Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Sistar – Lonely

Saying goodbye is not so controversial…


[Video]
[4.83]

Ryo Miyauchi: Love and memories prove to be finite in Sistar’s farewell song, written in a form of a break-up note. It’s bittersweet coming from a group who celebrated one of the most tight-knit sisterhoods in pop, but it’s also a sign of growing up: here, they sing a deeper, more personal kind of loneliness than the one they sang in 2012.
[6]

Will Rivitz: The adult contemporary of K-pop: impassive, sophisticated, and boring.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Diane Warren was capable of prettiness, and “Lonely” is how I imagine a Warren-written K-pop ballad to sound like.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Given recent farewell songs from Wonder Girls and 2NE1, that “Lonely” doesn’t play to Sistar’s strengths and opts instead for superficial melodrama is both unsurprising and disappointing. The track’s a slog, and Black Eyed Pilseung should have at least switched things up mid-song like they did with Niel’s “Lovekiller.” Imagine if Sistar left with a song that started off moody and ended with something chipper. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: A big midtempo production, ballad-ish in nature, that’s pretty enough but never really goes anywhere.
[5]

Iain Mew: Instead of another farewell ballad, here’s a heartbroken ghost of a banger. Drops rev up but don’t drop; everyone sounds aware of the stage lights turning off around them. But while they’re still on, they’re going to seize their moment.
[7]

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Poppy – Computer Boy

The Renaissance woman of 2017: YouTube shitposter, musician of sorts, recorder of sleep albums this side of the Dude — oh, and harbinger of CONTROVERSY…


[Video]
[3.42]

Will Adams: Poppy has been living a double life for years, simultaneously being the face of a fake-deep internet art project about celebrity culture as dismantled by a Shining twin ghostchild as well as being a backburner project for a major label churning out bland pop and making the promo circuit. Only recently have the persona and music begun to merge, but ironing out the dissonance doesn’t make the social commentary any less shallow, the music any more compelling, nor the sub-Black Mirror weird-for-weird’s-sake aesthetic any less irritating. “Computer Boy” takes an already familiar premise, pulling inspiration from way better sources — including Sky Ferreira (digitized electropop grind), Robyn (robot-as-human-and-or-sex-object), and the Vengaboys (lol sex jokes) — and doing absolutely nothing innovative with it. The song thinks it has a lot to say, but there’s as much content as you’d get from hearing Poppy repeat her name for ten minutes.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Sky Ferreira’s “One” rewritten to transpose the robotization onto someone’s fantasy boyfriend (complete with dick jokes! Naturally, it appears to be tied into some PC Music-esque satirical art project, which is less interesting the more you suss out the cynicism that’s pretty obvious from jump. Shame that more attempts to poke fun aren’t being done from within rather than from snotty outsiders.
[6]

Alfred Soto: “I’m so in love with my man of the future,” she sings over bleeps from an Atari 2600 game. Also, they sing about floppy disks entering hard drives, ho ho. Its concision and sense of play — I relish Poppy’s experimenting with voices — put much of it over anyway.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The lyrics are moronic, and the music sounds like someone took an old Commodore 64 and just hit all the keys. I suppose it’s meant to be “wry” or “knowing” or “ironic,” but it’s really just stupid.
[0]

Scott Mildenhall: The thing is, the Vengaboys were selling awful computer-based innuendoes to children for real seventeen years ago. This will never be as weird as the bona fide chart music of that era, so if that was the point… well, who knows what the point is? In any case it’s not lacking for purpose: the choruses are the repeatedly welcome peaks of a committed driving force throughout it. Whatever the intent, there’s a vitality.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I went from listening to the NoSleep Podcast (a horror story podcast, for those unaware) to this song, and I’m still unconvinced that I am not now the protagonist of one of those short stories.
[0]

Claire Biddles: So, an Internet superstar singing about wanting to fuck a laptop over a tinny amalgamation of all the streaming trends of the past 6 months — we’re truly through the PC Music looking-glass now. I know that’s the point, this infinity-removed post-ironic distance from feeling and authenticity, but it’s just so boring now, isn’t it? Call me old-fashioned, but critiques of internet fame and pop trends are only interesting when the rot and horror and desperation can be seen through the gossamer-thin avatar.
[0]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Poppy’s schtick fails to deliver on multiple fronts. It lacks the authenticity of other odd projects, music-related or not. Even @horse_ebooks offered the occasional bit of post-modern poeticism. What’s most disappointing about her music is that it isn’t even off-putting. I’d expect more brand commitment from someone with numerous videos featuring expressionless phrases and Badalamenti-inspired ambience. Ditto for mastermind Titanic Sinclair and his other projects.
[3]

