Friday, August 28th, 2015

Dam-Funk – We Continue

And he plays that keytar too!


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Super fun ’80s funk throwback — and clocking in at less than five minutes, it’s on the shorter side for this genre! They nailed the sound, they nailed the vibe… if the vocals were just adjusted 10 degrees more towards “silky” or “smooth,” if would be a home run.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Talk about a time machine. Is this a new song? Not a Loose Ends B-side? Not René & Angela? Because I feel like I just woke up in 1986 and I have to decide which trapper keeper to bring to school. Which, obviously, is my favorite way to wake up. “We Continue” could indeed go on all night. A healthy reminder that there was a time when love songs were built for the sake of love, always and forever.
[10]

Will Adams: The synth-funk sounds carved out of ice; the morphing pad sounds like the water slowly rolling down as it melts. But then there are those pitchy vox to contend with. Continue it does, but nowhere it goes.
[5]

Alfred Soto: He once got Steve Arrington contributions, which should say something about his inclinations even if that wobbly bass line didn’t. Fine as far as it goes.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This isn’t “G-Funk,” it’s just straight-up uncut funk, period. The bass wobbles like jello, the vocals owe a significant debt to Dam-Funk’s buddy Steve Arrington, and the keys are as plush as your favorite upholstery. Somehow this guy manages to keep making retro sound current. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The groove feels effortless, which means that I can forgive that the song feels like it could do with a bit more effort. That “guitar” “solo” is like a crack in the facade that reveals genuine joy in the production. I can’t really imagine dancing to this, but I can visualise its place on the playlist of some dimly lit bar in the city around 1am. I like those places, and I like this.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Not giving up on my dreams resulted in an unstable apartment, no money, and an inability to pay off my debts, including what should be inconsequential loans from friends. I have no love inside me, only hate and fear. 
[3]

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Jamie Woon – Sharpness

“Buttery smoothness” more like.


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Scott Mildenhall: At first this is eerily reminiscent of some the tedious stretches of the last Daft Punk album, but it unfurls into something more engaging than the basic lounge muzak it threatens. Part of that is down to Jamie Woon’s impossibly smooth tone, imbuing his non-groundbreaking story with believability, and part of it comes from how that story is enhanced by the slightest of imaginative choices – a song focused on the word “sharpness” gives the same kind of enjoyment as Girls Aloud having “anaesthetise” in the chorus of “No Good Advice”. Also, never underestimate the power of a good abrupt ending.
[7]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The peek-a-boo shortness of the chorus’ key change switches the mood from smoove to sleek, which is a step up: it shows Woon knows the difference between making £12 hotel cocktail suite and actual sonic seduction. All that Mai Tai swooning works for something this crisp, though. From the air-tight production down to the bulbous swathes of keyboard, he’s selling you on more than just another blue-eyed soul record. He’s selling you affluence.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I can’t deny its solid structure, and the organ washes complement his modest vocals. But corners need edges, not to mention sharpness.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Sharp like a switchblade: you don’t know it has you at knifepoint until it’s too late (specifically, at 2:17). If only the ending didn’t retract so suddenly.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: R&B made as if it’s deep house; Sam Smith would do well to be paying attention.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Jamie swoons with an old school blend of underground that could have been lifted from the club scene in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven.” “Sharpness” could be written off as another Tracy Chapman anomaly, but the Miguel-infused vocal is too precise, and the bass too dark. Minute 2:47 has never heard such a growling bass line.  
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Not to say it’s aural wallpaper, because Jamie Woon’s voice and artistry are at least painting-standard, but this is so thoroughly average that I can’t imagine anyone having a strong opinion about it. I still love the sparse, twilit drama of a track like “Night Air,” and this seems tasteful rather than tense by comparison.
[5]

Friday, August 28th, 2015

FKA Twigs – Figure 8

In which we reconsider attitudes.


