One of the hottest music trends over the last couple of years in all genres but Hip Hop has been to revamp sounds and music styles that were super popular in the past. Particularly, in 2020 it seems like so many artists are embracing early 80s Funk and Pop music, trying to incorporate it into whatever sound they are already known for. Some of the biggest albums of the year have been super heavily inspired by music from the early 1980s. From The Weeknd’s After Hours to Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, it really does feel like the 1980s are living a second life in 2020. Niki, who has been one of the hottest rising artists in the music collective 88rising, is an artist who has always embraced a Retro-Funk sound. Her music has always sounded like it is inspired by artists like Whitney Houston and Madonna; she is almost like a futuristic version of some of her favorite artists. Her newest project, Moonchild, is an album that I have been excited to hear for a while now. I have really enjoyed the singles that have come in anticipation of this record, and her sound just really draws me in. Apparently, this record is supposed to be a concept album that highlights different aspects of astrology. Because I do not really know much about astrology, I am just going to review it in the context of whether I like the music or not and I am not going to review it in the context of astrology. With that being said, this is how I feel about Niki’s new record MOONCHILD. Please let me know in the comments below if you agree with my review, and let me know what your favorite songs from this project are as well.
Feelin’ bulletproof and far from faces I don’t miss. So many brand new risks to take, and I’m feeling brave. The winds of change have nothing on this switchblade faith. I’ll take it to my grave… – ‘Switchblade’
As I said in the intro, one thing you can count on with Niki is that she is always going to embrace retro sounds. MOONCHILD starts out immediately with this sentiment, with the opening track having a slow-burning Funk sound to it that sounds like it came right out of the late 1970s, particularly by an artist like Funkadelic or Parliament. ‘Wide Open(Forward)’ also has a bit of a modern R&B feeling to it, with the riff sounding a bit like The Weeknd’s song ‘Dark Times.’ If you like this kind of slow and sultry R&B sound, this track is one that you will love. Lyrically, ‘Wide Open(Forward)’ kind of sets the rules for the world that the album will create going forth. Niki sings about a rough world that seems to be ruled by sex and general promiscuity; everyone could be an enemy, so the listener and main character of the song(also known as the Moon Child) are encouraged to always keep their eyes open and to constantly be on their toes. The second song on the album, ‘Switchblade,’ takes us right into the world of futuristic sound 80s Synth-Pop. This sound has been very popular and prevalent throughout the music industry in 2020, and Niki’s version of it is as good as anyone’s. I really love the weird, clicking percussion sound that is used to create the beat of this track. These percussions, along with the super far-out and otherworldly sounding synths which drive the melody make ‘Switchblade’ just sound unique and different from other songs that use this style. On ‘Switchblade,’ Niki is comparing her own experience of moving to America to the experience that the Moonchild is having as she takes on her journey in the world Niki has created with this album. Even though she is in a new and foreign place that she does not know, she is not afraid, because she feels free to do whatever she pleases and she knows that she can accomplish whatever she wants in this new world. This carefree and life-loving mentality continues onto the next track as well. ‘Nightcrawler’ seems to be a song that is sung by the Moon Child to a former lover of hers. This person does not seem to be totally satisfied with the life they are living, and Niki is encouraging this person to live as she and her friends do. The Moon Child just goes through life taking everything as it comes, not letting anything get her down or ruin her mood. ‘Nightcrawler’ is the first song with a truly modern sounding instrumental. This track has a bit of a Cloud-Trap feeling to it; The super atmospheric melody and beat kind of sounds like a crossover between Travis Scott and Doja Cat. It is not exactly what one would expect from Niki, but it is cool to see her always trying new sounds and making sure she is never complacent. The next song, ‘Selene,’ is one of the main reasons I was so eager to listen to this album in the first place. This track is definitely one of my favorites from 2020. ‘Selene’ has a sort of 90’s underground club music feeling to it; the riff and baseline have a bit of a Jazzy R&B feeling to it, with the tempo and melody having a very distinctive Garage-House element to them. ‘Selene’ is so smooth and so groovy, and every time I hear it I can not help but dance. On ‘Selene,’ Niki is singing about a spiritual presence sort of taking over her body and making her head over heels attracted to a person she already had feelings for. Selene is the name for the Goddess of the Moon in Greek Mythology, and the Moon Child is completely losing control and letting the Goddess totally take over her feelings and emotions, causing her to not be able to control her love for this person she has met. ‘Selene’ is such an important song in terms of the album and just in general, and it will be featured heavily in my playlist for the foreseeable future.
