Friday, May 19th, 2017

DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne – I’m the One

You are, but it’s not much fun.


[Video]
[3.50]

Adaora Ede: DJ Khaled enlists a ragtag melange of uptempo tracks layered upon another; it’s a whirring pool of high profile features and summer vibes. Before one could even begin to muse on how Quavo (and the boys) is even able to appear in the music video for every top 40 song in the past month, the verse is over, and left in the dust is another not very memorable and very same-y rap from the Migo. Lil Wayne is here, apparently, decidedly drenched in a beautiful cape of Autotune. His appearance is not very good and I’d like to move on. Justin Bieber’s chorus reminds me of the fact that he’s actually a small white boy from Ontario- as much as he’d like to pull off the pensive RnB darling thing, he sounds (and looks, lmao) out of place with forced West Indian cadence that I’m just gonna assume was meant to be demo vocals for Chris Brown. On a more positive note, Chance’s quirky style overcomes and happens to be my personal favorite verse- although I feel as if it could’ve gone to better use in an Amine song or something else of the trendier like. But still, good grief, Khaled, don’t act like we don’t notice how the superimposition of your vocal tag throughout the song makes it sound like you jacked a song off of a video entitled “DJ MUSTARD-TYPE BEAT$$”. The rodeo-esque inflections signal a “Timber” for the age that forgot Avicii, but it is simply devoid of the good-natured FUN found in any Pitbull song.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: So which one of them is “the one”? In this scenario, none of ’em. The most unappealingly minimalist #1 in — maybe ever. And none of these guys acquits himself particularly well. 
[2]

Alfred Soto: This successful example of cross-platform marketing puts four stars and two stars in training through the pledging-my-troth paces but gives them nothing but a reggaeton-inflected melody and Hallmark crap. Was the bro from MAGIC! unavailable?
[5]

Iain Mew: If you’re one of “all those other imitators” called out in this claim to stand alone, you don’t need much to hit back — you can get them at “hola,” or at least “konnichiwa.”
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: You know, pop rap needn’t feel so Happy Meal just to try and chase a hit in 2017, yet for some reason Nic Nac (now calling himself LetMeSeeYou???) and DJ Khaled decided we needed to go back to the Jim Jonsin/Kane Beatz-era of Rugrat Rap. Sure, it makes sense to try to get ground floor on the summer smash, but it’s a weird misread of the Chance/Yachty ‘carefree’ vibe as ‘kiddie pool’. The performances here are also weird with Bieber doing a throwaway vocal, and Chance mugging up in a way that feels like he’s Dumbing Down with heavy emphasis so he can back away from “Whoops, they made me do an icky commercial record!” down the line. Quavo and Wayne at least are used to having to try to compliment shit records with decent verses; hell, Wayne’s been doing it since my youngest sibling was old enough to watch cartoons that had this beat as a soundtrack. But all in all, this is record is dumbfounding and just plain dumb.
[2]

Will Adams: New Lonely Island sounds dope.
[3]

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois

Cute boy with not very cute song…


[Video]
[4.44]
Katherine St Asaph: Salvador Sobral’s victory, and his accompanying anti-fireworks-pro-firebrands victory speech, is being decried as a triumph of rockism, which makes sense for the five seconds before you realize you’re talking about the winner of fucking Eurovision. Just look at the teenager in the No. 2 spot and you’ll see why he won: television adores a pretty boy. The only force that could possibly be stronger would have been Russia. The pretty boy brings a pretty song, redolent of the Hollywood sadcore Lana Del Rey has tried to execute for six years. And unlike Lana, being a Eurovision contestant Salvador is freed to really go for it, to sigh softly to the river while the strings gently weep. The lyrics have a bad case of the fedoras (“I know you do not love yourself / Maybe you can slowly learn again”), but that didn’t stop anyone from becoming enamored with Harry Styles or Justin Bieber; anyway, in Eurovision a turntable counts as contemporary, so how do you expect it to keep up with The Discourse?
[6]

