Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Sigala, Ella Eyre & Meghan Trainor ft. French Montana – Just Got Paid

Soooo, drinks are on you, then?


[Video]
[3.50]
Tobi Tella: As a college student who simultaneously complains about never having money and immediately spends paychecks on various food delivery options, this should be right up my alley- finally a pop song for those of us with bad financial planning skills! Unfortunately, this just sounds like a lot of noise to me. Ella Eyre gives a performance mistaking “loud” for good, Meghan Trainor just repeats “gimme dat money” over and over again, and French Montana gives a forgettable verse (although I probably should have expected that one). Sometimes I miss fun flashy pop hits, and then I look at some of the gaudy stuff like this that succeeds in the UK and realize maybe it’s for the best.
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The kind of song where wondering about the politics of who got an “&” and who got a “ft.” is far more interesting than the song itself.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The mystery of who got paid when and how much, who got a credit after the by but before the ampersand and after “ft,” and whether anyone notified Johnny Kemp did keep me up Thursday night.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: An unlikely companion to Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy,” in the hyperspecific category of “songs that are nowhere near as good as the cheesy track” — itself a remake of a cheesy track — “off No Strings Attached.” (Or Katy B, Zinc and Wiley’s absolute banger.) I await with trepidation the 2019 single by Clean Bandit, Jorja Smith, Bebe Rexha and 2 Chainz called “Digital Get Down.”
[4]

Will Adams: Is it any surprise that a song that piles on the feature credits and sonic references — a little Nile Rodgers revivalism here, a little sleazy Dr. Luke electro there, a lot of dopey disco of the Galantis variety — with the discernment of the Family Guy manatees ends up leaving so little impression? “Just Got Paid” neither achieves the glee of Katy B, nor does it offer any refreshing critique of the subject the way Riton and Kah-lo did. It’s not that relatability is a problem in itself, it’s just that too often the way in manifests is in dead-eyed “am I right?” tropes.
[4]

Taylor Alatorre: Never before have the words been uttered: “French Montana’s verse saved this.” In this case he can’t entirely overcome Sigala’s sociopathic abuse of disco signifiers in service to the Protestant work ethic, but he does his damnedest to distract us from that horror show with his incurable clownishness. “Sports bra, sports car driver” is the kind of line Flo Rida would come up with after attending half of a poetry writing seminar: it’s dumb, it makes no sense, but it’s indelible enough to make you wonder if, just maybe, it does. Other than a perfunctory nod to the title, his verse is tied to the theme in only the loosest sense, which is all for the better. If it’s about anything, it’s a celebration of Montana himself and his unlikely endurance in the pop music scene: “when you hear the ‘haan,’ there it go.” Indeed.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: If I were any of the vocalists here, I would audition for a part in a future DreamWorks musical production and put “Just Got Paid” at the top of my CV. Despite some of the PG-13 lyrics, this really sounds like music for children. At the very least, it sounds like something for people who don’t know about unwise spending. Where’s the uninhibited thrill-seeking? Where’s the unspoken but constant fending off of potential buyer’s remorse? Where’s the fear in checking one’s bank account to see their dwindling balance? “Just Got Paid” doesn’t need to include any of these things, but it certainly needs something to sound convincing. Should’ve spent some money on that, huh.
[3]

Julian Axelrod: I loved Sigala and Ella Eyre’s last collaboration because it found pockets of nuance and sincerity within its walloping wave of sound. But if you want nuance, you don’t call Meghan Trainor and French Montana. The guests’ cash-grab mentality rubs off on our hosts, with Ella Eyre turning in one of her biggest and least interesting vocal turns and Sigala pumping the last breaths out of the Nile Rodgerssance. I’m also seriously worried about Ella Eyre’s savings account, but maybe I’m just projecting.
[5]

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – Shallow

Just to save ourselves from any “why did you do that do that do that do that” comments, mild spoilers for A Star Is Born below…


[Video]
[5.42]

Alfred Soto: To wish that Bradley Cooper the Director and Bradley Cooper the Writer had staged an Ally/Gaga performance of “Shallow” at the drag bar where Bradley Cooper the Actor as Jackson Maine falls in love is to wish the rotten timbers of the Hollywood-music complex would catch on fire. Early in A Star is Born, Maine knows Ally’s a songwriter from hearing two warbled excerpts in a convenience store parking lot; he’s obviously moved by her performance. Yet why he spends the rest of the movie blasting Ally for abandoning her art for performance is one of the muddles that got the picture “green lighted,” no doubt. People believe this shit in La La Land. Although Diane Warren’s name isn’t on “Shallow,” it’s as blank as any of her biggest hits. So at the end of the picture Ally becomes a huge, meaningless star because, co-write or not, she yielded to Maine’s ideas — a man’s idea — about sincerity. 
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: In a music-centric film, particularly one that wrestles with the divide between authenticity and artifice, the fictional hit songs by fictional big names have to sound real, like they were created to be played on car speakers and festival stages rather than on THX surround sound. More than almost any other song from A Star Is Born, “Shallow” sounds like it was created for a movie. This works to its favor in laying the foundations for an explosive climax, when Lady Gaga forgets she’s playing a character and tears the restraints off her voice, allowing it to transcend the confines of narrative. Before that, though, we have to suspend our disbelief enough to accept that “sha-ha-ha-hallows” is a legitimate singalong chorus. Similarly, Cooper’s spare instrumentation creates a thin illusion of battle-scarred profundity that’s shattered as soon as Gaga sings “ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore.” No self-respecting tortured artist cliché would put something that campy on vinyl.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Diva lite attempts at working through a crisis of authenticity, played against Cooper’s post Dylan Americana borrowing, make a gooey mess; which wouldn’t be a crisis if it wasn’t so dull. For a song about depth, these borrowings never enter depth. 
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is a [10] whenever Lady Gaga gets to unleash her full arsenal of vocal power and a [4] or so for the rest, which has far too much Mayer-esque faux-profundity for my taste, especially if it’s coming from Bradley Cooper. On the whole, it’s a [6], heavily weighed in favor of my residual good feeling towards ’70s folk rock.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: A Star is Born is getting Thinkpiece DEFCON Infinity Times Infinity levels of criticism for being rockist: the real singer-songwriter, turned prodigal pop star, saved by acoustic guitars. But the movie did not invent this plot. It is the Save the Cat of music-industry stories; I wouldn’t be surprised if a Hero’s Journey call-to-pop => dark night of the bangerz => strummy atonement chart exists in someone’s My Documents. Off the top: Music and Lyrics, whose pop star Cora Corman insists on sexing and appropriation-ing up a perfectly folky song (and it’s her insistence and fault, not the label’s). Or Pop Princess by Gingerbread author Rachel Cohn, whose protagonist Wonder Blake ends a Mandy Moore-esque pop career to (also like Mandy) go undercover as a coffeeshop singer-songwriter with her “real name” Anna Blake, which (also like Joanne) isn’t even her first name. The denouement takes place on her birthday, to the tune of soul singer Trina’s “Aretha-esque” rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”: “a complete contrast to the thin, manufactured voice of [Britney stand-in] Kayla.” There are dozens more of these stories, and there are dozens because to audiences they trigger a gut-level feeling of rightness — but the feeling comes not from truth but recognition of cultural myth, a conceptual stew of sex and pop and falsity and sin steeping at least since “the devil has the best tunes.” Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes and John Mayer and Charlie Puth practically own the charts. Most electropop women, from Miley to Kesha to Gaga herself, have released albums so conspicuously un-synthed they’re acoustic self-flagellation. Top 40 radio loves this; advertisers really love it. Two-thirds of “Shallow” is the campfire-strum template of “Love Yourself” or “Praying” or “Starving.” All this may seem like griping about the culture, not the song, but it is the song; the subtext is concealed about as much as DuJour’s “Backdoor Lover.” And even if you pretended it didn’t exist, you’d still have a major problem: Bradley Cooper is indistinguishable from any of the aforementioned hunks of yarl, and Gaga’s voice was made to tear through “Bad Romance,” not gutter tunelessly through “Thinking Out Loud.”
[3]