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Ramzi Awn: The rhythms, soundscapes and levels on “Figure 8″ are all an easy 10, and FKA Twigs’ vocals are exceptional. For some time, it was a scary thing to listen to FKA Twigs. The music was simply too good. It was a combination of jealousy, disturbance and sheer lack of bandwidth that kept some people me away all this time, but the fact remains that the songstress is the new generation’s answer to Bjork. She has spoken candidly about her career, discussing Kate Bush along the way, and it shows. While some may demand a moratorium on references to artists like Kate Bush and Bjork, their indelible influence is on every part of “Figure 8,” and it is better for it. The melodic intervals on the track borrow from the same British brand, and every instrument sounds like a brush off the same palette, forcing you to reexamine all preconceived notions of what music should sound like. “Figure 8″ invites Twigs’ falsetto — one of her most powerful tools — and simply put, blows you away.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: Enough people I respect tremendously love FKA Twigs enough that I’m beginning to think I was too harsh on LP1. Dumping Paul Epworth and Emile Haynie for Boots is both symbolic and desperately needed; the result is something like Kristy Thirsk singing a Lydia Ainsworth song. But only half of one.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Clinking and clanking like the ghosts of Waits and Angels with Dirty Faces-era Harvey are in the machine, “Figure 8″ bears no resemblance to any R&B I know but she’s played it live for a while. Striking, but it hints at secret things that may not be worth the trouble divining.
[5]

Iain Mew: “Hold that pose for me” she says, in the midst of doing just that, messing with tempo and pitch to stretch out a musical moment even more effectively than in “Video Girl”. It’s like she’s stepped off a tightrope but gravity hasn’t caught up with her yet. The rest of the song is both thrilling and business as usual.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh, now I get it: FKA twigs is making the records that Björk would be, had her music not gotten so dull. Boots, the producer behind many of the highlights of Beyoncé, would seem a perfect assistant with FKA twigs’ own experimental pop vision, and he proves that here: the track stops and starts and gurgles like Aphex Twin making an R&B record. “Figure 8″ goes over the edge that B’s “Haunted” stayed perched on the precipice of. This is, real talk, boundary-pushing pop music, deep and powerful.
[8]

Will Adams: A riddle, wrapped in snap-crackle-pops, inside a distortion filter.
[5]

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Pvris – Fire

No gold this time, just fire…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Thomas Inskeep: There will be comparisons to Paramore, because Pvris is a rock band with a female singer, but they’re unwarranted; this is better all-around: tougher, gnarlier, and with, sneakily, a more DOR beat. Tweak the production and this could be 1982, though I’m glad it’s not.
[7]

Alfred Soto: I could appreciate this would-be piece of incineration if Lyndsey Gunnulfsen fought the beat and came up with an attractive vocal melody instead of following the usual progressions.
[5]

Iain Mew: The most striking part is the bridge where the dark synth undercurrents coalesce — ooh ooh ooh — into something that sounds like La Roux’s “In for the Kill”. It embodies the calm certainty that backs up the thrashier moments of revenge Pvris unleash.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Rewind back to 1999 and my girlfriend’s Le Baron and “Fire” sounds just right. Surprisingly, it does more than hold up — even today. The drums push and shove Gunn’s searing voice with conviction, and it’s clear that Pvris is more than just your average rock band.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Focus on the “burning/turning” rhyme and you may miss how astoundingly grim this is. The bratty strut of the pre-chorus is great, and Lyndsey Gunnulfsen pronounces “burning up” something like “burgning up,” so it’s a maximum taunt. But the band moves between passages a split-second too late, like they built this song with the controlled pyro built in.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: “Fire” is closer to EDM-pop than a lot of this genre, fuzzy processing on everything and melodies right off the radio (“Monster” and “Firework”), but it delivers what all great pop-punk does: a rush of Manic Panic to the face.
[8]

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Bea Miller – Fire N Gold

Fire AND gold? Wow, we are spoiled!


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Katherine St Asaph: The guitar intro suggests this has been sitting around the studio for a while (even the release date was over a year ago). The rest can’t decide whether it wants to be Ellie Goulding or Neon Trees.
[4]

Iain Mew: I was on the verge of saying that this all sounds like Ellie Goulding, but then I listened closer and for the most part it doesn’t. Bea Miller’s voice and songwriting are generally quite distinct. It’s just that all of the other ideas are subservient to the chorus, and that is so much like “Burn,” which I was over so long ago, that it retroactively infects the rest of the song.
[4]

Crystal Leww: I’ve been really impressed with this wave of alt teens, from the cool-kid shunning Echosmith to the pop-punking Against the Current to the anthemic-uplifting Bea Miller. The themes here aren’t new, and lyrically, this is kind of clunky (“like an astronaut scared of heights” is not exactly the best line committed to record this year), and the drop swerves and swoops like a formula, but the music is pretty good after all, and Bea Miller really commits to the schtick. As soon as that chorus’s belted out “fire and gold in your eyes” hits, I believe it, and I believe in her, too. This is teen pop for kids done well.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Little hi-hat explosions in the verses, pneumatic snare hits in the refrain. Still, I eventually heard that first line over all that nonsense.
[4]

