First Impressions: Niall Horan, The Weeknd, Solange And More

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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 Solange, Cashmere Cat, Kid Cudi, Niall Horan, PON CHO and The Weeknd.

Solange
Don’t Touch My Hair (Feat. Sampha)

Reece Hooker: It sounds like an implicit contradiction to say this song is delicate and fierce at the same time, but I promise it makes sense. Solange’s vocals carry an aura of levity about them, but Don’t Touch My Hair is also unrepentantly proud song. It combines for an emotionally soothing track that is both easy to listen to and incredibly impactful. The addition of Sampha is a perfect touch and I couldn’t think of any artist who can match the fine balance of this song better. 4.5 Reece’s Pick

Matt Fiacchi: I didn’t realise I needed an *ahem* ‘indie’ version of Lemonade but boy am I glad to have it. Understated yet empowering, the track’s quiet instrumentation belies its ferocious, rebellious message. The last few bars in particular are striking – Solange and Sampha challenging the listener over a funk-driven beat before cutting out entirely is a real moment. 4

Sam Murphy: I’ve already written extensively about the Solange record but Don’t Touch My Hair is one of my personal favourites from it. Lyrically, it’s such a beautiful song. I love how she celebrates her black pride but also teaches a lesson to those that don’t understand the correlation between hair and pride. Then underneath those deeply political and social sentiments, she’s got a funky aesthetic with some velvety vocal work from Sampha. It’s a song you can groove to but also one that really requires some thinking and that’s a very rare feat to pull off. 4.5 Sam’s Pick

Average Score: 4.3

Cashmere Cat
Trust Nobody (Feat. Selena Gomez and Tory Lanez)

Reece: Cashmere Cat honestly doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s not yet 30 and yet he’s already got a bevy of credits to his name. The big pop hit? See his Ariana Grande collab. A hip-hop masterpiece? C.f. his production on Kanye’s Wolves. Making DJ Mustard sound fresh? Somehow did it on Ice Rink. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Trust Nobody is such a fun track. Tory Lanez continues his hot run of form and Selena Gomez does an awkward DeJ Loaf impersonation on a song that doesn’t deviate too far from the conventional indie pop formula, but it’s solid enough. Cashmere Cat is one of those producers with just enough signature adlibs and production techniques that he can crank out these songs for the charts in his sleep (it’s called ‘doing a Snakehips’) and although Trust Nobody plays it safe, it’s nonetheless enjoyable and will cop plenty of spins on my Spotify. 3.5

Matt: I covered this one over the weekend, but I’m happy to report that it still stands up just as well after multiple listens. The production is totally solid, but it’s Selena who really keeps it interesting for me. Hopefully she becomes the new EDM collab queen, her voice is so refreshing and unusual and there’s lots of potential for some really cool musical ideas. Fingers crossed. 3

Sam: Cashy Cat low-key delivering pop bangers. After hearing this I’m completely sure that Selena Gomez should’ve enlisted Cashmere Cat to producer her entire record. Her sultry vocal work really goes hand in hand with his malleable production, complimenting each other really well. To be honest, I think this could’ve done without Tory Lanez even though his verse is not bad. It’s just the whole thing sounds so perfect with Selena in the driver’s seat. 3.5

Average Score: 3.3

Niall Horan
This Town

Reece: The video promises This Town is recorded ‘Live, 1 Mic, 1 Take’ and I like to imagine this was done in one take because even the producers couldn’t sit through another run through of this song. I don’t have any snobby deep hate for One Direction (R.I.P.) or its members, but this track has Niall well on his way to judging the Australian version of The Voice by 2019. It’s just so frustratingly dull. Such a sparse song can work with excellent songwriting, but the lyrics here seem punched out in fifteen minutes. And his voice just feels flat. I don’t want to sink the boots in too much, lest I land the wrath of the One Direction fanbase, because it’s still better than anything I could do. I guess I’m not mad Niall, I’m just disappointed. 1

Matt: Honestly if Harry Styles tries me with generic garbage like this when he drops his solo material I will be absolutely livid. I took my headphones out for thirty seconds to have a conversation and when I put them back in literally nothing had changed. You’d think that the freedom to produce your own material with the backing of a rabid loyal fanbase like the Directioners would lend itself to something more experimental or at the very least kinda different from your old stuff, but no. Luckily Niall is the prettiest member of the group so there’s SOMETHING redeemable about the three minutes I just wasted on this song. 1

Sam: It’s just a big waste of time, really. We’ve already got Ed Sheeran and we’ve already got enough white males making music that takes zero risks so why do we need this song? It’s unbelievable to me that a major record label allowed this to be his first solo single but it seems to be selling records so good luck to him. I just hate songs that follow a formula so tightly that they’re almost dropping themselves into the laps of people without even thinking. “I saw that you moved on with someone new,” is such a boring, over-used line and I’m 99% sure it probably didn’t even happen to him, that’s how convincing he is. I’m not going to say it’s the worst song of the year but it’s definitely in contention for the most boring. 1.5

Average Score: 1.16

Kid Cudi
Surfin’ (Feat. Pharrell Williams)

