Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Shura – The Stage

All the Amnesty’s a stage…


[Video]
[6.55]

Iain Mew: How many people have I got to know online and then met in person? I must be approaching a hundred, but even now each meeting comes with a tension around the transfer to sharing real space with someone both familiar and not. How much stronger that tension was when I met someone after we had already declared our feelings for each other, the risk and reward so much greater. That’s the feeling of “The Stage,” an intoxicating dance all ready to go but with an underlying hesitancy and weirdness, its skips and jumps marking the surreality of the situation. It’s a view of what it’s like doing a normal thing like going to a show, but with someone who you fell for via their words alone who is now really there and real and taking up real space next to you, with the potential first kiss tension of every brush of contact on top of that. I’ve never heard the experience captured so perfectly as in the opening lines “Are we gonna kiss? Exciting/Promised you my lips in writing” and the way Shura contrasts the uncertainty to the formality and permanency of the written word. We signed a contract in the reality we had and moved to another one, and it meant everything and nothing until affirmed there. “The Stage” gets to that giddy affirmation as its tension resolves. Filled with intensity and magic, Shura declares as “done with music” and departs with her girlfriend stage right for more kissing. They leave us as the ones dancing, the feeling generously opened outwards in its fizzing synth coda. 
[10]

Leah Isobel: Ever the gentleman, Shura sees her paramour from across the room and makes her move — would she like to Uber back home and, perhaps, kiss? The gentle synth rain swells as the pair make their escape. The faked fade-out as the two dance alone at home is probably the best part, a coy acknowledgment that there’s more happening when the camera stops rolling; it’s perhaps a little too subtle for my taste, but I can’t begrudge them their privacy. After all, a real gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.
[6]

Kylo Nocom: Like Usher and Carly before her, Shura believes in kissing as both a gateway to fucking and a pleasure all in itself. Her swooning, accompanied by Elton John keys and reminders of the time Kevin Parker wanted to work with Kylie Minogue, makes love into something infinitely expansive and heavenly. In the context of death’s presence throughout Forevher, her giddiness reads as a brilliant moment of defiance, the temporariness and almost-doomed nature of queer romance established and yet pushed aside quickly in favor of the undeniable fun of just kissing for the evening. I’d imagine she’d agree with, of all people, Sufjan Stevens: “Kissing is madness! But it’s absolute paradise, if you can find a good kisser.” Only Shura has the grace to make it sound like it could be paradise forever.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: Shura’s come-ons have a slight performative gesture to them, like she nicked them straight from a pop song and is trying it on for size. It echoes her production style which, too, borrows heavily from ’80s pop and funk. Her entire thing ends up having a communicating-via-mixtape feel, telegraphing her emotions and intentions with the help of another voice. No matter how direct she gets, that’s not lost in “The Stage,” and its curated pop construct makes the scene and dialog a bit too lyrically perfect to be true. That said, all the power to Shura if this is how she wants to remember her first date: the encounter feels electric, full of moments that spoken words can easily ruin.
[6]

Natasha Genet Avery: “And it’s so romantic/and I’m so pathetic” is really the best case scenario for a first date, and Shura’s lyrics encapsulate the type of horny, goofy energy that compels you to leave your favorite concert and proclaim that you’re “done with music.” But “The Stage””s treble-heavy electro-soul stylings convey no urgency, proving a tad too sanitized for its subject matter.  
[6]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A cutesy portrait of a relationship’s do-or-don’t moment of intimacy, muddled by Shura’s anaemic, drowsy vocal take. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: She treats “The Stage” like an experiment on her lust, even emphasizing she’s “done with music.” A statement of fact, alas, as this plodding mid tempo number shows. Maybe she’s going for early eighties Olivia Newton-John? In any case, this isn’t the Shura of “Tongue Tied.”
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Shura can make some quality pop, but this is too understated for too long, and once it blossoms, the payoff isn’t enough. 
[4]

Kayla Beardslee: A distillation of the glee and dizziness of a crush, intermittently dissolving into an instrumental haze that moves from sweet to sexy as the synths rise to meet Shura’s voice and the protagonists leave the club. “I promised you my lips / In writing,” she sings in the the opening lines: by the time listeners reach the song’s exuberant, wordless ending, we can easily imagine Shura fulfilling that promise.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: A thumping bass stab slides over puffy eyed drums with crushed piano jabs with little whispers of synth, washed away with a torrent of acid rain guitar, then back to the loop, a smattering of synths spread all over Shura’s soft voice as a washing room of background vocalists slip in her vines, which spread with a spiraling embrace of synths, bass, piano and drums and shimmering synth whisks away Shura and spins in a bicycle motion with little sprinkles of Shura spread as she slowly emerges from the spiral and glides down the vines into a hole of guitar overdubs.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: It’s hard to say whether it’s the shift in style to smooth, jazzy R&B, or whether it’s just that she’s writing about being blissfully in love rather than anxiety and painful missed connections, but it’s hard not to feel like Shura’s music has lost something in transition. Despite (or maybe because of) its emotional flux, Nothing’s Real felt like a record of possibilities — I still get butterflies listening to it — and for the most part forevher is too placid. “BRKLYNLDN” worked because it felt deliciously tingly and uncertain, but “The Stage” — sonically pleasant though it is, with lush strings, plinky piano and a Christmassy feel — feels comfortable, and not a little dull. Also, it’s a song about seeing goddamn MUNA on a perfect date, and you’re “done with music” and want to get out of there? I mean, of course you want to make out, but surely seeing a band you love with someone you’re falling in love with is one of the most rapturous experiences you can have on this earth? Can’t relate, babe.
[5]

