New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Review: Dove Cameron’s ‘Alchemical: Volume 1’ and the relationship between love and change

The singer-songwriter’s newest endeavor releases her from her past Disney persona, and redefines her as an emerging artist.
An+illustration+of+a+woman+with+dark+hair+kneeling+on+the+ground.+She+is+wearing+brown+and+looking+down.+The+background+is+blue.
Mikaylah Du
“Alchemical: Volume I” features tracks like “Sand” and “Boyfriend”. (Illustration by Mikaylah Du)

Dove Cameron has spent half of her life in the public eye. Starring in Disney Channel’s “Liv and Maddie” and “Descendants” franchise cemented her likeness into the childhood consciousnesses of this generation. To college students, she may serve as nostalgia incarnate, and her debut album “Alchemical: Volume 1” is ready to transform the nostalgia into new breakthroughs. 

Cameron first teased the album in a May Instagram post, which has been curated with Cameron’s fledgling public image in mind. Cameron deleted her old songs including beachy breakup anthem “LazyBaby” and debut EP “Bloodshot/Waste” from independent streaming platforms in an attempt to reinvent her artistic direction and pave the way for her new album. 

“Alchemical” is an album rife with reminiscence, as well as a longing for healing and conclusion. In the memorable track “Sand,” Cameron expresses sorrow over a past relationship with uneven levels of infatuation, mourning her own efforts to meet her partner halfway. Her songwriting is most poetic and impactful within this track, lamenting her past flame to the tune of stripped-down instrumentals in lyrics like, “But you have more pieces of me than the desert has sand / And I have less pieces of you than I can hold in my hand.” 

This theme of reflection continues in “FRAGILE THINGS,” a pensive waltz that likens an old relationship to a dilapidated house. Cameron sings, “Love is like a house of fragile things / Where hearts can be broken as easy as antiques / And now there’s glass all shattered at my feet.” Her wandering vocals guide listeners through this metaphor, granting an intensely personal look at how she loves. She beckons her audience into the home herself, opening the door to an intimate look at how Cameron perceives her romances. With many of her past relationships casted in the media limelight, “Alchemical” grants Cameron her own platform to discuss the matters of her heart.

Aside from evoking restorative melancholia, the album also serves as a reclamation of power. Hit single “Boyfriend” continues to reign as one of her stronger songs following its release early last year after a clip went viral on TikTok in January 2022. Being proclaimed a queer anthem by her fans, it sees her seize romantic agency, asserting to a woman that she could “be a better boyfriend” than the man who abandoned her. “Breakfast” establishes a similar level of control on Cameron’s behalf, a politically charged tune in which she alludes to oppressive gender dynamics: “Ooh, so you wanna talk about power? / Ooh, let me show you power.” Cameron’s assertive anthems often utilize heavy basslines and a seductive sound to endear her work to listeners.

Beyond the often poignant lyrics, the production behind each of Cameron’s songs helps the album as a whole to cohesively shine. The arrangements of producers Connor McDonough, Evan Blair, Riley McDonough and Ryan Daly range from orchestral to electronic dance music breakdowns. The musical support lends itself to a more candid sound across the eight tracks. The team is unafraid to sonically break down “FRAGILE THINGS,” with the song slowing and decaying into static as it ends before composing itself for a final few notes. The team utilizes deconstruction and are unafraid of mess as a means toward reflecting Cameron’s honesty.

For all of its beauty, “Alchemical” feels a bit mechanical. Precisely every other song on the album takes on a more energetic rhythm, with reflective ballads wedged in between in a uniform oscillation of mood. The emotional arrangement feels too intentional to create any ongoing narrative within the tracklist, but is perhaps meant to establish a divide between the artist’s past and present. The self-assured opener “Lethal Woman” would not hold the same impact without listening to the album through “God’s Game,” a look back to the past in which she notes: “I made myself a home for everyone but me / Been alchemical ever since fifteen.” With Cameron’s career taking off when she was 15 years old, she preaches her development as ongoing and revelatory across the music — a calculated shift that a younger version of herself must have known to expect.

Four tracks out of the album’s eight — “Lethal Woman,” “Breakfast,” “Sand” and “Boyfriend” were all released prior to “Alchemical” itself, which makes the album feel less immersive than it would if more than half of the tracks were fresh. While the familiarity of much of the album renders it less novel, perhaps the incremental release of songs was Cameron’s intentional and gradual reintroduction to her artistic identity.

With the second volume of “Alchemical” due for release in early 2024, Cameron’s newest projects primes fans for a rebirth of her career, created and formulated to suit her artistic passions.

Contact Eleanor Jacobs at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Mikaylah Du, Illustration Editor
Mikaylah Du is a first-year studying Media, Culture, and Communication. She's a fine art nerd and one of the few people that actually likes writing essays. Follow her art account on Instagram @mikaylahdoodles to see her post once in a blue moon.
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  • M

    MayDec 9, 2023 at 7:19 pm

    So interesting how alchemy was the study of transmutation of matter, and how powerful that makes it for her to basically be saying “I’ve always just been myself into something else.” Loved the article, so interesting about her transforming image.

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