The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

3LAU FT. BRIGHT LIGHTS - HOW YOU LOVE ME
[4.38]


Anthony, explain seventeenth century devotional poetry to this fellow.

Crystal Leww: This week started with us covering a Duke Dumont single with an uncredited Yolanda Quartey. You can compare and contrast her experience with that of Bright Lights. EDM’s definitely not perfect at crediting vocalists, but there’s something to be said about how Bright Lights, after years of penning pop songs, has been able to spin her (credited) vocal work with EDM heavy-hitters like Zedd, Hardwell, Porter Robinson, and Savoy into a massive tour with the latter. She’s become an invaluable voice in the genre, much like Matthew Koma, with a string of feature credits that are truly enviable. 3LAU’s production on “How You Love Me” is fine; it’s pretty typical as far as EDM songs go, but Bright Lights brings this to life with all her girly-ass energy, pleading with the object of her desires with the life-or-death intensity that something like this deserves. I don’t care about whether or not the synths read as aggressive, the fact that Bright Lights is credited, celebrated, and vital to this makes this, not "I Got U" or "I Wanna Feel," the girliest shit on Seattle dance radio right now.
[8]

Anthony Easton: ‘This is like 16th and 17th century English sonnets and devotional poetry—more about the rhetorical strategies of form and culture and less about the subject at hand; more about the idea of love and less about love itself. Sometimes this provides fascinating examples of self-hood. Sometimes its just boring solipsism. These strategies fail here.
[3]

John Seroff: Spotify frontlists this as song number four on the sixty-five track album comp “Future Trance, Volume 68”. Given the mechanical nature of this exercise, its throbbing lack of definition, shmaltzy vocals and woodpeckering dopplegänger beats, I suspect that perched on the lips of that xeroxed beast is the best place for it.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Not a single sound you’ve haven’t heard and many sounds you will again.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: Maybe I was wrong about that Tinashe song. Here’s another sound to go with half-heartedly pretending to be in love.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: The sound of banging resignation, a pummeling sorrow akin to Cedric Gervais’ “Summertime Sadness” remix, only with a distinctly indistinctive vocal making an open-ended plea/threat more suited to the ominous. Were there a better match between each part 3LAU might be on to something; as is it’s somewhat aimless.
[5]

Brad Shoup: I feel like you could make a top-notch Eurodance children’s book out of this.
[4]

Mark Sinker: So I’m cosigning all manner of TSJ-hoisted nonsense because I’ve been elsewhere while everyone did time getting jaded at it all. And here’s some more, because I can’t help that: straight from the small and secret uncanny valley that divides goth-tinted shoegaze from arena Eurobosh.
[7]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

BJ THE CHICAGO KID - PERFECT
[4.22]


but HOW perfect…

David Lee: I guess this is the R&B analogue of Real Rap, all dressed up in a vaguely retro sample leveraged to deliver a pseudo-political (in this case it’s body politics) Message that is really just more of the same, made all the worse by its gentle self-importance.
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: BJ is proficient as always, but predictably uninteresting. His attempts to sensually croon out his affirmation while persisting his proggish virtuosity shows the work of a boring nerd, thinking that sounding sensual is supposed to be sensual. It’s a Neo-Soul nude photo, hoping that you’ll be as impressed with the display as he is. And who knows, maybe you will, because it’s a very well-crafted song by a talented kid. But just know that they’re changing the name of the store to “Bed, Bath and BJ the Chicago Kid”, because he’s determined to remain handing out snoozer performances for the rest of his life.
[5]

Anthony Easton: The layering, repeating, and then layering those repeats, over a smooth r and b beat, with the odd buried scream, makes this have an ominous tint.
[6]

Kat Stevens: Eeegh - “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” is twice as creepy when presented as a slow-jam.
[2]

Alfred Soto: The thunderclouds of multi tracked harmonies stolen from Prince by way of Joni Mitchell thicken the textures, and on first listen it sounds sweet. But distrust a mush mouth reminding his beloved that everything’s okay.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: More of that understated Drake-new-school shit, a good thing. Elements drift in and back out, like a staticky radio slipping between frequencies. There’s a little high-register Prince stuff, some sampled James Brown deep in the mix, and it all makes for an appealling gumbo.
[6]

Brad Shoup: I feel like we’ve left this you’re-pretty-anyway-baby thing for dead, but “now when you add it all up” could be as classic a case of off-the-rail intentions as anything I’ve heard in a while. Thankfully there’s graceful keyboard scales and the Godfather hollering and some sanded-down boom-bap: when they show up together it’s almost enough to cover up his too-much.
[4]

