Leo and the Maydays – Freshman Album Review
While many artists and labels have put more emphasis on the success of a “single” release, there are still full albums being created in this modern era of pop music. Hannah, the artist and band leader behind “Leo and the Maydays” (whom I will refer to as Leo going forward with this review) has crafted what I’m quite sure is the quintessential coming of age autobiographical album. This is a family affair, as Leo has enlisted the skills and expertise of her father John in overseeing the production and sound engineering of the record.
There are several topics covered throughout the collection of songs. Leo writes about accepting where she is in her life, trusting in her musical talent, and figuring out what’s real to her. I have purposely been vague in describing the former themes because as this review unfolds, you will learn in more detail about Leo’s trials and tribulations. I don’t want to spoil it for you so soon.
There is a heavy focus on lyrics and a maturity in the songwriting. The storytelling contains specificity that is often lacking in indie/rock/pop music. The vocal phrasing is strong and makes sense with the lyrics and this may be the greatest triumph of “Freshman.” Often times in less thought out music, the lyrics are strong but the execution of the vocal phrasing does not fit. Or, vice versa, where the vocal phrasing is catchy but the lyrics are bland and banal. Leo’s singing does not feel forced. It is as if she has been singing these songs for years, and that is more than likely the case. Leo writes about what she knows, and she knows quite a bit.
Musically this album hits a lot of right notes. The arrangements are strong, fitting comfortably into the pop genre, but never feeling lazy or overused. You can hear the same form of a song over and over, but due to the nuances of the drums, guitars, bass, synths, and tight vocals, every song feels all its own. Tyler Flewelling does an exceptional job performing the drum parts with intention. Mike Parker lays down guitar tracks that complement every section of each song. John Carter performs smooth bass lines that provide the necessary low end. Leo plays to her strengths as a vocalist, singing clearly and with confidence. The synths add beautiful colors to the music and come in and out at just the right times, never detracting from the compositions. Everything about this record feels intentional.
Here is a breakdown of each song in track order:
Always Good – A song about reflecting on daily routines and accepting where you are in life, but still giving yourself permission to dream. Leo sings “In too deep to give up now, not that I could anyhow.” She surrenders to her path as an artist.
Bloodsucker – a perfect example of a sinister song. The music is so happy sounding, so bouncy and playful, but the lyrics are dark and scary. The length of the song is 3:33 and if you double it you get 6:66. A strange coincidence, showing that we all have some devilish tendencies inside of us. I am assuming Leo is writing about herself. There is a chance she is writing from the perspective of an energy vampire that she knows, but you’ll have to ask her! One line in particular stands out – “I’ll feed on you until you’re just a memory in your mother’s mind.” Now that is a chilling concept! Yikes! Leo demonstrates that she is self aware by providing a warning to her listeners. She (or the person she is describing) may drain all the energy out of you and you better be prepared for it. Even deeper than that, Leo sings “Hide from me the things I want, cause I won’t stop until they’re gone.” This concept of destroying what you desire, tearing down everything in your path to get those things can be all too real for some of us. Thanks for the heads up Leo!
Piggytails – Picture yourself or someone you know screaming at a steering wheel. Maybe we have all done that at some point. It’s kinda funny and cathartic. Leo sings about her need to get out of a situation. She talks to the steering wheel: “Don’t steer me wrong.” She puts her faith into an inanimate object, but she knows she is controlling it. The takeaway is about having faith that you will lead yourself in right direction. Believe in yourself.
Caught up – “Sunday’s are the worst days anyways – nothing to do.” This is a love story that reveals itself as the song moves forward. Stephen Soundheim would be proud. This song puts you in the moment, the same way that Olivia Rodrigo’s song “Driver’s License” does. This is so powerful. Switching gears to Olivia’s song for a moment…as a listener you cannot help but be transported into the passengers side of the car as she drives around, experiencing her memories and emotions in real time. Now back to “Caught Up.” You cannot help but hang on every word as the story unfolds and we get more details about the summer love between Leo and her partner. At first she resists, but then cannot help but give in to the idea of being with someone and feeling alive, no matter how much it hurts. And it seems in the end that Leo accepts the pain of a fleeting relationship. She sings, “I won’t miss Sunday’s when I’m gone.”
Hometown – “Why does it feel like I’m in the way?” Some of us may feel like that a lot. There are strong small town vibes on this track. Leo sings: “Where I used to get let down.” What does the hometown represent? It could represent that questioning of everything, the uncertainty of life. Is this all there is?
Sleeping – Leo sings “Forbidden fruit beneath me.” It’s not clear to me who this song is about, but that actually makes the song more interesting. One of the more theatrical songs up until the final minute when the music launches into a steady groove to release all of the tension built up for most of the song. References to the ancient gods Hades and Persephone suggest a dangerous attraction. According to some myths, Hades stole Persephone from the overworld and brought her down to the underworld.
Kiss Me Hard – This song has catchy hooks, driving rhythms, and falls into the realm of pop rock bliss. Think Avril Lavigne but not quite as much punk. The drum production is spot on. Leo sings: “Kiss me hard before you go.” Leo explained to me that this song almost didn’t make it to the record. To me this is a top hit from the album and could be near the top of any pop/indie music chart. Perhaps if we were in the 90’s it would have a better chance of that, but you never know. “Kiss Me Hard” hits all of the pop sensibilities and has a memorable hook. This is a declaration of love and asserting needs. An anthem to sing loud!
We Talk Until We Fight – This is the weakest song of the collection. It is not as memorable. Lyrically the song doesn’t tell an intriguing story. This selection will resonate with those going through some disagreements with loved ones, but it did not hit me with the same enthusiasm as the other songs.
Brother – an ode to a brother. Leo sings: “No one told me part of growing is watching brothers go. No one told me how to handle this kind of being alone.” This is a powerful song about family. The harmonies are beautifully chosen with just the right amount of dissonance, invoking the bittersweet mood of the lyrics, especially on the word “brother.” This song hits home for me as I also have a brother who is moving away and building his own life. I cried while listening to it. (And believe me it takes a lot for a song to make me cry). Leo somehow captures the complexity of a moment yet again. She is sad to see her brother go. She pleads “Don’t run away and leave me missing…brother.” At the same time, Hannah acknowledges that some things are out of her control and life will always bring change.
“Brother I know you are a man now
You’re not my baby to carry around
Be a good man, find a nice wife
Don’t forget to come home sometimes”
Upstate NY – A bit of a contrast to the questioning and uncomfortable emotional lessons described throughout the album. This works well as a closing song because it shows that even though there are tough life experiences, we can still find our safe havens. Despite the emotional roller coaster, there is a place where things can be more neutral. On the flip side, even though it’s “easier to stay indoors,” complacency yields feelings of being incomplete. There must be a balance of chaos and order to lead a meaningful life. This makes the last line of the song a bit tongue and cheek because Colorado Springs has a small town vibe reminiscent of Ithaca, NY. Sometimes we want to try something new, but we go back to what’s familiar. The cycle begins again.
I encourage you to set aside 36 minutes and 12 seconds to listen to “Freshman” by Leo and the Maydays on Spotify, Apple Music, or Youtube.
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