Random Song Reviews: 2/1/-2/7/2022


Snow – Informer

Anyone remember when Adrien Brody hosted Saturday Night Live? Perhaps you do if you’re a fan of SNL lore, because Brody was promptly banned from ever hosting again. That’s because Brody decided, when introducing musical guest Sean Paul (an actual Jamaican), to dress and speak in character as a Jamaican, fake dreadlocks and all. (The producers and Lorne Michaels reportedly didn’t know anything about before it happened.) You can find the bit online, I won’t link to it here; it’s an uncomfortable train wreck of a decision that lasts way too long. But the act of white dudes pretending to be Jamaican was not a new thing in 2003. In fact, ten years earlier, the #1 song in the country for seven weeks was basically that. And when Snow’s dancehall reggae hit “Informer” was taking over, Americans didn’t bat an eye.

Perhaps I’m being a little hard on Snow. He wasn’t exactly Iggy Azalea. Even though he was an Irish Canadian, he grew up in an ethnically diverse suburb of Toronto and fell in love with reggae music, freestyling patois to the amusement of his friends. He respected the culture; even years after his fifteen minutes, he was making albums in Jamaica with reggae artists. If not authentic, Snow was at least genuine. He wanted the world to hear this music. He was also a criminal who got into a lot of trouble, which is actually what “Informer” is about. It’s basically a threat to the person who snitched on Snow and sent him to jail.

Of course, no one in America knew that. They couldn’t understand a word Snow was saying, which was part of the novelty, along with how goofy he looked in the music video. Nowadays, dancehall is everywhere in the USA, and it’s not a joke. But patois was not something that was prominent on the Hot 100 in 1993; is it fair to say that this whiteboy one-hit wonder, like Vanilla Ice before him, paved the way for more authentic artists to bring chart dominance to their genre? Would Sean Paul be successful in the US if not for Snow? I don’t actually believe that, because dancehall reggae would have eventually made big moves all over the world with or without the kickstart from Snow’s single hit. The style is upbeat, club-ready, and infectious. And Snow didn’t impact the fact that it’s a predominately Black genre. But the actual effect of “Informer,” particularly on American audiences, is fun to think about.

But, ok. Let’s actually talk about the track. The oft-used “Amen Break” sample does a lot of heavy lifting here – rhythmically speaking, “Informer” is a 90s rap song with dancehall flourishes. But the hook is sticky as shit, and for his part Snow’s rapid-fire patois is impressive. The lyrics, as we’ve mentioned, deal with darker topics than the general upbeat vibe of the song would lead you to believe. The MC Shan verse is… fine. His presence at least gives the song some hip-hop credibility, which it probably needed to break through. As a whole, certain elements of the song have aged well. The general idea probably hasn’t.

So yeah, “Informer” is a prime example of cultural appropriation, something that, even presented as novelty, wouldn’t go over well nowadays. But in the early 90s, the song seemed a bit silly, and that was the appeal. A decade later, dancehall reggae would be a primary sound in American pop music, and it would come from more credible sources. And one source would get big enough to play his biggest hits on a legacy variety show in New York City, with a white host introducing the artist by dressing in an offensive costume and attempting a caricature. Misguided? Sure. Deeply uncomfortable to watch? Definitely. Silly and novel? Not anymore. Genuine enthusiasm? You’d have to ask Adrien Brody. Say what you will about Snow, at least he knew better than to show up in fake dreadlocks.

Score: 6/10

Silk – Freak Me

The short-lived popularity of Silk is actually quite simple – they were contenders for title of the “bad boy” version of Boyz II Men, which is to say, they were less subtle about their sexual intentions. Boyz II Men were the romantic types – “I’ll Make Love To You” is a great example. Silk were the same, but they were dirty talkers. They were more explicit, they wanted to give the play-by-play. They wanna lick you up and down, play with your body, they love the taste of whipped cream. In short, they wanna get freaky with you.

