Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Fedez ft. Dark Polo Gang – TVTB

It’s been a controversial day so far, let’s calm things down with something we can more or less agree isn’t very good!


[Video][Website]
[3.33]

Thomas Inskeep: Aggressive Italian hip-hop which I wish would lose the Auto-Tune; it doesn’t need it. What it needs is a little more variety, because Fedez’s rapping style is fairly one-note.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: With its vowel potential for endless rhyme schemes, Italian might be the language that suits rap second best behind English, and Fedez is the biggest thing going in Italian rap at the moment, with five songs off his album making the top 10. You know it’s 2019 by the sadboy Auto-Tune, but the stop-start side-to-side rock of the production sounds plucked out of the last decade. I’m not feeling this as the best advertisement for Fedez’s talents.
[4]

Jibril Yassin: A supposed all-star collaboration that feels cloddish. Fedez’s hook, supposed to evoke Lil Pump, struggles to liftoff, and the less we say about Wayne Santana’s verse, the better. 
[2]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “TVTB” hinges on how well its four rappers are able to keep its danceable groove intact. Fedez’s hook is fine, but it mostly works because its “ah ah” back-and-forth sets itself up as an effective contrast with Wayne Santana’s five-beat chants. Prynce’s following verse has a lackadaisical flow that would work in most contexts, but it butts heads with the beat, bringing the song to a grinding halt. “TVTB” isn’t able to recover, and all the vocal processing soon becomes grating, like it’s trying to compensate for a lack of ideas. By the time Tony Effie comes in, his presence seems wildly unnecessary. The various sound effects and the beat’s slight alterations are desperate attempts at keeping listeners on board.
[2]

Iain Mew: Like “Næsta,” “TVTB” sounds plugged into a whole world of music and like it could be anyone anywhere, but it’s a reversal of what made that song so charming. Rather than offering a surprising tour of possibilities and identities, Fedez just struggles to come up with even one.
[3]

Iris Xie: This song is best listened to when you are at a house party where you know, like, one person, and you are increasingly receding into the couch, delicately holding your drink high above your head to avoid spilling that careful mixture, and embodying the fullest definition of “not feeling it.” Fedez has created a song that playacts at its genre, with staid verses and a weakly catchy chorus that is mixed together with tropes straight out of a hip hop starter pack, featuring the trio of “woo-woo” trill calls, a random woman sexually moaning, and decidedly unsexy animal noises. Despite its determination, “TVTB” lacks the most pivotal component: a sense of swag that can carry its own weight.
[4]

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Tenille Townes – Somebody’s Daughter

…who had a boyfriend, who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year…


[Video]
[5.45]

Stephen Eisermann: It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to the people on the side of the road who ask for money, but this song does a good job of humanizing these people. It reads poorly, but I know so many people who view those less fortunate as others and less human. But they have a story, as Tenille Townes sings, and it is a disservice to view them so negatively. Maybe giving them a story doesn’t change the way other people treat them, but the rough country tune and lived-in vocal do well to remind us that everyone is someone, even if they’re standing behind a sign that is asking for money.
[7]

Ramzi Awn: Tenille Townes echos and reverbs through her cascading dreams with a natural rhythm and undeniable fight. Down to the gym, “Somebody’s Daughter” is the kind of song that gives you faith in songwriting. Townes hangs on tight in the hook, and comes through — shines, really.
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Shiny, au courant country production (the drums are mixed LOUD) supporting one of the best lyrics I’ve heard in the past year, wondering about the background of a homeless woman who Townes sees panhandling. Townes has a great voice too, unique as hell. This is what I wish (much) more contemporary country sounded like.
[9]