Kalani Leblanc: Poppy can’t dodge PC Music comparisons — even though she imitates current obsessions, while PC artists like Hannah Diamond adopt what the early 2000s thought the future would look like. I just wish Poppy would push harder to get what the PC troupe does especially well — composing twisted pop — instead of selling short with a condensed version of a Disney sitcom theme. 
[6]

Austin Brown: I, for one, am overjoyed we’ve stripped back the accelerationist pretense from PC Music-adjacent pop and admitted that it’s basically Hatsune Miku slash fic, but if only this sounded as in on that joke as the lyrics.
[3]

Iain Mew: Making floppy disk jokes in 2017 is hopeless — so far beyond outdated it could almost be enjoyably strange, if it weren’t stuck next to a cut-and-paste assembly of laptop and attachment references and “make me come… alive.” The lazy thunk of the words is even more annoying when the music is so much more thoughtful and wide-ranging, from the strutting neon chorus to the menu of beeps that give each bit of the track its own retro flavour, and hang together as something new and not just “here’s something familiar, will this do?”
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Mad Decent wants some of their very own PC Music: predictable. Said PC music being delivered by a Vine-era Ana Voog in millennial pink: also predictable. Except where the original label sounds like MIDIs of rave synths, Poppy sounds like the tinkertoy pop machines of Sugababes’ “Push the Button,” Robyn’s “Fembot” or Sky Ferreira’s “One”: an improvement. But in a world that contains the suffering vocals and yearning, earnest erotics of “Deeper Understanding,” I don’t need snotty-voiced BBS gags about floppy disks and hard drives. (It isn’t 1993 anymore; in 2017 we upgrade thumb drives to solid state.) A cliché authenticity plea, sure. But it’s one her fans (who don’t seem astroturfed) seem to share given how diligently they scrounge around YouTube — like, literally going through strangers’ beauty haul videos — for Poppy’s old memory-holed pop music covers, which basically sound like acoustic Halsey. Now that’s satire.
[2]

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Foo Fighters – Run

Not a Younha cover…


[Video]
[4.22]

Thomas Inskeep: LISTEN TO US, WE RAWWWWWWWWWWK!
[2]

Alfred Soto: Check out that clatter! Has Dave Grohl been listening to those Nine Inch Nails albums he may have missed the first time? Listening to him wail is like imagining Ezra Koenig in twelve-inch dreads, however. For one of America’s few rock bands that go instant platinum, these wrinkles count as progress. Let’s see if fans bite.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dave Grohl is so assured about his place in an industry as codified and weak in the ass as the rock industry that he’s releasing Probot songs under his regular band’s name (and sadly with his weak-ass voice)! People keep asking for bands who can actually rock, but give me your most sadsack Twenty One Pilots song over this wretched geetar version of *applies clip-on bowtie* grown-man swag.
[4]

Austin Brown: The Foo Fighters’ response to political instability, apparently, is to make a halfhearted pivot towards thrash metal. It’s eye-catching, yeah, and adequately performed by the band, but Grohl’s everyman persona just doesn’t really have the snarl necessary to carry the whole thing.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: To where we’re running, and what we’ll do after we tire out, the Foo presumably have no idea either. At least we’re running, right? While we do that, let’s enjoy Dave Grohl do some impressions of the nu-metal voice.
[4]

Josh Love: “Run” starts off a plodding midtempo slog, and glancing at the 5:23 running time left me wondering how I was possibly going to survive until the end. So I suppose some credit’s due the Foos for abruptly veering into thrash metal before careening back into anthemics. Rinse and repeat. It turns a dull song into a trainwreck, and I’m not sure if that’s an improvement, but at least I didn’t see it coming.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: There’s a half-decent track here, but you have to get past the twin horrors of thrash vocals out of the Foo Fighters and an intro that’s disturbingly close to “Unchained Melody.”
[5]

Brad Shoup: As we switched centuries, the Foo Fighters shifted to meat-and-potatoes rock. But over time, they got stingy with the entree. This is a typically starchy example of rock’n’Grohl: vocal distortion to put him over; halfspeed, Harrisonian melodic sighs; and the kind of existential exhortation done best by the really rich. No knock on Dave — as always, he’s nearly got enough personality to compensate — but he’s gotta convert his capital into seed money.
[4]

Julian Axelrod: Personality has never been an issue for Foo Fighters; after all, they boasted one of the last legitimate rock stars of a post-rock-star era. And even when Dave Grohl’s songs didn’t have much personality, you could usually put a name to the power chords. So it’s weird to hear the band go through a severe identity crisis. The song hops from early-90s power ballad ambience to a Mumford-esque buildup before settling on a Metallica Jr. riff, only to realize they’ve run out of tricks. The novelty of a (slightly) heavier Foo Fighters wears off quickly, especially after you sit through a directionless guitar solo and about 500 run-throughs of a chorus that sounds like a pre-chorus. At the very least, you could always count on the Foo Fighters for a shot of adrenaline. But here, they just sound tired.
[4]

