Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

The Goon Sax – We Can’t Win

And we won’t win, don’t you know it’s we who run the… aw forget it…


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Alfred Soto: This Brisbane act has a strummy offhand approach to melody that recalls Louis Forster’s dad’s former band The Go-Betweens, and he does well to cede half of the vocal to drummer Riley Jones, who sets him straight on a couple things.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Awkward, shambolic charm isn’t a novel concept in indie-rock, but The Goon Sax have rebranded it for the 21st century in a way that feels achingly genuine. I lived in Brisbane from 2015 to 2017; the band’s hometown launch show for their debut album was endearingly unpolished, taking place months after Up To Anything was released, in a bar next to the railway station which looked like it had quite possibly never hosted a gig before. Barely 18 years old apiece, they’d released an album of songs which were slight and laconic but deceptively sharp, full of both throwaway wit and intense self-examination, heartbroken but brave; it felt like their talent needed to be protected at all costs, like they might blow away in a stiff breeze. From the follow up We’re Not Talking, “We Can’t Win” is a gentle outlier, but it epitomises their vulnerability; it’s brittle-boned and hollowed-out, the edifice of self-deprecating humour and low-stakes Australiana (banana bread, 7/11, Shane Warne, etc.) stripped away to leave nothing but sadness and self-doubt. A rattling Casiotone For The Painfully Alone beat sets the scene; “I was told to distance myself from a situation when it makes me nervous,” is a line delivered with devastating naivete by, in separate verses, Louis Forster and Riley Jones. They seem to have learned a lot from their compatriots Dick Diver, masters of expressing wry, poignantly specific yearning with an Australian accent. When their two voices overlap in the coda, they sound at once so entwined and so apart, capturing an unbridgeable gap between two people who won’t ever be able to forget one another.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Listening with headphones, I mostly like how the snare feels like someone is chiseling something inside my inner ear. As the song progresses, The Goon Sax do something similar, carving out a space that slowly invites listeners to embrace the quaint pleasantries of their modest vocals and guitar strums. It’s charming.
[5]

Iain Mew: Few songs carry through on their premise as thoroughly as this — a trip through resignation so exhausted it’s an open question whether they’ll make it through without collapse. As it is they rally and build, but only to a series of lines ending in increasingly drawn out sighs, the final one delightfully ripping its way right out of the song structure.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Angst without emotion, writerly detail without a point, an indie pop arrangement without distinguishing musical characteristics.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: As soon as I heard it, my ears immediately perceived the line “How can I feel alright when I’ll hate myself for it?” What an awful feeling, and it is incredible how many times I felt it this year. “We Can’t Win” reminds me of all those times when there seemed to be no way out, when it was all despair but I was so tired that I didn’t have the strength to scream and could only speak as lonesome as the voices in this song. The combination of the deep voice of Louis Forster and the sweet one of Riley Jones is like a caress, while the strumming of the acoustic guitar adds the warmth to unite them. I’ve already heard songs like “We Can’t Win” in many indie pop bands, but it just never fails to make me feel sensitive, nostalgic and less lonely in the world. 
[7]

Joshua Copperman: I loved the beginning, but the guitar came in and initially killed my enthusiasm. My camp counselor played Triple J music between breaks in summer camp, and while listening to that afterwards ultimately got me into Everything Everything, most of the music was slightly detached and awkward, like this. Yet initially I couldn’t get past the feeling that “We Can’t Win” went from Sleep Well Beast to San Cisco covering “Sleep All Summer?” I gradually came to appreciate this song because of that detachment – it really fits how tired the lyrics are, like if “Somebody That I Used To Know” was about a mutual breakup instead of a one-sided fallout. The lyrics are the same for both verses, but Louis Forster and Riley Jones have slightly different phrasing even as they come to similar conclusions. Also, not to be all Pundit Twitter about it, but is there really a better title for a 2018 breakup song than “We Can’t Win?”
[7]

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Annika Norlin – Showering In Public

And now let’s slip into something a bit more uncomfortable…


[Video][Website]
[5.71]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Showering in Public” doesn’t need to be heard more than once. It’s like a heart-to-heart you have with a friend, where the weight of every emotion and shared story remains with you forever; you don’t recall the event every time you see this person, but it shapes how you think about them, interact with them, love them. “Showering in Public” achieves this effect because of the premise from which it’s derived: a year-long project where Annika Norlin and Jens Lekman communicated with each other via monthly-released singles. As such, this is personal and lyric-heavy, less a piece of music than a letter read aloud. Norlin spends the duration of the song tracing the history of her distaste for showering in public, and how it’s a result of perverts both young and old trying to see her and other females in the nude. It’s poignant and funny and quotidian all at once, the instrumentation solely functioning as necessary accompaniment to qualify this as song-like. Tracks like these display how making a song allows for a valuable distancing — something with which one can approach specific feelings and ideas that may otherwise be too difficult to tackle head-on.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Norlin’s details and her po-faced humour make the banal impositions of misogynist culture precise and clear. Sometimes it becomes a little plodding, but you feel churlish for pointing it out because of the nature of her subjects. This one isn’t as interesting as some of the songs from Hello Saferide, but it has some great lines.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: Using an idiosyncratic but relatable experience such as showering in public as a tool for stringing memories together, creating an oblique window into the narrator’s soul: a really good idea. Those memories literally all being of pervy boys/men at school: makes a point, but stifles the song’s emotional range. Patronising the listener by explaining the concept of the song (“This is me recapping my life when it comes to showering in public”): not good. It almost feels like improv songwriting — the verse structure is malleable, lines frequently don’t scan — but Norlin lacks the humour to sell it. The spare guitar backing could have worked on a Julien Baker song, but feels incongruous and tepid here. +1 point for teaching me how to pronounce the Swedish city of Göteborg, though.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The details are precise and painful, the musical elements non-existent. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Uncomfortable nakedness as metaphor for uncomfortable self-revelation appeals to many singer-songwriters, for obvious reasons — think Kristin Hersh titling her memoir Paradoxical Undressing, after the phenomenon in hypothermia. The first verse of “Showering in Public” starts to go there, but it soon becomes clear that no, this will just be about literal showering in public. And the starchy vocal, singsong “Tom’s Diner” affect, and banal detail for detail’s sake (“one of the bathrooms was broken — it had a sign that said ‘broken'”) make it hard to really care.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Norlin is one of those songwriters who can take something so quotidian and personal and start addressing in a way that, even if you know how good she is at this mode, seems like it’s going to be inconsequential or silly, only by the end to have thoroughly captured something real and moving and sometimes very dark. It’s not the only good way to write a song, but it’s an impressive one when it’s properly executed, partly because it would be so easy for the results to fall flat.
[7]

