First Impressions: Frank Ocean, Jagwar Ma, Ellie Goulding And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/23/2016


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 Frank Ocean, DAWN, James Vincent McMorrow, Jagwar Ma, AIYA and Ellie Goulding.

Frank Ocean

Sam Murphy: Unsurprisingly there's going to be a lot said about Frank's Blonde this week. There were certain things that people expected and for the most part he completely defied expectation which is pretty excellent. Nike is a key defiance. As the first track to come from Blonde it was confusing. Frank's greatest asset is his voice and yet it's manipulated for most of it. What's great though is in the context of the album, it's an incredible beginning. The vocal treatment eventually comes into focus and he sings, "We'll let you guys prophecy". It's so forward-thinking the way all the parts are pieced together. The melody once he actually does sing with out manipulation is like a runaway train - experimental and yet poetic. It's not the best song on Blonde but it's the only song that could've opened it and it's such a beautiful re-introduction. 4.5 Sam's Pick

Jack Cain: Ah Frank Ocean, the wait is over. But was it worth it? I think if you put this song as the example my answer may be no. It's good, but it isn't great, and I'd say that of about 90% of Blonde. But Ivy is really good, Godspeed is amazing, and I think Frank did more than put out an album or in this case a song, and for that reason I find it hard to critique this piece. Because that's what it is. It is a piece of a bigger picture. It's like asking hey how cool is that corner piece of this puzzle we are looking at. It’s hard to say ‘yeah its cool’ because it doesn't exist as a solo thing, so I don't know what to say here, as the first page of a book, I guess it keeps me reading. 3.5

Harrison: The wait is over. Last weekend will and should forever be remembered as Frank’s Weekend. I think where this song works and impresses is through it’s lyrics and it’s video clip. In terms of its value and ranking overall on the album, Nikes sits somewhere in the middle. I didn’t write about Nikes specifically, rather I gave a snapshot of my first impression of Blonde over on the album of the week piece. 3.5 Harrison's Pick

Average Score: 3.83

Cali Sun

Sam: I'm always here for new DAWN and that's because she never disappoints. A bit like Not About That, this one is ushered in with a verse that sounds like DAWN is travelling through time, whoosing towards a ferocious drop which eventually comes about a minute into the song. These songs where you're waiting on the edge of your seat for the drop often lack a certain emotion in the verses because they feel copy/pasted but DAWN's voice packs such an emotional punch that she makes the verse the centrepoint. Then the drop comes and everything explodes - the beauty torn into a million pieces by something vicious. That may sound like a bad thing but it's not at all, it's thrilling and the anarchist inside me loves it. And just to respond to you other two, I could not disagree more that this sounds like every other electronic song out there. Please link me. Guys, you're killing me. 4.5

Jack: Cheesy intro lyrics, rolling snare build up, classic. The words California Sun in pitched vocals drops into a dancehall moombahton style beat. It’s kinda cool, it could have been a lot worse, I just don’t get the point in making music that sounds like 70000 other songs already. Electronic music needs new formulas. 2

Harrison: I’m with Jack, everything about this rings cheesy. I would almost go as far to say this is a disgrace to the genre ofmoombahton. I can’t really go off much here because DAWN isn’t an artist I follow. But, the previous DAWN track that featured here a while back I certainly liked a lot better. 1.5

Average Score: 2.6

James Vincent McMorrow
Get Low

Sam: With Get Low, we're starting to get a real insight into the direction James is heading in with his forthcoming record We Move. It's hard to believe this is the first time he's really embraced R&B stylings because his voice sounds so excellent housed in this environment. Get Low takes its time but James is such an excellent vocalist and melodist that he manages to sneak in this laid-back groove that keeps you hooked for the entirety of the track. I liked Rising Water, but I've got so much time for this one. 4

Jack: The lyrics at the start made me want to listen on. The song clearly means something to him, the narrative seems to be talking to an ex that's moved on, and in most cases when a writer is doing this they are doing it kinda knowing they aren't listening. But in this case she probably is. The beat is pretty minimal and a little too simple in ways. James can sing very well but this song seems to, as I'm listening to it, peaked in the first 40 seconds. It doesn't really go anywhere after that. 3

Harrison: It wasn’t the lyrics that grabbed me, rather the guitar. It’s got this real grungey feel to it. I like Get Low so much more than the previous McMorrow song that featured here a few weeks ago. I think the more I hear of new music from James, the more I’m excited to hear We Move. 3.5

