Album Review: Dawn FM

by Jack Downey '23
A&E Co-Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Album Review: Dawn FM

The Weeknd Takes Us on a Trip Through Purgatory

Olivia Riportella ’25

The sudden release of R&B/pop icon The Weeknd’s new album Dawn FM on Jan. 7 has taken the world by storm. Featuring artists such as Tyler the Creator, Lil Wayne, Oneohtrix Point Never, Jim Carrey, Quincy Jones, and Swedish House Mafia, this album is packed with exciting contributions. It is on track to be one of the superstar’s most critically-acclaimed records, featuring 16 songs for a total of 51 minutes and 49 seconds. 

Dawn FM is the most intriguing release by Abel Tesfaye thus far, and certainly one of the most intriguing pop albums in years. Tesfaye has said that the record is conceptualized around the experience of listening to a retro-pop radio station while sitting in traffic in a tunnel, but the tunnel is actually purgatory. This vision makes for a fascinatingly compelling narrative, and picks up from where his 2020 release, After Hours, left off in its storyline.  

After Hours was a dancefloor record released in the midst of a global pandemic, when all dancefloors were shut down. It served as a way for The Weeknd to come to terms with his depression and darker feelings during what seemed to be the end of the world. After Hours concludes with Tesfaye’s character’s death in the angst-filled final song, “Until I Bleed Out.” Dawn FM continues the character’s journey, opening with pastoral winds and bird sounds as he looks out to the light at the end of the tunnel—which is death. His radio is turned to the futuristic fictional station 103.5 Dawn FM, hosted by The Weeknd’s real-life neighbor Jim Carrey, who parodies a blissed-out DJ. 

There is a looming terror and dread in Dawn FM, which Tesfaye ironically contrasts with a upbeat, retro-pop sound. The album is one of his most creative, with a retro, disco-synth sound of euphoria in its first half followed by a more serene sound in its second half.

Dawn FM is on the path for global domination as it has already broken impressive records in its release. For one, The Weeknd has now charted 24 songs on the Billboard Global 200, the most by any male solo artist in history. The album also debuted at No. 1 on Apple Music U.S and in 125 other countries, and it is currently No. 1 on Spotify U.S. and globally.

Additionally, this latest release has earned The Weeknd his highest critical praise on an album thus far in his career. Dawn FM received a Metacritic score of 88, while Rolling Stone rated the album four out of five stars. Various critics have acclaimed his creative artistry on the album

Notably, The Weeknd has already released an “Alternate World” deluxe version of Dawn FM, featuring a remix of “Sacrifice,” “Take My Breath,” and “Moth to a Flame.”

In exciting news, the artist has insinuated that Dawn FM will be the first installment of “a new trilogy.” Given that the storyline surrounding Dawn FM is seemingly endless, it will certainly provide the Weeknd with ample opportunity to continue experimenting with his creative style of music. 

Album Review: Ed Sheeran’s “=”

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Album Review: Ed Sheeran’s “=” 

The British Superstar is Back and “Ed”-er Than Ever

Grace Whitman ’22

Ed Sheeran’s album “=” was released on Oct. 29 and showcases a new chapter in the British singer’s life. Sheeran has always been a poetic storyteller, and this album clearly shows how he has matured as a person. 

Amid COVID-19, his wife Cherry Seaborn gave birth to their daughter Lyra and the new father stepped away from music and the spotlight for over a year. He also went dark on social media. While the emotional growth he experienced during this time is certainly evident on “=,” his musical growth is not as clear. Indeed, the record’s tracks consistently have a predictable sound.

“=” is Sheeran’s fourth album with a mathematical symbol as a title, following “+,” “x,” and “÷”. With themes of marriage and parenthood consistent throughout, one may interpret the title “=” to be a nod to how Sheeran feels content and at peace with the place he is at in his life. 

The album starts with a reflective song, “Tides,” on which Sheeran shares how his perspective on life has changed. He sings, “I have grown up, I am a father now/Everything has changed but I am still the same somehow.” With the use of tides as a metaphor for the changes that have occurred in his life, this song sets the tone for the rest of the album and would be the perfect song to open up a stadium concert. 

The singles from the album are “Bad Habits,” “Shivers,” and “Visiting Hours.” “Bad Habits” is one of the most popular songs on the radio right now, but its sound is extremely predictable and seems to have been meticulously crafted to be a radio song. Notably, with regard to both the lyrical content and sound of the song, “Shivers” is very similar to “Bad Habits,” evidencing Sheeran’s lack of musical growth on “=.”

