Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Wisin + Carlos Vives ft. Daddy Yankee – Nota de Amor

And now, a song for all of us who are wearing yellow underwear.


[Video][Website]
[6.00]
Juana Giaimo: I recently saw on the news that an aggrupation in Colombia made a campaign against the extremely violent lyrics against women in reggaeton. Given that Daddy Yankee and Wisin are two of the most relevant and iconic figures of the scene, “Nota de Amor” kind of seems a defense from these criticisms. The lyrics are exactly the opposite of the themes that reggaeton often covers. The most sexual images are “I bet you don’t dare to do with me all the things that you say you shouldn’t do” (in which actually sex is just implicit and makes the woman look like a saint) and Wisin mentioning that the underwear of his beloved is yellow. But the rest of the lyrics could fit any melodramatic love ballad of the type so famous and stereotypical of Latin American culture. But they truly show that they aren’t experts in honest love songs; if they were, they would have noticed how pathetic a line like “cook the paella/open the bottle” sounds. And as a woman, I can only answer to him: Why don’t you do it yourself?
[4]

Iain Mew: It has chords and a framework that I was fed up with a decade ago, but Wisin and Daddy Yankee bring such energy to it that it just about works. One top decision is stuffing in the namechecks for whoever’s coming next into vanishingly small bits of space, giving a fun tag team carousel effect.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Wisin can rapid-fire spit lyrics, or sing them, with the same ease. Carlos Vives is a superb singer whose voice is full of joy. And, well, you should certainly know by now that Daddy Yankee essentially started this reggaeton game (or at least popularized it on a wide scale), and is a damned fine rapper. “Nota de Amor” gives them each something (or in Wisin’s case, things) to do in service of a great song that they wrote jointly. Vives, in particular, sounds like he’s having so much fun here, singing a chorus so drenched in emotion: “I live in the moon for you, I fly without wings for you/there is no one who can take this note [of love] away from me.” Who doesn’t want someone who sings that, in his/her life? One of my favorite singles of 2015. [In the interest of full disclosure, it’s what my boyfriend and I refer to as “our song,” so I’m admittedly a little biased.]
[9]

Jonathan Bogart: Loverman cliches mean a lot less when they’re delivered in what a hectoring tone; if you can’t rap without bellowing, maybe don’t rap a ballad? I was all set to be charmed by the cumbia scratch until the reggaeton came in and drowned it out.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The sort of unabashed romanticism I imagine people hear in “Trap Queen”; the sort of chords that are just unabashed.
[6]

Will Adams: By the song’s end, when it’s just honking like hot wind, it’s very easy to forget where it started: light percussion and reflective piano octaves. “Nota de Amor” doesn’t really reconcile its desire to be a soft ballad and an upbeat anthem simultaneously.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: There’s a particularly subtle employment of Pachelbel’s Canon Or Something That Sounds Like It in here, and it’s apt of a song too serene to say or do anything new. A reminder that unrequited love isn’t all pain, all of the time.
[7]

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Louane – Avenir

The recent French #1 single, not the typeface…


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Iain Mew: Louane reached success through the long route of The Voice and a film where she played a character entering a singing contest. That makes it more of a pleasant surprise that “Avenir” flows so effortlessly, barely leaving a mark in its wake.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: I really appreciate the way the beat is mixed up throughout various parts of the song — drum hits and clicks or claps chasing each other around the rhythm track. And Louane’s vocal is fine. But that piano just has a numbing effect; its one good trick is the slow-down at the end.
[6]

Alfred Soto: At first it comes off like a ye-ye cover of “Crazy in Love,” and the vocal’s soporific poise a good decision, but it drags.
[4]

Will Adams: I rail against that whole sub-genre of quasi-country deep house, but I must say I prefer that rendering of “Avenir” in its radio remix. There, the bumped-up tempo tempers the original’s natural sluggishness, and its leaden piano line gets somewhat buried.
[3]

Jessica Doyle: It didn’t work for me on first listen: too petulant to be triumphant. The radio edit speeds things up, turning her “J’espère que tu vas souffrir” into more of a playground chant: the content, her inability to strike back properly at the lover who not only abandoned but negated her, becomes less important than the energy of the chanting, and then she’s propelled properly forward.
[6]

Danilo Bortoli: This song comes at a an interesting time for me. I’m currently struggling with French, a language that is ultimately tricky for the non-initiated but also inherently beautiful. “Avenir”, at least for me, benefits a bit from this rare, seductive kind of unknownness that comes from the unexpected and unexplored. It comes off as a revenge song, a goodbye anthem, but its greatness is not located in anger. Its angelic mood and pudency, set by Louane’s singing, are the two things that make “Avenir” sound a lot like a victory lap for Louane. Not a complete one, though: there is a lot of pain to be heard in those spontaneous whoas and rather sharp verses. There’s a sense of relief, too, though, the relief you get out of learning that the unexpected is at least a bit more reassuring than it was before. The relief that can be felt when you’re sure tomorrow is going to come no matter what happens. In Louane’s case, she means it literally.
[9]

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Nicky Jam & Enrique Iglesias – El Perdón

Can 10 million YouTube fans be wrong?


