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 Giorgio Moroder, Blur, Mumford and Sons, The Chemical Brothers, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Torres,Raekwon and Holychild, but we're kicking things off with a Lightning Round collecting some notable new tracks from last weekend's Record Store Day.
(Check out the Score Review at the end of the post.)
Florence and the Machine, "As Far as I Could Get"
Samuel Tolzmann < @scatlint >: Spooky, pretty, emotionally heightened – pretty standard fare for this band. I don’t hate it, but I can’t think of a good reason to recommend it instead of, like, any other Florence song. C-
Luis Tovar < @pmablog >: I'm really feeling those militaristic snares and that unassuming bassline. I'll take this over the icky "St. Jude" and boring "Ship To Wreck" any day. Too bad "As Far as I Could Get" isn't set to appear on FATM's new album. B-
Run the Jewels, "Bust No Moves"
Luis Tovar: There are 20 seconds of ambient noise before "Bust No Moves" actually kicks in. Those 20 seconds were the tensest, most palpably anxious I've felt in a song all year long, but what follows isn't a blistering, furious salvo in the vein of "Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)". No, "Bust No Moves" is a calmer-RTJ through-and-through, though that doesn't stop El-P from throwing down some choice fuck you's: "You wanna hang like Hussain / Eat a mile of my shit and then put your lips to my true brain" is my personal favorite. B+
Zach Bernstein < @znbernstein >: Appropriately ominous beat, quality rhymes, nothing particularly spectacular for a Record Store Day release, but solid nonetheless. B
Future Islands, "The Case"
Adam Offitzer < @aoffitzer >: It's just like "Spirit," by Future Islands, but not as good! But, you know, still good. Especially if you've been craving more of the band's unique sound since Singles came out. B
Being Taylor < @benjitaylormade >: Stylistically this sounds like a hybrid of the styles that the band perfected on both On The Water and Singles. And it rocks. B
Katie Steen: Catchy, but I’m not feelin' the vocals. B-
Father John Misty, "I've Never Been a Woman"
Genevieve Oliver <@vittorioe >: The other night I realized Father John Misty’s whole shtick is beatnick macho-“realist” posturing; this is no exception, though it’s moderately redeemed by those pretty guitar trills. C+
Katie Steen: Too twangy. Also, I don’t have a heart. C-
"Déjà vu (featuring Sia)"
Nathan Wisnicki < @limedibagels >: It’s so heartwarming to have Moroder getting some mainstream attention again after Daft Punk’s big homage two years ago. This one’s got the same twitchy-crisp synth-funk sound you’d expect, but now Sia’s here, and lemme tell ya: for me, the line between Sia being totally thrilling and upheaving and astonishingly physically powerful and Sia being just plain wearying is a thin one. I appreciate the idea of singing what seems to be actual nonsense in some parts (“Raw man come to luzz-ooh-way?”), and her offhand high notes in the choruses (on the word “vu”) are really lovely. But as a song it’s a little shoved-together, with an especially lazy non-transition into the bridge, and the breaks into the choruses remind me of David Gray’s “Babylon”...but a somewhat exhausting version of “Babylon”. Still: those choruses! B
Zach Bernstein: Alright. So there was Daft Punk's version of disco, and then there's this. "Deja Vu" makes "Get Lucky" sound like Metallica. That bass line, the dizzying string hook, everything here sounds like it was ripped straight from the 70s. My only quibble here is Sia's vocals - she sounds characteristically marble-mouthed here, but a track with percussion and groove this dynamic may have benefited from a vocalist more gifted in matters of enunciation. I'm very intrigued to see how the general public receives this album in wake of Moroder's Daft Punk-fueled resurgence - I mean, his Random Access Memories cameo is why we're even talking about him here in 2015, right? B
Matthew Malone: Fantastic— Sia can do no wrong. Her voice is particularly appropriate, wailing under Moroder’s disco-funk beats. It’s a toned-up power “Get Lucky” with a hookier hook and groovier groove. Wow, so excited for the album… A
Adam Offitzer: After all the dark, self-serious performances of "Chandelier," it's so refreshing to hear Sia's voice in this context: Old-school and care-free. Weirdly reminds me of when Lady Gaga shifted from the brooding, robotic sound of "Poker Face" and "Telephone" to the earnest, retro, super fun "Born This Way." B+
"My Terracotta Heart"
