Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Ansel Elgort – Thief

John Green/Divergent actor turns EDM DJ, turns pop frontman, turns noses…


[Video][Website]
[4.30]

Katherine St Asaph: More male melodrama about their avoidable douchery. “Call me a thief! There’s been a robbery, I left with her heart, tore it apart, made no apologies!” isn’t quite “That chick had one in the chamber… I went out and banged her!” but it’s way too damn close, and I can’t take it any more seriously than I can the idea of hearts being purloined by someone named Ansel Elgort. And yet there’s that synth line, fat and insistent; if this isn’t the absolute nadir of songs I will listen to if attached to a proper sequencer, I give up on everything.
[3]

Iain Mew: “Thief” is a bit Jon-Bellion-does-The-Weeknd, with a side of Nick Jonas at his most ridiculous, which I would not expect to be a recommendation. The entertainment value is off the charts, though, and the rubbery synth pulse is so well done and perfect for the drama. That makes for lasting substance beyond just enjoying the way that Elgort swoops at each line from a random starting point.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: An ’80s pastiche about the tortured psyche of a YA star who can’t form emotional connections with other people, just sexual ones. My only explanation for how it works this well is that this originated as a leftover sketch from Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect and it somehow ended up in the hands of Ansel Elgort. But Ansel actually played a fairly heavy role in “Thief,” co-writing with Tom Morris, Michael Trewartha of Grey, and “Store” producer CJ Baran, — and according to YouTube’s credits for the song, he contributes a decent portion of the instrumentation. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to Augustus Waters’ next banger. Who knew?
[8]

Adaora Ede: Is a singing career a must? Look, I read the John Green books in middle school like everyone else, but something about the fake-deep cigarette boy singing a pop song has enervated the departed sapiosexual in me. Good on you, Ansel, for making an entrance into this dog-eat-dog world of music with something a little idiosyncratic. Droopy, synthy pop rock isn’t what I anticipated from Teen Pan Alley at all. I hate the ostentatious Chainsmokers/nu metal white male vocal (seriously, why are these guys trying to hard to feign expression over a beat that probs comes from the same two button thingies on a drum pad?), but I sure am a sucker for heartless Eurodance!
[4]

Crystal Leww: Earlier this week, I traded tweets with former Jukebox writer David Turner and current Jukebox writer Jibril Yassin about the EDM-pop 1.0 era and how badly it’s aged despite being chock full of absolute bangers. “Thief” seems like a throwback to those days when R&B pop vocals sat over pulsing synths, but despite his best attempt at Usher circa Looking 4 Myself, Ansel Elgort falls short of a bar that is insulting in 2017 but still weirdly high.
[3]

Katie Gill: This sounds like an alien race got a week of human Top 40 music beamed nonstop to the mothership, then was asked to write a song that was guaranteed to chart big so alien envoy Ansel Elgort could properly infiltrate our society. “Thief” hits a lot of the familiar beats of what’s big right now and what’s been big in 2016 but has no idea how to put them together.
[2]

Madeleine Lee: Seems like those songwriting workshops worked for Archie Andrews after all.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Word association: a fun game to play, but if “rib cage” is the best you’ve got to follow up “hollow” you’ve immediately lost. As far as writing techniques go, “Thief” can’t help but land itself in trouble — “she was on top of me”, for one, is about as far away from show, don’t tell as possible. The unfortunate thing is that it could be enjoyable were it not so keen on selling this stuff as some sensuous pop noir, overreaching lyrically as often as Elgort does vocally. Such self-seriousness doesn’t end well when you are in many respects inept.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Wow — “parchment” in a pop-dance thumper! A welcome distraction from a Zayn-like vocalist who can’t summon sensual frenzy without looking like he’s in the bathroom belting enthusiastically into a hairbrush.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Ansel Elgort tries to impersonate a heartbreaker full of regret who tries to act like a good guy by compensating his previous acts via song. But I don’t believe a single word he says in that afflicted voice; he still wants to show off how the women are at his feet. In the end, nobody can be a heartbreaker like Marina
[5]

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Seohyun – Don’t Say No

Well great, now all I can think about is not saying “no” and I’m really distra- oh crap, I said it, didn’t I…


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Jessica Doyle: Given Seohyun’s reputation as the stiff, hard-working, dependable member of Post-Jessica SNSD, I wish SM had pushed to expand the brand a little bit. She looks and sounds fine; there’s nothing grating in the song; the choreography is such that, after years of squatting and turning, she could probably do it in her sleep; it’s all very carefully put together… and there’s not a moment here that’s half as compelling as the awkward-and-yet drop-to-a-split of “You Think.”
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s the sound of debut-era Ariana Grande, with the speed cranked up but none of the dizzy passion. In fact, for all its drive and need, there’s no urgency here, just a sort of strained insistence. A greedy record that expects a lot but doesn’t really seem to do much to deserve your attention.
[4]

