Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Hop Along – How Simple

Philly-based indie band makes its first Jukebox appearance, successfully avoids snide jokes on the song’s title…


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Joshua Copperman: I feel like it’s almost a music critic rite-of-passage to describe Frances Quinlan’s voice — it’s usually something like “Janis Joplin and [other artist] thrown into a blender,” but she sounds like the choppy, whirring blender itself. At this point, much like Sam Herring around the time Future Islands broke through, she’s not only established her voice, she’s manipulated it to switch between different modes — Herring has the Tom Jones/Tom Waits dichotomy, and Frances goes between typical scratchiness and a beautiful, rarely-deployed falsetto in the chorus. She’s definitely a focal point of the song, but also farther back in the mix than expected; instead, Mark Quinlan’s steady drums are in the front. It seems like a strange choice, but towards the end, when the band is chanting “We will both find out/just not together,” the focus on rhythm suddenly makes sense. By the time the acoustic guitar comes in during that extended outro, the song reveals itself as the three-and-a-half-minute pop song it’s been the whole time. They snuck a minor masterpiece right under our noses.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: “How Simple” doesn’t come with obvious affects like Francis Quinlan’s signature howl in “The Waitress” to emphasize her show of vulnerability. But it’s there, written in smaller print and more subtle imagery. Quinlan still stammers trying to put together the right set of lines despite the support from a more collected guitar riff, and it serves the song’s narrative that she finally offers a perfect closing word — “don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together” — after many stumbles to get there.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The rhythm changes, sudden oh-oh-ohs, drum solos, and harsh guitar parts cohere into a listening experience that compensates for the boring, amateurish vocal. 
[6]

Julian Axelrod: At this point it’s almost cliché to talk about Hop Along in the context of Frances Quinlan’s inimitable voice. It does a disservice to the band’s innate chemistry, which is in top form here as they leapfrog between gritty gossamer riffs over the pogo churn of an unrelenting rhythm section. It also ignores their sense of dynamics, which is important considering no one in indie rock does anguished crescendoes quite like Hop Along. It even obscures Quinlan’s deadpan lyrics, which tie up a hard-fought past and a hopeless future into the beautifully simple title line. But every time I listen to Hop Along I come back to that voice, because the way it bends and curdles and soars in a single line contains more emotion than any arrangement or turn of phrase could hope to convey.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: A blend of moments that wouldn’t sound out of place from either Rilo Kiley, Pavement or Sebadoh, and proceeds to churn along diligently without being too bold in its progression. Quinlan’s vocal is creaky like a tree branch, but her lyrics are equally tense in ways that fracture under too much pressure. Indie rock that doesn’t offer much of a refresher from what’s proceeded it for the past two decades, but no doubt is a familiar comfort.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Rilo Kiley-adjacent indie rock I might have been into in college. I always assumed this sort of music would forever be just there, accessible and replicated into perpetuity, never associated with the past. Kind of heartening some’s still around.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A lot of slacker indie rock from the ’90s provides a sort of headspace that reminds me of the frustrations I have with all my aspirations being thwarted by my own laziness or lack of ability. It can leave me paralyzed, wavering between embittered anger and complete numbness. “How Simple” fills me with those exact feelings. Even worse, I find many of the song’s parts incongruous and think the whole thing is poorly structured. And yet, hearing Quinlan repeat that one line — “Don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together” — snaps everything into place. More accurately, it leaves everything as is and posits that I needn’t stress out so much. I don’t know if I can, but that line makes me believe it’s possible.
[7]

