Monday, May 25th, 2020

Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber – Stuck with U

Happy 2 B?


[Video]
[3.50]

Leah Isobel: All sales and streams of this gloopy, negging doo-wop track benefit the First Responders Children’s Foundation, which is a lovely gesture that makes it feel unfair to criticize the song. Of course, a coherent response from the American government would obviate the need for such a gesture at all. This makes “Stuck With U” oddly fitting — that U might as well stand for U.S., or us. I just wish the apocalypse sounded better.
[2]

Katie Gill: Crack theory: this was a trashed song hastily recorded and released because it can vaguely tie into COVID-19. Some of the lyrics — especially Bieber’s — seem insensitive at best. Everything about the production feels slapdash or rushed. But the biggest factor I’ve got in this theory is how the song is just so bland. It’s a slow dance ballad that you know wanted to be “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” part two, except neither Bieber nor Grande sound sultry enough to move it past mediocre.
[2]

Nina Lea: I find this track utterly fascinating. “Stuck With U” nods to the strangeness of this time we’re living in, and yet it also simultaneously normalizes our new reality by sounding exactly like several other completely inoffensive, saccharine, retro-throwback pop songs we’ve heard before. So many of us right now may be wondering — or struggling to imagine — how this historic moment will be understood and remembered, and more than anything else I’ve heard so far, “Stuck With U” has made me acutely aware of how the popular myth-making machine grinds on, smoothing out the complicated present into a cultural memory even as we live mired in uncertainty. Of course two pop juggernauts immediately made a milquetoast ballad pandering to those staying at home, of course this song will be played in the background of quarantine engagement videos and subsequent weddings. “Stuck With U” knows that it is both an ode to the current moment and an inevitable relic. When I listen to “Stuck With U” from the confines of the studio apartment that I’m sharing with the new guy I’m dating, I see the future laid out like a city I’ve not yet been to but whose layout I know by heart: the slow return to a kind of normalcy; the way many things will have been irreparably changed; the eventual think pieces reminiscing, minimizing, glorifying, analyzing the pandemic; “Stuck With U” coming on the radio at 2 a.m. years later after these feelings have long faded, making me nostalgic for a “simpler time” that never really existed even at the moment of its creation.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: At times, quarantining in my childhood home with my whole family feels unbearably stifling: everyone is on each other’s toes for even the smallest, dumbest grievances. But, in a crooked way, this experience almost feels like stolen time, a secret blessing and privilege to hide at home before being fully engulfed in the adult world. Case in point: my sister and I have not been able to celebrate my mom’s birthday or Mother’s Day at home for the past five years, and this Mother’s Day, we spent an entire day doing nothing but baking a cake and watching the whole third Star Wars trilogy. When else in the world could I have had time to do that? It’s this recent reflection on my own privilege that has helped me start to appreciate the message behind “Stuck with U.” The song is an argument to make the most of the times, even despite all the chaos and pain in the world, and the picture of domestic bliss presented in the video is too wholesome to view through a cynical lens. 
[7]

Jackie Powell: The sentiment is admirable here. I appreciate the philanthropic attempt and am turned off by the pettiness of the Billboard chart debacle with 6ix9ine, but I’m not sure if this is a song that makes me “feel good.” Instead, I might want to waltz? Will teens who couldn’t go to prom actually be dancing to this? A new COVID wedding song, who knows? I guess what’s bizarre about this quarantine heart song is that it doesn’t mirror a lot of feelings associated with living through a global pandemic. There isn’t enough of a struggle. But maybe is that the point of this track’s radical acceptance of our current situation? This must be what happens when Scooter Braun is the first listed writer on this single. *Shrug* The best part of the heavily cameoed– “Imagine”-esque video was seeing Liz Gillies, because who doesn’t love Jade West or a faux-Cady Heron. But besides Gillies, the only redeemable quality about this track and video are singer/songwriter Blush’s backing vocals on each pre-chorus’s “oh, oh, oh, oh (ooh)” and the feathery outro. After many listens, this track isn’t one that will be stuck on my mind. I guess we are just stuck with it.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Grande sings with a natural empathy; she times the release of those voice cracks like a pro. But she’s selling horseshit. I don’t care how moony the idea of spending months cooped up with your beloved sounds — I know high schoolers tired of the quarantine who don’t reminding of what passed for fidelity in pop lyrics. And being stuck with Justin Bieber is like being stuck with the clap.
[2]

