Friday, February 17th, 2017

Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Snoop Dogg – When We Party

We close out Friday with more stars, one of whom is moderately well-preserved.


[Video][Website]
[5.50]

Thomas Inskeep: As a rule, I’m not a fan of posthumous we-scraped-together-some-old-verses-and-added-new-production records, and this is no exception. Really, Faith, “when we party on the west coast”? This is excessively lazy on both her part and that of Snoop, from whom I expect much more than the same old rhymes about getting high etc. Not to mention that this sounds as if it was produced and mixed in an elevator, all clattering and noisy and dated as hell. 
[2]

David Sheffieck: No question this is nostalgia fodder, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Faith sounds great, Snoop sounds solid, Biggie sounds like he’s been piped in – but they all work together, interwoven and in sync, and the beat pops infectiously. I feel like you could drop this into a party playlist and everyone would accept it like it was a vintage track they’d forgotten they knew, which is probably the best case scenario here.
[7]

Alfred Soto: To my surprise, the two living stars are in good form, and the resurrected track by the dead star doesn’t sound mummified either. I can’t quite recommend it without reservation because the prouduction — stalwartly eighties, or, rather “eighties” — sounds mummified.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: “When We Party” not only has the right amount of funk to reflect a party spirit, but it also features a very relaxed mood, mainly thanks to Snoop Dogg smooth lines. 
[7]

Will Adams: I do love a laid-back party jam, and the fact that this probably wouldn’t be noteworthy at all in 1995 shouldn’t deter from how good it sounds in the harsh light of 2017.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’ve dated someone who, to this day, hopes to obtain my teeth when I die. I’ve made friends with one other girl who aspires to hold onto the human body parts of her lovers, and as of last month I tried striking up a conversation with someone who’s admitted to wanting to do the same. Memories aren’t enough, sometimes people want to own parts of you. Christopher Wallace’s mother seems like the kind of old-school Jamaican mother that would throw acid in your face if you suggested owning her son’s remains, but is too practical and worldly to be concerned about how tirelessly the recordings of her son’s rappings remain metaphorically dismantled and sold wholeshare. Its served former manager Sean Combs an excess depth that in reality he doesn’t personally possess to cloak himself, but it’s hindered Faith Evans (a woman I consider one of the greatest singers of her generation) to become little more than a professional widow. Even here, she serves as little more than a guest in her own home to a corpse, doing a throwaway chorus for a visitor (Snoop, who’s as usual no worse than adequate) and the long gone host. This is a rapper that has lost all value in how we’ve stripped everything that’s left and refuse to leave behind even the bones.
[4]

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Mariah Carey ft. YG – I Don’t

But we do! Do what?


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Right off the jump I know people are going to say YG was terrible here because they don’t understand being understated; meanwhile the “worst rapper beside Mariah Carey” slot was filled years ago by garbage Busta Rhymes, so thanks for playing. Mariah meanwhile appears to have abandoned her R. Kelly-like phase of playful mania for classicism in the vein of Emancipation, so I’m not mad at that whatsoever. As fun as her excessiveness can be both lyrically and vocally, there’s an appreciable restraint here that leaves you begging for more.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Bringing in Jermaine Dupri, one of the kings of the ’90s and ’00s (y’all know who he is), and Bryan-Michael Cox, one of the other kings of the ’00s (MJB, Usher, Fantasia, and Mimi herself), to produce (yet another) comeback single is a smart idea. So is sampling and interpolating Donell Jones’s 1999 quiet storm classic “Where I Wanna Be.” As far as bringing in ringer YG for some rap verses, well, YMMV; he does nothing for me. But this feels like with the right promo TLC it could be a hit. We’ll see. It’s no patch on her classics, but it’s good and solid, and I’ll take that. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: “You can play with my…mind” — ho ho. We get it, Miss Thang. She’s in good form on this confection whipped up by Bryan Michael-Cox and Jermaine Dupri, reliant on a Donell Jones riff. I suppose it’s cool, too, that YG pledges his troth instead of abasing himself with unbelievable regrets. Nothing fresh but tasty all the same.
[7]

Katie Gill: That production is doing absolutely NOTHING for Mariah Carey’s voice. We know she can sing, why back her up with that bizarre beat?
[4]

Will Adams: I enjoy the stuttered kick that’s weaved into the beat, but it’s the only thing mirroring the ice of Carey’s lyric. Everything else (except YG) is set to smooth, and the disconnect fails the song.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Can’t decide whether it wants to be a slow jam or “Irreplaceable.” YG has some ideas; too bad he’s not lead.
[5]

Crystal Leww: There is something very wrong when I cannot differentiate a Mariah Carey track from any dime a dozen R&B singer. There is something very wrong when the most interesting thing about a Mariah Carey track is YG.
[3]

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley – Chained to the Rhythm

Maybe Katy should take her Jamaican Guy and go back to the Private Life.