Iain Mew: My most mortifying experience in my Singles Jukebox career came through picking Hello Saferide’s “Arjeplog” for Amnesty 2009. I’m only just about at the point where I can link to it now; read between the lines of my comment there and you can see how deeply I was bothered by the way so many people gathered round a reading of it as an uncomfortable intimacy simulation that was a long way away from mine. I related deeply to her, and that was that. Now here I am picking one of her songs as the one that moved me most in the year again, and given that it’s about a lifetime’s experience of predatory men being supported by structural misogyny I can’t directly relate. In an ironic twist, it’s also framed as intimate correspondence — Annika and Jens Lekman have spent 2018 exchanging musical letters, with this one making the most of that concept. Something else is obviously happening. Feeling right there in the moment with her is part of how it works after all. But there’s explanation in a key line on the last Hello Saferide album too: “where we come from, we drink or we suppress” to which I can only mentally add “…and I very rarely drink.” The thing that makes “Showering in Public” for me is its understatement: Annika Norlin’s elliptical approach, the wry asides, the way the gut-punch “the paper published the news with a fun caricature” has so much power through implication. The closing section addressed more specifically to Jens, the quilted jacket in Göteborg, becomes an unusual kind of emotional climax. The stark music does a lot of the work of filling in everything left unsaid, but ultimately the way of writing out feelings in a studiedly offhand style and then moving rapidly and desperately on feels incredibly real and personal. I’m overdue on writing to two dear friends and I have things to say that I don’t know where to start with, but I do know that the next step after carefully pouring out your soul is obviously to fill in niceties about the weather. I’m so happy to hear someone else get it.
[9]

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Gang Parade – Breaking the Road

This Song’s Okay (We Promise)


[Video]
[7.67]

Vikram Joseph: The double-speed, EDM-influenced, Japanese “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” we had all obviously been waiting for.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Everyone involved in “Breaking the Road” does their absolute best in each of their established roles, but it’s bittersweet to witness such collective completeness in what would be the last Gang Parade single with this seven-person line-up. Following Gang Parade with Aya Eight Prince was a story of a band defining itself through the ongoing growth of its tight-knit relationships with one another. They were first lonely souls barely getting acquainted, and then they looked unstoppable once they saw each other eye to eye. I suppose it’s only right it ends with a farewell. Aya gets the last spot in “Breaking the Road” as she should: after this, she would return to her original group BiS to wreak havoc there. Her eventual exit informs the lyrics about moving forward, an attitude the group adopts more out of necessity. The explosive punk riff, too, offer no other direction for them to run. Yet the girls toughen up to send their cherished member out with a smile as they work out their impending separation together. GanPare’s two biggest jokers, Coco Partin Coco and Yui Ga Dokuson, turn out to be the ones who deliver the most mature, heartfelt message. And it’s Yumeno Yua, one of the long-standing members of this ever-changing group, who leaves a lyric for Aya to take as a souvenir after they’ve gone their separate ways: “Even if we change shape, we are the one/We’re always looking at the same thing.” After a year full of separation — within Gang Parade, idol culture at large or just general personal experience — it was a lyric that kept me going, too.
[10]

Alfred Soto: I write this blurb on the night Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, the mightiest of pop punk songwriters, died. The racket raised by this Japanese pop punk outfit might have impressed him. “Breaking the Road” needs no further analysis: it’s tough, gnarly, and brief.
[7]

Iain Mew: The massed sonic attack and the way that it breaks up into unexpected sharp edges is a bracing thrill. They turn it into a more conventional rousing chorus and it remains fine, but without any kind of break after that as the same sounds get hammered it all becomes a bit mushy. That lack of lasting clear direction is something the excellent video fixes, at least.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: I was good and ready to award an [8] at least until the crowd sounds started and wouldn’t stop. Who are these randos, and why are they killing my Liveonrelease/Tuuli/Kittie buzz?
[6]

Ian Mathers: This provokes the exact same kind of giddy, giggling thrill I felt when I first listened to Andrew WK and realized he was throwing in whatever he could think of (Motown-style backing vocals, Bach, keyboards) to just make everything as BIG and FAST as he could manage. 
[9]

