No place like ‘Harry’s House’: Radiant, referential return of Harry Styles

Illustration of Harry Styles against a muted, sand-colored background with translucent pastel motifs
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Despite embodying a self-metaphorized satellite on his latest album, Harry Styles is no orbiter — he’s a star. 

In the wake of Styles’ roaring success following 2019 sophomore album Fine Line, the release of the eagerly awaited Harry’s House on May 20 was preceded by the advent of a new Twitter account. Titled “You Are Home,” the page ejected sparse, artsy phrases and vignettes of comfort in daily anticipation of the record’s launch — a gratifying countdown for expectant fans. “The door is open, come on in,” it beckoned, waving listeners closer. 

And indeed — scaffolded in danceable sonic architecture — Harry’s House invites its listeners in with a welcome mat emblazoned in casually lovelorn ruminations and reverberant oneirisms. The record finds its groove in the morphology of Styles’ languid vocals and kaleidoscopic effervescence, diving into intimacy while balking at vulnerability. Swirling its aural compound with indie undertones and funk influence, it’s the iridescent antidote to a restless summer, tempering sun-bronzed anxieties with vivacity and poignance. 

Styles’ devotion to romantics seems more vibrant than ever. Shimmery, punchy chords abound in the happy-go-lucky “Late Night Talking.” The track’s euphoric, palpitating production rides a syncopated backseat to Styles’ glossed-velvet voice. Wandering through the pre-chorus’s intervaled descendance, he encapsulates the unfettered debonair of a lover. “I just wanna make you happier, baby,” chants Styles, prostrating himself as a faithful devotee to pleasure. 

Extending his love-affair exhibit, the artist’s all-consuming infatuation finds reverb in the lustrous “Daydreaming,” a horn-adorned paean that insulates its climbing intensity with guttural belts and a sky-sweeping coda. Though lingering on tired music tropes of restless passion, Styles is guarded from capsizing in clichés by panache and stylistic variety. As wistful desire multiplies repetitively through “Daylight,” Styles’ buoyant maelstrom of long-distance yearning devolves strikingly into shifting harmonies and guitar-driven glissandos. 

Inversely, Styles tunes a microphone to love’s failures with tender inventiveness. Perhaps most effulgent is the sentimentally pensive “Little Freak,” a distance-contemplating ballad painted in levitating textures. Harmonies entrenched euphonously in Styles’ wafting croon, as his bittersweet whimsicality laments marred intimacies and mistimed companionship. “Matilda” — similarly alluring for its tear-inducing, viciously soft reflections — leans heart-first into regret-tinged sonorities, toggling between stripped guitar and satin vocals. 

Though able to extract idiosyncratic flair from multi-genre inspirations, Styles’ infectious melodies tend to dip into echoic pastiche. The jovial vocals in “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” have prompted online comparisons to China Anne McClain’s Disney hit “Exceptional,” while the chorus of “Satellite” reportedly evokes Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love” — a fan favorite of “Shrek 2.” 

Further recalling undercurrents of The Beatles and refashioning the summer-pop nostalgia of the Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins, Styles’ proclivity to reinvent can turn precariously derivative if left unattended by his trademark charisma. When paired with somewhat-recurring instrumental motifs — such as blaring horns and pulsing synth salvageable only by intermittent, rapturously intense vocals — Harry’s House feels periodically more like an apartment complex featuring replicable and iterative design.

If Styles has a beaming forte among his myriad talents, though, it’s his charisma. Laced through the litany of food metaphors in “Music For a Sushi Restaurant” and in the listlike poetics of “Keep Driving” is a thrumming current of lyrical magnetism rendered in an elusive gravity. Teeming with verve and sensuality, Harry’s House is the kind of mesmerizing that operates on vibe over substance. It’s more cheerfully coy than deeply personal; more “Sunflower, Vol. 6” than “Fine Line.” Styles’ evolution is one of mystique, cloaking him further in impenetrable intrigue irrespective of his seemingly openhearted music. 

Acoustically scintillating but thematically formulaic at times, Harry’s House might just be where the heart is. The artist himself, though, is on vacation, singing odes from a faraway perch saturated in sun and simmering desire. Ironically unable to unlock the front door to let his waiting audience in, what remains is only a mere glimpse through Styles’ glow-glazed windows.

Contact Esther Huang at [email protected].