“I’m not a concept, I am real…”
Those of you who read this site regularly may recall that last month I went to the live concert performance celebrating the release of this album. It was one of my favorite experiences of the year.
I had previously heard one single from it (“Look At Me Now“) but was otherwise unfamiliar with the music when I went to see the show – although I was aware of several of the singers and musicians involved with the project.
In retrospect, I’m sorry I hadn’t heard the entire album prior to the concert, as I would have appreciated the show even more. But I have been living with this awesome music on constant replay in my car wherever I’ve gone for the past several weeks as I cannot stop listening to it. And when I’m out and about, I regularly catch myself humming or singing the various songs from it. I think at this point I’ve pretty much randomly sung all of them without thinking about it. And I’ve literally woken up singing or humming them on multiple occasions. This album is completely stuck in my head. I’ll tell you why in more detail below, but first let me tell you a little about its history.
Over a year ago, musician Mike Hill had the dream to create an album. So like many artists, he turned to Kickstarter to see if he could make it happen. Only it wasn’t just an album he wanted to make – there was a story that he wanted to tell about the creation of it and why he was driven to do it. So with the help of a lot of fans and supporters, he raised enough money to not only produce this album and coalesce an incredibly talented group of people to turn it into a reality, but he also gathered the funds to film a documentary about its creation. The documentary will have its premiere in Hollywood in January (and hopefully I’ll get to attend and write about it, too!). But the album was released last month and it really is an amazing achievement.
A concept album, this original work is unified by its theme of examining love and relationships against a pop and rock background. Featuring a different singer (male or female) on each track, and a range of sounds and song styles, the one thing that brings it together is how we are all driven by what we feel and experience in relationship to others. I love the mix of musical genres and relationship perspectives expressed here. And I love all of the musical contributions of everyone involved – from the songwriters to the singers to the musicians to the producers.
In any artistic work, one needs visionaries behind it. In this case, the producers not only did a terrific job with the practical side of production – from the mix to the instrumental choices, it all sounds rich and polished and professional. But they made absolutely perfect creative choices in combining the proper songs with their best singers. Each voice was just right for each selection. Each musical genre choice worked both individually and in harmony with the rest of the album. I loved the combined use of male and female vocalists and how they were interspersed in the track list. It all just WORKS.
And while I immediately fell in love with certain songs the very first time I heard them performed at the concert (ahem, “Paper Planes” and “Has Anybody Seen Her” – and I was already a fan of “Look At Me Now” before the concert), other songs took merely one listen on the album and I was hooked (hello, “Psycho” and “No No Go Go”), while others gained strong appreciation after merely a few plays (“This”, “Love & War”, “Unbroken”, etc.). But really, I love the whole album and all of its songs. And I keep playing them repeatedly again and again!
Breaking it down, however, it seemed to me each song had a strong hook and success potential with exposure and airplay and while I don’t really want to hear anyone else sing them besides those who actually did, if these songs were sung by contemporary popular artists, I note below who they seem most suited or similar to and who I think they’d be hit songs for if they got general radio play.
- Exordium (MH)
– This short piece sets the military theme – the “War” in “Love & War” but isn’t really a song to review per se. But it gets you ready to rock once the next song starts.
- Acquiesce (feat. RC)
“Hits you when your guard is down…”
From the very first beats you know you’re gonna rock on this one. And this song happens to feature my favorite vocals on the album – I just love the sound of that voice! This guy can hit notes so long and powerful that you marvel as they stretch on. I don’t know what it is about him but something in the way he phrases and enunciates words as he sings, coupled with those endless impossible notes, sends chills down my spine. Really, he can sing anything and I’d be happy to listen to it, so I was thrilled that he got to kick the album off with the first number. The song itself details a guy’s realization that he’s finally met his perfect match and he needs to accept it.
– If you like: Fall Out Boy – then check out this song
- Look at Me Now (feat. AM)
“And now you can’t get me out of your head…”
I was already a fan of this song when it was released as a single ahead of the album – it’s just insanely catchy and the beat just pushes you on when you hear it. The emotional and musical build on this song is incredible – your body tenses as it grows, getting ready to shout out the chorus when it plays. This fight song, so intensely performed, is the first of a surprising amount of female empowerment songs on the album. (Whereas the guys’ songs are more romantic… go figure.) This one tells of a woman whose partner cheated on her and it made her realize she deserves better than that… and he deserves the loss he’s earned in return.
