Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Nick Jonas – Chains

Yes, it’s Love is Pain day. Here, have a metaphor.


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Alfred Soto: For a moment I though this was The Weeknd, and why not? She wanted his soul when he offered his heart, she’s got him in chains, and so on. On his last (superior) single, he still got jealous. 
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This is not R&B, man! This is draped in the signifiers of R&B and hip-hop, with those little quick squelching edits, the pitch-warping on the vox, the drums. But man, this stuff could have easily been backed by “real music” drums and some hard alt-rock style eighth note riffs for drama and been the same damn song. In that regard, I still fuck with the blatant way that Nick Jonas suggests and impresses that he’s robbing, without really trying to swim among the school (he’s not Robin Thicke). This song is just a blatant, well-designed pop hit; I think I’ve forgotten each lyric every time it’s come out, and the melodies are just as irrelevant. It’s the EASE of this transition, the way he’s selling it. This is a kid who sold being a fake rock band so easily, and likewise he’s selling a fake-out of R&B just as casually. He never makes it sound like an overt steal, because it isn’t. He takes the same tropes and sterilizes them so that they no longer have the context they once held, there’s no real root. It’s evil, but in a world of garish Riff Raff lazy juxtapositions or Drakkonian curatorial excess (“Yo,” a nasal voice intones as he leads you through his manor “Look at my Migos Versace Jacket… it’s so #trill and #swaggy, right?”) where people want to show off the accessory to indicate “taste” regardless of how lame one looks while doing so, it’s refreshing to see someone being evil and doing it RIGHT.
[5]

Iain Mew: Possibly an over obvious question here, but is it coincidence that this is belatedly climbing the Hot 100 alongside The Weeknd and Ellie Goulding? It doesn’t have much else going for it beyond its theme and Nick Jonas’s commitment to sounding pained.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: He wants to be Justin Timberlake so fucking badly, but when you’re working with no-names who’ve come up working with the likes of Demi Lovato and Jason DeRulo, this greatly diminishes your chances. Also, apparently “chains” and “change” sound similar. This is really, really dull grown-up-boy-band-pop. 
[2]

Anthony Easton: The less minimal beat, the less interesting this gets; the higher his voice gets, the more he rests on a history of boyband theatrics. The first minute and the bit around 2:30 of this would be a better song than the rest of the dramatics. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: The legitimacy — even praise! — given to Nick Jonas’s R&B dilettantism makes me think that the entire critical establishment is engaged in some kind of elaborate kayfabe or Madoff scheme, or perhaps that everybody is secretly fucking Nick Jonas, which judging by “Chains” would be a very sad experience consisting of three hours of tugging and prodding and coaxing until you give up and he cries into the necktie hanging limply from his waist. His falsetto is seldom on pitch; when it’s sharp it sounds like he’s trying to let out a fart that won’t dislodge; when it’s flat it sounds like a whining drill; when it’s loud it sounds like the first recorded attempt to go AYY LMAO in song. The chorus literally goes “you’ve got me in chains for your love / but I wouldn’t change this love.” Perhaps next he should try gags.
[0]

Luisa Lopez: There’s something about Nick Jonas’ voice that sounds plaintive in all the wrong ways (that falsetto!). His throat seems to close painfully around every run, turning what must have been meant as howls of desire into long bubbles dragging themselves through each verse. The song is a harmless whine, all that extra sound too desperate and too smug. Strange, then, that it’s saved in certain moments by its own odd nothingness, the guttural grumblings beneath the words and its sudden ending. 
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Real nice verses here, with Jonas’s impression of pain more or less being as good as the real thing. I even imagine that ticking noise and the throbs could have placed this as an R&B rip of “Teardrop” or even Tina Arena’s song of the same title. Alas, it’s the equal of neither, as its chorus falls apart on the very hook it tries to rest on. Yes, love and pain is a dogeared trope, but one must do better than attempting to exploit how “change” and “chains” have a few letters in common. That’s a lyrical pair not yet overused for a reason.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Props to Nick Jonas for making the Jason Voorhees comparisons explicit.
[5]

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

The Weeknd – Earned It

So now he’s having top 10 hits and duetting with Ariana Grande, now we need a new indie verison of The Weeknd, right?


