Friday, February 9th, 2024

Megan Thee Stallion – HISS

We have now arrived at our last song of the month. We will not be covering any other songs this month. See you in March!

Megan Thee Stallion - HISS
[Video]
[7.73]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: As a lifelong Barb, it saddens me to see Nicki enter a paranoid, truly despicable frenzy. The only upside? We get songs like this. 
[9]

Anna Suiter: Megan might have created a brand new season!
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: Megan said one line and ended Nicki’s career in one fell swoop, rendered Cardi B irrelevant for another year, and notched another hit. I expect you all to be at the next tour. And be there early!
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: It’s a category error to think of this as a diss track – it’s more a supernova-level airing of grievances, as comprehensive of a litany of disdain as I’ve heard in rap. It loses something in listenability as it goes on — Lil Ju & Bankroll’s beat feeling a little like an endurance test as it grinds you down — but maintains its fundamental appeal no matter how many times you loop it. Megan’s charisma, both as an instrument of inward love and outward spite, shines true.
[7]

Will Adams: It’s not a tour de force, it’s a tour de ferocious: Megan’s near non-stop onslaught is a marvel to listen to, no matter the beat’s plainness or the mid-point spoken word bit that trips up the momentum.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Is any rapper right now better than Megan when she’s on one? Based on “HISS,” maybe not. Also, she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for her little vocal tics, her “ah!”s and “ha!”s, which are nearly as good as Michael Jackson’s.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Delightful throughout, but I must admit I giggle like a small child every time I get to “when I’m in the gym I think about bitches that I’m shitting on.”
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The energy is undeniable, but the moment when the beat drops and she talks only dampens the mood. Ultimately, this isn’t a song I care for, but I appreciate that it makes me want to root for her.
[5]

Katherine St. Asaph: The fury and virtuosity are both undeniable, even if I’m not really sure whether I like this or just support it.
[7]

Leah Isobel: It is very satisfying to hear Megan in firebreather mode, especially since it’s so well-deserved; she’s gotten a raw fucking deal over the past couple of years, and if anyone has the right to let off some steam by shit-talking everyone else, it’s her. She has the technical ability and linguistic smarts to back up her aggression, too. But as satisfying as it is to see her skill and subtlety send one of her adversaries into a week-long tailspin, there’s also something a little disheartening about the spectacle. “Cobra” pushed at the edges of her art, trying to articulate her real struggles within the frame of her party-starter persona, and did an admirable job of inverting her usual performance of sexuality and strength into vulnerability and entrapment. By contrast, “HISS” feels boxed in, not just by the constraints of her public image but by the constraints that the perception of her public image places on her actual selfhood. When she raps, “Say he fucked Megan, and now he the topic / These n***** thinking they lowered the value / All this free promo, I’m turning a profit,” the video shows her nude with her hands tied behind her back: her body, constricted, defenseless, and presumed to be available just because it is visible. That’s the real anger that animates “HISS”: anger that her humanity is not and will never be enough, because of what other people think about her body. But people don’t want to hear that, so instead, we get beef. Yum.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: “Um. Miss… Thee Stallion, ma’am? I’m… not entirely sure if you have a full and accurate understanding of all the processes that factor into the monetization of social media clicks and page views, as well as certain other key elements of the modern attention economy. If you would like to register for my quick-and-easy 6-week course, you could soon be earning a– oh. I see. My bad. I– I’ll just be going, then.”
[9]

Friday, February 9th, 2024

SZA – Snooze

You won’t find us sleeping on this one!

SZA - Snooze
[Video]
[7.89]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: It’s only been a year and two months since SOS came out, but its big singles already feel less like contemporary pop hits and more like facts of the pop landscape – the bar, more or less, for sophisticated R&B-leaning pop, the marks that everyone else is trying to hit. Re-encountering “Snooze” as a song, then, is an experience of slight revelation. Every moment of “Snooze” is gorgeous; it’s a Babyface production in every way that matters, some real romantic shit in the truest sense of the word. Yet not a second of it would matter if not for the supreme skill with which SZA wields herself – she’s able to move from tenderness to pique to regret and back again with a fully manifested version of the ease she’s always had. 
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Heartbreak, detachment, revenge, existential dread even, yes, but has SZA ever expressed bliss like this? For all the praise that SOS received at the end of last year, the album has always read like an eclectic smattering of SZA’s range as opposed to a unified project. If there is a song that feels like the best representation of where SZA is in her career it’s “Snooze.”
[9]

Alfred Soto: Drowning in a sea of lust, Solána Imani Rowe has found the right mix of collaborators for a series of crystal(line) visions that state their cases with impressive fortitude and file out. The tension between the drum machine’s insistent thud — time goes by, so slowly, so slowly — and SZA’s long sentences made for some of the best radio listening of 2023. 
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: This is what SZA does best: sing like she’s somewhere between stream-of-consciousness ramble and effervescent daydream. Every chorus arrives with a clarity of her feelings, her vocal rhythms steady and her phrasing clear. This is a song that reminds you that life just makes more sense when you sing how you feel.
[8]

Ian Mathers: We don’t call people “crooners” anymore, do we? Not really. But that’s what it feels like I’m doing when I catch myself going “I can’t looooooooose when I’m with youuuuuuuuuuu,” albeit sounding about 1.4% as good as SZA does doing it. The song is about not wanting to snooze, but I kinda like that it’s got that drowsy feel.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: SZA’s vocals can often be a barrier for me — I just don’t care for her tone, or maybe the way she’s processed on record — but the sheer plushness of “Snooze” pulls me in.
[6]

Katherine St. Asaph: SZA still has a way of attacking melodies from unexpected angles and an ear for plush midtempo tracks. Everything great about her past singles is present here. If “Snooze” came out before “Love Galore” or “The Weekend,” would it be the single I’d want to listen to instead?
[6]

Leah Isobel: Where Z soundtracked a million sleepless dorm-room nights and Ctrl felt like it sliced directly into my soul, SOS mostly passed me by. Maybe it’s just because I stopped smoking weed, but its glossy surfaces felt too enervated for my taste. Take “Snooze,” an impressionistic saunter through a relationship that — surprise — might just be a little toxic. Classic SZA stuff! But unlike the economic existentialism that bled through “Broken Clocks,” the energetic and despairing vocal on “The Weekend,” or the rap that cut sideways through “Child’s Play,” “Snooze” feels like it plays her tropes relatively straight: distantly warbling vocal sample, delicate guitar loops, crispy lo-fi drumbeats to study or relax to. After about a dozen listens, though, I noticed its mixed signals. Its title, for one: while it would seem to correspond with the song’s unhurried, loping warmth, it’s framed within the text as unthinkable: “How can I snooze and miss the moment?/ You’re just too important.” Then there’s the Scarface line, precisely splitting the difference on whether she’s supposed to be embodying Pfeiffer, Pacino, both at the same time, or the movie as a whole, as a cultural object. It comes to a head on the bridge, when her voice is pitched down and digitized as she vents spleen: “How you fronting on me when I’m the main one trying? / How you blame it on me and you’re the main one lying?” Is it the voice of her partner, or her conscience? Both? Neither? Is it directed to the audience? Is it directed from the audience to her? I’m still not sure — the song continues, placidly, that flash of grit like a buzzing alarm before I fall back asleep.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: “I touch that fire for you.” The thin line between devotion and doormat is a very thin one. Fire when it touches flesh makes the skin tear and the fat and muscles contract, and touching it can hurt you deeply, especially if it engulfs you. Fire is created by fuel, oxygen, and a spark. SZA is the spark, her thin and curlicue voice creating seething friction (upon the slow, loping drumbeat played by Leon Thomas and Khristopher Riddick-Tynes), pressing and rubbing harder on the words “loooose” and “youuuu”, pressing so hard on “snooze” and “do.” The sparks fly and catch you in the eye and left-hand finger. The fuel is the beatwork by Babyface, Thomas, Riddick-Tynes, and BLK Beats, all of whom ladle gently the light, plush synths and velvety bass synth over it, with Thomas’s light tenor patiently wafting in and out of proceedings as needed. The oxygen is the line: “I touch that fire for you.” You can touch fire, let fire flicker, leave heaters, fans, even laptops on, and you will be engulfed, contracted, torn to pieces. And what if it isn’t even your laptop? And the person who left it with you left it because *insert the greatest fear you have in your closest intimate relationship, even if it’s with a friend*, and even when they’re with you, they’re somewhere else. But that is what love, or devotion, or desperation does to you. You have to risk letting them leave that laptop. And you have to trust they’re coming back for it. And the flames finally spring up around the bridge (where SZA is cradled by the patient vocal production and mixing of Rob Bisel in vocoding and Melodyne), begging the other person to stop hurting them, stop berating them, stop leaving the laptop cuz “you work in online banking and you go on trips constantly, yet you leave that laptop behind! Why am I crying if it has a malfunctioning battery?” I’ll touch that fire for you, and you won’t even try to unplug it. 
[10]

