Singles Round-up, May week three

Mutoid Man | “Bandages”
It’s a twin (or sorts) to Bleeder‘s title track, though this is the gentlest thing MM have ever written. Features contemplative, wandering guitar, “Bandages” still manages to be MM by having a memorable melody and rocking out at the end with a sorta flashy solo. The song appears to be about heartbreak, which is in line with the overall theme of War Moans (and its cover).  Moans looks to be every bit as solid as its precessor.

Rancid | “Telegraph Avenue”
Much like their first single – and, really, their whole career – it’s another earnest punk offering. This time, though, you get a sing-songy, rockabilly tune complete with handclaps and a na-na-na chorus. It’s more mindless fun (and typically left-of-center, shout-along politicking) from one of the truly great veteran punk acts.

Grizzly Bear | “Mourning Sound”
With “Mourning” picking up from where the spacier aspects of Shields left off, it’s like they never left. GB continue to make the prettiest indie-rock around, though “Mourning” feels a bit odd. A nervously pulsing bassline attempts to ride an uneasy synth wave, while Ed Droste’s verses and Daniel Rossen’s chorus don’t so much work together as walk beside each other.  This is a rare miss for them.

Muse | “Dig Down”
This stand-alone single sees Muse return to electronic experimentation. “Dig” slinks around on a stuttering belch of a synth while Bellamy offers optimistic pap like, “We won’t let them divide/ We will never abide/ We will find a way”. Bellamy’s vocals almost save the song singlehandedly – almost. At this point, Muse make music for its own sake, since they can’t piss off their fans or convert detractors.

Danger Mouse feat. Big Boi and Run the Jewels | “Chase Me”
A Danger Mouse beat that basically rides the guitar jabs of “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion allows El-P, Killer Mike, and Big Boi to do what they do best: talk shit. El dazzles with his assonance (“Small talkers get launched on, clobbered and tossed off/ Knock ’em on just to get rocks off/ Put a pause on all of that soft talk, chop chop”); Mike, as usual, pairs an odd pop culture reference with sex (“A bad bitch gave me bomb head to Bad Brains”); and Big Boi slings his usual braggadocio nonsense (“Made man, I’m made already, nobody safe from petty/ 450 horse up in the Porsche, 600 in the Chevy”). The point is just to have fun, and nobody does it better than this trio.

Katy Perry featuring Nicki Minaj | “Swish Swish”
Given the singles she’s released in 2017, I have to assume it’s Perry’s goal to continually find new ways to lower the bar, because Jesus Christ, this is shit. The production is awkward pairing of strutting EDM nonsense and a shoehorned Fatboy Slim sample. Minaj comes damn close to saving the song by herself, despite dumbing down her rapping abilities to match the song (and that unncessary “Juicy” reference). There’s nothing to suggest Witness will be anything but soulless, trend-chasing pap for the masses, and I don’t see that changing.

Singles Round-up, May week two

Danny Brown| “Kool Aid”
This is way more fun than anything on Atrocity Exhibition, which is nice. Still, no one mixes druggy paranoia (“See, I’m tired of all of these pocket-watchers/ Niggas watching my pockets/ Wanna know where I spend it at, tryna figure out how I got it”) with absurdist sex talk (“Your hoe ate my dick off, call that hoe a cannibal”). With this, and the DJ Shadow / Nas collaboration, the Silicon Valley soundtrack is looking to be fantastic.

The National | “The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness”
First single from Sleep Well Beast is as tense as anything they’ve done, and the spasm of a guitar line throughout gives the song an added sense of uncertainty. Matt Beringer’s always had a way of abstract-yet-relatable descriptions and he proves it again here: “We’re in a different kind of thing now/ All night you’re talking to God”.  September 8 is too far away.

Origin | “Accident and Error”
Impressive (and catchy) as usual. Origin continue to make tech-death fun, especially the call-and-response between bass and guitar mid way through; Paul Ryan is still death metal’s preeminent thinker and player. The only downside here is the muddy mix.

Miley Cyrus | “Malibu”
It’s summery, sure, but it’s not really anything more. It’s just kinda…there, and it’s lyrics aren’t much better: “And it’ll be us, just for a while/ Do we even exist?/ That’s when I make the wish, to swim away with the fish/ ‘Cause it’s supposed to be this hot all summer long”. It’s kinda like California – it’s aesthetically appealing but fake and plastic once it’s examined to any degree.

