Beyond The Meme: A Defense of the Tenta Brella

They say to go big or go home, and we’ve already been home for a year, so…

I’ve played a lot of Splatoon 2 over the last few years, and if I’m known for anything in this game, it’s my bizarre brella shenanigans, mostly involving the Undercover Brella family. However, there’s a supersized version of this weapon class, and in my ongoing quest to become at least semi-competent with every weapon the game has to offer, I’ve been forced to confront my many nemeses: Sloshers, brushes, nozzlenoses, scoped chargers, and the Tenta Brella, a cross between Reinhardt’s shield, Symmetra’s photon barrier, and Joe Biden’s shotgun.

What I’ve discovered during this journey is that you can get at least some utility out of just out any weapons (provided you can find a controller that isn’t drifting; forget about using chargers otherwise). While this has only earned most of the weapons in my doghouse my begrudging respect (okay okay, I suppose the Kensa Sloshing Machine can slay out and the E-liter can zap people from across the map), I actually enjoyed my time with the Tenta Brella, even if I needed a bunch of ice and ibuprofen for my aching trigger finger after every session. The weapon still remains a bit of a meme within the community (it’s comically big, comically slow, and really hard to play well), time, practice, and a steady stream of buffs have convinced people to take a chance with the big brella, and even made it a viable weapon choice in competitive play.

Still…it’s a giant freaking tent on a stick. Can we really take it seriously? I believe the answer is yes, and it starts with the right approach.

The Details

There are three different Tenta Brellas kits available, but all share the following characteristics:

  • A seven-pellet scattershot launch that has decent range and painting ability, but fires with such a wide spray that it’s really hard to confirm kills unless they’re at point-blank range or you have exceptional accuracy. A one-hit kill is possible, but a two-hit KO is more likely, and three or four shots might be needed if you can’t square up your opponent.
  • A massive shield that has lots of health (700 HP, 200 more than the regular Splat Brella) and takes up a lot of space, and inks a nice wide path forward when it detaches from the weapon.
  • A glacially-slow fire rate (35 frames, compared with 16 for other Brella types) and the ink efficiency of a early-2000s Hummer (11% of your ink tank per shot!),
  • As a heavyweight weapon, it reduces your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%.

As we can see, unlike the N-Zap (which does everything moderately well), the Tenta Brella has a lot of peaks and valleys in its attributes, which means we can’t just toss it into any situation and expect it to perform well. Thus, getting the most out of this weapon boils down to three things: preparation, positioning, and playstyle.

STOP! …Hammer time. (Image from Squid Research Lab Tumblr)

The Flavors

The Tenta Brellas comes with three different kits:

  • Tenta Brella (Squid Beakon/Bubble Blower): The original, and probably the most balanced of the three kits. Bubble Blower gives you a solid option for initiating a push into an area (think a rush to the basket in Clam Blitz or a zone retake in Splat Zones), and the weapon actually does a decent job of popping the bubbles by itself. The most effective way to deploy your special is through the use of what Etce calls “The Tech”: Deploying your brella shield and then unleashing your bubbles from behind it, forcing the enemy to work around both to hold the area and take your down. The beacons help you hold an area once you get it by cutting down the travel time from spawn, a useful trick when you’re dealing with reduced movement speed.
  • Tenta Sorella Brella (Splash Wall/Curling Bomb Rush): I’m really not sure what the point of the Splash Wall is on this weapon. Why toss out something that’s going to eat 60% of your ink tank when you’re already going to have trouble managing your ink supply, especially when you’ve got a mobile wall attached to your main weapon? There’s probably a use for it, but I haven’t found it yet. I have found a use for the curling bombs, however, and they represent another effective method for pushing into an area and forcing opponents to keep their distance.
  • Tenta Camo Brella: This is the most offensive-minded of the three kits, and quite possibly the best of them if you know what you’re doing (which I definitely don’t—my hammer game is a bit too stiff to be effective). Ink mines provide a way to help hold ground and track opponents intent on invading your space, and the Ultra Stamp lets you go on a short-range rampage while also providing a long-range threat to weapons that outrange you (it’s all fun and games until you toss your stamp like an Olympian and fry a charger from a mile away).

In terms of the best modes for the weapons: I would say the Tenta Camo Brella is a good option for Rainmaker, where you can open up lanes for the Rainmaker with either your shield or your stamp, and track you opponent’s movements with Ink Mines. In contrast, the vanilla Tenta Brella is a solid Clam Blitz play, using your beakons to help with mobility and your bubbles to advance to the basket. Both the camo and vanilla versions are good choices for Splat Zones, with bubbles, mines, and beakons to get you to the zone and help you keep it.

Tower Control is a tougher sell for the Tenta Brella, since you don’t want to release your shield and leave yourself exposed while tower riding (maybe that’s where the Splash Wall could be useful?), but it might be useful for redirecting foes through sub-optimal routes with your shields and specials. Turf War can be tricky as well, since you’re encouraged to explore the map and your limited mobility will hurt your painting effectiveness.

In truth, the mode you run the Tenta Brella on probably matters less than the map: If you’ve got a map with a lot of tight spaces and long corridors (Camp Triggerfish, Port Mackerel, Moray Towers), you’ll have the advantage; if you’ve got a wide-open map with lots of ways around you (New Albacore Hotel, Snapper Canal, Shellendorf Institute), you may want to think twice.

The Gear

Choosing the right gear to mitigate the weaknesses of your weapon is key, and you’ve got plenty of holes to fill:

  • Ink Saver Main: This is incredibly important on a Tenta Brella—we’re not quite at a “Run Speed Up on a splatling” level, but we’re close. Without any ISM, that 11% per shot adds up quickly, and you’re limited to just 9 shots before your tank runs out. Using 2 mains of ISM brings your ink consumption back on par with that of a regular Splat Brella, and took 13 shots to empty the tank when I tested it (adding another two ISM sub abilities upped the shot count to 14). Ink is at a premium with this weapon, so saving as much as you can is critical.
  • Ink Recovery Up: This can be useful too, as having none means it takes a looooong time to recover enough ink to fire a single shot when your tank is empty. I think ISM is probably more important, but a few subs (or even a main) of ink recovery wouldn’t hurt.
  • Ink Save Sub: None of these weapons have spammable sub weapons (in fact, you’ll likely never use the Splash Wall at all), so ISS isn’t all that helpful.
  • Run Speed Up/Swim Speed Up: To bring a heavyweight weapon back on par with “normal” weapons like a Splattershot, you’ll need roughly two subs of Run Speed Up and 1 main ability of Swim Speed Up. However, while this will help you get around, I wouldn’t say that either are a necessity. Instead, for lack of a better term, what I found more important when using the weapons was “pocket mobility,” or the ability to maneuver around quickly in a tight space, such as around your brella shield as it’s moving forward. Thus (at least in Turf War), I found a more important ability to be…
  • Ink Resistance: Normally I subscribe to ThatSrb2Dude’s “5 subs” theory (or at least three of those subs), and only run one sub of ink resistance on my weapons. With the Tenta Brella, however, I found myself getting bogged down a lot in enemy ink, especially when trying to reclaim an area by myself. By adding the Bucket Hat shown above, I was able to regain my vertical mobility (i.e., the ability to jump normally and quickly while moving through enemy ink), which helped me hop around to cover turf and avoid enemy shots (especially when the shield has been launched or is in those pre-launch frames after a shot).
  • Special Charge Up/Special Saver: At 200 points, Bubble Blower and Ultra Stamp can take a while to charge, so it’s worth considering a sub or two of Special Charge Up to speed up that process. If you find that you’re dying a lot, Special Saver can help you keep some of the hard work you’ve done charging that special.
  • Sub Power Up: This is specific to the vanilla Tenta Brella, because it can make your beakons much faster for your teammates. Just one sub will speed up the jump by nearly 12%, so on maps that are a mile from their respective Splat Zones, this can be a clutch add for your team (assuming they actually use the beakons, of course).
  • Special Power Up: In theory this increases the stamp/bomb rush duration and makes your bubbles larger/more deadly, but the improvements are pretty minimal (1 main gets you 12% bigger bubbles and about 6 tenths of a second more bomb/hammer time), so it’s probably not worth it given all the other bases you need to cover.
  • Object Shredder: This is a common option for bubble blower weapons, but unlike the Heavy Splatling Deco or Custom E-Liter 4K, I don’t find Object Shredder to be that useful on the vanilla Tenta Brella. By itself, the weapon will usually pop its own bubbles with two shots, and Object Shredder only occasionally cuts that number down to one. With so many other things to worry about, I’d skip this one.
  • Main Power Up: I mean, every other weapon uses it, so why not this one? MPU adds extra HP to your brella shield (one main gives it nearly 90 extra HP), so this one may require some research on your part: If you think your Brella shield is going down too quickly, trying adding an MPU sub or two and see what happens.