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Princesa Alba – Convéncete

We’re convinced…


[Video]
[7.10]

Nortey Dowuona: Twinkles open the track. A washed out synth pops over licked bass and open water drums as Alba softly, then firmly pushes the loop up the hill, slowly adding grass, a pond and even a source of gravity, lifting away into the cosmos.
[7]

Julian Axelrod: A pure pop winterland fantasia, where the only thing colder than the twinkling wind chimes and snowbound synths is her callous lover. Princesa Alba, previously unknown to me but beloved in Chile, sells every word as puppy love gospel; I love the way she volleys her runs off the unrelenting hi-hats. It’s delusional, as is all perfect pop. The real stroke of genius is the delusion she shares with the object of her affection.
[8]

Michael Hong: The fantasy of summer romance, shimmering as the light hits it at the exact right angle. Princesa Alba’s voice has a lithe bounce that projects boundless youth, which rolls over into the production with the ecstatic joy of young love. While the background has plenty of moving parts, “Convéncete” has just enough control over every element that it sparkles — the typical reggaeton drums never consume the focus of the track but add to the backdrop building an insular fantasy atmosphere that manages to feel limitless.
[8]

Kayla Beardslee: This is an undeniably pretty song: listen to that extra bubbly final chorus and that magic wand sound effect! Yet despite its smooth, comforting melody and production, the lyrics — about, I think, feeling bad for not wanting to commit to a relationship — give “Convéncete” a wistful tone and add some nuance to its sparkle.
[7]

Iain Mew: There’s very little new or startling about “Convéncete,” but its relaxed twinkle is perfect to ease into anyway, with an absorbing level of little details, like the double percussion hits, to reward listening closely.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Pretty, simple-sounding reggaeton-pop that doesn’t move my needle in either direction. I wouldn’t turn it off, but I wouldn’t seek it out, either.
[5]

Kylo Nocom: Both a comfort I find light enough to enjoy on repeat without issue and a trip delirious enough to risk getting lost if I turn my mind off.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The underlying emotions of “Convéncete” feel rather subdued, despite how much Princess Alba pines for attention. She opts instead for a muted cool that reflects the glassy reggaeton-lullaby, but it communicates a fragility all the same. Her voice here reminds me a bit of Cassie: too thin and shallow to carry dramatics but hinting at a unique melancholy that’s slightly mysterious.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Electric piano and modern beats, together with a convincing projection of warmth and longing by the Chilean singer, merge into one of 2019’s best love songs.
[8]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Convéncete” is a reggaeton song that doesn’t aim to soundtrack club nights or house parties, but the imagined worlds we daydream. Lambent synths flicker and pulse, wrapping themselves around an insistent beat to mirror an impassioned but anxious heart set aflame. The production grants the song an atmosphere that’s almost too sweet, too fantasy-like; listening to Princesa Alba’s pining, you can sense an underlying melancholy, that this potential romance is too good to be true. She and her would-be lover share a mutual loneliness, but is a potential fling just a far-off desire befitting childhood movies? The chimes swirl in a mocking fashion: it’s all just a dream, isn’t it.
[8]

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Carrie Underwood – Drinking Alone

We won’t judge, Carrie…


[Video]
[6.44]

Katie Gill: This is SEXY! It’s sultry as hell, more burlesque than some of her usual fare and I love this. Underwood is doing what she does best: amazing belting in a comfortable range. It starts off as something smooth before going into “Before He Cheats” levels of chutzpah and Mariah Carey levels of vamping. Underwood is not playing here at ALL and I am here for it. After a series of songs that drastically misused Underwood’s level of sheer vocal power, it’s refreshing to see something actually use it to a useful extent. So now, I’m left with only one question: why the hell was this released after the mediocrity that was “Love Wins” and “Southbound” and not as the first or second single off of Cry Pretty?
[8]

Stephen Eisermann: The song that should’ve followed up the lead single, “Drinking Alone” is everything a country-pop crossover needs. The bluesy pop track is sultry in itself, but Carrie’s vocal strut really pushes it over the edge. Although it gets a bit bombastic at times, the song is just slinky enough to really standout and show Carrie at her most playful. If only we got the amazing, noir-tinged version from the CMAs on record; that would be an easy [10].
[9]

Thomas Inskeep: Most of the popular men in country music right now sound chronically similar, but not the women — that’s where the creativity is in the genre these days. Case in point, the fourth single from Underwood’s Cry Pretty, a sly, sultry, classic soul-full ballad that sounds like nothing else on country radio these days. Which means, sadly, it likely won’t even crack the top 20 at the format, but that’s their loss. This is a strong reminder from Underwood that she’s still got tricks up her sleeve; ignore her at your peril.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: If “Southbound” was Underwood performing bro-country, “Drinking Alone” is Carrie Underwood performing Ashley Monroe. It’s a career as a season Idol theme weeks — but then, that’s where she thrives. And crucially, she leans away from the genteel part of her voice.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A strong vocal performance that turns from impressive to overdone as the song progresses. Everything so constantly points toward Clarkson’s affected vocalizing that, soon, all sense of tension is lost. Ambition can turn things one-dimensional.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Alone Together < Drinking Alone < Alone Together
[5]

