Reviews for Normal People

Hi. I review things.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (October 2017) — November 11, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (October 2017)

To be honest, I’ve been putting off this list for a couple days. I definitely really like all these songs, but something about the compiled list feels a little lackluster. I just couldn’t put them in a ranking order that satisfied me. So, this month’s list is actually not going to be in order, but just a collection of my 20 favorite songs to have been released (not including album tracks) in the month of October. There’ll also be a Spotify playlist of all of them at the end, and songs near the bottom of the article will generally, though not necessarily, be the ones I appreciate most. Still, these are just twenty of the many, many songs that came out this month, so if you had any favorites you wanted to bring up, let me know in the comments.

SHOW LOVE – Everything Is Recorded feat. Sampha and Syd

“Show Love” is a threefold collaboration: The Internet lead singer and queer R&B up-and-comer Syd, British soul singer and Kanye West collaborator Sampha, and XL Recordings president and influential dance producer Richard Russell, as Everything Is Recorded. Of course, Russell and Sampha have worked together a few times already, so the real takeaway from this track is the magnetic chemistry of Sampha and Syd. Both artists dropped phenomenal debut albums earlier this year, and despite their soulful styles and similar writing chops, somehow, no one’s ever thought to bring them together on a track. It’s beautiful, catchy, and at times fun in its own way. It’s perfect rainy day music, and it shows that these two artists are likely to be here to stay.

HEADPHONES – Walk the Moon

Walk the Moon garnered the public’s attention with their 2015 hit “Shut Up and Dance,” one of the biggest hit songs of that year. With their new album What If Nothing, they seem to be out to prove they’re not a one-trick pony. While some of their new singles got a bit too far into Maroon 5 territory for my tastes, “Headphones” is quite the opposite. It’s a thrashing, electric rock track built around exhilarating guitars and witty, referential lyrics about bitter jealousy. It’s a relentlessly fun track that definitely shows a side of Walk the Moon we haven’t really seen before.

ONE CHANCE TO DANCE – Naughty Boy feat. Joe Jonas

Being an electropop song built around a shamisen sample is interesting enough to warrant a mention, but “One Chance to Dance” has a surprising amount of history to it. Naughty Boy first announced the song in 2014 as the next hit single from… One Direction.  The song was apparently cowritten by Zayn Malik and Emeli Sande, and Naughty Boy announced it just as 1D was rolling out their album Four. Of course, “One Chance to Dance” didn’t make the album, and if a 1D version of the song was ever recorded, we haven’t heard it. Things took more interesting turns after that, when Zayn left the band just six months later and immediately linked up with Naughty Boy, drawing ire from 1D’s remaining members and fans. Zayn said they were best friends, then that they weren’t friends, and things generally took a lot of weird turns, but now, all of three years later, we have “One Chance to Dance.” Frankly, the song works much better as a Jonas Brothers song than a One Direction song, even if only one JoBro appears. It’s a neat, inspirational pop jam with (as previously mentioned) a really cool beat. It’s also got a catchy hook, and Joe’s really flexing his range, where most of what we’ve heard from him recently is in his goofy DNCE falsetto. I’m glad the song came to see the light of day, even if it wasn’t necessarily worth all the drama.

LOOK AT YOUR HANDS – Tune-Yards

Honestly, I haven’t had a chance to check out Tune-Yards yet. As I understand, this eclectic mix of rudimentary electronic sounds is generally what I can expect from them, with some occasional ukulele. I gotta say, I do like the song. In spite of its apparent messiness, it’s earnestly catchy at times, and I really like the way it plays around with Merrill Garbus’ distinctive vocals. It has a very retro-techno feel, but still feels decidedly new. And Garbus’ vocals are great, by the way. She’s got a uniquely androgynous voice that seems to transition seamlessly between mellifluous and shrill, and helps convey the really interesting lyrical content in a fitting way.

ANITA (REMIX) – Smino feat. T-Pain

Anyone who knows me IRL or has been with this blog for long enough knows I’m an absolute thot for the soulful sounds of T-Pain. Here, his bombastic Autotuned crooning is paired with the soulful Chicago instrumental of Smino’s “Anita.” Smino delivers some brand-new bars of his own, more of the wry flirting that made the original track so charming. Of course, T-Pain’s presence adds a lot, giving the song a certain aged gravitas, a worldliness that sort of takes its concept to a new level. It also gives T-Pain a chance to show off his long-underappreciated rapping skills.