[Video][Website]
[3.77]

Thomas Inskeep: Full disclosure: I came into this not expecting to like it, but trying to keep an open mind. But then Katy decided to show off how “woke” she thinks she is. Ooh, we’re “all chained to the rhythm,” but clearly should be doing more to change the world, just like Katy Perry. Some of us, however, still haven’t forgotten the likes of “Ur So Gay.” She can claim she’s progressive etc. all she wants, but I don’t buy it for a minute; Perry will do whatever she thinks will sell sell sell her records. Bizarrely, she seems to think that a cod-reggae beat is the answer in 2017? (Or more accurately, that could be the fault of co-writer Sia, who’s predisposed to such notions.) Because you know what’s awesome? When white artists show you how much they know about “rhythm” by featuring — oh, I know! Let’s get a member of the Marley family in here! Great idea! Perry’s screechy, barely-in-tune voice doesn’t help matters, of course. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of the end of her career: she’s like the Paula Abdul of the ’00s/’10s, only without the half-decent songs and pleasant personality. There is no pop star today worse than Katy Perry, full stop.
[0]

Cédric Le Merrer: Katy Perry is my mainstream barometer. When she made “I Kissed a Girl,” showy but defensive female bisexuality was totally where people were at. When she made trap-pop, it became the new normal. Now Katy Perry is confusedly woke, and you can’t tell me that’s not the norm in 2017. Her terribly heavy-footed scansion even works in her favor thematically, as she’s completely chained to that stomping rhythm. Incapable of taking any liberty from the beat, she moves around like Link wearing his iron boots. So as usual, it’s a bit terrible but it also makes things easy for us weak singers wanting an easy song for karaoke, and whatever my reservations, in the end Katy and Max Martin always win me over.
[8]

Megan Harrington: Who but Katy Perry would turn three minutes of arena pop into a very, very, extremely literal call for wokeness? Even her obviousness is obvious. Of course she’s pivoted away from the lusty pleasure of her early hits and toward a crude attempt at “real” meaning. “Chained to the Rhythm” is, ultimately, not a very good song, but Perry is familiar, even comfortable, in her clunky movements. We’ll never know that utopian future but Perry would be there, no matter the sleight of fate’s hand. And “Chained to the Rhythm” in a good year is — unsurprisingly — the exact same song as “Chained to the Rhythm” in a bad year. She is a coin with only one side. 
[7]

Claire Biddles: Like a latterday Daft Punk song that’s been cloned over and over again until its defining features are completely flattened out, “Chained to the Rhythm” is so insubstantial that I swear it stops existing after it finishes playing. The lyrics are full of self-drags — she MUST have known asking “Are we tone deaf?” would be used against her in a review — and there’s something particularly desp about the way she references “your favourite song” knowing that this could never be it. 
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The inexplicable pivot of the cheesiest, most banal to trying to edge upon wokeness is certainly not the career move you’d expect from Katy Perry off-hand but at the same time, it’s been brewing. She’s moved from the goofiness into a sea of power-ballads of vague ambition and motivation, so to create an anthem meant to parse through a sea of bullshit by feeding vague lines about utopia and what have you is not improbable. And not for nothing, for all Sia’s weird reggae mining and her bullshit fake patois voice she built for playing Trojan RiRi, she’s only just recently bothered to put an actual Jamaican on a record or get them writers’ credit. And so the awkward promo-featuring of Tuff Gong’s grandson is maybe a weird gesture for authenticity from someone so unlikely, but I can’t be too upset given this surprisingly rare accommodation. If there’s anything to say about this in particular that’s a flaw, it’s that in many ways it feels too calculated, in a way that Katy Perry used to never bother with. As unflattering or at times infuriating as her lack of foresight could be sometimes, there was something to be said for being so brash.
[6]

Anthony Easton: When your entire genre is founded, and continually plays, with notions of black authenticity, does it mean anything that Perry plays with patois, and if it doesn’t–why does she have Skip Marley, and if it does, does it mean anything that she doesn’t fully commit (rhythm instead of riddim). Minus a point for talking about distortion without having any of it at all, plus a point for sneaking the word empire in. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: My delight at the “distortion” in a dance pop tune is mitigated by Katy Perry’s odd stresses; in this case they land on the last syllable, which has the effect of howling when someone digs a high heel into your big toe. A similar travesty happens in the phrase “to the rhy-THM, to the rhy-THM.” Still, the gloss suits her: if any performer would revel in being chained to a rhythm, it’s Perry, who in some bars sounds like Toni Braxton.
[6]

William John: She did not get away with the grating elongation of “unconditionally“, so I have no idea how Katy Perry has been permitted to transgress again with such klutzy abandon; once again, we are faced with an extreme case of the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. As to the song’s alleged “woke-ness”, I proffer no comment save that it’s unlikely any slumbering apoliticals will be roused by a track with empty platitudes and such narrow dynamic range.
[2]

Will Adams: The trendification of aligning with social justice causes has made it easier than ever for people like Katy “Artist. Activist. Conscious.” Perry to market themselves as woke with just a modicum of effort (all while continuing to act as shitty as they always have). The idea that “Chained to the Rhythm” and its vague politics have any potential for significant impact is one of the more insulting concepts the pop machine has lobbed at us in recent memory. But even if Perry had any insight, we’d still have to contend with this torpid mess of recycled Weeknd disco, indulgent Sia-isms, and Perry outdoing the awful scansion on “Unconditionally” a million times over. There’s no bite to this, no feeling, and no reason to dandandance.
[1]

