Monday, October 27th, 2014

Mick Jenkins – Jazz

And now, something that isn’t jazz…


[Video][Website]
[6.83]

Ashley Ellerson: “Jazz” is refreshing like a glass of water on a scalding day because you know Jenkins is right. Scat singing is popular in jazz, and it’s about as nonsensical and beautiful as Jonsi when he sings in Hopelandic. Folks are scatting and fooling the dehydrated; do your research, drink that fresh water, and you’ll see right through that jazz.
[8]

Brad Shoup: He comes at the oppositions so casually: triumph is a JFK pose, talking jazz is trouble unless it’s not. I like his catholic selection of luminaries, and the combination of the vibes and a Tyler-like baritone lend this a peculiarly West-Coast feel. But I guess if I had to pick my diving spot, I’d take the Pacific over Lake Michigan in a heartbeat.  
[6]

Alfred Soto: Like Kevin Gates and Tyler, his baritone and stentorian diction are arresting in themselves, but the story’s arresting too: a smart guy who’s done shit and has trouble convincing people those smarts are for real. OnGaud’s use of a horrorshow organ and reverbed guitar help.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: Sometimes tense chords are tense not because they’re presaging horror, but because they’re trying to keep a lid on joy. Undemonstrative, logorrheic, obsessed with history both personal and cultural — there was no way I wasn’t going to love this.
[8]

David Sheffieck: Jenkins has demonstrated his versatility in the past, but he seems to be most at home with spectral beats that float between B-grade horror soundtrack and existential dread. Here his delivery projects a sense of weary resignation, elevated to something like disgust on the third verse, and centered on a hook that imagines his assassination. It’s bleak and not a little disturbing, but while you might need to cover your eyes, you’ll find yourself peeking through your fingers.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “I can’t keep watching the same movies.” He says. But the sad fact is, Jenkins scowling and grumping is the same thing so many rappers who take his field do. His technique is adequately flourishy, and his vocabulary is good. But people armed with diagrams and thesauruses only get so far in life. At the core, Jenkins is just providing decorative fancies to the same subject material as say, Ace Hood. (“Gotta get this loot! Momma need new shoes! I’m the realest, not everybody else who says the exact same thing as me!”) The presentation might echo TDE, Chance, Vince or various “underground” acts that promote a more “thoughtful” approach; but at the end of the day this kid is talking that Wynton Marsalis: refried, retread, fancy old cliches.
[4]

Monday, October 27th, 2014

My Brightest Diamond – Pressure

The album’s called This is My Hand and if that’s what my hand looked like, I’d call my album that too…


[Video][Website]
[4.67]

Jonathan Bogart: Of all the comparisons I had ready to go, Nellie McKay was the one I was least expecting.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Saturday-afternoon drumline meets high school drama club. It’s a combination that should result in pure cringe, but My Brightest Diamond’s commitment to this style takes it to a far more interesting place than expected. It still gets a little too serious at times — the color-naming interlude is a bit much — but overall this finds a nice balance.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The world’s greatest display of yearning for a Tony Award without actually writing a musical.
[2]

Alfred Soto: The bass synth under the “I tried to do it alright” refrain, acoustic bass, the stop-start structure — except for the martial drums at the beginning none of this is showboating. As a statement of proficiency, this impressed me. Here you have it, folks: tUnE-yArDs writing for Anita Ward.
[7]

W.B. Swygart: For a song that shoves together this many elements, it’s weird how there’s never any element of surprise. MBD’s voice is distressingly pedestrian, and when the “Di-munds” refrain lumps back into view at around three minutes the lack of spark feels almost insulting.
[3]

Anthony Easton: Very Kate Bushy, but I love the ominousness of the introductory percussion track.
[4]

