Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending September 21, 2019

Got some free time in your weekend? Well…

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Young Thug ft. Gunna – Hot

Fly like you do it, like you’re high, like you do it, like you – *sigh* – like you do it like you’re Gunna…


[Video][Website]
[4.43]

Alfred Soto: The production, horn chart, Thug — everything is running at a narcotized speed. This creates tension for a while: when is it going to take off? Then I realized the title was a joke. 
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: It still hasn’t been the easiest thing to reconcile my feelings with this more consciously restrained Young Thug. Restraint can be another means of control, but it’s frustratingly unclear whether it’s that or pure lack of inspiration with “Hot.” The frustration applies as much with Gunna, whose own restraint at times glosses over the sheer ridiculousness of a line as if words are unimportant: he raps “I told her to gargle and work on her thighs” with the same sleepy-eyed voice used to deliver stylish nonsense like “upgraded my wrist, put baguettes in the sky.” Thug previews some chaos brewing in him in the bizarre vocalizing interlude where he’s stricken by hunger too overwhelming to contain, just as it seemed back on Barter 6. But while it does seep over to the first few bits of his verse, he retreats to cliches about copycats and Cartier. There’s a more unhinged song here, and it’s maddening that the rappers step away from it.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Thugger getting his first number one album with songs as safe as this? We failed him.
[3]

Josh Love: I wish Thug the rapper from 2015/16 could go in over the beats from So Much Fun because I think they’re the best of Thugger’s career, but unfortunately he’s dialed back his own elastic yawp by about 20%. As Future proved with “Mask Off,” though, you can never go wrong with a menacing flute sample that sounds like it was taken off an old kung fu flick.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Thugger, sabotaged by an anaemic verse from Gunna and a sluggish marching-band beat, salvages things somewhat with his rubbery triplet flow and screeching adlibs.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Gunna is a pointless, dull and soulless version of Thugga, who keeps him on a long leash and lets him clog up the first half of this shifting yet flat song, filled to the brim with waterlogged, melting synth melodies, while Thugga comes in on one of his dullest, limpest flows.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Parents play favorites all the time. Take Young Thug: of his three most obvious “children” featured on So Much Fun (Gunna, Lil Baby, and Lil Keed), Gunna clearly gets the most shine. He gets two features (this and the much better “Surf”), and on “Hot” he gets the lead-off verse. And yet, despite the ample room that Thugger gives his protege, Gunna is a totally inert force here. It’s not that his verse is Nav-level unlistenable or filled with Big Sean-type corniness, but that he makes no particular impression at all. Even Wheezy’s production does him no favors, with MIDI horns swallowing up his creeping hook, charging forward while his triplet structure collapses in on itself. Fortunately, Young Thug’s croak serves as a welcome reprieve — the master has an ability to stretch and manipulate his syllables to break up the monotony that his students have not yet developed.
[5]

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey – Don’t Call Me Angel

“Independent Women Part III: No Throttle”…


[Video]
[3.69]

Josh Buck: Absolutely not.
[2]

Katie Gill: “Don’t Call Me Angel” is a fun piece of movie credits music. There’s nothing special here, but it’s a jam of a song that would fit perfectly well in the already established oeuvre of middle-of-the-road yet totally serviceable movie tie-in songs. Two of the singers know exactly what sort of song they’re in and give it the sultry, radio-friendly, sexy spin the song needs. The third is Lana Del Rey and her inclusion BAFFLES me. This is so far out of her wheelhouse that it’s hilarious. Seriously, was Selena Gomez busy or something? The music video for Demi Lovato’s “Confident” was practically an audition piece for this type of thing, why the heck isn’t she here?
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Ariana does some Grande karaoke, Miley sounds like she’d rather be singing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and Lana teleports in to do another take on her breathy schtick (and brings the song to a screeching halt in the process) — nothing about this, apart from (I imagine) someone’s discussion of market share, makes any sense. There’s no cohesion here. There’s barely even a song.
[2]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: So, so, so cringeworthy. Ariana, Miley and Lana sound like reality music TV contestants who were forced to make a song together one week, couldn’t get on the same page and ran out of time to rehearse, but had to release something anyways. Ariana is awkward and lonely on the hook, like she’s waiting for help that never comes; Miley comes out of nowhere with a cloying shouted verse; and Lana is off in another world mumbling incomprehensible nonsense. Even the backing track has a nervous manic energy. If you want a good song about Charli(e)’s angels, just listen to this instead. 
[3]

