Monday, July 19th, 2021

Post Malone – Motley Crew

Pöst Malöne…


[Video]
[3.14]

Nortey Dowuona: OK. I’m about to hear Posty actually rap. Here we go. [listens] Well, it’s nice to know that Whole Lotta Red will actually be influential. Unfortunately, since the writing on that album wasn’t very good, the only interesting part of it was the vocal madness. That can easily be copied. Look at all the Young Thug children racking up Eminem kid collabs and Internet Millions. But Posty deciding to pull out the Vocal Fry since there is very little “there” there is not surprising, it’s just disappointing that most folks will immediately call it innovative and game changing when PEACE and Self Jupiter did all this but better and better written back before any of us were born. BTW, Posty needs to go do indie rock like he was supposed to and stop glomming off rap’s cool if he thinks it’s so shallow. Get your friendly ass on.
[0]

Ian Mathers: Oh, he’s still rapping? Cool, cool. Nah, no big plans, pretty quiet weekend. Kind of need it. You?
[3]

Alfred Soto: Something’s got him excited: he’s given up pronouncing vowels in the expected places. The aqueous production suggests depths he cheerfully won’t plumb.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Dully pounding and without substance, not unlike water dripping from a rusty faucet. The horrid rapping on “Motley Crew” makes me miss pop-rock Post Malone, something that I didn’t know was possible. 
[3]

Oliver Maier: You would be forgiven for balking at the idea of Post Malone trying to imitate Playboi Carti (I believe the academic term is “Keefkaesque.”) Truth is, it’s fine, “weird” in a stiff sort of way but perfectly digestible. Extra credit awarded for “Where is my roof? Mysterious.”
[6]

Andrew Karpan: Heavy is the crown that Posty wears, the last serious American pop artist to straddle the line between classic rock and its post-rawk future. Yet his interest in retro-vampirism carries a lack of refinement or effort that’s ultimately essential to how it works. The careers of far superior rappers are littered with unlistenable guitar fare, but who didn’t have the canniness to accomplish the same effect by burying a Tommy Lee drum workout or just naming a hard rap record “Motley Crew.” The bars and delivery of the aforementioned are less exciting — the switched up flow is less interesting the more you think about it and brings to mind only mixtape Drake: the reminder that pure range is no replacement for an idea. 
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: If you’re going to name your single “Motley Crew,” and you have more tats than Mötley Crüe’s four members combined, shouldn’t said single bear at least a passing resemblance to the hair metal gods? Shouldn’t it have at least a little of their DNA? But instead, alas, Posty proves yet again how empty his “talent” is, releasing instead a trap-pop record Auto-Tuned into oblivion. This doesn’t have a single redeeming quality. Not one.
[0]

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Tate McRae x Khalid – Working

But how is it when we’re blurbing?


[Video]
[4.43]

Andrew Karpan: A mournful non-banger around which hangs the stink of its impotence. The general project of Joel Little’s records — shimmering and slight, and ultimately comfortable in their sadness — collapses here into the awkwardness of discomfort, though for these exact reasons I could imagine this suitably soundtracking a particularly unhappy party on HBO’s Euphoria. But it’s a poor fit for McRae, whose voice oscillates throughout in her understandably desperate efforts to take the song seriously. I tried too. By the time Khalid shows up, we understand that this is meant as a kind of warning.
[2]

Ian Mathers: It probably says something that I felt the need to go look up the lyrics and double check this, but as far as I can tell this is a breakup duet where neither party feels the need to run down anyone involved. Nobody’s doing anything wrong, there isn’t even necessarily a lack of affection (“still got a thing for you”), it’s not even circumstantial (“the time is right, we just don’t work”), the closest thing to a reason is the general malaise of adult life (“I haven’t been serious since high school”, not having good conversations anymore, the repeated reminders that when they’re at work they miss the other, it’s being together in person that isn’t sitting right). Hell, the most vehement stance here seems to be that leading on someone else is the wrong thing to do. There’s no recrimination or defensiveness, because sometimes this is just the way it goes. But it’s one thing to be relatable, or even laudable. Those qualities would be notable even in a song with half the sneaky charm of “Working”. It’s the kind of sad banger where both the sad and banger parts are relatively subtle; it actually helps that both vocalists give performances of such surface diffidence that it can blur “when I’m working” and “we ain’t working” together. It’s not working, but they work well together, and the result can hit surprisingly hard, even if you haven’t been in this kind of spot for years.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: The music is nothing, and the wordplay isn’t nearly as clever as they think it is. You can almost reconstruct the writing process: Sarah Aarons and/or Joel Little jotting down “when I’m working / but I’m not working,” high-fiving over the double meaning until realizing it doesn’t actually make sense, realizing the “we” version is even worse, then going with the clunky compromise. But the lyrics do get one thing right: McRae and Khalid’s voices do not, in fact, work together.
[2]