Will Adams: I just really like when songs become their own dubstep remix.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: See, this is how you work EDM traits into a booming radio-ready pop song. Miller’s voice is a bit thin — imagine this sung by the Pat Benatar of “Invincible” — but this has a fine big sound to it. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: This X Factor contestant is committed to this track’s swoops and dips, despite the track’s predictable swoops and dips failing to commit to her.
[4]

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Lana Del Rey – High By the Beach

Don’t tell Tove Lo


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Brad Shoup: I mean, if that’s what it takes. This sounds like an album’s final cut, something designed to recede. A one-finger melody pips in the chorus, like a goofy tropical bird; a bashful G-funk whine tries to make things hazier at the end. It’s doomy, but whose doom?
[5]

Dorian Sinclair: I heard the title of “High By the Beach” long before I heard the song itself, and while I can’t say what I expected, it certainly wasn’t a handful of tricks right out of retro horror movies — but that’s what the backtracked sighing, descending minor-key chorus, and of course that electric organ all immediately brought to mind. It’s a natural progression of her aesthetic though, fascinated as she seems to be by the darker elements of American nostalgia. Her signature vocal lassitude works well on the chorus but I find myself wishing the verses were delivered with more bite, and I’m docking a point because of how awkwardly “all I wanted to do was get high by the beach” scans.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Thick, colorful, and thorny, like bougainvillea branches straddling in a fence. Your tolerance for this breathy conceit depends on affection for the suspended pleasure in Del Rey’s voice and whether it’s possible to get high on a beach without serious dehydration.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: She’s officially become a caricature of herself: “dreamy” vocals, torpid tempos, and bullshit lyrics are all she’s trafficking in these days.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Lana Del Rey has a huge fanbase of teenage girls, and the moment I realized this was the moment I started wondering if one day I’d hear what they heard too. “High By the Beach” isn’t quite it. The intro’s like something Amelia Brightman would arrange, which is nice; the hook recalls “Diet Mountain Dew,” which is… okay. As usual, Lana’s at her worst when she tries to be hip — the beat shouldn’t even be here, it should be orchestral or something, and I would fund a hypothetical Patreon to keep Lana Del Rey from ever singing the word “motherfucker” again. I always want her music to be more sumptuous — fuller-voiced, more swooning. But there’s something here: a turning point, a repudiation of older material like “Put Me in a Movie,” a realization: to sulk gorgeously, you don’t need a man. What it reminds me of is Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland. Rereading the book now it’s too conventional, in its prose and its equation of domestic abuse with giving up tan legs, primary colors, cheerleading and other Southern-belle bona fides. But in my memory, it’s a book where the YA-novel plot fades, à la Figgs & Phantoms, into a relationship so bad it’s narcotic: a submerged haze of drugs and desire and people you wouldn’t meet in school, like Corinna, the girl with a dead-end Applebee’s job and deadbeat boyfriend who wanted to run away to California. (Even the name is telling: the short-vowel, more sullen version of sparkly cheerleader Rina.) In a book full of stock characters — the liberal neighbor, the lunkish jock, the cheer captain — she was the only one who felt real, the one whose story I wanted to read instead. When she does eventually run away, leaving everything, sending letters from somewhere past Nevada promising celebrities and beaches and no boys, I imagine her listening to this. If only the song stood without such dramatizing.
[6]