Friday, February 9th, 2024

Sistar19 – No More (Ma Boy)

Reunited, and it feels so… ???

Sistar19 - No More (Ma Boy)
[Video]
[5.30]

Michael Hong: The parent song might have had a chorus that positively soared, but here, the duo arrive with a flat announcement: a gentle tap-tap-tap.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I have heard “Ma Boy,” ma’ams (just today, actually!) and this is no “Ma Boy.” By which I mean mostly I miss the boom-bappier production and what feels like a lightness of touch, but this comeback ain’t half bad either.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: What the hell were they thinking in referencing “Ma Boy” in the title? I hear “Alone” and traces of 4Minute’s “Volume Up,” but tidied up into something dignified. What that means is Hyolyn does not deliver a stunning vocal performance, nor does Bora function as an interesting foil with a rapped verse. I was never a huge fan of “Gone Not Around Any Longer,” but in retrospect I appreciate that it had the audacity to capture the pathos of a Korean drama.
[3]

Kayla Beardslee: This hook isn’t big enough to carry a whole song (every time I make myself sit through it again, my score drops further), but at least Hyolyn reminds us that she still has one of the greatest voices in K-pop.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: When Sistar19 lock in together, they are unstoppable. Apart, though is a different story, When Hyolyn handles the first verse, she is confident and poised, swapping back in during the pre-chorus without losing a step, and leading the last line of the song out on a sterling, clarion note. Bora, however, meekly and gently starts the first pre-chorus and tiptoes to the forefront on the second. Hyolyn strides forth to sing the second pre-chorus with Bora, who gains a bit of confidence in the second part, thus leading each chorus to combine into a bold, all-caps declaration rather than the confident, capable delivery and the shy, meek delivery of the verses, a sign of trust that each’s approach will strengthen the song. They’ve worked together over the 11 years of their hiatus, growing into themselves fully as soloists, and their combined performance is proof.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I could talk about the way this was designed to be my personal dopamine dealer (strings, piano hits, dual harmonies). I could talk about the sheer amount of context I’m missing (a decade-long hiatus). I could even try for the mythical long blurb and turn this into a personal anecdote. But I’m at a loss here. Pobody’s Nerfect.
[9]

Katherine St. Asaph: Stiff, stodgy, and capable of exorcising any summoned groove.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is so frothy that it almost defies critical assessment — I’ve had the hook stuck in my head for the past week but have not managed to muster any particular thoughts about the song other than a sense of giddiness at the throb of the bass. Maybe that’s my failing as a listener; maybe it’s the song’s success.
[6]

Anna Suiter: I listened to this maybe 5 times, trying to figure out if “Ma Boy” was actually in the lyrics or just a reference to the now seemingly distant past. It turns out that it actually is, if you listen closely at the very end. An easter egg, if you will.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: The intricacies of these often short-lived K-pop subgroups make it hard for me to think of a Western pop equivalent to this. The closest I can think of would be if Patrick Stump came out with a sequel to Soul Punk in 2022, with a lead single talking about how he actually kinda hates Chicago. And since we’re on a Fall Out Boy train now, one could plausibly describe “No More” as a song that knows what “Ma Boy” did in the dark. The willingness to view one’s past with coldly unsentimental eyes is a useful skill to have in real life, but it takes some deft songwriting hands to avoid putting too much emphasis on the coldness of it, and to still allow some space for unfettered cathartic release. That deftness is evident only in patches here, and “No More” suffers by comparison to the effortless, perhaps naïve joy of the original. “Take everything you love and burn the ashes,” indeed.
[5]

Friday, February 9th, 2024

Chris Stapleton – White Horse

Sounds like “horny songs for heterosexual American couples” are having their moment! Here’s the second one this week:

Chris Stapleton - White Horse
[Video]
[5.67]

Thomas Inskeep: Far too many of Stapleton’s singles have been too sleepy for my taste, slow-burning to the point of becoming self-extinguishing fires. But on “White Horse” he sounds antsy and uh-uh-urgent, like he means it, maaaaan. This is what I’ve always wanted from Stapleton; there’s never been a question of his prowess as either a songwriter or a singer, but “White Horse” has a hard country-rock energy to it, and just (sorry) burns. His best single in eons.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Chris has a bellow of a voice. If you randomly hand a mic to him standing up, he can turn the joint out. It’s a rarity in the world of high-profile country to have bellowers such as Stapleton who can be gentle and wistful as quickly as they can be passionate and gnarled, but it’s a welcome time to have him. The problem with this Grammy-winning song is that he is too stuck on that bellow, stretching it so far he can’t take it in another direction once he hits the high notes in the chorus. You feel him strain in the last one: keening and screaming, but not yet breaking through. The guitar licks during the intro feel gentle and wispy, like dandelions for him to trample upon. But the guitar riff — that chugs below his voice before the drums during the first verse, echoes behind him during the post-chorus, then kicks in at the outro — is so powerful. He has to raise his voice higher and louder to not be stopped before he can gallop further. So when he really wails at the last one and growls the title at each post-chorus, it never truly kicks you in the chest the way it should. And the lyrics — written alongside Dan Wilson, co-writer/producer of “Someone Like You” — aren’t distinct or heart-rending enough. You feel the guilt, fear, and despair in Chris’s voice, but that’s a given — the lyrics don’t grip onto you, and you slip off Stapleton’s strong back. The words “If that’s the kind of love you want to wait for / Hold on tight, girl, I ain’t there yet” should hit you in the heart, but they feel noncommital, a half-assed explanation that doesn’t feel as deep as the howl says it is. It feels like he’s chosen to ride up to another woman’s fence post with the white stallion she asked for, beard trimmed but not cut, his saddle built for two. Maybe he already has chosen a white horse — let him ride off on his American saddlebred. He needs to feed the American cream draft bridled to Morgane’s fence.
[8]

Katherine St. Asaph: The song is solid. Really, it is. Couldn’t have been sung better. But the first few seconds, up until the second line, had me primed for something like Mazzy Star doing Liz Fraser’s “This Love,” slow-burning and immaculate. When the Southern-rock machismo arrives I still just want that.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I know Stapleton can build a song from the ground up, but the foundation feels half-formed here. There’s an emptiness to the bombast, a missing element that makes the structure feel closer to an empty freshman dorm than a lovingly decorated living space. Maybe a bridge would help, but I’m still left thinking, “Is that it?”
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The intro is promising: all moody buildup and slamming drums before Stapleton pares it back down again. Strangely, he betrays all sense of dynamics for loud guitar and louder shouting. That damn snare drum feels so out of place, just cutting through the noise in the name of something epic. Where’s the nuance of a John Wayne performance?
[3]

