Celebrating 5 Years Of The Switch: What Are Our Favorite Games?

Image from Nintendo

As someone whose childhood gaming experiences started with the Game Boy Advance and proceeded to include the Nintendo DS, Wii, and 3DS, I can safely say that magic somehow left my system when the Wii U arrived in 2012. And despite the notorious failure of that console, I don’t blame it for putting me in something of a gaming blackout period for most of the 2010s. I grew older, and other priorities started taking hold. I suddenly just didn’t have time to explore new games at length. When I did sit down to play something, it was usually just an old favorite.

And then, it happened. I finally got a Switch in late 2019, and the thrill was back. I caught up with the latest entries of my favorite series I had, admittedly, neglected for far too long, and now, much like Nintendo, I feel I’m back on top of the world, creating new, magical, and purely unforgettable experiences I thought I couldn’t do at an older age.

And now, it’s time to celebrate its first five years of life with Kyle, my fellow Switch enthusiast and friend. One caveat I’d like to make with this list is that, because I arrived to the system slightly late to the party, I’m still playing catch-up with some of the most beloved entries in the console’s library thus far. And yes, there are two games on my list that are not Switch exclusives – I’d like to think of this more as a list of favorite experiences we’ve had with the Switch, more than anything else. With that in mind, let’s start the countdown! – Zack

Zack’s #5: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Image from NME

The opening slot on any list is the most contentious one, and for my money, this slot could have easily gone to Metroid Dread, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, or Luigi’s Mansion 3 or … well, you get it. And even despite my initial glowing review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I will admit it’s probably the toughest Pokémon game to jump back into once everything is completed, which is a weird criticism for a franchise traditionally known for its otherwise addictive and easily replayable gameplay loop.

But man, what a gameplay loop it is, allowing players to catch Pokémon in real time like they had always dreamed. Despite the simplistic environments, this is a game that’s just oozing with charm in its various survival-oriented mechanics, story, and the town-building aspect that I still think is an underrated part of the experience. It’s the Pokémon game that fans have been begging for for far too long, and thankfully, GameFreak seems to be taking notes from its success ahead of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.

(Kyle says: I haven’t gotten the chance to try this one out yet, but I applaud The Pokémon Company for finally taking steps to expand on their formula! …But they’re still getting a nasty letter from me for only letting me catch store-brand Caterpies.)

Kyle’s #5: Dragon Quest Builders 2

I didn’t realize how RPG-heavy my Switch library was until I started working on this list. Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokémon Sword, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and the original Dragon Quest Builders were all contenders for my Top 10, but it’s the DQB sequel that earns the prestigious spot here.

Was the DQB series a blatant and obvious attempt by Square Enix to shoehorn an existing IP into a Minecraft-style world to tap into the lucrative market of sandbox games? Absolutely, but the move was executed so perfectly that it didn’t matter. The characters were compelling, the story was unafraid to venture into deeper and darker territory, and even the visuals were a clear upgrade over the games it was copying from. DQB2 perfected the original formula, making NPCs more active and lively, expanding your home base to a massive island ripe for construction, and upping the ante in the story to the point where…okay, I won’t spoil it for you, but those of you who have seen The Matrix might notice some parallels…

RPGs, like plastic water bottles, are generally single-use: You play through them once, you beat the final boss, and you move on to the next game. The building mechanic of DQB, however, invites the player to continue putting together their dream world of the Isle of Awakening, whether by discovering/Googling building recipes or throwing out the script and constructing something unexpected. After the boss was felled, I stuck around for many hours afterwards building farms, resorts, and baseball stadiums, not to mention enough transportation infrastructure to make Joe Biden proud. It was that extended lifespan that elevated DQB2 to #5, and while I haven’t played the game in a while now, there are still a few construction projects I’d like to get to someday…

(Zack says: Ironically enough, I’m actually playing through Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes Of An Elusive Age right now and loving my time with it, but I know plenty got into the series proper with this particular entry and sing its praises as an unsung hero of the franchise. And with an opening statement as long as that aforementioned game’s title now concluded, I will say I want to try this ASAP – as you’ll see from a certain entry of mine below, I like oddly relaxing RPGs that shouldn’t make sense but do.)

Zack’s #4: Stardew Valley

Image from ArrPeeGeez

This game is six years old, the Switch version is five years old, and I just played this game for the first time last month and am hopelessly addicted – understood? Good, because I’ll also say that I sort of stumbled upon this game by accident. I usually gravitate toward games that place a big emphasis on storytelling and world-building – and all with a clear end goal in mind. It’s one reason why I just never picked up games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon.

So, I don’t know what compelled me to be in the mood for a game like this, but it’s one of those games where I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. In essence, Stardew Valley is a farming simulator, but it’s really more like a life simulator. You can farm, raise animals, go fishing, fight slime monsters down in the mine, get married, have kids … there’s really not a ton you can’t do in this game. And the beauty is that, if you want that grand, big adventure, it’s right there for you, but you’re also free to really just do whatever you want in the game and enjoy it at your own pace. With a town full of characters that are so memorable and charming, it looks like I got that world-building game I wanted originally anyway; I just got to relax and have fun with it, too. And I can’t say that nearly as much as I’d like to these days.

(Kyle says: This one is on my list of games to try as well! I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons owes a great debt to Stardew Valley; SV went mainstream in a way Harvest Moon never did, and crafting and farming are now key features of AC:NH.)

Kyle’s #4: Among Us

So how can Among Us be so high on my “best Switch games” list when I’m on record saying that the Switch isn’t even the best way to play it?

Well, there’s a reason this game caught fire at the end of 2020: It’s just so darn addictive! As a crewmate, your job is to finish your tasks and figure out who the killers are before they cut down the entire crew; as the imposter, it’s your job to…well, cut down the entire crew. The gameplay is simple and accessible, but it’s the meeting activities that drive the action: You’ve got to decide who to trust, who to vote, and who you can sway to your side before the meeting ends. It’s got that “one more round” factor that the best games always have (especially when you haven’t been imposter for an hour and want one more killer game before you stop).

The human interactions are what make the game so compelling: You’re never quite sure what other people are going to do, you’re constantly thinking about who’s around you and what your alibi should be, and debriefing chat after the match can be quite funny. Of course, the human interactions can be the worst part of the game as well if free text chat is enabled (which it usually is, since trying to communicate with the game’s canned statements is a bit clunky), and you’re constantly reminded that your allies and enemies are a) young, b) stupid, c) bigoted, d) trolls, e) not paying attention, or f) all of the above. If you can find a good group that sticks around for a few matches (or better yet, organize a group beforehand to play), this is the best way to experience the game. Even in “solo queue,” however, I’ve had enough fun (and sabotage victories) to put this game on my list.

(Zack says: This, sadly, is another game I haven’t tried yet but have certainly heard of before. I love the fact that the gameplay completely shifts depending on your perspective, and the strategic element added into its decision-making process means it’s another game I’ll have to try soon. Hopefully before Breath of the Wild 2.)

Zack’s #3: Super Mario Odyssey

I know, shocker that this is here, right? Bet you won’t ever guess that my eventual No. 1 selection is Pokémon Brilliant Dia-justkiddingit’sBreathoftheWild. In all seriousness, I actually didn’t really love Super Mario Odyssey at first. I still maintain that there could have been a few more worlds to pad out the entire experience, and that the ginormous amount of moons to collect isn’t always as satisfying as the more tightly defined missions and hunts for stars of yesteryear in past Mario titles.

Two things happened that changed my perspective completely on this game. For one, I made it to New Donk City, and despite that being the only world where I’ve collected every Power Moon not counting that stupid jump-roping one, I could easily play around in it for hours on end and never get bored. And then the pandemic happened. I played this game properly for a second run … and it just clicked. That childlike sense of wonder and adventure is something I found yet again at a time when I, along with the rest of the world, really needed it most. Mario controls like a dream thanks to Cappy, and the open-world, sandbox style of gameplay that I didn’t explore nearly as well as I should have the first time became a needed escape for me. It’s one of those Switch games you expect to see on lists like these, but I don’t think there’s a game that cemented my return to the thrill of gaming quite like this one did.

(Kyle says: Darn it Zack, did you have to remind me about that jump-roping moon? I had just finally stopped having nightmares about that one…)

Kyle’s #3: Triangle Strategy

I feel like there’s a lot of untapped meme potential in this game. I mean, can Serenoa make any decision without those blasted scales? (McDonalds image from MemeGenerator)

What can I say about this game that I haven’t said already? Its story is deep and detailed, its characters are superb and woven perfectly into the story, and the combat is easy to pick up and feels super rewarding when you pull off a nice move. The Conviction system is an interesting mechanic, although I kind of prefer it in later playthroughs when your stats are built up and you have free rein to make whatever decision you want. The game grabbed me in a way that no other tactical RPG had, and I’m in the middle of my third playthrough (something I haven’t truly done with a game since the late 1990s) exploring the different available paths.