[Video][Website]
[4.67]

Thomas Inskeep: The simplest way I can think to sum this is up is that it’s essentially a reggaeton ballad. And a damned good one, wherein two guys sing alternating verses about how much they’re missing their beloved. Presumably a lady, but Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias singing against each other gives the effect of two men singing to each other, which I by all means approve of. (Also, Nicky Jam: kinda fine.) “El Perdón” is simple and effective, and sung really really well. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: A pleasantly meek bit of reggaeton — which is an odd proposition indeed.
[4]

Iain Mew: Enrique appears on a lot of singles and has a huge audience, frequently reaching the tens of millions on YouTube with ease. “El Perdón” is too samey and insubstantial to get excited by, but I like it better than most of his pop crossovers. The main reason is how fruitful the contrast between his voice and Nicky Jam’s harsher one is, nudging the song into new territory each time they swap lines.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The reggaeton preset grossed me out, but singing in his native language puts Iglesias’ whine in its most attractive setting. Nicky hangs on. I get the sense both wished they used a better script.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Iglesias is such a ham, and his schtick is not noticeably more interesting over reggaeton. But he does chew the musical scenery enough that Nicky Jam might as well be the guest on his own track.
[5]

Will Adams: Well, at least the inevitable mashup with “Bailando” will sound go– oh, wait, it’ll probably just be okay. Never mind.
[4]

Monday, April 20th, 2015

5572320 – Half a Century Honor Student

We tried putting it in a calculator, but even upside-down it doesn’t spell anything dirty…


[Video][Website]
[6.56]

Iain Mew: Inventive riffing and fun syncopation! The best numbers chorus since Idlewild shouting “99887766”! The sense to get in and out quickly! A fine first impression.
[8]

Josh Love: I don’t know if 5572320 is supposed to be a phone number, but either way these girls own Tommy Tutone’s soft ass. I only wish this song was about two or three minutes longer so it had a chance to revert back to the math-rock batshittery of the opening.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: The mathy sections are fine, albeit less intricate and efficiently executed as those of, say, Tricot. Better are the sudden divergences into indie rock in its gigantic and glacial form, as if they were possessed with a momentary urge to explore a future as a Drive Like Jehu or Joan of Arc cover band. Shouting the band’s name again and again is inspired — as both branding and chorus.
[7]

Brad Shoup: It’s punishing, but not in a showy way — listen to one of the members idly sing along with the first riff — and the vocals match. Half the song goes by with no more than single-word, tossed-off bursts to accompany. Hell, the classically pop portion of the vocal sounds like some classic emo soar. A moody move for sure.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: “Half a Century Honor Student” has a few good tricks up its sleeve, but it doesn’t capitalize on the right ones. The grit could be grittier, the drama bigger, and the chaos more exciting. A good, unfocused effort. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: Google this Japanese group and among adjectives “mysterious” pops up most. No mystery: the enthusiasm and brute force of the Descendents with Kim Deal’s diffidence. 
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: Nobody wants to be an idol anymore. Save for the factory-sized groups who have enough devoted fans willing to buy the same CD eight times for the honor of spending a minute reducing their favorites to zoo animals, the smart move in 2015 is to get the hell away from being tagged a J-pop idol. Groups that essentially fit that role shun the title, while others play up the fact they know the guy from Polysics, or wear shirts screaming “NOT IDOL.” 5572320 are idols, the group being a sub-unit of idol outfit Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku, but all marketing around the group (until they “revealed” themselves at a live event recently) focused on the “mysterious” origins of these junior high school students. And it is probably a smart move for  Ebisu Chugaku’s promotion company, who have had the Momoiro blackface scandal and the 3B Junior coma incident to reckon with in 2015. “Half a Century Honor Student” is…OK? It has a nice drive to it and would fit in nicely at any of the dozens of music festivals looming on the calendar. But it’s just an idol-ized (read: intentionally not as good) copy of bands such as Tricot, Shishamo and Akai Koen, among others…not to mention a bunch of defunct and indie-level bands. The lyrics are the usual cutesy idol material aimed at appealing to middle-aged men, whereas actual teenagers could just listen to Daoko. They might have grown up, but you can still watch videos of SCANDAL when they wore schoolgirl uniforms. Nobody wants to be an idol, but “Half a Century Honor Student” is all the worst aspects of idol culture pretending to be something else, wrapped up in a song not nearly good enough to save it.
[3]

