Music Moment: Harry Styles (Pt. II)

Music Moment: Harry Styles (Pt. II)

In June 2017, I reviewed Harry Styles’ self-titled debut album. And while anyone who knows me knows that I am slightly obsessed with him, I tried to write as unbiased as possible (but hey, this is my personal blog. Let me live a little).

And yesterday, Friday the 13th, Styles released his sophomore album. Fine Line. So, here we go again. Let me preface this review by saying: I am a tried and true Harry Styles fan. So obviously I’m not going to hate the album.

What year is it? Style’s latest album reflects Bowie, Elton John, Pink Floyd and more.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Styles admits that much of his inspiration came from “the greats” throughout music history. Music writer Rob Sheffield recounts his interview with Styles. “In the studio, while making the album, Harry kept watching a vintage Bowie clip on his phone… For Harry, this was an inspiring pep talk — a reminder not to play it safe. As Bowie says, “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in.”

The album cover speaks for the musical style of the album. Styles kept the pink color scheme of his debut album while opting for a more bizarre photo affect.

I really didn’t think Fine Line would be as good. I just assumed he couldn’t make an album as good as his debut. Or that he would be a sellout to mainstream music. I was right and I was wrong. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised. I immediately noticed that compared to Styles’ first album, Fine Line has a more cohesive style. If I had to describe this album, I would pin it as a groovy 1970s psychedelic rock inspired one.

Harry Styles: Rock star, pop star or neither? There’s an argument to be made.

Rolling Stone was very quick to name Styles as an up and coming rock star, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Harry is not making rock music (at least, not modern rock). He is most certainly, however, paying hommage to the classic rock styles of Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane. But that does not make him a rock star. Sorry.

The Overview

From the feel-good opening track of “Golden” to the existential ballad “Falling,” Harry Styles bares his soul to the world in Fine Line. The lyrics were surprisingly succinct and direct, sometimes seemingly without any creativity involved. “Cherry” even includes a voice memo of his ex-girlfriend, Camille Rowe and “Treat People With Kindness” reminds me of the The 5th Dimension. “Fine Line,” however, does a wonderful job of closing out the album with a synth-filled, moody tune.

Favorite song: She

Least favorite song: Canyon Moon

It’s been five years since One Direction broke up, and Styles is still soaring. His musical style and public image is continuously being shaped, but people can’t get enough. As Sheffield said, “[Harry Styles is] a curious kid who can’t decide whether to be the world’s most ardently adored pop star, or a freaky artiste. So he decides to be both.”

It will be interesting to see how this career continues, being that is still in the beginning stages. Styles has a lot of potential but even more pressure on this road ahead of him. Good luck, Harry.

P.S. If you’re interested in checking out more reviews, read this Pitchfork album review. And maybe comment below your thoughts on the album. Happy listening!

Music Moment: Lana Del Rey

Music Moment: Lana Del Rey

*Disclaimer: I’m using the abbreviation of the album’s title in this blog post. Just for clarification.*

I’ve never been one to obsess over the West Coast or dream of living on the beaches of Malibu. In fact, I typically wish I was in a cozy NYC loft or strolling through Central Park.

But Lana Del Rey’s latest release has me wishing I spent all summer laying on the beach in Cali with the warm sunlight peeking through pollution. 

Or spending summer nights indulging in the luxe life at the Chateau Marmont.

Or maybe towering over the city of Los Angeles, as Lana does in her vintage film-inspired music video for Doin’ Time. Nevertheless, my cat eye sunglasses only magnify the vibes this album exudes, as I listen and daydream of a fantasy summer filled with heartbreak and lost romance. 

In 2013-2014, I was obsessed with Lana. I bought flower crowns from Forever 21 to match her Born To Die aesthetic, and I thought I was the coolest kid in school (I can assure you, I was most definitely not).

As time passed, either I “outgrew” her or her albums got progressively worse. So, I just kind of stopped listening to her. But now she’s back with another album.

And I can’t stop listening to it.

Album cover for NFR!

NFR!–Lana Del Rey’s newest release–is a dreamy, hazy mix of songs about her former summer lover(s) and her new life in L.A.

Behind the Album

NFR! is Del Rey’s sixth studio album, produced with the help of Jack Antonoff, frontman of Bleachers.

It’s no secret that Del Rey tends to include American cultural references into all her albums, and this album is no different. Instead of paying homage to the cherry pie and retro red lipstick (or being the “classic” Americana diva), she chooses to use this album as a sort of mourning of American culture.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lana explores the meaning behind her latest aesthetic. “The chaos of the [current] culture is interesting, and I’m hopeful that there’s room for there to be some movement and excitement within it.”