Cassy Gress: Having listened to this outside of “on stage at Eurovision” context, I suspect a not-insignificant part of why Salvador Sobral won was that he looked thin, vulnerable, and rather cute, with big puppy dog eyes and a mouth that seemed to naturally fall into a tiny smile, and sang a song that wasn’t actively offensive. (“Cute and vulnerable” seemed to be a rather well-performing concept this year.) That’s not all of it, obviously, but take away the visuals and listen to the song by itself, and it’s directionless, settling into its 3/4 signature like fog settling over the bay (the gray, inconvenient kind rather than the romantic kind). Salvador mumbles through this, occasionally quirking the corner of his mouth up when it seems appropriate, and comes off as so much less sincere. I could rewatch Salvador singing this; I don’t really feel like re-listening to it.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: When I listen to Eurovision winners even from just 15-20 years ago I’m pretty convinced that the majority of them would get absolutely buried today. By contrast, I feel like this would have been buried in 1967. I don’t deny that people connected with something — Sobral has a compelling story and had a compelling stage presence, but the song’s in a classic tradition but no classic. Then again, what do I know, I voted ten times for the Belgian girl who looked like she wanted to run away… I’ll give Sobral points for enjoying his moment.
[4]

Iain Mew: The strings are gorgeous enough to lift this up a lot, but for all the craft they’re so backwards looking a recreation that they need something new to spark them to life and prevent the song from feeling like it’s in a musty glass dome. Sobral mumbling his way through an indistinct cousin of “Moon River” has the opposite effect.
[4]

Katie Gill: After winning Eurovision, Sobral made an exceedingly rockist statement, attacking “disposable music”. Big talk coming from a man whose song was “Moon River” by way of “Somewhere Out There.” We’ve heard this song before plenty of times and we’ll hear it plenty more as time goes on. His song’s sweet, sleepy, far too maudlin, and just as disposable as the rest of the Eurovision entries, but without the added bonus of yodeling, gorillas, or Slavko Kalezic.
[5]

Leonel Manzanares: I hate the fact that we have a rockist Eurovision winner. I hate that acceptance speech and everything it stands for. I hate the term “Fast-food music” and that unfortunate “Music is not Fireworks” statement. I hate how Salvador’s victory will be framed as a triumph for conservative fans who think it was necessary to “bring Eurovision back to being about the music” — essentially, Make Eurovision Great Again; those same people that, year after year, complain about the contest’s open queerness under the argument that ESC is supposed to be “family-friendly”. But most importantly, I hate that I can’t hate on the song itself. “Amar Pelos Dois”, with its cinematic arrangements, its bright Chet Baker-isms and Luisa’s tender lyrics, was always the strongest one among the favorites, and in the night, Sobral’s enthralling, deeply affected performance showed everyone what live music magic feels like. It’s remarkable how we still can’t really figure out what “a song for Eurovision” really is, since we just witnessed a Jazz tune sung entirely in Portuguese take over the continent, only the second one not sung in English to win in the 21st Century so far. No, Salvador Sobral didn’t save Eurovision, and no, there’s nothing to save. Last year we also a had a personal, powerful, important winner, and you can say the same about 2007 and 2014. We can have a contest full of fun, “disposable” songs and some of them can still be good. Music can also be fireworks. And even if next year we get an awful “orchestral ballad” trend, the contest will remain as camp, as queer, as weird as we like it. Still, in Kiev, the best song won, and I’m really glad Portugal has finally broken the curse. “Amar Pelos Dois” was unstoppable.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Portugal’s Eurovision winner might as well be a Roger Whittaker ballad from 1968, it’s so hopelessly retro. Actually, no, not retro — just old-fashioned, in a highly regressive way. And deathly dull.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: Saudade often seems to be non-Portuguese speakers’ favourite Portuguese word, and so it goes. Clearly enough, its feted untranslatability doesn’t extend to the feeling of it, as Sobral made plain in his victor’s speech. He was right of course — music is feeling, subject to interpretation, whether through fireworks or otherwise. Without the artifice of his particular visual interpretation, this loses a lot of its charm, which in itself felt a peculiarly acquired one for a winning margin wider than a mile.
[5]

Will Adams: As the jury votes tallied up, it became harder to care about the outcome. After a year whose top two were equally stunning achievements in writing and staging, the selection for this year’s frontrunners was meager, especially when it came down to this and a similarly damp dude ballad. Sobral’s victory speech was annoying, certainly, but “Amar Pelos Dois” and its La La Land sentimentality aren’t worth the ire. Just wait — it’ll be 2018 soon enough, and there’ll be plenty of pandering lite-reggae monstrosities to rage at instead.
[4]

