Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Maren Morris – Circles Around This Town

Mostly [6]s and [7]s… why don’t we just meet you in the middle?


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Alfred Soto: Responsible for several sharp singles without establishing a persona, Maren Morris returns with an acoustic chugger reliant on how convincing listeners will find the title pun. The town bores her, but she won’t burn it to the ground, not yet. Fear of hellfire may have something to do with it. Or the possibility that she’ll need a fiction of stability.
[6]

Leah Isobel: “Circles Around This Town” reframes ennui as a sign of of grounded relatability. It’s an interesting move. Country music demands authenticity, but all the external signifiers have been co-opted, so Morris builds her myth on an ineffable restlessness. She’s a cowboy in spirit, if not in practice. I like this.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: “Circles Around This Town” is the kind of perfectly fine recreation of elder guitar driven country with enough day-glo gloss of today’s production styles to make it acceptable, but as a song in itself? Rather plain and dull, especially in writing. It’s meant to be an inspirational peppery potion, but it just feels a little too confident, especially since Maren is still in the beginning stage. And the low slung guitar dimmed in the bridge only reminds you that all of this is being played down, drums thundering below her voice keeping the guitar loop and occasional dips of slide guitar and violin in the chorus aloft. The power of Maren’s voice really helps the chorus soar, making the song float and puff up — then the verses slim down and thin out to prepare for the chorus, but instead it saps all the power of the chorus, which could actually prepare you to take on the world. A shame, every time the circle is completed the thin lines break it apart.
[7]

Alex Clifton: The lines “a couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked / was the one about a car and the one about a church / that I wrote” hit different after the Swift-Albarn songwriting beef this week. It’s a testament to how hard but rewarding it is to make it with your own material in the music industry, especially as a female songwriter. The rest is a cute but rote story about finding success and keeping the grind up, but Morris does a nice job with it.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This remembrance of Morris’s early days in Nashville trying to make it is a delightful return to the straight-ahead country of her (major label) debut Hero; I love Morris, but wasn’t much of a fan of the more pop-soaked Girl. Imagine my surprise upon realizing that Greg Kurstin was behind the boards on this. Credit to him, a pro if ever there were, but also to the song’s writers, including both Morris and her husband Ryan Hurd, who know their way around a country song. What she’s saying and how she says it are equally important here, and the song’s arrangement is *chef’s kiss*.
[9]

Joshua Lu: Julia Michaels is credited as a songwriter, and it unfortunately shows a little too much; the lyrics are too neat and too squarely set at reaching the titular hook. Even the vocals are holding back, as if the song were designed for Julia — Maren’s voice, so effortlessly powerful, is made for something much more grandiose, and she should’ve been able to make “Circles Around This Town” into a sweeping cry like Maren’s best songs. Instead, though, we’re left with vocals that are weirdly filtered and distance, and the song suffers as a result.
[4]

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Alesso, Katy Perry – When I’m Gone

Remember Katy? She’s back, in dancepop form.


[Video]
[4.40]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A B-Side to “Never Really Over,” both in perspective and in quality. 
[5]

Katie Gill: “You know, I think it’s time to give everybody they want,” Katy Perry says at the start of this music video. Apparently she thinks everybody wants a generic-ass EDM song with her vocals processed to shit and back. It’s a song that desperately tries to be Dua Lipa at certain points when in reality, it’s nothing by Daya. Out of Katy Perry’s three or four big comeback attempts in the past five years, this is easily the most embarrassing.
[3]

Oliver Maier: She has to realise that this sounds more like a bitter reproof to a public that doesn’t really care about her anymore than a kiss-off anthem to an ex? Surely? Both musically and lyrically this feels like an attempt at a “Don’t Start Now” that doesn’t really get it. Few of Katy and Dua’s talents, such as they are, can be said to be mutual.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Everyone’s gonna say this is dated to Future Nostalgia, but the cut-up vocals and campfire-singalong chorus are dated to a few years before that — so 100 years ago, in 2020s Standard Time. That said, they do sound better now that they aren’t so ubiquitous. And I guess one way to handle Katy Perry’s unique vocal stylings is to cushion every melodic turn with an amount of autotune approaching the Cher Event Horizon.
[6]

