Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners – This Girl

Artist billing of the year, y/y?


[Video][Website]
[5.27]
A.J. Cohn: This remix takes the original down a notch or two, adding unnecessary David Guetta-inspired dance detritus to an already strong soul track — the sonic equivalent of jpeg artifacting.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Tropical house notwithstanding, the distortions and fades wouldn’t have troubled Justice’s sleep in 2007, including the gross horn chart treated as if it were a second guitar solo. We can do better, people.
[5]

Taylor Alatorre: The lightly funky soul sample is nice, I guess, but its “can’t buy me love” lyrics sound quaint when pitted against tropical house, a subgenre designed to evoke a lifestyle which is inaccessible to most of humanity. Maybe I’d be able to stomach this kind of island-hopping escapism if it were built around something more substantial than five, and then seven identical horn stabs in the quote-unquote drop. Not to mention the most unearned “woo!” I’ve heard in music this year. “Whatever works,” the disembodied, chopped-up voice seems to say. If this is all it takes to score a European hit in 2016, then yeah, no kidding.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Inoffensive and unremarkable song that might be the closest tropical house comes to its own “Tequila.”
[4]

Cassy Gress: The original “This Girl” is a drowsy, summery pastiche of “Come and Get Your Love.” Kungs sped it up a few BPM, slapped some house drums and claps onto it, but more significantly cut up the chorus. If you listen to the two back-to-back, it’s patently obvious when you get to the part where Kungs thought “all right, here’s where I’ma make my mark on this song.” And that’s the part where it gets a lot more boring.
[4]

William John: It doesn’t seem fair to be so derogatory about a fresh-faced EDM French kid whose birthdate is worryingly close to beginning with a 2, but the clock has struck amateur hour here. Kungs is certainly no Madeon nor Martin Garrix, and lacks the poise and ear of so many of his compatriots in dance music. I’m all for revitalising what research reveals to be a pleasant bit of coffee shop soul through unselfconscious Eurobosh, but where there should really be a donk we instead only get a slight shift in tempo and an ugly horn preset. It’s all a bit limp, but will do well enough for ruddy Britishers ready to forge memories on yachts in the Aegean over the coming months.
[3]

Katie Gill: The song’s cute and peppy, a perfect sort of driving with the windows down jam, bouncing along like a less mellow Robin Schulz remix. But there’s something about the mixing that annoys the heck out of me. The backing threatens to overtake the (admittedly really blurry) vocals at certain points. I’ve got to strain to hear what exactly the singer’s SINGING, which is never a good sign.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: A French DJ lazily applying a little filtering to an already attractive sample? Everybody wins! Of course that’s not all he’s doing, because there are Solveigian comedy horns too — more victory! — and the “Stormy” guitars stand out more than in the original, but this may be the most fun “Waves”wave ever gets, and even for that alone Kungs must be applauded. Not so much for kicking Kylie Auldist off the credits, though.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Clothespinned to this rhythm, the chords suggest “Stormy” when the sun breaks. It’s fairly unambitious in the rhythm but not the rhythm track: there’s about a half-dozen drum sounds here, like we’re in the heyday of reggaeton. The meat is melody, though: big, dumb, toss-your-head-and-bob-your-shoulders melody.
[8]

Adaora Ede: Copy-paste summer song. And I LOVE everything about summer, especially when it comes to the heat and European DJs throwing together some vaguely vintage sounding sample on a electro-disco-house melody to create a mid July hit. With the song itself coming out choppy, the jazzy vocals entirely make the song for me in the places where the exotic instrumentation that I expect from a Euro-dance jam should have been. On the other hand, Kungs probably should have cut off the song right before the dreampop-inspired bridge and omitted the handclaps. But seriously, if there’s going to be an attempt to plop a deep house sleeper hit on us, you’re gonna need a little bit more djembe.
[7]

Gin Hart: It’s about lovin’ and losin’, but is loveable for reasons that, for me, involve more craft than content. The viscera are in the production — smooth and funky and crisply stratified. Were you obsessed with soil horizon diagrams in late middle/early high school? I was. Listening to this song feels like looking at one of those while biting into a perfectly crisp apple that isn’t exceptionally juicy but still tastes mad decent. At, like, a silent disco/beach volleyball tournament. Those horns! That banger beat! That film of millennial apathy that gentles the boogie! Pop music deftly done.
[8]

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Alicia Keys – In Common

Her first time scoring over [6.00] with us since that time she healed a dead dog


[Video][Website]
[6.22]

