Friday, May 7th, 2021

Demi Lovato ft. Ariana Grande – Met Him Last Night

It’s the collaboration everyone, or at least everyone named Demi Lovato, was hoping for!


[Video]
[5.40]

Leah Isobel: I’m inclined to forgive the thin songwriting here because sharing an experience of assault is already such a demanding task that it’s purely generous to make pop about it. And anyway, Demi’s showy performance says what the lyrics don’t or can’t. She’s a famously Big vocalist, with a voice made of equal parts musical theatre and pop-punk; that can work against her, but this subject matter is weighty enough that her abrasive high range and dramatic vibrato feel like the appropriate choices. She projects the anguish of survival big enough to be seen from orbit. I don’t know if radio pop, which privileges catharsis and narrative cohesion over messy human reality, is naturally suited for the subjective demands of an abuse story. I worry that offering up her trauma to us in this structure only inures us to it, instead of allowing her the space to heal and to understand what happened to her. But that could be just as much of a projection.
[7]

Michael Hong: Opposite to whatever experience Lovato’s been having, this works better when it goes up. Lovato and Grande produce some truly lovely harmonies, but when Grande works in her own style on the bridge it feels clumsy, not transcendent. Or maybe they were just doomed from the start, that the opening synthesizer sounds so chintzy it cheapens the entire experience.
[5]

Ian Mathers: Add this to the same pile as Christine and the Queens with Charli XCX, the one labelled “how did this make less of an impression on me than the work of either act alone?” I’m pretty sure I already forget how it goes, and I haven’t hit stop yet.
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is big in all the right ways, it sounds grand, dramatic, like something of import is occuring in the song. Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande’s voices compliment each other really well, Grande’s higher flutier voice mollifying Lovato’s deeper and brasher instrument, and they make full use of this by harmonising and playing off each other constantly. After a fair number of listens the song’s charms have started to dim slightly, suggesting it might not stick around forever, but on the other hand I liked it enough to listen to it to the point of exhaustion, so that probably goes in the pro column.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: If you’re gonna team up a pair of women with great voices such as Lovato and Grande, shouldn’t you at least give them a song worth their time — and ours? This is just empty calories, but in the worst possible way, like canned tuna-flavored cotton candy.
[2]

Juana Giaimo: “Met Him Last Night” is mostly a song that shows Demi Lovato knows how to control her vocals. She and Ariana Grande are on the same page, none of them covers the other and all the harmonising is really beautiful. I still feel it lacks something — the beat is definitely too simple, the rapping part a little too forced (“It’s 2021! We need to have a rapping verse!”) and the ending a little bit too abrupt. When it ends, it seems like a dream or interlude, but it’s one I enjoy.
[7]

Alfred Soto: A surprising comity between their voices keeps this duet alive for a while even when I imagine Miley Cyrus snatching this song from the two of the song and tearing that shit up.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: There is already an ur-text of casual musical devil encounters, by who else, Tori Amos: “Not only could I sleep with my own male essence that I needed to find, but I woke up and realized that Lucifer wore a white suit and high heels, and drove a nice, cute white truck. And she was very happy.” This does not measure up — not with those dated synths out of “Africa.”
[3]

Andrew Karpan: Surprised by how much this works for something definitively buried in the hills of 2018 and dusted off in a world where the synths feel heavy and gothy, like something the Killers would put out as retro-kitsch. Smart on Grande’s team to concede the old tune over to Demi, who is able to thread through with that incredibly sincere line that she’s pulled off for the length of Dancing With the Devil, which, despite its mawkish subtitle, reveals itself to be one of the few genuinely riveting album experiences in a while. Landing right in the middle of the dramatic opus, “Met Him Last Night” is rich and villainous, steep lows and dizzying highs.
[8]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: All pop music is unreality but this feels especially like unreality — despite the structure of short, traded verses encouraging chemistry the two sound like they’re on different planets. It’s a well-structured, competent production, but nothing about this sounds lived-in or real — usually not a problem for a pop song, but certainly an issue for something that hints at vices and confession.
[5]

Thursday, May 6th, 2021

The Black Keys – Crawling Kingsnake

Turns out, we’re not feeling venomous about this standard…


[Video][Website]
[5.86]

