'Moonchild' Review: R&B singer Niki blends peaceful optimism, melancholy and hopeful dreams on debut album
Having already amassed a following through her independent releases, Niki makes her official debut under 88rising with an album that is built to transport you into a different headspace entirely
Indonesian singer, songwriter, and producer Niki makes her official debut with 'Moonchild', a magical record that transports you into an alternate universe of the singer's design.
Born Nicole Zefanya, Niki's musical roots are in '90s R&B with the singer counting artistes like Aaliyah, Destiny's Child, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston as major musical influences. Her earliest influence, however, comes from her mother who was a gospel singer at a church in East Jakarta. Niki was often exposed to music and singing on the regular thanks to massive weekend cookouts that included a gathering of family and friends all jamming together. At the age of fifteen, Niki landed the gig of a lifetime opening for Taylor Swift's 'The Red Tour' in Jakarta after she won a competition called 'Ride to Fame' that was arranged by Swift in collaboration with the ice cream brand Walls. The experience pushed Niki to begin a YouTube channel on which she started uploading both original music as well as covers. In 2017, the singer moved to Nashville, Tennessee and began studying Music at Lipscomb University. Shortly after, she dropped two new singles titled 'See U Never' and 'I Like U' via the label 88rising, an American mass media company founded by Sean Miyashiro that aims to promote and uplift underrepresented Asian and Asian-American artistes.
The 88rising philosophy is in line with Niki's, who has shared that she hopes to empower Asians and Asian Americans through her work. While performing at the 'Head in The Clouds' music festival, the singer addressed the crowd of over 10,000 attendees and shared, "I just want to say, as an Asian female, I do not take this day and this stage for granted. My hope is that above everything else today, that you feel heard, you feel understood, but most of all that you feel represented." In 2018, Niki released the first single off her EP 'Zephyr'. This would turn out to be the release that would catapult the singer to fame, paving the way for her to open for Halsey on her tour.
She's had quite the journey, that's for sure. But even if you've followed her the entire way, you're still going to find yourself gently transported by 'Moonchild', no matter how well you think you know what to expect when you walk into this listening experience. One could categorize Niki's sound as a blend of ethereal dream-pop and R&B with a touch of folk, but it's hard to care too much for labels because right off the bat with the foreword 'Wide Open', you're going to find yourself lost in the world Niki creates for you. Her music is soothing, almost like floating in water with no fear of drowning.
The release is split into three 'discs' of three songs each, not counting the foreword on the first. And each block includes an opening that hooks you right away and a blend of gently upbeat and melancholically somber tunes. And while Niki aces every style she experiments with on this album, where she truly shines is on the dark, cinematic, orchestral songs like 'Wide Open' and 'If There's Nothing Left...'. Additionally, in only ten tracks, Niki delivers a wide range of vocal skills, going from brassy lows to perfectly balanced highs with ease and switching gears between vocal tones seamlessly when she wants you to delve even further into her little world. Beyond the dark side, 'Selene' is gorgeously smooth and groovy. 'Tide' is a hard-hitting song filled with singing rap and chirping birds that seems to oscillate between the experience of heaven and hell and leads perfectly into the peacefully buoyant 'Pandemonium'. And while most tracks have Niki delivering soft, soothing vocals, she's perfectly at ease delivering a full vocal performance on tracks like 'Lose'.
'Plot Twist' is gloriously uplifting, and 'Drive On' packs a nostalgic punch, featuring an undertone of something you've heard from decades past but can't fully put your finger on. It's a smooth, jazzy '60s inspired track that has Niki tell her listeners they are "children of the moon," before sharing her hope for them in the lyrics, "may we grow, may we bloom." All up, 'Moonchild' is akin to an auditory painting, one that paints a vivid, dreamy picture. Niki has already amassed a following with her previously released work, but with this release, she reintroduces herself as a full-fledged, gifted singer, songwriter, and storyteller.
'Moonchild' is out now on all digital streaming platforms.