Pedro João Santos: Song-wise, A Star Is Born discerns authentic from manufactured, which when pushed to extremes just materializes into country-rock blurs and lightweight synthpop (lyrics exaggerated to the point of “Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?” Also, to have a Lady Gaga vehicle stand that side of the poptimism barricade is just cognitive dissonance.) But the best moments come from what the film perceives as the first, but really cross all the elements it often dismantles: full-blooded singing, gleaming hooks (commerciality?) and some verve (or “authenticity”). This country torch song is the most glaring specimen, a sort of “Don’t Stop Believin'” redux, with consecutive verses shifting from male to female agency, albeit trading stadium guitar ecstasy for twinkling licks and crashing drums. But where Journey go on a full odyssey culminating with the chorus-as-reward, the more economical “Shallow” does without a pre-chorus and reveals the chorus midway before its exacerbated repetition, the gap bridged by Gaga belting her way through. Not having the chorus merely as a payoff is what works best here and an ingenious move too –the first time, Gaga is getting into full steam, but she takes no prisoners launching into the second, with maximum fury and riveting force — it’s haunting. (Bradley’s contribution, designed as secondary, sounds well.) For a soundtrack single, the addiction stems from its elements of disruption — the makeshift transition is inventive, the ending is pivotal. It might start near the shallow, but it does more than enough to power through the mid-sea.
[8]

Josh Love: In the film, Jack and Ally’s piecemeal composition of “Shallow” is a highlight, more organic and lived-in than most of the rest of A Star is Born, which is largely paint-by-numbers despite its terrific performances. In fact, Jack bringing Ally onstage to help him sing “Shallow” for the first time provides possibly the most wonderful moment in the film; with the camera close on Ally’s face, we watch her conquer her stage fright, and a split second before she really starts belting there’s this look of sheer terror mixed with fuck-it-here-goes-nothing that passes over her face and it’s simply breathtaking. Now, if only “Shallow” was actually a good song! Considering it’s one of the emotional centerpieces of the film, it’s a shame it’s a clunker, sunk by dopey lyrics like “Tell me something girl / Are you happy in this modern world?” and the even worse “Is it hard keepin’ it so hardcore?”
[5]

Tobi Tella: I’m very surprised by the success of A Star Is Born in 2018. This is certainly not the musical climate that would encourage a movie musical soundtrack with a mix of country and rock, pop music, and old-school musical theatre balladry, but sometimes the music is just so good to deny it being popular. This song is gorgeous: I love how it opens with two back to back verses and how long and meandering they are, an amazing buildup for the explosive chorus and beautiful climax. Bradley Cooper is surprisingly smooth, and Lady Gaga is legitimately amazing — if this whole song was just four minutes of her runs I would still probably give it this score.
[8]

Katie Gill: One intensely impressive wordless riff can’t hide the fact that these lyrics are a collection of slightly hokey cliches and bizarre word choices (does anybody actually say “shallow” in the singular, not plural?) Still, “Shallow” succeeds by reminding me of how much I liked Joanne, having a riff that surpasses the fact it’s obviously designed to fit the trailer, and getting Lady Gaga one step closer to an EGOT. Because come on, this has “Falling Slowly” levels of Best Original Song bait written ALL over it.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Excepting the forced hurl that is the titular line of the chorus, the topline here is unassailable. The way in which “long-ing” breaks from the rhythmic structure to linger in one’s mind is a quiet moment of vulnerability. It comes to completion with what immediately follows: a quick locking into place of “for. change.” In those three words is a Hollywood movie in and of itself, a drama in miniature that might as well be the polysemic tagline for A Star is Born. Hearing Cooper and Lady Gaga’s verses back-to-back is thus crucial, not only in driving the narrative of the film, but in illuminating a mutual dissatisfaction that leads to actual change; oh how easy it is to drift into paralysis when feeling alone in such thoughts. With the song’s second half we hear the two belting out a chorus that’s half-invigorating, half-hysterical. On one hand, I can’t imagine a better way to capture the reckless pursuit of one’s dreams. On the other, it’s dangerously close to derailing the song completely. Secretly, it doesn’t really matter that “Shallow” sounds underwritten; this is a song that readily invites listeners to join in, and that final section of mangled catharsis is fun to sing along to. It’s silly, yes, but that only makes for better karaoke.
[6]

