Monday, January 25th, 2016

X Ambassadors – Unsteady



Katherine St Asaph: This is what happens when you don’t stop Sam Smith early enough.

Thomas Inskeep: Loud piano ballads augmented with a bunch of electronics and gated drums (turned way up in the mix) apparently account for “alternative rock” these days. They’re labelmates with Imagine Dragons, and that’s not a surprise, is it? 

John Seroff: The lead singer’s vocals mine a Hot AC Radio vibe that I’m opposed to both critically and on principle; the too-portentous piano chords feel blatantly manipulative and the fiddly drum presets had me checking to see if I had an errant tab open in Chrome. That said, the video put the song in a downright triggering context for me; I’ve heard as a kid and participated as a twenty-something in one too many dumbfuck screaming arguments in the car to pretend I’d rather not block those experiences from memory. Within that context, the song… well, I wouldn’t say “improves” but it gains a sort of wan gravitas and verisimilitude. Even so, I can’t imagine a time when I’d go listening for this again; 3.5 million YouTubers notwithstanding, who wants to be embarrassingly touched by an Adam Levine sound-alike’s allusions to domestic violence? 

Alfred Soto: Young men imitating Bono in 2016 strikes me as as a sinister development. Or maybe it’s prescient.

Cassy Gress: And then! Oh, the bleat! Oh, the bleat! bleat! bleat! BLEAT!! I am so tired of sad songs, sung by sad men who don’t have the vocal chops or lyrical wherewithal to make the song interesting, and are instead hoping that their beards and earnestness will save the day. I don’t know what that tickety-tickety sound is that runs through large parts of the song, though I’m guessing that it’s maybe supposed to be the sound of an old 35mm projector, to lend nostalgia and melancholy, but it sounds more like the noise I imagine your cheeks make when you put a leaf blower in your face.

Will Adams: That’s maybe the worst opening to a song I’ve heard in a very long time, with Sam Harris flopping himself onto some moody piano chords. What follows would barely merit discussion were it not for that arrhythmic crackling keeping things mildly interesting.

Jonathan Bogart: I like the crackling, flapping percussion that rustles through the middle of the song. Apart from that, it’s such generic catharsis-rock that, as someone not currently in the middle of a personal crisis that a yelping-voiced man would soothe, I find it entirely opaque.

Anthony Easton: Boring and formal, with a voice that is soul by the number, and some phrasing that is both an aesthetic choice and one -that seems obligatory. Good one-liner in the chorus. 

Megan Harrington: X Ambassadors make two damning errors. The first is that “Unsteady” is, effectively, one line long. Heaving all the emphasis onto the chorus is a strategy that works, but primarily for big, strobing pop songs. “Unsteady” is a ballad and “hold onto me, I’m a little unsteady” is utterly void of resonance. The second is that stratifying somewhere in the middle of the mix is the sound of someone shaking a can of spray paint. My strong suspicion is that this sound is included to make “Unsteady” seem edgier or even (barf) “urban,” though in practice it serves only to make the song more grating. 

Brad Shoup: What the hell is that flapping? The tail of a film reel? The crackles from a burning house? The Ambassadors have infused the child-of-divorce song with a little alcohol, intentionally or no. There’s the title, and the way Sam Harris drops it: like a wound he’s apologizing for. I could listen to that chorus by itself — I mean really by itself, no Imagine Dragons piano or infernal flaps — for a long dark while.

Mo Kim: “Unsteady” plops into my lap like a wet brick, begging a monopoly on my emotional labor through the weight of sheer boredom. To get through it once was an exercise in patience; halfway through my second play, I lost it.

Micha Cavaseno: The metaphorphable rock band appears to be the ultimate survival technique for the genre which further dillutes it. I’m not sure whom this emerged for, whether it was Ryan Tedder’s cruise-control vehicle OneRepublic or the increasing identity crisises found for Fall Out Boy or Maroon 5. But it seems fascinating that after such a #Americana-tinged dirge like “Renegades,” X Ambassadors are following up with a basic rock ballad with the teensiest of hip-hop style drum programming (both in those bare whispers of hi-hats and the severity of the boom-bap). It shows a sort of eagerness to please and get that one single so necessary for bands in their position, and a pop’s ear for malleability but a definite sign that for most rock bands, carving a lane might be the biggest way to wrap an anchor around your neck.

