The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

KIRA ISABELLA - GONE ENOUGH
[6.83]


Our second-highest scorer follows up, fumbles slightly?

Alfred Soto: I expected these brawny guitars on Big & Rich’s comeback, not here. Of course “Gone Enough” isn’t the revelation that “Quarterback” remains, but if that song was a dispatch, this one is a report from the front lines, where she has no intention of being any guy with a truck’s plan B. If she keeps this up the Pistol Annies might need to be a foursome.
[7]

Anthony Easton: The guitar work here — somewhere north of Top 40 rock and south of rockabilly — matches the spitting lyrics. It is of a certain type, but Isabella has amazing story telling skills and a chameleon tendency to know where nu-country is and where it’s going. I think she might be the Canuck who breaks through Nashville’s parochial fear of non-Americans.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Nothing more than a low-wattage Band Perry.
[5]

Brad Shoup: She’s got electrified twang to fill a room, and a fiddle that enters like a stock sitcom character. It’s “God Blessed Texas” with a sentiment that other people can relate to, I suppose.
[6]

Will Adams: I wished those chugging sixteenths on the pre- and post-chorus would stick around more. It’s the place where Kira Isabella’s fire rages the most powerfully.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: In all the right ways this screams of a next-gen Carrie Underwood, from its uptempo ass-kickin’-ness, to her voice (definitely reminiscent of Underwood’s, especially when she sings the word “enough”) to its lyrical content (not takin’ shit from a cheater). Isabella’s no copycat though; she’s got her own personality, full of sass for days. One of the year’s best country singles.
[9]

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MAGALIE - FIRST KISS
[6.10]


How will we know if she’s really the next [FILL IN THE BLANK]?

Katherine St Asaph: The pop music press is broken in many ways; one trivial example: it is not currently laboring to find and champion the next “Call Me Maybe.” Luckily, the industry seems to be doing so — albeit, in this case, getting there by way of finding the next Rita Ora — and Magalie’s debut single adds to the mix a rubbery Robyn synth, thwacking percussion and a generous portion of “How Will I Know.” The chorus takes a while to find its rhythm, and a few notes are overly breathless, but the song’s called “First Kiss”; no one expects perfection the first go-round.
[7]

Brad Shoup: I’m not really enjoying this new age of Carly Rae Jepsen only getting mentioned in the context of telling people that Carly Rae Jepsen’s album was underrated, y’all. “First Kiss” shimmers over a pneumatic drum machine; Magalie navigates it like a suggested route. “The boy next door” is a porn character, then he’s an angel, then he’s just a boy.
[9]

Patrick St. Michel: Does something that sounds so squiggly and bright but indebted to all sorts of artists from the (in some cases, not-so-distant) past really need to exist in 2014? Magalie’s first single overflows with synth buzzs and a follow-the-bouncing-ball beat, and she’s great at making her voice reflect the implied rush the titular action has on her. It is a totally serviceable pop song… but one that sounds like all sorts of other numbers already in existent. It’s nice, but it also sorta just makes me want to listen to Whitney Houston.
[5]

Anthony Easton: More Katy Perry than ye-ye, it makes one wonder if the homogenizing quality of the American empire has reached the aesthetics of innocent but seeking experience pop songs, which used to have an individual, separate national character.
[7]

Alfred Soto: When it keeps threatening to turn into “How Will I Know” the synth gurgles rein it in, which is a pity.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Like Robyn covering Whitney in a post-Miley world.
[6]

David Sheffieck: The subject matter is well suited for a Radio Disney hit, but the production kneecaps Magalie here: as “First Kiss” progresses, it seems to become weighed down just when it should be achieving escape velocity. This is all lower-register, claustrophobic synth pulses, the kind that compete with Magalie’s voice rather than complementing it. It’s a bizarre and unfortunate misstep for a song that could be much stronger if given a treatment that better suited its themes and hooks.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: There’s nothing wrong with repetition, but to put things one way, Magalie is no Paul Johnson. The more central you make a title line, the more its scansion and delivery matter. In this instance the words jab repeatedly like a poke in a side, with Magalie’s accents in the worst places - “gave me MY FIRST kiss” - to make the timing as unpredictable as possible, even as she keeps doing it. It’s the bit of the egg the curate would smuggle into the bin.
[4]

