Friday, April 12th, 2019

Peggy Gou – Starry Night

Some sumptuous house to lead you into the weekend…


[Video]
[7.75]

Alfred Soto: What a sumptuous mix! The Korean producer weaves an elementary bass line around house chords, 1984-era hand claps, and catchphrases from her native tongue. It sounds like July barbeques, and it’s only April.
[9]

Kat Stevens: Peggy has been consistently churning out this sort of quality elastic-band house, full of spring and space and snap. “Starry Night” is basically breakfast techno, something that will get you up and out of the house in time to pick up the parcel from the sorting office before work.
[7]

Leah Isobel: Peggy Gou walks a specific, sublime line between lush textures and plastic camp. She builds “Starry Night” on a smorgasbord of digital sounds that sit just left of the real; the spiky handclaps, the city-pop synth pads, the chintzy keyboard, the vworp-y bass that defies the rules of physical noise. The beats drive the song forward with a relentless velocity, while she barks with military precision: “Moment. Now. Us.” Her music asks if it’s possible to engineer feeling from sheer determination; my body moves for me, answering yes.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Slinking, poppy bass sidewinds alongside bubbly, strolling drums as chipper piano chords are followed by ghostly wailing synths and bottled, flat-smacked percussion. Gou breathily sings, then issues soft but firm chants over boiling synths that are finally laid like a blanket over the whole production.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: Immaculately tasteful house in the Todd Terje vein, the sort I’d be immensely pleased to hear out in the wild, but a little safe and stakes-less to seek out specifically.
[7]

Will Adams: I wasn’t sold on this genteel house workout until the trance chords started pumping through the right side of the mix, and I was even more intrigued when the thumb piano followed it. “Starry Night” builds patiently, perhaps too much, but the payoff is worth it.
[7]

Iris Xie: This week I’ve been dropping this in at various points during Jayda G’s “Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF),” and the transition is so smooth and clear like freshly washed glass. The house music instrumentals are lively and have funky vitality, and the subtle marimbas in the back bring in a lively feel of participation that is infectious and feels a little visceral. Combined with Peggy Gou’s own proclamations, and I’ve been thinking about how interesting it is to see how house music, which is originated from queer Black people, and the way both of these songs have their own particular ways of bringing out the particular energies and focuses of these particular artists. In this case, Peggy Gou goes for a different type of effortless, driving cool that is more grounded in getting you up and dancing by using the instrumentals to get you back up and moving spontaneously, in contrast to Jayda G asking you to take up space in very refined and posed forms. Both valid, but still very interesting to witness and participate in.
[7]

Will Rivitz: Say what you will about lo-fi house — creatively bankrupt, a constant reminder of streaming’s algorithmic churn, what have you — but its explosion has led to a seepage into myriad other sub-genres and scenes, and its omnipresence has meant that of the many strands of its diffuse hybridization that have been thrown onto walls of speakers, a few of them have stuck. In particular, its tongue-in-cheek ethos matches nicely with the less darkly and stoically serious mélanges of house, particularly the Terjeified funk of “Starry Night.” Gou’s track is a masterclass in doing less with less, six or seven disparate loops interweaving with little variation into a tightly-knit scarf of warm disco. As anything more than a lovely accompaniment to a night out or an afternoon of work, it’s a little listless, but as an accompaniment, it is sublime — and, honestly, most house that tries to be more ends up overwrought and undercooked. See you on the floor.
[7]

Friday, April 12th, 2019

Ariana Grande & Victoria Monét – Monopoly

One taught us indifference…


[Video]
[5.00]
Alfred Soto: Congratulations — you’re the biggest pop star in the world. You win all the marbles. Profligacy is its own reward in this business. So is sticking hip-hop cadences where they don’t belong.
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: Better than “7 Rings” because it gives a more honest peek into the rich person’s mindset than the former’s itemized list of Barbie Dreamhouse accessories. True opulence is being so unbothered about signing away 90% of the royalties to your second-biggest hit that you make it the biggest brag line on the sequel. This sort of unsubtle fourth wall breaking is something usually rewarded by my attention span, but here it feels like yet another bone thrown to Stan Twitter to cover for a lack of strong ideas. It didn’t even occur to me that the “women and men” line would become a ready-made controversy because it just floats through the current along with everything else, save for the precision-strike whistle register at the end. It’s nice to pull back the curtain and witness the growth of a songwriting partnership in real time, but if I wanted to listen to “Feeling Myself” on Ambien, I would just… do that.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: The only thing I love more than two girlfriends having fun, is two girlfriends having fun while flexing on dudes. And if there is a declaration in support of being bi? Oof, even better. Maybe just produce the song a little better next time, no? Victoria Monét has a good voice and the weird flattening effect applied does her no justice, truly.
[6]