Juana Giaimo: “In Common” is a surprise for people like me who haven’t been following Alicia Keys. Her strong vocals have been replaced by a weak hush, and the production now focuses on a subtle and warm beat that fits her wordplay. However, if Alicia Keys seemed that kind of lucky person who looked fresh and full of vitality in the morning, in “In Common” she is suddenly exhausted. There are only rests of youth and passion, but it’s not simply indifference. She tries to understand how it all ended up like this, but rather than trying to change, she can barely find enough energy to sigh. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Beseeching over shakers and a tropical house beat, Dawn Richard sounds as fresh as she ever did.
[6]

Cassy Gress: It’s hard for me to listen to Alicia Keys anymore, even studio recordings, and not constantly think about whether she’s in tune. She neatly avoided the issue here by leaving the belting out of it and handling her notes with a much lighter touch. But now, with that mambo rhythm and with the synths that sound like a hazy reflection on stainless steel, I’m thinking about whether she’s trying to sound like Rihanna. Man, I’m starting to hear Rihanna soundalikes even when they’re probably not really there. I don’t love this, but I like it better than her old girl-with-piano style; the trouble is that “girl with piano” was much more distinguishable.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Alicia Keys’ voice doesn’t rise above a whisper on Illangelo’s equally smoky, vacant beat, and she instead leaves her flashbacks opaque enough for the listeners fill the colors on their own. She could’ve easily knocked this out by hitting high notes, but that  would’ve washed out the subtle details behind her complicated  relationship. Better yet, her sighs let her pain behind the lyric “if you could love someone like me, you must be messed up too” burn slow and linger well after the record stops.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Turnabout is fair Drake.
[7]

Jer Fairall: I get using Drake and Rihanna’s “Take Care” as a template, but aside from the ironic little titter that follows  “when we were young and we ain’t had no vows,” Keys is so intent to blend into the surroundings that there’s no attempt to infuse this with any personality or tension. 
[4]

Leonel Manzanares: A competent, yet ultimately bland attempt of a reinvention. Alicia’s dreamy high-pitched tone blends quite well with the Caribbean-lite cadence (which she’s no stranger to), and the track does feel chart-friendly (trend-hopping, really), but these ingredients just fall short of, well, everything. “In Common” lacks the impact to account for a good comeback, even when she’s pointing at an interesting new direction. 
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Sometimes, hopping on the latest trends can work out just fine. “In Common” hitches itself to a vague tropical house/dancehall sound, but ends up spacious enough where Alicia Keys vocal details get the attention they deserve. The self-negging chorus is kind of a downer — feels like all the big hits of 2016 sound poolside-ready, but feature depressing lyrics, can someone sound happy on a song like this, or do we have to settle for Justin Timberlake’s gunk? — but overall not a bad look for Keys. 
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: Previously on Empire, Alicia Keys guest-starred as Skye Summers, a pop-R&B singer of “sorority girl break-up songs” who’s itching to break out of that circumscribed role. Though Keys insists the character is not to be read as autobiographical, it’s an interesting analogue for someone whose exact place in the music industry has never been clearly established. Is she neo-soul’s Top 40 ambassador, or merely “the Whitney Houston of piano playing?” Is she defined more by her Grammy tributes to Stevie and Etta, or her Jay Z and Usher collabs? In this game of competing expectations, maybe the only winning move is not to play. Without either capitulating to trends or rejecting them outright, “In Common” makes a stronger case for Alicia as cosmopolitan girl-next-door than anything this side of A Minor, or at least “Un-thinkable.” And much unlike her saccharine, pseudo-woke duet with Empire‘s lead crooner, it “speaks her truth” clearly — softly, but clearly.
[8]

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Calibre 50 – Préstamela a Mí

But are we laughing?


[Video][Website]
[4.43]

Alfred Soto: The accordion melody and broad singing suggest the joke is on the singer, but I can’t shake the unpleasantness of the title hook. The literal translation is “Let me borrow her.” Connotatively, however, it’s closer to “Let me give her a try.” Whichever you prefer, the track’s too okay to ponder much.
[5]

Juana Giaimo:Lend her to me.” What can you lend? Books, albums, cameras, pencils — and Calibre 50 would add “women” to the list. The voice may be unbearably dramatic, but the lyrics couldn’t be more disgusting by pointing out “formulas” to make a woman happy, because every woman is surely the same: offering her an ice cream when she is “in her days” or telling her that she is your princess. The fact that the video has 24 million views is terrifying. 
[0]

Brad Shoup: I get that Eden Muñoz and company like telling it how it is, but this particular sentiment can stay unsung, thanks. One point for delivering the title like a child throwing a fit, which is the one honest bit.
[1]

