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Album Audit: Sampa The Great, Guy Sebastian And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 11/07/2017

Album Audit is a weekly Interns feature, recapping and reviewing the album releases of the week with a cheeky score out of five.

Sampa The Great – Birds And The BEE9

Album Of The Week

It’s been two years since Sampa The Great dropped her debut mixtape and a lot has changed in that time. She’s supported Kendrick Lamar here, more recently toured overseas with Joey Bada$$ and released a string of excellent singles. Birds And The BEE9 comes with expectation but that doesn’t bother Sampa in any way. If anything, the Zambian-born, Botswana-raised MC is more daring and experimental than she’s ever been, combining earthy-jazz-infused beats with her with her autobiographical, philosophical raps.

In a number of ways Birds And The BEE9 takes cues from Erykah Badu, combining laid-back, atmospheric soundscapes with potent messages. Protect Your Queen sees Sampa move at a soulful pace but bleed fierce femininity, Black Girl Magik celebrates her cultural heritage and calls for equality and I Am Me is an anthem for self with a moveable, textured backdrop. Vocally, Sampa explores all the capabilities of her voice from the soft NoName-esque singing of Flowers to the uninhibited freestyling of Bye River. Like Kendrick Lamar, she uses her voice like an instrument and it makes this project all the more thrilling.

This is a phenomenal mixtape that considers and celebrates her musical heritage while also considering its broader place in the international music scene. While it’s a deeply personal project, it’s one that’s going to resonate internationally. And if it doesn’t resonate with you, then you’ll at least be excited by the wild musical journey it takes you on. 4

Birds And The BEE9 is out this Friday.

Guy Sebastian – Conscious

Guy Sebastian has been the best pop artist and writer in this country for a decade. This country, however, often has an issue validating local pop and Sebastian has often had to look to international guests and styles for inspiration. Conscious feels like the first time that he’s truly crafted his own sound, allowing room for both experimentation and expert pop melodies.

You can trace to path to Conscious back to his triple j Like A Version with Aussie producer Paces where he proved his insane chops as a vocalist and showed how easily it could meld into an electronic backdrop. The first three tracks on Conscious tick all the boxes for commercial singles, from the Daft Punk-borrowing High On Me to soaring ballad Set In Stone, but from Vesuvius onwards we really get to hear some of Sebastian’s most exciting work.

Vesuvius matches malleable, rubbery production with a subtle but excellent chorus, Drink Driving is captivatingly wonky and Something takes multiple production detours, keeping us on our toes. He peppers these in between more straight-up pop moments but Sebastian’s ballad-pen in so strong that they don’t feel like fillers. Exclusive gives space for the voice to shine over warm keys and Chasing Lights houses a huge chorus while still managing tinges of electronic experimentation.

It’s likely that Sebastian will clock less hits off this album than its predecessors but he’s taken a chance which is something many of his pop peers in Australia aren’t granted. We need to invest more in pop music like this in this country. Maybe then we’ll be able to fix the cultural cringe surrounding pop music which is caused by music media making safe choices when it comes to commercial programming. 3.5

Girlhood – Girlhood Vol. 1

From Jorja Smith to RAY BLK, soul music in the UK is in a great place right and Girlhood are an act that deserve to be mentioned in that crop. The British duo make innovative music with a throwback heart with vintage samples matched with inventive, forward-thinking melodies. Opener Bad Decisions already sounds like a classic and most recent single Baby Teeth sounds like it was produced by The Avalanches, making sense of a myriad of styles and driven by an incredibly warm top line.

That’s probably the greatest strenght of the EP in general – it’s ability to oscillate between plenty of different styles and still sound consistent. My Boy goes disco, Say It is organic R&B and Together borders on psychedelia. All of it, however, is delivered through the Girlhood filter and over five songs they craft a soundscape that’s distinctly them. It’s impressively cohesive for a debut and suggests that they’ve got a sound many hype-chasers will be attempting to copy in years to come. 4

Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues

Maroon 5 have somehow built a career out of having zero stylistic identity. They jump from genre to genre, churning out middle of the road pop songs with hook strong enough to land them spots in the lower-end of the top 10. Red Pill Blues sees them piggy-back off the relevancy of featured artists like SZA, A$AP Rocky and Julia Michaels. The whole album references 2017 including the spectacularly political, accidental title. Nothing about the record is political apart from the title but that kind of sums up the album as a whole. It dips its toes into relevant subjects and styles (the hideous Snapchat filter cover) without ever full committing.

Its strongest single What Lovers Do borrows from NEIKED’s already-proven hit Sexual, Wait appropriates future R&B and aims it at commercial radio and Whiskey sands back A$AP Rocky’s appeal to fit him into a cookie-cutter pop song. Nothing about Red Pill Blues is particularly offensive. Each song is an ear-worm with chart potential, it’s just they could’ve literally been delivered by anybody in the world. Maroon 5 are simply a vessel to sell these songs as are the puzzling guests. It’s the modern pop machine on display and it’s interesting to see how successful it is.

You can’t blame Maroon 5 for choosing this route. They’ve prolonged a career that probably should’ve ended a decade ago by swiftly jumping from trend-to-trend. On its own Red Pill Blues could literally be So Fresh Hits Of 2017 and that’s a winning formula for now. It’s got zero longevity but that’s not what they’re reaching for here. 2