In summary, I’d say prioritize ink efficiency and mobility, add a few single subs that are always useful (Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX), and tune the rest of your slots around your weapons and your game.

The Playstyle

Unless you’re a umbrella savant on the level of Kayotaso or Gene Kelly, you’re not going to be doing a lot of slaying with this weapon. Tenta Brella are meant to support their teammates in any way possible using the totality of their kit. Playing this weapon like it’s the Tetra Dualies will likely put you in a bad situation where you’ll be too slow to react to your opponent’s actions, so it’s best to be measured and deliberate with your playstyle.

When it comes to using a Tenta Brella, there are two key rules of thumb to follow:

  • Be hyper-aware of your positioning. Brellas are only protected from one side, so you need to watch your backside as your taking a position (especially in solo queue matches, because no one else is going to do it for you). Long, tight corridors are your friend, as they limit how your opponents can approach you (and the obvious route is blocked by a giant tent), but in a more open area you should always be looking for cover to work around (a bumper, a corner, or some other obstacle).
  • Channel your inner pushy Bro-Country singer and always make the first move. With a weapon this slow, you don’t want to be the one reacting to your opponent’s decisions. Instead, you need to dictate the parameters of the engagement by being proactive, forcing your adversary to make decisions on your terms. If you take the first shot, by the time the opponent makes their countermove you’ll already have your shield up and ready for it, and when said shield inevitably launches forward, you can prep for the retaliatory advance because there are only so many ways around your tent. If you’re dealing with a charger or splatling, fire your first shot into cover and wait for the brella to deploy before stepping out into the open, forcing them to figure out a way around or through the tent to get you.

Getting a feel for the timing of the Tenta Brella is essential. It takes .75 seconds to open after a shot and 5.67 to regenerate after it launches, and with your slow fire rate you’re very vulnerable if it’s not around. Make sure you take these times into account when you initiate an encounter, so you don’t jump immediately into the fray and die before your brella has a chance to protect you. (Keep in mind, however, that network latency can throw this timing off, and sometimes leads to you getting shot through your shield.) If you’re stuck in a bad, brella-less spot and can’t retreat, make use of that “pocket mobility” and break your opponents’ ankles with dodges and jumps until your shield comes back.

While other Brellas are best with the shield attached (otherwise a Splat Brella turns into the world’s slowest curling bomb), you should expect to launch your shield at every opportunity, and base your approach to a situation around this. Since your barrier is only a barrier to your opponent, when they inevitably go around your shield you can simply swim underneath it, keeping a wall between you two as necessary. You can also play mind games with a shield: Just because it’s launched in a certain direction doesn’t mean you have to follow it—if you’ve got enough ink around you, you can take another route to flank and try to catch your opponent napping, or you can simply disengage and retreat to safer ground.

Keeping tabs on your teammates is extremely important as well, because let’s be honest: Everyone could use a a giant piece of camping equipment in front of them as they make a move. The big brella makes you the ultimate wingman, and if you see a teammate trying to do something and think you can help, get in there and lend a hand! This is especially true if your teammate has left themselves exposed via a panicked inkjet launch or an ill-advised super jump—a well-timed shield deployment could mean the difference between life and death. You can’t save them all the time, but you can save them some of the time, and sometimes that’s enough to make a difference.

Of course, there’s one potential downside you have to be aware of…

About that…any enemy bombs that hit your shield will explode on contact, and if you or any of your teammates on the wrong side of the shield when it happens, you’re toast. As with most things in life, please brella responsibly. 😉

The Conclusion

The Tenta Brella has a lot going for it, and if you can find a way to mitigate the downsides, you can get some serious value from it in nearly any context. While I will always and forever be an Undercover Brella partisan, I’ve come to respect what the Tenta Brella has to offer as a weapon, enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how best to use it. If you wish to walk the same path, hopefully some of this can assist you on your journey.

Now if only a Tenta Brella could protect me from Travis Denning’s latest single…

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 5, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
2. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” 0 (5/10)
4. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
5. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
6. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
7. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
8. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
9. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
10. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
11. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
12. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
13. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
14. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
15. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
16. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
17. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
18. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
19. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
20. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
21. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
22. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
23. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
24. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
25. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
26. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
27. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
28. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
29. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
30. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
31. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
32. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
33. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
34. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
35. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
36. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
37. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
38. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
39. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
40. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
41. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
42. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
43. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
44. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
45. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
46. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
47. Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” 0 (5/10)
48. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
49. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
50. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +5
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +3
Overall Pulse +8
Change From Last Week
+1 🙂

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (recurrent)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (down from #2 to #3)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (holds at #7, but is still much weaker than its competition)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (up from #33 to #32, but gained only thirty-one spins and 114 poInts)
  • Kane Brown, “Worship You” (up from #34 to #33, but gained only twenty-six spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (up from #48 to #47, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (up from #32 to #31, but gained only twenty spins and eighty-five points)
  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (up from #37 to #36, but gained only thirty-three spins and forty-nine points)
  • Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (down from #39 to #40, gained only twelve spins and eighty-two points)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #51 to #50, but gained only twenty-two spins and eighty-seven points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (up from #47 to #43

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #25 to #20)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: This was an interesting week defined by two phenomena:

  • The deflation of Rhett & Brett Young’s recent chart-toppers released a bunch of spins back into the wild (Parmalee & Brown, not so much), and while the upper half of the chart certainly grabbed their share of the spoils (Owen got nearly 500 extra plays, Barrett got nearly 600), the spin division was a hair more equitable this time around, with nearly everyone on the chart reporting triple-digit point gains. Bryan will likely hit the airwaves like a tidal wave next week and put the breaks on this trend quickly, but with the summer approaching, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign of radio stations beginning to (ever-so-slightly) expand their playlists. Only time will tell.
  • The spin losses didn’t really translate in spot losses, however, which meant that the escalator ground to a halt this week, with Brothers Osborne’s recurrence accounting for most of the miniscule gains we saw. Rhett and Brett Young will likely disappear soon, but with Bryan looking for a big splash and Ballerini/Chesney also positioned for a decent debut, some songs might find themselves going backwards next week.