Taylor Alatorre: If you have a good idea, hold onto it as tightly as possible and don’t let go. At some point it was decided that “Breaking the Road” would be built around a grimy electronic motif and quadruple-time skate punk drumming, and Gang Parade adhere to those ideas as fervently as one can without accidentally making a gimmick song. The pummeling constancy of this rhythmic background creates an ideal launching pad for the members to launch their voices into the stratosphere at the exact moment it’s called for. They allow the chorus to sprawl out and take up all the space it deserves, not resting or deviating until it reaches its logical, inevitable conclusion.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Since my proper introduction to them after emerging out of the ashes of then-former and now-restored member Kamiya Saki’s POP with the possibly five times re-recorded “Plastic 2 Mercy” (a song that still breaks my heart maybe three years into listening to it), Gang Parade are possibly not only my favorite act in the WACK Stable of alt-idol maniacs, but probably my favorite Japanese musical act currently. “Breaking The Road” is the final single by their second line-up which features little of the tearjerker melodrama that infatuated me with the group at first, but culminates all the satisfaction of watching this group of misfits be so proud of themselves. While other seckond Phase GP singles such as the defiant thrash of “Gang Parade” or their “mallpunk Yü-Gung” “イミナイウタ” were eagerly caustic, “Breaking The Road” buckles with buzzsaw guitars and grating d-beat while the harmony above it all is the girls, so astonishingly bold. Most of the various WACK groups — be it BiS, EMPiRE, Billie Idle, whomever you like — have typically hid behind defiance against society in a recognition that they’ll never be the idols they’re expected to be. But “Breaking the Road” is less about the war outside the group than the unity they’ve found within. Now and forevermore, this group is a gang and a family, and to have a song that resonates with that feeling is a greater feeling of victory than they’ve ever managed to achieve.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: An exhilarating dose of pop punk that never lets up. The sheer force of the drumming makes it feel like the girls in Gang Parade are pushing up against your back, ensuring that you keep pressing on despite any circumstances. The spirited chorus transmits an unmistakable sense of uplift, but it’s the bridge — filled with gang vocals and complementary snippets of cheering, laughing, and talking — that points to why encouragement from friends is heartening: it reminds you of the kindred bonds that have been formed, and how they’ll only continue to strengthen.
[7]

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Foxing – Heartbeats

We go big…


[Video]
[6.29]

Ian Mathers: I’m not sure why the rest of Nearer My God didn’t really land for me, but honestly it’s at least partly because I heard “Heartbeats” first. I responded so instantly and so strongly that I just can’t get away from wanting the rest of Foxing’s songs to sound like they’re simultaneously deep under water and lost in space, I want them all to have strings and chanting and screaming, and whenever I try and get into them for what they are I just wind up playing this instead.
[9]

Taylor Alatorre: Almost everything here is just teetering on the edge of greatness. The chorus drives home a simple, easily adaptable sentiment with intuitive gusto, but it doesn’t point to any larger truth beyond itself, despite clearly wanting to. The orchestral bookends encourage a contemplative mindset and set the stage for the controlled demolition to follow, but there’s no emotional string tying them to the oblique lyrics about the stubbornness of self-negation. The pulse-and-handclap percussion of the verses fits the title, but doesn’t accentuate the vocals as well as it could. The one moment that qualifies as unmitigated greatness is the unexpected, haphazardly perfect buildup to the song’s most crucial and best delivered line: “Pull that rat heart out of your chest/It doesn’t mean anything to us now.”
[7]

Vikram Joseph: One of the most striking things about Foxing’s Nearer My God is the way that moments of heart-stopping beauty or breathtaking intensity emerge from passages which at first seem murky, but with retrospect can only be seen as masterful builds of tension. On lead single “Slapstick,” it’s the moment when the guitars cut through like a searchlight, Conor Murphy yelps “I walk around with a head-glow!”, and it genuinely feels like the ground has been ripped from under my feet and I’m plummeting through empty air. On “Heartbeats,” it’s that breathless, anti-gravity dream of a chorus apparating from the harrowed fog of the verses: a sweet existential escape, the moment when your flight ascends above the cloud layer after taking off on a soggy winter day. Admittedly, that chorus is “You are not in love, so stop playing along,” but the word “love” is drawn out so far that it fills 90 per cent of the space; listening to Foxing, I’m suspended between a serrated nihilism and dizzy elation, and it feels vital.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: How well this song works for you might depend on how you take to Conor Murphy’s voice. My first impression was that I didn’t like it, but that swirling hook of “you are not in loooooove” as the orchestration swells is one hell of a moment of release. There’s really nowhere any song would be able to go from there, and so the song dropping to the barest bones after the second verse is a bunch of wasted seconds, but as far as half-finished dead-ends of pure emotion go, I’m impressed.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: A sumptuous, dramatic arrangement in search of a tolerable vocalist.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: Halfway through my first listen, I had to check I didn’t have another tab playing wind sounds or something in the background — I then confirmed that the omnipresent whooshing noise is, in fact, a deliberate attempt at creating ambiance on the part of whoever produced this. The arrangement is so lavish that it’s claustrophobic, feeding string flourishes through numbing reverb and pumping an airy drone in to smother every quiet moment. I’m so confounded by this mix that I don’t have the energy to poke fun at the incomprehensibly theatrical vocals through extended metaphor.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: There’s symphonic strings, there’s a disco beat, there’s annoyingly strained vocals, there’s an actual build, there’s live drums — there’s a lot of interesting parts that kind of add up to a good song. This might sound better in the context of an album? I wish there were a little more structure here, but it gets over.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Foxing’s album works best as an excerpted experience, where the scale of their overwroughtness turns the nearest competition into rubble. On “Heartbeats,” Conor Murphy looks to Taana Gardner, Stacey Q, and the Knife in an effort to create a disco-tastic chorus, and it almost works.
[7]