Will Adams: Like any Easter egg in a video game, self-quotation in pop songs invokes equal parts intrigue and humor. Lana Del Rey’s frequent self-quotation is rarely discussed in the critical world, except (as in the case of the red dress in Born to Die) as a quick detour to dismissal. But when factored into the larger Lana Del Rey narrative, the recurring lyrics and melodies are fascinating. In “High By the Beach,” the noteworthy line arrives in the bridge: “Lights, camera, ac-ti-on,” lifted, pronunciation and all, from “Put Me In a Movie” off Lana’s scrapped album Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant. Then, the line was coy and cynical, a Nabokovian taunt to the listener; now, it’s downright assertive. In “High By the Beach,” Lana commands the luxe aesthetic of Born to Die she’d left behind, turning the catch phrase into a self-assured credo, right before she blows the helicopter out of the sky.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Given coastal decline and seaport drug trades, this is a quite feasible desire. The song is more dystopian than the reality of crumbling coasts eroding deteriorating seaside resorts and adjoining areas weighed down by deprivation, but since “West Coast” was patently about Blackpool, that can only mean this was written during the eerie 2013 tidal surge. Right? More straightforwardly, it’s good that it’s about 80% hook, because you couldn’t hang a hat on “Honeymoon,” and that wound up boring. This has compelling senses of foreboding, mystery and disorientation, but most importantly, it also has a pulse.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I’m still struggling with my Lana Del Rey problem: at what point does artistic expression of ennui cross the line into actual boredom? With each single, her voice gets stronger, the arrangements get prettier, the production keeps up with the trends, but it’s always suffused with such apathy. I get that that’s her “thing,” but it doesn’t appeal to me. Here, she plays “feline ennui,” purring in the choruses — which is at least more entertaining than human ennui. But as exciting as all that slinking around can be, it still feels like half a song. There is so much missing. Perhaps part of the Lana Del Rey appeal is that she points towards what could be there; the emotions beneath the surface, the song hidden within the song. Something tells me that I’d like the hidden song a lot more than what’s actually present here.
[5]

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Tori Kelly – Should’ve Been Us

Should’ve been better.


[Video][Website]
[4.67]

Will Adams: “Should’ve Been Us” has a calculated professionalism that’s evident right from opening line; “Walkin’ ’round with my head down” goes past vague and straight into not trying. The high notes allow Tori Kelly to get scratchy and emotive. Too bad it’s in service of an inoffensive chorus that drowns out the “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” sample.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: Tori struts like stilettos and does everything crossover couldn’t do for years. This isn’t a country song, but it has twang in its bones. The momentum on the track outdoes “Bad Blood” in every fashion, and the high notes Kelly hits on the hook are sterling. Way to make a good name sound even better.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: There is a hole in my brain the exact size and shape of whichever lobe makes you appreciate Natasha Bedingfield.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Turns out “Netflix and chill” is also a command.
[4]

Iain Mew: Anyone else spend their listening time thinking “this could be us but you playing”? Tori does as much as she can, her effort audible if not overdone, but she’s stuck with a drab song that conveys less than a one line meme.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s not me, Tori, it’s you.
[3]

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Alabama – Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet

At long last, after “Old Alabama” and “Ala-Freakin’-Bama”…


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Alfred Soto: Their success as staggering as their beards — after ZZ Top’s the plushest in popular music — Alabama deserve reevaluation, as does most ’80s country before Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakam stripped it down to the chassis. The keyboard chimes and polite guitar counterpoint show their skill, but if I’m as enthused as I would be about post-“Need You Now” Lady Antebellum then blame my tortoise shell exterior.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Alabama’s been hitting #1 on the country singles chart since 1980, and while I don’t expect this to join their 33 other chart-toppers, it’s a fine addition to their discography, a slow “don’t run off just yet” dance that sounds kinda timeless. It also sounds like a demo for Toby Keith: it’s his style of ballad, and even in his key. 
[6]

Anthony Easton: Alabama has been producing music for as long as I have been alive, they have basically been producing the same music, and it is usually good to excellent. It’s like that brilliant neighbourhood BBQ joint that scales successfully.
[6]

David Sheffieck: On top of a slow build that The National might someday aspire to, this is a magnificent showcase for Randy Owens’ vocal work — haggard yet powerful, he turns a solid lyric into an elegiac triumph.
[9]

Brad Shoup: The spent-tank quality of Owen’s vocal puts over the feeling of end-of-life valedictory. I can’t imagine that’s where they were going; I think this is just a plodding, glum enterprise. 
[4]

Iain Mew: I’ve never listened to Alabama before, but even coming from a different background it’s in some ways instantly, comfortingly familiar. Instrumentally, it could pretty much pass for a Snow Patrol song. That makes the differences in vocal approach, leading off in multiple different directions, all the more intriguing — lead solid and confident, bringing in emotion without dwelling in it, backing vocals with the prominence and sheen of radio past. It works to add depth and their musical way of doing things has got me convinced, if not the JLS-level guilt-tripping of the lyrics.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: If a man wrote this song for me, I would probably give him my heart, and then ask him where he learned to sing like that. It would be like a Hugh Grant movie. That doesn’t make it great. That doesn’t even make it good. But it does make it real.
[6]

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Raghav ft. Abishek Bachchan & Nelly – Until the Sun Comes Up

