Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

Tems – Crazy Tings

Continuing to rack up the high scores, she is…


[
Video]
[7.29]

Nortey Dowuona: Crazy good tings are happening.
[9]

Crystal Leww: Nigeria has got to be the best R&B scene in the world right now, and Tems is that girl, with high profile collabs but also solo releases that are just mesmerizing. “Crazy Tings” is less thrilling than “Damages,” but Tems makes the organized chaos of the track work for her, gliding along just like the craziness of life she sings about.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Where her previous work succeeded on the strength of grand, sweeping hooks, missives of emotion that threatened to overtake the songs containing them, “Crazy Tings” works in spite of its overly repetitive hook. The song’s success is a testament to Guilty Beatz’ production, a mix of post-punk guitars and reggae rhythms. But it’s also a sign of Tems’ skill as a vocalist, able to overcome ever her weaker hook-writing with a graceful performance that mixes sneering kiss-offs with sincere emotion.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The electronic burbles and processed guitar squiggles complement a voice that loves repetitions as much for their sounds as for their sense. When she sings, “Crazy tings are happening” I believe her because she has resisted these tings making her crazy.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Tems sounds a bit lifeless. The instrumental pretty much flatlines. I want to give this the benefit of assuming it would be more compelling in the summer, but “Damages” hits all year round.
[5]

Tobi Tella: The chaos she walks and seductively smiles through in the music video feels like the perfect encapsulation of the conflict the song represents. No one needs to tell you that the past few years have been a complete shitshow across the globe, from Nigeria to the States, and the coolness Tems sings about it keeps it light while providing some accurate representation of the numbness to absolute insanity that 2020 and 2021 fostered. At the same time, there’s a quiet confidence as she knows she deserves better, something easy to forget in an endless cycle of getting dicked around by governments and circumstances.
[8]

Ian Mathers: In 2022, the best way to sell just how crazy almost literally everything is might be to undersell it a little bit, because who can still react at full force? So that makes “Crazy Tings” a particularly lovely soundtrack to wearily shaking your head and saying whatever your equivalent of “ain’t that some shit” is, really.
[8]

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

PinkPantheress – Just for Me

Perhaps you heard the sound of 2022 here in 2021…


[Video]
[7.36]

Leah Isobel: “When you wipe your tears, do you wipe them just for me?” is, maybe, the most perfect pop song question that has ever existed. Underneath its plaintive longing is a current of unbelievable cruelty: PinkPantheress hoping, wishing, begging someone to exist only for the specific and private pleasure of her gaze. The song’s knowing humor only makes that ugliness feel stronger and more repulsive. Being trapped by desire is the existential condition that defines the popstar; PinkPantheress is the future of pop.
[9]

Crystal Leww: The British youth are in the midst of reviving sounds that made their variety of oontz oontz famous, and at the forefront is PinkPantheress, who sings tenderhearted lyrics with a simple, almost thin voice that almost sounds distanced. Producer Mura Masa has done some version of this story before with vocalists with more feeling and more xylophone, and “Just For Me” feels like more of a straightforward rip than the thrill of creating something new. But I can’t be mad at the kids discovering what was old and making it new again — and ultimately, it’s still a nice moment to hold someone close on a dance floor. 
[6]

Micha Cavaseno: In the early UK Garage era of Craig David’s career, so much of his early display of talent was how he attempted to sing in a style akin to the pitched-up/cut-up vocal samples or the proto-grime MC rhythms. The marriage of 2-step’s broken-glass psychedelicism to his natural abilities made him a freakish mimic of the unnatural, like a parrot trying to mimic the sound of vinyl transmutations and give himself that sense of warm and character. Flash forward almost two decades. PinkPantheress’ “Just for Me” takes a twee teen charm a la so many UK dance music chancers such as Monsta Boy, Sadie Ama, Kyla or Princess Nyah, then ups the ante by hyper-flattening her voice into the cyborg coos of vocaloid and the chipmunked giggle of nightcore. Could one look at this soft candyfloss valentine of a song ever demonstrate how much this record is a technological evolutionary astonishment? A soft heart grown tumorous around 21st century mastercraft? How come nobody calls something like this ‘hyperpop’? It’s certainly no less garish.
[8]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Pleasure is often thought of as intense and bombastic, but it can also be soft and subtle too. “Just for Me” never reaches a sonic climax, instead basking in its luxurious, quiet comfort. 
[8]

