Friday, November 8th, 2019

Twice – Fake & True

When their epistemology lecture is hijacked by Russia or someone, two warring philosophers must confront reality. No, hang on…


[Video]
[6.00]

Alfred Soto: “Fake and true” is a thesis for the ages — I like to imagine the women in Twice nodding furiously at this or that Oscar Wilde passage. The horns could use more pep.
[6]

Leah Isobel: If Twice’s approach to internal doubt feels a little flippant given the context, the rubbery bass at least convinces me they believe in what they’re saying. 
[6]

Will Rivitz: Twice in 2019 sounds like a shell of the Twice of a few short years ago, shedding their ability to absolutely send it on outré cotton-candy in favor of middling, amorphous cool. At best, this sort of Blue Period maturity should, er, signal a group figuring out what to do with the world after conquering it; here, that growth sounds like a bloodless rehash of “4 Walls.” Their unapologetic spiritedness still crops up from time to time, but it’s bursting forth less and less frequently.
[5]

Ryo Miyauchi: The “big sister” angle was a great direction on an early effort like “Brand New Girl,” and Twice has really embraced that position in “Fake & True.” The music alone introduces an adult personality with a sleek, stylishly expressive dance-pop that Avex’s rookie girl groups would envy. It also suggests Twice, too, are growing up in taste in time with the kids who got into them through “Candy Pop.” Most of all, it’s the lyrics about self-progress, talking directly to the listeners, that earns its place as role-model pop. They’re still human and emotionally lost like a lot of their young audiences, but they also voice an incredible sense of self-discipline that’s hard not to admire.
[7]

Michael Hong: “Fake & True” lacks the same charm that made “Feel Special” special and sees the group gazing ahead without giving away any personality beneath their glassy-eyed stares. Its instrumental is just as cluttered, albeit far less focused, and the girls on the chorus are drowned out by blaring horns, which appear loud without any real presence. Only two members sound like themselves, Chaeyoung and Dahyun in lockstep on the second verse, whereas the rest seem to be going through the motions and sounding like shadows of themselves — Twice could probably use that break.
[3]

Alex Clifton: It’s like living in a disco ball! I’m really impressed with the career trajectory Twice have taken; for a long time, I wrote them off as an overly-cutesy girl group more focused on bubblegum and aegyo, but some of their more recent singles are in the Red Velvet vein of maximalist fun with a twist.
[9]

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Dua Lipa – Don’t Start Now

Rejected Daphne du Maurier titles/approved Dua Lipa singles…


[Video][Website]
[7.89]

Thomas Inskeep: A full-on disco fantasia done contemporarily: quite fitting for a song that gets its “I Will Survive” post-breakup bona fides easily and naturally. Dua Lipa was clearly paying attention when she worked with Silk City last year, and it serves her more than well here.
[9]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: In theory, this should be a lay-up for Dua Lipa — take the subject matter of your breakthrough hits (breakup kiss-offs) and the aesthetic of your cred-building follow-up collabs (dance music pastiche 1978-1992), collage them together with the help of trusted studio hands (Emily Warren and Ian Kirkpatrick), create hit. And “Don’t Start Now” works, obviously — it’d be a disaster if it didn’t. But despite its charms, which are mostly crammed into a gorgeous chorus (that cowbell!! those strings!! the way she says “walk away”!!), the whole work feels hollow. It’s maybe that the track has too little of its star — Dua’s charming when she can get a word in, but she’s overpowered by a very 2017 vocal chop and an arrangement that’s slightly too fussy. “Don’t Start Now” falters at the edge of distinction, too well-constructed to be great.
[7]

Kylo Nocom: Calvin Harris and Charlie Puth should not be aspirational models of funkiness. The former softens the verses; the latter kills the chorus. Dua’s vocal anonymity is strenuous when placed over production so determined to have swagger. The last minute saves this, but barely.
[5]

