Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Jay Chou – Extra Large Shoes

Now presenting: The Singles Jukebox Vaudeville Players in… “Extra Large Shoes”! Just 25 cents to see this fantastic spectacle of musical critique sure to dazzle adults and children alike…


[Video][Website]
[4.00]

Alfred Soto: Jay essays a Nellie McKay track. One of the few times I wish I had a lyric sheet, for if I’m going to listen to a show tune with pretty keyboard runs then I want to know that the wit is worth appreciating.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Heavily processed calliope is my new favorite instrument, replacing the tuba or accordion. That this calliope comes out sounding like a cheap Casio just makes my interest in kitsch expand. 
[6]

Sonia Yang: I love the Charlie Chaplin homage and the fashion fusion (modern K-Pop boyband meets dapper vintage), especially that rainbow array of suits. The vaudeville piano and silly synth are appropriately comical but I seriously doubt Jay Chou has “100% commitment to comedy” because that is the most monotone sing-song rap I’ve heard in a while.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Apparently our friends here never quite understood that nobody likes when you try to make the rap scream “clowning around” too forwardly.
[1]

Brad Shoup: Like if Parliament wrote “Flash Light” for a Disney Wild West attraction. This is the corniest music going.
[2]

Megan Harrington: Maybe it’s this B-complex vitamin I’ve started taking, but I’m wild for that ragtime piano breakdown. Meet me at the carnival, we can selfie in the hall of mirrors. 
[6]

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Prince Royce ft. Snoop Dogg – Stuck on a Feeling

Bachata singer takes that fateful leap into the 2000s…


[Video]
[5.11]

Crystal Leww: Prince Royce is finally getting his English-language push, and wow does it sound fantastic, even if the production could potentially sound the slightest bit outdated. EDM-pop might be #over, but babes crooning will never die. This sounds like the sexy slow pulse of a slow dance in the corner of a dance floor. The potential of those slow dances with beautiful strangers are why people keep going back and enduring the promise of packed and sweaty rooms with expensive drinks. People do get “stuck on a feeling,” some sort of hope that there will be someone at the club after all.
[7]

Anthony Easton: The depth of the layering of this, where the vocals (and especially) the lyrics take back seat to a gorgeously lush production, makes the performers slightly anonymous — weirdly less for Royce than Dogg. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: From rasta moves to electronic hooha, Snoop’s protean moves aren’t confusing because he’s bold about keeping commercially relevant. Therefore, “she got me stuck on a feeling” is a lie, to be honest. For Royce, though, imitating Usher in 2004 sure demonstrates stuck-ness.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Like a bad cast-off from “FutureSex/LoveSounds” that got polished off and sent out into battle a few too many years too late. Great Grand-Uncle Snoop bubbles around in the ad-libs like friends Mac Dre or E-40 would on their most bubbly, but his verse is tediously devoid of even a borrowed personality.
[2]

David Sheffieck: The feature’s a wash, though Snoop’s ad-libs add a bit to the song throughout. “Stuck on a Feeling” hits a groove early and lays into it, Royce’s voice and the beat a sweet combination, nearly too laid-back but firmly on the right side of a soporific.
[6]

Megan Harrington: In his home market, Prince Royce is so good, so romantic and such a committed performer. In his English language crossover, he’s so generic I’d have no problem believing he’s a laboratory composite of Jeremih, Trey Songz, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo. “Big” Snoop Dogg used to be better at these pop features, both mellow and commanding, but he’s so bad here I’m half waiting for Sway to demand a freestyle. Together, “Stuck on a Feeling” is a song that will bleed in and through everything else on rap radio and then disappear from this world forever. 
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Moderately clammy rather than overly spacious or intermittently banging, this does not sound like it’s from 2014. It doesn’t even feel like it came from America, more like a great, lost Shayne Ward single, an attempt to sound American that might involve all the right producers and writers, but is still by Shayne Ward. Maybe not even him, though — it’s in fact very much like a couple of tracks from Craig David’s Slicker Than Your Average, particularly “Fast Cars”, only with rhythm to accompany electrosquelch. Naturally, these are all good things.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Half-speed New Jack, with swinging guitars and rutting bass substituting for the bang. I was so sure that Prince Royce was nearing a pop breakthrough on bachata’s terms, and I’m gobsmacked that someone thought that not only was that not happening, they thought the year was 2003.
[4]

Will Adams: The sample of 112’s “Dance With Me” does most of the work here, its infectious stomp running through the whole of “Stuck on a Feeling.” That song was from 2001, Snoop Dogg turns in a verse from 2005, and Prince Royce croons like the smattering of R&B starlets that populated the bulk of the aughts’ radio waves. It’s impossible to tell what year it is here, but I kinda like that.
[6]

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Reba McEntire – Going Out Like That

