Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Martin Garrix ft. Khalid – Ocean

The singer makes his tenth Jukebox appearance and logs his most middling-of-the-middle score yet…


[Video]
[5.00]

Alfred Soto: If there’s a more prettily vacant singer on the Hot 100, then Abel Tesfaye should feel offended. Martin Garrix, who has arranged lovelier skitters and bloops, keeps trying for an American crossover.
[4]

Nicholas Donohoue: Khalid continues to sing like he has cotton balls in his mouth, and I am wooed as ever. Martin Garrix turns to the orchestra pit for some cinema score vibes, and it’s refreshing. Earnest this is not, but it is a gentle and kind song which is a good enough substitute.
[6]

Hazel Southwell: One of Martin Garrix’s problems is that he doesn’t quite have the songs — or maybe the emotions — to back up what he’s trying to invoke. This is a non-classic by any standards but particularly wastes a couple of good hooks into blandness. The breakdown is the best bit.
[5]

Will Adams: The understated (by Garrix’s standards — never forget) production creates a nice environment for a vocalist like Khalid, who’s here in typical brood mode. But the silly cascading string figure sours it, only serving to highlight that Garrix has done drama better elsewhere.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: If I were Khalid I’d be a bit more selective with which projects I take on; he has one of those rare voices that sound great regardless of surroundings. But while that makes his voice an easy fit for features, overexposure (especially on mediocre tracks) will only hurt him. “Ocean” isn’t bad, but it’s nothing all that interesting, either, and Khalid deserves better than being relegated to a go-to hook singer or features artist.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ve listened to “Only an Ocean Away” too often in my teens (er, and past) to be fully immune to this. And Martin Garrix’s production, which adds gratuitous string flourishes to the ’80s guitar licks, arpeggio peals and nighttime festival melancholy, inadvertently leans that way. More sweet than nothing.
[6]

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Kimbra x Dawn – Version of Me

Two cult faves unite…


[Video]
[7.00]

Will Adams: “There’s a better version of me,” Kimbra sang on the piano-driven original, and she wasn’t wrong. The swelling chord progression gets its complementary arrangement thanks to Dawn Richard. As if in a perpetual climb, the pair’s voices wrap around each other as they both wrap around the song, swirling across the stereo field. Only in the last thirty seconds does that swirling coalesce into a pulse, but it’s the most satisfying outcome; what was once a plea is now a promise delivered.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is so stately and deliberately paced that when the drums finally kick in, with less than a minute left in the song, it feels like you’re being suddenly jarred awake from some beautiful trance. But it’s that break that makes the song, adding much needed textures and confusion to what would’ve otherwise been almost too staid.
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: Their voices and choice in ad-kind contrast well, but the real magic comes from the way each woman delivers her interpretation. Dawn takes a sultrier, heavier approach while the cry in Kimbra’s voice makes her delivery seem more like a plea of acceptance. It’s all so dramatic and vulnerable, but exhilarating too. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Arguably this duet on paper makes a certain amount of sense; two singers who make a left-field pop that is critically adored by certain circles and displays massive ambitions but never quite penetrates outside of their enduring cult audiences. However, it should not translate into Dawn being the solid rock around Kimbra’s vocalizing oceanics. In general the record’s point of coalesce feels like a poor pay-off, and while I’m sure a proper display of chemistry could really set things off, I don’t hear it occuring for this shot.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The arrangement won’t climax, Dawn and Kimbra don’t blink, and Olivier Assayas will be calling them to use “Version of Me” as opening credits for a possible Personal Shopper sequel. 
[6]

