Monday, May 4th, 2020

Bree Runway – APESHIT

Fresh from the Louvre…


[Video]
[6.36]

Leah Isobel: Bree Runway is charismatic and talented, but the core of her artistic practice is sheer nerve. She names her song after a Beyoncé single; she leans solely on her personality to sell a repetitive hook and just about succeeds; she raps “snatching everybody wig/now they look like thumbs.” “APESHIT” builds and tumbles over itself with the prodigious enthusiasm of a star athlete showing off for the crowd. It’s a self-consciously huge track built for self-consciously huge spaces, like stadiums or festival grounds or gay clubs; it’s thrilling to hear an artist so self-assured.
[8]

Oliver Maier: Plainly inviting Missy comparisons, “APESHIT” is thankfully less a hologram tribute act than a Frankenstein’s monster, folding in enough additional reference points and moving between sections with such impulsive confidence that it establishes its own territory. Of course, tracks like this are only as strong as whoever holds them together, which makes Bree Runway a hot glue gun.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s a shame that something like this could now be considered a callback, because it sounds as much like the future as it did twenty years ago, at which point it would already have been calling back another twenty years on top. Vibrant, assertive and covering more ground in 150 seconds than some do on a whole album, Bree Runway even pulls off a transatlantic accent without sounding like Cookie Crew. So in control is she that the inclusion of a chuckle on of her repetitions, essentially affecting that she was doing them live, feels more like a shared joke than showing off.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: As a rapper, Bree Runway exudes confidence, especially in the song’s bridge, which conveys power with a quiet, mysterious charisma. Which is why I hate to say: this song sounds poorly produced. For a song called “APESHIT,” the beat sounds too docile, and, elsewhere, the treatment of her voice for the “ain’t shit, ain’t shit, ain’t shit” hook is so jarring it sounds like a hammer falling down a flight of stairs. This isn’t even her best song where the hook revolves around the word “shit.”
[5]

Alfred Soto: Wow — that is one annoying-ass hook. To do so little with an “It Takes Two” sample and a modest synth hook takes gumption of a sort.
[3]

David Moore: “Ate shit,” “ain’t shit,” “apeshit” — be forcibly humbled, disappoint everyone, go crazy. A trinity for our times.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: In these times — no, not those; these musical times — it’s almost refreshing to hear a song that’s good old-fashioned grating, trying too hard instead of hardly trying. But, you know, refreshing in principle.
[3]

Tobi Tella: The hook beats you over the head and while I appreciate the energy, I was skeptical about its second repetition in less than a minute. The switch is an element that has become more common recently, but is deployed perfectly here: it peels back to more dimensions and makes that chorus sound even harder.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: A king advances over the Pringle-can drums and hooting at hunger in the background, while simple preset synths pop out of the house with shingle guitar.
[7]

Kylo Nocom: Frenetic fun even if she doesn’t always succeed at Missy-inspired pop eclecticism. Bree Runway’s singing goes underused here in favor of a repeated homophone not clever enough to justify the repetition; “Damn Daniel” is a better demonstration of her talents.
[6]

Joshua Lu: Eclectic and electric, “APESHIT” is a whirlwind of panache and hooks. If anything, it moves too quickly, making it feel more like an overture to Bree Runway’s promising career (which already has an excellent follow-up) than an actual song — but what an introduction it is regardless.
[7]

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending May 3, 2020

Friday, May 1st, 2020

Simmy ft. Sino Msolo – Ngihamba Nawe

Drifting straight into our all-time top ten…


[Video]
[8.67]

Nortey Dowuona: As the drums jingle their keys, they pass a worn-down nightclub. Inside, Simmy sings softly over her half-empty Castle Beer with Sino a safe seven feet away, downing Alvaro while both of them watch the bass and synths weave in the corners. As they stand apart from each other, the cloth being woven sweeps over each of them. Sino is first to grab hold of a corner, with Simmy catching another edge while the drums set up their own sewing machine and begin to add to the cloth. The whole town, watching the cloth bloom, add more lengths to it and balloon it into a massive cloth, one big enough to cover Table Mountain, which it does, with the name Simmy emblazoned on top.
[10]

