Deadshirt Is Listening… Bringing you a rundown of our staff and guest contributors’ favorite new tracks released in the past week after they’ve had the weekend to blast them in their cars, in a club, alone in their rooms, etc.
Mike Duquette is beaming to…
“A Little Smile”
How is one “surprised” by an artist who’s been making music for more than 35 years? There are a lot of answers to this question; in Joe Jackson’s case, it’s by offering a decent spin on the kind of formula that shot him to international recognition in the first place. The British-born pianist (not Michael’s dad, sorry) wowed ‘em in the late seventies and early eighties with snappy pop that melded punk and jazz (the snotty “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and the dizzying Top 10 hit “Steppin’ Out” being the best-known tunes on our shores) before going the classic unsettled-artist route and doing whatever struck his fancy. There were film soundtracks, dabblings in classical recording and even, most recently, a Duke Ellington covers album, with the odd straightforward tune thrown about from time to time.
On this fall’s Fast Forward, it seems like Jackson’s got the pop bug again, having recorded four sets of rock tunes in four different cities (New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans) with four different bands, including various orchestras and horn sections in addition to notable names like Graham Maby (Jackson’s longtime bassist) and guitarist Bill Frisell. Lead single “A Little Smile,” from the Amsterdam sessions, boasts a deeply catchy melody worthy of Jackson’s most beloved early works (similar to the ironic pep of “It’s Different for Girls” or “Breaking Us in Two”). Jackson hasn’t really gone to the mat like this in a while (2008’s Rain is the last vaguely pop-centric album he’s done, and anyone who reads his monthly “What I’m Listening To” columns might think he only buys jazz albums), so to hear him do it again in such a catchy way is a pleasant, unexpected late-summer shocker.
Dominic Griffin is charging up to….
“Hotline Bling (Cha Cha Remix)”
Since Meek Mill accused Drake of being a fraud for using ghostwriters (something of a cardinal sin in hip hop), the internet’s been hotly anticipating the theoretical clapback. During last night’s OVO Radio show on Apple Music, Aubrey responded in kind, running his response “Charged Up” back four times and dropping two other new semi-unrelated songs. Leave it to Drake to drop a diss track over a dull, vaporwave-y drone and then let loose two sullen, petty b-sides about women who’ve wronged him. It’s very #OnBrand and all, but it sounds beyond weird to go from serrated barbs aimed at a former colleague riiiight back to late night text message mode. Well, at first anyway. If you play the three tracks back to back on repeat for 24 hours like I reluctantly chose to, a different picture appears. That’s right. I finally saw the sailboat.
“Charged Up” is brief, but potent. It’s as “Drake” as verbal darts come. He’s always been staunchly political in his dealings with detractors, and here, choosing his subliminal shots with precision, you can almost feel him turning to the camera, a la Frank Underwood, griping about swatting gnats away from his view of the Six. It’s effective as an appetizer, but it’s hardly the main event rap fans are hungry for. It’s more a Monday Night Raw promo than a real Wrestlemania moment, which is fine this early in a feud, but there’s something menacing about the song that’s pretty disquieting. I don’t mean “menacing” in the intimidating way you might imagine he was going for, but more the disturbing malevolence behind his casual tenor. It sounds like Drake nonchalantly spoke his feelings into a tape recorder and left it in Meek’s car on a loop. You know, like a serial killer might.
It’s also delusional as fuck. “No woman ever had me starstruck, or was able to tell me to get my bars up.” Drake’s shot at Meek being sprung for his girlfriend Nicki Minaj might sting more if Drake hasn’t spent the last FIVE FUCKING YEARS talking about wanting to marry her and shit, you know? The continuous need to conflate femininity and weakness rings rather terribly coming from the most emasculated rapper in the game, and you’d kind of hope he’d be above that type of shit, but this is the same guy who spit “if she go to the bathroom, I’m going through her phone. I don’t trust these hoes at all” with a straight face.
The real horror sets in with “Right Hand,” a song that sounds like Drake talking to one of his many paramours over a Mirrorworld DJ Mustard beat. Frank Dukes and Vinylz turn Mustard’s formula on its head, crafting an instrumental that snaps and discomfits in equal measure. Drake continues to expertly chronicle the tragic trappings of millenial romance, but his sharp gaze leaves in too many sour notes.
