Monday, October 22nd, 2018

S.H.E – Seventeen

And 17 years into their career, as well…


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Crystal Leww: S.H.E are legends of Mandopop, forever given the good will to release whatever they want and have it not totally flop. “Seventeen” sounds like the mandarin version of what Spice Girls would release if they ever did a comeback single. Honestly, it’s not even the best song called “Seventeen” released in the last 12 months. But we still stan enough to appreciate the saccharine and nostalgia they’ve leaned into here. S.H.E has done more than their share for melody and harmonies in a different pop sphere to earn themselves another spin.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: S.H.E’s explored a handful of different musical styles throughout their long career, but it’s the strength of their quieter, least trend-chasing songs that have made them memorable. Unsurprising, then, that “Seventeen” manages to be the rare anniversary ballad that’s both thoughtful and moving. The vocal melodies are strong enough to make this stand out, but it’s the absolute lack of pretension — from the “la la la” melodies to the homely guitar strums to the sudden use of harmonica — that makes it feel soothing.
[6]

Iain Mew: S.H.E approach their comeback ballad with understated charm, and the space given to the harmonica and wobbling scenery synths is delightful. Sometimes when you’re big enough it lets you do the small things.
[7]

Will Adams: A ballad that stretches past the five-minute mark seems frightening in theory, but the unexpected choices in instrumentation on “Seventeen” — the opening fiddle, the bright electric guitar accents, the harmonica in the bridge — add enough dimension to carry my interest to the finish line.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Whoa — where did that harmonica come from? Evoking adolescence comes more naturally to S.H.E. than it does to Troye Sivan and Charli XCX, despite the string section. 
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: Advice songs to a younger listener always run the risk of being devolving into platitudes or out-and-out condescension, so it’s nice to hear one that treats its intended audience with respect, neither sugarcoating the post-teenage years nor discounting the potential for meaningful growth. Ultimately, “Seventeen” succeeds not because its message comes from a place of all-knowing wisdom, but because its 30-something performers sound like they’re still in the process of figuring out that message for themselves. It unfurls slowly but builds up steadily, as befitting a song about journeys with unknown destinations. The last two lines alluding to death feel a bit outside the proper scope, yet they don’t feel entirely unearned — we’re all just at different points on “time’s long river,” anyway.
[7]

Anna Suiter: Retrospectives depend on sentimentality, and Seventeen is no exception. The difference is that you don’t need a lot of context around S.H.E.’s career arc (or even any understanding of Chinese) to feel affected by the song and video. While it’s maybe a little heavy handed, and possibly cloying too, it’s hard to say no to any song that can make you feel a little misty.
[7]

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Amber Mark ft. DRAM – Put You On

Update: Google is now slightly more informed


[Video][Website]
[6.78]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Complete the following line: “I know we don’t speak, but you’re still on my ______.” What’d you guess? Was it “mind”? That would be the correct answer for any pop song made in the 20th century, but Amber Mark is 24 years old and that’s not specific enough to capture the experience that young people have today. She instead ends the line with “feed,” making a love song about reconnecting with someone you’re still loosely connected with via social media. Consequently, hearing Mark profess “I wanna see your face” and DRAM casually state “I ain’t seen you in a while” feels doubly meaningful. While you can become privy to someone’s life through a quick browse of their Instagram and Twitter profiles, nothing compares to the warmth and intimacy of face-to-face encounters. And as Mark and DRAM sing about meeting up, the New Jack Swing pastiche becomes more than cheap nostalgia; it’s a bridge between the past and present, conjuring up feelings of a shared youth that make you feel that nothing’s really changed.
[7]

Josh Love: Amber Mark is savvy enough to know that taking a throwback cut like “Put You On” from rote nostalgia ploy to something that can stand on its own doesn’t have to mean anything more than updating the slang. A little “drippin’,” a little “glow up,” some “you’re still on my feed,” and suddenly this dusty 90s R&B redux feels at home in 2018. And speaking of the anxiety of influence, it’s nice to hear Mark capable of casting aside the shadow of Sade that’s loomed over much of her work.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The modern lyrical conceits and the vaguely retro production lend “Put You On” an interesting aesthetic, but anachronism can’t hide how thin everything here is — DRAM does the best with what little he’s given, but by the time he arrives the song has already exhausted most of its ideas.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This is R&B out of its time, the kind of thing that I can’t imagine getting radio play in 2018 in the US, which makes me sad — because this is pretty great. “Put You On” is a midtempo track with a big boom-bap beat (I think that’s a sample of the drums from “Bonita Applebaum”), confident vocals, and a few bars from DRAM that don’t add much but at least don’t detract. Mark has a strong, silky voice, and this makes me want to hear more from her.
[7]

