Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Kanye West – All Mine

Want more Ye takes? We’ve got the scoop-di-dee-whoop right here!


[Video][Website]
[3.67]

Juan F. Carruyo: The first meaningless Kanye single, and thank God. 
[2]

Will Rivitz: Kanye the lyricist is dead and gone (“I love your titties ’cause they prove I can focus on two things at once”), but Kanye the producer and sonic overseer is at least still with us. Others will likely (and rightfully) excoriate the content of what he’s saying, but as of the past two album cycles Kanye’s remained excellent pretty much exclusively because of his instrumentals: here, the elasticity of the bass’s minimalism careens around untethered until the massively distorted claps of the second verse grind it to a halt. No matter how glorious his previous maximalism, nobody strips it down quite like Kanye.
[6]

Stephen Eisermann: As if his ridiculous politics weren’t bad enough, he follows up his ludicrous statements with… this? Between the weird Kardashian drama in here coupled with terrible lines like, “none of us would be here without cum,” I’m just not sure what to make of Kanye anymore. The production is interesting and makes me long for College Dropout Kanye, but I’m starting to believe maybe that was more of a one-off and everything after seemed better by association — because this, this is not good.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Ye, if nothing else, is proof that no amount of genius or creativity can make a polished masterpiece of a rush job. But to those concerned about the decline of Kanye’s lyrics and/or quality control, allow me to remind you of the existence of “Drunk and Hot Girls,” or his verse on “Knock You Down,” or — actually, if he can release an unedited brainstorm, I don’t need to finish either.
[3]

Alfred Soto: From bits on Beyonce and The-Dream songs to his own meisterworks, Kanye’s been stupid about women for years. Using staccato Trevor Horn-inspired shrieks with the help of Francis and the Lights, he conjures a private hell — his own VIP room in which he encourages no one to appear, not even his sexual fantasies. Too vaporous to make an impression — it’s received smut.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: In 2005, Kanye thought he needed a Nia Long. In 2010, it was “some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands.” Now it’s Kerry Washington, Naomi Campbell, and — dear me, I nearly fell asleep writing this out — Stormy Daniels. In 2004, he was trawling through Black Planet; this year it’s Christian Mingle. My issue isn’t with West repeating himself — even if Ye gives the uncomfortable impression that its author’s once restless creativity can be resolved to a selection of tabloid quips and abrupt production punch-ins — but with the way he abandons any attempt at situating his pop-culture nods within a wider thematic or narrative context. It’s rap as listed trending topics: a refusal to allow us to consider that Kanye West might still be more than his Twitter account. From “On Sight” to Extremely Online in five short years.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: “Bound 2,” released almost exactly five years ego, was a fever dream collapsing, wherein Kanye wrestled with his own monogamous urges like a failed organ transplant; the lines “Maybe we could still make it to the church steps / But first, you gon’ remember how to forget” had an immediate, satisfying narrative finality, the kind of line that you hear right before the credits roll. Then, take this paper-thin single that sees the fever dream back up and running, like nothing ever happened — no deeper theme beyond Ant Clemons talking about his dick, no actual content beyond a few jokes that might have been worth a chuckle were the whole thing not so depressingly empty — a no-calorie cable TV spinoff held fast at an indeterminate moment of non-time, status quo tortuously maintained. If there’s actually something more interesting to talk about here, it’s buried under layers and layers of twitterverse context. You could spend your time digging through them if you wanted to, but you could also spend your time listening to literally anything else.
[1]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: “All Mine,” like the rest of Ye, is the work of a genius. I’m not saying it’s really that good — it’s weak lyrically and very inconsistent, but Ye‘s brilliance shines through every nook and cranny (this record, along with DaytonaKids See Ghosts and Nasir are proof that he’s still in the top five of the best rap producers ever). True genius does not care about clean and perfect; there’s always something broken, raw, real. Some people hate Kanye being called a genius, but almost no one in modern music fits that label as him. I compare Mr. West to Salvador Dalí (particularly on his obsession with money/celebrity and his problematic romance with ultra-conservative ideas) and, like him, his body of work is quite spotty. But also like the painter, there’s an insatiable search for transcendence, and one can recognize an innate ability to create something powerful and iconic in each of Ye‘s strokes. Like Kanye, Dalí had a weird, dark dystopian period (Yeezus), an ultra-religious phase (Pablo) and a time where he favored austerity (Ye). These all happened after he “peaked,” way after he actively tried to make something perfect (MBDTF). But genius doesn’t peak, it just evolves and travels wildly wherever it wishes to go. Kanye is rightfully criticised about a lot of things (like the Trump love or the slavery comments), but to “cancel” him would be to shut down a conversation that should remain open. This song is kind of a portrait on where he is in his life right now. Many call it a “dad/old man record,” and yes, that’s what he is too. Is it as good as others in his discography? Does it really matter? Are we really gonna shit on him for not trying to make a second MBDTF? Dalí unveiled his perceived masterpiece “The Persistence of Memory” in 1931. Then, his work ranged from dreamscapes, to historical and religious scenes. But sometimes he just wanted to paint his sister next to a window or his wife with a swan. That’s what “All Mine” is at heart.
[6]