Edward Okulicz: When I think about how someone might tackle a standard, I wonder if the approach sits along a continuum of conservative to innovative, or if it’s some kind of 2D, 3D or 4D matrix. This definitely leans towards reverence, although if it’s a throwback, it’s not a pure one, there’s a bit of a hazy desert sun going over the delta here. Whatever it is, sometimes it’s hard to mess something up. But the downside is finding that sweet spot of being really special is hard as well. Absent a really great voice, this was always doomed to be inessential even if it is crunchy and satisfying.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: The Black Keys get muddy on this one, taking a swing at Junior Kimbrough’s version of a country blues that’s been around in recorded form since 1941. The result is less Turn Blue and more Rubber Factory, wholly given over to the drone of delta blues, repeated slow slide hits baking in the southern heat. Auerbach’s vocals are less filtered than they’ve been in years, rhythmically in tune with his lead guitar and Carney’s drums. The atmosphere masks the rhythmic precision at play, as the guitar doesn’t scream so much was plaintively moan. 
[8]

Ian Mathers: I know it’s the easiest thing in the world to accuse the Black Keys of turning the blues into pablum (fun, too!), but for chrissakes compare this thing to the guy they presumably revere. Sometimes there’s nothing worse than the misrecognition of being loved.
[3]

Jeffrey Brister: It sets up its vibe from the first notes and does absolutely nothing to upend or subvert expectations. Is that good or bad? Does it matter? It’s tightly performed, trimmed of anything remotely resembling fat. No overstaying its welcome. Just six minutes of blues, played with the precision of expert musicians that make it look easy.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: The Black Keys play country blues like they’re embalming it.
[2]

Samson Savill de Jong: The Black Keys are lucky Sticky Fingers is one of my favourite albums of all time, because this is just a Rolling Stones song. Probably because they’re doing essentially the same thing, adding some electric guitars and rock elements to some old country blues. It sort of just stops at the end, which I guess is true to the original, but I’d love it if it could explode out more, really let the energy take you away.
[6]

Harlan Talib Ockey: It’s easy to be skeptical of a late-career covers album, especially when it involves a standard as hallowed as “Crawling Kingsnake.” Rather than simply clone the original, however, the Black Keys have brought us a sprawling psychedelic epic. Solos creep back and forth along the wooden floor like ivy, in no hurry towards any destination, and Auerbach sings with renewed self-assurance, like he no longer cares if you’re listening. It’s a welcome change from the just-give-’em-what-they-want-and-go of Let’s Rock, and you get the sense that not only do the Black Keys love the original song, they loved reassembling its circuits into a brand new machine.
[8]

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Sam Hunt – Breaking Up Was Easy in The 90’s

Playing sad trombone on the roof…


[Video]
[4.86]

Katherine St Asaph: After a brief review of the decade — Breakup Girl; the archives of gurl.com; esteemed 1994 MTV documentary Sex in the ’90s V: Love Sucks — I have concluded that breaking up was not easy in the ’90s. Speaking of the ’90s, Sam Hunt’s spoken-word no longer sounds like Drake and now sounds like “United States of Whatever.” The song seems almost ashamed of it, backing out after each conversational line to serve up the same chicken-and-dumplings gruel of country radio. Maybe that’d sound fresher in the ’90s.
[4]

Mark Sinker: *Adam Curtis voice*: “People thought things were easy in the 90s. But this was a fantasy.” What’s real here in the careful semi-country sound-detail is that woodblock, plock-plocking us unerringly down towards our last end.
[6]

Alfred Soto: If breaking up was easier in the nineties, I’ve got a grad school diary Sam has got to read. But the clash between the spoken verses and the yearningly sung chorus creates the dialectical frisson necessary to a song about social media’s penchant for keeping best forgotten memories fresh.
[7]

Al Varela: This guy really spends his time stalking his ex’s profile on Instagram, getting blackout drunk in bars, and making up scenarios where she’s as desperate as he is, and he thinks the problem is that he was born in the wrong generation? Bro, maybe you just have an unhealthy attachment to your exes and refuse to let them move on with their lives without inserting yourself in their business somehow.
[3]

