Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Folamour – Girl With Attitude

Voulez-vous coucher avec nahhhh…


[Video]
[4.83]

Katherine St Asaph: The year is 2039. Climate change apocalypse is encroaching frighteningly fast, but not as fast as the speed at which Beatport producers have taken every extant piece of music and pop culture, no matter how obscure, and put a banging donk on it.
[5]

John Seroff: Okay, nobody’s gonna buy this as a #wokejam but bear with me here. Let’s backtrack to Folamour’s source material, an obscure 1986 Miami party record by Walterio and Horny Gang Productions with the memorable title of “How Funky Can Your Pussy Get.” The original is a wonky slog that climaxes with surprising panache and force in its final minute, but even so this is nobody’s idea of dance floor fodder. What Folamour’s done is to keep the blue notes, the charismatic vivacity of the toasting, and the casually exact spoken rhythms while speeding up, repeating and accentuating the rap’s most absurd lyrics and simultaneously breathing in a blunted springtime house energy. I hear the result as an arched eyebrow at – rather than a celebration of – dumb machismo that honors the heritage of XXX vinyl without drinking too deep of its more boneheaded indulgences. In a year of pop that came jam-packed with misogynismhorrible lyrics, and worse actions, it’s good to hear that silly, high-BPM dirty ditties can still be fun when they’re done right. 
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The underlying house beat is fine, but the lyrics distract from what it’s trying to do. At least the sample source commits to the crassness. Even then, the editing of the vocals is noticeably ineffective, the fast forwarded-sounding bits and the “aaahhhh shit” loop being more amateurish than fun.
[3]

Will Adams: Takes the DJ Assault approach of heightening sex talk to its silliest level, but forgets the fun in the sonic department. The funky house arrangement is a fine start, but while the sample gets raunchier and raunchier, it wears thin.
[5]

Iain Mew: I’m not a fan of lite-jazz-house or of sex jams that mistake crassness for humour. Yet I still think the thoughtless way Folamour combines them does both sides a disservice.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: In the comment section of the the YouTube video, the vocals are discussed a lot: do they ruin the song or are people just overreacting? Whatever your opinion is, everyone agrees that the sex jokes are different from the rest of “Girl with Attitude”. The production sounds very elegant, with a fast house beat, neat brass lines and kind of aquatic keyboards. I actually enjoy the voice because it adds a different texture to the song: it is coarse and has a defiant attitude. However, I don’t want to listen to “How funky can your pussy get?” again and again.
[6]

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Andrew Bayer ft. Alison May – Immortal Lover

Trance-ending from one lifetime to the next…


[Video][Website]
[7.17]
Will Adams: Trance is either derided or celebrated for its unabashed euphoria, the way its lyrics reach straight for cliché without a hint of cynicism. What’s often left unsaid is how often these songs, despite their accelerated tempos and skyscraping synths, can be devastating. Invariably, the artists who understand this distinction are the ones I gravitate toward, and Andrew Bayer is at the top. “Immortal Lover” has its trance remix, but the downtempo original cuts deeper. The formula is the same, where sharp, clipped beats give way to gauzy thickets of synth, but the differences are crucial. The foundation is a lone pulse, somewhere between an EKG reading and a ticking clock, while the climax sounds like the crushing wave of mortality. By the end, all that’s left are Alison May’s vocals drifting away like vapors, as if still clinging to life before crossing over. It’s that contemplation of the uncertainty of the afterlife — and what’s left when we’re gone — that leaves the same brutal impression as its forbears.
[9]

Iain Mew: It moves with the unhurried languidness of someone with eternity on their side, which isn’t great for its dramatic effect, but it sounds phenomenal. The itchy bass buzzing its irregular denials would be the highlight of most songs, but here it’s just playing support to the synth radar pings from the other side.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The garish synths and Alison May’s chalky tones would have been poignant if she had sung in, say, Swedish or Spanish, and her outro exhalations are well-timed despite the song’s length.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Stunning, drawn-out, exquisitely tense verses, recalling the best of Mezzanine and clearly building to a [10] — then whoosh, wet tissue paper of a chorus, which I guess is supposed to be “ethereal” but smothers every bit of drama dead. “Ah, but there’s probably kind of explosive trance remix,” you might think. No, there’s just this, the right idea executed wrong. The verses are cut short and made conventional (1:10 might work, several minutes after the original intro), the damp nothing chorus is still there, multiple times, and the payoff is just another thwonking drop and mediocre rave synths, reaching the heights of a low ceiling. What a colossal disappointment — but hey, we’ve got 22 years left of the world. Surely some independent remixer who knows how the fuck a climax works will excavate the masterpiece.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Not completely on board with how the vocals are mixed during the chorus, but this is otherwise a perfectly fine bit of electronic pop that puts a bit too much stock in its overarching ambience. All the delay, reverb, dreamy vocalizing, and percussive elements would be easier to stomach if they weren’t all in service of a corny lyrical premise.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Direct song comparisons are always on some level reductive, but when something new that you love triggers a strong visceral link to things you already love, they’re also powerfully appealing. Conceptually, emotionally, and sonically, “Immortal Lover” feels to me like it lives in the space somewhere between Phantom/Ghost’s “Perfect Lovers” (which always makes me think of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” piece, so that’s part of the association for me) and Massive Attack’s “The Spoils” (and again more specifically, the song in addition to its video). If you’re already me, that combination spells out more precisely and powerfully than I could hope to in words why and how “Immortal Lover” hits me so strongly; hopefully it translates outside of my head too, at least a little.
[9]