I’m basing this on one song, because I don’t know any other Silk songs. Perhaps this will change one day; maybe I’ll get the itch to dive deep into their discography, but for now, their #1 hit “Freak Me” is the beginning and end of my knowledge of their body of work. They’re probably just a Boyz II Men knock-off with one hit single that was way sexier than the rest of their catalog. That’s very possible, because “Freak Me” is incredibly memorable and it really sticks out. Honestly, “Motownphilly” aside, I might like it more than any Boyz II Men single. And I think that has to do with self-awareness. The modern Boyz II Men have self-awareness about their songs. I’m not sure they did in the 90s, though, and it showed. At least, they didn’t have as much self-awareness as Silk. Because you can’t sing a song like “Freak Me” without it. (It should be noted Keith Sweat co-wrote the song, who was basically the king of 90s slow-tempo sex romps. See “Nobody” for reference.)

I recently wrote about Boyz II Men and how their vocal theatrics and Philly soul chops landed them in the pantheon of top tier R&B groups, but I also wrote about how that sound has devolved into parody. Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake’s SNL sketches immediately come to mind. The Lonely Island made bank from making fun of this style of 90s R&B. The songs were sexually explicit in a way that is hilarious and ridiculous. But we already knew this was happening. Everyone was already in on the joke. Even Teddy Pendergrass delivered his most dramatic come-ons with a wink. I’d like to think Silk were a little in on the joke, too. “Freak Me” is a jam that sets the mood, and I’m sure it was very effective baby-making music in the early 90s. But on paper, the lyrics are just really funny. Because talking about sex is funny. And I think Silk can have it both ways. They can make an earnest, sexy song that is also cunningly walking the line of self-parody, taking the whole style to its ridiculous extremes.

I’m willing to accept that this is just my projection, as a thirtysomething white guy who analyzes popular music and the culture and conversation around it as a lifelong hobby. A guy who has lived through the rise and fall of Boyz II Men, Silk, Jodeci, H-Town, LSG, and countless other 90s R&B vocal groups. I also witnessed this sound evolve into boy band ballads, and then into a punchline by groups like The Lonely Island. In my mind, Silk already knew this was the logical journey. I listen to “Freak Me” and I hear a group of singers who are in the moment, giving it their very best vocal performance, but who also are taking cues from Pendergrass and Barry White, and recognizing that this is a little silly. That for every couple playing “Freak Me” to warm up in the bedroom, there will be some drunk college student playfully picking the song for karaoke night.

That random person will pick the song because it reminds them of listening to “Freak Me” in the car on the way to school with their mom and feeling very, very uncomfortable. Ok, yeah, this is 100% my projection. But the other reason we remember and love this song, regardless of horniness, or ridiculousness, is because it’s a fucking JAM. “Freak Me” opens with a rhythmic chant that transitions to an instantly unforgettable hook-filled chorus. Even if you don’t remember Silk, you remember “Freak Me,” and I’d argue the lyrics are only partially the reason. The whispered, spoken-word verses are the right combination of sultry and inessential. At one point, you can’t even hear them over the vamping from other members of the group. When the final chorus kicks in, the backing keyboard synths and chimes drop out, leaving only the beat – this is when Silk mean business. In case you didn’t hear it the first time, in case you didn’t get the message. It’s time to get freaked, girl.

Whether they’re in on the joke, whether there was an intended joke to begin with, who cares? Silk were doing god’s work; their hit song made plenty of babies in 1993, and it also made some of us laugh. And when Mom wasn’t in the car, we’d turn the volume up, because that chorus is just too damn good. “Freak Me” may sound like it was made for only one thing, but it has many functions in many settings, and that makes it a freaking great song.