Nortey Dowuona: Ok, Sam. Why? 1: She’s living it up on HER Instagram while you stare at it. 2: She’s not making any effort to keep in touch with you. 3: You hate watching her live her life without you. Maybe just stop trawling her Instagram, stop hoping she’ll call you again, and start living your own life again. I know it’s gonna be difficult, but there’s no point torturing yourself over fucking up a relationship so deeply she doesn’t even talk to you. I have faith in you, Sam.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Give Sam Hunt this: he staked out his musical lane early and well, and when you hear one of his singles, you immediately know it’s him. (I heard this over a radio in a restaurant yesterday and pegged it as him within about 10 seconds.) I could do without the click track, but nobody in the country mainstream has his talk-singing down the way Hunt does, and there’s a melancholy to the lyrics that works. And the song’s end, musically, is sweet.
[6]

Ian Mathers: It’s rare that the title is the biggest problem with the song, let alone just because it’s too specific in the wrong way. If the title/line was just “Breaking Up Was Easy [less flippant and easily argued thing than ‘in the 90s’],” it’d be at worst kind of inoffensive. Once it became clear this song wasn’t just going to be a jokey trifle about social media or whatever (which would have probably sucked!), the conceit just… kind of stops working, even when I try to frame it as a personal rather than general statement. Someone here thought the heartache could be left generic as long as they had that title. It can’t.
[3]

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Little Simz – Introvert

Score one in the introvert-extrovert war…


[Video]
[7.11]

Camille Nibungco: From the song title, I was initially expecting the opposite of a bombastic cinematic orchestra and accompanying pounding drumline. However, Little Simz isn’t drowned out and matches the magnitude of the music effortlessly. Her evocative lyrical flow bleeds with its own raw power that I got chills down my spine. Underlying the obvious message about political and racial tension of these past 15 months, there is a deeper introspective questioning of herself as an artist and black woman navigating the world. As the song crescendos she doesn’t hold back at all, putting full force and meaning into every bar that lands – it feels like rallying cry for hope personified into a song.
[8]

Oliver Maier: Cool, it’s that thing I hate where a song announces itself as capital-A Art through pointless orchestration. On a pure audio level “Introvert” sounds overwrought, with a (not-terrible) guitar-led beat scarcely allowed to peek out from behind the (yes-terrible) fanfare. On a more fundamental level I think it takes something away from music, and arguably especially from hip-hop, to suggest that live strings and horns alone make it more poignant or effective. What Simz and producer Inflo end up with here sounds disjointed and agonisingly corny, and Simz’s talents as a rapper are a non-factor when her lyrics are so frustratingly vague. They range from painful quasi-slogans (“if you can’t feel pain, then you can’t feel the opposite”) to year 9 poetry (“To you I’m smiling, but really, I’m hurting”) to lines that scan like punchlines but forget to be clever (“I study humans, that makes me an anthropologist”). She could plausibly be talking about race, but there aren’t enough specifics to really bolster that reading, and it’s unclear what that has to do with “fulfilling Amy [Winehouse]’s purpose” (it’s anyone’s guess what that is). It’s the kind of flaccid, “fight the *vague hand gesture* system” rhetoric that gets thrown around in car commercials; polite, anonymous, inspirational if you’re willing to switch your brain off.
[2]

Iain Mew: So much grandiosity to back up loosely linked musings on sin, death and making it. Even before the spoken section, I’ve lost grip on any narrative thread. That means a lot of getting by on how it sounds, which is actually a resounding success. The swells and drum rolls are beautiful, and Little Simz pitches conviction and determination just right to live up to them without trying to match them.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: The heavyweight horns and drums, along with the sharp edges of the strings, leave a big space. Simz settles quietly in the center with a sweetly sung and sing chorus and unpacks her life as the world has come apart. She stands unbowed and prideful, ready to lead her people into war and evaporating all resistance, especially from the wealthy.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: The high-fantasy-Oscar-bait orchestral opening is great. The chill intro(vert-)spective track and Y2K R&B hook that follows are also great. But they feel like two separate songs, and the tempo change exacerbates that. And together they overshadow Simz, on a track where her words shouldn’t be overshadowed.
[6]

Alfred Soto: If Wu-Tang could begin with almost two minutes’ worth of dubbed karate film excerpts, then Simz can with orchestrated bombast. The problem is Simz herself, whose sincerity smothers literateness. None of the rhymes distinguish themselves. 
[4]

Ian Mathers: I mean, this one just really destroys right out of the gate(/instrumental intro), but the challenge with this kind of portentously epic setting is you’ve really got to step up to it, or it deflates like a miscalculated soufflé. Simz — the “Little” feels kind of off here — does; it feels like I’m hearing her level up every time I play “Introvert.”
[9]

