Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Eyes on Us’ chock full of early 2000s nostalgia, lacks creativity

Merritt Gibson. Gibson’s new album “Eyes On Us” will be released Friday. PHOTO COURTESY ANNA HAAS/ RED HARE PHOTOGRAPHY

For a 19-year-old, Merritt Gibson takes inspiration from a wide range of artists. In a press release, she described her sound as a mix of “old Taylor Swift with Adele with Sara Bareilles with ‘00s pop with ‘80s rock.”

Her debut album, “Eyes on Us,” was recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer and sound engineer Mitch Dane. On the 12-track album, released Friday, Gibson reveals her emotions surrounding relationships, friendship and human nature. Gibson’s lyrics originate not only from her own life but from “the lives I observe and imagine,” according to her website.

The album has a classic feel, filled with nostalgic themes and a straightforward structure that makes the songs easy to sing along to. They have all the aspects young teenagers could want in a song, but thematically and structurally, the songs seem too simple for even a slightly older audience.

The album opener, “When You Were Mine,” embodies the sound of old Taylor Swift, with lyrics reminiscing over past relationships and shared memories. The song begins with upbeat guitar strumming and eases into a mid-tempo beat. It’s refreshing to hear real instruments after listening to artificial drums composed by a computer in most pop songs today. The guitar and piano serve as a simple accompaniment, saving space for Gibson’s dewy, innocent voice.

On “My Best Friends,” Gibson takes a break from boys and focuses on placing friends first. More dynamic than the rest, this song could definitely attract attention. “Lovesick” is arguably the best song on the album, with country vibes and an upbeat chorus that sound a lot like Sara Bareilles. Despite their simple themes, these songs carry the most potential.

The album’s more vulnerable songs, like “Cold War II,” “Area Code” and “Ghost Town” contribute to Gibson’s lyrical maturity and wisdom.

The lyrics in “Area Code” — “But punch in numbers, 508-609, I need another dime /Area code is across the states / City of Angels to an East Coast bay” — are crafty, but these songs lack dynamic musicality. Gibson’s unchanging voice is introduced by slow piano and carried through in Christina-Perri-like fashion.

In contrast, “Eyes on Us,” the album’s title track, has a unique, sassy flair, covering emotions associated with a new relationship with an exceptional display of Gibson’s innate talent.

The songs truly showcase her thoughtful writing and her strong, innocent voice, distinguishing herself from many artists. Classic themes of romance, heartbreak and moving on are rampant — themes more suited for younger listeners. Pre-teens will surely fall in love with the vulnerability mixed with feel-good songs.

For a first album, “Eyes on Us” has great potential. That said, it lacks attention-grabbing appeal and originality. Though I definitely enjoyed listening to the songs the first time through, it ultimately transported me back to the beginning of my music obsession in middle school, reminding me of old singer-songwriters who were, at the time, pioneers of their type. Now, the songs in the album seem a little outdated, like those worthy of being played in a cafe or boutique and once in a while on the radio. But listeners looking for nostalgia may enjoy their modesty.

Gibson’s use of real instruments should not be ignored. Compared to the electronic and artificial sounds that comprise most pop songs today, “Eyes on Us” is a breath of fresh air. The music brought me back to a much simpler time, but I wonder if mainstream audiences will make time for this style of music when most contemporary artists continue to captures the attention of the college crowd with memorable albeit somewhat artificial sounding tunes.

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