First Impressions: Childish Gambino, The xx, A Tribe Called Quest And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 11/15/2016

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First Impressions is an interns roundtable review of songs on their first (or second) listen. Each week we listen to 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 Childish Gambino, the xx, Zara Larsson, Christopher Port, Shy Girls and A Tribe Called Quest.

Childish Gambino
Me And Your Mama

Meshell:As one keyboard warrior pointed out earlier, this is the only Donald we need in our lives. No point even looking for a critique on this one as Gambino has exceeded expectation and killed the game all over again. 5 Meshell’s Pick

Harrison: I’m not afraid to state that I was a little late to joining the Gambino party, but just like another addition in First Impressions this week cc: the xx, the music world is much more ‘zen’ with Donald around. Upon first listen you could easily dismiss Me And Your Mama thinking “what the heck is this?”, but give it a few plays and let it grow because Gambino has smashed his return out of the park. It’s a grower and a big one! 4.5

Zanda: I think that this is the kind of track that we all knew somewhere deep down that Donald Glover was capable of. Yes, he’s written a heap of bangers over the years, but on this one he has taken it to a whole new level. It’s so hard to know where to start on this one, but somehow Childish Gambino has managed to capture the essence of funk, soul, gospel and rock, whilst nodding his head to hip hop, jazz and electro all in one absolutely incredible piece of music. Near faultless. 5 Zanda’s Pick

Sam: I have thought for a while now that Childish Gambino’s status in Australia as a musician was fuelled by his role in Community. He’s not a headline rapper by any means and his albums up until this point have been painfully mediocre. That said, his show Atlanta this year and his PHAROS gigs show that he’s hit a creative streak and this track kind of confirms that. It’s a stylistic blend of Anderson .Paak and Jack White and I do like it. For me, he’s still not veering towards an untapped sonic space and while I have high expectations for the record this is not next level shit just yet. 3.5

Average score: 4.5

The xx
On Hold

Meshell: I know what I’m about to say goes against popular opinion and makes ZERO sense if you take a look at my track record throughout the history of FI (the short version of which is, I like down-tempo-melancholic-wistful-shit) but I do not understand the appeal of the xx and literally never have. It’s like…when I know I should be getting hit in the feels, I’m just staring at a blank wall wondering if I can afford a bagel for lunch. On Hold sadly did not break the cycle and again I am bored.  2

Harrison: I think what’s most exciting about this new xx record is that we are told that it is going to be more ‘upbeat’, which will undoubtedly bring on board a bunch of new fans. For ages much of the xx appeal has been branded behind the sheer awesomeness behind their sound and the immense talent they showcase, so hearing we are going to get a more ‘upbeat’ record has me licking my lips. Fingers crossed this influence has sprawled from the hype that continued to grow around Jamie’s incredible 2015 record In Colour. The world is a better place with new material from the xx and On Hold is a very big welcomed return. 4.5 Harrison’s Pick

Zanda: I do like this, I really do – but for me it doesn’t hold a bar to Jamie’s record last year. In fairness i’m comparing one song to an entire record but in the lead up to the release of In Colour every single track made me quiver with excitement. This… not so much. Again I probs shouldn’t compare because its a different project, and this is objectively an awesome tune- but inevitably if you’ve got two projects they’ll be compared to each other. I will say that I am definitely looking forward to the album in full. 3.5

Sam: I do agree with Zanda. I think Jamie set such a high bar for himself last year and that record was brimming with so much emotion that it’s really hard for this to stand up to it. To be fair though, the xx’s music has never really had the immediacy of what Jamie put forward and this is slowly sinking into my skin. Romy and Oliver, vocally sound stronger that they ever have and I actually feel like it’s the instrumental breaks that stop this from being perfect. I like that they’re extending they’re sonic barriers though and I’m really excited to hear where they go with this third record. 4

Average score: 3.5

Zara Larsson
I Would Like

Meshell: Cringing so hard at the lyrics and well…most things in this. Can you actually imagine being handed a lyric sheet and reading aloud, “I would like to get under your sexy body” for the first time? THIS IS MORE AWKWARD THAN THE TIME MARY J BLIGE SUNG TO HILLARY CLINTON. 1

Harrison: Look Zara Larsson is easily one of the biggest names in pop right now and 2016 has certainly been an incredible year for her. Still young, she is definitely an exciting name to watch but i haven’t liked any of her material since Never Forget You. This track certainly has appeal, and I am all for great pop music but this sound feels a little overdone and for Zara Larsson feels a little lacklustre. She has got an incredible voice, and like I said she is still really young so fingers crossed someone can steer her ship towards showcasing that voice a little more. 2.5