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Disciples – On My Mind

Disciples who needed more inspiration…


[Video]
[5.14]

Thomas Inskeep: Finally, a pop house record that’s not goddamned trop-house. This is MK-inspired, straight-up house, molded into a three-and-a-half-minute pop record. I wish there was more of a song here, but some days, I’ll take what I can get.
[6]

David Sheffieck: Chugging along at a compelling shuffle, Disciples make the most of their hook’s vocal effects and manage to elevate the MOR pseudo-falsetto of the verses. It’s entirely predictable, never anything more or less than pleasant – and yet no dancefloor can be nonstop peak-time, can it?
[5]

Alfred Soto: It took a couple listens to get the “Once in a Lifetime” rhythm to the bass line, which suggests Disciples have a hook and a sound but no singer. Somebody should shape this promising material.
[5]

Will Adams: “On My Mind” offers plenty in terms of frosted deep house, but Disciples’ production gimmick of multi-layered vocoders — heard briefly on “How Deep Is Your Love” — starts to grate here. Nathan Duvall is a competent vocalist with some great moments; it’s a shame he wasn’t given more room.
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s borderline impressive that almost three years on, a new Disciples single can sound so similar to “They Don’t Know”. The difference is a stronger impetus and better vocal production. They’ve upped the tempo, leaving not a second wasted, propelled by a melody that runs electrified through the title. All this is done in moderation, however, never overplaying the routineness of perpetual urgency.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Years ago in some Philosophy class that I’ve already forgotten nearly everything I was supposed to know, one of the people I managed to befriend was a girl of Irish descent who was really invested in wearing those aquasock-type shoes all the time and was involved in some semi-obscure church. She was intending to be an Architect and not unlike the disparate frames of Philosophy I could not comprehend the ‘schools’ of buildings in pictures as much as I pretend to know now about different ‘schools’ of house. I do recognize distinction, but I have a hard time eloquating the lack that Disciples have. They’re entirely tasteful pop-dance with a fine vocal that feels like any sort of dance set filler, but they don’t have any defined characteristics. For them, they’re a well-curated-vibe where their song is just a way to reach for a feeling, and not something to inspire the feelings. They’re what happens when you learn to build without learning of possibility or holding an admiration of choice, and provide an empty word of unfulfillment.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: The namesake disciple must be Peter, judging by what this song does by minute one.
[3]

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Maxwell – Gods

Good thing the greater Maxwell writes for us, then!


[Video]
[5.67]

Maxwell Cavaseno: As the lesser Maxwell dulls even further than his already non-stimulating output could provide, we find this fake-ass-Maxwell now past R&B and into soft-pop territory, occupying some weird territory between Peter Cetera and Bobby Caldwell. I do not know what the game of Gods is, but I couldn’t manage to be interested in the polite, driftiness of this single, far too tame and polite to impose even so much as a memory. Which is fine, because I’m sick to hell of being reminded of this guy anytime someone mentions “HEY YOU KNOW Y’ALL GOT THE SAME NAME?”. I could never be this passive, for better or worse in certain eyes, but certainly better when compared to dreck like this.
[4]

Will Rivitz: Maxwell’s recipe for stunning neo-soul is usually a winner, every ingredient included in perfect proportion. Here, I think the bag of Lionel Richie must have split over the bowl.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: Maxwell’s performance is spirited and emotive, but he’s belting half-rhyming wavering melodies that are too shy to properly resolve themselves around tonally indecisive chord progressions that barely poke out of a stylistically baffling instrumental and it’s all just monumentally frustrating to listen to (see: the intrusive sci-fi squeals, the failed attempt to rhyme “judiciously” and “convincingly,” the open hats on every goddamn upbeat). There is is a disconcerting awkwardness at work here that lives just below the glossy surface, like the score was drawn up by a misconfigured neural network and then realized by a producer who didn’t think to check if it made any sense.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: A little more uptempo, a little more sneakily slinky, high-hats galore. And it comes in and out in under 3:30, utterly unconventional for a Maxwell song. He of course sings it beautifully, because he can’t do otherwise. That said, it all seems a bit slight.
[6]

Anthony Easton: The chorus here has a real hook, and the calm fury is genuinely scary. The whole track has a regal sumptuousness, the brushed drums, the keyboards, the slowed down track that nods to house. Such smart choices. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Nine months after his album dropped and peaked, Maxwell releases its suavest attempt at sublimity. He re-conceives the refrain “You play the game of  gods” into a cry of despaired admiration, nudging R&B toward a  novel tension between romance and formal reserve.
[8]

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Sofi de la Torre – $

Fuck money, get blurbs.


