Monday, October 7th, 2019

Ally Brooke & Matoma – Higher

Gotta collect ’em all…


Alfred Soto: This Fifth Harmony member aims for solo crossover with this gospel-tinged pop dance number. The correct lyrical signposts are in place. The bass burbles. It moves. It has no pulse.

Katherine St Asaph: Breathless, desiring (the temptation to not put “desire” in the lyrics must have been strong), yearning, pained and anonymous: the stuff of countless “Waiting For Tonight”s.

Kylo Nocom: “She ought to higher a better producer!” [boos and jeers] (I can stand the discount house beats, but don’t even bother justifying those damn gospel choir vocals. You can use better signifiers for soulfulness that don’t make you look massively lame!)

Kayla Beardslee: Ally Brooke has been putting out consistently enjoyable bops that have, to my surprise, even managed to be sonically cohesive. This is no small feat for the undeniable dark horse of Fifth Harmony, the last member to release her big debut single (“Lowkey,” back in January), and her quiet exceeding of expectations has made me root for her success. Brooke has a tendency to oversing, as far as I can tell, because of how powerful her voice is, but that habit actually suits her here: she emphasizes a mix of belting and breathiness that injects some extra meaning into what would otherwise be a basic dance song — this kind of vocal performance is what made “Lips Don’t Lie” so compelling to me as well. Although the lyrics are mostly standard, there are a couple interesting lines. The writers deserve props for skipping the obvious fire/desire rhymes and going instead to the far less cliche “choir,” and a few images in the verses are surprisingly poetic. Yes, “There’s an ocean of gratitude inside me/And the waves wash clean my soul” would be simplistic even in an intro creative writing class, but placed amid an otherwise slick and impersonal club banger, these prettier lines stand out in a good way.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Sweet, sweet Jukebox reader, please do yourself a favor and just read these lyrics for yourself. I will do my best to describe how mind-bogglingly odd they are, but only the complete original text can do itself justice. “Higher” is something akin to Thomas Friedman writing a pop song: a garbled mess of metaphors which desperately tries to be poignant and meaningful, but makes absolutely no sense to the point of self-parody. On the first verse, Ally Brooke sings, “Oh, the wind has been singing me a symphony/The sweetest sound that I have ever heard/Feels amazing the way it’s been lifting me/I’m free up here, high as a bird.” Putting aside the idea that symphonies are usually played and not sung and the ambiguity of “it,” what you’re left with is the bizarre imagery of the wind singing her a symphony that is the sweetest thing that she’s ever heard, and something lifting her up high and making her feel as free as a bird. Huh. The pre-chorus and chorus only provoke more confusion: “A moment, no, you don’t need to cry for me/I can’t wait to get where I’m going/You know that I’d love to stay/But I’m already on my way/Cause my love’s taking me, higher, higher higher/Look up you’ll see me, higher, higher, higher/I can hear the choir.” Why is there talk of crying? Is it because of what happened during “a moment”? Or did the crying already happen? If she’d love to stay, why is she leaving? Is the wind, the symphony sung by the wind, or her love taking her higher? (Is her love the wind?) Is this all metaphorical, or is she really insisting you can look up and see her like a parade float? Where is she going anyways? There’s talk of a choir? (Is the wind the choir too?) Verse two only necessitates more questions: “There’s a notion of gratitude inside of me/And the waves wash clean my soul.” Did no one spend the time to reword “a notion of gratitude inside of me”? Her soul is dirty now? Most importantly, suddenly, there are waves now? Are they waves of love? Waves of the wind? Waves of the wind’s symphony, the sweetest sound she has ever heard? Waves of the choir (also potentially from the wind)? Waves of the notions of gratitude inside of her? And now I have to stop here, because my blood pressure is spiking.

Ian Mathers: It’s not super surprising to find out this was written by Emeli Sandé (who I, at least, still mostly know for “Heaven”); the most interesting part are the weird little lyrical references that make it sound like Brooke is either feeling intimations of her imminent death or is about to be ritually sacrificed… and in either case, is downright happy about it. Given much of the rest of the song risks the generic, her oddly bubbly approach to not being here combined with the way Matoma centers the backing track around that insistent, rubbery bass line actually make this stand out.

Will Adams: It’s got all the bland house trappings I’d expect from someone who’s currently competing on Dancing With the Stars and will probably perform this at the finale. That said, there are worse things to model a song off of than a dance remix of Bananarama from 2005.

Joshua Lu: I’ve always had a soft spot for Ally Brooke, whose solo prospects after Fifth Harmony dissolved have never been considered great. Her songs never try to be anything original, even starting from how “Low Key” was an abject “Havana” clone, yet her particular kind of basicness, attempting to be nothing more than a catchy pop song, still feels vital to the industry’s lifeblood. “Higher” could very well be a post-Thank You Meghan Trainor song, and I know I won’t remember anything about it in a month. But it has an irresistible groove and Ally’s voice knows exactly when to belt and when to simmer down, rendering its ephemerality powerless against my moderate enjoyment of it for now.

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One Response to “Ally Brooke & Matoma – Higher”

  1. Not the reverse “Paint It, Black” we wanted, but maybe, deep down, the reverse “Paint It, Black” we know we really deserve.

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