Crystal Leww: I was mostly okay with this until I was on the way home tonight and was listening to Tim Vocals’ “Thim Slick.” The production is essentially the same, but Tim Vocals singing about how he’s a male thot is much more compelling than BJ the Chicago Kid trying to tell me how to feel about my body. Seriously guys, Dash utters “dick muncher” in that song and it’s still better.
[4]

John Seroff: Any discussion of this song likely needs to start with the disclaimer that a more accurate title would be “Perfect Left-Handed Compliment”… who could resist hearing how perfect they are bookended by “no matter what they say”? It’s not simply a question of decorum of course; BJ’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the question of the male gaze pales even in comparison to his sometime partner Kendrick, who did this same schtick more cleverly (and without reference to the “itty bitty titty committee”) with “No Makeup”. Icky-ness of dubiously well-intentioned lyric aside, there’s plenty of interest here sonically: the throwback talk box and accompanying bluesy, clenched-tooth, slurred delivery; the winkingly muted “I Feel Good” exclamations; the lullaby piano (perhaps cribbed from “Africa”?) all have considerable charm. It’s a problematically pretty track; hardly perfect at all.
[6]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

MAROON 5 - IT WAS ALWAYS YOU
[4.67]


Yes, yes, it is.

Brad Shoup: It doesn’t quite bang, but it’s mournful and nearly propulsive. It’s a B+ Mr. Mister song, so this is my favorite Maroon 5 song to date.
[7]

Megan Harrington: Adam Levine is such an ambivalent, non-committal creature that I can’t tell if this is song is about the girl who finally snagged the world’s foremost yoga bachelor or if it’s all the girl’s fault that he dumped her. There’s a strange talent to being so transmutable, but it’s a boring one, like lactokinesis.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s a decade later, and the Songs About Jane-era feels more and more frighteningly distant. I’ve never hated Maroon 5, but as the band figures less and less as a musical figure, I find myself getting startled by these guys. There’s an unmistakable professionalism, to the point that I feel like Maroon 5 are more a brand or a company than a band. A band is expected to deliver a certain product with little variation lest you be greeted by the spittle and fury of a vexed fanbase demanding the musicians stripped of their title and forced to fend under a new guise. So with such an amorphous, assembly-line career, how is it that Maroon 5 always seem to come out on top? What makes people trust them the way they do?
[6]

Anthony Easton: Angrier than Levine usually is, with a strong, almost paranoid synth track over a voice that rests on an almost unhinged paranoia, I hope this suggests a different way forward for the band.
[6]

Alfred Soto: If we were to believe Adam Levine’s “heart” was “searching” for “meaning,” then he better sing like he means it, and when he does dive under the table. The melismatic hysteria adduces his Really Meaning It, but he sounds like a pimp mourning the sudden death of his favorite trick. Speaking of tricks: Daryl Hall made a lot of money out of being an asshole who thinks women deserve his love. Adam Levine would like to be him. Even with the rhythm lick undergirding the usual 1-900-EDM effects he’s a plutocrat with neither the talent nor attention span to amalgamate the best bits that Malibu can buy. Still, the chorus is catchy — what do you expect from this guy anyway?
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Right on schedule, Maroon 5 releases a song that I enjoy, shower myself with shame, then keep enjoying. This one’s easier to justify than “One More Night,” as Adam Levine has merely slapped rhythm guitar onto “Solo Dancing” — except it’s Adam Levine, so this time it actually is masturbatory. It is far easier to imagine Adam in love with the cool computer-assisted descants his voice can make than any breathing woman. And if everyone made this much melodrama out of every sweaty dream then we’re all fucking doomed — Adam’s lucky his subconscious slotted in his BFF and not, like, his podiatrist. But it is likable shameful nonsense, and its existence means I’m done liking Maroon 5 songs until next album, so I’m good.
[7]

David Sheffieck: Woke up sweating from a dream, but the Rod Serling narration informed me that Maroon 5 were still around, still making songs that progressively sounded less like “pop” and more like “nothing.” I can only assume that tomorrow I will wake up to discover that in an ironic twist every sound sounds like a Maroon 5 song.
[0]

Thomas Inskeep: This is so inoffensively bland that I can’t even get worked up over it. It isn’t bad (and certainly isn’t any good); it just is. Maroon 5 are now officially the golf of the music world.
[3]

