Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion: Is It Worth Buying?

Image From Nintendo

Dreams do come true, if we only wish hard enough. —James M. Barrie

Ever since players first encountered Octolings in the original Splatoon, fans have been clamoring to bring these eight-tentacled warriors into multiplayers battles as playable characters. The company resisted these calls during the Wii U era, but with both Splatoon 2 and the Switch recognized as unqualified successes, the dollar signs became too big for the Big N to ignore. The company announced the plan to release a new Octo-based single-player campaign a few months ago, but dropped a surprise announcement at E3 that the DLC was coming out on June 13th.

Octo Expansion is the first paid DLC for Splatoon 2, and thus is a sharp break from the game’s traditional pattern of free updates. When a dream this longstanding and passionate is fulfilled, however, price tends to be less of an issue, and most players were more than happy to throw money at Nintendo. After playing through the entire expansion pack and bring Agent 8 to the surface to live amongst the Inklings, I’d say that $20 for the whole thing seems like a more-than-fair price.

My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • The expansion pack certainly delivers on quantity, with a whopping 80 missions to play (and that number doesn’t include the long ending sequence, final boss battle, or secret final boss battle). The levels are generally smaller and shorter than those from the Agent 3/4 campaigns, but the goals for the expansion levels are much more varied: take out all the enemies, defend an orb, don’t get hit by enemy ink, roll an 8-ball to the goal, etc.) A couple of classic boss fights return from the Agent 4 campaign, but additional hazards and enemies are added in to make them more challenging.
  • Speaking of challenging…for all the hype about how this DLC would be tougher than the Agent 4 campaign, my response would be a shrug and a “yeah, but not by much.” There were a couple of intense moments (mostly involving multiple Octolings unleashing special attacks on me simultaneously), but the only hard part about the whole thing was navigating some of the platforming parts with a failing, stick-drifting Joy-Con. Less-seasoned players may find some of the levels tricky, but Nintendo’s got them covered too: After a couple of failures, Pearl and Marina offer you the chance to bypass the level as if it were completed, giving everyone the chance to beat the expansion pack and bring Octolings into Inkopolis.
  • There’s a payment system that requires you to cough up a certain number of points to challenge a level. This system felt completely unnecessary: You tend to build up an abundance of currency over time anyway, and you’re bailed out if you run too low on points to keep going. It never felt like a problem during my playthrough, but it didn’t serve any useful purpose either.
  • There aren’t any hidden collectibles (sardinium, sunken scrolls) in the expansion pack—”mem cakes” are awarded for every completed level, and while they aren’t as interesting individually as the sunken scrolls (you get a little octameter poetry, and that’s it), earning complete subway-line sets of cakes will earn you DLC-specific gear (Octoling armor, Cuttlefish’s outfit) that can be used in multiplayer battles.
  • You don’t necessarily have to 100% all the levels to beat the DLC and use Octolings in multiplayer, but doing so unlocks a fun secret final battle that you get a special headgear item for beating. It’s not much, but I’ll never say no to more gear. 😉
  • The story for this DLC is fantastic, and finally fleshes out the backstory of some very important characters (most notably Marina). I like how “Craig” Cuttlefish has evolved into a fire-spitting MC, I liked the way Agent 3 was incorporated into the tale, and as crazy as things got at the end, all the loose ends were tied and nothing felt unbelievable. The use of the four “thangs” was particularly good, especially as the real villain reveals themselves later in the story.
  • While the differences between Inklings and Octolings are purely cosmetic (and auditory—Octolings have deeper voices), the Octoling designs feel just as cool and inspired as their squid-based brethren. They can use all the same gear as Inklings, so there’s no need to change your loadout—you just switch your species in the option menu and charge into battle!