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Tóc Tiên – Walk Away

Not a Kelly Clarkson cover…


[Video]
[5.00]

Will Adams: I wish the menacing house chords that open “Walk Away” stuck around more, but the BIG LOUD DROP is too BIG AND LOUD to avoid taking over the whole song. It’s got the same kitchen sink approach as “Starships” without the annoying perk, and like the Nicki Minaj song, it’s a bit too crowded for its own good — there was no need for the na na’s budging in during the second verse. Overall, though, I don’t mind the clamor; a more polished rendering of 2012 radio pop is fine with me.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: From the megaton drop to the “live for tonight” motto, this is straight out of 2011-2012. But with current EDM-pop stuck on a perpetual balmy chill, a throwback to more intense dance music energy isn’t half bad. It also helps the beat works to serve Tóc Tiên, not the other way around — a misstep a lot of EDM 1.0 could’ve learned to better.
[5]

Iain Mew: I’m still always here for chaotic drops which first interrupt a song and then turn out to be the entire point, and the multi-stage rocket launches in “Walk Away” are joy upon joy. That Tóc Tiên’s punchy performance makes the warm-up so entertaining in its own right is a fine bonus.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: The drums. Again. I can’t stress enough how the oomph of the drums dropping out of the sky feels as if they aren’t as buoyant as the producer felt they were. The piano falls apart under any inspection and the singer herself sounds at if she is being devoured by it all. It feels like when you’re locked in a closet with a broken school bell that starts ringing any old time.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s pretty solid R&B & EDM influenced pop sounding like shades of the Sonic the Hedgehog “Casino Zone” at first, before sadly dissolving into the most generic sort of trapstep breakdowns for the big chant chorus. The best moments are the opportunities where Tóc Tiên tries to vocalize and keep herself at the center of the whirlwind before those eye of the storm climaxes, but sadly routine demands we overlook any chance to establish an impression.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The keyboard pattern intro evokes Katy B, and the androgynous vocals are ideal, but “Walk Away” doesn’t deserve the manipulations in the chorus, let alone the drop.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: A turbo-charged — really, turbo-pop — Vietnamese spin on K-pop that sounds exciting. And the best pop records should sound exciting, right? Somehow, this manages to make pneumatic work. Really work.
[9]

Crystal Leww: “Walk Away” sounds like something that CL would have done in 2015, which was already something three years too late. If I wanted to watch an Asian girl with dreadlocks rap badly, I’d just to go to an ASAP Ferg set at Pitchfork Festival. This is unnecessary.
[2]

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Rita Ora – Your Song

Not an Ellie Goulding Elton John cover…


[Video]
[4.18]

Claire Biddles: Who is Rita Ora? Not in the New York Times longform profile kind of way, but in a genuine, baffled kind of way. What qualifies her to be a judge on The X Factor or host of America’s Next Top Model? How in sheer hell does she wangle an invitation to the Met Ball every single year? Can you even think of any Rita Ora songs? Her omnipresence on telly and in the pages of Grazia magazine hasn’t translated to any tangible output up to now, and “Your Song” doesn’t change that — I don’t want to sully the good name of Clean Bandit, but this is like a reeeeeally reeeeally diluted impression of a Clean Bandit song, with the plinky plonk tropical-ish sound effects but without any of the warmth or fun or personality or tunes. I’ve forgotten it as soon as it ends.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Only so many times can you make the same sales pitch, even to an audience who’s willing to take an interest if you don’t show a desire to sell… or at least that’s what my third most recent job kept insisting. The logic definitely applies to Rita Ora, who for a good few many years has been an insistent product that the UK Music Industry has pushed despite a continuous series of failure. The heavy Britishness of the lyrics on the first verse (courtesy of Ed Sheeran) is already a stumble to specificity that’ll have Americans confused. And like many of her singles, there’s a weirdly middling quality to the refusal to reach any sort of high thematically or emotionally. When we get to that sorta-kinda-big chorus, it’s like taking a big ol’ swig of flat ginger ale after a long day’s work, and equally disappointing to keep forcing it down and expecting some sort of relief or breakthrough.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Rita Ora’s scratchy vocal suits a song about making love on your best friend’s couch while tasting your lover on the tip of your tongue, never mind that Ed Sheehan wrote those lines. But the trop house arrangement is so worn that moths flew out of its pockets.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: Rita Ora’s recalling of her butterflies sounds age perfect: a little throwaway fun but it’s still a timeless flutter. And I crush for any song that uses a change in music choice as an effect from falling in love. For now, her new favorite music plays in the background as she does whatever with her fling. There’s a better song in here somewhere where she will tell us about specific records in detail, but that’s months, maybe years down the line from this.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This sounds like a paler version of “Shape of You,” and the red menace is pretty pale to begin with — so guess what, Sheeran himself wrote this garbage. Also, Rita Ora is a terrible singer.
[1]