Cassy Gress: I find the lyrics to this decidedly more interesting than the technically skilled but not nearly as sexy instrumentation. The problem with that, though, is that it makes me less likely to buy the idea that as a last resort, Armando Ramos will do a better job of um, “cheering up” the angry girlfriend than her existing lover will.
[5]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I love the childlike simplicity of these lyrics. It could even be sung to a baby, minus the “haces el amor” part — like, listen baby, if you’re upset, I’ll kiss your little belly and give you ice cream. Wait a minute… that’s what I want too. Anyone who loves anyone has to listen to this song, stat.
[8]

Josh Langhoff: While his rhythm section lurches like a Frankenstein monster wielding breath spray, Eden Muñoz goes full Eddie Cornelius on how to treat your angry mujer like a lady. Have you considered kissing her feet and feeding her ice cream? Muñoz is a smart enough writer that I’m convinced he’s kidding, in the Randy Newman sense, and that “Préstamela a Mí” is pointing and laughing at the many paternalistic manos surrounding Calibre on the radio. I mean, just this week you’ve got Gerardo Ortiz offering “Millones de Besos” instead of, you know, talking; Chuy Lizarraga kicking himself for succumbing to the kisses of a devious mujer; and the loathsome Banda MS wondering why all those kisses weren’t enough to make her stay. I can only imagine the stifling fog of their breath-sprayed BS, and I’d like to think Calibre points and laughs a way through it.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: Banda norteño is generally too stiff-rhythmed to really get into a sexy grind, but the deliberately slow pace set by the tuba and the fleet-fingered accordion flourishes do their best to suggest steaminess, if not actual funk. The video provides its own heat by transposing the lyrics’ seduction-by-proxy on to a (straight dude’s) lesbian fantasy, but even with that, Ramos’s unpolished, pop-punk vocals make this song more sex comedy than serious romanticism.
[6]

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

FAMM’IN – Circle

Did someone say J-pop supergroup?


[Video][Website]
[7.44]

Katie Gill: There’s something weirdly haunting about this. It’s EDM mixed with traditional Japanese music run through a layer of Brian Reitzell. It’s a mish-mash of a compilation but I find myself adoring it all the same.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: An entire concept album’s worth of ideas are crammed into this one mini-epic, but it works because the concept is elastic enough to accommodate them all. Their consistent refusal to go for the easy pay-off is admirable, and the lack of a real climax is justified by the meditative subject matter, as well as the wealth of electrifying moments to bask in. For example, I didn’t think it was possible to make a trap breakdown sound menacing anymore, yet here we are. Makes “7 Years” look like the scrawlings of a kindergartener.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: This has been out almost a month now, but I still can’t believe it exists. FAMM’IN is a special one-off group taking three middle-of-the-road artists — FAKY, Yup’in, and walking .gif-reactions FEMM — created by major J-pop label Avex. The trio of acts here, in their individual states, exist in genres that go down easy and can be so bland as to be played in any mall anywhere in the world — from pleasant R&B to EDM pop — with fittingly broad lyrics. On “Circle” they created a nearly seven-minute meditation on the circular nature of life featuring vocals swathed in Auto-Tune and samples of traditional gagaku music swirling around trap beats. Every time it feels like “Circle” is going to break into something conventional — every instance where a drop could kerplunk in, or some awkward rap passage, or anything that could take it to the same exotica EDM territory as that boring Baauer song — it retreats back into sonic mist, opting for the formless over the familiar. Yet it isn’t total vapor, as everything clicks just right: when it does let go, it makes the most out of its sudden energy exertion. The label itself has labelled this “Japanese trap,” but the way it plays with modern-day and ancient Japanese court sounds is way more intriguing and unexpected than that marketing tag can convey. Nothing has surprised me more in 2016, and every time I listen to it, “Circle” demands attention on only itself.
[10]

Cassy Gress: Since FAMM’IN is a group composed of Yup’in, FEMM, and FAKY, I thought it might be useful to listen to their individual work first to see what insight it could give me into this. Turns out, they have more in common with each other than they do with this song, which makes the sound of this confusing. At six-and-a-half minutes, it needs to demonstrate a good reason for being that long, but it spends the first half of the song being something off Pure Moods Vol 3. It finally revs up and justifies FAMM’IN’s walk-dancing at around the three-minute mark, turning them into apparitions in a rainy cyberpunk future, but it doesn’t feel like the song used the prior three minutes effectively. Chop all of that off and market just the latter half, and you’re set.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: You can nix the middle breakdown, take away the remaining bells and sweeps, and still be left with an elaborate scaffolding all made up of the group’s vocals. Words get lost in translation in the hall of voices, but that seems to be the point: FAMM’IN have an overwhelming amount to share, and they can only express so much verbally at one time.
[8]

