Posts tagged music criticism

I didn’t write about this on Jukebox today because I was busy, but also because I couldn’t really figure out why I like it so much. I was hoping maybe someone else would be able to explain it.

Jepsen is a Canadian Idol alum who had a charming dance-folk-meditation single off her first album that was called “Tug of War”, but this seems pretty rote on the surface, not to mention repetitive. And apparently it was co-written by - quelle horreur! - Josh Ramsay of Marianas Trench.

The best I can come up with is that (disclaimer!) while I am totally, utterly content avec mon chum, part of me misses that ambivalent, tentative unpredictable uncertainty of meeting someone intriguing, interesting, new, whatever. Jepsen’s not the first to do it, and definitely not the best (Taylor is a pro at this. See: Enchanted), but it’s a charming trifle.

At any rate, this is addictive, especially for our second-rate government-mandated CanCon radio pop scene.

In other news, if I could write twice as many words as I just wrote in 10 minutes, I would be done this stupid paper, which will inevitably take me right up to the 11:59 deadline.

Mind: Blown

Just realised that the opening of In the Heights is identical to the beginning of “America” from West Side Story. And it’s totally purposeful, because half of the point of In the Heights is the after-effects of immigration on the mind of those who left/came/were displaced/moved/etc. Ambivalence about both America and the ‘homeland’, longing to return and/or stay, the forming of diaspora communities and their reconstitution as new mixes of cultures are writ large eighteen different ways across this play, from Nina’s focus on maintaining her Spanish as a means of staying in touch with her history, to Vanessa’s desire to get out and Abuela Claudia’s “Paciencia y Fe”, which is (imo) the centrepiece of the show, which is a show about home, but even moreso a show about dreams - dreams broken, dreams inherited, dreams suddenly fulfilled or cut short. It’s about breaking open the dream and seeing what’s inside it and accepting it and dreaming bigger. Anyway. Totally purposeful. Both completey awesome.

Do you have any thoughts on The Fall?

imathers replied to your post: Demandez-moi qqch. / Ask me smthn.

Clearly this is on my mind today, but do you have any thoughts on The Fall?

Um. My thoughts on The Fall are that I probably should listen to them at some point?

I know who they are and I know they’re a big deal, but at some point in the last five years (around the same time that I realized that while my modes of listening to music will always be record-store-nerdy my tastes don’t necessarily fall there anymore, and maybe around the same time that I realized that I like writing about music but don’t know if making a career out of it was something I would enjoy/was good enough to do) I stopped feeling the need to learn up on the entire canon of indie rock.

Having a big list of music I had to learn to like initially was a good fit with my vaguely OCD approach to my hobbies and interests but it ended up being very artificial, and I ended up frequently just feeling like I was missing out on something. (Granted, I’m still vaguely OCD about how I listen to music, but more in the “OH WOW 90s PRINCE LPs ARE SECRETLY AWESOME. I WILL LISTEN TO NOTHING ELSE FOR THE NEXT MONTH” way. Less planned.) Not getting Pavement was a big deal for me once. So, at some point I will inevitably stumble into The Fall and then I will leave you a big message in your askbox saying IAN! THIS IS AMAZING! WHY WAS I NOT LISTENING TO THIS BEFORE? but until that day I’ll just keep stumbling. 

An important question


Better “Te Amo”: Rihanna (Rated R, 2009) or Atlas Sound (Parallax, 2011)?

Fucked up my reply, so reblog it is. Stupid iPhone.

Love Bradford’s voice jumping up through the haze and how the backing track sounds like an outtake from Brion’s ESotSM score.

Still, Rihanna might win this. The vaguely erotic mix of being drawn into another’s attraction and sadness at not reciprocating/not being able to reciprocate is an ambivalence that isn’t easy to nail, especially in 4 minutes. That she didn’t switch the subject of the song to a guy when recording Fauntleroy’s demo just makes it all the more effective. Contrast this to the exploitative Katy Perry ‘lesbian experimentation’ of the rest of the pop charts. No contest.