Score: 8/10

Janet Jackson – That’s The Way Love Goes

I have a confession to make – there’s a gap in my Janet Jackson knowledge. I’m very familiar with her iconic, metallic, dance-heavy Control and Rhythm Nation era, and, because I grew up immersed in it, her equally upbeat All For You era. But I was not as familiar with the more erotic janet. era until today, when I heard, for the first time in my life, the lead single from that album. Apparently, it was pretty surprising to hear and see Ms. Jackson, after the abrasive sound of her late-80s work, in a more sexual role, appearing topless on her new album cover and re-introducing herself with an understated, hypnotic, hip-hop based track that contained traces of Sade sensuality and bearing resemblance to Madonna’s erotic hit “Justify My Love.”

The hit song, which stayed at #1 for eight weeks, was an introduction to an edgier, more sultry maturation for the artist and a sharp left turn from her previous work. As a song, it’s a pure mood, but a bit nondescript in terms of memorable melody, and it certainly lacks the punch of the more iconic songs in her catalog. “That’s The Way Love Goes” is a good vibe, but a minor moment compared to the other creations Jackson conjured up with the hitmaking duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Score: 6/10


Kid Rock – We the People

I don’t know where to begin. At first I thought I would write about Kid Rock’s latest dick-swinging abomination without discussing the politics behind it… you know, just focusing on the song. The musicianship, the instrumentation, the craft, know what I’m sayin? But this “song,” if you wanna call it that, is all about the message. And that message is…. well, actually, I’m not 100% sure. Part of the message seems to be single-minded tropes that we’ve been hearing from the far right ever since Trump lost in 2020. All the dumb shit you expect from your drunk uncle is here: Fuck Fauci, wearing masks is stupid, All Lives Matter, CNN sucks… there’s even a sound byte of “let’s go Brandon” chants at the end. All the fun things people say that make perfect sense if you don’t think about them, even for a second. So about 90% of “We The People” is “us vs. them,” that much is clear. It’s about as subtle as a frying pan to a Biden voter’s face.

But then the song takes a turn; Mr. Rock makes a call to action for “unity” because we “all bleed red.” We need to set sail on a “love boat” and “rock that bitch up and down the coast.” This is all mixed in with the song’s central hook, a chorus of people chanting “let’s go Brandon,” an asinine phrase adopted to signify anything but unity among fellow Americans. Bob Ritchie wants to have his cake and eat it too, probably because he has seen just how far his idiotic message can go (all the way to the Capitol, as we all witnessed on our TVs last January).

Ritchie literally screams his convoluted manifesto alongside an equally dumb combination of heartland rap-rock, a trademark sound for Kid Rock since his “American Bad Ass” days. Think Skynyrd with Bocephus and just a pinch of Beastie Boys cadence (but certainly not ideology) sprinkled on top. The song is busy, with guitar shredding buried behind loud, angry chanting and tirades about how Donald Trump gets called racist too much. This is some tired shit that we’ve heard before, so tired you almost think people would be able to see through it. But as long as there are drunk uncles eating up this dogshit, Kid Rock will be serving it to them in oversized spoonfuls.

Score: 1/10

YUNGBLUD – Fleabag

Give credit where it’s due. YUNGBLUD knows when to switch it up. His bad boy, anti-authoritarian, “sod off” schtick was wearing pretty thin just as the pop-punk revival was revving up. And even though Dominic Harrison (that’s his real name) is known for his camera mugging, Hot Topic fashion, and insane onstage antics, he has only been loosely influenced by the guitar-charged sounds of the 90s and 00s. That changes somewhat on his latest hit single “Fleabag” which directly borrows from apathy-ridden successes like Machine Gun Kelly’s “papercuts” (which for its part directly borrows from Nirvana). More precisely, YUNGBLUD’s newest track sounds identical to something Three Days Grace would have conjured up in their heyday, the type of post-grunge formula that saw big numbers in the first decade of the 21st century.

We may have all heard this before, but it’s likely YUNGBLUD’s (very) young audience hasn’t, and it’s a new approach for the English rocker, who specialized in big bright pop hooks and trap beats before this. It’s clear YUNGBLUD was made for this moment, even if he broke out just a couple years before the sound really took over, and he has wisely chosen to capitalize on it. And for what it is, his contribution is a pretty solid mainstream rock song, with big hooks, pounding drums, and just the right amount of angst.

