Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Maria Dragneva – Kato Nas’n

Or Мария Драгнева if you want slightly more accurate Google results…


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Moses Kim: Google Translate tells me that “Kato Nas’n” is Bulgarian for “Like A Dream,” and there’s something undeniably surreal about how the song pits elegant piano runs and string interludes against chamber pit percussion, robot bleeps, and hi-hat beats cribbed from a high school production of Step Up. It’s a testament to Dragneva’s personality and vocal talent that she can explain all of this to us: she puts on many outfits here, from fur-draped lounge singer to J.Lo tribute to bratty schoolchild, and with each one she proves more compelling.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A percolating hybrid of operatic gestures and dance pop. I wish it’d get American airplay, for it sounds like the kind of track whose merits would impress me on repeated exposure.
[6]

Anthony Easton: This is in bad taste in the “rhinestone split to the chest and up to the crotch” kind of way that Versace designs dresses for Russians these days. But, you know, interesting. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If a song can manage to sound like someone’s whole life story in just the little moments, then I’m pretty sure it deserves everything it can win the owner.
[8]

Iain Mew: A winking sepia gangster musical that jumps back and forth through history. Its individual elements are all well done, Maria is flexible and charming, and it’s smoother than its “what the fuck” calls would suggest. It still leans on the kind of listener who places a high value on surprises and juxtapositions, but since that’s me I’m happy with the results.
[8]

Brad Shoup: There’s no emotional throughline save the pleasure at hearing one’s name on a pop song, but Dragneva keeps everything in a stable orbit. It’s still an unheard-of existential ballad/singsong R&B pastiche, but the poppier parts melt into the slow-burning chorus.
[6]

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Molly Sandén – Phoenix

So that’s two for Perry, two for Sia, two for Sparks…


[Video][Website]
[4.44]

Josh Langhoff: During senior English we wrote mythological pop culture references on yellow slips of paper and hung them on the classroom wall until they encircled the room, a construction paper Oceanus, and I got hipster points for PJ Harvey’s line, “Even Aphrodite, she got nothin’ on me.” If the seniors at Warrenton High School are still subject to this assignment, they might should look up Molly Sandén’s song about how she’s a flaming bird. Sandén sounds a little like Sia, though without Sia’s fascinating breaks on the high notes, and her phoenix song is a real educational primer. I’d also like to assure these seniors that if they’ve ever been arrested for exploding Works bombs at the abandoned outlet mall, their problem wasn’t that they “flew too close to the sun.”
[5]

Anthony Easton: Wouldn’t a phoenix have to rise for the metaphor to work? 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: According to Google, multiple video games involve exploding phoenixes. They’re probably way more fun and thought-out than this song.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Rushes through every lyrical cliche in the world in an attempt to give this slightly-too-fidgety Jordin Sparks song an “edge.” Even the breakdown with its synth flashes and AMPED-UP DRUMS just falls flat and crumples.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Like a phoenix she’ll rise again in the form of Katy Perry.
[2]

Will Adams: She’s gonna live like “Chandelier” doesn’t exist. Like it doesn’t exist!
[2]

Moses Kim: This time last year, I had “Chandelier” on repeat as I walked on Seoul sidewalks, fists jammed into coat pockets. It goes without saying that it’s an incredibly catchy song, but the detail that always got me to hit Play again was its ending: a held breath, the hope of somebody still holding on, if only for tonight. “Phoenix” reminds me of its older sister in many ways: it has the binary between sparse verses and explosive choruses; the fatalistic bent of lyrics like “Gotta die to stay alive”; and a knockout vocal performance from Sandén, who evokes Sia’s acrobatics in the best way. Where “Chandelier” left us on a cliffhanger, though, “Phoenix” wants to do more than hang on: it wants to fly, and it’ll fall again and again trying knowing that one day it won’t. Turns out, a lot can change in just one year.
[9]

