Kyle’s Favorite Video Game Battle Themes

This is what happens when life gets busy and you suddenly realize you have half an hour to put together a Friday post…

I don’t get many chances to mix the musical and gaming themes of this blog, but these are a few examples of how these worlds can collide in the best possible way. Game music is often ignored in favor of other things like graphics, story progression, and character development, but it plays a major role in establishing the atmosphere of a game, and serves as an emotional conduit for the game to affect how the player’s feelings and experience. Battle themes are a prime example of this: They have to convey both a sense of danger and urgency, and let the player know that what’s about to happen is serious business. The best ones can lodge in the listener’s mind for years afterward, and these are the ones that have stuck with me over the years.

Battle Against Nightmare (Kirby’s Adventure, 1993)

This thing left quite an impression back in the day. Kirby music up to this point was mostly light and bouncy, and even the regular boss theme didn’t feel terribly ominous in practice. Suddenly, you’re faced with this long, dark-sounding intro ending with Kirby’s warp star getting shot out of the sky, and then this Dracula-like thing appears on screen as this track kicks off, and you realize that things are about to get real. Tons of minor chords, a fast tempo driven hard by the percussion, the unsettling higher synth tones on the melody…I had no idea you could get this much tension out of an 8-bit track!

  • Fight Against An Armed Boss (Super Mario RPG, 1996)

It’s amazing how the use of one or two instruments can make or break a track like this. At first glance, this one doesn’t seem all that notable or catchy: The tempo isn’t terribly fast, and the bass and percussion lines is nothing to write home about. To me, this is all about the synthetic wind instruments: That dark clarinet melody was something I hadn’t heard before (and I really haven’t heard it much since), and it added a lot of texture and a real foreboding feel to the track. The horn stabs in the background are just okay at first, but then they switch places with the clarinet halfway through and give the track a much more darker feel than before (the clarinet’s low part here helps a lot too). I liked most of the SMRPG soundtrack, but this one stands out as my favorite.

  • Fighting (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)

As awesome as some of the orchestral tracks from Super Mario Odyssey are, I’d still rank this MIDI orchestral track above them. It’s a nice blend of a classic strings and horns with a modern, uptempo backbeat, and while it’s not a terribly ominous track, as a general battle theme the focus is less on the present moment and more on the fact that you have yet another obstacle that needs to be taken care of before you can proceed. There’s a lot of nervous, frenetic energy here, which drives home the pressure of navigating FFVII’s real-time battle system (being accustomed to turn-based RPGs like SMRPG made for a tricky transition), and the swells of the orchestra and the flute-esque solo really play with your emotions as you’re trying to figure out what commands to give before your enemies can act.

  • Hyper Zone 2 (Kirby’s Adventure 3, 1997)

This is the battle equivalent of Brad Paisley’s “Time Warp”: Tempo, tempo, and more tempo. Sure, it’s tone is a little unsettling, but its main goal is to generate so much sonic energy that it pushes you to your limit and rushes you into making a mistake. (After all, you’re trying to dodge a gigantic floating eyeball as this thing races through your head.) Keeping your emotions in check and making measured decisions while the music is telling you to gogogohurryhurrynownownow adds an extra level of difficulty to an already-tough boss battle. You’d be surprised how much easier this fight gets when you turn your volume down!

  • Battle! Zinnia (Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, 2013)

While this battle ended up being a cakewalk for me in Pokémon Omega Ruby (every monster I had seemed to be super-effective against dragons), it was the novelty of the instrumentation that stuck with me: I’d never noticed violins and accordions used in a Pokémon battle theme before, and I was impressed at how effectively they ratcheted up the tension and energy of the moment. The riffs themselves aren’t terribly complex, but they rely on the horns and drums behind to drive the tempo and instead an extra layer of texture that was missing from other battle themes in the game. Here’s hoping Zinnia makes a return to Pokémon in the future and brings her awesome theme with her!

  • Boss Battle (Miitopia, 2016)

I loved a lot of things about Miitopia, but its music stood out even among its many highlights. What impresses me the most about this track is that instead of being dark and scary like you’d expect, you get this bouncy, energetic track carried by synthetic instruments similar to the FF7 theme from before, and yet is still does enough to set the mood and reflect the seriousness of the situation. Much like Miitopia itself, it balances the absurdity and the gravity of the situation: Sure, you might be fighting giant hamburgers, but those hamburgers will rip you to pieces if you’re not on your game! It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it really revs you up for the fight. What more can you ask more?

