The Hot Take #16: Lana Del Rey, M.I.A., and More

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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 closing week. This time we take a look at the new singles from Lana Del Rey, M.I.A., Youth Lagoon, Destroyer and Maximum Balloon.

Song of the Week: Destroyer, “Girl in a Sling”

Jean-Luc Marsh: Dan Bejar is a poet and a scholar. Never mind that his lyrics are so florid and esoteric that I rarely comprehend what he is describing; the secret’s all in the delivery, the simple rhymes, the complex emotions, the lingering final syllables. Never did I think the lyric “early spring / girl in a sling” would elicit much of a response from me, but I stand utterly corrected. Dan, if you’re reading this, I want to go there too. B+

Katie Steen: Ohhhh Dan Bejar, you have been missed. He’s back with carefully orchestrated musings as he empathizes with the mysterious injured title girl he spots in a park. There’s a beautiful brokenness to both the song and the music video, which features imagines of abandoned, boarded-up homes. It’s heavy, but it hurts so good. A

Zach Bernstein: Stirring and sentimental, Dan Bejar swings for the fences on this one, largely hitting the mark. It's fascinating to hear his reedy croon juxtaposed with swirling strings, but it works well. I'll be spending the next few hours meditating on the mysterious lyric "oh it sucks when there's nothing but gold in those hills." B

Mitchell Cathey: Dan Bejar's musical style and voice have never matched his face. But give me that voice over these strings and a mellophone (I think) and I’m all the way in. It’s beautiful. Just don’t ask me to dissect the lyrics. A-

Sam Catlin: Dan Bejar at his Bowiest over one of his lovelist and most austere arrangements. I approve. B

Stephanie Moise: This is so wonderful. I may or may not have teared up. A-

Average: B+

M.I.A., “Swords”

Stephanie Moise: There is no other artist like M.I.A. out right now. She manages to remain true to her sound while brushing past What's Hot Right Now, and settling into What's Up Next. This video is cool as hell, as per usual. A decent nose thumbing to those who assumed she peaked with “Bad Girls.” Very nice. I'm sure we'll hear this one blasting in a Seth Rogan trailer shortly. B+

Sam Catlin: Continuing the trend established on /\/\/\Y/\ and Matangi, M.I.A.’s latest freewheels between immediate dancehall groove, transitional murk, and clanging, abrasive interpolations. Yr mileage may vary based on your responses to her last two LPs, but if M.I.A.’s mischievously self-sabotaging pop songs are your speed, “Swords” — outfitted with 8-bit hooks, traditional Southeast Asian instrumentation, and a percussion track composed of, you guessed it, clashing swords — is sure to please. B

Zach Berstein: M.I.A.’s music is always a little hit-or-miss for me. “Boyz”, “Bucky Done Gun”, and “Bad Girls” are all certified bangers, but other times her music leaves me a little cold. This track unfortunately falls into the chilly category for me. It’s no doubt an ear worm, but I just don’t find it to be that pleasant of a listening experience. Points for the sword sampling, though — that’s undeniably clever. C+

Matthew Malone: People insist that M.I.A. has slowly lost her magic since Kala, but I’d beg to strongly differ. Through her different suits and saris, she’s inched inward to a better understanding of herself, her gender, her culture, her hometown. And the Apple Music-granted “Swords” is yet another fascinating (and catchy) examination of contemporary India and West Africa. Should she keep the metal-clanging, sass-rapping and anthem-chanting coming, this upcoming multi-dimensional project should bode more than well for me. B+

Luis Tovar: Does it bode well for M.I.A.’s new album Matahdatah that its first single’s b-side—actually a song from her last album—overshadows the brand-new a-side? “Warriors” > “Swords” in just about every appreciable way, but the latter is still singular, thrilling, and catchy as hell. Everything banging like we in Bangalore! B+

Average: B

Lana Del Rey, “Honeymoon”

Sam Catlin: Del Rey continues the positive developments seen on last year’s Ultraviolence, turning in a drop-dead gorgeous torch song. Everything that she does well is present in full force: the melodies are seductive, her vocal performance is a knockout, the strings provide a rich and dynamic counterpoint, and her lyrics willfully toe the line between cliché, pastiche, satire, and real, torrential feeling. Of course, we’ve known ever since “Video Games” that this artist could deliver a great single; the question remains whether she can sustain this sort of magic over the length of an entire LP. B+

Stephanie Moise: OK, Lana Del Rey officially bores me. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate how heavily she is influenced by Nancy Sinatra and at it's best, her music is truly beautiful. This however, feels lazy. The melody is lovely enough and things pick up at the very end, just barely saving this song from being labeled an Ultraviolence cast off. At this point, I can't listen to Lana yearn for her incongruous lover without meanly wishing she'd get over it, already. C-

Zach Bernstein: Someone get Lana del Rey the theme song for the upcoming Bond movie, stat. Her purring and whispering crooning only continues to grow more otherworldly and captivating with each successive release. That being said, I find this track is a tad amorphous. It’s certainly alluring, but it seems a little shapeless. A lot of atmosphere, not a great deal of substance, different from the way in which Ultraviolence supported Lana’s come-on's with well constructed melodies and occasionally seismic tonal shifts. It’s perfectly fine to sing about "dreaming away your life," but Lana needs to be careful not to dream away all of the character and body of her music. I still enjoy listening to it though — her voice just drips with danger and sex. That combination could make pretty much anything worth repeated listens. B