– If you like: Pink – then check out this song
- Girl Toy (feat. JK)
“With the wink of the eye I gotcha by the balls in my court…”
This millennial grrl power kickass song would make any woman feel large and in charge after singing it. It’s about a girl who knows she’s the queen and gets to decide if the guy checking her out is worth her time and attention. She knows she’s got all the control here – and she’s going to make sure he knows it, too! With its youthful sexy vocals, this is a fun one with a pop and rock mix!
– If you like: Ariana Grande – then check out this song
- Love & War (feat. JF)
“’Cause shouting till we get hoarse is not gonna help at all…”
This was the one song on the album that I couldn’t easily say who it reminds me of. I went round and round and finally decided it sounded as if Adam Levine was singing a song written by Alanis Morissette. Yeah. But bear with me here… you’ve got these simply gorgeous pop vocals over a legit rock beat. And all of it is camouflaging this introspective piece about self-destructive relationships and how they damage both parties involved. The war imagery is used perfectly to define a relationship that’s killing both participants. This one is poetry. Beautiful and intense.
– If you like: Maroon 5 – then check out this song
- Secrets & Spies (feat. DK)
“Don’t fight it, don’t fight it, let it happen, let it happen…”
This heavy metal lullaby is so hypnotic – I just sway along with the song as it plays. Admitting to fear and paranoia, and lack of trust in a relationship – the song is about trying to convince oneself to let a relationship happen as it goes along and stop fighting to force it to be something it’s not. As with all singers on this album, the vocals perfectly match the weight of the music – the slight gravelly sound in his voice helps the listener feel the travails of what it costs to keeping pushing onward.
– If you like: Metallica – then check out this song
- This (feat. CPO & JG)
“It would all be worth it for one more night with you…”
And here is where we start to enter the part of the album I love most – the more exuberant, more pop side. I’m a rock fan, but I love best of all a song that makes me bounce along to it. This one thematically reminds me a bit of one of my favorite Bruno Mars songs, “Grenade”, in its treatment of obsession and sacrifice in a relationship. I still think it’s funny that the guy songs on this album are really the ones about obsessing over relationships and wanting to make them happen and the girl songs are about getting over relationships and moving on. Sign of the times, I suppose! “This” was one of the songs that quickly grew on me after a few times listening to it and now I look forward to it as soon as I hear the opening notes.
– If you like: Daughtry – then check out this song
- No No Go Go (feat. ES)
“And take your baggage with you…”
Another song where I love the sound of this singer’s voice – it has texture and attitude and I love his teasing, mocking exaggeration when he’s singing the lyrics. He just sounds like he’s having fun singing them – and who wouldn’t? “No No Go Go” is essentially the millennial guy answer to “Girl Toy” – the boy empowerment song, if you will. Instead of bowing to a girl who thinks she’s the queen, he takes her ego down in a few verses. This was one of the first songs on the album that I learned all the words to – it’s so memorable and it’s one I find myself singing a lot. I think everyone can relate to knowing someone who thinks they’re all that when they’re not!
– If you like: One Direction – then check out this song
- Psycho (feat. JD & DK)
“Now imagine the things that we could do tonight…”
This was a song I somehow overlooked at the concert (how????????), but as soon as I heard it on the album, I was hooked! This song is just such a winner and not only makes me want to dance, but it has such a sharp rhythm to it that I desperately want to see someone choreograph a ballroom dance number to it. Dancing With the Stars, I’m calling you out – SOMEONE PLEASE DANCE TO THIS SONG! With its Latin flavor and irresistible beat, this song is meant for dancing… amongst other things! It’s one I immediately start moving to as soon as it starts, but can’t give it the high quickstep sexy ballroom kicks and spins it deserves! My only complaint about this song is that I wish it was longer – it ends too soon! Otherwise, it’s perfect – and my second fave on the album. The only male/female duet on the album, this one acknowledges how one would have to be crazy to fall in love – but that craziness may be worth it for what you get in return.
