Hot Take #8: Jamie xx, Charli XCX, Mac DeMarco and More

The week's singles, reviewed
Avatar:
Pretty Much Amazing
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
2
The week's 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 week we take a look at the new singles from Jamie xx and Young Thug; Giorgio Moroder and Charli XCX; Mac DeMarco, Sia, Metric, Major Lazer and more.

(Check out the Score Review at the end of the column.) 

Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” (featuring Young Thug)

Brooklyn Russell: If you thought the unlikely pairing of Kanye West and Paul McCartney was something else then this Jamie xx and Young Thug collaboration will surely make your head swim. But surprisingly, on first listen, “I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)” isn’t the disorienting track you thought it would be when you first saw those two names together. In fact, I'll go on record as saying the pairing of Jamie and Thug is actually somewhat successful. On paper this one never should have worked: a clean cut English boy (also an Elliott School alumnus) who tinkers with moody electronic music and a 22-year-old rapper from Atlanta who does anything but rippity rap and can hardly sing, both forging a downright soulful tune. Thug sounds great over Jamie's smooth instrumental, which seamlessly samples The Persuasions' 1972 track “Good Times”, and his trademark croons have never sounded warmer than here. And while Thug's explicit bars may feel out of place among Jamie's bubblegum backdrop, they still remain utterly quotable and fittingly joyous, too. While this disassortative mating, so to speak, of once opposing classes (speaking in musical, cultural and even sociopolitical terms) may not suddenly upend established paradigms it does expand hip hop's conceptual migration. And the result is quality. B+

Nathan Wisnicki: The bells reminded me of a Chris Brown song, so I was like, “Whaaaat,” but actually Jamie’s notorious spareness fits Thug’s squawky, bug-eyed nutcase pretty well. This isn’t top-drawer work for either of ‘em — Thug’s weirder and funnier on his mixtapes; Jamie’s weirder and more poignant elsewhere, and is probably still narrowing-down the direction he wants to proceed in — but Thug’s a hoot as usual. This one’s about “the pussy,” all chilled-out precariousness in its molly comedown, and we’ve certainly heard that vibe before…but “I’ma ride in that pussy like a stroller” is just such a crazy line (especially when you stop to think about it) that you just haveta laugh, and the bit where he goes “She get that mush tiiime” is a great bit of melody-making. Which is a weird sentence to write. B+

Samuel Tolzmann: I mean, Jamie xx and Young Thug? You know it’s gonna be great before you even hear a note. This shit should come with a warning label — it’s the most addictively listenable song released this year since “King Kunta”. On first listen, it’s a Young Thug showcase, and from the get-go he’s on top form, spitting a ceaseless flow as hooky and witty as anything on Barter 6. But the deeper I get into a “Good Times” k-hole, the more apparent it becomes that xx’s production is essential to the song’s success. A track this minimal shouldn’t be this compelling, but that descending glockenspiel hook works like a whirlpool, pulling us in further and further. Like an amusement park ride, once “Good Times” is over, you’ll just want to get back on and do it all again. A

Derrick Rossignol: I’ve only recently gotten in touch with contemporary hip hop, so I was immediately thrown by Young Thug’s exuberant, Danny-Brown-on-Pixie-Stix delivery, but it’s actually killer because of the way Jamie xx has managed to bring so many different things together on this track: hip hop, airy electronica, the vintage vocal pop sample. It all works so well and it’s very endearing, but despite its charm, this feels more like a shell of a song, or perhaps a preview of something more to come. I’m hoping for the latter. B-

Luis Tovar: Earlier this week I played “Good Times” so much that I actually feared my link with reality was FUBAR. Now, I’m a big supporter of Jamie xx (and his band, the xx), but I could never truly say that he had made my jam. You know, one of those all-encompassing, center-of-my-universe jams that tend to sprout up in the warmer summer months. “Good Times” is that and then some, thanks to Jamie and Young Thug’s seamless mind meld. Thousands of words have been written about Thugger’s unique, and uniquely unpredictable delivery. If you're not already on board, I doubt “Good Times” will convince you. (In my estimation, Thugger’s extraordinary voice is one of the most interesting things to come out of hip hop in the last many years.) Notice how Jamie xx sets the stage: a deconstructed Motown sample enters before he introduces light synth tones arranged like a zen garden. It’s gorgeous, pristine, and simple by design. And Thugger comes in as the bull to Jamie’s china shop, tearing shit up with a demented wit and tons of charisma.  It’ll be a great fucking summer if we get a better summer jam in the next few weeks. A

Average: B+

Lightning Round!