Katherine St Asaph: Closing-credits music for a film set entirely amid lawns of dew and gauze.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Sometime when we’re all allowed to freely roam around outside again, my friends and I will listen to this song while having a picnic in a park. It’ll be a sunny, crisp day without a cloud in the sky, and we’ll cut an ice-cold watermelon into slices and drink pamplemousse-flavored La Croix. Dogs will pass by, and we’ll play and make short, friendly chatter with their owners. We’ll smell like sunscreen and sweat and spring. And we’ll be together for so long that we’re sick of each other again by the end of the day. 
[8]

Will Adams: Sun-El Musician has a way with what I call a “post-chorus burst”: the music crescendos with additional vocals, a light melody, and a wash of synth pads, elevating the song to an even more euphoric place. It’s there in “Akanamali,” “Sonini” and now “Ngihamba Nawe.” As if the arrangement weren’t gorgeous enough, Simmy (with the help of labelmate Sino Msolo) is as inviting a vocalist as ever. “There are many others, but still I choose you,” she sings; fitting for a song that feels like a warm embrace.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: “I choose you” — is there something about that phrase that lends itself to such ambrosial music? Given the existence of this Pokémon song, maybe not — credit must go to Simmy, Sino Msolo and everyone in the Sun-El universe. There are other exponents of South Africa’s multitude of house-adjacent genres, but none quite hit these heights of apparent effortlessness. It’s 1% perspiration and 99% expiration, with both vocalists so breathy and direct as to offer you a go at levitating on their breeze.
[9]

Alex Clifton: Everything about “Ngihamba Nawe” flows so damn easily. It’s like sitting by the ocean, watching the waves crash into shore, but in a dream; it’s smooth and liquid and I don’t want it to end. Somehow Simmy has managed to translate the act of falling in love into actual sound in a way I’ve never quite heard before. The music swirls around but there’s an overwhelming sense of safety and security, a haven to return to whenever things get rough. It’s really reassuring to have a song like this to spend time with in the midst of an extremely chaotic global event. I hope it helps you find peace on some of your hardest days.
[10]

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Thundercat ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Lil B – Fair Chance

A fair tribute…


[Video]
[6.71]

Alfred Soto: The drip-drip of the beat accentuates Ty’s multi-tracked melancholy. This elegy to the late Mac Miller is by colleagues still in shock; not a hint of “celebrating a life” and all that rot. Stages of grief can be hell on the rest of us experiencing it secondhand. 
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A formless masterpiece — “Fair Chance” floats in on a bed of bass riffs and lingers for four minutes, never quite cohering into a song structure. It feels like a vocal version of a free jazz jam, with Thundercat providing the core loop and Dolla $ign and Lil B taking their designated areas into completely different territories. The former’s Mac Miller interpolations are corny but heartfelt, transmuted on the strength of his voice into a profound tribute. The latter sounds like how the meme of Lil B sounds rather than the actual rapper, a bit smoother than usual but still in his own world. And yet, “Fair Chance” ends up melding together well, a supreme vibe record that works on the strength of its disparate parts.
[9]

Ryo Miyauchi: A disparate elegy strung together mostly by the strength of theme but also maintains in loose orbit through the music that swirls like cosmic soup. I prefer Ty Dolla Sign’s almost stream-of-consciousness-level of soul-singing than Lil B’s probably-actually stream of consciousness rap-singing. If any of the three seems off their axis, it only feels more honest of a response to their friend’s death.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’m not familiar with Mac Miller’s music, but I am familiar with the grief that comes from the loss of a friend — and this song captures it perfectly, unfurling with the gentleness and gravity of lightly drizzling rain.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: The title is especially ironic, because anything like this, this porous thatch of guitar lines soaked through with nostalgia and wistfulness and hazy summer — is probably going to feel, for now until who knows when, like a relic of another world. And not just because the track has Lil B. (This already feels like it happened a century ago.) Under normal conditions, or at least under non-blinds-dimmed summer sun, this would be at least a [7].
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: Smoothie bass drips down the thinly constructed drums that hold up the wall to Mexico with little guitar titters drill through them as Ben Shapiro takes people on a tour of it, making the wall collapse, as Ty Dolla watches it crumble. Meanwhile, the Based God pulls out the drilling Mexican folx to the other side, allowing them to walk into the town to be greeted by Khalid, who says hi to his new constituents, with Ty helping the new residents settle in, while Thundercat keeps pouring his mango smoothie on the rest of the wall to let the drillers know that it’s safe to come up through the drums to the surface.
[9]