Austin Brown: Of course Ed Sheeran has a co-write on this: it’s got the same problem that I noticed with “Shape Of You,” which is a noncommittal musical attitude towards the phenomenon of “being a person who is horny” that’s betrayed by the overt, specific passes being made in the lyrics. Here, Ora just seems to have trouble riding the (ugh) riddim that Steve Mac (also the “Shape Of You” producer) has provided, through both a lack of vocal dynamics and a simple lack of personality to make up for it. To extend the “Shape Of You” comparison potentially beyond its usefulness, the difference is that with Sheeran I just don’t ever want him to talk dirty to me. With Ora, it’s more that she never seemed invested in cultivating a writerly personality or identity (sappy as Sheeran’s might be) outside of “dance-pop hitmaker.” That set of limitations was always fine in my book. Why change now?
[3]

Will Adams: It’s snappy, cute and probably the best case scenario for a Sheeran-penned track. But as always, Rita struggles with identity; it’s no surprise that her only flash of brilliance was the one moment she didn’t feel the need to try so hard. “Your Song,” just like “How We Do” and “Shine Ya Light” and “Black Widow” before it, only reflects the pop landscape, but it doesn’t have anything to show for itself.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: You can tell, like everybody, that this is Ed Sheeran’s song. If you can ignore that exhausting fact, “Your Song” isn’t so bad: arrangement prickly like goosebumps, lyrics kinda sweet. And at this point I’m just glad it’s Rita Ora with uncredited Ed Sheeran, not the other way round. But it doesn’t dislodge the thought that Rita Ora’s entire career is made up of imitations of other artists.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Rita Ora has done well to maintain her position as a thing that people are supposed to care about, considering the false starts and setbacks pockmarking her post-debut album output. One sure way to do this, of course, is to write songs for other people and have your backing vocals invariably haunting them. Thankfully this doesn’t actually sound much like an Ed Sheeran song, but it does have a familiar commitment to blandness. It’s nice to hear something so breezily sincere, but that breeze would doubtless be strong enough to make the whole thing collapse.
[5]

Crystal Leww: After hearing the Major Lazer remix of “Shape of You” with Nyla on the vocals and now “Your Song” by Rita Ora, I’ve been convinced that Ed Sheeran as Surprisingly Good Pop Songwriter for Women is a Real Thing that I should pay attention to now. Whereas his tracks sometimes come across as creepy with Sheeran on the vocals — maybe his tendency to devolve his delivery into bad rap vs. a straightforward sung vocal or more likely just because the dude with a guitar quietly mumbling to himself in the corner is always less preferable — it’s great elsewhere. Even Rita Ora, perpetually personality-free pop vocalist turns in good work here as the girl with a crush. This could slot in right next to a Fifth Harmony track and that Zayn/PND collab for a cute little summer pool party. 
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: I’m pretty sure Ed Sheeran has built a machine that just pops out catchy music when he puts in certain parameters. I’m positive that the different requirements he put in for this song were: love song, mid-tempo, background singers, and hand claps. It sucks, then, that Rita Ora ends up with this song and delivers a pretty boring and straightforward vocal, offering none of the bounciness or playfulness that a Sheeran co-write demands; and lest someone gets the wrong idea, I’m no big fan of Sheeran’s, I just know that his music is infinitely more tolerable because of the emotive qualities of his voice. What we’re left with here is the musical equivalent of a stock luxury car: sure, it’s got a lovely exterior, but if you have to roll-up the windows manually, is it really worth it?
[4]

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Seventeen – Don’t Wanna Cry

Finally, a boy band bold enough to take a strong stance against ransomware…


[Video]
[6.00]

Lilly Gray: “I must find you/I must find you/If I cry now, I won’t be able to see you” is heartbreak logic. One of my favorite literary themes is disappearance, however rendered — changelings, mysterious mothers, fiancées who vanish one morning and have never really lived in the apartment you remember, the hole that is carved into a life when a person just isn’t there anymore. There’s a certain kind of sense-making that takes over when you’ve been abandoned, and the pieces just won’t fit until you make your own, comforting design to explain why. The remaining half of the engagement pair retraces her steps through a now unfamiliar neighborhood, builds clues in desperation, and hears a familiar laugh, now unfamiliar, behind a different door. If you can politely ignore the overused EDM elements of the chorus, this song is so plainly on the precipice of acceptance and willful denial that I can’t help but follow and accept the jagged back and forth of someone staggering home after discovering what is now missing. 
[8]