Alfred Soto: Do I hear “Wanted Dead or Alive” in that ersatz spooky acoustic intro? I do. Then Chris Stapleton’s brontosaurus vocals stomp all over the thing with greater force than the damn drums. To look for subtlety in a Stapleton performance is like asking Nicolas Cage for restraint, but would this palooka have a hair of Cage’s gonzo spirit.
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: The more Chris Stapleton seems content to be known simply as “that guy with the voice,” the less interested I become. And it feels especially like overkill to hear that burly titan of a voice going to town on what is essentially a late ’90s alt-rock track. Like bagging a squirrel with a shotgun slug, he belts out his lonesome troubadour bromides over a slightly hardened echo of Fastball’s All the Pain Money Can Buy, while the steady hand of Dan Wilson waits in the wings, ready to fence in any wilder impulses that may still be around somewhere. If Stapleton wants to inhabit the middle of the road more permanently, he should own up to that desire instead of trying to convince us he’s still riding along its untamed fringes.
[5]

Jacob Satter: Stapleton’s near-strangulated sense of urgency wants to goad this country rock potboiler to higher stakes, but the climb feels bathetic and top-heavy. Where’s the levels and the drama?  Where’s the variety? Good lord, where’s the bass? Grammy win notwithstanding, I daresay you can put “White Horse” side-by-side with a similarly structured but more ambitious shitkicker of a tune (say, Ashley McBryde’s lesser-heard “Blackout Betty“) and prove it hardly outstanding in its field.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I am absolutely not used to singers following up florid descriptions of the kind of love the Other wants with “Hold on tight, girl, I ain’t there yet.” And I am always a sucker for songs that nail specific emotions or moments that feel underserved in the broader corpus of song. It helps (for me) that this is definitely country rock and not whatever they’re calling what Morgan Wallen plays. The sound is a little generic but the lyrics are specific enough to make up for it.
[7]

Michael Hong: Stapleton only promises “not yet” on “White Horse,” never revealing how much he’s putting in. The parts where he falls quiet and the electric guitar sings sound like one more rodeo — not the last, who knows when that’ll be. It sounds like a thrilling dance so you wait anyway, hoping you’ll be the cowboy’s next adventure.
[6]

Leah Isobel: I think what makes “White Horse” work for me is its evident sense of play-acting; its cheeseball Southern-rock framing and Chris Stapleton’s living signifier of a voice automatically put quote marks around the whole song. From there, all kinds of interpretations can enter, each one sillier and more joyful than the last. Personally, I think this is actually a song about fucking and the white horse in question is [redacted]
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Look: all I know is that moms love this guy. I’m starting to see the appeal as well; while the hilariously overdriven guitars and Stapleton’s howl imply dashing romance and bombastic gesture, the lyrics are more interestingly ambivalent, full of moderated expectations and hints of regret. At worst I could see this soundtracking fancams for historical epics; at best I can pretend it’s an ode to one of the world’s oldest surviving chalk figures. ALSO WAIT I JUST REALIZED THE MELODY HERE REMINDS ME OF “PONY” HOW DEEP DOES THE HORSE SONG RABBIT HOLE GO?
[6]

Thursday, February 8th, 2024

Jungeli ft. Imen Es, Alonzo, Abou Debeing & Lossa – Petit Génie

Our third song today, and our first with no relation to murder…

Jungeli ft. Imen Es, Alonzo, Abou Debeing & Lossa - Petit Génie
[Video]
[6.69]

Nortey Dowuona: “C’est pas avec amour qu’on achète vêtements.” It’s a very cutting lyric once I found a translation of it (“It’s not with love that we buy clothes”), and it’s true. Jungeli, as a singer and as a presence (in the video at least), is a sweet, light-hearted kid who radiates joy in any room he enters. His voice is light and silken, and threads through the song even when he’s not leading a verse. But it doesn’t have gravity or weight, so everything he sings floats, including a Lingala verse close to the end of the track. His interplay with Abou Debeing, who also has a light tenor with a bit of bass, allows for a comfortable hand-off between the two. The lilting guitar melody that Jungeli mimics is light as well: it sidewinds through the drum pattern built by DJ Wills, who’s produced for the likes of MHD, Bramsito, and Alrima. Imen Es brings a weightier heft to the chorus when she sings it. Her voice is the highest on the track but feels substantial and firm, a comfortable interpretation of the notes placed in the front of the mix. Lossa’s deeper tenor can’t do the same, simply dragging as the echoes placed below him fill the track to an uncomfortable and unengaging degree. (Imen Es’s return is a blessing.) Alonzo has the deepest voice, the sharpest and most distinct flow, but it’s such a short, sharp shock that Jungeli’s looping verse lulls you back out of the abrupt switch in intensity. “Petit Génie” is so short that you think there’s nothing more there for you, it won’t put a career on Jungeli’s back. But you listen again. And again. And once more. It’s still at #1 — he deserves it. 
[8]

Mark Sinker: Such voices. Everyone in the room seems to be making a gently scuffed, breathily perfect pop noise, high or low — but honestly I wonder if Imen Es hasn’t the most beautiful delivery I’ve ever heard, with a kind of folded shiver in it. I hurried off to hear what else she’s recorded — an LP last year called Train de vie – but I came back again, because I think this company is bringing out the best in her. 
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: That first warbled vocal sounds like something you’d hear in a Burial track. And really, this is a song about the pleasure of hearing vocals. Each new singer enters the track to revitalize. Best of all is Imen Es; she sounds like water, so pure and clear.
[6]

Kat Stevens: It always amazes me when people release summer jams in winter. I can imagine Jungeli is hoping to get this track established well before the Paris Olympics to ensure some tasty beach volleyball montage royalties, but unfortunately it’s way too late for a rhythmic gymnastics routine (that shiz needs at least a year of prep). The highlight is Imen Es piercing through the breezy beats like a territorial blackbird — a perfect accompaniment for a fluttering ribbon. Maybe LA 2028?
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: “Petit Génie” mixes the frantic whistles and percussion stutters of gqom with sunny guitar and relaxed vocals that feel much more Afrobeats — but it’s all in French, with features from various hip-hop artists (and R&B singer Imen Es, who absolutely eats the men up). The result is pleasant, though the mix of influences feels less like stitching together a tapestry and more like throwing it all in a blender.
[6]

Katherine St. Asaph: Groove is OK, but every vocalist here is about 66% as good as they needed to be.
[5]

Taylor Alatorre: Am I wrong for thinking that this sounds like a Francophone nightcore remix of “Am I Wrong“? And am I wrong for thinking Nico & Vinz deserve a better one?
[3]

Jessica Doyle: If I squint I can see something interesting in the tension between the stated text, pointedly superficial and unsentimental, and the musical atmosphere of friends hanging out and taking turns. I can see why this got popular: it provides a nice backdrop for an outdoor party. But I’m alone right now, so:
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I really do love posse cuts. “Petit Génie” serves as a helpful reminder of their benefits – take a collection of middling hooks and verses, staple them together over a pretty but anonymous beat, and achieve something much greater than the sum of its parts.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: A lovely, breezy blend of Afrobeats, hip-hop and R&B, the epitome of ear candy.
[7]