Singles Round-up, May week one

Mutoid Man | “Kiss of Death”
It’s a slower and sludgier track than the punk-y “Melt Your Mind,” but it’s no less fun or catchy. The menacing sway matches the song’s lyrics, which seem to depict the cover of War Moans. It’s weird and it’s attention-grabbing and it’s memorable; in other words, it’s Mutoid Man.

Rancid | “Ghost of a Chance”
There’s nothing new or special here, but it is Rancid’s brand of whiskey-fuled punk with Tim Armstrong’s half-drunk snarl thankfully intact so he can offer humble platitudes like, “Well, maybe someday we’ll get a new start/ You never grow too old to dream”. The song’s earnestly uplifting melody sneaks up on you, too. Add a tidy solo and background ah’s all in 96 seconds and you got another Rancid classic.

LCD Soundsystem | “call the police” / “american dream”
Awfully nice of James Murphy to offer a double-A single. “call” is a tense rockers powered by watery, ’80s guitar and features some rather topical lyrics like, “Well, there’s a full-blown rebellion but you’re easy to confuse/ By triggered kids and fakers and some questionable views”. Meanwhile, “american” is one of the most beautiful songs James Muyphy has ever been a part of – a gentle, warm bath of a ballad with bright sparkling synths surrounding his brilliantly blunt observations (“In the morning everything’s clearer/ When the sunlight exposes your age”). LCD’s upcoming record would be great if either of these were on it.

Dead Cross | “Grave Slave”
Pulsing, thrusting insanity from a new supergroup featuring Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo. This is violently stabbing hardcore filtered through the mind of Patton, who continues to be extreme music’s most versatile vocalist, as he attempts just about every vocal style that metal has ever had. Their debut LP could be something worth waiting for.

Singles Round-up, April 28

Arcadea | “Infinite End”
Synthesizer-powered psychedelic outfit fronted by Brann Dailor and featuring Core Atoms and Raheem Amlani. Apparently, the record will only have synths, live drums, and vocals. Atoms’ vocals sound like they might be torn apart by the gravity from the black hole of synths. Between this and the other single “Gas Giant,” it sounds like Arcadea have decided to weaponize the synthesizer.  Light one up and blast this.

Fall Out Boy | “Young and Menace”
This is a joke, right? This is just terrible pop EDM nonsense. It’s like what would happen if FOB tried to rip off The Chainsmokers, who themselves are ripping off the Top 40. It’s a Möbius strip mindfuck. What was the goal here?

Prince | “Electric Intercourse”
Lovely piano and synth ballad from the Purple Rain sessions with typical ’80s Prince-isms like “Our bodies want to be together” and “I want to shock you with my lips”. “Electric” further demonstrates that few artists do more with space than him. I wanna go listen to Purple Rain right now – that’s how great this is. Prince, you are deeply missed.

Katy Perry feat. Migos | “Bon Appétit”
It’s about oral sex, we get it. Over disco-esque strobe light production, Perry sings lines like, “So you want some more/ Well I’m open 24/ Wanna keep you satisfied/ Customer’s always right,” making you wonder if she’s capable of feeling embarassment. Meanwhile, Migos phones in a bunch’a nonsense, and is here simply because they’re the “it” thing right now. Max Martin, you can do so much better.

 

Singles Round-up, April 21

Paramore | “Hard Times”
The current worship of ’80s pop culture continues with Paramore’s tropical-flavored comeback single from the band’s new record, After Laughter. It’s an understated ear-worm (with fitting lyrics like “Where do I go?/ Gimme some sort of sign/ Hit me with lightning!/ Maybe I’ll come alive”), and doesn’t reach for the cheap seats like “Ain’t It Fun” or “Misery Business”. Still, “Hard Times” shows that even when Hayley Williams follows a trend, she makes it her own.

Papa Roach | “American Dreams”
Yup, they’re still a thing and they’ve decided to bring back the quasi-rapping of Jacoby Shaddix, which is as awkward as ever. The same goes for his sort of indictment of the reality of the American Dream by today’s standards. The chorus, though, plays to their strengths by being almost cynically anthemic. Judged by Papa Roach standards (which is how it should be), this ain’t terrible.

Big Boi feat. Killer Mike and Jeezy | “Kill Jill”
Big Boi returns with a Japanese-flavored, Hatsune Miku-sampling beat and one of the best rappers alive having a fucking blast on the mic. Hearing these two chew through scenery with absurd braggadocio is a joy the world needs more of right now.

Big Boi feat. Adam Levine | “Mic Jack”
A Big Boi song made to make you dance featuring Adam Levine, huh? OK, sure. “Mic Jack” features more of Big Boi’s (practically trademark) lecherousness, something that (sadly) seems inexhaustible at this point. Meanwhile, Levine phones in a sorta-catchy chorus with embarassing lyrics. It’s a lotta fluff, honestly, and it’s kinda fun. Eh, whatever.