John Seroff: I understand that Maroon 5 is a poor choice for a guilty pleasure. If I sought a defense, I’d suggest that there’s something about the mega-processed chirrup-und-yodel of Adam Levine and that faux-80’s M-5 sound that short circuits my better critical judgment. It’s not as if I’ll be playing this past the review period but, as disposable pastiche, “…Always You” is accomplished enough to provoke my inner twelve year old to fluff out the mullet, slip on the jams and “AVOID THE NOID” t-shirt ensemble and run over anthills with my Thundertank. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think they’re really coming into their own here, commercially and artistically.
[6]

Luisa Lopez: Even Maroon 5 songs that aren’t meant to be mournful sound like they’re coming out of the grave. What a nice thing in this season. Here, they keep their usual lean phrases and the silliness of all that impassioned howling but this tune is sparser than most of what they put out and has only a few moments where it falls into messiness. For Maroon 5, that’s a victory.
[6]

David Lee: SCOOP: Adam Levine seen cavorting with Sia for “singing lessons.” Last Tuesday, the duo were spotted together, mouths agape, near a Los Angeles recording studio. One source close to Levine says, “Adam randomly adopted “Shine bright like a diamond” as his new catchphrase,” and claims the two have been inseparable ever since. Maroon 5’s latest single bears this out, its stuttering 80’s action film finale synths yielding to Levine’s yowling maw. Reps for both stars have yet to comment on the situatiooooooooooooooooon.
[4]

Josh Winters: Why hasn’t Adam Levine written a rock opera yet? I can almost imagine it now: this would definitely be the soliloquy near the top of the second act, with a single spotlight shining on his partially erased face, singing his little heart out all the way to the back of the house. Only, how many people would still be sitting in the audience?
[4]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

BOBBY SHMURDA - HOT NIGGA
[6.33]


The Shmingles Shmukebox: Shpop to Shtwo Shmecimal Shpaces…

Thomas Inskeep: “Hot Nigga” is the kinda straightforward hip-hop I like. A simple beat - could’ve been made in ‘88, frankly, or ‘98, or ‘00, and that’s to its credit ‘cause it’s pretty damn timeless. And some basic (but not simple) rhymes from a young lion with even bigger things ahead of him.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Let’s get it out of the way right now: Bobby Shmurda is not an excellent rapper; he’s about average when it comes to skill and gets by on loads of charisma (for those raising an eyebrow, I direct you to his guest appearance on partner Rowdy Rebel’s "Shmoney Dance" video. Keep your eyes out for Bobby as he dances, struts, pivots, squirms, flails, gallivants, scales friends, rides atop cars like flying carpets, palls around with old-heads and emphasizes his stash of drugs by slapping on a kitchen cupboard he mislabels as a drawer like his life depends on it. Of course this kid was going to be a star.). “Hot Nigga” is basically an average freestyle that wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows if it’d been on the various mixtapes that flooded the NYC markets a decade ago in the post-50 Cent mania of “YOU CAN WIN IF THE STREETS LEARN TO LOVE YOU!” Yes, Shmurda vaguely recalls Chief Keef, but he also is reminiscent of fellow Brooklyn native snarler Uncle Murda (who’s already collaborated with his adoptive nephew! So adorably menacing!), and that generic quality is a damning sign that his rise may peak really fast. After all, his and Rowdy’s follow-up “Computers” is kind of unremarkable minus Bobby’s adlib of "TOMCRUISETOMCRUISE". But after years of terrible Renn-Faire Rap from Joey Bada$$ and co., a sloppy Estonian Fat Joe derivative, and a male model from New Jersey being all that represents NYC rap, this is VITAL. So yes, the critic in me is giving this song a charitable 6, but the youth who copped retrospectively terrible Papoose mixtapes on Jamaica Ave. in me is giving this a fanatical 10 while tossing my hat in the air and doesn’t give a goddamn. Do the math. #SQUAD
[8]

John Seroff: In which your humble narrator fears that he may be aging out of hip hop, links to a vine, flips off his cap and shmoney dances past the graveyard.
[5]

Will Adams: The constant pulse of the organ and choir brews up the necessary drama that Bobby Shmurda isn’t committed to delivering himself.
[5]

Brad Shoup: I dunno what’s better, the catwalk turn that put this song on the map, or that it’s basically one big verse. There’s no flourish, just a four-note line as monotonous as a clock tower at noon. Shmurda has fun detailing the ins and outs of his intelligence network and putting specific friends on blast. But there’s nothing as free as a dude tossing his cap and turning his back.
[6]

Crystal Leww: This is bad drill music, but I guess I really like drill music.
[8]

[Read and comment on The Singles Jukebox ]

