First Impressions: Bon Iver, Empire Of The Sun, Dua Lipa And More

FirstImpressions30Aug

First Impressions is an interns roundtable review of songs on their first (or second) listen. Each week we review six new songs from the past week, each giving them a score out of five and awarding our pick of the week. This week we pick apart tracks by Bon Iver, Empire Of The Sun, Cashmere Cat, Jack Grace, Vince Staples and Dua Lipa

Bon Iver
33 “GOD” 

Harrison: I love this more than the two previous snippets we were given when news of a new album dropped. I haven’t actually watched any vision of the new album being played out at Eaux Claire Fest but, judging by the three tracks released thus far, this album is going to be one very exquisite listen. I receive comfort in the fact that Bon Iver/ Justin Vernon have stuck true to not sticking by the rules and listening to what people want. Rather, doing the very things that make Bon Iver a class act in music. 33 “GOD” is a song that captures the hearts of Bon Iver faithful. 5 Harrison’s Pick 

Reece: This track is beautiful stripped back and it’s hard not to be enamoured by everything Bon Iver is doing at the moment. Justin Vernon has the kind of voice that doesn’t require him to change anything – just hearing him sing would have me happy for albums to come – but the fact he continues to push boundaries, and do it so well, is such a credit to himself and the rest of Bon Iver. I love the edge 33 “GOD” has to it and can’t wait for the proper rollout of this album. 4.5

Zanda: There’s emotive music and then there’s Bon Iver. The only other artist going around at the moment that gives me all the feels like this is Sigur Ros. The way that Justin Vernon creates a feeling of vast space between the two most prominent aspects, the high register melody and the beating drums – gives this track the feeling of a beating heart and from that point; it almost feels like a living, breathing being. Breathtaking – and September 30 cannot come soon enough. 4

Alistair: From start to finish this has everything that you want in a song. I absolutely love the way that it starts off with powerful piano keys and then  Vernon’s voice comes crashing in blowing us away. There’s a raw feel to it which compliments the powerfulness of the track. The distorted drums that come in at around the minute 20 mark really got me moving and had me heavily invested. 4.7

Sam: This is the song I was most excited about when I listened to Bon Iver debuting the album at Eaux Claires. For me, it’s the one that best combines that singer/songwriter vibes with the new experimental electronic edge. I’ve always found Bon Iver’s music to be beautifully personal as well as atmospheric and grandiose and I’m glad to see they’re retaining that even with this otherworldly dimension they’ve added. “I’d be happy as hell if you stayed for tea,” is such a mundane but quaint line that packs so much emotion and this song is full of moments like that. 4.5 

Average score: 4.54 

Empire Of The Sun
High And Low

Harrison: Seeing Luke Steele smash a guitar at Stereosonic will forever be a memory entrenched in my mind. I’m super excited that Empire Of The Sun are back making new music; they have huge summertime/ festival appeal and I can definitely see this one getting a thrashing come summer. Love them or hate them, they are one of biggest acts in Australian music and High And Low is a solid return. Keen to hear the rest of the new album. 3.5

Reece: I’m such a sucker for these campy electro-acoustic anthems, so this one will cop a thrashing during the summer for certain, but I know Empire of the Sun can do better than this. What made them such a great act was their bizarre, jolting take on Australian electronic music. High And Low is totally devoid of that, coming out like a very polished, safe and vanilla effort. This song is like seeing your wild mate have a kid and become really boring – good on you, but we kinda liked you better dropping LSD in dirty club bathrooms. 2

Zanda: This is pretty typical Empire Of The Sun but i haven’t been over impressed by what Luke Steele has given us, especially taking into account how long it’s been since new music from Empire Of The Sun. Their last record was pioneering and anthemic – and didn’t really sound like much music we’d heard from Aussie artists before. I’m waiting and hoping that he’ll do that again, but this isn’t hitting peaks yet. 3

Alistair: It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard anything new come out of the Empire Of The Sun camp and in typical fashion new music has been released right before summer. They’re so renowned for endless summer memories we share between friends. This track isn’t standing out at all from all their previous music. 1.5  

Sam: This is so similar to the vibe of the first album that it’s almost a carbon copy of Walking On A Dream but it’s so infectious it’s really hard to dislike it. They’ve stripped the EDM elements that they adopted last album, going back to their roots and it just makes them so much more likeable. The chorus is euphoric, triumphant and on another planet just as any good Empire song should be. I’m honestly a fan and I didn’t think I would be. 3.5 

Average score: 2.7

Cashmere Cat
Wild Love (Feat. The Weeknd)

Harrison: Cashmere Cat is one of the most talented producers in the game and Wild Love keeps true to that notion. This collab isn’t one I was expecting, but it’s one I am sure we will all gladly take. It features some heavenly tones by The Weeknd who is rumoured to be working on something with Daft Punk. The addition of Francis and The Lights really showcases the signature electronic sounds that we love from Cashmere Cat. 4

Reece: I’m a huge fan of all the artists on this one, but I can’t help but feel a little let down. Wild Love has an intriguing atmosphere to it and there’s a lot of talent on the song, but this doesn’t go anywhere for me. They had an amazing song on their hands, but seemed to leave it half-finished so they could hit the VMAs or something. 3

Zanda: Francis has such an amazing voice; and he hits notes in this that most people would have to sing in falsetto, but his range is just unsurpassed at the moment. But moving on to Cashmere Cat, this track is a testament to his talent – in that there’s so much electronic music going around at the moment that it’s supremely hard to make your own sound stand out – and he does over and over again. Aaaand the Weeknd is just – the Weeknd. 4.5 Zanda’s Pick