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Britt Alderfer: This sounds like it was recorded in the Christopher Nolan-era Batcave. And look, though everything to do with the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise needs to be so explicit, The Weeknd still managed to pull off a track called “Earned It” while resisting the urge to add the sound of actual change falling into the till, or the whisper of cash, smack even, if you flip through a stack of bills fast enough. Because he knew they were meant to be together in the end anyway, this capitalist love story and our dead-eyed, drugged-out lothario of the lowlands. But, I know a good power play when I hear one. Picture a hand lovingly massaging a throat, yours, to get a bitter pill down more easily.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I tend to run very hot and cold on the Weeknd, and I find him incredibly overrated, but this is a pretty sharp marriage of film-score-feel and pop/soulcraft; it actually brings to mind a slow-tempo Bond theme. I feared that since this is related to that movie, and considering what the Weeknd’s capable of, that this would be inexorably sleazy, but it’s the precise opposite: this oozes class, maybe even too much for its own good, but I’ll take it over the alternatives. 
[6]

Luisa Lopez: Not to implicate a beast not even on trial, but this is the whole problem with Fifty Shades of Grey: it never takes the joke as far as it should. 
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m still riding for this kid, because if it wasn’t for him, Chris Brown would still be making apology power ballads about his human weaknesses and I’d be still screaming from auditorium seating, “STOP LYING! YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE AND WE ALL KNOW IT!” But if there’s anyone who doesn’t get what makes Abel great, it’s himself. “Often” and “King Of The Fall” both suggested strides to return to form, and he follows it up with retro balladeer suave for Fifty Shades Of Grey. For what it’s worth, he lets the association do all the talking for us, much to our eyerolls and gritted teeth. And not for nothing, it is interesting to hear Abel dwell within “normal” music and not something that feels like a drugged-out haze. The hiccuping bit on the chorus is a bit absurd though, and I’m disappointed that his pen game is still deteriorated from that initial rush of fantasy in the mixtape-era. Regardless, I’m here for the long haul, fed up and disapproving, but still here. For this asshole.
[6]

Alfred Soto: As tenderer and more rhythmically astute acts assimilate his legacy, The Weeknd sounds like a normal asshole these days. The strings — Massive Atttack and “Forget About Dre” after four strong puffs of crippy — are of course the stars. The falsetto’s nice too. Don’t trust this guy’s criteria or empowerment doggerel though.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Elegant, stately, slightly undermined by lyrics so banal that it’s a struggle to end this description of them. It’s the immediate assertion of grandeur that carries it, intriguing and quite unusual to hear on the radio. Weirder still is that placing aside the tokenistic deference to themes of earning and deserving, between this and “Love Me Like You Do,” 50 Shades seems positively lovely.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Pretty sneaky how he puts two whole minutes between the hacky “magic/tragic” rhyme. You almost got away with it, The Weeknd! This is four minutes of vamp, a ponderous slow jam begging for Tesfaye to layer several different vocal attacks, instead of stringing them in series.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Given my blurb the last time we went to this particular well-well-well I am perhaps too far into the snark gallery to talk, but how is it possible that The Weeknd can record a song called “Earned It” for Fifty Shades of Grey with a chorus that goes “girl, you earned it / and you deserve it” without one hint of innuendo that you don’t read in? Obviously a blockbuster budget-deredding romance film can’t soundtrack itself with NIN and Depeche Mode, or for that matter with Echoes of Silence, but given that Twilight and The Hunger Games have both snuck genuinely noteworthy tracks in with their label-placed filler, would it kill Abel to be more perverse than a randomly selected desires_exe meme? Despite the odd incongruous line (“I’m so used to being used,” bullshit) this is over-scrubbed, overly safe, and classed up until it approaches dumpy. The spiritual source of the strings, beyond “expensive-sounding bordello music,” eluded me until the very end: the Weeknd is every dude you’ve ever met who still fucks to Portishead in 2015, can only recognize songs that aren’t “Glory Box” on muscle memory, and yet continually finds people who fall for it. People love to rag on 50 Shades‘ upper-class fantasy, as if they’ve forgotten that the economy is still shit and people have always turned to Little Orphan Annie stories as escapism from their hard-knock lives, but make no mistake: Abel is more of a ruthless capitalist than its entire viewership put together, and his song a far guiltier pleasure.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: My desires are… conventional and boring. 
[2]

