Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Big Bang – Fxxk It

But is there going to be a Frankee remix?


[Video][Website]
[5.25]

Jessica Doyle:Last Dance” is the more overt valediction, but this too seems meant for the longtime “ladies so loyal” more than anyone else–the fans who long ago got comfortable with GD’s self-absorption, T.O.P’s ambivalence, and Seungri’s playing transparently insincere Lothario for the bridge. (I don’t think they’re actually saying “I love y’all” in the chorus, as this translation has it, but the mishearing seems appropriate: y’all, plural, collective.) You wouldn’t expect a resigned song about nothing really lasting, hinging on the repetition of “fuck it,” to be sweet, but this is sweet.
[6]

Mo Kim: “I don’t want to go too fast,” Taeyang sings in the first verse, “cause nothing really lasts.” If that’s a dark place to start, it doesn’t look up much: everything about this sounds a touch off-kilter and sad, like Big Bang are staring at their disheveled reflections through the disco ball at a college rager they’re getting too old for. The youngest member of Big Bang, Seungri, just turned 26; meanwhile, T.O.P is finally entering South Korean military service, temporarily putting the brakes on a franchise boy band that over the last 11 years has cast a large shadow over K-pop. No time for those details in the song, though, just a sneer of a verse from G-Dragon; T.O.P yell-rapping through the haze even as it chops and stretches his voice; a drop in the chorus that sounds more like a headache than a good time. But fuck if it doesn’t make me a little misty.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Previous singles showed their ear for approximating American hip-hop and machine funk; this ear turned with the inevitability of a sunrise to the popularity of the Chainsmokers. And here we are.
[3]

Madeleine Lee: At their peak, half of Big Bang’s cool came from the closeness of their music to their American rap and pop contemporaries, if not precisely in sound then definitely in feeling. But this only worked as long as the rest of K-pop still came off like it was trying to reverse-engineer trends from a few years earlier. Now the rest of K-pop has caught up, and the relevance of Big Bang’s music is no longer a given. NCT 127’s mini album that came out last week has its ultra-trendy tropical whistles and rattles woven throughout; by comparison, G-Dragon and Teddy’s one-off approximation of a Chainsmokers instrumental is predictable and dull. The other half of Big Bang’s cool was their vitality and ferocity, but as the title of this song suggests, that’s not what it once was, either. An extra point for getting ahead of the inevitable “it sounds like they’re saying ‘I wanna get down'” comments from the non-Korean-speaking world, though.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: The stark contrast between the flood of synths and the refrain is the only real thing going for “Fxxk It.” The rest is ancient pop hooks that sound more like tropes than tunes.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: G-Dragon, aka the secret father of Lil Uzi Vert, might still be my favorite producer/songwriter in pop with how he endlessly plays with styles. Here, he’s got the DJ Snake-style vocal warps married to SoundCloud smeared-synth surges over generic boy band boisterousness, and he and T.O.P nearly always sound competent to extra-terrific on whatever they rap to. The problem is Taeyang (furthered by those corny-ass Crayola dreads in the video, which your reviewer went through a similarly awkward phase with in his teens), who’s become such a lazy and middling singer in a group setting. Daesung has always kind of endearingly struggled with his limitations, Seungri’s always casually there, but Taeyang is totally just cashing a check and reaping the rewards of Big Bang’s almost natural dominance. The song itself is also lazy — either purposefully to avoid the excessive eager-beaverness of their youth, or maybe the group’s gotten a bit too assured in their old age. But one thing’s for sure: the chilled-out vibe of late Big Bang could use a boost in energy before they start to turn the corner into pure boredom.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: A third of the hook to “Needed Me,” surrounded by a lot of loud nothing.
[5]

Adaora Ede: Big Bang of the “skrrrrt,” “bangya bangya bangya!”, “BOOM SHAKA LAKA” persuasion have found themselves living in the nice rancher-style that is “FXXK IT” — right next to the neighbors, the married-with-children pop-rock sound of Maroon 5. Oh, Big Bang always did have ballads and belters and SLOW JAMZZZZ. But never were they so underwhelming, as they were typically marinated in a nice RnB sound and didn’t make you feel like you were in your friend’s car listening to 40 Oz. to Freedom. And this is a midtempo track. Yikes. “FXXK IT” is true — it’s less snarly than usual, mildly listenable, and crescendos into the anthemic, but only to have you wondering why your glass is still in the air after the first or second “era moreugetda.” It might be an ode to the beautiful eccentricities of the Big Bang members’ fading twenties, it might be a hearty call-out for the haters, or it might just be a way to tell everyone that Big Bang is finally disbanding and G-Dragon is set to begin his American career featuring on P!nk songs. But it’s difficult to take rinky-dinky power pop to heart.
[5]

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Little Mix – Touch

What’s that about scoring songs higher?


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

A.J. Cohn: Little Mix do exhilaration undeniably well (see the hard-earned joy of their recent “Shout Out to My Ex”), so it’s a disappointment that this song, which is all about the ecstatic, electric feeling of first being with someone, doesn’t sound like fun at all. Rather, this wannabe banger by way of Bieber (check that sub-“Sorry” synth line) sounds tired and dull. The strikingly passive lyrics don’t sound like descriptions of a good time either.
[3]

Katie Gill: It’s amazing how this shares so much with “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, yet the songs don’t share any writers. That chorus is a banger, though, and the Little Mix team sounds amazing together. As soon as the chorus kicks into high gear and we’ve got that backing, the harmonies, and the “hey!” in the background, I straight up fall in love all over again.
[7]

Claire Biddles: “Touch” is such a satisfying sequel to “Shout Out To My Ex”, dripping with the easy pleasures of new love: the blissful calm after the show of strength. The declaration that “for the first time I am not faking” is another twist of the knife for the ex that she admitted faking with before, but it’s also an earnest admission of the sexual and emotional discovery that comes with the rush of early romance. Blind exaltation of a new lover rarely lasts, but for now this new start feels fresh and delicious. 
[8]

Mo Kim: The track doesn’t quite reach the release the lyrics promise, content to chug along on a catchy syncopated rhythm (the harmonies, thankfully, fill in some of the blank space). That said, there’s a reason this particular rhythm is one so many pop songwriters go back to. Would score this higher if it came packaged with an instruction manual for vogueing and lip-syncing.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Little Mix are too good for Fifth Harmony’s castoffs. The harmonies suggest a crushed-out sweetness; the rest is tiresome faux-“grownup” sass.
[4]

