Song Review: Logan Mize, “Better Off Gone”

Because the phrase isn’t “when you love someone, you should try to sleep with them immediately.”

Logan Mize is a Kansas native who has been kicking around Nashville since 2010, but hasn’t managed to break through the radio blockade and find a place on the airwaves. We’re only now getting “Better Off Gone,” the second single from his Come Back Road album, after “Ain’t Always Pretty,” barely cracked the Top 40 on Billboard’s airplay chart three years ago. Timing is everything, however, and by waiting until the genre’s Bro-Country and Metropolitan fevers had broken, Mize may have found the right moment to step back into the spotlight. Unlike the meatheaded “gotta have her right this second” tracks that have littered country music for years, “Better Off Gone” has the awareness that a relationship must work for both parties, and that sometimes love means putting another’s well-being above your own.

On some level, this is the guitar-and-drum you hear on most every track on the radio, but there are a couple of differences to note here. For one, the guitars are mostly acoustic (an electric axe does pop up before the bridge for some moody notes, but that’s it), and they a nice job driving the melody with some energy and tempo (even though it’s nice really a fast song). The drum set seems to be snare-less, and the bass-heavy percussion gives the mix a nice punch to go with the guitar. I like how the sparseness of the arrangement keeps the focus on the lyrics (in fact, I wish it had been more sparse: The piano on the bridge is fine, but the stomp and clap lines on the final chorus felt unnecessary), and how the minor chords and somewhat-darker tones of the acoustic guitar underscore the narrator’s inner turmoil: He knows that letting his partner go is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier or less painful. Overall, it’s a nice mix that keeps things simple and fits the song well.

I hear a little bit of Rodney Atkins and John Michael Montgomery in Mize’s voice, and he seems to have the same sort of earnest charisma that Atkins surprised us with back in the early 2000s. While Mize’s flow isn’t tested much here, he demonstrates the range to smoothly handle the lower verses and climb the ladder to apply some power on the choruses. He reminds me a bit of Aaron Watson because of the way he makes you feel like he’s really straining to drive his point home, yet he hits every note in the end. Most importantly, he’s able to capture the narrator’s conflicting emotions over doing the right thing and knowing how painful it will end up being. In doing so, he makes himself a likable and sympathetic character to the audience, and and deepens the impressions he leaves on them after the song is over. Yes, we have far too many young male artists like this in the genre today, but at least Mize’s skill and charm keep him out of the lower tier.

The lyrics here stand in stark contrast to most of the songs I’ve covered over the past couple of years. Relationship songs these days seem to focus on either getting into the backseat or bedroom as fast as possible (“I Don’t Know About You,” “Make Me Want To,” etc.) or getting as much pleasure out of a doomed relationship while it lasts (“One That Gone Away,” “Just A Phase,” etc.), but “Better Off Gone” features a relationship where one partner has their eyes on something big over the horizon, and instead of holding on too tightly for their own benefit, the narrator selflessly steps aside and lets their partner leave, noting that they are “better off gone.” (Think of it as a prequel to Eric Church’s “Round Here Buzz.”) I like the use of detail here, both the novel (country stations fading out) and the not-so-novel (all that clothing the other person took? They’re taking it off and giving it back), and I really like the narrator’s perspective on the whole situation: If you really love someone, you want to help them achieve whatever dreams they have, even if you yourself lose out in the end.  Too many artists look at love as something to milk for all the fun that it’s worth, so to see someone turn away from that because it was the right thing to do (and more importantly, frame its so the audience believes them) is a refreshing sight.

“Better Off Gone” is not a great song, but it’s a pretty decent one, something that might earn Logan Mize the breakthrough he’s been looking for. The production is solid and suitable, the writing’s sentiment is laudable, and Mize himself does a great job selling the story and convincing a jaded audience that yes, he truly want what’s best for his soon-to-be-ex partner. I know there’s no shortage of artists like Mize coming off Nashville’s assembly line, but at least this particular artist showcases enough talent to warrant sticking around.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen and see what you think.

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My Reaction to the 2/13/19 Nintendo Direct

What a difference 35 minutes can make.

Going into this Direct, the game I was most looking forward to this year was Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Sure, Pokémon and Animal Crossing had been announced for sometime this year, but with no gameplay to generate buzz, the year didn’t look all that exciting yet.

