Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Flora Cash – You’re Somebody Else

“Flora Cash,” as it happens, is also somebody else…


[Video]
[3.67]

Thomas Inskeep: Death Cab to Nowhere.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The twitchy programming does suggest nervousness, while the vocals by this Swedish duo revel in the high end querulousness that was identifiably college rock through the 2000s. Beyond its pretty, nervous twitch, though, “You’re Somebody Else” is an evocation of an era that should have ended. 
[4]

Will Adams: That the video opens with a “they ask you how you are and you just have to say that you’re fine” sentiment played straight should have clued me into the song’s empty uplift. Between Cole Randall’s double-tracked murmurs, the guitar noodles and the clunky beats slapped on top, “You’re Somebody Else” doesn’t leave much worth caring about.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The percussion is awkwardly mixed, the delay effects on the vocals are corny, and the backmasking tries to compensate for the dearth of ideas on display. It’s all pretty generic, too, which is a huge issue; this sort of paltry, slightly-twee indie pop can only thrive if an artist is fully committed to their affectations. The lyrics do little to convince you that this is anything but half-baked.
[2]

Ian Mathers: “I saw the part of you that only when you’re older you will see too” is actually a lovely sentiment to begin with, if we do believe our narrator is that perceptive. Unfortunately the rest of the song (and the video, incidentally) is fatally muddled enough that it veers between that kind of sentiment to lines that almost seems to be blaming our clearly troubled subject, and accompanying that with enough shivery almost-Sufjanisms yoked to a pretty boring “folky music, but with beats” chassis that any early promise dissipates pretty fast.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Why does this sound so much like an acoustic cover of “Danza Kuduro”?
[4]

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Florida Georgia Line – Talk You Out of It

Genius: “The line that is being talked about is probably taken from Vandross’s song ‘Never Too Much,’ with the specific line being ‘never too much’ from the chorus — even when the girl takes an hour to make up her mind, the main character never thinks she is too much, because of his love for her.”


[Video]
[5.12]

Alfred Soto: The duo known — feared — for treating genre like an $8 buffet pulls off a straight country take-me-to-bed, and it almost works; they pull at the melody, ride it, pull some more, mirroring the male character’s efforts. Perhaps Luther Vandross shone his grace on them.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: “You’re lookin’ like a line from a Vandross song” is the surprising — and mood-setting — lyric here: FGL have, in fact, made a country slow jam. And shockingly, it works, Unlike plenty of their catalog, this actually sounds like a country record, which brings me quite a bit of pleasure. It kinda kills me to give this a good score, but they’ve earned it with this.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: This is probably the most I have ever enjoyed a Florida Georgia Line song, with their voices matching the slow guitar riff. And it started out so well! The guy promising to take his overworked partner out and treat her right — sure, bring on the Florida Georgia Empathy! But then… the narrator stakes his pleasure, and the song’s plot, on denying his partner the very present he promised her? That is some Florida Georgia Hogwash right there.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Flaking on plans in favor of other plans is, unfortunately, a big mood. The instrumental also attempts to set a mood, although it’s so lazy-sounding I half-expected a punchline where two minutes later guy and girl fall asleep. It’s a fitting pairing for these two, whose voices remain Rascal Flatt.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Making the high country lonesome as a LA cooldown track, pushing the electronic potential in a genre that still prioritizes the acoustic, is a fascinating idea — not a new one; you can hear it in Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe — but this one plays it tight against vocals. The problem is, the vocals are both anonymous and a little bit obnoxious. A couple of points for the instrumentals, a couple of points for the Vandross line, a point off for how date rapey it all seems.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: I feel very conflicted about this song. On one hand, it’s gross, but on the other, it comes so close to transcending its tacky pun-related grossness and succeeding beyond even Florida Georgia Line’s wildest, grossest, tackiest dreams that I’m honestly pulling for it to win me over and get me out of my clothes and into bed with these under-bathed mouth-breathers. Hanging your song on a double-meaning like this is OK if you’ve got some comic timing, but if you deliver it with the same barely-interested drawl that you bust out for musing about playlists, you’re wasting a legit slow jam by sounding like you don’t know what seduction is.
[5]

