REVIEW: It Was Divine

“I’m not asking for too much/I’m asking the wrong motherfucker

Just ’cause we’re in love/Doesn’t mean that we’re right for each other”

Alina Baraz croons this out of pure self-love in “To Me”, the emotional turning point of her masterful debut studio album, It Was Divine. If emotive self-transformation were a sprawling mansion, It Was Divine would be the blueprint – each track is an artfully composed mood in itself, while the album narrates a tumultuous relationship from start to finish.

Baraz introduces her R&B-soul dreamscape with “My Whole Life”, a romantic carpet-ride of a song that perfectly encapsulates the overwhelming wonder of finding ‘the one’. Backed by romantic string instrumentals, Baraz repeatedly choruses: “I can see my whole life when I’m with you”, as if transfixed by the extent to which she can imagine the entirety of their joint futures. From this track onwards, Baraz constructs a spitting musical image of early relationship paradise: songs in the album’s first half are lush with motifs like vibrant sunsets, distinctive perfumes, and lavish resorts. “Off the Grid” featuring Khalid reflects the effortless nature of being comfortably in-tune with one’s lover – Baraz and Khalid sing promises like “Say the word and you know I’ll follow/Off the grid in the El Dorado/Could be nice in the summertime/We could sit inside, in the silence”. According to an Apple Music interview, Baraz describes their frequent collaboration as “effortless” and “in sync”, as the song’s infectiously vibe-able chorus suggests.

“Can’t keep makin’ a home out of you/Just ’cause you’re asking me to

I’m not asking for too much (Can we do it over?)”

“To Me” and its subsequent interlude, “Memo Blue”, effectively transition the tone of It Was Divine from hopelessly-in-love to reprocessing love as an independent emotion. “Memo Blue” resembles an immersive ASMR experience – the plinking of piano keys awakens Baraz from her rosy paradisal getaway, followed by soul-searching lines “I can only meet you as deep as you have met yourself/I can only reach you from where you are”. Baraz follows these important realizations with the hypnotic “Who Got Me”, a song of pure self-love featuring springy drum beats and Baraz’s distinctive, ethereal warble. By the song’s third verse, Baraz seems to transcend any doubt expressed by “Who got me like I do/When all of this is through”. The instrumentals recede while her voice, a born-again bird surging towards the sky, swells into a higher key.

It’s only fitting that Baraz ends It Was Divine with “The Beginning”; the album commands a similar regenerative power that reflects Baraz’s intent to introduce a new chapter into her music. This album is pure, unadulterated art, and Baraz’s ‘divine’ energy ties the work together with not a song out of place. I would highly recommend adding It Was Divine to your music libraries and watching its superbly aesthetic lyric videos on Youtube.


REVIEW: The Results of My Poor Judgement

Olivia O’Brien is no stranger to heartbreak pop – just one look at her flourishing discography reveals the 20 year old’s familiarity with penning infectiously catchy songs marked by the relatable angst that all young romance is home to. Those unfamiliar with O’Brien’s recent work will likely recognize these doleful vocals from her breakthrough collaboration with gnash in 2016, “i hate u, i love u”. With The Results of My Poor Judgement, O’Brien retains that earnest emotionality, yet with greater verve and a more mature outlook on love and heartbreak. According to O’Brien, this “micromixtape” is a set of three sonically consistent songs that should elicit the same emotion, which she commits to in “Was It All In My Head?”, “Josslyn”, and “Sad Together”. The Results of My Poor Judgement, released this year on February 7, follows her 2019 micromixtape It Was a Sad Fucking Summer in an inferred narrative sequence – while It Was a Sad Fucking Summer channels the sweet and sour sentiment of reflecting on a failed relationship, The Results of My Poor Judgement conveys a deeper understanding of post-heartbreak injury. Though O’Brien herself indicates that the contents of her micromixtapes are not experientially bound, as songs can be revived from old sound experiments that don’t fit into a full-length album, I interpret The Results of My Poor Judgement as the flurry of realizations one experiences near the ‘acceptance’ stage of a breakup.

The micromixtape opens with reflection and self-doubt; “Was It All In My Head?” is part straightforward pop, part mixed-feelings. O’Brien berates herself repeatedly throughout the song, “I must be crazy, insane/Get way too carried away/…Been romanticizing/About all these boys who ain’t never gon’ like me” while simultaneously questioning whether the relationship and her partner’s romantic sentiment were as authentic as she had perceived them to be. On the receiving end of mixed signals and desperate for a rational explanation, O’Brien concludes that yes, even in a reluctance “to move on”, the essence of the relationship was a complete mental fabrication.

