Monday, September 29th, 2014

Sigma ft. Paloma Faith – Changing

Just ride…


[Video][Website]
[3.80]

Will Adams: Did you mean: Lana Del Rey drum & bass?
[4]

Josh Love: Approximates the experience of Lana Del Rey on molly, so I’m glad I pass on both. Might’ve been tolerable if it didn’t go from zero to sixty in a nanosecond.
[3]

John Seroff: Another big-bodied blue-eyed soul voice shoehorned into a clockwork dance engine with minimal melody or originality.
[3]

Iain Mew: The best thing I can say about this is reminded me of the pleasure of “Feel the Love,” even if I was initially going back to work out why this feels like such a poor imitation apart from that Rudimental got there first. A lot of it is basic and structural. “Feel the Love” took a full minute to get to its d’n’b drop and didn’t even put the full chorus over it then, plus it had plenty of room for a reflective trumpet solo. “Changing” blows everything at once after thirty seconds, and Paloma Faith has already hit the moment of maximum outrage even before that (“this ain’t what I signed up to!”). It’s left with nowhere else to go apart from haphazardly sticking on some vaguely gesturing strings and gospel bits.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The way-too-early dip into hardcore breaks demonstrates two problems with this sort of attempt at dance pop. Number one: Paloma is too interested in making her stamp. This is not a spacious record, though the production is very light and sparse. So rather than emphasize the air, she sucks up every bit of it and thrusts her face into the center as much as possible. The relentlessness of her ambition is nice and all, but there’s no moment for the dance to take priority; it’s all about her. Number two: Sigma has no idea how to effectively use that break, placing it as a build-up, rather than using it for the peak of the intensity. It cheapens the break, and leaves us with Paloma’s weak chorus as a reward for making it through the volley of drums.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: Without the words, sure to soundtrack Football Focus profiles of future Scott Sinclairs for literally months to come. With them, almost as corny as Chris Lake’s similar effort from a few years back. It isn’t clanging enough to prevent going with it though, and Paloma Faith could sell it all year round — not just at this serendipitous cusp of autumn.
[6]

Mark Sinker: It’s instructive fun hearing how d’n’b — once very much the posterchild for radically disruptive afrofuturist something-or-other — can be so neatly and efficiently tidied into just another technical element in a by-no-means-bad string-driven ’60s pop-soul arrangement. But there’s something about Paloma’s bony single-strength elbow-flex of a voice that flattens out all the levels and builds and dramas being so studiously architected round it.
[5]

Brad Shoup: It’s three-and-a-half minutes that sound like 90 seconds, with Faith rushed through a sunset saudade. We both should have been able to savor the cello thrum and the cod-gospel backing vocals, but the effect is actually kinda comic, which I can get behind.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: “Oversinging” is a charge leveled primarily — and enthusiastically — at women. Generally there’s some overlap with personality attacks, “oversinging” becoming a proxy for “taking up too much space” or “being desperate.” It’s why Britney is a critical and public-image darling and Christina is not, why crossover R&B starlets tend to be the ones whose voices are tiny or studied, and why Sam Smith gets to NAAAAOAOAOAOAOOWOW-I’ve-got-you-in-my-space all over a perfectly acceptable Disclosure song and have people call that a climax, while when Faith does the same she’s oversinging. So while Faith isn’t the greatest vocalist — she sings like she’s airing out a mouth ulcer, and her bratty intonation on “cool” sounds much more natural than her Duffy impression — she is not the primary issue with “Changing.” That would be the dated vocal stutters and canned orchestral nonsense, or the same cod-gospel breakdown that the UK music industry is foisting on everyone from Smith to Jessie fucking Ware, or the lack of emotional oomph to any of this. Hm, that probably is Faith’s fault. Sigma you’d never even expect it from.
[4]

Alfred Soto: “Known for her unique, retro, and eccentric style” and distinguished at none of them; she’s a singer in search of a context, a performer who hasn’t figured out the audience or even what house audience she wants.
[2]

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution

But they’re better groomed than Crosby, Stills and Nash.


[Video][Website]
[3.55]

Maxwell Cavaseno: When I used to work at Pathmark, one of my co-workers was this dude who really rode for Nickelback, Tool, and Yes. Strange union there, but weirder shit has happened. Anyway, when he mentioned Nickelback I was of course judgmental, but he offered the argument that while he knew the singles were terrible “on their albums, they’re a really good bad AC/DC cover band.” Such self-awareness! So, the single is ‘real’ Nickelback as their fans know them, and that’s cute that by this point they know their fans will support a really clumsy, hamfisted, pigheaded madlibs of a ‘political’ single. I can’t be too mad at that weird gesture of mutual appreciation when the whole world is laughing at them. In a way, Nickelback are like ICP with no identifiable qualities save being trash.
[1]

Jonathan Bradley: #OccupyNickelback
[3]

Anthony Easton: I didn’t expect something so actively political from the people who gave us “Rockstar.” This either means that my politics is unsophisticated, or that the NSA is so egregiously evil that Kroeger could notice it. I suspect it is the latter. 
[5]

John Seroff: The sonic equivalent of that one guy at the rally who smells janky, has to lead every chant, gets super aggro with the cops and won’t stop hitting on your sister.  I don’t mean to be paranoid, but dude is giving me hella narc vibes.
[3]

