Album Review: Lionel Boy – Lionel Boy

[Innovative Leisure; 2021]

Lionel Boy makes tunes for a summer that, for many of us, feels like it will never come. Sure, depending on where you live, the vaccine is becoming more and more available, but much of the world remains in a sleepy, necessitated lockdown, with each day bleeding all the more into the next. Yet, when you venture into the sun-drenched world of Lionel Boy, those warm drives with the top down suddenly don’t feel so far away.

Indeed, in the wrong hands, the music of Lionel Boy’s self-titled debut album could easily feel almost tortuous: tone-deaf, and simply against the feeling of the entire global moment. Yet, the young Hawaiin native has a way of making each and every moment feel for everyone, bliss intended for far more than simply his own reminiscences and the recording process.

Lionel Boy‘s finest moments are often represented by its singles. The road-trip inspiring, lovelorn “Kam Highway”, is named for the artist’s favorite stretch of road between his native Waialua and Wahiawa, and when he sings, “Wavy girl, how’d you get so wavy?,” it’s misleadingly simple, concealing the full power of an unfulfilled crush in but a few lines. This writer challenges you, after listening, to not find it suddenly stuck in your head by the end of the day. Album closer and final single “Mango Michelada”, is more spontaneous, and for good reason: it was created in the studio via the inspiration of the Mexican beer cocktails that it’s named for. On record, it bubbles from improvisation into a truly irresistible ballad to looking for love in all the wrong places, equal parts disillusioned Future-esque debauchery and Paramore-like open-heartedness.

Normally, highlighting buzz-worthy cuts would spell trouble for an album, but don’t get the wrong idea: in no way, shape, or form is Lionel Boy a ‘singles artist’. To the contrary, listening to Lionel Boy feels akin to enjoying your favorite dessert, every portion with a purpose; if your favorite bit is the jelly, do you not enjoy the donut? The album may indeed be one of particular peaks, but not a moment drags: it all comes together to form a singular delight. In fact, some of its greatest pleasures lay hidden, with the loping, patiently emotive “Tides” ranking easily alongside the more immediate songs. It’s an odd experience, one in which its easy-going parts simply don’t express its intricate, delightful power as a whole.

On a less intimate scale, Lionel Boy is one of a proud few artists currently transplanting ideas from across genres with abandon. If anything, the lines don’t even occur to them: growing up in an era in which the likes of Chief Keef and Taylor Swift alike have spent periods atop the charts, favorites ending up in a blender feels almost inevitable. Lionel Boy is here to remind us that summer will return. It just has to, especially when a musician is still crafting music this free, goodhearted, and supremely open: it’s a certainty. Therein lies its power.