Will Adams: Where Ariana’s early, throwback R&B singles went for plush, “Don’t Say No” adds simple but effective details — plucky arpeggios, clock ticks, and rapid handclaps — that help it stand out that much more.
[7]

Alfred Soto: An amiable R&B-inflected bit of kinetics at the level of a 2006 Pussycat Dolls track.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: “Don’t Say No” crackles with the sort of holiday sparkle made for movies like Love Actually, and it has everything it needs. Built for the perfect shopping experience, the single will kick in just when you find that perfect cashmere sweater. 
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: Seohyun pleads to be taken back as if she already knows this will persuade him. Her glowing confidence casts no shadow of doubt, and I don’t blame her for predicting such a sure “yes” with so much on show as well on the production: flattering ad libs, sputtering drum snaps, a popping synth loop I swear sounds like “Triggerman.” And yet, I do wish she sounded more as if she’s trying to right a wrong or at least a drop of desperation. She confesses she’s sad and how she wishes for the old ways, though there’s a lot more to be desired to be able to take those thoughts to heart.
[6]

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Daniela Spalla – Prometí

Part deux in “Writers Posing With Jukebox Faves”…


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Iain Mew: I can hear hints of what I liked so much about her performance last time we covered her — a similar sense of making her way in and out of the flow of the track. This time the song’s just a bit too gentle and low-key for that effect to have much to work with. At least until the final spaghetti western diversion, which I could do with a lot more of.
[5]

Crystal Leww: That outro to “Prometí” sounds like the last part of a Western where the hero races home after saving the day. I do not like Westerns — they are self-important in the most dudely of ways. Thankfully, Daniela Spalla managed to balance that out a bit. She turns this into a melodramatic lite rock bop.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There isn’t anything much you can say about this scratchy guitar, mid-20th century pop-ballad style that’s new. When it’s done right it’s fine, and when it’s used to make something seem more than it is, it’s the most tiring slough. “Prometí” is made valid by Spalla’s singing, modest but solid. That said, this arrangement style is a real burden upon her, resulting in cliched retro-cool that dooms this to pretense.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Daniela Spalla’s treacherous tale is a story told countless times in pop to the point it rings cliche. But the classic pop build of the production frames it into something like a timeless allegory. The singer herself delivers it with a patient pace of a drama, the turning points arriving at the right time. Her performance especially befits such a tragedy: present enough in the narrative for it all to feel woeful but with enough of a remove for the story to resonate beyond the narrator.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Tight and short and sweet, with a perfect little chorus, and a lovely sing along quality, this is buoyant in the best sense. 
[8]

Juana Giaimo: Daniela Spalla knows how to write songs of a heartbroken lover. In “Prometí,” her grief has a certain sensuality that reminds me of Sandro — and even more so for the retro aesthetic of the music video. She has resentment in her voice, but her desperate yearning still possesses her, giving a genuine feeling to her melodramatic words. In the bridge, she firmly states: “I’m going far away and I won’t come back!”, adding a playful tone that emphasizes her pride — as if she believed for a moment her words — but then she sings: “but desire intervened and it was so strong/that we came out again to look for ourselves.” And there is bitterness in her voice, not only for her complicated love, but for her weakness that made her fall once again, no matter how many promises she made to herself. 
[9]

Peter Ryan: Spalla released “Amor Difícil” in August, wherein she stared down an already-toxic love, daring it to get even worse; “Prometí” is its funhouse reflection, the view from just the other side of the long-coming dissolution that doesn’t quite stick. It’s justifiably more downcast — tempo docked a notch, vocal quavering and frayed in places, the chorus an earthbound lament of failures of willpower in place of heady rejections of reason. The triumphant bridge is a fake-out — “no pienso volve-e-e-e-e-e-er…”, only to cede the ending to a return to old habits. But it all fits — nothing in this album cycle suggests illusions of neatness. And as the song says, things are never as easy as people say.
[8]

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Kyle ft. Lil Yachty – iSpy

New, from Apple, an app that lets you invade anyone’s privacy, anywhere! [not sponsored]


[Video][Website]
[5.11]

David Sheffieck: I’m not sure I want to understand Instagram hookup culture or even if I’m fully capable of doing it, but “iSpy” makes the process both fraught and fun. The former in the way Kyle presents his theories of who to hit on and why, then spends most of his verse protesting the insults that get thrown his way. The latter in the bouncy instrumental hook and even more in Yachty’s ever-exuberant contribution. This is a feather-light goof of a song, but endearingly so.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This could be suitable for kids, a sweet little ditty about summer time pleasures, low key with a lot of breath, just rising as it absorbs accidental detail, except that would suggest this wasn’t as delightfully deliberate. Extra point for the Oprah line.  
[9]