Leela Grace: The Nickelback of “Rockstar” made themselves approachable via aspirational excess, but there is no touchable imagery here, no goals or plans, no feeling of desperation.  And why would there be?  Do these Canadian millionaires really care about constraining the NSA?
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: Playing with the form to unparallelled degrees of irony through steadfast refusal to adapt, wrapped in a straightfaced assertion that no-one could smash it up harder, it’s the height of camp — the unintentionally intentional. The mechanics of its absurdity work so smoothly even Kroeger and co needn’t notice, part of a perpetual performance; not made, but lived. They can’t help it: they are the Canadian Status Quo. Only not as good.
[5]

Megan Harrington: I don’t understand why no one ever accuses Nickelback of irony. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Metallica’s “Sad But True” rewritten for “relevance.” Oooh, references to Wall Street! And the 1% on their yachts! And change!
[1]

Alfred Soto: The chanting convinced me; so did the power chords backing the part decrying “Pentagon confusion,” which happens to be true. And Kroeger gives the impression that reading the NYT one morning pissed him off. The friends who were and remain part of #Occupy won’t listen to “Edge of a Revolution” — they regard Nickleback as suspiciously as Crosby, Stills and Nash — but this is one of the few topical songs in recent years that succeeds on its terms. Of course it’s hamhanded and silly — so was “Ohio.”
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Who, exactly, are fans of Nickelback? The har-har-ing crowd of “Nickelback are THE WORST!” meme-shouters long ago became more vocal (and annoying) than whatever crowd keeps sales up, and I really can’t imagine what the “average Nickelback fan” looks like, other than they either have very thick skin about their musical preferences or don’t connect to the Internet to much. “Edge of a Revolution” isn’t a good song…and “Nickelback – but political!” is about as cynical as you can get…but maybe the message, as generically “shit’s bad, guys” as it is, is what some people need to hear? Like, the sort of person who doesn’t know what a Tumblr is and could potentially hear “Edge of a Revolution” and say “Chad’s right…shit is fucked” and maybe go vote sometime. I don’t know, but one bonus point for trying. 
[4]

Brad Shoup: They know Mutt Lange’s in the 1%, right?
[4]

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Justin Moore ft. Vince Neil – Home Sweet Home

if 1-800-DIAL-MTV still existed, would this return to the top?


[Video][Website]
[3.75]

Josh Langhoff: Aside from certified real good album Dr. Feelgood and hearing an endless procession of kids wander into the choir room after class and start pounding “Home Sweet Home ’91” on the piano — they never made it to the chorus’s trademark flat-VI flat-VII progression, the burliest cliché in a song full of ‘em — I never clicked with the Crüe. Maybe because they used the words “devil” and “hell” in a couple titles, they kept showing up as scabrous warlocks in these Rock Music is Satan’s Playground videos we’d watch at youth group. High school me would be confused and relieved to see them hailed “Nashville Outlaws” and covered by Hootie, though he just takes the “socially conscious” album closer my friend Johnny once called “the song that lets you know it’s time to change the record.” As for this one — well, Rattail Justin is a second hand bro.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: “Without You” is the better Motley Crue ballad, Nikki Sixx is up there with Holland-Dozier-Holland (#NoKlosterman), and this hayseed clod can’t power-ballad for shit. Hit the bricks, then take the brick to your own face. I’m going to listen to Hanoi Rocks to cleanse this filth from my life.
[1]

John Seroff: A good cover song should at the very least aspire to hew to the line of the apocryphal Hippocratic Oath and do no harm. This corn pone rendition of “Home Sweet Home” dings my junior high memories of the original Mötley Crüe version by dint of twangy over-enunciation, deflation of all-important cock rock hubris in service of sentimentality, and by trotting out the vocally bedraggled Vince Neil as a half-hearted background singer-cum-hair metal mascot.  It’s not as if the source material demands better treatment but this is Star Wars Special Edition levels of degrading.
[3]

Alfred Soto: As a concept this duet/cover isn’t risible. Aimed at condescending assholes who dismiss contemporary country as hair metal, the song sticks and spins its finger in their asses. But the best lack all conviction and all that. The guitar and piano sound like they were themselves Pro Tooled, which should offend those who ply their trade on the authenticity circuit, and Vince like a Guitar Center employee bumming a smoke during break.
[1]

Anthony Easton: I don’t really care about Vince Neil, and the slop over of ’80s metal and nuc-ountry has been talked about for almost a decade, and so all of the points for this, is how much fun Moore is having, and how dedicated his voice is: awkwardly fitting into the howl of guitar, but owning that as his sound. There is a certain power in a working class boy as a man being able to bend genre and using any pull that he has in order to get what he wants to do–and not even pretending (with lyrics like this) that he is even doing country anymore. This is synthesis rather than a mutual drag act. 
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s a cute idea, but turns out a country-fied version of “Home Sweet Home” sounds unremarkable and pretty straightforward, the unique touches (organ, choir, Justin Moore’s drawled-out voice) failing to make this more interesting.
[4]