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton – Say Something

Oh, we do…


[Video][Website]
[4.56]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Last we covered Timberlake, I remarked that his greatest downfall was a purposeless pop virtuosity that, while functional, was undermined by a failure to recognize the changing climate around him and the underlying arrogance of his artistry. In picking Chris Stapleton as a duet partner, there’s something more insidious to Timberlake’s nature of crass manipulation throughout his career. Plenty have discussed how his career highlights did damage to those of female artists like Janet Jackson and Britney Spears; less harmful but equally crass has been using people such as The Neptunes, Timbaland and Jay-Z to provide urban cred qualifiers the awkward nerd has never actually possessed. Hell, his debut album was built out of the ashes of rejected Michael Jackson demos. Even his greatest moments are essentially opportunism afforded his malleability. The bitter irony is that his talents are what always keep him so in-authentic and thereby always able to shock the unsuspecting with grand revelations. So many folks forget the former Mickey Mouse Club alumnus has been trained to appeal to everyone and anyone, and it’s that subtle face-dancery that makes “Say Something” plausible, albeit not genuinely great. I’m sure Stapleton, Patron Saint of Washed Generation X Dads who “just wanna hear real music maaaan,” was as impressed as his audience will be that Timberlake could make a “real song with a guitar and some heart.” Even if the reality is that this is a very dated mix of Lumineers, Stapleton and subtle EDM touches for the sake of seamless incorporation into a dancepop record. Yet again, part of Timberlake’s ability to thrive is his deceptive meekness, betraying both the arrogance of the audience he constantly charms and his own arrogance in knowing that he can succeed where other artists get laughed out of the building, in spite of not doing anywhere close to enough.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I expected this to be kind of oil-and-water, but it really isn’t; even Timbaland’s generous production meshes well with Stapleton’s country rock and JT’s I’ll-do-whatever-it-takes-to-have-a-hit-ness. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: As I’ve written many times, the better job he does keeping his spittle and stubble from hitting the mike the better Chris Stapleton sounds; the same goes for his erstwhile companion, partly responsible for his breakthrough three years ago. This nuthin’ is yet more sweet. 
[5]

Juana Giaimo: “Say Something” has more YouTube views than “Filthy” or “Supplies,” even though it was the last single to be released from Man of the Woods. Maybe because it’s the most conventional kind of song. But it is still puzzling, because it sounds disjointed, as if Justin Timberlake was trying to make a song out of a two repetitive patterns, like an outro from the first part of The 20/20 Experience — except that unlike those outros, there isn’t any development throughout the four minutes.
[5]

Will Adams: The Man of the Woods marketing strategy thus far has been one of confusion. The pickup truck-commercial of an album trailer suggested ruggedness, whereas the resultant videos suggested future sex and Mad Max dystopia. On “Say Something,” the confusion continues: the future, turns out, was ten years ago, as this is basically “What Goes Around… Comes Around” in its smoothie blend of R&B and folk elements. Meanwhile, Chris Stapleton shows up to lend authenticity but does nothing of note besides providing the song’s nadir: a drawn-out “melody/harmony/you and me” rhyme that manages to be the most head-scratching moment of this album cycle yet.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: On one hand, it could be about the creative process. And who else to team up to bring an earnest, real-time document of working through writer’s block and outside noise than back-to-the-roots country man Chris Stapleton? But in this political climate, “sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all” isn’t the easiest piece of wisdom to swallow.
[4]

John Seroff: The stylishly Sisyphean nature of the “Say Something” video — a tightly choreographed Timberlake and Stapleton take a vintage elevator down a fashionably rugged building, then simply walk back up the stairs — nicely encapsulates what’s good and bad about JT4.0: the presentation is pleasant and pretty enough, but what’s the point of so much polish and work to go nowhere? “The greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all” feels less of a koan and more treading water.
[6]

Jibril Yassin: Only JT could write a song about the experience of getting dragged online and make it feel just as embarrassing to listen to. Enrolling Chris Stapleton and going “rootsy” exposes the song’s huge problem: there’s absolutely nothing being said here. While it’s marginally better than “Filthy”‘s “married man who still believes he has game” dirge, hearing JT attempt to evoke ethos just to complain about how awful Twitter is to him is underwhelming.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ll give him this: it’s definitely the best Adult Hits-bait duet with a former Mouseketeer called “Say Something” in existence. I’m still giving up on him.
[4]

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Maroon 5 – Wait

It doesn’t fit the title, but still: you can keep it…


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Katie Gill: At least with this song, Maroon 5 have the decency not to force a much more talented guest artist to phone in a verse or chorus. Pity that’s the only thing halfway good about it.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Singing in his lower register is the wisest decision Adam Levine’s made since cutting his hair to align with his chakras. Of course this shrivels him into a serviceable vessel for more Miami-bound club fare, for which a grateful city and county thanks him.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: On the one hand, it’s Maroon 5 providing a pretty competent rehash of Purpose-era Bieber with the freedom of not thinking about Bieber to attract or repel listeners (’cause, like, soon to approach two decades in the industry, are there any actual qualities to Adam Levine people are aware of?). On the other hand, it’s a colorless revision of something someone else has already done and made their sound, making Maroon 5’s usual brand of chameleonism a bit too meager to find value in.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: In case anyone needs any more proof that Adam Levine is over releasing music with Maroon 5, here it is. I mean, come on, this is disinterest in musical form. 
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: The verses suggest that Adam Levine wants his very own “Passionfruit”; the chorus is more unripe, sharp melon.
[4]