Reader average: [2.35] (20 votes)

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15 Responses to “X Ambassadors – Unsteady”

  1. sort of embarrassed that this was my first review, haha

  2. It’s a great blurb nonetheless. Welcome to the site!

  3. thanks!

  4. “I am so tired of sad songs, sung by sad men who don’t have the vocal chops or lyrical wherewithal to make the song interesting, and are instead hoping that their beards and earnestness will save the day.”

    Wow there really is a lot of hate for the National on this site, isn’t there?
    But that was a great blurb regardless.

  5. I actually don’t hate the National! I think it’s because they bleat less (not trying to be facetious). They’re a band I have to be in a certain mood to listen to, though.

  6. (Will’s comment about “worst opening to a song” was dead on)

  7. awesome first blurb, Cassy! welcome to the TSJ crew :)

  8. this blurb is amazing

  9. I heard this song on the radio and looked up reviews. These are perfect and hilarious. I’m not particularly picky when it comes to music. But this song… The chorus is like nails on a chalkboard. It actually made my ears hurt. Definitely one of the most irritating songs I’ve ever heard.

  10. Do you use a spray can in the song when it is the instrumental time

  11. i do now

  12. I have a theory on the noise. A Geiger counter is a device that makes a similar clicking noise when nearby radioactive materials for those who don’t know. Radioactive materials are typically unstable, which might be the thought process behind putting the noise in it. If i am correct, they are trying to simulate a Geiger counter with some regular pattern to add to the song as a kind of “percussion”.

  13. I thought there was something wrong with my headphones, I normally use ear buds, and personally never noticed that crackling shit during a good majority of the song.. tried listening to it through various mediums, but still it continued… I then had to see if I wasn’t the only one experiencing it! I don’t know how the hell that got past me, because that’s the kind of shit that annoys me, heavily! Personally, I love the song! It’s interesting and a good gloom! A lot of you people are so incredibly pretentious and suc downright douche bags with your blurbs on this song.. lmao it’s pretty surprising how many douche bags culminated in one area of the net! It is your right to your own opinion, I won’t disparage that fact.. however, you don’t need to straight bash something simply because you don’t like it! In this case we’re here about music and there’s some music out there I don’t like, I don’t like nor care for country music! I do not make any country song or the genre itself, out to be a disgrace to music because I simply don’t see the draw or the pleasure in it as well as I don’t have a seasoned ear to it to pick it apart in the first place, but I know there’s millions who love it! Majority of you people need to take that broom stick.. and get it out of your asses because that sucker is so far up there… you all can literally (figuratively) taste the shit on the tip of the handle! Unlike the cookie monster with his cookies.. that chocolate paste is obviously not “nom nom nom” worthy! You’ll feel a lot better once you dislodge that too, I guarantee you on that much! Also, no matter the style of music, no matter how much bleat, bleakness, blues, sadness there may be in a song, that doesn’t mean it’s bad nor does it mean the people who enjoy it have some kind of mental or emotional health problems! That’s an ignorant and absolutely idiotic thing to say and/or think! That would be like me saying all of the people who listen to country music, are white trash, hillbilly, hick rednecks! When that’s far from the truth for many people who enjoy it and I have several friends who prefer that genre over any and all others! So, if by some chance… that dislodging procedure doesn’t go well by some miracle.. maybe take some ritalin or see a psychologist about some kind of medication, hopefully they’ll be able to help you guys with your problems.. or at the very least, give you a placebo I guess, that’s worked before with some people! Maybe you guy’s and gal’s will be those lucky few! Mmk pumpkins?? Ok! =)

  14. wait how did I miss this above comment this is incredible

  15. Sam Harris: I need something urban in this song to prevent it from being a complete beta-male whitewash.

    Producer: I’ve got this sample of a inner city kid shaking a can of spray paint.

    Sam Harris: Bingo.