Monday, August 13th, 2018

Rina Sawayama – Ordinary Superstar

Not that ordinary!


[Video][Website]
[6.75]

Eleanor Graham: Oh god, this is so audaciously, soupily, glitter-lipgloss-lovehearts-taped-to-tween-magazines, half-remembered-chick-flick noughties. Please inject it straight into my veins.
[8]

Abdullah Siddiqui: Rina Sawayama is a reinvention of the early 2000s pop diva. Her sound is effortless and her image is arresting. The production on all of her 2017 debut RINA maintains just enough anachronism to be nostalgic but incorporates more than enough surprises to be exciting. “Ordinary Superstar” is a genuinely charming summation of everything she’s bringing to the table. 
[8]

Vikram Joseph: The hill that I’m currently willing to die on is that “Ordinary Superstar” comes as close as anything to the absolute platonic ideal of a pop song. I submit as evidence the adorably cheesy strings/spoken-word intro, the Dev Hynes-circa-2013 production and gratifyingly thicc “Everything Is Embarrassing” beat, the realisation that what you thought was a killer chorus is merely the best pre-chorus this side of “The Louvre,” and the fact that Rina Sawayama is an untouchable queen in the video. It’s not deep, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m fairly sure the people across the road have seen me dancing absurdly to this in my room over the last few weeks; I regret nothing.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Falls into the PC Music/LIZ trap of being too arch and self-referential about the fact that it’s a millennial pop song, a flailing of hands at the fourth wall that the actual songs never needed to do — not even “Lucky,” clearly very much in the hopper. (Also in the hopper, if we’re talking early-’00s, is the pronoun change from Vertical Horizon’s “Everything She Wants.”) Nor did the production back then sound this labored over and un-sparkling. The end result is less “nostalgic hit” than “soundtrack from a Disney made-for-TV movie, and not even the Cheetah Girls.”
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: “Ordinary” more than “superstar”; Sawayama wanders uncertainly around her track’s school disco slow-dance synth. “Don’t you want to be ordinary with me” is endearing as a wallflower come-on, but the song is constructed like it’s supposed to be a Hannah Montana theme for the outsiders, and her “I’m just like you!” delivered with end-credits sparkle is a misdirect that muddles the entire lyric. It seems as if Sawayama can’t figure whether she’d prefer to slip into the dancefloor darkness of Solange’s True or go all-in on the Lizzie McGuire-Josie and the Pussycats subject matter. Either is good!
[5]

Iain Mew: An ordinary superstar, but larger than life.
[6]

Will Adams: Vies for the ebullient nostalgia of early ’00s pop-rock, attains about a quarter of the sparkle.
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: When writing about grand, sweeping pieces of pop music, there’s often an urge to talk about image or narrative — the story going around a pop song rather than the song itself. This is largely justified. The music of any pop star since at least Madonna (and probably as far back as Elvis) has been bound up intensely in that star’s self-presentation, their look. This is true of Rina Sawayama; she was a professional model before she was a professional singer, and still carries that glam with her. But focusing too much on the image around “Ordinary Superstar” (its incredible video, for one) misses the point to some extent. “Ordinary Superstar,” despite its focus on celebrity, would be an absolute banger even if it arrived completely anonymously. On this track, Sawayama displays a complete mastery of the little things: the melding of the ethereal choir and her casually spoken intro, the way her voice seems to strain against the chug of producer Clarence Clarity’s guitars, her constant stream of sotto voce asides. All these serve to temper the track’s melodrama and add layers of complexity. You can read “Ordinary Superstar” as pure pop anthem — it certainly sounds like one — but it makes a more interesting work in its details.
[9]

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Lenny Kravitz – Low

Minnesota slowcore, the first of the Berlin Trilogy, Boots With The Fur, and now this…


[Video][Website]
[4.88]

Alfred Soto: Where the hell did that disco chorus come form? What’s that rattling percussive beat? Who let him keep the line “Is my sexuality creating such a tragedy?” Why do the drums sound like shit? Who is Lenny Kravitz?
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: Lenny Kravitz goes disco! Or, at least, he goes George Benson. Or, at least, he goes Style Council if they were to ever go George Benson. Or, at least, he approximates the same with all the determinedly uncharismatic effort he’s applied to, jeez, his entire career?
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Lenny Kravitz’s core skillset has always been centered around a chameleonic ability to occupy any style of sufficiently groovy classic rock or funk — on any other material, his limitations as a stylist become evident quickly. So it’s unsurprising that he takes to the pure, Off The Wallstyle disco of “Low” so well — it’s almost a shame that the track itself never lifts higher than agreeable background music.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Terrible verses somehow giving way to a surprisingly decent bit of polite disco chorus is certainly not what I’d expect from Lenny Kravitz now that he’s lived long enough to be a moderate musical celebrity even though his musical heights are unmistakably out of his hands. Weirdly, the “artificiality” of disco suits him better than his retro-rock posture from decades before ever did, as he’s always had a tough time with transcending his vocabulary and influences. He’ll always be a pastician, but in here where you know it’s about assembly and tapestry, all the emotional flatnesses and familiarities work almost tapestry-like.
[5]