Alfred Soto: I expected “Another Day in Paradise” — privileged white person noting homelessness. Tenille Townes’s big voice is subtle enough, however, to project curiosity about the woman without requiring us to congratulate her for noticing. The production, though, does call attention to itself, as if the women were Noriega and Townes and co. were the Marines blasting Guns ‘N Roses.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hold on, you’re telling me that homeless people have names and personal histories? And you’re starting to empathize with them because they may have run lemonade stands once or been someone’s first kiss? “Somebody’s Daughter” is music for people who find some sense of moral satisfaction in simply pondering the plight of the less fortunate. “Somebody’s Daughter” is music for cowards.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: Often with glurge songs, it’s the little details that are most revealing. Here, it’s the names: “She could be a Sarah, she could be an Emily, an Olivia, maybe Cassidy.” Individually these names are too extremely popular to code as much (though, if I’m nitpicking, they were extremely popular in different decades, and surely the speaker’d notice whether the woman’s 35 or 18). But together, they suggest formerly middle-class, likely white bounds on the person to whom Townes, Luke Laird and Barry Dean are extending their empathy. The names betray the respectability politics: the speaker’s empathy comes after picturing this woman with an idyllic childhood of besties and lemonade stands and prom dates just like we (“we”?) had, as if maybe if that weren’t so automatic to imagine, they wouldn’t write a song about her. Shame about the track, too, remarkably robust guitars stuck reluctantly in church.
[3]

Iris Xie: Definitely a song to play at a fundraising banquet, right before tapping the mic and asking for more funds to donate and support social welfare causes. Or maybe it’d be part of a time capsule to let aliens know that our society has failed in providing everyone homes and our current political and economic system utterly fails at supporting everyone except for the corrupt rich. But no, we sit here, listening privately to a plaintive song that helps remind people to be humane and not see houseless people as a nuisance, and to break out of the compartmentalization that is required to survive in a world like ours right now. The lines “Well, no one’s gonna ask what she wants to be / Or why we’re both stuck here at the mercy of geography / And whether it shines or rains” is a deft and evocative take on the fates wrought upon the most marginalized, and due to life requiring intense compartmentalization to get by, the awkwardness and sadness that comes with bumping into a houseless person on the street and cursing systemic inequity. The swell in the final chorus, and how it fades out for the outro, helps cement the force of Townes’s point — we’re all connected with histories, and let’s not forget about that, even with the callous, careless ways one could treat each other in daily life.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: “And can she even tell that I don’t know what to say?” is maybe the most patronizing thing said during the run of “Somebody’s Daughter.” Clearly, Tenille Townes does know what she wants to say about homelessness (or prostitution, or drug addiction, or whatever vague plight has befallen the person whose misfortune Townes blames on the “mercy of geography”), but she’s putting it in a song about a convenient subject and not words spoken to that person. No, woke country from the vein tapped (and in the lane cleared) by Ms. Musgraves need not be sociologically rigorous — but if it’s going to sound like friggin’ “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” it might try compensating with compassion beyond “a coupla dollars” and wondering out loud whether those down on their luck have feelings.
[3]

Julian Axelrod: The morality politics are murky, but the details and that voice shine through clear as day. The specificity and micro-macro balance evoke a worldliness that blends well with the country trappings, like a Kinks song transposed to the heartland. Tenille Townes sounds way more like Julien Baker than either artists’ fanbase would like to admit.
[7]

Tim de Reuse: In the bridge, Townes laments: “I don’t know the reasons why / I’m the one who’s driving by / and she’s the one on the corner of 18th Street,” and then cuts it off without a moment’s consideration as to what any of those reasons might be, as if the factors that cause people to end up without a place to sleep are random and unknowable. To make such a revelation out of the idea that homeless people are people, and then have absolutely nothing to say past that — ah, how quintessentially 21st-century!
[4]

Alex Clifton: Look, I love a good Message Song, but I’m not sure about “Somebody’s Daughter.” It’s fine, capable, but by the time the outro hits the entire song passes out of my head. If your goal is to make a message about homelessness stick, making it into easy listening might not be the best bet. I hate overly maudlin ballads that turn into after-school specials, so I’m glad this didn’t fall into that trap. I just want a little more from it.
[5]

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Beck ft. Robyn & The Lonely Island – Super Cool

Now presenting a lineup probably thought up previously by some fanfic writer, probably one of us, in 2009…


[Video]
[4.31]

Julian Axelrod: Finally, a song 10-year-old Julian, 15-year-old Julian and 23-year-old Julian can agree on.
[7]