Claire Biddles: Lilting delivery, actual giggling, getting a “selfie with Oprah” — Kyle is super cute on this track but is let down by Lil Yachty, whose drawl grates with the posi vibes in the second half. “iSpy” is still fun, though, and self-deprecating lines like “a girlie I can get ‘cos she don’t get too many likes” are so real. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The continued saga of Lil Yachty’s rise is at times appreciable; certainly nobody who preaches positivity, playfulness and innocent youth deserves all the vitriolic hatred he’s inspired in elders. But then again, you remember how exhaustingly corny this dude is, and you want to stuff him into his Spongebob backpack and kick his ass into the sea. Kyle, himself kind of a low-level wave rider, places himself in the D.R.A.M. role with some splashes of Chance The Rapper and Drake, recognizes Yachty’s wave is a very strong current to coast along and make a decent knock-off of “Broccoli” in its posi-core carefreeness. It’s the bliss-out rap pop that a generation before, Leland Austin, Roscoe Dash and Travis Porter were not allowed to realize. It’s just now it’s so sugary sweet and so late for me, my teeth hurt trying to swallow it.
[6]

Will Rivitz: The thing about biting Chance and D.R.A.M. as hard as Kyle is doing here is that, if you’re going to completely swipe their flows and speech patterns, your lyrics better stack up as well. In this case, the utter inconsequentiality of Kyle’s verses are an affront to the better rappers he’s drawing influence from. The only reason this isn’t getting a lower score is (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) because of Lil Yachty, whose “All my bitches come in pairs like balls in my nutsack” actually made me laugh out loud.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Both guys pilfer from Andre 3000, Chance, Boosie, and god knows what else. Silly too — nursery rhyme silly, not unless you take Kyle’s promise to turn the “curly-haired cutie” he met on Instagram into his wife. 
[5]

Will Adams: The electric piano swipes are very Sesame Street, and both Kyle and Lil Yachty add to the playful tone. “iSpy” is pleasant enough as background chatter, but as with “Just a Picture,” the social media references choke out the fun like poison ivy.
[5]

Madeleine Lee: The adorable intro and DeMar DeRozan references go a long way with me, which is good because they need that goodwill to get me through the whatever chorus and most of what Lil Yachty has to say.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: The intro is kind of amusing, as are the verses, but as soon as the hook comes on wow does this go to shit. I really liked Lil Yachty’s break through “1 Night,” but this is just so stupid. “I spy with my little eye/a girlie I can get cause she don’t get too many likes” isn’t even endearingly crass like “1 Night” or Kent Jones’ hilariously tasteless “Don’t Mind” was last year. Even as everything else sounds breezy, the chorus reveals the whole song to be nothing more than just fucking locker-room talk. That didn’t stop our current President from getting elected, and it’s ushered us into an age of populist correctness, so I better get used to this song. My pet peeve these days is when writers try to arbitrarily connect music with politics, but to me, the dissonance between the lyrics and music feels inextricable from certain recently validated parts of the political climate — where demeaning certain groups of people, especially women, is not just acceptable now but in some twisted form an act of defiance, to just let guys be bros after they’ve been constrained for so long by feminism. What really seals the deal for me is not the political connection, but the line “all my bitches come in pairs like balls in my nutsack.” Okay, fine, it’s the political connection.
[0]

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Rascal Flatts – Yours If You Want It

…sure, we’ll take it.


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Edward Okulicz: You can play Modern Country Bingo with all the cliches in “Yours If You Want It” — it is after all, a  sturdy, obvious stadium banger with absolutely no intention other to please. Wait, is “resemblance to ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive” a square on your bingo card? If it is, you’ve definitely won this round.
[8]

Megan Harrington: It’s a mad lib country song where the writer filled every noun with the word “baby,” but “Yours If You Want It” is also romantic in its roller coaster cadences and constant escalation. Ballads live in the space between rote and familiar; Rascal Flatts play ping-pong at both ends of the table without ever hitting the net. 
[7]

Joshua Copperman: I’m surprised “Life Is A Highway” never became a meme in the grand tradition of “All Star” — it’s from one of the most Dreamworks-y Pixar films, and it’s by a band that Bad Lip Reading already turned into a meme of sorts, so why not make “‘Life is a Highway’ but every time they say ‘all night long’ it switches to ‘We Are Number One'”? Instead of that fate, Rascal Flatts have quietly continued making albums, and now they’ve returned with something that sounds like it’s showing the rest of country radio how real over-processed country is done. In this song we have: Proudly Auto-Tuned harmonies! Shiny, stadium-y production! A twinkling piano in the background that kind of sounds like the Windows XP startup screen! The line “this beat up, banged up, scarred up heart”, which is basically a Rascal Flatts version of one of Matt Berninger’s best lines! So realizing I just wrote way more positive things about Rascal Flatts than I ever thought I would in my life, I need to give this an above-average score. (Though the score is also because that chorus is the best I’ve heard from a country song since at least “Snapback.”)
[7]

