It’s never too late to catch up on some great music releases from 2020. In fact, over the last few days, I’ve gone back to my music library and listened to some albums that I added to my collection last summer. Sadly, not a lot of these records sound as fresh and exciting as they did six months ago. Music moves at the speed of streaming, and, quite frankly, not many albums and songs from just a few months back can stand the test of time.
The declining quality of music is in large part the result of a strategy to release a lot of music quickly in the hope something will stick. Quality suffers when volume reigns. It may be an acceptable strategy when you’re chasing a one-off hit, but it’s hardly a successful way to launch an artist career. Careers are built with talent, great songs, consistency and patience. It was the way to do it back then, and it’s still the way to go now.
Josh Levi is one of those artists who put out a collection of songs last year that sounds as great, if not better, a few months after its release. He’s an undeniable talent who put out a debut EP with the intent to showcase his musical versatility. He succeeded.
Levi’s EP, titled DISC ONE, counts eight tracks, making it an LP in my book, but that would make it a debut album. I don’t believe Levi was ready for such a definite statement while he’s still going through the creative process of detailing his musical identity.
The fact that Levi is putting out music with great care and patience while letting his artistry lead him is powerful. He’s astutely aware that the journey matters as much as the destination.
I’ve known Levi for a minute. Shortly after the Texan moved out to Los Angeles to be a contestant on the American version of The X Factor in 2013, he helped form boyband Citizen Føur that signed with Island Records and seemed to face a bright future. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived adventure. The four-member group was bursting with talent, but the timing wasn’t right and the availability of a break-through song was lacking. It happens all the time to projects with potential, but these experiences help build artists. It helps them grow, develop and push themselves further to do their best work.
That’s exactly what happened with Levi. He left Citizen Føur to pursue his own sound and vision. That must have been almost four years ago now. It was an interesting time for pop. EDM had left the building, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga were retooling their sound, TikTok had not arrived yet, a new version of emo was making an entry, and hip-hop continued its lead.
Pop was incredibly malleable back then and it was the perfect time for young talent to experiment freely without the expectation of a cookie-cutter approach. Levi inherently understood this, bouncing between different moods and songs to craft a sound that’s uniquely his.
DISC ONE is a reflection of that process. It showcases Levi’s versatility and drive for experimentation in real-time. No song on the album is the same, yet they blend seamlessly together.
I first told Levi I thought that DISC ONE was a dark record. But that wasn’t the right way to put it. It’s gritty in the most pop of ways. Always confident, Levi’s vocal delivery ranges from polished to raw while the production is richly textured.
“White Leather” is one of those tracks on the album that demonstrates the range Levi possesses — in both style and substance. It’s a hip-hop-tinged track with a testy trap beat that perfectly counters Levi’s pristine vocals. It’s a song that tells Levi’s story about what it feels like to be Black in today’s society.
DISC ONE perfectly segues into “Lie No More,” a slow-churning stunner driven by thick synths and Levi’s imaginative lyricism. He sings, “It’s not the first time, there’s no one to blame. All our ‘I love you’s’ are all down the drain. It’s not insane if the best thing’s to leave. And it’s not the death if we let go to breathe.”
Levi’s shows off his vocal chops (and pitch-perfect falsetto) on “The Movies,” a hard-hitting number with a nocturnal beat and menacing synth that will pull you on the dancefloor like gravity. Equally meticulous is “Know Better” which’s excellent.
The sonic grit and sparse production stylings across the EP all lead to “If The World,” the grand opus on DISC ONE. It’s a hopeful song that is perfect for the harrowing times we live in. Sonically, it feels like a one-eighty from the other songs on the EP, but it perfectly underscores Levi’s intent to show versatility. It’s a powerful song and the perfect finale to an effort that was made to impress.
Last year was a year full of music. And with playlists bursting at the seams with songs worth listening to, make sure to get to know Josh Levi. He has star written all over him, and his music and perspective live up to his promise. I can’t wait to hear what he does next. I’m sure I will be surprised in the best possible way.