Given the bro-country behemoth, safe to say Reba’s covering “If I Were a Boy” was either ill-timed or prescient…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Megan Harrington: Reba is the first signee to Big Machine’s new heritage imprint Nash Icon. Eventually, everyone has to make this transition in their career, from relevant to venerated. If not as fraught between artist and audience, it’s still a difficult corner to turn — especially if you’re still creating and releasing new music, as Reba is, and not assembling endless permutations of greatest hits records, as Reba is not. “Going Out Like That” isn’t a metaphor for ceding your spot to the kids coming up from behind, it’s a breakup song that positions its central character as a fighter in the face of societal expectations for the heartbroken. It’s a rally cry, it’s timeless, and I hope Reba never goes out like that. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: I love the idea of a woman like Reba in an awesome dress, “so tired of being tired,” dancing like she doesn’t give a fuck. Alas, the flat drums and generic solos don’t either.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Now, this is late-period Reba at her best, singing uptempo female-empowerment anthems that ring true. Her first new single in four years features tough-minded production from Tony Brown that perfectly suits its lyrics (“He thought she’d be sittin’ home cryin’/She ain’t goin’ out like that”). This bodes well for her upcoming album.
[8]

Brad Shoup: Somehow I’m supposed to see the subject cutting up through this grim stomp. She deserves better than this tune, which sounds like Echosmith for studio lifers.
[4]

Anthony Easton: Yesterday I was listening to a lot of early ’80s Reba, and thinking there is this line between the domestic melodramas of ’70s Nashville and Reba’s best work, and not even the direct line of “Fancy.” Her vocal style has gone out of fashion — the sumptuous overstuffed quality hasn’t been current in decades. Sometimes she hits — “Because of You” was a brilliant imperial tactic — but mostly I just think that style has gone away, and she is not going to recover it. I don’t mean recover it in sales, as this is doing all right, but recover it as being part of the zeitgeist. I cannot imagine Reba making the alt-country slide like Lee Ann Womack. and I cannot imagine her being completely ignored like Wynonna or Terri Clark. But she’s caught, along with Faith Hill and Martina McBride, in the midst of an industry that doesn’t know what to do with them. This song has more rock than her other work and a message about a flouted lover and getting her shit together, but I can’t help but view it as an exercise in high meta. A fuck you to the industry, really. It’s just not a really good one.
[3]

Crystal Leww: My dad moved to the United States in the ’80s, and he fucking loves Reba McEntire. He’s always been a country boy at heart, but seeing the huge Asian man put on a cowboy hat and close his eyes dreamily while Reba is playing through the stereo is even a little surprising to the girl who was raised by him. When asked, my dad said he loves Reba because she has a lovely voice that tells nice stories. He’s a bigger fan of her slower tracks, the ones that sound romantic but powerful. “Going Out Like That” is fast and not so romantic, but it’s still powerful and tells a nice story. I guess when you have 26 (!!!) albums, you eventually span the whole spectrum of emotion. She’s aged better than some legacy acts have.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: Spiritually akin to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Tonight I’m Getting Over You“, if the girl in the latter grew up in Oklahoma instead of Vancouver. It’s hardly groundbreaking, but it’s fun and feel-good and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for.
[7]

Alex Ostroff: I’m a sucker for characters who create reality through sheer force of will, simply deciding that this is the way things are. Reba’s voice usually keeps me at a distance, even when she’s singing ballads that would utterly destroy me coming from occasional duet partner (and recent relative) Kelly Clarkson. But the way she insistently sings “Everybody, here comes the life of the party” hits me hard. It’s not decorum. It’s not Miranda’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” either. I don’t even think it’s denial. It’s someone who knows that this is how things need to be, because the pain of the alternative is intolerable. Reba ends the track declaring “yes she is,” as the guitars fade out, and I wouldn’t dare question her.
[7]

Jessica Doyle: It’s a protest against death, is what it is. She’s tired of feeling like dying, but the removal of the feeling doesn’t change the removal of the fact: she ain’t going out like that, but she is going out. There’s a certain ambiguity in ending the narrative with the heroine doing shots, as if she’s not avoiding oblivion but simply trying to control how she meets it. Bless this song’s courage, and while we’re at it, bless the third-act drumwork. The next time I lose somebody I’m blasting this. Probably before then, actually.
[8]

Moses Kim: New Year’s Day 2013: just me and Mom in the car. The night air is crisp when I roll down the windows, but she’s barely driving through the rainstorm in her eyes. I’ve always been her confidant, one of the only people she lets herself be wounded around. Her first love left her after three years when she got too invested and he got too bored. When Dad got his PhD, it was his mother who took all the credit for supporting his family, not mine. She tells me Grandpa was the best man she had ever known: she cries herself to sleep sometimes because mothers can be children, too. I hesitate a little when Reba McIntire calls this song a “women’s power anthem“: I don’t think Reba can speak for all women, much less my loving, conservative, conflicted mother. There are many women who will find strength in the literal meaning of the lyrics, and I celebrate that, but I submit that the woman at the center of “Going Out Like That” also stands in for a larger archetype of female resistance, a refusal in the face of constant dismissal and abuse and heartbreak to succumb. Mom’s heard this song even before it was written: when we roll into the parking lot that night, she asks me for a Kleenex and wipes the eyeliner off her face. She gets out of the car. She keeps walking.
[9]

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Dallas Smith – Wastin’ Gas

Winning this year’s inaugural Jaron Outta Evan And Jaron Award for most bizarre rawk-to-country turn, it’s… who is it, Alex?