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Sun Yan Zi – Radio

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Iain Mew: What is the thing in the first verse that sounds like someone dropping a steel drum down the stairs? It’s the most obvious moment of many where Sun stretches the MOR sheen so thin that the song’s not so much smuggling in a bit of strangeness as waving over radio’s customs officials and saying “oh, go on.” I’m engaged by the personality and moments of wistful wonder, and the strong yodelling chorus bridges the song’s extremes successfully enough that they never seem forced.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: There are some weird production choices early on here (particularly the deployment of the “accidental second tab open” technique), but the breathless chorus is very insistent. A lot of the extended metaphor may be lost in translation (could those production choices be too?), but the catchiness is unavoidable.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Pseudo-alternative pop yodeling on Mars, full of less inspired Auto-Tune slurs and hopefully inspiring someone to be themselves yet sounding like Ryan Tedder fodder all the same.
[2]

Alfred Soto: This Singaporean phenomenon plays with the melodic possibilities of the title as if reminding listeners of the medium’s possibilities. The arrangement reminds me of its constrictions too.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The metaphor suggests Dawn Richard’s excellent “Frequency“; the rest suggests an EDM remix of Dolores O’Riordan singing Jason Robert Brown, something I’m not sure it’s even possible for anyone to have asked for.
[4]

Brad Shoup: I’m here for the chorus, where Sun turns in a dusky yodel with a faraway look while a pixellated stomach churns underneath. If the whole song could be that it’d be great, even if I end up with indigestion.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Fidgety and tricksy, even before the yodeling comes in. But it awkwardly stops before the ideas all have a chance to breathe — there’s a lot going on, too much for three and a half minutes.
[7]

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

KYLE ft. Kehlani – Just a Picture

That’s all!


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

Iain Mew: Two partners each plead against the other’s addiction to checking up on their social networks, failing to acknowledge that they’re just as bad themselves. It’s a fun concept, and the dinky synth sound just adds to the small stakes charm. They know it’s funny but don’t overplay it, they complain but never turn bitter, and the appearance of “slide in your DMs” made me grin.  As someone still after the elusive attainment of notifications across all five of my tumblr accounts at once, let’s say I relate. Even when they get close to tiresome technophobe moans, the small details make all the difference: it’s “those people on your Facebook page are not your only friends” rather than real friends.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: I cannot take seriously any song including the lines “I wanna love you but you’d rather tweet” or “babygirl, you’re bigger than your Instagram.” This is trying way too hard to ride the zeitgeist, and it’s not doing so particularly interestingly or well. 
[2]

Crystal Leww: Kehlani quietly put out one of the best R&B projects last year with Cloud 19, which spanned the range of R&B styles from soul-sampling to r’n’bass, all without losing a step of her personality or freshness. She’s teamed up here with KYLE, who is every bit as fresh and young and with more than just an extra touch of goofy. He raps silly and sings just enough to work, like a young Childish Gambino without the gross come-ons that made him unstomachable. This will undoubtedly sound stupid in ten years with references to Instagram likes and Vine memes (that gratata in the intro sends me into eyerolls every time), but until then, it sounds like a youthful glimpse of a teenage spring fling.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: V. disappointing to acknowledge Kehlani for the first time not for her own work, like the intriguing Cloud 19 mixtape, but rather over a slab of Childish Gambino aspirations on a beat that would’ve served Wiz in 2010. But what’s honestly more disappointing is that this is a sure-fire college campus hit, perfect to slot between songs by Chance The Rapper’s more Woody Woodpeckerish fodder, Hoodie Allen, G-Eazy, and other “cool teen” choices.
[1]

Will Adams: A songwriting professor once told me to avoid referencing current technology in lyrics, as it would make the song dated in the future. I still disagree with that rule, if only for the fact that about 80 per cent of why I still love “Bug a Boo” is the references to MCI and AOL. The problem with “Just a Picture” isn’t its ham-handed name-drops of iPhone technology and social media sites; it’s that the song can’t decide whether to treat its message with gravity or with levity.
[2]