Alex Clifton: I feel like there’s a disco resurgence happening this year, although I can’t put my finger on why it’s happening. We’ve heard it from Janelle Monae and Kacey Musgraves both (in very different contexts), but Kravitz sounds like he’s doing jam-disco — “Low” clocks in close to five minutes but never feels overlong. It’s smoother than some of his earlier work, but it’s still 100 per cent a Lenny Kravitz song. I know songs like this never get airplay at the club, but if they did, I’d go out more often.
[8]

Juan F. Carruyo: A slightly ominous intro followed by a verse sporting a melody Lenny has used in about 20 other songs. Yet he remains pleasantly anonymous in spite of providing no surprises whatsoever. 
[3]

Iain Mew: An endless loop of run-of-the mill-disco, which seems like a good thing only in that he first demonstrates a funk Bon Jovi alternative that is so much worse. 
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: The flat drums echo into awkward synths as Lenny strains awkwardly over them, before soft, threadbare bass and slight, barely visible guitar licks save him. Drifting piano slips in and ties it all together.
[6]

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Santigold – Run the Road

A decade on from her debut…


[Video][Website]
[5.88]

Alfred Soto: Accepting her as an uneven but estimable recorder of terrific singles, I should write something at length about what Santigold does well: conveying a sense of beat-happy dread (“The Keepers,” “Disparate Youth”). “Run the Road” is a minute too long, and while Ricky Blaze’s synth-powered dancehall is easy on the ears it doesn’t impress itself on the mind.
[6]

Jibril Yassin: Hearing Santigold sing over production that’s more static compared to what she’s used in the past is almost disorienting — you keep expecting a change-up somewhere. She hasn’t lost her skill for hooks but the disappointing electro-dancehall mix leaves you wondering what if.
[6]

Will Adams: I understand that mixtapes generally connote less studio polish or label fuckery than official releases, which certainly can have its benefits. But for an artist who’s proven how adept she is at creating genre-hopping records that don’t feel scattered but instead exhilarating, it’s disappointing to get a new one that’s a series of slipshod dancehall tracks. Especially when the lead single sounds like “Alejandro” passed through a sieve.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: I’d hoped the album title 99¢ wouldn’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Whistling, rapid sirens echo over the low-slung bass and hopping synths. Santigold hugs the curved, soft drums coolly, sometimes tunelessly.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: Over a muted blend of swirling saw waves and ghostly pads, Santigold sounds faraway and listless, never straining her voice to higher registers or offering much dynamic range. Four minutes of that sounds like a bore, but there’s so much quiet detail in the instrumentation that it’s easy to get swept up in, and the melodic hook of the chorus is incredibly strong.
[7]

Ashley John: “Run the Road” is fascinating in that it’s undoubtably catchy but also spacey enough to give my mind room to wander. The melancholy pace winds slowly and then snaps back in place with a punchy high hat. Santigold sounds like nodding off in the humid sticky heat of an August, knowing change is soon to come but only seeing its blurred figure in the distance ahead. 
[6]

Vikram Joseph: A cool breeze on one of those stifling inner-city summer days we’ve had so many of recently, “Run The Road” is a frisky little gem. It’s imbued with a deceptively easy, rolling swagger, all ska-tinged bounce and ay-ay-ohs, but there’s a steely determination behind it; “Flash that smile, it’s an industry of service” could easily have been a line from “The Opener,” Camp Cope’s bracing skewering of music industry misogyny. Also, if you’re going to name-drop yourself at the start of a song you’d better do it with style, and, let’s be fair, Santigold absolutely nails it.
[8]

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Madonna: A Retrospective

 

To adopt that old cliché; Madonna needs no introduction. As chameleonic as Bowie, her 36 year career has seen her deftly switch from scrappy punk hopeful to earnest balladeer; from relentless dominatrix to chaste earth mother and back. She’s responsible for some of the most memorable pop moments of the last 40 years: from the burning crosses of “Like a Prayer” to her VMAs kiss with Britney Spears, it’s hard to imagine a pop cultural landscape untouched by her audacious iconoclasm. A voracious pop cultural maven, she stole from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the New York City vogue scene and (however problematically) remade it all in her own image. Lyrical threads of sex, dance, and religion run through her entire back catalogue. A quintessential Leo, she’s always self-assertive, always innovative.