I guess I can talk about why this game was released on schedule when a similar game (Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp) was delayed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Both games feature nations at war, but Advance Wars treated the idea much too lightly, with its bright, colorful atmosphere and silly, fun cast of characters clashing badly with the grim images and somber reality we see in Eastern Europe. Triangle Strategy handles the topic of international conflict with the seriousness it demands, and is always reminding you of the weights you bear and the costs your choices may incur. Your success on the battlefield can wind up being a Pyrrhic victory, and as the lord of your house you’re charged with doing whatever it takes to preserve your demense, whether it be war, diplomacy, or making the hard choice to evict a person or an entire population. When meeting with the Wolffort war council, I imagine that world leaders like Joe Biden or Volodymyr Zelensky go through a similar process: Lay out the options, debate the various pros and cons of each one, and then come together and make a decision.

War is hell, and TS acknowledged this truth while AW ignored it. That’s why TS was released, and part of the reason why it’s here on my list.

(Zack says: Kyle has convinced me numerous times before that I need to pick this up and try it yesterday, especially given that I just broke into the strategy-centered RPG genre this year (which you’ll see below). And since Kyle’s description of the game reminds me of a certain entry you’ll see from me, know that I absolutely echo his sentiment regarding the contrast between games that view war as a lighthearted game, and ones that treat it as the cold, uncaring monster it is.)

Zack’s #2: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

This … is another game I only picked up this year; I told you I was busy playing catch-up! Suffice it to say, then, this was my first Fire Emblem game, and while I understand that the series at this point has heavily divided its fan-base and that this particular game is a different beast all in its own right, I loved every minute of my (multiple) experience(s). The game throws you right in the fold immediately with its combat system, which always looked intimidating from afar with its chess-like mechanics, but is surprisingly addicting in action.

And from there, the story unfolds and lets you take action of which road you want to go down, turning you from a mercenary into a professor (it makes a lot more sense in the game … kind of!) and letting you take charge of a class of characters that you bond with and understand on a deep level. Never in my life have I cared this much for people who don’t exist. I’ll admit that it’s not the best-looking title in the console’s library, and if you want the true experience with this game, you’ll have to sink a lot of time into it. But don’t let that distract you from a game brimming with an overall excellent story at its core. I went from finishing one route to wanting to experience the next one immediately, enough to where I’ve completed every route there is to complete and have sank 150 hours into this game … which, apparently, is considered a rushed experience! I may be a Fire Emblem newbie who is not a “true” fan of this series (I like playing with permadeath off – and I’m not sorry), but I’m going to follow along starting now, and you can’t stop me.

(Kyle says: Pound for pound, I think FE:3H actually has better and more-interesting characters than Triangle Strategy, and my recent experience with TS makes me think I need to go back and try a second run through this game. Also, I agree: Permadeath can go jump in a lake.)

Kyle’s #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Back when I reviewed this game, I labeled it “downright Seinfeldian” in that the game had no true endgame and consisted of indefinite meandering on a remote island. Yet I still enjoyed the game, and have enjoyed the game so much that it wound up as my runner-up on this list. Why?

  • While there’s no overarching endgame to AC:NH, the game constantly presents you with a list of mini-tasks that you can complete for dopamine hits. For example, when I played today, I made sure to find and talk to all my villagers, dig up any fossils I found, get the fossils appraised, get the recipes from the crafting villager and the washed-up bottle, sell said recipes and fossils for Bells, check the shops for any interesting items (Model kits and new glasses? Take my money!), plant a $10K money tree (300% ROI, baby!), find the day’s special visitor (meh, I don’t feel like fishing for CJ today), sit down for a cup with Brewster…and then run around the museum collecting stamps because International Museum Day was a week ago. Back in my “hardcore” days, I was also hitting all the rocks for iron and gold, hitting all the trees for wood, shaking all the trees for hidden items (and getting stung by bees at least twice in the process), watering flowers, catching fish, swimming around the ocean…there’s always a ton to do, and it’s easy to see how time slips away!
  • New Horizons takes this series to its logical conclusion: You’re essentially a god on your island, and while you don’t quite have the crafting power you do in Dragon Quest Builders 2, you’re not that far away from it either! You can terraform the entire island to bend the rivers and cliffs to your will, you can arrange furniture outside to create intricate scenes, you can create custom designs for surfaces and clothes (I can run around on my basketball court in a Steve Young jersey!), you can create paths that your villagers will actually follow (they’ll interact without outdoor items as well), and of course you can customize your house and choose which of your “dreamy” villagers will share your paradise with you! In turn, this feeds into your list of mini-goals: Now, you can be looking for specific items to complete specific areas, and come up with the best ways to utilize the space you have.

With the way it feels like a) the world is falling apart every time you look out the window, and b) we have almost no control or say in the matter, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides both the distraction and the control we crave to give our lives some semblance of calm and routine. If only more country singers would give up drinking their problems away and use AC:NH to ignore them instead…

(Zack says: With Stardew Valley now standing as one of those games I go back to every, well, week or so, perhaps it’s time I finally take the deep-dive into Animal Crossing, because a peacefully relaxing game where you play on an island and interest with adorable NPCs … man, why didn’t this sound like a good idea to me before?!? At a time when games are getting bigger – often to the point of being bloated – I appreciate that there are still casual experiences like this out there that can appeal to anyone, so long as they give it, oh, a minute or so of their time to hook them.)

Zack’s #1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Image from Pocket-Lint

Hey, one of us had to be basic.

In all seriousness, though, I actually get those who say this isn’t their favorite Switch game or even their favorite Zelda game, provided one can even call it that, given how much it breaks traditional conventions of the established formula. But that’s the thing – by pulling influence from the very first game in the series, Breath of the Wild draws a connecting line between it and that game while forming its own blueprint along the way. What else can I say about a huge open world that brims with personality and feels like it’s operating as just that – a world of its own. An escape. A terrifying yet exciting treasure trove of secrets waiting to be unearthed. A place where you can find little green beings scattered across the land that say “yeah, huh, huh” when you find them and are just the cutest things ever. It’s certainly not perfect in everything it goes for, but I think for many it’s perfect enough for them, and as someone who bought his Switch in late 2019, this became another game alongside Super Mario Odyssey I lost myself in during the pandemic. It was one of the first games for the Switch, and technically it’s more of a Wii U game than anything else. But even now, five years later, it’s still my pick for the best of the bunch out there.

(Kyle says: This one didn’t qualify for my list because I played it on the Wii U, but this game’s scope and sense of exploration remained unmatched by any title that’s come along since. The only question now is whether or not we’re going to get the sequel before 2024…)

Kyle’s #1: Splatoon 2

You all knew this was coming. You’ve seen my Twitter feed, you’ve seen my blog posts on using and beating different weapons, and you might have even seen me try to convince people that the Undercover Brella is the best weapon ever. Heck, I’ve used my ‘Octo-sona’ so much that I’m starting to wonder if I qualify as a furry.

I have sunk nearly 2,900 hours into this game, and have done nearly everything you can do in it. I’ve completed all the levels in the original single-player mode and Octo Expansion DLC, I’ve reached X rank in all three ranked multiplayer modes (I’ve got the X in Clam Blitz as well, I just refuse to acknowledge it as a game mode), I’ve reached the Profreshional rank in Salmon Run, and I’ve been working on a long-term project to amass 100 wins with every weapon in the game (I’m up to 98 out of 139 as of this writing). This isn’t just my favorite Switch game, it’s right up there with Super Mario RPG and Pokémon Pearl as one of my favorite games of all-time.

Shooters are not a genre I consider myself a fan of (back in the day it was mostly platformers, RPGs, and sports titles), so why did Splatoon (another 800+ hours there) and Splatoon 2 resonate the way they did? Part of it was the timing (every grad student goes through a midlife mid-thesis crisis when they feel like they’ll never escape and/or accomplish anything), part of it was the Nintendo factor (you couldn’t really play Call of Duty on a Wii U), part of it was the “one more game” magic (matches are really short compared to other games, so the sting of defeat washes away fairly quick), and part of it was something I keep harping on country artists to do: Find a way to make your work distinct! Splatoon brought a cartoonish and colorful aesthetic to a genre normally steeped in gritty realism (its quirky and unrealistic presentation allowed it to succeed where Advance Wars didn’t), Turf War changed both the typical objectives and mechanics of the game (you don’t kill to win, you paint the floor! And swimming through ink makes movement as important as aim!), and the use of motion controls (and they were used well for a change) enabled a whole new way to experience and play the game.

