The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

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]

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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]

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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]

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AMY LEE - PUSH THE BUTTON
[4.46]


Do Sugababes also have a song called “Centuries”? I don’t get the theme…

Katherine St Asaph: Evanescence stans are shedding so many tears over this (you’d think they’d be more self-aware), and it’s great; if Amy Lee wants her own strict machine to ride to soprano-and-sequencer bliss, I couldn’t be happier. What, you thought I wouldn’t like this? Let me put it in perspective: this summer I have listened to basically nothing but Goldfrapp, Alexandra Strunin, Lilian Hak and Sarah Brightman club remixes. The genre is the musical equivalent of The Toast’s Day in the Life of a Femme Fatale, or of autumn at night; it is quite possibly my favorite music in existence, even when pantingly ridiculous, and I’m constantly on the lookout for more of it. Lee delivers more concept than proof, more aesthetic than anything, but I love aesthetic too much, particularly from the last people qualified to deliver.
[8]

Josh Langhoff: Weird nature reveries rule. In this one, Lee feels the earth like it’s new and discovers she’s a hungry hunter, her ballooned head like a whole trembling forest about to teem with gore. Or at least that’s what I thought until I read the synopsis for the Lee-soundtracked War Story, so now I hear Catherine Keener grappling with her experience as a hostage, or something. That explains the “chains.” (There are very few words in “Push the Button,” but each is heavy with portent.) This sad discovery drained the blood from my reverie until all that remained was electro pulse. Still, in the year of “Move That Dope” Lee finds a whole new way to make “Push It” sound sinister.
[6]

Josh Winters: Hilariously campy electroclash complete with half-hearted wolf howls and enough earnest conviction to make up for its lack of urgency. It’s what I imagine Austra performing an erotic seance would sound like.
[3]

Brad Shoup: Even Lee knows the world doesn’t need another song called “The Hunter,” and anyway, “Push the Button” pretty much captures the origin story. She leaves herself with Casio clicks and electroclash bass, but doesn’t have enough magic to pull off the trick. Each phrase is a setpiece.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: On one hand, Lee’s dip into pagan-EBM isn’t something I want to hate on with intensity, for I think that Lee would do much better in dance music than in songs like “Call Me When You’re Sober”, which felt like an inane grasp at writing a subpar Kelly Clarkson song with occasional riffs. Yet this song is SO DORKY, with Lee just vamping up the old gimmicks, and makes me want to put on a much better song with the same title.
[2]

Tara Hillegeist: As entries into the “once it was an empire, now it’s a niche” field of futurepop go, this one is respectable enough, calling back to the known pleasures of mid-’90s VNV Nation and Covenant without embarrassing either. Whether that callback embarrasses the listener or not is kind of a personal matter.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The Evanescence singer nails her sound: eighties sequencer and woo-woos. But pushing buttons requires a gusto she and her companions have shown elsewhere.
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: This is almost amazing. Just when it seemed the Almighty remix of Katherine Jenkins take on “Bring Me To Life” would be the closest there’d be to Evanescent electropop, Amy Lee gets ghostly over an old Client or Fischerspooner B-side. The bad news: she’s forgotten to write enough lyrics to see it through, and it’s way too driving for it to get by on the intended atmosphere.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: For all the talk about her “electronica-inflected” solo turn, you’d think Amy Lee could have synthesized up some vocal oooohs that didn’t sound so darn bored.
[3]

Ashley Ellerson: You can’t always treat soundtracks like a musician’s typical output, and Amy Lee has shifted so far from Evanescence’s sound that you might assume someone else is singing. That being said, “Push the Button” has a ’90s alternative feel (“Head Like a Hole” anyone?) that some crave and others despise. Honestly, this sounds like a song made perfectly for a film, but it wouldn’t stand too strong on its own or on an official solo album. Lee should at least get credit for stepping outside of her comfort zone; from what I hear, the Aftermath soundtrack may be better than War Story itself. Evanescence fans should consider giving “Lockdown" a chance with its heavier rhythm and cross their fingers for Lee to bring back the band.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: If Stevie Nicks were making EDM-influenced goth today, and were about 40 years younger, she might, possibly, sound like this.
[5]

