant-pop at one end, tongue-in-cheek strobe-lit bangers at the other. Firmly in the latter camp, “1999” is remorselessly daft — in its wildly misplaced nostalgia for a year in which the contributing artists were 7 and 4 respectively, and with an interpretation of the boundaries of the year 1999 loose enough to make Anne-Marie blush. But the minimum you’d expect from Charli is fun, and this is fun. There’s pinball synth-bass, stabs of nu-Balearic piano which actually sound like 1999, and Charli taking a ride through her old neighbourhood (erm, the genteel Hertfordshire market town of Bishop Stortford). Troye Sivan, god love him, doesn’t do a great deal, but makes up for it in the video with his Leonardo Di Caprio makeover (although Charli’s Steve Jobs steals the show). It’s not her best single of the year (hello, “No Angel”!), but it’s a party.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Sung by a pair of people who barely lived through ’99 whose only vision of the year is from Britney Spears videos or something. The thudding Eurodance beat doesn’t help.
[1]

Anthony Easton: You can tell a lot about someone when they tell you what their favorite Britney single is. “…Baby One More Time” is the answer for people who do not understand the era’s nihilism was really “Toxic.”
[3]

Crystal Leww: I am known to be a Charli XCX stan at times, but so much of her output could use a clear filter of quality control. No one is willing to admit it, but this is a cheap version of the critically-derided “2002,” which in the face of this comes out sounding like a straight up banger. This is pandering, aesthetic-driven nonsense, and I wish that someone could tell every (extremely talented) artist involved in this to cut it out.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “2002” for people who consider themselves real pop music fans.
[3]

Iain Mew: 1999 is a more evocative phrase, time, everything, to refer to than 2002. “1999” actually sounds like a version of 1999, albeit one via Calvin Harris. “1999” is right on time for doing Rina Sawayama but with subtext turned into text. At the broadest scale, “1999” works. But that can’t take it far without the details working too, and they don’t. Air guitar on the roof is no better than dancing on the hood of an old Mustang at sounding like anyone involved is actually invested in the memory.
[5]

Will Adams: This gets one point on “2002” for at least getting the year of “Baby One More Time” correct, but that’s it. If Charli XCX and her co-writers unabashedly don’t give a shit about the lyrics reflecting her or Troye’s own experiences, then whatever. But that’s not the problem with “1999.” As with “2002” and “Big When I Was Little” and “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker” before it, the problem with this type of nostalgia-dump song is that it resorts to historical flattening in the hope that you’ll relate to something, anything, but leaving nothing but emptiness. This isn’t Charli’s fault, of course; this is the way our pop culture memory works. Just as YouTube Rewind agonizingly recaps the most inane moments of each year, entire decades — the ’90s and the ’80s and the ’70s — have been compressed into single nuggets of memory via VH1. There’s no effort to incorporate the nostalgia into anything resembling human; instead these songs and shows rely on signifiers to evoke a feeling of escapism, but there isn’t any. Charli’s gone on record numerous times about how much she hates “Break the Rules.” I’ll give that Sucker hasn’t aged very well and comes off as a cautiously fun album plagued by major label stipulations. But as far as music cynically made to relate to as many people as possible goes, is this much different?
[2]

William John: I didn’t give any points to a song with a very similar conceit to “1999” earlier this year, mostly because I found the way the said conceit was represented, in that case, wholly unconvincing. Nostalgia for childhood’s alleged simplicity, especially when it’s flaunted vapidly, isn’t my favourite pop songwriting trope. I think the difference between “1999” and “2002” — aside from 3 — is that I can believe that Charli XCX — who’s genuflected to Britney in interviews and on social media since the early days of her career — was enthralled by “…Baby One More Time” as a seven year old, and that there is a true romance in reminiscing for that time. On the other hand, I still find the notion of Anne-Marie dancing in a forest to songs that did not yet exist too ludicrous to swallow. There’s also a good sense of camp to “1999” that I’m endeared by — frantic house piano stabs, hurried and dramatic mumbling from Troye Sivan, bratty babbling at the end of the second verse — and Charli’s always charismatic vocal, which seems to be elevated rather than diminished by AutoTune, provides further gloss. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: In 1999, Home Improvement was about to end and thus Jonathan Taylor Thomas was past his MTV prime. The last time JTT was on MTV, in 1997 for the due-for-a-reboot Rock N’ Jock Basketball, Troye Sivan was two, at least a decade too young for a breathy sharp-focus “and he’s right there” musical-sexual fantasy. But it doesn’t matter, since the video director can’t tell “JTT” from “JT” and dresses Troye up like Justin Timberlake instead. That’s about the level of detail we’re dealing with here. Like “2002,” “1999” presents a flimsy version of its year, free of rock, R&B, and non-Eminem rap. Absent, too, are the massive hits from 1999 that are still influential today: “No Scrubs” (Raye fodder, shape of “Shape of You”); “Believe” (autotune ur-text, delivered by the beloved star of Mamma Mia 2); “All Star” (except every meme goes different), or a certain other famous song, re-released in 1999. Did Prince’s estate object? I’m assured there are lawyers and musicologists approving these major-label nostalgia grabs, so the credits are weird. Charli’s interpolation of “…Baby One More Time” is the exact same interpolation as “2002” in word count and similarity to the original melody — none, probably on purpose — but this time the writers aren’t credited. Nor is Max Martin, who suggested to Charli that brilliant lyrical addition that’d soon show up in an Anne-Marie song; our supposed all-seeing chessmaster of pop is actually two thousand and late. But the writers we do have are Oscar Holter and writer Noonie Bao, a Cameron’s Titanic-sized step up from Benny Blanco and Ed Sheeran. And crucially, their song isn’t nostalgic for 1999 but for 2009: the year of steely electropop, of “Sexy Bitch,” Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams,” Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘n’ Nite,” Lady Gaga and Keri Hilson’s silicone-sleek voices, and Charli’s own pop demos on MySpace. That nostalgia, I share. Extra point because Troye pre-emptively clowned this with his “2012 Song” and “2013 Song.”
[6]