David Lee: Very Ashanti and Ja updated for the SZA era.
[7]

Will Adams: It’s rare for throwback R&B of this type to actually capture the charm and chemistry of its inspirations, but Amber Mark and DRAM are as good a pairing as Ashanti and Ja Rule. The idea of rekindling an old flame while flexing (“You might not recognize me dripping in these diamonds”) is an added bonus.
[8]

Will Rivitz: “Only thing that’s been changed is my money and my clothes,” sings Mark, and so it goes: if you had told me this song came out in 2003, I wouldn’t bat an eye. If nobody gives a shit about Ashanti anymore, I find it hard to believe I should feel differently about this one.
[5]

Julian Axelrod: A sweet, sultry spin on a strain of R&B that hasn’t been in vogue for at least a decade. This feels a little more label-dictated than Amber Mark’s past singles, but the fact that she doesn’t get lost in the throwback is a testament to her presence. If DRAM is trying to pivot into the Ja Rule/Fat Joe lane of endearingly goofy pop features, I will support him 1000 per cent.
[7]

Ian Mathers: It’s a bit of a shame this only came out in September, and a bigger one I didn’t hear it until now, after our (permanently?) prolonged summer came to a close. Summery, sort of subtly throwback-y (right down to something about the drum programming I can’t quite put my finger on), exactly the kind of relatively low-key jam that goes well with humidity and aimlessness.
[8]

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Young Thug ft. Elton John – High

Ground control to Jeffery…


[Video][Website]
[6.91]

Joshua Copperman: It’s 2018, nothing matters, so why not have an Elton John sample on a Young Thug song? Unlike pretty much everything else in any genre, there’s real room to breathe in this production. Elton John’s lightly saturated “hiiiiigghhh” can slide through to the front and actually make an impact, a trick Alex Tumay and co. use over and over again, but it still manages to work. There isn’t much more to the song — Young Thug’s lyrics aren’t particularly interesting — but once again, nothing matters, and if pop music is going to prioritize vibe over any sort of coherent structure from here on out, it might as well be like this. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: With a credit as incongruous as “A$AP Rocky ft. Stevie Nicks,” I slipped out of my boat shoes and let this thing play. Not a duet, which, I suppose, is good news considering the condition of Sir Elton’s larynx, but, rather, an interpolation of “Rocket Man” powering a solid Thug track, his best since “Offset,” his contribution to Swae Lee’s album. With Elton’s history of black American fandom, it makes sense that Thug would repay the favor.
[6]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Elton John sees himself in Young Thug, and now I see it too: the flamboyance, the confidence, the underlying current of sentimentality. Both guys like having fun, doing things with a wink, but never veering too far into irony or cynicism. Some might see this collaboration as unexpected, but from the moment I hit play, it clicked like a jigsaw puzzle — of course! Of course this is how you use “Rocket Man”! I’m in heaven.
[10]

Josh Love: “Rocket Man” finds Elton John’s weightless narrator ruminating over all the fellow humans he’s left behind on Earth. “High” records his close encounter with the alien, Young Thug. “Rocket Man” may be a powerful and poignant AOR classic, but “High” is the one that actually sounds like floating. Time stands still and gravity ceases to exist while Thugger attempts communication in his strange and fascinating language.
[8]

John Seroff: A rare case of the Wikipedia paradox applied to pop music: makes no sense in concept but works in practice. Probably the #2 Elton hip-hop crossover after “Solid Wall of Sound” — and it’s surprisingly close!
[8]

