Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Kimbra – Everybody Knows

The New Zealand singer-songwriter hangs in there…


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Kat Stevens: It’s been a good two months since the 2017 World Athletics Championships, during which BBC Sport were using Jean Michel Jarre’s “Equinox V” as bed music while displaying the schedule graphic. In any right-thinking universe this would have triggered a worldwide Euro-electronica/arpeggiation revival, but in our sad excuse for a reality it seems only Kimbra got the memo. In the meantime I can console myself by rewatching the incredible Equinox V video, which is the vision of the future millennials want (JMJ inspecting skyscrapers then trying not to corpse while twiddling the knobs of a giant synthesiser in a field).
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Limp drums, echoing, glassy synths, mild bass, removed marimba — wait! nope, just slightly better, pedestrian drums. Kimbra sings coolly in the middle of towering glass synths, and her echoes run through filters. Cool, I guess.
[5]

Alex Clifton: I’ve wanted to like Kimbra for so long, but I’ve never been able to figure out why her fanbase is so dedicated. Two and a half minutes into this song, I suddenly got it: layers upon layers of sound create a gorgeous, trippy soundscape, where Kimbra’s voice swims in and out like a dream. The problem is that it took more than halfway through the song to get there in the first place. I’m still more underwhelmed than I want to be, but I see where the magic comes from.
[5]

Will Adams: In the years since the middling The Golden Echo, Kimbra’s been dabbling in OWSLA collabs. It’s a good fit: the soul simulacra she’d been doing had begun to turn stale, and the weirdness OWSLA’s sound has been trending toward suits her voice well. “Everybody Knows” continues this new turn. It’s the traditional slow-building template, Kimbra’s voice a murmur at first, but the ensuing release is less cathartic and more agitated, static flooding the track as the heat of anger floods Kimbra’s vision. At the end, she returns to where she started, having completed the process.
[7]

Alfred Soto: I thought the New Zealander had essayed a Leonard Cohen cover, which would not have been charmless. The way in which Kimbra syncopates her melancholy to the synth rhythm gives “Everybody Knows” its mild tension.
[5]

Rebecca A. Gowns: A song about the entertainment industry, fame (or semi-fame) and all the trappings. We’ve heard it hundreds of times before, but the timing feels especially prescient. The song isn’t original in its message, nor really in its sound, but it’s got a hypnotizing allure, and Kimbra sings with a wounded-but-guarded urgency.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: If you’re keeping track at home alongside my inner editor, this is the third Jukebox track I’ve likened to Mandalay’s “All My Sins.” Here, the likeness is clear: a glassy, polished intro barely holding back a buzzy, arpeggiated squall, where every time you think you’ve gotten the trick more layers break forth. It’s an apt metaphor for the misdeeds of the unnamed, finally shamed creep in the lyric — a lyric that reads particularly bitter this month. (Several people have independently come up with “pustules” to describe these folks: after the first burst of misdeeds, more and more crap comes out.) Could do without the cod-soul vocal affectation, but otherwise, this is the sort of alt-pop I wish got traction.
[8]

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

Next, on album #256363636: posthumous supergroup EPS?


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Josh Langhoff: She had better chord changes, too.
[3]

Crystal Leww: I hate it when music theatre nerds get it in their heads that everyone wants to hear their rock opera. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: I have no problem with musical theater in rock, especially when the piano line on Sparks’ effort has house inflections. And they’re right: Edith Piaf did say it — sing it — better. I don’t care for Piaf’s affectations, though, which limits my response to this well-tuned recreation of the experience of adoring an idol.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: About one-fourth through this, I started hearing this as a cabaret cover of “Cry For You” with occasional soundboard percussion and canned guitars. Not bad! But distracting enough for me to lose the lyrics. Oh well. Edith Piaf probably said it better.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Sparks are probably the cleverest songwriters to so consistently write about the insufficiency of language (give or take a Stephin Merritt), and like everything else they write about, they manage to do it in a way that feels both mocking and sincere. If there’s a better, catchier song about semi-regretting not living fast enough to die young, I haven’t heard it.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The target of Sparks’ recent line in mocking theatre is hard to pinpoint — who are they mocking, if not themselves? It’s about 30 seconds too long, but I like how full-bodied this sounds, with an unexpectedly gravelly guitar building nicely on top of the piano and Russell Mael’s always theatric vocals. The effect is that of a diva ballad cut off at the knees, which is surely the point.
[7]