Matthew Malone: Lana Del Rey has to be very careful in balancing her sound, lest she lose her mysterious “noir” image or, worse, her many salivating fans. The beauty of last year’s Ultraviolence was its ability to flawlessly evade these two pitfalls in creating sultry, coated pop. But “Honeymoon” is a languid, monotonous track that could dangerously result in losing some audience, as it’s almost too Lana for her own good. A chorus cannot be two words, repeated infinitely! C

Luis Tovar: “Honeymoon” is eerie and enchanting. Like “Video Games”, but with a better sense of depth and polyphony. But it’s not a great thing that the song doesn’t show signs of life until the last minute (“Honeymoon” is six minutes long). I’m still not sure if the last minute is actually thrilling or merely an exciting contrast to the five minutes that came before. Still, no contemporary pop star can conjure and manipulate mood and atmosphere with a single note the way LDR can. B

Mitchell Cathey: It’s Lana Del Rey. Again. It’s all here: sweeping, orchestral strings and breakup lyrics. If you liked it before, you'll like it now. C+

Average: B-

Maximum Balloon, “Let It Grow” featuring Tunde Adebimpe and Karen O

Mitchell Cathey: Yay! When you hear that these two artists are together on a track you can’t always know what to expect – it could vary in so many ways. What we have here is a love song for the ages. Karen O lends the softest version of her voice to the Maximum Balloon backing track and creates an ethereal journey that could make any couple slow dance in their living room. Hashtag happiness. A-

Sam Catlin: Hard to go wrong with three star players like Sitek, Adebimpe, and O. A pleasant and lushly arranged pop tune, albeit overlong and rather vague. C+

Stephanie Moise: This reminds me of TV on the Radio. This is not an insult; Dave Sitek’s musical inclinations and production skills are just so immediately recognizable. Even while working on another person’s music. Even while working on this, his own. It’s a nice track. I’m a sucker for Tunde Adebimpe’s voice and it’s nice to hear Karen O out and about. Not really gripping overall, but decent. B

Matthew Malone: TV on the Radio, and all its tangential projects, never cease to sound good. It’s therefore no surprise that Dave Sitek’s solo project Maximum Balloon has returned with a single that is very pretty indeed. There’s no question about a lack of heft here that once lifted and even defined Sitek’s early 2000s involvements, but hey! Karen O warbles well, Tunde Adebimpe murmurs well, Maximum Balloon provides appropriate and dreamy background. It’s all good fun. B

Zach Bernstein: For a song with the word “grow” in the title, I didn't actually feel as if this song went anywhere in its nearly six minutes. Karen O and Tunde’s vocals mesh together quite nicely and the entire track has a very dreamlike quality to it. Perfect for zoning out and staring at the clouds, but it's not a masterpiece. B-

Average: B

Youth Lagoon, “The Knower”

Katie Steen: These vocals are so delicate and mousey—I just can't get the image of a sad little mouse singing the intro part of this song, holding some Swiss cheese and lamenting the hopelessness and phoniness of the world. “Oh, everybody wants to think that they're good at heart, when they're full of hate…” I feel ya, little rodent Caulfield. But even though the lyrics are kind of a bummer, a poppy, upbeat tempo kicks in along with some dramatically swelling horns, indicating that, like much of Youth Lagoon’s work, this is supposed to be motivational and whatnot. It doesn’t do much for me, but maybe it’ll work for you. C+

Jean-Luc Marsh: If Trevor Powers officially left the bedroom with Wondrous Bughouse, then Savage Hills Ballroom must be the chapter in which he busts the front door off its hinges and runs wild throughout the streets of Boise. “The Knower” builds into a crescendo like all of Youth Lagoon’s best tracks, and sure, it’s triumphant as hell when the trumpets blare and the tempo picks up in the last minute, but it lacks the gauzy, woozy, sweltering-Wednesday-afternoon-alone-in-a-hermetically-sealed-bedroom vibe that made Powers’ previous work so, well, powerful (sorry). There are less signs of crippling social anxiety on display here, and while I miss the old Youth Lagoon already, I can’t fault Powers for scaling his own Everest. B+

Sam Catlin: The opening section of this song is so unusual and such a fresh turn for Youth Lagoon, it makes me want to forgive the rest. Sadly “The Knower” is mostly a second-rate Unknown Mortal Orchestra song with nowhere to go. Stick with the real deal, and with older Youth Lagoon songs. C-

Mitchell Cathey: Give it one minute. Really. Commit to really listening for one minute. From bare vocals, to a welcomed percussive track, to horns that build and build — it gets you there whether you expect it or not. B+

Luis Tovar: The opening bit is stunning, though it’s sure to test the limits of your patience for Trevor Powers’ shrill falsetto. It’s a pity then that it becomes a messy, forgettable alt-J song. C

Average: B-