Madeleine Lee: Marketing tactic or not, this is the kind of song that I always wanted to be in a band for — propulsive drums, cooly syncopated vocals, guitars forming patterns when laid on top of each other — which means there’s something in the song and performance that is able to provoke reactions besides the desired “OMG middle school girls playing guitars”. The group’s full commitment to the concept certainly helps.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: At the rate this is becoming something I can pay attention to, I’m just waiting for Japan to provide me with an all-girl melodic version of Dazzling Killmen so I can leave behind the days of scouring noisecore blogs for 5th rate bands that listened to too much Botch and be like “I’m sorry, I’ve moved on to a better place.” Judging from this record? That’s actually REALLY PROBABLE, even if 5572320 might not even be the ones who’ll provide it!
[7]

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Major Lazer & DJ Snake ft. MØ – Lean On

They turn down; what now?


[Video][Website]
[5.18]

Iain Mew: This is all about MØ’s personality and her way of giving every line both force and a lingering question mark. Even the ecstatic conclusion is a synthetic parody of her delivery. It would fit right on her album, which is fine by me.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: MØ’s confident and raw vocals are complemented very well with the precise and minimalistic electronics. As result you get a rather sinister atmosphere, which wouldn’t fit at all with such cheesy lyrics — if it weren’t for the rather enigmatic “fire a gun” of the chorus. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: “All I need is a body to lean on” I can get with. “Focus/I can fire a gun” — huh? The stutters and chirps are what Britney would have rejected in 2011 for Femme Fatale.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: DJ Snake’s trademark whir is here resituated as rave exotica, and MØ gropes around it like she’s searching for something she can’t even remember that she can no longer remember even losing.”Do you remember?” is the opening, and she sings as if peering through a veil, trying to make out a past now unrecoverable. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: For a Diplo and DJ Snake project this is improbably sinuous, even sexy, the sort of mood the dusk hour of music festivals always promises and seldom delivers this well.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Well, this is pretty sedate by the standards of both Major Lazer and DJ Snake, innit? For my ears, that makes it an improvement; it’s a song, not just a bunch of over-the-top noises (which are particularly what I find DJ Snake tracks to be). MØ helps, too, by adding an element of musicality in her vocal. Not a standout, not bad either.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Is Switch even still in Major Lazer? Remember when this group would make what could now be recognized as proto-EDMish warps of dancehall but like, actually feature Jamaicans? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear Popcaan or Alkaline or a Vybz satellite transmission instead of this anyone and everyone? Did DJ Snake really need to be hired just so Diplo can jack his “Turn Down for What” preset? Think I can ask another question to try to avoid dealing with this humdrum affair?
[2]

David Sheffieck: Stays stuck in second gear, a far cry from DJ Snake’s ever-escalating, ever-dropping best work — even if some of the synths he uses here remain the same, like he’s selected a preset and forgotten how to change it. But the breakdown’s not bad, and MØ remains a compellingly emotive vocalist even when she’s not emoting about anything particularly compelling in itself. 
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: Nice enough song, but sorta can’t get over the opening line about walking on the sidewalk. Some metaphors (I think?) just fall spectacularly flat.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Well, this is a rickety bridge. Too busy to enable contemplation, too precious to bang. It’s only when she becomes an alto sax that I find any footing.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: Besides the production on the vocals, the chorus is the main problem with “Lean On.” It’s too bad — it doesn’t sound bad. It just doesn’t sound right. 
[4]

Monday, April 20th, 2015

KSI ft. P Money – Lamborghini

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you…


[Video][Website]
[3.73]

Thomas Inskeep: STOP YELLING AT ME.
[0]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I don’t know, it’s some terrible dude screaming over a generic beat while P Money reminds us he’s been a beast since the Fatal Assassins era. At least for a window.
[4]

Ramzi Awn: It’s hard to sound dated and extraterrestrial at the same time, but KSI almost pulls it off. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: The beat is garbage, which explains the sloganeering.
[4]