David Moore: Ha, pegged this as the Lego Movie sequel immediately! I would say “I must have kids,” heh heh, but no, it’s just me — c’mon, my son is terrified of all screen media, my parenting is on point. (Wait, Beck is on this?)
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The best thing Beck has done in a while — and I actually like late period Beck.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Confusing pastiche and parody with a L.A. nihilist’s glee, Midnite Vultures had several tracks that borrowed Peter Gabriel’s “Steam,” added thicker booties, and painted a Morris Day face on them. If “Super Cool” is parody, the target’s a mystery; if pastiche, well, Robyn and Beck can’t light novena candles to their cooler younger selves. Or can they? 
[5]

Ian Mathers: Beck has fallen off so hard that even with these collaborators I was bracing myself, but luckily enough his vocal performance here seems to at least remember that Midnite Vultures was a thing; meanwhile Robyn doesn’t have much to do but does it well, and the Lonely Island make me wish someone would give them a budget (again; if you haven’t seen Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, you are in for a treat).
[7]

Jessica Doyle: If you find The Lonely Island funny on repeat (and I do), most of the pleasure comes from them taking a pop-musical idea, immersing themselves in said idea, throwing in some mental trash, and serving up something gleefully askew. That’s what I thought, at first, was going on here: The Lonely Island bringing in Beck and Robyn to help them channel Oracular Spectacular-era MGMT, for some reason, and since to this day I will sing “You’ve got sixty percent less fat than potato chips” at the drop of a hat, I was all for it. Especially once we got to “Like a stray dog on the freeway, we’ll fly.” (The husky we adopted two weeks ago has so far wiggled out of her collar, bolted for the front door and the garage door, destroyed the back screen door, and managed to escape a locked, chained gate at the local dog park; my flinching at that line is not a problem but a salute.) But then the song degenerates into two –two! — verses about reading the end credits, and those verses are not funny, completely unconnected to the preceding setup and nauseatingly bland. This is exactly the kind of schlock The Lonely Island used to refrain from delivering.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Well, by sticking the Lonely Island on here with a pair of “rap” interludes about film credits, whoever put this song together ruined it nicely. Beck sounds like he’s having fun, and Robyn sounds like — well, a backup singer getting her big break (she deserves better) — but without editing out Samberg et al., this is fairly unlistenable.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: Doing verses about credits is super dumb (but then again, I thought the verse/chorus disparity of “Jack Sparrow” was stupid and not funny at all) and meta in a bad way. But that’s the only thing I don’t like and both of those bits are over quickly if you want to tune out and dream of Andy Samberg’s ridiculous yet beautiful face, which I don’t always. Beck’s verse is like he mashed up “Mixed Bizness” and “Nicotine & Gravy,” which are two of his most fun songs, and the chorus sounds terrific on the radio — I heard it in a shopping mall on the weekend and it really made me want to buy things. Not necessarily Lego, but not not Lego!
[8]

Iris Xie: Andy Samberg doing an E-40 impression and Beck repeatedly singing “everything is super cool” makes me panic from the suggestion that my genuine joy of childhood can be seamlessly reproduced with no errors. Except this is all glitches. Cheery, forced conformity that rips open itself in a twisted form would be cool if it were more self-aware. This is late crisis capitalism — get me out of here!
[0]

Jonathan Bradley: Seeing “Everything is Awesome!!!” in the context of The Lego Movie didn’t make it a better song, but it did make it a more awesome one — the film translated a lot of that infectious idiotic glee. I don’t know if, in context, “Super Cool” actually becomes super cool; out of, it’s awfully thin. Beck has the ability to be silly, which makes it all the more unusual how stiff his funk is here. Robyn is at her worst when she is silly — that’s how “Konichiwa Bitches” happened — so it’s for the best that she sticks to hook duty. (The Lonely Island is meta. You know how it goes.)
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Beck does his best Kaytranada, Robyn is dissolved in the beat like she’s Cassie, and then The Lonely Island show up, in case you were into it, to remind us it’s all a joke.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’m not a fan of musicians who can neatly and primarily be labeled “comedy.” Their existence and exultation highlight an odd, prevailing notion that art (particularly music) must be serious in order to be taken seriously, and that comedy is something else. There’s also the fact that everything is funnier when you aren’t going into it expecting to laugh. All this said, The Lonely Island’s feature here is abysmal even for their low standards. Haha yea they’re pointing out the not-so-exciting act of watching the end credits! Hilarious. At least “Everything is Awesome” featured a “XD so random!” element that didn’t feel so tethered to when it played in the movie. As with many songs for soundtracks, children, or soundtracks for children’s films, “Super Cool” finds every artist’s personality here sanded down to the point of non-existence. And for what purpose, exactly? Accessibility? A digestible message? Hooks that need to be watered-down in order to sound peppy? Kids deserve better animated films than The Lego Movie franchise, and they certainly deserve better music than “Super Cool.”
[0]