Tim de Reuse: The big-name features are just a trick to keep you hanging around as Thundercat weaves his typically gorgeous arpeggi around them. It’s weirdly hook-less for a lead single, though, with no structural direction and no change in energy level from beginning to end; a victory lap in atmosphere establishment without any real meat on its bones.
[6]

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Powfu ft. beabadoobee – Death Bed

Some upbeat thoughts…


[Video]
[4.71]

Scott Mildenhall: A big idea, perhaps the biggest idea going, conveyed with an equivalent lack of imagination. Powfu expounds on death with lead rather than gravity, while the unwitting beabadoobee paints an almost absurdist picture of domesticity. All of this is elevated, though, by the rote effects applied to her sample. Reframed as a distant spectre of a 1950s American TV housewife, an unearthly tension arises between her and her purloiner. “Death Bed” works better than either would on their own.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: The impossibly sweet meets the drowsy. The sampled chorus from “Coffee” is so crucial to the song’s appeal, because just about everything good comes from there. It’s not that Powfu brings nothing, it’s just that the only bit of his I like is when he’s drawling along with beabadoobee on her own song. She’s likely made bank from this becoming a hit, so good for her.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: I truly thought the 2020s were too irrevocably irony-poisoned to ever allow a Kimya Dawson revival. “Death Bed”: The Bed That Repeats.
[3]

Tobi Tella: It’s no surprise this went viral, being the exact intersection of chill pop and emo rap. The sung chorus is undeniably soft, no matter how macabre the context makes it. And while the lyrics often flirt with melodrama, I was taken by the amount of honest sentiment. The support toward an ex-partner and reckoning with one’s own mental health without falling completely into angst is honestly pretty impressive, and it’s nice to see a breakaway from the tropes of the genre.
[6]

Camille Nibungco: beabadoobee’s honeyed refrain salvages this ChilledCow lo-fi hop hop beat from what could easily have been another unmemorable SoundCloud emo rap song. The lyrics have apparently struck quite a chord with the TikTok community because of the darker undertones, but personally I find both the message and method overdone. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: I only chose this to shit on it. Then I read a bunch of the sad comments about this song helping them though the inevitable nature of death, and I thought, more people should be listening to Scarface.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The lyrical story is lachrymose and affecting, the vocal delivery from beabadoobee is effectively tender, and the accompanying Tik Tok is cutesy–but it’s still not enough to make up for Powfu’s meager rapping. 
[3]

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Mabel – Boyfriend

But where does Best Coast rank?


[Video]
[3.57]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Boyfriend < Boyfriend ≤ Boyfriend < Boyfriend ≤ Boyfriend ≤ Boyfriend < Boyfriend < Boyfriend
[3]

Leah Isobel: There’s something particularly dispiriting about a song that calls to “all my girls around the world” but can’t come up with a use for that unity beyond, uh, heterosexuality. It’s not that Mabel shouldn’t sing about desire or sex, but putting it in these faux-empowering terms feels alienating and renders the sample cheerily hollow in a Seven Dwarfs way. Turns out modern love is just capitalism, babes!
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Another case of Mabel’s talent wasted on retreads, this time of “Soldier” by Destiny’s Child. Her songwriters felt compelled to qualify a song that goes “I want a boyfriend” 12 times with “a man ain’t something I need”: a sign of the times, perhaps good for girls, not good for convincing music.
[3]

Alfred Soto: On first listen a not charmless retread of a Dua Lipa track; on second listen the trop house cliches chase Mabel out of the room. 
[4]

Tim de Reuse: How do we justify tropical bells in 2020? Uh, double them over the kick-bassline, I guess. Yeah! That’s a cool effect. Don’t think I’ve heard that before. What else we got? Oh, a scatted melodic hook? Uh, wait, hold on, are you sure —
[5]

