Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Elle King – Ex’s & Oh’s

The punctuation… my eyes….


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Thomas Inskeep: “Ex’s & Oh’s” thinks it’s a rootsy take on Adele, when really it’s just a Maria McKee b-side left out in the sun too long.
[2]

Alfred Soto: A strong solo and a galloping beat help, and I enjoy the insouciant vocal and lyrics, but the arrangement sounds like it’s covered in mothballs and fake snow. 
[5]

Iain Mew: Some of the words border on being as clumsy as that punctuation, but it’s fun and well executed enough to blast on through anyway. The underlying idea at least is a good one, the guitars’ crunch is satisfying, and Elle King brings both power and certainty on where and when to use it.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Passable, in that hyper fashionable burlesque remix kind of way, bubbly in the right places, and too late in the fall to be sufficiently summery. 
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Trying for that Black Keys cred, Elle King sings like she’s being paid by the vocal node, over a premise shaped like cleverness without actually being clever. It could be worse. It could be a Khia cover.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “Ex’s & Oh’s” on paper seems to be the most irritating kind of song; a Brill Building-throwback feel caked in Link Wray fuzz and soaked in a Brenda Lee rasp, but aimed for the current crowd of Trainorville nostalgia. But whereas the retro-stylings beyond Elle King’s realm often feel like garish costuming, she doesn’t lean on the picket fence to awkward angles to poke you in the eye. Her sass and stoicism give it just enough presence that any cartoon capers would be unnecessary.
[7]

Jer Fairall: Makin’ copies of Amy Winehouse.
[3]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Cute and sassy, with a “boots are made for walking” kinda beat. I love this kind of voice, too; like E.G. Daly’s, it’s sugar and spice, slightly raspy but also syrupy. Pour it all over a song and I’m there.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: With a name like Elle King, it’s gotta be good. Or not. King sings like the lovechild of Pink and Adele, both strong performers with the ability to either destroy you or leave you emotionally nonplussed. You decide. 
[4]

Brad Shoup: I just generally can’t fuck with this rockabilly-inflected retro-pop shit — the form and content of “I’m the best baby” screws into my pores. Thank goodness for the chorus, where King keeps her syllables aloft and belts to the lights. It’s a lesson the Black Keys learned on beatalike “Gold on the Ceiling” — don’t be coy, don’t be gross, just draw those notes out.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: There’s something so glam about this that it’s a shame it’s so intent on signifying Real. It’s like a thematically flipped version of “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)”. King not only makes the exes the ones running back, but more importantly, brazenly defies that song’s closing warning not to play the guitar. Ultimately it sounds as if her favourite version of “Personal Jesus” was by Johnny Cash and, lamentably, that is her hypothetical choice.
[6]

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Old Dominion – Break Up With Him

If you must, but don’t shack up with this guy, k?


[Video][Website]
[4.29]

Megan Harrington: If you listened all the way to the end of this phone call, you definitely aren’t in love with him and you probably should break up with him. Should you hook back up with your ex? Eh. Maybe it’s time to live love learn and go to you or something like that. 
[7]

Alfred Soto: Well, producer Shane McAnally is human too, as the mandolin-pickin’ mediocrity of this number demonstrates. Hip-hop beat and talk-sung verses, Brand X vocals, unpersuasive advice — isn’t this what Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe are covering their ears against?
[3]

Jessica Doyle: So hypersensitive am I to condescension towards women in country that I was ready to give this an [8] after one listen — mainly because “I know that you’re so done with him” is delivered straight; the likes of Alan Jackson would have sneered it, as an example of how flighty females talk. In that light the echoes of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” in the opener look juuust maybe deliberate: an expansive, smiling mindset. But so hypersensitive am I to condescension towards women in country that on every repeat the experience sours juuust a bit more: maybe she’s not silently agreeing with you, bro. Maybe she’s trying to be gentle. Maybe she can’t get a word in edgewise. Maybe she’s got you on speakerphone so that the guy who isn’t insisting he knows what she feels better than she does can listen in. 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Dudes with chins that are way too big for their big heads but with no ideas of their own mishandle the Sam Hunt gimmicks by painting themselves less as the companion and more as the White Knight. Also features the same changes and rhythmic backbeat as dozens of other singles you’ve heard before. And some sustained guitar notes to add a sense of “depth.”
[2]