Will Adams: Six minutes of pure aural candy, presented without any packaging to hold it together and left to scatter across the floor.
[6]

Brad Shoup: It has the rhythmic pace and patience of “Chayeb,” just much, much greater amounts of it. “Circle” is stately. It ponders without being ponderous, and it has passages instead of hooks. It’s too brightly produced to bliss out to, which I guess means we’re supposed to pay attention.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: From a Western perspective, a supergroup getting together to make ambient-folk-prog music with stoned New-Agey lyrics isn’t all that notable, but then from a Western perspective the people who generally do this are art-rocker dudes in their forties through sixties, not early-twenties pop starlets. The part where the koto and flutes get loud and the electronics wobble up to an almost EDM drop is pretty great, but then my tolerance for ambient-folk-prog is pretty high.
[7]

Jessica Doyle: Spikier than its first thirty seconds would suggest — and that’s what I got out of the second listen; I’m looking forward to the discoveries of the third, and fourth, and fifth.
[8]

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Paul Simon – Wristband

A man walks down the street…


[Video][Website]
[5.79]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Paul Simon is one of those singer-songwriters who seemed to have ancient wisdom as a kid, and, as an older artist, maintains an air of youthful irreverence. Not that the sound is current; no, it sounds like a late ’90s commercial for ice cream. This is not at all hip, but it calls upon that-which-used-to-be-hip — and in doing so without any embarrassment, he comes back around to cool again.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: I’m fully in favor of well-established artists spending their later years writing songs about wacky club-related mishaps. Embrace your dad-ness!
[6]

Brad Shoup: We caught him live last week; it was Raffi for baby boomers. Which is to say we had a great time in the company of pop’s least angry songwriter. “Wristband” couches its solidarity with the 1 per cent as the punchline to an extended joke about being a rock star. Simon chews the title to a pulp: the word, the concept, it’s all funny to him. The band sustains a jazzy holding pattern, punctuated with variety-show horns. There’s no guitar because its player is on the wrong side of the door, you see.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: For all the restless energy of the backing rhythms and the lithe turns in Simon’s vocals, the prevailing mood is one of stagnation rather than dynamism. The panoply of sound soon reveals itself to be a limited (and limiting) palette; nothing progresses or is resolved. This helps sell the allegory of social dislocation wrought by the hoarding of privilege, but at the expense of certain pop virtues like immediacy and replayability. Would make for an excellent Times op-ed, though.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Paul Simon’s politics have always been more than a little superficial — though not any more superficial than MIA’s — but he always knows which rhythm section to hire. People have been saying this is radical, but it’s not like he’s seeking out Chief Keef. (Dear Mr. Simon, please hire Chief Keef. ) I like Clap! Clap! here quite a bit but the narrative is forced and the storytelling seems obvious and facile. I’m disappointed, considering that the last album featured some of the strongest work of his career.  
[6]

Alfred Soto: Rhymin’ Simon puts “wristband” and “my man” together, and if listeners don’t like it they can get off the bus, Gus. But he and producer Clap! Clap! chase sneakier prey: a joke about rock star privilege deepens. Access denied + fun deferred = political voice silenced. As usual Simon’s wry, abashed vocal palliates the smugness.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Precocity is the price of admission with Paul Simon, the songwriter who labors to produce metaphorical menageries like “Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.” Here, our narrator finds himself shut out of his own show and learns that the wristband was inside himself all along society has its own backstage passes too. A jazzy bassline, which doesn’t sound too much like it should accompany the opening titles of a three-camera sitcom, helps lighten the lesson, and at least the narrative acknowledges that the singer is Paul freakin’ Simon: “I don’t need a wristband/My axe is on the bandstand.” It’s brief enough to leave me wanting more, and the polyrhythms and fanfares stop me wondering why anyone might “breathe some nicotine” when he could simply smoke a cigarette.
[6]

Jer Fairall: Having recently cited a fondness for some classic S&G, please allow me to now air some grievances against the solo Simon: “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” is the worst single of the ’70s; Graceland is the ur-text for Vampire Weekend, plus it’s boring. If I don’t consider him to be the most overrated of the boomer giants, it is only because millennial music nerds tend to be far less effusive about his genius than they are about Brian Wilson’s. Far from challenging any of the above, “Wristband” sums up Simon’s solo career for me: a nothing song that tags some vague social commentary onto an otherwise cutesy lyrical conceit, blandly sung and performed with punishing tastefulness.
[2]

