Sunday, October 20th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending October 19, 2019

Can’t get enough Jukebox in your life? Here’s our weekly digest of what our writers have been up to lately:

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

Perhaps one of the longest singles we’ve ever reviewed…


[Video]
[5.83]

Tim de Reuse: The first half: an expensive-sounding concatenation of orchestral tropes that aim for nothing higher than consonant wooshing. The second half: Nick Cave mutters “Here we go,” and then mourns for five long minutes. And it’s not like I feel nothing listening to this little portrait of a mourning family, on-the-nose as it is (Best line: “Papa bear, he just floats”) but there’s something impersonal about such lavish design, and there’s something distant about Cave’s grandiose imagery. Does crushing emotion really sound so cinematic?
[5]

Alfred Soto: I get it. He’s respectable. He may have earned a few minutes of a string section. Then the star makes his entrance and I’m thumbing my phone. A literalist, which means he means what he says, Nick Cave is a performer devoid of mystery, a songwriter who has embraced darkness for more than thirty years because he thinks doing so adduces his depth. Once in a while he’s hooked me with one of his grand experiments in pomp. Listening to “Ghosteen,” I mourn Scott Walker.
[3]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: “Ghosteen” contains the accumulated rage and the tempestuous resentment of a man entirely questioning his faith, and releases into the eventual embrace of the controlled chaos in the beyond. This is Nick Cave’s Ordet — and like Dreyer’s film, it renders its own kind of miracle.
[8]

Will Adams: A three-act tale of grief, “Ghosteen” plays its cards slowly, if a bit obviously. After exactly five minutes of uncertain harmony, the song finally lands on a tonic, and the clouds part. The light is brief, however; in the last third, the orchestra falls away leaving a lone synth and Nick Cave to tumble out verse after verse. The imagery and emotions are not subtle, but they capture the way grief amplifies feelings to their most extreme and crushing.
[6]

Tobi Tella: An immense soundscape that manages to put you on cloud 9 and then make you question it thoroughly through it’s 12 minute runtime. It’s meandering, but it’s allowed to be.
[6]

Ian Mathers: After a few listens the length still isn’t quite working for me — not because singles “shouldn’t” be 12 minutes (c’mon) and certainly not because I’m adverse to lengthy songs in general. It’s more than “Ghosteen” in particular taps into an especially rich, swirling vein of sorrow near the middle of it, and then never quite returns. So I’m knocking a song about the dissatisfactions of grief for being, in some sense, unsatisfying? Well, when you put it like that…
[7]

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

Chromatics – You’re No Good

Bit harsh, we thought you were alright…


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Ian Mathers: Why must a song be “good”? Is it not enough to sit somewhere dark and hear a beautiful synthesizer, huge?
[6]

Kylo Nocom: Dance music as building, atmospheric sprawls will either land squarely into my thing or miss and land directly into tired tastefulness. “You’re No Good” loops its own mechanical synth designs with knowing elegance but lacking a euphoric pay-off it desperately needs. Only at the bridge is there tension, Radelet singing “stay away” with a breathy detachment over “Strangers”-esque handclaps that lead only to where the song began. Elsewhere, the song meanders into vague imagery and slight electronic plucks all in service of nocturnal vibes that appropriately put me to sleep. Kelsey Lu explored this titular conceit with less said yet somehow more to say.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I don’t quite understand the reputation beyond sunglasses-at-noon types who think Sleigh Bells sully the legend of Jesus & Mary Chain. “You’re No Good” startles, though: the tempo and keyboards suggest the nocturnal early eighties of Quarterflash. In 2011 a breakthrough, no doubt. Now they force me to listen to the words. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: A while back an acquaintance called Chromatics the music equivalent of Jeremy Fragrance, and if you got that reference, you know how annihilating a burn that is, even if Chromatics songs kept being things I was irritatingly moved by. This song — any Johnny Jewel-affiliated songs, maybe — could stand to be more that.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Italo disco redux, perfectly light and airy like a sponge cake; as per the best Italo disco, it requires and has a breezy female vocal, for which I’m quite glad. 
[8]

