Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Sistar – I Like That

Here ends our day of saying how we feel…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Moses Kim: I do like that!
[9]

Alfred Soto: A fruitylicious ode to “Toxic”-era Britney with electric guitar riffs, horns, sampled bubbles, and call and response vocals, courtesy of one of South Korea’s best girl groups.
[7]

Madeleine Lee: From the year when “Alone” was everywhere, I have one enduring association with the song: taking an elevator in Seoul with a woman who pressed play on her phone just before the doors opened, then strutted out to the wah guitar intro blasting freely. Sistar have been pumping out the bright yellow summer jams for the last few years, but their legacy is still songs about the complexities of being a woman in love that you can strut to. With its honking sax riff, no-nonsense beat, and equally no-nonsense lyrics (“I resent God for meeting you”), “I Like That” is a little bit of both.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: What arrives after the build is not an onslaught of sax as I anticipated but one deep, delightful bass line. “I Like That” thrives on sharp turns amidst all that fluff, and the bass slap gives the hook a needed push. It’s a rather subtle thing to throw in, but it makes all the difference.
[6]

Brad Shoup: That stutter effect threatens to refine the focus to a sharp point. It’s still rapid as hell, but it doesn’t zip. It’s like “Toxic” formulated for hip-hop, which maybe explains why the rap insinuates itself so well.
[6]

Cassy Gress: It’s an obvious stylistic choice — for a song about “you said you love me and I don’t believe you but I really want to” — to have a big dreamy musical moment on the actual words “I like/love you.” The problem is that it breaks up the song too much; it goes from a great club beat, somewhere around 150 BPM, to homecoming dance at sevveennttyy fiiiiiiiiive and then we’re bouncing at 150 again. And it does that in every single chorus — how are you supposed to actually dance to that part?
[5]

Adaora Ede: The teaser images and videos for “I Like That” implied that K-pop summer queens Sistar might play with some darker themes. What I hoped for slightest flirtation with the deconstruction of Sino-Korean stereotypes through the gaze of Orientalism. What I got was a summer song. Much to the chagrin of both the Korean public and I, Sistar did decide to forgo the serviceable bubblegum pop sound for proto-nightcore-cum-brassbeat, which isn’t as interesting as it sounds. “I Like That” does contain the inner workings of that of your typical Sistar track: Hyolyn’s noteworthy vocal acrobatics, Soyou’s airily sung verses, Bora’s call-and-response stanzas, Dasom’s apparent lack of involvement in anything-. But it harks back to a more lavish musical time in K-pop. 2009-2012, when songs focused more on structure than trend. As Starship Entertainment does best, the veil of supposed glamour over “I Like That” is so easily cheapened and dated by sax flares and canned handclaps.
[5]

Iain Mew: I have to appreciate a song with a backdrop that covers honking sax, distant nu-metal guitar chug and an echoed ‘ehhhhhhh’ reflecting off into the silver distance and makes them sound a natural fit. Even one which doesn’t do much with the results apart from plant its chorus in my mind.
[6]

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It

“It” being “…it’s okay, I guess??”…


[Video][Website]
[5.91]

Alfred Soto: The beats match the singer’s inadvisable obsession and masochism. “Break my bed to make me want to stay,” she moans.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: If you believe pop, the entire straight female population is faltering FWBs with indifferent sadists, which given the state of today’s passionless millennial male may well become true. It’s easy to fault Flume and others for becoming famous for endless songs, presented interchangeably, of girls pouring themselves prostrate before guys who do nothing, but women write these songs and women connect. In music and maybe life, at least a quarter of women’s masochistic narratives are really about longing for some expression, even temporary, of unmediated, uncalculating desire, and settling for an insincere physical simulation. Tove knows; aside from the beginning, a flurry of piano notes and telecom feedback like the bridge of Disclosure’s “Control”, Flume’s production wisely stays out of the way of her voice, crystalline against a dark backdrop and so shimmering it’s painful. It’s a real-time moment of clarity that goes nowhere; the key resolves as her relationship does the opposite. That synth guitar wail must be Flume’s own urges getting out, those ’80s infatuations.
[7]