Brad Shoup: Last night was SXSW’s final night. I tweeted about the PC Music-adjacent show I was catching at Iron Bear. Patrick was there, and I @’d him, and when I glanced at his phone and saw my two mentions I did think ok ok ok this shit’s lame. But it wasn’t a big deal, and I shelved my phone for (most of) the rest of the night. Kehlani gently chides and KYLE veers between sneers and praise: no one’s got a major point to make, tech’s only as much a problem as you make it, et cetera. The synthfunk arrangement demands breeziness, and that’s what the singers provide (along with some strongly implied #thiscouldbeus). It’s a time capsule within a time capsule, and I’m betting it’ll remain charming whenever it’s opened.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The other week I was chided over stressing text messages — “not everyone has the same relationship with their phone as you do” — so I am probably not the target audience of this song (actually, probably I’m exactly the target). But KYLE is embarrassing: part Lifetime Original Movie, part horndog who doesn’t quite want to give up the cyberspace and the FaceTime and their series of boobs, part giver of FaceTime for all the tech brands this song is supposed to be against and happy recipient of Internet-addled attention. Kehlani is sparkly and flirty and in an entirely different song, albeit one that’s probably “Video Games.” This song beeps and tweets and Geocities SunsetStrip Funks itself so fast and flashy the Internet’s probably the best home for it. Much like “Selfie,” “Take a Picture” wants to have his cake and subtweet it too.
[2]

Alfred Soto: The $6 synths are part of the joke: a chintzy portrait of modern romance. It sounds like DJ Quik’s most recent productions tainted by reactionary bitching about the Twitters and Facebooks we endure from Uncle Pablo. If there’s anything worse than old people complaining about technology, it’s the kids.
[3]

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Empire Cast ft. Jussie Smollett & Yazz – You’re So Beautiful

Can hip-hop’s hottest label survive defictionalization?


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Alfred Soto: That’s it — a Derulo/Brown wannabe?
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: I don’t watch Empire, so there’s probably context I’m missing, but all I hear is Timbo scraps and the message of “All About That Bass.”
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If this song wasn’t in this bogus show, nobody’d care. This is sub-Derulo territory, such an obvious imitation of the idea of “what’s going on.” Personally I want to throw Timbaland a Frisbee with the words “GET A NEW GHOST-PRODUCER” hidden at the bottom so he stops trying to lie and pretend he’s been holding it down the last few years. I could care less about the performance, because it’s not a real song, just a placeholder, so the actor is getting paid even if he turns in a more mediocre and lifeless performance. But you can tell that he’s there just because he’s supposed to be, like how a show “about music” is always so eager to make the music the 4th or 5th priority.
[1]

Crystal Leww: Empire is a great show that should have been set in the first half of the aughts when the show’s main music producer Timbaland still sounded fresh. “You’re So Beautiful” is one of the songs that Timbo didn’t help write, but it still sounds unmistakably like something he put his hands on, just a little bit too into his musical style and just a little bit dated. Jussie Smollett sounds very much in the vein of someone like Justin Timberlake, leaning heavily into showy tricks like falsetto and letting the beatboxing do the heavy lifting on the hooks. It comes off like an actor doing pop music, which is I guess, exactly what Empire and 20/20 Experience are, especially when produced by Timbaland. It’s fine, but it just comes off as better suited to a stylized show nostalgic for the near-past rather than an accurate representation of what the music industry sounds like and sells in the present. But then again, I guess more than one of Justin Timberlake’s cornball tracks from 20/20 did get big, too, so who even knows?
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Jussie Smollett = star singer. Yazz = mediocre rapper. Empire is a true phenom, and Timbaland has done a good (not great) job shepherding the music for the series, but this is far from its strongest track. The music here is just meh, and too much of the track is given over to Yazz’s half-baked rhymes. 
[3]

Anthony Easton: The Kanye reference is the only thing that makes this new; the show’s understanding of hip-hop always seems to be a decade or so out of date. The music is smart, works the plot, and is integrative in ways that Nashville‘s music isn’t really: it works as pop music, but I don’t know if it works as chart music. The charts and the singles are in the middle of a fascinating tussle; I wonder what happens when we exit the singles era, and the skill/popularity/social cachet of work like Empire makes me think that perhaps we already have, or that this is the first salvo. The most interesting work is then the negotiation between two empires that are falling apart. 
[9]

Brad Shoup: This version is like corporate sunshine: a focus-grouped daydream. With Hakeem’s priapic verse subbing for Jamal’s more, uh, personal declaration, though, things get a lot paler.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: The chorus, if it wants to be celebratory for the singer or revelatory for the listener, is a bit of a failure, but as a generic bit of post-“What Makes You Beautiful” pop that doesn’t neg its female listeners too much, is not awful on its own. Kind of frisky like Timberlake, but lighter and more concise. The problem is Yazz’s raps, which are flatly delivered in a way that bore rather than engage, and whose words are, frankly, inept junk. Oh and there’s too much Yazz, and the rest isn’t good enough to mitigate.
[4]

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Maná ft. Shakira – Mi Verdad

La verdad es que esta cancion es pedante.