Julian Axelrod: This is more anthemic and less gloomy than I expected, although it’s certainly not lacking in mood. Everything feels meticulously planned out, down to the synthetic percussion loop that slowly consumes the last minute. But this being Chromatics, there’s no easy resolution. The track warps and leans in lieu of a drop, leaving you dizzy and disoriented and right back where you started.
[7]

Friday, October 18th, 2019

Sam Hunt – Kinfolks

We have some questions for you, Mr. Hunt…


[Video]
[4.17]

Stephen Eisermann: Five years later and this is the best he has? “Downtown’s Dead” was better than this and even that wasn’t too much of an improvement over his first album. I’ve never expected much out of Sam Hunt, but this is particularly lazy considering how adamant he seemed about releasing a different type of material during his hiatus. Here’s hoping to a better album then, eh?
[4]

Alfred Soto: Who says “kinfolk”? Maybe in Sam Hunt’s Cedartown, where these gestures come easily like this adrenalized admixture of nostalgia and lust doesn’t. 
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: I don’t believe a word of this come-on. And his use of “kinfolks” feels like some desperate “I’m country, really” pandering.
[3]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I should know better than to like Sam Hunt’s average-at-best romancing, but there’s something about “Kinfolks” that’s too endearing and wholesome to resist. It’s in the weird choice of “kinfolks” instead of just “family”; the way he talks about this hometown with more pride than it probably deserves; the smile you just know he’s bearing while singing pickup lines he’s used before; the fact that he namechecks his mom Joanie just because he can. It’s all so basic, but sometimes basic feels nice; I hope this plays this in the background of hometowns for the next season of The Bachelor and it actually ends with an engagement.
[6]

Will Adams: Extra point for the fluttering mandolin that comes in at the end, because it’s all that’s noteworthy about this watery broth of a song.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: The essence of Sam-Hunt-ness, but such is the shadow and stealth influence on dude-country of Montevallo, the more he leans into his essence, the less distinctive he sounds. How’s that for a paradox?
[4]

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Harry Styles – Lights Up

If Harry puts his Lights Up, maybe he can change the world?


[Video]
[5.33]

Kayla Beardslee: When I say, What the hell is this structure?, I mean it in both a complimentary and a confused way. On one hand, it’s nice that Styles is experimenting beyond the traditional pop song structure, but on the other, “Lights Up” ends after a single chorus, barely even establishing itself as worthy of attention. Maybe it’ll sound better in the context of the album (an argument I’m not particularly fond of), but releasing a slightly muddled, interlude-like creation as a lead single is a risky move. The production is fine (glad to see Jeff Bhasker get a new production credit), but my real quibble is with the lyrics, which are, frankly, a mess. Maybe they’re trying to say something personal, but there are absolutely no specific images here, only meaningless abstractions. “What do you mean?,” “I’m sorry by the way,” “Can’t you see?”: we never learn what these lines are actually referencing, what conversation or larger topic they’re responding to. Styles just throws them out like they’re important — he’s singing these lines, so they must be, right? — but never bothers to elaborate. And let’s talk about the central light/dark conceit. The prechorus says, “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark / Running through my heart,” so the idea is that there’s a darkness inside Styles that isn’t affected by the light. But the chorus switches to him stepping into the light, shining, and saying “I’m not ever going back,” so I guess the dark has been put out and that first part was an irrelevant lie and oh my god what’s even the point of all this hype if the music can’t communicate anything of substance.
[3]

