Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Simmy – Umahlalela

Not too shabby for a first appearance…


[Video]
[8.43]

Julian Axelrod: It’s hard to talk about Simmy without talking about Sun-El Musician, the Jukebox fave who featured her on his last album and produced a good chunk of her solo material. As you’d expect, their sounds are pretty intertwined, and Simmy acquits herself perfectly within his world. This track is another Sun-El beauty, balancing a million conversant parts (a skipping xylophone, a mumbling bass, an army of sputtering shakers) into a unified, cohesive ecosystem. But Simmy gets top billing for a reason, because this is her show all the way. Her multi-tracked falsetto is the brightest color in the palette, and she divines real emotion from the depths of the groove. Most dance vocalists either dominate a track or sink into it, but Simmy stays atop the beat without getting lost in the noise. Simmy and Sun-El are both integral to the success of “Umahlalela,” and they’re equally integral to the future of pop.
[8]

Will Adams: What makes Simmy the perfect complement to Sun-El Musician’s soundscapes is the warmth she brings to deep house that usually tend toward melancholic. The lush harmonies are one thing, but her presence when up close is captivating enough to lead me through the five minutes of subtly building groove.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The loop and horns give “Umahlalela” a Friday-night-at-the-VIP-bar chillwave vibe, and it gathers intensity as it approaches its last minute. This needs no remix, no coaxing — this South African artist undersings to beguiling effect.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Slumming, glistering bass buoy soft, twirling drums and hovering AC synths as Simmy smoothly breaststrokes through the water, before launching into butterfly as the chorus rises, then dives deeper as the sax synths sink in and the bass starts loping instead of strolling, then evaporates when glittering synths wash down, dousing the drums and then swept away by them, drawing the bass back over the water. Finally, the sax synths sink in with the hovering synths, mixing it all into a gooey, sweet oval of groove.
[10]

Juan F. Carruyo: The multi-tracked choir at the refrain is just bliss. Very interesting use of dynamics, as the beat stays the same but it arrives to a feeling of thematic development by just adding or subtracting the voices, turning out a very quietly compelling track. 
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Umahlalela” teems with so much life that it seems aware of its own existence. Few songs invite listeners to get so deeply lost in their grooves, fewer still make you feel that their warmth is vital nourishment.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: “Umahlalela” features the same sprawling dessert landscape as Janet Jackson’s “Together Again,” but with an intellectual warmth rarely heard in popular music. Simmy puts forth an uncanny vision. Drawing on a dozen different references and yet utterly original, the single is a study in melody and the fabric of sound at the same time. Finally, one to write home about. 
[10]

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Cardi B – Money

In which it turns out that it IS all about the cha-ching cha-ching, ba-bling ba-bling…


[Video]
[4.78]

Tobi Tella: Cardi B’s incredible rise to superstardom was extremely quick, so it makes sense that it also didn’t take long for her to start releasing throwaway singles. “Money” has a fine beat and a fun chorus, but it’s hard to connect with because it feels like more of the same, which is troubling considering she only has one album. She can still make a questionable punchline work through pure charisma (“Bitch I will black on your ass/Wakanda Forever!”) but to be honest, it’s getting a little old.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is exactly the kind of song I expected Cardi B to be making after “Bodak Yellow” broke big last year. I was wrong then, but the arc of the pop universe is long and bends towards lazy singles.
[3]

Andy Hutchins: First: Producer J. White — whose fuller J. White Did It name is an obvious rip of Mike Will Made It’s full nom de boards — might need some of the cheese Cardi craves for her egg to stave off the lawsuits from the folks who produced 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out” and OG Maco’s “U Guessed It,” because only a skittering Lex Luger-era snare roll truly distinguishes it from those productions. But the greater failure of “Money” is that this is a Cardi doing more sneering than smirking rather than deftly balancing the two: The “WAKANDA FOREVER” punchline is a hilarious callback to the halcyon days of Black Panther being in theaters, but the jokes generally aren’t as funny as her best material. “Money” is a competent but largely unnecessary song, and seems quite likely to be Atlantic’s test balloon for re-saturating the airwaves with an artist who has already had five top-30 singles of her own in the last 18 months and has featured on five more top-15 songs in the same time. “Money” is already a top-15 hit in its own right, so, in a sense, Cardi can hold her own against titans of pop like Drake — but if she has to sound this tired while doing it, I’m all for her standing apart from Drake by spending as much time with Kulture as she wants before hitting the booth again in earnest.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Low, sinking bass drums drop, hop out the grave then swing as Cardi spars with it, ducking, wearing and stinging as the piano puts up her dukes, keeping her on her toes.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The production isn’t striking enough to help Cardi exert the power of her imperialistic reign over the listener, so her rapping sounds strained and bored by the end of the third verse. While references to her daughter and Offset make “Money” more personal, her personality isn’t what’s really driving the song. Without that, the result is little more than generic bravado.
[3]