Vikram Joseph: A cloud-rap interpolation of “Rocket Man” which actually works pretty well — to a point — with a lush soundscape of hazy piano and warm, pillowy beats. Young Thug’s versatility makes him sound right in his comfort zone here, as long as you don’t listen too closely; the lyrics are pure window dressing, a void of actual content that dulls the song’s emotional impact.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This song has the dullest fucking production. If you’re gonna spend the money to license a sample from “Rocket Man,” at least do something with it. Young Thug, meanwhile, continues to be one of the least interesting big-name rappers, partially due to the fact that on almost every record he makes, he sounds like his tongue is swollen.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: Even putting aside the fact that this song’s existence has been hinted at for the better part of two years, so much of this is so very predictable. Of course Young Thug, the guy whose first radio hit was “Stoner,” would sample that particular line from that particular Elton John song, and nothing else. Of course he would harmonize with it in his own trademark way, and of course he would twist its title into a vaguely related non sequitur (“on a private order, I’m a rocket launcher”). Even the beat, which adds some rhythmic flavor but is otherwise content to let the piano balladry do its job, sounds pretty much as you’d imagine. That doesn’t mean it all doesn’t work on a fundamental level, though.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: When I was first getting into rap, the most exciting (and obvious) entry points were the acts repurposing my favorite indie rock hits into something vaguely resembling rap: Chiddy Bang, Childish Gambino, etc. In retrospect, this sound hasn’t aged super well. The “Hey, I know that song!” production strategy lets the sample do most of the emotional heavy lifting, and most artists couldn’t figure out interesting ways to engage with the source material. But Young Thug always knows how to divine the deeper truth from a beat, even one based around something as ubiquitous as “Rocket Man.” Elton’s iconic refrain weaves in and out of the mix as Thug winds, warps, and wraps his wail around the decades-old siren call. The cheeky feature credit starts to develop a pathos of its own as the song slowly evolves into a cosmic duet: two trailblazers singing a ballad of isolation from opposite ends of the universe, finding solace in the arms of another icon.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trick about Young Thug is that he has always been more of a joke than his serious fans claim he is and far more serious than the internet memelords who love him ironically treat him as. At the peak of his powers (the incredible 2015-2016 run between Barter 6 and Jeffery), Thugger had the ability to conjure bizarre and beautiful pieces of rap music into existence by very virtue of his non-seriousness (consider the 11-second ad lib) — magical realist twists on the standard tropes of trap music. “High” is a pure expression of that ability, revived after a two-year stint in which it felt like Young Thug was trying out a lot of new things without any of them necessarily being good. Sure, its concept does a lot of the heavy lifting here — “Young Thug ft. Elton John” just makes sense as a concept, given that John’s takes on classic rock formalism analogize well with Thugger’s on trap. But, in practice, “High” is even better than I expected, in the way “Rocket Man” informs both the world-weary star thematics and the spacey, contemplative aesthetics of the track. The result is endlessly compelling, from the sound of Thugger harmonizing with Elton John on the intro to his second verse, full of the kind of off-the-wall similes that make him so distinctive as a performer.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Stelios Phili’s stitched-together “Rocket Man”-sampling beat is comfortingly nostalgic and insular, but warm piano chords and a hefty dose of reverb can only do so much to distract from Young Thug’s serviceable performance. Thugger’s constant growth from the I Came From Nothing mixtapes to Barter 6 was among the most satisfying career arcs of the decade, but he’s been on an increasingly noticeable decline for the past couple years. Which makes “High” such a marvel. Not because he’s back to delivering the most creative non-sequiturs in rap, or contorting his voice in spectacular new ways, but because the career stasis he’s facing pairs well with the drudgery of astronaut life found in Ray Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man.” This is a song that humanizes Thugger, that helps you empathize with his ingenuity being reduced to banality after all novelty has worn thin. When Thugger sings along with Elton John, he’s not just riffing on the stoner analogy, he’s embodying the same deflated character who was about to be incinerated by the sun. While Thugger’s career may not be over, a new wave of ATL rappers have rendered him a relic of the past. What is “High,” then, but a private moment of peace and reflection before his eventual demise?
[6]

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Leslie Grace, Becky G, & CNCO – Díganle (Tainy remix)

Katie’s favorite boy band of 2016 underwhelms us…


[Video]
[4.00]

Juan F. Carruyo: Reggaeton goes soap opera: a woman who rejects her man and then he promises to change. A true-and-tried storytelling device that isn’t all that foreign to latin pop songs. Becky G adds just a bit of spark but generally, the 2005-style production sounds as if this was cooked in some guy’s apartment in 5 minutes. This one screams quick turnaround to me. Even the video looks cheap. 
[2]

Iain Mew: This momentarily makes Becky G sort-of-rapping sound like the most exciting thing in the world, so it succeeds on something, even if it gets there by a process of flattening out expectations.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: No highs and no lows, lyrically or sonically; passed around disinterestedly from performer to performer. Latin pop wallpaper.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: “Díganle” has a party-ready flow and a solid melody. The vocals are seductive and the beat is free-flowing but uneventful. The track’s simplicity is both its strength and its weakness, making it perfect for a playlist but lacking on its own.   
[5]

Alfred Soto: One of the few recent occasions when three names and an ampersand create a vibrant track. I believed every voice, and my office neighbors wondered what I listened to.
[6]

