Reviews for Normal People

Hi. I review things.

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016 — February 26, 2017

Top 50 Best Albums of 2016

Yes, I’m a little bit behind on this one. I’m sorry that one person with school and extracurricular obligations can’t get an album of the year list out quite as fast as a staff of 50 people who do it for a living. Mine’s probably more thorough than Pitchfork’s anyway. I won’t do too much introduction since you already know what’s coming, but since this album is a reflection of my own music tastes, expect more pop and hip-hop than anything else. If you’re not into all that, maybe don’t bother.

50) DO WHAT THOU WILT. – Ab-Soul

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Kicking off the list, we’ve got the latest album from your current favorite rapper’s current favorite rapper, Ab-Soul. It has a bizarre, jumbled, pseudo-feminist message, but brings plenty of Soulo’s trademark lyrical gymnastics and kooky one-liners. It’s far from perfect, and might not even be good, but I still appreciated it.

Best tracks: “RAW (backwards)” feat. Zacari, “Huey Knew THEN” feat. Da$H, “INvocation ” feat. Kokane, “The Law” feat. Mac Miller and Rapsody

Worst track: “Womanogamy”

49) ANYTHING BUT WORDS – Banks & Steelz

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On the surface, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Paul Banks from Interpol don’t exactly seem like an ideal match. And yeah, they kinda aren’t. But there’s still a lot of things I admire about this album. I really like the amount of sonic variety they were able to include while still keeping true to the marriage of their styles. This album covers everything from ’70s mafia movie soundtrack to Florence + the Machine over the course of its twelve tracks. And both artists are as talented as ever, even if their styles don’t always mesh.

Best: “Giant,” “Sword in the Stone” feat. Kool Keith, “Love + War” feat. Ghostface Killah, “Gonna Make It”

Worst: “Point of View” feat. Method Man and Masta Killa (this shouldn’t have been that hard, guys) Continue reading

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Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016 — December 29, 2016

Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016

Overall, I think this was sort of a mediocre year for pop. Maybe we were a bit spoiled by 2015, but I think the real key issue is that we’re entering an experimental era for the genre. You listen to the new albums by Rihanna and Beyonce and Drake and it feels like stuff that would have been considered avant-garde not too long ago. But once everyone’s experimenting, the problem arises of people not knowing what to do with their ideas. Plenty of songs this year, like “Pillowtalk” or “Work,” wound up sounding half-baked because they utilize unfamiliar elements and are tracks designed for an album-oriented approach that were kind of forced to be singles. Still, there was plenty of good music to go around. Here’s my top 20. Note that “hit” refers to anything that made it into the top 40 at any point this year, though I mostly avoided tracks that made it there for other reasons, like a person’s death (“Lazarus”) or being on a popular album (“Reminder”). Alright, let’s kick it.

20) ALL IN MY HEAD (FLEX) – Fifth Harmony feat. Fetty Wap

“All in My Head” is weird because there’s a lot of reasons it should be terrible. The writing isn’t great. It’s gratingly un-catchy. An already-washed-up Fetty Wap doesn’t offer much.  But at the end of the day, it’s just a fun song. I think my main problem with “Work from Home,” Fifth Harmony’s other hit this year, is that it just wasn’t enjoyable. This song is a good time, and that’s all it needs to be.

19) OUI – Jeremih

As much as I love Jeremih’s miscellaneous mouth noises, what really makes this song is its thesis: “There’s no oui without u and i.” The nuanced goofiness of that line is as clear a representation of what this song’s about as I could ever come up with.

18) CAROLINE – Aminé

“Caroline” is like if J. Cole made a D.R.A.M. song. The fact that this song became a hit is a testament to the benefits of the combined influence of musical.ly and Billboard’s inclusion of streams in its charts. It’s goofy, it’s all kinds of weird, and unlike so many rappers today focused on image above all, Aminé isn’t afraid to portray himself as a cartoonish douchebag. It’s a little repetitive, but the beat is interesting enough to make up for it.