Iain Mew: This is improved by hearing it as a fiery destruction job on “Dark Horse”, but I’m charmed regardless by its crushing enormity and how it manifests this through a lot of small but loud details as well as the big ones — things like the “hit. hit. hit.” backing vocals and the drunken tumble of drums at the beginning.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: With Sweden currently faced with a choice between “Return To Innocence (Part II)” and a second-string Saade effort for Eurovision, they may — nay, should — regret not being able to entice Molly Sandén to offer them this. It’s all explosion under penalty of implosion, an obvious choice between crumbling resigned to death or a valiant, gallant commitment to it, a willing self-destruction. She “didn’t sign up for this war”, but knows this is the battlefield. Bursting with wobbly emotion, she quavers at full throttle. Captivatingly overwrought, though how wrought is too much when life necessitates death is debatable.
[7]

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Joey Bada$$ – No. 99

The fans want the feeling of A Tribe Called Quest/But all they got left is…


[Video][Website]
[5.33]

Alfred Soto: The “Scenario” rhythm and -aping bass line suggest a manifesto of impressive scatological dimension. Often, though, he’s merely Joey Bad. 
[5]

Josh Langhoff: Why yes I do chant “Scenario” when hustling my children from bath to bedroom or warm house to cold car, thanks for pandering! Just the hook — we don’t rawr rawr like dungeon dragons, though the best line from any of my son’s tantrums remains, “I BREATHE FIRE!!!” I’m a little skeptical of the fire-breathing Joey Bada$$, same way I was of Harry Connick Jr. or Josh Groban or any young virtuoso latching on to sounds from before they were born. Is Joey filling a “real rap” marketing niche, typified by the rise of the classic hip-hop radio format? I don’t doubt his sincere love for the early ’90s, but will he prove a didactic asshole like Wynton Marsalis? Obviously there are differences. The mere act of rapping words lets Joey ground his music in the present — though still, half the lines here sound lifted from some Ego Trip compendium of rap phraseology — and Statik Selektah sneaks in the approaching clang of a Mario Kart red shell. But just as that clang cues anxiety and dirty looks toward my son, these guys must know this bassline draws a Pavlovian tail wag from people of a certain age. Case in point:
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: While ever there’s an Internet, there’s going to be rap fans convinced that what hip-hop really needs is dusty boom-bap and — emphasis on the scare-quotes — “lyricism.” 
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Time is ultimately Joseph’s enemy. Its not that he’s getting any worse at recycling old ’90s flows. Quite the contrary, he’s finally branched out of AZ-biting and now sounds like an amorphous blend of people such as Havoc, Das-EFX, Wise Intelligent, Busta Rhymes, closet Busta Rhymes biter Method Man, and a few others. But once again, we must ask ourselves: Did we need an artist born of their album cuts? Joey cites MF Doom and Nas but lacks their lyrical penmanship and incisiveness. He’s no different from the average rapper of the mainstream with 808s who runs through similes, except he wears a costume of something that came and went. Also Statik Selektah’s beats suck consistently, unless apparently surgically altered with live instrumentation. The wonders Interscope budgeting can bring you! But it feels a shame that his generation feels like Joey is a Nasir Jones, when really, he’s maybe a K-Solo at best.
[3]

Jonathan Bogart: Part of why I think I’m a sucker for 90s throwbacks is that the 90s still feel unresolved, an open question, to me; anything I can point to and say, “ah, yes, that was then” helps me to put a little more distance between then and now. Paradoxically, the more I can safely slot something into the past, the more real it is to me.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Burn yr Quest fanfic, write more Kony lines!
[5]

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Romeo Santos ft. Marc Anthony – Yo Tambien

This feud can only be settled with a sunglasses-off…


[Video][Website]
[7.17]

Brad Shoup: In the video, Santos caresses a pic of his target. It’s ostensibly a crimey short film, but the director was onto something: two dudes wielding #actuallys, way too concerned with the other’s technique. The band’s going for standard import, but Anthony and Santos are planning a much funnier caper.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I predicted this collaboration a few minutes ago. Why not? Santos’s buoyant tenor, a match for the horn section, was made for supplicatin’, and when Marc Anthony’s frayed pipes experiment with the lower end it’s a wonder they didn’t spot each other across the dance floor earlier and disappear into a bathroom. “WOW” indeed.
[7]