Nonetheless, Sheeran is still arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the generation. Some of his most beloved songs are emotional ballads that are not released solely for radio streams. For instance, “Visiting Hours,” a tearjerker like “Supermarket Flowers” from his album “÷,” was written as a way to grieve after the death of his close musical mentor Michael Gudinski. The built harmony within the song reveals the magnitude of pain Sheeran experienced in the aftermath of Gudinski’s death and the lyrics express his desperate wish for heaven to have visiting hours. 

Other notable tracks off the album include “Overpass Graffiti,” a song about an old love that, like graffiti, will never fade, and “2step,” a hip-hop track similar to several songs from his No.6 Collaboration Project that includes several rap verses. 

Overall, throughout “=,” Sheeran reflects on becoming a husband and a father and experiencing loss. As made apparent through both his lyrics and the emotion conveyed through his voice, this album is an altogether cohesive project that gives fans a deeper glimpse into Sheeran’s life.

We’ll Remember It “All Too Well”

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


We’ll Remember It “All Too Well”

An Iconic Era Begins Again with Red (Taylor’s Version)

Madison Palmieri ’22

Taylor Swift’s fans can certainly say they are “The Lucky One(s).”

In the past year alone, the icon has released a chart-topping album, evermore, the companion to the Grammy-winning folklore. She also released a re-recording of another one of her Grammy-winning records, 2008’s Fearless, among a myriad of other content ranging from “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” to folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.

Now that the air has turned colder and the autumn leaves are “falling down like pieces into place,” the time has come for another treat for fans: Red (Taylor’s Version). 

Red (Taylor’s Version) is the second in a series of re-recordings of Swift’s first six albums that the artist plans to release over the course of the next couple of years in order to regain control over her early music, recorded with Big Machine Records, after Scooter Braun sold the master versions of it without Swift’s knowledge.

When Swift first announced her intent to re-record her stolen songs, fans immediately began to speculate as to the order in which she would release them. While it was no surprise that she began with mega-hit Fearless, fans were divided as to which album would come next: chronologically, Speak Now made the most sense, but 1989 fit with the time of the year projected for the next release.

Both of these guesses, however, were wrong. On Friday, June 18, Swift took to Instagram to announce that Red (Taylor’s Version) would release in November. The original release date was Nov. 19, but, to the excitement of fans, the artist gifted them with the re-recording a week early on Nov. 12.

From the first lines of album opener “State of Grace,” Swift instantly transports fans back to 2012. With slightly re-worked stylings and matured vocals, the artist’s growth in the nine years since recording the original version of the record is clear. From smash-hits such as “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and title track “Red” to fan-favorites like “Treacherous,” “The Lucky One,” and, of course, her magnum opus “All Too Well,” Swift takes listeners on a nostalgic, emotional trip down memory lane.

Notably, the album also includes new versions of existing tracks not published on the original Red. When she first wrote these songs, Swift gave one, “Better Man,” to Little Big Town; she recorded another, “Babe,” with Sugarland. Another addition to Red (Taylor’s Version) is “Ronan,” a notoriously emotional track written in honor of a young boy who died of cancer.

Although fans were delighted to see how these new versions of their “old favorite song(s)” compared to the originals, they were perhaps more so anticipating the album’s “vault” tracks. Swift wrote these songs during the original Red era, but they did not make the final version of the 2012 album. This time around, however, she invited some of her fellow artists to bring these previously-unheard songs to life.

“Nothing New,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, is by far the most emotional of the six vault tracks. With poignant lyrics such as “Lord, what will become of me/Once I lose my novelty?” and “How can a person know everything at 18/But nothing at 22?/And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” fans gain an intimate glimpse into a young Swift’s fears of becoming irrelevant, a theme also explored in “The Lucky One.” 

Although Swift’s fears thankfully did not come true, with the artist more relevant than ever today, one line remains quite prophetic given how Swift has inspired rising stars such as Olivia Rodrigo and Conan Gray: “I know someday I’m gonna meet her/It’s like a fever dream/The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen/She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me.” “Nothing New” is also notable for being the first Swift track to feature a female artist on an entire verse, rather than simply on backing vocals.

“Message in a Bottle” and “The Very First Night” are the two most energetic vault tracks, with an upbeat style and bubbly lyrics reminiscent of early 2010s hits such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” instantly bringing listeners back to the now long-gone summers of that time. Notably, “Message in a Bottle” is the first song Swift wrote with Max Martin and Shellback, with whom she partnered to create hits such as “Blank Space.”

“I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton not only proves that “country Taylor” is alive and thriving in 2021, but also affirms her knack for witty critique. Swift pokes fun at her ex’s lifestyle, from his “silver-spoon gated community” to his “organic shoes and million-dollar couch.” The song’s reference to how her former flame attends “cool indie music concerts every week” is a nod to a line in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” 

Another notable line is “Mr. Superior Thinkin’,” a potentially purposeful nod to “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” a vault song from Fearless (Taylor’s Version). One of the final lines of the track, “I bet you think about me when you say/’Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me,’” is a perfect example of Swift’s knack for self-satire, as evident on tracks such as “Better Than Revenge” and “Blank Space.” 

