First Impressions are our weekly roundtable reviews sifting through all the fresh new music. Our writers take a listen, slap a score on it and then justify said score. This week Nicole Millar, Sam Smith, Kelela, Hayden James, Matthew Young and Maroon 5 face the jury.
Nicole Millar – Blindfolded
Jackson: I feel like Nicole Millar’s entire career has been building up to this moment. THIS is the Aussie pop climax we not only need, but it’s what we deserve. It’s this completely unapologetic and unabashed approach to pop music that Australia desperately needs more of. ‘Blindfolded’ completely soars from start to finish, and Kilter’s quintessential meticulous production keeps it flying. But, most importantly, Millar’s stern yet ethereal vocals are the sparkling gem atop all of this and I’m so glad she’s finally come into her own. 4.5
Sam: Yep, this is her defining moment so far. I’m so happy that the drop has been ditched for a proper pop chorus. It really helps to establish her identity as an artist and also just makes the song 100 per cent more of an ear-worm. Everything about this feels right for her and I’m so pleased she’s finding her sweet spot. 4
Kelela – Onanon
Jackson: Look I’ll stop giving Kelela songs a perfect score when she releases an imperfect song. While not only being flawlessly inserted into Kelela’s debut album Take Me Apart, ‘Onanon’ is hyperspeed R&B which is a refreshing change from the slow burning, sensual croons we’ve become accustomed to. Her vocal delivery is at its most subtle as she sings over a breathless, rolling drum meter. Not to mention the candid and beautiful lyrical waxings, like “it’s not a break-up, it’s just a break down.” Kelela can absolutely do no wrong and if you don’t know by now then you never will. 5 Jackson’s Pick
Sam: I’ve heard a lot of very good songs this year, I’ve heard just a handful of perfect songs. This is one of them. Buried at the tail-end of her phenomenal record Take Me Apart, this one shines so bright. It’s a Janet Jackson jam produced in the year 3000 and Kelela sounds like an angel from start to finish. The harmonies in the background are lush, the beat is totally unpredictable and the melody in the verse is carved from caramel. It sounds like nothing else anyone has made this year and I’m so bloody excited by it. 5 Sam’s Pick
Sam Smith – Pray
Jackson: This sounds like something the Spice Girls would’ve done and I’m very here for it. His unwavering stance on religion is frank and honest. It really shows off his vocal range like never before, and gives us a sense that old mate Smitho has been weathered and is, by all means, strong. “Lately that shit ain’t been getting me higher / I lift up my head and the world is on fire” is one of his more perceptive lyrics and has never been more appropriate. His firmness and power that anchors the bridge are some of the most interesting stuff this man has ever done. And don’t even get me started on how that surprise gospel backing vocals in the second verse cured my depression. 4.5
Sam: I was disappointed by Too Good At Goodbyes because I wanted something a bit more upbeat and daring from Sam and now we’ve been given another ballad I don’t have the energy to care anymore. And y’know what? It’s helped me enjoy it a lot more. I think Timbaland’s subtle production really suits Sam’s voice and helps make this 2017’s answer to Apologize which is kind of cool in a totally unnecessary way. Where the choir felt tacked on for no reason on its predecessor, it adds power here and goddamn that note in the second verse sent me straight to church. 4
Matthew Young – Hey
Jackson: Wow this week has really been fucking stellar. This track is a poppier version of Khalid and I am extremely hear for it. Those opening guitar strums are a complete false indicator of the glistening banger that’s to follow. Matthew Young’s vocals are raw and edgy, but the melody is summer-ready. In fact, the chimes that erupt in the second run of the chorus scream of sunlight. Someone grab me a mojito, stat! 4
Sam: Matthew Young is really making some of the most interesting pop music around now. At one point I wrongfully grouped him in with other internet pop artists giving heavy blog love but he’s better than that. He’s going bigger. Hey feels so velvety and effortless but then the production brings this real grit that sounds like Kevin Parker has had his hands all over it. It’s really sonically intriguing while being so interesting to listen to. 4
Hayden James – Numb
Jackson: Hayden James was really a pioneer for that more subtle approach to electronic music and ‘NUMB’ personifies that completely. GRAACE’s sultry vocal delivery truly melts over every synth and beat. What’s more is that the chorus is anti-climactic in the best way. There’s no bombastic drop, there’s no explosive synth, but it’s that subdued take that makes this song so special. I don’t think he’ll ever top ‘Permission To Love’ but I’ll be damned if this ain’t a red hot try. 3.5
Sam: I write this as the entire left side of my face is numb after a visit to the dentist so I can really emotionally connect with this. Except for I’m just not really. Hayden James has such a crisp, clean production style and while I appreciate it, it’s not for me. I keep wanting him to rough it up a bit and I know that’s not his thing but I can dream. 3
Maroon 5 – Help Me Out (Feat. Julia Michaels)
Pros – sounds like a quintessential Julia Michaels song.
Cons – except Maroon 5 is in it.
Sam: It’s getting frustrating now. Maroon 5 are ruining so many good songs by being on them. I get that you have to be on your own song but when you’ve got features as good as Future, SZA and Julia Michaels maybe you could just step back and give it to them for fear of ruining a good song. Anyway, this is so forgettable but give me a few radio plays and I’ll hum it in a bus line. 2