Nicholas Donohoue: If there is one strength to the paper-thin “2002,” Anne-Marie at least kept her nostalgia fixed to a year she was indeed in youthful longing for. This however does not change the fact that the early 2000s suck, while the late ’90s were… maybe not great, but there were things to form strong attachments too (hence why the ’90s kids memes did have such an overlap with people whose formative years were not in the ’90s.) On that alone, “1999” has the better reason for existing. It’s also better production, more exact references, a pophead’s dream pairing… and yet, at the end of it all, even pretending to be in 1999 sounds more exhausting than joyous.
[4]

Alfred Soto: If Sivan and Charli want to evoke those frisky go-go late Clinton years, they could use tougher beats and something else besides that jackhammer piano. Sivan himself is light as meringue, so I assumed he and the sentimentality would be a better mesh. Charli, who boasts the more powerful voice, has proven impervious to nostalgia — I can’t imagine her in any era but the present. On the evidence of the friction-free songwriting she provides no convincing reason to go back either. 
[3]

Edward Okulicz: The narrow focus in Charli XCX’s memories doesn’t bother me so much — if she was 7, she’d remember the hits of 1999 that were most to her liking, and Britney and Eminem are pretty obvious standard-bearers. What bothers me is the sheer banality of her writing and the hyperactive but bland performance. She doesn’t create something compelling by evoking these artists, she’s just using them as a soundtrack within her narrative of the most clichéd childhood memories. Adult life is complicated and childhood was carefree! How interesting. There’s no real excitement in her nostalgia for the pop of yore or any sense of longing for simpler times. It’s just Charli XCX Doing Charli XCX with her 5am Party Voice with a tepid verse from Troye Sivan. I bet the two of them would have the time of their life driving around at night pumping “…Baby One More Time,” and I would definitely watch that on YouTube sooner than listen to this.
[4]

John Seroff: Charli’s “Focus” might end up being a top ten single of the year for me, and Sivan’s Timberlake thirst is kinda cute, but the emblematic lyric “no money / no problem / it was easy back then” is the sort of flimsy, privileged, rear-view optimism I imagine Republican party nominees of 2040 running on; lest we forget, ’99 was months after the lynching of Matthew Shepard. Additional points docked for the video’s T-Boz and Chilli erasure, daring to co-opt a title that Prince owns outright, and for mostly forgetting to make the song to accompany this meme.
[2]

Jessica Doyle: American Beauty was rancid from the get-go: Chris Cooper’s character was a collection of nasty stereotypes, Annette Bening’s character was one nasty stereotype, and the movie concluded by asking you to feel good about the guy who decided not to sleep with his teenage daughter’s vulnerable best friend. Why taint your exercise in nostalgia with callbacks to the likes of that? Or, for that matter, anything about 1999 from the point of view of a gay man: the best case for the year is that it wasn’t 1998 (the year Matthew Shepard was murdered) or 1996 (the year the Defense of Marriage Act was passed) and, hey, only 15,000 deaths in the United States from AIDS that year! (2015: less than half that.) And again: hasn’t the whole point of all the conversations of the last five years, all the call-outs and call-ins and cancellations and general spread of bad feelings, that we might know better and do better? That we should? That as fashionable as it is to run around declaring how terrible everything is (we were doing that in 1999 too, trust me), a sense of perspective is not only wise but necessary? What’s the exercise in shallow self-indulgence and pointlessness: “1999,” or all the rest of it?
[0]