Katie Gill: American pop music can’t be THIS starved for bangers, can it?
[3]

Mo Kim: Katy Perry is so bad at being radical that she needed to hire a black hip-hop artist as a temp for this.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: After all that apocalyptopop a few years ago it’s weird that now, with the Doomsday Clock actually closer to midnight than at any point since 1953, Katy Perry doesn’t sound that arsed about the walking daymare she’s describing. It’s not like she’s known for her subtlety — if anything it’s like she’s trying to undersell the hugely unsubtle “makes you think”-type statements in the lyrics. Weirder still is that “Wide Awake” already did all this without any obvious allusions to infer (and thus better), but at the very least it avoids the weirdest possibility: being completely terrible. As it’s akin to an inessential Sébastien Tellier remix, it really isn’t that, but it is strangely bloodless.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: One point for every point I’m not giving this: 1. I did not expect Melanie Martinez to be where Katy Perry was positioning herself. 2. If you told me Katy Perry was doing Pleasantville, I would have expected a pinup theme. 2a. Though it’s remarkable that the cover art doesn’t show her face, and yet still manages to showcase her boobs. 2b. I’m sure Vigilant Citizen is on that photo. God, for the days of obscure cranks. 3. Sia still doesn’t do subtext, at all. If she feels zombified, the lyric will have shambling goddamn zombies. 4. Or maybe she does, because this is a subtext-free “Chandelier,” down to the isolatable “dance, dance, dance!” and “DRINK!” interjections. 4a. Someone get those ornaments out of her picket fence. Get the lens out too. 4b. Disco balls-and-chains aside, I actually don’t think anyone involved was trying to avoid “Slave to the Rhythm.” This is the exact kind of tweak-a-word that’s Sia’s main writing trick, and besides, Katy Perry did “E.T.,” she doesn’t care. 5. How is Katy Perry one of the few singers who doesn’t sound exactly like Sia’s demo vocals? Is this a sign of her being a distinctive singer, or too limited to try? 6. I blame Max Martin for the Swedish reggae. Ali Payami probably did the prechorus. 6a. Because they just had to get the funk guitar in somewhere, didn’t they? This sounded much better at the Grammys, where it sounded like a more straight-ahead Martin/Payami track. 6b. With a line like “dance to the distortion,” would some distortion be too much to ask? 7. I have no idea what Skip Marley is doing here and neither does anyone else. 8. Why does Woke Katy Perry just sound like the late ’90s, the time of Fight Club and The Matrix and endless plaints by landfill alternative bands about the pathetic emptiness of our meaningless, consumer-driven lives? Sia was also a product of the ’90s; I bet if she released “Chandelier” today that would be called political too. 9. In these days of our Pigmask Putin we’re going to see a lot more of these political-shaped but anodyne “protest” songs, aren’t we? Please extradite me to wherever it is that I did whatever it was to deserve this.
[1]

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

One OK Rock – We Are

To curry Jukebox approval, I recommend you change your name to “One Quite Good Rock”.


[Video][Website]
[5.11]

Joshua Copperman: “We Are” is clearly in some way influenced by Bring Me The Horizon, to the point where the two bands share a producer and mixer in Dan Lancaster. However, it also reminds me of the whiny grandiose rock I listened to in middle school despite not really being an ’emo’ kid – bands like Three Days Grace, Yellowcard and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, even though “We Are” possesses some My Chemical Romance theatrics too. The lyrics aren’t anything too heavy, all about remaining empowered despite “demons in your head” and whatnot, but One OK Rock seems to have enough energy for several bands. In fact, if One OK Rock are a necessary step on the way to the J-Rock Blue October (who I actually have mixed feelings about, but they have at least one all-time great 00s rock song in them), I’m all for a song like this to break through over here in the U.S.
[6]

David Sheffieck: I’m reminded most of the IMAX soundscape and headlong rush of peak M83, though the lead vocal powers through the chorus with the kind of intensity Gonzalez never trafficked in. But the effect is similar, and similarly successful: making a line like “We are the colors in the dark” sound not only meaningful but borderline profound is no easy task.
[7]

Alfred Soto: With synths loud enough to awaken Mount St. Helens and vocals to match, “We Are” can’t be anything other than an anthem — look at the title. The verses don’t hold my attention, though.
[6]

