Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Daniela Spalla – Pequeño Ladrón

We continue Latin Grammy Week with some Mexican TSJ-wave…


[Video][Website]
[6.64]

Iain Mew: A new wave rock glide, in the niche of “Dakota” and that Ulises Hadjis song we did two years ago. That’s already a niche I tend to like, but this brings something unique in the way that Spalla negotiates her way between going along with the flow and cutting against it, weightless one moment and then heavy with emotion. That and a delightfully expansive psychedelic bridge.
[8]

Will Adams: This subgenre of New Wave that bounds along at high tempos with shimmery guitar tails behind it will never not appeal to me. The modulation in the bridge is a genuine surprise, but a welcome one.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Sounds like Hospitality or War on Drugs but with gauzier keyboards and a committed vocal.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Like a Pretenders song stuck on “beginning to accelerate”, flat as the highway this intends to race down.
[3]

Josh Winters: Huh, I hear celestial piano, serene vocals floating ever so delicately, and the kind of chugging bass/drum combo that makes you wanna ride with the top down as you cruise along the coastline. If I wasn’t paying any attention to the words, I would’ve sworn I’d been listening to Frankie Rose’s Interstellar.
[7]

Brad Shoup: A decent slice of organic New Wave, with Spalla gripping tight on those bass sixteenths and steady trebly piano plinks. On the bridge, the synth sends up flares while she contributes howls; I’d have loved to hear that as the song’s base.
[6]

Sabina Tang: The sonics snap and pop, but Spalla’s intonation is featherweight, even sleepy; and the tune meanders. Not quite worth hauling out the keytar and lasers.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Upon listening to “Crash”, the apparent resemblance between it and the “Pequeño Ladrón” intro becomes less so. Daniela Spalla could have done with some of The Primitives’ force, because while there’s a continued insistence instrumentally, it’s mindful of being too loud, as if not to wake her from the sleepwalk she’s taking. Caught between vigour and gentleness, with little to latch on to as a result.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: This sounds so nervous, the way Daniela Spalla sings in hushed tones save for the moments when she chooses a hopeful sigh-like delivery. Even the piano notes in the chorus sound unsure of what move to make next. I just love how well it captures that weird state that comes on before a big change finally happens. 
[8]

David Lee: The triumph of closure (or something resembling it) is muted, worn but present. And I appreciate eighties flourishes that suffuse instead of signify. (Even if I fall prey for them in either case.) Upon first listen, I immediately thought of “What Ever Happened,” which  makes sense because this song would be at home in a Sofia Coppola movie.
[7]

Dan MacRae: Gooey with pulsations of menace, “Pequeño Ladrón” managed to melt its way into my gut pretty quickly. I feel like I’d enjoy this a tad more if I were listening to it in a neon-lit abattoir. Not sure why.
[8]

Megan Harrington: I feel like I should be doing something teenaged — circling the Delia’s catalog or walking invisibly down a crowded hallway or attempting to Irish exit the homecoming dance — when I listen to “Pequeño Ladrón.” It’s youthful and restless, constantly moving but stuck in the same place. That might sound stifled but Spalla finds little ways to run wild, true to those terrible years.   
[8]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I want to start hearing this song in every teen romance movie trailer! Every CW show soundtrack! Every shoe commercial! Spalla is capable of much more interesting indie pop (see “Arruinarmelo”) but if this is her breakthrough hit, so be it.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: A lot like “Fallschirm”: Spalla curls and purrs around her vocals, the guitars sprint victory laps, piano and backing vox propel and prettify. The song is small, but small can be life-affirming still.
[7]

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Julio César – Me Elevas

And then, yeah, we’re staying in Venezuela for some sensitive boy time…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Josh Langhoff: To avoid long-term injury, seek immediate medical help for an erection lasting more than four hours.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: Thanks for your effort, but we already have too many of these plain, generic Latin love songs on the radio. 
[5]

Iain Mew: As a guy who shares his name with, among others, several musicians and the Brazilian football team’s goalkeeper, you’d think César might make an effort to stand out. In fact, this sounds perfect to sink into any background, not through laziness but through the sense that it would be rude to demand any greater attention. Its trad pop-rock plays out with a lot of charm and a little style.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A trifle, but with spirited drumming and César doesn’t overdo the charm. 
[5]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Highly melodramatic lyrics delivered with a peppy guitar and hip-swaying beat. The bridge is very silly. He seems like a nice guy.
[6]

Megan Harrington: This sounds effortlessly happy, the dream of a life no one lives. It’s the space that exists between your Facebook-inspired jealousy and your friend’s rigorously pruned and fluffed self-presentation. “Me Elevas” isn’t real, but everything around it is and the desire for that non-existent center is more powerful than César’s citrusy beach pop might first suggest.
[7]

David Sheffieck: I can’t go outside for five minutes without starting to lose feeling in my fingers, so this sounds perfect — especially once the warmer-than-warm backing vocals pop in on the bridge. I’m pretty sure if we could figure out a way to set up enough loudspeakers to broadcast this across the entire Chicago area, no one would need to wear a jacket tomorrow.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Oh, this is totally forgettable but so breezy, the sort of song that makes me forget that I bought new sweaters yesterday. 
[5]