Michael Hong: In high school, I worked on a group project where the only times we met up were when we decided upon a topic and to actually present the whole piece. Rather expectedly, the whole thing fell apart rather quickly and it was a completely embarrassing experience. “Don’t Call Me Angel,” gives off the same vibe, like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey were each given only the title and asked to write something vaguely empowering for women. Each artist sounds like they wrote for a different track and made absolutely no effort to meld styles, instead forcing the producers to try and mash the entire thing together. Even the chorus buries Miley and Lana completely beneath Ariana, perhaps rather wisely as I can’t see the group’s vocal tones meshing together very well. “Don’t Call Me Angel” survives only through the one thing my group never had, natural charisma.
[3]

Alex Clifton: How did Ari, Miley and Lana end up in this? I guess it echoes the three Charlie’s Angels but this trio doesn’t make sense. I can see how individual duets would’ve worked; Ari and Lana could’ve done something slow and spacy, Ari and Miley taking a more upbeat route, Lana and Miley singing something retro. This, sadly, doesn’t play to anyone’s strengths and just ends up being overproduced mush with a decent riff. If I had to pick any artist who could make this song make sense, it would be Rihanna, and the music video would be her in thirteen different outfits kicking ass. 
[3]

Joshua Copperman: I didn’t realize how dated the Max Martin sound was until hearing “Don’t Call Me Angel.” Pop music is now either created with substance(s) or has substance thrust upon it. Meanwhile, the lyrics are clunkier than ever, “you know we fly/but don’t call me angel” no longer endearing melodic math but shallow feminist lip service at a time when “if you feel like a girl/then you real like a girl” can sneak onto a major label record. It’s the first time I can’t listen to a Martin production without thinking of this unexpectedly poignant stand-up segment about Martin and Cosmopolitan. When the tropical house is so bland, further lyrics stick out more; Miley’s pre-chorus (“Do I really need to say it/Do I need to say it again”) is lazy, and Ari’s vampire metaphors are just baffling. Lana comes out strongest, someone who seldom charts but has more cultural relevance than the former and is much hipper than the latter. Her verse is classy when Ari is unmemorable and Miley cribs from a Rihanna album reject from four years ago. “Angel”, though, feels like a reject from 2013, when Miley was in her imperial phase and Ari was just breaking out from Nickelodeon — in fact, it probably would have had Rihanna instead of Lana at that time. But no matter what trio, one thing is clear: with this lemon, you cannot make Marmalade.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Remember, “Independent Women Part I” stopped the otherwise great song dead on the bridge to announce it was commissioned for CHARLIE’S AAAAAAANGELS, so “Don’t Call Me Angel” earns points already for not doing that. It keeps its product placement to outside context, namely the fact that the song exists despite the three artists having little in common besides having stanbases and sniping at critics. The disparate styles can work together — see the “Lady Marmalade” remake, unfairly maligned except by a few — but here there are only anti-synergies. Miley’s verse can’t decide if she wants to be the track’s Mya or the Pink (probably the better idea), but its bluntness also best fits the backing track. Ariana’s sighed, harmonized “angel” is a great millennial R&B hook, but one that outside of an R&B song is starved for air. Lana’s bridge, though a complete non-sequitur and only empowering if you squint, is also the most sonically charged thing she’s done in ages; if there isn’t a reason Lana Del Rey hasn’t worked with Max Martin beyond “Lust for Life” (I suspect that there is), that wouldn’t be the worst career direction. Everyone’s part diminishes everyone else’s, the exact opposite of what you need from an event single or a Charlie’s Angels shine-theory ad.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every big pop collab feels a little unnecessary — pop stars work based on the idea that they’re the center of the universe, and collaborations by their very nature make that seem silly. But this sounds really, really unnecessary. Two artists coming off career highs (and one coming off of “Cattitude”) should at least drive some head-to-head comparison, but none of the three credited artists interact in any meaningful way. It’s the Batman V. Superman of pop music — conflict and chemistry built mostly on reputation rather than action, with nothing to defend unless you’re an unabashed stan.
[2]

