Thursday, August 18th, 2016

DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You

Would you settle for “beating DJ Mustard” and also “beating Ne-Yo,” Biebs?


[Video][Website]
[4.92]

Crystal Leww: I think Justin Bieber is a fine pop vocalist, and while he’s been making some great pop bangers with dance producers, I find that he lacks the ability to be a great dance vocalist. A great dance vocalist sounds like their world is ending. A great dance vocalist takes everything personally. A great dance vocalist sounds big. “Sorry” is a BANGER, but I pray everyday to hear a produced version of the Julia Michaels demo. There’s a rumor that there’s a version of “Let Me Love You” with Bieber’s ex Selena Gomez floating around. This is definitely Good, but I’d rather be listening to that instead.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Lean On,” the comedown? DJ Snake’s follow-up rides down the same road as his previous smash. Fine by me: I’d happily eat up a dozen more of these filtered bass lines and chopped vocal burps. That said, he’s going to have to start looking for more compelling singers. Bieber does softness fine, but I still taste the aftertaste from the self-absorbed ego in Purpose in the line “let me love you.” Is that all it really takes, Bieber?
[6]

Alfred Soto: Bieber took a pill in Ibiza.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: DJ Snake has flexed his versatility over the years, proving he’s far more than the one-note goofball producer the stupidly fun “Turn Down For What” many paint him as. Unfortunately, “Let Me Love You” only showcases his ability to recycle ideas already done much better by himself in the past, and that maybe we’ve reached saturation point with Justin Bieber for the moment. It’s saving grace is that of the two new Biebs-featuring songs released this week, “Let Me Love You” sounds way better than “Cold Water.”
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: It sounds like every other Bieber-voiced EDM-pop record, so it’s not bad, but it’s no standout, either.
[5]

Will Rivitz: I was under the impression that the Biebs had left half-hearted electronic snoozers behind upon retouching his image — apparently I was wrong.
[2]

Brad Shoup: Well, look at that: DJ Snake scraped the smarm off the kid. He’s invested: pleading, consoling, breaking off a cadence on the chorus that ought to keep this a hit for the summer. As a nice capper to this propulsive nightdriver, DJ Snake turns Bieber into a trumpet.
[7]

Will Adams: He did it, you guys. Bieber delivered a vocal that actually sounds good and doesn’t infuriate me. He’s actually pushing from the chest instead of just expelling breath. Apart from that, though, there’s virtually nothing daring or exciting about “Let Me Love You” — this mashup already exists — except for the curious choice to make the drop be the least hard-hitting portion.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Better than Ne-Yo, worse than Mario, way worse than Kim Sanders. The first notes had me petrified this was yet another “Intro” interpolation; the verse had me petrified Justin Bieber had Stockholm syndromed me into finding his voice acceptable and thoughts deep. No fears were realized; nor were any promises.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Maybe we’ll look back on this time as Bieber’s imperial phase because even though this song is only pretty good, it’s clear that he’s found the sound his voice is best suited to and is going to keep doing it until the returns diminish, and it hasn’t happened yet. I mean, if it weren’t JUSTIN BIEBER!!! and it was some no-name you’d think this guy had a touching earnestness and vulnerability. Plaintive! I wouldn’t trust him to carry a proper stuffed banger but these lightly emotional pop-dance numbers are perfect for him, for his audience and for pop generally.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Where Major Lazer stumbled with “Cold Water” was their eagerness to saturate it with wobbly and wonky noises at the expense of making a fully rounded song. “Let Me Love You,” while all its wriggling Snakeisms are present and correct, gets the balance right. Bieber actually has something to work with: a sense of a story with an appropriate mood, not bludgeoned by the sonics, but matched and elevated by them. It’s all appealingly desperate, and as was clear in “Sorry,” straining pleas are exactly what his voice was made for.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: Is not: Mario singing Ne-Yo’s beautiful words over a perfectly wistful Scott Storch (!!!) instrumental. Is not: Ne-Yo swagger-jacking maybe his best composition almost a decade later. Is not: Ariana carefully whispering with an assist from Weezy. Is: An overwritten, underproduced exercise in pushing Justin Bieber’s falsetto into places it should not go; a frustrating refusal to leaven Bieber’s (admittedly excellent) pleading approach with a little humor, as “Sorry” did to great effect; a shameless effort to continue mining the Jelena breakup for unearned pathos; the first DJ Snake single since “Turn Down For What” I have not really liked.
[4]

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

DJ Mustard ft. Nicki Minaj & Jeremih – Don’t Hurt Me

We hurt because we love.


