Welcome to Singles Going Steady, the recurring monthly segment where I go over all of the singles I heard in the past month. Follow along via the youtube links below each track review or via the Spotify playlist below—whatever floats your boat. If you have any suggestions for tracks I should discuss next month, hit me up on Twitter @lucienobrien101. Now then, let’s get to it.
Kris Wu ft. Rich Brian, Joji, Trippie Redd & Baauer- “18”
Since this is an incohesive posse-cut-for-the-sake-of-a-posse-cut, I’m just gonna talk about each of the artists here individually, in order from worst to best. Here we go!
Joji: I haven’t been a fan of anything George has made under the “Joji” name so far, but this feels like a new low. Really not here for this half-realized Post Malone warbling. Also, the instrumental on the beat switch (which he produced) sucks. Can’t just tack on a try-hard melodic section onto the end of an intense song anytime you feel like it (unless you’re Kanye that is).
Rich Brian: I feel like this was something Brian recorded like, a year ago and shelved up until now. Reminds me of his early singles, and not in a good way. Punchlines, flow, and delivery are weak as hell compared to the rest of his recent output. I will admit though, as dumb as it was, that Michael Scott line had me dying.
Trippie Redd: Generic, XXL Freshman-tier stuff. From tracks like Love Scars, I know Trippie can do better, lyrically and delivery-wise. Dang. Hey, at least now he’s chilling with the good people over at 88Rising instead of xxxtentacion and 6ix9ine.
Baauer: Honestly, the only other Baauer song I’ve ever heard is Harlem Shake (kind of funny that he and Joji are collaborating now, considering their history with that). Anyway, I like this song better than that one, so I guess that makes it my favorite Baauer song?? Seriously though, his section of the beat bangs, especially during…
Kris Wu’s verse. I get kind of a Travis Scott crossed with Keith Ape vibe from this guy, and I like it a lot. Delivery is super engaging, and the bars aren’t bad either (Americans, if you want to figure out the Chinese section, just check the Genius annotation! God I love 2018).
All in all, the first minute or so is gold, but it goes downhill fast after that. Really wish this thing was put together with a little more care—could’ve been something great. Listen at your own risk.
Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton- “Say Something”
This shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. After all, Chris has been penning corny country-pop songs (albeit via ghostwriting) for decades now. However, actually hearing him sing on one, especially after the exquisite, soulful grit of last year’s Songs From A Room, was quite the shock to my system. I wish he’d go cut a record with someone like Sturgill Simpson instead of wasting his time with this washed-up, flannel-clad, wannabe Bon Iver incarnation of JT.
Drake- “Diplomatic Immunity”
At the beginning of this song, this beat sounds like it’s about to do something really cool, but ends up going nowhere. Like, literally nowhere. It gets old fast, and it doesn’t help that Drake’s delivery here is about as engaging as a Charlie Brown teacher. However, other than that idiotic “heavy metal for meditation” line, the bars are solid—probably some of the best I’ve ever heard from him. Doesn’t change the fact that as a three-minute piece of music this is borderline unlistenable, but I guess it’s something.
The Underachievers- “Rep the Set”
Who asked for trap Underachievers? Seriously, who wanted this? Between their last mixtape and this, it seems like they’ve completely abandoned old-school, psychedelic NY boom-bap for gangster rap cliches delivered through endless strings of triplets over generic Soundcloud production. So much wasted potential. I’m not expecting them to go back to Indigoism or anything, but please, anything but this!
Parliament ft. Scarface- “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’ Me”
Considering how hyped I was to hear that George Clinton signed to Brainfeeder last year, this probably stands as the biggest disappointment of the month. Why would he settle for a subpar “throwback” instrumental like this when he has people like Flying Lotus and Thundercat at his disposal? Was really hoping for something outside the box rather than something cowering inside the box, curled up in fetal position.
A$AP Rocky- “MONEY BAGS FREESTYLE”/“5IVE $TAR$”/“ABOVE”
After the reaction that these have earned, I hope Rocky has the sense to scrap whatever album he has in the chamber. One of my favorite things about him up until this point has always been the fact that despite his run-of-the-mill topic choices, his wordplay and the way he switches up his flows make him fun to listen to. Not anymore though! Even Drake and Future at their absolute dullest have more entertainment value than this. And the production! Budding producers take note—making a “raw, unpolished” sounding beat actually takes a lot of mixing and effort. If you just leave it as is, it’ll sound like… well, I guess it’ll sound like these new A$AP Rocky tracks.
Lil Pump- “Designer”
Let’s get real for a second—about half of the tracks on Lil Pump’s self-titled tape were barely-passable throwaways. This is another one of those. I don’t care if he hypes it up on his Twitter all day every day for the next ten years, it sucks. As far as Lil Pump songs go, you can do much, much better (I promise to elaborate on that later).