For its part, Nintendo seemed to be operating with a lot of confidence as the year began. Where once the company would dump half-baked titles like Mario Tennis Ultra Smash onto the market just to have something to sell, the Big N now was taking the incredible step of scrapping two years worth of Metroid Prime 4 development because the game wasn’t meeting their expectations. Where once they jumped at the chance to remind gamers that they were still around with Directs and other presentations, Nintendo was suddenly operating like a company that knew everybody knew their name, and could put out a presentation on their own darn schedule.

And then they dropped a Direct the day before Valentine’s Day…and showed that their confidence was well-founded.

Nintendo was dropping bombs from the word go, showing off Triple AAA blockbusters, unexpected surprises, and more RPGs than you could shake a stick at in yesterday’s presentation. It was solid from start to finish, and seemed to have something for everyone (except Animal Crossing fans…sorry gang). Instead of rehashing every game shown off in the Direct, I’m going to change things up a bit and just hit the highlights and some of the interesting tidbits that struck me.

  • With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate out, Super Mario Maker was about the only reason to use your Wii U anymore…and Nintendo drove the final nail into its coffin right from the start, opening with its announcement of Super Mario Maker 2. (When the trailer started and the Super Mario World theme appeared, I thought “Is it Mario Maker…or SNES games for the Switch?”) This has basically everything people were asking for and them some: Slopes, vertical levels (and even diagonal scrolling), angry suns, water in non-underwater themes (and more themes total, like ice and forest), more enemies and mini-bosses, more characters (Luigi, Toad, and…Toadette?), and on and on and on. I was really surprised by the amount of Super Mario 3D World content that was included (including the cat suit!), which was a nice nod to a game that’s been mostly forgotten in the wake of Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo went right for the jugular for this Direct, and Super Mario Maker 2 was a great way to open the show.
  • Co-op play turned out to be a running theme, which makes complete sense given the Switch’s focus on local multiplayer. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got a new co-op mode, Box Boy got a new co-op mode, Dragon Quest Builders highlighted its co-op mode, Yoshi’s Crafted World showed off its co-op mode briefly…even Unravel talked up its co-op mode! (Super Mario Maker 2 didn’t mention co-op specifically, but come on: They’ve got a bunch of new playable characters, all of which are drawn from New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I guarantee it’s got local co-op.) Nintendo is all-in on bringing people together with the Switch, and with games like these, they can definitely make it happen.
  • RPGs turned out to be a huge part of this presentation as well: In addition to big announcements like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy VII, we also got announcements from Rune Factor 4 and a logo/reveal for Rune Factor 5 (nice try, but it’s not quite the same as Metroid Prime 4), as well as trailers for Oninaki, Deltarune, and of course Fire Emblem: Three Houses. This indicates that publishers are starting to view the North American market are more receptive to these kinds of games, and also that games like Octopath Traveler exceeded initial expectations. Either way, I am totally on board with this.
  • Older versions of popular titles continue to flood the Switch, with Dead By DaylightAssassin’s Creed 3 Remastered, and HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice leading the pack this time around (FF7 qualifies as well). Sadly, older versions of Nintendo titles continue to be meted out in drips and drops (no SNES games yet…)
  • Aside from Yoshi’s Crafted World, Nintendo left many of its already-announced 2019 titles (Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and even less-heralded games like Town) on the shelf this time around. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was only teased, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got some time for a small update (seriously though, I was done with that game three years ago, why is it still a thing?). For now, Nintendo appears to be content with riding the success of its already-released lineup, and when said lineup includes Piranha Plants fighting Persona 5 characters, who can blame them?
  • I’m really not sure what to make of Astral Chain yet. The trailer felt better suited to a move than a game, and the chained-together combat looked a little intimidating to me (although the two-character setup might be another opportunity for co-op play). For a game that got a prime slot near the end of the Direct, the overall reaction to it seems a bit muted compared to other games.
  • Speaking of muted reactions: Am I only one who yawned at the Link’s Awakening remake? I know there are a lot of people who are super excited about this game, but as a casual Zelda fan who doesn’t even remember the series coming to the Game Boy, I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about. This falls into the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate category for me: Well-designed and sure to be loved by many, but I’ll probably skip it.