Will Adams: Fallen came out right as I entered its target demographic; I was a cynical fifth grader, posting dark poetry on Yugioh! forums, doing homework on the floor while the CD spun on a Sony Walkman, and sticking my tongue out at conventional pop. “Push the Button” sounds like the straw man I’d created: cheap, hokey, and verging on ridiculous. There’s no reason that Lee’s voice can’t work well with electronics — it has before — which makes it all the more unsuccessful.
[3]

Sonia Yang: I will be sorely disappointed if this does not become a bad Halloween party DJ staple.
[2]

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APHEX TWIN - MINIPOPS 67 [120.2][SOURCE FIELD MIX]
[6.25]


Our original plan was to present each blurb and score as a string of hexidecimal characters…

Alfred Soto: This is nice. With his reputation swollen by twenty years of excellent press and a generation’s having passed Selected Ambient 85-92 along like an heirloom, Richard D. James was due to release nice music. His shrewd use of an acid house bass line and a Four Tet-esque vocal pushes, ahem, the right buttons. Perhaps modest expectations were best after all.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: It’s certainly a more traditional “pop” song than most of his catalog, which is not how I expected Richard D. James to come back under his most well-known guise. As someone who was a big e.e. cummings fan in college, I love the way he titled this, and I love the album artwork as well (Designers Republic, of course). But what of the song? “minipops 67” is actually pretty techno. Not shocking, exactly, but still a bit of a curveball as far as the Aphex Twin comeback goes: fluid and movement-y like the best Underworld tracks. Unexpectedly lovely.
[7]

Tara Hillegeist: A fun, blurbing bit of poptronica more notable for who released it than for its quality; which is not a slight against the track at all, as it’s absurdly hummable. Like many a kid who came to Aphex Twin by way of the video marketing for the Windowlicker and Come to Daddy EPs and hasn’t listened to his work in close to half a decade, I’m always surprised by how easy beauty and joy come out of his equipment, even despite whole hours of music proving that’s what he does best. Nothing wrong with a new Aphex Twin track making me smile like a new Underworld track would, yeah?
[7]

Cédric Le Merrer: So here we have a guy who made futuristic music in a time when the future was something betwen the Lawnmower Man and The Matrix. The mere fact that this track (which is apparently 7 years old) does not sound as terribly dated as all this now that we live in the future is probably the most welcome compliment you could make to a guy like Richard James. Of course it does remind one of some long-past time when to access his soundscapes you’d have had to at least burn a copy of a friends’ CD, but this wouldn’t feel out of place as the soundtrack to something about glassholes or whatever. Had it come out seven years ago though, we’d probably be less ready to be dazzled by all these copypasted bits and pieces that start and stop and restart in barely half expected ways to form just enough of a beat to call this a song. So I’m a bit impressed because no one does it better than Aphex Twin. But as impressed as I am, I can’t really get past the fact that all of this builds up to a mopey guy humming a passionless la-dee-dah, however distorted it is.
[7]

Megan Harrington: Electronic music, due to to its inherent plasticity and sterility, is often considered harder to relate to emotionally than music with a human, vocal element. It’s harder to approach writing about Aphex Twin in the same way you might about One Direction, harder to describe what your stomach is feeling or how some hyper-specific emotion you just felt was mirrored in the song’s bridge. And sometimes, as is the case with Aphex Twin, this concept is simply a way to narrow your fanbase. Aphex Twin is music for an audience that fancies itself much smarter than the mainstream. He’s regarded as sophisticated and highly controlled, but these are adjectives that cluster just as easily around boring as they do genius. His latest isn’t splitting the atom of essential truth, but it is a total snoozefest.
[2]