Taylor Alatorre: One of the songs that defines my memories of the ’90s is “Wanna Be a Baller,” released as a single in 1999. Lil’ Troy was the Dirty South DJ Khaled, assembling four Houston rappers whose skills ranged from dependable to middling, and one local hook singer who with six resonant lines cemented his immortality. Of course, when the song was crossing over to the Dallas-area pop stations that year, I didn’t know any of this; I was 6 years old and most of my music came from Radio Disney. Yet there’s something primordial in my attachment to this song about blunt wraps and 20-inch rims, as if it imprinted on me the first time I heard it. Did that happen when my dad left the dial on KISS-FM for a few minutes too long, or was it so ubiquitous at the time that it simply permeated the North Texas air? At its core, “1999” is a song about listening to “Wanna Be a Baller” (or “…Baby One More Time,” or “My Name Is”) and imagining yourself as being much cooler back then than you actually were. Yes, of course Troye Sivan wasn’t actually fantasizing about MTV heartthrobs as a preschooler, and I at least hope Charli wasn’t really playing air guitar on the roof, but that’s the entire point. It’s not about actual childhood memories but rather the mediation of those memories through years of identity formation and constant social conditioning. There’s a reason they both pronounce it “ninety-ninety-nine,” because Ninety-Ninety-Nine is a time and place that doesn’t exist; it’s anything you want it to be. In that sense it’s pandering, but the Mustardized house-pop production makes that clear from the outset. This is a populist, revisionist dance party where everyone (within a certain age range) is invited, no matter how early they fell asleep on Y2K Eve. You don’t need to believe in the Fourth Turning to realize that someone was going to make this song eventually. Don’t be mad at these guys just because they got there first.
[9]

Joshua Copperman: Fun fact — The Simpsons jumped the shark the day after I was born. I’ve spent my adolescence and early adulthood around people being nostalgic for the ’90s, where apparently everything was great. According to Steven Hyden, writing half-ironically, “Bill Clinton was getting blown in the White House, and the majority of Americans didn’t care because they were in such a good mood.” James Murphy made fun of those with borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s, and now it’s the ’90s turn. And that’s when this song goes from kind of cute to horribly depressing. Charli XCX is compelling when she sounds like “the music of the future,” and Troye Sivan has been rightfully acclaimed for capturing what it’s like to be a queer young man right now. But “1999” looks to the past in a way that becomes even worse when it turns out Max Martin suggested the reference to his own song, so now it’s just Martin self-flagellating over glory days in the form of people half his age. Besides, in 1999, Charli was seven, Troye was four, and I was two. At least everyone who wrote “2002” was in the age range. It’s an ode to a past we were never in, released in a present that’s coming undone for queer people in front of our faces, and a song that won’t be remembered in the future even if we get one.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: I’m exactly the right age to purse my lips at a Baudrillardian rendering of a time period I encountered second by second and not as simulacra, but I’m also exactly the right age to remember how much Bowling for Soup’s “1985” sucked. Imagine I weren’t so churlish: this has a better hook than anything Charli’s recorded since “Break the Rules” — though that says more about her recent quality than that of this song.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Charli XCX is a pop accelerationist, taking the core of every piece of nostalgia-pop of recent vintage (“Hey, the past was good! Don’t you remember these things from then?”) and stripping away all pretensions to something more. The result is compelling and sickening all at once– it’s simultaneously in on its own joke (Charli does a Michael Jackson impression, briefly, and Troye’s dramatic, showstopping bridge ends with him repeating the phrase “right there” until it looses itself from all meaning) and too deeply enmeshed in the pursuit of pop success to actually critique it. On the whole, though, “1999” works, ingratiating itself to you by virtue of its sheer persistence in the pursuit of a flimsy past.
[7]

Danilo Bortoli: In 2011, Simon Reynolds published Retromania, a study on the effects of nostalgia on popular culture. I remember the conversation surrounding it on Twitter and Facebook and the many different reactions people had while confronting it. Streaming services were in their infancy and social media itself looked, in comparison, still threatened by our old iterations of blogs. Seven years on, Simon Reynolds’s book reads as a nonsensical rambling. Partially because it ignored the fact that the internet is irony; partially because it ignored the internet itself. There are many things Retromania got wrong, but the most patent has to do with our supposed addiction with nostalgia. Instead of Reynold’s own version of aura (a hidden, metaphysical entity forcing us to look at the past hopefully), there is an outspoken preference towards nostalgia which is linked to the internet itself. That explains the absurd nature of PC Music’s existence since 2013, the rapid rise and fall of vaporwave, those infinite Bandcamp subcultures, our own concept of “bedroom pop,” and so on. Nostalgia is no longer a feeling towards something; it acts as a disposable being entirely. Whereas Retromania pictured nostalgia as an involuntary reflex, history proved there is fun in messing with the past. Which brings us to “1999”: Charli XCX’s past relationship with PC Music proved she is self-aware to the point of parody. But “1999” is actually self-aware of its self-awareness. It’s shameless. It’s idiotic, yet it is full of life (other peoples’ lives). It thrives on the gamification of its own references (incredibly, I do not want to listen to “Baby One More Time” right after the chorus). In a way, “1999” is as if the internet had turned itself into a pop song — and, sure, the masterpiece of a video does not let me lie. It’s a testament to the power that pop music has always held: the power to brilliantly and shamelessly regurgitate ideas,  tear apart worldviews, shape narratives and, more importantly, offer relief and distraction. Nostalgia, as we see, can be distracting, but, as said, “1999” acknowledges its embarrassment. Mainly because these things are circular: Charli XCX is not the first to present you to things you joke about with your friends in your living room. Yet “1999” sounds and feels like an Event. The point where and when the internet, the only place nobody cares what you think of nostalgia, is condensed in a pop song, and the zeitgeist rests now again updated. The rare moment we shall say, in all caps: I LOVE POP MUSIC. 
[10]