GABYLONIA - TIRANO
[5.88]


I dare you to find a better artist name…

Mark Sinker: Start at the end: the sample is La Lupe — born Guadalupe Victoria Yolí in Cuba, died in poverty in the Bronx, but true-crowned Queen of Salsa for a while along the way, in the 60s — singing a song that mockingly dons the head-dress of tyranny and monsterhood (“I’m [= women] the vampire in yr novel, SEZ YOU [= men]”), with a vivid Eartha Kitt tweak and gliding strut, which makes it very hard for me to resist.
[8]

Anthony Easton: The rise and fall of romantic heartache in the La Lupe sample would have worked pretty fantastically as a bed rock, especially with the insistent drums. Having it tacked on the end as an after thought loses the potential of collapsing time — especially since she is making a social position against reggaetón. What does it mean that she considers the traditional singing of La Lupe as an afterthought when the lyrics of the song refuse the music that is being made today?
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Very well delivered, very important, but very dreadfully traddish and regressive rappity rap from an impressive woman.
[5]

Alfred Soto: She’s serious about teenage pregnancy and self-determination, so she shouldn’t confuse embracing reggeton with a lack of seriousness. The rhymes are stiff in an early nineties way — the rap on a Consolidated track, say, or Neneh Cherry’s Homebrew.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Impressive craft and no hint of a smile: this is brutalist hip-hop, boom-bap boxing against ghosts.
[4]

David Sheffieck: The power and rage Gabylonia exhibits here is compelling, if also a little exhausting: some greater sense of contrast in the beat or her delivery could make for a more exciting song. But the fact that the start of the outro sample is the first time I take a breath in two and a half minutes is telling.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: This is on some awesome mid-’90s NYC shit, like a b-side from AZ or Jeru. Topped by a fiery bunch of spitting by a Venezuelan rapper, and you’ve got a damn good record.
[6]

John Seroff: “Tirano”s percussion-heavy arrangement incorporates the cleverly interpolated sounds of chimes, tin can clatter, boom bap drumset, birdsong, big bass, xylophone and the crisp, gatling gun of Gabylonia’s pinpoint precise rapping. Even non-Spanish speakers should be able to recognize her 99% ethos; “yo no soy materialista” popped out loud and clear as a rallying cry. I was reminded of People’s Instinctive Travels-era Tribe, which is always a compliment. Google unearthed virtually nothing in English on Gaby and Spotify is claiming >1000 for all three of her sharp singles. Let’s set a good example and welcome her as an artist of note.
[8]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

CALVIN HARRIS FT. JOHN NEWMAN - BLAME
[5.00]


Akon has agreed to take the blame for this being the umpteenth Calvin Harris single we’ve covered…

Anthony Easton: Harris’ style has ossified into formal repetition, but he does it so well, I find it easy to forgive.
[4]

Crystal Leww: The Calvin Harris spectrum is as follows: the quadfecta is “We Found Love,” “Sweet Nothing,” “I Need Your Love,” and “Thinking About You,” all perfect [10]s and I will hear no argument to the contrary. The tail end of the spectrum are “Awooga” and the terrible Tinie Tempah-featuring track “Drinking From the Bottle.” “Blame” is somewhere around his Ting Tings remix and “Bounce,” but I like Newman a lot less as a vocalist than Katie White or Kelis. Still, Calvin Harris has been consistently churning out absolute bangers for almost three years now, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.
[7]

Abby Waysdorf: I like the idea that pop can support John Newman and Sam Smith, but that Newman sounds like “generic male voice” here doesn’t bode well for him. He could be any of the vaguely long-haired singers that do the “boy” version of the EDM vocal. To be fair, though, there’s probably no vocalist that could make this anything else than absolutely terrible. Never has the Calvin Harris formula felt the most like a formula, a few familiar sounds pulled from his box of noises and thrown haphazardly across the mixing board. It’s bland enough that I’m easily distracted by the refrain and forced to think about how bad the lyrics are: “blame it on the night, don’t blame it on me” is so damn smarmy and awful, mealy-mouthed bro-speak. The gospel-ish bridge almost reminds me what Newman has to offer, but it comes far too late and is much too little. “Stay With Me” did it better anyway.
[3]

Alfred Soto: An asshole’s lament with an EDM preset: “don’t blame it on me, blame the night,” after all, is closer to “It wasn’t me — it was the alcohol.”
[2]