Brad Shoup: I’ll tell you where there’s no pressure: on songwriters to get off carbon’s jock. Worden sends in orchestral sections like a field general, ordering her soldiers to certain slaughter. Much more thought was put into where the flutes should go than, say, giving a compelling sonic cast to anything. It’s mystery-show library music, where the timbre doesn’t matter as much since it’s in the background.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Shara Worden is one of dozens of creatively omnivorous art-pop songwriters who go under the radar, because to survive in the music world as a female singer-songwriter you must fit into a hype category, a genre tag, a Beats Music recommendation. You must be, and Worden is not, cool-pop like Grimes or FKA Twigs, or dark-pop like Zola Jesus or Lykke Li, or, barring that, a Serious Not-Pop Songwriter like Eleanor Friedberger or Sharon Von Etten. Every so often someone from this genre receives genuine hype and is respected on artistic terms — this generation, it’s St. Vincent — but more often they’re deliberate artists who don’t fully make the hype cycle: Jenny Hval, Anna Calvi, Carina Round, Jesca Hoop, Laura Mvula, Lianne La Havas. Why so little press? Why no press? At its worst, this music is just boring — astute readers will note the order of those names — but more often the problem’s in the marketing: too sophisticated for parties, too unyielding for ads, too unconcerned with the youth demo and too dubious a pitch to a music press that still covers female artists reluctantly. As a result, Worden’s This Is My Hand is a phenomenal artistic leap forward that’ll be on few people’s year-end lists. “Pressure” is a little too blasé to be a standout, but that midsection, a relentless industrial careen that ends in a twinkle, like the I Love Lucy factory scene set on a runaway roller coaster, or maybe like Jezzball in hell, is gripping.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: In making the connection between pressure and diamonds Shara Worden was well within her rights to take the rest of the day off, but that would have forestalled an arrangement so elaborate. Sometimes it works — the myriad Mvulan cacophonies — but overall it straddles a line between containment and Elaine Paige jazzhands too inconsistently.
[5]

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Take That – These Days

And then there were three.


[Video][Website]
[4.56]

Megan Harrington: “Tonight, we’ll remember these days” and/or “Tonight, gotta live for these days” are such meaningless sentiments. The production sounds like a factory pre-set. The vocals are all silken ghosts. If “These Days” came on the radio you wouldn’t jump to change the station, it’s not that sort of awful, grating song. But you’d tune out and no part of it would ever pass through your brain’s membrane. It’s a song that actively floats away, that opens the door and sees itself out.
[5]

Alfred Soto: “Tonight we’re gonna live for/These days” makes no sense as catchphrase or even English, but Take That have never made sense as Englishmen either. Here they master a couple of nice key changes and a Maroonfiied rhythm base on a song that’s the typical survivalist twaddle released by aging pretty boys from Duran Duran to Nick & Knight. I expect One Direction to release one in 2027.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Pure catchiness has to count for something, but I can not squeeze out any other decent thoughts about it. Uhhhhh, sounds sorta like that Yeasayer song where they tried to be Lionel Richie? 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This is perfectly solid adult pop, perfectly inoffensive and a bit on the dull side. It could use a bit of Robbie Williams, honestly. 
[4]

Iain Mew: Their comeback, which is almost as long ago now as they’d been away then, saw them find a sweet spot between Snow Patrol and Westlife. They’ve tried to update that for now but have only managed half of the equation, landing between Bastille and a void. This is made worse by the way they seem to have countered dropping a member by producing the song so no one is even identifiable. If you close your eyes it may almost feel like nothing’s changed at all, but it doesn’t feel like much else.
[3]

Jonathan Bogart: Get that ad money, bros. Oh, sorry — bruvs.
[4]

Will Adams: The aural equivalent of a sugary cocktail that involves seven ingredients. 
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Sitting in a bath of baked beans for charity would actually be the least these three could do right now, but judging by this they mightn’t want the attention. Their three prior launch singles since regeneration felt or were intended to feel massive, but “These Days” is no statement. It’s a song that wants to stick in your mind, but not be at its forefront. Lively enough to give Howard something to do, but well aware that he is 46 years old. 
[6]

Brad Shoup: The mix is packed to the ceiling with horizontal harmonies and disco downstroke turned up to “U2.” I suppose I’m glad we’re not saddled with a ballad, but I can’t see this lot frolicking on a beach in slo-mo, as those piano chords insist.
[4]

Friday, October 24th, 2014

McBusted – Air Guitar

Splendid air vocals.