Nathan Wisnicki: Looking back, it’s tempting to be “evenhanded” and say, sure, Blur’s music hasn’t aged well and even in their heyday they made too many albums, but hey, great singles act! But I think even that’d be too kind. Damon Albarn has long struck me as a rather dull dilettante type who only became somewhat entertaining when he belatedly discovered rhythm (Blur’s later years; Gorillaz) or just went straight for the big fun hooks (“Tracy Jacks”; “Song 2”). Never as tuneful or lyrically shrewd as we’re always told, his new stuff is so flat, it’s like...I dunno, it’s like the song starts and then four minutes later I’m in the same place. “Terracotta” features the oldest “mischievous mysterious night” chords in the book, and when Albarn sings, “But that was years ago...” I keep hoping he’ll do a Sweeney Todd and finish with “...I doubt if anyone would know....” D
Luis Tovar: This is gorgeous, gorgeous stuff. "My Terracotta Heart" takes all the feeling and atmosphere of Damon Albarn's wonderful solo debut Everyday Robots and, with the (much-hullabaloo'd) help of founding Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, translates it flawlessly in the context of his very, very capable live band. The album's streaming now on iTunes Radio. Not every song is as great as this one, but like most Albarn records, The Magic Whip is an album to return to, often. A-
Matthew Malone: Blur is back!!! It’s no 90s Blur, but it’s close and totally worth the ride. Damon Albarn is a little Thom Yorke-y on this tearjerker for the lonesome. Hints of electronica under some smoother instrumentation. Apparently the Hong Kong motif reflects a period in Albarn (and the gang’s) life spent in the chaotic city, and their subsequent claustrophobia and loneliness. And I must say, hearing this track alongside some of the other already released ones does evoke their described feeling of inarticulate sadness. Old blur fans, this might win you over if you weren’t convinced by previous singles. B+
Zach Bernstein: Blur is one of those bands for which I believe most Americans could not give a whit - the Stone Roses, Oasis, etc. I am one of those Americans. I'll be honest in saying that Blur has never particularly appealed to me, and this track isn't helping. I don't find Albarn's voice or the instrumental itself particularly engaging. Albarn sounds like he's asleep, and in turn, this song is a snoozer.C-
Adam Offitzer: Is this a weird generational thing that I don't know much about Blur or their place in the music landscape? (I'm 23.) Anyway, this is a chill tune with some cool, smooth production, but nothing special. C-
Mumford and Sons
Luis Tovar: Yes! This song (and all the other songs Mumford and Sons have released this year) makes me so happy! Not because it's good or interesting or smart. In fact, it's really not good and not interesting and really not smart either. This song makes me happy because now that this band sounds like back-alley Coldplay, not unlike Keane or Snow Patrol or some other soulless radio rock band, I can ignore them without feeling like a culturally-out-of-step grump. You see, even if Mumford and Sons were the young decade's most insufferable rockish band to gain mainstream approval, they spawned enough imitators, brought upon enough change, and earned enough cultural cache that I couldn't just ignore them. But, Hallelujah! They're making completely forgettable, inoffensive music even Chris Martin isn't interested in making anymore. D-
Benji Taylor: Wow. Just wow. I’m really impressed… that I managed to listen to this in its entirety without strangling myself with my Sennheiser Momentums. This is like some hideous chimeric meld of Kings of Lion and The Band Perry: long life supermarket milk is less homogenized. D
Jean-Luc Marsh: Mumford and Sons electrified rebirth is certain to be a polarizing phenomenon. For a fan base that seeks out a more rustic listening experience, the switch to electric guitars and arena rock that compromises the raucous folk that first launched the band into fame, might come off as jarring. At the core, however, the formula underlying Mumford and Sons’ music remains very much the same: build-up and cathartic release. The only difference is the band’s newfound refinement. “Snake Eyes” finds them building up with an uncharacteristically subtle touch, reserving the first two minutes almost entirely for a sonic exposition, and the last for a breathless crescendo. It’s tighter and sleeker than their previous work, with less twang and more finesse; proof that there is life after Babel. B
Samuel Tolzmann: Wow, I really love how Mumford & Sons, formerly one of the most predictable acts working today, announced a radical shift in their sound, ditching their specious Americana trappings in exchange for a fresh new sonic identity that is…equally predictable! What’s that? A slow-building piece of arena-ready Britpop filled with yearning? You don’t say. I’m offended by how inoffensive this is. Mumford & Sons are now trying to make Coldplay songs for bros, but deep down, they’re really more like Keane. Once a sycophantic, vanilla bandwagon-jumper, always a sycophantic, vanilla bandwagon-jumper. Call me when your grown-up teeth have come in. D-