[Video][Website]
[5.57]

Will Adams: From “Vermillion” to “Give Up at 2” to “$,” Sofi de la Torre has always nailed the late-night lament, the eternal walk home that’s actually only a few blocks, the tumult of thoughts tangling themselves further. But now, the mood has switched, and for once, the daggers are pointed, tentatively, outward. While there’s still a sense of acknowledging that she’s made this mistake before (“I’ve seen you by the dozen”), Sofi de la Torre’s self-assuredness is powerful. The calm, major key arpeggios and guitar strums feel like a cloud parting, and through all the hurt, she finds a confidence to keep walking and let the venom out.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Smart: she’s singing him beautifully to sleep as she punctures his ego and stabs him in the heart.
[7]

David Sheffieck: Both the production and de la Torre’s vocal lack the passion that might really sell the lyric: they’re beautiful, comforting, enveloping; the song needs some venom. 
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Between the phlegm-rattling wretchings referred to as ‘vocals’ occasionally breaching into a merciful whine at the back of a throat or yet another strive for the sound of modern casu-cool throwaway depth, you could summarize so much of the last three years of this sound in pop music as unfocused. So much of the last decade of music has held fear of specificity and distinction, as if to commit fully to a moment means that you’ll be bound to it for forever. Whenever de la Torre jump-ropes over syllables, the gurgling attempts at remaining at that midway point of adolescent frivolity and adult wisdom feels like a deliberate hedging, and who has time to take someone seriously when they refuse to invest in their own creations?
[3]

Alfred Soto: Unmoored from consonants, unchained from sense, released of meaning.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Breathy vocals pair with slightly underwater, slow-motion production to make now pop for hipster people.
[4]

Joshua Copperman: Easily her best since “Vermillion,” continuing the Drake-but-backwards-and-in-heels formula of many of her songs but also improving on it. This is easily the best production she’s ever had , keeping the muted late-night aesthetic of “Vermillion” while adding in harps, heavily reverbed guitar, and simple but effective trap drums. That combination is usually someone like Lana Del Rey’s specialty, but it’s refreshing to hear de la Torre tear this dude to shreds instead. The brutality of “Forget your car, I’m gonna walk home… you the type to fuck your own damn self to sleep”, “I’ve seen yous by the dozens,” and “Sip that bubbly with your pancakes” makes the song hit harder than anything she’s done before, perhaps even including that breakthrough single.  I’m still not quite sure what the bubbly line means (my best guess is “you think you have it all but you don’t have me, so enjoy your food, you dick.”), but that’s why I love this song so much; while some of her other singles felt self-conscious in the way she toyed with other genres, Sofi’s finally confident enough to create something fully absorbing, especially lyrically. 
[8]

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Fall Out Boy – Young and Menace

The latter, not the former.


[Video][Website]
[3.38]

Katherine St Asaph: “Are you sure about this chipmunked Imagine Dragons thing?” “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
[4]

Claire Biddles: I love Fall Out Boy more than some members of my family, and, with the same forgiving loyalty that I would extend to a beloved blood relation, I’m willing to see the goodness in pretty much anything they do. I loved their much-maligned 2015 record American Beauty/American Psycho, choosing to see its over-production as ambitious rather than overblown. I couldn’t even say the subsequent (terribly-titled!) remix album Make America Psycho Again was that bad; just really, really unnecessary. They tried! So, in the spirit of compassion and understanding, what is good about “Young and Menace”? A bunch of stuff: The intro suggests a reassessment of past decadence, both musically and lyrically. Patrick Stump’s vocals are as delicious as they’ve ever been. That “Oops!… I Did It Again” reference (though only my second favourite of recent times) is perfectly executed… but it just all builds up to a big nothing. This is a group who can write a fucking chorus, and when they don’t, they can make a repeated hook feel anthemic like nobody else. The lack of something to grasp on to is what makes “Young and Menace” so disappointing. Isn’t the whole point of this brand of emo to have something to shout about at the top of your lungs? The migraine-inducing nonsense that sits in the black hole where the chorus should be is really hard to forgive. I want to love it, I really really do, but I can’t even physically listen to a large portion of it — not to sound like an Auntie but it’s just noise. Here’s hoping the second single’s a massive banger. 
[4]