Will Adams: It’s pretty damning that out of seven participants only one of them (Becky G) provides any sort of discernible personality, and it takes two minutes to get to her. The others swiftly fade into the anonymous reggaetón, and by the end I feel like I’m the one who deserves an apology.
[3]

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Lil Mosey – Noticed

We did notice you, Lil Mosey, and have some commentary on the state of rap…


[Video]
[4.00]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Honestly, I wish I could give director Cole Bennett a 0 for his eternal scouring of the lowest common denominators in rap aimed at young people while doing the least amount of presentation, but this isn’t The Videos Jukebox, and so we have to address the fact that this is the kind of detour you make with someone as devoid of identity as Lil Mosey. “Noticed” is basically a logical yet utterly unimpressive attempt at a modern Fetty Wap single by someone who just has a lazy sense of self-gratification. Sure, a teen rapper acting conceited and self-important isn’t exactly a groundbreaking thing to find objectionable; yet I can’t recall a time I’ve ever heard one so blasé about the come up! Lil Mosey’s got all the sense of fulfillment of a grown adult for making a peanut butter sandwich, which makes you wonder if maybe we’re likewise scraping the bottom of the jar these days for that same ‘rap banger euphoria’.
[1]

Alfred Soto: “In this single Lil Mosey talks about how people changed because of his fame — but this doesn’t escape his attention,” according to Genius. “He also covers other familiar topics, such as getting money and taking drugs.” I hear nothing in his drone that distinguishes him from others monetizing their ambitions with streams, so it’s possible that Genius needs writers like me.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Despite some interesting textures — the triumphant yacht rock-esque keys on the main riffs, the strange edge to Lil Mosey’s voice when he raps numbers — “Noticed” is fundamentally hollow. It’s rap that sounds like it was made so that its maker could say that he’s a rapper, perfunctory to such an extent that it would sound like parody if Lil Mosey showed any self awareness or wit. But instead “Noticed” sleepwalks through its own sound, showing exactly how low the bar is for a bare minimum piece of Lyrical Lemonade-core Soundcloud rap.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: One of the first things that pops up when typing Lil Mosey’s name into a search engine is “lil mosey net worth.” This is the case for nearly every rapper of note, but it seems faintly ridiculous for a guy with one Hot 100 appearance who gets most of his revenue from YouTube streams. Still, money is a major issue, and people are curious. Especially so are Mosey’s fellow 16-year-olds, who see a kid launching a career by rapping on “type” beats and wonder if they could do the same. “Noticed” keenly plays into this curiosity by injecting the standard “back then hoes didn’t want me” boast with a sense of wide-eyed possibility. There’s a compelling dissonance between what Mosey says and the way he says it; he sounds simultaneously thankful for and bewildered by his instant success, and the beat’s airiness and stop-start structure prop up this feeling of irreality. “Stomach feeling bloated” is an odd flex but, as with Carti’s “my stummy hurt,” it absolutely suits the zeitgeist.
[8]

Iain Mew: Neither the rapping nor the big drifts of trance synths are particularly notable on their own, but the combination makes “Noticed”. I could imagine Alan Walker or a follower pairing this beat with some determined emoting, but instead Lil Mosey’s offhand happiness brings it down to size, and draws out the rough edges in a way that the sound rarely gets. Suddenly it sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a realisation that yeah, things are good actually.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: There’s a large number of Soundcloud rap that’s immensely popular amongst younger people but is getting ignored by major music publications. “Noticed” makes the case that this is sometimes a good thing.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: That stomping orchestra synth rolls out the red carpet like a refined take on Soulja Boy’s “Turn My Swag On” for the current era, and Lil Mosey celebrates his success and cash flow like it too. Except, the general attitude of Soundcloud rap really puts a drag on Mosey’s flow, which sounds nowhere as gleeful and excited as Soulja Boy about his gains. “Noticed” is even more bitter, turning success into a form of revenge, and it makes being rich sound way less fun.
[5]

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Got7 – Lullaby

No wait, come back, it’s not a ballad!