Anjy Ou: Seventeen are one of the most exciting new K-pop groups to come out in recent years, as they’re continually challenging themselves and pushing their performances in new directions. “Don’t Wanna Cry” sees them ditching the peppiness that made them famous and going for a melodramatic mid-tempo instead. The chorus is a little weak, but thankfully short enough that it doesn’t ruin the listening experience. The rest of the song — especially the verses and pre-chorus — is lovely and the performances are sincere. A good addition to their repertoire, hinting at more to come.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The Pledis train keeps rolling: Seventeen are back to show the Biebers of the world how great, featherweight pop music should be made. Sure, he’s bigger, but they’re better. “Don’t Wanna Cry” rides a light bounce similar to “Let Me Love You” (albeit without that song’s slight touch of dancehall riddim), but the Seventeen boys are better singers, all sweetness and light, cuz they’re gonna be there for you, like the New Kids were are their peak. This is a state of the art boy band going from strength to strength, and they are making nearly perfect pop at this moment in time.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: In an interview with Bugs, Pledis producer Bumzu stated that he’s in constant communication with the company and individual band members to determine what a group’s next single should sound like. One thing he does is ask what band members are currently listening to. Much to my dismay, it turns out that Seventeen are probably into The Chainsmokers. And while “Don’t Wanna Cry” isn’t as flimsy as most Chainsmokers tracks (the grandiose bridge surely helps), it doesn’t transcend mere trend-hopping imitation in the way some of Bumzu’s other productions have (namely, last year’s “Overcome“).
[4]

Kalani Leblanc: I can imagine how releasing originally bad songs once every few months could get boring, but releasing a wholly bad song is another thing. These boys don’t seem to be embarrassed about crying or being as unoriginal as The Chainsmokers.
[2]

Crystal Leww: “Don’t Wanna Cry” is reminiscent of October 2015 when f(x) came out with “4 Walls,” which was very far behind the UK pop-house trend. Yet, it felt like f(x) had somehow created the form of a pop-house song. “Don’t Wanna Cry” is that for future bass pop. The seesaw drops remind me of “Closer” (which is, to be clear, a perfect pop song), but this is so polished. The production quality is extremely high and the vocals are extremely slick. That’s 90 per cent of the battle for most of these Soundcloud producers anyway, and Seventeen have proven that while K-pop may take from some broader global trends in pop and dance, it often feels like no one takes it to its most excellent form.
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: This K-pop act is not as boldly reckless as its contemporaries, making in “Don’t Wanna Cry” a subdued and streamlined dance ballad that traverses the same territory as Zedd or The Chainsmokers’ pop-oriented EDM. And… it works? I’d have scored it a point higher if I didn’t fear the single-mindedness of the hook might start to grate on replay.
[6]

Alfred Soto: K-pop’s fascination with unexpected pitch shifts is the correlative for changes in emotional range and “Don’t Wanna Cry” shine as one of the better recent examples: the agonized harmonies and desperate “eh eh”s of the chorus complement the hurricane-eye serenity of the verses.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Risks of chain smoking: the stench of secondhand smoke gets into absolutely everything.
[3]

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Vince Staples – Big Fish

He’s on a boat…


[Video]
[5.71]

Ashley John: “You wake up. You see your mom go to work. You go to school. You come home. You hate your life some more.” In 2015, Vince Staples talked to Frannie Kelly and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on Microphone Check about the trappings of circumstance, of recognizing a gap but not being able to cross it. Staples’s music is steeped in this stinging discomfort and backed by a constant apathy. This is Staples’s thesis: there is no right or wrong, just the churning bass of one song after another. Juicy J loops in and out while Staples zip zags his pace but sounds unimpressed with himself throughout. He’s accepted the secret that we try to keep from ourselves — that there is no sequential pattern of correct choices, no escaping ourselves. There is no up, down, or through. Only persisting. 
[9]

Joshua Copperman: Even down to the technical team of Mark “Spike” Stent and Chris Gehringer, more known for working on Madonna and Harry Styles albums than rap, this is as bold a pop move as any previously-underground rapper has taken. But enough about the minutiae; Juicy J’s hook is clear evidence of this push for the mainstream, as it anchors some typically morbid storytelling from Staples. That said, Staples is also more than adept at the whole straightforward-rap thing — quotable lines like “Another story of a young black man/Tryna make it up out that jam, god damn” and “the Sharks make me wanna put the hammer to my head,” as well as the callbacks to previous songs, show his versatility. “Big Fish” doesn’t quite demonstrate the extent of his talents, but never feels like a concession either.
[7]