Dorian Sinclair: “Touch'”is a lot of fun and the melody is infectious, but I can’t help but wish there were more unexpected harmonies — otherwise what’s the point of having so many vocalists? Also, there’s a real problem with vanishing terminal consonants, which occasionally makes figuring out what’s being said an adventure in itself.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: With less sass in their voice, Little Mix initially seem to confuse being grown and in touch with one’s feelings as emoting less. But you can hear their straight faces slowly crack as they bat a wink harder with each line. Though the drop and the bridge cool the tension more than it heats, it’s still satisfying when their urge finally wriggles its way out.
[6]

Will Adams: There’s stuff to like in “Touch” — the contrast between the two choruses, first tentative, then celebratory; the “Forest Interlude” flute; the ending harmonies — but this is the least distinctive Little Mix have sounded in a long time.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: Whether “Touch” is music or noise is debatable, but Little Mix’s barrage of sound can’t help but win you over by the end.
[6]

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Zara Larsson – I Would Like

And the hits keep… not coming…


[Video][Website]
[3.33]

Alfred Soto: I would like anything other than this standard kinetic thumper.
[2]

Katie Gill: The treatment and in-your-face nature of “under your sexy body” both by Larsson’s voice and the modified voice is just so blatant and awful that it ruins an otherwise halfway decent song. “Show, don’t tell” is a useful rule in screenwriting — this song proves it should be applied to songwriting just as often.
[4]

Will Rivitz: The general rule in storytelling is “show, don’t tell”; whatever scene you’re weaving has much more power if you’re not spoon-feeding every emotion to your audience. “[I would] like to get under your sexy body” is a tell, not a show, and the line — both its lyrics and delivery — is definitively not sexy. It’s endemic of the song as a whole, which feels less like a true slightly off-house smash and more like a cheap facsimile of one.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: If there’s one situation you shouldn’t screw up a voice, it’s when you’re laying a come-on. It’s set up nicely, she hits it with the soft punchline, but when she follows up, she sounds like a croaking toad. At least you can wash it out with a solid beat immediately after.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The “Dilemma”-esque “oh!” punctuations are okay at best, but the vocal performance from Zara here is particularly bunk, and to be honest this is a house template that’s become very done to death over the course of the last year, written like a Jason Derulo filler track. Utterly forgettable and embarrassingly under-thought.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Sole point of distinction: the hilarious overpoliteness of “I would like” for the subject matter, except I’m not entirely sure Zara Larsson gets the joke.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: I thought that Larsson was better than lyrics like “I would like to get to know you baby/Like to get under your sexy body,” but clearly, I was wrong. Her singles discography is, sadly, nothing but increasingly diminishing returns.
[2]

Ramzi Awn: The overproduction on this uninventive offering from Zara Larsson is unfortunate. For a song about body heat, it leaves you awfully cold. 
[2]

Megan Harrington: One of the current flavors in meme is the bait and switch. It’s the premise of dark Kermit and what she said vs. what she meant. The text is deceptive, the subtext promises the dead, stinking rat. “I Would Like” is amorphously sexual, it’s heatseeking and any live body will satisfy its biblical urge. But like the meme punchline, the interior of this earworm is sick viral sludge. From the cocoon bursts forth an enormous waspish insect, flying right at your face and hissing binary code. It wants your personal data, it wants your credit card information, it wants a list of your last twenty purchases. You vainly try to shield your soul from view, as if that’s what “I Would Like” wants to get to know, baby. 
[5]

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Alan Walker – Alone

Nope, never mind, still grumpy…


[Video][Website]
[3.20]

Iain Mew: With the change in formula for “Sing Me to Sleep” bringing down his chart longevity and Mikael Persson Mike Perry meanwhile showing the power of the original formula down to the English sounding name, it’s no surprise Alan Walker has gone back to what worked, and it has again. “Alone” is fizzy water with a slight taste of trance and differs from “Faded” pretty much only in adding a bit more uplift into the mix. That makes it a little harder to stomach, though it might just be me being a grump.
[4]

Will Adams: It sure as hell ain’t the best Velveeta-levels-of-cheese trance song called “Alone.” It’s not even the best song that makes a somewhat disappointing mélange of early aughts trance sensibilities called “Alone.” Why bother?
[3]

Ramzi Awn: I miss my high school friends, but I know I’m not alone.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Like the climactic track of a direct-to-VHS sequel to Sister Act 2, in which the group in need of saving isn’t a gospel choir but a milquetoast children’s chorus (uncredited in the movie) and the vector of salvation isn’t R&B but EDM. The kiddies stand in a row on the auditorium stage as the director cues one choppy solo note each. The clapping is polite.
[1]

Alfred Soto: “Closer” made respectable these twinkling pitch-altered horrors. I wonder if Noonie Bao insisted on Alan Walker’s removing her from the credits.
[1]

Will Rivitz: I typically excuse edgy melodrama in mediocre electronic music by reminding myself that I would have loved the song as a fifteen-year-old; I’m not sure even teenaged me would have listened to this.
[2]

Megan Harrington: When the pulse of self-preservation weakens to shallow narcissism, “Alone” plays on the stereo. 
[3]

Tim de Reuse: Hey, remember Airheads? Those cloyingly sweet taffy-ish things with the texture of an industrial byproduct? That’s this song, I think. There’s admittedly a certain appeal to the sterile, plastic pep of Walker’s production, all laminated and glossy even more than most EDM — even the vocals are processed enough to fall in the uncanny valley — but, as with Airheads, the appeal is fleeting and there just isn’t a lot of interesting flavor behind it.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: One of my favorite essays from last year was Meaghan Garvey’s look back on Eurodance and the loneliness felt within that genre’s hits from the turn of the century. It’s not too hard to trace a connection between those songs and the fist-pumping sincerity of today’s EDM. And from the title on, it’s not making it too easy for me to avoid making that link between Alan Walker’s “Alone” and Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone.” Someone’s probably holding on to Walker’s brighter, more optimistic take on loneliness, just embracing the fidgets and the explosions as they keep his advice in mind. Whether it’s a generational split or just my head space right now, I prefer Deejay’s. While Walker outright assures no one is alone, Deejay leaves you with a question that will perhaps forever remain unsolved. I like to search for my own answer, I guess.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: EDM has won, and we have lost.
[1]

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Tove Lo – True Disaster

See? We do like music, honest!