Jackie Powell: Dua Lipa’s diction and pacing sells this single. There’s a pause in between “did the heartbreak change me” and “maybe” that accurately depicts how painful it is to navigate any falling out. This track is the bitterness that is subsequent to betrayal. She’s reassuring herself of her decision while reflecting and also imposing conditions — or, rather, rules. Sounds familiar, right? While the team behind “New Rules” are back for a sequel, “Don’t Start Now” is what Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight was to the initial Batman Begins. Like Christian Bale, Lipa has gotten comfortable and shines because of it. Her influences in this new era are namely a No Doubt-style bassline, and a Prince rhythm guitar loop in verse two. Like Lipa, they operate in isolation. In 2019, she doesn’t need the protection of her posse in the “New Rules” visual. While the robotic sleepover choreography has become iconic, she tells her audience that this time she has more of a command of her narrative as well as her vocal. Dua Lipa was never innocent, but she wasn’t always as natural in administering her panache as an individual. During her live debut of this at the EMAs, she wore an all-black bodysuit and swirled her hips and arms with majestic grace. She stood out in a sea of yellow backup dancers and didn’t need a pink flamingo to get the job done. She calls her upcoming LP “more mature” and visually, I see it. Her call and response in the last chorus took me on a high. It’s almost if we are screaming at the top of our lungs: “REJECTION SUCKS, REJECTION SUCKS,” but with a disco ball nearby. We’ve both come to terms with a new reality. But will it stick?
[10]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: If “Good as Hell” is the bottle of tequila you drink at your best friend’s house right before dumping your man, “Don’t Start Now” is the gin and tonic you sip in the club afterwards. Dressed so hot and having so much fun, it’s all but certain you’ve won the break-up. “So moved on it’s scary,” indeed. 
[8]

Ian Mathers: “So moved on it’s scary” is never convincing, and neither is this song, but I can’t be too mad at anything with a bassline like that and disco strings flitting in the background.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Solid neo-disco: the cowbell and bass slaps are stuck in the right places, and the vocal’s sultry enough. But this act of necromancy will satisfy revanchists who recoil from modern dance.
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: A lot of hyped-up “event” singles this year have been disappointments. “ME!,” “Small Talk,” “Don’t Call Me Angel,” etc — pop music fans looked forward to these high-profile songs because of the promising names attached to them, but once the actual music was released, hype quickly fell apart. The reason is obvious — embarrassingly so, for the artists and labels who decide to create and promote boring-ass songs — celebrity is not a replacement for quality. In fact, more than anything else, over-hype consistently kills my appreciation for good-not-great or just average singles. Pop stars need to promote to live up to their status, but I don’t love being told that I should worship a song before I’ve even heard it, and being pleasantly surprised is far better to me than being underwhelmed. Dua Lipa — now in the thick of her second album cycle, which carries the threat of both the Best New Artist curse and a sophomore slump — began counting down to this single on Instagram an entire week before its release. With all that said, I hope it’s understandable that the first thing I felt upon listening to “Don’t Start Now” was relief — because it fucking slaps. Holy shit. I don’t know Dua Lipa personally, and I’m not responsible for her career, but I’m still so happy for how perfectly this comeback suits her. The lyrics, as a kiss-off to a discarded ex, let Dua shine at what she does best, i.e. sounding confident, sassy, and effortlessly cool (shoutout to the “New Rules” team of Warren, Ailin, and Kirkpatrick reunited here). Disco works perfectly against the too-cool-for-this-shit impulse of her vocals: I did not anticipate that Dua would be the pop girl to commit to the genre, but I’m here for it, because high-energy dance-pop buoys the song and fills in potential low-key aspects of her performance so much more than a chill “One Kiss” instrumental would have. The production feels dizzyingly fast, yet despite its constant bouncing and pulsing, the track’s adherence to classic pop song structure keeps the listener grounded. For the ending, producer Ian Kirkpatrick pulls out the exact same trick he used on Gomez’s “Look At Her Now,” but who cares about the similarity? That layered, amped-up final chorus is one of the most euphoric things I’ve heard all year. I truly cannot overstate how much joy those last 30 seconds bring me, and, judging by the laughter mixed into the ending, Dua feels it too. After all, you shouldn’t let the glitzy production distract you too much from the woman at its heart. By immersing ourselves in the pop fantasy of “Don’t Start Now,” we’re shown an all-too-short glimpse of its central truth: this is Dua Lipa’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
[10]