Will Adams: My first kiss was at fourteen, a little after 8pm, outside her dormitory. I quickly walked back to mine and couldn’t stop smiling. There was also a nervous energy coursing through my body. We chatted over Facebook later that night, and I asked her if I was an okay kisser, because I knew that she had kissed guys before, and I needed validation. I held my breath waiting for her response, beginning to shiver at the notion of how weird it was for me to be asking her such a thing. Magalie’s “First Kiss” feels a lot like mine; the drums punch through with power while the ethereal pad seems beamed in from heaven. But it also has that awkwardness, that second-guessing, the way she flits in between voices and gives the spotlight to “the boy next door,” a hook that adds extra lyrical baggage. The difficult intersection of nostalgia and embarrassment has rarely been so accurately portrayed.
[7]

Megan Harrington: It’s Cuffing Season! The phenomenon dreamed up by teens looking to lock down their Homecoming dates is settling in for the big chill. This year’s anthem? “First Kiss” — chaste enough to keep your parents placid but dirty enough to catch that cutie’s attention if you tweet the lyrics during pre-calc.
[7]

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FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH - WRONG SIDE OF HEAVEN
[3.75]


FOR SO LOO-OO-OOONG…

Anthony Easton: Someone needs a hug and a reminder that God loves him. Also, maybe some honey throat lozenges for all that Cookie Monstering.
[4]

Megan Harrington: What if Jesse Lacey only had the verbal skills of Dishwalla? You’d have “Wrong Side of Heaven,” a Jesus Christ pose without any delicacy. Five Finger Death Punch match their plodding ballad to a message encouraging listeners to support veterans; I’m empathetic, but it’s easy enough to separate song and video and their Support The Troops campaign only distracts from the song’s blatant awfulness. This is the most rudimentary and dangerous understanding of Christianity, the kind that encourages self-identifying as righteous and saved. It’s unsurprising that the band slugs through it, screaming to force emotional highs where there aren’t any. “Wrong Side of Heaven” is more alienating than comforting.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: Plodding plodding shouty music — tie it to whatever well-meaning-but-unrelated music video you want and it still is a slog.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Well, in the hard-crunchy-yet-melodic-rock sweepstakes, it’s certainly better than the new Nickelback single. Lead singer Ivan Moody has a richer, more resonant voice than is normally associated with this genre, especially when not going all aggro-hernia-esque. But overall there’s not so much to differentiate this from countless other Rockstar Mayhem Festival bands.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: As far as nu-metal bands go, Five Finger Death Punch exist in the more traddy, Disturbed world of making pop-metal jams for radio rock. It’s a mookish field of dudes with shaved heads, righteous fists of indignation, big choruses and lyrics that mean absolutely nothing, and FFDP haven’t broken from this trend. Big riffs of no value, thunderous drama, and a hollow body, this band has been a Trojan Horse from jump and nothing has changed. The insidious fact is that as bands from more progressive and ambitious fields — NWOAHM, nu-metal, metalcore, you name it — fall by the wayside, these pedantic bands never go away.
[1]

Iain Mew: There are some words that sound particularly proper delivered in TOTAL SERIOUSNESS amidst clouds of fake smoke. “Righteous” is one of them, even before you bring heaven and hell in. Beyond that joy, I particularly like the way that Five Finger Death Punch growl right in the background to give their melodies just a bit more edge, and make the couple of times the growl is forefronted that bit more dramatic.
[7]

Brad Shoup: All those e-brake flips into bellowing and all the darkness/light contrasts are so camp, but so is that delightful bridge, which channels A Perfect Circle more than I would ever have expected from these dudes.
[5]

Jonathan Bogart: I wish I could believe anything was so dramatic as this music wants to be. Certainly the operations of an individual soul are not.
[4]

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THE VERONICAS - YOU RUIN ME
[3.20]


The Veronicas: Grouse

Maxwell Cavaseno: About a perfect midway point between Christina Perri’s “Jar Of Hearts” sense of grandeur and Rihanna’s “Take A Bow” in theme, The Veronicas go for the ballad and just kind of make it happen. The verses are awkward and ungainly, and the bridge falters before returning to the hook that I’m just not riding for in any sense. Pretty weak overall, and not inspiring trust to invest in their grasps for maturity.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Songs that have genuinely just been removed from the depthless, near-deathless Heart playlist: “Counting Stars”, “Just Give Me A Reason”, “Locked Out Of Heaven”. A song just added: this. So with a degree of implausibility, it has a shot at ubiquity. Australian hits tend not to have a pathway to the UK — it can take “4ever” for one to appear, 4years late — but perhaps there’ll always be a chance for something so firmly into Christina Perritory. Caught somewhere between the unravelling derangement of “Jar Of Hearts” and overall rangelessness of “A Thousand Years” though, it’s found something of a no-man’s land: all unease, but no punch.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Finally, Australia finds a way to thank Pink for all the memories.
[4]

