The Hot Take #4: Kanye, Kendrick, Drake, Sufjan and Many More

The week's new singles, reviewed.
Avatar:
Pretty Much Amazing
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
The week's new singles, reviewed.
Kanye-So-Help-Me-God

Welcome to The Hot Take, a new feature where a selection of writers discuss some of the noteworthy single releases of the closing week. This week we take a look at the new singles from Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Vic Mensa, Hudson Mohawke, Tyler, the Creator, Drake, Sufjan Stevens, Ryn Weaver, Ratatat, Girlpool, Crystal Castles, Best Coast, Peter Bjorn and John, Empress Of, Brandon Flowers, Slayer, Steve Aoki, Zedd and Erik Hassle. Phew. (Check out the Score Review at the end of the post.) If you dig it, stick around every Friday for more.

Kanye West

"All Day (Remix featuring Kendrick Lamar)"

Nathan Wisnicki: Exactly the same song, maybe with a slightly different backing vocal warp in the beat, with a brief, perfectly solid Kendrick spit shoved in the middle and sans the woozy, kooky outro. Me, I'm still working out my feelings toward this song. It’s definitely second-drawer Kanye; interesting bits shoved together none too full-assedly that ultimately doesn’t do anything the best songs on Yeezus didn't do more evocatively and more viscerally. Yet it keeps growing on me the same way "Mercy" did: the interesting sounds themselves (alarm blare in an empty parking lot; metallic howls; stuttery synth figures) and what Kanye does with his voice in the back half of the song (the way he slides certain words into a sad sort of whine, or the little yip before “….that's us right now”) are just too interesting to ignore. Second-drawer best-active-musician-in-the-world. B+

Peter Tabakis: The opening act and headliner/namesake of the Yeezus tour at last come together on a track. This being a remix, the result never reaches the monumental status of a true collaboration. But second best is good enough in this case. In his verse, Kendrick mirrors and inflects Yeezy's lyric without all the spit and stutter. His cadence is a swath of chinchilla thrown across the song's jagged and stony soundscape. Does he improve Kanye's execution? I'll say this: Kendrick’s surefooted verse steals the show. Draw your own conclusion from there. B+

Samuel Tolzmann: Correctly locates the weakest link in the original “All Day” (Theophilus London) and replaces it with Kendrick Lamar, a wise choice for sure. Although I’m never one to ask for less Kanye West music, I can’t help but feel that this song would be benefited further still if the runtime was tightened up just a little bit. At this point I’m nitpicking, of course. A-

Zach Bernstein: It's Kanye and Kendrick - the current rap game's id and superego, respectively - on one of the most aggressively satisfying tracks of the year so far - what more do I need to say? A-

Average:A-

Vic Mensa

"U Mad (featuring Kanye West)"

Samuel Tolzmann: So this is basically the 2015 rap version of the Empire’s theme from Star Wars. Vic tells the paparazzi to get on their knees, Kanye hits a bartender with a barstool, emails are left unread: it is some cold shit. Bow down. A-

Genevieve Oliver: “Oh, u mad huh?” is a great refrain that’s gonna fill my head next time I come across some Internet meninist loserdom, and I appreciate Kanye’s shutdown to the senders of all his unread emails, but I have heard this exact beat about nine thousand times before, and I’m so tired of those church bell sounds. Plus – you can do braggadocio without a line like “I might hit a bitch in an elevator like Ray Rice.”  Do people honestly still believe in 2015 that threatening violence against women makes you tougher as a man? PLEASE.C-

Luis Tovar: Sorry Genevieve, but the beat is perfect. Vic Mensa is daft, but charming. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure his tutelage under Grandmaster Kanye West will eventually rid him of his current Discount Chance the Rapper image. Speaking of the Grandmaster, Kanye is in top, in-between-albums, scatterbrained form here. Let's just break down his verse. He touches on college major regrets, hitting bartenders with barstools, talking to 2 Chainz (if you're wondering, he said, “TRUUUU!”), needing figurative Drano for all the ass-water losers he deals with, girls photoshopping their Instagrams, his hitherto unknown (but ultimately unsurprising) antidepressant use, and, most famously, the senders of his unread emails. I could honestly listen to Kanye talk his shit all day. A-

