Monday, February 18th, 2019

LightSkinKeisha ft. B Smyth – Ride Good

But who’s in the driver’s seat?


[Video]
[4.29]

Crystal Leww: It’s 2019 and I’m shocked that most women who are rapping still somehow end up releasing a sultry R&B hit as part of their “commercial” rollout. We’ve not done a good job creating ways for women to take other paths, and it comes to show how the industry as a whole has seemingly organ rejected attempts to positively cover the wave of women who got famous rapping on the internet (e.g. Azealia Banks, Dai Burger) or women who were part of local scenes like Chicago drill. In the last couple of years, LightSkinKeisha made a lot of songs that honestly weren’t that different from each other sonically, but she stood out for her playfulness. This has sanded down all that made her fun and youthful and has turned her into another entry in the crowded lane of female R&B singers. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: Times have changed, so why stick LightSkinKeisha behind an R&B performer whose”hope you can handle a stick shift, babe” is an example of his marvelous wit?
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It’s inherently lame that LightSkinKeisha made a middling R&B track that ended up being considerably more successful than any of her rap singles. Chalk it up to the tough barrier to entry for female rappers, or the general public’s bad taste, but “Ride Good” is a bottom of the barrel mid-2010s R&B duet that would feature Jeremih or a Jeremih-like singer. The lyrics are unabashedly sexual, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but the beat is too flimsy and inert to make any of it convincing. The two sound like they’re flailing, like strangers cosplaying as a sexually confident couple. They may feel the chemistry, but to spectators they appear awkward and inexperienced.
[2]

Iris Xie: It’s sad (or expected) that the hook is fuckboyish, because everything on this track coasts on the strength of the bassline and skittering, crystalline instrumentals in the back. But LightSkinKeisha is a feature on her own debut track, and while I find it interesting in terms of B Smyth having to constantly convey and yearn to her, the last third appears to dawdle and he’s stagnant. Is he stuck while shifting his stick shift? This song is worth the duration of at least one well drink, when you’re waiting for more hype songs to come on at the (straight) club.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: A cushy vibe, a phat-assed bassline, a male singer in B Smyth who sounds just pleading enough — but the star here is rapper LightSkinKeisha, who’s here to tell you just what she wants from a man. “Ride Good” is easy on one hand but also just seductive enough. (Upped a point because every time I hear it on the radio, I stop and listen to the end.)
[7]

David Moore: I’m generally down on the pornographic detail that’s overtaken sexual innuendo for about a decade running now, but if you’re really going to go with “stick shift” as your central image, couldn’t you put a little effort into at least one additional euphemism?
[5]

Andy Hutchins: Americans have made pop music strangely obsessed with the fuckability and/or anthropomorphic aesthetic appeal of motor vehicles for a long time, going back to at least “Little Deuce Coupe.” But it feels increasingly like most who have come of age since “You Remind Me of My Jeep” have inexplicably taken inspiration from a songwriter whose tendency was always toward literalism that only worked because it bordered on the absurd. And so we have “stick shift” used here to just mean penis, which confounds “You shiftin’ the gears on my stick shift, babe” in a purely painful way. This could have worked better as a dialogue, but the overlong hook puts too bright a spotlight on a sub-Trey Songz vocalist who tries very hard to outshine the other side of the ft. credit, and the too-short verses — the second of which begins more than two minutes into a four-minute song — don’t actually care enough about trying to interact with the metaphor to accelerate out of the turns.
[4]

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved

We’re not sure what gave you that impression, Lewis.


[Video][Website]
[2.33]