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Noisestorm – Crab Rave

But what happens when the crabs rave too hard…


[Video]
[7.15]

Kat Stevens: In 1953, Roland Barthes argued that the artist cannot escape the conventions of language or style, rendering both hollow, a shell devoid of creative meaning. True art lies in the form – the choices of the artist (or indeed the critic) – how they manipulate the common building blocks to create something novel. But once exposed, the new form itself risks becoming normalised, falling victim to the stale conventions of its predecessors. Can true creativity ever exist within popular art? A step sideways into post-structuralism reveals that analysis of the work is also meaningless without reference to an external semiotic frame. Jacques Derrida declared that our traditional systems of bourgeois cultural criticism are a fallacy, and that a work can only be examined relative to the universe surrounding it. It’s clear therefore that actually listening to “Crab Rave” would harm both my enjoyment of its concept and destroy any inkling of creativity contained within. I will instead judge it on the amount of pleasure it has given me over the last few months to see Crystal tweeting “IN THE CLUB. CRAB RAVE STILL SLAPS
[10]

Crystal Leww: “Crab Rave” rose from an April Fools joke and found its way into the dark corners of weird political meme Facebook. It’s actually…good? That shouldn’t be surprising, really, as the label that it was released on was also responsible for The Only Good Marshmello song “Alone,” which also leaned into a gimmick but cared a lot about quality as well. “Crab Rave” is light and euphoric, soars and bounces. “Crab Rave” is probably an unintentional nod to The Prodigy’s 1996 album The Fat of the Land album cover, but dance music is an ever-evolving landscape, and yes I am extremely going to enjoy a world where the lineage of an album that contains “Smack My Bitch Up” is something as dumb and fun as this. 
[8]

Will Rivitz: OK, so it’s a meme, and it’s not always a particularly good meme, but that’s less the fault of the song and more that of Monstercat’s generally puerile fanbase, so let’s analyze the song on its own merits instead of those assigned to it by people who aren’t Noisestorm: It bangs. This is by-the-numbers electro house done exceedingly well, its bassline plunging and soaring beneath marimbas syncopated so precisely it’s impossible to stay still. Its between-drop sections are fairly blah, sure, but this style of EDM lives for the drop, and in that regard “Crab Rave” throws down a whopper.
[8]

Taylor Alatorre: No other song in 2018 was so wholly transformed by its surrounding context, a context which may seem bewildering and even repugnant to outsiders but which constitutes a blaring beacon of defiance to those of like mind and repute. To put it another way: “Crab Rave” was more successful than any major news outlet in providing a balanced appraisal of the life and legacy of John McCain. Bow before its power.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Our long national nightmare of piety and credulousness ended when George H.W. Bush died last week instead of Inauguration Day 2017, thus giving the Beltway press an excuse to praise Donald Trump’s restraint. The orgy over John McCain’s death three months ago was even more grisly: a pompous, unlettered bully who deserves no decent house tracks turned into memes. “Crab Rave” is a throwback in every sense. What will we get when Dan Quayle dies?
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: A not-infrequent occurrence: I’ll be listening to some throwaway meme dance remix (no links, I’m clutching at my last scraps of dignity; find your own), and then it’ll hit me: Shit, that’s kind of a poignant theme. Shit, this beat sounds plausible. Shit, this is better than some of the actual charts. Shit, the second YouTube result for this song proclaims “Obama is gone!” and what the fuck am I buying into? Shit, there are like 1,000 others. Shit, I just ripped the YouTube audio.
[6]

Iain Mew: From reputation, I expected something ridiculous and/or abrasive, and when it turned out to just be a half-full Yasutaka Nakata track, I was mystified. This is because I listened without watching the video. Tip: do not listen without watching the video.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hearing this with the accompanying music video is a delight. But what’s even better is hearing the song by itself after watching said video. Blasting this in my car, I still giggle to myself as images of those dancing crabs (and their return back home at twilight!) fill my mind.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Is this one of those novelty tunes that has an accompanying dance? 
[7]

John Seroff: The video CGI is really bad, the song sounds like it came with the keyboard, and I suppose that all speaks to the appeal of Crab Rave as the 2018 shitpost anthem. I can’t really get with this, even with its built-in ironic distance. Here I thought I spoke fluent meme, but I guess I’m gonna have to play the role of cranky uncle and acknowledge I’m too old for this shit.
[2]

Alex Clifton: I love novelty music, I love crabs, I love raves, I love wordless trancey songs that are good for dancing, I love dumb music videos, I love memes, I love catchy things, I love stuff that reminds me of “Sandstorm,” and I love all these things a thousand percent unironically.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Now, more than ever, it is time for crab.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: I think I’m terrified of crabs now?
[7]

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Aqours – Water Blue New World

Next up, a bunch of anime songs in one! (At least a couple of you felt that exclamation mark.)