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Aneeka – Demasiado Tarde

Back to Venezuela…


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Katherine St Asaph: I follow Diane Warren’s tweets and even I think this is a bit much.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Pure Eurovision ballad sincerity in the manner of “Quédate conmigo”. Strings aplenty, space for the voice to expand and a steady unfurling to ease that in. It’s not so much by the book as surrounded by copies of it, but to Aneeka’s credit there isn’t too much reliance on devolution into outright hysterics. To her credit anyway – as well as a minute chopped off, the song could well have done with some.
[6]

Alfred Soto: In the vein of a nineties A/C ballad (think Mariah Carey’s “I Don’t Wanna Cry”) but whose bathos gets leavened by Aneeka’s chalky gusto.
[5]

Iain Mew: Aneeka has a voice that offers power and a sense of struggle without overdoing it. She’s just not offered much support by an airy track that appears to take cues from Athlete and Snow Patrol ballads as well as older, bigger fare. But it doesn’t fully commit to anything in particular.
[3]

Megan Harrington: Aneeka wields this big, weepy ballad like it’s a mace. She’s clobbering everything in her path with extended notes, soft minor chords, and pleading strings. It’s excessive — I’m laid to waste before the chorus even begins — but all the soaring and plummeting is sophisticated choreography. Aneeka is a master at forcing the listener to feel. 
[8]

Brad Shoup: Her chorus vocal is so great; it feels like it’s ascending further each time. She gets too technical on the introductory verse, handles the “Beautiful”-style bridge cleanly, and ends up in an R&B setpiece. The whole while, the drummer’s killing time and a couple violins try to break free. Not everyone gets to shine.
[6]

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Miranda – El Gran Secreto

In case you didn’t know, this is Latin Grammy Best New Artist week! And Alfred beats me to the punch again…


[Video][Website]
[5.36]

Alfred Soto: The winner of “La Voz Colombia” goes to town with this rock disco number with more than a couple of undistinguished nods towards Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife.”
[6]

Josh Langhoff: Miranda’s voice — unique, reedy, and deadset on crossover domination — battles its way through the umpteenth iteration of Chic-y guitar and strings. Her ahs snarl like Taylor Dayne, and that’s a point right there.
[6]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I love positivity — even in its most cliche forms, like sunshine, rainbows and valentines — but this positivity is just too much, like a battering ram. It doesn’t help that its mode of delivery is Miranda’s voice, which somehow manages to sound both pinched and, for lack of a better word, “braying.” Like Ethel Merman without her panache.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: Her extravagant voice has its charm, but she isn’t using it well. The vocal melody of the chorus is rather dull and the backing vocals don’t help her a lot either. Hopefully, in a couple of years she can show her potential, but right now, this is a song I’d rather skip. 
[4]

Iain Mew: A lifetime of UK pop has given me a certain affection towards disco stomps as clumsily overbearing as Miranda’s, but even that gets worn down by the end. She sounds lost and desperate for someone or something to show her the way back — and rescue the song.
[4]

Anthony Easton: This sounds like the kind of thing that would play on the third slot of a second-tier variety show in the mid-70s, but with a bit of mid-90s Mariah/Celine oversinging. I don’t know if that is a good thing yet.
[6]

Megan Harrington: This is by the books disco-pop but the generic palette works in Miranda’s favor. The default backdrop makes her voice sound even more majestic than it might if she updated the production. She’s an accent wall in a neutral room. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: The disco touches here are more of an emotional push: string clouds masquerading as string hits, backing vocals as footnotes. They make the title true: love as a slightly worrying revelation.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: Its structure might as well come out of a box labelled “disco-pop starter kit,” but dear goodness does this song make the most of it. The chorus just bursts open, and Miranda follows suit to deliver a strong vocal hook accented by electronic squiggles that make this all the more sunny. This refuses to settle into a groove, and squeezes out as much brightness as it can.  
[8]

David Lee: One of the reasons Kylie excelled at the sunshine disco bit was that her wispy voice rode atop of the squiggly basslines and candescent string sections, highlighting the airiness in productions that could turn goopy in heavier hands. Not so here. Miranda’s belting sinks this like wrench dropped into an orange jello mold. It’s an unfortunate mismatch that doesn’t quite deliver on the sentiment it’s trying to sell.
[6]

W.B. Swygart: TURNS OUT PALOMA FAITH’S VOICE ISN’T ANY MORE BEARABLE IN SPANISH, THEN
[3]

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Periko & Jessi Leon – Me Vuelvo Loco

This Peruvian-Argentine du- asdknffd;kjb;gsdgaaldk GODDAMMIT ALFRED


[Video][Website]
[4.57]

Alfred Soto: This Peruvian-Argentine duo hew closely to a competent level of folk strum. I wish the call and response had more to call and respond.
[5]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Nothing remarkable in the lyrics or music, but at least it sounds like they’re having fun.
[4]