Alfred Soto: The powder softness of mid-’00s Annie and discreet snaps and crackles from the poppiest side of dubstep meet in this single, rather too winsome even given its brevity.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Packs as much sugar into its slight runtime as it can, like a pop sugarcube. No, too slight for that. Half a sugarcube.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A completely frictionless song — where good garage tracks (and even better PinkPantheress songs) drag you into the groove with arresting sonic elements, “Just for Me” numbs the touch, turning any individual interesting part into just another piece of aural wallpaper.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: A lot of effort seems to have gone into making a video that encourages people to numerically indicate an era they wish they could be nostalgic for — it was even uploaded by an account with a Twilight profile picture. It doesn’t really matter that the surface precision belies unbefitting anachronisms, because the surface seems to be doing most of the work and doesn’t really bear a timestamp — it sounds like PC Music. Catchy and purposefully flimsy, the atemporality is less curious for its familiarity.
[6]

Ian Mathers: I only even heard about PinkPantheress thanks to TSJ, and if the number of times I’ve listened to to hell with it since mean anything, I underrated that song at the time. This score isn’t penance, though — over all those listens “Just for Me” more than earned it on its own merits.
[10]

Nortey Dowuona: The future sounds a hella lot like my international school years and looks like a elf. I like it a lot.
[8]

Oliver Maier: Last year saw PinkPantheress materialise and come into her own with uncommon speed. There’s a deceptive asymmetry between the characteristics of her songs — shy, brief, retro-inspired, sometimes a little rough around the edges — and her level of artistic maturity, which to my ears extends far beyond most other rising stars her age (and many above it as well). If “Passion” made a strong case for her talent unaided by samples, “Just for Me” confirms it, a glimmering 2-step number that crystallises uni-age love in a sad snowglobe. It’s endearing until it’s sinister, and sinister until it’s pitiful, a heartbeat kick drum pumping bleach around the body. I would have run this song into the ground in my little university bedroom in first year, turned it up to drown out the noise of parties upstairs as I thought about girls I barely knew and never talked to. But the beauty of “Just for Me” is that it could just as well have been soundtracking those parties, or the club nights I stupidly avoided, or really played just about anywhere and met with cheers. The way people love this song makes me love it even more; “Just for Me” is, in fact, for everyone.
[10]

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

Lola Young – Fake

Still time for her to get a Wikipedia page, or at least a named Wikipedia disambiguation, rather than “For the singer, see John Lewis & Partners Christmas advert”…


[Video]
[4.50]

Oliver Maier: I’m inclined to call it ironic that the purportedly anti-consumerist “Fake” sounds tailor-made to appear in a trailer for the next season of Peaky Blinders (or that when I googled “Lola Young” most of the top results are about her singing a song for a John Lewis Christmas ad), but the song’s sentiment is so feeble to begin with that accusing it of hypocrisy dignifies it more than it deserves. What Lola Young offers musically is more warmed-over post-Winehouse soul that I find it impossible to care about.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: In 1962, incoming superstar belter Helen Shapiro starred in a British movie musical called It’s Trad, Dad! Sixty years later, the nation’s music industry is still making that film. But why not? Long-codified as this stuff is, Lola Young does it well: characterful vocals, unusually off-kilter lyrics about fish and sun cream, and even not-quite-Negativland sound collage (Barry Scott included). Like the adverts say, it works.
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: A passable Amy Winehouse impression is miles better than lots of stuff! I’m a simple person. Give me a compelling vocal performance, give me an arrangement that makes sense, give me a song that understands the basics of good songwriting and performance, and I’m all over it.
[7]

