First Impressions: Run The Jewels, J. Cole, M-Phazes And More

Written By the interns on 12/06/2016


First Impressions is an interns roundtable review of songs on their first (or second) listen. Each week we listen to 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 Run The Jewels, Kehlani, M-Phazes, MUNA, Blakey and J. Cole.

Run The Jewels
Legend Has It

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Reece: Run The Jewels is a duo comprised of Gears of War character El-P and Bernie Sanders confidant Killer Mike. They make brash, bare knuckled rap music that feels like Adult Swim had a baby with Fight Club. What I’m trying to say is that they’re pretty good and I recommend them to everyone who accidentally makes eye contact with me on the train. Legend Has it is a stop-start pixelated lurch that gives ample room for Mike and Jaime to trade bars and one-up each other and the result is excellent, of course.  After all, you’re talking about the guys who made an album of cat samples sound hard, what else did you expect? 4

Zanda: Oh dayum the wait for the new RTJ album has been long, but everything i’ve heard from the new record is everything I wanted from the boys again. Hard-hitting, uncompromising, bossy hip hop. Run The Jewels continue to create music for themselves and you can tell, Legend Has It is a killer cut. 4

Sam: These guys are going in on RTJ3. Everytime I think I’m going to grow tired of this sort of aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach, another one of their tunes gets under my skin and makes me clench my fist. There’s also nothing quite like the pairing between El-P and Killer Mike and this song plays out like they’re swapping the mic after every verse like, “let me see what you can do.” And then they’re dropping lines like, “Every day's golden when you only win.” It would be boasting coming from anyone else but the truth is RTJ haven’t recorded a loss yet. 4.5

Average Score: 4.16


Reece: Kehlani is superb and it’s exciting we’re getting a proper debut album from her after her coming out mixtape You Should Be Here. Advice feels like a pivot towards pop, probably emboldened by the runaway success of Gangsta from the Suicide Squad soundtrack. It’s a rule of thumb that we’re supposed to roll our eyes when indie darlings go commercial, but Kehlani’s doing a lot here that makes me a fan of the move. She has the chops to carry a slower song like Advice and even if it’s a little too straight-laced to love, this has me even more excited for what the album will bring. 3.5

Zanda: If i’m being brutally honest I expected more. Kehlani has created so many amazing, refreshing and well-crafted tracks that to hear this new one really just meandering along is a bit disappointing. This is not blight on her vocal ability, and those layered chorus harmonies are to-die-for. But it just doesn’t have that bite that we’ve come to expect. 3  

Sam: I really love hard-hitting, CRZY-type Kehlani but I also think these kind of songs are really important in her catalogue. This one nicely wraps up what’s been going on for her in the past year but there’s also a silver lining to the whole story and that’s played out sonically but this uplifting bridge. I can see how people could think it meanders a bit but I actually think in the context of the album it’s going to shine out. 4

Average Score: 3.5

M-Phazes x Alison Wonderland

Reece: Good Gracious! I wasn’t expecting new M-Phazes before the end of the year and a return with Alison Wonderland in tow is even better. Messiah isn’t a track I’m instantly in love with, but it has real potential to be a grower. It’s an incredibly polished track with solid replay value, and it’ll be even better to play once the weather heats up and the summer gaths start to get happening. 3.5

Zanda: Fuck me M-Phazes is insanely talented. Seeing him now expand his genre base is an awesome sign (especially as someone who isn’t hugely into Aussie hip hop). I’m really rating this one - the productions is predictably clean and tight, and I like the use of Alison Wonderland’s voice in a way that’s more of a core element of the track as opposed to a lot of her own music where her vocals just dominate everything else. 4 Zanda’s Pick

Sam: First, I’ll say the production on this is really next-level. It expertly combines the trap-stylings of Wonderland’s Run record and pairs them with a Justin Bieber Sorry-esque drops that aims it at both a triple j and commercial audience. I just really can’t get past the vocal melody and clunky lyrics. I’ve actually come to love Wonderland’s voice and I think she wrote for it really well on the Run record but this is methodical and basic. 3

