Every week, an Oracle staff member will recommend their favorite piece of media to a fellow staff member, who will then be tasked with reviewing it. This week, Arts and Entertainment Copy Editor Dani Walpole has recommended Heartbreak Hits to Editor-in-Chief Jake Mauriello.
DW: Theo Katzman is one of my favorite musicians of this decade. His songs range between funky and sad, and his lyricism is what I love most about his work. For all of my life I’ve been a classic rock fan, and Katzman’s first album, Romance without Finance (2011) opened my mind to a newer era of rock music. I’ve carried Katzman’s first album with me throughout my life, and as a guitarist and a music fan, it has been amazing to see the progression within his solo career and with his world-renowned band, Vulfpeck. The album I’ve recommended to our Editor-in-Chief, Jake, is Katzman’s newer, more exciting album. Heartbreak Hits has a lot of organic instrumentation and it discusses human feelings. It isn’t over-produced, loud or synthy, so I think he will hate it. Love you anyways, Jake.
JM: I am, admittedly, scared of music made by men. I have my male artists that I consider to be safe spaces, which essentially boils down to The 1975, Harry Styles and the occasional Troye Sivan. Outside of that trio, my music consumption sticks almost exclusively to women.
My take on music may be very closed-minded, but I generally feel that women are better at music than men—and given less credit. Having raised myself on the likes of Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Ashley Tisdale, the formative years of my taste in music were crowded with women, and I’ve yet to see it necessary to change that.
So when I was tasked with reviewing an album by a man for this inaugural edition of “Something Borrowed,” fear was struck in my heart, to say the least. Asking me to listen to an album by a man, especially one I am not familiar with, is like asking a pregnant woman if she’s pregnant: you don’t do it. But alas, I was challenged, and I’m not a coward. So here it goes, I guess.
I didn’t do much preliminary research into Theo Katzman prior to my first listen, aside from a quick Google search. Being the way I am, I instantly navigated to images to see what I was working with. Theo Katzman, no shade, looks like the type of liberal man to say he’s a feminist but then talk down to women. I, of course, do not know Theo Katzman—he may be a lovely man. I am just making observations here. Needless to say, I pulled up the album (on YouTube, not Spotify; can’t mess with my Last.Fm scrobbles) trepidatiously.
Halfway through my first listen, I was whelmed. I was not gagged, nor gooped, but also not totally disappointed. I consume music very surface-level at first, often tuning out the lyrics to focus on what’s going on production-wise. This is why I tend to gravitate towards anthemic pop songs, rather than stripped down coffee-shop stuff. Heartbreak Hits is definitely nuanced. There’s few big musical moments, so when the mood does crescendo (like on “As the Romans Do”), it’s all the more appreciated.
As the title suggests, much of Heartbreak Hits deals with romance, or the loss thereof. Because I am generally unempathetic when it comes to love, breakup songs don’t really do much for me unless they’re truly masterfully written. While Katzman definitely writes a song better than I ever could, nothing really struck me as masterful. On “Hard Work,” I can’t help but feel that he sounds whiny. “I held your hair back when you had too much to drink,” he sings, before listing other ways he “put in the hard work,” like unclogging bathroom sinks. Now I know the standards are low, but is that really the best he could come up with in terms of his apparent dedication to this relationship. Theo, that’s very nice that you unclogged the sink, but your ex probably had to deal with your emotional unavailability due to years of repressed emotions that come with masculinity—do you see her writing a song?
Masculinity saturates much of Heartbreak Hits, even if unintentionally. Katzman’s songwriting clearly lacks the female gaze which is obviously not his fault, but also isn’t for me. “Love is a Beautiful Thing” had me for a brief moment, before “Love is a beautiful thing / Hugging, kissing, laughing, holding hands” turned into “Love is a beautiful thing / Unless it’s you loving another man.” The whole vibe of that is something I do not subscribe to—if she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t like you… get over it. But since I pride myself on self-awareness, I will call myself hypocritical for nitpicking this song when I would praise “Teardrops On My Guitar” by Taylor Swift. Though Taylor was what, 15 when she wrote that? Katzman is in his thirties. I mean… Anyways.
My experience wasn’t all negative. I quite enjoyed the swingy style of “Crappy Love Song” and the similarly catchy “Good to Be Alone.” Another highlight was “Lost and Found,” which had me nodding my head a little bit. But sadly, I don’t think there is anything off Heartbreak Hits that I will revisit. While I commend the effort, Theo Katzman has failed to crack the shell of my musical misandry. Better luck next time!