Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Susanne Sundfør – Delirious

Spooky!


[Video][Website]
[7.27]

Scott Mildenhall: When Susanne Sundfør told of how “you gave me my very first gun” with disconcerting wooziness a few years ago, she didn’t commit or admit to any shooting. It seemed ominously disingenuous, but perhaps it wasn’t. Why shoot anyone when you can get them to do it themselves? Lesser vocalists could not carry this off. Sundfør is an all-too-present spectre on the brink of anger, better encountered deranged than enraged. All around is absurdity — actual gunshots! — but such vocal suppleness more than legitimises it, enabling an unrivallable performance. She’s on a mountain with a storm-blue sky, she’s alone in a capacious church; she’s coming up the stairs. Strings are concealed like incidental music and whole layers of sound merely overlook her, because everything is played out from the centre, and she does so to a T.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: My favorite Susanne Sundfør track is the excellently titled “Knight of Noir,” off The Brothel; “Delirious” finds her promoted to vengeful vassal, surveying her tract of synthesizers and the men who’ve had the blissful misfortune of being within eyeshot, emphasis on “shot.” If you’d asked me around last album, I’d have said her voice is too reedy-plummy to go full pop; but now she’s done it, and would you be the one to tell her no?
[8]

Anthony Easton: I like when singer-songwriters move away from just the piano or acoustic guitar and put everything into an atmospheric/orchestral direction. That her voice doesn’t come until almost a minute in, a minute that sounds like something you would test a late-’60s hi-fi with, is almost as exciting as those Abbey Road infused strings at the end. I can’t wait for the house remix, for how much this flirts with disco. 
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: You’re grabbing up a box of popcorn out of your friend’s hand, dodging flicked Junior Mints when the movie is ready to start. Susanne is here, with a voice that sounds like the spiral curls of a maiden who raises animals on a farm, while she is surrounded by the sorts of sounds that sound like the cattle led on assembly line getting murked off like out of Albini’s “Cables.” Unfortunately, the frenzy is so apparent that you can’t really be sure if it was Susanne or that mysterious other who started it. You just know that all bets were off, and everything fucking blew up, and you had to stand up and say, “That was raw!”
[8]

Alfred Soto: The LucasFilm LTD introduction is a red herring, but it adds an extra minute to a midtempo dance number with decent sequencer, excellent doomy string section, and dumb vampiric tropes. Who knows? Chop off that first minute and begin with the “victim #1″ chorus and you would have had classic gothic dance histrionics.
[6]

Moses Kim: The first minute promises much, a vengeful voice rising over the ashes of burnt violins — but then it’s all thrown away for a retread of “Like A Prayer.” There are intermittent moments of danger and discord, like when the percussion rattles off a series of gunshots, but every time this is about to deviate into something interesting it retreats back into familiar territory.
[5]

Iain Mew: What could possibly justify this much build-up, stretched out tight? “I hope you’ve got a safety net ’cause I’m gonna push you over the edge” as line one more than answers, but the cleverest thing about “Delirious” is that it never quite takes that plunge. Instead it’s a high-wire journey, swaying like it could go any way but never knocked over by too many epic elements at once, even with all the strings and vicious drums at various points. It’s a match to the uncertainty of the lyrical conflict, which Sundfør plays brilliantly, every bit as believable as the vengeful aggressor or the wronged party.
[9]

Kat Stevens: Intriguing THX-meets-Roygbiv intro; murderballad melody dodging all over the bloody place; ticka-ticka momentum. On paper the ingredients are great but in reality it’s just missing a bit of charm.
[6]

Will Adams: It’s journey of a track, from the cinematic opening to the spiky synths to the harmonic modulation, but its extended songwriting is in need of more structure. Sundfør commands each section; as a whole, it doesn’t quite hold together.
[6]

W.B. Swygart: So: this could benefit from losing at least a minute to 90 seconds from its runtime, there’s a couple too many layers of meringue for its own good, it suddenly runs out of road at around the fourth or fifth “delib-ur-ett, done with intent,” and I’m fairly sure “repent” isn’t a noun. But god, the way Evil Laura Cantrell sings the title, the way it starts at the base of the spine then spirals up the vertebrae and out – the damn drama, as she pivots, swoops in and out of the spotlights, gazes from the windows, addresses the masses from the balcony, swivels, then straight down the lens: “I-am-not-the-one-hol-ding-the-gu-un.” *DUHNUHNUHNUHNUHNUH* The flaws get more obvious with every listen, but the thrills do not fade at all. You both know you’ll be back.
[8]

Josh Langhoff: Sundfør sets “Blank Space” malice to “Edge of Seventeen” throb and uses vocal layering strategies from both — polyphony to dazzle her hapless victim and big blocks of chorus to bowl him over. Sliding between minor keys, chiding “I told you not to come” right after chanting “come into my arms,” her intent (without repent) is clear. But I’m still not clear who’s holding the gun.
[8]

