I Heard Your Single: A survey of the month’s releases, featuring Madonna, Drake, Shlohmo, and more
On the last Friday of each month I survey recent singles from local acts—selectively, not exhaustively. By “singles,” I mean everything from 7- and 12-inches to “focus tracks” (e.g. they gave the MP3 away two months before the album release, or made a video), and by “local” I mean they live in New York. (Remixes and guest appearances by New Yorkers on out-of-towners’ records also get looks in.) Suggestions are welcome to email@example.com, no guarantees made. Here’s February:
I can’t decide whether Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.’s “Give Me All Your Luvin’” is a desperate audition for "Glee" or the aural equivalent of Botox, but either way, it sounded irredeemable the first couple times. I hate it less now—what do you know, Madge, the premier singles-maker of her generation (maybe ever?) knows how to build something to last, even if it’s this tinny and resurrects cheerleader-chanted backing vocals long after Avril’s “Girlfriend” wrung the idea dry. The latter song is a clue to what “Luvin’” is up to—rough up the arrangement a little and you’d have a late-’70s new wave record, complete with cheesy organ. But the misspelled title, like the record, smells like pandering to the Disney-verse. She should’ve just given the entire game away by covering Macy Gray’s “Give Me All Your Loving (Or I Will Kill You).” But no, she sings, “Every record sounds the same/ you’ve gotta step into my world,” like a dis, only to turn around and prove she actually means it literally by paying LMFAO to graft what is basically the exact same synth line from their inescapable "Party Rock Anthem" over “Luvin’.” The title? “Party Rock Remix.” Thanks for clarifying.
But Madonna’s plea for the kids’ love is nothing in this month’s irritating-star-plaints sweepstakes—her buddy Nicki’s got that locked up with “Marilyn Monroe.” Guess who she feels like, sometimes, because she’s really famous for being a sex symbol, but is lonely, and can’t really sing? Here’s another guess: She wants to play next year’s Grammys with Elton John. (Not to be confused with the far superior “Marilyn Monroe” by Brianna Perry, who dubs herself “Holly-hood” after her L.A. hometown.) “Starships” (both Young Money; YouTube), meanwhile, contents itself with ripping off Rihanna’s “We Found Love” as baldly as possible. Come back, “Stupid Hoe”! All is forgiven.
Cassie’s “King of Hearts” (Bad Boy/Interscope) operates on a similar principle—six years after her No. 3 “Me & U,” she’s gone as Eurohouse as everyone else in her orbit. “King of Hearts” doesn’t appear as hit-bound as “Starships”—Minaj’s song debuted this week at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100, while Cassie isn’t anywhere near it (or the R&B/Hip-Hop Top 50, either). Otherwise, there’s no comparison: Cassie’s song surges and breaks down expertly without leaving an ugly vodka-and-tonic-and-chemicals aftertaste. There’s synth swarm on A$AP Rocky’s “Celebration” (SoundCloud), but they’re more like another 2006 song, T.I.’s “What You Know”: Long boastful verses capped with a chorus that won’t leave. I haven’t heard it coming out of a bodega yet, but I’m hoping.
Zebra Katz feat. Njena Reddd Foxxx’s “Ima Read” (Mad Decent/Jeffree’s Imprint) is a different kind of boasting record—one that exults in pure shade: “Ima take that bitch to college/ Ima give that bitch some knowledge/ Ima read that bitch.” The version I like most (there are five) is New Jersey producers’ MikeQ & B. Ames’ remix, which jacks up the beat and reduces the lyrics to the basics. It’s part of a resurgence in “vogue house,” apparently—just in time for Soul Jazz’s curiously flat new photo book by Chantal Regnault, Voguing. ("Reading," if it's not clear from listening, in the vogueing world refers to stylish insults.)
Drake feat. the Weeknd, “Crew Love (Shlohmo Remix)” (Soundcloud) was unofficial at first, but once the Weeknd (Toronto's Abel Tesfaye) caught wind of it, he requested a finished version from the young L.A.-gone-Brooklyn producer. It’s slightly more torpid than the original “Crew Love,” but only slightly—if anything, it’s funnier to hear Drake’s take-me-seriously flow emanate from an industrial dubscape rather than meditating over glistening vibes. But celebrity endorsements are beside the point: Shlohmo’s own three-song Vacation E.P. (“The Way U Do,” “Wen Uuu,” and “Rained the Whole Time”) shows his pointillist I.D.M. growing more playful and confident as he approaches voting age. Speaking of young auteurs, “Rained the Whole Time (Nicolas Jaar Remix)” (both Friends of Friends; SoundCloud), kicks off with spaghetti western guitar but soon settles into more typical crackle-and-galumph I.D.M. terrain.
In dance music, getting a remix from a well-known producer is a nod on par with grabbing the opening slot at CMJ’s biggest showcase. Brooklyn’s Jacques Renault has already made his mark with his remix of Midnight Magic’s “Beam Me Up” in 2010—a definitive New York record, sonically and lyrically. This month he lengthens his C.V. with a pair of new acts. For mysterious French newcomers letthemusicplay, “Space (Jacques Renault Remix)” is gauzy, pumping tech-house, driving and anonymous. For Command V—the new group from post-punk veterans Cynthia Sley (Bush Tetras), Pat Irwin (Eight-Eyed Spy), and filmmaker Rachel Dengiz—“Lost on Me (Jacques Renault Remix)” (Mush) plays it kitschier and cooler, emphasizing the five-note ascending sax line and surrounding it with mid-’80s synth glow and a comfortable disco tempo. Renault’s version is a good match for the original “Lost on Me” (Vimeo), which is jitterier and equally body-moving. Midnight Magic, in the meantime, are doing some remixing as well. “Magic (Midnight Magic Remix)” comes from Australian pop quintet Panama, and if you’re allergic to aural twinkle, stay well away. I’m not.
Twinkle-phobes would probably do well to keep clear of Avan Lava’s “It's Never Over” as well: It makes the Escort album sound like it’s not trying hard enough to emulate the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic.” It’s insidiously catchy top to bottom, not to mention aerobics-ready. “Can't Be Bothered” (Voidarts; YouTube), by Bronx singer-musician Will Johnson, a.k.a. Gordon Voidwell, harks back to a different ’80s, the one anchored by Sly & Robbie at Compass Point Studios: Voidwell’s jumpy, high tenor is subsumed in all those synths and guitar plucks, which, given his jabbing top notes, is probably for the best. Lee Fields and the Expressions’ “You're the Kind of Girl” (Truth and Soul; SoundCloud) has a letter-perfect production and arrangement (think early-’70s Philadelphia) and just-O.K. songwriting, which has been retro-soul’s Achilles heel for approximately ever. Kofi Black feat. Raekwon’s “I Love Your Crazy” (ICEH20; YouTube) isn’t a throwback—just modestly catchy, old-fashioned R&B, right down to its guest rapper, a tradition going back at least to 1989. There are worse places to be.
Finally, in “Killing Time” (No Brow), Brooklyn singer-songwriter Ducky loves your crazy unrequitedly, vowing to “wait till your love comes back again” over digital finger-snaps and “ba-ba-dum” backing vocals that stay nonchalantly grabby even when they’re cut to ribbons later in the song. The nervous pulse and Devo-doing-“Satisfaction” guitars of Here We Go Magic’s “Make Up Your Mind” (Secretly Canadian; SoundCloud) back a testier view of interpersonal relations, a sustained plastic-synth line offering the title refrain some lift. The logical end-point: the ramalama punk-pop of La Sera’s “Break My Heart” (Hardly Art; SoundCloud). “I’ve done wrong,” Katy Goodman sings, but not here.