Alistair: Just seeing Cashmere Cat featuring The Weekend in the song title had me really excited for this track to start playing. Cashmere Cat is a super talented and fucking awesome producer and The Weekend can’t seem to do any wrong over the last 12 months or so. You get a great sense of that individuality that comes with Cashmere Cat’s sound and his personality really shines through on this number. 3.5

Sam: I love The Weeknd’s vocals in this, I love Francis’ vocoder work and I love Cashy Cats production touches but I think the thing I’m digging most is it sounds nothing like anything I’ve heard this year. It feels like Cashy is making a really conscious effort to make something different rather than something that’s going to take him to the masses and as such it confuses, intrigues and eventually delights. The synths are buoyant and playful but the atmospheric background work is haunting and that’s a juxtaposition that’s actually really effective. This album is going to be a game changer. 4.5 

Average score: 3.9 

Jack Grace
All Lost

Harrison: WOW. I am satisfied this may be one of the most solid weeks of First Impressions we have had in a few. I don’t know much about Jack Grace but perhaps All Lost is a wake up call to get on board. The production feels and comes across as being really fresh and I can definitely see myself bumping this his debut EP come October ‘16. 3.5

Reece: As a relative newcomer to Jack Grace, ‘All Lost’ does an excellent job establishing him as a budding star. It’s a very crisp, polished track and the production scratches this just enough vigour to make you believe there’s something genuinely new about him. I can’t say ‘All Lost’ keeps my attention all the way through, but it’s an effective and solid minimalist track. I love the way the drums patter all the way through the song and the airy refrain is a standout. 3.5

Alistair: I’m in the same boat as Harrison, I know fuck all about Jack Grace but All Lost now has me searching for more music of his. Amongst my findings it’s no surprise that this Aussie singer/songwriter/producer has previously worked with Ngaiire. You get a great insight to whats aching deep inside Jack’s soul with this number. Immaculate beat production. 4.5

Sam: As far as excellent songwriting and production goes, this is basically flawless.There are definitely connections to Ngaiire’s Blastoma in terms of the sparse keys and looped drums but Jack’s voice takes it to a darker dimension. I love how it subtly ebbs and flows eventually ending in that phenomenal, vocally manipulated part. On the surface it feels like the song travels along a straight line but there are so many gentle textures in there that reveal themselves through repeat listens.

Average score: 3.9 

Vince Staples
War Ready

Harrison: My two cents: can Vince Staples please work some sideshows into his appearance come Flume’s solo tour later this year? Hot damn, for someone that does not like Hip-Hop/Rap very much, Vince Staples does a damn good job at enticing folk such as myself into the genre. 4

Reece: Vince Staples. James Blake. A vintage André 3000 sample. I feel dumb for reviewing the rest of the tracks, this week has already been won. 5 Reece’s Pick

Zanda: I’m really digging that sample that pushes all the way through this one – but as with a lot of music like this, without significant melodic development, I’m a bit lost. Not a blight on the song, more on my taste in music I guess. 3

Alistair: An Andre 3000 sample and James blake producing… shut the gates! Its Vince’s rapping that i love the most about this track, his voice is just pure gold that comes with attitude. 4

Sam: After Frank’s Solo (Reprise) I’m just begging for more and more Andre 3000 so that’s what really draws me in with this cut. But it’s Vince that holds me here. He’s such a charismatic, bratty rapper and James Blake’s colourful, electronic production is such a refreshing soundscape to hear him as part of. I really think it’s one of the most intricate and interesting hip-hop songs of the year. Also, between this and Trim, Blake is proving himself to be a really unexpectedly great hip-hop producer. 4.5 Sam’s Pick

Average score: 4.1

Dua Lipa
Blow Your Mind (Mwah)

Harrison: Putting it simply, Dua Lipa is the most exciting act in pop music right now. Hate the genre of pop all you want, there’s no way you can ignore this girl. Hotter Than Hell – Hit, Be The One – Hit, Blow Your Mind – it’s already written, it’s going to be a Hit. With fans itching for her debut album, Blow Your Mind will surely tide you over ’til the date comes. I know she was just here for a string of promotional dates but can someone bring her back? Please? 4.5

Reece: Dua Lipa is the popstar we’ve spent a while waiting for. She captures attitude-driven, moody pop music to absolute perfection – better than Halsey, Tove Lo and anyone else who dipped their toe in it. Blow Your Mind (Mwah) has the pumping chords to light up clubs and charts, but the track also breathes with an addictive swagger. Dua Lipa is schooling us with a masterclass of pop and I’m loving it. 4

Zanda: The beauty of Dua Lipa’s brand of pop, is that it seems to combine elements from heaps of different genres and styles – giving it a slightly edgier feel than a typical, classic pop track. The production in this track is engaging, and has real feeling and emotion behind it; something that the classic four chords of pop production always seem to fail to generate. 3.5

Alistair: This week has been all about powerful voices and there’s none more powerful this week than Dua Lipa’s. She’s changing the game and pushing the boundaries within the pop music world. It’s more like alternative pop. This is the type of pop music I can actually listen to. 3.5

Sam: Dua Lipa opened with this when she played in Sydney last month and I distinctly remember smiling when she sang, “If we don’t fuck this whole thing up, guaranteed I can blow your mind.” It’s a hooky, perfect pop line that’s probably the most openly charismatic she’s been in her music yet. Without a doubt this is her biggest straight-out pop song to date, taking cues from Spice Girls and even Carly Rae Jepsen to deliver something sugary sweet. It’s just so much fun that we almost look stupid throwing critique at it. Best popstar of the year. Close the book, go home everyone else. 4

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