Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Icona Pop ft. Ty Dolla $ign – It’s My Party

Bets on who’ll be the next guest verse?


[Video][Website]
[4.27]
Katherine St Asaph: Icona Pop, thanks to a deadly combination of hype backlash, latent rockism and puzzling career choices, are fast becoming a grand one-hit cautionary tale. I was afraid of this, but I still (foolishly?) think they’ve got a career in them, and it’s not too late to reverse course. You can help! To the press: recognize that harmony-free brat pop is a genre, not a problem; recommend songs by songwriters (Patrik Berger, Hannah Robinson, Fransisca Hall); maybe give any shits about the members of Icona Pop at all, like you’d do with other up-and-comers, rather than treating them as a faceless fast-fashion pop contraption. To Icona Pop: write off the 2012 album this appears on, i.e. the statement that titling your This Is… was supposed to have made; cut it with the interchangeable rappers, or at least quit trying to pretend you’re Instagram buddies; write or commission an original hook that does not rip off another pop song, before you turn into J. R. Rotem.
[5]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The writing was on the wall after Icona Pop’s Instagram gaffe where they claimed to be hanging out with Ty Dolla Sign and it actually was Waka Flocka Flame. Yikes. As great as the original “It’s My Party” is, Ty is given no chance to make his mark and is duly turned into Turnup/Molly Verse Depository #41692. You don’t know who he is, and for the sake of a cheap joke, Icona Pop don’t care either.
[6]

David Sheffieck: At this point it seems like there just has to be some dark, disturbing reason why this song keeps being released as a single. A mob debt, maybe? This wasn’t a good pick when it featured Smiler, still didn’t click when it had Zebra Katz, and hasn’t gotten better with the addition of Ty Dolla $ign. If Icona Pop are gonna re-release an old single, why not delightful oral-sex ode “Downtown” or “Nights Like This,” which is still their best song to date?
[4]

Anthony Easton: Punky, slightly junked up, tinged with ugliness and exhaustion, proves the Gore has some serious bones. The Ty Dolla verse fits within the context of the rest of the song, but with the “Indian giver” line it’s less formal ugly and more tinge-of-racism ugliness. I would have preferred a straight cover.
[6]

Alfred Soto: A stupid and pointless cover. Iggy Azalea would sound believably petulant, not threatened with waterboarding like Icona Pop does. Besides, this is how you cover an early sixties classic.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: Do I want to go to Icona Pop’s sob fest, doubling as some bizarre fusion ’70s-today affair? Or to Ty Dolla $ign’s hedonistic get together, except the only person benefiting from any of the excess is Ty Dolla $ign himself? What’s on TV?
[3]

Jer Fairall: Oh great, “We Can’t Stop” as an urtext.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: Judy’s wearing his ring, while Icona Pop sit crying, once again in clothes they’ve worn before. Poor Icona Pop. Some things never change; they only get worse. (The clothes metaphor is gone by this point.) Maybe Ty Dolla $ign’s invitation to show himself up is a subplot or something, but it only does the opposite of distracting from how the majority of the little this has going for it is the interpolation.
[4]

Megan Harrington: I’m familiar with the earlier version of “It’s My Party” featuring Zebra Katz. Back then, I thought it was a weirdo pop classic marred by a lazy, phoned in verse. Now I think it’s Icona Pop that sound lazy (and a bit robotic) in comparison to Ty Dolla $ign. He’d have the next “Candy Shop” if not for the Barbie party that precedes him. This just goes to show what a difference a year makes.
[6]

Andy Hutchins: The alien strip club where this plays on loop is a circle of hell. Or a triangle, given the explicit and incredibly subtly implied threesome references here. In any case: Good to see the Iconae have joined “Fancy”-featured Charli in destroying whatever residual goodwill remained from the first 100 spins of “I Love It.”
[2]

Will Adams: I nearly docked a point for this being the umpteenth release of the song, but soon remembered what makes the song so fun. It’s not the featureless rap counterpoint. It’s the setting of Lesley Gore’s chorus to such an ugly, spray-painted beat. It’s the specific, absurd lyrics (“the zipper broke in the back so my crack’s hanging ouuuuut”). And mostly, it’s Icona Pop’s delivery throughout, from the literal sobbing to shouting every line with the petulance of a band who’s been struggling to follow-up their big hit. Hey, you’d cry too.
[7]

