Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Remy Ma ft. Lil Kim – Wake Me Up

Today we teach former queens how to set an alarm on their phones.


[Video][Website]
[4.14]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The weird case of Remy Ma in the last year or so has been kind of a rare and bizarre anomaly. On the one hand, she was coming off a miraculous comeback run following the success of “All The Way Up” with mentor Fat Joe, a rarity for a woman rapper a decade past her ‘could’ve been’ commercial prime who’d been incarcerated for a good chunk of that period. Yet on the other hand, she was a staunch true schooler attempting to feud with the aggressively self-imposed current queen of rap, Nicki Minaj, and that their attempts at career dogfighting got overshadowed by the supremacy of “Bodak Yellow” resulted in both attempting to court favor with an artist they both could rap circles around in their sleep if they focused, demonstrated the shaky reality of their antics. Even in attempting to harness her efforts into commercial passability with the assistance of Lil’ Kim (someone who’s WAY WAY WAAAAY past HER primes in any sense), Remy just does not have the confidence to commit to the record the way so many New Yorkers over the age of 30 who remember ‘the good times’ sound shook. The amount of people who are going to care about “Wake Me Up” and its metadrama is dwindling by the minute, because life is too short and who gives a shit about who’s fucking Nas (for heaven’s sake I can’t convince anyone under the age of 25 Nas is better than NAV these days!).
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: I love love love hearing Remy aping the classic Kim “Queen Bitch” flow, both rhythmically (since the song is built around the original) and tonally, with her voice. And bringing Kim onto the record to deliver the chorus (in a different tone) is a nice twist. I mean, I’m in my late 40s, so the sound of ’90s hip-hop is like ice cream to me, and this sounds good. It’s not groundbreaking or anything, but it’s definitely a head-nodder.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A sad record — lord knows I wanted Remy Ma to do more than awkwardly rap over a rather generous selection of Lil Kim’s own “Queen Bitch.” Give her a real comeback, please. 
[4]

Katie Gill: A weird beat, a weird flow from Remy where she seems perpetually behind and a confusing lack of Lil Kim. If you’re going to stick Lil Kim on the chorus, at least give her one that sounds slightly interesting and won’t put you to sleep.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Not particularly convincing as a lead single if only because the homage — all the way down to Biggie/Lil’ Kim’s flow — reads more as unimaginative than a signifier of talent or clout. Even worse, the “Queen Bitch” herself sounds more like a “Mediocre Jester.”
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Expecting all guns blazing, and an epic Kim verse, there really wasn’t either. Ma’s verses are themselves OK, packing in boasts with impressive density once she gets going, but Kim’s hook feels like she’s being wheeled into the studio to perform the barest minimum she can do to get a feature credit. Coming back by reminding everyone of someone else’s peaks is a funny thing to be trying.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: It’s probably still a tad too early to refer to this piano-player beat that’s essentially a G-Unit B-side circa Beg for Mercy as throwback New York, but it’s at least a breath of fresh air in a funereal post-ASAP landscape. Remy Ma, meanwhile, takes a minute to lock into what should be her comfort zone. Maybe some more Lil Kim would’ve helped get her up to speed.
[5]

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Walker Hayes – You Broke Up with Me

That’s now how I remember it, Walker.


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

Anthony Easton: I was never more surprised at how smart, and how funny the Walker Hayes record was. The single, which now seems ancient, bounces with a false cheer, heartbreak buffered by ebullience and a kind of hip swerve pleasure. It’s all false fronting, but excellent fronting, all that wordplay shucking and jiving towards the unreconcilable. 
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s basically a sonic Matthew Mcconaughey impersonation within the verses and hook, which can either be charming or embarrassing depending on how you look. Walker Hayes specifically appears to be the kind of guy who embodies that sort of ‘don’t threaten me with a good time’ nature that’s a passive forceful without falling into passive aggression per se. His party never feels super in-your-face blaring but it’s still pretty hard to disrupt if you need a second. For all his good vibes, there’s definitely an insincere aura of double-talk in Walker Hayes’ sniggers which makes the ‘quaint’ charms of the record feel just as much of a stale put-on.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Now Sam Hunt has kicked around long enough to inspire followers. The bass and drums have a decent Fleetwood/Mac kick and thud in the chorus, and Walker Hayes tries for amiability, but these days it’s hard to pass yourself off as a lovable rogue when you’re whistling and beat boxing. 
[4]