It’s rare to find a pop fan or music critic whose life hasn’t at some point been touched by her music, and we at The Singles Jukebox are no exception. To celebrate her 60th birthday, we take a look back at a greatest hits arguably unparalleled in recent pop music history.

(more…)

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

Dynoro & Gigi d’Agostino – In My Mind

Remakes on remakes on remakes…


[Video][Website]
[3.57]

Scott Mildenhall: What loving soul could bring themselves to invert the awe-striking hyper-sincerity of “L’amour Toujours” into something so jaded? By all means highlight its room-elephant sadness, but remain clear that it is not to be lowlighted. Pure, unfearing devotion and faith, shimmering mystically under its mysteriously French title: that’s what Gigi d’Agostino wanted. Though he may also be grateful for the cheque.
[7]

Iain Mew: The original was stadium EDM with “Clocks” on. Dynoro and Gigi take it, remove the “Clocks,” cut up the most stadium-friendly elements, and make it swing like it’s Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Except that there are no burners, there are no horns, and instead there’s a gaping hole that they’ve thrown up such a hall of mirrors around that you can’t tell where anything starts and ends any more. It’s weird and disorienting but kind of enjoyable.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: Georgi Kay calmly floats over the plush synths and arched bass stabs before hovering in the clouds as limp, awkward drums slip by unnoticed.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Ready-made dance festival garbage with slightly creepy, weirdly-pitched vocals that, fortunately, I’ll never have to hear again.
[0]

Alfred Soto: It’s got something else going on besides the pipsqueak chorus, right? Right?
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: EDM hit turned RDM: Rigid Dance Music.
[2]

Will Adams: In theory, I like the idea of EDM covering itself. Even more than remixes, they help to elevate a classic beyond its own flash success, in effect creating its own canon. It’s just unfortunate that the song in question is one that has been forever ruined by giant anthropomorphic hamsters.
[5]

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Lauren Daigle – You Say

CCM song scores about as well with us as the genre usually does.


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Thomas Inskeep: Christian pop star Daigle’s got a rich, big voice, similar to Adele’s. This expansive, inspirational ballad is sung to God but could easily be heard as being sung to a lover — I could see some crafty promotion crossing this over to the secular market — and features lovely piano, as well as some big-ass stompy drums and choral accompaniment on the chorus. It wouldn’t be anything without Daigle’s voice singing the hell outta the song, which she does in a sterling manner. “You Say” legitimately lifts me up.
[8]

Alex Clifton: I had to check a couple of times to ensure that this wasn’t Adele and that this wasn’t a retread of “Someone Like You”; Daigle’s got the same kind of deep tonality that Adele does, and that piano line only reinforces the impression. The yelping “IIIII” chorus that crops up occasionally isn’t great, but the rest of it feels pretty sweeping. I know I’m not the target audience for this at all–I don’t know squat about religion to be quite honest–but it sounds like a very comforting blanket to wrap yourself up in when you’re feeling low and lost, and it works.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Drifting, rippling piano lifts gently as Lauren calmly cruises, then rises with it as a choir pipes up briefly along with spiderweb strings woven in the back on slack, cavernous drums that stumble in and are too afraid to leave.
[4]

Alfred Soto: You say this bilge is classy? I don’t believe you.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Lauren Daigle goes even further into blasphemy than Ariana Grande — not only is God a woman, she claims, God is Adele.
[2]

Will Adams: If you told me this was a Ryan Tedder remix of “Someone Like You” that had alternate lyrics for some reason, I’d a) believe you, then b) ask why you were subjecting me to such a scenario.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A silly but actual concern I’ve had regarding the legitimacy of a (Christian) God existing: if God created the world, how come he can’t get his followers to create good music? The vast disparity between a creative God and his uncreative believers is obvious, though. The CCM industry is an utter hack, for one, but the music that is part of this scene is meant to be accessible in every individual aspect. In other words: “You Say” isn’t meant to just get radioplay, it’s supposed to be sung within churches throughout the world. As such, the lyrics are simplistic and the music trope-laden. This “uplifting anthem” is perfectly clear in its sentiment and the sort of thing that Christian radio and congregations have been eating up for ages. It conveniently sidesteps the actual “progressions” that the CCM market has had this past decade–the U2 and Arcade Fire “Wake Up” chant-informed music of Hillsong United (from United We Stand-onward), the post-Mumford & Sons folk-stomp of Rend Collective, the new age looseness of the International House of Prayer/Bethel Church axis–and feels “timeless” in its Adele-ian banality. The drums are always corny in songs like these, but it’s the gospel choir that feels especially hamfisted. The result is one that’s overly familiar: an unsavory feeling that everything about this is inauthentic.
[2]

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Chance the Rapper – I Might Need Security

And we might need a better song.