Reece: I wish words could describe my relief when this track didn’t start with moaning and an out-of-tune acoustic guitar. It’s been a long period of suffering for fans of Kid Cudi as he’s branched out to what can charitably be called artistic experimentation and frankly considered incoherent rambling. That being said, I’m not sure this one’s a home run. There’s the foundation of something good – the beat is the kind of punchy, up-tempo track that a rapper of Cudi’s ilk can turn into something special, but he seems to only flirt with engaging on this one. He spends too much time chanting the hook and not enough time growing the song. That being said, it’s just so good having the hip-hop Cudi back that I’m still finishing this song cautiously optimistic about what’s to come. 3

Matt: Honestly, I haven’t listened to Kid Cudi since that one song in 2009, so I’m not really sure what his shtick is these days. Having said that, this track is catchy enough and the production is really cool. The guitars and harps in the background to really paint the ‘surfing’ imagery is very clever. There’s really not much happening from Cudi in terms of lyrics and vocals, but it’s nice to see Pharrell has still got the magic touch after all these years. Also, did he use the word ‘enema’ at like 2:00? Triggered. 3

Sam: Horns were cool in 2015, Pharrell was cool in 2015 and funk was cool in 2015. “Too busy making my own waves,” he sings but little does he know the wave was actually made a year ago. Don’t make a song about being a visionary when you’re bringing nothing new to the table. 2

Average Score: 2.6

PON CHO
Frozen (Feat. Paige IV)

Reece: I reckon The Chainsmokers could win First Impressions if they grabbed Paige IV for a song. Like, she’s that good. This is the second huge tune I’ve heard her on (you may have heard her song with L D R U if you’ve been in Australia for five minutes at some point in the past eighteen months) and it’s another jam. She manages to nail the quieter parts of these songs with some sincere anguish, but rocket over the beat drops to soar. It’s precisely the skill that Sia showed on Titanium to make that a sleeper classic and fortunately, PON CHO lays a better foundation this time around than David Guetta did for Sia. Frozen isn’t reshaping Australian dance music, but it’s one of the most polished, well rounded songs the country’s produced this year. Despite lacking the resources of the top tier pop stars, PON CHO and Paige IV have dropped a track that punches with the very best of them. 4

Matt: PON CHO and Paige IV are probably among the most exciting things happening in the Australian music scene right now, and I’m stoked that they’ve collectively struck gold again with this one. The Titanium comparisons are apt – but that’s high praise for such an up and coming outfit. Frozen is emotional and powerful in a way many ‘big’ acts struggle to master, with a killer video to boot. Seriously good stuff. 4 Matt’s Pick

Sam: I’m really glad to see that everyone’s having a similar reaction to this song as me because I loved it from the first time I heard it and I still love it. Firstly, I’ll get it out of the way and say that Paige IV’s voice is ridiculous and PON CHO knows how to house it better than anybody else. Secondly, I’ll say I will personally take this CD into every commercial radio station in the country because I believe it’s so important to give big, soaring pop songs in this country a chance. We have a really undervalued pop industry in Australia where it’s too often about making a cheap buck anyway you can. Frozen is not about that. It’s a bloody massive pop song that’s innovative with just enough immediate accessibility to play to the masses. 4.5

Average Score: 4.16

The Weeknd
False Alarm

Reece: So this Weeknd album is going to be interesting. If the first single Starboy was a step away from The Weeknd’s established sound, False Alarm is a fevered run and jump off the balcony. Opening with a rock-edge and a pacey flow that reminds me of Silent Alarm era Bloc Party, False Alarm absolutely goes for broke with the hook. This song builds up like the craziest party you’ve ever been to. The verses feel like a party with a decent atmosphere where everyone’s having a few drinks and doing a two-step to Flume remixes, and the hook drops and the party’s gone up ten gears. People are throwing TVs out of the window into the pool below and someone is literally on fire. I’m not sure whether I like this song yet, but I can’t trash a song that gives me a mental image like that. 3.5

Matt: I was not expecting this. It’s almost like Bruno Mars meets Bloc Party with a touch of… Adam Lambert? I can’t quite place it. Maybe that’s the point? This sounds like it was built for that middle part of a tour when everyone needs re-energising. I’m not sure if I’m here for it, but I like that it sounds completely different to everything else that’s happening right now. I have no idea what The Weeknd has coming with this new era, but False Alarm certainly has me intrigued. 3

Sam: Guys, Starboy showed The Weeknd is back to making music like his first mixtapes. False alarm. Seems like he’s not about that and that’s ok. This is not the strongest Weeknd single at all but at least he’s trying out new sonic dimensions. This one has a punk aesthetic to it and forces him to push his voice a little which is good. The verses are silky and dark but the chorus just blasts through and undoes all the hard work. Shame. 3

Average Score: 3.16

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About Sam Murphy

The '90s fiend, the trend jumper and the record hoarder. I'm the co-editor of the interns and a new music devotee. As much as I'm a sucker for anything coated in '90s nostalgia, I'm excited by the ever-turning wheel of new music. Here's where I present the finds of my dig. Anything that gets me excited, I put here to spread the excitement or cause debate. Disclaimer: not everything I like is good and not everything that's good, I like.