Sebastian Azul – Singles Review
Sebastian Azul is gettin’ his Quincy Jones on here.
At first I had thought I was reviewing an album until I had a look over the set-list and noticed it had all the songs listed in alphabetical order…which doesn’t happen all that often. Then I searched for an album title and didn’t find that either…which is right around when I finally clued in. That sent me over to the online realm to see what I was missing from the story here…and now I remember – this dude releases his tunes one-by-one…what we’ve got here is pretty much the bulk of what we would have been missing in between the last time we reviewed a full set of songwriter/producer Azul’s music way back in 2018. I’m countin’ about twenty-or-so singles that have been put out since that year, and we’ve got fourteen of’em here to discuss today as we bring this place up to-date on Sebastian’s latest cuts.
Like the legendary QJ did back in the day in his role as a producer, Azul will introduce you to a wealth of talented artists throughout the course of listening to these tunes – this whole set-list I’ve got here with the exception of one track has guest-stars listed in the credits attached to it. While that is always a recipe that guarantees varied results and it’d be tough to not compare many of these tracks to each other here in their alphabetical flow, keep in mind, they were also all originally released on their own too. It’s usually much less of a staggered experience when listening to singles as they’re actually put out there, but I’ve never had any issues getting right into the merry melting-pot of an entire array of sounds & styles…likely because I was raised with Quincy in my catalog back in the day…I loved the selection he’d have on albums like Back On The Block, which is a lot like playing a whole bunch of different singles at once, long before that was the method they became popular to release online as they are now today.
“Agnes” starts this alphabetically-based set of songs on a welcoming note for sure, clearly written in tribute for someone’s daughter out there…I guess we’d have to assume it’s Sebastian’s, but it’s not really specific in that sense. For the most part, it’s a bit broader in its scope than that, making it more relevant to pretty much any parent out there that’s dedicated to their children and rushing back home to them after a busy 9-5 or whatever else might keep them away. The love comes shining through…I don’t know that it’ll be a track that necessarily everyone ends up reaching for, but the parents out there would definitely appreciate it for sure. As for the single crowd…meh…probably tougher to say…but I’d imagine at the end of the day many people will like or love the sweetness they find in this song and the purity of its intentions. Decent performance from singer Mastakey, who gets a lot of sincere expression through the microphone that adds a lot of heart into this first impression…all-in-all, “Agnes” would go on to become one of the stronger songs in this whole set & starts this all off on the right notes for sure.
I’m really diggin’ on the lively bounce of the bass-lines that fuel the energy of “Baby I Don’t Like It” – and the verses stand out brilliantly, with vocals performed by Zoey Blaze. Admittedly, these would be the major strengths to this second cut…the rest plays a bit like the supporting cast to a good show. Chorus-wise…I don’t know if I was all that convinced that it really furthered the song, but it didn’t hurt it all that much either…I guess I just felt like the personality & character of this cut came out best through the verses, and there was just a little bit less to work with afterwards. Even mix-wise, it seemed to follow that same pattern…the verses came out spot-on, but the chorus needed a bit of something to help it not all seem so separate from the music, and have those vocals come out more encased within the sound we hear. Ultimately, I give Blaze a ton of credit here…I think this was a supremely demanding beat to keep up with to start & she’s done an exceptional job on the verses and in the breakdown as well – and the entire time, the bass-lines & beat keep right on her tail, threatening to steal the spotlight with the stunning level of energy & appeal you’ll find there on every ticking second. In the end, I felt like Zoey gave this everything she had and delivered with fearless confidence and fantastic tone throughout the verses…the chorus, she still does well, I just felt like the writing needed a bit more of the X-factor there.
Okay! Here we go. I have no idea who does what on “Don’t Wanna Know” – there’s a whole list of all-stars in this cut that includes performances from JeanV, Rep, and Cleva Thoughts, in addition to Aishar in the chorus. I just know what I like to hear, and this cut has plenty of it. Excellent balance between the strengths of the guests, in the songwriting, and in the mix – and also between bridging the gap between entertainment & social awareness. Even IF I understood…what I’m assuming would be Spanish in that first set of bars…I am nearly positive that NO set of ears on earth could keep up to what might be the fastest speed I’ve ever heard an emcee ever spit before in my LIFE. The hooks are definitely strong in this tune, and so is the message itself – it might seem like “Don’t Wanna Know” is almost defiant or nearly attempting to turn off the faucet of conversation, but if you’re really listening, you’ll understand it’s the opposite. Tracks like this spark the conversation – that’s the role they play – Sebastian Azul & his crew of talented cohorts here take on the system directly, and battle racial inequity in the process. So while you might hear that they “Don’t Wanna Know” – what is actually being said is more along the lines of, “don’t come at me unless you’re READY to talk about these important issues and how to go forward” – and when you realize that’s the context this really has, you’ll find a track like this carries even more weight to it, rivaling the sparkle & shine it has on the surface with the deeper meaning you’ll find here.
