Strange Desire

Things we learned about Jack Antonoff — Fun. guitarist, former Steel Train ringleader, Lena Dunham boyfriend, and, lately, Bleachers mastermind — in Vulture’s great profile last week: He lived with his parents in New Jersey until age 28, when Fun.’s “We Are Young” made them superstars. His Fun. bandmates lived there for a while too, and they recorded much of their debut album in the living room. He’s happy to fly his loved ones first class, but he still expects his parents to pay for everything from lunch to dental work. He is building a lucrative side career as a pop songwriter for Sara Bareilles (“Brave”) and Taylor Swift (“Sweeter Than Fiction”) and is good buddies with Swift. He had a Star Wars-themed Bar Mitzvah. He dated Scarlett Johansson back in her Ghost World days. He was booking DIY tours for his first band while still in high school and once decided to steal/borrow the family van and drive to Disney World. His sister died of brain cancer at age 13, when he was a senior in high school, just before 9/11, and he was bedridden for months with pneumonia during the recording of Fun.’s breakout Some Nights. As such, he is a major germaphobe. He’s putting off looking for a new therapist because the prospect of catching somebody up feels daunting.

Still, Antonoff is a man in search of healing; his best song says so right there in the title. “I Wanna Get Better” is a retro-futuristic new wave anthem for the present. The centerpiece and self-described “mission statement” of Strange Desire, Antonoff’s debut album as Bleachers, it is a song about “chas(ing) that feeling of an 18-year-old who didn’t know what loss was.” (I originally thought Antonoff was singing about “the feeling of an 18-year-old who didn’t know what Lost was,” which would communicate similar ideas about more innocent times, but like Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, I digress.) The song starts out big and only gets bigger, piling up frantic keyboards, clobbering percussion, quirky noises that sound like a string of emojis, a massive gang of shouters, and quivering yet commanding not-gonna-crack/whoops-already-cracked lead vocals. It’s a tour de force, and it perfectly encapsulates the headspace of a living millennials thinkpiece like Antonoff. Like many in his generation, his life seems both deeply privileged and unimaginably painful, and “I Wanna Get Better” is the sound of the psychic whiplash.

Antonoff finds himself at a unique position in pop culture. His main project has become one of the most massively popular yet patently uncool bands in the world. (I should note that I loved Some Nights unreservedly, so don’t read “uncool” as a rejection of Fun.) Meanwhile he’s dating Dunham — her generation’s handiest avatar for young, hip, urbanites — and together they’re this idyllic Brooklyn power couple. There are lots of musicians whose reach extends into the mainstream and the underground (substitute the suburbs/the city or the radio/the internet if you like), but few of them extend quite as far as Antonoff right now. He’s used that reach to make a record that just about everybody in his constituency could love.

Strange Desire is every bit as epic as Some Nights but not nearly as chipper. Antonoff told Vulture that Bleachers is an ’80s nostalgia passion project in that ever-popular John Hughes mold, “tied to a time when big songs were great songs.” The name Bleachers, though, is designed to represent the “disconnected, darker side” of suburban youth — and indeed, Strange Desire trades the classic-rock-meets-emo-meets-hip-hop luminosity of Some Nights for slightly more ominous synth-pop and new wave. The songs here are more or less equally personal, but contentment and love are in the picture for Antonoff rather than the lonely wandering that characterized Some Nights’s lyrics. Crucially, this is an album about pressing on together rather than soldiering on alone, about having somebody else around to help lick your wounds. “Everything has changed, and now it’s only you that matters,” Antonoff sings on opener “Wild Heart”; “Can’t believe I captured your heart,” he coos on the ballad “Wake Me”; “Oh, I will bleed when you want me to bleed/ But I don’t really know too much of anything,” he intones on closer “Who I Want You To Love.” Most strikingly, Bleachers swaps out the boyish nasal bleat of Nate Ruess for Antonoff’s deeper, more adult cries and bellows. Still, massive choruses abound, and the same sense of hope and forward motion that propels Fun.’s records undergirds this music too. It is a more shadowy manifestation of the same essentially bright outlook.

