From the time I noticed that tobyMac’s new album This Is Not a Test would have two songs featuring this “Hollyn,” I was interested in what she would bring to the CCM table. When the album was released, I found out that the answer was “quite a bit of talent!” Hollyn started turning more heads with her self-titled EP, featuring hit single “Alone (feat. TRU).” Now, after what seems like an eternity of waiting, she is finally ready to show the world what she can do with her first full-length album, One-Way Conversations.
While her EP was a blend of hip hop, pop, and R&B, Hollyn lets us know just how modern this album will be right off the bat with the tropical house-flavored Can’t Live Without. The EDM styling is unmistakably mainstream in feel and is a fun track, but at almost 4 and a half minutes in length, it feels just a bit too long, and it does end up being by far the lengthiest song on the album. Lead single Love With Your Life is super upbeat and catchy, a great blend of pop and EDM, and still stands as my favorite song by Hollyn to date. Tracks Obvious? and All My Love bring back the modern tropical style, both with themes focused around a much-loved friend. These four opening songs hold the most dance-focused material on the record, and they end up being the strongest cuts presented here.
In Awe is the first noticeably lackluster song on the tracklist. While very heartfelt lyrically, it fails to be anything special overall, resulting in a possibly skippable track for some. Hollyn’s first collaboration song on the album, Party in the Hills, features CCM rap veteran Andy Mineo and newcomer Steven Malcolm (whose debut album this song originally belongs to). While also nothing overly exceptional, it serves to be a fun, party-centered track mixing acoustic pop and rap (though it would have been nice to hear Hollyn throw in some nice rhymes here as well). Lovely is another pop/hip hop blend, and once again, while fun and featuring some nice vocal work and a good message, fails to stand out from the crowd too much and becomes a little bit forgettable.
In many debut albums by Gotee Records members, there is a song that features founding member and CCM legend tobyMac. Jamie Grace had “Hold Me,” for example, and Capital Kings had “We Belong As One.” This time around, toby and his Diverse City band join Hollyn on the predictably hip-hoppin’ Go, where she describes her need to flee the “flames” of a bad relationship (though it is uncertain whether it is with a boy or sin itself). The song is catchy and fun overall, but tobyMac and the gang barely have any time to shine. Besides some background vocals in the main hook, the band gets a “chant” section just before the final chorus, and that’s it. This is Hollyn’s opportunity to have one of her own songs feature on of the most beloved Christian artists of all time, but instead of having a chance to provide some sick new raps, tobyMac and Diverse City are limited to a performance that may be better described as “with tobyMac and Diverse City” rather than a “feature.” This may be more of a nitpick, but I do feel it detracts from the song overall, especially considering it clocks in at under 3 minutes as it is.
In fact, a surprisingly high amount of songs on the album are underwhelmingly shorter than 3 minutes in length, including the next two. Serving to be another somewhat dull and perhaps underdeveloped track, Waiting For ends up sounding almost more like an extended interlude than a complete song. Finishing it off with one more artist collaboration, Tree Giants make a nice contribution to the modernly styled, piano-driven hip hop track Girl. This is the only time Hollyn really lets her rapping skills show, so it is nice that her lyrics are very personal, as the song is constantly questioning who she is. The remix of Love With Your Life found at the very end didn’t impress me much on first listen (as most of Capital Kings’ deep house tracks haven’t), but it has grown on me somewhat since.
In the end, Hollyn’s debut has left many feeling a little underwhelmed. There are still some undoubtedly fun tracks here, though, and her shift to a much more modern style, while unexpected, works for the most part. One of the biggest drawbacks of the album is that she doesn’t allow herself a huge amount of time to show just how talented she really is. If you have seen her perform live, you know that Hollyn has a truly amazing voice, but there was a bit of vocal overproduction present in this outing, and not a lot of time given for her to really soar. The album is still enjoyable, but I know that she can do better (you want proof? Giver her EP a spin.) While her debut album may not have been everything that we dreamed, we still love her, and hopefully she will continue to grow in the future.
I Can't Quit Thinking This Could've Been Better... | Posted October-09-2016
While I can't deny that this song is growing on me, I also can't help but think that it could have been much more. This is Capital Kings' first song since lead singer Jon White left, so it needed to show with some power what the group was going to be without him and with Dylan "AVRY" Housewright as the new singer.
Musically, they progressed just as I thought they would - more pumping house beats with some big room influence. While this song sounds a bit better in this aspect than their similarly styled "Upgraded," it still falls a bit into the generic territory. Cole's rap is the highlight of the song lyrically, which isn't surprising as he is the only remaining founding member. Featured artist Reconcile confused me a bit on his rap - I guess I'm just not a huge fan of his style, and I find it relatively difficult to understand exactly what he is saying. He does great on his shout-outs during the buildups to the drops, though.
