The Hot Take: Drake, M83, Kanye West, Rihanna, Moses Sumney

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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 Drake, M83, Kanye West + Sampha, Rihanna, and Moses Sumney.

Drake (feat. Wizkid & Kyla), “One Dance”

Luke Fowler: I’m not alone in thinking that singer Drake is consistently better than rapper Drake (“Hold On, We’re Going Home” is the best thing he’s ever released, and I’ve been a “Hotline Bling” apologist since the day it dropped), but this song feels rushed. I don’t get the sense that he took a whole lot of time to develop it past the conceptual phase; it’s too short to go anywhere significant, and the elements present aren’t engaging enough to make me want to put this track in regular rotation. The drums are decent, I guess, but even they don’t end up doing much in the long run. This isn’t giving me high hopes for Views from the 6, unfortunately. C

Elena Badillo: This song is about two people meeting at a club, flirting, and then wordlessly agreeing that they want to dance, and then whatever comes. For this story to happen, some good beats are needed, of course, and Drake definitely provides them. Also, I love the piano. C+

Justin Pansacola: This run that Drake has been on is almost supernatural. He keeps tapping into these forever repeatable jams that instantly feel like staples and classics of our era. “One Dance” is a caribbean-tinged juggernaut that I’m going to enjoy hearing everywhere. It’s clearly designed for that type of ubiquity too, as he doesn't rap a single line, and why would you even care what happens over that beat? B

Luis Tovar: Another strong argument for Drake to release a straight-up pop/R&B album. (This is only highlighted by the fact that it was released alongside a throwaway rap track featuring God-dreamer Kanye West and a hell0-goodbye from Jay Z.) Like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Hotline Bling”, “One Dance” is a grower, designed in some lab specifically to sound better the more you listen to it. Its predecessors’ statuses—now modern classics and time capsules of their respective eras—weren’t immediately apparent upon release, so it isn’t surprising that “One Dance” doesn’t feel grander, or more than merely a really friggen catchy dance track. Yet. Give it time. B+

Daniel Bromfield: Don’t be fooled by the two features on this song: this is mostly just Drake, standing alone. Though it’s eating up the charts at the time of this writing, “One Dance” feels more like an introverted, low-stakes album track. It’s just shy of three minutes, and though it’s hooky, it doesn’t feel as immediate as “Hotline Bling” or even something like “Energy”. Rather, it should sound great nestled between longer, more ambitious tracks somewhere on Views From The 6. It’s a shame Wizkid, the Nigerian superstar whose sampled vocals show up faintly during the bridge, wasn’t featured more. For one, this is his biggest stateside break ever. Secondly, the presence of someone else besides Drake to stretch out the song and liven it up a little would be welcome. B–

M83, “Go!”

Luke: I didn’t like Junk much, but “Go!” is probably the track that most inoffensively accomplishes the album’s goal of fusing modern dance with ‘80s pop. Sure, the countdown bit’s cheesy, and the lyrical repetition gets slightly annoying after a while, but the guitar solo at the end is solid, and I can imagine this blowing up a dance floor somewhere. I’m willing to cut it some slack. B–

Elena: There are some really good tracks on Junk, and “Go!” is one of the best and most representative of the whole album’s personality. Very ‘80s, very French, simultaneously uplifting and melancholic, sonically pleasant, stunning production. Mai Lan’s vocals blend just fine with the dreamy environment created by Gonzalez’s —amazing as ever—synths. Having said that, Steve Vai’s guitar solo in the last third might be the song's best feature. B+

Justin: When word started getting around that Junk was a jarring departure from M83’s last two albums, I was a little worried. “Go!” puts me at ease. It’s an unexpected move, sure, but M83 has wandered from sound to sound more than most. It is hard to trace Before the Dawn Heals Us to Saturdays = Youth to the sing-along, ultimate Steve Vai solo on “Go!” It's a lot of fun, upbeat, and should kill at festivals. It’s not close to reaching critical mass of weirdness or corniness. It almost sounds like it could’ve been a middle segment on a Sufjan Stevens Age of Adz track, and if it was, we’d just roll with it. B+