While some more tracks have popped up on the April radar (i.e. the Add Date box in Country Aircheck), I think Bryan and Ballerini/Chesney are the only ones primed for impact in the short term (Maddie & Tae & Brothers Osborne have struggled historically, Moon has to prove he can avoid a sophomore slump, Denning’s song hasn’t shown much airwave strength yet, etc.). It feels like a quieter transition than I expected, but with Florida Georgia Line and a bunch of mediocre tracks set to leave soon, there’s some potential for Pulse growth if the right songs start rising to the top.

Speaking of rising, the coronavirus continues to dominate the country, with new cases continuing to rise at a significant clip. The death count, however, has not yet followed suit (it’s at roughly 556,500 now), which means the future is a bit murky right now: Will the rapid pace of vaccinations and prioritization of vulnerable individuals keep the hospitalization and death counts from spiking, or is a full-blown fourth wave just around the corner? Personally, I’d rather break the wave before it hits, so let’s keep on combating the virus by doing the right things: Wearing our masks, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, and especially getting vaccinated (President Biden has declared that vaccines will be open to all by April 19th, which means my own eligibility date is finally coming up). While more people I talk to are being vaccinated, more people I talk to seem to be getting infected too, so we can’t afford to let off the gas right now. A return to normalcy is on the horizon, and we can all get there so long as we stick together and keep one another safe.

Song Review: Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown”

The best way to sing a hometown song is to not focus on the hometown.

Kelsea Ballerini found herself in a tough spot after “Homecoming Queen?” only reached #17 on Billboard’s Airplay Chart, “The Other Girl” failed to launch at all, and the release of kelsea was disrupted by a global pandemic. Luckily, she had an ace up her sleeve in the form of “Hole In The Bottle,” a song that seems to strike a chord with the country music community even as it had to settle for a Mediabase-only #1 (and there’s no shame in finishing second to Thanos), and helped get the re-release of her album ballerini off the ground and out into the world. Now, she’s back with fellow Knoxvillian Kenny Chesney to discuss their shared place of origin in “Half Of My Hometown,” and while I generally don’t like songs like this, I feel a bit more positive about this one because it focuses on the people more than the place, and generally seems more clear-eyed and honest about the mixed emotions the location makes her feel.

Speaking of mixed emotions, that’s what I feel when I listen to the production: It generates a suitably wistful atmosphere to support the subject matter, but it also blends it a bit too much with the rest of the radio and is begging for a bit more instrument diversity. Yes, there’s a mandolin that helps open the track and gets some extended airtime on the second verse, and there’s a token banjo that’s barely noticeable as it slow-rolls in the background, but the primary melody drivers are the usual suspects: An acoustic guitar and a drum machine for the verses, and some electric guitars and real drums that jump in for the chorus. It feels like a “necessary but not sufficient”sort of mix: It supports the writing by reflecting the qualified devotion to the area and giving the song a balanced and neutral feel, but it could have done so much more to make the song stand out—an extra instrument here, a different riff there, etc. (I’m also a bit conflicted about how well the electronic beat blends with the acoustic instruments; the pairing seems a bit awkward, even despite how restrained the beat is.) I suppose that what we get is okay overall and you can’t say it doesn’t do its job, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to me.

I would call Ballerini’s performance as quietly impressive, given the surprising degree of difficulty presented by the song’s tone. Its limited range and relaxed flow present no challenge, but the artist has to strike a careful balance with their delivery: The have to exhibit impartiality with their message without coming across as disinterested or bored. In this regard, Ballerini does a nice judge projecting feeling without judgement, painting a picture with their words and letting the audience draw their own conclusions. You get the sense that she appreciates her hometown and the people in it regardless of their feelings or behaviors, although I wasn’t convinced to reflect and be more appreciative of my own hometown as a result (it’s an evil place, don’t ever go there). I know Chesney also hails from Knoxville and is therefore a logical choice to help out with this song (even if it’s just for harmony vocals), but I honestly don’t think it was a good choice: His voice is distinct but doesn’t add a ton to the song, and he and Ballerini don’t sound good together at all (and given how little volume Chesney’s vocals get, the producers seem to agree). Despite that, however, I think the vocals are a net positive on balance, and reflect how far Ballerini has come from the pop-princess image Black River was pushing a few years ago.

Talking about someone’s hometown is old hat is country music (especially when an artist is trying to flex their credentials), but generally the songs devolve into checklist tracks featuring beer, mama, and old athletic achievements. Instead, this song takes a different approach by focusing more on the people the narrator grew up with, and how their behavior has diverged over time: Some stayed and reveled in their history, while others left to chase a better future. The song tries not to play favorites and deliver both sides of the argument, and does a nice job focusing on some aspects of leaving home that don’t get a lot of airtime (how opinions differ on the narrator leaving, the contrast between “miniskirts” and “dressed for church,” and so on). There are definitely some subpar moments here (the initial contrast between drinking and making out doesn’t really go anywhere, and the math doesn’t add up on the hook—”part of me will always be half of my hometown” feels like a awfully small percentage of hometown), but the descriptions are generally vivid and lively (the crowd singing the fight song at the end was particularly well done). I’m not a hometown homer, but I heard enough on this track to appreciate where the listener was coming from.

I wouldn’t call “Half Of My Hometown” a great song, but it’s a solid effort from Kelsea Ballerini that is radio-friendly enough to build on her momentum from “Hole In The Bottle.” While I think the track had a lot more potential in its sound and could have used another iteration or two on the lyrics, Ballerini does a nice job on the vocals (Kenny Chesney less so, but his role is effectively minimal anyway) and helps elevate the track above the soundalike songs I’ve been reviewing lately. It’s the kind of hometown ode that I can actually get behind, and given how stale the radio has felt lately, I’ll take any good news that I can I get.

Rating: 6/10. Give this a few spins to see what you think.

Song Review: Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”

I’m confused: Did anyone actually look at this song before they went and recorded it?

Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris married back in 2018, but nobody has ever confused them for a Nashville power couple. Sure, Morris has had some big hits like “The Middle” and “The Bones,” but her single releases are pretty inconsistent (her last one “To Hell And Back” only made it to #32 on Billboard’s airplay chart), and Hurd has only managed to be consistently mediocre (his #22 single “To A T” remains his best showing, and “Every Other Memory” barely cracked the top fifty). Now, the pair has teamed up for a new single “Chasing After You,” and it’s about as bad of a clash of ideas as I’ve seen in a long time: The singers and the producer clearly went into the studio thinking “sensual love ballad,” so why in the world are they recording a song about an on-again, off-again romance that will never work out? Instead of trotting out the cheesy clichés and doing their best Tim & Faith impression, Hurd and Morris leave the listener feeling mostly confused, wondering why the heck they chose to deliver such a song in such a way.

On its face, I don’t actually mind the production that much—I just find it to be an incredibly awkward fit for the song’s subject matter. There isn’t a whole lot to this arrangement: It’s a simple electric guitar backed by a deep, sparse drum machine and wrapped up in some spacious synthesizers (eventually a real drum set joins in on the first chorus). It’s lacks instrument diversity and the riffs are mind-numbingly simple, but the slower tempo and deeper guitar and drum tones actually do a decent job of creating a sensual atmosphere (this sounds far more sexy than most of the attempted country sex jams I’ve heard over the last few years). The problem is there really isn’t anything sexy about the song: Sure, the narrators engage in some implied “physical activity,” but the crux of the song is that the relationship never holds up and the pair eventually separates, and there’s nothing sexy or romantic about a Groundhog Day-like breakup loop. It’s almost as if the song is trying to convince the listener to ignore the writing and get lost in the sound, but the twist on the chorus is impossible to ignore, and it leaves the listener confused about what the song is trying to say. It feels like the producer and the writers are working as cross-purposes here, and it leaves the listener feeling very little at all in the end.