Will Adams: So between “Needed Me,” “Now or Never” and this, that pirouetting, impossible-to-sing melismatic hook is definitely A Thing now, right? (What do we call it? The “millennial scalar run?”) It provides a fantastic center to “Wait” after some “I’m not all that bad” bullshit from Adam Levine; it’s the cathartic moment that puts his sorry’s into plain view, giving the downtempo R&B backdrop some much needed drive. 
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: Lines like “dirty looks from your mother” and “never seen you in a dress that color” have a piquant specificity, and so does the spare and winding riff accompanying it. Adam Levine sounds oily and his vocal is mixed to overwhelm the delicacy of the arrangement, which might not matter: perhaps the unpleasantness is the point? The intrigue lasts all of twenty seconds, at which point a dollar store drum machine interrupts and we’re treated to three minutes of Levine repeating tediously minimal variations of how sorry he is about everything. Me too, Adam; me too.
[3]

Julian Axelrod: The semi-ambient opening feels artificial yet oddly transfixing, like watching the ripples in a puddle after a bus drives through it. Then the chorus devolves into tropical house tedium and the whole thing loses its luster. Still, this is the most I’ve liked a Maroon 5 single in ages. It’s as light and disposable as the Snapchat filters in its video, but it’s nice to see some restraint from a band known for doing the most.
[6]

Alex Clifton: Usually I can listen to a song for thirty seconds, enjoy it, get to the chorus and realize, “Oh no, this is by Maroon 5.” Much as they irritate me, it’s not just Adam Levine’s trademark falsetto that sets them apart — there’s something in their melodies that marks a song as Definitely a Maroon 5 Track. This is a hard swerve into generic soft-electro balladry that truly sounds like everything on the radio, losing their distinctive edge (if you can call it that). I wonder what god has allowed Maroon 5’s career to continue both profitably and without interruption, mostly because I don’t want to believe they have earnt it on their own merits.
[2]

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Russell Dickerson – Yours

No, you can keep it…


[Video][Website]
[3.00]

Alfred Soto: Days after Dierks Bentley reminded us and probably himself that women are beautiful, along comes this gaunt, splendidly coiffed dude with amnesia.
[1]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Yours” scans as country, however loosely, but more like “final scene of a 2000s sappy romance movie.” Said film would most likely not be a YA adaptation, maybe a release from the earlier half of that decade, or at least stick this in its soundtrack, which also features Nickelback and The Fray.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: I’m reminded of an old gag about Christian rock, which posits that the genre rewrites secular love songs to make the object not a girl, but Jesus. In this case, Dickerson does the reverse: how sweet is this woman who saved a wretch like he. His verses are a succession of worn images, but, befitting a praise song, he dotes on his abjection as evidence of the miracle of his salvation. Yet for all the deeply felt fervor he summons in service of these burned-out stars and boats in bottles, Dickerson gives himself over to a life-changing void. “Yours” is a ballad of devotion devoted to no one; Dickerson wells with deep feeling, but, having summoned so much passion for his past, he has nothing to say about his future: it exists only in terms of what he’s now not. If he doesn’t care, why should we?
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: MOR, barely mid-tempo country, but there’s no objectification of Russell’s girl, so good job?
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: This was boring when Taylor Swift sang it and it was called “Mine.” Encasing it in a hulking ballad arrangement doesn’t make it less boring.
[3]

Anthony Easton: Dickerson’s voice is rich enough, but bland without any real spin or variation. The lyrics refuse specificity, and they don’t build. The narrative doesn’t grow from an arresting initial image. 
[2]

Will Adams: “A boat stuck in a bottle” is a neat summary, actually: a pretty mantlepiece that’s nice to look at for a few seconds, but any longer and you become intensely aware of its uselessness.
[4]

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Bazzi – Mine

OK, you can keep it…


[Video][Website]
[3.78]