Crystal Leww: The other day I was at a party and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” came on, and it was great, even now! Florida Georgia Line are good at making upbeat bro country with very little substance but higher tempo. Why we’ve been subjected to countless attempts at making ballads and slow seduction jams throughout the years is truly baffling. This chorus doesn’t make any sense! Did these guys think that slowing down the banjo, dropping a Luther Vandross reference, and making reference to playlists would trick us into believing this is sexy using signifiers? It, uh, extremely didn’t work.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The least sexy song I ever did hear.
[7]

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Lil Pump – Butterfly Doors

Maybe try another revision? Or five?


[Video]
[2.33]

Crystal Leww: The original “Butterfly Doors” featured a Yao Ming/”Asian people have eyes that look like they smoked a bunch of weed” punchline and a ching-chong ad-lib. I’m not even mad (and I think Asians have a lot of shit like Awkwafina and G-Dragon to answer for, but putting that aside for a sec), it’s just insanely dumb. I’m glad that Lil Pump issued an apology and re-did the song because “Butterfly Doors” is also insanely dumb. It’s followed the template for “Gucci Gang” to another catchy and popular tune made for repetition in big groups at the hip-hop club. It’s not worth getting mad about! It’s not high art, either.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Lil Pump apologized for the racist Yao Ming line and “ching chong” ad-libs in “Butterfly Doors,” but his solution to the song was to simply remove them like you would for curse words on the radio. This is admittedly hilarious and more interesting than anything the song has to offer musically.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I’m pretty sure these keyboards are Yamaha presets from the mid ’00s. The anti-Asian racism is also from then, but Pump’s precise brand of lazy sub-Migos material is, as always, of the moment. I’m thankful for “Butterfly Doors” for one reason, though: confirming that “I Love It” was a career high for Pump.
[1]

Alfred Soto: This only proves how fake Migos is harder to create than we thought.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: Preset Soundcloud trap track to “complement” a rapper who sounds like he has vocal sound-effect Tourette’s (and empty lyrics). And it’s a chorus twice plus a verse: is that all there is?
[2]

Julian Axelrod: For a product of the Soundcloud scene, Lil Pump fits the YouTuber mold to a T: the sophomoric catchphrase-first sensibility, the vampiric use of rap as both clout and cushion, and now the casual racism/halfhearted apology/fumbled redemption play. He’ll probably have a Netflix deal by 2020.
[2]

Monday, January 21st, 2019

Future – Crushed Up

What time is it? Time for the Jukebox to namedrop Ryan Adams twice on a day in which we’re not reviewing him…


[Video]
[5.25]

Jonathan Bradley: The world has a lot of anhedonic Future tracks that stretch away like the early hours of the morning and glisten like those diamonds he has. Does 2019 need another? Sure, I guess.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: Seven years and seven thousand mixtapes in, Future’s still finding vivid ways to detail his vast array of jewels. (I’m particularly partial to “I just stuck my whole damn arm in the fridge”) But it takes a lot to make a Future single stand out amidst his deluge of content. Luckily, Wheezy’s winnowing music box melody adds a dash of weirdness to the formula. It sounds like a Future song without sounding like just another Future song.
[6]