Julian Axelrod: Late one rainy eve, Ryan Tedder sat alone in his lab. It was a night like any other; he was putting the finishing touches on the closing ballad for Jess Glynne’s new EP. But in the pit of his stomach, he knew something was wrong. He tried to put his fears aside, racking his brain for a word that rhymes with “matrimony,” when his assistant Sherrie burst through the door. “Mr. Tedder, you better come quick… It’s escaped.” Ryan sprinted through the halls of his compound, but he already knew it was too late. When he reached the holding cells, he stopped dead in his tracks. There stood a giant, pulsating figure made out of pure, dull light. Ryan recognized it immediately: He’d been assembling his cast-off piano ballads in secret, hoping to create a figure so bland, so soporific, it would lull the world into eternal slumber. But this was bigger and duller than he’d ever intended. Various holders and hangers-on tried to contain it, but they were no match for its drowsy might. “Step away,” Ryan commanded. He slowly, gingerly, crept toward the light. He reached out to touch it; as he ran his hand across his surface, he was astounded by how smooth and plain it felt. It almost felt like he was touching nothing at all. “Shall I call the authorities, Mr. Tedder?” Sherrie whispered. “That won’t be necessary,” Ryan replied. “We can use this. We’ll release it into the world, get it some UK radio play, maybe a spot at Glastonbury. And we’ll call him… Lewis Capaldi.”
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Eerie: it’s almost six years to the day since I’ve had reason to mention the Pachelbel Rant.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The thing about overwrought piano ballads is that the instrumentation is always a double-edged sword. It’s often simplistic, like it is here, so the musicality of the piece is moot, because it’s really just a showcase for the vocals. But, at the same time, there’s a unique catharsis that is understood when one performs a piano ballad — the near-thoughtless playing of simple chords and melodies gives a sense of purpose to the belting out of sad lyrics, the rudimentary piano-playing a mere crutch to help justify and encourage this therapy session. I feel the same way about “Someone You Loved” as I do “Someone Like You” as I do any song of their ilk: they have a way of successfully transferring the act of sitting at a piano and singing and singing and singing. Capaldi offers trite lyrics and an ingratiating performance, but I still feel the ever-universal loneliness of a dinky, right-handed melody.
[4]

Andy Hutchins: Astoundingly, there is a market for loud-loud-louder-LOUDEST verse-chorus-verse-bridge progressions of Sheeranian lyrics. Unsurprisingly, there is not much appeal to that mish-mash.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Thank you, Ed Sheeran, for opening those gates to hell. 
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: He even looks a bit like Sheeran, for Pete’s sake.
[1]

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Twenty One Pilots – Chlorine

On our pop periodic table, “Chlorine” falls below “Neon,” “Titanium,” “Gold,” and even Foxygen


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Katherine St Asaph: Straight chlorine is a gas, not a liquid, which should give you an idea of the level of fakedeep here. The production, though, is realdeep, more lush and orchestral than anything that has any business being given to Twenty One Pilots; toward the end, with the vocoder, it’s even sweeping a bit toward Daft Punk.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Leisurely, weird, and incomprehensible even to their swollen cult, “Chlorine” could be a Side B track from Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. “This beat is a chemical” goes one line, but my favorite is, “The lead is terrible in flavor,” which, sure, is helpful advice. I mentioned Double Dee, but “Chlorine” is mutant un-disco comprised of parts ranging across decades and genres: perdedor Beck backbeat, Madonna latte rap, the sincere smooth tug of Chris Martin, still an influence on singers. To a degree I applaud Twenty One Pilots for essaying such a tuneful muddle. 
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Twenty One Pilots are as lame as previous Fueled By Ramen band Gym Class Heroes, and as beige as Trench-producer Paul Meany’s Mutemath, but they deserve far less flak than they receive. “Chlorine” is a five-minute, multi-suite “epic” that primarily falls short because the production transforms the whole thing into an indistinguishable grey slurry. From the twinkling piano to the dubby guitars to the cinematic strings, every instrument’s innate sonic qualities are dampened by an overarching sameness in sound. The clearest testament to this is the drums; it’s relatively unwavering in both beat and disposition, making every sequence feel like the song hasn’t developed.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Leaden, deadened bass synths with firefly synths and flat, barren drums bury Tyler’s limp croon under the mushroom horns.
[4]

Iris Xie: I just burst into giggles after the second verse started, because the contrast between the stone-faced hook and the psychedelic pop-lite of the warble with “Lovin’ what I’m tastin'” and the extra pitch up of the warble at the end after “tasting'” is hilarious, like gilding a lily and then setting it on fire because it’s made out of formaldehyde. And that decision continues haunting the song with that deadpan hook of “Sipping on straight chlorine.” This is a banal form of sadness. If this is supposed to be a song, could Rihanna just record this and add a sorely needed gravitas that could make people take this sad white boy song seriously (à la “Stay”)?
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: God, I wish 21P would go “sippin’ on straight chlorine.” Shame I can’t use it to clean my ears of this garbage.
[0]

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending February 16, 2019


Our writers have been hard at work! First, with some reactions to the Grammys:

But wait, there’s more!