While I’m sure that millions of network packets will be spent on what wasn’t talked about during the Direct, I want to drop a bold prediction on you: This Direct was basically an announcement that the Switch Mini is real and is on its way. Here’s my thinking:

  • The 3DS always got a fair bit of mention is Directs from the recent past, but it got absolutely zero representation here, indicating the Nintendo is moving on from its aging handheld.
  • However, Nintendo continues to insist that the 3DS is a big part of their business strategy going forward, even as sales are slipping. They’re not ready to give up their new-player and younger-player markets just yet.
  • A month ago, I declared that I would be okay with letting the 3DS go if Nintendo would “release a 3DS-like version of the Switch.” Doing so would allow the Big N to transition away from the older system while still keeping a foothold in the new/younger-gamer markets.

Put it all together, and all signs point to Nintendo replacing the 3DS with some sort of entry-level Switch that can play the same role, and making that “switch” sometime soon.

For now, however, we’re left with one of the stronger Nintendo Directs in recent memory, with something in it for nearly everyone to enjoy. When once I was feeling kind of “meh” about Nintendo’s 2019, I’m back aboard the hype train today.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: February 10, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct 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 official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
2. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
3. Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” +1 (6/10)
4. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
5. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
6. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
7. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
8. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
9. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
10. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
11. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
12. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
13. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
14. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
15. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
16. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
17. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
18. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
19. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
20. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
21. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
22. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
23. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
24. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
25. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
26. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
27. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
28. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
29. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
30. Maren Morris, “GIRL” +1 (6/10)
31. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
32. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
33. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
34. Chris Young, “Raised On Country” +0 (5/10)
35. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
36. Eric Church, “Some Of It” +2 (7/10)
37. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
38. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
39. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
40. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
41. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
42. Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” +3 (8/10)
43. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
44. Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” 0 (5/10)
45. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
46. Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” -2 (3/10)
47. Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” -1 (4/10)
48. Dylan Schneider, “How Does It Sound” 0 (5/10)
49. Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” -1 (4/10)
50. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +10
Future Pulse (#26—#50) 0
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week -4 😦

Best Song: “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (14 songs)

Gone:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” (down from #1 to #7)

Aging Songs:

  • Midland, “Burn Out” (#7 after 42 weeks)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” (#6 after 41 weeks)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (#22 after 40 weeks and about to be steamrolled by Brown)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (#26 after 40 weeks, got passed by three songs, and seems to be fading)
  • Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” (#5 after 37 weeks, questionable if it’s got enough left to make #1)

In Real Trouble:

  • Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” (down from #18 to #19, gained only twenty-six spins and fifty-five points, and was passed by Rice and Johnson)
  • Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” (holds at #31, but gained only two spins and thirty-nine points and was run over by Morris)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (down from #37 to #38, gained only twenty-eight spins and fifteen points, and passed by Church and Chris Young)
  • Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” (holds at #42, but lost its bullet)
  • Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” (holds at #49, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” (holds at #32, but gained only sixty-one spins and 131 points)
  • Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” (down from #39 to #40, gained only fifty-two spins and 93 spins)
  • Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” (holds at #44, but gained only five spins and eight points this week)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (holds at #45, but gained only thirty-four spins and lost points for the second consecutive week)
  • Everybody from #46 to #50 had a fairly rough week.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Chris Young, “Raised On Country” (up from #41 to #34)
  • Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” (up from #51 to #46)
  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight” (up from #16 to #12)
  • Kane Brown, “Good As You” (up from #27 to #23)
  • Maren Morris, “GIRL” (up from #34 to #30)

Is Luke Combs:

  • Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” (up from #6 to #3)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Okay, I’ve got no idea where the charts are going anymore.

The top of the charts is fairly easy to predict: Scotty McCreery posted a “#1 and still going strong!” ad in Country Aircheck, and given his point margin right now, he’s a safe bet to score a second week at number one. Beyond that, the chart is probably Luks Combs’s for as long as he wants it: At only eleven weeks on the chart and no credible challengers behind it (Davis, Stapleton, and Midland are aging, and Luke Bryan is officially the other Luke in the genre now), “Beautiful Crazy” has the potential to be an old-school long-timer at #1.

Lower down, however, the crystal ball gets a bit murky, as Radio PDs seemed to be fishing for better content:

  • Gains lower on the chart are smaller and more spread out.
  • DOA songs like “The Difference” and “Caught Up In The Country” are starting to get second looks.
  • Trend-hopping songs from established artists that check all of the usual boxes (looking at you, Chris Young) are getting eaten up by stations.