Will Adams: Tove Lo’s appeal had always eluded me, and now I know why: the setting for her edge-for-edge’s-sake musings were always cloudy. In “Say It,” it’s stormy — Flume’s percussion remains the key to his productions, simultaneously skittery and aggressive. “Let me fuck you right back” is a tough line to sell; here it’s given proper weight.
[7]

Iain Mew: It’s a sign of how much I enjoy Flume’s production work on his album that its most conventionally song-focused tracks tend to be my least favourites. It’s a function of the songs though, of course — AlunaGeorge’s last single was heightened by a smattering of his more extreme sounds and “Never Be Like You” at least fore-fronted a good song. This one is unremarkable even by Tove Lo standards and leaves Flume sounding on autopilot too.
[4]

Katie Gill: For someone who had two hits that were exceedingly “eh,” Tove Lo’s appearing in other people’s songs at an astronomical rate. This song continues her trend of songs that are just okay, though it’s hampered by an atrocious beat during the chorus and Tove Lo’s bad habit of ignoring the fact that singing needs emotion.
[3]

Brad Shoup: Maybe you can stay so sad forever, I dunno. Tove Lo contributes a lyric that’s completely in her range; but this time, she’s dancing with the feel-anything spirit that made “Habits”. It makes this more playful; it shifts the power. Flume’s heightening synths and rug-pulling drums help her out.
[7]

Crystal Leww: Flume is usually pretty one-note for me, but there are a few moments of brilliance on Skin, including “Say It.” I love that Tove Lo lets the words tumble out of her mouth on the verses, right before that killer of a chorus that echoes and clangs and fills up the space. The beautiful thing about the death of EDM is how it has splintered and fractured into a million little directions. This is gorgeously intimate while still sounding huge. 
[9]

William John: The volatility of tempo in Flume songs — constantly pushing forth and pulling back, twitching and jerking — is becoming less a curious oddity and more a dull habit. In one section of “Say It” handclaps threaten acceleration and climax, but the spasmodic synths, heavy as concrete, always get their way. Call me when there’s a remix with a donk on it.
[4]

Cassy Gress: This song sounds like a malfunctioning HVAC system, and it boasts a chorus that they wrote half the lyrics to and then stretched across eight bars. Tove Lo sings the verses and pre-chorus with silences of no more than two beats, but the chorus is full of huge vocal silences where Flume zoops and boings. She doesn’t mesh with the song well enough for it to seem like a proper back and forth.
[3]

Tim de Reuse: The swooping, noisy stop-start of the chorus is aggressive and infectious, but everything else feels spread a bit too thin: the vocalist finds a comfort zone above a pleasantly fuzzy synth chord patch, and most of the song’s four minutes are spent circling around this point. It’s a competent vibe, but it’s just not the kind of Daft Punkian earworm masterpiece that can hold together repeated for four minutes without moving in any particular direction.
[5]

Will Rivitz: Flume is frustratingly inconsistent — about half of his discography is absolute madness and about half is milquetoast as all get-out. “Say It,” thankfully, is part of the half that makes me continue to gush about him whenever a friend brings him up. It oozes sex — there’s the obvious “Bite me babe/You make me love the pain/Break my bed, to make me wanna stay,” but there’s also that gorgeous, stuttering half-time beat and those trash-can tom rolls which accentuate one of the most gyroscopic choruses of the year. Tove Lo’s voice tends to fit silky-smooth pop-house better than Flume’s weepy hip-hop beats, but she snaps in when the pre-chorus cascades into an enormous dead spot right as it climaxes. The verses are kinda forgettable, but the chorus is everything I could ever want from a Flume song, so it very much outweighs the drab atmosphere of the rest of the song. Essential music for parties with more body mass than empty space.
[9]

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Demi Lovato – Body Say

Lukewarm for the summer…


[Video][Website]
[5.10]

Iain Mew: It’s time for more mind-body duality! Demi Lovato goes for the more traditional roles in the conflict than Ellie Goulding, in so far as she includes any conflict at all — this is three minutes of her body saying “let’s go” but at a careful distance backed up only by one line about her mind saying maybe not. It doesn’t help that the sound is like a coyer version of “Cool for the Summer” too.
[5]

Katie Gill: Just how long CAN Demi stretch out her “Cool for the Summer” image? At least one mediocre, aggressively sexy summer single more.
[5]

