The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

RIZZLE KICKS - TELL HER
[5.38]


And what will she say?

Scott Mildenhall: Rizzle Kicks have near enough admitted the release of this was just to tide things over while they go off to do some acting, and it is appropriately flimsy. The basis is little more than a hint of “Best Of My Love” or “Got To Be Real”, and the only time the words burst from the page is a sole urgent “ask you if you’re cool”. The pre-chorus has its singalong charms (mostly because it needed to be easy enough for Jordan to undertake); they’re delicate, which might be the crux of the song.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Pure, dumb luck - that’s all you need sometimes. Doofy rap dudes Rizzle Kicks latched on to the disco revival with “Tell Her,” and somehow come up with a single with more kick to it than most of songs that kicked off this wave in the first place…all with a little help from Evian bottled water. Lyrically, it’s stupid, but in an awkward way that works way better than the lothario approach most took. Musically, it loads up on horns, rinky-dink keyboards and casino-ready guitar, pushed forward by an assertive beat. And Rizzle Kicks, forced to stop rapping, manage to sing just fine enough to not ruin the mood.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Tell her yourself.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The polish on this track, the neon brightness of it, could give someone a very difficult future with vision problems that results in the worst sort of operations being necessary, and in that regard, I hope this duo wore some stupid shades in the studio. They seem like the type to do something like that. But moving past the fact that these two and not Flirta D are considered the pride of Northwest London right now (which makes me feel some type of way) is flabbergasting, but in your day where SB.TV and BBC 1Xtra pushing Ed “Frog Face” Sheeran as the epitome of the urban… Why not this generic slab of yacht pop? I won’t deny that this is a super tight bit of ambitious professional earnest teen cheese that swings and grooves like any other. But it’s so characterless in it’s disco pop perfection, and reflecting of a troubling lack of storm from across the Atlantic.
[5]

Alfred Soto: “In 2014, Rizzle Kicks teamed up with Evian for the 2014 Wimbledon Championships and released a single entitled “Tell Her,” with a video featuring Maria Sharapova.” Which explains its scrubbed hortatory appeal: a Chuck Taylor commercial. The Brits need to explain why a Pharrell falsetto doing a Philip Bailey impression is beguiling. In exchange, I’ll them it’s closer to “Call Me” than “September.”
[4]

Ashley Ellerson: Not only does this duo resemble a British Chiddy Bang with their choice of samples, but the singer sounds a lot like Hoxton-native Esser! (Does anyone remember Esser?? The world wasn’t ready for him six years ago.) This song is catchy, adorable, and just what we shy folk need. Though “Tell Her” feels very high school in every way it should, I’d still swoon over the guy who plays this for me today (as long as he’s of age). End-of-summer/back-to-school jams are in this fall, and now I wish I were going back to school.
[9]

Brad Shoup: Pharrell interpolating “Got to Be Real” in a seaside hotel lounge. I don’t think there was ever a point in his career where that would have worked for me.
[4]

Iain Mew: Perhaps Rizzle Kicks noticed the issues with starting a song “Do you remember back in school” when you seem barely out of it. Ditching any personality in favour of boredom and sounding closer to Olly Murs is not the way to solve that problem, though.
[3]

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JACOB LATIMORE FT. T-PAIN - HEARTBREAK HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
[4.70]


if T-Pain falls in a studio, will anyone be around to hear him?

Leela Grace: Charming and dated: I’m in high school again listening to Jay Sean and Jason Derulo and thinking that for smooth talkers they have remarkably dumb excuses. And Latimore isn’t any better. “Had another lover but she just won’t do it”? Swoon, I guess?
[4]

Crystal Leww: Anyone who still doesn’t “get” autotune and T-Pain only needs to listen to his feature here. The way that he sings “Even with this auto-tuned you got me singing like ooohhhhhhh” is an aesthetic choice, a deeply affecting aesthetic choice. “Heartbreak Heard Around the World” feels expansive and great in the way that only teen romances can feel. I know why Jacob Latimore isn’t as famous or popular as Justin Bieber, but it’s bullshit. This kid should be a huge deal.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: This song is composed of the ghosts of the plastic cage in the boxes that toy dolls are shipped in. It’s not fair to talk about the hollow qualities of the performers or the production — you could probably watch it crumble if you hit it at the right angle. But one point goes for T-Pain for embarrassing himself and everyone around with his rapping.
[1]

Thomas Inskeep: No, this won’t be the “heartbreak heard around the world” because not that many people are gonna hear this limp late-’00s R&B track. And here’s a tip, would-be teen dreams: in 2014, T-Pain is not the way to make your single sound super-current. Seven years ago, this would’ve been a huge 106th & Park smash.
[3]

