Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Aitch – Taste (Make It Shake)

B-List at Radio 1, but still one for sorrow…


[Video]
[3.50]

Tim de Reuse: A beat with as many fun details as this one deserves a rapper capable of more than a sloppy, distracted monotone.
[2]

Oliver Maier: whYJay’s dark, restless beat is wasted on the charmless Aitch, whose boasts are unconvincing and whose come-ons make my skin crawl. Pretty much any rap song that trades in braggadocio is going to contain some exaggerations, but it’s natural to let them slide because the emcee has enough charisma or humour (or… something) that we either accept them or simply don’t care either way. I can safely say that Aitch possesses none of the above.
[2]

Kylo Nocom: This is a whole lot of energy to just say you’re a streetwear-toting dork who gets women. Shame that whoever’s behind the production is pretty awesome (as long as the looped vocal is kept to the back of your mind), and that Aitch’s rapping sounds fine enough, but he has so little to say that having to hear his drawl for greater than a minute is too much.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: By all means this should suck (maybe it does!) but I’m still a little awed by how competent a fascimile of Tyga it is — to the point of being better than most Tyga songs! What a world we live in. Regardless, the drums thump and Aitch’s bars are proficient and smoothly performed, and really at this point that’s all I ask for.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Credit to Aitch here: he finds several ways to say not all that much, even if none of them make up for that lyrical shortfall. The beat accompanying is dull, and Aitch continues to sound like the person most impressed by it all, but it would be churlish to say no-one else is; people do like this. Perhaps that’s helped by one thing forever in its favour: its contribution to the geographical extension of its genre in a country hamstrung by capital-centrism. Devolution, not revolution.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: The subsonic bass is great, but based on this single, Aitch sounds like a real asshole.
[4]

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Katy Perry – Small Talk

Watching Ronnie Corbett gameshow repeats on Challenge > watching rugby in the pub with his school friends…


[Video][Website]
[4.38]

Katherine St Asaph: Small song.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Even when attempting to make a point in a song titled “Small Talk,” inserting lyrics that actually say “blah blah blah blah” isn’t often a good idea. Perry can do bombastic, and might’ve been better off doing so here, because this just sounds limp, almost like she’s stopped caring — or even trying. Which is saying quite a bit.
[2]

Michael Hong: “I just can’t believe we went from strangers to lovers to strangers in a lifetime.” It’s a particularly beautiful line in a track full of awkward moments, like nothing in outside of those spaces ever mattered, like life began the moment you became lovers and everything afterwards is just an uncomfortable nuisance. It completely justifies the discomforting seconds across the chorus and the “blah blahs” of the post-chorus, which perfectly capture the rush of anxiety and embarrassment seeing someone post-breakup. The discomfort is also perfectly mirrored by the production, which jumps from minimalistic beats to an almost claustrophobic instrumental within the pre-chorus. Of course, that line can’t do everything, and it doesn’t excuse some of the more awkward signature Katy Perry lyrical choices, like her comparison of a relationship to sliced bread. 
[7]

Joshua Lu: I’m not going to dwell on the obvious lyrical stinkers here; that line about sliced bread and those “blah blah blah blah” monstrosities require no explanation. No, the actual worst line in “Small Talk” is in the second verse, where Katy Perry says that she’s “got a new somebody” and thus completely ruins the song in a matter of seconds. What’s the point of making a song about going from strangers to lovers to strangers if you don’t secretly want to return to lovers again? When Katy reveals she’s actually moved on, it instantly strips the song of that subtext and reduces it to just literal whining about awkward small talk. Which just begs the question: who cares?
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Isn’t it wild? I kinda like this sooooong. But everybody at the Billboard forgot her music ex-ists. And isn’t it awwwkkkward: she’s still tryna be some-boooodddy? And honestly, it’ll probably be a while til her career just plain ends. OH! KA-TY! PE-RRY! She went from bangers to bummers to bangers in this lifetime. STILL! MISS! TEEN-AGE DREAM! Used to love her or hate her, now like her… Blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah. (Small talk.) 
[6]