Jonathan Bradley: Was a moniker ever as well-suited as Intelligent Dance Music? IDM made me feel intelligent, or, at least, it made me feel like I might be getting more intelligent by being in its vicinity, a bit like toting a copy of Finnegans Wake around campus during your freshman year. I wanted to be one of those people who sniffed that Kid A was merely watered-down Autechre. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I liked that junk, and, sure, I still do: Boards of Canada, Fourtet, Squarepusher, whatever. And I never lost my appetite for that feeling that music might be anything, that with powerful enough computers or twiddly enough machines, not even the bounds of rhythmic constancy or textural intelligibility or structural sensibility were needed to shape the contours of sound as an artistic endeavor. But the roadblocks and lukewarm dribbles of “minipops” aren’t that. Stack “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” up next to this: which one sounds more cranium-expanding? Hopefully the album has some drops on it.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s been a decade or so, and you’ve learned no new tricks? All I’m saying is, I’m amazed to see so many people thrilled to hear a single that sounds like a grab-bag greatest hits of other Aphex songs. Nice, but not anything thrilling. Just the sounds of an eccentric dad having fun reminding himself of how he used to make people laugh.
[5]

Luisa Lopez: The strangeness of Aphex Twin is that occasionally he will actually come out with something sleek and lovely (“Avril 14th” or “Stone in Focus”), but for every bit of that there’s always a song like this to erase it.
[4]

Anthony Easton: This is less weird than vintage Aphex, though as sonically obtuse. The little break towards the middle, that reaches but then rejects the melodic, is almost as exciting as the refusal to be atonal. Where it repeats, around 1:50 is one of my favourite sounds of the year. The layering against that little motif is frustrating in all the best ways. That the vocals around the end of the track, which sort of sound like Arthur Russell, arresting but never in the foreground, never resolve adds to the frustration. This sounds both isolating and familiar, comforting and clinical.
[9]

Brad Shoup: Groove Armada scoring a murder mystery! A dude leering at you, dropping Hopelandic come-ons! Eventually it’s all digested by a bullfrog!
[6]

Mark Sinker: Thumbfolded, wonky-plink, infurred, a sweet-chatter chiming little Tinguely machine that pitches its small dreams of self-immolation between an endless small-scale cycle-boredom and this or that tin fin or flange bending just too far out of true for any of the rest of it to work. Aged man in old-school bathing togs dives for but misses bathtub: imagine a “Nirvana for Mice” escape-gag spinning just out of focus here.
[8]

Danilo Bortoli: At the time of the announcement of a new Aphex Twin album, an allegedly true leak of the record started to pop up on Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds. It didn’t take long for us to discover that, of course, it was all a lie. A very elaborate lie, but one that caught the most foolhardy fans by surprise, the ones who actually listened to the whole thing. But the thing is: you didn’t really have to listen to the the entire record (just the first track to judge it) to know it wasn’t Richard D. James. There’s something that the fans of electronic music made by an obviously outré persona, an outlier, learn to recognize: a sparkle, much like Walter Benjamin’s definition of aura, something so necessary to the being that, without that particularity, it would become unrecognizable or unvalid. You go beyond the mere stylistic play, the gimmick or even the mere junction of genres. Obviously, Aphex Twin gets credit for opening our eyes towards a genre — the badly named “IDM” tag — and in “minipops” he takes advantage of that, as anyone would predict: here, he’s anachronic. In an era when music itself becomes paralyzed while trying to define things in groups of “new”, “old” and “retro”, Richard James gives us a problem to solve. His sparkle, that ephemeral particularity of his music, is now anachronism. And while people might try to locate his art in a comprehensive timeline, his music needs no context. So describing “minipops” won’t do it justice either: “minipops” is a parallel between Come To Daddy and Drukqs. Like the former, it doesn’t try to be “beautiful” or anything even close to that. Actually, it rejoices in ugliness. Like the latter, it’s a clash between his own classicism, the one he’s been practicing since his Selected Works days, and his view of what he calls the future (basically drum machines). Here’s Aphex Twin giving us a class on anachronism: his music never quite fits in any specific time, and “minipops” doesn’t fit anywhere in his discography, yet it feels timeless.
[10]

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FALL OUT BOY - CENTURIES
[3.92]


ft. Lolo as Suzanne Vega…

Dan MacRae: I’m not looking forward to this playing around the clock during NBA playoff highlight packages.
[2]