[Video][Website]
[6.73]

Claire Biddles: On the surface, Tove Lo is just another elegant waster of pop, simultaneously embracing and being jaded by the dark side of sex and partying. But unlike others who are now just going through the motions of wasted discontent — The Weeknd, Lana Del Rey — Tove’s integrity permeates through her clubbed-out persona. There’s a drive and a self-awareness to “True Disaster” that’s familiar to anybody who has sought release in the night out, with its stages of nihilism and self-preservation mirrored in the different tones she lends to the recurring phrase “I’m gonna get hurt” — certainty, determination, resignation. But seeking to get hurt doesn’t mean she’s playing the victim, which is another thing that makes Tove Lo feel authentic — she knows that hard-partying women aren’t inherently weak good girls gone bad; aren’t essentially “good” or “bad” at all. “We get dirty and we go hard” is standard party girl talk, but the follow up “some things we don’t mean” is more nuanced, more revelatory, and she’s not afraid of exposing the humanity behind the persona. When she announces “you’re just as bad,” she could be addressing her one night stand, but I like to think she’s talking to the female listener — a breaking of the fourth wall to remind us that sometimes this is what we want too.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: Synth-y is the new too trashy — just ask the Starboy. And Tove Lo lives for the disastrous lows, maybe more than the highs. Her voice sounds flatter than it should, and “zero fucks” doesn’t quite roll off her tongue, but her numbness to consequence only drives “True Disaster” even closer to the glorious edge.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The dark-hearted cousin of Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder,” this single begins with silence and proceeds with all the confidence its electronic clatter can muster. It has an appealing blankness.
[6]

Will Adams: Tove Lo’s fixation on the self-destructive and hedonistic has never really done it for me, but “True Disaster” is a fully realized illustration of it. Thanks to the synth throb and sudden dynamic changes, it’s the first time I feel the menace. But the real difference is Lo’s performance; the kicker is the bridge, where Tove Lo cries out “I’m gonna get hurt!” with glee. If ever there was a clear definition of dark pop, this is it.
[7]

Megan Harrington: I find “True Disaster” resonates well enough but isn’t a fun listen the way Tove Lo’s previous singles were. But fun was an expectation I put on Tove Lo, not one that she, either explicitly or implicitly, promised. I liked the way she dressed her problems up, on “Habits,” on “Moments,” and let them glitter and shine, beautiful gooey wounds. They were honest songs but they didn’t sacrifice any of their magnetism. “True Disaster” sounds more like scabs, the damage is visible but in a dull and crusty way. Problems are not supposed to sound appealing, and a person can’t bleed forever simply because it’s pretty. What Tove Lo offers with “True Disaster” is the truth without the patina of desire. This is the face we don’t want to see in the mirror, the one that looks back. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Awesome Moroder-esque throb, good songwriting from Tove Lo and Oscar Holter, and a singer who knows how to deliver her lyrics: this is what quality pop music sounds like in 2017.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: The pitfall of radio-ready music in 2017 is that a lot of it sounds the same. And the truth is that too much of it is unremarkable.  
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s hard to find the strengths in “True Disaster” that are solid enough to carry all the parts that don’t work. The bridge in particular has its cliff-hanger tension undermined by the bizarre “zero fucks about it,” a bit of a garish gesture to hipness (though not quite as silly as the “hide my feels” or the “get dirty/go hard” bits). And the exhaustion that billows through out the song really works wonders, but it’s this dated Drive-style electro pulse music that’s been done to death and become possibly the most revelation-by-numbers electronic pop style in the world right now. For all of Tove Lo’s strengths as a songwriter, her production makes her seem B to C-list pop, which when tied up in the more awkward attempts to fit in, makes her whole approach less misfit by standing out and more so by failure to comprehend when she’s not keeping up.
[3]

Elisabeth Sanders: Tove Lo remains the patron saint of self-aware self-destruction, somehow seeming powerful even within songs whose thesis is, essentially, please hurt my feelings because I’d rather feel that than nothing or something more boring. On other artists it can feel too much like self-pity or hyperbole; with Tove Lo, it always seems like it’s just the truth. While this doesn’t have the bloody edge of “Habits,” there’s an accelerating straightforwardness to it that feels a lot like walking to somebody’s house late at night when you know you shouldn’t and that’s one of the reasons you’re gonna.
[7]

Josh Winters: No one ever really talks about it, but the most heartbreaking aspect of enduring self-imposed suffering is how fucking solitary the whole thing can be. Feelings and emotions aren’t easily translatable for one to comprehend, especially when they’re colored and compounded by individual, isolated experiences. You can express what you’ve internalized through words and conversations and pray to God that the other person can empathize with what you’re going through, and if that doesn’t work, you can always take action. There’s still a small part of me that finds my foot firmly on the pedal, careening at breakneck speed with no end in sight, and looming in the rearview mirror is the threat of the thrill. Perhaps I should be concerned for myself with how intimately I’ve identified with “True Disaster” and the entirety of Lady Wood, but for the moment, I see Tove Lo, a woman in distress, and within that vision, I’m able to see myself.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Where Fiona was full as a tick, predatory and confessional, Tove’s full as a strobe light: not inward-focused but outward, on all whose realities need heightening. The track’s a gorgeously made-up mess. It thinks “I can’t hide my feels” and “zero fucks about it” are “real,” when what’s actually real is the palpable seductiveness of oncoming heartbreak; it commissions the shiniest electro-throb to hide the messiest background vocals; it professes heartstrings played faster and faster when the idea is steadiness, an implacable, controlled freefall into self-destruction. It’s not manic, it’s balletic: an exquisite final dance anyone can join in.
[9]

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Steve Aoki & Louis Tomlinson – Just Hold On

Maybe we’ll be happier with a different One Direction member…


[Video][Website]
[3.62]

Katherine St Asaph: It begins: the X Factor after X Factor, i.e. the competition for which member of One Direction makes the best EDM vocalist. Rock is dead, we’re told, and that whole Mind of Mine tangent is receding into its one week of 2016; what else are these celebrities to do? Louis has a decent shot at second-best depending on the rest of the bunch, but “Just Hold On” is hardly a bravura turn and Steve Aoki doesn’t give him a banger to compensate.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: Louis Tomlinson was the weakest singer and canniest member of One Direction, so it maybe should not be entirely surprising that he proves himself to be a deft hook singer on this collaboration with Steve Aoki. He should look for a better creative partner: Aoki only provides technical gloss to the stadium EDM sound towards which One Direction was ill-advisingly heading in its final Zayn-less days. Unlike the enervated sex jams Zayn has been pushing, Tomlinson has maintained his old band’s interest in rousing inclusion. Without fanbase or bandmates beside him, however, the effect is diminished.
[4]