Jessica Doyle: “Wristband” is probably not meant as self-mockery — from what I’ve heard, Paul Simon is probably the last person to make fun of Paul Simon insisting on his own importance — or as a sequel to “Late in the Evening.” But like Giselle Nguyen (albeit under very different circumstances), I grew up associating Simon’s work and Simon’s voice with home and comfort, and so even his noodling around feels like the scratchy brown couch in front of the orthagonal coffee table where my father usually left books on the Battle of Shiloh, under diagonal streaks of late afternoon sun.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: Unlike Bob Dylan, now on album number two of Sinatra covers, and unlike Billy Joel, now on concert number 28 of his Madison Square Garden residency, Paul Simon has remained committed to his craft for the last half-century. That said, I’m not as familiar with his post “and-Garfunkel” career as I probably should be, so the frisky production, complete with horns, handclaps, and scatting feels like both a welcome surprise and eventually a natural evolution. The lyrics are fast and playful; a line comparing a bouncer to “St Peter standing guard at the pearly… wristband” is especially inspired. Even the last verse, where Simon examines his privilege in the context of the riots and protests that have dominated this election year, improves the song rather than sinks it.
[9]

A.J. Cohn: While the connection Paul Simon draws between having to deal with a bouncer who doesn’t recognize him and social inequity is more than a little tenuous, the song is otherwise strong, thanks to excellent production by Clap! Clap! and an especially good bass line.
[6]

Katie Gill: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. That fun, bouncy instrumentation is what saves a song we’ve heard time and time before — and, based on how Paul lazily travels through the vocals, a song that he’s sung time and time before.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Studio Killers closed the book on songs with near enough this precise theme, if not ones that end up as an insurgent call to arms by a millionaire to an audience he should hope are not predominantly cynics. It’s fine though, because cynicism is, of course, boring, and thankfully this isn’t: Clap! Clap!’s “digital dance grooves” make apposite backing for Simon’s rambles — although it is those that save them from being dull, rather than the other way around.
[6]

Cassy Gress: I’m one of those 30-something kids who grew up solidly middle class and became an adult only to discover that the middle class didn’t really exist anymore. You’d think that the last verse, about disaffected kids in the heartland who can’t afford social or class mobility, would speak to me. Instead, I find myself wishing that this really just was a song about an old legend shaking his fist at those damn kids and their wristbands; I sort of feel like his generation has had their turn at this, and now it should be ours.
[5]

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Round-up, 2016 week 20

Our favourite song of the week was also Europe’s favourite song last Saturday: Jamala’s “1944″. Our second place went to someone from Australia, too!

Everything we covered in score order:

Next week we will be welcoming more new writers and reviewing Paul Simon, Alicia Keys, Chance the Rapper, Gnash, The Stone Roses and lots more…

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Rihanna – Needed Me

Another US top 10 hit, and her 31st Jukebox appearance…


[Video][Website]
[6.88]
Alfred Soto: Good on her for singing brazenly over a whirring beat that Tinashe would have reveled in, its improvisational air a relief. One of the more sonically adventurous productions to hit the top ten in months too. Not much else, though.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: There’s something operatic about this song. Not stylistically, where it’s clipped and emotionally subdued rather than ornate and emotionally extravagant. And not in the sense that it forms part of a larger narrative — all pop records can, if you squint, but they don’t require context for their power; that’s what makes them pop. Maybe it’s just thematic bleedover in my head from the video, where betrayal and murder, the old operatic standbys, run rampant. But the more I think about it, the more I think I’m hearing operatic structure: it’s a recitative monologue, a literary text set to music, and although where classical Western tradition would go for vocal pyrotechnics Rihanna just lets Mustard squiggle some electronics, it functions dramatically: you “watch” the characters on stage rather than interpolating yourself into the song’s emotions. Or I do, anyway.
[6]

