Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad: Esther Stephens ‘Under You’

Esther Stephens - Under You

Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad is a column which sees a panel of writers for The Corner review a range of local singles and grade them out of 10. Check out the song below, read through their opinions and let us know in the comments section your own thoughts and what you’d like to see reviewed next time around.

[YouTubeBandcamp]

[Grade: 6.3]

Chloe Cairncross: The bass reverberates with electric pulses while Esther Stephens gracefully occupies the screen. The mood is ominous but draws me in – I need to know what the tension is! But then, the ebullience and wicked innocence of the chorus charms us. The beguiling keyboard notes trip around the erotic zone: “I’d rather be under you…” A funky riff, as if lifted from an early Prince song, swaggers in to bridge the two halves of the song. This is a tantalisingly sexy electro-pop song that has so many bejewelled elements, not least is Stephens’s ability to flirt with me through the appeal of her voice. [9]

Alex Braae: The most recent comment on the YouTube video of this song seems pretty appropriate. “u are capable of greatness…but this isn’t it…_” Its not a bad song, but something about it just seems a little bit off. The sections felt like broken lego, they don’t really fit together properly. The hooks in the chorus don’t quite catch the ear, and overall this sounds like it needed a bit more development before it was released. I have high hopes that Stephens will get better though, there is a lot of promise here. [6]

Eden Bradfield: It’s the little things – the way Ms. Stephens says “wondering if he will” with a little lilt, that make my opinion on this track quiver – wondering if I just like it or I like like it. But it can sound like a B-grade Bond song at times, and parts sound like something crafted to be thrown onto Juice TV and rack up some radio plays. You know, a workhorse song. I think I just like it. [5]

Adam Burns: Dual performer Esther Stephens seems to be in a awkward transitional phase of evolving from a solid guest vocalist to crafting her own musical shtick and that is epitomized on ‘Under You’. She was a fantastic muse on Home Brew’s shimmering ‘Plastic Magic’ and with collabs with the likes of Solaa, Sola Rosa, etc (not to mention, having a dusty crack at D’Angelo’s ‘Untitled’) her recent history is of that husky funk and soul ilk. It feels like she’s going for more pastiche here in the vein of Janelle Monae, but this feels a bit clumsy. Stephens seems more comfortable on the chorus, which distills a charm but it shares space with some hammy verses (“liar / liar / lover / liar”) which makes for an uneasy juxtaposition. Craft is bound to come with time and I guess this is a a more encouraging direction as opposed to becoming a one woman Opensouls. [5]

Robyn Gallagher: This is some quality pop and I can’t stop listening to it. It has a cool EDM sound (urgh), like the sort of lady pop that’s coming out of the UK at the moment. I like the theme of the lyrics – delving into post-root etiquette versus desire, but it’s the killer chorus that really gets me. There’s a solid, memorable vocal hook and the song seems structured around making the chorus sound as mighty as possible. The music has hints of different styles, a bit of R&B, some soul, a little gospel and there’s even some ridiculous funk bass. It’s a feel-good, highly danceable track that addresses an important subject in our community. [8]

Elizabeth Beattie: The vocals are strong, but here they are a so overproduced they just sound unremarkable. This song is also pretty average with no clear hook or intention. I think Esther’s got some potential, but this track is a poor representation of that. [5]

Luke Jacobs: There is something so incredibly middle of the road about ‘Under You’ that makes it difficult to know what exactly I can add to the conversation. I just feel like we are not getting the best value out of Esther’s talent. There feels like a real disconnect between the personality her voice has and the songwriting. I know she writes her own stuff and she has been around awhile so I am not sure how that happens, but this single never really explodes – rather it fizzles then ends.

I watched her Red Bull studio session and although I never felt that connected to the music it had a sense of being more in touch with the essence of her songwriting ability and actually expressed it a bit more colourfully. This to me shows she can actually create something that is able to stand aside from the crowd but it just isn’t this. [6]

Michael Kerby: “I’d rather be under you” — I can’t decide if it’s a sex reference or an ‘Under My Thumb’ reference. Or both. It’s a great hook, and is part of a great song — a proper, well-written, light-and-dark-with-bits-in-between song. Well done. [8]

Ben Tuimaseve: Cool pop rock track by this cool chick. Sound/arrangement is nothing special or new but the drive of the track is consistent and fits the song topic (you can picture it and the sound goes). The drums for me were a bit too basic and her voice was stripped of a bit of soul due to effects – even though it’s not a soul track – but you still can nod your head throughout the song while singing along with the hook. The thing with Esther is that she knows her voice and zone so well it’s not often that her final product will sound bad. The video just shows her enjoying the song but makes you enjoy it too. I’m looking forward to more. [7]

Oli Lewis: The production on this track is seamless. Everything has been polished, clipped and forced into place in a way that leaves very little room for anything remotely resembling human error or, dare I say it, emotion. Like the result of Chinese foot-binding, ‘Under You’ ends up feeling compressed and lifeless, betrayed by an overzealous commitment to perfection.