Brad Shoup: The original’s OK, but I’ve had this clip running as a low-level process in my brain for about 20 years, so I’m fond, put it that way. It’s sturdy, but its construction is so out of fashion that it actually points to new possibilities. I mean, does Moore ever let loose on those held notes like he does here? Ask those proto-metallers about how much heaviness they conjured with an organ and a regular old drum kit. There’s a grimness here that a lot of current country dudes blow right past with their dropped tuning and their croaks. Oh, and speaking of grim, Vince is just part of the fog here, a really nice scratch vocal that made it to mastering.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Akin to 1994’s Common Thread: Songs of the Eagles, the new Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue serves more than anything to show just how far contemporary country’s evolved these days because this makes total sense. Country is the arena-rock of 2014. “Home Sweet Home,” however, was never one of the Crue’s best songs, and Justin Moore, somehow, dumbs it down musically. Vince Neil’s backing vocals just prove how raggedly his voice is these days – and he was never a particularly strong singer. Moore provides no personality here; this might as well be a performance on American Idol‘s hair metal (or “’80s”) night, barely a notch up from karaoke. 
[3]

Friday, September 26th, 2014

You + Me – You and Me

You + Me + Pink = ?


[Video][Website]
[4.20]

John Seroff: It took a while to get past the perhaps intentionally Google-proofed nom de plume to determine that the reason we were reviewing this po-faced Once outtake boiled down to the band’s colorful alter egos. I don’t begrudge Pink for moving out of her comfort zone and lord knows we all have our burdens to bear but I’m finding it hard not to snarkily dismiss this bit of thematically vague, sylvan fluff as the lament of a couple that finds a 45 minute wait for brunch at Roberta’s.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Mercenary shit always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. P!nk never could make it as a white R&B singer in the post-Mary lane like she’s always secretly wanted to (watch her live concerts, you can see she who she models herself after), her mall-rock got played out, and the Max Martin dalliances led to her making eye-rolling records about affirmation with gross hooks and endlessly cliche statements that felt more like hoarser Kelly Clarkson records. No matter how hard she tries, P!nk always finds a new spin, but overdoes it to irritating excess. Now she turns to Dallas Green, the former singer of a band who went through five different stylistic evolutions yet never learned how not to suck (why does that sound familiar?), who’s been pedaling this hokey folk-maturity as City & Colour for, what, five years now? So rather than just follow her muse, fanbase notwithstanding, she releases this attempt at starting another new PHASE, in the hopes she can avoid a reality where she is not liked at her best, a concept that goes against an image that took years to create.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Twice a week I’ll review singles blind. When I heard the female singer’s rather emphatic harmonies I pegged her as a comer, way too powerful to intone the folk tropes with maidenly restraint. Songwriting tip: avoid the “They say that…” cliche introduction; you’re still trying to get away with one (maybe using a plus sign instead of an ampersand is revolutionary). Career tip: the NPR sincerity market doesn’t give a shit about you anyway. You’re more honest as a loudmouth.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s P!nk and Green, get it? I can’t seem to write a blurb about P!nk without mentioning Try This and how earth-destroying it was and how P!nk should get back to destroying earths, and now she’s gone and made something even farther from that album than The Truth About Love. But as a duet partner and career role model, Dallas Green is less concerning than Nate Ruess, and more pressingly, I am a person who uses the Lilly Pulitzer browser skin (which is also pink and green), has that browser autocomplete to the Talbots sale page, owns a copy of Once and uses the same autumnal Instagram filter on basically everything. I am part cliche, and thus I love this too. Though I might love more the fact that when I search for this on streaming the first hit is Nero.
[6]

Crystal Leww: Growing up, P!nk was the coolest pop star because she was so goddamn alt. Now we’ve both grown up a little bit, P!nk has grown into the most boring pop star with the worst taste in collaborators. Between Dallas Green and that dude from fun., all I want to do is put my arm around P!nk’s shoulders and shout, “COME ON GIRL LET’S GO THESE GUYS ARE BAD NEWS.” 
[4]

David Sheffieck: The harmonies here are great, and I’m always down for some steel guitar. But both sound a bit too mournful here, more like a breakup than a love song, and, worse, those choices are the most memorable thing about the song – cognitive dissonance aside, this is slight.
[4]

Megan Harrington: Let he who is immune to the autumnal charms of “You and Me,” he who feels no longing for another Civil Wars album, he who has no lack of love, he who needs not an acoustic guitar and a lonely lyric cast the first stone. 
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: No, I wasn’t particularly hoping that P!nk would get together with the guy from City and Colour to make a semi-acoustic folk-ish album, but thanks for asking. Oh wait, they didn’t ask.
[2]

Brad Shoup: When I want to hear country dabblers lowing at each other, I will always reach for “Who You Love,” not the sonic equivalent of two dusty blankets sitting in the corner of a timeshare cabin.
[2]

Anthony Easton: P!nk has always had a little of an inspirational bit, a desire to be more than a rock star, to be the moral leader. She also has also one hell of a voice. This willowy ballad moving somewhere near Carpenters harmonies and the Cali folk that never made it out of Laurel Canyon makes an argument in favor of technical skill and against novelty — and kind of succeeds. 
[8]

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Twista ft. Tia London – It’s Yours

We don’t want it.