Jonathan Bogart: A duet ostensibly about two men competing for the same woman, but the alleged woman at the center of the lyric is entirely absent: Marc and Romeo spend the entire song preening for and performing at each other, not her. The result is a giddy rush of competitive hypercompetence, as each tries to outsing, outemote, and outseduce the other. Both men have been at the top of their respective games for years, and if the scales tip towards Marc it may only be because he claims the home turf of punchy salsa, in which Romeo’s pretty falsetto threatens to get lost.
[9]

Will Adams: The sporadic electronic flourishes are odd, but they don’t take away to a large extent the vocal face-off between Santos and Anthony.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This passes the “Would this feasibly have been on a Fania All-Stars comp my Grandfather would’ve danced to in the office?” test.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: A twirl of timbres: vocal, horns. I can’t imagine someone listening to this without wanting to hear more of one singer or the other (me, it’s Marc), but otherwise it’s an uncommonly complementary effect for what could have been the most obvious feature spot imaginable.
[6]

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Cage the Elephant – Cigarette Daydreams

Just resting our eyes…


[Video][Website]
[2.75]

Alfred Soto: Of course she “looks out of place,” with a “mean streak” that brought him to his knees. That’s how these dude-narratives go. You want peace of mind, pal? Date your parakeet and strum your guitar for it.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Presumably this is not meant to sound like Sixpence None the Richer?
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Funny that a band with Cage in its name always manages to feel like imprisonment whenever it arrives.
[2]

Jonathan Bradley: It’s probably the pachydermal appellation, but I’d expected these guys to be bigger, beefier, louder. I’m disappointed to discover their rock isn’t the meat-and-potatoes kind, because then I could have accounted for my lack of knowledge of their apparently quite popular material as one of cultural difference: someone, somewhere, has to want nothing more out of music than growling guitars and pounding drums, and there should be post-post-post-grunge bands big and gray enough to provide it. But Cage the Elephant are not that: they are sad-boy strummers from Kentucky who sound more like they’re freshly arrived in London circa-2002 and are hopeful the A&Rs are still willing to cut a check for anyone who might be able to square the Britpop/Badly Drawn Boy circle. Sorry fellas; NME cover is thatta way.
[2]

Brad Shoup: No idea how rock can be dead when meandering acoustic hollers are still getting the single treatment.
[5]

W.B. Swygart: A ride down featureless country roads; you are in the passenger seat, though, and the driver has decided he needs to tell you every reason why he thinks you have chosen your shoes poorly. For four hours.
[2]

Will Adams: Like a twinkle-eyed mouth-breather eight beers deep who leans his head on your shoulder while you and some buddies sit on a porch when it’s 2am on a day in late April and there’s nothing to look at but the stars, man.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: There’s not enough there to even hate.
[4]

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Magalie – Love Criminal

No month is complete without a war of the referents.


[Video][Website]
[5.56]

Will Adams: There’s something so bizarre about “Love Criminal” being situated squarely within ’80s synth-pop while being aimed at such a ’10s teen audience (you’ll rarely hear “OMG” delivered with as much of a straight face) that I can’t help but bop along to this. Magalie still requires more vocal finesse, but there’s enough powdered sugar here to distract me.
[8]

David Sheffieck: It’s not every song that can make a lyric like, “OMG he’s beautiful” work. This is glittery and bouncy enough to sell it, if also so gossamer light that it threatens to float away in the next breath of 80s nostalgia.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s always theft or death with the heart, and that lacks imagination. Love criminals never seem to commit fraud, for instance, and surely that’s fertile metaphoric ground. Magalie sticks to as basic a palette of emotion as she does sound, and her voice does nothing to elevate either. The execution is at times amateurish, but vitally the persistent chug that propels her through verses of snipped syllables is a wave that surpasses that.
[6]