Katie Gill: Middle-of-the-road country music. I wouldn’t turn it off if it was on the radio but I wouldn’t actively seek it out either. The main problem is that Rascal Flatts has far too many lyrics to push into the meter. Multi-syllabic words like “yesterday” get awkwardly shoved into a two-syllable space in a song that seems purposefully designed to trip someone up at karaoke.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The vocals try for carefree and nimble but only achieve half-assed and weighed down by Auto-Tune. The music is right out of your nearest megachurch band.
[4]

Alfred Soto: As smooth and soft as butter on hot Teflon, “Yours If Want It” could have been released in 1981 and competed with Melissa Manchester and Ronnie Milsap on the pop chart. Not this fast, though, and the singer wouldn’t get breathless singing outside his range.
[6]

David Sheffieck: Rascal Flatts’ sweet spot is high-melodrama cheese, and it’s often in ballad form and often too overwrought to tolerate. Here they bring that melodrama to bear on a track that chimes and chugs and pounds, a classic rock song in country wool. You can’t slow dance to it at your wedding with the spotlight on you, but there would be no shame in trying.
[7]

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Sampha – (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano

He could write a song with his new piano…


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Will Adams: It’s still there, in the corner of the living room. I don’t know if anyone has touched it since I last visited. When no one else was around, I would play. The minuets and preludes had fallen out of my fingers — I can still hear my teacher telling me, “Be diligent” at the end of our sessions — so I improvised, or I played pop songs, or I noodled around an idea I’ve had in my head. I’m home less and less now; my MIDI keyboard offers a slight substitute. The pianos at my university were scarce and often in public places, so I never wanted to play them. The piano in the living room was for being alone, for creating moments only I could keep. One time I noticed that the B below middle C had gone flat, and it bothered me for weeks (“This wouldn’t happen if I were still around”). Last year, I came home and saw that it had been turned around — now the keys faced the corner instead of being open to the rest of the room. Last month I found out my teacher had passed away. One time I drew out a multi-octave chord and held the pedal down, letting the notes ring on forever. The overtones flowed in and out, filling the room. I took my hands off the keys and placed them in my lap as the chord lingered. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll forget, like I did the études and sonatas, how to play altogether. It’s a passing fear; I owe my teacher, myself, and my piano more than that. When I go home again, it will be there for me, as it always was.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: The missing parenthesis of the title is “in my mother’s home.” It’s the place where everything begins and ends for Sampha; the memories from it are what gives life to this otherwise typical ode to his beloved instrument. Though the touchy subject excuses the lack of details, I wish a bit more could be disclosed about his home since it’s what the song is about more so than his piano.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: When I first heard this, I likened it to one of my dad’s favorite songs, Billy Joel and Ray Charles’s “Baby Grand.” Both are about the piano being there when it seems like no one else will understand, the instrument functioning as a sanctuary for both artists. The two songs are graceful tributes in their own ways: stylistically, Joel to Charles himself, and more literally, Sampha to his mother. The piano isn’t merely a framing device, though — he does acknowledge that playing gave him comfort, or what “some people call a soul.” It’s ultimately a tribute to his childhood home, where he went to take care of his mother as she was dying of cancer. What really makes the song heartbreaking is the chance she may not have heard it; according to a Fader story about the album, “He thinks she might’ve heard the song, but she was so sick towards the end, he’s not sure that it registered.” That explains the raw anguish and pain in his voice, but it really is love above all else that drives his lyrics and performance, hoping that it will be enough for his mother to hear how much she meant to him.
[9]

William John: I cannot imagine the wretched, endless dolour that must arrive with the loss of a parent. Both Sampha’s parents have now passed thanks to that devil incarnate known as cancer; his father when he was nine, and his mother only two years ago, not long after his name was appearing on Drake records and in BBC Sound Of… lists. His tribute is as much mournful elegy as a panegyric celebration of all she meant to him and the love and warmth she was able to provide. There’s pride in his voice amidst the teary chords, and the strength and memory he draws from his childhood instrument is palpable. This is the sort of ballad that in other hands would be drippy, hackneyed, and probably quite commercially successful; it’s Sampha’s delicacy and poise which save it from becoming too overwrought.
[9]

Cédric Le Merrer: Blame TV talent shows for making me impervious to this kind of things forever. Still, it’s better than yet another “Hallelujah” cover.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Nobody but his piano knows him because only the piano knows the pedestrian melodies he coaxes from it.
[3]