Hazel Southwell: Dawn Richard is one of the most versatile and interesting artists I’ve ever closely followed, Kimbra is the woman who was on the Gotye track but surely has her own interesting career. Spotify forced this upon my ears with the urgency it realises I am interested in any Dawn Richard release and this is as glorious as I’d expect from that, as much as I’m not sure I’d hear where Kimbra comes from on it. Version of Me is a hymnal, interpolated ode to begging for investment — there’s a better version of me, stay for the person I’ll be — that holds itself back only to never getting less than 100% moody. It’s your Twitter drafts folder, the WhatsApp messages written on airplane mode you never intend to send, and it’s an emotional loan you’re indebted to the fantasy of longer than you could ever get anyone else to buy into. Dawn’s confessional has always been acute and if Kimbra is an also-collaborated here, that’s not really any kind of offence. Not a banger, of course but I am fully into women artists writing emotionally gory, non-banger tracks that force you to focus on the atmosphere and pain given *gestures broadly* the last century or so.
[9]

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Loud Luxury ft. Brando – Body

Let’s ruin our Friday with some dancefloor detritus from Canada, shall we?


[Video][Website]
[3.50]

Alfred Soto: We all “lost our innocence” when these generic Eurohouse beats went global in the late Obama era. 
[2]

Hazel Southwell: Almost all music I like these days falls into two large moods: ‘lying in bed unable to get up’ and ‘a bottle and a half of rose wine down, wet-legged on a sticky dance floor’ and sometimes, rarely, there’s something like this which performs the perfect Venn crossover between the two into ‘highly motivated depression.’ There’s lots I love here: cheap house piano, big honking bass noises like trains crossing at high speed in the chorus, nonsensical and slightly sped-up lyrics about mild misbehaviour and aspirational behaviours like ‘being able to afford drinks in bars.’ You might be sitting there thinking ‘8 out of 10 is wild’ but it took everything in my body not to slam ’10’ as hard as my heart lurched at hearing something that made me want to do something. 
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: The drop is Vegas pool-party ready and in this heat, it’s hard to ask for more than that and a vodka tonic. So, I won’t.
[6]

Ramzi Awn: What a waste of a beat. Good bass work too. 
[2]

Will Adams: This “Body”‘s no party, won’t get shit started.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There’s a meme on twitter where hack comedy writers claim that they programmed an AI to write, say, Olive Garden commercials. The results are always worse than actual procedurally-generated writing — knowing that someone intentionally tried to make stilted, robotic comedy makes any joy the weirdness resultant generates feel hollow. “Body” is the musical equivalent of those memes — lyrics that sound like you randomized the entire OVO lyrics database over a beat so deeply uninspired that I remember no distinguishing characteristics about it whatsoever.
[0]

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Rico Nasty – Rage

The score is relatively nice though.


[Video][Website]
[5.60]

Nortey Dowuona: Snarling, buried guitars rumble under the walloping drums as Rico cartwheels and handflips over the beat, pausing occasionally to somersault.
[10]

Ryo Miyauchi: While Kenny Beats’ “made for mosh pits” production provides a space for Rico Nasty to push her already-brazen growl to its brink, “Rage” functions best as a stylistic exercise. Though the result is no deeper than a teenage tantrum, she’s wise enough to contain her teenage anger as a short yet intense burst of energy.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Clumsier than it needs to be but I wouldn’t change it on the radio.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Two years ago Rico Nasty borrowed the ‘sugar trap’ aesthetic from former collaborator now nemesis Bali Baby, and it resulted in some radio airplay and recognition after years of trying to make it. Recently she’s abandoned that aesthetic for her “Rage” aesthetic which is cribbed from the late XXXTentacion’s more dunderheaded post-nu-metal material: a sea of snarling in a Rocket Power-esque drawl and thrashing over clamorous aggro production. It’s not the constant biting that has me turned off but how perpetually one note she remains whenever attempting to redefine herself. “Rage” loses steam right out the gate with clunky rapping full of generic bars that undermine the absurd ‘Extreme Kayaking‘ vibe Rico’s going for. You can work as many gimmicks you like, and hey they don’t even have to be original, but please at least do something with it other than cover up how mediocre you are at your job.
[2]