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Crayon Pop – Uh-ee

Hot to trot…


[Video][Website]
[5.29]
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This is bizarro world Icona Pop, really, in the sense that “Uh-ee” attacks the same unapologetic nineties chintz worship beats, to the point it becomes almost aggressively one-minded. It’s scary more than it is charming, and this could have done with a little more charm.
[5]

Madeleine Lee: Electro-trot is a novelty by nature — watch about 45 seconds of this 1996 promotional video by long-time “techno-trot” practitioner Epaksa, and you get the idea. So it only makes sense that the group behind last year’s biggest Korean novelty single and novelty headgear are now trying their hand at it. “Uh-ee” is not as literal as “Open the Door” by ballad singer Lim Chang Jung, also released last year, which is pretty much a classic pentatonic-scale trot vocal pasted to a electro-bounce backing track. Instead, it’s more of a trot take on the time-honoured pop tradition of the summer song, with its chirpy sunshine beat and carpe diem lyrics. The seasonal link seems for the best — it’s unlikely to have the same long-range success as “Bar Bar Bar” or to hold up as well as “Bing Bing,” and even if it could, I’d rather it didn’t.
[6]

Will Adams: But the Vengaboys already had their saturation turned up to 11.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The beats and synths are Gwen Stefani dancing to Atari 5200′s “Pitfall” at the disco, infused with enough Nutrasweet to exceed daily caloric intakes. Uh-ee indeed!
[6]

Iain Mew: It’s clear there’s a lot going on outside the music that ties into Crayon Pop’s appeal, but I don’t encounter much of any of that without seeking it out, so it’s difficult to get past how annoying that music is. “Uh-ee” manages to sound very distinct from “Bar Bar Bar” but exactly as one dimensional, and lacks even the memorable chorus.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: You know what you wanna do, right? You wanna put a banging donk on it.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Have you ever seen people in a club literally push chairs to the ground in order to get to the dancefloor to dance to Crayon Pop? I have, and it was wonderful and charming, especially because this is a group that seems to only be focused on getting people from all walks of life — from toddlers to the law – jumping. They wore bike helmets for goodness’ sake; coolness was never an issue. “Uh-ee” is even more explicit in its desires to just get folks moving. I’ve read it is based on older Korean trot music, albeit with a contemporary sheen, a cool detail in a song unafraid to devote the chorus to doing “the chicken dance.” It’s simple, it’s fun, it’s “Royals” with all the brooding replaced with delirious clucking. It’s the sort of goofy, dancefloor-packing number designed for wedding receptions and cruise ships, what “Gangnam Style” accidentally became. At long last, a YOLO anthem for the rest of us.
[7]

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Sarah McLachlan – In Your Shoes

Our first time covering her, too, though given her amount of recent singles that’s a lot less impressive…


[Video][Website]
[5.10]
Mallory O’Donnell: Wherein your shoes walk a fine line between breathily pretentious and unctuously boring but never, ever escape the mid-90′s.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: With Fiona Apple firmly canonized, and Tori Amos getting there, Sarah McLachlan is next in line among her female singer-songwriter peers (a broad category, but she devised it) overdue for reappraisal: huge deals in the ’90s, with huge discographies and fanbases, yet nigh-absent from the ’90s remembrance festivities, McLachlan damned doubly by association with trip-hop and the wrong sort of women in music. (A quick demonstration: Look up anything written about McLachlan this decade. Count the snarks about Lilith Fair and ASPCA puppies; compare to the number of mentions of Nettwerk or her longtime producer Pierre Marchand. Or just look up last year’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy 20th-anniversary pieces [hint: there aren't any]. Then go punch everyone who claimed Beyonce fans pioneered not talking about the music.) That said, I can’t imagine this single changing any minds. Listeners poised for yuks will not have a difficult time finding them — crying is mentioned by 0:06! — and those who miss the eerie artiness of “Fear” or “Black,” or for that matter the still-arresting starkness of “I Will Remember You” or “Angel,” will instead get “World on Fire” with even more lite perk, as if Verve Music signed her thinking she was Sara Bareilles. The worst part is, I can’t think of a better career move for her either.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Her voice still cracking at moments of passion even when her blouse remains buttoned to her chin, McLachlan rethinks her sound if not her approach. The guitar crunch complements her wordless keening, blocking out the 1997-era drum loop.
[5]