You’re my right hand. You’re my go-to. Told me everything about you. That’s a bold move.
That sounds more than vaguely threatening, right? Don’t open yourself up to Drake. You might end up the b-side to a diss track endlessly re-posted on Soundcloud after he conveniently forgets your number, your name and astrological sign. There’s something very Hannibal about his particular brand of haunting intimacy. You can just imagine Will Graham surveying the emotional wreckage, sipping Hennessey and shaking his head. “This is my design.”
The noir leanings of his post-Nothing Was The Same output have begun to give in to full on darkness, slyly warped around Drake’s falsely comforting pop instincts. Even “Hotline Bling,” Drake’s curiously infectious remix of D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha,” contorts an otherwise raucous tune into an orgy of awkward lament. There’s something repetitive and drawn out about the track, arguably the best of the three he dropped Saturday night, that feels like live jam band noodling, not unlike his “Sweeterman” remix from the last episode of OVO Radio.
“Hotline Bling” follows a similar narrative to Kanye West’s “White Dress,” of a spurned former lover “letting the thot form from anger” and shedding her good girl persona like so much dead skin. “White Dress” gets the edge because 1) it had a surprise happy ending and 2) ‘Ye was mostly kidding, dramatizing he and Kim’s pre-marital troubles with the benefit of perspective and some well placed Anchorman references. Here, Drake earnestly chastises a woman for doing whatever the fuck she wants, indulging his creepy, possessive nice guy side a little too much. It plays great after “Right Hand”’s somewhat baleful passive aggression, like the brown liquor’s influence is beginning to wane and the depressive doubt of slowly sobering up has taken hold, hence the hangdog singalong and saccharine tinge of regret.
Drake purports to hate social media, but his music, more than any of his peers, exists within the moment, leaving zero room for actual reflection, not unlike a tweet or a Facebook status. The immediacy of his recent catalog belies his mannered presentation as a chess player on wax. Sensitivity is a hard vice to shake and this latest care package shows cracks in the “Legendary” facade If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late so effectively put upon. Maybe this snapshot is a portent of what the Views From The Six era truly has in store, and these regular OVO Radio offerings are like the Snapchat equivalent of Kanye’s “Good Friday” series. Either way, Drake’s taken the spotlight of a feud and focused the outcome on how it progresses his character and not who wins the feud. Psychological warfare in the era of the social media rap beef.
Dylan Roth is adjusting his expectations to…
“Too Bad, So Sad”
Pagans in Vegas
Around this time three years ago, I was very much hooked on Metric’s album Fantasies and hotly anticipating their upcoming follow-up Synthetica. I loved Metric for Emily Haines’ catchy melodies, and for the band’s ability to capture an indie rock feel with electronic punch. But when the first track from Synthetica, the single “Youth Without Youth,” was released online, I was decidedly underwhelmed. The melody had a three-note range, and while the song had a powerful beat behind it, it was, on a fundamental level, extremely simple. It didn’t grab me at all, and got me really worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the album.
I ended up being very wrong; Synthetica became one of my favorite records of 2012, and I reach for it as often as I do Fantasies. In the context of the album, “Youth Without Youth” totally worked; it just wasn’t obvious single material. So, I’m trying to reserve judgement as best I can for Metric’s upcoming album, Pagans in Vegas, despite not really being much into the first advance tracks.
The latest single from Pagans in Vegas is “Too Bad, So Sad,” and it has almost all of the same problems that I found in “Youth Without Youth” three years ago. It’s melodically non-existent, with the vocal almost entirely on one note. It’s a foot stomper, that’s for sure; it’s totally club danceable, and I’m totally down to sing “oh, yeah, WOO HOO!” right along with her at the chorus, but this is one of those cuts that’s all track and no song. Cool production, no soul.
My disappointment is tempered by memories of Synthetica. For every “Youth Without Youth” on that album, there was a gorgeous song like “Breathing Underwater.” I hold out hope that I’ll remember Pagans in Vegas the same way.