[Video][Website]
[3.91]

Abby Waysdorf: When I was in London in 2005, my mom and I stopped at a cafe in Covent Garden to have a coffee before we killed each other. Next to us there was a woman with two girls, one early teenage and one younger. The girls were freaking out. Across the courtyard, one of the members of McFly was shopping. The older girl was too embarrassed to go ask for an autograph despite her mother’s prodding, so the mother went out and asked for the autograph itself. This continues to be the only thing I know about McFly, and I know even less about Busted, but considering that they were popular enough to have teens freaking about them ten years ago makes this kind of “oh I wish I was cool and a successful musician!” posturing ring ridiculous. Aren’t you already a rock star? Or at least a pop star? The girl you were shopping with looked enough like a model. But “Air Guitar” is still fun, catchy power-pop, well-balanced and well-done. Just stop pretending you haven’t sold millions of records.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: The most mind-bogglingly part of this rockstar-in-my-head narrative is the tangent about singing Beyoncé  at karaoke, as it has nothing to do with the titular subject – that song doesn’t even have guitar in it! Doofus just wants to win points with the world because he likes Beyoncé, don’t wedge it in into your big dumb rock song. Anyway, the stupidest part is when he goes helium and sings “you think there’s nothing there/it’s simply made of air,” a staggering goofy line everyone should have kept bottled up. 
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: British former boy bands (do boy bands last forever?) McFly and Busted have made a single together. From the title of the single to the group’s combo name to its clichéd use of guitar licks (even in a single titled “Air Guitar”), there’s nothing of interest here.
[1]

Iain Mew: NKOTBSB was the proof of concept for this kind of joining of forces, but McBusted’s proposition is different and a much more unequal partnership. Busted’s success provided the original launching pad for McFly’s continuing career but, with Charlie Simpson refusing to play ball, Matt Willis and James Bourne had little chance of making inroads on any nostalgia circuit by themselves. So in no small part McBusted is one band who have kept a big fanbase doing a favour for some old friends, with overtones of payback and a logical extension from the number of fans they initially had in common. That’s sweet, but doesn’t answer the question of what to do with their single. Their answer appears to be to record a McFly single but up the gimmick factor a bit, and it’s not a good one. They build up to a chorus that puts the power in pop and there’s a neat song about faking it until you make it in there somewhere, but the karaoke, riffing and constant shoving in of ill-fitting humour all get in its way.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The showboating is less interesting than the intro, the confession about wanting to fake it winning, the suspicion that he gets as much action as Hendrix and Page strong, the irony leaden.
[4]

Anthony Easton: Is the half-assed guitar solo near the end part of the joke? Is this entire thing a joke? I cannot tell wry British wit anymore. 
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: For those of you who loved the Wheatus cover by 1D. I present to you: consequences.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: For all their links, McFly and Busted are very different propositions. Busted didn’t spend too long in their cacophonous niche, but they barely left it. From the off, McFly were more melodic, but over a decade have diversified left, right and centre (more recently with a hint of bandwagoning). It’s easier for them, then, to slip into Busted’s shoes than vice versa, dissolving into an inferior band. Tom Fletcher is said to have written the majority of this, but it feels more the work of James Bourne. “Air Guitar” sounds most as if he ripped off “Gives You Hell” for his Loserville musical but backed out of its inclusion. There’s theatricality, narrative and a delight in their absurdity. Not hugely McFly, but an instance of a Busted song gone right.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: They all laughed. “Air guitar,” they said. “What is this the eighties,” they said. “Even Guitar Hero® was ten years ago,” they said. But just wait. When someone decides to try to make a reality show out of air guitar competitions and they need a catchy theme song, who’ll be sitting pretty then?
[5]

Brad Shoup: Look, I’m in way too deep with this power-pop project, so the chorus hits me right in the research. It’s a perfect snapshot of how the genre charted in the late ’90s: twerpy vocals, a sad-sack story and guitars that wink at their own crunchiness. It’s a wonderful little comic portrait, and it will do absolutely nothing to bring rock back, thank God.
[7]