Matias Taylor: All along, Gaga’s not-so-secret weapon wasn’t her command of pop as a visual medium, her ability to blur personal and persona, or her sui generis, under-appreciated marriage of whimsy and the macabre (just listen to “Monster” again); it was her choruses. And this one’s her best in five years. Bradley holds his own admirably, revealing an affecting croon in the first part of the song, where it’s an earnest, lovely little country ballad; but once “I’m off the deep end” hits, that’s where we blast off into the stratosphere.
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: The magic of this moment comes from so much more than just the song. The performances, the crowd, the staging, the directing, and the extended version of the song all work together to create a magical cinematic moment that is striking and memorable and, truly, one of a kind. However, listening to the song back, I’m left mostly cold and wishing that I could rewatch the scene because, truthfully, the song — especially the radio edit — is basically just a well sung country-pop/arena rock MOR ballad that makes for a nice listen, but not much else.
[6]

Monday, October 15th, 2018

NF – Lie

We do not love the way…


[Video]
[1.56]

Will Rivitz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDj72zqZakE
[2]

Alfred Soto: The images’ insistent lack of imagination would be dreadful on their own, but NF’s flow and singing also show a toxic charmlessness. If he’s braying like this, I understand why she left. 
[1]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Popular songs where a guy calls a woman a manipulative liar make me feel sick in the pit of my stomach. Like, always; but especially right now.
[2]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “Lie” is far too mean to be handled well by NF. Over a portentous beat that feels like something Bruno Mars would have tossed in 2010, he curdles a spiteful core of a song into a simple angst that he can’t even sell well.
[1]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: At least Drake’s woman-hating is nuanced and bolstered by musical elements beyond lyrics, making his discography a curious ethnographic document of a subtler strain of misogyny that often goes ignored. This is just overwrought bitterness that grows increasingly obnoxious with each grating second, and I’m speaking strictly of NF’s beige rapping and faux-emotional singing. The bridge is not only an embarrassing afterthought, it drives home how this song is meant to sound like little more than an onslaught of accusations: manipulative power-struggle dominance through false sincerity and sheer force of repetition. Cleverly, he not only paints his ex as a liar to himself, but to her friends. Why? I imagine that it’s fueled by a desire to see her self-worth completely destroyed, to make it feel like her “failure” in this relationship is emblematic of a deeper, more innate deficiency. As such, we’re not granted the opportunity to understand this woman’s side. Which is fine for a break-up song like this, but it doesn’t really seem like we’re meant to understand her as a singular person either, just a point on a spectrum of womanness. So then what is “Lie” but a familiar cautionary tale of how evil women can be? That NF’s puny, juvenile anger only accomplishes the exact opposite deems this an unmistakable failure.
[0]

Taylor Alatorre: I’ll leave it to others to go in-depth on the gender dynamics if they want (short version: it’s bad). My main concern is how he makes lashing out at an ex-girlfriend sound so boring and bougie. “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” was puerile in ways that still resonate, but at least there was a reckless dirtbag edge to it, rusty spoons and thrown lemonade and all. NF is a Christian rapper and he can’t even find it in him to compare this woman to like, a succubus or something? Instead he solemnly humblebrags that she persists in texting him despite claiming to be uninterested; a luta continua. It brings to mind the trifles of adolescence in a Romney-Clinton suburb, where the rich kids complain about swimming pool maintenance and the AP students compete to see who got the least sleep last night. This is megachurch rap, in which Christianity as a personal and communal relationship with God is superseded by Christianity as a palette-swapped reproduction of the worldly pecking order.
[0]

Jonathan Bradley: The 2010 US Census counted four black people in NF’s hometown of Gladwin, Michigan. In a 2014 interview with a Christian website, he talks about moving from DC Talk to T-Bone as his awareness of rap progressed, though he says he admires Eminem, too. Much of the coverage of him seems to be from Christian niche publications, or small-time local news sources. On one of these that I found, a middle-aged white woman comments through her Facebook profile that her grandchildren, who live in Gladwin, were going to see NF perform at a hometown show, and she hoped they would enjoy him. (I hope so too. It’s nice when people enjoy shows.) Premier Christianity marvels — preposterously — that “the only other Christian rapper who has received this high level of mainstream success in recent years is Lecrae,” and then distinguishes Lecrae from NF: “Over the past few years, as the Black Lives Matter movement has grown, Lecrae has begun to speak up on social media about racism in America. And he’s paid a heavy price.” (It’s not clear what NF thinks of BLM, but PC posits that Lecrae’s loss is his gain.) There is a particular cultural terrain in which NF exists: a white and rural Midwestern one where even if conservatism and Christianity are not paired, participants understand them as natural complements. But in NF’s world as it exists on record, all I can hear is rap music that doesn’t believe it needs rap music: severed from its cultural roots and its creative wellspring. NF performs like he doesn’t even hear the beat he’s on.
[2]

Ryo Miyauchi: NF’s selfish need to be loved back, and him using a washed-up G-Eazy format of mournful love rap to express it, taps into a mind no more mature than a teen who’s barely getting a taste of their first break-up. He cops to having very limited resources like them, too, in the way teens can’t supply nearly as enough in material to sufficiently express their affection for whomever they have feelings for. There are countless great songs about young love, made by young artists who could be in it themselves, and that tunnel vision of a worldview at that age often adds a unique voice to the art. What’s distasteful, though, about not only NF but countless other artists who’s driven by this similar attitude is their bitter assumption that they somehow got cheated out of a transaction, and they’re now owed something. Time is all they can afford to give at that age, and true, it hurts to see it all go to waste, but they have no one to blame for their embarrassment but themselves after being foolish enough to think it will eventually be rightfully returned. It’s a misguided idea to hear it echoed in a pop song especially as some form of confirmation when they could’ve just swallowed their pride and refrained from willing this sour record into existence.
[2]

Will Adams: At this point it’s hard for me to listen to any white male rapper without “YOU’RE USIN’ WAY TOO MANY NAPKINS” crossing my mind, but NF tries his damnedest to inject some non-risible pathos into “Lie.” But despite the repeated gaslighting and fixation on minute details — “why’d you call last night” forms the basis of the whole song — there’s not enough hysterics to reach an Eamon level. So there’s little incentive to be on his side, even with an effectively somber beat backing him.
[4]

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Mumford & Sons – Guiding Light