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Johnny Gill – Behind Closed Doors

About time we covered him beyond Shoup talking about his Pazz and Jop


[Video]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: “Rub You the Right Way” was 25 years ago, and it still astonishes me: one of the most frantic Jam-Lewis productions, with Gill huffing and puffing and feeling and stroking yet unable to knock it down. “Behind Closed Doors” by comparison depends on a conventional midtempo approach. Gill rasps through a Pharrell-inspired falsetto that recalls the old baritone threat only after a couple minutes in. Welcome back.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I am exceedingly happy that, thanks to the Adult R&B radio format, R&B stars of yesteryear no longer feel like they have to keep up with the kids, and can instead focus on what they do best: largely, making lovin’ music. I mean, really, can you imagine if Johnny Gill were making ill-advised records with Young Thug? Fortunately, instead we get creaminess like this slice of early-’90s throwback that could damned near pass for a Hi-Five or Phil Perry hit. Sumptuous. 
[7]

Jessica Doyle: I heard the opening beat, slightly menacing, and got so excited! Then it turned out that Gill chose falsetto for this one, and it comes out rather thin and uninspired. I suppose if he’d sung lower people would be complaining about a retread of “Rub You the Right Way.” Problem is, I was 12 in 1990, and “Rub You the Right Way” helped introduce to me the idea that a tension between lyrics and tone could itself be sexy. So from a purely personal perspective, all subsequent Gill releases have a lot to live up to.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Johnny Gill, aka the New Jack Dennis Edwards, is here over something that sounds gigglishly off-base. Gill returns to his post-Luther gospel soloing (and it ain’t what it used to be), yet his chorus seems peanut-brittle in strength. It’s the elephantine nature of those synth horns, the turgid quality of the piano hitting the bass, that keeps this lumbering and reveals the music’s metaphorical gut.
[6]

Josh Winters: If Toni Braxton & Babyface’s “Hurt You” was “Hold On, We’re Going Home” for the middle-aged set, this is their “773 Love.”
[6]

Anthony Easton: I only kind of like how soul-fried the production is here, and how the code (dancer, really?) is so loose a euphemism it seems more of a placeholder for historical memory than an actual thing. This is especially true when his fantastic voice under services the song. 
[4]

Brad Shoup: Not because of the falsetto itself — I hope not, anyway — but the way Gill inhabits it, the way it seems to exist outside of his body… it seems like transference. I can picture his lover caught up in his moment, because it’s her moment too. The track is a slow-motion leer, pounding in kicks and brass hums like railroad spikes. Love is a funny-ass thing.
[8]

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Laura Marling – Short Movie

And no mention of her actual short movie, for shame…


[Video][Website]
[5.38]

Alfred Soto: A couple of strums edge into Big Star “Kangaroo” territory; the rest is so well coiffed that it’s a wonder it wasn’t included in a 2002 alt-country comp taped to an issue of Uncut.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Marling’s songwriting and performing tics are so appealing to me that I feel a twinge of guilt every time I don’t love a song. This one half-works on the strength of her vocal characteristics (how she drops into speech a couple of times in the first verse is a Marling standby) but it doesn’t feel particularly compelling. Maybe I feel like a woman who has stirred all sorts of emotion over a career of incredibly deep, thoughtful songwriting can’t quite get her mouth or her ideas around “fucking”?
[5]

Moses Kim: “It’s kicking off,” Marling sings near the song’s peak: unfortunately it took her three-and-a-half minutes to get there. 
[5]

Brad Shoup: She’s got cultural capital, and she intends to spend it. Less of a hunter now than a game warden, Marling surveys the landscape she’s crafted: shaggy midcountry folk, the endless tuning and droning of post-rock strings, rock’s drive (here, mostly suggested by a vigorously brushed kit and a vicious cello), smirking self-reference. There’s no need to keep it concise, not now, maybe not ever, and she seems chuffed to just hang it all out.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It feels like five really corny songs jostling up against each other, bouncing up and down screaming “ME, PICK ME!”
[1]