Alfred Soto: Damned if I know what the Suzanne Vega does, or why they sound like Whitesnake in 1988 (“You’re a cherry blossom!”?). For a band once fleeter of foot this joyless thud feels like revenge.
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: The Hot Topic in our local mall recently closed and became a Things Remembered. I assume FOB’s fan base is still as faithful as ever. How will they respond to what feels like FOB’s take on MJ’s “Leave Me Alone,” a very clenched-teeth, super-tense record? And will they even know that it’s “Tom’s Diner” being referenced? There are elements of Queen’s bombast here, but channelled much less successfully than, say, Muse, who for all their faults are able to own that kind of arena-rock move in a way that FOB just quite can’t. This is one of the best singles they’ve done in years, but it’s a low bar they’re getting over.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: From a Suzanne Vega citation to a breakneck dive into a specific sort of blend of trap/emo/metal bombastics that really depress in how try-hard this band has become. Stump is taking an odd amount of cues from late-period Michael Jackson (which, considering how that devolved into a slightly melodic James Brown over unlistenable studio fodder not unlike this song, is not a good progression), and the thud of this band has so little of what can make these guys so cutting available. There’s none of the nerve, none of the nerd; rather we get bold gesture, chin jutting and swooning over one’s own “brilliance”. A sledgehammer, not a scythe.
[0]

Edward Okulicz: This is pod-people Fall Out Boy, by which I mean that while it superficially resembles them, the personality has changed. That change is the complete draining of wit and tension.
[5]

Megan Harrington: If you’d asked me in high school which band I thought was so ubiquitous that it would be a sort of conversational currency for over a decade, I’d have guessed the Strokes. And while I can enjoy a nostalgic look back at my boy band crush, the band that truly inspires gushing among almost anyone I chat up is Fall Out Boy. “Centuries” is a strong continuation of their comeback, further illuminating the overlap between glam rock and emo. Stump via Wentz thunders we’ll remember them for centuries and it seems distinctly possible given all the good will they’ve fostered over their career.
[8]

Tara Hillegeist: Overcooked megalomania is not well-suited to being harped on repeatedly over equally undercooked attempts at making “Rebel Rebel” palatable to the Coldplay generation. Overcooked megalomania is not well-suited to excusing real life cases of uncredited re-recording of a sample (“Tom’s Diner”) they didn’t want to pay a price for using. Overcooked megalomania is not well-suited to their corralling a labelmate (Lolo) to do strikebreakers’ work they then didn’t bother respecting with a namedrop or “featured by” mention. Otherwise this is as blandly shrill and monotonous as all the previous songs following on from their reunion have been; the production, particularly their continued lack of a middle range to balance out the heaving wave of molasses that is whatever Frohman and Stump’s guitars are doing when combined with Stump’s whining half-snarl for nearly the track’s full duration, calls to mind the unlistenable harshness of Cold Cave’s Cherish the Light Years without any of Eisold’s agonized irony behind the keys. I’m already nostalgic for the sonic flexibility of the Madden brothers.
[0]

Brad Shoup: Nah, this is an aggro "Hall of Fame". I’ll pass on Stump’s opaque bellow for now and interpolations of “Tom’s Diner” for the rest of time.
[2]

Hazel Robinson: On earlier Fall Out Boy stuff, there’s this filthy, self-aggrandizing enjoyment to misery. It’s the secret dark heart of emo, that the melodrama tends to be about things that make you quietly, darkly, wickedly glad — like being too afraid to actually kill yourself and the righteous anger of having been wronged. It’s not fake; the intensity of despair and fury is as real as anything but it’s the swelling-and-bursting heart of an unfettered emotion. The band have grown with the fans, though and it might not be hugs and learning and personal revelations (except the ones that grip you, sweaty and heart-racing in the early hours of the morning) and if they’re maybe happier or at least, more certain, the music now’s about being abjectly, miserably stressed. The difference in Patrick’s vocal — from a lustily enthusiastic, full-throat holler to a threatening rictus — is the indicator that everything else underlines; the promise of “Centuries” to be the opposite of amnesia is an aggressive oath, not a commitment. And a lot of the tetchy, awkward, adult grumpiness that’s all over this is precisely the desire to be remembered that way and not as a notch in a bedpost. The more Fall Out Boy turn meta, the more they struggle to get past the (loving, genuinely committed) fanbase that tells them they have never been as good as a can’t-get-much-worse, the more they know their imperial phase is being read as post-colonialism and the meaner and more desperate they are to break from that, the more urgent their urge to talk about nothing else, the more my own dark, stress-wracked little heart constricts and thuds arrhythmically to this big, honest thing they’ve become. Some desperately important metaphor about overeducated white kids and their bullshit struggling with nothing more threatening than inter-generational disappointment and the seething, petty annoyance of it all. I thought they might have gotten the anger out with the last album, in all its sarcastic, vicious glory but no, no, they are mad as hell and going to continue to take it just to stick it to someone. 4 lief.
[9]