The resulting record is both bewildered and triumphant. The monster jams pile up one after another — “Rollercoaster,” “Shadow,” “Reckless Love,” “You’re Still A Mystery,” and on and on — marked alternately by humongous populist choruses and subtly quirky cameos by the likes of Grimes, Dunham, and Yoko Ono. The turns of phrase are evocative, but so are the wordless choruses that spiral out into the rafters. Like most of the musical throwbacks produced by Antonoff’s generation, Strange Desire projects the past through an intensely personal lens, but unlike so many of those nostalgia exercises, his songs gaze outwards toward the listener as often as they peer into Antonoff’s own soul. The personality in his music makes it identifiable rather than inscrutable. To borrow a phrase from someone close to Antonoff’s heart, he may be the voice of his generation — or at least a voice, of a generation.

Strange Desire is out 7/15 via. Pre-order it here.

CHART WATCH

105,000 copies is not the strongest debut week of the year, but in a down week it was good enough to earn Trey Songz his second #1 album with Trigga. (His 2012 set Chapter V also started out on top.) Its singles include “Na Na,” a DJ Mustard production that interpolates the Fugees, and “Smart Phones,” which includes the line “Smart phones/ Dumb shit” and which grew on me a lot when I heard it on the radio instead of its overlong video. Ed Sheeran’s x bumps down to #2 with 53,000, followed by Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour at #3 with 45,000. Also debuting high are modern rockers Seether, whose Isolate And Medicate enters at #4 with just above 37,000. The Frozen soundtrack is at #5 with 37,000 — its 28th straight week in the top 5 and 30th straight in the top 10, as Billboard notes.

Reggae-rockers MAGIC! rode the success of #2 single “Rude” to debut their LP Don’t Kill The Magic at #6 with about 36,000. Two more former chart-toppers are next: Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (#7, 25,000) and Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence (#8, just under 25,000). Despite Robin Thicke’s much-publicized Paula sales flameout (the album only sold 530 copies in the UK), 550 in Thicke’s native Canada, and “less than 54″ in Australia) its 24,000 in US sales were good enough for a #9 debut stateside. Rounding out the top 10 is another debut, Thanks For Listening by aptly named country singer Colt Ford, which sold 23,000.

Over on the Hot 100, Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX still reign. “Fancy” is #1 for a seventh straight week. Billboard points out that this feat ties Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” as the fifth-longest stint at #1 by a lead female artist this decade. Rihanna’s “We Found Love” Feat. Calvin Harris owns the longest streak at 10 weeks, while three songs (Lorde’s “Royals,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” and Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK”) enjoyed 9-week runs at #1. The rest of the top 6 is also unchanged: MAGIC!’s “Rude” is #2 for a second straight week and might be able to ascend to #1 next week, which is crazy. Ariana Grande and Azalea’s shoulda-been-#1 “Problem” remains at #3 after peaking at #2. Then come Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” at #4, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” at #5, and Jason Derulo & Snoop Dogg’s “Wiggle” at #6. Calvin Harris is up to #7 with “Summer,” while John Legend’s former #1 “All Of Me” is down to #8. Maroon 5′s “Maps” moves up to #9, becoming the group’s ninth top-10 single. At #10 is DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What,” which is unfortunately turning down after all.

It’s worth noting occasionally that the Hot 100 is culled together from Billboard’s sales, streaming, and radio charts, and that it only represents what’s popular in the US. A quick look at Spotify’s global streaming chart gives a different perspective:

By that metric, “Summer” is the most popular song in the world and your true “song of the summer” (blatant branding objective achieved). Along with the inclusion of Tiesto and David Guetta tracks that haven’t quite become US hits, it reminds me that no matter how big the EDM craze has gotten stateside, these guys are still on a slightly higher level of fame elsewhere than they are here. Also interesting to see Coldplay’s Avicii-produced “A Sky Full Of Stars” so high, which only reinforces my sense that EDM rules the world more than we realize.

TRACK CITY

Fifth Harmony – “BO$$”
Best song of the week by a wide, wide margin, carried by brilliant meme-worthy lyrics and a strong, satisfying Destiny’s Child influence. Conceptually, “BO$$” is a pastiche of “Independent Women” + “Bills, Bills, Bills” + “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” + maybe a little “Soldier,” the ladies of Fifth Harmony bragging about their financial swagger and boasting that they need a man who can keep up with them. Having recognized its clear lineage, though, let’s get this straight: This song is incredibly now. The beat is a genius convergence of 2014 pop trends, matching spare West Coast hiccups and snaps with a sassy brass part that essentially grabs you and pulls you on the dance floor. And the lyrics! The opening lines: “Every day is payday/ Swipe my card and I do the Nae Nae/ You’re talkin’ to a lady/ I want a Kanye-ye, not a Ray J.” And the chorus comes close to Riff Raff & Lil Debbie where repping our first lady is concerned: “Michele Obama! Purse so heavy, gettin’ Oprah dollars!”

