The Hot Take #17: Carly Rae Jepsen, Robyn, Disclosure, and more

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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 Carly Rae Jepsen, Robyn and La Bagatelle Magique, Disclosure, Kurt Vile, Vic Mensa and Skrillex, and LIZ and SOPHIE.

Song of the Week: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away With Me” 

Luis Tovar: Is this Carly Rae Jepsen’s greatest triumph? I dunno, maybe? (She has quite a few to her name.) I’ve been listening to her upcoming album Emotion for weeks now. A lot. I’ve listened to it so much I died and was reborn, shiny and chrome. I’ve listened to it so much that I know its opening track, “Run Away With Me”, Jepsen’s glorious love letter to latter-day M83, inside and out. Emotion, specifically, and perhaps Jepsen in general, are unfairly placed under the shadow of Taylor Swift and 1989. “Run Away With Me” isn’t Jepsen merely crawling out from under that shadow, it’s Prometheus stealing the flame from Olympus. A

Zach Bernstein: Seriously though, when are people going to stop dismissing Carly Rae Jepsen as a one-hit wonder also-ran and recognize that she is making some of the most purely pleasurable pop music out there? RECOGNIZE, people! B+

Justin Pensacola: I feel like the narrative around Carly Rae Jepsen is “automatic hitmaker” so every new single I’m predisposed to look for cutting edge pop engineering and trying to imagine its radio playability. It’s not a totally fair way to look at music. Fortunately, I don’t think any of that intrudes on “Run Away With Me” which would sound right at home on some picture-less SoundCloud account. It’s pleasant and nice enough, which is kind of a relief to say. C+

Matthew Malone: Though not as glorious in a bubblegum way as Emotion’s other singles, “Run Away With Me” remains something of an instant anthem. The song lies somewhere between “The Edge of Glory” and “Welcome to New York” without managing to be quite as epic as either. Built on a familiar chugging beat and the same saxophone that has dominated the last few years of mainstream dancepop, the single is not innovative—that would be a stretch. Nonetheless, it is a powerful slice of pop that bodes well not only for Carly Rae Jepsen’s upcoming album, but also for her general versatility. B+

Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique, “Set Me Free” 

Luis Tovar: An all-around improvement over “Love Is Free”, which was already terrific. It swells more and features some actual singing from Robyn, putting it closer to Body Talk than its immediate predecessor. But “Set Me Free” is still built like a house track. This isn’t close music—it stretches outward instead of folding inward like “Dancing on My Own” or “Call Your Girlfriend”. Robyn is a genius though, so “Set Me Free” never flirts with spreading itself too thin. For all its sprawl, it manages to find balance on a knife-edge. A-

Justin Pansacola: Sometimes I like to think about good dance pop music as a series of moves that can be deployed and open up avenues into other moves. Basically the way basketball works; jab steps lead to drives lead to corner 3s. “Set Me Free,” in this weirdo sports metaphor, is a great playmaker that can create its own shot. It’s more than just rising actions and climaxes and drops. It’s hooks melding with the rhythm and bridges giving just the right amount of time to simmer in the tingling delight. Most importantly, it’s a blast to listen to. B

Stephanie Moise: And another one. I can't decide if I dig this one more than "Love is Free!" Man, I can't wait for this LP. It's somehow going to be even better than the Royksopp stuff, I can feel it. The standard Robyn sound. The plucky nod to 90's house. Fantastic. I love it. A

Zach Bernstein: Do yourself a favor and don’t even try to resist this one. Its pummeling beat and Robyn’s empowered vocals shimmer and sparkle in equal measure. “Set Me Free” is one of the most insistent dance tracks I’ve heard in a while, and it’s probably most prudent to submit yourself to its aural exhilaration. B+

Sam Catlin: Robyn continues to move into hard dance territory in the second single from her upcoming mini-LP with La Bagatelle Magique. “Set Me Free” is, generally, more straightforward than its wild-card predecessor “Love Is Free” (sensing a theme here), but it does what dance music is supposed to do, which is build up into a tidal wave of collective emotional highs. B-

