The Hot Take #9: Taylor Swift, Florence and the Machine, ASAP Rocky & More

The week’s new singles, reviewed
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The week’s new 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 Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar, Florence and the Machine, Sun Kil Moon, ASAP Rocky, Jean-Michel Jarre and M83, Destroyer, and Hudson Mohawke

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

Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood (Remix)” featuring Kendrick Lamar

Zach Bernstein: Oh, Taylor. In my personal experience, there are two types of T-Swift songs - those that grab me instantly from the outset with truly stellar and more subtle pop songcraft (“Blank Space”, “Mean”) and those that bludgeon me into willing aural submission by virtue of their catchiness and repeated airplay (“Shake It Off”, “Love Story”). “Bad Blood” falls squarely into the latter category — in fact, it could be argued that this is, by Taylor’s standards, a pretty bad song. Its lyrics are far more juvenile than her usual fare and the hook is gratingly annoying rather than endearingly annoying, There’s not much melody here, which is a shame, because Taylor has the ability to construct a winning melody in spades. As for K. Dot — I'm just confused as the next listener. Redeemed by the video, though. Hilarious music video. C+

Genevieve Oliver: A blistering verse from Kendrick was just what this track needed to almost live up to my other favorite thing titled “Bad Blood”, ie. part two of Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell.” The now-ubiquitous hip-hop-verse-on-top-40-tune thing can sometimes feel so tacked-on and lazy, but it’s pretty seamless here, because Kendrick and Taylor are both out for blood. B+

Nathan Wisnicki: After Kanye, Taylor is the best active record-maker in the world and 1989 got my vote for album of the year. So hopefully it carries some weight when I say it’s very, very frustrating that she’s chosen the album’s least-interesting song to promote like it’s the damn moon landing, especially after “Blank Space” — not a highlight either — already conjured a similarly “vengeful” spirit (albeit somewhat ironically). The remix neither improves nor diminishes: Kendrick’s solid (the strutting alliteration on “body bumped, bruised”), but the choruses stay glued to their obnoxious mechanics; seriously, that splicing is the kind of dumb earworm Taylor’s above. And the bridge enters awkwardly in both. Taylor’s pre-chorus quaver (“Ohhhh, it’s so sad to…”) is still a striking bit of singing and melody-making, and Max Martin’s mastery of aural space remains. But this is a bits-and-pieces song that should’ve been fluid. C+

Samuel Catlin: Kendrick’s verses on this remix aren’t in themselves bad, but they do sound totally cut-and-pasted into a song that neither needs them nor proves particularly hospitable to them. The only thing that works about this remix is the new and appropriately ominous bass synth on the pre-chorus. The disempowering disappointment of the all-star video is another matter that I won’t discuss further here because I don’t want to have to watch it ever again, but suffice to say, “Bad Blood”’s finest incarnation remains the audio version found on 1989, where it stands as a T-Swift instant classic. C-

Matthew Malone: Coming directly off of one of the most politically charged albums of our time, Kendrick Lamar's presence on “Bad Blood”, a song about two friends having a petty falling out, seems ridiculous at first. He raps about losing touch and friendship, probably the most vapid material he has ever released. His verses are out of place and clearly manufactured to appeal to more than Swift's tween fanbase, but the entire success of 1989 was its expansion of said fanbase. We appreciate Taylor Swift for her unashamed and razor-sharp pop, and don't need awkward interjections to make it any more accessible. C+

Average: C+

Florence and the Machine, “Delilah” 

 Zach Bernstein: New FATM, same old Biblical and/or mythological imagery. This track fits squarely within the tradition of Florence Welch's previous output — towering choral swells, barroom piano, booming drums, all hollering to the rafters — nothing shocking. However, “Delilah” is definitely the most exciting thing we've heard from How Big, How etc. since “What Kind of Man”. I love the chord progressions here — the unexpected sonic directions genuinely contribute to the sense of mystery that Welch tries so hard to cultivate in her music. It's strange to hear an actual skip-dancing beat in a FATM song, but it really works on this one. Sure to be a highlight of her live sets (once her foot heals). Never knew we could dance to Florence until “Delilah” showed us how. B