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Alex Ostroff: This guy was the lead singer of Default? As in CanCon alt-rock Default? As in inescapable early high school radio staple “Wasting My Time” Default? “Wastin’ Gas” isn’t a terrible country song, and Smith’s propensity for heavier guitars brings it in line with a lot of current bro country. The memory of Default hangs over this, though, emphasizing just how calculated his entire shtick is — B.C. boys don’t normally sport Southern twang — and highlighting that his lyrical concerns haven’t evolved much in a decade and a half. 
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: Wastin’ my time with his knuckleheaded loud voice, more like it. 
[3]

Alfred Soto: Now here’s something: a vocal melody that reminds me of “Margaritaville” sung by a guy who’s studied hair metal singers. Its overall insouciance pleases my ear as much as $2 gas does my wallet.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Oh, Canada, you never sound more out of date when you try to be up to date. That Dallas Smith comes out of hard rock and that he is generic is disappointing considering the pedigree of ex-punk singer, now legendary cowboy singer Corb Lund or ex-hardcore singer Ridley Bent, who has sang cleverly about the shift of genre. Worth slightly less by how shamelessly Smith has hired American writers and how shamelessly he has failed at it. 
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s weird how easily I’m receptive to Nickelback-style “modern rock” if it’s got a descriptive car-for-life metaphor I haven’t heard too much yet and a intro that sounds like “Baba O’Riley” — which I actually hate.
[7]

Megan Harrington: Killing time and wasting gas are not particularly good metaphors for relationships. It’s borderline sociopathic to consider human companionship something you do between more important activities. But we’ve all been here, even if we don’t describe it with such callous cliches. An even bigger problem is that Smith can’t play his own narrator in the music video because no one wants to see a pointedly visibly married man with a thinning hairline make trouble with a young girl like his personal development halted at eighteen. Take a page from the Rascal Flatts book and write some love songs about the glory of lifelong commitment, dude. 
[3]

David Sheffieck: The timing is dead-on, with gas prices about half what they were the last time I was driving, but no matter how soaring the chorus, how is “Wastin’ Gas” going to sound when it means draining half your paycheck on driving around to prove your crazy love?
[6]

Brad Shoup: Hey, at these prices, waste all the gas you want, baby. There’s a little “Springsteen” in his whoas and in the snap he brings to the refrain. The guitar becomes a cop siren, swallowing up the road as fast as Smith can leave it. His is a thoroughly determined performance, loads of precise phrasing tumbling from a tight expression.
[7]

Moses Kim: For such an ostensibly carefree song, the instrumentation sure is busy. The hi-hat ticks in anticipation of what’s sure to be a big night. Drum fills peek in every other measure. At one point I counted at least three different melodic motifs! And then, halfway through my third listen, the song clicked: there’s a fundamental disconnect between the aimlessness of the lyrics and the urgency of the music, the power in Dallas Smith’s voice even as he protests in the chorus that he doesn’t give a damn. Thing is, anybody who has to explain their indifference has already given themselves away. This is a compelling dynamic to build a song around, and it stands in for many of my own memories and mistakes: that night we all went drinking the week before we all left for college, that dinner where I bit my tongue in polite company, if only to protect it; the countless circling conversations in study hall about who we were and weren’t and wanted to be. “Wastin’ Gas” still ends up feeling a little disposable, like a beer-stained red Solo cup crushed on the sidewalk, but I’m glad those cups are still being made.
[6]

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Thomas Rhett – Make Me Wanna

It’s Country Wednesday! And who’s the bro to lead us off this time?


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dubstep-breaks! Chic-style guitar riffs which are probably more a la Maroon 5’s “Something to Believe In”! Swooning slide guitars and a pretty decent hokey solo! A breakdown out of the ’70s Stones catalog! Is prog country gonna be a thing now?
[7]

Edward Okulicz: “FM on the radio,” Rhett purrs, lying through his teeth. “Make Me Wanna” takes the most basic elements of country and infuses them with AM-radio touches, disco guitars and bass to make something frisky and feelgood. Barely a country song, more a slick and danceable melting pot — a mutt, if you prefer — and ripe for pop-chart crossover or a genre-bending cover if that fails.
[9]