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending May 24, 2020

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

Luke Combs – Six Feet Apart

Next week: James Arthur’s “Three Fridges Away”


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Juana Giaimo: I guess we’re all going to have to listen to hundreds of songs about being socially distanced, but I hope some of them are less corny than this. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Please submit emotionally moving Songs that evoke a sad, melancholy, and/or somber mood. Think of the kinds of Songs you might hear in a scene when someone is at a cemetery visiting their loved one’s grave, or what might play when the protagonist is in a desolate town that’s been heavily affected by the virus! LYRIC Tip: Lyrically, your Songs should have themes about hopelessness, isolation, loneliness, fear of the unknown, needing others, needing help, missing friends or loved ones, needing friends or loved ones, relying on others to get you through tough times, these crazy times we’re living in, the end of the world, about to lose a loved one, the loss of a loved one, etc. Depressed yet? That’s what your Songs should do to viewers — underscore the sadness in the scene!
[1]

Katie Gill: This is so fuckin’ hokey. Like, god bless Luke Combs’s heart, you can tell that he’s trying his best to do some sort of inspirational pick-you-up ballad, but this has more cheese than a Kraft Singles warehouse. This is like, baby’s first songwriting. These are lyrics that my high-school self who was in the fuckin’ poetry club like a big nerd would look at and go “ehhh, I don’t know, that’s a little too on the nose.” And that’s why I love it. So much modern radio-focused country music is generic, play-by-numbers and positively pandering that you rarely get anything good. This is technically so bad it’s good, but that still counts as good. And the best part about it? I had come up with this mental narrative about Combs self-quarantining and writing this by himself but then I Googled it and THERE WERE THREE PEOPLE WHO WROTE THIS SONG. Three people worked on this piece of Vermont cheddar and we somehow still ended up with “I miss my mom / I miss my dad”?! How the hell did that happen!
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I wish its second verse weren’t quite so list-y, but I’m behind the sentiment 1000%. I love the chorus line “There will be light after dark/Some day when we’re not six feet apart,” the production is nicely tough, and Combs’ voice sounds great. Nothing for me to dislike here, really. And this feels like a grower, too.
[7]

Steacy Easton: The list making is a little lazy (Billy Bragg’s version of this trope works better), and the production could stand to be starker, but it’s a lovely song, and one whose sentimental hope is much needed right now. 
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Now that quarantine music is starting to become its own genre, I’m trying to develop my own criteria about how to critically engage with it. Do you judge songs based on traditional, subjective measures (sound, innovation, idea and execution, etc) or does how this music exists in this particular moment in history matter? “Six Feet Apart” bores me sonically: it sounds like a simulacrum of every other hit on white male-dominated country radio. But I can’t help but give this song a [7] — as a documentation of this moment, it feels genuine and hopeful, the type of art that could really give hope to people going through a hard time. “I miss my mom, I miss my dad, I miss the road, I miss my band” is devastating in its simplicity and its sentiment, and Luke Combs paints an incredibly hopeful image of what life will look like after all this coronavirus stuff is behind us. Bonus: it doesn’t even feel gimmicky or cynical like any of the other celebrity gestures. I can’t imagine listening to this in a couple of years, but for the moment, it feels just right.  
[7]