[Video][Website]
[4.64]

Will Rivitz: Even two full years after its release, I still struggle with just how monumental a step back Coloring Book was for Chance The Rapper’s artistic evolution. How could the man who characterized the convolutions and uncertainties of young adulthood so adroitly and poetically set all of those poignant observations aside in favor of an uncritical appreciation of the glories of fatherhood and a shallow nostalgia for how things used to be? I guess what got me was the album’s unprecedented change of attitude: I would never in a million years have guessed that Acid Rap‘s nuanced self-criticism could have morphed into a Disneyfied version of itself not even three years later. In that regard, at least “I Might Need Security” does indeed have a precedent: this is the narcissistic and toxically insecure Chance we’ve all gotten to know since 2016. “I ain’t no activist, I’m the protagonist” is consistent with the Chance who, when a poem he wrote for NPR’s Tiny Desk last year was interrupted by the sound of an elevator, started again from the beginning, because the idea of continuing where he left off would have been inconceivable. “I donate to the schools next, they call me a deadbeat daddy” is consistent with the Chance who slid into a Twitter rando’s DMs to tell them to “get off [his] dick” because the user had the nerve to say Chance’s proposal to his baby mama may have come a few years too late to generate goodwill. “I’ll make you fix your words like a typo suggestion / Pat me on the back too hard and Pat’ll ask for your job” is consistent with the Chance who made MTV remove a review critical of Coloring Book because it wasn’t well-suited to his tastes. (The review, which sums up my thoughts on the album better than most anything else I’ve seen, was reposted by the author on his Medium page.) At least he’s being honest here.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Interesting thing about Chance the Rapper’s debut mixtape 10 Day: It wasn’t good, it was fine. Besides songs like “Juke Juke” in which you could sort of see his more manic tendencies emerging, a lot of Chance’s earliest material was mealy mouthed rappity rap that was adequate but ultimately boring. It’s why Acid Rap, where he did find his voice, was so much more rightfully received and recognized. While Chance’s excesses and tics have now become downright aggravating, it made sense that he went in that direction because as a straight rapper there’s just nothing compelling to his plain lyrics and delivery. Apparently, you might need proof as well, and lucky for us Chance decided to provide such.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: The Jamie Foxx sample is the only redeemable thing here with Chance throwing random fake-deep rhymes to a piano-led beat that vaguely channels The College Dropout in feel. It’s a life update as a stopgap release between his album presumably in the works, and yet another reminder that Chance has been a hero to Chicago since Coloring Book. It’s an exhausting point he keeps on reiterating. Will he lighten his sense of self-importance if we erect that statue he so craves to be built?
[5]

Julian Axelrod: Chance’s nice guy phase was never going to last. You can’t be that rich and that famous for that long without a few compromises and some dirty laundry, and the distinctly Obama-era rap star has had a decidedly post-2016 descent. The Noname collabs gave way to DJ Khaled features; the label aversion morphed into Apple Music kowtowing; the social media savvy proved ineffectual in the face of fan criticism. So “I Might Need Security” presents a new Chance: bitter, prickly, his grin warped into an wary smirk. Luckily, this Chance is still a hell of a rapper, and even in the midst of a 45 degree heel turn he’s bubbly enough to spit over a cheeky Jamie Foxx sample that makes no bones about his beef. I might actually like Chance 2.0 better than the original; he looks good with his back against the ropes and some dirt under his nails. But I’m predisposed to like any song that big ups Verne Troyer and clowns Rahm Emanuel, so take my opinion with a grain of celery salt.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A mixed bag, just like everything Chance has done since mid-2016. Points in its favor: Chance announcing that he bought a news site in the second verse of a loosie, “I’m only 25 but I’m Motown 25,” calling for Rahm to resign. Points against: all the woe is me, heavy is the crown shit, the Verne Troyer pun, half of his punchlines in general. And yet “I Might Need Security” still works, in spite of itself– maybe it’s just the Jamie Foxx sample, but Chance is channeling mid-2000s Kanye here at his most maddeningly likeable.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: An airing of grievances and a settling of scores (some of them on a widescreen, political scale, and some which need Infinite Jest-level footnoting to comprehend), juxtaposed with Chance’s laconic flow and a hazy, sun-bleached beat which almost drifts into “Drinking in L.A.” at one point. The dreamy “fuck you” hook serves as microcosm for the song – there’s anger here, but it’s so palatable.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Some of the content here is good, even possibly important. But I don’t remember Chance sounding this outright halting in places before, and that sample really sounded like such a good idea they’re just going to let it have the last 45 seconds of the track, huh?
[3]

