2 Mar 2024

Review: Filter by Byllie-jean

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 2 March 2024

Photo: Supplied

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When she co-won the 2022 Maioha Award, which recognises excellence in te reo waiata as part of the Silver Scrolls, Ōtautahi singer-songwriter Byllie-jean had not yet released her first EP. There may have been assumptions that the RnB musician, who partnered with Aja Ropata on their composition, ‘Te Iho’, was new on the scene.

But she’s been honing her craft for some time, and this debut is bursting with inventiveness, matched with some hard-won wisdom.

On ‘Te Iho’, Aja and Byllie-jean collaborated with producer Chris Wethey, and he’s at the console here too. The six tracks on the Filter EP have that crackle of people eager to get their ideas on tape. 

‘Desperate Fools’ might be its most traditional, a soul ballad undercut by pithy lyrics like “it’s past the witching hour, but it still feels like there’s witches around”. 

The most acidic lines come on ‘Running Amuck’, notably “somebody stole our land, and everyone knows who did it”. It’s cutting, but there’s a vein of humour in the track too, and drama in the wave of harmonies that hit on the word “land”, over a shuddering violin.  

It’s a song that impresses with its mix of old and new, and pairing the violin with Byllie-jean’s rhythmic breathing and that sinister synth bass feels thematically appropriate, as well as musically exciting.

It’s the most overtly political track here, although personal politics run throughout, as well as constant aural flourishes. ‘Korimako’ starts with the sound of bellbirds, and a bass swell that evokes a pūrerehua.

Byllie-jean is joined by Aja on that track, and a snippet of kōauau that leaves you wanting more. There’s another notable guest on ‘E moko’, as Marlon Williams adds vocals to Filter’s warmest, most enveloping track.

In her press Byllie-jean acknowledges being a kuia to three mokopuna, saying “I have the luxury of a grandmother when it comes to not taking myself too seriously”. There’s a humorous edge to the EP, but that track feels wholly serious.

She goes on to say she’s “had to consider how [she] approaches visibility as a woman when only the young and pretty are represented”, referring to her music videos. She says the EP is about her mana motuhake, and that’s clear: you feel like you know her after listening to it. 

Past efforts as a duo were released under 'The Byllie-jean project', but this one is clearly a fully-formed statement, personal and passionate.