Iain Mew: Adding nu-metal guitar churn and chop to better-done rapping is a nice idea. Rico Nasty shows two ways it could work out — spitting petty complaints about broken nails and traffic, or just howling brokenly — but gets caught between the two in a way that stops the humour or catharsis hitting the target.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: As a nice boy with severe anxiety and a Midwestern disposition, I’m usually not into this kind of aggressive noise rap. Why would I listen to Death Grips or clipping. when I’m already halfway to a panic attack on any given day? But Rico Nasty sounds like she’s screaming with me instead of at me, and that makes all the difference. She’s got a bratty tween vibe and endless charisma, so it’s downright cathartic to hear her lose her shit over a war zone drone that sounds like Hans Zimmer and Papa Roach fucking in a crack house. Her ad-libs are literal screams! Your fave could never! I can’t wait to have a full-on anxiety attack when I see her play this live.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I remain unconvinced that this isn’t some SNL skit that Rico Nasty has the displeasure of being a part of due to contracted hosting duties. 
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every beat of this sounds like it’s doing damage to my HP but in an extremely good way.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: When the rage of being alive in America in 2018 is channeled by a black woman who sounds like she’s actually trying to rap, and not a person whose idea of being edgy is yelling threats while having pink hair, the audacity, it turns out that it makes for a decent rap song. Rico has only one killer bar about a donkey and what the choppa can do to a donkey here, and the hook isn’t really a hook, but this is gale-force stuff.
[6]

Ashley John: “Rage” feels like turning your body inside out. It boils over with unrelenting energy for just over two minutes, a heaving sprint without a moment of pause. “Rage” exudes undeniable confidence but the pounding thrum of momentum underneath fills the track with an amorphous sense of paranoia, like sprinting ahead but always looking back over your shoulder. 
[6]

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

St. Vincent – Fast Slow Disco

Could have just called it “Disco,” Annie.


[Video][Website]
[6.09]

Katherine St Asaph: Unpopular opinions: Masseduction is St. Vincent’s best album, and “Slow Disco” is one of its worst tracks — you have this colossal and cohesive album, plus a Civil Wars cowrite stuck at the end. But that’s an unpopular opinion, and so we have this rather than “Fear the Future Except The Fear’s Even More Visceral.” “Fast Slow Disco” is exactly what it sounds like: “Slow Disco” with a donk on it. It almost works — that synth bass makes up for a lot — but only almost, and you can hear the exact moment it sags: “leave… you… dan… cing.” The synth line’s basically “Dancing on My Own,” so why not swipe the rhythm too? Singing it like “I’m in the cor-ner” doesn’t quite work either, but it’s a hell of a lot closer.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Masseduction was St. Vincent’s most satisfying album to date, and “Slow Disco” its dullest track, relying on the disjunction between adjective and noun. Accelerating it underscores the slowness of its disco. Despite identifying as queer, the leather bar video plays like a sop to the audience. 
[4]

Vikram Joseph: The original “Slow Disco” was always gorgeous, but with hindsight it’s obvious that there was always a legit banger lurking underneath its porcelain skin, ready to supersede “Los Ageless” as Annie Clark’s finest floor-filler. Re-imagined as a four-chord disco stomp, it should probably be too obvious, but it’s such a blast of ecstasy it’s impossible to resist. The secondary drop at 2:08 is so ready for the floor that it pretty much suspends all of my critical faculties, hacks into my phone, books an Uber and orders a round of shots.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Slightly better than even Broken Social Scene’s “Major Label Debut (Fast)” in the very narrow category of ‘good songs redone by the original artist that are now even better and then the artist adds the word “Fast” to the title,’ mainly because Clark had a better song to begin with.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Ah the progressive artistry of *reads crumpled up notes* making a lazy ballad reworked into generic dance pop you’d (rightfully) roast current day self-serious Lady Gaga for. Annie Clark’s pretense and dull ambitions once at least suggested a wilful weirdness, even if she was far more interested in being obtuse with her gestures than being tuneful. But here we have an unnecessarily gaunt sounding attempt at pop with no interesting qualities beyond “oh, it’s St. Vincent,” which if you’re not interested in that alone, makes this unremarkable. Hey, good enough that she can be so many variants of boring.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: Removing herself from the disco fared better for Annie Clark to hit upon the dread and meaninglessness of socialization looming in “Slow Disco,” though it strikes her point nonetheless when she decides to go meta in this “fast” version. While some of her words fit in awkwardly as a pop rhyme, the gritty synth beat gives her visceral imagery pop a more vivid edge.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: For an album that went unnoticed, “Slow Disco” truly was a highlight: the violins and St Vincent’s delicate voice captured the intense emotions of feeling out of place. “Fast Slow Disco” adds a generic synthpop production that characterizes the rest of Masseduction. It sure is poppier and more suitable for a single, but by adding, it erases so much. 
[6]