Iain Mew: I guiltily remember from my review of One OK Rock last time that I was impressed by the variety they managed to fit in. This one is as almost as straightahead as rock anthems go, though, with only a hint of Mew-like crystalline fragility to add a bit of interest to its pummelling; it’s not enough to keep it from getting wearying.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Love the idea that a Japanese rock band is getting courted by Fueled by Ramen to be an easy next big thing for the US. Not so in love with the idea that they should earn respect by falling into the banal thing where to be perfectly palatable a rock band falls into that Nu2 ‘heavy bombast’ thing that’s been plaguing us for a decade (“What I’ve Done,” “Decode,” every waking minute of Thirty Seconds To Mars). It’s entirely suitable for this generic sort of “don’t project your impressions onto me and let me be me” earnest call to arms in the ravages of angst, but after people have tapped this style to the barest dregs, I want the kids to have more.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: If you like your rock of the emo and Hot Topic-approved variety, you’ll like this J-Rock single. And if you don’t, you may move along. 
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: The West might have forgotten about soaring emo melodrama, so thank god Japan is picking up the slack. “We Are” condenses AFI’s gloom and My Chemical Romance’s histrionics into a synth preset. Fueled By Ramen hasn’t had anything this heart-rending in a decade.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: One OK Rock nail vintage Fueled by Ramen to a T: pitch-black emptiness leading to a mega-ton drop of a guitar riff; a frontman whose all-or-nothing screams eventually give out to a rasp; a hook that means nothing and everything at the same time, with a call-and-response chant to match. Everything lands at the right place as far as spectacle goes, but they don’t add much of a new idea to a template perfected in, say, 2007. On the other hand, Paramore and Fall Out Boy have re-shaped this formula into exciting pop shapes. If anything, it’s a little eerie how One OK Rock come off as a, dare I say, nostalgia act.
[5]

Will Adams: TAKE ME BACK TO 2004
[7]

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Hey Violet – Guys My Age

Guys your age will still be terrible in ten years time, too!


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Katherine St Asaph: Another bleak dispatch from dating in 2017: the younger guys get to bro down, uninterrupted; the older men get the younger girls, unchallenged; and the girls wonder why all of this is so inescapably rigged. The land of pop today sexes up and markets this feeling, in song after song marketed as sexy but presenting as despair. That said, despite its over-timely chipmunking and is more a product of an earlier era; vocalist Rena Lovelis’ mother and songwriter Ana Lovelis was one of the mid-2000s crop of troubled-girl rockers like Sarah Hudson, Megan McCauley and Katy Rose. There’s a neat circularity to this: a strain of rock popularized by “Since U Been Gone”‘s Max Martin and Dr. Luke (implications of the latter, though unavoidable, are left to the reader) evolving into sadder and synthier derivations like this, produced by their proteges. The gloom is palpable, and every critic I know despises its dominance over pop, but they blame the symptom and not the cause; songs like this exist because they reflect the world. Whether you think they should exist depends on whether you think girls should grow up with songs that are prescriptive or descriptive, role models or refuges. But after four decades of this underage-baiting being sold as prescriptive cheer, from the Runaways to Britney, can you really say this is worse?
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: No matter which vantage point, I feel some kind of anxiety from Hey Violet’s hot mess of a song. When I ride passenger seat to this trashy, brat pop, “Guys My Age” rushes with that youthful, on-the-edge buzz one gets from breaking the rules. But I don’t have to step too far away from the ride to know it’s always one mistake away for the moment to crash and burn. While I peep what they get into with my hands covering my eyes, I can’t stop watching.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Using the time-honored trick of finding a musical correlative for impatience (stuttering electro backing track, repeated hook), “Guys My Age” calls shit on deadbeats who smoke weed on their girlfriends’ couches. But the track’s insight stops there. I cringed when the producers opted for chipmunk vocal distortions.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: Rena Lovelis hits the grinding, crawling hook with the steely eyed determination of a woman who knows exactly what she wants, even if it’s something that might sound like a bad idea. If Taylor Swift’s “Dear John” was an indictment of men who would use their maturity and power to manipulate their younger partners, “Guys My Age” is the counterpart reasserting her autonomy. Notable is how prominent a position Lovelis’s callow ex plays in the narrative; the older man is a foil before he’s an object of desire. But is “Guys My Age” a prequel to “Dear John”? One would hope not, and crucially, Hey Violet doesn’t perform it as such. This is single-minded and clear-headed.
[8]

Joshua Copperman: It’s not that songs with more mature content shouldn’t get played on Radio Disney — between this and Julia Michaels’ “Issues” both on the top of the Disney charts (I checked just to be sure), I’m somewhat delighted the good people at Disney are making an effort to capture the feelings of confused, moody, often emotionally disturbed preteens. But even that said, I can’t really imagine the audience for this song, whether for those going into their goth phrase or the Halsey and co. stans that love this kind of dark pop. It’s hard to enjoy a song that goes for a Lolita-reclaiming???  Suicide Squad aesthetic, or uses Dr. Luke guitars, or breaks into a flat trap beat for the chorus, or is basically a more explicit Melanie Martinez song but with none of the melodic quirks she has. Musically, this is such a mess that it doesn’t matter how those with minds in the gutter interpret this or what the actual message is — preteens and pop stans alike deserve better than this. 
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: People talk about ensuring how young people need to learn how to code, but do know who needs it the most? Musicians. In the past 30 years, technology has changed how we see everything and naturally music has too. So much music has been made from the machines, but it’s taken an awful long time for bands to emerge who can craft songs LIKE they might tracks. You can see it in overt rock acts like Twenty One Pilots or The 1975, or you can sense it in the approach of The Chainsmokers. Hey Violet’s former past as members of Cherri Bomb doesn’t negate their presence but provides an interesting evolution of younger people abandoning their mastery of the old-school ways (because that was a tight band of kids, albeit devoid of identity) to explore the Ocean of Soundcloud approach that’s starting to overtake a lot of music. “Guys My Age” is lyrically shades of Sky Ferreira and Lana del Rey touched with juvenalia as opposed to nostalgia or melancholia, uncomfortable schisms between Lolita and teen shriek ground like a sharp point into the floor. It sounds cynical to the point of scammy, but that inability to trust gives this song and this band a hint of excitement. You ever feel like the future’s going to leave you behind?
[7]