[Video]
[5.67]

Taylor Alatorre: The first season of Love Live! Sunshine!! might as well be titled Love Live! The Agony of Influence!!. The show goes to such great lengths to stress how indebted the girls of Aqours are to their predecessors in µ’s that at times it resembles a big-budget fanfic. Eventually the group realizes the need to compartmentalize their hero worship and forge a path of their own, setting the stage for a less referential second season (which is still on my to-watch list). If “Water Blue New World” is any indication, the weight of history isn’t something that goes away with a few motivational speeches. The drama, the missteps, the lessons learned and the hard-won successes all find expression here, with key changes that underline the escalating stakes that these girls from a rural seaside town have chosen to take on. As a series wrap-up it serves its purpose, but as a song it feels a bit didactic, like a coronation single from an early season of American Idol. Maybe the writers overcorrected for the slightness of the winning µ’s song, which was anticlimactic enough that they had to re-enact an established classic as an encore. Still, it’s hard to write an actual dud using the patented Love Live! formula. The vocal performances here, neatly grouped by grade level and sub-unit as a way of grounding individual showmanship in the bonds of kinship, are worthy of that sea of glow sticks.
[6]

Katie Gill: A lot of rhythm game songs suffer from the same problem: how do you make a song that’s supposed to be 2ish minutes into a full single? “Water Blue New World” easily conquers that problem. Admittedly, it conquers it by doing more of the same, but it does that so well, building up and changing things around, highlighting different parts of the vocal line so that it sounds different even though it’s more of the same. And that explosion of sound, right at the final “water blue new world”? It’s a perfect climax, one that the song spends so much time building up to.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Not watery enough, I’m afraid. Too sparkly and deformed and at least three minutes too long.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A multi-suite song wherein every additional minute makes me 1) celebrate any further musical development whilst 2) bemoaning its increasingly tiring nature. The final climax doesn’t feel like the cumulative result of everything that preceded it, so the payoff isn’t terribly satisfying.
[4]

Iain Mew: I think the ever-escalating hour-plus credit sequence that was Momoiro Clover Z’s 5th Dimension has spoiled me for this kind of thing forever. Faced with vocal commitment ranging from impressive to terrifying, multiple super deluxe guitar solos, and approximately a billion key changes, I find myself asking, is that all you’ve got? Where’s the dubstep opera?
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s definitely just because I’m listening to this with Christmas less than two weeks away, but “Water Blue New World” is like a musical Advent calendar: now here’s a “Sortcelière” guitar chug, now here’s a blatant bite of the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman,” now here’s a held curtain-call note, now here’s one guitar solo, one key change, then another and another and another. After the first week it starts repeating candies, but who complains about repeated candy?
[7]

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Valee ft. Jeremih – Womp Womp

Continuing Amnesty Week with a song that is, at the very least, significantly better than the other ‘womp womp’-related news of 2018…


[Video]
[6.29]

Julian Axelrod: I saw Valee open for Young Thug in November 2017. (This was before he really blew up; for context, he went on before avant-garde rapper Leikeli47.) He ambled onstage with a book bag and shrugged his way through some standard-issue bangers. Then he reached into that book bag and pulled out a dog. Furrari looked alarmed, as a five-pound Yorkie surrounded by giant loudspeakers would be. But Valee just kept rapping, flexing his tiny dog like a brand new Patek. That’s Valee in a nutshell: the weird, gentle soul at the center of an icy trap wasteland. “Womp Womp” finds him at his most charismatic and confounding, reeling off warped one-liners over a beat that sounds like bubbling sewer water. It’s a testament to the rapper’s influence that Jeremih hews as close to Valee’s intonation as possible, the two voices melting into one sleek steel alloy. But Valee inhabits a world of his own: He does acid and chips a tooth. He tries Chinese food for the first time. He’s Snoopy in a room of droning adults, the world’s coolest mutt taking freakish flights of fancy to a place we couldn’t begin to understand.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “Womp Womp” is Valee at his most straightforward and commercial in 2018, especially when compared to the extremity of flows diving off a cliff on his Good Job You Found Me EP or other places. Tyler, The Creator and 6ix9ine have made a point to crip the run-on sentence phraseology and affectations, but only Jeremih has managed to get on a song with Valee to do it in complementary fashion. The strengths of “Womp Womp” are producer Cássio’s low-tech slink and Jeremih’s ponderous murmurs, providing a nice complement to Valee’s more dry rattle.
[8]

Iain Mew: The mirroring vocal and instrumental melodies are nursery rhyme bright, put through a tight monochrome filter. It could be a striking effect to build on, but they get the minimum out of it, just content to roll out a series of average one-liners. 
[5]