Kayla Beardslee: “Drinking Alone” is the step before “Don’t Start Now” in the musical stages of a breakup: sure, Underwood is trying to move on, but the song’s sense of overcompensation and references to tears, misery, and “the pain” show that Underwood isn’t over this ex quite yet. And what better way to get out your emotions than with some good old-fashioned vocal theatrics? Unsurprisingly, Underwood’s voice is the star here: it’s truly impressive how long she can sustain her belted vocals without diminishing their impact, keeping the chorus compelling with every repetition. In comparison, the lyrics are just serviceable, although it’s a smart choice to have the hook first trail off on “We should be drinking alone,” then repeat the phrase as “drinking alone, together” — it shows both the moment of doubt and the fuck-it decision.
[6]

Iain Mew: In “Drinking Alone,” Carrie Underwood whips up such an almighty force that the question of actually being alone never feels like a particularly pressing one. The lyric shows a nice eye in the detail of different ways of dealing with pain, but there’s no space at all in the sound to get any more drunk or reassured than it starts off.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Ninety seconds too long, and during this stretch she sings the hook like a Bear Stearns executive learning his pension’s evaporated, but “Drinking Alone” reminds me how Carrie Underwood, with the right material, can beat the bros merely by inverting a trope or relying on an unexpected stress.
[7]

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Xiu Xiu – Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy

We luv the controversy OH!


[Video]
[5.00]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: In the early years of high school I was deeply into Swans — specifically, the pair of albums that Michael Gira put out in 2012 and 2014. I cannot recall if these albums were good. I am not inclined to revisit them, given Michael Gira’s unpleasantness as a person. Yet in the all-consuming hammer of a beat that drives “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” I feel the same energy that 15-year-old me found so compelling in Swans’ heaviness. It’s not even particularly hard or aggressive in its sound — the weight it carries squirms beneath its surface, ready to explode outwards without ever doing so. There’s no release or jump scare here, just further coiling and rising action. It’s dread music, a caldera of fear. I am no longer drawn to sounds like this, but I cannot help but feel nostalgic for its thump.
[5]

Vikram Joseph: I used to think I liked Xiu Xiu, but play counts don’t lie, and looking back it’s clear I liked the concept more than the reality. I lost track of them sometime around the turn of the decade — presumably I came to the conclusion that my iTunes could only hold so many performatively unsettling, hook-light records that I hardly ever listen to. I was intrigued to find out whether they’d changed, and “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” is certainly different to the Xiu Xiu of a decade ago — a deranged techno grind that sounds like HEALTH on some very bad pills — but it rings rather hollow: provocation as its own end with little to back it up. Plus ça change, etc.
[4]

Tim de Reuse: It’s a structureless mess, yeah, but it’s easy to follow. The beat is stubbornly un-syncopated, the bassline hammers a single note for five minutes, there really aren’t that many elements at play at any one time, and the vocal clips only occasionally poke out of the mix (“no-thing! no-thing! no-no-no-thing!”) to deliver disjointed nonsense. There is little salient cause-and-effect relationship from one moment to the next, and this has the lovely effect of trapping you in the present for five minutes, in a way that your typical verse-chorus-verse situation couldn’t really accomplish. For five minutes, it takes a couple measures of industrial fever dream and contorts them, rotates them in place, shows you new angles on it, and the straightforwardness of the composition makes all of these little tweaks gel together in memory. This is what a nightmare feels like when you’re six years old and terror is still a relatively simple thing.
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: This sounds like a brain being squished and all the memories running into the bathroom and shaking a toothbrush. The bass drums run in. First, with a scattering of toothbrush and vocals, then a descent of rattling percussion layered with hurling phone shrieks, with vocal samples ladled in, then clumsysnares dripping in with a break for a story, with shrimp synths shredding their voices as the bass drops out, with another break for another vocal samples, with bass dropping out as Jerry creeps across the Moog synth to turn on the TV, with the shrimp synths slipping back with the bass as more vocal samples, emitting from the TV, who closes the song out.
[9]

Ian Mathers: I am generally such a fan of the existence of Xiu Xiu, what you might call the whole rich tapestry, that even though I prefer it when their material veers a couple steps closer to “song,” I’m still fond of this meandering thing. Honestly, I’ve spent so much of 2019 listening to Coil that it’d be weird if I didn’t like this.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Appealing in the way that a lot of EBM is for me: it’s cold and sterile and makes me feel completely hollow.
[6]

Iain Mew: If this was truly horrible and pushed abrasion that bit further, or if it had truly “no nothing” and pushed boredom that bit further, I could at least feel something about it, even if it was hatred. As it is, it’s an endurance test that doesn’t even give any particular feeling of reward for having endured it.
[2]

