Despite their large platform, WILLOW’s early music career has been an ebb and flow of short-lived hits and experimentation. Their three previously solo projects—ARDIPITHECUS, The 1st, and WILLOW—all showcased separate skill-sets of the young artist, bouncing between weird meshes of rock, pop, and soul, with The 1st actually providing a raw and 90s-inspired look. Expectedly, WILLOW has seemed to struggle with defining their sound across their first few solo releases.
Unfortunately, their now fourth solo release, Lately I Feel Everything, repeats this; but more importantly, it seems to be traveling away from progress. 2019’s WILLOW wasn’t close to groundbreaking in its musical approach, but at least showed signs of their genuine voice and image. Instead, Lately I Feel Everything—much like MGK’s Tickets To My Downfall—is a re-hash of overdone pop-punk trends that have all sense died out, relying on pandering to the truly disenfranchised for an easy cash-grab. And the few times it attempts to distance itself from the norm, it blunders, not in tremendous fashion, but ending in even more disappointment.
Thanks to help from Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker, WILLOW successfully recreates mid-2000s pop-punk grooves with “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” and “G R O W,” but with little to offer other than the occasional catchy hook. Drenched in unnecessary electronic effects and the ever-aging clapping effect, neither track adds intriguing nuances to the production or lyricism, offering up a plain and simple trip to the past. Unlike the recent punk-related giant, Sour, Lately I Feel Everything is without vibrant instrumentals or punchy, clever one-liners to carry it past the very basics of acceptable pop-punk.
When the album switches things up, the songs continue to underwhelm, but often due to botched delivery or poor songwriting. “naïve” establishes a strong, post-punk, shoegaze feeling, but the low-effort and lackadaisical delivery from WILLOW takes the headspace from trippy and interesting, to lazy and uninteresting. Lines like “I don’t like the way you’re lookin’ at me, bro” undermine the wonky effects by grounding the audience in boredom rather than excitement.
Luckily, we do eventually get an emotional payoff, with “4ever” being the surprising victor. Through soft bass tones and more distorted sonic environments, the slow-moving track puts each and every word of WILLOW’s into your ears, and lets them resonate. Giving importance to their words for arguably the first time on the record, WILLOW actually soars through your ears and mind, aided by a very patient song structure.
Though the occasional impressive moment pops its head up, all of them are overshadowed by the offensive level of pandering on this record. Quick tracks “F**K You” and “¡BREAKOUT!” continue patterns of low-effort moments, with the first being a 36-second garage song, featuring inconsistent drumming, and seemingly off-the-top lyricism. Attempting to fool the audience into a relatable, local, old-school punk head space, it plays to the extremes of lo-fi recording, but the crispness of the recording, the laughable lyrics, and overall context of WILLOW as an artist immediately shoo this possibility away, creating a frustrating and ingenuine image instead.
Then, “¡BREAKOUT!” is problematic for its own reasons. Part homage (nodding its head to individual songs, like Kanye’s “Power”), part original, the song ironically opts for the other extreme—diving head-first into maximizing noise and feedback. With similar, overwhelmingly-passionate yet meaningless lyricism, WILLOW screams into the mic as loud as they can, but little has changed. While the two tracks appear vastly different, both are attempting to grab your punk-ready ears, but with horrid and cheap execution.
For most of its runtime, Lately I Feel Everything is a significantly worse Sour, playing on the trends of pop-punk from the past two decades. With tons of talent familiar with that era, WILLOW does a fantastic job at recreating the bare-bones sound, but adds little flavor or additional enjoyment. Instead, the highs of the record come the few times they’re not undermining themselves, letting their genuine voice provide all the artistry they need. But unfortunately, the lows fall much further, and the record travels down with them.