Incredibly, “Little Lion Man” broke [6.00] back in the day


[Video]
[3.67]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trailer music for a fantasy epic about TED talks.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Blaise Pascal, centuries ago, talked about the “God-shaped hole” in every human, fillable only by God. But recent evidence suggests it’s actually a Mumford-shaped hole — in every ad budget and Adult Hits playlist, fillable only by vaguely rousing and spiritual adult contemporary.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Competent but obvious like their output, this may be a song where you could predict every sound based on the lyrics. This song is about being Marcus Mumford’s guiding light, and it starts out quiet and mumbly. So 30 seconds in, it has to change like there’s a bit in a hypothetical video where someone opens up some curtains, or looks up at the sky, or a female love interest opens her eyes and sees our protagonist in a NEW LIGHT. It goes through me like a barium meal but if it was soundtracking a climax in a TV show I liked I wouldn’t throw my remote at the screen.
[4]

Taylor Alatorre: It would’ve been cool to see my initial reactions to this song as visualized by one of those Frank Luntz-style instant response trackers. It would start off at a flatline until the imitation Edge guitars kick in — not exactly breaking new ground but at least a more suitable mode for this band’s obvious ambitions than imitation Old Crow. New heights would be reached at “and I’ll swear you’ll see the dawn again,” whose winding vocal melody recalls a sort of arena rock Bon Iver. A spacious chorus opens up, with resonant piano chords and nary a banjo in earshot; could it be…? But then that familiar bass drum thump shows up in the second verse and we’re dragged back down to the muddy, monochromatic earth, never to revisit those brief flashes of promise. Mumford & Sons seem permanently stuck between two impulses: a sentimental attachment to the style that made them popular and a pained realization that the novelty of unvarnished revivalism has come and gone. They might spend the rest of their career chasing the high of their 2013 Grammy performance, even if the Grammys keep inviting them back, which they undoubtedly will.
[4]

Katie Gill: Have Mumford & Sons changed or evolved their sound at all since 2009? I’m not complaining; Lord knows I listened to waaaay too many fanmixes with “Little Lion Man” on them via LiveJournal. But this feels like a slightly more polished version of their first album in a way that’s wonderfully nostalgic but also super expected.
[5]

Ian Mathers: To quote my beloved wife, when I told her who I was playing in the apartment for TSJ: “More like Buttford & Sons.”
[3]

Monday, October 15th, 2018

Pistol Annies – Got My Name Changed Back

The happiest song about paperwork we’ve covered in a good while…


[Video]
[6.75]

Katie Gill: Nominally, the Pistol Annies are a trio. But considering that Miranda Lambert sings on all the verses, it’s preeetty obvious that this is her track — Lambert venting her frustrations with her recent high profile divorce from Blake Shelton in the best way possible: a country song by a female singer about how men are garbage. This is bright, fun, and simple in a way that feels downright effortless. There’s heart and fun in the lyrics: the “road whore” line is a perfect intake of breath and a whispered “ohhh girl you tell him.” The backing harmonies bring the whole thing together for a final product that’s catchy as hell.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: Divorce is such a country staple it should have a shrine in the Grand Ole Opry. But the Annies find a new twist on a well-worn subject by zeroing in on the specifics: court dates, judges, and endless hours at the DMV. Lambert paints a routine post-divorce ordeal as the rebirth of an independent woman, and Presley and Monroe’s rousing harmonies reaffirm her strength. The song gets even better if you imagine her divorce attorney ripping those sweet guitar solos in court.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: This song is the delicious blend of country music and The Go-Gos that I never knew I needed. The theme and attitude that Miranda sings with throughout the track feels familiar to Pistol Annies’ style, but the cheeky “yeah-yeahs” provide an injection of life that feels fresh. The last verse feels a bit underdeveloped compared to the other three, but this is too much fun to really care about that. 
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Something about the production sounds off to me. The tracks sound too compressed; the reverb in the lead vocal is strange combined with the background vocals; almost as if it was recorded in completely different rooms and mixed together by different people. In any case, once I get past the tinny sound, I love the song itself — love the lyrical content, love the tune — and I’m sure this is one hell of a song to hear live, especially that jamming harmonizing outro.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Precise lyrical details over some of the better picking I’ve heard in country suggest a hard domesticity and a welcome rough energy. It’s so joyful in how hard-hearted it is, especially the line, “I broke his heart and I took his money.”
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The phrasing is a little clipped here — there are so many great lines and Miranda Lambert doesn’t get to luxuriate in them as much as I know she can — but ultimately that’s a minor quibble in the face of how much fun the rest of “Got My Name Changed Back” is, with its constantly driving beat and ridiculous array of guitar breaks. 
[8]

Tobi Tella: Miranda Lambert is a treasure, and this song shows exactly why. On it’s own, it’s alright — fun, I guess, but super repetitive. But her natural charisma makes this into a statement — taking back ownership of her life, starting with her name. It’s not groundbreaking, but I’ll take this over all of the interchangeable bro-country.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The best singers and songwriters in America return with feather-light brand reminding. They can do better and they will.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The Annies are spinning their wheels a little here, coasting on goodwill and trying to breathe sass into something that’s perky but perfunctory. Lord knows each member has tonnes of charisma, but this comes across like a skit (with dead punchlines) at best and at worst, like a taped-together highlight reel of greater glories. Try it, you can A-B most of this song with previous Annies and solo material.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: You know how a clothing retailer — let’s say, in this metaphor, a rockabilly store, the kind with poofy circle skirts and bustier tops with sassy cherries or lips and whatnot — exists for a few years, then all of a sudden they switch their clothes from cotton blend to cheaper polyester? That’s Hell on Heels versus now.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A Pistol Annies song in name only, really, but I suppose there’s a conceptual beauty to singing about a recent divorce and having the song be credited to you and your longtime friends. As much as I could talk about the instrumental breaks feeling celebratory, or the “yeah yeah” harmonies sounding endearing, “Got My Name Changed Back” is not nearly as robust a single as we’ve come to expect from the all-star supergroup. There’s a sprightly but firm recklessness to the track that’s meant to register as an exciting sense of freedom–from an ex, from the tedium of divorce proceedings — but the instrumentation makes it all seem slight. Some of these lyrics are spoken with such confidence (“He got along good with a couple road whores,” “I broke his heart and I took his money”) that it actually makes the whole song seem less serious than it should. The presence of these lines in a rather low-stakes song is presumably meant to make them more biting, but it just makes them easier to ignore.
[4]