[Video][Website]
[4.75]

Megan Harrington: The focus on Twista’s work has always been the incredibly technical speed of his delivery. This is a triumph, of course, but it undermines how emotional he often is. “It’s Yours” is an unabashed love song with Twista and Tia London as two opposites that intertwine in a tale of sweet romance. Reducing Twista to a robotic statistic is dehumanizing, especially when his flow is timed to a fluttering heartbeat. 
[8]

John Seroff: Kanye knew a decade ago that putting Twista on “Slow Jamz” required a counterpoint with the velvet smoothness of Luther Vandross to keep the song balanced. Neither the murmurs of Tia London nor The Legendary Traxster’s musicbox-‘n’-bass melody offer enough resistance for the grandfather of Guinness Record rap to maintain that sort of equilibrium. Twista runs so far ahead of the track that by the time the listener puzzles out o_0 lyrics of the “whenever I’m up in your hall/I feel the ripples up on the wall” variety, we’re too spun to decide if “It’s Yours” is meant to be Songz seductive or Fab punchline-funny.  I’m regretfully voting neither.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The R&B production — tinkling keyboards and organs and the popping production from latter-day R. Kelly – is the star, Twista’s motormouth second billed lead, and Tia London giving the kind of performance so insistent on projecting vulnerability that of course the Academy of Motion Picture Farts and Biases can’t resist nominating her. And, boy, is she dopey. Who else could put up with Chester Chatterbox praising a body like a Maserati?
[3]

Dan MacRae: Just so you’re on the trolley, Twista prefers women with a body like a Bugatti and not like a Buick. Be sure to keep that in mind if you see the least important “Slow Jamz” guy having sex with a high performance automobile in your neighbourhood. I’m actually quite fond of the woozy Tia London chunklets of “It’s Yours”, for what it’s worth.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Twista is going to be making this same song and doing it long after we’re all dead. I don’t know how he does it, I don’t really know if it’s doing what he wants it to, and I can’t promise you it’ll ever feel as fresh as it did a decade or so ago. But it’s gonna happen! Maybe next time, it’ll have a much better singer on the hook b/c YEESH.
[2]

Brad Shoup: This is Tia London’s song, a tinkling contraption stuffed with the most labor-intensive placeholder verses conceivable. I’d be happy with Twista minus Twista here, especially with the way London makes the hook sound like “your status/your status/your status,” an epic bummer of a conciliatory gesture. The organ coats the walls, the keyboard lilts like a stuck convenience-store chime.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: The Universe’ Fastest Rapper… Ever! and a singer slower than the slowest of his jamz, competing in a juxtapository intelligibility contest with the only winners surely sufferers of chronic insomnia. Twista, with little revelatory besides the lost Dr. Seuss title “kush in her bush,” isn’t even going that fast, but anything would seem quick next to such syllabic drizzle. The chorus serves as tone setter, and that tone is insipid.
[4]

Anthony Easton: Quickness does not suggest one is listening to anything worthwhile — the fairy light twinkling, the snapping percussion, and even Tia London’s pillow softness is Disney Princess as seduction routine, so soft that it absorbs any of the aggro ludicrousness of Twista’s tired player game. That it reinforces a shopworn gender binary makes the split even more difficult to enjoy. 8 for her, 2 for him, split the middle. 
[4]

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues

Almost like a [7.00]…


[Video][Website]
[6.89]

Mark Sinker: His voice is beyond superb now, of course: the dust of ages creaking up at you as you pad the dark trackless maze of corridors seeking the tomb of the lost pharaoh. And if that’s kitsch, well, kitsch is the line he’s trodden from the start, back into the 60s when people were beginning eagerly to argue whether and when pop and rock lyrics can be poetry, and he emerged to entirely muddy the question by already being a poet. The words here are evasive and playful — self-mockingly weightless gestures in the direction of the darkest matter — and if you can’t really begrudge an elderly man giving himself so serenely untroubling a time, you can still maybe feel a bit cheated, because he’s not giving you much either, beyond two or three half-good surprises in the way certain couplets unfurl.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The voice crumbled into a rasp that makes Bob Dylan after 2001 sound like Mary J, Cohen heaves paradoxes over bongos and a Patrick Leonard piano line. When he boasted more vocal, ah, nuance, he would have ironized the “torture, killing, and all my bad reviews” and burning villages instead of letting his guilt carry the tune, as it were; at the moment it sits there, daring us to find it offensive. I do. But most octogenarians don’t regard the act of recording as a benediction, nor do they admit to admit to distance to keep away the rot.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This pains me to say, because Cohen is one of the best song writers in the last half of the 20th century, with an aesthetic that has both flexibility and a strong consistency–and this has some fantastic lines, and one amazing gag line. But I am still a little bored of the production; he hasn’t really moved from the female back up singer/cocktail piano background since the mid-1990s. I wonder what would happen if he finagled that a bit. 
[7]

