Review Summary: A misstep of a debut LP that possesses some strong singles, but largely misses the mark otherwise.
For many, Stephen Sanchez – writer of the massively successful romantic pop ballad 'Until I Found You' – no longer requires an introduction. Since he first surfaced in the music scene in 2021, Sanchez's career has been on a rapid and exponential ascent. The aforementioned single has already garnered north of 1.5 billion streams after going viral on Tik Tok. He's enlisted Lord Huron – one of his musical idols – as a producer. Elton John has even declared his love for the dude. It's safe to say that everything's coming up roses for the twenty year old, who after two excellent EPs in 2021's What Was, Not Now
and 2022's Easy On My Eyes
basically has an instant legacy ripe for the plucking. The problem, unfortunately, is that his first full-length LP, Angel Face
, doesn't do much of anything to capitalize on the momentum that he's accrued.
trades in what Sanchez has always done best – starry-eyed romance and heavy emotion – for straight-up pastiche. This has been billed as a concept album of sorts, set sometime in the 1950s where a heart-on-sleeve troubadour falls in love with a mob boss's girlfriend and ends up getting murdered. All of this would (uh, maybe) be more interesting if the music held its own, but instead we're given heavy doses of songs that sound like AI-generated stock music from the era with minimal songwriting nuance or moments of lyrical intrigue. It's the sound of an artist going through the motions, focusing more on a story he's attempting to tell than crafting music that carries personal meaning to either him or the listener. The overbearing prevalance of the concept largely removes the emotion from his craft, which was always his greatest asset.
Sanchez does hit the occasional album-saving home run: the catchy-as-all-hell "Only Girl" is a warm and energetic bop that overflows with honeymoonish optimism and passion; Sanchez sings his heart out on the quotable and heart-wrenching "Be More"; "Evangeline" is a glorious mid-tempo swooner on par with "Until I Found You" – which is also found on the record's tracklist. But the fact that all four of these songs served as pre-release singles renders the full album itself as an item of little use. The earnest piano ballad "Something About Her" and the breezy, folky guitars of "Caught In A Blue" may serve as the next best things on display, but such moments still fall noticeably short of anything else Sanchez has put out in his young career. At its worst, Angel Face
plummets to the offensively bland; "Death Of The Troubadour", for example, is supposed to signify a key point in the plot where the narrator is killed, but none of that comes across in the music, which sounds like the score to any number of generic old western films. Damningly, these sorts of "1950s autopilot" cuts grossly outnumber anything with a creative or emotional pulse. As someone who reviewed and loved 2021's What Was, Not Now
, that's the biggest disappointment of all.
deserves some credit for possessing a small handful of excellent singles, but outside of those, this album falters almost uniformly. I can see what Stephen Sanchez was going for conceptually and aesthetically – and admittedly, I even fell for it based off the strength of the singles. However, the additional eight songs add no value at best and more often than not kill whatever buzz that was generated by the likes of "Only Girl", "Evangeline", "Be More", and "Until I Found You". Angel Face
does not feel representative of Stephen Sanchez's canon, nor does it consistently lean into his strengths as a songwriter or vocalist. It's a very strange choice for a debut full-length LP, and one that I unfortunately think he'll come to regret later in his career.