Ian Mathers: My French is nowhere near fluent (or remembered; it’s been years) enough to keep up with all the different speakers and accents here, but there’s a lightness of touch and group-level joy that comes through here, whatever the text actually is. Posse cuts like this can suffer from a lack of consistent quality on the one hand (cf. how annoying I found ArrDee on “Body (Remix)“) and not having distinctive enough personalities on the other, but “Petit Génie” doesn’t break a sweat threading that particular needle.
[7]

Isabel Cole: Feels bigger than it is, in a good way — a sense of richness, lushness even, achieved not through maximalism but through the careful deployment of each component part. I was surprised when I looked at the length by how short it was, also in a good way, as if the song had created such a complete sonic world that time ran differently there. I like how each vocalist brings a slightly different emotional shading, even when they’re singing the same melody.
[9]

Leah Isobel: Damn, life is pain.
[8]

Thursday, February 8th, 2024

21 Savage – Redrum

Maybe we’re just bigger fans of Whiteclaw…

21 Savage - Redrum
[Video]
[5.38]

Taylor Alatorre: It feels five or six years too late to label 21 Savage the antithesis of mumble rap. So instead, let’s get a few millennia out of date and say he’s the most Apollonian of New Atlanta’s largely Dionysian cast. The metrically precise diction, the immovable stoic delivery, even the ad-libs, so famously predictable they should really be called something else — all of these paint him as someone who’s here to impose order on these rough streets, to make some sense out of this “American carnage.” “Redrum,” like the title of 21’s second album, is as air-tight and legible as a mathematical formula. The sumptuous yet vaguely foreboding sample is given room to unfurl itself in the clearly set-apart intro, before being made to serve as a compliant captive of the song’s mood-setting requirements. From there, it’s a simple foot-tapping journey from A to B, with nary a peak or valley along the way — something that might be a complaint if not for London on da Track’s locked-in, nose-to-the-grindstone production. The abstraction of gang violence into a pulpy Kubrick reference is mirrored by perhaps the most playfully gratuitous “pussy” recitation in 21’s discography. These are soothing mantras, for those who prefer their New Age tunes to come with NC-17 ratings.
[7]

Katherine St. Asaph: Opera trap! Outstanding! To be clear, the song objectively is ass, paced like a try-not-to-laugh compilation from the sample to “I got big cojones!” to a Three Little Pigs skit. 21 Savage seizes the top 16 slots on the hypothetical leaderboard for least convincing intonation of “pussy” (one for each bar). I don’t even think it’s supposed to be a joke, despite being a great one. But let’s be real: there was no chance I was ever going to dislike this.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I am far more affected by 21 Savage calling someone a pussy multiple times than the constant repetition of “Redrum,” which I guess is meant to have a flip, childlike silliness to it given the Three Little Pigs outro. The Elza Laranjeira loop is already phenomenal, and the gunshots sound pretty momentous, but he keeps undercutting the production.
[5]

Will Adams: London on da Track’s beat is great, flipping a soprano sample into an eerie trap arrangement befitting the Stephen King reference. 21 Savage can’t match it, unfortunately; instead he opts for some half-baked lines and repeating the title approximately five hundred times (and “pussy” approximately five thousand times).
[5]

Jacob Satter: Another one that would do well to read past the second sentence of Jasper John’s famous maxim. London on da Track’s hook is exhilarating on the initial cycle but Savage, who I generally have significant patience for, wears it down to monotone with monotone. Enjoyable enough in dollops, just wouldn’t want to leave it on repeat.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A half decade on from “A Lot” and I feel like I’m in the same place as I’ve always been with 21 Savage: equally impressed by the stylistic aspects of his music (That gorgeously wrought sample from London on da Track! His finely honed monotone! Bars that are pretty funny!) and let down by the laziness with which he yields them. He’s better here than he has been in recent years as Drake’s Mase, but there’s a maddening quality with which he half-asses his work here, like he’s figured out exactly the degree of effort with which to exert in order to create premium mediocre trap. I turn this up every time I play it in the car, but I’m not, like, happy about it.
[7]

Harlan Talib Ockey: 21 Savage lives and dies on the hook and the beat. This hook is no “A Lot”, but it’s functional. The beat is fine for about twenty seconds, until you realize it’s not going anywhere and its value is almost all in the sample. If you compare it to 21 Savage’s work with Metro Boomin, for example, the difference in depth and progression is clear. (Even this “London Bridge” mashup is an improvement?) There are some witty, quotable lines in here (see: “he stood on business, now he laying on his back”), but the second verse is much more specific and interesting than the first. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: 21 Savage’s whole schtick was being raw and unfiltered — at least to the first hosannahs of his arrival. He was making Trap Muzik — a form of explicitly hard, unapologetic street rap that both effortlessly combined paths of gleeful smugness and repentant thoughtfulness, he managed to create a whole pathway for his type of rappers until his essential smoothness turned to bland — wait. That’s TI.

Ok, 21 Savage’s whole schtick was being raw and unfiltered — at least to the first hosannahs of his arrival. He was making Thug Motivation — powerful, imposing avalanches of pride and success, baked in through his gruff, raspy voice and had kids wearing his shirts all throughout schools — wait. That’s Jeezy.
Ok, one more time. 21 Savage’s whole schtick was being raw and unfiltered — at least to the first hosannahs of his arrival. He was making Chicken Talk — ok, even I know this is Gucci. What is it about him? 
Ok, here we go. 21 Savage is TI without the dexterity, Jeezy without the bass, Gucci without the love for language. He combines all of them to make accessible pop rap with a dangerous edge but never moved out of his range — just rapped the same but with the bare minimum of quality. He didn’t actually change or improve, he just got accepted by folks for who Kodak, Uzi and Yachty were too much of a challenge. He was always what his now disappointed fans say he is now: he’s just doing his job. It’s no “Rubberband Man.” Or “Hypnotize.” Or “First Day Out.” Or —
[5]

Alfred Soto: What’s the point of this? That monotone? The grubbiness? “I don’t go through TSA to get on planes” — what? 
[4]

Leah Isobel: “Redrum” is terse and darkly hypnotic, yes, but 21’s sly, unexpected jolts of celebration and humor (“I don’t go through TSA to get on planes,” “Smack n***** then I get on Live and sing”) bring dimension and a loose, subtle playfulness. It’s precisely the kind of rap record I loved when I was in elementary school — in function, if not in form.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Really, really enjoy the tweak/loop of the sample here, the kind of thing that’s going to make practically any material on top of it feel more awesome. 21 Savage gets some good lines in, but whether it’s Kubrick/King fandom or wanting to avoid TikTok censorship… the best thing I can say about the refrain is: at least it’s not called “Unalive.”
[7]

Isabel Cole: I actually love everything about the sample — the songs chosen, the use of it as an introduction that feels almost like a framing device in a movie, the way it gets appropriated into the beat, which feels dark and sinister and brings to mind (appropriately enough, given the title word’s most famous appearance) a haunted house, creepy and cool. Too bad about the rest of it!
[3]

Oliver Maier: Who the fuck picked this lil sorry ass beat.
[3]

Thursday, February 8th, 2024

Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Murder on the Dancefloor (2001) (2024)

23 years on and this groove’s still got some life in it…

Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Murder on the Dancefloor (2001) (2024)
[Video]
[7.11]