Personally, I’ve got no issues with extreme effects being used on vocals, be it auto-tuned or otherwise – I think it can be a huge asset to certain songs, and used sparingly, it’ll create instant diversity inside of a set of tunes like this. So for me, what Ian was doing worked really well as he sang through the filters applied to his vocals on “Family Values (Remix)” – all-in-all, there’s a whole bunch of radiant sound that beams from the mic in his verses, and through the chorus that features the reappearance of Mastakey. It can be even tougher to strike a balance like you’ll find here, where you do have one set of natural sounds like you’ll hear in the hooks from Mastakey paired with such a noticeably digitalized performance in Ian’s part…but I gotta give credit where credit is due, I felt like this was a really strong song. It’s a values-based tune as the title itself would imply, but it lives up to it in-full…the lyrics to this track were easily some of my favorites to be found in this whole set of singles…and I’d be willing to bet that there’s a great many people out there that would love what Azul & co. have created in this tune. There’s a lot of heart on display here once again, and between the sentiment & message, you couldn’t possibly miss it…the whole cut is built on spectacularly produced sound and equally sound morals too.
There are some singles that certainly come out flawlessly in this set, and “Girl I Like You” would definitely be on that list for sure. Performed by Hustle in the verses, and with a chorus by amsvig, the depth in the rhythm & groove created by Azul is enhanced even further by the magnificent personas on the mic here, and the remarkable flow they’ve found for the vocal pattern. While there have been great moments along the way throughout this set, you’ll hear a track like “Girl I Like You” and be able to instantly identify what single-worthy sound really IS – because this has IT from the lefts to the rights. Really clever ideas in production here and a completely tight mix – but let’s also be real here, Hustle is beyond remarkable and so is amsvig – the personality, character, and genuine swagger you’ll find here is pretty much astonishing when it comes right down to it. “Girl I Like You” has style for audible miles, is as professional as professional can be, it’s 100% ready for the club, and all-around, it’s got such an inherently catchy bounce & beat to it, that it’s bound to be a massive favorite for the Electro/R&B fans & those that are loving on the hybrid Hip-Hop sound. Everything about this cut screams that it’s a single from the performances to the production – “Girl I Like You” is as cool as cool can be, and an instant hit.
I’d be interested to know what people think about “I’m Fine” and whether or not it works for them…I was never 100% sure this one worked for me…but I’m more than willing to acknowledge that, with a bit of time…these are the kind of hooks that tend to get stronger over time. Uniqueness often comes with a price when it comes to immediate reactions…think of how many of your favorite artists & bands out there try something significantly new, and at first you balk at it, but eventually, you come around to either like or love it…I suspect “I’m Fine” will probably go through something similar. It’s a tough one to be critical of…you listen up close to the words and you know this crew has heard it all before – they’ve heard enough about what doesn’t work, and they’re just doing what they love to do – you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to take them on in that regard. Still…I’ll fully acknowledge that this cut takes at least a spin or two to get accustomed to the way Claudia chooses to sing these verses and the hooks you’ll find…there’s a moment here & there that sure, could be a bit more rounded & smooth or even use another take – but that would in fact take away from the honest nature this song has in its core messages. “I’m Fine” isn’t ONLY about smiling through the BS out there, it’s also about acceptance too – so to me, it was the most acceptable environment to have a few rougher edges in the final results, it’s kind of an authentic reflection of the true degree of honesty in the performance that mirrors the words.
Sebastian Azul is puttin’ DJ Khalid to shame with these intros every song, that much I can tell ya – that’s still a thing people are doin’ eh? My advice would be the same to DJ Khalid as it would be to Azul – if the music you’re making has the identity it needs to have, we’ll know exactly who it is without you having to say a thing, I promise ya. That being said, I’m worth about a cool fifty bucks compared to the fifty million I’m sure DJ Khalid is worth at the very least…so feel free to take advice from whichever source you feel is credible, I get it. And, you know…branding. To be truthful, normally I do find it a little distracting, but I actually haven’t hated that aspect of hearing these singles open up with a public service announcement to let us know who we’re listening to each and every time. While there are many cuts in this set-list that I grew to dig more with each spin, “Love Me, Love Me Not” was the kind of single that instantly got my attention and continued to remain one of my favorites from the lineup. Singer Jade Byrne does a spectacular job in finding a stellar energy to add to this song through her vocals all-around and puts in a smooth, mesmerizing, and heartfelt performance. For me, Byrne pretty much stole the show here when it comes to the featured guests in this set-list of singles – I think she gets a fantastic level of powerful emotion into her vocals and brings a ton of uniqueness to this song through the way she sings & the natural talent she has. She’s also got the advantage of stronger hooks and a cut that definitely progresses in a way we’re more accustomed to, building with a solid base and continually raising the stakes along the way…at least until we’ve all got a solid experience under our belt, then you’ll find the latter half of this tune begins to slowly dissipate as it heads towards the exit. Another highly single-worthy cut – “Love Me, Love Me Not” has no problem whatsoever making a lasting impact on ya – this one’s destined to find itself a permanent home on your playlists with its production & performance coming out so relentlessly engaging, captivating, and genuinely entertaining – this tune will move you.
