Judah & the Lion – Pep Talks
Listening to the opening tracks of this album take me back. Specifically to New Year’s Eve this year. I heard this exact introduction live in Bicentennial Park in Nashville. My friends weren’t exactly digging the fusion sound of Judah and the Lion, but the “yeah, yeah, yeah, ohhhh’s” of “Quarter-Life Crisis” echoed in my head for days after that night.
The release of singles “Over My Head” and “Why Did You Run?” bumped me from casual fan to actual fan of this band. Not much fundamentally changed about the music from “Folk Hop N Roll” to this album. Sometimes the melodies just grab me in a new way. I will say that here something feels new—and it isn’t just the fact that the songs are new. Everything feels more full. More complete. More cohesive.
Pep Talks is a fitting title for this album. I definitely feel motivated when listening. Even the existential “Over My Head” is so freakin’ upbeat. It is as if they’re saying “here’s something bad everyone you can relate to—now dust yourself off, and do something cool with this feeling.” The somewhat (intentionally?) corny “Sportz” is a punk anthem with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that seem to be making fun of the stuff you hear at college basketball games.
A friend of mine who knows a member of Judah and the Lion personally made a comment to me a few weeks ago that he thinks they’re headed more in the direction of Twenty One Pilots. Judah Akers certainly is no Tyler Joseph, but listening to “i’m ok” makes me sympathize with that statement a bit more. The hip hop tendencies and offbeat transitions are definitely things that the Columbus duo are known for. And we must note that they did tour with them on the Emotional Roadshow tour.
An accomplishment that can’t be understated on this record is the guest appearance of Kacey Musgraves on “picture.” The acclaimed singer released Golden Hour, an album that basically made me a country fan and pleased many high-browed music critics. It’s a little disappointing that the lyrical depth of this song doesn’t hold up to Golden Hour, but then again Judah and the Lion aren’t going for lyrical depth for the sake of depth. Their goal is relatability and songs meant to be experienced live.
Indeed, Judah and the Lion are becoming masters of the banjo anthem—arena rock with twang, if you will. If Judah and the Lion did a split 7 inch vinyl with Coldplay and “Queen Songs / human” was on one side, Coldplay’s “Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love” would be on the other side. In both cases—two works, but really one.
It should be noted that my earlier thought on this record lacking some lyrical depth doesn’t by default mean it’s shallow. You might be thinking “well, that’s the definition, silly!” The word I might be looking for is authenticity. “Goofballerz” is a song with a nonsensical title that seems to be made for audience participation, but it also asks the listener to “put your ego down.”
This album is all over place and yet not. It’s an interesting fun group of juxtapositions that will sometimes have you questioning your musical tastes, but you’ll come out the other end knowing that even if you went off the deep end, at least you had fun doing so. And this unique brand of fun with the relatability mentioned above makes for an ultimately winning combo.