Iain Mew: They don’t have much to work with, but by the time they bring out the handclaps I’m won over by their persistence in trying to get their limited melody stuck in my mind.
[6]

Megan Harrington: I’m a sucker for a traditional duet and with their abundance of strings and harmonies, Periko and Jessi Leon hit the sweet spot. “Me Vuelvo Loco” finds mad love in the bright and upbeat; it’s about going crazy, but it sounds like an effortless and pleasant way to lose yourself. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: At least the handclaps sound like they were done by people, and not characters in an antidepressant commercial.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: All of this seems a little too lazy-feel-good, peaking with a chorus that sounds like it’s forcing way too much of a smile. Or maybe those electro stabs are just really out of place. 
[4]

Anthony Easton: They seem nice enough, their voices match well, the music has a serviceable guitar, and it doesn’t feature any ukuleles (which, considering one of them plays it, was a real threat). They drop Shakira in a ReverbNation interview, but she has heat and a wry self-awareness. This has none of that. 
[4]

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Taylor Swift – Blank Space

In the end, we couldn’t choose between her and Azealia


[Video][Website]
[7.38]

Luisa Lopez: Just before I started writing this, I saw a headline that read “Taylor Swift is so much more fun now that she’s jaded.” Yeah, what a bore all that romance was! Now we’re in the age of striking Gone Girls who ruin their men. But Taylor Swift was never really icy, and a woman with a musical heart that goopy could never really have shed it for something snakelike and detached. Which is why on its own the song is not as funny at first — it has an emptiness (all those hollow synths!) you wouldn’t usually find in her vengeful fare, like she’s wrapping herself in a coat that’s too big, that leaves too much space. But the music video is so fucking good that it somehow elevates this reasonably clever pop song into something like catharsis, where Taylor Swift doesn’t shed her goopy heart at all but turns it into something huge and embarrassing and insatiable. Like if “Love Story” had gone on a few minutes longer. Like girls who feel there’s something missing inside them that only being in love can fill. Now these real, ugly feelings are made funny and palpable and great. Now having a blank space can be a weapon. Now having something missing can be revenge. Keep writing.
[8]

Danilo Bortoli: “Love’s a game, wanna plaaaaay?”: this “Blank Space” line is where 1989 really starts, the first moment we get to listen to classic Taylor. Everything that comes before it is just irrevalent for the great narrative that is Taylor Swift. It’s all in this song: the word plays, the hard to believe but perfectly quotable storytelling, the Manicheism: it’s either going to be forever or going down in flames. But the difference with this ultimatum is that it’s not as dramatic as any of Red‘s ramblings. It’s actually the sound of Taylor coming to terms with the post break-up (almost spirituous) tone that permeates the entire album. It’s the sound of a simple, self-empowering proposal: you can come whenever you want (and most importantly, at your own risk), but don’t expect her to beg you to stay.
[9]

Edward Okulicz: The world reckons it has Taylor Swift pegged, but she can still send herself up with much more wit than the world, so here she is doing it again. She’s a man-eater, and she admits it, but she’ll remind you that dating can be a game with low risks and a hgih payoff if you have a cache of several million dollars and a dozen insanely quotable lines. The way she speak-sings some of those best lines like they’re throwaways shows her more in touch with her inner Twain (Shania, not Mark, silly) than ever before, and at various points in time I can detect the DNA of “Party in the USA.” “Blank Space” is Taylor weaving her influences and her contemporaries together with intelligence, self-awareness, and hooks for days.
[9]

Crystal Leww: “Blank Space” is supposed to be Taylor Swift playing a character of the crazy boy-obsessed bitch that she’s supposed to be, but I can’t help it: I find this instantly relatable and insanely quotable. I am a girl around Taylor Swift’s age, and I’ve appreciated Taylor Swift’s turn to slutting about with abandon; her music has always been about capturing those little moments in extraordinarily fitting ways. “Blank Space” is her firing on all cylinders, playing to those lyrical strengths. I practically sighed the first time I heard “oh my god, look at that face/you look like my next mistake” and “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend” and “darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She will never top that line in “All Too Well,” but Swift consistently does this, consistently makes phrases that stick in your mind, creates lyrics that are so specific yet so universal. “Blank Space” is a showcase that proves that she’s still doing it, pop or not.
[9]

Juana Giaimo: If in “Shake it Off” Taylor wanted to show that she is now careless towards what other people say about her, in “Blank Space” she’s showing the opposite. She is self-aware and she wants us to know it. The music doesn’t sound casual anymore, but instead is extremely structured with short lines in the verses that fit exactly into the steady beats. It reminds me of Red‘s singles, characterized by their perfectionism and also for the stereotype she built of herself in them  — melodramatic in “I Knew You Were Trouble”, overcomplicated in “We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and immature in “22.” In that sense, “Blank Space” is a conservative song among Taylor’s singles. It works because that is exactly what people expect from her, but she went a step further by detaching from that character and saying: “this is not me.” 
[9]