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

The Weeknd – In Your Eyes

It’s no surprise…


[Video][Website]
[5.88]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The majority of “In Your Eyes” is just another iteration of Abel Tesfaye’s tried-and-true Michael Jackson pastiche, but there are two specific moments that take this over the top for me. First, and most obviously, major points are deserved for the sax solo which closes out the track: the aural incarnation of sex, intoxication, and drama. And second, not to be overlooked, is the way the chorus builds so slowly and delicately into the post-chorus rush of adrenaline: “I’m blind! I’m blind!” I’m such a sucker for single cycles that cohesively world-build, and the way that moment reinforces the macabre glamour of “Blinding Lights” is nothing short of brilliant.
[8]

Tobi Tella: The restraint here is palpable, and even though his signature falsetto is obviously iconic, the chest voice does wonders in differentiating this and giving it weight. Add that sexy sax and it becomes clear that no matter how questionable, misogynistic, or plain sad the lyrics are, I’ll always be here for him serenading me.
[7]

Alex Clifton: You’ve got Max Martin’s melodic math, some great disco/synth beats, and a ripping sax solo at the end. Do you need anything else?
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: “Africa”-biting, expensive-sounding-soundsing, half-ass-saxed, barely-bothering-with-mournful yacht pop. I’d rather be on the Diamond Princess.
[2]

Pedro João Santos: It does boggle me how Max Martin gives Abel such a weak, liminal song during an era that’s touted as his strongest bid for mainstream ascendancy. For Martin, it’s a self-disservice to pop-by-numbers, which is his bread and butter, but sounds less like his pride and joy. “In Your Eyes” musters up all that’s expected from 80s-revivalist midtempo, which is more to do with the production hitting all the dopamine beats: it might be a ghost of a hook, embarrassingly scraggy, but the synth rush to go along, though canned, might be a catalyst for boppery. An exhibition of songwriting mastery this is not, more so a troubling decay next to “Blinding Lights”, and a missed opportunity to Make The World Go “Fucking Hell” when it’s already on your side. Pop stars without the willingness to pull the rug from audiences, 80s without the verve — this remake sucks.
[6]

Alfred Soto: So it’s not a Peter Gabriel cover? Doesn’t the new The 1975 single employ the same saxophonist? Have these dudes been listening to the same Glass Tiger comp? Grant Matt Healy this: he may have prolix ideas about bedding women, but they’re original.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Obviously musicians should have edges and feel no need to compromise their artistic impulses or devotion to expelling the depths of their psyche into audio, but the exception proves the rule. The Weeknd’s tones are dulcet here, as he gently allows his addressee to contain multitudes, and himself to be a conduit for a slick retro-futurism with which he is more at home than almost anyone.
[7]

Katie Gill: Hey gang, it’s The Weeknd continuing to do his 1980s-inspired shtick that he’s done for the past few months! Who’d’ve thought this would happen except literally everybody? This honestly feels like “Blinding Lights Redux”, which is probably why it got released as a single as half of America still hears “Blinding Lights” when they turn on their car radio. Frankly, this is inoffensive and fun enough that it too shall probably become a radio fixture. At least, I hope it does just so it can be another nail in the coffin of The Weeknd’s sadboy shtick. He’s much more fun when he’s having fun.
[6]

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

The 1975 – If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)

We have some notes…


[Video]
[6.43]

Claire Biddles: One of my favourite 1975 tricks is the ability to pastiche very specific types of songs — usually from the tail end of a movement, or in a deeply unfashionable genre — and tease out their sense of fun and potential. For “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”, The 1975 assume the role of a rock band who got big in the early to mid ’80s, and went from arenas to stadiums — only to falter with an ostensibly ‘experimental’ (read: indulgent) fourth album, and face relegation to clubs and theatres. After an extended break (maybe a divorce?) it’s 1991 and they are BACK! with some lightly outdated production and a saxophone solo applied to their usually rock stomp (yacht rock passed them by at the time, but they did always think the rolled-up jackets looked cool) plus the girl the singer is maybe dating roped in to sing a bit at the start. It could be tragic, but instead it’s miraculous — every handclap and backing vocal as light as air. Undeniable frothy pop, number 7 in the charts, not a fan favourite but beloved by everyone else. Anyway, good job The 1975 aren’t going to make a misstep on their fourth album like this imaginary band!! What a great standalone single this is!!
[8]