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Kacey Musgraves – Rainbow

And we close the week with the Golden girl of the Grammys.


[Video][Website]
[6.25]

Edward Okulicz: On Golden Hour, this feels like an unnecessary coda tacked on; after the beautiful resolution of the title track, the record didn’t need another song about everything being alright. Also in that context, I find the second verse’s pat rhymes to be a bit gloopy and childish. Taken as a song on its own merits, though, it really works, but almost any other performer wouldn’t have the empathetic character to sell it. And she does sell it, because the chorus is one hell of a warming hug. There’s a fine line between touching and glurge, and this is on the right side of it. I hope it becomes a sizeable hit so Kacey can strip-mine her wonderful album for further singles until she hits “Love is a Wild Thing.”
[8]

Alex Clifton: “Rainbow” revisits the theme of “Silver Lining,” the opening track from Musgraves’s first album, in a much different light. “Silver Lining” is a song about someone who’s so afraid to live normally and find happiness that they shoot themselves in the foot by never even trying. “Rainbow” is more about someone who can’t try because they’re too sad to do so. “Silver Lining” is a buck-up song, one to remind you on the hardest days that you’ve got to do the big scary things because there’s no other way to live, while “Rainbow” is its gentle, kind cousin that reminds you to be careful and tender with yourself. It’s a simple, affecting song, just vocals and piano, and yet it never feels sappy; it’s the equivalent of being hugged by someone you love. Uplifting songs are really hard to balance, but “Rainbow” stands out with its restraint. It’s quiet and honest, and that makes it all the more beautiful.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: When Kacey Musgraves sang “Rainbow” on the Grammys — only the goddamn Grammys would stick her with this slush when “High Horse” is right! there! — I had to swear about four times to the person watching with me some variation of “no, wait, I promise she’s actually good.” The reason: “Rainbow” is the kind of piano ballad that is usually a showcase for divas. To quote Musgraves’ album, it’s pageant material. So the understated charm of her vocals, so perfect on “Slow Burn” or “Lonely Weekend” or “Oh, What a World,” here comes off as fourth-rate Whitney Houston, particularly since she swallows most of the high notes.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Suspicious about the consensus building around Golden Hour, I hoped Grammy audiences would get “High Horse” or “Wonder Woman,” one of the well-wrought miniatures to which fans had run as if the songs were roaring fireplaces in January. Instead, “Rainbow” offers the poised, broadly scaled empathy that conservatives mock on social media — I’m surprised Carrie Underwood didn’t cover it on her last album. Folks, if you want to convert Kacey Musgraves skeptics this ain’t what you’re looking for.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Firm, warm and heavy piano twists and turns, Kacey’s empathetic, warm croon soars into the sky, spreading a rainbow behind her.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: The final track on Golden Hour is a pretty ballad, just a piano and Musgraves’ voice singing some really beautiful lyrics. And that sums it up tidily: your reaction will largely be based on how you feel about such stripped-down balladry; I’m good with it on occasion, especially when sung by a voice as attractive as this one.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: This song will mean a million things to a million different people and that’s part of the reason why it’s so great, but I’ve always looked at it as a nod to the gay community. Kacey has regularly spoken about her allyship and the lyrics seem like the perfect thing to tell a closeted teen boy growing up in a Mexican Catholic home; what I wouldn’t have given to hear this wonderful woman singing to me that there is a rainbow above despite all the worry and weight I was carrying. Kacey’s sincerity shines through and provides all the warmth that the sparse piano arrangement allows for and you can’t help but be impressed by the vulnerability of the vocal she provides. Like a rainbow after a heavy storm, this song is a necessary light after a lot of darkness.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Would’ve preferred that Kacey ended her album with “Golden Hour.” Would’ve also preferred that “Golden Hour” (or anything else, really) was sung at the Grammys and became her new single. What we got instead was a plain piano ballad, her own “Yesterday.” The image that’s conjured up with raincoats, umbrellas, and rainbows makes plainness its virtue: a song so universal that it’s well-suited as a lullaby for crying newborns. It’s a sweet sentiment, but most of its power comes in how any person could have made this feel personal. The reverb helps.
[4]