Josh Love: I’m probably going to have to quit my job if I really want to put in the time it would take to properly keep up with Future’s career. I didn’t even bother with Wrld on Drugs and only barely had a chance to internalize Beastmode 2 after having failed to properly digest Super Slimey in part because I was still too busy absorbing Thugger’s solo album from 2017. And now the Ryan Adams of rap is back with a new 20-track platter, for which “Crushed Up” serves as a pretty inauspicious lead single. It’s a short song, two-and-a-half minutes, but the impression it leaves is less of having gone hard in a concentrated burst of energy and more of having just run out of things to do. I’m a big Wheezy stan but even he seems to be on auto-pilot here.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The difference between Future and his long stylistic lineage of middle of the road trap dudes (Gunna et al.) is that he can pull off a song as truly vapid as “Crushed Up” without seeming utterly uninteresting. It’s good in the same way as watching a mediocre Tom Cruise movie is good — the basic level of competence and charisma is there, but wasted in a morass of the artist’s own making.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Warped, toy piano keys wash over lumpy, helpless bass while screeching synths wail away and the popping drums push out Future masks at your face, while you feel cold and wonder when you can get home and unpack from your recent trip to somewhere warmer and listen to something else.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The hook is all I end up remembering, though I doubt Future expects anyone to retain anything more either. He’s much more concerned about that cadence, which melts “see it” into one slurry rhyme, and the whole song mainly exists as a product of him coming up with filler bars to play with it as much as he wishes. It’s a breath of fresh air when he switches half way in to instead try to say “bonjour” in the weirdest way possible, and then there he goes again, slurring the melody like he’s rapping with candy drops in his mouth.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Every single point for the squirming, sci-fi synth melody that adds another dimension to the glistening production. Hearing that in conjunction with Future rapping about bust down watches sells “Crushed Up” as a song about being cartoonishly stupefied by the shine and allure of diamonds.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The production does its duly appointed glistening, the beats go clap-clap, the mantra gets repeated. He’s not bored with the formula yet, but a nation turns its eyes to a timekeeper, perhaps not crushed up with diamonds, wondering when he’ll start yawning.
[5]

Monday, January 21st, 2019

Sharon Van Etten – Seventeen

Standing out, thinking back…


[Video]
[7.60]

Josh Love: “Seventeen” shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Pop songs exploring nostalgia and vanished youth are almost as old as pop itself; hell, when I think of songs that reflect on being 17, I’m first thinking of a 26 year-old Simpsons parody of a 1966 Sinatra tune. Above all else, though, Sharon Van Etten’s newest is just a wonderfully insistent, impassioned rocker that dares you to get lost inside its steely, driving rhythm, judiciously broken up with the occasional discordant synth showing the welcome effects of producer John Congleton’s involvement. Meanwhile, Van Etten doles out both wisdom and comfort to her younger self and marks the passage of time by the disappearance of her teenage haunts, a tendency to which we can all relate. Speaking for myself, I feel particularly susceptible to sharing Van Etten’s headspace here considering we’re just a few months apart in age, and when she ever-so-slightly tweaks the chorus near the song’s end to say “halfway through this life,” well, I just want to scream at a younger version of myself, “IT ME.”
[9]

Vikram Joseph: As an age, 17 seems to hold an unparalleled romantic appeal for songwriters and screenwriters alike; there’s something evocative about the very sound of the word, not to mention the commonly-applied implications: self-discovery, nascent adulthood, and the loss of something intangible. That intangible thing is often called “freedom,” which seems facile — a lot of us weren’t free in any real sense at 17. Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” is much more nuanced than most elegies to that age; as a letter to her younger self, it’s direct but multifaceted, accepting that something (perhaps a pluripotency, the existence of multiple paths which hadn’t yet been closed off?) has been lost along the way, but also recognising that being 17 was fucking hard (“I see you so uncomfortably alone”) and acknowledging the growth that’s taken place in between. It’s also the most streamlined song of her career; taut, driving, startlingly pop in its instincts. It feels restrained, until it’s suddenly not, Van Etten full-throttle howling the middle eight, the emotions inherent in bridging the gaps between your different selves across time released as a violent river. Paired with an intense, psycho-geographical video featuring her native New York City, it makes for a powerful origin story: a visceral, heartfelt anthem for a seventeen-year-old girl.
[9]

Crystal Leww: New York as a rock music concept been done (to death) before and early-aughts indie rock nostalgia was so 2018. “Seventeen” functions better as the backing track to the TV adaptation of Meet Me In The Bathroom than an actual track.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: This nicely has the heft and force of a better Ryan Adams record (for some reason it brings to my mind “New York, New York”), or a tougher Jenny Lewis one. Van Etten sings with supreme confidence.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Building toward a crackling electro-fueled climax, this mix of Fever Ray and early Roxy captures the tumult in the heart and brain of a young person on the edge of adulthood. 
[7]

