The Hot Take #10: Disclosure, The Weeknd, Icona Pop, and Neon Indian

This week’s new singles, reviewed
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This week’s new singles, reviewed

Welcome to The Hot Take, a feature where a selection of writers discuss some of the noteworthy single releases of the closing week. This time we take a look at the new singles from Disclosure, The Weeknd, Icona Pop and Neon Indian.

Song of the Week: Disclosure, “Holding On” featuring Gregory Porter

Austin Reed: Cards on the table: For as truly tremendous as “Bang That”, was, it’s no surprise that it garnered the kind of reception it did. It was a true-on club-ready banger, and I can’t quantify in my head the number of late-night sets that have been augmented on its behalf. That said, it didn’t exactly fit into the dance-music-for-the-people outfit that the Lawrence brothers have manufactured for themselves. There were barely any audible strokes in the entire track, which is fine, because that’s precisely what they were going for; it just wasn’t exactly what anyone else was expecting. “Holding On”, however, is the kind of follow-up that solidifies Settle as one of the most monumental dance records of the past ten years. It improves upon what few barely noticeable shortcomings Disclosure conveyed in the first place, while driving home the quick-hit, slow-drain house/garage hybrid that Guy and Howard Lawrence have cultivated over their relatively short stint in the industry. It’s almost June, which means summer tracks are surfacing en force. But something tells they’ll all fall short compared to the likes of “Holding On”. A-

Nathan Wisnicki: Unmoved by everything I’ve heard from these guys except this one beat they did last year for Mary J. Blige (of all people)…well, I’m still not sold. Supposedly, they succeed at re-contextualizing the sounds of Chicago house, U.K. garage, dubstep, and neo-r&b vocal spots into pop-friendly dance tracks. But re-contextualized into what? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way; I seriously feel like I’m missing something by not finding these guys catchy, fresh, or even particularly danceable. This one sounds like the kind of interchangeable stuff that they put on in the club before the DJ set even starts; only the drums spark my interest, and that’s just because they remind me of the kind of stuff lounge-y British microhouse was doing almost 20 years ago (sans the classiness). On another note, anyone remember C+C Music Factory? No, me neither. D+

Brendan Frank: On the heels of “Bang That”, Disclosure’s first official single from their yet-unannounced sophomore record proves to be equally purposeful dancefloor filler, but of a different sort. It’s not a pure banger, but a track with a damaged heart that offers escapism on the back of guest vocalist Gregory Porter. He puts forth a fine performance, and nearly all of Disclosure’s production quirks are there -- syncopated handclaps, depressurizing synths -- but it still feels like something of a step down from anything found on Settle. B-

Genevieve Oliver: “Holding On” would be a lot more interesting if it were half its length. A full five-plus minute runtime makes that repetitive minimalism that’s Disclosure’s trademark more than a little boring. Plenty of things are best in small, small doses. C+

Derrick Rossignol: You're looking through the clearance rack, where the jeans are still $40. The shirts are all really thin and summery, like the employees who won't stop hounding you with greetings of “Hey, what's up?” Then, this soulful combination of deep, robust vocals and propulsive electronic beats reaches your aural receptors and you start dancing “ironically” in Hollister. B

Katie Steen: DISCLOSURE I’VE MISSED YOU! It’s nothing special but I love it. A

Jesse Nee-Vogelman: Gregory Porter’s cameo holds down yet another typically strong dance beat from Disclosure. While not boasting the complexity that defined their excellent 2013 debut, Settle, “Holding On” emphasizes Disclosure’s broad songwriting vision, as well as their willingness to produce songs that highlight the featured artist rather than the group itself. B

Luis Tovar: To quote something I once read: Bangers, bangers everywhere. That’s what the Lawrence brothers are peddling and bangers are what I want to get my greasy hands on. Disclosure get an upvote for framing their bangers with a modicum of intelligence. Their whole schtick is the recasting of recent British dance music history while following a rigid, unbreakable pop formula. The result? UK Garage has hit the big time. If Settle had a blemish, it was that Disclosure’s productions, for all their eccentricity, didn’t always earn the five-plus minute run-time most of the tracks on it boasted. As far the difficulties dance music faces when attempting to fit the classic, post-Beatles, post-Dylan Album Mold, this beef is a minor one. (I’m of the opinion that Burial’s second and last album perfected the dance music album framework. Untrue is arguably the greatest example of dance music successfully creating a rock album while maintaining its jazz-inspired spirit, and its songs average under four minutes in length. When they would go over, they really brought it.)

