Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Perfume – Cling Cling

Dissipated perfume, more like…


[Video][Website]
[5.43]

Iain Mew: There was a period in late 2012 and early 2013 when Yasutaka Nakata had running three distinct acts all sussed out. Electronic and mood experiments to Capsule, other fun experiments to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Perfume to perfect his precision pop designs, all three on top form. Since then, though, keeping up with the demanding schedules of the latter two has seemed a struggle, resulting in a series of flawed singles. “Cling Cling” brings the different strands back together, a gleaming Perfume dance track injected with enough of the playfulness of the best Kyary songs to sound fresh. It’s there in the “Invader Invader”-style bursts of plastic dubstep and in a freewheeling melody with an echo of “Pon Pon Pon”. It makes the dance floor sound like a fun place to be again, even as the group keep the poise and emotional force too.
[8]

Will Adams: Perfume can always be relied on for polished, maximalist dancepop with killer production from Nakata and wonderfully braided vocals from the trio. But “Cling Cling” stops there, offering an OK “Pon Pon Pon”-esque chorus that nonetheless misses the ebullience of their past singles.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I want to like this group, but to date I’ve heard little rhythmic or harmonic variation. The enthusiasm feels rehearsed.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Can’t unhear it as “cloying, cloying,” sorry. Hyper-maximalist pop is great, but there’s something aggravatingly twee about this chorus that feels like nails on a chalkboard.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Synth throbs! Handclaps! Clinging to chests! So why does this sound so sad?
[5]

Brad Shoup: This sounds like a prog interlude, wherein Perfume introduce you to a new theme. It doesn’t have that burble, or that interplay between man and machine, that makes their work so magickal.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s easy to think that producer Yasutaka Nakata has been phoning it in a bit with Perfume — he’s practically admitted as much dating back to 2011, and he seems way more excited working with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who he’s constantly photographed with and DJs with, and indulging his own ideas with Capsule. Perfume’s singles, accordingly, have tended to follow a bubbly, bright template for a while, recently spiked with EDM. They are never going to be the thrilling, game-changing force they were in 2007, but nothing wrong with releasing a steady stream of catchy pop numbers like “Cling Cling,” which is basically “VOICE” unraveling at a slower tempo with slight dashes of wub thrown in.
[7]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Doprah – Stranger People

Facebook: “A sinister and evil cult which lures young people into drug-taking,” which, arguable…


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Alfred Soto: “All hail the arrival of another odd-pop export from New Zealand,” crows the SPIN article (ten years ago it would have said “odd girl export,” so I guess that’s progress). I don’t hear the oddness at all so much as singers doing what they do best: luxuriating in self-provoked noises. For all that, though, there’s not much else.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: “Doprah began under the name Doprah Winfrey,” and there’s still time to further change it. Still, it is at least memorable, and that does at least allow a segue into how unmemorable this song is, so much a series of reference points that it’s a scattergraph. The lyrics seem best lost in the haze, but what can you latch onto of a haze?
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s creepy, I get it. 
[5]

Juana Giaimo: The main flaw of this song is how it was turned into a mess in order to seem eerie. The childish vocals and the violins are a perfect combination for a horror movie, but it’s still the desynchronized beat that we first notice. The prechorus comes in too soon, when we are still puzzled about what’s going on, and the chorus is disorganized, both vocalists competing for the listeners’ attention without caring to complement each other. 
[5]

Megan Harrington: The trick of burying the vocals under shimmering piles of noise and a clacking beat is probably meant to situate the listener in an aviary or space station, but it’s the sonic equivalent of a bad haircut. My only instinct is to sweep their messy bangs back so I can see their faces. 
[5]

Anthony Easton: I like the perversity of hiding most of the vocals of a singer you are trying to make a case for. When the vocals pop through a jangle of noise, I am profoundly bored, which means the strategy must succeed somewhat. 
[6]

Brad Shoup: This is what a Lana Del Rey song sounds like to people about to hurl.
[4]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Echosmith – Cool Kids

The angriest you’ll see Brad all year, perhaps…


[Video][Website]
[4.62]

Brad Shoup: I know that when the KISS-FM DJs give me bullshit biographical info before playing a song, it’s a bald shill. It happened with the Madden Brothers, it happened with Katy Tiz (whose cover of Rock Mafia’s “The Big Bang” is stuck at #100, two slots worse than the original’s peak), and it’s happening with Echosmith, who make garbage music about garbage sentiments, the kind of sentiments that only Taylor Swift seems to get away with. And that’s because Taylor Swift is a pop-emo icon, horcruxing herself into every stormy night and pair of glasses and probably those Diet Coke bottles in the commercials. Also, her narratives tend to resolve. I think the takeaway from their repeating “cool kids” literally two dozen times is that these dummies don’t know they’re beauti-cool, what with their arrhythmia and their unsteady gait and their existence as a pop band made of siblings. This is pre-movie-trailer music: baleful and tuneless, ingratiating and structurally flat. Cool was never in their reach. They need to focus on not being embarrassing.
[0]

