Song Review: Randy Houser, “Note To Self”

Sure it’s off-brand Eric Church, but that’s still a better starting point than most tracks.

To be honest, I’d mostly forgotten about Randy Houser: He hadn’t released a single since 2019, and the songs I’d reviewed here on the blog (“What Whiskey Does,” “No Stone Unturned”) impressed neither me nor the general public (neither song reached the Top 30 on Billboard). However, instead of catching a “train out of Nashville” as I hypothesized back in 2019, he went underground for the better part of three years, and has now returned to the charts with a new single “Note To Self,” the presumed leadoff single to his sixth album. I was prepared to forget about this song, but instead what I found is…well, a note not just to self, but to the rest of us as well, mostly concerning what they’ve learned in the wake of a failed relationship. It’s not quite on the level of Eric Church’s “Some Of It,” but it’s a worthwhile listen with some solid advice contained within it.

The composition of the arrangement is nothing you haven’t heard before: You’ve got your guitars, your drums, your keyboards, and the pedal steel required by Nashville ordinance. I wouldn’t call the resulting sound novel or even memorable, but I would call it suitable for and supportive of the story being told. The production eases in by leading with an acoustic axe and keeping the organ and electric guitars in the background for the verses, and then turns the drums and steel guitar loose on the first chorus to let the sound swell up and help emphasize the points being made. (The steel guitar plays a progressively large part in the mix as the song goes along, and even takes the lead on the bridge solo.) Although the volume and power levels vary during the song, the sound takes great pains not to get in the way of the writing. In stead, the tones here are neutral and create a reflective vibe, inducing introspection in the listener rather than trying to bury them in noise. This is a message that they want you to hear, and the arrangement does a nice job supporting the lyrics and enhancing their impact. For as often as I bash producers for awkward and ill-fitting mixes, I have to hand it to those behind the board here, because this one fits like a glove.

For Houser’s part, despite finding success mostly as a Metro-Bro artist in the early 2010s, he doesn’t carry around the baggage that someone like Tyler Hubbard does, and as an official industry veteran on the backside of 45, he’s exactly the sort of artist that you would expect to have seen a few things and lived to sing about them. The song isn’t a technically demanding one and Houser eases through it without a problem, but he also exhibits enough charisma to cover the emotional demands of the song as well. He does a nice job injecting feeling into the song without oversinging in, allowing the listener to share the narrator’s pain and convince them that the wisdom contained here is hard-won and firsthand. There’s a maturity here that was missing from a track like “What Whiskey Does,” and it allows Houser to complete the face turn and make his narrator both believable and sympathetic in the eyes of the audience. It’s a lot more than I expected from him, and by successfully distancing himself from his less-than-stellar past discography, it indicates that there might be hope for other artists that have yet to reach that inflection point.

The lyrics here start as a laundry list of the sort of advice you would expect from someone growing out of their ‘youthful indiscretion’ phase: Trucks need gas, credit card aren’t real money, spur-of-the-moment hold-my-beer ideas are generally not great, and so on. As the song goes on, however, the song becomes more targeted, and the narrator slowly reveals that they neglected their relationship and lost their partner as a result. This is the best example of “show, don’t tell” that I’ve seen in a while: Through statements like “love ain’t diamond rings/bigger don’t always mean better” and “you’re gonna wish she would’ve when she tells you she don’t wanna fight,” we discover not only that the narrator was at fault for the relationship collapse, we learn the whys and hows behind it: In the classic money vs. love debate, the narrator chose the former and spent so much time chasing a dollar that they ignored the emotional needs of their ex, who endured the pain in silence until they finally up and left. (My favorite line, however, is that “whiskey’s best left up there on the shelf,” a powerful statement that the narrator delivers despite it being blasphemy in Nashville’s booze-soaked culture.) So many songs talk about drowning your sorrows and trying to forget a relationship, but only a rare few provide a detailed instruction manual to its audience, outlining where the speaker went wrong and how others can avoid the same fate. By facing the loss head-on and trying to turn it into something positive, the song not only demands your attention, it demonstrates that it’s worthy of it.

Quality continues to emerge in unexpected places in 2022, and “Note To Self” is another example of this trend. Neither the sound nor the singer would be anything special on their own, but when paired with stronger writing, suddenly the production becomes thoughtful and supportive, and Randy Houser moves beyond songs like “We Went” and imparts the narrator’s wisdom with aplomb. I think this is the blueprint Nashville should use going forward: Start with better material, and find a sound and an artist that can most-effectively deliver the message. Given Houser’s recent track record, I don’t know if this will be enough to resuscitate his career, but if he’s going down, he’s going down swinging, and leaving us with some final nuggets that we can put to good use.