It’s been a long time since a game captured my attention like this one, and that’s what puts Splatoon 2 at the top of my list. However, it begs the obvious question: What about a certain “three-quel” coming this fall?

Image from Nintendo Life

It’s hard to say where Splatoon 3 will eventually wind up. The circumstances are very different now, and the older I get, the more all this adult responsibility stuff I’ve been running from catches up with me. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’m going to find another 2,900 hours lying around to devote to more squidkid shenanigans.

Still, I found that time once before, and I regret nothing. Splatoon 2 is a fantastic game, and I consider all those hours I put into it, as Brad Paisley might put it, to be time well wasted.

(Zack says: First of all, I’d like to say that I actually did play Call of Duty, though on the DS. And I don’t recommend it. Second of all, Kyle’s love for this series has been an infectious joy to read about for years now, and it’s part of why I’m a bit sad I missed out on the initial hype with Splatoon as a whole. With the third entry on the way soon, I just may join my friend from the ground up this time around, and I can’t wait for that.)

Kyle’s (Second) Hot Take On Gun Violence In America

Image from CNBC

I didn’t want to write this post. Nothing I say here will do anything to change the past or alter the course of the future. No one’s mind or vote will be changed, and no one’s bullets will be stopped.

But I’m going to write this anyway, because frankly I’m too pissed off not to.

Back in 2018, I wrote my original take on gun violence in America in the wake of a shooting at a Madden tournament in Florida. I ran through the sickening numbers, discussed the positions of both major political parties on the issue, laid out my thoughts, addressed some common counterarguments, and closed with the following sentence:

“It’s time for a change, America. What that change winds up being, I leave to you.”

Four years later, in the wake of mass shootings at a Buffalo supermarket, a church in Laguna Woods, California, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, it’s clear that the change I asked about then has been no change at all. The numbers look worse now than they did then:

Right now, we’re also an outlier in that many countries have taken action in the wake of such tragedies, while around here we just wring our hands (which is not easy to do when we’re also sitting on them), offer scripted thoughts and prayers, and wait for the next bullets to fly. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.

So what do we do? Given that we’ve done nothing so far, I think my wishlist from 2018 is still a good starting point:

“I think assault rifles and large-capacity magazines have no place in a peaceful society, and they should be banned.”

“I think anyone that wants to own a gun should attend a comprehensive safety course and be subject to a comprehensive background check and mental-health screening, which better ensures that gun operators are both fit and able to use them properly. In fact, I’d be willing to take a page from Japan’s book and require that gun owners repeat these tests every few years.”

“I think we need rigorous national standards for gun ownership requirements. I believe this makes sense from a bipartisan perspective, as it means a) that we know that any gun owner in America went through the same process to get it, and b) it makes firearm reciprocity laws simpler, as states no longer have to deal with competing standards.”

“I think we should treat gun violence as a public health issue, and look deeper into the reasons why people commit these atrocities. I don’t think people just wake up one day and decide to kill indiscriminately, and instead feel that these acts are often the end result of untreated underlying issues. We need to get a sense of what these issues are, and see what sorts of countermeasures are most effective.”

Some of these are admittedly broad and vague, but there are concrete steps our leaders can take right now to start moving forward on these ideas. For example, H.R. 8 would “require background checks on all gun sales,” closing current loopholes that let unlicensed sellers avoid background checks on sales at shows or online. If legislators are serious about looking for “commonsense gun laws,” I think H.R. 8 more than qualifies.

I’ll throw a few more wishes out there:

  • Let’s put an end to the either/or baloney that certain politicians (especially on the right) lean on in times like these, and let’s attack this problem from every possible angle. People like Texas governor Greg Abbott and Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene like to focus on mental health issues when discussing gun violence, and either ignore or reject gun control as a possible solution. Even if we set aside the dangers of “bluntly linking mental health to gun violence,” there’s an underlying fallacy at play here: We don’t have to do one thing or the other—we can do both! We can—scratch that, we should—take steps to limit the number and availability of firearms and take steps to address our nation’s mental-health crisis. A huge problem like the one we’re facing now requires a comprehensive strategy to address it, and every option should be on the table.
  • It is time to toss the filibuster into the dustbin of history once and for all. Gun control is just the latest in a long line of important issues that have been stymied and stonewalled despite being supported by a majority of senators and the population. Yes, I’m aware that this action has ramifications beyond this issue, and I’m willing to accept them because the alternative is a do-nothing, useless legislative body that serves no purpose, holds no trust, and adds to the rising tensions instead of being the ‘cooling saucer’ it claims to be. Is it time to make the United States Senate a place of action again, where senators go on record for their convictions and those in the minority must hone their arguments and find ways to change the hearts and minds of their colleagues and constituents. If House Wolffort can find a way to move forward on tough decisions, so can Washington.

At this point, doing nothing means that we’re okay with the blood-stained status quo, and I am not okay with that. If someone wants your vote this November, you should demand that they have a good answer to this question, because allowing this level of violence to be inflicted upon our fellow citizens on a daily basis is simply unacceptable. We (and the people that represent us) need to stop cowering behind our thoughts and prayers, and instead take a stand and start making moves to make this better.

I’m not asking for change this time; I’m demanding it. Do NOT make me write this post again in 2026.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 23, 2022

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. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
2. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” 0 (5/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
4. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
5. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
6. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
7. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
8. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
9. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
10. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
12. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
13. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
14. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
15. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
16. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
17. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
18. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
19. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
20. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
21. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
22. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
23. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
24. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
25. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
26. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
27. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
28. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
29. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
30. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
31. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
32. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
33. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
34. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
35. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
36. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
37. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
38. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
39. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
40. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
41. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
42. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
43. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
44. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
45. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
46. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Old Memory” 0 (5/10)
47. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
48. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
49. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
50. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +5
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +9
Overall Pulse +14
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (down from #10 to #23)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down from #19 to #33)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (up from #14 to #12, had a decent showing this week)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (holds at #38, but lost its bullet again)

In Real Trouble:

  • Conner Smith, “Learn From It” (holds at #40, but lost its bullet)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (holds at #44, lost its bullet)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #47 to #59, lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down from #48 to #50, lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” (holds at #11, but gained only thirty-two spins and forty-four points)
  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (up from #28 to #26, but gained only thirty-nine spins and seventy-nine points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” (up from #33to #32, but gained only twenty-two spins and nineteen points)
  • Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” (up from #36 to #35, but gained only fifteen spins and six points)
  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #39 to #37, but gained only twenty-five spins and fifty-three points)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (up from #43 to #42, but gained only one spin and ten points)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (holds at #45, but gained only twenty-six spins and seventy-seven points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #46 to #47, gained only eleven spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (up from #26 to #18. This thing is rocketing up the charts right now

Is still Thanos?:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (down from #1 to #2. What will his next move be?)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Matt Stell, “Man Made”
  • Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”
  • Cody Johnson, “Human”

Overall Thoughts: I think it’s safe to say we’re just about done with the transition to summer playlists (and not a moment too soon, with Memorial Day weekend on the way). Jones is the only song that I really expect to run out of steam in the next few weeks (I think Lambert will linger for an extra month or so), so I think what you see is about what you’ll get until the fall. It’s also worth noting that although the Pulse of the Top 10 is a mediocre -1 right now, the songs that are at the top (Aldean, Thanos, Parmalee, Hayes, Wallen) are ones that have shown notable strength during their climbs (I don’t have the total week numbers available, but these ones in particular have seen rapid and consistent growth over their runs). As much as I’m not sold on them, perhaps it’s a sign that the radio is finally letting the people decide what a hit is and letting their choices rise to the top? Finally, if there’s a place where quality meets popularity, it’s Brown’s latest single, and as a result that song has rocketed into the Top 20 in just a few short weeks. I’m very interested in seeing what it’s able to do once if gets to top.

On the coronavirus front, it’s more of the same with new daily case averages continuing to rise and hospitalizations now going up along with them. Death counts haven’t started tracking upward quite yet, but the focus recently has been on the virus’s impact on those that survive it: CDC data now indicates that roughly 20% of COVID-19 infections could lead to “long COVID” symptoms, and while the current vaccines are still effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths, they’re not as effective at preventing long COVID. While avoiding COVID-19 altogether is easier said than done, protecting ourselves is going to be really hard in the free-for-all climate we’ve got going right now, so it looks like I’m not leaving this soapbox anytime soon:

I know that most folks aren’t in the mood to bring back strict restrictions or mandates, but that doesn’t mean we should leave ourselves unprotected in the middle of a surge. We need to continue doing all we can to protect ourselves from this virus, and try to limit the unnecessary (and potentially long-lasting) suffering that it causes.

