Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

Hubert Lenoir – Fille de Personne II

Throwback… Tuesday?


[Video]
[6.83]

Thomas Inskeep: This glam rock throwback feels so gorgeously louche, thanks in part to its sleazy saxophone, but also to Lenoir’s vocals, which always sound like they’re just about to go over the edge of a cliff. But then there’s that defiantly four-on-the-floor woodblock, that descending piano that opens the song, the way Lenoir tosses in an “alright” and “all night” in the lead-up to the chorus, interrupting his French. And thenm that chorus just slaps you in the face. If Roxy Music had gotten stuck in, say, 1975, I’d imagine this is how they might sound today.
[10]

Alfred Soto: The slight piano boogie and white ARP noise is closer to ELO than Roxy Music, and I accept “Fille de Personne II” as throwback. 
[6]

Juana Giaimo: The retro style of “Fille de Personne II” has the right amount of nostalgia because it is combined with an joyful spirit. The wall of sound, the empowering vocal harmonies and the upbeat trumpets, it all reminds me of those summer evenings when everything is just alright, as Hubert Lenoir says repeatedly in the song.
[7]

Juan F. Carruyo: Saxophone-and-cowbell propelled and aided by a jubilant chorus that isn’t afraid to turn up the crunch on the guitar section, this is an altogether pleasant ditty. Then I started hearing the screams in the background of the instrumental sections and somehow, it became even more jubilant. 
[7]

Anthony Easton: I have seen him play live a few times, and in those performances, and this space, it has this kind of deep sincerity — what reads as camp or as irony is incredibly po-faced, in that Québecois Cirque du Soleil way. I’ll find it grating and cheesy, but other people seem to be fond of the work.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: You can tell how joyous this song is from its very first “hey!” The arrangement then successfully places you within a headspace of unflappable contentedness, and that swell two-thirds into the song is quietly invigorating. A good song to wake up to.
[6]

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

Phem – Crypto Bitxh

In which most of us do not express any interest in investing in Bitxhcoin…


[Video]
[4.43]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Significantly less interesting than you’d expect from an alt-pop-sounding Zoomer trap song. It’s “spooky” and has the “novelty” of awkward rapping.
[2]

Vikram Joseph: The mid-point of PC Music and Soundcloud rap was always likely to be sonically pleasing at least on surface level. The main rate-limiting factor in this particular reaction, though, is Phem’s lyrics, which don’t extend much beyond routine self-aggrandisement — it’d probably be fine in smaller measures, but this feels like a guest verse on a Pop 2 banger stretched across an entire song.
[5]

Katie Gill: This song just sounds juvenile. “Damn I’m hot as fuck” is a basic, boring hook to base your song around abd pretty good example of lazy songwriting 101. The beat’s all right, but none of Phem’s delivery sounds like she’s putting in much effort. Add in her deliberately cutesy vocal intonations and I’ve got flashbacks to various YouTube covers with a gimmick of, “Look at this skinny white girl sing Tupac. That’s the video! That’s the joke!” At least with this song, there’s nothing to suggest that Phem is more than this gimmick of deliberately cute rap, but like, she says pussy.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: This is what happens when you take a Power Puff Girls stan that lives in LA (an important note!!!) to a trap concert: you end up with a mediocre attempt at hip-hop that would be empowering if it wasn’t so embarrassing. 
[3]

Juan F. Carruyo: I feel bad for the narrator because it keeps getting scammed by fortune tellers and wizards. 
[2]

Will Rivitz: Though those putatively in the know will usually point towards the Arizona Iced Tea flavor of taffy-stretched hip-hop as the main stylistic forebear of the emo-rap currently chewing up the charts, the first genuinely modern strains of heavily distorted sadness can be found in the work of SEO nightmare Kitty. Nobody within two or three years of her nailed the same combination of airy carelessness, crystallized trap drums, and fundamental emptiness she excelled at; GOTHBOICLIQUE and BONES wouldn’t have existed without her trail-breaking. It’s unclear why Kitty didn’t make the splash she deserved, given there’s absolutely no precedent for her failure to crack the mainstream; regardless, her style lives on in various states of evolution everywhere on the charts today. As yet not on the charts (strange!), sadly, is her closest stylistic analogue: Phem, essentially, is a Kitty disciple with an ear for sounds more distinctly grounded in the present. You’ve got the same nasally nonchalance and spacey hi-hats in “Crypto Bitxh,” but the low end’s dropped an octave and the mid-range’s dropped completely. Effectively, it’s everything that made impatiens tick half a decade ago, but with a more immediately visceral gut-punch of quivering bass and vocal layering. Whereas Kitty more captured the sound of retreating within yourself as everything crumbled around you, “Crypto Bitxh” is the sound of flaming forward in the same situation, doggedly pushing ahead no matter how unspeakably awful your surroundings. It is scrappily, snarkily, stubbornly self-assured, a young-adult fantasy novel’s maelstrom of a climax delivered through the eyes of a demigod too powerful to maintain both feet in our plane. If emo-rap’s colorful stars were Marvel superheroes, Phem is Squirrel Girl: relentlessly determined and spunky no matter the situation, absolutely badass, and able to defeat Thanos by herself.
[10]