Megan Harrington: Restraint, good taste, prevailing wisdom, and your granny will tell you that it’s best to start small and get bigger. You can always add more salt if it’s bland, but what are you going to do if it’s too salty? Magalie says to hell with all that and begins “Love Criminal” with way, way too much — clunking your ears with a clumsy double dutch first verse and a chorus that arrives too soon. It doesn’t need to be this big by half, like a gigantic neon bouffant on a tiny head, but somehow Magalie gets control of this confection, paring it down so we can finally hear her tiny “o-m-g, he’s beautiful” clearly. The bigness, the too-muchness, the all-of-it-ness that “Love Criminal” heaps on is a suit of armor protecting its fragile center. Next time you go out, be safe and put on every accessory you own and skip looking yourself in the mirror.  
[7]

Brad Shoup: The Billy Joel revival continues to ramp up, as Magalie swipes the “We Didn’t Start the Cadence” for a Spotify-karaoke take on that classic Carly Rae sound.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Is it a reflection on songwriting or the dismal prospects of women dating that “be my boyfriend” sounds more outlandish a request than “be my love criminal”? Is “OMG” in lyrics no longer a gimmick? Just how long can one stand a hopped-up “Teenage Dream”?   
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Like Katy Perry through a “Kids In America” filter, which absolutely NOBODY was asking for. Yet these things keep happening to us.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” for the Ariana Grande set, without an ounce of her force and sense of apocalyptic thunderdomes imploding. Or Pat Benatar’s. 
[3]

Anthony Easton: She snaps those consonants (criminal, boyfriend, rugged) and the percussion fits into the plain speech of the lyrics. The line between spare and cliché is manipulated adroitly, her commitment to pleasure more than serviceable. An extra point for how much fun it is. 
[7]

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Marina and the Diamonds – I’m a Ruin

Here’s hoping Billboard hears Megan’s prayer.


[Video][Website]
[5.90]

Elisabeth Sanders: Where Electra Heart was all bleeding silicone, Froot has been so far a much more organic near-rotting kind of thing, dealing with death not with cold rending nails but with solid heat. This all seems like me making a really dumb fruit metaphor, but the album’s called that for a reason; it’s about something much more soft and alive than Electra Heart was, containing horror not in the threat of shattered glass but in the way any ripeness carries with it a reminder of death. The Marina of “I’m a Ruin” is not the Marina of “How to be a Heartbreaker,” though both Marinas know they’re causing pain. The Marina of “How to be a Heartbreaker” deals with that pain by shellacking her insides away and making it all feel intentional and organized; the Marina of “I’m a Ruin” confronts something confusing and tender inside herself that feels like it’s spreading rot to everything it touches. I’m a ruin, I’ma ruin you. It’s not exactly self-hatred, nor is it healing. It’s a lush beat and vocals with a solid thread of high broken regret. It’s it isn’t right; it’s I wanna be free. It’s it’s difficult.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Hits that sweet spot of lacerating pity as a couple of her best songs (“Rootless” and “I Am Not a Robot”) and then, incongruously, puts in a bunch of “ooh” and “yeah” parts that seem more suited to a hypothetical gay disco-friendly remix. Don’t tell me one of them isn’t incoming, Marina. I don’t believe it and I don’t understand but I don’t hate it.
[7]

Anthony Easton: The coy wryness and implied self esteem on that line about being smart is almost as immersive as how she sings “ruin.” The narrative of desire and sexual hunger move in and out of a gorgeous set of abstract production and onomatopoetic syllables that hint more than they deliver; they have an obscure beauty: a hiding in plain sight that works well with formalist camo. 
[9]

Alfred Soto: Characterizing herself as a masochist reluctant to say goodbye and guilty of the things she’s accused of, Marina’s voice pushes at its upper limits as if willing her prayers to ascend to an indifferent god. The inoffensive production is way too on the nose.
[4]

Luisa Lopez: Marina’s sad songs always sound like the closing credits of a movie that can’t quite bring itself to end. 
[3]