Crystal Leww: The two most recent songs on Hey Violet’s VEVO are “Guys My Age” and a song called “Fuqboi,” which should tell you what you should know about their music: this is immature teen girl content masquerading as fake feminine deep. However, they do know how to write a pretty compelling bop. That underlying wub is creepy and weird, and lead singer Rena Lovelis is compelling as a vocalist, even if she’s bragging about dating old dudes in a way that mid-twenties me finds immature about late teen me. I hope and suspect they will eventually grow out of this.
[5]

Will Adams: I still dislike “Habits,” but I suspect that the line about picking up daddies at the playground isn’t high on the list of why so many others loved it. That “Guys My Age” is bleak goes without saying — it’s 2017 — but for a concept like this to translate well to pop requires a bit more finesse than Cirkut’s languorous production.
[4]

Katie Gill: Of all the songs Hey Violet has to offer, it’s THIS piece of cringeworthy nonsense that gets big? At least they’ll grow out of it.
[2]

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Blondie – Fun

We’ll be the judge of that! (Deb looks amazing in the video, at least.)


[Video][Website]
[4.10]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Honestly, considering how bad this sounds, the highest purpose it can achieve is reminding us how good the original Blondie comeback that gave us “Maria” and that weird attempt at nu-metal with Mobb Deep, Coolio and U-God (no seriously) was. If I had to explain the difference, it was that Blondie (and Debbie) were assuming the prestige they’d so clearly earned off their legacy in being grandiose and a bit smug. Considering how many of their peers never realized their potential it was well-deserved audacity to have the demand for respect of elder statesmen. Here, you get the feeling that they want to be cool grandparents by emulating indie dance moves from a decade ago. It’s like Debbie Harry, once one of the most raw, is out here trying to show me her favorite The Office quotes on Pinterest and frankly… they’re better than this.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Do you know that if you combine the best dozen songs or so off No Exit and The Curse of Blondie, you have a pretty good record? Dated, yes, but fun. I’m glad that in what would be most band’s dotages Blondie wear their love of disco on their sleeve as much as ever, but where’s the funk, the groove, the heft, the hook? It’s not exactly, er, fun.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This collaboration with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek reminds me quite a bit of Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their most disco-y, which is a shame, because it’s like a copy of a xerox of a mimeograph. And Debbie Harry’s voice is paler than I’ve ever heard it; it barely sounds like Debbie. This is not, ultimately, very good.
[3]

Claire Biddles: Narrator: it was not fun
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Blondie on cruise control is still a Blondie that doesn’t disappoint. It’s hard to resist the classic template of a chorus with a string uplift and Debbie Harry raising her notes up a notch. The only part dating this thing is that synth gurgle, but it feels at home with this clean, old-fashioned brand of dance-pop fun.
[7]

Anthony Easton: It is a metaphor, that an attempt to recreate historical fun isn’t very entertaining, and formally, that something that was once crisp is soggy.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: The restraint in Debbie Harry’s voice, sharp and careful, in the verses, isn’t a detraction in and of itself; but somehow her voice gets overwhelmed in the mixing of the chorus, the sound turning mushy. The feeling of balance being precious and easily lost, the ambiguity that I think is supposed to be powering “You’re my fun / Too much fun / Isn’t fun,” dribbles away. In the resulting song there’s no shame and not much memorable.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Anything that advertises itself as “fun” isn’t. Another weird thing about 2017: Rose Elinor Dougall is making better, more energetic Blondie pastiche than Blondie themselves.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: Fun, yes, if effortful. But there’s a real effervescence in this tune’s day-glo post-punk bop, which is recognisably Blondie without being, say, “Atomic 2017.” What is not recognisably Blondie is the lead vocal, for which Debbie Harry has condensed herself into a helium jet that spurts feebly before dissipating into nothing.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Using his production of Kelis’ Food as template, Dave Sitek strands a hoarse, unrecognizable Deborah Harry in a Max Martin-Justin Timberlake tune that recoils from funk as if it were an STD. Almost two decades ago (!), Blondie released No Exit, a little-heralded comeback to which many critics condescended; at the time I said it was their best since 1979’s long ago and far away Eat to the Beat. Sitek, Martin-JT, and Blondie is no more ungainly than Coolio, Jazz Passengers, and a Shangri-Las cover: the band likes rendering these indigestible stews tasty and surprising. But No Exit boasted a thunderous Clem Burke, always up for a drum roll or three, and an engaged, alert Harry. Only on the second half of “Fun”‘s chorus sports the yearning and confidence that came so easily.
[4]

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Childish Gambino – Redbone

Nor did we expect Donald Glover to be the least controversial, and yet…


[Video][Website]
[6.88]