Anthony Easton: Such a charming asshole, and such an amazing track; it takes the song speech and the swagger of Sam Hunt, and the guitar moves between Moore and Church. Extra points for the chorus, and for how he sings the gaps. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ve heard of sad drunks and mad drunks and horny drunks, but never the kind of drunk where you sound like you’re reading cue cards. I’m just saying, you can do better.
[3]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Gross, reprehensible, vile; content-wise, the worst song I’ve heard in ages. I kinda like the guitar riff in-between the verses, but it’s also a very simple chromatic scale, so whatever, fuck this song.
[0]

Patrick St. Michel: The whole thing would be sort of uncomfortable if it weren’t so plodding. This might as while be a PowerPoint presentation without any actual concrete evidence.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Successful talk-singing over a groove left over from the Zac Brown Band’s first album that loves you easier than “Loving You Easy.” These guys are gonna be big.
[6]

Ramzi Awn: First of all, that’s really bad advice. I feel really bad for the guy he’s talking about. Secondly, this dude sounds like a douche. Sorry, but that’s the most appropriate response I’ve got. 
[3]

Brad Shoup: Mmmmohmygod they actually start this thing with “hey girl.” In the annals of concern drawling, this is a storied entry. It’s like a napkin sketch of Sam Hunt, distended by bar-temp Coors Light: there’s the talk-singing, the too-smarmy come-on, and that “Be Real Black For Me” piano attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if the germ of this was “like ‘Call Your Girlfriend,’ but smugger.” Matthew Ramsey has a lot of fun with the chorus’s cadence, but otherwise he’s just waiting for the other end of the phone to go silent.
[5]

Moses Kim: The instrumental is grimy, grounded in guitar tones excavated from the mud and a Sunday school piano worn down to only its most fundamental chords, but it’s the voice that fills out the texture with feeling. Lead singer Matthew Ramsey pulls off a performance as petty as it is insistent: he captures the escalating frustration and glee that comes with hoping for a relationship that isn’t yet but could be something much more.
[7]

Crystal Leww: Douchebag, sure, but somehow, I ended up knowing all the words to this song.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Did we need a country “Marvin’s Room”? Did we need to find the midpoint between Uncle Kracker and Faith No More’s “Easy”?
[3]

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Joanna Newsom – Sapokanikan

Let’s talk about voice, and such things…


[Video][Website]
[4.91]

Dorian Sinclair: There is the sprawling song structure with no clear verse/chorus demarcation. There are the abstruse lyrics stuffed with historical allusion and ten-dollar vocabulary. There is, of course, her perpetually-debated voice (though over the dozen years since The Milk-Eyed Mender that voice has grown much more polished). Fortunately, these are all traits I appreciate. I love some of the melodic passages in “Sapokanikan”, in particular the stanzas beginning “Sang: Do you love me?” and “I fell, I tried to do well”. I find the lyrics evocative, where they aren’t being educational. (I know so much more about NYC’s early 20th-century municipal politics now!) And her voice, her much-maligned voice, is something to which I have always felt the reaction is disproportionate; scads of male singers have voices ranging from untrained to downright unpleasant, and they don’t attract nearly the scrutiny. “Sapokanikan” isn’t going to change any minds about Joanna Newsom — but it does demonstrate that five years away hasn’t diminished her ability to do her thing and do it well.
[8]