COLORS – Beck

I really dig Beck’s new album. Some feel it’s a shallow step towards soullessness relative to his previous (unjustly) Grammy-winning album, but I think Beck’s sheer pop craftsmanship shouldn’t go unrecognized. “Colors,” the album’s title track, is a great example of Beck’s ability to tie his quirky songwriting and unique instrumental ear into a polished, perfectly danceable pop package. It’s catchy, interesting, and magnificently weird, all the things I want to hear from a Beck song.

MAN LISTEN – Belly

Criminally-underrated Weeknd signee Belly is back with another phenomenal album that you probably haven’t listened to. If you haven’t heard what he has to offer, or you’re not quite convinced yet, check out “Man Listen.” It’s got a catchy hook, a great MMG-type beat, and clever, layered lyricism, all delivered with Belly’s signature swagger. It’s a pitch-perfect brag rap track: you can play it in the clubs, you can play at the gym, you can play it at home, it’s got a great beat and dazzling poetics that’ll keep you on your toes. It showcases Belly’s many talents in a concise package.

MOTOR SPORT – Migos feat. Cardi B and Nicki Minaj

One of the biggest acts of 2017, Migos, are back yet again with the first single off their anticipated album Culture 2, “Motor Sport.” Or “MotorSport.” It has many of the same charms as “Bad and Boujee,” the smash hit that catapulted them to superstardom, with some added elements to push it even further (Takeoff has a verse! And a good one!). All three members come through, though Quavo’s verse is pretty lackluster. And then there’s the featured artists. You’ve got Cardi B, the biggest breakout rapper of 2017, Offset’s fiancee, the hottest newcomer on the scene with one of the bestselling singles ever released by a female rapper. Then you’ve got Nicki Minaj, the queen of the game for the better part of this decade, an artist whose monumental celebrity has allowed her to go two whole years without a hit single and still be relevant. After a lot of speculation about them possibly feuding, they came together on a track, and it is divine. Both artists come through, with Cardi B showcasing some new flows and witty punchlines while Nicki effortlessly slips from deliberate to rapid-fire in an exhilarating 24 bars.

FAKING IT – Calvin Harris feat. Kehlani and Lil Yachty

“Faking It” is the latest single off Calvin Harris’ veritable single goldmine Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 (“Cash Out,” one of the best songs on the album, still hasn’t been made a single yet). It features the dulcet tones of Kehlani, a surprisingly sweet verse from Lil Yachty, and an introspective funk beat with elements of ’80s techno, courtesy of Harris. It’s actually really similar to “Honor” by DJ Cassidy, another funky retro dance jam about relationship woes featuring a DJ, an R&B songstress, and Lil Yachty. That song remains one of my favorite songs of the year, and this song, while maybe not quite as catchy, has many of the same elements that make that song great, plus some elements that are done even better (Kehlani is probably a better singer than Grace, and Harris is probably a better producer). Still, I’m basically just trying to put “Honor” on the list again.

FEELINGS – Hayley Kiyoko

I know this makes me a homophobe, but I’ve never been particularly into Hayley Kiyoko. She was great in Lemonade Mouth, but her music’s always seemed a bit… dry. I’ve come to appreciate “Girls Like Girls” a lot more than I did when I first heard it, but it doesn’t really fit her voice. It’d do better in the hands with someone a little more dynamic, like Sia or even Halsey. “Feelings” feels much more within Hayley’s zone, and it’s phenomenal. She sounds so fucking cool on this song. She’s got an incomparable swagger that works in tandem with the dynamic electropop beat. On songs like “Gravel to Tempo,” it sometimes feels like Hayley drains the energy from the song. On “Feelings,” someone else could’ve done it, but no one else would’ve sounded so awesome doing it.

MEDICATION – Nick Murphy

I never listened to Nick Murphy when he was Chet Faker. I guess I don’t really “listen to him” now. This was a bad way to start this entry. “Medication” is a great song. It’s sort of reminiscent of Superorganism’s “Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” which I believe was on last month’s list, in that it’s experimental and kooky and sometimes the music cuts out entirely right in the middle, but somehow it’s still really catchy. Structurally and lyrically, there’s no reason this can’t be classified as a pop song, but the shapeless electronic beat, varying vocal distortions, and aforementioned instrumental disappearances say otherwise. It’s still got a great hook, and as heavy as it sounds at times, it’s generally a pretty fun song. Maybe I should start listening to Nick Murphy. Or Chet Faker.