Alfred Soto: He’s twenty-five (“Motown twenty-five”), expects to see a statue in his honor, and samples a Jamie Foxx routine’s “fuck you.” Relative to his modest talents, his ego annoys the hell out of me but not as much as his irregularly deployed sing-song: he can’t decide whether to cram too many syllables per line or speak-sing the leaden moments. His good intentions scare me most. 
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: The problem with Chance is his commitment to telling us he’s a good guy – the protagonist, even – without doing any of the work. He continues doing the same here, and even though he makes some good points while calling out some bad players (with shaky wordplay, at best), his lack of self-awareness is nearly as hard to swallow as his pride. 
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The cover of this single is a rendering of the Arthur’s fist meme and the song is held together by a chipmunk’d Jamie Foxx sample. These things make “I Might Need Security” a smart PR move of a song: there’s a clear link made between his happy-go-lucky personality and what’s present here. He sounds more self-conscious than ever, well-worn to the point of actual aggression. When he finally takes the sample’s lead and declares “fuck you,” it’s clear that he doesn’t want it to read as anything other than acerbic. While this may sculpt a more complete image of who Chance is, it unfortunately sounds more labored over and tedious than the majority of his catalogue. Hearing Chance’s straightforward talk-rapping recalls his poetry slam past–especially since it’s coupled with a beat as static as this–and it doesn’t particularly play to his strengths. As listeners, we’re asked to primarily revel in the lyrics. When I do, it sounds like a whole lot of boring whining. Which begs the question, why would I want to listen to this?
[2]

Nortey Dowuona: Smooth, chipmunk curse coos echo in the back as they hit the slack, soft drums, as purring, bulging bass then drizzling. Deep piano is lathered over as Chance snarls thin threats that bulge out of the cotton candy wool of the production.
[8]

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Robyn – Missing U

If you liked anything on Body Talk, you’ll most likely like this!


[Video][Website]
[7.53]

Vikram Joseph: Folding a dense, profound vein of sadness into a glittery package isn’t exactly terra nova for Robyn, but “Missing U” amplifies both the sweetness and the pain to unprecedented, almost deafening levels. The spray of synths that dominate the song are sparkling whitecaps on a vast, cold sea, alluring enough to mask the savage depths below. Melodically, it shares its unresolved two-chord throb with “With Every Heartbeat”, but while that song pulsed like a dull headache, the Robyn of “Missing U” feels more viscerally devastated, seeing the person she’s lost everywhere and in everything. She finds some striking ways to express the sense of waste and loss; it’s “residue,” “a slick washed up onto the beach,” a “clock that stopped.” To her, it’s a half-finished novel with the author cut down in her prime; to them, who knows, maybe just a short story, readily forgotten. And maybe no one thing means the same to two different people. There’s a brutal permanence to the closing line, “All the love you gave, it still defines me.” To channel that into euphoria, well, that’s a special kind of alchemy.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Robyn hasn’t been gone, not really, just working in different ways, different registers, and without any real drop in quality (her EP with Mr. Tophat last year was a lot of fun, for example). But I’d be a goddamned liar if I didn’t admit it still feels so good to have her back in this form, and that “Missing U” sounds just as sadly rapturous as ever.
[7]

Alfred Soto: As usual she has a killer instinct for the pathos-laden ululation, this time choosing “residue” as the word on which she lingers. Yet the rest of the track’s prettiness and Robyn’s half-hearted performance doesn’t connect. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s a music game, started on ILM, about artists releasing their “New Jersey”: “a huge event album that ultimately feels a bit hollow & signals a career decline.” (Examples: the eponymous Bon Jovi album, Born This Way, Dangerous, Black & Blue and Encore.) The game doesn’t quite work for an artist whose success has come in quick bursts almost two decades apart, or for, y’know, a song. But man, does “Missing U” feel like a New Jersey.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: Fuck Seinfeld — “Missing U” is a literal song about nothing. There have been a million songs about adjusting to a partner’s absence, but few examine emptiness on such an elemental level. In Robyn’s lament, heartbreak changes the very fabric of the world around her: time slows to a crawl, space warps and disappears, and even a piece of beach glass promises a clue that never comes. It’s all tantalizingly real and maddeningly abstract at the same time, a meditation on the void that hints at a universe just beyond our reach. But no one grounds our intangible emotions in reality quite like Robyn, and so “Missing U” is really a song about everything. It’s about the never-ending search for the pieces of yourself, and the small reminders of who you used to be. But actually, at its heart of hearts, “Missing U” is a song about a synth: one perfect, undulating sequence of notes, twinkling like a million pieces of glass in the sun, reaching its arms into space toward a resolution it will never find. It’s not much, but it’s something.
[9]