Will Adams: Seeing McLachlan’s powerful (and incredibly successful) artistry be reduced to a meme is one of my least favorite musical trends of the past few years. “In Your Shoes” strives to fight this with its Surfacing-era production, but the saccharine lyrics only confirm the current biases.
[5]

David Sheffieck: It leaves no platitude unturned, sure, but this is still just dramatically purposeful enough (and decently catchy to boot) that it’s hard to dislike. And I’m a sucker for pop songs using strings for non-ballad purposes, which this does better than anything since “Call Me Maybe.”
[7]

Brad Shoup: Still sigh-singing, still radiating empathy. But the Jepsen-inspired arrangement is nice, especially tricked out with that ’90s-style filtering on the drumloop. The song picks up steam, then hits the valves expertly.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: I can’t hear this as anything other than a B-grade “Adia” or C-grade “Building a Mystery.” While the guitars glided so smoothly on that, on this they are chuggy and clunky. Where her voice on that was this weird, gorgeous mix of soothing, condemning and longing, on this she sounds weirdly detached and disinterested. The lightly-probing strings are nice, but they’re no substitute for a lyric that stabs like “a beautiful fucked-up man/you’re setting up your razor wire shrine.” It’s got a perfect ’90s revival sound, right down to those drum presets, but “In Your Shoes” sounds like McLachlan as remembered distantly and uncharitably.
[4]

Jer Fairall: Always a bit too schoolmarm-y in tone for my tastes even as I occasionally found much to admire in her peers (Chantal Kreviazuk, Jann Arden), this is rather uncharacteristically spry, her usual dirgeful poise unsettled by a lively accompaniment that points the Inspirational uplift of the lyric in a direction that is actually uplifting for once. I guess I like this about as much as I possibly could.
[6]

Megan Harrington: My mind wandered while I listened to “In Your Shoes,” mostly to rude thoughts about who would find the song empowering (Amy Jellicoe) and how the vanilla, suburban middle class that used to carry McLachlan through each year of the ’90s in an air balloon has caught fire and charred. Is there any way possible for this song to find its audience without the medium of VH1?
[4]

Madeleine Lee: Growing up, what always fascinated me about Sarah McLachlan’s songs whenever I heard them on the radio (and that was often, in the late ’90s) was the darkness: enigmatic lyrics about angels and thieves and high towers, the otherworldly sound of her voice, the more often than not minor keys. I didn’t always know what they meant (if they meant anything at all, rimshot), but certainly that was part of what made an impression on me. Sometime between Surfacing‘s ubiquity and the clunky Christmas single I heard on the radio last year, McLachlan has lost the ability or, more likely, the desire to be opaque. She’s certainly earned it at this point, and the swift-moving strings keep “In Your Shoes” from getting too bogged down in its own preachiness, but without any reason for it to stay in my head, the message just drifts out my other ear.
[4]

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Tori Amos – Trouble’s Lament

Our first time covering her, somehow…


[Video][Website]
[6.88]
Alfred Soto: I haven’t paid attention to Amos since From The Choirgirl Hotel, and fans are lukewarm on the merits of her 2000s work, but if she sang as clearly and feelingly as she does here then I missed something. Her self-production is as uncluttered as modern space can be.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: First, the bad: Tori’s story/allegory/Montessori reads as clumsy and forced. Trouble is a girl! She has a friend and this friend is called Despair! And Satan is in there! It would not be unfair to say it’s a bit heavy-handed. But what is Tori without occasional heavy-handedness, and why not forgive that if the actual song sounds so damned light that the dark is being smuggled into your ears? The songwriting’s not back up to full flight, but the spooky, near-flamenco guitar line and piano is definitely the work of someone who’s recovered an understanding of what surroundings make her voice sound profound.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Amos is too smart to write some red-tinged bloozer around a tale of devils and dangers. There’s a real sense of unease here: something pinned to an actual location. You could stick this on the opening credits of a basic-cable TV drama. It’s that good!
[8]