Nicholas Donohoue: Nihilism, misogyny, crassness, and misery. Effective in making the listener sullen, and that’s most certainly the point. The organ dropping out, the debasement of sexuality to body parts and celebrity, a clunking beat mixed with horror movie stock sounds. I wish this were easy to brush off, but the production details work too well technically and the outside context of Kanye West and what he used to mean has me curling my fists. I guess I care despite it all. 
[4]

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Selena Gomez – Back to You

Back to 2013…


[Video][Website]
[5.09]

Alex Clifton: If “It Ain’t Me” and the folk-pop moment of 2013 had a musical child, it would be “Back to You.” Selena gives us her most delicate vocal here for a  song tinged with regret and hurt. I hate to call it “mature” because that word usually implies “sexy and/or equipped to handle taxes,” and this song doesn’t evoke either mood. But it’s an emotional look at a broken relationship and the willingness to try again, to make those same mistakes in a way that feels true to young adulthood. It’s not as good as “Bad Liar” (although, really, what is) but is also a sight better than “Wolves,” so I’ll take this and wait impatiently until we get that double album we’ve been promised.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: The first verse of ‘Back to You’ is an incredibly strong opener — I love the spare accompaniment and quiet, half-dropped delivery Gomez uses in laying out the beginnings of the story she’s telling. It feels like the listener is being invited to lean in closer to hear what happens next. Unfortunately, that ends up being a chorus with production that feels…pretty uninspired. The second verse does its best to recapture the spark, but can’t quite bring it back to me.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The melodies in this Latin-electronic hybrid sound familiar, but Selena Gomez slows down, almost standing apart from the song until the chorus’ stop-start dynamic. 
[7]

Abdullah Siddiqui: Recently, there was a slight but palpable shift in Selena Gomez’s musical sensibilities. 2015’s Revival appeared on a few year-end lists, and it signaled artistic growth. Then, last year, came “Bad Liar,” a track that had an unexpectedly less-than-glossy mix, minimalistic production, a Talking Heads interpolation and lyrics that contained a historical reference and a few ten-dollar words. Soon after, her next single (“Fetish”) came with a music video that bordered on avant-garde. For a very brief, glimmering moment in time, Selena Gomez seemed discontent with the clichés of popular music, and there was hope for an equally adventurous full-length release. But with “Back to You,” that moment may have just come to a tragic end. The song does have some things going for it: the crowd-pleasing electronic textures, the nuanced vocal performance, the pumping rhythmicity. But it does not dare to tread an inch of the unexplored. In other words, it is a capable effort, but indistinguishable, bland and ultimately forgettable.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: Selena Gomez was releasing some pretty interesting material last year with “Bad Liar” and “Fetish,” so it’s supremely disappointing to see her revert back to boring guitar heavy dance-pop like this song. I get that the former material didn’t garner the same success, but when you’re an artist as successful as Selena, sometimes suffering on the charts is worth the risk; otherwise, you end up with a catalog full of MOR stuff like, well, this.
[4]

Josh Love: The occasional aberration like last year’s great post-punk rip “Bad Liar” or the wine-dark striptease “Good for You” aside, it seems like Gomez’s wheelhouse at least for now is politely melancholic EDM, which hasn’t proven too musically robust but does seem like a strong complement to her equally sultry and sad-eyed vocal persona. Much like “It Ain’t Me,” “Back to You” is underwhelmingly constructed yet still manages to be memorable. Plenty of songs released this year with more impressive tricks won’t stick with me as long as Gomez declaring “I want to hold you when I’m not supposed to.”
[6]

Juan F. Carruyo: Finest mall music single of the year. A steady, rolling beat anchors Selena’s fine voice, deep in the captivating verses as it rises to a middling chorus. She should go yacht next time. 
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: The market leader in intermittent wonky melodies succeeds once more with her unpredictable undulations, successfully distracting from the thought that this is a bit of a “Save Tonight”/”Wake Me Up” knock-off. In a way, it’s as if the contemporary predilection for funny noises and wobbly drops that has perhaps diminished the role of choruses has now spread into the pre-choruses that serve as a substitute. The next Selena Gomez single will feature no vocal, only the sound of her waving her hands around as if to suggest words in a sort-of Skrillex charades, and still her sadness will be engaging.
[7]