[Video][Website]
[4.18]

Katie Gill: That can’t have been Jeremih on the first verse. Ohhhh I hope that wasn’t Jeremih rapping because that was TERRIBLE. But no, it’s got to be Jeremih rapping because they put the same sort of compression monotone filter on Nicki and she sounds equally terrible. Add in Nicki’s half-assed third verse and that boring as hell chorus and you get a Hindenburg of a song: something that tried to be impressive but massive structural flaws caused it to go down in flames.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: DJ Mustard is impressive again! By which I mean it’s impressive how he rips off “Don’t Tell ‘Em” and “Work” at once. Nicki’s verse (“I’m looking for a man, fuck a b-o-y”) must be directed at Jeremih, as based on this verse, he sounds below the age of consent.
[3]

Will Rivitz: It’s a testament to the speed and relentlessness of hip-hop innovation that this song already sounds dated even though it’s virtually the same as Mustard and Jeremih’s 2014 smash “Don’t Tell ‘Em.” Then again, maybe it’s just the self-plagiarism that makes this one uninteresting.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Toasting filtered through Mustard’s electronic claptrap, thanks to which Jeremih’s title hook sounds like a prayer from an invulnerable supplicant and Nicki Minaj working overtime to press her hands against her ears and go LALALALA.
[2]

Anthony Easton: This is a fantastic verse from Nicki, and they know it, from how the beat gets even more minimal, like curtains drawn so she can take center stage. Also, an extra point for how she pronounces “Jordan.”
[8]

Claire Biddles: Nicki is as formidable when she’s super chill as when she’s aggressive, and she’s definitely the headliner here.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Dijon continues to be a great collaborator for Jeremih. The more space you give him, the more the singer thrives. He’s having a lot of fun with his voice in the negative space here, fiddling with an elastic mumble, only to abandon it for his smooth high notes. Nicki compliments, too. She is, after all, one of the best players in terms of voice. And it shows as she switches between Jeremih’s singer foil and a rapper claiming her own.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: I would like to never have to hear Jeremih’s mediocre hook-singer voice again. I would also like to never have to hear another mediocre water-treading DJ Mustard production again. As for Nicki, she can do better; this vocal is totally phoned-in. At least the crappy chorus led me to listen to Diana King’s far superior original source.
[2]

Cassy Gress: This gets a lot of potential points from borrowing from Diana King’s “Shy Guy,” but loses them all from Nicki’s uninspired rap at the end that rhymes “time” with “Time.”
[4]

Edward Okulicz: One of Mustard’s most, er, “work”-manlike productions, and one that has me wondering what the direct antonym is for “augmented.” Because it’s not-augmented by some agonisingly held notes, and further not-augmented by Nicki’s worst verse in memory, climaxing with the ridiculous and terrible and not-cool “took me for a (Cruz), yeah, Penelope.” The Diana King source of the hook is a classic, and a song this bad might have got a 5 if only they’d surprised and nicked the chorus from the even better “L-L-Lies.”
[3]

Brad Shoup: Mustard teases one more anagram out of his chemical formula (the heys are spaced out), Jeremih skims from dancehall, and Nicki refuses to pick between Steph and LeBron.
[5]

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Emmsjé Gauti ft. Aron Can – Silfurskotta

Rapper; No. 1 on Icelandic Spotify; not a translated Belly cover…


[Video][Website]
[5.17]

Katie Gill: Glad to know that mediocre rap with backing beats that took 30 minutes to make on a computer in someone’s basement transcends national boundaries.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Bands like Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men have made us believe that the only kind of music that Iceland can make is celestial and pure. In this sense, “Silfurskotta” sounds refreshing, but I still feel Emmsjé Gauti’s rather raspy voice lacks flow and overshadows Aron Can’s quiet hook.
[5]

Cassy Gress: Emmsjé’s earnest, worn rap about being one of those guys who is ashamed that he never calls girls back (but probably isn’t changing any time soon) is buoyed by the rainy highway synths, but sunk by Aron Can’s comparatively lifeless chorus.
[5]

Iain Mew: If you’d just played me the sweet outro and the way the bass and beat swims into the first verse in slow motion, I’d say evidence pointed to there being a great song in between. Unfortunately what’s actually between is barely more than a slideshow transition between those two ideas.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Timid trap production — the drums click like distant cicadas — and a slightly less po-faced Mike Posner in Aron Can. Gauti’s vocal falls to earth in a peculiar way; the strings don’t match, thank goodness, and it’s curious that they get so much real estate at the end.
[5]