Kylo Nocom: Forgive me for not entertaining the noise of the edgelord underground. Forgive me for finding Jamie Stewart’s voyeuristic disrespect of black bodies, alive and dead, terrible enough to where any of my goodwill has been drained for his work. Forgive me for thinking we can do better than believing that dunderheaded aggression, the kind aided by the likes of Fantano and RateYourMusic circles, is the only mode of “avant-garde” aesthetics worth caring for. Forgive me for not seeing sub-“Windowlicker” noise, Psycho string plucks, John Carpenter synths, and exoticized valley girl narrations as the genius they are; I only hear the music of people who don’t care about what gets shat out, as long as its listeners find its chaos confusing enough to mistake it for meaning.
[1]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’m all for befuddling, odd experimental music, but my only lasting impression of this song is that when I played it using speakers in my living room, my roommate shouted at me: “What the hell is this? It sounds like someone on ketamine decided to make a song!” 
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: A soundtrack to a performance art piece (as its video makes perfectly clear) that never coalesces as any kind of song. It kind of wants to be an avant-garde version of a late ’80s My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult record, but never gets there. What remains is instead just sophomoric collage.
[3]

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Rico Nasty – Time Flies

Week 2 of AMNESTY FORTNIGHT!!!!111!11!1 begins with this prolific rapper, and our highest score thus far.


[Video][Website]
[7.40]

Leah Isobel: The images of flight and air — time, planes, weather, death — and the track’s headsick treble aren’t exactly uneasy, but like Rico’s hook they aren’t exactly grounded either. They’re surreal, blasted with light and low on contrast, compressed into a small pocket of space. This is a great look for Rico, who seems to get energy from confined spaces. Her characteristic yawp doesn’t feel angry here, or even gleeful, but content; she glides down on a wind current to boast about her back porch and then skates away again. From the sky, everyone’s problems seem so small.
[8]

Julian Axelrod: Every rapper these days is dead, dying, or wants to die. It’s all very bleak, and we’re living in a very bleak world, and music writers rejoice at the thematic consistency of it all. But in a year where death and despair haunted every corner of daily life, nothing brought me more catharsis than a scream-sung ode to being alive. Rico Nasty’s music is often characterized by its rage, which is understandable; how many artists make you wanna break cinderblocks just by trilling their own name? But her anger is always undercut with glee, like she’s relishing every moment before she obliterates your entire shit. “Time Flies” pushes this duality into thrilling new territory, as Rico turns her warrior cry into a pop star croon over wheezing reflecting pool synths. Her guttural wail of “Five days straight no rest, oh well” is a statement of weary triumph after scaling unimaginable heights. (Now accepting funding for my Rico Nasty biopic Women on the Verge of a Nervous Bussdown.) She knows she could die at any moment; we all could. But these rare moments of hard-earned joy form a worthy legacy.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats’s Anger Management collaboration is a 9-track, 18-minute display of pure, explosive energy. Released several months after, “Time Flies” is the moment she takes a moment to survey the wreckage and reflect on how she got to the top. The lyricism here is stellar, reflecting urgency and rejecting complacency (“I live every day like I’ll die by the nighttime”), and also celebrating, however uneasily (“Nothing ever lasts long, I’m always beating the odds”). Rico Nasty’s flow is melodic, peak-Uzi, almost sweet — but she’s still going as hard in the way that we’ve come to expect. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Dance music is all the more compelling when an anonymity handles the vocals. Anonymity and blankness aren’t synonymous, though. Rico Nasty is neither, but she sings like a regular person, a woman sorting out problems with which we tousle every week. 
[7]

Kayla Beardslee: Given all the year-end list blurbs I’ve read about Anger Management being a vicious, snarling project, this bright song was not what I expected from my first listen to Rico Nasty. That’s not a bad thing, though: the lyrics are about Rico working her ass off to succeed, but this would be a perfect soundtrack to a laid-back summer drive. “Time Flies” does, however, take a bit to prove its message. The first verse is a generic “wow I’m great, bitches be mad” brag that could be transplanted into an entirely different song (say, a phoned-in Minaj guest verse) without losing anything, but the second verse does expand on the ways Rico has worked to build her fame — traveling the world, signing deals, taking action to change her life rather than complaining — finally justifying the chorus’s urge to make the most of your life while you can.
[5]

Iain Mew: The backing is neon bright and keeps up a bubbly excitement, especially in the high pitched synths that float across, but there’s a certain grinding quality to its incessant progression as well. That’s perfect for Rico Nasty, whose delivery of “oh well” alone gets across all the same feelings even more vividly. It adds up to a song that’s a surge of positive energy with plenty of depth within it too.
[7]

Kylo Nocom: Every time I play this I receive diminishing returns. The beat to this sounds like the Uzi material I listened to in 2016 and yet it’s still so unfeeling. Rico’s attempted profundities sustain the song, but only just enough, never attaining any degree of excellence.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: On Nasty, Rico was a rapper almost entirely composed of rage and spite. On tracks like “Transformer,” she made punk-rap wannabees like Lil Gnar seem like try-hards, her anger so pure and chaotic that it was almost unpleasant at times. In the year since Nasty, she’s managed to take that anger and distill it into something joyful and freeing. On her collab tape with Kenny Beats and the one-off single she did with “Mo Bamba” producers Take a Daytrip, she mixed around with flows and experimental production. Here, though, she takes a Madden soundtrack loosie and goes full melodic on it, sounding like a more coherent Uzi, a exuberant prophet that floats on a sci-fi beat. It’s almost too clean, lacking some of the edge that earlier iterations of Rico wore, but it’s a good enough time that such concerns seem like quibbles.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: A shimmering synth mosaic with a frozen layer of bass blankets a shuddering percussion line, and thumbing bass drums buoy Rico’s sharp yet plaintive voice. She thoughtfully ponders the sudden shortening of her days ahead.
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: It leaves a strong impression because the wind tunnel production is pleasant; it’s calming in its false tumult. Rico Nasty has some good melodies but this is a song that has the odd effect of feeling like it’s entirely inconsequential, sounding both too short and too long. It’s like keeping a half-decent TikTok video on repeat for three straight minutes.
[6]

