The musical evolution of Willow has been a joy to witness. Constantly progressing and taking new risks at every turn, Willow has hopped around countless genres and aesthetics. From the cultural phenomenon that was “Whip My Hair,” Willow has dipped her toes into soulful pop-rock, reggae-tinged alternative tracks, and psychedelic rock. The common thread that runs through Ardipithecus, The 1st, Willow, and now, lately I feel EVERYTHING, is Willow’s commitment to wading through the muddy waters of human emotion. Regardless of what genre she chooses to soundtrack her ruminations, Willow has always been remarkably forthcoming about how existentialism, adolescence, and maturity shape the intensity of emotions.
At just over twenty minutes, lately I feel EVERYTHING both tributes and builds upon the pop-punk greatness of the early aughts. Willow enlists the likes of Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne to assist her on this section of her musical odyssey. Although album hits some impressive highs, namely the first two singles, Willow doesn’t give herself enough time to get as specific as she has on previous records. Lyrically, Willow is using very broad strokes, and the startlingly short lengths of these songs make the whole affair feel very carefully manicured. The lack of bridges, in particular, make lately I feel EVERYTHING a markedly unfulfilling listen. The songs simply don’t have enough time to build, and, by virtue of this, the greater narratives of the album are weakened because of how quickly everything moves. Before these songs even get a chance to settle into their own groove, Willow is on to the next one. The album’s lead single, “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” gets things off to a promising start. The Travis Barker-assisted track, which is nominated at this year’s Bulletin Awards, is a glorious snapshot of bratty pop-punk. Willow rips through the verses with a slightly nonchalant rap-adjacent cadence before launching into a snarling pre-chorus. She sings “I knew a boy just like you/he’s a snake just like you” with the perfect mixture of exasperation and vitriol needed to set up the roaring chorus. Between “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” and “Lipstick,” which I named one of the best songs of the year so far, the album’s pre-release singles are unfortunately two of its strongest moments. After the polish of “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l,” Willow taps into the off-kilter humor of pop-punk with the brash “F**K You” interlude; it’s 37 seconds that present harsh retribution for the culprit of a heartbreak. This interlude should have introduced a sequence of tracks that properly flesh out the events that resulted in such an emotional reaction. Instead, Willow only gets halfway there. “Gaslight” and “don’t SAVE ME” work together as brief moments of insight into a sour relationship, but neither song goes deep enough in the minute-and-a-half that they last for. “Gaslight” heavily relies on a biting chorus that centers on Willow “blowing out the gaslight” of her former partner. Consequently, the verses are left with the task of explaining how Willow reached the point of overcoming this gaslighting, but vague lyrics like “we’ll break the cycle (in due time)” do nothing to create a fuller narrative. On “don’t SAVE ME,” Willow ditches verses and replaces them with instrumental breaks. She sings redundant platitudes like “Gotta fight my own battles to get stronger,” but she never gives any indication as to what these battles may be or what she needs (or doesn’t need) saving from.
The stronger elements of lately I feel EVERYTHING are Willow’s sly merging of characteristics of different genres and the chemistry she has with her collaborators. On “naïve,” the only proper ballad on the album, Willow delivers an enrapturing vocal performance as she works through issues of trust and self-awareness. Willow’s voice has matured and improved so much over the years; this album features her most expressive vocal performances in the way that she is simultaneously able to hold her own against the boisterous instrumentation and give depth where her lyrics fail to do so. “Come Home” is another bright moment that pulls from classic rock as much as it pulls from doo-wop; Ayla Tesler-Mabe of Calpurnia excels as Willow’s strongest duet partner on the project. Grammy-nominated rapper Tierra Whack features on “XTRA,” a track that sits at the intersection of rap and pop-rock. By and large, the back half of lately I feel EVERYTHING is less impressive than the first half, but when you have Avril Lavigne bringing back 2002 on a track like “G R O W,” you can’t help but smile. As a pop-punk debut, lately I feel EVERYTHING is good enough. As an album, however, its briefness only works against what it’s trying to accomplish. Nevertheless, Willow is onto something here. This sound suits her incredibly well and there’s so much more potential to unlock.
Key Tracks: “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” | “Lipstick” | “naïve” | “Come Home”