David Sheffieck: T-Pain single-handedly almost manages to redeem this waste of a great emo title, his delivery of “And even with this autotune you got me singing like ooh” giving meaning to a line that’d already seemed overused. But this is a song where Latimore’s “Thinking like I’m losing my mind” is treated like profundity, and even a late-game injection of genuine emotion can only do so much to save it.
[6]

Alfred Soto: With acoustics, clip-clap percussion, and a keening melody, it evokes a Stargate production from 2006; with T-Pain’s name on the credits, it’s even easier to imagine. His bit sounds like a salvage job though. It’s pretty without justifying its existence.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: This guy is so heartbroken he can’t even drive a car. Talk about an emo revival.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: How about a little Jaysean Derulaz for old times’ sake?
[3]

Will Adams: “Heartbreak Heard Around the World” sounds timeless, not just because of its mid-aughts guitar-nB groove, but its exquisite pop songwriting:a hook-filled verse; accelerating beats for the chorus’ B-section to bolster the new musical information; the bridge that ramps up the drama by switching up the harmony; and a coda that half-quotes “Always Be My Baby,” all clocking in at a neat three minutes. The talent is there too: Jacob Latimore is a winsome vocalist, and T-Pain’s refined presence is a more than welcome surprise.
[9]

Brad Shoup: “Even with this Auto Tune, you got me singin’ like [melismatic run, the contours and angles of which can only be achieved by Auto Tune]”. T-Pain’s entertainability takes another step back with this anodyne relationship hostage note. I like how the bass negotiates its way to the chorus alongside Latimore, but it’s just about the only flourish here that doesn’t involve vocal processing. Latimore just can’t yet swear to God and make it sound threatening or pathetic. Hope it’ll come.
[2]

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T.I. FT. IGGY AZALEA - NO MEDIOCRE
[3.00]


Sez you.

Elisabeth Sanders: Yes mediocre.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: I know it’s an easy thing to say, but this isn’t even mediocre - it’s just bad. Remember when T.I. made exciting records, like, 10 years ago? When Iggy Azalea, who is not exactly known for being a great or even particularly good rapper, out-raps you on your own single, you should recognize that there’s a problem.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Oh Clifford… This Mustard beat resembles the steel pans of the Atlanta he once reigned over, sliding into the sea before dissolving into Alex Mack-like glorious texture. Yet the Kang is providing a rather half-hearted bit of player romp, overclustering his hook in a rare ratchet beat that lacks the space for his worming. And this was already before the arrival of the dreaded iguana reared her ugly head, bestowing on us another collage of the noises you make when you fight off sneezes. Oh I’m sorry, Grand Hustle representatives have told me that’s how she sounds when she raps. My mistake.
[2]

Crystal Leww: T.I.’s never been the rap lyricist’s favorite rapper, but he’s gotten away with it because of his personality and plenty of charm. What’s central to T.I.’s personality and charm is how it shines through his Southern drawl. For example, T.I., while describing his ideal chick: “I solemnly sweah!” with the rhyme scheme continuing into “fat aeh!” Figuring out what’s great about T.I. makes it makes it painfully apparent why Iggy Azalea is ill-suited to be “Grand Hustle’s first lady.” When your accent’s fake and when your personality’s fake, your raps come off as charmless. The other day I heard an edit of “No Mediocre” without Iggy Azalea and segued right into “Single Ladies,” and I decided that, yeah, this song isn’t actually all that bad without “Iggy Iggy” and her middle school flows.
[6]

Will Adams: In the future, everyone will get three and a half minutes to specify their sexual preferences right down to the detail of pubic hair. And an Iggy Azalea verse.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: I respect T.I.’s devotion to the title here, because the beat and the featured guest are definitely not mediocre.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The title a classic non-denial denial, the steel drum a menace, Iggy a nullity, “No Mediocre” sounds like a top ten sure shot.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: You want mediocre? Here’s some: “‘For me I think it was something to uplift women,’ T.I. told MTV News today, just hours ahead of the premiere.” As if the tired steel drum, endless demands and presence of Iggy Azalea weren’t enough to accomplish the opposite, now women get the post-“Blurred Lines” press tour of bullshit.
[2]

Brad Shoup: I totally missed Iggy’s verse the first go-round, and that’s only partially attributable to all the texts my dad and I were sending about A&M stomping South Carolina. So I missed the “six inches of space” line, which is killer; that and T.I.’s Jaguar prank almost compensate for some classic pubic nonsense. He and Mustard are in a Caribbean state of mind… I can’t imagine how you get head while riding a scooter, but I bet you could fuck in a steel pan. The melody works, the track doesn’t loom, so it’s kind of a waste.
[5]