Young The Giant – “Mind Over Matter”
“Mind Over Matter” has been ruling alternative radio for a minute now, but the video is out this week, so that’s an excuse to mention Young The Giant. These guys are one of the most enjoyable, least offensive entrants among the world’s many top-40 pop bands disguised as indie rock bands. I certainly wouldn’t be mad if they crossed over with this. It would be funny if the chorus said “’Cause I’m a young man built to fuck!” but I’m pretty sure he’s saying “fall.”

Wale – “The Followers”
M-m-m-m-m-m-m-maybach Music lieutenants Wale and Meek Mill seemed primed for a beef this week when Meek called out Wale for being unsupportive on Twitter. Then Wale squashed that with a thoughtful response and quickly issued this promising track, a return to the reflective sounds of his Seinfeld-themed 2008 breakout The Mixtape About Nothing and the best thing he’s done since then. It quickly went to #1 on Billboard’s Twitter chart, the Trending 140, and although I’m no longer accustomed to saying nice things about Wale songs, it’s hard to be mad about the guy grabbing some attention by going back to his roots.

MoXiiE – “Anyway”
MoXiiE was born and raised in Haiti, resides in Brooklyn, and brings you this masterful modem-pop single via the UK site Popjustice. Pan-global future music!

Paris Hilton – “Come Alive”
Regardless of who was responsible for its excellence, “Stars Are Blind” was a shockingly excellent pop single. This latest Paris Hilton single, which skews toward EDM because of course it does, is not so excellent. The beat feels warmed-over, and the lyrics are vaguely pathetic: “I could be your dreamgirl/ I’ll be your princess, whatever you choose/ I’ll travel the world just to be with you.” Unfortunately, this is a lot more like what we all expected from a Paris Hilton pop single.

B.o.B. – “Drunk AF” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
B.o.B. has been releasing a ton of videos from his new No Genre 2 this week, and this Ty$-assisted party track is the only one I’ve liked — much better than the one that interpolates “Many Rivers To Cross” and Bobby’s sad attempt at the Migos flow.

Juicy J – “0 To 100 (Remix)”
Juicy has also been real busy putting new songs on SoundCloud, and it should be no surprise that his greatest accomplishment of the week involves borrowing Boi-1da’s great “0 To 100/The Catch Up” beat.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Garth Brooks is coming out of retirement and wants to reclaim country’s crown. [Billboard]
  • Brooks is also taking his catalog digital, but independently through his website and for “a stupid price.” [Billboard]
  • Kesha wrote an essay about her rehab experience for Elle UK. [ATRL]
  • Jhene Aiko’s debut album Souled Out now has an 8/25 release date, which puts her in direct competition with Ariana Grande, which seems unwise. [Rap Up]
  • Producer William Orbit defended that rough Britney Spears warmup vocal that made the rounds yesterday. [Vulture]
  • Kiesza accomplished what Grimes could not: She got Rihanna to record songs she wrote. [Digital Spy]
  • Here’s an interesting anecdote about how that Balkan Beat Box sax sample ended up on Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” [Rolling Stone]
  • Miley Cyrus is rumored to be dating Mike Will Made It, which would be great if it means she’s definitely not dating Wayne Coyne. [Us]
  • UK hitmaker and Sam Smith collaborator Naughty Boy is expected to produce the next album by fellow Smith collaborator Mary J. Blige. [Hits Daily Double]
  • Joining Adriana Grande as a VMAs performer will be 5 Seconds Of Summer. [Twitter]
  • And Usher will open the VMAs. [Rap Up]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

Comments (32)
  1. “He’s happy to fly his loved ones first class, but he still expects his parents to pay for everything from lunch to dental work.”

    uh

  2. Sleeping without bedsheets: the strangest desire of all.

  3. “These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty (For Your Love)” #PretzelLoveSongs

  4. I can’t stop listening to Bleachers and I’m okay with it.

  5. Now, I realize what I’m about to say will garner a, “No Doi!” or a “What a Slowpoke!” reaction, but here goes:

    How much is p4k getting paid to leave that #BreakFree track BNT’d on the top of their track reviews for over a week now? I thought we here at Stereogum Comment HQ agreed that song was garbage? Are we being force fed pop music like a Nathan’s hot dog eating competition? Anybody else think there is an army of suits and business men backing Arianna Grande? Will she be another pop casualty in 3-4 years? I honestly don’t know.