Julian Axelrod: When your personality is as big as Cardi’s, a complex beat or elaborate concept is just unnecessary baggage. So I appreciate the simplicity of this track: a few piano notes, some frantic hi-hats, a disembodied “Money, ho!” and a single-minded devotion to the bag. It gives Cardi ample space to spread out and talk her shit. Sometimes I forget how inventive a writer she can be; even on a straightforward cash anthem, she’ll drop a line like “All my pajamas is leather.” If this is the first taste of her new album, it’s not paving any new ground. (This could easily be a bonus track on the inevitable Invasion of Privacy Deluxe reissue.) But if you ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: “Get Up 10” was Cardi doing “Dreams & Nightmares,” “Thru Your Phone” was Cardi out-Nicki-ing Nicki’s Roman persona, and this is Cardi’s take on “Humble.” She once again brings her personality, but compared to those other songs on Invasion of Privacy this isn’t as fleshed out, which is exactly what made that album so good. “Money” is more in line with what doubters thought that album would sound like, which means: some neat ideas, but rushed and not nearly as quotable as her best songs can be.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: Cardi’s insistence of documenting in-song her obsession with a never-ending pursuit of wealth is a well worn trope by now, so much that it’s conceptual but she never re-contextualizes the cliches she declaims or even offer some kind of introspection about how it feels to finally be on the other side. It’s mere boasting, and she does boast well. But I get no pleasure from this. 
[2]

Alfred Soto: Like Cary Grant in Houseboat or Father Goose, Cardi in “Money” offers the pleasure of a born performer basking in the audience’s pleasure in a well-honed star persona. No one remembers Father Goose either.
[6]

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Dua Lipa & Blackpink – Kiss and Make Up

Are we the forgiving type?


[Video]
[5.80]

Jessica Doyle: The other day, leaving the supermarket, I glanced at the magazine racks and saw a pop-issue devoted solely to BTS. Dang, I thought, maybe this K-pop-increasing-in-global-prominence thing really is happening. And now here’s another milestone: a perfunctory, spiritless collab where the invitation came from the Western side.
[3]

Katie Gill: This is definitely a Dua Lipa song that Blackpink got invited to collaborate on, not anything that the two worked on together. Which means that unfortunately for Blackpink, they’re stuck on a middle of the road Dua Lipa song. Everybody’s voice is amazing: all the women get to show off their lower registers to beautiful effect. But the song itself is third single filler: boring lyrics with a boring hook.
[5]

Alfred Soto: On first listen the fader tomfoolery and decent hook compensate for the invention; on second listen the kinetics create the impression that “Kiss and Make Up” has something to say, and the fader tomfoolery remains such.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Touch me like you touch nobody” is a compelling phrasing of an old lyrical conceit, and Dua continues her hot streak, providing a charismatic performance on the first run through the verse-pre-chorus-chorus that sets the tone well for the rest of the song. The song itself is a bit too slight to support the full integration of all four parts of Blackpink, but not for lack of trying. Yet in the end, “Kiss and Make Up” feels deeply unnecessary, both in neither-here-nor-there position it holds in the discographies of both artist and group and in its overall attempt to bridge pop styles. Even with that in mind, though, the song is fun enough to not wear out its welcome.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Tapping bass synths wash ashore with flat, clattering percussion as Dua Lipa glides over it all without picking up a thing, while Blackpink sink into the production and swirl it into cotton candy around them to float out of the mush.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: This sounds instantly recognisable — that buzzing, burrowing hook which screams early-2010s pop, the achingly familiar chorus melody — but feels full of character, loose-limbed and breathless. It’s elevated by spacious, clubby production and an oscillating left ear-right ear trick that succeeds in drawing me deeper into the song, which reveals itself as an atmospheric, idiosyncratic bilingual banger.
[8]

Matias Taylor: As of late, pop stars have been shying away from hyper-kinetic, unabashedly catchy bangers so it’s refreshing to hear a major-pop-star-pop-song so urgent and frantic it basically interrupts itself to launch into the chorus. Blackpink show up halfway sounding as clipped and polished as the expensive-sounding synths behind them. Their earnest, brassy performance contrasts well with Dua’s underrated ability to emote while maintaining an impossibly cool, detached aloofness.
[7]

Juan F. Carruyo: Cool vocoder intro that’s probably the third coolest thing about this song. Dem-bow riddim contributes to a heavy tropical feel that’s probably not as in vogue as it used to be. However, the best thing about this is how the melody constantly rides the upbeats in syncopation, both in the “ayayayayay” that denotes the pre-chorus and after in the bridge. 
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Much like the generic dancehall beat that Banx & Ranx provided for boy band Rak-Su, “Kiss and Make Up” benefits from having production that’s tastefully inoffensive. Anything too flashy would distract from the vocals, and there’s plenty of fun sing-along moments that allow for a personal insertion of personality. That titular line can be sung with the lustful wink of “Put your hands all up on me,” the casual directness of “This love’s important/don’t want to lose you this way,” or the anxious desperation of “Can we work this whole thing out?” And at the very least, it’s as amusing to replicate as Rosé’s “I, I, I, I” sequence. Your personal Choose Your Own Adventure, where taking part in the journey is more exciting than the familiar end result.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I like Dua Lipa and Blackpink both, but…
[4]