Nathan Wisnicki: The big "Blood on the Leaves" trap horns are back again — a full-on trend already — and the results do, indeed, go hard. Mensa's penchant for corniness is still a drawback, but not obnoxious, and he more than redeems it with the fuck-it-all shrug of his big moment: "Like I 'unno nobody... ...I guess I don't!B+

Peter Tabakis: From horn-like synth blasts to echoing chime punctuations, “U Mad” delivers familiar, thundering menace. Vic Mensa’s lyrical hunger is the only thrill here. Kanye West phones it in, the song’s heaviest deadweight. On repeat, monotony blurs into anonymity. What a letdown — for the listener and, particularly, Vic himself. C

Average:B-

Hudson Mohawke

"Ryderz"

Nathan Wisnicki: One half of the guys who made the “Blood on the Leaves” beat takes an old ‘70s soul sample - specifically an obscurity by D.J. Rogers called “Watch Out for the Riders” - that takes the original’s title, pitches the voice up, keeps the pleasant horn harmonizing and accentuates them into something more coronating, brings in the distant vocal chants before the big thwack of the drums’ entrance, and prophetically forces you to ruminate on the question: Which riders should we watch out for, and which should we keep an eye out for? And how rare it is that these riders sound like they’ll signal a rebirth instead of a decay? What a beautiful piece of music. A

Peter Tabakis: Much like the POTUS with a cache of world-ending atomic warheads, Hudson Mohawke has a hotline to my heart. He takes a phenomenal D.J. Rogers sample and makes it cataclysmic. For three minutes or so, “Ryderz” detonates with white hot joy. Mohawke's contemporaries ought to ready the bunkers. Nuclear fallout is heading their way. A

Genevieve Oliver: HudMo’s one of the best samplers in the game, and this tune, with its triumphant horns and vocals, sounds like a victory lap slow-motion around a skating rink. I have the feeling I’m going to need to hear it in the context of the full LP (and without all those annoying radio tags) to really get a grasp on it, though. B-

Luis Tovar: One of those center-of-the-universe, rattles-me-to-the-core songs that only Kanye seems to be able to release these days. Let's add HudMo to the list — he did produce "Blood on the Leaves", for fuck's sake. This blows anything he ever did with TNGHT out of the water. A

Samuel Tolzmann: HudMo doing what HudMo does, plus a D.J. Rodgers sample for variety? Whizz, bang, pow, I’m sold. B

Average:A-

Tyler, The Creator

"Smuckers (featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne)"

Brendan Frank: In 2011, Odd Future was absolutely everywhere, buzz-worthy and legendary for their tactics before they’d put much music to their name. There was Tyler the ringleader, Earl the absent protégé, Frank the in-house crooner, and a massive supporting cast. Tyler has been the quietest of the big three, and has also shown the least growth since his breakthrough track “Yonkers”. A few standout couplets aside, “Smuckers” is standard Tyler fare. Yeezy and Lil Wayne give it a decent go, but in the end, neither steals the stage. C

Zach Bernstein: I'll be honest - Tyler, the Creator has never been my favorite. Maybe I find this one more palatable because of Yeezy and Weezy's presences, so I don't have to listen to five minutes of Tyler's growling, unfiltered id. Or maybe I actually don't hate the horn-driven sample on this song (I'm a sucker for hip-hop horn samples). It also seems like Tyler has a few more interesting things to say on this one about race and hip-hop politics rather than his typically ribald rants. All of that being said, I don't think that "Smuckers" alone will revolutionize my entire viewpoint on his music. Oh well, I'll just keep silently thanking Tyler, the Creator for helping introduce the world to Frank Ocean. C

Adam Offitzer: Kanye has an absolute blast messing around with his voice's pitch and tone on this soulful, stellar beat...so Tyler's trademark "angry monotone" is a pretty disappointing, standard, repetitive vocal to anchor the track. C+

Average:C

Drake

"My Side"

Brendan Frank: As a qualifier for this write-up, I’ll state up front that I don’t care for Drake. His persona and the majority of his music grate on me, with a few notable exceptions. “My Side” again hybridizes his R&B crooner/sensitive rapper facades – to obnoxious effect. “Why are we wasting our relationship on a relationship” is a decent tag, but the production and especially the delivery feel lethargic. D+