Tara Hillegeist: Rap game Taylor Swift and a washup chasing trap rhythms like a lawyer looking for his ambulance with no slickness or skill to reward my ears for enduring it? “No” is word enough.
[0]

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STEVIE NICKS - THE DEALER
[6.12]


We’re getting older, too…

Thomas Inskeep: Whether or not you like the new Stevie Nicks single will depend upon how much you like prime-era Nicks: “The Dealer” was apparently written and originally demoed in ‘79 during the Tusk sessions, and her longtime sideman Waddy Wachtel co-produced this (with Dave Stewart). To my ears it’s got a much more classic sheen than Nicks’s recent work; add a little Jimmy Iovine polish to this and I can easily imagine it on The Wild Heart. Her voice is in fine form, Waddy’s lead guitar is in fine form, and flatteringly produced. Meaning, it soars like a white-winged dove.
[9]

Dorian Sinclair: It wasn’t until doing research into the history behind this song that I realized how old it actually is — the first demo apparently dates back to the late 70s, circa Tusk. Despite its age, it feels remarkably timely for the Stevie Nicks today, someone with more than four decades of public life behind her. The song is deftly written from a lyrical standpoint (I’m a huge fan of its use of tenses — “I see the sun now” being the only present tense line makes it hit all the harder), and is sung with feeling, but I do find the arrangement a little static — which prevents it from getting a higher score here.
[7]

Alfred Soto: This widely circulated bootleg given an aural sprucing sounds like a Bella Donna outtake — check out the intro organ and chord progression. The worn poker metaphors aside, Nicks still knows how to lean into a syllable, how to time her pirouettes to those precise bursts of guitar. But time has sanded that voice.
[6]

Anthony Easton: What convinced me of Stevie Nicks’ vocal genius was a live TV performance with Chris Isaak. It was mostly technical skill, but it did more for me than, say, “Landslide.” It might also say something that I like “Red River Valley” as a song than any of the SoCal ennui of Fleetwood Mac. This reminds me of “Red River Valley,” and how she sounds so fucked up and ragged. I await, with mild curiosity, her Tuskegee.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The band itself borders on lounge music, and the lyrics don’t necessarily gel. It’s a scattershot affair, and we can’t say if it always works to our favor. In Stevie’s case, time has stretched her voice to hit sour, tart notes. Were it anyone else, this could make listening to the legendary singer something like watching metal start to take an ugly yellow tint. But in her bluesy sweeps, Nicks gains something more. Enough times you listen to her sell the gambling mystique and you wonder if it’s more of an idea she chased than an idea she bore. At least she has that voice, that has emerged from the streams of time. Recognizable, but promising something new with each passing year.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Feels like Stevie Nicks trying out card-based metaphors for seven minutes. But somehow it finishes under five.
[3]

Brad Shoup: This isn’t a critical response, but: Prince would be a fantastic other voice on here. He and Nicks are both a little pinched, but he’s always been able to take the long view on seeing it all. Those two-note cappers after the chorus are soothing, a nice settling of the soul after these reminders of Nicks’ constant restlessness. This does remind me of a soundcheck, but that’s a place I’d like to be.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is a nice idea to muse about: realizing the agency that you had, and wondering what you could have done with it if you had fully owned it. Stevie claims very little agency for the present, almost as if she has opened up her vault of Free Will and found only a few meager coins left on the floor. Oh, if she had known then what she knew now, she could have done anything; as she is now, with all of the knowledge and little of the power, she’s content to be “the dancer,” to let him “almost stay here” so she can “almost hold” him. It’s a curious mix of feelings: soft wistfulness and craving for action; being content and also feeling a restlessness in your soul. The tune itself starts out a bit generic, the sort of thing you might hear in a bar on a Wednesday night, but it really unfolds when she hits that (very Stevie Nicks) sentiment in the chorus — “I was the mistress of my fate!” — and the harmonies billow around her. At that moment, the paltry stage lights flicker on, and the beer bottles shimmer in the scattered front row. It’s a brief illumination, but as long as it lasts, it’s lovely.
[7]

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MARY LAMBERT - SECRETS
[4.78]


