Song Review: Niko Moon, “PARADISE TO ME”

Okay, I have officially had it with this loser.

Back In 2020, Niko Moon rode the Cobronavirus movement to success with his debut single “GOOD TIME,” but he appears to be completely incapable of singing any other sort of song. “NO SAD SONGS” was just a reheated rehash of “GOOD TIME,” and country music just raised an eyebrow, said “is this all you got?”, and made Moon settle for a pathetic #49 peak. Any rational individual would take this as a sign that they need to up their game, and change up their formula (whether it be sound, subject matter, or vocal approach) to find something that resonates with the public. Instead, Moon’s giving us “PARADISE TO ME,” which is yet another reheated rehash of “GOOD TIME,” and it isn’t any more compelling to listen to than its predecessors. To get absolutely zero sense of growth or even awareness from an artist trafficking in such drivel is simply infuriating, and as far as I’m concerned, this is three strikes—Moon is out.

If you’re going to try to drop a fun, chill song on us, you should back it with a sound that is suitably fun and chill. Instead, we get the same “reheated Bro-Country mix” I called out in my “NO SAD SONGS” mini-review, dominated by a cold, lifeless drum machine that’s so leaden that it weighs down the rest of the arrangement. The piano that opens the track is far too dark and dour-sounding to be fun, and its basic riffs are so mailed-in that they had to slap a stamp on the instrument to cover the postage. Their are some acoustic instruments that try to bring some sunshine to the mix (an acoustic guitar provided some background noise, a mandolin interjecting on the second verse), but they’re overwhelmed by the beat and fail to even elevate the mix to a tolerable level. (As for the random whistling, it makes the song feel more sleazy than anything else.) The result is that this is about as bad a mismatch between sound and subject matter as I’ve ever heard: The writing tries to celebrate the ability to have a party and relax anywhere, and this heavy sound give off a hard, serious vibe that makes you think that no one is actually enjoying themselves as they drink themselves into oblivion. (Seriously, the battle theme from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a better fit for the track than this mix.) It’s more of a downer than an upper, which is the exact opposite of what the song was going for.

Similarly, Moon seems to be trying a little too hard to play it cool for the track, and winds up sounding pretty ambivalent about an activity he’s supposedly trying to hype up. There aren’t any technical issues here, but it’s mostly because Moon leaves his voice in a narrow range and plays it overly safe, refusing to put any passion or power into his delivery, and the result is a narrator describing a close-to-home drinking party with all the passion of a news anchor taking about a liquor store robbery. It’s as if even Moon himself has grown tired of his shtick, because he mails in this performance as much as the piano does. (The occasional “Woo!” and “Yeah!” he tosses in in the end are the only signs that the man has a pulse at all.) It’s a flat, soundalike performance that doesn’t set Moon apart from any of his peers, and he gives the listener no reason to tune in and fails to sell them on his drunken escapism.

If you combined “GOOD TIME” with Old Dominion’s awful “I Was On A Boat That Day,” this song would be the result. I’m not even sure this clears the low bar of Mad Libs songwriting, because it never really gets past the alcohol: We get “cold ones,” “piña coladas,” “whiskey and cola,” “Corona”…we’re just a glass of red wine away from opening our own bar. Then we’ve got the truck, the Yeti cooler, the Ray-Bans, the pontoon boat, the random name drops (I’ll admit it, I’d never heard of the Ying Yang Twins until now). The narrator spends so much time talking about drinking that he never actually gets around to telling us why “this lakefront view is paradise to me.” I mean, you can drink yourself silly anywhere (at home, at the bar, etc.), so outside of a single line mentioning “wake boards and Seadoos,” what’s the appeal of being here? This is just another nihilistic ode to alcohol poisoning, just like every other single Moon has released, and with lazy, repetitive lyrics like this, it’s a weak track even among bad company.

“PARADISE TO ME” is a poor excuse for a song that’s be done (and done a lot better) a million times before. In a word, this song is uninspired: Throw together a list of overused tropes and alcoholic beverages, have Niko Moon deliver it with the passion of a tired sloth, and hammer it home with a joyless drum machine that drowns out everything else. It’s a Cobronavirus leftover that even Old Dominion’s recent tire fire shows up, and it indicates that Moon is regressing as an artist instead of branching out and searching for a formula that actually resonates with the radio. Personally, I’m out of patience with this one-trick pony—he needs to get the heck out of Nashville and not let the door hit him on the way out.

Rating: 3/10. Yuck.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (2021 Mid-Year Edition)

With a Mario Golf review coming Friday and the blog’s usual mid-year song lists scheduled for next week, today is the last day for songs to receive their scores and become eligible for next week’s lists. There have been several tracks that have been lurking just outside the Mediabase Top 50 for a while now, and while the stench of some of them made me put off their reviews for as long as possible, we’re now officially out of time, so it’s time to rip off the bandage and face our fears head-on.