Iain Mew: Maybe the old idea that you show the true strength of a song by stripping it down to basics isn’t false in the sense of being incorrect, but just highly incomplete. For instance, St. Vincent has shown the strength of this song by doing the reverse.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trick here is that “Fast Slow Disco” isn’t actually faster than the song it remixes– the vocal track is exactly the same as the album version, and the tempo holds too. Instead, St. Vincent pulls off an audio version of that optical illusion with the same-colored squares, air-lifting the best single track off MASSEDUCTION and dropping it in a new milieu. On the album, “Slow Disco” was a come-down, a necessary moment of mournful calm after a run of tracks that felt like increasingly desperate stabs at joy or cries for help. As a single, the mood is more celebratory– a lyric that was once an elegy becomes something more in the long heritage of bittersweet disco bonfires (“Dancing on My Own” is the obvious antecedent); a track about dancing becomes something you can actually dance to.
[8]

Julian Axelrod: I love St. Vincent more than I love most members of my family, but all her albums have a few songs that take a while to click with me. I guess she got sick of waiting for us to catch up, because this time she went ahead and turned the MASSEDUCTION sleeper into a full-on banger. This could have easily been a cash-in abomination, but that throbbing synth swell is so tastefully executed it elevates Annie Clark’s club kiss-off into a gorgeous angelic exodus. I get why people hate on the Antonoff effect at work here, but I’m certainly not going to stop St. Vincent from becoming the queer pop queen she was born to be.
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: As someone who’s never heard the original, this just makes me miss Robyn. The production is cool, but nothing else about the track really works; and the extra voices on the chorus border on kidz-bop/glee cringe territory. 
[4]

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Meek Mill ft. Miguel – Stay Woke

Now #free…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Julian Axelrod: Meek Mill’s first months of freedom find him testing the waters with a sampling of his different modes: hype Meek, romantic Meek, “Dreams and Nightmares” Meek, etc. It feels like he’s still trying to figure out how to return to rap after going through hell, and “Stay Woke” gives us an excerpt of his internal monologue. It’s moving and insightful, obviously; after everything he’s been through, how could it not be? For all the discussion of his singular delivery, Meek also has an ear for vivid imagery. His recounting of his upbringing hits especially hard: “I used to play the quarterback, my dog would go receiver/That was ’til the ball got flat by a dope needle on the pavement.” But it also feels calculated, like he’s giving us the post-prison rumination he thinks we expect. Miguel’s chorus feels especially superfluous, like Meek scribbled some vaguely triumphant platitudes and found the wokest R&B singer in his contacts to record it in one take. Yet even as the song buckles under the weight of its own expectations, it’s still a joy to hear Meek barking over ominous pianos like he never went away. All the freedom and pathos you need is right there in his voice.
[6]