These are my favorite themes, but I’ve probably left a bunch more good ones off the list. What are your favorite video game themes to listen to? Let me know in the comments!

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Song Review: Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins”

For what it is, it’s good. I kind of wish it was more than that, though.

Once upon a time, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert were the preeminent women in country music, defying the genre’s tomato allergy to score numerous hits and sell numerous albums. Today, however, Lambert has been mostly cycled off of radio playlists, and after “Cry Pretty” only made it to #9 on Billboard’s airplay chart, it was hard not to wonder if Underwood was about to get the same treatment. Underwood, however, doesn’t seem to be fazed in the slightest, as she and her team have taken the bold step of releasing “Love Wins” as the second single from her new Cry Pretty album. Songs calling for social change haven’t fared well on the airplay charts lately (“Female” peaked at #12, “Speak To A Girl” stalled out at #19, and “Dear Hate” barely made it inside the Top 30), but this idea is better executed and features more raw power than those tracks, and leaves a bigger impact as a result. While I wish the punch line was a lot stronger than “all we need in love,” there’s enough here to make people stop and think about what’s going on, and that’s a good start.

I’m actually really impressed by the production on this track, especially with how it shifts its tone to keep up with the writing. It’s one thing for the production to take a step back and let the song lead with the lyrics, but this song takes the idea to its logical extreme. It opens with some real drums, a mix of guitars (acoustic, electric, and eventually even a steel guitar), and even a mandolin, but when the verse starts these instruments just stop, leaving only some bass beats and quiet synth tones to back Underwood and making sure you couldn’t ignore the message even if you wanted to. The resulting atmosphere is cold and somber, reflecting the dark reality described within the lyrics. Then, as Underwood becomes defiantly optimistic on the choruses and bridge, the guitars and percussion rise up to match her intensity, adding to the power and positive energy of the moment and helping the listener share in that optimism. (The backing vocals on the second verse are also a nice touch that lend some extra weight to the verse’s delivery.) While I wish the mix had a bit more bass and a few more low-end tones to give it a stronger foundation (for lack of a better term, it feels kind of top-heavy as is), there’s enough here for the listener to get swept up in the message and the moment, and while they may not know exactly what they should do, at least they’re moved to do something.

Not every singer can be left on an island and asked to go it alone on the verses, but Underwood tops my list of artists that don’t need no stinkin’ instruments to make their point. (For reference, the list is Underwood, Brett Eldredge, Chris Stapleton, and maybe Drake White.) Whatever went wrong on “Cry Pretty” seems to have been corrected here, because this time around Underwood effortlessly generates her own energy and power instead of relying on the production, and the charisma and passion she brings to bear makes her feel incredibly earnest and authentic when discussing the subject matter. Her flow is a little off at times, but her delivery is strong enough overall that she not only forges a strong connection to her audience, she convinces them of the validity of her argument (even a cynical stick-in-the-mud like me can’t help but feel inspired). This is really where I wish she’d issued a more-concrete call to action beyond “love each other more,” because people totally would have followed her lead.

The lyrics are…well, they’re honestly a bit weak for my tastes. I like the specificity and poignancy of the opening scene (Reba McEntire tried something similar on “Back To God,” but failed spectacularly), the timely feel of the sentiment makes up for some of its stock imagery, and the whole thing tells a nice story and builds towards a solid climax on the bridge. The problem here, much like with Old Dominion’s “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” is that the narrator really doesn’t offer any answers besides being…more loving? This feels like a thoughts-and-prayers-style cop-out, one that offers people platitudes without making any progress towards resolving the real issues underlying the song (racism, gun violence, etc.). It’s heavily reliant on Underwood’s gravitas to sell people on the sentiment that things need to change, and while she succeeds in doing so, it doesn’t give listeners any ideas as to what they can do to make things better, which is something that a lot of people are yearning for right now. It’s a vague call to action, and while that’s a decent first step, I think the writers missed an opportunity to push for real social change.

“Love Wins” is an okay song that Carrie Underwood turns into a good song, but it just doesn’t go far enough to be a truly great song. Still, Underwood and her co-producer do a nice job using her vocal power to send a message and using well-orchestrated production to make sure the message gets through loud and clear. Even with its disappointing “moar love!” conclusion,  it’s the sort of statement song I’d like to hear more of on the radio, because in the end, I suppose you’ve got to start somewhere.

