Zel? – Now And Forever – Album Review
That’s…ummm…quite the bio Zel?. #StayHumbleMyBrother
I like that the opening track “I Get Around” borrows a ton from the Post-Punk era of sound…that’s pretty much where I’m at for the most part…the style of music that I suppose tends to resonate the strongest with me & pretty much always has. Explicit as he needs to be in making the point – “I Get Around” is essentially about the trials and tribulations of love, going from the intensity of passion, to not giving a single fuck afterwards. “I don’t need a bitch – I got music shit.” Hopefully Zel? gets the opportunity to realize he can potentially do both of these things at some point in time…but if I’m being real with ya, if the man’s gotta choose in the meantime, it sounds like doin’ the “music shit” for now, is probably more beneficial to him in the long run. I feel like I ended up saying this for something else just this past week, for a completely different style of music – but “I Get Around” also sounds to me like it could have come straight off an old album from The Cure in terms of the music…which is straight aces with me. He might be mad…he might be on the aggressive side of his feelings when it comes right down to it, hurt, and lashing out at what love seemed to be for the moment before revealing itself to be something else entirely…he might not want to admit that either – but words are what they are, and hurt is something we can always hear. Trust me when I tell ya, truly not giving a fuck is not writing about something or someone…creating a song about whatever that might be though, is definitely giving a fuck – and a lot of the times, tracks like “I Get Around” are written more specifically for an audience of one to hear’em. On the bright side of things – I highly doubt anyone listening would be able to resist “I Get Around” – the hooks on this cut are beyond gold – Zel? starts out Now And Forever with one of his most addictive cuts.
“Keep Playin” works really well too…Zel? doesn’t necessarily sound like The Weeknd, but the formula is essentially the same…borrow a little from something old, add something new & shiny…make sure it’s catchy & flashy, designer-type stuff, and voila…a new star is born. At 2:20, “Keep Playin” moves QUICK – and it audibly feels like it when you listen…tight beat, fast vocals in the verses, enticing music playing along with him…hooks in the chorus that once again push the material to the next-level like you wanna hear. The most you’ll find me conceding to ya is that I still like “I Get Around” a bit more personally, but if we’re talkin’ about composition, production, and performance…there ain’t nothing to complain about. Zel? is making sure to cover all the angles, and all the attention to detail is right there on display from the stylistic swagger he sings with in the lead vocals, to the smart way he adds his backing vocals into the mix as well. “Keep Playin” might be a short track, but there’s no shortage of something to keep ya entertained and completely engaged – Zel? clearly has a bit of an ego, sure – but you can also hear within the words of this second cut that he also takes responsibility for his own actions and owns who he is & what he’s about too. For some listeners, like myself, this makes a huge difference in what makes us become genuine fans…I’ve heard so many artists claim to be the best at this or that throughout the years that it’s plenty clear the idea of that is older than I am…being real with your audience is where I’m at these days. Zel? finds a good way to strike a balance between both worlds, and sounds great doin’ it.
Three-for-three so far, “I’m Sorry.” sounds like it’s got all the right ingredients required to catch your attention, and even though it’s certainly not trying to be the happiest song you’re gonna hear this year, it actually stands a really solid chance of making its way to the top of your playlists. I like everything I’ve heard so far truthfully…but there’s something about “I’m Sorry.” that seems like it has the edge overall. At the very least, it’s close…”I Get Around” is so damn killer and makes such a massive first impression that it’s probably still gonna be my go-to cut over time, but the chorus hooks of “I’m Sorry.” really ain’t all that far behind. To be fair to Zel? as well – I don’t think you end up writing a track like this one without being able to acknowledge some seriously real feelings and are able to push the ego aside for a hot minute or two, know what I mean? So sure…he’s flexed plenty already to this point, but “I’m Sorry.” proves what I was tellin’ ya about his ability to strike the balance required with his personality, and all said & done, it’s absolutely because of tracks like this that we know he’s keepin’ it real with us each and every time. Zel? is an artist with plenty to say, and as far as I can tell, it’s coming for a sincere place. He might be explicit AF if that’s what the song & sentiment call for – but don’t go mistaking that for being anything less than real. He’s established real credibility in the way he’s written these first three tunes, and beyond that, he’s essentially given ya nothing but straight up single-worthy sound in the process.