Joshua Copperman: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could physically fuse together Billie Eilish and Bhad Bhabie, they didn’t stop to think if they should.  
[5]

Monday, December 17th, 2018

Eleni Foureira – Fuego

It’s official (by 0.56 points): Cyprus should have won


[Video]
[5.56]

Alfred Soto: This Eurovision entry belongs in a Brickell Avenue club on Friday night, not a stage. 
[3]

Katie Gill: Is this discount Shakira? Absolutely. But sometimes all you want from a song is discount Shakira with typical Eurovision corny-ass lyrics: this offender is “you’ve got me pelican fly-fly-flying.” And this is so much fun! That “ah yeah ah yeah” is perfectly patented sing-along followed by a big sexy drop. This song does exactly what it needs to do in an amazingly catchy way and that’s why it got second place in Eurovision this year.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: The Latin/Caribbean influence — dembow beat, breezy synths and all — may be the big appeal of the track, but “Fuego” still contained enough Greek ethno-pop elements to make a bonafide Cypriot ESC entry. Add Eleni’s huge personality and you get the European Song of the Summer, a Eurovision runner-up that deserved more, and the best version of Fifth Harmony we never really got. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Can confirm that this had plenty of radio legs in Europe long after the contest was over, but where I think it falls down slightly is that its biggest musical hook is an instrumental, not vocal, one. That’s always a penalty of a chart position or leaderboard position or two. Still, it’s impressive how this contemporary-for-Eurovision (which means slightly dated in real life) didn’t fall into the uncanny valley between lame and cool. It’s just much less a great song than it was a terrific spectacle on the night. Looking forward to more countries adopting the “What would Rihanna do?” principle a lot, though.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: More Eurovision songs than you’d think stand up after the contest, if you’re willing to sift through the hundreds of chancers. A few of my favorites: Hanna Lindblad’s “Manipulated,” which is like Natalia Kills doing “S&M” — no, that isn’t just Natalia Kills — or Laura Nox’s “Save a Little Love,” which was not actually a Eurovision song but demands to be sung under strobe lights, on a fake cliff, in a dress thrice your height. Thing is, though, their quality is dependent on the quality of the era’s workaday pop music. On stage “Fuego” sounded like plausible pop; offstage it’s mediocre Maroon 5 or Gwen Stefani.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: “Step one: believe in it,” a wise man once noted, “and sing it all day long. Step two: just roll with it — that’s how you write a song”. “Fuego” is proof, if proof be needed, that that man was right. “Yeah yeah, fire” — what could be simpler? As elementary as air, earth and water (and also pelicans), its slickness may have made it a less interesting winner than “Toy,” but if Eurovision were a search for songs with hit potential, Foureira would have the edge.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The impact of the first chorus’s drop is huge. The rest? Not so hot.
[3]

Juan F. Carruyo: This tune marries a reggaeton beat with a more Mediterranean flavor provided by sampled violins that run through the main hook of the song. Now, the hook itself treads a bit too heavily on rampant exoticism for my taste, thus a notch is docked. 
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: This is paint-by-numbers 2018 pop, so your mileage may vary depending upon how played-out you feel the production has become. I find the titular hook phoned-in, cynically playing into the vaguely international feel of the beat. But I still find a lot of life left in the stomping drums and the humming beat drop despite Eleni Foureira’s faithful following of instructions, so let’s consider “Fuego” a success.
[6]

Monday, December 17th, 2018

IN2IT – SnapShot

We’ll count this as our being into it…


[Video]
[6.00]