Alfred Soto: It’s hard to understand what Meek raps about here, so swept up is he in the wash of words and by trying to hone his anger — or resignation? “How can I pledge allegiance to the flag/When they killin’ all our sons, all our dads?” is the question of the hour, and he nails it.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: Three verses weren’t ever going to be enough to fit what Meek wants to discuss, and he leaves with more questions than he started. The clearest section is the second, where he tries to understand the SoundCloud generation and how he sees some of their foolishness in his own past as well. His food for thought doesn’t call for a replay even with a Miguel feature, but it’s a nice check-in from a free Meek Mill nonetheless.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Meek Mill was, to me, destined to forever be a B-list rapper — until his absurd incarceration. Since he became a cause célèbre, there’s an urgency to his bars, a “black CNN” quality (thanks, Chuck D) to his lyrics. Miguel’s the perfect R&B singer to provide the hook, and does so just so. The production here (not trap, thank God, but very much of a NY state of mind) accents it all perfectly with crisp snares and some eerie ’90s echoes in the background.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Emotive content and evocative imagery has always suited Meek Mill. The MEEK MILL RAP LIKE meme, as well as an obnoxious feud with everyone’s favorite Canadian carpetbagger, horribly distorted his perception in the media, but he’s still been one of the best rappers in America for at least a decade. His turn to political and pensive content following his recent jail stint has been fascinating, and in a world where political rap is usually only pushed from “conscious” artists,” a real shot in the arm. That said, “Stay Woke” is dreary both to effect and to a fault. The Miguel hook is greasy and dull, while the beat is far too generic. Were this a pre-Dreamchasers mixtape cut to offset his various “Rosé Red“s, it’d be a revelation. Instead, it’s a confirmation and reconciliation for a rapper who, in so many ways, has never known how to be treated fairly.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: “Stay Woke” is Meek Mill in “Dreams and Nightmares” mode, absorbing into his voice such weight of accumulated struggle that he ceases to sound like a mere man, his voice haunting the track like a specter representing an entire community. The past few years of arrests, grotesquely unjust imprisonment, and subsequent freedom has made him larger than his impressive yet hardly indomitable career, a marker of an American justice system that requires of black men only that they lose. Jay-Z wrote op-eds about Meek in the New York Times, and Meek explicitly connects the personal experience of becoming a cause with national debates about police brutality and the carceral state, but he also focuses sharply on neighborhood stories that don’t make the papers; “I used to play the quarterback, my dog would go receiver/That was ’til the ball got flat by a dope needle” is a couplet as richly detailed as the history of, say, black arguments for civil rights going hand-in-hand with military service. And yet “Stay Woke” might have set Meek an impossible task: to all at once make policy arguments, bear witness to his specific circumstance, claim back his personhood from a state that tried to take it away, and still be the hot street rapper we know him to be. Unexpectedly, the soft rock grit of the beat helps; it made me want to revisit fellow Philadelphian Beanie Sigel’s “Feel It in the Air.” “The label couldn’t drop me,” Meek raps at one point, “I’m too valuable” — but he pronounces it like “voluble.” Good thing he’s both.
[7]

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

AJ Tracey ft. Not3s – Butterflies

The artist, in his own words: “In my opinion, honestly, in U.K. music now, if it doesn’t sound like ‘afroswing’ – definitely in quotations because I know a lot of artists don’t like it being called that – it’s not gonna get a certain level of success, which is quite sad.”


[Video]
[4.14]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Former grime wunderkind realizes the bubble has burst and abandons his scene for glaringly commercial afrobeat fodder. AJ sounds more generic than ever (which, even on his more “pure” material like “Naila” and “Spirit Bomb” wasn’t hard), while Not3s appears to be either happy to grab a feature check by providing the least effort possible or to be remarkably undependable for quality verses outside of his own singles. The production is fine, albeit too glaringly edged to stand out in a mix, but between the weaker hook and verses, “Butterflies” is more of a pest than anything.
[3]

Alfred Soto: “Trop-house grime trap” must be hell on the label’s A&R department.
[5]

Iain Mew: There’s not much of the AJ Tracey from Sound of 2017 left, his energy taken away to fit in with the UK’s chart-conquering sound of 2018. Even toned down, his harder rapping is still something a little different in that context, but it sits at odds with the sweetness of the sound without making much of it. Trying to make the extra-possessive approach of the lyrics sweet would be a challenge even without that. 
[2]

