1st Listen Reviews (05/06): IU, Olivia Rodrigo, Flying Lotus, BROCKHAMPTON, Joyce Wrice & Mello Music Group

After a 2 month break, I’m bringing this segment back to talk about some of my favourite albums of 2021 so far. They aren’t necessarily 1st listens but they’re definitely records that left very strong impressions on me.

Also, these aren’t ranked in any way if you’re curious.


IU – LILAC

Genre: Pop

Arguably K-Pop’s biggest solo star at the moment, IU’s 5th studio album is one that reexplores the same sounds that made her a international household name to begin with.

A good balance of soulful ballads and early-2010s throwback pop tunes, LILAC is easy listening that’s carried by IU’s charismatic performances. It’s not the most groundbreaking album I’ve heard all year, but it scratches all the right itches that I’ve had for a pop album – one that 14 year old me would have played to death, making it one of my most enjoyable listens of 2021.

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Mello Music Group – Bushido

Genre: Hip-Hop

Label albums have always been a mixed bag. Even the most recent well-lauded examples like Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 have their misfires when there’s a mismatching of artist sounds.

This is where Mello Music Group shines – signing artists over the years who are cut from the same cloth, everyone on Bushido is able to bring their A-game without alienating anyone else on any track.

Best thing to come from this is how comfortable everyone sounds over Bushido’s varied production. This album gives them an opportunity to explore sounds that none of them would do on their solo material, and boy, do they sound great over them.


Flying Lotus – Yasuke

Genre: Hip-Hop, Instrumental

Just for context, I still haven’t watched Yasuke (one day though) but if Flying Lotus’ accompanying album is anything to go by, I’m going to absolutely love it.

Employing a cyberpunk-ish sound (think: Ghost In The Shell), the soundtrack is reminiscent to Samurai Champloo’s use of hip-hop in a feudal Japan setting, which is an obvious influence for this album and anime. It gives Yasuke a characterisation that feels grand in its ambition.

More than just simple backing tracks for the show’s narrative, Yasuke stands strong as its own body of work and, in my opinion, falls just short of You’re Dead from being Flying Lotus’ best record to date.

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BROCKHAMPTON – ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE

Genre: Hip-Hop

I’ve talked about this album’s horrendous commercial performance, but I haven’t really mentioned the quality of the music. So, I’m here to tell you that ROADRUNNER is very, very good…and it might just be their best album yet.

Despite its tonal whiplash (the first 4 tracks sound like they were made for a different album), BROCKHAMPTON has never sounded more cohesive than they do now. I used to love the raw and manic energy of their early work but thematically, they’ve always come across as a bit scattershot which made their music lack an emotional crux to latch on to.

ROADRUNNER greatly alleviates this problem by centring it around Joba and his father’s untimely passing. It becomes easier to grasp where the group is headed narratively, giving the music itself more weight and making it much more potent to listen to.


Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

Genre: Pop

Breakout stars don’t get more successful than Olivia Rodrigo. Already scoring the biggest album debut of 2021 so far, she’s here to stay and SOUR is a first impression that is built to last.

Common praise for the record has been Olivia’s lyricism and I have to agree. Just like Taylor Swift and Lorde (artists she’s often compared to), the imagery in Olivia’s music is vivid and heartfelt. Regardless of whether she’s singing her ass off on the album’s many ballads or shattering expectations with pop-rock bangers, her commanding vocals ground the record and redirects any and all attention on everything she has to say.

A magnetic artist to listen to.

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Joyce Wrice – Overgrown

Genre: R&B

I haven’t covered the genre a lot on the blog yet but I LOVE 2000s R&B. Ciara, Ashanti, Alicia Keys, Usher – they’re all artists whose runs in the early 2000s are nearly flawless to me. Joyce Wrice’s debut album Overgrown pulls taps right into influences from that era, so it’s little surprise that I adore this record.

If I had to nitpick, it’s a bit disappointing that Overgrown sounds like it’s rooted in the early 2000s. It’s 2021 release benefits its success thanks to nostalgia, but it’s longevity will really depend on how the public responds to this sound in the coming years.

Still, that doesn’t detract from the fact that this album is incredible at emulating the highs of that era’s R&B. Impressive vocals, infectious melodies and a lot of swagger makes Overgrown one of my favourite listens of 2021.

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Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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