Julian de Valliere: Robyn can make the music she makes because she understands how deeply different emotions can coexist at the same time — fuelling each other as much as they clash together. “Missing U” in particular hits like it does because it plays on this hard; moments of cliché tussle with brief clarity, while Robyn spins in circles, looking forward in one instant, and then back in another. That one, magic lyric “I’ve turned all my sorrow into glass / it don’t leave no shadow” is only bolstered by the fact that it’s nestled between two lines that say the opposite. And that’s what pain can feel like; this crashing wave that draws back just long enough for you to catch your breath, to have a second to decide you want to fight for something different — until it slams into you again, and all those feelings are brought together as they battle it out until the next lull. “Missing U” is a song about grief that desperately wishes it wasn’t, but with every confession at the end of each chorus comes the sinking realisation that none of these emotions would exist if there still wasn’t love.
[9]

Eleanor Graham: The fact that Robyn has already released this decade’s defining searing, soaring synthpop anthem may well prevent “Missing U” from becoming the searing, soaring synthpop anthem it’s gorgeous enough to be. It doesn’t end with a chorus, it doesn’t grit its teeth and head back out on the dancefloor. It’s windswept and obsessive. “Finding clues in my pockets and/opening boxes and/going places we went/remember to forget” is straight up agonising. Don’t even talk to me about “this part of you/this clock that stopped”. Such is its unique beauty — no other Robyn song has captured quite so acutely the tragedy of unfinished business, and in a world without “Dancing”, it might have defined her. Destined to make the sidebar in a few of our broken hearts.
[9]

Will Adams: I understand why so many are still talking Body Talk — it was a landmark moment for Robyn, one that truly cemented the still-perfect formula of synth arpeggios + crying-on-the-dancefloor dramatics. But what “Missing U” really gives me is “With Every Heartbeat.” It’s there in the production, how the rhythm track amounts to little more than an insistent kick and light skitters. It’s there in the unconventional structure, where the verses keep spilling over bars until it completely unravels by the last chorus, threads and harmonizing vocals splayed out until the song peters out into nothingness. This is the true excitement of “Missing U”; how it begins to bridge Robyn’s more adventurous work on the Royksöpp and La Bagatelle Magique EPs with the dazzling pop of Body Talk that we so fixated on.
[7]

Rachel Bowles: Just in case you’ve forgotten sometime in the last 8 years (!) since her last album, Robyn is the Queen of danceable heartbreak. “Missing U”‘s title suggests the intimacy of a text or DM, maybe one sent but never read, whether through ghosting or grief. The music may seem sparse in comparison to ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ or ‘Dancing on My Own,’ but those sonic synth layers are still perfectly built up and stripped back to punctuate that heartache. There’s something defiant against the absurd, the seemingly irreparable loss in “your love still defines me.”
[9]

Matias Taylor: “Baby it’s so real to me/now that it’s over” begins Robyn’s first single from her first album in eight years, as the twinkling synth backing gives way to a pounding dance beat. The transition is seamless and happens in the perfect spot, just like the melancholic chord that comes in as she starts to reminisce (“all of the plans we made”). It’s a worthy continuation of her 2005 self-titled and 2010’s Body Talk; just as in the best from those albums, she’s in supreme command of her song craft here, seamlessly meshing forward-thinking electro-pop with poignant, frank sentiments of heartbreak. It doesn’t reinvent her wheel, but it doesn’t need to; no one does cry-on-the-dancefloor quite like Robyn.
[8]

