The Hot Take: FKA twigs, Nao, Animal Collective, Azealia Banks

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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 last couple weeks. This time we take a look at the new singles from FKA Twigs, Nao, Animal Collective, Azealia Banks, and Andrew Bird & Fiona Apple.

FKA Twigs, “Good to Love”

Brendan Frank: The parallels with Nao’s track (below) are unavoidable. Both are emerging forces in alt R&B, and both just happened to release tracks in the same month with two very different perspectives on humanity’s most complex emotion. FKA Twigs is comparably conventional here; none of her signature warping shows up until the 3-minute mark. C+

Nathan Wisnicki: The promotional assault that keeps shoving this third-rate Sade in our faces continues unabated, and without even the benefit of an Arca beat this new song’s one of the most boring yet. This is trite, lazy music for self-mythologizers who think the music they play in small-town mall clothing stores is just too warm and catchy. D

Justin Pansacola: I was first caught off guard by how bare this song was relative to how FKA Twigs sounds in my head. The vocals seemed newly unobscured and unburdened. I’m so used to her voice being just one sound in an array others, often at such a high pitch that it dissolves into the atmosphere. “Good to Love” is purely about her singing, alone at center stage, allowing a fragile humanity to leak out. B–

Nao, “Fool to Love”

BF: It speaks volumes that Nao’s sound is so distinctive this early in her career. “Fool to Love” uses the same spare arrangements—replete with nauseous synth tones and pitch-shifted vocals—that made February 15 such an unexpectedly thrilling EP. B+

NW: Another one of these songs that takes the singing and (supposedly) honeyed melodic style of ‘00s r&b and just throws a loping electro-beat over it to make it seem like something new’s happening. Better than FKA Twigs because she tries with the vocal harmonies and even throws a few varying tone colors in there (the harp!), but I’ll admit, I’ve never known what I’m supposed to do with this music. C

JP: There's a distinct 90’s throwback vibe, which pairs alright with the sandy-textured synths and choppy bass that made Nao’s AK Paul produced songs so immediate and exciting. Mostly I wish this song was more than merely groovy. It feels like a song where everything is on the surface and that's all you get. C+

Animal Collective, “Golden Gal”

BF: I quite liked Animal Collective’s new album. So if you didn’t, or were told you shouldn’t, disregard my opinion on “Golden Gal”. It’s a mid-tempo affair that boasts some of the smoothest harmonies on the album, and its air of optimism and positivity is shared with some of the group’s greatest songs. B

NW: Once upon a time, these guys used modern recording technology in a genuinely original way, whether you liked it or not: they modulated everything to purposely ugly levels, ending up with a kind of grotesquerie of synth colors for the brick-walled indie generation. Apparently learning their lesson from the complaints of over-density on Centipede Hz (described excellently by Thomas May of musicOMH as like the dull, sludgy brown color you’d get if a group of excited children mixed all their paint together “in the hope of creating the most vibrant colour imaginable”), they tone it down a bit and end up with a song that’s…err…I guess it’s okay? Pretty mild, in any case. The melody doesn’t declare itself very well until near the end when it’s built up a bit of heft, the production is surprisingly unvaried (which they’ve rarely been in the past), the voices are as fratty as ever, and it seems to go on like twice as long as it actually does. Interesting sonics, though; a hum of digital breath and dripping water, and sometimes the modest tonal details can scrape the Collective up to the realm of Interesting, which is still more than you can say about most of those who’ve followed in their wake. B–

JP: The nature of Animal Collective songs sometimes makes me impatient. “Golden Gal” has me looking at my watch for the first half, but once it gets rolling with impassioned singing and melodic inertia, it's finally fun to listen to—and sing along. That’s a hard, intangible thing to inspire, but the infectiousness is off the charts. The entire, unbroken two-minute melody clings to you. They know what the dessert is in this song, but they aren’t letting you have any until they’ve stoked your hunger. B

Azealia Banks, “The Big Big Beat” 

BF: Azealia Banks’ new track is curious for a number of reasons. The beat is indeed big, shiny, and club-ready, but it finds Banks stretching herself in new directions. She plays a facilitator (“dance to the big big beat”), crooner (“confess your love to me”) and self-referential MC (“how could that little young bitch from the ghetto his the jackpot”) at various points, and proves adept at each. But “Big Big Beat” is still easier to admire than to love. B

NW: I must admit that this sounds like a lesser leftover from Broke With Expensive Taste, and the beat is, ironically, not as big (or eclectic or worldbeat-friendly) as those on the album. Plus her sung parts don’t quite get to the sweet heights of, say, “Soda”. But they’re pretty sweet nonetheless, the house beat’s funky enough, and is there any rapper these days with a more bad-ass command of consonants? She’s a pleasure. B+

JP: This is a song that would absolutely kill on dance floors, clubs or big stage festivals. I’m taken by the different voices she puts on, and the way their character is reflected in the trance beat underlaying it, and the way they play seamlessly into each other. It’s something you could loop at a midnight festival DJ set for twenty minutes and no one would complain, so long as you can push out [insert latest Twitter controversy] from your mind while dancing. B

Andrew Bird & Fiona Apple, “Left Handed Kisses”

BF: Despite its subject matter, the teaser from Andrew Bird’s forthcoming album is surprisingly lighthearted. Bird and Apple are surprisingly effective foils, and their chemistry is evident. With wry self-awareness and a relaxed delivery, this song about a very specific kind of writer’s block charms. A winner. A–

NW: A potentially interesting collaboration here: the sweet modest indie orchestrator meets the denser and more pretentious indie orchestrator. Unfortunately, this song could’ve used more of the pretentious one; Bird’s fingerprints are all over it and he’s not at his best, and all I get from Fiona is a few lines of vocals; the arrangement doesn’t seem to have involved her. It could’ve definitely used a decent melody (which Bird can be pretty good with). However, the sounds are refreshing; it’s nice to hear a chamber-folk indie guy with a competent command of tone colors, and the tentative entrance of the string drone and vibraphone reverb later on are quite lovely. And the first lines are great: “I don’t believe everything happens for a reason/To us romantics out here, that amounts to high treason.” B–

JP: I was really prepared for something delicious tragic and moving. Those are two names that I associate with unbearable melancholy of love. Instead, it’s a meta take on Andrew Bird’s struggle with writing simple love songs. It’s still got some nice moves. Duets are too often clunky and disjointed, but the conversation succeeds on Bird’s writing and the distinct character of their voices. The surprising cohesion culminates for a few seconds of united harmonies, but it ends just as quickly as it started up. It’s a pleasant little ditty, nothing more, nothing less. B–