Cassy Gress: DJ Mustard lets the screen door creak all over the first half of this song while Rihanna dismisses her line of suitors without anger, without sass, just with pure, composed blankness. No refunds or exchanges, all sales final.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The more Rihanna makes records like this, and “Work,” and “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the more I like her. This is dark, woozy R&B, akin to the Weeknd if he weren’t such a fucking creep, bettered by the fact that Ri is so clearly a woman in total control of her entire life.
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: If only the roiling intensity of the verses carried over into that lurching placeholder of a chorus, this would be a consummate Rihanna single. As it stands, it’s basically a 3-minute capsule summary of Anti, for better or worse. Can we talk about the impact of that DJ Mustard tag, though? In the midst of a spacey, hollowed-out intro, the start-stop intrusion of YG’s ineluctable voice yanks the listener back down to Earth, diegetically locating the song’s drama in the clubs and bars where ratchet music finds (found?) its true calling. Mustardwave is dead; long live Mustardwave.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Rihanna has one of the best voices in the business, and it works well here without forcing the river. An ugly production, which waves vaguely at the now popular minimalism, but is built up to completeness with that voice, provides a complicated landscape that is not quite discernible. Not that discerning should be the goal. Extra points for the stretched out wub wub sounds that sound like radar, the placid anger of the savage/carriage rhyme, when she moves up the scale, and those brief moments she sounds breathless.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: One of those descriptions that’s stuck with me: Tom Ewing on “All That She Wants“: “lonely like a polar bear is lonely.” I hear that here too: a brush-off sung like a lament, phrased alluringly but not quite invitingly. Which sounds like a bunch of contradictions, but taken together they’re a specific mood: the seductive, strangely warm, hard-to-leave headspace of never allowing anyone close. The chorus, especially, is like that — a little repetitive thing to sing to distract yourself while you’re alone.
[7]

Katie Gill: Rihanna’s voice effortlessly flows over that warbling backing, perfectly chill. Unfortunately, at certain points, that chill is dangerously close to sleepy. It’s interesting that after the powerhouse singles of “Work” and “Kiss it Better” we get music you can nap to.
[6]

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Anohni – Drone Bomb Me

Her first appearance since 2012.


[Video][Website]
[6.12]

Joshua Copperman: Between her dramatic press tour for Hopelessness and her long-winded, intense Facebook posts, Anohni is clearly not one for small gestures. This lack of subtlety has permeated her music from the beginning, and it can be effective, even powerful, on songs like “Hope There’s Someone” and recent single “4 Degrees.” Other times, though, she can lean toward overwrought theatrics, shock value, and, on the weaker parts of Hopelessness, unconvincing conjecture. Naturally, a hip-hop song about an nine-year-old Afghan’s death wish may sound like a red flag for those other times. That “Drone Bomb Me” somehow manages to hold together is a testament to both Anohni’s stunning performance and Hudson Mohawke’s bombastic production. As if to confirm the pop-as-trojan-horse thesis of the accompanying album, the horn blasts seem to deliberately mimic the flow of “Jumpman”, and Anonhi’s “after all” ad-lib sounds surprisingly playful considering the next line is a tragic cry of “I’m partly to blame!” The sudden fade out is the one moment in her entire career where more drama would be an improvement– it’s an underwhelming ending to an otherwise fascinating song.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Her tremulous sobs and familiar weltschmerz have rarely cohered into music I could stand for longer than it took to crush my smartphone, and one of those rarities is a Hercules & Love Affair collaboration, so I was prepared to recoil. Yet for the first time since 2008, Anohni is compelling: frightened and frightening. Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never’s programmed beats reflect the shifting tectonics of a planet that may not exist before long. “Drone Bomb Me” commingles the erotic and the geopolitical in fascinating and chilling ways. “Blow me from the mountains/And into the sea” centers the listener in a region where such destruction at the hands of the United States is commonplace. Thanatos, meet Eros.
[8]

Natasha Genet Avery: Living in Silicon Valley, the drones I encounter deliver groceries and take aerial photos of extreme sports. Clean and mechanical, or even cute and feminized, they’re detached from the violence they inflict. With Anohni’s first wail, delivered against a moment of quiet, she shatters that image as her persona confidently addresses the U.S government with “drone bomb me/blow me from the mountains and into the sea,” one of the most alarming opening lines I’ve heard this year. She blends the language of sacrifice, romance, surveillance, and religion in disturbing new ways, as her persona asks to be “chosen,” desired, eliminated. Anohni’s haunting vocals float over a simple synth progression, and the track is understated and delicate, a striking contrast to the gory reality of “crystal guts” splayed across the ground after a drone strike. Anohni transports her listener to a reality they ignore and implicates them in its tragedy– an act that is uncomfortable and acutely necessary.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: Reducing Middle Eastern lives to inert bodies that exist to be haplessly torn apart by Western military might: strike one. Romanticizing, even if ironically, the “crystal guts” and “purple” released in the explosion: strike two. Casting your English-American self as a nine-year-old Afghani girl, roleplaying her death in love song format, then trying to strengthen your moral position by meekly admitting that you’re “partly to blame”: strike three. I’m not even sure if all these critiques are valid, but if a protest song has me thinking more about the flaws in its message than the failings of our system, something is wrong.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: “Dromb Bomb Me” is too delicate and romantic to reflect the desperation, horror and emotional chaos of the lyrics’ theme.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: Lying on my back with my eyes shut because this seems to be better felt than heard, or maybe absorbed, through the pores of the skin; rage that sounds like yearning; surrender that barely hides command; drama that disguises a careful control. This track is either needling satire or unrestrained emotion and either way it’s in the very worst of taste, which is to say artistic or shocking or some other word that does nothing save flatter the person who chose it. I feel like a fraud. I feel like nothing I have felt is big enough for these waves of sound. At some point the word camp is supposed to come up. Or melodramatic, maybe. Words that assign the speaker some sort of remove from the emotions provoke, a promise of rational distance, of heads kept. My head hurts, listening. I’m open, oozing.
[9]