Cédric Le Merrer: One fine day, Donald Glover decided he would stop this whole rapping mess and become… George Clinton? Or at least the Funkadelic-infused Erykah Badu of New Amerykah Part One. His whole album is filled with perfectly serviceable P-Funk, minus the revolutionary mindset of the originals. But we’re stuck with Childish Gambino for some time still, so overall I welcome this change of style.
[6]

Anthony Easton: This is not the sound I expected from Glover, but it is well-formed and genuinely beautiful, with a perfectly modulated falsetto and a coda of abstracted art. This is music making that argues for the performer as a production auteur, and it works. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: So he sings like Macy Gray and uses distortion. Big whoop. 
[5]

Juana Giaimo: Childish Gambino’s falsetto in “Redbone” sounds too forced, making the warm soulful vibes of the song lose their spell. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The blatant attempt by Donald Glover to echo ’70s funk in its power of the political has been met with a myriad of responses. Some admire that after swimming in a mire of awful edgelord punchlines and try-hard rap antics, Childish Gambino now shows dedication and a talent for singing and songwriting. Others take issue with the blatant copyism and question whether he’s been rewarded for appealing to rockist perceptions of what’s “valid.” “Redbone” is a “nice” rewrite of “I’d Rather Be With You” drained of personality and humor, and that’s what I find frustrating not only of Gambino but of many people reaching for THA FUNK to combat recent struggles and gloom: it’s not fun. The trickster sensibility of playing the fool while knowing that the real fools are the ones who wallow in cruelty and wickedness has been lost to generations of emulators, who know what these artists accomplished but not how they did it. It boggles the mind that Glover, a man who so publicly depends on a sharp wit, is trying so hard to be dutifully significant in such a dull way.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Funk seems to be a much better outlet for Donald Glover, who no longer has to cover up his big heart with wry wittiness or a posture of cool. That said, he relies so heavily on other people’s songs, or more so impressions of them, that I have a hard time figuring out if I’m connecting with Glover or the artists he’s channeling.
[6]

Claire Biddles: Maybe it’s because of the Grammys, but I can’t help but think of Childish Gambino in relation to Bruno Mars, and the legacy of Prince. Where Bruno’s latest iteration — which I love, and which we reviewed earlier this week — can be seen partly as a homage to slick, polished, contained-within-3-and-a-half-minutes Prince, Donald Glover is descended from the dripping, meandering funk version of Prince. Bruno presents the idealised version of sex — flawless, concise, persuasive — but “Redbone” is its reality — delicious, taking its time, somehow even lovelier. 
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: It’s remarkable how smoothly Donald Glover slides into this funk slow-jam, sounding nothing like the dorky wiseacre of his stand-up routines or the punchline stringer who wandered from the Community set into a rap career. With a falsetto better appreciated, admittedly, for its precision than its vocal nous, Glover drizzles “Redbone” with popping bass, a lush throwback groove, and dripping melodic runs that pool into sticky hooks as they descend. Impressive as the current incarnation of Childish Gambino is, Glover’s current hold on the zeitgeist is as enjoyable for the meandering path he took to get here. We expect artists to arrive fully formed, to blow us away with an astonishing debut or a bold new voice missing from contemporary conversation. But seeing Glover grow up in public, from 30 Rock writer to talented comic actor to uncertain and derivative rapper, and ultimately to the force behind one of the most celebrated television programs of 2016 as well a widely well-reviewed pop record reveals something far more welcome about creative endeavor. Talent isn’t a gift bestowed by the gods, but the product of hard work, experience, and experimentation. Glover’s maturation is something to be celebrated not just for its results, but for its gradual and highly visible realization.
[9]

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Dirty Projectors – Up in Hudson

No, we didn’t plan for this to be Controversy Wednesday…


[Video][Website]
[4.29]

Katherine St Asaph: A couple days ago, the perpetual airbag suffocation device known as music-critic Twitter paused its bemoaning of the death of the American experiment to bemoan the near-completed death, or maybe just those objecting to the death, of indie rock. The half-backpedaled eulogy, delivered by Dave Longstreth and Robin Pecknold, was insufferable in every way you’d expect: breading a Migos concept in irony and detachment then frying until soggy (“the raindrops and drop tops of lived, earned experience” is some real Chip’s Challenge manual hot-sorrow-bath-in-despair-room shit); those particular flinchy blog-writing mannerisms (“just a thought thought thought”) that always read to me like someone bottled the concept of ghosting; the sense that no one involved had ever liked or acknowledged artistry in, a song by a woman. A trinity of last known good music (“progressive w/o devolving into Yes-ish largesse”) is presented, it’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest and Bitte Orca again, the canon remains untroubled and the idea of progressiveness remains frozen in 2009. “Up in Hudson” is of this school, and its innovations are: backmasking, YouTube high schoolers’ multitrack videos, a jury-rigged recreation of playback singing or Kate Bush, a Peter Gabriel beat, 2017’s requisite snaps and cadences from better R&B songs, an outro of oompah farting. Self-indictment is everywhere: the Vernonesque trilling of “move to Brooklyn on your own” like a savage-but-obvious indie parody, the underlining of the one line about sex with gag-barbershop vocals out of a Lonely Island sketch, the recruitment of Kanye and Tupac and Roberta Flack and Molly Bloom as the unvolunteered Greek chorus of a mundane twentysomething relationship. (Press release: “a piece of epic storytelling.” Actual story: basically the Chainsmokers.) A specific relationship, too; this is the second consecutive Dirty Projectors single that is an explicit, all-but-named plaint about Longstreth’s breakup with Amber Coffman. Unlike “Keep Your Name,” “Up in Hudson” says nothing so contemptuous as “I don’t think I ever loved you, that was some stupid shit” or self-righteous as “your heart is saying clothing line / my body said Naomi Klein, No Logo.” The 808sisms of the outro exist to embody the anger and bitterness Longstreth leaves as abstractions, as if to sprinkle the perimeter of the lyric with anti-feminist-blogger garlic. And sure, it’s a double standard to find this sort of thing searing honesty from women and disingenuous wallowing (at best) from men. So it’s not that I object, per se. I just don’t care.
[0]

