Suggested by two readers, Kate, and William J.
Iain Mew: I love the effect of the atonal synth riff that repeats at the back of “Once,” a less obvious version of something Chvrches later used. It lends an otherwise blissfully smooth track an impression of floating through space and trying to ignore an alarm sounding, which supports the hint of something wrong Ngaiire gets across amongst her beautiful calm. That and the bits about dying repet-et-et-itively and the world going to rubble.
Scott Ramage: A voice this expressive and soft could sing anything and sound good. This is excellent. It recalls Teedra Moses and Laura Mvula, but with more grit and more grace.
Kenny Komala: Her voice sounds like a toned-down Azealia Banks. I like those subtle beats. They accentuate her voice. I can’t make out what she says in the verses, but is she talking about sex in the chorus? “If we did it for love, we didn’t do it enough” is too on the nose for my taste.
Mike Mathews: THIS SONG. THIS VIDEO. The song really lives and dies by the atmospheric beat which picks up a light touch of hope in the chorus that really pulls the whole thing together.
Austin Brown: Downcast rumination blossoms into an oddly romantic sentiment: “We didn’t do it enough.” It’s a hard conceptual sell, but Ngaiire makes it mostly work, with a voice that makes you feel the potential for nostalgia in what’s often disregarded as the most selfish of relationship needs. A basically empty landscape behind Ngaiire’s voice helps, as it makes it all the more powerful when a few lone piano notes emerge to lend her some aid.
William Love: The first thing that pops into my head is Lauryn Hill, on acid, sleepwalking through Azealia Banks’s dreams. Equal parts soulful and subdued, “Once” is a perfect example of how less is more. The downtempo house sensibilities add just the right amount of melancholy, but you know that somewhere in there, she’s still having a great time.
Megan Harrington: It’s obviously steamy, a song that billows at half speed, a pile of smoldering embers, but when Ngaiire sings “we didn’t do it enough,” it’s suddenly so sharp, so painful; “Once” sears.
Patrick St. Michel: One for the late afternoon, for standing on a bridge and just staring off into the distance and thinking: a stripped-down meditation that, despite a tiredness around the edges, never sounds drowsy.
Peter Ryan: The “it” here is the same as Robyn’s “it”: all of the above, whatever you need it to be. Otherwise this is the comedown that Robyn foretold, the tails to “Do it Again”‘s heads. Where that song careens toward a fiery neon apocalypse, all tragic mania and bluster, commanding listeners to just keep it up for the sake of never stopping, “Once” slow dances (it doesn’t disco) while the embers go cold, openly acknowledging the futility and the beauty and the insufficiency of the thing. Ngaiire constantly threatens to let her voice rip but always pulls back, going for cool ache where others might lay waste. She coasts along atop a patchwork of syncopated blips, all the while tossing off lines like “we die repet-et-et-ively” and “life is long for the most part” and casually showing off her phrasing. Those are just components; what I love most is the soothing quality this has without trying to fix anything. It will be there when there’s not enough.
Thomas Inskeep: This is what I expected/hoped Dawn Richard (ex-Danity Kane/Diddy-Dirty Money) to sound like when I first heard about her solo work: slinky, kinda sexy alt-R&B. The instrumentation is spare, the echo used on her voice is effective, and “we shake our bodies till we go insane” is a great line.
Edward Okulicz: Those early seasons of Australian Idol were full of diverse singers, and Ngaiire was one of those who everone kind of liked but she was few people’s outright favourite. It’snice to hear her back with a track that makes me think of what Mutya Keisha Siobhan should be putting out as their second single. The music is fairly minimal, which is smart, because there’s enough there to notice, but not enough to get in the way of Ngaiire’s actorly performance. The story is in shards more than a coherent whole, but it hits enough emotive spots to be relatable. Not a knock-out but it rewards a patient headphones listen.
Brad Shoup: Maybe I’ve talked about this feeling too much, but I’m wondering if we need a genre for stepping out of the club for a minute. “Once” is a cousin to “Here”; Ngaiire’s taking a breather, Alessia Cara is fiending for one. But the former is ready to get back in there; she just needs to catch herself. The timbre on the kick is amazing — it’s at ASMR levels — and the organ lingers like a neutral ghost, hovering between its two spots. It’s remarkably soothing — better than any ambient album I’ve auditioned this year.
Alfred Soto: Spare and slinky, with a expert command of beat and timing. The Papua New Guinea-born singer knows her track is one remix away from possible international dance crossover yet she stays above the beat.