Juana Giaimo: I doubted if I should mention the misogynist lyrics because it seems I do it almost every time I write about a rap song by a male artist, but it is 2018 and I’m fed up. I find disgusting every time Valee and Jeremih say they “beat pussy,” a rather violent line for my taste. In “Womp Womp” women are just objects they can fuck and buy things for, as a way of buying them and control their sexual life (“I spent seven hunnid’, fucked that overseas stunner/ If she a slut, I’ll find out, I’ll meet that bitch mañana”). They continue to degrade women by calling them “lazy” when having sex or saying they are dry as a cactus — cacti are full of water inside. Many said the lyrics of this song are nonsense, but they are not innocent: behind the nonsense, I can hear the misogyny and I don’t want to accept it, as it if it was naturally part of rap music, because I believe it can be much more than this.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Womp Womp” runs out of steam halfway through Valee’s verse, so I’m always left wishing for a condensed version of the song whenever I hear it. Even then, it’s impossible to deny Valee and Jeremih’s flow and how playfully it interacts with producer Cássio’s rumbling low-end and rubbery synths. I like it more when it’s lingering in my mind than blasting through my speakers.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Womp Womp” is definitely a step up for Valee, proving his slippery monotone flow is not just a hot style but also a pop-viable form. The record also benefits the featured Jeremih, who has been running with a percussive, neatly punctuated cadence of a similar vein since Late Nights. After laying down the onomatopoeic hook, he runs with that syllable-stretching flow so smoothly as he effortlessly slants and bends his end rhymes to fit the rhythm.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Womp Womp” moves through you with speed and precision– it’s new-wave boast rap (formalist-leaning compared to the 2018 curve) stripped down to its parts, with each bass note by producer Cássio feeling like a load-bearing beam. As for the two vocalists, the formulaic approach that said beat affords works to their benefit. Jeremih plays it straight, lounging around in the schoolyard taunt pose, while Valee gets to blow up his own sing-song formula, filling his verses with tricky turns of phrase that leave him the better of the pair. The only thing that “Womp Womp” needs to improve is to switch the ratio of the two– it’s 60:40 J:V now, but an arrangement that gives more space for the new guy would liven up the place.
[7]

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Maggie Rogers – Fallingwater

And also fallingscore


[Video]
[5.33]

William John: Self-preservation amidst noise and rapid change is not easy, and Maggie Rogers can feel forces beyond her control encroaching into the “clear” that she was once able to call her own. This is an experience familiar to many, manifesting in all facets of life — work, relationships, our impending, fossil-fuel-driven doom — to varying degrees. Often it’s only once that “clear” is punctured by the torrent of externalities that we are given the licence to express our grievances, vulnerabilities, and true desires. We started the year with Oprah telling us to remain hopeful of a brighter morning, and I’ve returned over and over to “Fallingwater” this year because its confluence of these ideas, and Rostam Batmanglij’s comforting piano chords, and that guitar that strums with portent at the end of first chorus, and the way it collapses and then rebuilds itself into something even more impossibly beautiful, and Rogers’ voice, splendidly expressive and creatively employed, has allowed me, in a way perhaps no other song has this year, to believe that might actually be possible.
[10]

Vikram Joseph: None of Maggie Rogers’ singles since “Dog Years” have captivated me in the same way. The lush, serene piano chords and gospel-tinged coda on “Fallingwater” are nice enough, but it’s too tasteful and restrained to make me feel much of anything, and there’s also a really leaden synth-drum hit. It’s like we were promised Joni Mitchell but got Dido instead.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Florence Welch impression on the vocals; lugubrious piano arrangement; light gospel diffusion; the kind of mildly thwacking beat that seems promising until it goes nowhere forever: Maggie Rogers is fully absorbed by The New Boring. When early reviews compared her to Peter Gabriel, I had hoped that’d mean she’d make an “Intruder.”
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Everything “Fallingwater” has going for it gets derailed by its final 100 seconds. This extended coda features some ugly drums and unnecessarily aims for inward-looking poignance, sapping all energy the song once had.
[4]

Iain Mew: The tiny, tinny beats dominate “Fallingwater.” It’s like Rogers and the piano are trapped in a box way too small for them, and when the coda finally lets the air in it blows the song right out.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I’m a sucker for any song that has a second gear, but the transition in “Fallingwater” is especially sublime. It’s not the traditional model for this sort of thing– neither a sudden rush of energy nor an acoustic collapse. Rogers instead lets all the different parts of the stately midtempo R&B number she had built mix together, dropping all pretenses of restraint so things can flow. It’s a bold move, and Rogers pulls it off without flinching.
[9]

Juana Giaimo: The first lines of the song are so pure, strong, and sharp that it’s impossible not to pay attention to Rogers’ voice. But part of that energy is lost when the backing vocals enter and when in the last part she adds playful vocal loops.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: The blurry formlessness of the strings and the dull thump of the percussion form a perfect cushion for Roger’s stupendous voice — the problem is that it’s a kind of stupendous voice that we’ve all heard before, and so past the luxurious sonic surface there’s not a lot of meat to chew on. Her hydrological imagery is functional but has no clear end goal; her heartbreak is devastating yet vague.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Give Maggie Rogers credit for embracing the gospel crescendo in the second half of “Fallingwater” that the first half hinted at, but the sincerity only goes so far toward palliating the so-so technique.
[5]

