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Judah & the Lion released its third studio album, ‘Pep Talks,‘ on Friday. (Photo via @judahandthelion on Instagram)

Album Review: Judah & the Lion creates the soundtrack of a life with ‘Pep Talks’

As the awareness of mental health continues to increase, many artists have begun to share their own experiences. With the release of its latest album, Judah & the Lion showcases the difficult moments it has been through while successfully destigmatizing mental illness. 

The Nashville-based three-piece group dropped its third LP, Pep Talks, on Friday. The album is a 17-track masterpiece that tackles the fluctuations of mental health, a topic that often either gets overlooked or isn’t addressed at all.

The original four members of Judah & the Lion — Judah Akers, Nate Zuercher, Brian Macdonald and Spencer Cross — met and formed the band in 2011 while they were all attending Belmont University in Nashville. The band gets its name from Chapter 5 of the Book of Revelation with the mention of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The band quickly produced a Christian-based extended play, First Fruits, but the group decided to forgo its Christian roots musically so it could embrace a broader audience. 

The band opened for Mat Kearney and Ben Rector in support of its first full-length, Kids These Days, which was released in 2014. The band earned a spot on the Billboard charts with its follow-up album, Folk Hop n’ Roll, and was named Billboard’s first “Chartbreaker” in January 2017. Cross left the band in December 2017 right after the band and Jon Bellion opened for megastar Twenty One Pilots on the Emotional Roadshow tour. 

Despite working with superstars in the music industry and having its moments of acclaim, Judah & the Lion is not yet a household name. The band’s latest album should change that if people really take the time to digest its content. Even the lowest point on the album fulfills its purpose: “Don’t Mess With My Mama,” with its methodical trap beats, epitomizes the pinnacle of a healthy mind when you feel like you can conquer any obstacle. “Passion Fashion (feat. Jon Bellion)” brilliantly surrounds catchy instrumentation with the notion of ignoring society’s standards and becoming comfortable with just being yourself. “Quarter-Life Crisis” discusses confiding in the people you love the most when your demons become too overwhelming. Every track on the album flawlessly does its job to depict the ups and downs of life. It may be the most important album you ever encounter, so don’t ignore it. Listen to it, embrace it and let it be your form of solace.

Here are the best five tracks from Pep Talks:

5. “Family / Best Is Yet To Come”

It’s practically impossible not to cry while listening to “Family / Best Is Yet To Come.” The track begins with a message recording from Akers’ mother, who has just finished listening to the album and tells her son it’s something that is bound to help countless people. Akers’ melancholy lyrics come in, surrounded by dull guitar strumming, to illustrate how it truly feels to experience complete desolation: “I guess you’re just broken / I guess you’re just hopin’ for more / I guess you’re just reachin’ / I guess you’re just in need of love / But you’re not alone.” The remainder of Akers’ mom’s message ensues, and she concludes by saying she’s proud of him and sorry for everything she’s put him through. Macdonald’s beautiful mandolin strumming comes in and uplifts the outro’s message: “The best is yet to come.” It’s simply uplifting and gorgeous in every way.

4. “Why Did You Run?”

“Why Did You Run?” examines the deterioration of Akers’ mental health following his parents’ divorce. It begins with his mother calling him to say she and his father are splitting up, and she needs Akers’ help to get through it. Frustrated, Akers hangs up and calls his father because “you were the one I needed the most.” Zuercher’s banjo strumming intermixed with Macdonald’s mandolin work perfectly depicts Akers’ discontentment: “So there I was, a lost kid looking for a home that he once knew / So I broke down and called you.” He just wants his parents to be happy, and the track’s overall relatability is bound to resonate with a plethora of listeners.

3. “i’m ok.”

Located fourth in the 17 tracks, the song is a perfect example of why the order of the track listing is crucial. “i’m ok.” comes immediately after “Why Did You Run?” and takes place right after his parents have finalized their divorce. It depicts the struggle of trying to figure out if you’re fine mentally or not. Akers claims he is so people will stop bugging him: “I’m OK / I’m OK, so please stop asking me.” In an aggressive rap verse that bares resemblance to the bridge in Twenty One Pilots’ “Fake You Out,” he finally admits he’s not well. The instrumentation becomes more powerful as the track continues, and it ends with Akers coming to terms with his mental health, saying he’s fine with not being OK. The track exemplifies the stigma surrounding mental health and how difficult it can be to reveal how you truly feel.

2. “pictures (feat. Kacey Musgraves)”

Never have two voices — Akers’ and Musgraves’ — sounded so heavenly together. The message is simple: two people who vowed to spend their life with each other are no more. They blatantly still love one another, but too much has changed and it’s not something from which they can recover. The enticing mandolin blended with Musgraves’ astoundingly perfect harmonies make the lyrics even more heartbreaking: “Every truth I knew since high school’s a lie from your mouth / And we made our promises, yeah, we said our vows / But none of that really seems to matter to you now.” It’s the collaboration we needed but don’t deserve. 

1. “Queen Songs / human.”

Capturing the essence of the troubles that life entails is “Queen Songs / human,” an eight-minute-long showpiece that blends two tracks into one. In “Queen Songs,” Akers is describing the decline of his significant other. He can’t even get himself to call her at night “’cause I’m scared that you’re drinking and it hurts like hell.” To deal with that, he reminisces on the good times: “But I remember Queen songs in the passenger seats / You were singing along and smiling at me / And things were good.” The instrumentation builds up and transitions into “human.” Even without lyrics in its first two minutes, “human.” still impeccably paints a picture of the human condition: love, sadness, contentment, heartbreak and healing. The most profound lyrics on the album make their way in to end the track: “They say you’re a disease / You look so human to me / I’m trying so hard to see / You’re trying hard to break free.” The track is the epitome of how music is supposed to make people feel. Pep Talks may be the best album of the year, and “Queen Songs / human.” is the best song on it. 

Rating: 9.5/10


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