JP Saxe released his debut album on June 25th. In it, he chronicles heartbreak, the quietly painful parts of a break-up, and discovering love truer than he could previously imagine with his songwriter girlfriend, Julia Michaels. Saxe got his first major break through with "If The World Was Ending," an oddly prophetic duet with Michaels that has been included on both his EP and his album. The song was even nominated for a Grammy.
I first discovered JP a few months ago through my Instagram explore page. He pops up there frequently because I'm very much a fan of Julia's, but when I finally watched a clip of him playing an acoustic song at the piano, I realized how talented he was. The opening lines, "My therapist called you a learning experience," from his song "Explain You" immediately caught my ear. The lyrics were blunt, honest, and compulsively relatable. That led me to his 2020 EP Hold It Together which continued to be full of clever and conversational songs- two of the hardest things to find in songwriting. JP manages to be genuinely funny while still being sincere. I ended up buying a ticket to his upcoming LA show.
The brilliantly titled Dangerous Levels of Introspection doesn't disappoint. He expands on what makes his songwriting so strong with more space to carry complex narratives. He replaces some of the snark and sarcasm on his EP with a larger dose of sincerity. Many songs are rooted in simple piano and guitar, but he also moves into fuller productions and more effects without jarring the audience. Working with a host of the best writers in pop, JP's songs are at a level far beyond that of his notoriety.
While the story of this album is not a chronological narrative, it is complete. Every break-up track on this album is incredibly fresh. Each topic is quiet. There are no dramatic fights played up for attention or huge emotions. Just quiet doubts, slow crumblings, and rumination on what went wrong. Sometimes, the small, quiet feelings are the hardest to work through, and I love that he takes the time to go there. Similarly, the way he sings about being in love avoids cloying cheesiness. Writing a good love song that doesn't make me roll my eyes is hard, but he delivers. The best love songs make you fall in love with the subject right there with the singer. There's plenty to work through on this album, and he never flinches away from giving us all of it.
Ryan Marrone, JP Saxe, Johnny Price
This is a great thesis statement for the album. There are so many lost feelings wrapped in this song. JP sings about having to go back home because his father is having surgery and all the feelings that the trip unearths. He's trying to process all the changes around him since his childhood, how different his family life is now, and how all these messy feelings are propelling him back towards his ex. Everything is upside down, and he's searching for that stability in another person. There's so much to unpack in the song and so many great lyrics. In the chorus, he makes statements and then calls himself out ("I just want to hold you/It doesn't have to mean anything/I don't think it cannot mean anything") in an extremely self aware and true way. It's a good reminder that a fear of losing our past can also lead us back to people from it as well. JP summarized it to Apple Music saying, "I’m also thinking about a person who used to feel like home while I was there, and not really being able to go back to either a time when Toronto was home or a time when she was. Both of them are unattainable parts of the past.
Favorite Lyrics: "Driving to the house I grew up in/But after I moved out/Someone knocked it down/Replaced it with a concrete piece of shit"
"Home don't feel like home in a hotel room"
Julia Michaels, Ryan Marrone, JP Saxe
Like I said before, we aren't moving chronologically, so for track 2 we jump ahead to the song dedicated to Julia about true love. The sonics are the same adrenaline rush of new love, and the lyrics actually make my heart pang just a bit. Instead of talking about how in love he is, he talks about being able to receive love in a different way that he ever has before. The song breaks down expectations and constructs and recounts a love that is completely open, accepting, and honest. Even when everything falls apart, there's still trust that trust there.
Favorite Lyrics: "Tell me, 'No, you don't have to be strong, you're allowed to be wrong'/No one's ever loved me like that"
Ryan Marrone, JP Saxe
We get our second love song on the album right away. This song is more internal, straying away from the love he receives and more towards why he loves his girlfriend. The verses are super specific and include plenty of overly honest, sometimes hilarious, thoughts that ring sweet without being saccharin. JP told Apple Music that this song came six months earlier than "Like That" when he started to realize that he could start expanding his past definitions of love. He also talks about the inevitable discomfort around new things, even if they are good.
Favorite Lyrics: "I'ma need you to explain exactly everything those eyes mean/Never mind, surprise me"
Ryan Marrone, Benjamin Rice, JP Saxe
We switch back into break-ups and trying to move on in this fourth song. There's an interesting quirk to the track list here because JP wonders if he'll ever find a love as deep as he had before, but in the two songs prior he's already told us how his new relationship has completely redefined his concept of love for the better. It's almost comforting. This sad song is easier to digest because we already know the ultimate ending.
On the song, JP sings about how he doesn't want to fully accept that his relationship is finished because that just feels like more losing. Those miserable feelings of loss are the only things he has left of their time together, so he's going to try to make them last. I think it's something a lot of us do- consciously or not- but I don't see it discussed in songs often. This is the song that John Mayer was a part of, contributing a guitar solo to the ending, which I didn't find necessary.
Favorite Lyrics: "When somebody asks you/Your favorite parts of this city, do you think of me?/Like I think of you"
This short track, consisting of two brief verses and two choruses, could be considered one of two interludes on the album. It trades in the extremely literal and the spacey metaphorical in alternating verses. JP said that these lyrics were brought back to him through a journaling app that lets you know what you were writing years ago on a certain day. When he saw the lyrics, he initially flinched away from using them, but it was a Phoebe Waller-Bridge interview that convinced him to share.