Will Adams: Could this be the world’s worst supergroup name? The conceit matches its dopiness; unfortunately, the titular solo does not.
[4]

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Avicii – The Days

“I’m standing in the middle of life with my synths behind me”


[Video][Website]
[4.33]

Scott Mildenhall: Robbie Williams is often at his best when allowed to stray from the middle of the road. Similar can be said for Avicii. In another lifetime, this could be spectacular. Guy Chambers isn’t even involved, and yet it’s as flat as a pancake. For three minutes the only diversion is the thought of the access to Radio 1 and America Robbie is gaining by stealth; Avicii going a little bit wiggly at the end is a saving grace.
[5]

Luisa Lopez: The greatness of this song being its goofiness, its tried-out stupidity and dogged happiness. A little something to brighten our autumn days. Avicii isn’t exactly a messenger of anything profound or even, in the way we sometimes mean it, great, so actually what works here, and what worked in “Wake Me Up” and “Addicted to You” and everything else, is that it’s the same song repeated in various costumes, reappearing untouched in almost every way except a few verses, a lovely and lingering affair with the many ways to say Let’s dance.
[6]

Iain Mew: I like the goofy dinkiness of the drop and ending, which gives an unexpected way out of Avicii’s new rut of oversized EDMOR. The problem is that the song up to that point is a nothing, which is not a problem I would have expected with Robbie on board. For years, his own material in this tempo featured a constant battle between sincerity and smirk, a sense that his personality was too big to be contained by the song. It could be infuraiting as well as great, but never boring. His part on “The Days” is the sound of those warring forces having reached stalemate.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: No man is more determined to dig a tunnel right beneath the middle of the road out from the confines of EDM Hell,than Avicii.
[1]

Abby Waysdorf: Robbie Williams will probably finally break America with this, but at what cost? This isn’t even a good Bon Jovi song. It took “Wake Me Up” a surprisingly long time to get tiring, but I was annoyed with “The Days” within the first listen. I won’t even be happy to dance to it when I’m drunk. 
[2]

David Sheffieck: Hearing Avicii’s evolution is kinda stunning, and this continues his run of tracks successfully mining #YOLO territory for all it’s worth, anchored an outro that reveals a build so slow it’s easy to miss entirely. But if we’re gonna give Duke Dumont shit, it’s only fair: -3 for the lack of credit to Robbie Williams, whose vocals carry the first section of the song. I know he doesn’t need it in the same way that Kelli-Leigh does, but that’s not enough to make it the right move on Avicii’s part.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The slow transmogrification of EDM into Journey is something no one could have predicted, or wanted to predict.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: While this isn’t as dire as “Wake Me Up,” it’s still uninteresting. “The Days” manages to neuter Robbie Williams of all personality, and FFS when did strummy guitar become de rigueur in EDM-pop? Should be a huge soccer-stadium anthem across Europe next summer. Jock Jams 2015 awaits.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: It never comes on “The Days.” That moment, on the bulk of Avicii’s tracks, signifying that the hands-in-the-air moment has arrived, the EDM equivalent of a sign flashing “DANCE.” But here, it’s just guitar strums and Robbie Williams’ husky voice and some synth plink-plonks skipping forward. And then, right near the end, just when it seems like that boring lunkheaded moment is finally going to drop in…it turns out to be a MIDI approximation of, like, a Clarence Clemons’ sax solo. The most pleasant of surprises. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: The too-long organ solo sounds like an ebullience earned but also an ebullience prolonged and attenuated. An ever-present present is Avicii’s intention and lived reality, as if with his acoustic guitar and stadium ready nostrums he’s ready to write his own “I Gotta Feeling.” He’s selling it — he’s selling it hard.
[5]

Brad Shoup: More synths filtered into a Celtic lilt, please. Fewer songs yearning for youth written by Brandon Flowers, also. Robbie sounds fine, maybe a little weighed down by the synths caught in the guitar strings.
[5]

Will Adams: Most of the interest comes from how the structure bucks typical EDM dynamics; the beat eases its way in with a pleasant guitar strum and Robbie Williams’ styrofoam-grade inspiring vocal. It isn’t until the third act that the lead synth comes through that “The Days” veers toward a true festival moment. As it stands, it’s fitted more for wedding or middle school dancefloors, which means it’s serviceable but not world-beating.
[5]