Anthony Easton: It’s so mannered. Even if everything in her voice would be alright, it’s so shredded in its attempt to convince that something mediocre is unique or special. I don’t know why she makes the aesthetic choices she makes, except perhaps to attempt an avant-garde gesture — but it’s not even fully committed to that. It seems juvenile and precious, a half-hearted rip off of artists who are more interesting, or more difficult. Or more easy — Björk and Galas and Pallett and Tagaq and Monk and Ono and Roberts, or even Amos at her weirdest, have a wide variation of constructed sounds and constructed meanings. That this comes in on one signal, and leaves on one signal, reads to me as a kind of japery.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: Artists like Joanna Newsom prove the rock press’s pool of references shallow. As a writer I’m reminded of Christine Fellows and her omnivorous references; as an arranger, maybe Polly Pen; as a vocalist, maybe Sandra Lockwood or Marnie Stern or — oh, you know, the obvious. Someone trained, at any rate; someone whose every vocal turn is deliberate and knowing. But as dismayingly always, “Sapokanikan” is easier to respect than love, and even if I was in the mood for it I suspect I’d still find it sprawling.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: I will not pretend to be overly familiar with Newsom’s catalogue, but I enjoy particularly her work on The Milk-Eyed Mender as indie whimsy done right: not to suggest infantalism or coy evasion, but to evoke fantasy in as proper a genre exercise as that of any other medium. (Cair Paravel fit there as well as it did in C.S. Lewis.) “Sapokanikan” is precious, but in its frills it suggests, rather, a theatrical revue, or perhaps an audition for the same. Well, good: I will sit through this until the next act comes on.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: This sounds like a smudged, eighth-generation xerox of an early Kate Bush single, stripped of any of its wit, charm, or art, from Newsom’s affected vocals down to her music-hall piano.
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Newsom’s voice has never been all that suitable for me, but it seems as if she’s gone full Laura Nyro and embraced the latent Broadway potential always so dangerously pulsing beneath singer-songwriter type artists. A lovely detour from the harps that made me stare and look around in worry with Ys, but still the kind of territory that leaves me cold and feeling unwelcome, like someone who refuses to turn up the A/C in their house, despite your wearing a sweatshirt in July.
[3]

Alfred Soto: She sounds less showbiz composing and accompanying her melodies on harp. After a few months I learned to admire 2010’s Have One On Me because it didn’t sound like “Sapokanikan.”
[4]

Megan Harrington: If I may, I think Joanna Newsom sings too much here. It’s a bit like hearing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” end on end for 4:45 and then a lovely 30 second instrumental fade out. However, Newsom’s medium is the album and though she presents “Sapokanikan” out of context, it will never fully make sense until I’ve listened to her album at dawn for six straight months. This is not a good single, but it is a dense double stitch, the sort of thing that might tie Newsom’s looser threads together. 
[7]

Ramzi Awn: The glittering keys are the highlight on “Sapokanikan.” As always, Newsom’s voice makes or breaks any song of hers. As far as influences go, it is easy to hear them all. But it can’t be ignored that the composer brings something original to the table. “Sapokanikan” survives itself nicely, but it could use more of the originality that has rendered Newsom relevant in the first place.
[5]

Brad Shoup: It’s been a good and terrible few years for tilling the earth of this strange nation. The dead have always called, and perhaps they’re starting to be heard. “Sapokanikan” is a blithe haunting, a negative-image version of a touristy bus jaunt. Here are the unmarked graves under a Greenwich Village park, there’s the memorial to the dead mayor who took on Tammany Hall, everywhere the dead people of Lenapehoking. The last thirty seconds showcase a stately folksy figure: something ancient, but not ancient enough. Bygone NYC extends much further back than the gutted artists’ playground of the 1970s. Newsom leans into the song like it’s an excised verse from “Good Intentions Paving Company” — there’s even a mention of being held, which you know is gonna get me. The classic PTA lilt snookers you into sticking around for the gloomy yet lightly-touched reverie; the percussionist (Neal Morgan?) keeps popping in like a passing Salvation Army drummer. The effect is Pynchonian, but instead of his showoff nihilism, Newsom tenders her resignation.
[9]