Nicholas Donohoue: 13 Reasons Why is a difficult show to parse out praise and criticism to, so Selena Gomez was kind enough to make the lead single for the album accompanying the second season not be about any of the show’s main themes or specific plot. This is an EDM Selena Gomez song more than anything, a more mellow “Wolves” or “It Ain’t Me” with one less credited artist. However, if you take out the contentious elements that is the framing of the song and then make it in the form of prior hits from the same artist, what much do you have? Apparently another song where people speculate how this song is about Selena’s prior relationships, a fate both her and the world deserve better than.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Everything about this song — the canned acoustica, the uncanny-valley filtering on a supposedly conversational vocal, even the structure, continually late to the beat — is just so leaden and sagging. “Song of the summer” isn’t supposed to mean “lethargic like 90-degree heat.”
[2]

Will Rivitz: I mean, “Wake Me Up” wasn’t good in 2013 either.
[3]

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

5 Seconds of Summer – Youngblood

It pains me that this did not score low enough to make some vampire-related “sucks” joke…


[Video]
[4.86]

Scott Mildenhall: McFly must be listening to this while surrounded by unsold copies of Above the Noise/counting their YouTube money, thinking “if only.” Yes, “Shine A Light” is a classic, but “Youngblood” is a much fuller realisation of their attempts at dark-but-not-dark electropop-rock, if not quite as full a realisation as “Kidz” by Take That. If anything, it’s the latter direction that sounds most promising. Forget being owned by One Direction, or having songs written with McFly, Busted, or Good Charlotte — what 5SOS need is to conjure up a ballad to match “Eight Letters” and a new, non-singing member for a solo that matches “Flowerbed.”
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Somewhere en route to turning into Fall Out Boy and turning into Peter Thiel, 5 Seconds of Summer decided to turn into “Some Girls” for a chorus. Maybe if they injected more it’d be the whole song.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Not from this performance.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: It sounds like music made by young men who spent too much time in clubs, and believed that inserting feelings into a dance beat is the same thing as making a dance song about feelings. 5SOS doesn’t wear its maturation well; “Youngblood” quivers but doesn’t ache. As fiercely as it tends to its portent, it can’t find the abyss in it, the point where all that feeling takes a life of its own, nor that point where the beat does too.
[4]

Anna Suiter: 5 Seconds of Summer are at their best and at their most endearing when they’re clever. “Youngblood” is not exactly endearing, but it is clever, at least in the way the chorus modifies itself from the first to the second part. From being “a dead man walking” to a “dead man crawling tonight,” it creates a full story just within the chorus itself. It’s too bad that makes the rest of the song feel a little superfluous.
[5]

Iain Mew: The throb and snap of the chorus and all the references to being a dead man point to melodrama, but it keeps crashing into a contrary urge towards slickness. Matching exaggerated blowouts and cool sounds should certainly be possible, but emo this politely restrained is self-negating.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: Is there anybody left on earth who experiences those high-pitched, low-mixed fluttery whoos in the chorus as a thrilling or novel sound, or is it just meant to be a chronological marker: this was made in 2018?
[4]

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Hayley Kiyoko ft. Kehlani – What I Need

They’re good, and they’re good together…


[Video][Website]
[6.50]

Alex Clifton: Hayley Kiyoko’s always been hit-or-miss for me. When she’s on, she writes some of the most glorious pop music I’ve ever heard; in other modes, it just doesn’t click with me. Expectations overall was a little uneven, but “What I Need” is by far the best song off the album. Kehlani and Hayley are beautifully matched and I love the way they trade off with one another — it’s less of a “feature” (i.e. one verse and done) and more of a duet. The chorus is so vibrant and pulses with desire — “what I need, what I need, what I need” comes out as a rush after a fairly high-octane start and it only gets better from there. I’m so glad we’re getting more music from queer women, and I only hope this song stays in rotation all summer long.
[8]

Alfred Soto: This can’t help but code queer, thanks to Kehlani’s preternatural avidity and Hayley Kiyoko’s insouciance. The hand claps and synth bass incarnate the way “What I Need” goes from yin to yang: where it stops no one knows.
[8]

Will Rivitz: Like literally every other Hayley Kiyoko single released after This Side of Paradise, this song is extremely adept at just kinda being there. For an artist whose cultural clout is undeniable (not many can claim the moniker “Lesbian Jesus” before they’ve dropped a full album), her music never ceases to be a bit disappointing — Citrine and Expectations are good but forgettable — and “What I Need” is more of the same. It’s the best forgettable music I’ve heard, to be sure, but that only gets you so far. 
[6]

Will Adams: Like “Curious,” a welcome instance of representation in bubblegum pop. Unlike “Curious,” a hookless exercise that’s been swallowed by reverb.
[5]

