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Review: Five Seconds of Summer find their mature sound on 'CALM'

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Four-piece, Australian pop-rock group Five Seconds of Summer (5SOS) has grown up a lot since their formation in 2011. Their latest album "CALM" is the culmination of years of experience in the music industry, lots of personal growth and some hard lessons learned.

Their newest release plays with genre expertly, which, if not done right, could easily turn into a disjointed mess. The group samples EDM beats, dancing synth, blasting guitar riffs and some heavy baselines throughout the 12-track album.

“I don’t know if we thought that we could ever be a band that could be this expansive sonically,” lead vocalist Luke Hemmings said in an interview with Billboard.

CALM is an acronym of the four members names: Calum Hood, bassist; Ashton Irwin, drums; Hemmings, lead vocalist and guitar; and Michael Clifford, lead guitarist. This name instantly sets a personal tone to the record, like all the pieces of the band have come together for this release.

When the group began, their hit singles were more pop-focused as they toured with the Chainsmokers and One Direction. In a boy-band-style, almost every song heard vocals from each member, which gave good opportunities to each of the four members, but at times, it felt quite disjointed and forced.

“We’re a rock band in a pop space, and [we’re] pushing those boundaries of what that can be in this day and age,” Hemmings said to Billboard.

Hemmings takes the reins over the vocals on "CALM," and it clicks so much more than previous albums because of this. Not only does it give Hemmings chances to explore and experiment vocally, it also gives the other members time to really shine instrumentally. You can still hear the impact of each member on each track; these songs are just much more purposeful and collected than earlier in 5SOS’ career.

This is the group’s first album under a new record label, and it has a variety of outside influences helping on the production, including Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, Charlie Puth and Tom Morello from Rage the Machine.

"CALM" opens with “Red Desert,” a track with bellowing, grand vocals and stripped-back instrumentals that immediately catch your interest. It’s a cry to the listener that this musical journey is going to be different than what they’ve seen from the band before, and from the first note, it sounds completely different than 5SOS was years ago. It’s 100 percent the best album opener I have heard so far this year.

Standout track “Wildflower” feels like an 80s dream, with masterful production that is just the right amount of pop with a chorus that makes you want to scream along with it. The volume contrast throughout different parts of this song makes it so interesting and professional. Hemmings alternates his powerful vocals with some whisper, deep-voiced quips.

While the album does have its moments of classic pop-punk sentiments, this album is more focused on the maturity of learning and growth in life.

“This album sees a light at the end of the tunnel, as opposed to [approaching] those harder or darker life moments as a sad period,” Hemmings said to Billboard. “I feel like, particularly on the last album, we were stuck in a mindset, and those moments were dwelled on too much. We’re moving forward.”

This is especially clear through the tracks “Old Me” and “Best Years.”

In “Old Me,” Hemmings sings, “Shout out to the old me and everything you showed me/ Glad you didn’t listen when the world was trying to slow me/ No one could control me, left my lovers lonely/ Had to fuck it up before I really got to know me.”

Those lessons seemed to do the band well, as “Best Years” is heartbreakingly beautiful and is a love note straight from a movie. Hemmings sings about wanting to give a girl the best years of his life and how he is going to make this happen. I cried the first time I heard this song, and every time it gets me misty-eyed. He sings:

“I wanna hold your hair when you drink too much/ And carry you home when you cannot stand up/ You did all these things for me when I was half a man for you/ I wanna hold your hand while we’re growing up/ But I’ll build a house out of the mess and all the broken pieces/ I’ll make up for all of your tears/ I’ll give you the best years.”

This album still has the heartache element to it, though, with more melancholy songs such as “High,” but the track isn’t really a sharp dig at a past love but more hope for moving on in the future.

Hemmings sings on the track with some clever wordplay: “I hope you think of me high/ I hope you think of me highly/ When you’re with someone else”

5SOS’ single “Youngblood” from their previous album started this new, more grown-up journey for the group to find their sound, and I think they have finally found it. As someone who has grown up alongside their music, it’s like we have grown up together throughout the years, through the good times and the bad.

The members’ instrumental skills are often overlooked and shoved under the “boy band” label, but I think any listener who gives this album a chance can hear just how talented and how much work this group put into this album. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it echoes an important theme: maturity isn’t easy, and growing up can suck, but the lessons you learn are worth it to better yourself later on.

"CALM" appeals to every taste through the mix of genre and instrumental styles. I usually listen to albums straight through, but shuffle these songs until you find one in your preferred style. I promise you’ll find one.

Thanks for growing up with me 5SOS; I'm excited to see where the world takes us next.

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