Katherine St Asaph: The Radio Disney/Clear Channel thresher, as threshers do, produces a lot of chaff, but it also produces acts like Echosmith. “Cool Kids” is the Saving Jane to Taylor Swift: gawkier, with patchier makeup, breathy-dreamy in a way that suggests “Echosmith” isn’t just usual band-name nonsense but a sonic statement, and relatable outside invented high schools. Adults don’t stop wishing they’re the cool kids; if anything they wish harder, because the stakes are higher: not prom but promotions at work, or work at all, or nights not alone, or playdates for their own kids. A portion of a generation will replay this wistfully at age 25 or 35 or 65, making “Cool Kids” valuable deep down.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The vocals are breathy, earnest, and androgynous, the sentiments rote: the cool kids drive the fast cars but the received sensitivity of the music — echo cool enough for Bloc Party in 2005 — gives no hint that the uncool kids could do anything in those cars besides become new cool kids, plus ça change and so on. The uncool kids need pumped up kicks in their songs.
[4]

Josh Love: The alienation felt by the uncool kids is never tempered at all, yet everything else is shimmery and nonchalant. Hayley Williams and Taylor Swift have so capably conveyed the feeling of being a teenage outsider, but Echosmith’s vocalist lacks the former’s spitfire defiance or the latter’s narrative eye. If “Cool Kids” was sung in a foreign language you’d have a far easier time convincing me it was a sun-kissed celebration of being popular rather than an ode to misfits.
[3]

David Sheffieck: As sibling bands go Echosmith are no Hanson, but there’s something about this more-honest take on “Royals” that charms nonetheless. If nothing else, the semi-ironic chorus suggests that in five years or so, it’ll be a great karaoke pick for anyone who’s exiting high school at the right time to imprint on it.
[6]

Anthony Easton: The kids who were cool when you were 15 are selling insurance and live in places like Chino. The uncool kids at 16 move to the city and learn to fuck or dance or play guitar. I recommend not worrying about being cool at 15, and moving out of Chino. Unless you are being ironic, which has enough emotional distance that I would recommend moving to Silver Lake. 
[6]

Will Adams: Musically, you can get the real deal (i.e. pop rock as wistful as it is groovy) from a handful of other bands, even without counting the non-sibling ones. Lyrically, you can get the real deal by stealing a seventh grader’s diary.
[4]

Megan Harrington: Listening to “Cool Kids” it’s easier than it should be to slip back into my 15-year-old brain. My younger self would have deeply resented and distrusted a song like this and its tangle of loose ends. The cool kids I knew had lives as misshapen and misfitting as any high schooler, and the kids who looked like Echosmith (or the kids who didn’t but could sing or had a garage band) were cool. But the ache of “Cool Kids” is real, and knowing that the band is formed of four siblings speaks to an isolation that can’t be disguised with a California wardrobe. They’re also competently churning out dreamy pop with a consistency that rivals bands a decade older; it’s hard not to imagine these kids tucked away in an attic practicing while their peers learned to drive to Taco Bell. Maybe Echosmith do wish for a life of seeming normalcy.
[7]

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

DJ Fresh vs TC ft. Little Nikki – Make U Bounce

bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Megan Harrington: Sometimes, while exercising, you need a song to give you the push you can’t give yourself. A song that is an aural endorphin generator, a song so full of kinetic energy that you’re not capable of slowing down. “Make U Bounce” is the song that gives you permission to grind your workout to a halt while you fiddle with the buttons on your music player trying to turn it off. 
[4]

Kat Stevens: See, if we’d had slightly better processing power in 1993, I could have had a digital watch that played this song instead of the crappy Legend of Zelda watch which had bugger all to do with Actual Zelda apart from fighting bats and cannonballs and shit. And it would go off at 9.59 A.M. in assembly while everyone else’s watch made a boring old “EEEP EEEP”.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Synth farts, house keyboards, stutter chorus — yup, anything, anything to make you bounce. 
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: It has no reason to be as knotty as it ends up being, so bless DJ Fresh for being willing to take this song beyond the bleating EDM core. This is a nice, twisty song – it dips into drum ‘n’ bass and lets Little Nikki’s vocals wander into all sorts of territory.
[6]