This leads me to believe that just about anything could emerge out of the pack right now, and while the songs getting first dibs seem to be the worst of the bunch (why does Chris Lane have to emerge now?), there are also some glimmers of hope as well (Ashley McBryde is thisclose to the Top 50, and who would have predicted Runaway June would get a chance to crack the Top 30?). With the positivity of the chart hanging in the balance, we can only hope for the best.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: HARDY, “REDNECKER”

Is this what country music has become? Has the genre really devolved into a buck-measuring contest?

I was already getting tired of hearing artists like Luke Bryan, Chris Young, and Easton Corbin prattle on about just how “country” they were. The last thing I wanted was for some offended good ol’ boy to step up to the mic and declare that they, in fact, were the redneckiest redneck that ever rednecked, and that you were a soft little city slicker in comparison. Unfortunately, that’s just what we got from HARDY, a Mississippi native and the genius behind Morgan Wallen’s all-time classic “Up Down,” who operates under the Big Loud record label. I don’t know what they were shooting for with “REDNECKER,” but it’s about the dumbest declaration of countriness I’ve ever heard, sung by the most insufferable narrator who completely fails at making the track sarcastic, fun, or worth listening to.

Let’s start with the lyrics today, because frankly I hate everything about them. It’s not enough that the narrator has to proclaim how country they are just like every other song on the radio; no, they are offended that you think that your own redneck credentials measure up to theirs, and must point out in painstaking detail why yours are inferior. It’s meant to be sort of a “proxy song” where the listener imagines themselves saying this to someone else, but in my experience, people don’t fight over this kind of thing, they bond over it, and picking a fight where it’s not warranted or prudent just seems stupid to me. You could also try to make the argument that the narrator is being sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, but there’s not enough hyperbole in the writing to stick the landing: Outside of the “my tick hound’s a little more blue” line, everything here sounds like it was ripped straight from HARDY’s competition: small towns, loud trucks, hay bales, sweaty brows, etc. (If they had gone really over the top with the lyrics—”I took a selfie with Hank Sr.! I gave Willie his first joint!”—then I might have bought this argument.) This narrator comes across as both dead serious and seriously annoyed that you would have the audacity to call yourself “redneck,” and while there’s no hard and fast definition of the term, I also take issue with claiming that having “got it on a tailgate” or being able to “piss where i want to” are valid criteria. To top it all off, the whole “rednecker” hook is the opposite of clever or witty, and stands as further proof that making up your own words/phrases for a hook (“singles you up”, “alcohol you later”) is not a viable strategy. This is the dumbest song I’ve heard in a looooong time, and this and “Up Down” form a strong case for never letting HARDY touch a pen, keyboard, or typewriter for the rest of his days.

Writing this awful would be near impossible to redeem for the best of singers, and HARDY is nowhere close to having that sort of stature. The song is neither a range-tester or a tongue-buster, but it requires a huge amount of charisma and skill to make the narrator seem endearing or sympathetic. Unfortunately, HARDY (who sounds like yet another off-brand Florida Georgia Line clone), has neither charisma nor skill, and delivers his lines with such an aggravated seriousness that he makes you think he’s actually annoyed that you think you’re more redneck than he is. Given the absurdity of the discussion and the fact that the narrator is addressing his grievances towards “you”(at least A Thousand Horses had to decency to include the audience on “Preachin’ To The Choir”), the performance causes the listener to recoil at the accusation and wonder what the dude’s problem is. (Much like Brantley Gilbert, HARDY “doth protest too much, methinks.”) There’s no twinkle in the eye, no tongue placed in cheek, no knowing smile…he just comes across as an angry individual who feels the need to put you in your place for no good reason. As bad as the lyrics are, HARDY’s delivery manages to drag them down even further.

At this point, there’s no hope for the production to save this sinking ship, so it just goes with the flow and doesn’t even bother to try. The mix opens with a swampy electric guitar and real drum set, and doesn’t really move much from that spot (it brings in an organ for the choruses). With it’s slower tempo and darker instrument tones, the producer seems to be shooting for the same “outlaw” vibe that Justin Moore captured in “Kinda Don’t Care,” but it only reflects the worst qualities of that spirit, channeling all of the status-quo irritation and I-do-what-I-want-no-matter-who-it-hurts nihilism without any of the endearing charm and underlying self-awareness. It certainly fits the serious vibe of the vocals and writing, but at some point blind adherence to the party line at the expense of listenability becomes more trouble than it’s worth. The song’s structure and riffs are also paint-by-numbers simple, suggesting that the producer is just here so they don’t get fined—if HARDY and company want to go down this rabbit hole of defiance and isolation, they can at least sound like a mediocre Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band as they go.