Joshua Lu: In which Lana Del Rey learns that her reward for releasing her magnum opus is the opportunity to limp through a thank u, next reject. Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus’s voices already feel unbalanced, but Lana’s mushy croons are so inapposite that they grind the song to a halt.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: It rattles along satisfyingly, but this never leaves the marks that the intermittent brass punctuation seems to signify. None of that is aided by how Del Rey, unbending in her lack of persona, has to be deployed in the manner of a guest rapper, wheeled on and off through a side door. The inability to sound at home with her collaborators in the way they do with each other is one thing, but the inability to sound anything other than lifeless in the face of them is another, and that’s the precise opposite of what’s called for.
[6]

Will Adams: As out of place as she may seem on paper, Lana’s bridge is the only point where the song becomes interesting: the key dips even more minor, and the arrangement has tangible cinematic sweep. The rest is a cluttered shamble of an Ariana Grande album cut, with her and Cyrus trading off lines with all the dubious empowerment of a Barb Wire quote.
[4]

Jackie Powell: All right folks get ready for a sports metaphor, because it’s coming. Ariana Grande is a bit of a ball hog on this track. What she doesn’t seem to understand is if you are going to lead your team, you’ve got to provide the proper assist to each of your teammates. To me, saving Del Rey until the two-minute mark supports the idea that these “angels” aren’t really meant to work together. I thought the purpose of this was to present a team of strong women looking to take on the world via a song that preaches empowerment for this new wave of both feminism and Charlie’s Angels films. Where a point guard should pass the ball and set up her teammates on the wings (no pun intended) and under the rim, Grande instead takes all of the shots. When the mic is pointed toward Cyrus after Grande’s opening hook, though, she shoots with simultaneous finesse and power, letting her head voice mix well with the potent sound in her chest. If I was reviewing the visual made to accompany “Don’t Call Me Angel,” Hannah Lux Davis’ treatment would receive a [10]. Grande, Cyrus and Del Rey all exude a mystique, ooze sex and expel power. For a Charlie’s Angels theme song, that’s right on the money. But what confuses me lyrically is how the hook clearly communicates the theme, even nodding to Destiny’s Child, but the verses, bar maybe Cyrus’, are underwhelming. The clock-tower cowbell loop that runs through and through grabs my attention, but I think Kristen Stewart could write better poetry.
[6]

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Red Velvet – Umpah Umpah

It’s certainly no “Rumper Pumper”


[Video][Website]
[5.44]

Kayla Beardslee: This is a perfect song… for the end credits of a Disney Channel Original Movie. Hooray, the love interests at this summer camp finally get to hold hands! As an actual piece of music, however, this is corny, unoriginal, and unnecessary, made worse by the knowledge that Red Velvet can do so much better.
[3]

Michael Hong: It’s not until directly after the final chorus that you get a real sense for what this is, with the five girls singing in unison over handclaps revealing it to be a glorified High School Musical 2 soundtrack. Beyond that, “Umpah Umpah” is simply content with acting as a reference point for previous tracks, most notably with the bubbly bass and distorted male vocals that recall “Red Flavor.” Unfortunately, “Umpah Umpah” isn’t quite as unforgettable as teased, the whole thing blowing past you like a fresh summer breeze. It’s warm and refreshing, but it doesn’t quite stick and the entire thing just feels like a showcase for Joy, Seulgi, and Wendy to do their high note. Everything in between is just far too campy, too childish, and too juvenile, like a regression back to Ice Cream Cake or The Red without the bulletproof hooks that rattle around your brain for eternity. At least the self-referential rap is a lot more tolerable than the awkward “Dumb Dumb” references to Michael Jackson.
[5]

Alex Clifton: Oh thank God! “Zimzalabim” was a fluke and Red Velvet have gone back to giving me grade-A summertime bubblegum. It’s a bit dorky — the shout-outs to title tracks of years gone by don’t make a whole lot of sense, but then this is also the band that forced a bunch of Michael Jackson references into a delightfully bonkers single — though I find it endearing and not cloying. Dorkiness doesn’t matter when you’ve got a magic moment where the bass drops out and all we have is acapella vocals and clapping. When that happens, I want to run out a window and fly because my heart feels so light. Red Velvet’s music consistently delivers small electric thrills, and “Umpah Umpah” is no different.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’m reminded of SNSD’s “Party,” which is to say that this is moderately catchy and extremely joyless. The girls sound like they’re on autopilot, and the vocal sample that gurgles the titular line is a trick that was done better on “Red Flavor.”
[5]