Luisa Lopez: It’s a cheap trick but it’s a good one: playing that first verse in silence just long enough that the sound of the second comes as a surprise. (Like calling on violins to evoke the sound of birds.) But some songs do build naturally, sprouting from a wandering note then gathering speed and running til there’s no more land. This is one of them.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: The dry pomp of the backing suggests more drama and urgency than I can glean from her half-swallowed lyrics, which circle on themselves with the fragmentary repetition of an argument confined to a single head.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Laura Marling is perhaps our prickliest songwriter; her thorns are truly the best part of her. It’s not so much that’s she’s reclusive, but her music is; it’s so anti-confessional in a traditionally confessional medium. Like the prototypical titular short film, you’ve got to pursue her songs, study them like a language, meet her not just halfway but 90% (perhaps why so many critics called Once I Was an Eagle boring), and when you get there, half the time all you find is that her secrets remain secret. Her singing, as she’s grown, has matured from received folkie curlicues to an impassive snarl, so deliberately mumbled that all the lyrics sites quote the exact opposite of what she’s saying: I hear “I won’t try and take it slow,” elsewhere “just a girl who can’t play guitar” (which is factually untrue; she went electric for the new LP). In “Short Movie” I hear some shots at the media — the guitar line, for sure, maybe “they know that I loved you but they’ll never know why” given how much ink is expended — still! — on her and Marcus Mumfuck. Moreso, I hear her career-long struggles with reconciling worn-out realism with suppressed romanticism (the bridge, strings and reveries, is the sort of pastoral swoon I’d thought she only missed anymore), with despising playing savior yet ending up there time after time, with “[being able to] get away with only half the things I say” (great line) but inevitably saying the other half, let the mistakes fall where they may. As far as I can tell, “Short Movie” is an old mentor’s mantra (“life’s short,” I think? And we all know what motto that’s adjacent to…) Marling warps into rationale to rush headlong into future mistakes, to maybe-drugs (see: slurred lines; but it is “color drugs,” right?) and dalliances that don’t snatch souls. The steady build-up of the music supports this, but you still get the sense the narrator’s thought this over too carefully for abandon, too reluctantly wise to really swing from that chandelier, which is something I of course relate to bunches. But is any of this at all accurate? She won’t say. Barring some Rat Girl-esque decoder memoir, she may never. Therein lies the key, which unlocks no doors perfectly.
[7]

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Natalia Lafourcade – Hasta La Raíz

Five years on, we still kinda like her…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Jonathan Bogart: Mexico’s reigning queen of indie-pop (pace Venegas) returns from her sojourn in midcentury bolero reverie having learned a thing or two from Agustín Lara’s economy of melody and form. Her voice will never be anything but girlish, but her songwriting isn’t beholden to twee; and her refusal to settle for easy uplift makes her something special in global indie-pop.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: I could never fully enjoy Natalia Lafourcade’s twee style on Hu Hu Hu, and while she kept part of it in “Hasta La Raíz” — her innocent voice will always characterize her — she is now stronger, trying to reach that moment in which a breakup doesn’t hurt and becomes only memories of a happy time that couldn’t last forever.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Difficult to parse at first, thanks to Lafourcade’s banging against those staccato strums. Then the arrangement opens; that string section and her keening suggest a loonier stab at one of Beck’s Morning Phase‘s ponderosities.
[7]

Moses Kim: The translated lyrics suggest the speaker is traveling inwards: memories becoming jungles to wander through, old flames appearing in the sand and the sky. Natalia Lafourcade’s voice has the quality of mist slipping between the guitar and strings; but I can’t help but feel that she could reach more interesting places if the thump of the percussion didn’t lock everything around it into such rigidly-defined rhythms.
[6]

Iain Mew: With the glumly staid guitar and rhythm she’s set up, she doesn’t give herself the best foundation to build any appeal on. She can do it, though, and it’s the lilt and lift of her voice that gives it just enough magic to get by as much as it’s the eventual fantasy strings.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Upon extended listening, it sounds like a standard time signature made unbalanced by stringing arpeggio across the choppy, muted strum. Lafourcade’s meter is closer to her guitar’s: it searches, it navigates. The whole band forms the flying V behind her. The result is something more moving than howling against some upfront timpanis.
[7]

Anthony Easton: The lalalalala sounds are perfect, and the guitars are lush in the best way.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Gently buoyant, like a lot of Lisa Hannigan’s work; I don’t often find myself lately in need of this wholesome prettiness, but it’s nice knowing the breeze is there to catch.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Modestly expansive, Lafourcade only gradually builds the yearn in her voice across a landscape that seems to stretch as she traverses it. In other words, the video should have her wandering across a big, lush field with no-one around, looking into the unplaceable distance. No smiling, but no looking sad either.
[6]

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Purity Ring – Begin Again

Finally, a proper Christian song title…


[Video][Website]
[5.09]

Brad Shoup: I don’t believe a word of this apocalypse. It’s like hearing NYC talk about snow.
[3]

Alfred Soto: What “pounding sound”?
[3]

Moses Kim: “You’ll be the moon, I’ll be the earth” speaks volumes, the speaker pleading a loved one to stay tethered to her. The music colors in her desperation with hints that this is not the first time she’s fought this battle. Megan James’ voice is drained of any light beyond a dim glow, while the rhythms shift under her feet like the tides of time lost. And that’s all before the chorus stomps in, a ghost of a piano melody laced between a crushing four-on-the-floor beat: it suggests an inevitability to this whole affair, that all of this is doomed to either begin again or finally, mercifully end. The emotional nuance is impressive.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: A few years ago Chvrches came off as a watered-down Purity Ring; now, perhaps inevitably, Purity Ring comes off as a slightly more clarified Chvrches. When Shrines came out I wanted to imagine entire worlds that sounded like it. “Begin Again” probably will sound OK on a mix two months from now.
[5]