It turns out that I might like a Drake album?

Or at least the production? (Did he just rap about playing a Bar Mitzvah? He did. Wow.)

40 plays


Los Campesinos! - “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope”

To more directly address the album at hand, however: the quirkier elements that made the band so attractive in the first place like the violins and xylophones have been stamped down in favor of guitar and drums, which isn’t to say they aren’t present but by being much lower in the mix, Hello Sadness sounds much more like a rock album than anything they’ve released previously. The buzzy guitar on “Songs For Your Girlfriend”, for example, is one of the most addictive bits of music they’ve ever written, as is the highly danceable drum beat on the title track. Lyrically, all their albums take a while to break down and find the lines most relatable but most of the hooks are pretty disappointing. In place of “You should’ve built a wall / Not a bridge” on “We Are All Accelerated Readers” or “If your hero told you to go huff a sharpie, what would you do? / I do not know / Every girl I ever kissed I was thinking of a pro footballer / Thought you should know,” there’s the unforgivably dull “You know it starts pretty rough / And ends up even worse / And what goes on in between / I try to keep it out of my thoughts” from “Life Is A Long Time”.

The aforementioned “Songs About Your Girlfriend” has a clever twist where it starts off describing all of the times Gareth slept with your girlfriend until it’s revealed it’s all pure fantasy he made up out of spite “because [he] never made her smile like that,” except where there was some relish in that jealousy on We Are Beautiful’s “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It?” the equivalent here comes off as straight-faced vituperative hostility. And it was never about that in the past; there was some winking acknowledgement that the world is fucking horrible and so is everyone in it including us! But so what? We may not’ve been good enough, not for you, but we’re good enough for us, a ridiculous bunch of idiot children just rubbing up against each other because we can’t think of anything better to do! Except the more mature musical direction has sapped it of some of that precocious charm and its relative dryness makes it sound more like the cries of a miserable drunk than the crylaughter of a charismatic self-loather, (i.e. you, me, everyone else on Tumblr, and formerly Gareth too.)

This was never going to be another Hold On Now, Youngster or Romance Is Boring; half the line-up has changed since their last album and by the nature of the group’s diverse roles, they were all pretty fundamental shifts. Growing pains are to be expected and in the face of that, Los Campesinos! have still produced a heart-thumping, cry-into-your-headphones album as befits them, albeit with less of a smirk. This is possibly apocryphal due to a shitty memory but there was an interview somewhere in which Gareth said he experienced the worst breakup of his life during or before the writing of the album, so if we give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s still got it in him, glimpses of which still shine through, obscured as they are, then maybe the freshness of his muse (or absence thereof) is the cause of this interminable sadsackery, in which case it isn’t too late, it’s just too soon. The world needs another self-serious sadface band like a roundhouse kick to the ears so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. We’re undeveloped, we’re ignorant, we’re stupid, but were happy! Remember?

Jake, writing the things I’m feeling about Hello Sadness, more or less. I suspect I like it a bit more than he does already. The last half of the album has some musical touches and new tricks that are a pretty good look for Los Camp!, but even Romance Is Boring (which I initially feared was the onset of ‘maturity’) had a clear sense of the ridiculous (i.e. Plan A, the end of Straight In At 101).

I’d always used Fall Out Boy as a theoretical reference point for what Gareth and the gang were doing (albeit in a very different musical milieu) - embodying their respective scenes’ stereotypes so completely and consciously and purposefully that the question of “Is this earnest or is this ironic?” missed the point entirely. It was always both.

But it’s a tough line to tread, and as much as I suspect that I will grow to love Hello Sadness, I’m beginning to worry that Gareth is less Pete Wentz and more Terius Nash. In which case, this album might be his equivalent of 1977 - that moment where I realize that the aspects of his authorial voice that I considered self-aware and self-deprecating and intentionally over-the-top might be the man behind the curtain. (Although, this new Los Campesinos! album is infinitely better than that train-of-thought collection of demos.)