Cédric Le Merrer: Because she’s been so obsessed with fame and success from day one, I’m always tempted to read Marina’s love songs is as adressed not to a lover but to her audience. “Froot” was a defiant “why the fuck didn’t you guys make Electra Heart platinum?” “Happy” was her realizing having a reasonably sized, unreasonably devoted audience may be a good thing. Does that makes “I’m a Ruin” a breakup/warning to the mainstream audience? How punk. I hear the potential for a good to great song, but her usual vocal hoop jumps might have added some welcome contrasts to a muddled performance (by her standards). And she doesn’t make a case for being a ruin, lyrically or otherwise.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m not certain that this song is much of a warning about ruination from anyone’s future. After all, the beat is devoid of strength and identity, but Marina’s present, a bit too ready to welcome. Siren‘s songs aren’t exactly meant to say “Oh, I’m not really looking for this” from my perspective. On a song so malnourished, though, it might not lure anyone in at all.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: The particular blend of ennui, despair and toolish-feeling that comes of staying in a relationship whose exit you’ve planned is undertraveled ground for songwriting, but this does nothing for me that Bat for Lashes’ “All Your Gold” doesn’t do better, and I can’t quite tell why. I want to say it’s Marina’s choirgirl hollowness, but you could level that charge at Natasha Khan too. Maybe Marina is abstract where Khan is concrete. Maybe the song is just worse.
[4]

Brad Shoup: How wonderful it is to not believe a word Marina and the Diamonds sing — and to finally love it.
[9]

Megan Harrington: I can’t wait for “I’m a Ruin” to push “Lips Are Movin'” to the ground and sit in its retro-leaning Top-40 heavy rotation throne. That’s right, literally. I’m sending this blurb via psychic transmission in the midst of a maniacal race to the president of Clear Channel’s sleeping chambers. Yes, I can’t wait even a fraction of a second longer to see “I’m a Ruin” top the Billboard Hot 100 or my corporeal body will explode. I literally must guarantee this song’s hit status if I’m going to see tomorrow. Don’t let me die!
[8]

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Jeremih ft. J. Cole – Planes

Don’t tell’em we might prefer this one.


[Video][Website]
[5.29]

Crystal Leww: If “Don’t Tell ‘Em” is that summer night that you met that boy who loved 90s records in the club, “Planes” fast-forwards through time to find you deeply free-falling for that boy in the freezing of winter. You are deeply infatuated by the boy who whispers nice things and treats you well, who stays the night and makes plans. You make coffee and oatmeal for him in the morning. He remembers to buy you gifts from the trips he takes. You drink wine together. It is not yet love, but you wish it could be someday.
[7]

Luisa Lopez: 2015 is not gonna get any funnier than J. Cole’s verse. 
[4]

Josh Winters: Those few sweet seconds of Jeremih’s falsetto are the true aerodynamic pleasure. The rest is like a red eye on a clear night: a pitch-black ride without much unsteady movement or variation. Well, not entirely pleasant with J. Cole present.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Here they go, playing verbal grab-ass again, with Jeremih in the Miguel role.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Jeremih has established a body of work that people care about him who wouldn’t have given him enough of a care back when he was coming out. He uses that deserved credibility to release a middling single, the kind of stuff I expect Late Nights would’ve been populated with. J. KOLL — one of the world’s least charismatic humans ever who keeps being mistakenly placed on R&B songs (how can you want to see a man who always looks like Dick Dastardly in the face tell you anything about you?). If this is what Jeremih’s dropping an album is going to sound like, maybe he needs to go back to the drawing board.
[1]

Josh Love: I’m not sure whether to sigh or laugh at the wild incongruity of this song’s utterly lovely production and utterly lame rhymes. Both aspects are aiming for seduction but only Vinylz’s synths get there. Meanwhile, J. Cole sticks his foot in his mouth by likening it to his dick.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Okay, I mostly like Jeremih and J. Cole here, but between his work here and the two tracks on the new Drake if Vinylz wanted to put out a beat tape I would be hugely appreciative. If somebody wanted to make a YouTube video with the instrumental here on loop for ten hours, I would leave that shit rolling.
[8]

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry

Comments section live in 3… 2… 1…


[Video][Website]
[5.83]