The mismatch between the sound and the subject matter puts Hurd and Morris in a tough spot, and while both decide to throw their weight behind the producer, it’s still not enough to paper over the song’s inherent conflict. Hurd is clearly the weaker of the two artists here: He’s a product of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line (stick anybody else behind the mic, and this song sounds the exact same), and his soundalike voice and limited charisma do little to convey the passion within the sound. Morris’s voice is both more distinct and more emotive, but her role is a bit more limited (she’s the one always stuck on harmony duty when the pair sings together), and she doesn’t bring a lot of power to the table on this track, causing her to be drowned out by the added instrumentation on the second verse. I think the pair has some decent vocal chemistry and could actually make a romantic power ballad work, but this isn’t that kind of song, and trying to turn it into that song takes a tool on both their believability and their ability to transmit their feelings to the audience. It’s not a great look for anyone involved, and unlike the narrators, the listener is more than ready to move on after hearing this track.

The writing here tells the sad story of a couple who just can’t seem to find the magic formula for love, but can’t seem to stop looking for it. I’ve never been a fan of these kinds of songs, because it paints the speakers in a negative light: If the relationship has crashed and burned so many times, why don’t you show some self-control, stop beating a dead horse, and move on? Much like the relationship, the story never progresses either: We get a drunken night together, a few TL;DR statements about how the relationship cycles, and some lines about how the narrators can’t stay apart because “it feels too good” (which implies that the attraction is purely physical and not based on any meaningful feelings). It would be different if the narrators were doing something—anything—to change the outcome each time, but we get no indication that they do anything but drink and make out. (Even the “guess I love chasing after you” hook feels born of resignation more than anything else.) The whole thing make the song feel incredibly pointless: The narrator’s aren’t happy with the on-again, off-again status quo, but they’re too comfortable with it to do something about it, and thus they’re trapped in an unappealing cycle that the audience would rather avoid altogether.

“Chasing After You” is a song that is unsure of its true purpose in life, and when it tries to be two separate things, it ends up being neither of them. The writing is an uninteresting tale of woe from two people who aren’t bothered enough to change the ending, the production is more suitable for a sex jam than a melancholy song like this one, and Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd fail to make chicken salad out of the chicken you-know-what they’re left with. It’s the sort of unengaging track that’s only suitable for background noise, and I’m not sure even Morris’s star power is enough to make this one leave a mark on the airwaves. I think the there’s enough chemistry shown off here that the couple should try this trick again, but only if they learn from the mistakes of the protagonists here and make the changes necessary (stronger material and a more-consistent approach from everyone involved) to do better next time.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t go chasing after this one.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: March 29, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
2. Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” 0 (5/10)
3. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
4. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
5. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
6. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
7. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
8. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
9. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
10. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
11. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
12. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
13. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
14. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
15. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
16. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
17. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
18. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
19. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
20. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
21. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
22. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
23. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
24. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
25. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
26. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
27. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
28. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
29. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
30. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
31. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
32. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
33. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
34. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
35. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
36. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
37. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
38. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
39. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
40. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
41. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
42. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
43. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
44. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
45. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
46. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
47. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
48. Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” 0 (5/10)
49. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
50. Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +5
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +2
Overall Pulse +7
Change From Last Week
0

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” (recurrent)
  • Cody Johnson & Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo” (recurrent)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #3 to #5)
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (down from #22 to #26)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (down from #6 to #7, lost spins and gained only 174 points, and just appears to be out of gas)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (up from #35 to #33, but gained only forty-one spins and forty-nine points)
  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (holds at #36, but loses its bullet)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (holds at #43, but gained only twenty-two spins and seventy-four points)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (down from #42 to #44, gained only twenty-four spins and twenty-three points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (down from #45 to #46, gained only nine spins and eighty points)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (down from #44 to #47, lost spins and gained only six points)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (down from #46 to #48, gained only twenty-four spins and seventy-seven points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” (down from #18 to #19, gained only twenty-four spins and thirty-five points)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (holds at #27, but lost spins and gained only thirty-six points)
  • Kane Brown, “Worship You” (holds at #34, but gained only six spins and twelve points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” (up from #53 to #42)
  • Lady A, “Like A Lady” (up from #48 to #41)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #28 to #25)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Travis Denning, “ABBY”

Overall Thoughts: This week is mostly a continuation of trends we’ve already pointed out: Little chart movement above #40 with lots of movement below it, massive gains for established artists (where the heck did Owen find 2000+ points lying around?) and minimal gains for everyone else, and a whole lot of flotsam still clogging up the charts. This week, I’d like to take a closer look at a few specific tracks:

  • “Lady,” Brett Young: This makes Young 7-for-7 in getting singles to #1, which makes me wonder what this means for Young’s position in genre history: Is this a predictor for all-time greatness? Frankly, no—I would argue it says more about how watered-down the “#1” distinction is these days, and perhaps how watered-down it’s always been. (Thanos went 7-7 with his first seven singles too, and no one would argue that Young is anywhere near his level of stardom.) With rankings this open to manipulation and any of them allowing you to claim the “#1 hit” title, “#1 single” doesn’t always mean “hit,” and while Young has had some legitimately huge songs (“In Case You Didn’t Know”), I have a feeling most of these original seven won’t stand the test of time.
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over”: Anyone who’s ever reached X rank in Splatoon 2 and immediately gotten their head handed to them knows how Stapleton feels right now. “Starting Over” appears to be way over its head and has been stalled inside the Top 10 for nearly a month now, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon (note how much bigger the point gains were for Arts and Owen just below Stapleton). A #1 in still a possibility, but Mercury’s going to have to bring their promotional A game to make it happen.
  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided”: These two really misread the moment: They went all-in on a plea for unity, and discovered that no one is in the mood to compromise, whether in Washington or in the rest of the nation. We remain an angry, bitter, polarized nation, which means that they’re really isn’t an audience for a song like this, and hence it seems to have stalled just above #20.
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night”: I declared back in February that “if these losses grow and [“All Night”] quickly goes recurrent, it would not be a good look for country music.” Fast forward two months later, and the song appears to officially be on the way out, making zero headway after TJ Osborne came out as gay. Perhaps the song had already stalled out before the announcement, but it’s still not a good look for a genre that desperately wants to be seen as inclusive. (Meanwhile, Morgan Wallen continues to move a ton of albums while acts like Chapel Hart and Mickey Guyton still can’t find any radio traction.) Country music is many things, but moments like this remind us that “inclusive” isn’t one of them.
  • Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know”: Hey, a rare success story! Wilson certainly benefited from her selection as the next ‘On The Verge’ artist, but I did not expect her to explode like this (from #53 on March 1st to #29 as of today’s rolling chart), which makes me think two things:
    • This song could be an actual hit, unlike some of the rotating #1 songs we’ve seen recently like “Lady.”
    • Exactly how many artists are out there who would be doing the same thing is they were able to get an OTV-like push? With the charts being so stale lately, I would love to see PDs and stations take some more chances on below-the-radar talent, because a little exposure could end up going a long way.