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Anjy Ou: Somehow this song manages to do Yasutaka Nakata in 2018 better than Nakata himself. The chaotic bubble of the chorus instrumental that harkens back to the Japanese producer’s earlier work is paired with Got7’s most appealing vocal arrangement and performance to date. It’s disappointing then that the producers decided to go for the typical k-pop genre mash as opposed to full-on electro-pop. While the hip-hop production in the verses is good, it pulls me down from the chorus high and leaves the rappers’ lacklustre performances exposed. In a world of IKONs, Monsta Xs, and BTSs, their styles don’t stand out or add anything substantial to the song. I wish the song leaned more heavily on the dance and vocal sections.
[7]

Alfred Soto: After three years, Got7 returns for our consideration. Flowers, magic, and lullabies — they still proffer worn tropes with such spritz that they become momentarily new again.
[6]

Iain Mew: The verses are straight out of the space limo school of flashy electronic pop, albeit one stuck in a middle gear. But then the chorus tries to inject some funk and does so with a bit of slap bass and nothing else save some strings coming from the other side of a partition. It’s like someone has ripped a chunk of “Lullaby” out and just left a bare chassis, and it’s too disconnected for the weirdness of that to work in its favour.
[5]

Anna Suiter: Got7’s foothold in the k-pop scene has always been a little strange when compared to their peers’, especially from the “Big 3” of JYP, SM, and YG. It’s not like anyone finds their footing immediately, but for Got7 it seemed to take a little longer. But they’ve finally found their niche, with this track that’s really nothing like a lullaby beyond the title and the tone of the lyrics. It’s pretty, and just different enough from what they’ve been doing that it’s neither a retread or a derail. That’s all they needed, and it makes for a good listen, so who can complain?
[7]

Alex Clifton: The title “Lullaby” is a neat way to subvert listeners’ expectations. I was dreading a full maudlin ballad (not that those are inherently bad, but something akin to 1D’s “Little Things”) and instead was greeted by a song at turns fizzy and dreamy. The verses didn’t grab me as much as they could have, but that prechorus and chorus feel like a throwback SHINee track–these boys let loose and just have fun with it.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: The squelchy throbs of the verse are pleasing but the raps are nothing special, so they drag. The acceleration into electro-dance pop is a lot more fun, however it feels like it takes a long time for those highlights to come around. It doesn’t send me to sleep exactly, but it roars up to half speed and then gives up. I think my attention would have held better if it was one or the other the whole way through.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The soft request for sweet nothings in the chorus is deceiving in how inviting GOT7 makes it seem. The speedy beat intensifies the chase, letting it zigzag through sharp corners, but they insist through their sincere confessions that they’re within reach. It would be frustrating had “Lullaby” bore any suggestion they knew they were playing hard to get. Yet they naively cry “I want it, I want it,” fully believing that whom they desire keeps escaping their grasp, not the other way around.
[7]

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Russell Dickerson – Blue Tacoma

And here’s another vehicle in which heaven can be found in the back seat of.


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Anthony Easton: I am surprised at how muddy this sounds, and how generic the verses are. After, almost a decade of screwing in the back of pick-up trucks one would think that both the audience and the performer would be bored, but they keep being released. It’s kind of frustrating, because Dickerson knows how to sing, and the guitars have a prickly edge. Plus, I like the idea that the truck is more important than either the girl or the singer. 
[5]

Ian Mathers: The structure, the instrumentation, etc. are all fine. It’s everything draped over it that I hate so viscerally (and, honestly, probably unfairly): vocal style, sentiment, imagery, everything. I’d punt a radio playing this out a window, but when I try and step back a little and listen to the melody, it’s actually fine. I’d assume there’s something suspect going on with me, some classism or something, and maybe there is; but I don’t have a ton of money, and I grew up in the country enough that I heard plenty of pop country growing up (and didn’t loathe most of it the way I do most of the examples I hear now). But here’s the thing about when your knee jerks: it’s still a real reaction.
[2]

Julian Axelrod: There’s something about this song that I find incredibly peaceful. The stock road trip imagery is smeared and impressionistic, as if faded by memory. The depiction of romance is surprisingly lived-in and intimate. And the chorus feels sprawling and expansive, like the midpoint of a long drive when it feels you’ll never stop moving forward. I don’t know if I love the song itself, but I kinda want to live inside it.
[6]

Juan F. Carruyo: Please keep this breezy car commercial music away from me
[0]