William John: What’s immediately striking about “Don’t Start Now” is its structural precision. Each new idea is sutured to its antecedent with an expert proficiency. The hopscotching piano chords that arrive at the first pre-chorus trick the listener into thinking the song is going to completely succumb to a furore of disco strings and euphoria (that comes later, it turns out). But then, just in time, breathing room and rattling cowbell arrive to provide sweet relief. It’s designed within an inch of its life to keep the dopamine at an optimum level: plenty, but only shooting its shot when the bullseye comes into focus. Critics of Dua Lipa have cited her blankness and lack of discernible personality as a reason for divestment. (That and her rigidity on stage — recently rectified, to electrifying effect, in Seville.) But there’s something quite enigmatic to me about her alleged vacancy. Her performance here is possessed of an air of majesty, as though she’s acquired a will to take control of her own destiny. I, for one, am ready to genuflect.
[10]

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Riton x Oliver Heldens ft. Vula – Turn Me On

The doctor is making house calls…


[Video]
[6.00]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s great to see Vula Malinga finally given an artist credit on a top 10 single, and the “Don’t Go” riff is one of the most indelible of all time, a monolith. But for that reason, plundering it so flagrantly is best done with a bit more impertinence, and that is why the superior ongoing theft of it is in Madison Mars’ “New Vibe Who Dis”, a boundlessly pandering attempt at running vernacular through the Purple Disco Machine. That shambles is so stupid that it’s enjoyable, whereas this gestures vaguely toward a sophistication that it neither attains nor should bother pretending to.
[6]

Edward Okulicz: This song is unacceptable on most levels, but I’ve realised that I quite enjoy it. “Doctor love, doctor love!” is a fun little exclamation, though by itself that doesn’t explain the multiple bops I do in my chair. I believe there are two factors at work. Firstly, just yesterday the radio station I listen to at work played “Turn Me On” directly after “Brokenhearted” by Karmin (someone requested it, in 2019, really), and the verse melody kind of reminds me of that. The comparison is favourable, because instead of “cheerio!” there is a big dumb Yazoo sample. Secondly, EDM producers have yet to work out that Yazoo had songs other than “Don’t Go,” so I’ve also been exposed to this other recent song with the same sample. This other song is mind-blowingly stupid and ridiculous, and “Turn Me On” is downright sophisticated by comparison. I’m ready to be condemned for being an uncouth boor.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: An eternal rule of the universe: Doctor metaphors in pop songs have always been and will always be indefensibly, laughably cheesy. (Perhaps because if you take the metaphor even slightly more seriously, it becomes kind of gruesome. Or else becomes, like, “Medicare for All for Love.”) But if you attack the metaphor with enough drama, that drama will make for an effective song, if one you’ll never mention in public.
[6]

Will Adams: Why on earth is this not called “Doctor Love?” It’s the song’s biggest hook, befits the cheesiness of its Yazoo sample, and it would have avoided any confusion with the David Guetta/Nicki Minaj song. Confusing title aside, Riton’s and Oliver Heldens’ respective styles allow for some edge to seep in via a driving synth bass and active rhythm section. Vula, too, turns in a performance on the level of a classic house vocalist, which is unfortunately rare these days.
[6]

Oliver Maier: There are things here — the brassy loop, the silly “doctor love” lyric, the chord progressions, moments in Vula’s performance — that feel like fragments of bygone EDM eras beamed into the present. But “Turn Me On” is still unmistakably, depressingly 2019. Perhaps it’s the bloodless drop — when did producers collectively decide that silencing the offbeat hi-hats, the best part of any dance track, is essential to the climax? Or perhaps it’s the cowardly decision to name this something forgettable instead of running with the much better, much more suitable “Doctor Love.” I want to be charmed by this, but it needs to work harder for it.
[6]

Kylo Nocom: Vula is a very good singer; “Turn Me On” still rings on in my ears after the song is turned off. The beat constantly donks on in dumb Euro glee. I don’t think there’s anything this song could have done to be better than what we’ve got here. I think this was condemned from the start to be just fine.
[5]

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Echosmith – Lonely Generation

Keeping up with the memes of today…


[Video]
[3.57]