Splatoon 2‘s Octo Expansion is a great example of DLC done right: It’s not going to impact your enjoyment of the rest of the game if you don’t get it, but it’s a nice extra 10-15 hour trip through the game’s deeper lore with some on-point action platforming that felt positively Mario Odyssey-esque at times. $20 felt perfectly reasonable (and maybe even a little cheap) for this DLC, and I’d encourage anyone who’s on-the-fence to pick it up and try it out for yourself.

Advertisements

Song Review: Abby Anderson, “Make Him Wait”

Honestly, I’m not sure this song was worth the wait.

Abby Anderson is a Dallas native whose big break came via…Glenn Beck?! (And I thought Big D and Bubba was an unexpected source…) Three years after her 2014 appearance on Beck’s TV show, Anderson landed a record deal with Black River Entertainment, and a year later she released her first official radio single “Make Him Wait.” It’s a nice message and a decent-enough song (and further proof that we’re moving away from the Metro-Bro era), but it really feels like it’s missing that special something to take it to the next level.

Like every serious country song released lately, the production here is reminiscent of Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”: Simple, restrained, and above all piano-driven. In fact, it feels more even more pared-down, trading Janson’s steel and acoustic guitars for some electric guitar stabs and some quiet snare-driven percussion. Unfortunately, the song seems to lack energy and momentum as a result, and just plods along from beginning to end—even the guitar solo feels surprisingly “meh.” Outside of the bridge, I was surprised just how dark and dispassionate the song felt (and frankly, the bridge energy is provided by the vocals, not the production). The quiet, somber tone of the mix certainly conveys the seriousness of the topic at hand, but I feel like it also blunts the song’s impact, keeping it from sticking in the listener’s mind the way it wants to.

Anderson, whose voice reminds me a lot of Bebe Rexha, certainly sounds like a capable enough artist, but her performance here suffers from the same malaise as the production. Her range and flow aren’t tested here (the song feels a bit low for her voice at times, but these moments are infrequent enough that it’s not a major issue), but she delivers her lines in such a cold, rational tone that it seems to create this distance between herself and the listener that the lyrics have trouble bridging. She’s certainly believable in the narrator’s role, and she’s championing a message that’s easy to get behind, but she just doesn’t provide enough energy or passion for the track to really leave an impression on the listener.  Instead, the audience listens respectfully, thinks “gosh, that’s nice,” and then forgets the song existed a few minutes later.

The lyrics are the biggest draw here, as the narrator encourages young women to take their time when considering questions of love, sex, and marriage, and to demand that their potential partners give them the space to make such weighty decisions. It’s a good piece of advice, not to mention a nice counterpoint to all the “guy tries to pick up a girl and make her rush her decision process” songs that have plagued the genre over the last couple of years. (Hey Jordan Davis, are you paying attention?) I like the way the story flows naturally from first crushes to wedding bells, and while it’s not the most novel writing in the world, it provides enough detail and context to get the job done. (While there’s a slight traditionalist undertone here, with the song basically asking both men and women to restrain their animal impulses and save themselves for marriage, it’s framed in an advice-giving manner that doesn’t feel dictatorial or patronizing.) Unfortunately, there’s not enough power in the words alone to override the   bland, melancholic feel of the sound and the singer.

I want to like “Make Him Wait” more than I do, but the track just doesn’t pull me in like it should. The lyrics probably could have been the foundation for a moving, impactful song, but its potential is completely squandered by lifeless production and a so-so performance from Abby Anderson. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not terribly memorable either, and for a debut single, that may be the worst possible outcome.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth hearing, but you likely won’t recall it in a few months.

Song Review: Little Big Town, “Summer Fever”

For a “Summer Fever,” this one doesn’t feel all that contagious.

After riding “Better Man” to No. 1, Little Big Town, country music’s ultimate boom-or-bust band, went right back to busting: “Happy People” limped to a #46 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “When Someone Stops Loving You” sputtered out at #37. In response, the group has closed the chapter on The Breaker and released a brand new single “Summer Fever” as the leadoff track from their upcoming ninth studio album. It’s clearly aiming for a lightweight, fun-loving summer vibe, but while there are things to like about this song, I was mostly struck by how not fun it turned out to be.