John Seroff: Octogenarian Cohen lately flourishes enough vocal fry and Bukowski poetry to give sextagenarian Tom Waits a run for his money. It’s a likely necessary affect he’s leaned heavy into since 2010 and reflects the prevailing sound and mood on his latest album, Popular Problems. I rather like nu-Cohen’s gruff and gentle songs of experience; “Almost Like the Blues” feels shorter than its running time (always a good sign) and sits easy on the ears nestled among the Jukebox’s status quo crop of EDM firework shows, Brooklyn hipsters and bitches catchin’ bodies ’bout a week ago. More old-folk pop, please; it’s good for the digestion.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Cohen does his gravelly-and-getting-gravellier-voiced thing at age 80, singing lyrics that only he could’ve written — say what you will about him, but the man has quite the distinctive lyrical (not to mention singing) voice. But what does him all the favors here is Patrick Leonard’s sympathetic production, full of touches and nuance that show he gets it: the lightly hit bongos, the surprising and subtle horn stabs, the jazzy piano. This is a superb match of singer, song and production.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s interesting that whereas your average classic singer-songwriter artist from those legendary times goes into jazz or country as the ‘root’ of their work, Cohen’s always enjoyed playing with schmaltzy kitsch. Here if feels almost Barry White-like, how he’s this titanic figurehead, except with such a uniquely perfected non-presence vocally. I wish he held a lot more of his black humor, instead seeming to forgo that for a sense of dignified melodrama that leaves me scratching my head. As Cohen’s twilight of years approach with every minute, is sentiment starting to chip away at the edges, or is the morose and moribund just not as appealing?
[6]

Edward Okulicz: If the world feels darker than it was 20 years ago, all the more reason for an even blacker “Everybody Knows.” Play this on some 80s synths and drum machines and it would fit quite nicely on Various Positions – and I dig that kitschy trumpet that pops up every so often. Cohen intones this with even more bleakness and gruffness than that description would suggest and the female backing vocals are exquisite counterpoint. Sound-wise, it touches all sorts of different buttons that make me confused as to whether it sounds modern or a period piece, but the problem is that while it’s always good to hear Cohen’s voice, this song’s not gripping; it doesn’t go anywhere because each verse is more or less the same. There are good lines, there are lines that may not be good but sound great in Cohen’s voice, and there are some that are downright dodgy (the second verse has all three). You’ve heard the first 50 seconds, you’ve heard the song. You’ve heard the last 50 years of Cohen’s career, you can predict the last stanza of each verse based on the second.
[6]

Megan Harrington: You won’t find much writing to suggest this, but it’s my strong suspicion that most of Leonard Cohen’s later career is the work of his partner Sharon Robinson. She’s his longtime collaborator and back-up singer, and though this song is credited solely to him, she’s all over it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of his gravelly voiced gravitas, but what sets apart and refines “Almost Like the Blues” is Robinson’s wordless coos. Cohen is a well respected shrivelled husk and Robinson is the ribbons wound around the maypole. Together, they’re deeply affecting; I just wish we spent more time talking about her and her thoughts and her vision and her legacy. 
[9]

Brad Shoup: Ta-da, he’s mordant, he’s sharp, Sharon’s still here. Dark was the night, ghoulish was the vicariism. Love is like a bottle of gin, but a bottle of gin is still awake at 4 AM. The bass flips through the international headlines while Cohen squeezes a grapefruit and notes the absolute distances between this place and those. This is pretty good; it’s not boring.
[8]

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Nick & Knight – One More Time

Celebrate and imitate Maroon 5 so free…


[Video][Website]
[3.46]
Katherine St Asaph: “My Life Would Suck Without You” is a much more pleasant conceit than “Your Life Will Suck Without Me,” isn’t it?
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: #CAUCASITY — Only in the dreams of these two dregs of the boy-band floods of long past could they cook up the idea of taunting long-lost lovers who return seeking these folks as some sort of glorious comeback. I’m a little stressed out how the studio has sandblasted Nick Carter to sound more Timberlake-lite. I’m more stressed out at how bloodless this attempt at funk is (more and more, I regret Pharrell unleashing “Sing” on us). I’m VERY stressed out at the immaturity that these guys could bring, but are holding off or possibly outright abandoning to go for it ONE LAST TIME. One Direction are laughing at you, like they do, when they see clods like you blow it.
[0]

David Sheffieck: If Maroon 5 wasn’t determined to chase trends into meaninglessness, this is the sort of song I could see them releasing in 2014. It’s a song of bouncy, feel-good sounds and embittered lyrics, delivered with the pinnacle of professional sheen. And in moments like the delivery of “The night you came home crying ’cause you crashed your car/Again,” it almost takes flight.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Someone — probably Jordan — has been listening to Raphael Saadiq for the right filters and retro guitar sound. The vocals are more confident and show a broader range than when they didn’t have to beg for chicks, and that’s the trouble: I can’t imagine another pose these un-pretty boys can strike, not with funk so bloodless it’s like they drained a cow corpse (Adam Levine is a nip and tuck away from the problem himself). Wasn’t former collaborator Robin Thicke not returning Jordan’s phone calls?
[6]

Megan Harrington: This is mostly dull pop from two aging pin-ups, but I haven’t forgotten what a complete creep Jordan Knight was on The Surreal Life, and has anyone else listened to “Give it to You” recently? Knight is wont to demand these experiences, in life and in song; so though the narrative might be easier swallowed as a cutesy story about two has-beens recoupling to reconquer middle America, the truth is that any sweet “oo-ooo” innocence either of these two had is long awash in darkness. Leave them on the plastic discs of the past.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: A nice reminder that everyone ages, and eventually faces the realization that their youth is gone regardless of how much they try to convince the world otherwise. Stupid-as-heck guitar, though.
[3]