Iris Xie: This is a song you’d play at 2 or 3 am, when the party’s over, and the people who are still there are just chatting on the couch while others are pitching in to help clean up the space. They’re both feathery and light with their vocals, tapping and gliding over the relaxed beat and horns. The bridge is cute and exuberant, and overall it’s low-key, frothy, and encouraging.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Grande and Monét are clearly having fun, and “Monopoly” has the easy confidence and rapport of a duet carrying a lived-in friendship. Unfortunately, the song is more a collection of inside jokes and banter than anything useful to the outside listener, leaving “Monopoly” as more of a curiosity or footnote in Ariana Grande’s imperial period than anything else.
[5]

Will Adams: Much as I’d like to buy that this is a fun song that two pals “randomly” “dropped” on a “whim” with a “homemade” video that “probably” took “twenty minutes” to make, my suspension of disbelief only goes so far. What “Monopoly” is: another carefully placed cog in Ariana’s imperial flex era — in this case a flex on a flex, with her boasting about still making money despite (rightfully) giving up 90% of “7 Rings” to Rodgers and Hammerstein. While it’s not as off-putting as its predecessor — the beat is bubbly, the multi-tracked whistle tones lovely and the pair appear to have genuine chemistry — both “Thank U, Next” and Monet’s solo material offer throwback R&B that’s more enjoyable and less concerned with being ostentatious.
[5]

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

Blackpink – Kill This Love

All these comparisons and I’m just hearing “I’m An Albatraoz”…


[Video]
[4.43]

Alfred Soto: Horn charts that evoke M.I.A. and “The Mickey Mouse Club” theme don’t kill my love — the compulsory good cheer does.
[4]

Katie Gill: It’s a testament to the state of pop music that halfway through this amazingly cheesy, outright stadium rock song, my mind was just an uninterrupted stream of “YESSSSSSS LET’S KILL THIS LOVE, COLORS AND NEON AND BBBRRAPP BBBRRAPP NOISES” like it’s a middle school pep rally or a Lisa Frank backpack funneled directly into my brain. In true Blackpink fashion, the song outright falls apart near the end, but there’s a marching band! I love marching bands! This is so much fun that I’ve kind of stopped caring that the song itself is just ‘alright’! 
[7]

Alex Clifton: The beginning is electric. The ending is phenomenal, albeit short–the final thirty seconds of “Kill This Love” are some of the most thrilling I’ve heard in pop music all year. Jennie and Lisa bring the heat with their raps. “Let’s kill this love!” is a great thing to yell at Coachella. And yet I’m so annoyed with the way Jisoo and Rosé’s sung bits feel slotted in; they really slow down the forward momentum of the song. 4Minute played with tempo much better with “Hate“–it lulls you into thinking it’s a slow song before bursting in with a chorus you want to yell. I’m so frustrated because I think that “Kill This Love” is a good single, but it could’ve been lifted to “great” with a few structural adjustments.
[6]