Alex Clifton: Sparks have said they were seeking to avoid a retread of their previous work on Hippopotamus, but this sounds pretty close to the material they produced with Franz Ferdinand as FFS minus Alex Kapranos’s vocals. That’s not necessarily bad, as we have Sparks in their best and most delightful mode, grandiose and melancholic while retaining a sense of humour. They’re mostly aware of their own absurdity. “Edith Piaf” sounds fine, with sweeping pianos, but Russell Mael warbles about not being able to live fast and die young, which is a weird juxtaposition for someone who has packed a lot of life into his 69 years. Once Piaf is evoked, her spectre overshadows the song; I half expected an entire verse in French. But as it stands, it’s a decent return to form.
[6]

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Rachel Platten – Broken Glass

In which Joshua is mathematically optimistic…


[Video][Website]
[3.57]

Joshua Copperman: Rachel Platten is the most [6] artist ever — her songs don’t necessarily break any ground, but they are always done with much more effort than necessary. Even “Fight Song” has some really interesting things going on beyond the chorus (Mike Senior of Sound On Sound gave a technical breakdown a couple of years ago). We already know what a Stargate song sounds like when no one involved cares, but the chorus is suspiciously good for Inspirational Vaguely Feminist Song #27, as is Stargate’s production here. While the drop is inevitable, Platten’s equally obligatory drop ad-libs don’t even sound like they’re trying to be cool. It feels like she thinks she’s phoning it in, but doesn’t even realize how catchy that little hook is. 
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: When Rachel Platten first hit the scene, I thought she was Rachael Ray trying out music. Clearly, I have an issue with names and faces, but it made sense that such a peppy and positive chef/talk show host would release a song like “Fight Song.” But “Fight Song” worked (barely) because of the production and the passion with which Rachel sang. Those two ingredients are sorely lacking in “Broken Glass,” where Rachel gives us a bland vocal, stale lyrics, and a generic island beat.
[2]

Rebecca A. Gowns: It’s supposed to be about victory and release and spite and rooting for our underdog hero, but it just sounds anonymous.
[3]

Will Adams: Rachel Platten’s brand was built on explosive, anthemic choruses. But now that she’s been shoved into the tropical box, her chorus now has to be the build-up for a drop and instrumental break. The fluttering vocal hook is rather nice, but the dissonance between EDM and traditional pop structure has never been more apparent.
[4]

Alfred Soto: She’s gonna dance to a trop house rhythm, more like, belting clichés as if she thought of them herself.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I guess a beach — the industry’s Fyre Festival-ad version of such, from which trop-house and dancehall emanate — would have a ton of broken glass. Which is the only thing that makes sense in this mess o’ metaphors: a highway full of red lights and train tracks with people tied to them (I guess what that’s what the red lights are for?), with waves to surf, plus the ceiling raining down bricks as well as odds — look, any one of these might work, at least by pop-song standards, as underlying darkness, but not all at once. Points, I suppose, for how the drop kinda evokes a sadistic voice teacher forcing out a student’s high notes by scattering shards on the floor.
[3]

Anjy Ou: I feel like this song should be better than it is: Platten delivers a great vocal performance, the lyrics have some great imagery (“so what, still got knives in my back”), and the falsetto at the end of the chorus is a nice way to represent the joy that comes from living through things. But it goes right through me. Maybe because in an attempt to hit on that catchy, folk song/island vibe that’s popular right now, the song emphasizes the broken glass and not the dancing.
[5]

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Max ft. Gnash – Lights Down Low

We’d rather you just turn them off.