Danilo Bortoli: Little before Newsom announced Divers a couple weeks ago, I caught myself meditating on how much time has passed since the release of Have One On Me. Much like a colleague of mine, I was a totally different person. I was starting high school and was just beginning to understand my own taste when Newsom released that gigantic two-hour disc. Newsom frightened me back then, yet the opulence was only one of the aspects that had me coming back to HOOM and, particularly, Ys. So, it’s hard not to see a comeback as the end of a life and artistic cycle. And a what a cycle: “Sapokkanikan” is Newsom’s simplest song  in more than a decade (“Will you tell the one that I love to remember and hold me?,” she even says). It’s also her most blatant attempt at a pop song yet. Things do not change that much: references are still as obscure as they have ever been, details re-emerge with every new listen. This is a song about history itself, and just like its primary subject it leaves you powerless and awestruck. For all of its thematic ambition, the piano in the beginning suggests modesty. The brass fanfares are gentle sounding. The song clocks at just the right time. It took Newsom ten years to reach this kind of balance between the literate and the mundane and the populist. It will still take me a lifetime to understand her importance.      
[9]

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Anna Naklab ft. Alle Farben & Younotus – Supergirl

Somehow, this is our second Buscemi reference in the space of 24 hours…


[Video][Website]
[5.30]

Thomas Inskeep: Easy-going, beachy Ibiza pop, with the most mellow voosh vooshes you’ve likely ever heard.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: I don’t know why I like this but I do. Suddenly, I have the distinct urge to be on vacation in Greece. I want to watch the cliffside atop the water; the hot sun; the din of the day coming to an end. I want to cry, even though supergirls don’t cry. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Neither Krystal Harris nor Bullet and Snowfox, but Captain Balearica, working that Superman sadness. The narrative, though muddled, does at least outdo Five For Fighting (why were there so many Superman-themed songs in the early 2000s? Why not now, when big-budget superhero movies are an actual thing?) and the hook, though “Clocks,” does stir some something or other, but the chorus should be a lot more super.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: This past Friday, I went to see Trainwreck at the movies, which was fun, if only because it has been forever since I’ve been out to the pictures. It seems as if cinema is approaching ever quicker a singularity wherein every frame of celluloid must be filled by a superhero. “Supergirl” has a hook that has the middling banality exuded by a mutliplex readying to screen something like Antman or maybe Spider-Man vs Hawkeye or whatever. It also has a lost and searching hum that I wish were big enough to make up the song in its entirety.
[5]

Iain Mew: It’s unusual to see a track that’s based so much in current dance give lead credit to its singer rather than producers as the lead credit, but it’s well deserved. Like recent European champion of the laidback, Lost Frequencies’ “Are You With Me”, this takes an existing song as a starting point, in this case Raemonn’s synth-rock, but Anna Naklab singing it makes a big difference compared to Lost Frequencies’ replication. She sings with a lighter touch that meshes with the silvery production, and combined with the unchanged words now coming from another woman it really lights them up. Not only does it change the relationship dynamics, but while all the supergirl statements still come prefaced with “she says,” it’s easy to imagine that the “I” struggling to be powerful is sometimes her as well. The result is a layered and emotional listen.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: Now this is how you do drama. There’s a subtle tension in “Supergirl,” the whole song powered by a nervous energy that never bubbles over but is always lurking. 
[6]

Will Adams: The canned electric guitar brings to mind David Guetta’s inspiro-pop phase from three years ago, meaning that “Supergirl” is neither fresh nor convincing.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Guys, I’m getting really worried how if it weren’t for the drops, this recent batch of AOR EDM could be hold music. I mean, look at this for example. If it weren’t for that light shuffle, you couldn’t tell me that this wasn’t someone trying to go for that Natalie Merchant money. I just can’t understand the continuous need to spruce up what’s obviously a standard bit of stodge-pop with artificial knees so it can pretend it can groove with the “fellow kids.”
[2]

Brad Shoup: Supergirl: she packs the power of ten thousand maniacs!
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: It sounds like another “Waves”-wave reinterpretation of an unexpected ’80s track by someone like Chris Rea or Paul Young, but no, it’s the second possibility: an old German hit that never crossed the Channel. Imbuing it with half a pulse is a good step, but whatever happened to putting a donk on things? Never mind. This formula is still a great one, and this execution does at least make a better job of the upbeat/bittersweet thing than Naklab’s prior take on “Wicked Game.” If she’s taking requests, then “Promise Me” by Beverley Craven would be great, thanks.
[6]

