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May 7, 2018 | by  | in Arts Music | [ssba]

My Design, On Others’ Lives

My Design, On Others’ Lives is the eagerly awaited first full-length project from Kiwi artist Estère, and it’s really bloody good.

This record – some of which was previewed in an EP released at the back end of last year – follows her 2015 self-titled EP, and a series of performances throughout New Zealand and abroad. Her self-described “electric blue witch-hop” draws from facets of neo-soul and jazz, among other genres, and is pulled together by a magnetic voice and an ear for quirky, earworm-esque melodies.

My Design, On Others’ Lives begins with the concise “Vietnam”, before a series of seemingly faultless tracks take us through the first half of the record. Of particular mention are the Ibeyi-like “Grandmother”, stone-cold banger “Pro Bono Techno Zone”, and “Ambition” – the hook from which has been stuck in my head for the last week. These songs see Estère delving into facets of her heritage, and discussing her family, while having her say on the difficult global political landscape we’re all finding our way through at the moment.

The second half of the record builds on this in a sense, placing a microscope on these facets of Estère’s experience. “Rent”, again featuring a massive chorus, is probably a track that could resonate with many student-types, as she discusses the all-too-common experience of having to being satisfied with one’s residential situation, while seeing paying rent as an achievement. Topical and relatable, as well as super catchy. I especially love the octave jump in the chorus, which really highlights the power in Estère’s upper vocal register.

“Nomads” follows, and is definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. Everything, from the effortlessly cool vocals, through to the swagger of the arrangement, ties together brilliantly – every element of the track compliments the rest of what is going on sonically. Vocally, Erykah Badu strikes me as an influence throughout the album, and I feel that influence here in a more prevalent sense.

The album concludes with “L’ouiseau dans l’etoile” (a French-language track, honouring her father) and “Guilty”, both of which continue the stream of unpredictable, yet catchy, tracks delivered through Estère’s confident and quirky vocal delivery. Sonically, this album somehow maintains a coherent vibe despite drawing from everything from 90s R&B through to techno or jazz. Largely, I think Estère’s vocal delivery aids this process, but the brave choices in the production always seem to marry up with the melodic choices as well. I just find this to be an immensely rewarding album – on face value, you’re presented with earworms galore, while repeated listening leads to finding something new in the arrangements every time.

I’ve been raving about My Design, On Others’ Lives to my mates, and I reckon you should too. This is an idiosyncratic, sprawling delight, tied together by honest and confidently delivered lyrics. In a year that is already proving to be strong for New Zealand music, Estère’s debut might just be the best of the lot so far.


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