Iris Xie: I love, love, love, ballads. But this is unbearably flat, spare, and sounds childish. Maybe when the ASPCA finally stops using that Sarah McLachlan song, they could switch over to this.
[2]

Matias Taylor: The gorgeous melody paired with Kacey’s songwriting voice (unpretentious but endlessly clever and resonant) makes the song genuinely uplifting, making it feel like we’vejust discovered a universal but forgotten truth by tuning into her words. Kacey expresses comfort as always within our own reach, as simple as realizing that things aren’t always as bad as they seem, and the perfectly executed metaphor is an ideal match for the simple elegance of this track and the rest of its parent album.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: If singer-songwriters are going to persist in the production of tasteful, unadventurous ballads, I can only hope that they put as much care into them as Kacey Musgraves & Co put into “Rainbow.” It works for the same reason the rest of her catalog does — not necessarily because of any shocking innovation in the form but a good-hearted, detail-filled ethic that suffuses the whole enterprise with a certain joy. Is it the best song on Golden Hour? Certainly not. But it’s the best of its kind, and a beautifully written piece regardless.
[7]

Will Adams: “You’re depressed,” my therapist said, pausing for effect. I didn’t know how to respond; it was so direct and simple. Everything to that point felt like a fog, perhaps a storm cloud, of circular thoughts I’d wrapped around myself: the recognition that something was wrong but the inability to name it; the fact that the last time I felt truly happy was when I was nineteen, but the theory that this was just a part of growing up; the fear that every single person in my life was simultaneously staring right at me in judgment and looking the other way in embarrassment; the notion that I desperately needed to talk to someone, the admission that no one would care. And in half a second, it was distilled into a single point of clarity. I could almost feel the clouds part in me. That was in summer of last year, after I’d heard Golden Hour and its closing track, “Rainbow.” I’d appreciated its clear sound and uplifting message, and it hit the soft spot I have for album-ending ballads. But sometime after that meeting, I listened again. I burst into tears. It felt as if Kacey were singing directly to me, reaching out for my shoulder as it heaved, and guiding me toward the sun. Therapy is grueling — I often left sessions with a headache, a scratchy throat, or both, after unraveling myself in front of a stranger, pouring out years of bottled sadness, frustration and fear. As good as it felt to release it in the room, I would walk to my car with the words still swirling, the amount of work I still had to do towering over me. I kept going. I kept talking. I started a prescription. The anxiety persists, but I can resist it better. “Rainbow” remains the keepsake from my 2018, a safe harbor to return to for three minutes if ever thunder threatens me. “It’ll all be all right,” Kacey sings, and it means everything to finally be able to believe that.
[10]

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Astro – All Night

This review is about the Korean group. For the tiny, adorable American rapper, please see “Astro (disambiguation)”


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh, it’s a midtempo doesn’t-go-anywhere (even albeit with a pneumatic chorus and a rap break), what a disappointment; I was hoping for a Slaughter-esque party anthem. And on top of that, it’s not even a particularly good midtempo. 
[3]

Iris Xie: This is Mariah Carey at her most boring, split into 7 Korean boys. It’s sincere to the point of snoozy, and the hook isn’t catchy to capture the attention required to really take in the entire song. Kpop is often at its best when the disparate elements all combine and mesh together to form a strong feeling of elation, but this just feels like it is desperate to please. A song that definitely rides on choreography and flower boy-pretty faces to get it through. 
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Though the burst of synths and speedy drums in the chorus serve as a good hook, the real experience of “All Night” is settling in the airy, cozy pianos that turn more tender as Astro ruminate deeper about their crush. The music responds to the boys, growing warmer and fuzzier as they spend more time in their thoughts. Insomnia has rarely felt this comforting.
[6]