Alfred Soto: As concept and pun the title fascinates — the world’s biggest pop star seeking anonymity or recasting herself as the screen on which fans project fantasies? Neither. “Blank Space” begins with soul sonic force synths out of Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” but segues into a finger-wagging acoustic-anchored admission of caprice and recklessness. That’s what distinguishes Swift from her contemporaries: they envisage the route to maturity as the accumulation of compromises and mistakes out of which something called adulthood emerges; she on the other hand assumes that holding fast to a natural ebullience with the expectation that she’ll fuck up is worth it so long as she’s teaching bad boys how to be good. Adults act like kids. Especially in a move to the big city. Especially in their twenties. Docked a notch for not writing “Starbucks lovers.”
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: Swift drops punchlines over an 808 drum line and a vaporous pealing that reimagines the “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” break. “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend,” she demurs, too wicked to believe, and with cause: “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” occupies that spot when verse two comes around. This is territory she’s covered before, most notably in “22” but also subsequently on “Shake It Off“: that the libertine possibilities of youth are something to be celebrated, but also something that must be nurtured. (You gotta, after all, fight for your right to party.) This makes sense, because adulthood in its earliest incarnation is about recreating ourselves again and again until we work out a way to be — to have decided what it is to be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. Taylor is so determined to reorient herself toward immediacy that she sets eternity and conflagration off as equivalents. “We’re young and we’re reckless” — that’s the motto — yes, but she really finds the apotheosis of her insatiability in an echo of her last single. “The players gonna play,” she shrugged in that song, but here it’s a roman candle explosion: “I love the players, and you love the game!
[10]

Patrick St. Michel: Self-aware, funny Taylor Swift — Good! Big shouty chorus — Not as good!
[5]

Brad Shoup: “You love the game!” she shouts, and besides being the least-masqueraded line here, it’s the truest. Folks are forgetting the “Shake It Off” video, New Yorkers are forgetting “Welcome to New York.” It’s just nice to have something everyone can talk about, y’know? Even if it contains an Avril song written by Sia. The refrain takes the long way to the takeaway, the spoken lines are ham cubes — it’s a singer/songwriter’s idea of a pop song, with all the care lavished on the zingers and none on the hooks. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: The music is nothing to me, all of the vapidness of why I don’t generally care for what passes as Pop 2014: of course Max Martin and Shellback are to blame. (Though I will grant that some of the empty space helps accentuate, well, the “Blank Space.”) But the lyrics have sunk in upon plenty of listens, and this is one of the most Taylor Swift Taylor Swift singles I’ve heard yet. It also sounds like an incredibly honest song from a professional, successful 20-something woman. I wouldn’t seek this out, but I wouldn’t necessarily turn away from it, either.
[6]

Will Adams: “Blank Space” is one of the least sonically compelling offerings from Max Martin and Shellback on 1989 – much like its preceding single; I hope this isn’t a pattern. It’s plug-and-chug 808 stuff with some acoustic guitar jangle to lighten up the mood. Meanwhile, though Swift can still deliver a killer line (“I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”), she sings the song in five different voices and doesn’t quite know what to do with any of them.
[5]