Kylo Nocom: Whoever’s poking and prodding at those synthesizers ought to be a bit more adventurous. Katy has written subdued, airy pop with ease on Prism and Witness; why does this sound like such an inconvenience for her to be making? Awkwardness doesn’t translate well to the pop format, or at least not when Katy wants to make it sound as dull as she does here.
[4]

Alfred Soto: By turning down her vocal propulsion, Perry makes it easier to hear the details: the “blah-blah-blah”s, the acoustic guitar, the synth part. Yet even the casualness has a thick layer of affect. I suppose to my ears she can do nothing right.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Hey sorry can’t finish this blurb — just noticed that this has the rhythm guitar from “Girls Like You” and I won’t revisit that.
[4]

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

The Regrettes – I Dare You

Good, but a pretty obvious take-off of rock legends Speedway!


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Whenever I write a review that leans too hard on the artist comparisons I feel kind of weird — isn’t it a little diminishing to just compare people to each other? But sometimes, it’s just too obvious. This is a Strokes song. A good one! It’s certainly better than anything the Strokes have put out in recent memory. But I can’t shake that feeling that the Regrettes could be doing something better.
[6]

Josh Buck: Been following this band closely for a couple years, as they’ve gone through a couple lineup changes, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that this will eventually be a Lydia Night solo operation. 18 years old, loaded with charisma and armed with a never ending bag of hooks, she’s a breakout star waiting to happen. In the meantime, “I Dare You” is a breezy sing-into-your-hairbrush morning bop. Surprisingly, if you strip away all the 60s girl group and 90s punk influences, The Regrettes are just a damn good pop act. 
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: Alternately frantic and tender, “I Dare You” leans more pop than punk, which is probably why I love it so much. Guided by simple, layered guitar riffs, lead vocalist Lydia Night gives an impressive performance that anchors the entire song, intentionally rough around the edges but caring where it counts, and the chorus fizzes and froths with joy. The track comes from an album called How Do You Love?, and the inspiration here is obvious: the kind of infatuation that makes you laugh, dance, do cartwheels, and spend all your time on it with no regrets.
[8]

Kylo Nocom: Though supported by the most questionable drum machine loop of all time (listen to the bridge!) it’s impossible to deny the pure delight of Lydia Night’s croons. “I Dare You” resembles a more polished version of the rudimentary garage rock groups of the aughties: “Someday” is the obvious place to point, and I feel somewhere else in that lineage is “When We Were Young”. It turns out the simplistic arrangements that backed their nostalgic sentiments can be just as effective when behind in-the-moment romantic pleas, as Night taps into the Julian Casablancas vocal model with impressive skill. As an aside, it’s also nice to see how the YouTube algorithm seems to really have a thing for videos by alt bands with cute choreography; anybody care for “Still Feel.”?
[8]

Alfred Soto: Proving that “Last Nite” remains a lode star, “I Dare You” depends on Lydia Night’s poignancy to pin down the kind of infatuation in which sweater stains are endearing. They aren’t.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: From the opening riff – an undeniable doppelganger for “Last Nite” — this treads an awfully fine line between Strokes pastiche and outright plagiarism, but does so extremely affably. Lydia Night’s vocals are reminiscent of what Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino might sound like if she’d been given a more expensive rhyming dictionary for Christmas, which is no bad thing.
[6]

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Clairo – Sofia

We’re ready for a conversation…


[Video]
[6.80]

Katherine St Asaph: This song is so solid that not even being called a misogynist by fucking Rostam (but the culture’s not ready for that conversation) has ruined it for me.
[7]