The other vault tracks, “Forever Winter” and “Run,” nicely compliment the other previously-unreleased tracks as well as the album as a whole. The former can be interpreted as forerunner to evermore’s title track, using wintery imagery to explore themes of helping someone persevere through depression and find hope. The latter, featuring Swift’s longtime friend and collaborator Ed Sheeran, sets a scene that calls to mind “the road not taken” in “‘tis the damn season,” another evermore track.

Perhaps the most anxiously-awaited track on Red (Taylor’s Version), however, was“All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” A longtime urban legend among Swift’s fans, few believed that the song actually existed, let alone that it would ever see the light of day. At 10 minutes and 13 seconds, it is the album’s longest track; as a re-imagined version of one of the artist’s most popular and beloved songs, it is the album’s biggest standout.

The version of “All Too Well” released on the original Red album back in 2012 perfectly encapsulates the whirlwind of emotions that comes with looking back on a past relationship after its magic has long faded; the “10-Minute Version” of the beloved track adds a layer of criticism and self-knowledge to the romanticized relationship described in the original version.

Indeed, whereas “All Too Well” focuses on Swift’s more positive memories of her former partner, the “10-Minute Version” isn’t afraid to shy away from the uglier aspects of their relationship. Lines such as “He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was/’Til we were dead and gone and buried,” “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath,” and “I’m in a new hell every time you double-cross my mind/You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine /And that made me want to die” add a deeper, darker, and more profound layer to the already heart wrenching song. The actor about whom the song is believed to be written has long incurred the wrath of Swift’s fans, but now, he may want to look into joining the witness protection program.

“All Too Well (10-Minute Version)” also features references to other Red songs. For instance, Swift paints the same scene depicted in “The Moment I Knew,” with one line describing how her father said that “It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one” after seeing her break down when her ex failed to show up to her birthday party. The line, “And I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes/I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age” references Swift’s remembrance of how her ex didn’t think she was funny in “Begin Again,” while also delivering a scathing condemnation of his tendency to prey on young women.

The 2012 version of Red was a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself. Swift’s re-imagining of this iconic album proves once again not only her sheer talent and once-in-a-generation ability to truly connect with listeners, but also her dedication and tenacity. Producing chart-topping album after chart-topping album is a feat in and of itself; producing re-recordings of these records a decade later that are just as, if not more, successful than the originals affirms Swift’s status as a true musical icon.

Indeed, Swift’s fans truly are “The Lucky One(s).” While Red (Taylor’s Version) will be celebrated for years to come, they were able to watch this iconic era in the artist’s discography “Begin Again.”

Album Review: Chelsea Cutler’s When I Close My Eyes

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Album Review: Chelsea Cutler’s When I Close My Eyes

Cutler Displays Growth and Gratitude on Her Sophomore Album

Riley Coyne ’24

Not many people have what it takes to give up their current life to pursue their dream, but Chelsea Cutler does. Growing up, music was always something she was passionate about, and her parents lovingly supported this passion. They enrolled her in guitar and piano lessons. While she loved music, soccer was also a major part of her life, which she continued at the collegiate level at Amherst College. Her time spent away from home while at school allowed her to start writing and producing her own music. Cutler started by posting covers on SoundCloud, quickly gaining attention, which then led to the official publication of her work. Rapidly gaining popularity, in 2017, Cutler decided to leave her college and sports careers behind to tour with Quinn XCII.

Cutler’s sophomore album, When I Close My Eyes, embodies personal growth, celebrates love, and expresses gratitude for overcoming obstacles in life. Her previous album How To Be Human had much more of an overall sad tone to it, as it was written during a time in her life where she was struggling with her mental health and depression. Even her EP, brent, a collaboration with fellow artist Jeremy Zucker, includes tear-jerkers that evoke emotion, as a lot of the record is focused on heartache. These earlier projects generated a media reputation for Cutler that is not necessarily true. In a statement, the artist expressed that “I know that people want sad songs because they want something to relate to and feel heard, and I totally understand that. But my depression and anxiety… things that I struggle with, and they’re big parts of my life, but I’m not a categorically sad girl.”

The first track on the album, “Forever,” is an upbeat song about finding someone that you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with. Cutler’s three-year relationship with girlfriend—and Providence College alum—Tilly Burzynski ’18 indicates that this song is about her. A supportive voicemail from Burzynski is included towards the end of the song: “Hi, it’s me, call me back when you get a break. I love you, okay? Keep your head up.”