Alex Clifton: “All Night” takes a while to build, and once it hits the final chorus it feels spectacular. I wish it didn’t meander for quite so long before it finds its groove, but the wait is worth it.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: LDN Noise made such a huge impact in K-pop that it’s fairly easy to trace its embrace of contemporary dance music trends (and contemporary takes on retro styles of dance music) back to the songwriter/producer duo. I can’t say I’m fond of all their recent work, though, and Astro’s “All Night” is one such example. It’s all flash and no substance: pretty synths and crashing glass that only have the semblance of energy. It doesn’t really develop into anything either, something that’s a result of the limited dynamic range and unmemorable chorus. So many moments feel like they should be exciting — the chorus’s declarative hook, the moments during the rap verses where the instrumentation fades out, whenever the kick drum revs into overdrive — but the songwriting prevents it from getting there. At least they got the title right: zzZzZZZzz.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The beat is the kind of 2000s-R&B + EDM-pop combo that rarely fails to trick me into at least paying attention to a song. Once “All Night” caught my attention, though, I found a lot to like — nothing revolutionary, but a charming set of vocal performances, with the harmonies carrying their weight, goes a long way.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: A game attempt to synthesise the Mariah/The-Dream ballad formula for big returns (Rocky’s rap flow almost sounds like Mariah on the second verse of “We Belong Together”), and “All Night” has plenty of glimmer even if it’s only reflection. I’ve got an endless weakness for lush, shiny pop ballads and this certainly is one of those even if it’s not particularly distinctive.
[6]

Will Adams: I promise this will be the last time I’m fooled by a song that ultimately has very little to offer but still sports a banging chorus. Pinky swear.
[6]

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up

So then I says to Mabel, I says…


[Video][Website]
[4.38]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Old Rules
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Mabel deserves better than Dua Lipa’s trop-house cast-offs.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Mabel’s steely performance elevates this rote trop-house, as does the slight hint of tension: Every time things get good, the mood’s punctured — or invited to be punctured — by “don’t call me up.” (Though the intent’s probably just to cram the hook in as many times as possible.) Nevertheless, it is still rote trop-house.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Mabel’s slight, soft voice is dragged down by the plummeting production, especially the glazed donut Autotune on the chorus.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: Mabel’s delivery is endearingly earnest, and the chorus is just weird enough to reel you in. The galloping beat keeps it fun as the pitched-down vocals clinch the deal in the end. Overall, a surprising reworking of some old cliches.  
[7]

Alfred Soto: Except for a piano interlude, the trop house doesn’t bother to adjust itself to Mabel’s earnestness. The vocal distortion was a terrible idea. When you have Mabel, dudes, you don’t need distortion.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: More trop-house should have piano in it. This song has some, but could certainly stand to have a bit more of it. It should have less wheel-spinning and distorted vocals, certainly. A pleasing stridency comes through in Mabel’s performance, but only in flashes, because to just listen to the song is to be distracted b how shopworn the rhythm is in 2019.
[5]

Iris Xie: This is a grody, warm mimosa of tropical house pop. It’s a perfect generic globalized song though, as it fits in everywhere regardless of locale. Background music on tepid. 
[3]

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Sabrina Carpenter – Sue Me

The Jukebox is not a vexatious litigant, so we will refrain.


[Video][Website]
[4.56]

Katherine St Asaph: Perverse that in 2019 it’s such a weird relief to hear a pop song with a huge, soaring, Looney Tunes anvil-unsubtle hook, one that cranks the register up on the chorus, not down. Granted, there’s nowhere else to go — Carpenter’s vocal on the verses, like seemingly half of pop artists, aims for trap Rihanna and lands on Bella Hadid talking sneakers. It’s particularly jarring since the verses of “Sue Me” seem grafted in from a more adult song than the not-quite-past-teenpop chorus. It’s a little like Louisa Johnson’s “Best Behavior“; her ex is jealous over such wild behavior as looking “pretty” and wearing their favorite color.
[5]

Katie Gill: Carpenter gives us a paint by numbers, by the book, ‘I’m doing much better after the break-up, thanks for asking’ song that we’ve all heard before and will continue to hear until the end of time. The most innovative thing about this track is the Legally Blonde stylings of the music video and even THAT’S something we’ve seen before in the past three months.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: God help us, Bebe Rexha is apparently now an influence.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Meghan Trainor injected a performative archness into pop that’s coursed through the veins of a generation like a bacillus. 
[2]

