What started as five goes on as one. Randy Jackson-produced North of Nine found its beginnings as a rock-edged youthful quintet not unlike the oncoming trend of boy bands with a small lathering of grit along the lines of Rixton or the Wanted. Somewhere between their Alive EP debut in 2015 to the release of 2016’s [email protected], however, the band underwent what could only be labeled as the Malik antithesis: lead singer and pianist Jackson Guthy as the only representative of the North of Nine name leading into its first-ever full-length studio album debut.
Regardless of the events that led to this outcome, it doesn’t come across as overly drastic. Guthy has always been the glue that held the piece together; unlike a One Direction or Big Time Rush, the act revolved around its lead singer, so it’s best that he’s given further space to run around the metaphorical room and let his musical sensibility run uninhibited. The result of this lineup change is something with that much more “oomph”.
As a collective unit, North of Nine always had pop potential, but hearing that same awareness of what makes a catchy hook fuse with the animated vigor of a frontman let loose to take on his music as he sees fit makes for something phenomenal. His spunk as a vocalist is the most palpable thing to come soaring from out of the gates on this debut album, all while retaining the edge and radio-ready style that the band hinted at on its initial studio piece. However, if the Guthy-with-bandmates rendition of North of Nine represented a pop goldmine, liberated Guthy writing and performing what is completely true to his soul is an indomitably fashioned palace.
The swagger, the earnest comparisons to the pop-rock stylings of Maroon 5, Andy Grammar, and the in-betweens, and the overall catchiness of the set remain on this solo iteration, yet with an infinite amount of room having been cleared out for Guthy to communicate his individualized style, it all comes across as that much more authentic.
Now that he’s older and found better footing in his lane, Guthy’s raw talent (which he exemplified during stints on Ellen and the like as a soloist prior to founding North of Nine with Jackson) has been refined. This is perhaps most noticeable in the arrangements (which he helped compose), as boisterous, poppy horn sections and a myriad of sonic influences are scattered throughout [email protected] to help develop his full character as an artist.
From the playful braggadocio emanating from the top on opener “Down”, through the inspiring, jazzy pop sounds of “Something Out of Nothing”, and to the punkish grit of “Applause”, Guthy exemplifies himself now, more than ever, as an artist intrinsically brimming with all of the accessibility that he needs to reach Top 40 charts. In the meantime, it’s refreshing to see him having carte blanche on his music and taking it by the horns.