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Nguyễn Trọng Tài x San Ji x Double X – HongKong1

A Vietnamese trio heads to China…


[Video]
[6.33]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Befitting of hypnagogic rewatches of ’90s Wong Kar-wai films, “HongKong1” is imbued with the dim flicker of neon lights and the soft hues of pastel lighting. The synth arpeggio sounds frustratingly cheap, but this is otherwise admirable for its overall pleasantness.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: Jazzy chords underscore the very affecting melody, which is just five notes or so, yet it never develops, giving the song a cyclical nature. The soft and understated synthesizers give the song a slightly icy feel but the singer displays enough vulnerability to make this track a truly arresting one. 
[9]

Iris Xie: These styles of gentle, rocking songs always are so interesting to me, because they’re way more focused on sublimating the listener into a specific moment of time, like if you touched a totem in order to access your nostalgia. I like this one, but not so much as a song, but more as a mood, due how much of the song seems to escape to the ether with its extremely pared down sound, especially when compared to other songs with similar vibes. But still, it is a mild one that you’d sing at karaoke towards the end of the evening, with circulating lights cascading down on you and your totally drunk friends. It is also a song best fit for drinking a crisp, light beer and looking out to the ocean, with your shirt clinging to your back due to the summer humidity. Inoffensive and light.
[5]

Will Adams: Vies for lush but can’t overcome its foundation of guitar presets and out of the box drums.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: The chilled soft-rock could be Dan Bejar as easily as any of his 1980s antecedents, though the styrofoam drum machine breaks the mood somewhat.
[6]

Iain Mew: The Hong Kong that inspired this song, with its 20 million views and assortment of cover versions, isn’t the Hong Kong of now. It’s not even the real Hong Kong of the past, but the cinema Hong Kong of the ’90s (including, but possibly not limited to, sad Stephen Chow love stories). Perhaps that’s why it feels like a comedown flip of Mondo Grosso’s “Labyrinth,” which had present day Hong Kong for the site of the perfect video to its mixed ambivalence and electric possibility. “HongKong1” is a remove further on from that, possibility and action and blood drained out, a potent moment of preserved bittersweetness that has grown fuller with age.
[8]

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Alice Chater – Hourglass

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…


[Video]
[5.62]

Iain Mew: I’d prefer if it was a little less “Hung Up” and a little more “SOS” or “Beware of the Dog” (the heavy breathing and screamed bit are on the right lines) but if we do have to go back, back to 200x, this is a great formula to revive.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’m ok with artists aiming for 2000s Kylie and Madonna in 2018, but this hook is understated in a way that’s more tedious than trance-inducing. The bouncing bassline and flecks of synth during the verses are invigorating, and the bridge is a nice dynamic contrast to the rest of the song. So close.
[5]

Iris Xie: The trash gay in me loves this song, the sour bitter bitch isn’t too sure. This is basically a ’90s-style android amalgamation of Kylie, Madonna, Britney, and Gaga, complete with ice blue eyeshadow and leotard. But who is Alice Chater? There are a few good moments here, in the verses where she coos and does some fast half-rapping that plays with the instrumentals. But overall, I find myself confused by the song and can only label it as a “reluctant grower” — there’s no sense of abandonment and too much control. It has all the funk guitar licks that would fit in a Sweetune-produced song, and a hook-y chorus that could handle a simple dance routine, but fails to stick in your head.  The song is in a transmutation circle of its influences, it lacks a thesis for a head, and is disconnected from the verve of ball and disco culture from where this music stems from. It could be so much more if I just knew who this singer was, and if this singer decided to take up space and add some more them to it. A meandering myriad of middleness.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s always a pleasant surprise when a song that’s getting a push from YouTube and other PR outlets is good. Something-something compression of the nostalgia time cycle, but if “Hourglass” is a sign that tastes are moving from supposedly-inherent-to-the-streaming-medium tropical chill pop (a thinkpiece claim that has always been [citation needed]) to Kylie/Gaga electro, I don’t remotely mind.
[6]

William John: Well, I suppose it was inevitable that Lady Gaga’s 2008 aesthetic (itself highly reverential to the Human League, who provide the indefatigable synth hook here) would some day be revisited. Unlike those Gaga singles, however, “Hourglass” isn’t revolution or reinvention — just recapitulation.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: “Hourglass” sounds like a dance smash torn in three directions: in one, by the sophisto-pop of its Human League sample; in another, by the brassy club tug of its hook; and in a third, by the sleek digitized impetus of its groove. All of these intrigue me, and I can’t tell whether the song is weakened for not settling into one or benefits from the constructive tension between them. 
[7]

Will Adams: Electrified disco that’s equal parts Kylie and Dannii would catch my attention in any era, but in today’s somnambulant pop landscape, it’s a welcome shot in the arm.
[8]

John Seroff: That bassline is a “Loba”-alike and the much-bombast-about-nothing is straight out of Gaga’s playbook, but “Hourglass” lacks the pace, joie de vivre, and charisma of its clear late-aughties disco influences. Lord knows all this stuff is carefully contrived by definition; I suppose I either like the seams to show a bit less.
[5]

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Post Malone x Swae Lee – Sunflower

With great Swae Lee comes great Post Malone?