Will Adams: For a while, it seems there’s nowhere to turn. KSI’s unpleasant shouting and merely competent rapping pound the listener, while the beat drills about as hard as a Fisher Price toy. But P Money saves us — barely — from oblivion for the song’s midsection. But even he checks out mid-verse upon recognizing the steaming pile surrounding him.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: To go off foaming at the mouth like this requires a deceptive amount of precision, and KSI doesn’t hit with the right force at the right time to sound properly unhinged. P Money is more proficient but also more perfunctory, which makes his spot both a relief and snooze. The forged-signature Lex Luger-synth whine might be intentionally trying to stir memories of “B.M.F.,” and I haven’t worked out yet whether that’s a good thing or not.
[4]

Josh Love: I listened to this song a couple of times but then ended up falling down a rabbit hole of investigating this dude’s primary claim to fame as a “video game commentator,” a phenomenon I was previously only aware of because of that South Park episode about Pewdiepie. The episode seemed to derive much of its indignation from the idea of kids watching someone else play video games instead of playing the games themselves. Admittedly, contemplating that many layers of removal from “reality” is pretty funny, but personally I can’t front on the actual practice too much since I’ve generally found gaming too frustrating and stressful throughout my life to ever make it a genuine hobby and would definitely rather watch my wife play Uncharted or The Last of Us than make a go of it myself. Anyway, I could certainly envision gaming commentary being entertaining and even insightful and I’m sure there are people out there doing it, but from what I sampled of KSI he isn’t one of them. His popularity with the kiddies, like Pewdiepie’s, seems to boil down entirely to forced wackiness and sheer volume, which is hardly inexplicable no matter how gratingly inane it seems to someone who grew up on Mario and Tetris. The best thing I can say about this professional dick as a musical artist is he seems more or less anonymous.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s a fairly active Internet-folk tradition of Let’s Play musical tie-ins, and if you can get past the fact that you’re not just watching someone else playing video games but listening to the decontextualized audio of someone else playing video games, they’re not so awful; but they tend to be more stuff like cod-dubstep intros or electronic “remixes” of the Doppler-effect ramblings of French-Canadian dudes. Again, not so awful, but not something you’d presumably admit to listening to — unless you’re British, in which case you’ve put one of them on the honest-to-God charts. (I’m probably eliding so much context and I don’t care.) The quality of the song will come as no surprise, unless you want to count how rapidly it goes from grimacing-face-emoji to KIND OF A BANGER, then back, depending on whether the track’s under the command of an actual rapper or KSI the Lonely Island Level.
[2]

Iain Mew: One of my favourite things about the UK charts is that the barriers for entry are just low enough for the occasional Yeovil Town FC or “Masterchef Synesthesia” or Alex Day to get in, sometimes even when it isn’t Christmas. The last one there is the most relevant here, since KSI is also a YouTube personality, though he’s even more focused on video games rather than music. Like Alex Day, KSI has opted for a genre where his technical limitations are less of an issue. In his case, that’s a pop-grime track about his Italian whip, referents obvious, where the excess of enthusiasm in his hoarse yell fits rather well, given a banging enough beat and hook. The song is still a particularly aggressive and even cruel take on it, though. It takes P Money’s more measured verse to keep it from outstaying its welcome, and his DRS/PRS rhyme is my favourite in a while.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: KSI, overall, seems pretty dreadful, but is at least interesting. As a runaway British YouTube success he has received attention from old media, but as a cursory search of newspaper websites will reveal, far less than, to pick a name at the opposite of random, Zoella, a woman whose subscriber figures he can far outstrip. Granted, his crass beat-you-round-the-head-with-a schtick is perhaps less suited to Bake Off, but that’s also not to say some places haven’t taken advantage of his online roots as a way of overriding some of his more unsavoury aspects, ones they might not cosign had he a more traditional rise to prominence. It’s all enough to make a young man feel old, but “Lamborghini” itself is little more than an attempt to absorb KSI into that old world of institutions like the top 40, upsetting no applecarts and, truthfully, an emblem of his regressive, middle-class masculinity. As on video, he has a compelling and at times comic fervour, and the video game angle is somewhat novel — even niche, when he invokes blogger beef — with the former being the main reason this is halfway decent. But really, it’s just history’s warnings unheeded.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Clarkson sure landed on his feet, huh?
[2]

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Kelsea Ballerini – Dibs

Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood inspire a new generation.