Tim de Reuse: A song about getting revenge after a nasty break-up by ending up happier than the instigating party? Great idea. There’s even some cutesy wordplay in here that actually sticks. There are also plenty of turns of phrase that are just difficult to listen to (contender for the worst: “get my forget-you on”) laid over instrumentation straight from one of those Apple commercials set in an eerie all-smiles dystopia. There’s a reading of this song where he’s exercising his right to be bitter after being wronged, but there’s an equal amount of evidence supporting the interpretation that he’s just an insufferable douchebag.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: I kinda like his swagger and his overall vibe, which is kinda Sam Hunt if Hunt didn’t seem like such a dick. This song’s just okay, but check out his album boom., which features better material.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: An ungodly synthesis of frat-bro country and chipper Lumineers/Peter Bjorn and John syncbait that honestly, I’m shocked didn’t arrive sooner.
[0]

Edward Okulicz: Putting a song that’s actually incredibly mean on its lyrical surface behind the carefree, breezy whistles in some kind of confidence trick. But the fella doth protest too much when he lets that chorus run one taunt too long — yep, he’s a married father of eight and the song’s about the music biz. Gets a decent score because I’m secretly a smug bastard who empathises with other smug bastards.
[6]

Will Adams: Did NESTEA need a new jingle that quickly?
[2]

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Charli XCX ft. Carly Rae Jepsen – Backseat

Charli, Carly Rae and PC Music? Nah, that’s not really in our wheelhouse.


[Video][Website]
[6.57]

Ryo Miyauchi: The humming synths and the ghost harmonies of “all alone” resemble the static heard when the radio dial is adjusted perfectly to pick up a feed from two FM channels. Both broadcasts play independent from another, each scene unique to the singer who sings them: Charli’s escape from hell via partying turns self-destructive while Carly Rae Jepsen’s LA hallucination finds two cold souls together in bed. And just when the two stories see eye to eye, this metallic black hole of a noise swallows them whole.
[6]

Austin Brown: It’s a never-ending source of fascination for me to watch artists like Charli and Carly navigate the pop industry, invested in the artistic potential of transcendent escapism but resistant (to varying degrees) to its dominant tropes and business practices. Lines on “Backseat” like Charli’s “I want it all, even if it’s fake” and Carly’s “I got a thirst for distraction I can’t take back” are declarative to this effect, as is the mushmouth muttered repetition of “all alone” in the chorus. In opening the Pop 2 mixtape, it serves as a mission statement of sorts for Charli. “Backseat” isn’t nearly as confrontational as Vroom Vroom, which eschewed melody entirely at points and suffered as a result, but it’s not full-on bubblegum either, warping Charli’s voice and discovering decay and regret in its more grating corners. One point off for letting Carly show her up in the lyrics department, but it’s not like she had a choice in that matter.
[7]

Anthony Easton: That this starts and ends with melodic noise, and that the subtle metal grinding throughout the rest of the track keeps asking the questions: how do we make pop, nad what does the form of pop mean now, outside of the populist? It’s a lonely, almost toxic song, and that it is written and performed by two great pop performers who (with the exception of one or two singles) do not sell well, makes it a fascinating example of formalist expansion, a kind of pop for pop’s sake, which would all seem so academic, if it wasn’t so fantastic to listen to. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: They belong together: figures who inhabit pop, approximate stars, scoring the occasional hit. The haze through which this song emerges has the texture of L.A., its smog and the way pop stars, approximate and otherwise, create cogs in the machinery. Because they hesitate about going for the jugular, “Backseat” takes a back seat to even itself. This is why Carly Rae Jepsen and Charli XCX remain approximate pop stars. 
[6]

Eleanor Graham: In How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran describes “How Soon Is Now” as the sound of The Smiths “speeding past us, light-decked and vast, like the Millennium Falcon.” “Backseat” is the daughter and heir of that big, spacey nothing-in-particular. Against the synthy void, light bounces off the industrial clanks and screeches, like a city collapsing in slow motion. The opening lines speak to the cinematic kind of glamour that acknowledges its own hollowness but revels in itself anyway, for a lack of anything else. The parties with strangers won’t help you figure it out, but you can look out the window in the backseat and imagine that the neon lights are falling on your face in exactly the way you want them to, imagine yourself as violet-coloured and monumental and extra-planetary as the chorus.
[7]