I’m a bit of two minds when it comes to “Nothing Ever Ends (400 Years)” featuring Precila…there’s some stuff I think works like, amazingly well…and a few things that seemed to wander a bit further than most people would tend to stick with as listeners, putting Azul’s music almost closer to the avant-garde, experimental, and expressionist side of sound when you’re listening to the lead synth. So in a way, you can appreciate there’s fun being had there…Sebastian’s happy to rock the sound he’s found here…and I’m just not entirely sold on it personally is all – maybe you will be. Everything around the lead in the music in the music was absolutely, 100% brilliant. Vocally, it’s not my favorite pairing on the record, but I’m not all that opposed to it either; Precila holds her own well enough…but yeah…it’s not often you end up coming to the conclusion that what’s happening in the background is actually the main strengths & allure of a song, but here we are, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to “Nothing Ever Ends (400 Years).” I think that’s a layer of backing vocals we hear in this track as well…it’s gotta be…whatever that is, it’s one of the most enticing sounds you’ll hear in this whole set, flowing like a jazzy instrument into the atmosphere behind the lead…this is one of those cuts you where you want the script to get flipped and the roles reversed. We all hear our own music differently…and of course, you’ll all hear different things than I will as well; to me, this was a strange one to examine – the best stuff is in the background.
“Terrible” actually dates back to 2018, it’s the only track we’ve got here that dates back as far back as our original…and this cut tends to reveal a bit of the evolution that was necessary in between now & then. Ultimately, the performance in the vocals has a few moments of victory…I think the main issue is that much of this particular cut feels forced together in comparison to the smooth fluidity you’ll find in so many of the rest, and especially what’s being created more recently by Azul. There is a lot still here to love…it’s really the combination of the music with the vocals here that becomes a bit jarring to experience, but if you’re able to get behind all that to the heart of the instrumental, you’ll find a whole lot of depth in what you hear, up to & including a really killer guitar solo that pops into the mix along the way as well. What makes me the most curious about this particular inclusion is that it reaches so far back in Azul’s timeline…and if my math is correct, I counted about twenty singles that occurred after this, of which I’ve got thirteen then outta this fourteen in total…and you kinda have to wonder what would have this one included with this set as opposed to something from the newer side of his sound. “Terrible” isn’t quite the horror show the title would imply it could have been…there are still ideas that could potentially work in both the music and melody designed for the vocals…but this will definitely be one of those cuts that Azul will look back on in the future to follow and realize there’s still something missing that stops it quite from being as addictive for us as it might still be to him now three years later.
Oddly enough, sometimes alphabetical order can lead you to strange comparisons – I actually felt a lot similar to the results on “The Boy” as I did towards “Terrible” just prior when it came to the main vocals feeling a bit like they’re forced into this melody here at times, but I do like the sentiment of this song. I think of it similarly to how you’d think of recording harmonies…a lot of what we hear in both of these tunes have similar patterns that are echoed in both the music & the vocals…sometimes that can be effective, at other times you wanna hear more exploration in one or the other. In moments like say, where the vocals go more avant-garde into the mix throughout the final minute of “The Boy,” that stands out, even though there’s not an actual word being sung, simply because the pattern & relationship between the two elements is more separated. Dominic Azul makes an extremely strong appearance here – and it’s his spoken word moments that tend to steal the show here in my opinion. Don’t get it twisted, what you’ll hear still fits…my point is that the singing almost tends to fit too well with the design of the music if you’re really following what I’m saying…but that still ends up being a solid way to go about it and produces results well worth your time on “The Boy.” Dominic deserves a massive amount of credit here – and all-in-all, this song does what Azul’s music so often does extremely well, which is bring awareness to important issues…in this particular case, it’s largely about the mental & physical conditions that affect so many people out there, in a variety of different ways. Listening to Dominic’s words, particularly when he takes over for the finale of this song…it’s amazing really, and just as insightful as it is eye-opening – which to me, is what tells ya “The Boy” hit the mark it intended to…we ALL learn something by listening to this song. Plus, I mean…I ain’t denying it’s catchy…it certainly is; Cjay does a great job on the hooks…it might sound a bit forceful in the mix in a way like I’ve mentioned – but these messages they’re singing about shouldn’t be passive…there’s an urgency required with our awareness, and this song brings that out in a way we can hear & feel its importance. Ultimately, it’s a really strong cut in this set.