Sia, “California Dreamin’”

Genevieve Oliver: I'm happy to hear a cover of this song that encapsulates and builds upon its deeply eerie, cinematic vibe, but I should have expected I would hear it from Sia. A

Katie Steen: Man, sorry to be that asshole, but stick to the original. D

Luis Tovar: Obviously this has nothing on the The Mamas & the Papas’ classic. But this is such a majestic Sia track (honestly, is there any other kind?) that I can't not love it. B+

Metric, “The Shade” 

Genevieve Oliver: Props to one of the most versatile, shapeshifting rock bands out there. B+

Katie Steen: It’s all right, but I think I want the whole song to just be a loop of that bleepy bloop noise at the beginning. C+

Luis Tovar: This sounds painfully dated, but Emily Hanes still has complete command of her undiminished skills as a melodist. B-

Nate Ruess: “Great Big Storm” 

Luis Tovar: This is what Fun—a band that is mostly insufferable and only fleetingly charming, anyway—sounds like when you shave off guitarist Jack Antonoff. Apparently he was their only redeemable quality. He records solo as Bleachers, by the way. D

Katie Steen: (Involuntarily hits mute button three seconds in.) F

Genevieve Oliver: Something about Nate Ruess’ voice pulls exactly the wrong chord in my brain so I’m definitely a bit biased, but this is royally Not My Thing — kind of begrudgingly, though, I can see where it may be someone else’s. C

Major Lazer: “Too Original” (featuring Elliphant & Jovi Rockwell)

Genevieve Oliver: Every Major Lazer song kind of sounds the same, but maybe that’s the point — nonstop booty ‘til the end of the world... I’d be happy to add “Too Original” to my “twerk apocalypse” playlist. B

Katie Steen: Bracing myself to hear this song five hundred million times this summer. B-

Luis Tovar: Let’s forget for a second that Elliphant, apparently our new Santigold, is from Stolkholm but puts forward a bizarre accent that lands closer to Kingston than Diplo’s continued excavation of dancehall. This song is a fucking blast. B

Giorgio Moroder, “Diamonds” (featuring Charli XCX)

Luis Tovar: I hate when electropop is given the lazy criticism that club drugs are “required” to enjoy it. But... maybe some Molly would’ve tricked me into thinking “Diamonds” was compelling and worth listening to again? (Don’t do drugs, kids.) Look, I don't mean to sound flippant. Even if you ignore Giorgio Moroder’s incalculable contributions to disco and electronic, and, hell, pop music as a whole, he’s released some good stuff in 2015. (Listen to the superior “Déjà vu” and “Tom’s Diner” featuring a perfectly utilized Sia and Britney Spears, respectively.) All of that makes “Diamonds” even more disappointing. C

Samuel Tolzmann: Moroder and Charli XCX aren’t the most natural pairing of producer and vocalist, and despite the racing, toothy keyboard riff, “Diamonds” gets off to a stiff start. However, somewhere around the sassy, half-spoken bridge and Charli’s subsequent shift into falsetto, the song really takes off. That final go-round of the chorus is a blast. C+

Nathan Wisnicki: Moroder's Sia-featuring "Déjà vu" has already grown on me over the last few weeks, and I feel bad for underrating it. This one I'm already pretty damn sure about: it sucks. Complete with ugly burping synth-bass, imagery that's not compelling on even a surface level (“scissors made of starlight?”), and the snide voice of Charli XCX (whose snark irritates me even when she gets a good tune, which she doesn't have here), this seems like blustering. A decent melody definitely would've helped. C-

Brooklyn Russell: You see what you've done, Daft Punk? Your lagniappe of Random Access Memories and “Get Lucky” might have positioned you as historically minded robots who know all too well just how hard it is to be human. But retrospectively speaking all you did is make one thing evident: the ’70s, disco and more importantly, nostalgia in music, isn’t going anywhere. Where Random Access Memories served as a tribute to the music they grew up listening to as musically obsessed children in Paris, Giorgio Moroder's latest offering from Déjà Vu, his first album in thirty years, is a reminder that you sadly can't teach an old dog new tricks. To put it bluntly: “Diamonds” featuring it-girl Charli XCX is a mess. The overly imposing throbs of Moroder’s production smothers Charli's words so that they’re not natural, instead, they sound like she's merely singing off a teleprompter. This is doubly sad given Moroder is an esteemed musician who is often credited with pioneering synth, disco and electronic dance music as a whole. Moroder's entire approach to “Diamonds” feels too self-serious and reminds you that his brief appearance on Punk's Random Access Memories is utterly masturbatory—aiming only to celebrate himself for his “legacy.” What a hack. Question: How is that a dance track is, well, undanceable? C

Genevieve Oliver: Postmodernism, globalism, everything old will be new again, this is playing in my 2015 EDM rewrite of Morvern Callar. C

Average: C

Mac DeMarco, “The Way You’d Love Her”

Derrick Rossignol: This is par for the Salad Days course. That's a beautiful thing, because that album was a terrific display of subdued psychedelia through and through. The added wah-wah on the guitar is a nice deviation, and is hopefully indicative of the upcoming "mini LP" from DeMarco: an extension of Salad Days with enough quality to not come of as scraps gathered off the cutting room floor. Mac DeMarco is the personification of a lazy summer day that's sleepily warm, so yeah, let's get some more of that. B

Samuel Tolzmann: There’s just enough dub in the verses of this song to make it the indisputable Mac DeMarco Summer Song. It somehow sounds even more the way lying in a hammock feels than his songs usually do. B-