Ian Mathers: I’m a sucker for productions that are just a bit more lush and… smeared? woozy? than I expected, for percussion that’s just a little more interesting than it really needs to be, and just for sarcasm generally. So I’m a sucker for this.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A teen pop version of “Sorry Not Sorry” right down to the hackneyed lyrics of self-love and Oak producer credit. Sabrina Carpenter singing “feeling myself can’t be illegal” is unimaginative, but it’s something that’s said so it becomes her own personal truth. The choir that echoes her words signals to the listener that she’s succeeded. “Sue Me” may be as corny as anything on Girl Meets World, but Carpenter exudes a confidence that finds her announcing “world, meet girl.”
[6]

Alex Clifton: With every Sabrina Carpenter song I come so close to liking it but there’s always something that prevents me from liking it fully. With “Almost Love” I thought the tension was phenomenal but hated the way she swallowed her words in the pre-chorus and outro. With “Sue Me” I love the confidence and swagger she has, but am beyond irritated that I’m hearing snippets of other songs stitched in like a patchwork single. There’s the humming intro from “Stay,” pronunciations that sound like they came from a Rihanna song, the clapping build from “Burn,” and a chorus melody from a BTS song. I got so distracted while listening to this song trying to figure out what bits reminded me of songs I’ve heard before that I ended up losing any sense of the actual artist herself. It’s not to say that all pop music sounds the same, not by a longshot. But I want one single track by Carpenter where I can enjoy it all the way through without being irritated by small random details by the end. At this rate, it’ll be a while before I get that song.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: It’s really hard to dislike a good ‘fuck you’ track, especially when it’s meant to be against a recording label but it’s effectively disguised as a relationship kiss-off. Sabrina comes across confidently and she exudes a sexy swag as she sings – something that pop stars older than her strive for but can’t achieve. The poppy production is equally great, if a bit too similar to Demi’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” and the combination makes for an all-around solid single choice. 
[7]

Iris Xie: Who still says “sue me” casually in 2019?! It’s impressive though, how close it hues to a perfected pop template of a sassy, brassy diva-type vocalist to a trap EDM beat, with the specifically timed escalations of how she sings “Sue me!” with increasing urgency and sincere dedication. Unfortunately, it’s also an incredibly awkward phrase and exposes the seams of well-made pop, when the execution and idea don’t quite entirely sync, but the execution is so devoted that the idea will get carried through to completion. The production is crisp and well-made, but this is indistinguishable from other songs with this palette. 
[3]

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

Shizzi ft. Mayorkun & Teni – Aye Kan

We close Thursday with a big collab from Nigeria, because we kan.


[Video]
[7.00]

Julian Axelrod: I knew I’d love this from the first 15 seconds; the glossy, washed out synths and intricate percussion spread guaranteed greatness. The rest of the song makes good on that promise, sometimes to a fault. Its consistent pulse is satisfying, but Shizzi doesn’t have quite enough tricks to justify the five minute runtime. Luckily, Mayorkun and Teni know how to keep things interesting. Their back and forth flings them across the beat’s wide expanse, keeping you on your toes as you try to guess where they’ll pop up next.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The trop house arrangment, at least three years late, has a refracted quality, as if forcing consumers to peer through shimmering chlorine ripples at the musicians below. Five minutes is too long to stare — contact lenses dry out.
[5]

Iris Xie: The pre-chorus at 1:39 has a sweet blend between the vocal and the vibrating synth in the background, and that vibrating synth peeks its head in and out the track, resulting in a more intricate build up that is patient and relentlessly grooving. It sounds more like a quiet, private elation, and they continue singing all the way to the end, keeping that drive going.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Shizzi’s production feels like it should glisten, but it’s actually the song’s muted gloss that makes it stand out. Neither Teni nor Mayorkun have sung over instrumentation this nocturnal, that felt like the soundtrack to a private celebration. As such, “Aye Kan” is a song that captures the thrill of dancing and debauchery in all its haze and ecstasy. Mayorkun enters with his always-lush vocals to summarize the vibe: “You see — this life, it is beautiful.” It’s a simple statement, but the kind you believe in your heart of hearts when in a state of utter bliss. Shizzi’s synth gurgles and drum fills are enchanting flourishes, but it’s Teni’s slick vocal melodies that keep you in this headspace.
[7]