The production is the main reason this track comes off as uninviting as it does. The instruments are exactly what you’d expect here: A slick electric guitar on the melody, a percussion mixture with an lot of bounce and an island flair, and even a steel guitar floating adding a spacious feel to the background. (Also, although I rarely mention the bass in a song, this one is actually funky enough to occasionally draw your attention.) The tempo provides energy, the instruments provide a nice groove…so what’s the problem? In a word, it’s tone: The instruments feel dark and serious rather than bright and happy, and the track is plagued with minor chords that completely ruin the carefree, relaxed atmosphere the lyrics try to establish. Compared to past LBT songs like “Pontoon” and “Day Drinking,” this song feels surprisingly lifeless, and comes across as a lot less enjoyable than it should be.

This bizarre malaise extends to the vocals as well, as lead singer Karen Fairchild is robbed of her usual power and fails to pass along any good vibes to her audience. Part of this stems from how low the song’s key is set, which forces Fairchild into her lower range and makes her voice thin and raspy, especially on the verses. Things improve slightly as the song progresses (those opening lines on the final chorus are the best part), and having the entire LBT crew back Fairchild on the choruses helps fill out the vocals, but the persistent lack of power and tone drags the entire song down and keeps it from feeling as fun as it should. Fairchild’s certainly got the chops to make a song like this work (again, see LBT’s past work), and pulling her back instead of letting her unleash her full power was a major misstep.

The lyrics, like the instruments, are exactly what you would expect: A gallery of stock summer imagery (beaches, mixtapes, topless cars) as the narrator and their significant other catch “summer fever.” It’s not clever and original (heck, it’s not even the first song with this title), but it’s not intended to be: This is a light, fluffy track meant to capture the sunny summer vibes of the next few months, and then be completely forgotten by October. It’s a time-honored trope that’s worked to great effect in the past, but it requires the cooperation of the production and artists to reach its full potential. (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the gold standard this year is actually Old Dominion’s “Hotel Key.”) With the sound and singers working at cross-purposes with the lyrics, however, the result is an uninteresting, uninviting track that’ll be forgotten by July, let alone October.

“Summer Fever” didn’t have to be this mediocre. Brighten up the production and turn Little Big Town loose on the vocals, and this could have at least merited a mention alongside the group’s other breezy summer anthems. As it is, it’s just another “meh” song on the radio, and it’s taking up space in between tracks that are actually engaging and fun. LBT may have hoped to start a pandemic with this fever, but I’m afraid the genre is already vaccinated against it.

Rating: 5/10. It’s more “bust” than “boom.”

My Reactions To The Nintendo 2018 E3 Direct

Is there such thing as too much of a good thing? Because it looks like Nintendo wants to find out. (For the record, Alan Jackson says no.)

While other game companies go through the usual E3 pomp and circumstance, Nintendo continued its straight-to-video tradition by releasing an expansive 45-minute Direct to kick off the exposition. Despite the length, however, the Big N seemed to cover fewer games than usual, and devoted half its time to fleshing out a single title (by now, you probably know which one it was). Only time will tell if it was a wise move, but it left a lot of titles that would have gotten more time in the past scrambling just to get a few precious seconds.

My thoughts on specific games that were highlighted:

  • Daemon X Machina: If the Transformers movies didn’t satisfy your desire for mass mechanized chaos, DXM has got you back. The concept seems pretty simple: You play as a moderately-sized mech and try to take down massive bosses or huge swarms of laser-shooting enemies. While this isn’t the sort of game I’m terribly interested in, I liked the art style and the fast-paced action the game brought to the table. It was a nice short of adrenaline to open the presentation with, although I’m not sure the excitement will last all the way to its 2019 release date.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country: This one confused me a little bit, given how little it seemed to connect with the XC2 protagonists. The story and combat mechanics look pretty similar to the original game, so if more of that is what you’re looking for, it’s probably worth checking out this September.
  • Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!: This is where the energy started leaking out of the presentation, though this was more due to Reggie’s molasses-slow delivery than the games he was showing. I’m still really torn on these two: I like the co-op play option, the viewable overworld Pokémon, and the Poké Ball Plus, but I don’t like the Go-esque capturing system, and going back to Kanto for the millionth time does not excite me in the slightest. (The fact that they’re branding this as a “brand-new adventure”really irritates me. Hey Nintendo, I caught all 150 of these things twenty years ago. There’s nothing left for me here.) I’ll probably pick it up in November just to try it out, but I won’t be satisfied until I get my G4 remake (seriously, Sinnoh would look amazing in HD).
  • Super Mario Party: This was a series in desperate need of a reboot, and with the crazy ways you can use the Switch and the Joy-Cons to play, it looks like it got one (plus it might finally justify all the junk they stuff into the Joy-Cons). Toadette appears to be a star-giver rather than a playable character, but overall this looks like a fun, quirky title that could be worth checking out when it drops in October.
  • Fire Emblem Three Houses: I’m all for more Fire Emblem games, but this one didn’t capture my attention the way I hoped it would. The visuals look spectacular and the same combat scheme I enjoyed from Fates: Birthright returns intact, but the mass groups of players on the battlefield give me a concerning Warriors vibe, and I’m not sure how they’ll be handled. The delay to Spring 2019 isn’t terribly concerning (the end of 2018 is looking a bit crowded as it is), but I’ll need to see more before passing judgement of this one.
  • Fortnite: I feel like the presentation really undersold this one, given the implications of having a massive game like Fortnite show up on Switch reasonably soon after its release. It’s not the best-looking version of the game, but it offers better controls than the iOS version while being more portable than on other consoles. Best of all (assuming you’ve never played the game on Sony hardware), progress can be saved between different versions of the game, so all it not lost when you switch consoles. This one’s going to be big.
  • Overcooked! 2: I didn’t pay much attention to the original game, but the sequel looks like an intriguing puzzler. At the moment, however, I’m not intrigued enough to actually buy the game.
  • Killer Queen Black:I’m hearing a lot of praise for KQB from the E3 floor, and it certainly looks like a frantically good time, but with so many games suddenly competing for my attention, this one is probably going to get squeezed out of my budget and off of my list.
  • Hollow Knight: I get a strong Cuphead vibe from this platformer, even though this game doesn’t look nearly as difficult, but just like Cuphead, I probably won’t dive into this game either. This whole showcase highlights the difficult position Nintendo is in: There are some great indie games by great companies doing great work, but they don’t seem to be able to capture the attention of the mass market. Give Nintendo credit, however, for trying to do their part to spread the message,
  • Octopath Traveler: This game’s managed to get my attention, but the spotlight’s been fading on it for a while now. A fresh new demo is exactly the sort of thing it needs to draw players back in, and that’s exactly what it’s getting in a day or so. I’m really looking forward to this one!
  • Rapid-Fire Game Montage: If your game got stuck here, I hope you got a refund, because you barely got enough screen time for folks to remember your title. Some pretty big names got stuffed in here: Sushi Striker, the Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong DLC, Splatoon 2‘s Octo Expansion, Captain ToadFIFA 19Crash BandicootWolfensteinMega Man 11, and most surprisingly Mario Tennis Aces, which is getting inexplicably overshadowed mere weeks before its release. I would have rather heard more about these games and less about…
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: That said, this is where the excitement level finally jumped back up to a reasonable level. The “Everyone is here!” message was exactly what people wanted to hear, Daisy and Ridley were major reveals, and it felt like the presentation kept gaining momentum as it went along. Still, I really think Nintendo went overboard here with all the little details they showed off. Was it really necessary to discuss Captain Falcon’s slo-mo moves, Olimar’s cracked helmet, or the difference in the sound of Bayonetta’s guns? Given all the games that got shafted to make room for all this information, I think the time could have been better spent. (That said, I still wasn’t moved by  many of the games that did get more time, so maybe nothing would have changed.)