Cassy Gress: Anohni says this is about a young Afghani girl whose family has been blown up and she wants to be blown up too. From that perspective, this is horrifying, gross, and feels exploitative. You could also just hear “drone bomb me” as an awkward metaphor for the strength of attraction, but it feels crass that way too.
[1]

Claire Biddles: Anohni’s talent is subversion through familiar song form. One of my favorite of her songs is “Fistful of Love,” recorded when she was still performing under the Antony and the Johnsons moniker. “Fistful of Love” is a ballad — a traditional, almost musically corny love song about what? Domestic violence or consensual masochism? I’ve been listening to the song for ten years and I still don’t know. Maybe it’s both. But what happens when a (consensually?) violent lover is switched for a nation, a state, an ideology? Who is complicit? who is (forced to be) submissive? In “Drone Bomb Me,” the love song tradition is still present, but this time it’s in a club, sonically closer to “Blind” (my other favourite Anohni song), the stone-cold disco classic recorded with Hercules and Love Affair. Anohni adopts the voice and language of longing from a thousand sad disco songs — ‘Choose me tonight /let me be the one that you choose tonight’ — in an the absurd, disturbing, deeply sad seduction of death. Like in “Fistful of Love,” the language of (personal or universal) terror and the language of submissive sexuality are entangled, but in “Drone Bomb Me” the context of the song is reported on news tickers and 24-hour television broadcasts, not hidden in the private, abstract bedroom of two lovers. In this case there’s no question about the consent of the violence.
[8]

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Florida Georgia Line – H.O.L.Y.

C.R.A.P.


[Video][Website]
[2.70]

Katie Gill: Florida Georgia Line is trying REALLY REALLY HARD to be serious and trying REALLY REALLY HARD to move past the fact that “Cruise” was goofy as all hell. The result is “H.O.L.Y.” a song desperately trying to be serious but that still can’t shake some of the inherent goofiness from a band whose first single contained the line “what up Nelly.” When the drums kicked in, I literally laughed out loud at how ridiculous it sounded. When I figured out what H.O.L.Y. stood for, I groaned from the cheesiness. Once Florida Georgia Line accept their goofiness, I’m sure they’ll produce better work. As it is, we’ve got this piece of confusion.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: The base is Nickelback; the lyrics were apparently inspired by browsing the list of titles in Joel Osteen’s bibliography; the result is a potpourri of droopy emptiness, with all the actual human emotion of the ingredients list for a Glade candle, Cotton Fresh scent.
[2]

Anthony Easton: I deeply hope this is about Jesus, because it is just embarrassing if he is making a lover into Christ. That’s what we call in church “idolatry.” Also, “cringe-making”
[2]

A.J. Cohn: The song’s blend of eroticism and spirituality makes it more interesting than the average track that could be played in a Hobby Lobby, but not by much.  
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: As part of its antitrust settlement, the ASCAP should be required to teach its songwriters that just because you can express love in a series of hokey sacrilegious metaphors doesn’t mean you should. A one-year moratorium on the use of “high” as a synonym for “horny” wouldn’t hurt, either.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: FGL are the lowest common denominator in country music now: generic, popular, and uninteresting if not outright terrible. “H.O.L.Y.” stands for “high on lovin’ you,” and the lyrics just get worse from there, with lots of references to “believing,” “heaven,” “grace,” and “angel[s]” in service of a plodding song whose goal is, basically, to get in a girl’s pants. 
[1]

Alfred Soto: Survivor got to heaven first.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s a fun game to P.L.A.Y., picking letters and yelling. Even if after a while it does wear a bit T.H.I.N., take heart in… something beginning with n? As it toes the border of devotion and devotional, “H.O.L.Y.” is G.R.E.A.T. — gently ridiculous; even acronyms tire.
[4]