17) CONFIDENT – Demi Lovato

This song was more polarizing than I expected it to be. Personally, I think it’s awesome. It might even be my favorite Demi Lovato song, and that’s saying only a little bit. Yeah, it’s cheesy and over-the-top and parts of it sound like they were meant to be performed by a high school marching band, but it’s like a good action movie. It’s full of pulse-pounding in-your-face moments, but it knows when to calm down and leave a little levity. It’s like if a Mission: Impossible movie was a pop song. Mission: Impopsicle.

16) LET ME LOVE YOU – DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber

Could you imagine being told in 2013 that DJ Snake and Justin Bieber would make a song together, and that it would be really good? “Let Me Love You” is DJ Snake’s latest foray into pop, although it may not be fair to call it a foray since he’s been producing Pitbull and Lady Gaga songs since 2009. This year, Snake and Major Lazer, who collaborated on “Lean On,” one of the best songs of 2015, split up to each make practically-identical songs with Justin Bieber. I gave the edge to this one, because I like the lyrics more and it’s substantially more memorable than “Cold Water,” although “Let Me Love You” has to contend with about a dozen other “let me love you” songs this year. Whatever, I’m rambling. It’s a good track.

15) NO LIMIT – Usher feat. Young Thug

Who’da thought Usher and Young Thug would jell so well together? I mean, there are brief moments on this song where you can’t tell one from the other. From what I gather, this is a song about having sex… with Master P? To Master P? While Master P watches? I don’t know. It’s full of really clever dual references to No Limit Records and sweet, sweet lovemaking, which I highly commend Usher for. Young Thug delivers one of his best verses of the year, his most stellar year to date. No one can tell me the line “MARTA outsmart the Rari-Rari / Fill the session with Bacardi Barbies” is anything other than brilliant.

14) GOLD – Kiiara

This song, admittedly, is probably more interesting than it is good. But goddamn, is it interesting. It combines the minimalist electropop sound of Marian Hill with that voice thing. You know the one. Incorporating segmented, indecipherable bits of the lyrics into the beat creates a really interesting, sort of creepy atmosphere. Above all else, this song is about atmosphere. I’ve never been able to pay attention to the lyrics, but I like the vibes.

13) ALL TIME LOW – Jon Bellion

This is an average dance pop “missing you” ballad with all the “average” taken out. It’s all run-of-the-mill elements, but done spectacularly. The lyrics are unique, rap-like, candid, vivid. The beat is intricate, flavorful, integral. The drop can also be the emotional climax of the song. Admittedly, it’s actually one of the weaker spots on Bellion’s new album, but that album’s great, so whatever. It’s cheesy and made of mainly familiar elements, but the way they come together is spectacular.

12) PURPLE LAMBORGHINI – Skrillex and Rick Ross

“Purple Lamborghini” is one of the best beats Skrillex has ever made. It’s brassy, distorted, in your face, irresistible. It manifest itself in brassy yellows, bright reds, broad silvers. And Rick Ross 100% sells it. He’s more enthusiastic about Suicide Squad than anyone else involved in the movie’s production. Lyrically, Ross flounders at times, but Skrillex’s insane production always has his back.

11) CLOSE – Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo

Mewling synths punctuate this high-concept dark-electropop number by the best in the best high-concept dark-electropop singers in the biz, Tove Lo and Nick Jonas. The two work off of each other perfectly, and really sell the song’s admittedly confusing message. This song is so fucking weird.

10) NEEDED ME – Rihanna

ANTI is the best Rihanna album. By a long shot. And “Needed Me” is honestly a highlight. It’s got a great, defiant swagger about it. I’m tempted to say it’s the best beat DJ Mustard has ever made. It’s simple, yet it conveys so much. Everything from the lyrics to the vocals to the atmosphere is just about pitch perfect. And that’s just #10.

9) LOVE YOURSELF – Justin Bieber

“Love Yourself” is the most charming “fuck you” song on the radio in years. It sounds grown, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Justin Bieber song, especially one where the chorus is literally saying “go fuck yourself.” The trumpets breakdown at the end is really sweet. It’s as sincere a Justin Bieber song as I’ve ever heard. I don’t know, man. It’s a very simplistic song, I feel like it’s best left in few words.