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

S.H.E – Seventeen

And 17 years into their career, as well…


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Crystal Leww: S.H.E are legends of Mandopop, forever given the good will to release whatever they want and have it not totally flop. “Seventeen” sounds like the mandarin version of what Spice Girls would release if they ever did a comeback single. Honestly, it’s not even the best song called “Seventeen” released in the last 12 months. But we still stan enough to appreciate the saccharine and nostalgia they’ve leaned into here. S.H.E has done more than their share for melody and harmonies in a different pop sphere to earn themselves another spin.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: S.H.E’s explored a handful of different musical styles throughout their long career, but it’s the strength of their quieter, least trend-chasing songs that have made them memorable. Unsurprising, then, that “Seventeen” manages to be the rare anniversary ballad that’s both thoughtful and moving. The vocal melodies are strong enough to make this stand out, but it’s the absolute lack of pretension — from the “la la la” melodies to the homely guitar strums to the sudden use of harmonica — that makes it feel soothing.
[6]

Iain Mew: S.H.E approach their comeback ballad with understated charm, and the space given to the harmonica and wobbling scenery synths is delightful. Sometimes when you’re big enough it lets you do the small things.
[7]

Will Adams: A ballad that stretches past the five-minute mark seems frightening in theory, but the unexpected choices in instrumentation on “Seventeen” — the opening fiddle, the bright electric guitar accents, the harmonica in the bridge — add enough dimension to carry my interest to the finish line.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Whoa — where did that harmonica come from? Evoking adolescence comes more naturally to S.H.E. than it does to Troye Sivan and Charli XCX, despite the string section. 
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: Advice songs to a younger listener always run the risk of being devolving into platitudes or out-and-out condescension, so it’s nice to hear one that treats its intended audience with respect, neither sugarcoating the post-teenage years nor discounting the potential for meaningful growth. Ultimately, “Seventeen” succeeds not because its message comes from a place of all-knowing wisdom, but because its 30-something performers sound like they’re still in the process of figuring out that message for themselves. It unfurls slowly but builds up steadily, as befitting a song about journeys with unknown destinations. The last two lines alluding to death feel a bit outside the proper scope, yet they don’t feel entirely unearned — we’re all just at different points on “time’s long river,” anyway.
[7]

Anna Suiter: Retrospectives depend on sentimentality, and Seventeen is no exception. The difference is that you don’t need a lot of context around S.H.E.’s career arc (or even any understanding of Chinese) to feel affected by the song and video. While it’s maybe a little heavy handed, and possibly cloying too, it’s hard to say no to any song that can make you feel a little misty.
[7]

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Amber Mark ft. DRAM – Put You On

Update: Google is now slightly more informed


[Video][Website]
[6.78]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Complete the following line: “I know we don’t speak, but you’re still on my ______.” What’d you guess? Was it “mind”? That would be the correct answer for any pop song made in the 20th century, but Amber Mark is 24 years old and that’s not specific enough to capture the experience that young people have today. She instead ends the line with “feed,” making a love song about reconnecting with someone you’re still loosely connected with via social media. Consequently, hearing Mark profess “I wanna see your face” and DRAM casually state “I ain’t seen you in a while” feels doubly meaningful. While you can become privy to someone’s life through a quick browse of their Instagram and Twitter profiles, nothing compares to the warmth and intimacy of face-to-face encounters. And as Mark and DRAM sing about meeting up, the New Jack Swing pastiche becomes more than cheap nostalgia; it’s a bridge between the past and present, conjuring up feelings of a shared youth that make you feel that nothing’s really changed.
[7]

Josh Love: Amber Mark is savvy enough to know that taking a throwback cut like “Put You On” from rote nostalgia ploy to something that can stand on its own doesn’t have to mean anything more than updating the slang. A little “drippin’,” a little “glow up,” some “you’re still on my feed,” and suddenly this dusty 90s R&B redux feels at home in 2018. And speaking of the anxiety of influence, it’s nice to hear Mark capable of casting aside the shadow of Sade that’s loomed over much of her work.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The modern lyrical conceits and the vaguely retro production lend “Put You On” an interesting aesthetic, but anachronism can’t hide how thin everything here is — DRAM does the best with what little he’s given, but by the time he arrives the song has already exhausted most of its ideas.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This is R&B out of its time, the kind of thing that I can’t imagine getting radio play in 2018 in the US, which makes me sad — because this is pretty great. “Put You On” is a midtempo track with a big boom-bap beat (I think that’s a sample of the drums from “Bonita Applebaum”), confident vocals, and a few bars from DRAM that don’t add much but at least don’t detract. Mark has a strong, silky voice, and this makes me want to hear more from her.
[7]

