5 Seconds of Summer’s newest album, “CALM,” is filled with uncharacteristic choices. The project, which was released last Friday, presents a side of the pop-rock band we’ve never seen before, both lyrically and stylistically. Playing around with their pop sound, 5SOS manages to make each song on the album absolutely unique through an unrelenting dedication to experimenting.
From the opening song, “Red Desert,” it was clear that the album was going to be a far cry from the serenity its title suggested. The chanting, choir-like beginning and strong drum beat feel like the musical equivalent of a shot of adrenaline. It took barely any time before my heart started racing.
Beginning with a deep bass beat and low vocals, the track “Teeth” takes an unexpected turn when lead singer Luke Hemmings abruptly shifts from his typical low range to a falsetto as a chaotic mix of electronic and rock music barge in. It could be easy for this unconventional combination of sounds to end up messy, but the band managed to find a way to organize it into a cohesive aesthetic.
By the time you reach the middle of the album, 5SOS assures you still haven’t heard the full extent of their venture into these different styles, with “Wildflower” serving as proof of it. This track demonstrates their mastery of supreme pop experimentation by incorporating all the elements of their previous songs into a single, jam-packed pop wonder. They make use of the choir and rock sounds that previously made an appearance in “Red Desert,” the electronic beats heard in “Easier,” and they do it all using their usual mix of pop sound, as heard in “No Shame” and “Old Me.”
But, beyond proving their mastery over being able to construct a pop song, “Wildflower” also acts as the album’s segue into a more colorful and vulnerable second half. These two halves are so perfectly split that it makes the exact organization of the tracklist feel deliberate and important. The juxtaposition of the songs on one side of the divide against those on the other adds yet another layer of novelty to listening to the album as a whole.
Instead of playing around musically, 5SOS utilizes that second half to be more honest and open with their lyrics. “Not In The Same Way” has a choppy melody with short lines that allow the song to move along quickly. The fast-paced, repetitive nature of the song reflects the toxic cycle that Hemmings is stuck in. This isn’t the first time on the album that Hemmings has opened up about his unhealthy relationship, but it’s the first time that the listener feels like they’re with him at the center of the storm.
The extra-personalized and specific lyrics make it feel like we’re hearing something we’re not supposed to. “Lover Of Mine,” a slow and sad love song, is almost like a fly-on-the-wall view of Hemmings’ relationship. By the end, it begins to feel intrusive. This deep dive imbues the song with an emotional core that feels distinctly genuine.
Ending the album is “High,” a somber song with simple chords and a steady melody. Ending an album on a sad note can be an odd choice, especially for a band known for their high-energy pop songs, but for this album, it works well. It gives us a chance to exhale, bringing us back down to our own reality from the one the band crafted throughout each song.
5SOS’ musical inventiveness and honesty are the most striking elements about “CALM.” On a first listen, the songs could feel random and disjointed from one another, but the more you pay attention, the more you realize how purposeful each element is. It’s difficult to have any set expectations for what they’re going to do next provided how surprising this latest album is, but I can only hope that they dare to push themselves even further.
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