Alfred Soto: With their ratio of boring to awesome singles about even, imagine my surprise to learn “If You’re Too Shy” grabbed me at once. As an example of pop song composition, it’s flawless: well-delineated verses, an actual bridge, and kick-in-the-heart chorus. The rhythm guitar fills and synth bass punch up Matt Healy’s absurd tale about twins, hotels, and calling those twins in the nude. Their most attractive single since “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “If You’re Too Shy” would’ve earned a higher grade if the saxophonist didn’t learn his lines from a Richard Marx ballad and the intro didn’t faff about too long.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: “Ask” by The Smiths repurposed as a sophisti-pop song — those chords could be “Life in a Northern Town,” for god’s sake — and vastly improved by the lyric “maybe I would like you better if you took off your clothes,” because making the sub-text into text is a trick I can always get behind.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s “Looking For Linda” with the internet and guitars, and so it is of course The 1975 in one of their many guises. Here, they’re drawing inside the lines enough to pick up broad-based airplay, and while they undersell things with a more verbose than hooky chorus, the wordiness does at least lead to two catchphrases. It’s a rare band that get to dip their toes in and out of radio waters so freely, and hearing this gawky, covertly bleak ebullience highlights how fortunate it is that this one can.
[7]

Will Adams: A brief inquiry into managing sexual tension on Zoom calls. As usual, it’s not as deep as Matty Healy likely thinks — turns out stripping over video chat is awkward! — but the sparkly synthpop, recalling the best moments of I Like It When You Sleep…, almost redeem it. Docked a point for the original version’s intro, which unscrupulously casts FKA Twigs as the voice of the anonymous e-siren.
[6]

Oliver Maier: In an unprecedented twist, the 1975 have released a 80s indebted pop rock song where Matty Healy is doing some pondering. He is having cybersex with a girl, you see, because he is cool and does things like that, but also he feels weird about it, because of how much he respects women. There is a saxophone solo, which I guess is supposed to be cathartic — the music that plays in his head when he, uh, gives himself a try — but is mainly there so that people will go “wow! A saxophone solo!” and the mainstream discourse, presumably, will go “ouch!”. As a single, it seems to be proving a winning exception for other sceptics of the band, and I’d love to be able to acquiesce, because I like to have fun. I just can’t really summon more praise than “competent” and “sorta catchy”.
[5]

Alex Clifton: Takes far too long to get to the good stuff, and Matty Healy chews all of his words so I can hardly understand what he says without looking at the subtitles on the YouTube video. The shame is that when it finally gets going, it’s really catchy! That’s normally enough to save a song for me, but instead I’m irritated because this could’ve been something actually good. Can someone explain to me why this band is popular, please?
[3]

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

THE SCOTTS – THE SCOTTS

The supergroup, anticipated by somebody, of Travis Scott and Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi; presumably not asked: Jill Scott, Scott Baio, and Scott Evil…


[Video]
[4.67]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’ve never quite gotten Travis Scott’s appeal. His music consists of pretty average bangers, but teenage boys over-hype him as an innovative trap messiah. But on “THE SCOTTS,” I finally feel like I might be hearing what they’ve been hearing. He and Kid Cudi have constructed something so brooding and epic, I voluntarily engaged with Fortnite and actually enjoyed it. 
[7]

Tobi Tella: These two getting a massive hit off a Fortnite event is one of the most 2020 things to happen. It succeeds in having wide, broad appeal and feeling like an amalgamation of every other Travis Scott song in existence: fun, but empty.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Fortnite tie-in aside, the message of this tune is loud and clear: “Hello, we are two people you know about, and we’ve made a new rap group!” The beat’s got a catchy nautical beep to it. Everything else is insubstantial clatter.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The one point is for Mike Dean’s synth freakout outro, which is ’70s prog in its leanings. The rest feels like ’80s pop prog: a joyless mismatch of styles by guys looking for a hit that somehow feels both endless and truncated all at once.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Kid Cudi is quarantine music. Either you feel that in your gut or you don’t. The Unnecessarily Capitalized Scotts are also quarantine music, in that the single is solipsistic as hell (naming a track after yourself is a tad premature, don’t you think?), a pseudo-event in both the Boorstin and the Zoom-ennui senses: ephemeral while present, sensationless when gone.
[5]