Nellie Gayle: Maybe it’s because I’m still constantly thinking about/tweeting about Euphoria season 1, but this Clairo song feels like a very good summation of the teen queer romance depicted in the show. In Doreen St. Felix’s review of Euphoria for the New Yorker, she mentioned the girl/girl romance shown there epitomizes “the electric stirrings we felt as young girls, reading best-friend adventures that we so desperately wished would rise into romance.” If I was to cinematically portray Sofia and Claire’s affection for her, it would surely blossom from an intense high school friendship into one halve’s yearning for more. The tentativeness with which we approach queer relationships is marked by a fear that we lose more than a partner when romance fails: we risk the connection that underscores every other iteration of the relationship. Beneath romantic longing is a pivotal safeness, warm and familiar enough to risk pinning our romantic hopes to. Sofia feels like an ode to those hard-to-deny, more than a crush-es we find in our queer friendships, and the calculation of whether the risk is worth the reward. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: If “Sofia” occasionally settles for lethargy, the force of the drums punctuates and pins down Clairo’s admissions; I especially dug the line about loving her lover’s hair down. 
[7]

Kylo Nocom: Warm and fuzzy dance beats cut squarely into the heart of Clairo’s crushing, and every beautiful musical moment passes by like thoughts running through your head minutes before you’re kicked out of the school dance’s venue. Though a line as earth-shaking as “oh my God / I think I’m in love with you” could be highlighted a bit more, and the urgency of “Sofia” is a little nerve-wracking, the whole rush is the point. A beautifully layered vocal arrangement as the song climaxes is the nicest imaginable payoff, and it feels like any worry you’ve had has all but vanished as you finally get what you’ve been waiting for all along.
[6]

Alex Clifton: A happy little queer marriage between a fuzzy Strokes guitar and dreamy Belle & Sebastian vocal delivery–in other words, designed for me. It’s a sweet song that captures the feeling of being in your early 20s and losing your way in every aspect of your life but knowing that your feelings for someone else are crystal-clear. I’m not normally one for “bedroom pop” as it tends to be too hazy for my liking but it works for everything Clairo’s doing here.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: Sounding like you don’t have to try as a singer can be a double-edged sword. Clairo’s vocals usually sound like a gentle waterfall of honey, entirely smooth and effortless, bordering on non-committal. This works, sometimes – on album opener “Alewife” it creates a beautiful sense of distance and perspective to teenage emotional trauma, and it lends recent single “Bags” a sense of emotional equivocacy which suits it perfectly. I think it sells “Sofia” emotionally a little short, though, especially for a lyric about exploring your sexuality. It’s a charming, well-constructed song, with a reliable chord progression giving it a gentle momentum and multiple vocal melodies offering a sense of dynamism, and the production takes it in interesting directions (especially the guitar solo that sounds like it’s being played through wrecked speakers). It just feels a little too controlled, and leaves me wishing she would… cut to the feeling, I guess?
[7]

Oliver Maier: Clairo’s music, as with most that ends up on Spotify playlists called stuff like “Chill Indie”, often threatens to be so pleasant that it becomes tedious. “Sofia” mostly sticks the landing, though that admittedly has more to do with the backdrop — fuzzy guitars, cartwheeling synths, “Rostam drums“, all snapping in and out of focus — than Cottrill’s lacklustre melodies. Most interesting, overall, is the vocal splicing in the final stretch that deconstructs her repeated pleas into tongue-tied clouds of pure feeling, a trick that only works because it comes at the end of the song. It’s a shame that most of what comes beforehand feels a little half-baked.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: I’m not saying Clairo’s the bedroom pop Nav, but making a Rostam-helmed Strokes shuffle sound this boring is a crime on par with wasting a Metro Boomin beat pack.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There’s a strange distance to “Sofia.” Each instrument, from the dutifully chugging drum track to the kinetic rhythm guitar and the fuzzy lead and even Clairo’s vocal performance, sounds like it’s playing from a different room. The first time I heard the song, I thought something was wrong with my headphones– they’re breaking down anyways– but the truth of the matter is more satisfying. The distance Clairo cultivates on “Sofia” is an intentional one, a way of layering on ambiguity and uncertainty to a song already rich in the uncertainty of queer longing.
[8]

Josh Buck: 10 years ago, this would have been in a Zach Braff movie, and now it’ll play in the background of a progressive Netflix teen rom-com. I call that an upgrade.
[6]

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Red Hearse – Half Love

Half ten…


[Video]
[5.00]