Josh Langhoff: “I like that song, it’s so different!” chirped the country DJ after I heard “Make Me Wanna” for the first time, the name of the radio station craftily inserted into the song’s final line, the one that goes “FM on the radio” and sounds like a promo jingle. This is why I don’t trust my big city country DJs. Not only do they refuse to #savecountrymusic by pledging allegiance to the Hag, they don’t even know what’s happening in country, like, two songs in either direction on their playlist. Listing names would be gauche but, you know, Aldean Bryan Hunt Chesney Rhett’s last single Gretchen Wilson’s really good 2013 album etc. means we’re in the thick of another country soul revolution! Rhett’s “Lightning Strikes”-meets-“Breakdown” sexual politics are somewhat older.
[6]

Megan Harrington: I don’t know, that roguish grin wore down my defenses. This isn’t genuinely better than any of Rhett’s other incredibly unsubtle come-ons, but I can’t resist his deft Jimmy Buffett beachiness or teeming enthusiasm anymore.  
[7]

Moses Kim: The line where Rhett comments on his beloved’s dress had my hairs on edge for a moment, but as it turns out all he wants to do is hold her in his truck. Awwww. Makes me wanna get into my pajamas and marathon Spongebob.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: “…and ingest helium and autotune and cliche until I sound and flirt like a cartoon-rat Adam Levine.”
[2]

Brad Shoup: I was waiting for disco to lap at Nashville’s shores again. A sprightly backbeat with emphasis on the two and four sends this one skidding along the dancefloor, while a tight little guitar figure twirls Rhett around the chorus. In the middle, four whole steps sweep him up before setting him down. His meter is in thrall to the track’s; it’s pure, easy motion. Surprising he set this thing in the daytime. 
[7]

Anthony Easton: The side of the road would seem less safe than a back forty, and I keep wondering about the comfort of these truck beds, but living in Alberta for the last month or so, I should tell you that this rhetoric works on people. Heck, if he got a tiny bit smoother and the production was a bit rougher, he might convince me.
[5]

Alfred Soto: What a delicious guitar bed: rhythm licks, bass playing off the vocal, 12-string jangle. Dumb lyric, but Rhett’s growl is as cute as a dimple. Imagine Eric Church lifting his cap high enough to actually see his eyes. Imagine the Blow Monkeys’ “Digging Your Scene” rearranged: that same quiet how-did-we-get-here ebullience.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: Thomas Rhett dials back on the twang and lets trade winds blow his brand of bro country forward. It would be solid Sunday-afternoon-in-the-quad music, but Rhett takes the time to add some tension via the sudden rush of electronic percussion that kicks in after the first chorus. It’s like a nervous heartbeat, and it hints at the nerves lurking underneath the smooth exterior.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Of a similar ilk to “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman,” polite disco prizing subtlety. At its heart is a glorious melody, delicately escalating along with Rhett’s delivery of the title towards a barely inflected emotional apogee in the chorus. “FM on the radio” is a near tautology, but everything is so warm it feels like a vivid detail.
[7]

Iain Mew: I kept trying to work out what the guitar bits remind me of and I got there in the end — “Band on the Run”! Together with the organ hum and Rhett’s voice, it’s so expansive and luxurious it’s enough to make his can’t-control-myself approach to seduction sound kind of charming.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I wonder if Rhett even realizes that he’s totally working a 1980 Eddie Rabbitt vibe on this, the best single he’s ever cut. It’s that smooth post-Urban Cowboy sound, sweetened guitars and electric pianos, and a vocal that makes it all go down as smooth as a shot of Crown Royal. 
[9]

Crystal Leww: Thomas Rhett is goofy sweet in “Make Me Wanna,” toeing the line with corny but just genuinely so sincerely enamored that it’s forgiven. I appreciate that he describes her as intoxicating, that she distracts him from driving properly, that he zooms off on the “wanna” without really ever describing what he actually does want to do, and even that weird dance breakdown in the second verse. He just sounds like a cute little country boyfriend who’s trying hard, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
[6]

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence – The Hanging Tree

And that’s it for Roy. I said “sort of”…


[Video]
[3.69]