Will Adams: A dancepop kiss-off by Katy Perry? Call it “Part II of Me”. While utterly anonymous — you could tell me the billed producer was Tiësto, Joel Corry, 3LAU, R3HAB, anyone, and I’d be like, “mm-hm, sounds right” — it suits Perry, given how it picks and chooses from the various ’10s pop eras she’s lived through. The hook is a vestige of that odd EDM-country trend, the post-chorus leans into Teenage Dream-style syncopation, and Alesso’s beat evokes Calvin Harris’ sleek house period. Extra point for the video being anodyne future-choreo as opposed to ham-fisted empowerment-via-enlistment.
[6]

Alfred Soto: To listen as Katy Goddamn Perry turns into anonymous Eurohouse belter impressed me: better anonymity than the superstar bellowing of aspirational/inspirational maxims. But anonymity has its own demands. Alesso’s rhythm track is colorless, not anonymous. 
[6]

Alex Clifton: I didn’t know I wanted Katy Perry over Eurodance pianos before, and I’m surprised that it’s not happened prior to this. I just wish she had been given a little more material to work with. Dance music isn’t about lyrics, it’s about the sound, so it feels dumb to complain about it, but when you repeat the chorus this many times without much else added in, it comes off as boring. At least it gave Perry a chance to step out of her comfort zone; I’d love to see more of this in the future.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Fitting for Perry, the least talented pop superstar of the past 20 years, to finally succumb to her fate as an anonymous dance-pop singer – and on a track as limp as this one. This is the definition of “just desserts.” Also the definition of terrible.
[0]

Nortey Dowuona: The problem with a singer like Katy Perry is that she’s identifiable yet not memorable. You know when you hear her voice that it’s her, but you’re not particularly interested in what she has to say. Hence why her post Teenage Dream career has been made entirely of other producers and songwriters sliding her some solid B+ material but not anything that has to do with her own point of view or musical style or vocal timbre. This leaves “When I’m Gone” on shaky ground that’s been broken by the flat drums that consist of a dull kick and squashed snare that barely poke their heads above the watery grey goose synths which are removed when the chorus kicks in. Katy’s scratched, thinning voice sounds stronger than it does — until the drums touch down and the song flattens and shrinks away in terror.
[5]

Andrew Karpan: With her last two albums written off as “flops,” Perry has become a walking signifier of yesterday’s pop — figuratively and sometimes literally: If “Dark Horse” didn’t actually knock off a decade-old christian pop dud, then “​​Never Really Over” managed to actually rework an incredibly minor Norwegian pop hit into a pleasing Icona Pop pastiche. “When I’m Gone” doesn’t buck this idea of her so much as try to spin it into gold, a fun workout on a riff from an EDM has-been who once worked in the very shadows of the big pop sound that Perry herself once represented. The lesson? Go harder or go home. Perry could very well have a future as a kind of grand dame of deep house cuts, but needs to dig a little deeper to work it out. Maybe give Major Lazer a call next time?
[4]

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

Kabza De Small x DJ Maphorisa & Ami Faku – Asibe Happy

Some familiar amapiano names make their return…


[Video]
[6.86]

Crystal Leww: Amapiano continues to gain ground in the global dance scene — with Boiler Room parties in London and Major League Djz featured as part of Apple Music’s latest New Year’s lineup. Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa are two of its fathers, and “Asibe Happy” with Ami Faku is the latest of their looooooooooong history of collaborations. (Seriously, they have six joint albums together.) Apparently, “asibe happy” roughly translates into “let’s be happy,” and it’s a feeling that comes through on this track, with Ami Faku sounding like the sunshine on your face on a summer morning: glowing, simple, kind pleasure.
[6]