[Video]
[5.56]

Joshua Copperman: First off, can we just acknowledge how good Into The Spider-Verse looks? Not just in the literal sense, but in the way it looks to incorporate Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s meta tendencies into a genuinely compelling story. I hope it doesn’t turn out like Post Malone’s music, where the lushness gives otherwise banal sentiments the illusion of grandeur. An ideal soundtrack for Spider-Verse should be as colorful as the movie looks, and even the lyric video deserves a better, more relevant soundtrack. Considering what’s happened to the live-action Peter Parker, even “Ashes” would be more appropriate. But that lyric video is effective, doing its best to lend weight to an unremarkable, weirdly arrogant song (“you’d be left in the dust unless I stuck by you”). The movie’s likely going to be great on the visuals alone, but concerning the soundtrack, for now I don’t feel so good.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: It’s a soundtrack song, so it’s appropriately cinematic. Cavernous boom-boom clap drums follow deep synth bass tones and an air of menace. Though it’s Post Malone who’s ostensibly bringing them sweet sweet monetized clicks; in practice, his gravely voice emoting corny lyrics about being a sunflower is just very off-putting. So, it’s a minute and a half of pleasing melodies sang by Swae Lee before it crumbles down. 
[5]

John Seroff: Live long enough and you’ll hear all the radio stars of your youth gently rinsed and recycled into audio pablum echoing down the grocery store aisles. For a generation that may not have longevity as an option, this Post/Swae collabo helpfully offers prewashed pop, elevator-friendly out of the wrapper.
[5]

Iris Xie: Both Post Malone and Swae Lee’s delivery takes sweet lyrics and makes them sound labored and tired. What gives? I understand they’re trying to do a floaty, sweet summer vibe, but I just get the feeling of two men who are trying to woo another girl for the hundredth time, without really self-reflecting on what they are doing. It makes such nice platitudes sound generic, and leaves me cold.
[1]

Jonathan Bradley: I’m reminded of a certain mode of 1990s alternative rock, a style that had expanded its stylistic outlook so far beyond the rudiments of guitar music that its connection to generic tradition was its mulish white masculinity rather than its sound. “Sunflower” made me think of the spacey anomie of Filter’s “Take a Picture,” but it fits into the late-rock pluralism of everything from Crazy Town to OPM to 311 to Primitive Radio Gods. “You mightn’t like Post Malone,” an old friend told me when we were catching up for the first time in a few years and comparing notes on contemporary sounds, “but you remember his choruses.” Then he hummed a couple hooks from Beerbongs & Bentleys, an album I’ve heard once, and I realized how right he was.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: I’ve finally figured it out: If we want to make Post Malone tolerable, we just need to slowly inch him as far away from rap as possible. This is the most engaging and sincere Post has sounded in a while, and it’s on a song that’s closer to Drive-era synth pop than rap. Swae Lee’s presence helps a lot; he’s a similarly feelings-first wailer who twists every bar into a hook, and he’s innately charming enough to sell “She wanna ride me like a cruise” as a Hallmark sentiment. But their combined charisma is a bright new coat of paint on the conflicted devotion that pervades most love songs in rap today. It’s an asshole aria, it’s the dirtbag blues, it’s “Islands in the Stream” for guys who sell whippits at house parties. And it’s way better than the phrase “Post Malone and Swae Lee present a song from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” has any right to be.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Post Malone and Swae Lee use this Spider-Man soundtrack opportunity to take on the superhero role in a relationship. Is this codependency or men just being snotty? Either way, things seem awry, so the two deliver sweet melodies to keep things at bay. In the moment this is soothing, if fleeting; keep it on repeat and you’ll be convinced to stay.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Swae’s bray (brae?) increases in volume as his swinish admissions get more pronounced (“Or you’ll be left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya”), while Post Malone puts his gravel to empathetic use. They don’t cancel each out so much as act as amiable mirrors — they could easily have switched places and no one would’ve noticed.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: You can always count on the lead single from a Spider-Man movie soundtrack to provide a quick-and-dirty snapshot of the musical landscape. In 2002 we got post-9/11 post-grunge; in 2004 it was post-Unplugged Dashboard; in 2007, post-Coldplay melodrama; and in 2014 it was an unholy amalgam of misapplied talent and wasted money, just like the film it was made for. Now it’s 2018 and Sony/Columbia have enlisted Post Malone and Swae Lee, two of-the-moment sing-rappers with whom Miles Morales would undoubtedly be familiar. The track is clearly inspired by emo rap, but in Dashboard terms, it’s more “Hands Down” than “Screaming Infidelities”; the hazy atmosphere and ornamental guitar plucking are no much for the earnestly romantic, if lyrically ambivalent chorus. It’s for this reason that Post Malone, despite his “Rockstar” pedigree, is outshone almost completely by Swae Lee, whose melodic tendencies are more suited for earnest romance. Aware of his own limitations, Swae uses his singing voice with strategic aplomb, strictly regimenting his phrases so they pierce like beacons through the fog. It helps that he still sounds much younger than his 24 years, which results in the typical rap lyric “she wanna ride me like a cruise” being transformed into a singular projection of both innocence and precocity. This frank mention of sex makes his decision to self-censor by saying “bad bad” even less explicable, and thus more charming. More than anything else, “Sunflower” sounds like adolescence, an achievement that largely exonerates its underdeveloped view of women on grounds of verisimilitude. Teenage boys are perpetually unsure of themselves and act tough or spiteful in order to mask their vulnerabilities: nothing new under the sun. What songs like “Sunflower” offer them is a recognition of shared suffering and a chance to embrace their vulnerabilities — a permission slip to feel unguarded feelings for a few minutes. As long as there are boys and girls in America having sad times together, there will be a need for these songs.
[9]