Iain Mew: This first time listening to Foxing properly my mind immediately went to Everything Everything. That band hasn’t gone as lush with the strings or as grizzly with the vocals as “Heartbeats” does, but they’ve definitely used its twiddly guitar tone and the approach of stacking layers and layers and layers on to a musical Jenga tower of ungainly indie-funk is a familiar one. It’s one I frequently love and Foxing achieve the same intense feeling of being buffeted by emotion and the inexplicable.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Musically speaking, I would’ve been content with Foxing making variations of “The Medic” for the rest of their career, but I appreciate how much growth they’ve shown since their debut. “Heartbeats” shows just that, and it’s most striking for the dissonance present between Conor Murphy’s whiny vocalizing and the orchestral instrumentation, the latter of which would sound less polished if employed by other emo bands of their ilk. They throw in a grooving drum beat that further disrupts the landscape, and the incongruence between these three elements creates an uneasy tension that aligns well with the lyrics. The song isn’t egregious by any means, but it certainly feels less than the sum of its parts, like the band is trying to get by on the mere existence of these ideas. It’s also hard to watch the music video and not view it as the overwrought emo dude’s version of “Geyser.” “Heartbeats” isn’t dilettantish, but it comes close.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: No matter how densely you orchestrate your bridge, your mid-’00s indie jam of the week is nothing more and nothing less, bucko.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Heartbeats” sounds like the resulting music heard while standing in the middle of echoes of different songs playing at a distance. The faint strings, synthesized drums, light scribbles of guitars: they all brush up against each other but barely materialize into anything solid. The vague sense of contact makes that chorus more punchy, for it’s the most tangible and straightforward thing provided, including the contained lyrics. It strikes like a warning bell more than a light bulb going off, and its concision makes me want to hold it tight, especially because it’s as slippery as any of the elusive sounds here, thanks to Conor Murphy’s flailing vocals. Maybe a different emo punk band would let that chorus become the release it craves to become, but not Foxing.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Everything’s unsteady here, from the Rachmaninoff sample that floats around the corroded rooms that Foxing builds to the threat-posed-as-anthem of the chorus. But it’s a compelling unsteady, a shambling creature that draws you inexorably into its grasps. It’s not the hookiest song on the record (“Gameshark” is the clear choice there), but it holds onto you with an undying energy that stays even after the song ends.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: “Heartbeats,” shouldn’t work, and doesn’t work, but that’s why it works. That may sound like a backhanded, condescending compliment, but the band is fully aware that they’re biting off more than they can chew (an expression Conor Murphy used first.) The members of Foxing must know that theoretically, none of this works together in the slightest; not the Rachmaninoff sample, not the muddy drum machine, not the time signature that no one can even count, the awkward transition to the chorus, not the bone-chilling histrionics of the bridge. Yet somehow, the lyrics hold this together and justify the enormous musical scope. The first verse feels like watching raw footage of someone contemplating death for the one moment of freedom between the bridge and the ground. It took me a while to understand the rest of the song because of how much that opening section haunted me, even as the first few lines use typography as depression metaphor (“The font was serif’d and tasteless/It was slanted and Latin to death”) “Heartbeats” seems to depict an aftershock of a toxic relationship, and cutting someone off even when they’re “begging forgiveness” from the gallows. Don’t fall for it, screams Murphy: “Pull that rat heart out of your chest/it doesn’t mean anything to us now.” It’s jarringly unsentimental, but there’s plenty of senitment to counter those lines: it wouldn’t be emo without a lyric like “your heart beats with us now” and a chorus like “you are not in loOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOve” to counter the intimacy. Inexplicably, the production winds up accentuating the urgency rather than taking away from the story, even during that bridge. Nearer My God is at its best when the band uses the studio to recreate their live energy instead of trying to replicate a live sound, and that’s why “Heartbeats” succeeds. All the high-concept elements come together to first evoke a terror way beyond falling, then the way out.
[9]

Monday, December 10th, 2018

U.S. Girls – Pearly Gates

It is Amnesty Week, but there is no reprieve from 2018…


[Video]
[7.00]

Katherine St Asaph: How is it possible that “Pearly Gates” gets bleaker every month? The single was released in January, well before Kavanaugh and his neverending news siege would make a casual knife-cut of the line “they’d seen the judge, he’d heard them out.” (It just struck me that Meg Remy might also be singing “herd.”) It’d already developed a bleak crust when review after review marveled at the supposed seduction and “sauciness” of a recounting of rape (“I asked for nothing but to stop it short / I guess he didn’t hear a word I said.”) It’s not like “Pearly Gates” is a subtle song — a heatsick G-funk arrangement that perseverates on its minor-key melody, a tortured chorus singing “never be safe” — but rather, that women can be this unsubtle and still be overlooked. As the saying goes, by age 30 you should have at least three names of harassers or worse, at least six reasons not to say anything about that, and at least [unknowable static] lost opportunities. How should anyone expect anything else from the afterlife? It’s right there in the Bible: thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Remy boils the scenario down to one cruel act; she doesn’t tell us whether the singer was “supposed” to go to heaven, nor whether St. Peter let her in, though the odds seem grim. But just as The Handmaid’s Tale allows some hope via the existence of an epilogue, “Pearly Gates” allows one tiny crumb of cold spite: After the first verse “St. Peter” loses his sainthood, so the lyrics become the likes of “Peter bragged he was good at pulling out,” the sort of banal evil of mortal men, then a ridiculous image of him “practicing,” like sociopath Kegels. You judge whether there’s comfort there.
[9]