Song Review: Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”

“Jack makes good whiskey,” but Nashville makes the clichéd stuff.

I spent much of my last review harping on the Music City meta, but Tyler Hubbard’s latest single makes for a pretty good case study as well. A decade ago, Hubbard was the man defining this meta, as he and the mostly-invisible Brian Kelley helped usher in the Bro-Country era and played a major role in spreading the sound and subject matter that dominated the 2010s. While Florida Georgia Line was both controversial and cutting-edge back in the day, today Hubbard seems to be more of a conformist, crafting his solo career within the confines of Nashville’s rules rather than thumbing his nose at them. The results have been mediocre at best: “Undivided” was a forced can’t-we-all-just-get-along track that nobody wanted or listened to, and his latest effort “5 Foot 9” is even less interesting: It’s a paint-by-numbers buzzword salad dumped into a gelatin mold and formed into a love song that is neither interesting nor romantic. In other words, the song is exactly what the powers that be in this genre want their songs to be: Checklist-compliant and easily forgotten.

I bemoaned the sick, soulless sound of “Catching Up With An Old Memory,” and while “5 Foot 9” is a sign of the progress Nashville has made since the height of the Metro-Bro era, is also a sign that the genre still has a long way to go. The song opens with a bright, lively acoustic guitar and a bass-drum-only percussion line, includes a few steel guitar rides for flavor, and turns the bridge solo over to a dobro-esque instrument, eschewing the synthetic instruments that dominated for a decade and rediscovering the power of acoustic instruments. All of this is good…but once the chorus hits, more guitars and percussion jump in (not the mention the echoey audio effects), and the whole arrangement gets squashed together into in indistinguishable wall of noise, a phrase I’ve been leaning on more and more over the last few years. A mess like this draws the listener’s attention away from the writing and makes it really hard to re-engage with the song until the unnecessary sensory overload subsides. Another issue is that the short bridge solo is the song’s only distinct-sounding feature—otherwise, this sounds like every other song on the radio right now, even without the snap tracks. I’d really like to see Nashville do more to distinguish artists with they’re sounds, because otherwise neither the song nor the artist can really justify their place in the genre.

Speaking of artists: Hubbard right now is a man that’s running from his past, and he hasn’t yet put quite enough distance himself and FGL to sound credible in the narrator’s role here. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of, and at this point he’s now the one that newer artists are trying to mimic (*cough* Morgan Wallen *cough*), but as the primary lead singer of Florida Georgia Line, his voice is the one associated with Bro-Country anthems like “Cruise,” “Sun Daze,” and “Smooth,” which makes it hard to picture them as a responsible individual committed to a longstanding relationship. (If that sounds familiar, I said the exact same thing in my “Talk You Out Of It” review four years ago.) To his credit, it’s not for lack of trying on Hubbard’s part; he just doesn’t have the charisma or charm to make a clean break from his history here. (The lyrics do him no favors either, but we’ll get to that later.) At best, this is a run-of-the-mill performance that fails to let the audience share in Hubbard’s good vibes (or even convince them that he’s sincere), and probably wouldn’t sound any different with anyone else from Nashville’s young male assembly line behind the mic.

And then *sigh* we get to the lyrics:

Jack makes good whiskey
Red dirt makes good riding roads
Country makes good music
For kickin’ up dust in a taillight glow
Dry wood makes good fires
Good years make good swings…

I thought we had finally moved past those annoying laundry lists of the last decade, but it seems I was mistaken.

Supposedly this is a love song towards the narrator’s partner, but in reality it’s a thinly-disguised checklist song that makes sure to use all the buzzwords: Whiskey, red dirt roads, taillights, trucks, fires, a “small-town accent,” God, Tim McGraw (I guess at least it’s not George Strait this time?), and a bizarrely-specific reference to gravel driveways that felt especially forced. Oh, and just as I noted in “Talk You Out Of It,” the narrator’s praise of the woman is limited to their physical attributes (“5 foot 9, brown eyes in a sundress”), save for a “dancing with the raindrops” moment that feels surprisingly dated (only Gene Kelly and Pokémon dance in the rain). Throw in the worst title/hook mismatch that I’ve heard in a long time (seriously, if you heard this song you’d never guess the title, and “5 Foot 9” isn’t exactly a catchy name), and you’re left with an track that feels rote and lazy, one that will disappear from your mind thirty seconds after the music stops.

“5 Foot 9” is a weak effort that simply doesn’t measure up, even in the bland, generic meta we’re living through right now. It might check all the required boxes to get onto the airwaves, but it tries to expend the least possible effort while doing so, and as a result we get boring soundalike production, atrocious writing, and Tyler Hubbard trying to wave his hands and make you forget every Florida Georgia Line track he fronted over the last ten years. Hubbard can’t change the past, but he could take more interesting steps towards the future: As much as the Bro-Country era drove me up a wall, at least it was a bold, fresh step for its time—now all we get are reheated leftovers that all taste the same. Instead, he’s stuck in the same bland morass of sameness that everyone else is, and we’ve got better things to do with our time than stand for it.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Song Review: Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Old Memory”

Something feels off about this song…but whether it’s a good or a bad thing is a larger question.

While lurking in the gaming sphere as I do, you run into the concept of “the meta” a lot—that is, there is some combination of characters/items/weapons/etc. that (in theory) gives you the best chance for succeeding in top-tier competition. In music, the meta manifests in the form of “trends” that we constantly complain about: An artist has to sound a certain way or sing about certain topics to give themselves the shot of finding traction on the radio.

How powerful is the Nashville meta right now? Consider the curious case of Clay Walker, a 52-year-old hat act whose peak was roughly twenty-five years ago and who pretty much disappeared from the genre in the 2010s. The man has reemerged in the last few years, however, with both “Need A Bar Sometimes” and now “Catching Up With An Old Memory” both sneaking onto the Mediabase charts (although the former didn’t go anywhere, and I don’t think this one will either). As someone who really enjoyed this artist back in the 1990s, I can’t listen to his latest single without getting a “not my Clay Walker” vibe, and it’s more than a feeling: This is a man changing with the times in an attempt to stay relevant, and while I wouldn’t call it necessarily bad, the current meta just doesn’t resonate with me, and thus this song doesn’t either.

Let’s start with the positives, which is that Walker still sounds pretty good despite his age. He seems to have found the presence and power that was missing on “Need A Bar Sometimes,” and holds up well when pit against his earlier work. He delivery can feel a bit rote and deliberate when going through the chorus, but generally he’s able to convey his emotions in a way that listeners can really feel, which is something a lot of newer artists seem to struggle with. The most interesting part of his performance is just how positive it is for what’s ostensibly a heartbreak song: Walker gives no indication of blame and regret, and instead gives us the impression that his occasional strolls down memory lane are actually enjoyable. I give artists grief all the time for dwelling on the past and trading on nostalgia, but for Walker this longing doesn’t come across as an all-encompassing thing (of course the writing gets an assist here; more on that later). Basically, Walker is the only reason you might tune in to a song like this, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t have a stronger supporting cast.

So about that supporting cast: From a production standpoint, Walker burst onto the scene back in the fiddle-and-steel, neotraditional 90s, and it’s the sound I associate with his best work. This arrangement, on the other hand, feels like a leftover from the Boyfriend country era, opening with some synth tones, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, and a choppy instrument that I honestly can’t place by ear, all framed with echoey effects in an attempt to create a more spacious, arena-ready sound. A steel guitar eventually gets a few words in (and even gets a prolonged feature on the bridge solo), but otherwise this is the same slick sort of sound you might find one the many failed sex jams Nashville has tried to sell us recently. The mix’s generally-dark tones put it at odds with Walker’s attempt to put a positive spin on the predicament, and outside of the bridge solo there’s nothing here that you couldn’t find in ten other places on the airwaves right now. I get that artists have to update their sound with the times, but something just feels off about pairing Walker with this kind of mix, and conforming to the sort of bland background noise that’s apparently all the rage just doesn’t feel like the right move. You might as well move along, because there’s nothing to hear here.