Alfred Soto: This is a song? Oh, sure, a “song,” theoretical perhaps. To claim Khalid and Tate McRae don’t mesh is to propose each had heard the other in any context.
[3]

Austin Nguyen: A break-up song built around a pun with the same dad-joke wit and 9-to-5 mentality of “working hard or hardly working?”. This, apparently, is Tate McRae and Khalid’s idea of a “summer jam”, as stated in the video description, but “working” is more ennui than anything else — the bored clap-and-snap hand games played while waiting in line for an overpriced amusement park ride, staccato blacktop-synth simmer seen with vacant eyes, camp cheer-alongs for the bus ride back home. As with McRae’s perception of love, an idea best left to the imagination.
[4]

Nortey Dowuona: The rally synths and rakish guitars tautly hung from the snaps and bounced by the bass kicks allow Tate to stroll across, a leg or knee turning to fog as she struggles across. Khalid floats over it comfortably, uninterested in walking that rope, instead circling and binding it, allowing Tate to limp across further, the chattering echoes no longer lurking but lopsidedly following as he gently supports her to the end. Gently, they begin to float without their legs to a Wendy’s.
[6]

Dede Akolo: The dreamy cinematography of this video and the presence of two young boys only enhances the banal quality of the song. It works. The synth sounds like a character-hopping-in-a-video-game type beat. Ultimately, this is the Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, SZA-fication of every upcoming pop singer nowadays. Tate McRae’s vocal tone and articulation sound like everyone else out there and while I’ll bop to this song in the line at Forever 21 in 2016 and possibly “Shazam” it, I won’t ever look back at it again. 
[6]

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Rae Morris ft. Soph Aspin – Fish n Chips

We’ve Fylde our reviews and hope they’re illuminating…


[Video][Website]
[5.00]

Thomas Inskeep: “Where the hell are my friends?” goes the refrain of this not-quite-ode to returning to your hometown after an extended absence. I can hear and appreciate the emotion in Rae Morris’s voice, but Soph Aspin’s rap doesn’t add a lot, and overall I want more energy from this, more thrust.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: As Conor Oberst so succinctly put it, “I feel more like a stranger each time I come home.” Of course, home is a moveable feast, the concept of which gets warped the longer you live away from the place(s) you grew up, and that barbed blend of disconnect and nostalgia so many of us have for our hometowns is fertile creative ground. Rae Morris takes us back to Black(pool), and “Fish n Chips” captures a certain kind of damp, dismal whimsy specific to those British seaside towns that they forgot to close down. Unfortunately, it also encapsulates the spirit of those places by being a bit chintzy and disappointing — Morris doesn’t offer much in the way of emotional insight beyond “has this place changed or have I?”, and Soph Aspin’s cameo is more than a little bit grating. Like an unfinished pier, this is a nice concept, poorly executed.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Whether it be their home, holiday destination or place to point and stare at, Blackpool has a powerful pull for a large part of England. Nowhere is more associated with the seaside experience: the bucket and spade and the deprivation. It’s the kind of place that lends itself to complicated returns; delusions of coming back as the main character. “Fish n Chips” knows this all too well. As the major-label popstar outlines her oblivious dreams of amber-preserved teenagers in long-shut clubs, like The Risen from In The Flesh, it is a delight when they give way to a quite cutting rejoinder from the voice of truth. Soph Aspin was not so long ago made an object of curiosity by London Media Types, but here she gets to frame herself and much of the song — she is central, and so is Blackpool. Rae Morris has foregrounded the place before — how the world-conquering “Someone Out There” was not actually world-conquering is a mystery — but this conflicted, self-deprecating dialogue is the most thoughtful and heartwarming instance of that yet.
[8]

Claire Biddles: I just can’t get past that opening plaintive croon of the title — like a mediocre parody that is almost as cringeworthy as the earnest homecoming slow jam it’s aping. Theoretically I’m into the sporadic, almost proggy slip-slides throughout the song, but in reality it’s half-arsed sonic attention seeking. Soph Aspin’s rap is mortifying. Rae please do better I know you can!
[2]

