Posted February 14, 2017
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.
Song to Download Now:
"Love With Your Life" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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