Scott Mildenhall: With Calvin Harris still peddling the same sounds he has since “Bounce” three and a half years ago, it’s immensely impressive that he’s still in his imperial phase. “Blame” is very clearly a Calvin Harris song, its most thumping parts even a slowed down simulacrum of “Sweet Nothing“‘s disco shotgun. One great thing about that song was how it sounded just as much one of Florence’s as his, and this has the same seamless fusing of hallmarks - Newman generously bringing his Big Piano, “oh, no no no I’m so TORtured BAby!” stuff and invisible doleful, soulful background singers. He’s told more compelling stories on his own, but in a different setting compromises deftly.
[7]

Hazel Robinson: I’ve been waiting for John Newman to do something nearly as good as “Feel the Love” for two years. I believe in him, the little squashy-faced lad and this is… well, this is nowhere near as good as “Feel the Love” but it does try to do the same tricks, with ten thousand times more cynicism and none of the sheer joy whatsoever. And yet, because I spent a great deal of time over the past two decades listening to ’90s euphoric house, it is absolutely working on me and I only slightly hate myself.
[8]

Brad Shoup: Maybe John Newman’s only as good as the show he’s stopping. He does wonderful things with his melody line — skips and gulps and the like — but Harris’s sloppy pings just hang and dissolve like snowflakes. Not that gaggle of Johns, though; they could be singing in Elvish for all I know, but it’s a pleasant confusion.
[5]

Megan Harrington: You ever start on a bag of Flamin’ Hots and after the third or fourth your mouth is ecstatically sensitive but also you can’t taste anything anymore? You should stop there because it’s not going to get any better or worse, but instead you motor through the whole bag? It’s because Cheeto dust is chemically addictive and “Blame” is covered in a fine film.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There is a great breakdown into sino-electro madness here, and it needs to be liberated from this Neon Trees cover band frontman and Calvin Harris’ wallowing in generic cash-outs. This template is killing me, and no amount of nasal yowls is improving it, but the weird riff of that “big hook” is enough, just enough, to justify the creation of such a strange mutant. Still, with its shitty pageant parents of creators, one can’t let oneself get too attached.
[2]

Will Adams: Don’t blame Harris — it’s dance music that calls for the formula, from the similar tempos to the common lyrical themes to the build-drop dynamic. Harris works so well with it anyway, alternating his tendencies to keep interest — here, he’s pushed his electric guitar licks to the foreground as in “Feel So Close” or “I Will Never Let You Down” — while always prioritizing solid pop songwriting. “Blame” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it surfs the EDM wave with considerable technique.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Don’t worry, no one is in danger of blaming you. You’re not that distinctive.
[3]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

MIKE JAY - BIRTHDAY SUIT
[5.50]


Speaking of Thicke’s excesses, I’m gonna hijack this subhead to tell you all to read the Marvin Gaye lawsuit depositions — the actual depositions, not the aggregated bizstuff — because I’m not gonna get a better flimsy segue and they are already classic…

John Seroff: A fair amount of contemporary R&B overleaps mere double entendre into the hilarious and creepy; witness the genius of Erin Markey’s alt-cabaret take (backed by Kenny Mellman of The Julie Ruin) on Usher’s “Hey Daddy”, the Pythonesque nudge-nudge-wink-wink sophomoricism of Bando Jones’ deathless chorus, “SEX / HAVE YOU HAD IT?" and the self-conscious high school freshman sexual politics (and guitar skills) of Miguel’s "Pussy Is Mine”. It’s easy to laugh at the excesses of artists who lay it on Thicke, but over-advertising one’s alpha male status is a perhaps understandable impulse in an idiom where seduction is power and vice versa. The working pop presumption is that men are too proud to beg, and that FM listeners don’t get excited by a naked emperor unless he’s D’Angelo. Mike Jay is not D’Angelo. He’s more of a dirty-mouthed Tevin Campbell riding 90’s-era NPG beats and pleading like it’s prom night. He’s a much more convincing and enjoyable crooner on “Real Strippers,” which is likely telling.
[4]

Alfred Soto: The synth string stabs at the beginning summon Mint Condition’s great "Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” the title Johnny Kemp’s forgotten 1989 minor hit, the vocal every ham trying too hard to get laid.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: This immediately gets a [6] just for interpolating “Breakin’ My Heart,” one of the awesomest singles of my life. However, this kid can sing, and he’s got that mix of pleading and nastiness that many of the greatest R&B singers have. Vocally, Mike Jay reminds me a bit of Trey Songz, but because this so strongly references the early ’90s I get a serious R. Kelly vibe as well. I don’t wanna love this, but I do.
[8]