Luis: “Go!” is Junk’s ultimate litmus test, and it should’ve been a single ahead of the jaunty and “Do It, Try It” and the stunningly melodramatic “Solitude”. So, OK—Junk is plenty jaunty and melodramatic, but “Go!”’s playfulness—that supermassive singalong chorus, that cheesy countdown, that “Digital Love” solo from a Godlike Steve Vai—is absolutely emblematic of the album’s character, is all I’m saying. A character I happen to adore. I can’t wait to spend the summer with “Go!” and the rest of Junk. A–

Daniel: “Go!” finds M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez cashing in on his potential as a pop producer post-“Midnight City”. He doesn’t even sing here; rather, the spotlight goes to singer Mai Lan, whose vocals form a continuous hook from beginning to end. It’s the catchiest song the band’s done yet, and far less irritating than “Midnight City”. But the guest most people will be talking about is guitar whiz Steve Vai, who shows up to wail a bit at the end. It’s hard to tell if he’s there for irony, because Gonzalez wanted a sick solo, or just to validate every stereotype of M83 as over-the-top maximalists. But he doesn’t really distract – which is more than you can say about most shredders. B

Kanye West, “Saint Pablo”

Luke: When Sun Kil Moon’s Universal Themes came out last year, I jokingly suggested to a friend that Mark Kozelek was the Kanye West of indie music. Now, though, Kanye West looks like he’s gotten ahead of himself; after this track, he’s a lot closer to being hip-hop’s Mark Kozelek. The lyrics are pretty bizarre, because he tries to present himself as a vulnerable and sympathetic character, but completely undermines it by indulging in the boastful posturing that he’s made his trademark. The two work fine on their own (see “Runaway” and “Real Friends” for the former, and the entirety of Yeezus for the latter), but they clash here. Musically, I like the idea of using feedback as an instrument (especially in a hip-hop track), but it’s somewhat hard on the ears after a while, and Sampha’s feature is pleasant, but I don’t think the song would lose anything if his extra minute at the end were cut out. At the moment, this is more like a glorified freestyle than a full track, but who’s to say he won’t mess with it between now and the next LP’s release? C+

Elena: I absolutely love Kanye’s music, while I often don't like his lyrics. I know I’m probably the millionth person to say this in the last two months, but this increasing ambivalence never ceases to amaze me. However, “Saint Pablo” doesn’t bring about such mixed feelings. On one hand, I find its lyrics among Kanye’s most annoying. They’re like some reloaded extension of “Wolves” awkwardly shallow “stolen sandwich” line in more than one sense. The problem is that this time, they’re not paired up with great music, as is usually the case with Kanye. The music’s good, just not great. Some basic beats and OK rapping, with Sampha’s lines being the only parts that really shine. I think I can cope with Kanye’s most misogynistic lyrics way better than I can his most narcissistic ones. C–

Justin: Despite having some great bars, I can’t help but feel like this is way too inside baseball. Only the most dedicated Kanye aficionado, who has annotated all the recent Twitter and media drama, could possibly be emotionally invested in this song. I’m not saying Kanye shouldn't rap about Kanye, but he's at his best when he raps about himself as a way of relating a larger experience. Most recently, he did it on the incredible “Real Friends”, taking the sense of betrayal he was getting from friends and family and reflecting it back on all our strained relationships. There’s little to relate to here, unless you too have engaged with tense negotiations with Apple Music. “Saint Pablo” is purely about the character of Kanye, and on top of that, his delivery on the first half is flaccid. But then again, this is a leak, so maybe we’re listening to a rough draft. I hope so. C+