ACHOO! – Keith Ape and Ski Mask the Slump God

South Florida weirdo Ski Mask the Slump God has quickly become one of my favorite new rappers of 2017. He’s funny, endearing, relentlessly fun, he has a really interesting voice and always pulls through with excellent, unique flows. On “Achoo!,” he’s joined by Korean rapper Keith Ape to teach you how to be sick, like a sneeze. Ski Mask spits rapid-fire references to R. Kelly and Reese’s Pieces, Keith Ape says some things I’m sure are also cool, and along the way, bass is served and the word “sick” is said 104 times. This club has everything.

ALMOST LIKE PRAYING – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Artists for Puerto Rico

Sure, it’s for a great cause, but this is also just a really solid song. LMM is a master producer, flipping West Side Story into a fun-yet-urgent Latin pop bop, joined by Latinx artists ranging from Fat Joe to Gloria Estefan. There’s a chance it’ll get caught in your head, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of benefit songs. I mean, who would’ve thought that a song that, for all intents and purposes, is just a list of places in Puerto Rico would be so darn catchy?

ALL WHILE DOING A RUBIK’S CUBE ONE-HANDED – Lupe Fiasco

Releasing two-minute singles on Twitter is a move so disastrous from a business standpoint that only Lupe Fiasco could be behind it. The rap legend returns with some of his finest bars in a long while, delivered over an excellently mellow soul beat. Highlights include the brilliant “Trust all these Einsteins if you want the facts / Fuck Harvey Weinstein if you want to act.” These new songs are likely standalone projects to hold us over while we await the release of Lupe’s next album, DROGAS Wave, and they’re solid enough content to last us a while, as short as they may be.

HOW LONG – Charlie Puth

I’ve joked that Charlie Puth’s hit single this year, “Attention,” was his “one for the gays,” but he really seems to be keeping this funk train rolling. “How Long” is arguably an even better single than “Attention,” with a swagger and ear for hooks that recalls Timberlake in his prime. I never thought I’d be so into Charlie Puth, especially after “Marvin Gaye,” but I’m rooting for the guy at this point. In my opinion, you can never have too much funk on the radio, and I’m glad Puth’s keeping the spirit alive while Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake are between albums.

WALLOWA LAKE MONSTER – Sufjan Stevens

I’ve had some out-of-character artists make it onto these lists, but Sufjan Stevens may just be my biggest leap yet. I am actually a fan of the guy, though I didn’t love Carrie and Lowell, the album this song seems to be a reject from. If I was a little bit more of a dick, I would say it was left off the album for being too interesting. But anyway, this is the type of shit I like to hear from ol’ Suf-Jan. It’s got his soft, folky elf boy vocals, but it’s also just fucking bonkers conceptually and lyrically, with inspiring instrumentation that lends to an overall feeling of epicness.

DIANE – Cam

As a young country singer, it takes some serious guts to make a response record to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” one of the best country songs of all time. But Cam’s got guts, and the sheer power to pull it off. “Diane” is certainly different from “Jolene,” but at its best moments it carries the same immense weight as the original. It’s hard to imagine a “Jolene” response record coming terribly close to the original, but this comes closer than anything else I’ve heard. Suffice it to say, have you ever seen a country song so high up on one of these lists before?

ALWAYS ASCENDING – Franz Ferdinand

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Franz Ferdinand in the form of a proper single, but they did an anti-Trump thing last year, and a collaboration with Sparks the year before that, and brought back the Sparks collaboration this year, so they’ve certainly been keeping busy. Now, they’re back full-force with “Always Ascending,” an epic art rock track where the “Always Ascending” referenced in the title, in addition to its lyrical meaning, also refers to the rising sound effect perpetually happening in the background for the entire song. It’s also got layered electronic drums, real guitars, and Alex Kapranos’ weirdly deep-high voice. It’s not the kind of music I’m best at describing, but it is a really good song.

SPICE GIRL – Aminé

This song will be stuck in your head for days. I’ve already talked a bit about Aminé, the Portland rapper who sprung into stardom this year, developing a sound that’s uniquely his own and releasing a number of charming, relentlessly catchy, goofy hip-hop jams. “Spice Girl” is one of the finest of the bunch, a delightful little tune that’s an even better showcase of Aminé’s charms than his big debut single, “Caroline.” I don’t want to give too much away, but just listen to the song. At least the first ten seconds. You won’t regret it, if you don’t mind an earworm.