CanCon crossover ushers in the Year of Light. And by “ushers” we mean “DJ Got Me Falling in Love”…


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s 2009! It’s 2004! It’s, er, neither. Others have elaborated on the apocalyptic nightvisions of the R&BDM that mutated from those years, but this is the flipside: sunset not as portal to death, but preface to guaranteed light. Raghav’s optimism is infectious, so unabashedly exuberant that the club quite literally cannot handle him, and even Nelly seems to be buying into it, with all the money his Periscoped-in appearance provided and more. Abishek Bachchan doesn’t sound quite as at home, but does at least contribute to the kind of valuable culture clash Raghav once briefly brought to British pop.
[7]

Brad Shoup: His modest melisma finds a match in a synth twinkle. The underlying melody, played pizzicato, brings some of that “Call Me Maybe” goodwill, but the guests are just leavening. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s unsurprising that Raghav had his biggest successes in 2004-05, because this song feels stuck there, sporting super-generic pop&b production, and no less than Nelly — who sounds oddly like Bubba Sparxxx here — on the rap break. Indian playback singer Abhishek Bachchan shows up, too, to drop a bridge, but like Nelly sounds airlifted in from another song.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s going down. I could maybe be persuaded to yell “timber.”
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Serviceable feel-good pop that teases EDM bigness before settling for the same territory as “Good Time.”
[5]

Alfred Soto: Pizzicatos and four on the floor beats sound like Saturday night if not quite Sunday morning, but the riff doesn’t do the here-comes-the-sun bit like I want, and Nelly might as well be auditioning for a spot in the Black Eyed Peas.
[3]

Iain Mew: It stretches not much substance a long way, but I can’t imagine really taking against it. The way that the guitar riff comes barrelling in, dorky and unconcerned, gives an impression of throwing yourself totally into enjoyment that most party pop gets nowhere near.
[6]

David Sheffieck: The rare charity single that sounds effervescent enough to work as a song in its own right. And the titular tie to its cause is just about clever enough to overcome the vague platitudes of the lyrics.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Breaking the dawn has been a concept for quite a while now now. So has “I can feel it in the air tonight.” I can feel it in the air tonight, too. It feels weird. And wrong. And the stars don’t look pretty. I pulled an all-nighter last night — I know what the sun looks like. This isn’t it.
[2]

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Gerardo Ortíz – El Cholo

For those who doubt accordionists can be badasses…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Josh Langhoff: Accordionist Marito Aguilar is a badass of Randy Rhoads proportions, in that I imagine certain young shredheads — albeit with diametrically opposing hairstyles — buying the CDs of Gerardo Ortiz or Ozzy Osbourne just so they can retire to their bedrooms and dissect the flurries of fingers. Aguilar is the best reason to hear Ortiz’s latest album; given free reign by the star, the studio pro came back with some jaw-dropping chromatic French cafe shit. The drum sound, boomy but articulate, makes me wonder whether someone found a way to mic Luis Navarro’s sticks. Otherwise, Ortiz’s living-the-good-life corrido is… good enough. It’ll be an eternal singalong anthem for Sinaloa partisans, same way I still get a kick from hearing Nelly shout out Plaza Frontenac.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Fairly generic Norteño. Reportedly about El Chapo; without a more interesting song, I reportedly don’t care.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The star is the rhythm, unwilling to settle for “super steady” or any of that crap. It matches Gerardo Ortiz’s pride in ethnicity — he won’t settle for “super steady.”
[7]

Brad Shoup: He’s written about El Chapo before, so I can’t peg this as a cash-in per se. And my favorite narcocorridos narrow on the don strolling his estate, soaking in the adulation of the town. But Ortíz doesn’t swing nearly as much as his band does, and he draws things to a close before he thinks people can notice.
[5]

David Sheffieck: Sugary sweet and almost too short; as soon as I get into the groove Ortíz is wrapping things up in a rush of energy. But since I was barely along for the ride to begin with, there’s nothing much to miss.
[5]

Rebecca A. Gowns: A sloppy ode to a cartel kingpin, loping and dragging. If we’re going to stoop to these depths, why not inject the proceedings with a bit of adrenaline, or at least a sense of winking irony?
[3]

Ramzi Awn: A beautiful voice paired with beautiful instrumentation is hard to beat. I want funnel cake. And I want to dance. The song could be twenty seconds long, and it would work. The fact that it survives 2 minutes plus is noteworthy. A good effort surely.
[7]