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Major Lazer ft. Ellie Goulding & Tarrus Riley – Powerful

And yet we prove able to resist…


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

Patrick St. Michel: He’s an easy target of mockery because he’s basically the “how do you do fellow kids” guy, but Diplo does lay claim to being near the summit of mainstream pop music and having the ability to boost a song up a few notches. So it’s a bit lame hearing a total bore like “Powerful,” which just assumes drama without trying to create it, and wastes Ellie Goulding on a plodding go-nowhere song.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: This is where we’ve come: EDM(-ish, in its biggest-tent sense) can now go adult contemporary; there is clearly nothing Diplo can’t do. Ellie Goulding’s voice, meanwhile, continues to be the blandest “weapon” in pop music.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I don’t know if it’s the production of Ellie’s warble, but the mass work of the song has Major Lazer and crew sounding like Zero 7 featuring Meaghan Trainor, with Tarrus Riley’s vibrato distorting that last L more than any digital preset ever could. It’s funny how something so lifeless can manage to be overwrought with melodrama.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Tarrus Riley could spark damp wood, but Ellie Goulding’s gift is to beam from atop a skyscraper as the brightest and whitest light. Even with her line about the scent of him leaving, she sounds as if she’s testing the line before stepping into the studio. Lazer’s insistent thuds shove her into the studio.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: POW! VWOW! BWEW! That’s a fully accurate, onomatopoeic transcription of the chorus, of course. It sounds like a superhero movie: brief slams against the wall with a hint of the struggle it takes to make them. Tension surrounds those intermittent hits throughout the whole song. The quiet becomes anticipatory when combined with the thrill of the loud, and if the fixation on those moments could have been to the detriment of the song, Riley and Goulding’s overall performances, wrought and beguiled respectively, prevent that.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: High hopes are not always answered. But Goulding delivers a gem, and the single holds up surprisingly well given its many players. The verse pulses with the beat of a sidewalk street, and the synths twinkle in the right places. But overall, the mix is lacking in parts. Still, a solid contender for the end of summer. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Ellie Goulding sounds like she’s jealous she didn’t get “Earned It.” Tarrus Riley is warbling and puzzling. Together, they sound like they wouldn’t have chemistry even if they were in the same room. And Major Lazer has developed anhedonia.
[3]

Brad Shoup: Goulding and Riley exist on separate sexual planes here. Major Lazer is squeezing her into the glory box, and he’s treating this like a Tony showcase. The track takes its cues from each: squishy farts for her, stings and clangs for him. An insane disconnect.
[5]

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Dam-Funk – We Continue

And he plays that keytar too!


[Video][Website]
[6.71]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Super fun ’80s funk throwback — and clocking in at less than five minutes, it’s on the shorter side for this genre! They nailed the sound, they nailed the vibe… if the vocals were just adjusted 10 degrees more towards “silky” or “smooth,” if would be a home run.
[8]

Ramzi Awn: Talk about a time machine. Is this a new song? Not a Loose Ends B-side? Not René & Angela? Because I feel like I just woke up in 1986 and I have to decide which trapper keeper to bring to school. Which, obviously, is my favorite way to wake up. “We Continue” could indeed go on all night. A healthy reminder that there was a time when love songs were built for the sake of love, always and forever.
[10]

Will Adams: The synth-funk sounds carved out of ice; the morphing pad sounds like the water slowly rolling down as it melts. But then there are those pitchy vox to contend with. Continue it does, but nowhere it goes.
[5]

Alfred Soto: He once got Steve Arrington contributions, which should say something about his inclinations even if that wobbly bass line didn’t. Fine as far as it goes.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: This isn’t “G-Funk,” it’s just straight-up uncut funk, period. The bass wobbles like jello, the vocals owe a significant debt to Dam-Funk’s buddy Steve Arrington, and the keys are as plush as your favorite upholstery. Somehow this guy manages to keep making retro sound current. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: The groove feels effortless, which means that I can forgive that the song feels like it could do with a bit more effort. That “guitar” “solo” is like a crack in the facade that reveals genuine joy in the production. I can’t really imagine dancing to this, but I can visualise its place on the playlist of some dimly lit bar in the city around 1am. I like those places, and I like this.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Not giving up on my dreams resulted in an unstable apartment, no money, and an inability to pay off my debts, including what should be inconsequential loans from friends. I have no love inside me, only hate and fear. 
[3]

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Jamie Woon – Sharpness

“Buttery smoothness” more like.