Isabel Cole: Remember how Leonard DiCaprio used to be like, I mean, yes, super pretty, but also a gifted young actor with an unteachable movie star charisma and a wonderful sincerity that brought real feeling even to schlock like Titanic, only it was not enough for him to be rich and beautiful and famous and actually, in fact, extremely good at his craft, he decided he needed to be, like,serious, he needed to earn the respect of the joyless mediocrity-lovers of the Academy, he had to prove himself as An Artist as defined by perhaps the least imaginative deliberative body in the performing arts, and now he hasn’t given a good performance since 2002 because no matter how committed his choices and no matter how thoughtful his physicality, he is incapable of convincing because you can always see the thinking behind the acting, you can’t ever believe he is anyone other than a man desperately committed to embodying his own self-seriousness which is leaking off him so potently you wonder if his castmates can smell it on set? Anyway, “All the lights couldn’t put out the dark running through my heart” is a pretty great line, so it’s too bad that this song sucks.
[3]

Alfred Soto: A hashtag in search of a song, a yearning in search of an object, messianic in a godless world, strummy without sincerity, “Lights Up” incarnates 2019. But I light a candle for another “Fireproof” and “No Control.”
[4]

Alex Clifton: Harry certainly isn’t afraid to take risks. He’s got a bit of an oddball swing to his singles–making his solo debut track about childbirth was a creative move. “Lights Out” sounds like nothing on the radio currently which is pretty awesome; I love the tonal shift in the chorus that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” in particular as that is a rare move in pop music. I would love to see Harry go full on avant-garde on this album with hints of Elton and Bowie and judging by this single, he is on his way there.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: For all of the think-pieces that “Lights Up” is getting for its sultry music video and Harry Styles’s statements (or lack thereof) regarding his sexuality, it’s easy to forget what this song even sounds like: it’s a slice of gourmet vanilla cake, light and airy, rich in texture, basic but tasty. Lyrically, it’s effective if unambitious, perfectly what Harry described in own words, “It’s all about having sex and feeling sad.”
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: All the fancy production styles Styles pulls out of his voluminous costumes — the “Rock With You” chords in the chorus, the gospel-ish backing vocals, the pummeling percussion breaks — and all the glomming-on by Rolling Stone can’t disguise the fact that this is a slightly gussied-up Shawn Mendes or OneRepublic song. Between this and the Niall song, One Direction’s alumni seem to have a taste for the blandest of the band’s old meat-and-potatoes rock influences.
[4]

Claire Biddles: No fan of Harry Styles was surprised when, instead of trailing the imminent sort-of-surprise release of his new single on social media, he popped up in the replies of a fan on Twitter, telling her to spend her money on therapy instead of tickets to his next tour. “I’ll wait for you,” he promised. Like therapy, Harry Styles exists to reflect our selves back at us; a reassuring presence that can be whoever we need him to be. “Lights Up” is a good song, but that matters less than the comfort and affirmation of the open question at its heart. “Do you know who you are?” Harry asks us — as always centring our needs, giving us space, listening rather than waiting to speak. The best pop stars, the best crushes, aid our self-actualisation. Harry Styles is the perfect pop star, the perfect crush, because he understands this dynamic better than anyone else — an uncomplicated delivery system for our multitudinous desires and selves. 
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: What a breathtaking declaration this is. The chaotic production are wrapped perfectly by Harry’s warm vocals, and it all builds to that wonderful climax of a bridge where we meet Harry. He introduces us on his terms, using this song’s video and the release date (yes, releasing on National Coming Out Day is quite the stunt) to really drive home the message, but man if this doesn’t feel like some kind of big event. There are so many arguments that coming out shouldn’t be an event, but man if this isn’t an argument that it should be.
[8]