Adaora Ede: Did anyone else lack the knowledge that silfurskotta, or silverfish is a sort of insect? I had assumed it was literally a fish, but even knowing that a silverfish is a bug did not explain much else for the application of the term in the song. So, in the case of the lack of online Anglophone context for it, “Silfurskotta” takes an alternate perception in order to delve into the song itself — the dichromatic tone of the team of rapper Emmsjé Gauti and singer Aron Can. Gauti’s verses are black and white without slipping into mundanity. Can mewls forlornly in shades of grey fueled by an orchestra of string instruments and synths. His hook reaches into another realm, urging for another track to easily be constructed from Can’s muted soundscape. I There will always be that consistent disenchantment with recycled minimalist concepts in a genre that is built around the grandiose and bravado. And here, I’m definitely not impressed by the subtle production but by the amount of emotion put into such a confessional (as inferred from assumed cognates Bacchus and sex). There’s also the contrast of the two aforementioned rap tropes to the eponymous silverfish, an insect found mainly in squalor. It’s not an atypical comparison in any form of music, but there is a strength in knowing you don’t need a lexicon to sympathize someone else’s pipe dream.
[8]

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Sigur Rós – Óveður

It’s Icelandic Day! No, come back….


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Iain Mew: The first time I heard Sigur Rós, it was unknowingly. I got a track on a filesharing site mislabelled as being from Radiohead’s forthcoming Amnesiac, when really it was the awesome drift and clatter of “Ný Batterí.” Eighteen months later and I knew what I was getting into with their untitled/brackets album, but it still touched an emotional nerve and slowly sawing away at it that hasn’t been matched since and which came at exactly the right moment in my life; another five years later I saw a TV drama which used it to soundtrack a self-harm scene and gulped and wanted to run from the room. I parted ways with the band after that album before we even got to “Poppiholla” et al, but “Óveður” takes me back. The combination of the alien din of its percussion and the way that its sonic intimacy scrapes along the edge of uncomfortable offer a new combination of their most memorable bits, neatly scaled down to fit a life not needing quite the same outpourings of undefined catharsis.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Sounds like Sigur Rós have been listening to latter-day Massive Attack, but unfortunately all they seem to have picked up is the plod. I always preferred when SR were presented in a bit more <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF9n8z3S6mU”>upbeat fashion</a> myself. 
[2]

Alfred Soto: Scratches, mysterious female vocals, somnolent beats — who would ever have thought that Massive Attack in 2002 had an influence? Throw in some Knife and we have Saturday night.
[5]

Katie Gill: This song is syrup pouring from a jar, a slow, methodical steady drip of vocals and chords that builds up to sharp gunfire-like protrusions — over the same slow, methodical, steady drip. I can’t help but feel like the song’s building to a climax that never really comes. It puts the ‘”experimental” in experimental rock” in a way that I don’t think ever pays off.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: Each phrase tunnels under the next from a chord that may or may not be a cadence, slowly building into a woozy climax of detuned strings, stuttering noise, and a snare that sounds like a drum machine being dropped from a great height onto a gravel road. I appreciate Sigur Ros putting their considerable powers of mysterious haze to good use towards a new frontier, but the tinkling pianos in the background are so standard for the band at this point that I get the impression they haven’t whole-heartedly committed to their new vibe yet — and that’s a shame! I wonder if there exists a rawer, crunchier, riskier version of this, forgotten on an automatic backup of a MacBook Pro somewhere, and whether or not that form compares favorably to the one we got instead.
[6]

Cassy Gress: “Storm,” they call it, and a storm this is — for the first half of the song it sounds like sitting in a dark sewer, looking up at the moon through a grate. At around the halfway mark, the entire song pushes itself up and lurches clumsily away, screeching and clattering like a datamoshed rough beast slouching to Bethlehem. Reverbing through the song’s wake in the final seconds, Jonsi’s voice is mixed further forward, the song fixing you with a baleful glare before evaporating.
[10]

Will Adams: The cinematic beauty of Sigur Rós’ music always gave me comfort, a brief pause that could block out external pressure with its gentle orchestration and gentler build. Instead, “Óveður” immediately veers from that, with a track that hisses and pops like a dark factory, with wavering synth drones that sound like they’ve been slowed down 16x. Jónsi’s voice still has that calm and caring tone; paired with the explosions around him here, it’s as if he’s guiding me through the storm.
[8]

Brad Shoup: Anyone can melt a Leslie cabinet and they will have me. But I can be lost in many, many other ways: wet pistons, vocal drudgery, what have you.
[5]

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Kaleo – Way Down We Go

Fortunately the charts helped fill today out…


[Video][Website]
[3.86]

Scott Mildenhall: At the time of “Vor í Vaglaskógi” Kaleo didn’t seem likely to become such an international concern, even while it had that same austerity and uber sincerity that likely led this to get a placement in whatever ad you heard it in. (The Open University one? No, that was Tom Odell.) From that point then, this is a progression — impressive, swimming as it is in the thickest, plainest of porridges — and once it gets into its stride, it’s palatable, and not nearly as laboured as this incomplete porrdge analogy.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Dude, clear your throat.
[2]

