Review: Dido - Still on My Mind

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The UK goddess of lite pop still sounds serene, unbothered, and preternaturally confident.

Six years after her last album, Girl Who Got Away, and 20 years after her ubiquitous debut, No AngelDido’s version of pop is still most distinguishable for what it lacks: drama. The London singer may be one of the UK’s best-selling artists of all time, with her keening pop mantras “Thank You” and “White Flag” still reliable soundtracks in Tescos the nation over, but her even-keel approach feels removed from the volatile acrobatics and catharsis of AdeleAmy WinehouseEllie Goulding, and her other peers of the past two decades. Her songs still feel like the exhalation after all the action happens; in Dido songs, the tumult has been resolved by the time she records. Her breakup ballads simmer with loss and melancholy, but no regret or indecision; sweeping love anthems have no runway left for the chase, only snug contentment and bright promises to live up to another’s faith. What her music lacks in heat, it makes up for in reliable serenity—the sense that she’s already done her emotional heavy-lifting offstage, and the song she offers is the coda, not the conduit.

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Review: Tropical House Cruises To Jamaica - Compilation

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We wrap musical genres around us as personal identifiers, like the plastic bracelets folded around newborns’ wrists. Their grooves become as familiar to us as our own heartbeat. So, to some steeped in the revolutionary associations of Jamaican music, hearing the one drop riddim blast out of regular old pop radio on a song like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” meant betrayal; dancehall had been hijacked and given a bizarre transplant in order to sound like some new entity called “tropical house.”

Hence the shock of seeing the bespectacled singer-songwriter beaming amidst the inner circle of today’s Caribbean musicians—Damian and Stephen Marley, Wyclef JeanChronixxLee “Scratch” PerrySizzla, and more—on the cover of the 2017 anthology Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica. A conceptual compilation, it set out to remind listeners of the original identity of tropical house by pulling together the style’s forebears alongside those they had influenced, like Sheeran.

Whether despite or because of the pop star’s contributions, the disc became surprisingly successful, especially considering it was the first release on a new indie label, Contractor/Amada Records. The buzz led to its founder, a Jamaican marketer, producer, and entrepreneur named Sean “Contractor” Edwards, releasing a thematic companion piece, Hip Hop Cruises to Jamaica. Try hearing the two compilations together with another recent anthology, Step Forward Youth, on the venerable reggae label VP, which unites tracks that inspired the scrappy mid-1970s alliance between British punks and Rastas. These three collections clinch the significance of one Caribbean island in altering the evolution of pop. They also function as a focus for debate: Who gets to reap the rewards when creativity spreads and mutates? Do cultural leaps forward come down to individual Great Originators, or can they “belong” to the communities they have built, as well as to their place of origin? And, above all, who should—and does—get paid when an underground sound rages around the world?

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Review: XXXTentacion - Skins

Underneath it all, the posthumous album from the Florida rapper is woefully aimless and structurally unsound.

At the center of the Jahseh Onfroy story is his domestic violence case, which was never tried but, after his death, is now closed. Before he was shot and killed in an attempted robbery earlier this year, the 20-year-old rapper known as XXXTentacion was accused of physically and mentally abusing his then-girlfriend, terrorizing her, and holding her against her will. He faced charges that included aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. According to arrest reports, the victim was punched to the point where her eyes were forced shut.

The charges raised against X didn’t prevent him from becoming one of rap’s most popular new stars, and his death only complicates the conversations surrounding the music of an incredibly polarizing figure. In the aftermath, questions are raised about its lasting impact and how his murder at the age of 20 might change the way he is remembered. Will his art be treated as sacrosanct? In an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Onfroy’s mother started a nonprofit called the XXXTentacion Foundation to provide “relief [for] the poor, distressed and of the underprivileged.” It’s difficult to square this sensationalized, supposedly kind-hearted version of Onfroy with the one recorded admitting to stabbing eight people, the one who allegedly had a woman “scared for her life,” the one who noted, “I will kill that bitch if she play with me.”

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Review: Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra - The Capitol Studio Sessions

Jeff Goldblum’s debut album, a live-in-the-studio ersatz nightclub affair, is a sincere, classy, and competent homage to the golden age of vocal jazz.

Jeff Goldblum has located fame’s sweet spot. The man veers happily between being a star in lucrative Hollywood franchises and a sort of sentient, benevolent meme. Every sensible person should aspire to this precise degree of celebrity: Goldblum is rich enough not to have to worry about money again, yet he can still wander into a Trader Joe’s without a security detail. He is curiously beloved, but not so beloved that he’s at risk of sustaining paparazzi-induced injury. When Goldblum, with his bespectacled good looks, is summoned to BuzzFeed’s video studio to recite tweets from strangers calling him “daddy,” he seems to genuinely enjoy it. That is the dream, isn’t it?

Goldblum also enjoys an offscreen hobby as an accomplished jazz pianist. He has honed this skill since his childhood, long before films like The Big Chill and The Fly made him a regular in America’s VCRs. The Goldblum Fame Quotient seems ideal for indulging a musical side hustle: He can easily land a deal with Decca Records, yet he won’t be suffocated by public scrutiny. For years, the actor and his ensemble, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, have been bringing big-band-era jazz standards to clubs in New York and Los Angeles. The Capitol Studios Sessions is billed as his debut album, but it feels more like a variety-show special, with Goldblum feeding off the energy of a studio audience and exchanging flirty banter with guest vocalists like Haley Reinhart. In truth, it’s both: The album was recorded at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, which Goldblum converted into an ad hoc jazz club, with a boozed-up crowd of fans who do not address him as “daddy.” So we get the freewheeling spirit of a live album and the pristine mix of a proper studio LP.

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Review: Scott Walker & Sia - Vox Lux OST

If a soundtrack to a troubled movie that features half Sia songs and half Scott Walker compositions sounds at the very least interesting, rest assured, it is not.

“That’s what I love about pop music. I don’t want people to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” That sentiment is uttered early on in Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux by the film’s protagonist, Celeste, a school-shooting survivor whose moment in the national spotlight turns into a decades-long ascent to pop stardom. It’s an old cliché about pop’s role in society that demands some ideological sharpening, but Corbet’s second feature doesn’t possess half the amount of focus required to develop the well-worn idea into something more insightful and holistic.

As young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives an unbelievable tragedy that’s become all-too-believable while her older self (Natalie Portman) is trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and trauma, Vox Luxattempts to tilt at a few thematic windmills—the American culture of violence, how said culture intersects with pop iconography, the pressure we place on public figures to behave in a way that reflects our own assumed system of belief—without fully committing to any one beat. As a meditation about the daily horror of mass shootings in America and the accidental stardom that can accompany becoming the face of tragedy, it’s purely anachronistic; the assertion that Celeste’s elegiac post-shooting song “Wrapped Up” could go viral in the early 2000s anticipates the normalcy of regular violence and instant fame in a way that betrays the pre-viral time period. As target practice for the target-rich machinations of pop music itself, Vox Luxfeels as forced as Portman’s Staten Island accent.

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