The Hot Take #11: Beirut, Leon Bridges, Metric and More

The week's new singles, reviewed
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The 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 Beirut, Metric, Nate Ruess and Beck, FIDLAR, and Leon Bridges.

Song of the Week: Leon Bridges, “Smooth Sailin’”

Genevieve Oliver: This reminds me of my mom playing Mavis Staples for me when I was a kid, so I’m sold on nostalgia alone – of course, it also helps that I’m an unabashed sucker for horns. I feel like you rarely hear a song so perfectly mixed with such a perfect sense of exactly what it needs, when it needs it – a little violin trill here, a horn riff there, supplemented by a background vocal tag – and when you do, it feels so very special. A

Samuel Catlin: This is what I imagine people mean when they say a song is “impossible not to like” (usually people say this about songs I don’t like). “Smooth Sailin’” is a perfectly balanced soul song with the best 2015 bassline this side of “King Kunta” and a feather-light pop-Midas touch. It rules. Imagine a world where this song went viral instead of the wet fart that is “Uptown Funk!” B+

Brendan Frank: Oh, those sweet summer vibes. No track this week is better suited for the warm weather than this slice of feel-good, old school soul from Leon Bridges. The production is so even-keeled it practically washes over you. Nothing is overdone, and there is no flab to be trimmed. Bridges is correspondingly unruffled, trucking through a series of truisms that fall gently into place. Both familiar and evocative, this is one to devour over and over again. B+

Luis Tovar: Earlier this week I was being a big grump about Leon Bridges’ musical time-traveling. The cynical part of me still thinks this kid isn’t as sincere as he comes across, but I’ve made a decision to pay that part of me less mind. So yeah, “Smooth Sailin’” may be pastiche by numbers, but at least it’s good pastiche by numbers. And, honestly, for all my grumbling, I’ve listened to this song dozens of times since it landed. B+

Average: A-

Beirut, “No No No” 

Samuel Catlin: I’ve always been troubled by Beirut. Zach Condon and company traffic in the ideas of feelings rather than the feelings themselves, and they try on ethnic styles and national histories as costumes. To my ear there’s an intense and sour emptiness beneath their gorgeous but borrowed sepia tones. They’re the barely-PC Instagram of indie pop. I’ve always responded most positively to their synthpop songs, which aggressively ape one of Condon’s deepest influences, the Magnetic Fields. The echoes of Stephen Merritt’s genre-as-drag ethos and his Broadway cheesiness go a long way toward making Condon more palatable to me. So “No No No” is a promising progression, as far as Beirut songs go. It’s a hell of a melody and for once, it doesn’t sound all dressed up with nowhere to go. C

Genevieve Oliver: Part of the appeal of “No No No” is that I don’t remember the last time I heard new music from Beirut. Another part of the appeal is the classic, long-standing, deeply magical appeal of Zach Condon’s music – if you close your eyes you can totally visualize bumming it around Europe, living out of your backpack, wandering aimlessly through ancient streets. I don’t know how he does it, and I don’t know how it doesn’t ever get old. A

Peter Tabakis: I haven't thought much about Beirut since I reviewed The Rip Tide back in 2011. "No No No" brings back fond memories of that record's gypsy spirit. Unfortunately, It also sparks little excitement for what's to come. "No No No" would be a pleasant, if marginal, Beirut deep cut under any other circumstance. But Zach Condon has been through the wringer since we've heard from him last. As a comeback single, this mid-tempo shuffler is slight. But given its context, its baffling how little emotional impact it delivers. Kudos to Condon, for getting back on his feet and behind a brass mouthpiece. Here's hoping this trifle is just an anomaly. C

Brendan Frank: I have always been able to enjoy and admire Beirut’s music without developing any deeper sort of fixation. The modesty in their music is alluring, even if it’s difficult to get excited over. But “No No No” less-is-more lyrical approach captured my imagination as vividly as anything they have released. The song’s simple motif and elegant melodies make for a fine foundation, perfectly suited to the premise of skipping town with a complete stranger. Ablaze with romantic abandon, “No No No” is Beirut through and through, but somehow more. B+