Thomas Inskeep: Sophie Ellis-Bextor should’ve been the next Kylie — and for a couple years, almost was. Her 2001 debut album Read My Lips spun off a trio of top 3 singles in the UK, including this one, which has over time become her true classic. Dua Lipa’s entire career was birthed in this single, the dictionary definition of ebullient dance-pop. (It’s fitting that Lipa’s “Houdini” is currently the most-played song on UK radio as this single is re-ascendant.) SEB has never gone anywhere: she’s still making music, touring (based on her 2022 Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco (Live at the London Palladium), she still sounds great), and is now a DJ on BBC Radio 2. She just didn’t become the massive pop star she deserved to be. Now, thanks to its placement in a climactic scene in Saltburn, her greatest single is getting its flowers, climbing back up to #2 in the UK (so far — my fingers are crossed it can make it that final notch higher). “Dancefloor” still sounds fresh, certainly fresher than the glut of ’90s-sampling dance-pop dominating the UK charts. This single sparkles, SEB giving a knowing wink as she sings, especially on the line “gonna burn this goddamn house right down.” She knows what she’s doing here: making magic.  
[10]

Edward Okulicz: I bought this on single back in 2002, which tells you something (other than that I am old): it was an irresistible bit of sparkly disco radio pop back in the day. Move it forward or backwards a few years and it might have been an indie rock song for someone else, a filter house record, or (gulp) a Ronan Keating record. Fortunately that never occurred, and it’s a delight to see a classic gain new fans from age groups and territories that didn’t get it on saturation rotation. Part of it’s the solid song by Gregg Alexander, who at his best was a master craftsman of a much-maligned form. Another part of it’s the much nimbler, slinky production compared to the rest of his soft-rock oeuvre. And a very, very large part of it is the Debbie-Harry-but-English pose of Ellis-Bextor, too cool to do anything but be filmed dancing from the waist up while she stomps her heel into your eardrums. “Murder” really has everything — a catchy chorus, the tinniest guitar solo ever, hooks that fall as much off the words as the melody — and so is perfect for every occasion, even a movie I am never, ever going to see. 
[10]

Alfred Soto: Like the Pet Shop Boys’ “Rent,” waaayyyy too good for Saltburn perhaps Emerald Fennell thought their incandescence would rub off on her as if it were glitter. Part of a vanished climate of French house-inspired crossover pop like Kylie Minogue’s “Love at First Sight,” Sophie Ellis-Bextor presages Katy B’s regular-person anonymity: she surveys the strings and rhythm guitar licks like a party hostess keeping an eye on the band while sipping her prosecco.
[8]

Alex Clifton: I haven’t seen Saltburn and frankly have no interest in it, but this film has led to the Sophie Ellis-Bextor renaissance which is a net good for society. “Murder on the Dancefloor” is just brilliantly composed and produced; it feels as fresh today as it did twenty years ago. There are so many thrilling little moments from Ellis-Bextor’s vocal delivery: the way her voice curves into “about your kiiiiiind,” the little rasp in “there may be others,” the little trill of “dancefloor” in the bridge. I feel so biased writing this review because I’ve literally been listening to this song since I was a kid, but I’m so jazzed about “Murder” finally receiving the love it deserves. 
[10]

Ian Mathers: How can you not love pop music when it’ll randomly do things like this, suddenly giving us a song to review from before the earliest days of the Jukebox, that is here purely because of its use in a movie that I have not seen but am informed was probably picked on the basis of Ellis-Bextor’s plot arc in the music video. And if I’m not willing to go to bat for it quite as hard as I would for “Running Up That Hill,” I did love “Murder on the Dancefloor” in 2001 and it still sounds great now. I don’t find myself having any reaction more complicated than happiness at hearing it again and that particular joy of people liking something you like.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: If you told me this came out in 2021 and Emerald Fennell asked Sophie to use it in her movie set in 2001 because it was just that on point in depicting the time, I would agree. Then after taking out my phone, I’d be punched in the face and meekly give up my phone. Then, after watching you sprint into a nightclub, I’d immediately thank goodness you didn’t ask for the passcode and run like hell for the closest subway. I am three stops from home before I remember this did not actually come out in 2021; there are other Sophie Ellis-Bextor songs and jailbreaking is a thing now.
[10]

Leah Isobel: RIP Mark Fisher. You would’ve written a hell of a blog post about Saltburn.
[7]

Mark Sinker: Necessary digression 1: heraldry as a science in Europe is roughly 900 years old, a bright and stylised easy-read guide, highly rule-bound and policed, to class and land and title — which is to say to material history (its jargon-field is still mostly words not otherwise used in the UK since the 14th century; even property law is less lousy with extinct Norman French terms). And like many very aged things, it has necessarily also passed through phases and fashions, as technologies of display arrive and depart. In fact the first inkling I had that I wasn’t going to get on with Saltburn was the typeface chosen for the title on-screen at the outset. It’s a font with a fairly specific ill-set ungainliness to it: it wants to have the weight of “pleasingly and weirdly old; not how we do things now,” but it might just as well be some off-the-peg super-modern studio confection — or even (though I slightly doubt this) something custom-fashioned purely for the film. There’s no discernible care to the choice. Necessary digression 2: back in the late ’70s when Peter Saville was busily and insouciantly borrowing from this or that actual-real document or design, of such-and-such era, part of the point was the severity of the decontextualisation — except there was a rigour to the carelessness. The item was being supplied with an iconicity (the very word) pulling you in towards whatever the item was that Factory Records was then placing on the market. The surface glamour of the original was to be funneled through in such a way that its weight amplified only the new relationship. In fact (in its stylised easy-read way) Saville’s work was ruthlessly the opposite of heraldry, so very good at managing the ambient melancholy that suffuses the wider Factory moment; all the blocks and counterspells necessary to conjure here beyond the end of creative time as the context for the music to have presence. Anyway, long story short (lol) Saltburn – which would love to believe it has accessed the aura, for example, of the cover of New Order’s Technique — is attempting to juggle the same double burden. It wants to conjure a play between the decontextualised pull of 24-hour-party-people hedonism and the real ineluctable unremovable weight of actual history and actual class and actual land and actual title. Except for its story to work it needs both dimensions (hedonism and weight; heraldry and careless scribble) to register, as Saville absolutely didn’t. No block, no counterspells, nothing to dampen the disturbances — so when poor old Sophie EB’s voice and poise are scalpeled out of their 20-year-old chart context and abruptly c/p-ed into whichever late-stage scene it is, well, here they are, as a clumsy synopsis (calculation, side-eye, dancing, death) the structure really shouldn’t require, in a role the song is the wrong mood (a faintly gauche trifle, a chirpy hustle) to deliver. The movie never works out where it gets its deep reveal from, or what shape its politics are (if politics is even a useful word here). Ill-set ungainliness all over again: the carelessness floods back into the borrowed adornment, and breaks it in pieces. I don’t even love this song that much but I hate how it gets what value it has so gracelessly driven out of it. 
[2]

Jacob Satter: At the risk of killing the groove, this is a pretty boring choice for a manufactured revival track. Call me back when the kids discover “It’s In Our Hands.”
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I’m glad everyone’s having fun here but the more I try to enjoy this — either on its own terms or as an icon of nostalgia — I get nothing. Unremarkable in any year.
[4]

Lauren Gilbert: It was a [10] in 2001, it’s still a [10] now.
[10]

Katherine St. Asaph: The thing about it being 2024 is that in the intervening 20-plus years since “Murder on the Dancefloor” came out, approximately ninety million more disco-revival tracks came out. Some of them are by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even. And so many of those tracks are smooth where this is stiff, magisterial where this is timid (and not in a winsome Katy B kind of way; Katy got better arrangements), charged where this is inert and just generally unmurderous. It’s actually startling how inessential this sounds by comparison.
[3]

Oliver Maier: Even as a youth, before my brain was burdened with indulgent critical vocabulary, I felt like this song just didn’t work. I can’t pin down whether “Murder” is knowingly a little chintzy (dare I say camp?) or if it’s just cheap tat trying sincerely to sound boutique. Benefit of the doubt granted or not, Ellis-Bextor sounds like she’s doing karaoke off the sofa.
[4]