My love, she keeps me lukewarm…

Katherine St Asaph: I’m rooting for Mary Lambert because I resent the way certain cognoscenti rushed to condemn Macklemore’s hijacking gay rights on “Same Love” simply because they absorbed that was the done thing, while ignoring the actual lesbian who wrote the hook. I also resent how the music press just wrote off the time they routinely (if sneeringly) covered the sort of music Lambert makes. “Secrets” is something like her third single since; did you even know? The glitched beats, strings and very legit high C are a bridge-long trip to a music world that never was, and Lambert’s wry spoken affect is a little Cathy Davey, a little Maria Mena, but mostly “Secrets” strikes me as something Nellie McKay would release today, when she’d have to compete with Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson and give her sound polish and crowd chants. I don’t just mean “Secrets” is the ol’ cheery music/pointed lyrics trick, I mean that in a world that conspires to pry every secret out of every woman by force, Big Data or coercion, “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are” is subversive and horrifyingly resigned where “I Wanna Get Married" just wouldn’t cut it as satire anymore. Part of me applauds Lambert’s blunt real talk after hearing so much platitude-pop; part of me just wants to give Lambert a Dear Sugar intervention and say oh sweetpea, you don’t have to write that on XOJane.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Do you know how sometimes you see one of those social justice slam poets on Tumblr, and you feel profoundly moved until you realize the form is tired, and the content oversimplifies complicated politics for (literally) performative points? Lambert is kind of like that, but her voice is much sweeter.
[6]

Brad Shoup: If Taylor Swift’s horns set you on edge, I can only imagine how these claw-game trumpets will sound to you. Lambert’s secrets — big and small — don’t seem so bad, which says more about the kinds of things I read and hear than anything else, probably. Still, I’m glad she’s making a pop move away from the White Shadow. From the look of it, she’s having fun: leaving in studio chatter and laughter, shoving the word “what” into my face, setting those plastic horns against a faded operatic vocal.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Talk-singing allows all kinds of indulgences, places emphasis on lyrics. The ones in “Secrets” are arch and flat. It’s possible that a melody would have mitigated, strengthened, or nullified their effects; in their current form they must be endured. And once again, here’s an example of how not to use horns.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Where is the border of affirmation and enabling? Must it always resemble a Dresden Dolls song with the histrionic elements sandblasted out? Am I supposed to feel good that there’s a clammy hand patting me on the back telling me everything’s OK with me? Do I want the sonic equivalent of a nursery blanket chasing after me? Is this really going to resonate with people? Why would anyone worry about being a real or fake anything? How did I have a friend who named her son after the last name of a Full Metal Alchemist character? Who does these things? Who makes this song? For whom? Why?
[1]

Iain Mew: The brassy affirmation of the chorus is rote enough that it could easily drag down the song, but Mary Lambert adds enough depth elsewhere that it works out fine. Her humour treads the line between funny and realistically embarrassing very well, and the fragility of the music does a lot of work in making clear how hard-won the self-acceptance is. The highlight is the swelling pre-chorus, which sounds like Regina Spektor at her most affecting.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: In one single, “Secrets” manages to encompass everything I hate(d) about the Lilith Fair era of music: from its self-aware “clever” lyrics to its sub-Sara Bareillies strum-pop. Additionally, the “secrets” detailed herein are about as “secret” as “rain on your wedding day” is “ironic.” Plan accordingly.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: A song that would be very “Apple product ad” were it not for the unfortunately, unintentionally legitimate gawkiness that moves it over into Microsoft territory. If anything it’s really quite sad. “She Keeps Me Warm“‘s transfer to “Same Love” posited the possibility of changing something innocuous without prompt; this lays so many more of Lambert’s cards on the table in an act of supposed self-assurance when no one even said they were playing poker. Self-deprecation and ownership of perceived vulnerabilities are vital, but at some point they lose the desired effect.
[4]

Luisa Lopez: Because most songs move at a kind of river pace, their words swimming around each other and together, moments that are direct jump out and strike with a different punch. “Secrets” is an entire moment like this, unfurled along a country road. Saved from being cutesy with lines like My family is dysfunctional / But we have a good time killing each other, it becomes a tap dance on a well-walked theme that sounds like it could save you from a high school hallway. I want every evening I live to close with the sound of a voice sliding from glissando into laughter.
[7]

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HELLO SAFERIDE - I WAS JESUS
[5.18]


We don’t post on Sundays, so please accept this morsel of scripture today…

David Sheffieck: The fuzzy synths and guitar are familiar but compelling, yet they’re completely at odds with Norlin’s vocal. The bridge comes close, and the backing vocals (once they appear) sound perfect, but the overall effect is of poorly mixed karaoke.
[4]

Iain Mew: I generally find Annika Norlin’s music to be well-crafted in a traditionalist kind of way but completely elevated by the depth and humour of her lyrics. It’s why Annika’s other group Sakert! didn’t quite work for me until the songs were På Engelska. “I Was Jesus” initially struck me as biting off more than it could chew lyrically, but leans more on the music than most to get past that. It develops her way with using pop bounce to make bitter words sting all the more, not in an ostentatious “check out the irony on this!” way but in the way that everything seems so sweet that the despair gets to sink in slow and deep. Here the warm fuzz of bass and synths set against her understated vocal helps power the themes of powerlessness, as she sets up heroic scenarios to bring down with bleak punchlines of her actions being unvalued by the sexist world.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Optimistic and rueful, with enough detailing and a vocal styling that is on the right side of storytelling. I liked when the work is smaller and personal (that song about losing her virginity when X played is a continual Darnielle-style favourite), but this does what it needs to do.
[7]