Alex Clifton: I am honestly too old for this shit.
[2]

Monday, February 18th, 2019

LightSkinKeisha ft. B Smyth – Ride Good

But who’s in the driver’s seat?


[Video]
[4.29]

Crystal Leww: It’s 2019 and I’m shocked that most women who are rapping still somehow end up releasing a sultry R&B hit as part of their “commercial” rollout. We’ve not done a good job creating ways for women to take other paths, and it comes to show how the industry as a whole has seemingly organ rejected attempts to positively cover the wave of women who got famous rapping on the internet (e.g. Azealia Banks, Dai Burger) or women who were part of local scenes like Chicago drill. In the last couple of years, LightSkinKeisha made a lot of songs that honestly weren’t that different from each other sonically, but she stood out for her playfulness. This has sanded down all that made her fun and youthful and has turned her into another entry in the crowded lane of female R&B singers. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: Times have changed, so why stick LightSkinKeisha behind an R&B performer whose”hope you can handle a stick shift, babe” is an example of his marvelous wit?
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It’s inherently lame that LightSkinKeisha made a middling R&B track that ended up being considerably more successful than any of her rap singles. Chalk it up to the tough barrier to entry for female rappers, or the general public’s bad taste, but “Ride Good” is a bottom of the barrel mid-2010s R&B duet that would feature Jeremih or a Jeremih-like singer. The lyrics are unabashedly sexual, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but the beat is too flimsy and inert to make any of it convincing. The two sound like they’re flailing, like strangers cosplaying as a sexually confident couple. They may feel the chemistry, but to spectators they appear awkward and inexperienced.
[2]

Iris Xie: It’s sad (or expected) that the hook is fuckboyish, because everything on this track coasts on the strength of the bassline and skittering, crystalline instrumentals in the back. But LightSkinKeisha is a feature on her own debut track, and while I find it interesting in terms of B Smyth having to constantly convey and yearn to her, the last third appears to dawdle and he’s stagnant. Is he stuck while shifting his stick shift? This song is worth the duration of at least one well drink, when you’re waiting for more hype songs to come on at the (straight) club.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: A cushy vibe, a phat-assed bassline, a male singer in B Smyth who sounds just pleading enough — but the star here is rapper LightSkinKeisha, who’s here to tell you just what she wants from a man. “Ride Good” is easy on one hand but also just seductive enough. (Upped a point because every time I hear it on the radio, I stop and listen to the end.)
[7]

David Moore: I’m generally down on the pornographic detail that’s overtaken sexual innuendo for about a decade running now, but if you’re really going to go with “stick shift” as your central image, couldn’t you put a little effort into at least one additional euphemism?
[5]

Andy Hutchins: Americans have made pop music strangely obsessed with the fuckability and/or anthropomorphic aesthetic appeal of motor vehicles for a long time, going back to at least “Little Deuce Coupe.” But it feels increasingly like most who have come of age since “You Remind Me of My Jeep” have inexplicably taken inspiration from a songwriter whose tendency was always toward literalism that only worked because it bordered on the absurd. And so we have “stick shift” used here to just mean penis, which confounds “You shiftin’ the gears on my stick shift, babe” in a purely painful way. This could have worked better as a dialogue, but the overlong hook puts too bright a spotlight on a sub-Trey Songz vocalist who tries very hard to outshine the other side of the ft. credit, and the too-short verses — the second of which begins more than two minutes into a four-minute song — don’t actually care enough about trying to interact with the metaphor to accelerate out of the turns.
[4]

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved

We’re not sure what gave you that impression, Lewis.