[Video][Website]
[2.83]

Alfred Soto: Like dandruff and sexual harassment at the work place, sensitive dudes with acoustic guitars singing to angels (wearing halos!) will be always among us. 
[1]

Nortey Dowuona: Flat, empty guitar, flat, 2D drums, terrible singing… stop. Just stop.
[0]

Tim de Reuse: Makes a successful, striking transition from intimate and cute to overwhelmed and explosive, without sounding like an overcompressed mess — well done! It’s unfortunate, though, that it’s trying so hard to be capital-C Cinematic, riding on movie-trailer drums, cavernous reverb, and vague romantic quips. The message on display is endearing, but in both musical style and lyrical content its presentation is aggressively un-specific and seems laser-targeted towards cultural neutrality. There’s something to be said for a universally applicable love song, I guess, but that shouldn’t preclude personality; this is just as sweet and boring as a packet of table sugar for dessert.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Max seems to have had second thoughts about him removing the barbs from Bieber’s “Love Yourself” to get one of the most vanilla songs about turning down the lights. He should’ve just committed to the inoffensiveness of it all. Tasteless as it is, acoustic-guitar pleasantness hurt nobody. But he had to overshoot it in an effort to spice things up: Gnash’s crummy rap verse is written and delivered like a person who has never gave the format a shot, and it leaves everyone cringing.
[4]

Will Adams: The unappealing nexus of sensitive lad guitar noodles and the disingenuous loverboy schtick of early Bruno Mars. The latter actually improves the song if only for the sweeping crescendo toward the end, but even that can’t salvage the Sheeran/Arthur-esque plod and useless Gnash verse that precede it.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: The problem is that Ed Sheeran’s made it all sound like it’s so easy, but it’s really not. The whomp of the beat when it comes in the first time is, admittedly, devastatingly effective, but Max’s emotion sounds like it’s been pinched out of him. I guess he’s halfway to proficiency, but Gnash’s verse is nothing short of atrocious. Nothing about any of this makes me want to think about, let alone have, sex.
[3]

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Alice Merton – No Roots

I got no roots, I count ’em…


[Video][Website]
[5.86]

Alfred Soto: She’s from Germany, but she embraces a wanderlust that gets more charming and assertive with each guitar strum and elongation of ro-oo-oo-ts. Should pop radio come around to it, I can imagine the hook boring me.
[6]

Iain Mew: A run through all the obvious touch points of such a long-rooted genre is an odd choice for the message. The space synth counterpoint is a fun way out of that trap, but it comes a little too late.
[4]

Alex Clifton: Despite being about feeling untethered to a concept of home, “No Roots” is delightfully stompy and grounded. That opening bassline’s worth building a life around, structured and regular and solid. It only gets better from there: a hooky chorus and Alice Merton’s strong voice anchor this song straight in your brain. As someone who herself has loose roots (too British to be properly American, too American to pass as a native back in the UK, friends and family scattered like pins on a map), though, the lyrics read as a strange feeling of recognition: a life lived in and out of boxes, leaving in the dead of night never to return, how I left things in the corners of the world I lived in with desperate hopes I’d return. Over the years I’ve made music a home of sorts; I’ll count “No Roots” as a welcome addition to my collection.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: I clicked off this slight guitar pop song for another one. It was Jain’s “Makeba,” by the way. Merton’s a good singer but she’s stuck moving against the song.
[3]

Joshua Copperman: Seemingly made for these sorts of tweets, and almost certainly something my mom will be singing at random intervals a few months from now.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: Not sure if it’s the delicious guitar licks, the dirty bass, or the powerful percussion, but this combined with those electronic chords at the end make for one damn catchy track: pair that with Alice’s warm, deep vocals and you’ve got a winner. This song is the perfect first-apartment-after-leaving-home song; something you jam out to when everyone leaves after helping you move in and you’re both happy with your independence and nervous at the idea of being entirely on your own. This makes me want to crack open a beer, stand in the middle of my living room in only boxers, and just jam out.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Merton deploys a killer bassline and some dirty guitar licks to get in your ear, and comes out the other seeming likeable without any sense of pretense. The song’s melody isn’t up to its confident rhythm, though it does give her lots of words to swoop on and doesn’t detract from the infectious strut that’s been worked up.
[7]

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

St. Vincent – Los Ageless

Where In The World Will Annie Clark Be Next?