Anthony Easton: This is made sexier by the coolness of the vocal delivery, and the gorgeous scattering beats. It sounds current, like exactly what pop should sound like in 2016, expect maybe a minute too long. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Doesn’t it suck when your mean ol’ brain gets in the way of your libido? Sucks for music, anyway, because this holds back everything “Cool for the Summer” didn’t.
[4]

Alfred Soto: As “Cool for the Summer” looks like an anomaly, it’s becoming easier to yawn through another bout of simulated passion. Part of the problem is Lovato’s reluctance to commit: when she sings, “I want your sex” she could be ordering the valet to bring her Benz around.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: As Demi Lovato releases more singles, I’m afraid that “Cool for the Summer” may have been an exception.”Body Say” aims to be a follow up of it, but also a follow up of Selena Gomez’s “Good for You,” which was also co-produced and co-written by Sir Nolan. “Cool for the Summer” was all about a playful sexy secret, but in “Body Say” the secrecy is left aside to show herself completely surrendered. While Selena Gomez completely embraced that surrender to the point in which she was accused of objectifying herself, Demi Lovato simply can’t give in so passively. While I enjoy that she is trying new material, she has erased her passionate signature and filled the void with quiet vocals that sound perfectly controlled, slightly sensual and far from being emotional or challenging in any way. 
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: A year ago, Demi wanted to reveal her entire hand right away. Now she wants us to slowly peel the layers. She loses some instant recognition by holding back from kicking it overdrive, but this game of restraint is a give and take. Though it might lack color and immediacy, she offers much more space to let the song grow. After a quick peak and burn out of Confident, this might be worth exploring.
[6]

Will Rivitz: It’s a half-baked “Into You,” but since the latter is one of the best songs of the year this gets marked up a touch for good source material.
[5]

Cassy Gress: What is the word “dreamland” doing in this song about craving steamy sex? “Dreamland” is a word for Lullaby Renditions of 90s Adult Contemporary Hits, Vol. 3, now available to own on cassette and CD, not for this throb of a Zayn response.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Lovato takes a voice vote; caution wins. It wins in a landslide: the intro speaks of Fifth Harmony’s “Work” but it’s quickly muffled. The bass pins the keyboard sheets to the ground. Lovato’s harmonies are a gimmick: barely registered, and still too distracting from the conflict she needs room to sell.
[5]

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Carlos Vives & Shakira – La Bicicleta

For Colombia…


[Video][Website]
[6.29]

Cassy Gress: An adorable Colombia-to-Spain love letter, perfect for breezy bike rides and drifting off on beautiful thirds.
[7]

Will Adams: Love to Colombia forever, but I have to imagine a pairing like Carlos and Shaki could have resulted in something far more interesting than this. “La Bicicleta” is so 50 per cent that choices that I would otherwise raise an eyebrow at — namely the Auto-Tuned Shakira towards the end — serve as a welcome diversion from the leaden arrangement and clunky chorus.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: They’ve both produced much more vital music over their long careers, but if there are any two Colombians who deserve to rest on their laurels with a beachy vallenato-cum-reggaetón summer hit, it’s these two. Points deducted for being practically hookless, but when a groove’s that good who cares.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: What a boring song. Only the bridge shows something the rest of the song can’t: a little bit of dynamics. The rest are empty verses with stretched out words to fill the time and a chorus that doesn’t let neither Shakira or Carlos Vives stand out. 
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: This is supposed to be a national showcase, and while Vives has had success in his own right, what impresses me most is how well he matches his far more famed compatriot. Shakira’s voice is such a singular one, slicing through the arrangement, that to sound like you belong on the track with her is an achievement in itself. “La Bicicleta” yearns with a romanticism that is not sentimental — is this the vallenato? The headliners pull one another into the fray.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares: So refreshing to hear Shakira bringing back her Barranquilla accent and playing a perfect 50-50 match with Carlos Vives — she generally outshines everyone in duets — for a track that honors that Colombian tradition of sounding both sensual and tongue-in-cheek. That subpar reggaetón beat is the big objection here; the ideal scenario would be a Bicicleta that engages in full vallenato mode. You gotta love that accordion. 
[6]

