Beyond The Haze
CJ Temple bursts into the music scene with her debut LP Smoke. Officially released on all platforms on January 28th of 2022, Temple previewed the album with a few singles from the LP, specifically “I Am You, You Are Me,” “This Game” and the title track “Smoke.” All three of these singles portray the themes on this album, ones which hit hard in the very turbulent and unstable era of the 21st century. Specifically, themes such as drug use, contemporary relationships and internal struggle are explored. Temple is able to craft an album that tackles these ideas head-on by intermixing soothing and relaxing tones that put the listener at ease.
Temple has a way of exuding real and raw emotion into her songs by utilizing interesting background rhythms that aren’t as common in songs coming out today. As a result of this, these tracks contain a unique timbre. The first song in the album, “Smoke,” really does embody what the album is all about. With a slower beat and simple piano and percussion backgrounds, Temple creates an echoey feeling while listening. The song also encompasses the emotional themes touched on throughout the album: fighting your identity, freeing yourself from a relationship and struggling with internal battles in your head. Temple is able to get these themes across to the listener by utilizing slower chord progressions along with employing a softer and more whispery lullaby-esque tone of voice when she sings. This sort of timbre has become very popular in the past decade, particularly with pop and indie singers.
A standout track that somewhat diverges from the more somber tone of the overall LP was “Take Me Where You Go,” which unlike many songs is in F# major instead of the majority of the tracks which appear in the lower C major. This slightly higher register works in the track’s favor, as it aids in making it one of the most memorable songs on the album. It also features a softer harmonization that sings a lower third from the melody, which also adds to the more peaceful ambiance. Additionally, this song is also absent from the light percussion and synth that appears in most of the other tracks. The lyrics are a standout, showing the longing in the song. The melody reads: “Take me where you go. I can’t stand to watch you leave. I know. I know. If it was up to you, you’d never go.” These simple lyrics and rhyming work well with the softer acoustics and make this song memorable. All of the tracks on the album share themes of emotional vulnerability and loss, and are able to create a melancholy yet hopeful mood with lyrics to match.
Another strong theme of this album is self-identity– or loss of one’s identity in another person. The single “I Am You, You Are Me,” even in just the title of the song itself portrays this internal struggle perfectly. Temple is able to craft the dissatisfaction and pain that can come from a toxic person and how one can lose themselves in someone else. This song is a beautiful representation of this idea, utilizing emotional chordal structures to help portray the raw emotion in the track. Another song that utilizes similar chordal structures– in particular the major 7th in the guitar– is “Looking Back Now.” The major themes in this particular track include regret and reminiscing on past events. By going back and forth between minor chords and the 7th chord, Temple crafts a piece that feels nostalgic in nature.
Smoke excels in simple, yet effective musical themes that many listeners can personally relate to. Overall, this is a very impressive debut album coming from Temple. Some of the songs can tend to blend together in moments but each offers a very peaceful and serene look into self-identity and love. Temple is able to reveal inner struggle and pain in such a unique way and creates a one-of-a-kind debut LP.