Welcome to 5th 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 – Lana Del Rey, Kota the Friend and Guapdad 4000; along with some other records that I wanted to shine a light on.
Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Genre: Singer-songwriter, Folk
Honestly? I had a way better first listen with COCC than I did with Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Granted, I loved NFR by the end of that year thanks to Lana’s stellar songwriting and lyricism, with the former already making a strong showing on COCC.
The production feels like a continuation of the luscious and grandiose sound that NFR did, only this time Lana’s performances aren’t drowned out by the mixing (they occasionally still are, but for the most part it’s pretty clear). COCC evokes the same feeling that I got from “Young and Beautiful” – her underrated pop sensibilities meeting the whimsical nature of her best work.
However given the many controversies surrounding the album’s rollout, there’s going to be a lot to unpack on further listens. At least it’s left a very good impression on me already though.
Chung Ha – Querencia
Genre: Pop, Dance
I was pretty excited to listen to this album. Despite the previous singles sounding a bit too formulaic, “Dream of You” was a bouncy dance track that served up the unadulterated joy I was expecting from Chung Ha.
Though I’ve never been the most familiar with her work, songs of hers that I’m into are often of the same vein – production that complements her easily digestible melodies…which makes Querencia all the more disappointing.
The production is standard K-Pop fare – electric pop beats mixed in with a dash of disco-pop; a sound that’s become the status quo since 2020. She also dabbled in Latin pop on “Demente” which is just…weird and not very good track to boot.
The worst part of Querencia however, is how much a chameleon Chung Ha sounds like on her own debut album. There isn’t a single element on here that feels unique to her own artistry. Every song sounds like they were crafted by a label for chart domination, ripping away any personality that they could have had.
It’s only a first listen but I don’t see myself returning to Querencia anytime soon.
Kota The Friend & Statik Selektah – To Kill A Sunrise
His best release since FOTO. Kota, in my opinion, has been in a bit of a slump recently. Lyrics To Go, Vol. 1 was a fun, if not, kind of pointless EP that proved how well he could rap. Same goes for Vol. 2 released a bit earlier this year.
The short 15-minute runtime of both projects worked it to his advantage as the fairly stale production didn’t have time to overstay their welcome. The same can’t be said for his debut album EVERYTHING though. Due to his monotone delivery, there needs to be engrossing production to work in tandem with Kota or else it risks boring listeners…which was what that album was.
TKAS then alleviates that problem completely with help from Statik Selektah. Gorgeous beats paired with Kota’s laidback performances gives an album that, admittedly, feels like filler but generates a vibe so potent that you can’t help but put it on and relax to – basically Kota the Friend’s career in a nutshell.
Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth
Australian hip-hop is an incredible place at the moment. Sampa The Great has been getting her long deserved recognition (unfortunately doing so away from her home country, but still) while The Kid LAROI has carved his way into the mainstream with his Juice WRLD inspired styles.
Genesis Owusu is another trailblazing artist that burst into my recommendations almost immediately after his debut album – Smiling With No Teeth dropped. Admittedly I’m not the most well versed in the Australian rap scene, but what I have heard I liked a lot. With SWNT, I like it a whole lot too but it also doesn’t sound like what many Australian rappers are doing at the moment.
Filled to the brim in funk influences, Genesis is more than comfortable at rapping or singing when the situation demands it. The album reminds me a lot of Young Fathers’ Cocoa Sugar with its tendency to whiplash between high octane bangers and subdued cuts at a moment’s notice, all while keeping each song fresh with vocal inflections that makes Genesis sound like a one-man quartet.
There’s not a single dull moment on SWNT. I’m excited to hop in over and over in the future. The layers and depth that I was smothered with on first listen only drives me to uncover what it is Genesis has to say and show on this stellar debut album.
Guapdad 4000 & !llmind – 1176
Guapdad’s music has often reminded me of A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s – harmless pop trap that slaps but also lacks any distinctive personality. As a result, I’ve never been a huge fan of his work aside from the occasional single every now and then.
On the other hand, his public persona is extremely likeable (his Twitter can be funny af). So it’s a bit disappointing that his charisma doesn’t really come through in his music. It could be the autotune stripping the magnetism from his performances or the bland production that fails to inject any sort of excitement.
1176 doesn’t deviate from this trend but it is a step in the right direction though. The album has a great flow to it that makes it a breeze to listen through and Guapdad’s choruses are still as catchy as ever, even if his verses blend into the background. It’s enjoyable enough despite the many flaws I have with it.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (Deluxe Edition)
It’s too fucking long.