Kayla Beardslee: This is familiar, glittering, Jack Antonoff-y synthpop, but having heard this sound before doesn’t make it any less excellent. Antonoff’s bombastic synth style is most obvious here, but the other members of new group Red Hearse also make their presence known: TDE-affiliated producer Sounwave injects the slightest hip-hop influence into the percussion, and singer-songwriter Sam Dew gives a great performance, managing not to sound strained despite his constant falsetto. During the bridge, Dew even lapses briefly out of falsetto into his lower voice, the bright piano chords and vocoder set aside for a much-needed moment of clarity. It’s not groundbreaking pop, but it doesn’t need to be — “Half Love” is extravagant, exuberant, and thoroughly enjoyable.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Aware of its pedigree, I gave it a dutiful second listen. The wanness of white falsetto will never stop fascinating me, nor the number of wannabes who try it because one guy (i.e. Charlie Puth) got away with it. 
[4]

Ian Mathers: I don’t have as strong an opinion on J**k A******f’s (that’s how you spell it, right? that’s what I always see on Twitter) work as I suspect many around here do, partly because I’ve just never looked up a list of everything he’s done. This seems fine! The falsetto is nice, the backing is s l i g h t l y more interesting than it needs to be. Decent radio fodder I’d never investigate further, really.
[5]

Michael Hong: I keep trying to justify the use of Sam Dew’s constant falsetto throughout the track, especially when the smoothest part is when he drops down an octave on the second verse. Sure, it makes an interesting contrast to Jack Antonoff’s signature drums and synths and added flourishes across the instrumental. And sure, Sam Dew is still smooth and soulful in falsetto, but it really pales in comparison to his voice in the lower register, and man do I wish his falsetto was used much more sparingly.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: What if falsetto, but too much?
[4]

Kylo Nocom: Antonoff is not the first nor the last producer-dude to have a severe case of stylistic hubris, but with his name attached to a single like this he’s downright entering self-parody: unseemly vocoder effects, piano dramatics, and canned string samples galore! Sounwave surely did something here (perhaps that nice percussion in the first minute?), but there’s too many of the Antonoff branded trademarks to really care, and too much of Sam Dew’s wimpy falsetto to notice. The bridge’s valiant attempt at production humility fails for relying upon Dew’s unappealing lower range mutters. Half-assed songwriting returns half-hearted results.
[3]

Joshua Copperman: Who told Jack Antonoff to make “ME!” but with robot sound effects? Who told Sam Dew to falsetto all over the bridge? How did Sounwave also produce one of the most satisfying beats of this decade when he can’t save this from being a wilted “Sunflower”? There are enough pretty melodies and details to save this from being a complete wash, but a group of disparate collaborators should not produce something so bland. Only a genius could make this supergroup work.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Nothing’s wrong here– everyone is too good at their day jobs for the production on this to be anything but spotless. And Sam Dew’s voice is great– he sounds like a Sean Mendes who can sing! But “Half Love” refuses to click. It’s a set of good performances and catchy effects with no interiority, and an ertatz feeling that never goes away.
[5]

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Megan Thee Stallion ft. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign – Hot Girl Summer

Five star dick, three star song…


[Video]
[6.12]
Kylo Nocom: A Hot Girl Summer moody retrospective is a fine concept if I’ve ever seen one. Though I have a bizarre innate reaction to hearing Nicki in 2019 in any capacity (Fear, irritation, who knows?), her verse here is quite sound and it’s a joy to hear her spelling and rolling Rs. Megan sits quite well upon the lush bounce of the production, and Ty Dolla $ign’s hook has a sort of perfectly calm temperament to it. But I’m too numb to respond to the prettiness, and too tired to have fun with this song’s undeniable joy.
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Of course the potential here would be ruined by a man. Legit hot girls (Cardi, Rihanna, Beyonce, Ariana, Lizzo, Charli, Cupcakke, I could keep going…) would have made this hook iconic, and there’s even men like Drake or Justin Bieber who could have at least sold it better. But any momentum that Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj build is an uphill battle against Ty Dolla $ign’s lit-as-a-wet-blanket chorus. There’s no chance we can’t cut him out and infinitely remix this with guest features “Old Town Road” style so #hotgirlsummer can get the justice it deserves?
[5]

