Justin Timberlake, “Take Back the Night”
As the child of a seventies second-wave feminist activist mother, I will forever associate the phrase “take back the night” with protest rallies and patchouli-scented air, and no amount of suave disco-daddy posturing from Justin Timberlake can change my feelings on the matter. Title aside, the first single from the second installment of The 20/20 Experience sounds like the weaker stuff on Vol.1. The groove is serviceable: People will dance. But this is a charmless and complacent piece of retro-fetishism; it makes the year 1979 sound boring, and that makes me want to organize a protest rally. It’s a bigger Off the Wall bite than “Rock Your Body,” without the hooks. All in all, “Take Back the Night” is no better than the sort of neo-soul a decent wedding band can cook up — and that wedding band would have the good sense to wrap things up in a clean three and a half minutes, moving on to “Shout!” or “Celebration.” JT keeps going for 5:31. And the horns say: zzzzzzzzzz.
Of Montreal, “fugitive air”
Polymorphously perverse Of Montreal auteur Kevin Barnes, one of indiedom’s Most Talented and Most Willful, has followed his muse back in time — to that L.A. pool party where Don Draper took a couple of hits of the hookah and wound up face down in a swimming pool. The forthcoming Of Montreal album is an exercise in High-1968-style psychedelia, and with a title like Lousy With Sylvianbriar, it had better be. (Cf. the acid flashback album cover art.) The first single sounds great: catchy and groovy, with guitars that chime and ring and slash. The words are Barnesian, which is to say they’re verbose and wacked-out and full of it, and also smarter than they appear at first glance. Sample lyric, unless I’m mis-transcribing: “It makes me feel like a real man / To hold hegemony over my business / And I refuse to be abused / By the milieu of wistful decay.” More hookah?
Kevin Gates, “4:30 AM”
On The Luca Brasi Story, one of the year’s best hip-hop albums, Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates went noir, swamping his bleak drug trade stories in bleaker atmospherics. On “4:30 AM,” from the forthcoming Stranger Than Fiction, the mood is desolate indeed: “Where were you when I was slumped over / Gums hurting from an old bullet / In front of the toilet hunched over?” There’s lots of free-floating angst in rap these days, but Gates has storytelling prowess to give his blues some bite. His trump card is his voice, a bullfrog croak — a transfixing sound that makes even his lesser lyrics count.
Draco Rosa, “Mas y Mas (Versión Oculta)”
Draco Rosa, the Puerto Rican–American singer, has been milking the song “Mas y Mas” for nearly a decade now. He first released it as a single in 2004; he rerecorded the song again this year, as a duet with Ricky Martin, his bandmate, back in the eighties, in the great and ghastly Latino teenybopper group Menudo. You can understand Rosa’s attachment to “Mas y Mas”: It’s an excellent song, sturdy enough to stand up to whatever he throws at it. My favorite is the new “Versión Oculta,” a sulphurous ballad rendition. The video goes a bit overboard with the whole Bohemian Cabaret Demimonde vibe — but the tune, and that bass line, are irrefutable.