Maxwell Cavaseno: A clenched electro-tinged number that lives and dies by its senses of tension. The “heartbeat” ‘rap’ feels a little too mealy, but then shifting into that off-key descending melody’s plummet is a real fascinating tic. Meanwhile the chorus with it’s “muffled” boom feels stifled, making the amped-up final pre-chorus all the more frustrating. IN2IT definitely appear to be at home with the dark and sleek number, yet there’s a real frustration in how much better it could be with a little bit of adjustment.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The opening bass sequencer burbles, an ominous callback to early New Order. The leap to the euphoric chorus works too. The rap, though, is truly a snapshot — a moment in time we K-pop fans will remember as a late 2010s trend.
[6]

Anna Suiter: “SnapShot” is a strange beast of a K-pop dance song. The metaphor leans a little more into the strangely sexual (“The look you’re giving me is sticky”) and the plainly seductive (“Our fingers will touch/I’m bewitching you.”) In2it don’t care either way, although maybe they should. Even if they came out of a survival show on the same network as Produce 101, Boys 24 wasn’t near as well watched and the format of the show wasn’t as easy to understand. It’s also much harder to take risks when the group isn’t backed by either a big agency or a long tenure in the industry. Even if SnapShot isn’t actually the most risky song out there, but it’s a very deliberate throwback to a kind of messy concept song that isn’t made as much anymore. “The Boys” by SNSD is what immediately comes to mind for a comparison, even if it’s a girl group song. (Although a boy group has, in fact, covered it this year.) It’s an interesting look for a boy band to do a song like this now no matter what. And it doesn’t let up until the end, either, whether you like the spoken sections or not.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hard to imagine a song that better pinpoints my recent, personal crisis with K-pop. “SnapShot” features the shameless genre-blending that I love so much about the genre, but it also sounds like it should’ve come out in 2014. While it’s bigger than ever, K-pop hasn’t been producing singles that I feel are pushing the music any further, and “SnapShot” just feels like it’s treading familiar territory. Having that gut feeling about K-pop compound throughout the entirety of 2018 makes hearing this incredibly frustrating.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: “SnapShot” seems to be made of many small segments that not always fit in together —  the whispered “snapshot” at the end of the choruses is a good example as well as the high-pitched noises that suddenly appear out of nowhere. 
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: IN2IT are so full of themselves in “SnapShot,” but that is the song’s very delight. The self-obsession is all over the lyrics, and that chka-chka photo-snap hook becomes even better when you learn they are making those sounds themselves to soundtrack them entering a room. The real show-stealer, though, is Hyunuk’s “heart beat goes fast” bit that immediately introduces the knowingly cheesy tone set by this playfully vain single.
[6]

Monday, December 17th, 2018

Leverage Models – Senators

A missive from pre-2016…


[Video]
[6.00]

Ian Mathers: Leverage Models’ first record was already off-kilter, but Whites (finished before the last US Presidential election, shelved partly in reaction to it, and released in 2018 still in reaction to it) is so in the kind of way that seems like it could lurch into an explosion at any given moment. Shannon Fields and Alena Spanger both sing sweetly, often with panic coating their voices, through machines and the music shifts and lurches beneath them, irruptions of light, Joseph Shabason’s saxophone, and things crashing to the ground at intervals. It feels pre- or mid-apocalyptic in exactly the way that 2018 can feel, so much so that it might have seemed nightmarish in a different way back when it was first made (whereas now “this is not our protest, this is just the end of progress” feels like an appropriately guarded assessment). That doesn’t mean there aren’t small moments of humane resilience scattered throughout (and elsewhere on Whites, coffee made on hotplates, ramen eaten in hallways); hell, I’d argue most or all of Fields’s work is a kind of love song to humanity as we’re all in the middle of being eaten alive. But it’s also, in its sometimes chaotic vitality, music for being as mad and as scared as hell, and furthermore, for doing something more than just observing the world.
[10]

Alfred Soto: The synths and electronic vocals do their best to wrap tinsel around a song about expressing yourself when words fail, and Leverage Models for the most part succeed even when sections threaten to veer into nostalgia for 2010-era Foster the People.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: “Senators” starts as a shy song that reminds me of The Postal Servce, but it soon starts growing with a deep darkness that is creepy and at the same time a bit sensitive. Unfortunately, it then goes back to the quieter verses and never recovers that power of the first chorus.
[7]