Adaora Ede: This Kaleo lead singer guy sings like he’s determined to wake himself AND everyone else in the studio that this was recorded in up. We get it, you’re trying your best as Scandinavians, but you can’t force Americana where it doesn’t want to happen. I’m served more potential indie pop than anything else, but hey! dilute that pesky piano track as much as possible by hollering your best Dan Auerbach impression into the mic right? At least the benignity typical of the color-by-number Insta Billboard Alt Hit™ song structure is enough to most likely convince Hozier fans that there’s a reconditeness in Icelandic rock music. Listen to Sigur Rós instead, kids.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Recorded like they tossed a mic into the studio and yelled “smolder”.
[5]

Cassy Gress: Jökull Júlíusson has a very tight, shuddery vibrato, with the kind of temporal frequency you don’t hear much outside Ross Bagdasarian productions. It would distract from the song, but the song needs some distracting from; it plods through three and a half minutes of a thudding, repetitive chord progression and probably serves much better cut into smaller chunks and pasted into commercials.
[3]

Joshua Copperman: The whole point of a bluesy-trailer-song like this is the way it builds to an epic climax, while clips of fight scenes play from some CW show probably. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason for the song to sound this loud – everything is so distorted and brickwalled that the build has zero impact, and the ending, while it isn’t bad, just sounds near-unlistenable. This is partly the band’s fault too though, as even if it had a dynamic range rating of 20, simply holding back the crash cymbal until the last third of the song does not a good arrangement make.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The dusky notes echo Bill Withers, the high ones with the silt-covered bottom Alexander O’Neal, the rest is the usual show of soul. 
[4]

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Tiësto ft. John Legend – Summer Nights

Today’s editor has never seen Grease so please write in your own jokes in the comment section…


[Video][Website]
[4.86]

Will Adams: Far less of an “All of Me” rehash than I expected, “Summer Nights” swaps balladry for uplift to decent effect. Between the string hits and fluttering bells, Tiësto’s production starts approaching Clean Bandit. It’s lovely in its own right, even if it means that it highlights the facelessness he’s sunk to over the past few years.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: This combination is completely superfluous, as whatever unique details John Legend could in theory bring to this is drowned out by the big-tent thrills of the guy coming before the “ft.” part of “Summer Nights.” Still, that’s mostly fretting about the song’s price tag. John Legend sounds fine, and ultimately this is the sort of shuffling number with a big, sweltering center that probably sounds great at a mass gathering.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Point out the people in the crowd dancing to this shit.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: I’ve never heard a Tiësto song this downright housey, damn. This is straight-up uplifting, four-on-the-floor house music. The addition of Legend is a smart one, as his voice has tons more personality and soul than most vocalists gracing big-name DJs’ tracks these days.
[8]

Tim de Reuse: Tiesto’s breezy turn has served him well, but at the very core his modus operandi hasn’t changed in over a decade and it’s almost laughable here — he puts on a tickly, echoey layer of pastel-blue paint over everything but you can clearly see the skeleton of the early-aughts house juggernaut underneath struggling to switch its “mood” dial to “endless carefree summer.” Meanwhile, John Legend does his John Legend thing, which is firmly, definitively okay.
[5]

Cassy Gress: John Legend continues to have one of the most boring, flaccid voices in soul and I’m not sure he is capable of making lust with anyone. Tiësto’s a legend of club music; was no one else willing to work with him on this, maybe someone with more of a “funky soul vibe?” I’d totally dance to this if I wasn’t so busy going, “Him?”
[4]

Brad Shoup: Legend is the king of casual straining. He’s doing cruise-ship disco while Tiësto owns the tourist-trap club in the cove: there’s much that links them, but they’re apart enough not to sync.
[4]

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Hailee Steinfeld & Grey ft. Zedd – Starving

“…She’s eating him. And then she’s going to eat me! OH MY GOOOOOOOOOD!!!”