Ashley Ellerson: Many old school FOB fans may hate this song, but they have to accept the fact that the guys are older and don’t have to play pop punk forever. Everyone’s talking about the obvious “Tom’s Diner” sample (shout out to Lolo), but I’m stuck on Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna” sample that rings through the chorus. Maybe I’m biased because I believe it’s a great composition for Requiem for a Dream, but it could relate to the idea of dreams making or ending us and what we leave behind as a result. Fall Out Boy will continue to make music they’re interested in, regardless of whether or not fans enjoy it, and they know they’ll never be forgotten. Patrick Stump sings, “Some legends are told / some turn to dust or to gold,” and these guys will be gold.
[8]

Will Adams: This’ll be lucky to be remembered on Worst of 2014 lists. One point for the “Tom’s Diner” riff, if only for the stunning display of ego required to pilfer it for this garbage.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: Suzanne Vega released an album this year. You had no idea. What makes you think this embarrassment has a better chance to last?
[4]

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DUKE DUMONT - WON’T LOOK BACK
[5.27]


… and won’t credit vocalists either

Scott Mildenhall: Yolanda Quartey goes from the insuperably massive "Turn Back Time" to the still-quite-massive “Won’t Look Back” with some irony, but you can do that when your name’s not on the records. On this occasion that’s extra unbefitting, because rarely is a song so dominated by a voice — it’s all about her delivery. It’s one of a handful of recent hits built on ambition and determination, and she affirms with certainty. You! Me! Dancing! Inhabiting it is easy; trying to hold the “baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack” note less so, but both so much fun.
[8]

David Sheffieck: This gets a +8 for the song itself, the best we’ve heard from Duke Dumont since “Need U (100%),” and a -7 for not crediting Yolanda Quartey’s brilliant vocal, which is the element that actually makes this song a jam. Hey, Duke: when even the Wikipedia page for your single calls you out on not crediting the vocalist, maybe it’s finally time to reconsider perpetuating a decades-long culture of appropriation and exploitation?
[1]

Megan Harrington: The funny thing about Duke’s refusal to credit his vocalists is that while it’s indicative of his belief that they are interchangeable assembly line parts, each subsequent hit single is less distinct from the last. Yolanda Quartey is who gives “Won’t Look Back” resonance, but we’re supposed to regard her as inanimate as Dumont’s synths. I can’t, and I’m bored of pretending otherwise.
[2]

Brad Shoup: Quartey swallows this song whole, getting existentially stunned on the “livin’ it up” bit and fire-eyed on the pre-chorus. If Dumont weren’t plunging the piano, this would seem too small for her. I can’t think of the last time someone sounded this present on a chart cut.
[7]

Anthony Easton: Gorgeous, gospel break, Martha Wash-inspired disco house, with some great swampy bubbling production. Extra points for how they sing “living it up, living it up.”
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: Duke Dumont’s first two singles have hit me as good-not-great, watery versions of the early ’90s house that Disclosure are so aces at updating. This, however, does the sound justice. The formula is seemingly easy, and it’s kind of surprising that no one’s seemed to go to this particular well before: it’s Black Box, the kings of Italo-house. Dumont found a huge-lunged diva in the Martha Wash/Loleatta Holloway mold to take on lead vocal duties, actually quotes the “livin’ it up/livin’ it up” refrain from “Ride on Time,” and most importantly — because anyone can xerox a record — he gets the vibe of Italo house down. “Won’t Look Back” has all of the energy of the best Black Box records, and is thus nearly as perfect as their best singles (which were, simply, perfect).
[9]