Crystal Leww: Mike Jay’s lyrics could use some work, but my god if he doesn’t have a voice to go with this luxurious production. It’s going for A LOT with snaps, snares, synths, a marching band worth of horns, and a little break for wobbles, but for the most part it pulls it together and just sounds maximal. Ultimately, the test of a R&B song is whether I want to body roll to it, and yes, I definitely do.
[6]

Brad Shoup: I was gonna say something quick like “oh he’s as amped and plastic as those horns,” but he’s really wound up for half the song; I can practically see his knees bend when the drummer rests. I mean, if I were Morris Day I’d be all “hey, I know you can write something stronger, Prince,” but he’s determined to make something out of this vampy hash, and I’m resigned to let him.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: I feel bad about giving low scores only because of lyrics, but sometimes I truly can’t believe what I’m hearing. Lines like “and if this bed can move, we can call this a rodeo,” even the birthday suit metaphor, make me forget about the charming melody or the powerful beat.
[5]

Anthony Easton: The line “don’t be nervous, take a sip of this” is the creepiest R&B line that I’ve heard this year. That, and the fact that he can only imagine her as a stripper, colours the whole thing in a exploitative, almost rapey vibe. Which is a complete shame, because the horns and drums are expansive.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I had no idea that these The Time synths would work so well over such clumsily crunchy snare rolls, so just for doing this, Mike Jay (or shockingly enough, JR Rotem) has earned a fond place in my head. He also has a weird retro bent that usually doesn’t invade R&B that strives for the modern field: the showiness of his verses, the backing harmonies. The synth licks remind me primarily of Mint Condition’s “Pretty Brown Eyes”, and of how TY$’ "My Cabana" cribbed the horn licks from said record to turn a dubstep jam into a surprising bit of soul traditionalism, sneakily tucked into a raving rave-typhoon’s heart. Mike’s crassness is a little too immature to inspire much faith in him, but it shows the craftiness of someone with a desire to innovate while drawing from the legacy of the past.
[6]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

TINASHE FT. A$AP ROCKY - PRETEND
[6.60]


Meanwhile, Tinashe can’t stop puttering about you…

Crystal Leww: Tinashe has been very good ever since her mixtape days, but she was quickly grouped in with Cassie and Jhené Aiko, which doesn’t at all describe what she does. Tinashe’s always been the girl who felt way too much, someone who can pull every ounce of meaning out of words, even when in the club and getting fucked up with her friends. “Pretend” is the quiet jam to kick off the fall, to remind you of the one who got away. That first “love that never ends” hits like a punch in the gut, and each subsequent “pretend” sounds less convincing than the last. The way that the beat drops out is perfect; it creates a little space for fantasy, a moment for Tinashe to sing with such perfectly intentioned clarity about a fake history and “a love that never ends.” It’s wistful desire at its finest. A$AP Rocky contributes nothing to this song, but that’s fine; I need a moment to catch my breath anyway.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Imagine this slow, sad song about supreme fictions with the roles reversed: A$AP rapping about pretending he’s in love with her and she still blew his mind while Tinashe mumbles about doing it. Lachrymose and icky, that’s what would’ve happened, and Drake has specialized in this creepcore, laying claims to sensitivity that are the practiced moves of a serial seducer repulsed by his crassness enough to subject himself to public spasms of guilt. With Tinashe in the lead the speculation is colder, cooler and sadder: she realized what happened first.
[7]

John Seroff: Tinashe is poised to ride the “radiohead quietstorm" zeitgeist to a breakout winter. All she needs now is a track that gives her a chance to display a personality, or at least one that contains a serviceable hook. My vote goes to something more in the style of "Xylophone" instead of "Pretend"; the latter is an overcooked noodle.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: “Pretend“‘s arrangement is like Ryan Tedder with a few synths played backward, and you know my stance on that. But you can’t set a song this resigned to an arrangement any less lifeless — you’d miss the point entirely. And yet this still leaves the song lifeless, the same Heisenberg conundrum that makes it near-impossible to write compelling prose about depression. I’m not sure this problem is solvable; oh well. “2 On” still has chart life in it, and everyone’s allotted one bad ballad.
[3]

Brad Shoup: That drowning drum loop and general churchy air remind me of “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth.” But this is like watching a heart tearing itself apart instead of just crumbling. The production’s elegant yet full; Tinashe jumps in to demolish, then steps back to watch her reverse melodies and yawping synths finish the job.
[8]