Oliver Maier: It’s hard to articulate what exactly I hate so very much about this, possibly because it feels like the accumulation of lots of very specific details rather than a single overarching failure. Here are some of those details: 1) pretty much everything about Morris’ vocal performance irritates me 2) the lyrics, amateurishly bland even by the standards of a tedious concept 3) wHeRe ThE hElL aRe My FrIeEeEeEeNdS 4) the key changes, which if I am being generous I suppose could signify feeling unmoored, but in the context of a song that I listen to with my ears sound bad 5) Soph Aspin’s pitiful guest verse (“And they’re in the clubs, They’re on the beach / Sat by the sand and the sea / And they’re in the town, they’re in the park” — bracing stuff). If I can identify a larger structural issue it’s that “Fish n Chips” is at once totally humourless and packed with production choices that sound goofy in context; I feel like I’m being custard pied while watching a GCSE art student’s very sad, very earnest, not very good short film. Why the autotune? Why this whimsical beat? (It is admittedly not their fault that it reminds me of the silliest Brockhampton song). Why the chipmunked outro? There are worse songs out there, but few that sound as genuinely unfit for release as “Fish n Chips”. I don’t mean that as a snide, non-specific drag; I mean it in the sense that there are about two good ideas here that should have been extracted and used for other things entirely, rather than in service of this half-baked rubbish.
[1]

Leah Isobel: Rae’s voice has a yelpy innocence that works really well here, and the way the line “where the hell are my friends?” barrels in like an intrusive thought is fun. It gets less fun with repetition, and maybe that’s intentional. It also feels a little lazy. Soph Aspin’s verse, a little unremarkable on its own, brings enough of an energy shift that the song works; and the playfully wonky key change on the outro elevates the whole situation. What an odd assemblage of parts.
[7]

Ian Mathers: The little “where the hell are my friends” bit and the production pretty much work, and it takes Aspin coming in to confirm that they work a lot better with a rapper than with the rest of this song. Feels like it needs a remix/refocus and/or more rappers?
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The loping synths look at Rae’s soft, lilting voice, lifted by the pulsing bass and shimmering synths above swooning strings and bouncy, concave drums, with another synth sweeping in as Soph steps in, gently piecing together the life that’s long past Rae. Soph still has a few lingering strings, and as Rae melts with the rain, the entire mix smushes, turns inside out and fades away.
[6]

Mark Sinker: Don’t like to damn a song for a cheap crappy video really, and should note that when I was only half-listening while doing other things I was enjoying this, for the sound of her voice and the structure supporting it, and the snide edge to Soph’s rap also. But the self-regard just doesn’t survive closer attention and the rushed little rhythm spurts feel like overlooked blunders. Plus why is the treble clef at the start centred on B rather G? OK that’s the most trivial issue possible but detail matters! 
[4]

Juana Giaimo: I generally don’t create expectations for follow-ups, but Someone Out There was such an underestimated album that I always expected Rae Morris’ next would be a pop explosion that would put all eyes on her. Maybe it could have been if we hadn’t gone through a (surprise!) pandemic in the last year and a half. Now that she finally comes back with a new song, it’s far away from my expectations. “Fish n Chips” is one of the most desolating songs I’ve heard in a while. From the first seconds she puts us in this lonely mood: the ambient rain, her pensive tone and those slightly eerie backing vocals that repeat those lyrics that probably many of us have thought a lot in these times. “Where the hell are my friends?”, why am I not sending a message to see how they’re doing? Why aren’t they talking to me? Are they mad at me? Do they miss me? Do I miss them or could I live in quarantine for the rest of my life? Maybe I could… When Soph Aspin’s rap comes in, she sounds like the unbearable voice of conscience that we want to shut up and leaves us feeling even lonelier than before.
[7]

Alfred Soto: “Where the hell are my friends?” could be a Pet Shop Boys refrain, but the execution is so lifeless I wonder why they wonder.
[5]

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Sigrid – Mirror

This self-love gets semi-love from us only.


[Video]
[6.00]

Madi Ballista: Sigrid delivers a hip-swaying track about self-love and growth with a classic dance sound. The moody bass in the intro swinging right into the synth and strings dance rhythm brings along a satisfying momentum, and while the lyrics are on the simple side, the sentiment is genuine, and it comes through in her voice. In a time when loneliness feels endemic, there’s something comforting about the undressed assurance that sometimes being alone is the only way to grow.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: When I started listening to this, I was hoping for a “Man in the Mirror”-type song where Sigrid would unpack the emotional turmoil that comes with trying to be the best self you can be. I was not expecting a song in which Sigrid serenades her own reflection. At least Sigrid can sing.
[4]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The definition of irony is Sigrid singing “I felt anonymous” on her most anonymous sounding track yet.
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: Oh no, Sigrid, please don’t mix Dua Lipa with generic empowerment-core… I love your music but this is so bland.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Well, someone’s been listening to Future Nostalgia.
[5]