Mark Sinker: The piano in my mother’s home is now at my sister’s house and my niece plays it. She should practice more really, but I’d still rather listen to her than this. 
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Nobody knows you like you don’t know the key my dude, fuck a piano keys, keep your hands and your garbage ass singing to yourself. What is this vibrato and back of the throat thing? This isn’t SOUL Sampha, what the fuck you know about SOUL? You were the back-up producer when SBTRKT was too busy to return calls. Just because Drakk knows about making being an irritant into an art didn’t mean you were deep, you weirdo. The nerve, breaking out a choir, wait-!? A CHOIR OF YOU!? YOU THINK YOU CAN HARMONIZE!? You couldn’t find harmony if you were cast in Kids 2, stop the bullshit. Stop putting reverb on shit, stop doing this quail-with-its-neck-blown-to-bits warbling. Go back to your mother’s house and do some chores right now, because she doesn’t need to be brought up in your nonsense. “No One Knows Me Like the Piano” LAME-ASS NOBODY WANNA KNOW YOU BECAUSE THEY HEAR YOU SINGING AND THINK YOU’RE SOME KINDA CREEP, STEP OFF. OUT HERE BOTHERING POOR PIANOS, WHAT THAT PIANO DO TO DESERVE THIS?!?
[1]

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Red Velvet – Rookie

Our best-scoring K-pop act of 2016 returns…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Jessica Doyle: So that’s where the red/velvet split went: into the very bones of “Rookie,” with Yeri, Joy, and Irene cheerfully high-kicking their way through the red and Seulgi gliding through her parts to bring the velvet. (Poor Wendy has to switch between the two, sometimes within the same line.) It’s a roller coaster that somehow manages to become more enjoyable every time I listen to it: the more clever descendant of the already terriblmazing “Delicious.”
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The Greatest Velvets Alive Since The Greatest Velvet Died (*Wayne vox*), Red Velvet have basically coalesced into a weird theme where their playfulness is the absolute core of their work. Prior songs like “Dum Dum” and “Ice Cream Cake” are purposefully childish and silly; songs like “Automatic” or “Russian Roulette” toy with darkness or anxiety but are still paired with a reflexive adolescence that isn’t peppermint sting but caramel tang. While other groups might similarly work grinding on the pivot-point of turning cartoon histrionics into hysterics (Twice), basking in the swirl of being star-eyed and spaced out (Cosmic Girls), or project themselves as isolated, seeming adrift and ignorant of audience (GFriend), the Red Velvet identity seems to reflect a relentless “up for it” attitude. “Rookie,” like the aforementioned songs, bristles and skips along at a funky pace, while the lyrics document the rapid-fire memorization and observation skills fueled by crush-induced glee, with Red Velvet dangerously close to frying and mentally fizzling out. It’s not the group at their most maximalist, obnoxious, luxurious, or provocative, but it’s definitely them proving they’ve become incredibly comfortable over the last few years, and are becoming expert players of their funny games.
[8]

Adaora Ede: To this day, I cringe at the fact that I aided and abetted in Red Velvet’s last high scoring single. I enjoy this ska-influenced mashup far more than I did “Russian Roulette.” And again, I can’t help but mention the difference between this and this. Everything on the “Red” side of RV’s discography since “Dumb Dumb” (and dare I say, “Ice Cream Cake” with its Swedish-ass self because the MJ verse on “Dumb Dumb” was really pushing it goddamn) has felt playfully banal. I give them just the tiniest bit of kudos here because while brazen funk is hella tricky in K-pop, it works in Rookie’s favor to create a solid groove. Nonetheless, as ~trippy~ as the music video and blaring trumpets would like you to believe it to be, “Rookie” ended up feeling very straight-laced — no middle-eight multiples in the form of awkward Irene/Joy rap verses — in comparison to the stoicism of also vapid but doubly chic “Russian Roulette.” This song outchea looking like Bozo the Clown and I am entertained, but minimally. Meh, if you’re looking for conviviality here, I’d stray no further than the chorus, which is a cool experiment in Konglish phonoaesthetics.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: Red Velvet are so persistent to share how they’re gaga for this rookie idol of a boy, it’s almost a nuisance. But they seem to be annoyed, too, at just how much they’re crushing on him. They’re well aware of their fangirl foolishness as they get invested in every one of his guest visits and dumb jokes; my favorite is when they groan at themselves for remembering his phone number on the first try. And as they sing their chorus for the super rookie, I roll my eyes at myself knowing how I’ll delightfully eat this up no matter how silly it sounds.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The first few seconds of song primed me for “Shake It Off,” an expectation that didn’t shake off.
[4]

Iain Mew: They come at “Rookie” with personality to spare, and even the cheesy guitar licks end up working, but I still can’t fully absorb myself in its chorus. The way the “Tightrope” resemblence butts in just isn’t something that they can balance and navigate their way across.
[6]