Ashley Ellerson: If Jesus were a woman, she might just be Annika Norlin (or some other lady who also sings about being Jesus). In all truth, Norlin is pretty accurate in regards to how the world would treat a female Jesus/Ghandi/Martin Luther King. Society tends to look up to more heroes than heroines because women have to do more to earn the title and respect. Poppy and relevant, “I Was Jesus” makes you clap and harmonize while simultaneously bumming you out over the fact that you’ll never be Jesus. Sigh.
[8]

Alfred Soto: It begins with a basic rhythm and chordal pattern, wrapped in a purring organ line, familiar to Velvets fans. Tripping only occasional on the enjambments, she makes the choral punch line work as the guitars and background vocals get louder. In other words, she barely gets away with it.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: She’s going for grad-student-clever, but comes across more as Ida Maria by way of King Missile. Offensively pretentious lyrics.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: Great drive, but the words sort of just mush together, which doesn’t work when you are trying to convey a message.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Purgatory is a land where the suffering of man is processed through a fuzz box, drones for miles and miles, repeatedly pipes some sort of insightful observation, and makes you cry. Yet even your sobs just form into the monotonous trenchant plod, as nobody goes anywhere, much like this diabolical song.
[2]

Brad Shoup: The backing vocals remind me of those in Liz Phair’s “Never Said,” but where hers ascend, Hello Saferide’s stay in base camp. Which is nuts, because the song’s nuts, a nice little drone-pop messianic fantasy wherein Jesus and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are inhabited by this fey daydreamer. I can only state my official wish that Nigel Blackwell had taken a pass at the text.
[5]

Luisa Lopez: A beautifully forgettable little song whose sound is more important than its words, and whose words are full of sad sighing smallness. A song that knows never to underestimate the panacea of a good bass line, anchoring us in the Mediterranean sea. A song that comes barreling happily through the sunset and mumbles pleasant nonsense ‘til it falls asleep.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: People don’t light a lamp and hide it under a bowl. (Matthew 5:14) Nor do they write provocative lyrics and hide them under loud fuzz. (Jukebox 4)
[4]

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FEMM - FXXK BOYZ GET MONEY
[5.50]


See, Mat, we do take reader suggestions!

Patrick St. Michel: FEMM have more or less ignored Japanese audiences, whether because they see this as a general hindrance or because they’re just the first outfit to realize their home country’s music market is fucked. And it’s worked — “Fxxk Boyz Get Money” has turned into the minor-blip Internet hit that gets the content machine chugging, and this pretend-mannequin duo have achieved the rare feet of going viral internationally. Yet unlike Kyary Pamyu Pamyu or Babymetal, the other notables of the last couple of years, they are practically unknown in Japan, and that’s on purpose. “Boyz” is sung entirely in English, and full of references few casual consumers would pick up on (Shane Victorino????), all while splattering EDM and hip-hop together into a fidgety sound. The actual music — written and produced by LA’s Patrick Lukens — is great, its refusal to sit still making it far more interesting than most EDM-pop (and that soft breakdown!) Isolated, “Boyz” is a good song with a nice-enough message, but I can’t shake how cynical the whole project feels. There’s no shortage of songs like this in the Western world right now, but nothing really like it in Japan. If FEMM made music like this, heavily lauded for its empowering message overseas, for the J-pop crowd, that would be a grenade thrown into an extremely static scene.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Vibrant and kinetic, sporting a solid title hook, its vocal filters nevertheless put me at a distance, and the middle eight stops the song cold.
[5]

Iain Mew: Being a duo of supposed animated mannequins looking to convert the world to your cause is a gimmick that doesn’t lend itself to an obvious musical identity like idol pop plus metal. FEMM, though, have achieved an uncanny valley feeling to their songs that’s all too fitting. They sound almost like transplanted Gaga/Ke$ha songs of 2010 (plus in this case a big helping of hip-hop-via-2NE1 attitude, best seen in “Gimme your number, I’ma give that shit right back”/"put a number on this paper but I throw like a frisbee"), but in the time machine teleporter that’s brought them here, something strange and eldritch has happened. The plastic sheen is a bit too shiny, a bit too obscuring of anything underneath, an alienating effect exaggerated by the first-language-posing-as-second-language lyrics (courtesy of a former American Idol contestant). The uncomfortable weirdness is an A+ conceptual follow-through, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to it any more.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: “Go back to Mommy and your Fisher-Price toys” is a reference so specific that I’ll tack on an extra point or two for it; I was raised on Fisher-Price toys. As far as the song itself, it sounds as if it was created in a lab by an evil J-trap genius. Addictive like meth, delicious like Japanese scotch, and nasty as they wanna be like 2 Live Crew, this is the whole package.
[8]