Katie Gill: As I listened to the mp3, I mused on how this would be a decent song to score a video game trailer. It doesn’t really feel like a song, more like a snippet to pad out or introduce a mixtape. Each 15 to 30 seconds is perfectly constructed to be played alone, without context — say, as a YouTube ad. There’s no climax or narrative to the sound, but the climax or narrative could be in a cutscene, or seeing Mr. Halo shoot a guy. When I watched the video, I saw that I was 100% right. Go team?
[5]

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Sia – Saved My Life

Where did it go wrong?


[Video]
[2.22]

David Moore: At this point the only value I can find in most new Sia singles is imagining what the Toad version would sound like. This one would be excellent. 
[2]

Alfred Soto: Disparaging Sia’s music gets tedious, but, really, what’s a listener to do? Among joyless thank-god-I-found-yous, “Saved My Life” drifts to the bottom. Whoever came up with the one.word.at.a.time approach in the verses might’ve thought it had the virtue of simplicity, or as a means of suggesting Sia is rendered incoherent by this transcendent being. It might’ve worked if Sia didn’t approach melody as if tenderizing a chicken breast. 
[1]

Will Adams: Given their long working history, it’s a bummer how much Sia and Greg Kurstin’s collaborations have begun to resemble a wheezing mechanism. Nowhere is that more apparent than “Saved My Life,” as its utter lack of a pulse makes me long for “Chandelier.” The endlessly repeated lyrics drag things down further; most awkward is the first verse’s “boom, boom, boom, baby boom,” which comes off as a failed experiment to write an “OK boomer” hook. Sia’s been upfront about the automated nature of her pop writing, but this sounds like the machine was running at quarter capacity.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There is a certain point on the spectrum of lazy songwriting where coherence falls away entirely. Words stop coming together into sentences, sentences do not make their way into greater passages of meaning, and the arc of the song evaporates into nothingness. “Saved My Life” has gone so far past this point that it is impossible to analyze. It’s just an artillery barrage of piano and vocal, a collection of inspirational textures in search of a point.
[2]

Alex Clifton: Please, please, please/stop and freeze, freeze, freeze/hear my pleas, pleas, pleas/I’m on my knees, knees, knees/but with ease, ease, ease/I can tease, tease, tease/songs like these, these, these/sound like cheese, cheese, cheese.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s finally happened: after years of everyone’s songs sounding like repurposed Sia, a Sia song sounds like repurposed someone else — namely Pink, in wiser-but-lesser adult contemporary guise. Though the chorus sounds like, of all things, “Time to Say Goodbye.” (This is a weird nostalgia cycle we’re in now!). And “baby boom in the dark” sounds like a phrase in need of thinking twice.
[3]

Michael Hong: At this point, it feels like Sia’s written at least a couple albums’ worth of this exact same song. Both the repetition of the concept and the lengthy echo of the lyrics have diminishing returns.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Not that anyone listens to a recent Sia song for emotional nuance and subtlety, but this is just so much emotional assault by repetition and anguished vowels that I feel utterly in pain when exposed to it. Sia isn’t going to go back to the days of selling fuck-all with wonderful songs like “Day Too Soon” or “Breathe Me,” but the sheer arrogance of putting this half-written batch of limp cliches out and singing it like it’s world-ending is almost offensive. This is horrendous and evil as a song, and I cannot believe anyone could derive any pleasure or emotional succour from something this grotesque.
[0]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: For me the essential Sia track, my first Sia track, was 2004’s “Breathe Me.” It’s a track not stripped to the bones, but made entirely of them, a stunning portrait of suffering that begins with the world “help.” When I was a kid, gay and alone in the Midwest, it felt like Sia had found a way to physically transmute vulnerability into a sound, one that I could wrap around myself like armour against loneliness or sadness. 16 years later, “Saved My Life” feels like a sequel. If in “Breathe Me” Sia was looking for a savior, someone to literally breathe life into her, here someone has finally answered her call from the darkness. There’s thematic continuity in the two songs’ physicality: a movement from breath to heartbeat. But as much as I want to love this song for these links, I can’t. The original sounds impossibly intimate, but this feels like it was written as a panacea for depression in the COVID era — too neat, too distilled, too mass-produced. Am I a masochist for wishing this felt less like an anthem and more like a private moment? I know that this song has genuine intentions, and that it will help people. I’ll just never love it the same way.
[5]