Taylor Alatorre: It’d be easy to dismiss this as the output of a formula already codified by the likes of Sam Hunt, Locash, Dustin Lynch, and Randy Houser. It’s got the quiet-loud dynamics, the barest rhythmic hint of hip hop, and those sprightly power chords that are the universally recognized symbol of the Interstate Highway System. But it’s the little variations on this formula that show how this was crafted with care: the unexpected snare roll in the middle of verse one, the seamless integration of synthetic and live drumming, the outro that thoughtfully picks up where the guitar solo left off. And there’s Dickerson himself, who sounds calmer and more self-effacing than many of his male country brethren. He references Shania but doesn’t wave the reference in your face for cool points; her song is just another part of the scenery. The end result resembles that stable of 2000s rock bands that were lumped under “post-grunge” but were really just power pop by another name. The world needed a less angsty Daughtry, and it looks like Nashville has him.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I like how the hook makes it sound like Russell Dickerson’s pickup truck is the name of a city in California. Because for all the joy he’s finding in this moment, it’s his car that’s acting as the conduit for all experience. Even with everyone around him, his Tacoma’s interior provides a liminal space between the outside world and intimacy with his lover. “Blue Tacoma” thus works because it’s nonintrusive but still affecting: a perfect soundtrack for exactly what he’s singing about.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Heard it all before but still somewhat into this — it’s a big, anthemic melody and Dickerson gives it a joyous, top-of-sand-dune delivery. He gives lines like “never runnin’ out of golden road” a hint of wonderment, and the line “missin’ turns ’cause that’s our song” with goofy charm. Maybe songs like these have their success rest on how much the performer makes you like them, so this is a winner. The lite-beats and echoes of the chorus line date the song a bit, not just to the early days of bro-country, but also the late 90s, so points off for that. Still a solid entry in the genre I like to call “sunbelt pop” in the hope someone else will pick it up and run with it.
[6]

Crystal Leww: It’s been said again and again here that the best country songs are about small intimate moments from ordinary people. “Blue Tacoma” sounds like a roadtrip down the PCH when the weather has cooled just slightly but the sun is still shining. It’s a vivid and bright image, narrated by Dickerson, who sounds so thrilled by the idea that she loves him, that she chose him. I was dismayed by the direction that country took the last couple of years — a Serious Man backlash to the Sam Hunts and Maren Morrises of the world who made this kind of bright, poppy country — but I’m glad that there’s still a healthy undercurrent of folks like Dickerson. 
[8]

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Rita Ora – Let You Love Me

We’re not quite ready to yet, Rita.


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Co-producer easyFun has always been one of the best PC Music affiliates but if you strip everything that makes his music enthralling (namely, the Rustie-esque maximalism), the result is some of the most hollow-sounding pop out there. So the issue here is two-pronged: PC Music without the gimmick is nothing, and not working with Rita Ora’s nothingness is an obvious mistake. Considering that “Let You Love Me” is often at the brink of catharsis but is stamped out by a deflated chorus, it just feels like a missed opportunity. On the bright side, that’s congruent with the lyrics.
[4]

Alfred Soto: I embrace this sentiment and want more songs using this phrase. In Rita Ora’s hands, though, “Let You Love Me” is the usual abandoned building project: lowest common denominator electronic tropes, underwritten chorus.
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: This is just “I Will Never Let You Down” with the perspectives flipped, which is fine because “I Will Never Let You Down” is Rita Ora’s best song. For all the talk of her indistinctness as a brand, this is her wheelhouse: candid dissections of a relationship’s inner workings and failings, of the type usually found in indie rock confessionals, set to a stylish dance production that supplements the message rather than drowning it out.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: “Let You Love Me” starts quiet with Rita Ora’s calm voice confessing her inner conflicts when trying to start a romantic relationship. But as soon the chorus starts, the beat comes in and her voice gets louder and out of its vocal range, sounding too forced and losing all the intimacy it builds in the verses. 
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: I guess the appeal of this track is that Rita only wishes instead of fully acting on her desires, thereby rendering her appeals for devotion relatable. Perfectly cromulent track otherwise. 
[4]

Matias Taylor: The way the main synth riff changes from wide and hollow during the verses to a laser-like electronic dot in the chorus is just one small example of the aural crack overflowing from this superb modern pop craftsmanship display. Another, showing exactly how to make a transition from pre-chorus to chorus: retaining the basic melodic structure of the riff (already catchy on the first play) while the melody points upwards and upwards, elegantly segueing into the chorus. Call it formula but there’s a reason it works; the songwriters and producers know exactly what they’re doing, and Rita nevertheless makes it her own — the way her voice quivers on “I wanna say I’m sorry,” as if she just might this time. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Ora’s an artist where I think that critical opinion badly lags the popular one. Based on her recent run of singles, her voice has more angles than I’d previously noticed, and she almost sounds like a completely different singer to the one that did “Anywhere.” It’s hard to sound small while you’re singing big, but Ora pulls this trick off nicely — a confident actress doing an unconfident role. The production is strong, built upon a short and gritty but catchy rigg, and the only thing that pulls the song down is that the chorus leans a bit heavily on repetition. 
[7]

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Ariana Grande – Breathin

In lieu of the real Jukebox entry for this song, we’re just going to show you a picture of a pig.