Taylor Alatorre: There are a lot of feminist anthems about topics that I as a man cannot directly relate to, which is often the entire point. But here is a sentiment that, if not reflective of universal experience, should at least be universally understandable. I like my last name, I wouldn’t give it up lightly, and if I ever lost my reason to give it up, I would go to every length possible to get it back. Including spending an afternoon at the DMV. That one line powers the entire narrative, because it anchors the tale in quotidian reality and provides a clear temporal contrast with the years wasted in divorce court and a doomed marriage. The focused and workmanlike arrangement, filtered through the tossed-off immediacy of the performance, gives the sense that this was written and recorded as the ink on the documents was still drying off.
[8]

Friday, October 12th, 2018

DJ Snake ft. Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B – Taki Taki

We can’t get enough of those Hot Cheetos and takes…


[Video][Website]
[5.20]

Crystal Leww: No one knows what is happening with DJ Snake’s career post-Encore, his debut album that dropped in 2015. There have been a number of promo singles, none of which have really hit. A lot of this is just a function of the decline of ~sensitive EDM-pop~, of which, DJ Snake is not the only casualty (watching The Chainsmokers has been a struggle), but it has felt painful after the highs of “The Middle” and “Let Me Love You.” Meanwhile, Ozuna, Cardi B and Selena Gomez have all benefited to varying degree from the popularization of Spanish language music in American pop culture — the former two more explicitly and the latter more implicitly from the flexibility to do stuff like this. “Taki Taki” felt like a disappointing listen at first, but I do keep hitting play. After all, this is what money can often buy you — a track with big names that sounds expensive and glossy. Would it be able to compete for song of the summer? No, but I guess it’s October after all. 
[7]

Taylor Alatorre: DJ Snake, as always, gets the technical specs right, constructing a streamlined reggaeton for mainstream viability while retaining the spirit of the genre. It’s what he adds to that framework in a bid for earworm status that subtracts from its overall integrity. I know forced fun when I hear it, and that processed whistle hook, sounding like it was lifted from a Jack Ü nightcore remix, is the epitome of forced fun. Ozuna’s verse is a fitting aural set piece, Selena Gomez performs decently in her tryout to replace Camila in Fifth Harmony (RIP), and Cardi B embodies the essence of what it is to be Cardi B in twelve bars. It sounds like a good time. Not exactly clear what differentiates a “whole rich bitch” from a partial one, but judging from her delivery it’s an important distinction to make.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: This is a perfect hit for this moment in pop music, combining the talents of Ozuna, Cardi B and Selena Gomez with a beat sure to light up charts the world over. A shame though that it’s all in service of DJ Snake’s lame reggaeton xerox, which is just tacky tacky. But his guests get it over.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: The fun, sexy, Latin track we didn’t know we needed after “I Like It”; DJ Snake makes us listen to a little too much Ozuna before giving us Cardi and Selena, but even his (extended) verse isn’t bad. He does his best to hype listeners up, but the real treat begins when Cardi repeats that Spanish pre-chorus. Her verse is cute, if unoriginal, but it’s listening to Cardi and Selena get in touch with their Spanish that really ups the ante here. 
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Ozuna is by far the best feature here, able to switch up his flows in a manner that constantly keeps the song moving forward. Just listen to how his vocal rhythms work with and against the snaking synth melody, elevating the danceability of the song by modeling it himself. When Cardi B appears, she brute-forces her charisma to make her performance seem like a worthwhile contribution; she’s not leading her partner as much as dragging them along. While she sounded drab on “La Modelo,” she refuses to hone her craft here and instead overcompensates, sounding dangerously close to self-parody in the process. Selena, on the other hand, just sounds like an amateur. Those coos are unearned shortcuts to sensuality, and the “ah ah ah” that precedes them reveals how ineffective her singing actually is. The whispered affectation she employs proves even more uninviting.
[3]

Alex Clifton: I was fully prepared for this to be a hot mess — one of those weird mash-ups of performers with a DJ to unify them as they all do their best — but I actually ended up really liking “Taki Taki.” It’s been a while since I’ve heard a dance song that actually made me want to dance; like, the subconscious hips-don’t-lie movements that happen anytime something good comes on. Everyone sounds like they’re really in their element, especially Selena, who always sounds at home over a beat like this. 
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is a mess but a different kind for each participant — DJ Snake’s production and Ozuna’s hook duty seem to think that keeping the energy up will distract from how lightweight the song is (and they’re mostly right), Cardi B leans into the frothiness (and it works), but Selena, who sounds mostly confused that she’s on this at all, reveals the whole faulty enterprise as a sham with her last verse. It had me going there for a while, though.
[5]

Jibril Yassin: This feels like the sequel to “Mi Gente” down right to the pre-choruses. While Selena Gomez, Ozuna and Cardi B are excellent vocalists, this song collapses under the weight of its cut-and-paste star power and the bleating hook does it no favours. 
[4]

Andy Hutchins: I often think of synths reaching for the highest pitches as “tea kettle synths,” designed to alarm with their shrillness. The ones DJ Snake deploys here are more like dog-whistle synths, except I can hear them and hate them. Ozuna is here to rhyme things with the Nonsenseish phrase “Taki Taki,” which inevitably leads to the regrettable “booty explota como Nagasaki” way earlier in his verse than I would have thought; Cardi is here to do a generic rendition of Cardi, but throws in some rapping in her first language so assonant that I want entire albums of it; Selena is … here, whispering painfully, and yet her Spanish is a highlight, too. Here, in a rarity for Latinx-influenced pop, it’s the English that feels like pandering.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: “Taki Taki” is the kind of collaboration where each of the artist comes up with a different song. There’s barely any interaction between the three and although all the parts have interesting elements, together they don’t quite work. Ozuna has loud verses and a flow that knows the reggaetón beat. Cardi B also has a strong voice, but deeper and with a harsher kind of rapping that goes well with Ozuna’s high-pitched vocals, but unfortunately, they don’t make use of the possible dynamics. Finally, Selena Gomez suddenly appears out of nowhere with her unique whispering voice, but passes almost unnoticed, giving a rather weak end to a song that could have been great.
[5]

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Robyn – Honey

Jukebox favourite notches her highest ever score. “Call Your Girlfriend” fans demand recount.