PILLS – St. Vincent

It’s possible that “Pills” isn’t that good a song. It overwhelms me every time I listen to it, from its electro-clusterfuck production to its sunny ’50s soap jingle hook to its strangely hopeful, cinematic outro, it’s got enough song in it that it could’ve taken up this entire list. It works really well in the context of St. Vincent’s (fucking amazing) new album MASSEDUCTION, but it’s sort of a concise narrative on its own. It’s got dystopian and sci-fi elements, personal exploration, a beginning, middle, and end, and sexual moaning. It’s a trip, for sure, but I’m glad I took it a few times.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs on the list (except Lupe’s, which as I said, was released on Twitter), in case you’d like to listen to all the songs on the go.

Advertisements
Review: Thunderfuck — November 7, 2017

Review: Thunderfuck

Wonderstruck was destined for success. It had phenomenal source material: an acclaimed book by Brian Selznick, who already proved his works were especially screen-compatible with 2011’s Hugo. It had the directing talents of cult favorite filmmaker Todd Haynes, who directed the groundbreaking Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There and queer classics Poison and Carol. It had a rock-solid cast, Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions backing it, and it even competed for the Palme d’Or.

All this is especially interesting because the movie is not good. Sure, it has charming moments, a great soundtrack, pretty good cast, a real sense of wonder, but Todd Hayne’s melodramatic style combined with Brian Selznick’s, let’s say, inexperienced screenwriting work in tandem to create a film devoid of purpose, thoroughly sappy, and at times insufferable. The very first scene in the film is so laughably poorly-written that I breathed a sigh of relief when the main character went deaf.

One of the major problems with the film is that it delivers exposition like Mike Tyson delivering a punch to your jaw. The aforementioned scene contains lines in a conversation between one of the leads and his mother like “Happy birthday, twelve-year-old” and, completely unprompted, “So, dad was an astronomer?” A character who can only communicate through writing, in a very hectic scene, takes extra time to write “I miss you, mama,” just so that the audience doesn’t have to think too hard. Later on, the same deaf character, now adult, writes entire paragraphs of exposition in a matter of seconds.

The film also does a pretty poor job expressing the main twist of the book, that the girl from the ’20s is the grandmother of the boy from the ’70s. Sure, in the film, the grandmother is played by Julianne Moore, who also plays the girl’s mother, but the audience’s only incentive to put it together is that the movie would be utterly pointless otherwise. The decision to differentiate the two time periods aesthetically by having the earlier one be black-and-white is one of the most uninspired decisions Todd Haynes has ever made, in what is easily his least inspired film. The black-and-white portion of the film is abandoned entirely a little more than halfway through, which is kind of what happens in the book, but it makes much more sense in that case because the perspective shifts to an older Rose (the female protagonist), where in the movie we’re still following Ben (the male protagonist) when we’re introduced to adult Rose.

The characterization in the film is pretty shoddy, too. Ben’s friend Jamie lies to him to keep him from finding out about his father for no reason other than to make the movie about 20 minutes longer. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to lose him, but there’s no reason to believe he would lose him once he found his grandparents at the bookstore. Part of the reason Rose being the grandmother is rendered baffling is because a large chunk of Rose’s life is left out of the story, and the two seem like completely different characters. Ben’s brother is the second character introduced in the entire movie, and we literally never see or hear from him again after the first few seconds.

Now, a few positives. Todd Haynes may be melodramatic, but he’s certainly a good director. He plays with some very clever concepts in the film, and does a lot with very little dialogue. My favorite part of the whole movie is the sequence where Ben and Rose have both just arrived in New York and are just exploring the city. There’s no dialogue, no plot or character development, but it’s a purely magical moment, something I was hoping to see more of in this movie. The kids are phenomenal (Have you noticed how all the child actors got really good all of a sudden in the past couple years?), and some of the adults aren’t really pulling their weight, but the focus is on the kids, and it really works. The potential romance between Ben and Jamie is probably the sweetest aspect of the film. Like I said, I really appreciated much of the soundtrack, especially the jazz-infused ’70s portion. There are parts where it seems to be throwing bells and whistles in to be quirky without purpose, but it’s still mostly captivating.

Still, I couldn’t give Wonderstruck more than a 3.8/10. It suffers from many of the same issues I found with Carol (a film I did generally like, to be fair), coupled with a godawful script and source material that really lends itself much better to one of Selznick’s visual novels than a feature film. I’d like to see these kids go places, and it’s always good to see Todd Haynes working, but this is definitely one you can skip.