Will Adams: I enjoy the way the bass evolves over the song’s seven-and-a-half minutes. It begins as the root of the electric piano chords, deepens to a warm sub-bass synth, morphs into a percussive strike and culminates in a robust throb. It’s the only really dynamic feature of “Asibe Happy”, but when dealing with a genre as reliably gorgeous as amapiano, that’s not the worst thing.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Wishing there was a bit more dynamism here does feel like looking a gift horse in the mouth, since the level it does simmer away at for the duration is very, very good. But even after multiple plays, it does feel like there’s another gear just waiting to be slipped into.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: One of the beauties of the many samplings of amapiano we have covered here are the deep, plush sweep of the piano chords. When I hear them deep into the track as the drums build and build for the first minute of the whole song, it always feels like a relief, a cool refresher into my ears, cooling them down from the heating percussion rumbling against my eardrums. With this, the relief comes from the singer. Ami’s voice, like many singers within the small sampling of amapiano I’ve heard, is soft but largely feathery, Azana one of the few with a stronger tone. But Ami uses her soft tone to dim the buzzy synths pulsing in the background and make their brightness warmth. She is laying back in the lower end of her range, seeming raspy and thin, which, as she slides into a brighter, smoother tone in the chorus, circles the piano warily, well aware of its possible warmth but it’s probable potential to burn you alive. And every time Ami retreats, the mix becomes brighter and shinier, more and more a frightening red color that dims to a cozy one as Ami returns. Both Kabza de Small and DJ Maphoriza have built a standard (if there is such a thing) amapiano track, with three plush piano chords, lumpy and jolting synth bass stabs during the chorus and post chorus, and the percussion so bright it might blind you — but here goes da da, da da and ur becomes visible and calming, a warming fire instead of an unsteady blaze.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: While I’m on the topic of hypothetical ’00s dance compilations, “Asibe Happy” could be off another one, something with a saturated sunrise on the cover and Ibiza somewhere in the title, sequenced between Cathy Battistessa and Nicola Hitchcock. I instinctively love this sound too, and it isn’t even embarrassing!
[9]

Alfred Soto: I love shakers and minor key synth melodies — especially with a dynamic vocal.
[4]

Oliver Maier: Too deft to leave a real impression, despite the ambitious runtime. I wish it really went for it in the way that the house bass portends, but undeniably pretty pleasant for what it is.
[6]

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

SZA – I Hate U

Read 25/1/22


[Video]
[6.50]

Andrew Karpan: To reach today’s zoomers, SZA has compressed her mission statement into the form of a question, followed by its only possible answer, a sort of mailably melodramatic performance that can be twisted and turned around. Like Prince records — an influence SZA consistently nods at without slavishly reinterpreting — this is the kind of R&B showmanship that nobody can learn anything from because it’s all tone and style, which she can convincingly vamp with ease. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: I imagined Jazmine Sullivan singing this — no difficulty. Her producers would eschew the way the arrangement insists on irony: background vocals pitched at a different key, the enthusiastic “fuck you!” response. SZA can of course sell sincerity too, hence my suspicion that the neither-here-nor-there performance is for a demo sold as a finished track.
[6]

Oliver Maier: So half-hearted and obviously beneath SZA’s calibre as both a lyricist and writer of melodies that I’m not entirely convinced someone at TDE didn’t just dust off the Ctrl USB stick and upload whichever demo sounded the most like TikTok catnip.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The beat uses a lagoon’s worth of reverb to sound more sumptuous than it otherwise would. And I mean, the trick usually works. The track just ends up a little muddled, as does a lyric that doesn’t seem sure whether it’s angry or sad.
[6]

Al Varela: During the holidays, my dad and I were watching a video from Rick Beato where he listened to the Top 10 on Spotify, and my dad laughed when he read out loud the title of this song. I guess I never really thought about how strange it is for a popular song to be called “I Hate U” until then. The content is certainly as venomous and spiteful as the title was. Describing all the ways this ex sucked, not letting anything back, and disillusioning him of any chance that they will get back together. I think the production is what I love most about this song though because it’s a song that sounds hateful and fed up. Sluggish, but keeping a murky, bassy tempo where every other bar feels like a stomach drop. The synth that carries the melody is just flighty enough to show some playfulness, but the texture is still rough and bitter. SZA plays along with this beat so perfectly too, that even a song this ugly and unpleasant can still sound gorgeous. 
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: If anyone wanted to know if I like this too… I doooooo.
[8]

Tobi Tella: Nowhere near the deepest thing she’s ever written, but may be up there for the catchiest. If I was grading on a scale of how much I relate to the toxicity exhibited or the intensity with which I sing “Fuck youuuu,” this would be a [10].
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
[7]

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Yola – Dancing Away in Tears

It’s our favourite country-soul-funk-pop-disco-rock artist of them all, or so our sidebar will say.