Juan F. Carruyo: A very scary track that sounds like the music of a dystopian future where humanity is forced to go underground.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: “Senators” is etched in such fine detail that its patters and textures could be miniaturized again and again until they’ve vanished entirely.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A hodgepodge of ideas that sound bad on paper and in practice. It’s not straightforward enough to sound like a typical pop song, so I’m forced to reflect on what the lyrics are trying to convey. In doing so, I find its timely yet oblique message to be bogged down by unsavory theatrics. Most frustrating is the excessive vocal-processing, ultimately failing to capture anything resembling dread or resilience or confusion. I admire the ambition of “Senators,” but it just doesn’t come together coherently.
[3]

Vikram Joseph: It’s hard to get to grips with “Senators.” By turns serene and high-strung, disarmingly mundane and obliquely socio-political, it’s an intriguing shape-shifter of a song which nonetheless manages to pack a memorable punch in the chorus; you probably won’t sing along to “you’re a measuring tool, an instrument for shaking down a government in turmoil,” but the skittish beats and deceptive melodicism will probably stalk your brain; it brings to mind Ryan Hemsworth, maybe, or an anti-romantic second Postal Service album. Is this “measuring tool” the same person he talks about eating “ramen in the hallway” with? I mean, who knows. As a lyrics person, I feel conflicted here — lines like “I feel the Gulf Stream/high on that kind of mid-morning sunlight/the kind of light that sells a lie” jump out to me (not to mention emotional jabs like “Do I remind you of your Dad?”), but when something is so wilfully tangential and conceptually nebulous it’s hard to fully engage with it.
[6]

Monday, December 17th, 2018

Kizuna AI – Hello Morning

Hello Amnesty Week Two!


[Video]
[6.57]

Ryo Miyauchi: Associations of technology, The Future and robots are trite cliches at this point in discussion of heavily synthesized electronic pop music, though it’s intriguing to find something like the music of Kizuna AI where the product seems like a reverse-engineering of that phenomenon. Context guides and subconsciously informs its landscape: the seiyuu-like idol voice singing over sugary, hyperactive bass music is more or less what casual music-listeners might imagine how a pop single by a Japanese virtual YouTuber to sound. That said, the expectations producing a rather normal reality is actually comforting when I can also see other, more purportedly ~experimental~ musicians leaning into the Uncanny Valley aspect to the concept behind Kizuna AI by either exaggerating or entirely removing her humanness. Without the context, “Hello Morning” can blend in alongside a CY8ER single or a SoundCloud upload by a netlabel, but that very lack of novelty is one of the most compelling things about it.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: As someone whose single biggest pet peeve in culture writing is smug hand-waving freakoutery about “the algorithms” by people who clearly have no idea what an algorithm is (baking is an algorithm! long division is an algorithm!), I wanted to like this on principle — especially since such freakoutery tends to mention Vocaloid toward the end of the thinkpiece, aculturally and gapingly, like an ominous sting chord. Unfortunately, besides one part that sounds like a CANYON.MID remix, one part that sounds like a pinball machine going into multiball mode, and a stepped-up peppiness throughout, this mostly sounds like the Chainsmokers.
[5]

Iain Mew: The song does nothing to sell me on Kizuna AI as concept or vocalist. I don’t mind too much, because it’s got synth drops that are like someone’s hit an accelerator and the world has blurred into fast-forward sparkle.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Hello, Morning” bursts with so much technicolor energy that it seems twice its length. The relative lack of dynamics, though, flattens everything it has going for it. Still, this type of frenetic, post-Soundcloud club music is always going to be enjoyable for being as fun as it is propulsive. In short: the rare song that’s endlessly listenable, but not necessarily better for being so.
[6]

Ian Mathers: I was sort of lukewarm for the first 25 seconds until those synths that wind up mostly dominating the track (the ones that sound to me on headphones like they’re giant hammers made of cotton candy that are slowly demolishing the track) meet up with the skittering little beat and although I remain pretty indifferent to the vocals (the voice actress is doing a good job, it’s just secondary to the music for me!) I am loving that production. As for the whole “virtual YouTuber” thing, it makes me feel old enough that I have to resort to quoting John Mulaney: “You know those days when you’re like ‘this might as well happen.’ Our adult life is already so goddamn weird.”
[7]