Olivia Rafferty: I don’t know if Louis Tomlinson ever really had the vocal chops or the personality to hold his own as a solo artist. In terms of his voice, it has such a light timbre that it never manages to offer any depth or emotion to what he’s singing. As for the rest, I’d really like to see what he offers the world apart from being able to jump up and down in a white t-shirt and have fake babies. And this track doesn’t do that for me. In terms of a post-1D debut, both Zayn and Niall did a bit of “this is me” in their new songs: Zayn solidifying a Bad Boy image while grabbing Gigi Hadid’s hips in “Pillowtalk,” and Niall quietly reinforcing his image as the Golden-Hearted Irish Boy with an acoustic number. What does Louis’s debut communicate about his image, now that he’s free from those boyband shackles to truly be his self? “Just Hold On” is filled with run-of-the-mill idioms and imageries, opening and closing chapters, rising and falling suns, all saturated with a “woah oh” refrain that hits you over the head like a blunt hammer. All suspicions confirmed: Tomlinson doesn’t have what it takes to stand alone.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: This is about as good as could be hoped from a Louis Tomlinson solo single. For one thing, the connotations of the phrase “Louis Tomlinson solo single” were nebulous at best, but he’s found a happy medium between a banger and balladry that he’s able to pull off. With or without the poignance of biography, the lyrics are at the more touching end of generic, and it’s also the closest “Atemlos” will come to being a hit outside Central Europe, which is a boon in itself.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Tomlinson’s whinny suits electronic tracks better than expected, but in 2017 pop electronic tracks proceed as expected, or even below expectations.
[3]

Andy Hutchins: The cover art for “Just Hold On” is Steve Aoki and Louis Tomlinson in silhouette, a perfect illustration of this pale imitation of so many better EDM-pop songs.
[3]

Ramzi Awn: For all its good intents, “Just Hold On” employs the infamous Kesha “oh” stutter to far lesser effect than Zayn and Taylor Swift on this Bieberesque and boring single. 
[3]

Megan Harrington: Not quite a knockoff, but the song version of one of those drinking and painting classes where everyone has two glasses of wine and creates a semblance of Starry Night. “Just Hold On” isn’t “Glad You Came,” it’s your very own “Glad You Came.” 
[4]

Mo Kim: fun.’s gang vocals in one hand and The Wanted’s beats (and Auto-Tune) in the other, Louis Tomlinson holds onto these Spotify Top 50 tropes with shameless professionalism and little else. Even my usual generosity towards Good Feelings Songs For Hard Times shrivels at the feet of such penetrating insights as “the sun goes down and it comes back up.”
[3]

Jessica Doyle: Some nights I stay up, cashing in my bad luck. Some nights I put the book down after the chapter ends and never pick it up again — only I don’t, because either the book’s not worth finishing and I abandon it regardless of the chapter, or I want to know what happens next. Some nights I resent songs where the lyricists don’t seem to have thought through their own banalities. Some nights I wonder if the invocation of “Glad You Came” is deliberate — if so, it was a miscalculation: I’ll take the leering thuds of “take you by the hand/hand you another drink” over this any damn day. Night. Whatever.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Look, I’m not even capable of savaging a kid making a song inspired by his mother’s passing. Its tasteful in how it tries to present a sense of optimism that’s universal in the wake of loneliness and separation, that isn’t nearly as self-involved as it reflects on an inability to have someone “there” for you. If anything, I just wish Aoki could’ve perhaps gone for something more moderate, not trying to achieve this weird sense of mid-level banger to uplift, but anything else would betray the goals of being so anthemic and positive. Tomlinson’s voice is what it is, but there’s some charm in someone trying so hard just to convey with his words rather than vocal gestures.
[5]

Joshua Copperman: Why do so many pieces of music have this same exact melody?? In fact, every melody in this thing seems taken from another song: the pre-chorus sounds like the “everyone else in the room can see it…” section from “What Makes You Beautiful,” the chorus is literally “Glad You Came,” and the drop is, erm, “Cecelia.” Wait, what’s that? It’s about his mom dying of leukemia? Oh gosh. Well, um, it’s satisfying to hear in a way that the other two songs covered today decidedly aren’t. And not dissimilar to his (former?) bandmate’s “This Town,” Louis sounds genuine, which makes sense given the subject matter. If writing, recording, then performing this on X Factor was cathartic in some shape or form, then it’s difficult to judge this too harshly. Needless to say, that doesn’t make it a good song, but if it does its job, it can’t be a bad one. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I couldn’t have picked Tomlinson out of the 1D lineup if you’d paid me, but based on “Just Hold On,” he sounds like Justin Bieber’s less interesting little brother. (Yeah, I initially didn’t think that was plausible, either, but there you go.) Fittingly, Aoki’s snooze of a track comes off as a xerox of a xerox of a xerox of a Major Lazer/DJ Snake/Diplo/[insert pop-leaning EDM DJ here] track. Which doesn’t surprise me in the least, because I’ve proudly been an Aoki hater since 2007. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for. 
[0]

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello – Bad Things

Do you think we’ll be happier about more kink and less One Direction?


[Video][Website]
[3.50]

Josh Winters: I can’t explain cisgender heterosexual attraction, either, but from the sound of it, it seems like a ba–
[1]

Alfred Soto: I know it’s “complicated” because Machine Gun Kelly lets his teeth sink into her lips.
[2]

A.J. Cohn: While this track teasingly suggests kinkiness, the actual sexual fantasies described are decidedly bland: “Let me paint the picture/Couch by the kitchen/Nothin’ but your heels on.” It seems that sexual acts of the heterosexual, fairly vanilla variety are the titular “bad things” — wait, maybe I love this song.
[4]