Katie Gill: Summer songs are a state of mind, even when logically speaking, they should have been released earlier in the summer. “Umpah Umpah” is a bright, sunny, fun jam that’s catchy as hell, but whose main failing is that Red Velvet have already basically released it at least twice, and that both of those times were way better.
[6]

Jessica Doyle: If this were a nugu group, I’d probably be more generous in the scoring. (Although I listened to this and the similarly summer-themed “Tiki Taka” by Weki Meki, and I’m honestly not sure which one I’d be more likely to replay in the future.) But from Red Velvet it sounds like filler. The name-checking in the rap, itself a callback to “Dumb Dumb,” just serves to remind us that there are better and more ambitious songs in the group’s discography. (Actually, now that I think of it, you could say the same thing about Weki Meki.)
[5]

Alfred Soto: Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” hook cleaned and re-presented in a polyurethane shell — why has it taken this long? 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The relentlessly cheery, sparkle-polished teenpop, something like a Hoku-A*Teens collaboration, is almost worth its title getting the Oliver! song stuck in my head.
[7]

Joshua Lu: Being a fan of Red Velvet over the past few years has been difficult, as their output has tended to oscillate between being pointlessly weird or mincing and disposable. “Umpah Umpah” easily falls into the latter category (even with that very weird and very pointless second verse self-tribute), its hollow cheeriness reminiscent of the High School Musical soundtrack or a Twice b-side. “Something unforgettable” this is not.
[4]

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Weezer – The End of the Game

Imagine if all these bands were opening for Protomartyr…


[Video]
[5.11]

Ian Mathers: As opposed to Green Day, Weezer always just sound like fucking Weezer, no matter how many stylistic flourishes they try out. What’s the old Protomartyr record called? No Passion All Technique?
[3]

Isabel Cole: Bumped a point for the Aslan line, which I regret to report made me laugh out loud.
[4]

Josh Buck: Neither hella, nor mega. 
[1]

Alfred Soto: Many of us have praised the late Ric Ocasek for his songwriting and production chops. Maybe we should look at his keeping Weezer going as a blot. 
[2]

Juan F. Carruyo: Weezer is essentially a well-oiled meme machine by now. So, of course, their new single starts with an Eddie Van Halen tribute (circa 1984) and the video offers some heavy fan service for Area 51 nerds. If there happens to be a memorable chorus hidden somewhere in-between all this effervescence, well, that’s neat. Rivers will keep on keeping on. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
[8]

Will Adams: A nostalgia trip, yes, but one that works because its references are woven through the whole song instead of being slapped on top as is often the case. It’s there in the music, which alternates between “Jump”-style cheesiness and Weezer’s own brand of sunny pop-punk. It’s there in the lyrics, sometimes clunky (Aslan, a Mick Jagger/Marianne Faithfull analogy) but also nicely nodding to the band’s history (“Island In the Sun” and “Hash Pipe”). Most importantly, the nostalgia is tied to the narrative. It acknowledges how melodies latch themselves to your conscious in ways that a trinket or photograph of you with your ex don’t. Sometimes they won’t leave you; sometimes, for the other, the melody no longer finds them. That’s what makes “End of the Game” work so well; no matter how crisp the guitars, surging the arrangement, or catchy those melodies, what was once our song can dissolve into a song.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: Naming your newest album Van Weezer after your hastily released covers album got more play than the one that premiered on Fortnite may seem like a canny move, and it is. But in this case it’s a more humbled form of commercial calculation: a concession to who the modern Weezer fanbase is rather than who Rivers would like it to be. There’s more separation between 2019 and 1994 than there is between “My Name Is Jonas” and “Runnin’ with the Devil,” so why not throw your lot in with the dinosaurs of FM radio if it frees you from losing an eternal game of catch-up with the new kids? “The End of the Game” is written and recorded as if Eddie himself were looking over the band’s shoulders, much as the late Ric Ocasek was with their 2014 comeback. This both tempers their wackiest impulses and gives them a concrete goal to strive toward, even if that goal is as simple as “making the kind of sincere pastiche that Nerf Herder never had the guts or chops to.”
[7]