Gareth did say in an interview that he had scrapped all the lyrics for this album and re-written them quite late in the game due to a recent and rough breakup, so maybe I’ll just chalk the album’s weaker moments up to that and see what happens next. I’ll always have We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.

N.B.: This sounds really harsh, and I actually quite like the LP. It’ll mostly end up in my top 25, even if it doesn’t end up making my top 10 (which it still could!) so be prepared for another post in the future explaining why despite my misgivings, it’s still a damn good listen.

All My Time (feat. Lauryn Hill) - Paid & Live

Genuine question. To quote Lauryn: “Who’s Paid and who’s Live? Where you live? What you drive?” Was this really their only song? And how the hell did they coax such a killer verse from Ms. Hill?

Whoa Now - B Rich

I’m pretty sure the only reason I know this exists is because of Al Shipley’s end of decade wrap up lists over at Narrowcast. And thank goodness for Ship, because this is exuberantly catchy.

Some of my favourite things in rap are local anthems - everyman songs repping for their city by regional/local rappers who might never blow up but manage to perfectly capture and convey a sense of their specific hometown pride. (N.B.: This is also my favourite type of Kanye, c. The College Dropout) I’ve never been to Baltimore, but this feels like one of these tracks - right down to the video, which may as well be B Rich and a bunch of people he knows dancing in random parts of the neighbourhood.

Plus, that sample.

20 plays

Peach Wedding - Braids

I’m still riding on the high of seeing Blue Hawaii and Braids triumphant return to Montreal on Thursday. Blue Hawaii played a set entirely comprised of new material, and Braids played two or three new tracks.

'Peach Wedding' is one of them - part of a split 7” with current toast-of-the-Interwebs Purity Ring - and it's a marvelous 6 minutes of atmosphere, with a touch more guitar grit than usual. It might not be as magnificent a vocal turn as Blue Gowns or Glass Deers, but when Raphaelle’s voice bursts into a choir of harmony with itself around 1:20, it really is a thing of beauty. I don’t care which of her bands puts out a sophomore release first, but one of them had better get around to doing so ASAP.

"Go" - Delilah (2011)

We nearly didn’t run this over at the Singles Jukebox, since it wasn’t getting much traction on the UK charts. Except then Iain suggested it half-heartedly, and I fell madly in love with it, and insisted that we cover it. Naturally, this meant that when it finally cropped up on the schedule, I was mired in composing a French judicial opinion and totally forgot to write anything.

"Go" is emblematic of something a lot of songs in the post-dubstep/whatever universe are trying to do these days, but succeed at more rarely. The rolling synths that burble forth briefly like eddies in an otherwise calm sea, the spare touches of tabla, the pleading in Delilah’s voice that triangulates lust, romance and desperate obsession. The most impressive thing about the track, though, is its restraint. You need impressive amounts of faith and trust in your material to constantly yearn, without ever giving into the temptation to deliver a big pay-off, or over-the-top histrionics.

Essentially, this belongs with ‘Night Air' and 'Archangel' and 'Teardrops' in my “2 A.M. Restlessness” Mix.


Patrick Wolf - House

Remember when all he wanted was total chaos and a holiday home in the east? Well…