[Video][Website]
[2.33]

Julian Axelrod: Late one rainy eve, Ryan Tedder sat alone in his lab. It was a night like any other; he was putting the finishing touches on the closing ballad for Jess Glynne’s new EP. But in the pit of his stomach, he knew something was wrong. He tried to put his fears aside, racking his brain for a word that rhymes with “matrimony,” when his assistant Sherrie burst through the door. “Mr. Tedder, you better come quick… It’s escaped.” Ryan sprinted through the halls of his compound, but he already knew it was too late. When he reached the holding cells, he stopped dead in his tracks. There stood a giant, pulsating figure made out of pure, dull light. Ryan recognized it immediately: He’d been assembling his cast-off piano ballads in secret, hoping to create a figure so bland, so soporific, it would lull the world into eternal slumber. But this was bigger and duller than he’d ever intended. Various holders and hangers-on tried to contain it, but they were no match for its drowsy might. “Step away,” Ryan commanded. He slowly, gingerly, crept toward the light. He reached out to touch it; as he ran his hand across his surface, he was astounded by how smooth and plain it felt. It almost felt like he was touching nothing at all. “Shall I call the authorities, Mr. Tedder?” Sherrie whispered. “That won’t be necessary,” Ryan replied. “We can use this. We’ll release it into the world, get it some UK radio play, maybe a spot at Glastonbury. And we’ll call him… Lewis Capaldi.”
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Eerie: it’s almost six years to the day since I’ve had reason to mention the Pachelbel Rant.
[3]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The thing about overwrought piano ballads is that the instrumentation is always a double-edged sword. It’s often simplistic, like it is here, so the musicality of the piece is moot, because it’s really just a showcase for the vocals. But, at the same time, there’s a unique catharsis that is understood when one performs a piano ballad — the near-thoughtless playing of simple chords and melodies gives a sense of purpose to the belting out of sad lyrics, the rudimentary piano-playing a mere crutch to help justify and encourage this therapy session. I feel the same way about “Someone You Loved” as I do “Someone Like You” as I do any song of their ilk: they have a way of successfully transferring the act of sitting at a piano and singing and singing and singing. Capaldi offers trite lyrics and an ingratiating performance, but I still feel the ever-universal loneliness of a dinky, right-handed melody.
[4]

Andy Hutchins: Astoundingly, there is a market for loud-loud-louder-LOUDEST verse-chorus-verse-bridge progressions of Sheeranian lyrics. Unsurprisingly, there is not much appeal to that mish-mash.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Thank you, Ed Sheeran, for opening those gates to hell. 
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: He even looks a bit like Sheeran, for Pete’s sake.
[1]

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Twenty One Pilots – Chlorine

On our pop periodic table, “Chlorine” falls below “Neon,” “Titanium,” “Gold,” and even Foxygen


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Katherine St Asaph: Straight chlorine is a gas, not a liquid, which should give you an idea of the level of fakedeep here. The production, though, is realdeep, more lush and orchestral than anything that has any business being given to Twenty One Pilots; toward the end, with the vocoder, it’s even sweeping a bit toward Daft Punk.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Leisurely, weird, and incomprehensible even to their swollen cult, “Chlorine” could be a Side B track from Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. “This beat is a chemical” goes one line, but my favorite is, “The lead is terrible in flavor,” which, sure, is helpful advice. I mentioned Double Dee, but “Chlorine” is mutant un-disco comprised of parts ranging across decades and genres: perdedor Beck backbeat, Madonna latte rap, the sincere smooth tug of Chris Martin, still an influence on singers. To a degree I applaud Twenty One Pilots for essaying such a tuneful muddle. 
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Twenty One Pilots are as lame as previous Fueled By Ramen band Gym Class Heroes, and as beige as Trench-producer Paul Meany’s Mutemath, but they deserve far less flak than they receive. “Chlorine” is a five-minute, multi-suite “epic” that primarily falls short because the production transforms the whole thing into an indistinguishable grey slurry. From the twinkling piano to the dubby guitars to the cinematic strings, every instrument’s innate sonic qualities are dampened by an overarching sameness in sound. The clearest testament to this is the drums; it’s relatively unwavering in both beat and disposition, making every sequence feel like the song hasn’t developed.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: Leaden, deadened bass synths with firefly synths and flat, barren drums bury Tyler’s limp croon under the mushroom horns.
[4]