“Josslyn” is undoubtedly the highlight of the micromixtape – the song is a satisfyingly pounding barrage of “screw-you” sentiment, aimed to evoke guilt in amateur and serial cheaters alike. Galvanized over the fury of being cheated on, O’Brien flippantly asserts “But know we’re off and we’ll never be on again/I hope that it was worth it fucking Josslyn/Don’t wanna fight I just never wanna talk again/I hope that it was worth it fucking Josslyn”. Though fans question the origin of the title and partake in virtually tearing the anonymous ‘Josslyn’ apart, O’Brien expresses clear disapproval over this socially-ingrained practice of shaming the “other-woman” and not the disloyal partner themselves. In an interview with Zach Sang, O’Brien asserts that the anger in “Josslyn” is intended for the cheater and the cheater only – resentment towards the “other woman” is wrongfully displaced and perpetuates placing unhealthy trust in those who have failed you.

Whether you’re in the midst of a messy breakup or ambivalent to relationship drama in general, I would recommend giving The Results of My Poor Judgement a deep listen.


5 Seconds of Summer released their new album, CALM, on Friday. 5SOS organized a worldwide listening party for the release, which I thought was really cool. On Instagram, they posted a list of times to start listening to the album based off fans’ location, and then went live on their account to listen along with their fans around the world. I’ve listened to the entire album multiple times since then. At first, I couldn’t decide if I liked CALM or not, but it’s really grown on me since then.

Overall, the album plays around with vocal layering and harmonies, something that 5SOS has not done much of before. According to the Apple Music, the album is an homage to their early twenties. Luke Hemmings, the band’s singer, breaks down each track in the album description on Apple Music. Because of this, I could understand many of the songs a little better, and I felt the emotion and passion behind each song. I’m going to go track by track to review this album, since each song deserves its own moment.

Red Desert: The track begins with a vocal chorus, all layered on top of each other, and the result is a haunting sound. The beat picks up as instruments get introduced, and to me, the sound feels like I’m driving a classic convertible car down a long stretch of highway through the desert. It’s not one of my favorite songs, but I can connect with it. The lyrics are about running away from something and hoping that escaping to the “desert” will heal the wounds. The song is a solid opening to the rest of the album, both thematically and musically.

No Shame: This is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. It speaks to being in the spotlight, and the media culture surrounding a band with the type of mass-following that 5SOS has. For some reason, it reminds me of The Police, but if The Police were a pop group in 2020.

Old Me: A big part of adulthood and growing up is making mistakes and learning from them. This song reflects that, with the mindset that the speaker is grateful for his “old me” for getting him to where he is today. I really relate and connect to it, since I’ve been thinking about my past and the choices the got me to where I am today. It’s easily another favorite of mine from the album.

Easier: This track is bass and percussion heavy, giving the music a playful contrast from the higher vocal range that the song is sung in. The song is about being stuck at a crossroads, and having to make a decision between staying with someone or leaving them. It’s one of the strongest sounds on the album, and the first single released from the album.

Teeth: To be honest, I don’t like this song. I feel like this song would be better suited for a fun rock musical. Or a TV show that’s also a musical. When I listen to it, I imagine it being performed on a stage, with the band in full costume. I wish the album had more acoustic confessional songs, and I think these lyrics would be much better for one of those. The music and the lyrics just don’t work well together. The sound is reminiscent of 80s bands like The Police, which is one of the things about this song that I do like.

Wildflower: If the first ten seconds of this song didn’t exist, I would love it. It’s a fun, upbeat, “hey, I like you” song, except the dramatic vocal layering in the first few seconds just don’t match the vibe of the song. Luke Hemmings described it as “big stadium vocal” that has the ability to be “a big, positive, euphoric anthem and not be lame”. I could honestly see this song fitting perfectly as the opener to a stadium set on their next tour.

Best Years: A confessional about recognizing mistakes and wanting to be better for a loved one. It’s not my favorite, but not one of my least-favorites either.

Not in the Same Way: This song is amazing. The harmonies paired with the beat in the pre-chorus is just an audible treasure. The song itself is about a relationship in which two people are trying to figure out what they are to each other. As a result, the music is fast-paced and chaotic, but it works so well. 5SOS found their stride, and this song proves that. 10/10.

Lover of Mine: Hemmings wrote this song with his girlfriend, so of course it’s a love song. The music makes the song seem darker than it actually is. It reminds me of rain, in a way. The best way I can describe this song is that it encapsulates the feeling of lounging on the couch with a lover on a rainy day.

Thin White Lies: The lyrics grapple with the internal conflict of white lies building up until you don’t recognize yourself anymore: “I don’t think I like me anymore / Will someone tell me who I was before?”. I don’t love the song as a whole, but I love the lyrics.