Nathan Wisnicki: Question: why’s this guy propped in the indie taste-making precincts while gormless frat-boy stuff like Jack Johnson is (rightly) reviled in those same circles? Limp “mellow” chords; inane baby-baby lyrics; hell, there’s even a cod-reggae guitar pattern and a solo that might as well be from Sublime. It could just be that DeMarco’s a likable guy: the choruses are pleasant, it’s all very pleasant. But my money’s on the guitar sound. Nothing’ll get you into the indie-rock good-books quicker than reverb, and if you can add some major-keyed arpeggios, all the better. Where previously DeMarco based his sound on John Lennon’s “Hold On” (y’know, that delightful puddle-of-sun miniature from Plastic Ono Band), now he’s onto the weird, wobbly, three-hits-of-Scotchgard vibe of early-‘90s Ween. I should pull out those records again. C+

Genevieve Oliver: Impressively, Mac DeMarco’s really made a career out of sounding like a lecherous lounge singer who sidles up to flirt with your date, except in a charming way. Thus, my favorite songs of Mac’s are the swaggery ones that sound like strolling cartoonishly around your neighborhood in a Canadian tuxedo (see: “I’m A Man” or “Ode to Viceroy”), so “The Way You’d Love Her” is a little too teen movie pool party for me. Still, I’ll put it on my “teen movie pool party” summer playlist. B-

Brookly Russell: Lookie here, I'm a “chill” person—I'm “cool,” I can “relax.” I can appreciate a “mellow” track here and there. But frankly my predisposition and mannerisms shouldn't have any bearing at all on whether or not I would enjoy (or appreciate) Mac DeMarco's music. And, really, it doesn’t. For starters Mac’s entire lovable loser schtick just isn’t cutting it for me (it never did, even when last year’s Salad Days had its moments) and his naïveté is starting to make me queasy. His recent single “The Way You'd Love Her”, from the forthcoming “mini-LP,” cheekily titled Another One, is like a hodgepodge of boring indie rock clichés. There's reverb (pretty much nothing will get you into the indie good books quicker than reverb), limp chords, inane sweetheart lyrics and to top it all off: a guitar pattern and solo that might as well be plagiarized from Sublime. The whole thing—all three minutes of it—manifests into a mushy and pleasant dolt. And ultimately, that's Mac's biggest problem: he's simply a likable guy, the choruses are pleasant and it's all just very pleasant. Where Mac previously might have based his sound on those cool, Jonathan Richman slacker vibes, he's now onto the weird, wobbly vibe of early-'90s Ween. Yuck, I'll pass. C- [Ed. note: No, Nathan and Russell were not in the same room when they wrote their pieces.]

Average: C+

Les Mouches: "Carload of Whatever"

Genevieve Oliver: I’m tempted to rate this track highly just for the title of the album it’s on, You’re Worth More to Me Than 1000 Christians, the only record Les Mouches (Owen Pallet’s first band) ever made before their 2004 disbanding. That aside, though, I still love this song – its orchestral movements and layers foreshadow Pallet’s later work, and I’m definitely a sucker for falsetto and emotive screaming in equal parts. A-

Nathan Wisnicki: Pallett’s from my neck of the woods, so the “alternative” radio stations play the shit out of him, or at least they used to. I’ll admit he’s capable of some striking tone colors, and appreciate anyone trying to bridge the current gap between classical music’s sophistication and popular music's depth. Or I would, if the anemic indie rock aesthetic Pallett favors in the “popular music” vein didn't accentuate his outright ridiculous tendencies. This track’s apparently from some 2004 project before he donned his Final Fantasy moniker; nice math-y guitar/drum run breaking things up, and percussion bits evoking something like wobbly steel or slapped bathwater surface. But the histrionics are juvenile (the frail breath on “learning to survive,” gimme a break), and frankly Pallett's high notes remind me of the castrato choirboy in that Simpsons episode soloing about killing snakes. (“We’ll break their backs, gouge out their eyes….”) C-

Samuel Tolzmann: Finally, Owen Pallett’s early material with Rob Gordon and Matt Smith — songs which he loves to deride in interviews as “me screaming into my violin” — is available, and it is so much more than Pallett screaming into his violin. Stranded awkwardly between raw, percussive emo and delicate chamber pop, it sounds sort of like mid-period Xiu Xiu with stronger melodies. That means it’s awesome. B+

Derrick Rosignol: The cacophonous false starts that end up repeating throughout the track are more intrusive than they were probably intended to be, which is too bad because there’s a pretty little ditty hiding beneath them and the other extraneous effects. The frequent detours make it impossible to just sit back and chill, which is terrific if you’re into that and awful if you aren’t. Maybe I’ve just been listening to Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell too much. If anything, this is a grower, not a Sufjan show-er. C+

Average: B

Score Review

Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” (featuring Young Thug) B+ // Song of the Week
Sia, “California Dreamin’” B-
Metric, “The Shade” B-
Nate Ruess, “Great Big Storm” D
Major Lazer, “Too Original” (featuring Elliphant & Jovi Rockwell) B
Giorgio Moroder, “Diamonds” (featuring Charli XCX) C
Mac DeMarco, “The Way You’d Love Her” C+
Les Mouches, “Carload of Whatever” B