The writing here is a bit of a mixed bag, as it tells the tale of a narrator who occasionally has to “catch up with an old memory” and reminisce about the good times with a former partner. On one hand, the writers go to great pains to set the boundaries of this behavior: It’s an occasional pastime that the narrator actually enjoys in partaking in, not an all-consuming force that driver to narrator to numb their feelings every night (“I ain’t hidin’ or lyin’ or tryin’ to drown any pain”). On the other hand, however, the writers don’t bother to share any details about the relationship besides it being “wild and on fire,” making it hard for the audience to know if the relationship is really worth remembering, and thus making it hard to them to justify staying tuned in. It’s also hard to tell if the narrator’s statements are truthful, because their behavior (sitting around drinking by themselves) is indistinguishable from someone who is trying not to catch up with an old memory. (The hook is also super clunky and seems to have to many syllables for the song’s meter.) There might have been some potential, but it feels like the song needs a few more drafts and a lot more detail to realize it—as it is, it’s all on Walker to sell the story by himself.

“Catching Up With An Old Memory” is just another unremarkable song whose only success is reminding people that Clay Walker still exists and is a pretty good vocalist. He’s not able to elevate the song thanks to its soundalike production and half-baked writing, but sadly said production and writing are a feature of the current Nashville meta rather than a bug, and this is the sort of game you have to play to get into the mainstream country conversation today. Every era has its house rules, but rather than label it good or bad, the word that comes to mind for me is uninspired, a minimal-necessary effort to check a few boxes, fit the provided template, and maybe throw a minor curveball in the mix to get your song on the right playlists. For my money, I’d rather catch up with Walker’s old discography instead.

Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 16, 2022

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. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” 0 (5/10)
2. Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” 0 (5/10)
3. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
4. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
5. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
6. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
7. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
8. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
9. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
10. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
12. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
13. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
14. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
15. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
16. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
17. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
18. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
19. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
20. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
21. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
22. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
23. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
24. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
25. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
26. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
27. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
28. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
29. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
30. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
31. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
32. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
33. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
34. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
35. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
36. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
37. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
38. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
39. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
40. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
41. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
42. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
43. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
44. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
45. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
46. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
47. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
48. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
49. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Old Memory” 0 (5/10)*
50. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +4
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +11
Overall Pulse +15
Change From Last Week
+3 🙂

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” (recurrent)
  • Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” (recurrent)
  • Eli Young Band, “Love Talking” (dropped below #50)

Leaving:

  • Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (down from #1 to #10)
  • Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” (holds at #2, but still bullet-less)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down from #7 to #19)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (up from #15 to #14, gained 169 spins and 565 points. Not terrible, but most of her immediate competition was up 1000+ points this week)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (up from #40 to #38, gained eighty-two spins and 231 points, so not a terrible week either)

In Real Trouble:

  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (holds at #47, but gained only three spins and forty-eight points. Why does radio absolutely refuse to get behind this guy?)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (up from #45 to #44, but gained only thirty-one spins and eighty-nine points

In Some Trouble:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (up from #25 to #23, but gained only seven spins and thirty-one points)
  • Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” (holds at #35, but gained only twenty spins and thirty-three points)
  • Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” (down from #49 to #50, gained only one spin and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (up from #38 to #26)
  • Parmalee, “Take My Name” (up from #10 to #6)
  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (up from #36 to #32)
  • Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” (up from #46 to #42)

Is still Thanos?:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (up from #3 to #1, but put another max-spin ad in Country Aircheck? Perhaps he’s not done with the crown just yet…)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Matt Stell, “Man Made”
  • Niko Moon, “EASY TONIGHT” (ugh)
  • Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”
  • Cody Johnson, “Human”

Overall Thoughts: This was an addition-by-subtraction week with Shelton’s exit (and I can tell how many people read this blog by how many people tagged me about this on Twitter), but it still feels like bland mediocrity is the order of the day based on all the zeros entering the chart (althrough Brown’s rapid rise is heartening). Thanos’s decision to extend his stay at #1 feels like a statement to me, telling the world that he’s not going to give up his kingship without a fight. Admittedly he’s not ruling over much of a kingdom right now, but there are some upcoming releases (Wilson, Johnson) that might have potential…and some (Moon) that have none at all…

On the coronavirus front, the current surge continues, and while thankfully new daily death averages are down from last week, both cases and hospitalizations are rising, which means a more-sustained rise in deaths is likely only a few weeks away. The current coronavirus coordinator in the White House is raising concerns about a lack of funding for COVID-19 supplies, which means we could be looking at more bad news if Congress doesn’t get its act together (and given the fact that we’re entering an election year and Congress hasn’t had it act together for years now, I don’t hold out a lot of hope on that front). It’s one more sign that we’re basically on our own now when it comes to dealing with this virus, so I’m still out here preaching the public health gospel.

My current prediction is that we’re going to be dealing with the coronavirus and its variants through the rest of this year and into 2023, so it’s on Washington to make sure we’re prepared for both the current surge and the one that’s likely coming when the seasons change. However, tools are no good if we don’t use them, so be sure to take advantage of the available resources and stick with our best practices to give yourself the best chance of navigating safely through these troubled times.

The Top 10 Triangle Strategy Characters (#1 Won’t Shock You At All)

Back when I started playing Triangle Strategy, I declared that I wasn’t going to record any of the gameplay—this game was for me, and I wasn’t going to worry about farming it for content. 100+ hours later, despite adhering to this pledge, I’ve probably gotten more posts out of this game than anything else (game, song, or otherwise) on the blog!

As I’ve previously discussed, TS goes to great lengths to make each playable character distinct enough to convince the player to try them all out, since the lack of permadeath means that once you recruit a character, you’ll always* have them available. (*Certain characters may leave your team temporarily depending on your decisions. Terms and conditions apply. See store for details.) However, “distinct” and “useful” are two very different things, and as the miles and battle scars pile up you’ll start to see a meta develop within the game that favors certain characters over others. Some characters are no-brainer selections regardless of the circumstances, some characters are only/most valuable in certain situations, some are best deployed in groups to take advantage of their synergy, and some will be glued to the bench save for the occasional mock battle. (Seriously, I recruited Piccoletta fairly early in my first playthrough, and I’ve yet to use her in a main story battle…and she’s still more useful than Giovanna.)

So which characters should you target to optimize your squad against all comers? Here are the ten Triangle Strategy characters that I’ve squeezed the most value out of in my time with the game.

(Disclaimer: I have yet to recruit four of the available characters to my squad, and while I’m pretty sure Travis and Milo wouldn’t make this list anyway, I think Avlora and potentially Cordelia could force me to update these rankings in the future. But hey, at this point what’s another Triangle Strategy post?)

#10: Narve

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 110 and Liberty score above 275.

Why? TS doesn’t have a complex elemental strength/weakness system like Pokémon, but you’ll occasionally run into enemies that fear one type of magic more than others, and they also impact the terrain in different ways (freezing tiles, setting tiles ablaze, chaining attacks through water, etc.) Narve’s biggest strength is his flexibility: Most of the spell-slingers in this game specialize in one or two forms of magic, but Narve can use all of them, including a healing spell that can target multiple allies! Normally being a jack-of-all-trades means that you lack the raw firepower of an elemental specialist, but I found that the base elemental spells (especially Scorch and Icy Breath) were the ones I leaned on for the specialists as well, so Narve was either a) a feasible replacement for said specialist, or b) a great way to double down on a specific type of spell that suited the battlefield (for example, electricity if the field was stormy or featured a lot of traversable water tiles). Narve’s recruitment requirements are laughably low (he was the first freely-recruitable character that I got), so be sure to pick him up quickly, because he’s a solid choice as a primary mage and a great choice as a supplemental one.

#9: Corentin

How To Obtain: Choose to visit Hyzante in Chapter 3.

Why? Unlike Narve, Corentin is an ice man in the mold of George Gervin and Mr. Freeze, and I would argue he gets more out of this element than anyone else gets out of anything else. Sure, he’s got a hair more firepower than Narve and can choose to dial in on a specific enemy with Frosty Fetters instead of using the wider-but-weaker Icy Breath, but what puts Corentin on this list are the non-offensive capabilities provided by his kit. Icy Wall constructs a barrier that can seal off a narrow passageway or help protect an ailing unit, while Shield Of Ice will not only protect a unit from a single attack, but will also counterattack regardless of what that single attack was (in other words, it’s way better than Frederica’s Flame Shield). With Tactical Points (TP) being perhaps the most precious resource in the game, his ability to instantly gain a TP when beginning his turn on a frozen space can also be helpful, even if it doesn’t get activated much in practice (he’s usually freezing enemy squares with attacks, and his low physical defense and inherent ice resistance means enemies aren’t throwing ice attacks back at him). Visiting the Holy State early in the game is a must, because Corentin will come in very handy as the game rolls along…and going to Aesfrost only gets you Rudolph, i.e. the weakest archer in the game.

#8: Serenoa

How To Recruit: Buy the game!