Jibril Yassin: A throwback to a different time when Weezer was releasing terrible albums signalled by 10/10 lead singles convincing us they were in on the joke. Weezer now operates in three modes: create strangely inert pop music with lyrics seemingly crowdsourced from a spreadsheet, anticipating the coming backlash with what sounds like ’94-era b-sides and the third one….well. I guess we’re ready for Meme Weezer to get to their snake-eating-tail phase but this hair metal phase we’re seemingly about to get isn’t a totally unwelcome one. 
[7]

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Green Day – Father of All…

Next up, the new single from Green Day… we think?


[Video]
[3.30]

Ian Mathers: If you had played me this blind and said “it’s a band you listened to all the time when you were a teenager”, I have no idea who I would have guessed, but Green Day wouldn’t have made my top ten guesses. It’s like one of those legacy acts that’s had so much turnover they’re unidentifiable, except the original trio is still here and the turnover is just, I guess, aesthetic? And I don’t just mean the vocals, either. It’s not bad – actually, it’s pretty good! – but I can’t seem to prevent part of myself from retreating to a corner and playing Nimrod on repeat.
[7]

Josh Buck: Wait, this isn’t the new Fall Out Boy single? 
[3]

Will Adams: In which Green Day make a triumphant 2019 return by dipping into that sweet, sweet Fitz & The Tantrums money.
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: This sounds like one of those identikit post-punk revival bands from 2005 that would announce their arrival on the scene with a MetroPCS ad placement and a 1.6 review in Pitchfork, all of whose existence I was blissfully unaware of at the time because I was busy listening to “Whatsername” on repeat.
[1]

Juan F. Carruyo: Ostensibly inspired by Prince and with distorted falsettos to show for it, this is Green Day in garage mode; a style they’ve successfully exploited back in 2007 with their Foxboro Hot Tubs side project. The good news: it sounds like they’re having fun again instead of trying to write an updated Tommy. Dig: the bass fills in the second verse and the stronky guitars just after. 
[7]

Josh Love: You could’ve told me this was the first single from some new Jack White-fronted project and I would’ve totally believed you. My own appetite for Green Day was thoroughly sated by the mid-90s, but this song doesn’t even possess a whiff of the personality that somehow made them The Only Band That Matters during Dubya’s reign.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Green Day already had a song in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Drumming’s good, needs to be on something that isn’t this.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: This has plenty of raw energy, so why does it feel so tame? Sure, some of the blame lies in the thick layer of 21st-century veneer (Listen! Those claps and their distracting flutter — those snares and their hyperreal DnB punch!) but even if it were stripped of all the studio magic there’d still be no adolescent sneer underneath it all. Keep in mind: the dude who wrote “American Idiot” is saying this new output is “Not political. Surviving in chaos. The real shit.” and the all-purpose lyrics reflect that. Green Day’s MO was never in making essential Political Statements, but they liked to pretend that they did, and that self-satisfied temerity gave them substance that you could, at very least, talk about. This is a level deeper down: music pretending to be music pretending to have a point. Centrist pop-punk, advocating nothing, celebrating nothing; a mild slurry for people who thought Green Day’s previous tunes about not giving a fuck were themselves giving too much of a fuck.
[2]

Jibril Yassin: All these bad riffs and non-sequiturs make me wish Green Day hadn’t abandoned their stupid/ambitious sense of grandeur because this doesn’t scan as interesting, nor fun.
[1]

Kylo Nocom: Even the YouTube commenters are pissed off at how embarrassingly sad this is. Just in case you weren’t sure, Green Day generously included three middle finger emojis next to the line “fingers up” in the description.
[3]

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Fall Out Boy ft. Wyclef Jean – Dear Future Self (Hands Up)

It’s modern rock day! First up, Fall Out Boy, who go Inna one ear and outta the other…


[Video]
[4.62]

Katie Gill: We’re leaning super hard into that “Uma Thurman” surf rock vibe, huh. I can stomach this. It’s a good sound and hides the fact that Fall Out Boy’s lyrics haven’t evolved an inch since the Cork Tree days.
[5]