There’s also the issue of what wasn’t included in this direct: The Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion release date and Octoling amiibo, the delay of Yoshi into 2019, any 3DS information at all, etc.) Some of this would have made more sense being in the Direct rather than in a separate announcement, so it again calls Nintendo’s time management into question.

Overall, I’m mixed on this Direct. Smash players are super hyped, and there was a little bit of everything for players across the gaming spectrum. However, being so heavily weighted in favor of one title, even a major one like Super Smash Bros., didn’t feel like a great decision in the end. Still, Nintendo is where it is because it follows the beat of its own drummer, and when we’re all getting subjected to Jigglypuff Final Smashes in December, gamers and critics alike may be feeling a bit differently.

Song Review: Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me”

Sorry Jordan Davis, but I’ve taken about as much of you as I can stand.

Davis’s debut single “Singles You Up” may have ended up at No. 1 on the airplay charts, but it also ended up at the very bottom of my 2017 country single rankings, fending off Walker Hayes and a pair of Dustin Lynch releases to claim the inglorious honor. When an artist drops a single that putrid, there’s really nowhere to go but up, but Davis’s follow-up single “Take It From Me” falls short of even the low bar of generic mediocrity. It’s a sex jam with absolutely no sex appeal, no to mention no groove, no wit, and no compelling reason to keep listening.

The production here is a paint-by-numbers Metropolitan effort that stands out only in how much it doesn’t stand out. It’s got the usual acoustic-verse/electric-chorus guitar split, the usual combination of real and synthetic percussion, and above all, the usual dark, serious attitude that seems to plague every freaking song on the radio these days, regardless of how it meshes with the writing. In the case of “Take It From Me,” it doesn’t mesh at all: The opening electric guitar has a bit of a raunchy feel to it, but otherwise there’s nothing sexy about this sound. After Aaron Watson demonstrated just how powerful a “dark-sexy” track could sound, this thing just feels weak and half-baked in comparison. There’s still some energy in the tempo and a few of the guitar riffs, but they’re just empty sonic calories that you’re better off wasting on better songs.

While Davis mercifully ditches the sleazy, unsympathetic narrator from “Singles You Up,” he still doesn’t come across as someone you want to spend time with, much less someone worth getting it on with. It’s tolerable from a technical perspective (his range isn’t really exercised, but his flow is actually decent), but he just isn’t able set the proper mood for the song. Instead, he feels like just another club-hopping dudebro hitting on an uninterested woman, begging them to be his partner for the night without even a hint of charm or chivalry. Davis’s lack of charisma means he’s simply not able to interest the listener in his escapades or convince them to ride shotgun with him. Personally, I had my fill of performers like this during the Bro-Country and Metropolitan eras, and I’m not looking to revisit those times with meaningless songs like this one.

The writing here is essentially an alternate telling of Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt,” where the narrator offers to trade a night of sexual bliss is exchange for…their favorite T-shirt? Davis’s tune falls short of Rhett’s mostly because it lacks both context and detail, and the whole thing feels vague and sleazy as a result.

  • In “T-Shirt,” Rhett gives the listener enough detail to set the scene (right down to the “Christmas lights in the middle of June”) and give them a sense of the current relationship (the impromptu foreplay was a reoccurring theme of an existing relationship, and was at least consensual).
  • “Take It From Me,” in contrast, provides nothing but an inferred club scene and a shot of a woman in a hallway “running your finger down the wall” (because that’s apparently a sexy thing to do). While the lack of relationship context can be framed as “oh,the narrator is just trying to start something by dropping some pick-up lines,” outside of his T-shirt, the speaker offers absolutely no benefits for the potential partnership besides saying “I got what you need.” There’s no mention of love or commitment or even “hey, you’ll really enjoy this!”—it’s basically a horny guy asking for a one-night stand, regardless of how it makes the other party feel.