Anthony Easton: Kind of proves that boy band skill rests on producers and not manufacturers, doesn’t it? Also, there is something sad and perverse about how meta this is: they are seeking one more hit, one more billboard rocket. “Let me get it one more time” is obviously fame coded as fucking, which sometimes works, but here reeks of desperation.
[3]

Dan MacRae: This sounds alarmingly like major label CanCon, which is bizarre considering neither Nick nor Knight is Canadian. “One More Time” has sort of a freezer burnt Maroon 5 quality to it that isn’t exactly my thing, but I suppose Nick & Knight (pop’s Franklin & Bash!) wasn’t designed for me in the first place.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: When did Maroon fucking 5 become the template for all male-sung pop music? I was hoping this would be fun, breezy pop, but instead it sounds like it was focus-grouped for soccer moms. Will likely be a big hit on Adult Top 40 radio, which is incredibly depressing.
[2]

Brad Shoup: I love to think of these lions in winter, trying to combine the pop smarts they hung out with and the whatever corny shit they actually like listening to. “One More Time” has a touch of the everlasting “Faded,” a bit of JC Chasez’s melodic freedom, and a bunch of trad vocal moves cribbed from Tedder and Levine. That bridge is tiny, but the chording is nuts — it sounds like contempo worship music.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Oh, the line between hopeless, tragicomic delusion and abusiveness. Not sure if I’m referring to the meaning of the song itself (Come back! I’m the best you’ll ever have! Shut up!) or the mutton-as-lamb of the song from words to melody to production. The OOH-HOO! hook wants to cram fun down my throat as the rest of the song tries to handcuff me to a radiator.
[4]

John Seroff: Perhaps my vision is clouded by never caring for either of these guys, but can I possibly be the only one interpreting “One More Time” as a jaunty anthem for the abusive boyfriend? Because, seriously: the story I’m hearing, rendered in pastel and khaki, is one of a troubled woman who gets violently drunk, crashes her car and desperately wants to break up with her partner but is told “I know that you’ve been thinking you’re better off leaving / but you’re never gonna find another me / you’re gonna feel so stupid when you realize what you did / no one can make you feel like me.” And the culmination of that line of thinking is that we’re gonna fuck one more time before you leave OO-HOO OO-HOO OHHH you’re not leaving until we fuck OO-HOO OO-HOO OHHH.  This would’ve been Funny Games inappropriate back when these guys were tween idols but from men in their thirties and forties, it’s call for an intervention.
[1]

Crystal Leww: If you try, “One More Time” can also pertain to both of these dudes’ careers. Unfortunately for them, the assertion that “it’ll never be this good” is just untrue: I have been listening to that 5SOS album for the last couple of weeks, and it’s pretty good.
[5]

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Jasmine V ft. Kendrick Lamar – That’s Me Right There

RIP, Beats Music product placement…


[Video][Website]
[5.30]

Katherine St Asaph: For those harboring any conspiracy delusions about the pop industry and press being composed solely of major-label Twitter-number-reading automatons, I submit Jasmine Villegas: former child star who accumulated a once-noteworthy amount of Twitter followers (times have changed) for being in Bieber’s “Baby” video (dear god have times changed), yet did not receive the clickola debut one might expect from that despite her music often being surprisingly good. “That’s Me Right There” is likewise: supple timbre and beat, quiet confidence, Kendrick verse obviously not great but better than anything Ariana Grande’s gotten, a welcome cut of teen R&B in a world without enough of them.
[6]

Crystal Leww: “That’s Me Right There” is not going to make Jasmine V a star, but it’s not a terrible way to reshape her look in a new album cycle. The confidence and self-assured attitude Jasmine takes to her relationship is refreshing, and the production is subdued brass rather than bombtastic. Unfortunately, she is briefly dragged down by Kendrick, who is the opposite of 2012 Drake and 2013-14 Nicki, whose verses are like little shots of adrenaline into the tracks they feature on.
[6]

Brad Shoup: I imagine that a legit bridge between R&B and the Hot 100 would sound a lot like this: a little bit of EDM vocal pitchshifting, some catchphrasing, Jasmine’s unpredicted turn into an opaque and elegant pre-chorus, guest bars for insurance. Not that I have much idea what Kendrick’s on about; I think he’s masturbating on a webcam?
[7]

Josh Love: Just when I’m starting to get a little bored with Kendrick, he plays another great trick with his voice (I don’t understand why more rappers don’t do this more often), which isn’t only pleasantly unexpected (kind of the polar opposite of any Maybach Music-heralded Rick Ross guest spot at this point) but also guarantees a little thrill when he kicks back into his normal cadence. Smart of him to corner the market on Aladdin puns on Jasmine V tracks too — sometimes low-hanging fruit is the sweetest.
[7]