– If you like: Marc Anthony/Jennifer Lopez – then check out this song
- Unbroken (feat. SW)
“I’m still standing, I’m still singing anyhow…”
Another empowerment tune about surviving – this is a sister song to “Look At Me Now” but it’s less of a fight song like that one, than a reminder about tapping one’s inner strength despite downfalls. This is a notion that anyone can relate to, not just in terms of relationships but about any hardships or challenges we face in life. We tap that core within us and keep on going. We might get bent, but we remain unbroken. Beautiful. And speaking of beautiful – this is what you get when a theatrical voice sings a pop song (ala Idina Menzel or Kristin Chenoweth). It’s so much more than just making it sound good – which she does – it’s about using emotion to tell a story. And this girl’s phrasing and how the words pointedly release from her are simply wonderful. This is one that really grew on me on repeat plays and continues to resonate even more each time I listen to it.
– If you like: Kelly Clarkson – then check out this song
- Has Anybody Seen Her (feat. SR)
“Saturday night – it was heaven to hold her, we lit up the dance floor like John Travolta – all caught up in the fever…”
This. Is. My. Jam. Not only was this IMMEDIATELY my favorite song off the album from the first moment I heard it performed at the concert, but next to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, this is completely and utterly my FAVORITE SONG OF THE YEAR! This song just OWNED me from the second it started at the show and I started bouncing in my chair desperately wanting to get up and dance to it. Every time I hear it I feel the exact same way as the first time – I HAVE to move to it! I love its country-pop quality – it makes me want to get out on the dance floor and two-step the night away. It’s a celebration of fun and flirtation and dancing in the midst of a tale of modern social irony and lost possibilities. I love its joy and pathos mixed in perfect lockstep! If you see me in my car rockin’ out like a crazy person to this one – don’t bother me, I’m groovin’!
– If you like: Blake Shelton – then check out this song
- Wonderland (feat. SL)
“Everything is as it isn’t, see our love in double-vision as I looked into the mirror to another world…”
If you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you’d expect that I’m going to love any song that uses Alice in Wonderland imagery, right? So yes, this is one that I appreciate most for its twisty clever use of the language and symbolism of Lewis Caroll’s mad creation. This is the ballad companion to “Psycho” in its theme of love and madness intertwined. Both songs ultimately determine that insanity is worth the reward of finding one’s soulmate.
– If you like: Avril Lavigne – then check out this song
- Paper Planes (feat. DT)
“’Cause if I fall, if I break, I’ll break with the lightning, I’ll fall like the rain…”
A voice and a piano. And it is all you need. This song absolutely DESTROYED me the first time I heard it performed at the concert. I was in tears listening to it and that still hasn’t changed after many re-plays. It still makes me cry when I hear it. This song is just too good. It’s too much. It hurts to hear. It breaks my heart. But it’s such a blessing and a privilege just to listen to it. The vulnerability of the lyrics is matched only by the raw poignant openness of the vocals. The moments of sweet falsetto cutting together with the heartfelt depth of feeling in his voice create such an intimacy of expression that it’s nearly unbearable to handle. The song is about a commitment to risk anything for love. It’s painfully beautiful and miraculously hopeful and sad at the same time. The combination of writing and singing brilliance along with the deceptively simple production in this song is overwhelming. This is one for the ages. Pure love.
– If you like: John Legend – then check out this song
- Chasing After Yesterday (feat. JC)
“We run because we’ll never be young again – we’re chasing after yesterday…”
With its wistful lilting vocals, this is by far the most pure pop song on the album. I love the dichotomy of this singer’s young-sounding voice with the lyrical recognition of things we learn with age and experience. It gives the song an old-soul quality. It’s a song about looking back before we can look forward again – and about how easy it is to repeat the same mistakes we’ve made in the past over and over again. It’s a song of self-recognition and perhaps even eventual acceptance and understanding of our foibles. A sweet and somber note to end the album upon.
– If you like: Sara Bareilles – then check out this song
Do yourself a favor and go buy this album. There’s something here for everyone to appreciate. And really I appreciate it all!
Wishing all of the Mousertainment readers a Happy New Year filled with music!
Have you ever supported a Kickstarter creative project? If not, go check the site and see what’s out there – it’s another wonderful way of supporting the arts!