The New Pornographers, "Your Hands (Together)"
AM: I never saw the New Pornos, Canada's preeminent eight-person jitter-pop collective, as a band concerned much with progressing. "Your Hands (Together)" bears my theory out, and sounds like an amped-up take on the power melodies of their finest, Mass Romantic. 4/5
NS: Jaunty as always, and utilizing the sort of rolling dynamic changes that only the New Pornos can pull of with such zeal, this song would at first glance seem to be very much the equal of some of their earlier, classic singles. The very end may not reach those ecstatic heights, but I'd say this would maybe be two hooks short of a perfect song. 4/5
Die Antwoord, "Enter the Ninja"
AM: If only American rappers, whose efforts are not conceptual art projects, were making music this idiosyncratic and intense. The beat could've come from Houston, but unmistakably South African rapper Ninja spits like a man possessed (as well as obsessed with video games and ninjas, global signifiers of coolness). You need to watch this video. 5/5
NS: I would hate to judge the surely-fecund domain of South African rap based on this song alone, and the rapper Ninja certainly sounds capable of spitting for spitting's sake, but this is otherwise a pretty dull song, especially in the sonics department. I especially do not like singer Yo-Landi Vi$$er's vocal contributions, or her name for that matter. I will admit that I am curious to hear more. 2/5
The Thermals, "Canada"
AM: An important milestone in The Thermals' gradual evolution from lo-fi punk to shouty power-pop. Last year's Now We Can See was a slight disappointment, and "Canada" responds by packing in more hooks than even NWCS's rousing title track. Alas, it's not quite as good, but a new Thermals single is always welcome. 3.5/5
NS: The one band around today that could probably rival the New Pornographers in terms of sheer, overwhelming peppiness, the Thermals nevertheless contribute what is possibly the best song ever written about our northerly neighbors. I've always found their propensity for ebullience to be endearing as well as (usually) rocking, and this song follows a formula that will never be beaten. 5/5
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, "Good Enough"
AM: I like what Petty and the Heartbreakers were aiming for--there's nothing wrong with caustic blues jams, per se--but the end result here is too Grand Funk-y for comfort. Still, if I were hightailing it out of town in my pickup, leaving my entire life behind, I might put this on. 2.5/5
NS: When Tom Petty is on point, and the majority of the time he is, he can write songs of effortless greatness, usually one after the other, and his '00s material in particular has yielded lot of great stuff that tends to be criminally ignored. However, this slow blues jam showcases Tom Petty's rare generic side, in an overlong song that fails to distinguish itself save for Petty's vocals. Mike Campbell's guitar work is also not his best. 2/5
Robin Thicke Feat. Nicki Minaj, "Shakin' It For Daddy"
AM: Whereas "Enter The Ninja" hijacks pop trends for its freakishly weird vision, this song slavishly imitates Top 40 productions to annoying effect. Thicke gets overshadowed by Minaj, who sounds like Fergie. 1.5/5
NS: While Robin Thicke strikes me as basically Justin Timberlake with an even more whispery voice, Nicki Minaj demonstrates an ability for I will call "beat-riding," in lieu of a more technical term, in which Ms. Minaj manages to basically prattle on about nothing but still sound commanding and rhythmically unpredictable. It's kind of a thrilling showcase that gives this otherwise interminable corporate R&B-swill a few points in my book. 2.5/5
Prince, "Cause and Effect"
AM: I'm reminded of The Love Symbol Album's proggy "Three Chains Of Gold." And like that song, this is actually exciting. I could do without the crowd noise, but there's much tossed-off brilliance to be found here. Prince restlessly transitions from light funk to arena rock, new wave groove to a wild solo, and it works. 4/5
NS: I haven't been this blown away by a Prince song since "Fury" off 3121. It combines the rhythmic sparseness of Dirty Mind, the adventurousness of Sign 'O' The Times, and the heavy rock anthem elements of a lot of his stuff with the New Power Generation. Like his best 80's output, this song is dense with ideas, most of which work, and they lead into a guitar solo worth the time of any serious Prince scholar. 4.5/5