Katie Gill: It only makes sense that a virtual YouTuber will try and make a break into the music industry the way that flesh and blood YouTubers do. And this is exactly the sort of song that you’d expect! It’s bright, peppy, and the interesting backing and drop are doing a LOT of the work. The vocal line is simple as heck, which a: probably has something to do with software nonsense (fun fact! I’m a liberal arts major and don’t know shit about computers!) but provides a really wonderful contrast to the frantic, jittery, slightly glitch-like backing. The end result isn’t anything special: I suspect that any popularity will happen on the strength of Kizuna AI’s fanbase instead of the song itself. But it’s interesting enough that it sure as hell got my attention on the first listen.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: When Kizuna AI was chosen to interview a Nobel-winning scientist on Japanese national television, her appearance sparked a heated debate over the gender implications of the moe archetype she embodies. Patrick Galbraith, borrowing from Deleuze, describes the moe character as a “body without organs” — a bundle of desired traits whose disconnect from real-world consequence allows for boundless fantastical (or “virtual”) potential. This narrative ambiguity allows the character to be both pure and sexual, an object of nurturing or lust, inaccessible yet endlessly exploitable. Viewed even more cynically, moe is the marketing to lonely young men of a retreat into idealized pre-adulthood; there’s a reason most “cute girl” anime series have post-midnight time slots. Lately, however, this perception seems to be shifting among Western audiences: A Place Further Than the Universe is on a New York TimesBest of 2018” list, Doki Doki Literature Club! is an indie game phenomenon, Zombie Land Saga is lauded for its trans representation, and K-On! director Naoko Yamada is increasingly recognized for her cinematic genius. And then there’s Kizuna AI, the culmination of decades of Japanese media trends, not least of which is the value of anonymity. While she’s not without her fanservice moments, the impromptu nature of her videos makes her more than a passive vessel for unfulfilled desire. Look beyond the sci-fi premise and it becomes clear that the person portraying Kizuna AI is an ordinary girl with ordinary interests who reacts in ordinary ways to, say, not getting the card she wanted in a mobile game. Still, the A.I. conceit is an important one, and “Hello, Morning” demonstrates her adeptness at playing that character in a way that deepens the connection between performer and audience. She begins by recalling the precise moment she was born, with “ohayou” as her “Hello World,” and ends with a determination to live out her “neverending story.” In between we hear the process of identity formation play out in real time, a speed-run of adolescence that aims to elicit fellow feeling rather than head-patting pity. Sparkly future bass serves as the backdrop to her existentialism, and for the most part it’s predictable enough to have been procedurally generated. But then those drums kick in, and it sounds like Ai-chan is trying to physically break down the barriers between worlds, or at least convince us she can pass the Turing test. Her voice is what ties all this together — uncertain yet hopeful, and at just the right pitch to pierce through the headrush. She alternates between enunciations of “hello” like she’s A/B testing, but sings “I love you world” with the zeal of the newly converted. In the end, Kizuna AI’s love for the outside world was a discovery she made for herself, not one that was made for her. An entire season of character development in under four minutes — how can a body with organs keep up with that?
[9]

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending December 15, 2018

As the year winds down, our writers are getting ready for 2019. But we still have some new work for you to check out:

Also note that the anthology A Hidden Landscape Once a Week, edited by Mark Sinker, is available for pre-order. It won’t be out for Christmas, but you can take the image of the front cover and make a very pretty gift certificate!

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Pentagon – Shine

And this lot lost a member last month, but they got reviewed by us this month, so they’ve come out ahead.