For example, the sincerity in the music you hear at the start of “All I Got” right off the drop makes an instant impact. We knew Zel? had to slow down the momentum at some point…and I’d say that “All I Got” is the cut that does it, metaphorically & musically at the same time. It’s decent – it’s not the first three tracks, but it’s still a really good song with a ton of style goin’ on in its favor. There’s a bit less direction here, and more of a wandering feel to it…like we’re just being let in on Zel?’s internal thoughts naturally drifting this way & that – it makes for a pleasant listen, just not an experience that quite rises up to what we’ve heard so far is all. I like the low-key approach…ultimately, I’d never turn off a song like “All I Got” – and like I mentioned, at some point, Zel? was going to have to take some kind of reset-moment, because it’s extremely rare that an album goes nothing but UP, you feel me? He mentions a Frank Ocean influence in his bio online, and it’s tracks like “All I Got” that you can hear it in action. I’ve got love for Frank, and I’ve certainly got love for Zel? too…ultimately, I feel like the level of accessibility in a track like “All I Got” is where it needs to be, and for a slower jam, it’s still got high degrees of appeal – I might feel like the first three cuts give us a bit more of what makes the magic in Zel?’s music – but you might feel completely the opposite, you dig? That’s what I’m tellin’ ya…”All I Got” has a legitimate chance of being a whole bunch of people’s favorite cut for sure, and I wouldn’t blame ya if that’s the way you felt about it…we all like what we like, and love what we love – and it’s our differences that both make the world go ‘round & keep these music discussions we share between us interesting to debate. At the end of the day, I think what “All I Got” does more than anything else, is prove that Zel? is more than capable of thriving within multiple gears…the dude knows how to make music that connects, 100%.
You get a brief moment to reset yourself for the second half of the record to come with the “Thinkin Bout U (Interlude)” that’s only seventeen seconds long. It ain’t nearly enough time for a guy to make himself a coffee, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna give that a shot anyway. I’ll be right back y’all…
A synthetic superstar in the making, “The One I Trust” has a few issues in terms of the effects/vocals clashing a bit on a tonal level, but the ideas overall are pretty damn killer. It’s actually tracks like this that fill me with more confidence than the ones where everything is going 100% perfect…think of it this way – “The One I Trust” is slightly less than perfect, and chances are, you’d still turn it straight up to the rafters – so if this is as outta line as Zel? gets, then the dude’s in really damn good shape. In terms of the concerns…the main one is simply that Zel? has two functioning ears like I do and can hear everything I’m hearing too…ultimately, he knows the chorus hooks here are coming out a bit more flat than they should be. So…like I tend to remind ya from time to time on these pages of ours – as listeners, we can accept a lot…and really, I still think people will completely turn up for this track because the ideas are simply THAT good in the hooks you’ll find – but as the creators & artists behind the music, vocals & words & whatnot…it’s never the 95% of what’s going right that we hear – it’s the other 5%, and we hear it forever. Would I get back in the booth and give these hooks the sparkle & shine they deserve if I was Zel?? Hellz YES I would – “The One I Trust” is a perfect example of a song that’s completely worth the extra time required to perfect it, and a cut I’d never remotely advise abandoning. Zel? does the low-key vibe well…and we know that…my advice would be to be equally confident in amping himself up and adding the right energy that suits the song best here…”The One I Trust” needs more, so give it all that. I’m not suggesting anything Zel? ain’t capable of…and at the end of the day, he knows that, just like I do. As it stands…it’s still a really good tune…with the right remix, “The One I Trust” becomes one of the best.
Of all the cuts on the record, I’m probably the most indifferent about “Live Or Die” if I’m being real with ya…I could take or leave this track. Objectively…does it serve the record for the better? I’m not really all that sure if it does…but I don’t really think it takes anything too significant away either. I suppose it’s just missing a bit of that spark required to inspire us to come on back to it is all. I feel like I get where Zel? is going with it, but I’m not quite convinced he really found the heart of what he was looking for here. You either end up looking at a track like “Live Or Die” as entirely without hooks, or as one big hook in total…but in each of those scenarios, the reality is the same…I’m not quite sure there’s enough variation or versatility in this particular track to keep the people engaged. There’s potential here – but Zel? has gotta find that way to raise the stakes beyond what we hear in “Live Or Die” right from the get go…it’s a track that’s cryin’ out for a bit more magic somewhere – as it is right now, it’s probably a bit too static to keep the people’s attention this deep into the lineup, considering all they’ve heard so far. Performance-wise, it’s not bad…I feel like Zel? held his own no problemo here…it’s not demanding on his skills or on his vocals, so everything is ultimately right in-line with where it should be – I just think in terms of the actual ideas/hooks driving this song, “Live Or Die” needs a bit more to keep us interested.