Josh Love: Kehlani steals this song entirely before Kiyoko even has a chance to open her mouth, and the nominal lead artist’s sluggish, slurry verses only leach momentum from the bright chorus bouncing along on springing synths.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Pulpy, lurching bass and rising, racing synths lift Kehlani. She effortlessly coasts over it and Hayley stands at the wave machine, carefully switching knobs and cranking the water lever as the wave stays steady, slowly but steadily rising, until Kehlani is silhouetted by the sun.
[7]

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny & J Balvin – I Like It

If you’re looking for the sidebar, Cardi, it’s in the other direction…


[Video][Website]
[8.12]

Stephen Eisermann: A song that feels like that family party at your tios house, with those cousins who are fucking locos, but you only see once every couple of years so you’re willing to look past their problematic practices. It’s like, yeah, they say some wild stuff that you totally disagree with, but they’re your primos and there’s tequila, y nos quedamos festejando hasta las seis de la mañana, bailando y chismeando todo el tiempo. And then the night is over and you’re in line waiting to cross back at the border, shaking your head at all of the ridiculous shit that was said and done over the weekend, but you can’t help but smile because this kind of Latino magic is just so uncommon in your day to day and it’s good to remember your roots; but, most of all, it’s fucking fun.
[8]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Cardi B’s “I Like It” is perhaps the Latin urban single of the year so far, not only on the grounds of being a banger but on how important it is. It’s important in the sense that Ms. Almanzar is taking over American pop culture and claiming her Dominican heritage while trojan-horsing Latin trap and reggaeton into the hip-hop consciousness. The very sample this track is based around is Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 boogaloo classic,“I Like It Like That,” one of the very first examples of Latin music sneaking its way into mainstream America. Cardi’s boss mannerisms and sheer charisma could easily sell the whole track, but both Boricua Trapster Bad Bunny and Colombian don J Balvin get equal space to shine, the former even referencing the legendary sample’s bassline (Bobby Valentín really was the absolute chingón). This is really one for the culture.
[8]

Julian Axelrod: On paper, this feels like a craven bid for Song of the Summer: from the infectious boogaloo sample to the inclusion of Latin trap luminaries Bunny and Balvin, there’s a wary sense of risk management that “Bodak Yellow,” its unassuming, world-conquering predecessor, lacked. But when I listen to the song, it feels fun and spunky and alive. If this was subjected to focus group meetings, they probably took place at a block party instead of a boardroom. The track is a series of relentless attacks on your pleasure centers, from the bubbling beat to J Balvin’s goofy Gaga line to Cardi’s nearly radioactive levels of charm. One of my best musical memories of the year is hearing “I Like It” in a packed club the day after Invasion of Privacy came out. Somehow everyone already knew every word, and we proceeded to shout it at the top of our lungs. At the end of the day, isn’t that all we want out of a summer banger? Say what you will about the music industry machine, but sometimes their calculations pay off.
[8]

Will Adams: It’s one of those concepts that seems blindingly obvious in retrospect — boogaloo sampled in a thwacking trap song — but everyone involved acts like they’ve just struck gold. And justifiably so; if “Despacito” got the ball rolling on multi-lingual, world-conquering pop, “I Like It” is the flag planted at the summit.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: A clanging sample of Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like it Like That” swings right into the tingling synths and pumping drums while Cardi strides through it; Bad Bunny hops, backflips and slides over it; and J Balvin creeps in under it.
[7]