Tobi Tella: Echosmith has had “I was born in the wrong generation!” energy since “Cool Kids,” but this is taking it to a new level. I don’t necessarily disagree with the ideas they’re conveying, but it’s baby’s first social commentary.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: A consequence of the accelerating hell-sorting of the music industry into megastars and nobodies is what artists can get away with. In particular, listeners often accept earnestness, of the “we’re the lonely generation, a pixelated version of ourselves” sort, from artists who’ve “earned it,” i.e., the megastars; they reserve the scorn for midlist artists like Echosmith. The verses of “Lonely Generation” actually get right something that a lot of generational-technological plaints get wrong: From the lyrics to the melody’s wistful sweep, they’re written as mournful from within the titular generation, rather than scolding from outside it. Then the chorus decides the cure for generational loneliness is to join the other kids with their pumped-up kicks.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I’m not sure whom they’re imitating, but the possibility that Foster the People comes up on the list wouldn’t shock me.
[5]

Kayla Beardslee: Everything about this feels empty: the vocals (did the singer record the chorus two feet from the mic?), the instrumental (basic, plinking riff and guitar on autopilot), the lack of energy in the chorus, and especially the lyrics (yeah, we’re in the Digital Age and have been for a while). I feel kind of bad trashing this track, because there’s clearly meaningful sentiment behind it, but “phone bad” hasn’t been an interesting take for years, if it ever was.
[2]

Kylo Nocom: “Not a cell phone in sight, everyone’s just vibing” set to song.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Generations are bunk, but according to the numbers I’m a millennial myself (if barely) and I have plenty of younger friends. I’m pretty sure at least most of them would agree with me that this is just crying out for the equivalent of “ok boomer.”
[2]

Alex Clifton: I know they’re all millennials/Gen Z kids, but: ok boomer.
[3]

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

The 1975 – Frail State of Mind

Pull quote for the press release, courtesy of Edward…


[Video]
[5.38]

Alfred Soto: I enjoy several The 1975 singles without understanding the hysteria they inspire in many male colleagues, straight and gay. The vocals and synth patches suggest “frail state” — anything else would be pinning them down to a mood, and, boy, they don’t want that.
[5]

Oliver Maier: If “People” was the alarm clock going off, then “Frail State of Mind” is The 1975 hitting snooze and returning to the saccharine guff that they can (and do, in this metaphor) make in their sleep. Every melody sounds like one I’ve heard Matty Healy sing dozens of times before, and the garage trappings feel as superficial as any of the countless stylistic redirects they’ve pulled in recent years.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: I’m not sure what the 1975 are doing here, but this loose sketch of a late-’90s garage record could’ve used some more time in the oven.
[3]

Michael Hong: Swirls together in a collection of references to their previous work — the melody lifted from “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” a lyrical reference to “I Always Want to Die (Sometimes),” the anxiety prevalent all over A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships — but never actually reaches their dizzying heights. Why wouldn’t I just listen to “I Like America & America Likes Me”?
[5]

Ian Mathers: I mean, credit to these guys for somehow always sounding like The 1975 no matter how many different genres/styles/technologies/songwriting techniques/whatever they dip their toes into — in this case, it’s a nicely layered electronic shuffle that faintly calls to mind the Primitive Radio Gods’ one hit. They also have a history of growing on me, and so while “Frail State of Mind” was promising but not spectacular on my first half-dozen listens, I’m not surprised I’m already detecting the first hints of what’s going to keep drawing me back. It’s those glowing clusters of piano notes kept suspended, humming, or the tricky emotional tones, or both.
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Reminds me of peak Passion Pit in the way it is simultaneously a delicate, vulnerable gossamer of sound examining mental health spirals, and also something you can dance to. The money line is in the chorus: “I’m sorry, but I, I always get this way sometimes” is basically an rally cry for anyone who’s ever apologized about their mental health to someone else. (Never apologize for what you’re going through. Please, don’t go through it alone.) 
[8]

Kayla Beardslee: This is nice, but it’s very easy to forget that you’re listening to it.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: A song that comes across as something like one of those greatest hits megamix things people felt the need to put on their singles years ago, put together in a way that I can’t process. In other words, this is their “Burning the Ground.” I’d say it was ballsy to put this out as a single, but Matty Healy inspires Donald Trump-level loyalty these days, and this is far more pleasant than being shot in the middle of Fifth Avenue.
[6]