Leah Isobel: Given the overlap in Charli and Carly’s audiences and their similar places in the modern pop pantheon, it makes demographic sense that they’d collaborate eventually, though sonically their music isn’t all that similar; Charli is all neon-bright pop hook, while Carly is more of a singer-songwriter type. “Backseat” does an admirable job of blending their separate worlds into one as Charli integrates fully into her femmebot act and Carly tugs on the high notes with so much, um, emotion that she runs away with the song, at least until the final third explodes the whole thing in a haze of electronic shrapnel. The secret overlap that makes this all work is that both singers have an intimate knowledge of pop-as-machine, if from different angles. They sing to each other from across an impossible divide, the cyber girl and the real girl, able to comfort each other but not to heal. Pop 2 has bigger and better pop songs, but none sketch out the album’s psychodrama quite as thoroughly as this one.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Charli XCX’s fans insist that her brand of pop does more than the pop she constantly proves she’s incapable of writing consistently — not because she hasn’t tried, but because frankly people who aren’t captivated by the thought of Charli XCX don’t care. The same could apply to Carly Rae Jepsen, the apparent genius of the straight ahead anthem who can’t manage to convince so-called ‘stupid normies’ she’s even made a song since “Call Me Maybe.” “Backseat” sounds as uncomfortably unabashed as people who cannot separate their philias from their feelings, as the duo rapturously claw at the neon and chrome slidings like half-magpie half-harpies sounding less like a song and more like jarringly reductive fetish art for so many who’ve singed their corneas by refreshing their Tumblrs a few too many times, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe this is the fitting result for the hyperconnectivity of the ‘alt-pop’ stars who can’t succeed at bridging past the voracious net addicts who enshrine them as stars before they actually soar; their relationship becomes a specific kind of fan-service as tether, and in their desperate symbiosis do their damnedest to ensure that this isn’t just fantasy, but that it really matters.
[1]

Will Rivitz: A word to the wise: if a song is to arrive at a triumphant moment of climax most of the way through, it needs to merit that high. That is precisely what “Backseat” does, smokily snaking through neon rubble until it soars into the sky with its gorgeous trapdoor bass while the voices of Charli and Carly diffuse into the ether. It’s the most gorgeous pop song in a very long while, and it grows and glows so perfectly that every moment feels earned.
[9]

Sonia Yang: This is a perfect marriage of my perception of each of their thematic tropes; Jepsen’s dreamy pining undercut by Charli’s wryness. Even the music seems to echo this: smooth 80s-inspired production characteristic of the former’s songs marred just the right amount by darker, more dissonant synths from the latter’s work, almost in conjunction with when each vocalist makes her entrance. The true beauty is how distinct their voices sound even under layers of autotune; Jepsen floats and flutters while Charli errs sharp and sardonic. “Backseat” sparkles but isn’t saccharine, it’s melancholy but not weighty. And like a fever dream, it ends almost as quickly as it began.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Charli ft. Carly, singing about love and, better yet, the solipsistic swooning of getting lost in songs in cars at night alone — music-geek fanfic of such a high degree I’m shocked it wasn’t previously an Archive Of Our Own category. A. G. Cook still can’t quite shake the bratty/saccharine dichotomy through which PC Music tends to cast its singers, but “Backseat” is about as well-executed as it gets. It helps that Charli and Carly push their respective roles into the uncanny — the former’s voice has seldom been so robotically narcotized, the latter approaches Nicola Hitchcock levels of vocal shiver. Extra point for playing their respective accents on “half” off each other; I kinda hope it wasn’t planned.
[9]

Stephen Eisermann: This is the most compelling I’ve ever found Carly and it’s on a track she’s only featured on! The production does wonders for her normally nasally tone and the ethereal production and blend of these two lovely voices is entrancing. The lyrics touch on lost love and a wanting for more, nothing too out of ordinary for either artist, but here it feels especially poignant — probably due to the production. Plus, the addition of the synths and sparkles towards the end of the song are perfect — if one could ever turn Carly and Charli’s voices into sound effects, it would be that starry/sparkly sound. It’s all so… magical.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: PC Music-minded catharsis wherein processed vocals and attention-seeking production turn the humanness of the song into something uncanny, revealing something even more human about our desire to escape a reality that overwhelms us. “Backseat” reaches that blissful headspace in its final chaotic stretch, but it renders the rest of the song a slog in comparison. Even so, Carly’s vocals are too clean and (ineffectively) awkward for the track, distracting too much from achieving the same goals that define easyFun and A.G. Cook’s other tracks. “I want it all, even if it’s fake” sings Charli. I do too, but I’m not convinced they believe it. They’re in the back seat… shouldn’t they be taking the wheel?
[4]