Favorite Lyrics: "Everything's a metaphor/When you're up North
Greg Kurstin, Amy Allen, JP Saxe
If I had to pick a new favorite of the tracks released with the album, this song might be number one. I loved the title of the album, so I guess it was inevitable that I also connected to the song of the same name. In the verses, he paints extremely specific snapshots of a time and place before pulling back in the chorus to look at the situation from a birds eye view. He sings about how nostalgia gets him into trouble and that he doesn't want to go back in time, but he wants to go back to a feeling. In the second verse he continues listing the negative aspects of his old life before repeating the chorus, heightening those emotions. I think we all have parts of our life that we romanticize in the rearview. Logically, you wouldn't take any amount of money to go back to that time, but sometimes you still wish that was your life.
This song was also shaped by two of pop's biggest power players, Greg Kurstin and Amy Allen who've worked with major pop acts like Halsey, Fletcher, and Harry Styles. JP spoke to Apple Music about how this track really summarizes the line that the album walks and tries to navigate, "I believe there is an amount of emotional analysis that allows you to be more present in your own life. It allows you to be closer to the people you love, closer to yourself, and it really makes life better. And then there is an amount of emotional analysis that can really fucking ruin your life, because you’re so busy analysing your emotions that you have no time to feel them. I think this album lives very much on the line between those two places."
Favorite Lyrics: "Ruining a moment with some reckless nostalgia"
"I don't want any of it back/But I miss how it felt/Yeah, it happened so fast/I kinda miss myself"
I think we all know this song well enough at this point. It feels a bit like it was just added on here for the streaming boost.
Ryan Marrone, Amy Allen, Alex St. Kitts, JP Saxe
This is another standout song on the album. JP delves into the reality of knowing that a relationship is broken but rationalizing it in your head for fear of the end. He sings about how he puts up with things he shouldn't because he just wants to stay in this relationship longer and how he still feels compelled to comfort and protect her even if she was the one who instigated the fight. There's a genuine sense of being torn in the song. Leaving is always the hardest part.
Favorite Lyrics: "You say things you don't mean too damn convincingly"
"I've tried walking away in my head/For a moment it's peaceful, then it scares me to death"
"You know, I'll forgive you just to keep it simple/You know, I will meet you so far past the middle"
TADD DAMERON, JP Saxe, Count Basie, Benjamin Rice
This track is also short and interlude-like, skipping the bridge and final chorus. This song feels like a continuation of "Tension". Even though they've broken up, he's gone back to her place. He keeps returning to a place that seems safe and normal, even if it's preventing him from moving forward and finding someone who genuinely cares. It makes it clear that even after recognizing what was going on in "Tension" it's still a one step forward, three steps back scenario.
Favorite Lyrics: "Your world feels so familiar/Though some of the furniture is new"
"And I love your occasional Saturdays/Over someone who would meet me halfway"
Sean Douglas, Ryan Marrone, Nick Ruth, JP Saxe
JP told Apple Music that this song is about his best friend (don't worry, she does know and gave permission) because you always have more clarity when you're looking to someone else's situation. JP tells his friend that he loves and supports her but he can tell that she's not in a good situation. He spells out her reality so clearly that it's hard to deny that this relationship needs to end. It's an interesting break on the album that adds a sense of perspective and carries a hint of irony because we're all great at giving advice but horrible at taking it.
Favorite Lyrics: "I was happy when you left her/And I was really fucking hate her/But I swear I'd make an effort/If she made you happy/But she doesn't make you happy"
"It takes some time/It hurts till it doesn't"
Maren Morris, JP Saxe, Ryan Marrone, Jimmy Robins
Continuing our diversion away from the break-up narrative, we get a song rooted in the current day. JP and Maren Morris sing about being songwriters and chronicling their current and past relationships in songs. Since Maren is married to and JP is dating other songwriters, they share a super unique experience. I love the concept of writing a song about songwriting.
Favorite Lyrics: "There are things that I sing that I never have the confidence to say"
"Like that song about my parents that I'll never show em/And the ones about my exes that they don't deserve"
JP Saxe, Ryan Marrone, Benjamin Rice
This song has been in the making since JP's 2020 EP. He let his nerves about singing the chorus hold the song back for a while before taking the step towards "vocal vulnerability". I'm glad that he did step up to the challenge because this song feels like the perfect conclusion to the break-up narrative that this album carries. It would be disingenuous to the body of work to end on a "I'm happy and everything is great" note, even though that is what eventually happened for JP. Instead, he chronicles the last breaths of the relationship as he works through the last few steps of learning to let go.
Favorite Lyrics: "All I do/Is get over you/And I'm still so bad at it"
Mike Elizondo, JP Saxe, Audra Mae
JP chooses to end the album with a song about losing his mom in order to hit all of the significant relationships in his life on his debut album. He follows what is now becoming a growing trend of getting the most personal and diverting from the general themes of the album to close. The song follows an unconventional pattern of verse, verse, bridge, verse, skipping the chorus entirely. He sings about how his life has changed significantly since his mom passed but also the ways she's still there with him. While this song wasn't the strongest track on the album, it still clearly plays an important part.
Favorite Lyrics: "I'm okay/But that's not the point/Take it day by day/Like there's any other choice"
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