David Lee: Very Ashanti and Ja updated for the SZA era.
[7]

Will Adams: It’s rare for throwback R&B of this type to actually capture the charm and chemistry of its inspirations, but Amber Mark and DRAM are as good a pairing as Ashanti and Ja Rule. The idea of rekindling an old flame while flexing (“You might not recognize me dripping in these diamonds”) is an added bonus.
[8]

Will Rivitz: “Only thing that’s been changed is my money and my clothes,” sings Mark, and so it goes: if you had told me this song came out in 2003, I wouldn’t bat an eye. If nobody gives a shit about Ashanti anymore, I find it hard to believe I should feel differently about this one.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: A sweet, sultry spin on a strain of R&B that hasn’t been in vogue for at least a decade. This feels a little more label-dictated than Amber Mark’s past singles, but the fact that she doesn’t get lost in the throwback is a testament to her presence. If DRAM is trying to pivot into the Ja Rule/Fat Joe lane of endearingly goofy pop features, I will support him 1000 per cent.
[7]

Ian Mathers: It’s a bit of a shame this only came out in September, and a bigger one I didn’t hear it until now, after our (permanently?) prolonged summer came to a close. Summery, sort of subtly throwback-y (right down to something about the drum programming I can’t quite put my finger on), exactly the kind of relatively low-key jam that goes well with humidity and aimlessness.
[8]

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Young Thug ft. Elton John – High

Ground control to Jeffery…


[Video][Website]
[6.91]

Joshua Copperman: It’s 2018, nothing matters, so why not have an Elton John sample on a Young Thug song? Unlike pretty much everything else in any genre, there’s real room to breathe in this production. Elton John’s lightly saturated “hiiiiigghhh” can slide through to the front and actually make an impact, a trick Alex Tumay and co. use over and over again, but it still manages to work. There isn’t much more to the song — Young Thug’s lyrics aren’t particularly interesting — but once again, nothing matters, and if pop music is going to prioritize vibe over any sort of coherent structure from here on out, it might as well be like this. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: With a credit as incongruous as “A$AP Rocky ft. Stevie Nicks,” I slipped out of my boat shoes and let this thing play. Not a duet, which, I suppose, is good news considering the condition of Sir Elton’s larynx, but, rather, an interpolation of “Rocket Man” powering a solid Thug track, his best since “Offset,” his contribution to Swae Lee’s album. With Elton’s history of black American fandom, it makes sense that Thug would repay the favor.
[6]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Elton John sees himself in Young Thug, and now I see it too: the flamboyance, the confidence, the underlying current of sentimentality. Both guys like having fun, doing things with a wink, but never veering too far into irony or cynicism. Some might see this collaboration as unexpected, but from the moment I hit play, it clicked like a jigsaw puzzle — of course! Of course this is how you use “Rocket Man”! I’m in heaven.
[10]

Josh Love: “Rocket Man” finds Elton John’s weightless narrator ruminating over all the fellow humans he’s left behind on Earth. “High” records his close encounter with the alien, Young Thug. “Rocket Man” may be a powerful and poignant AOR classic, but “High” is the one that actually sounds like floating. Time stands still and gravity ceases to exist while Thugger attempts communication in his strange and fascinating language.
[8]

John Seroff: A rare case of the Wikipedia paradox applied to pop music: makes no sense in concept but works in practice. Probably the #2 Elton hip-hop crossover after “Solid Wall of Sound” — and it’s surprisingly close!
[8]