Iain Mew: My favourite moment in 2017 pop so far is Sơn Tùng visually and audibly bending time and space in the electronic cacophony at the end of “Lạc Trôi,” the most elegant successor to dubstep wubs. I wasn’t expecting a well-known Western group to make a single centred on a harsher version of a similar approach, but Fall Out Boy are a band unafraid of throwing all sorts in. It’s never worked so well for me as this before, though — not only are the drops full-on joy in excess, but they turn the build and release around it into a delightful tease, ultra-seriousness flirting with silliness in the way of all the best songs of their contemporaries.
[9]

Joshua Copperman: Switched on Pop has been mentioned on the Singles Jukebox before, but their episode on this song is well worth a listen. They call the… thing that happens about a minute in the logical extreme of the ‘pop-drop,’ and at least on a thematic level, it gives the song a decent amount of context. In Switched on Pop’s view, “Young and Menace” is supposed to be something of a musical shitpost, parodying the chopped vocals and intense breakdowns of other EDM songs by first subverting the huge chorus Fall Out Boy is known for, then by making the drop section go for much longer than it needs to. Hell, even the quiet-loud dynamics are pushed to the extreme self-consciously when Patrick screams the titular line, to the point where I had to fiddle with the volume while listening. Even though it’s sort of brilliant from the shitpost angle, “Young and Menace” nonetheless makes for a puzzling, incredibly uncomfortable listen. They know what they’re going for, and they reach it, regardless of whether or not anyone wants to listen. 
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I resent some of y’all for continuing to encourage Patrick Stump because at this point it’s clear he’s one of the most delusional maniacs in pop music. A man who refuses to learn how to properly sing, STILL constantly mistaking shrieking for passion, as initially proven by that gargantuanly vacuous Soul Punk dalliance. What was once arguably a decent pop rock band is now like the karmic opposite of Thom Yorke holding his band hostage on Kid A. Here we do not have a challenge to support someone’s neurotic phobias but instead the continued enabling of a brat’s tantrums. The lyrics of this band have become appalling, the use of FUCKING DUBSTEP BREAKS in 2017 would be laughed out the door by anyone else, and yet again their po-faced po-mo gestures of pop-worship read more and more of a band who are aware of how utterly unable they are of getting anyone excited. Fall Out Boy aren’t there, they’re just using the name because nobody gives a shit about Patrick and so many people in music are too afraid to commit themselves to something new. It’s an exercise in cowardice and mental hermitage.
[2]

Edward Okulicz: The drop smeared all over this, blanking out all art, all melody, all cleverness, all that is good about Fall Out Boy is an artistic choice, much like a painter vomiting all over a canvass and selling it anyway. I’m not giving partial credit for past masterpieces; this is plain awful.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Rock band takes hard left turn and embraces vocoders, electronic textures and dubstep drops: Maroon 5? Linkin Park? No, this time it’s FOB, but really, it doesn’t matter who it is, because it’s all the same shit. 
[0]

Katie Gill: Fall Out Boy’s sound is all over the goddamn place. Their loud, obnoxious pop-rock stylings have settled into something that’s a bit closer to an Imagine Dragons alternative. Their lyrics are also over the goddamn place. The cocky pretension that infiltrates all of their lyrics comes off as downright annoying here: nothing can save the pretentious smugness of “I think God is gonna have to kill me twice.” Finally, that drop is all over the goddamn place. I don’t know who decided that the thing this song needed was a drop that uses every single vocal manipulation section in Garageband, but can we please fire them?
[1]

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Planeta No – Maricón Zara

Commenter’s glib theory disproven, head explodes…


[Video]
[5.14]

Juana Giaimo: Most of the new bands in the Chilean pop scene show interest in the ’90s, and Planeta No isn’t an exception, but they have redefined this sound by approaching queerness in a straightforward way. The first part of “Maricón Zara” has a melancholic sound where Gonzalo García, in hurt, lingering vocals, sings lines like “They rejected us before starting.” But Planeta No leaves behind the victimization in the second, more upbeat half, with a sudden indifference for the opinion of society and even a certain rejoicing in how García sings “Talking to them about their oldest son / he lives with me in the city / and we get really high and we never do anything.” This apathy that was so characteristic of the ’90s portrays this split situation they are forced to be immersed in — apathy isn’t exactly a winning feeling, just the best they can get. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: Kick drum, tea kettle synth, distorted vocals — they earn the title queerness, I suppose. But to what end?
[4]