[Video]
[8.00]

Al Varela: One of the many shining diamonds on Stand For Myself. It’s incredible to hear a song that strikes the perfect balance of sadness and happiness all at once, but the careful tempo, soft keys, and horns that never overstep their boundaries get there. There’s something magical about hearing the production all come together over Yola’s mesmerizing voice, spinning into a blur of jazz and blues that truly feels like you’re dancing your sadness away. It doesn’t get too showy, but it never runs out of that hidden euphoria underneath. Pure delight.
[9]

Ian Mathers: The kind of song that makes being sad feel somehow luxurious, that makes wallowing in it seem like an appealing way to spend and evening and not just a drain. If only all our heartbreak could be so lushly appointed.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Blue break-up made blissful through soft disco. 
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The sound of this is just unbeatable, a touch of 70s soul-pop, a sprinkle of disco dust, and definitely some late 70s/early 80s soft rock lighting. I’m talking “Kiss You All Over” if it was a break-up song; that slick, that sumptuous. Maybe the verses are a little underwritten, like they needed more weight and more words, but the chorus carries the weight, because it’s perfect. Yola’s tears melt into a huge sigh by the song’s end and inappropriately I’m left with nothing but a huge smile on my face.
[9]

Juana Giaimo: This has a pleasing melody with the most beautiful orchestration and a warm retro beat. I can’t complain but everything flows so peacefully that I’m also finding it hard to find the emotion of the lyrics in the music. 
[6]

Will Adams: Heartbreak never sounded so luxurious.
[8]

Dorian Sinclair: Yola’s greatest strength — and she has many, many strengths — is her knack (with writing partners Dan Auerbach and, in this instance, Natalie Hemby) for creating songs that feel absolutely timeless. There are a lot of things I can praise about “Dancing Away in Tears”; the way Yola floats the high notes on the chorus, the heartbreak she carries throughout, the way the horns and synth play off each other to shape the entire song. But what it comes down to is a songwriter at the absolute top of her game, putting together something that is unquestionably hers but still feels like you’ve always known it. It’s a trick she is so consistently capable of that it should no longer surprise me, but somehow, in the best way, it always does.
[9]

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Grimes – Player of Games

I wonder why… he’s the greatest gamer…


[Video]
[5.38]

Leah Isobel: On a sonic level, this is a perfectly fine “Violence” retread, and Grimes is as good an ambassador as any for the trance-pop revival. I imagine the lyrical approach is meant to unify Elon Musk’s treatment of Grimes and his publicfacing behavior into something like a thesis: this man approaches life as if it’s a video game and he’s the only real person. But cooing that he’s “the greatest gamer” makes him sound like an esports pro instead of a diamond heir who violates labor laws on a regular basis; there’s nothing grounding this narrative. In order to justify her own choices, Grimes has to abstract the imagined nobility of this relationship away from its reality. It’s The Great, Lost Love as an aesthetic instead of a lived experience; call it flesh without blood.
[3]

Crystal Leww: So many things are annoying about Grimes, but one of the most annoying to me is how so much of her music sounds like an unfinished demo or unmastered version of a much more interesting song. “Player of Games” evokes images of cat-and-mouse games, of physical battle as metaphor for power struggles between two people endlessly fascinated by each other but pitted against each other by the unknown powers above us or whatever. But the drums don’t quite hit hard enough and Grimes always had a voice that couldn’t quite carry the umph required for these kinds of dramatics. 
[4]

