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Writing About Music (Honors 345A)

This guide features essays written by students as part of the class Writing About Music (Honors 345A, Fall 2018).

Bellion’s “The Human Condition” (Connor Bender)

The use of electronic synth bass and beats is no doubt prevalent in contemporary music. From Kanye West to alt rock bands such as Foster the People, you can't avoid it. While I was initially skeptical of such machine made sounds, I change my mind after listening to Jon Bellion’s “The Human Condition." 

“The Human Condition" is Jonathan David Bellion's debut album. While Bellion has worked with the likes of Eminem and Jason Derulo--helping them craft catchy lyrics to hits such as “The Monster” and “Trumpets”--his penchant for creating addictive hooks is now realized on his own album.

He often repeats a memorable chorus to solidify the tune in the listener’s brain… like a broken record. Yes, some tracks get repetitive and mutate from catchy to downright annoying. Take “All Time Low”, where a droning chorus echoes the word “low” a staggering 242 times. Or “Maybe IDK”, where the phrase “maybe I don’t know” cycles in different pitches and frequencies incessantly. The tracks try to be a reflective piece about accepting ignorance as an inherent human trait, but the lack of lyrical variation make them easy skips in the album.

Many of the other tracks in the album try to be reflective insightful on the past and the human experience as well, but taking on the form of typical breakup pop ballads. Although they can easily get stuck in one’s head, Songs like “The Good in Me” and ‘Overwhelming” rely too much on heartbreak clichés and lack any real substance, condemning an ex-lover for their betrayal through using words that come across as overly dramatic and vague.

So what makes me consider this album as a step in the right direction? The answer lies in a few standout songs that outweigh any negative aspects of the album.

In the album opener, “He is the Same,” a beat-box like rhythm pulses in the background while Jon raps about his upbringing in the verses, confessing to the audience through one simple line: “nothing has changed, he is the same”. Although this line is also repeated, the choral harmonies and gradual swell of electronic trumpets give Bellion a tone of compassion and innocence. Bellion continues to reminisce about his past with songs like the happy, smooth-synth laden “80’s Film” and the dark, bass-heavy “Morning in America”.

Two tracks on the album depart from Bellion’s typical formula by taking innovative risks with mixing unusual sounds. In “New York Soul,” Bellion raps about his New York roots to an unconventional funky bass beat. Out of the blue he utters a haunting line: “Lay me down in Brooklyn if I lose my life.” Framed within an angel-like synth in the chorus, Bellion declares that his soul will forever be a part of his hometown. In “Guillotine” Bellion calls out to an unnamed lover, back by only by violins and an acoustic guitar. This sense of vulnerability abruptly changes when a hard, infectious bass line hits the chorus, flipping the ballad into a deep dance song. Both “New York Soul” and “Guillotine” start off in one genre and end in another, subverting expectations and proving electronic music can be innovative.

Through callbacks to his past, a consistent theme to his songs, and the exciting twist on the electro-pop formula, Jon Bellion creates an album that leaves me wanting more. I do not believe the album is a masterpiece, but I do see potential in Bellion creating something truly great in the future, giving me hope for the next generation of electronic music makers.

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