Will Rivitz: Bazzi’s annotations of this song on Genius include the following sentence: “I really made the song less about a person but more about wanting to give people a feeling of acceptance in a really sad world right now.” Said annotation accompanies the following lyric: “Hit it from the back and drive you wild.” I don’t know if Bazzi understands that words have meanings.
[1]

Joshua Copperman: This has a weird Star Trek curse-style thing where every odd-numbered line is beautiful and then every even-numbered line is cringey. The first line is the already iconic “fucking precious” line, but “hit it from the back” kills the mood, then the “eyes” revives it, then “you’re mine” should be sweet but kind of creepy when he just met the girl… But then there’s the chorus, the best possible (only good possible?) result of “early-2000s CVScore applied to the trap era.” The amount of reverb would make Swae Lee blush, and the grandly romantic gestures, if flawed in execution, would cause any recipient of the song’s lyrics to blush too. I wish that chorus went on for longer, as the abrupt ending of “I just gotta say…” doesn’t work when the song is already so short as it is. Because without that chorus, it’s just a sparklier-than-average tune by a former Vine star, and with it, “Mine” has a real reason to be a massive hit.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: If One Direction released their debut single in 2018, it would sound like this. Bazzi sounds cute and even with all the sugary corniness, it never comes across as too much, just too young for my taste.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: The slow-dance tempo and tip-toeing chorus melody are far cuter than Bazzi, who would like to be a poster hung in a bedroom, but is only as exciting as wallpaper.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Get you a guy who can be edgy, goofy, sexy, and romantic at the same time — just at the same time, not lurching gracelessly between modes.
[4]

Iain Mew: I guess the abrupt switches of vocal mode are meant to have a similar effect to the pauses and lush swells of the instrumental. The actual result is Bazzi sounding like a worse version of Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, and Owl City, all in one song.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: A charmless wall of gimmicks masquerading as a lover’s come on. Hell, there’s a lot of dating going on that kind of functions like this record, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. All the same, Bazzi’s grating warble is hardly sultry enough to make the moments in between the eye-rolling gags feel worth overcoming.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Finally — a warmer take on The Weeknd’s spacious misanthropy, capped by a vocal that mimics the occasional empathetic sweep of Swae’s falsetto. The stop-start rhythm gets me. Not much of a tune, but it gets me.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Mine” reminds me of the California dreamin’ crush song of Rex Orange County’s, except instead of a steady diet of Mac DeMarco-adjacent soft rock, Bazzi tuned into the blend of yesterday’s soul and boom-bap featured on Soulection radio. The music channels Los Angeles like it only knew of the city through an Instagram feed. And though he sings it sweet, “Mine” also sounds more like a caricature of how Bazzi imagines young love to feel.
[5]

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Jonghyun – Shinin’

A smiling goodbye from a Kpop star…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Alex Clifton: I’ve had the hardest time listening to Jonghyun’s music. It took me more than a month to listen to “White T-Shirt”, my favourite solo song of his, and when it came on shuffle, I began weeping in public immediately even though it’s about how good a girl looks in a shirt. It’s surreal to listen to “Shinin'”, knowing he’s gone while singing a chorus with the line “always be with you.” I would love this song anyway if he were still here–it’s funky, it’s catchy, and Jonghyun’s voice as always is the star of the show–but it’s impossible to divorce the song from its posthumous context for me. At the same time, though, songs like “Shinin'” are how I want to remember Jonghyun. He made upbeat pop music that lifted my spirits, and every song felt like a vow he’d stay by me though he never knew who I was. Specifically, he fought through his own demons to make songs like this, which inspires me to keep fighting against my own depression. Jonghyun shone brightly himself, and I count myself lucky to live in a world where I got to hear his art.
[8]