DJ Shadow feat. Nas | “Systematic”
Shadow’s collaboration with Run the Jewels last year was fantastic, and he’s done it again here with Nas. He has an inate gift for coaxing out great performances from rappers. The nervous, twitchy beat bounces around with immediacy, while Nas raps like he still has something to prove. We could have one new song between Shadow and a rapper once per year and I’d have no problem with that.

Singles Round-up, April 14

DragonForce | “Curse of Darkness”
It’s not as whiplash-inducing as other DF songs, but it’s also not any kind of a surprise, either. At five and a half minutes, it’s a (relatively) manageable song, too. Naturally,  the solo is flashy and little else, and the chorus is POWER METAL (!). What I’m saying is, you don’t need to hear this to know what it sounds like.

Suffocation | “Your Last Breaths”
First single from death metal vets’ eighth record, …Of The Dark Light, offers nothing special or any shocking reinvention here, just fantastically punishing NYDM. In this case, an ominously plodding opening leads right into a headlong sprint of brutality with guitar heroics. Newer death metal bands, take note: this is how it’s done.

DREAMCAR | “All of the Dead Girls”
Fun ditty from ’80s worshippers, complete with a bouncy bass line, playful guitar stabs, and Davey Havok’s come-hither vocals. Based on the three songs released so far, their debut LP should be an enjoyable, though likely superficial, romp through ’80s pop just in time for summer.

Linkin Park feat. Pusha T and Stormzy | “Good Goodbye”
Talk about playing it safe: this fits right in beside The Chainsmokers in terms of vapidity. On the plus side, Mike Shinoda surprisingly holds his own against two rappers who are out of his league even if neither is trying all that hard, so there’s that. Meanwhile, the blasé chorus makes the song fade into an already-crowded field of down-tempo EDM pop. Shinoda stated that “Good” is not representative of the record…yet, it’s a single. Take that how you will. Linkin Park can do better, and they should.

TLC feat. Snoop Dogg | “Way Back”
Their breezy comeback single is an attempt at throwback R&B in every possible sense (even lyrically: “James Brown and Michael J/ Like them high school parties”), though it’s less throwback than nostalgia worship. If I wanted to be reminded of how great CrazySexyCool is, I’d go listen to it, so I’m not sure why this exists. Serious question: Was anyone really clammoring for another TLC record?

Singles Round-up, April 7

At The Drive-In | “Hostage Stamps”
Third single from in·ter a·li·a is less arena-ready and radio-friendly than previous ones, and is also the strongest by keeping the nervous, itchy guitar and tense rhythm section. Meanwhile, Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s lyrics continue to be so dense, they’re practically word salad: “Slid down the bank, choking on sherm/ A new tactile cremation attested/ To opaque spurs, contemplative Mayhem keeps us together”. You get used to ignoring what he’s saying after a while anyway when the music is this good.

Mutoid Man | “Melt Your Mind”
Mutoid Man is a lotta fuckin’ fun and just as on their debut LP, “Melt Your Mind” is heavy, psychedelic, spastic, and catchy. Actually, it’s the catcheist thing Stephen Brodsky has written since Cave In’s “Anchor”. Add oddball lyrics about not letting stress get to you (I think), and you’ve got a real winner here.

Gorillaz feat. Pusha T and Mavis Staples | “Let Me Out”
Fatalism envelops the paranoid production here, including a typically great Pusha T where he sounds like a cornered animal (“Tell me there’s a heaven in the sky where there is peace/ But until then, I keep my piece in arm’s reach”). It’s been a long wait for Gorillaz’s return, and Humanz is shaping up to be their (his?) best record yet.

Kevin Gates | “What If”
I guess prison makes every rapper a naval-gazer; naturally, then, Kevin Gates uses a a hazy trap beat that interpolates Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us” in an attempt to explain his lifestyle with his ear candy, sing-songy flow. But this is KG we’re talking about, so he imagines that if God were one of us, he’d be “making calls to the plug like one of us”.  The song is a tad cartoon-y, yes, but any KG is better than no KG.

DREAMCAR | “Born To Lie”
“Born” is the second single from a supergroup comprised of the members of No Doubt not named Gwen with Davey Havok in her place. Much like “Kill for Candy,” this is so ’80s, the 7” comes with coke residue. Havok’s goth-drenched kabuki theater posturing (“I watch you tearing the place apart/ Tell me if you see my heart”) is perfect for the dark crevices of new wave. Talk about playing to your strengths. Think The Cure if they decided to rip off Erasure and you’re close.