Iris Xie: What the hell! During the process of composing this song, did Teddy and Bekuh Boom listen to Red Velvet’s “Really Bad Boy,” then the last Migos album, and then decided to make Jisoo work harder by singing in her limited range and smashed the end result into their first discarded draft of “Ddu-du Ddu-du”, which is really just a re-interpretation of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules“? The only thing that would make this song worse is the fact that he combined both the Star Wars Marching theme song with a strange hook mutation that combines 2NE1’s “I Am the Best’s” “Bam ratatata tatatatatas” with f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum.” The difference is that those two songs were going for a specific vision and mood, while this is a befuddled mess. The all-English chorus is Kesha’s “Die Young” reduced to a cyanide pill, the generic chorus yell of “Let’s kill this love!” is unsettling but perfect for their upcoming Coachella set, Lisa is doing her best Migos impression, Rose perfectly slots into the trend of indie dance-pop singers like Maren Morris with her pitchy and pressured vocals, Jennie does her best impression of being a badass, Jisoo’s parts remain forgettable build-ups, and the horns are peppy “Black Parade.” All together, they’re trying to go for emotional stadium presence, a sticky dance routine, a catchy hook, and BLACKPINK IS IN YOUR AREA!! But in flipping on and off so many times in trying to establish its numerous images, “Kill This Love” speeds along and runs out of time and crashes into its sudden ending, resulting in a dazed and incomplete feeling, which is disappointing because it could have been a fantastic combination if executed well. I usually like how K-pop pulls in so, so much from the pop atmosphere and sometimes makes something new and wild out of it with sharp precision, but “Kill This Love” is what happens when there’s no vision, all ambition, and significant confusion. Maybe if I was working underneath a CEO that is part of a completely terrible organized crime scandal, I’d be confused and exasperated too. Unfortunately, “Kill This Love” is beyond messy and uninspired, to the point of it being a statement of burnout on the frail attempts of trying to make Blackpink actually have a distinct sound. 
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Blackpink are not pitiful per se, but they are to be pitied despite all their success. Ultimately all they are ever expected to sonically return time and time again to the notion of K-Pop as abrasive challenges of the supposedly tame and stale world of pop. The 2NE1 criticism is cheap and old but ultimately true because they are saddled with the same expectations and obligations that the group they were modeled after likewise languish under. Worse yet, this is a role that other groups are fulfilling all the time with more aplomb and effectiveness; specifically G-IDLE who even in their efforts as a Fake Group perfectly understand how to do what’s expected of them and deliver something with some bite. “Kill This Love” is bafflingly hollow. There’s no real chorus, verses, bridge, nothing. Even Lisa’s rap bits sound like the barest afterthoughts. Everything about the girls remains oblique and devoid of personality and instead all you get is a synth-horn that’s meant to sound like something off the first SD Laika EP yet summons a real wet noodle of a drop from the Scylla & Charybdis that is Teddy Park these days in that you’re ultimately getting sucked into nothingness. At the rate this group goes, I’m fully prepared to end up depressed at the mere thought of a new Blackpink song.
[0]

Will Adams: A martial drum ‘n’ brass drop that’s a less catchy “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du,” a breakdown that’s only interesting because it quotes N.E.R.D. by way of Q-Tip, and overall forced sass: consider the love killed.
[4]

Iain Mew: The song is a derivative mess and makes no attempt to hide it. It’s anchored by the brutal synth blare, pushing at the limits of what a sound in a pop song which approximates to a real instrument can be. It’s as if when Tim Wright had made the Lemmings soundtrack at the last minute to get around copyright issues he hadn’t had to work with ancient Galop Infernal and London Bridge, but was instead gifted rights to the YG catalogue and “London Bridge.” In context of how hard that goes, the abandon with which the chorus hits the self-destruct button is just right. 
[7]

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

Zara Larsson – Don’t Worry Bout Me

Some of us worry, some of us don’t…


[Video]
[4.33]

Alfred Soto: I kept an open mind, but from the beat and use of echo to the affected baby doll vocal “Don’t Worry Bout Me” is so indifferent about its debts to Halsey, Dua Lipa, and the dozens of reconstituted tropi-chopped trop house hits of the last few years that it demands actual resistance.
[0]

Joshua Copperman: It’s probably because the #1 song in the country is less than two minutes in its original form, but while three and a half minutes was once the apocryphal length for a pop song, this seems to go on forever. One of the first lines is “Why do you do that to me?” but “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” is too tasteful to be the real-life version of the similarly named ALLY song. This thing is boring, the product of two better songs (“Passionfruit,” “One Kiss”) but without Drake’s endearing tics or Dua Lipa’s ability to elevate even the most generic music. There are some neat details, but they take multiple listens to hear, and this is not worth multiple listens. I just keep thinking about how much the synth at 2:10 reminds me of Countess LuAnn.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: Zara Larsson tweeted that her label didn’t like this song and lamented the fact that she couldn’t release what she wanted. It seems the label folded and allowed for this to be released as a single, but truth be told: I get it. This feels more like it should be in those copyright free music compilations on YouTube than a single release from a major label. Sometimes, the label knows what they’re saying. 
[3]