Will Adams: I’ve made peace with the fact that Charli seemingly has no interest in making an actual album in favor of mixtapes that pour on the feature credits for maximum OMG (hi Carly). But I still can’t get past my recent revelation that her current aesthetic is really not far from that of her early mixtapes, only sullied by the PC Music touch: Auto-Tune purée, flat synths and hokey car screeches.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: Charli’s music leaking (down to her unfinished demos) has become something of an in-joke on Reddit and other sites. If someone told me this was one of the demos, I would believe them. There are some stirring melodies and some nice ear candy moments, but it sounds like AG Cook and co. put so much time into the vocals that they forgot to flesh out the backing track. As a result, not much elevates this above Charli’s previous kiss-offs (or Carly’s kiss offs.) The biggest letdown is the breakdown at 3:15; there was nothing to actually strip back in the first place, and the synth arpeggio feels like it was obtained from a P.C. Music Synth Presets folder. “Backseat” is still good enough, but frustrating in how close it is to being great.
[6]

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Younha – Parade

No, we don’t have an algorithm yet for Most Adjective Consensus…


[Video]
[6.33]

Austin Brown: A pleasant slice of bouncy R&B, aided by funk licks and Timbaland-lite polyrhythms, and pushed ever so slightly over the edge from passive pleasure to active enjoyment by Younha’s feather-light lullaby voice.
[6]

Leah Isobel: “Parade” is so light and soft it feels like it might evaporate if I think about it too hard. Younha’s voice is warm and sweet, twirling around the high notes; the bouncy bassline keeps her within the pull of gravity, but only just. “It’s okay to think that you’re the star,” she sings, “sometimes.” The feeling that the world revolves around her is fleeting, but to that feeling she attributes a gentleness and a relief that linger.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A lovely chorus melody — plaintive, wistful — anchors this hologram of a performance.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The GroovyRoom tag tips us off that Younha is trying to stay up to date with current musical trends in Korea, but the result is something as forgettable as her past singles. Younha’s vocals are as ineffectual as vapor, and the cute synth melody overshadows it completely. It doesn’t help that another veteran K-pop star joined forces with contemporary songwriters/producers last month and made something far more successful.
[2]

Michelle Myers: This cheerful pop tune might be utterly forgettable were it not for Younha’s strong yet delicate soprano soaring across the pre-chorus.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The fireworks pop rather quietly in Younha’s “Parade,” but she’s singing about a more private magic. She admires a love that doesn’t completely re-define her universe but simply adds to it more glow, rhythm and imagination. GroovyRoom’s signature sound gives her modestly changed world a fitting base: down to earth in its ambition, yet still cosmic in its dreaminess.
[7]

Alex Clifton: “Parade” feels like a moment out of time. It’s not untethered–Younha’s voice grounds the piece nicely and the backing track is busy but uncluttered–but somehow feels otherworldly. It’s been a while since a song made me feel shot out to the stars.
[8]

Iain Mew: A song that goes out of its way to be undemanding, it’s sweet and soft and offers a constant stream of gentle pleasure. I think I would need to be in a fragile mood for that to seem worth taking over a lot of other choices, but it’s something.
[6]

Ramzi Awn: Unlikely synths are always a plus, and Younha’s ethereal flow is refreshing. “Parade” boasts just the right balance of texture and melody, and the single’s light touch is more than just a pretty facade–it’s intuitive. I’ve been missing a good parade.
[7]

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Raye & Mr. Eazi – Decline

More from the Department of Unintendedly Prescient Titles…


[Video]
[5.70]

Leah Isobel: “The Line” was one of the best singles of 2017, a manic headrush of a song that demanded your attention. “Decline” is… not that. Though the Ashanti interpolation in the chorus is catchy as hell, it’s also so calculated that it borders on insulting. Raye’s icy vocal presence and the track’s brevity keep it from collapsing in on itself, but said brevity also means that Mr Eazi’s contribution goes by so fast that he barely leaves an impression. The seesawing melody in the postchorus lets us catch a glimpse of what Raye can do when she’s not tethered to nostalgia, but it’s frustrating that it’s all we get for now.
[5]