Alfred Soto: It keeps threatening to turn into this or maybe this, which would be OK with me, before turning into a retro house number, complete with wobbling 808. I’m pretty sure Martha Wash will return your phone calls.
[5]

Katherine St Asaph: The accompaniment Yolanda Quartey is allotted couldn’t sound more antiseptic if it were General MIDI in a funeral office.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: House, I’ll House You. House, I’ll House You. In antiquity, cliché and orthodoxy.
[4]

Luisa Lopez: Big synths for bigger snores.
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Yolanda Quartey’s vocal is everything about this — this is the first Duke Dumont single where the production is overshadowed by the singing, as this just sounds a bit too nostalgic for its own good. But Quartey more than makes up for it.
[7]

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WATERMÄT - BULLIT
[6.73]


Who needs blurbs when we have onomatopoeia?

Kat Stevens: Pleasant bibble bookended on the frequency spectrum by ’70s-claymation-series piccolo (WHEEDLEEE!) at one end and container ship foghorn (PAAARP!) at the other.
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: VWOM. VWOM. VWOMVWOMVWOMVWOMVWOM. VWOM. VWOM. VWOM… VWOM. VWOM. VWOMVWOMVWOMVWOMVWOM. VWOM. VWOM. VWOM. VWOMVWOMVWOMVWUDUHVWOM. Something like that anyway.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I assume that Watermät is specifically referencing “Bullitt,” the 1968 Steve McQueen car-chase-happy film, since this has a very propulsive “Autobahn 2014” feel to it, complete with a near-semi-airhorn effect. Music to drive too fast to.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: “Bullit” is all about that P-Wing piccolo and galumphing underbelly. It’s another cut from the hypothetical stop-motion kids’-whimsy soundtrack that’d also contain “Inspector Norse,” and the imagined nostalgia so strong I fear that with another listen A. O. Scott is going to grab me by the empty wallet and scold me for the death of my adulthood, but fuck it: it’d be cool if all music sounded like this.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I wanted to say something about how house really is exhausting when it becomes in vogue, but that synth’s bullying is so adept that I’ve thrown myself into my own locker. Well done lads.
[6]

Luisa Lopez: Halfway through I knew I didn’t like it, or thought I didn’t. Kept coming back anyway, to listen closer to that whistling. Now it’s half an hour later and I can’t stop.
[6]

Brad Shoup: I can listen to a good melody an absurd amount of times in a row, and that Motown piccolo line is mangled into a pleasing shape. Yeah, it’s fitted over an HVAC system, but I can deal.
[7]

Anthony Easton: The rattling percussion and the abstracted sounds of speed destabilize a track that could have been thought of as sweet and kind of lovely. It’s a neat trick.
[8]

Patrick St. Michel: “Bullit” is a good dash of tropical vibes, and that flute sample is really nice, but it really doesn’t go anywhere beyond being “summery.” Which is fine enough, but I could also just turn on poolside.fm.
[5]

Iain Mew: With its balance of burbling synths and woodwind samples, “Bullit” is a lot like The Chemical Brothers’ “The Golden Path.” And it gets across as cinematic a journey without even needing any rambling narration from Wayne Coyne, which these days has to be a plus.
[8]

Mark Sinker: For a would-be summer anthem, I kind of love how the main sounds all seem blurred and off-centre and and rusted and melancholy: EPIC AUTUMNAL more like. But this is the mood I’m currently set to be in whatever gets played at me. THOUSAND YARD GLAZED DISCO STARE POWERS ON…
[6]

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BLAKE SHELTON - NEON LIGHT
[4.86]


He should’ve called it “Chug All Night.”