Average Score: 3.5

I Know A Place

Reece: This is heartbreaking and cheerful all at once without it feeling at all forced or gimmicky. This is the first I’ve heard of MUNA, but certainly won’t be the last. With such powerful lyrics, this track would be nearly impossible to digest if there wasn’t such sleek production softening the edges a little bit. 2016 has been a bit shit, I’m glad this exists. 4.5 Reece’s Pick

Zanda: This is a really refreshing take on electro-instrumental music, accompanied by lyrics that fit in perfectly creating an awesomely tight mix. There’s plenty of little guitar licks and other tid-bits to keep pop rock fans interested too, and that harmonic chorus call-and-response is giving me PNAU vibes. 4

Sam: I’ll just come straight out and say that I bloody love this song. Even with completely ignoring the lyrics it sounds like a big, inclusive pop hug straight outta HAIM’s books and then when you factor the lyrics in...phwoar. Given the year we’ve had, particularly focussing on the Orlando tragedy, it’s so nice to have this song that is a musical safe space for everyone who feels like they’ve been displaced or ostracised in 2016. Call it corny, hyperbolic or whatever you want but this song will be important to a lot of people. This will be the song to rightfully launch MUNA onto a much bigger stage. 5 Sam’s Pick

Average Score: 4.5

Prism Of Love

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Reece: My very first impression of Blakey is that, from the side, he looks like Cook from Skins. My second impression is unlike Cook from Skins, Blakey seems great and is a pretty good musician. The James Blake comparisons may be a little too on the nose - see: name, country of origin, sparse and excellent vocals - but Blakey captures the pop-oriented aspects of James Blake’s music really well. Prism of Love has a nice melody to it and never tries to do too much. Finally, my third impression is that second generation of Skins ended so poorly and if anyone else relates tweet @ me because I still haven’t fully recovered. 4

Zanda: Egh this is so wishy washy I think it should be used as a demotivational tool for people who are too motivated. I think it’s supposed to be like future R&B or something but it’s just putting me to sleep and there doesn’t feel like there’s much substance. Apart from that, it’s just really annoying. 2

Sam: So many Francis And The Lights vibes on this one. That said there's a bit more of a pop edge to it like Francis spent the year hanging out with Troye Sivan instead of Bon Iver. It's beautifully produced and it has this warm, ethereal feeling to it that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Very much on board with this one. 4

Average Score: 3.3

J. Cole
False Prophets

Reece: There’s two ways to approach this, do we consider the track on its own merits or within the broader context of its subject matter? Without context, this track is exceptional. I haven’t been in love with Cole since Friday Night Lights but his last album drew me back in. One of my biggest gripes with his post-mixtape output is the lack of compelling subject matter: Work Out, Power Trip, Mr. Nice Watch, Can’t Get Enough, Wet Dreamz were all pretty lame, cliched or both. False Prophets, on the other hand, has some real fire to it and it brings out the better side of Cole’s rapping. But if we consider the context of the track, and I think we should, this song is such a cop-out. Hijacking the narrative of Kanye West’s heavily documented mental health battle, Cole comes to the eye-rolling conclusion that Kanye has creatively peaked and as such, feels it necessary to tells us how let down and betrayed he feels. You know, the real issue here. I’m still really excited for the new album, but this effort just felt like a sleazy attempt to snatch some headlines and publicise the forthcoming project. 3

Zanda: I’m not going to address anything other than the musical content because I don’t know enough about the climate from which it has spawned, but solely on musical merit there’s so much to enjoy. This is ultimately a lot more interesting than the first few bars suggested, and I’m really enjoying the fresh take on the production. J Cole’s rhymes are smooth but also imbued with a sense of rawness. As an outsider im really getting into it. 3.5

Sam: There are definitely some cheap shots in here but Reece has covered them very thoroughly. It just feels like Cole didn't really need these particularly for the first taste of his new album. He's positioned himself as a thought-provoking rapper through some pretty poignant lyricism and he's unravelling some of his good work here. As for the track itself, it's a minimal nod to the hip-hop greats while still keeping a foot in 2016. That's clever but there's something really low-key about this that is stopping me really getting on board. 3

Average Score: 3.16

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