Musical choice is subjective, just like any other form of art. Yet a popular growing belief among audience is the deteriorating state of pop music. Musical fans across the globe are accusing the pop ‘industry’ of being unimaginative which results in repetitive songs with unintelligent lyrics and over sexualized music videos.
While the accusations may be true(they are), living in this era, your creative inner self appreciates and latches onto any band/ artist who breaks this monotony. In this musically polluted environment, their music acts like a vital breathe of fresh air. Jon Bellion and his album The Human Condition is that lung filling breathe of fresh air.
Album cover for The Human Condition
The Human Condition is Jon Bellion?s debut studio album. It was released in the summer of 2016. That is all the encyclopedic information needed here. If you want to know more about him, it?s all just a google search away but this album.. This album caught me off guard.
You see, the first glance at the album cover leaves you confused with your expectations of the music yet pulls you in. This animated, disney-like world on the cover is engaging to say the least. You end up looking for finer details, notice the imagery in the background which is something unique. All this happens while the first song starts to play. He is the same. It begins with Jon beat boxing and just from the first minute of the song, you start to understand his musical approach.
Yet it?s flipped on its head by the second song, 80?s films. The further you listen, the more Jon surprises you. Upon listening to the whole album several times, 3 things were perceivable. No wait.. Make that 4. First one being my reaction at the end of every listen.
Marriage of talk and tune
A traditional song usually follow certain ratio of time divided for vocals and instrumental beat. What is evident and praise-worthy is throughout the album Jon, as a producer, does not shy away from blending both.
He uses human voice as an instrument.
This is nothing new though. It has been done before but it was made popular, rather perfected by Kanye West. This was a game changer in Hip-Hop.
Chorus of the song Jim Morrison by Jon Bellion
Jon, clearly a fan of kanye, does it differently.
He mostly makes music with voices. This is where this futuristic sound looping machine comes in.
It?s easy to interpret this machine as Jon’s body part now. He records sounds, usually his, and layers them until he is literally singing to the sound of his own voice. It instinctively grows on you.
Not just this though, Bellion also uses his voice to invoke emotions throughout the record. For instance consider his commercially successful track All time low. The song is a juxtaposition between depressing post break up lyrics and catchy happy beats. It is his deliberate breathlessness at certain instances which keeps the meaning of the song alive. The illustration of a heavy emotional break up.
Or the 7th track of the album, Woke the f*ck up, where the sound of breathlessness, rather the sound of someone gasping for air rushes in your ear out of nowhere. Using natural (sometimes involuntary)human reactionary sounds like these helps the listener to emotionally relate to the song. Like I said it is evident throughout the record and it just makes it easier to fall in love with his art. Devil is indeed in the details.
Creating an album not a bunch of singles
The objective of art is to put forth a message. An artist always wishes to surprise it’s audience but the authenticity of their work derives from them staying true to their message. Mind you that is not what art necessarily needs to denote every single time. In fact in music, it hardly happens. You would miserably fail in finding a poetic meaning in how Martin Garrix drops the beat.
Yet when someone does step out to do it, they are put under a thicker lens of judgment and criticism. In an interview Jon defined Human condition as the state or condition of being human, especially regarded as being inherently problematic or flawed. He stays true to this meaning throughout the record. Each song addresses a unique problem faced by humans in this modern day and age. From the ill effects of social media(iRobot) to emotional vulnerability (Weight of the world). From materialistic worldview(Fashion) to depression and suicide (Morning in America). Noticeably, it is all addressed from a personal perspective. Through vivid lyrics sung around diverse music.
It also becomes hard to put this record under a specific musical genre. It carries its fair share of pop, hip hop, electronic styling, acoustic, indie and a bit of everything else. He doesn’t do it till the extent of how the Gorillaz does, yet he blends it all in. And, the most important aspect of it all is, it works out. The manner in which every passing song adds to the diverse nature of this album really works out.
This.. Fluidity in the track list, really makes this album feel like a complete yet amateur work of art. Quite like a Casey Neistat vlog. It deliberately showcases this amateurish vibe in a high quality product.
This is extremely hard to find in modern day music.
In this day and age of shrinking attention spans and ‘everything a touch away’ lifestyle, it is becoming difficult to look at a music album as a complete unit. It’s usually seen as a collection of couple of hit singles and the rest.. They feel nothing more than the complementary sides with your lunch. The fries are there alright but all the buzz is still about the burger.
The Human condition goes against the norm of ‘Hot 100’ and ‘Hit single’. Every song adds to the product. Every song is as important as the previous one. It was made to be enjoyed in it’s given sequence. This album is nothing short of a musical journey with it’s Broadway – like- style and tying it all up in a breathtaking outro. Thus bringing back the Vinyl age of albums. The current song may not be your favorite but you don’t mind humming along it as the songs on queue to your favorite, adds to the entire experience.