Out of the first five songs from this record, I would say that the most ambitious song that really tries to push the boundaries is ‘Tide.’ Even though ‘Tide’ is only about two minutes and thirty seconds, it switches its sound up so frequently and fluidly that the songs feels like it is five or six minutes. This track has elements of acoustic R&B, rock, ambient electro-pop, and industrial music. On ‘Tide,’ the Moon Child is trying to convince herself and convince the world that she can take on anything and everything. No matter how crazy the world gets and how untrustworthy people around her can be, she is always able to center herself and make sure she sticks to her original goals and plans. ‘Pandemonium’ is a track where the instrumental tone creates an interesting juxtaposition with its lyrical tone. One may expect a song with this kind of lyricism to be a bit more brash and bold and upbeat, but ‘Pandemonium’ actually has a really sweet and slow Bedroom Dream-Pop sound to it. This song reminds me a lot of some of the music that Clairo and Billie Eilish originally got famous for(I know they both have drastically changed their sounds now, but they did both start out with a sweet Dream-Pop theme to their music). ‘Pandemonium’ is a song that describes the feelings that a lot of young people today seem to have. It is partly due to our government, partly due to the internet and social media, and partly due to so many people being medicated from such an early age, but so many young people today feel very sad and lost. Even if you are accomplishing your dreams, you can always go online and see someone doing better than you are. The Moon Child feels more at peace when her life is in constant pandemonium and when she is constantly on the move because she does not have to stop, go online, and get sad. The next song, ‘Lose,’ is probably the most emotional and vulnerable moment on the project to this point. ‘Lose’ is the most low key and soft song to this point; this track is a piano ballad that reminds me a lot of early 2000s artists like Christine Aguilera and Alicia Keys. On ‘Lose,’ Niki is singing about how she really wants to be with someone that she knows she can not be with. Up until this point, the Moon Child seemed to be able to do whatever she wants, but maybe it was all a way to disguise how she feels about this person. Although this is not my personal favorite song on the record, I appreciate that Niki is willing to explore this sort of soft and vulnerable side of herself in her music.
Nothing stays the same and seasons keep on changin’ as they do. And we’re all still just stories above concrete, X amount of heartbeats, so thank God for plot twists like you… – ‘Plot Twist’
I do not know if Niki is supposed to have met someone new in the story or if she had a change in heart about the person she was singing about in the previous song, but ‘Plot Twist’ is a joyous and upbeat Pop song that brings the mood all the way back up to where it had been early in the record. On ‘Plot Twist,’ Niki is singing about how the new person in her life keeps everything fresh and sweet. In the crazy and convoluted world that we all live in, we all need a special person to bring everything back into perspective. ‘Plot Twist’ has a futuristic glitchy Synth-Pop sound that is super sweet and matches up with the lyricism very well. I really like that it is pretty unlike the rest of the songs on the record, as it provides a nice switch up and keeps the album from being too one dimensional. ‘If There’s Nothing Left…’ is a song that is also very unlike the rest of the music on this record. Stylistically, I would probably compare it to the song that precedes it the most, but it is still not even very close sounding to ‘Plot Twist.’ This track has a super glitchy and weird EDM Pop feeling to it. It is pretty hard to explain, to be honest. If you are into artists like Cashmere Cat or Four Tet, you will like this track. ‘If There’s Nothing Left…’ is another love song directed towards the person who was sung about in the previous song. Niki is telling her significant other that they can get through anything and that they can take on all of the weird and crazy stuff that our world has to offer if they have each other. MOONCHILD comes to a close with a song that stylistically kind of brings us back to the sounds from the beginning of the album. ‘Drive On’ has an 80s Pop sound to it that reminds me a lot of the first few songs from the record. It is almost as if the Niki used the middle of the album to expand her sound to new horizons and push her boundaries, but she made the beginning and end of the record kept her in a familiar place that she likes to be. ‘Drive On’ is a song that lyrically brings the record to a nice close as well. After all of the emotions and all of the highs and lows that the album possesses, ‘Drive On’ provides a message of just staying the course and moving forward. No matter how crazy the world gets and how bleak things can seem, all we can do is press on and do our best to shape a future that we want to be a part of. The only way we can make things better is if we actively make an effort to change things, and every little battle won is still important in the long run.
As I stated before, Niki’s MOONCHILD was an album that I have been excited to hear for a while now. I have always really enjoyed her sound and her sense of storytelling, and I always have felt like she can make a really cool project. MOONCHILD is an interesting concept album about someone entering a new and strange world all alone, trying to figure it out as they go. This album also sort of seems like a metaphor for Niki moving to America and entering the music industry. On MOONCHILD, Niki does push her boundaries a bit but mainly stays true to what she knows she is good at. I do wish she would have explored different sounds and put herself out there a little bit more, but overall I think this record is very good. If you are into retro Synth Pop and Funk music, there is a lot for you to like on this record.