Tim de Reuse: It’s a little cluttered, a little bloated with unnecessary moving parts, and generally not as tight a package as “She Is,” which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since we covered it eighteen-odd months ago. Still, Jonghyun’s snappy delivery builds momentum as well as it ever did, and his transition into the chorus is too plucky and joyously effortless to get bogged down by particulars of melody and form. The message of “Always be with you” ought to be particularly poignant, but I can’t bring myself to get all that melancholy over such a confident, blue-skied presentation, despite the circumstances of this song’s release — that says a lot about his music, I think.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The tragedy surrounding Jonghyun’s demise would no doubt cast a shadow over the music that should emerge from he or his group despite any of the better efforts of those who would choose to release it (and judging from this video, perhaps be gambled upon). “Shinin'” is soft-edged bordering on a pillowy dullness, suggesting either perhaps a rush-job to capitalize or just a poorly designed single thanks to a light modernized disco-shuffle that never quite hits the grooves it traces along. The “Always be with you” refrain can only be bittersweet in the wake of Jonghyun’s passing and with this to memorialize him, perhaps his fans will find a sentimental value beyond more than a single could provide.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Jonghyun’s silken finesse doesn’t unduly disturb the stuttering competence of the backing track, which means “Shinin'” is closer to VIP lounge fare than I’d like. But wallpaper looks textured after a couple glasses of prosecco. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Reminds me of one of my favorite neo-disco deep cuts lately; this one’s got about ten times as much going on where it’d be better streamlined to three times as much, but the slink is the same.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This slightly woozy, upbeat pop record is so good, it makes Jonghyun’s suicide in December sting that much more. He sounds full of life, the percussion snaps and crackles, and the synths woosh back & forth, all combining to create a magical pop record. “Shinin'” is, in fact, sunshine and joy and smiles. Rest in power, Jonghyun.
[9]

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Chris Stapleton – Broken Halos

Boring or gorgeous? You decide!


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Katherine St Asaph: A “broken halo,” as we were reminded so memorably by Keith Urban, usually connotes a fallen woman. But I don’t know what Stapleton means it to mean, since he doesn’t take his songwriting deeper than “they exist” and in fact cautions against delving any deeper: “they’ve all gone wherever they go,” “don’t go looking for the reasons.” (Except that the reason’s apparently that they’re “finding some other soul to save,” so I guess the halos got better?) It’s among the most unintentionally(?) nihilistic things I’ve ever heard, and the stately, stolid chorus makes it worse; I get that “Christmas Shoes” bathos would be tonally off, but I’m sure the Chris Stapleton brand can withstand expressing one emotion. Martina McBride or Maddie and Tae don’t growl or have beards, but they convince me they care.
[2]

Stephen Eisermann: The Stapletons sounds amazing, but that’s nothing new (seriously, someone sign Morgane). Chris is resting on his laurels and though the song offers an interesting perspective on angels, it’s just so boring. Please, bud, pick up the pace a bit because it’s all starting to feel a bit stale.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The less strain, the better this blowhard comes off — the basic acoustic chord progression reins in his un-barbaric yawp. And I’ll still take, say, a good Dierks Bentley track.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: My biggest problem with the two volumes of Stapleton’s From A Room isn’t their songs, which are generally good (I mean, the guy can write), or his singing, which is full-throated and rich; it’s the fact that so much of the albums are underproduced. I’m sure that’s a purposeful decision on the part of Dave Cobb, but I’m not a fan. So “Broken Halos” is a relief on many levels: not only is it fully produced and arranged (look: drums!), but it cuts through the morass of the overproduction endemic to much of the current country climate (especially on radio). Stapleton’s wife Morgane provides her usual, gorgeous harmonies (she’s the Jessi to his Waylon), and even though it’s slow in tempo, “Halos” reads as great country rock to me — tell me you couldn’t hear the Allmans doing this (the late Gregg, especially). His best single since “Tennessee Whiskey.” 
[7]

Katie Gill: This is such a beautiful antithesis to soooo much of the Keiths, the Blakes, and the Lukes that flood the country airwaves with a lot of the same sounds. The song itself is repetitive as hell (and REALLY could do with a little change up every now and then), but the grit in Stapleton’s voice, the simple yet beautiful harmonies, and the relatively understated production helps elevate it to something more. The arrangement helps negate the fact that it’s pretty much three minutes of the same phrase: specifically, that moment at around 2:05 is superb. This song deserves all the airplay and chart climbs it’s getting.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Three minutes and resting heavily on a set of hooks, this song is incredibly smart about how pop works–in the midst of all this bullshit about somethings being more authentic than others, and as much of the drag of rough guitar and flirtatious twang, we forgot about Stapleton’s power as a songwriter–not in the Townes Van Zandt literary sense of that word, but in the Brill Building sheen of it. You can rough shit up, but the chorus on this is impeccable. 
[6]

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Iggy Azalea ft. Quavo – Savior

Oh nooooooooooo


[Video][Website]
[1.75]