April looks like a pretty quiet month for releases so far (only Hurd/Morris, Dennig, and the new Kelsea Ballerini/Kenny Chesney single look like they’ll be joining the charts in the short-term), so we may be waiting a while for the full seasonal airplay rotation to kick in.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to remind us that it isn’t going anywhere for a while: New case reports are back on the upswing, which usually means hospitalization and death increases aren’t far behind it (our current death toll sits at nearly 551,000). With newer, nastier variants of the virus taking the country by storm, we need to hang on tight and keep doing the right things (wearing masks, avoiding crowds, getting vaccinated ASAP) to avoid another deadly surge. As tired as we all are of being stuck at home for the past year, now isn’t the time to let up—if we can push the virus numbers down and the vaccination numbers up, a more-normal summer is well within our grasp.

Song Review: Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes”

This is a name I hadn’t expect to see, and frankly, after listening to this track I wish I hadn’t seen it.

Clay Walker may have peaked early by scoring five No. 1 singles with his first six releases back in the early 90s, but he was a consistent hitmaker throughout the decade, and he even managed to score the occasional Top Ten in the 2000s before finally petering out as the Bro Country wave hit the genre in the early 2010s. While he has continued to release official singles over the last ten years, he had been far enough out of the spotlight that I considered him a potential deep dive candidate…until he suddenly appeared on the Mediabase chart this week with “Need A Bar Sometimes,” a song released last August that I had pretty much ignored despite its occasional appearance in a Country Aircheck ad. After listening to the song, it turns out that ignorance was bliss: This is a pointless drinking song with a dated (and jarring) Bro-Country sound, and does more to ruin Walker’s legacy than burnish it. I called Tim McGraw’s “Neon Church” “as disingenuous an ode to an old-school barroom that’s you’ll hear today,” but frankly, this song takes that title away without much of a fight.

The production on this track is probably the most aggravating part of the song: With its deliberate tempo, token banjo, and heavy reliance on synthetic beats (yep, Grady Smith’s favorite clap track is here too), the mix makes the song come across like a Bro-Country reject that would have sounded out of date five years ago. A steel guitar is brought in to fill in the occasional dead space, but it’s drowned in so many audio effects that it sounds like it’s underwater, and beyond that it’s the same old guitar-and-drum mix you’ve heard a million times before. Worse still, while electric axes on a song like Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” (yep, that’s the first song that came to mind when I heard this, and it makes me sad) tried to force the issue by getting in your face and with a little power and attitude, the instruments here feel weak and watered-down by comparison, and don’t even compel the listener to look up from their drink. Finally, much like “Neon Church,” this mix completely fails the context test: For as much as it talks up the barroom experience, this is the last thing you’d expect to hear as a classic beer joint (honestly, they should have called this “We All Need A Club Sometimes,” because that’s the image it brings to mind with that drum machine). In short, this is a terrible sound for the subject matter, and whoever produced this drivel needs to get back in their DeLorean and return to 2012.

Vocally, Walker doesn’t quite have the fastball he had in his 90s heyday (his voice seems a bit thinner now and lacks the presence it had before), which means he’s not able to impose his will on the song and shape its impression on the listener (instead, the awful production winds up as the song’s defining feature). He handles the occasional technical challenge of the lyrics without any trouble (rapid-fire lyrics aren’t really his thing, but he manages to cram in all the extra syllables without seeming too rushed), but his delivery is very matter-of-fact and doesn’t really sell the song—instead of lauding the barroom atmosphere, the bar just kind of a thing that exists, and he really doesn’t convince anyone that they’ll actually need it sometimes. (Personally, who needs a bar when I have Walker’s Greatest Hits album and a decent stereo system?) To be honest, the biggest issue I have is that Walker brings nothing distinct to his performance—stick any current member of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line behind the mic, and nothing changes. Instead of a Clay Walker song, the song comes across as nothing but a vehicle for its awful Bro-Country sound, and both Walker and his audience deserve better.

The lyrics here…well, they really don’t say much at all: “We all need a bar sometimes” to cheer up, chill out, or just drink a beer. It’s an incredibly scattershot song, trying to achieve broad appeal by saying that anything can happen there (you can be happy, sad, chill, rowdy, etc.) and hoping that one of these clicks with the listener and that they can fill in the details. By itself, however, the place they (barely) describe in the song doesn’t seem that appealing at all. Outside of beer and cigarettes, there’s no sense of the atmosphere or character of the bar: No mention of regulars, no mention of recreational activities, and not even a mention of drink selection beyond beer and tequila (I’m surprised there’s no mention of Jim, Jack, Johnny, or Fireball here, given how country songs love to drop those names). If you don’t already find a bar interesting, there’s nothing here to make you say “Hey, that’s where I want to be!” If this is all a bar offers, then I’d rather stay home.

Clay Walker is an underrated star of the 1990s and I would encourage people to check out his discography, but “Need A Bar Sometimes” is one of the weakest songs I’ve ever heard from him. The writing feels vague and incomplete, Walker’s sales job is unconvincing, and the producer tries to turn the whole mess into a generic Bro-Country throwback. The song is nothing but radio filler that’s forgotten thirty seconds after it ends, and given country music’s age bias, I doubt it will make much of an impact on the charts. If Walker is really hoping for a late-career comeback, he’s going to need better songs than this to make it happen.

Rating: 5/10. Skip this track, and dive into Walker’s older material instead. Here, I’ll help get you started:

Song Review: Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You”

“Is it just me, or has Kenny Chesney completely run out of things to say?”  Kyle, Feb. 20 2024

“I’ll take this as a yes.”  Kyle today

Mark Grondin used to call Tim McGraw’s material “auditory Xanax,” but Chesney has been giving McGraw a run for his money with his last few singles. Being able to hang around a young man’s town like Nashville is no small feat for AARP-card carrier like Chesney, but he’s been reduced to throwing out lifeless, inoffensive singles like “Happy Does” and and “Here And Now” as a result, a description that unfortunately fits his latest release “Knowing You,” the fourth single from his Here And Now album. It’s the sort of background noise that could be snuck onto a playlist without anyone noticing, putting the listener to sleep before they even know it’s there.

I’d like to know what what growing through the producer’s head on this mix, because it feels like they plagiarized the typical guitar-and-drum arrangement from someone else and then challenged themselves to do as little as possible with it. The track opens with some acoustic guitar strumming, brings in the electric guitars and drums set on board in time for the chorus, hides a keyboard in the background, and sprinkles in just enough steel guitar to get the streaming services to call it “country.” The result is the blandest nothingburger you could imagine: The guitars have no texture or bite (and the riffs are so simple a terrible player like me could copy them), the drums have no punch, and the slower tempo make the song plod listlessly from start to finish. The resulting atmosphere generates nothing beyond the the classic Chesney chill, and it’s so relaxed that it doesn’t support the writing at all: We’re supposed to believe this relationship was a wild, exciting ride when the mix is this placid? In other words, this feels like a lazy effort from behind the board, making me wonder if Chesney needs to shake things up and work with some different producers to reshape his sound.

