Happy Lunar New Year! Welcome to 4th edition of Jensen Ooi’s 1st listen reviews.
These articles are be a compilation of mini 1st-listen album reviews (regardless if they’re old or new) that I do on Twitter, just so my readers here won’t miss out on the content that do over there.
This time around I looked at a handful of albums that dropped yesterday – Dua Lipa, Slowthai and JPEGMAFIA; along with some other records that I wanted to shine a light on.
Zayn – Nobody is Listening
I didn’t listen to Icarus Falls cause it’s a behemoth of an album, so my familiarity of Zayn only extends to his debut record Mind of Mine.
That said, I like Nobody is Listening waaaaaay more enjoyable than his first. On Mind, it always felt like the electronic-infused pop/R&B production is always at odds with Zayn’s vocals. Always vying for listener attention and drowning out his often catchy melodies. The album just sounded bloated and almost constricting.
Nobody allows the music to breathe, however. Elements of his previous maximalist production is still there, but more stripped down and easier to digest given that Zayn’s (surprisingly) captivating vocals are given a chance to shine.
Maybe it’s unfair to talk about Nobody Is Listening without considering the growth he made on Icarus Falls. Still, the similarities between his first and latest record are too hard to ignore. Plus when comparing them this way, Nobody is just that much better.
Milo – So The Flies Don’t Come
I’m hesitant to call Milo (now known as R.A.P. Ferreira) one of my favourite rappers, given how little of his discography I’ve devoted my time into analysing.
His work is often dense and a lot of the punchlines go over my head on first (or tenth) listen. But putting the lyricism aside, I’ve loved everything I’ve heard from the man so far, and So The Flies Don’t Come is no different.
Like every Milo album I’ve heard so far, the production (done by Kenny Segal) is sparse and laidback – leaving space for his rhymes to weave in-and-out between each bar. His rapping is magnetic, plus given how crisp and clear his vocals sound, Milo is basically inviting me to pay maximum attention to everything that he’s saying.
I can’t wait to dive into this record even more, but in the meantime I just wanna say that I’m absolutely enamoured by it.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (The Moonlight Edition)
Future Nostalgia is easily one of the best pop albums of the last decade (and possibly this new decade too). So an announcement of a few extra B-sides for a deluxe edition got me really excited for what couldn’t make the cut of the original.
However, one listen in and it’s instantly noticeable why most tracks were left off in the first place. Aside from the stellar DaBaby remix of “Levitating”, fun rock infused “Prisoner” and the decent Latin-flavoured “Un Dia”, every track tacked on here feels like they were ripped straight from her self-titled era.
Not to say they’re bad but it does butt heads with the tight-knit 80s pop aesthetic of Future Nostalgia, ending up with a deluxe that fails to really justify its existence.
Slowthai – TYRON
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Nothing Great About Britain. The abrasive production threw me off more times than it won me over, despite my appreciation for Slowthai’s very charismatic performances. TYRON, on the other hand, completely resolves any issue I had with his past work and took its place as one of my favourite 1st listens this year.
There’s a lot to unpack over its 35 minute runtime. Despite most songs barely passing the 3 minute mark, they are filled to the brim with little sonic details and lyrical gems that I’m excited to return to.
My only issue with it is just that it’s WAY TOO SHORT.
JPEGMAFIA – EP2!
I enjoy JPEGMAFIA’s slower cuts. His singing has never really blown me away but they’re entrancing enough for me to just vibe along and chill to.
EP2! is essentially a project full of this type of songs. It’s not his most captivating nor is it his interesting, but I appreciate the detour he took with his sound. This cloud rap aesthetic is the perfect palette cleanser for what’s to come in JPEG’s career (though I hope his next album doesn’t veer too much into this territory again, angry Peggy is best Peggy).
Jean Dawson – Pixel Bath
Ok so…I’ve heard a fair bit about Pixel Bath on Twitter last year and finally got around to listen to it. I honestly expected a high-art hip hop album cause of the cover art, A$AP Rocky feature and recommendations coming from the hip hop heads on my tl.
One song in however, and the album’s pop punk influences instantly blew me away. It’s a genre that I don’t listen to that often, but the rush of energy that Pixel Bath kicks off with reminds me heavily of KennyHoopla. It’s exciting and fun even though Jean Dawson’s shout-y vocals aren’t really the most captivating, they’re serviceable enough to carry the rugged atmosphere he’s going for though.
The album starts to dabble in experimental hip-hop sounds on certain tracks in the 2nd half and this is where Pixel Bath loses me. The pop punk sound was raw and required the chemistry of Jean and the production for the overall songs to be engaging. These tracks however, leave the heavy lifting to the beat while Jean’s rapping is buried under vocal filters. They just end up sounding lacklustre in comparison.
Still, as a first listen I can say that Pixel Bath is an enjoyable album which opened me up to an unfamiliar genre, while still having familiar qualities for me to latch on to when needed.
Hayley Williams – FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
The Taylor Swift comparisons this album is getting is fairly justified in my opinion. An established superstar surprise releasing a folk album that was recorded during quarantine? It’s not hard to draw the obvious parallels.
Still, that doesn’t mean FLOWERS for VASES is a bad project though. In fact, it’s a very good one. My main gripe with Petals for Armor was how Hayley’s vocals were often at odds with the pop production, often drowning her out or just awkwardly supporting her intense performances. The gentle guitar-backed tunes of FLOWERS then allows her vocals to be let free.
More importantly, her lyricism is given the centre stage to shine – really showing off what propped her up to be one of our generation’s most iconic songwriters.