Will Adams: Tinkling piano, synth pads used as bass, heavy kick, thin female vocal right at center; it’s basically a trance song slowed down to 90 BPM.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: It seems that Purity Ring has found a formula and are not planning to detach from it. A childish voice becoming creepy in a dark and minimalistic ambience worked with them on Shrines, but if I already thought that album was a little bit repetitive, listening to “Begin Again” doesn’t really make me excited for their new one.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s kind of interesting how a lot of people went with Purity Ring’s impish “Libra girl in your math class who has braces and takes rubber bands to her tangled hair” charms and used them for a lot of lesser songs. But apparently they’re going into the game, sandblasting themselves into the pop shark frenzy. It’s honestly curious to hear how this band has grown out of their rough patches into conventional pop, and their songwriting has vastly improved. I can’t say that about a lot of their peers on 4 *coughs, chokes, and sputters out life force in the sounds of barks that resemble a noise like Grimes*… AD, but I’m happy to say that about these dorks.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: What made Purity Ring interesting was written right in their song titles — they made unsettling electro-pop that sounded like they were built from malfunctioning throats, and they were named “Belispeak” and “Lofticries,” familiar words turned weird. Their best, most upbeat sounding number dwelled on strange body noises and boasts a gross title. “Begin Again” is as boring as the title they came up with, a stab at wider recognition that trades unnerving for watered-down EDM, except with none of the fun. 
[3]

Ashley Ellerson: The electronic duo ditched the dark, supernatural feel of Shrines for a dreamier composition this time around. Megan James’ voice is less produced, and I can finally hear what she sounds like. Purity Ring are starting over with an EDM-lite tune, which I’m here for, but we can’t ignore that familiar beat featured in too many electronic songs.
[6]

Alex Ostroff: I’m often the first to celebrate weird indie bedroom electronic acts who clean up their sound and go pop, but “Begin Again” is a reboot that doesn’t quite work for me. Purity Ring’s early singles could be genuinely unsettling — Megan’s lyrics crawled under your skin with imagery that always felt a little off and that you couldn’t quite shake, while the production surrounded and warped her vocals. Shrines wasn’t quite claustrophobic, but it certainly wasn’t expansive. When you scrub all the vocal distortion and body horror off it turns out all that remains of Purity Ring is pretty, mildly sleepy EDM. It’s very pretty, if it helps.
[5]

Jonathan Bogart: Stepping a few paces back from the current pop moment for a vainglorious attempt at a big picture, it seems to me that Broadcast was maybe the most influential band of the last twenty years. Or 2 Unlimited. One of the two.
[5]

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The Kite String Tangle ft. Tiana Khasi – Stone Cold

THEY HIT EM WITH THE STUNNER~! :o


[Video][Website]
[5.11]

Anthony Easton: The thin wash of electronic sadness and that prickly heartbeat percussion are anxious in a way suited for nights spent awake at 4 A.M., running down the list of all your fuck-ups – a feeling all too familiar to me, but rarely put into music.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A lovely percussive outro, like the programmers remembered the pastoral bits of Tango in the Night, but as usual these vocals sit there — stone cold, you might say.
[4]

Iain Mew: There’s almost a fantastic AlunaGeorge song that emerges out of the middle of “Stone Cold,” but no one appears confident enough to make it properly snap. Instead the song remains like a soft electro “Somebody That I Used to Know” where the guy has already heaped so much blame and pity on himself that there can’t even be a proper argument.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: More on the “future-garage” war front as they try to slip into the charts with… man, nothing. Look, there is a “Stone Cold” by Groove Chronicles that has more rugged elegance than anything here for all this song’s “preciousness.” The drums feel like hail pellets ruining a windshield, the “warm” synths sound like a stomach bottoming out before severe digestive troubles, and the singers use all the effort of an overworked janitor struggling to stay awake. If this is an alternative to the EDM House Revival, then I can see why people want to listen to 500 rehashes of the same piano licks and gospel-diva tedium.
[2]

Will Adams: Seeing The Kite String Tangle live last fall (supporting Kate Boy) was the perfect way to discover his music. Over healthy subwoofers, his garage production knocked, but there was too much idiosyncrasy and melancholy for it to work as actual dance music. It’s a clever approach, and “Stone Cold” is one of the best examples of it, in large part due to Tiana Khasi’s strong (and prominent) contribution.
[8]

