Annie - Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts (digital single, 2013, self-released) [via thesinglesjukebox]
Sometimes I have problems that are hard to soolllllveeeeee and I address them by writing megashort stories in place of traditional music reviews.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: “12:30/I’m about to depart.” The night has begun, a cavalcade of bad vibes. As Norwegian public transport trundles along, Annie sits shaken and broken on the way to… somewhere. Anywhere. There’s got to be a beat on the other side, and until that appears, there’s “Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts” in her head. You can almost see the white lights flashing, those huge claps reverberating from wall to wall. With Annie, these sounds do not offer escape from the twitchiness of her words; the ability to nullify the anxiety is not on the table. Here, the club sounds are a welcome extension of bad vibes, a zone where internalized gloom is writ large as nocturnal beats. The music is unnerving and rickety, under its own spell of spookiness. But she’s not there yet. She’s stuck on public transport, keeping as calm as she can with strokes of glossolalia nonsense: “mamama oh mamama oh nanananana”. 
Disclosure feat. Eliza Doolittle - You & Me (off Settle, 2013, PMR) [via thesinglesjukebox]
Patrick St. Michel: One day, these brothers are going to slip. They’ll release a mediocre song, or even a straight-up dud, and we will all be a little surprised. That’s because Disclosure are on a Miami Heat-like run of fantastic music. Have they even released something approaching so-so? Even more impressive is they’ve done this while sticking mostly to the same formula — straightforward intro into woozy build-up swinging into a fantastic chorus, usually featuring a guest singer absolutely slaying. This is “You & Me,” too, another impressive “W” as they march toward the NBA Fina — er, album release date. 
Will Adams: The pop-kissed deep house of “Latch” and “White Noise” are great, but it was the shuffling garage of “Control” that first drew me to Disclosure. “You & Me” picks that up while adding a warmth that sets it apart from its icier predecessor. Disclosure’s skill is in portraying so accurately the intense emotions one feels on a dance floor. Their synth pads wrap around the song at all the right moments, and with Eliza Doolittle’s precise vocals it’s a winning combination. These two are unstoppable.
Alfred Soto: Another in their winning string of no-fuss dance gems, “You & Me” basks in Doolittle’s warmth. It’s not a matter of pulling any punches: she creates a sonic space in which she and the listener can two-step to the “Show Me Love” template.
Edward Okulicz: So dance music in 2013 is going to have elements of the musical summers of ‘93 and ‘03 with a vocal performance that could have been straight off an underground disco pop record from ‘83? Even if it lasts just the length of this record, hopefully that movement has a nice long chart life.
Katherine St Asaph: Disclosure, so far, have managed an illustrious career of making me love vocalists I previously gave zero shits about; when they get Katy B in, it’ll either be amazing or ruin my year. (Quite the feat, that.) “You & Me” continues the streak, but only just. Too pat, maybe; too much contentness, too little tension, too much of a drift toward the coffee bar. Basically, 2015 is going to be full of worse versions of this.
Brad Shoup: The next entry in Disclosure’s “we can turn everyone icy” sweepstakes. I’m glad Doolittle’s taking a break from being Nellie McKay for nice folks, but someone like Foxes would have brought the fire to an otherwise fine 4 a.m. two-step.
Jonathan Bogart: Everyone Disclosure works with has a distinct voice and personality, but they still end up sounding like they’re singing a Disclosure song — weightless, bustling, and slightly mournful. I was going to say I’ve never had a problem with Eliza Doolittle before, and then I realized I was confusing her with Holly Golightly; she acquits herself better than that, at any rate.
Scott Mildenhall: It’s probably not a declaration you’d ever expect to see, but Eliza Doolittle is an asset to this song, her Estuary emulations almost approaching some definition of soulful. Not in the way of Sam Smith’s contribution to “Latch”; her vocal limitations probably ensure the level of restraint that keeps the all-important space intact, but there’s feeling amid the glo’al stops.
Anthony Easton: Does this sound brittle to anyone else, hiding exhaustion with jittering attention to energy? If that’s the case, it’s a difficult trick to pull off well.
Crystal Xia: Doolittle isn’t trying too hard to be clever, and that sincerity goes a long way. The way that she sings “my darling” in the chorus is so out of breath and sounds so precious, like she really believes it. But my favorite vocal part is the outro where Doolittle sings about her lover’s house on the hill and refers back to the heart that she had given him several verses earlier. It’s such a simple yet effective bit. Doolittle’s voice is put through some vocal filters that lower the volume and make her seem a little more faded. Disclosure’s done this sort of thing before, where they distort a vocal without losing the emotional intensity. The fact that it works is a testament to their production ability.