Will Adams: “Decline” shows off its references left and right, leading with Ashanti and following up with Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé. And while the namechecks aren’t totally unearned, the one that caught my ear was at the end when Raye mentions “Shhh,” a song that also plumbs early ’00s R&B nostalgia but with a more inventive sound.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Interpolates “Always on Time,” namedrops “Irreplaceable” and arguably “Bug A Boo,” and comes thisclose to the cadence to “Say My Name”: a nostalgia trip, then. Why do I like this and not Bebe Rexha’s version, despite the source songs being of equal quality? Maybe it’s the production. Or maybe I’m in a better mood than I thought.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Just the slightest bit too busy to satisfy the post-Afrobeat style it’s supposed to duplicate, and in relying on the Ashanti hook, Raye just kind of phoned in IG-caption-level lyrics for every other part. Mr. Eazi’s feature is solid albeit cut short in favor of the main artist who feels more positioned than a proponent of this single, an unfortunate development given her interesting takes on pop prior to this.
[3]

Iain Mew: When so many opportunities for new singers involve playing second place, at best, to EDM drops, I can understand the appeal of any alternative. “Decline” boxes in RAYE just as surely though, straining against the limits of dutifully turning over someone else’s hook.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Raye swings over the tinkling synths, bubbly drums and bouncy bass, while Eazi runs pell-mell over the roots, holding his Maxim and iPhone and sliding around with a petulant apology.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Raye’s demotic insouciance reminds me of good Katy B — she might be irritated that her lover doesn’t let her finish, she might not, she’s out for a good time. The chime hook tells me I don’t share her idea of a good time.
[6]

Austin Brown: “Decline” grooves on and on, but the curious trap-dancehall arrangement feels underserved by Raye’s performance, which lacks distinction either in delivery or lyrics. It’s also an unfortunately slight showcase for a savvy, syncretic artist like Mr. Eazi, although if Universal is willing to throw promo cash at minor collabs like this, I guess that should make me heartened about the perceived commercial viability of the Nigerian market.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: A tad dated, but this is a bop. The sample is fun, and Raye’s voice and attitude fit perfectly with the I’m too good for you hip-hip of the late ’90s/early 2000s. But it’s Mr. Eazi’s verse that gives the song life and relevancy, so much so that I almost wish Raye was left to sing the hook and Mr. Eazi had a full song to work with.
[6]

Isabel Cole: Comes out of the gate almost too strong with a melody that struts and winds through a narrow handful of notes — with that much promise I kept waiting for it to build to something really spectacular, which it doesn’t. But what’s here (the unexpectedly pretty vocal dropping just the right amount of consonants on its descending lines, the chirping percussion and percussive chirps floating in the background, those hums on the second verse) is worthwhile enough that it doesn’t feel right to complain.
[7]

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Pink – Beautiful Trauma

Words apparently can bring us down…


[Video]
[4.75]

Austin Brown: “Beautiful Trauma,” the second single and title track of Pink’s latest album and one of Jack Antonoff’s few 2017 productions, is a good teaching moment for the pop machine’s current attempts to wriggle out from the Big Pop bubble. Max Martin and Dr. Luke compositions function with famously mathematical precision, absorbing the vibe of R&B but discarding any perceived excess swing, while developing hooks that turn heads from a mile away. Antonoff takes pop cues from the usual sources but also from the bumpy momentum of heartland rock, creating a signature sound that’s a little more rhythmically cascading and predisposed towards personality showcases. Unfortunately for Pink, her personality WAS Big Pop, punchy and Epicurean with a brash voice that often drew attention away from her formal vocal talent. The sublimity of her best songs is exchanged for an arrangement that prioritizes words over catharsis.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Is there a more Pink-esque title than “Beautiful Trauma”? It even describes the decision to open with Mellotron chords, follow them with a snippet of piano balladry, and keep listeners hopped up with contemporary electronic programming. Kelly Clarkson would have sung with greater precision a decade earlier. 
[5]

Joshua Copperman: In which Jack Antonoff uses every trick in his arsenal trying to match Pink’s intensity rather than grounding it. Aside from the actual hook (ah yes, the two genders, Love and Drug), there are too many melodies and lyrics stuffed into every section, not to mention the over-the-top orchestral flourishes and the fade-out that’s unfortunately become one of Antonoff’s worst habits. Pink does her thing where she elevates anything she’s given, never swallowed by Antonoff’s eighth-note pianos and gated drums, but her overbearing vocal production doesn’t help.
[5]