Kayla Beardslee: “Introvert” feels nothing short of miraculous. Despite running through a full six minutes of relentlessly dramatic, stadium-sized production, the track never falters or wastes a single second. The switchups in beat, tempo, and arrangement work perfectly, and Little Simz positions herself as the rock in the middle of the storm, never letting her energy waver. The sung and spoken word parts integrate so naturally they feel like part of the landscape. At first I thought it was a bit ironic for a song this bold to be called “Introvert,” but it makes sense. This is the sound of someone so absolutely fed up with the world’s shit that there’s nothing left to do but snap and let every single feeling pour out for the universe to hear.
[10]

Vikram Joseph: “Introvert” is cinematic not just in its structure — martial drums, dramatic string flourishes — and not only in its story of personal and collective struggle, set against a backdrop of corruption and decay. It’s even more cinematic in how immersive it is. When you reach the end of its six-minute timeframe it feels like being transported back from another world, emerging blinking into the daylight, pulsing with the sheer possibility of it all. And what kind of film is this? A story about political greed and institutional cruelty? A gritty, hyper-realistic account of marginalised lives? An origin story for a social activist superhero? In its towering ambition and imacculate vision, “Introvert” is all of those things. Its component parts are terrific — Lil Simz’ powerhouse verses, Emma Corrin’s Shakespearean outro, and Cleo Sol’s sublime, spine-tingling bridge — but the way the song delicately stacks them without toppling under the weight of its own ambition is art itself.
[10]

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

Rod Wave – Tombstone

Epitaphs, to two decimal places…


[Video]
[6.00]

Al Varela: The success of Rod Wave has officially launched the rise of trap’s Mo Money Mo Problems era, but it’s a bit different this time around. This time it’s less about the emptiness of fame and more about trying to navigate one’s own personal demons, especially when it comes to death. “Tombstone” in particular is a bleak song with a hint of optimism. He describes his struggle to keep food on the table after the pandemic cut a lot of his earnings he’d get from touring and contemplates returning to the streets, even if it means his life is cut short. Still, he seems oddly at peace with that and proud of what he’s accomplished and willing to take the bullet for those he loves. The gospel choir and gentle guitar melody behind him provide a song that feels almost final as if Rod Wave was making a potential swan song in case he doesn’t make it. Again, bleak, but there’s a lot to admire to the security Rod Wave has in his legacy, even if it’s purely personal.
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: The lyrics are utterly incongruous with the soft gospel type music, and maybe this is my own flaw, but I don’t buy Rod Wave trying to sound hard whilst singing like this. But I genuinely like the sound of it, and I like Rod’s voice, so as long as I don’t listen to what he’s saying, it’s alright.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Inevitabilities like trap gospel don’t happen overnight, and Rod Wave took a while to get here. I can hear it in his voice: though young, he has seen more bad shit than most people. Unlike Kanye, he doesn’t cede control so much as immerse in human sound. 
[7]

Andrew Karpan: Rod Wave is looking for peace. This is the news from the very first track on his major label debut, 2019’s Ghetto Gospel, and on “Tombstone,” the Florida rapper comes closest to committing the image to tape. The sound is that of his voice — brash, reedy, wounded — ascending to the tune of a gospel choir, which feels here funereal and, thus, timeless. Wave brings a kind of rough interiority to his tunes and this is part and parcel of his appeal; he can sell feeling and faith in ways that, say, Chance the Rapper has blown a career only dreaming of.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: The current wave of singer/rappers, of which Rod Wave is yet another, is a sad reminder that Drake is not just the biggest, but the most influential guy in hip-hop over the past decade. Combine Wave’s sing-song delivery with the now-common trope of using an acoustic guitar as a backing track and, well, this is pretty much everything I hate about contemporary hip-hop.
[1]

Nortey Dowuona: The bluesy curves of the guitar and lilting humming lift Rod’s warm, gentle voice as he begins to prepare his grave, the send off choir rises behind him, the bouncy bass drums and shifting percussion and cracking snares rustles around his headstone as he is laid down, his burdens gone.
[7]

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

EggPlantEgg – Oh Love, You Are Much Greater Than I Imagined

Checking in on Taiwan’s indie scene…


[Video]
[6.44]

