Halfway Report July 2018

It’s been a dry first half of July, in many respects. So dry in fact, that there was nothing notable on either extreme. Nothing really good, nothing really bad. Everything was just very average.

* It was 2003 when pop-punks Blink-182 featured a very unlikely guest on their self-titled record in the form of Robert Smith; at that point it had been been twenty years since The Cure‘s first big mainstream hits. It’s now 2018, two decades since Blink’s initial appearance in the public spotlight, and Mark Hoppus is singing on Amy Shark‘s new record. Just like “All of This” was essentially a Cure song masquerading as a Blink-182 track, “Psycho” is straight out of the “serious Blink” songbook; it’s the one track on Shark’s long-gestating debut LP that doesn’t sound like all the others.

At least, not superficially. It and its companion tracks are all thematically linked by Shark’s sometimes-worrying obsession with perfect relationships. I already wrote about this last month, but the prevalence of melodramatic sentiment in her material is overbearing at times. I mean, just from the title alone you can tell that “Psycho” is maybe just a little bit hyperbolic. “I’m not psycho / just because I care a lot”, Shark sings- but here’s the thing – if you have to say that, it sort of cancels out the statement? It’s got that reverse psychology Streisand Effect. Nobody thinks you’re a psycho, Amy Shark, but if you keep on declaring that you aren’t, people are going to wonder why you have to keep saying that.

Of course this would all be remedied if Shark threw in a wink every so often to temper the earnestness; even Taylor Swift poked fun at her own image at one point. Hopefully by album two she’ll have lightened up a little.


* Speaking of Australians, D&B legends Pendulum have been teasing new material for a few years and so far the only thing that’s surfaced is a mediocre remix album. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely extraneous. The one collaboration that held potential – a Devin Townsend take on “Crush” – is reminiscent of a YouTube drum cover video, where some dude in a garage records himself playing along to the original track. The sound quality is about the same, too.

Pendulum singer Rob Swire has also appeared on a deadmau5 song, but the thing about deadmau5 is that he can’t write a catchy song to save his life. Even Skrillex had the Scary Monsters song that flirted with mainstream appeal- can anyone in the general public name ONE deadmau5 song? So enough of the side-projects, Pendulum, get back to the studio and crank something good out. I’m sick of USS being the only representation of D&B in popular music.


* Speaking of USS, who are Fitness and why are they a photocopy of the Canadian duo? It’s incredibly hard to find info on these guys, as both their name and their album name (Karate) are very unfriendly to search engines, and putting them together only complicates things. So right now all we know is that these are two guys who make very straightforward electronic party music. Basically USS.


* If there’s one thing I loathe about pop music, it’s when acts are forced into public consciousness rather than developed organically (see: perpetual non-starter Skylar Grey, literal mystery Rita Ora).

It’s been FIVE YEARS since this name started popping up on the internet and to this day I (and four German judges) have no idea what songs she sings or even what she looks like. Give it up with the Rita Ora already, music industry.

Please also give it up with Mondo Cozmo, who’s only been floating around for about a year but is already incredibly annoying. The guy has absolutely no sense of a hook, relying entirely on a simulacrum of 90s Brit-rock as a crutch. Yet he is constantly landing cushy opening spots on huge stadium shows, from Bastille to Arkells to Vance Joy. I’ve had to sit through all three of those shows, and I still couldn’t tell you one memorable song.


* Just as I predicted early on in the year, lovelytheband have scored a big alternative radio hit with “Broken”. That’s really all I wanted to say, because I like to brag when I’m right about these things.


* Drake‘s massive new album Scorpion contains very little in the way of big hits, so he’s been spending the year trying to distract from that by giving away millions of dollars, beefing with Pusha-T, revealing he has a kid, and assembling the Avengers old Degrassi cast.

There are some okay songs on this thing. “Nonstop” has a cool sampled hook, and the production on “Summer Games” and “Don’t Matter to Me” is indicative of the top-level budget. That said, those two songs also have some major issues. “Summer Games” forces us to ask the question whether it will ever be acceptable to name drop things like social media in songs, because at the moment the answer is a resounding no.

Hearing Drake sing about being followed and unfollowed is downright cringeworthy. It doesn’t help that the song is a watered down rehash of “Passionfruit”, which itself was an attempt at another “Hotline Bling”. Which is understandable, considering that song was Drake’s last real lasting mark on mainstream music.

There’s also the matter of his tendency to wander away from melody like a child straying from the path. This isn’t a new phenomenon; he was employing this flow-of-consciousness style all the way back on his 2010 debut. You’d think by now he would have learned though, that when he focuses and sets out a concrete framework it turns out a lot better (see: “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, “Hotline Bling”).

It’s particularly evident on “Don’t Matter to Me”, which kind of wastes a Michael Jackson sample on a song that ultimately goes nowhere (literally- both it and “Summer Games” fall victim to the no-last-chorus trend which gives us a minute of pointless instrumentation tacked on to the end of each track). Although it is funny that he basically wrote a Weeknd song, then one-upped his smooth voiced peer by using the one voice that could best him: his idol MJ.

Just as with Amy Shark’s lyrics, Drake’s gimmicks draw attention to the overall weakness of his new material, especially this:

Pulling some strings at Apple, he made the official review of his album (which aren’t ever really reviews, just free PR) a TOTALLY LEGIT diss comment. None of the tracks have popularity ratings either, making it seem like nobody’s bought them.

It’s simultaneously clever and kind of obnoxious, seeing how his new material was relentlessly promoted over the past few months. Gimmicks can only take you so far though, Drake. Let’s get another big hit out here to merit them.


* Twenty-One Pilots are back, sort of? A two-track release popped up on iTunes recently with little explanation. “Jumpsuit” and “Nico & the Niners” are acceptable, but both had the potential to be great with a few tiny tweaks. “Jumpsuit”‘s heavy bass has been sanded down and covered in some sort of balm, and the lack of any grit hugely takes away from the song’s dynamics. The bridge is also way, way too long and is just barely redeemed by some visceral screams on the song’s coda.

“Nico” is much more mellow dynamically, but swaps the pallet of its verses and choruses to poor effect. Instead of the verses being sparse and the choruses full, it’s reversed and even at its down tempo pace the flow is off-kilter. There is one final chorus towards the end where a full, lush arrangement comes into play but for some bizarre reason the duo decide to make the vocals distorted and robotic, sabotaging themselves every step of the way.


* One final note- 2018 is over halfway done and we still haven’t gotten ONE big catchy pop hit yet. Forget a “song of the summer” – we haven’t had one of those since “Blurred Lines” – we haven’t gotten anything all year.

We’ve gotten plenty of fabricated tabloid fodder from Drake, Beyonce and Jay-Z, and Ariana Grande, but nothing in terms of…..actual hits. Childish Gambino‘s “This is America” was the closest anyone got to something universally recognized, but even that was more because of the video than anything else.

Have we fully entered a post-hit world now? Has streaming fractured pop music so irreparably that there will no longer be household name songs? Or is this year just taking forever to start up?