Josh Love: Thanks to teeth-rattling bass and Cardi’s endless supply of #winning catchphrases (“I run this shit like cardio” jumps out most forcefully here, though perusing the lyrics opened up my world to the tremendous “Eating halal, driving the Lam'”), “I Like It” somehow manages the seemingly impossible task of salvaging a song that heretofore existed in the popular American consciousness almost exclusively thanks to a fucking Burger King commercial. And it’s only like maybe the fifth or sixth best song on Invasion of Privacy!
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: I was introduced to Cardi through “Red Barz,” and even more than the “bloody moves” of “Bodak Yellow” did, that terse street single’s gang aesthetic rooted her in my consciousness as a tough-minded brawler, steely and ruthless. She is multi-dimensional, however — one of the joys of the “Finesse” remix was the opportunity it offered her to be playful — and “I Like It” accentuates another aspect of her Bronx-hewed personality: her Dominican heritage. Her guests on the track are Puerto Rican and Colombian, and the beat draws from Cuban rhythms, creating a pan-Latinx outlook untied to any specific national tradition — other than an American one, that is. For much of her verse, Cardi’s flow isn’t much removed from her “Bodak” one, but even as a retread, she asserts an easy authority, a preternatural focal point. J Balvin, whose sly insinuations I often enjoy on his own music, struggles to match her; Bad Bunny, however, does just fine. This is a song of elements strengthened through proximity to others that are alternately complementary and conflicting; yes, Cardi is at her best when she’s at her most New York.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: When, not long after I entered my thirties, I was swimming around in radio pop like I had discovered it for the first time, a song that got spun a couple times on a Phoenix pop station, and maybe the Latin pop station too, sank its hooks into me. It was with distance a fairly silly song, a past-their-prime Cypress Hill plus a not-yet-entirely-worldwide Pitbull, with token respectable performer Marc Anthony belting a hook derived from an old Crosby, Stills, and Nash tune, but I was still a fresh enough listener to all popular music that I had residual affection for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and was naïve enough to be charmed rather than irritated by the naked obviousness of the flip. When, a year later, I catalogued my favorite songs of 2010, it was still #2, behind only “TiK ToK.” (And I had totally forgotten I Amnestyed it.) It’s in that spirit that, eight years on, I still thrill to the naked obviousness of a beaten-into-the-ground 1960s sample source when Cardi B flips this most standard of boogaloo standards into Latin trap and has two of the biggest and so most demographically advantageous performers of urban Caribbean music jump on it with her. In a year when the fever-swamps of poisonous discourse and xenophobic hatred are way past critical levels, this celebration of a few of three Latinx stars’ favorite things stands out all the more for its full-throated self-regarding glee. Dominican-American Cardi B’s rubbery Bronx vowels rattling off conspicuous consumption, Puerto Rican Bad Bunny throatily moaning the nationalities of ladies he’s into, Colombian J Balvin mumble-bragging that a year later “Mi Gente” remains inescapable — and Pete Rodriguez’s 1966 horn section unspooling curlicues throughout — all add up to possibly the only decent party song yet this year for anyone who knows anything. (Abolish ICE.)
[10]

Friday, June 15th, 2018

Ramz – Family Tree

English rapper puts in a slight song…


[Video][Website]
[5.14]

Claire Biddles: With its gentle electronics, lyrical appreciation of hugging, and Ramz’s brags of keeping his friends “from primary right through secondary”, “Family Tree” manages to be cute without verging into saccharine. Like previous hit “Barking” there’s not too much going on here, but its sing-song sweetness sustains it for three minutes.
[6]

Iain Mew: Ramz has capitalised on the big potential for positivity in the Afro Bashment sound again — tracing a big family out of everyone he’s close to from primary school onwards and radiating love. Four successive lines with “company” isn’t up with the pleasure in words of “Barking,” but the mood is such it’s not too big a loss.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Ramz is a decent (though uninspiring) rapper, but “Family Tree,” his upbeat, looking-back single, is too cute by half, and doesn’t remotely grab me. Or you, probably.
[3]

Jonathan Bogart: Sentimental, neighborhood-repping songs where the subtext is how wonderful it is that you’re a mid-level recording artist when you used to be a non-famous child always strike me as self-indulgent fans-only material, whether the genre is country, hip-hop, or sludge metal. (On second thought, I’d definitely listen to the sludge metal version of that song.) This is quite pretty and well-constructed, and I can’t doubt Ramz’ sincerity, but since this is my first introduction to him I have no investment in his glow up.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Steel drums increasingly set my teeth on edge, and it’s possible I would’ve endorsed the more charming bits of Ramz’ meditations on family without them, but there ain’t much going on. 
[4]

Will Adams: With the proliferation of marimbas in pop music, I’d thought we’d have more soundalikes for the Rugrats theme, but no, it’s just “Work From Home” and now this. It’s a good fit for a song dedicated to the family and friends Ramz grew up with, and if ever it falls into a lull, his charm picks up the slack.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: “Family Tree” is sweet and fond and genuine, but very much on the underwritten side. Unless it was intentional that the chorus sounds like something written by a six-year-old. Or that it might have been inspired by that “I love you, you love me” song Barney the Dinosaur used to sing. The aw-shucks nice-boy sweetness Ramz adopts here means he almost gets away with it.
[5]

Friday, June 15th, 2018

Gorillaz ft. George Benson – Humility

A hazy getaway…


[Video][Website]
[6.57]