Alfred Soto: At first it sounded like a ponderous ode to her guitar, but if the Veronicas think instruments and hence music deserve praise then they need to write better material than Linda Perry on Xanax.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: This sub-P!nk piano-and-strings ballad is limper than a piece of wet spaghetti.
[1]

Jer Fairall: The vocal suggests someone who has spent the time they should have been listening to Tori Amos absorbing the schlocky lessons of Christina Perri and Lana Del Rey and Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” instead. Even the genuinely rueful note struck, ever so briefly, by “In the end, I hope she was worth it” is diminished by a string section and backing ahhhs that reveal someone’s failure of confidence in the whole thing.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: I am generally pro-The Veronicas. The Veronicas make it difficult to sustain this position.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: I think I’m ruined, because all I can think of is “this is so boring.”
[1]

Will Adams: A miserable mess of confused metaphor and maudlin arrangement. If this is some attempt to display artistic growth, they’ve got it really, really wrong.
[2]

Jonathan Bogart: The sentiment is general enough that it could easily be latched onto by a horde of done-wrong-by listeners. That’s the problem. It excerpts too well: the same two-note plod (expertly timed and orchestrated, of course) throughout, with no change in dynamics or ideas, means it’s always only going to be an accessory to an emotion, and never a center of emotion itself.
[5]

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THE PRETTY RECKLESS - FUCKED UP WORLD
[5.92]


It’s Rock Day! And sometime while people cared piss-all about rock Taylor Momsen became No. 1…

Josh Langhoff: Taylor Momsen’s vague about which transgressions are sending her to hell. From parsing her band’s very good second album, I’m pretty sure she gave head to Evil Incarnate out in the woods, and then maybe killed a dude. She might be proud of this, but it doesn’t make her feel good. Going to Hell reeks of Catholic guilt like no other album this year, and though Catholics aren’t the only sinners who protest too much (remember when Sufjan thought he was John Wayne Gacy?), they’re the most thorough and physical about it, as though guilt — not matter, energy, chi, or money — constitutes the fabric of the world. That’s why “Fucked Up World” comes as such a release at album’s end: Momsen finally transcends the guilt fabric, not by jamming Jesus down her throat (now there’s a Catholic image!) but by seeing the world clearly and refusing to care. Drummer Jamie Perkins is right there with her, playing the tension — terse snare on every beat like the beginning of "Lump" — that loosens into joyful cascades on the choruses. They sound more earthbound and less cynical than all those scary beardos stalking the Real Rock Radio trash heap. They may or may not light cigarettes with guns.
[7]

Megan Harrington: When you think about it, Taylor Momsen and Drake have quite a bit in common.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: “Sex and love and guns, light a cigarette”: yeah, that pretty much sums it up. If Joan Jett circa 1980 appeared today, she’d be fronting this band, playing hard rock that says “You don’t wanna fuck with me, buddy,” while the incessant tambourine roots it in the ’60s, in a good way, an “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” way. Taylor Momsen snarls her way through the song and kicks out the jams on the chorus. This is precisely, absolutely what I want from a rock record in 2014 — or any year, frankly.
[10]

Jer Fairall: Gossip Girl star does a surprisingly plausible Joan Jett impersonation. Colour me impressed, though the elder Runaway would have brought this in at a more concise running time.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Taylor Momsen’s snarls will get the kudos, rightly, but the organ and rhythms are pretty fucked up too.
[7]

Iain Mew: Some of the sloganeering The Pretty Reckless throw at the wall is great fun: “they want to know who did it but the answer’s really us!” “You ain’t getting what you want unless you’re getting it for free!” It’s also worth sticking around for the emphatic thrust back into the song after the instrumental bridge. There are a couple of big problems. First, the production and mixing sounds terrible, right through scuzzy and into muffled. Second, the start of the chorus sounds so much like Garbage’s "Cherry Lips" that it just highlights the waste in not giving this the pop-with-bells-on treatment it’s crying out for.
[5]

Anthony Easton: Taylor Momsen wants to be a rock star, but the anthemic quality of this, and how it speeds up after that break around 2:35, is more B-52s and less Joan Jett. It doesn’t get close to the genius of the B-52s being fronted by Joan Jett, but we all can’t hope for miracles.
[8]

Jonathan Bogart: The sturdy mechanics of glam as processed through the postgrunge sheen of mid-90s radio rock are generally going to have a baseline appeal to me. This channels any number of post-Hole also-rans, and while I appreciate the attitude I can’t help wondering whether slackerface is really the appropriate model of protest for 2014.
[7]

