The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

MARY LAMBERT - SECRETS
[4.78]


My love, she keeps me lukewarm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HELLO SAFERIDE - I WAS JESUS
[5.18]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FEMM - FXXK BOYZ GET MONEY
[5.50]


See, Mat, we do take reader suggestions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


But should we be paying more attention to him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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M.O - DANCE ON MY OWN
[6.09]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ROMEO SANTOS - ERES MIA
[6.78]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BOYS REPUBLIC - DRESS UP
[4.90]


Maybe this’ll be their… er, *NSYNC’s first single went gold, so I’ve got nothing…

Will Adams: Don’tcha like that dirty pop? Boys Republic do.
[5]

Madeleine Lee: How does a tabula rasa boy group like Boys Republic keep getting such unconventional beats? It’s common for bottom-rung Korean idol groups to get the fabric ends of whatever producers weren’t able to sell elsewhere, with the patterns ranging from mild to wild; somehow, Boys Republic’s camp has managed to consistently grab the interesting ones. Not that the shrill whistling and belching bass of “Dress Up” are anywhere near as cool or fresh-sounding as "Video Game" or "L.I.U.," but that was coming from Dsign Music, i.e. the same source as "I Got A Boy" and SHINee’s "Destination" (also EXO’s "Wolf," which is inventive in its own way, I guess). The instrumental of “Dress Up” is a surprise coming from Dublekick Music, who are usually more conservative in their melody and production choices than this. They also usually make much better pop songs.
[3]

Alfred Soto: The bridge stopped me: harmonies supporting a melody as terrific as the one gracing the middle eight in *NSync’s “Girlfriend.” It’s all hooks, in fact, and without the unhinged wheels of fury of “Video Game” — a devolution.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: It’s a sad day when you can hear a K-Pop single and think, “This sounds like this would make a great filler track on an album by one of those 90s Western boy bands that everyone purposely forgot, like No Authority or 911”. The production here is just a generic stomp and the fashion-obsessive angle the song takes on seems more or less cloying. If only they’d maybe dressed up the song a bit, they wouldn’t have been so easy to chuck in the bargain bin.
[0]

Jessica Doyle: There are a lot of nice little touches in the background — record scratches, bleeps and beeps, burping bass — but not enough to keep the melody from becoming monotonous.
[5]

Anthony Easton: I like the studio slickness and the rigour of the voices working in concordance.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: I’m no expert on K-Pop and will never purport to be one, but I love the vibe here, which to my 40-something ears is very reminiscent of New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff.” Riding some Fine Young Cannibals drums, maybe T-Swift should cover this for 1989, because this definitely has that year’s feel (while still sounding contemporary).
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: K-Pop boy bands of all stripes tend to follow a few general guidelines… they just tend to do it well enough that they don’t seem like cookie cutters. “Dress Up” touches on all of them — stainless pop where even the potentially abrasive elements (guitar) fit in like cogs, a great chorus, a rap part, an interlude that reminds you that EDM still exists. Here, Boys Republic sound fine, but they never really make any of those elements sound special. Undercutting them a bit more is the generally goofy lyrics, about wanting someone to dress up nice for their friends. If you need a song about a lover making requests that also sounds a lot more interesting, Orange Caramel have you covered.
[5]

Brad Shoup: We think of most genres as having expiration dates — one day they’re mined, the next they’re pastiched — but get a load of these bass and guitar timbres. It’s like a filthier Big Data, and it actually sounds like data. Our republicans aren’t great vocal shakes, but they handle all this nastiness professionally.
[6]

Sonya Nicholson: Always look up the lyrics before recommending a song — far from the transgressive meditation on dress and gender I was hoping for, this is a song is about loving your hot girlfriend for the social status boost she gives you. All Boys Republic’s singles to date have come from a similar Straight Male Asshole space, which may be why Boys Republic have yet to find much of an audience despite being managed by Universal (as are Wa$$up, for those keeping score at home). Have Universal made it their mission to break underground styles in S. Korea simultaneously — give or take half a year — with their break into the US mainstream? Oh yeah, and speaking of the music: “Dress Up” pairs an easy melody with accomplished production that’s Moombahcore-lite — the dubstep wobbles swapped out for old-fashioned electric guitar — making it, above all else, accessible. But hey, I just found out about Moombahcore, so that’s worth an extra point.
[6]

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SAM HUNT - LEAVE THE NIGHT ON
[5.00]


Or… TURN OFF THE DARK! *Spidey jazz fingers*…

Dan MacRae: Was there an official announcement in the paper when country acquired soft rock in a gentle takeover bid or was that something where you needed to be a shareholder to learn the news?
[5]