Peter Ryan: Probably the most comprehensively she’s ever tried to rep her hometown in song; as noted, probably in equal measure a shameless stab at Song of the Summer for as many Spanish-language markets as possible; definitely maybe inspired by this tourism ad. This could have been an awkward homecoming: the global superstar returning after a long absence to co-opt a bit of Vives’s local hero cachet. But Shakira’s a master at adapting her instrument to her setting, and she’s generously understated as a duet partner here. In return Vives is such a congenial presence that she can’t help sounding at home, like they’ve actually been writing back-and-forth for ages planning this get-together; of course life/schedules/being famous got in the way but he kept her updated on what’s the same and what’s changed about home and now that they’ve made time it’s so nice to hang out, check out old haunts, just ride some bikes. It’s genuine uncomplicated comfort. I just wish she’d left Piqué out of it.
[8]

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap – All in My Head (Flex)

Limited flex zone…


[Video][Website]
[4.89]

Ryo Miyauchi: They rode trends only to steal the show. They turned hash tags into legit songs. They even dealt with groan-inducing guests. But this take on lite-reggae? For one, who knew what the group lacked to truly impress was a barely-there Fetty Wap verse? And the members make best use of words they probably would not actually say to flex. (Camila, a little too much.) “So tongue-in-cheek when we’re laying on roses”? Fifth Harmony deserved more for their radio single than this.
[5]

Katie Gill: Aw Fifth Harmony. I actually liked “Write On Me” and was hoping that it might make a turn-around for y’all. But then you release this, a generic sexy song featuring Mr. I Can’t Open My Mouth When I Sing aka Fetty Wap. “Work From Home” was better than this and “Work From Home” was terrible. It’s a bizarre combination of singers performing half-assed reggae. And I don’t know WHAT on Earth is up with Camila’s voice when she sings her verse but it’s so obnoxiously nasal that it threw me out of any sort of party or sexy mood I could possibly have been in.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Blame or thank the summerfication of all pop music for this song that makes sex sound like something relaxing to do on a public beach chair in a sarong and espadrilles, no matter how many curtains and dimmed lights and rose petals and Hollywood boudoir setpieces they claim are around. It’s better if you accept it as that, rather than anything trying to be seductive.
[6]

Alfred Soto: In which Fifth Harmony compete with Demi Lovato for the Cool For Whatever Award, i.e. who can sing the most listless sex jam.
[2]

Iain Mew: Not really Fifth Harmony’s fault that I listen to this and get pre-occupied by the realisation that we should have scheduled it against the new Wonder Girls single. A bit more their fault that they get so totally outshone by Fetty Wap just continuing to be Fetty Wap to the max (imagine how good he would sound on “Why So Lonely”).
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: The skank is appreciated, but when it only gets as dutty as Fetty swallowing the third syllable on “motherfucker,” Stargate’s and Benny Blanco’s fingerprints are much more evident than Mad Cobra’s.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: The skank is rough enough to be intriguing, especially with Fetty Wap’s sing-song flow making the case for recasting Fifth Harmony as nouveau rocksteady. Reflection succeeded, mostly, in spite of this group’s tendency to accommodate five members by going bigger; 21st-century American pop is so oriented around individual stars that even a proficient girl group seems out-of-place, like finding a highly anticipated three-camera sit-com on the upcoming fall schedule. “All in My Head (Flex)” suffers for room to breathe, but with its cut-zirconia edges and fake DJ Mustard bass, I suspect the fault lies less in the concept and more in the habitually sterile production team of Stargate. Island-vibes like a resort.
[5]

Adaora Ede: Between this and this, I’ve experienced a brief sense of confusion as to why mainstream America would have let MAGIC’s reggae-lite rise again every time I’ve turned on my radio. Of course, “All In My Head (Flex)” lacks the cringe factor of the latter. Rather than relegate awkward rap verses to themselves, Fifth Harmony enlists the help of hood-but-good (enough for pop) Fetty Wap, who, quite fittingly, rocks dread extensions in the tropo-fantasy music video. At this point, we get it: everything about Fifth Harmony’s music seems overtly deliberate, from the literal lyricism, the featured rapper (who were all indistinguishable to me until they brought in Zoo Wop, tbh), the use of dated dance trends for their beats. Yet “All In My Head (Flex)” entices from beginning to end from the simple temerity that these five girls hold, gliding over vocal runs and harmonies like experts. But if I’m being truthful, [7] of these points come from Lauren’s “I waaanna feel you uun-feel you uuuunder my boooody” line.
[8]