Iris Xie: Deep house remains irresistible to me, and the way the chorus kicks in with the little drum loops and slight flutes, with Larsson’s driving vocals, hit several happy points for me with its rollicking but sturdy rhythms. The bridge has a peculiar sound that sounds like a MIDI doorbell filtered through the buzz of a mosquito racquet, which helps break up the flow a bit before it goes into last quarter, which brings all the instrumentals in. “Don’t Worry About me” is more subtle than other pop house songs, but it would fill out the room on a summer day very well, without being overbearing or obtrusive. Unfortunately, it also feels more on the edge of forgettable than catchy, due to the level of evenness and safety with its arrangement, and how the last chorus sounds overly repetitive without any adjustments. The production doesn’t take advantage of the amount of space that was available in the mids, making it all sound a little gray.
[6]

Alex Clifton: It takes a lot these days to make a trop-house track where I’m not over it thirty seconds on, but Zara Larsson’s actually made quite a neat song here. It’s cowritten by Tove Lo and produced by the Struts (the first I would’ve guessed, the second I would not) and it’s good until Larsson steps up her vocals–that’s when “Don’t Worry Bout Me” elevates itself. I think my problem with some dance music ends up being that we don’t know anything about the person behind the AutoTune, but Larsson breaks free of that here and ends up sounding confident as she hits the line “I’m so unfazed.” I didn’t think I’d ever find catharsis in a Zara Larsson song, but it’s 2019; anything can happen.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: A song with two disparate things going on. The track: a glassy, moody, faraway dance beat, kinda like a heavily poppified version of Teresa Winter. The topline: sass and pain delivered with more personality and vocal life than I remembered Zara Larsson generally displaying. The two parts don’t particularly mesh, but they’re both well above average for what they are.
[7]

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

Jayda G – Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF)

One, don’t pick up the phone…


[Video]
[6.75]

Alfred Soto: The gender-ambivalent vocal and prominent bass called to mind Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle, but “Stanley’s Get Down” is no pastiche: this Berlin-based Canadian producer’s track ebbs like it’s keeping an eye on the attention span of Instagrammers and flows as if it conceived groove as sustained pleasure. Its weakness: less than six minutes.
[9]

Will Adams: While the idea of a stranger calling me out in a public space for being a wallflower is a lived nightmare scenario for me (sometimes the reason people bury themselves in their phones is not snobbishness but intense anxiety and fear of eye contact), Jayda G delivers it with enough warmth to make it sound inclusive and inviting. Even better that tucked between the sparse disco is enough hookiness — HEY YOU I SEE YOU — to help me unstick from the wall.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: So when Jayda G yells at strangers on the dance floor it’s an infectious postmodern banger, but when I do it I’m “ruining this bachelorette party” and “forcibly removed”???
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Called Out! At The Disco
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: I’m always interested in house tracks like this that establish the dance floor as a place with its own set of rules and standards. Jayda G reminds me of a millennial code — no app scrolling on the disco — like an addendum to the classic house tracks maintaining the dance-floor order before it. But she’s far less snobbish about the dos and don’ts; she’s just looking out for you to have a good time.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: A message that’s too sincerely goofy to disagree with, a single clunky percussion loop, and feathery vocals repeating far in the distance. The scant amount of material definitely works, and I appreciate the decision to let good things just sit there and be good without overcomplicating anything, but, man, wouldn’t it have been fun to just throw a rave piano in there or something?
[6]

Will Rivitz: Despite its exhortations, I can’t imagine myself properly getting down to this song unless it happens to be thrown down many hours into a set. It’s a dance track more functional than transcendental, only vital when surrounded by the proper context, never by itself. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
[6]

Iris Xie: This song is begging for an incredibly stylized, posed, but funky dance set piece. The combination of the drums, the “get up get up” coos, and the guitar, mixed together in that silky miasma, calls folks to submerge into a very relaxed cool. One poses and stunts in deference to Jayda G’s proclamations, and it’s the wisest decision you could possibly make for its runtime.
[7]

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

Alec Benjamin – Let Me Down Slowly

Oh, we do…


[Video]
[3.17]

