If anyone needs a catchy song to sing, I recommend TheDream’s “Pussy,” where he’s all “Got my left hand on that booty, got my right hand on that pussy,” although if he ever released it as a single I hope it wouldn’t have to get censored to something like “Got my left hand on that butty, got my left hand on that putty.” I’ve been checking out many songs reputed to be catchy, from hip-hop to yet more R&B. None of them beat “Pussy,” though. (I’ve also been obsessively humming OneRepublic’s “Preacher,” but that’s kind of embarrassing, so just listen to “Pussy” and call it a day.)

J Cole: Born Sinner


Roc Nation/Columbia, 2013 [BUY]

J Cole has made an ambitious, serious statement with this album, and like most such statements it says less about class or race or the hip-hop condition than it does about J Cole. He’s markedly less confident than his sponsor Jay-Z: his spirited cadence musicalizes thoughtful, earnest intelligence, and his soul-searching humanizes extreme anxiety.

Cole’s vocal and rhythmic dexterity proves striking, especially when he speeds up the rhymes into rapid-fire verbal percussion. His hauntingly subdued, echoey synth loops stay striking and unified throughout, providing a strong sonic backup. Many of these layered compositions turn into instant hooks when you’re not looking, like the stark horn blasts on “Let Nas Down” or the chiming flute tinkle on “Power Trip.” But his mood and general affect exist in the tortured mode popularized by Drake, and the beats are still so quiet they’d be  hollow without his declamatory delivery. He’s just too solemn, too grim, too moralizing to let the intrinsic pleasure in his music be.

One day he’ll learn to relax, or more likely get wiser and more mature, and he’s almost there. As of now, his introspection is unearned, the kind of digressive indulgence more accomplished artists can get away with once they’ve already converted you with more accessible material.

The-Dream: IV Play


Def Jam, 2013 [BUY]

From comparing himself to Michael Jackson to  referencing R. Kelly’s 12 Play, Terius Nash clearly considers himself a dignified specimen of the great black pop tradition. I love his albums for how delightfully crass they are. Even his sentimental ballads are so transparently silly you can’t help but go along with the affected emotion, and maybe even start to take it seriously.

This album isn’t as expansive and rewarding as Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, or as shiny and impeccable as Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream, or as sublime as his own Love King. But Timberlake could never get away with “I could give a fuck about the foreplay, I want it now,” or “This is not a love song, I need to fuck you,” or, God knows, a chorus like “Got my left hand on that booty, got my right hand on that pussy.” No loving relationships here, nothing complicated like that, almost literally nothing beyond quite detailed descriptions of what he likes in bed. Simultaneously straightforward and richly velvety, Nash’s complacently relaxed backbeat, his creamy, synthy hooks, the way he slathers his voice in Auto-Tune, and his gloriously filthy lyrics achieve an amazingly driven hedonism. Whether gasping in his filmy falsetto or drawling through his drippy vocoder, he sounds like he’s right in the middle of having sex while singing.

Part of this music’s perverse appeal is how impossible it is to rationalize, which is why publications from Allmusic to the Guardian have officially condemned it. But Nash’s buttery pop fulfills very real human urges, the kind people have had trouble rationalizing for longer than there have been music publications. It would take a serious level of repression to deny him.

Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines


StarTrak/Interscope, 2013 [BUY]

Having made a ton of money with the enticing title single, love-man Robin Thicke releases a full album’s worth of genial filler. Indeed, the album does add an enjoyable Kendrick Lamar cameo, and considerably fleshes out his playboy persona. A platinum album will make him more respectable in the eyes of Grammy judges than a platinum single, at any rate.

Lead track “Blurred Lines” is indeed a lot of fun. It’s goofy and edgy and mock-cheerful, everything you want in a Top 40 hit; its happy basslines and whooping cries are instantly danceable. You know the single has done its job now that concerned parents (not to mention worried young women) are raging over Thicke’s carefree endorsement of casual hookups. After “Blurred Lines,” though, he proceeds into banal, airy, standard-issue white funk, reliant on synthesized simulations of guitar, horns, and backup singers. It’s skillfully manufactured, but manufactured it is, a filtered formalization/domestication of modern R&B’s baser urges.

Not just Caucasian but Canadian, not just bland but slick, Thicke is also cute and seductive, the kind of guy who wears a suit & tie to clubs. But in a dick-measuring contest he couldn’t hold a candle to Justin Timberlake — he’s basically Timberlake for people who are tired of Timberlake. And I’m just not.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes


Community/Vagrant, 2013 [BUY]

Alex Ebert and his ragtag indie-folk outfit’s musical goal seems to be the expression of the purest, most naturally childish emotions known to humankind. This they reach through acting really cute and gullible. They sing big songs for grownups, too.

The idea behind this band is that they’re modern hippies, humane and affirmative, and to be sure their idealism provides a striking contrast to the bitter alternarock scene. But Ebert is less inexperienced than disingenuous, his preferred mood less willed optimism than willed naiveté, his poetasting as stale as, um, “war is the evil of man’s repressed libido.” His plucky, colorful band, whose instrumental repertoire ranges from Wurlitzers to Flügelhörnchens, aims for juvenile psychedelia and ends up with the kind of ornately decadent art-rock that peaked in the mid-70’s. His contrived Anglo accent calmly tinkles along.

Innocence can be magical, but sometimes it curdles when you force it. Here, there’s little evidence it was there in the first place.

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Lucas Fagen

Lucas Fagen's favorite artform is popular music, and that means popular music—bland corporate trash and faceless functional product in addition to critically respectable touchstones and obscure...

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