Iain Mew: A minute of indie whine over wistful lite-disco, followed by a thumping wind tunnel bridge that expands to take over the rest of the song. It has the feeling of an intriguing amuse-oreille at the start of an album, rather than a single, but that’s still something.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: It’s too early to be nostalgic for 2008 Hype Machine indie-pop tracks that you delete after a minute of listlessness or one second of vocals.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Sounds like a choir from The Island of Misfit Failed Indie Singles From a Decade Ago, strewn to shore with little nourishment. Maybe that’s the point, maybe not. But it’s mystifying to think that there’s something more for these familiar choices to give.
[3]

Will Adams: For a song structured a bit like Martha’s “Ice Cream and Sunscreen” — two distinct halves in which endearing indie twee gives way to a big emotional catharsis in the span of two minutes — it feels like so much less happens here. The short runtime isn’t used to its full potential, so no matter how lovely the halves are, its complacency lets it down.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: “Maricón Zara” tastes so bittersweet because no matter how vividly they flesh out the sounds in their heads, Planeta No know the trio are hopeless dreamers. And my, how blissful the dream, as innocent and romantic as those fuzzy Casio synths. When the song enters its latter part, it gives way to one of the most liberating breakdowns I’ve heard this year. During that brief moment, they sound so free and self-realized. I just wish they never come down from that high.
[7]

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Little Big Town – Happy People

No, Pharrell isn’t involved again…


[Video]
[5.56]

Katie Gill: All right, Little Big Town, you’ve won me back over. “One of These Days” sounded like Pharrell, “Better Man” sounded like Taylor Swift, but “Happy People” is wonderful: a lazy, calm, relaxing track that effortlessly showcases the group’s trademark harmonies and, most importantly, actually sounds like Little Big Town. The ending is far too abrupt for its own good, but really, I can’t think of how else it could be ended.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I liked “Better Man” all right when we reviewed it last fall, but it’s improved in the context of LBT’s eighth, and best, album, The Breaker. The songs are strong, their voices are superb, but the real secret to the album’s artistic success is producer Jay Joyce. I’ve never heard an album quite like it before: it’s a commercial, mainstream country album on which some of the songs almost sound like Brian Eno had a hand in them. “Happy People” is a Lori McKenna co-write, so of course it’s great, and Karen Fairchild gets the lead vocal, so of course that’s great, too. And the production is magical — the verses sound like they’ve been submerged, just briefly, in a bog. That said, the song’s stalling in the 40s on the Country Airplay chart, and the production is probably to “blame,” but that’s radio’s loss. (Also, dropping out the music and having Fairchild sing the last line a cappella is a brilliant move.)
[8]

Tim de Reuse: A driving beat that locks with a clunky bassline in a hypnotic, krautrockian sense, and a message that’s mercifully straightforward but seems more suited (both in length and in substance) to a lullaby than a full country arrangement. It’s a nice tune, but it seems to demand that the listener should only half-listen to it; otherwise, it just kind of folds and gives up under the weight of your attention.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Crosses that very thin line between happy and insipid.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Y’know, the idea that depression or rage leads to sincerity is one that frankly is as full of shit as the “hey, why don’t ya smile, buddy?” browbeating here. I’m sure they mean well, and contrary to belief, I like the idea that Little Big Town are encouraging me as a listener to be happy for a moment. But the record sounds more tepid, more reduced to sterility, than at peace.
[3]

Alfred Soto: For all that I disagree with these mothballed sentiments — happy people can hate too — the bland tick-tock-tock of the arrangement and vocal gets under my skin. When Karen Fairchild sings, “Here’s to whatever brings a smile to your face,” she could mean chewing on kittens. 
[5]