[Video][Website]
[4.17]

Josh Langhoff: A friend from high school affectionately calls Maná hippy music, lumped in with Bacilos and Juanes, both of whom I prefer. I can see it, though — they’re sick and tired of hearing mentiras from neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed dictadores, just give them some verdad. Gently, please. See also the video where the band and pregnant Shakira sing around trash can fires in the last outpost of civilization. (It’s either that or a closed banquet hall with unorthodox chair stacking methods.) As always, there’s pleasure here, mostly in hearing Fher Olvera’s instantly recognizable voice trace a sturdy melody; I also smiled at Shakira’s sighs of “ay, ay, ay.” But as usual, it’s hard to remember their verdad once the next batch of liars comes along.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Oddly dated in the way the production sounds, like it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think the song had originally been released in 1998 or something from the way the percussion and the guitars have been mixed. But all in all, the simplicity of this record is not without quaint charms. Just not too strong a presence.
[4]

Alfred Soto: This Latin American “Leather and Lace” has even better harmonies between the she wolf and the lead singer of these perpetual up and comers, but as the comparison implies the song and performance are too wan and professional. I knew Shakira could sing this kind of thing; like Gaga and Tony Bennett, it’s as if the marketing is the point.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: I wish this was just by Shakira, whose voice always flows so naturally, while Fher Olvera’s voice is always so forced to me that it’s funny — just listen to him in he bridge!
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I believe “Maná” translated into English (using the rockcrit dictionary) = “Train,” which tells you everything you need to know about this snoozy drudge of a record. Indisputable proof that not even the glorious Shakira can make everything interesting.
[2]

Iain Mew: I appreciate the combination between sounding relaxed and still sounding tightly crafted for sonic variation, of which Shakira is a small but significant part. Ultimately there’s only so much appeal in moving around a shifting gradient of ways of being pleasantly dull, though.
[5]

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Christine and the Queens – Christine

In which we try to understand this French singer-songwriter.


[Video][Website]
[6.40]

W.B. Swygart: Christine (not her real name) becomes her own kind of mech-warrior of pop, a constructed self she can use to navigate the outside world. She’s intense, and she’s self-possessed, and she’s a bit weird, and she makes this lovely butterfly synth noise as she ducks and dives through the atmosphere. She may also have a wee bit of difficulty seeing past the end of her own nose, but that just makes the sketch lines sharper.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Man, I heard Muse using that little synth trick four years ago, and I’m supposed to be impressed by sechoey Billie Jean drums?
[3]

Alfred Soto: I won’t listen to this again, but “Christine” is one of the more interesting R&B-influenced college rock productions. Amid the sonar synths Héloïse Letissier whispers recriminatory nothings — and then? She just wants to love you, baby.
[6]

Will Adams: A beautifully quiet mission statement from someone perfectly comfortable with their idiosyncrasies. Would that I were that confident.
[8]

Anthony Easton: How she sings “Ibiza” and how she talks through the rest has a kind of sated languor — somewhere in the same neighborhood as Jane Birkin. 
[7]

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Mumford & Sons – Believe

And so they beat on, boats mumbling and shuffling against the past.