Rating: 8/10. Check this one out.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: September 16, 2018

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. Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (5/10)
2. Dylan Scott, “Hooked” 0 (5/10)
3. Old Dominion, “Hotel Key” +1 (6/10)
4. Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma” 0 (5/10)
5. Florida Georgia Line, “Simple” +2 (7/10)
6. Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” +2 (7/10)
7. Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” +3 (8/10)
8. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
9. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
10. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
12. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
13. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
14. Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” 0 (5/10)
15. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
16. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
17. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
18. LANco, “Born To Love You” +1 (6/10)
19. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
20. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
21. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
22. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
23. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
24. Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” +2 (7/10)
25. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
26. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
27. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
28. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
29. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
30. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
31. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
32. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
33. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
34. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
35. Craig Campbell, “See You Try” -1 (4/10)
46. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
37. Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” +4 (9/10)
38. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
39. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
40. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
41. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
42. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
43. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
44. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
45. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
46. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
47. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
48. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
49. Darius Rucker ft. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Charles Kelley, “Straight To Hell” (5/10)
50. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +29
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -9
Overall Pulse +20
Change From Last Week -5 😦

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (17 songs)

Gone:

  • Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey” (recurrent)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (holds at #1, but lost its bullet)
  • Dylan Scott, “Hooked” (max-spin week is over, should fall hard this week)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” (down from #3 to #6)

In Real Trouble:

  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (holds at #33, but only gained thirteen spins and lost points this week, and just seemed to have stalled out)
  • Craig Campbell, “See You Try” (holds at #35, but lost its bullet this week and has reached the dreaded “still outside the Top 30 after 20 weeks” milestone)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (down from #37 to #38, lost its bullet, passed by two songs, and has generally looked pretty weak ever since the Pulse restarted)

In Some Trouble:

  • Too many to count! We’ll deal with these individually below.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” (up from #51 to #41)
  • Michael Ray, “The One Who Got Away” (up from #39 to #34)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Better Boat” (up from #41 to #36)
  • Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” (up from #36 to #32)
  • Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” (up from #47 to #43)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • LoCash, “Feels Like A Party”
  • Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You”
  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (7/10)
  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight”

Overall Thoughts: Who would’ve thought a chart this constipated would be this interesting?

I like to think of the country airplay charts as an escalator with no platform waiting at the top: Songs ride it slowly to the top without too many switches in order, and then immediately fall back to earth once they reach the top. Occasionally, however, a song decides it likes the view at the top and doesn’t want to leave, disrupting the usual order and causing a backup all the way down to the bottom. This, however, is an extreme version of such an event: Not only did Bryan decide to hang around an extra week at #1, but we’ve also got some stubborn recurrents and soon-to-be-recurrents (Rhett’s “Life Changes” and Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey”) falling off playlists slower than average. Toss in Scott’s failed max-spin week, and there is not a lot of room for other artists to maneuver right now.

So why is this interesting? Well, with so many songs clogging up the airwaves and clamoring for all the spins they can grab, the week becomes a stress test for everybody else on the chart: In an extremely hostile environment where spins are extremely scarce, what do you do? Does your track have the muscle and momentum to keep pressing on, or do you spend the week playing defense and trying to hold on to the gains you’ve already got? If you’re in the latter category, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions about your song’s future.

So who should start worrying?

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” #12 39 164

Overall, I think Brooks is still in a good spot: The song is still young (13 weeks on the chart), and while it fell one spot to #12, it’s got plenty of time to recover. Brooks himself, however, is not young, so you wonder if he’s connecting with the younger demographic that country radio is courting.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eric Church, “Desperate Man” #13 34 16

Church, on the other hand, needs to start worrying: This is the song’s second straight week of weak gains, and Church hasn’t been a consistent hitmaker for several years now (he’s only had two Top Fives out of five singles over the last three years). “Desperate Man” definitely had an experimental sound to it, and I’m not sure the experiment is succeeding.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” #14 89 119

Pearce is in a really tough spot: “Hide The Wine” has been going strong recently, gaining at least 650 points in the past three weeks, but it’s also aging (36 weeks on the charts), and we all know how hostile country radio is to female artists. I don’t think this song’s got a whole lot of juice left, and with Brown and Tenpenny looking strong behind it, I think it’ll be lucky to make the Top Ten.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” #17 -20 14
LANco, “Born To Love You” #18 45 97

These two tracks have basically moved in lockstep since I restarted the Pulse, and in truth they’ve barely moved at all:

Song 8/5 Position 9/16 Position
“Babe” #20 #17
“Born To Love You” #22 #18

It’s safe to say that this was not the reception either Sugarland or Swift expected from the radio, and even though it’s been on the charts a reasonable 22 weeks, the song already appears to be out of gas. It’ll gain a few more spots as the chart unclogs, but don’t expect this to get anywhere near No. 1.

