Review Summary: Are you a hopeless romantic?
Stephen Sanchez creates the kind of music you might hear during the end credits of an indie romance flick. On the surface that seems like a backhanded compliment, but Sanchez writes so candidly and sings so beautifully that you'll probably find yourself swooning in spite of the overly sappy content. Sure, this is fairly straightforward - acoustically driven, string-swept ballads of the heart-on-sleeve are hardly a revelation - but when executed properly, such music can still be worth your time. What Was, Not Now
is one of those moments.
The experience is comprised of six songs, one of which is a brief instrumental, making Sanchez's debut EP short and just as sweet as the romantic themes that it espouses. The impetus behind What Was, Not Now
is loving someone so
much that you can't bear the idea of existing without them. The concept is most succinctly captured on the breezy, uptempo opener 'Hold Her While You Can', where Stephen sings "She's a doll at 83, acting like we both just met / Reminding me of times that I swore I'd not forget / Now I'm 85 years old, alone lying on this bed / Missing the sound of her voice and the three words that she once said." On an EP where every song has the word "love" in it at least once, it's excerpts like this which prove to be the diamonds in the rough, saving What Was, Not Now
from plummeting into a sea of love-struck lyrical tropes. Sanchez still performs a delicate dance between pop cliches and the endearingly personal, but ultimately What Was, Not Now
emerges on the side of "just different enough." It may not be the most glowing endorsement when it comes to this extended play's depth, but for an eighteen year old pop songwriter, things could be worse.
Where the EP's magic truly lies is in Sanchez's stunning vocal performance. It feels as if his voice was made for these sort of songs; if you were looking for a 2021 point of comparison it might be Scarypoolparty - soft and limber yet capable of delivering those knockout blows when needed. 'Love Life' is a case-in-point, showcasing everything from high notes bordering on falsetto to effortless lower register drops; it's all seamless and natural. Beyond raw ability, Stephen has a knack for heartfelt deliveries. For instance, he takes a fairly pedestrian verse ("Would you trust me to catch you at the bottom of the pool?") and makes it feel like an earnest pledge of devotion. He always sings with an inviting warmth that makes his craft sound utterly sincere, which is an art form lost on many of today's most famous pop singer/songwriters. For being so young, Sanchez has his finger directly on the pulse of what makes a love song great
- and on What Was, Not Now
, he's already penned a few gems of his own.
Instrumentally, Stephen's debut EP is lush and agreeable even if unspectacular. Acoustic guitars are the mainstay, washing over the entire experience with a sense of proximity and intimacy. Much of What Was, Not Now
resultantly feels like it is being performed fireside, only with less of a raw/Earthy appeal and more of a celestial reach - like a night spent laying out on a blanket pondering the constellations with your crush. Elegant classical pianos and flourishing string sections elevate Sanchez's base instrumentals to something that truly feels
otherworldly, culminating in a spacious, romantically captivating atmosphere that is nearly impossible not to indulge in - even if it occasionally comes with a stereotypical side of red roses and heart-shaped chocolates.
All in all, What Was, Not Now
marks an impressive kickoff to Stephen Sanchez's musical career. He displays a clear knack for emotional balladry, and immerses that skill set in an aura of love drunkenness that, while occasionally hackneyed, is usually able to stick a landing in that sweet spot between romantic platitudes and insightful expression. More than anything, this EP is simply a rewarding low-effort listen thanks to its brief runtime, inviting warmth, and spellbindingly romantic themes. What Was, Not Now
finds itself absorbing a unique space between Ed Sheeran and Copeland, and it's both a highly enjoyable and equally marketable locale.