Elisabeth Sanders: Rock and roll is no longer the counterculture, and hasn’t been for decades. Most of us know this, I think–that a genre that was scandalous catharsis more than half a century ago is now a bastion of old-school respectability cloaked in nothing but the thin aesthetics of its long-gone indecorousness. And so, in a way, it’s the perfect thing to turn to if you’re, say, a former boy-band pop idol trying to shrug off the casual disdain that a certain kind of modern pop evokes. If you want patriarchal legitimacy, sour cream and onion flavor, but you never want to have to admit it.This is not to take some ultracontrarian edgelord view that the only truly authentic thing is commercially-viable stadium pop, because at least it’s honest, but to say merely this: everybody’s trying to signify something, no matter what. Even the painfully earnest.Which brings us past the folk-rock village of Harry’s 2017 self-titled debut, around-about the gorgeously flamboyant suits and the Met Ball hosting gig, through the Rolling Stone interviews and carefully-minimal social media presence, to Lights Up. And it’s… fine. It’s certainly not a bad song, but it is one that I forgot the tune of immediately after hearing. Frankly, I still can’t remember it even now, and I listened to it for the dozenth time a few seconds ago. It’s just pop enough to be pop, just ponderous enough to not really be THAT kind of pop. It’s got some fun spangly bits. It’s probably got a lot of noises made by real instruments in it. And, most notably, it’s got a fantastic, evocative, gay as hell video, which almost successfully conceals the fact that the song itself is playing it safe as midcentury, tastefully-appointed houses. And I guess all this makes me kind of wonder: Harry, DO you know who you are?
[5]

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

SuperM – Jopping

Looking forward to their follow-up single, Pazzing…


[Video]
[5.00]

Alex Clifton: I am never jumping nor popping, so I cannot jop to save my life, but SuperM makes this feel plausible. It’s really neat to see a supergroup of this calibre but the silliness of the title combined with the constant stylistic shifts does the song a disservice; it’s close to being more of a bop but ends up having a few great moments in between all the filler. Taemin sounds great, though!
[5]

Katie Gill: As one of a handful of people who really liked “Kill This Love,” it should come as no surprise that I adore the loud, obnoxious, brass band-esque nature of the chorus. A bit less fond of the more minimalist stylings of the verses and dance break, but there is no way SuperM would have enough stamina or chutzpah to support an entire song with the obnoxious bombast of that chorus. Also, I’m sure that other blurbs will say this so there’s no need to belabor the point, but “jopping” is a fucking stupid word to build a song around.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: If it were in any way silly, it’d make sense to my ears. There’s this plasticky, Imagine Dragons-y tone to the shouted bits and a movie-trailer SFX theme running under it all that effects an unappealing self-seriousness. For a song that’s presumably about having a good time at the club, it’s awfully stressed out.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Jopping” is the most expensive addition to the NCT universe. Everyone involved is very much in on the “Avengers of K-pop” tagline with that slightly tongue-in-cheek intro led by the THX brass. But the flexing rhymes are as Hip Hop 101 as “Regular,” and the beat is as bouncy and tactile as “Simon Says.” An audacious move, though, is how NCT’s seniors stand in as decoration, their rising vocals applied as something resembling epic string flourishes to convey grandeur. It’s held up by some bloat, both the production and this whole supergroup deal, for a simple dance-pop song centered on an endearingly dumb portmanteau. Yet it’s not surprising to see the same company that brought a single called “Wakey Wakey” this year with equal amounts of style and cheese to go this far to give some feeling of a blockbuster event.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: As if the Backstreet Boys did a Warcraft III tie-in single in the ’90s, except sultry. Whose idea was this shit?
[7]

Michael Hong: If you’re going to promote your new supergroup as the “Avengers of K-pop,” maybe go for something a little more interesting than an NCT B-side coated in a futuristic gloss.
[4]

Iain Mew: The combination of the ill-fitting ridiculousness of the title phrase and the total insistence on not acknowledging that at any point makes the song. An assortment of fairly rote swagger modes end up taking on an air of surreal successful tightrope walk. We we we joppington.
[7]

Alfred Soto: An excruciating listen. Every time this act turns its fleeting attention to one element, the arrangement distorts again: the overcaffeinated as the protean. 
[4]

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Samthing Soweto ft. Shasha, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small – Akulaleki