Matias Taylor: It sounds like it was meant to be played while driving down that street she’s singing about, wistfully looking at a now-abandoned storefront that used to be the “downtown hotspot” of your youth, as you wonder just how much nostalgia is making the past seem better than it really was before speeding onward to an equally uncertain future.
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: A scorched and frayed elegy for the glowing hope and abyssal enormity of youth, peered at through a sudden veil and over Factory Records drums and soul piano chords. Van Etten’s lament is not far removed compositionally from songs by Sky Ferreira or Pale Waves, but her voice is frozen with distance, its veins thickened with fondness and fear, and the braided emotion formed from nostalgia when its longing is tempered with disgust. Her voice tears as it tries to bridge the unbridgeable, and a snagged guitar solo tugs away too. When she looks back on her younger self, each sees the other incompletely, and it’s that gap between “you think you’re so carefree” and “[you’re] afraid that you’ll be just like me” that time devours entirely.
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There’s so much to love here — the way Van Etten marries a weary resignation and a loving nostalgia so perfectly in her lyrics, but also how she lets it all go into the wordless melody when the time is right — but the sound of “Seventeen” that I hold dearest is those squalls of distorted guitar that break through the song’s second half. More than anything else, they sound like what being 17 feels. It’s all of the rage and false knowledge and purity of purpose and freedom and failure all bound up into one, an unstoppable force of memory that transports me every time.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: What makes “Seventeen” so affecting is how its lyrics are relatively unspecific. In keeping them straightforward and sometimes ambiguous, Sharon Van Etten captures the difficulty that comes with reflecting on one’s growth, even if the end result is of general satisfaction. I don’t want to think about the loneliness or attempts at self-sabotage that define certain periods of my life, but it’s sometimes important to see the incremental changes I’ve made to shift from a mode of thinking and living that seemed impossible to escape. The driving drum beat assuages the pain of such an act. Funny how the line most emblematic of such a mood is also the song’s least descriptive: a wistful, bittersweet “La la la la la la la.”
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: I dislike, in aggregate, the thing where singer-songwriters who get buzz immediately add puffier synths and bigger-name producers to each record and generally slouch toward Katy Perry. But I can’t deny that individually it works for some people, like Annie Clark and now apparently Sharon Van Etten. John Congleton’s track, gleaming and buzzing like a high-tech garage door, boots Van Etten’s performance out of the oatmeal muck of her past work. But like much of Congleton’s production, it has a middling ceiling. It’s telling how, when Van Etten lets loose, she completely overpowers the backing track, rendering it nothing: a machete to a diorama.
[6]

Monday, January 21st, 2019

D’Angelo – Unshaken

High noon at the Ol’ Jukebox…


[Video]
[5.62]

Julian Axelrod: D’Angelo returns with an urgent ode to resilience in the face of hardship. (It’s from Red Dead Redemption 2, which only makes sense if you imagine the years between Voodoo and Black Messiah were spent in front of an Xbox.) D’Angelo’s voice works surprisingly well in the context of an Old West ballad, dropping several octaves into a baritone wearied by dust and time. (I haven’t played Red Dead Redemption 2, but it seems like a lot of fishing and feeding horses?) Despite the aesthetic departure, “Unshaken” lacks the real-world stakes of his previous works. (Remember when Sade’s big comeback was a song for A Wrinkle in Time? Is our music system so irreparably fucked that R&B legends are only doing singles for sequels and adaptions of established IP?) This is an above-average video game soundtrack and a below-average D’Angelo song.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: I will probably never play RDR2 (West of Loathing pre-emptively clowned it, anyway), but a D’Angelo soundtrack cut from the game seems like a pleasant enough takeaway, even if it’s basically “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”
[7]