Lonely Heart: I wanted this love this song. The intro and chorus are hauntingly beautiful: just Hemmings singing with a guitar. The chorus picks up and gives the song more of a pop vibe. I wanted the whole song to stay like the beginning, and was disappointed that it did not. It’s still a pretty good song overall.

High: This is finally the acoustic track I’ve been craving from 5SOS. The lyrics are self-indulgent, but in a way that really works: “I hope you think of me high / I hope you think of me highly / When you’re with someone else”. While it’s not an upbeat album, it’s the perfect end to an album about the toils of being a twenty-something year old. It wrestles with the question, what impression do we leave on others?

5 Seconds of Summer, from their Instagram page (@5sos). From left to right: Michael Clifford, Luke Hemmings, Ashton Irwin, Calum Hood.

PREVIEW: CALM by 5 Seconds of Summer

The band 5 Seconds of Summer had their big break when they opened for One Direction on three of their tours, beginning in 2013. 5SOS (pronounced five-sauce) is not to be confused with a typical ‘boy band’ — they are a shining pop rock force to be reckoned with.

Set to be released on Friday, March 27th, 2020, CALM is twelve songs and forty minutes long. The name of the record seems to be a pun, referring to both the definition of the word ‘calm’ as well as an anagram of the band-members’ names: Calum Hood, Ashton Irwin, Luke Hemmings, and Michael Clifford. Four singles have already been released from the album, titled “No Shame”, “Old Me”, “Easier”, and “Teeth”. 5SOS will be releasing another single, “Wildflower”,  on Wednesday, March 25, in anticipation of their album release.

To get a taste of 5 Seconds of Summer’s new record, I highly recommend “Easier”, a song about a conflicted heart. The band juxtaposes layered vocals and pained lyrics with a beat that smoothly pulls the listener in different directions. “Old Me”, a relatable homage to a past-self, is my personal favorite so far. I have high expectations for CALM and can’t wait to indulge my ears on Friday.

Album art for 5 Seconds of Summer’s new record, CALM.

PREVIEW: Joe Henry

Henry has had a long life in the musical world, shaped not only by his work with great artists, but by the personal turmoil in his life. His recent dance with cancer has ended for now, and it will be interesting to see how his closeness to and command over death influences his work and how he takes risks in it. He’s worked on albums with countless famous musicians, but he holds a humbleness unique to a person who has directly faced his mortality.

Take a listen to his tunes posted to Spotify to get a sense of the kind of evening we’ll be enjoying together.

General admission is $25. Tickets are available online or in-person at The Ark (up to 75 minutes before doors open) or the Michigan Union Ticket Office (530 S State).

Doors are 7:00 PM on Sunday, February 23, and the show begins at 7:30. The Ark’s address is 316 S Main.

REVIEW: Sugartips Acoustic Duo

There isn’t nearly enough gentleness in the world. Everything is so loud all the time, the noises conflicting with one another and the angry fractures clashing. Background motivations seem to ruin the chance at pure intentions of bringing about joy. No one person or group or ideology is really blamable, though it would be easier if there was. Luckily we all have the opportunity to be soft and kind–we simply have to take it.

Even though Sugartips Acoustic usually does not deal in gentle tunes, the ambiance they create in every establishment they visit is one of fine relaxation. They play the classics, things everybody would know and feel comfortable singing along with a roomful of strangers. The experience is kind of like attending the wedding of a third cousin: maybe you don’t know many people, but you do know you’re somehow related to them all, however superficially. Also a lot of people are tipsy, and singing off-key to “Sweet Caroline.”

The pair performing in 2011.

Sure, Greg (the lead vocalist) could be a little flat, and he sometimes struggled to hit the higher notes, but perfect tone and pitch isn’t really the point. Greg and Ryan play music for the sake of it: to entertain, to enlighten, to fill a room with bubbling melody. Since the beginning of all music, this has been what it’s about. It is gentleness that drives them, and what has made them successful since their beginning way back in 2009.

It would be nice to see them perform a greater range of music, and maybe some more of their own compositions. I was excited to hear that their first ever original EP will be released this month! I’m glad that they are finding their own sound after such a long time experimenting with the music of others. This certainly isn’t easy to do; although I’ve been playing piano for years, the mere thought of composing anything myself is incredibly daunting. In all this time I’ve written almost nothing, even though I’ve played everything from Chopin to Adele and consider myself a creative person. There is something in all music makers that makes us immediately compare ourselves to the greats, even though they started from similar positions. I wish the Sugartips duo the best of luck in the next steps of their careers.

You can check out their music on Soundcloud, Youtube, or Facebook.