Review: Harry Styles – Harry’s House

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It’s no surprise that Harry Styles chose to open his newest album Harry’s House with a jazzy, larger than life track. “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” is the perfect opener for this latest iteration of Harry’s talent, and was an immediate fan favorite. It fits in well with his past discography as well. Is Harry becoming…predictable?

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You can buy or stream Harry’s House on Apple Music

“As It Was” starts with a piece of a voicemail from Harry’s goddaughter: “Come on Harry, we want to say good night to you!” In the video, this plays as he is seemingly stuck behind a door, and the song itself is about shutting himself out from everyone. It’s the closest we get to true self expression here, and even though it’s a great track for radio, it’s a risky set of lyrics to base everyone’s initial opinion of an album on. Some could say it follows suit from “Sign of the Times”, which is nothing short of gut-wrenching even (and especially) now, with its use of melancholia to pull us in.

What shocks me most about this new album is the amount of references to substances. Cocaine has at least three mentions and it’s clear he’s had a struggle with alcohol as well. Gone are the days of a carefree Harry singing about treating people with kindness or a girl who he wants to bring home to his mom. It seems these past few years have taken their toll on him, and it shows. He hides it pretty well behind the synths and harmonies, and callbacks to 70’s arena rock, but it’s there nevertheless.

Other than glimpses here and there, not much is said here about how Harry’s personal life is going, given the title of the album. Mentions are made of him and his lover riding bikes in New York (“Daylight”), and making breakfast (“Keep Driving”). 

I do love this album. It feels carefree, and will be a summer soundtrack for most of us, surely. The production is perfection, something we’ve come to expect from him. What I think has been missing from Harry’s career as a whole is intimacy. He talks a lot about his experiences in therapy, most recently in his interview with Zane Lowe, but that doesn’t seem to translate to his bodies of work. I truly wonder whether there will be a time when we get a softer, more personal album from Harry, and whether he will stop concealing himself behind power pop.

Harry’s House is a misleading title. It leads us to believe he will finally let us in, finally give us a real, genuine taste of who he is and who he is becoming. But, like his past releases, he sings so little about himself that he seemingly lets us in the foyer only to say, “Thank you so much for coming, hope you can come again soon!” before ushering us out and away from getting too close to him.

4/5

Photo by Lillie Eiger

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

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In 2013, I argued Childish Gambino’s merit as one of the most important rappers on the scene. The Grammy-nominated Because the Internet wasn’t just a monumental step forward for the artist that created it – it was filled with the kind of potential that might send ripples through the art form itself.

Since that time, Donald Glover has had little interest in pulling at that thread, instead releasing the pop-inspired Kauai EP, going radio silent for nearly a year, and re-emerging with one of 2016’s most important new TV series, Atlanta. Given his ever-growing talents and seeming determination to never do the same thing twice, his latest musical installment, “Awaken, My Love!”, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even so, it confounds.

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You can buy “Awaken, My Love!” on iTunes.

As if to hammer into our skulls that the days of dick jokes and quirky one-liners are as far in the past as possible, “Awaken, My Love!” treads far away from any path you might expect a Childish Gambino record to travel. In all actuality, Glover is far from the first rapper to draw heavy influence from 70’s soul and funk – Outkast, Kendrick Lamar and others have all drawn deeply from this well, even recently. However, Glover has tumbled in headfirst in a continuing quest to expand his reflections on relationships, race and existence.

Gambino’s gospel-infused plea of, “Let me into your heart” on lead single “Me and Your Mama” proved to be far more than a gimmick to get our attention. That track is merely the most palatable re-introduction to an artist now more inspired by Bootsy Collins or George Clinton than Jay or Ye.

Awaken wanders through a vast sonic forest of psychedelic funk and soul, with each track standing easily alone thanks to Glover’s insistence on changing character. His screams from the album opener transition to creepy inflections on “Zombies”, a commentary on industry leeches: “All I see is zombies / They can smell your money / And they want your soul”. Later, on album highlight “Redbone”, his voice takes on a pitch-corrected falsetto as he reflects on the painful gray areas of a relationship that seems to mirror that of Earn and Van’s on Atlanta.

At it’s best, Awaken capitalizes on Glover’s creativity and range, matching distinctive vocal choices with bold music selections to carry the weight of his message. On “Baby Boy”, his distorted pleading voice perfectly and painfully encapsulates his fears of losing connection with his newborn son: “I don’t wanna leave you / I don’t want him to see you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy’s lies / Please don’t take him away”.

These earnest moments make tracks like “California” nearly insufferable. The potential for success is squelched by Glover’s painful accent and clumsy lines like, “How you want to loop this shit but looking like a Vine?” If we weren’t so far removed from some of the juvenile deliveries of Camp, you could easily write these attempts off as humor, but “Awaken, My Love!” shakes away that notion every turn, making any such reconciliation difficult.

It comes as a deep relief when Glover is able to tie these stray ends together by the album’s conclusion. On “Stand Tall”, Gambino forgoes vocal effects and accents as he uses his father’s words to bring understanding amidst personal and universal confusion: “Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong, you cannot fall”. It’s such an easily digestible sincerity that you can’t help but reach for the repeat button to see if your perception of Awaken might shift upon repeated listens.

Glover has certainly earned the creative license that results in something like “Awaken, My Love!” And, as a project deeply inspired by childhood memories with his father, it makes sense as vehicle to express his evolving perspective on relationships and his own first taste of fatherhood. It’s a deeply personal record that feels genuine, sometimes as a direct result of the very flaws it possesses.

Perhaps Awaken is Childish Gambino’s 808s & Heartbreak – an intimate and peculiar expression that leads the artist headlong into a masterpiece. Whatever the case, it’s an album worth talking about and further proof that Donald Glover is one of the most fascinating and curious artists around.

3.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.