Abdullah Siddiqui: All the tropipop-trap fusion banalities of the last few years lazily pasted together to make a piece of music so mind-numbing it borders on psychotropic. If all else fails, Tracey can rest assured that his music may serve greater purpose in the field of hypnotherapy.
[2]

Crystal Leww: AJ Tracey and Not3s put together a track for relaxing on a Saturday afternoon at the block party or for the quiet, close face dancing moments at 3 in the morning. This doesn’t set off the dance floor, but it’s good for keeping up a vibe, which is sometimes all you need to fill the set. 
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: This is on trend for the UK right now, but it’s easy to enjoy wine bar synth pads when they’ve been re-gifted to kinetic Afrobeat rhythms. Probably this vibe will soon get as played out as did the whole two-step/garage thing, which occupied a similar space a couple decades ago. Until then…
[6]

Ashley John: A breezy, sunny track that comes and goes quickly without much stick. AJ Tracey might have more to say than “Butterflies” lets on, but I wouldn’t blame any of us for this not motivating us to dig much deeper. 
[5]

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Alessia Cara – Growing Pains

Music with a message?


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Juana Giaimo: Alessia Cara started her career portraying what she was: a 17-year-old girl who didn’t fit in much here. “Growing Pains” continues the journey of youth, this time revealing the sadness and confusion it holds. However, although this song is about insecurities and realizing that “Ms. Know-It-All” was just a mask, her voice sounds disappointingly too confident. And the song itself is a bit bland — especially the chorus with those empty “hey”s and a synthpop production that is too safe.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: On songs like “Here” and “Wild Things,” Alessia Cara evoked youth as affect, a means for channeling discontent or defiance. The themes sounded natural for her age, but didn’t depend on it. Cara is still young — she turned 22 a week ago — but growing pains afflict children; even as a metaphor for the uncertain path to maturity, her claim to suffering them sounds infantilizing. “Growing Pains” also demonstrates the less interesting side of early adulthood; youth can sparkle with spirit and sincerity, but it can also be tedious and self-obsessed. Cara’s extremely thorough interrogation of her career uncertainties would have been better kept to close friends and support staff. 
[3]

Matias Taylor: Realizing that young isn’t always fun and grown often means alone is a well-worn topic, but Alessia portrays it with confidence and wit, a careful balance between insight and accessibility. And those “hey hey hey”s, in all their wordless glory, blare in as an antidote to the overthinking and self-doubt typical of a precocious mind.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Nakedness and honesty are admirable qualities, but laying these issues bare can get a pop song only so far. “Growing Pains” isn’t the brightest mood to inhabit, but it also lacks any hooks to make the experience worthwhile. It’s almost anti-chorus, with Cara rushing to get back to the heady verses, and the tweet draft of a bridge doesn’t entertain the idea that there’s something to get back to.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: As someone with sympathy for Alessia Cara’s earnest, occasionally grating self-importance, “Growing Pains” isn’t objectionable off the rip for me. But somewhere along the line she decided to up the influence of Lorde but without the ambition — or rather, with the ambition in less capable hands. Pop & Oak have really lost the plot here, distorting her flattest vocals into robotic farts, providing absurd “stadium smash hip-hop beats” and letting Cara’s songs just sort of meander in ways that sound less conversational than indecipherable. Making Alessia Cara sound unfocused and hazy when she’s spent so much time pushing against that is a real betrayal of her better qualities.
[2]

Alfred Soto: “A short leash and a short fuse don’t match” is an aphorism for our times, but the generic electropop is a straitjacket around Alessia Cara, whose emotional range is limited anyway.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Alessia Cara, more than anyone else in pop, seems genuine and grounded, and on “Growing Pains” she navigates the dark night of the Gen-Z soul with the stream-of-consciousness delivery of Julia Michaels and the earnestness of someone still unscathed by industry bullshit. But bullshit there regardless is — specifically, the misguided belief that “genuine” and “grounded” mean bland, or “music with a message” loses its message unless set to bland adult contemporary. (The video, sort of middle-grade-series “Bad Romance,” is illustrative.) A short fuse doesn’t match a waterlogged arrangement either.
[3]