Michael Hong: EggPlantEgg uses the same ’80s synthwave sound that’s captured so much of Asia’s attention to hint at something bigger to come from the beginning. It leaves you anticipating for so long until those shouts bring the chorus with them — perhaps no longer a surprise, but still a more than welcome shift — the synthwave packing nostalgia into the band’s romantic desires, the guitar line thrilling.
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: This makes me nostalgic for a kind of music I wasn’t alive for and mostly don’t particularly care for in hindsight, which is an indicator that it’s well crafted at the very least, as well as being fun to listen to.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Does a lot of the same things as ABBA’s “I’m a Marionette“: heart-pounding tempo (in this case from love and not dissociation, but the effect’s the same); verses sung like they can’t quite hear the metronome over their anxious pulse; suddenly huge chorus rousing itself despite all context into massed vocals and major key; long gratuitous guitar interlude (with similar timbre, even). It’s always a good sign when a sentence begins with “does a lot of the same things as ABBA.”
[7]

Iain Mew: In the softly spotlit verse, they play with a hesitancy that almost folds in on itself. It turns out to be to set up a hat from which to pull strings of wild guitar solos, but just enough of a shudder remains to prevent it from just being a technical workout.
[6]

Juana Giaimo: I like the trembling vocals — especially when they get emotional in the chorus — so I find it really hard to see why they suddenly decided it was a good idea to add generic “ooh”s in every single section of the song that ruin all the tension. It’s still alright, but I can’t avoid thinking how much better it could be.
[6]

Alfred Soto: No way to paper over its solid construction: slow verse, adrenalized chorus sweetened with a unembarrassing guitar solo, momentum unflagging. And I’m a sucker for oh-oh-ohs. 
[7]

Tim de Reuse: I scoffed at the rushed “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh” over that wailing, crystal-clear guitar solo, thinking that it sounded like parody – then I thought, what is it parodying? What’s the exaggeration, here? Is it not just trying to be the loudest possible version of itself? While I still think this is too exhausting to listen to more than twice per day, its attitude is infectious, and I can’t hate anything with rhythm guitar this enthusiastic. Just look at him go!
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: The first verse simmers before the song explodes into a rocked-out disco fantasia — that guitar solo is like something Dan Hartman would’ve cooked up in ’79. Ends too suddenly, though.
[7]

Mark Sinker: Theme to a film from current inner-city Taiwan: When A Man Is in Love, a tale of passion in the trapped classes. The tousled young thug who collects debts for the gangs exploits but then falls for the bright gentle flower whose family owes money, the usual gnarls and bumps, misunderstandings, tragedies and confusions — creaky Quai de brumes material plotwise, really, though the video-camera seems keen to salt the requisite shabby darkness with a bit too much insta-grabby colour-glamour (till it feels now by feeling fake). I’m reviewing the trailer mainly because EggPlantEgg seem an odd fit for it all, nicely groomed slim hipsters from quite the wrong side of town, a long-standing former-student rock band delivering a song with tight keyboard-shaped structure, urgently breathy crisply handled singing and wailing melodic big-chorus guitar solos. It’s OK! But I then will probably never see this film! So who knows!?!
[6]

Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

Ella Henderson x Tom Grennan – Let’s Go Home Together

You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.


[Video]
[3.11]

Alfred Soto: They’re drunk. They’ve gotta go home, right? The script demands it (and, boy, is this song, if nothing else, a script). It’s all the same, a stupid game, another love cat purred more than thirty-five years ago. Lots of Method acting — the words are even slurred! Like watching two average people saying average things at each other at a bar. 
[3]

Samson Savill de Jong: This song is written as a funny piece of irony: people falling in love at a bar with someone who’s wildly incompatible with them because they’re drunk and horny, and which promises nothing but regrets in the morning. However this song is sung as if this is the most serious thing in the world, and the beginning of an honest to god forever after romance. Maybe that’s part of the joke — the singers taking it too seriously despite the obvious flaws — but if it is, it isn’t pulled off. The seriousness dooms the writing, which is hardly good but doesn’t stand a chance in these hands — Tom Grennan spectacularly fails to pull off “Even though you talk way too fast / I can’t stop looking at your … eyes” (get it it’s funny because you thought he’d say ASS but he talked about eyes which is much more socially acceptable objectification god we’re comedic geniuses). Ignoring the lyrics just leaves you with a fairly boringly generic song, so I wouldn’t even call it something you could switch your mind off to and enjoy. Give this to Doja Cat or Cardi B — people who know how to have fun in their music — and maybe it might’ve got somewhere, but these two are too busy showing they have emotions to ever treat this song in the way it needs.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: You think you’re cute with those “almost said a dirty word!” lyrics, but guess what: you’re not; you’re actually more actively annoying for that. Doesn’t help that the song’s just another pop plod, or that you sound (intentionally, I presume) like a pair of drunken 20-something prats at closing time.
[1]