Singles Round-up, March 10

Pallbearer | “I Saw The End”
Both this and previous single “Thorns” from Heartless are under seven minutes, suggesting the doom metal quartet might have taken a (relatively) radio-friendly turn. They still retain what makes them great, though: Spiraling leads over “Tokyo-destroying downstrokes and cannon-fire percussion” and vocals that express sorrow better than films. Look for these guys to go 3-for-3 when Heartless drops.

Mastodon | “Andromeda”
This is more like it. “Andromeda” is closer to classic Mastodon (read: more metal) than the previous two offerings from Emperor of Sand, including a riff that drunkenly lurches around the rhythm section. The song also features some prog elements from their first couple of records in the bridge, suggesting this record is a return to their early days, as well as being their most varied to date. Time is apparently a main theme of Sand, and it’s fitting because these guys sound ageless.

Fastball |”I Will Never Let You Down”
The guys in Fastball – Tony Scalzo in particular – have always been underrated songwriters, so it should come as no surprise that “Let You Down” has a smart, if repetitive, arrangement. Its aww shucks lyrics (“It may sound funny, I don’t have lots of money/ But I will never let you down”) and hummable melody are pretty standard fare for Fastball, but the song is certainly better than expected from a band that peaked 20 years ago. Call this a win.

Fleet Foxes | “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”
FF’s first release in six years is nine minutes, most of which exist in a near-perpetual climactic swell. Its California sun-kissed – production, vocals and all – is like everything else they’ve done. As to whether “Third” needs to be this length, that depends on how much you like the self-indulgent side of FF.

Obituary | “A Lesson in Vengeance”
These guys, much like Cannibal Corpse, haven’t changed their approach at all in 30 years. The groovy swaying riffs and Chuck Schuldiner-borrowed snarled vocals are intact after all this time, and that throwback ’90s metal reverb production just adds to the evil atmosphere. Why fix what ain’t broke?

Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne | “No Frauds”
The first thing you notice about this Young Money group cut is that the order of artists goes best to worst. Battle Nicki responds to Rema Ma and kills it (“Sheneneh, you a fraud committin’ perjury/ I got before-and-after pictures of your surgery/ Rah took you to her doc, but you don’t look like Rah/ Left the operating table, still look like ‘nah'”) over swirling ice-cold synths. Meanwhile, Drake does his Drake thing of borrowing whatever is currently popular in rap, and Wayne brings up the rear with a phoned-in effort (“Blunt be tight as biker shorts, twisted like some handlebars”). Despite only one of three rappers actually trying, that effort alone saves this song.

Lorde | “Liability”
After the anthemic “Green Light,” Lorde follows up with a sparse piano ballad featuring some blunt self-criticism (“The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy/ ‘Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore”) and a tumbling vocal melody that adds to the doubtful nature of the track. Lorde may have let mainstream ideas slip into her work, but that isn’t preventing her from making great music.

311 | “Too Much To Think”
It’s 311. You know what this sounds like before you hear it: music played on the beach while sipping on a Corona and making sure your tribal arm band is in full view of the hottie next to you.

Singles Round-up, March 3

Warbringer | “Shellfire”
Warbringer are one of the few rethrash bands getting it right, and songs like this are why. The band claims this is the fastest song in their catalogue, and it’s hard to argue. This motherfucker sprints from the outset. Even with the atmospheric break in the middle, this is nonstop redlining madness. They don’t fuck with their death metal-tinged thrash formula often enough, but this is fun anyhow.

White Reaper | “The World’s Best American Band”
Until now, White Reaper’s basically been a garage punk Cars. It seems now they’ve embraced more of the standard classic rock radio rotation: If you’ve wondered what White Reaper doing a Grand Funk impression would sound like, here’s your answer. Based on this and previous single “Judy French,” it sounds as if The World’s Best American Band might sonically follow “Ohh (Yeah)” from the band’s debut EP (which I enjoyed). This is easily the most pop-flavored (and most produced) song they’ve ever released.

John Frum | “Presage of Emptiness”
Debut single from the prog-metal supergroup. The band consists of the former vocalist for The Faceless, DEP’s bassist, John Zorn’s guitarist, and Intensus’s drummer. It’s got everything you’d expect: lurching liquid bass, tech-death riffs that’ll knock you on your ass, tumbling drums, and ’90s death metal vocals. Also, the solo is flashy without devolving into guitar wankery (thankfully). Given its members, I’m curious to see what else this band has to offer.