Edward Okulicz: I’m a proponent of the relatively painless quick breakup. I don’t think someone who’s ready to move on needs to slow down most of the time, really. Nonetheless, I find this song’s commitment to stretching out a period of emotional rawness, through advocating it in lyrical pleas and proffering a performance from Benjamin that codes a tantrum in slow motion, to be admirable as concept almost as much as it is excruciating in practice. The narrator in this story must just be a nightmare to date, honestly.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Singing as if traversing a freshly mopped floor, Alec Benjamin offers hesitation and a politely synthed-up hook with which Years & Years and Troye Sivan could have gotten few more clicks. This should indicate to audiences how Benjamin codes. Pathos in search of a vessel.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: It’s not that his voice is high, it’s that it’s completely without gravitas or any sense of effort. He delivers lines like “I once was a man with dignity and grace” without even trying to lean into their latent melodrama, and it lands somewhere between “tonally disorienting” and “embarrassingly self-serious.”
[4]

Iris Xie: This song is strange because it sounds post-Hamilton to me, specifically “Wait For It,” which probably is post-something else but I can’t locate it at the moment. It’s probably in the combination of the steady dedication to pop hooks and the slight hip hop inflections in the topline. It also sounds perfect for the first trailer of a YA novel’s movie adaptation, and gives me flashbacks to all the Spider-Man movies, specifically a much sweeter take on Dashboard Confessional’s “Vindicated.” The song is surprisingly delicate in tone, which is expressed through Alec Benjamin’s singing voice and how the unfussy production aims to highlight it, but “Let Me Down Slowly” lacks the rawness that would add texture to its polish.
[5]

Tobi Tella: I keep hearing this on the radio and I totally thought it was a woman the whole time, so thanks for the surprise, Alec! Unfortunately, that’s the only surprising (or interesting) thing about it.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Whenever I listen to a song that I’m trying to review, I try to consider both my own personal enjoyment and how much the intended audience for the song would enjoy it. “Let Me Down Slowly” gives me no joy– Alec Benjamin’s mewling vocal performance and constant reference to his own aggrieved masculinity are a turn-off, and the aggressively neutral guitar pop backing isn’t doing it for me either. But even if I were a heartbroken teen, “Let Me Down Slowly” wouldn’t work. It’s too drained of real emotion to work as a break-up song, too immersed in its self-pity to work as a getting-back-together anthem, too generically “sad” in aesthetic to ever be attached to an actual heartbreak. It’s a song for no one.
[0]

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Rosalía & J Balvin ft. El Guincho – Con Altura

Maximum Velocity Rosalía Collboration Year starts here (spoilers: more to come)…


[Video]
[7.50]

Alfred Soto: “Spare” doesn’t equal “uninhabited,” and Rosalía inhabits this insinuating example of 2003-era hip-hop, despite this pop move not quite suiting her talents.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: A true mark of an artist is when they can hop on an otherwise pretty generic track and make it sound distinct. Rosalía manages to turn this standard reggaeton beat into something more with her phrasing, vocal tricks, and confidence (points for her dancing in the video, too!). It works so well that the J Balvin feature doesn’t feel familiar — as it should by this point — and instead feels brand new.
[8]

Iris Xie: Rosalía’s output exhibits a bravura that has been exciting to witness. The rhythms of “Con Altura” feel icy but on the pulse to the three collaborators here, and highlight the little flamenco flourishes that Rosalía provides with her small “uh”s and sound effects. Combined with the sturdy beats from El Guincho, all three of them share the space, like they’re on a merry-go-round and rise up and down at their easy but determined paces. Their lack of overt posturing and dominance results in a dance song that sounds surprisingly quiet and understated, with a nimble confidence.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trap-style backing is far more J Balvin and El Guincho’s territory than Rosalía’s, and yet she is clearly the master of this track, dancing over it with improbable melodies that worm into your head like the virus from Snow Crash (I’ve had the prechorus embedded in my brain since the first day this came out.) Her two companions don’t nearly try to go 1-on-1 with her in the melodic game, but their more rhythmic contributions are a necessary balancing force, anchoring “Con Altura” and making sure its high altitudes reach the dancefloor properly.
[8]