Disclosure, “Moving Mountains” 

Zach Bernstein: For some reason, I’m getting a strong mid-90s R&B vibe from this one. I’m very intrigued to hear where Disclosure go with their second album. “Bang That” and “Holding On” were solid, but nothing too exponentially different from the better tracks on Settle. “Moving Mountains” is the first time we’ve really heard something truly different from the Lawrence brothers, and I’m really digging it. Sensuous, soulful, and restrained - Caracal could really be something special. B+

Sam Catlin: That wailing synth hook is a nice trick but overall this is overly MOR fare from an act that usually makes MOR a lot more fun. C-

Brendan Frank: Disclosure keeps delivering the goods. The guts of “Moving Mountains” aren’t too different from any of the duo’s previous tracks, but they’re arranged into something a little more obtuse, a little less danceable. Depending on how highly you value musical evolution, you’re probably either in love with or ho-hum about it. Maybe Brendan Reilly’s is foreshadowing when he sings, “you’re just another stepping stone.” More likely, Caracal is shaping up to be Settle II. B-

Stephanie Moise: At first I confused the Dusky song as theirs and got excited, so that may influence this a bit. This one is interesting. It goes lot more down the "Latch" path than some of their other new releases. It's deceptively low key but that beat reminds you just who this is. Very Flume like at the bridge which is great. Not bad, Disclosure. Not bad. B-

Luis Tovar: I may unfairly expect evolution—if not revolution—from electronic music, in a way I just don’t expect from rock music. Perhaps it’s because these days every smart move made by the electronic music community is swiftly assimilated into the hip-hop and pop music we hear on the radio, and nothing makes the bleeding-edge feel less sharp than widespread adoption. So, yeah, I’m a bit disappointed that Disclosure’s new singles sound very much what they were releasing in a couple years ago. C

Kurt Vile, “Pretty Pimpin” 

Stephanie Moise: I love Kurt Vile. I think I may seriously be a little infatuated with him. Whenever I listen to his music, I'm serene, nostalgic and heartbroken all at once. I still can't hear Baby's Arms" or "Runner Ups" without wanting to curl up in the sunlight. His voice makes me smile, his lyrics make me nod. Sometimes he'll strum a chord that I actually think I can feel in my chest. It almost goes without saying, "Pretty Pimpin" is pretty awesome. A

Justin Pansacola: Kurt Vile without the haze and reverb is a welcome change. Not that his previous albums were hindered in any way by it, but it’s nice to know he doesn’t need those atmospheric elements to make a great song. On “Pretty Pimpin” Kurt Vile sounds renewed with crystal clear folk rock, and its rhythmic muscle demands to be put on a loop. Once it gets rolling, once it gets its wind, it’s hard to stop the inertia. B+

Zach Bernstein: I don’t really love it, but I can see why other people might. No doubt talented and an engaging songwriter. B-

Brendan Frank: You can just bask in Kurt Vile’s guitar work, and the coaxing stomp of “Pretty Pimpin’” can hang with the best of his riffs. It is entirely possible to ignore the lyrics here and just let Vile’s crisp fingerpicking overtake you. Ignoring the lyrics may actually be preferable, as the chorus verges on goofy. Even if it’s a familiar feeling (“Oh silly me/It’s just me”), and Vile has never been a strong lyricist, he has something better in him. B

Sam Catlin: Poetic, disorienting, beautiful, witty, and chilled out: with strong melodic and guitar chops to boot, I’d say “Pretty Pimpin” is the Platonic ideal of a Kurt Vile song, if one of Kurt Vile’s particularly strengths weren’t always writing songs that sound that way. One of the most consistent songwriters in rock has been consistent again, and it’s somehow still compelling. B

Vic Mensa & Skrillex, “No Chill” 