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Fiona Apple – Shameika

Fetch the sidebar…


[Video]
[7.20]

Tobi Tella: Fetch The Bolt Cutters was ascended to classic status by The Discourse as soon as it was released, and it doesn’t surprise me that so many people find value, because Fiona’s writing always functions on eight different layers of aware. What I connect with most about this is the self-awareness that Shameika probably truly could give less of a fuck about this petty middle school drama now, but the comment was so internalized that a whole song has stemmed from it decades later. Everyone has moments that are insignificant to everyone else that have informed your entire life and flare up constantly. The fact that the statement is encouraging makes it even sadder; negative comments feel designed to stick in your brain, but pumping yourself up with backhanded compliments given to your 12-year-old self is pathetic in a way most artists would never share with their listeners. 
[8]

Alex Clifton: A whirling hurricane of a piano line combined with doses of humour and emotion, jazzy and inventive and just plain fun to experience. We all have our own Shameika experience, buried deep — some comment from another kid that definitely does not remember you now, as an adult, but the words stick forever. There’s a really lovely tenderness in the way Apple recounts this memory, the fact that Shameika was never a friend, but bolstered her confidence in a way few others ever could. Small acts of kindness can go a long way, and that’s a lovely nugget to remember these days.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: The Fiona Apple Discourse has arrived, and as is increasingly common my stance isn’t any of the usual Am I The Asshole voting options. My stance: The Idler Wheel is Fiona Apple’s masterpiece, the genius coronation should have happened then, and in happening belatedly it happened for an album that, while good, is lesser. It’s not that nothing sounds like Fetch the Bolt Cutters, it’s that people forget the stuff that sounds like it exists. (The artist most obviously musically influenced by Fiona Apple is Amanda Palmer, but the culture isn’t ready for that conversation. Mostly.) “Shameika” is experimental perhaps, but more than that it’s theatrical, like a dramatic monologue. Apple writes another runaway-calliope piano line, kin to “Left Alone” or “Fast As You Can,” and structures musical cues and lyrical asides written as vaudeville — on lines like “that just made the bullies worse,” you can practically hear the spotlight and the phantom ba-dum-tish. She vamps, gives herself a Greek chorus, toward the end almost raps; there’s the sense that she’s just barely keeping up with the tempo and the clatter, a straightforward metaphor for the tempo and clatter inside her mind. Normally I love all these things and wouldn’t mind millions more, so why does “Shameika” feel slightly lesser? Some of it is subjective — I’m a cat person, so “my dog and my man and my music is my holy trinity” hits roughly the same way as “heckin’ doggo.” But some of it may not just be me. As Apple as a composer and vocalist has grown more freewheeling, less predictable, Apple as a lyricist has grown more didactic, not always for the better. This is most apparent on “Under the Table,” but the bridge here does it, too, as does the titular Shameika, here to dispense affirmation. It’s one thing for Apple to write about specific but anonymous men (see “this guy, what a guy”) and something else when it’s a named, likely black kid from middle school whom she barely remembered beyond a blessing that doesn’t entirely sound like a compliment. Apple doesn’t idealize her (“Shameika wasn’t gentle and she wasn’t my friend”) or turn her into a reaction GIF (the memes, though…), but for an artist whose writing is usually hyper-meticulously examined, this feels a bit un-examined. One senses, palpably, another side to the story.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: It’s the Fiona Apple origin story! Well, it’s a Fiona Apple origin story, as good a place as any to come to know this iteration of Fiona Apple. Her piano is, in isolation, a bit of a rollicking good time, and in context, like a rimshot trailing behind every word picture. They’re good pictures too — crunching leaves, the sound of a riding crop on her leg — making “Shameika” a crisp, well-paced vignette. Google reports a 500 per cent increase in searches for “is the piano a percussion instrument or a stringed instrument” in the last month.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Fiona Apple’s songwriting most commonly focuses solely on her own self– or at most, her self and some invisible, off-stage figure of longing or derangement. So the strangeness of “Shameika” is in the way it hinges so much of its emotional weight on more coherent others– the title character, who is defined solely in the context of Apple’s reaction to her, but also Tony and Sebastian and her dog and her man. It’s a strangeness that’s not entirely productive. The way the track slows down and clangs around whenever Shameika gets brought up feels weighty and unproductive, especially given the chaotic grace with which Apple navigates the rest of the song. And at the end of it all, “Shameika” feels like a tokenized figure, not allowed to exist outside of Apple’s grand cosmos of the self. It’s still thrilling, but there’s a certain hollowness at its center.
[6]