Brad Shoup: I’m pretty sure the definition of glam is “hard rock that neither the performer nor audience takes seriously”, and this judgy little number definitely qualifies. Momsen helms a bone-dry production, punchy and cynical as prime Hole. The clatter in the bridge isn’t weird enough to compensate for a good ol’ solo, though.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Guitars. They have a great thing going for them in the fact that they’re portable and can be used both percussive and melodically. You can’t really carry around pianos, you can’t sing along to your trumpet or flute, and drums are just noise to some people no matter how hard you try. A guitar is kind of like bread. Everybody eats bread, right? Bread is the universal language, more so than the Coca-Cola bottle. Everyone hears a guitar and thinks, “Oh yes, it’s a GUITAR.” They know what that’s supposed to mean. There’s no song here, there’s no meal. It’s just bread. You asked for it, you got it, it’ll do. Bread.
[1]

David Sheffieck: The lyrics are dumb as anything — you would literally have to plant a bunch of peppers in the yard to have a more garden-variety form of rebellion. But man, that breakdown just works for me: just unexpected enough, and longer than I would’ve expected, it’s enough to give the song some weight and enough to make me buy in by the time the chorus comes crashing back.
[6]

Danilo Bortoli: Writing about “Fucked Up World” means also writing about a favorite subject of mine, something most people call “institutionalised confusion.” When people get confused, or even when an entire society gets confused, words lose their true, unique meaning, leaving people vulnerable to blind relativism. So when I listen to Taylor Momsen talking about (long lost) symbols like “sex and love”, “guns” and lighting cigarettes under a nice, clean guitar riff, figuring out what she’s talking about can be a tricky job. Sex and love have lost both their meanings in the eyes of an eternal revolution. Guns? Well, you know the story. Cigarettes need no further explanation. This whole regression would be unnecessary if “Fucked Up World” could at least transcend its symbols, its center narrative, like great pop music usually does. This leads to the dead song “Fucked Up World” turns out to be: an ode for the misfits and a bunch of lost symbols, when a greater question to be asked would be how we got so messed up. An even greater decision would be to forget about dumb rebellion and revolt (not rebel) anyway.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: The chorus is a shrug because the sentiment is a shrug. Of course it’s a fucked-up world, in a banal way that saps the rebellion out of you. Read the news. (Read the news, at that link, at any point in time; it’ll work.) It is a routine now: I wake up at 7 a.m. to the same then-nu-alt-rock song, not dissimilar to this, then let the fuckery of the first hour of the morning in like pallid sunbeams; take in a news cycle and watch my part of the world react with burnt-out despair to the rest of the world’s innovations in fuckifying itself it worse; after a day of this my energy’s so exhausted it’s a wonder I can even listen to a rocker, let alone be galvanized by it. As such, the Pretty Reckless are best when you let the words shrug off their syntax — “sex ain’t love, and guns light a cigarette,” what’s the diff? — and refuse to hear anything more than glossy, crunchy altpoprock nostalgia that’d be radio-ready 20 years ago. We remember the ’90s because we want to escape back into them.
[6]

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AUGUST ALSINA FT. NICKI MINAJ - NO LOVE (REMIX)
[5.75]


She’s also available for wedding remixes, Bar Mitzvah remixes…

Megan Harrington: Unfortunately, this is August Alsina’s song. And he is boring. Nicki gives him better than he deserves, a verse that simmers with despair. She maintains the song’s plaintive heartbreak, but given that the theme is such a non-starter in Alsina’s hands, I’d prefer a verse in character as the girl who broke his heart.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Bold choice for Minaj to hold out for more — a deviation from Alsina’s theme, but she packs more feeling in her few sung lines than his entire Auto-Tuned shrug of a performance. He’s gotta know it, too: why else leave in her laughter and helicopter noises?
[5]

Anthony Easton: What will it take to have a Nicki Minaj album of torch song standards? The rapping here is tight and adroit as it always is, but the hints of heartbreaking singing make me want to hear her do 90 minutes of historically minded heartbreak.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: The best single yet from August Alsina, who’s got the voice of an angel and the loins of the devil, apparently. And what’s wrong with that? This isn’t particularly trap&B and certainly isn’t EDM&B but, refreshingly, straight-up, modern, young R&B, which there isn’t enough of these days. I mean, I’m too old to “party till I can’t,” but if I was 20 years younger, sure. And Nicki chimes in with a few bars up to her standards (that I wish went on longer).
[6]

Crystal Leww: Alsina’s underrated and overlooked Testimony is an earnest R&B album that goes much deeper than drugs, women, and the turn-up, so it’s ironic that its singles so far have leaned so heavily on that side of Alsina’s discography, from the wavy “Ghetto” to the boomin’ “Numb” to “No Love”. The production for “No Love” is luxuriously smooth like the rest of the album, no doubt thanks to the consistency that The Exclusives lend. Alsina plays a dude who seriously ain’t shit, but god, he sounds great, exactly like the ain’t shit dude who could ruin your life but still keep calling to hang out late at night. Surprisingly, Minaj lets herself play the girl who keeps falling for it, showing a little bit of vulnerability in the sung bits before flipping to a hard exterior in rap bits. It’s a simple appearance from her, but it works well with the song.
[7]