Vikram Joseph: A cloud-rap interpolation of “Rocket Man” which actually works pretty well — to a point — with a lush soundscape of hazy piano and warm, pillowy beats. Young Thug’s versatility makes him sound right in his comfort zone here, as long as you don’t listen too closely; the lyrics are pure window dressing, a void of actual content that dulls the song’s emotional impact.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This song has the dullest fucking production. If you’re gonna spend the money to license a sample from “Rocket Man,” at least do something with it. Young Thug, meanwhile, continues to be one of the least interesting big-name rappers, partially due to the fact that on almost every record he makes, he sounds like his tongue is swollen.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: Even putting aside the fact that this song’s existence has been hinted at for the better part of two years, so much of this is so very predictable. Of course Young Thug, the guy whose first radio hit was “Stoner,” would sample that particular line from that particular Elton John song, and nothing else. Of course he would harmonize with it in his own trademark way, and of course he would twist its title into a vaguely related non sequitur (“on a private order, I’m a rocket launcher”). Even the beat, which adds some rhythmic flavor but is otherwise content to let the piano balladry do its job, sounds pretty much as you’d imagine. That doesn’t mean it all doesn’t work on a fundamental level, though.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: When I was first getting into rap, the most exciting (and obvious) entry points were the acts repurposing my favorite indie rock hits into something vaguely resembling rap: Chiddy Bang, Childish Gambino, etc. In retrospect, this sound hasn’t aged super well. The “Hey, I know that song!” production strategy lets the sample do most of the emotional heavy lifting, and most artists couldn’t figure out interesting ways to engage with the source material. But Young Thug always knows how to divine the deeper truth from a beat, even one based around something as ubiquitous as “Rocket Man.” Elton’s iconic refrain weaves in and out of the mix as Thug winds, warps, and wraps his wail around the decades-old siren call. The cheeky feature credit starts to develop a pathos of its own as the song slowly evolves into a cosmic duet: two trailblazers singing a ballad of isolation from opposite ends of the universe, finding solace in the arms of another icon.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trick about Young Thug is that he has always been more of a joke than his serious fans claim he is and far more serious than the internet memelords who love him ironically treat him as. At the peak of his powers (the incredible 2015-2016 run between Barter 6 and Jeffery), Thugger had the ability to conjure bizarre and beautiful pieces of rap music into existence by very virtue of his non-seriousness (consider the 11-second ad lib) — magical realist twists on the standard tropes of trap music. “High” is a pure expression of that ability, revived after a two-year stint in which it felt like Young Thug was trying out a lot of new things without any of them necessarily being good. Sure, its concept does a lot of the heavy lifting here — “Young Thug ft. Elton John” just makes sense as a concept, given that John’s takes on classic rock formalism analogize well with Thugger’s on trap. But, in practice, “High” is even better than I expected, in the way “Rocket Man” informs both the world-weary star thematics and the spacey, contemplative aesthetics of the track. The result is endlessly compelling, from the sound of Thugger harmonizing with Elton John on the intro to his second verse, full of the kind of off-the-wall similes that make him so distinctive as a performer.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Stelios Phili’s stitched-together “Rocket Man”-sampling beat is comfortingly nostalgic and insular, but warm piano chords and a hefty dose of reverb can only do so much to distract from Young Thug’s serviceable performance. Thugger’s constant growth from the I Came From Nothing mixtapes to Barter 6 was among the most satisfying career arcs of the decade, but he’s been on an increasingly noticeable decline for the past couple years. Which makes “High” such a marvel. Not because he’s back to delivering the most creative non-sequiturs in rap, or contorting his voice in spectacular new ways, but because the career stasis he’s facing pairs well with the drudgery of astronaut life found in Ray Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man.” This is a song that humanizes Thugger, that helps you empathize with his ingenuity being reduced to banality after all novelty has worn thin. When Thugger sings along with Elton John, he’s not just riffing on the stoner analogy, he’s embodying the same deflated character who was about to be incinerated by the sun. While Thugger’s career may not be over, a new wave of ATL rappers have rendered him a relic of the past. What is “High,” then, but a private moment of peace and reflection before his eventual demise?
[6]

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Leslie Grace, Becky G, & CNCO – Díganle (Tainy remix)

Katie’s favorite boy band of 2016 underwhelms us…


[Video]
[4.00]

Juan F. Carruyo: Reggaeton goes soap opera: a woman who rejects her man and then he promises to change. A true-and-tried storytelling device that isn’t all that foreign to latin pop songs. Becky G adds just a bit of spark but generally, the 2005-style production sounds as if this was cooked in some guy’s apartment in 5 minutes. This one screams quick turnaround to me. Even the video looks cheap. 
[2]

Iain Mew: This momentarily makes Becky G sort-of-rapping sound like the most exciting thing in the world, so it succeeds on something, even if it gets there by a process of flattening out expectations.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: No highs and no lows, lyrically or sonically; passed around disinterestedly from performer to performer. Latin pop wallpaper.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: “Díganle” has a party-ready flow and a solid melody. The vocals are seductive and the beat is free-flowing but uneventful. The track’s simplicity is both its strength and its weakness, making it perfect for a playlist but lacking on its own.   
[5]

Alfred Soto: One of the few recent occasions when three names and an ampersand create a vibrant track. I believed every voice, and my office neighbors wondered what I listened to.
[6]

Will Adams: It’s pretty damning that out of seven participants only one of them (Becky G) provides any sort of discernible personality, and it takes two minutes to get to her. The others swiftly fade into the anonymous reggaetón, and by the end I feel like I’m the one who deserves an apology.
[3]

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Lil Mosey – Noticed

We did notice you, Lil Mosey, and have some commentary on the state of rap…


[Video]
[4.00]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Honestly, I wish I could give director Cole Bennett a 0 for his eternal scouring of the lowest common denominators in rap aimed at young people while doing the least amount of presentation, but this isn’t The Videos Jukebox, and so we have to address the fact that this is the kind of detour you make with someone as devoid of identity as Lil Mosey. “Noticed” is basically a logical yet utterly unimpressive attempt at a modern Fetty Wap single by someone who just has a lazy sense of self-gratification. Sure, a teen rapper acting conceited and self-important isn’t exactly a groundbreaking thing to find objectionable; yet I can’t recall a time I’ve ever heard one so blasé about the come up! Lil Mosey’s got all the sense of fulfillment of a grown adult for making a peanut butter sandwich, which makes you wonder if maybe we’re likewise scraping the bottom of the jar these days for that same ‘rap banger euphoria’.
[1]