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

Zombie-Chang – Saredo Shiawase

Tokyo singer-songwriter closes out the first part of our increasingly-inaccurately named Amnesty Week.


[Video][Website]
[6.78]

Kylo Nocom: “A-Punk” via “Bubble Pop Electric,” not quite matching the pep of either but turning out nicely once the synths multiply and the bleacher-stomping beat comes in.
[6]

Iain Mew: The pattern of blaring siren synths and the rubbery bass are a perfect counterpart to how Zombie-Chang sings (and shouts) “Saredo Shiawase” with a calibrated level of abandon. It’s like watching someone carefully chalk out a space and then wild out without ever stepping over the lines, and it’s a lot of fun.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A cutesy, peppy track that might be the perfect theme song of some sitcom, cartoon, or anime. There’s not much substance here, but the “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!”s sure are fun. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: A wrapping, recording synth loop with headlight shrieks provides moving stage mountains for Zombie-Chang as she skips across the simple, loping drums. Slithering synth professions are pulled onto the stage then withdrawn for a brief blackout and breakdown, then returned, shielding her until she disappears.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: I’m getting strong 2006 indie disco vibes from this — Clap Your Hands Say Hai, if you will — and I like the way the synth train noise that recurs at the end of each line conveys a sense of constant, exhausting cyclical motion. The production feels flat and tightly compressed though, which restricts the sense of delirious euphoria you feel Zombie-Chang is trying to convey here.
[6]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A kraut-y electropop jam beamed out of the 2000s wherein Zombie-Chang laments her young adulthood. A song for those who feel like they should’ve been where they are years ago, and still feel far off from where they should be. “Even so, I’m happy/I can keep going,” she concludes at the song’s end. The pulsing beat makes you believe she’ll keep moving forward.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: This certainly flirts with greatness but that warp/siren noise that actually makes me think of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner is getting in the way and driving me to distraction. Everything else about this is fun, as if exhorting me to go out and live, but then it’s also reminding me to do the vacuuming, and that’s not fun.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: By now I think I’ve heard enough nu-new wave songs to fill the entire ’80s end to end with listening, and yet I don’t remember many capturing, like this does, the sense of freewheeling fun. I also hear a little Lorelei de Lux or NV (which is maybe to really say I hear EarthBound), both always welcome.
[7]

Ryo Miyauchi: The tendency for Meirin Yung’s synth-pop as Zombie-Chang to chase its own tail has enabled her to explore anxieties from listlessness over the last few years. But as committed “Saredo Shiawase” is to its infinity loop as her other songs, the music plays with an especially impatient urge to finally break out of its set tracks to instead become something different. The antsy mood is a response to Yung’s own frustrations with her life trajectory: “I’m so tired of myself/who can’t seem to ever grow up/a side of me who stays in her daydreams/keeps getting in the way,” she opens the song, and the rest is a classic case of millennial burnout, bitter from being cheated out of life’s promises. The song could end there, just moping around in her bed thinking how her twenties aren’t unfolding as she imagined. But it’s her saying fuck it and moving on in the best chorus ever written this year — “I don’t care anymore/I give up” — that differentiates “Saredo Shiawase” from other millennial burnout anthems. Instead of mere reportage of the current climate, Yung gives us an image of what’s possibly out there after we stop crying and throw out everything that we were told to believe. “Lastly, just dance with me/That way, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” she closes out the song. Giving up never sounded so fun.
[10]

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Urias & Maffalda – Rasga

Rejected subheads: “Wubthumping,” “Wub Be Good to Me,” “wub you wanna make those eyes at us for?”…


[Video]
[7.12]

Kylo Nocom: “Rasga” continues Urias’s musical trajectory towards the sounds of literal pandemonium, and happens to be the best composed song on her debut EP — a hip house track that wouldn’t be too out of place in the blog-buzzed NYC queer rap scene, yet beats them at their game in unimaginable ways. Maffalda’s production ensures that “Rasga” is constantly self-destructing: “Mi Gente”-esque vocal samples are transmuted into spooky pan flutes; various hybrids of funk carioca percussion, twitchy moombahton drums, and ballroom house kicks appear at breakneck speeds; muted Ha Crashes in the first minute give way to full-bodied Ha Crashes later on. It’s as if the club is deconstructing from within in real time, rather than being dissected and pieced together carefully by an outsider — the result being a natural, impressive dynamism. Despite the distractions of the production, Urias is still the song’s center of gravity, alternating between delightful vocal modes before the song implodes from her shrieking “Rasga!”. Abrasive electronic textures haven’t been used in nearly enough pop contexts, and Urias’ decision to use them without compromise has excited me in ways I haven’t felt in forever for an artist, especially when the abrasion somehow feels consequent of both SOPHIE-inspired sound design and EDC excess. More importantly, though, “Rasga” is a dance track powered on self-love, a song-world where you can tear clubs up and tear people into pieces at the same time.
[9]