“Passion” probably ends up a bit more towards the bottom of my personal list of favorites on this record than the top…but to be fair, Zel? is one of those artists that’s really only competing with himself at this point. When you listen to the ideas, music, vocals, hooks, and sound he presents in the first say, five full cuts on Now And Forever, you gotta realize that, this dude is cracking the bat far beyond any kind of normal average for an artist this early on into their career. “Live Or Die” and “Passion” help us realize that this dude is still human like the rest of us are…but this latter cut in the lineup is where I’d definitely recommend standing back from the material, and being as objective as possible. Think of it this way, from my perspective as a writer – words mean something. I tend to rag on people that use words like “crazy” in a song in a lackadaisical way that doesn’t mirror the intensity of the meaning of the word at all – and it happens ALL the time…it’s the most common misuse of a word in any song in my opinion. That being said, “Passion” is a similar word in that regard – you wanna HEAR the “Passion” in the vocals, and especially when that particular word becomes the centerpiece of the hook, you feel me? So without it being the undeniably dominant trait, the meaning behind the word ends up falling way flat as a result – and of course, that’s a concern. This is where objectivity is needed most…and it’s the toughest piece of the puzzle to add to an artist’s career – they’re always so close to the material as the creators behind it all, that it’s extremely tough to leave anything behind or on the cutting room floor. From what I can tell, Zel? is about two years or so into his career as a professional postin’ up his music online…I’d love to say everything goes perfectly that early on, but that’s nearly never the case – and as I like to remind ya all the time, that’d be the worst hell for an artist to be stuck in anyway. Imagine coming outta the gate so flawless that there’s nowhere else to go but down? That’d be the absolute worst case scenario in my opinion…you want opportunities like this to learn from, grow, and evolve your art/craft/music into something more than the first five years of any career are gonna offer. Zel? has got more in him than we experience on “Passion” – this is one of those learning moments, and he’ll be better for it in the long run. Or maybe he’ll just decide I’m talkin’ out of pocket here, and tell me to pound sand. All good with me either way – I just tell ya what I hear and let the chips fall where they may…I serve the scene best by being one of the few independent music journalists that doesn’t only tell people what they wanna hear. Because I wanna be MEAN? Hellz no! Because I want you to be the best version of yourself you can be.
I might enjoy giving people a hard time now & again…especially when I read a biography as GIANT SIZED as Zel?s is in terms of what it’s claiming…but I gotta say in all honesty, this dude stands an incredible chance of living up to every word that’s written in it as his career carries on. “Dreaming In Madness” wasn’t just a good finale, it was the perfect ending that put the record back on the rails before it was all over, and finished off the experience of listening to this record in a way that’ll keep us coming back to it. While I’d still say that a bit more tempo & pace has been a benefit to Zel? and revealed his best cuts on Now And Forever along the way – of the down-tempo material, “Dreaming In Madness” is quite likely my favorite of the bunch that run at a slower pace. The first part of this cut comes out solid…to the point where, anything extra after that is basically a bonus for us – and perhaps that’s what makes everything that happens past the 2:20 point even that much more special. Zel? already had basically everything he needed and a dreamy atmosphere to finish Now And Forever on that totally worked – and he chose to take that one extra step, shine a spotlight on the instrumentation & music that has been the heartbeat of this record one last time, allowing this more gentle & delicate vibe carry ya off to the end, but liven up just enough to give it that inspired spark we all wanna hear before it’s all over. The guitar accomplishes that on “Dreaming In Madness” – I dig the atmospheric elements revealed through the first part of this song, but I felt like the ending really drove it home to give the album a real conclusive ending that worked, and have us looking forward to whatever it is that might come next from Zel?.
Find out more about Zel? at the official pages below!
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/zel/1601876795
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