Micha Cavaseno: Winehouse by way of A&R scheming to get a placement on a movie trailer, and very good at being wholly bad at providing a kiss-off of resilience and indifference to the world around you. In a way, it’s fitting that the song is the least effortful copy of a copy of music that was running it’s course more than a decade ago, because it’s facile for all its soul-type gestures.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Had Tarantino ripoffs still been a thing in, say, 2008, we might’ve watched a montage with grisly violence which this ersatz Winehousery would’ve soundtracked. 
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Sure, this rips off Duffy ripping off Adele ripping off Amy ripping off the whole soul genre, and does so a full decade past when it was trendy. But as I languish in Omicron hell, I try to reward things that make me laugh, and I sure did laugh after hearing Lola count SPF-50 among the fake shit she’s ascended past. Finally, we’re free of wearing sunscreen!
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Tremendously competent and well-sung, but ultimately only postures at something real rather than actually providing it. 
[5]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A truly baffling set of nouns.
[2]

Monday, January 10th, 2022

Priya Ragu – Lockdown

Hopefully the only lockdown we’ll have to deal with this year…


[Video]
[6.67]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Doesn’t do anything obnoxious with its title conceit, which is half a victory on its own. The rest is almost overstuffed with sonic ideas (the chanted first verse! the bridge harmonies!) — each is thrilling on its own, but when placed all together there’s a strange lack of cohesion, wallpapered over with the clear fun that Priya is having.
[7]

Oliver Maier: Ragu’s trop-pop cooing is unadventurous but pleasant enough. The bursts of bratty M.I.A. energy are pulled off — not with aplomb, but pulled off nonetheless — and suggest a more interesting way forward. Bored of songs about this, though.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Shapeless, sprawling, gimmicky, sounds like Priya holding back more than a bit — and yet somehow bangs?
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Imperious, obnoxious, and swaggering — but with the vision and vocal chops to render itself exquisite — “Lockdown” sounds like an unironically good Selling Sunset soundtrack song. 
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Priya Ragu’s melodic smarts and lovely voice mean she’s not just being sassy and cheeky on this track because she can’t do anything else. But although she inhabits both modes pretty well, this still sounds like a trop house track. Or should that be trope house?
[6]

Alfred Soto: The trop house percussion compels her to settle for a vocal that sounds as if she projects from under a fire blanket, but to a degree I admire how the track refuses to address These Times. 
[6]

Monday, January 10th, 2022

Baby Queen – Wannabe

Welcome to 2022! We begin the year with our traditional overview of the BBC’s Sound Of… selection…


[Video]
[6.33]

Scott Mildenhall: As with every year, it’s likely that few to none of the acts we feature in the next few days will be anywhere near “the sound of 2022” in the vague yet grandiose way the BBC suggests. In the case of Baby Queen, that’s lamentable — she’s released several of the best pop singles of the past few years. Most of the time, she dances the fine line between self-aware candour and show-offy self-satisfaction with the utmost skill, but here the balance is tipped. Gone are the cutting and inventive lyrics in favour of Outsider Cliches 101, and it’s rarely remotely compelling. It’s still catchy, if a little lifeless, and perhaps is intended to serve as an introduction. But why not introduce yourself by simply making art pop music rather than spelling the process out?
[6]