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Calibre 50 ft. El Komander – Qué Tiene De Malo

Finally, correct use of accented characters…


[Video][Website]
[6.17]

Josh Langhoff: The artists are indignant. Both Calibre 50, a quartet named for a big-ass gun, and El Komander, who’s designed his “K” to look like a big-ass gun, have recently been fined and banned by certain state and local governments in Mexico. The reason? Their narcocorrido music “promotes violence.” Well, yeah. Wasn’t that the point of all the big-ass guns? The artists retaliate with this pro-freedom meta-corrido, “What’s Wrong With That?”, presenting themselves as working stiffs who’ll drink and party and spend hard-earned money on whatever kind of music they like. (They’re like two steps removed from Toby Keith in “That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy.”) On their albums, Calibre venture into pop ballads and dangerously close to sea shanties; despite the broadest reach of any norteño band, their grasp sounds firmest when they return to corridos. That lurching waltz beat could trace the arc of a razor sharp pendulum, the tuba fluttering and blatting just out of its reach. During the spoken interlude they quote Komander’s 2012 Youtube hit “Cuernito Armani,” named for — you guessed it — a big-ass gun.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Careening, quickly moving, and with some pretty fantastic horns, and the always welcome accordions, this claims to bring a riot — but it is too orderly, too well constructed to be completely riotous. It does have the energy for it, though. 
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Stick a conversation in the middle of your song, and I’ll definitely provide an extra point.
[6]

Brad Shoup: It’s practically a sight gag, the thought of Eden Muñoz and El Komander stepping over each other’s assurances that they’re just doing what they gotta do. Each of them bites into the one, snapping off their declaratives while Calibre 50 keeps a steady riling pace. Still, I could do without the all-talk bridge; save that shit for the fadeout.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: Am I the only one who wants to press stop as soon as it starts? And even when I gave it a chance, it didn’t get better, but actually worse. It’s a group of disjointed parts: the brass, the accordion, the spoken part, the unmelodious vocal melody… Nothing makes sense!
[2]

Jonathan Bogart: The most exciting thing about banda sinaloense in the 2010s is the same thing that was exciting about the Rolling Stones in 1971 — a mood of uncertainty, of contingency, the sense that just a touch might send it all spinning out of control, that they can barely keep up with their own legend, let alone their rock-solid drummer. This is no doubt a studied effect, just as it was in 1971; you have to be really good to play that single-hair-out-of-place sloppy. But it has the effect of making older banda music, with its glossy professionalism, sound safe and boring; even this crooked grin of a song, with its appeals to bourgeois values, can use a little scruff to make it pop.
[7]

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Karen Harding – Say Something

Oh, we did.


[Video][Website]
[5.40]

Crystal Leww: Karen Harding makes pop house music of the Duke Dumont, Disclosure, and Secondcity variety. However, Karen Harding is not the producer, she’s the singer. Pop house producers in the last year have been notoriously shitty about crediting their vocalists, letting the Kelli-Leighs and the Yolanda Quarteys become off-handed thanks in BBC recording sessions and on Twitter rather than formally credited. Here, Karen Harding is the main act, and my God, she stuns. The build is perfect, gasping, pleading, obsessing, and that release feels so immediate when that groove kicks in. It sounds like a clear grasp of confidence compared to the insecurity in the verses. I love the repetition of “ohhhh! come on tell me!” It’s as if it’s a stutter, as though she’s tripping over herself to demand explanations. In the last week, Kesha has reignited a discussion about the power dynamics between (often male) producers and (often female) singers. Karen Harding means something because ultimately “Say Something” has her name on it first, taking the power back from all these ain’t-shit men who won’t credit women, unintentional or not. If there’s any justice in the world, she’ll be rewarded with chart performance, too.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Kiesza and Jess Glynne have competition, though the chorus makes me think, “If you see something, say something,” which I doubt was its intended effect. 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “Say Something” doesn’t actually do anything too vastly different from the retro-house splash except run through every cliché in separate movements, rather than pile them one onto another. I wish she seemed more at home in the production rather than slotted on top of it, and yet I appreciate that someone knows how to switch up the beat to enough degrees that even though the song here isn’t great, moments in the production are defined. You know what the build is, you know when we’re about to approach the peak. It’s not a rush, it’s just taking you along.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I’ll dance to it, no question, but I won’t take it home.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: If this throwback dance sound is going to stay strong into 2015, may more of the songs mining the style also get a hook this sweet. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: Those warped chords come from some fine minor-key disco track, but the rest is a Whitney comeback house remix. I can’t even imagine how poorly furnished the clubs that play this are.
[2]