Megan Harrington: Is this Tori’s Nashville audition tape? If not, can it be Rayna’s next single instead? I don’t have the personal bond so many of her fans do. This may indeed be a return to her peak period output, but I’m not invested in that narrative. I hear less of the mercurial work showcased on Under the Pink and more of T. Bone Burnett’s better writing for the pretend-Faith Hill works with pretend-Jack White to authenticate and rough up her sound storyline.
[7]

Mallory O’Donnell: Tori’s always been the Kanye West of white chicks: make all the tunes you want, just please stop singing on them.
[5]

Jer Fairall: Stark and elemental in its outline, as if being prepped for its own imaginary American Recordings cover, but Tori cannot help but subject it to her usual melodic knots and vocal trills, leaving its genre affectations in the dust it evokes.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Tori Amos’s strategy, given her brazen mess of a late career, seems to be “pretend nothing past Scarlet’s Walk ever happened except maybe “Fast Horse” — rejoin the safe road through AOR and country, where her career could’ve retired quite well. (Actually, that was probably the strategy as far back as when mums’ weepie “Maybe California” was Abnormally Attracted to Sin‘s lead single.) I hear all sorts of things here — some modern country women if they didn’t write for the Nashville machine and weren’t so concrete, or perhaps recent Laura Marling, though that might just be the Satan lyrics. But there’s more trademark Tori here than any of that: her sly humor (she calls herself a ginger, sung with a nudge); some of her prettiest moments in years (the panned, floaty “baby” is so good it happens three times); the startlingly timed eroticism, evocative like a suburban state highway whose streetlamps and windows just went dark; the gothic Southern feminism; the studied Americana (and little fermata when she gets North Carolina in there); how Mac Aladdin gets and resists the urge to butt in with the blues (and if anything past Scarlet’s Walk had happened, there’d be no resisting). I’m one of the few fans who likes her brazen mess of a late career, but subtlety has its rewards too.
[9]

Anthony Easton: I missed the old Tori — the Gnostic theology work, the theophillic feminism, phrases that seem deeply axiomatic at first listen. It reminds me of being queer and sensitive and working out all of those tensions in the mid ’90s. I was one of Tori’s girls, and no matter how much she spent the last decade isolating me, I yearn to return to the fold. This makes that possible.
[7]

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Ed Sheeran – Sing

It’s Singer-Songwriter Wednesday! And it’s 2014, so you know who that means…


[Video][Website]
[5.10]
David Turner: The guy behind some of the dullest radio hits of the last few years is now on his Justin-Timberlake-eyed-soul kick. The song isn’t Pharrell doing Marvin Gaye, but ’14 Pharrell doing ’02 Pharrell doing ’79 Michael Jackson, sung by the guy that did “The A Team.” *breathes* Though this isn’t “Blurred Lines,” I don’t doubt this is a good single, but the last year of white bros doing their best JT impression — this includes Timberlake himself — is a bit tiring.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Oh dear: hard strummin’ over a drum program. He’s “taking a step into no man’s land” with the most risible Timberlake imitation yet.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: Sings a half-assed version of “Like I Love You,” is more like it. Props to Pharrell Williams for selling his old ideas to gullible kids.
[3]

Will Adams: At what point does shameless swiping turn into respectful homage? At what point does the Timberlake-Neptunes sound become distant enough that it conjures nostalgia instead of sneers? The answer may have more to do with context than time. With Timberlake and Pharrell still riding the highs of their 2013 resurgences, “Sing” feels opportunistic. That such a drastic shift in tone for Sheeran is totally unjustified does not help matters.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: How mad do you think Justin Bieber is that he finished puberty and redid “Like I Love You” one year too early to actually get Pharrell involved? (Biebs may not give a shit anymore, you argue — but surely Scooter must!) Ed Sheeran, however, is just in time: by UK PR’s powers combined, + launched Sheeran’s career right up to this springboard, which aims at Timberlake and (they wish) Jackson’s heights. And I am… surprisingly OK with that? Not to be all #authenticity, but Sheeran’s guitar work means he brings more to Pharrell’s old track than your standard ol’ Paloma Faith, and his rapping is a little less risible a few rappity singles in. The praise has to be faint — Sheeran’s falsetto is not as bad as Sam Smith’s, but you sorta sense he thinks it’s not as good, and the idea of hobbity Ed being a sex symbol is still ridiculous, “Justify My Love” heavy-breathing or not — but it’s still praise. I’m going to fire myself now.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s clear that Ed Sheeran has taken a surprising turn from the worse with how the line “we found love in a local rave” feels brilliant, rather than terrible. He could even whack in another Gabriella Cilmi reference and get away with it, such is the pure catchiness of this song. Hopefully he’s not just a stopped clock; Pharrell, with his incomparable knack for interjections, seems to have the batteries.
[7]

