Monday, December 13th, 2021

ABRA ft. Playboi Carti – Unlock It

Some gems you want to keep secure…


Oliver Maier: It’s tempting to give most of the credit here to ABRA and Boys Noize’s genius instrumental loop, which threads together lithe Kelela-ish alt-R&B and something approximating crunk with spectral vocal snatches and a remorselessly dirty bassline. But it’s ABRA’s vocal that breathes purpose into the thing: the song works for me simply because it’s so fucking cool, and nothing about it is cooler than ABRA, half-enunciating her lines (I legitimately did not know half of the lyrics before writing this blurb) and still sounding fully locked-in. I’m tempted to call Carti’s verse superfluous, but it’s hard to imagine the track without him, if only because his manic goblin energy makes ABRA sound even slicker by comparison (there is something oddly endearing to the dynamic implied by the line “if ABRA point the bitch out, I’m gon’ get ’em”). I cannot help but nod my head to it. It’s not my favourite song of the year, but I wish that more songs were like it.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A devastating magic trick of a song — ABRA and Boys Noize put together a gleaming piece of smoothly executed techno-pop (fax machine ambience included), and just as soon as the tone is set, Playboi Carti manifests, a poltergeist in the machine for just under 35 seconds. For that half minute he’s everywhere at once, talking back to himself, laughing at his own jokes, making noise. Just as quickly he departs, leaving the whole song unsettled. What was once merely sleek metaversal disco (if anyone danced in Neal Stephenson novels, that is) becomes something more woozy; even ABRA’s gorgeous self-harmony sounds more bizarre. It’s a perfect balance of the strange and the familiar, a dancefloor filler not afraid to undercut itself in pursuit of something further out.

Andrew Karpan: A lot of features from Playboi Carti feel like incomprehensible ad-libs that add texture, if not text to the surfaces they scratch. Not this one: the voice of our generation’s hit rapper floats in perfectly through the cracks of the taut, broken dancefloor long after indie rap viber ABRA and Boys Noize, a fellow traveler from the Berlin scene, have established the terms of their frustrated, cosmopolitan desires. The contrast works because work is exactly what’s on Carti’s mind: “I go in the booth and walk on a feature,” he says, while doing the same, a performance of what someone at a party once told me was called documentary realism.

Nortey Dowuona: The lurking bass behind the bouncy drums are the bedrock of this song, while ABRA’s crackling, tissue thin soprano is Pentatonixed into strange, spinning, writhing snakes from her head. Carti I guess says ABRA’s name? The dial up does remind me that I need to get my imaginary car before my meter runs out in a few minutes.

Edward Okulicz: The only bad thing I can say about this is that I could have done with at least another verse from ABRA here. It’s not that Carti’s contribution is bad (it’s great, actually), it’s just that transition from the verses into the chorus, from riding that bassline like a threat to pulling the listener in, is something that should have happened at least twice and I feel a little robbed that we don’t get it.

Ian Mathers: I mean, yes, when I was a kid we did all figure one day sampled phone noises would be in pop music, but that kind of prediction being what it was I can honestly say I didn’t predict they’d become so widely used, or remote from peoples’ experiences (or both) that you’d just drop one in like any other tone on a song that doesn’t make any sort of reference to phones or calling or kissing one through the phone or anything. (I checked just to make sure it’s not about putting the password in your phone, yeah.)

Iain Mew: I definitely do recognise the number they have dialed, but the dense sifting and slipping of textures past each other is a good trick all of its own.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: ABRA and Playboi Carti twist, slither, and glide over each others melodies so sensually that by the time they’re done, whatever they’re talking about has surely and thoroughly been unlocked. 

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