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

The Goon Sax – We Can’t Win

And we won’t win, don’t you know it’s we who run the… aw forget it…


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Alfred Soto: This Brisbane act has a strummy offhand approach to melody that recalls Louis Forster’s dad’s former band The Go-Betweens, and he does well to cede half of the vocal to drummer Riley Jones, who sets him straight on a couple things.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Awkward, shambolic charm isn’t a novel concept in indie-rock, but The Goon Sax have rebranded it for the 21st century in a way that feels achingly genuine. I lived in Brisbane from 2015 to 2017; the band’s hometown launch show for their debut album was endearingly unpolished, taking place months after Up To Anything was released, in a bar next to the railway station which looked like it had quite possibly never hosted a gig before. Barely 18 years old apiece, they’d released an album of songs which were slight and laconic but deceptively sharp, full of both throwaway wit and intense self-examination, heartbroken but brave; it felt like their talent needed to be protected at all costs, like they might blow away in a stiff breeze. From the follow up We’re Not Talking, “We Can’t Win” is a gentle outlier, but it epitomises their vulnerability; it’s brittle-boned and hollowed-out, the edifice of self-deprecating humour and low-stakes Australiana (banana bread, 7/11, Shane Warne, etc.) stripped away to leave nothing but sadness and self-doubt. A rattling Casiotone For The Painfully Alone beat sets the scene; “I was told to distance myself from a situation when it makes me nervous,” is a line delivered with devastating naivete by, in separate verses, Louis Forster and Riley Jones. They seem to have learned a lot from their compatriots Dick Diver, masters of expressing wry, poignantly specific yearning with an Australian accent. When their two voices overlap in the coda, they sound at once so entwined and so apart, capturing an unbridgeable gap between two people who won’t ever be able to forget one another.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Listening with headphones, I mostly like how the snare feels like someone is chiseling something inside my inner ear. As the song progresses, The Goon Sax do something similar, carving out a space that slowly invites listeners to embrace the quaint pleasantries of their modest vocals and guitar strums. It’s charming.
[5]

Iain Mew: Few songs carry through on their premise as thoroughly as this — a trip through resignation so exhausted it’s an open question whether they’ll make it through without collapse. As it is they rally and build, but only to a series of lines ending in increasingly drawn out sighs, the final one delightfully ripping its way right out of the song structure.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Angst without emotion, writerly detail without a point, an indie pop arrangement without distinguishing musical characteristics.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: As soon as I heard it, my ears immediately perceived the line “How can I feel alright when I’ll hate myself for it?” What an awful feeling, and it is incredible how many times I felt it this year. “We Can’t Win” reminds me of all those times when there seemed to be no way out, when it was all despair but I was so tired that I didn’t have the strength to scream and could only speak as lonesome as the voices in this song. The combination of the deep voice of Louis Forster and the sweet one of Riley Jones is like a caress, while the strumming of the acoustic guitar adds the warmth to unite them. I’ve already heard songs like “We Can’t Win” in many indie pop bands, but it just never fails to make me feel sensitive, nostalgic and less lonely in the world. 
[7]

Joshua Copperman: I loved the beginning, but the guitar came in and initially killed my enthusiasm. My camp counselor played Triple J music between breaks in summer camp, and while listening to that afterwards ultimately got me into Everything Everything, most of the music was slightly detached and awkward, like this. Yet initially I couldn’t get past the feeling that “We Can’t Win” went from Sleep Well Beast to San Cisco covering “Sleep All Summer?” I gradually came to appreciate this song because of that detachment – it really fits how tired the lyrics are, like if “Somebody That I Used To Know” was about a mutual breakup instead of a one-sided fallout. The lyrics are the same for both verses, but Louis Forster and Riley Jones have slightly different phrasing even as they come to similar conclusions. Also, not to be all Pundit Twitter about it, but is there really a better title for a 2018 breakup song than “We Can’t Win?”
[7]

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Annika Norlin – Showering In Public