Alfred Soto: “In this single Lil Mosey talks about how people changed because of his fame — but this doesn’t escape his attention,” according to Genius. “He also covers other familiar topics, such as getting money and taking drugs.” I hear nothing in his drone that distinguishes him from others monetizing their ambitions with streams, so it’s possible that Genius needs writers like me.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Despite some interesting textures — the triumphant yacht rock-esque keys on the main riffs, the strange edge to Lil Mosey’s voice when he raps numbers — “Noticed” is fundamentally hollow. It’s rap that sounds like it was made so that its maker could say that he’s a rapper, perfunctory to such an extent that it would sound like parody if Lil Mosey showed any self awareness or wit. But instead “Noticed” sleepwalks through its own sound, showing exactly how low the bar is for a bare minimum piece of Lyrical Lemonade-core Soundcloud rap.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: One of the first things that pops up when typing Lil Mosey’s name into a search engine is “lil mosey net worth.” This is the case for nearly every rapper of note, but it seems faintly ridiculous for a guy with one Hot 100 appearance who gets most of his revenue from YouTube streams. Still, money is a major issue, and people are curious. Especially so are Mosey’s fellow 16-year-olds, who see a kid launching a career by rapping on “type” beats and wonder if they could do the same. “Noticed” keenly plays into this curiosity by injecting the standard “back then hoes didn’t want me” boast with a sense of wide-eyed possibility. There’s a compelling dissonance between what Mosey says and the way he says it; he sounds simultaneously thankful for and bewildered by his instant success, and the beat’s airiness and stop-start structure prop up this feeling of irreality. “Stomach feeling bloated” is an odd flex but, as with Carti’s “my stummy hurt,” it absolutely suits the zeitgeist.
[8]

Iain Mew: Neither the rapping nor the big drifts of trance synths are particularly notable on their own, but the combination makes “Noticed”. I could imagine Alan Walker or a follower pairing this beat with some determined emoting, but instead Lil Mosey’s offhand happiness brings it down to size, and draws out the rough edges in a way that the sound rarely gets. Suddenly it sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a realisation that yeah, things are good actually.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: There’s a large number of Soundcloud rap that’s immensely popular amongst younger people but is getting ignored by major music publications. “Noticed” makes the case that this is sometimes a good thing.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: That stomping orchestra synth rolls out the red carpet like a refined take on Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On” for the current era, and Lil Mosey celebrates his success and cash flow like it too. Except, the general attitude of Soundcloud rap really puts a drag on Mosey’s flow, which sounds nowhere as gleeful and excited as Soulja Boy about his gains. “Noticed” is even more bitter, turning success into a form of revenge, and it makes being rich sound way less fun.
[5]

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Got7 – Lullaby

No wait, come back, it’s not a ballad!


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Anjy Ou: Somehow this song manages to do Yasutaka Nakata in 2018 better than Nakata himself. The chaotic bubble of the chorus instrumental that harkens back to the Japanese producer’s earlier work is paired with Got7’s most appealing vocal arrangement and performance to date. It’s disappointing then that the producers decided to go for the typical k-pop genre mash as opposed to full-on electro-pop. While the hip-hop production in the verses is good, it pulls me down from the chorus high and leaves the rappers’ lacklustre performances exposed. In a world of IKONs, Monsta Xs, and BTSs, their styles don’t stand out or add anything substantial to the song. I wish the song leaned more heavily on the dance and vocal sections.
[7]

Alfred Soto: After three years, Got7 returns for our consideration. Flowers, magic, and lullabies — they still proffer worn tropes with such spritz that they become momentarily new again.
[6]

Iain Mew: The verses are straight out of the space limo school of flashy electronic pop, albeit one stuck in a middle gear. But then the chorus tries to inject some funk and does so with a bit of slap bass and nothing else save some strings coming from the other side of a partition. It’s like someone has ripped a chunk of “Lullaby” out and just left a bare chassis, and it’s too disconnected for the weirdness of that to work in its favour.
[5]

Anna Suiter: Got7’s foothold in the k-pop scene has always been a little strange when compared to their peers’, especially from the “Big 3” of JYP, SM, and YG. It’s not like anyone finds their footing immediately, but for Got7 it seemed to take a little longer. But they’ve finally found their niche, with this track that’s really nothing like a lullaby beyond the title and the tone of the lyrics. It’s pretty, and just different enough from what they’ve been doing that it’s neither a retread or a derail. That’s all they needed, and it makes for a good listen, so who can complain?
[7]