[Video][Website]
[3.70]

Katie Gill: Hailee Steinfeld is one of those pop artists that really deserves to be big but somehow hasn’t cracked the Top 20 yet. That being said, I can kind of see why this won’t crack the Top 100. Steinfeld lilts over the verses, equal parts sexy and yearning. The way she purrs “by the way, you do things to my body” might just be the highlight of the song. In contrast, Zedd phones in a beat and a downright awful drop. If you’re going to make a pop song, don’t shoehorn in a beat & drop that’s obviously from a different pop song.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: You mean I can have the goofy poetry normally lurking in a Zedd song, without the parts that actually make it good? Keep your folk-core EDM away, thanks.
[1]

Alfred Soto: “I didn’t know I was starving until I tasted you” requires the wink of the coquette or the glancing offhanded lust — why give the game away? — of a Shirley Manson, Hayley Williams, or Chrissie Hynde. Although Hailee Steinfeld’s up for the mindfuck, the “Love Yourself” arrangement is like water dripping into a metal bucket.
[4]

Cassy Gress: Hailee says she was younger yesterday; she’s had crushes before but nothing so deep and fulfilling as this. Why should she settle for butterflies, she wonders, when you have given her the whole damn zoo? Because, I retort, zoo metaphors don’t really have much of a place in good relationships (sounds too much like either mayhem or bestiality), and also because if this had been a song about butterflies in either the literal or metaphorical sense, it’d probably have more for Grey and Zedd to work with. It feels nobody involved with this actually knows what serious, lived-in love is like, so they aimed for “unexciting” and “talent show” instead.
[2]

A.J. Cohn: It’s almost impressive how dull this song makes a sexual awakening sound.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Hailee Steinfeld: as uninteresting musically as Halsey, but with an Oscar nomination!
[2]

Crystal Leww: Last week, Pitchfork ran their DJ Snake album review where the writer spent a lot of space dissecting “Turn Down for What” and complaining that the ballads on Encore were boring because they weren’t loud enough to play to EDM’s strengths. EDM’s strengths, by the way, are the enormous lack of subtlety in music. That’s a fine assertion, but what critics who don’t listen to dance music fail to understand is how obviousness can be applied beyond just loud party anthems. The bigness that EDM throws into songs works particularly with emotion, too. Zedd has always been making EDM music that is concerned with the bigness of feeling, particularly around the bigness of feminine feeling (and always crediting his women who do his vocals). He’s only a featuring artist here, but there’s so much of Zedd’s general philosophy here of bigness of emotion combined with bigness of production. Hailee Steinfeld makes another song that is filled with double entendres, and Grey does a good job with the swoops in the bass. This is a fine festival set filler for making eyes at sensitive bros.
[6]

Brad Shoup: The three DJs stuff the “Call Me Maybe” string hook into a woodchipper; the damage is visceral. Steinfeld’s pitchshifting — first low, then high — actually mesh with the infernal machinery. There are a couple parts where the guitar is foregrounded, and she can do her early-Bailey-Rae sunshine-R&B thing. But the string part has too much gravity.
[6]

Will Adams: I can’t think of a more 2016-sounding song. “Starving” succinctly runs through the ABCs of EDM: acoustic campfire opening, blaring pitch shifted vocal hook (both high and low!), and clopping beats over which synth string chords slash like swords. This also means Steinfeld, still responsible for one of last year’s best songs, gets to turn in a perfunctory effort despite the song’s carnal conceit. Neither here nor there, but about as clinical as music can sound these days.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: And I know things now, many valuable things that I hadn’t known before: do not put your faith in a single with Zedd, get a more-than-one-trick producer instead; and take extra care with flangers, even drops can have their dangers, and though kissing is exciting, chill is different than good.
[3]

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Today’s EDM-pop theme has got us feeling some emotions…


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Will Rivitz: You know what? I was fully prepared to waltz on in, snark blasting at full force as is usually the wont of a Chainsmokers review (anyone remember “#Selfie?”), and I imagine many of my colleagues are doing just this. I’ve now listened to this song about twenty-five times over the course of two days, and I’m absolutely fucking hooked. It’s this perfect mix of wanderlust, fear of growing old, having to deal with the awkwardness of a once-soured love brought harshly back in a hotel bar, and a slew of other things that are all hitting me square in the gut at once. I’m 21 as of a few weeks ago, and I’m not sure whether I’m a kid or a grown-up, and I’m struggling with the fact that I’m really not ready to embrace adulthood just yet, and this song for whatever reason just gets me in a way I simply haven’t found anywhere else. The fact that everything’s wrapped up in an utterly sublime composition of snaps, synth syncopation, and that swaggering, succulent vocoder-ish lead just makes everything better. Sure, pop music is mass-marketed to hit millions of people the same way and all that, but when you’re smack in the middle of those millions you realize its power.
[10]