Genevieve Oliver: I haven’t been super impressed by anything I’ve heard so far from Florence’s upcoming LP, but “Delilah” is a different story and by far my favorite yet — I’m a sucker for those huge piano chords, and I love how it gains a little blues-y handclap energy partway through. B

Matthew Malone: Though neither as intense nor as memorable as “What Kind of Man”, this new single of Flo's will certainly suffice. Build on swingy rhythms, it's a more lighthearted dance ballad that all of us can bob along to. It's big, it's blue, it's beautiful, and it's a good replacement for that other Delilah song that's been stuck in our heads since 2005. B

Nathan Wisnicki: Hey, whaddya know — it’s not another dirge. Color me impressed. It’s more spacious than the previous singles, not as wearying. The vibrato in Welch’s mid-range is spiked well, and the notion of a fantastical dancer is promising. And yet as with almost all this group’s songs, it should’ve either been more daringly theatric, or they should’ve opted to play tighter. Both would be ideal, of course, but I’ve learned not to hold my breath on that front. C-

Average: B-

Hudson Mohawke, “Indian Steps” featuring Antony

Genevieve Oliver: Hudson Mohawke + Antony = musical OTP I didn’t even know I had until this very moment. Proof positive that HudMo has a gentler side, and Antony has a bit of a noisier one – a perfect, illuminating and exciting collaboration. B+

Sam Catlin: Now this is how to do maximalism without falling into the trap bed you made as one half of TNGHT. The melody is pure bliss and Antony Hegarty’s handling the vocals, so obviously everything’s perfect there, but the real MVP of “Indian Steps” is HudMo’s production, which couldn’t get much bigger — the drum track, in particular, clatters with room-shaking force — and yet never seems dramatic or overpowering: high volume handled with tact and clarity. A-

Zach Bernstein: Antony Hegarty's voice is such a precious instrument, truly one of the most unique voices out there. Antony was Sam Smith before there was Sam Smith — a quiet storm of quavering British melodrama. Electronic music makes a nice accompaniment for Hegarty's voice (Hercules and Love Affair, anyone?) so Hudson Mohawke's dub-soul landscape is a natural choice here. I have a feeling this one will grow on me with further listens. B

Matthew Malone: This motley duo of tearjerker and bassmaster have created a track that sits on the outskirts of both of their expertise, somewhere in R&B pop. This bears good tidings for Hegarty's upcoming solo album, which is apparently produced largely by HudMo, because “Indian Steps” is mellifluous as hell. B+

Average: B+

Destroyer, “Dream Lover"

Zach Bernstein: Speaking of unique voices, Dan Bejar's churlish, nasal snarl is among my personal favorites in contemporary rock music. This is such a fun track — there is not nearly enough saxophone in pop music today, so any number that opens with a brass blast is fine in my book. Oh, and trumpets too! “Dream Lover” starts at 11 and pretty much remains there for its 4-minute run time. What a fun cacophony this is. B+

Genevieve Oliver: Thank you based Dan Bejar for 20+ years of incredible, emotive, hilariously wry, and most of all deeply underrated songwriting in like six different bands. And thank you for continuing to remind us of that every few years with a new Destroyer album, and with songs like “Dream Lover”. Those horns! A

Sam Catlin: A few years back, we heard James Murphy’s version of “’Heroes’” on “All I Want,” which located the dance groove and Steve Reich echoes in the Bowie classic. Now we’re getting Dan Bejar’s version, which amps up the effete and gaudily theatrical elements as well as the volume. It’s totally overwhelming., and I like it a lot. B

Matthew Malone: You just can't hate Destroyer. He's just in a category of my head with Beirut and Sufjan of brilliant multi-instrumentalists who make music as fun as it is profound. And “Dream Lover”, a louder turn from Kaputt's mellow setlist, employs an E-Street-y sax and rapping drums to grant the song a heart and soul. Quite magical, I must say. A-

Average: A-

ASAP Rocky, “LSD”

