First Impressions: Halsey, Mac Miller, Nao And More

Written By the interns on 08/02/2016


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 How To Dress Well, Mac Miller, The Chainsmokers, Rainbow Chan, The Preatures and Nao.

How To Dress Well
Lost Youth / Lost You

Meshell: I won’t lie, it took me longer than usual to warm up to this one. I felt like I was hearing something I’d heard a thousand times over but when realised what dear Tom Krell was singing in that chorus...BOOM, right in the feels. 3.5

Reece: I want to sleep with every How To Dress Well song so I was entering this one with some expectations, and it delivered. This one is a wonderfully emotive song and beautifully restrained. That album can’t come soon enough 4

Sam: I had a similar reaction to Meshell with this one, sort of. I loved it first listen and then it started to feel a little too familiar for me. But now, I think I’m back to thinking it’s a pearler. That’s a journey with the song that none of you really had to hear but I think that’s the power of the song. It’s subtly alluring and there are vocal melodies that creep under your skin in the best way (“when you can’t feel close even though that’s what you need the most”). There are definitely R&B-tinges to it but it’s not in a cheap, nostalgic way. Instead this feels like a natural extension of the sound Tom Krell has been building over the last couple of years. 4

Ben: I’m a bit lost on this one. It has a beat that flakes on me, with a boring piano loop and I can’t help but feel like Tom is trying to reach heights that his voice can’t reach in each chorus. I don’t hate it, but I’m following it for the visuals. 2

Average Score: 3.38

Mac Miller
Dang! (Feat. Anderson .Paak)

Meshell:I want to date this song... Is that a thing I can do? The Miller/.Paak partnership is killer, it feels so effortless and I’m immediately addicted. I don’t think anything overtly interesting is happening but I legitimately do not care. Brb while I put this on repeat for the entire week like I’m 7 again and this is Hanson’s newest release. 4.5 Meshell’s Pick

Reece: Mac Miller’s growth as an artist continues to blow me away. Once a limited weed-loving college backpack rapper, Mac has shown versatility and a commitment to improving his rapping that has propelled into the upper echelon of the rap game. Although he’s got some range, Mac still works best over a breezy production like ‘Dang!’ and Anderson .Paak is the perfect complement for him. It’s ten degree where I’m sitting right now but this song made me feel like it was the middle of summer for a few minutes (then it went to crippling cold I’m so cold please help). 4

Sam: I’ve really had no time for Mac Miller in the past as I feel like he’s always been a level or two below being great but this song has drawn me right in. It’s definitely Anderson that got me to listen but Miller keeps me here. He’s the most natural and melodic he’s ever sounded in the verses and feels genuinely at home over this funky, very-Paak beat. Here’s advice for anyone who wants a banger in 2016: get Paak on the phone. 4

Ben: He may be everywhere in 2016, but I get chills everytime I hear a new track/feature from Anderson .Paak. This sounds as good first thing in the morning as it does as a late night banger. Hell I might even keep listening to this even after Boys Don’t Cry drops. 4.5 Ben’s Pick

Average Score: 4.25

Rainbow Chan

Meshell:It’s frustrating to me that Chan doesn’t have a bigger name for herself in the Aus music scene when she is putting out material of this calibre. Although a risky time to release a “work” related song (thanks RihRih), Chan still manages to create an off-kilter, incredibly catchy pop tune. Loving the juxtaposition of her breathy, feminine vocals against the crunchy beat.  4

Reece: ‘Work’ is overwhelming, throwing drums and synths at our heads from every angle over Rainbow Chan’s stomping vocals. It’s hard to distil the influences, because it’s a track that puts so much at you and is thankfully, refreshingly new. But I’ll try: it’s like the team behind ‘Yeezus’ moved to Brunswick and took up some kind of avant garde yoga regime. Yes, that’s a compliment, I promise. 3.5

Sam: I get so excited when Australian music is ambitious and tough. It’s in our Aussie DNA to be relaxed and somewhat coy about our approach to things but Rainbow Chan completely ignores that with Work. She’s completely in control over one of the most aggressive dance beats we’re likely to hear locally this year. There’s something about the whole thing that reminds me of watching Rage late at night in the early ‘00s and I like that a lot. It’s probably my favourite Rainbow Chan song yet and her strongest artistic statement to date. 4

Ben: Admittedly this is the first single I’ve heard by Rainbow Chan, but I feel compelled to check out more of them. I love the friction and angst spilling over in this song. Tense vocals and a brittle production will probably make this unpalatable for the masses, but it doesn’t take away from it being a clever pop song. 4

Average Score: 3.86

The Chainsmokers
Closer (Feat. Halsey)