Katherine St Asaph: The Hunger Games franchise is a wildly successful triumph of having its cake and feasting on its profits too. There’s the teen-dystopia trick of presenting a world that’s at once so unquestionably broken that any sane person would cheer on its Ragnarok (conveniently sweeping liberals, conservatives and everyone else smoothly into its box-office take) and the sort of world in which the audience proxy becomes a heroine, a celebrity, and a girl that both Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth profess instant, impossibly romantic, mostly-chaste love for; there’s also the PR element, how The Hunger Games fictionalizes the storyboarding and deliverables of PR relationships and reality plotlines and stirring propaganda films and ad spots — and stirring propaganda folk songs, so (fake-)real in a world so really fake that Panem is moved to action as “The Hanging Tree” is moved to radio for yet another revenue stream. What else do you even make of this? Lawrence’s voice is fine, with a decent folky crackle and knowing weariness; she’s easily as good as Lorde and certainly far better than many indie vocalists of note, and any problems could and would be fixed with Auto Tune (of the Michael Bublé sort) were authenticity not the goal. The strings (which swell too soon) and choral arrangement (with the sops mixed way high) probably appeal to people who felt stirrings of something a little out of time in school choir or church. The language is old-fashioned in a labored way, and the narrative is odd, like maybe it’s been bowdlerized (if you make plans to meet at midnight under a tree in a ballad, you’re either gonna fuck or you’re fuuuuucked); there is something uncomfortable about evoking murders and hangings and maybe implied lynchings for more realness, but what can you do? The remix is stupid, like some ’90s idea of a grafted-on beat, but Avicii has made bank off that exact same brand of stupid, so here we are. “The Hanging Tree” has lasted far longer on the charts than its movie’s peak season, so either someone’s paying its place or all this really does resonate; is this just where we are as a society, how far we strain for something more? Lord knows I get it, considering how much time I spend in anxiety spirals about bits updating and numbers on screens decreasing and “heated” “conversations” about “content,” and lord knows the makers get it even better. It’s so cynical. It works so well.
[5]

Anthony Easton: This is so empty and portends so much, and it just keeps getting worse. The faux folk introduction with the hints at hanging are offensive in how they ignore history — I know we are all sick of conversations about white people appropriating black culture, but is there a worse example than how this hints and flirts with narratives of grotesque lynching? That slight buzzing around the 45-second line is intended to make the simple singing of Lawrence gain gravitas, but that line takes over, just as her limited voices gnaw in repetitive annoyance. The chorus begins, and it sounds like one of those attempts to add meaning through volume, the kind of clumsy mistake first-year liturgics scholars make. But nothing is worse than when the chorus drops off and we have that string swelling into rapturously absurd nonsense. For a wide variety of reasons, the Hunger movies are toxic, but considering how much weight this puts on so little work, this is a highlight of a blank sigil.
[0]

Megan Harrington: I think there’s a sort of automatic resentment that surfaces when actors — particularly women — attempt making music. Actors are inherently inauthentic; the more artificial and constructed they are, the more they succeed within their medium. Musicians are supposed to be the exact opposite, showing us their most deconstructed and pure selves. Further, it’s obnoxious that an individual should be so spoiled with wealth generating talents; even if fame isn’t technically a zero sum game, there’s a sense that if an actor has a hit record she stole that position from an otherwise deserving musician. That might be true, but Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t deserve the particular vitriol that’s accompanied Billboard ascent of “The Hanging Tree.” What Lawrence lacks as a singer she makes up for with acting, letting her voice go low and crackle to hit the appropriate emotional stakes. The song is both slight and cinematic, meant to fit inside a much larger narrative, a single illustration in a long storybook. Its chart success is both threatening and incidental; nobody’s fault and indicative of a serious problem with the formula. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: Louder. LOUDER!
[2]

Cédric Le Merrer: And lo, the Fellowship arrived at the audition and sang “Cups”, using Gimli’s helm as a prop, but neither President Donald Sutherland nor the All-Father Odin turned their seat to face them. Having already been tired of solemn a capellas by a dwarf song many The Hobbit movies ago, host Yoda signified the director to turn the lights back on. “Not the right stage for this shit pop music is.”
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: #AMERICANA and Hans Zimmer-style garbage scores will kill us all.
[3]

David Sheffieck: This is a weird one, a civil rights anthem for a fantasy world that’s getting some notice and has an incredibly strange remix that drains it of all poignancy. But how much meaning does it have to begin with? The phrase, “The Hanging Tree” could mean any number of things in the world of The Hunger Games, but it means only one thing in the U.S., and it’s both something that’s been addressed in song much more powerfully than this and something the country hasn’t come to terms with even now. So I listen to “The Hanging Tree” and I feel uncomfortable, but it’s less about the feelings it actually creates and more about the feelings it evokes: of songs and struggles and terrors that long predate it, of a terrible world that’s many times worse than the fantasy one it inhabits because it’s a real one. I don’t know what it says that people are embracing this song, and I’m not sure I want to. It gets a [5] because I don’t know whether that’s a fault with me, or the song, or if they’re inseparable; and because it’s certainly a well-crafted track, regardless of what that craft has resulted in.
[5]

Crystal Leww: “The Hanging Tree” was written by The Lumineers, which like, yeah, that makes sense. I never thought that I’d say this, but I kind of wish that those faux-folksters had sung this instead. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress, but she’s not a singer, and this sounds listless: a symbol without the feeling, a chant without the conviction.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: The remix is awkward — a shuffling dance track anchored by mournful invitations to die with a lover, sure! — but at least it’s lively. The original version probably works in the context of a movie, but ripped from that its just string-guided boredom, and begs for anything to liven it up. 
[3]