Moses Kim: “…so yeah, it’d be great if you could remake ‘Rather Be,’ just with a double-dose of Lunesta crushed in. And a lot less variation.”
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: There’s a very valid and necessary discussion to be had about how many fidgety electro-pop acts such as The Kite String Tangle (uggggh) use female vocalists as a sort of decoration, while still reaping all the accolades via their wobbly production. “Stone Cold” isn’t a good starting point for that conversation, though, because Tiana Khasi sounds great while the male vocals sound like clumsy poetry, not aided by all the electronic fizzles. 
[6]

Alex Ostroff: “Stone Cold” is pleasant enough in a 2-sleepy 2-step way, but Jacques Greene’s “Another Girl” was four years ago, The xx’s steel drum heartbreak duets are even older, and the sound that I once couldn’t get enough of is swiftly growing stale. Such charms as this track has are entirely due to Tiana Khasi. I imagine listening to The Kite String Table’s full-length prompts disappointment similar to the first time you discovered that most songs by The Postal Service didn’t feature Jenny Lewis. Except at least The Postal Service had interesting beats.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Chilly as a polar vortex, torpid like twinning self-loathing vortices, and impressive but nigh-unlistenable; apologies to Rich Juzwiak, but this is why you generally don’t want to hear both sides of a breakup in tandem.
[6]

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The Prodigy – Nasty

Maybe it’s time to drop the “prodigy” title? Maybe just go back to “Tim”?…


[Video][Website]
[4.22]

Kat Stevens: Considering all the dross they’ve put out this century, this isn’t bad at all! Especially if you replace “Nasty Nasty” with Milky Milky
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s somehow six years since a revitalised Prodigy found conditions just right to re-emerge and reach a wide new generation of fans with Invaders Must Die; longer ago than Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned‘s release was at that point. Sadly, as returns go, “Nasty” is more “Baby’s Got A Temper” than “Omen.” It doesn’t commit the same lyrical offences as the former, but they do share an air of parody, drawing a reaction of “oh, Grandad” if not, thankfully, “oh no, Grandad.” Perhaps the biggest problem — the straightfacedness of the ineffective verbal aggression — is quintessential Prodigy. There are elements of all their eras on show, but merely for show, as if someone uninvested was saying “this is what The Prodigy sound like.” Intermittently shouting “nasty, nasty!” would not be a compliment.
[5]

Moses Kim: Elastic, with haunted-house synth melodies bouncing off hard slabs of guitar and drum. Doesn’t have many moving pieces but finds enough permutations to make the four minutes worthwhile.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The rave ended a long time ago, with their big blasts of “raw energy” sounding more like hard-rocking slabs that could allow people to appreciate the nuances of their peers, and remind us that, yes, “Charly” is a “sick tune, mate.” But still, the band plays on…
[2]

Alfred Soto: Distorted rubberband riff? Check. Stop-start inverted shufflebeat? Check. Miffed vocalist making title signify? Check. Full speed to 1996.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: A bunch of loops and riffs in search of a song they never find, while Keith Flint (I assume it’s him) sounds more and more like modern-day John Lydon after a bender. Sadly, it seems as if Liam Howlett hasn’t learned anything new (or heard anything new?) since about 1999.
[3]

Will Adams: Crusty.
[4]

Brad Shoup: They’re their own Spotify Halloween tribute act! A neat trick.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Scuzzy in a guilty-pleasure way, but so dated they might as well rename themselves The CompuServe.
[5]

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Hello Venus – Wiggle Wiggle

The house that Derulo built…


[Video][Website]
[5.09]

Sonya Nicholson: Hello Venus’s dance cover of Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle Wiggle” (at 2.85 million YouTube views and counting) remains offensive in a 5-booty-shots-to-1-wide-angle-shot kind of way, though whether it’s more exploitative than K-pop’s other favored ways of shooting women — the close-up adoring lip-biting look or the “oops I didn’t realize I was being sexualized” up-skirt photography look — is debatable. In any case, all three low-budget video treatments for Hello Venus’s original song “Wiggle Wiggle” do make a point of showing off the faces as well as the bodies of the group. And sometimes that’s all it takes to move something out of I-pity-their-careers land and into the territory of fun club kitsch. “Wiggle Wiggle” also has some interesting production touches not seen in other Brave Brothers songs of similar aesthetic provenance — I’m pro- pre-chorus wail, myself — and some just-this-side-of-sexy dance moves. All of which is to say that after originally being down on this song I’ve come around to regarding it fondly.  
[6]

Madeleine Lee: There’s not much use for further hand-wringing over Hello Venus’s shift, post-lineup change, from secretly sexy concept (everyone knows what “do you want to come in for tea” means) to blatantly sexy concept. Nothing was wrong with “Sticky Sticky,” except that it was boring and too obviously trying to replicate the success AOA had with their own (better) concept-switching Brave Brothers song. “Wiggle Wiggle” is also obviously trying to replicate a fluke hit, and it does so efficiently, but it has one original thing going for it: those four bars where everything stops except for the drums, and new member Seoyoung releases a piercing, demon-summoning keen. It’s even more arresting live. I’m not going to pretend it’s objectively good, but it’s the first time I’ve heard a voice-and-drums combo like this in a K-pop song — or at least such an aggressive one — and I keep wanting to hear it again. Maybe not 2.8 million times, but at least… 5?
[5]