8) CAKE BY THE OCEAN – DNCE

“Cake by the Ocean” was probably the most fun song on the radio this year. Joe Jonas’ funk-pop collective DNCE released this song just days after officially forming in September 2015. The jury’s still hung on whether or not their unabashedly ridiculous, funky style works in a longer form, but it definitely does wonders for this song. They’ve got the energy and craftsmanship of ’00s Maroon 5 with the irresistible catchiness and swaggery funk vibes of ’10s Maroon 5. You could even call them this generation’s Duran Duran. Whoever they are, this is their message: “Ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ah, keep on hoping / We’ll eat cake by the ocean.” Just what we needed.

7) TIIMMY TURNER – Desiigner

And now for something completely different. “Tiimmy Turner” isn’t just a song; it’s a journey. From compelling XXL Freshman freestyle to Kanye West remix, it proved once and for all that Desiigner had more to offer than an above-average Future song. It’s a twisted tale of hood redemption, a fascinating new direction for an artist still finding his path, and an insanely catchy trap anthem. And it’s named after a goddamn cartoon character. This year, Kanye chronicled filth, devastation, retribution, and redemption over the course of a 20-song album. Desiigner did it in four minutes.

6) DANGEROUS WOMAN – Ariana Grande

Geopolitically speaking, this was a rough year, but if anyone had a great year, it was Ariana Grande. Her album Dangerous Woman received critical acclaim and spawned three huge hits. At the center of it all, we have the album’s title track: “Dangerous Woman.” It’s hard-hitting, empowering, and above all else, different. It stands out in Ariana’s discography, in the Billboard charts, and in the pop music world in general, with it’s slow-building electrosoul vibes.

5) ONE DANCE – Drake feat. Wizkid and Kyla

It’s sort of insane that the practically undisputed song of the summer 2016 doesn’t have a music video. But “One Dance” is almost a video in and of itself. Its atmosphere is palpable,  vividly painting its hazy dancehall setting with Kyla and Wizkid samples swimming in and out of the understated production. VIEWS isn’t a perfect album, or even really a good album, but this song sort of makes the whole thing worthwhile. Producer 40’s experimentation shines through and works in tandem with Drake’s subdued persona.

4) BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane

The genius of “Black Beatles” is in its defiance. It doesn’t matter if Rae Sremmurd are really the black Beatles. It’s about the brazen disregard for the Beatles. Looking at cultural icons like the Beatles and turning them into props for their fun little pop rap track is as rock and roll as it gets. Mike WiLL Made-It does an incredible job with the beat, and Gucci Mane fits the track well, even if he doesn’t add much to it. Its claim to being a genuine hit song is dubious, since it seems to have more to do with the Mannequin Challenge than people actually listening to it, but it’s been at #1 for weeks now, so at some point you’ve just got to stop worrying and accept the black Beatles.

3) FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT. 1 – Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi

Sure, you don’t really get the full “Father Stretch My Hands” experience just by listening to part 1. But truth be told, you don’t really get the full experience unless you also listen to “Ultralight Beam” before and “Famous” after. Still, even stripping away the full Pablo experience, even just taking this as two minutes of fleeting bliss, it still works. Kanye, Rick Rubin, and Metro Boomin do an incredible job with the production. I love the rattling drum line. I love the angelic choir segueing between the verse and the hook. AND THAT DROP! I don’t need to talk about the drop because it’s so perfect it’s become a meme unto itself, but holy shit. Say what you will about the verse (which I personally think is fine), but this song is an experience.

2) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

This song is perfect. The lyrics are great. The production is incredible. The Weeknd and Daft Punk are both in rare form. The song’s placement as the last song on the Weeknd’s Starboy album is perfection: it encapsulates his artistic growth and illuminates the shift in sound throughout the album, while also shedding the artist’s brooding persona for a song that’s, above all else, truly fun. The title “I Feel It Coming” is also apt, as it finds itself at the end of the album and draws its elements from the sounds of the ’70s, while also portending and offering a bright future. George Michael is, tragically, dead, but if anyone can carry his torch, it’s the Weeknd and Daft Punk.