Iain Mew: “Pearly Gates” has a wonderfully dark lyrical concept and Meghan Remy gives a fantastic performance (which makes me think Indie Kylie in the best way), and it’s only once the choral vocals come in that it doesn’t quite click. I think I can see the punctured grandiosity they’re musically going for, but I might have found carrying through further on that grandiosity more enjoyable and more satisfyingly satirical.
[6]

Alfred Soto: In a Poem Unlimited is a showcase for one of the most protean of contemporary artists. On “Pearly Gates” she flaunts her Olivia Newton-John sex kitten voice for the sake of a scenario in which even St. Peter demands sexual favors. The keyboard and rhythm track burrow into place, as if the character has made up her mind.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Like every other song on A Poem Unlimited, “Pearly Gates” offers songwriting, production, and vocalizing that’s near unassailable; it’s easy to hear this and seek no more but a simple surface-level enjoyment of its aesthetics. And that’s what makes it so biting: Meghan Remy uses heaven and its gatekeeper to depict the disenchanting reality and prevalence of idiocy, abuse, and manipulation that women face from men (in power), yet the song itself sounds utterly delightful in its theatrics. The high likelihood of lax engagement with this track models the warning that the lyrics relay, indicating how even the most well-seeming institutions can be dark. “You’ll never be safe.”
[7]

Vikram Joseph: A nightmarish parable which serves as an effective allegory for power, the patriarchy and general appalling male behaviour, made darkly appetising by a relentless, taunting, intoxicating hook that feels like it’s enfolding you in its tendrils. Meghan Remy unleashes a wonderful, ominous tremolo in the background around the three-minute mark, but the moment of catharsis that feels inevitable never actually arrives. It feels unexpectedly indebted to late ’90s hip-hop and R&B, and “Pearly Gates” is probably just an explosive rap cameo away from true greatness.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A haunted groove, equal parts nostalgic (hints of No Doubt, the Pharcyde, and also, possibly, the melody from “Regulate” waft in) and bitter in its outlook. The lyrics, in their marshaling of heaven and earth to tell the story of male abuse of power, could’ve turned out overwrought in the hands of a less adept songwriter. But every flourish of Meg Remy’s lyrics, and the absolute, grim humor with which she delivers them, serve to heighten every blow until they hit like knifes in the back.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: While record scratches and boom-bap drums tip a hat to hip hop, U.S. Girls’ storytelling format is the component in “Pearly Gates” that feels the most indebted to the genre. The three-verse story captivates from the creativity, not to mention the prescience, of its main sacrilegious allegory. Though Meghan Remy’s witty wordplay and her employed tone, self-aware yet still delicate upon its subject matter, are what ultimately keeps “Pearly Gates” engaging well after the initial novelty wears off.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m not quite sure why the music industry is so eager to return to the days of chillout-electronica and eagerly fight it out for placement in the playlists of coffee shops across the country, yet here we stand! “Pearly Gates” feels like one of those mid-to-late-’00s Mike Patton trip-hop projects with a clearly washed and redundant Dan The Automator propping up misguided notions of pop, but just tag in Meghan Remy instead pulling both men’s lackluster performances. The attempts at dark, moody groove more or less feel like mock-noir for a puppet show, a contrived attempt at conveying something that just ends up resembling desperate grabs to score for mid-tier cable shows.
[2]

Ian Mathers: Meghan Remy has always been an interesting songwriter, but the move to something a little more raucous and communal feeling on the stellar In a Poem Unlimited has been good for her songs, and rarely as much so as on “Pearly Gates” and its rueful, ramshackle afterlife tale. It’s relatively rare that an artist hits a peak in art and popularity at the same time, but this one feels richly deserved.
[8]

Joshua Copperman: For some reason, this album didn’t click with me whatsoever on first listen, but after coming back to “Pearly Gates” and engaging with the lyrics, I understand a lot more. Meg Remy’s lyrics are sharp and funny, and the titular punchline (the patriarchy is not only unstoppable, it exists ad perpetuam) is brutal. It’s like Camp Cope’s “The Face of God,” as written by John Grant. Grant’s humor comes from his frankness, but Meg Remy’s humor comes from her wordplay… and frankness (“After he acted as if I hadn’t been in his bed/I was definitely in his bed”). What draws me to this more than even Camp Cope’s music is that humor, as well as the production. It’s not overly showy in its genre-bending, but the ’90s hip-hop reference points are palpable in the clipped drums and gospel-influenced backing vocals, and there’s the same mix of analog warmth and digital precision that I loved in Tracey Thorn’s Record. The issue is that Remy’s vocals are buried just enough in the sonic homage that her lyrics don’t come through as much as they need to. With a song like “Ernest Borgnine,” John Grant is mixed loud and clear, but in “Pearly Gates” the vocals are merely part of the overall vibe and don’t stand out on their own. That’s not a bad thing, but that aesthetic choice explains why I overlooked this as lightly psychedelic pastiche instead of recognizing how great the narrative is.
[8]

Monday, December 10th, 2018

iLOVEFRiDAY – Mia Khalifa

weLOVEAMNeSTYWEEK…


[Video]
[5.25]

