First Impressions is our weekly feature where our writers get the chance to lay down their unfiltered opinions on the week’s new tracks. This week, we’re digging into choice cuts from new Ed Sheeran, Camila Cabello and Cardi B plus some fresh finds by Sampa The Great and BANKS.
Sampa The Great – OMG
Roz: This is yet another artist I’ve long intended to get into but haven’t gotten around to. The flow on this is amazing and I like the detuned flute in the background. This isn’t really the type of music I listen to on a regular basis, but I can definitely appreciate the prowess here. 3.5
Sam: I’ve always thought Sampa was brilliant but I did wonder whether she’d ever cut through because she was so experimental. Over the past few years though, she’s found her lane and honed her craft. OMG is the most accessible thing she’s ever done and she hasn’t had to compromise one bit. It’s a celebration of her Zambian heritage and an acceleration of modern rap in the most brilliant way. This video has me absolutely deceased. 4.5
Beyoncé – Spirit
Roz: I’m already tired about seeing hot takes about this movie, the soundtrack, the animation, all of it. I get why it’s happening but Disney constantly regurgitating things is getting exhausting, and seeing it come up constantly has forced any interest I had out of my system. This just feels… bland to me? It’s fine it just doesn’t hold my attention at all. Sorry Beyhive, don’t eat me. 2
Sam: Bey loves to hit us with a middle-of-the-road ballad in between albums and Spirit fills the spot. I’m not going crazy for it but I just know that it’s going to sneak up on me when I least expect it and hit me right in the feels. It could not be more generic but there’s something about her voice that just gets me every goddamn time. 3
Ed Sheeran – South Of The Border (Feat. Camila Cabello & Cardi B)
Roz: Everything about this project annoys me. Nothing has ever felt as lazily cash-grabby as shoving a bunch of A list pop stars and rappers on Ed sheeran collabs and calling it an album. Every single one of those singles put me to sleep, and the Justin Bieber one incites a frothing rage within me without really having a specific reason for it. I’d pretty much resolved not to listen to anything else from the album after the Khalid one came out, but here we are.
That said, this is the least annoyed I’ve been by any song so far. I think Ed sounds a little awkwardly out of place in this Latin-ish zone, but Camila sounds great and Cardi’s verse is pretty solid. I’ll actually remember the chorus to this one. 2
Sam: There’s only one thing stopping this from being great and it’s Ed Sheeran. It sounds like he’s had a fling in South America on tour but we all know that his recent nuptials mean that can’t be true. It’s Camila who comes through and gives the song what it deserves. Cardi comes through and attempts to explain Ed’s behaviour but then he stomps right through again and gives me the creeps. If this was a Camila and Cardi situation it would be great. 3
Blood Orange – Benzo
Roz: This is beautiful. The cello tuning sounds in the conversational chatter at the beginning, the soft saxes, vocal gating, crisp percussive elements, it all weaves together perfectly. The abrupt ending is jarring, but I’ll be interested to hear how it plays into the album as a whole. Definitely gonna finally get around to checking out his projects (can you tell this is an ongoing issue for me). 4.5
Sam: Blood Orange coming through once again with those stunning melodic moments that he takes away from you before you’ve had time to get used to them. The hook of Benzo is just so luscious. It doesn’t last long enough but that’s the point. It’s there for just enough time to make a fleeting impact. One of the best musical minds around right now. 4.5
Billie Eilish – Bad Guy (Feat. Justin Bieber)
Roz: This infuriates me on a similar level to the Ed/Bieber track but for different reasons. The cover art on this is hilarious, I appreciate the humor and sentiment, but that’s where my positive feedback ends. I don’t really think this track lends itself well to a feature to begin with, Billie’s unique vocal style is pretty critical to the track landing well in the first place. Everything about this addition just feels really disjointed and awkward.
I never really had any desire to see Billie collabing with such a massive pop artist, and I definitely don’t like the results. Her track with Vince Staples in particular is amazing, but I feel like it loses all the edge and individualism she brought to the table. Also the mix is suddenly terrible, which perplexes me? It sounded great on the original and I don’t understand why the whole track sounds weird just because of an added vocal. Bieber’s ad libs are super awkward and his voice is weirdly to the back of the mix, and wayyyy too smooth to fit with the production style of the song. His verse sounds like it’s trying to fit into Billie’s sphere but falling short and landing in bland rap feature lyricism territory. “So icy”????? Please end it now.
I think on first impressions I gave the original a 2.5, which I would now revise to a 3/3.5 as hearing it on pop radio constantly has caused it to grow on me. But I gotta give this a hard pass. End rant. 1
Sam: I understand why this happened. I do. It’s a good story. How on earth though did nobody hear that Justin Bieber verse and stop it from coming out. It would be barely passable on the Alvin & The Chipmunks soundtrack let alone on a track that’s nearly the top song in the US. Bad Guy is one of the best songs of the year no doubt but this…this ain’t it. 2
BANKS – Contaminated
Roz: Many who know me are aware that I a) have long been a huge BANKS stan, and b) spent the last week internally exploding while familiarizing myself with the record this is on and putting together a detailed review, so my take here won’t particularly surprising. I did a piece when “Gimme”, the lead single on the album, was released, about how the rollout of her last project was kind of a disaster, and I was hoping for better this go round. Thankfully, I got what I wanted. This was put out two days before the album dropped, and is reminiscent of her earlier records without being bland. It served its purpose as a reminder that the album was coming, a way to generate some buzz, and being promoted in New Music Friday playlists. Also, it’s just pretty good.
This isn’t my favourite track on the album, but there aren’t any on there that I actively dislike. It’s a bit subdued and I wouldn’t choose it as a single to push hard for long term, but they’ve got enough left on the record to hopefully get something going. This song has some amazing vocal moments, and is masterfully produced and lyrically gorgeous. It strikes a delicate balance between the somber starkness of many of her ballads and the bolder, more intense sound of her biggest hits. It fits well within the record and holds its own to boot. This isn’t really a first impression OR a track review given how much I’ve spoken about everything else, but this one is definitely a 4.5
Sam: BANKS has never really done it for me. Everything she does has felt like an act for me and it’s never quite clicked. I actually think this album is the best thing she’s done though. She’s paired it back and it no longer sounds incredibly contrived. Her voice sounds great on Contaminated but there’s really nothing here to hold you for close to 5 minutes. And therein lies her problem. She also does a little too much. 3