Katie Gill: Steve Mac is a writer and producer who’s very good at creating generic yet kind of obnoxious pop songs that seem destined to shoot to the top of the charts because they’re annoying enough to be memorable but inoffensive enough to middle of the Spotify playlist fodder. “Boyfriend” is not gonna win any awards or be on anyone’s Top 10 list, but there’s a high chance that the song might make it big and stick around based on predictability alone. The song’s biggest crime is that absolutely annoying drop but other then that yeah, it’s okay, I won’t skip over it when the algorithm shoves it in an auto-generated Youtube playlist of hot pop songs that Google wants me to listen to. It’s white bread pop music.
[5]

Nina Lea: Every new Mabel single slides her further down the hill into algorithm-optimized, generic tropical house pop mindlessness. The lyrics sound like they’ve been written by a bot, like they should be piped through the dressing-room speakers of a Forever 21. The music video has Mabel computer-generating her dream guy, but really what’s been computer generated is this entire song. 
[2]

Monday, April 27th, 2020

PARTYNEXTDOOR & Rihanna – Believe It

Please don’t party next door…


[Video]
[3.00]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: With his stolid and unremarkable delivery, it’s easy to think of a dozen other artists other than PARTYNEXTDOOR who would have been more charismatic on this track. The only way to endure “Believe It” is by thinking about it as Rihanna’s potential warm-up for a surprise release of R9.  
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Rihanna’s presence could probably elevate most things to single status, but that’s not to say it should. Her contributions here seem so cut-and-pasted that they could have been derived from a hoax chorus-loop MP3 flooded onto Kazaa by her record label. Were it not 2020, that would even be plausible — everything about this is that clinical. PARTYNEXTDOOR, meanwhile, does everything in his power to make his relationship troubles sound boring, with the casual invocation of PR possibly representing the moment at which celebrity has finally gone too far.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: The latest version of “Cry Me a River” Except It’s Actually a Different Song, this one with the melody scooped out and replaced with overheated mush.
[1]

Nina Lea: I can’t help but feel that when PARTYNEXTDOOR got Rihanna to agree to a feature, he should have given her more to do. Rihanna is one of our greatest living pop goddesses, due in no small part to her ability to effortlessly toggle between projecting vulnerability and utter bad-bitchness, all delivered in her trademark rasp. But PARTYNEXTDOOR just has her singing rather boring lyrics over a soothing-yet-lukewarm track that goes nowhere; he could have gotten any up-and-coming R&B vocalist and the result would largely have turned out the same.
[4]

Ryo Miyauchi: Sincerity works better for PARTY when it feels like a secret, like you accidentally uncovered his true core under his shallow asshole guise. “Believe It” reveals that sensitive side to the forefront both through his earnest pleads for forgiveness and an R&B beat that really lets the sun in. He’s anonymous in this environment without much of the song distinguishing his level-headed, heart-on-sleeve passions apart from other abundant crooners like Khalid.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Sub-mediocre sadboi Auto-Tuned R&B that, frankly, probably wouldn’t be getting any attention were it not for the presence of Rihanna on its chorus. PARTYNEXTDOOR sounds like a xerox of a xerox of a xerox of Frank Ocean, albeit one who’s unfortunately been taking too many cues from the Weeknd’s sexual politics.
[2]

Alfred Soto: I’m not sure whom to believe: PARTNEXTDOOR’s predatory sadface routine or Rihanna singing as if she can’t persuade herself she liked the fucker to begin with. No one here gives a damn.
[2]

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Bright Eyes – Persona Non Grata

A little harsh a title for a [4.50], don’t you think?