Cassy Gress: “Rookie” isn’t fundamentally all that different from, say, “Dumb Dumb”; they’re even both pitched on the high side. And aside from feeling a bit more Kyary-esque, the video doesn’t seem much different either from “Russian Roulette.” Both of those had off-kilter energy to spare, but this pushes the off-kilterness over into mania. “Rookie rookie!! My super rookie rookie rookie!!” grates on me, and none of the rest of the song is memorable enough to give me any better hooks to hold on to.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The “ROOKIE ROOKIE” part is frantic in the best way, and I appreciate the way the bass corkscrews through the OK verses. They’re pros, I guess, so I’m supposed to trust their instincts.
[6]

Leonel Manzanares: Red Velvet putting out a retro-leaning single is interesting on its own, but let’s not fool ourselves: “Rookie Rookie” is all about that insane bassline. It does carry the whole track, so giving it a lead role in the mix was a no-brainer. 
[7]

Madeleine Lee: My general feelings about a girl group doing this Seventeen-style light surf rock are positive, but “Pretty U” doesn’t grab me, either, and for Red Velvet this seems like a step backwards. It’s too early for them to be making such a lukewarm single.
[5]

Mo Kim: Strange that a song called “Rookie” would come three years into their career: between the gorgeously rendered surf-rock atmospherics and the juvenile lyrics, I’m not quite sure whether to read this as subversion or regression. Either way it feels like a good second draft, charming but clearly the work of, well… let’s say amateurs.
[7]

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Snoop Dogg – When We Party

We close out Friday with more stars, one of whom is moderately well-preserved.


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Thomas Inskeep: As a rule, I’m not a fan of posthumous we-scraped-together-some-old-verses-and-added-new-production records, and this is no exception. Really, Faith, “when we party on the west coast”? This is excessively lazy on both her part and that of Snoop, from whom I expect much more than the same old rhymes about getting high etc. Not to mention that this sounds as if it was produced and mixed in an elevator, all clattering and noisy and dated as hell. 
[2]

David Sheffieck: No question this is nostalgia fodder, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Faith sounds great, Snoop sounds solid, Biggie sounds like he’s been piped in – but they all work together, interwoven and in sync, and the beat pops infectiously. I feel like you could drop this into a party playlist and everyone would accept it like it was a vintage track they’d forgotten they knew, which is probably the best case scenario here.
[7]

Alfred Soto: To my surprise, the two living stars are in good form, and the resurrected track by the dead star doesn’t sound mummified either. I can’t quite recommend it without reservation because the prouduction — stalwartly eighties, or, rather “eighties” — sounds mummified.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: “When We Party” not only has the right amount of funk to reflect a party spirit, but it also features a very relaxed mood, mainly thanks to Snoop Dogg smooth lines. 
[7]

Will Adams: I do love a laid-back party jam, and the fact that this probably wouldn’t be noteworthy at all in 1995 shouldn’t deter from how good it sounds in the harsh light of 2017.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’ve dated someone who, to this day, hopes to obtain my teeth when I die. I’ve made friends with one other girl who aspires to hold onto the human body parts of her lovers, and as of last month I tried striking up a conversation with someone who’s admitted to wanting to do the same. Memories aren’t enough, sometimes people want to own parts of you. Christopher Wallace’s mother seems like the kind of old-school Jamaican mother that would throw acid in your face if you suggested owning her son’s remains, but is too practical and worldly to be concerned about how tirelessly the recordings of her son’s rappings remain metaphorically dismantled and sold wholeshare. Its served former manager Sean Combs an excess depth that in reality he doesn’t personally possess to cloak himself, but it’s hindered Faith Evans (a woman I consider one of the greatest singers of her generation) to become little more than a professional widow. Even here, she serves as little more than a guest in her own home to a corpse, doing a throwaway chorus for a visitor (Snoop, who’s as usual no worse than adequate) and the long gone host. This is a rapper that has lost all value in how we’ve stripped everything that’s left and refuse to leave behind even the bones.
[4]

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Mariah Carey ft. YG – I Don’t

But we do! Do what?


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Right off the jump I know people are going to say YG was terrible here because they don’t understand being understated; meanwhile the “worst rapper beside Mariah Carey” slot was filled years ago by garbage Busta Rhymes, so thanks for playing. Mariah meanwhile appears to have abandoned her R. Kelly-like phase of playful mania for classicism in the vein of Emancipation, so I’m not mad at that whatsoever. As fun as her excessiveness can be both lyrically and vocally, there’s an appreciable restraint here that leaves you begging for more.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Bringing in Jermaine Dupri, one of the kings of the ’90s and ’00s (y’all know who he is), and Bryan-Michael Cox, one of the other kings of the ’00s (MJB, Usher, Fantasia, and Mimi herself), to produce (yet another) comeback single is a smart idea. So is sampling and interpolating Donell Jones’s 1999 quiet storm classic “Where I Wanna Be.” As far as bringing in ringer YG for some rap verses, well, YMMV; he does nothing for me. But this feels like with the right promo TLC it could be a hit. We’ll see. It’s no patch on her classics, but it’s good and solid, and I’ll take that. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: “You can play with my…mind” — ho ho. We get it, Miss Thang. She’s in good form on this confection whipped up by Bryan Michael-Cox and Jermaine Dupri, reliant on a Donell Jones riff. I suppose it’s cool, too, that YG pledges his troth instead of abasing himself with unbelievable regrets. Nothing fresh but tasty all the same.
[7]