[Video][Website]
[7.10]

Eleanor Graham: Particularly after the impossibly fine-boned “New York”, this veers into the smart-soulless wall-of-bombast territory of Jungle, or the new Beck song. If all the lyrics were as smugly baffling as “in Los Ageless, the mothers milk their young,” I’d probably hate it. What’s that, LA is full of rich people who are a bit weird? Haha, no way! But “HOW CAN ANYBODY HAVE YOU AND LOSE YOU AND NOT LOSE THEIR MINDS TOO?” is a huge, irresistible demand. It sounds in the best possible way like a piece of Jenny Holzer art or a Red-era Taylor Swift line. The verses are perfectly structured too — as she sings “burn the pages of unwritten memoirs” or “girls in cages playing their guitars,” she’s illustrating the chaotic, appalling city; as she falls into “I can keep running ah-ah” or “I just follow the hood of my car,” she’s gritting her teeth and leaning back into its all-consuming rhythm, riding a 300-foot wave.
[6]

Cédric Le Merrer: At first it starts out like yet another song about the twisted city of sin and glamour, with a weird St. Vincent groove and seductive coos. Welcome To The Jungle of LA Hallucinations. Cool, I thought, but I’m already on my way to boredom. But I did not see the plot twist coming: it’s actually yet another a breakup song! And my disbelief is 100% suspended and I do feel the heartbreak for the time of that painful chorus.
[8]

William John: A song of contrasts: the verses are all distracted and fidgety, the sort of work one does when experiencing anxiety-induced stomach cramps, while the chorus is catharsis, decompression, an explosion of feeling. “How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind, too?” asks Annie Clark, who’s long been condescended to as a porcelain-doll figure who can shred. Here, she dismantles that characterisation with total abandonment of inhibition, and embraces the vulnerabilities exposed when one is proximate with a person who ostensibly exemplifies everything you think you’re supposed to want and be.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: Bouncy bass, wavy synths, thick, sharp guitar and decent drum programming. Plus, the massive wave of overlapping vocals, fuzzy guitars, crackling synths, popping drums and stabs of synth horn coalesce then spilt apart as St. Vincent rides it with both calm and poise.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The massive sound bespeaks a world conquering assertiveness: St. Vincent, per a recent New Yorker profile, wants a larger audience. The blues tropes conveying overpowering carnal desire are familiar to PJ Harvey listeners, just as the electronic squawks were gauche when LCD Soundsystem used them in 2004. This explains the title, maybe: in L.A. revivals are as constant as the smog.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: Previous single “New York” makes more sense within Masseduction, recontextualizing the surreal production of the album by placing it on top of a simplistic power ballad. “Los Ageless,” as evidenced by the way “Sugarboy” foreshadows the synth riff, is the true centerpiece of the album. Everything that makes both Annie Clark’s songwriting and Jack Antonoff’s production stellar is on display here, with a gigantic chorus and smart lyrics that casually eclipse the commentary La La Land made about Hollywood last year (“The lost sages hang out by the bar/Burn the pages of unwritten memoirs”). Yet on its own, I can’t say I have the same attachment that I do to the rest of Masseduction — even as most of the album rarely goes off the rails no matter how much distortion Clark and Antonoff throw on it, “Los Ageless” is a bit too extra to have the same impact. The outro is beautiful, but the instrumentation is — for lack of a better term, I swear — melodramatic. We get it, Antonoff, you like orchestral swells! Let Annie speak!
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Before, Annie Clark either housed her desire in such perfect musical display in her songs, it became an object no longer hers; or she wrote about the feeling with lyrics too cryptic, as if she was yet too uncomfortable to flesh it out in more plain language. “Los Ageless” operates still with clinical precision, music-wise, yet this is the closest she has come to giving the experience with desire a physical form — and she molds it to resemble all of its ugliness. Not only does Clark push her nose against the glass case to really take in a look,, she embraces her self-disgust with it whole, especially in the chorus: “how can anyone have you, lose you and not lose their minds too?”
[7]