Vikram Joseph: The little profanity fake-outs are a slightly jarring addition to this very straight (in every possible sense) duet. It’s kind of sweet, but also somehow makes the prospect of half-cut chemistry with a stranger sound about as exciting as a trip to IKEA.
[4]

Will Adams: I too remember that one joke from Shrek. I remember it being funnier then.
[3]

Mark Sinker: Even as a kid I never loved when grown-ups used “sugar” as a coy fake swear, and the two over-signalled dodged rhymes here are even smarmier. Also this is that guy I once called an emo Jar Jar Binks, isn’t it? I guess it didn’t destroy his career after all.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: I never understood people who want social distancing to continue until four minutes ago.
[1]

Nortey Dowuona: The fact that both of them are average singers hampers an otherwise well stitched song with wilting piano chords and sickly guitar strums, so when the thigh high bass and loping drums arrive, the crushed percussion and flat snares either kill the song or briefly give it a kick. Also, how come everyone drops the drums not on the last chorus but on the second verse so the synth horn bridge smashes into the heavy-set drop chorus, which feels like a small bottle of water in your face? It’s very trite.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: “Come on down to the 54,” they said. “Sippin’ sizzurp in my ride,” they were. Well, for better or worse, some people just want Wetherspoons. This corporatised provinciality, its bizarrely smug reneging on rude rhymes — if you’re a privately educated popstar who became famous at 16, it might even be aspirational. But, not to project too much, there’s an uncanny bleakness to its concerted mundanity.
[4]

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Keith Urban ft. BRELAND and Nile Rodgers – Out The Cage

And they’re doing just fine…


[Video]
[5.14]

Jeffrey Brister: I fully expected to hate this before I heard it. I was ready for some Jimmy Buffet/Jack Johnson pablum about drinking and the perils of guys bein’ dudes, maybe set to a funky disco beat courtesy of Nile Rodgers. What I got was a bog-standard anthem of defiance set against a dense, banjo-flecked, electronic wall of sound. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s got an infectious energy, and it’s incredibly propulsive. I’ll take this over Urban’s bargain-bin Butch Walker impression any day.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Tastier than the word salad of these names would suggest, “Out the Cage” maintains its dignity and momentum thanks, of course, to Nile Rodgers. Goodness knows it needs all three. “The cage” could mean COVID anxieties, marriage to Nicole Kidman, or the place where he keeps his cockatoo Sparky; it’s hard to know what Keith Urban means when his singing has the personality of borax. I wouldn’t change the station, though.
[6]

Katie Gill: Nile Rodgers did NOT want to fly all the way over to America for his music video cameo and honestly, can’t blame the man. The song’s an odd duck. It doesn’t need to be a collaboration, but I really like BRELAND and want that kid to succeed. Logically speaking, that banjo shouldn’t work. But when we can actually hear it, it’s one of my favorite parts of the song. Which brings me to my other point: why bring in Nile Rodgers if you’re going to bury him so deep in the mix that he’s not that audible? Who mixed this? Why did they make all the choices they did? And how can we convince them to make better choices?
[6]

Iain Mew: The logical extension of the disappearance of bands — you don’t even need Adam Levine for a Maroon 5 song. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Observation: The closer to pop music country gets, the more it just sounds like ‘N Sync, with all the Y2K edginess (please note sarcasm) of No Strings Attached. There’s even competing BSB! Only works, probably, if you have a taste for bad nostalgia. Many people do.
[6]

Andrew Karpan: For some reason, Keith made a very big deal of taking credit for the EDM banjo riff, by far the record’s greatest accomplishment, but it has all the smarts of disco, though it allegedly occurs before Nile Rodgers himself ostensibly appears — at least in the clip; personally I found it a bit hard to tell which of the track’s four electric guitars he is being given top-billing for jamming on. But unfortunately, that’s four too many: all the ruthless clanging has the effect of largely muffling out country rap breakout Breland, who surely deserved more for emailing this over. His winning charisma and skillful vocals would have otherwise taken this cross-generational hoedown home, if it were any good. That banjo, though. That’s a good idea, somebody should do something with that.
[3]