These won’t be as in-depth as my regular reviews, but honestly, most of them don’t really merit a full review anyway. Without further ado, let’s dive into the queue and clear the waiting list…

Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS”

I just gave Elle King & Miranda Lambert a passable score for a party song, so why do I hate this track so much? The issue is that Moon is a victim of history:

  • The production is just a reheated Bro-Country mix, with nothing but the electric guitars and drum machine we all got tired of several years ago. The guitar gets some points for having some actual texture this time, but we’ve heard this drivel a million times before, and some extra tone on a single instrument isn’t enough to pull this arrangement out of the doldrums.
  • Moon shows exactly zero progress as an artist, and portrays the same careless Bro that he did a year ago, the same role that was played to death during the last decade. (Honestly, I think recording a sad song or two would do him good.)
  • Lyrically, the song is just “GOOD TIME, Part 2”: It’s yet another nihilistic Cobronavirus track that cuts down on the detail and the frequency of the stereotypical tropes in favor of name-dropping a bunch of random songs on the second verse. It’s not interesting, it’s not fun, and it doesn’t justify its existence in a world where we’ve already got “GOOD TIME” and a million other tracks like it.

Bro-Country didn’t deserve a second wind, “GOOD TIME” didn’t deserve a sequel, and if junk like this is all we’re going to get from Moon, he doesn’t deserve a spot on a major label.

Rating: 4/10. If Moon can go all-caps, so can I. NEXT!

Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In”

Apparently Sanders didn’t notice how badly Robert Counts got smacked down, because he’s bringing the same angry, closed-minded, exclusionary mindset to the table.

The pitfall of calling your song “old school” is that everyone has their own idea of what that actually means, and while this sound is supposed to be a callback to the sharp-edge Hank Jr. sound, but it’s still just a basic guitar-and-drum mix at its core, and for my money, if you say you’re old school and don’t bring a fiddle or steel guitar to the table, you’re a liar. Instead, “old school” refers to the stereotypical God, country, and Mama viewpoint of the narrator, with the message that the vague and scary “they” are trying to eradicate said lifestyle, but the narrator and other “real” country folks will never change their ways. Such insufferable nonsense conveniently leaves out the historical baggage that such an attitude encompasses, and instead tries to use Sanders’s overly (and unnecessarily) angry Chris Stapleton imitation to intimidate the listener into compliance. Contrary to what Sanders says, the world not “ever goin’ back to the way we know it” is not automatically a bad thing, and knee-jerk angry denouncements of such movements usually means someone’s got something to hide or an unfair privilege they want to keep.

Sanders is darn lucky that Brantley Gilbert and his crew rode up when they did, because that’s the only thing between him and the the title of “Worst Song Of The Year.”

Rating: 2/10. Yuck.

Toby Keith, “Old School”

Is Keith looking to capitalize on the attention garnered from “The Worst Country Song Of All Time”? If so, he should have picked a more interesting song than this to do it.

Unlike Sanders’s tire fire, “Old School” eschews the angry, confrontational approach in favor of simply extolling the virtues of traditional small-town life. The problem is that a) at its core, the song leans way too much on country and high school tropes and laundry-list verse construction, and and time Keith sounds worse here than on “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (the weird verse cadence does not suit him at all, and makes him sound awkward and stilted). It may not push people away like “Old School’s In,” but it doesn’t do much to draw listeners in either—the slower tempo and nondescript production cause the song to quickly lose steam and plod along from start to finish, and the lack of detail in the writing makes its attempt at selling the rural lifestyle feel weak and unconvincing.

Making me sleepy is better than making me angry, but neither is a great outcome.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit”

As a general rule, you should steer clear of any song that refers to someone’s posterior as a “tail light.”

Nelly and FGL teamed up for a massive remix of “Cruise” back in 2013, but the genre landscape has changed a lot since then, and the trio can’t quite recapture their old magic this time around. For one thing, their production choices seem a bit off-base, with its choppy, sterile electronic guitar and run-of-the-mill drum machine failing to generate much energy (the banjo on the choruses helps, but not enough) and establishing a vibe that just isn’t much fun at all. The lyrics fail on two fronts by coming across as both pushy (“I know we just met, but, girl, let’s roll,” “Shawty, you gon’ love me and we gon’ have some fun,”) and objectifying (see the above “tail light” reference), making the narrator come across as “just a lil’ bit” creepy. (Also, that hook contradicts the song’s goal: Why should someone settle for “just a lil’ bit” of fun? Is having a lot of fun not an option?) The vocals are surprising lifeless, and while Nelly has the excuse of having to focus on getting through the rapid-fire sections of the track, Tyler Hubbard has no such excuse, putting no feeling or emotion behind his lines. (Brian Kelley pulls his usual disappearing act here, and nobody misses him.)

I expected this one to make a bigger impact on the charts when it dropped, but after listening to it a few times, I can see why it didn’t.

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

Gabby Barrett, “Footprints On The Moon”

Whose bright idea was it to make an empowerment song sound so…scary?