Mo Kim: No, Camila, you’re not out of your head — in fact, it would be nice if you could get out of it and stop mewling half of your parts in that helium-inflected voice. Then again, one could make the argument that she’s only putting as much substance into her performance as she could find in the lyrics; would that we knew any of the Bad Things she and Machine Gun Nerf Gun Kelly (who raps like a first-grade teacher trying to spice up a Common Core lesson on rhyming) are into. Alas, nowhere in the song are they ever specified, so we can only infer the abominable pleasures this duo want to partake in: avoiding BPMs above 10, plagiarizing Soundcloud user unprettytrapstar’s remix of a formerly tolerable Fastball song, making kink vague and nondescript enough to pitch to a mass-market audience busy Googling tips to spice up their sex life, boring everybody within earshot of a major radio station and/or mall to death. One pity point for the poor middle school students who will have to endure this dirge at every talent show in their foreseeable future. 
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Camila Cabello is truly one of the darkest, most malicious sadists on this Earth. By some defect of personality, she has chosen to take the worst parts of Ariana Grande (her tendency to scream to the point of ear-piercing), and overload that both with even more bombast and neurotic tics of melisma. The same way military experts think blasting Metallica at prisoners ensures breakdown of will, Cabello’s depravity could warp and plague the minds of the unwilling victims. It’s a great counterpoint to Machine Gun Kelly, who’s greatest weakness is, despite a technical mastery and excellence of execution, he has not come close to expressing one human emotion with his voice. There was a point on early singles when he goes for anger, and he screamed with all the intensity of an exhausted parent faking monster noises for five clamoring children. As a base for someone who knows nothing about having a personality, this is the perfect combination of too much “personality”; somehow, Kelly dodges his usual brand of post-Eminem/Tech N9ne wank and veers into accidental parallels to A-Wax’s white trash toxicity — though a kinder, gentler version for teens who should just do their best to find the chill once in a while.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Machine Gun Kelly combines Wiz Khalifa’s stoner meditations with Eminem’s maladroit earnestness, which apparently is how he ends up swooning over a “pretty little vixen” who runs her nails over his back tattoo. Times like these, I long for the return of real dirtbags — or at least Shifty Shellshock. Cabello — the vixen, I guess — has a nursery rhyme to sing; the good thing about having to sit still and sing pretty is there’s no risk of embarrassing yourself.
[3]

Katie Gill: The problem with “Bad Things” is simple: for all they’ve tried to push her, Camila Cabello has always been one of the weaker members of Fifth Harmony. Her voice trends towards the nasal and she consistently has a problem with higher notes, something that’s apparent right off the bat when her attempt at breathlessly, easily singing “if you only knew the bad things I like” comes off as her desperately trying to reach those notes in the first place. Add in a criminally boring rap from Machine Gun Kelly and this song lives up to it’s title.
[3]

Andy Hutchins: Camila Cabello’s career is still Ariana Tall at most, but you get the sense she’d like to be Ariana Venti, at a minimum. Good thing, then, that there will always be damsel-in-distressed love placements like this one, on which she climbs the upper register to tantalize Bad Boy’s white boy “Wild Boy” with “If you only knew the bad things I like.” None of her specific likes are ever fully vocalized, while Kellz, so far removed from telling Waka he’s a “hard rapper” that he may as well be chewed taffy, settles for heels-only sex on the “couch by the kitchen,” yet this love is “so unique.” “Love The Way You Lie,” an equally problematic song, at least tried to convince listeners that there might be pain and passion in an abusive relationship.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: The pop machine can’t even commit to calling him “Machine Gun Kelly” — at least only Radio Disney felt compelled to attribute “Closer” to “TCS,” and also that’s horrifying. So the bad-things ceiling is pretty low from the outset, somewhere around liking Fastball. If we’ve learned one thing from the Great Derailment of 2016 it’s that we live in conservativeland, where “bad things” generally means “thoughts of premarital sex by women”; if we’ve learned one thing from this bleak midwinter of relationships in pop, it’s that “bad things” here probably means the woman being the top. Most duets are manufactured for follower synergy, and the difference is fandom and taste. So I shouldn’t make too much of Camila Cabello never having heard “Out of My Head” or Kelly’s pop push, like G-Eazy’s, existing because top 40 radio is scrambling harder and harder not to playlist black rappers. But sometimes it’s just that extra bit of blatant.
[1]

Josh Langhoff: Just when I’d forgotten the unrelenting hellscape of the late ’90s, here comes a remake of the other Fastball song, with all the portent of György Ligeti plonking out the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack, and lifting its title from that unfunny comedy where Jeremy Piven kills the stripper in Vegas. Sure, baby doing bad bad things can be a turn-on, and pissing all over Fastball songs is the best way to honor them. But just as comedies should be funny, sexy songs should be erotic. These two sound like they mistook a medical textbook for The Joy of Sex.
[1]

Edward Okulicz: Oh you dimwits, the good Fastball single was always “Fire Escape,” and having sex on one of those might actually qualify as a Bad Thing. Camila Cabello sounds like she thinks she needs to apologise for having a vagina.
[2]

Ramzi Awn: They bring up a good sample, that’s for sure. And Ms. Cabello’s vocal is outrageous.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: The ambient intro is bizarre. It sounds like new Coldplay sampling themselves from Viva La Vida-era Coldplay. Also weird is Camila Cabello’s melody in the chorus, which didn’t make sense to me until I heard the source of the sample. It works there, because of Fastballer Tony Scalzo’s laid-back delivery, but the Auto-Tune and severe compression on Cabello makes that note sound like a glitch. MGK himself is cringey but passable enough. I like the “scars on my body” line as a hook (also “I’m insane/but you’re the same”), but the chorus clashes so much with the rest of the song that it’s difficult to reconcile the two sides. In fact, I’d like this song more if it was just called “Scars On My Body,” and those pre-chorus lines were the chorus. Then it would be fun to shout along to, but Camila and her awkward melody mostly remain in a completely different universe from the rest of the song. It brings to mind the time earlier in the decade where Skylar Grey was grafted onto several Alex Da Kid productions no matter the context. While Grey’s performances were usually excellent, until the last minute or so Cabello gives the exact kind of emotionless delivery that someone who left her former band “via her representatives” would give.
[4]

Will Adams: Camila Cabello’s solo leap is premature and already annoying, but I’m inclined to give her some kudos for sounding relatively restrained compared to YOoooUURRR’e tHEEeeE BoOoooOSss AaT hOoOMeEe, while Machine Gun Kelly represents the beginning of a wave of mealy-mouthed white dude rappers. So the problems with “Bad Things” are mostly its periphery, and the song itself is another example of radio sludge that likes to imply danger or badness without taking any risk in naming it.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s funny how so many current pop hits are mining the ’90s for their samples and interpolations, when the bulk of their intended audience isn’t familiar with said source material, often because they’re too young to recall it. Case in point, this single, built largely around a rejiggering of Fastball’s 1998 hit “Out of My Head” — I wonder, did producers The Futuristics and YektroBeatz use it for nostalgia value? Or (and this is where I lean) more likely, did they just like the melody of Fastball’s hit and decide that it was a good thing to incorporate into their single? Either way, “Bad Things” has reminded or informed me of the following things: a) “Out of My Head” kinda sounds like The Band; b) Machine Gun Kelly has no discernible talent whatsoever; c) I’m sick to fucking death of Caucasian rappers; d) Camila Cabello couldn’t have timed her departure from Fifth Harmony better, as this blows up into a huge smash; e) this record rides on her talent 100 per cent. I wish the production on this were a bit more distinctive, but it still stands out a bit from most Top 40 radio fodder these days, and for that I’m grateful. 
[6]