Ian Mathers: Annie Clark makes a meal of the gap between “how can anybody have you?” and “how can anybody have you and lose you?” as only she can, but on first encounter the slightly more synthesized/less idiosyncratic production feels like a step back from the last two album. But jeeze, if one of the pre-eminent voices in her field is merely just making exceptional songs that don’t sound quite as much like she’s blowing up the form around her, I guess we’ll have to settle for that.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There’s something impotent about the ability to be insipid these days. People insist that there’s some sort of inherent power in knowing better and simply basking in it, when the righteous can still end up mowed down without any sort of compensation or commendation. Annie Clark’s always been pretty smart, smarter than me, and I tend to appreciate artists who are trying to make art from a place of benevolent nobility, but more and more I’ve come to feel like everything she does is frozen by a need to be wry. “Los Ageless” is very satisfied to know better, the dry processing on her guitar as artificial as what she herself is commenting on. But it doesn’t necessarily try to understand or sympathize with its target, and instead punches down from a high-up tower. To snipe down at a world you find ridicule in behind walls of disaffection nowadays seems a tiresome lecture, and for all Clark’s bountiful talents to bestow on us, her songs feel less benevolent and more like being subjected to someone’s infinite wisdom.
[4]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I’m the person who was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I can get defensive when I hear critiques of the city, especially a reading of the city as a whole as superficial, predatory, and devouring. To me, Los Angeles is its immigrants; its vibrant arts scene; its museums and libraries; its mystifying array of flora brought in from every climate; its topography as varied as mountains and valleys and river and oceans. And yet! I’m getting to an age where, as much as I resist the metonymy, I have to accept it: Los Angeles is Hollywood, a damned and unshakeable link. Hollywood is maddeningly hierarchal (and, it follows, racist, sexist, nepotist, and all the rest), and that system bleeds out into the rest of Los Angeles, as so much of our economy and image comes from it. St. Vincent sings it all out, and with her chorus, nails the heart of my defensiveness — “how can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?” There is so much to cherish in Los Angeles, and yes, in Hollywood, that it hurts so deeply when you realize, time and time again, how fickle the city really is. Even for someone who was born amongst the palm trees. How cruel to arrive in Los Angeles and realize that the producers want you for your body, not your work; crueler still to be born here and look the city in its eyes, and it always looks away, pretending to not know your name.
[8]

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Lotto Boyzz – No Don

The Jukebox considers “Afro Bashment”…


[Video]
[4.29]

Crystal Leww: The initial kick to this song is a pleasant surprise, but it quickly wears out its welcome as the verses quickly tire themselves out. There are places where this feels like the UK’s version of Future’s mumbling sung rap, and like Future, it’s good for about thirty seconds in the club until the DJ transitions to another song.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Average Auto-Tuned singing, bland, empty rapping, flat synth bass, skinny, flat drum programming again. SMH. (Plus, there are pauses in there that kill the song dead.)
[2]

Ramzi Awn: With a couple of tweaks and another set of ears on the vocal production, Lotto Boyzz could have taken “No Don” to the next level. The boys display a refreshing knack for the off-kilter, nestling harmonies between old-school rhymes, and the track’s levity is hard to argue with.  
[6]

Iain Mew: A lot of good boxes ticked — a pair of verses each succeeding in their own distinct personality, a dizzying chorus beat drop, and an inventive new corporate extension for the Madison/Addison Lee rhyme.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: Lotto Boyzz return Drake’s recent interest in British styles; the melodic “No Don” is reminiscent of the Canadian in his less dour and more ingratiating moments. The supple Afrobeat rhythms also charm. Less memorable is the rapped verse, carved from icy grime consonants and leaving little impact.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: The playboy half of Lotto Boyzz crams too much in order to establish character, his bars running on enough for this vacant music to feel stuffy. The crooner half comes in for the save somewhat by setting some solid ground with sweet melodies and a Not3s reference.
[5]

