Justin Llamas – Party On The Outside – EP Review
Can’t fool me brother…might be a Party On The Outside for sensational singer/songwriter Justin Llamas when it comes to this new EP he’s got goin’ on – but he’s also been up on my personal Facebook page since our paths first crossed back in May of 2016…let’s just say I’m somewhat aware of what’s been happening on the inside of this guy as well from paying a lil’ attention whenever I log in online. Whether or not he’ll let you in on the full details of what he’s been through during that time throughout this EP – that’s hard to say…I’d imagine he’ll give you a piece or two, but they’re not all my stories to share. All I’ll tell ya is that I’ve seen him battle his own health concerns and come out stronger on the other side – and I’ve also seen him be there for others when they need him most…I pay attention to things like this, because they matter. These are the things I know about Justin that speak long beyond the music, about the kind of man he is, the kind of artist he’s become, and ultimately, it’s provided me insight into what’s really important to him in this lifetime…Justin’s one of the good guys on this planet we share together.
Just so happens, he also makes really great music too. Like we’d experienced the last time around in 2016 with the release of his Gold EP on a set full of songs that revealed he’s got an exceptional voice, a true entertainer’s approach, and the confidence it takes to bring those two key elements together in ways you’ll remember – Party On The Outside now confirms everything we heard was certainly no fluke. Though I’ll admit, I was almost surprised that, with the level of invitational, warm, and welcoming sounds that he’s capable of, that he took the time to create the intro of “Welcome” on this record – you’d almost assume that’s a given when it comes to Justin’s music…you feel “Welcome” when you listen to the music he makes, included, and like you’re right there with him at every step of his adventures. Amidst a chorus-line of backing vocals and his own impressive lead vocals sparkling & shining right from the very get-go, “Welcome” invites you in sweetly with just a lil’ splash of guitar to accompany his voice – and within thirty-two short seconds, I’m tellin’ ya, Justin will already have you on his side and rooting for him to succeed with this new EP he’s got. Of all the people I know out there in the independent music-scene that deserve to have a party on the inside just as much or more than a Party On The Outside, it’s this guy…it’s always my hope that his music soothes his soul as much as ours.
As the title-track takes over and the EP starts to hit its rhythmic-stride quickly, “Party On The Outside” instantly captures the interest through clever composition, brilliant structure, and of course, the incredible vocals from the main man on the mic. Like I was alluding to earlier…I’m not here to blow the lid off of what Llamas has gone through since the release of Gold, but I know he’s been through a lot on a personal level – and “Party On The Outside,” in many ways is the sum of all these experiences and a real glimpse into the mindset & heart of Justin. Not only do I think there are multiple access points into a song like “Party On The Outside” from its spectacular sound in the music or from the microphone, but I think he’s also created a really strong tune that a ton of people out there can relate to. Many, if not all of us, have experienced some moment in time throughout our lives where we have to put on a mask for a minute or two…to keep it together on the surface for whatever reason, whether it’s for ourselves or for others, there are times where we keep our feelings buried. Whether the assumption of this being the best way to go about it all is ever correct…I’m not sure any of us really get to know that; you choose a direction, you follow it, and by that very nature, you never really know what it would be like to choose otherwise. Is it better to keep the “Party On The Outside” and your feelings on the inside where no one can see them, hear them, or help you out? Or is it better to put’em all out there, open a vein, and let everyone know the pain you’re in? There’s probably a time & place for both I’d imagine…in my opinion, showing a “Party On The Outside” is a huge survival tool…and I’d be willing to bet many others, including Justin, have found it to be the same for them. What I love about this song, is that the focus here, is freakin’ brilliant from beginning to end…when you’re talking about theme, performance, and execution – you can’t beat a track like this. “Party On The Outside” audibly mimics the entire sentiment of the song – on the surface, you’ve got completely shiny and flashy sounds that you’re bound to turn UP and love to listen to…and the deeper you dig into the lyrics, the more you’ll discover…you’ll find that this tune isn’t nearly at all the happy-go-lucky song you thought it might have been at first. Essentially, there’s a “Party On The Outside” of this track – and whether it hits you at first or on those next spins, it’s the emotional core of the inside on display through the lyrics that make the biggest impact and get to the real heart of what this first track is really all about & what Justin’s looking to communicate.
I think the people out there listening will completely appreciate just how authentic Justin is with his words and how willing he is to speak about the harder parts of life & love. Songs like “Sweep” are truly powerful…ultimately, I suppose it’s a song that encourages you on some level to push past what’s holding you back, but also a track that recognizes there’s ALWAYS going to be something that tries to keep you from reaching your goals and dreams. You can choose to “sweep it under the rug” and move forward…sometimes that’s only delaying the inevitable return of it all, but it can be a way forward; much like creating a Party On The Outside, to “Sweep” is to mask the issues, if only for a moment. Llamas sings these songs on this EP with stunning tone, remarkable hooks, and astounding confidence – all ingredients that, to me, point to the fact that these words he writes are coming from a very real place. While he’s giving you a Party On The Outside with songs that are always stocked full of reasons to listen from his incredible voice to the stunning atmospheres of the music surrounding him – you start to notice by this second full-length tune that, Justin’s really letting you in on the inside of his thoughts, feelings, and emotions throughout this record, as real & raw as it gets. It creates an insightful contrast throughout this entire EP that so brilliantly drives home its ultimate messages that you have to seriously stop and marvel at it for a second…Justin’s inside of the Pop/R&B sound – it’s actually extremely rare to find an artist so willing to drop the veneer and give you such an open tour of their heart, mind, and soul.