Chesney’s carefree beach-bum brand has served him well over the course of his career, but on this track he comes across as too chill for his own good. The song poses no challenges from a technical perspective (limited range, slower flow), but it does require a narrator that can inject some life into a song, and give the audience a sense of the crazy relationship that was. Instead, Chesney’s narrator barely has a pulse, discussing their wild past with such relaxed detachment that it makes you wonder if he cares about it at all (and if he doesn’t, why is he bothering us with the story?). Instead of reflecting the extreme exhilaration of the relationship, the feel of his delivery is best described as vaguely positive, and it never deviates from this position for the entire song. Without that passion, the performance is as exciting as listening to someone describe a trip to the grocery store, and the listener tunes it out before Chesney can reach the second chorus. With a career this long, Chesney should be better than this, which makes me wonder how much longer said career will continue.

If you’ve been around the blog long, you know how much I just adore tracks where some random dude reflects on a long-lost relationship from a million years ago (*gag*), but unlike Keith Urban’s “We Were,” Morgan Wallen’s “7 Summers,” or Tucker Beathard’s “You Would Think,” this narrator does manage to avoid the typical whiny, self-pitying feel that characterizes these walks down memory lane. The problem, however, is that the tracks replaces this attitude with…well, nothing: No feeling, no detail (he calls “knowing you” “a carnival ride” and “a free fall from a hundred thousand feet,” but he never tells us why or how), and no reflectionit’s just a thing that happened that time at the place. While no blame for the breakup is explicitly assigned, the narrator hints very heavily that the other person was too wild and free to ever settle down, with no introspection on their own role (your attitude now suggests that you weren’t that heavily invested in the relationship either; did you ever wonder if that might have been part of the problem?). In short, the story has all the charm and feeling of an Ambien pill, and it puts you to sleep just as quickly.

“Knowing You” is nothing but a collection of sounds and words that barely meets the minimum necessary criteria to be called a song. The most biting critique I can level against it is that this review took forever to write because I kept stopping to listen to better and more interesting songs, and the best thing I can say about it is that it won’t annoy you because it’ll lull you to sleep long before you reach that point. From its milquetoast sound to its incomplete writing to Kenny Chesney’s lifeless vocals, this song is a total waste of everyone’s time, and unless Chesney can step up his game quickly, he won’t be wasting our time for much longer.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth knowing.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: March 22, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” 0 (5/10)
2. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
3. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
4. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
5. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
6. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
7. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
8. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
9. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
10. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
11. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
12. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
13. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
14. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
15. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
16. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
17. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
18. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
19. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
20. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
21. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
22. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
23. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
24. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
25. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
26. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
27. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
28. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
29. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
30. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
31. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
32. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
33. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
34. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
35. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
36. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
37. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
38. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
39. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
40. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
41. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
42. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
43. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
44. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
45. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
46. Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” 0 (5/10)
47. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
48. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
49. Cody Johnson & Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo” 0 (5/10)
50. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +4
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +3
Overall Pulse +7
Change From Last Week
+1 🙂

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Luke Bryan, “Down To One” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #1 to #3)
  • Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” (down from #7 to #10)
  • Cody Johnson & Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo” (down from #48 to #49, bullet-less for a second straight week, and is just holding up traffic at this point)

In Real Trouble:

  • Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” (holds at #15, but gained only thirty-six spins and sixty-five points)
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (holds at #22, but but loses its bullet again with a 200+ point loss)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (down from #32 to #33, gained only forty-two spins and 135 points)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (down from #34 to #35, gained only forty-six spins and seventy-six points)
  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (up from #40 to #38, but gained only sixteen spins and lost points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (up from #47 to #45, but gained only eight spins and twenty-six points)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (up from #45 to #42, but gained only twenty-one spins and fifty-seven points)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (up from #44 to #43, but lost its bullet)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (up from #46 to #44, but gained only fifty-three spins and seventy-two points)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (up from #49 to #46, but gained only ten spins and thirty-three points)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (up from #50 to #47, but lost spins and gained only fifty-three points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (holds at #6, but gains only thirty-two spins and ten points
  • Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” (holds at #29, but gained only forty-seven spins and 101 points)
  • Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” (up from #38 to #37, but gained only fifty-three spins and thirty-six points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (up from #41 to #40, but gained only twenty-two spins and seventy-one points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughts Know” (up from #37 to #32)
  • Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” (up from #9 to #5)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #35 to #28. has officially submitted application to the Legion of Doom)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Ryan Hurd ft. Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”
  • Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece”
  • Travis Denning, “ABBY”

Overall Thoughts: The dam didn’t quite break after last week, but the cracks in the ice are definitely starting to show.

With yet another week of minimal chart movement and a distinct lack of growth from many tracks despite the release of spins from Moon, Parmalee/Brown, and Lady A, what sticks out right now is the volatility at the tail end of the chart, especially from #40 on down. Songs that sit mostly stagnant for weeks on end suddenly take a big step forward, only to wind up losing much of the gains soon afterwards. LoCash may be the latest example of such behavior (they jumped 5 spots last week only to lose their bullet this week), but I’ve seen a number of songs at that level lose spots as quickly as they gain them, and only escape the cesspool of mediocrity through outside intervention (think Wilson’s post-‘On The Verge’ growth) or by waiting for a million years until everything above it has gone recurrent (think Scott’s molasses-slow climb to #12). The whole boom-and-bust cycle makes me wonder if there are some label shenanigans going on behind the scenes (“hey, play this artist more this week, would you?”), and our only hope is that the annual spring clearing of the airwaves will finally put a few of these tracks out to pasture.

On the pandemic front, lately we can’t seem to get a round of unqualified good news. Despite the continued success of the vaccine rollout (seriously, my mother actually managed to get an appointment the same day she became eligible!), we’re starting to see some new potential hot spots pop up, such as in Michigan and New York. With new dangerous variants of the virus circulating, this is no time to get complacent or rush back to business as usual. The end of this pandemic is in sight, and if we can keep doing the right things to keep ourselves and our communities safe (wearing masks, maintaining social distance, getting vaccinated as soon as possible), we can hopefully short-circuit this potential surge before it gets going.

Hang in there folks—remember, good things come to those who wait.

What Can We Expect For Splatoon 3? And What Do I Want Anyway?

“Knowing You,” Kenny Chesney, I’d rather talk about something that’s much more interesting.

Those who have followed the blog and/or my Twitter feed for a while know that I do two things in life: Listen to country music, and play Splatoon (often at the same time, which leads to some bizarre juxtapositions of sound and action; imagine racking up double-digit kills in an intense match while listening to “Last Cheater’s Waltz”). With over 2,300 hours and 4 X ranks in Splatoon 2, I’m probably more-qualified to discuss that game than I am to dissect anything Thanos has dropped in the last year, and so I was understandably hyped when Splatoon 3 appeared in last month’s Nintendo Direct.

I made some brief remarks about Splatoon 3 in that last post, but since I’m incapably of briefly doing anything (these song reviews seem to get longer every month…), I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the possibilities offered by Splatoon 3, and what we might expect from the game when it launches next year.

The Lore

To reflect the victory of Team Chaos in the “final” Splatoon 2 Splatfest, the focus of Splatoon 3 moves away from Inkopolis and over to the city of Splatsville and the harsh terrain of the surrounding Splatlands. There’s been a lot of excited speculation about the prospects of exploring a ruined civilization, but I think this is a bit misguided: Squid/octoling society is likely just as it was in Splatoon 2, with Inkopolis still standing and several fan-favorite maps from the first two games likely returning. (We’ll talk more about returning maps later, but if you think Moray Towers won’t be back next year, you’re crazier than I am.)