Tim de Reuse: Don’t think I’m gonna have the time to play Red Dead Redemption 2 this century, but I can see how this tune would function well in that context. Every part of the composition exists firstly as mood-setting sound design and secondly as a musical element; it’d make a lovely garnish, but there’s very little meat on it by itself.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Okay, a worthwhile gesture: multitracked murmurs over plucked guitars and a couple incongruous shrieks. No way is this getting daytime play on 99 Jamz, though. Repeat listening reveals a track that is the natural end of the Black Messiah sound, which got praise for the things it doesn’t do instead of the things it does.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Black Messiah is my pick for the best pop album of the decade, but this reminds me little of the exquisite songwriting and masterful production of anything on that album. It’s too deliberate in what it sets out to do in establishing a meandering, Western atmosphere that it never extends beyond its functionality. D’Angelo being a huge fan of the Red Dead Redemption franchise is cool in a shallow “whoa, this musician is into things typically not associated with musicians?” sort of way, but this is a throwaway track through and through.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s a Daniel Lanois production, and it sounds like it; this could fit easily on Robbie Robertson’s self-titled 1987 album. D’Angelo adds his patented variety of hoodoo, but not so much in the way of soul. “Unshaken” sounds more like a tumbleweed-filled Western number, rooted in percussion and finger-picked guitar, and overall leaves one wanting.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: Neo-soul was a self-consciously adult music, and it could bear those weaknesses to which adults are susceptible: a persuasion that complacency is thoughtful and diffidence is maturity. It could also — and this might be just because it was in the air during the 1990s — get a bit new-agey. “Unshaken,” however, the new song from one of neo-soul’s defining figures, is deliberately and even carefully gritty. It is, after all, a mood piece for an Old West video game; a lot of 21st-century dollars go into those electronic costume dramas. Gospel and gothic are aesthetics that complement one another well, and they offer D’Angelo new terrain over which to ride. (For a start: tense acoustic guitar runs that could summon Chris Isaak if the moonlight were just right.) He makes the most of it — which makes it a very well done mood piece.
[5]

Pedro João Santos: The scenery is filmic, somehow both arid and lush: shy guitars, muted drums and handclaps bringing to mind the shadowed figure of a traveler in the desert, which assumes the form of one singular voice. “Unshaken” flows like a natural progression from Black Messiah‘s earthly sonics, the tempesting punctuation of drums and bass smoothened for a more spellbinding — also less playful — experience. D’Angelo establishes dominium not through instrumental virtuosity but by oscillating vocal textures, never tentative, but ever growing in power: only through his voice he conjures up new worlds and paths untraveled that Red Dead Redemption 2 can only dream of. What strikes me as strange is possibly how limited the mindset, which is repeated and carved deeply into the song, might be (and I’m deliberately overlooking the in-game context; I suspect by the standalone release of the song that it might not be that important after all). I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t know whether you should stay intact around “a crashing world.” It’s probably crumbling for some reason that needs to be understood. While it might not be necessarily good to attune to that change, putting up walls is never a good thing.
[8]

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending January 19, 2019

Our writers have been recording music! Check out:

Copperman has also been writing:

Finally, Kat Stevens continues to count down the Freaky Trigger readers’ Best of 2018. Who will take the #1 spot? Will Kat run out of dated-enough-to-possibly-trigger-nostalgia memes before getting there? Tune in to find out!

 

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell – What Happens in a Small Town

Everybody dies famous in a break up in a small town throwdown?


[Video][Website]
[4.57]

Alfred Soto: During a 2014 interval Brantley Gilbert’s husky sincerity inched toward pathos. Now he plays against the wind machines of his mind, and Lindsay Ell hangs on to the drum loop by her fingernails.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: On one hand, Lindsay Ell’s truncated verse sells the urgency of her “But this is where I belong, this is my home too” line. On the other, she absolutely deserves to have more runtime without Brantley Gilbert’s gravelly voice getting in the way. I think this has a very good idea at its core — how living in a small town can make virtually everything remind you of an ex — but the song exhausts everything it has going for it by the halfway mark.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I really like the contrast of Gilbert’s edge-of-straining voice with Ell’s sweet-but-tough one, while the song itself essentially turns Sam Hunt’s “Break Up in a Small Town” into a male/female duet, which I’m good with. The guitars sound like a better Jason Aldean song. I’d be down for a duet album from these two.
[6]