There aren’t many songs that I would choose a Mitchell Tenpenny single over, but “REDNECKER” is definitely one of them. The sound is generic and uninspired, HARDY is angry and unlikable, and the writing is so putrid that not even Greenpeace would dare clean it up. It’s a early front-runner for my worst song of 2019, and if anything good can come out of this, it’s that hopefully this song will make people realize that the”I’m so country!” trend has been played out to its logical conclusion, and the genre can finally get over itself and move on to something more substantive and interesting.

Rating: 2/10. Absolute garbage.

The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Walmart

You may not be able to put a price on luxury, but you can sure as heck put an upper bound on it.

Ever since the days of the Wii Remote, Nintendo has been offering “normal” controller options for people who don’t find their innovative peripherals appealing. Today, that comes in the form of the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which gives players an alternative to the standard Joy-Cons. At roughly $60, however, this alternative comes with a steep price tag, which begs the question: Is it really worth the investment?

After a few months of hands-on time with the Pro Controller, I’m split on the answer to this question. There are some undoubtable benefits to the controller, but whether or not they meet the bar of their price tag is far less certain.

My specific thoughts on the hardware are as follows:

Durability: This is the main reason I invested in the controller, as over 500 hours of leaning on the Joy-Cons in Splatoon 2 had left me with sticking, unresponsive control sticks. (The left one I expected to fail given the issues Nintendo had experienced, but the failure of the right one was more surprising.) Joy-Cons are expensive in their own right, so I hoped that the Pro Controller would stand up to a bit more pounding.

In my short time with the controller, I’d say “so far, so good”: I’ve had occasional catches while spinning the camera with the right stick, but otherwise the controller has held up fairly well after seven weeks of heavy use. Additionally, it’s stood up to the pounding of being stuffed in bags and crushed by poor packing jobs as I’ve tested the Switch’s mobility. However, that brings up another issue…

Convenience: It’s certainly nice to not have to pull the Joy-Cons off the console and put them back after every play session (you just pick up the Pro Controller and go), and the controller connects to the Switch much faster and more reliably than the Joy-Cons ever did. However, there’s no good way to carry the things around when you’re on the go: The Joy-Cons fit nicely into the Switch’s travel case, while the controller has to be tossed in separately, causing the user to pray to the Mario gods that it doesn’t get damaged in transit every time they go out. The Pro Controller is great for home gaming sessions, but the Joy-Cons have a clear portability advantage (especially since you’ll likely be playing in handheld mode).

Performance: Honestly, I’d call this one a wash: Across all categories (motion controls, stick responsiveness, button inputs), I haven’t noticed any difference at all in how the two controller options perform. When paired together in the Joy-Con grip, the Joy-Cons are indistinguishable from the Pro Controller in terms of how they respond and behave.

Comfort: I never thought I’d say this given the awkward setup of the Joy-Con grip, but I don’t find the Pro Controller and its smooth, familiar design to be any more comfortable. My trigger finger gets just as tired after several hours of Splatoon 2, and whatever ergonomic design they used doesn’t really make a difference. (I will say, however, that I don’t press the D-Pad accidentally nearly as often on the Pro Controller.)

Battery Life: I haven’t exactly stress-tested the Joy-Cons, but in general they offer roughly 20 hours of battery life per charge. The Pro Controller advertises roughly double that time, although my personal experience checks at a bit less that that (I’ve only charged it three times since I started using it, which comes out to about 30-35 hours per charge). While it’s still a sizable upgrade over the Joy-Cons, the truth is that battery life has never really been an issue for me with the Joy-Cons, as I just stick the controllers back onto the Switch at the end of the day as a matter of course. For me, I notice the issue more often with the Pro Controller simply because I don’t plug it in between sessions and occasionally have to wait for it to charge.