Will Adams: Every time it seems the song has settled into a groove, it uproots itself and dives headfirst into even more sonic bananas. The deadpan “wow“‘s that punctuate the second chorus are my favorite part; when confronted with the dizzying sirens and the octave-jumping delivery of the title, there’s no reaction more appropriate.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: The age of candy-corn pop-rap is far from ending, and “F**K BOYZ GET MONEY” was the anthem before even this song emerged. This song isn’t a grand unearthing so much as a cynical cash-in on a vibe that’s been brewing all over the land, and fuck it, let the girls get money, let the boys get ethered. This beat, however, reflects a lot of the issues with pop maximalism; those crunches can’t seem whether they want to go for the danceability of normal folk getting down or turn into the twisted industrial stomp of British Murder Boys. It’s intriguing as all hell, but it lacks a certain patience to fall into a groove to trap the listener, so rocky that it can toss you out like a mechanical bull. We can use a fascist groove thang, but only if it remembers it WANTS to keep you in there.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Is the ghostly wail throughout this a modulated organ, or the haunting of late capitalist decadence?
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I have never been able to work out my stance on fake-real-fake pop — a horrible perversion of Tom Ewing’s taxonomy I just mentioned, unless you think of it as reassuring press-release parentheticals: “It’s fake, don’t worry! (But wink, it’s real!) (But it’s fake, don’t worry.)” Why do I love the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack and mostly like FEMM, but think “Nadia Oh are molten rotting garbage? A couple factors, I guess. I haven’t found any insufferable press releases by FEMM (and was too young to care to look for Josie’s). “Fxxk Boys Get Money” is still listenable; the beat is a “Taking Over the Dancefloor” stomp, but this time it’s got earthquaking bass on the chorus, a real chord progression and real melody that isn’t too chopped-and-pixelated to work as pop. Then there are the intangibles, like the way this sounds nostalgic for bad cell-phone speakers, or the way the title can read as “fuck [forget] boys, get money” or “fuck [do] boys, get money,” or even “fuckboys get money,” all of which a certain stripe of music fan will find dystopian and shed delicious tears.
[6]

Brad Shoup: You know, I have always thought Shane Victorino was kind of a fuckboi, and he did get his, after all. FEMM turns an OK slogan into a sonic weapon by upturning the first couple words: it’s almost like a rhetorical question. I dunno if it hangs together as a song — does the moving-on R&B bridge really have a place here? what’s the Atlanta connection? — but the beat ruts and the hook slices.
[6]

Tara Hillegeist: Oof. This is ugly, misshapen, and unimpressive. Part of FEMM’s joke, of course, is presuming the audience doesn’t deserve better — which is fine if you assume the audience is solely fuckboys, or that the joke’s funny enough outside that context to be worth getting in on for any other reason. As it is, this is what I hear: Nicki Minaj also-rans with none of the restless need to turn a track into a sonic Mandelbrot that makes Nicki’s best electro-massacres hysterical and exciting; Charisma.com soulseekers with none of the acid missanthropy (sic); BiS labelmates with none of the sneering contextual rocks to dash themselves against. I’m supposed to be impressed by hype-spitters when they don’t try now? There’s a good idea in here, but if all I had to go on was this sample, I wouldn’t have heard any knowledge on FEMM’s part of what it is. Try harder, that’s all I ask.
[2]

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BIG K.R.I.T. FT. RICO LOVE - PAY ATTENTION
[5.29]


But should we be paying more attention to him?

Megan Harrington: Generally speaking, Big K.R.I.T. is a tedious rapper prone to eschewing anything catchy. Lately he’s sacrificed a bit of the labored lyricism for big production, and “Pay Attention” is a fun listen. The song builds symmetrically, adding interludes and hooks, ultimately ending in a chorus of the song’s best moments: Rico Love’s “I should be paying more attention to you” falsetto and K.R.I.T.’s “toot it up, turn ya out” bars. The verses serve up a sermon on club dynamics, but even that is palatable in small doses.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Luscious production designed to make us pay attention, but Love’s rank Usher impression sounds like a comment on K.R.I.T.’s colorless rap. An apt comment on the male rap-R&B axis.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: If I didn’t know this was Krit, I’d assume it was Lil’ Ugly Mane or Salem or someone else who thinks chopped and screwed music should sound like Myspace trip-hop. The Southern Lupe Fiasco strikes out again, because I can’t imagine anyone without a heavy batch of ketamine in wait thinking this could be enjoyable. “I think that was her song!” he blusters, lying his ass off because this is nobody’s song, the DJ is not wheeling this back, and hopefully this bit of musical malware gets lost.
[1]