Leah Isobel: The song has an eerie emptiness; the drums bounce on the low end, while the looped sample and Rosalía’s voice echo around the top, leaving an abyss in the middle. The effect is surreal and slightly airsick, like having a head cold at the club. It’s fun and appealing enough to overcome the lack of any real dynamic shifts. A vibe is a vibe, y’know?
[7]

Julian Axelrod: This brand of tense, unrelenting party music can be overwhelming when it forgets to be fun. Luckily, the principal players find pockets of personality in El Guincho’s bottle rocket beat. If Rosalía and Balvin’s previous collab “Brillo” was a slow seduction, “Con Altura” is a quickie on a bullet train. But you could throw these two on any beat and walk away with a banger. Balvin tries to cram their names into the margins, but he shouldn’t waste his breath. Who else could do it this well?
[8]

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

AJ Mitchell – All My Friends

Team Decidedly Not A [10]…


[Video]
[3.33]

Will Adams: Usually when someone complains about all their friends getting hitched and settling down, it’s meant to convey the angst of perpetual single-ness, not to win back a particular ex. Yet AJ Mitchell directs his plea at this former flame, and it gives an… off vibe, as if to say, “Might as well, we’re not getting any younger!” The song seems to think this is charming, so it adorns him with Tedder drums and syrupy guitars.
[4]

Taylor Alatorre: You might think that 17 is too young to be worrying about this stuff, and it is, but in pop music terms it’s the perfect age. Too much older and you risk crossing the line from earnest vulnerability into earnest bellyaching; the “Jesus Christ, I’m 26” thing only works if you’ve built a strong reputation on self-laceration. Besides, this is really a lament over a specific person disguised as a generalized paean to loneliness, which is the kind of songwriting safety net that sells the “fear of commitment” angle a bit too hard. Luckily there’s enough variety in the production to sustain this double dip and enough restraint in Mitchell’s voice to prove that not everything associated with Jake Paul is a soulless attention sink.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Maybe it’s just because I’m at the age where a quarter of the people I know are getting married and another quarter have been for years, but this seemed way more earnest and affecting than anything by a Jake Paul affiliate should be. Then the plinky piano started: not the form of hell I was expecting.
[5]

Will Rivitz: Say what you will about the other Team 10-affiliated musical trainwrecks, but at least they were compellingly bad. The revolving door that is Jake Paul’s entourage reminds me of post-American Idol stars, striving away from Paul’s Simon Cowell love-to-hate-him personality with varying degrees of success; “All My Friends,” in that regard, is Elliott Yamin.
[2]

Iris Xie: This makes me want to stab myself with an Epi-Pen, and I don’t actually have food allergies that would require it. But the whiny lamenting, Auto-Tune, and empty drumwork just makes me feel so miserable for him that I feel I’m getting a sad rash of anger from listening to this song. I really can genuinely not recommend this generic trash enough.
[0]

Edward Okulicz: Not sure if it wants to hint at wounded earnestness, or to be one of those Bieber-esque ballad-bop hybrids whose money it’s chasing, this splits the difference, replete with an awkward jump from the former to the latter in the second verse. Perhaps being told by a producer to affect heartsickness, AJ Mitchell missed the first syllable. It’s dumb enough to be an anthem, but not given the care to make it a good one.
[3]

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

The Mountain Goats – Younger

Thatched roof cottages!


[Video]
[7.00]