Tobi Tella: From the “Act Up” sample to the long awaited Nicki and Megan teamup to the numerous references to Megan songs, including the ubiquitous “Hot Girl Summer” finally getting a song titled after it, this feels like the final boss of all summer twerk anthems. Everyone shows up with a strong contribution, from Ty Dolla’s smooth hook, Nicki’s fun verse, and Megan handily carrying the rest of the song. There’s still a sense that the song could have been more, though. I don’t think any part of the song is bad, but it’s missing the it factor that makes something truly great.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The combination of confident rapping and sung chorus brings “Regulate” to mind, and while Ty Dolla is no Nate Dogg he’s shrewd enough to get out of the way as Nicki Minaj offers her fliest rhymes in a long time and Megan keeps up.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Love Juicy J’s — sorry — juicy, thumping track he put together for Megan and friends; typically, a conscious attempt at a musical anthem fails, but this gets over on personality and its groove. Megan is an old school rapper who I can listen to rapping for hours, and while I wish Ty didn’t have such a featured role on a female anthem, at least he’s “just” the hook singer. Nicki sounds fine enough. And don’t forget the wisely-used City Girls sample. I expected something bigger from this, but everyone involved acquits themselves nicely; chalk it up as good-not-great. Radio will likely improve it, too.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Obvious criticism out the way first: Ty Dolla $ign is a bad pick both conceptually (having a man hog the runtime feels contrary to the song’s ethos) and musically (his voice sounds like cardboard). Otherwise, “Hot Girl Summer” is more relaxed than I expected it to be, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as a first collaboration between Megan and Nicki it feels like a wasted opportunity; both emcees are charismatic enough to dual-wield aggression and flirtatiousness, but their verses here feel a bit rudimentary by their standards. Couldn’t we have heard these two trade bars instead of YBN Cordae and Anderson .Paak?
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Amazing how a song about badass women ends up being mostly about Ty Dolla $ign’s supposed “five-star dick.” Maybe I’m just a prude — I certainly don’t qualify as a “hot girl” according to this song, or, like, y’know, life — but even the most fleeting of encounters, the most one-night of stands, present at least a dozen things that are more of a rush than someone’s dick. So much lately — this, that Tove Lo song, really pop culture in general — just seems to be running on a totally different track.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Hot Girl Summer” is not the Hot Girl Summer anthem we asked for– that’s “My Type,” weirdly enough. But it’s charming enough anyways– it’s less about the universalist good spirits that the Hot Girl Summer has come to represent, and more about how cool Megan Thee Stallion is. In that respect, it’s pretty similar to every song Megan’s put out since her breakthrough. The interesting thing about “Hot Girl Summer” is in how she’s able to hold her own against her higher-wattage features. Despite a perfectly struck Ty Dolla $ign hook, good enough to erase most of my concerns that hey, wait, maybe there should’ve been a woman on the hook, and a non-autopilot Nicki Minaj verse, Megan is still the star. It’s easier to tell on her final verse rather than her first, but Megan’s only gotten better as a rapper. She’s not building outwards, exploring new topics or making ambitious plays to new styles, but upwards– she’s the best in the world at being Megan Thee Stallion.
[7]

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Tool – Fear Inoculum

CORRECTION: In a previous post we referred to today as Rising Pop Star Wednesday. It is actually You’ve Been Trolled Thursday. We regret nothing.