Andy Hutchins: Amethyst Amelia Kelly hasn’t had a top-40 hit in the U.S. since “Pretty Girls,” which stupefyingly miscast 2015 Britney as Charli XCX. Yet she still has a Universal deal for reasons I am just sure do not boil down to being an Amazonian blonde, so here she is doing a bloodless Rihanna impression with Quavo as human hood pass hot co-sign du jour utterly uninterested hook man, singing a song about needing saving in the form of a partner. It’s nigh impossible not to read the hook and this song as a distressed damsel looking for rescue in both romantic and professional contexts, though — which makes the safe, effective, and years-behind-trend tropichill production from Dr. Luke-affiliated lieutenants, of all fucking people, even more disappointing. Desperation should sound desperate, not dispassionate, for one — but no one should be this desperate, Iggs.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Apparently Dr. Luke may have Alan Smitheed himself into the credits of “Savior” via dick-joke pseudonym, which is more interesting than anything in the song.
[1]

William John: We do not have to keep doing this. Truly. Tkay Maidza is readying her second album; Briggs and Baker Boy continue to break new ground for First Nations artists; Miss Blanks is a shoutout or two away from setting the world on fire. If you really need Australian hip-hop in your life, then you can do better than paying further heed to this lifeless track, where everything is slurred at half-speed, and exaggeratedly over-enunciated like it’s part of an elocution lesson on invented, fraudulent accents.
[1]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I can’t stop thinking about “The Making and Unmaking of Iggy Azalea.” The incredible hubris, the just deserts. Everything she makes from now on just seems like an endnote, unnecessary add-ons to a career that’s already finished. If she’s trying to combat her notoriety as a cultural thief and a flash in the pan, cribbing lines from a much more soulful hit is doing her no favors.
[1]

Edward Okulicz: The beat is basic but potentially breezy and fun, and would have made for a solid base for a light jam on top by someone who oozes carefree confidence. What doesn’t fit is Iggy Azalea at her most strident wannabe-tough, which she does on just about every song she does. Azalea wouldn’t know fun, or what to do with it, even if you made an hourlong mixtape on the subject and told her to go appropriate.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Ignoring the considerable failures of Iggy Azalea to not get herself into conflicts where her ever damaged reputation continues to fray and fracture or even the fact that as a rapper she’s never quite found the sweet spot beyond competency, it seems a bit of a wild move for someone like her to go for straight ahead pop rap without any hesitation. I mean, by the time this review drops “Fancy” will have been released roughly 4 years prior and since then Iggy’s commercial presence has been fairly close to non-existent. Granted, the rap audience was never going to be her saving grace no matter how hard she could try to please them, or infuriate them even, but I don’t see a generic dance pop record featuring the most overexposed of the Migos (unless you read headlines in which Offset’s managed to outdo his kin this past year) being the move to right the ship and allow Iggy to finally have the career of her dreams.
[2]

Will Adams: There’s almost something pitiable about how every move Iggy has made post-2014 sends her falling on her face; in the case of “Savior,” streaming services snitching on her for having worked with pop’s most hated producer. But it’s hard to stay sympathetic when she doubles down on her denial (“try again”) while ASCAP still holds the receipts. Other things working against her: quoting Lisa Stansfield in that still awful, still fake accent; being one of the last people on planet Earth to get a Quavo verse; trop house that can barely keep its eyes open.
[3]

Alfred Soto: What is this — an EGK reading? a brain wave sample? a fish blowing a bubble? a fart? With Quavo entering his ubiquitous phase, he’s required to do yeoman’s work for fading stars. Iggy shows her gratitude by sharing with him the words of her favorite late ’80s neo-disco tune.
[0]

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Vremya & Steklo – Troll

Ukrainian duo ask not to be trolled; Maxwell does not oblige.