Taylor Alatorre: “Half of you will never understand, and it doesn’t really matter.” That’s as good a summation of the Mountain Goats’ recent output as you can get, though even half seems optimistic. I like the idea of songs about ramshackle communities united around a common interest yet riven by conflicts both internal and external. I suspect I would like them more if they were written about, say, the Homestar Runner Wiki in the mid-2000s. But we all have our fantasy worlds, and on “Younger,” John Darnielle draws in the uninitiated by dissolving the lines between the fantasies we create and the person creating them. The role-playing aspect of RPGs was really what got all those suburban parents riled up, and he plays into this by making us unsure of who’s speaking at any given moment: Darnielle, his player character, or Darnielle as mediated through his player character. An agitated strumming pattern tracks the running through of a mental checklist before battle, which leads to ruminations on the narrator’s past as told through oblique lyrical self-references. It’s a more introspective version of the Hold Steady’s “Unified Scene” lore, befitting of a different kind of basement setting. The encyclopedic tendencies of these bands and their fanbases can be just as intimidating to newcomers as a D&D rulebook, which is why this song in particular would be a terrible way to introduce someone to the Mountain Goats. You also don’t want to disappoint them by having them expect a saxophone solo on every outro.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Even leaving aside the scrappy, tape-hiss-enveloped early recordings, The Mountain Goats now have a back catalogue so vast that drawing comparisons between songs, or eras, feels like a task requiring dizzyingly complex musical geometry. And yet, faced with “Younger”, it’s hard not to try; it feels so achingly familiar, and yet as with most of John Darnielle’s recent material (for better or worse) it moves his work forward in unexpected directions. Certainly, Mountain Goats fans are no strangers to the bitter tang of impending disaster on the palate, and “Younger” delivers plenty of both, with acoustic guitars that feel like they’re cutting away at you relentlessly with a blunt knife, and lyrics which are ominous and darkly comic (“It never hurts to give thanks to the local gods / you never know who might be hungry”). In its stifling claustrophobia, it recalls the doomed co-dependent couple of Tallahassee and, especially, the besieged house of outcasts and drug addicts that Darnielle depicted on We Shall All Be Healed. At nearly six minutes long, it’s given space to build and expand in a way that Mountain Goats songs rarely have been, and makes full use of it, escalating tension that eventually finds release in a wild, unmoored saxophone solo.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Before the lyrics present themselves, “Younger” is a pleasure to listen to. Bassist Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster, one of America’s best drummers, give John Darnielle the kind of support that a singer-songwriter can dream. And that’s before a three-note piano motif recalling Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” and a saxophone outro. “This whole house is doomed/Even the big parts get consumed/Prepare a grave for Menelaus” is the first but not last lyric I’ve savored. Holding it together is Darnielle, who has a talent for singing as if he’s survived years of an air raid but still believes in a stiff upper lip.
[8]

Will Adams: While “Younger” overall has an appealing expansiveness befitting the fantasy world concept guiding it, it falters when the ornamentation becomes excessive; namely, the recurring piano line and the florid sax solo at the end.
[6]

Joshua Copperman: “Younger” consists of the same Mountain Goats things since 2015 — vaguely jazzy instrumentation and dry drums, life-affirming directives for lyrics, a “concept album” that’s just another excuse for Darnielle to project his neuroses onto Wikipedia articles (to be fair…). Even Owen Pallett can’t save Darnielle from himself, or whoever performs that damn sax solo towards the end. There are some brilliant elements, mostly courtesy of the vocal production and well-placed piano. It’s hard to tell why this doesn’t work. Maybe it’s the lingering effect of the Tumblr post that went around last year, which shouldn’t get Darnielle cancelled but makes it harder to be a fan without reservation. Maybe, and more likely, it’s the lack of compelling lyrics. Unlike Goths and Beat the Champ, both some of his finest work, there’s nothing emotionally to latch onto. It’s just more of the same. That was supposed to be a good thing.
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Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: For the past quarter century or so, John Darnielle has been doing the same thing. His band has expanded and contracted and expanded again, his subject matter has moved from the individual to the personal to the supernatural and cultural and then back again, but a Mountain Goats song in 1995 and one in 2015 follow the same general idiom, no matter what the lo-fi purists tell you. And at the core of that idiom has always been Darnielle’s voice, always some degree of scratchy and impassioned. The Mountain Goats’ music is about the inexplicable and raw bits of human experience, and Darnielle has always served as a sympathetic and kind guide. The change in “Younger” is that Darnielle’s voice is no longer at the center of things. It’s still there, and he remains the preternaturally gifted communicator he’s always been, but even as he drifts into the role of a world-weary adventurer it’s hard not to notice how the band behind him swallows him up. He even cedes the last minutes of the song to other players, with Matt Douglas’s saxophone solo and Jon Wurster’s endlessly kinetic drum fills providing the emotional catharsis that Darnielle’s own lyric does not provide. Maybe it’s Owen Pallett’s production influence, or just a change of pace, but the switch in “Younger” feels like a admission that capturing the raw and weird of humanity requires things beyond words.
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Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

Why Don’t We & Macklemore – I Don’t Belong In This Club

Well maybe if you had a trust fund baby to buy your way into the right club this wouldn’t have happened now, hmm???


