Reviews for Normal People

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Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017) — March 9, 2017

Top 20 Best Songs of the Month (February 2017)

Yes, yes, I know it’s late. There was a lot of music this month, and I’ve been having a busy March. But it’s here now and honestly, do you really care? Here’s your goddamned tunes.

20) GOOD DAY – Yellow Claw feat. DJ Snake and Elliphant

The writing on this song is… not great. It’s full of baffling metaphors and meandering storytelling. Really, this song isn’t on the list because of the contributions of Swedish singer Elliphant. It’s here because of the production. Yellow Claw and DJ Snake have both already proven themselves phenomenal at producing EDM-pop, but there’s something about the way they work together on this track. The build-up at the beginning. The hard-hitting grooves of the verses. The way Yellow Claw’s synths commingle with DJ Snake’s signature vocal samples. And the drop at the end is incredible. So yeah, it’s not a perfect song, but when you take a good look at it, it’s a great piece of EDM.

19) MACHINE – MisterWives

After two long years, MisterWives is gearing up to gift the world with their sophomore LP Connect the Dots. “Machine” is the first song we’ve heard from it, and it’s definitely promising. I’ve always found it hard to pinpoint exactly what MisterWives’ sound is; they’re definitely either power pop or indie rock, but they incorporate a lot of diverse elements into it. This song in particular really makes your head spin with the eclectic instrumentation it’s got going on. It’s also extremely catchy, empowering, and above all else it’s just really cool.

18) LIVING OUT LOUD – Brooke Candy feat. Sia

For a song about “living out loud,” “Living Out Loud” is actually pretty vanilla. Sia and Brooke Candy are both openly-queer female pop stars known for their larger-than-life presences. “Living Out Loud” contains a slight feminist message, but seems to go to great lengths to keep its status as a banger. What we’re left with is, yes, disappointingly plain, but still a banger. I like the urgency of the numbers counting down used in the verses. I just wish it had something to be urgent about.

17) THIEF – Ansel Elgort

If anything, “Thief” proves that a ridiculous, clumsy pop song can still work if you have enough confidence. Ansel Elgort is primarily known as the dough-faced heartthrob of films like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Turns out, he’s also a fan of Nick Jonas. He’s got everything from the cool swagger to the cheesy, ridiculous, vaguely-threatening lyrics to the bizarre, unsettling vocal affect. And you know what? I like Nick Jonas. I support more people making Nick Jonas songs. This song is fun.

16) MAKE LOVE – Gucci Mane feat. Nicki Minaj

If I had to complain about one thing about this song, it would be that there’s way too much bass. It’s definitely the hardest song of 2017 so far, but Gucci winds up taking a backseat to Nicki’s methodical, devastating 2-minute verse aimed at Remy Ma and/or Azealia Banks. I could’ve put Remy’s equally hard-hitting 7-minute diss track “ShETHER” on this list, but I feel like that song drags (both kinds of dragging) where “Make Love” stays on topic and lays its disses out gracefully. Point Nicki.

15) GENIE – Busy P feat. Mayer Hawthorne

For the uninitiated, Busy P is the elusive founder of Ed Banger Records, a popular French electronic label home to acts like Justice, Breakbot, and Mr. Oizo. I’m not exactly a fanatic, but this is a phenomenal electro-funk track. It’s got really unique production, combining a classic ’70s sound with little modern flourishes like this cool distorted robot voice effect over the chorus. I previously knew the singer, Mayer Hawthorne, from his work with Jake One as Tuxedo, and while his voice is a pretty generic Ryan Tedder-type, he delivers a solid performance on this song.

14) LONDON – Maty Noyes

If you prefer your ridiculous, clumsy pure-pop tracks with a little international flair, I’ve got just the thing. I love how over-the-top this song is. It starts with this dramatic opener, Maty Noyes doing her best ’50s lounge singer voice, with this rattling piano building up as she does, and then all of a sudden you’re on some Spice Girls shit. That may be unfair, though. This song definitely has a distinct Maty Noyes feel to it, and it’s actually really well-written. It’s got a really fun James Bond feel to it. I highly dig it.

13) OUTLET – Desiigner

Yes, it’s our old buddy Desiigner back again with another pleasantly surprising trap banger. What strikes me most about “Outlet” is that Desiigner can no longer be considered a Future clone. “Panda” and “Tiimmy Turner” were unique tracks, but they still stunk of an artist stuck in Future’s shadow. “Outlet” is a 100% Desiigner original, and it makes the case for Desiigner as one of the most unique voices in the new school. The powerful trumpet beat is fantastic, and Desiigner’s ad-libs are as fun as ever, but more so than any song before it, “Outlet” also makes the case that he may be… a good rapper. At one point, the beat drops out entirely and we’re left with Desiigner by his lonesome, full of raw manic energy, spouting bars on bars on bars. The marble-mouthed maestro remains one to watch.