Anyway, this concern hasn’t been addressed on “Holding On”, the purported first single from Disclosure’s new album. Still, you can’t stop the beat. Not when it’s this good. Even if maybe you should have two minutes ago. B+

Matthew Malone: Soul + Disclosure’s scat beats never fail, it seems? I certainly have yet to object! B+

Adam Offitzer: A stellar beat for the dance floor, paired with Porter's hearty, soulful voice (listen to his wonderfully warm tune, "Be Good"). Too repetitive for me, and the chorus doesn't match the intensity of "Latch," but it'll still earn plenty of deserved spins at your favorite club this summer. C-

Average: B

Neon Indian, “Annie”

Austin Reed: Alan Palomo has always possessed a strange, chameleonic level of adaptation. In the event that classification ever threatened to strangle his vision, he'd turn on a dime, creating something at-once altogether different yet still somehow true to his initial aim. It would skirt the threat without ever eliciting confusion. However, stopgaps are rarely that dire; more often, they're just an annoyance, and when things get annoying, Neon Indian gets remarkably nonchalant. It's true magic when Palomo, in a move even more impressive than his go-anywhere flexibility, exploits his ability to discern a wasp from a mosquito. “Chillwave,” the moniker was almost exclusively created to piss off its wearers, but Palomo rolled with it, and now, we see the fruit of his coolness. "Annie," goes for the nu-disco jugular, blending Palomo’s slipstream vocals with a curiously adamant groove so infectious, you'll wonder just exactly why “Polish Girl”, was worth flipping out over. B+

Brendan Frank: With “Annie”, Neon Indian have unleashed a wave of meta-nostalgia; when it’s playing, you’ll remember that time in 2009 when you first heard “Deadbeat Summer”. Only “Annie” isn’t all that much like Psychic Chasms or its bluer Era Extraña. B+

Nathan Wisnicki: Bleh. I’m affectionate toward Alan Palomo; even if the “chillwave” aesthetic is kind of hard to maintain interest in for more than one or two tracks at a time, his work in the wake of Animal Collective’s exaggerated artifice (production-wise) carried some pleasantly trippy-hazy sounds, and even some good tunes to boot. (“Deadbeat Summer” is still a delight.) This, though? This is just some kinda mess. Swishy water effects and gimmicky MIDI synths at this point may as well have subsumed the glitchy-deep bass lines that were a big part of Neon Indian’s appeal in the first place. And that’s to say nothing of the vocals, which are…how would my mom put it…ah yes: tuneless and unlistenable. Around the 3:10 mark, there’s a burst of summery energy that recalls earlier, better work. Alas — too little, too late. D+

Derrick Rossignol: There’s a great idea at the core of this: to revitalize the 80s white boy reggae rhythms of Men At Work and incorporate them with modern electronic sensibilities, but the problem is in the execution. “Annie” is fun, but it could have been half the length, something you shouldn’t be able to say about a 4-minute track. It really runs in place. It also doesn’t help that the song is essentially a watered-down version of Chromeo. C+

Adam Offitzer: Getting some gooooood vibes on this one. Feels like a reggae jam. Is Neon Indian making the jump from chillwave to reggaewave? Did I just make up a terrible new music sub-genre? Forget I said anything—but don't forget “Annie” on your 2015 pool party playlist. B+

Katie Steen: Yknow, it's okay, but then I see the single artwork and think, don't patronize me, Neon Indian! But yeah, okay, it's a solid jam—a very beachy throwback. B

Matthew Malone: I am very grateful for this drift toward funkpop à la Dev Hynes & co. It’s a mature and unexpected move for Neon Indian, who seemed to be trapped within an overindulged genre of mellow West Coast psychedelia. “Annie” is a pinch of squeaky, forward pop music that thankfully cannot be deemed “chillwave,” possibly the worst word ever. B

Jesse Nee-Vogelman: Chiiiiillll bro00ooo. Puts joint down. B+

Average: B

Icona Pop, “Emergency” featuring Erik Hassle

Jesse Nee-Vogelman: Even though it’s light and catchy as all hell, I’m giving this song a low grade because I already hate how often I’m going to hear it this summer. Consider this a protest. F

Genevieve Oliver: This is just the kind of unabashed dance-floor filler I would have played at the tail end of my party DJ shifts in college while extremely wasted just because it sounds like a lost piece of the Triplets of Belleville soundtrack (speaking of, where’s the “Triplets of Belleville” nightcore remix?). I probably would have played it between “Mr. Saxobeat” and something by Brooke Candy. Note to producers: whistling hooks are NOT OVER! B