Jessica Doyle: A year ago at this time we were getting the pre-release publicity for the supposed showdown between SNSD and 2NE1. Since then the former has lost Jessica and the latter’s future is uncertain, between CL’s pending American debut and Park Bom’s belated drug-smuggling scandal. And so the girl-group side of K-pop is in greater than usual flux: SM, Woollim, WM, YG, and Cube all just debuted new groups or are about to; APink has its sweet niche well defined, but the rest of the market is open. (Hell, even Crayon Pop is working with Shinsadong Tiger; the result will be either disappointingly bland or astonishing.) By the end of 2014 a group like EXID could get its (underrated) “Up and Down” back onto the charts, well after the original promotion cycle, thanks to a fancam. I hadn’t thought of any of this in connection with “Wiggle Wiggle” until Timothy Moore of Critical K-pop declared it “post-Kpopalyptic”: a series of videos explicitly meant to do an end-run around the usual approaches and go for viral. Fortunately, Hello Venus’s management figured out what Stellar‘s didn’t: that the Look!Sexy! videos go down much easier with a side of goofy. I don’t think Hello Venus has enough to break out here — it should’ve been shorter, and with many, many fewer background exclamations — but I’m charmed enough to want to wiggle my butt with some underdogs. One extra point because it’s 씰룩 씰룩 (ssilluk ssilluk), not “sexy love.”
[6]

Iain Mew: I like how it flaunts its origins as thrown together response pop. It’s as much fill-powered as thrill-powered, but even so it brings a pleasing looseness that doesn’t often go with similar K-Pop productions. “Wiggle” having led to this and left its traces gets me thinking more fondly of Jason Derulo, which was previously only the case for the video to “Trumpets”.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Oh hey, speaking of finger snaps! “Wiggle Wiggle” has a kinetic bass and a wobbling, metallic synth figure: an arrangement that sounds less sparse and more restrained when subject to the trademark K-pop girl-group vocal-harmony assault. It’s still enough of a throwback that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a Missy Elliott guest spot emerge two-thirds of the way through.
[7]

John Seroff: K-pop girl group Hello Venus (now on its “5th Digital Single” according to the attached gilded metadata) steers the analytically spot-on retro ’90s R&B “Wiggle Wiggle” to respectability. The fairly generic vocals and ho-hum rap break are aided by vintage boom/clap/click drum tracks and a caffeinated Timbaland-esque chirrup. Probably destined to be forgotten by year’s end but first snowflakes still look pretty while they’re fresh in the air.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m tripped up by how B-List this production is (congratulations Korea, your industry is so thriving, you have your own Scott Storch/JR Rotem types), and how the song seems to drift lazily into too vast an initial chorus. Nothing offensive here, but nothing all worth jumping up for.
[3]

Sonia Yang: Eye-rollingly bland club pop, with a poor attempt at jumping the “bootylicious” bandwagon. Even LMFAO’s “wiggle wiggle” is much sexier, in a way.
[3]

Jonathan Bogart: Is a booty anthem really such a novelty in Korean pop that they didn’t bother to do anything else to it, trusting that the one hook would be enough? Lil Jon wept.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s always nice to see different countries sharing certain customs… such as songs about butts and clubs transformed into last-night-on-Earth affairs. Beyond that, though, “Wiggle Wiggle” is simply serviceable — it probably charms during an evening out, but doesn’t make much of an impression outside of that.
[5]

Moses Kim: I have to be careful when talking about female objectification and sexuality because my experience is bound to differ from those of actual women. At the same time, I feel that the song and video (rated 19, of course, because there’s absolutely no way horny Korean men could handle all this ass in one video) play into the male gaze on several levels — the announcer declaring “action” is male; the camera lingers on bodies over faces, rendering these women essentially interchangeable; and the women promise in the chorus to give the audience a “great present tonight,” a line that I’m still mulling over the implications of. This reading, though, is complicated by several things. First, there’s Seohyun piercing the icy instrumentation at the end of the chorus, screeching in her best horror-movie voice to shake that butt (raising the question: whose butt?) left and right. It’s a sudden reversal of power, the gaze of a voyeuristic public reflected back as a demand. Group rapper Lime pushes back even more, dropping a verse where she catches you looking at her apple hiiiiip and asks you not to drool before she declares herself queen of the stage. By the end, the girls reach equilibrium: I like it like it; you like it like it; love’s a mirror that goes both ways. On top of all this, there’s the diverse crowd of screaming fans at live performances like this, adult men and young teenage girls all captivated. How do they see this? Why are they cheering?
[5]

