Putting nine tracks on an album is a big statement to make. It shows that as an artist you've chosen quality over quantity but as a listener you then expect for them not to put a foot wrong. Just as its tracklist suggests, everything about Ngaiire's second album Blastoma is bold. Its title refers to childhood illness, its cover is a powerful depiction of that experience and best of all, its nine tracks each hit hard. If you go into these nine tracks expecting it to be all killer and no filler then your expectation will be fulfilled. On Blastoma Ngaiire barely puts a foot wrong.
Ngaiire has been chipping away at the music scene for a little while now. You can tell she's had time to hone her skill. She sounds like a seasoned professional with her rich notes and immediate presence but don't think that means she's become set in her ways. This record is the work of someone who's prepared to change things up to find the most innovative sound to house her voice in. She understands the foundations of soul in the same way Erykah Badu does but she's prepared to tinker with the formula to bring it into the future. Along with producers Paul Mac and Jack Grace, she's crafted an album that sounds exceptionally current but brings a heart to each song that would be striking in any time period.
From the minimal, harmony-coloured beats of opener Anchor, the soundscape we're going to be delivered on this record is immediately clear. It's electronic but thanks to Ngaiire's vocals, there's an organic feel to each track which brings the project back down to earth. We're hit with Once early on in the set, the track that catapulted her into the spotlight last year. It sounds just as good here as it did on first listen last year. It exemplifies all the successes of this record's soundscape from its beautifully restrained beats to Ngaiire's sleek, patient vocal. When the melody is this good, you're doing yourself a disservice if you fill the arrangement with clutter and that doesn't happen here. In fact, you could say the same thing about the entire record.
Although it's minimal, it doesn't mean it's not danceable. House On A Rock and Diggin are Ngaiire at her most confident, turning heartbreak into triumph with blaring synths and attitude-filled vocals. The former is the album's centrepiece - a gorgeous showcase of Ngaiire's technical and emotional depth. She dodges through several musical detours with prowess and guides us subtly into a euphoric final chorus. This is future soul at its absolute best and it's great to see it coming from Australia.
For every danceable moment, there's a dark tune because this is a record of heartbreak after all. "I never thought that loving you would be so cruel," Ngaiire sings on Cruel with a male vocal running underneath. Emotionally, it's a delicate song and there's a distinct beauty in the way it takes its time, never feeling pressure to run towards a hooky-chorus or gigantic finish. It's a fragile depiction of the end of a relationship, a setting that we're thrust into a number of time on the record. At its most extreme, the haunting I Wear Black plays out like a funeral for a relationship's finish.
If your hearts not already in your throat by the time you get to I Can't Hear God Anymore then it will surely be after. It's the softest, most exposed cut on the album with Ngaiire softly singing over a mellow, synth-driven beat. “I can’t hear God anymore ever since you left; he don’t come round here no more, he just went away," she sings in nihilism. She rebuilds on Many Things lamenting, "maybe it was the right time." The key-change in the final chorus of Many Things feels like the album's highpoint particularly after the emotional lows that precede it.
Album closer Fall Into My Arms is a gospel-leaning song that allows Ngaiire to really sing. The raspy qualities in the depths of her voice come out as she howls over deep, damning keys. It's a warm and touching way to bring the album into landing, ditching the electronic backdrop for an arrangement that feels like home for Ngaiire. The greatest discovery at the end of the album is to find you're still hanging onto her voice exactly the same way you were on the first note of Anchor. It's captivating and the fact that the songwriting and production is so exemplary too makes it such a fulfilling listen.
Blastoma is the best thing Ngaiire's done but it may also be the best thing we hear locally this year. Even on an international scale this stands up internationally to 2016's excellent soul releases like Gallant's Ology and Anderson .Paak's Malibu.Without following any sonic trends, she's crafted an album that sounds like its built itself organically, coming straight from the heart. As obvious as that sounds, it's hard to do when you're getting opinions from several different angles.
Ngaiire's an old soul with a futuristic vision and on Blastoma, she's found a way to marry the two.
Blastoma is out tomorrow