Thomas Inskeep: Mr. Miranda Lambert is at his peak: since 2008, with an exception, every single released has hit #1 on the country radio charts. There’s that TV talent show that’s thrust him and the missus onto the cover of every supermarket tabloid. But this decade his catalog has been a case of severely diminishing returns; the last Shelton single I really like is 2009’s Trace Adkins-featuring “Hillbilly Bone” — until this one. It’s full of clever phrasing, starting but not ending with its title refrain (“there’s a neon light/at the end of the tunnel”). It’s also full of well-picked banjo; this is no slick-Nashville bro-country, but the real thing. I love the way “Neon Light” sounds, and the way it feels.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Thanks to Cee-Lo Green and his recent indiscretions, Blake is now only the third biggest asshole on The Voice, but this still doesn’t make me stop wishing him an endless hangover when he starts babbling about “that blonde-blonde-blonde at the bar-bar-bar.” It’s little wonder Shelton isn’t much for subtle lighting; subtlety is not exactly his thing.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: Even he gets sick of the nothing-happening beat by the first chorus…wish he’d also gotten tired of doofy metaphor and repeating words.
[3]

Alfred Soto: When cursed by incurable blandness, get emphatic. Shelton’s method is to closely mic blues riffs like his boy Eric Church except he rarely writes his own tunes and hardly knows how to pick’em anyway. Swagger becomes him like a tux does Brad Paisley, but I’ll give him points for not coasting.
[6]

Anthony Easton: I had a discussion with a fellow critic a few days about about Shelton and sentimentality. I like when Shelton is less snarky, and more explicit about his desire. I think he is capable of anger, but it reads as smarm and I find myself turned off. This makes me want to return to his more sentimental excursions. He doesn’t seem to be able to keep up when it speeds up, there are moments where he is ripping off “Boys Round Here”, he rhymes tunnel with subtle, and the drinking/women metaphors have the sensitivity of a caveman. This is another track from a superstar that I was excited to hear and am now bored by. (See new Paisley, Brooks, and Lambert.) Nashville’s in a slump after a few years of fascinating risk taking.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Nice riff, nice banjo, shame about the watery beat. Nice middle-eight, nice transition into the chorus, shame about the chorus itself. Nice career, nice voice, shame his material’s gone down the tubes since he got a job on the tube.
[4]

Brad Shoup: This is more desperate to sound pleased than the one by the guy who was on the airplane. Funny that the catchiest part is just Shelton saying syllables three times, and the saddest part is his windup on the chorus. This thing sounds like it was recorded in a broom closet, and yet I’m charmed!
[7]

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GARTH BROOKS - PEOPLE LOVING PEOPLE
[2.85]


Jukebox Loving Garth

Iain Mew: Saying that the world’s non-specific problems can be fixed by non-specific people loving non-specific people: harmless hippy nonsense. Saying that the solution is people loving people, while also mentioning colours and cultures: a little uncomfortable. Saying that the solution is people loving people, and identifying the problem to be solved as “the colours and the cultures circle round us on a spindle”: hold it. Who is the stationary “us” there, that doesn’t count as part of the “complicated riddle”? White people? Wind back from there to “We fear what we don’t understand/We’ve been scared since time began”, a moment humming with crafted anguish, and the effect is poisonous. He’s pardoning prejudice as natural and monolithic, without offering anything tangible in how to overcome or even acknowledge specific prejudice. People loving people can’t even fix a failure to get proper permission for your concerts, and you think it’s going to fix institutionalised racism?
[1]

Crystal Leww: Okay, but “people loving people” is not going to pay for this kid’s braces.
[1]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Two things have prepared me for this single in the general consciousness of the realm of life: 1) At the beginning of 2013, when DJ Mustard’s “Ketchup” mixtape spurted out it’s various gems, a guest rapper from Washington named Royce The Choice offered the dazzling punchline “I’m never off; Garth Brooks’ Hat.” 2) At a certain point this summer, I sat in my mother’s living room as we both feigned interest in Brooks’ Las Vegas concert on TV, while he attempted to engage and showboat to the ‘intimate’ crowd, displaying an eternally “ON” persona not unlike his hat. It reminds me that when Brooks-Mania hit my more suburban friends’ families (who really had no business listening to Garth Brooks in Long Island), it always felt boisterous and flash. Yet apparently if you dig into the Brooks discography, you do find a much more sensitive, earnest type of guy, and that’s the guy who showed up for his comeback single. The production feels a bit too much on the U2 vibe which only strengthens the preachiness, and Brooks’ yelp is inept. But I feel for the guy. Maybe the guy needs to be less subdued.
[4]