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending November 10, 2018

Our writers are active far beyond the confines of TSJ! If you like what you read here, make sure to check out:

We’ve also been writing beyond the world of popular music:

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Haon ft. Jay Park & Hoody – Noah

High School Rapper graduates, matriculates at TSJU…


[Video]
[6.71]

Ramzi Awn: Haon and Jay lay down some sultry licks, and Hoody’s vocal is pure bliss. The beat channels Basement Jaxx and in terms of both structure and melody, “Noah” is composed beautifully. It’s nice to still be surprised.  
[8]

Will Rivitz: If a nightcore remix of Nujabes somehow turned out good, this is sort of what it would sound like.
[7]

Alex Clifton: I get a ’90s vibe from the production, not necessarily in the ~nostalgic~ way that’s been popular lately (thankfully no Britney references here), but more like a boyband backing track that is more adventurous than usual. That’s a good thing, by the way. I can’t say that Haon ever fully gets off the ground for me to fully get behind him — I remember the featured artists’ hooks more than his own — but it’s a pleasant listen nonetheless.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: For about 15 seconds, this threatens to be more SAD FEELINGS hip-hop, but the beat kicking in animates that piano line as much as it does Haon’s initial verse. By the time the hook comes in, it’s morphed into a jazzy Latin number. It’s the nimbleness of the production that carries this as much as the charisma of the leads. Not sure what on earth that third verse is on about but it sure sounds confident.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Haon and Jay Park do their part here, trading verses with ease and swagger — the younger partner sounding confident for his age, the older sounding enlivened. But “Noah” works mostly on the strength of Hoody’s smooth hook and GroovyRoom’s even smoother production, a Latin-tinged beat that keeps things moving at the requisite pace for the boasts to work.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: While Jay Park appoints Haon as next in line for his H1GHR label in “Noah,” the young rapper sounds hardly up to the task. Though his seemingly lack of effort is not so much his lack in skill, but more of a generational divide. Jay Park’s celebratory verse is almost laughable from it being tone-deaf at least against Groovyroom’s surprisingly maudlin, piano-fiddling beat. Haon, too, brushes off some passed-down responsibility to instead bury himself in his own thoughts. His boss wants him to succeed, but the boy really just wants to rap.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I was fascinated by Seo Taiji as a teenager. He was an artist who was willing to adopt different strains of music for the entirety of his career, subsuming them into his identity without losing a sense of who he was — something succinctly portrayed in his willingness to cover older songs in newer styles. While his story is one born out of an artistic insatiability, it’s also a reflection of South Korea’s curious position in the global marketplace from the late ’80s onward. For a people who had been oppressed for ages — be it from other countries or their own government’s military dictatorship — there was a question that could be answered anew: What does it mean to be Korean? It was a question for the country at large, especially given their newfound international spotlight post-’88 Olympics, but individual people could find new forms of self-expression after the strengthening of South Korea’s economic relations and the relaxing of censorship laws. Seo Taiji’s genre-agnosticism modeled what that could look like for a new generation of South Koreans. To be sure, he had the luxury of employing such stylistic blending because his Korean audience was less concerned with authenticity; the music could be made without a necessary coupling with its original culture, image, or personality. Fortuitously, his albums sounded less like egregious appropriation and more like self-discovery. Halfway around the world, I found myself transfixed; through his music, Seo Taiji had shown me that a scrawny Korean kid could be whatever he wanted, and no one in Western media was relaying that message to me. Listening to “Noah,” I hear five Korean artists presenting a similar aspiration for boundlessness. All five are noteworthy and self-made: Haon was the winner of reality competition show High School Rapper 2, Jay Park is an ex-idol who signed with Roc Nation and started his own successful record labels, Hoody is a singer and producer who has pushed the country’s R&B scene to impressive heights, and production duo GroovyRoom has played a pivotal role in shaping Korea’s rap scene into something wholly distinct. While the guitar figure and shuffling beat are clearly riding the Latin wave, neither reggaeton’s thrust nor trap’s all-consuming percussion is here. In other words, it sounds like Korean pop rap despite and because it borrows from elsewhere. In an interview with HiphopLE, Haon stated that Noah is an alter-ego of sorts, the “friend” who comes out in his songwriting. Noah reflects a desire for freedom and creative expression, and it’s appropriate that it’s simply his Korean name backwards: a reminder that whatever music he makes, it’s still representative of who he truly is. Jay Park anchors “Noah” with a proclamation that he wants to exceed the expectations that the world has for him. Crucially, he interpolates a line from “Garasadae,” a song that features three rappers from his label H1GHR Music. “Thus Saith H1GHR Music: Piss Off,” he calmly states, further establishing the one-track mind toward success he has for himself and his friends. Even further, Park says that he views Haon as an equal despite the age difference — shocking given the importance of age-based hierarchy in Korea. He understands that their accomplishments will act as examples for a new generation, and the camaraderie they display will only encourage people to work collaboratively toward their goals. Park’s cool braggadocio pairs effectively with Haon’s verses. The latter’s frenetic rhythms reveal that his take on such upward trajectory is equal parts nervousness and excitement. Hoody’s pre-chorus rounds it out by showing the underlying worry that always persists. After all, these modes of self-expression are still new to Korea. It’s all encapsulated in the chorus: “I don’t know.” It acts as an answer to the question, “What does it mean to be Korean?” Not because of confusion, but because of endless possibility.
[7]