    • That AG song completely blows, but, to be fair, that Shmoney Dance song is quite possibly the worst BNT I have ever heard (and I’ve heard many bad ones). I think them keeping it on the top of the tracks section likely has something to do with her lookin all good (kind of like GvB does with most of their content), but I don’t doubt for one minute that money may be exchanging hands to keep it there.

      • We’re not as big as P4K, but FWIW I’ve been running this site for 12+ years and no one has ever offered us money to post a track. I don’t deny that payola used to happen in radio (and probably still does to some extent (favor trading)), but I’ve never heard of a music site getting paid to positively review a song, undisclosed.

  6. Young the Giant also have a song from their latest record called “Anagram” that is seriously one of the best “modern rock” (whatever that means) songs of the year. It’s in 7/8 time, for goodness sake. 7/8!

    • I’ve admired that band from a distance for awhile now and I dig the track posted above. Think I might just go for it and download an album or two.

  7. That beat and the hooks in “BO$$” really is all kinds of awesome, I’m surprised. Finally an exciting pop 2014 song (could never really get behind Problem as much as I wanted to because of that lame Iggy verse). Too bad it’s not crossing over like it deserved to though.

  8. I saw that Bleachers song on VH! and I was like this song is actually pretty cool, I wonder if it has any chance with the stereogum crowd because I thought it was cool but it was on VH1 and seemed to jump to a relatively high mainstream platform with hearing it come through ranks. Ignorantly I did not know it was the guy from fun. even though I did think he looked like him, but that explains a lot although it probably hurts his chances of finding true love from the stereogum audience, Not saying he’s great or anything cause I’ve only heard that one song just doesn’t seem like most will give him a fair shot.

  9. I don’t think P4K or Stereogum are involved in payola, in the tradional sense. I do see a leeeeeaaan towards pop that somehow must help the bottom line. I’m not sure how any of that crap works so I won’t try and serve up a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” theory. But as Scott states above he’s run this site for 12+ years and I’ve been reading it for at least 10 of those years. And I simply cannot understand why the pop lean is occuring as of late. Take a look at the pictures of the “artists” in this thread. It’s a who’s who of everything I hate in the popular world of music. And it saddens me to see it here.

    I remember about 10 years ago we had a Home Base store in my town. And for about 5 years it was the “go to” joint for do it yourselfers. But then their customer service started to falter a bit and Home Depot moved in and within a year they were shuttered. Home Depot has ruled the roost in these parts ever since. But a couple years ago a Lowe’s opened. And they are hungrier and trying to establish a brand in my area. And Home Depot is really starting to drop off. I fully expect them to close up.

  10. After being in the “band” Fun., I want to see those liner notes.

  11. Nah, Bleachers really isn’t. The song you posted sounds like someone trying to do a really dorky, clean impersonation of Casiotone For the Painfully Alone.

  12. Let’s talk about that dong dance vine to the new Mariah Carey jam:
    http://vine.co/u/1099045711846510592

  13. Let’s talk about the dong dance to that new Mariah song that sounds like “Fantasy” (google Dong Dance Jams).

  14. Can I just have the pretzel bun by itself? I feel like carbing up tonight.

  15. First off, bravo for bringing it back to my initial Pokemon reference.

    Secondly, I’m glad you responded to this because I feel you’ve been trying to open our eyes to this for awhile. One thing I’ve been hinting at with my not-so-subtle #BreakFree references is HOW COINCIDENTAL that Stereogum ran that #BreakFree piece (that we here at Stereogum Comment HQ ripped to shreds, rightfully) and now we have the next up and coming pop starlet by way of TV show (*COUGH* HANNAHMONTANA{NOMIGOS}*COUGH*) following up her smash single with a song called “Break Free”. Am I insane to link the two? Did the same people that insisted on posting that #BreakFree article here at S’gum go running to Arianna Grande Incorporated with bags full of money saying, “Whatever you do for your next song, call it #BreakFree.” Then as a compromise they removed the hashtag from the name and put a space in it? (I mean, why not? Worked for #Beautiful I think?)