Samson Savill de Jong: One of those songs that I’ve listened to a lot in an attempt to review it, not because I necessarily enjoy it but because I can’t figure out what I think. It’s good, I think? But then again I don’t think I’d ever want to purposefully listen to it. It’s certainly energetic, fast paced and uptempo to such an extent that the lyrics sometimes get a bit garbled and hard to parse. They seem to be about pandemic life, although that’s not what Keith Urban’s saying; apparently it’s about “liberation of all sorts“. BRELAND and Nile Rodgers are apparently on this song, although I had to watch the music video to see what bits BRELAND was contributing, as they don’t leave much of an impression. I suspect I might be confusing energetic with good, and thus trying to make myself like it because the energy subconsciously causes me to believe there’s something here. But for all that this feels like a song that should provoke strong feelings either way, I can’t really work up any, so it’ll ultimately have to land in the middle.
[5]

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

CHVRCHES – He Said She Said

Mvybe I cvn see vs moving like thvt / Mvybe I cvn see vs tovching like thvt / Bvby I cvn see vs kissing like thvt…


[Video]
[5.89]

Leah Isobel: This is a little bland, but CHVRCHES haven’t been aiming for distinctive, or cool, since… 2015, at least. Instead, “He Said She Said” builds on their more durable strengths: propulsive drum programming, Lauren’s considerable presence, and enough melodic oomph to grab attention in some Urban Outfitters dressing room somewhere. It’s the kind of girlboss comfort food that’s easy to make fun of, and just as easy to return to.
[6]

Katie Gill: CHVRCHES saw the synthpop, 1980s, After Hours/Future Nostalgia revival that’s still going on and went “shit, this is our bread and butter, we’ve already done that, let’s just dial it up to 11.” Even more synthpop! Even louder mixing! Even more power from Lauren Mayberry to the point where I kind of want to give her a throat lozenge! This is a song built entirely on excess and blowing out one’s speakers and honestly, it’s quite fun as well.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: CHVRCHES usually show at least a nominal interest in exploring the “synth” part of synth-pop, but here everything is coated in an amount of papery reverb that no interesting textures could possibly survive. The lead vocal is stretched thin under bafflingly astringent production; hard to imagine, listening to this, that their debut album at times sounded warm and fuzzy! Their singles have always been bombastic, but never have they strained so hard and achieved so little. Here they teeter on the edge of the same emotional uncanny valley that Imagine Dragons have gleefully built their entire careers careening through, wherein all moments must be awe-inspiring and, as a result, all moments are boring.
[4]

Alfred Soto: I don’t know whom this trio record music for. Rummaging through the detritus of Sheffield and Bristol-born synth acts should produce songs with more urgency than CHVRCHES has released. The Weeknd could hum a less limp chorus between breakfast and naps. “It’s so hard to know what’s right,” Lauren Mayberry sigh-chirps, as if she knew.
[4]

Hannah Jocelyn: The message is not too different from any given mid-2010s female empowerment single, but Lauren Mayberry proves that sometimes mere venting will do the trick. She can try to bury it and rise above, but it’s impossible to fully escape the mixed messages that come with being a woman. If “he said ‘you need to be fed, but keep an eye on your waistline'” feels cliché, it’s because of how little has changed; even the attempts at body positivity and neutrality are directed at changing ones own view instead of the views of those doing the shaming, who are difficult to change. However, just like a song called “Drunk Girls” should feel like being one and not accosted like one, I don’t actually want to feel like I’m losing my mind (feel like I’m losing my mind) when hearing that chorus pummeled over and over. It’s not unpleasant to listen to, and actually features some of the band’s cleanest production in years — with no Glassnote executive yelling at them to MAKE IT LOUDER! ADD SOME WOAHS!. But there’s so much untapped potential: No bridge, no build after the second chorus, and no additional section that deepens the meaning beyond ‘misogyny sucks.’ This song winds up slightly underwhelming after repeat listens. That said, the lack of escape from losing your mind might be the point. Platitudes won’t fix the patriarchy, and one person in one Scottish synth-pop trio certainly can’t.
[7]