Rating: 7/10. This one is worth hearing.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 31, 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. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
2. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
3. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
4. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
5. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
6. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
7. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
8. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
9. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
10. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
11. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
12. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
13. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
14. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” 0 (5/10)
15. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
16. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
17. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
18. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
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. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
24. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
26. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
27. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
28. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
29. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
30. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
31. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
32. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
33. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
34. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
35. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
36. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
37. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
38. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
39. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
40. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
41. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
42. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
43. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
44. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
45. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” 0 (5/10)*
46. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
47. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” 0 (5/10)
48. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
49. Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” 0 (5/10)*
50. Randy Houser, “Note To Self” +2 (7/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +10
Overall Pulse +13
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” (recurrent)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (recurrent)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (down from #2 to #14)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (up from #12 to #11 with another decent week. Does she still have a chance at #1?)
  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (down from #16 to #18, gained only nine spins and sixty-five points, and is apparently testing really badly with listeners. Could this one already be done?)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (up from #38 to #35, but gained only fifteen spins and forty-nine points)

In Real Trouble:

  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (up from #26 to #25, but gained only twenty-three spins and lost points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” (up from #32 to #31, but gained only one spin and lost points)
  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #37 to #36, but gained only nine spins and lost points)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (up from #42 to #40, but gained only one spin and forty-four points)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (up from #44 to #41, but gained only fifteen spins and fifty-five points)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (up from #45 to #43, but gained only six spins and two points)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (up from #49 to #48, but gained only twelve spins and sixty-three points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Walker Hayes, “AA” (holds at #5, but gained only sixty-eight spins and fifty-five points. Was this a prep week for a bigger push to come?)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (holds at #22, but gained only twenty-seven spins and eighty-nine points)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (up from #39 to #37, but gained only eight spins and twenty-six points)
  • Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” (down from #46 to #47, gained only eleven spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • No one qualified this week.

Is still Thanos?:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (down from #2 to #14, no sign of what’s coming next)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Cody Johnson, “Human”
  • Ashley Cooke & Brett Young, “Never Til Now”
  • Elle King ft. Dierks Bentley, “Worth A Shot”
  • Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”
  • Thomas Rhett fr. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”

Overall Thoughts: The #1 slot is usually given it country music, but this week it was taken, with Rhett’s 1200+ spin onslaught bowling over Aldean’s mere 650+ gains to wrest away the Mediabase title for the week. It’s a classic recipe for a constipated chart, and songs up and down the line (including Hayes at #5!) struggled to post decent gains. This was a gut-check week, especially for songs in the middle of the pack like ERNEST, Lynch, or Brice: Your standing indicates that you should be polling well, but when programmers had a choice to put you on their playlists, they put your competition there instead, including a number of songs currently below you. Songs in the lower third are almost certain to struggle during weeks like this, but if you’re up a bit higher, this is an indication that you might not be #1 material. I expect things to loosen up next week as Rhett swaps over to his Riley Green collab, but we’ll see how much room opens up at the bottom for newer tracks.

On the coronavirus front, the bad news just keeps pouring in, with all indicators (new daily case and death averages, total hospitalizations) continuing to move in the wrong direction. This virus is doing everything it can to get back onto the front page, but we just keep ignoring it, with Congress ignoring a upcoming shortfall in coronavirus response funding and industries such as travel pushing to remove the few health-related restrictions that remain in place. The country has moved on despite growing evidence that moving on is a bad idea, so if you’re going to protect yourself from COVID-19, the onus will be on you. Luckily, our tried-and-true best practices remain as solid as ever:

To all those who are still worried about the coronavirus, I urge you not to give up the fight just yet. Keep taking steps to keep yourselves, your loved ones, and your communities safeyour caution just might mean the difference between someone remaining healthy or suffering needlessly.

MLB The Show 22: Is It Worth Buying?

Alternate title: “The Search for the Flyin’ Hawaiian: Was It Worth It?”

Back when I discussed my early impressions of MLB The Show 22, my impressions were almost universally positive, including with the game’s primary online mode Diamond Dynasty. I had played a few matches and found the mode fun, but matches felt very one-sided, with most opponents sporting entire lineups full of diamond-rated players (and me sporting…well, Luke Maile and Luis Guillorme). With a vibrant (and high-priced) marketplace for top-tier players, the game’s M.O. seemed pretty obvious: Drive gamers to acquire better players using in-game currency, and in turn acquire in-game currency using actual currency. Microtransactions were (and are) the name of the game in modern sports titles, and I was determined not to spend a dime over the $60 I paid for the cartridge, even if it meant limping around with bronze-tier cards.

Then I discovered a special program being run by the game…and in turn, one player I really wanted to add to my squad:

I was a huge fan of Shane Victorino’s game in his heyday, and I just happened to have a massive hole in my lineup in center field (the game had given me Daulton Varsho, who was apparently actually a catcher). The bigger revelation, however, was this: The Victorino card could be earned through the special limited-time ‘Halladay and Friends’ online program, although it took 110,000 experience points to do so.