Anthony Easton: No one goes to Garth Brooks for moral complexity, and he has been out of the game for so long that cultural memory might suggest that he is better than he is, and he will sell all rhe tickets, and the residency in Vegas went well enough without a lead single, or a new project, and so he doesn’t need to make new music to be a nostalgia act, not like Elvis ca the American Trilogy—and besides the American Trilogy rid that line between prophetic schmaltz and overblown nonsense—and if there was any reason to truly love Garth, it was that he was the closest to that ideal. Plus, this doesn’t even mention Jesus. I’m disappointed.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The guitars chug and glisten with confidence and charm, and Brooks’ weathered voice hangs on to the sentiments like he means it, but while these sentiments aren’t phony they ain’t anything special either. Ominously, he doesn’t even sound as if he’s reaching to Miranda Lambert or Kelly Musgraves fans — who’s the “us” to whom he turns for stability? Vagueness loving vagueness, with cultural anxiety thrown in. And Brooks at his most ecumenical didn’t recognize such a thing.
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: The world sure has felt bleak in 2014, but perk up, everybody — Garth Brooks spent the past decade figuring out how to solve all our ills! And guess what, “it’s a complicated riddle/the solution is so simple.” So simple he probably read it on a coffee mug: “it’s just people loving people.” Brooks turns this pre-K philosophy into a big soaring stadium number because that must make it true. Look, I don’t expect a Garth Brooks song to offer up reasonable insights into anything in 2014. But this is the most cynical, egotistical song I’ve heard all year.
[0]

Thomas Inskeep: Whaaaaaat? I’m a major Garth fan, was super-excited for the first new original Garth material since 2007, and we get this watery re-tread of “We Shall Be Free” with 1998 adult contemporary production? Sure, he’s always had a soft-rock bent to him, but Garth’s records have never sounded as, frankly, un-country as this. And the song itself isn’t even starchy enough to be called a wet noodle.
[4]

Megan Harrington: The hot take going into the weekend is how narcissistic and oblivious U2 are for foisting their new album on an unwilling and disinterested audience. But I have to believe even Bono isn’t so far removed from reality that he’d pen a lyric like “people loving people/ that’s the enemy of everything that’s evil.” That’s rhetoric for a Coca Cola commercial, not a palatable solution from an adult man. I don’t think “love” is even the sentiment he’s looking for (that’d be empathy, though I understand exploring the subtleties of human interaction is not what Brooks is here to do) and to match this over-simplification to the most retro roaring early 90s production just makes Brooks the year’s most hopelessly out of touch comeback attempt.
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: How I parse what Garth’s singing: “people [not me] loving people [not you].” It’d help if the music felt remotely as if care was expended.
[3]

Brad Shoup: It’s as if the wait was broken by the impulse to out-Paisley Paisley. And that impulse involves more reverbed guitar and less specificity. His voice always piggybacked onto the material, but now it’s pulling off the bone, straining with the fury of the helpless (or the impotent, if you’re uncharitable). Love the reference to Aristotle — he’s always chafed at country’s strictures, and usually entertaining, not bathetic.
[3]

Edward Okulicz: Garth Brooks once interpolated the old chestnut “Get Together" chorus on a single from his bewildering Chris Gaines project. Damned if I can hear a difference using his own name and his own words, other than that it’s even more corny and washy. Look, Garth, I don’t care if your next pro-peace statement involves being airdropped near the Russia/Ukraine border or founding Hands Across The Disputed Territories or acting as a human shield somewhere, as long as you don’t ever do anything like this again, please.
[2]

Jonathan Bradley: I have a fondness for studied evocations of modest Americana, and Brooks’s ode to the power of community is definitely that. For a star of his vintage, however, this rendition is as threadbare as a cynic might expect. The guitars twinkle like a thousand points of light; the Just Say No fixation of the hook is as dated as that reference.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: If only there were a US Eurovision knockoff, this would have a place. It’s so guileless it’s almost "CHILDREN. CHILDREN. FUTURE. FUTURE." The chorus is easily one of the clumsiest this site has covered this year, as if The Script lost the ability to rhyme, and the earnest cheer about the sheer competence of the music is just gauche. About as revolutionary as a square wheel; barely conscious, without a pulse.
[4]

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