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

Meduza, Becky Hill & Goodboys – Lose Control

Get your backs off the wall ’cause Meduza-meanor said so…


[Video]
[4.43]

Kayla Beardslee: Funny how this song never really loses control, amirite?
[3]

Tobi Tella: Awfully tame for a song supposedly about losing control. The verses actually build up a nice sense of tension, but the awful drop which refuses to commit to anything ruins it.
[4]

Nicholas Donohoue: Mildly impressive that it starts feeling played out past the two minute mark, but there’s nothing unobjectionable here. It’ll come on, we’ll all jump around, we’ll move on to the next one and no one will be any worse. True Neutral alignment. 
[5]

Oliver Maier: The ghostly synths remind me of Andy Stott, and the grizzly chorus vocal by one of the Goodboys is a good fit, sounding almost like a sample taken from elsewhere and repurposed for the track. Becky Hill is the odd one out, her voice too bright and emotive in the way that singers tend to be over EDM, i.e. not particularly convincingly. A little more patience and a little less bombast never hurt anyone.
[6]

Will Adams: Becky Hill’s a welcome presence given her track record as a vocalist-for-hire, but also because “Lose Control” is so blatantly identical to “Piece of Your Heart” it’s almost hilarious. I haven’t heard a dance act rip themselves off this hard since Cascada.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Over the past few years, acts like Sigma, Sigala and Jonas Blue have all spun off from their first hit — in each case, something of a novelty hit — into a healthy existence as omni-collaborators, replicating and replicating and replicating again the sound that they first gained attention for, and ready, willing and able to call upon anyone available to give it their vocals. “Piece of Your Heart” wasn’t quite a novelty on the scale of “Bound 2 (Da Reload)” (quick sorries notwithstanding), but like their forebears, Meduza and Goodboys seem to be sticking to their guns. So, too, does Becky Hill, who is top of this game for a reason. But that’s not to say that it’s being played very entertainingly.
[6]

Kylo Nocom: All this talk of changing the atmosphere and running out of air is apt; the song is suffocating in its desperation, the sustained strings and percussion outlining Becky Hill’s dramatic state of affairs. Of course, the vocal contributions of Goodboys confirm any beliefs as to whether this dread was a result of being really bland or not. All palpable tension is dropped as soon as the bass does, and the remnants are some really dull hooks.
[3]

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Galantis with Dolly Parton ft. Mr. Probz – Faith

As in, we of such little…


[Video]
[1.57]

Abdullah Siddiqui: Jesus Christ. 
[0]

Alfred Soto: These dudes get Dolly Parton and they don’t even have the decency to get her to sing a decent hook? 
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: Sometimes, Parton’s music ecumenicalism lets her down, and this is definitely one of those times. On paper, the idea of her singing John Hiatt’s 1988 “Have a Little Faith in Me” is a great idea. But then the lowest-common-EDnoMinator duo Galantis got involved, and suffice it to say, things went awry. It pains me to say (because I love Dolly — who doesn’t?) that this is one of the messiest, worst singles I’ve heard this year.
[0]

Will Adams: We just heard Dolly Parton crystal clear a few months ago; there’s no reason for her to be processed. But this is Galantis, who are happy to warp any voice, no matter how revered, to better fit in with their gonzo house covers of forgotten ’80s hits. Their formula can work, but both vocals have audible artifacts that make the song sounds like it’s playing at 1.25x speed. Because it’s Dolly, there’s joy to be found, which makes the processed cheese go down a bit more easily.
[3]

Nicholas Donohoue: The entire history of club scenes has repeatedly shown you can bring church to the dance floor, if you can do the reverse this song isn’t proving it. Absent and vacuous, even the punches of Dolly roll off like an absurd dream logic trying to pump up a 2014 demo track. 
[2]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The problem with putting your faith in people, of course, is that they sometimes let you down. Spectacularly. I was initially so horrified by what they did to Dolly Parton’s voice that I could barely listen to this, but now I can only commend Galantis; it takes a special kind of talent to feed an icon through a meat grinder an get a trainwreck of this titanic, monstrous proportion. 
[2]