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Marie Davidson – Work It

It’s the weekend! Time to relax KEEP WORKING


[Video]
[6.31]
Iain Mew: OK, Fucking Tell Me What to Do.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: On a functional, unlit bare stage of a beat, Davidson pulls apart every meaning of “work” like Laurie Anderson on “Only an Expert.” A literally commanding presence, she unsettles and loves it; every time the listener gets complacent, she takes a new nail to a new nerve.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: I don’t know who asked for an electroclash revival — let alone one with “clever” (read: not actually clever) lyrics — but I can promise you that it wasn’t me.
[1]

Katie Gill: I didn’t know that circa 2012 Scissor Sisters was a sound that I was nostalgic for, and yet here I am, enjoying the hell out of this. This is some beautifully minimalist electronic dance music that I fully expect to back a drag or dance routine sometime in the near future.
[6]

Alex Clifton: The “Work Bitch”/”Let’s Have a Kiki” mashup I never knew I needed, with deadpan delivery that is both threatening and genuinely motivational. I feel like a rich lesbian personal trainer has looked into my soul and told me I am not working hard enough, and boy is it ever effective.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: At first glance, this is the unholy hybrid of “Work, Bitch” and “Arnold.” On repeated glances, this is also the case, but that’s why it’s great. Over a beat I’m seeing defined as ‘electroclash,” it’s so off-putting that it wraps back around to being so universal, even Bob Lefsetz praised it. Part of that is due to how little Davidson’s cadence varies; it represents the need to work at the cost of mental health or interpersonal relationships, and that obsession with work defines living in late late capitalism for many. So with that in mind, I greatly appreciate the twist ending, where “working it” is specifically defined as practicing self-care. The only real issue here is when it gets too crude;  “is sweat dripping down your balls” goes slightly too over the line when the rest is tastefully tasteless.
[8]

Alfred Soto: A voice-free percussive loop is my idea of bliss, but Marie Davidson sounds enough like an anonymous late eighties house singer to almost sustain this four-minute novelty.
[5]

Ian Mathers: I’m genuinely torn, because for the first 70 seconds or so not only did I love this track unabashedly, but it never even occurred to me that vocals were going to show up; “Work It” was working beautifully as a showcase of tight, compelling programming (drum and otherwise). It could have kept up its pace for another ten minutes and I’d have been enthralled. Instead Davidson decides to start and then keep up a steady stream of patter that sounds a bit like the Egyptian Lover gone Young Republican. Maybe it’s satirical, maybe it’s sincere, but it’s a drag on the song either way.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Such deliciously stoic drum programming that gets diluted by Marie Davidson’s own vocals. I understand their purpose, but everything they hope to accomplish is either unsuccessful or bested by the drums and synths. The title is enough to inform listeners of how the instrumental should be read; if anything, Davidson’s voice is a distraction, sounding like a demanding instructor explaining what you already know you need to do.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: Marie Davidson is really lucky to brag that she only works five days a week and remains a winner. She also mentions sweat a lot, which is evocative but not hugely so. Now I feel a huge need to go to the gym and pump me full of ‘roids.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: The song starts and my eyes instantly roll. Another Kiki, huh, well here we go. Marie immediately implies I’m a “fake ass worker,” and I should be offended but I’m just thinking omg drag me, kween. And I shouldn’t think that, because this song is barely even a song — but then that unique beat gets to me and I question myself — what is a song, really? The song continues and finishes with a laugh and I’m left in a puddle on the floor from all the working I’ve done; but being a puddle gives me perspective.
[7]