And now let’s slip into something a bit more uncomfortable…


[Video][Website]
[5.71]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Showering in Public” doesn’t need to be heard more than once. It’s like a heart-to-heart you have with a friend, where the weight of every emotion and shared story remains with you forever; you don’t recall the event every time you see this person, but it shapes how you think about them, interact with them, love them. “Showering in Public” achieves this effect because of the premise from which it’s derived: a year-long project where Annika Norlin and Jens Lekman communicated with each other via monthly-released singles. As such, this is personal and lyric-heavy, less a piece of music than a letter read aloud. Norlin spends the duration of the song tracing the history of her distaste for showering in public, and how it’s a result of perverts both young and old trying to see her and other females in the nude. It’s poignant and funny and quotidian all at once, the instrumentation solely functioning as necessary accompaniment to qualify this as song-like. Tracks like these display how making a song allows for a valuable distancing — something with which one can approach specific feelings and ideas that may otherwise be too difficult to tackle head-on.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Norlin’s details and her po-faced humour make the banal impositions of misogynist culture precise and clear. Sometimes it becomes a little plodding, but you feel churlish for pointing it out because of the nature of her subjects. This one isn’t as interesting as some of the songs from Hello Saferide, but it has some great lines.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: Using an idiosyncratic but relatable experience such as showering in public as a tool for stringing memories together, creating an oblique window into the narrator’s soul: a really good idea. Those memories literally all being of pervy boys/men at school: makes a point, but stifles the song’s emotional range. Patronising the listener by explaining the concept of the song (“This is me recapping my life when it comes to showering in public”): not good. It almost feels like improv songwriting — the verse structure is malleable, lines frequently don’t scan — but Norlin lacks the humour to sell it. The spare guitar backing could have worked on a Julien Baker song, but feels incongruous and tepid here. +1 point for teaching me how to pronounce the Swedish city of Göteborg, though.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The details are precise and painful, the musical elements non-existent. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Uncomfortable nakedness as metaphor for uncomfortable self-revelation appeals to many singer-songwriters, for obvious reasons — think Kristin Hersh titling her memoir Paradoxical Undressing, after the phenomenon in hypothermia. The first verse of “Showering in Public” starts to go there, but it soon becomes clear that no, this will just be about literal showering in public. And the starchy vocal, singsong “Tom’s Diner” affect, and banal detail for detail’s sake (“one of the bathrooms was broken — it had a sign that said ‘broken'”) make it hard to really care.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Norlin is one of those songwriters who can take something so quotidian and personal and start addressing in a way that, even if you know how good she is at this mode, seems like it’s going to be inconsequential or silly, only by the end to have thoroughly captured something real and moving and sometimes very dark. It’s not the only good way to write a song, but it’s an impressive one when it’s properly executed, partly because it would be so easy for the results to fall flat.
[7]

Iain Mew: My most mortifying experience in my Singles Jukebox career came through picking Hello Saferide’s “Arjeplog” for Amnesty 2009. I’m only just about at the point where I can link to it now; read between the lines of my comment there and you can see how deeply I was bothered by the way so many people gathered round a reading of it as an uncomfortable intimacy simulation that was a long way away from mine. I related deeply to her, and that was that. Now here I am picking one of her songs as the one that moved me most in the year again, and given that it’s about a lifetime’s experience of predatory men being supported by structural misogyny I can’t directly relate. In an ironic twist, it’s also framed as intimate correspondence — Annika and Jens Lekman have spent 2018 exchanging musical letters, with this one making the most of that concept. Something else is obviously happening. Feeling right there in the moment with her is part of how it works after all. But there’s explanation in a key line on the last Hello Saferide album too: “where we come from, we drink or we suppress” to which I can only mentally add “…and I very rarely drink.” The thing that makes “Showering in Public” for me is its understatement: Annika Norlin’s elliptical approach, the wry asides, the way the gut-punch “the paper published the news with a fun caricature” has so much power through implication. The closing section addressed more specifically to Jens, the quilted jacket in Göteborg, becomes an unusual kind of emotional climax. The stark music does a lot of the work of filling in everything left unsaid, but ultimately the way of writing out feelings in a studiedly offhand style and then moving rapidly and desperately on feels incredibly real and personal. I’m overdue on writing to two dear friends and I have things to say that I don’t know where to start with, but I do know that the next step after carefully pouring out your soul is obviously to fill in niceties about the weather. I’m so happy to hear someone else get it.
[9]

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Gang Parade – Breaking the Road

This Song’s Okay (We Promise)


[Video]
[7.67]

Vikram Joseph: The double-speed, EDM-influenced, Japanese “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” we had all obviously been waiting for.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Everyone involved in “Breaking the Road” does their absolute best in each of their established roles, but it’s bittersweet to witness such collective completeness in what would be the last Gang Parade single with this seven-person line-up. Following Gang Parade with Aya Eight Prince was a story of a band defining itself through the ongoing growth of its tight-knit relationships with one another. They were first lonely souls barely getting acquainted, and then they looked unstoppable once they saw each other eye to eye. I suppose it’s only right it ends with a farewell. Aya gets the last spot in “Breaking the Road” as she should: after this, she would return to her original group BiS to wreak havoc there. Her eventual exit informs the lyrics about moving forward, an attitude the group adopts more out of necessity. The explosive punk riff, too, offer no other direction for them to run. Yet the girls toughen up to send their cherished member out with a smile as they work out their impending separation together. GanPare’s two biggest jokers, Coco Partin Coco and Yui Ga Dokuson, turn out to be the ones who deliver the most mature, heartfelt message. And it’s Yumeno Yua, one of the long-standing members of this ever-changing group, who leaves a lyric for Aya to take as a souvenir after they’ve gone their separate ways: “Even if we change shape, we are the one/We’re always looking at the same thing.” After a year full of separation — within Gang Parade, idol culture at large or just general personal experience — it was a lyric that kept me going, too.
[10]

Alfred Soto: I write this blurb on the night Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, the mightiest of pop punk songwriters, died. The racket raised by this Japanese pop punk outfit might have impressed him. “Breaking the Road” needs no further analysis: it’s tough, gnarly, and brief.
[7]

Iain Mew: The massed sonic attack and the way that it breaks up into unexpected sharp edges is a bracing thrill. They turn it into a more conventional rousing chorus and it remains fine, but without any kind of break after that as the same sounds get hammered it all becomes a bit mushy. That lack of lasting clear direction is something the excellent video fixes, at least.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: I was good and ready to award an [8] at least until the crowd sounds started and wouldn’t stop. Who are these randos, and why are they killing my Liveonrelease/Tuuli/Kittie buzz?
[6]