Alfred Soto: I wub you.
[7]

Iain Mew: There are a lot of complex and enjoyable things going on in the rapping, but most of all I’m impressed by anyone who can make me admire some sick wubs in 2019.
[7]

Michael Hong: “Rasga” flips several times, hopping from a beat that recalls Willy William’s “Voodoo Song” to a clubby backdrop to the mechanical ravings of PC Music, and just when you think it’s done, it flips again. It blurs like a fast-forward montage when you’re too spaced out to remember where you are, then slows down, slamming on the breaks. “Rasga” manages to keep surprising throughout its runtime, jumping with frenetic energy and dizzying confidence but it would have been nice to see it tied together with a slightly more visible through-line rather than hopping with complete chaos.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Sci-fi clutter, brostep growls, a genuinely unpredictable structure; I’m a sucker for any groove this disorienting.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A frenetic fireball gyrating and grinding and exploding across two and a half short minutes, then dissipating into thin air. 
[7]

Oliver Maier: A dizzying, remarkably self-assured piece of dance music, constantly about to topple over but keeping itself moving through sheer centrifugal force, Urias fixed at the centre. Skrillesque wubs are folded into hip-house and ballroom as if it were the most natural thing in the world. In these two’s hands, it might as well be.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: A karaoke singer pulls in slowed, lilting drums and a withering synth plant which Urias kicks off stage before it’s set aflame by a pressing bass. Hooting from a crowd of synths follows, while Urias pulls out bass snakes and whips away the crowd’s chairs. They carry them onto the middle of the dancefloor as the tiled drums rumble below, and the snakes start swirling as the crow starts dancing. Urias leaps off the stage and rides a bass snake into the roof before descending heavy, frazzled and clad in snake skin, snatching each bass snake and turning them into a belt. Then, she decides to walk out and call Chance for a Lyft.
[6]

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Charly Bliss – Chatroom

No, not a holdover from Amnesty 2001…


[Video][Website]
[6.38]

Michael Hong: The predominant theory of abuse is that the very nature of it is cyclical — that every incident is followed by a period of self-doubt and questioning by the abused and a return to normalcy, uncertain of the fault of the previous events. Eva Hendricks has spoken at length about the experience that led to “Chatroom” and the release and empowerment she hoped to give other survivors, but there’s still not enough credit given to her for how effectively she flips the cycle of abuse back at her abuser in a whirlpool of scorn, derisive sneers, and taunts in a massive “fuck you” against an abuser. “Chatroom” lures you in with a startling confession, one delivered with a tinge of reluctance but devoid of the shame, self-doubt, and apologies that come in that final phase of the cycle of abuse. It thrusts you into the center of its taunts, looping the angry defiance of the chorus and the biting sneer of the refrain. Hendricks’ sharp lyricism is made all the more powerful by her performance: an eye-roll on the line “everybody knows you’re the second coming” becomes a devastating snarl backed by the use of autotune and a dead-eyed sneer in the final line. Her second verse layered over the refrain sounds like an act of resistance backed by her bandmates and the survivors of sexual abuse. But “Chatroom” isn’t just this ultimate act of defiance, it’s a piece that’s as wonderfully melodic as it is scathing, and as hopefully joyous too. It’s bolstered by Charly Bliss’ adoration of pristine pop music, exploding with a sparkling guitar line, one that shimmers in the light to make the song out to be a celebration of survival. Watching Charly Bliss absolutely shred the hell out of “Chatroom” to close out their live set remains the highlight of my year, despite seeing Carly Rae Jepsen perform “Cut to the Feeling” in the exact same venue a month earlier. It’s a demonstration of the band’s ability to create ecstatic joy and life-affirming hope out of trauma and suffering and remains the year’s greatest little piece of invincibility.
[10]

Kylo Nocom: I love how the chorus doubles as a neener-neener taunt to dickheads about their impermanence and an anthem for audiences to sing along to until they believe in it, repetition as both irritant and irresistible hook. The ethos of “Chatroom” wins me over: an empowerment anthem that seeks the source of pain and shuts it down completely.
[9]

Iain Mew: Even before fully understanding the subject it was clear that the ugliness of sound was intentional. The proportion of it doesn’t quite work for me, though — they try to bridge hooky thrill and catharsis in a way which I can see the potential power of, but end up somewhere in between the two that doesn’t fully work for either.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Something about Eva Hendricks’ voice doesn’t quite sit right with me; it reminds me of how adults change their voices when they sing to children. The vibe is supposed to be Grouplove/Walk the Moon-esque pop rock fun, but “Chatroom” veers a little too far into Disney Channel/Rebecca Black territory to be enjoyable. 
[2]