Dorian Sinclair: “Mirror” isn’t breaking new ground, but it’s self-assured enough that it really doesn’t need to. The production is gorgeous (the squiggly bass, disco strings, and warm piano complement each other perfectly), Sigrid’s voice slinks beautifully around the melodic line, especially in the prechorus, and the lyrics are a moderately novel take on the self-empowerment breakup anthem. I particularly like the nod in the prechorus to the toll that actualization takes on the people left behind, even as it’s necessary for oneself. The bridge/outro theme feels like an afterthought, and the song ends with an abruptness I can’t decide whether I love or hate, but overall it’s a very satisfying addition to its microgenre.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Sigrid’s Sucker Punch was a bunch of great pop tunes that doubled as a complicated series of negotiations around autonomy, vulnerability, loneliness, and dependence. “Mirror” is one of those, but with added disco strings. No notes, keep it up.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Who is this girl I see, with synth-bass and disco strings? Max Martin-y disco has life in it yet, even if it betrays nothing about who Sigrid is inside. Docked a point for the bridge: I don’t know whether it’s Sigrid’s singing or her vocal processing, but it’s like she’s repeatedly pulling Jim Carrey faces in desperate hopes that maybe this time, this hollow breath or contortion of the vocal cords, will sound as husky as Dua Lipa.
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Okay, I know this might be savaged as the oncoming crest of the wave of Lipa-likes about to wreck our shores, but please consider: the way Sigrid’s voice rips through the euphoric chorus is just great.
[7]

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Low – Days Like These

No nominative determinism here.


[Video]
[6.67]

John Pinto: Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk continue their 25+ year war on your volume knob. I still prefer their more narrative turns to the near-platitudes of “Days Like These,” but those blown-apart truisms are a good match for starkly compressed vocals and wildly clipping synths. Makes me feel like I’m being terrorized by a faulty in-ceiling speaker system at a Great Clips.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The powerful voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker rattle out the speakers, minted by synths, then fade, allowing the synth clouds to roll in, a delicate guitar plays, then Alan and Mimi roar in, bathed in cloudy synths, loping bass and crumbling white noise, that fades once more as the synths hover and a hidden kick drum lopes below the River of synth bass, Alan and Mimi softly interjecting. A lithe synth line shimmers through the clouds, opening up the sky and spreading the dimming sunlight on the river of bass and the hidden kick pulsing below. Alan and Mimi gently intone from the heavens.
[10]

Jeffrey Brister: I already knew this was going to score above [6] from the intro’s dense harmonies alone. And then it breaks in an even weirder, even more transcendent direction by adding that crushing compression that makes it feel like Sleigh Bells doing gospel. The back half lost me by being too aimless, but that first half. What a thing to behold.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Messy, smeared, unfocused, not what I expected from Low, and not what I wanted, either. Kind of actively off-putting.
[2]

Dorian Sinclair: The first ten seconds of “Days Like These” introduce a melodic theme that I hope you like! Because you will hear it an additional nine times over the next two minutes, with essentially no variation. The production changes, but not enough to prevent the essential same-iness of the melodic figure from becoming overwhelming. At that two-minute mark, the band abruptly shifts to a somewhat more interesting ambient and exploratory mode, but again one that dramatically overstays its welcome — it’s another three and a half minutes before the song actually ends, with little to justify its duration. If the intro were about a quarter as long as it, and the second section maybe half its current length, “Days Like These” could be quite interesting; as it is, it collapses under the weight of repetition.
[3]