[Video][Website]
[7.50]

Tobi Tella: When Sweetener was released, a lot of people were taken aback by how weird it was. Some people were mad, but I see it as artistic evolution beyond the fun pop music she’s been making for years. “Breathin” sounds more like her old work then most of the album, but the subject matter is decidedly mature, talking about her struggle with anxiety. I love the repetition of a chorus and think it’s a powerful sentiment: sometimes you just need to take a step back and breathe. Especially after all the things that have happened to her, “Breathin” feels triumphant.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: For a pop star, Grande’s borne a huge amount of the brunt of other people’s pain, hatred and aggression, so I admire her so much for being able to both put it aside to deliver good pop singles over and over, and here, to work with her own tension to create a great single. There are women who would kill for this as a lead single and she just craps it out as single number three because she damn well can. “Breathin” is Sweetener‘s take on the “Into You” template, sure, but it mixes that track’s confident, erotic pulse with thick layers of anxiety. Rather than sensuous fulfilment, “Breathin” flirts with danger, with suffocation, but both melodically and lyrically conquers both — “keep breathing, breathing, breathing” is like a mantra, and it feels perfect right now in 2018. It’s a strong song to begin with, but it’s also the little moments in performance and production that help make it so good: the way the music drops out during the second chorus, the guitar solo that sounds like it’s struggling for air, Grande’s yelp of “no!” towards the end. These are all magnificent sounds deployed smartly. Grande’s untouchable but somehow performs with empathy and believability. If being a great pop star is writing or grabbing the best material and crushing the heck out of it, Grande’s got few equals at the moment.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Form, say hello to content. The high, striated vocal suggests anxiety even if her lyrics were less explicit. Terrific marriage of Swedish pop and stadium electronica tropes — check out that treated guitar solo.
[7]

Katie Gill: After the absolute banger status of “No Tears Left To Cry” and the sultry power anthem of “God Is A Woman,” it might surprise people that “Breathin” is…fairly conventional. It’s pretty much a middle of the album song, a dance pop song that seems tailor made to hang out on the Hot 100 for fifteen or so weeks just because that’s what halfway decent dance pop songs do these days. Still, it’s a fairly conventional banger about dealing with anxiety attacks, which is a sentence that I never thought I’d write, so I’ve got to give the song minor props on that alone.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: To each their own, but being told to “just” keep breathing, over and over, doesn’t make me feel particularly relaxed. I’m supportive of the notion that songs addressing mental health struggles don’t have to be morbid and melancholy, but with lyrics like “all I need is to see your face,” “Breathin” can’t seem to decide if it wants to be an intro to CBT or an ode to the stabilizing force of a romantic partner. That the chorus defaults to the kind of all-consuming synthwave that defined previous stand-outs “Love Me Harder” and “Into You” points more toward the latter, which is where Ariana is more comfortable. Of special note is the bridge, featuring some submerged guitar wailing and nonsense murmurings that approximate what the agitated mind actually sounds like.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: “Breathin” might well be the first pop song about an anxiety attack since Shura’s “Nothing’s Real,” but the comparison doesn’t greatly flatter Ariana Grande. Shura’s song is an unusual, impressionistic depiction of a panic attack that landed her in the emergency department, instilled with a real sense of drama by its swooping, muscular art-disco throb. “Breathin,” meanwhile, is a fizzy bop which sounds like a concerted effort to provide Sweetener with at least one straightforward, radio-ready single; it’s perfectly enjoyable on its own terms, but sounds much too generic and assured to be an effective vehicle for what Grande really wants to talk about.
[6]

Pedro João Santos: Sweetener isn’t titled that for nothing: its cohesion draws from a holistic mood and its hedonistic, lush R&B settings, as bespoke mobiles for Ariana’s personal restoration and gratification. But it was promoted through “No Tears Left to Cry” and “God Is a Woman,” obvious outliers in a quirkier, more vaporous sequence — although never sore thumbs. Their synth-inebriated declarations, and more rigid structures, carve out a different corner in that ambience, like a menacing nocturnal world, a dark alley in the city leading right up to the psyche. “Breathin” is an emphatic part of that — the final piece in a tryptic of songs that are intrepid, urgent and combative in unique ways. While its predecessors block out sadness and sexism, this one exerts those forces more literally, drawing vivid outlines of anxiety and the need to attack it. It’s a triumph in how honest it is and how it transfers its energy to the music: its pulse and velocity increasing as concerns become overwhelming, the frenzy teased in the bridge and unleashed at the end. These are new angles from which Ariana can shape a sound she’s explored most similarly in “Love Me Harder” (though the tension there is purely sexual and less consistent), even if it’s the least musically distinct of the trifecta of singles (not to mention the album). Unfortunately,vin a song as well-rounded as “Breathin,” repeating the title consecutively doesn’t quite cut it, even if you can’t fight it lodging into your head. Considering the cerebral lyrics, that might be quid pro quo.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: This track is without question the strongest song on the album and so fitting with everything Ariana’s been going through. She’s handled everything thrown her way with such poise and to have her spill her heart out and bravely tell us how anxious she’s been — to a banger of a beat, no less! — is so refreshing. There’s vocals, slick production, an awesome vibe — it all works and it works so, so well.
[9]