Ian Mathers: I was really hoping that Portishead sample wasn’t as load-bearing as I suspected it might have been.
[6]

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

Dej Loaf ft. Leon Bridges – Liberated

Our Feel Good Tuesday ends with us feeling… okay, I guess…


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Julian Axelrod: On paper, this sounds like a nightmare. Dej Loaf (a rapper who rarely sounds animated even on her best songs) and Leon Bridges (a singer who’s never afraid to veer into schmaltz or cheese, no matter how beautifully executed) isn’t a pairing anyone’s been clamoring for, and recent unity anthems have had a spotty track record despite the current climate. So I’m relieved this isn’t nearly as cringeworthy as it could have been! The link between Loaf and Leon is restraint, and luckily they keep “Liberated” understated. The steel drums provide uplift without getting too flashy, and the vibe is so amiable it feels like a jellyfish floating past a street corner. Sure, the lyrics are about as deep as your woke cousin’s Facebook status, but they’re earnest and heartfelt in the same way. And you could have Leon Bridges sing the phonebook and it’d probably still make me cry a lil bit.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Good intentions, but altogether awkward execution. It’s in the broad strokes, like the clumsy pentatonic melody that rambles underneath it all, and in a few baffling specifics, like the unnaturally long pause after the chant of “People gettin’ liberated!” that never fails to sound like both singers simultaneously forgetting their lines. Maybe there’s a good song somewhere in this corny premise, but it needed some more time in the oven.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: As Dej Loaf drifts over the stock-still shimmers of synths and lilting tin pan bass and snapping, slight drums, she affirms and loves, supported by Leon’s powerful howl.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: The reverberating mid-tones of the steel drums sounds like waking up, though in a more literal way than you might expect from a song with a chorus that urges “people get liberated!” Dej Loaf is more familiar as a rapper than a singer, but her lilt melts nicely over the arrangement’s slow yawn. It’s a welcome intimacy, and the song is best when the lyric matches; the shout-out to introverts, for instance, feels too much like #shareable #content — until it’s reworked as a more lived hope for “real love, less friends.” And while Dej and Bridges do lean too much on generalities, “so many things in this world I don’t understand” and “I won’t judge who you love or your brown skin” are paired sentiments that assert the strength of both acceptance and uncertainty, constructing the two as a separate but resolvable duality.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: Dej Loaf’s flow is very laid back and conversational, which is a strength in songs like this that find the rapper giving a sort of pep talk to the oppressed. Leon Bridges provides a lot of assistance with a pretty powerful chorus that makes you want to raise your hands and nod your head with him, but in this moment it all feels pretty hollow. No fault to the song, of course, but cynicism tends to bleed into how you interpret art and it’s making this great track and making it seem… pretty superficial.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Noble sentiments movingly expressed, with arrangement that will convert no one. Bad taste is supposed to do that.
[6]

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

Mitski – Nobody

I think it’s fair to say we kinda like her…


[Video][Website]
[7.71]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: When I first heard this I thought it was far slighter than “Geyser,” its indomitable predecessor; it wasn’t the disco beat itself, but how tinny it sounded, the guitars sounding like peashooters scratching into the side of my skull. Mitski’s melody was also off — a wandering thing that seemed to drift in and out of coherence before dissipating into nothing by the song’s end. And yet I still felt drawn to “Nobody,” listening to it over and over again as I laid in bed on a foggy June morning. And yet repeated listening brought me no closer to an understanding of “Nobody,” only a realization of its sublime jankiness. It’s a song about the vagaries of loneliness, of seeking connection in half-made up moments and glances, of blaming yourself and begging for something from the world, and it sounds like all of these things reflected through the facets of a disco ball. It’s triumphant in its own way, with its piano and guitar overwhelming you, tricking you to dance with its own ghost of a lyric. “Nobody” is slight because it has to be and because it wants to be — to accommodate the depth of its loneliness and make clear its magnificent strangeness.
[10]

