When normal daily routine takes an abrupt hiatus, the sudden standstill of a fast-paced life can be jolting.
When pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer, or 5SOS, canceled its last worldwide tour, Luke Hemmings was compelled to reflect on his decadelong career as the frontman of one of Australia’s most successful musical exports. Since he was 15 years old, Hemmings has lived the majority of his adolescent life on the road with his bandmates, hardly settling in one place for too long.
An extended period of mandated seclusion provided Hemmings with the catalyst needed to step into his own as an artist. Sessions of deep introspection prompted the production of his first solo project, a 12-track LP that marks his first approach to songwriting without the context of his band. Released Aug. 13, When Facing the Things We Turn Away From is a lyrically and sonically poignant solo debut that captures Hemmings’ emotional evolution through isolation.
Despite the cancellation of its tour, 5SOS has maintained musical productivity throughout the pandemic. Hemmings’ solo album follows the band’s fourth studio album Calm and fellow member Ashton Irwin’s own solo project Superbloom. When Facing the Things We Turn Away From is a worthy addition that continues to showcase the individual maturation of yet another member of one of the biggest bands in the world.
Self-reflexive lyrics depict an intimate portrait of someone who is attempting to consolidate a blur of memories. Hemmings expertly commands his vision throughout the album’s 43 minutes; cinematic musical crescendos mingled with moments of quiet intimacy lead listeners through a visceral journey of introspection.
Album opener “Starting Line” is the radiant first track that serves as the LP’s emotional catalyst. In the first verse, Hemmings’ powerhouse vocals float above a shimmering piano melody, as he sings, “Visceral in doses/ Hiding in the seams/ Standing on the sun and I don’t feel a thing” before the grandiose production of a string orchestra and an electric guitar conduct a revelation (“I’m running out of the time/ I think I missed the gun at the starting line”). These words spill out naturally, as if being held in until this moment of cathartic realization.
In the following two tracks, Hemmings further works through the fleeting nature of memory. “Saigon” is a precious dreamscape that chases the highs that can only be felt in retrospect. Demonstrating expertise of catchy melodies, Hemmings croons “Oh, you never know inside those moments/ How good it was, and how you wasted.” Intensity picks up with “Motion,” an upbeat, psychedelic-rock inspired tune that has the singer questioning the reality of time within a synth heavy soundscape. The album establishes itself as one coherent narrative as each track seamlessly bleeds into the next.
What follows next are tender and hypnotizing productions. The softness of “Place in Me” feels intimate and confessional, with piano melodies that carry apologies to a loved one from a remorseful mouth “Baby Blue” gives tribute to the escapism of wonderland. Held up against blue skies, Hemmings’ airy voice drowns in an ethereal atmosphere. “A Beautiful Dream” echoes in space while the singer’s vocals float through heavenly synths, asking his fleeting memories to stay in his psyche within a moment of reminiscence.
“Comedown” is a grand finale that captures the crash of an emotional high while taking recluse within the fact that good and bad moments come in waves. An acoustic guitar centers this last track; layered harmonies and grand piano gently usher Hemmings’ parting words into a figurative fade to black. This book marks the end of this chapter in Hemmings’ life, an exposition that closes the chasm between Luke of 5SOS and Luke Hemmings the individual.
In its lyrical authenticity and emotional generosity, When Facing the Things We Turn Away From is nothing short of a masterpiece. Each track in Hemmings’ first solo project storyboards his metamorphosis into a self-assured artist while navigating dark truths of the human condition as experienced through his sonically vibrant perspective. As an introductory LP, Hemmings masterfully inaugurates a new, emotionally fluent version of himself just as the world seemingly begins to turn anew.