On the surface, this is a straightforward confidence-booster: People are going to find reasons to doubt you, but pursue your dreams anyway because “you can do anything” and “there’s footprints on the moon” (which is only referenced here and never expanded upon, making it feel more like a tacked-on line than a central hook). The issue is that this positive message clashes badly with production that suffers from a bad case of the Aldeans, which use darker instrument tones and regular minor chords to create a angsty, ominous atmosphere that amplifies the negative voices mentioned in the track instead of countering them. Barrett’s performance is much the same, following the production’s lead and sounding more like a warning than a reassurance.

I’m all for positive reinforcement tracks like this one, I just wish this one was better executed and actually sounded positive.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two, but ultimately there are better songs out there to give you a lift if you need one.

Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer”

So how do you show off your “country” street cred in a way that doesn’t push people away or make the veins in your neck bulge out? Well, this track is a good place to start.

The song starts by setting the proper context: The narrator has been done wrong by his significant other (they cheated, lied, “wrecked my Ford,” and burned all their bridges on their way out), and when they comes back to apologize and start over, Carmichael allows us all to bask in the schadenfreude by listing all the thing he’d rather do than take them back, especially “drink a hot beer.” All the usual generic tropes make an appearance here (beer, trucks, tractors, hunting, fishing, chewing tobacco, etc.), but instead of drawing lines in the sand, the song’s amusing script-flips (hot beer, unloaded guns, etc.) and clear villain invite the audience to join in on the fun, and Carmichael’s affable, charismatic delivery practically lets you see the smile on his face as he sings. (The production’s upbeat vibe, neotraditional flair, and prominent fiddle don’t hurt matters either.)

“I Do For You” didn’t go anywhere last year, but of all the songs trapped in Mediabase purgatory right now, this is the one I’d really like to see escape it.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME”

Any time you see ALL CAPS styling like this, it’s a bad sign.

Niko Moon split his formative years between Texas and Georgia, spent years honing his craft as part of Zac Brown’s circle of collaborators (both as a frequent co-writer with Brown and as a member of his Sir Rosevelt group), and has spent nearly a year under the Sony Music umbrella (albeit with nothing to show for it until now). Moon is now taking the next step of jumping onto country radio with his debut single “GOOD TIME,” and…ugh. It’s a generic Cobronavirus track that fails to justify its own existence, and does not make a good case for making space for Moon in the genre.

The alarm bells start going off the moment you hear the cricket sounds à la Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth” that kick off the production here, and honestly, if you took a standard FGL mix and pulled out all the power cables, you would get something like this. There isn’t a whole lot to this arrangement: An acoustic guitar covers the melody, an in-your face drum machine keeps time, and a dobro provides some simple riffs for the chorus. It’s a smooth mix with a half-decent groove, but the cold, hard percussion and frequent minor chords work against the happy, laid-back vibe the song is shooting for. Worst of all, the song sounds far too much like every other darn thing on the radio these days, and winds up just being background noise. It doesn’t entice the listener to pay attention or convince them that having Moon around in country music is worthwhile, which makes it a terrible choice for a debut single.

Vocally, Moon’s voice is slightly distinct (think Walker Hayes with some actual tone to his voice), but it’s not enough to let him truly stand out among the other faceless young male singers in Nashville. His technical skills aren’t really tested here (although his power can lapse a little when he tries to close a line with a low note), but I don’t feel a lot of charm or charisma from his performance. He’s just another dudebro trying to drink and party their life away while the world burns around him, which was a sub-par attitude a few months ago and is an absolutely terrible one now, as the world demands a higher level of engagement and awareness from everyone. There’s just nothing compelling or interesting about Moon as a performer, and if you stuck anyone else behind the mic for the song, you wouldn’t notice much of a difference, which is a real problem for someone trying to make their mark in Nashville.

And then *sigh* we get to the lyrics:

We just tryna catch a good time
Even if it takes all night
Pass that bottle ’round the campfire
Sippin’ apple pie moonshine
Yeah we pickin’ on them guitars just right
Everybody singin’ Dixieland Delight
Like a bobber on a wet line
We just tryna catch a good time

If you took every Bro-Country trope in the book and trained a machine learning algorithm on it, it would probably write a song that looked like this. Nearly everything we’ve grown to expect and dread is here: the nighttime bonfires, the drinking, the fishing, the name drops of more-popular songs…all that’s missing is a Chevrolet wearing a pair of cut-off jeans (which said algorithm would definitely include). While it’s notable that all the sexuality and objectification has been removed (there’s no mentioning of women at all), it boils down to the stereotypical boys night out in the sticks, passing around guitars and moonshine and ignoring the consequences. That familiar nihilistic mindset remains a major feature here: “We ain’t worried about tomorrow,” “we just gonna stay right here and let the world go by,” etc. This is the same old story we all heard and grew tired of a decade ago, and I’m in no mood to hear it again now.

“GOOD TIME” is simply a bad song, and a poor way for Niko Moon to try to introduce himself to country music. It’s a generic Cobronavirus track in a genre already littered with them, with paint-by-numbers writing, a cookie-cutter sound, and an unremarkable performance from Moon. You’ve already heard this song a million time before, and there’s absolutely no reason to listen to it again. Don’t expect to remember it or Moon in a few months.

Rating: 4/10. Avoid this one.