Trapped like a model in the glossy pages of a magazine, Esther Stephen’s voice, which, in the best R&B tradition, is brilliantly sultry, never threatens to transcend this limitation. Relating a tale of dangerous lust and passion misdirected, her voice never fully manages to emote, leaving the listener stranded in a world of plastic pleasure: Ken and Barbie fucking as it were.

Even so, there’s no denying that the chorus has potential. The refrain ‘I’d rather be under you…’ is incredibly catchy; so catchy in fact that it almost manages to salvage the rest of the song. However, the inclusion of a Stephie Wonder-esque slap-bass breakdown and some derivative 80s disco instrumentation served to undermine the good-feelings I got from it. Overall it’s catchy but it feels too stilted and contrived. [4]

17 Comments

  1. Buffalo Bill says:

    Are you guys serious? Look, shes got some talent, thats clear from her red bull in studio performance on you tube, but this tune is completely let down by a lack of decent production and quite frankly a strange direction to take for this vocalist. Any electronic producer worth their salt will tell you the production on this is absolute rubbish. It lacks polish, dynamic or any kind of loudness or punchyness you would associate with this genre. I would urge the people reviewing this music to actually go out and A-B this with music from the same genre and you will sort out the men from the boys real fast.

    • Chloe Cairncross says:

      Thanks for the feedback. Some day, I plan to afford a course in music production. As it is, I’m just a lowly art history student but an avid music listener. I write how I feel from what I hear, and I’m sure many of our reviewers do that too. The point is that we are just your average Joes, giving our humble opinion on the latest tracks; we aim to give a succinct and honest reaction. Feel free to email to join the team if you are bothered by our apparent lack in expertise :)

      • Oli Lewis says:

        Bang!

      • Hey Buffalo – she shot you down ‘bang, bang’ lol

        Cheers Chloe!

      • Yes, but as reviewers publishing your opinions, you must also be prepared in turn to receive criticism of your reviews.

        Someone might be tempted to describe your writing style unbearably florid, as if it was created with the throwing a thesaurus, a bag of jellybeans, a teenager’s diary and a set of “Impressionist” fridge magnet poetry tiles in a food processor and buttering your macbook screen with the results

      • Fair enough MP & I am prepared to take whatever but that’s why we write the reviews, just as a fun opinion/feeling (who may/may not have extensive music & genre knownledge) after hearing a song & if you wish to take it any more than that, it’s entirely up to you.

        Just so anyone knows, I’m Benza aka Ben Tuimaseve, know me before you judge me haha I don’t look for flash adjectives or anything to make a florid review, I keep it simple which will most likely come off as boring but I do it because I enjoy the exercise of GSG/BSB, hopefully to get better.

        More than needed to be written but yeah, I love Esther Stephens aye, she is a live experience soul.

      • Matt Plummer says:

        Never underestimate the value of an art history degree Chloe, even if Obama or Stephen Joyce might suggest it doesn’t qualify you to do anything (including writing music reviews). Having opinions and expressing them eloquently is what it’s all about, right?

    • “I would urge the people reviewing this music to actually go out and A-B this with music from the same genre and you will sort out the men from the boys real fast.”

      That all sounds very serious and not very fun at all. You can go off and do your A-B testing. I’ll be over here with the boys listening to music that makes me feel good.

      • Buffalo Bill says:

        With the rest of the sheep. Some people (amazingingly you will find) actually appreciate good production. Thats what make me feel good. So have fun with your good feelings and I will have fun with mine.

      • Hassling me isn’t going to solve your problem. To make you happy. GSG/BSB would need to get a reviewer on board who has engineering and production experience. I’m not that person.

        Baa.

  2. This is great. Wish I had made time to review it.

    Also, for those wondering, the track was co-written by Tama Waipara and produced by Aaron Nevezie

    http://nevezie.com/?page_id=319

  3. Sam Sinclair says:

    I actually really like this song and think the she nails the hook but agree with Buffalo about the production. More dynamics and dare I say it more polish would have lifted the song a few notches. Inhaler by Foals would be a good reference point production wise although I realise this is unfair when comparing budgets/resources. Still I have come back to this song a couple of times already so that’s got me pretty excited about her future.

  4. Buffalo Bill says:

    Chloe, you said, and I quote :

    “The bass reverberates with electric pulses”

    Funny comment considering this tune has virtually no bass at all. Like seriously none.

    Like I say, compare it to some Jamie Woon or something. Go and listen to “Night Air”. THATS bass.

    • I read it as she was just trying to describe the mood of the track rather than saying the bass was sonically spectacular (and obvs all bass/sound reverberates etc y’know). actually agree with you on the the production, thought it was well written otherwise and wish they’d hit it out of the park. I’d be interested to find out what they were really going for with the backing.

      • +1 on the last thing you said Klane , I too would like to know….she done well on it in saying that though aye

  5. Buffalo Bill says:

    I had a look at Husseins link, the engineer runs a studio in NY and has worked with Black Keys and predominantly rock acts etc so to me its just a classic case of someone with rock engineering experience and a little electronic stuff but not enough to really nail those different kind of sonics. Engineering Rock and electronic are a completely different kettles of fish.

  6. Very good. Sort of song you can drive the car to on a bright suemmr’s day. Thanks for the link. Although I think French and Saunders would have a field day with that video!

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