I’m slightly more optimistic about LANco: They’ve still got a little bit of that “new artist” shine, and “Greatest Love Story” wasn’t the fastest climber back in its day either. Still, “Born To Love You” has been here almost 30 weeks now, and the climb isn’t going to get any easier from here on out. I think a Top Five peak around the 2018/2019 turn is their best-case scenario.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kip Moore, “Last Shot” #21 16 142

Can this song just go away already? It’s still outside the Top 20 after 33 weeks, and Bentley, Stapleton, and even Midland are slated to leave it in the dust soon. This garbage will be lucky to make the Top 15, and we’ll all be better off when it leaves.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” #24 2 -52

I’m not sure how to feel about Ballerini’s chances right now. Being at #24 after 25 weeks isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either, and her gains have been moderate to strong the last few weeks. (She’s also been one of the few female artists to earn consistent success in the face of the genre’s allergy to such acts.) I’m going to go with a glass-half-full outlook for now and say the song still has a chance at a high peak.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” #28 75 192

This dude’s so far ahead of schedule right now that even if he stalled at #28 for a while, he’d still have a pretty good shot at #1. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Tyler Rich, “The Difference” #30 -11 19

If I were Rich, I’d be really worried right now: He’s sitting on the very edge of the Top 30 after nineteen weeks, he’s had two straight weeks of sub-200-point gains, and he’s got a list of strong challengers coming up behind him (Dan + Shay, McCreery, Owen, and eventually Chesney and Urban). He’s best outlook is probably a peak between #5 and #10 after a 40+ week run, and that’s not how you want to start your mainstream career.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” #37 1 40

Those wild horses had better start running a little faster: Watson’s performance has been lackluster to awful for the last months or so, and at 17 weeks the track is pretty old to be sitting at #37. I know “Outta Style” took a long time to make it way up the charts too, but right now I’m thinking #25 is about the best Watson can aspire to.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” #39 28 136

At some point, you have to realize that the audience is just not that into you anymore. Atkins is barely inside the Top 40 after nineteen weeks, and he hasn’t gained more than 300 points since the Pulse restarted. It might make it inside the Top 35, but for all intents and purposes this song is DOA.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” #40 60 127
Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” #42 10 19

Pardi’s got nothing to worry about: He’s only four weeks into his run, and while “She Ain’t In It” underperformed, this is the fifth single from California Sunrise, so he can always go back to the studio and ride some new-album buzz back to the top. Eldredge may have had a worse week than Pardi, but he’s got a stronger track record and his last single at least cracked the Top 5, so I’d wager that he’ll be fine as well.

Artist, Song Position Spin Change Point Change
Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” #44 17 27
Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” #45 -1 -4
Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” #46 -24 -18
Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” #47 10 56
Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” #48 31 62
Darius Rucker et al., “Straight To Hell” #49 -33 -17
Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” #50 27 30

Everybody below Cody Johnson is officially on notice: Nobody gained over 70 points, three songs lost their bullets, and only Rucker has any sort of recent track record to lean on.

If I had to pick two artists to make it out of this mess alive, it would be Bradbery (only three weeks on chart, includes Rhett’s star power) and Rice (only two weeks on chart, seems to be making steady progress). Everybody else has been floundering at this end of the chart for a while, and will likely start sinking sooner rather than later.

To close on a high note: Old Dominion will grab No. 1 next week (they announced their max-spin intentions yesterday). How the rest of the chart lines up behind them is anybody’s guess.

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

Song Review: Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen”

Move over, Sam Hunt—Thomas Rhett is coming for your crown.

With the surprising failure of “Downtown’s Dead” and Hunt’s subsequent disappearance from the radio,  Rhett has now officially assumed the role of the biggest star in country music (argue if you want, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean fans, but you’re wrong). He and his team have made all the right moves since 2013: Throw out the bizarre decision to release “Vacation” as a single, and Rhett has scored an incredible eleven No. 1 singles in the last five years. It’s the sort of track record that lets you break establish norms like “Thou shalt release no more than four singles from an album,” and that’s exactly what Rhett is doing with “Sixteen,” the fifth single from his Life Changes album. To be honest, I’m surprised this one hadn’t been released sooner, as it’s a clever use of recent genre tropes and trends (youthful nostalgia, Bro-Country leftovers) while mixing in enough perspective to acknowledge how shallow and ephemeral these ideas really are.