Why? As the protagonist, using Serenoa is required for every story battle, so it’s a good thing he turns out to be so useful. Serenoa starts out as your typical swordfighter, and he’s outclassed by Roland early on in the game due to his comparatively-limited movement and attack range. However, as the game progressed it seemed that Roland got weaker (his lack of both physical defense and a true ranged attack meant he was usually the first character to fall every battle) while Serenoa got stronger (both his stats and his kit lent themselves to leading the vanguard). Serenoa may not be the guy setting the edge and drawing the battle line (that’s going to be a tankier character like Erador or Flanagan), but you’ll want him walking that line like Johnny Cash to maximize his value: He needs to be close enough to the enemy to use Hawk Dive, Counter Stance, and Sweeping Slash, but close enough to his allies to benefit from Strength In Numbers and use abilities like Shielding Stance and Under Conviction’s Banner. (Thankfully, his physical attack power allows him to both start and finish battles as necessary.) It may not be glamorous work, but Serenoa is a great choice to set the edge, draw the defense’s attention, and give DPS characters like Narve and Corentin the space to do their work.

#7: Medina

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 500 and Liberty score above 400.

Why? This one even caught me by surprise, because up until I reached the final fateful decision in my first playthrough, Medina was a clear-cut C-tier character that showed up in story battles only slightly more than Piccoletta. The game’s decision to put strict limits on item availability (not to mention giving you few opportunities to earn enough money to actually buy the items) meant that Medina, whose kit was completely based on the effective use of buffing and healing items, didn’t get much of a chance to shine.

So what changed? Two things:

  • Eventually the floodgates opened for weaker healing items, allowing you to properly stock your inventory and spam such items, which weren’t really powerful enough to do anything…
  • …except that Medina finally learned the TP Physick ability, which granted a tactical point to any unit she used a healing item on. If she used an item that healed multiple characters, each one (even herself if she was in the item’s area-of-effect!) got a TP.

Suddenly, the vaunted armies of Hyzante were caught in a death spiral: Media would stand amongst TP-hungry units like Frederica and Corentin, use her Double Items ability, and drop healing items on the mages (even if they were at full health!), providing them TPs that allowed them to keep firing at the enemy without ever having to stop and recharge. Even better: If Medina used ranged HP recovery pellets and made sure they were also granting HP and TP to her, she could use Double Items on the next turn too, and the wheel kept turning until it had run over every bad guy on the battlefield. (I almost felt sorry for the final boss…)

Of, and one more thing: With a Single Swift Spice (and 2 TP), she can use her Fast-Acting Medication ability to let another character cut the line and act right after she does. Benedict who?

With her limited offensive and defensive abilities, Medina isn’t here because she can take over a game herself. She’s here because she can break the game just enough to let other characters take over the game for her. So yeah, recruit her, let her build up her powers in mock battles, and then watch the sparks fly.

#6: Julio

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 110 and Morality score above 275.

Why? As an individual, Julio can only kinda-sorta stand on his own: His offensive and defensive capabilities are better than Medina’s (actually, he seems to deal more damage than Benedict), but they’re not nearly in the class of true standalone characters like Corentin or Serenoa. So why is Julio ranked higher than both of the characters I just mentioned? It’s because that much like Medina, Julio’s primary role is to power up characters and let them do their thing.

Julio is the equivalent of the Bravebearer job in Bravely Default II, and his job is to make sure that you’ve got enough TP to do your own job (and to a lesser extent, ensuring the enemy doesn’t have enough TP to do theirs). Most of his abilities boil down to the same thing, but each one can be useful depending on the situation:

  • Moment of Truth not only hands 1 TP to a unit, but ups their strength and magic attack as well, which is just unfair when you’re giving the TP to Frederica on a sunny day. The cost of the ability starts at 2 TP, but can be eventually lowered to 1 to let you use it on every turn.
  • Finish Them! is the least efficient of the abilities (it costs you 3 TP to give 2 TP to someone else), but it’s got the largest range of all the attacks, so you don’t have to be right next to someone to help them out.
  • Inheritor just gives all of your TP to someone else, which can turn a useless, recharging unit into a full-TP juggernaut that can rain destruction down on their foes.

Just like with Medina, Julio will do his best work behind the scenes, ensuring your best characters have what they need to turn the tide of battle. If only there were more civil servants like him (and less like, say, Patriatte) in Washington these days…

#5: Hughette

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 2.

Why? In my experience, there are 3 things that define the meta of Triangle Strategy: Range, mobility, and TP efficiency. The TL;DR of this section is that Hughette checks all three boxes:

  • Her bow allows her to rain arrows down onto her foes from a safe distance, chipping in while tankier heroes hold the line.
  • Flugie (yes, that’s the name of her hawk) allows her to quickly and easily stake out the high ground on any map, which will increase both her damage and range. No other archer (and few other units in general) has this much effortless vertical mobility: Trish has to burn a turn and a TP using Leap, and Rudolph and Archibald will need help from characters like Jens or Quahaug.
  • Hughette may not have the multi-unit attacks that mages do, but she has some very useful tricks hidden in her quiver. For example, Blinding Arrow lowers the accuracy of its target (perfect for enemy archers trying to snipe your backline), and Shadowstitching Arrow immobilizes its target and locks them in place for a few turns (great for enemy frontliners who lack a ranged attack). These attacks are great for creating space for your teammates, letting them move about freely and helping them gain control of key areas.

In short, calling Hughette the best archer in the game isn’t much of a stretch (only Archibald can really make a viable counterargument). How nice of the developers to let you use her from the start!

#4: Geela

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? Actually, the biggest solid the developers do you is letting you use Geela right from the start. There are plenty of effective healers in the game (we’ve already discussed a few here), but Geela stands above them for one reason: Her unmatched efficiency. Let’s break down the math:

  • Cure Wounds only costs 1 TP to use.
  • By default, any character not named Decimal gains 1 TP at the start of their turn.
  • Therefore, Geela is the Adrian (“All Day”) Peterson of Triangle Strategy, because all day is exactly how long she can cast healing spells.

Now let’s consider the competition:

  • Narve, Hossabara, and Cordelia require 2 TP for their base healing spells.
  • Giovanna requires 2 TP and a puddle to stand in for use her ability.
  • Medina can match Geela’s healing output, but you’d better have plenty of items stocked up, because once those run out, so does her usefulness.

Of course, it’s not all about efficiency…but then again, neither is Geela. If she needs to knuckle down and unleash more power, she’s got Sanctuary and Mend Wounds to do it. She can also remove status conditions using Heal What Ails You, and even channel her inner Link by using Miraculous Light to give someone a fairy in a bottle that will revive them if they fall. She’s not just the best healer in the game, she’s in the conversation for the best healer ever. I mean, could Rabbid Peach heal every turn? Could Mercedes from Fire Emblem: Three Houses hand characters an extra tank of HP and tell them to go wild? Could Mother Teresa raise the speed of her allies at will? I rest my case.

#3: Flanagan

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 750 and Morality score above 1050.

Why? Look, I love Erador as much as the next guy, but he’s got one fatal flaw: Even with Sprint, the man is slow as molasses, and he slows down any push you make because he’s got to be at the front of the line. Flanagan is a combination of Erador and Flugie: His base movement isn’t any better than Erador, but his hawk allows him to scale walls and navigate uneven terrain without a hitch, and Aerial Assault (which is a decent attack option by itself) can double as a mobility booster by letting you move a few extra spaces in a turn.

Having this kind of mobility could be a problem if a unit strays to far from their healers (see: Roland), but Flanagan’s rock-hard physical defense means he can pretty much stake out any position he wants and dare the opponent to move him. Mages will have little trouble doing so, but non-magical troops comprise the bulk of most enemy forces, and they’ll generally have a lot of trouble bringing him down, even with follow-up attack combinations. If there’s an ally healer anywhere in the vicinity, Flanagan ain’t going anywhere (and if he’s got his Iron Stance skill, not even shield bashes will do the trick.

Flanagan’s this high on the list because he’s a safe and effective choice to be the first person into an area (fly him in first, stick Serenoa next to him, bring the mages up behind him, and profit). He’s not quite Erador in terms of drawing fire (Provoke is far better than Shield Bash, so if the battlefield is level Erador can be a better choice for keeping people away from your flimsier units), but for the most part Flanagan will be an automatic selection for your squad.

#2: Maxwell

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 750 and Liberty score above 1050.