Andy Hutchins: On the heels of their biggest (and arguably best) song, a winking, we’re-all-cool-sex-havers jam featuring one of the hot rappers of the day, Fifth Harmony are back with a we’re-all-cool-sex-havers jam featuring one of the hot rappers of the day. Where “Flex” — a better title for the song had the Cowell/Reid Empire wanted a different, better “trap”/Atlanta rapper, rather than the “trap”/”Atlanta” rapper of the moment — differs from “Work From Home” is in its disappointing lack of creativity. “So tongue-in-cheek when we’re layin’ on roses” passes for innuendo here; everything else is just “have sex with me” sung fairly well. And this is the sort of song that could really have used a second verse substantially differentiated from the first, given how samey the tropical house approach sounds and how phoned-in Fetty’s verse is. The tweak we get instead is the melisma that makes Camila Cabello “that one Fifth Harmony girl” to many. It’s fun and it’s going to be inescapable, but still a missed opportunity on several levels.
[6]

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Dierks Bentley ft. Elle King – Different For Girls

But he’s just a boy…


[Video][Website]
[3.11]

Crystal Leww: I’ve spent a lot of time defending bro-country, especially against charges of misogyny, and even I find this to be total complete utter sexist garbage. 
[0]

Anthony Easton: An absurd piece of gender essentialism, with King singing under Dierks and without Dierks’ usual humour or self-awareness. This is frustrating in a year where country by and for women has gotten shockingly good. 
[2]

Cassy Gress: I had my hopes up at first: Dierks’s first verse nearly sounds like it was sung in the street outside a bar. This song has its heart somewhere near the right place, but there’s a little too much patronizing “girls are fragile and tender-hearted” in here for me; the only line where it steps out of that is Elle’s “she don’t have the luxury to let herself go.” (Some of us do, not necessarily because we’ve earned it, but because we just don’t give enough of a shit about what anyone else thinks of our appearance.) Speaking of Elle getting the one different line, it’s super weird to hear a song about how much it sucks to be a girl in a break-up, sung by a man with a woman harmonizing. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, or at least taking turns? Sounds like Elle knows it, too.
[4]

Katie Gill: I’m glad that Elle King made her way to country. Her brand of Americana was always too raw and unpolished for the pop charts — the fact that “Ex’s and Oh’s” got as big as it did honestly surprised the hell out of me. That being said, I’m sorry she’s stuck with Dierks Bentley, a country singer whose main distinction is that his name is Dierks. I’m also sorry that she’s stuck on a song that’s the preachy and half-assed result of Dierks reading the final essay from his daughter’s Gender and Sexuality 101 class.
[3]

Alfred Soto: One of those lists set to music in which we learn girls don’t throw any ol’ t-shirt on and walk to a bar, don’t text their friends to say, “I gotta get laid tonight” (as if Dierks Bentley hasn’t written songs about picking up girls in bars), and “can’t just switch it off every time they feel something.” The spacious mix and restrained picking are lovely; it’s a pretty song. Not as good as Joe Jackson’s “It’s Different for Girls,” though. I suppose he thought persuading Elle King, who is, Dierks was told, a woman, gave him cover. I guess co-writer Shane McAnally wanted to forget he’s helped Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves come up with their own refutations. Wrong and wrong.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: The lyric is so naïve it’s adorable. (Have the writers never heard “Habits”? Surely they’ve heard “Mama’s Broken Heart,” considering Shane McAnally wrote the damn thing.) The arrangement is so hackily stirring it’s hilarious.
[2]

Brad Shoup: Bentley’s verse-in-hand readings suggest a man splitting the difference until he can pick a side. Is he quietly chuckling about how good he’s got it? Is he just blowing his buds’ minds? The addition of King implies he’s sharing absolute truth; the doleful cello confirms it. After a couple of singles that were practically cartoonish in their consumption, King going glum next to Bentley’s knowing nuzzles is an unwelcome change. The track paddles in place thanks to a nice array of preening, crying guitars. Shane McAnally’s confounding 2016 continues.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Love the way Dierks’ voice sounds with female support, as with “Bourbon in Kentucky.” Also love the fast-moving storm clouds of the strings. The song’s a leaden third-person mope though, even if you take it as a monologue from one girl rather than a statement meant to be taken literally for all girls.
[5]