The Breeders- “All Nerve”
Somwehere between Pod and Last Splash, the Breeders switched gears from minimalist, eerie alternative to pop rock. I didn’t love it, but I was ok with it (not gonna lie, Cannonball is a banger). Now, twenty-something years and numerous lineup changes later, they’ve come to this—boring indie rock with no personality whatsoever™. And, for some reason, the drummer feels the need to hit the snare on each beat of every measure! Why??? Why??? 89.3 the Current/10,000.
Grieves- “Back At Em”
Not as good as anything off of Running Wild, but not bad by any means. He presented this as a bonus track for the fans, which is exactly what it is—nothing more, nothing less. If Grieves spitting bars-for-the-sake-of-bars over a fun little G-funk beat sounds like a good time to you, check it out by all means.
The Garden- “No Destination”
I want to like this one! They’re definitely working with some cool building blocks here. Great overall energy. Sexy bass tone. Nice structural progression, in specific regards to how the climax builds. Problem is, the chorus just doesn’t POP as much as I want it to. Overall, shows promise, but I probably won’t remember it this time next week.
Beck- “I’m Waiting For The Man (Velvet Underground Cover)”
Literally just put this here cuz I find the mental image of Beck trying to buy drugs hilarious. Otherwise, pretty by-the-numbers cover. That will be all.
Amanda Palmer- “The Mess Inside (Mountain Goats Cover)”
This is no by-the-numbers “The Mess Inside” cover! The instrumentation and overall mood of the original track have been radically altered. The problem is, this is exactly what I’d imagine an Amanda Palmer cover of “The Mess Inside” would sound like. Of course she threw in some uke and strings. Of course her vocal performance is over the top. Competent, but predictable.
I’m fine with shameless Joy Division worship. A lot of good music has come out of shameless Joy Division worship (Preoccupations’ self-titled album for instance). Problem is, I’ve listened to this one quite a bit, and it fails to stick in my head as much as the best tracks off of said self-titled. Hopefully I’ll find the new record more engaging.
Troye Sivan- “My My My!”
When “Havana” first came out, I was pretty ok with it. It wasn’t a good song by any means, but it was tolerable. Now, six months later, it makes me want to give myself an ice pick lobotomy every time I hear it. I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s the way it’s gonna go down with this one as well. Therefore, as of now, I’m pretty ok with it!
Carnage ft. Mac Miller- “Learn How To Watch”
Despite the fact that it’s an imperfect label in many ways, I do think trap is going through sort of a “punk” phase right now, and for the most part, I’m a fan of it. Conciseness was always something the genre had trouble with up until this point. Problem is, some of these songs coming out now simply don’t have enough meat on them to be satisfying. Even though it goes hard for its short duration, I can’t say it’s something that’s liable to stick with me for any substantial period of time. Come on Mac! You can’t just leave me with one verse!
Kali Uchis ft. Tyler the Creator, Bootsy Collins & BADBADNOTGOOD- “After the Storm”
How to Make A Good R&B Track, A Step By Step Guide by Kali Uchis—
- Get Bootsy Collins in the studio. Ask him for some life advice. Record whatever whimsical P-funk nonsense he comes up with and use it as your intro.
- Get BADBADNOTGOOD in the studio. If you have any trouble getting them to come over, tell them Tyler will be there, regardless of whether or not Tyler will actually be there.
- Get Tyler the Creator in the studio. Feed him as many syrupy waffles as possible (happy Tyler=best Tyler).
- Write and record “After the Storm”.
- You did it!
Drake- “God’s Plan”
Now this is the type of beat that I like to hear Drake over! Playful enough that I can kind of convince myself he’s “playing the straight man” in relation to it, rather than just accepting the fact that he’s completely incompetent when it comes to conveying charisma through his delivery. Encountered a dude blasting it out of a Bluetooth speaker at the train station the other day, and honestly, I wasn’t even mad.
Cashinova- “These Days”
I would say this reminds me of Travis Scott, but let’s be real—when’s the last time Travis had a song this good? As much as I love the concept of his sound, he hasn’t really been doing it justice lately, so it’s kind of fun to hear someone on the come-up beating him at his own game. Great variety of flows. Tons of cool stuff happening melodically, vocals and beat-wise (especially loving that spooky synth line in the background). Some unforgettable one-liners, the best of which will become apparent to you the moment you hear it. Give it a listen.
Xavier Wulf ft. Skepta- “Check It Out (Remix)”
This is the first time I’ve heard Skepta put in a good verse on a track with an American rapper! Hooray! Anyway, both he and Xavier sound mean as hell on this, and I love it. Excellent stuff to roll around late at night in the whip to. Especially with your girlfriend driving.
Harakiri for the Sky- “Heroin Waltz”
Yeah, Harakiri for the Sky are definitely part of this new-fangled, uncool, melodic black metal movement that’s got Euronymous turning in his grave, but at the same time, they feel slightly more authentic than something like Deafheaven. Like hey, maybe this music wasn’t made by trust-fund kids attending art school? Just a possibility.
Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake- “King’s Dead”
Again, I’m just gonna go through this one artist by artist, worst to best.
James Blake: This song did not need or benefit from a beat switch in any way, shape or form, much less one that kills the momentum rather than fuels it. Also, can James Blake just stay away from rappers that I like from now on?
Jay Rock: While it is pretty fun to hear Jay Rock spit over some more mainstream, trappin production than usual (reminds me a little of “Vice City”), he doesn’t even come close to flexing his lyrical abilities to their fullest extent here, especially when half his verse is taken up by “I GOTTA GO GETIT”s. The life jackets line was on point though.
Kendrick Lamar: The hook here is really memorable and well-constructed (so much so that Future can’t resist playing with the template for a second before going in for his verse). Assuming that’s on Kendrick. Also, even though I loathe the beat switch, his verse over it is actually pretty cool. Love the supervillainy vibes.
Future: This isn’t just a rap verse. No no, it’s much more than that. This is the best meme of 2018. Hands down. I’m calling it right now—nothing will even come close to usurping it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just listen to the song. I would tell you more about it, but it’s best that it catches you off guard. Suffice it to say that this is the most you will ever be entertained by Future’s boring ass.
So if the last third of this song sucks, why is this in the “good” section? Simple—all you gotta do to make it a good song is smash that skip button every time you hear James Blake sing the word “changes” around the 2:30 mark. Thank me later.
Car Seat Headrest- “Cute Thing”
A couple of years ago, I listened to Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest. I found it boring and forgettable, and promptly forgot about it (as I’ve stated before, music that’s lo-fi for the sake of being lo-fi does absolutely nothing for me). I never listened to them again until last week, when I decided to try out this latest single, and boy am I glad that I did! This is good stuff! Funny, endearing lyrics, sticky-sweet melodies, creative structuring that justifies the length. Plus, professional recording quality! Speaking of which, I was surprised to find out that this is actually a remake of one of the tracks off of the aforementioned Twin Fantasy album, and furthermore, that CHS is in the process of remaking that whole thing. Honestly, good riddance. I’m pretty excited to hear what’s in store if this is what they sound like when recorded on something other than an Edison Cylinder.
Rich Brian- “See Me”
Sure, “20 mirrors in my crib/I’m hangin with my friends” might seem surface level on paper, but over this production? Big mood, my friends. Big mood.
Alice Glass- “CEASE AND DESIST”
I don’t know what genre to even call this. Electronic punk I guess? She’s just screamin her heart out over those synths. It’s awesome. Simplistic, but hard-hitting. Great message too, what with the whole “power to the survivors” thing. About time #MeToo got a proper anthem.
This one isn’t for everyone. I love Driver with all of my heart, but he’s nothing if not uncompromising. However, if you’re up for a generous helping of dense, twitching, psycho-kinetic gush, dig in by all means. Probably my favorite rap single of the month.
Carnage ft. Lil Pump- “I Shyne”
Well, would you look at that! The last person I would’ve ever expected to progress artistically is progressing artistically. Sure the lyrics are as gloriously dumb as ever, but his delivery here about 10x more technically advanced and engaging than it was on his debut tape. The dude has gone from sounding narcoleptic to bloodthirsty overnight. Plus, this beat is absolutely bonkers (Carnage definitely knows how to trap on Fruity Loops with the best of them, but man oh man does he have a weird streak sometimes. What even is that lead synth??). Anyway, major props to Dr. Pump for not resting on his laurels. He may just impress iCarly yet.
David Byrne- “Everybody’s Coming To My House”
BANGER ALERT. Ever wished that the Talking Heads had written a Bond theme? This is the track for you. I suppose that you could argue that it’s a lazy move for Byrne to throw a brass arrangement over some old Talking Heads song and call it good, but with something as well-fleshed out as this, stylistic originality almost becomes an afterthought to me. However, for anyone craving more adventurous fare, look no further than Byrne’s next new single.
SINGLE OF THE MONTH:
David Byrne ft. Oneohtrix Point Never- “This Is That”
This is where things get weird. It’s always a pleasure to see a veteran musical innovator who not only has a good sense of who the innovators of today are, but reaches out and connects with them. “This Is That” exemplifies that connection of old and new, in extraordinary fashion. On a basic level, there’s no denying that it’s a pop song—lyrics about love, simplistic, emotionally manipulative chord progressions, verse-chorus-verse structure. However, as with much of pop art, the power lies in the execution. OPN deftly juxtaposes his glitchy, off-putting neo-IDM palette with serene piano passages, while Byrne contributes an unusually vulnerable, human-sounding vocal performance. This track is currently only available via an archival BBC Radio 6 podcast, but trust me, it’s well worth going out of your way for. You should be able to find it around the 1:51:00 mark.