Instead, I’m most intrigued by the human angle of the story: We’re already canon in the game as an ancient race that went extinct due to “a climate apocalypse,” but that upside-down Eiffel Tower in the S3 reveal trailer suggests there might be a lot more to that story, and the developers are ready to tie this world a lot more closely with ours. So what does that mean for us?

  • It means the single-player environments are going to get a lot more recognizable. If the Eiffel Tower’s there, expect some more famous landmarks to be thrown in: The pyramids of Egypt? The Roman Coliseum? The Taj Mahal? Whether or not the campaign will be open-world or not, chances are we’ll be traipsing through more-familiar scenes. (They’d better include a Willie Nelson doppelgänger here, because you know he’ll still be alive twelve million years from now.)
  • It likely means the single-player levels will be a lot more “realistic,” for lack of a better term. The levels in Splatoon and Splatoon 2 were mostly floating-block sequences reminiscent of Mario Galaxy, but if this game is going to resemble the real world, then the levels are going to be more natural-looking, or at least have more platforms that obey the laws of physics (and fewer giant Game Boys floating in space).
  • I’m very curious to see how the designers expand on the human-extinction angle. Splatoon 2 has only been out since 2017, but a lot has happened since then, and if Nintendo wasn’t afraid to hide climate change in the background before, I wonder if they’ll broach subjects like the rise of authoritarianism and the possibility of a public health crisis in their Sunken Scrolls.
Image from Nintendo Life

I’m also intrigued by our new “little buddy” Salmonid that tags along with the protagonist through the first half of the trailer. Octolings went from enemy to playable character in Splatoon 2, but does this suggest a similar transition for Salmonids in Splatoon 3? While I doubt this (there’s just no obvious parallel to Inklings, unless “Salmonlings” become a thing), I wonder if there will a Mandalorian angle to the story: There could be something special about this Smallfry, and we must transport it across the desolate landscapes to its home far, far away. (The origins of Salmonids are completely undefined right now, so there’s a lot of world-building potential here.)

Much of this won’t translate to the multiplayer modes, but the single-player campaigns have been a surprising strength for the series (even if Splatoon 2‘s original campaign was the carbon copy of Splatoon‘s), so I’m looking forward to what this mode has to offer.

If the Undercover Brella doesn’t come back, I’m review-bombing this game on Metacritic.

The Gear

From a weapon standpoint, many of the existing classes were confirmed in the trailer (shooter, rollers, blasters, chargers, sloshers, splatlings – no dualies or brellas though, at least not yet), the headline was easily the introduction of the Splat Bow that can fire a trio of shots at an opponent. It’s hard to say how they weapon will behave without much gameplay, but the inking power of its shots in the trailer looked pretty minimal, so I’m guessing it will have a fairly long range to compensate, similar to a Splattershot Pro or H-3 Nozzlenose (or perhaps even charger-length?).

We saw a number of weapons get visual redesigns in the trailer (Splattershot, .96 Gal, Range Blaster, E-liter), but given how balanced the meta seems to be in competitive play right now, I doubt we’ll see a ton in terms of weapon stat changes (although the bow might shake things up a little). Just as with Splatoon 2, we’ll likely get a mixture of old favorites and new kits to play around with, and as much as I don’t like the game’s slow rollout of weapons (1-2 a week over many months), it seems to help maintain interest in the game over the long term, so I’m guessing we’ll see more of the same in Splatoon 3.

In terms of sub weapons…well, we don’t really see them at all in the trailer. In truth, I think there’s not a ton of room for improvement here: We have sprinklers, we have mines, we have bombs of every kind, we have sensors, we have walls, we have beacons big and small…outside of reimagining Toxic Mist, I think the sub weapons are in a good place.

The bigger question is the rest of the available gear (headgear, outfits, footwear). Games like this need a consistent stream of new content to keep players engaged, but with so much gear already available in Splatoon 2, I wonder if the franchise will run into a Pokémon problem: Every new game will have some shiny new gear to get peoples’ attention, but if every old shirt or kicks develops a dedicated group of fans that demand its inclusion, we’ll just end up with a bunch of gear that barely anyone uses that will eventual get cut and draw the usual ire on social media. Clothing items aren’t Pokémon, however, and Nintendo’s no stranger to absorbing slings and arrows online (hey, they ended up getting away with it in Pokémon Sword and Shield), so hopefully this won’t be a problem.

Something that would help cushion the blow of lost gear is the complete de-coupling of abilities from gear: Any ability should be able to appear as a main or sub ability on any clothing item (although there may be some that are locked to main-only or sub-only). We’ve already got this functionality through Annie’s gear shop on SplatNet, but it should be incorporated into the main game and made as easy as possible (perhaps you can choose your main ability when you buy something, and be able to change it as many times as you want for a fee?)

What about new abilities for gear? There’s definitely room for improvement on this front (Bomb Defense Up DX still seems like its trying too hard to justify its existence, and Main Power Up feels over-represented in the current meta), but I don’t think the developers have to go too crazy here. Maybe movement enhancers for the new ‘squid roll’ and ‘squid surge’ techniques? Honestly, I think we mostly get more of the same in Splatoon 3, and I’m fine with that.

Finally, we have the eternal question of special weapons: Do we wipe the slate clean like we did for Splatoon 2, or mix some new ideas with some old favorites? So far, Splatoon 3 seems to be doing the latter: A reworked Inkzooka has prominent placement in the trailer, and what looks to be a multi-Stingray can be seen as well (its origin is obscured, but I wonder if it’s the crab robot that appears later?). While I constantly raise the question of reviving Echolocator, I mostly haven’t missed the original specials from Splatoon, so I’m content to see how the game designers decide to mix things up this time around.

Image from Nintendo

Game Modes

I know people are predicting new game modes for Splatoon 3, but from the standpoint of the main multiplayer game, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get one. Splatoon 2 didn’t add Clam Blitz until late in 2017 (and we’ve all been complaining about it ever since), so my guess is that we stick with the five primary modes we’ve got right now: Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz. (I know ThatSrb2Dude examined some of the unused modes from Splatoon 2, but neither of them look viable to me.) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes to the existing modes: I feel like a lot of people complain about the volatility of Rainmaker matches, so maybe they do something to significantly slow your movement speed when you’re carrying the Rainmaker around. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Ranked mode added later in the game’s lifecycle.

Instead, what I’d like to see is some cross-pollination between the current modes:

  • For Ranked modes, I’d like to see some less-competitive options available for players who don’t want to stress about their ranking, perhaps along the lines of the For Fun/For Glory split in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I enjoy ranked battles, but I don’t enjoy how salty I get from extended losing streaks, so I think being able to play the game in a no-stakes, Turf War-like atmosphere would be much more fun.
  • For Turf War, I’m honestly ambivalent about the idea of making it a formal Ranked mode, but I’d like to see some League Battle functionality migrate to the mode—specifically, the ability to form teams with your friends rather than being randomly tossed in to play with or against them. Getting only one or two matches together with a friend after a hour of playing can be a bit demoralizing, and I’d like to see us get the ability to play as duo or quartets (and trios too! If they can do it for Salmon Run, they can do it here).

Speaking of Salmon Run: If not salmon hunting, then some kind of horde mode needs to be in Splatoon 3. Given the dedicated community that has built up around the mode, I’d not like to see this mode continue, I want the bizarre availability restrictions of the mode removed, so people can play it whenever they want rather than only at specific times. Set up a map/weapon rotation system similar to that in regular Ink Battles (but on a longer timeframe; perhaps a day or two), get out of the way, and let the salmon runners run! Also, instead of continuously resetting scores to Profreshional 400, I’d like to see another higher rank option in the mode for those that can reach 999, similar to X-rank in regular Ranked Mode, or at least give them a little badge or something that they can show off for being an elite salmon player.