Will Rivitz: I would go ahead and pan this song, as I imagine most of my compatriots are doing, but three things stop me: 1) This is Dierks Bentley, whose “Drunk On A Plane” is one of my favorite songs of any genre, so automatic bonus points for that. 2) This is country, a genre which produced “God Made Girls” as a legitimate attempt to talk about gender, so all things considered this isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. 3) I know this is a mildly patronizing view, but bless his little heart, Dierks is really trying his best to argue that gender parity doesn’t exist yet, even in the context of something as frivolous as a night out. Like, obviously a lot of what he’s saying is regressive and uncomfortable, but this seems like it’s coming from a genuine place instead of a malicious one. It feels less like the casual nice-guy misogyny from guys like Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett and more like a song from a guy who’s just had his eyes pried open a slit to the injustices of the world we live in, and who among us — especially cis straight men like Dierks and myself — haven’t made a couple stumbles in our initial approach to gender equality movements that we’d come to regret later? “Different For Girls” is far from perfect, but if it’s the first step on a long road towards that unattainable perfection, I’ll welcome it with open arms.
[5]

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Round-up, 2016 week 28

Everything we reviewed in the week just gone, in score order:

Come back next week for our reviews of Fifth Harmony, Demi Lovato, Calum Scott’s Robyn cover, Fergie, Jenny Lewis’s supergroup Nice as Fuck, and lots more!

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Twenty One Pilots – Heathens

First they were stressed out, now they’re heathens.


[Video][Website]
[2.71]

Katherine St Asaph: “Stressed Out” remains a goofily likable, underrated track, but the haters were right: by allowing it we allowed worse to come. Tyler Joseph is here to stay, and he shall squeak peace unto the heathens. Bullying is rampant and awful, but addressing it in song is nigh-impossible without being didactic or unintentionally funny — the latter guaranteed when you lead with crusade metaphors. The moment I stopped taking this seriously was pretty much 0:01. The moment I realized I’d never take it seriously is when I started singing it to “All My Friends.”
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Take the least energetic Eminem song you can think of, crank it down to about half-speed, and strip it of creativity. There’s no doubt in my mind that Twenty One Pilots are, artistically (and commercially) speaking, 2016’s Limp Bizkit.
[0]

Alfred Soto: Besides Drake, I thought fun’s Nate Ruess had the most insufferable voice in pop. Glad Tyler Joseph (is that really his name? It can’t be) relieved him of the title and the vocoder rental.
[2]

Joshua Copperman: First they “have problems,” and now they’re nonbelievers — with friends like Tyler Joseph, who needs enemies? I like the turn of phrase “our brains will change from hand grenades,” but orchestral bombast aside, this is basically the pre-chorus of “Stressed Out” stretched into a full song, with lyrics copied and pasted from everything else they’ve ever done.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: This fresh cut off “Suicide Squad: The Album,” a star-studded compilation that absolutely nobody asked for, is lyrically more tolerable than its cinematic raison d’etre only because that particular bar has been placed center-of-the-earth low. It’s the exhausted trope of mental illnesses as edgy superpowers played absolutely straight, which is to say played like it’s the coolest thing in the world. The good: for about two-thirds of it, I can tune out the lyrics and pretend I’m listening to a competent Massive Attack B-side.
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: They turn the mirror to get a solid point across: those sinners you condemn are people, just like you! They hold it long just enough for us to leave with a good thought. But it ends with what I assume is meant to be a twist ending, and their whole exercise in empathy just feels like an elaborate set pieces leading up to a cheap joke.
[5]

Adaora Ede: Why are all Twenty One Pilots songs about the weird kids that sit at the dark side of the lunch room and still wear “I Heart Boobies” bracelets? The production of this song involves a lot of eerie sounding bleep bloops and probably some guitars or something and surprisingly, it all sounds pretty decent when it comes together, but sometimes I really can’t get over what this Tyler guy is saying. Can I just say that “Ride” was so better anyway, even with the monopolizing rap part?
[3]

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Rihanna – Sledgehammer

Free of Sia?