Kayla Beardslee: As someone who became a devout follower of the Baby Kingdom in 2021, this isn’t my favorite Baby Queen song — I prefer the songs of hers where the choruses feel like explosive revelations. But even a mid-tier Baby Queen song is still pretty good!
[7]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Baby Queen’s ceiling is astronomically high and on “Wannabe,” she is self-aware and funny enough to break the fourth wall and admit as much. “To all the critics who listen to my lyrics/I’m totally prolific and capable of ruling the world,” she winks, as if staring directly into my self-aggrandizing soul and daring me to call her out. But as one of those self-described critics, it brings me no pleasure to say: this song doesn’t quite reach the heights of her earlier releases. Despite Baby Queen’s typical lyrical cleverness, “Wannabe” is too lazy and lethargic in its production and pacing to make maximum impact. 
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: “To all the critics who listen to my lyrics I’m totally prolific and capable of ruling the world, but to the bitches born into riches who think it’s odd that I kiss girls, I guess I’ll always be a wannabe” — is this the rare song that is pro-critic? Since that never happens, it feels like there’s got to be some irony there, just like how Baby Queen has to be on some level of ironic self-deprecation to drop “artpop” post-POP EMERGENCY without a wink. That’s a bit concerning, since the “we’re all losers together!” message, if you think it works, only works if it’s totally earnest. But even if you aren’t quite up to set yourself free, “Wannabe” is a near-note-perfect post-Imbruglia single with abundant charm and few anachronisms. (I’ve spent ages trying to figure out what specifically it reminds me of and whether it’s by Shelly Peiken — maybe this?) I guess I’m still a sucker for less obvious nostalgia; this could easily have been an interpolation of you-know-what.
[8]

Alex Clifton: Effortlessly dripping in cool, to the point that I’ll forgive it for including the title of a Glee original song as a lyric. The difference between the two is that “Wannabe” actually makes you feel like a badass while you own your weirdness, whereas the Glee song is clearly written by people who have never actually been bullied.
[8]

Tobi Tella: The “I’m an outcast!” line of thinking is played out, exhibited by the fact that this song’s conceit is pulled from a Glee song, but that beginning riff and her considerable charisma are the addictive quality to a very low-in-substance song.
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The lyrics are pretty good, though I am not scared of dying by royal decree.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The song can’t measure up to its string-scraping opener — the vocal is the unattractive sort of blank — but it boasts an agreeable thump.
[6]

Jeffrey Brister: Slacker-pop, lazy and hazy and swinging sixteenths, stuff that’s really easy to idly loll your head side-to-side to. That’s pretty much it. The whole thing coasts on vibes and cutesy lyrics and never builds itself out or changes its intensity. The recycling of culture always latches onto the aesthetic signifiers, but never pushes deeper into why it works, or how the hell to make it more than unmemorable wallpaper. It just sorta just flops and bobs and then ends.
[6]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Too laid-back to reach the anthemic status it’s clearly clamoring for, too broad to serve as incisive commentary, too annoying to work as background music. Almost great in a way that ends up deeply unsatisfying.
[3]

Samson Savill de Jong: I’m probably a victim of my own inflated expectations that I’m coming away from this absolutely fine song disappointed that it’s not outstanding. The lyrics are more or less as sharp as ever, but I don’t particularly care for the production on “Wannabe.” Baby Queen at her best makes songs that are deep, but also just sound good on the surface. Here I don’t really enjoy the sound (the “ooOOo” is an example), and I don’t think it manages to crescendo in an effective way, especially compared to her best songs, which nail the big build. The chorus has managed to worm its way into my head though, so it’s still doing something right.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: I once had a friend who would occasionally throw a “loser_beck.mp3” in the chat in moments of particularly downbeat millennial theatrics. I liked these moments because they made our comically incidental miseries feel like they were part of the same deliberate performance of aestheticized slackerdom that had existed for at least the past two decades and carried with it the promise of becoming something else. A long way of saying: thank you Baby Queen for putting a loser_beck.mp3 in the chat. 
[7]

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

Twenty Twenty-One? More like Twenty Twenty-Done!

I don’t know about you, but we’re feeling ’22.

But if there’s one thing we’re feeling more than an — at this point — already overused joke, it’s our 2021 champions, Chloe x Halle:

We love them at any hour, ungodly or not.