Josh Winters: The dancefloor may act as the backdrop in “Say Something,” but it’s also the barrier between Harding and her subject. It feels appropriate that the beat really kicks in when she asks for a real response, like some sort of emotional put-up-or-shut-up that ends up manifesting in the murky synths. Her attempts to yell through the fog feel fruitless, but at least we can get lost somewhere in between the propulsive bass and her fiery Whitneyesque belts.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: The chorus is a slowed-down “It’s Over Now” — a good starting point, providing you take it from Big Ang — and Karen Harding’s performance has, like so much else in 2014, a touch of Sweet Female Attitude. Altogether it is something of a compromise between the former and “Flowers”: heading irresistibly towards irreparability with a voice still looking for hope. Pained, but vibrantly so.
[7]

Anthony Easton: For someone who is exhorting me to say something, this song repeats the same tropes with diminishing returns. If you want me to say something, say something interesting at first.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Who mixed this, and are they awake yet?
[5]

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Jack Ü ft. Kiesza – Take Ü There

Yoür editor was gonna add an ümlaüt to every single “u” in the blürbs büt, üh, nevermind…


[Video][Website]
[3.30]

Will Adams: Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. Please don’t let the drop be farts. FAAAARRRRRRRT. Damn.
[2]

Crystal Leww: Holy shit, how far are Diplo and Skrillex’s heads shoved up their asses that they think they can get away with this? This doesn’t sound like a troll so much as two dudes who really believe in their own craft so much that they think they can shove all these trendy elements in a blender and have it come out sounding like art. That drop sounds like farting.
[0]

Maxwell Cavaseno: So it’s like this right? In one corner, you have Pentz. A smirking know-it-all nerd pirate who’s just too smart for his own good sometimes. He’s got a ton of vicious cheek, but rarely does he bring the OOMPH in a solid way. Meanwhile in the other corner you have Moore, all blustering idiot glee. Even when he was in sadboy scenecore nobodys From First To Last, peppering Walt Whitman over terrible/great breakdowns, he was so much bluster and just no self-awareness. But combine the nerd and the goon, à la Freak The Mighty, supply them with the factory of awful shrieky vokills known as Kiesza Inc., and you have this laborious beast. That breakdown inspires visions of Diplo calling up protégé Brenmar, playing the latin-tinged breakdown of this moronic trapstep record, and crowing out “FALL BACK LIKE YOUR CHAIR’S NOT THERE!” while Skrillex headbangs in giddy ecstasy. It’s a real monster.
[5]

Anthony Easton: A Rube Goldberg machine of structured production, bouncy vocals, and manipulation of all kinds of sounds–I don’t know what I like more, the car noises, or the ping pong percussion. 
[7]

Brad Shoup: Oh my god, the drop is so dumb. Kiesza sounds like she’s breaking finish-line tape when that shit’s over. Can we reverse-engineer a flawless Glitter-house song from this Urban Outfitters dumpster fire?
[5]

Alfred Soto: The appropriately named above-the-title star does his job: Kiesza gets jacked up, to irritating effect. The voice of “Giant in My Heart” gets turned into a hornet.
[3]