Alfred Soto: To what degree listeners will accept — never mind forgive — the Magical Negro Dictum at work depends on how compelling they find Fiona Apple and Amy Aileen Wood’s talent for playing drums as if it were a piano and how the chorus piano line hints at a cha-cha. If taken at face value, which I don’t, “Shameika” depicts a teenage woman confronted by sundry opinions about her self-presentation. Everyone mentioned she assimilated as every artist must.Whatever else, Shameika or whoever was right about Apple’s potential. 
[8]

Juana Giaimo: I listened to Fiona Apple’s album only once. It was alright; I didn’t not enjoy it, but neither did I love it. Listening to “Shameika” on its own is a whole different experience: it sounds unique, while on the tracklist it is just like another song. The changes of speed, her trembling voice and the sudden piano arrangements construct an organized mess in which every element is in a designated place. The surface is captivating, but I wish I could hear more than just that. 
[7]

Leah Isobel: Fiona constructs a rattling, screaming subway car of a song around a single moment of warm clarity. It’s a little better as a meme than it is as a hook, but it works regardless.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: The world might be ready for Fiona Apple to don her best Frank Zappa. Still, Apple’s goofy composition falls short of exuberant. Her commitment to the off-kilter is welcome, but it is unclear what emotions the single aims to inspire. At times, it brings to mind Liz Phair’s latter-day stabs at eccentricity. Music has no responsibility to be beautiful, but at its best, it connects the human dots of experience. I’m not sure what Fiona Apple has been experiencing, and I don’t know if she is either.
[3]

Jackie Powell: After the first drum roll, chaos ensues on “Shameika.” Chaos and jitters are synonymous with a middle school experience, a time when young women become hormonal and just so damn difficult to deal with. I imagine Apple skipping and walking to school to only be thrust into the social hierarchy. It’s degrading. I was also the kid “not chosen.” Apple knows her audience and she portrays a moment in time that’s felt deeply by only half of the characters involved. People enter our lives, impart simple yet profound wisdom, and then they disappear. The memories, depending on their delivery and timing, can stick like an epoxy. Apple accepts Shameika’s rejection or indifference to friendship with the repeated line: “She got through to me and I’ll never see her again.” But when you are young, that idea of never seeing someone again sounds pessimistic. Both Apple and I refused to accept that reality in the moment. The last 20 seconds of the track, the bluesy bassline, and the saw-like distorted crackling illustrate how that one-sided moment felt inside. So thankful, but confused and empty. Does potential come with emptiness? When I first heard her album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, I immediately envisioned it as easily adaptable into a one-woman show on or off Broadway (whenever live performance comes back). “Shameika” is a monologue sung.
[8]