[Video][Website]
[4.83]

Maxwell Cavaseno: People from The Continent should always be excluded from rap. Talking about it, thinking about it, and most certainly TRYING TO DO IT. No matter how much they might provide cutesy dance production or go about it ironically for the sake of comedic songs and avoid dealing in bad troping, they are almost inherently stilted and stiff in their executions — perhaps done with purpose, but vehemently terrible. “Troll” is a dull, one note affair of comedic riffs as flows and put-ons and in-joke novelty with all the value of a pastry that tastes like uncooked oatmeal. This production? The kind of deliberately stunted electro-pop that we were getting away from back in the Lady Gaga era, further emphasizing the regressive cynical indifference behind a record like this. These sort of ‘gags’ feel like bile, the swill of scum-filled pranksters who are praised by the biggest dullards on the planet. My proposal is that until a European nation can go a full four years without wallowing in this kind of filth as their demonstration of popular understanding of rapping, they should maybe have some kind of embargo placed on them rather than be rewarded for this idiocy.
[2]

Iain Mew: I’m reminded of Hank Solo’s “Söpö” if it was less cute and more troll-ish: electro-pop music slashed to a brittle point and taken as a starting place, not an end in itself. The rapping is rubbish and their take on nightcoring the ending unspectacular, but there’s vivid delight to be had in everything else.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: As every other news story reveals a new swath of the Internet as built on a pile of Russian trolls, the most popular song in Russia has the chorus “don’t troll me.” The screenwriters of 2018 are all hacks. Although the song, while bad, does sound like a hypnotic dance remix of “Promiscuous Girl,” so maybe they’re just brilliant farce writers.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: That title may make the song seem lack all self-seriousness, especially from the way its dressed: the synth-pop is dim, prickly and minimal as Mustard-wave, but its stuck-up attitude makes  “Troll” more fit for a playlist of stuff from the late ’00s. But Vremya & Steklo uses its titular word earnestly to the point it makes me question if these folks ever go online.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: Could pitch-shift and speed this one up and turn it into a Robin S/Livin’ Joy style 90s banger, but where it is now feels more like a lazy meme that in days gone by would have infected the Internet but been quarantined from the charts.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: I imagine “Troll” is a funny song to dance at parties or for doing silly lip-syncing because even if you don’t know the language, the song conserves its ironic over-dramatic tone, especially in Nadya Dorofeeva’s parts. However, the repetitive robotic chorus makes it quite unbearable.  
[5]

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Mabel & Not3s – Fine Line

Swapping feature credits like presents, but we are unmoved.


[Video][Website]
[4.83]

Thomas Inskeep: Mabel makes good singles. “Fine Line” is good and not quite great, but has a sparkle in its eye, and I bet it’d sound sensational on the radio. Not3s’s bridge is, well, fine — is he the Ja Rule to Mabel’s Ashanti? — but the best thing here, besides Mabel’s own jouissance, is the chorus, which she just nails. The slight Afrobeat helps, too.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Mabel is about as amateurish a singer as her mother was at her age with about none of the charms or will to adventure. All of her attempts at anything considered popular and slightly ‘urban’ have that distinct sort of contrived quality that you’d find in a Nike advertisement campaign praised for Good Representational Awareness. There’s no doubting that she could grow out of her limitations, become a challenging and inventive artist, maybe stop sounding incredibly pitchy; these are all within her future capabilities! But for now, she’s perfectly mediocre and eagerly rewarded for that as she continues her trend of banal bait ‘tunes.’ Not3s being recruited as her perpetual duet partner/cred stamp is the beneficiary of not so much a chemistry but him continuing to reveal he himself has no real personality or unique characteristics to offer. He’s a living embodiment of “Kojo Funds/Yung Bxne Type Beat” but as a vocal performer. They deserve each other, to be fair.
[2]

Alfred Soto: If such a thing as offensively innocuous existed, “Fine Line” would top my list. No melodic or lyrical standouts, no howlers either. Mabel puts in just enough effort. Some kind of achievement!
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: The twinkles, evoking Tracey Thorn’s cover of “Get Around to It,” do for “Fine Line” what the Diwali riddim did for the equally workmanlike “Finders Keepers,” although this one gets an extra boost from the Sugababes-y chorus.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: Despite the weird melody and production, Mabel and Not3s manage to evoke the nervousness and infatuation that come from beginning to get involved with someone new. Their voices work well together and the synths and ad-libs on the final chorus give the song some much needed flair, though the rest of the track could definitely use something more. It just feels a bit undercooked. 
[5]

William John: Once again, Mabel releases a serviceable, pleasant single that, like both her previous collaboration with Not3s and 2017’s breakout “Finders Keepers,” has achieved a moderate degree of British chart success. I await her “New Rules” moment; “Fine Line” isn’t it, but both the extent of her current portfolio and the contrast provided here between her throaty delivery of the hook and the winking triangle serve as cause for optimism in that regard.
[7]