David Sheffieck: The concept of having Nicki drop a response verse — or more, a rejoinder — into August’s song is great. The execution is sadly lacking: Nicki’s isolated by being slotted so close to the song’s end, and it’s easy to check out between her trilling laughter at the start and when she actually starts singing. Aside from her appearance, though, this is smooth to the point of being forgettable.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: Sure, I’m a sucker for self-loathing romantic music, lush electro-R&B, and, well, Nicki Minaj. I don’t know if this kid has it in him to be a Ne-Yo or even a Trey Songz, but on the strength of this I’m extending him the benefit of the doubt.
[8]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Drumma Boy is arguably one of my favorite producers in modern music, and here you can hear his amazing instincts for unusual orchestration and synth washes that always made a crude button-masher like Mike Will seem idiotic in comparison. And here in such a dense cavernous environment of romance and light bouncing off of water, Nicki is inspired to bounce stylistically both in her singing and her rapping. It’s a shame it’s wasted on this hunchback. Alsina remains a void of charisma, talent, and reasons to exist in the industry. But thanks to the Sassiest Boy in America not named Ian Svenonius, we have this remix, so I guess even a crude clay amalgamation of the scraps of actual R&B stars from the last decade gets SOME things right.
[4]

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NETTA BRIELLE - 3XKRAZY
[6.00]


The Bay on her back…

Maxwell Cavaseno: For anyone who’s been paying attention this year, a lot of the promotion for the patchy collection of songs via DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers and Iamsu!’s slumper of a cure for insomnia Sincerely Yours involved a “beef” over the origins of DJ Mustard’s innovations belonging to the Bay, and his supposed “failing’ to pay ‘proper’ homage” (Iamsu! was ON Mustard’s album though, so was this just a way to attract attention to two really terrible albums? Probably). So, the territoriality of Netta Brielle announcing — over the intro to a song produced by Iamsu! affiliate P-Lo and hyphy survivor Traxamillion, named and crafted after a single by Bay star Keak da Sneak’s old crew that she’s “really from here tho” is a statement in itself. It’s an obvious reply to “2 On”, but she forgoes the more restrained vocal qualities of Tinashe for a slow-burn of vocal heat fueled by the turbulence of the beat. I doubt it’ll have the impact of its progenitor, but it’s more than a song — it’s a challenge to the false divide between Mustard and the rest of the scene that brought him to such heights. Also, this, and every song on the planet, but this specifically, demands a Sage The Gemini verse STAT.
[7]

Anthony Easton: This isn’t even 3xKrazy, unless she meant how many times she Xeroxed Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” to make something this anemic.
[3]

Alfred Soto: “Sweating your persona / You think you wanna” is the awkward rhyme of the year, honoring the awkward title. The rest is early ’00s R&B, down to the bleh LL Cool J interpolation.
[4]

Thomas Inskeep: I like the references here — the lyrics lifted from Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” and the general mid-’90s R&B vibe — but I wish there were more here here, y’know what I mean? “3xKrazy” is alright, but very unexceptional. And that’s an awful title.
[5]

Crystal Leww: Netta Brielle kind of seems like the type of girl I’d want to get cosmos with at 7pm and gossip about every ex-boyfriend who ever called us crazy. She’s just so full of vibrant, manic, and colorful personality that I’m sure we’d get a little drunk and talk a little bit too much, you know?
[8]

Brad Shoup: The track’s immersive, with that medium-sized bassline blending well with the sequencing and the dissolute bells. When Brielle breaks off melismas, it’s not so great, but she can hold notes with some grain; nothing’s really crazy (at least, not in the grand tradition of the Bay), but it’ll get you home at night.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: I detect g-funk somewhere in the DNA of this beat, which no doubt makes me more broadly sympathetic to it than I otherwise might be, because I am old like that. Or maybe I just haven’t been listening to enough great R&B. Either way its midtempo lope and skittering treble have me thoroughly charmed.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I know how unimaginative and/or imperceptive and/or gross the statement is, but after years of trendspotting this finally is another golden age of R&B, isn’t it?
[8]

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KATE TEMPEST - CIRCLES
[6.27]