Zanda: *Future Zanda goes out on Friday night and comes back home at 3am, fairly trashed, turns the radio on and this comes on*. “Yeah I could totally get into this!” 2

Sam: Ugh. Zara Larsson has carved such a personality for herself over her past couple of releases but this just feels a bit flat for me. It’s a generic, copy-paste format that doesn’t bring enough melodic gold to warrant that approach. Do better Zara, we’re counting on you to be our next big popstar. 2.5

Average score: 2

Christopher Port
My Love

Meshell: Cool production and a breathy vocal that lends itself to that brand of soulful pop we’re seeing a lot of at the moment but that’s about all I’m getting. I think we’re introduced to the beat and main melodic idea way too early and they’re just repeated far too frequently without variation. I want to stress that I don’t haaaate this and I’m not trying to drag it through the mud, but I need to point out that it fatigues the ear by the 1:10 mark and after that there’s not a lot that can be done to pull back from that. Bored again. 2

Harrison: With summertime right around the corner, que the heat and bring on the ice cold beverages til the early morning because Christopher Port has delivered something special here. It’s certainly a track that will or won’t vibe, specifically mood driven, but My Love is definitely something I could get down too. 4

Zanda: Kudos to Christopher Port for something completely different with that off-kilter beat… and yet there wasn’t anything here to stop me going to my happy place and immediately listening to Kilter for 15 minutes after it finished. 3

Sam: This just has beautiful warm tones that compress and expand throughout. I think Port takes a pretty simplistic, simple set of sounds and sequences them perfectly, bringing them in and out exactly as needed. It’s not making me jump up and down with excitement but I don’t think that’s its intention. It makes me happy and that’s enough for me. 4

Average score: 3.25

Shy Girls
Trivial Motion

[soundcloud width=”750″ height=”415″]https://soundcloud.com/shygirls/trivialmotion[/soundcloud]

Meshell: What am I hearing? What is this? I’m so fucking bored guys. I’M SO FUCKING BORED. Did somebody write a step by step “how to write a bedroom producer downtempo pop banger” and release it en masse because I swear to fucking god all this shit is just blurring into one giant vanilla milkshake and I fucking HATE VANILLA. Bloody offensive shitty excuse for a jesus-tit-fucking-bullshit-waste-of-my-ear-time-of-a-flavour. 1

Harrison: Nowhere near as savage as Meshell, but I am going to have to agree with some of what she said but on a much nicer note. It’s got some slow down tempo disco elements which i am vibing and his voice is pretty smooth, but that’s all Trivial Motion is doing for me. Pop music for the sad souls. 2

Zanda: I didn’t even mind the first 30 seconds that much, but after that… egh.. *punches (mephorical) cone* ahhhh this is so chill you guyyyyys omg. 2

Sam: Shy Girls’ last track hit accents in all the right places and was so powerful but I have to agree that this one just washes past. I think the issue is that the chorus really doesn’t deliver anything different than the verses and as a result there’s nothing to catch me here. Even the most obscure R&B and pop centres around a hook and this one’s not strong enough unfortunately. 3

Average score: 2

A Tribe Called Quest
The Space Program

Meshell:Oh thank god. *exhales* Not bored. 4

Harrison: Sorry, who??!!! Nah I’m kidding, I’ve never immersed myself into hip-hop but you only need to read up on most acts in the game to note that ATCQ were and are an influence. This weeks full of welcomed quality returns, even if this is the ending of one of the most prolific groups in hip-hop history. 4

Zanda: Holy shit I can’t tell you how excited i’ve been for We Got It From Here from these guys, and their performance on SNL was fucking amazing. It’s an absolutely incredible record, and good thing too given the veritable who’s who of collaborators who helped Q-Tip and Jarobi send off our man Phife as well as anyone could have possibly hoped. The track itself? Some classic lyrical commentary plus clean, catchy production. 4.5

Sam: As much as you want to love projects from groups that have lost a member, they really reach the quality of their previous work. This new Tribe record is so great on so many levels from the flow to the Q-Tip’s beat work to the social and political messages and this may be the best of them all. Just days after Donald Trump is elected as President, they release a track that has Phife Dawg rapping, “time to go left and not right.” The timing could seriously not be better and this record will comfort so many upset and frightened by this election result. 4.5 Sam’s Pick

Average score: 4.25

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