Taylor Alatorre: A fake tweet. A vlogger couple. Clout rap. Esoteric e-celeb beef. The mainstreaming of porn. The backlash to the mainstreaming of porn. The politics of the hijab. Executive Order 13769. Murda Beatz-type beats. Samples of Kanye’s Street Fighter II samples. The death of Vine. The localization of Douyin. Anime conventions. Cosplay compilations. Idol hell. Ironic dabbing. 8chan threads. Gender panic. Boxxy nostalgia. Doxxing. White nationalism. The username “EthicalChad.” The ❌ emoji. Turning Point USA parodies. 10 Hour Challenges. Chat spamming. Cursed videos. “I’m already Tracer.” Cultural references that are years out of date but still omnipresent. Ugly lyrics that nobody cares about because they aren’t part of the meme. Ayanami Rei dancing to “Kiss Me Thru the Phone.” Anti-nostalgia. PewDiePie still. Probably a South Park appearance at some point. “Let’s get this money.” Everyone suddenly realizing at the same time that Generation Z is a discrete thing. Unironic dabbing. 2018. “Things Can Only Get Better.”
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Explaining “Mia Khalifa” is possibly one of the most 2018 things in the world, but it’s also not a New Story. A pair of viral pranksters calling themselves iLOVEFRiDAY (Xeno Carr & Smoke Hijabi) who previous to this record were best known for their single “Travel Ban” where Hijabi was memed brattily sneering in Auto-Tune while posing with glocks in Pakistani garb. Could the internet stop itself from making these kids a meme? Dare to Dream! Could the oft-maligned porn star Mia Khalifa resist the urge to dunk on another Middle Eastern girl going viral for “unruly behavior”? She could not! Did Carr and Hijabi subsequently decide to make a song in retaliation that involves a lot of slut-shaming? Of course they did, because taking the high-road and being polite would’ve gotten no attention, which is the antithesis of their existence. That said, for the easy novelty they scored, iLOVEFRiDAY didn’t have to go as hard as they did. The two-fold formula is honestly rare-refined with Xeno Carr sounding like Tyson Ritter of the All-American Rejects pitch-tuned into an inhuman sea of kaleidoscopic juvenile misogyny. Meanwhile, Smoke Hijabi’s verse (yet again turned hyper viral thanks to a popular TikTok video’s incorporating the opening bars) takes the grate and fry of adolescence and scrapes it along the track making the days of Kreayshawn feel like they might as well have been Father MC by comparison. As someone who seethed and rankled in the days of the “ironic ‘screamo’ Crank Dats” or the typical American teen’s detached appreciation for “What’s Your Fantasy” or “Slob On My Knob” for the sake of being “edgy,” I can’t even pretend to be offended or find this abhorrent. For all the idealism of technology resulting in musical revolution, and the whole dissemination of education on how to be woke, any big platform to be seen seemingly always results in kids doing The Dumbest Shit as intrepidly as possible to “win.”
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Music was a mistake and the internet was a mistake and my complete, near-instinctual comprehension of everything going on here has made me reconsider all of my life experiences up until this point — but then again, that’s largely the point of “Mia Khalifa,” which is less song and more shitpost. It’s not reprehensible, in the grand scale of things that could come out of the general concept of “pseudo-religiously motivated diss track against a porn star that reaches popularity via TikTok.” Instead, it’s just boring, the auditory equivalent of the two most annoying people in your Discord group trying to riff on some current event without ever reaching an actual punchline.
[0]

Joshua Copperman: TikTok is mostly harmless, and the cringe compilations that float around the suggested videos algorithm are more dangerous than anything I’ve seen on the platform itself. So it’s strange that one of the most viral TikTok videos to date is based on a tasteless diss to a porn star, based on a fake tweet mistaken for a genuine one — so, not exactly “The Story of Adidon.” (I had to glean that information from Genius, because it’s not like there will be so much as a Vox explainer video.) Everything here is so vague, with barely any references to the tweet or even being a porn star other than “you play with them balls like it’s FIFA” and “is that why you tried to quit three times?” I am obviously nitpicking; ultimately, the context and song seem destined to be shared by edgy elementary school boys, the way the Sofa King video and quotes from Will Ferrell movies were back in mah day. Musically, it’s actually not as bad as it could be; an unintentionally microtonal beat with some interesting harmonies and production — the distortion on “we wish to go back in time” is genuinely neat. It makes me wonder whether Xeno Carr will actually wind up being a successful producer — but, in that case, he may too wish to change his past, because it is so bad. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Pretty sure this wouldn’t even make even so much as a dint on Khalifa herself, because the crux of the diss is that she was a porn star, did lots of sex she didn’t really want to do, and on camera, gosh. So on that level, it doesn’t seem to land any devastating or hilarious blows. Why this still gets some points is that woozy production and iLOVEFRiDAY’s sheer determination to make this sound devastating and hilarious against the fairly tame material. Plus I like the Street Fighter II samples, OK?
[5]