Alfred Soto: After last year’s Prima Donna EP boasted his most harrowing work to date, it depresses me that Vince Staples thinks he might cross over with a recherché Lil Jon-style beat and “I was up late night ballin'” hook that’s as germane to Staples’ work as a clarinet would be to Shawn Mendes. 
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The Ras Kass of the 21st century finally gets to make his “Ghetto Fabulous,” but ends up closer to “Crawl Before You Ball.” I may not want to hear this kid even when he’s relatively in form, but nobody wants to hear this kid blindly chase after hits he could never sell.
[1]

Stephen Eisermann: Am I the only one who thinks this is the male version of “Fancy”? Vince has a smoother delivery and a bit more swag by my ear, but the similarities are vast. Both are tunes of self-appreciation, but where Iggy was dominated by the beat, here Vince commands the music and his delivery is sharp and slick. The touch of humility in the lyrics makes the song easier to connect to, and god damn is it hard not to want to move when hearing Vince flow to the rhythm. “Big Fish” is the perfect way to start a warm party night, and I’ll be playing it all summer long.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Vince’s self-reference scans more as laziness than a victory lap for me, but that rubber-band snap of a beat makes this post-success reflection a lighter appetizer than his stomach-churning introspection as of late.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Having known (and not cared for) Vince Staples’s collaborations with James Blake, the first five seconds of “Big Fish” had me thinking that Blake was on board here and doing some throwback “Air & Lack Thereof“-type work. He’s not the producer for this though, and it’s clear when the ’90s deep house bass line enters, putting the track in the context of Kanye West’s “Fade.” But “Big Fish” isn’t that similar to “Fade,” and it’s because Vince doesn’t work like ‘Ye. On The Life of Pablo, Kanye strung together scattershot ideas and features like a game of Hip-Hop Mad Libs. Vince, on the other hand, is interested in making short, economical, and mostly prudent rap songs. The unsurprising end result is an actual fun dance track. Juicy J’s repetitious, braggadocious hook fits right in place too, helping to make clear that “Big Fish” is more a descendant of hyphy than anything else. Vince raps about the distance he feels between his past and current self, acknowledging that new problems have risen as a result of having money. But even with this on his mind, Vince spends a lot of “Big Fish” just being thankful (“Shoulda been dead broke, shoulda been chalked out”) and having fun (“In the foreign with the GPS addressed to your mama house”). If Vince ever wanted to make his own My Krazy Life, he might have a shot.
[7]

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Nick Jonas ft. Anne-Marie & Mike Posner – Remember I Told You

In which the current Most Valuable Jonas honor remains firmly in Joe’s hands…


[Video]
[3.71]

Stephen Eisermann: Three artists fighting for relevancy on a tired beat does not a good song make.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Nick Jonas is better than this nondescript, albeit mildly catchy, R&B-pop track with duet vocals from Anne-Marie (talk about nondescript, I mean) and rap bridge from Mike Posner (just no). But I’m not sure he knows it. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Natalie Imbruglia’s “Want” reimagined as “DJ Got Us Falling In Love”-style radio melancholy, in which both vocalists make the track do all the emotional work. I can’t remember a thing about Anne-Marie’s verse after hearing it, and the thing about Nick’s is that if your track is about how all those words are just a roundabout way of saying you care, the track still consists of all those dull words. If ever there was a line unsuited to breathy R&B delivery, it’s “I don’t suppose you have a moment to spare me.” Mike Posner puts in an effort, it’s just not the effort you’d want. His supposed devil-may-care verse is undercut by making a 50-years-dated Kennedy joke, probably because referencing certain other recent presidential womanizers would lose him airplay.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Honestly, hearing Nick Jonas try to dip into Soft EDM/Current Day Weeknd nonsense is disappointing. Yes I know most people hated his “R&B” phase, but you at least had the sound of someone trying to negotiate with a musical world he shouldn’t be able to comprehend. By comparison, this is cynically calm and collected and following trends in a way that shows more of a desire to make the hits than demonstrate any desire to make himself stand out. A real shame. Anne-Marie fills her role well and Mike Posner’s fine here too, though I didn’t necessarily need to know he’s going to play “slightly less laughable Mac Miller” on records now after doing surprisingly well on “Ibiza.” The whole track, for a summer jam is so surprisingly… uninterested.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Another summer, another faintly electronic Nick Jonas duet with a non-American. This time Mike Posner, who suddenly is acquainted with guest lists, joins in for anemic fun, getting the party started with the line “bitches on the side like a Kennedy.”
[2]

Josh Langhoff: Nick Jonas is like an 80-year-old codger trapped in the body of a penis. No chin music this time out; instead he “don’t supposes” his way into a young lady’s attention, assumes she finds his polysyllabic words “fancy,” and shrugs around inside his house track like he mistook a parka for a sport coat. Is he eccentric? Hapless? Nobody knows but he seems nice enough, so just keep your distance and let him hang out in the top ten for a couple weeks.
[4]