Megan Harrington: Do you believe in borrowed nostalgia? I don’t. I don’t think “Bad Things” is at all a sentimental, water colored ’90s retread. And sampling isn’t — and never was — an act of nostalgia. “Bad Things” isn’t nostalgic; it’s catchy. It’s catchy and it’s just a bit too vile which makes it complicated and fascinating. I’m compelled by the way co-dependence and lust fold together, staining each other and making the song’s narrators unlikable to anyone but themselves. I’m drawn to their narcissistic attraction, to their mutual sickness. Apart, these two are classic antagonists. Together, they are a very particular storybook romance: true love’s curdled remains. 
[10]

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Zayn & Taylor Swift – I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)

We shift from our BBC Sound Of 2017 coverage to the pop charts, but we’re not any nicer…


[Video]
[3.84]

Lauren Gilbert: This is Bad. For all that “Love Me Like You Do” felt like Lights Redux, it was a perfectly solid song outside of context. This features Zayn wailing (someone needs to tell him falsetto isn’t always a good idea) and Taylor utterly failing to save the track. It feels like someone told her to write something cinematic, and you can indeed picture the scenes from Fifty Shades Darker that this will soundtrack: Dakota Johnson looking sad in an art gallery, Dakota Johnson looking sad in a cab, flash of Jamie Dornan looking Imposing and Sexy, Dakota Johnson looking sad in a different art gallery. Movie soundtrack singles aren’t required to be this dreadful.
[2]

Katie Gill: Confession: I adore the Fifty Shades of Gray soundtrack. It’s the only place where awful Beyoncé remixes can sit side-by-side with various Top 40 artists trying to be “sexy” but in a watered-down, approved for Clear Channel radio type way. And speaking of Clear Channel-approved sexiness, there’s this song! It’s kind of awful! Zayn is desperately trying to do his best Prince with that falsetto and Taylor Swift is straight up phoning it in. It’s a half-assed mess and I LOVE IT. Every time the chorus starts up with “I DON’T WANNA LIVE… FOREVER,” I break out into giggles. Which granted, isn’t the intended effect of the song, but don’t make your song sound so silly and I won’t laugh at it.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There’s a way to take narcissistic angst and self-torment and make it work. Last year Kehlani turned the grotesquerie of the IG Meme Disease of Harley Quinn and Joker’s Bonnie & Clyde archetype into a perfectly tragi-dumb song like “Gangster” for Suicide Squad. The year before that Beyoncé made “Crazy in Love” go all overwrought and comically grave for Fifty Shades of Grey‘s soundtrack, and the Weeknd finally got to take his supplanting of a personality with kinks to the top 40 for that same project. This formula is not foreign in pop of the 21st century — that indulged feeling of inner darkness and putting on that King/Queen of Pain crown is pretty common. Heck, Swift even knows how to mock it. So who do I blame for taking such an obvious task and somehow screwing it up into an over-eager romp mistaking “darkness” for some sort of just plain ol’ romantic tension? Is it Antonoff, who thought he was trying to make sadomasochism “fun” (ha, double entendre)? Or is it Malik, who we’ve spent a good amount of time trying to draw fake depth from like water from rocks? It’s a simple enough scheme, and there’s a whole sea of edgelords who’d gobble it up with appreciation. Why couldn’t anyone realize that here?
[2]

Crystal Leww: I’m one of the handful of people who thought that Zayn’s debut album wasn’t a total trainwreck — while the album was 80 per cent filler, it also had its moments. Taylor Swift, despite her general media personality, is a phenomenal songwriter and a pretty good pop star. She’s proven that she can effectively pen songs for other people to make their own. So why does “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” sound like the worst parts of Zayn have dragged Taylor Swift into the hole of boring anonymity. This is so slow, so long, and so unsexy. The lone bright spot is “I been looking sad in all the nicest places,” which like, fine, we get it, you’re Taylor Swift, but at least it’s declaring who they are as artists.
[4]

Claire Biddles: Like “Pillowtalk,” this is trying so hard to be sexy, but it’s so unconvincing, and like “Pillowtalk” it’s because of the deeply unsexy performances. Both Zayn and Taylor come across as pretty asexual to begin with, but the constant forced falsetto makes for a really unpleasant listen. I guess at least if you went back to someone’s flat and they put this on you’d know to make your excuses and leave before the boring sex began.
[2]

Olivia Rafferty: Because when I’m commissioning a big, sexy number for my big, sexy film, I obviously think of Taylor Swift and Zayn. The lyrics barely grasp at anything that resembles a sentiment, and the “oh-oh oh oh” refrain is an ironically vapid space-filler. The biggest crime is that at some points the song actually has a little charm: that breathless, “baby, baby/I feel crazy,” or Taylor Swift’s verse. And then for some reason it was decided that Zayn must screech falsetto on the chorus, and TaySwift must sing the most criminally Swiftian lyric I’ve ever heard: “I’ve been looking sad in all the nicest places.” A half-hearted attempt to follow the anthemic “Love Me Like You Do” and a half-decent soundtrack the first time 50 Shades rolled around.
[4]

Megan Harrington: Overwhelmingly, duets between men and women are in service to a romantic narrative. And on the surface, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is no different, a supposedly lusty song tacked onto a supposedly lusty movie. But are there two performers any less sexual than Zayn and Taylor Swift? The two share a vocal chemistry similar to the rush neurotics feel when they stumble on a perfectly organized shelf of books — and that’s their only chemistry. The song, then, must be about something else, something other than desire and lost love. The refrain “I just wanna keep calling your name/until you come back home” suggests that we might have our first duet in service of finding a lost puppy?
[7]