Iain Mew: The loop sounds like a better, brighter reality softly impinging on ours via a distant radio. They alternately try tip-toeing around it and a filtered cry of “this life is beautiful.” Both work. 
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: The most striking thing about “Aye Kan” are the live drums that burst into the mix, turning the bittersweet drift of the vocal — Auto-Tuned and evanescent — into something suddenly grounded and earthly — even retro. It puts the past and present into a song bowed by the impossible openness of the future. The crystal keys roll on and on into forever.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Plush, ballooning synths rise, lifting Teni’s velvety crops along with Mayorkun’s flimsy tenor. A clicking drumbeat is pumped up by lumbering drum breaks and lilting bass slithering between the two, all carefully built by Shizzi from the clouds down.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: My favorite part is the unexpected hi-hat that occurs for the first time at about 1:15, breaking up a flow that could get smooth enough to bore. It never does, though; it feels like a road trip with people you thought too cool to let you in the car with them, instead warmly leaving you a seat and sharing a story. You don’t have to know where the car’s headed; they know.
[8]

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

Josh Ritter – Old Black Magic

(Looks at score) More like beige magic, I guess?


[Video][Website]
[4.62]

Alex Clifton: I’m not sure why Josh Ritter’s never worked with Jason Isbell & the 500 Unit before “Old Black Magic,” since their sounds are a natural fit. Isbell’s production gives Ritter’s song the extra swagger it needs while still allowing his lyrics to shine through. I heard this song nearly two years ago as an acoustic doodle, and I think if Ritter had tackled this one by himself it wouldn’t have nearly as much oomph as it does. Ritter’s music is usually delivered with  a massive smile, but I do love the few songs he has that are delivered with more of a sneer: they make for a welcome change of pace and always feel more significant because they’re rare. I am a professed sucker for stompy Americana rock that makes me feel like a badass, and this song makes me feel like I have some kind of wild, dark magic of my own. My favourite songs are the ones that spark an invincible feeling in my chest that’s difficult to come down from; this is one of them.
[9]

Julian Axelrod: You just know this guy has strong opinions on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The gravy-covered beef of the guitars and Josh Ritter’s commitment to a worn conceit are the only bits of prestidigitation I hear.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Boy, AAA radio is gonna love this. More Ryan Adams than Jason Isbell, but those two signposts should tell you everything you might need to know.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: I really enjoy “Old Black Magic”‘s verses — the slightly hoarse vocals, the even hoarser guitar and the steady beat — but I just wish something else happened.
[6]

Iris Xie: I kind of feel like I’m strapped into an endless wagon ride where I can’t really escape, or we’re in Westworld season 3 and I’m one of the ‘people’ converted to become an endless soldier in that inevitable AI vs human war that will probably happen if the writers get their shit together enough. That call of “Old Black Magic” and then “rolling…rolling…” and that weird repetitive guitar hook with the almost military beat in the back… it’s just incredibly unpleasant and I feel terrified. Music is supposed to make you feel something, but the combination of these decisions, I feel assimilated into some twisted version of Americana, like if 1989 decided to take on a Western bent instead. This is the perfect song for a post-apocalyptic wasteland America, but um, I wish it were a lot better.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: That guitar just keeps on chugging, huh? It’s a good embodiment of how I feel about the song: plodding, repetitive, unimaginative. The lyrics follow suit, becoming increasingly annoying as the song progresses; Ritter seems hellbent on utilizing the most trite images possible to create an air of something dark and austere. The organ stabs and guitar solo would be fine embellishments if they weren’t tied to this goal. Ultimately, “Old Black Magic” just isn’t sinister enough. 
[2]

Jonathan Bradley: “Old Black Magic” is a slow burning Americana hip grind with vocals sourced from Bruce Springsteen circa The River. Josh Ritter does get that combination right, which makes up for how mild his sorcery sounds — I honestly don’t hear much toil and trouble here, for all the stewing declamation. Songs like these should close with a hot blues solo; this does.
[6]