Lorde | “Green Light”
Lorde’s comeback single contains the lyrics, “But I hear sounds in my mind/ Brand new sounds in my mind”, and apparently those sounds are a mish-mash of club EDM synths. This is sugary to be sure, but this is Lorde so it’s oddball-sugary. Yet, none of this stops “Green Light” from being fantastic, and it’s easily the most anthemic (musically, anyway) song of her career. If you’re gonna borrow from Top 40, this is how you do it.

Bush | “The Beat of Your Heart”
Bush’s last single was boring and largely forgettable; this is slightly better. The melody is an improvement and the chorus actually works, but this isn’t anywhere near the quality of their early work. Meanwhile, Gavin Rossdale sounds like he’s bored with Bush; given their last few records, I don’t blame him. This would fit perfectly right in between Matcbox 20 and Ed Sheeran on an adult contemporary station. Pass.

Coldplay | “Hypnotised”
Nope. Guess again.

Singles Round-up, February 24

Lana Del Rey | “Love”
Her comeback single is about as LDR as you can get: a sweeping, cinematic arrangment; left-of-center, yet relatable, thoughts on life (“Look at you kids with your vintage music/ Comin’ through satellites while cruisin'”); dreamily hushed singing; and a me-against-the-world urgency. Basically, you’ll know before you hear this if you’re gonna like it. And you should, as it might be the best thing she’s ever done. Hell, that bridge alone is worth the price of admisson.

Spoon | “Can I Sit Next To You”
Given the title track and this new one, Hot Thoughts looks to be Spoon’s funkiest album to date. It’s an interesting shift, as their last record had some of the most beautiful music of their career. But as I’ve said before, no songwriter can do more with less than Britt Daniel so it all works out. Spoon have few weak songs in their catalogue – every great band does – but this ain’t one of ’em. I once called Spoon “maddeningly consistent”, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

At The Drive-In | “Incurably Innocent”
17 years later, they haven’t lost the ability to write and play arena-ready post-hardcore. Similarly, Cedric Bixler-Zavala is still using technology-as-metapor as a jumping-off point; thankfully, it isn’t impenetrable here: “A blank tape that couldn’t remember/ But you can never erase the hurt”. Much like previous single “Governed By Contagions,” “Innocent” is closer to Relationship of Command than Acrobatic Tenement in sound and structure, so don’t expect anything too wild or too raw from the forthcoming in•ter a•li•a LP.

The Chainsmokers & Coldplay | “Something Just Like This”
Kudos to this pairing for creating what might be 2017’s most numbingly milquetoast EDM pop single. The Chainsmokers continue to cynically mine the Top 40 for ideas (even recycling their own), and Chris Martin continues to draw from his seemingly inexhaustible well of lyrical vapidity. None of this, however, will stop its preordained success. Ugh.

Arca | “Piel”
You know going in that this is gonna be weird. “Piel” (Spanish for ‘skin’) is eerie as fuck, especially that vocal melody. No one makes music quite as mood-perfect as Arca, and no one can soundtrack a nightmare quite as effectively, either. How many producers can make a song that’s fascinating during the day and terrifying at night?

Seether | “Let You Down”
The lead single from the post-grunge stalwarts’ seventh* album sticks with Isolate and Medicate‘s return to their heavy side of the 2000’s (especially the bridge). The seasick swaying riff is memorable enough and the melody works, but the title alone indicates they have no desire to swim in uncharted waters for any meaningful amount of time, musically or lyrically. Call it a wash, I guess.

Art of Anarchy | “No Surrender”
Fact: any guitar-based music Scott Stapp sings over will never not have at least a passing resemblance to Creed. So, here we are with Stapp replacing the late Scott Weiland for AoA’s (likely heavier) sophomore LP. On the one hand, he seems more interested in the project than Weiland did. On the other, it’s Scott Stapp fronting a WJJO-approved rock band. Meh.

Gucci Mane & Nicki Minaj | “Make Love”
Oh, what a joy this song is. You got classic battle rap Nicki trading bars with singsong Gucci over a sub-zero Casio trap beat. It’s hard to pick a favorite line, but here are two of the best: “She ain’t eatin’ but I swear she got some bum-ass taste/ Text her man like, ‘Dawg, how that bum ass taste?’/ Pay your rent! And stay in your bum-ass place” (Nicki), and “Damn, who colder than me?/ You think he colder than me?/ You more bipolar than me” (Gucci). More of this, please.

 

*It’s actually their sixth album, but Disclaimer II is counted as it own thing for some reason.