Score: 6/10

Denzel Curry – Walkin

Curry’s new track gets me all kinds of pumped for 2022. His latest bars show continuing songwriting maturity, alongside a boom-bap beat that transforms halfway through to a slower tempo that hits even harder.

Score: 9/10

Artsick – Ghost of Myself

An effervescent, jangly, and promising indie pop track from this new band out of Oakland.

Score: 7/10

Julmud – Falnukmel

I know little about this artist, or where they’re from, but I’m loving the raps alongside industrial-influenced metallic scraping, akin to something more accessible from Arca.

Score: 7/10

MJ Lenderman – Hangover Game

The opening track from the forthcoming Boat Songs finds Lenderman delivering well-crafted indie pop not unlike the heyday of Matthew Sweet.

Score: 7/10

vein.fm – Fear In Non Fiction

Another monster from vein.fm, this one featuring Geoff Rickly from emo band Thursday, of all people. And it rips.

Score: 8/10

Ex-Void – Churchyard

Former Joanna Gruesome members return with a sound very similar to their previous work, but you won’t find me complaining.

Score: 7/10

Franz Ferdinand – Curious

Nice in theory to have these guys and their back in my queue, though this new single only has faint traces of their peak material, which was unbelievably almost 20 years ago. Still, “Curious” will get your toe tapping, if nothing else.

Score: 6/10

Tove Lo – How Long

Tove Lo’s latest, for the Euphoria soundtrack, is a longing, sharp pop song with just the right amount of foreboding. I haven’t seen the show, or its portrayal of teenage self-destructive excess, but I can imagine this fits well with the vibe.

Score: 7/10

Toro y Moi – Postman

Can’t pretend I’m not a little underwhelmed by this minimal track following the funky fun that was Outer Peace in 2019. Perhaps it will grow on me.

Score: 6/10

Warpaint – Champion

Warpaint return with their minor-key, ominous, neo-psych approach to indie rock. “Champion” is more of the same, which in my opinion is… fine. Doesn’t leave much of an impression.

Score: 5/10

Hyd – Into My Arms

The former PC Music collaborator (aka QT) continues her solo rollout of subversive avant-pop, though the results go down a lot easier than anything AG Cook cooked up. This new one is more in line with the mellow mood of previous track “The Look On Your Face.”

Score: 5/10

Grimes – Shinigami Eyes

This single follows in the footsteps of the club-ready style of Miss Anthropocene, which is fine, but it seems like Grimes is running out of ideas.

Score: 5/10

NOBRO – Bye Bye Baby

A fun shout-along banger from these Canadian punks. Look at the title, you already know the chorus.

Score: 7/10

Two Shell – Home

London’s Two Shell have built a Fucking Great Song, a UK bass banger with pitched-up vocal samples and pure pop accessibility.

Score: 9/10

Widowspeak – While You Wait

I’ve been loving the advance singles from The Jacket – this new swaying bedroom pop number from the Brooklyn-based quartet makes me feel some type of way.

Score: 8/10

Uffie – Dominoes

A bouncy new dance-pop tune from the “Pop the Glock” artist, which sounds like it’d be a fitting addition to your commute playlist.

Score: 7/10

The Smile – The Smoke

The Smile sounds a LOT like Radiohead, which is, of course, a good thing. But it kind of makes me wonder what the rest of the band is doing, and what their current status is?

Score: 7/10

Ducks Ltd. – Sheets of Grey

After a great album last year (Modern Fiction), Ducks LTD. haven’t taken long to jangle their way back into our hearts with this suitable follow-up loosie.