Will Adams: This gossamer, dirge-y original certainly works better than the truly bizarre Rebel remix (which sounds like “Tom’s Diner” For Dummies) that’s been getting radio spins. Still, Lawrence sings like she’s trying to open her mouth as little as possible, and divorced from its cinematic context, “The Hanging Tree” is musical puffery, unimportant and uninteresting.
[4]

Ashley Ellerson: I doubt Jennifer Lawrence had much to do with “The Hanging Tree” (or rather its remix) becoming a radio single because it doesn’t sound re-recorded to make her voice ring stronger. Lawrence is no singer, but in the context of the film, that is no issue. As with most protest and revolution songs, the lyrics are repetitive so supporters can easily commit them to memory. My initial reaction was a long eye roll when I heard this on the radio, but it speaks volumes to fans of the series and youth worldwide. In a time of social unrest around the globe, the kids need an anthem that transcends fiction.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Jennifer Lawrence leads this epic admirably, but Scarlett Johansson would have done a better job with it. Nonetheless, the quality of the production does not fall on deaf ears, and the Celtic Woman landscape in “The Hanging Tree” is not a downside. Probably not a song for the weak of heartstrings, however.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I first heard this song on the radio — introduced as “a new single from the latest Hunger Games movie, sung by Jennifer Lawrence” — and the experience was a nauseating one. The song’s reverberations with “Strange Fruit” felt very strong to me, and then it felt weird and gross that a song about lynching should be coming out in this day and age as sung by Jennifer Lawrence and in service to the marketing of a blockbuster movie, which has been furthermore infamously criticized as having a whitewashed cast (as per usual). I researched it a bit more, and some people are saying that this song is an attempt to harken back to old American folk tunes about damned men — more of a ghost story or a folk tale that has reverberations throughout history. However tidy this explanation of intent is, one must look at the aural narrative  that it’s being placed into. I can’t handle hearing this song sandwiched in-between Drake and Beyoncé and Meaghan Trainor and Iggy Azalea. This cultural moment that we are at right now is fraught with tension; the political discourse is more present; the LIVING HISTORY that we are in right now is a continual unfolding of pain and horror, and amongst it all, we have Jennifer Lawrence singing a twee song about a strange hanging tree. The song could be appropriate, even welcome, if it had an entirely different set of hands creating it. As it stands, it rings false.
[1]

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Indiana – Only the Lonely

You guessed it, it’s Sort Of Roy Orbison Day! Apologies to Motels stans…


[Video][Website]
[6.11]

Alfred Soto: Not as sharp or lonely as the Motels or Rob Orbison, or as energetic as “Solo Dancing,” this settles for a dull midtempo churn: Chairlift without the hooks.
[4]

Cédric Le Merrer: Indiana’s “Solo Dancing” was maybe the loneliest sound of last year. Things experienced alone, even cathartic dancing, are generally muted affairs, like a musicless music video. And like “Heart On Fire” proved, Indiana’s better at evoking loneliness than passion, even a desperate one. So this new track goes back to loneliness, but tries to pull the trick of making an anthem for people who will never sing it together. Imagine a more animated version of the ending song in Magnolia. It walks a fine line between a song for the club and all those would-be anthems anchored by big plodding bass drums that have been fashionable since Arcade Fire switched indie rock’s favorite pronoun to “we”. And it makes a better case for this marriage than Avicii does. Not calling up a crowd of backup singers for the chorus was smart. So what we end up with is a kind of one person-sized anthem, with lyrics about multitudes seemingly sung just for you, and a beat that’ll never fill a floor bigger than your apartment’s.
[8]

Anthony Easton: The trick behind “Solo Dancing” was to make an act that seemed lonely sound self-directed enough that it refused anything close to that reading. This perfect Pet Shop Boys-infused ode to urban ennui cashes in all of the chips she earned for that trick and pushes them in the exact opposite direction. A perfect one-two punch, minus a couple of points for being just a little bit expected. 
[8]

Iain Mew: I loved the similar conceit in Fiona Bevan’s “Us and the Darkness” — insomniacs linked together in their solitariness — and making the bond one between the lonely is better yet. It’s much more of a soft focus mood piece than either of Indiana’s previous singles, but the mood is just right for singing about being lost and far away and the idea is strong enough that it doesn’t need more.
[8]

Will Adams: The chorus begins to approximate “Time After Time,” then falls off a cliff. Meanwhile, Indiana is swallowed by the reverbed-to-all-hell synthscape, and suddenly her plaint of “Why can’t anybody hear me?” makes total sense.
[5]

Ashley Ellerson: I seriously thought this was Ellie Goulding, and I kind of feel bad about that, but Indiana makes it difficult to distinguish herself in the lonely pop game with this.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: She’s never going to make another “Solo Dancing,” is she?
[3]