One of the many singles on this album, “Devil on My Shoulder,” was released on Oct. 1, two weeks before the initial release of the full album. The symbolic “devil” that Cutler sings about is representative of her depression controlling her life. However, she acknowledges that her depression is a separate entity from herself. Speaking candidly about her struggle, Cutler shared the following in a very raw Instagram post: “For a long time I conflated the two and believed that my depression was a fundamental part of my identity. I don’t feel that way anymore. I know what my identity is and what my personality is.”

Unique vocals and the indie-pop vibe that Cutler is known for are apparent in the album’s title track, “When I Close My Eyes.” “Without You” and “If I Hadn’t Met You” focus on what life is like when you let go of the person you love. Cutler is a huge advocate for mental health and wellness, and in “If I Hadn’t Met You,” she mentions her struggles with anxiety. The lyrics “One, two, three medications, just so I can have a normal conversation,” normalize taking medication to better one’s mental health. 

Cutler’s music is incredibly vulnerable yet honest at the same time. The lyrics truly give listeners a glimpse into both the good and bad times of her life allowing fans to feel such a strong connection to her. Cutler is an amazing role model to young women who wish to pursue and produce music on their own, and hopefully a new generation of woman artists follow in her footsteps.

Album Review: Lorde’s Solar Power

by The Cowl Editor


Arts & Entertainment


Album Review: Lorde’s Solar Power

The Personal Growth of the Artist and Her Listeners

Talia Rueda ’23

Lorde came into the music industry in 2013 in full force. She offered a distinctive music style to the world of Tumblr-lovers while also being highly relatable. Her first album, titled Pure Heroine, gave listeners the iconic singles “Royals” and “Ribs” that still evoke the utmost emotion today, even after fans have graduated from the grunge-Tumblr era. Lorde’s first album did exactly what it was meant to do as she entered the industry, which was to make her mark as a blossoming artist. She was young, and so were her listeners, who were displaying their emotions on social media for the first time. Indeed, in several ways, the artist and her listeners have grown up together.

This was certainly evident with Lorde’s second album, Melodrama, which blessed listeners’ ears in 2017. Fans saw a new chapter of the singer’s life, one with a less innocent point of view. The album’s title was a superb fit for its content, and the artist successfully appealed to listeners’ emotions. Something was different this time around: Lorde was growing up and learning to navigate the brutality of being a young woman.

So, what stage of life are Lorde and her fans at with her third album, four years later? Its title offers a clear indication of the answer to this question.

Solar Power was released on Aug. 20, 2021. Listeners were anxious to see what Lorde was going to make them feel this time. What many have probably found, though, is that Lorde did not have to make them feel anything: they were already on the same page.

The album demonstrates a significant amount of growth from her last release four long years ago. This did not come as a surprise. Not only had Lorde taken four years to release a new project, but she also removed herself from the grid in the meantime, disappearing from both social media and the public. Avid followers know that she took time to reflect, perhaps on her grief as shown on Melodrama, or maybe on climate change as she traveled from New Zealand to Antarctica.

One thing is clear from her new release—Lorde seems truly content and untroubled. In a departure from her past albums, her lyrics and production have a new sense of freedom, and she seems to want her listeners to feel the same delight she has been experiencing. For instance, Solar Power’s second single, “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” contains lyrics expressing a carefreeness that seems so different from the intensity of Melodrama. These lines read, “Cause all the music you loved at sixteen, you’ll grow out of / And all the times they will change, it’ll all come around / I don’t know / Maybe I’m just / Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon again.”

These lines seem to perfectly capture Lorde’s internal growth. Indeed, “Stoned at the Nail Salon” in particular discusses how her mindset has changed from when she was 16 years old. She also acknowledges that it is okay to grow apart from the habits and interests of one’s youth.

In addition to the lyrical differences between the artist’s earlier work and her latest release, the production of Solar Power takes an easier approach. The music itself is much more simple and reserved in its organization. Lorde even allows some harmonies from other artists on this album, including iconic indie singers Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo. In these and other aspects of the album, from lyrics to harmonies, it is clear that Lorde has become significantly lighter and seems glad to share this radiance with listeners.

Lorde’s newfound perspective, as expressed on Solar Power, embodies the new chapter of life that she is in. After years of privacy and remoteness, she is back to showcase how she has healed.

Many of Lorde’s fans have felt the emotions expressed on her highly personal first and second albums, drawing connections between her life and theirs. Her listeners have always been on the same page as her. Solar Power is different, though. If fans did not already feel a connection to the relief that Lorde has experienced, they will after listening to the album. The artist has chosen to nurture healing and peace in her own life, and the album’s therapeutic softness may do the same for listeners.