Anthony Easton: Sam Hunt is better than this. It sounds like something Luke Bryan would have left on the studio floor, and even his voice sounds a bit like he’s doing the contractually obligated Bryan-style singalong. But caught between the rest of Between the Pines, the mixtape this comes with), with its stoned-out storytelling, hip hop production and sun-drunk lightness, gorgeously unmoored and sexy in the best ways — it has potential. The rest of the songs have a rueful irony and allow for the possibility of failure, the lacunae of loss or the presence of a kind of weird detail (see his version of “Cop Car,” which Keith Urban made a genuine hit). Think about this in context, and the world gets a bit more interesting. These points are for that context — acknowledging this is an intro to larger markets, and also a little bit of a sorbet in an underrated banquet.
[6]

Leela Grace: Call him the upstart prince of sunbelt pop. The title phrase is meaningless, but then, what isn’t?
[5]

Crystal Leww: I wish that I could say that Sam Hunt reminds me of the first boy that I fell in love with. He certainly reminds me of a lot of boys that I went to high school with: boys in white tees and Levis who make corny references to old Train songs and have corny pick-up lines and yet, they are not corny; they just want you to have a good time. They play on the high school football team, but they’re secretly a little **~~sensitive~~**, playing country music on their guitars on the weekend. They are sweet; they are so endearingly sweet. They know how to make a private moment feel like a party.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Four listens later and I can’t hear a single unexpected sung note, chord change, or lyric (“buzzing like a streetlight,” almost). While the banjo sits like parsley on a Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast plate, Hunt sounds like he’s checking in on his own track. He doesn’t even come off as an asshole — he’s a nice dude who likes girls in cute jeans so long as she doesn’t make the first move.
[2]

Brad Shoup: There’s a squinched-eyes feel Sam gives that’s reminiscent of the most formidable teenpop, or maybe Edwin McCain. It’s not just another R&B-flavored country tune. It’s X2C, you see, and he’s running down his lines like it’s a discovery. Chatty bros dot the margins, just as slippery, an effect that’s kinda mysterious, kinda annoying. I think the big drums are the hint that he’s got some more pop moves.
[7]

David Sheffieck: Back in 2012, Taylor Swift released a superfluous “country mix" for "We Are Never Getting Back Together," a song clearly destined for the pop charts. "Leave the Night On" sounds like its own country mix, neutered by production that undermines Hunt’s hooks and emphasizes his anonymous voice when it deserves much more.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: I like this song in exactly the same ways I like Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” plus a few more. It’s a bit more uptempo and contains a bit more oomph, along with a few more clever turns of phrase, right down to its title. Comes in, does its job, sung nimbly, gone in just over three minutes: yep.
[8]

Will Adams: I seriously think the producer forgot to add a kick drum.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Soon, it will be five decades since Scott Walker wrote one of his earliest songs, "Turn Out The Moon". It’s a typical Walker Brothers concoction, all wall of sound, melancholy, moaning. The works. But the guy understood the drama of the light-dark contrasts that make the evening sky such a territory for romance, and tried his best to communicate a need to recover from failure. Sam Hunt doesn’t get a lot of things. For him evening is escapism, earnest plunges, and a refusal to get tethered to reality, and he doesn’t want his studio bro-down halted not one moment. He’s in his zone, man, and life trying to halt that is just unacceptable. So here’s the point of the contrast: aside from both of these songs having purely shit arrangements, and talking about the night, Sam and Scott both want to control the world for purely selfish reasons. There’s no romanticism here, it’s just a cheesy grin and earnest mugging. Perhaps no different than Walker’s sort of hammy performance in obnoxiousness, but what miles of difference make when you just want to keep making sure things go your way.
[3]

Katherine St Asaph: Patter and blather to disguise a lack of vocal skill, or a chorus, or lyrics that make sense.
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: “The sky is dropping Jupiter around us like some old Train,” a line so bad it made me hit the brakes on this otherwise alright song instantly.
[5]

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FUTURE - T-SHIRT
[5.33]


Finally, a rap song about that kid from T-Bag and the Pearls of Wisdom

Brad Shoup: Uncut Future, which means he’s unleashed to celebrate the spoils and not the work. Nard & B provide clusters of micromelodies, a kind of low-key Liberace noodling without end. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. It lends a sense of importance that Future himself ignores.
[5]