A.J. Cohn: Like most things, The Chainsmokers’ tracks are generally better, “#Selfie” notwithstanding, when women’s voices are foregrounded.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Not to say I miss the lunkheaded stabs at going viral that “#Selfie” chucked on to the world, but at least its overall trash-ness felt fleeting in a post-“Gangnam” world. As annoying as it was, you at least know it would be gone come the summer, bound to be a goofy footnote like “The Fox.” Yet The Chainsmokers’ switch to a sickly sweetness anchored by female vocalists has produced music just as bad and, critically, just more of it. At their best, they sound like a Lorde song run through an Ultra filter, while even their newer party songs sound gratingly cute. “Closer” is the most eye-rolling yet, part “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” with more mattress theft and part automobile negging, all building to a rinky-dink drop. Just throw in a few good cultural references (everyone loves Blink-182 now, better mention them) and you’re set. Give me short-lasting stupidity over slow-burning faux earnestness any day.
[1]

Will Adams: The Chainsmokers’ continued effort to distance themselves from dumb meme fare like “#Selfie” and “Kanye” in favor of sincerity still smacks of cynicism, though the results are much easier on the ears than the alternative. “Closer” almost recaptures the wistful essence of “Roses” that I loved. But the simple couch scene from “Roses,” evocative enough on its own, is hyperextended to cram in as many nostalgic and #college signifiers, which weakens the effect.
[6]

Michelle Myers: I’m not betting on Andrew Taggart’s singing career, but he is a nice foil for Halsey, who tends towards melodrama. 2016 has been a hot year for emotional festival bangers, and “Closer,” with it’s propulsive, infectious chorus, is a worthy effort in this vein.
[8]

Joshua Copperman: The double meaning behind “we ain’t never getting older” is actually kind of awesome — in one line both supporting Peter Pan syndrome and acknowledging the consequences of never maturing or learning from mistakes. If the rest of the song didn’t feel like they started with that line and clumsily try to work backwards (firstly, when did Blink-182 replace Radiohead as the go-to name check?), it would be even better.
[5]

Lilly Gray: Halsey and the man-voice from the Chainsmokers are a fatal combination. All the blasé summary crap I can muster is, in fact, perfect for this clumping ping-pong dentist office top 40, perfectly uninspired to the point where it seems the lyrics were culled from one of those word clouds Facebook makes out of top search terms. 
[1]

Alfred Soto: The light electronic touches, like Panko crumbs on breaded chicken, add heft and crunch to tracks this gormless but not depth, and they do nothing for the ridiculous lyrics and 1-900-SINCERE vocals.
[1]

Katie Gill: Horrible slant rhymes they’re trying to play serious AND an obnoxious electronic drop; pop music doesn’t deserve this. Also, I’ve never gotten the cult of Halsey, and this song doesn’t really do anything to change my opinion of her. You could have told me that the female vocalist was a session vocalist and I would believe you entirely.
[2]

Lauren Gilbert: This is dreadful. The Chainsmokers weren’t exactly coming off as musical geniuses, but I just want to tell the girl in this song to run. This doesn’t even work as an anthem of youth that cares more about hooks than music (à la the much underrated “Here’s To Never Growing Up“).  I’m not sure what’s going on with her car — Is it broken down? Or is it too expensive? Is it both? Why? — and Halsey is playing the same MPDG character she does in interviews (the same girl Tove Lo satirizes in in “Cool Girl”). I’ll give it a [2] for a catchy hook, but I’m beginning to resent The Chainsmokers for being everything that’s wrong in pop music.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: God, downtempo EDM-pop is depressing. Can we call this E(D)M-o?
[3]

Cassy Gress: It’s not a metaphor I’d apply to all duets, but bear with me: imagine Andrew Taggart and Halsey are figure skaters in a pairs competition. The music insistently loops the same pattern; they are enticed to spin throughout. Though the rotation of their spins is well-synchronized, Halsey’s spin is powerful and emphatic, while Andrew’s is tight and clunky. That repetitive musical pattern crops up again and again, so the majority of the long form presentation is comprised of their awkward spinning. When questioned by journalists later about the low-difficulty nature of their performance, they claim it was meant to be “sort of comical.” Andrew gives a shout-out to his crew.
[2]

Crystal Leww: There are not a lot of true duets in EDM. If there are male and female voices on an EDM track, they are usually trading vocal and chorus duties, or someone shows up for the bridge only. The Chainsmokers bros finally show up as vocalists on their own track to truly duet with Feelings Teen Halsey, and the result is an Extremely Sad Extremely Banger tune. I love the competing points of view; I am reminded of Aluna Francis’ (one-sided) take on “I Remember,” and how both of these dance songs feel so oddly specific in the memories that are given meaning. Chainsmokers bro and Halsey have different variations in their verses, but the chorus remains the same for both. I, too, sometimes wonder if the boys I adored think about the same moments as I do.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Let us stage this, the most passionless play: that of mediocre sex with your ex. The Chainsmokers can’t write a song without contempt for girls, so our characters are Sad Rich Doormat — “the spoiled girls of college who have family money but also live this dichotomy of the broke college life,” in their words — and Everybro. They’re both composites, but where Everybro is just like you, SRD is just like all of them. Our setting is, inexplicably, a hotel bar, i.e. the hookup grounds of those who have grown older; but the Chainsmokers evidently don’t know how hotels work because Everybro ditches the room one of them presumably rented to fuck on SRD’s backseat and/or shitty stolen mattress. It’s a bare-bones set, where place names stand in for realism and Blink-182 references stand in for emotional depth. The script is shoddy; taken literally Everybro directs SRD to bite her own shoulder, which suggests the Chainsmokers know neither grammar nor sex. The mood, strangely, is just right; Everybro and SRD ride the deceptively easy groove off into the bedsit. But the morning after, it leaves no impression.
[4]