Brad Shoup: There are a couple places where Nikki swaps out the singsong line “I just want to make the whole world bounce” with just the last word: “bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce”. It comes off like the song making fun of itself, which is great because otherwise it’d sound like Katy B taking refuge from robot invaders.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: A formula for dumb fun: “Applause” minus pretension, plus sorta-chiptunes, plus sorta-jungle and sorta-house piano, plus whatever the hell this is: “We could do everything if only I could take you home / I just want to make the whole world bounce.” (Are they doing it on a tectonic plate?)
[7]

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Fifth Harmony – Bo$$

Mi¢helle Obama too subtle?…


[Video][Website]
[6.00]

Kat Stevens: It feels this lot have handed me a brightly wrapped present tied with an awesome shiny ribbon, that turns out to have a £5 WH Smiths gift voucher inside.
[5]

David Sheffieck: Fifth Harmony are on fire here, powerful and on point, but the production is worth special mention: dexterous and brassy (in both senses), it’s an ideal match for a group performance that demands one. Bonus points for “I pledge allegiance to my independent girls in here,” one of those rare, brilliant lines that on paper seems like it should be meaningless but makes perfect sense in the song’s context.
[10]

Anthony Easton: The horns here are as excessive as the snaps and all of the vocals fronting wealth I’m sure they don’t have. Works too hard for too little fun, but a few points for the Volvo line.
[5]

Brad Shoup: This track was almost certainly written around that hook, which is awesome but still pads this thing ’til it’s barely three minutes. Syncopated clapping, En Vogue-style jitterbugging and half of the Inspector Gadget theme give this a twitchy excitement, but this one’s still very, very desperate to be an anthem.
[6]

Alfred Soto: It’s no “Bills Bills Bills” or “What About Your Friends,” but this “X-Factor” product moves with confidence and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Here’s a rarity: the verses, introducing each member, are stronger than the chorus.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Society, much as it loves little girls programming until they become grown women programmers, loves to champion “empowering” teen pop to cheer girls, while it curtails the career paths that’d help them become actual bosses. The better songs work despite this, but “Bo$$” is the Wallpaper. dude and several other men writing women a song about being in charge of nothing more establishment-threatening than their credit card bills. A little “Run the World (Girls),” a little “Trash Me,” a little Little Mix, a little jaunt through the au courant phrases of the day: a lot of nothing.
[4]

Will Adams: Not wacky enough. Vies for potent quotables for the post-Beyoncé generation, instead namedrops Michelle Obama a few hundred times and calls it a day. By the time any charm starts worming its way into your heart, it’s gone in under three minutes.
[5]

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

will.i.am ft. Cody Wise – It’s My Birthday

despairing.we.are…


[Video][Website]
[3.62]

Katherine St Asaph: *PBF reaper*
[3]

Will Adams: will.i.am has always reveled in crassness, injecting it into every aspect of his career: lyrically, with lovely lady lumps, boobies like wow-o-wow, boners; sonically, by shamelessly chasing whatever pop trend is in vogue to the point of straight-up plagiarism; and visually, by playing a sperm, popping out of a woman’s uterus like he’s Alien spawn, and posing alongside relentless product placement. The crassness could be tolerable alone, but will marries it with an insane ego that tells him to just keep churning out the same uninspired crap. That same ego also tells will to prop up someone like Cody Wise, who’s at least three years of vocal coaching away from showing any promise. I always think that will.i.am has reached his nadir, but “It’s My Birthday” manages — from the hyperactive video to the song’s mindless repetition — to out-crass even his worst tendencies.
[0]

Alfred Soto: So moronic it must be intentional. I mean — “Que bonita/I can speak in Japanese,” followed by one word in said language? It’s will’s birthday, and he’ll make whatever damn thing he can.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: On the one hand, will.i.am and Cody Wise at least brought A.R. Rahman aboard when recreating “Urvasi Urvasi,” and that song even gets a shout out at the very start. Unfortunately, it’s tough to find anything else really likeable about “It’s My Birthday”, with the headlining pair adding nothing but shivers to what follows (“I can speak in Japanese,” Wise sings, before revealing he only knows a word every cornball on Tumblr also knows). Honestly, just stick with the original.
[4]

Anthony Easton: The production is interesting — it seems to be riffing on new minimalism, but without any of the skeletal rawness found in the form, and Wise has a genuinely warm voice. This is also the most interested I have been in a will.i.am beat in a while. The lyrics are kind of racist, and sort of creepy, which distracts from a strong form. 
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: For maybe the most multilingual number one ever (kind of) this is impressively asinine. will.i.am’s general will.i.ngness to try something unusual is laudable, and his plunder here is inspired, but he too often manages to make that unusualness sound entirely usual. Things can be worse than merely generic, at least, but “It’s My Birthday” seems unlikely to be the best remembered of his — count them — ten chart-toppers.
[5]

