Welcome to The Hot Take, a new feature where a selection of writers discuss some of the noteworthy single releases of the closing week. This week we take a look at the new singles from Rihanna, FKA twigs, Florence and the Machine, Jamie xx, and Shamir. If you dig it, stick around every Friday for more.
"Bitch Better Have My Money"
Luis Tovar: Just when you thought Beatle-assisted kumbayas and DUI's were the new thing, Rihanna and Kanye master the art of talking shit on twin singles "All Day" and "Bitch Better Have My Money". Advantage Rihanna for somehow refraining from inserting a stupid proggy synth coda into the song. B
Nathan Wisnicki: A full-on trap song, wow. It’s got some of Kanye’s fingerprints on it, that’s for sure: woozy bass, contorted drums exaggerating their artifice. Interesting stuff, perhaps, if not hooky or particularly likeable at all. The singing, though? Aside from the parts that sound like a smug playground taunt, this could’ve been sung/rapped by almost anyone, which is really depressing; it’s like the exact opposite of “FourFiveSeconds” in both style and quality. I’ll take Young Thug, thanks. Released yesterday, this admittedly hasn’t had much time to digest. But maybe that’s because it’s already crap. D+
Austin Reed: More like, “Bitch better keep dropping tracks just like this one.” Holy shit. I felt my ribcage shiver after the first chorus hit, and my volume was only at, like, four. Produced with the kind of unfiltered ferocity that makes “All Day,” and “King Kunta,” certifiably perfect, “HBBHMM,” is a club-ready banger for anyone who wants to drop the BPM with no questions asked. B+
Peter Tabakis: Behold: a peek at the Hot 100 had Yeezus conquered the world in 2013. This is what happens when your dreams are realized. I’m thrilled that “Bitch Better Have My Money” exists. But who is it for? On paper, I should be deep in Rihanna’s pocket. Only, I can’t abide the heavyweight approach with such a featherweight hook. The bold can be beautiful, if there’s beauty to be had. “Bitch Better Have My Money” has sound and fury to spare. But as Yeezus once taught us, a spoonful of melody makes the battering go down. C-
Ike: Okay, lets just say it… this really isn’t that good. Sure it has the bass-driven beat (though not Metro Boomin for whatever reason), the more trap-esque rap/sing flow and content to a simple slew of words demanding her repayment. So is it bad? By current standards, no. But could it have been better? Well no, because it’s classic Rihanna. It’s the slightly more ratchet "Pour It Up" with a grimier "G4L" flow laced under content similar to the Young Jeezy accompanied, "Hard". Basically, it’s been done and with F"ourFiveSeconds" I thought that maybe the same woman who can reinvent her aesthetic time and time again could do the same with her music.
Look, I’m not bashing Rih, I’m just saying that I want an album, not a collection of dope singles. And goddamn it Kanye! We hear you at the end… we fucking know you produced the song! B-
"Glass & Patron"
Peter Tabakis: I’ve yet to make sense of this song. Maybe I never will. FKA twigs seems committed to recording R&B, backwards to forwards, from a recording studio on Htrae. Me will not follow blindly. Me hate this! A-
Austin Reed: 70 seconds. 70 seconds is all it takes to realize that “Glass & Patrón” is a cold, shiny, spring-loaded snare just waiting to jump. And then, 70 more seconds later, it jumps. Minimalist undertones give way to polished production, skittering vocal loops and a bass line so smooth and climactic, you almost expect the track to last three minutes longer than it does. Barnett is at the top of her game on “Glass & Patrón,” delivering a ferocious backbeat and catchy-as-hell hook with sex, volatility and poise. Also, she gives birth to a scarf. Props for skipping the epidural. A-
Luis Tovar: Tahliah Barnett is as audacious as she is electrifying. It's kinda unbelievable that she has already announced a follow-up EP to the seven-and-a-half month old LP1, an album that somehow reached beyond its avant-garde designation and altered the course of pop music before anyone could take notice. It's even more stunning that she's actually already delivering on the promise of that album. Her imitators—the list is growing, trust—don't have a hope of catching up when she changes the game every half year. A-
Nathan Wisnicki: People keep shoving this person in my face and I keep not caring. It wasn’t just the dumb stage name, either; look, I get it. She’s got all the cold industrial tones that’re catnip for so many — including me, on appropriate nights. But her “approach,” such as it is, is a thin scenester dare with entirely unearned pretensions to some sort of dark spiritual sweep. Like Kanye, the digital hiss and howl and buzz exaggerate the artifice, and there’s admittedly some dread built up through the apparently random spacing; there’s a swarm is on its way, somewhere. But unlike Kanye, the artifice isn’t organized rigorously enough to comment on itself…or anything else. Vocally, her melodramatic panting evokes Beth Gibbons of Portishead moving cluelessly toward the the 2003 pop charts…but oh, what a hip subterranean underbelly! And so clean, too! Phony. D+