Ian Mathers: It’s worth pointing out that Low have literally been making (excellent) music for longer than a decent proportion of the people who currently appear on the Jukebox have been alive. Given the labels etc. they’ve worked with I doubt anyone ever told them to get back in the studio and go write a single or something, but even if someone did they’re long past the point of listening. So they know exactly what they’re doing, and the wildly successful experimentation of 2018’s Double Negative no doubt only reinforced the lesson that you might as well follow your muse. It’s entirely possible that, as with Double Negative, “Days Like These” will prove to be one of the less direct tracks on HEY WHAT (hell, the last time they led with the likes of “Dancing and Blood” when everyone knows “Poor Sucker” had a much better shot at the Hot 100). It certainly confirms that the band and producer BJ Burton (who also worked on the last two albums) are continuing to take these songs and see just how productively noise and the studio can beat the hell out of them. One possible difference for those who’ve followed Low’s pandemic shows (incomplete listing here, they’re still intermittently going) is that this time we’ve had the chance to hear the songs performed more straightforwardly live before hearing what happens to them, and the result is maybe even more striking. I certainly knew the first half of “Days Like These” was powerfully declamatory, but even after Double Negative I didn’t quite foresee its surges being crushed into radiance in quite this way. And the sometimes burbling ambience of its second half, that on repeated listens starts feeling more foreboding than anything else, is totally new. Double Negative was a record, as they said, “at the bottom of the lake”, one that felted suited to the very dark moment of 2018. Of course, in 2018 none of us saw 2020 coming, but it feels strangely fitting that instead of going further into the dark “Days Like These” at least starts by blasting us with light. “No, you’re never gonna feel complete / No, you’re never gonna be released” they sing, but often you have to accept where you are to start making progress.
[10]

Tim de Reuse: Not just rough around the edges, but rough all the way through; the abrasive sound design, yes, but also that there’s no chorus to return to, and no clean there-and-back structure. And, yeah, the juxtaposition of “angelic harmony” versus “grungy noise” is a little trite, but when you commit to the bit so hard that you’re willing to distort your vocals to the point of incomprehensibility I’m willing to admit that it works in your favor. I mean, a song trying to describe the modern era ought to have something in it that’s not easy to listen to, right?
[9]

Edward Okulicz: I really go back on forth on this. On one hand, the way it’s recorded is deliberately a blast to the ears, deliberately confronting and awkward and difficult. But there comes a point when you make a statement by being bad, you’re still being kind of bad. I always like their voices together but this tries my patience too much.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: Those first few seconds terrified me, like I hadn’t turned on Low but some glee-club recording. Fortunately, they aren’t indicative at all: the lyrics become steadily more nihilistic, as the arrangement becomes a moody cosmic drift.
[7]

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Luke Hemmings – Starting Line

Reluctantly crouched in his solo debut…


[Video]
[5.12]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: This shattered all expectations that I had of a song by the former frontman of 5 Seconds Of Summer. “Starting Line” most obviously borrows from Harry Styles’ post-boy-band, soft-pop rockstar drag, but at moments it invokes the romanticism of vintage Coldplay, the Peter Pan syndrome of Fall Out Boy, and the cinematic lustre of M83. “I’m missing all these memories/Maybe they were never mine,” Luke Hemmings croons. The sound of youth discovering its own mortality never ceases to sound thrilling and pure. 
[7]

Tobi Tella: I think the context actually helps this one: discovering the secret that you can release solo music without breaking up the band and sending the 14-year-olds against you. I can buy that a member of everyone’s second-favorite mid-2010s boy band would feel this way, and this framing makes feeling better an immediate life-or-death issue. But as a whole, this is too schlocky. Maybe it’s his overwrought performance, or the strange Mario jumps he’s doing in the music video, but there’s something on the page that the music doesn’t live up to.
[5]

Harlan Talib Ockey: What if Pink Floyd’s “Time” was an insurance commercial?
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Luke’s sickly pastel voice crackles between the synths and soft, pliant piano. Then the tumbling bass and rushing drums come to a halt in the eye of the storm. The strings smother the light, and Luke chases the sunlight amid neatly tucked guitars, anguish shaken from his voice. His legs pump with the drums, and he is freed, speeding into the sun, blind and excited, speeding past the sunspots, the solar flares, and the core, and into the —
[8]

Ian Mathers: It’s weird that this kind of has the structure (if not necessarily all the sonics) of an early Bloc Party song, right? But that kind of throws what’s unimpressive here into sharper relief: Kele Okereke is a distinctive and powerful vocalist, whereas you could sub Hemmings out for what feels like a dozen or two other current singers and not really notice. That’s not a fatal flaw — the well-worn structure is the focus — but it does mean that “Starting Line” falls into the bucket of songs I wouldn’t hit the skip button on but would never seek out.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The surging finale is much better than the lilting ballad before it, which flaunts its obvious melodic template like the least secret of chords. But in its defense, it gave me a beautiful revelation: “She looks so perfect standing there in her American Apparel underwear” fits the meter of “Hallelujah.”
[5]

Mark Sinker: Some of the backdrop ornament and riffage is pretty enough, but once you hear Hemmings’ big noisy snatched intake of breath — for example just after a minute in — you dread the chesty bellow that’s about to follow, and then you can’t stop hearing the same snatch over and over as the volume rises.
[4]