Katie Gill: There was this godawful Jake Owen song last year where he tried to paint himself as still being small town honkeytonk despite the fact that he was born in a pretty populous Florida city, playing golf in the Nashville Golf Open and regularly wakeboarding. It’s a disgusting bit of blatant pandering in a genre full of attempts by millionaires to seem down to earth despite not having set foot in a town with a population under 6,000 people in decades. Thankfully, Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell aren’t as disgustingly pandering as Owen was. But it does make you roll your eyes that these two are plaintively singing about navigating a break-up experience in a small town when one of them grew up in Calgary and the other has a net worth of around 15 million.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: How clever: a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” flip. This songwriting final exam gets an A! Except it’s yet another song of tiresome small-town jingoism — as a city dweller, I can confirm that as one of them there are still intersections I dread, rooms whose new occupants I wonder about, former haunts I hate going to anymore, and that indeed, not even being a Yankee means your life will fling you through infinite, totally stochastic neighborhoods and friend groups, leaving nary a bad memory. It’s also a complete waste of Lindsay Ell. So maybe it gets more like a C minus.
[4]

Will Adams: They’ve got the riff from Journey’s “Faithfully” and nowhere to go, so why not settle in Generic Smalltown? Apparently it’s a provincial town, which is why verses are not welcome and the bulk of the song is a driving chorus that crowds everything else out and turns it into indistinct mush.
[3]

Alex Clifton: I’ve never been from a small town myself, but I live in Louisville these days. It’s a decently sized city but it has a lot of small town characteristics; I’ve heard stories from my friends about bumping into exes at Kroger, or making friends with someone at work only to realize you both had the same mutual friend circle back in college when you were two very different people. I never thought I’d be “local enough” here, but having lived in Louisville for almost ten years now I’ve experienced my own small-town moments: haunted buildings around town where fights with exes happened, acquaintances asking me how so-and-so is doing because we were once close friends and having to explain why we don’t hang out anymore, the knowledge that any given moment could lead to an awkward encounter with someone I haven’t spoken to in seven years. Gilbert & Ell capture that feeling well here in the rare duet that actually feels like both parties are singing directly to one another; the beginning is a bit boring but when that chorus hit I suddenly knew those exact feelings. Maybe this means I’ve finally become a Kentucky girl. At any rate, this song felt like home in a way I never expected.
[7]

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Kaytranada ft. Ty Dolla Sign – Nothin Like U

“They don’t make ’em like you” — well aren’t we easily flattered?


[Video][Website]
[6.57]

Alfred Soto: What pleasure I get from “Nothin Like U” is formal: Kaytranada cuts up Ty Dolla’s slobbering, sweetening with vaporwave synths. Like a Marvel franchise, it’s designed to be a hit from Zachow to Zanzibar. 
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It’s not until the outro that I realize how “Nothin Like U” should have been more willing to let the production shine without the vocalizing. While Ty Dolla $ign knows how to ride the beat, the chorus is too muted to warrant such repetition; it often bogs the song down, preventing its innate bounce from fully registering for the listener.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: Kaytranada twists up Ty’s performance into a gorgeous, echoing mesh, filling all negative space and ducking the whole package tastefully underneath an off-kilter kick drum. It’s such effortless manipulation towards such an absorbing result; I get the feeling he could’ve squeezed similarly engaging results from anyone else he might have featured, or even from the warbling of some random schmuck off the street.
[8]

Pedro João Santos: The Nothin Like U/Chances maxi left me satisfied: production smooth and sumptuous across the board, as Kaytranada’s generous hand of crushed-velvet beats and granular bass proves steadier, more ponderous and assured. Yet “Nothin Like U” sets a mood, an exercise in smoothness, rather than a trend. Pleasure is derived from honeyed syncopation and Ty’s competent vocal, but there’s not much worth of note, other than how sensuous and tightly crafted it is. The hook is delivered nicely, but other than that Ty’s raspy vocal doesn’t quite go the distance as it did with Mariah. Kaytra hasn’t gained momentum, and has stuck to what he does best for a hot minute now. And there’s no need to ask if he’ll regain his buzz. Of course he will: he’s Kaytra.
[6]