Nortey Dowuona: A sloping synth riff leads a hopping drum line, then pulls in a soft, woozy guitar and synthesises with Charly’s plaintive, folding voice. Coolly and wryly it brushes off the desperate men clinging to the edges of her voice, like flies on sugar water.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Chat rooms formed an essential crucible for my gay identity, and Charly Bliss nails the sense of triumph after the traps set for potential lovers suddenly spring. The euphoria of not committing, however — that’s what Eva Kendricks’ voice and the rush of the guitars simulate. As familiar to me as one of Jupiter’s moons. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: In which Charly Bliss leapfrog a generation; where on Guppy Eva Hendricks sounded eerily like Kay Hanley, here she sounds eerily like Jessie Malakouti in Shut Up Stella. Also in which the leapfrogging apparently took a lot of energy. No matter how cathartic “Chatroom” was to write, or how much it might be live, the recording sounds audibly drained — almost to the point of sophomore slump, but Young Enough has better.
[6]

Oliver Maier: Not my favourite from this year’s (brilliant) Young Enough — the octave-jumping bassline is a little sluggish and the melody from the middle eight of “Capacity” sounds better there than it does on “Chatroom”‘s whirring synth riff — but still brimming with the cathartic fervour that makes the album such a joy. In a song about the narratives that spring up around a relationship and its secret traumas, the gap between public and private truths, Hendricks chooses every word carefully, and sings like it. By the time the hook rolls around she’s hollering with fierce, gleeful abandon, but savouring every syllable.
[7]

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Kirk Franklin – Love Theory

But does praxis make perfect?


[Video][Website]
[6.75]

Thomas Inskeep: This piano-based gospel jam about God’s unconditional love hit me hard from the first listen and just gets better. Franklin serves a Puffy/Khaled-esque role here, chiming in with ad-libs while his choir does the heavy lifting, and it works a charm. The chorus of “I don’t wanna love nobody but you” drills down, especially as my personal faith has deepened over the past year. And Franklin leads the proceedings like a God-centered James Brown — not quite as funky as the Godfather, but not as far off as you might think, either. One of the year’s greatest singles, pure love and joy on record.
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Lushly appointed and generous in its orchestration, the kind of worship music that focuses on the glory of it all. I’m indifferent to the theology — my own faith does not tend towards excess in its liturgy — but I can appreciate the work of bending the sound of Frankie Beverly and Maze so expertly into recognizing a deity worthy of love.
[7]

Iain Mew: All of the showy embellishments, the breaking down and building up, bring the feeling of constructing something impressive for persuasion too far to the front for me to really enjoy. It might also be that the rolling piano bit it starts off with is so rich and lovely that I would rather just be listening to that the whole time, though.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: A plush, warm organ slides over loping, fuzzy bass riding a smooth four-on-the-floor drum kit lifted by the fantastic croons of the choir, while dribbling synth programming swells, bursts and then hermetically shrinks inside a silky synth and heavy bass drum progression. The synths spread wide for a slinking bass guitar to shimmy in and throw the whole song into the atmosphere, which it then slowly falls from, landing on a small leaf.
[9]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A joyous, soulful embrace of “greater love,” made more charming by the decision to title this piece of worship music love “theory” — a word that simultaneously describes something that can’t be definitively proved, but should still be taken as fact anyways. 
[7]

Alex Clifton: Music that celebrates religion should, well, make you feel celebratory — that’s the issue I’ve long had with a lot of Christian rock, mostly because those artists never come across as feeling any kind of actual joy in their music. It can feel put-on at times, even when the sentiment is earnest. You can’t fake enthusiasm with a gospel choir, though. Listening to Kirk Franklin and his choir, even though this isn’t really my thing, puts a smile on my face and makes me want to dance. Much as I have my own thoughts on God, getting to the line “he won’t fail/that’s not what superheroes do” delivered with such gusto makes me want to believe in that moment, and that’s a miracle enough.
[5]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The verve here is sterile, but the choir does a lot to make things charming and spirited enough to prevent disgust. God-as-superhero, though, is an unsophisticated and incomplete comparison. The middle eight’s invocation of Matthew 10:39 — this notion of one’s “death,” the restructuring of life’s self-centering to God- and other-centering — isn’t a pursuit that’s inspired en masse by Marvel characters. Let God be God for Christ’s sake.
[5]

Kylo Nocom: Nothing is quite like remembering that love’s at the center of it all at the end of the day, even if the heavy lifting is done by the boogie synths.
[6]

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Keiino – Spirit In the Sky

Gotta have a friend in Jukebox…


[Video]
[6.83]

David Moore: I am glad that, via Eurovision, the millennial Europop turn to jolly pirate choruses never left us, and I am downright giddy about those sublime thirty seconds of what I have been told is a JOIK BREAK, a phrase that is as good as the thing sounds. I was reminded of a more earnest but still pop treatment of Polish folk I heard this year — two’s a trend, so JOIK BREAK is officially as essential a 2019 music neologism as BORT-POP
[8]

Katie Gill: A memorable Eurovision song is an equal mix of “well-written, amazingly catchy, (preferably) pop song” and “a dose of the unexpected.” “Euphoria” had amazingly powerful vocals and Loreen’s crab dancing. “Satellite” had a cute, peppy love song, mixed with a bizarrely Cockney accent. “Hard Rock Hallelujah” is a well-crafted, legitimately rocking metal song with people in silly monster make-up. And “Spirit in the Sky” is a fun, catchy, dance-pop song that launches right into an amazingly well-done yet totally unexpected joik phrase in the chorus before plowing RIGHT INTO a joik bridge. It is peak Eurovision, managing to merge some catchy yet by-the-numbers pop with at least one moment of “what? HELL YEAH! what?!?”. And this is why the public is right and the judges are wrong and Keiino should have won this year, thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
[8]

