Even at age 24, I’m starting to feel age creep up on me. Unlike the college days of getting three hours of sleep on average, anything less than seven now leaves me a disoriented mess. My knees have started creaking a bit if I stand up too fast, and I almost had a heart attack when I read the local paper and realized the local graduating class of high schoolers were the last to be born in the 1990s. There’s an entire industry feeding off this feeling. Buzzfeed Rewind, “teens react” style videos, and thinkpieces galore capitalize on those longing for their youth. Specifically, many are built around the idea that the art you grew up with is the best. “Can you believe these kids haven’t heard of this artist?” they ask. “They just don’t make films and music like they use to,” the articles grumble.
I’ve always found this preposterous. Sure, art changes, but it doesn’t get worse. It evolves. Like in every time frame, there’s good and bad, but the good is just as good as it ever was. Paintings from centuries ago are breathtaking, but Leonardo Da Vinci would lose his shit if he could see the kind of beauty you can create on an iPad now (or just generally at the idea of an iPad). In music, Hey Violet represent this evolution. Their debut album, From The Outside, draws upon inspirations and influences from many well-established genres and musical ideas, but their songwriting and personal spin on these ideas pushes toward tomorrow. The album isn’t flawless, but it’s a good, bold step into the future.
As it was when it first came out in March, album opener “Break My Heart” is still a banger, pairing the softer pop punk influences with more straight-up pop synths and execution. Rena Lovelis has a voice that can easily handle the quiet intensity of emotion along with the ability to bring the house down on a soaring chorus. Throughout the album, each member of the band gets to shine. Miranda Miller and Casey Moreta team up for a growling guitar attack on the heavily punk track “This Is Me (Breaking Up With You).” Newest member Iain Shipp comports himself well on the bass throughout the album, and Rena’s sister Nia is an exceptionally gifted drummer, as provided by the extra oomph she gives to “My Consequence,” just to name one track.
The number of styles the band can easily slip into is staggering. Each track still contains some pop and alternative flavorings, though. Producer Julian Bunetta knows how to craft a pop jam, as anyone who recognizes his myriad work with One Direction can tell you. It also helps when he’s working with such a talented group with a strong identity like Hey Violet.
“This Is Me” is definitely punk, but they can go acoustic rock on the anthem “O.D.D.,” slip into some funk-inspired leanings for “Brand New Moves,” or even churn out what ends up being close to a waltz on “Like Lovers Do.” If the style shifts sound overwhelming, you’re not entirely incorrect. While each song is undoubtedly a Hey Violet track, there are times where the sound changes so dramatically it almost takes you out of the listening experience. The back half of the album especially jumps all over the place. No one song is bad, but the wild variations make for an album that can feel disjointed on a full play through.
However, what never fails on From The Outside is the songwriting. While additional writers were brought in for some tracks, the band collectively had a hand in the whole album. It’s no secret that pop punk and alternative have a long way to go as a whole in properly representing women, so an album where three women were prominently involved in the performance and writing process stands out. A huge variety of emotions, topics, and situations are explored throughout the album. “Brand New Moves” finds Lovelis reconnecting with an old flame, “Guys My Age,” is about her experiences with older men, and “Hoodie” is an ode to the mementos and memories kept from an ex. “Fuqboi” is a gleeful evisceration of, well, fuckboys, and “This Is Me (Breaking Up With You)” is about exactly what it sounds like. In each song, Lovelis makes it clear that she is the one in control. Her agency stands out on every track. While men and relationships are present in these songs, they never overshadow what Lovelis is feeling or doing. For young women getting into alternative music, Hey Violet is here to tell them that they have the right to feel what they’re feeling and to express it, their experiences are valid, and no one is able to tell them otherwise. In a still heavily male-dominated genre, I don’t think I can overstate how important this message is.
As art marches forward, it changes. It grows, it morphs, it stumbles, but it endures. From The Ouside poises Hey Violet for the future. The music is fun and well-executed, the representation for the girls and women who listen is important, and the songwriting is superb. While it jumps around in terms of sound a little much, it’s a strong debut from Hey Violet. The present is treating them well, and the future is theirs.