12) BAGBAK – Vince Staples

“BagBak” doesn’t have the focused concept of a typical Vince Staples song. I think that might be because it was made for a Def Jam compilation and not an actual album of his, but I think it’s still a great track. It’s got this really cool electro-trap Detroit sound to it, courtesy of producer Ray Brady, who’s best known for his myriad work with the Black Eyed Peas. Needless to say, Staples’ lyrics are probably on a higher level than those of the Peas. Even though “BagBak” is ostensibly a club song, he manages to get political and stay there the whole time without losing that banger quality. On the song’s bridge, he tells the one percent, the government, and the president to suck a dick. That’s Vince for ya.

11) CASINO – Daye Jack

Hip-hop/electro-funk hybrids will be the running theme of this month’s list. Rapper/singer Daye Jack delivers a cool suavity to that blending of genres, spitting a brief rapped intro before going full Jamiroquai on a song that’s equal parts hilarious, inspiring, and irresistibly wavy. There’s not very much to say about it. Just listen and feel it in your bones.

10) IT TAKES TWO – Mike WiLL Made-It feat. Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen

This song would probably be a few notches higher on the list if it weren’t technically A) a cover and B) a Target commercial. It’s the latest triumphant step in Mike WiLL Made-It’s redemption arc, taking an already-great pop rap classic and turning it into a fresh, fun remake that you can’t help but smile at. I feel like I appreciate Lil Yachty more and more with every new song he puts out. And of course, Carly’s as great as she always is. There’s about half a minute of great content left out of the music video, and you know it’s a great song when half a minute can be such a glaring loss.

9) IT’S NOT DESIGN – Lupe Fiasco feat. Salim

“It’s Not Design” isn’t a single, and therefore shouldn’t technically be on this list. But I felt a need to include it because it’s the best song on DROGAS Light, which is an album I may never get the chance to talk about again. Lupe tends to stumble a bit when trying to maintain his lyrical air without actually saying anything, but I think there are some moments on this song when he really pulls it off. It’s another hip-hop/electrofunk track, and one of the better ones I’ve ever heard, thanks in no small part to the mysterious Salim’s Charlie Wilson-esque crooning on the chorus. I have no idea what this song’s about and it’s probably better that way.

8) COOL YOUR HEART – Dirty Projectors feat. D∆WN

Dirty Projectors’ latest album can get pretty heavy, so it’s great that we have a song like “Cool Your Heart” in the mix. The beat is an incredible avant garde mix of tribal drum rhythms and futuristic bleep-bloops, but it somehow manages to still function perfectly well as a pop song. I’m a big fan of Dawn Richard, and increasingly, I realize, a big fan of Dave Longstreth, so this was really a no-brainer to include on the list.

7) WHITE MAN – Macy Gray

I am a 100% Macy Gray stan. Her voice (both her lyrical one and her actual one) is so powerful, so unique, so weathered and resilient and interesting. “White Man” is probably the poppiest song she’s put out in a while, but it’s still breathtakingly unique. It combines traditional African chants and drums with marks of the soul music she’s most known for, then throws in some EDM for good measure. Her message is bold and singular, not only preaching unity, but unity or else. It’s an urgent and fierce neo-soul masterpiece that proves we all need to stop sleeping on Macy Gray.

6) CHAINED TO THE RHYTHM – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

This… hmm. Look, I’m no fan of Katy Perry. I’ve liked maybe three or four of her songs, none of which have come out in the past four years. But this isn’t even like the other Katy Perry songs I like. It’s different. It’s got an unavoidable (if vague) political message to it, and it’s so clever and subtle in how it’s conveyed. It practically chastises you for listening to its lyrics, doubling down on Katy Perry cliches whenever it starts to get political until it finally wakes up the lions during Skip Marley’s verse. It has this really interesting disco/reggae/vaporwave sound, but it could be that Perry’s music is so homogeneous you can apply just about any label to it. It’s like the Katy Perry version of “Hey Ya.” Or something.

5) GROWN UP FAIRY TALES – Taylor Bennett feat. Chance the Rapper and Jeremih

Coloring Book is great, but if you miss the wavy, stream-of-consciousness, lyrically-dense style of Acid Rap, check out “Grown Up Fairy Tales.” Chance and his brother Taylor both deliver fascinating, incredible, beautifully-written bars about growing up. Jeremih handles the chorus, and does an admirable if forgettable job. Really, the headliner on this song is Taylor, who shows up almost two-thirds of the way through to deliver an incredible verse, taking his brother’s style and incorporating his own flair. The genes in this family, I swear.

4) JOHN WAYNE – Lady Gaga

Here’s a hot take for ya: “John Wayne” might be the best song on Joanne. On an album full of dramatic, overdone country flourishes, it delivers what we really wanted from the album all along: Fame Monster-era zany antics with a country twist. I love the intro. I love the verses. I love that little thing on the hook where they make her voice sound like a guitar. The production is fantastic in general. It’s just an immensely enjoyable, pure-Gaga track that I never get tired of.

3) THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars

When Bruno Mars is brought up as an all-time great, a common strike against him is his ostensible lack of originality. “He hasn’t released an original single since 2013,” they’ll shout. Ignoring the fact that true originality doesn’t exist, if you were worried Bruno doesn’t have fresh cuts anymore, look no further than “That’s What I Like,” one of the more impressive songs on Mars’ latest masterpiece, 24K Magic. It has the same swag-dripping vibes of the rest of the tracks on that album, and even resurrects the character of “Julio” from “Uptown Funk!,” but in terms of music, concept, and all-around feel, it’s as original as they come. And it’s also just an excellent track. It perfectly balances the cheesy ’80s playa aesthetic of his newer tracks with the sappy romantic he played on his first album-and-a-half. It’s more purely, viscerally fun than any other single so far this year.

2) BAMBI – Jidenna

This song, on the other hand, is devastating. We’ve got Jidenna once again finding brand new genres to perfect (trap-calypso), as well as really poignant and interesting new things to sing about. In this one, Jidenna laments about how the womanizing nature of his family and the community that raised him prevents him from staying with the love of his life. Have you ever heard a song about that before? It’s also a really clever title, because there’s a running metaphor about how liars and cheaters (lions and cheetahs) run the jungle and she needs to leave to not be ensnared in it but he really loves her and can’t prove that he’s not the same as the rest of them because, on some level, he is. The reason for the name becomes explicitly clear in the outro, as a downtrodden Jidenna croons “I just wanna see my baby, that’s my Bambi, that’s my dear.” It’s a brilliant song that I just had to give props, even if there is one other track that comes out on top.

1) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Really, it was no contest. Before this song even came out, I knew it was gonna be indomitable. From the lush pianos and high-pitched Frank Ocean glamour we get in the first couple seconds to the downright phenomenal Offset verse on the back end, it’s just non-stop excellence. I’d say without much hesitation that this is the best song Calvin Harris has ever made. I hope this is song of the summer. I hope it lands in early April and never leaves. I love every second of it. I see you, Calvin Harris. I see you.

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Review: No Country For Old Mutants — March 5, 2017

Review: No Country For Old Mutants

The X-Men franchise is going through an interesting phase. On the one hand, their classic, monolithic main-series franchise is taking a morning dive into Shit Lagoon, with X-Men: Apocalypse performing underwhelmingly among critics, fans, and at the box office, along with no clear trajectory for the future. On the other hand, their solo films are all the rage, with Deadpool and now Logan making Disney-level money bins and already being considered among the best superhero films of all time. Deadpool has aged well so far, but is Logan up to snuff?

Well, it’s hard to say. It’s definitely an excellent film– in a filmic sense, it may be the greatest superhero movie of all time– but it also definitely has its flaws. It’s very long, and there are certain moments that could have been made a lot shorter without losing anything. The action, for all its intensity, gets reduced to lame slicing-and-dicing at times, an issue that also plagued the other two Wolverine movies. And even if she figured out how to drive, Laura’s eight years old. How can she reach the pedals?

Like so many great movies, Logan is hard to pin down. Wolverine being a superhero makes it easier, but he does a lot of things throughout the film that aren’t very heroic. He’s more of a Rooster Cogburn figure: ruthless, grizzled, and inscrutable. His Mattie Ross comes in the form of Laura, played brilliantly by newcomer Dafne Keen. So, is Logan a Western? Well, you can’t really say that either. It lifts a whole monologue from the Alan Ladd classic Shane, but it takes place in the future and spends as much time in the woods or the city as it does in the Western deserts. Is it dystopian sci-fi? Well, in a District 9 sense, perhaps. But its dystopian qualities and its sci-fi qualities are very subtle, spending much more times on the characters, their pasts, their futures, and their relationships than anything else. And to top it all off, it’s also a family drama, a road movie, a chase movie, and a neo-noir.

At the end of the day, the most true and poignant thing you can say about Logan is that it’s a film. In an age where so many action movies feel like properties, devoid of a beginning or end, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, the lesson we can learn from Deadpool and Logan and even Lego Batman is that a movie can take place in a grander universe, but it’s still best that they exist as self-contained stories. In this movie, there’s hope. There’s room for things to take place before and after it. But there’s no love interest, no resurrections and reintroductions, no winks or nudges, no reassuring “Spider-Man will return” to let the kids know their precious golden calfs are going to be okay. You never really know where it’s going to go because the next five movies haven’t been laid out for you in an itinerary. That’s what makes it great.

Overall, I’d give Logan a 98/100. It’s brilliantly written, performed, shot, directed, lit, and so many other things. Aside from a few scattered flaws, it’s practically perfect. I highly recommend you see it, even if you don’t like superhero movies.