Michael Hong: When Ellis-Bextor pauses, it’s easy, like a quick and graceful end to a conversation rather than the expectant response to her more spirited word choice. She’s committed to this casualness, easily slipping away at the hint of a faux pas, which makes the occasional lingering word more charming. “About your kind,” she sings, as if looking you up and down, wondering if she’s got it wrong this time; the word “others” is trailed as if she’s daring you to eliminate the competition. In that way, “you better not kill the groove,” delivered with such nonchalance, becomes a fervid instruction.
[7]

Will Adams: It’s cute, Sophie is ever-charming, but there’s real problem when you’ve got songs in your catalog with titles like “Bittersweet” and “Heartbreak Make Me a Dancer” that offer way more palpable drama than the one with the word “Murder.”
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Every other line is threatening here. “Stay another song,” “Don’t think you’ll get away,” “You better not kill the groove.” Sophie Ellis-Bextor isn’t demanding fear, though. That’s what makes “Murder on the Dancefloor” so irresistible: she sounds like a friend, albeit one who’s deathly serious about having a good time. When you hear her, you believe it can be this good for you too.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: Wow. They were allowed to make these slick disco-pop reimaginings with actual guitar solos back then? We must retvrn.
[8]

Tara Hillegeist: It feels like a time capsule from another era in pop music entirely, because it is. There was a time when Ellis-Bextor’s stately, imperial, nigh-inhuman precision of a delivery felt like nothing so much as the edifice within which pop star royalty could be crowned, particularly in the world of UK pop; it’s still hard, even now, to deny the simple pleasures of someone who knows what her job is and then executes it flawlessly. But it’s been over two decades since this song originally bowed, and it must be said that it was the impact of songs like, yes, “Murder” itself that raised pop music’s skill floor high enough that such icy professionalism now feels like the most tiresome part of it — Dua Lipa does this regularly, after all, and with equal anonymity. No, what saves it, and ensures the song remains nothing so much as a delightful diversion (conditions of its resurgence be damned, I say), are the sampled whoops that come in beneath the guitar solo; notwithstanding that such a slice of controlled disco can credit itself with having a guitar solo to begin with, but the canned hype is such a stupendously goofy touch. It humanizes the song instantly, stripping the archness of its artifice aside to reveal the awkward smile underneath. The moment passes, of course. But the smile lingers.
[7]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: I’ve been waiting 20+ years for an opportunity to issue a dissertation on the songwriting genius of Gregg Alexander and by god am I ready. Though it’s hard to imagine it in a different form, “Murder on the Dancefloor” was apparently a cast-off single for Alexander’s New Radicals debut, replaced by the equally glorious “You Get What You Give” — like, imagine being such a talented songwriter that you can just cast off a song like this, knowing you’ve got an equally great one to replace it with! “Murder on the Dancefloor” is just perfection in Ellis-Bextor’s hands, with a galaxy of terrific choices in its production to go along with the amazing melodic structure. I still can’t help but burst out laughing at the initial vocal hit in the intro on occasion, a perfect, delicately harmonized coo of “Murder!,” cutting through the disco instrumental setup occurring all around. It’s as great a moment of pop songwriting as I’m aware of — setting the expectation of the song’s vibe from the outset. Ellis-Bextor’s lyrics are outstanding, cleverly arch but not too shiny, in the thick of it yet also gliding past suavely. The song is incredibly detailed, a carefully calibrated piece — it lopes by with a relaxed stride rather than a reckless dash, a well-tailored Savile Row suit as opposed to an H&M tunic, cut to the millimeter. Yet it’s also very clearly of the disco, built for singing along, difficult to avoid dancing to when it comes on. It turns on its heel at moments’ notice, with layers of melody playing off each other throughout. Matt Rowe’s efforts in production also deserve notice — this song sounds great, so distinctive that it is still eminently listenable 23 years on. I honestly have not a single thing to criticize about “Murder on the Dancefloor,” and it’s been a long time that I’ve considered it to be one of the truly great pop songs of my lifetime. It feels like incredibly just desserts to see it garnering so much praise now. 
[10]

Wednesday, February 7th, 2024

Erika de Casier – Lucky

Yeah, she’s lucky, but is she a star?

Erika de Casier - Lucky
[Video]
[7.38]

Katherine St. Asaph: I too enjoy “Boy’s a liar Pt. 2” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be.”
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Apparently, this samples both “Sailing” by Christopher Cross and “Can’t Let Go” by Linda Király. It’s also liquid drum and bass. Excuse me… *leaves blurb to listen underneath an oil drum, waits for 5 minutes before realizing it is empty, thinks of actually analyzing the song, remembers the 2nd line of the chorus, shrugs awkwardly, keeps listening*
[8]

Ian Mathers: YouTube comments section absolutely undefeated: I scroll down and the first thing I see is “Love the Chistopher [sp] Cross vibe going.” I do get where they’re coming from (WhoSampled tells me it’s Linda Király instead), but if I didn’t like “Lucky” what a weirdly specific diss that could be. The song always seems to be a step away from going full depressive breakcore to me, and I mean that as a compliment.
[8]

Hannah Jocelyn: “Can’t Let Go” is a lost gem from the late 2000s: too sparse to stand among Darkchild’s best productions (unless you’re listening to the Radio Edit W/ Guitars [sic]), but Linda Király sings the fuck out of it. Elementary-school Hannah was obsessed with the song: melodrama perfect for a 4th grader grieving her first unrequited crush. I smiled big when I heard that piano show up in “Lucky”, but I kept waiting for this song to explode the way “Can’t Let Go” does in its chorus and it just… doesn’t. Instead, it stays in a quiet register, de Casier not even phased by the breakbeats skittering around her. The production is excellent, even if I’m already getting a bit sick of the drum and bass revival, but there’s no catharsis beneath the smooth synth pads and frenzied percussion. The actual song’s sophistication is captivating in its own right, but the blunt force melodrama of the original is missed.
[7]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Erika de Casier throws the entire kitchen at us on “Lucky.” Between the Linda Király sample, the stuttering drums, the bass hits, the synths, and the laughs, her vocals are often overpowered. There’s logic to contrasting the busy production with her serene vocal performance, and it does prove very effective when the waves break in the chorus. However, when every element is bouncing off the walls at once in a drum and bass-inflected surge, it’s easy to lose track of the main melodic line.
[5]

Jacob Satter: de Casier’s wrapped-in-velvet vocal style brings to mind pop stars who have found ways to repurpose their delicacy as stridency (Nelly Furtado), as a firm corset of gossamer support (Coco O), as an internal monologue set free (Cleo Sol), as coyly kitsch confessional (Clairo). de Casier checks a few of these boxes — she seems content to hold the center, to be simply present in “Lucky’s” swirl of juddering trap, SOPHIE-esque squeaks, and music-box nostalgia. Her patience and clarity elevate near-house muzak into something distinctly, warmly human.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Somehow even more gloriously energized than the singles off Sensational – the drums feel like hail falling on a sunny day, melting immediately on contact with the song’s surface. Thanks to the great NewJeans convergence event we talked a lot last year about de Casier as a songwriter, but “Lucky” is a fine reintroduction to her power as a performer: that opening laugh, the way she says “Whoa,” even the slight lift as she sings “lucky” for the second time on the chorus. It’s all finesse, a highlight reel of perfectly struck moments that make the ordinary trappings of “Lucky” into something sublime.
[8]