Alfred Soto: From Pusha T to Schoolboy Q singles, Kendrick Lamar’s guest appearances in the last year exceed only Young Thug’s in unexpected laffs and funny voices. Other than “hydrate yourself!” he offers no surprises here, thanks to Jasmine V’s colorless emoting. The arrangement’s nothing special either: horn blasts out of Timbaland’s Madonna collaboration and a beat that suggests Ciara’s “Ride” heard sideways.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Is this what everyone who thinks “Ride” is a good song hears? Kendrick is a perfect fit as this beat resembles the flooded sub-woofer washes of “Swimming Pools” gone aqua-crunk, except that he sounds a bit extra chipmunky and still has yet to progress beyond his nerdy nervous disconnect. Jasmine is a surprisingly adept navigator of the space in this beat, rising with the dramatic build on the bridge only slight enough before vanishing in and out once the chorus provides its rushing punctuation. It’s a sleek ride, tougher than it looks, and pulsing with juuuuuust the right amount of bump.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Breathless, in the usual ways, and speeding through the verses that aren’t breathless — mostly as a stunting technical exercise, but why else do we have Lamar?  
[6]

Will Adams: Jasmine V has a warm timbre that she does nothing with, but the track’s dated production — horn blarts, scalar glockenspiels, “po’ up” — does even less. No wonder Kendrick’s contribution is such a flatline.
[4]

Sonya Nicholson: I agree with the top comments on YouTube: Jasmine V is cute and knows how to work the camera in that kinda-disturbing former child star way, but there’s so much missing: 1) an edgy, current or interesting beat, 2) personality, 3) substance. “That’s Me Right There” is a vanity-project level title, and nothing in the track goes beyond that level. I keep mentally substituting Rihanna’s “pour it up pour it up” for “that’s me right there” (melodically identical, rhythmically miles ahead) and can’t recall a single other line.
[1]

John Seroff: Jasmine’s voice isn’t quite strong enough to cut through “Right There’s” lyrical bluster, grandiose production and bigfoot horns. Kendrick’s verse is a throwaway. There’s a fair amount of talent on show, but it never exactly lines up.
[5]

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Super Junior – Mamacita

Several singles in, and your editor still mixes them up with Junior Senior…


[Video][Website]
[4.88]

Madeleine Lee: God, so Super Junior were the most musically compelling Korean boy band for like nine minutes five years ago and now I’m obligated to pay attention every time their company remembers to put out a CD for fans to bulk-buy? I thought the whole point of EXO was that we didn’t have to do this anymore, and by “this” I also mean “wholesale reuse of ‘No Diggity’.”
[4]

John Seroff: Almost too much: 10 members each with their own featured verse in just under three and a half minutes, a hook that splits the difference between “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “Bye Bye Bye” with Teddy Riley co-production, and sufficiently complex individual group, artist and corporate cultural identities separating the K-pop neophyte from engagement that one can easily become marooned with foolish questions. Which is the one with the hair? Is “close your lips / shut your tongue” a threat? Is 1000 digital albums sold enough to get you to number one on the US World Albums chart? Does “Mamacita” merit repeat listening? Spoilers: Sungmyn; pretty much; apparently so; aye yai yai yai yai wouldn’t argue against it.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m not sure how sleazy new jack swing is supposed to segue into Spanglish so effectively, but when you’ve got an OG like Teddy Riley in the studio, I imagine anything goes. Super Junior’s vocal sections remind me of a forklift in a warehouse slotting in one crate after another to optimize the spaces — they slip and slide in position carefully. “Mamacita” isn’t not nearly as funky as it aspires to be, but it’s got the tightness and discipline that SJ have been deploying even in their earlier records. What strikes me, though, is that their hammy qualities feel inadequate compared to the bitterness of the lyrics. Riley’s done his thing to great effect, but his production lacks the edge of tension to properly complete the vision.
[6]

Brad Shoup: It’s not fun watching the boys sink in this Swing Era morass. Especially when the bottom is like a new jack single at 16 rpm.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: I am continually perplexed as to why people keep hoisting the fake-Latin boyband-song trend out of its ’90s grave.
[4]

Jessica Doyle: Put aside SM Entertainment’s history of finding bandito concepts really funny; put aside “shut your tongue,” which is not Shindong’s fault; and put aside some baffingly ill-considered choreography (featuring a move best described as, “Where did I put the goddamn keys?”). Put all that aside, to be fair to SuJu, and problems remain: the backing beat doesn’t support the vocal speed the way it should, and the two don’t sync up until after the rap, well into the second minute. Add in some underwhelming horns and an intro that reminds me of “No Diggity” — and I don’t know how you avoid suffering in comparison to “No Diggity” — and there’s not a whole lot left to grab onto. There is something interesting going on lyrically, admittedly, but what that is might be better explained by a longtime ELF familiar with the group’s history and mythology, not someone who still has “Sorry Sorry” on her to-listen list.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: The most intriguing part of “Mamacita” is the beginning, when all those horns collide with the Indian percussion, making for a nice clash. Both get overshadowed soon after by a totally ehhhhh-it’s-alright pop song.
[5]

Sonya Nicholson: Listening to “Mamacita” again for this review, I had to revise my opinion on it upward a bit. I was going to compare it unfavorably to 2PM’s “Go Crazy,” EXID’s “Up and Down” and Taemin’s “Danger,” but while the only truly memorable parts of “Mamacita” are the titular hook and Shindong’s “close your lips, shut your tongue” line (for comedy value), and while “Mamacita” is the very definition of a “competent hook song,” there’s something to be said for how beautifully all the pieces slot together. I’m experiencing an odd double vision — on the one hand “Mamacita”‘s multitracked RnB harmonies and flamenco-dominated production are “lite” enough to become something like pleasant high-gloss wallpaper, and on the other hand they’re just so precisely applied. Like Super Junior, I must be getting old. Still like the barely-hinged second half of 2012’s more coded-as-juvenile novelty hit “Spy” better, though.
[6]