Sam Catlin: Skrillex is turning into a very strong rap producer, as initially evinced by A$AP Rocky’s “Wild For The Night” and his Chance The Rapper collaboration “Coast Is Clear,” and now demonstrated once again on “No Chill.” With a vocal performance to center his track around, Skrillex’s work becomes more balanced and nuanced. His trademark stomach-gurgle bass drops are gone, but his menacing, aggressive deployment of serrated low-end sounds remains to more interesting ends, like so many bombs going off in Vic Mensa’s wake. Vic, for his part, continues to make 2015 the year of the mean streak; I still can’t tell whether I’m actually interested in his sub-Yeezus theatrics, but they’re forcefully atmospheric if nothing else. C+

Justin Pansacola: Between “U Mad,” this song, and its Allen Iverson joke, it’s clear Vic Mensa really gets a kick out of memes. “No Chill” is as aggressive as you’d hope it would be coming out of these two, but the adrenaline is lacking. It clearly wants to be an electric, swaggering power-up but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here to achieve that. When the wallop of the thundering brass loses its novelty, there’s nothing left to inspire. C

Stephanie Moise: First of all, I'm still struggling to understand Vic Mensa's journey from “Down on My Luck” to here. Secondly, I'm starting to think Skrillex should hit the pause button on collaborations. As hip as it is to take jabs at him, I do actually like some of his music. But alas, he seems to be falling a bit flat as of late. This song is just a confusing mess. I have a serious urge to break it down: Dope intro. Ok, now Vic is no longer rapping on the beat. Is that intentional? The first part of the chorus, sure. Second part, no thank you. We're off beat again, how very Big Sean. Wow is the ending annoying. It's like they tried to make a banger and got lost along the way. C-

Luis Tovar: Skrillex’s been listening to lots of Yeezus. And I like Vic, though I can’t stop thinking about how he’s becoming the reverse-Drake. “U Mad”. “No Chill”. While Drake songs become memes, Mensa is still looking to them for inspiration. C+

Matthew Malone: Moderately chill, I would say. Skrillex takes a detour from this electro-thwomps to a more HudMo-ish brass bass, which actually fits quite well under Vic Mensa’s rap. Nothing particularly new going on here, but that’s not to say it evades the dancefloor flow that Mensa continues to include in his brasher tracks. A fine effort, and a nice change from Skrillex’s usual doings! B-

LIZ & SOPHIE, “When I Rule The World” 

Sam Catlin: The presence of an actual human vocalist — from outside the PC Music fold — has a strange effect on SOPHIE’s production. In theory, LIZ’s high-energy, hot-pink teenage girl aesthetic should fit right into this context, but her voice, dominating the mix and largely untweaked by digital SFX, softens the edges off the song. The seasick shifts of texture and dynamics that are SOPHIE’s chief calling card – for example, the grinding synth line and clamor of gunshot beats on the second pre-chorus – lose their potency underneath LIZ’s consistent performance, which knows only forward momentum. It’s an effective production of the song, but a sadly pacified SOPHIE. C-

Luis Tovar: Well, at least this time Sophie is using an female vocalist with a name to sing over his neon-colored arrangements. And I really like that (Mad Decent signee) Liz kind of sounds like Britney Spears circa 2001 and 2013 simultaneously. Also, two summers have passed since “Bipp” caused a minor web-rupture on certain blogs and subreddits, and at least a year since the derivative PC Music rose to internet notoriety. A friend once said that every Sophie and PC Music song sounds as if it were made by the same one-trick pony. OK. That’s fair. But what a trick it is! B-

Matthew Malone: Aside from the fact that their names are both GIRLS, one would not necessarily pair this duo to work well together. LIZ has stuck pretty strictly to non-avant-garde pop, whereas SOPHIE seems to flourish in the plastic world that PC Music has made for her/him. With that said, “When I Rule the World” is a nice compromise between the two, with each contributor leaning slightly toward the other’s home field. The product is a shiny/creepy pop piece that could just sneak onto the radio if promoted well enough. Perfect for water aerobics and bed jumping, you know. B

Brendan Frank: Solid production, but I can’t get behind the voice. C

Zach Bernstein: I really want to dismiss this outright as utter trash, but then I remember how much I love the Chainsmokers’ “SELFIE.” Still, ears are bleeding. D