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Much like offerings from Block B and iKON, Pentagon’s “Shine” feels like K-pop’s attempt at approximating 2000s pop rock. Like those songs, the instrumentation here feels deliberately chosen to best portray its narrative. The clinking piano and light/heavy dynamic at play is at once cartoonish and true to life: a K-drama in miniature. The guys sing with a nervousness about approaching a girl, and it manifests in the form of cleared throats, pounding drums, and dramatic vocalizing. Kino and Yeo One’s singing in the second pre-chorus illuminates the tenderness of their statements, and hearing them call themselves losers reads as self-deprecating defense mechanism. In other words, their only expectant result is of failure, so they’ll speak lowly of themselves to mitigate any disastrous effects. But like many who engage in such behavior, there’s an oscillation between depressive pessimism and hopeful positivity, and it’s beautifully depicted in the chorus. The latter ultimately triumphs, and the bridge becomes a moment of self-reflection and confidence building. As it builds, the anxiety-filled boom of the pre-chorus’s drums are replaced with something far more levelheaded. The final chorus thus feels like a reset of the previous ones; it may not be that different, but it feels like they’re more confident than ever when singing, “I’m only yours.” And with the final line, they refuse to call themselves losers once more, instead proclaiming that they’ll shine.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Deliberately pathetic, with the intent of finding charm in its enfeebled clumsiness and heartsick puppy dog love, “Shine” is just maybe a little too dedicated to its sweet spots to stick a landing. Yes, the trap drums feeling more or less like a mechanical toy box and hearing the boys in Pentagon constantly shift into infantile stress is well-thought, but for the most part all the playfulness reads a little too hollow. It’s a good step in the direction of good corny boyband songs done in the last year or so by the likes of Block B and iKon, but in Pentagon’s case it doesn’t feel as if they can execute it just as well.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: At this point I’ve all but given up on trying to trace direct lines between song releases, profits, and subsequent corporate decisions, given that so many measures of artist popularity — album purchases, music-show wins, YouTube views — can and will be gamed. So there’s no point in trying to assert that if “Shine” hadn’t been released when it did, Hyojong (I think Cube kept “E’Dawn” in the divorce; whatever, I’m just so glad Hyuna was able to keep her dancing team) would have less leverage now to work on mixtapes on his own. (Although if “Shine” hadn’t been released when it was, we might never have gotten to hear it; and you have to wonder how many songs Hyojong might have written or co-written that Cube might now be sitting on.) Independent of the drama that followed it, “Shine” is just a lovely mix of piano and exuberance, a joyful exclamation of “I’m a loser who loves you” with no dissonance. In the context… it’s too soon to say. Years from now we might point to “Shine” as proof that Korean idol pop can only allow creativity within certain carefully prescribed customary relationships between labor and management, and if you want to listen to lovely songs you’ll have to accept the restrictions placed on the people making them. Or we might get to say that “Shine” was the beginning of the end for the exclusive funneling of idol pop through the centralized management company/music-show/Loen distribution lock. Is it foolish to hope for the latter? Probably. But being a fool can be fun.
[8]

Alfred Soto: That thrusting house keyboard does the work of ten men, but Pentagon do their work.
[6]

Iain Mew: A Saturday morning “Diamonds and Guns” lope of a piano beat and a self-effacing lyric is good material to work with, but not that good when the rest of the song is going through such familiar motions. It’s a credit to Pentagon, then, that they still get so much charm out of it.
[7]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: We can talk about the mid-range harmonies, the sparse, chill vibe, or even E’Dawn’s triplets in that rapped bridge, but let’s face it, this track’s entire appeal rests on the piano riff. It turns something so middling in quality into a catchy tune and allows for many kinds of flow. Sometimes Pentagon themselves sound like they’re trying a bit too hard, but the result is generally pleasant. 
[6]

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans

We continue Amnesty Week, and continue the “covering your own song” theme..


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

Alex Clifton: Richard Dyer once wrote about listening to music and authorship, noting “you can hear the homosexual feeling [conveyed] by putting together what you know of the circumstances of queerdom of the time with those sounds.” That’s not to say that you can tell someone’s sexuality just through how music sounds, but all through this year, I’ve tried to figure out how the opening riff to “Nervous Young Inhumans” denotes a certain kind of queer desire. It builds and builds, yearning for some kind of positive resolution, like when you have a crush on someone who you know can’t reciprocate it. Maybe I’m reading too much into this as a queer person who has fallen in love with her double in the past, but that’s the whole point of Twin Fantasy (Face to Face). The entire album is a project in queer doubling, including the fact that it was literally re-recorded and re-imagined from Will Toledo’s original low-fi 2011 vision. Lyrics such as “you never raised your hand” carry double meanings — you never hit me, but you also never volunteered for anything. The music is furious and longing and so full of feelings that I’ve longed to find conveyed outside my own brainspace, translated into sound. Twin Fantasy is an intriguing look into artistry and the making and re-making of music. Perhaps seven years down the line, Toledo will re-record the project in an entirely new context — it wouldn’t surprise me. In the meantime, I’ll keep revelling in the riffs and the reworkings and the feelings. I’ve certainly not seen anything else like it all year.
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The noisy guitar riffs are fun, but I vastly prefer the unpolished sound of the original version. There, the whirring “doo-doo doo-doo” vocal bits and cheap clang of hi-hats carried an adolescent energy. I was also more willing to sit through the unnecessary musings of a teenage Will Toledo during its outro. Not sure why he decided to include a tedious monologue here.
[3]