Could we see a new mode along the lines of Salmon Run? It’s hard to say: Perhaps an escort-like mode where a Rainmaker-esque object through an winding course against a varying number of enemies? My imagination fails me at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

(And yes, Splatfests are coming back. Not bringing them back would be madness.)

Finally…how about the game let us make our own game modes? Instead of shoehorning a game like Hide & Seek into a Ranked mode, give us granular controls for Private Battles that let us play the game the way we want to. Also, how about making a public option for health care Private Battles, so that these custom games could be opened up to the masses? In other words, I’m for anything that helps people play the game the way they want to.

Image from Fandom.com

Maps

My attempt at map predictions for Splatoon 2 turned out pretty badly, so I’m not going to even try anything like that here. Still, there are some obvious candidates for readmission to Splatoon 3: Moray Towers remains wildly popular, and Wahoo World has become the map for ranked tournament matches, so to not bring them back would be lunacy.

In terms of “retro” maps, the one map I’d like to see return from Splatoon is probably Flounder Heights. No other map features the sort of vertical setup that Flounder does (Moray Towers drops in elevation as you reach the middle, while Flounder rises), so it might lead to some exciting playstyles when tossed into the Splatoon 3 meta. Bluefin Depot is a possibility as well, although I hear complaints about Camp Triggerfish’s split setup, so maybe not.

A new Salmon run map is also likely, and my off-the-wall idea would be something in between Shellendorf Institute and the Lost Outpost: A multi-level structure that players would explore inside as the tide got lower. Regardless, expect there to be more options for this mode, regardless of what form it takes.

Other Additions

  • I was asking for “player rooms” all the way back in 2017, and I’m getting some strong vibes that they might actually be coming to Splatoon 3 (especially given the way apartment buildings tower over Splatsville). It’s yet another fun customization option that players have been begging for (and frankly, the more Animal Crossing features that end up in Splatoon, the better).
  • Player reporting needs to be available through the main game, and not exclusively through the smartphone app. There should be as few barriers as possible to reporting morons who use offensive usernames.
  • Speaking of player toxicity: I’ve noticed a sharp rise in taunting, griefing, and other toxic behavior in Splatoon 2, and I’d like to see Nintendo do more to try to combat it. Here’s a suggestion: Mute all the audio but the ambient music after you die, so you can just pull up the map and not see or hear someone squid-taunting you in your death cam.
  • Precedent says we’ll get another Inkling amiibo triplet with Splatoon 3‘s release, but what about another amiibo set? I’ve already argued for a Grizzco-themed set that gives us the uniform items (we’ve only got the hat now), and our new little buddy from the trailer would look perfect as a plastic figure, don’t you think?
  • If there’s one thing I think the game already gets right, it’s the ability to mix-and-match any character with any hairstyles. There’s no reason to lock a style behind a gender, and I’m hoping more games will follow Nintendo’s lead.

At this point, I’m out of both ideas and breath, but I’m still overflowing with hype for Splatoon 3. Any way you slice it, I think we’re in for a treat when the game releases in 2022, and I can’t wait to learn more about it in 2021.

Song Review: Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t”

Sorry, but “I Can’t” get into this one.

Caitlyn Smith is a Minnesota native who’s maintained a fairly active songwriting presence for nearly a decade now, but has only recently established herself as a singer, with two albums released since 2018 (the second of which, titled Supernova, dropped at about the same time the world locked down for the pandemic, destroying whatever momentum it might have generated). Last month, Smith finally made a move for radio airplay be releasing “I Can’t,” a collaboration with Old Dominion (whose stock is dropping so fast that hedge funds are starting to short it). Unfortunately, this seems to be yet another bad decision for an artist trying to introduce themselves to the airwaves: The song is just another forgettable love-lost song with little beyond Smith’s own performance to encourage unfamiliar listeners to tune in.

The production is a unremarkable offering that sets a suitably melancholy mood but does little else to encourage the audience to tune in. The arrangement is pretty much what you would expect: A prominent piano that does most of the melody-carrying, some slick electric guitars that offer support but no sizzle (even the bridge solo is relatively tame, and it’s buried so deeply in the mix that you barely notice it at all), and a drum set that impassionately keeps time. The volume balance feels way off here (the piano drowns out everything except Smith herself), and while its darker tone signals an appropriate level of seriousness and depression, it doesn’t do a great job grabbing the listener and drawing them into the song (honestly, it feels like it pushes people away like they’re too close to the stage speakers). It’s a solemn-yet-safe mix that does little besides exist, and it doesn’t do enough to make the song stand out from the crowd.

Vocally, Smith falls somewhere between Ashley Monroe and Ingrid Andress with her bluesy sound, and while she delivers a technically-solid performance here (no range or flow hiccups to note), it’s lacking that extra push to really sell the story to the audience. She seems to lack a real presence behind the mic, and when saddled with trendy, mediocre material like this track (we’re get into that later), she isn’t able to elevate the song and make it memorable (which isn’t a good sign, considering a sad song like this one should fit well with her delivery). It’s one of those classic halfway performances: You get the sense that the narrator feels deeply about the failed relationship, but they can’t transmit their emotions and get the listener to care about the story in the same way. (As for Old Dominion, only lead singer Matthew Ramsey is distinguishable here, and he feels a bit out of place on the track, as the song seems a bit too high for his vocal range and the chemistry between he and Smith is not that strong. There’s also no real reason for a second singer to be included, aside from trying to trade on an established act’s rapidly-diminishing clout.) There are certainly flashes of potential here, but I’d really like to hear more from an artist on a “debut” single, and we just don’t get it.

I know that heartbreak has been the bread and butter of country music forever, but with the recent spate of lightweight love-lost tracks, songs like this one are getting dangerously close to trendy territory (call it an overcorrection from the Cobronavirus movement). You know the drill be now: The narrator has suffered a painful breakup that they just can’t get think or drink their way through, and they just keep saying “I can’t” adjust to all the changes around them. (The opening verse tries to expend the hook by talking about how the narrator’s hometown has changed, but the concept is never revisited or even tied back to the song that well, so it comes across as irrelevant and out-of-place.) I think it’s the defeatist attitude of these tracks that’s wearing on me: The narrator retreats into a shell and stays planted to the bench instead of stepping back up to the plate, and while you feel for them, just listening to them recount their tale of woe gets old pretty quickly. Cookie-cutter hard-luck tracks like this just don’t catch the listener’s interest, which is not good when you’re trying to find traction on the airwaves.

“I Can’t” is the sort of frustratingly-bland track that Nashville keeps feeding us when they’re trying to push a new artist, and often ends up backfiring when the artist can’t distinguish themselves. (It’s almost like the label is trying to sneak something past us, making their new singer blend in with the rest of the radio until it’s too late and they’ve been on the chart for a year yet are still only around #15.) The production and writing are unremarkable, and while Caitlyn Smith is a decent vocalist, she simply can’t escape the mediocrity that surrounds her. I know the field seems wide open for new acts to break through right now, but uninteresting stuff like this is the problem rather than the solution, and if you’re not taking a big swing, I’d prefer to wait for someone who is.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.