The production is exactly what you expect from a Thomas Rhett single: A modern pop-country sound, a tempered volume level that isn’t too in-your-face, and a moderate tempo paired with a decent groove that keeps the song moving. The song opens with an organ and an acoustic guitar, but quickly mixes in the track’s primary instruments: Some electric guitars to carry the melody, and a finger-snap percussion line to keep time. Beyond some real drums that jump in on the second verse, that’s pretty much all you get here, but it’s enough to set a bright, relaxed tone that complements the story without getting in its way. (There are some minor chords tossed in on the bridge, but they fit because they help convey the narrator’s frustration at constantly having to climb another metaphorical mountain to do what he wants.) Overall, it’s a light, breezy mix that tries not to call too much attention to itself, supporting the narrator as they tell their story.

Rhett has never been a powerhouse vocalist, but he’s a competent artist with an earnest delivery and a knack for making a track feel personal and truthful even when it’s not (“Marry Me,” anyone?). By this measure, “Sixteen” is a perfect track for him: It doesn’t stretch his range or test his flow, and it gives him plenty of space to bring his charisma to bear and establish a connection with the listener. While Rhett isn’t a terribly old singer, he’s old enough (and he has enough Bro-Country material in his early discography) that he can claim some credibility on the subject, and his willingness to be open and honest with his audience in the past (“Die A Happy Man,” “Life Changes”) gives him a extra layer of authenticity that many other artists can’t claim. In other words, it’s a perfect pairing of song and singer, and the narrator’s role just feels like a natural fit.

The writing here performs a complex balancing act between novelty, experience, perspective, and level of detail, and it manages these things surprisingly well. On the surface, the song is a run-of-the-mill trip down memory lane involving topics that have been discussed to death in the past (driving, drinking, general coming of age). We’ve sort of been here before, so what makes this track work so well?

  • By focusing on longstanding early-life rites of passage, the song feels universally applicable, and thus is able to resonate with a larger audience. Nearly everyone can recall going through the driver licensing process or counting the days until they would be able to make their own decisions, so the song is able to tap into that shared experience and trigger the listener’s memories from those days of yore.
  • Despite the broad topical brush, the song provides a nice amount of detail in its verse vignettes. The listener is really able to imagine the father offering advice from the passenger seat or the constant chatter about post-high-school plans, and thanks to the universal applicability to the topic, that can easily fill in any gaps in the song with their own experience.
  • Finally, the narrator adds a dollop of perspective at the end of the song by looking back at these early milestones and laughing at how shortsighted and superficial they were in their younger days. Most songs feel overly celebratory of these topics (especially drinking), but “Sixteen” rightly points out that there’s a lot more to life than just being able to drive and drink. Instead of being laser-focused on what you can’t do, the song suggests taking a moment to look around appreciate the present, and realize that the grass is plenty green on your side of the fence.

Toss is Rhett’s salesmanship and a suitable sound, and you’ve got yourself a song that is both enjoyable and thoughtful.

Overall, “Sixteen” is yet another solid offering from Thomas Rhett, with a nice balance of writing, production, and vocals that goes down easy and appeals to as broad an audience as possible. It’s certainly better than any fifth album single has any right to be, and frankly, with “Drink A Little Beer” and “Grave” still in Valory Music’s pocket, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this album go six singles deep once “Sixteen” has had its run. Either way, we’d better get used to seeing Rhett at the top of the genre, because I’ve got a feeling he’ll be there for a while.

Rating: 7/10. Five reviews, and this dude still hasn’t scored lower than a six. Jake Owen, I hope you’re taking notes.

Song Review: LoCash, “Feels Like A Party”

Apparently LoCash is unaware of the definition of insanity.

Bro-Country has been officially dead for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped some of the acts it spawned from trying to recapture its magic. Chief among these offenders is the former LoCash Cowboys, who tried going back to this well earlier this year with “Don’t Get Better Than That.” Nobody else, however, was interested in traveling back in time with the duo, and the song peaked at a laughable #44 on Billboard’s airplay chart and wound up at #4 on my “worst songs of 2018 so far” list. Most artists (even acts like Florida Georgia Line) would take this as a sign that the Bro-Country ship has finally sailed, and adapt their sound to the genre’s changing climate. Instead, LoCash has decided to double down on the faded trend, releasing “Feels Like A Party” as their latest single. The song is as mindless, shallow, and unoriginal as you’d expect, and while it would probably have been a massive hit a few years ago, there’s no place left in country music for this garbage in 2018.