Will Adams: “Overproduction” is still poorly defined in music criticism (I’ve seen the term used to condemn things as minor as “they used Auto-Tune”), but to me this is it: layers upon layers meant to impart grandness but only serving to distract. The sudden pitch-bends in the bass on the chorus, the gurgling in the post-chorus, backing vocals pouring in from all sides, the glockenspiel and fake horns — everything about it is exhausting.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Last year I casually joked that perhaps the only musical act of the dawn of the millennium whose success becomes harder and harder to explain with the passing of time, after the viciously unpopular Eminem, might actually be Pink. Even seemingly successful songs like “Family Portrait” wallowed in brokenness but, in retrospect, never managed to feel universal, as opposed to uncomfortable. Even here, Pink croons happily about maliciousness undermining relationships and pharmaceutical aids, but in a way that feels dangerously canny. The production on “Beautiful Trauma” is no cornier than a lesser Katy Perry track, and while Pink’s singing has gotten pretty uneven over the years, it’s still the same voice. Why, then, does everything she do now not only sound cliched but downright painful?
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: After the success of Waitress, Sara Bareilles was tapped to quietly contribute an extra song to Missundaztood: The P!nk Musical (replacing all the Can’t Take Me Home and Try This singles, cut from soundtrack and memory and consigned to YouTube clips with the likes of Turpin’s “Johanna” and “An Open Letter to John Adams“). Critics praise her “impressive Alecia Moore pastiche,” though audiences tend to sneak out to beat the bathroom lines.
[5]

Eleanor Graham: I can’t even make a snarky comment about Jack Antonoff. This is the kind of scrappy, raucous, grandiose, visceral, adrenaline-filled pop music that I wish women made more of; pop music that’s ambivalent about prettiness. It’s like Taylor Swift getting drunk and bashing out “Leeds United” on the piano. I wish Taylor Swift was allowed to sing about fucking up a hotel lobby.
[8]

Isabel Cole: Perks up a bit in the pre-chorus, which is just barely loud and aggro enough to activate the part of my brain that still adolescently responds to shit like “now I’m gonna fuck up a hotel lobby” by ineptly crushing a beer can and hurling it forward with an unfocused cheer (basically Pink’s target demographic). Unfortunately, verse and chorus are sedate enough — which is to say dull and treacly with nary an appealing melody to be found — to draw full attention to the completely fucking stupid lyrics. Not dumb lyrics, mind you, which are forgivable to positive, but tired and unconvincing, which are just a waste of time.
[4]

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Ramz – Barking

+1 knowledge of London geography


[Video]
[4.67]

Iain Mew: Barking: the destination for District line trains that aren’t going all the way into East London suburbia. The kind of place that produces John Terry and needs a memorable election defeat for the far right. Or just a name that rhymes with some verbs and “morning” over the lightest of sing song bliss. That works.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: On one level, the extremely mainstream success of a song like this for an initially unsigned act like Ramz looks like a win for the democratising effect of the internet. On another level, its focus on Barking makes it a symbol and reinforcer of the extents of London’s inordinate cultural and economic power over the rest of Britain. It’s a mixed bag! Ramz isn’t to blame for that, of course, and he has a catchy hook among the lorem ipsum, but if he’d written this about Ladywood, it probably wouldn’t be being reviewed here.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: Like a subpar Ciara track, the hook doesn’t warrant the repetition, and Nikes have been trollin’ for a while now. Adidas where it’s at.  
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: Good hook, but there’s not much attached to it. The references here are tedious things that buy time rather than actually tell why Ramz is so envied. Except maybe the mention of his Colgate teeth, where he slyly slides in Auto-Tune for the stretching of the syllable like he’s genuinely proud of his pearly whites.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Simulating exhaustion exposes the artist to sounding exhausted. The chiming Afro-trap melody and beat don’t mitigate the lethargic rhymes.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The Afro-trap sound’s been milked to the point of absolute saturation, so I can’t blame Ramz for being a bit worn out. Yet at the same time, he’s approaching K.I.G. “Head, Shoulders” level nursery rhyme bars here, and the production is ready to put me down in the crib.
[4]

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Thomas Rhett – Marry Me

Why we (except Anthony) gotta be so rude?


