Last month saw the release of 3, the latest (and, big surprise, third) album from Papa New Guinea-born and Australia-based artist NGAIIRE. The album itself is eclectic in tone and form, often mixing electronic beats with soulful singing. And although the sound is undeniably more “pop” than NGAIIRE’s previous works, it’s clear that she hasn’t sacrificed any of her spirit and artistry in the name of accessibility. This delicate musical blend is encapsulated in the album’s sixth track, the anxious-but-catchy “Moonshine.”
“I am the night sky,” NGAIIRE declares in the opening line. And, a few lines later: “Some days I’m okay but not alright.” It’s a tough contradiction, to be so confident and yet feel so unstable! But the juxtaposition is relatable, and it guides us through the song—“Moonshine” gives a steady beat to an unsteady emotional episode. The song is deeply reflective. It’s overly revealing, much like an inebriated friend.
It can be sorrowful, too. Both lyrically and vocally, Ngaiire captures the attitude of someone crying out for help. She sounds transparently nervous even as she sings “I’m not nervous.” (And her voice is beautiful the whole time.)
The song is inspired. As NGAIIRE put its: “I wrote [Moonshine] while I was high on opioids. I just desperately wanted to feel like a whole human again… I was feeling increasingly out of control of my life, my career, my pregnancy and the life of my baby.” Certainly the prospect of giving birth is enough to make anyone feel anxious or insecure. It’s a contradiction in itself: childbirth is an act that brings new life into the world, but the journey itself is full of pain.
But “Moonshine” isn’t about pain, at least not directly. That’s what I find uplifting about the song: even though NGAIIRE is in a bad place, she doesn’t punish herself for it. The reflectiveness of her lyrics doesn’t stoop to depressiveness, or hopelessness. Halfway through the song, her backing vocals arrive—and they never leave. In such a lonely-sounding song, it’s a powerful message: “we’ve got your back.”
Finally, “Moonshine” showcases the soft strength in NGAIIRE’s voice. Not once does she shout or belt (though she would certainly be justified in doing so). Instead she navigates her song delicately, her voice smooth and stirring with emotion. And that itself is empowering, inspiring. During hard times, it would be folly to deny our own feelings, or to release them all at once in a moment of incandescent rage or grief. Instead, we overcome hardships by persevering. We advance with quiet strength: steady, smooth—like the flowing of moonshine.
Review by Alex Figueiredo