Iris Xie: I just burst into giggles after the second verse started, because the contrast between the stone-faced hook and the psychedelic pop-lite of the warble with “Lovin’ what I’m tastin'” and the extra pitch up of the warble at the end after “tasting'” is hilarious, like gilding a lily and then setting it on fire because it’s made out of formaldehyde. And that decision continues haunting the song with that deadpan hook of “Sipping on straight chlorine.” This is a banal form of sadness. If this is supposed to be a song, could Rihanna just record this and add a sorely needed gravitas that could make people take this sad white boy song seriously (à la “Stay”)?
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: God, I wish 21P would go “sippin’ on straight chlorine.” Shame I can’t use it to clean my ears of this garbage.
[0]

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending February 16, 2019


Our writers have been hard at work! First, with some reactions to the Grammys:

But wait, there’s more!

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Kacey Musgraves – Rainbow

And we close the week with the Golden girl of the Grammys.


[Video][Website]
[6.25]

Edward Okulicz: On Golden Hour, this feels like an unnecessary coda tacked on; after the beautiful resolution of the title track, the record didn’t need another song about everything being alright. Also in that context, I find the second verse’s pat rhymes to be a bit gloopy and childish. Taken as a song on its own merits, though, it really works, but almost any other performer wouldn’t have the empathetic character to sell it. And she does sell it, because the chorus is one hell of a warming hug. There’s a fine line between touching and glurge, and this is on the right side of it. I hope it becomes a sizeable hit so Kacey can strip-mine her wonderful album for further singles until she hits “Love is a Wild Thing.”
[8]

Alex Clifton: “Rainbow” revisits the theme of “Silver Lining,” the opening track from Musgraves’s first album, in a much different light. “Silver Lining” is a song about someone who’s so afraid to live normally and find happiness that they shoot themselves in the foot by never even trying. “Rainbow” is more about someone who can’t try because they’re too sad to do so. “Silver Lining” is a buck-up song, one to remind you on the hardest days that you’ve got to do the big scary things because there’s no other way to live, while “Rainbow” is its gentle, kind cousin that reminds you to be careful and tender with yourself. It’s a simple, affecting song, just vocals and piano, and yet it never feels sappy; it’s the equivalent of being hugged by someone you love. Uplifting songs are really hard to balance, but “Rainbow” stands out with its restraint. It’s quiet and honest, and that makes it all the more beautiful.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: When Kacey Musgraves sang “Rainbow” on the Grammys — only the goddamn Grammys would stick her with this slush when “High Horse” is right! there! — I had to swear about four times to the person watching with me some variation of “no, wait, I promise she’s actually good.” The reason: “Rainbow” is the kind of piano ballad that is usually a showcase for divas. To quote Musgraves’ album, it’s pageant material. So the understated charm of her vocals, so perfect on “Slow Burn” or “Lonely Weekend” or “Oh, What a World,” here comes off as fourth-rate Whitney Houston, particularly since she swallows most of the high notes.
[1]

Alfred Soto: Suspicious about the consensus building around Golden Hour, I hoped Grammy audiences would get “High Horse” or “Wonder Woman,” one of the well-wrought miniatures to which fans had run as if the songs were roaring fireplaces in January. Instead, “Rainbow” offers the poised, broadly scaled empathy that conservatives mock on social media — I’m surprised Carrie Underwood didn’t cover it on her last album. Folks, if you want to convert Kacey Musgraves skeptics this ain’t what you’re looking for.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Firm, warm and heavy piano twists and turns, Kacey’s empathetic, warm croon soars into the sky, spreading a rainbow behind her.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: The final track on Golden Hour is a pretty ballad, just a piano and Musgraves’ voice singing some really beautiful lyrics. And that sums it up tidily: your reaction will largely be based on how you feel about such stripped-down balladry; I’m good with it on occasion, especially when sung by a voice as attractive as this one.
[7]