Julian Axelrod: Nick Jonas has proven himself to be an exceptional collaborator, especially on last year’s exceptional Tove Lo duet “Close.” He’s generous enough to give his partners room to shine, but confident enough to hold his own. “Remember I Told You” finds Jonas playing off British guest-singer-du-jour Anne-Marie, and they acquit themselves well in this former lovers’ tête-à-tête — like Drake and Rihanna without the ego. The whole affair is passionate but restrained, perfectly capturing the apathetic front we put on for people we used to care about. But Posner’s verse really sinks this for me. He stumbles through a laundry list of sadboy platitudes, ruining the chemistry like a little brother barging in on a date. Maybe collaboration isn’t always Nick Jonas’s best move.
[6]

Friday, June 16th, 2017

The National – The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness

And with this we wrap up inter-National Friday (ha ha… ha…).


[Video][Website]
[6.40]

Ian Mathers: Six weeks from now I’d probably give this another point or two; the National’s little grace notes always grow on me, whether it’s Matt Berninger’s halting delivery of the title against the piano or those little guitar licks or everything about Bryan Devendorf’s drumming, and it’s exciting that after a trio of good (maybe great, depending on your demographics, genre interest, and mood) records that sounded pretty much the same, their palette feels like it’s expanding a bit. And of course they’ve lost none of their knack for weirdly relatable, gnomic turns of phrase. If they feel a bit adrift, even confused by life in 2017, they’re somewhere in a long, long line of people feeling the same. Did anyone else see it in those clouds at the end? First Nixon, then a frowning cartoon dog, then nothing.
[7]

Joshua Copperman: After a series of projects post-Trouble Will Find Me, which branched off into dance-pop and zoney six-minute jams, in addition to a several-hour Grateful Dead tribute, The National have reunited and brought the spirit of those projects with them. “TSODITD” is something of a massive send-up, with a fuzzy guitar solo from an almost-always-solo-averse Dessner brother, an unusually bouncy bass line from Scott Devendorf, and Bryan Devendorf’s normally tasteful drum fills replaced with a big, dumb entrance. Most of all, Matt Berninger is intentionally incomprehensible here; the punchline of “I can’t explain it any other way” is so National, coming as it does after a series of surreal, even-vaguer-than-usual lyrics. The run-on line “…ALSO no other faith is light enough for this place” is one such example, which seems to emphasize trust in one another over trust in a higher power. Even as it takes multiple listens to understand what he means at first, the intensity of the arrangement gives his pleas for solace some actual urgency. “TSODITD”, for all the ways it stretches their sound, retains the qualities of their best music; the times when every individual member locks in with one another, and densely layered textures creep in to the mix until the final product becomes grandiose, yet still intimate.
[8]

Tim de Reuse: The National were supposed to try a different approach on this album, no? That’s what I vaguely remember from some interview a year or two ago, which is just as well, because I think the band were quietly hoping we’d forget they ever mentioned it. There are, to their credit, timid, surface-level evolutions in sound: the open-faced production, the barely perceptible “oohs” underneath it all, the carefully manicured guitar solo. For the most part, though, this is a song by The National, with The National structure and The National chord progressions and The National melancholia courtesy of Matt Berninger’s ever-strong penchant for stream-of-consciousness that occasionally happens to rhyme — none of which are things I usually dislike, mind you! — but there is still some strange sense of restraint through the whole tune that prevents it from reaching the levels of oblivious sentimentality necessary for this whole The National machine to function. I mean, guys, if you want so badly to repeat yourselves, whatever, follow your hearts; but I’d rather you just write “Sea of Love” again than this weird, flimsy compromise.
[5]

Alfred Soto: “We’re in a different kind of thing now,” Matt Berninger avers, and I admire his delusions. Other than a dark and stormy guitar squall, garrulous title, and more prominent piano, “The System…” sulks as defiantly as any other release in the band’s catalog. At this point you care or you don’t, and I’m bored of claiming they don’t matter — the sound of post-thirty white angst, I suppose, deserves an airing too.
[6]