Edward Okulicz: I think this song is made of such delicate materials that you can’t put it together again when you break it, which is why none of the covers of it are any good (sorry Mandy, Jon, cast of Nashville, but no, none of you). Dolly Parton in her element might have had a shout at it, but a big problem with this interpretation is that I can’t tell the difference between the backing of this and one or more of those covers of “Fast Car” that were appallingly large hits a few years back. Also, Dolly Parton should not be made to sound like a Chipmunk, nor should she be made to sound like the second-best singer on this, or any, song. Would this song actually be better just with Mr. Probz? Goodness, I am sure the answer is yes. Looking at Dolly’s joyous face in the video makes me wonder — is she lip-synching to the final product? How can anyone enjoy this? 
[3]

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Tinashe ft. Ms Banks – Die a Little Bit

We, on the other hand, are living a little bit for this…


[Video]
[7.57]

William John: Three years ago this week, Tinashe released a project entitled Nightride, but nothing on it conjures the mystique and drama of a trip on the night bus quite like “Die A Little Bit,” with its clanking drums and foggy synths, bass that pulses with the regularity of the passing street light, and shards of conversation and exclamation that occasionally perforate the monotony. Tinashe and Ms Banks are the cool girls up the back, here almost indistinguishable aside from accent, and punctuate the track with a delicate balance of menace, detachedness, sensuality and the desire to relent to numb, dumb, debaucherous pleasure. When the news broke that Tinashe had left RCA, it would’ve been enough for her next move to be little more than a show of competence; not many would’ve expected her to come back with a contender for single of the year. And yet here we are.
[10]

Leah Isobel: Post-RCA, Tinashe eases back into public consciousness with a lithe, vaporous track about dancing. She’s always been a consummate performer, the kind who aims to play out the listener’s fantasies in front of them; here, the voices of others (her brother, who’s sampled, and Ms Banks) take her out of her first verse’s anxieties and into her body. Much like her idol, dancing is a rhetorical shortcut for freedom and loss of inhibition, but the track’s combination of cool distance and sharp rhythmic precision let us know that the escape is only temporary. It marks space but doesn’t occupy it; her affectless vocal follows suit. It’s as if she’s playing out her own fantasy or watching herself on a screen, wondering what makes Tinashe-as-performer and Tinashe-as-human different. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: The spareness is its own attraction, and Ms. Banks’ rap adds a crucial exclamation mark. 
[7]

Nicholas Donohoue: The dark, sexy, bit frightening elements Tinashe is playing up hits the beat as solid, but too obvious, however Ms Banks’ more traditional life of the party contribution snaps the contrast into place in a way that does vibe all together.
[6]

Will Adams: In contrast with “Look At Her Now,” which operates in the same up-close approach to dance music, “Die a Little Bit” really goes there in its moodiness. The call and response between Tinashe and Ms Banks turns the hook into an ominous recitation: “drink/smoke/dance/vibe” becomes “fuck/change/ride/die.” The arrangement is also arresting, a throbbing house pulse that sprinkles in noisy crowd chatter for a dizzying, claustrophobic effect. The lack of structure keeps it from being truly great — we could have used another repetition or two of the hook — but still makes for an exciting listen from someone whose potential has been stifled for too long.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Over the last few months, I’ve begun experiencing uncomfortable feelings of claustrophobia, when I never had before. So there’s something about this sparse, constricted track that I find compelling but also unsettling. Tinashe recites “drink, smoke, dance” like a mantra, but on this track they sound like temporary escapes from something that feels as if it’s going to inevitably crush us all. Then Ms Banks drops a pretty fun verse and it’s over in three minutes. All escapes should be this smooth.
[8]