[Video]
[5.50]

Thomas Inskeep: If you go for hard, progressive rock, then you’re likely to dig this 10-minute-plus epic — complete with the obligatory change of time signature around the 6-minute mark. For my money it’s not as clever as Pink Floyd, not as hard as Voivod, and, well, at least it’s better than Jethro Tull (to be fair, most things are). And it feels like a slog.
[4]

Josh Buck: A timeline of my first listen of “Fear Inoculum”: Before pressing play: How is Tool still a thing? 15 seconds in: Wait, have I never actually listened to a Tool song? 1 minute in: Well, this isn’t so bad. 2 minutes in: Oh, I quite like this. 6 minutes in: What an ideal track to be listening to when finding out about The Matrix 4. Song ends: That was great, so what the hell band was I thinking of this whole time?
[7]

Tim de Reuse: Prog metal isn’t supposed to remind me of Talk Talk — something about those crystal-clear toms and the relatively tame guitar tone is throwing me off, and the big climax ends up less impactful than the many minutes we spend meandering between time signatures.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Some nice sounds, sometimes. Some decent playing, sometimes. Overrated? Pretty much since the beginning. But being overrated isn’t their fault; putting out a 10-minute single this turgid and this dominated by the never-that-compelling Maynard James Keenan is.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I guess we all forgot about that Reddit thread? Even so, in a vacuum I like this a lot — but introduce wi-fi to that vacuum (just… assume the metaphor is scientifically sound) and I’d realize that that’s because almost all of it, particularly the percussion, reminds me of “Inertia Creeps,” which I A/B’d and prefer.
[6]

Will Rivitz: The more things change, the more they stay the same. I listen to “Fear Inoculum” and I’m 14 again, wandering summer camp alone, earbuds in, Lateralus playing through my iPod Nano. Never mind my musical taste has fully shifted away from angst-rock, or so I’d believe; three minutes in and I’m ten years younger, seven minutes in and I worry I’ll never return to 24. The song itself is mostly irrelevant; it’s the emotional resonance that matters. I can’t find it in me to be annoyed by Maynard James Keenan’s antics and forever edginess while the track is playing. I’d call that a successful comeback.
[8]

Kylo Nocom: There’s beauty throughout “Fear Inoculum,” in Adam Jones’s sandy riffing and Danny Carey’s percussion arrangements, and for brief moments one could imagine being hypnotized by it all. But Maynard James Keenan has a voice that strains to pull everything down to earth, and with every single one of his gurgles the song becomes increasingly difficult to listen to. Intricacy is best held with a gentle touch; this crumbles minutes in and dissolves into a mindless drone. Had this song had more tabla, perhaps this would all be more forgivable.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I grew up a fan of ’70s prog rock– blame boomer parents with collection of Yes CDs and a deep passion for fantasy novels– but I never really got into the genre’s ’90s revival. Those bands, with impossible-seeming technical skill and a distinctively grim vision of the world, were perhaps too hardcore for me at age 13, otherwise the prime period to get into deeply corny music. But the 10 minutes of “Fear Inoculum” stretch out before me like a vast undiscovered country that looks just like home. I can recognize each big damn gesture that the band makes, each portentous lyric sneered. It’s all so neat and organized, a well-designed bombast machine. Nothing of particular importance is being said, but it’s glorious as it works.
[7]

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Alice Chater – Tonight

If you guessed Alice Chater, you are correct! We also would have accepted “the entire Billboard Hot 100 of 2011.”


[Video]
[5.67]

Iain Mew: The end-of-the-world banger trend was due a return, and this is very much a return. Question, though: why does she now sound like she’s doing a Shakira impression? 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Alice Chater following up “Hourglass” with a song that hinges on the repeated syllables of ga-ga-ta let it go is a choice: one’s influences crashing through one’s poker face. Maybe that’s on purpose, because “Tonight” is all influences: 2011 apocalypse pop with a 2014 Sia melody and 2017 vocal squiggles, a lot of “Disturbia”/”Motorway”/”Marry the Night”/”No Tears Left to Cry” melancholy, a keening house string and ad-libs (both way too low in the mix, but whatever), an explicitly reference to the radio, where one might actually encounter these things in sequence. Also not a lot of Alice in there, but “Tonight” is such potent, yearning time-tripping that I don’t mind. I miss 2011 more than I miss some people, a life forever preserved in my memory in neon and sepia, and occasionally try to relive it; the chorus to this — an initial burst, then a melody that immediately implodes and sinks — mirrors the feeling exactly.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Party slobber that gets the party started if you’re in college and spent your adolescence with “Marry the Night” and your older brother’s Sky Ferreira mp3s. 
[6]