David Sheffieck: Not even Skrillex can save this: Kiesza sounds shrill and like she’s constantly on the verge of being run down whenever the track picks up pace, and there’s an utter lack of charge to the shift between lull and drop. I’m not much of a Diplo fan, but he generally has an ear for the zeitgeist – here, he’s two steps behind, and his collaborators (who should themselves know better) aren’t enough to rescue him.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: I prefer this to anything else I’ve heard from Kiesza: more bite, though I wish Diplo and Skrillex kept more of her vocal intact rather than chopping it up bite-size. I prefer the jumpin’ housiness of this to most of what I’ve heard from either Diplo or Skrillex, too: they’re growing. Really. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Thanks to Pitchfork’s review of Kiesza’s Sound of a Woman, I have now heard her 2012 track “Oops.” It is true Diplo-step, in that it sounds fun, like it was assembled with bright Diplo blocks. The Diplo of “Take U There” (I refuse to write the umlaut until Diplo and Skrillex take as much shit for it as Gaga did) is unfun. I’m almost fully soured on this early ’90s revival; not only does it fail to set its singers up for careers (if I didn’t specify Sound of a Woman was the Kiesza album, would you have known?), but it pressures them to take guest spots that ill-suit their vocals. Kiesza’s not natural as a house diva, much as Ariana Grande is not natural as a Mariah Carey tweeter; she sounds puzzling and berserk. Meanwhile, I guess Diplo and Skrillex making their drop a damp dung puddle is their way of trolling everyone who wants a big drop — but it still means a track that’s half dung.
[2]

Josh Winters: Diplo and Skrillex constructed this drop like a couple of cartoon animals hitting each other back and forth in the head with wooden mallets, each with the dumbest, most punchable grin on their faces. Kiesza’s just kieszaing to the point of aural torture, and that’s before her voice gets chopped and screwed. All of which is to say, nothing about this is either pleasant or pleasurable.
[0]

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Big & Rich – Look at You

It turns out we HAVE covered them before, when “bro-country” was merely a drop in a blogger’s meme-spout…


[Video][Website]
[3.56]

Jonathan Bogart: Expertly constructed, faultlessly performed, and utterly generic, this is a really good Gin Blossoms song.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: The only thing worthy of praise about “Look at You” is Big & Rich’s decision not to cash in on contemporary country trends despite having more than enough reasons to do just that. “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” came out ten years ago and probably did more to pave the way for Florida Georgia Line being able to namedrop Drake than any other song — there was that Nelly/Tim McGraw song, but that one wasn’t getting heavy rotation at the campus frat parties of yesteryear. Really, these two should take advantage of anniversary-mania to celebrate a great song. Instead, they released a really boring song that seems more interested in going backward.
[2]

Anthony Easton: I miss the anger and the sex and the fun and the weird politics and the charisma and the sense they didn’t really like each other but were giving it a shot for the career. This sounds like everything, and so it sounds like nothing. 
[2]

Alfred Soto: Obviously this song chronicles the John Rich-Big Kenny partnership the same way the Beatles’ “Two of Us” was about the band’s two songwriters — I can hear it in the wonderful harmonies and the grace with which the bridge flows into lovely chorus. A model of professionalism, then, but if like me you pine for another “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” energized by John Rich’s right-wing rhetoric, this won’t do.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The first time I heard this, blind, I thought it sounded like Rascal Flatts. Even knowing who it is, it still sounds like Rascal Flatts. This has no discernible personality whatsoever. Downgraded two notches because I expect much better from Big & Rich.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: “Look at You” is confusing: joyful melody, but nostalgic lyrics. However, its main problem is that the verses are completely empty, simple transitions to the chorus, and no matter how enjoyable and catchy that chorus is, it’s not enough to support a whole song. 
[5]

Brad Shoup: From different angles, this could be celebratory or mournful. They’re canny, I’ll grant, but they’ve still made a stuffed adult-contempo ballad, one where the guitars punch into the refrain and the banjo just ticks away. At least being obnoxious was an ethos.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Apparently I’ve got enough secondhand hype still lingering in my system to expect a Big & Rich song to be, if crass, then exciting. Believe nothing.
[3]

Josh Langhoff: I like the idea of them churning out anonymous hackwork, as thought it could shed new light on Horse of a Different Color. The problem is, they just sound like anonymous hacks.
[4]