Brad Shoup: I’m all in on the high-disco glassiness he brings for the falsetto. Absolutely not having the slumming-busker rippity rapp. I’m literally cueing the chorus up again and again right now.
[4]

Anthony Easton: All the points are how quickly he works through some of the phrasing, so you have to slow it down and figure out if it’s charmingly awkward or incompetent (especially the line about the fire blazing.) Less points are for the rarely interesting, now well beyond its sell-by date chorus, and for the indifference of his position as a meta-musician. I got close to feeling this, but it didn’t quite move me.
[6]

Jer Fairall: Counting on his ability to sound as cute (at least to the kinds of people who, for whatever reason, find Ed Sheeran cute) as a wannabe Timberlake/Thicke lothario as he did as an unctuous Brit variant on Jason Mraz, Sheeran actually comes close to selling this by giving himself over to the crisp, slinky contours of the production, proving that anonymity suits him as long as the surroundings are this sturdily constructed. Relapsing into the smirky white-boy rap of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” at the one-and-a-half-minute point, however, he reveals his insecurity along with his obnoxiousness, and the track loses all hope of appealing to any among the cross section that it was undoubtedly (mis)calculated as an appeal to.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Sure, it’s a remarkably brazen sop to the current climate, but it’s also a remarkably clever shape-shifter in its own right. Each distinct part (melodically and rhythmically) of “Sing” is an earworm, and it nicely answers most of my objections to Sheeran’s previous output. His dork-rapping was never really lacking for basic proficiency, it was just cloying and obvious, and here it’s used to grab the attention by contrast and then the song goes back to an infuriatingly catchy falsetto bit. And an infuriatingly catchy riff. And an infuriatingly catchy sing-along “oh-whoa-oh” bit. Pharrell can rightly be given credit for the supple, sleek bottom-end of the track, but there’s a really good topline here too. Several, in fact. What’s surprising is how Sheeran’s white-as-snow, oh-so-serious songcraft sounds frisky and effortless. Still not a fan, but not gonna resist this one.
[9]

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Kent – La Belle Epoque

Swedish music not sung by an attractive blonde girl may also be a slightly hard sell at times.


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Edward Okulicz: I love Kent. They might be my favourite rock band in the world and I admit they’re part of the reason I became interested in learning Swedish (“Kärleken Väntar” is the first song I ever learned to sing in a language I didn’t speak at all, back in 2002). I’m glad that my understanding of the words is still at the weird stage where I have to listen closely to process them because I think they may not be very good. In any event, despite the angry, unlinked shopping-list nature of the words, the song sounds like more of a bitter seething than an incendiary declaration, though it’s really only a remix featuring some marching drums away from that. In any case, it builds quite hypnotically, so I forgive its rather un-Kent lack of a strong melody, if only because its seething matches my own mood. 
[8]

David Sheffieck: Based on the translations I found, this is a political song in the scattershot way “rebellious” teenagers are political people, with a viewpoint that equates and condemns fascism and child pornography alongside Melodifestivalen and bad weather. The laundry-list nature of the lyric allows for no sense of proportion, no differentiation between bombings and Big Macs; the lack of a solid hook makes it impossible to ignore the idiocy of that approach.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I fell in love with this before I knew the lyrics, which based on what I can tell (and “what I can tell,” since it is 2014, is mediated by R*p G*n**s; the process of using R*p G*n**s for a swell-rock song in Swedish that none of the geniuses know what to do with is accidentally hilarious) seem to roughly be “something is rotten in the state of Sweden.” What that “something” is seems to be, well, everything: roofies to reading the comments, bombing and tear gas to Melodifestivalen, xenophobia and Big Macs — so basically it’s even broader and sillier than Savage Garden’s “Affirmation,” and you can nod selectively then ignore the rest to let the chamber-pop glacier sweep by. An element most protest songs forget.
[7]