Ike: I’ve watched Vogue battles and, although never in person, I’ve seen more death-drops than I’m willing to admit on YouTube. And just like the dance we get a colorful FKA twigs: vibrant, flowing in and out of beats with swan-like arm movements. Letting her baby hair down, twigs embraces her inner model as she struts upbeat chord lines in open stilettos. It’s twigs like I’ve never heard her: groping keyboard riffs and accentuating her effeminate higher tones while shredding drag shows across the nation. Or maybe I’m talking about the video? A
Jesse Nee-Vogelman: FKA frightens me. I doubt I’m alone. Her music excites and lacks patterns. It terrifies and energizes, leaving vast open spaces where lesser musicians would float in an extra synth or sample or who cares. This isn’t the type of music I can imagine listening to often—or with friends, or at a party, or really anywhere but in my bedroom with the lights off. It’s R&B unlike R&B. It’s medieval medicinal arsenic, therapeutic poison; beneficial in small doses, but dangerous when pumping it around the clock. A-
Florence and the Machine
Nathan Wisnicki: Five years ago I would’ve just called Florence and the Machine solid craftspeople who aren’t doing a single thing exceptionally: tired Kate Bush with U2 chord changes, imagery left vague to the point of mild annoyance, and no sense of humor except for “Kiss With a Fist”. (That was a good song.) Now they’re just boring as hell. More piteous melodrama here, this time rendered for a low-key dirge (I was looking everywhere for another low-key dirge!) with nary a decent hook left to be found. Welch has strong, err, control, vocally, and the “learning/leaving/grieving/meaning” lyric progression is fine, but my guess is that people will either pretend to care about her new album or not even notice it at all. N.B.: the video is unintentionally hilarious. D
Luis Tovar: I don't remember ever being so confounded by major label pre-release strategies as I have been in 2015. Based on its singles, I was so sure Kendrick Lamar's new album was going to be an overcooked bore. (I was very, very wrong.) Between family lullabies, campfire singalongs, trap anthems, and whatever the fuck "Wolves" was, I have no idea what to expect of Kanye's So Help Me God. I still have no idea if Drake's If You're Reading This, It's Too Late was even an album. And, finally, after busting down the door, breathing fire on "What Kind of Man", Florence and the Machine have followed it up with this? I wouldn't be so mad if "St. Jude" were squished between hellraisers on How Big How Blue How Beautiful—we all know how much Flo likes her brooding dramatics—but instead its beamed to us through Spotify servers as a single, as something to make us excited. I'm not excited. We're just under three months away from the release of the big new album and I'm already tired of listening to "St. Jude". D+
Austin Reed: Here’s a free lesson: St. Jude is, in fact, the patron saint of lost causes. Well, hold up: Technically, he’s the patron saint of hopelessness and desperation, but for purposes specifically connected to this song, I suppose “lost causes” will work. After all, this is a Florence Welch joint, which pretty much guarantees a shitload of feels cloaked in catchy, ballad-esque melody. It’s melodramatic and woeful and dark and ominous—an observation that would hold weight if we were talking about literally anyone other than Florence and the Machine. But since we don’t have that luxury, “St. Jude,” falls squarely into “meh” territory. C+
Jesse Nee-Vogelman:Come on, who is writing these lyrics? Who gave that person a job? You’d hope that we, collective humanity, could find a way for someone with as beautiful, inspiring, and powerful voice as Florence Welch to sing a song that wasn’t so saccharinely morbid. It’s slow, anticlimactic, and depressing, like licking a skull-shaped lollypop that slowly dwindles into nothing before you throw it into the trash. She’s got a voice for stadium rock and flash mobs, not funereal dirges—let’s make a kickstarter to get her a new songwriter. D
Peter Tabakis: Oh boy. I can’t help but think of sick children when I hear the name of “the patron saint of the lost cause.” This is altogether thanks to the good work of Marlo Thomas over the years. But I’m going to take it out on Florence Welch for invoking such thoughts in the service of this breakup dirge. “St. Jude” is pretty enough, though not worth the icky comparison Welch almost certainly didn’t intend to make. Gross is gross either way, and I’d cut the funereal “St. Jude” more slack if it went somewhere other than in circles. D+
