Fresh Music Friday: Stan Walker, MADDY MAY, Lee Sugar

After a brief exam-stress hiatus, we are back to deliver the freshest hits straight to your (digital) door, with Zoe Biggs, Christine Lai, and Harry Gay guiding us through the latest from Stan Walker, MADDY MAY, and Lee Sugar (who… may have been the pick from last week… shhh).

Feelings – Stan Walker ft. Kings

Christine: An artist who first came onto the map after winning Australian Idol in 2009, Stan Walker emerges from the dust in his latest release, ‘Feelings’, and in collaboration with rapper/singer Kings, brings us a summer track in the early days of Winter. Echoing Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ catchphrase in “first things first, I’m the realest”, the song opens with a funky arrangement, smoothly infusing a pastiche of pop and R&B into a rhythmic swagger. Known for his honeyed vocals, Walker’s single gives us an easy listen as he ingratiates himself with a mostly simple backing track that is peppered with some vocal distortion and techno electro-pop plug-ins. The production traces sounds of the past and offers notes that seem aligned to Mark Ronson, Silk Sonic and Bruno Mars. Having not listened to his music since his Australian tv singing days, this was a light return to Walker’s musicography. Though I admit this track did not give me an immediate urge to ‘add to x playlist’, for me.

Zoe: This song is upbeat and catchy, but I don’t have too many strong “feelings” about it. The seeming homages to Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ (“first things first I’m the realest”) in the first line, and Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s ‘All The Way Up’ (“I’m all the way up, nothing can stop me I’m all the way up”) in the first verse was a cool inclusion. Both of these references really fit the can’t-tear-me-down vibe of this track (and it’s quite possible I might have missed some other references too). The overall message of this track really speaks to the plights of fame and the spotlight. Now, this isn’t the most relatable experience for most listeners and is definitely a popular theme in music, so I didn’t feel I was grabbed by any new take or innovation in this song. The last rap verse (by Kings) did change my opinion slightly, referencing both artists’ upbringings and really hammering home their mutual love of music and how it changed things for them. Stan Walker really got to show off his vocal runs towards the end, and he really does have a great voice. Overall, I can see this being a radio hit, and it’s got cool production. Kudos to both Stan Walker and Kings, this one just isn’t my style.

Harry: A funky R&B, pop, hip-hop track. Begins kind of like a meme, using the same opening line as ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea. Perhaps a reference to the fact that both artists hail from the Australia/New Zealand part of the world? In any case, this song is fun, featuring lots of fun instrumentals, synths, and musical motifs. My foot was tapping, my legs were groovin’; the only feelings I had were good vibes.

Closing In – MADDY MAY

Zoe: I adore a good finger-picked acoustic guitar and gentle vocals combo, and this song definitely has it. This is a track you have to listen to all the way through because it builds beautifully and continuously (no contrasting verse vs chorus structure here). At the 2-minute mark, MADDY MAY adds short, percussive vocal harmonies which are one of my favourite elements in the track. Around the 2:30 mark, the production really swells, and there’s this sort of melancholic yet hopeful tone the whole way through. MADDY MAY’s voice is breathy and light, yet so controlled, and I quite liked how she chose to layer her vocals on this track to lend them a bit more strength. The lyricism is also quite beautiful in its simplicity, and MADDY MAY has a great way of storytelling over the course of the song. If you’re looking for an ethereal song to relax to this weekend, this is it.

Harry: MADDY MAY’s track ‘Closing In’ is very melancholic, beginning with soft, acoustic strumming and whispery vocals. The song eventually grows louder, more epic, and euphoric. It’s giving coming-of-age movie. It’s giving emotional climax.

Christine: Indie-folk singer-songwriter Maddy May soothes the chills and heavy-handedness of an incoming Winter, by bringing a song that kindles warmth. Upon first listen, ‘Closing In’ can only best be described as a song that makes you feel like you’re holding a freshly made cup of tea in the palm of your hands. The track’s weightlessness can be attributed to May’s soft and delicate vocals that hold us in a dreamlike state. Speculative and assuring. An artist that is a cross between Gretta Ray and Joni Mitchell, May proves that sometimes less is more. With a Phoebe Bridgers-like hush, May braces listeners with a vulnerable track that feels like a private confession. Riddled with the claustrophobic nature of anxiety when everything feels like it’s ‘closing in’, the track pulses with a conscious edge that resonates through a whispery intimacy. Autobiographical, the song’s delivery is light yet insistent, asking listeners to reflect on the insular- on our identities, our relationships with strangers, and the conversations we have with ourselves.

What I Don’t Know – Lee Sugar

Harry: Lee Sugar is an emerging Aussie artist who has gotten quite a bit of airplay on Triple J. Very artistically and musically talented, Sugar painted the artworks that have served as the covers for his singles. His debut single ‘Cuckoo’, was self-produced and mixed solely by him. While this track is fun and bubbly, it’s not exactly something I would listen to again. Just not my style, very friendly but it makes for a good listen on the radio.

Christine: A lo-fi indie, bedroom-pop mix for lazy afternoons, Lee Sugar’s latest single ‘What I Don’t Know’, is equipped with a light-hearted ambiance that sings about the early days in a relationship, and the intrigue in untangling idiosyncrasies of your partner. The song is stripped back in nature, relying on guitar strums, a backing drum beat, and layered vocals to render it whole. Its production is simple but sweet, and as the song crescendos, there are additions of falsetto and a light electro-pop that leans into a woozy alt-rock plain. He sings, “If you had a tell, would I know the move/ Yeah I’d like to know / What I don’t know about you”, packing a casual suave register to his tone and lyricism. Sugar is giving: Rex Orange County, Tom Misch, and (pared back) Role Model. I can easily picture him wooing a love interest through a song like this, with a casual swagger and glint in his eye.

Zoe: This is a cool track, and Lee Sugar gives off a bit of Rex Orange County energy with his choice of jazz harmonies and quirky production. There were a few changes made to how Lee Sugar approached his vocals in this song depending on the section, which I thought definitely added interest and showed off different sides – from the smoother, cleaner vocals of the first verse, to a breathier falsetto, to a deeper, scratchier (but in a good way I promise!) vocal in the second verse. This track will have your head bopping the whole time, and I’d love to see what else Lee Sugar continues to do to really carve a unique artistic lane for himself.

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