Iain Mew: The intro suggests they’re doing an indie strings recreation of Dvbbs & Borgeous, which I would love to. That disappears as soon as the refined (in both sense) vocals come in and it settles into being a lush blanket. It’s something that I like and that they do well, though having spent the weekend unpacking my CD collection after a move I can confirm the large number of other bands who could match it.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Is that a shoutout to Melodifestivalen I hear? The sandy timbre of the close harmonies is rubbing me wrong; the deliberate vocal pacing is OK. A little like Sigur Rós at double speed. The chorus nearly breaks into the clouds, but as a whole, the track’s better slashing than soaring.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Garrulous Swedish electronic pop, closer to Keane than expected. That’s an awful lot of adjectives and allusions to live down.
[4]

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Fight Like Apes – Crouching Bees

Sorry for not doing anything off your second album and not liking this more. Love, TSJ.


[Video][Website]
[5.86]

Katherine St Asaph: You can tell nothing from Fight Like Apes’ lead singles. The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner had “Hoo Ha Henry,” a perfectly adequate FLApes thrash with blokes thrust up goats from line one; but the album isn’t just adequate, it’s a panoply: the loud single that doubles as fandom friend-crush weepie, the perfect breakup song, the all-purpose buzz band diss, the song about literally mutilating that dude your age who prefers 18-year-olds to women — OK, to you — and no one finding that remotely wrong. (Fight Like Apes’ songs are best when they’re hyperspecific.) “Crouching Bees” is now the second time I’ve been fooled by a FLApes lead single. I should know by now; even a Naked and Famous sync-synth riff shouldn’t be enough to fool me. Sellout this is not; deceptive unrequited-love song, though? Like “Tie Me Up With Jackets,” it’s about outre love-lust — the perfect lyric here is “I want you stuck to every corner of my face” — and, like Cher Lloyd, about wishing that you inspired those lyrics in others, that The Womanly Arts weren’t so damn difficult. (This is the second track I’ve mentally slotted in with a Wendelin Van Draanen book, but c’mon: “Why in the world would Charlie want to go steady with Helen? … It suddenly hit me that Helen probably had perfect little knees with no scars or scabs anywhere. Helen probably didn’t even own a pair of shorts she could wear under a dress, and Helen probably had a room full of dolls and curtains of lace.”) In a different world, “why don’t you look at me that way,” in this cadence, would be in a girl-group song — one of the really good ones.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Possibly the greatest bike-related cry for help since Fifteen’s “Helter Smelter,” “Crouching Bees” has the mandated synth-haze and lope. Luckily, the latter gives it the propulsion to match the theme, and MayKay has the outraged devotion to break up the easy groove.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: A pretty-good The Naked and Famous song, but only a sort-of-okayish Fight Like Apes one. Even if it sounds more like the ravings of a madwoman than a soft drink commercial, you can’t help but long for the sort of abrasive sugar rush that would have accompanied this prime MayKay rant on one of the first two albums, to say nothing of their former sense of concision. No, wait, something does need to be said about that — this is twice as long as “Lend Me Your Face” and it does not have to be.
[6]

Anthony Easton: I love her voice, and how it makes this track so much more jangly. In fact this might be the jangliest of the jangly pleasures. The little interruption near the last verse doesn’t really need to be there, and you could cut a couple of choruses. This at 90 seconds would be ideal. At twice that length it is merely good. 
[6]

Megan Harrington: As a title, “Crouching Bees” establishes expectations that most bands couldn’t meet and Fight Like Apes are among the most. There are worse ways to spend four minutes, but secretly the best time for this song is when you can’t think of anything you want to play. By its end you’ll have something else you’d rather listen to in mind. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: The you’re-soaking-in-it synthesizer line and darting vocal delineate the charms and limits of the post-Goth sound; I’m fond of the way MayKay Geraghty’s voice cracks singing the excellent “I’d pop a wheelie for you, hey!” But it doesn’t signify beyond its proficiency. 
[5]

Cédric Le Merrer: Really really loved their previous album. Really really don’t know what to make of this. Sounds like a fine bitter ditty to close an overstuffed album, or to be slotted between a couple of more energetic tracks. I can see myself getting to really like it there, but as a lead single it has lovely moments but it’s kind of aimless.
[6]

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

S. Carey – Crown the Pines

Surely we’re the target audience for a Bon Iver collaborator? Oh?