Anthony Easton: “Pretend” figures out how to make the melodramatic sumptuousness of string-laden R&B production layer with the emotional reticence of the skeletal beats found in some new hip-hop, an innovation in form that mirrors the problems of desire. The layers seep into each other: a perfect example of ennui and melancholic exhaustion, while never rejecting the erotic.
[10]

Megan Harrington: Tinashe is such an understated and magnetic performer. Instead of emphasizing the melodrama of “Pretend“‘s backwards time lapse, she spaces her vocal out and fills the song with longing silences. Earlier this year I mis-judged “2 On” as indistinct, missing all of Tinashe’s subtlety. It’s my year’s biggest regret; her singles are a lit fuse, burning quickly ahead of the dynamite of her album drop.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: There’s a creeping sensation that Tinashe’s childishness will be her downfall. Cassie comparisons abound weren’t unfounded, as both tended to have a babyish lilt to their phrases that mewled out in a delighted shrug, doing their best to sound casual at the sensuality they displayed. However, whereas Cassie was all Virgo robot sculpture, Tinashe’s hexed with Aquarian rambling dizziness and just seems to swim around in her textural murks rather than driving to a defined location. Meanwhile, the Zoolander of rap runs through a bunch of stolen tricks and flows, prancing and preening like it means something.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Tinashe comes off to me as a sad Ashanti — and their names are practically anagrams! Pretty, crooked beat, ghostly-ish vocals, A$AP Rocky doing what he does.
[5]

Mark Sinker: The shifting veils and curtains of soft northern light of the sound-stage Martin Hannett gestured into 3D being; the accidental neon glowstick of the X-Files theme tune marking quick-bright vanishing sigils on the gathered dark; Tinashe’s vocal, so languid it’s more or less horizontal, and the negative capability of the call to make up for lack via make-believe; these and other ways to fashion the feel of truths that aren’t quite out there, sure, but all the same can’t be denied.
[8]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]

BEBE REXHA - I CAN’T STOP DRINKING ABOUT YOU
[4.82]


To which the proper response is “penny for your draughts.”

Katherine St Asaph: Lana and Sia’s pop ascendance has opened a niche for Rexha and her Flubber voice. Meanwhile, Avicii’s True gave her the template: a country conceit, down to the last drink, turned into an ADM breakdown unfortunately reminiscent of the Bieb. I’m a little horrified I’m saying this, but I preferred her with Pete Wentz.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Because one Lana Del Rey wasn’t enough to suffer. Except this one didn’t realize that it’s the whole package of the melodrama that sells Lana (to people who apparently fantasize of being unhappily married to dudes who look like Yelawolf), and her weak song concept here finds its apparent partner in some downright ugly dubstep crud. Whatever makes folks happy, I suppose.
[1]

David Sheffieck: If Taylor Swift’s going pure pop, she’s leaving a “I Knew You Were Trouble”-shaped void that Rexha’s both willing and able to fill: classic-country lyrics chopped to aphorisms meeting pseudo-dubstep drops, pitch-shifted vocals and a triumphant/elegiac outro. Bless Tay-Tay’s heart for opening the door for Rexha, who takes the template and raises it to the next level.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: It does appear that a perfumed Bebe Rexha intends to stay high all the time and swing from the chandelier, but to reduce this to that would do her a disservice. The elasticity she showed on “Take Me Home” is again present, only rolled in gravel and misery, and between that and the glorious, needling pain of the occasional strings and the time spent on the verge of descent into heady inarticulacy this could be spectacular. There’s a problem, though: a lack of anything in the way of a chorus.
[6]

Mark Sinker: There’s a liquid metal bobble sometimes in her voice that I can’t help thinking is machine-enhanced, and that’s the first thing; but even more than this I love the pitiless synth girders that manifest as the unleashed super-deluded her as she moves from words into woah-oahs, all fingertip lasers slicedicing heaven.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Vocal distortions I usually embrace with relief, but the way in which the hook gets stretched into the thinnest taffy while the rest the song boasts such blaring overstatement makes me reach for a gin and tonic.
[1]

Will Adams: Bad idea: coming up with song titles first. Worse idea: turning an annoying voice into the lead synth to drape over moldy dubstep.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I’m upset that she ruined a perfectly good Luke Bryan title.
[3]