Sonia Yang: It’s interesting to hear bluntly worded social commentary in a CHVRCHES song when the majority of their lyrics tend to be in the vein of “vague and universal but captures a vivid emotional mood as opposed to a concrete experience”. Mayberry’s voice is mixed sharp and brittle, slicing through the atmosphere like shards of glass; it’s as if the air in “Dead Air” spontaneously combusted. CHVRCHES’ last LP Love is Dead was all dark shadows masking an underlying warmth. If “He Said She Said” is to set the tone for the new album, then it may possibly be a full heat blast of light to the face.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: A song about getting stuck that gets rather loudly stuck itself. Mostly this happens toward the chorus, a crudely anonymous breakdown that lacks the contemplation of a good Purity Ring single or at least the mawkish pretension of Grimes. The problem, I think, with all of Lauren Mayberry’s records since the first one is the boldness of their ambition, how much they want to do. They come heaving like press releases authored in glowing neon, speaking to everyone and no one at once.
[4]

Samson Savill de Jong: The song pulls of the surprisingly hard musical trick of sounding like it’s losing its mind when the singer tells you they are. I feel like I’m being played by a lot of cheap tricks, repetition in the verses to really hammer the message home, softening up in the bridge to contrast with the distortion of the chorus and verses, playing good music well to make me think this is good, that sort of thing. But the reason people use those techniques is because they work, and yeah, this all works.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: The CHVRCHES formula executed, errror-free: Lauren Mayberry’s laser-bright voice (albeit, in a few places, vocoded in worryingly Zeddish fashion); synths bursting like landmines; a moment of catharsis prompting it all. It’s been long enough since the last outing that it all feels exciting again.
[7]

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

The Chemical Brothers – The Darkness That You Fear

A technicolor dreamcoat of sounds AND takes!


[Video]
[5.75]

Thomas Inskeep: Twenty-six years after Exit Planet Dust and they’ve still got it, and are still spreading their magic, block rockin’ pixie dust all over, and we should all be thankful.
[10]

Ian Mathers: The Chems are far from the first creators of dance music to realize the sometimes surprising power you can generate just by juxtaposing and repeating sampled vocals. It’s a very different sort of power than just something that’s sung through, and when done well, it’s just unlike anything else. Those vocals are possibly aided by something bright and throwback-y in the production that oddly feels like it’s somewhere in the territory between Boards of Canada and the Go! Team (not acts I’ve particularly thought to either compare directly or in the context of the Chemical Brothers), but after a couple of listens I find myself dancing around the living room with a little lump in my throat. (And good on them for properly crediting said vocal samples in the description on YouTube.)
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: The two vocal samples The Chemical Brothers chose here are, initially, annoying and almost atonal. Bicep’s “Apricots” proved that you can take something that ought to be irritating and make it work in the context of a song, particularly in electronic music. But the Chemical Brothers fail to do so here. The samples never feel part of the song, but instead they feel like they’re on top of it. The rest of the song’s elements never quite come together either, and there aren’t enough ideas here to justify the 6 minute runtime, especially since the ones they do have don’t work well enough to stand up to a long listen time.
[4]

Jessica Doyle: It has its moments, but there’s nothing interesting enough to overcome the sheer absence of substance that is “Let your heart see the colors all around you.” (It could be that they’re trying to poke fun at such non-thought, but that’s not enough to build a song around either.) 
[4]

Claire Biddles: This is fine but the pitchy sub-Nico guest singer (“all arrOOEEUUUNNnnDD you”) is… not the one.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: So are the vocalists supposed to be consistently off-key and muffled in the mix? The bridge, which is both of those things, makes me think so. Lo-fi beats to make Simon Cowell faces to.
[5]

Alfred Soto: This rather wan mishmash of Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk might’ve withstood my criticism were not for the schlock vocal placed front and center.
[5]

Tim de Reuse: Rowlands and Simons settled into a particular brand of shimmering, heavily layered house music about two decades ago and have not budged much since. I don’t think this would have surprised anyone had it come out a day after “Star Guitar.” Their usual palette of phased hi-hats and distant synth lines meshes together into a cohesive, candy-sweet sensory experience, as always, but the only thing distinctive about this track in the context of their back catalogue is that blasted vocal sample, whose presence here smacks of a sense of obligation, as if they thought it would never be accepted as a standalone single without a lyrical centerpiece. I assure you, brothers — nobody is expecting Fatboy Slim chant-alongs from your immersive prog-house.
[6]