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Katherine St Asaph: That sly spoken word bit at the end of the chorus is great, like some hypothetical country turn by a certain daughter of Pebe Sebert’s. Ballerini got dibs on a highly proven riff, too, and it’s refreshing to hear a young female country artist who’s not the ingenuously besotten sort.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This is so baby-Carrie-Underwood it’s adorable. Ballerini’s got an appealing twang and a not too sugary song to use it on that’s believable coming from her 21-year-old voice. “Dibs” won’t change the world, but it’s charming.
[6]

Alfred Soto: She speeds up her deliver on the chorus so that her emotions don’t outpace her explanations for them, but the banjo melody flirts with the saccharine. I’m thinking Kellie Pickler could have given “I’m callin’ dibs” some teeth.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Years ago, Steve Albini threw a fit when Andy Wallace got his hands on the mixes of Helmet’s “Unsung’ and decided to double up the already thunderous kicks of John Stainer with a subtle 808 kick for a commercial edge. Something about mixing and authenticity or whatever. The point is, the first thing that pops out when I hear Kelsea Ballerini’s record is the kick on this record. Everything here sounds artificial, those acoustic guitar strums sounding belched out, the ‘Ayyyy’ adlibs on the hook — I gotta hand it to whoever produced this record, for they left nothing to chance. This shit is mixed to turn your car into a roving air-pocket of bass and thud — not a bad thing as the song itself will be reduced to the distortion and thereby made a lot more interesting.
[3]

David Sheffieck: The production evokes Dixie Chicks at their peak, and if Ballerini could maybe bring a bit more attitude to her vocal it’s only because the lyric packs so much on its own. Full of command and cheek, “Dibs” is driven both by lines as good as “If you’ve got a kiss on your lips that you’re looking for somebody to take” and by the self-confidence it takes to brag about your newest trophy.
[8]

Brad Shoup: Her best voice is her speaking voice. But while everyone’s going to retread the stuttering DJ Mustard Potato Salad beat, no one will give her the chance to go song-length with some spoken word.
[3]

Moses Kim: Besides the fact that I misspelled her name “Chelsea Balleringi” when Googling her, Kelsea Ballerini’s most distinctive feature as a musician is her ability to wrap her tongue around surprisingly twisty rhythms, a skill that serves her well in the chorus. One has to think of an owl-eyed fourteen-year-old meticulously doodling her crush’s name, the seriousness of the endeavor enhancing the silliness of it all. Though she strikes me as a bit nondescript otherwise, “Dibs” is a nice bite-sized chunk of country-pop that wins over its generic reference points with sing-along charm.
[6]

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Carly Rae Jepsen – All That

Not as beloved as “I Really Like You,” almost as many blurbs.


[Video][Website]
[6.87]

Madeleine Lee: Probably the best articulation of the “CRJ makes teenpop for adults” maxim is how much this sounds like an idealized high school slow dance song: soft-focus and already loaded with nostalgia and poignancy and significance, but under the surface, raw and tender.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: “All That” is the ultimate ’80s slow-dance jam, with a soupçon of Prince (especially in those “Beautiful Ones” Linn drums) and a dash of “Crazy for You” (Madonna’s, not Heart’s). It’s swoony and swooning, what it feels like for a girl to be drunk in love. This could easily score a Molly Ringwald finally-gets-the-boy scene circa ’86 – and do a better job than the songs that did score said scene(s).
[10]

Will Adams: I wanna play this for you all the time. This song is a pre-recorded message — a script, or a fantasy — for our heroine who, after blithely declaring how much she really likes you and just met you but here’s her number anyway, is buckling under anxiety. The anxiety of uncertainty, the terrifying possibility that they won’t notice or care — note how the central plea is: “show me if you want me.” So there is Carly Rae Jepsen, now introverted instead of assured, music dusky instead of bright, vocals foggy instead of clear, crafting her perfect message for the perfect moment that may not ever come. Each repeated line amplifies the plea to a matter of life. Just let me in your arms, show me if you care. And in return, the achingly human desire will be filled for both: I will be your friend. The atonal drone and cavernous reverb tail at the end supply the question mark. There’s no maybe here; just an if.
[9]