Another track we all agree goes on the sidebar…


[Video]
[7.33]
Alfred Soto: Afloat on a groove of startling litheness and lightness, “Akulaleki” lets Samthing and Shasha work up a love thing in which I don’t feel the heat as bask in the cool.
[8]

Isabel Cole: I love how this builds, starting out sparse and blooming into lushness it lets itself luxuriate in; the way those descending vocal melodies flurrying down give way to opening upwards prettily; that one insistent note like a heart rate monitor adding a lonesome friction to the effect.
[7]

Alex Clifton: Puts me in a trance state as it shuffles through six minutes with ease.
[7]

Iain Mew: An expansive journey song where the beat provides a comfortable fixed point from which to watch everything else change. It’s not a fast or exciting journey, but there’s at least something in being able to drift in and out of focus on it so easily.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: My dream late-night setlist, in a dream world where such things are perfect and soundtrack unspoiled moments, just got a new eleventh-hour entry.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: So intimate and restless, this is a conceptual triumph. Never overselling or overstretching itself, it confidently invites being boiled  down to those two words, all that are needed to describe a kernel of sensation left to simmer by the quartet behind it. Neither Shasha or Samthing Soweto force the issue — both breathy, but languorously so — and their separation is in the lyrics as much as the structure as much as the delivery. Everything fits, and it makes music seem easy.
[8]

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Sebastián Yatra, Daddy Yankee & Natti Natasha ft. Jonas Brothers – Runaway

It’s time for cooking metaphors…


[Video]
[5.83]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Runaway” is the equivalent of a party hosted by one person who invites their friends, who invite their friends, who invite their friends, and so on, until everything is a little out of hand and you don’t even remember who decided to throw the party in the first place. It helps then, that Sebastián Yatra invites good guests: the Jonas Brothers show up briefly but in solid form, Natti Natasha exudes confidence and sensuality, and Daddy Yankee does the thing that’s been making him compelling for decades. By the time Sebastián Yatra roles around for his own verse after the two minute mark, it’s all but unnecessary: the fun has already started and isn’t like to stop. 
[6]

Julian Axelrod: Proof that pan-regional post-genre monopop doesn’t have to be a complete disaster, even if there’s an 80% chance Kevin Jonas didn’t know what reggaeton was before he got to the studio.
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: The ingredients are all there for “Runaway” to be a mess: there’s the lazy hook (surely a few new syllables besides “runa-runa-runa” wouldn’t have killed the writers?), the basic reggaeton-plus-“I’m the One” beat, and the crowded credits. What are the Jonas Brothers even doing here? (Logically, it’s probably a label thing, but I mean, like, on an existential level.) And yet I can’t find it in myself to dislike the track. The production, though standard for the genre, is bouncy and fun, and the singers’ airy voices mesh together well. Daddy Yankee also kills it in his verse — this might as well be his song.
[5]

Michael Hong: Daddy Yankee’s presence here is both a blessing and a curse. He performs one of the best verses of the year, one that’s bold, colourful, and dynamic, and that makes everyone else sound bland and tedious.
[5]

Ian Mathers: In singles, as in cooking, sometimes just adding more ingredients because you can or even because they’re individually tasty isn’t a good idea because the result becomes muddled, or gets away from the strength of what might have been a perfectly fine recipe to start with. And yes, in this metaphor Daddy Yankee is the cilantro.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: This shouldn’t work. There are too many vocalists, the song is uneventful lyrically, and beat-wise it’s nothing new; and yet there’s something about the playfulness in everyone’s delivery that lets this song hop, skip, and jump along. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and anyone’s ego ruining it all is prevented by everyone’s understanding that this is meant to be just a fun little bop. Sometimes a good time, no matter how familiar, is just that. 
[6]

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Rich Brian & Chung Ha – These Nights

Rich in consensus, if not points…


[Video]
[3.43]