Megan Harrington: As a bit of forewarning, I know how vogue it is to make fun of will.i.am songs and “It’s My Birthday” is right down there in the dirt competing with his worst, but there’s a dangerous side effect to will.i.am literacy. For entire minutes after the song ended I sat in silence, a looped scratch of “in the a-air, in the a-air” floating through my head like a wicked ghost. This terrible mish-mash of generic party signifiers, lame translated come-ons, and weak brag bars is unforgettable in the worst way. 
[4]

Brad Shoup: Grim and charmless, piddling yet frantic. will.i.am’s vocation is invocation: installing sonic fluff around #trending party topics, like a Bud Light Platinum commercial with an auteur attached. Cody and Will deploy so many phraselets, and nearly every one of them landed for someone else, but those folks didn’t have a five-note symphonic motif screwing itself into the ground for four minutes.
[3]

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Enrique Iglesias ft. Gente De Zona & Descemer Bueno – Bailando

For anyone concerned about the whereabouts of Sean Paul, don’t worry: he’s on the English edit…


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Alfred Soto: I don’t usually make these remarks, so I’m excused: the lyrics are so bonehead stupid that I question everything, from the acoustic guitar and Iglesias’ theta-ing his zetas to deciding to rewrite the title and rhythm of one of his biggest crossover hits. The baile is a circle jerk, and Romeo Santos doesn’t want to interrupt, Kiki.
[3]

Brad Shoup: He can sing about liquor and beer all he wants —  at this point in his career, you’ll need a crowbar to pry him out of the club — but it’s when Bueno steps up that you can feel the dance. Gente De Zona’s cubaton, sprightly and modest, allows the new-sincerity grandiosity to take off. But really, it’s new to hear a grown-ass man on an Enrique record.
[6]

Megan Harrington: The beat, the arching refrain vocals, the tinny keys — everything about “Bailando” is worn in like a favorite shirt you’ve slept in since high school. Iglesias is a performer who knows his safety net and it gently catches his biggest singles. That this sounds vaguely like his other musical seductions only adds to its comfort. 
[7]

Will Adams: Without those cluttered dancepop grooves around him, Enrique can be a convincing, if still somewhat nasally, performer. The chorus hints at a big takeoff but never quite gets off the ground; if only those weighty verses could be thrown over as ballast.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: The man’s become a dichotomy: English songs nearly all banging R&BDM, Spanish ones nearly all Sensitive Croons. This one comes in both languages, so it makes a certain sense that it’s of neither mould: the dancing of the former and the gentleness of the latter cancelling each other out to leave something competent if completely ordinary. A Paradisio cover would have been so much better.
[5]

Ramzi Awn: World Cup music never hurt anybody. “Bailando” is produced like a music box playing on a hot summer night. Nobody’s dancing until Enrique starts singing and, unsurprisingly, he sounds great. 
[7]

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Dillon Francis & DJ Snake – Get Low

From the windows to the walls?


[Video][Website]
[4.83]

Will Adams: Well, it is a similar tempo to the Lil Jon classic. A mashup would have helped this. As it stands, it’s in your face but a bit on the nose.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Lean Big Beat, with gimmicks from the last fifteen years or so (the title phrase is total Fatboy) mulched up and spread a sixteenth of an inch thick. A dancefloor interstitial killer.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: For what it is, it’s… on point. It builds up to the point where the audience is commanded to do something, and then it switches into a chirpy portion where people can presumably do exactly that. But that’s it, and it’s more of a headache than 90 per cent of the other songs doing he same thing. So, watch me “get low” indeed. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Like watching a festival set from a sidewalk fenced off from the field. And judging by the faux-Middle Eastern sequencer bullshit, in questionable clothes.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I love the energy of this, and that space in the middle, which acts as a bit of a rest, before the pummeling starts again. Would be even better with an actual whistle, but that might have been too on the nose. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: OK, so its creators play slithering lines on their keyboards and sequencers, but the fading and samples sound like they’re played between a midday set at Ultra. 
[3]

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Spoon – Do You

We do!