This concludes our coverage for this year. We’ll be taking a brief break from blurbing, but best believe we will return in the new year to cover the BBC Sound Of… shortlist along with the latest pop singles, to two decimal places, as always.

You can check out our top 50 songs via the following playlists on Spotify on YouTube. Feel free to also peruse our archives to catch up on all of this year’s blurbs.

Many thanks to our writers, editors and readers for carrying us through another difficult year. See you soon.

xo,

The Singles Jukebox

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Backxwash ft. Ada Rook – I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES

We close Readers Week and 2021 with a submission from Claire which sounds like how we felt. Please look after yourself and we will see you next year.


[Video]
[8.25]

Alfred Soto: There are more nuances to John Lydon’s ages-old “Anger is an energy” than were dreamt of in his philosophy.
[7]

Al Varela: Backxwash and Ada Rook are an incredible combo who make magic every time they collab together, and “I LIE HER BURIED IN MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES” is both artists at their best. Just the way Ada Rook howls with such guttural intensity is enough to quake the room, especially with the production blasting away like an explosion blowing radiation right at your face. Backxwash herself also delivers two of her best ever verses, feeling the weight of every shitty thing in the world collapse toward her as her voice gets more and more frail and scared. This whole song is a suffocating nightmare you can’t wake up from, and it’s one of the most terrifying, yet enthralling songs I’ve ever heard. Especially at the very last chorus, where the bass crashes so hard it distorts the song for a brief moment. Bone-chilling.
[10]

Ian Mathers: I’m sorry, but here as in Quiplash, sometimes when I see a prompt or hear a song my very first thought sometimes just demands I put it down pretty much as is (it’s practically intrusive), even though it usually doesn’t capture the nuances etc. So, basically: Kanye circa Yeezus fucking wishes he could.
[10]

Juana Giaimo: Having never heard of them before, you couldn’t imagine my surprised face when Ada Rook’s vocals started. There is an audience for this music, but definitely not me. I always rejected this kind of music, it sounds silly to me and I know that’s not the aim of the song, but I guess it kind of scares me and makes me feel attacked. And especially after such a long year, that is not what I’m looking for. 
[3]

Claire Davidson: The grainy, industrial blips of the song’s opening seconds sputter with fracturing anxiety, and from there, the title track of Backxwash’s 2021 opus unleashes with a fury so visceral as to become corrosive, as the grinding trudge of the beat accompanies the song’s desperate, bruised anger that is at once conflicted between survival and surrender. Backxwash raps with both the wisdom of a prophet and the despair to recognize that she is only a weary observer, penning a righteous elegy for the ghastly horrors that have been inflicted upon colonized peoples and their diasporas, and the spectacle of death she witnesses in the wake of this history. It is Ada Rook’s hook that allows the song to truly coalesce, her snarled wailing shrieked with such panic as to create the impression that very capacity to scream is tearing her apart, the disgust underlying her pronunciation of the word “abomination” gnashing with a feral sense of dread that the song’s verses further illuminate. By the end of her last few lines, Backxwash envisions herself as someone for whom only the devil could find sympathy, an offer she’d accept if only for the escape it would provide from a world that can only name her death, a eulogy she delivers as her accompanying guitars roil with simmering power — a purgatory envisioned with an appropriately harrowing soundtrack. 
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Primordial maximalism.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: There is anger in music that makes me feel intimidated, some that makes me feel anger in turn and sometimes there is anger that is viscerally thrilling and empowering. This is all three at once. The raw bone on bone collision within the musical elements, the vocals, and their combination is not fun but it’s an experience. Play it once even if it’s not sounding like your taste. 
[9]

Nortey Dowuona: Someone left their modem on, gonna check that fir-Wait. Wait. Actually, i should maybe cut my grass instead. Backxwash got this repair in hand.
[10]

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Terence Lam – Virgo

It’s still the 24th somewhere, so we continue with this from Ada:


[Video]
[7.43]

Michael Hong:Alter Ego,” the other version of “Virgo,” is classic Cantopop, sweepingly romantic and longing. It sways like ballroom dancing, decorated with gentle brass, an upright bass and that lovely piano line. The flutter of the flutes saves Lam from a night of loneliness as he offers his hand on the last line: “will anyone pick me up?” But “Virgo” is plinky, playful piano keys, animated little squiggles that follow Lam as he runs through the same words with more optimism and less desperation. Like astrology, “Virgo” is a bit more plastic but Lam is hopeful in the fakeness. When he sings that last line again, it’s with the positivity of a good horoscope reading, a hopefulness that persists even if that someone isn’t yet within your immediate future.
[7]

Ada M. : I was torn on which Ka Him song to submit, but I decided on “Virgo” because it’s through this song I got properly acquainted with his music. I don’t know how much he really believes in horoscopes, but the song was released on August 23rd, the start of the Virgo season, and he is a Virgo himself. The song talks about a Virgo being too critical and fussy with details, in a way I think that’s probably true about Ka Him and his passion (and perfectionism) about his music. I personally prefer the original, more animated version of the song more, but I also appreciate the more dramatic Alter Ego interpretation. There are many small details which make both versions of the song (and videos) so delightful and mesmerising, with the slightly retro synth sound taking me to a whimsical music world of his. I also find his way of singing, though probably not to everyone’s liking, particularly comforting. There is product/brand placement in his videos, but an indie artist also gotta eat right? 
[10]

Nortey Dowuona: The posted synth programming and warmly synth organs are so slight and thin that Terence’s papery, phlegmy voice nearly breaks it, but he finds his way on it, with little synth silkworms wriggling across his arms, then creating a beautiful synth riff for his echoes to dip in and follow. Then the bridge slips in, unnoticed yet full to its neck of plush chintzy synth chords, thatTerence walks across into his apartment, then lays his head down to sleep peacefully.
[8]

Iain Mew: The intense sweetness reminds me of the best moments of Bolppalgan4, with a similar way of switching up just enough to avoid becoming cloying. The good-time lounge keyboards do much of the background work while Lam gets a lot out of ranging from the occasional wobble to assured falsetto as the song drifts happily off into space.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: Even though it doesn’t offer major changes throughout, “Virgo” is full of small details like that short instrumental part or when his vocals start sounding a little bit muffled towards the end. A sweet, quiet and enjoyable trip. 
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: It’s a bit like the subject of “Miserablism” (not the real one) developed self-awareness, or at least a degree of it. “Virgo” feels very idiosyncratic, almost charmingly so, but the translated lyrics still wander towards the unendearing. Inevitably, things are lost in reanalysis, but Terence Lam’s self-pity isn’t all that compelling when read, for all the quasi-unassuming quirkiness.
[6]

Ian Mathers: This feels like the theme song for an extremely low-key and yet incredibly gripping (to its intended audience) tv show about the love lives of very un-self-confident people, where you’re rooting for pretty much everyone and the biggest problems tend to resolve down to people being gently misunderstood. Or maybe I should say it feels like the kind of theme that makes that show seems (delete as appropriate) even a little/even more appealing.
[7]

Friday, December 24th, 2021

Cassandra Jenkins – Hard Drive

Suggested by Michael, a very high scoring conversation piece, being a piece made of conversations.