Sonia Yang: I like Swift when she’s cheerily shaking off her critics, but I love her even more when she goes the snarky route by penning a song from the perspective of who they make her out to be — a manipulative black widow who runs her factory-issue boy toy dry, tossing him as quickly as she acquired him and casually moving on to the next one. This track is a sleek slice of minimalist synthpop and Swift’s sly vocals are enticing, especially the way she coyly warns “I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your name.” Side note: I would definitely watch a thriller starring Swift going all Basic Insinct on the Hollywood dreamboat du jour.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Can we just spend the rest of our lives talking about how brilliant that video is? If 1989 was a calculated deconstruction of her aesthetic as sleek and as successful as a leveraged merger, the video for this song might be a truly radical attempt to just burn the motherfucker down. I wish I had that much money to take the piss out of my own personae: WHITE HORSE, EXPENSIVE CAR, RED LIPS, MANSION, TREE, NICE SUIT, NIPPLE SHIRT, FIRE, COLLAPSE. A thousand points for the fawn, which is my new gender and my new patronus. Song [6], video [1000].
[6]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is almost like Taylor read Sabina’s critique of her — that in her songs, nothing is ever Taylor Swift’s fault, which had me nodding vigorously in agreement — and tried to turn that accusation on its head. “Nothing is my fault? What if EVERYTHING was my fault?” I adore this move. I mean, obviously, it’s not a response to Sabina and our little music site flamewars, but it’s a response to the larger media machine, right, the one that’s like “She goes on too many dates! And she can’t make ‘em stay!” And Taylor’s like, “Oh yeah? Well what if I drove them away?” Which, again, I love. But there’s a misstep, some clumsy foot twitch as she lands the flip; God, I wish she’d stuck the landing. See, the punchline to this sudden step-up to responsibility is: “…because I’m CRAZY!” And it’s not like, “I’m Gena Rowlands in a Cassavetes picture and my craziness is my vulnerability and my strength at once,” but more like, “I’m in a David Fincher picture and cuckoo-bananas. Watch out! I might hurt you! LOL.” (With the LOL included; Taylor’s still got her wry chuckles in the mix.) Which is so disappointing to me. This narrative has promise, but right now, it’s lacking a core. (You know, the instrumentation is sparse too, so perhaps this is the entire intention: the crazy woman trope performing a pantomime show for her lover comprised of boyfriend tropes. In that case… game, set, match.)
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Unreliable narrators are the best kind of narrator; all the more daydreaming ones concocting a story yet or even never to happen with such star-crossed inevitability. There’s a sense of control though, in, if not of, what is supposed to happen. Problems are inevitable, but they’ll only be yours. It cannily betrays what’s really a lack of self-reflection. Vicarious views, what I can do for, to, and with you, but little else; the cartoonish “nightmare” image and almost inadvertent admission of jealousy the sum total of direct evaluation. What sounds sad without the words — lump-in-the-throat imminence, bittersweet acceptance — becomes unease with them. The sadness is in what’s not there.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Strip away the gossip and the takes and the Styles and the Buzzfeed-boiler gifset video, and “Blank Space” is perfectly serviceable as a 2014 pop time capsule. The production is doorbell-Lorde, space to be filled with multitracked yelps, and there’s some “Bleeding Love” in there; Swift, despite her best claimed attempts, hasn’t becomes popmogrified enough not to keep the cadences from “This Kiss” and the acoustic strums from her past few albums. The song’s a prequel to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” with a few lines recycled from “22,” and just as unwieldy and lightweight as either. The tweetable lyrics are emphasized so hard they might as well be highlighted in gel pen. The rest are designed for memification — just now: “blue, berries, on the, floor, I spill things when I’m in the fridge.” The tabloid’s the test, though; bad songs are swallowed by gossip, but good songs are gleefully streaked. Swift deftly understands what the critics want to hate to become that girl for a song: the female PUA whose tricks are experience and “I’ve already married and divorced you in my mind”; the spotty singer (vocal teachers would be abhorred, character acting teachers would clap with glee); the rich preppy basic. The video connects the personae, and is crucial — Swift only gets away with “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” because in that scene she actually is: Taylor, more like tailored, like Lord & Taylor, like “which department sells domestic whirlwind armor?” Taylor knows, and goes. Taylor Swift in fact has twelve plaid wool skirts, until you cross her and she replaces the set with asbestos fiber. Taylor Swift bakes chai sugar cookies because the color hides the arsenic better. Taylor Swift uses her old coffee sleeves to deliver papercuts. Normally I tire fast of this sort of meme-assembly disguised as criticism, but Swift’s already playing that game. And she loves the game.
[7]

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Azealia Banks – Chasing Time

Watch the throne…


[Video][Website]
[7.38]

Will Adams: Welcome back, Azealia. After a turbulent two years of sporadic single releases — some great and terrifying, some embarrassing and downright atrocious — you’ve come back with a kick-ass album and a fine lead single. You’ve stuck to your guns and continue to be a few steps ahead of your listener, who can never quite know what you or your song are about to do next. Even better, you’ve done it while finally presenting a song that has a clear pop structure, verse-chorus and all. I applaud you. You have arrived.
[8]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Talk about a comeback! Great beat, great lyrics — with the perfect analogy for a comeback single — and plenty of energy to spare. I’ve been reading her interviews and it seems like she’s really matured and become more focused in these past few years. Perhaps the sabbatical was necessary in the grander scheme of things.
[9]

Danilo Bortoli: Azealia Banks has got to be the first rapper in recent memory to have a Greatest Hits compilation released before a proper debut. (Let’s not fool ourselves, Broke With Expensive Taste does not feature that much new, quality material to justify its existence.) “Chasing Time” is, by comparison, her “Celebration”, the kind of filler most artists release just to make these album releases more bearable. On top of that, Banks has admitted “Chasing Time” is a result of the strange, complicated relationship she had with her old label while searching of a hit, which is the worst environment someone’s pop sensibilities should be obligated to develop into a track that could be played in the radio — something Azealia used to manage to do easily (once). And maybe this crazy, unfortunate pressure might explain why “Chasing Time” sounds so forced and generic, a rushed attempt at commercial house. If only she could stick to Lone forever.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Azealia Banks’s music was never bad. She phoned it in, she half-baked MusiContent for the mouths that demand it faster and mushier, but even when she phoned it in, she was never bad. Go back and listen. The narrative foisted on Banks, the telephone-game thinkpiecing of received wisdom, has served her poorly: each song post ending in “album please?” becoming each feud post ending in “lol, album, please” and critics in turn becoming a thousand little repeaters of whatever politics, or racial politics, guttered from the maws of music execs who wouldn’t market Broke With Expensive Taste. The point of marketing is that nothing is unmarketable, anyway, much less house revival in 2014 — like, is anyone thinking critically here at all? Think of other possible narratives: label prisoner, music-release innovator. Think about the music: “Chasing Time” sparkles, its house flourishes more inventive than the Sigma/Gorgon City/Duke Dumont xeroxing papering the charts overdull. Banks turns in a tour de force vocal: lost time, anxiety, identity crises, solo dancing, all delivered via tense percussion and sunsick hooks. It’s as good as she’s always been, because she’s always been good. Maybe now people can, y’know, remember?
[9]