[Video][Website]
[5.50]
Megan Harrington: There is a very fine line between glistening icicle folk and the Exorcist score. When the children’s voices drop in, “Crown the Pines” crosses it.
[5]

Anthony Easton: There is this sweet spot where New Age music and “easy listening” worked out some issues in the early ’70s and made work that was sublime and beautiful. It was soft and tender. I am thinking of work like Robbie Basho, who sort of went broke and was forgotten for years. Both genres are in the middle of a revival, where the decorative or the pretty is no longer considered improper. Bands like Holocene or music by the Emeralds or the awesomely named Dolphins Into the Future take the fear of pretty and just shred it into something expansive, gorgeous, formalist. Maybe there are other things going on here — like how math rock sort of sounds like prog, or about the new earnestness, or whatever Sufjan is doing. “Crown The Pines” sounds very of the moment, and I can imagine all of the words that are used to dismiss it, but I love this. I find it beautiful, haunting, expertly crafted, eerie, on the right side of difficult, artful. Those are all adjectives, because like other great spiritual moments, it gets very close to describing the ineffable, and fails nobly.
[10]

Alfred Soto: Several influences, smushed and reconstituted: Brian Wilson, Dan Bejar, Animal Collective. Lovely string section too. If the vocal was less wet — less yearning — this would be worth a relisten. And what the hell is up with his name?
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: It stands to reason, really: if I mostly like the derivation of Bon Iver that makes Poliça, I mostly won’t like the derivation of Bon Iver that makes this. He sings like the choirmaster’s behind him with a rifle. As for pastoral birdsong-artsong stuff, I’ve been listening to Caroline Polachek’s Arcadia (as Ramona Lisa) a lot over the past week, and — this is one of the rare times I’ll say this, so cherish it — I prefer it because it takes itself so much less seriously.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s pristine, ornate, like a 3-D puzzle of Bon Iver’s cabin where all the chips and scratches have been turned into deceptively pretty  Styrofoam. It’s Owen Pallet forced to wander around a forest and write  only about trees. It sure sounds pretty, but feels a little too polished.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Music to panic to, silently. It’s at once sparse and frantic, like being sat on your own and having work to do urgently, only you don’t really know how to do that work, and though you’ll muddle through somehow it won’t be very good, because in what was really a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy you’ve procrastinated for so long that you don’t have the time to learn how to do it properly, and it’s not like there’s anyone here to show you now, is there? Sort of like that.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Love the sour swoon of the violins and the unsteady, frightened mumblings Carey opens the song with and reverts to over its course. It sounds like a devotional from someone dying in a pool of their own blood or fear. Don’t love the choral interjections; here “intrusion” or even “invasion” might be more appropriate.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Post-rock never did have its crossover moment, did it? It barely had a moment at all. Tremulous tenors singing the rounds, skittery snare work, weeping violins: I’m all for supporting primary-school music education, but this is as good as an argument as I’ve heard for learning to DJ.
[3]

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Pia Mia ft. Chance the Rapper – Fight for You

More like “Fight Against You.”


[Video][Website]
[4.12]

Katherine St Asaph: Teenage dystopian feels that sound equally at home in teenage dystopias as on the highway at 11 p.m. after the theater lets out. For a movie that’s basically just the biggest-budget rendition of SAT anxiety since the test-prep industry, the lineup is surprisingly non-obvious — singer who splits her time singing lead soprano of her high school choir and singing Drake covers on YouTube; Chance the Rapper, the most interesting “rapper featured on every major-label whatever” in some time; and Clams Casino, who’ll probably find his way onto a lot more major-label whatevers (his next credit: Foster the Damn People) — and the sound is undeniable. A generation of kids is gonna stream this on future YouTube, like the current generation’s doing with, say, Legally Blonde, and realize the music they grew up with was kinda great.
[7]