Crystal Leww: Ty Dolla Sign doesn’t let this track breathe with his endless onslaught and the net effect ends up sounding sleepy, oddly enough. I gave “You’re the One” a listen right after this song and Syd sounds so effortless in comparison, more in tune with the idea that you’re there to build an atmosphere than to create a banger — resulting in a banger. This is trying so hard to put two good things together that it has the odd effect of coming across like a guy in a suit with red roses at the techno club. That being said, sleepy Kaytranada who tried hard but didn’t quite hit the mark is still pretty good, I guess. 
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I’m so deep in the tank for Ty Dolla Sign that I convinced myself to like “Psycho,” and he’s in typical form here. He alternates between charming, tender, and deeply horny with a virtuosic smoothness, playing everything up for sheer R&B melodrama. And yet I can’t fully say that my enjoyment of “Nothin Like U”  hinges on Ty’s performance at all. Kaytranada’s production work, reborn after a 2 year hiatus, is gorgeous. His synths breathe like living things, his bass notes grooving perfectly interlocked with the drums. It’s a palace of a beat, and it’s Ty Dolla Sign’s good fortune to get to inhabit it.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Its popping beat gives “Nothin Like U” a fizzy overtone, and Kaytranada’s track has a nice 10pm cruise feel to it and Ty has lots of charm. It might be the spiffiest sounding damn song ever created.
[7]

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Normani ft. 6LACK – Waves

Another fifth of Fifth Harmony, so does this make Normani one twenty-fifth?


[Video]
[6.29]

Katherine St Asaph: Even more so than “Love Lies,” a masterclass in how far you can go on atmospherics alone. Technically speaking, “Waves” has many problems: the second verse being a clown car of rhymes for “ocean”; Normani’s otherwise excellent vocal breaking the mood toward the end with oversinging; 6LACK’s 6EING himself. But the song is palpably stormy, practically humid with tension. Interesting how three out of five Fifth Harmony members have foregone the mandatory confidence of the band’s work for material with trouble and nuance, and thus real feeling.
[8]

Ian Mathers: The contrast in the production between those opening round, rich, almost woodblock-y tones to the dark, fuzzy squelch of the synth, the unobtrusive but interesting drum programming… it’d take some actively bad performances to make “Waves” sound bad, and neither participant here messes that up. Maybe there’s a little less personality than would be really ideal, but both nail the theme of the song in ways that dovetail with the really excellent backing. I can already tell this is going to be a bit of an earworm.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Pulsing, throbbing bass sleeps beneath the washed out, hazy synths while the crumbling, tumbling drums rumble as Normani deftly skips atop them while a mists of guitars drift by as she then takes flight, before dropping back down to keep skipping, still waiting for the break to truly leap while 6lack drifts up from the water, blowing out another cloud of guitar that Normani leaps off into the sky proper, taking flight and hovering, before finally making for the open ocean.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s TOO SLOW. And also too fucking dull.
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The sounds of actual waves lead the way for a digital ocean of sound. Jonah Christian’s production is so attuned to the lyrical conceit that Normani’s vocalizing wouldn’t even be necessary to transmit how she’s feeling. Still, she makes her presence feel vital. This is the first time that hearing a pop song felt like looking out to a pitch-black ocean, ineffably drawn to the fear and wonder of its ebb and flow.
[7]

Tobi Tella: They both sound really good, but I don’t think I’m strong enough for another “I hate you then I love you!” song. Can we get songwriters another topic, please?
[5]

Will Adams: The first half is electrifying: Normani rides the spiky beat effortlessly enough to warrant an album’s worth of spacious R&B. But then the production falls back for some reason, and the song ebbs into a pleasant middle ground.
[6]