Ramzi Awn: The right kind of anthemic also happens to be the kind that makes Taylor Swift sound good. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: Although Taylor Swift’s name is in the songwriting credits, this soundtrack theme has the fingerprints of men who would destroy the world with a blank falsetto if only she’d stop the nonsense and Come Back Home. The Weeknd. Drake. Everywhere I look, this po-faced pair: immobile with anger, confusing churlishness with pheromones.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: The Fifty Shades franchise offers pop royalty the chance to roleplay their unconventional fantasies, mixing sex and power, darkness and destruction. So goes the theory, anyway: the results (The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” for instance) have tended towards pouting and murk with neither titillation nor intrigue to compensate. Zayn has yet to evince the ability to project himself beyond the blank slate of his good looks — his falsetto “baby, baby/I feel crazy” on “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” has none of the desire or desperation that even a novice R&B singer could unearth from those words and their attendant post-Timbaland, click-clack rhythm. Taylor Swift is a smarter vocalist; even if she’s had little experience with R&B cadences, she still knows how to suggest a lyric like “I’ve been looking sad in all the nicest places” conceals fathoms of feeling beneath its surface. But Swift the writer doesn’t play nice with the other kids; her perfectionism and her steely-eyed creativity doesn’t well accommodate an equal partner, to the extent that her most triumphant 2016 work was “Better Man,” where she was the most powerful voice on a song in which she did not appear. Swift might well have within her a tantalizing reflection on sex and mortality, but a shared promo single for sequel Hollywood erotica, released in her gap year, is not where we’ll hear it.
[5]

Andy Hutchins: One of the greatest stratagems of Taylor Swift’s genius-level career was befriending Lena Dunham. Despite Lena Dunham being Lena Dunham, that brought Swift into pop maestro Jack Antonoff’s orbit at almost the precise moment when she was transitioning from pop-country to pop-pop, and when he was just done being trained in frequent Kanye collaborator Jeff Bhasker’s style on fun.’s Some Nights. (I mean, it’s either that, or living with a woman who is now dating the First Daughter’s strenuously Democratic brother-in-law, or being born to millionaire parents. It’s hard to weigh artistic and social positioning and inherited privilege with Tay!) Since Red  which Bhasker worked on, naturally — Swift has worked in Antonoff’s milieu, even if her biggest singles have been Max Martin specials: Shadowed gloss-pop, with just enough darkness contrasting her natural brightness to make her “edgy” and “fun” without also being sloppy. (“I been lookin’ sad in all the nicest places” says plenty about Swift’s conflation of status and composure with happiness.) “Forever,” — “Come Back Home” in a less fatalistic world — showcases how well she fits there, her breathy anonymity as a singer well-shrouded by the misty production and Zayn, whose far stronger falsetto is the star of the song itself. But he’s been here in the twilight, and Swift is only still immersing.
[7]

Anthony Easton: I love how his voice slides up when he sings “baby” — like Michael just a little bit — and I love how that is the only attempt at overshadowing her. In fact, a sample of both of them singing “baby, baby” to each other is a fascinating competing example of pop history as pop performance. The rest of it is disappointingly anonymous. 
[6]

Mo Kim: “Gimme something,” yelps Zayn in the first verse of this track, a pre-mortem for a slog that (save a few nice twinkles in the production) gives us nothing. 
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Every generation gets the “Once in a Lifetime” it deserves, and fails to get the “Who Wants to Live Forever” they so achingly want.
[3]

A.J. Cohn: Likely, this is meant to sound dark, achingly romantic, and sensual — notably not typical descriptions of Swift’s music. Unsurprisingly, her vocals are thin and uncomfortably breathy. Her chemistry with Malik is similarly unconvincing and not for his lack of effort. Using his exquisite falsetto to full effect, he seems to be trying his sexy best to make a slow jam out of a sub-1989 bonus track.
[4]

Will Adams: Ah, it’s easy when everyone contributes equally to the disaster. Jack Antonoff’s production is like a 1989 demo, with unfinished ideas (that false climax before the last chorus, like Zayn came too early, is the worst) and a sluggish arrangement. Zayn’s yelped falsetto hasn’t gotten any better, and Taylor Swift’s attempt to display versatility is just as laughable. As a Fifty Shades song it’s perfect, in that it’s trying so hard, but “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is so sexless, detached and inept that I can only imagine that Zayn and Taylor recorded their respective vocals with a mirror in the studio.
[1]

Joshua Copperman: There’s a specific kind of electro-pop song that goes for maximalism, where, to paraphrase Rick McCallum, every second has so many things going on. Jack Antonoff and Swift’s last single together, “Out of the Woods,” is one of those beautifully overwhelming songs. They reunite here, but for an R&B slow jam that plays to none of their strengths and seems to go out of its way to be “darker,” and not joyfully bombastic, which both singles from the previous movie were. Every time it sounds like it’s going to explode, it pulls back, like they want to try this whole minimalist thing out, but don’t know how to pull it off. The deliberate, yet misguided, attempt at minimalism would also explain the decision to not Auto-Tune Zayn’s falsetto. (Zayn and Taylor sound nearly identical anyway; if I’d heard that this was actually sung by the Ten Second Songs guy, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised.) The defining moment of this whole trying-too-hard-to-sound-effortless thing is the anti-climax at 2:58, inexplicable and inexcusable — everyone involved is capable of great pop music, but that moment was where I stopped trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. As long as Taylor doesn’t go down this route for her next album, this experiment can be forgiven, but experiments should not sound this formulaic. 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: My partner, upon first hearing this, suggested that he could barely hear the difference between Zayn and Swift, particularly on the chorus, and he’s not wrong. Neither of them should be centering their singing on their falsettos, both of which are incredibly unappealing, and additionally it sounds as if Swift stripped all of the personality from her voice before entering the studio. This song is all bombast, if the bombast were made from tissue paper. And since Jack Antonoff is involved, it of course has the predictable “boom-boom-boom-boom” drum track he’s been recycling since fun.’s “We Are Young.” Nothing, absolutely nothing about this is any good; fittingly, since it’s soundtracking a new Fifty Shades movie, this is the musical equivalent of an empty-calories Hollywood blockbuster.
[0]

Nellie Gayle: Did you ever see that one painfully awkward interview between 50 Shades costars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson? Never have I seen two people less likely to generate brutal lust and desire in a believable way. That is, until I heard Zayn and Taylor were collaborating on a song for the same franchise. While Zayn’s favorite habit is snaking his way around R&B tunes in an overreaching falsetto, Taylor prefers to lend her reedy vocals in the spectrum of pop-country to Top 40 bops. One thing both Zayn and Taylor accomplish very well in their respected fields is relatable anguish. Taylor’s vocal thinness translates into despair, while Zayn’s insistence on turning every lyric into a gymnastics exercise for his vocal chords. The production involved is really what transforms this song, and it’s clear that this is a surface-level reflection on a franchise neither star has any interest in or connection to. The 50 Shades empire is about presenting dangerous ideals to bored and titillated white women around the world, and this song manages to tease any sweetness or tenderness out of that narrative and turn it into a sultry, almost danceable banger. It’s Taylor’s riskiest bet yet — if you listen hard, you can hear the wails of Republican mothers around the country in the chorus as they wait for their daughters to be corrupted by this song — but it still remains a tame anthem to romantic melancholy more than anything. 
[5]

Friday, January 6th, 2017

AJ Tracey – Buster Cannon

Lastly, AJ Tracey is adamantly NOT funky, but we threw him in anyway for giggles.