Alex Ostroff: I’ll admit at the outset that it is completely impossible for me to be remotely objective about Patrick Wolf. His music is interwoven with the past seven years of my life, having acted as balm, inspiration, steel and spine at various points in time. The feral teenager of uncertain and volatile desires of Lycanthropy was everything I wouldn’t or couldn’t dare to be in high school; the pastoral static electricity of Wind in the Wires was a calm escape from the harsh realities of my parents’ divorce; and the (apologies, Patrick) flamboyant and ambiguously queer pop of The Magic Position gave me an early role model when preparing to come out. Even my attempts to sort through my post-closet post-graduation identity were soundtracked by his frustration and depression on The Bachelor. All of which is to say that some people may listen to ‘House’ and hear Radio 2 marmite, deliberately designed for contentment and pleasantness and mothers and Tesco, and some might hear selling out and growing up and abandoning his roots. But I hear sweeping strings (impeccably arranged, as always), and the resolution of a journey that started with Lycanthropy. Our hero has run run run as fast as he can with his bedroom-built theremin, away from home, school, sexuality, and the Childcatcher. He’s run to Paris to start it all again, to lighthouses in search of identity, to cut his penis off and let no foot mark his ground. He’s wandered through the British countryside with a green tent and a violin, gotten lost and enchanted with platonic artistic loves in secret gardens, lost himself in danger and dead meat in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin. And now, finally, he has ventured back to the city, full circle, having learned how to battle and how to be conquered, and finally decides to lay down his weapons in armistice, to look to the future and mark time and ground together with someone else, to build houses and homes.

[Visit The Singles Jukebox]

In which The Singles Jukebox gives Patrick our second-highest score of the year as a birthday present, and I fag out in a totally embarrassing manner about how much of a fanboy I am. Everyone else says lovely things, too, so you should click through and read them all.

Bonus O.G. Final Paragraph:

On his first EP, Patrick sat in a house with pumpkin soup on the table, and warned himself that “everything changes, and this will too.”  After nine years, “the native has returned.” Lupercalia is ostensibly an album about love, but it’s also an album about how to find yourself again and what you do next. The maturity and contentment are a new look for the once-confirmed Bachelor, but it’s look that’s been hard-won and well-earned. And what now? For the first time in his career, I have absolutely no idea.

Jamieson Cox: Ciara and the magic of "Promise"


“Promise” was released in 2006, and it’s safe to declare that it stands as both the high water mark of Ciara’s career thus far and as one of the top singles of the 2000s. I’m going to use my usual list-a-bunch-of-thoughts tactic, because it’s been working well for me lately:

1) “Promise” is unique in that it doesn’t resort to an all-out aural assault like other memorable mid-2000s R&B singles. Two that come to mind immediately are Amerie’s “1 Thing” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. I love both of these songs, but they would never be described as subtle; they hit the listener over the head with horns/percussion/attitude. Compared to this duo, “Promise” is serpentine. It even uncoils at the beginning in a snake-like fashion, and Ciara slithers around the minimal beat and synths for the song’s entirety. (Even the video possessed “snake-like” (?) dancing, especially compared to Bey+Amerie’s stomping and thunderous ass-shaking.)

2) Another way “Promise” deviates from the dominant trends in 2000s R&B, especially in the female realm, is its lyrical content. The “independent women” theme was prevalent as early as 2000, when Destiny’s Child absolutely exploded with The Writing’s on the Wall. (Which, by the way, I freaked out over upon finding it in my stocking Christmas 2000. I think there’s video.) Even Ciara herself had used the “independent women” angle on her first single as the “princess of crunk”, “Goodies”. “Goodies” was an expression of female independence and showed Ciara exerting control over her man in a sexual manner by withholding the very act. “Promise”, however, is all about co-dependence and vulnerability. Ciara doesn’t want a muscle-bound trophy or a “soldier”, she wants an equal to talk to and protect her. That type of expression was, and still is, rare in the female R&B world.

3) I truly believe that Ciara nails this song in a way that none of her contemporaries could’ve. She straddles a fine line between girlish vulnerability and excitement and womanly maturity. It’s difficult to sound both young enough to deliver lines about man-as-teacher and homework, and old enough to pull off the more serious fare about long-term commitment. Beyoncé would have sounded too brassy and authoritative. Alicia Keys may not have been able to sell the more youthful segments, and Ashanti wasn’t in the same league as the two ladies I just mentioned. Ciara is airy without sounding breathless, doesn’t overwhelm the slight arrangement, and avoids embarrassment during the spoken section. It’s her finest performance.

4) I really like the fade-out at the end.