Tim de Reuse: Synth lines like The Killers but less stadium-ready, vocal harmonies like Green Day but sleepier, and a mix that’s clean but, like, not too clean. The real question: how on earth does an entire verse about childhood penmanship survive getting airlifted from 2011 bedroom lo-fi into 2018 high-energy power pop? The answer, unfortunately: without its original charm entirely intact.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Given how metatextual (with his own and others’) Will Toledo’s work can be it’s a relief that I enjoyed it right away, without needing to know any of the background of this song and its re-recorded parent album that I found when looking up the lyrics. Not that all that context weakens it, just that the visceral, whirling rush of “Nervous Young Inhumans” doesn’t need any special pleading to be thrilling. The converted and unconverted alike will have a field day with “art gets what it wants and it gets what it deserves,” because he’s interested in continuing the conversation his work is part of; he’s generous like that.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The instrumental interplay is suggestive enough to tell Will Toledo’s ‘You may find yourself/In a shotgun shack’ schtick goodbye and good luck, although fans might reckon this remake/remodel of a 2011 track needs the deepening. Some of us are whores for guitars and wobbly synths.
[6]

Iain Mew: It’s like a transatlantic greatest hits sampler of mid-’00s indie rock packed into one song, which since I listened to so much of that makes it easy to get on with and less easy to love. I do enjoy the way that they collapse the distance between the muscular glam end of things and the wiry post-punk end, and the first verse and its hyper-specific handwriting images are promising. However, they don’t bring them into anything, and I kept waiting for any other lyrical or musical moment to bring things together, and instead just got a drawn out muttering coda.
[5]

Taylor Alatorre: Every time I try to listen to Car Seat Headrest, I just get immensely sad that Sioux Falls never blew up.
[4]

Juan F. Carruyo: Will Toledo became an underground internet sensation because he recorded a near-masterpiece in a most primitive set-up in his bedroom (but also his car when it came time to do the vocals). As most lo-fi lifers eventually do, from Robert Pollard to Lou Barlow, he turned pro when his record label gave him enough money to realize his vision and locked himself up in a studio with his band. With the new sheen and polish, he sounds like the bedroom Springsteen he always hinted at, coming up with anthemic choruses and very literary verses. Yet the song structure betrays his melodic gift and the it takes a nose-dive from minute 2 onwards. It doesn’t entirely kill the mood, it just makes him sound prog. And that’s a good thing. 
[8]

Claire Biddles: Turns out I made a mistake with Car Seat Headrest: last year I listened to two or three songs from the original version of Twin Fantasy and concluded that their condensed, one-note indie rock was not for me. What a wonderful thing this rerecorded “Nervous Young Inhumans” is in contrast: stretched wide and anthemic, the wind propelling it forward almost audible. The squeaking synth line imitates a swell of strings; love built from nothing at all. The climactic confession is (superficially at least) buried in self-doubt, or perhaps deftly constructed to seem that way: “Most of the time that I use the word “you”/Well you know that I’m mostly singing about you.” Mostly. If your admissions of devotion only come at 3am when the other person is asleep at the end of the phone line, you’ll get it.
[8]

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Yoko Ono – Imagine

Today, we imagine there’s no Lennon.


[Video][Website]
[4.90]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Yoko Ono is not a musician — not in the pure sense — but she’s a creative powerhouse and an era-defining artist. John Lennon knew it, but in the ultimate dick move decided to silence Yoko’s part in the creation of one of the world’s most iconic songs. It is a triumph of History that Yoko’s authorship is finally recognized, a triumph for Women. And still, this version, that itself signifies the correcting of an absolute injustice, was brought up by Yoko as a loving tribute to her beloved companion. That gesture alone describes that enormous truth, that Women are what holds the world together. A gesture that speaks as much as the song itself. 
[10]

