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Max's Hot Take: Jack Antonoff is only good for Jack Antonoff

Fresh off the heels of the latest blockbuster release for producer Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift's The Tortured Poets Department, I am convinced that the only creative music Antonoff is capable of producing is for his own group Bleachers. His trend, not only with Swift, but with every pop artist he's collaborated with including The 1975, Lorde, and Lana Del Ray, involves stripping away everything from music and refusing to play into the musician's strengths to create a generic, a-melodic, spoken word poetry album. This approach is guaranteed to only further jeopardize the jobs of other musicians since he has made it a hundred times easier for AI to write a pop hit now. This is not to say that Antonoff is unoriginal, uncreative, or a disservice to music: just to those he collaborates with. 

His latest release with his group Bleachers, the January Bleachers album, features more of the creativity than can be heard on the 90+ minutes of Swift's Midnights. My first listen of Midnights came on a drive home from Ohio with my sister in tow. I was vastly underwhelmed, almost asleep at times from the ambient, tonal background with little instrumentation and trackable melody. Swift's early music has power for a reason: it can be sung. 

Antonoff as the lead singer for Bleachers is not a skilled vocalist but he finds his niche well. His ability to create tracks to dance along to as well as songs that fit his vocal styling is impressive and some of my favorites off Bleachers include "Modern Girl", "Tiny Moves", and "Hey Joe". Antonoff even creates weaving tapestries across his albums for Bleachers, featuring creative bridges, instrumental solos, and edited conversations to provide a sense of unity across his work. The instrumentation in "How Dare You Want More" from 2021's Take the Sadness out of Saturday Night and the echoed bridge between saxophone and guitar is high energy and different, creating phases of a song. Tracks like "You're Still a Mystery" and "Dream of Mickey Mantle" from their first two albums feature polyphony and layered, competing melodies building to a massive payoff. His albums for Bleachers even appear to have a coherent plan all the way through with reprises built in and partnering tracks together for more of a punch. 

"The Tortured Poets Department" features none of that. The title track of Swift's 2-hour long album has no variance and the three minute mark sounds just like the opening. It's a lightly synthesized monologue with some vocal production effects added. No wonder she can crank albums out every year: there's nothing going into them. 

Bleachers' latest eponymous album is the textbook demonstration that what Antonoff does well as an artist, he is unable to do as a producer. He leans into his strengths and can create energetic electronic pop with limited vocal talent required. But he can't lead others to the promised land: his technique brings other artists down and sadly the charts disagree. 

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