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Lecrae ft. For King & Country – Messengers

Gospel artist makes Billboard history…


[Video][Website]
[4.50]

Josh Langhoff: At their best, the rappers on Reach Records have been audacious, funny, and insanely catchy. I’ve never heard Lecrae hit those heights; maybe because he also runs the label, and is thus responsible for winning souls the world over, his music just seems dogged. “[W]hen I’m on the battlefield, I’m not worried about trying to have a good time, I’m trying to fight, I’m trying to stay alive,” he told BET in 2012. Nonetheless, my Facebook feed indicates he’s far and away the most popular rapper among Christians who lean evangelical — Mat Kearney doesn’t count, right? — and “Messengers” sounds like it could’ve graced Hot AC radio in its rap-free last decade, before “Empire State of Mind” swept in and the format essentially turned into Top 40 plus the Matt Nathanson catalog. “We never been qualified to do it,” Lecrae humblebrags at one point, “I ain’t earned it, I was loved into it.” But if you’re gonna be taken seriously as a rapper, don’t you have to believe you’re qualified? With bashful clarity he sums up the gulf Christian pop stars continually renegotiate — between ego and humility, money and souls, fun and responsibility, wanting it all and signing up to die — though only rarely do both sides get the respect they deserve.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: The easy comparison is to dc Talk, the late-’90s gospel hip-hop crew who also mixed their sound with pop-rock — and it’s also pretty accurate. Lecrae, the first gospel artist to top the Billboard 200, brings the rap, and his buddies For King & Country sweeten things with a chugging Triple A radio-esque backing track and sing-along chorus full of “oh-oh-oh”s. It all goes down smoothly. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: A marketing exercise for my students: to whom and how do you sell Black Eyed Peas going Mumford? 
[2]

W.B. Swygart: Well, if we hadn’t already reached Peak Dudes Hollering “HOOAHH” In The Background Of Music Played During Insurance Commercials, we have now.
[2]

Will Adams: The pleasant jangle of BEP’s “Where Is the Love?” had me hooked for a long time until I noticed that the chorus actually has this lyric: “people killing, people dyin’/Children hurt and you hear ‘em cryin’.” Lecrae’s distillation of that song with Bon Iver-y warbles from For King and Country is less tone-deaf, but like “Where Is the Love” — antithetical to their intent — its good vibes stem more from its crossover-friendly, MOR music than the lyrics.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Look, I’m all spun around from research. For King & Country is two brothers of Rebecca St. James, who is married to the bassist for Foster the People. CCM’s a bigger world than even I imagined, I guess. FK&C completely dominate this cut, making chants all over a lovely over-orchestrated figure cos that’s how they were raised. Lecrae sounds like he wandered in off a B.o.B cut onto an Essential Records remix album.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I never knew what a Christian Tinie Tempah song might sound like.
[2]

Ashley Ellerson: I used to be a member of this Christian group in college called Campus Outreach, and they loved some Lecrae. He’s like the Drake of Christian hip hop the way people squeal when his song comes on the radio or at a Jesus party. A crossover hit in hip hop terms, “Messengers” doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expect to hear in a Christian song, but it has commercial apppeal. Calling on messengers of Jesus, talking about what’s wrong with the world, how to make things right — your typical recipe for Christian pop. Is this going to be a Sunday school hit? Meh. Lecrae is no Hillsong, but he’s inspiring the youth regardless. 
[7]

Anthony Easton: I like when the collective message of Christianity is one of mutual work and collective responsibility instead of reinforcing hierarchy. This delicate, almost sublime, trembling work about how we are messengers to the divine love of God has the earnest effort of effort paid out and tasks left undone, but without the slick stench of the prosperity gospel. I love this, theologically and personally.
[9]

Jonathan Bogart: The only way I know how to respond to Christian pop is by feeling it hard, every beat and moment and belief; so all my appreciation for Christian pop dates from the years when thanks to details of biography and education I felt beliefs hard, roughly 1988-2001. If this had pulsed through my headphones at any point when I felt that Matthew 28:19 had direct and insistent relevance to my future, it would probably bring me to tears today. As it is,
[4]