Stephen Eisermann: This song will mean a million things to a million different people and that’s part of the reason why it’s so great, but I’ve always looked at it as a nod to the gay community. Kacey has regularly spoken about her allyship and the lyrics seem like the perfect thing to tell a closeted teen boy growing up in a Mexican Catholic home; what I wouldn’t have given to hear this wonderful woman singing to me that there is a rainbow above despite all the worry and weight I was carrying. Kacey’s sincerity shines through and provides all the warmth that the sparse piano arrangement allows for and you can’t help but be impressed by the vulnerability of the vocal she provides. Like a rainbow after a heavy storm, this song is a necessary light after a lot of darkness.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Would’ve preferred that Kacey ended her album with “Golden Hour.” Would’ve also preferred that “Golden Hour” (or anything else, really) was sung at the Grammys and became her new single. What we got instead was a plain piano ballad, her own “Yesterday.” The image that’s conjured up with raincoats, umbrellas, and rainbows makes plainness its virtue: a song so universal that it’s well-suited as a lullaby for crying newborns. It’s a sweet sentiment, but most of its power comes in how any person could have made this feel personal. The reverb helps.
[4]

Iris Xie: I love, love, love, ballads. But this is unbearably flat, spare, and sounds childish. Maybe when the ASPCA finally stops using that Sarah McLachlan song, they could switch over to this.
[2]

Matias Taylor: The gorgeous melody paired with Kacey’s songwriting voice (unpretentious but endlessly clever and resonant) makes the song genuinely uplifting, making it feel like we’vejust discovered a universal but forgotten truth by tuning into her words. Kacey expresses comfort as always within our own reach, as simple as realizing that things aren’t always as bad as they seem, and the perfectly executed metaphor is an ideal match for the simple elegance of this track and the rest of its parent album.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: If singer-songwriters are going to persist in the production of tasteful, unadventurous ballads, I can only hope that they put as much care into them as Kacey Musgraves & Co put into “Rainbow.” It works for the same reason the rest of her catalog does — not necessarily because of any shocking innovation in the form but a good-hearted, detail-filled ethic that suffuses the whole enterprise with a certain joy. Is it the best song on Golden Hour? Certainly not. But it’s the best of its kind, and a beautifully written piece regardless.
[7]

Will Adams: “You’re depressed,” my therapist said, pausing for effect. I didn’t know how to respond; it was so direct and simple. Everything to that point felt like a fog, perhaps a storm cloud, of circular thoughts I’d wrapped around myself: the recognition that something was wrong but the inability to name it; the fact that the last time I felt truly happy was when I was nineteen, but the theory that this was just a part of growing up; the fear that every single person in my life was simultaneously staring right at me in judgment and looking the other way in embarrassment; the notion that I desperately needed to talk to someone, the admission that no one would care. And in half a second, it was distilled into a single point of clarity. I could almost feel the clouds part in me. That was in summer of last year, after I’d heard Golden Hour and its closing track, “Rainbow.” I’d appreciated its clear sound and uplifting message, and it hit the soft spot I have for album-ending ballads. But sometime after that meeting, I listened again. I burst into tears. It felt as if Kacey were singing directly to me, reaching out for my shoulder as it heaved, and guiding me toward the sun. Therapy is grueling — I often left sessions with a headache, a scratchy throat, or both, after unraveling myself in front of a stranger, pouring out years of bottled sadness, frustration and fear. As good as it felt to release it in the room, I would walk to my car with the words still swirling, the amount of work I still had to do towering over me. I kept going. I kept talking. I started a prescription. The anxiety persists, but I can resist it better. “Rainbow” remains the keepsake from my 2018, a safe harbor to return to for three minutes if ever thunder threatens me. “It’ll all be all right,” Kacey sings, and it means everything to finally be able to believe that.
[10]

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Astro – All Night

This review is about the Korean group. For the tiny, adorable American rapper, please see “Astro (disambiguation)”