Are we poet or are we rapper?…

Kat Stevens: I don’t know how she’s done it but Kate has somehow unearthed the glossed-over bits of nights out I’ve forgotten over the years. The bits where I’m stuck in that stupid corridor at that place in Kings Cross that isn’t there anymore, where I can hear tunes from the two different rooms clashing wildly and I can’t find anyone. Not the great dancefloor highs, but queuing for the loos and only being able to hear the vague thudding of the music. Those little pockets of time that vanish: feeling a bit queasy and having to sit on the stairs to calm down, then suddenly it’s 4am and oh god, what happened there? Waiting outside for ages because Someone Let’s Not Name Names has lost their cloakroom ticket, and I’m not really cold because I’m still buzzing and keen to carry on the party somewhere else. The lyrics aren’t even about going out, yet the woozy rave and Kate’s amazing flow have managed to tap into my hazy clubbing memories the way Mike Skinner or Katy B never could for me, conjuring up a giddy whirl of Friday night sticky floors, sloppy kisses, cringeworthy conversations and saving the last fag in the packet for the wait at the bus stop.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Claustrophobia-of-consciousness; I’m partial to narratives about shelved dreams and circular putters of lives, because the Worst 2014 has followed the Worst 2013 and we all are. Details, remembered sounds mostly, scatter like detritus (the maudlin pub-speaker strings are intentional; “Don’t Tell ‘Em” can’t be, but the chorus threatens, rhythm and melody, to become it, much like the loop threatens to turn into house near the end). I can see why Kate Tempest’s being billed as a rapper, “slam poet” having about as much zeitgeist appeal as “international prune-growers’ conference”; but that route goes, first things first, nowhere. “Circles” is best taken on its own, startling terms.
[8]

Brad Shoup: “Two Happy Mondays go ‘round the outside, ‘round the outside…”
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I’m incredibly irritated by the intro because Kate’s flow veers dangerously close to (god save us) Scroobius Pip territory and the purposeful minimalism of the beat is too purposeful to impress. But then around the second verse, with Tempest’s start-stop “No Wait!” trick a mixed bag, you can hear something that kind of sounds like Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack to the Streets of Rage video games suddenly bleeding into the mix, like a golden chariot dancing behind this record and vanishing away. That was a cool trick, and there’s tons of little tricks in this song that kind of leave me cold, but that one will do.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: You have to be saying something really interesting to be a white British person sorta-rapping over such a dull buzz as this.
[4]

Anthony Easton: The Economist wrote a review of a piece Tempest did, declaring it something that teenagers need to listen to —which would be a death knell of her possible hipness, but a mark of her cultural heft — and the establishment bonafides keep piling up. The Ted Hughes Prize, the Royal Shakespeare Company thing, and an interview giving her a platform to talk about everything from growing up in squats to the Iraq War protests to disenfranchisement — it’s sort of like Frank Turner going all apologetic for the right wing after that song about Thatcher. I mean, you know and I know that right/left mean fuck anymore, everyone’s broke, and most people’s optimism wears shark suit cynicism, but you still want something more. This track positions herself as part of the progressive backlash and fails to justify her political and social positions.
[2]

Megan Harrington: Kate Tempest is not a rapper. Every piece ever written about her goes to great pains to foreground her as a spoken word artist, a poet, even a theatrical performer — that is, until the Mercury Prize nominations were announced and now she’s a rapper in addition to all those other things. But she’s not a rapper. There are places where rap and poetry intersect, and these intersections can be confusing for people who like rap but not as much as they like academia (basically the sort of people handing out Mercury Prizes). Calling Kate Tempest a rapper and awarding her poetry as music or publishing an anthology of rap lyrics on a university press does a disservice to both rap and poetry. “Circles” loses the fire of Tempest’s purely spoken word material by adjusting her sense of narrative to a basic beat. Because she’s clearly not as engaged with the production, her normally fiery wordplay is reductive. She fills her song with refrains and it loses both what it shared with rap and what made her work so distinct. As a pop artist, Kate Tempest is a shaggy, hard listen. If this is the direction she intends to take her work, it’s time for her to find a producer who understands the way her stories swirl and funnel and who can mirror that in their tracks, leaving space for her explosive wordplay and building tension along an arc (instead of ellipses, as here). It’s not impossible for these worlds to collide, but they’re a clumsy union on “Circles.”
[5]