Average: B-

Metric, “Cascades”

Genevieve Oliver: I stand by my belief that Metric have remained one of the smartest and most versatile bands in rock since their inception. Even the synth-heavy, EDM-inspired tones of “Cascades” have a soulful, film-noir texture that links this new-ish sonic direction to the rest of their oeuvre. B+

Samuel Catlin: Metric have always been unreasonably compared to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, mostly because of sexism and the fact that Karen O and Emily Haines once roomed together. But I hear “Cascades” and I think immediately of how the YYYs made synthesizers work for them, rather than the other way around, by making the keyboards perform the tasks usually taken by guitars in their songs. Metric basically do the same thing here – it’s pretty easy to imagine a version of “Cascades” that stays in their old new wave wheelhouse – and the transposition only underscores how hollow, plastic, and neutered their guitar rock has gotten over the last decade. D+

Brendan Frank: Metric’s foray in to full-on electro is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is impressive to see a band with a proven commercial track record take a risk with such bullishness. On the other, by completely garbling Emily Haines’ voice, the band is effectively neutralizing its greatest asset. It also doesn’t help that the track lacks a serious hook, wandering from one electronic scribble to the next in its second half. C

Average: C+

FIDLAR, “40oz on Repeat”

Brendan Frank: If you’ve moved beyond teenage angst and into adult angst, FIDLAR have you covered: “I thought that if I cleaned up my act/It will help me understand exactly who I am/But I hate to say that it just don’t work like that.” Zac Carper sounds like he’s gargling gravel as he delivers his lines, on the verge of both tears and laughter. Acerbic and smarter than it really has any right to be, “40 oz. on Repeat” manages to be referential while retaining the youthful bombast that made FIDLAR’s 2012 debut so distinctive. B-

Samuel Catlin: The irony runs so deep in FIDLAR that I don’t even care anymore about sorting out the serious wheat from the fuck-you chaff. FIDLAR are either the whiniest band in punk or the one that most cruelly mocks whiners, but either way, “40oz. On Repeat” is literally a song I wrote when I was sixteen. The verisimilitude with which they chronicle my adolescent life (that is what they’re doing, right?), mean-spirited or no, is incredible. Plus, it’s great to hear FIDLAR branching out stylistically and technologically, and this video is the best I’ve seen in ages. B

Genevieve Oliver: Despite making their way onto blog radar for hard-charging songs about getting fucked up with your bros, Fidlar are actually really good at writing catchy, upbeat pop-punk tunes about feeling hopeless and depressed about love, brokeness, and your own shitty personality and thus resorting to self-medication. It works – after all, feeling fucked up and sad doesn’t always sound like, I don’t know, listening to Atlas Sound alone in the dark or something – and “40oz. On Repeat” is no exception. B

Average: B

Nate Ruess, “What This World is Coming To” (featuring Beck)

Genevieve Oliver: I want to give these guys a “you tried” star for attempting to combine the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” with something from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, but everything about this is just Not What I’m Into – Nate Ruess’s voice, anthemic acoustic guitar, a stomping, fake-gospel chorus, etc. – and it sounds so forced. C-

Brendan Frank: Nate Ruess, vocalist for pop band fun., now extending his run of mediocrity into his solo work. “What This World Is Coming To” is dreadful, begging to be meaninglessly crowbarred into Garry Marshall’s next rom com montage scene. Most astonishing is how the song gets worse as it goes, as Ruess confuses increasing emotional intensity with flipping into his shrill, mawkish falsetto. Someone sucked the life out of the room, alright. Why, Beck, why?! D-

Samuel Catlin: What is this world coming to? Sorry, sorry, it was too easy. But – this painfully boring Beatles homage is a dead ringer for “Across The Universe” except with a modern bro-country song subbed in for the chanting. It’s the sort of thing that probably would have made it into the movie Across The Universe. Like, why. D

Average: D