Ian Mathers: This provokes the exact same kind of giddy, giggling thrill I felt when I first listened to Andrew WK and realized he was throwing in whatever he could think of (Motown-style backing vocals, Bach, keyboards) to just make everything as BIG and FAST as he could manage. 
[9]

Taylor Alatorre: If you have a good idea, hold onto it as tightly as possible and don’t let go. At some point it was decided that “Breaking the Road” would be built around a grimy electronic motif and quadruple-time skate punk drumming, and Gang Parade adhere to those ideas as fervently as one can without accidentally making a gimmick song. The pummeling constancy of this rhythmic background creates an ideal launching pad for the members to launch their voices into the stratosphere at the exact moment it’s called for. They allow the chorus to sprawl out and take up all the space it deserves, not resting or deviating until it reaches its logical, inevitable conclusion.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Since my proper introduction to them after emerging out of the ashes of then-former and now-restored member Kamiya Saki’s POP with the possibly five times re-recorded “Plastic 2 Mercy” (a song that still breaks my heart maybe three years into listening to it), Gang Parade are possibly not only my favorite act in the WACK Stable of alt-idol maniacs, but probably my favorite Japanese musical act currently. “Breaking The Road” is the final single by their second line-up which features little of the tearjerker melodrama that infatuated me with the group at first, but culminates all the satisfaction of watching this group of misfits be so proud of themselves. While other seckond Phase GP singles such as the defiant thrash of “Gang Parade” or their “mallpunk Yü-Gung” “イミナイウタ” were eagerly caustic, “Breaking The Road” buckles with buzzsaw guitars and grating d-beat while the harmony above it all is the girls, so astonishingly bold. Most of the various WACK groups — be it BiS, EMPiRE, Billie Idle, whomever you like — have typically hid behind defiance against society in a recognition that they’ll never be the idols they’re expected to be. But “Breaking the Road” is less about the war outside the group than the unity they’ve found within. Now and forevermore, this group is a gang and a family, and to have a song that resonates with that feeling is a greater feeling of victory than they’ve ever managed to achieve.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: An exhilarating dose of pop punk that never lets up. The sheer force of the drumming makes it feel like the girls in Gang Parade are pushing up against your back, ensuring that you keep pressing on despite any circumstances. The spirited chorus transmits an unmistakable sense of uplift, but it’s the bridge — filled with gang vocals and complementary snippets of cheering, laughing, and talking — that points to why encouragement from friends is heartening: it reminds you of the kindred bonds that have been formed, and how they’ll only continue to strengthen.
[7]

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Foxing – Heartbeats

We go big…


[Video]
[6.29]

Ian Mathers: I’m not sure why the rest of Nearer My God didn’t really land for me, but honestly it’s at least partly because I heard “Heartbeats” first. I responded so instantly and so strongly that I just can’t get away from wanting the rest of Foxing’s songs to sound like they’re simultaneously deep under water and lost in space, I want them all to have strings and chanting and screaming, and whenever I try and get into them for what they are I just wind up playing this instead.
[9]

Taylor Alatorre: Almost everything here is just teetering on the edge of greatness. The chorus drives home a simple, easily adaptable sentiment with intuitive gusto, but it doesn’t point to any larger truth beyond itself, despite clearly wanting to. The orchestral bookends encourage a contemplative mindset and set the stage for the controlled demolition to follow, but there’s no emotional string tying them to the oblique lyrics about the stubbornness of self-negation. The pulse-and-handclap percussion of the verses fits the title, but doesn’t accentuate the vocals as well as it could. The one moment that qualifies as unmitigated greatness is the unexpected, haphazardly perfect buildup to the song’s most crucial and best delivered line: “Pull that rat heart out of your chest/It doesn’t mean anything to us now.”
[7]