Nathan Wisnicki: Drug double-entendres ain’t novel — the title here ostensibly stands for “Love Sex Dreams” — but musically, this song — most of it, anyway — completely upends what I expected. What could’ve been just another high-and-horny banger — especially from Rocky — is instead a still and spare piece of psychedelic drift, eerie and gorgeous in equal measure. Genuinely trippy, the tone colors he gets out of spectral guitar tolls, wobbly piano, liberal use of Auto-Tune, and swelling digital bleed (encroaching from unfathomed depths) really do evoke the ungraspable desires within an acid trip, benevolent misty flecks and distant fearful clatter. When Rocky actually starts rapping, it’s disappointingly generic and monotone; he’s still no charismatic. But if it doesn’t deliver what the first bit promised, well, neither do most acid trips. “The new me is gonna take some gettin’ used to,” you say? Challenge accepted! A-

Sam Catlin: This sure smacks of a less self-aware attempt at a Drake song. D+

Zach Bernstein: As I listened to the first half of this track, I wrote “Is anyone else as confused by this track as I am? What happened to old ASAP? The ASAP who had all those problems and was going wild for the night?” Then the track completely changed courses midstream. And then it changed back again. What a loopy, sensual fever dream of a hip-hop song. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from ASAP's next record judging from this track, but now I am much more intrigued. B

Average: B-

Sun Kil Moon, “Garden of Lavender”

Genevieve Oliver: It’s no “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”, but I will always go to bat for ten-minute pitch-dark folk-y tunes that sound like driving in your ancient car after some total heartbreak evisceration into a gathering thunderstorm kind of hoping it will turn into a tornado, scoop you up, and toss you into a moderately more pleasurable oblivion. You know, for every single time you’ve ever felt like that. A

Nathan Wisnicki: Mark Kozelek’s a sweet-voiced guy with paltry songwriting abilities, and I was blindsided by how reflexively everyone piled-on the accolades for his latest album. Guess I must’ve been out for coffee when everyone agreed sadsack indie-troubadour schtick was still worth buying into. This dirge attains a cumulative power of approximately zilch for the first 7:30 of its 10 minutes, whereupon a simple but lovely guitar pattern lets Kozelek reminisce about a stolen kiss. That kiss only gets one brief line, but it haunts the remainder to evoke a dreamlike “long-lost night”; the ache of the road. But I reject mundanities about hotel check-ins or pre-show meals, and to anoint Kozelek as some Prine-level figure of poignant Midwestern cynicism is embarrassing. Meager rewards at the expense of a lot of time. Everybody wants to feel like you. I think somebody else said that. C+

Sam Catlin: Mark Kozelek seems like a dick but he can still write great songs; until he does something really heinous, I guess I’ll give his awful personality a pass. I’m really digging the ominous, bluesier vibe and the slow-burning tension of “Garden Of Lavender”, and the way the track swings rhythmically from intensely solitary to lush and expansive. I’m also glad that, while quite grim, it’s not quite as emotionally brutalizing as Benji. Dear Mark, I love that record, but please don’t ever make it again. B

Average: B

Jean-Michel Jarre, “Glory” featuring M83

Nathan Wisnicki: Given the M83 connection, you might expect something vast or roaring or colorful. Nothin’ doin’; instead we get one of those “composed” (but actually lazy) build-ups, a big release promised with its marching sort of beat that eventually just plops in and punches the clock. This feels like one of those commercials that tries to appeal to millennials by showing a bunch of skinny young people jumping up and down and waving their phones in the air. (“Party with the glory…of Mountain Dew.”) Quoth one of this song’s first YouTube commenters: “As a die-hard JMJ fan I'm gonna write this: what I have just heard sucks.” I’m not a die-hard JMJ fan, but I defer to that guy’s judgment. D

Zach Bernstein: More than anything else, this song makes me miss M83. Maybe I don't have the proper respect for Jean-Michel Jarre, but right now all I really want is a third, miraculously recovered act to Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. B-

Sam Catlin: Serviceable but faceless. I’m not so bored I’m turning it off, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever want to hear it again. Given how much more we know Anthony Gonzalez can do, I don’t know why anyone would choose to listen to this instead. D+

Average: C-

Score Review

Taylor Swift, “Bad Blood (Remix)” featuring Kendrick Lamar C+
Florence and the Machine, “Delilah” B-
Hudson Mohawke, “Indian Steps” featuring Antony B+
Destroyer, “Dream Lover” A- // Song of the Week
ASAP Rocky, “LSD” B-
Sun Kil Moon, “Garden of Lavender” B
Jean-Michel Jarre, “Glory” featuring M83 C-