Katie Gill: The worst thing this song does is that it’s undoubtedly going to inflate the ego of Elon Musk, an egomaniac whose current project is basically a subway system, but worse and who deserves to be relentlessly bullied, not have an entirely forgettable dance song written about his break-up with Grimes. The best thing this song does is that apparently it’s on the soundtrack for the video game Rocket League which I find absolutely delightful. Honestly, if you swapped out the tedious “I am sad about my break-up with my blood money husband” lyrics to “look! these cars are playing soccer!”, that would instantly jump the song right up to a [7] in my book.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I would like to think I have a Line. I would like to think that a song written about Elon Musk featuring lyrics like “I’m in love with the greatest gamer” would be well on the nope side of it. But sadly, all my principles crumble before sounds like this. This could 100% have been a cut from a compilation called, like, “Ethereal Angelic Realms 7,” slotted alongside Audrey Gallagher and Tiff Lacey and Amelia Brightman, uploaded in full to YouTube in 2009 with a DeviantArt slideshow of an Evony model. (Amusingly, this was co-produced with the Weeknd collaborator who didn’t make trip-hop in the ’90s.) When I was 16 I would totally have listened to this and envisioned myself as an avenging angel of wistful heartbreak, these songs’ truest use case. Even now at age [REDACTED], if I can sever the context, I can do the same. It helps that “playing games” works better as a metaphor when it’s about getting generically played, rather than breaking up with a specific clown. The video also helps; all trance songs should have weapon clangs and lightsaber whooshes timed to the chorus, to give your imagination its wind machine and sword.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Who do you think will actually take Grimes in a sword fight first, communists, the animated corpse of Iain M. Banks, or fans of Art Angels pissed at how bad the vocals/vocal effects have gotten?
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: If I fell into a coma right after the release of Visions and woke up a decade later with no conception of the broader pop cultural context in which “Player of Games” exists I would probably think this was pretty sick. Unfortunately, I’ve had to live out the past decade in ways that dim my enthusiasm for this — but at its best (specifically the drum programming on the chorus) the sheer fun that Grimes is having here is enough to catch a glimpse of a better world in which I don’t have to know about the backstory to this.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: I like this a lot more when I don’t rip into its context. That context weighs a million tons, the video is like being stabbed with a sword with the message scrawled on it in felt tip pen and ultimately I don’t think Grimes is that sympathetic a person, even after being cut off.  But this is a decent slice of emotionally weighty trance, a bit gothy, and a bit mysterious. These are all good things and you don’t need to think about Elon Musk, and it’s better as a listener and a critic if you don’t dissect the story. Might hit harder if Grimes had the voice to match her chops and her aims.
[7]

Will Adams: Yes, this is a song in which Grimes describes Elon Musk as “the greatest gamer” who sadly “loves the game more than he loves me.” Counterpoint: It’s trance, specifically the type of mid-’00s trance that’s bracing, dramatic and fantastical. “Games” becomes the perfect metaphor in this setting; it sounds like standing in a blizzard, hand ready to draw your sword.
[7]

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

Zzoilo, Aitana – Mon Amour Remix

Two Spanish singers test our tolerance for tempo…


[Video]
[5.57]

Rodrigo Pasta: Aitana does deserve a gigantic worldwide hit… if only it could be one produced by Andrés Torres and Mauricio Rengifo (“Despacito”, TINI, Sebastian Yatra, Carlos Vives, Anitta), the Latin pop gods who took her in a truly solid pop rock direction on her 2020 album, 11 RAZONES. This, on the other hand, is a dull attempt at TikTok virality with swooshing sounds that attempt nothing because they’re meant to evoke nothing but the vaguest feeling of “vibes.” This will soundtrack many 5-minute baking recipes tutorials.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Shimmers and shimmies with all the romance and elegance of an episode of Emily in Paris.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Simple but effective: the woozy throb adds a frisson to Zzoilo and Aitana’s easy interplay. It perhaps doesn’t get any easier than simply singing over the top of each other, but between his ebullient volume and her more characterful smile, it makes sense. The words trip out of them in something like the enjambment of new love.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Like an attempt to speedrun charm. The tempo tricks you into thinking this is more catchy than it perhaps is.
[6]

Alfred Soto: In its dervish-like rhythm “Mon Amour” suggests Savage Garden’s “I Want You” with almost the same verbal charm.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Zzoilo has a flatter affect than Aitana’s fluttery higher register voice, but they blend almost startlingly well together and often slam right through the verses and chorus so quickly you can’t even tell them apart. The horns stop them short and halt their advance over the threadbare synths, bass and stumbling drums, but you’re moving so fast you can’t even be mad.
[8]

Will Adams: The polite beat brings to mind Disney dancepop remixes, so a lot of the heavy lifting is done already before Zzoliio and Aitana’s playful back-and-forth take hold. In a slightly different universe, this is an Al Walser song; I’ll take the little victory that this is not the case.
[6]

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

Walker Hayes – AA

Aggressively Average? Adulting Again? Applebee’s Ad?