Anjy Ou: “돈 (don) is the Korean word for “money”, and the dude is wearing a Korean flag shirt — that’s kind of clever. Calling your musical style “Afro Bashment” when bashment already has African roots… less clever. It is somewhat appropriate — the link between bashment and the continent is as obvious as the link between this song and the music black artists were making in the UK and West Africa between 2003 and 2009. But honestly this is just me grasping at straws to find something to say about this song other than “tired, boring, next please.”
[1]

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Macklemore ft. Kesha – Good Old Days

At least he’s not stressed out…


[Video][Website]
[4.14]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This song is like the equivalent of running into an old college friend in the grocery store, one you lost touch with but you’re delighted to see again, and she says she’s here with her fiancé, then the guy with his head in the freezer section pops out to say hello, and it’s that one awful guy that you knew in college, the one that would somehow keep getting invited to parties even though all he did was talk over other people and inevitably offend someone. So all you can muster is a smile and “Oh! Hello!” and shake both their hands, reserving the warmer smile and more tender touch for your old friend. They fill you in on their lives in the past ten years, and you do too, and even though it seems like you’re going deep into a tunnel of nostalgia, mere seconds are passing by and all the details being shared are superficial. You want to open up more, but you don’t feel like you can with this guy right next to you; and I mean, maybe he’s changed, in fact, you’re pretty sure he’s changed, cuz we were all kind of assholes ten years ago, when you think about it, and if he ended up with her and picking up frozen berries and kombucha and artisan cheese, how bad can he be, really? Or is this more about the banality of evil? Or, really, the mediocrity of mediocre men? You realize you’ve all been standing there quietly regarding each other just a moment too long, and you’re the first to exhale — “Well! It was nice to see you!” You promise you won’t be a stranger, but exchange no contact information. You make a mental note to try to look her up on Instagram when you get home. Maybe you can message her with your number. Maybe you can grab a coffee while he’s at work. Maybe the two of you can re-connect and share something with real substance.
[3]

Alfred Soto: He admits to not knowing things, doesn’t affect humility, and cedes enough song space to a not bad Kesha — a good dude. But if “Good Old Days” has a sapient musical detail or ear-catching line I’ve missed it.
[4]

Will Adams: “Good Old Days” takes a quiet approach to nostalgic yearning, which is nice, but the song never finds its release, instead dimming to one last chorus at the end. The only thing keeping this score from going any lower is the idea that we were likely spared a Macklemore feature on Rainbow.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Nice. Soft and pillowy piano; slight guitar stabs; fuzzy strings; popping little drums; and low, chilled out bass — oh, and a choir! Kesha lifts it. Mack stays out of the way.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: There’s a difference between knowing your strengths and releasing the same type of song over and over again. It’s a thin line that many artists struggle to balance on and Macklemore absolutely fails at it. Too often, his songs have the same message, the same sound, and are composed in the same formulaic way. This is no exception, even if Kesha’s melancholy turn on the chorus digs a bit deeper than most Macklemore features. 
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: The type of rap music Macklemore deals with is one ripe for mid-age musings. And it’s been 12 years since his last album bearing his name solo — he was 22 then, 34 now — so if there was an opportunity to look back at the good ol’ days while seated in his backyard chair, this year should be fine as any. That said, “wasn’t that, like, not that long ago,” was my first response to all this, before I did the quick Wikipedia search on his exact timeline. Put in work, he did, but his imprint on the public consciousness, his run with Ryan Lewis on The Heist, still hasn’t yet receded far enough into the past for this reminiscence to echo like the grand memory he shares it as.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: Because it’s still 2013 in Australia, Macklemore spent a good couple weeks recently as a flashpoint in a culture war here. Slated to perform as the showcase entertainment at a national sports championship game was this white rapper — so fitting a guest for our distinctive national brand of insecurity and mediocrity: even with his declining commercial stock he retains the imprimatur of a foreign passport. Macklemore landed to tumult; he planned to perform his pro-gay rights single “Same Love,” one of his biggest and most anodyne hits, but for a nation undertaking a farce of a public survey supposed to eventually deliver marriage equality but designed in reality to stave off the prospect for as long as possible, the Seattle rapper found himself reinvented as a prominent spokesman for a headline civil rights cause. It’s never been easier to feel good about Macklemore than when his mere presence antagonises the revanchists of the right-wing, so “Good Old Days” is a handy reminder of what a schmuck he is outside that context. He delivers these reminiscences in reverent spoken word, as blandly and generically emotive as the accompanying soft-pressed piano chords, which prod as if that action alone will nudge feeling into being.
[3]