Jonathan Bradley: “The Blacker the Berry” is the dark counterpart to Lamar’s prior single “i,” recasting its themes and enriching it in retrospect. When we reviewed that single, Megan asked rhetorically, “Everyone wants Compton’s human sacrifice but no one wants Kendrick Lamar’s self-esteem?” but “i” had the darkness of good kid, m.A.A.d city bubbling beneath its surface; Kendrick said “I love myself” in response to lines like “the world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs.” “Berry” is a song of violence and protest, but even at its darkest, it punctuates its pervasive nihilism with a self-love extracted from social hatred. “I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey” he growls with a resilience borne of 500 years of American history. “I know you hate me, don’t you?/You hate my people,” and here the importance of “i” is thrown into sharper relief. But what of the framing device, where Lamar claims hypocrisy for his universalised African narrator? Is this twice-as-good hectoring or an insistence that Black Lives Matter wherever they might be lived and however they might be ended? Or is it Lamar’s revolutionary asceticism in action: obsessive scrutiny of his own flaws as a path to self-realization? All of this, and more, I think. “Gang banging make me a kill a nigga blacker than me” is borne of the same dread as “if Pirus and Crips all got along, they’d probably gun me down by the end of this song” or Maya Angelou’s soliloquy in “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” The invocation of Trayvon Martin — and not of Michael Brown, the more recent victim, who comes better to mind as being left “[dead] in the street” than does Martin — is inflammatory but not careless. Lamar is keenly aware of the destructiveness of white racism and spends nearly the entirety of this song discussing it, but he’s also made his career through vivid close-study of the results of institutional abandonment. The parade of death visited upon black people by the caprices of law enforcement and the justice system is viscerally horrifying, but white racism has more ways to end black lives prematurely than with a mere badge and a gun.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Hoarser, even clumsier, Kendrick Lamar is mad as hell — the only job he can envisage getting is in the penal system, if he isn’t sent up the creek first. As a salvo, it’s powerful, but he’s sacrified craft for message’s sake.
[6]

Luisa Lopez: Kendrick Lamar’s voice sounds like it’s being stretched across a grate: it’s full of holes where the wind comes rattling through and where it snags is where it hurts. He shoots out verses like keeping them would be too painful. The only comparison I can think of — not really to compare, but to spin the song in a new context, to see what it looks like when it’s lit by something else — is Kanye’s “Hold My Liquor”, which is a similar exodus of grieving hatred, turning love into gin that won’t stop flowing, the way “The Blacker the Berry” takes the impossibility of leaving behind the stories we’ve already written for ourselves and turns them into a song that feels like a cage and sounds like one, too. Not a pretty thing, but then neither is the truth. 
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s a curious thing to see a man who counts among his best friends a Hoover and a Bounty Hunter, both large-scale organizations who are in fact responsible for a tragic amount of lost lives, find the time compare them to Darren Wilson. Such are the mechanics of Kendrick’s tedious little talking point, in which he shifts responsibility of the tragedy of violence in the black community askew. He’s a “writer,” as he described in his last bit of “radical” pandering. He’s just a writer with bad politics. The hypocrisy lies not with your fans, Duckworth, because outrage at injustice is not hypocrisy.
[0]

Brad Shoup: It’s been a little weird to see everyone break out the hardcovers for Kendrick’s tune, when a shelf full of other rappers remain unannotated. But his grain stuns, so. “i” was about fending off the bullshit; this is hosing it into the gutter… it’s less balletic, much more brusque. But the implications of that last couplet haven’t floated away on that fusion outro.
[6]

Michelle Ofiwe: In 2014, way too many thinkpieces pondered upon the supposed lack of activism demonstrated by hip-hop heavyweights; I personally think everyone really meant that not many rappers traded in gold chains for picket signs. Fair enough. Like many Black youths, I feel that my activism is just being unequivocally, unapologetically, and conspicuously Black. Lines like “I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey” make sense to me; they feel celebratory. A tentative predecessor to this song is James Brown’s “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” where Brown creates a powerful “tagline” to drown out the social broadcast of negative stereotypes. Kendrick diverts from this tactic to incorporate such messages into his last step of the “emancipation of a real n*gga,” where stereotypes and slurs are carved into your armor. Much like Kendrick’s message, there are still cracks in this armor, but no doubt you still feel a little stronger behind it. 
[7]