David Lee: Disclosure have this knack for summoning impassioned vocals and then running them through drum loops, stuttering basslines or glowing synths in order to create a vibrant narrative. “You and Me” encompasses the dark nightclub corners and thrilling excursions of an intense, loving relationship, torpedoing my pleasure centers with the tension and release of electric string sections and wound-up synths rising over a sea of skittering jungle and garage rhythms. Few songs, “White Noise” excepted, have racked up as many plays as quickly in my iTunes this year.
My blurb, which was lost somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning:
Perhaps it was because I stumbled upon a Simon Reynolds piece on the genre from a 2001 issue of Vibe. Maybe it was the fact I went to a club night celebrating Craig David’s thirty-second birthday. Either way, I’ve been thinking a lot about two-step the past couple of weeks and how its particularly British amalgamation of R&B, dancehall and house has surfaced in the DNA of bass-music acts like SBTRKT, Koreless and Disclosure. “You & Me” finds the Lawrence brothers exploring senses of comfort, a turn away from the sexual and emotional anxiety that traversed through “Latch” and “White Lights”. Guest Eliza Doolittle vows to her beau that she will let nobody “inside of our happiness”. It’s loyalty to the cause. Likewise, Disclosure find that underneath their bag of tricks (plutonium-bright keys, unassailable melodic approach) there is a loyalty to their two-step influence. In the final minute, Doolittle’s ode to loyalty fades away and her hosts strip the track to its bones. The bubble-pop melodies fade into the aether, revealing the heart of the track. Disclosure confidently allow the shuffling percussion to show their understanding of two-step, displaying their reverence and comfort with the genre’s murky stop-start rhythms. Doolittle’s devoted to her lover - the Brothers Lawrence are devoted to two-step. It’s lovely on both accounts. 
Clipping - guns.up (off midcity, 2013, self-released)
Even once you’ve heard this track you might find it hard to believe it exists. This isn’t a nihilist remix of some other rapper, this is just clipping. This is what they do.
I don’t know if their MC raps over beats and then gives the a capellas to some harsh noise producers or whatever but that’s kinda what it sounds like. I listen to quite a lot of hip-hop and a fair bit of noise and if you were making a venn diagram of the qualities I’m listening out for in those genres there would be basically no intersection. And I can also say that clipping’s MC would hold up well making more conventional hip-hop, and I regard the production really highly too (it reminds me a lot of Soft Punk by John Wiese, one of my favourite noise records).
Here’s where I’m supposed to mention Death Grips, who perhaps have been doing a lot to tear down hip-hop’s walls over the past couple years. It’s impossible that there’s anyone listening to clipping who isn’t already a Death Grips fan, but really there are few formal similarities. The most important one is this: here are two groups whose sonic/expressive experimentation operates co-dependently with the subversiveness of their lyrical themes, especially with regard to the overwhelming stereotyping of rap music which exists both around and within hip-hop.
Jumping in here because yup, I don’t like Death Grips but don’t mind Clipping but this song is not good! Daveed Diggs’ second verse on this is real trash, especially the “shout out my Mickey Mouses” punchlines - you shouldn’t accept that from a guy rapping over Statik Selektah beats, let alone flashes of atonal dressing.
Judging from his (yes, “conventional”) solo material, Daveed Diggs is a proficient Oakland rapper with an agreeable persona. He’s simply been lacking an angle to boost his profile, hence collaborating with dudes from Captain Ahab and self-releasing noise-rap at the same time that Death Grips are getting that European tour money. Whilst last year’s Untitled cassette release on Deathbomb Arc certainly didn’t exist in a self-contained vaccum, it also didn’t feel cynically post-MC Ride the way that ‘guns.up’ does.
The highlight of last year’s cassette release was ‘Block’, a haunting poetry piece that gave a rotting street corner muted colour and movement, its inhabitants given motives, internal lives, characteristics, flaws, lessons to learn. Nothing dramatic happens in that song: everything simply is. The waves of distortion are unsettling but never campy, reflecting the hard concrete universe Diggs draws whilst refusing to fall into all-encompassing doom. It’s surprisingly subtle. Diggs makes sense doing this type of stuff; the Clipping project makes sense doing that type of stuff. It feels far more “subversive” than the mix of off-beat flows and third-rate punchlines in the song embedded above.
Blake Shelton feat. Pistol Annies & Friends - Boys ‘Round Here (off Based on a True Story, 2013, Warner Bros Nashville) [via thesinglesjukebox]
Alfred Soto: Been so long since Shelton’s snarled that I figure it’s the missus’ doing. But I can barely hear the missus or her far more interesting cohort. Snarling in abstentia — the boys ‘round here call it attitude.