Zach Bernstein: So unlike a fair number of people, I actually quite like Drake the singer (I will always defend Thank Me Later). I think he has a very smooth, mellifluous voice that perfectly complements his tales of hip-hop heartbreak. However, this is a far cry from the likes of "Find Your Love" or "Hold On We're Going Home." Its amorphous opening section sets the tone for everything that follows, as Drake mostly just whines over a seasick beat that never really reaches any peaks or valleys. There's no climax here, just stagnation. When he wants to, Drake demonstrates a perfect command of "hip-pop," as it were - this is not one of those times. It's easy to see why he left this off If You're Reading This, It's Too Late the first time around. Skip. C-

Adam Offitzer: "My Side" is a B-side from essentially an album of B-sides. I've been really struggling lately to enjoy Drake's low-budget, low-polish, slow-motion sound in any way. D

Average:D+

Sufjan Stevens

"Exploding Whale"

Zach Bernstein: Now we get to hear what the lovechild of the electronic experimentation of The Age of Adz and the confessional acoustic balladry of Carrie & Lowell would sound like - Sufjan Stevens' own spin on Bon Iver, Bon Iver.  I can see why this was not included on the latter album - its skittering atmospherics would have stuck out like a sore thumb and the song eschews the more conventional melodic work that dominated Carrie & Lowell. "Exploding Whale" is nonetheless serene and moving - it grafts its disparate sonic elements together so beautifully and its lyrics of self-doubt and failure hit more fiercely with each successive listen. Is there a more quintessential tragicomic Sufjan Stevens image than an exploding whale? Additionally, props to Sufjan for making the phrase "epic fail" practically sound like Keats. B+

Brendan Frank:Carrie and Lowell is about as minimal as established artists go these days, but it punches like a heavyweight. “Exploding Whale” shares characteristics with several tracks on Sufjan’s latest, but is also unmistakably B-side. Sitting at the crossroads of Carrie and Lowell and Age of Adz, it’s more experimental and doesn’t tap into the album’s redemptive arc. It’s also a little disappointing that a man renowned for his lyrical fortitude decided to draw from a meme for the hook. He’s toying around a bit, but I guess that’s what B-sides are for, right? B-

Adam Offitzer: A lovely Sufjan song that would make a killer Coldplay anthem with a little more gusto. Or even a killer Sufjan-circa-Illinoise anthem with a little more gusto! But Sufjan is not one for gusto lately. And that's okay. B-

Average:B

Ryn Weaver

"The Fool"

Peter Tabakis: Let's hope, for Ryn Weaver's sake, that Adele isn't as litigious as the Gaye family. "The Fool” and “Rolling in the Deep” both ride a too similar bass and beat hop. And their themes overlap, though with roles reversed. The heartbreaker sings here instead, and Weaver is ever repentant as the song gives way to an electronic flutter. We'll see how that plays in court. C+

Genevieve Oliver: I saw Ryn play “The Fool,” the title track from her forthcoming LP, at one of her handful of SXSW gigs, and pretty quickly recognized its potential as a huge crazy hit. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I think this signals a new direction in pop, interpolating the crossover appeal of Purity Ring and Phantogram’s more experimental vocal manipulation and synth-heavy backdrops with big bubblegum choruses just begging for a ridiculous lightshow. This could very well be Ryn’s year and I wouldn’t argue. B+

Nathan Wisnicki: I missed Weaver's viral hit "OctaHate", but have confirmed that I actively hate it. Good thing I got to this first, because it sounds nothing like that previous grotesque over-emotive irritant. This is clearly a lesser (and less patient) take on the kind of water-drip Lykke Li harmonizing that Taylor Swift did last year to gorgeous results with "Clean" - definitely more generically Hot Topic, especially lyrically - and Weaver's singing is at times unintentionally goofy-sounding, particularly the digital burp on the word 'door.' But dammit, that water-drip sound is lovely indeed, and the way little synth and percussion lines keep slipping in right under your nose are genuinely clever, building loud and pretty to the big release. That release is a jarred, stuttering one that I'm not too sure about. But the warble of Weaver's voice is genuinely affecting. I may even be underrating this. B+