Claire Biddles: Robyn’s magic stems from her ability to transform repetitive platitudes into something otherworldly. In the hands of a lesser singer, the repeated refrain, “and it hurts with every heartbeat” would fall flat, but Robyn injects it with thousands of years of romantic disappointment; each word a stab in an already broken heart. For the first few listens, “Missing U” doesn’t quite reach the heights of her best work. But then, one by one, her repeated stabs finally penetrate our flesh, and we’re there with her: finding reminders of lost love in old coat pockets, remembering plans never followed through. It all leads up to the kicker: “All the love you gave/it still defines me”, sung with the same resignation and melodrama that elevated “Dancing On My Own”‘s last-chance statement of intent: “I just came/to say goodbye”. Robyn only really tells one story, but it’s a fair reflection of real life: the gaps between them might get bigger, but we’ll always circle back to these familiar crises of loneliness.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Those shimmering synths and their utility are a good foretaste of what’s to come. They depict a sort of glamor that quickly recedes once Robyn announces “that it’s over.” Their departure is a nonevent, and it feels particularly insignificant after the blasting crash cymbal and kick drum. It’s apt: a sudden ending to A Good Thing doesn’t mean the world stops moving, and realizing that you’ll have to continue trucking through life on your own doesn’t come with any satisfying consolation. One would hope that the synth pads that appear would overpower the listener to provide some sort of release, but they’re too low in the mix–obviously present but ultimately inconsequential. They serve more to dull the effects of those initial synths upon their return in the chorus, and the flatness of all the instrumentation acts as the perfect backdrop for Robyn as she announces that “there’s this empty space you left behind/now you’re not here with me.” Dancefloor heartbreak is nothing new for Robyn, but this is a song for people in an indefinite period of sadness. “All the love you gave/it still defines me” is a hell of a line to cap everything off, and it captures that feeling of numbness well. But at nearly five minutes, this hollow shell of a song comes off less like a frozen-in-time, contemplative meditation on loss than it does an endless wallowing that grows more purposeless by the second. I’m all for that in theory, but Robyn’s performance and the bloodless instrumentation don’t convince me that such excess was necessary.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Missing U” is all about balance — between the constantly alternating synth riff that undergirds the song and Robyn’s descending vocal lines, between the feelings of longing and hope that she conveys, between the rush of the chorus and the open space of the verse. In a less adept artist’s hands, this would be boring — it’s almost too controlled, with none of the explosive climaxes that came with her Body Talk singles. But Robyn is Robyn, and she makes “Missing U” into perfect sonic alchemy, the purest form of dancefloor anthem.
[10]

William John: Robyn is characterised by many as the empress of a monolithic, melancholy disco, but her dominions are multifaceted. She’s recounted to us the particular torments of being variously alone and self-sufficient (“Dancing On My Own“), alone and frustrated (“Be Mine!“) and alone but resolute (“With Every Heartbeat“). But on “Missing U” she’s just…alone, with nothing but a glittery synth for company, no punchline to shatter the glass she’s formed from her sorrow. It’s interesting to consider criticism of this song as retreading old ground (especially when Robyn has spent the better part of this decade making EPs with quasi-experimental dance producers), when to my ears no other Robyn song is as extreme an example of lamentation as this, of conveying the sheer agony of an “empty space”. She’s developed a canon of songs to dance to with friends and then hug through tears afterwards, but once “Missing U” fades out, you might need to hug that friend just a second or two longer. 
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: The best songs transport you to another world, whether it is to witness a heartbreak, to relive one of your own, or, in this case, to commiserate with the artist. Robyn here does some of her best work, using her voice and the production to call to mind all heartaches from before, while relaying her own story. It sounds like stars are falling throughout the song and it’s so fitting, considering how ethereal Robyn’s voice comes across throughout, that it’s almost unsurprising to think Robyn’s tears would be stars. Lay down, close your eyes, and let this blast, because everyone needs a good cry every some times.
[8]

Alex Clifton: Nobody does emotions + club beats the way that Robyn does. Does this sound like every other Robyn song I can think of? Yeah, but that’s not a bad thing; I love it when artists know their sound and you can hear their musical fingerprint with every song they produce. “Missing U” is a delightful return to form, vulnerable and delicate but impossible not to dance to. “I turned all my sorrow to glass” is such a gorgeous line; I’m going to be stuck on that one for a while.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: “Unrelenting emptiness” almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’s not: it’s “With Every Heartbeat”, it’s “Dancing On My Own”, it’s “Be Mine!”, and it’s this. Each time Robyn finds a new sound as piercing as the last: pummeling sadness, sadness lurking like a fog, and now sadness glistening like uncut diamonds (or sorrow-blown glass), in unremitting view of the ostensibly unwitting self-laceration of “all the love you gave, it still defines me”. Unrelenting emptiness might even be a tautology, if the emptiness is limitless; unending. And if it is, it would follow that it can grow to such a size and probably further, without ever quite bursting.
[8]

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Gentle Robot – Slow

And from a ~~sad robot~~ to a gentle one.


[Video][Website]
[6.14]