Thus, the question was raised: Could I add Victorino to my lineup at a cost of nothing but time, and would the game be fun enough to support earning 110,000 XP? I decided to spend a few days on the hard grind to find out. What I found was that the Diamond Dynasty mode was much deeper and richer than I had originally thought, with plenty of modes and rewards to keep players engaged and push them deeper into the game.

Ranked seasons are the primary draw of Diamond Dynasty, but a full 9-inning game is a long affair that doesn’t have the “one more game” magic that shorter games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 have. However, the game also features a whole bunch of special programs, most of which are not time-limited and most of which offer packs or specific players as rewards. The programs offer bite-size games called Moments, where you take control of a player or team to reach a simple goal (multiple hits, one home run, five strikeouts, etc.) within a small window of time (a few innings, or a game’s worth of at-bats for one player). For a relatively untrained eye like mine, this takes about 15-20 minutes at most (I thought Adam Dunn was supposed to be a power hitter!), and credits you a couple thousand experience points (or a few of whatever tokens you’re trying to earn) towards your current goal. This is where the “one more game” magic finally kicked in: You could play several of these games in quick succession, make substantial progress towards whatever player you wanted in a short amount of time, and have a ton of fun doing it!

In addition to your normal Diamond Dynasty team, you can also play Showdowns, where you draft a team from an initial set of players, then go through a series of challenges to gain players, abilities, and even progress towards a final objective, where you face down a boss character and have to beat them within a specified number of outs. (You can pull a Breath of the Wild and face the final boss immediately with your initial team, but it’s a steeper climb.) I didn’t find this mode quite as compelling between you don’t keep your team between showdowns (and you also have to pay an entry fee, although they’re not steep), but it’s another option that allows you to earn rewards that can upgrade your DD team.

Finally, one of the best things about active programs is that experience points can be earned through any mode, whether it’s related to Diamond Dynasty or not. Even if your Internet connection can’t support a full game, you can play game against the CPU using your DD team (or even an existing team roster!) and still make progress towards your goals. Making money might be the game’s main goal, but goal #2 is to keep you as engaged with the game as possible, and is willing to part with really good cards to do it.

So after five days of grinding, not only did I have my precious Victorino card, I had darn near an entire team of top players: Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, two players from other active programs (Babe Ruth, Bret Saberhagen), and two diamond players from the dozens of random card packs earned along the way (Ryne Sandberg, Kevin Gausman). Suddenly, I had a solid roster that could go toe-to-toe with other teams, and I hadn’t spent a cent over the game’s initial asking price.

The grinding also provided more insight into the game’s other aspects. For example:

  • The graphics continued to impress and held up fairly well, but there were some moments with noticeable frame rate drops (cornfield closeups at the Field of Dreams were consistently slow), and some stadiums (*cough* Coors Field *cough*) would constantly glitch during scene transitions. Overall, however, the Switch continues to hold up well under the game’s pressure.
  • Even with slowdown (and surprisingly, even in the face of online lag), the general gameplay went off without a hitch. Even if the game froze temporarily, the game still allowed you to execute at the plate and in the field without affecting the competition. As much as I’d like to blame my terrible hitting on the connection, the truth is that hitting a baseball in-game is just as hard as hitting a major-league pitch in real life (the difference between my online and offline stats is minimal, and you face harder/meta pitchers online).

In other words, I tip my hat to the Sony San Diego crew: They found a way to keep players playing without the experience wearing thin or getting old. In fact, it motivates players to seek out cards that they want, determine how to get them, and work towards earning whatever is necessary to do it. As an Orioles fan, I’m now eyeing cards for Jim Palmer, Brian Roberts, and Cal Ripken Jr., trying to figure out how to get them and diving into the modes that will make it happen. (I’m even thinking of making a DD meme team of players only named Kyle…) The game remains fun even though I’m still not very good at it, there are plenty of modes (short and long, online and offline) to keep things fresh, and there’s a path to competitive success online that doesn’t involve selling your soul for Shohei Ohtani.

So after all this rambling, is MLB The Show 22 officially worth buying? If you’re a baseball fan (and especially a longstanding baseball fan), I think you’ll find a lot to like here, and even if you want to be the best player on the planet, you can do it without significant financial investment, and while the time investment may large, you’ll still enjoy yourself along the way. Realistic sports games remain a weakness on the Switch, but games like this make me believe closing the gap with other consoles is possible, and I hope the relevant parties take the next steps to accomplish this.

As for me…honestly, I’m still having trouble pulling Maile and Guillorme out of the lineup. I mean, how can I pass up having Maile’s defense and Guillorme’s beard in the lineup? Sometimes it’s just about winning with you people you want on your squad, whether or not they’re considered any good.

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.

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.