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Pop CultureJanuary 16, 2017

Best Songs Ever: New singles reviewed, featuring The Chainsmokers, PNC, The-Dream & More


‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.

SONG OF THE WEEK? ????/????

The Chainsmokers – ‘Paris’

???? On first listen, The Chainsmokers’ latest, ‘Paris’, is pretty bad. But listen to it a second, third, fourth time, and you might not stop. It’s the synth-heavy pop-drop they dominated 2016 with mashed into a 2007 emo soft-rock song, and it’s kind of brilliant. Even Drew Taggart’s flat vocals – the ones that got him dragged after the VMAs – only feed further into the rosy nostalgia the song is hazed with. Lyrically, it seems they’ve learned from the mistakes on ‘Closer’ while still holding onto what did land with people – the romanticising of what would otherwise be a pretty beige moment in time. It’s this cringey nature of their songs, combined with their reputation, that creates a degree of separation between dudebro and listener, and has ‘Paris’ feeling nothing short of indulgent. And if you still hate the song, at least they gave the ‘originality’ thing a crack, something few others on the Top 40 EDM scene could claim right now. – Kate Robertson

???? Having followed up their unjustifiably massive ‘Closer’ with a song that sounded literally exactly the same as their unjustifiably massive ‘Closer’, new single ‘Paris’ finds fuckwitted sentient haircuts The Chainsmokers navigating sounds and moods remarkably similar to those of their breakthrough, the unjustifiably massive ‘Closer’. Fittingly for a duo whose vocal and production styles sound like a Google Home assistant came to life and watched two-thirds of a YouTube Abelton tutorial, it’s a tooth- and soul-less experiment in dully bright guitars and wet-cardboard kicks; three emotionally lobotomised minutes with a narrative informed less by any feasible IRL situation than by a vague understanding of how to use a rhyming dictionary, only this time there’s a horn drop for some reason.

In an illustrative Billboard interview last year, Chainsmoker Drew Taggart (AKA Catalogue Model Dave Franco) claimed that “Only Justin Bieber and Drake” could match the duo’s hit-making prowess. Having now released three consecutive singles that could each be described as ‘if Nickelback’s ‘Photograph’ was a bad EDM song’ it’s questionable at this point whether that confidence was justified; say what you like about Chad Kroeger’s meisterwerk, but at least he only wrote it once. – Matthew McAuley

The Chainsmokers: Abrasive man-children, fratboy assholes, makers of the best song of the year, or all of the above? Elle Hunt, Joseph Moore and Ciaran O’Regan argue it out here.


PNC feat Savage and Spycc & INF – ‘Camouflage (Remix)’

You can forget Savage once was a rapper. His career has evolved, firstly into embracing the cartoonish elements of voice on ‘Swing’, and latterly to the edge of self-parody on ‘Where the Freaks At’. His verse to open this remix of ‘Camouflage’, from PNC’s very good 2016 Luke Vailima EP, consciously returns to his origin story, to that incredible moment in our rap history when “Decepticonz was formed in Mareko’s double garage”. He sounds like a horror movie and it’s very welcome to hear him back to those depths again. The rest of the song features SWIDT and PNC showing why they represent something like the creative peaks of two generations, at once playful and dripping with menace over a beat from Matt Miller and State of Mind’s Patrick Hawkins which builds and builds and builds. This snuck out at the end of 2016, the worst year in New Zealand music this century both creatively and commercially, and provided a reminder of what this country is capable of when all involved are lean and hungry. – Duncan Greive

Sam Hunt – ‘Drinkin’ Too Much’

It’s fitting that country-hip-hop bro Sam Hunt dropped ‘Drinking Too Much’ late on the 31st of December, as this bizarrely specific and personal mess probably was probably intended to be slurred into the answerphone of an ex rather than available for actual people to listen to on Spotify. Starting off with some incomprehensible garbling that, to its credit, is the first time a country singer has tried to sound like Future, Hunt quickly reverts to his trademark sing-talking over a reverby trap-beat (with country guitars too obviously) – apologising profusely to a woman, who he names in full (Hannah Lee), for writing all his earlier good songs about her. Unfortunately, this lacks any of the charm or relatable storytelling of his earlier good songs, but it might strike a chord if you are one Hannah Lee. In the chorus he reminds us that he is very drunk. The B-side is an acoustic version where he sounds drunker. – Joseph Moore

Kehlani – ‘Undercover’

Lowkey and on the downlow, the latest single from Oakland R&B artist Kehlani’s upcoming SweetSexySavage (check the cover – TLC x Chance the Rapper!) is a paean to quiet resilience and small time sensuality. Interpolating Akon’s 2007 hit ‘Don’t Matter’ (itself interpolating Bob Marley’s ‘Zimbabwe’), ‘Undercover’ is rich in songwriting details seemingly unselfconscious and direct, but are the result of sweating the craft: “I’ma save your name under somethin’ else / I’ma keep your things deep in myself / I’ma tweet our inside jokes to the outside world.” – Stevie Kaye

Nadia Reid – ‘Richard’

Nadia Reid continues the run-up to her second album Preservation with another confident, assured, full-bodied folk rock song. Her voice remains the centerpiece, with layers of guitars twinkling, plucking and shivering and drums steadily banging throughout. Poor old Richard though. I’m not sure what happened to him but it sounds bad. Arrogance, love, blood, teeth, revenge maybe. I can’t figure it out, but maybe he deserved it. Shit, this album’s gonna be super good. – Henry Oliver

The-Dream – ‘Rih-flex’

10 years ago The-Dream was the coming thing. His year was bookended by the release of ‘Umbrella’, the single which made Rihanna into Rihanna, and his debut album Love Hate, the first perfect album in his perfect ‘Love’ trilogy’. Ten years on the sinewy, exposed, emotional R&B he played is the bedrock of current sound but he is a broken shell of a human, besieged by the public’s continuing indifference to his genius. This desolation feels like the backdrop to ‘Rih-flex’, a brutal, broken love song brimming with self-loathing. “Savages, vultures and savages” he rasps, over ringing piano and echo-laden drums on a song which positions his frequent collaborator Rihanna as the archetypal unattainable woman, one whose orbit you enter briefly before being spun out, never to recover your gravity. It’s one of the most brutal, affecting singles of recent times, but, as befits The-Dream’s narrative, ‘Rih-flex’ already seems fated to find a small, devoted audience but stay a long way from being anything resembling the true solo hit he still desperately wants but is now unlikely to ever attain. – DG

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