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Hilary Duff – All About You

And she’s already retconned that first single, naturally…


[Video][Website]
[5.42]

Luisa Lopez: Hilary Duff, right? What a hack. Something about that tinny voice — there’s almost too little of it — makes me so mad, like I’ll never love music again. In the heyday of her early millennial stardom I was furious that life had let her trade the glumness of algebra homework for the angled joy of television. And the Lumineers did this song first, doesn’t she know that? Taylor Swift left her handprint on the awkward tightness of those yooou-oouuuus when she was born. But I love this song so much I catch myself smiling on the subway when I remember it. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s bettered by Duff’s mediocrity; maybe because she’s remained relatively light in her musical history this expression of joy sounds real — like it’s honestly about someone she loves, like she’s taking those handclaps without any irony. I can’t believe Hilary Duff released a song in 2014 that makes me want to be in my bedroom solving math problems again.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: Hilary Duff is an utter featherweight, which is a good thing: “All About You,” bedroom feints and all, is Disney Channel recast with twentysomethings. More crush than come-on, it’s sunny and winsome and made of banjo and handclaps and unabashedly enthusiastic call-and-response shouting. It’s over in less than three minutes and makes “So Yesterday” sound glum. Is it just me or is teen-pop making a real comeback in 2014 — see also Becky G, Victoria Duffield, Echosmith?
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s always nice to have a bit of background, so it’s great to discover that before Duff, Kotecha, Lundin and Falk finished writing The Vamps’ “Somebody To You” it was less singalong and more Scrubs theme tune. Giving the demo and completed versions to acts from separate sides of the Atlantic? The perfect crime. For The Vamps, anyway.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: I guess she’s chasing every trend possible now, even if most of them already have cobwebs on them. 
[3]

Crystal Leww: “All About You” is Hilary Duff doing pop-country Taylor Swift around the time of Red. This is funny to me because I imagine that Taylor Swift may have watched Lizzie McGuire at some point as a kid, and right as Swift is shedding her country past, Duff is embracing her stomps and shouts. Like Taylor Swift, Duff’s lyrics are somehow all about sex in kind of a sneaky way (never 4get that Swift’s first single was about having sex in the back of a pickup truck on back roads), with Duff crooning about showing the object of her affections how she’s all about him after turning down the lights. I’m into it.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Bearing post-Red luxuries like EDM-encrusted mandolins and hand claps, it also sports a folk melody and hints of the country jam it could’ve been, but Duff’s enthusiasm is swollen to Rockettes size — what so excites her is so banal that it doesn’t justify the expensive production.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Nosepiercer, a post-apocalyptic world where people are forced to feed on a hybrid of bad country-pop and pseudo-hip-hop production techniques resembling the worst of imitation Kanye & Lumineers, while dwelling in Hilary Duff’s nose riding the rails of notes and grinding them into oblivion. Coming soon to a theater near you.
[1]

John Seroff: The issue with doing the so-very-spot-on Taylor thing in this brave new post-country Taylor world is that everybody’s gonna knee-jerk point and scream NOT AS GOOD AS TAYLOR all Donald Sutherland at you. I’m hard-pressed to justify my own need to shout TAYLOR here beyond a half-assed mea culpa and the narcissism of small differences. Perhaps it’s an inelegant route toward stating my dissatisfaction with Duff’s lack of narrative oomph and “All About You’s” inability to crest out of third gear into something more than merely cute.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ve been trying lately to avoid the temptation to nitpick lyrics, because it’s one step from there to blaming pop for all the people you think are less intelligent than you, but: “Think you’re all about me, but I’m all about you.” What is the but? Why but? All I can think is maybe she’s realized she’s more invested — but that’d require something different than this mandatory YMCA hayride of a track, which mistakes vocal fry for confidence and melisma for soul and is invested in nothing.
[3]

Will Adams: The constant shouting gets a bit much by the end, but the rest is so sweet I don’t mind. There’s an interesting blend of synthetic and real instruments — the bass pulls like saltwater taffy, the mandolins are lifted right from a campfire — but Duff is the star, pushing her otherwise thin voice just enough to sound earnest but endearing.
[7]

Brad Shoup: All that shouting is cheap heat inside a largely swoony tune, with a skitter in the chorus that reminds me of “Knock You Down”. When she lowers the boom with the “hey baby baby” part, there’s the proof.
[6]

David Sheffieck: It’s baffling that this wasn’t Duff’s comeback single: there’s nothing innovative here, much less challenging, but it lands square in the middle of at least half a dozen trends without embarrassing itself, which is a feat in its own right. More importantly, it’s not mediocre to the point of anonymity. “All About You” is exactly the sort of song that Duff needs to reintroduce herself as a pop star: inviting, almost comforting, and a reminder of what we missed about her that doesn’t rehash her — or others’ — past glories.
[7]