By: Sarah Finley, Max James Hill, and Courtney Miller

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“Augustine” – Blood Orange

Courtney Miller: I get an ‘80s vibe from this, particularly from the whispery vocals that I’m not such a fan of. The song improves as you progress through it, culminating in the female vocals that seem to drop down from heaven in the latter half of the song. It’s pretty mediocre for me.

Max James Hill: Dev Hynes is at the top of his game, and this standout track off his new record is proof. I love the Prince vibes, the passionate vocal delivery, the lyrics that describe urban life and the black experience by way of the poetic writings of St. Augustine. I’ve listened a few times already, and each time I get something new out of it. The simplicity and sincerity are intoxicating.

Sarah Finley: Echoey, calm, and slow, this new Blood Orange track is perfect wind-down music after a long day. Or dissociating, if your brain is inclined to do such things.

“Sledgehammer” – Rihanna

CM: She’s got some great, majestic vocals that work with the movie soundtrack style she’s got going on here, but I dunno. It starts to feel too faux-majestic to really enjoy it outside of the context of its spot in the movie.

MJH: Kind of sounds like Rihanna doing a Radiohead cover or a Bond theme song? She’s definitely got pipes, but the backing instrumental just doesn’t have the usual groove and heart that her best songs always do, and the whole thing ends up feeling weirdly dispassionate and by-the-numbers. Give me “Stay” or “We Found Love” over this any day.

SF: I’m not used to hearing Rihanna create music that isn’t meant for partying or speeding down highways. Although she does successfully utilize the upper limits of her vocal range, the usual R&B singer’s basic lyrics and repetition don’t leave me overly impressed.

“If I Told You” – Darius Rucker

CM: Oh, is it time for ‘spot the country fan’ again? OK, so one of the things I love about country music is that it doesn’t try to be pretentious or any of that crap. There’s generally a lot of honesty and understated romance in the songs not about partying, and Rucker’s great for that kind of upstanding, easy to like music. His overall stellar vocals help, too.

MJH: Is it just me, or does this have the exact same chord progression as “Someone Like You”? So much about this song — the hypermasculine delivery, the boring clichéd lyrics, the predictable churn of twangy guitars and pounded piano strings — is so diametrically opposed to what I’m into that it almost feels like performance art. But, like, bad performance art.

SF: A country song about love? Whaaaaaaat? That’s new.

“Weekend” – Louis the Child feat. Icona Pop

CM: I was never a fan of Kidz Bop, or artists who randomly have children joining the chorus or whatever — it’s really kind of a ‘why?’ moment. That being said, the child aspect to this song isn’t overpowering, which is new and nice, and the song is strong with or without it. It’s fun, catchy, and has some cool instrumentation happening. I’m down.

MJH: This doesn’t quite have the punch of “I Love It,” but it’s enjoyable enough. The lyrics are surprisingly not terrible, and I like to think there’s a hint of sarcasm and snark in its depiction of early-twenty-something excess. The chorus is catchy and for some reason I don’t hate the kids singing in the chorus.

SF: Icona Pop can be filed under my guilty pleasures, but this track is just bizarre. Lacking any sort of background instrumentals for the first minute and replacing any drums with clapping, the song just feels empty and the shallow bass drops don’t exactly help.

“M.I.L.F.$” – Fergie

CM: Haven’t heard a bar and already I’m not looking forward to this. What the ever-loving fuck is this? You can’t make a song by replacing ‘milk’ with ‘MILF’ and you can’t declare yourself a MILF, that’s not how it works. The bridge is the best part because it sounds nothing like the rest of the song and there’s actual substance there.

MJH: As my friend Natalie told me, this song is like Amy Schumer’s “Milk Milk Lemonade” spoof, except it’s a real song. I’m all about Fergie owning her sexuality and stuff, but this song is trying to be about 50 things all at once, and it does exactly zero of them well. Even the recurring milk / milkshake metaphors are ripped off directly from Kelis without any of the winking charm that made “Milkshake” such a hit. Sorry, Fergie, this is more of a MILF: a Majorly Insipid Listless Fuckup.

SF: Oh, Fergie. Sometimes there’s comfort in things staying exactly the same for extended periods of time — Fergie’s sound is not an example. Complete with the spelling out of words, this track’s eclectic mashup of too many noises and not enough instrumentals leaves me entirely uncomfy.

“Fool’s Gold” – Dagny feat. BØRNS

CM: This song totally doesn’t need to be redone, but it’s definitely not a bad redux. The original power and amazing-ness is still kicking. Instead of it being a bad remix, it’s like the greatness you know and love, just taken a different way — the way remixes should be done.