[Video][Website]
[4.75]

Katie Gill: Sia had a song where she did her best Rihanna, now Rihanna has a song where she does her best Sia. I mean, it’s a great song and Riri’s voice blows this song out of the water. But especially since Sia’s an established artist with an established career, it’s really noticeable when she hands off a half-formed “Titanium” copy to someone else. 
[4]

Joshua Copperman: With “Sledgehammer,” Rihanna jumps from an underwritten Future outtake to an overproduced Sia outtake. And that says something, considering that Sia literally released an album full of outtakes earlier this year. It’s sad, if anything – Anti didn’t perform that badly, did it? 
[3]

Iain Mew: I hadn’t considered that “Pyramid Song”-via-Sia might be a thing that would ever actually exist, never mind that I would want it to, but trust Rihanna to make the weirdest things happen.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Eventually Sia’s dogged dependence on extended metaphor will have to be revealed as a metaphor itself. Is it representative of the way people singing her songs often sound like they’re trying to be her analogue? Is there an implicit ranking between all the different hard things she writes about? Could the choice of a sledgehammer relate to its etymological links to “slay”? Too many questions remain unanswered, but this is satisfactorily straightforward: cinematic in such a way that it successfully eschews a chorus, moody, pensive and yet steely. It’s not quite “Russian Roulette,” but it stands strong beside it.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: Rihanna does her best to traverse this plane that’s full of awkward peaks and valleys. The melody curves rather sharply and high notes shoot up out of nowhere. The song finally softens after the bloated chorus, when she reveals the sledgehammer reference, but it’s disappointingly just an afterthought at that point.
[3]

Adaora Ede: In my traipses through Stan Twitter, I’ve consistently noted one of the fighting points that is consistently thrown at Rihanna’s Navy (particularly from the Beyhive): Rihanna has always lacked the ability to shine her personality through her songs,and therefore, no one really knows who she is musically. I had never thought of that before, but after I read that, it bothered me. So the fun-loving island gyal and the good girl gone bad and the electro pop bombshell- etc etc; you get the point- were never real? In other cases, it would be versatility, but Riri constantly lacks the sentiment to push it for me. Of the flat characters of Rihanna, I prefer the sultry, more rap influenced character that appears in songs like “Bitch Better Had My Money”. So, I was a little glad to hear her slurring the “You’re just another brick and I’m a sledgehammer” chorus. Just a little. While I can get behind an orchestral ballad, “Sledgehammer” is unsuccessful because the idea that Rihanna is nothing more than a dummy steely singing songs TRULY resonates through. The high notes sound like they were copy and pasted from Sia’s guide track.
[4]

Will Adams: One of the most notable victories of Anti was that it seemed Rihanna had finally freed herself from Sia’s songwriting tics. (Put another way, would you rather the lead single have been “Cheap Thrills” instead of “Work”?) “Sledgehammer” has all the same problems of “Diamonds”: Rih being faithful to a guide vocal she has no reason to follow, a bloated, plodding arrangement, and production that mistakes leadenness for gravitas.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Recorded in 2014, apparently — a casualty of album-release holdups, or of Fifth Harmony’s single on this not-all-that-common theme getting out first? Regardless, it’s here now, attached to a Star Trek movie for reasons of “it’s there” and “sure why not.” (I’m a bit miffed no one on the video Googled the combination and learned of the cool concept of NASA sledgehammering the goddamn moon.) “Sledgehammer” is spectacularly obviously a Sia track, for better and worse. For someone so meticulously deliberate about constructing hits to formula (she calls this one “victim to victory”), Sia does remarkably little self-editing. Genuinely distinctive lines make it through, but also hard fails — fruit flies like a crumb, not sparrows, and “a swimming pool of salted crimes” sounds like a synopsis of “Guts.” Yet — damn it, formula — it’s bluntly effective anyway. The smoke that’s gathered in Rihanna’s lower range helps. So does its being “Wrecking Ball” done bigger, smashier and with 50% less nudity.
[5]

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Fall Out Boy ft. Missy Elliott – Ghostbusters (I’m Not Afraid)

We ain’t afraid of no remake.