[Video][Website]
[8.00]

Alex Clifton: “Missing U” took a while to hook itself into me, but “Honey” is sticky and all-consuming; I liked it immediately. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be, which was a quiet ballad addressing a loved one. Instead Robyn gave us a throbbing beat that pulses with want and emotion. It’s the sexier counterpoint to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion; where Carly Rae goes for the bubblegum, Robyn taps into the sensual. It’s less of a pop song and more of a meditation on desire. In the moment, nothing else matters except come get your honey, come get your honey, which lingers as a sweet aftertaste long after the song is over.
[8]

Alfred Soto:  “Never had this kind of nutrition, mm,” Robyn sings. She just knows something good is gonna happen! Klas Åhlund and Metronomy’s Joseph Mount’s aqueous beat has late nineties echos: Ray of Light, Sasha & Digweed. And Robyn, at her most lubricious, can’t wait to sink her teeth into it. For a singer-songwriter who’s triumphed by making standing on the outside compelling, she’s even better taking the dare on the cute dude staring at her over his vodka Red Bull.
[7]

Ian Mathers: If “Missing U” was “I’ve turned all my sorrows into glass,” well, “Honey” is “the waves come in and they’re golden.” Both songs demonstrate that Robyn is still just as good at writing lyrics that reveal more and more emotional resonances the more you get into these ferociously powerful pop songs. Here the track is already roiling and rumbling early on but as the track climaxes the whole thing almost seems on the verge of shivering apart. It’s amazing in a very distinct way from how “Missing U” was amazing but both are still clearly products of the same distinctly fierce intelligence and heart.
[9]

Edward Okulicz: “Honey” is as meticulous and thoughtful as any Robyn single, but I find its mix of sensuous — lyrics about breath and saliva — and fatalistic — “not gonna get what you need” — lacking in emotional firepower. Robyn usually devastates even when she makes you dance, and this track feels like a mood-setting pre-club scene more than anything. What I want, and what I need, after listening to this is the supercharged, even nervier cousin that is her last album’s always-underrated masterpiece “Indestructible.”
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: Robyn is the queen of the quiet banger. The production is exquisite, with that pulsing beat and her always provocative vocals dancing in perfect synchronicity. It’s hypnotic and enticing and infatuating and it’s honey.
[8]

Dorian Sinclair: “No, you’re not gonna get what you need.” On the face of it that’s a brutal sentiment: a truth that’s more than a little bit harsh. But the magic of Robyn lies in her ability to imbue even the starkest lyrics with compassion, to make you feel that she feels for you. The languorous production on “Honey” certainly helps to underscore that it’s not a sad song, but without her knack for shaping a bittersweet sentiment, it would play very differently. And in the end, for me, the line I quoted is proven wrong — because at this moment in my life, what I need might actually be “Honey” itself.
[8]

Will Adams: There is always a moment, sometime in the night, when the excitement of this is happening shifts into I am terrified. Terrified not of what is going to happen between us, but what isn’t. You’re not going to get what you need, because it’s 4am and we’re not thinking clearly. Because we’re strangers who just met through no means other than circumstance. Because you’re catching a flight home in the morning, on the other end of the country. Because I don’t have what you need, and we both know that; but for now, it’s what you want. That shift doesn’t really change anything in the moment. The sweetness will still come in slow waves, and it will feel like it sounds: synths diffused into haze, percussion filtered down into a throb, a voice that simultaneously reverberates forever and disintegrates into static. It will ebb and flow in those one-two hours, then begin to recede the moment you leave. It lingers the next day, in the initial text messages; the next week, in the mutual following on social media; the next month, sending a music recommendation out of the blue. And as the entropy increases, as we grow into our diverging timelines, as the connection between us is whittled down to a tap on the screen, the tiniest drop remains, and I swear I can still taste it on my lips.
[9]

Matias Taylor: Sex-as-a-sugary-food is a well-worn metaphor, but it has hardly ever sounded as sumptuous and intimate as it does here. Robyn’s continued exploration of the gooey heart of desire — equally melancholic and pornographic — may exude sex, but these golden waves also carry something else; Robyn knows there’s a sliver of sadness that accompanies abandon, and once again she manages to dig into that fraction of a state of mind and deliver four minutes of bliss. She’s giving us what we want, and what we need.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Robyn’s music works on you in two separate paths at once, simultaneously impressing you with its icy precision and pop perfection and letting you into realms of pure feeling through the slightest subjectivities — the tone of her voice, the way she sighs and releases tension. “Honey” completes the first easily — the pulsating beat and the amorphous synths behind that are excellent as always. But on the second count there’s something missing here; whether it’s in the lack of a proper emotional arc or the rushed pace of the verse, “Honey” doesn’t ever fully come together. Even as an unfinished work, though, it’s still eminently listenable dancefloor material.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Did you know “Hang With Me” is a cover? The original is an shy, intimate, almost folky love song, to which Robyn adds the “recklessly, headlessly” chorus and all that Robyn Energy: conviction via big strobing synths, turning a wallflower’s song into a big synthetic light-projection of a violet. This is what Robyn does; for a while it seemed like it’s all Robyn does anymore. But “Honey” is the closest Robyn’s gotten to that quiet draw. What “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” does with steeliness, this does with murmurs. She flips the conceit of The Weeknd’s “What You Need” and drains it of sleaze: the “you won’t get what you need” seems less like a neg than unguarded honesty. She gets lost in her verses, voice almost a hum, lyrics remarkably explicit but sounding more like snuggling against someone’s shoulder. Unlike “Missing You,” it evokes artists other than Robyn, most obviously Róisín Murphy. But it still sounds like nothing else in the alt-pop world, which is a goddamn achievement.
[9]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A song that knows how to embody the lightheaded euphoria of late night dancing. Robyn buries her voice in the mix so that it doesn’t have a spotlight shining on it. Every second of her vocal delivery and every word out of her mouth consequently becomes about the feelings they project: pure evocation. This is music to get lost into, that reminds you that you’re lost in it, and that encourages you to stay inside; this is five minutes but it could be fifty.
[8]

Andy Hutchins: “No, you’re not gonna get what you need,” Robyn taunts, over a throbbing instrumental that never attains an explosive climax. She knows perfectly well how to punctuate with those, so the delicious misandry — maybe misanthropy — of “Honey” must be deliberate.
[9]

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Low – Disarray

With a score that’s somewhat high.