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Will Adams: The resounding narrative of pop music this decade has outlined a vague descent from party rockin’ excess to everything-sucks despair, to the point where even a passive pop consumer can trace it. But there’s also been a smattering of songs that directly critique the club setting where it all started, presumably responding to the glut of songs that presented the club as the place to spend your last night on Earth, to light up like dynamite. From this we get songs like “#Selfie,” “Ode to the Bouncer,” “All My Friends” and “The Line,” each prodding at the early ’10s EDM behemoth to varying degrees of success. “I Don’t Belong In This Club” is fine to add as a data point, but important to highlight as this micro-genre’s nadir. Just as trust funds were a smokescreen for yucky girliness, exclusive clubs are a smokescreen for relatability posturing, itself a tiresome symptom of the latter half of the ’10s. These boys are simultaneously stuck in the line, feeling uncool once inside and too good for the debauchery, all without making any deeper observations. Even more confusing is Macklemore’s verse, which implies that he is both not famous enough to skip the line but recognizable enough to get a shout-out from the DJ. The gonzo piano-stomp wouldn’t be so egregious were it not another cog in the wheel of creating an unearned shout-along that feels detached from any reality. Why does not belonging sound this chipper?
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Alfred Soto: So “Why Don’t We & Macklemore” isn’t the name of the act? Drat. Anyway, combining Eminem, “Ignition (Remix),” Years & Years, Red Bull, and Macklemore produces the expected mish-mash. No one can explain why the arrangement is so crowded with incident. 
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Julian Axelrod: What a weird lil song! A twee anti-club anthem with a club-ready drop, a genuinely funny and self-deprecating Macklemore feature, a song predicated on the fame and fuckability of Why Don’t We written by some dudes who aren’t in Why Don’t We. It doesn’t totally cohere, but I appreciate that “antisocial fun.-lite rap hybrid” is a viable route for a boy band in 2019.
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Katherine St Asaph: The least subtle boy-band piano since “It’s Gonna Be Me,” big and stomping and peppy like an Andre-the-Giantified “Two Weeks,” deployed to tell the story of the essential shittiness of clubs. Also, there’s Macklemore. Completely indefensible, and yet a
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Scott Mildenhall: The Overton window of publishable inner thought has shifted several acres since JLS proclaimed that the club was alive with the sound of music at the start of the decade, so Why Don’t We’s #relatable pose-striking doesn’t really go as far as it could. Did JB dutifully delay his retreat into farming for this? The WhyDon’ts never really even deliver it with feeling, and as penance that leaves the heavy lifting to their guest. Amazingly, he provides the one moment close to subversion, by turning a perfunctory Drake reference into something other than an uncritical namedrop. It points a finger towards the song’s bubble, but doesn’t burst it. That’s fair, because pop would be poorer without some ennui, palely performative or not.
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Taylor Alatorre: Macklemore does his darnedest to turn this into something halfway personable, never evincing any bitterness over the sense that “Macklemore in 2019” is the crux of the joke here. He’s heard every variation of “I wish he would mackle less” that there is, and he’s cool with it. Good for him. That doesn’t change the fact that the rest of this is a plodding aggrandizement of petty micro-dramas rather what it could have been — an expression of solidarity with those who never even get past the front door.
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Alex Clifton: Look, this is very stupid and I’m not entirely sure if it works, but this is also an entirely relatable and delightful brand of stupid. I hate clubbing! It’s the worst! I hate going out and paying seven bucks for bourbon and ginger ale and then suddenly feeling like I’m going to pass out because I’m surrounded by people and it’s late and I don’t know how to dance and I’m worried someone I don’t know will touch me. I bring my Kindle with me just in case I can find somewhere to hide and read for a while but forget that I have trouble breathing inside, not just finding a quiet dark place. I try to convince myself each time it’s going to be fine, but at 11 PM I’m suddenly reminded why I never leave the house. Macklemore’s rap is very dumb, but I think he excels at dumb raps like this — nobody else would be able to do this feature justice. “I Don’t Belong In This Club” ends up being a wee bit too bombastic for its own good, but I feel known by a Why Don’t We song, and I’m both impressed and deeply ashamed about that.
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