Crystal Leww: Nard & B made two of my favorite Future tracks on Pluto, an album whose narrative was dominated by the rise of Mike WiLL. Their sound was triumphant and glossy, and Future sounded like he was out to elevate himself, his crew, and his ladies. It’s ironic now that “T-Shirt” sounds like a throwaway Mike WiLL track, and Future sounds like a braggart for no one but himself. “T-Shirt” is just senseless yelling about how great Future is. He sounded better when he was the askronaut.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Long before many writers mistook Future for some cyborg earnest balladeer, he was an unlikely king of street rap. He lacked the hyper-aggression of Waka, the slinky brilliance of Gucci, the everyman grunts of rap game dishwasher Jeezy. He was a lanky, druggy maniac who plugged himself into trap like an electric socket after turning the swaggy “futuristic” lane of Atlanta rap into a place where song-construction became essential. Part of “Honest” is laden with the bangers that have been ignored in the backbone of his catalog while people continue their strange fantasies of him being this nice guy with a heart of gold, having either forgotten or never heard songs where he’d “stand” on women or ordered desperate comrades to shoot people in the head for extra rewards. So a song like “T-Shirt” is just as much another shot at the many Atlanta acts like Rich Homie Quan and Migos who strive to take his lane as it is a declaration of flex. When he screams about making people envy and remember him, Nayvadius Cash wants you to remember all of him. Not just the parts you liked.
[8]

Alfred Soto: The year’s most disappointing album unleashes its best track: the one without the guest stars and unadorned beat that allows Future to chop words into spittle-flecked monosyllables.
[7]

Will Adams: The Eurotrance elements in the production add sonic depth; Future’s incessant braggadocio subtracts the emotional depth.
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: The last time we reviewed a single by Future, I said in part, “What does everyone see in this guy? He’s T-Pain 2.0, easy as that. Some occasionally half-decent songs and a vocoder, and that’s about it. This is not one of the occasionally half-decent songs.” I can’t say this single is necessarily any worse than “I Won,” but it’s certainly no better.
[3]

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WIZ KHALIFA FT. PROJECT PAT & JUICY J - KK
[4.38]


Wiz Khalifa enjoys marijuana. ~~THE MORE YOU KNOW~~

Thomas Inskeep: Wiz Khalifa has one of the least interesting voices in hip-hop, and one of the least interesting lyrical subjects on his mind. Ever. Because all he seems to care about is weed, which is incredibly boring. To summarize: you have nothing interesting to say, and no interesting way to say it? Yeah, then I’m not interested, either. (Sadly, neither Pat nor J have anything to add. Probably because they’re high.)
[2]

Patrick St. Michel: “I need it all the time/I don’t know what else to say” sums up Wiz Khalifa pretty well. Project Pat and Juicy J seem to try a little bit more — but then again, Wiz literally is just pronouncing certain words in a Jamaican accent, so it’s a low bar.
[3]

Anthony Easton: They seem to really enjoy smoking weed — it’s almost a hobby, like your kid brother playing Magic: The Gathering or your dad subscribing to those model train magazines. I like the technical language of anoraking so much that I subscribe to at least one trainspotting Tumblr. Extra point for how they spit “kkkk” out, more points for the LeRoy Jetson line.
[8]

Hazel Robinson: Wiz Khalifa, world’s most famous Hufflepuff, hasn’t done anything I’ve liked enough to acknowledge being made by the purveyor of my favourite album of 2010 since, err, then. And I thought this was continuing that trend until the beat kicked in — this was never gonna be a “Black & Yellow,” but if every boring stoner you knew told you about their weed habit over this hook, you’d probably still be more than Facebook friends.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: I’ll give them this: “KK” is a slight improvement over the tedium of hanging out with stoners; instead of inventing a doctor’s appointment at 8 a.m. tomorrow, hi wish I could stay bye, you can just turn the track off.
[1]

Scott Mildenhall: The hook is one of those instances where you repeat something at speed and it loses all meaning, which is appropriate because, of course, KK is a made-up drug. It does get a bit annoying though.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Wiz Khalifa is possibly one of the most misunderstood entities in rap. He is a top-notch technical rapper in the Ma$e mold (as opposed to the obvious Twista/Tech N9ne technical rap mold), where placement and flow is priority one and everything else falls around the foot of the pedestal priority one got put on. Besides that, he’s also a top notch curator of rap, be it Max B, Curren$y, Lil’ B, and, especially, Three Six Mafia. So here he invites cohort Juicy J and his big brother, five-time National Treasure Project Pat, to perform technical ecstasy about what else? Weed. It’s a dumb, brain-dead jam session of wood-shedding and leaf-burning, and it’ll win no fans for Khalifa outside of his own fanbase. But it’s sweet to see him take the pains to showcase these legends. Beat is plain awful though.
[5]

Brad Shoup: As soon as Khalifa says “blowing,” he’s sucked into a Gravitron; it’s way more manic than a weed hook oughta be. And the real deal’s tucked into the end, with Juicy J intoning over heavy bells of the mind. In the body of the song, the lonesome post-rock melody carries on, its dignity under siege by two separate flat patois impressions, two AK jokes, and a Willie Nelson crack. I figure if your strain’s good, your music’s either amazing or insane garbage. This is OK.
[5]

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