Alex Clifton: Not every song’s going to be as good as “Uma Thurman” but they could at least try to make it better. Working with Wyclef Jean was a step out of the band’s comfort zone, which is a neat move, but you can hardly note him in the song under all the AutoTune. It’s been weird watching FOB grow over the years because they’ve clearly gone from emo darlings to a more mainstream rock group and while I appreciate that they’re trying to evolve, I’m not sure it’s really working for them in this instance. Maybe this was more than they bargained for.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Fall Out Boy have long since abdicated the rules of taste, which is how they can do an Inna cover in the style of skank in the style of Dick Dale, with extra airhorns and extra vocal honks and extra apocalyptic lyrics — just very extra, in general. And because they’re no longer beholden to good ideas, when they fail they fail hard, but when they don’t, the result is more interesting and thrilling, in their weird inadvisable way, than those out there doing things right.
[7]

Ian Mathers: I’ve always had variable success with these guys, but Patrick Stump is pretty much always fun to hear sing, Wyclef somehow fits in(???), and this is nicely right in the punk-pop/power-pop pocket. I would pretty much never be upset to have this come on the radio.
[7]

Tobi Tella: Unfortunately, Fall Out Boy seems to be taking the hyperactivity of Mania to heart and based their entire persona on it. The gimmicks in the production and vocals might feel more earned if the song was about literally anything.
[3]

Alfred Soto: In which Patrick Stump reminds listeners that he knows this power pop shit, Wyclef Jean joins in with “She’s winding like she’s losing her mind,” and the rest is a tuneful smudge. 
[5]

Juan F. Carruyo: For real, it’s pretty cool to hear Wyclef rocking out. Otherwise, continues FOB’s trend of mixing surf guitars with cheap sounding autotuned vocals. Here’s hoping they tackle reggaeton next. 
[5]

Josh Buck: Friend I made listen to this: “This is OK Go but on crack.” 
[2]

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

AJ Mitchell ft. Ava Max – Slow Dance

It’s the last dance bro…


[Video]
[3.33]

Katherine St Asaph: Back in my day, the slow dance songs of choice were Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn to You”; maybe Savage Garden; I assume “This I Promise You” or “Breathe” or (christ) “The Space Between” but have no memory of those, none of the cursed-image-vivid, photographic-and-sonic memories one develops as a preteen hoping a boy asks you to sway. Either way, though: ballad-ballads. Then what once were some of the most fraught three-and-a-half-minute spans of my tweenage life became things I can’t remember ever thinking about for the past decade; but based on “Slow Dance” existing, it seems likely that the kids still slow dance. And based on the charts, what on earth could it possibly be to? Judging by the chorus, the answer seems to be a semi-acoustic cover of “No Flex Zone.” Maybe sit this one out in the girls’ room.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Cabello and Mendes’ “Senorita,” only serious. 
[3]

Michael Hong: AJ Mitchell and Ava Max never really get into a groove that would suggest you could slow dance to this, but the pair capture a sort of tenderness under neon lights that makes up for it. The rushed, quasi-spoken prechorus gives the track a little bit of a jolt, like nervous confessions from awkward teenagers, but it’s undermined by the harsher vocal theatrics on the final chorus, where Ava Max easily outshines AJ Mitchell.
[4]

Isabel Cole: Exactly as sensual and intimate as a slow dance between twelve-year-olds who can’t make eye contact at a Christian school winter social where teachers wander the wanly decorated gym to make sure students are leaving room for the Lord, although from the sound of it not nearly as thrilling to the two people involved.
[3]

Oliver Maier: I think the kindest thing I can say about this is that qualifying a request to slow dance with “if you’re feeling me” is kind of hilarious. I can’t wait for the sequel where AJ Mitchell asks a girl to marry him because they just vibe.
[2]

Nicholas Donohoue: AJ Mitchell employs a rhythm that utterly kills any romance, as if he’s checking if his mic is on before making an embarrassing-for-everyone display of love. Blessed be Ava Max for salvaging the back half, but we still end up with less of a slow dance than a moderate waddle.
[4]

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Six60 – The Greatest

Big in New Zealand, not so much here…


[Video]
[3.83]