The Best CV possible
The most surprising and unnoticeable aspect of this entire project remains it’s artwork. It just isn’t the cover. As Jon himself explains it in an interview with forbes
I wanted to give audiences something that looks like what?s going on in my head when I?m making music, these colors and pictures, because that?s how I see music. I can?t read music, but I see colors. In my head, there?s a Pixar movie going on all the time.
So I invested in my own campaign, I own the masters to it. I worked with an artist named David Lojaya, from Indonesia. For about eight months, because of the time difference, I?d be up from about 2 A.M. to 7 A.M. six days a week, telling him what I?d like him to draw, and we worked on this campaign together. There?s a movie poster for each song on the album.
Every image is rich in colour and contains reappearing characters. The content of the image adds to the experience of listening the song. If Jon does fail to paint a picture with his word, these beautiful posters help him cross the line. I wasn’t aware of his intention behind the same till I came across this.
Last page of the album booklet of The Human Condition
You have to understand, this just isn’t a music album. This is his project for a job proposal for a pixar movie It changed my perspective on this album on it’s head. This isn’t a genre bending music album. It’s a fan-made Disney soundtrack. This is a soundtrack without a movie, and that’s why the transitions between songs are so jarring. The storytelling throughout the album is cohesive, but it requires you, the listener, to close your eyes and imagine a cartoon-or-CGI world that isn’t here. The booklet exists to kick-start your imagination. Bellion is aware he’s a cartoon character in this album. He claims it to be his intention.
Every Disney movie has a musical rubric to follow. Every song has a place and purpose.
- The movie usually starts with the opening song with protagonist narration. Through playful rhymes, the protagonist is introduced. Like Arabian Nights in Aladdin.
Here He is the same fulfills that purpose. By referring to himself in 3rd person, Jon acts as the narrator of this sound based movie.
Artwork for He is the same
- Next comes the ?How we live our life? songThe story, still revolves around protagonist’s life but now they sing it out themselves. The likes of ?Do you wanna build a snowman?? in Frozen or ?One Jump ahead? from Aladdin
Do you want to build a snowman?
There are several songs on human condition that can occupy this slot like, 80’s film, All time low and New York soul pt 2. Again Jon’s intention of animated storytelling here makes it easier to ‘over produce’ with vocal highs and lows. Different pace, different narrations and different voices throughout the track.
80?s film, All Time Low, New York Soul Pt.II
- Then comes the frustration song.Protagonist feels the need to explore. Something holds them back. Songs like ?Let it go? from Frozen or ?I just can?t wait to be king? from The Lion King fit here.
I just can?t wait to be king
Fashion fits in here. From a yearning and restrained voice, it goes in to it’s acclaimed hip hop style.
Where as Maybe idk feels like accepting the confusion instead of letting it frustrate him, thus continuing the pattern.
Fashion, Maybe IDK
- This is followed by The mentor/friend song
The protagonist needs a friend because he/she came to a sharp realization about their on-going life situations. ?You?ve got a friend in me? from Toy story is the best example.
A friend in me
Woke the f*ck up is the best encapsulation of this aspect.
Woke the f*ck up
- The love song
If you are doing a Disney movie, your love song needs to be the memorial aspect that everyone hums out of the theatre. ?Can you feel the love tonight?? fits right in this category.
Can you feel the love tonight?
Jon nails this one with his feet-tapping and groovy track Overwhelming.
- The song about someone saving your life
The protagonist stumbles but a friend steps in to save them from harm. My favorite Disney track fits in this category like a glove.
Here the Weight of the world makes its place. It isn’t all jolly and happy but a rather darker version with the same message. Timon and Pumba are replaced by harsh rapping and it works.
Weight of the world
- One final look on how far we’ve come
Before the finale, our protagonist learns about the way they have grown through the story and prepare to rise to the occasion.
Reflection from Mulan sets the tone perfectly for this part of the story
The Good In Me and Morning In America showcases how Jon contemplates his journey and grows as a person. iRobot also provides finality to the story, about getting exposed, being a robot and growing as a person.
That?s what every lead Disney character has to learn about themselves before the big finale: The power to do all of this was within you the whole time, but you just have to believe in yourself.It wraps up the story before the protagonist rejoins the story and saves the day.
Good In Me, Morning In America, iRobot
- The finaleBoy oh boy oh boy?.Hand of God is the definition of what a good finale is suppose to be. It really does feel like the ending of a Disney movie. Calling all the earlier elements from the movie, tying everything into a package, that makes you feel good about our protagonist. Jon did that with the help of the choir from Man In The Mirror by Michael Jackson! He hands them the microphone, lets them sum up the story, so you leave the theater feeling connected with our hero.
This has to the best CV to ever exist. This isn’t an album. It’s an experience.
This ambitious project did it?s job too.
I hope this helps you to enjoy the album with a different perspective altogether but then again, Musical choice is subjective.