Dorian Sinclair: The lyrical ideas expressed here are nothing new, but there’s a fragmentedness to the lines that really underscores the vulnerability. Indiana doesn’t need to tell us we’re lost (though she does) — the sound of the song drives that point home very effectively, all echoes and spare harmonies. I’m also struck by the brief instrumental segment after the bridge, leading into the final chorus; it’s unexpected, but all the more impactful because of that. It feels like a response to the bridge’s “Why can’t anybody see me?” — after Indiana’s question trails off, the music surges as if to suggest that maybe we are seeing her after all. It’s a small moment, but one that makes the song a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be.
[7]

Moses Kim: There are so many good details here. There are the little strands of background melody twisting around the plaintive longing in Indiana’s voice; the percussion thumping just a smidgen harder every eight measures; that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the bridge where all sound cuts out, a breath held just before plunging back into a ocean of warm synths and thundering drums; the little coos drawn out in that last chorus. If this is a song about loneliness, it is also a song about solidarity, about warmth found in the layers of shared experience.
[8]

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Stig – Roy Orbison

All the rage these days…


[Video]
[5.67]

Katherine St Asaph: The most fun had with this subject since Roy Orbison in Clingfilm.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The dolorous, authoritative voice suggests John Grant as Kaiser Wilhelm, and the synth chimes recall mid eighties Hall and Oates. Damned if I know what Roy Orbison has to do with it all — maybe to hint that he would have sung Eurofestival pop?
[5]

Megan Harrington: What “Roy Orbison” most reminds me of is Peter Schilling’s 1983 hit “Major Tom (Coming Home),” a dance song with a familiar titular character. Schilling released a translated version of his German original, but you could get a basic sense of the plot from hearing the way he moved “Major Tom” through the song. It’s clearly dramatic and the persistent synths suggest some measure of peril. “Roy Orbison,” by contrast, is a little sleazy and tied to nightlife. There’s a cheap tinniness to Stig’s synths, like well vodka and soda water, and a particular 4 A.M. weariness. While lyrics translations exist, they’re a bit crooked and “Roy Orbison” is speaking two languages simultaneously. If you don’t understand Finnish, listen to the way the song travels and you’ll hear all its settings and learn all its characters. 
[7]

Anthony Easton: I keep hearing “I eat your coq au vin” which is almost as anti-Roy Orbison a statement as the limp electronic decoration offered here. Imagine the aching want if you combine Moroder with “Crying,” and hear the disappointment when this happens.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: They’re vocalling that corny-ass Drive soundtrack I see.
[2]

Madeleine Lee: Whenever I run into the words “viral music video” directly in the name of the music video, my response is skepticism — back in my day, you just posted your fanfiction about wrapping Roy Orbison in cling film on the internet and assumed no one was looking, get off my lawn, etc. But I can see why this song would inspire that kind of confidence: there’s the cheap thrill of turning a famous person’s name into a nonsensical hook — delivered, of course, with the correct steely deadpan voice — but I replay it for the way the syncopation in the chorus snags on the synth bounces just right.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Lacking the exploitative biographical jukebox musical that someone has got to write, an eponymous song quoting a famous line will do. That it comes translated is curious, at least from an English-native perspective. Taken from its original language and melody, the reference is almost irrelevant. It might resonate more in Finland, but without the language the song is just benignly catchy electropop with a gimmick unfulfilled.
[6]

Will Adams: Angular and fluorescent, “Roy Orbison” is its own Rainbow Road theme, with a power-up chorus lurking at every turn.
[7]

W.B. Swygart: Chief ingredients: dude who pronounces Orbison with five Rs and four Ns; synths that suggest a shopping mall lit entirely by pink and green neon and consisting solely of branches of H&M and vending machines that sell cans of purple tears with Nietzsche’s face on them. Yeah, you can stay.
[7]

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Faith No More – Motherfucker

Epic…


[Video][Website]
[3.92]

Madeleine Lee: I appreciate that some people have been waiting for this for 18 years, and I hope this is what they were waiting for. To me it sounds like these guys just thought it was cool and daring to say “motherfucker” a lot.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I didn’t grow up listening to Faith No More, though you would figure that it would be exactly my demographic. In fact, this is my first Faith No More track. I really like the whispering vocals near the end, more than the drill sergeant litany of world disasters in the beginning. The rest of it felt grinding and relentless, maybe in my withering state, I have lost all my hardcore energy. 
[4]

Megan Harrington: I don’t know about you, maybe you’re already approaching 50, maybe you’ve outlived it, but I sincerely hope for myself that when I’m Mike Patton’s age now I’ve outgrown the dizzy thrill of screaming “MUH-THER-FUCK-ER” like some kind of middle-aged rebel badass. If I don’t have too much sympathy for Patton (in fact, I have none), I do understand that it’s a confusing path to forge — advancing your art as your age advances you. But that’s the bare minimum of his job requirements, so raging like it’s ’93 is a particularly pitiful regression. 
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Yes, Mike Patton, we get it, you have Tourette’s. Pretty much everything he’s done in the interim since the last music from FNM has been more interesting than this, which doesn’t really seem to have any reason for existing. It’s dull rock “enlivened” only by its repetition of the title word. *yawn*
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: Far from vituperative, the titular salutation feels very pleasant: the catchiest part of the song. “Hello Faith No More, yes, that is to whom you are speaking, what assistance do you require?” Of course that part is unclear, to say the least. The foie gras metaphor makes a certain kind of sense, but beyond it they seem to have the wrong number. Most disappointing, though, is the unfulfilled promise of the perpetually primed drums. Perhaps that’s just a statement on being sold a lie.
[4]