Frankly, if someone dropped these lines on me, I’d say “Oh no, I’ve got what you need”…and then throw my drink in their face and kick them in the crotch.

At its core, “Take It From Me” is an unsexy, unimaginative throwback to the lowlights of the Bro-Country era, and I want absolutely no part of it. With generic production,one-sided writing, and a poor showing from Jordan Davis, the song is underwhelming at best and revolting at worst, and it has no business being on the radio. If Davis’s label had any sense, they’d hire Aaron Watson to slap Davis in the face and teach him to write a real sex jam.

Rating: 3/10. Weaksauce.

Mario Tennis Aces: Early Impressions

Mr. L’s about to drop a special shot on your sorry behind. (Image from Polygon)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been underwhelmed by Nintendo 2018’s Switch lineup so far. I greeted Kirby Star AlliesNintendo Labo, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze with three yawns and a snore, and was fully prepared to do the same to Mario Tennis Aces, which is schedule to arrive on June 22nd. However, the game’s online multiplayer capabilities gave the Big N the chance to showcase the game ahead of schedule à la Splatoon 2 and ARMS, and they did just that, putting together a weekend-long demo with one court, nine characters, and some crazy, intense action. I got to mess around with the game for a while, and although I wouldn’t say it moved me too far from my “meh” position, I can’t deny that it was a fun experience overall.

My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • The demo was mostly multiplayer: You could practice against a weak bot locally, but otherwise you were left to play “normal” (i.e., with special shots) or “regular” matches. The decision felt a bit disappointing, given how much hype the campaign has gotten in promotional materials (not to mention the Infinity War references). I was really excited to see more of that!
  • The character roster was a subset of the full release lineup (no Toadette…), but I thought the decision to lock certain characters behind point accumulations was a bad idea. I like to have all my options available to me from the start, and when games restrict me artificially (Super Smash Bros. characters, Splatoon 2 weapons, Super Mario Maker options), it feels like I’m being denied the chance to fully enjoy and experience the game. There are times and games where such gating is appropriate (Xenoblades Chronicles 2 combat, for example), but this isn’t one of them. Seriously, would it have hurt anybody to have Chain Chomp playable right from the start? It’s also worth noting that aside from Bowser’s power, most of the characters felt interchangeable and played about the same.
  • Nintendo takes a lot of heat for their online infrastructure, but Mario Tennis Aces‘s setup felt pretty solid: Wait times for opponents were never too long, the opponent’s network connection strength was shown to you once a connection had been made, and you got the option to start the match or keep looking for another opponent. Having any sort of lag really destroyed the experience (sometimes the game would just freeze for 5-10 seconds), so giving the player both the control and the information to make good matchup decisions was a excellent idea.
  • My experience with the controls was colored by a dying left Joy-Con, but they remind me a lot of Splatoon 2: The basics are easy to pick up and things felt smooth and responsive when my controller cooperated, but if you really want to be competitive online, you’ve got to put in the time to master the art of Zone and Special techniques, which never felt natural to me. I was forever hitting the wrong sort of shot, or mistiming my swing, or making brilliant plays through accidental button-mashing (including several perfect drop-shot winners).
  • Special shots were of special annoyance because they felt like an ‘instant win’ button: You press L no matter where you or the ball are on the court, and you smash the ball at warp speed back at the opponent, whose only recourse is to use their own Special Shot or use Zone Speed in an effort to figure out where the ball is going. They felt far too OP, and should be toned down in the actual release.
  • Despite my many gripes, I enjoyed the 1v1 strategy and multiplayer mind games (certainly more so than I did with ARMS). I managed to find that “just one more game” groove for a while, and made it halfway across the bracket a couple of times (never won anything, sadly). While I never formally played the “normal” mode, the best moments were when neither side made use of their zone capabilities and instead used basic moves to sustain and then finish long rallies. Nintendo has a pretty good grip on the art of fast-paced, short-timer multiplayer action, and with a little bit of rebalancing, MTA should at least replicate ARMS’s showing on the Switch.