I have always been on the optimistic side of Dylan's joining of the group. That being said, his part isn't as great as it could have been, but that doesn't seem to be entirely his fault. The biggest flaw with his section of the song is that it doesn't last long enough. Dylan has a great voice, but he doesn't get to show it off enough on his first outing as a part of the group. This could certainly be a result of the duo not having finalized exactly what his style will be now that his is a Capital King, but I still wish he could have had more to sing. Furthermore, as great as he is, I still much prefer Jon White's voice. Dylan has proven he has a great voice in live shows, but Jon's vocals are just so unique, and he brings me right into the music more.
While I am always excited about new Capital Kings music, this new song worries me a bit about where the group is headed next. If they can continue to produce unique music that stands out, with lyrics that are fun and meaningful at the same time, I should be satisfied. I hope Dylan gets more time to develop his style, but most of all, I hope Capital Kings doesn't fall into a slur of producing generic EDM that is ultimately forgettable. Thankfully, this song doesn't go quite that far, but it does make me more cautious about their future endeavors. In time, we will see what happens next.
For about a decade, Britt Nicole has been a source of hope and encouragement for listeners around the world. Her constant focus on providing music that revives the soul has given her such a massive fanbase that with her last studio effort Gold, she was able to re-release her music to mainstream audiences. It has been four years now since she has released new music (save for the remix album in March of 2015), and fans have been dying to know how the new Britt Nicole would sound.
Ultimately, the new music takes the classic Britt Nicole fun and heart and gives it a whole new level of maturity, as well as a healthy dosage of pure, clean, electronic-radio pop. The first single, Through Your Eyes, follows the trend of tropical house/pop music that has been on the rise lately, giving it a new Christian twist with lyrics that thank God for not looking at us as we do but instead allowing us to see us in the way only He does. A true gem and possibly her best work to date, this track really starts the album off with a bang. Introducing the theme of marriage and romance for the first time since marrying Joshua “MyKidBrother” Crosby, All the Money boasts an anthem-like chorus with one of the catchiest melodies on the record. Better marks the first ballad on the track list, and while in the lyrical sense it is classic Britt Nicole, it fails to be anything special musically. It does, however, feature some beautiful background vocals. Continuing with the encouraging messages, Work of Art includes soaring melodies and beautiful instrumentation, but becomes a bit too repetitive by the time the track ends.
Fallin in Love brings the fun, danceable beats back, along with some more catchy vocal work. Switching to a theme of being a source of encouragement to others, Be the Change features some interesting musical work, with a relatively minimalistic arrangement and a few unexpected but still functional chord changes to accompany the heartfelt message. No song on this album, however, is more musically unique and hard-hitting than All Day. Taking a somewhat melodic hip-hop/pop beat and putting it in 3/4 time, this track explores the thoughts and feelings of a mother who is truly devoted to her children. As Nicole sings her promise to her kids, “I give you all my love, I give you all my heart / All day, all night, for life, forever, always,” it’s hard not to feel the overwhelming emotion well up inside you. Opening with a cute appearance from her kids (not for the first time on the album), Pave revives the tropical vibe with bouncy, marimba-like synths and a fun flute lead.
No Filter features some of the most clever lyrics on the album, playing off the concept of filters that people use on their photos as merely ways to hide flaws. Dropping some funky disco-pop beats, Girls Night Out is irresistibly catchy and fun, especially with the added drive-thru dialogue in the bridge. Serving as the worshipful closer to the main album, After You is sure to be a hit among long-time fans. While it does come across as slightly generic lyrically, her proud proclamation that she is “not after the world, I’m after you” is a perfect summation of her life and career thus far.
The three deluxe edition tracks are such beautiful additions, it’s truly a shame they were not included on the main track list. Concrete is personally one of the most impactful songs here, with an empowering message sung gracefully atop a splendidly beautiful musical background. Taking the most hip-hop/trap flavored cues Britt Nicole has in a while, Heart of Stone features a stunning melodic drop as well as a rap that is very reminiscent of the style of twenty øne piløts. Bringing it all to a close, Electric Love revives the danceable disco music for one more fun beat to jam to, even if it does include some comparatively weak lyrics for the main hook.
While many may complain that Britt Nicole has removed too much of her Christ-centered messages in her latest outing, it is hard to deny that she has truly brought the most accessible collection of Christian pop in her career to the table. I implore those who are disappointed with the seeming “lack of God” in her new songs to give them another spin, remembering that not every track has to mention Him directly to be about Him or something that He would say, as well as the fact that she ultimately takes all her inspiration from Him. In the end, Britt Nicole has given us a completely new set of inspirational and heartfelt tracks that is quite possibly her best record to date, sure to last us until the next round.