Abdullah Siddiqui: Pakistani art has had a rich history of underground and locally rooted cultural productions, despite a lack of institutional, economic or social nourishment. It is an uphill battle to gain visibility. In 2018, when water resources are expected to last another seven years, and children are taught revisionist propaganda in schools, the need for music has never been more urgent. The music industry, however, is not, and can not be, prioritized on a larger socioeconomic scale, and given the necessary financial and bureaucratic infrastructure. In the absence of infrastructure, the Pakistani music industry was essentially bought out by the Coca-Cola Company, whose Coke Studio provides great content, but allows little room for innovation. That’s why, when the burgeoning independent music scene produces something as beautiful as “Slow,” it makes me so much happier than the average Coke Studio number, because it signals hope for a future where the necessary tools and platforms exist for people like Ibrahim Imdad to create whatever they want to create, and for thoughtful art to be disseminated to a wide, willing audience with no strings attached. Imdad has been around for quite a while, as part of multiple bands. All of his releases so far, as Gentle Robot, have been beautiful and subtle and cleverly composed, and I hope they continue to be. It may sound like I love this song only for the sense of hope it invokes in me. That may be true to a degree, I don’t know. But I’d like to think that I can remove myself from the equation enough to know that it really is just a damn good song.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: Flat, empty drum stabs follow a wispy, dreamy guitar and near invisible bass played by Adeel Tahir as Gentle Robot dreamily coos a new world into existence.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Sad robot love to the accompaniment of Ocean Blue guitar ripples. Its ambition is to lull.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: I can attest that this song really did lull me to sleep once, on an international flight, though it could have been the combination of ZzzQuil and antihistamines. I like the mumbly indie/dream-pop amalgam of the first half a lot for that, and for the pretty melody. It gently floats by and I pick out individual words without forming any sentences or meaning — an unusual sensation for a song in English. When the falsetto comes in, it loses the lovely dreamlike quality that calmed me, and stopped sounding effortless and lovely, as if it builds to an emotional climax because that’s what songs do, not because the song itself naturally would go in that direction.
[6]

Jessica Doyle: I like the switches between different textures, as the waves of the first half yield to a chunkier rhythm, the voice staying precariously balanced on top throughout. My one complaint is with the lyrics: impending loss of love, and worlds changing, seem like distractingly weighty subjects to consider as we drift along.
[7]

Will Adams: Sad, soft-focus indie rock of the sort I loved in my youth, before I’d entered the critical world and discovered the genre to be shrouded in layers of Discourse. The slight funk shift that happens midway through is less successful but at the least makes for an interesting arc.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Perfectly functional deep-concentration-playlist-indie until the end, when it threatens to turn into “BedRock,” and that sort of thing ain’t my grocery bag.
[4]

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Juice WRLD – All Girls are the Same

Srsly STFU guy.


[Video][Website]
[1.67]

Maxwell Cavaseno: To his credit, his records aren’t all the same; getting progressively worse and worse is enough to distinguish them. Juice WRLD’s misanthropic juvenile dudebro “heartbreak” being the Ugly Kid Joe to a barely cooled corpse of Lil Peep demonstrates what happens when you let people with the lowest regards for rap and mallcore get away with patronizing kids. There’s no way Juice WRLD wrote a lyric like “Jealous Guy” like John Lennon by his damn self. Nobody has heard “Jealous Guy” on a radio in 30 years, let alone a Chicago rapper. The least he could do was have as good a loop as the Sting sample from “Lucid Dreams” but of course not.
[0]

Ryo Miyauchi: What’s the better route to present this kind of fatalist straight-male toxicity? Is it better to have rappers like Juice WRLD make it a sweeter pill to swallow, albeit with him not solving his rage but hiding it in a rather passive-aggressive form? Or heighten its acidic levels in the vein of Trippie Redd for the sake of honesty, opening up his hunger for violence and vengeance for all to see? I prefer to not experience either, but I’d like to hear its inherent ugliness directly inform the very music like “Love Scars” over Juice WRLD’s more palatable yet clinical pop. The joyful melody is a red herring to get you to listen closer only to redeem nothing positive, and I’d rather know upfront that there’s only bitterness to begin with.
[5]

Alfred Soto: He doesn’t get the “secret” of love, he doesn’t win races, John Lennon means “Real Love,” not “Imagine” — a weirdo, sure but a conventional sort. Honest about his antipathies, he’s taking Drake and The Weeknd to fresh toxic areas. Juice is a case study. Yet he almost transcends it thanks to his sad robot timbre. He knows why we cry, but it’s something he can never do.
[2]

Edward Okulicz: The lyric is actually “All these girls the same,” so Juice has made something of an error in taking his somewhat misogynistic song and giving it a really misogynistic title. And some other errors too. The pretty tinkling of the production is effective, and you can easily imagine a thoughtful or at least interesting and sad song about repeating mistakes in relationships over it. Juice’s ~~sad man~~ routine is not these things, though, it’s more of a numbed, boring ‘whatever’ on top. The girls may think the same about him.
[2]

Vikram Joseph: We all slammed Juice WRLD for being misogynistic last time; admittedly, it takes a certain kind of obnoxious chutzpah to double down with a song called “All Girls Are The Same”. I won’t bother quoting any lyrics, because 1) he’d probably like that and 2) they’re exactly how you imagine they’re going to be. This is a dire, hookless dirge and actually somehow even worse than “Lucid Dreams” – a bleak Incel pity party, minus any fucking semblance of a party.
[0]

Will Adams: This is so sad repugnant Alexa play Drake… nothing, actually. I’m good on music for now.
[1]