So for sixty dollars, you get a more-resilient controller that saves you a few seconds when you pick up and play (but inexplicably can’t be used for Pokémon Let’s Go!). Is it really worth it? It depends on how you use your Switch:

  • If durability and convenience are your biggest concerns (for example, your Switch is used by young children who aren’t known for being gentle on hadrware), then perhaps having that separate controller might be worthwhile.
  • For more-careful gamers, however, the Joy-Cons can do most everything the Pro Controller can, are more portable, and most importantly are already included with the system. These folks can probably get away with saving their money.

Nintendo is already going to soak you for a $300 console and a yearly $20 subscription to take it online. If you can get away without ponying up for a Pro Controller (and I suspect most people can), than by all means do it. As much as I use my Pro Controller, I don’t think there’s enough here to justify its asking price.

Song Review: Haley & Michaels, “Taking Off”

Honestly, “Taking Off” doesn’t seem to be Haley & Michaels’s strong suit.

California natives Shannon Haley and Ryan Michaels have been trying to make themselves a thing since 2014, but a #59 airplay debut peak and three more songs that didn’t even chart caused that mission to be scrapped. New singles in 2017 and 2018 didn’t fare any better, bringing us to their 2019 attempt at relevance, “Taking Off.” After a few listens, it seems that they’re making the same mistake a lot of singers in Nashville are making these days: Their sound and their vocals are awkward fits for their source material, and said material isn’t terribly interesting to begin with.

Let’s start with the production, which at least tries to check the ‘energy’ box by rolling out a banjo with the electric guitars to push the tempo right from the start. Beyond that, however, this is the same old super-serious guitar-and-drum arrangement everyone else is using nowadays. (Oh wait, there is one other thing: The second verse features the most annoyingly-obtrusive bass pulse since Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses.”) I’m baffled by all these producers that spread minor chords all over love songs thinking it conveys the depth of the artists’ feelings, when it reality it casts a pall over the entire track and makes it sound so not romantic and happy. I really don’t feel the love when I listen to this track, so despite the momentum of its quicker tempo, it winds up feeling like empty sonic calories that you’re better off saving for a sweeter treat.

No obvious comparisons come to mind when I listen to this pair (Michaels is just another generic-sounding male artist, and Haley comes across as an off-brand Jennifer Nettles without Nettles’s power and presence), but they deserve a little credit for actually splitting the lead duties and feeling like an actual duo when they sing (unlike Dan + Shay or Florida Georgia Line, the pair’s harmonies feel distinct and showcase their vocal chemistry), but they’re caught between a rock and a hard place on this song. A simple love song like this requires a lot of charisma and emotion to pull off credibly, but the darker production leads the pair astray by encouraging them to match its muted tone, and the faster tempo and rapid-fire choruses force the duo to just spit the words out as fast as they can, regardless of how it sounds. While both artists have the flow to get the words out cleanly, they aren’t able to put any feeling behind them, and as a result the narrators sound stoic and their words feel hollow and empty, just a small step above being mailed-in. (Range isn’t a factor here, as only Haley gets a few post-chorus moments to show off her prowess. On the flip side, amplifying Michaels’s low harmony on the bridge was a terrible idea.) There’s just nothing here to draw in the listener and make them think “Yeah, I’d like to hear them again.” Instead, they shrug off the song and forgot about it when the next track starts playing.

Lyrically, this is your run-of-the-mill, everybody’s-got-one love song wrapped up in the hook of “taking off” things (clothing, time, metaphorically into the sky, etc.). It’s not as clever as it think it is, and when paired with the paint-by-numbers scenes (front-porch kiss, early party departure) that don’t have a smidgen of detail between any of them, there just isn’t a lot here for prospective couples to latch on to and make it “their” song. I get that the narrators are all wrapped up in the energy and excitement of a new flame, but the only romance alluded to here is limited to the physical dimension, with lines about leaving a party “’cause you know I gotta get you alone” that feel straight-up borrowed from Bro-Country. The lack of “that lovin’ feeling” in what’s supposed to be a love song is just astounding, and when neither the production nor the vocals can fill that void, the audience is left without a reason to pay attention, and thus they don’t.

Despite its name, “Taking Off” sounds like yet another failure to launch for Haley & Michaels, as it’s a love song that neither they nor the producer nor writers remembered to add any love to. It’s nothing more than radio filler, and while I’ll take it over anything Mitchell Tenpenny has ever released, it’s going to take more of a reaction than that for the duo to gain a foothold in Nashville. After five years of searching for a hit, these two are in real danger of being taken off the airwaves for good.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t know who Haley & Michaels are? It’s not worth your time to find out.