Will Adams: There’s a line to be drawn from “Work Bitch” to “Busy Doin’ Nothin'” to this, a Kübler-Ross-esque descent (or ascent, depending on how you look at it) one tends to experience under capitalism. At first there’s aspiration: you wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion? Then rejection: don’t wanna work, I wanna make money while I sleep. Four years later and you’ve been conscripted into this life, no matter what. Over a spiky groove that builds like an assembly line, Marie Davidson guides you through the new mentality. It’s no longer enough to work to the bone, you have to love it, too. It doesn’t take long before she flips that aspiration into a taunt (“Well then you’re not a winner yet!”) and the colloquial notion of “work” into a menacing order. By the end, she’s just parroting the same platitudes (“You’ve got to work for yourself!”), the empty promises we’re told by others and ourselves to get by, knowing that in this system one cannot be a winner without crushing someone underneath. Perhaps that’s too bleak a reading. Perhaps we’re just in a funk, and all we need is to keep organizing and pushing and upending every system that got us here. But if it turns out we are marching toward the inevitable end, I’ll want it to sound like this.
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Capitalism! Very clever.
[5]

Friday, November 9th, 2018

Carly Rae Jepsen – Party For One

She’s back! But will it be Carly Slay Jepsen, or Carly Rae Flopson?


[Video][Website]
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Julian Axelrod: Six years ago, Carly Rae Jepsen released a different single featuring romantic indecision and a plucked string intro — maybe you’ve heard it? That was before she became a huge star, before she failed to secure a similar-sized hit, before her career rehabilitation as a critical pop darling. I don’t know whether the parallels between her breakthrough single and her new one are intentional, but it serves as a nice summation of her career thus far. “Party For One” isn’t an insidiously catchy juggernaut like “Call Me Maybe.” It’s smarter, sneakier, more patient with its hooks. It doesn’t explode into a cloud of confetti, it slowly unfurls into a mile-wide canyon of yearning. Its highs are high (the tribal drum thwack before the chorus is my personal favorite) but it doesn’t come close to the sugar rush euphoria of Kiss or the heavenly neon throb of Emotion. And yet, this is exactly the song Carly needed to release right now. After years of idolatry and hyperbole, she doesn’t have the luxury of lowered expectations anymore. There was bound to be a slight air of disappointment to whatever she released, so she stuck with her signature sound.  Maybe she’s got another “Run Away with Me” up her sleeve, or maybe she’s settling into a long career of solid pop hits that won’t set the world on fire. But either way, she’s figured out how to satisfy her fanbase while keeping us on our toes. Releasing a pretty good comeback single is the smartest career move she’s ever made.
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Tobi Tella: As someone who has always liked Carly Rae but never been a full-on dedicated fan, her return was still exciting, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like this. It’s not the deepest thing in the world, but it’s a really interesting take on the “self-love” anthem song- it’s not a bunch of generic platitudes strung together but a song about being okay spending time with yourself. It may not be Emotion, but few things are. 
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Edward Okulicz: Elevated from CanCon obscurity by one worldwide megahit, sadly Jepsen is going to experience the long decay in popularity that’s inevitable unless you come up with another. “Party For One” definitely isn’t it; its production is sparkly and Jepsen is vivacious, but the song’s basic and can’t even wring a wink out of its lyrics. Coming about 15 years after Britney’s “Touch of My Hand,” it’s not even an interesting set of lyrics, either. As cool a person as she seems to be, she’s a cult artist peddling pop of limited mass appeal to a small, concentrated fan base. Come to think of it, it’s as if “Call Me Maybe” never happened at all.
[4]

Juan F. Carruyo: An amazingly universal and quasi-risqué ad for masturbation as a cure for a broken heart. Sadly, this only has the chorus going for it, which takes up about two thirds of the song, so a 6 it gets. 
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Katherine St Asaph: More than any of Jepsen’s other singles, “Party for One” tries to be a direct sequel to “Call Me Maybe”; the first couple bars suggest its intro played on a toy xylophone, the same string flourish plays in the background, and the story is a thwarted crush (despite the internet’s fixation on one throwaway line) with a direct callback in “somebody’s in your way.” Like “Backseat,” it’s fanservice, exactly what anyone asking for Carly Rae Jepsen music was asking for. But once again there’s one sound that torpedoes the song for me, and this time it’s the vocal production: Whoever did it does not, indeed, care about her. The digital hiccups on “some-body” and the bridge’s “par-ty for one” are one thing, and a bad thing, but how does one of the warmest, sweetest vocalists in pop sound this dry? Fortunately, and fittingly, this resolves itself once the background vocals swell around her — because what is a Carly Rae Jepsen single for, if not communal joy?
[7]