Joshua Copperman: “Geyser” aimed for the heights of “Your Best American Girl” with added orchestration, and while the former is one of our top-scorers for 2018, for me that orchestration crowded rather than accentuated the intensity. “Nobody” doesn’t have that same orchestration, but it instead goes into entirely different territory. Mitski flips the obsessive subtext of Cardigans classic “Lovefool” into the main text, though less about “say that you love me” than “please, anyone, say they love me.” That dread is present in the song even before “give me one good honest kiss” becomes “one good movie kiss,” with that opening line alone. “I open the window/to hear sounds of people” could be a heartfelt lyric from Daughter, but Mitski sounds self-aware enough to know that this behavior is destructive and that it only digs herself deeper. It would have been enough to leave it at that, but the song instead runs through two key changes in the last 45 seconds — when Beyonce’s “Love On Top” did the same thing, it sounded like pure joy, but with Mitski the key changes represent a turn into straight-up delirium. Forget dancing the loneliness away; this song sounds more like dancing with the paranoia that the loneliness may never leave. Of course depression has been depicted in otherwise upbeat songs — but Mitski and Patrick Hyland manage to make the instrumental backing sound sarcastic, mocking instead of supporting its narrator with her denial.
[8]

Will Adams: It’s a killer joke to employ such a chipper arrangement for a song whose first line is, “My God, I’m so lonely.” “Nobody” is unnerving to listen to and a neat trick (especially when the façade begins to crack toward the end), I just find Mitski more compelling when the fake smile is completely down and she’s ripping herself apart fiber by fiber.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Playing “Nobody” after Little Big Town and St. Vincent proved instructive. Enamored with the filigrees of disco without committing to them, these acts can’t shake their psychosexual hangups, god bless’em — up to a point. With Mitski mixed so high, I have to listen to her at times wobbly singing instead of letting them wash against me, bestirred by the beat. I prefer the “Geyser” approach.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: With a couple of notable exceptions (the primal headrush of “Townie,” for example), Mitski songs come together like pieces of a jigsaw. Or maybe they’re more like a Magic Eye puzzle, hinging on a moment of vision and clarity — it’s impossible to see the full picture, until suddenly it’s impossible not to. I remember the first time it happened with “Happy,” the clatter and brass coalescing into a bold, brilliant album opener. “Nobody” follows this trend; on first listen it’s a strange, blurry synth-pop song which doesn’t quite seem to fit inside its frame, but I can pinpoint the exact moment where it makes sense — it’s on the third listen when the ABBA synths kick in, and suddenly Mitski is the sad disco queen that, deep down, we always knew she had in her.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: Mitski is the high priestess of acting okay while you’re slowly coming unhinged, and “Nobody” might be her magnum opus. She leans harder into both polarities than usual, swaying atop a slinky disco suite straight out of a ’70s car commercial as she sings a funeral dirge for her decimated heart. The last minute is some of the finest vocal work she’s ever done, lurching from yearning to defiance to desperation to full erasure as the band scrambles to keep up. Mitski’s always been able to communicate more in a single line than most artists can in an album, but this is some next level diva shit. If Donna Sumer had “I Feel Love,” consider this a much-needed modern update: “I Feel Nothing.”
[8]

Rebecca A. Gowns: An ode to nobody which brings to mind another — but where Toni Basil decries the body and wishes to dissipate altogether, to become nobody (“no body”) in a world that’s too full of senses and responsibilities; Mitski feels the absence, and wants something tangible and real in a world that feels like it’s disappearing. She wants a faceless “somebody”; she wants a nobody with a body. She forgets who she is and needs some one to be the mirror. (Who are we without one another?) Well! You know what, like the Toni Basil song, it’s existential, it’s depressing — and it’s a bop!
[9]