[Video]
[5.00]

Katie Gill: The Country Music Boring Cliches Checklist:  Some sort of stereotypical Southern flowers: ✓.  Small town/out in the country: ✓.  The piano gives more emotion than the singer: ✓.  Alcohol: ✓.  Relentless heteronormativity: ✓.  Total: 5/5. It’s a pity Thomas Rhett doesn’t even have an ounce of charisma to pull this song off because hoo boy does it have nothing going for it.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Sure is purty! As purty as the girl he’s gonna marry. I didn’t expect the twist, so the piano and details like the shot of whiskey and the dad add ironic counterpoint to what would be an otherwise gormless story. 
[6]

Anthony Easton: The piano line of this, the details leading up to the knife twist, how quiet this is, and how devastating, were gorgeous. That it is after a whole passel of songs that he has done about how much he loves his wife and how much he loves marriage, that this continues this argument in favour of marriage as the end point of mature love makes this more complex than it could be. It’s made even better by how it becomes slightly louder and slightly faster but in a way that has a nimbleness. Nothing about this overwhelms.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: Thomas Rhett takes friend zone pop a couple levels further. He doesn’t win much empathy, but thankfully, the pettiness that typically comes with such songs doesn’t get amplified to an intense degree in the equation. Marriage befits Rhett’s narrative as a natural part of the traditions surrounding its home genre anyway, so perhaps that’s less surprising of a feat.
[5]

Alex Clifton: I kept wondering why this was such a mopey song about marriage through the first minute, until the end of the chorus, which actually threw me for a loop; points to Thomas Rhett there for a twist that evaded my expectations. Additional points for respecting the girl’s feelings and not just busting into her wedding. Points off because this is a grown woman and you are still referring to her father as “daddy.” 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I don’t know, seems like a strong possibility that her daddy’s dreading this day because the family’s all trying to figure out who’s stuck babysitting Thomas (whom the bride insisted on inviting because of Southern politeness, expecting he’d decline because of Southern indirectness) so he doesn’t fill his flask at the open bar and make a passive-aggressive toast before cry-vomiting in the country club bathroom. Is it just not an expectation for men that if there’s messy unresolved romantic or sexual history around an event, you don’t go?
[3]

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

G-Eazy ft. Halsey – Him & I

You can’t see it but we’ve circled the title in red pen and written “SEE ME” at the bottom of this post…


[Video]
[3.29]

Alfred Soto: It’s he and I, Halsey, and I hope it’s not the influence of the dopey guy holding on to your arm and calling you “bitch” on this would-be “You’re All I Need to Get By.” 
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: G-Eazy once again rests too comfortable upon pop touchstones without actually providing much of his own insight. He rides entirely on the back of the too-frequently-borrowed book of 2Pac’s “Me & My Girlfriend” to speak on his intensely loyal partner or his erratic personality; the supposedly one-of-a-kind relationship owes its banner hook to OutKast’s “Aquemini.” The most revealing thing is that he’s a “crazy fucking Gemini,” though it still remains a symbol hollow as “2017 Bonnie and Clyde.”
[5]

Will Adams: I can forgive the ill-fitting comparison to the Bonnie & Clyde reboot from fifteen years ago. But it’s harder to overlook the “with Halsey” feature credit that reduces her to a dead-eyed chorus.
[4]

Iain Mew: Halsey shows again why she’s one of the best hook singers of the moment, instantly giving so much more personality than the material deserves. The yawning atmospherics backing G-Eazy aren’t quite enough to make me care about his plotting his funeral, but Halsey gives a spark of something else. Her giggle even steals one of the verses.
[5]