[Video][Website]
[6.12]

Ian Mathers: Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s harmony singing has sometimes been called (among other customary epithets for that kind of thing) “angelic,” but from the pulverized blasts that introduce “Disarray,” it’s clear that if angels are being evoked it’s the vividly weird ones from the Old Testament that needed to announce themselves with “be not afraid” just so people didn’t freak out. And yet, in the middle of all that pounding (just one of many starkly beautiful distancing techniques the trio use on Double Negative, one of their best records in a quarter-century career) there is something straightforwardly moving about those voices, and about what they’re saying. Who can escape the feeling in 2018 that we need to learn to live a different way, either in the positive sense of transforming the world or in the self-preserving sense of just plain surviving? Is there a better way to sum up the queasy combination of despairing, confused guilt and the helplessness of the (demonically? angelically?) possessed that 2018 often feels like than “they said you let it in when you took the drugs”? I read something a little while ago I can’t seem to find now but that was along the lines of “I’m realizing that a lot of people who are very thoughtful about religion experience it as a sort of constant horror.” And I’m thinking of another friend, who put it as “all truly great religious art involves the difficulty of faith.” And those are both things that Low, one of the very few truly great religious bands out there for whom that phrase isn’t either a thin veil for politics or a pleasing fiction centered around their niche status, have been doing for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. And even in the middle of the last song on the most confronting album of their careers, one that sounds blasted and wracked in a way that truly fits with the way the world is currently going, there’s a line that gives me some hope (despite never having been a member of any religion): “the truth is not something that you have not heard.” Maybe figuring that out is the first part of learning to live a different way.
[10]

Alfred Soto: Having underestimated these people for fifteen years, I sat down and cranked this up. And waited. And waited. Harmonies and staccato percussive stabs aside, where’s the rest? 
[4]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This is less minimal and more skeletal, sounding like a solid wall of sound that’s been hewn until it resolved itself into a ghost of a song. It wins on aesthetics alone — the combination of the amorphous, choppy rhythm parts here and the eerie harmonies is compelling — but I wish there was a little more of an arc here, to elevate “Disarray” into something more interesting than a fun set of textures.
[6]

Anna Suiter: Decentering the vocal track here mostly works, and prevents you from puzzling too much over what the (minimal) lyrics might mean. The scratchy instrumental makes for a track all by itself, and something less dull than I’d expect after listening to the first 30 seconds or so. I have to wonder how it would sound without the vocals at all.
[6]

Taylor Alatorre: The AMC computer drama Halt and Catch Fire had some inspired soundtrack choices, from the Trentemøller start-up tune to a use of the War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes” that felt less anachronistic than inevitable. If the series went on for another season, I like to think this would’ve been at least considered for some climactic scene. The oscillating analog crunch is the product of a tug-of-war between the mechanistic and the organic, at once evocative of an earlier era of technology and of the tensions from that era we have yet to resolve. Shorn of such narrative import, though, it’s something less impressive — a testament to the prioritization of sound design over songwriting.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Not “experimental” so much as “experimental-sounding,” that is, working with a sonic surface that takes a little bit to get used to, but otherwise just doing the usual thing. Is that cynical of me to say? Sure! But this ain’t the first pop song to throw down some crunchy percussion and claim that its sound design bravery excuses the rest of it being half-finished.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: This is an impressive amalgam of some ugly chopped up sounds and what sounds like a sped up bit of 70s Americana folk pop. Like, if I slowed it down 10% it might sound like Arca remixing America. Sometimes I wish it was even faster, sometimes I wish it were actually slowed down, but I like it every time.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: On Double Negative, producer BJ Burton morphs the ideas he presented on Ones and Sixes into an extreme that, for better or worse, makes it sound like the group has made their own 22, A Million. The fortunate thing is how it feels like an appropriate template for the group and not a cheap continuation of the Bon Iver/Francis & The Lights/James Blake axis of pop that Burton has had a hand in (see: the shoehorned final section of Lizzo’s “Bother Me“). If you approach it from the right angle, “Disarray” is actually not too different from the group’s earliest works. The prickly electronics are simply another instrument that grounds the piece — much like repetitiously struck guitar chords or a steady bassline — that allows for a soundworld carried by Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s singing. Their harmonies and the static rhythm with which their sung find an unsettling middle ground between human warmth and cold robotics. What this does is allow for the staccato noise to feel less and less disorienting over time, dulling their presence to the point of familiar comfort or apathetic acceptance. That the song begins with the warning, “before it falls into total disarray…” is grim. Is this how we got here, is this how we got to 2018?
[6]

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Khalid – Better

I guess we just care a lot less about this guy when he doesn’t have a female duet partner.


[Video][Website]
[3.75]

Taylor Alatorre:With love, to the 915,” reads the single cover, a dedication to Khalid’s hometown of El Paso. Yet the lyrics contain no reference to El Paso or Texas or any place at all other than “down the street,” and the music is 2010s urban contemporary that bears no regional hallmarks. What gives? Well, I’ve lived in Texas virtually my entire life, and I’ve never been to El Paso. It’s 600 miles from where I am, separated by long stretches of highway with no gas stations or rest stops. In a state where road trips are part of the secular faith, the Trans-Pecos is so isolated that it may as well be on another continent. Khalid has chosen to breach this isolation not through detailed Drake-esque travelogues, but by distilling a homegrown romance into a cozy song that sounds like it could’ve come from anywhere. In part this is in keeping with his American Teen persona, but it also could stem from a desire, like his collaborator and kindred spirit Lorde, to have his reminiscences of life in a fringe town validated by mainstream exposure. All across America, and the world, kids are falling in love with each other right now, living through the same storylines with minute variations. Here is an end credits-worthy R&B jam, complete with vocoder, to celebrate that fact. The 915 could be your hometown, too.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A spiritual successor to “OTW” right down to how crucial the drums are in lifting this from bedtime music to bedtime music. The sappier tone and lack of features make it less interesting though and transforms any sleeping together back to sleeping, period. The vocoder’d outro is a nice touch but it’s at odds with the nostalgic intimacy of the sampled talking that opens the track. It feels excessive and brash, betraying everything the song was slowly building up to; if we had simply been left with another sample that found two people talking together then Khalid would have been able to complete the narrative arc, bridging a gap between the plea and its evidence, between platitudes and truth, between art and life.
[3]