[Video][Website]
[3.56]

Will Adams: Amazingly, the stadium is a better setting for them than the campfire.
[6]

Moses Kim: Okay, look. There are covers of “Little Lion Man” I still enjoy. I’d probably hoedown to “I Will Wait” if I heard it while waiting in line in Walgreens. But I never listened to Mumford & Sons for the brofound sentiments they probably jotted down from aesthetic blogs five minutes before entering the studio: I listened because there was an urgency that resonated with me, that at times even lifted the music into the realm of the life-affirming. “Believe,” on the other hand, is about as life-affirming an experience as listening to a drunk person on the subway yelling whenever you try to discreetly change seats. The lyrics aren’t as bad as they were before: they get worse. I do not know what this song is even trying to say. The chorus conceit is that the singer doesn’t know if he believes what you’re trying to tell him but then he demands that you tell him that he’s alive and you love him! All of this gross selfishness is wrapped in verses that read like My Baby’s First Existential Crisis and a halfhearted stab at Coldplay soundscapes, as if a rise in volume can make up for a dearth of ideas.
[2]

Mark Sinker: Turns out I’m not intrinsically hostile to a debanjofied M&S sped-up gliding across and through London’s bridges and tunnels late at night, especially when they plunge through my beloved Rotherhithe. Consequence: not the worst pull-the-stops-out spacerock guitar break you’ll ever hear. Except I was doing a lot of this kind of driving this winter, from Beckenham to Hackney and back, and of course it’s the opposite of a sped-up neon-city ride mostly, and one night my spectacle lens fell out as I drove and I couldn’t find the little micro-screw in the dark and had to repair it till I got home with fresh-chewed chewing gum. A sub-optimal dimension to the trope that no one (not even Night Flights-era Scott Walker) has explored. And the Mumfords would never think to move beyond the easy-reach cliché. Also, when watching the video again, spot the times they had to splice several bits of glide in a second time, and everything just deflates. 
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It should be noted that a U2-style guitar overloaded with chorus and an organ being the only instrumentation at the beginning of this Mumford song is revolutionary in their Luddite musical world. But, ah, then the song kicks off and I remember it’s another Mumford & Sons song.
[4]

Luisa Lopez: What Mumford & Sons does best is earnest faux folk, the promise of feeling with the potential of melodrama. Feigning acoustic when their hearts beat rock, they become an easy passage into sentiment, a way to unleash a torrent of muchness with the belief that nothing before has ever brought it out quite like this. The folk affect is the point, the reason they rose out of the ashes of mopey guy rock as if they were the only phoenix burdened with poetry. Without that, there’s not much else to see so if nothing else this song at least bears witness to the perils of pulling back the curtain. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: Fine — I’ll say you’re alive if you shut up, and this includes your guitar solo.
[2]

Edward Okulicz: So there was this mostly terrible Australian band called Powderfinger, we did them on the Jukebox once. This sounds more or less like Mumford have broadened their sights and range just enough to be mid-period Powderfinger, when they were merely “awful”. God love them, they probably thought Coldplay, but no. Not even Snow Patrol. Keep trying, boys. What’s here is an improvement on what was there before, because in getting a bit brasher and blustery (if aimlessly so) they’ve at least jettisoned their third-least irritating characteristic. Their hyper-earnest, anaemic songwriting and faux-motional mushy singing, alas, remain.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Little Marc Mumford, much to his comfort, made bluegrass and still got airplay. Along came Adult Hits, i.a. OneRepublic, to chase all the bluegrass away.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Is that it? The sole interesting point was checking whether the abrasive, 64kbps mp3-esque watery crackle was a result of poor quality playback, and incredibly, it’s actually on the record. What isn’t is any palpable urgency, instead only an assumption that you’ll find it. If they wanted to mix things up a bit they should have just got Robin Schulz or Wankelmut to produce them something and had done with it.
[4]

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Sevyn Streeter ft. Chris Brown – Don’t Kill The Fun

Who said we were?


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Alfred Soto: Last time Sevyn Streeter owned R&B radio for nearly a year with “It Won’t Stop.” The remix boasted Chris Brown’s most attractive recent performance. Anchored by an electric piano that recalls the hook in Crystal Waters’ “Makin’ Happy” but reluctant to go the Mary J. Blige post-house route, “Don’t Kill the Fun” is content to dance in place.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Why is it that the dance music industry and all their takes on house still feel stuck in 1994, pedantic and fucking dumb, whereas the R&B/rap world have a desire to take all those tricks and really thrust them into the future? Sevyn’s song is perfectly poised and honestly didn’t need her friend, the most fadeable Blood on earth, but what really has me losing my mind is the production here, slashing between EDM, R&B, trappier flourishes and house classicism with violent abandon. It’s an omnivorous beast, and Sevyn is just atop the chaos like some anime heroine, utterly unaffected. I just hope to keep getting dazzled now.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: My condolences about Rudimental’s recent job loss. Normally I’d suggest a nice vacation, listening to the breezy garage-fusion by Sevyn Streeter that has made you obsolete, but that might belabor the point.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: “Don’t Kill The Fun” feels indistinct, in that it lopes from section to section without aim or particular hook — Brown’s “baby!!!!” comes closest — but its saving grace is that some of the sounds on the palette are terrific. So despite clocking in at the perfect length for a modern pop single, it seems to go on pleasantly forever.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Brown jumps in with one croaked “baby” and steals the show. Which is fortunate for him; he doesn’t get much more than that and a bunch of ad-libs. The track keeps idling, like a prog&B interlude. Streeter keeps singing about fun, but all she’s got are garage scraps and bad brass.
[5]