Genevieve Oliver: Though I do generally prefer electric guitars to acoustic and can get behind keyboards in the right hands, not much could inspire me to really care at all about Mumford and Sons. D
The Chemical Brothers
"Sometimes I Feel So Deserted"
Genevieve Oliver: I always love when artists’ first song back after a long break from the spotlight is kind of a “aww, you missed me, huh?” Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about that evil, fragmenting arpeggiator I can’t get enough of, and I love the moment the track breaks into something even more sci-fi, like robot parts revealed under skin. Even the clubby hugeness of it is masterfully controlled. I’m a fan. B+
Samuel Tolzmann: This act crossed the line into self-parody a long time ago, and they don’t appear to be heading back over anytime soon. D
Benji Taylor: After the directionless pile of dreck that was the last Prodigy album I had high hopes for this, but it seems these veteran peers of the Prodigy have lost their alchemic touch too. This track takes far too long with its four-to-the-floor build and then crescendoes with a whimper. Disappointing. C
Nathan Wisnicki: Much less wild than their '90s work and more given to the apparent obligation of using a high-pitched, indie-friendly vocal hook, I still have a hard time denying these guys' cheap, banging power. It definitely could've done with a more interesting voice, but even if you're once again forced (by the cheapness) to wonder about just how little has really changed in 20 years - for the Brothers or for dance bangers in general - this does, indeed, bang. It bangs fine. B
Luis Tovar: The Chemical Brothers are back...I guess! It isn't a very rousing piece of news in 2015, is it? This comeback track works for me, though. Let me be honest though: I'm really only looking forward to Born in the Echoes for that St. Vincent feature. I hope it's everything I've ever dreamed of. B-
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
"Can't Keep Checking My Phone"
Samuel Tolzmann: This song is a treasure! It’s almost shy, putting on a disco-funk strut while simultaneously pulling a face and saying, Aw, shucks, look at me trying to dance. Yet just as the eponymous phone is much smaller than the significance the narrator invests it with, for a lo-fi psych-pop song so small in presentation this thing’s packing enormous emotional scope. The whole thing’s perched precariously on the edge between an easygoing dancefloor ecstasy and a deep, paranoid melancholy, and it alternates between those poles with every chord change. The way that dark, neurotic section beginning at 1:30 bursts into the breezily panoramic chorus is just amazing. Like Jai Paul’s goosebump-inducing singles, it’s the sound of a low-key song’s emotive and melodic power unexpectedly, triumphantly soaring past the constraints of its own production at the speed of sound. A
Benji Taylor: This is much denser than tracks from previous Unknown Mortal Orchestra LPs and the overwrought kitchen sink approach to production works, nicely mirroring the track’s premise: the over-stimulation that the Digital Age shrouds us in. The chorus is understated but seductively sultry. A solid track that shows promise for the new LP. B-
Genevieve Oliver: I think I expect better from UMO than whitewashed, harmless indie-funk. I keep checking my phone. C
Luis Tovar: 2015 seems to be the year indie-friendly psych-rock acts are going for cheesy white boy disco, and I couldn't be more down. While looser, even somewhat shapeless, compared to the meticulously crafted minimalism of Tame Impala's "'Cause I'm a Man", "Can't Keep Checking My Phone" is gorgeously full - of feeling, melody and personality. There are a lot of moving parts here, but they amount to so much more than their sum. A-
Jean-Luc Marsh: I’m going to be honest. This was my first time listening to UMO and judging by the caliber of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” I have been missing out big time. Contagious from the moment the horn section ends, and the complex rhythm kicks in, “CKCMP” unleashes a wave of funk and an earworm of a chorus that lingers long after its run. It is a tribute to its solid construction, that four minutes hardly feels like long enough. I think it is also worth mentioning, that while I listened to the track on a loop three times, I didn’t even check my phone once. Mission accomplished, UMO.B+
Katie Steen: Smooth, unruffled, with a childlike melody backed by a strange, steady beat like a march in the Willy Wonka family. (I don’t know, it’s the first image that came to mind.) Mackenzie Scott’s dark, rasping voice contrasts nicely. I really want to like this. B
Nathan Wisnicki: Eh. I generally like this indie-Nashville woman, and this song does have a decent little guitar riff. (If you sped that riff up a lot, it'd almost sound like math-rock.) But the plod isn't thrown into fitting relief by the choruses, the straight-faced delivery of an ostensible joke about George W. Bush impressions reaches that kind of vaguely obnoxious "humorless humor," and she tries to rhyme "stitches" with "impressions." Oh Grizzly Bear, what hath thou wrought? B-