Oliver Maier: All of this bombast in service of what? Melodies that slide off the brain on contact, another nice boy to take you to the same firework show you see every year. Towering and absolutely pointless.
[4]

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Big Red Machine ft. Taylor Swift – Renegade

In which we get our shit together, and our many, many blurbs…


[Video]
[6.79]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’m mostly over Taylor Swift’s dalliances with Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon, but I also have an impossible soft spot for anything that reminds me of The Postal Service. This sounds like 2001 and 2021 at the same time in a way that can only be described as delightful. 
[7]

Andrew Karpan: I really do think these Taylor “indie” records are getting better with each go. She’s reworking her own idea of how her songs look and feel to make music both esoteric and approachable, kinda like Joni Mitchell or Carole King or whoever else else Rob Sheffield has always gone on about comparing Swift to. She has even inspired some of the shiniest and, perhaps, best work from both Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner — whose work in their own sad bastard bands can best be described as murky. But what “Renegade” might prove most is that there’s only one direction Swift can push a movement, and that’s to the center. It’s hard not to think that she’s become — to borrow a line from a 1974 review of a Gordon Lightfoot album — an “uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music.”
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: There continues to be no song so bland, so beige, so plodding and unambitious, that people won’t think is otherwise because Taylor Swift’s name is on it. (Seldom are names so ill-suited to their band; if only this sounded anything like a big red machine, rather than a small straw wreath from Pottery Barn.) If you took the next Lewis Capaldi single and claimed Taylor did backing vocals or wrote a lyric somewhere, I guarantee it’d clear a [6].
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s not quite the follow-up to evermore you might anticipate: the musical bits and bobs Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner include make this definitely a Big Red Machine single and not one of Swift’s own. There’s a lot of shared DNA with the Postal Service, actually, and much like Give Up, this gets richer over continued plays.
[8]

Nortey Dowuona: The synths lead in Taylor’s soft voice over the drums and guitar, just above Bon Iver’s growl. A flute flits away, then the mix swallows Taylor as the drums and synths and that giggling guitar lope ahead, laughing at all their straining.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: Musically, this is folklore with the additional of some gentle electronic elements; it pitter-patters like light rain on a metal roof and sounds not unlike The Notwist covering a Taylor Swift song. But it diverges significantly from the storytelling and nostalgia of Swift’s last two records, being instead a painfully candid account of loving someone whose brain makes it near-impossible to do so. Lines like “if I would’ve known how sharp the pieces were you’d crumbled into, I might’ve let them lay” sound less brutal amid delicate, skittering electronic folk, but they’re brutal all the same. I’m not sure Justin Vernon’s vocals add much — it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever interlock with Swift as well as he did on “Exile” – but the songwriting comes through.
[7]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: While I loved “Seven,” here Swift has written her most cutthroat lyrics in years. The constant presence of organ-like synths underscores her repeated phrases, and the looping yet cut guitar emphasizes the almost chant-like quality of her vocal cadence. Vernon’s backing vocals drive it home.
[8]

Madi Ballista: The music is pleasant enough, even if the vocal rhythm doesn’t quite line up. But it’s hard to focus on the soothing twang of the guitars when the lyrics make the singer sound like such a huge jerk. We’re no strangers to T. Swift’s mean streak by now, but the subject matter here seems especially ruthless. “Is it insensitive for me to say get your shit together so I can love you?” Yes, actually. This kind of playing-the-victim framing makes me recoil, especially when it sounds like the subject of the song is in need of genuine help. Maybe I’m taking the lyrical content a little personally, but it’s really hard to get past how mean “Renegade” sounds.
[1]

Al Varela: There aren’t enough songs about being in love with someone who frustrates the hell out of you. For all the infatuation and bliss of finding your equal, love has just as many moments that test your dedication to your partner, especially when the best version of them is buried under insecurity and doubt. Taylor Swift knows this all too well (ha), mostly because she is that person who struggles through insecurity and doubt, especially in regards to her public image. My interpretation of “Renegades” is that Taylor is talking to herself through the eyes of her partner and asking when she’s going to get her shit together so she can be the person her partner knows that she is. Her delivery is almost angry: watching herself in this awful state brings out the most love her partner ever had for her, and he’s so desperate to see her get better that he has to get mean and honest about her state of mind. The production behind her from Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver is utterly beautiful, swarming with acoustic textures, soft synths, and the determined march of the drums, but it sounds like it’s just trying to power through the day — even if it’s more for her partner, and not for herself.
[10]

Alex Clifton: Taylor told me to get my shit together. I just wanted you to know: this is me trying.
[8]