Alfred Soto: I appreciate CRJ’s ambition to write, record, and release a single whose self-cannibalization is so mediocre.
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Alex Clifton: It takes about fifty seconds for this to really click into gear for me, but once “Party For One” gets going, it’s as relentlessly catchy as anything CRJ has ever written. My love for “Cut to the Feeling” was immediate and all-consuming, but this one has taken a little while, in part because it’s far more mellow than I expected. I usually think of CRJ as sugary high-octane pop that makes you want to cry from overstimulation (in a good way), but “Party For One” takes a different tone. Call it maturity if you want; it’s certainly less teen-poppy in its emotional intensity and presents a more measured view of post-breakup self-love. But maturity doesn’t mean an absence of feeling for a second. Jepsen still cuts quickly to an emotional core that few others can reach. “Making love to myself, back on my beat”: a whole story about finding and loving yourself once more in eight words, and one that conjures up the listener’s own breakup experiences. Other pop stars just sing about feelings. Jepsen’s great gift is that she makes you feel them.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Party for One” finds Carly in the throes of a breakup, its verses loudly expressing a lingering sadness that doesn’t get explored sufficiently. Its chorus shoots for celebration, but the pick-me-up mantra is laced with disappointment, the blankness it produces neither fun nor insightful. While it represents the sluggish and challenging ascent out of one’s post-breakup doldrums, this odd emotional middle ground is unfamiliar territory for Carly. It doesn’t grant her the opportunity to express the fullness of any single emotion, and it’s in this mixing of multiple, complex feelings that we witness the actual maturation of her career thus far. The most incisive line finds consolation in an uneasy revelation: “You don’t care that I’m making love to myself.” That image of intimacy and self-love and empowerment being sullied by her ex’s absence is disorienting. Even when she touted, “All that we could do with this emotion,” there was an innate understanding of what she meant despite the ambiguity. Here, everything she says is direct and obvious but the results are of dissonance and confusion. “Party for One” consequently feels incomplete and hollow compared to rest of her discography. Carly knows that anyone facing romantic woes will find this to be more true to life.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Her last three first singles from albums, plus a non-album single: “I Really Like You” > “Cut to the Feeling” > “Party for One” > “Call Me Maybe.”
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Stephen Eisermann: Reminds me too much of Hailee Steinfeld’s superior self-love track to make that much of an impression, I’m left pretty cold by this song. I will say that I could listen to CRJ repeat “back on my beat” for hours, though, as her phrasing there is top notch; alas, those are just four words of an otherwise slick, very uninteresting, pop track.
[4]

Joshua Copperman: The initial reaction, after “OMG YAS CARLY SLAY,” was …that’s it? The Carly memes continued, the sword memes resurfaced, but aside from a couple of “lol Carly made a masturbation song” and “omg the video has a dildo in it” tweets, the response feels muted. I Really Like You,” even as history has rewritten it as a “Call Me Maybe” retread, was the first time Carly won me over — the lush percussion, the sensual but radio-friendly lyrics (“how did we get into this position?”), and just how hard that chorus punches. Obviously, “Run Away With Me” is a flawless, gorgeously romantic song. So compared to those, “Party For One” is just so short and underwritten; there isn’t even a real bridge, and the arrangement isn’t nearly as imaginative or fussy as the best songs on Emotion (or Kiss!). The issue is that Carly is meant for calculated bombast, and scaling her down like this doesn’t work. Still, it’s pretty great. There’s nothing try-hard or edgy about it despite the subject matter, to the point where “making love to myself” might as well be a “Cake By The Ocean” situation. Yet this wasn’t written with Mattman & Robin — who also worked on the singles for Emotion —  but with Captain Cuts, who have worked with the Chainsmokers and Walk The Moon and aren’t as natural a fit as the Swedish duo. Yet as anemic as “Party For One” is, as little as it evolves, there are just enough touches in the lyrics (“back on my beat!”) and production to keep it from being an actual letdown. It’s a cliché to say that her B-game is most artists’ A-game, but that’s absolutely true here. Sure, it’s disappointing when you think of all that she could do after Emotion. But instead of getting a revelatory pop song, we merely got a very good one. 
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Will Adams: What’s great about breakup songs is that they come prepackaged with subtext, namely the “I’m over you/I’m not over you” paradox. It’s then left with the writer to figure out how much to pull from each direction. In true Carly Rae Jepsen form, she manages to tease out even more nuance, like the quietly sad resignation of “back on my beat” or the trance synths boiling over in the chorus. The arrangement’s more streamlined and percussive than she’s used to, which is why it maybe lacks some of that e•mo•tive sparkle. But in the throes of rejection, a big, obvious banger can be the perfect salve.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This has enough moments of greatness concentrated in its chorus– the drum rhythm, the quick switch-back from “If you don’t care about me” to “Making love to myself”– for the overall product to cohere. But from that opening synth onwards, “Party For One” feels weirdly on autopilot: it’s a Carly Rae Jepsen song that exists because there should be Carly Rae Jepsen songs.
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