Vikram Joseph: One of the most striking things about Foxing’s Nearer My God is the way that moments of heart-stopping beauty or breathtaking intensity emerge from passages which at first seem murky, but with retrospect can only be seen as masterful builds of tension. On lead single “Slapstick,” it’s the moment when the guitars cut through like a searchlight, Conor Murphy yelps “I walk around with a head-glow!”, and it genuinely feels like the ground has been ripped from under my feet and I’m plummeting through empty air. On “Heartbeats,” it’s that breathless, anti-gravity dream of a chorus apparating from the harrowed fog of the verses: a sweet existential escape, the moment when your flight ascends above the cloud layer after taking off on a soggy winter day. Admittedly, that chorus is “You are not in love, so stop playing along,” but the word “love” is drawn out so far that it fills 90 per cent of the space; listening to Foxing, I’m suspended between a serrated nihilism and dizzy elation, and it feels vital.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: How well this song works for you might depend on how you take to Conor Murphy’s voice. My first impression was that I didn’t like it, but that swirling hook of “you are not in loooooove” as the orchestration swells is one hell of a moment of release. There’s really nowhere any song would be able to go from there, and so the song dropping to the barest bones after the second verse is a bunch of wasted seconds, but as far as half-finished dead-ends of pure emotion go, I’m impressed.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: A sumptuous, dramatic arrangement in search of a tolerable vocalist.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: Halfway through my first listen, I had to check I didn’t have another tab playing wind sounds or something in the background — I then confirmed that the omnipresent whooshing noise is, in fact, a deliberate attempt at creating ambiance on the part of whoever produced this. The arrangement is so lavish that it’s claustrophobic, feeding string flourishes through numbing reverb and pumping an airy drone in to smother every quiet moment. I’m so confounded by this mix that I don’t have the energy to poke fun at the incomprehensibly theatrical vocals through extended metaphor.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: There’s symphonic strings, there’s a disco beat, there’s annoyingly strained vocals, there’s an actual build, there’s live drums — there’s a lot of interesting parts that kind of add up to a good song. This might sound better in the context of an album? I wish there were a little more structure here, but it gets over.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Foxing’s album works best as an excerpted experience, where the scale of their overwroughtness turns the nearest competition into rubble. On “Heartbeats,” Conor Murphy looks to Taana Gardner, Stacey Q, and the Knife in an effort to create a disco-tastic chorus, and it almost works.
[7]

Iain Mew: This first time listening to Foxing properly my mind immediately went to Everything Everything. That band hasn’t gone as lush with the strings or as grizzly with the vocals as “Heartbeats” does, but they’ve definitely used its twiddly guitar tone and the approach of stacking layers and layers and layers on to a musical Jenga tower of ungainly indie-funk is a familiar one. It’s one I frequently love and Foxing achieve the same intense feeling of being buffeted by emotion and the inexplicable.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Musically speaking, I would’ve been content with Foxing making variations of “The Medic” for the rest of their career, but I appreciate how much growth they’ve shown since their debut. “Heartbeats” shows just that, and it’s most striking for the dissonance present between Conor Murphy’s whiny vocalizing and the orchestral instrumentation, the latter of which would sound less polished if employed by other emo bands of their ilk. They throw in a grooving drum beat that further disrupts the landscape, and the incongruence between these three elements creates an uneasy tension that aligns well with the lyrics. The song isn’t egregious by any means, but it certainly feels less than the sum of its parts, like the band is trying to get by on the mere existence of these ideas. It’s also hard to watch the music video and not view it as the overwrought emo dude’s version of “Geyser.” “Heartbeats” isn’t dilettantish, but it comes close.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: No matter how densely you orchestrate your bridge, your mid-’00s indie jam of the week is nothing more and nothing less, bucko.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Heartbeats” sounds like the resulting music heard while standing in the middle of echoes of different songs playing at a distance. The faint strings, synthesized drums, light scribbles of guitars: they all brush up against each other but barely materialize into anything solid. The vague sense of contact makes that chorus more punchy, for it’s the most tangible and straightforward thing provided, including the contained lyrics. It strikes like a warning bell more than a light bulb going off, and its concision makes me want to hold it tight, especially because it’s as slippery as any of the elusive sounds here, thanks to Conor Murphy’s flailing vocals. Maybe a different emo punk band would let that chorus become the release it craves to become, but not Foxing.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Everything’s unsteady here, from the Rachmaninoff sample that floats around the corroded rooms that Foxing builds to the threat-posed-as-anthem of the chorus. But it’s a compelling unsteady, a shambling creature that draws you inexorably into its grasps. It’s not the hookiest song on the record (“Gameshark” is the clear choice there), but it holds onto you with an undying energy that stays even after the song ends.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: “Heartbeats,” shouldn’t work, and doesn’t work, but that’s why it works. That may sound like a backhanded, condescending compliment, but the band is fully aware that they’re biting off more than they can chew (an expression Conor Murphy used first.) The members of Foxing must know that theoretically, none of this works together in the slightest; not the Rachmaninoff sample, not the muddy drum machine, not the time signature that no one can even count, the awkward transition to the chorus, not the bone-chilling histrionics of the bridge. Yet somehow, the lyrics hold this together and justify the enormous musical scope. The first verse feels like watching raw footage of someone contemplating death for the one moment of freedom between the bridge and the ground. It took me a while to understand the rest of the song because of how much that opening section haunted me, even as the first few lines use typography as depression metaphor (“The font was serif’d and tasteless/It was slanted and Latin to death”) “Heartbeats” seems to depict an aftershock of a toxic relationship, and cutting someone off even when they’re “begging forgiveness” from the gallows. Don’t fall for it, screams Murphy: “Pull that rat heart out of your chest/it doesn’t mean anything to us now.” It’s jarringly unsentimental, but there’s plenty of senitment to counter those lines: it wouldn’t be emo without a lyric like “your heart beats with us now” and a chorus like “you are not in loOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOve” to counter the intimacy. Inexplicably, the production winds up accentuating the urgency rather than taking away from the story, even during that bridge. Nearer My God is at its best when the band uses the studio to recreate their live energy instead of trying to replicate a live sound, and that’s why “Heartbeats” succeeds. All the high-concept elements come together to first evoke a terror way beyond falling, then the way out.
[9]