Will Adams: At this point I’m not sure what it would take for me to become invested in the Rich Brian project, but I do know that a poor Toro y Moi imitation is not it.
[4]

Kylo Nocom: “Bring It Back” was fun in that Yachty actually sounded like he was enjoying himself. This just sounds like another painful step in Rich Brian’s attempts to make something meaningful out of his career. Both vocalists sound like they’re trying to find a melody in this mess: Brian scrapes at his higher register in horrific whines, and Chung Ha’s verse opens with the ugliest notes (who’s gonna do it like meeeeeeee). If acting hard for suburban kids didn’t work out, an artistic turn ultimately failed to prove your worth, and this sensitive outing is as poorly executed as it is, maybe Rich Brian should instead invest in more microwaved bread tutorials.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Rich Brian makes Justin Chang on the Dan + Shay single sound like Merle Haggard. The nadir of eighties revivalism — Jack Wagner but not adenoidal. 
[2]

Stephen Eisermann: This is a pretty standard modern pop-R&B track, but man, does Rich Brian sound out of place. Where the production shines, Rich Brian struggles to sound like the right voice, and he’s outperformed on his own track by Chung Ha. She gives us crossover, and he gives us SNL parody.
[5]

Jibril Yassin: Rich Brian is entirely out of his depth, his tinny and anonymous singing voice doing no favours. None of the charisma you’d associate with him is present — did it disappear with the addition of that awful mullet?
[4]

Tobi Tella: I’ve never found much interesting about Rich Brian, and unfortunately this doesn’t buck the trend. On a song that seems like it’s going for introspective, his lyrics are shallow and bland. Chung Ha gives the track some life, but her deep, throaty voice doesn’t go well with the instrumental, and her lyrics aren’t much different. A mildly unpleasant listening experience through and through.
[3]

Ian Mathers: The thing about “Indigo” (also from this… collective?) is that it was way more distinctive than it really needed to be, full of little idiosyncrasies that caught the ear. I keep listening to “These Nights” hoping for more of the same, but that’s the real problem with this otherwise decent song; there’s absolutely nothing here that feels distinctive.
[5]

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Luke Combs – Even Though I’m Leaving

stop, don’t, come back…


[Video]
[4.83]
Thomas Inskeep: Things I like about Luke Combs: His deep, drawling voice. The fact that his songs sound so trad country — not quite Jon Pardi, but certainly better than a Dan + Shay (in fact, in terms of import he might well be his generation’s Randy Travis). Things I don’t like about Luke Combs: He only seems to really pull off songs about relationships between men; women are a blind spot for him. Fortunately for these purposes, “Even Though I’m Leaving” is about the relationship between fathers and sons, and he sings this strong song well.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Initially thought this was gonna be a melancholy song about a dying father, but it turns out to be considerably less moving. It traces the fear a child has when a parent isn’t around them, and links this to the fear that same child has when he grows up and goes to war? Give me a break.
[3]

Oliver Maier: Trots along pleasantly, uninterestingly. Ostensibly a tender ode to the bond between a father and his son but still as arena-ready as anything else in Combs’ arsenal. +1 for the mandolin, more vivid than any of his vocal delivery or storytelling.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Ken Burns’ documentary served as reminder that audiences have patience for mild-voiced crooners whose nods toward their rural roots extend no further than mandolin solos. As warm as a roaring fire in December, as comfortable as a boring neighbor, Luke Combs would like you to know that he can do this as long as he’s alive.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Luke Combs keeps making the least bad versions of bad concepts. He manages to make the conceit here — the lingering feelings and memories of those who have left that we can’t detach from our experiences — as un-creepy as possible (except for the sleep line), and even throws in a nifty little acoustic solo. Yet it still doesn’t move the needle, and the move to daddy issues schlock on the last verse is thoroughly unconvincing.
[5]

Hazel Southwell: Bold of some country fella to do a daddy culture anthem. Unfortunately, it does not slap.
[4]