Patrick St. Michel: Listening to “Chasing Time,” it’s really tough trying to put oneself in the shoes of an Interscope executive and see why they had such an issue with Azealia Banks. Internet beefs aside, “Chasing Time” highlights the best about an artist who seems ready for right now. Here’s throwback ’90s production concealing contemporary blurbles, and all given life by an artist who can deliver satisfying singing before zipping into a solid stretch of rap. And it all fits together just right, nothing sticking out badly.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Not as epochal as “212” — how can it be — but she sings OK and raps even better. The tension helps: the track wants to be a ’90s house track with a rap on it without dredging memories of Freedom Williams. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Decent house song but the pairing of this decent singer with that terrible Lil’ Kim impersonator’s raps… Wait, they’re the same person? Ooof.
[5]

Brad Shoup: If I tilt my head, it’s a great grime tune that lost the plot. She’s rapping in second gear, but the timbre is exquisite and those hiccups in the first verse are a good tactic. She’s her own feature, with house vocals serving as the main event. Stack Banks’s singing voices and you’ve got something impressive; the track pulses and pops under six inches of water but the sea’s her thing, right?
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: Banks is an elastic rapper, but one rather bereft of personality, which is why I enjoy her push into nightclub territory. “Chasing Time” is like going out on garage night: you’re feeling good, you dance a bit, and every now and then there’s some rapping you don’t have to pay attention to. No bottle service though; this isn’t “1991.”
[6]

Abby Waysdorf: You hear “212” pretty regularly at clubs here — maybe every second or third time I go out, I hear it. It’s weird to think of how old it is, since it never really left my environment. “Chasing Time” sounds like it’ll be even more popular. On the first listen I could smell the mix of generated fog and alcohol that signals “nightclub” to my brain. It’s polished and chart-ready, borrowing from ’80s/’90s house (and the contemporary revival of it) and 2014 chart pop&B. When that kind of stuff is done well, combined with the right kind of flair and songcraft, it’s irresistible, and it certainly is here. “Chasing Time” isn’t as explosive or singular as “212,” but it’s still damn impressive. 
[9]

David Sheffieck: Banks is doing good work showing her range — it’d be hard to find anyone credibly arguing she’s a one-hit wonder anymore — but it’s hard to fully appreciate what she’s got when the beat here is begging so hard for a remix. The stems are fine enough if taken separately, but they’re packed together with a frenetic energy that clashes with Banks’s own rather than complimenting it. Banks is enough to carry this most of the way, but if it gave her some space it’d really pop.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s a shame that her collab with Disclosure didn’t come to fruition, because this makes it sound like it would’ve worked a charm. I’m surprised by how much of Broke with Expensive Taste is ’90s-house, but more surprised by how un-retrograde it sounds. This is, in fact, fresh. Also, I prefer the more-singing less-rapping Azealia, because as good a rapper as she is, she’s an even more interesting singer. And because she’s a rapper she understands how to make the beats work in deference to her, and not the other way around. In the back half of Taste this runs the risk of getting a little lost, but plucked out as a single it really shines.
[8]

Crystal Leww: Azealia Banks is pushing the boundaries of genre, evident by imagining all the places that I feel like I could hear this being played. “Chasing Time” could be banging through my car speakers as I cruise down Lake Shore Drive or pulsing through the sound system in the dark underground space of Smart Bar or blaring across a massive field in a mix by some pop house DJ sandwiched between “Overdrive” and “I Wanna Feel” or barely there in the background as I browse some chic art gallery opening that I don’t belong at. And that’s really the best thing about Azealia Banks: so often music is played in chic, hip spaces where black women are core to the creation, but so often black women are shunted aside to either featuring credits or not there at all. Here, Azealia Banks is at the topline of credits. She deserves it; “Chasing Time” is covered in Azealia’s fingerprints, a world that she’s created from house beats and her brilliant play on vowel sounds (there may be no one better right now). And she manages to honor the artistic work of black women before her, too, letting the video pay homage to the visual work of these ladies before her.
[9]

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown – Only

Welcome to Fourth Quarter Monday, in which we ask the music industry, “Really? This is what you’ve been holding back”?