Alright, there’s 400 more words on “Promise” than you needed to read tonight! No one’s on Tumblr this late on Friday night anyways. I hope everyone has a great weekend. Also, I’ll take this space to offer my congratulations to the state of New York. It’s moments like this that all of us Twitterati/Tumblrati/etc. can strip away our ever-present cynicism and show off some sincere happiness, as well as celebrate the newly-enabled happiness of others.

1) Got pointed in Jamieson’s direction by perpetua for solid and intelligent pop criticism, and he’s absolutely right, so if you’re the kind of person to whom this is important, follow him immediately

2) Ciara’s ‘Promise’ is fucking awesome and the above post lists some very good reasons why, but there are a few more:

3) ‘Promise’ has TWO separate intros that don’t crop up again in the song, melodically or otherwise. The first one is the lovely ‘I just wanna vibe with you’ bit, which is quite nice, but the second is a spoken interlude that ranks right up there with All Saints’ ‘Never Ever’ in the Spoken Intro as Shining Pop Moment list.

4) What sounds at first like a synth line underneath the spoken bit is actually a vocal counterpoint sung through a vocoder, before switching back and forth from synth to vocals throughout the rest of the song.

5) The DRUMS! I’m sure someone will correct me, but I’m fairly certain that Polow da Don’s production on ‘Promise’ heralded the revival of Prince-ish drums that would pop up again in J. Holiday’s ‘Bed’ courtesy of The-Dream and LOS, who would then use them in every ballad they produced for the next four years or so. (Including on Electrik Red’s Devotion, which is a total jam, but that’s beside the point)

6) As reverend dollars recently pointed out to me, the Cory Bold Remix is equally amazing, in its own way.

Purple Reign

Me! Writing about Prince! Live!

Of course, this was sort of a last-minute favour for a friend, and I’ve never actually reviewed anything live before except for Kanye’s Glow in the Dark tour, and that ended up being more of a thinkpiece about Kanye and Graduation and the progression towards what would eventually become 808s and Heartbreak. But I digress.

The point is, this is a decent piece of writing about an AMAZING concert, but you should really scan through just to see the setlist because Prince + Maceo Parker covering Sly and the Family Stone is pretty much the most wonderful thing ever.

Also, if any of my fellow writers/critics/Jukeboxers have suggestions about how to write live reviews that aren’t entirely descriptive, it would be much appreciated, just for future reference, because finding narratives in albums and singles and careers is different from finding narrative in concerts. Thx.


Taylor Swift - Ours (Speak Now Deluxe Edition, 2010)

There are a couple noteworthy points for those who want to paint Swift into an ideological corner she is too complex to remain in. The first is a strange bit of gender-inversion; the chorus has her jokingly assuring her partner, “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind” in just the way an asshole alpha-male might tell his side-chick. The other is more pointed, and even makes the song seem like it might be a companion piece to “Mine.” “And any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos,” sings Taylor, and then a pause, to make her pronouncement firm: “will be ignored.” Swift’s business is her own, and not the patriarchy’s. Got that?

I hate to bring up that last point, because, really, this is just a cute song about a cute love story, and it’s best appreciated as such. There are nooks within it to explore, however, and Swift’s natural, unappreciated brand of independent womanhood is one of them.

Jonathan’s entire post is a wonderful piece of writing about one of my unassuming favourites off Speak Now , but this bit explains very well something that I often struggle to articulate about her songwriting. The broad brushstrokes of T. Swift are very easy to write off ideologically, especially when it comes to gender issues,  as retrogressive or stereotypical or whatever (see: 90% of thinkpieces about Taylor on the Internet, especially those contrasting her and Lady Gaga), but if and when you actually engage with her lyrics and the stories she’s telling, she interrogates and problematizes and intelligently analyzes these tropes more than most other pop stars. Just because she doesn’t red flag every time she does so, and often presents her stance by describing lived experience rather than by making Statements, doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. (Clearly there’s less to say about here than there is on the too often misread Fifteen or something, but seriously, folks. It’s there.)