Josh Buck: What in the name of all that is “Toxic” is this “Britney for the dark-pop era” nonsense?
[3]

Will Adams: Alice Chater’s investment in early ’10s dancepop alone makes her sound electrifying compared to other pop upstarts of now, but she’s especially good at selling it. She flips her voice to where it needs to be — raspy verses, growled “got-gotta”‘s, cathartic ad-libs in the final chorus — to create a killer pastiche of apocalypse-pop that, while not as immediately explosive as “Hourglass,” feels urgent and vital.
[7]

Vikram Joseph: This is objectively a banger, but it’s such a close genre cousin of Georgia’s “About Work the Dancefloor” that, released in the same febrile summer, it can’t help but pale a little by comparison. Both songs share a sense of embracing hedonism in complex, uncertain times, with verses that throb with a relentless, cumulative tension and choruses that reach for a transcendence that’s just slightly out of reach. But where Georgia created an introvert’s dance anthem with a chorus that felt tantalisingly unresolved — never quite getting out of its own head — Alice Chater takes a more linear route, with the processed post-chorus vocal hook perhaps sounding just a little too generic. It goes admirably hard though, and there’s plenty of room in pop right now for both of them.
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: I want to like this so bad. Parts of it deliver everything I’d want from an effervescent synthpop song — the explosive chorus, the wobbly synth, Alice Chater putting in a strong vocal effort — but the lyrics drag it down hard. “Got-gotta let it go,” “I wanna be with you tonight”: this is exactly what people who don’t like pop think pop sounds like. And everything “Tonight” tries to do, Chater’s previous single “Hourglass” did better.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Lyrically this isn’t a particularly interesting take on the always fertile field of pop songs addressing some sort of apocalypse, but the drunken sway of some of those synths in the back — those I want to get a closer listen to. Between them and the satisfying delivery of “got-gotta let it go” (almost percussive!), this one winds up on the right side of the line.
[7]

Kylo Nocom: Alice Chater goes for a less image-conscious approach to 21st-century pop revivalism, but without anything else to offer sounds like some sort of poor anachronism spewed from the wasteland of rejected Sia demos. No danger, no threats, no harm ultimately done, but a little bit of time wasted.
[4]

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Ava Max – Freaking Me Out

It’s Rising Pop Star Wednesday! Can you predict our full day’s lineup?


[Video]
[4.78]

Leah Isobel: Consider that the art of being a popstar lies in establishing a public perception, sound, and aesthetic, and then slowly bending those things over time to allow your humanity to creep in. Consider that these things often sound and feel extremely artificial at the beginning. Then consider that, even by the standards of popstar introductions, Ava Max’s project feels so fake it’s almost like parody; every element, every vocal inflection, is amped up to the point where you have to ask if she’s serious. Here, her lyrical world-building lands us somewhere in “Disturbia,” while the production remains pure 2009 cheese. She’s committed to selling the most mall-friendly version of gothy extremity possible, but her lack of guile is weirdly charming — what other singer could deliver a line about “the vibe inside my soul”? What other singer would even try?
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Who knew Rita Ora had a style distinctive enough for people to be able to — let alone want to — rip off? 
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Not chill, as feared, but definitely tentative. Most of the song really wants to turn into “Free Fallin'” but doesn’t, and the bridge really wants to turn into “Tom’s Diner” but doesn’t. Why the hesitation — not knowing the songs? Fear of getting sued? Would classic rock not fit the “vibe” of “empty mansion in the rain just off the coast”? (The “spooky” lyrics are less “Disturbia” than “hasty pivot to creepypasta by a social media ad campaign for Grape-Nuts.” Which, to be fair, is the vibe inside my soul.) Whatever it is, “tentative” is not an adjective that should fit an Ava Max song, or a song about crush-having freakoutery.
[5]