Samuel Tolzmann: I want to hate Ryn Weaver because she has it all and because #curation and #nepotism, etc. But it’s hard to do that when all those talented folks backing her up have given her such strong material to work with. À la obvious antecedent CHVRCHES, “The Fool” perfectly marries its modest impulses and its grandstanding ones, such that it sounds ready to take on stadium-sized audiences without sounding like it’s trying too hard. The worst thing about it is probably Weaver’s vocal take itself: there’s something very undergrad-open-mic about it I can’t quite put my finger on. Wherefore that Conor Oberst tremolo? And why does she always sound like she’s got a mouth full of applesauce? C

Average:B-

Ratatat

"Cream on Chrome"

Brendan Frank: When it comes to comebacks, dropping your first single in five years on the day of a performance at Coachella is a pretty stylish way to go. “Cream on Chrome” is Ratatat through and through, mixing an irresistible groove with that slicing guitar tone and sonic jetsam. You can almost feel the gravitational pull of this track. B+

Zach Bernstein: Well, it's unmistakably Ratatat. Good to see that they haven't lost their signature sound during a five-year hiatus. The synths and guitars squeal, moan, bend, and groove like it's the late-Aughts all over again. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, just not much particularly novel about it either. B

Adam Offitzer: How refreshing is it to see a great band return—not with a calculated PR stunt; not with a dramatic shift in sound and style—but instead with an extension of the classic, trademark sound they were already known for. Such a solid groove. B

Average:B

Girlpool

"Before the World Was Big"

Nathan Wisnicki: This stopped me short. “Seven forty-five in the morning, I'm leavin' my house/Tryin’ not to think of all the ways this place has changed.” Sung by two L.A. teenagers in shrill, childlike unison. Sing-songy sopranos turn to talky Kimya Dawson-style “anti-folk” cadence, but much less self-conscious and more tuneful. No drums — just spare, clean bass and guitar, but spare in the way that lets the smallest little chime mean a little more. I have problems both aesthetic and moral with this kind of approach, but for now I think these girls are pretty fucking cool and I'm looking forward to their album. In June, appropriately. Graduating high-schoolers, take note for the summer: they could be your best friends. A

Genevieve Oliver: Another at-that-time-unreleased favorite of mine from SXSW – I’m so happy to finally hear a recorded version of this song, which was stuck in my head the whole day afterward. I’m consistently impressed by how Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker summon nostalgia without much more than a bass, a guitar, and an ear for weird-catchy rhythms and harmonies. A

Samuel Tolzmann: Once again, in the tradition of the early indie pop they mine so effectively, Girlpool have taken a song that sounds scrapped together on the fly and made it sound impossibly cool, not to mention moving, witty, candid, and relatable. I dug their EP but the singles from the upcoming full-length are really something else; this is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated LPs of to 2015. B

Average:A-

Lightning Round!

Crystal Castles, "Frail"
Samuel Tolzmann: Cybergoths everywhere may now rejoice! Crystal Castles sound just as good without Alice Glass at the mic. B
Genevieve Oliver: Seemingly only as an opportunity to bash Alice Glass, Ethan Kath's dropped an alright new Crystal Castles single; I do like new singer Edith's vocals, but I would've given more credence to the whole thing under less hatery circumstances. C
Luis Tovar: Yep, Crystal Castles sound just as evil and alluring without the evil-looking and alluring Alice Glass, but my favorite part of "Frail" is the shade (oh,  THE SHADE!) Ethan Kath threw Glass's way in his now-deleted SoundCloud blurb. It could block out the sun. B

Best Coast, "Feeling OK"
Benji Taylor: Inoffensive, instantly forgettable indie-pop. C+
Katie Steen: What the heck happened?  Beast Coast used to be such an indulgent band for me—beachy and cheesy, with a crunchy, stripped-down sound and stupid, immature lyrics I could totally relate to.  I liked Best Coast better when they felt “Gloomy” and “Moody” and “Angsty” and “Crazy for You.”  “Feeling OK” is BORING. C-
Luis Tovar: Best Coast's continual excavation of the 90's dream pop sounds isn't exactly novel in 2015, but I am impressed with how they balance this (much needed, very welcome) expansion of their sound without sacrificing any of the 60s girl group buoyancy in Bethany Cosentino's voice. B

