First Impressions: Justin Bieber, Macklemore, Zhu And More


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 The Harpoons, Macklemore, Zak Abel, Kacy Hill, Justin Bieber and Zhu.

The Harpoons
Ready For Your Love

[soundcloud width="750" height="200"][/soundcloud]

Sam Murphy: The Harpoons have this way of approaching love that’s so fresh and warm. Their whole debut album tackled the topic and now it seems they’re back singing it about it on this new one. Ready For Your Love is full of light, summery house vibes and then the chorus has the added gospel touch on top of it just to complete it. The track feels so full of love not just because of its lyrics but also because of the way it’s been crafted. It feels like it’s been approached with a full heart and it shows. 4 Sam's Pick

Zanda Wilson: This is so funky, it gives off dance vibes straight away and the chorus of vocals that come through in sections is very soulful. The accompanying synths are used sparingly and that really allows the vocals to feature and pierce through the rest of the track. Tropical vibes for days. 4 Zanda's Pick

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Sam: This is my least favourite song of the year for a number of reasons. Firstly, because Macklemore keeps banging on about how it took a year and a half to make. Honestly, I couldn't care less about how long it took to make - some of the best songs ever were written in a minute. It actually detracts from it that it took so long because it sounds so full and overloaded with ideas that it sounds like an entire album in five minutes. Next, the lyrics are so dumb I don’t even want to talk about it. And then there’s the fact that he’s latching onto a style Mark Ronson nailed almost a year ago. A terribly desperate attempt at reclaiming the popularity they built on their debut. Nup nup nup nup nup. 0

Zanda: What the shit is with that cowbell, it hurts my brain and has no place sitting behind rapping. This is so overloaded with stuff I don’t even know where to start. There is pretty much no merit in whatever Macklemore is doing in the sections where he features, but weirdly I kind of dig the ballad sections. I think if they’d used that style with the epic singing throughout the whole thing it would actually be alright. In saying that, the transitions between sections are horrible and kind of kill any good there might be. 2

Zak Abel
Say Sumthin

Sam: This guy has such a distinctive voice. It’s one of those that just hits you from the first note and never leaves you. The problem with those kind of voice is they can become tiresome very quickly (ahem, John Newman). Say Sumthin doesn’t feel tiresome at all and that’s because Kaytranada has just killed it with the production. It’s funky and dense channeling ‘80s vibes while remaining totally current. And then Abel does a fantastic job of wrapping his raspy voice around the beats making sure he doesn’t steamroll over the whole thing with his ridiculously strong voice. 4

Zanda: The most noticeable thing for me immediately is that the percussive elements are eq’d so well on this track. You don’t often get such strong and loud percussion that compliments a vocal as well as this, and full credit to Kaytranada for that. The bass sits nicely underneath the drum-elements as well and give the accompanying elements some fantastic depth overall. Abel’s voice is also fantastic, except right towards the end where it almost sounds like he is hitting peak levels and there is some distortion. Presumably this is on purpose but if it is, I don’t get why. 3.5

Justin Bieber
What Do You Mean?

Sam: Whoever has worked with Bieber on this comeback has done a phenominal job. In just over 12 months he’s gone from being everyone’s least favourite twat to a comeback hero and it’s thanks to a big attitude change, Where Are U Now and this track. Comeback or no comeback this is a near-perfect song. The beats crafted by Skrillex are so crisp and effortless completely in line with that house tropical house thing that’s going on at the moment without totally entering that cringeworthy genre. Bieber seems to have acknowledged that he doesn’t have a really strong voice but does have a great tone and here he just allows his voice to lay-back into the beat which is perfect for him. It’s not a pop song that smacks you in the face (like Macklemore’s for instance) but it’s just a really pleasant cut that I really can’t see many people having a problem with. 4

Zanda: I am so incredibly shocked by the quality of this. In saying that the lyrics are pretty annoying and meaningless, but the production is strong and enjoyable. I don’t really get that clock ticking sound, and honestly it detracts from the synth and vibe melodies that sit nicely under Bieber’s vocals, which are obviously sung well. Torn about this one. 3.5

Kacy Hill
Foreign Fields

Sam: Kacy Hill doesn’t strike me as the most obvious signing for Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music but I suppose until you hear her vocals on a Kanye, Pusha T or Vic Mensa song we won’t really know what their vision for her is anyway. Based solely off this track it’s clear she’s got something really interesting about her. At the start it’s this gentle, jazz-infused number but then suddenly it flourishes with waves of dense synths in the chorus. Everytime we’re given this layering she pulls it back again only to really unleash at the end when things get really spectacular. Definitely someone worth watching. 3.5

Zanda: Very intriguing stuff here from Kacy Hill, but I’m not sold on the production here. It’s a track that’s not sure if it wants to be a soulful jazzy number or something with a deeper electronic theme. There’s no doubting the quality of Hill’s voice, but the song only really starts for me around the 2:30 mark where it really finds it’s groove. 3

Zhu & AlunaGeorge

Sam: This one’s a hard one for me because I’m a really big fan of Aluna’s vocals always but I’ve never been super into Zhu’s dark, mysterious production. Like Faded, I feel like the instrumental on this just really flatlines the whole way through and it’s left up to Aluna to inject some energy into it. Having said that, Aluna does successfully inject that energy into it and it ends up being far less tiresome than Faded. It’s really nice to hear Aluna on something current other than that terrible DJ Snake remix, but I feel like the AlunaGeorge project is a lot stronger than this.

Now time for your vote:
[poll id="53"]