Iain Mew: What could be well-crafted but preachy fluff is rescued by the way that it lets in uncertainty — the organ especially sounds like contemplation rather than action, and they sing with a sense of awareness that the lyric’s most open “whatever makes you happy” is the most important part. I even hear in the more prescriptive bits a hint of a smirk, which may just be an effect of the echo of Bucks Fizz in the ascending melody, but works rather well.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Shiny — not like Pharrell productions, though, but like indie-folk, which fosters its own sort of stifling happiness. And yet this would be a drastically worse song if it were either more poppy (imagine the American Authors horrors) or more homespun (imagine the dilute-Americana beigeness). So while Lori McKenna and Brandy Clark’ve grafted about three separate morals onto this song hoping the juxtaposition seems just so, and you’d think Clark would prod at them more, if the arrangement makes me happy, it can’t be that bad.
[6]

Ryo Miyauchi: Perhaps “Happy People” would’ve been a blankly optimistic song in the band’s previous, Pharrell-assisted Wanderlust era. Maybe there was a draft of this that sounded too didactic. However they got to this understated tone, it pleases me to hear such a humble balance between feel-good and moralistic. Take their advice — or don’t! It’s a sigh of relief in a pop climate where I feel pressured to take home something beyond entertainment with every record.
[6]

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Haim – Want You Back

But seriously, what the hell has Ariel Rechtshaid been doing the past few years? Pottery? Daria fanfiction? Calculus II?


[Video]
[5.50]

Katherine St Asaph: I would have bet actual money that Haim’s lead sophomore-album single would be produced with Max Martin or at least sound it — I guess I could’ve mentioned the “Needed You” coda here for a pity dollar back. But no, this is standard Ariel Rechtshaid — it’s weird how quickly he went from ubiquity to nothing, enough that I suspect there’s a story there — and standard Haim. Namely, it’s standard in that every Haim song I have ever heard (“My Song 5” being the outlier) sounded anodyne until the soft-rock feelings finally steeped enough. This one, though, might take a while.
[5]

Alfred Soto: A band as dependent on studio massaging as these three should never release a track that sounds like a demo three-quarters made flesh.
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David Sheffieck: It took me until the second listen to even realize this has an (alleged) chorus, and if not for a vague memory of massed vocals I’d be doubting it again now. A sketch in search of a song.
[4]

Will Adams: The formula remains the same, sonically — shimmering ’90s lite-rock complete with close harmonies and electronic squiggles — and it remains just as effective. Lyrically, though, “Want You Back” is a slight departure from the self-assured independence of Days Are Gone. The shift doesn’t stick until the final act, when Alana is left to sing the chorus on her own, then repeats the line in a high cry. For a band whose image is heavily steeped in California cool, it’s a refreshing moment of vulnerability.
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William John: Part of the delight of Days Are Gone lay in Danielle Haim’s unconventional vocal timing. It often seemed as though she was playing cat and mouse with her band’s arrangements, deftly repeating quirks that occasionally resembled hiccups, and, again and again, stumbling her way towards a gloriously euphoric hook. On “Want You Back” we revisit the stammering briefly — witness the breathless end to each refrain. But more curious is the conspicuous stillness — a lightness, a new sense of space, between arrangement and vocal. The juxtaposition is initially striking, but I find myself yearning for a guitar solo toward the final chorus, for something ferocious and chaotic to pierce the tranquility.
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Maxwell Cavaseno: Have you ever wondered what Daniel Lanois and DJ Snake teaming up to prop up a Wilson-Phillips campfire singalong at the end of a Hallmark Channel film about togetherness and finding courage in trusting your friends could sound like? Haim have that musical thread nobody asked for set and ready to fray and look gross by the end.
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Thomas Inskeep: I mean, it’s fine, but it sounds like a retread from their first album. And the production on the choruses is too clattery.
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Sonia Yang: From Danielle’s plaintive lead lines to the assertive bass groove, this feels very much like coming home. Part of me wonders if this is an obvious ploy to appeal to their old fanbase after the four-year lull between albums, or just a genuine return to what Haim is comfortable with. I don’t care — it’s achingly transparent all the same. The best part is when all three sisters are singing, especially the overlapping lines in the prechorus. If they want me back, they’ve got me.
[8]

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Kamasi Washington – Truth

Quite possibly one of the longest songs we’ve ever covered here…


[Video]
[7.00]