    I agree the writing is slipping, but why not? I’m sure they realized at least 5 years ago that people are only looking at the score anyway. I gotta give you credit _ for continuing to call them out for what is clearly some stinky shit. I’ve followed your site loosely for a few years and most notably I recall your year-end list got me listening to Charli XCX well before her debut. I was still a little late to the party, but good lord look at where she is now? You were onto this emo-revival (which I still refuse to get on board with. I stopped painting my nails black a loooong time ago) well before anybody else, but apparently it’s something they’re trying to get going again? I don’t ever recall p4k being too kind to the original batch of emo bands, as somewhat supported by [REDACTED]‘s interview with Geoff about it not being cool to like Thursday back in the day. (For the record, I fucking loved Thursday. Put a Thursday patch on my black hoodie back in those nail polish days…) So why are they all of a sudden getting behind this emo-revival? Their motives are something that needs to be questioned, thus my original comment in this thread.

    Keep fighting the good fight _. Don’t let the fuckers get you down.

  16. Fitzmo’s artist comparisons in that Hotelier blurb reeked of the attitude that led Pitchfork and other outlets to ignore those types of bands for almost a decade, in that even while he was praising an “emo” band he couldn’t help but list tatsemaker-friendly indie bands instead of the excellent emo and pop-punk bands that The Hotelier have clearly been influenced by. Say what you will about Ian Cohen–I know you all hate him around here–but at least he’s gone ahead and favorably mentioned bands like Brand New and Thursday in some of his reviews.

    With that said, I completely disagree with you about The Hotelier. That album is one of the best things that’s come out this year and it totally deserved inclusion on that list. It bangs front to back. Every single track has at least one moment of rushing, tingly catharsis. If it had come out while I was in high school it would have easily been on heavy rotation in my five-disc changer along with Deja Entendu, Stay What You Are, The Moon Is Down, and Full Collapse.

  17. Love the visual of Scott running to Ariana Grande with bags full of money. But really, I’m hesitant to blame the SG guys directly…I mean, imagine how hard it must be for they themselves to #BreakFree from the corporate grasp of SpinMedia. Anyways, I do agree. There is something sinister going on at Pitchfork, and that BNT section definitely made me suspicious. Although, I originally thought that they blatantly publicized AG’s song and also awarded like four BNTs strategically before July 4th so that [REDACTED] could have some poppy new tracks while grilling with his bros, all clad in fedoras (for some reason I imagine him to always be wearing fedoras).

    PS: _, what smaller music publications do you recommend?

  18. About two years ago, Pitchfork gave a BNT to an Avicii single, and that was the first time I remember thinking that they had seriously lost the plot.

  19. OK that sentence was poorly worded. I was referring to the “suits & business men” in my original post running to AG Inc. Clearly S’gum got some ad money for that #BreakFree article as it was labeled as an advertisement. I’m just guessing those same people behind that ad campaign went running to AG Inc. with the song idea. As _ pointed out, I’m probably being paranoid about THE MAN and such, but it’s fun to speculate about “the powers that b”

    It’s just very fucking suspicious for p4k to leave that garbage song as their featured BNT for over a week (and especially over 4th weekend) unless they getting $$$$ to #BreakFree

  20. @mr. mayo

    And that Avicii song was reviewed by President Schreiber himself. It’s as if the entire p4k staff refused to review it (even turning down free fedoras!), so he had to do it himself. I can’t remember him reviewing anything else in recent memory… I recall he was the one that posted the original OFWGKTA Fallon performance moments after it happened. I always found it interesting they got behind OF so much initially, like they were willingly giving them a platform to start their RubJohn army (no offense RJ!).

    Anyway, fun to speculate.

  21. Not necessarily a smaller site, but if WonderingSound.com gets a bit more consistent with their content strategy, it will be a music site super power.

  22. mike, you keep posting shit like this and stop threatening to kill yourself when LIFE HAPPENS and I’m sure everyone on this site will love you forever. Like everything you wrote here is exactly how I feel.

  23. Silhouettes is one of the best EDM songs of the past 5 years, and I’m really grateful that Pitchfork introduced me to it.

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