The production opens with some swampy synths and a dobro, bringing to mind FGL’s “Smooth.” However, it quickly pivots to a slicker sound, bringing in the usual electric guitars, a mix of real and synthetic percussion, some organ chords, some background “hey!” shouts, and even a few horn stabs to drive home the party vibe. Honestly, this thing sounds like every other Bro-Country song I’ve ever heard (all it’s missing is a token banjo), with its deliberate tempo, bright tones, and carefree atmosphere, and while the horns are an interesting touch, they aren’t used enough to distinguish the song from its peers. The mix certainly captures the party spirit of the lyrics, but it feels like empty sonic calories, and doesn’t have a whole lot of energy or groove behind it. Bottom line: It’s generic, it’s uninteresting, and it’s already been done a hundred times before.

Now, let’s revisit my assessment of Chris Lucas and Preston Brust’s performance from “Don’t Get Better Than That”:

There’s nothing even remotely unique or compelling about the duo, and the song would sound the exact same if it were performed by a replacement-level Bro-Country singer (in fact, it might sound better). The track barely tests the singer’s range or flow, the pair’s harmonies are run-of-the-mill and unimpressive, and neither singer has the charisma to elevate the song beyond ‘bros singing a superfluous party song,’ even when the lyrics leave them an opening or two. In short, this performance is forgettable at best, and it’s best for all involved if we forget it.

Nearly everything I said then still applies now: Instead of bringing something new or unexpected to the table, Chris Lucas comes across as just another generic Bro, and Brust’s part could have been done by any random dude without anyone noticing a difference. The song demands little of the pair’s range and flow, and is completely reliant on the act’s ability to pass along the party vibes to the audience, and LoCash just doesn’t get the job done.

The only difference I see between this single and the previous one is that the lyrics don’t offer any opportunities for the pair to elevate the song even if they could. Frankly, the writing couldn’t be more unoriginal or brainless if they tried:

It feels like a party
It feels like a damn good time to me
A bunch of country girls and back road boys
All here to drink and sing
So go on pour me something cold
Cause we ain’t bout to leave
It feels like a party
It feels like a party to me

Every Bro-Country trope is well represented here: The booze, the trucks, the “country girls and back road boys,” the party-all-night attitude, and even the objectifying language (“If it tastes like a party, shakes like a party”? Really?). Even by Bro standards, however, this song stands out as vague: There are no name drops of liquor brands or old-school artists, no description of the venue besides being a parking lot, no mention of movement beyond the “shakes like a party” line…forget being “the party to end all parties,” this gathering doesn’t sound like much of a party at all.

Just like its predecessor, “Feels Like A Party” feels like a song that has no reason for existing. The production is bland and predictable, LoCash contributes nothing beyond “bros being bros,” and the writing is so vapid and fuzzy the song might as well have scrapped them entirely. LoCash might think that they can recapture their old magic and bring Bro-Country back into style, but they’re beating a dead horse, and their country career will likely be buried with it.

Turn out the lights Locash, the party’s over.

Rating: 3/10. Keep your distance from this junk.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: September 9, 2018

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. Luke Bryan, “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” (5/10)
2. Old Dominion, “Hotel Key” +1 (6/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” +2 (7/10)
4. Dylan Scott, “Hooked” 0 (5/10)
5. Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma” 0 (5/10)
6. Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey” +2 (7/10)
7. Florida Georgia Line, “Simple” +2 (7/10)
8. Cole Swindell, “Break Up In The End” +3 (8/10)
9. Chris Young, “Hangin’ On” 0 (5/10)
10. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” +5 (10/10)
11. Garth Brooks, “All Day Long” +3 (8/10)
12. Maren Morris, “Rich” -1 (4/10)
13. Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” +2 (7/10)
14. Eric Church, “Desperate Man” +1 (6/10)
15. Carly Pearce, “Hide The Wine” 0 (5/10)
16. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
17. Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift, “Babe” 0 (5/10)
18. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
19. LANco, “Born To Love You” +1 (6/10)
20. Jimmie Allen, “Best Shot” +2 (7/10)
21. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
22. Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” -1 (4/10)
23. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
24. Kelsea Ballerini, “I Hate Love Songs” +2 (7/10)
25. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
26. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
27. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
28. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
29. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
30. Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (5/10)
31. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
32. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
33. Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” 0 (5/10)
34. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
35. Craig Campbell, “See You Try” -1 (4/10)
36. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
37. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
38. Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses” +4 (9/10)
39. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
40. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
41. Kenny Chesney ft. Mindy Smith, “Better Boat” +2 (7/10)
42. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
43. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
44. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
45. Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (5/10)
46. Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything” -2 (3/10)
47. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
48. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
49. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
50. Darius Rucker ft. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Charles Kelley, “Straight To Hell” (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +31
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -6
Overall Pulse +25
Change From Last Week +4 🙂