Patrick St. Michel: Probably a minute too long — the slowed-down self-reflection interlude really should have been edited out — but overall solid. I’m not really sold on these two existing on this track together, but each handle their segments well.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Of course Big K.R.I.T. is from the deep South; he’s got that Big Boi-ish drawl, and knows what to do with it. Which means he can spit. Rico Love is of course an awesome writer and producer for the likes of Usher and Beyonce, but here he’s the silky-voiced hook singer, contrasting superbly with K.R.I.T.’s grit. Jim Jonsin is on production duties but gets this one right. In fact, this jam hits every note right.
[8]

Brad Shoup: It’s really something to write the perfect song for a strip club at 6 a.m. K.R.I.T.’s up in his head, convincing himself he didn’t piddle away eight hours. Meanwhile, the DJ — way past caring — clicks on an Usher tribute track by mistake.
[3]

Tara Hillegeist: Outside of the post-dancehall hook from Rico Love, K.R.I.T. punches with his usual shootist’s flow, comparatively unadorned and as invested in his images as ever. His admiration for the object of his affections is palpable, man, he treats her like she’s doing work to respect, moving so good, looking so confident. Makes me feel powerful and inspired to hear him go on, but this isn’t the whole picture and we all know it. We’re more than our body’s business. That’s another story, for another song — all she needs from him in the club is his adoration; all he’s in a position to give, here, is his respect. Leaving it at that is weak work — and expecting more from this song is cheap heat. But I can’t help but wonder, right now. I can’t get the question out of my mind and it makes it difficult to engage with the song beyond it, if I would forgive him so readily for being so considerate and appreciative if his words read as “easy” as any hand-drawn cartoon this well-drawn. It’s an unfair, disingenuous question — thinking pictures are any more inherently “easy” than words because they’re more immediately “read” is a mistake to begin with. But this thought is a ghost, and it’s haunting me. I can’t find an answer I’d leave the club with. So I’ll ask it of you. What are you looking at, when you look at a woman with those eyes?
[7]

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M.O - DANCE ON MY OWN
[6.09]


"Aha," they thought, "UK garage and solo dancing will be a surefire hit!" And yet, and yet…

Thomas Inskeep: This lyrical mashup of “Irreplaceable” and “I Will Survive” (with a soupçon of “Dancing On My Own,” natch) is great chiefly because it rides a sample from Sweet Female Attitude’s 2000 UKG classic “Flowers.” And because it nails the right attitude — sharp and sassy without being rude.
[8]

Cédric Le Merrer: Modern UK R&B à la Disclosure with less restraint and more pop smarts. One of these girls was in Mini Viva, which figures. Finally a song about dancing on your own that’s a joyous kiss-off rather than a mopey lament or a bleak cat lady anthem. I may close the blinds and put on headphones to dance away a bad memory or two.
[8]

Anthony Easton: You know the patterns, you can paint the paint by numbers, and any elements of innovation have been done half a generation before. Even the call of the dance floor sounds obligatory and not very celebratory. I am glad M.O are finding themselves, but this retreat into blandness won’t help.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: *affects best So Solid crew impersonator vox* Huh! M.O bring the garage back. Got the bubble & squeak track. Ghosts of that Sunship mix, but don’t take the piss. Rough with the smooth, nothing new, but a summer breezer to make the gyal dem feel cool. SEND IT! *skanks off in some off-key Moschino outfit*
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: Perhaps the purest effort yet at creating Kisstory: The Song. It’s almost as if they want you to play draw the lines of source, and that is more fun. The path of Deborah Cox missing the top 40 with “It’s Over Now” to Big Ang improving it and taking it inside before Freemasons took it higher and Burns lower is an illustrious one, a lyric and melody perfectly adaptable to whatever form of dance music is popular at the time. “Dance On My Own“‘s effort is pure homage and pure trendchasing, with perhaps a little too much reliance on that, even with original lyrics. The sum total only resembles “Never Gonna Let You Go”; what would really be interesting is something that sounds like “Ripgroove”.
[6]

Brad Shoup: If you’d given me the blind taste test I would’ve credited whatever garage label ‘cause they sprung for three singers. They’re more indignant than present, summoning high dudgeon for the hook but disappearing into effecthood elsewhere. This sort of thing — and the brittle production — tends to be saved for the remix.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The skittering percussion and triggered vocal samples evoke New Jack, and kudos to the pitch-altered vocal echo after each verse in the bridge. The chorus is weak TLC, though.
[5]