Iain Mew: Since settling into a clearer identity after the first album, Gorillaz singles have just about fallen into busier songs with guest vocals, fun or otherwise, and barer melancholy songs with only Damon Albarn’s. About the only thing new in the easy groove of “Humility” is that it’s light on the melancholy but still just Damon, George Benson’s playing making less of a distinct impression than any vocalist aside from Noel Gallagher’s subliminal appearance last year. Weirdly, that featureness ends up enough of a twist to save the song from autopilot over-familiarity.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Nothing humble about this thing: strings, percussion, incongruous melodies, and noodling George Benson lines for the sake of boasting, “Hey, we got George Benson!” to the John Mayer-ites who dug “New Light.” 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Flat, poorly printed drums (AGAIN) cut a hole underneath the sloppy, squelching bass, glittering guitars and drifting synths that carry Damon Alborn’s dull waft and lift George Benson’s smooth coo.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Much like a “feat. Nile Rodgers” credit on your record, you fairly know what you’re gonna get when you see “feat. [jazz legend] George Benson,” the only question being whether or not he chimes in on vocals (and here, he doesn’t). His distinctive, smooth-as-silk guitar licks add a lovely, chilled flair to Damon Albarn & co.’s polyglot pop. If you’re not annoyed by Damon sounding as if he’s singing through a refrigerator in the next room, you’ll likely dig the summery vibes on display here. 
[7]

Ian Mathers: Not really surprising that Albarn can nail the colourful, sunny, laid back vibe of “Humility”, especially with Benson giving him such an unassumingly good-natured assist. Kind of makes it funny that fans/the press used to expect him to butt heads with the likes of Liam Gallagher; even when his voice is the center of a song his voice sounds and feels best when there’s a bit of distance and diffidence there.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: The slight radio fuzz cutting through Damon Albarn’s vocals has always been a nice Gorillaz touch. Here, it accents the “calling the from the world of isolation” line nicely; atop the beach rock burnt out from the sun, it arrives like a letter in a bottle washed up ashore. Yet while it’s pretty upon the surface, his melancholy sounds ultimately hollow. The roundabout chorus is a reflecting pool with as much depth as one’s  willing to give to his stoned-out metaphors.
[5]

Will Adams: Albarn sings hazily, as if laying in a hammock somewhere as the sun sets, melting cocktail in hand. It’s the humid, melancholic mood I loved on Plastic Beach, where carefree daydreaming can exist while the worries of the world outside throb in the near distance. As if to compensate for 2018, Benson’s guitar provides added escape.
[8]

Friday, June 15th, 2018

SHINee – Good Evening

A well-received comeback.


[Video][Website]
[7.43]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Good Evening” is to “View” what “Shinin'” was to “She Is”: a solid but familiar retread of sorts that isn’t terribly exciting. Even so, it seems like the wisest decision SM could’ve made. For one, hearing this gives you a sense that the members are successfully powering through whilst recalling the times they’ve had with Jonghyun. It’s appropriate, especially since this coincides with the group’s 10th anniversary. More importantly, it makes it fairly easy to imagine where Jonghyun’s voice could’ve been inserted, granting the song a more pronounced wistfulness. Ironically, the element that’s most crucial to the song’s success is one that is identifiably not K-pop: an interpolation of 112’s “Cupid.” It’s nostalgic and intimate; a heavenly melody that immediately flashes Jonghyun’s face before my eyes. As I hear SHINee declaring that they’re going–running–to him, I become overwhelmed by the song’s English title. It’s not a final “Good Night” or “Good Bye,” but a cordial reunion: “Good Evening.” I sense him in the pre-chorus and the garage house beat that follows. He seems happy–his face glowing as in the video for “Shinin'”–joyful to be freed from the pain he endured for so long. For a few seconds, the song acts as a celestial oasis, one that allows the band members and fans to grieve and find comfort. One where we can tell Jonghyun that it was not his fault, and never will be. Where we can tell him that he did go through a lot, that he did work hard. Where we can tell him that he did well. Where we can tell him that he did a good job. 종현 형 수고했어요.
[7]

Alfred Soto: At once wistful and fingerpoppin’, “Good Evening” relies on the glide of those vocals, which have the tug of classic New Edition or N Sync at their infrequent best.
[7]

Jessica Doyle: It feels a bit limp, a bit familiar; but really, did we actually want something banging and explosive? Perhaps they threaded the microscopic eye of the needle as well as they could. I don’t know; I’m angry. I know: if depression is an illness, a still-poorly-understood pattern of misfiring synapses, than it is no more just or rational for me to be angry at Jonghyun than it would be for me to be angry at my mother for dying of cancer. But I was angry at my mother; justice and rationality were beside the point. (Also unjust: that no one could possibly be angrier at Jonghyun than he was at himself; an anger so persistent it swallowed him whole; that was the problem.) Meanwhile Onew and Taemin and Minho and Key, who have the right to anger if anyone does, are not performing anger–grief, yes, and resolution, and love, but not anger, not in this song. So anger is inappropriate. Yes? But oh how much this sounds like “View” and even “1 of 1,” how much it feels like a point on a line that stretches a long way back and thus includes “Lucifer,” a good portion of whose brilliance came from Onew and Jonghyun trading off. And so I hear Onew singing here, especially in the first chorus, and some small part of me still thinks Jonghyun is coming next no matter how many times I hear Key’s part. Not Key’s fault; not even Jonghyun’s fault; the whole concept of fault does nobody any good here. To say “It should not be like this” does nobody any good. But…
[6]