Meshell:Oh good, another piece of lazy fluff with lyrics about being a minorly alternative millennial and a feature from a hot indie chick...excuse me while I grind my teeth down to gummy stubs. Halsey, please stop singing “We ain’t ever getting older” because we all know the truth: we’re one day closer to being old, crusty and DEAD. 1

Reece: I love everything about Halsey except, you know, the music she makes. I grit my teeth through the cringefest nonsense chorus of ‘New Americana’ and ‘Closer’ is another entry in the ‘wtf is she doing?’ series. Halsey has a nice voice and seems to be so switched on, but this as formuliac and cheap a song as you can get. Do they call themselves the Chainsmokers because every song they touch has a high chance of rotting and dying? Maybe it’s because we have such a strong week of First Impressions this week, but this song makes me want vomit on a sunset. 1

Sam: The fact they’re flipping through polaroids in the lyric video says it all really. It’s just a really cheap, Urban Outfitters attempt at something that’s been done a million times before. I’m sure people will find this cute and there’s no doubt that it’s going to float around on radio for a while but it does nothing for me. I’m glad Reece brought up the lyrics of New Americana because I feel like everyone needs a daily reminder just how woeful the chorus of that song is. This song isn’t as bad although the line, “baby hold me closer in the backseat of your Rover,” leads it dangerously close. 2

Ben: EDM music talking about how young the night was, how we will live forever etc. was dead (at least we all thought) in 2011 but somehow there are new corpses of this genre kicking around. Why Halsey saw this as a good project to jump on is beyond me, but hearing her is the only bit of life this song has. The fact that the lyrics are on the screen presumes they are worth knowing, which is entirely misleading. 0.5

Average Score: 1.13

The Preatures
I Know A Girl

Meshell: No shade on The Preatures because SYD REPRESENT but honestly the kind of girl that is going to love this track probably wears 3-Eye Doc Martens with lacey socks and smokes weed on the weekends at her best girlfriends’ feminist slam poetry event in Marrickville….and that girl is not me. 3

Reece: This track sounds taken straight from the late 1980’s and not in a positive way. I really love The Preatures and consider it a national duty not to let people forget ‘Is This How You Feel’, but this is directionless. My first impression is that this song will do absolutely nothing to stand out and everyone will drive me up the wall by putting it on their Spotify playlists this summer 2

Sam: I just really don’t know about this one. I love Isabella Manfredi’s allure and energy but this just seems far too polite for The Preatures. I think it comes down to the same thing I was saying with Rainbow Chan except this has the opposite problem. It’s a little coy and it doesn’t have to be at all. They could’ve given a bit more gusto in the chorus and converted some of that energy they give in droves on stage to the song. I don’t dislike it but I’m left wanting a little more. 3

Ben: The Preatures poke their beak out after a couple of years away presumably putting together another album. Moving away from mid-noughties chirpiness that Blue Planet Eyes was built on they are embracing a full 80’s refit. This is my favourite vocal mould that I’ve heard from Isabella Manfredi, drawing a lot of inspiration from Blondie and the likes but that’s the main appeal of this new one. Expect a good thrashing from triple j. 3

Average Score: 2.75

We Don’t Give A

Meshell: This actually is not my favourite track from the new album but by god it’s still FUCKING incredible. Nao has a voice makes me want to be her and also hate her because it’s too damn good. This song is low-key groovy (fuck I hate that word) while still keeping that sweet and slick R&B aura. Pretty much any Nao song right now just knocks me back in my seat and has me a totally good way. 4.5

Reece: If Frank Ocean didn’t crater my life and sleep schedule last night, I would have been vibing out to Nao’s album. This song has made me regret my decision to watch the world’s worst carpentry tutorial even more, because this is brilliant. Nao is already a masterful songwriter and GRADES could break out over the next six months as the next English megaproducer. There’s so much to love here. 4.5 Reece’s Pick

Sam: I’m struggling to put into words how much I love this song. When I was five I remember falling in love with a voice for the first time. It was Janet Jackson and the song was Together Again. It was this weird realisation of the power of a great vocal and it’s lodged in my brain forever. The first verse of this song taps into that nostalgia because Nao slides through those keys so effortlessly. Her voice might be my favourite of this year but she doesn’t rely on it completely. The disco vibes on this one house her vocals in the perfect environment. It’s part euphoric, part stylish and part carefree and that mix is exactly what Together Again had. 5 Sam’s Pick

Ben: Okay I admit that Nao is following a very current sound with her falsetto neatly tied up with an alt-R&B bow, but that’s not a reason for her not to succeed. The more listens I get of this album the more I am convinced that she has got the goods past her super strong singles Bad Blood and Girlfriend. Getting some serious Beauty Behind The Madness vibes from this one. 4

Average Score: 4.5

Time for your vote:
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