1) FREEDOM – Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

LEMONADE starts out plain as day. Beyonce’s been cheated on. She’s upset. She’s emotional. She’s angry. She’s happy. But as the album goes on, she starts to clue you in on the idea that there’s more going on here than just relationship drama. This all comes to a head on “Freedom,” where we come to realize that this album isn’t necessarily about Beyonce, but meant to inspire black women the world over. True, the notion of “freedom” can be applied to relationship drama, but something about Bey portraying herself as an unstoppable force of nature and lines like “I break chains all by myself / Won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! Imma keep running ’cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” makes you think otherwise. By the time Kendrick’s showstopping verse comes around, there’s no question. “Seven misleading statements ’bout my persona / Six headlights waving in my direction / Five-O asking me what’s in my possession.” The production on this song is incredible. The drums, the southern rock organs, the background vocals, every last second of it. It’s inspiring, powerful, uplifting, extremely well-written, and one of the most important moments on one of the best albums of the decade.

Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2016 — December 28, 2016

Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2016

You may have noticed that there’s a lot less negativity on this blog than there used to be. That mostly has to do with me as a person, but believe it or not, there are still things I don’t like. Here are just ten of the hit songs from the past year that I thought were just all kinds of bad. In previous years, “hit” has referred to any song that made it onto the Billboard Year-End Hot 100, or any song that made it into the top 10 at any point in that year. This year, I’ve loosened it a bit to include any song that made it into the top 40 on the Hot 100 at any point in 2016. It didn’t change much. Let’s kick it.

10) ALL WE KNOW – The Chainsmokers feat. Phoebe Ryan

This was a big year for the Chainsmokers. They notched four top 20 hits, including their first #1 hit, “Closer” featuring Halsey. So, how did they follow up on their monumental, chart-topping song of the summer? Make it again! It’s foolproof! What better way to capitalize on a hit song than by making your next single jarringly similar? The fans love it! Truth be told, this song is pretty solid on its own, but in the context of having so much of the same structure, instrumentation, tune, lyrics, and fucking sentence structure as their insanely successful previous song, it feels like a lazy cash-in at best.

9) BACK TO SLEEP – Chris Brown

The first version of this song I heard was the remix, with Zayn and Usher. I like Zayn, I like Usher, and I thought that song was catchy and captured a good balance of goofy and smooth. It turns out, when you take out the two likable, talented artists, what you’re left with kinda sucks. It’s far from Chris Brown’s worst, but it doesn’t set itself apart from his other pop slow jams except for its unsettling mantra of “Let me fuck you back to sleep.” I feel like Chris Brown is too slimy to carry any type of sex song on his own.

8) HANDS TO MYSELF – Selena Gomez

On “Hands to Myself,” Selena Gomez combines her “Good for You” wispy sex kitten vocals with her “Same Old Love” simple-yet-bombastic pop production to create a song that just truly, fundamentally, does not work. It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it’s not catchy, it’s not interesting. There are points where it seems like both Selena and producers Mattman & Robin are really trying, but it’s just a lot of potential energy that never builds to anything.

7) ME, MYSELF & I – G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha / BAD THINGS – Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello (TIE)

Initially, I was ready to include both of these songs on the list, but at the last minute I realized that they’re the same. Two flaccid hip-hop slow jams that feature up-and-coming pop songstresses just not really selling it at all on the chorus. Of course, both songs have their strengths and weaknesses. Bebe Rexha is a better singer than Camila Cabello, but MGK is a marginally better rapper than G-Eazy. “Me, Myself & I” is a bit catchier, “Bad Things” is a bit better-written. Either way, they’re both super derivative and don’t bring anything new to the table, although Camila’s Britney Spears impression is admirable.

6) TREAT YOU BETTER – Shawn Mendes

In another case of pop deja vu, Shawn Mendes followed up his first big hit, “Stitches,” with a song that you would swear was “Stitches” on the first listen. But no, it’s “Treat You Better,” a song about how Shawn’s ex-girl is seeing a new man but Shawn knows, deep down, she’s still into him. Yeah, not so romantic when you put it that way. It’s creepy, and the fact that it’s played so sympathetically, like he’s somehow being burdened, is super weird. Still, the way he shrieks “BETTADENEEKYEN” at the end of the chorus is hilarious.