Alex Clifton: The title “Lullaby” is a neat way to subvert listeners’ expectations. I was dreading a full maudlin ballad (not that those are inherently bad, but something akin to 1D’s “Little Things”) and instead was greeted by a song at turns fizzy and dreamy. The verses didn’t grab me as much as they could have, but that prechorus and chorus feel like a throwback SHINee track–these boys let loose and just have fun with it.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: The squelchy throbs of the verse are pleasing but the raps are nothing special, so they drag. The acceleration into electro-dance pop is a lot more fun, however it feels like it takes a long time for those highlights to come around. It doesn’t send me to sleep exactly, but it roars up to half speed and then gives up. I think my attention would have held better if it was one or the other the whole way through.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The soft request for sweet nothings in the chorus is deceiving in how inviting GOT7 makes it seem. The speedy beat intensifies the chase, letting it zigzag through sharp corners, but they insist through their sincere confessions that they’re within reach. It would be frustrating had “Lullaby” bore any suggestion they knew they were playing hard to get. Yet they naively cry “I want it, I want it,” fully believing that whom they desire keeps escaping their grasp, not the other way around.
[7]

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Russell Dickerson – Blue Tacoma

And here’s another vehicle in which heaven can be found in the back seat of.


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Anthony Easton: I am surprised at how muddy this sounds, and how generic the verses are. After, almost a decade of screwing in the back of pick-up trucks one would think that both the audience and the performer would be bored, but they keep being released. It’s kind of frustrating, because Dickerson knows how to sing, and the guitars have a prickly edge. Plus, I like the idea that the truck is more important than either the girl or the singer. 
[5]

Ian Mathers: The structure, the instrumentation, etc. are all fine. It’s everything draped over it that I hate so viscerally (and, honestly, probably unfairly): vocal style, sentiment, imagery, everything. I’d punt a radio playing this out a window, but when I try and step back a little and listen to the melody, it’s actually fine. I’d assume there’s something suspect going on with me, some classism or something, and maybe there is; but I don’t have a ton of money, and I grew up in the country enough that I heard plenty of pop country growing up (and didn’t loathe most of it the way I do most of the examples I hear now). But here’s the thing about when your knee jerks: it’s still a real reaction.
[2]

Julian Axelrod: There’s something about this song that I find incredibly peaceful. The stock road trip imagery is smeared and impressionistic, as if faded by memory. The depiction of romance is surprisingly lived-in and intimate. And the chorus feels sprawling and expansive, like the midpoint of a long drive when it feels you’ll never stop moving forward. I don’t know if I love the song itself, but I kinda want to live inside it.
[6]

Juan F. Carruyo: Please keep this breezy car commercial music away from me
[0]

Taylor Alatorre: It’d be easy to dismiss this as the output of a formula already codified by the likes of Sam Hunt, Locash, Dustin Lynch, and Randy Houser. It’s got the quiet-loud dynamics, the barest rhythmic hint of hip hop, and those sprightly power chords that are the universally recognized symbol of the Interstate Highway System. But it’s the little variations on this formula that show how this was crafted with care: the unexpected snare roll in the middle of verse one, the seamless integration of synthetic and live drumming, the outro that thoughtfully picks up where the guitar solo left off. And there’s Dickerson himself, who sounds calmer and more self-effacing than many of his male country brethren. He references Shania but doesn’t wave the reference in your face for cool points; her song is just another part of the scenery. The end result resembles that stable of 2000s rock bands that were lumped under “post-grunge” but were really just power pop by another name. The world needed a less angsty Daughtry, and it looks like Nashville has him.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I like how the hook makes it sound like Russell Dickerson’s pickup truck is the name of a city in California. Because for all the joy he’s finding in this moment, it’s his car that’s acting as the conduit for all experience. Even with everyone around him, his Tacoma’s interior provides a liminal space between the outside world and intimacy with his lover. “Blue Tacoma” thus works because it’s nonintrusive but still affecting: a perfect soundtrack for exactly what he’s singing about.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Heard it all before but still somewhat into this — it’s a big, anthemic melody and Dickerson gives it a joyous, top-of-sand-dune delivery. He gives lines like “never runnin’ out of golden road” a hint of wonderment, and the line “missin’ turns ’cause that’s our song” with goofy charm. Maybe songs like these have their success rest on how much the performer makes you like them, so this is a winner. The lite-beats and echoes of the chorus line date the song a bit, not just to the early days of bro-country, but also the late 90s, so points off for that. Still a solid entry in the genre I like to call “sunbelt pop” in the hope someone else will pick it up and run with it.
[6]

Crystal Leww: It’s been said again and again here that the best country songs are about small intimate moments from ordinary people. “Blue Tacoma” sounds like a roadtrip down the PCH when the weather has cooled just slightly but the sun is still shining. It’s a vivid and bright image, narrated by Dickerson, who sounds so thrilled by the idea that she loves him, that she chose him. I was dismayed by the direction that country took the last couple of years — a Serious Man backlash to the Sam Hunts and Maren Morrises of the world who made this kind of bright, poppy country — but I’m glad that there’s still a healthy undercurrent of folks like Dickerson. 
[8]