MJH: I dunno, this song just kind of leaves me cold. It sounds like pretty much every other song on the radio, and yet it also sounds weirdly worse than anything else on the radio, if that makes sense. It mostly just feels like everyone involved is going through the motions, hoping no one would notice that they’re just there to get a paycheque. But I noticed. If a great pop song is real gold, then you know what this is.

SF: Upbeat and bouncey, this track is hands down my favourite of the playlist. BØRNS brings his signature vibe to this collab, including mini bass drops, head voice vocals, and piano chords.

“Tidal Wave” – Taking Back Sunday

CM: Oh pop punk — how I still love you even after all the years that’ve passed since high school. That being said, TBS was never a constant on my playlists. This is fine if you like that more roots pop punk style, and it’s uptempo and all that jazz but I wouldn’t listen to it again.

MJH: Pop punk isn’t really my thing — give or take Say Anything — but this is OK. Super formulaic and repetitive, sure, but at least they sound like they’re doing their best. Not something I would ever listen to again, but a cut above your average hyper-emotional pop punk song.

SF: Immediately electric guitar-heavy, there’s no denying this track sounds like it was made by a group of high school boys in their parents’ garage. Rough vocals interspersed with yelling and snare-heavy percussion finish the track.

“Surrender” – Tor Miller

CM: This is enjoyable to listen to, with a rock/easy-listening kinda vibe going on here. It does remind me of the kind of stuff that my mom listens to, but the power and musicality make up for that.

MJH: I like that Tor Miller’s voice is unconventional and has a little personality to it — too bad you can’t say the same for his music. Hard pass.

SF: Beginning with dramatic piano chords, the track segues into deep vocals singing equally dramatic and romantic lyrics. If you’re at all in the mood for love, give this track a listen. The dramatic piano chords never quit, and the song ends on the musical version of a cliffhanger.

“Hang Me Out to Dry” – Metronomy feat. Robyn

CM: It’s almost like there are two different songs competing with each other because of the disconnect between the chorus and the verses. That being said, it’s actually not bad, because despite the two sounds being quite different, using them to flow into and out of each other works really well and makes for an intriguing song.

MJH: I love Metronymy and I adore Robyn, but this song is just OK. I agree with Courtney — it sounds like two different songs that don’t quite match up. For me, it doesn’t really end up working out. Both parties do their best to sell it, but it’s just oil and vinegar.

SF: Electric-sounding vocals and soft masculine vocals go back and forth, singing romantic lyrics to the sound of electric bass plucks and a solid synthesizer background. If there were a music video, the actors would probably only be allowed to wear shiny spandex against a neon background.

“Fake My Own Death” – Sum 41

CM: Wow, these guys are still around? Last time I heard of Sum 41 I was playing as Tony Hawk to “Fat Lip” in a boys’ room more than a decade ago. Oh, how things have changed. Aside from nostalgia, there’s not much going for this song because I have long since grown out of the phase where I find screamy vocals even the tiniest bit palatable.

MJH: Poor Sum 41. It seems like they’ve wasted their time and ended up another casualty of society. They fell in line, and became another victim of their own conformity. They backed down.

SF: Similarly to “Tidal Wave,” this track, too, is immediately snare drum- and electric guitar-heavy. This one’s even worse, though. The vocals and lyrics remind me of middle school angst and that time where I almost slipped into a scene phase, but narrowly avoided it.

“Houseboat” – Sykamore

CM: I don’t know who I had to kill to get two country songs on this playlist, but I am probably the only one of us who is super OK with this. There’s an innocence and plenty of songwriting skill — she did, after all, win a songwriting contest in Alberta — and I’m plenty happy to listen to this song anytime. Of the two (why two?) country songs on this playlist, this one is definitely the better of the two.

MJH: Maybe it’s just because I tend to prefer female-fronted country songs. In any case, this sounds like Taylor Swift circa 2008, which isn’t the worst but definitely isn’t the best. Also, am I the only one who finds it weird that houseboats are now country music icons à la pickup trucks and barbecues?

SF: Another country, but this time it’s about a breakup rather than love! Admittedly, this track’s lyrics are markedly cuter than the first one’s. It helps that Sykamore’s lyrics fondly describe the gold coast and cinnamon whiskey.

“Storm” – I.Y.F.F.E. feat. Desiree Dawson

CM: It’s too repetitive in a monotonous way for me to enjoy it in any way. There’s no real need to listen past 1:45 because the second half of the song is basically just a repeat of the first.

MJH: Meh.

SF: Haunting feminine vocals to a background of instrumentals that remind me of Flume and Disclosure mashups create a track worth listening to. At around two minutes, a horn section joins the synthesizer and percussion, easily pushing the track from good to great.

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