Ian Mathers: If there was something more interesting to their music that led Six60 to be huge in their native New Zealand, to the point of selling out a stadium local acts don’t even think about, it certainly got smoothed off on the way to trying their hand internationally (although sources suggest that was kind of always the deal). The most distinctive thing here is “I’ll never know what second place is,” and that sounds more like neurosis than anything else.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Tuneful vacuousness is as universal as Chobani yogurt.
[2]

Nortey Dowuona: A heaving, flat drum pattern swallows a slippery guitar line with a small, furry bass following. Lead singer Matiu’s soft, pliant wail skids above, never even trying to be part of it.
[5]

Michael Hong: On their own, the two separate ideas of the coffee-shop folk song sped up into something more animated and the festival-ready chorus are both interesting enough to carry a song. It’s when these atmospheres attempt to meld on the second chorus that the song gets a little bit lost, with a wishy-washy instrumental that renders the message of “The Greatest” slightly incoherent. But Six60 sells enough pep and passion in that sing-along hook and foot stomps that even for a few moments, “The Greatest” becomes convincing.
[6]

Oliver Maier: I’ve been saying for a while now that what music really needs is a song that combines the theatre-kid smugness of Panic! at the Disco with the blandness of Maroon 5 and the disorienting bombast of Imagine Dragons, only really slooooowwwwwww.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: There is nothing wrong with this song. But far from making it the greatest, that just makes it extremely competent, and it sounds like that may have been Six60’s justifiable aim. The rhymes of the chorus are creditably innovative, but that’s about where the innovation ends (well, either there or the first Gnarls Barkley single). If “staggering soul with desolate delivery underlying an otherwise upbeat message” is the formula, though, it’s a good one.
[6]

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Michael Kiwanuka – You Ain’t The Problem

Since 2012 our standards for “the fivest [5] ever” have changed a bit…


[Video]
[6.71]

Iain Mew: This is audibly still the same guy responsible for the five-est five ever, still just as in thrall to the past. Yet all it takes is some more adventurous choices, a bit of unpredictability, a bit of a Janelle Monáe vibe, and it’s so much more enjoyable.
[7]

Alex Clifton: “Feel-good music” is a stupid, nebulous descriptor. “Feel-good music” brings to mind aggressively positive songs that come across as twee, music that has the emotional subtlety of a crowd of children screaming “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” But sometimes you hear something that fits. “You Ain’t the Problem” is sunshine breaking through clouds, a gentle breeze on a warm day, the infinite possibilities of a Friday evening once you’re off work. It’s nice to hear a song that goes down so dang easy, where you can sit back and let it wash over you however you like. A lovely little mental break from the chaos of the world.
[8]

Alfred Soto: It’s got the Temptations in its soul and owes a large debt to Raphael Saadiq’s thick grotty R&B, but despite the grain in his voice Michael Kiwanuka hasn’t absorbed these influences into tunes beyond the sort that get your parents’ approval. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: A ragged, jagged guitar and a humming bass spiral around slamming bongos, which give way to a simple, flat drum groove that can barely contain the bass solo. Michael provides some bland lyrics, which are overpowered by the screeching “la”s. There’s a final explosion of every musical element in one last, desperate, flailing heave, then a tiny synth plays the main melody to the baby mice in the audience.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s not Michael Kiwanuka’s fault that an entire music-advertising-sync apparatus has sapped the joy out of this kind of lite-soul, particularly since “You Ain’t the Problem” is significantly better than the stuff it sapped it with. The outro is particularly nice.
[6]

Ian Mathers: I especially love the sunburst of fuzzbox guitar and “la la la”s that come out every so often, and there’s a warmth in Kiwanuka’s voice that makes the blunt, forceful way he sings the title more effective. The sonics are very different, but emotionally this would make a surprisingly good counterpart to Bjork’s “It’s Not Up to You”; here, it’s not as if he’s refusing the possibility that you could ever be the problem, just that this is a song for those times when you’re not and someone or something is trying to make you think you are (and then, as always, cui bono?).
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Insertion of classic upbeat soul-pop is not something new, just a different cliche for Kiwanuka. But he sells this one because when he snaps “you ain’t the problem,” it’s a legitimately attention-grabbing hook line. It’s amazing how far one of these can take you.
[7]