Best Song (tie): “Drunk Girl” and “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (19 songs)

Gone:

  • Morgan Evans, “Kiss Somebody” (recurrent)
  • Chris Lane ft. Tori Kelly, “Take Back Home Girl” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Life Changes” (down from #1 to #3
  • Jason Aldean ft. Miranda Lambert, “Drowns The Whiskey” (down from #3 to #6)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty” (down from #24 to #30)

In Real Trouble:

  • Craig Campbell, “See You Try” (holds at #35, but hasn’t gained more than 200 points in a week since the Pulse restarted six weeks ago)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (up from #41 to #40, but only gained seven spins this week)

In Some Trouble:

  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (up from #33 to #31, but it’s starting to age, it gained less than 100 points this week, and it’s got Dan + Shay breathing down its neck)
  • Travis Denning, “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” (up from #34 to #33 and regained its bullet, but it gained fewer points than Rich did, has already been passed by Dan + Shay, and both McCreery and Owen are poised to leave it in the dust)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (holds at #48, gained less than 100 points, passed by Johnson, Rice is hot on its heels, and it continues to flounder at the bottom of the “future” chart)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Combs, “She Got The Best Of Me” (has jumped ten spots in the last two weeks, and sits at #13 after only nine weeks)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Better Boat” (up from #53 to #41)
  • Michael Ray, “The One Who Got Away” (up from #45 to #39)
  • Danielle Bradbery ft. Thomas Rhett, “Goodbye Summer” (up from #57 to #47)
  • Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” (up from #55 to #49)
  • Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” (up from #32 to #28)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Hey, the Pulse went up for a change!

If there was ever a time to listen to the radio, this is it: Most of the really good stuff has now cracked the Top 25, and some of it is about to follow Brett Young into recurrence. Things settled down this week after some turbulent times on the charts, but there are still a few interesting storylines to watch:

  • This week’s battle for No. 1 should be interesting. Dylan Scott had already declared that this would be a max-spin week for “Hooked,” but this week’s Country Aircheck featured Luke Bryan’s team saying “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” was “#1 and still going strong,” implying that they’re not ready to give up the top spot just yet. (The daily Mediabase charts seem to corroborate this, as Bryan’s weekly spin count as of Tuesday was only 118 spins off of his Sunday total.) Old Dominion, for their part, is only asking stations to “power up” this week, implying that they want no part of Bryan right now and are preparing to wait him out. My gut feeling is that Scott is too far behind in spins to catch Bryan should the latter decide to stick around for an extra week, but a split #1 week (Bryan on Billboard, Scott on Mediabase) is also a possibility.
  • I’m not sure what to make of Eric Church’s “Desperate Man” right now. His performance last week mirrors Matt Stafford’s from Monday night: gaining less than 100 spins and 200 points, falling from #12 to #14, and getting passed by Morris and the force of nature that is Combs. Still, being inside the Top 15 after less than 10 weeks on the chart is a remarkable achievement, so while I think the warning lights are starting to blink, it’s too early to panic.
  • There are a lot of new songs racing up the chart right now (Combs, Church, Shelton, Bentley, Dan + Shay), but they’re all from established artists with long track records…except for Riley Green, with “There Was This Girl” inside the Top 30 after only seven weeks. I liked Green’s track more than a lot of the other new no-name singers I’ve listened to recently, but I’m at a loss to explain why he’s succeeding while others like Rich, Denning, Anderson, and Lay are struggling. (I know Green’s got Big Machine muscle behind him, but so does Rich, and he’s on the edge of the Top 30 after almost twenty weeks.) I’m not complaining, mind you; I’m just curious.
  • I sense we’re going to see some turbulence at the bottom of the charts very soon. Campbell and Atkins’s are really struggling and I expect their labels to pull on the plug on them sooner rather than later. The vultures are starting to circle around Denning, Smith, and Watson as well, and while Rich might have enough juice left to start riding the escalator upwards, Anderson and Lay definitely do not. With some strong contenders arriving soon (Urban’s “Never Comin’ Down,” Brett Young’s “Here Tonight,” Rhett’s “Sixteen,” and hopefully Wammack’s “Damage”), I suspect the lower portion of the chart will be getting a thorough flushing in a couple of weeks.

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

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses”

You won’t need “Whiskey Glasses” to listen to this song, but you’ll want a few cups of coffee to keep you awake.