Michael Hong: I saw the lyrics before I heard the song, and it’s funny how they don’t flow the way you’d expect. Nor do they carry the emotion you’d expect either: not frustrated, just weary. Swift carefully slots each word evenly into each beat, sounding like this isn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last time she makes her request. There’s a sense of comfort in stasis, though, one that counters any instinct to follow her advice. Big Red Machine mirror that sentiment with an arrangement that sounds like it’s constantly pushing forward yet going nowhere. Are we going to keep walking the familiar, or are you gonna get your shit together? The latter is the best course, but the familiarity of “Renegade” makes the former sound like a possibility, like we could perhaps live like that forever.
[8]

John Pinto: A “Long Story Short” rewrite that suffers a bit from the comparison. Still good! We’re just entering a phase of the prolific Dessner/Swift/Vernon partnership where some new songs are inherently going to cover the same ground as old ones.
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: It’s a perfectly listenable Taylor Swift song with a pretty and intricate arrangement. The melody and rhythm she has an ear for are enhanced by the swirling and skittering instrumentation wrapping around her voice, making “Renegade” something on the verge of being really special.
[7]

Alfred Soto: She’s become some singer: note where she places the stresses in “anxiety.” This confidence matches the aural crown molding: pitter-pattering rhythm tracks, acoustic plucks. As much as I dug the last two albums, time to move on.
[7]

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Spice ft. Sean Paul & Shaggy – Go Down Deh

Dancehall summit discusses going down…


[Video]
[6.50]

Thomas Inskeep: What a delight to hear both Shaggy and Sean Paul out of pop and back into hardcore dancehall mode, where they sound so much better. Of course, they’d better step up to match Spice, the current dancehall queen, who gives me a very Cardi B vibe here. A slammer — but at under 3 minutes, it’s too short.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The brush percussion leads in the hiccuping snares and thudding kicks as Spice ducks and weaves while Shaggy lurks around at the murky bass synths near Sean Paul, hollering in the distance while Spice plants and waters and feeds the lilting synth line.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Sturdy, professional stuff. Hard to take issue with this, unless you care that it’s about as sensual or subtle as a brick wall.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: There’s nowhere near enough Spice in this low-key introduction to her low-rumbling dancehall sound, which appears in much stronger form even on choice cuts from her 2018 debut tape. At her most powerful moments, she can surpass even Burial’s post-dubstep’s chill with a sense of sensual intelligence that defies most bounce records. Next to her, Sean Paul & Shaggy come off like a pair of timid agitators who sound either too tired or bored to care.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: This beat is just nasty, with timbales punctuating in the best way. It feels like lights on dim, 1AM but the party’s still going. Spice, Shaggy, and Sean Paul are in classic form, their flow switching speeds in just the right spots to really drive home this hit. 
[8]

Juana Giaimo: I imagine being in a crowded club a little bit drunk, having a blast while dancing to this. The hard beat would make me feel that I know how to move my hips while the loud bass would make my heart race with excitement and the repetitive “go down deh” would almost make it all feel like a ritual experience. The following day, I probably wouldn’t even remember the song, but it honestly, it wouldn’t matter. 
[6]

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Snoh Aalegra – Lost You

From an album called “Temporary Highs”, a song that scores the same…


[Video]
[6.14]

Ian Mathers: This is the kind of song that makes one understand how “quiet storm” could sustain a whole radio format; there’s something inviting and even seductive about its pensive, nocturnal, plushly melancholy atmosphere that seems to create its own weather system, one you could imagine wanting to linger in all evening. The mood is so potent that when it ends after just three minutes it’s almost a shock – surely something so imperially devastated extends to a greater length. You can always hit play again, though.
[9]

Oliver Maier: It’s frustrating, because it’s so easy to imagine this being perfect. As is, “Lost You” is just a bit too glossy, too exquisite to really convey desolation. The Weekndish lilt to Snoh’s melodies makes me wish she shared Tesfaye’s knack for projecting fragility, but she sounds disconnected from the lyrics. The funk bass is a little too busy as well, filling in gaps that could’ve been left to speak for themselves.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The lumpy drums limp around the swinging bass and listless synths, as Snoh flutters through the mix, surrounded by her echoes, which buoy her soft, pliant voice as the mix struggles to move forward but remains stuck in the mud, then smoothly wriggles its bass under the flattening synths.
[6]

