Album Review: Illy – Two Degrees (2016 LP)

I’ve followed Illy since his earliest releases. I remember first getting into him in high school when he reworked Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”. Next I smashed his second album, The Chase, on my train rides to and from my first year of uni. When touring his fourth album Cinematic, I saw him play on an island in Sydney Harbour. It’s fair to say I’ve been a big fan of his for a while now. And while naturally you’d look forward to an artist like this releasing their fifth album, in the lead up to the release of Two Degrees, I found myself not excited at all; underwhelmed, to be frank.

Maybe it’s a change in my personal taste in music. But after hearing what I’d assumed to be the lead-in track for the album, in 2015 single “Swear Jar”, I was left severely disappointed. I saw it as a massive step backwards for an artist who I knew could do so much better. As tentative as I could be, I watched as he debuted lead single “Papercuts” back at Groovin’ The Moo earlier in the year and as the recorded vocal of Vera Blue floated out into the crowd, my fears and worries slowly began to dissipate.

Illy has always been able to write a great pop hook featuring female vocals. It’s probably become his ‘thing’. From Owl Eyes featuring on “It Can Wait”, to 2013 mega-hit “Tightrope”, the female led chorus has granted Illy plenty of keys to the city over the past couple years. This is no different on Two Degrees. From the aforementioned “Papercuts” featuring Vera Blue, to follow up single “Catch 22” featuring Anne-Marie, and what’s certain to be a massive track in “Oh My” featuring Jenna McDougall, Two Degrees is an album of guest spots.

There’s been plenty of talk recently about the blending or removal of genres within the music community of Australia. It’s almost impossible for an artist to release an album without at least one of the tracks drawing comparisons to another artist from a rival genre. For plenty of ‘traditionalists’, this isn’t great. For music in general, it’s bloody brilliant. If I were to provide a broad, umbrella descriptor of what genre Two Degrees may fall under, I’d definitely call it Pop – and there’s nothing wrong with it being a pop album. Popular music has some of the catchiest songs you’ll ever hear. Plenty will say it’s rubbish, and they’re entitled to their opinion. But in reality, if it’s good music, it shouldn’t really matter what you’re going to classify it as.

Stand out tracks from Two Degrees, other than the lead singles, are definitely the beautiful “Extra Extra ft. Mike Waters” (or as my sister said upon hearing it: ‘that’s a nice song, until the swear at the end’), “Hazard To Myself” – an ode to being a bad influence on yourself featuring the caramel and honey coated vocals of rapper/ gospel singer Sir The Baptist, and the track that sounds like it probably could have been on Flume’s most recent release, the excellent “You Say When”.

While the album is mostly definitely a whole lot more accessible than some of his previous work, Two Degrees is possibly some of Illy’s best work to date. I’m glad I give it a go, despite my hesitation leading into the release. You should definitely give it a whirl too.

Review Score: 7.7 out of 10.

Two Degrees is out now.

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