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Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

arts music review

COLUMN: ‘COPINGMECHANISM’ refines WILLOW’s sound, proves her mettle

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Willow Smith was thrust into stardom at an early age. Born to actors Will and Jada Smith, she quickly followed in their footsteps, appearing in “I Am Legend” in 2007 alongside her father. Her musical career as WILLOW came shortly after, releasing her first single, “Whip My Hair,” in 2010. 

During her 12 years as a musician, her sound has developed and changed in many major ways. She transitioned from mainstream pop into bedroom pop and rock in the 2010s, and most recently began a foray into the punk rock scene in 2021, with the release of her fourth solo album, “lately I feel EVERYTHING.” 

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Her most recent release, “<COPINGMECHANISM>,” builds upon the ideas set forth there, cleaning up her sound and structure while skillfully handling a noticeable increase in musical ambition.  

The album opens with “<maybe> it’s my fault,” one of its tamer tracks. A basic instrumentation of drums, bass and guitar make up the backing, each changing timbre throughout the song to take on a new role. The bass becomes overdriven and chunky during the pre-chorus and the drums jump to the forefront during the chorus.  

The song builds throughout its duration, with the most evident crescendo in WILLOW’s vocals, which begin at a relatively relaxed mezzo-forte and end in an anguished scream that pushes the microphone past its peak. This emotional arc serves the song well, and the silence following its final beat feels ever so empty after its grim climax. 

“curious/furious” displays a similar mastery over the dynamic movement of a song. The pre-chorus seems to indicate a lead into a more intense section, but WILLOW cleverly delays this build. The bass and drums drop out, leaving guitar and handclaps under the first part of the chorus. 

When the drums and bass come back in, the impact is magnified by this subversion of expectation. It’s an excellent effect whose theory is echoed in the precisely shifting dynamics of the rest of the tune. 

“Perfectly Not Close To Me (ft. Yves Tumor)” shows a rare weak point in the album. While the other tracks are carried by their variation, this song remains rather homogenous throughout. It’s not glaring, and the song runs less than two minutes, but it falls flat compared to the rest of the album. 

The vocals are disorganized, choppy and distorted — aiming more for a sonic effect rather than melody or lyrics — making the tune come across as disorienting and jumbled. Let not one mediocre apple spoil the bunch though: “Perfectly Not Close To Me” is only a minor blemish.  

Although it’s not the only track to do so, the closer, “BATSHIT!,” demonstrates the skill of WILLOW’s backing musicians in full force. Flashy but clean drum breaks fill the space between sections and the use of different drums and cymbals in the verses keep the texture fresh. 

The interplay between bass and guitar is crisp as ever, utilizing interesting and tight rhythms to fill out the backing. “BATSHIT!” is a heavy, fast and intense ending to the whirlwind album, capping it off nicely. 

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“<COPINGMECHANISM>” represents significant growth for WILLOW. “lately I feel EVERYTHING” was a solid introduction to her pop punk stylings, but her newest work is proof that she can hang with the best.  

Across the board it sounds more professional and confident, with remarkably satisfying arrangement and notable cleanliness in structure and sound. Accusations of nepotism have been thrown at WILLOW’s feet throughout her career, but “<COPINGMECHANISM>” further cements her status as an artistic powerhouse in her own right.

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