Michael Hong: Aalegra’s voice carries her tracks to the point where her voice becomes the central focus of each song, the lyrics a secondary thought. As much as I’d like to luxuriate in the track, soak up in her rich double-tracked harmonies, the genericness of a line like “I’ll always want you ’cause you take me high” feels less relatable in its simplicity and more lazy in its songwriting.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: Snoh Aandante more like, am I right? A burbling undercurrent of bass lurks indistinctly way down at the bottom of this R’n’B jam, which treads a treacherous tightrope between sensual and soporific. The nocturnal atmosphere is delicately rendered, but “Lost You” just sort of… lingers and then disappears into vapour, leaving little behind other than a sense of vague regret. There’s not enough emotional force behind it to really get a sense of what she’s lost.
[5]

Alfred Soto: It sounds lovely: discrete/discreet bass burbles and other opaque worried sound clouds reminiscent of what KING got away with five years ago. All it needs is vocal plumage. 
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: Slinky, aching R&B, gorgeously sung. Little touches such as a tricky little bassline on the chorus, nearly buried in the mix, keep it a step up from much of its ilk.
[7]

Monday, July 12th, 2021

TobyMac – Help is On the Way (Maybe Midnight)

U talkin’ dc Talk to me?


[Video]
[6.00]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Would I have immediately looked up the chord charts for this for the youth band if I was still in high school? Probably! Its midrange melodies and simple, repetitive lyrics have all the hallmarks of a youth group hit. But there’s something very tacky about the way the song tries to merge a men’s gospel choir with pop rock. 
[5]

Oliver Maier: *Throwing darts at several very specific dartboards* What if there was a song that sounded like if (thunk) Algiers performed (thunk) “Feel It Still” mashed up with (thunk) “Bad Guy.” And what if a (thunk) (thunk) Christian hip-hop artist sang it . And what if it was (thunk) “not as bad as that sounds like it should be but still not very good.” Okay, yeah.
[5]

Ian Mathers: It’s not every day a guy who looks like a retired MMA fighter makes a generically (but what genre? honestly, without referring to the religious content here, I don’t know what I’d call it) stirring track that somehow manages to invoke both “Jesus’s Blood Never Failed Me Yet” with the pathos inverted and the way Sufjan’s “Seven Swans” described the omnipotence of the Christian God as terrifying — just not, in either case, sonically. Actually I’m not that familiar with CCM, maybe that is every day. 
[4]

Alfred Soto: Thanks to a gulped sincerity not unknown to, say, a TV on the Radio fan and impressive momentum, “Help is on the Way” manages to evoke flights of angels singing to TobyMac’s rest. If one of the points of hymns is to universalize a personal despair, then “Help” succeeds. 
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: After a truly horrific 2020 which included the death of his oldest son, TobyMac decided to start off 2021 with an upbeat song of hope, and boy am I glad he did. This isn’t just a series of anodyne “I love Jesus” sentiments like so much of CCM these days, but real, brass tacks, “He’s here for us” explication; its key lyric is “So I’m holdin’ on to the promise, y’all/That He’s rollin’ up His sleeves again.” TobyMac clearly (and, I’d say, rightly) feels that God’s here to do the work needed to help His people, and that’s the kind of messaging that grabs me and doesn’t let go. And not only is “Help is on the Way” genuine inspiration on a lyrical level, its musical accompaniment helps it to take off. The bridge here is all gospel tent revival vibes, particularly with the strong backing vocals of his band, DiverseCity (not just on the bridge, in fact, but throughout — theirs are the first voices we hear on the record). And the chorus goes straight up, cribbing from peak-era U2. I mean, TobyMac’s musical history goes back to the birth of CCM legends dc Talk in 1987; the guy knows a thing or two. He hasn’t used that musical knowledge to such great effect in a long time, though. Good Lord, this is sensational. 
[10]

Mark Sinker: The way it leans into its driving thump, playing its whispers off against its muscular declarations, reminds me of a gospel-dusted Einstürzende Neubauten. If that’s a surprise claim I’m going instead to argue — of course without filling in any of the necessary background scaffolding — that it should surprise no one. 
[8]

John Pinto: Decent, but the definitive statement on faith in the 21st century has already been made. (Cedric the Entertainer as Rev. Joel Jeffers in First Reformed, “JIHADISM… is EVERYWHERE.”)
[4]

Andrew Karpan: I like the way that TobyMac’s voice jumps comfortably between the relative peaks of Bono and J.T., marshaling its energy and message both insistently and in occasional gestures of steam-cooked soul. The production bowdlerizes this, but somehow that makes its impact more effective. That message — a rejection of despair that feels, nonetheless, impossible to express outside of the hokey self-consciousness of Christian rock — comes through a little too clean to be believed.
[5]