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Natalie La Rose ft. Jeremih – Somebody

Like DJs should need an excuse to drop Whitney in the club…


[Video]
[5.82]
Katherine St Asaph: If 2015 is going to be full of fizzy pop-RnBass, 2015 is going to be amazing. I love synth cowbells; I love the playful back-and-forth; I love Lil Jon as a standard reference; I even love Jeremih flirting with becoming J.R. Rotem by turning a Whitney song about sexless loneliness into an obvious hook about getting laid. It’s more respectful than Lifetime was.
[8]

Crystal Leww: It’s 2015, and I’m kind of mad that Jeremih turned Whitney’s legendary hook into “I wanna take shots with somebody (shotsshotsshotsshot!),” but I’m also not mad at all. Listen: in lesser hands, this would be downright insulting, but Jeremih sounds like a flirty rascal, Natalie La Rose sounds like she’s having fun toying with these boys’ emotions, and The Futuristics have provided a rework worthy of the two of them. It may be cold outside, but baby, it’s warm in the club.
[8]

Moses Kim: Between Jeremih at his most charming and Natalie La Rose dialing up the sweetness before doing an 180 and out-Iggying Iggy in the bridge, this track emanates understated warmth with heaps of enthusiasm. A welcome blast of summer in the throngs of January.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: This would probably sound better in summer, when its moseying resonance has some open air to fill; here in winter, it just sounds claustrophobic, too lazy to aim for the urgency of Whitney or even of LMFAO.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Good job on recognizing there was room on radio for another Jeremih-helmed ’90s rework of ratchet&B. His dominance over the track is that of someone who’s spent time in this space before, and to prove his comfort he turns straight from singing to ordering shots. (Shots, shots, shots…) Maybe it’s still too soon to have LMFAO/Lil Jon nostalgia, but “Somebody” sure does remind me that it’s been a minute since finger-snaps and that 808-cowbell ping have been at the pop charts’ forefront. And Natalie La Rose? She hasn’t seemed to notice that her co-star is trying to hustle her to the exit; she’s too intent on dancing after the house-lights have switched on. The disconnect is fitting.
[6]

Brad Shoup: The “shots!/shots, shots, shots” bit makes me angry. Like, it catches me every time. It’s  the faked energy, the naked hook-stealing, the way it derails Jeremih’s Whitney riff. It’s cheap heat, and I much prefer La Rose doing her weird breathy Iggy thing over the Eurodance bassline.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Manipulated vocals, elastic sequencers, Whitney Houston interpolation, and genuine frisson between the billed singers turn this into an above average VIP anthem. But does Jeremih look at Chris Brown as a model?
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Jeremih is here sounding like he’s attempting Chris Brown and resulting instead in Sean Kingston, a grim affair with the laziness of the Whitney interpolation. Meanwhile Natalie sings fine, but just doesn’t seem to have any sort of presence here.
[2]

Will Adams: Jeremih’s flipped Whitney quote is pretty silly, but Natalie La Rose is confident enough to take control of “Somebody” despite not getting a chorus, which is a pretty stellar feat.
[6]

Anthony Easton: This is really boring, and the lyrics should either be sexier or more bratty — one-night stands and impromptu afterparties have never sounded more polite.
[2]

Alex Ostroff: Def Jam continues to drag their feet on releasing Jeremih’s album, but while we wait, he continues to drop features on R&B tracks boosting the profile of women like Natalie La Rose and Tink, who ultimately outshine him. Jeremih’s here to snag our attention and let La Rose do the rest. “Don’t Tell Nobody” was one of my favourite songs from 2014, and “Somebody” doesn’t reach its heights of emotional or structural complexity, but I’m not going to complain about fun, frothy, flirty R&Bass joints in the dead of winter.
[6]

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Tove Lo – Talking Body

“Your Party (My Body Is)”…


[Video][Website]
[5.64]

Jonathan Bogart: Were we talking bodies? Can we not?
[4]

Will Adams: Where’s Robyn when you need her?
[3]

Alfred Soto: Ellie Goulding, Robyn, and a half dozen Max Martin productions came to mind listening to this pleasant amalgam. I can’t deny its craft: when her body talks she wants her audience to listen, and if my attention drifted the chorus helps.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Tove Lo has definitely figured out the balance. She has the perfect synthesis in her songwriting of Lana, Charli, and Ellie (through an American filter). She’s got Urban Outfitter world in the palm of her hands, and I can imagine her sticking around for more than a minute. Does this make her any more interesting? No, because I’ve heard every trick here used a billion times, from the Lumineers rips in those “HEY!” adlibs, those Lorde album-esque Fruity Loops Electronica-circa-’06 303 gurgles, and her lyrics are the most paper-thin “I’m getting hot for you” regurgitation necessary to hit the broadest target range. Tove Lo is a weapon, and I can respect the impact but I’m not into that relationship.
[2]