Anna Suiter: The idea of a comeback in K-pop, to many people who aren’t familiar with it, seems a little diluted. Sometimes people ask, “Why it’s called a comeback if it’s only been 3 or 4 months?” In SHINee’s case, it’s been about a year and a half since their last group promotion in Korea — but it isn’t the length of time between promotions that makes it seem like a comeback. It’s that they’re coming back as four, not five. It’s that even if the song is well produced and sounds complete, you still can’t help but try to fit a fifth voice in. But Jonghyun’s voice will never be in a new SHINee song, and it feels strange to admit that SHINee can exist as a group that makes really good music without him. SHINee have always held a peculiar spot in my heart of nostalgia, long before Jonghyun’s death. That nostalgia probably colors parts of this song for me, and maybe it’s part of why it’s viscerally upsetting to engage with too closely. Some of the visuals in the video and choreography suggest moving forward, but some of the lyrics suggest something different. The ending verse in particular speaks to desperately reaching for someone far from you, and while maybe that isn’t looking back, it isn’t moving forward, either. But sometimes, that’s okay.
[10]

Anjy Ou: The thing about this song that makes me emotional is the urgency of the whole thing. You can imagine someone getting off a plane, or finally getting off work, at first walking quickly, but then skipping, running, leaping, anything to close the distance between them and their person as fast as possible. The song is that taut string pulling two people together. It’s a song about missing someone so much it hurts, but also celebrating the connection you have with them – all that joy and pain and longing mixed together. I don’t think it’s “about” Jonghyun, but I do think his passing casts a particular light on it that maybe wouldn’t be there if he was singing it with them. Anyway, it makes me happy and teary and also makes me dance, so obviously, I love it.
[8]

Ryo Miyauchi: Though this group can bring maximalist charge if they want to, what impresses once again about this round of SHINee is their effortless grace. While the verses hint at a spark more intensely magnetic, the ebullient garage-house production and that comedown of a chorus soften their emotion into something much more delicate. It’s not a dressing down of what’s at stake, but rather a proof to how they finely perform desire: sensual but not desperate, sensitive but not vulnerable.
[7]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: It’s such a bittersweet sensation to have the great SHINee return. On one hand, we just lost Jonghyun last December, and we’re still processing the idea of the group without him; on the other hand, SHINee are still the true masters, a band comprised of some of the most talented singers, songwriters, and performers in South Korean pop history, and there’s a seal of quality in every release. “Good Evening” is an impressive return to form, reaching back to the deep house-oriented sound of previous smash “View”, but with a more reflective approach. The production, from the melodic refrain to the vocal layering, is simply gorgeous, highlighting the strengths of a group that is all about power and complexity.
[7]

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

K-391 & Alan Walker ft. Julie Bergan & Seungri – Ignite

Coming soon to a montage near you:


[Video]
[3.86]

Will Rivitz: OK, so this song is awful, but the most offensive part about its awfulness is it doesn’t have the decency to be awful in even a mildly interesting way. Its music video closes with a message from the artists generously offering itself for “free use for everyone on youtube [sic],” and appropriately so: “Ignite” is the soundtrack to a poorly-edited Premier League highlights video, an intro clip to a Fortnite Let’s Play by a 27-year-old who still thinks it’s funny to make “triggered” jokes, and a promo video for an “upscale nightclub” that charges $25 for a Long Island Iced Tea all rolled into one. There are specific things wrong with “Ignite,” to be sure — the awkward transitioning from a swung feel to a straight-ahead 4×4 and back again at the drop, vocal chops that sound straight out of a meme video from 2014 or so, an out-of-left-field bridge that aims for smooth R&B and lands about two feet from where it launched — but even these specific things are so consummately forgettable that they seem to have hardly existed in the first place. I’ll probably hear this song on some JukinMedia video in a week and not be able to place it.
[1]

Iain Mew: Alan Walker’s tundra trance has previously been tasteful to a fault, so it’s a surprise to find something with him attached which is so entertainingly not. The real star is Julie Bergan, though, taking on the preposterous with relish and managing to make the explosive drops sound like a fitting emotional expression. Meanwhile Seungri’s part is beamed in from a different musical universe, and serves as a surreal but effective palate cleanser before another flamethrower burst of synths and exclamations.
[8]