“The Year Of Awareness” benefits greatly from a stellar performance from everyone in the mix. Led by Fega on the mic in an electrifying & socially aware verse, with a chorus added in featuring Cjay & Sarah – everything from the smart inclusion of spoken-word samples, to the messages in the music, and the talented guests that bring it all to life – there’s a ton to be both enjoyed and considered in this track. Each part has a ton going for it though…no question about it…each piece that seemed to enter into the structure revealed another wildly addictive sound, hook, or singer…there’s a whole wealth of thought-provoking lyricism and impressive vibes to be found here. Alicia Wonderland Azul makes my favorite of her appearances on this record here, speaking up on behalf of those with tourette syndrome – and surrounded by the strength of those around her on this cut, all backing up her every word with one of the most bold, committed, and passionate performances you’ll find in these singles – everything comes out all-aces here. “Awareness Is Power” as they’ll tell you directly in the hooks, and they’re certainly not wrong – if we could have a whole legion of Sebastian Azul’s out there making music dedicated to creating better tomorrows for us all like this guy does, we’d have this whole planet in shape in no time. Absolutely one of the strongest cuts in this set with one of the clearest messages on the importance of maintaining mental health as well – “The Year Of Awareness” hits a homerun on every level all-around.
“TIC” is a bit looser in its direction, but tight through its production, and it’s still got a stellar main hook to it. Dominic Azul returns to the mix here as well, bringing the family element back to the music once again and providing his own hook to this track too – you gotta love it! The young man is growing up right there in front of us on the m-i-c…and these opportunities he gets to shine as the superstar he truly is will do wonders for his confidence in the future to come. So much of what Sebastian creates is based around this – and I love that about the guy – he’s proving to this whole crowd of talents he’s got on these tunes that they all have the talent it takes to do something special, and their own true uniqueness that should be celebrated. “TIC” is designed in a highly stylistic way that’s bound to attract all kinds of attention from those out there looking for club cuts to those out there seeking information & knowledge in the music they listen to as well…it might be a bit less of a tangible structure compared to some of the rest of these singles, but there’s no doubt about its appeal to the world of modern-day music out there.
Unfortunately…with it all being alphabetical…we arrive at the end here, with “This Old Tic (Remix)” – which I…I mean I can’t advocate on its behalf…I’d love to, but I just can’t. Again, in terms of like, if it was a single released and it had a target demographic of the younger generation…like, as in the really, really younger generation…then maybe I can see this working. Other than that, there’s never gonna be a point in time where you’ll find I can support bringing a nursery rhyme into the adult world, that just ain’t gonna happen; I don’t think it’s something that has ever worked out in the examples I’ve heard from the few artists out there that have attempted something similar. “This Old Tic” borrows from “This Old Man” or “Knick Knack Paddy Whack” – you might know it by several names…and no matter how old you may be yourself, you definitely haven’t forgotten it…it really just becomes a matter of whether or not you ever want to hear it again in any form…which I’ll readily admit, I did not. Does that mean you won’t love it either? Of course not – maybe “This Old Tic (Remix)” will totally be your jam, and right on if it is for ya. After the take-over of “Baby Shark” not too long ago, who’s to say Azul doesn’t have that next gigantic children’s hit sing-along song here in this final track…and maybe that’s exactly what he was going for, who knows? I don’t know that it’ll up his street-cred, but it’ll definitely earn him some respect with the parents out there, which is something quite a few of these songs have going for them in that regard. It really just depends on what Sebastian’s priorities are when it comes to making music…and I think there are times where it becomes difficult to attain that balance between creating something specific and meaningful, and also be something that’ll serve as entertainment on a more universal level to everyone. Again, it all really just depends on what the goals are.
Anyhow…that’s where I’m hearing the most space to evolve in Azul’s music potentially right now…maybe a bit more decisive direction is likely required when it comes to the combination of message, music, and sound overall if there’s ever gonna be a full cohesive album…but keep in mind, most of the time you’d be listening to these tunes, you’d be selecting them & hearing them individually…and that truly does make a difference to be considered here. Each song in its original individual form would have its own individual purpose and reasons as to why it sounds the way it sounds or simply is the way it is…whenever that’s the case, every song will be different & serve a different function every time anyway…and results will always vary in that scenario. When it comes to the core concept of what Sebastian Azul wants to do with his music and how he’s able to encourage others to participate in the fun, excitement, and pure joy of creating it – he’s focused as it gets, and can’t be beat. Lots to be proud of in these tunes, and his mission to raise awareness to important issues always adds bonus points.
Listen to music by Sebastian Azul at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7i5BhnmwZTCJdTj2aiOFEp
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