NPR music critic Ann Powers claimed that “On NFR! Del Rey is at her most instantly compelling, a pro asserting her future spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” 

As Time magazine points out, Del Rey’s voice is extremely unique. “She laments, stretching out the final word ominously, amid verses that enumerate the things she misses: Long Beach, New York, idleness and, somehow most chillingly, rock ‘n’ roll.”

My Thoughts? Lana is the epitome of the next internet sensation: Sad Girl Fall.

The title track opens with an instrumental swell that is soft and sweet, setting up the scene for the rest of the album. The lyrics, however, are harsh and crude against the instrumentals, giving the entire album an interesting contrast.

While I love the sound of the album, my one complaint is that most of the songs sound the same (as it goes with indie pop I suppose). Nonetheless, listening to her album was a serendipitous moment. I wasn’t expecting much, and she really outdid her previous albums. 

Fave song: Mariner’s Apartment Complex or Doin’ Time 

Least Fave: Bartender 

Overall, I give this album an 8.5/10. The last half of the album was less impressive than the first half, but Lana still manages to top all her previous work with NFR!

What did you think of the album? Leave a comment below!

Music Moment: Ingrid Michaelson

Music Moment: Ingrid Michaelson

I’m pretty sure the last time I listened to Ingrid Michaelson was in 2011. Seriously.

I was a freshman in high school when I heard her singing in that cliché indie voice, singing about getting rich and buying a home in the South of France. (My little wannabe flower girl self totally fangirled over her songs.)

I probably wouldn’t be amiss to say we all thought she had just faded out of the music scene. But then out of the blue, she came back. Released on June 28, 2019, Stranger Songs is Michaelson’s latest attempt to be an indie artist.

Album cover of Stranger Songs, Michaelson’s latest album.

This album was quite literally based on the Netflix original TV series Stranger Things. There are 11 tracks on the album (go figure). From “Freak Show” to “Take Me Home,” each song deals with a scene or portion of the show. Billboard interviewed Michaelson and had her break down the meaning of each song.

Listening to the album, I felt extremely unimpressed. It was monotonous and honestly really cheesy. Maybe if I was still 14, I would like it. Who knows. Regardless, something about the album really rubs me the wrong way.

I’m all for using art as a means of inspiration to create new art. But this seemed a little much for me. I adore Stranger Things, but to make a song about Dustin getting bullied or Nancy breaking up with Steve? Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re making an entire album about another show/work of art, you might need some more creativity.

[Side note: I can’t be too horribly upset with this album because one of my favorite albums is the exact same concept. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project. It puts Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poems to psychedelic rock music.]

Anyway. Michaelson’s album still bothers me.

Fave song: Missing You

Least fave song: All the rest of them

Overall rating: 2/10… Sorry, Ingrid.

My thing is this: in a world of great synth pop, I simply cannot find a reason to like this album. It’s really only something I think we’ll be hearing on a muffled radio in JC Penney, not featured on Season 4 of Stranger Things.

In The Middle Of It All.

In The Middle Of It All.

“The unpredictable has found a hand to hold.”

Citizen, In The Middle Of It All

I’ve been getting a little overwhelmed by my mind recently. My tendency to internalize my thoughts and emotions has proven to add much more stress than needed to my life. I’m just so exhausted.

Exhausted by all the hurt my friends and family have experienced.

Exhausted by the feeling of being a passive participant in this life I’ve been given.

Exhausted by my own bitterness and anger and never ending questions.

Exhausted by the hatred and evil in the world. 

However, tonight in the midst of all the paralyzing thoughts and feelings stirring in my soul, I heard a still, small voice in my mind saying, “Do not grow weary in doing good.” God in His goodness immediately reminded me of that beautiful verse from Galatians 6.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

When it all falls apart,

When people hate you,

When you are utterly alone,

When you encounter those who defend immorality,

When you feel intimidated by the happenings of this world,

When those who profess to be Christians do not reflect Christ in any capacity,

When you feel like you can’t go on,

do not grow weary in doing good. 

Weariness of mind and heart makes sense for me right now. My life is on the brink of change. New things await, old things still beckon. Everything is in flux.

One song that keeps replaying in my mind during this season of life is “In the Middle of It All” by Citizen. I don’t really like the band, actually, but I love this song. My friend showed it to me while she was struggling with some similar things I am now. The band uses this song to proclaim despair and hurt and confusion. And then right before the chorus they sing, “In the middle of it all, I found you there.”

While it’s very clear the artist didn’t intend for it to be a spiritual song, I think God continues to show me more of Himself through things like this. In the middle of all my stress and anxiety and bitterness and resentment and excitement and confusion, I found Him. I found God in the storm of my life. And He alone is worth the pursuit. That alone gives me peace and calms the storms of my mind.

Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Does Music Really Have an Effect on Our Memories?

Anyone who has spent more than 30 minutes with me knows how much I love music. From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I have music playing as a sort-of soundtrack to my life. I write album reviews on my blog. I read peer-reviewed journal articles about the effect of country music on white suicide rates (or another good one: pop music’s affect on our memories) just for fun.

Music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of music include listening to ’90s Celine Dion and Mariah Carey with my mom, as well as singing “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel with my dad on our way to his construction job sites.

As a kid and angsty teenager, I spent many long car rides listening to my iPod nano and staring longingly out the window of my family minivan, pretending I was in some sort of nostalgic music video. When I had a bad day in middle school, I’d come home and blast “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter or “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. At one point in my life, I strongly believed “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban was a worship song. (It’s not.)

The point is, I’ve always been intrigued by the way music influences our memories and shapes our experiences. I found some interesting information from my brief researching on JSTOR. Essentially, music is like time travel. A perfectly crafted playlist can whisk you back in time to a memory you may have buried in the depths of your mind. However, it isn’t quite the same as reading your old diary entries or seeing old photos of yourself. Music attached to memories allows you to feel “a renewed sense of how it was to be that person or self at that time,” said Bas Jansen in his journal article “Tape Cassettes and Former Selves: How Mix Tapes Mediate Memories.

I then decided to ask people what songs were most dear to their heart. And what memories accompanied those songs. Here’s what they told me. (I may or may not have integrated my own memories into the mix of anonymous voices.)

“Fall for You by Secondhand Serenade. When I was in high school, I dated this guy for a long time. He texted me to look out of my window and he serenaded that song to me. It was pretty romantic.”

“Jasmine by Jai Paul. I heard it in the weeks before I started college. It made me feel like I was coming into my own, prepared for the world ahead.”

“Homecoming by Kanye West. It sounds like such a silly thing for a Kanye song to be sentimental, but when I got into high school my big brother started driving me to and from school every day. He was a senior when I was a freshman. I was bullied and struggled with self harm, and the time I spent with him in the car was my safe place.”

“ILYSB by LANY. It’s the song [my boyfriend] played when we were just friends, and it became our song when we started dating. It honestly just takes me back to when we were falling in love.”

“Touching Heaven by Johnnyswim. It was my little sister’s first dance at her wedding, and I have never felt more love and joy than in that moment.”

“Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon. It was put on a mix CD by my high school boyfriend. He had the best taste in music and made the best CDs. I felt like he really meant that song… He broke up with me a few weeks after giving me the CD because his dad made him. Honestly, I was so heartbroken over it. So now when I hear that song, I think of simpler times. When relationships hinged on how good the mix tape was. And riding down the mountain on a date, watching the sunset and listening to that song, with no care in the world.”

“Unforgettable by Nat King Cole. It was my 17th birthday, and my boyfriend and I had just gotten back to my house after dinner. We wanted some privacy, so we slow danced on my porch as the sun set. It’s a great slow dance song.”

“The Night We Met by Lord Huron started playing in a little restaurant in Glacier Park while I was there with my family right after we’d finished a 13 mile hike. Now whenever I hear the song, I wish I was back in Montana with my family, experiencing the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.”

“Are You In by Incubus. Driving along the cliffs of Highway 1 in California. Serenity.”

“My Wish by Rascal Flatts. It was the first time I had even gone to a summer camp. For a whole week, I was spending time with strangers from all over. I grew so much by being vulnerable. I had people who so genuinely cared about me and wanted me to grow. At the end of the week, this was the song that was blasted throughout the auditorium as we loaded cars and headed separate ways. Now when I hear this song, I think of endings. Although they come with sadness, it’s a period of realization.”

“Human by The Killers. It was 1 a.m., and my friends and I were driving back home from a concert. We were blasting this song in an effort to stay awake. Even though I was exhausted, it was so blissful. I can feel that same feeling every time I listen to this song.”

“Me and You by Kenny Chesney always makes me think of my dad because he sang that to me on the way to school as a child. Some of the best memories I’ve ever had.”

“If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot. My dad used to belt it out, and it reminds me of when my parents were still married. I used to think he was singing about my mom, but I guess not.”

“Coldplay got me through my high school depression. The song Yellow and the meaning behind it is fortifying to me.”

“Back Pocket by Vulfpeck. This song means a lot to me because during the summer of 2017, I would be editing late at night and the photographers would be editing with me. And we would turn on this song and just danced a ton.”

I was so overjoyed by the responses I received that I decided to create a Spotify playlist dedicated to all these special memories. Check it out! Want me to add your song to the list? Just leave a comment below explaining a song that you have a deeply connected to a cherished memory.