Genevieve Oliver: Everything I’ve heard from Torres’ new LP Sprinter so far has inspired a torrent of “yaaas, queen”s - and her new single “Cowboy Guilt” evokes St. Vincent’s more nostalgic numbers, complete with layered vocals and keyboard loops, thus, it’s no exception. Just like “Strange Hellos,” her first Sprinter single, it’s enough to make you sit back and go, whoa… The moral of the story: I’m continually impressed by Mackenzie Scott’s talent for very diverse songwriting. A-
Samuel Tolzmann: If Torres sometimes seems to echo contemporaries a little bit too obviously – usually she’s filed away as sub-Sharon Van Etten, but the itchy, lightly electronic “Cowboy Guilt” sounds more like St. Vincent – she makes up for it with her consistently stellar and vividly memorable lyrics, which never sound like they could have been penned by anyone else. B
Zach Bernstein: That rollicking guitar licks seems strangely reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie's "Title and Registration" to me. Either way, this track has great forward momentum and the crunching sonics and trippy detours provide a nice contrast to the otherwise serene and even-headed vocals. Not particularly my preferred style, but definitely intriguing from an objective standpoint. B-
"I Got Money (featuring ASAP Rocky)"
Nathan Wisnicki: The layering of voices in this song in some parts is surprisingly dense and intriguing (thinking particularly of the intro here), and the bamboo-wind-chimes beat is strange in a good way. It goes without saying that Rae is a limited personality who nevertheless always sounds cool; the bigger problem is that the hook is kinda arid and clueless, and I can’t pretend that the “irony” (or not?) of simply going “I got money, nah-nah-na-nah-nah” doesn’t irritate me. Rocky resurrects the song midway through with a very solid guest verse, rhyming “say it” with “save it” with “made it” with “pay it” with “laid it” and on and on, but this is not top-drawer work. B-
Zach Bernstein: Raekwon and ASAP Rocky make quite the nice pairing here - their unique voices bounce off each other with good chemistry. The child-chanting hook seems somewhat cliche, but overall this is a pleasant, if not particularly revolutionary or hard-edged listen. B-
Matthew Malone: Built on a clichéd early 00’s tribalish beat and a childsung forgettable hook, “I Got Money” is a classic rapboast that does little to offer novelty. You’ve heard it all—“drugs is money, money is sunny days,” “I made it out the slums,” etc. etc. The A$AP does some good here, but he’s not strong enough of a rapper to save this overtrodden track. C
Luis Tovar: I don't expect revolutionary music from Raekwon. I don't even expect novel music from the Chef. He's set in his ways. Can't teach an old dog, and all that. What I do expect – and appreciate – is something I can play on Sunday afternoons in the park over a cheap bluetooth speaker. Thanks, Kwon! Ya nailed it. B-
"Money All Around"
Samuel Tolzmann: Remember when Purity Ring covered Soulja Boy’s “Grammy”? That track is basically Holychild’s entire aesthetic. That, or maybe, like, Spring Breakers. It’s an intriguing, gender-inverted intersection of glamorous rap imagery and big-tent electropop, and it’s catchy as hell. B
Luis Tovar: I know I already used up my Broad City "YAS QUEEN" for the week. But. I mean. Yes, queen, this fucking rules. That's about the only intelligible thing I can say about this song. I'm far too busy dancing and counting down the days until I get to play The Shape of Brat Pop to Come on repeat forevermore. B+
Genevieve Oliver: Holychild’s new record is called The Shape of Brat Pop to Come, which sounds charmingly self-assured until you hear a track like “Money All Around” and realize they are 100% serious: this is indeed the shape of brat pop to come. I still ride for “Playboy Girl” as Holychild’s best song to date – this isn’t the best material they’ve got up their sleeves, but it’s still poppy, catchy, and radio-ready enough to haunt your summer on Top 40 radio. C+
Adam Offitzer: They just keep dropping summer bangers with ease. Nowhere near the eccentric brilliance of "Running Behind," but a blast nonetheless. B
Katie Steen: Sounds like the “brat pop” version of Lana del Rey. Actually, maybe Lana’s pretty brat pop… What is brat pop? I don’t like it. D
Giorgio Moroder / Sia: "Déjà vu” B+ // Song of the Week
Blur: "My Terracotta Heart” C+
Mumford & Sons: "Snake Eyes” D+
The Chemical Brothers: “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted" C+
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” B
Torres: “Cowboy Guilt” B
Raekwon / ASAP Rocky: “I Got Money” C+
Holychild: “Money All Around” B-