Why? As tough as Flanagan is, Ser Maxwell is hands-down the best melee unit in the game. The dude is basically Roland on steroids:

  • You want attack power? Maxwell’s spear can strike two units at once by default, or you can focus your power on a single foe using Triple Thrust (the cost of which can be reduced to 1 TP). His offensive prowess rivals that of Serenoa, allowing you to make quick work of anyone is your way.
  • You want mobility? Maxwell has decent movement range to start, and then can use Traverse to move a few more squares (ignoring walls and gaps) before launching their attack. His ultimate attack High Jump combines these two steps, effectively turning him into Super Mario (or would Genji be the better comparison, as it makes diving enemy backliners Maxwell’s speciality?).
  • You want survivability? His Revive ability automatically gives him a free tank of HP when he falls in battle, allowing Geela to save her powers for lesser units. It also means he can imitate Flanagan for a few turns if necessary, drawing fire away from other units.
  • You want range? Lance Hurl allows him to strike from a distance without getting up close and personal with the opponent, which is the one missing piece from Roland’s kit.

Maxwell is a must-pick for your team no matter the situation, and his power makes him worthy of his Dawnspear title. There’s only one character, however, who’s worthy of the title of best Triangle Strategy character, and that’s the Kensa .52 Gal herself.

#1: Frederica

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? I struggled to find a suitable nickname for Frederica as she dominated my first TS playthrough…and then she two-shot all three of the supposedly high-powered horsemen in the final battle like she was carrying a certain meta-breaking polka-dotted weapon from Splatoon 2, and a new legend was born.

I’ve already laid out the case for Frederica being the best character here, but the thing that really cements her position is how her presence goes beyond succeeding in the meta and starts defining it, much like how the original Kensa .52 Gal turned Tenta Missiles into the ever-present force that they’ve become in Splatoon. Characters like Julio and Medina are on this list simply because they have incredible synergy with Frederica, giving her the HP and TP necessary to absolutely dominate the battlefield. (And I say this despite the fact that I’ve never bothered to unlock her ultimate attack Sunfall—I just Scorch my way to victory!) Her magical powers are unrivaled, and if you can spam them from the high ground, no army can stand against you.

Now, I will admit that her star hasn’t shone quite as brightly in my second playthrough thus far: We’ve run into more battles with inclement weather, and she has some serious negative synergy with Ezana (what do you mean you’re going to make it rain?!). Still, for the most part she’s been able to power through, play her game, and continue squashing her foes, and that’s more than enough to keep the top spot on this list.

Next question: Is Frederica the best tactical strategy character ever? Send word to Lysithea, Sakura, and Rabbid Luigi: The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Tormented Souls: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Amazon

Well … yes, I think … or maybe no, depending on who you are, dear reader. But hey, let’s table that for  now and dive into the time machine.

As a Switch owner, I can only say I’ve played certain Resident Evil titles, and only up to 6, at that. What this means is that, until I finally have the means to experience 7 and 8, I’m stuck deciding between 4 and the remake of the first game for my favorite title in the series. The chronicles of Leon Kennedy in the former title have certainly provided the roadmap between adventure and horror that’s guided the series ever since its release, but there’s the part of me that’s a bit sad that we’ll never get games like the latter title again, when the controls were clunky, the camera angles were fixed, and we loved them just the same anyway.

Truth be told, though, that style of gameplay is something every horror series has moved on from, and to be fair, it’s probably for the better – especially when series like the aforementioned Resident Evil have found ways to modernize the horror experience without relying on past gimmicks. But for those missing that classic experience, the recent Switch release Tormented Souls should certainly satisfy that hunger, even if outright recommending it is trickier. Those familiar with the basic formula will probably jump right in even despite some beginning frustrations; others may view it as a clunky, outdated ripoff that’s hard to enjoy. And despite my disagreement with that assessment, I can’t say it’s completely unfair.

The basic gist is that you play as Caroline Walker, who receives an anonymous letter with only an address for the Wildberger Hospital/mansion/dungeon of doom, as well as a picture of two little girls that, for reasons unknown at first, give Walker headaches and nightmares. Because of this, she travels to the hospital, gets clunked on the head mere moments after entering the establishment, and wakes up in a bathtub somewhere else in the establishment hooked up to a ventilator. Oh, and she’s missing an eye … and then the game begins!

My initial thoughts when playing the game were that it felt like I was playing something from around 2002 or so, and while that statement could be used as a fair criticism, I saw it as an honest homage to the various series that inspired it, which goes beyond just the aforementioned Resident Evil to include Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill, as well. For as much as the developers wanted to bill this as a modernization of the formula, though, that’s not really accurate. The camera angles are fixed, the save points and mechanics to actually use them are limited, the voice acting is wonderfully cheesy as hell, and the controls … could be better. Again, mileage will vary on how well that classic formula will click with some, but even despite liking it myself, I do have some slight issues with it. For one, there are plenty of times where I’d have Walker walk somewhere, only for the angle to completely change and the controls fail to follow suit, prompting my control of Walker to wack out a bit and have her return to the same direction she just came from, which did not help when running from enemies.

Although, speaking of enemies, your main ones aren’t zombies; they’re mutated hospital patients that have transformed into monsters – your first one being a knife-wielding creature in a wheelchair that’s a comin’ for ya. And therein lies the appeal to this game – the atmosphere, layout, and enemy design. The character designs are definitely on the rougher side of quality, but Tormented Souls is all about building its plot through subtlety, just like those survival horror games from yesteryear. You’ll find documents scattered throughout the mansion that piece together the story, which gets better and more starkly depressing as it goes on, gradually revealing Walker’s own role in the overall plot.

Of course, there’s always that question when going through a survival horror game of just how cautious one should be. In my experience, while the game is never one to hold your hand, there are subtle clues and hints to guide the player along the way and never make it feel too unfair. Right at the beginning of the game you’ll get a warning to not enter the shadows, meaning that if you enter a darkened area without your trusty lighter and hang around for too long … well, something will get you (I found out the hard way). And as far as healing items and ammo are concerned, while resources are very scarce at first, the game eventually opens up and gives you more than enough to properly escape the nightmare.

The tricky part, then, comes through in its puzzle design, which is another homage to what came before it that feels brilliantly crafted … and also just downright frustrating at points (did anyone solve those combination door puzzles without a guide?!?). Unlike what came before it, Tormented Souls creatively allows and encourages players to solve the puzzles in real time and properly examine every object they come across, which leads to some really well-crafted puzzles and solutions (heck, I got stuck on the first room), the kind that feel challenging, but also make sense when actually solved and completed. The more frustrating elements come in the backtracking, where even if you’ve opened up a new room and received a new item, you might have to backtrack all the way to the other side of the mansion in some random little room you don’t really remember too well to use it. Granted, if the map system was a little more intuitive and less clunky, that would help, but, like with those survival horror games of yesteryear, the difficulty stems from figuring out the next move rather than how to take out the next enemy. And the overall game, while surprisingly short, will feel like a much more padded-out experience due to the player’s initial lack of understanding.

Despite my criticisms, though, is Tormented Souls worth your time? Well, yeah, I think so, but I would recommend playing it on another system if you can, mostly due to how rough the cutscenes look on it (everything else seemed to run fine for me, however), and I would reiterate that it’s a very niche experience that might not attract players who didn’t grow up with that classic survival horror experience. If you’re like me and did, then Tormented Souls provides an absolutely worthy and great addition to the genre’s library. The gameplay is dated but still fun, the story progresses at a great pace, the enemies and overall atmosphere provide that perfect sense of dread, and the puzzles, while challenging, are mostly always fair and definitely interesting and creative. Classic survival horror might not have received an update to its style here, but sometimes you don’t need to mess with what already works.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 9, 2022

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. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
2. Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” 0 (5/10)
3. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” 0 (5/10)
4. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
5. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
6. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
7. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
8. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
9. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
10. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
11. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
12. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
13. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
14. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
15. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
16. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
17. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
18. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
19. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
20. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
21. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
22. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
23. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
24. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
26. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
27. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
28. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
29. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
30. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
31. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
32. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
33. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
34. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
35. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
36. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
37. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
38. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
39. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
40. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
41. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
42. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
43. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
44. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
45. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
46. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
47. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
49. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
50. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
50. Eli Young Band, “Love Talking” 0 (5/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +4
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +8
Overall Pulse +12
Change From Last Week
+3 🙂

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” 7/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” (down from #3 to #7)
  • Caitlyn Smith, “Downtown Baby” (dropped below #50)

Leaving:

  • Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” (down from #16 to #28)
  • Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” (down from #17 to #29)

Zombie Tracks:

  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down from #6 to #7, earning the dubious distinction of losing spots during its max push week)
  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (holds at #15, but gained only eleven spins and lost points)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (down from #38 to #40, lost spins and only gained and twelve points)

In Real Trouble:

  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (holds at #47, but gained only two spins and thirty points)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (up from #49 to #48, but gained only twenty-two spins and thirty-four points)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (up from #45 to #43, but gained only twenty-six spins and thirty points)

In Some Trouble:

  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (up from #20 to #18, but gained only twenty-one spins and 114 points. We’re gonna have to talk about this one…)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (up from #25 to #23, but gained only seven spins and thirty-one points)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (down from #44 to #45, gained only twenty-five spins and ninety-six points)
  • Eli Young Band, “Love Talking” (debuts at #50, but barely kept its bullet by losing spins and breaking even on points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (debuts at #38)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (up from #28 to #22)
  • Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” (up from #9 to #5)
  • Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” (up from #18 to #14)
  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (up from #21 to #17)
  • Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” (up from #39 to #35)

Is still Thanos?:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (holds at #3, and looks to be settling for a one-week #1 as he’s got a max-spin ad in CA this week. Has he lost the crown of country music?)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Callista Clark, “Gave It Back Broken”
  • LoCash ft. Mike Love & Bruce Johnson, “Beach Boys”
  • Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Decide”

Overall Thoughts: This was yet another feast week on the chart, with the losses from Shelton, Church, and Bentley/HARDY/BRELAND releasing plenty of spins back into the wild and only a single solid-but-not-spectacular debut from Brown to monopolize them. Outside of a few large position gains in the middle of the charts due to Church’s and Shelton’s falls, there isn’t much to say at the 10,000-ft. level, so let’s talk about a few songs in particular:

  • I never thought I would see the day with Thanos gained only six spins in a week. The man seems content to take his turn atop the charts these days, and while that’s still considered a massive success for most artists (heck, this week marks McBryde’s first appearance at #1), it’s kind of a letdown for a guy who could snap his fingers and spend a month at #1 not that long ago. While this sort of thing happens to everyone eventually (it feels like every A-list artist has a brief moment where they leap into the stratosphere and can do not wrong), the speed at which Combs fell back to the pack caught me more than a little off guard. I would say the “Current King of Country Music” title is officially disputed, and unfortunately I think Wallen (ugh) might be the strongest challenger at this point. We’ll see what the next few weeks have in store.
  • Speaking of Wallen, is he the reason “Flower Shops” has lost all of its momentum recently? Sam Wilson proposed this theory a few weeks ago, and the Pulse Music Board for this track seems to have settled on this as well. If so, I can’t imagine ERNEST is terribly happy with this situation: “Wasted On You” is likely to spend at least another month climbin to #1, and then it will burn another few weeks on its slow descent into recurrency, which means that if Wallen overexposure is the issue, ERNEST could be stuck on pause until July. What’s the point of riding another star’s coattails to success if said artist ends up putting you on ice and squandering your momentum to cover their own bases? I’m not sold on either the artist or the song, but I do feel like someone is doing ERNEST dirty.

On the coronavirus front, we’re officially in the throes of another surge, with both new daily case and death averages going up (hospitalization numbers are rising as well). Depending on who you ask, we’re either on the verge of surpassing or have already surpassed one million deaths in America from COVID-19, and predictions for what’s coming next (A summer surge in the southern U.S.? 100 million new infections this fall/winter?) are not good. With few restrictions in place, we’re on our own in determining what we should or shouldn’t do to manage our risks and our health, so I’m sticking to my usual script for the forseeable future:

The pandemic may not be the lead headline anymore with everything that’s going on (heck, it’s even a shorter segment here than it’s been in a while), but the level of virus in our communities right now is not something we can ignore. If we’re ever going to find a way out of this mess, we need to adhere to best practices and continue to do all we can to keep everyone safe.

Song Review: Kane Brown (ft. Brooks & Dunn?), “Like I Love Country Music”

This is the dumbest little silly song I’ve heard in quite some time…but I’ve said that before. It didn’t turn out bad then, and it’s not so bad now either.

One of the more-fascinating stories I’ve charted over our time here at Kyle’s Korner is the evolution of Kane Brown as a country artist. He began his career as part of the genre-fusing Metro-Bro crew in the mid 2010s, then quickly morphed with the meta to become one of the more-conventional (and boring) acts in the genre, and now he seems to be trying to call back to the 90s and pivot to a more-traditional sound. I wouldn’t call his path a steady march towards improvement thus far, but I will call his latest single “Like I Love Country Music,” the third standalone single he’s released since Mixtape, Vol. 1 (it’s four if you count his duet with Chris Young “Famous Friends,” but I’d prefer to forget that tire fire), the closest thing this genre has gotten to a neotraditional tribute since the Hot Country Knights were in town. Much like Russell Dickerson’s “Every Little Thing,” this is a silly-sweet love song that doesn’t have a whole lot to say about love, so it leans into the country music portion of the title to make the song a rollicking good time for all.

I’ve been railing against the bland standard that is Nashville’s current guitar-and-drum template for a while now, so the production here manages to feel old-school and fresh at the same time. Much like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, everyone is here: The fiddle (which has been getting a lot more screen time in Brown’s releases lately), the steel guitar, the twinkling piano, the electric guitars with that distinct mid-90s tone, the drum set, the extended instrumental outro, Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn, etc. The more-modern elements are here as well, and are blended with the neotraditional elements with mixed results: The drum machine that helps open the track and covers the first few verses is unobtrusive and fits in well, but the hard-edge rock guitars are wayyyyyyy too loud in the mix and drown everything else out when they’re cranked up on the chorus. Still, I’d say this arrangement hits more often than it misses, bringing an intensity and an energy that amplifies the narrator’s feelings towards their two true loves, while also creating a fun vibe that makes the whole thing down go easy. Outside of the Knights, the only example of a sound like this in recent memory is Thanos’s “When It Rains It Pours,” which helps this track stand out from its peers and draw in listeners. It’s a mix that’s both retro and radio-friendly, and with summer on the way, I expect it to be a potent combination of the airwaves.

As far as Brown’s vocal talent, if this song can’t convince you that’s he’s a above-average artist, then I don’t know what will. This is not an easy song to pull off, as it requires a) the flow to quickly blast through the verses while still putting some feeling behind the words, and b) the range to go deep on the verses and then climb the ladder on the choruses without losing your vocal tone. Brown passes both tests with flying colors, showing off both the deeper voice that drew listeners to him in the first place and a smooth flow that lets him breeze through the verses without braking a sweat. He’s been a bit inconsistent on love songs up to this point (“Good As You” was kinda-sorta okay, “Worship You” not so much), so I think leaning into the fun here rather than the romance was the right call, and there’s a real enthusiasm to Brown’s delivery here that leads you to believe he’s as big a fan as he claims. (Brooks and Dunn are limited to one line apiece, but they still sound good, and it’s nice to see the song go beyond the usual name-drops to actually include some of the people they talk about.) Overall, this is a solid performance that helps extend the song’s good vibes, and hopefully it will push people past Brown’s previously polarizing performances and convince them to give him the respect he deserves.

The writing is…well, let’s say it’s not a terribly deep song. The narrator uses their love of country music to demonstrate how deep their love is for their partner, and leans on a few old-school references to drive home their point. In truth, the writing feels like a placeholder, giving the singer and sound an excuse to go wild with their retro tribute. The whole song has two quick verses and a bridge (it’s leans on its outro to really feel complete) and is built around only five real music references, which are more silly and nonsensical than anything else (“high like Willie,” “gone like Jones,” the fact that the narrator needs their partner and a record player on a desert island, etc.). It’s not as packed as Walker Hayes’s “90s Country,” but thankfully it’s nowhere near as sleazy either, as it emphasizes the song’s less-serious nature and indicates that the bond here is just as much emotional as it is physical—above all, the two are together because it’s fun! Unlike “Every Little Thing,” this track wants you to at least care about the lyrics a tiny bit, but just to set the mood so it can then sweep you away in a nostalgic wave. No one’s going to win a Nobel Prize for literature with this song, but if you end the song feeling better than when it started, that’s close enough to perfect for now.

“Like I Love Country Music” is just a sugar high, but at least it’s a quality sugar high, featuring a throwback sound, a fun vibe, and a charismatic performance from Kane Brown to help remind folks like me why we love country music in the first place. Despite its ephemeral nature, it does a lot of things right: It brings back the instrumental variety and tone of the 90s to distinguish itself on the radio, it tells a love story without feeling too sappy or creepy, and it lets people enjoy themselves without falling prey to nihilism or alcoholism. It also gives Brown an intriguing path moving forward that might help him reclaim the buzz of his early releases, and really shines in a year that’s felt pretty weak overall thus far. It’s not my favorite song of the year, but at this point I’ll happily take it.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out—I think you’ll be glad you did.