Ike: Is it me or does How Big How Blue How Beautiful seem soft? Where are my Florence screams and perfectly pitched yells? Why am I not yelling at the cars driving near me, screaming heartfelt melodies? Why is "St. Jude" so soft? And don’t give me that crap like, “because it’s a ballad,” as if Florence hasn’t killed ballads before (see "Over the Love", "Girl With One Eye"). The song literally ended and I listened an additional 2 minutes because I didn't notice. C-
"Loud Places" (featuring Romy Madley-Croft)
Peter Tabakis: I’m a sucker for collective singing, particularly when it includes palms meeting palms. A tender keyboard melody, later reflected by a guitar lick, only seals the deal. “Loud Places” never quite crests, though it appears to head for a big finish. Instead, it bubbles with longing and hope. Loud is fun. Warm is primal. I know the place I prefer. B+
Luis Tovar: Sumptuous delicacy from Jamie xx, it's not unlike the trailblazing stuff he dreamed up forthe xx in 2009. It's even got a pretty vox contribution from his bandmate Romy Madley-Croft, and correct me if I'm wrong, but that's got to be Oli Sim on the guitar, right? And that incredible Idris Muhammad sample! This is a proper xx song. To quote Annie Mac, it's absolutely perfect to my ears. A
Nathan Wisnicki: Jamie xx is a case study in how to make the Florence and the Machine brand of melancholia actually work. He seems genuinely interested in these kinds of, forgive the cliché, fragile existential aches; the kinds so many of us carry around alone through big cities and, in this case, loud noises. This one is typically spare but not anemic, and though I’m still not quite sold on xx bandmate Romy Madley-Croft’s singing as, the metallic color and space deployed for the percussion alone is worth savoring. If the closest it gets to a peak is that clear, tiny guitar lick, that’s just the best the uncertain truth is gonna do right now. B+
Austin Reed: Please excuse me, but “Loud Places,” is as perfect a track as I’ve ever heard Jamie xx produce. Adding Romy Madley-Croft to the mix certainly doesn’t complicate matters, given that the two’s chemistry in the xx is the bar to which most other electronically based pop acts tend to aspire. But here, Jamie xx employs the use of something we don’t typically get from him: subtlety. Graceful and poignant, “Loud Places,” delivers beautiful nuance as a complement to JXX’s traditionally stunted ambience. Even my girlfriend, who almost exclusively listens to Dawes and Fleetwood Mac, loves this track. I call that a win. A
Ike: Lets just all pretend this is a new xx song. A-
Jesse Nee-Vogelman:It’s dangerous when the catchiest part of a DJ’s song is the sample. With RomyMadley Croft singing, the track feels less like a new release than a mash-up of some deep-cut Idris Muhammad and an XX b-side. It’s nice enough, but for an initial single off a debut album, we should hope for more than just another listenable track with the Jamie xx stamp. B-
"Call It Off"
Luis Tovar: Shamir had me with his Kill Bill meets The Muppets Take Forever 21 clip; the song itself—the catchiest 2015 has been #blessed with, for sure—is gravy. B+
Peter Tabakis: Now this is how you take out the trash. Shamir is the patron saint of the hair flip. Thots and basic, ratchet guys of the world, sashay away. B+
Austin Reed: I just added “Call It Off,” to every DJ set I’ve ever created, which speaks as much to the strength and versatility of Shamir as it does to my ineptitude as a DJ. Seriously: Don’t hire me. B-
Nathan Wisnicki: Early-‘80s synth-funk nostalgia is in full effect, and it’s yielded some pleasant results. Vegas kid Shamir’s androgynous voice gets press for being, umm, androgynous (and he’s a male, wow!), and his control of the the word “time” for these choruses has a cool disorienting swell to it. Nice bleepy synth, too; there’s tension here, but I’m still not sure how, formally — which is a neat trick. Wish the synth programming had developed a bit more, though; some of this nostalgia yields flabby sounds and overly-samey riffs, for potentially interesting reasons given current pop methods. But I like this kid. B+
Ike: I’ll be the first to say that I haven’t fully hopped on the countertenor train that is Shamir and, unfortunately, this track didn’t move the needle much. It’s cute…and that’s really about it. However, I did find myself reaching for my wallet yearning to treat myself to a well-deserved shopping spree at my local XXI. Hmmm… D+
Jesse Nee-Vogelman:Can we just all agree that Shamir is the man? Regardless of how much you like his music (a lot, personally) he’s fearlessly making pop songs that sound like no one else, with sassy-ass music videos to match. Video game boops, effortless falsetto, and a spoken word breakdown that reads like your feistiest breakup call ever—“Call It Off” delivers everything Shamir has ever promised us—a dance and a good time. B+
Rihanna - "Bitch Better Have My Money" C+
FKA twigs - "Glass & Patron" B+
Florence and the Machine - "St. Jude" D+
Jamie xx - "Loud Places" (featuring Romy) A-(Song of the Week)
Shamir - "Call It Off" B-