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Harry Styles – Harry’s House

1 Aug

Of all the solo careers coming out of One Direction, there’s no doubt that Harry Styles is just a notch above. He didn’t necessarily start out that way: his eponymous debut album showed promise with its 60s-tinged classic pop sounds, but ultimately proved to be fairly mediocre. Things got better with his second album Fine Line (2019) which featured earworm-of-the-decade “Watermelon Sugar” and bagged Styles his first Grammy (for the same track). 

In the years since that album and third album Harry’s House (2022), a lot has happened in Styles’ personal life. Most notably: actress and now award-winning director Olivia Wilde famously left her partner and father of her two children for Harry Styles. Olivia’s presence features subtly throughout the album’s lyrics – appropriately so, since Harry’s House is apparently meant to be about a day in his brain. 

“Late Night Talking”, the album’s second single, is a bright R&B track with a ridiculously catchy chorus that features the title words. With the references to breaking cameras and following his lady to Hollywood, we guess that the late night talks in question were with Ms. Wilde. If “Late Night Talking” bases itself on oblique references, “Cinema” gives it to us straight as the most direct ode to Olivia. The track lays bare the equation between them – she, the worldly cool older woman and he, the eager-to-please and madly in love. “I just think you’re cool, I dig your cinema / Do you think I’m cool, too? Or am I too into you?” he simpers. Also notable: his voice may be sweet may be sweet but the lyrics on this track definitely veer into some spicy territory with his thoughts about her.  

There are other tracks on this album that are great outside of referencing his new lady love, though. Opening track “Music for a Sushi Restaurant” immediately grabs your attention with the heavy bass lines and Styles’ charming falsetto. The bright and brassy chorus makes for an altogether irresistible track – one can even call it a “song of the summer”. Of course, it would have to share that title with Styles’ other big hit from the album – first single “As It Was”. It’s not “Watermelon Sugar” in terms of sheer virality but it’s as great of an addition to his discography. The instrumentals are bright but muted, and his vocals have a melancholy edge to them – if the whole album is about a day in the life in his brain, this is about a not-so-good day where he’s sitting at home, alone, on the floor, and possibly with drugs, to numb his loneliness. 

Daydreaming” is another sunny and bright track with horns, a thick bass and almost a disco feel in its exuberance, while “Satellite” is a decent track with some interesting drums and a space analogy to the distance between two individuals – kind of in the same spiritual tone as Ariana Grande’s “NASA”. Finally, “Matilda” is a sweet track ostensibly written for the title character of Roald Dahl’s classic novel (or at least someone like her). The quality of his vocals shines in its warmth and understanding on the chorus: “You can let it go, you can throw a party full of everyone you know / And not invite your family ’cause they never showed you love, you don’t have to be sorry for leavin’ and growin’ up”.

Beyond these tracks, though, the album has its fair share of weaker tracks – not duds, especially, but low on the notability scale. A lot of these tracks seem to be about a failed romance that, in retrospect, judging by the relative quality of these tracks, hasn’t provided the best inspiration for him. “Daylight” is a largely forgettable track about a withholding girlfriend while “Grapejuice”, “Little Freak” and “Keep Driving” are mild, vague tracks about the missed love interest, albeit with some interesting visual cues (red wine; ginger ale; tracksuits hiding a yoga-toned body). Album closer “Love of My Life” caps off this series of tracks with a final ode to this lost love; distance seemed to have been the death knell (“It’s unfortunate / Just coordinates”) so at least we have the full story there.

All in all, Harry’s House opens invitingly enough with some bright, brassy hits, but things get milder and less interesting the deeper you go in. To stick with his chosen house-as-mind analogy, perhaps there’s some finetuning and self-work that’s still pending on Styles’ end – and hopefully the next album will be even better.

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “Music for a Sushi Restaurant”, “As It Was”, “Late Night Talking”

Yaya Bey – Remember Your North Star

1 Aug

The first things that sticks with you from Remember Your North Star are a couple of razor blades embedded in the candyfloss. The album has a lot of the cloud-like consistency of candyfloss; the music is soft, gentle and jazzy. It’s ever so mildly effervescent. It provides the softest of velvet to envelop the iron of “mama loves her son” and of “i’m certain she’s there.” These snippets of her personal suffering and the universal pain that they mirror are storytelling of the absolute highest caliber.

She’s also a lot of fun when she stunts though. The swagger in “big daddy ya” is as infectious as the music. It’s empowering to sing along to. Similarly, her bragging in “keisha” is impeccable. You’re as puzzled as she is at someone unable to appreciate how good she is.

The only issue here is that sometimes in between all of these strengths, she can take the relaxation of the music and slip too far into languor. The jazz of “reprise” is mostly strong, but in places like the chorus become a little too smooth for even her vocals to save. It’s a great album, albeit one that would have been elevated by a little more energy. Still, I’m certainly not churlish enough not to like nice things.

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