5) JUJU ON THAT BEAT (TZ ANTHEM) – Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall

This song’s harmless and all in good fun, but oh god is it bad. From the hook alone, you get frantically commanded to do dances you’re never told how to do, then told to “do your dance” as if you’re supposed to have one prepared, and Zay tops it all off by calling your dad ugly. I wasn’t expecting much from the verses, but Zayion’s stubborn refusal to rhyme really got to me. To give you an idea of it, he finishes off the verse with this couplet:

I mean, I like your style

I’m on a whole ‘nother level

If you compared me and you

There wouldn’t be no comparison

And it’s not like he’s doing any vocal contortions to try and make it rhyme. He’s just saying shit. And according to Genius, he wrote this verse down. It’s inexcusable. This song is three minutes and Zayion couldn’t bother to offer the bare minimum.

4) 7 YEARS – Lukas Graham

I’ll bet Lukas Graham thinks he’s really interesting. Interesting enough to have a band with two other people in it and have it just be called “Lukas Graham.” Interesting enough to name two consecutive albums by that band “Lukas Graham.” Interesting enough to make a goddamn terrible stuff chronicling his entire life in the form of people telling him to get a life. To be fair, he had a pretty interesting life. He didn’t have any friends until he was 7, then by the time he was eleven he was drinking bourbon and smoking Herb. Not herb, Herb, with a pronounced H. Poor Herb. Unfortunately, he wasn’t rich when he was eleven, so he had to resort to extreme measures. This is when his father told his eleven-year-old son to find a wife ASAP. He started writing songs, but not for the fame, because being adored by the masses is boooooring. No, he knows that you don’t know his story just by him telling you his story in excruciating detail. However, he doesn’t believe in failure, and he likes putting samples of fans screaming his name into his songs about how he doesn’t like being famous. Now, he’s almost 30 and almost 60, at the same time! What an interesting guy. Band. Album.

3) ME TOO – Meghan Trainor

This song is a little weird, actually. It’s not poorly-constructed. It flows nicely and has moments where things come together really well. It’s just that all the base elements of it suck. The beat is trash. It’s not nearly as catchy or funny as it makes itself out to be. The vocals are half-overzealous and half-phoned-in. It’s about four different songs at once, and they’re all trash. At least Meghan Trainor knows how to handle her bad songs.

2) DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5 feat. Kendrick Lamar

A lot of elements come together to create this piece of work. We’ve got a shitty Diplo wannabe milquetoast dancehall-lite beat. We’ve got the most asinine, repetitive nonsense lyrics we’ve ever seen from Maroon 5. They’re not even fun nonsense, they’re just tasteless pop buzzwords with no connectivity. We’ve got Adam Levine sounding like he’s asleep in the studio, and the rest of the band presumed dead. We’ve got the worst Kendrick Lamar verse of all time. Truly, it’s a masterpiece of garbage. What could be worse than this? I’ll tell you what.

1) HEATHENS – twenty one pilots

Look, I like twenty one pilots. You guys know I like twenty one pilots. You can find me talking about how I like twenty one pilots on this very blog. But try and remove “Heathens” from context, if you can. Take away the movie. Take away the band. Take away the preconceived notions. Can you find one thing about this song that’s the slightest bit redeemable? Any particularly interesting, clever, or worthwhile lyric? Any moment that leads into the next moment well? Any moment where you can really get lost in the music?

Here’s the thing. I’m kind of in the same boat as you. When I first heard this song, I thought it was okay. When I started to realize it wasn’t all that good, I didn’t think it’d be making my worst list. When I decided to add it to the worst list, I had no idea it would be #1. But what I’ve come to realize is that this song is an unimaginable wasteland of cold, wet garbage. The beat is boring. That high-pitched voice that follows Tyler Joseph around like a scab on his back is irritating. It doesn’t make any sense. The writing is atrocious. “You’ll never know the freak show sitting next to you / You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you?” How the fuck did we fall for this? How did this song get to #2 on the Hot 100? How did this song get nominated for three Grammys? I honestly think it wasn’t finished. The song leaked in early June and I think it wasn’t done yet, but the fans responded well to it so Atlantic just released it as is. There’s no way this is what they had in mind. There’s no way this was their grand vision for this song. There’s no way twenty one pilots thought this song was good enough to be released to the public, to be featured prominently in a blockbuster film, to be submitted for consideration by the Recording Academy.

Anyway, that’s enough negativity for a while. I’ll have the best hit songs of the year list up real quick, and everything else will come in the next couple weeks.