Hazel Robinson: I thought for a minute this might be a Patton-ception cover of the Peeping Tom/Norah Jones Sucker but err, sadly not. If I was a teenager, there’s no way the pubescent swearing here would suck me in as much as (ironically, possibly) the tales of mid-life suburban misery that do a little bit of same thing, musically, on Angel Dust. It’s inevitable to compare this to the back catalogue it’s stacked on and it pains me slightly to say that this is, essentially, The Neighbourhood with a profanisaurus.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Sorry, no time to review, working out how to do a mash-up of this and “Uncle Fukka” from the South Park movie and reminding myself that this band used to kick serious ass.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Beloved by my peers, they haven’t troubled my imagination since the afternoon a cashier, face purple with sorrow, refused to sell me Angel Dust – the first and last time someone took a PMRC label seriously around me. Twenty-two years later it pleases me to think that “Motherfucker” might sound no different from what Angel Dust offered: symphonic grandeur with curse words tossed in.
[4]

Brad Shoup: There is a very particular type of dude — who needs to calm the fuck down — really into all the Stations of the Patton. As Whiney noted, most of ‘em are here. My fav is always gonna be the tunefulness of “Epic” and “From Out of Nowhere,” but second’s gotta be Patton’s cultivated sense of timbre. He’s not afraid to dry-hump studio space. He’s also not afraid to let those backing vocals wrestle this gruff, constipated track into the realm of grandiosity. It’s all cabaret.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If Mike Patton had any precedents when he was unleashed as a whirling dervish of eccentric eclecticism, it’d probably be Frank Zappa. Amongst the alternative metal mutants birthed at the closing of the millennium, he was like a bunch of crass Tex Avery puns tourettically rupturing through his operatic vocal swells. And where his musical travels would proceed further and further into abstract territories (FNM begat the Zorn-thrash of Mr. Bungle, and then the dada-terror of Fantômas and the billions of side-projects beyond that), Faith No More remained a place where he struck to pop-metal traddishness. However, the boys in Faith No More are now in 2015, where their humor has gotten overripe. “Motherfucker” isn’t just kind of a generic thud compared to their perfect pomposity, it’s ruined because Mike’s devolved into a gigantic (in your best theatrical baritone) “PULL MY FIIIIINGER, DUUUUUDE.” Sometimes one should let sleeping dogs lie.
[2]

Moses Kim: The instrumental build-up is sharp — tropes of American patriotism twisted into bitter sarcasm — but the spoken word verses choke on their own self-satisfaction, and the punchline is disappointingly weak.
[4]

Josh Winters: Like if the Soft Pink Truth’s latest came bundled with a pack of Benadryl.
[4]

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Jennifer Rostock – Kaleidoskop

Like if Portishead had somehow ended up being called Beth Poole…


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The result of how Chuck Klosterman was always so gleeful to inform us that Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone” was “totally a FREAKIN’ Crue song, maaan!” I’m using “metal rules” for this so let’s see: Solo’s trash, no riffs, drums is wild basic, keyboards attempting subs instead of just power metal “LEMME PLAY THE CLASSICAL BITS TO SOUND EPIC” thing, guest vocalist is trash and Jennifer is a perfect pop singer using metal as a vehicle. Nothing wrong with that, Freddie Mercury made fake metal too; so did the aforementioned Crue and many others. But it doesn’t have to be meh just because its fake.
[4]

Megan Harrington: As a critic, I suppose I would say this is competent pop-metal. As a listener, I begged my critic self to let me turn “Kaleidoskop” off before the halfway point because it’s so boring and too loud. 
[5]

Anthony Easton: This was less metal and less grindy in subsequent listens, and defintely has some Eurobosh somewhere in its DNA — sort of like what happened if an Evanescence clone was raised in Germany instead of the United States. 
[6]

Brad Shoup: Punk rawk clang leavened with a healthy helping of Euro fantasy existentialism on the refrain. Jennifer Weist ravages the text, and she bops right along with the guitars, and I guess that’s something.
[5]

Hazel Robinson: I didn’t realise there was a vein of stuff to tap between rockabilly-revival and nu-metal and I kind of really want to applaud Jennifer for finding it but also this is unfortunately not very exciting, no matter how amazing her shoulder pads are.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The hair trigger intensity of Bricks are Dead-era L7, with the sludge sludgier and the bludgeon harder.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: You build a simple but catchy song, but then invite some dude to growl over it and turn it silly. 
[4]