Alfred Soto: I run hot and cold on Dev Hynes but I liked his work on a Heems track last month. After two listens, though, this track sounds limp, and my problem is Carly Rae, who can’t sell that uninspired chorus.”All That” sounds like CRJ singing through a paper bag and even the paper bag is bored.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: I was in Macy’s the other day, trying to beswathe my miserable form in something other than peplums or frump dresses or petites-floor grannygarb or fluttery crocheted Coachella-branded flibbertigibbet BULLSHIT; I think I ended up buying shoes and ragequitting. You may have surmised from my tone that I don’t do all that much shopping, so I’m continually surprised by how often I recognize the music playing (or, more likely, how much of my taste intersects exactly with the Macy’s in-store playlist, but moving right along). What they were playing was Solange’s “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work,” off 2012’s luminous Dev Hynes collaboration True — or rather about 1/64 of it, the single line “so maybe then we’re better off” repeated ad bowdlerized infinitum, the perfect sort of silky-smoove yet confusing and unsatisfying nonsense to soundtrack not buying the clothes you wanted. This is relevant to Carly Rae Jepsen because A) some assclown at SF Weekly thinks this is how CarJeps fans’ brains work, B) because “All That” is Jepsen’s much-heralded collaboration with Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid, and C) because, as is Hynes’ wont, it’s recycled material. Specifically, Hynes has recycled True‘s “Bad Girls,” one of the few songs that can reliably destroy me — they couldn’t play that one at Macy’s, everyone’d be bawling over the Kensie rack. By comparison, “All That” is touching in a limpid way, too much one-note sweetness. The synth hook to “Bad Girls” makes me want to sway my head back onto the wrong chest; the hook to “All That” makes me wait for a choir conductor to go a half-step up and start the next major-scale vocalise in his warmup. Jepsen’s teaming with Hynes and Rechtshaid was undeniably smart — and working per plan — but if she’s to sail that small-pop passage, her tween fanbase is an albatross. You can watch it sink the songwriting; “I’ll be the magic you won’t ever see / you can always rely on me, help you do what you want to” can only end one way, and it ain’t “do,” and “I will be your friend” doesn’t bring to mind romance so much as my elementary-school teacher constantly reminding the class that “there are no boyfriends and girlfriends in second grade!” The gentle lilt does have its appeal, at least to the tween in me hoping to get a dance to “Truly Madly Deeply,” and Jepsen is winsome enough to elevate even this over-slow material, but I prefer her less gawky. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to reapply my strawberry lip gloss and go back to the mall.
[6]

Luisa Lopez: I keep trying to get to the root of my dislike. It’s not the slowness; in the right hands, and Carly Rae’s are as right as upturned rain, this could be a mammoth of pretty melancholia and that’s just the easiest option. She does slow beautifully. The borders of an album seem to close in on her like a smoke-filled room and they allow her voice all the glory of a dusted flower, a tight croak that strengthens the space. (2008’s “Heavy Lifting” is a small revelation, a love song about yourself and someone else that tells two stories to starlit completion without ever quickening its pace.) It’s not the ’80s relics; Kiss had synths for heartbeats and the muchness of 1989 with a dirtier subject, a big-haired explosion of longing for a guy who might — probably, never said he didn’t — love someone else even when he’s touching you. Maybe it’s the vagueness, the glossy-eyed air that passes through lines like When you need me I will be your candle in the dark. Letting every note linger, she only highlights how little she has to say. 
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Is Dev Hynes trying to approximate a slow jam for this? Why is he doing this? Can he please stop? Carly Rae tries hard but this is such a treacly mess that doesn’t play to her desirous ebullience.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dev Hynes is a shmuck, and has been since Test Icicles, so the motherfucker really has to kiss Carly Rae’s feet for throwing him a few pennies on the second of his phenomenal ’80s rips (you know the other one). I say this because as an artist he’s failed to deliver time and time again, whereas as a songwriter for talents far above him, he can strike gold. So strange how they are never quite as massaged by your Fader/Vice cockatoos with adoring “Yeah, you did it, get money daddy!” squawks. If this had been Dev alone, it’d be a land of whiny tones, oversold phrases, and inadequate structure. Here’s where Jepsen comes in; she is the completist, the finisher to Hynes sloppy enthusiasm and “artistic” inadequacy. No Jepsen song has ever been riddled with sickle-cell and given the cold stare of expectation by doctors. In fact, the doctor won’t shut up about how Kiss was his best patient, and the whole hospital cheered up whenever it wheeled in, doing goofy faces and the worst sort of knock-knock jokes. They’re making a Disney movie about it, you know! Meanwhile, where Carly Rae’s in right now… this is the territory Hynes will never learn to thrive in. Occupying solemn grace, while also trying to brace you with radiant cheer and beauty. Her wrists are firm as she takes your hands in hers, giving you a bright smile through teardrops. She has the strength to make it through this song, and she projects it into you, because she wants to make sure you’re OK! Friendship is what she remarks upon, but what she gives the audience is care.
[10]

Anthony Easton: This is what I have been missing. Her voice floats around pop diva signifiers (some like Britney, some like Mariah when she’s moving away from the high registers), the synths bubble like swamp gas, and the rest of the production sparkles with a crystalline artifice. Ignore the terrible lyrics, replace them with a grocery list, and it doesn’t matter. Her choice to slide into the production instead of fighting it was smart; it suggests that she is aware of her voice—and confident that it can be just another element. 
[7]

