It’s week #2 and I’m still trying to get used to the exhausting daily routine and the loudness of Athens. To be honest, If it weren’t for music and video games, I’m not sure where I’d be standing. As promised, today I’m writing my thoughts on the second entry of the first ‘post-vacation’ week for the Sanctum. Without further useless commentary, here’s a brief description taken from the official website of the project we’re covering today: “Feelings” is centered around a severely depressed college senior who’s made the decision to end her own life before graduation but unexpected, reciprocated feelings towards a vibrant classmate begin to deter her plan and she battles with whether or not it’s worth staying alive for love. Since we rarely come across thematic albums nowadays, meaning music that tells a story from start to finish, the ‘Feelings’ project is certainly something worth investing our time in. Pressing PLAY>
‘Inner Dialogue’ makes for a powerful opening both instrumentally and performance-wise. Jessica Bell is languorously chanting ‘I’m in so much pain’ in this beautifully sad, Lana Del Rey style with her articulation and hue reminding of Elizabeth Grant indeed. A pop-rock ballad with touches of folk speaking about being trapped in overthinking, feeling lost, surviving under excessive guilt to a point where even the value of life is questionable. Most of us have been in this dark place more or less and so the track is more than relatable, with Bell making it feel even more vivid thanks to her heartfelt, fragile deliverance. On the contrary, she manages to offer some relief through the following ‘11;11’. This one is a typical college-pop ballad, the one we find playing in the background of coming-of-age films. Love is in the air as we are transferred back to our green years when everything seemed limitless and possible, when hoping and dreaming was enough to go anywhere and become anyone we wanted.
Same goes for the adorable ‘Strawberry Muffins’ where Natalie Masini joins Jessica Bell for another teenage anthem, especially memorable for the catchy line ‘You make the strawberries taste better’. Bittersweet? Maybe. Sometimes all we need is a little naivety and romance for our hearts to rest for a while. In ‘Lately’, Bell is bravely embracing her human powerlessness and maybe immaturity to handle her emotional load: ‘I ain’t happy, I am just bad for sabotaging these feelings that we had’. ‘Lately’ makes for another melancholic piece, on the upbeat side, which reflects a youth’s confusion and the pain that comes with it. Then, the vibes are bright and positive in ‘Tell Me a Secret’ where Masini meets Bell once more over mesmerizing chords to wink at the listener in the most innocent and promising manner: ‘Can you feel it, oh can you feel it?’. It’s about young love, sharing and discovering each other, but before anything good happens, we’re getting lost in self-doubt once more with ‘Better To Leave’. This one’s an accurate expression of all the feelings that revolve around the guilt of feeling undeserving for someone: ‘It’s better to leave you alone before I take us down’. Self-sabotage at its best! So familiar! Masini takes the mic over a country-flavored pop instrumental in the likes of old Taylor Swift in ‘In Between’. ‘Let me go or let’s keep going, in between just isn’t working’ makes for the most determined statement in a body of work filled with insecurities of youth and for that reason it hits hard and sounds refreshing.
However, even harder feels the melancholic ‘Just Wanna’, a sister to the opening ‘Inner Dialogue’ with Bell giving her most velvet-smooth performance yet. This one goes among the Sanctum’s favourites for its crying guitar and highly emotional vocal delivery. Even though the lyrics are written by Jon Worthy and Emily Henry, one would say it’s a deeply personal Jessica Bell song considering how profoundly her heart was poured into it. ‘3 Words’ exhibits the chemistry between our two divas in a paradigmatic way and the outcome sounds most touching and fulfilling as they confide in each other: ‘I love you more than I deserve you’. ‘3 Words’ doesn’t fail to satisfy the most romantic of listeners.
Little before the end, we are given a contemporary beat for the mainstream pop audience, contrasting with Bell’s mood as she’s leisurely mumbling: ‘I’m sorry it’s goodbye, my mind’s on overdrive’. The performance is intentionally tired yet restless doing the lyrics justice. As ‘Overdrive’ passes the torch to ‘To You I Say’, the songstress is giving her all: ‘This is the end, I got nothing left’ and I can’t help visualizing an imaginary persona for Jessica Bell, something between Lorde and the aforementioned Lana Del Rey. However, the project is obviously keeping a low-profile in terms of visuals/aesthetics and tries to focus on the music and its emotional load. Little before the end, Masini is closing the curtains praying for kindness, love and respect over a simplistic pop melody that reminds of the 90’s. At this point I’m realizing that the whole album smells like the innocence of 90’s pop music. The closing ‘The Morning After I Tried To Kill Myself’ feels like a vocalized diary page of the depressed college senior mentioned in the prologue, where she’s narrating how love gave her the courage to keep on living one step at a time: ‘The small steps count too’.
It's really intriguing how this project feels neutral if approached as an artist’s debut LP, but deeply thoughtful and personal if received as a standalone project that does not belong in any discography. ‘Feelings: A New Musical’ is an inspiring story told in pieces over instrumentals that scream American youth, even though the themes encapsulated are universal. It’s about the confusion over new-found feelings, the restlessness of a growing human’s mind, the inability to handle our emotional world. All I need to say at this point is that we are faulty creatures and life goes on no matter what. I only wish less people ended their struggles by ending their lives but unfortunately, society plays a significant part too. And change takes time. A big bravo to the songwriters: Jon Worthy and Emily Henry as well as Jessica Bell and Natalie Masini for using their voices for a great purpose. Cheers!
Enjoy Feelings: A New Musical here: