Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Charlie Puth ft. Kehlani – Done For Me

Andy’s certainly done…


[Video]
[4.71]

Andy Hutchins: After the monstrous success of “See You Again,” Charlie Puth could really have written whatever he wanted and gotten a label to put it out, right? That makes him leaning into Worst Boyfriend Ever-wave on every one of his singles even more lamentable: He could’ve not sung “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on” breaths before praising his lover’s subtlety; could’ve not pined after a lover whose “love was a game”; could’ve not made “You just want attention” the bedrock of a hook; could’ve not written a cheater’s anthem that spends an entire verse with him in charge before a lame swerve to imply he is the actual cad; could’ve not penned this haughty, demanding garbage. Kehlani rejects this dipshit whose partner having friends makes him uncomfortable with concrete actions, and he’s all “I die for you, baby”? This is poisonous, privileged nonsense — the sort that comes from a white boy who sings “Why can’t we just get along?” in a protest anthem — and I implore the world: Don’t date him.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: Charlie Puth plays the ex-boyfriend equivalent of the Sinclair contract exit clause. Kehlani plays Kimbra’s rebuttal in “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which at least is preferable to Camila’s acquiescing in “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” in that it shows half a spine.
[4]

Will Adams: The lite-rock chords are fine, and it’s nice for the woman in question to have a voice that’s actually hers. But this is the third consecutive single in which Puth has seethed at a girl who just wants attention and has asked how long she’s been duplicitous, so I feel like turning the question back on him: what have you done for us lately?
[5]

Alfred Soto: Puth’s gonna keep charging up the pop hill deploying that blank falsetto like a bayonet. He’s not imitating Justin Timberlake imitating Michael Jackson anymore — he’s imitating Nick Jonas imitating Justin Timberlake imitating Michael Jackson.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Loose, gooey faux-funk synths and dry, Play-Doh drums bounce as Kehlani soars to a comfortable cruising altitude above the wreckage of Charlie’s Exploding Man ego.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The fact that the first thing I think of when this song’s intro kicks in is Sakamoto & N’dour’s “Diabaram” is possibly the most frightening fake out one might receive. The eventual crest downward into malicious synth-funk only makes this all the more confounding, given Puth’s sort of cruel edges have always been more benign and embedded in his meek sort of schtick. Naturally, having Kehlani, someone whose best material works to reflect upon regret, is a perfect fit into the demanding gluttony present before her.  On one hand, is this just incredibly late Weeknd pastiche frothing with toxic narcissism? Yes. But in some strange assumption that this isn’t transgressive but actually noble, it’s managed to reveal more about the “loverman” Puth comically aspires to be that we should take issue with than on much more overtly scummy records.
[9]

Julian Axelrod: Between the delicate synth throb and the chorus’s self-righteous strut, this comes so close to being a bop. But Kehlani actively hurts the song by being the best part of it. Maybe I’m biased, but her indignation seems way more justified than Puth’s pouty sadboy act — so much so that I’d rather hear the story from her perspective. And while this is the most I’ve ever liked a Charlie Puth song, I can’t help but think how much better it would be without him.
[6]

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Yemi Alade – Bum Bum

Moderately bootylicious!


[Video]
[5.71]

Andy Hutchins: You can clock Yemi as someone who has grown up listening to Beyoncé even before the name-check, but “Bum Bum” pulls from everywhere — “La Di Da Di,” the early-2000s boomlet of dancehall-influenced steel drum-heavy, Caribbean-tinged American pop, dancehall itself, and other Afrobeat — and is better for it, rather than watered-down by it. The four-syllable pronunciation of “cal-EEP-EE-so” is worth a point or two on its own; the fun that seeps through everywhere is genuine glee.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: Alade’s delivery is a stretchy delight, as always, but the rest of the song gives her absolutely nothing to bounce off of; the four-note bassline and tinny orchestral hits are charming for the first thirty seconds and dull when you realize they’re the entire song. For the most part, Alade does her best to work around it and salvage a few nice lines, but the perplexing croak she switches to in the chorus is just about awful enough to counteract those efforts.
[4]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This song has a lot of joyous energy, but it runs out of steam; Yemi Alade is not to blame, but perhaps I’m feeling fatigued by the tinny beat. I wish the song had as much variation as the color and patterns featured in the music video, which is a real treat to watch.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Polite but bubbily post-dancehall afrobeats tracks that feel more designed to play with you than to rough you up. Yemi Alade’s presence here is more charm than conviction, but it still relies on the pleasant ease to sell itself across.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: As bum-bum-shakeworthy as advertised, but also kind of lightweight as a single.
[5]

Will Adams: Starts off with a groove that’s certainly worthy of bum-shaking, but unfortunately those cheap orchestra stabs keep piping up through the whole thing.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: The stings add flair to a syncopated beat with more than enough energy in its polyrhythmic wiggle to get the eponymous body part waggling. It is enough for Alade to simply be hanging out with a groove with like this, but as much as she arcs and drapes her voice about the track, at no point does she appear concerned with taking the spotlight. That’s no worry; the night is long and there will be more songs to dance to.
[6]

Monday, April 16th, 2018

2 Chainz ft. YG and Offset – Proud

Mother’s Day is less than four weeks away!


[Video]
[5.88]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is so cute. I’m beaming with all the maternal love I can muster. There might be some cynical marketing behind it — “Who still buys music in 2018? Moms!” — but I don’t wanna hear it. Cute lyrics, cute guys, hugs and kisses all around.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: The thug sensitivity of 2Pac’s “Dear Mama” is still hip-hop’s template for maternal appreciation, so it’s nice of 2 Chainz to recognize that moms appreciate bangers too.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: This may be 2 Chainz’s song, but YG has some advantage over the Mustard-for-2018 beat that the three each write their Mother’s Day card greetings on. He shifts through a couple different styles to thank his mom for teaching him a couple different lessons: on trust, business and always giving back when you return home. The others touch those for sure, 2 Chainz with more sly humor, but YG sounds the most happy to be his mother’s son.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Despite a diminished commercial presence, YG is feeling like he’s on the approach of one of his best years as a rapper. His features on high-profile content service providerers like Lil Xan and Cardi B have demonstrated a hunger he’s been divorced from for a minute, and on “Proud” he’s no different. Look, there’s no point in talking about how Offset turned on autopilot here, or how 2 Chainz has run out of Gucci and Wayne characteristics to bite and pass off as a personality so now he’s doing college-boy Young Dolph records. This beat is whatever. I just want to talk about the way YG manages to sound like his mother would accept and even feel proud about him wailing about buying guns and that there’s not that many rappers who are so disconnected from reality and yet still able to convey resonant feelings.
[4]

Alfred Soto: “I kicked the door, I risked it all for dough,” Offset avers, waving away the inconvenient fact that this attitude, by his own definition, makes him the ho whom he and his bros dismiss so coldly. Oh well — I don’t rate these guys on consistency, just beats and imagination, which are here below average.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: There’s an unsettling undertone to this beat that makes the lyrics about making your mama proud come across as fearful and scared, and this gives it a weird and satisfying tension. Really it sounds custom made for Offset more than anything, but I like the idea that maybe 2 Chainz is steeling himself before committing some kind of unspeakable and unrhymeable atrocity for his mama’s sake. Or that he’s doing it to escape his mama’s wrath — check the incredible video!
[6]

Julian Axelrod: My opinion of the track is definitely colored by its insanely charming video, which colors in the thematic gaps of this admittedly patchy concept. But I can’t remember the last ode to a rapper’s mama that didn’t dip into schmaltz, so I’m willing to grade this on a curve. YG sounds like he retrofitted an existing verse with shout-outs to his mom, but Offset’s turn is his most focused in ages. (Maybe his ten thousand hours of “Momma!” ad libs finally paid off.) And, as usual, 2 Chainz walks away with his own song: His verse is funny, nostalgic, tense, and heartwarming at the same time, and it makes me genuinely awed and scared of Mama Chainz. And like his mom, I love 2 Chainz and I love seeing him do his best.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: Putting aside the video — hilarious and heartwarming in all the right ways, if somewhat off-putting thanks to YG’s mother’s enthusiasm for “Ho bitches gettin’ fucked on the flo'” — the idea here is that young men wanting to make their mothers proud is the material for a jam even outside of Drake’s entire catalog. Mostly, that bears out: The appealing mix of drum chops and 2 a.m.-ready synths means this really could work in a club. But while I get YG, 12 days older than I am, and Offset, six weeks older than my older brother, still fixating on maternal approval, 2 Chainz is 41. I suspect Mom Chainz has figured out whether she’s proud by now, and “me and Mama used to trap out the same house” is a bar that could have been a better, richer song than this one.
[6]

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Belle and Sebastian – Poor Boy

This is just a modern dance track…


[Video]
[5.00]

Alfred Soto: Belle and Sebastian have spent more time getting frisky with disco bass lines and eyeliner than as a putative folk bedsit act. This was fresh in 2003 when the band wasn’t looking over its shoulder at Kacey Musgraves. Committed to limning the life of a lout who doesn’t live up to his own imaginings, Stuart Murdoch still prowls through song after song using third person and fooling no one, co-singer Sarah Martin least of all.
[7]

Alex Clifton: Perfectly twee disco, which is disappointing because “Poor Boy” lacks the heart of previous Belle and Sebastian releases. I’ve been a disciple of Stuart Murdoch since someone handed me a burnt copy of If You’re Feeling Sinister at 18, and it’s one of my favourite albums of all time. Something about Murdoch’s earnest, detailed lyrics combined with their ear for quiet melody made for an unusual and effective combination. But ever since they took off in a wildly poppier direction, beginning with the quite good The Life Pursuit and diminishing with each subsequent album, they’ve lost some of the feeling that made Belle and Sebastian special. Continuing your career doesn’t mean that you’ve got to go generic, but alas that’s what Belle and Sebastian have done. 
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Although moving to a quiet synthpop was a good idea for Belle and Sebastian so as not to be repetitive, I always have the feeling they are quite uncomfortable with this new sound. In “Poor Boy,” the steady beat goes well with the fast pace of the verses, but when the voices start to be more melodious in the pre-chorus, they get near to psychedelia without fully embracing it. In the same way, the opening chorus has some potential that isn’t developed in the following ones.    
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Must everybody turn into lite-disco?
[3]

Edward Okulicz: More muscular production and flirtations with dance were the hallmarks of Belle and Sebastian’s transformation from insufferably twee runts to makers of quality pop around the time of Dear Catastrophe Waitress. In the years since, they’ve forgotten half of that and are now evidently producing twee, runty “disco.” Tuneful, but also rather punchable.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: A decent groove, a catchy chorus, but streamlined to the point of being completely unremarkable. There’s some interesting story in the lyrics, I think: the shell of a tune about a boy treating his crush like porcelain, but the line “I’d trot around/In velvet socks so I could not be felt” is the only remotely clever manifestation of the topic; all else is buried in unsurprising harmonies, an over-repeated chorus, and a mix that sees all rough edges obsessively sanded away.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: As often as aging bands eventually write this sort of song, where one actually has personally observed the exponential effects of time, I didn’t quite expect the always-preppy Belle and Sebastian to turn their own take in. They’ve been letting it loose this decade, turning to bright dance music for expression as they continue to do here. But their storytelling remains deceivingly grim, and the resigned sort of restraint to sing this slow crumble of a relationship plays key here. There’s some underlying knowledge by the two singers that pop melodramatics at their age are passé, no matter how inclined they may feel to implode.
[6]

Saturday, April 14th, 2018

October – 1000 Eyes

I mean, hey, they’re cheaper when you buy them in bulk…


[Video]
[6.67]

Will Adams: I wish I enjoyed this more, as this is pretty much Melodrama if you substituted twenty heaps of synths for Jack Antonoff. As it is, “1000 Eyes” is able to grab your attention but doesn’t offer any dynamics once you’re in its fray.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: If you uploaded this to YouTube mistagged as a Melodrama offcut, you could get a nice pile of views. It’s because of October’s voice against the dark synthpop, obviously, but also the full-throated obsession of lines like “I want to make your brain my home.” And for once the chorus intensifies the darkness, rather than backing off, the mistake too many songs make.
[7]

Iain Mew: The goth and pop impulses don’t quite meld and each end up sounding a little bare and awkward as a result. The slippery synth line could compensate for greater flaws than that.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: The breathy, clipped syllables in the verses reference Lorde’s old playbook, and so do the thunderous percussion booming behind the ghoulish synths. The labored care to her cadence cuts into the narrative at play, but the foundation of her goth-pop aesthetic is solid enough.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The cascades of accumulating noise call Jesus & Mary Chain and Fever Ray to mind, but October, despite the colorless name, keeps her pop instincts on the hook; the sound effects work for the track. Is this desire? Oh, yes.
[7]

William John: My partner is from New Zealand, and so I feel like I can say with some authority that Kiwis don’t, in fact, all enunciate like they’re recently recovered from jaw surgery and are reacquainting their mouths with movement. Nonetheless, my first thought upon clicking play was “oh, Fisher-Price Lorde”; her vocal tics now seem as pervasive in modern pop as those of fellow antipodean Sia. It’s the chorus that renders any such comparisons facile. Here, the pace quickens, synths begin spiralling, the protagonist’s eyes gain a murderous, thrilling glint, and the sudden bloom of melodramatics is mirrored by the melody’s incessant, giddy ascendance.
[8]

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Big Bang – Flower Road

K-pop titans hit the road Jack, but some of us hope they come back for more, for more, for more, for more…


[Video]
[4.33]

Alex Clifton: Bittersweet emotion mixed with an airhorn — a fitting hiatus song for a band that manages to produce both four-to-the-floor bangers and fragile emotional moments. I’ll miss these guys a lot in the interim, but I look forward to them staying in my future.
[7]

Adaora Ede: It’s weird that this is the K-pop powerhouse’s goodbye song, because this song doesn’t drip of bravado, nor does it have a particularly sentimental vibe. What I’m hearing in the background is the foundation for a great electro pop song (much like Big Bang’s 2013-2015 work) and what I’m hearing in the foreground is blithe acoustic guitar. The stabbing electronic synths go nowhere, with not even ONE maximalist EDM drop in the hook. I do like it, but in the unfulfilled happy medium way that I like Vox thinkpieces.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: I was already tired of this lite-FM acoustic whatever a couple years ago, when it made up half of radio airplay by weight. Nothing has changed.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: If I wanted an acoustic-y, strummy midtempo pop song sung by a man, I’d play a Shawn Mendes record. And I have never played a Shawn Mendes record. 
[3]

Alfred Soto: The South Korean combo has the percussive-acoustic snap of early Destiny’s Child, plaintive too, absent the aggression. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The influences of Amine and Rae Sremmurd’s wonkier material on “Flower Road” is surprising at first but makes sense considering Big Bang probably aren’t capable of emulating other rappers in just how brazenly commercial they’ve had to be (as much as the G-D rendition of Soundcloud rap would be mind blowing to me), and as such we get this strummer. For all the saccharine lovesickness it tries to go for, it’s emotionally flat and, at the risk of being presumptive, TOP is not anywhere near as comfortable as he was on the mic pre-“incident.” Big Bang’s formulas have served a purpose and needed no update up until now, but most certainly if they have any real designs to keep going a new phase has to be put into consideration.
[2]

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Cardi B – Be Careful

Noted!


[Video]
[6.25]

Katie Gill: Taking it slow, Cardi B shows that she can bring a sensual side compared to the braggadocio of her first few singles. That beat is soft and slinky, a perfect compliment to her vocals. On the other hand, that chorus is preeeetty rocky. Thankfully, Cardi’s flow and lyrics in the verses more than make up for any subpar singing in the rest of the song.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: After months of extensive research, scientists can confirm: Cardi B is physically incapable of backing down. That’s not a bad thing. One of the many joys of Invasion of Privacy is hearing her singular five-alarm voice slide into more radio-friendly molds without sanding off the edges. Just as “Bodak Yellow” turned a trap template into a pop showcase through sheer force of charisma, “Be Careful” finds pockets of aggression in a lovesick ballad of betrayal. But even as Cardi dunks on Offset like Nas ethering Hov, she’s not above showing some pathos. In the space of a minute she goes from “Do you, though… it’s cool, though” to “My heart is like a package with a fragile label on it,” and the two sentiments might be closer than she lets on. I’ve seen people trash her crooning on the chorus, but I think it encapsulates everything great about the song: a merciless rap goddess showing just enough of her inner pain to let future rivals know she’s not afraid to bleed.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: If you’ve breathed in a single molecule of Music Internet this month, you’ve probably read tons about the Cardi B album, and maybe about this song — specifically its chorus, which according to the Music Internet molecules is bad. It is not bad but near-perfect: tentatively, sneakily good, to match the tentative, sneaky beat. Even the slightest bit more singing would ruin the effect. There’s the surprise, too: a sudden reveal of vulnerability, to mirror her previous sudden uptick in technical skills. I’d even go so far as to call it better than the verses, which she does better elsewhere.
[6]

Will Adams: Cardi B’s playful menace has been a consistent asset of hers; the excitement of “Be Careful” is that it’s been translated through a new context: the much-discussed sung chorus. Critics have deemed it as showing a “softer side,” but that really reads as “it’s not as loud as ‘Bodak Yellow'” and also ignores how eerie the song is, in both sound and subtext. “It’s not a threat, it’s a warning,” Cardi intones, but it really sounds like she’s casting a hex.
[6]

Alfred Soto: We don’t look to film stars for acting in any conventional sense, so I don’t care that Cardi B often stumbles expressing her vivacity. Besides, few tracks on Invasion of Privacy present her as a Belcalis from the Bronx with so little mitigation. I prefer the plainsong of the verses but have admired the way she stresses “of course” in the chorus for days. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Love Cardi. Rooting for her hard. Thrilled that her album’s making such a big splash. Really into the fact that she is showing such musical diversity with her single releases. Just wish that “Be Careful” has more there, there. It’s minimalist to a fault, and frankly, her verses on the “Ahora Dice” remix and to a lesser extent “Motorsport” say the same thing more interestingly and succinctly. “Be Careful” isn’t bad, but it’s a bit blah.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: Initially, I was a bit unconvinced on this one. The sample is interesting, sure, but Cardi’s flow is messy and the emotion doesn’t come through as I expected it to. Then, Cardi performed this live on SNL and she delivered that second verse with more conviction than I’ve ever heard her deliver a verse with. Some of the best art is messy, just like personal relationships, and whether this song is about Cardi’s current relationship or not is irrelevant – she feels this and through her anxiety and declarations of worth, I feel it too.
[7]

Adaora Ede: The ghostwrite definitely bit the dust here. Cardi’s debut album is Cardi-by-numbers — Cardi the bad bitch (“Drip”), Cardi the Blood (“Bodak Yellow”), Cardi the charismatic (“I Like It,” “Bickenhead”). The latest Cardi buzz single has Belcalis playing the role of Cardi-the-woman-scorned-but-not-really-because-music-isn’t-personal with cheesy lines to back it all up. “Be Careful” sees Cardi STILL stumbling over her verses like a toddler; without the giddiness and chutzpah of her breakthrough single and heck, even that shitty Machine Gun Kelly it’s Blackbear right? G-Eazy “Slob on My Knob” re-up she was on. It’s nice to see the future Mrs. Set diversify her sound, but she’s doing herself dirty by clomping all over that smooth bossa nova beat. However, I get it. I, too, found myself in a place where I could not resist the alluring relatability of Cardi B. It’s captured not only in her daily Instagram updates and tweets, but her unpracticed vocals, her conversational lines (“I wanna get married/Like the Currys/Steph and Ayesha shit”) and her frankness. “Be Careful” is a homage to all the regular shmegular girls, without a Lemonade budget, who’ve gotten their hearts broken.
[6]

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Daphne and Celeste – Alarms

Do you wanna know what we really think about you?


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I didn’t know anything about Daphne and Celeste, so I went on a quick Youtube journey, then compared their 1999/2000 sound to this one. I’m delighted that I’m now acquainted with both. I can’t think of a more approriate transformation for 2018 than preteen bops about playground chants turning into warm celestial synthpop. Perhaps we all could use about 20 years of silence.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Only about 40% of the D&C album is actually a D&C album in the sense of being snotty, obnoxious fun with sticky choruses, and sadly this is from the other 60%. To be fair if it were snotty and obnoxious I wouldn’t be able to tell because I can’t understand a word of it. It’s more a nice showcase of Max Tundra’s dance influences and bleepy pop sensibilities, which are functional, but this song isn’t functional because it doesn’t really do anything to assault the memory centres. There’s better on the album than this.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I hear a song here: Cut Copy squelched rave dynamics and Eurythmics’ barely repressed stadium rock habits. But a good song needs verses, choruses, bridges. 
[4]

Katie Gill: If you’re going to make a comeback album around 18 or so years after your last album, while also trying as hard as you can to reinvent the image from that last album, this ridiculous and slightly overblown electronica track is a pretty damn good way to do it. At least you can dance to it.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: On one hand the D&C comeback is nice and intriguing for a brief consideration of “Oh wow, instead of being teen goofballs, they’re now adult goofs who are excessively into nerdy reference points,” the same way it’s amusing to remember the time Debbie Gibson was palling around with Redd Kross and the Circle Jerks in the 90s. Ultimately however, all that you’ve gotten are half-baked retro synth smears and quick cash-ins for a laugh, which are so inessential even the record knows it. All the same, “Alarms” is cute enough to spin one time.
[3]

Will Adams: Like a Shepard tone turned into an electropop song, “Alarms” is caught in a state of perpetual rising, building toward a peak but never quite reaching it. Fortunately there are still enough enticing elements to notice while stuck in the loop: scalar choir hook, angular chord progression, vocal puree and piles of synths all sidechained to a slamming kick.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Consider the pop Overton window: the amount of production weirdness and general alt-ishness that’s considered normal in pop music at any given time. Except really, it’s more like an Overton transom — once a song reaches a certain amount of years old, people retroactively label it some variation of “generic radio music.” So Daphne and Celeste’s genuinely strange “You and I Alone,” their first Max Tundra collaboration, is called “a reasonably straightforward electro-funk love song” in the Guardian. Save the World is much the same, and I should hate it, since it’s arguably the PC Music thing where an auteur producer “salvages” some artist from disposable-popland and leeches away her (always her) vibrancy and personality, while she sassily intones and he reaps the credit. But I’ve managed to avoid any irritating Max Tundra interviews — mostly because he hasn’t done any, where Daphne and Celeste have done lots. And while D&C’s old music sure was bratty, it wasn’t voicey like, say, Shampoo; their most distinctive moment was an Alice Cooper cover. More importantly, “Alarms” is celestial and buoyant and just a tiny bit wistful, a slow-motion spaceship launch out of a suburban bedroom. Inevitably there’s a self-conscious winking about how clever it is to give wordy, arty lyrics to the “U.G.L.Y.” vocalists; also, “trapped in a computer game” is a little on-the-nose for something that already sounds like the SimCity 2000 soundtrack. But they’re good at this, and have an album more of this plus a merciless owning of Ed Sheeran, so I’ll call it a net good.
[7]

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Javiera Mena ft. Li Saumet – Intuición

Only the Queen of the Jukebox could ever be dissatisfied with a 6.71.


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Right from the moment the song starts, the electronic notes hit a chord deep in my bones. I don’t know what kind of magic Javiera Mena is messing with, but however she’s doing it, this is definitely the kind of song that deserves to be on repeat for months on end. So good!
[10]

Juana Giaimo: This is disappointing and boring. The melody of the verses sounds forced and exposes Javiera Mena’s limited vocal range, while in the chorus she lingers rather insipidly on each syllable of the title. The’s no variation in the repetitions of the chorus, which is surprising considering this is a collaboration. Instead, Li Saumets sings a better bridge than the actual bridge sung by Mena. Bomba Estéreo’s frontwoman’s slightly nasal, rapid vocals have energy, but her part is unfortunately too short. It is still a mystery to me why this single has 3 million views while the elegant and glossy synthpop of “Dentro de mí” only has half million views.
[5]

Alfred Soto: For almost a decade, the Chilean has issued one terrific single after another, exploring every dimension of synth pop. She can yearn. She can stamp her foot. She can growl. Stretching the chorus hook across another bank of glistening keyboards acts as another novel correlative for her desire. Where’s the extended 12″ remix? 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: A perfectly pleasant bit of trop-house, with which Mena does a lot; you just need to get past that first needling synth to get there. And the bridge is fantastic, steely and dangerous; you just need to get through what seems like ages of static trop-house.
[6]

Will Adams: It’s not the sweeping synthscape that we often except from Mena, but it’s nonetheless an interesting venture into new territory. That is, until Li Saumet’s arresting bridge arrives — sharpening both vocal and production timbres — and the rest of the song begins to underwhelm.
[5]

Stephen Eisermann: Javiera Mena’s biggest strength is the silky quality of her voice and how it plays so well with all different types of production. Here, as Javiera sings about trying to reconnect with her intuition with some great help from the always engaging Li Saumet, both ladies sound terrific and entirely comfortable accompanied by this electro-tropical beat. It’s the perfect song to dance to on the dance floor at that random club you find while on vacation with your friends in any Latin American country.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Located towards the more pumping end of Mena’s musical range, and admittedly I’m just going off a couple of lines, but this song seems so much a better fit for Li Saumet that for the first time ever I wish it weren’t Javiera Mena singing on a Javiera Mena song. Maybe Saumet just got the best bit as she’s the guest and Mena’s a good host.
[7]

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Meshell Ndegeocello – Waterfalls

An old favorite becomes a new favorite.


[Video][Website]
[7.14]

Alfred Soto: Sung as a warning, arranged as a prayer.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album of ’80s & ’90s R&B covers, Ventriloquism, is pretty much perfect; she takes a batch of songs, long lived-in, and adds her own life/experience to them, in the process creating something altogether unique and fresh. Case in point is her take on TLC’s 1995 #1 “Waterfalls,” a song so iconic it’d be easy to get lost in its legacy, but Ndegeocello doesn’t. She alters a few lyrics — most notably, changing the second line of the original “His health is fading and he doesn’t know why/three letters took him to his final resting place” (those “three letters” being HIV) to “May we all find peace in our final resting place,” taking the verse from specific to universal. Musically, Ndegeocello and co-producer/keyboardist Jebin Bruni, along with her longtime touring band, have put a hushed, almost Americana-like spin on “Waterfalls,” turning it into a woozy ballad, with an emphasis on a finger-picked acoustic guitar. It’s a drastic makeover, but it works far better than you can even imagine. (Or even I imagined, and I’m a long-time fan.) 
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Katherine St Asaph: The original song is a [10], obviously, and this isn’t as pointless as the Stooshe cover, because Meshell Ndegeocello doesn’t pretty up the vocal. But if I didn’t know this was her, I’d assume it was some late-’90s bowdlerizing-via-cover, complete with excised HIV references, into chill acoustica.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: The other day I found myself at a sushi restaurant that exclusively played white guy acoustic covers of contemporary pop hits. It brought back that age-old question: Why do these exist? What’s the audience for these bland recreations of songs everyone sick of years ago? As far as covers go, Ndegeocello’s stands head and shoulders above anything I heard that day. Where TLC’s original soars on the strength of its chorus, this version ambles and drifts, gently returning to the refrain like a signpost on the side of a trail. The whole affair has a hazy sunset vibe, with a weary tone that reflects the narrator’s concern. But while everything about this is well-executed, it never fully justifies its existence. This feels like something I’d hear in a dentist’s waiting room, making a mental note to listen to the original when I get home.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There’s a certain irony in “Waterfalls,” a song about people going wayward and astray, being the lead single for Meshell Ndegeocello’s cover album. Ndegeocello has proven worryingly adept at the art of reinterpretation, most recently when she managed to abstract the Whodini classic “Friends” into a Frippian monstrosity of malignant anxiety. I say ‘worrying’ because her own skills of songwriting, musicianship, and composition for herself and her powers of reinterpretation occasionally feel like rivals that have to be treated with deference in lieu of one another. It’s one of those senses of novelty that don’t always make her feel like the essential artist she should be viewed as, but instead as a further and further marginal act lost to the easy reductive canonization of your Soulquarian camp. Nevertheless, “Waterfalls” is essentially Meshell demonstrating the  TLC classic can easily serve its purposes as a post-Zeppelin III lumber; the kind of record younger festival rock bands do originals of with less sense of purpose and craft yet always receive further praise. Bittersweetly, this reimagining sharpens the details in how capable an artist Ndegeocello is, and how irritating her career position feels.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: It’s an unimpeachably classic song, and lovingly rearranged too, though now sitting a little close to easy listening for my taste. But it’s nice on the ears, and given real intimacy with the gentle reading of the (slightly altered) lyrics. Whether you like or love it depends on your idea of singing a cautionary tale as a lullaby. I think that in adding something, other things have been lost to slight negative effect, so I just like it. Subduing that chorus by putting it to sleep, and swapping out the aqueous tone of the original are artistic choices, they’re just not entirely successful. That said, it’s “Waterfalls,” sung by Meshell Ndegeocello and handled with care — it can’t really miss.
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Will Adams: I can’t say I’ve ever wondered what it’d sound like if Zero 7 covered “Waterfalls,” but at least now I do.
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