Erick Bieritz: There’s a good sense of space in here, with the filtered red-red-redneck repetition and the Annies providing a lot of depth. But the Annies feel like an afterthought, just singing a bit on a song otherwise crowded with Blake’s bona fides. Is referencing the Dougie in 2013 itself a sort of couched form of signaling that he’s intentionally out of touch with pop culture? Is there so much space in this song because Blake’s country credentials didn’t leave any room for the Annies anywhere near the microphone?
Patrick St. Michel: Look, this song blows and thematically it’s “country music: all the stereotypes you know.” But that part where Blake Shelton talks about not knowing how to do the Dougie… despite clearly being up on the song, given his references to the lyrics… is so stupid but clever that I have to respect it.
Katherine St Asaph: Are the lyrics supposed to be making fun of country radio fans? If not, what the hell is this, and why are the verses like “Walk on the Wild Side” and the chorus like a country “Paper Planes”? (Don’t know how to dougie, my ass.) It gets by sheer WTF until Blake spoils the joke with “I’m one of them boys out here.” Since we’re talking bizarro influences: that was hamfisted when it was Vertical Horizon.
Sabina Tang: To finally answer Paula Cole’s question, the cowboys in her multiverse sector seem to have skipped forward in the timeline. (Lest this note be taken as a zing, I’ll point out that I’m certainly overrating the song out of nostalgia for a particular late 1990s indie pop gestalt — cheesy spoken-word-y white “rap”, gently ironic “country” album interludes, immaculately-produced guitars alternately playing grunge chords or trying to sound like sitars, and so forth. I assume the similarity is unintentional, but you never know. Also, the “chew-tobacco-chew-tobacco-spit” line is hysterical.)
Jonathan Bogart: Kid Rock circa 2002 called, he wants his etc., etc.
Brad Shoup: It’s a jolt just to hear one of these shitkickers actually say shit. The joke, of course, is that this is more Beatles than Hank: pop for pop’s sake, a fatty treat that doesn’t apologize for its composition. (Another joke? This wack mashup of Kid Rock, the Doobie Brothers and Rev Run’s Distortion gave us the stereotypical country chorus ne plus ultra.) The road to this goony pleasure is paved with ten thousand Better Than Ezras and Citizen Kings. ChewtobaccochewtobaccochewtobaccoSPIT.
Anthony Easton: The way Shelton sings “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit” is a hip hop tag. The way he extends “redneck” has a hip hop energy. The grind of the guitar, the sweet little oohings from the Annies and the asides are all ’70s rock. The class signifiers, including the truck, are very much of a certain new money South. (The “chew chew spit” line is the sound of a thousand ad execs gleeful that they have convinced rural working-class boys that chaw is a mark of authenticity. Someone better than me can work out the tension between tobacco and cotton as signals of mobility, for example comparing this to Pride’s “Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town.”) The line about the Dougie has an explicit racism that denies the roots of the rest of the track. This might have something more interesting to say about the social and political implications of race and class work in the South than the cack-handed work of LL Cool J and Paisley. (I wonder what Ta-Nehisi Coates would say about this.) All of that needs to be said, but I need to say out loud how much i fucking love Shelton’s voice, and how much of a sucker I am for Shelton’s bullshit-laden good-ol’-boy southern Persona. The cock wants what the cock wants.Read and comment on The Singles Jukebox
I was late writing my own blurb for the site’s deadline, so here it goes on m’Tumblr while I should be sleeping for work tomorrow (today!):
For a song that bends over backwards to inform us that there’s everything right with manly tradition, there is something strange about this song. (1) The “Show Me How To Dougie” reference, because accelerated culture leaves Shelton sounding as though he’s referencing the Lambada; (2) the juxtaposition of crotch-thrusting libido and unassuming gentlemanliness when Shelton mentions women, refusing to divulge more than the act of “kissin’” on blankets; (3) balling so hard that you can turn one of C&W’s best groups into a glorified cheer squad and use their barely-thereness as a marketing angle; (4) the ambition to turn male ordinariness into a bad man strut of virility: “I am man and I work hard and play hard and RAWK HARD!” You could’ve easily drawn a huge, throbbing cock a la Jonah Hill in Superbad and got the same message across. But I was stuck in traffic on the way to work this morning - ordinary stuff, y’know - when I started to belt out the chorus so perhaps I’m part of the problem. I can’t deny it, I’m a fuckin’ ridah; I like beer and blankets too. 