[Video]
[3.57]

Edward Okulicz: An admirable attempt to redo “Fancy Like,” but with the doofy restaurant name-dropping replaced with garbage. And it’s not catchy — it needs an actual beat that does something, rather than trying to go down the middle between the genres he wants to be in. There’s also something so unforgivably noxious about people who say their spouse married down so smugly, having as it does the subtext that they did so because they’re so awesome. So instead of a silly but endlessly memeable chorus, we have a chorus that starts with Shit Dad Energy and moves through Humblebrag Gone Wrong. Because I’m already poisoned, I assumed “AA” referred to Hayes trying to stay out of Adult Alternative. He’s on his way there, and no amount of charch may save him.
[3]

Al Varela: Walker Hayes has found his niche appealing to suburban middle-class white people in the South who have enough to get by but not enough to vacation in Hawaii every year. This can be done right, but Hayes always picks these ugly guitar tones that sound like they’re out to annoy you. He also has this smug, self-satisfied attitude that makes him seem cockier than he really is. Hayes can self-deprecate all he wants, but there’s still something irritating about the way he brags that his wife is out of his league. What are you trying to prove, and to who? Maybe we should have given the viral hit to Brett Eldredge instead.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A thoughtful and vulnerable confessional adulterated by flashes of toxic masculinity. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: A slab of regressive values (“just trying to keep my daughters off the pole,” etc.) that half the country thinks are just duhs, good-ol-boy jaunt millions of people think is charm, “hey!” interjections they might have heard in a Nelly song, and a singsong hook that would be thoroughly annoying if Walker, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird didn’t play it restrained for some reason. (It’s certainly not their signature sound, since none of them have one.) The result is inessential, not remotely for me, yet not as obnoxious as “Fancy Like” — progress! Oh wait, there’s one more thing: a publicity stunt quasi-remix that turns the Nick Saban reference into Kirby Smart and may or may not be the test-run for a bunch of LMFAO-style “I’m in [Wherever] Bitch” regional remixes, or at least one for whoever wins the Super Bowl. Is that a point extra or a point off?
[5]

John Pinto: In the great tradition of self-pitying Southern men battling substance abuse, “My eyes are full of yellow bricks/Tiny dry horses are running in my veins” this is not. That’s by design, as Walker Hayes makes it clear over and over that he’s just trying to get by here, to keep his family together and “to do the dang thing,” and there is indeed nobility in that. After a listen or two, however, I moseyed over to another song with slammed mids and a 12-step referencing title, and I didn’t go back.
[4]

Katie Gill: Walker Hayes still can’t sing. Walker Hayes still can’t write a song. And “AA” still has the obnoxious problem “Fancy Like” had, where it seems like he released a song that’s three minutes of cosplaying poor-to-middle-class America by shoehorning references to things that wide swaths of country music radio listeners would recognize. “Oh! I know that! I too eat at Wendy’s and like Nick Saban, the most basic bitch choice in SEC football! Walker Hayes GETS ME.” No, he really doesn’t get any of this. It’s all a grift–hopefully country radio won’t fall for this one.
[2]

Nortey Dowuona: The Mode Reviews, in the Before Times, said that “Old Town Road” was not a country song and that the whole controversy stirred up over it was nonsense. In this song’s case, one of these things is still true: it’s clearly a country song, but the controversy over Walker Hayes isn’t nonsense. “AA” is middling country spiced up with 808s to force people who otherwise would never engage with this type of music of their own volition to call it an atrocity and draw more attention to a desperate hack trying to get rich. If Walker Hayes was a Donald Glover, it would at least make sense that “AA” was amateur and clumsy and too high on its own supply. But this guy is a country lifer who already made his debut back in the Before Times. Why is he making such a clumsy, halfhearted attempt to make acceptable country to country haters? Stand in that basic country bag and use better guitars next time.
[2]

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Emmy Meli – I Am Woman

Somewhere, Chaka Khan weeps.


[Video]
[3.29]

Leah Isobel: Hear my kitchæn.
[3]

Andy Hutchins: I would like to challenge the Tik Tok tweens and teens to turn Meredith Brooks’s far superior “Bitch” or Des’ree’s immortal “You Gotta Be” — songs that, sure, may not have been explicitly made for the purpose of female empowerment, but were also, crucially, not just mantras set to music even though “You Gotta Be” came from that exact same well, and thus had space for craft, narrative, and parallelism, but no time for some of the most grating bars of singing ever committed to record — into viral sensations on the level of “I Am Woman,” but they, much like the 1999-born Emmy Meli, probably do not have any significant memory of those songs. And the kids these days would probably complain that those songs don’t graft perfectly onto transition videos — but it’s not like they know much about music videos! Woman, womyn, femme, or so forth you may be, and I’m all for you being who you are — but you also gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta get off my lawn.
[3]