Iain Mew: I’m so here for emo rap that’s emo in that it approximates the snotty kaleidoscopic pleasure of a “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” and not just that it has some whining. 
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Bizarre would describe Xeno Carr’s crunchy bass beat or his deliriously pitched vocals, though it’s best applied to the circumstances that brought this record into fruition. A bygone headline of a name becomes a diss target for a song so “rap in 2018” in feel, and it inspires the exact warped music I’d imagine as the result of two odd, unrelated corners of pop-culture timelines coming in contact with one another. The diss itself gets as deep and personal as the impulsive tweet that triggered it. Smoke Hijabi’s jabs read predictable on paper, but her whiny, slightly ironic flow makes sure they stick.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: There’s a lot about “Mia Khalifa” that feels patently online — it was birthed from a fake tweet from the titular porn star, it blew up from a viral TikTok video of a teenager cosplaying as Nico Yazawa from Love Live!, and it’s the type of song you’d only ever hear about on the internet (or from people in real life whose vernacular includes a healthy dose of memes) — but nothing quite tops the actual composition of the track. In under three minutes we hear: the belting of post-Trippie Redd warbles, tongue rolling meant to resemble a ringing phone, a lifting of the melody from The All-American Rejects’s “Swing, Swing,” sarcastic talk-rapping, a sassy muah! and ew!, reverb-drenched chants of Mia Khalifa’s name, atonal synth melodies, Street Fighter II samples, and the sound of someone gagging. The overarching impression is that of a shitpost-quality Zoomer-created meme-turned-song, huge ironic detachment and all. Despite its popularity, “Mia Khalifa” isn’t getting represented on the Billboard charts or any 2018 year end lists; more than ever before, there exists a song that belongs to Gen Z and Gen Z alone. “They can keep it,” many will snidely remark, but Millennials and Boomers can ask themselves this: is there another pop song in 2018 that could have only been made by today’s youth, that captures the spirit of the internet, and unapologetically embraces the outré in the process?
[8]

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending December 8, 2018

First of all, we here at TSJ BT HQ are very pleased to publicize the launch of A Hidden Landscape Once a Week, the anthology of British pop music writing (above ground, under it, and a few spots in between) from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, edited by our own Mark Sinker. If you backed the book’s Kickstarter to the appropriate level, expect your paper copy sometime in early 2019; otherwise, the book is available for pre-order. For a preview, join Sinker’s Patreon or see his tribute to Penny Reel, one of the book’s contributors, published earlier this year on Freaky Trigger.

But wait, there’s more!

 

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Son Lux – Slowly

And Readers’ Week comes to a close with this NYC band, courtesy of Emily. Thanks again everyone for all your suggestions!


[Video]
[4.83]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The rare Son Lux song that finds a thoughtful middle ground between pop song sensibilities and outré aspirations (in this case, as expected, more post-Bon Iver/James Blake-isms). Ryan Lott sings of wanting someone to tell him false truths, to grant him a semblance of comfort. The extended periods of silence capture the nervousness and grief that comes in acknowledging, even embracing, this dissonance.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Like listening to James Blake’s earlier post-dubstep soul mutations rendered both wider in scope yet all the more deliberately exaggerated in sounding threadbare. Like the stars in a quiet storm-soundtracked trip to lover’s lane visibly held by strings and comprised of bug zappers. The brass and refrigerator buzz clouds the melodies well, but leave the song almost too obsessed with its own protective aura and hesitation rather than demonstrate its potential to stirr, robbing it of the chance to stoke real sensuality.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: It’s a cooking show trope that if a dessert is completely going to shit, you can always serve it in deconstructed form as a last resort. “Slowly” is a chillwave, jazz and trip-hop torte which has, indeed, been served deconstructed, resulting in plenty of nice flavours which are never allowed to coalesce into something greater than their individual components. Ryan Lott’s vocals are a watery roux which fails to bind the dish together; strained and tremulous, it feels effortful just listening to them. Son Lux’s slicing and dicing works much better on songs such as “Dream State,” where they retain enough structure to make a late dash towards a harsh, thrilling climactic section. On “Slowly,” however, it just feels like a bland imitation of the sweet electro-pop treats that Sylvan Esso served up on last year’s What Now.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The scratchy thin beats are purest 2007, while fans of a certain kind of sensitivity would have embraced the cracked vocal in 1987. If “Slowly” generates any suspense, credit the stop-start mechanics. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: More ghosting mood, except sung worse. Resolution for 2019: For every “indie girl voice” thinkpiece written, another thinkpiece should be commissioned analyzing the syllabic mewling of indie dudes.
[1]

Tim de Reuse: Shambling along, cracking apart, with plenty of negative space and a meticulous, glassy mix à la James Blake. To be sure, the sheer detail that went into the sonic surface is impressive as hell, but the tune would’ve been punchier as a whole if it’d dropped out gracefully after making its point.
[7]

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Letrux – Flerte Revival

From Luca, a multi-hyphenate inviting us to the dancefloor…


[Video]
[6.50]

Luca Zingali Meira: The dancefloor as sexual tension, flirting with release but not reaching it. Yet.
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Adequately captures the sensuality and drama of the dancefloor, with Letícia Novaes’s moody vocalizing ranging from effective (the hushed talking) to annoying (the final stretch of witch-like cackling).
[4]

Anthony Easton: How did something Brazilian sound so much like Amanda Lear with a slightly updated beat? 
[5]

Katie Gill: This is fun! That backing is infectious and the way the song builds up to a beautiful crescendo of sound is downright amazing. The constant techno background pulses and pushes, contrasting wonderfully with the nice, drawn out, slightly lethargic vocals. A brilliantly fun piece of electronica.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Sardonic, swirly Eurodisco whose sequencer could’ve come from a Holy Ghost! track circa 2010 gets a new lease from a Brazilian singer.
[6]

Iain Mew: The methodical neon progress of the first part has an amazing sense of momentum which the low-mixed, part-swallowed vocals only add to. It’s like words have ceased to have any relevance in the face of the music’s certainty. Once a mere cool synth-pop song eventually flares out from it it’s faintly disappointing. 
[7]