“After You” was probably the track that first dropped my jaw in true amazement. I’ve heard some great tunes to start this record out from Justin Llamas here in 2019 – but there’s almost no doubt in my mind that “After You” is where Party On The Outside rises up from good to great. This is the kind of song where I always wonder just HOW MUCH I should write about it…there are no words that are going to express the incredible emotional depth you’ll find on “After You” and the all-out breathtaking moment in time this song really is. I want to just write LISTEN – and leave it at that…because if you’re not, that’s on YOU…y’ain’t doin’ your life or ears any favors by not checking this song out, that I can tell ya for sure. I’d have no problem whatsoever putting “After You” right up there with the best of the best from all the songs & records I’ve already heard this year…or from any year for that matter – I think he’s got a truly extraordinary gem in this track. It’s rare that I’d recommend a slow tune as the single, but that’s definitely the case when it comes to Party On The Outside – at some point in time, whether it’s the lead-single or one later to follow, this success of this record comes down to people reaching “After You.” At the point where you hear this song on the EP, you’ve heard awesome things from Justin already – but his performance…the way he sings it, the melody he’s created…I mean…you simply couldn’t ask a single thing more from him than exactly what he gives you – this is beyond every expectation or hope you could have. “After You” is such a noteworthy highlight and incredible song from start to finish, so full of such brilliantly complex emotions and so sweetly sung…I think this might be the very best we’ve ever heard from Justin, his writing, and his music, all at once here. I’m blown away by the strength of this song, his relentless honesty and courage in revealing his feelings to us – and when he hits the chorus of this cut, it’s like you can feel the knife in your heart, twisting with beautiful sound & lyrics you relate to.
Dig the instant uniqueness you can hear him going for with “You Run, I Follow” – he’s latched onto something impressively new with the way he chooses to approach the verses of this track & the way he’ll sing it. New’s an awesome thing of course…but you’d be surprised at how rare that can be, and perhaps the typical reaction to that from artists/bands we think we know & love and are ready to follow their every move – that’s almost never the actual case when it comes to the reality of the situation. I can think of hundreds of records I looked forward to, only to hear the artists/bands I already loved surge forward in their evolution, music, and career – and quite often, listening to those new albums can sound & feel as if we’re being left behind for a moment or two. Because it’s NOT just the old stuff ya love – it’s new – it’s either pushing the boundaries of an existing sound or heading in an entirely different direction – whatever the reason may be, those first listens aren’t usually just as accepted as we’d often hope they would be. Songs like “You Run, I Follow,” have the innovative creativity to claim its own space – this is that kind of cut that’ll take a spin or two through it to realize just how well it came out in Justin’ s favor. That could very well be the effect of following the strength & sincerity of “After You,” which as I pointed out already, is definitely one of my favorite cuts of the year – that’s a tough act for any song to follow. I think Justin’s chosen wisely in taking the sound of the record in a decidedly different direction right afterwards…with that particular spot on the EP being so tough to fill, going with one of the more diverse & modern sounds of the set-list gives “You Run, I Follow” a better chance of standing out like it should.
On “Stamps,” Justin details the struggle of the 9-5 and trying to navigate life at the same time as trying to find your way to your wants & desires…it ain’t easy, you know it & I know it – he knows it too. I’ll say this…”Stamps” is a solid tune…chances are, on many records out there, it’d even be an A-side without question…on this one however, it’s much harder to say if this track will get the props it should for the effort being put in. What I personally like, is that this Party On The Outside still continues to dig deep internally, but also in ways that listeners will continue to relate to – “Stamps” is about not worrying too much about that next day to come, being in the moment, and going after it. We’re all ‘party people’ as Llamas reminds us…and fundamentally, he’s certainly right…we all ultimately want to get along, have a good time, forget the ol’ j-o-b, and leave the working world behind when it’s time to play – Justin Llamas takes a moment or two to remind us why that’s important on “Stamps” and expresses the freedom that comes with making those choices through the inspired tone of his vocals & additional brightness you’ll find in this vibe. Dude’s endlessly flawless with the way he sings…there’s never any concerns there; I think by comparison to the rest of Party On The Outside, you’ll likely feel there are songs that’ll make a stronger connection overall, but you certainly can’t ever fault this guy for the quality of the writing or performances he puts in…everything you’ll hear from Llamas is always more than worth your time.
As flashy, current, stylistic, and modern-day as Justin’s music is so capable of successfully of being – it’s songs like the final cut “Find You” that help you appreciate that all this guy ever really needs, is his voice. Sure there’s some beautiful piano and atmospheric sounds surrounding him a bit on this last tune, but we’re talking really, really minimal music…it’s up to him alone to create the magic in this moment, and he nails this with immaculate tone and remarkable confidence. It takes courage as a singer to be out there in the wide-open as bare as he is on “Find You” – and it’s more than an impressive way to end the new record on such a bold & subtle statement like the gentle sounds of this song truly become. Searching for clues, meaning, and a way forward, Justin roams gorgeously, gracefully, and powerfully through “Find You” – it’s definitely a low-key last moment to the EP, but it’s one that makes an impact for sure. Highlight moments for the sincerity in his voice and the tones he’ll reach throughout “Find You” before Party On The Outside wraps up…Llamas sings straight from the heart in these final moments of his new EP and delivers the powerful performance & conclusion this record deserved. He’s an exceptional talent, all-around from singing to songwriting – and he proves that for sure with the songs that run deep throughout the lineup on Party On The Outside – really well done brother-man.
Find out more about Justin Llamas from his official website at: https://www.iamjustinllamas.com