Take one look at the album cover for Hey Violet’s From the Outside. It’s easy to assume that this is more of a promotional photo from a collaborative clothing line from PacSun and Hot Topic. It feels more like a marketing gimmick than the debut album from a young pop band. Even that title of “pop band” comes with a hint of eye-rolling, as the standards of a pop band are exemplified by the bland, cookie-cutter sound of Maroon 5 or Train. Right from the start, Hey Violet are entering into the world of music as the underdogs.
Fortunately, the L.A.-based quintet came prepared. From the Outside, their major-label debut from Capitol Records (after changing their name from Cherri Bomb), is a bubbly but biting summertime pop album for the A.D.D. Snapchat generation and fans of pop music alike. While there are definitely elements of modern pop music, including wubby dubstep drums, hazy electronics, and bass line heard in the back of Swedish House Mafia tracks, there’s a sense that there’s a real band behind these songs.
You can hear Iain Shipp’s thick bass line and Nia Lovelis’s disco drums on the sinfully-funky “Brand New Moves,” while Casey Moreta’s punky guitar riff propels the smarmy “Fuqboi.” “This Is Me Breaking Up with You” sounds like The Donnas if the got their musical aspirations out of the 1970s, while “Where You Have You Been (All My Night)” could easily be placed on the next Carly Rae Jepsen’s record.
The only tracks that really suffer are the ones that sound like they’re trying to be with the current trends. “Guys My Age” sounds like an overbearing response to Zayn’s “Pillowtalk” and “All We Ever Wanted” sounds like a Calvin Harris throwaway. The varied-yet-undoubtedly pop sound of From the Outside is a major advantage, which allows for striking left-turns including “Like Lovers Do.” It mostly features a plucked acoustic guitar, haunting electronics, and Rena Lovelis’s utterly spooky vocal delivery that sounds like it would be the dramatic closer to the first act of a gothic musical.
From the Outside is undoubtedly a celebration of the arrogance and fool-hearted mistakes one makes in their youth. Only a band comprised of people under the age of 25 could write a love song about an ex’s sweatshirt: “Hoodie” is undoubtedly the best song on the album, a yearning love song to an ex that has strong detail (“I’m still rocking your hoodie/And chewing on the strings…I kept the broken zipper/And cigarette burns/Still rocking your hoodie/Baby, even though it hurts”). “Fuqboi” is a modern-day “U + Ur Hand” that keeps up with the time (“So I went creeping around on his socials/And all the selfies he takes/His head is tilted the same way/And his favorite hashtag is beastmode”) while “This Is Me Breaking Up With You” is a timeless youth gone wild anthem (“Not getting married/Not having kids/Why should we go on longer than this?”).
Even when the band loses its energy, it relies on the allure of Rena Lovelis as a frontwoman. “O.D.D.” could easily be written off as the kids trying to be adults, but Rena delivers it with a natural earnestness and snark (“I’m a little O.D.D/And I see the way they look at me/I can hear it when they talk that trash/Saying ‘Any minute she gon’ crack’”).
If there’s anything negative to say about From the Outside, it’s that it leaves a sense of worry. Somewhat like The Beastie Boys’ License to Ill, it’s hard to imagine any longevity to come from Hey Violet. Yet, the songs off of the album feel like uniquely fresh summertime pop songs. Equal parts scrappy and crafted, From the Outside is a strong and memorable debut album from a band that thrives on the one thing all young bands seem to forsake: spunk.