Michael Hong: Tinashe’s debut album may have been the strongest R&B debut of the decade. In the years since, it’s often felt like she’s been clamouring for a hit, with the run of clubby singles leading to Joyride falling flat as her voice lacked that same spark. “Die a Little Bit,” then, comes as a bit of a course correction, with Tinashe slinking across the track’s atmosphere, her voice reignited with the flame that made Aquarius so alluring. It also comes as proof that Tinashe’s years in limbo at RCA weren’t spent in vain as she channels the propulsive energy of “No Drama” and “Faded Love” into a club banger that never sounds as empty as Joyride. Her sensual breathy vocals are punctuated by the hedonistic chorus and Ms. Banks’ rapid flow fits into the groove of the track. The pair are completely captivating and the track coalesces into a hypnotic cloud of vapour. While the intro ad-libs and spoken word sections might be rather unnecessary, they drive home the final point. Tinashe’s back in control.
[7]

Monday, November 4th, 2019

Sidhu Moose Wala x MIST x Steel Banglez x Stefflon Don – 47

Punjab meets Birmingham…


[Video]
[6.86]

Thomas Inskeep: Exciting. A great bhangra track + Sidhu Moose Wala, who can rap and sing with equal measure (c.f. Lauryn Hill) + trap drums + 3 excellent British spitters = a record I want to listen to on a loop. And do.
[10]

Alfred Soto: Imagine: a bhangra track in which the performers mesh instead of collide. Sidhu Moose Wala’s groove buoys them.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: If anything, hits like this should be more common in the UK, so it’s a boon that Steel Banglez is in a position to create them. His legwork is extremely evident in an unfussy but up-front production, allowing MIST and Stefflon Don to coast. Their presence is worthwhile, but their contributions are far more prosaic than those of the absorbing Sidhu Moose Wala. Non-English speakers are the ones who will get least out of a translation.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Since time immemorial, Western producers have used five-second samples of South Asian music to give Ethnic Flavor™ to otherwise bog-standard beats. Sidhu is no surface-level imitation — his voice gives that away immediately — and so this feels refreshingly un-cynical. If it gives the North American public more of a taste for North Indian music, then, yeah, I’m all for this project; the one gripe I have, though, is that the other rappers don’t contribute a whole lot. I assume their sole purpose was to entice English speakers to tune in.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Overswelled with sounds — Moose Wala and MIST keep coming back for more verses and hooks, almost to the point of self parody, while Steel Banglez’s beat drills itself into your skull. Stefflon Don’s feature is the only part that really distinguishes itself — she’s a welcome and charming reprieve from the tough guy fronting of the rest here — but the track knows what it’s about and gets it done in style.
[6]

Kylo Nocom: A grand exhibition of fascinating voices all beckoning you to step into the groove. The way Stefflon Don’s verse segues into Sidhu’s hook is the highlight of a track that never wavers in its sheer confidence.
[6]

Julian Axelrod: For a song with so many voices in play — Stefflon being the most notable, Sidhu the most promising, and MIST the most engaging — it’s the searing, claustrophobic violin runs that steal the show. Steel Banglez might fuck around and turn “curdled milk trap” into an international sensation.
[7]