Score: 7/10

Charli XCX w/ Rina Sawayama – Beg For You

After a wave of oddball hyperpop brilliance, it sounds like Charli is going a more straightforward route with her new album Crash. My ears are open, though I don’t find this single as strong as previous ones, particularly “New Shapes.” Also, Rina seems under-utilized here.

Score: 7/10

Saba w/ G Herbo – Survivor’s Guilt

Saba is on fire right now. The Chicago rapper follows up the stellar “Come My Way” with a Kendrick-esque flow, a solid G Herbo feature, and a militant hook on this new one.

Score: 8/10

Alice Glass – Love Is Violence

The obstacles Alice Glass has overcome cannot be understated; I only wish her recent musical output was anything as strong as what came out of those first few Crystal Castles albums.

Score: 5/10

Bloc Party – The Girls Are Fighting

To live in the shadow of an album like Silent Alarm must be exhausting, but after a decent single in “Traps,” this follow-up unfortunately isn’t maintaining the standard, or my weathered expectations.

Score: 4/10

Raveena w/ Vince Staples – Secret

The first of two strong Staples features this week. Raveena delivers another excellent single after the Bollywood-influenced “Rush.” This new track is a little more R&B, but just as flirty.

Score: 7/10

Disclosure & Zedd – You’ve Got To Let Go If You Want To Be Free

Almost a decade after Settle, Disclosure (and Zedd) are on autopilot. This new one is more of the same, which is adequate, though it’s not going to turn any heads, or move many bodies.

Score: 6/10

Viagra Boys – Girls & Boys (Patrik Berger Remix)

This new remix from the deluxe version of Welfare Jazz adds an enticing, creepy element to the band’s unusual, occasionally delightfully obnoxious style.

Score: 7/10

The Cool Kids – It’s Yours Part 2

Don’t call it a comeback. Chuck and Mike have been here for years. And this advance track shows promise for their upcoming project Before Shit Got Weird.

Score: 7/10

ericdoa – sad4whattt

Another one from Euphoria and it’s an outright banger, a further nod in the direction of hyperpop’s biggest names inching toward taking over the zeitgeist. I’m all for it.

Score: 9/10

Kilo Kish & Vince Staples – New Tricks: Art, Aesthetics, And Money

This glitchy track finds Kilo delivering casual bars with Vince providing the hypeman ad-libs. Very effective. Love this one.

Score: 9/10

The Maine – Loved You a Little (w/ Taking Back Sunday & Charlotte Sands)

Two emo mainstays team up with newcomer Charlotte Sands for a pop-punk jam that’s primarily a new Maine song, though Sands, who recently broke out thanks to TikTok, holds her own.

Score: 6/10

The Chainsmokers – High

This is giving me serious Post Malone vibes. Not really in a good way.

Score: 4/10

XXXTENTACION – vice city

Dropped just in time to promote a new documentary at SXSW, this new posthumous track certainly sounds more like a complete statement than anything released after the rapper’s death. But as is the case for most of X’s material, the overall product is unfocused. It’s also hard to imagine the rapper’s contrarian nature approving of this standard boom-bap beat and female vocal melody.

Score: 4/10

Coi Leray – Anxiety

Apparently Leray has faced backlash and bullying on social media based on things other than her music (I think her relationship with Trippie Redd ended poorly, I don’t know the details, fill in the blanks zoomers), but I barely care. “Twininem” was a bop, and this relatable, melodic trap pop single continues her upward momentum.

Score: 7/10

Sueco – Loser

Sueco (fka Sueco the Child, I guess) has hopped on the trend wagon pretty quick, trading in producer tags and trap beats for straight-up trying to sound like Simple Plan. It’s probably great if you were born after 2006. I’m pretty old though, and so is this sound.

Score: 5/10

Amber Mark – One

I was a bit underwhelmed with the overlong, derivative Three Dimensions Deep, but this album opener is a standout, in line with her standout singles from the previous years, like “Competition” and “Trees On Fire.”

Score: 7/10

Top Ten This Week

Top Twenty of January 2022

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