Dorian Sinclair: There’s a tedious kind of social media post I’m sure we’ve all seen, where someone posts a lyric sheet from the ’70s or ’80s next to a modern one (I’ve most often seen it with Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)”) to make some point about The Decline of Music Today. The lyrics for “Lucky” could make an appearance in one of those posts, but the song itself makes clear why the core argument the posts are making is nonsense. Sure, repeating the line “another night” 23 times in a 3 1/2-minute song looks lazy on paper, but in practice? Hearing de Casier’s intonation changing, the piano shifting under her, the backing vocals slipping in and out of the mix? It’s beautiful! And it’s not beautiful in spite of the repetition of the lyrics, but because of them. “Lucky” is swoonily, overwhelmingly romantic, and getting that impact with such a deliberately restrictive set of tools takes a hell of a lot of skill.
[8]

Isabel Cole: Retro vibes — not just the tinkling piano of the sample, but a particular unabashed sweetness in both content and melody that seems less in fashion than it once was — run through just the right amount of champagne-bubble glitchiness to make it feel up to date, but not in an ostentatious way. More love songs should draw attention to the erotic potential of being a good listener.
[8]

Kayla Beardslee: “Lucky” is so delicate and conversational that at times you almost forget you’re listening to a song. Erika de Casier is one of few artists who can turn that into a good thing — embraced by the glimmering piano line (even as it shifts focus away from the lyrics), she concentrates on feelings forming and drifting by like clouds in the sky so the rest of us don’t have to, so that we can lay back instead and just feel.
[8]

Will Adams: The liquid drum and bass revival of recent tends to have a winking cutesyness about it (see the de Casier-penned “Super Shy” as but one example). It’s fun to listen to, but “Lucky” pushes beyond that to reveal something darker. The arrangement is in standard skitter mode with twinkling pianos, but throughout are throbbing beat rolls, glitches, and haunting exhalations, as if the song is threatening to crumble at any moment. Even the outro — an emotional tug of war between repeated lines “another night” and “too fast” — forgoes a standard fade out in favor of increased distortion and tactile whispers. Behind the timid smile, a more raw emotion bubbles up to the surface.
[8]

Leah Isobel: Last year, I ended a friendship that I’d had for almost a decade. I had always known it would happen one way or another: either by the slow drift that accompanies physical or emotional distance, or by sharper, more sudden means. I chose the latter option, releasing myself from what would have been years of confused and angry longing. I’m proud of that choice. Yet, I still reminisce about what I thought our relationship was, and who I thought we both were — to each other, to ourselves. The intensity of feeling that characterized my experience of the relationship made me feel fragile, girlish. Of course it wasn’t sustainable. But it was thrilling to see how long we could sustain it; how much I could take from them while minimizing myself; how much I could give to them without them asking for any of it. How many times we could go out together, dancing, drinking, smoking, laughing on the street. On “Lucky,” Erika repeats “Another night” over and over and over, each repetition surprising for the sheer fact of its existence. It’s not about what’s in the future, but the shock of the present staying present: day after day morphing into a zoetroped sequence of images, cycling but not moving, time itself standing still due to the horrible electricity of one-sided love.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A lot of people in my close friend group shit on Erika de Casier, constantly pointing out that she’s a mediocre singer with unimaginative toplines. And yes, they were not slow to mention that this sounds like Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” over a skittering beat that wouldn’t even turn heads a couple decades ago. But even though I can recognize their disdain, what keeps me coming back to de Casier’s work is the way her productions are integral to the emotional trajectory of her lyrics. You don’t understand this song without hearing that cackle and those sci-fi synths, which capture the anxiety and blissed-out possibilities of lasting romance. Indeed, this is the same artist who wrote NewJeans’ “Super Shy,” eager to define the complexities of a crush with a polysemic phrase. “I need ya another night” is repeated so often that it becomes a musical Rorschach test. Is it sweet and honest? Too forward and desperate? A sign of confidence? Of insecurity? Love will make your head spin, making you feel like all these things could be true.
[8]

Wednesday, February 7th, 2024

Kali Uchis ft. Peso Pluma – Igual Que Un Ángel

Imagine what a day spa designed by Kali Uchis would be like…

Kali Uchis ft. Peso Pluma - Igual Que Un Ángel
[Video]
[7.36]

Leah Isobel: Pretty!
[7]

Ian Mathers: It’s not that often that I refer to a song like this as “pillowy,” but when I do it’s usually because I like it a lot.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Ethereal, effortless, enveloping: an embodiment of the qualities the song subject espouses. “Igual Que Un Ángel” is the first song I’ve been wowed by in 2024, and just a snippet from Kali Uchis’ masterful and diverse-sounding fifth album. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: Three weeks after living with Orquídeas, it came to me. The warmth of Kali Uchis’ voice (as she heats up the electric keyboards on the verse): a nod toward the Bee Gees and other exemplars of late ’70s pop. The rest of “Igual Que Un Ángel” works as a luxurious resting place from the album’s relentlessness.
[7]

Jacob Satter: Immersive and affirmative bubblebath disco from one of the modern era’s most successfully twinkly practitioners. I’m speaking of Uchis of course; Pluma is here all but in name only.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: An underutilized Peso Pluma I can forgive, but it is cruel to hear Kali Uchis’ fluttering, wordless melody (at the beginning, and then in two isolated moments later on) and realize the rest of the song is content with just vibing. Her most evocative moment is a bilingual one (“La favorite de Dios… and she knows”), but any good will is lost when she throws in the painfully cliché “heaven must have sent you down.” Every good thing gets thwarted here.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: There are no English-language articles on Alejo Duran longer than a page. Shakira, one of the only crossover Colombian pop singers, learned English to cross the border between English and Spanish pop superstardom and has comfortably straddled both. Alejo Duran isn’t forgotten, though; he’s a need-to-know for Colombian fans. So is a lot of Shakira’s early work. Kali Uchis, however, is a Colombian pop star who has several long, well-written cover stories and has mostly sung in English. She has become a need-to-know for mostly American fans. “telepatía,” bilingual/bicultural in taste and delivery, is her biggest hit, and it’s produced by Tainy, a Puerto Rican producer better known for his reggaeton bangers than anything on his latest album, Data (which is also bilingual/bicultural, but he is not yet a beloved figure in Colombia). It doesn’t seem as of yet that she is as revered as Duran and Shakira are (emphasis on theseem”), but repeating the trick with a bored Peso Pluma and the vocal production of Austin Jux Chandler, engineer of superior Adele song “When We Were Young,” won’t do that for her. It’s no “Pedazo de Acordeon.”
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: On previous singles like “telepatía”, Kali Uchis showed that she’s adept at directing the production with her vocals as it flexes under her melodies. Here, she sounds both feather-light and intensely charismatic, the bassline and synths flourishing with her. The one fault is that Peso Pluma is entirely unnecessary; he’s unrecognizable under the thick vocal processing, and out of his depth from his usual corridos.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: My first exposure to Peso Pluma left me thinking: “Interesting, but that voice was not for me, so scratchy my throat got dryer the more time I spent with Génesis.” And I don’t usually try again under such circumstances; I’m not sure why I did this time, I’m still shrugging off the charm of “Ella Baila Sola.” But I ended up watching his Sneaker Shopping episode, despite having no previous exposure to sneaker culture, and came away with: “Voice still not for me, but the man himself seems charmingly bashful.” Also, there was a morning of singing “rompe la dompe” to myself. So I tried again, with Spotify’s generic “This Is Peso Pluma” playlist. After the Anitta collab (catchy but bland) and the Becky G collab (stronger, largely due to Becky G), this song started, and before I’d even heard a voice: “Oh yeah, there’s a Kali Uchis collab!” Because really, we already knew Kali Uchis could do this sort of dreamy floaty disco in her sleep; he was always going to be the wild card. (The first dozen or so comments on YouTube, hilariously, are variations on, “I didn’t expect much from Peso Pluma here, I was pleasantly surprised!”) His sandpaper voice turns out to be perfect for “Igual Que Un Ángel.” If anything, he’s a little smoother than he needs to be, as if he erred on the side of fitting into her groove. The score below is thus 60% obligatory for dreamy floaty disco done right and 40% a reflection of my homegrown parasocial narrative that Peso Pluma is a sweetheart who approaches collaboration opportunities as a chance to learn from other artists and try something new, rather than as an obligation or a way to swing his newfound fame around. This approach may not hold up any better than “Ugh, scratchy voice” did. But it’s a lot more fun.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: So lush and charming that even Peso Pluma sounds smooth here. When I listened to this for the first time, I felt genuinely bad for all of the anglosphere’s contributions to the disco revival moment of the 2020s, made irrelevant by Kali Uchis’ totalizing achievements in grooves. She’s always been a compelling performer, but as she’s developed as an artist her songs have grown into richer and richer texts. When she coos that the song’s subject is God’s favorite, it’s not just a passing bit of sacrilege but something deeper. She’s got this ability to convey devotion in a way that few artists are able to right now, an emotive skill that is as much nostalgic as it is novel.
[9]