[Video]
[8.38]

Michael Burke: It was a hard week and it’s been a hard year but this song feels like a reminder that if you stand still for a second you can hear that there is something buried underneath every ordinary and fantastic and uncertain moment.
[10]

Nortey Dowuona: When you first hear what Cassandra Jenkins does, it stops you dead in your tracks. With Doug Weiselman’s moaning sax and JT Bates tapping upon the spine, you could have just played this with Cassandra’s soft, nearly invisible voice and walked away. instead, Cassandra speaks gently but firmly about small vignettes that are defining her life as she lives it, that cut quickly through the usual disinterest when someone is just talking. And at the beginning and tail end, the security guard she first meets excitedly begins spilling her guts, guts Cassandra collects calmly.
[10]

Ian Mathers: At this point it’s kind of exhausting how much great music I’ve been exposed to via Amnesty and Readers’ weeks. I had heard of Jenkins and An Overview of Phenomenal Nature, plenty of people I respect and love had said it was good, but somewhere in some way that’s now obscure to me, I got the impression it wouldn’t be my thing. That part I’m not embarrassed by; there’s so much music every year, the reasons why certain things never get listened to are just arbitrary. But when I did play “Hard Drive”, as it slowly bloomed into life and then something more, I belatedly realized some part of me was trying to do something I don’t think is fine. Out of… defensiveness? pride? stubbornness? I was listening to “Hard Drive” like I was looking for elements I could reject, reasons my arbitrary decision to not listen to this record was justified; not seeking to explain and unpack my visceral emotional reaction to the music, but instead trying to force that visceral emotional reaction into the shape of a rationalization. It is, I hope, something that I don’t normally do, and thankfully with “Hard Drive” those real feelings diverged from whatever kneejerk lingering ridiculousness was in me first subtly and then sharply. “Hard Drive” does, in general, feel like something that’s maybe here to tech us a lesson (although maybe more in the Platonic sense where learning something is unforgetting it), and in my specific case I’m glad for the chagrin I feel that it had to bop me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper to get me into the room with it and out of my head. One, two, three.
[10]

Andrew Karpan: Deliberate performances of pretentiousness generally open themselves up to criticisms that conversations in the lay-language of pop do not. This goes beyond strutting around and harassing security guards at the Met for profundity — if only Jenkins threw a nice riff or two in there, the record would have the smoov, dumb flow of something like “Hypersonic Missiles” or a Billie Eilish deep cut. But form dictates function: this is meant as a tribute to the style of the late ’90s singer and poet David Berman, whom Jenkins was booked to tour with two years ago. Consequently, we are stuck with her free verse cleverness, which ekes out in a patter of spoken word seances that hover just above the small country of coffee shops where people wonder what the rest of the world has to say. 
[5]

Michael Hong: Cassandra Jenkins has a voice that tells you everything you need to know about her. When she parrots back “oh, dear, I can see you’ve had a rough few months,” there’s this relief, that finally someone’s willing to say it instead of skirting around your feelings but also this kind of frustration that the best anyone can capture your state is the word “rough.” On “Hard Drive,” she sifts through memories that shouldn’t have existed, trying to make something clear of the past few months that she was merely drifting through. And in between brief scenes of clarity, she pulls together something beautiful. She keeps the security guard’s message but throws away the ramblings about a president she’d rather forget, gliding into a new memory as the full backing of the instrumental takes over. She sings, flying over the arrangement when she remembers what the bookkeeper told her. She rewrites those words when she’s floating, in the meantime rewriting a memory because no one learns to drive that calmly. Every line is delivered with a clever little smile, a little sad but no longer felt like it has to be, as she speaks and sings about how a hard drive can mean so many things — at the same time hiding the lessons she hopes you don’t need quite yet. When Jenkins starts to count off the twinkle of the past few minutes, you suddenly find yourself counting with her, meditating, sifting through the blur of the past few months — maybe years — trying to piece together a lesson, trying to put your heart back together again.
[10]

Scott Mildenhall: It probably helps to find the lyrics profound, poignant or perspicacious — if they touch you in some way, “Hard Drive” could easily be transcendent. It brings to mind “I Trawl the Megahertz,” which made much more of metaphysical thoughts at great length; transmitting more than reporting them. Jenkins’ distance from events, even as she is at the heart of them, isn’t so engaging without prior introduction. It’s a shame, because the atmosphere and her delivery create extremely solid ground.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: There is a line or two, and also Jenkins’ delivery, that really transfixed me for a moment. The one that really did it for me was “I’ll count to three and tap on your shoulder/We’re gonna put your heart back together” which is just so evocative. If “Hard Drive” was a bit more curated, it would be stunning. But like my own hard drive, this needs a bit of an edit job. It is almost perfect but the flaw is a big one.
[6]