Monday, November 4th, 2019

Lim Kim – Yellow

Sounding a bit different to her most recent appearance here


[Video]
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Ryo Miyauchi: Writer Kristen Yoonsoo Kim recently wrote a great essay on the popular hue she calls “worry yellow,” like the killer-bee color used in the album art of Beerbongs & Bentleys. She begins the piece by talking about her “yellow” Asian skin tone: “‘Yellow’ sounds diseased in a non-glamorous way.” Diseased may be too harsh to describe Lim Kim’s “Yellow,” but it does bask in an overwhelming amount of physical unease: it sounds a lot more like a PAN records release than anything from her K-pop past. However, it’s certainly non-glamorous. It’s far from lacking in pride or self-confidence: before we even get anywhere close to the roaring “who’s the fucking queen” chorus, the song endlessly drills “yellow” to your skull. But Lim Kim’s not exactly here for the warm embrace of the public. She could’ve possibly produced a clean pop spectacle in a style that’s a lot more familiar, influenced by hip-hop, perhaps, based on the cadence and language she deploys in her verses. Instead, she chose something trickier, wearing ethnic stereotypes openly as the “yellow killa,” and a production that conjures such a title. It plays into stereotypes so straightly, it can be an uncomfortable experience even as an Asian audience sitting in, which can be its own discomfort, particularly during moments like “my flavor’s like wasabi.” But that flinching reflex seeing another perform a less-than-perfect self still taps to the idea that we must be exceptional at what we do to prove the value of our identity to the West; that we have to get our messages perfect and craft it in the right pop image (that image often based on some Western one). What Lim Kim brings in “Yellow” with its sound and attitude isn’t nice or glamorous, more drawing upon the fear, anxiety or disgust others may see in us as pure outsiders or our kind seeing others break the illusion of us as the Perfect Beauty.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: South Korea’s had a handful of great art pop projects as of late, and they’re all from women: CIFIKA’s Prism, Cacophony’s Harmony, Sumin’s OO DA DA, and now Lim Kim’s Yellow. For her reinvention, Kim ended up crowdfunding her latest album and collaborated with No Identity, a producer who’s previously worked with Korean rap provocateur Kim Ximya of XXX. No Identity incorporates traditional instrumentation alongside brash, sound-design focused production techniques that feel indebted to deconstructed club (it’s no coincidence that Arca has been seen supporting Lim Kim’s new work). The result is a sort of contemporary M.I.A., and it’s at its most exhilarating when Kim shouts out “Who’s the fucking queen? I!” in the most assured tone. As an empowerment anthem, it can feel a bit garish and simplistic, but the instrumentation sells her confidence. When she chants “Break domes of male dominance,” her unwavering tone and the surrounding drums prove hypnotic — you never once doubt her intent. In a time when K-pop’s been increasingly conservative, “Yellow” proves to be the most undeniable single from Korea this year.
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Jessica Doyle: From reading commentary I get the impression that Lim Kim is trying to challenge and circumvent, rather than just use, stereotypes of East Asia. But for me, the video and song alone don’t contain enough ideas to suggest that what she’s doing is that much deeper or more compelling than what CL was trying to do four years ago.
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Leah Isobel: Lim Kim’s tart-sweet voice anchors this thrilling bit of amelodia, rushing into the track from all angles. It’s starkly different from her pop-friendlier past, and misses a bit of that catchiness, but her audible elation makes up for it.
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Alfred Soto: I love tracks that sound as if a swarm of bees were attacking every guy who ever questioned the clarity of a woman’s inner voice.
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Michael Hong: A perfect representation of East meets West. Lim Kim’s flow is markedly direct, stepping out of the pervasive boundaries of a K-pop idol towards the confidence that’s much more prevalent in Western rap. But her reference points are distinctly Eastern and she portrays every Asian woman tired of being poorly represented. As she claims the word “yellow” for herself, flourishes reminiscent of traditional East Asian music are pushed into the foreground of the track. It’s a forceful demonstration rather than a token Easter egg simply for those that dare look deeper. The chorus — boasts like “who’s the fucking queen?” interspersed between chants of “yellow” — becomes the new mantra for any East Asian woman tired of being portrayed as meek and subservient.
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Kylo Nocom: Rich Brian’s “Yellow” ineffectively condemned Asian male emasculation by bragging about his own success. It was a dishonest attempt at earning his own artistic worth, yet his employment of DAMN. producer Bēkon and narrative-pushing of “no one ever wants change” bullshit are used to put his ass above rappers deemed less intelligent than him. Lim Kim’s “Yellow” is comparatively much more fascinating, but its wit will be overlooked by those whose conceptions of social consciousness in rap are limited to jazz wankery and dull boom-bap. Here, the power of Asian women isn’t reinforced by simplistic subversion but rather by warping the roles already imposed upon them into grotesque forms. The beat is the same type of orientalism that Baauer delivered in 2016 with the mystical Eastern themes multiplied a thousand times until made horrifying. Lim Kim approaches those she seeks to uplift with sincerity interspersed with stereotypical images seemingly designed as distractions for those looking on the surface. “My flavor’s like wasabi” and “our style lookin’ so kawaii” would slot in well with the lyrics of “Harajuku Girls” or “Hello Kitty,” yet they lack the veneer of exoticism and instead ask the question: “Are you horrified yet?” The bridge is pure chaos, as if every portrayal of Asian women in media became one singular unit armed against men with off-key la-la-las. It works as a wondrous slideshow of microaggressions refashioned into a weapon, sharper than any white nerd’s model katana and dangerous enough to reignite claims of Yellow Peril across the West.
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