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Sofia Carson – Ins and Outs

Swings and roundabouts…


[Video]
[4.38]

Alfred Soto: This Disney creation has studied her Selena Gomez, but Gomez’s breathy vocals and facilely deployed squeaks suggest a person in the throes of an irresistible impulse. On the evidence of “Ins and Outs” I don’t know who Sofia Carson is or how I’m supposed to respond.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: I want for “Ins and Outs” to be a better song than one it is: a slinky pop track built on a dry guitar line pitched half way between Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and one of Maggie Rogers’s singles. But Sofia Carson is too callow a performer for the material; it’s not that she fails to suggest desire in her probity, but that she smooths out the subtle gradations of trust and intrigue suggested therein — and in the empty spaces in the arrangement. It feels intimate not in feeling, but in proximity.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I don’t particularly care for this style of singing, nor this kind of pop, both of which I’d describe as “coquettish.” But the lyrics are interesting, demanding complete honesty and vulnerability, repeating a promise that she won’t bring the gavel down. I keep getting snagged on the word “gavel,” a clunky old-fashioned kind of word that Sofia Carson sings with as much kittenish allure as possible. It’s not my kind of song, but it’s got gumption.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Julia Michaels continues to raise the bar for entry-level pop, here by an ex-Disney alum. But whoever told Carson not to enunciate while singing slammed that bar right back down.
[5]

Ashley John: “Ins and Outs” sounds like a counterpart to Julia Michaels “Issues,” minus the concerning subtext and with more softness. The demand of vulnerability with the promise of forgiveness sounds sweeter and safer here. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Smooth, curlicue bass, nearly invisible synths, plodding drums, and a slight guitar motif slog along, buoyed by Sofia’s restrained, slick, and charming vocals.
[3]

William John: Protect your privacy whenever you can, especially from strangely insistent proponents of limp cod reggae.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: An example of when Disney starlets trying to grow up goes wrong: nasally, insipid, and hard to sit through without cringing. 
[2]

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Shakira ft. Nicky Jam – Perro Fiel

In which Stephen and Rebecca are actually not the same person, but we love them both anyway…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Stephen Eisermann: Before we get into this super fun track, let me just say: Shakira never ages and she looks fucking incredible in the video. Now, back to this terrific pop-reggaeton hybrid that is as bouncy and cute as they come. I especially love how the song frames Shakira as the one confused about whether she wants this guy and Nicky is stuck begging for her, following her around like a loyal dog. It’s an interesting take and even though she did it better on “”Chantaje,”” this track is no slouch and I look forward to dancing to this song at parties to come!
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Shakira’s voice is as robust as ever, and her chemistry with Nicky Jam is irresistible. A great party jam with hooks for days, “Perro Fiel” makes it sound easy.  
[7]

Alfred Soto: She demands fealty on the street and savagery in the sack — Shakira’s cadences put this across the reggaeton beat and then some. Nicky Jam lacks panache; maybe she knows something about his bedroom manners that we don’t.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is supposed to be about a passionate, tempestuous relationship, but the song itself sounds tepid. There’s some kind of missing element here. More of a beat? More musicality? Maybe a cup of coffee?
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: A solid piece on pop with slumped drums, riffing synths and hard, jutting bass pushing out Shakira from the nearly transparent groove, while Nicky Jam is…somewhere.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Shakira and Nicky Jam are frustrated, I’m told, but “Perro Fiel” offers less push and pull than desired. The two don’t switch their cadences much, and the modest beat doesn’t bring anything new to fruition either. Shakira’s granted a small section of her own, but she retreats to the beat when she could’ve instead provided a pivot turn.
[6]