Alfred Soto: To listen to “Better” and expect euphoria or even the pleasant feeling that you scratched an itch is to hope for moderation from Donald Trump’s supporters. Self-loathing in the VIP room ain’t what it used to be, nor are house piano and trap beats.
[1]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Khalid’s weaknesses as a performer — his disengaged tone, his inability to emote in any direction without sounding at least a little weepy — were covered by his deft songwriting and interesting production choices on the best tracks off of American Teen. But shorn of the Southwestern-tinged guitars of “Cold Blooded” or “Location” or the dancing melody of “Young Dumb and Broke,” the Khalid of “Better” just seems boring. The problem is exacerbated by the beat itself, which is the kind of thing that a more adept performer like Jeremih or Ty Dolla Sign would tear up without second thought — when the vocoder solo comes in at the end, it swallows our singer up rather than elevating him.
[2]

Will Adams: “Nothing feels better than this” slurred as if he’s just finished a fifth rum-n-Coke has to be ironic, right? Either way, “OTW” nailed the feeling of cruising together in the back of a called car, both in a late-night haze but excited by the promise of the night continuing on, while “Better” is lethargic and needs to be put to bed.
[4]

Alex Clifton: I feel like somewhere out there there’s going to be one of those YouTube caption videos where they try to discern what exactly Khalid is singing, since it sounds like he’s drunk with a mouth full of marbles for much of the song. It’s a shame because the rest of the song is so well-produced but they’ve done his vocals a real disservice here.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: The chill, laid back R&B production and beat serve Khalid’s voice well, but this is just an elongated interlude. Nice to listen to, sure, but it should serve as nothing more than a thematic transition between album tracks because it’s not very interesting. 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Khalid’s normally a distinctive vocalist and songwriter; why does he sound like he’s been given a Bieber song?
[4]

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Joji – Slow Dancing in the Dark

Looking forward to follow-up singles “Slow Dancing On My Own,” “Slow Dancing in the Street,” and “Slow Dancing on the Ceiling.”


[Video][Website]
[3.50]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: How should I respond to Joji’s career in general? It’s hard to say. I’ve come to understand the impact that Western cultural imperialism has had on my interaction with Asian representation in Western media, and Joji is perhaps its clearest example. With such little current representation, a part of me feels the need to be highly critical of anything that doesn’t meet my standards for good music. It’s predicated on a fear that non-Asians will quantify the value of all Asian art and culture through these few artists, and I certainly don’t want their views of us to be (any more) negative or limited. When Asians tell me they like artists like this, it reminds me of growing up and hearing Christian friends telling me I should hear a band because they’re “the Christian version” of X secular band — why should the nationality of an artist make me settle for second-rate, for second best?  Joji may be making a familiar melancholy strain of R&B but his career arc is something that I find meaningful. A part of me feels like his start as a YouTube comedian/comedy rapper was the only way he could’ve been granted the opportunity to be a Serious Artist. “Slow Dancing in the Dark” and its video are clear attempts at an Artfulness after years of painfully juvenile work. When I engage with it, I sense Joji feeling a satisfaction in making the art he finally wants, art that doesn’t make him feel pigeonholed. I’ve heard my Asian students sing Joji songs; they seem to find comfort in seeing such representation. I think he makes me feel the same.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: Joji sings of pain intensely as he can, though the song also carries a performative quality. Blame the current pop climate and its obsession with applying a forlorn, intoxicated haze to the music, but those synth smears are like the equivalent of an Instagram filter. His vocals are mumbled and slurred like he’s dabbing fake tears to a break-up letter, and that climactic scream in the chorus lifts off almost too perfectly. While I remain cynical witnessing everything working accordingly, I at least admit Joji knows the ins and outs of this sort of pop.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: I refuse to indulge the “serious” turn by the creator of “HOT NICKEL BALL ON A PUSSY,” especially when his idea of R&B vocals and arrangements are, respectively, Future singing nursery rhymes and the Culex victory music from Super Mario RPG. (Provided by the guy from Chairlift — man, what a decline.) Knowing the industry these days he’ll turn into Childish Gambino in three years, although the ceiling for him’s probably closer to How to Dress Well.
[2]

Alfred Soto: He thinks this would-be sinister mumblecore popular in 2011 stands a chance in 2018? (Don’t answer).
[2]

Katie Gill: First of all, I have to give serious credit to Joji’s agent. This is the dude who came up with the dumb Harlem Shake video and now he’s singing something like this? Holy hell my man, you must have some good people on your team because that is some serious damage control. It’s a shame that the seriously good people don’t include any slightly good songwriters or producers: the vocals are over-processed to a point where I can’t understand some of the lines and the general mood of the song is a mopey ‘Post Malone meets those lo-fi anime hip-hop beats streams that are always trending on Youtube.’ It’s a bit of a mess.
[2]

Taylor Alatorre: It’s not that it’s impossible to create a good ambient electronic power ballad, despite the apparent contradiction in terms. But it would require a much more deft handling of the transitions between woozy, stumbling verses and dramatic, cloud-parting chorus than exists here. And oof, that chorus: it’s an overly brassy, ear-splitting thing, so concerned with communicating that THESE ARE BIG FEELINGS that it leaves little space for the listener to contemplate their own. Forget for a moment that absolutely no one is slow dancing to this — you can’t even vibe to it, which is supposed to be the basic selling point of this genre. Not all of Joji’s songs are this grating, but if he keeps this up, I’d honestly prefer if he went back to doing perv-rap songs about Miranda Cosgrove.
[2]

Iain Mew: The slurred, approximate nature of the vocals isn’t a bad thing in itself but a bit unnecessary in context. The way the real focus of “Slow Dancing in the Dark” is on emotions provided via electro-symphonic lurches means it’s basically just a superior version of Bazzi, and leaning into that might have served it better.
[5]

Jibril Yassin: It’s as if the cyborg known as Post Malone became self-aware and decided to get realer than real. Any discernable meaning is lost in the sea of overblown synths and jarring multitracked vocals. Searching for a climax is meaningless — the peak begins and ends in darkness. 
[3]