Michael Hong: How often have you seen a song title and expected it to go big, only to be let down by the wave of chillness sweeping the pop climate? “Freaking Me Out” goes big once, on the final chorus where Ava Max growls “it’s freaking me out.” The rest of the time, Ava Max murmurs awkward lyrical cues — I’m not sure how you would describe “empty mansion, in the rain just off the coast” as a vibe. It’s great that Ava Max is stepping away from being a Lady Gaga tribute act, but this is really just another anonymous contribution to some roséwave playlist.
[4]

Joshua Lu: If “Sweet but Psycho” was Ava Max’s The Fame and “So Am I” her Born This Way, the measured and restrained “Freaking Me Out” sure isn’t her Artpop. If anything, Ava’s jumped ahead to that part in A Star is Born where Lady Gaga, as Ally Maine, attempts to churn out disposable pop fodder that’s completely devoid of personality. The key difference is that Ava has actually succeeded at doing that.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The simplicity of the hook is winning; she sounds like a normal person working through a situation. Confront her about the generic means she uses and suddenly that smile goes away right quick.
[5]

Kylo Nocom: She could do without the fake sincerity of the church-youth-group-guitar verses, but there’s two minutes of “Freaking Me Out” that indicate how capable Ava Max is of liveliness, her vocals sliding through gaps of rich Zedd-esque synth textures. A generous interpreter would believe this to be a song about her being in love with somebody that has actually died. This adds a single point.
[6]

Will Adams: Spooky (if slightly silly) imagery that avoids the forced edginess of “Disturbia”; the dynamic arrangement, especially how the prettiness of the second verse dovetails into Cirkut’s electro drop; the compelling vocal performance — they all add up to the realization that I actually like an Ava Max song. So much so that it’s freaking me out.
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: Ava Max is, against all odds, creating a signature sound by making generic pop. My only takeaway from the musical void that is “Freaking Me Out” is that Max can do a legitimately good job carrying and elevating a simple melody (confirmed in this chorus but already proved in “Sweet But Psycho“). It’s underwritten, basic, yet pleasantly competent — and at this point, that’s all I expect from Ava Max.
[5]

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Vegedream ft. Ninho – Elle est bonne sa mère

La moyenne, pas si bonne…


[Video]
[4.86]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: This is mostly dumb club music, but I can’t help but at least crack a smile given 1) the totally odd sample of what sounds like medieval French chamber music, 2) the decision to make the chorus, “Elle est bonne sa mère, elle twerk sur la piste”, and 3) the recent revelation that Vegedream named himself after a Dragonball Z character
[5]

Edward Okulicz: The opening synth sounds like the very bad “harpsichord” preset on a very old organ my grandmother owned (which is not to say it sounds like a harpsichord at all), so I am tempted to give a lot of points for nostalgia. But the drums also sound like little sticks hitting something not suited to percussion (so not very much like drums at all) and the voices sound like.. well, you get the the picture. People actually go to effort to make something sound this cheaply incompetent.
[3]

Iain Mew: The synth string hits and rounds of processed singing add up to enough marshmallow fluff to be a new experience, if not one I’d rush to repeat. It’s a shame because in the tiny bits of more forceful sing-rapping there are hints of a more compelling new voice waiting to get out. 
[4]

Will Adams: The combination of the MIDI flute and string sounds with the Auto-Tune smears of both vocalists create an appealing texture that’s enjoyable from start to finish. That’s good for the song, because there’s little to latch onto otherwise.
[5]

Kylo Nocom: Ninho and Vegedream have on their hands here an Auto-Tuned fantasy in which decadence is given a uniquely heightened drama by way of sequenced strings, and a welcome reminder for me to get back into Old School Runescape.
[7]

Tobi Tella: I liked the sound of this way more than I anticipated; the mid 2000s Auto-Tune wails completely work for me, and the beat is fun and bouncy. Unfortunately the lyrics are generic brag rap, but I’ll give them props for the range of references going from Nicki Minaj to Scarface!
[6]

Michael Hong: While it’s easy enough to enjoy the energetic bounce of the beat during Ninho’s verse, Vegedream’s impenetrably dense verse and the growing use of Auto-Tune quickly make the whole thing drag along, and “Elle est bonne sa mère” quickly loses all of its charm.
[4]