[Video][Website]
[6.43]

Scott Mildenhall: At first this is eerily reminiscent of some the tedious stretches of the last Daft Punk album, but it unfurls into something more engaging than the basic lounge muzak it threatens. Part of that is down to Jamie Woon’s impossibly smooth tone, imbuing his non-groundbreaking story with believability, and part of it comes from how that story is enhanced by the slightest of imaginative choices – a song focused on the word “sharpness” gives the same kind of enjoyment as Girls Aloud having “anaesthetise” in the chorus of “No Good Advice”. Also, never underestimate the power of a good abrupt ending.
[7]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The peek-a-boo shortness of the chorus’ key change switches the mood from smoove to sleek, which is a step up: it shows Woon knows the difference between making £12 hotel cocktail suite and actual sonic seduction. All that Mai Tai swooning works for something this crisp, though. From the air-tight production down to the bulbous swathes of keyboard, he’s selling you on more than just another blue-eyed soul record. He’s selling you affluence.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I can’t deny its solid structure, and the organ washes complement his modest vocals. But corners need edges, not to mention sharpness.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Sharp like a switchblade: you don’t know it has you at knifepoint until it’s too late (specifically, at 2:17). If only the ending didn’t retract so suddenly.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: R&B made as if it’s deep house; Sam Smith would do well to be paying attention.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Jamie swoons with an old school blend of underground that could have been lifted from the club scene in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven.” “Sharpness” could be written off as another Tracy Chapman anomaly, but the Miguel-infused vocal is too precise, and the bass too dark. Minute 2:47 has never heard such a growling bass line.  
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Not to say it’s aural wallpaper, because Jamie Woon’s voice and artistry are at least painting-standard, but this is so thoroughly average that I can’t imagine anyone having a strong opinion about it. I still love the sparse, twilit drama of a track like “Night Air,” and this seems tasteful rather than tense by comparison.
[5]

Friday, August 28th, 2015

FKA Twigs – Figure 8

In which we reconsider attitudes.


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Ramzi Awn: The rhythms, soundscapes and levels on “Figure 8″ are all an easy 10, and FKA Twigs’ vocals are exceptional. For some time, it was a scary thing to listen to FKA Twigs. The music was simply too good. It was a combination of jealousy, disturbance and sheer lack of bandwidth that kept some people me away all this time, but the fact remains that the songstress is the new generation’s answer to Bjork. She has spoken candidly about her career, discussing Kate Bush along the way, and it shows. While some may demand a moratorium on references to artists like Kate Bush and Bjork, their indelible influence is on every part of “Figure 8,” and it is better for it. The melodic intervals on the track borrow from the same British brand, and every instrument sounds like a brush off the same palette, forcing you to reexamine all preconceived notions of what music should sound like. “Figure 8″ invites Twigs’ falsetto — one of her most powerful tools — and simply put, blows you away.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: Enough people I respect tremendously love FKA Twigs enough that I’m beginning to think I was too harsh on LP1. Dumping Paul Epworth and Emile Haynie for Boots is both symbolic and desperately needed; the result is something like Kristy Thirsk singing a Lydia Ainsworth song. But only half of one.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Clinking and clanking like the ghosts of Waits and Angels with Dirty Faces-era Harvey are in the machine, “Figure 8″ bears no resemblance to any R&B I know but she’s played it live for a while. Striking, but it hints at secret things that may not be worth the trouble divining.
[5]