Edward Okulicz: I loathe “Imagine.” Lennon’s gloopy hymnal arrangement and sleepy performance always sounded opportunistic and dishonest to me, wallowing in misery while promising deliverance. I find it vile, and I hate the melody too. Much of Ono’s take on the song she had a big hand in creating fixes the things that cause my revulsion. Ono removes the sickly piano from the first part of the song (alas it comes in later) and intones the words starkly, making a song of hope sound quite bleak, as if it really is an anthem for times of crisis. I still loathe “Imagine” the song that is so important and meaningful to everyone because of who sang it and how he sang it, but Ono makes a stronger case for the worth of “Imagine” the relatively humble poem. I can’t imagine ever wanting to listen to it again, but I’d take it over Lennon’s any day of the week.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Justice for Yoko Ono — not long after she was awarded a deserved credit for co-writing “Imagine” she has a go at her dead husband’s most famous song. I’m not a fan of the original; I’m a fan of Yoko, though, and her halting, tentative approach suits a song whose conditionals haven’t gotten any less conditional in the last forty years. But I never want to hear it again.
[5]

Tobi Tella: Yoko isn’t winning any “vocalist of the year” awards for this one, but as an 85 year old woman I think she’s past that point. This rendition is genuinely haunting, the sparse instrumentation and true melancholy of her voice make the meaning of these often sung words feel new. It’s not the kind of thing I would listen to casually, but I would much rather listen to a cover with purpose like this then some artist giving a generic imitation of Lennon.
[6]

Iain Mew: It makes me think of the Johnny Cash “Hurt,” which I guess is a combination of a familiar song and the rarity of hearing the age in anyone’s voice laid this bare. It’s so eerily bare that it reveals a tinge of nihilism that the original was way too cozy to let out, a progression in meaning beneath the words. Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no countries. No religionImagine NOTHING. Live as one with nothing. Listen to it hum. Then the piano comes in and rather spoils the effect.
[6]

Will Adams: “Yoko broke up the band” is as common a refrain of received misogyny as “Eve gave Adam the apple,” which is why the video for “Imagine” is flooded with drive-by dislikes despite the comments largely praising her version. That alone would make this worth championing, as would her finally reclaiming her work, if only from a songwriting standpoint. The original’s treacly arrangement isn’t exactly upgraded — the first half especially is rather dirge-like — but by the end, when the haze lifts and we’re left with a lone piano, this version approaches something more stirring.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Pouring acid on John Lennon’s messianic self-regard improves “Imagine” immeasurably, but Ono’s stark delivery can’t curdle the melody nor the sentiment of her poem enough to stop it from cloying.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: It was CeeLo’s New Year’s Eve performance that got me to finally realize that “Imagine” is a bad song. It wasn’t how he changed the line about religion or how the chattering class reacted to it. It’s that the line was there in the first place, as something to be gawked at and fussed over and cowered from and wielded against your enemies. I don’t take issue with the irreligious slogans of hardcore or the hushed heresies of indie folk, but really, how are you gonna write a song about universal brotherhood and deny entry to 80% of the world’s population? Never mind that Lennon’s vision of brotherhood is the kind of post-materialist pablum that’s led entire left-leaning generations to regard tending their organic gardens as more important than organizing their workplaces. Ono’s version is an improvement on Lennon’s because it’s harder to tell how serious she is about the quote-unquote political message, even though she had a hand in its creation. You can imagine it’s just a tribute song four decades in the making, a finger tracing the ink lines of an old love letter, an echo of a recording of an echo. A prayer with no return address.
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: The orchestral approach reminds me of Disturbed’s Simon & Garfunkel cover and while Yoko turns a brave, stark performance at the end of the day she’s still a millionaire bossing the audience around. 
[0]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Yoko Ono is a much reviled figure, often for reasons rooted in racism, misogyny, a misunderstanding of her experimental roots, and the deification of The Beatles. While John Lennon had stated that she was the main creative force behind “Imagine,” it wasn’t until last year that she finally received her co-writing credit. Nearly fifty years since Lennon’s single, Yoko’s rendition feels like a small victory. But a question arises: who is this for, exactly? While the song’s first half is quietly haunting, it eventually defaults into familiar, cloying territories. Those who love the original won’t find this to be more inspiring, and those who hated it will likely be turned off by that damn piano melody. The song’s good for those interested in virtue signaling, and it’s surely a curious little novelty, but will anyone be listening to this years from now? Who knows. But the sense that Yoko’s version of “Imagine” will remain an obscurity is at the heart of the song’s true beauty. For one of history’s most universally known pop songs — one meant to unify the entire world — Yoko manages to turn this into something incredibly intimate, like Lennon and Ono are the only ones privy to its existence. “Imagine” was always a love song to humanity, but it’s only here that it can be understood as a love song between two specific people.
[6]