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Thomas Inskeep: Oh, it’s a midtempo doesn’t-go-anywhere (even albeit with a pneumatic chorus and a rap break), what a disappointment; I was hoping for a Slaughter-esque party anthem. And on top of that, it’s not even a particularly good midtempo. 
[3]

Iris Xie: This is Mariah Carey at her most boring, split into 7 Korean boys. It’s sincere to the point of snoozy, and the hook isn’t catchy to capture the attention required to really take in the entire song. Kpop is often at its best when the disparate elements all combine and mesh together to form a strong feeling of elation, but this just feels like it is desperate to please. A song that definitely rides on choreography and flower boy-pretty faces to get it through. 
[3]

Ryo Miyauchi: Though the burst of synths and speedy drums in the chorus serve as a good hook, the real experience of “All Night” is settling in the airy, cozy pianos that turn more tender as Astro ruminate deeper about their crush. The music responds to the boys, growing warmer and fuzzier as they spend more time in their thoughts. Insomnia has rarely felt this comforting.
[6]

Alex Clifton: “All Night” takes a while to build, and once it hits the final chorus it feels spectacular. I wish it didn’t meander for quite so long before it finds its groove, but the wait is worth it.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: LDN Noise made such a huge impact in K-pop that it’s fairly easy to trace its embrace of contemporary dance music trends (and contemporary takes on retro styles of dance music) back to the songwriter/producer duo. I can’t say I’m fond of all their recent work, though, and Astro’s “All Night” is one such example. It’s all flash and no substance: pretty synths and crashing glass that only have the semblance of energy. It doesn’t really develop into anything either, something that’s a result of the limited dynamic range and unmemorable chorus. So many moments feel like they should be exciting — the chorus’s declarative hook, the moments during the rap verses where the instrumentation fades out, whenever the kick drum revs into overdrive — but the songwriting prevents it from getting there. At least they got the title right: zzZzZZZzz.
[3]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The beat is the kind of 2000s-R&B + EDM-pop combo that rarely fails to trick me into at least paying attention to a song. Once “All Night” caught my attention, though, I found a lot to like — nothing revolutionary, but a charming set of vocal performances, with the harmonies carrying their weight, goes a long way.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: A game attempt to synthesise the Mariah/The-Dream ballad formula for big returns (Rocky’s rap flow almost sounds like Mariah on the second verse of “We Belong Together”), and “All Night” has plenty of glimmer even if it’s only reflection. I’ve got an endless weakness for lush, shiny pop ballads and this certainly is one of those even if it’s not particularly distinctive.
[6]

Will Adams: I promise this will be the last time I’m fooled by a song that ultimately has very little to offer but still sports a banging chorus. Pinky swear.
[6]

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Mabel – Don’t Call Me Up

So then I says to Mabel, I says…


[Video][Website]
[4.38]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Old Rules
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Mabel deserves better than Dua Lipa’s trop-house cast-offs.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Mabel’s steely performance elevates this rote trop-house, as does the slight hint of tension: Every time things get good, the mood’s punctured — or invited to be punctured — by “don’t call me up.” (Though the intent’s probably just to cram the hook in as many times as possible.) Nevertheless, it is still rote trop-house.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Mabel’s slight, soft voice is dragged down by the plummeting production, especially the glazed donut Autotune on the chorus.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: Mabel’s delivery is endearingly earnest, and the chorus is just weird enough to reel you in. The galloping beat keeps it fun as the pitched-down vocals clinch the deal in the end. Overall, a surprising reworking of some old cliches.  
[7]

Alfred Soto: Except for a piano interlude, the trop house doesn’t bother to adjust itself to Mabel’s earnestness. The vocal distortion was a terrible idea. When you have Mabel, dudes, you don’t need distortion.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: More trop-house should have piano in it. This song has some, but could certainly stand to have a bit more of it. It should have less wheel-spinning and distorted vocals, certainly. A pleasing stridency comes through in Mabel’s performance, but only in flashes, because to just listen to the song is to be distracted b how shopworn the rhythm is in 2019.
[5]

Iris Xie: This is a grody, warm mimosa of tropical house pop. It’s a perfect generic globalized song though, as it fits in everywhere regardless of locale. Background music on tepid. 
[3]