I’m going to level with you: I have absolutely no idea what people see or hear in Morgan Wallen. For my money, he’s a Tyler Hubbard knock-off who doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and he hasn’t done a great job distinguishing himself from the rest of country radio. However, the rest of the world apparently thinks otherwise: His last single “Up Down,”
a collaboration with Florida Georgia Line, not only became his first No. 1 single on Billboard’s airplay chart, but my (unfavorable) review of the song became this blog’s most-viewed post of all time (and it’s not close). The question now is whether all this buzz is just an FGL-fueled sugar rush or a sign that Wallen is actually an artist on the rise. Based on his latest single “Whiskey Glasses,” the third from his If I Know Me album, it looks to be the latter: The track is a generic, lifeless, woe-is-me-she’s-gone song that feels way more shallow than it should.

The production opens innocently enough, with the same old electric guitars and drums that everybody else is using. Halfway through the first chorus, however, this pulsing bass-like noise starts rumbling, and while it slowly fades into the background as the chorus arrives, it’s annoying and distracting enough that the producer might as well have stuck a fire alarm into the mix. The tone is suitably dark for the topic,but it doesn’t quite reach the level of sadness it needs to (to be honest, much of this is Wallen’s fault). The tempo is stuck in this weird place where it’s too fast to generate emotional energy but too slow to generate kinetic energy, and song just plods along lethargically as a result. There’s nothing here that really draws the listener in (in fact, that weird bass pulse actively drives them away), and in the end the only reason you start tapping your feet is because you’re impatiently waiting for the song to finish.

If there’s one thing “Whiskey Glasses” does, it demonstrates that personal, emotional songs are not Wallen’s forte. On a technical level, he’s a tolerable singer with both the range and flow to meet the song’s demands. In terms of charisma, it’s a different story: Forget making the audience feel the narrator’s pain, Wallen fails to even make me feel bad for the guy. His delivery lacks passion and sounds more matter-of-fact than anything else, and makes me question whether the dude has a pulse, let alone actual emotions. (I wouldn’t go as far as to say the performance was mailed-in, but it’s not far above that.) In the hands of a more earnest performer, there might have been some hope for this song, but Wallen just doesn’t have the chops to carry the mail here.

Part of Wallen’s problem here is that the lyrics don’t give him a heck of a lot to work with. Ostensibly the song is a lament over a lost love, with the narrator describing just how much alcohol he’ll need to mask the pain he (supposedly) feels. The problem is…well, there are a lot of them:

  • Generic cry-in-my-beer songs have around a long time (consider that Hank Williams Sr.’s “Tear In My Beer” was written almost seventy years ago), and this song does little to distinguish itself from the pack. You can see where the writers tried to insert some cleverness via its multiple interpretations of phrases (such as the “whiskey glasses” hook), but it’s completely predictable and just makes the listener roll their eyes. (Seriously, I called the drink/eyewear use of the title before I’d even heard the song.)
  • The narrator’s concerns feel beyond superficial to me. The guy doesn’t bemoan the fact that he’s lost his soulmate or best friend (heck, the word “love” doesn’t appear in the song at all), but instead whines about how he can’t sing karaoke anymore and that “she’s probably making out on the couch right now with someone new.” It makes you wonder how much of a “relationship” this relationship this really was, and it certainly doesn’t make you sympathetic to the singer’s lament.
  • There’s a distinct lack of self-reflection here, which is especially glaring given the above bullet. The narrator offers no reasons for why the woman decided to leave (he doesn’t even bother to say “I don’t know why she left”), even when there seems to be an obvious reason staring him in the face (“How serious was this relationship? Did you ever talk to her about that?”). Instead, the narrator decides to drink himself numb, treating his symptoms without addressing the real problem.
  • Oh yeah, and the bridge is the most annoying, unnecessarily-repetitive thing you can imagine:

    Line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up
    Knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back
    Fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up
    ‘Cause if she ain’t ever coming back
    Line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up
    Knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back
    Fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up
    ‘Cause if she ain’t ever coming back

    Please stop, my ears are starting to bleed.

Add it all up, and you’re left with a whiny, clueless narrator and an audience who is completely uninterested in hearing his sob story.

In the end, “Whiskey Glasses” is a song about nothing: A love song without love, a sad song without sadness, and an emotional roller coaster delivered as flatly as humanly possible. Neither Morgan Wallen nor the producers nor the writers make a compelling argument for why people should pay attention to this song, and the things that do stand out seem to make the song worse instead of better. At some point, you’ve got to do more than drive blog traffic to hang around in country music, because otherwise you’re just wasting people’s time.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t bother with this one.