Brad Shoup: The halting keyboard riff is the sound of machines breaking down mid-mediation. Its near-funk syncopation is all the more human for sounding like failure. Halsey mentions Blink-182 in the song and the Chainsmokers mention Taking Back Sunday on Genius; both bands at this point would imbue “we ain’t never getting older” with the irony I think the guys intended. But coming as it does at the end of a rhymerush, it barely registers as a punchline — not until Halsey starts leaning into it.
[7]

Megan Harrington: Have you ever experienced the incongruence of a dreamy Tumblr aesthetic post and the reality of your own shitty life? How are your sunsets? Just regular? You need more “Closer” in your life. It’s not the only song to fuse heartbreaking pastel sonics with cruddy memories, but it’s certainly the best of this calendar year, and it will make your dirty bedsheets appear romantically rumpled. Halsey is the song’s not-at-all-secret weapon, its open strength — she is the only performer capable of pulling “Closer” off. Though it’s no small feat to transform the drudge into the aesthetic drudge, “Closer” does one better, giving us a song about sexy naked ambition and the unsexy emotional fallout and putting it in Halsey’s hands. She’s one of the most complicated pop stars to emerge from the young Millennial set and she sells the song as an even split between frustrating lust and hope. The way she nails this precarious balance is the reason why your life feels instantly slightly more glamorous just for pressing play. 
[9]

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Soobin Hoàng Sơn – Lalala

Let’s check back in on Vietnam…


[Video][Website]
[6.67]

Katie Gill: The rise and fall and possible rise again of the slow jam is interesting. Nowadays, it’s gotten to the point where a song that’s just sexy can be listed on a round-up describing the top 100 slow jams: shout out to that list that called Selena Gomez’s “Good For You” a slow jam, no you’re wrong, stop that, it’s just sexy. Thankfully, this one’s both: something sexy as all get-out but also a slow jam perfect for getting your groove on, whether you want to interpret that as a euphemism or not. The actual “lalala” chorus is a bit weak but those amazingly sexy verses more than make up for it.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares: Vietnamese R&B that seems to have taken serious cues from Crush and the Korean scene, but Soobin’s breezy delivery and captivating aqueous synths are definitely his own. And the beat is spacious enough to support it all, including that intense “LALALA” keyboard riff.  
[7]

Will Adams: Lush, space-filling R&B production with a pleasant, smooth vocal, but the “My Boo” chord progression has more than seen diminishing returns over the past few years.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I recommend the opening — harp, finger snaps, strategic use of space — to The Weeknd. When the chorus hook hits, the Vietnamese singer knows how much of his voice to lavish on it. He even earns the surprise ending.
[7]

Cassy Gress: There’s stylistic weirdness here that I think ruins the coldness of the rest of this dry breakup song, from the oddly robotic “la la la la la” to the almost random, heavily processed melisma scattered throughout.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: His voice is calm and controlled, carefully marking a path and then following it again even as I’ve been conditioned to expect a rap break, a show-stopping wail, or a key change (if not all three). It fits the mood, and the restraint is a nice change of pace; but it does mean the background warps have to do all the emotional heavy lifting.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: In its chilled smoothness and its lightly treated vocals, “Lalala” is a bit of a throwback to the R&B of the late ’00s; I could imagine The-Dream or a — necessarily subdued — T-Pain sliding in for a remix. Soobin is refined than either of those two, though: his presence more sophisticated, his poise gentlemanly. That elevates what could end up an arrangement that could be too relaxed, and so too does the productions rather tasteful decorative touches: water drops, light percussion runs, and an oddly complementary sine-wave synth feature that shimmers candy-bright.
[7]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A skittish ballad turned modern with a dash of digital trickery and on-trend production: a glossy way to say how much break-ups suck, but heartache (like everything else) could do with being a little bit cooler.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: All of the digi-twisted voices in the background and bright synthesizer sounds wonderful — audio candy — but “Lalala” elevates them by making each element work alongside the song’s central theme of long gone love. This isn’t a pop song simply copping ideas from the “future bass” scene — or, like, heard a Cashmere Cat song and though, “sure why not” — but one where the  touches underline the sadness at the core. Voices stumble over one another trying to find something, before turning into a digital string of nonsensical syllables. As bright as this one can sound, it ultimately serves to illuminate the hurt. Nothing is wasted, even the space.
[9]