Iain Mew: “Hold that pose for me” she says, in the midst of doing just that, messing with tempo and pitch to stretch out a musical moment even more effectively than in “Video Girl”. It’s like she’s stepped off a tightrope but gravity hasn’t caught up with her yet. The rest of the song is both thrilling and business as usual.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh, now I get it: FKA twigs is making the records that Björk would be, had her music not gotten so dull. Boots, the producer behind many of the highlights of Beyoncé, would seem a perfect assistant with FKA twigs’ own experimental pop vision, and he proves that here: the track stops and starts and gurgles like Aphex Twin making an R&B record. “Figure 8″ goes over the edge that B’s “Haunted” stayed perched on the precipice of. This is, real talk, boundary-pushing pop music, deep and powerful.
[8]

Will Adams: A riddle, wrapped in snap-crackle-pops, inside a distortion filter.
[5]

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Pvris – Fire

No gold this time, just fire…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Thomas Inskeep: There will be comparisons to Paramore, because Pvris is a rock band with a female singer, but they’re unwarranted; this is better all-around: tougher, gnarlier, and with, sneakily, a more DOR beat. Tweak the production and this could be 1982, though I’m glad it’s not.
[7]

Alfred Soto: I could appreciate this would-be piece of incineration if Lyndsey Gunnulfsen fought the beat and came up with an attractive vocal melody instead of following the usual progressions.
[5]

Iain Mew: The most striking part is the bridge where the dark synth undercurrents coalesce — ooh ooh ooh — into something that sounds like La Roux’s “In for the Kill”. It embodies the calm certainty that backs up the thrashier moments of revenge Pvris unleash.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Rewind back to 1999 and my girlfriend’s Le Baron and “Fire” sounds just right. Surprisingly, it does more than hold up — even today. The drums push and shove Gunn’s searing voice with conviction, and it’s clear that Pvris is more than just your average rock band.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Focus on the “burning/turning” rhyme and you may miss how astoundingly grim this is. The bratty strut of the pre-chorus is great, and Lyndsey Gunnulfsen pronounces “burning up” something like “burgning up,” so it’s a maximum taunt. But the band moves between passages a split-second too late, like they built this song with the controlled pyro built in.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: “Fire” is closer to EDM-pop than a lot of this genre, fuzzy processing on everything and melodies right off the radio (“Monster” and “Firework”), but it delivers what all great pop-punk does: a rush of Manic Panic to the face.
[8]

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Bea Miller – Fire N Gold

Fire AND gold? Wow, we are spoiled!


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Katherine St Asaph: The guitar intro suggests this has been sitting around the studio for a while (even the release date was over a year ago). The rest can’t decide whether it wants to be Ellie Goulding or Neon Trees.
[4]

Iain Mew: I was on the verge of saying that this all sounds like Ellie Goulding, but then I listened closer and for the most part it doesn’t. Bea Miller’s voice and songwriting are generally quite distinct. It’s just that all of the other ideas are subservient to the chorus, and that is so much like “Burn,” which I was over so long ago, that it retroactively infects the rest of the song.
[4]

Crystal Leww: I’ve been really impressed with this wave of alt teens, from the cool-kid shunning Echosmith to the pop-punking Against the Current to the anthemic-uplifting Bea Miller. The themes here aren’t new, and lyrically, this is kind of clunky (“like an astronaut scared of heights” is not exactly the best line committed to record this year), and the drop swerves and swoops like a formula, but the music is pretty good after all, and Bea Miller really commits to the schtick. As soon as that chorus’s belted out “fire and gold in your eyes” hits, I believe it, and I believe in her, too. This is teen pop for kids done well.
[6]

Brad Shoup: Little hi-hat explosions in the verses, pneumatic snare hits in the refrain. Still, I eventually heard that first line over all that nonsense.
[4]

Will Adams: I just really like when songs become their own dubstep remix.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: See, this is how you work EDM traits into a booming radio-ready pop song. Miller’s voice is a bit thin — imagine this sung by the Pat Benatar of “Invincible” — but this has a fine big sound to it. 
[6]

Alfred Soto: This X Factor contestant is committed to this track’s swoops and dips, despite the track’s predictable swoops and dips failing to commit to her.
[4]