Will Adams: Two points for the “gotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotitgotit” part for making me laugh, I guess.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Billie Eilish + Helen Reddy hand-me-down + TikTok ethos = I Am Defeated.
[1]

Andrew Karpan: Evoking the back-to-the-earthiness of late ’00s indie pop (the granola rock of the Dirty Projectors, the throat-centric choruses that tUnE-yArDs did so much with, etc.) Meli manages to do something her free-spirited predecessors never could, which is to write a pop song.
[7]

Al Varela: I think this song needed more time to be workshopped. In the age of TikTok making demos huge, it encourages artists to rush their songs so they can get it in time for a streaming release, and sometimes the song itself suffers for it. In this case, an otherwise solid melodic foundation and a really good performance by Emmy Meli lack the crescendo and scope to make this feel more anthemic than it is. It sticks to this stunted middle ground where it’s supposed to go bigger, but the production never dares itself to go further. The guitars don’t kick it into high gear, the tempo never changes. As a result, the song feels kind of abortive, lacking in that big shining moment to make the song worth it. There’s enough good that I’m willing to call it decent, and I do side-eye anyone who gets particularly mad at the otherwise harmless women empowerment lyrics, but I’m not rushing to defend it either.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: This song turned me into a misogynist.
[1]

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

Joel Corry ft. Mabel – I Wish

Not among Mabel’s wishes: a butt in Iraq


[Video]
[4.89]

Crystal Leww: Joel Corry makes perfectly serviceable piano piano-house, and “I Wish” is the latest in a long string of more of the same. Can’t complain — if it’s a UK #1 then it’ll set a dancefloor off and if it’s not, then it’s a fun transition track in a Jax Jones set. At least he started crediting his vocalists, but I guess Mabel is also loads more famous than Hayley May. 
[5]

Andrew Karpan: Mabel’s crowning accomplishment in her career as a singer in search of an idea, this song manages to improve on what both c-listers bring to the table. For one, appearing as the face of an anonymous, yet aggressive house record is a remarkable improvement on Mabel’s run of low-budget, month-late Dua Lipa impersonations. Given a nice eurodance beat to chew on, her dance workout routine becomes curiously memorable. 
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: For an anonymous dance single, this is surprisingly wistful; the earnest melodies make more sense once you notice Jess Glynne’s name in the credits. But I like sincerity in pop songs, even (especially?) when it’s added to places where it has no business being, so this track clears the “mildly enjoyable” bar for me.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: “I wish I could hear you say my name” is just interesting enough an opening line to spark attention, so it’s surprising just how anonymous the rest of “I Wish” feels. It ends up being not much more than a chain of extremely well-worn clichés; at a guess, I’d say over half the lyrics are ones I’ve seen verbatim in other songs. All that could be fine if the song were interesting musically — but while every element is basically pleasant, none are surprising in the least. Corry has all the basics where they should be, but seems to have forgotten to put in anything actually new.
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is probably the best version of this song that it could possibly be, but this kind of music is just so bereft of ideas that I can’t get into it. This would’ve sounded like a cliched rip off in 2011 — to the point that I genuinely googled if it sampled something since it sounded like I’d heard it before — never mind 2022.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Mabel has a stringy, yet bouncy voice that is effortless to listen when it squeezes into whatever ant farm tunnels built by the beat maker and being teased by the producer and engineers to get to the last hole and back to the queen. In each of the pulsing piano chords and synth pads, Mabel has to roadrunner across them to keep the song looking like it’s going to make your feet move even though it just makes you wait for the drop and wince at each poorly layered whistle. I wish this actually felt like a Joel Corry song rather than a Mabel solo single she knew wasn’t good enough for her next album or EP.
[6]

Alfred Soto: On first listen the wistful ambitions of the lyrics and the willful anonymity of the backing dance track complete an uneasy two-step; on second listen it’s rare I raise such a worry. 
[6]

Andy Hutchins: The medium of house music for a I-don’t-wanna-break-up song is perfectly defensible: I can think of a couple of recent tunes more or less in that vein that I genuinely like. Cramming every possible house concept into every inch of sonic space and never, ever letting a few seconds pass without vocals on top of that makes “I Wish” relentless, though — and the last fucking thing a song about someone clinging to a dying love should be is “relentless.” Leave that to the people who have figured out how to leave, or at least wink about it all.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Deeply personal, meet completely anonymous. 
[3]