Alfred Soto: Irritating, but I’m not about to parse the depths of its ability to irritate me. Channeling electronic manipulations through a Lindsey Buckingham-indebted sensibility that delights in whimsy, David Longstreth has a good ear but not much sense; Dirty Projector tracks are often too thin to support the clutter he heaps on them. “Up in Hudson” is strongest when the vocals disappear in its final third.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The awkward use of weird Eastern samples, esoteric horns and early James Blake cyborg-twisted vocals ensure that we’re supposed to hear arty reverence, but Dave Longstreth is more fascinated with making things that feel ornate than things that feel good. Nobody else can make listening to Kanye sound more pretentious than even Kanye himself would insist it is.
[3]

David Sheffieck: The only time Dirty Projectors were even slightly tolerable — at least as background music in “hip” stores in 2009 — was when they managed an occasional woman-fronted track. Even then, their inability to manage any sort of coherent songwriting turned it into a crapshoot. This rickety assortment of sounds lacks that slightly redeeming grace and stumbles around for a grating, unnecessary 7:48. If we ever needed indie-prog, we definitely don’t need David Longstreth to be the one to make it.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: My patience for experimental music has decreased, but I still consider myself a fan of Dirty Projectors. Since Bitte Orca, Dave Longstreth has acquired a new sensibility, one that favors his emotions over the aim of making a unique sound. He begins “Up in Hudson” with warm and quiet vocal melodies, joined by his usual playful backing vocals and some strident horns to create different textures, then duplicates his voice in a bittersweet crescendo. The lyrics don’t aim to portray an epic love but the simple rise and fall of a relationship like any other — and it’s exactly for being like any other relationship, for putting together two people, that it was unique.
[8]

Tim de Reuse: The level of detail in the production (the scattered electronics, the growly brass harmonies, the Bon Iver-worshiping vocal treatment) is impressive even where all the gloss and flash and showoff is overbearing. Worse, though, is how Longstreth only occasionally sounds humbled by the raw, personal subject matter, more interested in dramatic flourishes than emotional gravity. I don’t like to dismiss stuff as “faux-arty” or “too indulgent” because responding like that denies the artist a good-faith assumption of sincerity — but for fuck’s sake, how am I supposed to parse the overlong meandering outro or the awkwardly specific clichés or the insufferably trendy sound design, if not as signs that something in the foundation has gone rotten? It’s all the more frustrating for the glimpses of the love-is-over gutpunch that could have been: the chorus, wailing over a relationship’s ugly death, briefly makes tonal sense! As raw as the underlying emotions might have been, and as much as I want to engage with them, most of the finished tune feels infected with Dunning-Kruger levels of unwarranted confidence, announcing its arrival at every turn with smothering fanfare and pomp; something that should be heartfelt instead turned alienating.
[3]

Claire Biddles: I imagine it as a video, with close-cropped images of bits of the body: a finger snapping, lips tensing up and blowing into a mouthpiece, a tongue forming words right in front of the camera lens. Like everything’s percussive. It all comes from the body. Or maybe it’s a performance, a one-to-one performance, with all the human elements laid out in front of me. And then it’s the way these elements are processed and artificially shaken-up — blatant about the way real life is remodelled into stories. This has some of both the real life and the story — awkward made-up-on-the-spot phrasing falling into a reflective chorus when it needs to. Like the way we convince ourselves to be rational in heartbreak. And it takes its time. I guess all music comes from the body, maybe it’s obvious to say that. I don’t know, it just feels real.
[8]

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

The Black Madonna – He is the Voice I Hear

Chicago DJ brings the house, and the controversy…


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

John Seroff: Lyrical, enticing and carefully paced, “He Is the Voice I Hear” is densely packed with live instrumentation and deeply considered house beats. There’s a gentleness and a fire at play; an ecstatic exuberance at the level of Levan. The Black Madonna has captured the spirit of the modern moment without words, offering disco as a stand-in for the phoenix both dying and reborn. It’s pretty much the best thing this year’s yet had to offer; here’s hoping that “Voice” is the beginning of a grander manifesto ahead.
[10]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If I wanted a parade of “proper” house/techno, there are a bunch of Ron Hardy mixes on YouTube. The last thing I need is to be lectured by 10 minutes of self-important tribute to things originally done not in reverence of what’d been left behind, but in searching to find a now and a future.
[1]