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Slayyyter ft. Ayesha Erotica – BFF

Next up, Drew offers us friendship in the form of this song. We say: “it’s complicated”…


[Video]
[5.00]

Drew Haskins: Slayyyter’s evolution from Charli XCX fan Twitter page to full-fledged pop starlet is a perfect summation of the impact and reach stan culture has had in 2018. Outside of Charli herself, there weren’t a lot of artists making pop this high energy and joyful. “BFF” both pays homage to and surpasses its obvious PC Music influences. The synths sparkle, the lyrics entice, and Slayyyter and Ayesha Erotica’s nimble vocal performances combine to create a high water mark in 2018 digital pop.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: PC Music-era Charli XCX done with all the exact same signifiers but with none of the unassailable hooks. The way that Slayyyter’s vocals are mixed prevent the generic lyrics from sounding like anything beyond filler words. Which I guess is fine because the production is fun and the vocal melodies are halfway decent. Still, this approach has less longevity than what Charli did on Pop 2.
[5]

William John: I want to be overindulged with music like this — I want the vocal production, manipulated so that the artists themselves come to resemble androids, to spiral further and further out of control until those artists sound almost human; I want the rest of it to keep expanding and expanding until the hairs raise on the back of my neck and my eyebrows are forced to move upward. Sophie’s “Immaterial” induces these sensations with a thunder-and-lightning approach to production; Charli XCX’s Pop 2 does it too on occasion, in a way that’s as thrilling as it is desolately sad. Slayyyter and Ayesha Erotica are far more detached than those forebears, in spite of the fact that they’re pontificating about friendship. Sure, almost all friendships go through prosaic stages, and sometimes it’s worth documenting the ways in which boredom can coax a relationship, platonic or not, into action. But that still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked the chorus to be sung an octave higher and with a shred of extra gusto.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Low, 2010 bass synths rumble as Slayyyter blandly drones all over while Ayesha gets tagged in, halfway too late.
[2]

Kat Stevens: It feels unfair to review this song with a mild hangover: my aching bones and squeezed-up sinuses are quietly mewling ‘nghhhhh’ as this frenetic, sprightly teenager of a song has me reaching for the close-tab shortcut. But hidden under the mess there’s a lovely soothing Boards of Canada bass synth, like discovering a blister pack of ibuprofen at the bottom of the drawer with two precious pellets left in it.
[6]

Tobi Tella: I hope people in real life don’t have friendships as vapid and empty as this song.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: I was on board until sass turned to cruelty: “you know those lonely people hate this.” Because lonely people are the worst, amirite, and the epidemic number of people experiencing loneliness need more reasons to feel like shit? At least “Take My Hand” and “Applause” (the songs most clearly in the hopper) don’t mock their potential listeners.
[3]

Will Rivitz: I’ve just finished the first volume of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s excellent comic series Phonogram. The comic is, effectively, a thinly-veiled collection of musings on how we consume, create and otherwise interact with music. It’s most centrally concerned with how we can engage with the artists we loved in the past while continuing to seek out the artists we’ll love in the present and future, making space for innovation instead of shameless retreads of what’s come before. I’m on board with most of the arguments the creators put forth, but disagree with one in particular: Midway through the book, the protagonist decries “retromancers,” who in-universe are sinister magicians/musicians who stay forever young by siphoning the life-force of their listeners by aging their music taste with mediocre tunes from days gone by, but who in general are a fairly obvious parable against music tastes exclusively living entrenched in the past. I agree with the criticism up to a point, but I also think there’s a time and place for uncritical nostalgia. It’s neither healthy nor fun to constantly examine your past tastes with the sharpest of blades, always carefully looking out for and denouncing what hasn’t aged particularly well. Where a listener’s musical appreciation has come from is ever-important, no matter what that appreciation may have consisted of, and there are times pure homage is appropriate. I’ll call out the gross, immature masculinity of the pop-punk I loved till I die, but I’ll also sing along to every word of “What’s My Age Again” if the time is right, which happens to be more often than I’ll usually admit online. Most critically, it’s the rare modern release that genuinely gets this uncritical nostalgia right, reverse-prismatically cohering all the best elements of the pop songs of yore into a focused beam of cosmic, transcendental perfection. Both capturing the immediate and visceral signifiers of the on-oldies-radio-in-ten-years music we love and presenting them using the structural and stylistic innovations of today (the best of both worlds, one might say) is a sticky wicket, so it’s always a joy to see such a merger done right. Hence, “BFF,” as perfect a backwards-looking pop song as is possible. Its rose-colored interpolation of the mid-2000s, both in terms of tossed-off lyrical invocations of white Jeeps with pink seats and Juicy lockets and a sonic sneer straight out of peak Avril or Britney, meshes effortlessly with the blaring synths of the PC Music that never was. It relishes the past, fiercely beats into the future, and traces the threads between the two with an artistry much more sophisticated and intricate than its three minutes and thirty-six seconds should allow. Transcendental in every sense of the word, “BFF” is everything I wanted the past to be and everything I hope for the future. If it’s the reason a retromancer steals my youth, I suppose it will have been worth it.
[10]

Will Adams: I, like most others, was very surprised to hear that A.G. Cook had agreed to remix Sophia Grace’s 2015 song “Best Friends,” but after list- wait, what? That’s not…? Oh… oh. Okay, then.
[3]