Iain Mew: Plot and characterisation are two of the biggest strengths of Kate Tempest’s excellent Everybody Down, and neither of those come through so much on its standalone songs. For “Circles” she doesn’t even bring her best flow either. What it has to compensate is a chorus that sounds great going ‘round in circles, and a list of loves that takes — seeing mates succeed, getting a kiss when you feel like shit, getting away with a child travel card on the bus — a deft mix of sentimentality and undercutting it. It also has the best musical moment of the whole album, when a synth version of the "Baker Street" sax solo re-appears as power ballad stand-in then mutates into a dream-like half memory haunting the rest of the verse.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: So I certainly didn’t expect to be reviewing the winner of the Ted Hughes Prize for contemporary poetry for the Singles Jukebox — but I’m glad I am, because this is an awesome single. I suppose the convenient reference/starting point is The Streets, in that Tempest is telling street stories with beat-driven accompaniment. But there are differences, starting with her being signed to Big Dada/Ninja Tune, which makes it no surprise her music is slightly off-kilter. That makes a myriad of sense since her producer is Dan Carey, who’s produced or mixed the likes of Hot Chip, CSS, Sia, and Bat for Lashes among others. When there was a brief U.S. vogue for albums from poetry slam folks in the early ’90s (Maggie Estep, Reg E. Gaines, et.al.), the reason I always found them lacking is that they were just talking-cum-reciting over some drab music. Tempest, however, has flow; she can rap and rap well, and knows how to ride the rhythm. And being a poet first, her lyrics are great. “Circles” is a superb track, and Tempest is a true discovery.
[9]

Scott Mildenhall: Has Fearne Cotton approved her voice being used on this? It certainly has the requisite Realness, but surely it’s not boring enough for her, an extra-verbose “Born Slippy” that veers intermittently into “Rudebox” territory. The spectacular thing is the lack of spectacle: nothing happens. She’s on a bus, in the pub, drinking tea, then on the bus again. It’s monotony exploding, in stream of conscious if not sound, just thinking, thinking, thinking through the lull.
[7]

Alfred Soto: I got swept into the heady swirl — the tempest if you will; it evokes a track from the Neneh Cherry album released a few months ago. I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, figuring why disappoint myself?
[7]

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PORTER ROBINSON FT. URBAN CONE - LIONHEARTED
[5.00]


The Sorting Hat chose wrong…

Katherine St Asaph: Not with that voice you’re not.
[2]

Anthony Easton: Can we not be inspired? Can we recognize that it is fall, and with fall comes winter, and death and cold and snow, and that bravery is overrated and retreat is underrated? Can we not be lionhearted for once, and recognize that to be courageous is to stay at home, to protect home turf? Can we not have those over-processed violins anymore, please?
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: So Passion Pit is becoming a genre of its own now. That’s cool, I suppose! Admittedly wish I wasn’t enjoying that buzzing 8-bit tsunami or the Main Streel Electrical Parade bits, but hey, can’t fight every bit of fun.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The preset bloops and deep synth riffs are catnip for yours truly, but the vocals are Foster The People bullshit.
[3]

Jer Fairall: Faceless American EDM meets personality-deficient Swedish indie-pop. Global indifference ensues.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: Justice’s MGMT remix remains as exhilarating as it was in 2008, but to hear someone else’s thumped-up take six years on is somewhat displacing. Robinson doesn’t quite match up anyway: his thwhack-gap-thwack tactic wields power, and what lies between paints some grand voyage with more than a degree of urgency and weight, it’s just that that voyage doesn’t end up changing pace, direction or surroundings at all.
[6]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: This must be aiming for inclusion on Now That’s What I Call Blog House ‘07, but hell, I liked blog house.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: Thin voices paired with muscular backdrops perform their usual trick of portending more than the content of the lyrics convey. They portend hard.
[5]

Iain Mew: Did Urban Cone happily sign up to Porter Robinson because they realised how much he could make them sound like The Naked And Famous? Did he pick them out with that aim in mind? Or both? A happy coincidence? Browsing their past material isn’t giving me answers, but, whichever way, it’s something that they’re collectively very good at. “Lionhearted” is more enjoyable the more it sticks to that template.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: The media hook for Porter Robinson’s debut album boiled down to “EDM guy gets sorta sick of EDM, makes album accordingly,” but dude also knows he needs something to play on the radio. And so here’s “Lionhearted,” the most predictable moment on an album that shines thanks to all the twists within. But just because it’s the obvious first single doesn’t make it weak — it’s a bouncy synthesizer swirl capped off by shout-along vocals courtesy of Urban Core, without turning into pure festival standard.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: Porter Robinson co-created one of 2013’s best singles that I didn’t hear until too late, the Mat Zo collab “Easy.” “Lionhearted,” while no “Easy,” has the happy elements of contempo EDM without being obnoxious about it, i.e. no drop and no shoutiness. This falls on the indie-dance end of the spectrum à la Passion Pit, only with a sunnier outlook and more interesting production. Robinson’s clearly interested in being more than just another EDM DJ; this is a pretty great pop record. And it’s a grower.
[6]