John Seroff: “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You” is the sort of turn of phrase that sounds fairly clever the first time you say it, then grows a bit duller on each repetition. The song suffers the same problem. Hyper-bombastic cut-and-paste EDM echoes, hair metal percussion and an overblown pop formula drastically dilute the kick of the cocktail. To her credit, Rexha comes close to spiking the punch all on her own; there’s a trashy operatic fullness to her voice that evokes Amy Lee or Bonnie Tyler. Pity that the magniloquent production of The Monsters and The Strangerz drowns her out.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: The drop is a total missed opportunity, as Bebe Rexha actually sneaks something somewhat fresh into the Ctrl-C start-build-explore-again EDM formula. The bulk of EDM-pop is either club hedonism or goofy troubled-relationship-blown-up-to-IMAX-size affairs. This touches on both of those tropes — drinking, some guy — but approaches both as more downtrodden, and her self-medication doesn’t sound pleasant. The violins are nice — but geez, when the build plunges down, it should be way more chaotic than the rinky-dink arrangement they settled for.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Maybe because I doubt the ability of alcohol to make the bad feel better — and I doubt anyone’s belief in the same, including my own — I read Rexha’s gruff refrain as bluster. The song’s nought to do with him, and all to do with the senseloss from a big tune and a deep glass. A human voice stumbles about, trying to be a synthesizer, lagging behind the action; a violin lows on the horizon, something wonderful and dejected to focus on. Just like on “Take Me Home,” Rexha overshades her vocal color and wills it into hyperreality.
[9]

[Read and comment on The Singles Jukebox ]

GERARD WAY - NO SHOWS
[3.45]


He’s growing up…

Maxwell Cavaseno: 21st Century Professor of Rockist Curatorial Services and Canonical Maintenance, M. Gerard Way strikes out solo, and strikes out. Here’s the thing about having generic store-bought glam riffs, indistinguishable vocals, and no hooks: you can get away with that, if you clean up the mix a little bit.
[0]

Tara Hillegeist: In which no trace of the guy who sang “Helena” shows up. “No Shows” fronts like it’s pretty pleased with itself for getting all the narrative beats of its ’70s-inspired approach in order and forgets to invest its post-pop-punky chatter with any actual feeling beyond an artless enthusiasm; its few desires to seem artful amount instead to so much buzzing, muzzling fuzz.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Listen to the distortion and sweet pop voice — has Gerard been listening to Superchunk? Matthew Sweet? Of course not. Superchunk and Sweet would have ended this show of force at 3:12.
[5]

David Sheffieck: I feel like there’s a decent song lurking beneath the poor mixing/mastering here. But this is a boringly straightforward drumbeat with a load of distortion behind it, a song that attempts to devolve into chaos in its outro but fails because there’s nothing to distinguish it from what came before.
[4]

Mark Sinker: Nice people (probably) have a good (good-bad) time in a nearby room I’ve never entered. I don’t want to stop them; but I don’t feel invited in either, for solace or even curiosity’s sake. This mood may pass, but this isn’t the song to make this happen.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: You do you, Gerard, but when all the people I knew went through a ’70s phase they just bought an Aladdin Sane poster and that was enough.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I like his comic well enough, and I like when famous rock stars put out back-to-the-basics records slightly better (my favourite continues to be Foxboro Hot Tubs). This is competent, but there is little to grab onto; are they even having fun?
[3]

Dan MacRae: Is this really only four minutes and twelve seconds long? Each time I put “No Shows” on it feels like I’ve been in Gerard Way’s static glam waiting room for like 20 minutes or something. It’s not an awful offering by any means, but this definitely is the sound of a guy that’s enjoying the opportunity to roam around his new surroundings. I can’t see it rebooting Britpop in America, though. (This news will surely be a crushing blow to the Midwest’s 60 Ft. Dolls-based economy.)
[6]

Megan Harrington: Shallow and imitative, I think what most appeals to me about “No Shows” is that it’s an affirmation of my own taste. It assures me that years of cuddling up to the blue light glow of some pockmarked post-punk were time well spent. Deep down I’m not sure I can totally accept the veracity of Way’s solo-mission statement, but I can’t pretend I’d do any better if I was given the world’s stage to live out my teenaged dreams.
[5]

Brad Shoup: The animal band’s so foggy, the whole production’s leaking steam. The fuzzpop riff is “I Will Follow Him” by way of the Flaming Lips’ fuzzpop phase. But the man who was happy to take instrumental-free spotlights is caught in his gears here, a vocal looking to get scratched.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: This is the worst fucking thing I have heard all year and I am completely unable to articulate why. Around these parts we generally don’t give out a [0] without critical explication, and I’m sure there is something worthwhile to be said about Gerard Way (d)evolving into a nightmare limbo brown note acid trip. But twelve listens in the farthest I’ve gotten is still WHO MADE THIS SHIT
[0]

[Read, comment and vote on The Singles Jukebox ]