Song Review: Dan + Shay, “All To Myself”

I can’t believe it! Against all odds, Dan + Shay have managed to make themselves sound even more generic!

As much as I find Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney’s style to be unoriginal, unemotional, and incredibly boring, I seem to be in the minority: With mediocre songs like “Tequila” and “Speechless” cracking the Top 25 of the Hot 100 (to say nothing of the country charts), the duo has perhaps the most momentum of any act outside the Luke Combs/Kane Brown orbit. Following the old adage “Don’t kill the golden goose,” the pair returns to the radio with “All To Myself,” the third single from their current self-titled album, and not only does the feel like the same darn song they’re always singing, but it has a more-overt “Metro-Bro” feel to it, making it one of their worst and most uninspiring songs yet.

You know it’s one of those songs the moment it opens with a slick electric guitar riff and a snap-track percussion line (in fact, it’s almost the exact same setup Old Dominion uses on “Written On The Sand,” which seems weird considering that’s a melancholy song). Despite the inclusion of a Spanish acoustic guitar and eventually a real drum set, and an attempt to make the mix brighter on the chorus, it never manages to shake that sleazy feel, and doesn’t even come close to the sexy vibe it’s shooting for. It’s got a little energy on the chorus, and the bridge solo from the acoustic guitar is a nice touch, but overall it’s too dark, too sketchy, and too generic to really make its mark on the listener. Seriously, this thing sounds like every awful Metro-Bro retread from the last two years, which is fine if you’re trying to blend out, but not if you’re looking to stand out.

After doing something a little different on “Speechless,” Mooney reverts to his usual Gary LeVox impression on this track, but the result isn’t any more interesting than before. The song keeps Mooney is his lower range for most of the time, and not only does he get a little breathy on the lowest valleys, but until the track lets him put a little emotion and power behind his words of the chorus (and only then at short, specific moments), he comes across as detached and uninvested in the whole thing. Just like on “Speechless,” Mooney sounds like he’s totally in love as the narrator, but I don’t feel one iota of romance from his delivery. (Also, where the heck is Smyers during all this? Brian Kelley is more noticeable on an FGL track than Smyers is here.) Instead of coming across as slick and straightlaced as the production, I would have liked Mooney’s performance to feel a bit more raw and emotional, and seen him get more opportunities to dial up some volume and power on the vocals. As it is, however, it’s just another run-of-the-mill Dan + (mostly) Shay performance, and just like the rest of their discography, I’m just not feeling it.

It the lyrics that mark the biggest departure from the duo’s recent material, and not in a good way: Instead of the awestruck, thank-their-lucky-stars narrator from Dan + Shay’s wedding fare (“Speechless,” “From The Ground Up”), this dude here has got one thing on his mind, opening the track by ogling the other person’s lower half and declaring that he wants them “all to myself” for some good ol’ fashioned hay rolling. Never mind how the other person feels about the whole thing, this meathead’s so horny he wants to drag them into bed right this very moment. (When they say their feelings “might be selfish,” my reaction is “Gee, ya think?”) It’s supposed to sound all sexy and romantic, but it falls far short of that mark: It’s just a list of things the narrator’s “jealous” of (the moon for staring, the song for being on their lips), and a play-by-play description of exactly what they’ll do between the sheets. Whoever wrote this junk was apparently not familiar with the concept of foreplay, because instead of setting the mood like a good sex jam, it skips right to the end to the story (“and they banged happily ever after”) and leaves the audience wondering “Is that all you’ve got?”

Country artists have a terrible track record when it comes to these sorts of sultry numbers, and “All To Myself” is yet another failure to add to the list. The production is generic and unimaginative, the lyrics are ham-handed and boorish, and Dan + Shay couldn’t have mailed in a performance better if they worked for UPS. Sadly, there’s a lot of money in mediocrity these days, and as long as the pair can keep cashing checks with lots of zeros, we’re going to keep hearing stuff like this on the airwaves. When a quality song like Kacey Musgraves’s “Rainbow” gets passed over for yet another sexless sex jam, it makes you wonder why you’re listening to the radio at all.

Rating: 4/10. They should’ve kept this song all to themselves.