Peter Bjorn and John, "High Up (Take Me to the Top)"
Zach Bernstein: Over here in the States, Peter Bjorn & John will never supplant "Young Folks" as their one moment of glory. This generic, 80s-aping bass thumper only strengthens that argument. C+
Genevieve Oliver: These guys have come a long way from "Young Folks"; this sounds like a lost Miike Snow track. B
Luis Tovar: All the clanging, clacking and banging make me feel like little Max in Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, and honestly, that's all I want from "Scandinavian indie pop" (cc: @LykkeLi). B

Empress Of, "Water Water"
Benji Taylor: Mundanity personified. C
Katie Steen: Cool and refreshing.  (Sip) Ahhh. B+
Luis Tovar: In Claire Boucher's, frankly, more capable hands, this could've a decent Grimes song. C+

Brandon Flowers, "Still Want You"
Benji Taylor: Bad Killers b-side. Catchy as hell, but ultimately garbage. Next! C
Katie Steen: Songs like this just make me think thoughts like…life sucks…love hurts…we’re all gonna die alone.  Put those jazz hands away. D
Luis Tovar: In which Brandon Flowers continues to act out his fantasy of headlining a regular Las Vegas gig, but comes off more as the Freemont Street performer you mostly ignore on your way to the only Walgreens in Paradise, Nev. that isn't completely overrun by sojourners drunker than you. D

Slayer, "When The Stillness Comes"
Samuel Tolzamnn: Slayer may have lost their lead guitarist and primary songwriter, but fortunately/unfortunately they vaguely remembered the same old formula. D
Peter Tabakis: The soundtrack to Zack Snyder’s reboot of The Crow, already in the works. D-
Luis Tovar: It feels as though Slayer haven't tried anything new since Seasons in the Abyss (it's no coincidence that it was the last album of theirs I could sit through), but, hey! They have 37 upcoming shows this year, they need to play something new, don't they? C-

Snoop Dogg, "So Many Pros"
Benji Taylor: Not so many pros. Far too many cons. C-
Katie Steen: For having a music video that literally consists of just sex and guns and sex and guns and sex and weed and guns and sex and guns…this song is actually pretty chill, with a nice retro vibe to it.  “Rated B for Bush.”  Oh, Snoop. B
Luis Tovar: Snoop is finally in a place where he is hip hop's weird uncle the way George Clinton has been for as long as I've been listening to it (and the way I imagine André 3000 will be in the very near future). I like it!  B-

Steve Aoki, "Darker Than Blood (featuring Linkin Park)"
Peter Tabakis: Lying on a beach in Ibiza, snuggling with Linkin Park as I meet my maker: Worst OD ever. D-
Luis Tovar: Kudos, I guess, for displaying some restraint and — am I really saying this? — class. This could have been so, so much worse. D

Zedd, "Addicted to Memory (featuring Bahari)"
Peter Tabakis: Royalty checks are heading Daft Punk’s way for that guitar buildup. D
Luis Tovar: Zedd, that fae-faced German idiot behind hits like Ariana Grande's "Break Free", likes to pound you into a state of docile vacuity, and eventually the overlong "Addicted to Memory" does just that. C-

Erik Hassle, "No Words"
Peter Tabakis: The valedictory song from an American Idol finale, ten years hence. D
Luis Tovar: I can't get enough of the disco revival, even if I can't quite recall the melody after "No Words" ends. C+

Score Review

Kanye West, "All Day (Remix featuring Kendrick Lamar)" A-
Vic Mensa, “U Mad (featuring Kanye West)” B-
Hudson Mohawke, "Ryderz" A- // Song of the Week
Tyler the Creator, “Smuckers (featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne)” C
Drake, “My Side” D+
Sufjan Stevens, “Exploding Whale” B
Ryn Weaver, "The Fool" B-
Ratatat, “Cream on Chrome” B
Girlpool, “Before the World Was Big” A-
Crystal Castles, “Frail” B-
Best Coast, “Feeling OK” C+
Peter Bjorn and John, “High Up (Take Me to the Top)” B-
Empress Of, “Water Water” B-
Brandon Flowers, “Still Want You” D+
Slayer, “When The Stillness Comes” D
Snoop Dogg, “So Many Pros” C+
Steve Aoki, “Darker Than Blood (featuring Linkin Park)” D-
Zedd, “Addicted to Memory (featuring Bahari)” D+
Erik Hassle, “No Words” C-