Katie Gill: That production is doing absolutely NOTHING for Mariah Carey’s voice. We know she can sing, why back her up with that bizarre beat?
[4]

Will Adams: I enjoy the stuttered kick that’s weaved into the beat, but it’s the only thing mirroring the ice of Carey’s lyric. Everything else (except YG) is set to smooth, and the disconnect fails the song.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Can’t decide whether it wants to be a slow jam or “Irreplaceable.” YG has some ideas; too bad he’s not lead.
[5]

Crystal Leww: There is something very wrong when I cannot differentiate a Mariah Carey track from any dime a dozen R&B singer. There is something very wrong when the most interesting thing about a Mariah Carey track is YG.
[3]

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley – Chained to the Rhythm

Maybe Katy should take her Jamaican Guy and go back to the Private Life.


[Video][Website]
[3.77]

Thomas Inskeep: Full disclosure: I came into this not expecting to like it, but trying to keep an open mind. But then Katy decided to show off how “woke” she thinks she is. Ooh, we’re “all chained to the rhythm,” but clearly should be doing more to change the world, just like Katy Perry. Some of us, however, still haven’t forgotten the likes of “Ur So Gay.” She can claim she’s progressive etc. all she wants, but I don’t buy it for a minute; Perry will do whatever she thinks will sell sell sell her records. Bizarrely, she seems to think that a cod-reggae beat is the answer in 2017? (Or more accurately, that could be the fault of co-writer Sia, who’s predisposed to such notions.) Because you know what’s awesome? When white artists show you how much they know about “rhythm” by featuring — oh, I know! Let’s get a member of the Marley family in here! Great idea! Perry’s screechy, barely-in-tune voice doesn’t help matters, of course. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of the end of her career: she’s like the Paula Abdul of the ’00s/’10s, only without the half-decent songs and pleasant personality. There is no pop star today worse than Katy Perry, full stop.
[0]

Cédric Le Merrer: Katy Perry is my mainstream barometer. When she made “I Kissed a Girl,” showy but defensive female bisexuality was totally where people were at. When she made trap-pop, it became the new normal. Now Katy Perry is confusedly woke, and you can’t tell me that’s not the norm in 2017. Her terribly heavy-footed scansion even works in her favor thematically, as she’s completely chained to that stomping rhythm. Incapable of taking any liberty from the beat, she moves around like Link wearing his iron boots. So as usual, it’s a bit terrible but it also makes things easy for us weak singers wanting an easy song for karaoke, and whatever my reservations, in the end Katy and Max Martin always win me over.
[8]

Megan Harrington: Who but Katy Perry would turn three minutes of arena pop into a very, very, extremely literal call for wokeness? Even her obviousness is obvious. Of course she’s pivoted away from the lusty pleasure of her early hits and toward a crude attempt at “real” meaning. “Chained to the Rhythm” is, ultimately, not a very good song, but Perry is familiar, even comfortable, in her clunky movements. We’ll never know that utopian future but Perry would be there, no matter the sleight of fate’s hand. And “Chained to the Rhythm” in a good year is — unsurprisingly — the exact same song as “Chained to the Rhythm” in a bad year. She is a coin with only one side. 
[7]

Claire Biddles: Like a latterday Daft Punk song that’s been cloned over and over again until its defining features are completely flattened out, “Chained to the Rhythm” is so insubstantial that I swear it stops existing after it finishes playing. The lyrics are full of self-drags — she MUST have known asking “Are we tone deaf?” would be used against her in a review — and there’s something particularly desp about the way she references “your favourite song” knowing that this could never be it. 
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The inexplicable pivot of the cheesiest, most banal to trying to edge upon wokeness is certainly not the career move you’d expect from Katy Perry off-hand but at the same time, it’s been brewing. She’s moved from the goofiness into a sea of power-ballads of vague ambition and motivation, so to create an anthem meant to parse through a sea of bullshit by feeding vague lines about utopia and what have you is not improbable. And not for nothing, for all Sia’s weird reggae mining and her bullshit fake patois voice she built for playing Trojan RiRi, she’s only just recently bothered to put an actual Jamaican on a record or get them writers’ credit. And so the awkward promo-featuring of Tuff Gong’s grandson is maybe a weird gesture for authenticity from someone so unlikely, but I can’t be too upset given this surprisingly rare accommodation. If there’s anything to say about this in particular that’s a flaw, it’s that in many ways it feels too calculated, in a way that Katy Perry used to never bother with. As unflattering or at times infuriating as her lack of foresight could be sometimes, there was something to be said for being so brash.
[6]