[Video][Website]
[7.12]

Edward Okulicz: Britt Daniel rasps through that chorus like he’s just left a power-punk band for the steady income of a workaday jangler, and it’s plenty charming; there’s rough in the titular question, and a jaunty sweetness to the recurring “doo-doo doo-doo” chirp. But that jangle itself is enlivened by a sneaking ascending riff out of nowhere in the middle of the verses – a big, surprising hook out of nowhere. One of the many rigorous tests I subject Jukebox songs to is that I blast them in earphones on my train ride to work. This was bright and catchy enough that I took it home as well.
[8]

David Sheffieck: I thought Spoon and I had parted ways long ago, but I’m thoroughly won over by this: the breakdown/fadeout is a little unnecessary, but the bright riffs are insistent and immediate, the fleeting guitar solo just icing on the jangle cake.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Warmer, using do-do-dos and unusually pitched instruments, Britt Daniel inches closer to becoming the casanova that he’d abjured for more than a decade. Kinda pretty, in other words, much closer to a New Pornographers song than the current New Pornos single. 
[6]

Anthony Easton: All of the points for this is how they say “oo-ooh.”
[7]

Brad Shoup: Summer is the worst. Spoon buries a reference to October like creamy nougat in an ash-white dog turd; in Texas, October is still hell’s sweater weather, but I’ll take it. The only good thing about summer is the chance to zone out under the surveillance of the sun’s death eye, and the yearning, resonant piano groove captures that slight comfort well. As always, they’ve got hooks for days, with the high-tenor ‘doo’s appearing like an unexpected Otter Pop, but mostly, it’s a tune to get crushed by.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: Spoon is one of those bands I listened to a ton in high school and college, but if someone asked me why I liked them, I wouldn’t be able to think up a compelling reason beyond “just listen to this dude, Britt Daniel…that voice!” “Do You” is pretty standard for them, a brisk song offset by melancholy piano touches, but that’s enough for me. 
[6]

Madeleine Lee: This is the Spoon I remember hearing for the first time on the radio in my parents’ car the only time I’ve been to Chicago, the summer I was 13 and just learning what “indie” meant; this is the Spoon I remember listening to at my friends’ house when I woke up hungover on their couch, the summer we all played Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga to death and still couldn’t kill it, a pick-me-up before going out into the sun. “Do You” puts the same sun-drowsy, bittersweet feeling in my chest. I’m glad it’s back.
[10]

Josh Love: Spoon has the reputation of being an effortlessly solid band not only because they can toss off tuneful songcraft in their sleep but also because they rarely seem to reach past it. Here, Britt Daniel’s pleading gets close to something really powerful, but then the cheeky “doo doo doo doo”s in the background undercut the emotional heft. Modest as their ceiling may be, though, there’s certainly something to be said for being this deep into a career and maintaining such a high floor.
[6]

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Ryn Weaver – OctaHate

Octasongwriting.


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Josh Love: Put four prominent cooks in the kitchen and end up with a hot mess. The chorus is numbingly bashy and the lyrics worse than nonsense. “You’re the dynamite in my chains.” “You shot me down like a live wire.” The puzzling title only lends credence to the feeling that the words here were translated in and out of English about a half-dozen times.
[4]

Will Adams: There’s an army of industry bigwigs supporting Ryn Weaver, so it follows that “OctaHate” sounds focus-grouped and polished for success. But let’s look at what we’ve got: Lorde snaps and vocal hiccups; one of those Dr. Luke-bred choruses that sounds like a buildup instead of a drop; and Charli XCX vocal affects. There are worse recipes for success.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This is the new GaGa, isn’t it — connected, anonymous, ambitious, starting with well placed gigs, social climbing with an internet frenzy, and a small wink and nod. There are different names though, and the costumes are still mostly digital (see her as FemFemFem covering Newsom). Like Gaga, stop believing the hype and this obsessive desire to start on the ground floor, and recognize a middling talent who will most likely collapse soon enough. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: Applying a big voice to muddled romantic banalities over spongy keyboards and drip-drip beat, this comer can flaunt an “all-star team of Charli XCX, Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, and producers Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco,” according to Buzzfeed, all of whom do less than one Rita Ora.
[3]

Brad Shoup: The song wants to cry — Weaver’s practically begging it to — but all it can do is fart.
[5]

Hazel Robinson: Christ, I’m such a sucker for this shit this year. This is a whispery, tremulous indie-girl-pop wiggle of a thing and I should probably be way more annoyed about the appropriated beats and the cheap boshing chorus but I’d be completely lying to myself and you, dear reader, if I pretended for five seconds that I wouldn’t charge a dancefloor like a rhino when this came in. It’s got the interesting quality of having much more to do with, say, Cascada than Burial, unlike a lot of this hipster-pop but I can’t pretend that’s justification- it sounds summery, it’s got a desperate heart to it and it’s got the grasping, hopeful need that gives any song a gleaming, main stage glory.
[8]