Willow Smith (known mononymously as WILLOW) howls on her new poignant and brief album, lately I feel EVERYTHING. Star–studded and rippling with the voracious emotional life of a young woman in her prime, lately embodies a touching irony of sounding like a teenager venting her hormonal emotions in her dad’s garage, despite being backed by some of the biggest names in the industry and being distributed by Jay–Z’s Roc Nation Records.
Travis Barker, the legendary drummer of blink–182, supports Smith on three of the 11 songs, most notably “G R O W”, which features a can’t–miss verse from none other than the iconic pop–punk queen herself, Avril Lavigne. Book–ending this song, Philadelphia’s own Tierra Whack pounds out a killer rap on the hypnotic “XTRA”, while feminist–punk band Cherry Glazerr assists on closer “¡BREAKOUT!”. In addition, up–and–coming guitarist Ayla Tesler–Mabe riffs with Smith on the late highlight “Come Home”, a chilled–out banger.
lately, with its short runtime, speeds past you at a breakneck pace, perfect for a short walk around your block. It moves so fast, a potent shot of adrenaline right to the vein, that when the album does slow down, the small spaces of ephemeral silence become painfully palpable. Almost every inch of this record is packed wall–to–wall with yelps, howls, screams, thrashing drums, scuzzy guitar, and belt–your–heart–out lyrics delivered with no–holds–barred passion. Smith doesn’t wait for you to catch up. She just expects you to tag along on the intense roller coaster of emotion, which is a pretty easy thing to do. All you need is your phone, some earbuds, and a bedroom to thrash your head with her. No concerts. No crowds. This is punk rock for Zoomers.
The only real misstep on lately is its second track, the 36–second “FUCK You”, in which Smith seethes with frustration about an ex in stupidly simple terms: “fuck you.” There’s no room for interpretation, this is her record, this is her sound, and fuck you if you think you can take away from that. It’s the album’s thesis statement, a kick in the face of oppressors. This album is a blemishes–and–all look at the emotional life of a 20–year–old trying to make her way in the midst of the turbulent year that was 2020, but “FUCK You” is so bare–bones that the silence made by the minimal instrumentation sounds painful instead of empowering. Is Smith trying to throw a brick at a riot shield? Or lug a heavy box to her dorm room? It’s hard to tell.
Luckily, those 36 seconds don’t feel like an eternity, and we’re thrown once again into the violent waters of her mind with the presciently titled “Gaslight” with Travis Barker. lately doesn’t really hit its stride again until we reach the concluding feature–packed triplet of songs. “G R O W” is a delicious slice of irresistible 2000s pop–punk that outdoes any of the other songs on the LP, excluding (perhaps) the thrilling lead single “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”.
All in all, the latest offering from the former child star is a breath of fresh air among its contemporaries. WILLOW is done with 2020's bullshit, and we should be too.