Brad Shoup: The vocals of Urban Cone (who were evidently named after the most boring food truck ever) remind me quite a bit of Alisa Xayalith’s, but mopier and more earnest and a bit down in the mix. Still! Robinson’s work is a gentle EDM nudge, a cheery stasis that works well for fall. For the bridge, he turns his synth into fanfare, and it gives his guests space to make their sighs known.
[6]

Will Adams: Even as the most accessible cut from Worlds, “Lionhearted” synthesizes yelpy indie-pop with electro house in a way that separates the song from both of its parent genres. The lionhearted parts are in the drop, obviously, but half of its thrill is the journey through Urban Cone’s determined verses. Unlike so many drop-centered songs, the components complement each other instead of clash.
[7]

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JENNIFER LOPEZ FT. IGGY AZALEA - BOOTY (REMIX)
[3.40]


As we speak, Thugnificent is readying a comeback…

Katherine St Asaph: Lopez clearly wants it to be 2001, and Diplo (who is sampled) wants all eras to be context-free potpourri, which is why this takes the bubble sounds from a She’kspere track, a Middle Eastern motif from Timbaland, trance and military drums from EDM then and now. It’s a sloppy mess, an infuriatingly peppy meme, like an endless GIF presented to ogle; everyone’s going to ascribe the problem to Lopez and Iggy’s respective personalities, but I blame the producers. Someday soon we as critics will have to reckon with the uncomfortable yet present trend of Iggy Azalea becoming the best thing on her singles, but this really isn’t the time.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: For someone as big a star as J.Lo is — she’s still a star, right? — Lopez has a remarkable personality deficit. At least Iggy Azalea can provide some, even if she can’t offer much else. (I mean, really, you had to reference “Jenny from the Block”?) The production on this isn’t bad, though that’s due more to the Diplo sample which kinda subsumes everything, more than the actually studio work.
[3]

Crystal Leww: On the original “Booty,” Pitbull rapped “I wanna take that big ‘ol booty shopping at the mall/I wanna pick it up and put that booty in my car,” and it was the most romantic thing I’d heard in 2014. He has been replaced here by Yung Vegemite, and I’ve never been sadder in my entire life.
[2]

Will Adams: As if the original’s tunelessness weren’t embarrassing enough, this remix enlists the “help” of nobody’s favorite feature rapper to bumble through a verse that will give anything to remind you of J.Lo’s status as a booty-haver circa 2001. It’s as desperate as you’d expect any of J.Lo’s post-“On the Floor” output to be.
[2]

Maxwell Cavaseno: After having one of her best singles in forever with “On the Floor” not so long ago, and “I Luh Ya Papi” being… OK, not great, but charming, instead we get this lopsided stomper. I’m just going to re-watch El Cantante, Google pics of her and Puffy, and YouTube the infamous n-word drop. Because I don’t think any of those embarrassments were quite as tiring as here.
[2]

Alfred Soto: How they must rue the day Meghan Trainor charted. Yet its bubblepop electrics are crasser and hence less fraught than Trainor’s pandering.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: J-Lo jacks a beat from the Egyptian-themed levels of one of the Lemmings games for a song about a butt. Rappers have been objectifying Lopez’s posterior for years, and somehow she’s late to the party.
[4]

Jonathan Bogart: Year of the Butt? As I recall, it was 2001, when the leering element of popwatching was all partisan towards either the lead singer of a Houston R&B group or a Nuyorican dance diva-cum-romcom star. Fourteen years later, in the same season in which Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj present a unified ass theory of feminism, flawlessness, and bad-bitchery, J. Lo teams up with the least convincing Minaj imitator to create an anthem centering the male gaze and flattering (one cartoonish version of) the male appetite. Props for mixing the wibble-wobble sound effect relatively low, I guess.
[4]

Brad Shoup: I’m tired of these booty results songs, y’all. Gimme a booty-process song: something like “RariWorkOut” but with more genealogical content. What’s the diet? What’s the gym routine? Mirror time, pants-shopping, looking up Official Twerk Team vids on YouTube: all that. This is fine, mind. It’s the kind of explicit dancefloor summoning that Lopez makes sound like some royal obligation, and Iggy gets credit for the “that only wanna make me wanna tell all my ladies…” part. The slightly-pitched up chant is crying to be on some Miami bass or footwork track, but it — like me — is stuck where it is.
[6]

Josh Langhoff: While our most nakedly careerist singer hops aboard summer’s bootywagon, her several producers eke incremental innovations in the field of booty. (Hang on, nightmare visions of someone — probably Diplo — making a Sting-sampling “Fields of Booty,” help.) Like, not only do they include the requisite taut bouncy drums that represent booty? But they’ve also got the sound of booty scraping against chimes?
[5]

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