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Dead Sara – Mona Lisa

The Scream (1893), pastel on cardboard


[Video][Website]
[6.11]

David Sheffieck: This sounds much longer than its three minute running time in the best way — epic, not tedious. It’s driven by an instantly indelible riff, a powerhouse vocal, but perhaps most of all by a fantastic sense of dynamics: that riff and those shouts wouldn’t hit nearly as hard in a song less willing to drop everything out of the mix on a dime just to emphasize a point. The result is a cut that sounds loose around the margins, but connects with undeniable confidence and precision.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Not as exciting as “Weatherman” because the lyrics are intelligible, but the ones I notice are pretty good. “I know what you want but it’s not gonna be whatchu like” is a mantra I’ve also repeated on Saturday night, regrettably without power chords. Plus, Emily Armstrong rasps like she’s chewed several lit cigarettes — always a plus.
[7]

Ian Mathers: Okay, fine, it’s not at all fair that I was mostly excited to see Dead Sara pop up here because I still fucking love “Weatherman” and that when this song wasn’t nearly as immediately brutal I kind of checked out. But I think even without the older song “Mona Lisa” would still come to close to the outskirts of bloozerawk for me to be 100% comfortable with it. That last minute, where they finally lower the boom and Emily Armstrong confirms she’s as powerful a presence as ever, improves things immensely, but I’m still a bit wary.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Takes the rockabilly quotations of the New Wave, marries them to the three-chord aesthetic of early punk, roughs up Lana Del Rey’s ’40s melancholy, and shoves it into a meat locker to freeze for a few days. I would have preferred a little bit of rot. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Blues, soul, gospel-inflections and homages just get a bit meaningless when they don’t draw from the end of the river. Instead everyone goes to the lake, to the source, the root… “Back to where it all began baybeeeee…..” *record skipping noise* Yeah, except here’s the thing. Billions of people have already been here before. Some better than you, and a lot who weren’t. So you’re coming to a dry well, and you’re fucked. It is incredibly apparent that your life and all you’ve learned in your years on Earth doesn’t actually mean anything if you can’t show it off in a way that’s new. So you can stomp, you can wail, you can display an incredible amount of passion… but if you have nothing of your own to truly show for it, what do you have?
[3]

Josh Love: Jack White’s wet dream. The sort of song you’d hear playing in a suburban tattoo shop or an “edgy” burger bar in the yuppie part of town. Anywhere that takes its guacamole recipe way too seriously.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: They really want that Black Keys money, don’t they?
[4]

Brad Shoup: The backing vocals and those bass eighth notes: that’s what got me first. But I forgot that Dead Sara are sly melodists, as in the shiver in “not gonna be what you like,” and the overall fuzz-guitar harmonics. Nothing else makes a lick of sense, but I feel like that’s the goal: a senseloss that doesn’t make you a cloyist dadaist, just a charming rogue whose level must be got upon.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: What a journey this song takes us on. As the mood shifts, I’m reminded of Breeders, Sheryl Crow, Garbage, Veruca Salt; echoes of many belting ’90s rocker girls, alternately and often in equal turns. The guitar shifts along with Armstrong, going from a chugging honky-tonk to a sassy sashay to a heavy stack of distortion and shredding. Is the music following the lyrics, or are the lyrics following the music? What came first, the bipolar poetry or the ADHD tune? Of course, as a sufferer of mood swings and attention deficit, I can’t help but be drawn to this kind of thing like a moth to the flame. Yes, ma’am! Snarl and belt and whisper about your cold loneliness and throw salt everywhere. This is the kind of crazy that I crave: empowered crazy, sassy crazy, owning it and screaming it. Contrast it with the thin trope of “Wouldn’t it be crazy if I were crazy?” that plagued all of last year. This song is not deadpan, not winking; it’s laughing maniacally, really and truly manic.
[9]