Anna Suiter: It feels right that the singles for Sweetener have led to here, a song about coping with anxiety in the only way you know how to. There’s honesty here, both in the need to keep going and the reluctance to maybe do what you’re being told to do. The song itself knows how to breathe, how to reassure, how to release tension where it might be too overwhelming otherwise. It manages to do all of that without feeling like a meditation, too.
[8]

Matias Taylor: “Breathin” is breathless at barely three minutes long yet perfectly paced and formulated, with the pre-chorus becoming louder and more frantic as she feels her “blood running,” then the metaphorical and musical anxiety breaks in the release of the chorus. It’s the kind of perfect marriage of sound and subject matter whose simplicity belies the underlying pop wizardry. Once Ariana loses herself in the bridge — “my my air, my my air,” words are barely necessary to describe such a feeling, and it starts to sound like a future signature song, one destined to be forever sung at karaoke bars, blasted on the car speakers, or jammed to alone in a bedroom on headphones as it provides a momentary reprieve from all the things that make it feel like the sky is falling. There’s a pop song subject matter in even the simplest, everyday sensation that, amplified by a melody sent from heaven and soaring production that rises meet it, turns into universal, transcendent truth.
[9]

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

French Montana ft. Drake – No Stylist

Everybody says you’re looking pretty coolist…


[Video]
[5.00]

Maxwell Cavaseno: As a bastion of ’00s NYC hardnose rap, French Montana is one of the few after 50 Cent who makes music that still holds up (anyone who scoffs, go bump “I’m So Special” or “So High” or anything off Coke Wave). He’s managed to break out of the city’s 21st-century malaise because of an ability to warp current trends of rap into a Party Jam version of themselves. Armed with a particularly inspired Drakk verse and an overly ornamental sample from London On Tha Track, “No Stylist” defies the uncanny valley-ishness of French’s “just bizarre” autotuned falsetto by being such a peacockish kind of swag rap for the modern climate. The glamour here actually glistens, rather than douses and bathes, and stays at the right tempo to keep you moving and avoid plummeting into its own navel-gazing.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: With a beguiling mix of booming Atlanta trap and ’90s boom bap mannerisms (that “Long Red” sample will echo to the ends of the universe), it can’t be said that London on da Track didn’t give these two something to work with. But French Montana makes himself feel inessential on his own song by subordinating lyricism to Auto-Tuned phrasing, and then making a mess of the phrasing as well. Drake, the supposed scene stealer, turns in a verse whose mild attempt at shade is the only notable thing about it, aside from the unintentional punchline of “I need action, that’s a fact.”
[3]

Tobi Tella: If a mediocre Drake feature falls into a forgettable French Montana song, does it even make a sound?
[3]

Julian Axelrod: French Montana has usurped Drake as rap’s most chameleonic and symbiotic figure, acquitting himself equally well alongside and Meghan Trainor. So when you throw them on a track together, somehow Drake becomes the blueprint and French the imitator. It’s not the most natural fit — even an Auto-Tuned Montana barely scrapes Drake’s natural register, and the pregnant pause in “Bad bitches getting wet…… here” is one of the sweatiest moments in a sweaty career. But the one thing they have in common is their impeccable taste, and the shimmering string backdrop is so sumptuous you can practically feel the high thread count. It’s enough to elevate French Montana’s throat-clearing and send Drake’s bitter barrage into the stratosphere.
[6]

Alfred Soto: French Montana’s flow is awkward enough (those end stresses, ugh) to make Drake sound like Rakim, while the combination of trap beats and catalog of opulence could’ve come from Chief Keef or somebody in 2012.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Guess I’ll split my mark between the one I’d give that little falsetto lift during “iced out, no stylist” and the one I’d give to the verses. Maybe araabMUZIK could do something really good with the former?
[6]