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If Nike Tracksuits and Varsity Jackets could avoid clashing, you’d get AJ Tracey down to a T. The Ladbroke Grove-hailing MC has an effortless team captain cool about him; he demonstrates general wit that appeals to everyone in a vapid way, not offering too much introspection or even colorful imagination, but he’s unmistakably charming, playful, and his nimble-tongue has a way of dancing out bars that few are matching. Records like the Alex Moran EP are frustrating in how he’s so solid to the point of codified… Man can only live off tales of guns, gash, green and gallantry for so long. “Buster Cannon” is probably one of the less interesting outings, thanks to the ever hit and miss output of Canadian try-hard Tre Mission’s grime-by-numbers and a pretty middling hook. But if there’s anything I love about AJ, its those casual flow-switches (see: second verse) where you can appreciate the ease with which he can work in the genre. If anything, that’s his problem: grime is so effortless for AJ Tracey, you get the feeling he isn’t even trying.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Backstage all he sees are bums and boobs, so he settles for rhyme-slinging on stage — the only place where he feels comfortable. Getting the flow right and finding correct descriptors mitigates any hint of malice; he’s observing not criticizing. He isn’t even condemning himself and insisting it makes him interesting — what a concept.
[7]

Iain Mew: Comparing himself to star footballer of 2016 N’Golo Kanté feels apt, because the chief asset AJ Tracey brings to “Buster Cannon” is the same relentless persistence and energy in covering ground you’d expect it to take a few people to manage. Back him up with a producer or partner who can lend a bit more finesse than “Buster Cannon” has, and we could be talking a winner.
[5]

Megan Harrington: Relentless and penetrating, a sadist’s drill scattering skull fragments over your grey matter like so much salt and pepper. 
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: I always have a soft spot for emcees getting away with using a nerdy ass reference for their hook or a punchline as AJ Tracey does here. But it’d be great if his mentioned roof-blowing success matched even a fraction of energy of an actual Buster Cannon. It takes nonchalance to successfully slide in such a reference, though I also want the record to feel like he’s bringing something atomic, not just wiping the dirt off his shoulder.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Rare do we get a Dragon Ball Z reference, and an excellent, triple barrelled dick joke–dense with meaning, not very much of it significant, the thickness of this has an unrelenting speed.  
[6]

Friday, January 6th, 2017

Anderson .Paak – Come Down

Second: a funky song that most of us grooved to.


[Video][Website]
[6.38]
Adaora Ede: Looks like we’ve got a snake charmer here. It’s a funk bassline that nearly tricks us into basking into the sublimity of crying “WHAT’S THE YAMS???”. Paak’s deliberate black disco influence reaches past the stalwart that has infiltrated the mainstream in Bruno Mars’s Bimonthly Corniness–for one, Paak serves some vocal histronics–but the punk sway tails his discernible apathy. It sounds like he’s sorta pissed, but after a while, it’s clear that the only thing that is going to save us from an enervated chorus is TI’s feature. I am highly in favor of TI’s radicalization of a weed metaphor, but at what cost? TI injects a dose of old-head wisdom with a babysat flow that seems more suited to an mellow urban hit, that even your parents can nod along to in the car, than that of his tacked on political commentary. It’s all very, very enchanting and very, very equivocal. Follow the bass for a good time.
[6]

Will Rivitz: Malibu was bar none my favorite album of 2016, and this is one of the standout tracks. It only truly comes into its own live–.Paak is most vibrant when he’s grooving hard, and this one definitely fits the bill–but it sounds pristine on a recording too. The little stutter-steps the bass does, the delivery of “let me take these bitches off, let me get the full scope” (n.b. in reference to “Gucci frames”), everything has these neat flourishes about them that demonstrates .Paak’s performance bona fides expertly. I welcome .Paak’s inevitable takeover of the hip-hop world, and we’ll be all the better for it when everyone’s listening.
[9]

Alfred Soto: I almost forgot Malibu last month when completing a best-of list. Intelligent and goofball in equal measure, it often stumbles into grooves instead of creating them. “Come Down” was always a highlight, a chance for Anderson .Paak to flaunt his undeniable stage charisma (as I saw at Pitchfork Festival last July). But this good drummer still has a groove problem.
[7]

Katie Gill: Malibu has been on plenty of Best of 2016 lists and it deserves every nod it’s gotten. Despite 2016’s overall musical turn towards gloom, malaise, and glumness, Anderson .Paak makes an album that’s bright, hopeful, and actually happy. “Come Down” extends Malibu‘s brightness with an infectious slightly dance, slightly funk piece that leaves you nodding your head and chanting along by the end of the song. “Don’t I make it look good,” he effortlessly raps, and we believe him 100%.
[8]

Anthony Easton: The excess of this–excess of highs, of drugs, of politics, of desire functioning as a critique of excess–is an ongoing strategy of hip-hop this year: hip hop that doesn’t want to give up its wokeness, its cocaine, or its love of Gucci. Since I love two of those three things, I can’t disagree.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Kendrick over the square root of Mark Ronson reduced to Jurassic 5, factored at a rate of The Roots opening for Dave Matthews Band for two years. Multiply that by trench-weed and white people dreadlocks, figure in the percentage chance Bela Fleck is in the vicinity, and remember to weigh that against Chance The Rapper’s stupid cartoon noises. The result is “Come Down”.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: I’ve liked .Paak more the more I’ve heard him, and the reason is increasingly simple, I think: he’s the distaff Missy Elliott. He can rap and sing with equal aplomb, and his band the Free Nationals come from (or more accurately, sound like) the same LA scene as the folks who play with guys like Kendrick Lamar. This flexible, bendable gutbucket soul is for 2017 and beyond. If Sly Stone were young and thriving these days, I suspect he’d sound like this.
[7]

Megan Harrington: In perfume there’s a musk note. If you’re unfamiliar or a novice you might think this note is earthy, even a bit sweaty. After all, musk is also a euphemism for body odor. Often, however, the musk is “scrubbed” — it smells clean, like soap. “Come Down” is that scrubbed musk note in funk.
[4]