Cassy Gress: Over some freezer-burnt Uncle Kracker, Florida Georgia Line rub their hands together mischievously and cackle as they realize they can make a drug song AND a Christian love song at the same time! It’s not that I think it’s impossible for a song to be both; I just think that “H.O.L.Y., H.O.L.Y., H.O.L.Y., H.O.L.Y., high on loving you” is a hamfisted way to do it that neatly trims off the inherent depravity in the concept. The actual hymn is public domain; wouldn’t it have been more clever to interpolate that somehow?
[3]

Joshua Copperman: I love how Florida Georgia Line decided to drag a grand piano to the middle of nowhere just so Tyler Hubbard can pretend to play a tinny GarageBand preset. Additionally bizarre is how the lyrics go back and forth between drug metaphors and religious symbolism; between “You’re the river bank where I was baptized” and “Like fire in my veins, you’re my ecstasy.” Even knowing that this dichotomy is deliberate — the double meaning of H.O.L.Y. in this song is “high on loving you” — doesn’t make the song click. Despite hints of intriguing subversion, the execution is too clunky and crass to have real impact.
[4]

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Garbage – Empty

That feeling when both the artist and song name sum up your last semester of college :(


[Video][Website]
[5.56]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s no way the rich, eerily Tori-esque part of Shirley Manson’s voice is new, but it’s welcome to notice. The rest — the pleading/steely processing on the bridge especially, and the #1 crushstuff — I’m near-physiologically unable not to love.
[7]

Jer Fairall: I revisited Version 2.0 not long ago, and it remains as solid a set of songs as any one-trick-pony band gifted with a fantastic vocalist has ever tripped over. If it is the Pretenders-quoting “Special” that I remain most fixated on, though, blame my insistence that Shirley Manson displays all the marks of a performer capable of Chrissie Hynde’s level of emotional range but remains tied to an outfit that whose status as alt.rock elder states-persons ensures that they remain, in their third decade, ironically risk-adverse in their insistence upon formula. “Empty” is every bit tuneful and well-crafted as I would have expected, and I will have forgotten it minutes after I finish typing this. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: “Feelin’ so frustrated/I’ll never be as great as I wanna be,” Shirley Manson moans over post-’90s grind-guitar, and I feel her pain. Eighteen years after delivering modern rock’s only answer to Parallel Lines, she and her ugly mates have shuffled from context to context like vagrants in alleys. In 1998 they amalgamated several decades of pop; in 2016 they amalgamate the amalgam and dare you to call them empty because they beat you to it. The “oh all I talk about hook” buttressed with synth strings is their most inventive moment since the middle eight in “Cherry Lips (Go, Baby Go!).”
[7]

Cassy Gress: I’m irrationally disappointed that Shirley Manson doesn’t sound quite as impudent as she did when I was 12 and I thought she was one of the coolest women on the planet. She’s got a more Gwen-like vibrato to her voice now. I also get fed up with lyricists who don’t ensure that the words match the rhythmic flow; there’s always another way to say something, and “good THINGS come TO those WHO wait” is bizarre. This chorus is jacked straight out of 1998 though, particularly that slithery doubled guitar line, so it’s ringing nostalgia bells all over the place for me; “about, about, oh oh, about, about” unfortunately also reminds me of the stupider parts of 1998.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: Nineties nostalgia has turned more to Butch Vig’s slicker take on grunge and his wall-of-sound production, so “Empty” fits into place better than Garbage’s last effort in 2012. They get back to basics by focusing less on electronic beats for spectacle. The band, in turn, becomes more anonymous, and Shirley Manson’s one-size-fits-all brand of ennui doesn’t help. But it’s a welcome move. All I want whenever I return to their debut are oversized riffs and Manson snarling a mean chorus anyway.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Garbage return, the world has moved on. Shirley Manson sounds, sadly, like a tiger who’s been declawed.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Now the stuffiness sounds like shoegaze, and Manson worries the word “about” until she sounds like Gwen Stefani. Both approaches are tossed for the bridge: her vocal is slathered in noob processing, unable to reach the suddenly meaty riff.
[6]

Jibril Yassin: Those Drop D chord sequences had me worried this would take us head-first into the worst parts of the post-grunge years but there’s a pop heart underneath all the cybernetic, industrial barrage. There’s a galvanizing darkness to “Empty” that even those synths can’t seem to punch through. 
[7]

Edward Okulicz: For all the talk that every song/album is a RETURN! TO! THEIR! ROOTS! this is still more lo-fi than even the debut’s most basic track and is much the same as one of the charmless rockers on their last two albums. Of course, it’s easier to hear the power and character of Shirley Manson’s voice, but Garbage have never been the great rock band they dreamed of before they even were a rock band. Give or take “Sex Is Not The Enemy” this is probably the worst single by a band I take as a sentimental favourite on the basis of those first three shiny pop records.
[4]