Tim de Reuse: High-energy, slow-burning, uber-sentimental excess. And I love excess! So why don’t I feel a hundred percent on board with this? Maybe it’s something to do with the straightforwardness of the way it unfolds; there’s something unfortunately predictable about the A-B-A structure (build up main theme -> cool sax part -> build up main theme again) and the way it occasionally suggests at something discordant and chaotic but always backs off before going through with it wholeheartedly. This isn’t to say that what’s here is trivial or boring, but if you’re going to fit all this musical talent in a room and get them to play their hearts out then you have a lot of space to move in more adventurous directions — and for a tune of this length, you have a lot of opportunities to fit it in, too.
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Ryo Miyauchi: Humble and fleeting as it may sound upon first impression, that quiet sigh of a piano riff soon traces itself around the new voices you meet during the song’s 14-minute excursion. And you meet a quite a bit: while the chorus sounds more like an afterthought, the ensemble of horns replies back a wonderful riff. Even if it gives the stage to its more dramatic counterparts, I still hear the piano as the root of where all this came from. It makes looking back at how much “Truth” has changed throughout its expanse a memorable experience as much as the ride itself.
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Will Adams: The addition of the choirs is excessive, the slow-build formula is familiar, but the payoff of the midsection’s dazzling sax solo makes it worth the wait.
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Maxwell Cavaseno: Pharaoh Sanders style meanderings for millennials. What truly separates the Brainfeeder/Stones Throw jazz posse of Karriem Riggins, Thundercat, Washington and others from anyone currently signed to Blue Note in 2017 beyond marketing, age, and knowing it’s better to be “woke” than “hip?” Certainly it’s unfair to use the canon as a meter in any genre, and there’s certainly no less musicality but… not for nothing, when Courtney Pine did the whole “let’s go back to Coltrane” vibe almost years ago, he as well felt more desire to embrace the now for all its brilliance in musical possibility, and didn’t get caught in that nostalgia trap (unlike y’know, the dreaded Wynton). The past is something to remember, but we need not return to strip mine it just to re-emphasize the same lessons.
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Joshua Copperman: I’ve often joked with fellow music lovers that extended opuses like these, especially off The Epic, give me “jazz overload,” first because I wind up genuinely overstimulated and stressed from listening, and second because it’s intended to have that effect anyway. These sorts of songs feature hysterical choirs, psychedelic synths, ornate strings, horns, etc. — all seemingly unnecessary elements that leave me feeling left out rather than further absorbed. “Truth” is much easier on the ears than any other Epic songs I’ve heard for much of its runtime, shifting back and forth between two chords and incorporating a beautiful, cinematic melody into grandiose crescendos. Even the solos pull me in with their warmth as opposed to pushing me away with narcissistic technical prowess. Still, by the time “Truth” reaches its final climax, it does become exhausting, especially when those choirs return once again at the 12-minute mark. Yet, Cameron Graves’ graceful piano and Ronald Bruner Jr/Tony Austin’s precise drums and percussion ultimately ground the song, so even when the inevitable overload occurs, there is something to cling to in the chaos.
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Thomas Inskeep: It took me a while to get into Washington’s 2015 triple-album opus The Epic, possibly because it just took a damned long time to get through it — it is an epic. But once I did, I’ve kept going back, and back, and back, because it’s so remarkably rich and layered and full of life and joie de vivre and musicality and musicology, to use Prince’s term. On one hand Washington’s music is very much in the tradition of ’70s jazz fusion — there’s a lot going on in there, a lot of ingredients, a lot of ideas — but on the other, it’s also very Coltrane-esque in its, at times, straightaheadness. The instrumentation is very standard: there’s no guitar, for example. There is guitar on “Truth,” however, one of six pieces in a suite that Washington has done for this year’s Whitney Biennial, but this is no hard left turn; “Truth” is very much of a piece with The Epic. There’s strings, there’s a choir — Washington loves his choirs — and it all comes together and works in such a stunning way. Part of that is due to his strength as a composer. He’s also self-produced, and I assume self-arranged. And none of this is even to mention what a strong saxophonist he is! I appreciate immensely his ability to step out of the way and let his songs breathe, without feeling the need to constantly be the star of the show. In so doing, his star shines all the more brightly, because he’s not “just” an instrumentalist; Washington is truly the whole package. On a track (it feels so odd to call this a “single”) like “Truth,” it all comes home. At its best, Kamasi Washington’s music makes you feel, and “Truth” gives me that. This sweeping, soaring composition will inevitably be one of the benchmarks of 2017. Give the man a MacArthur Grant already, because this is what genius sounds like.
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