David Sheffieck: It’s telling that Jepsen’s getting certain types of attention for changing her sound up, but it’s also telling just how much she makes a Blood Orange-type production sound like her. The lyrical anxieties and focuses of “All That” are remarkably similar to “I Really Like You,” both as applicable to a relationship between lovers as they are to the one between an artist coming off a single, massive hit and her potential fanbase. And Jepsen has a way with vocal phrasing that’s singularlymher own. “You can always rely on me/ To help you do what you want to do,” she sings, starting on a sigh, moving to a skip, finishing with a backrub. No, this isn’t quite like any song Jepsen’s done before, until you realize it very much is. 
[8]

Brad Shoup: The wrong kind of slavish: the band’s here for what they can evoke, but not what they can bring. Something this lavish, with bass popping on schedule and twinkles as far as you can see, deserves a vocal to match. Jepsen’s chipper delivery isn’t it.
[5]

Moses Kim: If “I Really Like You” is the sugar rush of a day at Six Flags, “All That” is the quiet walk back home, your fingers waltzing around his. Really, are the two that different? Love can be a tightrope, every step fraught with tension when one wrong move can send you tumbling. Think of how in her last single Carly Rae followed up an explosive declaration of really-really-really-liking with all those dashed-off, nervous questions: I want you, do you want me too? That anxiety hasn’t completely subsided here (think of how that syncopated guitar riff recurs, getting swallowed back into the mix every time), but here she resolves it through another declaration, this time one of commitment, layers of emotion packed into a statement as simple as “I will be your friend.” My relationships don’t always unfold that easily; this makes me want to try harder at them.
[8]

Andy Hutchins: It is a crying shame that a no one rapper made over “Call Me Maybe” into “Fuck Me, Baby” three years before Jepsen made a song that would’ve fit the title. Fluttering is her forte, still, and few provide cirrus clouds better to flutter by than Dev Hynes, but the momentum here is toward sheets rather than stars. It’s insulting to suggest that Jepsen needed to “mature,” or make “more mature” music, despite the gloss-pop she’s best known for — but still, this will catch some adult ears in new ways.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This song is infused with a slow sensuality that reminds me of Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” and the best Prince slow jams. Carly Rae positively sparkles; here, she’s elevated even further than her usual critical-darling pop tunes have allowed. A space opera ballad with the possibility for tremendous reach, if the airwaves will only let her in again.
[10]

Ramzi Awn: This is a great song, down to the guitar licks — I always wish it were somebody besides Carly Rae Jepsen singing.
[7]

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth – See You Again

We certainly will — you’re gonna be here a while.


[Video][Website]
[5.80]

Scott Mildenhall: Coming from a position of ignorance to all things fast and indeed furious, this is weirdly, moderately moving. The weirdness is partly down to a lack of personal resonance. There’s a sense of encroaching in listening to it, heightened by the knowledge that Puth is drawing on experience, but without it, it seems to have been grief-legitimising on a grand scale. There’s certainly a lot of fascinating, fanciful speculations about notions of masculinity, friendship and emotional expression in various cultures to be made off the back of it, ones that would be considerably more interesting that its sound.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Young Khalifa provides the great bro requiem Paul Walker deserves. Just er, get this other lame out of here.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Half-assed and spurious.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Paul Walker gets his own “I’ll Be Missin’ You,” and, judging by the box office response last weekend, billions thought he deserved it. The inclusion of a “The Voice” champ is shrewd: he’s the incarnation of those billions for whom Walker is a beloved figure. Aesthetically its merits are few, although “family’s what we got” is a sentiment I’d like to hear said aloud, this loudly.
[4]

Will Adams: Every Hot 100 chart topper reaches that peak through a host of factors. This time, the equation is: The Script Inspirational Track #4 + celebrity homage – sincerity + rapper singing + discount Sam Smith. I do not think I like this equation.
[4]

Elisabeth Sanders: Confused about why I can’t upload a voice memo of my violently sobbing into my fists as my review??
[10]