Will Adams: Pia Mia’s thin voice plays well against the fantastic production, which sounds like a standard moody synthpop template run through a paper shredder. Structurally, though, “Fight For You” is a mess, adding unjustified phrase extensions and inconsistent sections. And that’s before Chance the Rapper enters to aimlessly fumble all over the song.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I can accept Rihanna’s imitating greater singers, but I’ll be damned if I have to accept Pia Mia imitating Rihanna. This leaves Chance dropping his odd stresses over the staid proceedings. The contrast between him and Mia gave me the bends.
[3]

David Sheffieck: This is less of a trainwreck than the Kendrick/Tame Impala collaboration that’s the only other track I’ve heard from the Divergent soundtrack, but that’s largely because it’s incredibly dull – to the extent that even on my second listen, I had forgotten the hook halfway through Chance’s ill-fitting verse.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Did Divergent not have the budget for someone to listen to this song before putting it on the soundtrack, because geez, what an absolute mess that finds a few talented artists tripping over one another.
[2]

Andy Hutchins: The only bit of “fight” I derived from this song was my own struggle to stay awake. Not really sure why Chance felt that a K’Naan impression was a good idea — or why Clams Casino was tabbed for production duties on a song destined for a soundtrack to the 55th movie about a dystopic future war involving teenagers since 2009 — but his verse is the best thing here, because it at least occasionally rises above the heart murmur of a beat.
[4]

Brad Shoup: So Divergent is basically about how you want to have sex with your teacher, and Thatz Okay. They used the Tame Impala part of the remix for the first cafeteria scene, which is just silly. I know I didn’t hear Chance One at any point. But I’m 70% sure he delivers a Tobias Eaton pun, so again: silly. Pia’s section is riddled with malfunctioning machinery and impishly treated voices; I imagine a solo molly jaunt in a shuttered textile plant. 
[4]

Mallory O’Donnell: The lack of resolution in the beat, which plods, pauses and plods again, fits the subject matter and holds Mia’s vague trills ably. She’ll fight for you, but… tonight. Tomorrow? Another story. Chance the Rapper adds little, still needs a new name.
[5]

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Alicia Keys ft. Kendrick Lamar – It’s On Again

It’s not.


[Video][Website]
[4.17]

Alfred Soto: What the bloody hell? Lamar’s thirty-five seconds of growling qualify him for a “featuring” credit. To strand listeners with Alicia Keys on this raft is akin to being tossed in a sack with an ape, scorpion, and snake. She doesn’t disgrace herself with histrionic shows of soul, but the disco strings and harsh guitar don’t leave her much room to, well, do much of anything. Which is enough.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: Alicia Keys’ segment will sound great over the opening credit sequence, but geez, Kendrick Lamar shouting over some boring guitar riffage really tries its best to drive you away.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Calm down Kendrick! It’s only Alicia Keys. Or is it? Could Alicia Keys quell his rage so suddenly, averting another Jack White situation with a stultifying stream of MOR? She’s already shown superpowers in two of her videos, and then there’s “Superwoman” – after all this time, was she the “Girl On Fire”? Well maybe, but on this song she’s definitely Alicia Keys.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Kendrick hits the ground so fast — a boggling combination of DMX, Eminem, and Pigeon John — that Keys’ entrance comes on like a guest spot. It’s more impressive, how she squeezes the performer’s struggle into spandex. As decreed the shadowy cabal, this is a disco track. There’s a chordal backdrop of electric guitar that barely links to Kendrick’s intro and beat-trailing pings that link to… I don’t know, actually. Maybe there’s a hospital scene?
[6]

Andy Hutchins: HEY YOU GUYS I THINK KENDRICK HAD A RED BULL BEFORE RECORDING HIS VERSE DO YOU THINK SO IT DEFINITELY SOUNDS LIKE IT oh hey wait this is just the same midtempo ballad Alicia Keys has been making for about four years now crossed with “Now or Never,” the only good kid, m.A.A.d city song that would have sounded out of place on the NBA 2K14 soundtrack (and thus, obviously, the one on it). I hate “Now or Never,” but at least both it and “It’s On Again” are forgettably inoffensive.
[3]

Mallory O’Donnell: Slight disco number to which some sub-Eminem posturing over mangled metal chords has been attached. Bizarre, but not really in an interesting way.
[3]