[Video]
[3.88]

Will Adams: There is nothing to recommend this. Nicki’s verse is a dud: even on paper, “That was a setup … for a punchline” is far weaker than, “Ain’t a metaphor, punchline, I’m really sittin’ with Anna!” as a knowing wink. Drake’s verse is cringeworthy, soaked in a fourteen-year-old boy’s saliva. Lil Wayne is catatonic. Chris Brown is here for no reason. Nothing but bad ideas, only.
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Just for putting out this song, Nicki’s album should be delayed until fourth quarter of next year. I couldn’t tell you what’s worse here — Wayne recycling his spiritual son Young Thug’s flows just to feel excited, Chris Brown’s useless hook, Dr. Luke’s trash beat, Drake exhibiting the personality of a Revenge Porn user. And of course Nicki, who has essentially had her worst year since 2007 as a rapper. Her usual stylistics, her main strength, have proven to be a dry well. Her bars? About as laughable as post-jail Wayne. This song might be the worst thing all of these individuals have ever put their names to. Cash Money is an Army, but this here is Taco Tuesday in the mess-hall.
[0]

Jonathan Bradley: Have you ever been privy to the planning that goes into an event at which a number of luminaries are scheduled to appear? Smooth transitions and logical sequencing cease to be a concern; rather, the object is to ensure the comfort of the special guests. Is each allotted an appropriate timeslot given his or her relative importance? Is the right person introducing the right person, and are they in turn introducing a significantly significant person? To give the appearance of cohesion, speakers might drop brief and unremarkable references to one another into their presentations. [clears throat] Welcome to the 2014 Young Money International Summit. Opening remarks will be provided by Nicki Minaj, who will no doubt get in some witty lines while we’re still interested enough to be paying attention. Following her we’ll hear from Chris Brown, introducing a presentation by Drake titled “Ain’t I a Stinker?” The keynote address will be delivered by Lil Wayne. After that, we will break for dinner, marking the close of day one. Catering is handled by Dr. Luke, and we all pray his hors d’oeuvres aren’t as flavorless as this beat.
[4]

Brad Shoup: Nicki starts strong and falls off a cliff; Wayne trips out of the gate and spends his verse staring at cartoon birds. Drake wins by default! Like, even if that LA traffic crack isn’t some kind of what’s-the-deal-with-airline-food meta-joke, the Jerry Lewis way he delivers “I was still staring at the titties though!” makes for an incredible mental image. Dr. Luke and Cirkut nuke a trap beat from their freezer, but even after five minutes there’s no steam. Chris Brown is also on this track.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: No one comes off well here; Drake in particular is so unlikable that if I didn’t know better I’d suspect this was Nicki’s setup (for a mockery). Even the beat sounds less skeletal than underfed.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Rapping, Nicki pretty consistently kills it; this is no exception. Drake getting nasty, I always like (plus he rhymes “comfortable” and “Huxtable”). Wayne continues to show that his Cash Money lieutenants have surpassed him. Chris Brown has nothing to do, just singing a couple lines of chorus, which is probably for best. And the track itself is reminiscent of Jeru’s “Come Clean,” which is a high compliment. 
[7]

Abby Waysdorf: Of all the current worldwide pop superstars, Nicki Minaj is definitely my favorite. She’s the most creative and interesting, with the most fascinating persona and presentation, and she’s mastered the art of making hit songs that are also totally weird. (Even Starships. Especially Starships.) “Only” is something that only Minaj could make — an address to her persona and her history, using the big names she’s been associated with but making it completely about her. As it should be. My complaint is that there’s five minutes, and only one with her in it. Also, points taken off for Chris Brown. Not just because he is who he is, but his by-the-numbers chorus doesn’t add anything. I can see why she’d think a chorus is necessary, as without it it’s a very non-pop pop song, but I wish it was less boring. The TV-drama of Nicki and Drake’s verses deserve better. Lil Wayne seems a bit tacked on, albeit necessary for the narrative. 
[7]

Crystal Leww: “Only” is pretty par for the course for everyone here. Lil Wayne turns in a listless verse, and Drake is more than willing to join him in a race to the bottom. They’re not misogynistic, just completely uninspired. Chris Brown does a thing that literally anyone else could have done. Nicki Minaj hasn’t made anything really actually bad in a long time, but this is pretty unspectacular. It’s not helped by the song’s central thesis, which is basically for Minaj to firmly establish that she never fucked her way to to the top despite her male co-signs. She’s doing remarkable things to push the boundaries of genre and gender, but songs like this remind us all that hip-hop and music at large still have a long way to go to catch up with her.
[5]

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Angaleena Presley – Ain’t No Man

The last Pistol Annie to release a solo single.


[Video][Website]
[6.62]

Katherine St Asaph: The least distinctive Pistol Annie turns out to be the most distinctive outside the group — imagine that. Lounge-country, perhaps — I reach for odd comparisons, like Nina Persson circa Long Gone Before Daylight. It’s better than that sounds, with a sly touch to the lyrics: “proud as a loser in a locker room”?
[7]

Megan Harrington: Like bandmate Miranda Lambert’s “Girls,” Angaleena Presley’s “Ain’t No Man” presents a complicated picture of femininity, underlining the idea that no man will ever be what completes a woman. She’s crisp and cool, like linen blowing from a clothesline, and she sells the song as a withering understatement. 
[8]

Anthony Easton: This is an album and not a collection of singles, and it is an album that is mostly about the problems of class.in the new South — especially the anxiety of a disappearing middle class. Her voice here is gorgeous and there are some startling images, but the list song moves without a rigorous framework. The voice is stronger than the writing, which is strange for an artist whose voice is uniquely suited to her material. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: Like Brad Paisley’s “Perfect Storm,” it’s a list, but Presley at least doesn’t rely on binaries. Alas, she does rely on electric piano and dobro that would make Jay Farrar bleed a cow. I can count four other songs from American Middle Class that the label could have released.
[6]