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

The Rolling Stones – Living in a Ghost Town

All the clubs have been closed down…


[Video]
[6.20]

John Seroff: If you’re looking for proof that these are truly end times, you couldn’t do much worse than the Rolling Stones topping the singles charts in 2020. Even more shockingly, their surprise-drop, social-distancing anthem “Ghost Town” is actually pretty good: Mick’s digitally-tweaked voice conveys age, longing, loss and enigma as well as he ever has, while Wood’s driving guitar line compels the whole thing forward with zombified honky-tonk energy. Light touches of dub and harmonica give it a breath of soul and the lyrics avoid any particularly dumb missteps. Could this echo from the crypt portend the third (fifth? eighth?) resurrection of the Stones as a culturally meaningful touchstone for yet another generation? I mean, of course not; it’s not really the end of the world. Right?
[8]

Alfred Soto: They’re pros: it boasts proper verses, choruses, and outros. Of course these gnarled Ents didn’t need to release it — that’s not the point. If “Living in a Ghost Town” has one, it’s in the mixing board-goosed Mick Jagger’s vocal attack and Ron Wood’s above average guitar interjections. Professionalism, kids. The band sounds miffed in a pre-chorus in which they recall a time when cymbals crashed and saxophones blared — better for Jagger to suggest life is emptier without million-dollar gigs than whatever Uruguayan model left him for more spritz in the Aperol. “You can look for me and I can’t be found,” he stage whispers. Whether it’s COVID-19 or Studio 54, what’s changed?
[6]

Juan F. Carruyo: Well, they went away and did it. The Stones wrote a song about the pandemic and — lo and behold! — it’s a decent effort. It favors the cocktail blues sounds they’ve been perfecting ever since Wyman left yet Charlie Watts has been replaced by computerized lounge readymades. As it’s more of a groovy mood piece, the guitars serve only as punctuation. So, it’s Mick’s show through and through and he turns in a great performance: he sounds old and tired, his timing can barely keep with the beat, and his voice clips during the lightly rousing chorus. Slightly moving. 
[6]

Oliver Maier: Hardly a striking meditation on life under lockdown, and not a track that demands replays, but better than it looks on paper, and somehow sloppier than one would expect from a band in the Stones’ position. In a good way! The drums noticeably struggle on the chorus, for instance, and yet — particularly in contrast to the tightly wound, reggae-ish verses — it adds to the charm. Jagger, as ever, is not particularly concerned with profundity; he just wants to shout stuff. A [6] if you pretend that the line at the end of verse 2 is “stuck in a world without ham,” which is what it sounds like.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Gonna tell my kids this was X Ambassadors.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Their best original single in years; reminds me a bit of “Love is Strong” and a bit of “Miss You.” It moves, man. Produced really well.
[7]

Tobi Tella: Remarkably smooth for a band this far into their career, it’s a little on-the-nose for me to fully embrace, but there’s a certain delirium to it that feels very apt for our collective current mental state.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: I can’t decide whether Mick Jagger’s loose, almost rhythm-agnostic delivery is powerful or slightly annoying. It suits the subject matter, but on such a precise groove it spoils the party even as it makes the scene. Mind you, wouldn’t a ghost actually like living in a ghost town?
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Jagger sounds not so much the ghost of himself as a future historical linguist’s physiology-based recreation, while the gang vocals could be from a library. More than anything, it’s the latter that sink this. Performing to a karaoke backing track of your own song before anyone has even heard it is quite a feat, but not an advisable one. The dubby touches and harmonica build towards texture, yet it all ends up unbecomingly naff.
[5]

Alex Clifton: Vintage Stones in the best way, arriving at exactly the right time. Groundbreaking? Not in the slightest, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a stay-at-home anthem that will no doubt be screamed in arenas across the world once the Stones are back on tour, which I hope is sooner rather than later. As a sidenote, I would love a remix of this with Harry Styles, because I am desperate to hear what he and Mick sound like together, but we can hold out hope for that in a post-COVID world.
[8]

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending May 17, 2020