Nathan Wisnicki: For whatever reasons, this duo’s Charli XCX-featuring “I Love It” was - in my experience - a favorite pop song of a lot of people who hold commercial pop in contempt. That track was a decent piece of superficial hedonism, and this one’s even more superficial…and more disposable. The mix here is less gross-sounding than the compressed brain-numbing blare of “I Love It”, and I won’t deny its catchiness. But it’s also sorta lazy. Where Basement Jaxx (who one person on the song’s SoundCloud page compared it to) at their best unravel different facets or hooks as the song rolls on, this one’s given away all its tricks by the first minute. The blippy horn hook is a good one, and reminds me of Balkan Beat Box, but Icona Pop lack that group’s, err,pan-cultural subversiveness, if you will. Also their re-playability. Meh. C+

Matthew Malone: It’s too clear what this duo is doing. They saw Mr. Saxobeat, Uptown Funk, and We No Speak Americano, and figured they could follow the trend of brass-instrument-footed club beats, a fad that is simply too narrow and risky to find a cliché home. The Swedes do heavy bass dance pop well; Whenever the intention is this clear, the product is usually not that good. C

Adam Offitzer: After three straight summers of non-stop sax samples ("Thrift Shop" in 2012, "Talk Dirty To Me" in 2013, "Problem" in 2014), Icona Pop thinks America can handle one more. This one is more annoying than any of those, but damn it, it's still catchy. B-

Katie Steen: All right, well, enough of that. D-

Average: C-

The Weeknd, “The Hills”

Nathan Wisnicki: This guy’s just too damn whiny to act the player convincingly, always has been. Of course, he’s not going for the “party player” schtick — he’s going for the “immoral and nihilistic player” schtick; the guy who feels nothing from all the illicit sex he still manages to have. “When I’m fucked-up, that’s the real me,” is a potentially powerful line, but musically this is neither desolate nor fun enough, aiming and landing in the murky, mopey middle as usual. And yet it still sure sounds like a smooth cruising beat to me. After all, it can’t be too murky and mopey! Rent ain’t gonna pay itself. C-

Luis Tovar: Horror cinema’s influence on the Weeknd’s music has been made explicit before—Psycho-style screams were common affectations on Kiss Land, after all—but Tesfaye’s really letting us feel the Carpenter and the Cronenberg and the Lynch influence on the video for “The Hills”. It’s a smart and potentially interesting move on Tesfaye’s part. The Weeknd’s postmodern, nihilistic persona felt played out soon after his menacing, 160-minute Trilogy epic. The Party as a metaphor for the West’s moral decline hit saturation point circa 2012, and so far Tesfaye has been unwilling to drop the subject. Instead, in a classic pop star move, he’s repackaging the product. He’s delving even deeper into the Weeknd persona and shining a light on the absurd and grotesque. I’m intrigued. I hope he pulls it off whenever his next album hits. B+

Genevieve Oliver: As my best friend Katie tweeted, possibly the best thing about “The Hills” is that it includes the Weeknd-iest lyric of all time: “When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me.” Really though — as much as I love the Weeknd’s sexy and seductive numbers, I tend to prefer his songs with a creepy, film-noir edge, so I’m a fan of this one. I wish it had come out in time to appear in a scene on The HillsB

Brendan Frank: “When I’m fucked up that’s the real me” may be the best one-liner Abel Tesfaye has drummed up since House of Balloons, but the continued adherence to his sleazy, emotionally brittle persona is beginning to wear. “The Hills” contains little in the way of evolution (it is presumably the lead single from his fifth release of original material), electing to double down on many of the tropes that have been thoroughly explored on previous efforts. It’s not a bad song by any stretch, but Tesfaye is still struggling to demonstrate any sort of versatility. C+

Derrick Rossignol: The Weeknd has been threatening to make the leap from indie superstud to mainstream stardom for essentially his entire career, which isn’t to say that he’s looking to sell out, but that he’s tremendously universal. “The Hills” makes sense as a Top 40 hip-hop track, and it makes sense as an underground, electronic R&B fireball. This kid... he’s on his way. B+

Matthew Malone: Yes, it’s poppier and far more familiar than any of the Weeknd’s trilogy displayed, but it’s still just as sensual and fascinating as Abel Tesfaye’s first work was. With lyrics like “I’m just tryna get you out the friend zone,” it might seem like he’s shamelessly capitalizing on the hazy sex appeal of the first few albums, but I have a bit more faith than that. The production maintains its weird, yet sultry atmosphere. Sure, Kiss Land was a disappointment…but is this hope? I say yes. B

Average: B-

Score Review:

Disclosure, “Holding On” featuring Gregory Porter B // Song of the Week
Neon Indian, “Annie” B
Icona Pop, “Emergency” featuring Erik Hassle C-
The Weeknd, “The Hills” B-