Daniel: “Saint Pablo” is the kind of well-rapped personal reflection there should have been more of on The Life Of Pablo. A reflection on his debt, “Saint Pablo” is a story so rambling and detailed it could only be true, even if he’s using the same excuse he’s always used for his bullshit (basically, “I’m unique because nobody else is being this much of a dick”). Points off for some brazen anti-Semitism in the second verse. B

Rihanna, “Kiss It Better” 

Luke: I imagine a lot of people are going to comment on the backing guitar, but I actually think that’s one of the song’s lesser qualities; the percussion and background synths (the latter of which recall Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors”, which can only be a good thing) are the real stars of the show here, working hard to counteract Rihanna’s curiously mechanical delivery and mostly succeeding. Definitely one of the standouts from Anti, but she’s done much better things than this. I’ll take this over “Bitch Better Have My Money” any day, though. B–

Elena: Even if Anti might be a primarily non-hit oriented album, Rihanna masters the art and science of landing singles in the top charts, as the release of “Work”, and “Kiss It Better” makes clear. But while the former sounds like an almost straightforward, ready-made club jam, “Kiss It Better” sounds powerful and genuine. The track's production is remarkably good, as well as it's synth and guitar-led instrumentation. B–

Justin: This sounds like a kind of pop ballad we haven’t had in a long time. Rihanna’s voice pairs perfectly with rock ballad guitar solos, and it doesn’t need much more on top of that to swell with power. “Man fuck your pride / just take it on back,” is one of the most determined-sounding lines she’s ever sung. It’s destined for a spot on the all-time karaoke list, and I don’t mean that as a slight. It’s just a sound you slip into easily, with powerful verses and fun, long melodies. A–

Luis: Move over “We Found Love”, “Umbrella”, and “FourFiveSeconds”, there is a new song that can claim to be Rihanna’s best single. A

Daniel: Stylistically, this Anti standout is lite-rock, but it’s both antitheses of “lite:” dark and heavy. It’s a melodramatic, no-fun power ballad, with Rihanna pining for the physical touch of a lover she knows better than to fuck with—a theme she also explored on its breezier cousin “Work”. It’s also one of the prettiest songs Rihanna’s ever done, with a soaring vocal overlaid by layers of eerie harmonies. And that’s not to mention all the weird little production decisions—the guitar, the malfunctioning trap drums, that phased-out electric piano you really have to squint to hear. It just makes me want to slap some sense into whoever runs that radio session I hear at every Japanese restaurant. A

Moses Sumney, “Everlasting Sigh” 

Luke: Moses Sumney’s been on my radar for a while, and it’s great to hear him branching out from his lo-fi DIY roots to (slightly) higher production values. Seriously, this man’s voice is absolutely heavenly. The drums and double-tracked backing vocals on this track are ridiculously good, while the melodies sound like they could have come from an alternate universe’s version of The Lion King, except it’s an alternate universe where everything is better and more unabashedly joyous. I love this so much. A–

Elena: Sumney’s music, even if scarce so far, is sufficiently good and interesting to follow him very closely. His incredibly beautiful voice is the first element that stands out from his songs, and “Everlasting Sigh” is no exception. This guy does whatever he wants with his vocals, or more precisely, he seems to let his voice take him wherever it wants. Within rich and soulful tribal rhythms, this song is sonically playful and uplifting, particularly during the last half, where layers of different organic sounds are harmonically superposed. B+

Justin: Hand claps and a breezy, weightless disposition almost seems too obvious for Moses Sumney. His voice is ethereal and light, and so this is a natural move. He’s practically flying by the end of it, when he lays down infinite vocal tracks into some impenetrable wall of harmony. How great it is to join him in that ascent. B+

Daniel: This is a plenty interesting bit of indie-pop in the messy, percussive Dirty Projectors school. The fly in the ointment is Sumney himself, who sounds like one of those raspy, rootsy post-James Blunt singers whose callused hands probably feel great on your cheeks. The guy can sing, no doubt, but it’s unlikely you’ll connect with him emotionally unless you enjoyed “Let It Go” by Passenger. At least there’s no glockenspiels. C