Alex Clifton: Almost feels like sparks about to burst into flame, but somehow never manages it despite the bombast of the production. Part of the issue here I think is that the vocal textures all meld into the backbeat, so it’s less of a collaboration and more just voices piled on top of one another. It also has a sonic profile that I think would’ve been more engaging three years ago, but now feels overplayed. It’s earnest EDM with its effort, I suppose, but I don’t listen to dance music for earnestness.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Begins like something melancholy from pop radio in 2010 — the year of “DJ Got Us Falling in Love,” “Only Girl (in the World),” etc. — that also kinda sounds like “All That She Wants,” then just goes all over the place.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Had this come out about eight years ago, it would have been utterly revolutionary, or at least utterly surprising in a way that would force people to sit bolt upright and listen. People would have made EDM Bingo cards based on this song. It would have predicted just about every trend going. As a collection of competently-executed cliches, it is pretty much impossible to top: throwing in fire cliches, drops, Julie Bergan going at it to not be swallowed by the drops and her own cliches, and a verse from Seungri sung quietly so as to sound mysterious/meaningful. It’s pretty much indefensible, but I concede in the right context it would also be unstoppable.
[5]

Will Adams: So: a “Faded”/”Applause” mashup, a very Sia lyric (empowerment via spontaneous combustion), a bridge that lurches us into an entirely different rhythm and genre, and a hiccup drop. There are ideas here, however they’ve been dumped into one pile so meaninglessly that I suspect what’s being ignited is a garbage fire.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Bergan forces a thunderous vocal performance, Seungri contributes a superfluous verse that secures more international success, and the drop is just active enough to present a sort of excitement that isn’t too wild to scare anyone off. In other words, this is a song so frustratingly generic that I would be more forgiving of its existence if it were specifically made to sell a mass-produced commodity. “Ignite” has lyrics that are decidedly shallow, ensuring that its hollow message of uplift can resonate with the masses. Even the title seems carefully decided upon: it’s a familiar word that can be used as a mantra for a 5k charity run, a children’s summer camp, or your workplace’s team building outing. The song’s innocuous nature makes it likely that it’ll soundtrack the video montages of such events too. And as the music video for “Ignite” notes, K-391 is ever-so-humbly allowing people to use the song for whatever reason they so choose. Such generosity is negated by the song itself — one whose sole purpose is to be ubiquitous and nothing else.
[0]

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Luke Combs – One Number Away

Did you really not put the girl in your Contacts list, Lukey?


[Video][Website]
[4.25]

Iain Mew: I love the way every line gets its own guitar reply, in a steady progression from the initial hesitant jangle-dadudum, through the growing confidence of jangwaah, past djedja[dramatic pause]jangle, all the way to full on gwooooawwwww. I find myself filtering out the rest of the song to get the full effect, and it’s an enjoyable experience.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Country will never tire of songs about resisting the temptation to drunk dial, and “One Number Away” is one of the sturdier recent entries. While the guitars twang, Luke Combs lets the resentment show. It’s not his fault that I wish it were a song about responding to a drunk dial. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The verses were already ridiculous in how they applied late-night acoustic melancholy to Googling John Mayer lyrics, but they still create a mood — a mood promptly interrupted by the same fucking Southern rock chorus, literally crashing in, the sonic equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic.
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: When he says “number”, does he mean individual digit or entire phone number? If the former, what kind of old-time phone is he using that requires the whole number being dialed in? Or has he just deleted their number but memorised it? Can you memorise a number when it’s predominantly metaphorical? Does anybody “call to” people rather than just call them, apart from when they want a lyric to flow? So many questions, so little to not be diverted by them.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: More than yet another phone number becoming some sentimental magnet for the recently heartbroken, what draws attention here is Luke Combs’ method to “drown out the noise.” He tries to get rid of all the memories: movies, singles, radio stations. He eventually pulls up the dial screen, as all songs of this nature eventually do, but at least the sulking is somewhat relatable before it gets there.
[4]

Will Adams: The change-a-word is a common trope in country in order to create a more distinct title — see, he’s one number away, not one call away, which is how you know this is clever writing! But there’s no follow through in the rest of the lyric to justify it, so it becomes a song that isn’t about a dude who wants to call his ex late at night but instead about a dude who can’t remember what the last digit in her phone number is.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Really, it’s only one producer away from being a Nickelback song, and not one of the good ones.
[4]

Stephen Eisermann: Calling an ex is a common theme in country music, but this is one of the more disappointing implementations of this theme. The musical arrangemen starts of fun interesting enough until it goes full MOR, pop-country in the chorus instead of the angrier southern bluesy rock that this song needs. Plus, Luke Combs just doesn’t have all that interesting of a voice. It’s all build-up without a pay-off and nobody likes being teased unless they get eventual gratification.
[4]