Alex Clifton: I’ve never really got The National–something about Matt Berninger’s voice is both beautiful and too unsettling for me–but I found myself tapping my foot while listening to this. There’s something alive about this track that I’ve found lacking in indie rock over the last few years. My favourite acts–the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, the Arctic Monkeys–wrote fast, furious songs, stuff that leaves you breathless. Yet in recent years, that drive from rock music has disappeared; everything’s a quiet dirge on the radio, sparse and unfulfilling. This song, however, is catchy and pulsating and moves forward, with a killer guitar solo in the middle to boot. It’s the the best of mid-2000s indie rock mixed with something more dramatic, with trumpet and synths colliding with an edgy guitar to produce a song that’s gripping and propulsive. It’s urgent and breaks up the monotony of the charts. If this is what The National has to offer these days, sign me up.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The National’s sound makes the distinctly non-lucid sound lucid, and in that sense this even beats the one about being afraid you might eat someone’s brains. But played like this and sung like that it comes across as like a page out of an intriguing novella, or its audiobook form read by a serious narrator who’s the only one aware of the terror ahead.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Slowly, I crept through the dark shrubs, into the topiary prison. There I found the corpse of Ian Curtis, 85 percent of his body removed by Anton Corbijn still convincing people he has artistic talent over the last 30-odd years, and the plants moving over to take over the remainder. His one eye looked at me all mournful while moss had not only emerged in his pores to make him look more rancid than possible, but formed a beard with Errol Flynn mustache. Beneath this cadaver of a man the vines were snared around a dead boom-box playing “Lust for Life,” but likewise the shrubs had claimed the carcass of the device so that the drum fill came out as a polite pulse and the guitar occasionally squalled out to sound like AOL dial-up. Solemnly, I turned away in disgust, knowing this would be a perfect tourist trap for indie dads across the world, who would take solace in how much they felt like he looked. Later, that tatterdemalion horror became a single released for a National album.
[4]

Josh Love: The guys in The National were past 30 when they broke through to widespread notice and acclaim, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that they haven’t gone all gooey and benign like so many other bands at this stage of their life cycle. Matt Berninger thankfully still seems like a miserable bastard, laying out an exquisite tableau of romantic and spiritual isolation while a jagged guitar riff scrawls his real, ugly feelings on the wall.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The rumbling rhythm track is reminiscent of “Ballroom Blitz,” of all things. Matt Berninger’s vocals are kind of bass-y and British; I can’t necessarily explain what that means, exactly, they just come off kind of British to my ears. Then I remember that I was rather fond of his side project EL VY, and it starts to come together for me. This is a bit late ’80s college rock, less Amerindie and more Bad Seeds. These guys find a groove and lock into it, and let Berninger do his thing above it: wise choice.
[7]

Austin Brown: It feels like every album, The National moves further and further away from making full use of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming, the thing that always made them far more interesting than the mope-rock they got pigeonholed as. Here, the neurotic precision that defines Devendorf’s best work (“Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Apartment Story,” “Squalor Victoria,” “Graceless”) is absent, replaced by a far less exciting rollicking slacker pose. This was a little true of some of the songs on Trouble Will Find Me, but there the rest of the band picked up the slack, with Matt Berninger turning in some of his most specific and acute songs yet. Here, though, he’s on autopilot, droning through his lyrical habitus without letting anything distinctive poke up above the surface–and the rest of the band follows suit. Even the midpoint guitar solo feels like an empty exercise. I know the band is supposedly more relaxed now, far more at ease in their songwriting, and good for them. But it’s starting to look like there was a lot of productive value to the tense recording sessions that produced Boxer and High Violet
[4]

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Gepe – Hablar de Ti

Next we jet off to Chile and accidentally bump into a ukulele…


[Video]
[5.00]

Ryo Miyauchi: Gepe’s decision to nix drums to fully trust the warmth, and cliche-filled cheese, of the ukulele tells me he no longer cares about embarrassment for bearing his heart so boldly on his sleeve. He tried to play it cool in the similarly heart-eyed “TKM,” where his love made him at a loss for words until the only thing he can muster to share was, “well, I guess here’s a song.” Here, he speaks in run-on sentences but because he has so much he wants to tell to the one he loves.
[6]

Cassy Gress: Gepe’s got cute sleepy eyes and I’ve very much liked some other songs of his, so I’m inclined to think positively of this from the jump. But this song’s got a whole lot of words and not a lot of hooks; if he was singing this to me by a campfire on a beach somewhere, I’d be wondering why he dragged this out past the first verse and chorus.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Cutesy-poo strummy-guitar pop that’s a bit too Jason Mraz by about 75%.
[3]

Stephen Eisermann: When did Jack Johnson learn to speak Spanish? Seriously, though, MOR music is just as boring in Spanish as it is English and no amount of background voices in the final act will change that.
[3]

Alfred Soto: It’s got a ukelele, the instrument of death used by thousands of smart aleck guys. A sax solo too, but surprise — it doesn’t offend!
[5]

Juana Giaimo: After so many ukelele songs in the last decade, Gepe can still make this instrument sound genuine and far from its usual innocent sound. Instead, the polished production of “Hablar de ti” is smooth and breezy — and even the brass solo is pleasing and incorporates very naturally with the whole atmosphere (so unlike the disruptive brass of Estilo libre and GP!) But “Hablar de ti” is above all a simple love song, about that warm feeling and the smile that joins it when telling your friends or family about your significant other — “I could keep talking about you forever” he sings in the chorus, while in the verses he follows these words and enumerates all the things he loves about her. 
[8]