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Hey Violet – Brand New Moves

Brand new sound…


[Video][Website]
[6.90]

Will Rivitz: Ever since Cherri Bomb linchpin Julia Pierce took her guitar and aural sneer away from the band, remaining members Miranda Miller and the Lovelis sisters have been struggling to find their groove. After absorbing guitarist Casey Moreta and re-forming as Hey Violet, the group — no doubt in large part thanks to the influence of boy-punk heartthrobs 5 Seconds of Summer, on whose label they currently reside — pumped out a few milquetoast pop-rock jams, songs that approximated Cherri Bomb’s rebel-yell spirit without really figuring out how to properly replicate or build on it. “Brand New Moves” is Hey Violet’s first step away from snotty pop-punk, and it’s their first song that stacks up properly with the work of their former incarnation. It’s a disco-lite sex jam with oodles of smirking charm, Wild Beasts’ “Get My Bang” with gender-swapped vocals and synth tremors replaced by chunky bass guitar. I was on the brink of giving up hope for Hey Violet until this song came crashing down — now I’m excited about their prospects as they further explore their place in pop. If you hear this blow up the pop charts come fall, don’t be surprised.
[9]

A.J. Cohn: If “Brand New Moves” doesn’t hit quite hit the same sugar-rush highs of Hey Violet’s pop punk great “I Can Feel It” this smoky, riffy disco number definitely succeeds. The track is a lovely ode to sexual exploration and discovery replete with charmingly awkward come-ons. Pitch-perfect teen pop.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: As little as I cheer the move of any band away from pop-punk, the market disagrees. But moving toward “Hella Good” is not so bad at all. A tentative, anxious “Hella Good” headed for disaster shouldn’t work either, but anything’s possible. Could use 25 per cent more song, but that’s a quibble.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The groove is loose-limbed but the vocal’s tentative and uptight. I’m not sure if I mean the latter as criticism; Rena Lovelis is singing like her new moves are nothing more than a bluff, but if you can’t relate to that or dance to this, you probably don’t have any moves.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: Rena Lovelis, with her effortful metaphors about locks and keys, is not a convincing coquette; her come-ons are too jejune to match the strut and swagger of the bass rumbles backing her up. The chorus clarifies matters. “Since the last time we danced I’ve learned some brand new moves,” she sings, measuring each syllable out to underline what’s actually changed: not her, but her confidence. Seduction is performance, and, ideally, intent counts more than execution. Lovelis is feeling herself; good for her.
[6]

Will Adams: Opening with a line as worn-out as “I’m the lock and you’re the key” is a clever trick; it’s not long before Lovelis takes control of the situation, locking on her target to try out these brand new moves. The song’s pacing is a bit laissez-faire, leaving no room for anything more than two verse-chorus sections. It does make me wonder if there’s an extended version floating out there, where the disco rock gets an instrumental break, and there’s time to put action to the lyrics.
[6]

Cassy Gress: Ostensibly, this is a sort of a darker, more overtly sexual version of Olivia Newton-John’s “Tell me about it, stud.” But rather than using her sexuality to get what she wants, Rena Lovelis uses her sexuality to express dominance and power, ramping up the darkness almost like she is a witch seducing a man into her cauldron. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Chugging Ameri-indie track with a vocalist who sounds like a peeved Lorde.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Blah blah, indie rock is dead; blah blah blah no wait it isn’t… whatever side of this goofy narrative you find yourself on, one truth is that early ’00s sounds and visuals are ripe for the plucking by pop acts tired of the ’80s. The “Brand New Moves” video is the most obvious nod to this, but the music — guitar-centric but something you could sway to; repetitive; flat in a not-caring-is-cool sort of way — is every bit as indebted to the time. “Brand New Moves,” like the similarly rock-indebted “Cake By The Ocean,” is a radio-ready approximation of music that is barely 15 years old at this point. But unlike Joe Jonas’s joint, Hey Violet fail to find anything interesting in their song.
[4]

Peter Ryan: It’s a recycled Groove of Ages, but this band of teens has hit upon a potent variation. I’m too boring now to be into “when you treat me wrong it’s so right,” but “since the last time we danced I learned some brand new moves (I wanna try them on you)” transcends stodginess, will always be relevant.
[8]