So am I sold on this game? Honestly, I’m still waffling: There are a couple of more interesting “Octo” options on the horizon (Octopath TravelerSplatoon 2‘s Octo Expansion), and there’s a good chance this simply gets crowded out of my budget and off of my schedule. Still, for fans who’ve been clamoring for a Mario sports title to grace the Switch, you could do a lot worse.

Song Review: Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset”

Yawn, roll eyes, check watch, repeat.

Earlier in his career, Luke Bryan was known for his Spring Break EP series, as he released a yearly dose of lightweight, beach-flavored material between 2009 and 2014. The quality varied from year to year, but eventually the optics of someone Bryan’s age talking about partying with college coeds caught up with him, and the series was discontinued. He did not, however, give up beach songs entirely (and hey, if Kenny Chesney can still do it, why not?), which bring us to Bryan’s latest single “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” the third from his latest album What Makes You Country. It’s a run-of-a-mill Bro-lite beach party song, and while it has the proper framework to keep it from feeling creepy, it’s also boring beyond belief and utterly fails to engage the listener.

The production here splits the difference between Bro-Country and your typical beach-song fare. It opens with an acoustic guitar and light synthetic beat, but quickly passes the melody over to an electric guitar once the verses start, who then hands it over to a banjo (backed by a real drum set) during the chorus. I’m not terribly impressed with the composition of the mix—the banjo feels a bit too token for my taste, and the real drums are far too loud and prominent on this track, especially on the choruses. The tone also strikes me as a bit too dark for the lyrics, with a twinge of regret and sadness that isn’t reflected in Bryan’s performance. It’s not a terrible mix, but there’s also absolutely no energy here, making it easier to sleep through than listen to.

Bryan at least tries to inject some sunshine into the track through his delivery, but even then his effort feels pretty weak compared to his past work. His range and flow are fine, and he certainly sounds like he had a ball back in the day, but his performance seems to lack the power to really drive his point home (looking back, “Most People Are Good” had similar issues). As fondly as the narrator looks back on his memories, Bryan just doesn’t do enough to interest me in his past exploits, and thus I don’t really care to hear about them. Toss in the conflict with the production (with neither side making a strong case for how the listener should feel), and by the time you reach the second chorus, you’re ready to hear something else.

The setup may be different than Jake Owen’s “The One That Got Away” or Easton Corbin’s “Hearts Drawn In The Sand,” but they’re all basically the same song: Two people find themselves in a temporary summer pairing, and use it as an excuse to drink, party, and love the nights away. The “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat” hook is beyond weak, and besides a bizarre line about “[painting] those shutters the color of your eyes,” there’s nothing here you haven’t heard a hundred times before: The bonfires, the cut-offs, the moonshine jars, etc. It boils down to a Bro-Country song about doing Bro things in the past, and while the fact that this is explicitly a recollection from the past keeps it from veering straight into the gutter, there’s a layer of sleazy weirdness that’s hard to overlook. (I initially thought Bryan meant he was a high school sophomore in the opening lines, and spent my first few listens wondering “Are these sixteen-year-olds drinking and hooking up? Because that’s not something I really want to hear about.”) The biggest problem, however, is that the song is caught somewhere between bitter nostalgia and fond remembrance, and while the writing is ambiguous enough to have it go either way, nothing else takes enough of a stand to definitively set its direction, and the track winds up being nothing but a waste of time.

I don’t hate “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” but I don’t like it either, and I don’t have any interest in revisiting it once this review is finished. It pales in comparison to recent summer songs like “Hotel Key” because it can’t decide what it wants to be: Luke Bryan went light, the production leaned dark, and we ended up with a gray, boring mess. Next time Bryan wants us to reminisce with him, he should decide exactly how to tell the story first.

Rating: 5/10. It’s background noise and nothing more.