Brad Shoup: She sings a song of similes, but it’s fun enough to figure out which ones are undercutting things. The band pumps and plucks away like some dreadful Southern-Gothic Jon Brion assemblage; when they level out for the bridge, Presley allows herself a real flight.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This is what “plainspoken” means to me. The Pistol Annies’ secret weapon nails a simple song about an awesome woman. The production is warm, the singing is lovingly recorded, and the song is everything. 
[7]

Danilo Bortoli: “Ain’t No Man” starts off temperate and self-restrained, and it doesn’t go much further than that after its first seconds. But moderation and self-assurance are not a problem for Angaleena, as long as the tension relies mostly in the song’s lyrical themes, which is where the song’s power is: its modest structure and feeling grapples with Angaleena fight for independence, finally getting her point across.
[7]

W.B. Swygart: It is basically a list of things, but the things are pretty well worded, Presley’s subtly tough voice has a lovely curl on it, and the whole affair’s just got this really charming kind of strut to it. A trifle, but it’s got plenty of flavour.
[7]

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Toby Keith – Drunk Americans

Sequel to “I Love This Bar,” “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” “Red Solo Cup,” “Drinks After Work,” and others we forgot to mention…


[Video][Website]
[4.33]

Thomas Inskeep: His best single in at least sixyears, and possibly a full decade, this is a song that’s not actually about drinking, cleverly masquerading as a drinking song. Give plenty of the credit to co-writers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who know a thing or two about writing clever songs, but give credit as well to Keith, who sells this shit better than just about anyone else. “Drunk Americans” is what Garth’s “People Loving People” wanted to be and failed so abjectly at, where “Americans” succeeds on every level. Not only are its lyrics awesome, but musically this faintly drunken waltz (with accordion!) takes you ’round the dancefloor and takes you home at night’s end. 
[9]

Iain Mew: I drink alcohol sometimes and don’t have anything strongly against it. But I’ve been the guy who has been bought shots after specifically saying that I did not want them (what’s the matter with you, everyone else is), and I have plenty of familiarity with the idea of alcohol as an essential part of national identity and find it infuriating. It’s so unthinkingly exclusionary. This song is very well put together, especially musically in its gentle sway, but the choice of uniting force makes me extra reluctant to fall for its fairytales. Also I’m no American but I was under the impression that even saying the name of the Washington football team could be an issue when claiming a conciliatory centre.
[4]

Alfred Soto: In his blowsy way this scion has been the best small-d democrat in country. Ecumenical by nature, Keith strikes me as the host who prefers you’ve got a drink to drinking one himself. Since the pop crossover of “Red Solo Cup” his commercial slide mirrors his aesthetic decline, but his albums still sport a tune or two worth rediscovering. This isn’t one of them, despite its hammered “Hey Jude” chorus and choir. But recent CMA winners Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally deserve more dough, and it matters here: Keith, one of the few country artists who writes and self-produces, doesn’t often share credits. Take it as a hint to explore the catalog.
[6]

Anthony Easton: After that disastrous performance in Indiana this summer, the one that went viral, the thin line between persona and actual drinking problem seems to have settled to the left of ripping himself off. I liked this better when it was honest about whoring (the track with Jimmy Buffett), or when it had a sense of humour about the work (“Red Solo Cup”), or when it was new (“I Love This Bar”) — more than a decade ago.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Plodding, tiresome, and obsessed with unifying everyone in the world with something as tedious as ‘drankin’.’ I’d prefer humanity being united under something a little nicer.
[1]

Abby Waysdorf: In attempting to describe Dutch “party music” to myself, I’ve decided that it’s the Dutch equivalent of country. Or at least modern country. Sure, they don’t sound alike, as far as instrumentation or style goes, but it’s generally the same idea of music. A small town/rural idea of “for the people,” simple choruses that are good to sing along with, not particularly concerned with branching out worldwide. (Although certainly, American country does export, which kind of makes my metaphor break down.) “Drunk Americans” proves the point- in its sense of humor and its maudlinity, its celebration of drinking and its chorus designed to be sung while doing so, it could easily be Lawineboys. I’m not sure if that makes me like either more or less.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: If you are going to head down the cynical oh-I-am-for-everyone-now road, at least do better than chicken-fried “Piano Man.” 
[1]

Megan Harrington: You can tell Toby Keith didn’t write “Drunk Americans” because it’s incredibly tolerant. And you can tell it’s a Toby Keith song because the emphasis is strongly on drunk. Keith’s at his best when he’s keeping things simple and pleasantly intoxicated. 
[6]

Brad Shoup: So every single person ever walks into a bar. They put a dollar in the jukebox and out comes a ragged, hellish waltz, to which every single person ever starts howling in your ear. Also, I probably should have mentioned earlier that one of these people is Toby Keith and he’s half-asleep. Anyway, the punchline is that this’ll be an Applebee’s commercial by 2017.
[4]