Moses Kim: Those keys are so breezy that they make me want to learn to drive just so I can have this playing in the car I probably can’t afford. Those horns are some of the best I’ve heard in 2015. Sevyn Streeter plays every note perfectly, emanating charm and wit and affection whether she’s harmonizing with herself or shaking up the pace with a few stop-start bits. This song is about Chris Brown, isn’t it?
[9]

Will Adams: Every sound in this is worth highlighting, but here are the three that grab my attention most: 1) those snippy shakers that pan from right to left; 2) that horn sample, pitched up at first and then thrown into a bassline; 3) the messy snare. “Don’t Kill the Fun” finds replay value in its dense production alone, but even more commendable is how Sevyn Streeter and Chris Brown manage to command it instead of getting lost. Undeniable, indeed.
[8]

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Jordin Sparks ft. 2 Chainz – Double Tap

Our first time covering her in five and a half years, and in the interim she’s discovered Instagram…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This beat is actually an excellent slab of artificial ratchet, but the fact is, it sounds weird to hear Jordin Sparks attempting to suddenly be a more identifiable creature. The whole #ByeFelicia mixtape campaign (that name…) sounds like a hurried attempt to make the former Idol contestant into a possible player in the R&B/pop borderlands. It’s a considerable scale-back in ambitions, recognizing that a straight-forward R&B gesture à la Fantasia wouldn’t be believable from Sparks, and that Sparks’ MOR brand of pop is lost to her in the current climate. But I can’t say it feels like it works to hear Sparks spouting social media cliches in an attempt to sound young and hip. Oh, and 2 Chainz appears, because nothing says reinvention like a 40 year old Gucci Mane parody doing his divorce dad jokes.
[5]

Iain Mew: There’s barely enough surrounding structure to support the title’s innuendo, never mind 2 Chainz’ strangely unengaged verse which ends by clumsily spelling it out. It’s such a good one that I almost don’t mind.
[5]

Juana Giaimo: The more I listened to it, the more coincidences I could find with “2 On”, but the “hey”s were proof enough to believe they are more than just coincidences. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: Those hey-heys sound like encouragement the “you” needs to keep tapping that ho. But the beat ping-pongs around its luxuriant curves, Sparks evinces more personality than is her wont, and the cynicism on display impressed instead of depressed me.
[6]

Moses Kim: That’s a cavernous beat, one that gives the chilly synth melodies and Sparks’ understated vocal valuable room: shout-out to 2 Chainz, who generates more warmth in one verse about his turn-ons and asking a homegirl out to dinner than is found in the rest of this song. Passes my litmus test of whether or not I’d want to play this while coming back home on the subway at night.
[6]

Brad Shoup: There’re some real personal stakes going on in the chorus, at least before Sparks touches down into dollar-store Mustard territory. Spangles and blips form a spare backdrop for her to unfurl a refrain that’s equal parts confidence and hope. 2 Chainz is remarkably on theme, but his pipsqueaky verse lurches into another gear mid-verse, like someone had to splice his bars together.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: What a time to be alive. It’s still a time when, despite its prevalence, singing about the internet is difficult to pull off convincingly. This is effectively Sparks’ “Wired For Sound” or “Communication (Somebody Answer The Phone)”, and will doubtless date, but she at least makes a good fist of pushing it past gimmickry. “Instafamous”, double tapping — like 2 Chainz, legit concepts, and to be treated as such. That the titular play on words doesn’t feel clumsy means something is clearly going right.
[6]