Kayla Beardslee: Kali is the master of harnessing grooves that are just otherworldly enough: at the first touch of that sexy, sophisticated disco beat, you’ll be lifted out of your body to a higher (and simpler) plane, yet left with enough corporeal feeling to appreciate the delicate breeze and scent of roses that swirl around you, summoned by the dynamic dance of her voice smoothing away the creases in a swath of velvet.
[8]

Will Adams: Kali sings the praises of an angel from above, but she’s the one who sounds heaven sent. Swathed in reverb, her voice turns the relatively boilerplate disco backing into a hazy dream, where you dance in slo-mo as you breathe in the sweetest perfumes.
[7]

Dorian Sinclair: Both vocalists on “Igual Que Un Ángel” wisely stick to a very light delivery, skimming over the bells-and-synth soundscape. The whole thing would feel wispy and insubstantial if not for that bass groove holding everything down to earth, but instead, we get a frictionless glide through the song, effortless the way movement is in dreams. And if the song is like a dream, those final seconds when the bass drops out and we get that slightly off-kilter ascending line are like waking up, and realizing you slept so easily and effortlessly you’re not even sure how much time has passed.
[8]

Katherine St. Asaph: Sometimes this sort of soft-focus disco feels as if it could cast a spell forever. Sometimes the spell ends a minute before the song does. Doesn’t mean it isn’t nice.
[7]

Wednesday, February 7th, 2024

Teddy Swims – Lose Control

Harkening back to a time when music made you shake, rattle, and roll…

Teddy Swims - Lose Control
[Video]
[3.79]

Will Adams: Must be love on the brain. Or maybe just water in my ear.
[4]

Ian Mathers: When will The Black Keys be held accountable for what they have unleashed upon the world?
[3]

Jacob Satter: “He began playing instruments including piano and ukulele, and watched YouTube videos of singers to help develop his vocal technique. [4][5]” — Wikipedia
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh, yay: another big-bearded, face-tatted white boy who thinks he’s somehow “soulful” because he heard a Stax record once. And much like Post Malone and Jelly Roll before him, throw him on the burn pile.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: A great audition: four chair turns and a message from Rag’n’Bone Man. All theatrics are plausibly deniable, but the vocal capabilities are conspicuous, with there never being enough of a song to intrude on them. A strong message to the detractors of treading water in the natatorial world.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The history of soulful white boys is long and strained. The Righteous Brothers are one example, but they never got more than one big immortal hit (only one did: Bill Medley). There’s Michael McDonald, Bobby Caldwell, Tom Jones, and, of course, Fucking Drake. Each time a soulful white boy appears, he does appear acceptable, but only up to a point. Once that point has been breached, his existence becomes an anchor — not a boon — receiving enmity and bitterness for both his success and his inability to possess the skill demanded from truly soulful singers. As time has gone on, the five-alarm church runs that once ran R&B have gone out of style with the youngsters, unless coated in patiently brush-stroked Autotune. Even though live performances are a crapshoot with many of them, their excellent songwriting kept them aloft. Sometimes, their voices were so pretty that their lack of range didn’t bother us. Now, another soulful white boy who possesses the runs (with scalpel-level Melodyne on them) has risen to the top. The worst part is that his song is well-produced: done by Ammo and Julian Bunetta, a trained jazz drummer whose heavy-handed soul drums anchor the thin mix. The plaintive keys shuffle against the tambourines gently, as Bunetta’s bass lopes below and follows the key of the keys. But the songwriting from Mikky Ekko drags down this fantastic effort, leaving a held-back guitar solo by Bunetta bashing its neck against the withholding mix of Serban Ghenea. If only Brent Faiyaz was writing this…
[6]

Tara Hillegeist: Oh, this is a very passably lovelorn piece of uptempo romantic angst, the kind that sounds like it could just as easily have dropped off the back of Cee-Lo Green’s tour bus, circa “Fuck You.” But it’s not so passable that I can’t help but have my main response to it all be “Wow, your man’s such a tatted-up white lad, looks like he belongs on the set of a Guy Ritchie film, innit?” And now I’ve had that thought, I have to ask myself: when’s the last time I heard something like this from someone who didn’t, whose name wasn’t T-Pain? And now I’ve asked myself that question, I have to wonder: should that question still matter?
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: This is a good time to admit that I always thought Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was a terrible, plodding song. This sounds like a mellower, simplfied version of that. I find the almost-rapped verse kind of sweet, reminiscent of Ed Sheeran if he had a bit more soul, but then the guitar solo arrives and makes me feel disgust. It is not lost on me that this isn’t so far from Portishead’s “Glory Box.” The difference is that it all feels so rote, the elements already pre-packaged with an understanding of their meaning and import, and they don’t ever come together to bring the track to a greater whole.
[4]

Hannah Jocelyn: Does nothing new in this type of song (except for the weird keyboard warble, which I’m not convinced is a good innovation because it sounds like “Dance Monkey (slowed + reverb)”), but the production from Julian Bunetta is phenomenal — incredibly warm, but with enough muscle that what’s probably just a drum loop from Splice sounds massive. Teddy Swims is very much in the Rag’n’Bone Man/Jelly Roll vein of gruff belters, but there’s a warmth in his voice that prevents him from coming across like Mr. Roll or, worse, Oliver Anthony.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I get no enjoyment at all from listening to this. Every pained vocalization, every flanged guitar stab and demonstrative snare hit feels empty to me; whatever feelings Swims has do not survive transit. And yet, I feel a certain perverse respect for “Lose Control” despite all this. Perhaps it reminds me too much of the soul revival tracks that my high school pop ensemble teacher favored, the Fitz & The Tantrums-alikes that I dutifully jammed out to for four years. It’s not a style that moves me at all anymore, but as I listen to “Lose Control,” I can almost conjure bass tabs and keyboard charts to memorize and devote myself to (and can imagine the students of a semester from now who will be playing along to teenage takes on Teddy Swims’ adult melodrama).
[4]

Alfred Soto: The echo, horn blasts, and Soulful White Man vocal evoke a pop climate at least a decade past obsolescence, a reminder that a certain overstatement will always serve as a crutch.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: This song makes perfect sense if you just picture the woman he’s singing about standing next to him the entire time. 
[3]

Leah Isobel: This man said “problematic” like he’s on the Tumblr dash in 2011.
[1]

Katherine St. Asaph: Thoughts and prayers for anyone persuaded to fuck to this song.
[2]