[Video]
[4.50]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Overwrought, with a surfeit with pavaler references (“kilt like a Celt,” “Bollywood song,” “Tiananmen Square”), “Persona Non Grata” is an unprepossessing first offering from a band starting to release music again after a nine-year hiatus.  
[4]

Tobi Tella: Almost collapses under the weight of its own self-importance, with references to Tiananmen Square popping out of nowhere, but Oberst’s melancholy vocal performance ties it all together and the jumble of lyrics does at least hint to a narrative. The betrayal of structure is what ultimately works — the repeated last lines wring out more emotion than anything prior.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: I am predisposed to dislike Bright Eyes for reasons I know better than to elaborate on (it turns out the Internet is A-OK with shouting writers into hell with, essentially, “let people enjoy things” if the things are not by Marvel but beloved critical icons). But this is fine, I suppose, Christine Fellows without the charm and a Tiananmen Square verse that I hope we can agree is ill-conceptualized at best.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Disabused of the supposition that Conor Oberst was a man who avoided aftershave and cologne as if they were spilled drinks, I accepted “Persona Non Grata” as another of his wobbly-voiced visions of Johanna, more art-damaged than usual (bagpipes?).
[4]

Katie Gill: Bagpipes? Okay, bagpipes. Bagpipes. The song feels aggressively plodding, trucking along in an almost monotonous manner, and then bagpipes. The mixing is odd, and I almost ended up turning this off, but bagpipes! Remarkably under-used bagpipes that kind of feel more like a gimmick than a well-crafted part of the song, but bagpipes all the same.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: I expected my annoyance with a Conor Oberst song would be from obnoxious pride shown for his collection of bookish, passive-aggressive lyrics, or maybe how his rage flows out of his overly enunciated voice. But the rhymes here are actually rudimentary, and the melody he builds around it even more so. It’s not unrelieved tension as much as it is just lack for trying.
[4]

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Bonus Tracks for Week Ending April 26, 2020

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Perfume – Challenger

Challenge acceptable…


[Video][Website]
[5.67]

Ryo Miyauchi: The synth leads are chunky like a fat streak of crayon, and the production tricks are a lot more simple. The lyrics, too, read like a script shouted by a cartoon hero. But if Perfume sounds more regressive here, it’s because “Challenger” dates itself all the way back to the beginning of their history: they salvaged this from an early demo that Nakata first made when he was approached to produce for a teen pop unit from Hiroshima. The song highlights all the tremendous changes since, Nakata’s still clunky English lyrics notwithstanding, but it does better to point out what has remained the same.  Perfume has always been singing this same song about looking at the challenges ahead, and so “Challenger” could’ve come out any time in their long career.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Why did “Hurly Burly” feel like an escape, a little bit of stowed-away-in-hammerspace comfort, where this just feels saccharine? The lyrics are nowhere near as peppy as the music, yet nowadays, In These Times™, I can’t.
[5]

Jessica Doyle: That “we-are-challen-ger” refrain is the weakest part of the song, and unfortunately the first; get past it and you settle into a competent and enjoyable, if unremarkable, Perfume song, with a chorus that manages to be affecting despite its repetitive quality. Everything about the packaging of this — the Make My Video challenge, the winning of the challenge by an 11-year-old, the news that Nakata actually wrote the song a couple decades ago — seems designed to say, “Don’t expect another ‘Polyrhythm’ or even ‘Pick Me Up,’ you’re not getting it.” But even with lowered expectations, the song’s merely okay. 
[5]

Alfred Soto: The sustained mournfulness of the intro synth sets the mood for a track incorporating Apollo-era Eno and, well, the sustained mournfulness of The Visitors-era ABBA. When the tempos intensify, I hear no lessening of the funereal mood. 
[6]

Scott Mildenhall: Kinetic yet somehow static, “Challenger” treads water for longer than it can withstand. The story behind it might give it an extra edge for fans and followers, but as layered as it quietly is, it isn’t quite so engaging without that investment.
[6]

Will Adams: Perfume tend to get sentimental with their milestone anniversaries, and “Challenger” is no exception. There’s plenty of charm here: the zooming sonics are a welcome return to form after some inconsistent dabbles in future bass, and it’s sweet to commemorate the very first song Nakata wrote for the trio. But with that comes the clunkiness one would expect from the very first song Nakata wrote for the trio: the titular refrain is earnest but awkward, and the key change feels tacked-on. On paper, “Challenger” has designs for great cosmic exploration; in practice, the song is content to wait at the station.
[6]