Katie Gill: When you put two artists who I don’t like on a song to begin with, this means I’m naturally predisposed to dislike this song, but WOW is this bad. With awkward phrasing, awkward lyrics, the most awkward censorship attempt that’s somehow even MORE awkward when performed live, there’s not much going for this song. G-Eazy’s lack of flow and needless dumb bro rap are here in spades, and Halsey just sleepwalks her way through her chorus.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: A kind of dull, one-note affair of “love” in its self-absorption that would’ve been a little better had there been some transcending beyond the whole “Girl Part Boy Part” format. The common link here actually is that both Halsey and Gerald have a thread in Drakkonian solipsistic preening, but whereas one of them managed to turn that into a kind of navel gazing that breaks one’s back, all G-Eazy can do is look and sound like a stuffed vulture. I hope the rumours of their relationship turn out to be and end in the inevitable disintegration that would emerge, because in a similar pattern I expect a soulless, cretinous idiot’s failures like his to inspire a lot of disgust in Halsey to power a really good album. And y’know uh, I’m sure Gerald will like, talk about how he deserves better or whatever.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: THE SIGNS AS DEPRESSINGLY HYPED WHITE RAPPERS:
Aries: The giggle that censors “cut my dick off,” yet paradoxically ensures Top 40 radio gets a whisper of Lorena Bobbitting.
Taurus: The subject of G-Eazy’s verse whose style is YSL, mink and silk, i.e. not Halsey at all. Given that G-Eazy’s already on record serenading Britney with a verse blatantly written for Ariana Grande, who was this actually for? And what does this say about the supposed extramusical loooove branding? (A Taurus would ask these things.)
Gemini: “The accompanying music video begins with the line: “They were stars on this stage. Each playing to an audience of two,” a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote from the Beautiful and the Damned.”
Cancer: The overblown emo of Madison Love-via-Halsey’s chorus, which is touching if you forget it’s on a G-Eazy song.
Leo: “My funeral will be lit.”
Virgo: The fact that it should be “him and me.”
Libra: The fact that She & Him screwed the grammar up better, and also beat this in Google search results.
Scorpio: G-Eazy only wishes this song had anything Scorpio.
Sagittarius: The off-chance that “They don’t wanna see us make it, they just wanna divide” is an Ed Sheeran subliminal.
Capricorn: 73 pop radio adds, over double the next single down (BTS)!
Aquarius: Halsey’s atmospheric keening and breathiness, unfortunately buried under G-Eazy’s verses.
Pisces: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which contains all the good parts (Halsey) and none of the bad (G-Eazy).
[3]

Monday, January 15th, 2018

James Arthur – Naked

Somehow scoring even lower than last time


[Video]
[2.12]

Katherine St Asaph: So flaccid, it might as well be pop’s equivalent of the Mull of Kintyre test.
[1]

Austin Brown: Lyrically, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” but with none of the eye for detail or self-deprecation. Musically, imagine some dude hearing Skylar Grey’s chorus on Eminem’s “Monster” and deciding to turn it into a torch song. 
[1]

Stephen Eisermann: “Will James Arthur ever release something not boring,” I ask myself as I hit play. The song ends and I have my answer: no. 
[2]

Alex Ostroff: I was originally going to write something flippant about bland post-Chris Martin British balladry, James Blunt, and The X Factor, but then I paid closer attention to the lyrics, which reveal that this is so much worse than simply boring. Uncomfortable levels of entitlement and possessiveness framed as vulnerability and drenched in a musical arrangement that seems to think issuing demands and blaming someone for your own misplaced expectations is a grand romantic gesture.
[1]

Will Adams: James just wants to see beneath your beautiful, but unfortunately his central lyric about him standing naked before this woman brings more to mind one of the many horror stories of harassment we’ve been hearing the past few months.
[3]

Iain Mew: A demonstration of the perils of writing in broad lines of relationship cliché. Give some benefit of the doubt and “Naked” is a picture of a physical relationship that he’s the more emotionally invested in, and he’s after the same from her. But the way that he doesn’t want to truly commit to specifics gives a grim plausibility to the “half of you” he’s not getting being physical, leaving him singing about how he’s not going to wait for her to choose to “take it to the next level” before getting naked. Even on the more generous reading, the cloying pleading sounds like one more guy who has taken “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” too much to heart.
[1]

Ryo Miyauchi: He begins with casual speak, but he’s not here to have a friendly conversation. He claims to be transparent about his frustration, gripping a fist, but he doesn’t sound truly furious. The music is forlorn, though it never presses urgency. It’s a confusing mood all around, and worst part is that James Arthur probably thinks his final word is pretty simple to understand.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dribbling balladeering that seems to crawl further and further into pretense and surprisingly vicious egomania for the sake of so-called soul-baring. On one hand, the underlying viciousness in the lyrics of “Naked” do allow for sincerity, but one that seems both obscenely demanding and reveals the utter self-delusion that propels him higher and higher into expectation. James Arthur is meant to come off earnest, but he seems frighteningly possessive, and the opulence of the arrangement suggests not any real discipline but a lot of impetuous greed for satisfaction. So bizarre.
[4]