Alex Clifton: It’s been seven months since Eurovision happened and yet my blood still boils that “Spirit In the Sky” was technically beaten by that terrible “Arcade” crap. This won the people’s vote, and with good reason–this isn’t just a perfect Eurovision song, it’s a perfect pop song, full stop. The best pop songs make your body crackle with an energy you didn’t even know you had. It’s something that starts in your feet, maybe just tapping your toes, but it works its way to your body until the chorus hits and your heart just soars. It’s an adrenaline rush, one that makes you lose all sense of where you are because the only thing that matters is the music. And then the joiking starts. I love it when Eurovision entries contain nods to their country’s cultural heritage–“1944” was a fine example of this with Jamila’s incorporation of a Crimean Tartar folk song–but sometimes they can come off as hokey or forced. The joiking in this song absolutely brings it to the next level, setting my body alight each time I hear it. When pop music makes you feel like you can fly about and do anything, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. The rest of Europe recognized this; it’s a shame that the new and convoluted Eurovision voting system cheated KEiiNO out of what should have been a much-deserved win. 
[10]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A potentially beside-the-point, but still serious question: why wasn’t “Spirit in the Sky” included in the Frozen 2 soundtrack? After watching the new movie–I’m an adult, I know, but I’m also directing a musical version of the original Frozen with my Chinese students this year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the film franchise–my first reaction was to feel a little disappointed by the music, which while decent, didn’t live up to the original’s caliber. My second reaction was feeling pleasantly surprised by the fact that Disney actually worked with indigenous Sámi people in northern Europe to when writing the story. (Granted the plot goes something like this: a Disney princess uses her magic ice powers to pay reparations to a group of native people subjugated through environmental warfare.) But “Spirit in the Sky” is a song by an actual Norwegian-Sámi group which tackles of spirituality and environmentalism in real life. It literally includes the lines “I need a hero/I need my light/Her shining lightwaves will break way the night.” Sound familiar? In any case, on to the song itself; it’s a ridiculously fun, uplifting, bilingual European bosh anthem in the best way possible. I can see why it did so well at Eurovision.
[7]

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: The song’s strength resides in creating a great contrast between its voices. The traditional Sami singing feels not as a mere addition to give it an “exotic” character, but as an essential component that works perfectly with the main female and male vocalists. It’s a good song for the stage — in this case, the Eurovision stage, where I personally consider it one of the top 100 ESC songs of the decade –, but it still struggles as a single because uplifting EDM-pop is already a very tired trope. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The midpack Eurovision formula of late: you still get to yearn and emote and try very hard for a verse or two, you still get to throw in your traditional folk interlude, as long as the chorus evokes pop that’s not-totally-venue-appropriately MOR. For “Spirit in the Sky,” it’s “Wolves” and “Brooklyn Girls.”
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A [6] or [7] during Eurovision, where I’m more forgiving of intriguing but shoehorned elements of traditional music. At any other time of the year, it doesn’t rise above mere curiosity.
[5]

Iain Mew: The philosophy dictating the song’s creation at every stage appears to have been “why not?” Outside of Eurovision and in a less intense competition for attention it eventually gets too much, but it does at least offer a compelling new direction in which to take the drop as a concept.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The timbre of the male voices annoys me, but it’s part of a listenable example of expert schlock, especially when Alexandra Rotan yells “I am dancing with the fairies now!” as if she saw me scowling at the laptop screen and had just the right thing to change my mind: syncing the percussion and bass like classic Eurodisco. This non-watcher of Eurovision mourns “Spirit in the Sky”‘s stopping at sixth place. If you wanna be mad at the Continent, President Trump, here’s a reason.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: The drop and the joik make the workaday Europop seem monentarily exhilirating, but alas, there are verses, so it can’t keep up the cheap thrills for its entire running length.These (hot) dorks looked like such dorks on the Eurovision stage, but it sure was better than the tired gloop the jury went for.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: For two minutes, this could be a Eurovision entry by any country, at any time in the last 20 years (but especially sometime in the early 00s, when it would have been a nailed-on pan-Europe EDM smash) – this, coupled with its status as “undeniably a bit of a bop”, makes it no surprise that it won the public vote this year. And then there’s the bridge, with striking, incantation-like vocals in the indigenous Sami style from the north of Norway, lending the song an otherworldly feel and elevating the final, towering chorus to something close to transcendence.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: “Spirit in the Sky” crystallises the too often ignored fact that, particularly with anything involving public votes, precedents are not the be-all and end-all. Effectively, a song that thoroughly tanked with both viewers and juries — Saara Aalto’s no less ostentatious “Monsters” — was rebadged into a runaway viewer winner in the space of a year. Admittedly, the points of differentiation are clear. KEiiNO’s camp was a much giddier one, and where Aalto had destabilising drops, they had Fred. It’s an object lesson in audience appeal, and a reminder that light can shine through.
[8]