Will Adams: A great chorus and a strong argument for the need for more 2-step crossover into pop, but I would have preferred to hear this with Katy B’s voice.
[6]

Crystal Leww: Girl groups have become a great place for nostalgia the last few years, and M.O is no exception, combining R&B vocals with UK garage. The vocals are warm and defiant over an icy and cool beat. It conveys the right tone to that summer fling who did wrong and who needs getting rid of now that the air is finally getting cooler.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Forget the supposed Summer of Ass; 2014 is the Summer of Dancing On Your Own. It is not the Summer of Garage, despite M.O’s game efforts. For that 2014 would have to suck less, and M.O try more.
[6]

David Lee: Watered-down Mis-Teeq, which, you know, there are worse things.
[6]

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ROMEO SANTOS - ERES MIA
[6.78]


Change the hair color and punchability and squint a little and he turns into Macklemore…

Josh Langhoff: King Romeo’s aptly named Formula Vol. 2 album lulled me into a stupor, but it’s my own fault for not knowing the language because the guy’s a laugh riot. Or at least a smirk riot. “Propuesta Indecente” had sports car sex and nude body appreciation, but even those pale next to this cuckoo’s fantasy. He opens by insulting your boyfriend, compares himself to a pirate and you to his stolen gold, then calmly — always calmly! — tells you not to be surprised when he sneaks into your room and lays claim to you. You knew this would happen, don’t get mad. (Judging by the video you’re very wealthy, so you’re probably taking this all with a grain of salt.) As with most quiet storm music, one isolated Romeo song sounds better than a whole bunch in a row, but that’s based on listening to Formula in the daytime. I get the feeling I wasn’t using it right.
[6]

Alfred Soto: This mild-voiced crooner goes a shrewd Sade route: coating the mild voice with mild accompaniment but with few of Adu’s dusky notes and the band’s occasional sharp corners.
[6]

Mark Sinker: Rippling amused light high latino voice cheeky-boasting abt stolen love and hearts caught on a dare, a bold bad wicked secret swerve quite away from the safe and the good and the wise. Here I was elbow-deep in bone china and bubblewrap, packing several lifetime’s histories into boxes, lost in half-thoughts of choices made 40-odd years ago (this house); and 90-odd years ago (this china, carefully picked out in love or pragmatic aspiration); and even 200 years ago, when the china was made, a literal empire age before it became so cracked and so brittle. Was it a fancy purchase, or cheap and whimsical, when my grandparents found it? No one remotely left to ask, just guesswork and stubborn opacity. And across the puzzle, this one voice, absurd, liquidly perverse, just flimsy-flighty enough to maybe slant-touch on everything you know you can never now know, about people tied to you but vanished; forever unaskable.
[8]

Jessica Doyle: The start is a shimmer, and the rest of it lives up to the promise. I may be imagining the tremble in his voice; it may be a compressed file or subpar speakers or something else mundane. If so I don’t want to be corrected.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: This is a remarkably pretty record, marked by Santos’s cool, summer-kiss falsetto, and the lovingly picked cuatro that echoes Santos’s voice. In its spareness — and in its prettiness — it recalls Robin Thicke’s “Lost Without U,” which makes sense since bachata is kinda-sorta Latin R&B anyway.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: In one corner of the universe, legendary blogger and forger of the term “caucacity” TheKidMero suggested that Drake should move into bachata because it was a domain of soft male effeminate longing that suited his brand much better than rap ever could. And for Romeo Santos, nothing has changed this territory and how you navigate it. Every inch of this song is draped out in none more saccharine, to the point I half expect Aubrey’s nasal “AUW” to pierce in and drop some ramble about seeing ex-girlfriends in the side of his toaster. Santos, however, is ever the graceful phantasmal glider, the edges of his falsetto shying away from touching the dainty edges of the production from fear that all could be revealed to be the real world once more. It’s crystalline to an impossible standard, and it boggles the mind how one is able to sustain this sort of illusion.
[6]

Megan Harrington: There’s a strange, almost robotic, nasally quality to Santos’s voice that is sublime against the tinny production. It sounds like being buried alive, growing weak and weary as the air gets thinner. I fully expect Santos to reveal he’s Death if I swoon.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Much to swoon at here; can you smell the chloroform? The slap bass contributes some startling knocks; an angel cries from the bottom of a well. You can’t run if you’re hypnotized, I guess.
[6]

Anthony Easton: The percussion, like rain on water, is so delicate, and Santos is smart enough to let his ballad-singing skim on top of it. This is effortless.
[8]

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