Anthony Easton: When your entire genre is founded, and continually plays, with notions of black authenticity, does it mean anything that Perry plays with patois, and if it doesn’t–why does she have Skip Marley, and if it does, does it mean anything that she doesn’t fully commit (rhythm instead of riddim). Minus a point for talking about distortion without having any of it at all, plus a point for sneaking the word empire in. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: My delight at the “distortion” in a dance pop tune is mitigated by Katy Perry’s odd stresses; in this case they land on the last syllable, which has the effect of howling when someone digs a high heel into your big toe. A similar travesty happens in the phrase “to the rhy-THM, to the rhy-THM.” Still, the gloss suits her: if any performer would revel in being chained to a rhythm, it’s Perry, who in some bars sounds like Toni Braxton.
[6]

William John: She did not get away with the grating elongation of “unconditionally“, so I have no idea how Katy Perry has been permitted to transgress again with such klutzy abandon; once again, we are faced with an extreme case of the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. As to the song’s alleged “woke-ness”, I proffer no comment save that it’s unlikely any slumbering apoliticals will be roused by a track with empty platitudes and such narrow dynamic range.
[2]

Will Adams: The trendification of aligning with social justice causes has made it easier than ever for people like Katy “Artist. Activist. Conscious.” Perry to market themselves as woke with just a modicum of effort (all while continuing to act as shitty as they always have). The idea that “Chained to the Rhythm” and its vague politics have any potential for significant impact is one of the more insulting concepts the pop machine has lobbed at us in recent memory. But even if Perry had any insight, we’d still have to contend with this torpid mess of recycled Weeknd disco, indulgent Sia-isms, and Perry outdoing the awful scansion on “Unconditionally” a million times over. There’s no bite to this, no feeling, and no reason to dandandance.
[1]

Katie Gill: American pop music can’t be THIS starved for bangers, can it?
[3]

Mo Kim: Katy Perry is so bad at being radical that she needed to hire a black hip-hop artist as a temp for this.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: After all that apocalyptopop a few years ago it’s weird that now, with the Doomsday Clock actually closer to midnight than at any point since 1953, Katy Perry doesn’t sound that arsed about the walking daymare she’s describing. It’s not like she’s known for her subtlety — if anything it’s like she’s trying to undersell the hugely unsubtle “makes you think”-type statements in the lyrics. Weirder still is that “Wide Awake” already did all this without any obvious allusions to infer (and thus better), but at the very least it avoids the weirdest possibility: being completely terrible. As it’s akin to an inessential Sébastien Tellier remix, it really isn’t that, but it is strangely bloodless.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: One point for every point I’m not giving this: 1. I did not expect Melanie Martinez to be where Katy Perry was positioning herself. 2. If you told me Katy Perry was doing Pleasantville, I would have expected a pinup theme. 2a. Though it’s remarkable that the cover art doesn’t show her face, and yet still manages to showcase her boobs. 2b. I’m sure Vigilant Citizen is on that photo. God, for the days of obscure cranks. 3. Sia still doesn’t do subtext, at all. If she feels zombified, the lyric will have shambling goddamn zombies. 4. Or maybe she does, because this is a subtext-free “Chandelier,” down to the isolatable “dance, dance, dance!” and “DRINK!” interjections. 4a. Someone get those ornaments out of her picket fence. Get the lens out too. 4b. Disco balls-and-chains aside, I actually don’t think anyone involved was trying to avoid “Slave to the Rhythm.” This is the exact kind of tweak-a-word that’s Sia’s main writing trick, and besides, Katy Perry did “E.T.,” she doesn’t care. 5. How is Katy Perry one of the few singers who doesn’t sound exactly like Sia’s demo vocals? Is this a sign of her being a distinctive singer, or too limited to try? 6. I blame Max Martin for the Swedish reggae. Ali Payami probably did the prechorus. 6a. Because they just had to get the funk guitar in somewhere, didn’t they? This sounded much better at the Grammys, where it sounded like a more straight-ahead Martin/Payami track. 6b. With a line like “dance to the distortion,” would some distortion be too much to ask? 7. I have no idea what Skip Marley is doing here and neither does anyone else. 8. Why does Woke Katy Perry just sound like the late ’90s, the time of Fight Club and The Matrix and endless plaints by landfill alternative bands about the pathetic emptiness of our meaningless, consumer-driven lives? Sia was also a product of the ’90s; I bet if she released “Chandelier” today that would be called political too. 9. In these days of our Pigmask Putin we’re going to see a lot more of these political-shaped but anodyne “protest” songs, aren’t we? Please extradite me to wherever it is that I did whatever it was to deserve this.
[1]