Alfred Soto: This hybrid of New Romantic fodderstompf and Jacques Morali kitsch has a promising start but is never quite fast enough or schlocky enough to tell the keyboardist to shut the fuck up.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: Elegant, classy, 10 minutes long, piano-based: this is what I want my house music to sound like.
[10]

Iain Mew: It’s got as careful and anticipation-forming a buildup as I would hope for when it takes seven minutes, with nice use of strings. When it turns out that what it was building up to was just some mannered piano tinkling, though, it feels like a practical joke at the listener’s expense.
[3]

Katie Gill: Look, I love this. That jazzy opening leading right into some sort of pseudo-disco DJ nonsense is my jam. I am all for a reoccurrence of the 1970s, especially if it’s disco, which has been unfairly shat upon for far too long. But 10 minutes is waaaaay too long, especially when repetition is heavily featured throughout the song. I’m sure this is marvelous as a DJ experience, but as a single, it’s tiring.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: I’d definitely listen to that piano intro for 10+ minutes, but I’m cool with the rest of the song too. The best part for me was the violin riff halfway through, the kind of sample that could back an entirely different piece of music. (Davide Rossi also contributed the strings for Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, which 1. explains why that hook is so catchy and 2. is amusing, considering Coldplay wouldn’t even make its hidden tracks 10 minutes long.) This culminates in a section when all the parts join together around 6:00. The only part that doesn’t quite work for me is the piano solo at the end, but the fact that it can hold attention purely as a listening experience is impressive.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Perhaps because of other artists in her city taking it back to church last year, the “He” of the title strikes me as a religious calling as The Black Madonna aims for transcendence throughout her track’s grand 10-minute length. Her patience with the music hinders it from reaching the rapture of the Chicago classics to which she pays homage. But that piano sweep is so gorgeous, you can’t help but to try to touch the sky.
[6]

Crystal Leww: The Black Madonna cleaned up on dance publication year-ends last year, a welcome sign that dance music was finally starting to embrace someone who didn’t look exactly like a deadmau5 type. So much about what’s made The Black Madonna a compelling story is Marea herself — a vocal feminist in the world of dark, sweaty rooms dominated by dudes who have grown to prioritize technicality over feeling. The Black Madonna is a technical whiz, sure, but to boil down her rise to “Hey, here’s a chick who proves she really can really spin!” is to do her a disservice. The Black Madonna cut her teeth in the dance scene in Chicago, grinding it out while still refusing to give up the heart and soul of dance in the city that built house music. She is open about how central God is to her work. I saw The Black Madonna play on Saturday night, and what struck me the most was the energy of the room. There is a joy she has behind the decks that few have, an atmosphere that she creates. I saw old ravers go wild. I saw a Swiss dude who said he loved deep house go wild at the legendary Chicago club Smart Bar for the first time. I saw young folks who looked like they were at their first house music show. I’ve not been religious in a long time, and it’s such a wild cliche, but that tiny little room at Smart Bar felt spiritual to me. I get why someone would make God and music intertwine; sometimes, the only thing I can believe in is the thump of the club.
[9]

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Chano! – Carnavalintro

No, the answer is no.


[Video][Website]
[5.57]

Thomas Inskeep: This Argentinian cumbia track comes off like a poppier reggaetòn record, with Chano! singing somewhat sweetly yet still sounding like his tongue is in his cheek. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: An amiable reggaetón/cumbia hybrid with too emphatic a vocal. Is it because all involved knew the beat wouldn’t pack the dance floor?
[5]

Edward Okulicz: If I tried to dance to this I would fall flat on my face from trying to latch onto the beat and possibly throw up. Given that, the hammy, seemingly desperate vocal from Chano feels completely natural.
[6]

Iain Mew: He’s just about charming enough to carry the goofy, loping verses, but on a song that tries to fit so many different emotional modes and tempos he really doesn’t have the range.
[4]

Will Adams: The Lonely Island-esque video lays bare the fundamental flaw in “Carnavalintro”: here we have an uncompelling vocalist deploying gimmickry to make up for both his and the song’s lack of spark.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: It’s easy to be against Chano and make fun of him, especially for his slightly bragging persona in the songs of his former band Tan Biónica. But since 2015, Chano’s life seems to be going down which may be why when listening to his only solo song, I suddenly feel empathy for him. “Carnavalintro” may be an upbeat cumbia track, but his trembling voice isn’t as flirty as it was in Tan Biónica. It is instead the voice of a disintegrating man in his deepest loneliness, putting together lines that hardly make any sense until he is enlightened by the purest words of nostalgia: “I dream of never dreaming again.” In years when cumbia has been represented in the Rio de la Plata by repetitive and rather superficial bands like Marama, Agapornis and Rombai, Chano’s cumbia feels truly genuine.  
[8]

Tim de Reuse: There’s a little rhythmic wonkiness on the standard reggaeton beat here that adds a surprisingly engaging lilt to things; merely decent lines like “Tengo que tratar de no esperar / Lo inevitable mas, te vas, te vas” turn bittersweet and catchy when they sound like they’re just barely not falling over. Every other aspect blends into a haze of gloss and overproduction that doesn’t have quite as much going for it.
[6]