Iain Mew: Tove Lo’s unfiltered frankness could be getting tired, but the slow-building electro of “Talking Body” is a better than usual match and “we fuck for life” is easily the best iteration yet. Even with procreation probably ruled out by the bridge, that still leaves statement of lasting devotion or of life affirmation, and so much feeling and possibility in one phrase.
[7]

Anthony Easton: How she sings “we fuck for life” sounds pretty much exactly how I would imagine a David Attenborough nature documentary would talk about some kind of rare goose species, but in the argot of Scando-pop.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Tove Lo has a lot of exciting things to say, but whether they concern day-drinking or a pick-up line that comes across as if she’s half-remembering something Britney once told her, she doesn’t sound very excited to say them. I would have hoped a proposed literally eternal tryst would be more erotic.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: “Habits,” which I still hate, hangs over Tove Lo’s career like a drug cloud, and as a result every one of her singles, even the happy ones, sounds bleak. Maybe it’s how “Talking Body” sounds like “Teenage Dream” after a heavy dose of benzos and a decade’s worth of romantic dream-dashing. Maybe it’s how “we fuck for life” is way too optimistic when propositioning a generation of guys whose modus operandi is more “we fuck once or twice and then he marches his perfect body to the next taker.” Tove Lo is a smart enough songwriter that I think this might be on purpose; I just don’t want to listen to it.
[5]

Luisa Lopez: Please God, don’t let “Habits” be her only hit. It’s interesting to note that happiness is less affecting, and perhaps less marketable, than the terror of consuming despair with a beat. Love songs run the risk of being nondescript if they’re not leveled by something extraordinary: joy or rage or jealousy. If you’re going to have a lyric like “We fuck for life, on and on and on,” you’ve got to have a sound that recreates those furtive afternoons or erases them altogether with shame and longing, the banality of the morning. Here, nothing happens and it’s not the kind of absence that turns into poetry.
[5]

Alex Ostroff: If you love me right, we fuck for life? That’s a mighty big if when dealing with perfect bodies and delicious fingertips. There’s something dark under the synths and the strut of “Talking Body”: “Swear it won’t take you long,” isn’t something I say to someone who I think is down for life, even if I’m down for whatever. It’s a phrase borne of my fear that once the night’s spell breaks, he’ll realize he’s out of my league and evaporate. I might bravely declare “Bodies: let’s use ‘em up ’til every little piece is gone,” but once I’m all used up, your perfect body is usually on to the next one. The vague melancholy here suggests Tove knows this deep down. Even so, dancing to self-delusion doesn’t have the appeal it once did.
[6]

Moses Kim: “Habits (Stay High)” acknowledged the sadness rumbling beneath Tove Lo’s party-girl act; “Talking Body” feels sharper in comparison, more put-together. There are still hints of vulnerability here and there — the ascending three-note pattern in the chorus cuts through the haze around it like a scalpel — but the overall sound is one of somebody sobered up, preying on the same bodies that once preyed on her. Quietly determined, quietly moving.
[7]

Brad Shoup: What I find neat about this is the reference to crying, which would seem to imply palliative sex, but instead, she’s a believer in the redemptive eternal fuck. Drying one’s tears has, in pop, traditionally been a male promise. And here she is, shaking things off with a longstepping beat and the synths’ gloomy grandeur. Oh, and she gets to provide the “hey”s.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The verses are fine, but this song is all about the chorus, which impacts like when Olivia Newton-John or Sheena Easton went all sexy. Even the phrase “now, if we’re talking body” smacks hard of 1983 (which is an awesome thing), and I love the twist of “if you love me right/we fuck for life” instead of the usual, which would have “love” and “fuck” switched, roughly. If this had been in Perfect it would’ve been a huge hit; it still might. Best thing Tove Lo’s done yet, by furlongs.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: There’s a point in “Talking Body” when Tove Lo sounds as if she is doing bad karaoke — the skyward rush of the last two lines of the hook, when the song really departs from the patience of the verses to spin up into the climax of “love me RI-I-IGHT/fuck for LI-I-IFE” is a bad mix of the worst of Robyn and Charli XCX (Would “We‘ll fuck for LI-I-IFE” have been worse than the weirdly pidgin-ish “We fuck for life”? I submit no!) and she’s undone by the chiming, tinny synths. With a voice already squarely in Miley Cyrus’s range, the effect is a little uncanny. But she’s still got a pen with a knack for melody and soft-loud-soft dynamics, and knows how to write short verses that lead into killer pre-hooks. And when the song ends, and the synth mess disappears, the hook is there and bare and stuck in my head. Given how American radio has been dominated by Meghan Trainor’s unbearable cute act, Sam Smith’s droning torch songs, and Taylor Comes To New York! for months, it’s a welcome intrusion.
[8]