Moses Kim: Death holds power over narratives, even (especially) when celebrity is concerned. Paul Walker was the face of a franchise too fast and furious to be stopped until the night somebody drove a little too recklessly and there was no stunt double to buffer the crash, only bodies burnt beyond recognition, the separation between fiction and reality shattered for those watching. My Facebook feed didn’t so much blow up that night as it broke open, old middle school friends and online acquaintances bonding over disbelief and heartfelt nostalgia. Flash forward seventeen months, when Furious 7 is opening to the largest numbers in franchise history and its soundtrack’s lead single has quietly climbed to number one on the Billboard charts. The cynic in me wants to shake off “See You Again” as another shrewd business decision built on the grave of a good man: of course, it might be. Yet there’s no denying the power in how songs like this can bring people together, how the weight of Walker’s name is such that it doesn’t have to be said. The music itself fires on all cylinders, finding detail and feeling in the same piano-chorus/rap-verse structure we’ve already heard plenty of. The piano is tastefully understated; the percussion crackles with verve and electricity. The gang vocals, a trick too many songwriters have rendered devoid of meaning in the last few years, carry both pain and catharsis here. Wiz Khalifa’s lyrics sometimes tiptoe into the vague but ultimately reach towards a universal feeling of celebration. Charlie Puth embodies a sort of weary reliability, the unacknowledged strength in continuing to live for the people who have left us. All this for a man who meant the most to us in his absence: I want to believe that, like him, “See You Again” can grow to represent the story of something more.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: I totally get why this is the #1 song in America: this hits the same button in people as Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” and Bone Thugs’ “The Crossroads” as an elegy for not just a specific person, but for anyone you’ve lost too soon. Unfortunately, Khalifa to my ears has always been an average rapper, and Puth has, in trying to write a song that can be an ode to anyone, succeeded in writing something incredibly generic. (He’s also got a falsetto all too similar to Adam Levine’s.) I don’t hate this song, and I might as well get used to it, because it’s just gonna get bigger and bigger over the next several months, but it’s not compelling.
[4]

Brad Shoup: It’s elemental: Puth’s helium leak, that recurring vocal wheeze, and Khalifa’s tasty melodic slush make this something devoutly to be napped to. I’m always thinking about the rest after completing one’s labor, and this captures the feeling — and provides the comfort — wonderfully.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: This is gauzy, forgettable, roll-the-credits fluff, and nothing else needs to be said about the song itself, but Wiz Khalifa’s turning his knack for paeans to fraternity into the sinecure that is “Fast and Furious soundtrack anchor” is worth note. His only top 40 singles (not features) from the last three years are this and the similarly nitrous-boosted “We Own It,” and I’ve still yet to hear either one on terrestrial radio, ever. Toretto Gang, I guess.
[4]

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Twenty One Pilots – Fairly Local

Please enjoy this fairly local, 63% organic, kinda gluten-free, sorta non-GMO, maybe vegan psuedo-song…


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Moses Kim: Imagine Dragons is a lot more fun when you can imagine twenty one!
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Rock radio continues its harvest of unsung genresmash innovations. I mean, what else do you call a track made of fried-wire dubstep, not-awful rapping, symphonic-gothy strings and vocalise, 2011-radio oh-oh-ohs and siren synths, chopped-and-screwed trap percussion, all of which somehow all swagger in sync?
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I have to give it up; this is the healthiest attempt to synergize the monotonous build of wobbling half-time dubstep (bordering more on the sloped-browish Rusko-era than the hypersaturated neon of Skrillex) into the pomp of rock that people such as Enter Shikari and Imagine Dragons have been striving to achieve. It’s a rather tedious plod, with Tyler Joseph sing-rapping about nothing particular, nor doing anything of note as a vocalist. It’s just worth it to point out that this is the best we’ve seen out of people trying to make this a thing and breathe new life into rock through the advancements made in other music. Being a dubstep purist, it’s not going to mean much to me. But in the sense that people are finally trying, just somewhat, to force rock into the 21st century, I suppose I have to give them their just due.
[5]

Megan Harrington: Am I the only one that hears a British accent? That’s certainly one way to shift the focus away from singing in mostly inept, non-committal rap cadences. Twenty One Pilots are from the very, very American Columbus, Ohio but their ambitions are, ahem, global. “Fairly Local” fuses the comfortably pedestrian concerns of pop punk with the subterranean glitch of grime. It doesn’t completely work, in fact — I don’t hope to ever hear this song again — but it’s an improvement on their debut and suggests the group might one day do something catchy.  
[4]

Michelle Myers: At their best, Twenty One Pilots did the scene-rap shtick better than just about anyone else; although, whether or not that is a laudable accomplishment is debatable. I thought Vessel was one of the best albums of 2013: equal parts Jack’s Mannequin, Atmosphere and Postal Service. This sounds more like a Linkin Park cover band on their “Worst Behaviour.” Also, it’s pretty obnoxious to make a song that would easily fit in modern alternative rock radio formats with fake deep lyrics about how you will never get radio play.
[5]

Iain Mew: Complaining about not getting played on the radio will always be a bullshit move, but I’ll forgive them because I love the sound of their gothic, hollowed out crawl. It’s like Awolnation meets Linkin Park but much more limber, and every judder and open space makes their sprinkle of standard rock moves hit harder.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Well, I suppose someone had to give Maroon 5 some goth pretensions.
[2]