Vikram Joseph: Through little vignettes of conversations with people on the peripheries of her life, Cassandra Jenkins makes us understand not only how human interaction can be healing, but also how that healing often comes not from the interactions you expect. In this, and in other ways (the sing-speak delivery, the gently blossoming soundscape) it reminds me of Craig Finn’s near-perfect “God In Chicago,” a song about processing grief on an unplanned road trip; Jenkins’ narrative is a little more personal, more surreal and more humorous, but the two songs share a calmness and an empathy that could move you to tears, in the right/wrong moment. Jenkins ensconces “Hard Drive” in warm, shuffling bass and ribbons of sax and guitar that feel loose and improvised (but are much too perfectly judged to be). Hearing it for the first time in late December, there’s something elegiac and intrinsically hopeful about it; count to three with her and believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.
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Friday, December 24th, 2021

Real Lies – Oh Me, Oh My (Nicotine Patch)

Mica offers us this other kind of break-up song.


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Mica Hilson: One of my first post-pandemic concerts was seeing Real Lies in a tiny London storage unit turned club. I got there unfashionably early and watched the lads in the band struggle to tack up their stage set: little white banners emblazoned with slogans like “What Bliss to Be Alive.” And yet when their all-too-short set started, the club came alive with sweaty fans pressed close together shouting out the lyrics, reveling in the late-night energy of the music. “Oh Me, Oh My (Nicotine Patch)” is basically made for this nocturnal club setting, with its woozy synths and breathy vocals. “What you gonna use those sore lips for?”/”Making vows, breaking laws” might just be the half-rhyme of the year.
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Nortey Dowuona: The pealing sample lops and bland, slipped drums make a somewhat appealing track to run on, but Kev is blown away by Dominique Russell’s more lively and commanding voice which truly owns the swirling mists around, making it a home on which Kev and Patrick have wound up as guests.
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Iain Mew: Pitched somewhere between dance and synth-pop with a perfect balance of brightness and depth, the sound is enjoyable enough that it took a long time to even notice that it was being sung to nicotine. And they follow through deliciously, though “there are shrines to you outside every club I’ve ever been to” would be a brilliantly evocative line even without the topic. 
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Ian Mathers: Now that I’ve heard it, like, of course someone decided to make synthpop in the style of The Field (I bet this isn’t remotely the first time, just the first time I’m running into it). It works… pretty well! The could have removed the male singer and just given the other one more to do and it’d work better though, I think.
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Scott Mildenhall: The constantly jarring instrumental, dominating the encumbered vocal, does its job of representing the oppressive, cyclical nature of addiction, but nevertheless makes the whole pack of Gauloises seem very slick. It’s the sort of thing advertisers would probably use to promote tobacco in the UK now if they could. Happily, they can’t, but although there’s doubtless an extra dimension to this for smokers, the concerted allure is easily enjoyed without engaging with the subject matter.
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Edward Okulicz: The most distinctive thing about this song is that show it stops and starts and makes the listener feel a bit woozy. Maybe that’s what withdrawal feels like, although its thematic relevance still doesn’t stop it being the thing I like the least here. Otherwise this is actually very clever and subtle, in passing it passes for something that’s not a duet between a man and a cigarette. But how good a premise is that?
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Katherine St Asaph: Late-night bar blur, male vocals curling smokebreath and dripping sleaze, blank female vocals reminiscent of “Entropy Reigns in the Colossal City,” a “Promiscuous” bridge — a dispatch from a parallel nocturnal world less and less reachable by the day, but one that perhaps left some unlit lights in you.
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