Willow Smith
Empathogen


4.3
superb

Review

by A.R.O. STAFF
May 10th, 2024 | 49 replies


Release Date: 05/03/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: kingdom of the planet of the plants

When her astoundingly aggravating single "Whip My Hair" debuted just days shy of her 10th birthday, Willow Smith swung from her family roots to cement herself as one of the first culturally pervasive Gen Z'ers in America. The song became an early rallying call for those who would decry her entire generation's impact on the music industry, even if it was hardly a step below what some of the biggest pop acts of the time were releasing (I was in middle school back then, I would know). But over the past 14 years, WILLOW has built herself a surprisingly storied discography for someone born this millennium. Since, she's proved to be far more than a trend-surfing p-l-a-n-t, rather a sonic shape-shifter driven by a perpetual restless, and as 2024's Empathogen suggests, a natural drive to self-improve.

Those who enjoyed her headstrong dive into pop-punk crunchiness on her last couple of works will be equally as pleased as those missing her detours into alt RnB. But the record isn't some Frankenstein's marriage of those styles either; across the LP's instrumentally vivid and ludicrously brisk 32-minute runtime, those influences are sumptuously redressed into dazzling indie-pop concoctions. It's one-part jittery funk-rock (think Paramore's latest), one-part jazz-infused neo-soul (Hiatus Kaiyote), and a bunch of other borrowed parts fused through adventurous songwriting. Its hyperactive pulse, still inspired by the electronics of our anxiety-laden age, trades chopped-up beats and nu-metal guitars for densely layered live instrumentation.

Meanwhile, her vocal gymnastics on highlights like "false self" or "run!" are worth the price of admission alone, sometimes effortlessly skittering along a drumbeat, other times snarling like a punk before delivering breathy coos, switching deftly between syllables. Her vocal takes sound so raw yet intricate that their unprocessed production only emphasizes her natural range. So enticing is her voice that when St. Vincent shows up (a relatively unceremonious feature in a very straight-laced duet), you'll just find yourself missing Willow until her lovely harmonies set in.

Unusually for a pop album, the brightest jewels are deep in the back half. "run!" revs up with a Thundercat-warm bass line and a rare jagged electric guitar before the mumble-thon coda takes off, providing a pivotal fuel-up before destined queer anthem "between i and she" steals the spotlight. The jazz-pop closer "b i g f e e l i n g s" feels ripped straight out of the Book of Fiona Apple, but more than earns the comp for Willow's soaring vocals and sustaining the playful jam-like nature throughout its labyrinthine runtime. The song isn't even four-and-a-half minutes long, but trust that it feels like a goddamn grand finale for an album this impatient.

While some of Willow's declarations about modern life and love might seem trite on paper, they strike true thanks to the stream-of-conscious bluntness of her delivery. Throughout the record, she seems committed to tearing down barriers between her potential audiences, just as she enjoys pitting their tastes against each other. No matter how far her upbringing might have distanced her from the hoi polloi, it's clear that Willow Smith is no stranger to the troubles her generation has faced these past few years. Given that, it's inspiring to see this open-armed, genreless style of Gen Z pop still taking flight. For her and her peers, not even the sky is the limit.



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user ratings (55)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
neekafat
Staff Reviewer
May 10th 2024


26231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

well this was an absolute surprise!

"run!": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1D_PYqQKoQ



megathanks to johnny you would not wanna read this review before he proofed it

bellovddd
May 10th 2024


6045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

holy shit. I gotta check this out now

bellovddd
May 10th 2024


6045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

symptom of life is very nice

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
May 10th 2024


26231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

Yes thats a great one

bellovddd
May 10th 2024


6045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

very good on first listen, I reckon will enjoy it more after a few more listens. Her vocals are great

JeetJeet
May 10th 2024


12224 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So glad this has a review. Thought for sure it would get overlooked on here but I'm glad it didn't cus this is genuinely amazing.

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
May 10th 2024


26231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

It’s incredible and very worth covering!! I think sput has been more on it with pop revs lately (:

Tundra
May 10th 2024


9739 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beeg

Butkuiss
May 10th 2024


7101 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I can’t say I ever anticipated this, but the funk rock / neo soul fusion actually sounds right up my alley. Might have to cast aside my trepidation and give this a go!

Beardog
May 10th 2024


5232 Comments


This should be awesome taking the singles into account

AmericanFlagAsh
May 10th 2024


13335 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Loveeeee, great review, fantastic album

My only issue with this after repeated listens is that I wish she had fleshed out the shorter songs a bit more, but it’s still a surprising treat



bloc
May 10th 2024


70260 Comments


Surprisingly good ass album. Where her vocals always this amazing?

Tundra
May 10th 2024


9739 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Copingmechanism made me a big fan, amazing alternative record

bellovddd
May 10th 2024


6045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

any album up to this point has been terrible. Agreed.

AmericanFlagAsh
May 10th 2024


13335 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Really happy you reviewed this Neek

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
May 11th 2024


26231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

Glad everyone is enjoying it!!

@Ash thank you for putting it on my radar! Definitely woulda blown right past me (:

AmericanFlagAsh
May 11th 2024


13335 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I’m assuming the 1 and 1.5 ratings didn’t even listen lol

Beardog
May 11th 2024


5232 Comments


Production is so good here too

BallsToTheWall
May 11th 2024


51238 Comments


So good.

neekafat
Staff Reviewer
May 12th 2024


26231 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3 | Sound Off

Yes yes yessssss



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