[Video][Website]
[3.44]

Cassy Gress: This would work so much better if it wasn’t a Ghostbusters song because what we have here is Patrick Stump cramming “whoyougonnacall” in as fast as he can and then someone in the control room pressing the “Ghostbusters!” button at the appropriate time. When it gets to Missy’s part, despite the fact that the backing instrumentals don’t change at all, suddenly we have a groove and it becomes danceable, and that’s entirely because she’s rapping at a comparatively normal speed. Wasn’t part of the charm of the Ray Parker, Jr. version was the fact that he said he wasn’t ‘fraid of no ghosts when he clearly was? Patrick’s just yelling.
[4]

Anthony Easton: What a waste.
[3]

Taylor Alatorre: “But Patrick’s voice tho” is one of the default rejoinders to any criticism of post-hiatus Fall Out Boy, and this is one of those times where I have to admit that the apologists have a point. Dude’s vocal chords could power a small city. But to what end are those pipes being used? 
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Alfred Soto: Although I’m grading on a curve because the film’s pre-release criticism irritates me, I don’t understand how urging Patrick Stump to sing like Chris Cornell in line too long at the car wash was a judicious use of talent, nor the mixing board zealousness, as if an engineer thought Disturbed’s Genesis cover from Miami Vice (a decade ago!) was “Mrs. Robinson.” Missy’s in there, I guess.
[2]

Katie Gill: If anybody uses this mediocre cover version as an attempt to shit on the movie, I will fucking fight them. Dn’t judge a movie based on a three minute song especially when the movie has spent months being attacked and crucified for no damn reason by whiny punkass white boys who can’t even lick the Cheeto dust off their fingers before bitching about how their childhoods are ruined. That being said, this song blows. Fall Out Boy plays this 100% predictably and 100% seriously despite the fact that the original song was 100% goofy. The only thing that remotely approaches the goofiness of the original is Missy Elliott’s rap, twenty seconds of pure wonder in a cover version that wouldn’t even fly on Glee.
[2]

Joshua Copperman: No matter how good the reviews are, the marketing for the Ghostbusters reboot almost seems deliberately polarizing, as if designed by an executive so hell-bent on showing that women can’t lead in a film he would risk millions of dollars in order to prove himself right. This loud, terrible remake alone shows that my theory isn’t entirely unfounded; in fact, it sounds more or less exactly as cringeworthy as one would expect. The Missy Elliott verse is amusingly corny, but the song remains an unsurprising, lazy mess that sounds like it’s filling an obligation all the way through. Glad the film doesn’t appear to be the same way.
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Claire Biddles: Ok, of course this is corny and silly but it does its job as a theme song. My existing love for Fall Out Boy means that the novelty value of the song is enough to hold my attention, at the same time as I know that I’d probably think it was boring if it were a FOB original. The appearance of the “Ghostbusters” hook remade on scratchy guitar at the end and Patrick Stump’s “BUSTING MAKES ME FEEL GOOD!” wails are neat, and I’m actually pretty fond of the melodramatic over-production evident here and on last year’s American Beauty/American Psycho. It’s a shame that Missy’s contribution isn’t more integrated — I can’t help but think of her commanding presence over “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge, a rare instance of a movie theme that developed its own cultural significance removed from its source material. I doubt this “Ghostbusters” is going to become part of the pop canon — I doubt I will even consciously listen to it again — but it’s fun as a ephemeral tie-in.
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Thomas Inskeep: Missy sounds as if she was just awakened from a nap, and as busy and clattering as this rework of the iconic Ghostbusters theme is, it puts me to sleep, too. I’m no FOB fan, but this is barrel-scraping even by their standards.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: I have no opinion on Ghostbusters, version dude or version lady, though it’s terrible/great to see people ascribe King James Only sanctity to a film with the climactic exchange of “I am the ~*keymaster*~. I am the ~*gatekeeper*~.” I have a mildly negative opinion of Fall Out Boy and a generally positive, though less inflated than some, opinion of Missy Elliott. What I do love are Sleigh Bells, terrible ’90s soundtrack cuts, songs that evoke shamelessly loud pep-rally songs without the pep rally, and any entity in 2016 being so unironically, unselfconsciously, harmlessly bombastic. Just from a safe distance.
[8]