Brad was totally right when it came to Shelton saying “shit”. Didn’t see that coming! Related: Caramanica on BOATS is duh, worth reading. Also totally forgot that dude is married to Miranda Lambert, which still doesn’t excuse turning her band into glorified backing singers.
Fall Out Boy - The Phoenix (off Fall Out Boy Save Rock and Roll, 2013, Island) (via thesinglesjukebox)
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: If the movie trailer orchestrated gallops come as a surprise, let me remind you that Fall Out Boy left subtlety behind two albums ago when they decided to craft synthetic sonic playgrounds. The studio-crafted landscapes on Infinity on High were places where Pete Wentz could flaunt his fatalist wordiness; on the superior follow-up Folie à Deux, he attempted worldliness too, grounding the surrounding musical bombast in real life ca. 2008. Now it’s 2013 and Yung FOB are here to Save Rock and Roll by being as bombastic as possible. “The Phoenix” is a song that would never fit through the door of a practice room, it’s a soundtrack rock jam, the aural equivalent of a set of action movie explosions, a ridiculous gleeful riot. What it lacks is a point, unless Patrick Stump’s warnings to “put on your warpaint” are about defending FOB’s position in the rock marketplace. It sure as hell sounds that way. Following the did-we-mention-we’re-back bluster of “My Songs Know etc”, a worrying trend appears to arise. In the maximalism of the Folie à Deux era, the enemy was Merrill-Lynch and Proposition 8 and the possibility that McCain/Palin was a done deal and now it’s all about standing strong on the Billboard? Weren’t they never the poster boys for the scene? Why are we regressing into crafting acceptance speeches just for coming back?
A point edited out of my blurb earlier this week that I felt needed made about FOB’s return - they turned into curious commenters on the state of the world and I really do worry that they’re pulling back from those ambitions and regressing into a cocoon of, really, protecting your side from potential takeovers. If you get what I mean. Competitive marketplace rock and roll bores me.
Rock music should never defend itself or assign a band’s place in the canon unless (a) you are MANOWAR or (b) you and MANOWAR.
ps. I have not yet heard FOBSRNR becuz I’ve been working crazy hours and I drive home every day listening to Combat Jack podcasts. Hearing people joke and conversate relaxes me; the Dame Dash episode is ESSENTIAL listening for long late drives.
Infinity on High shows the band head-over-heels in love with the studio. In reaching to make the record of their lives, Fall Out Boy and associates have delved into making a record rather than a mere album – a not-reality shaped via Danny Elfman-style strings, choirs, call-and-response gangs, gasping lovers trapped six tracks deep, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Wes Eisold references, the stutter of programmed drums, in-jokes and the feeling of triumphant dread communicated by a horn section. If it seems like Infinity On High was made in a factory, that’s probably intentional as the kids were allowed to run rampant in there, and the record is all the better for it.
Reminded myself of this after listening to ‘The Phoenix’ for TSJ (review up tomorrow) and I’m equal parts worried and intrigued at the possibility that Yung FOB went way too far into their not-reality (shout out to my crummy uni-era writing!)
FWIW, Fall Out Boy Save Rock and Roll is streaming online right now.
Mumford and Sons - Whispers in the Dark (off Babel, 2012, Island) (via thesinglesjukebox)
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: So by this point, you the Reader, have already made your mind up about Mumford and Sons. That’s fine. We all need strawmen to rage about every time that they pop up on the radio or on television or at awards shows that already function as strawman conventions. But Mumford and Sons are okay, and “Whispers in the Dark” showcases all their strengths — their songs are compact, their fluttery bombast admirable, their meat-and-potatoes rock effective. But “Whispers in the Dark” shows their biggest weakness, something that turns the band into strawmen: their flawed adherence to upholding traditional folk ideals. Marcus Mumford holds a needlessly frenetic approach to his mandolin playing and floor-stomping, causing a queasy disconnect between the measured radio-rock sound of “Whispers” and the homegrown factor that the folk elements are meant to signify. “Whispers” is (FAINT PRAISE ALERT) solid enough XFM rock, from the “under the sun” refrain to the swathes of Big Money Indie Rock Record Apollo Atmos Waves acting as background detailing, but it’s a failure when it comes to genre assimilation. Mumford and Sons: efficient rock band! Bad folk-indie-rock project.
I’m fond of a weird aside that was cut from this review, where I claimed that Strawman Convention sounds like a terrific name for a folk-rock band. Folk-rockers that have somehow stumbled onto my blog about Shiina Ringo reblogs and Chamillionaire album tracks: you can have that one for free.