Average Score: 3.5

Jagwar Ma
Give Me A Reason

Sam: Every track this week is bringing the goods for me. I was a big fan of Jagwar Ma's debut Howlin' and I really liked O B 1 but I was beginning to struggle to see how they could really play with their sound enough to offer something a little different. Well, I'm struggling no longer. I love how they strip it back completely on the first verse here and flex their pop muscles a little. It's the most playful cut they've ever delivered because they're not afraid to add a little cheese. That trademark Jagwar beat is there but it's the most uncluttered it's ever been. Take this one to the clubs, it's got some serious swagger. 4

Jack: Big fan of Jaguar Ma but this song is kinda unexpected. It's got a very early 2000s band feel, kinda makes me think of The Dandy Warhols. It could have been a hit long ago, but I feel it might miss the mark with current audiences, which is a shame because it's a pretty great song the more it gets into it. It's well produced, it has nice layers of sound, I really like it. Damn, I’m dancing. It never ends and it's the best thing ever. A nice horn section drops in then you get a robototic bit. It's literally got it all. Solid effort. By far one of the funniest bands I've ever spoken to in my time might I add. 5 Jack's Pick

Harrison: I feel like this is one of those songs, especially by a band like Jagwar Ma, that will fair and sound 100x better live. It’s not as good as O B 1, rather a nice addition. In saying that, I love Jagwar Ma and still jam to Uncertainty and Come Save Me. Once again, it should be known that Jagwar kill it live and this song honestly feels like it would shine in the flesh. 3.5

Average Score: 4.16

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Sam: They didn't want us to have another good song in First Impressions, so we got another song. Phwoar, I'm vibing this one as well. AIYA are an Aussie duo which kind of makes this all the more exciting because it's one of the most experimental things I've heard come out of the country this year. There are some definite FKA twigs vibes coming on here but they've also crafted their own atmosphere of silky synths and sandy beats. The vocals are ethereal, angelic and unpredictable, teasing us into instrumental twists and turns that are plentiful. It's a really daring release for a new Aussie act and that's exciting. 4

Jack: The intro reminds me of Fever Ray and I like being reminded of Fever Ray. It's got very cool production, nice quaint vocals and the melody is disjointed which I also like. This is the kinda formula I like to hear when it comes to electronic music. It's going places, it's all over those places, but it's still finding cohesion. It's really good to hear songs like this, this is a very impressive attempt at originality. “Tell me what I am I dare you". 4

Harrison: This is something I would definitely come across when I venture on my SoundCloud journeys. But, it’s also one of those songs that if it doesn’t grab me in the first 20-30 seconds then you have lost me forever. Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s occurred and I cannot vibe much about this at all. The only remote positive is the vocals which are super eclectic and I really vibe that. 2.5

Average Score: 3.5

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Ellie Goulding
Still Falling For You

Sam: Truth be told, I am infatuated by Ellie Goulding's voice so she could sing anything and I'd find away to be mildly pleased with it. Still Falling For You is Love Me Like You Do part two and it's a clever move to release it alongside a movie given her Delirium campaign is slowing down. It's sweet and sugary and even manages to throw in a bit of a Kanye beat towards the end but beyond being pleasant there's not much to it. Ellie sounds great, obviously, but it could've done with a choir if they really wanted to TITF it and take it into triumphant movie territory. Not bad but it's still trumped by Gabrielle's Out Of Reach, still the only positive from Bridget Jones' existence. 3

Jack: I honestly think Ellie Goulding peaked with Starry Eyed. She's had some decent efforts since then, but when I think of Ellie I just want to listen to Starry Eyed, and I want to listen to the Jakwob dubstep remix. This song is pretty nice, there's no denying she is a powerhouse singer and it's nice to hear something not smashed with EDM around her voice. It's a nice movie song which I guess is what it is. I'm enjoying the 80s synth build, I think what I’m feeling is the emotion of being pleasantly surprised. I might even love this a little bit. I'm excited to see it play out in Bridget Jones Diary, hopefully in some epic rom-com moment we all secretly love. 3

Harrison: So this song was produced for the new Bridget Jones Diary flick and I can already picture how it’s going to play out in a scene. A depressed heartbroken Renee Zellweger is going to see Colin Firth from across the room, most likely from across an airport. There are those tense heartwarming back and forth shots for about 10-15 seconds. Colin Firth gives that smug little ‘I fucked up. Yet i’ve travelled this far on a plane, tired, please take me back’ look. With the drop about to hit, Firth drops his bag from his shoulder and murmurs “I’m sorry” in that posh English accent he champions. Dashing over for that cliche 30 second airport makeout sesh/shot, the always rosy-cheeked Zellweger finally gets what she always wanted. (I feel like there needed to be reference to a baby in there somewhere and Patrick Dempsey, but oh well). Oh yes this definitely works for the soundtrack of a film, so I applaud you Ellie Goulding. 3.5

Average Score: 3.16