The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | Brittany Howard’s ‘What Now’ is a masterclass in musical creativity

The former Alabama Shakes singer and current solo artist gives us the best album of 2024 so far with mind-blowing production and a whole lot of passion.
© Scott Utterback/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
Brittany Howard performed on the Oak Stage of Bourbon & Beyond Friday afternoon. Sept. 15, 2023

If I had to sum up Brittany Howard’s newest album, “What Now,” in one word, I would go with “wow.”

Known for both her solo work and her time as lead singer of the band Alabama Shakes, Howard has one of the most fascinating personalities in popular music. If there’s anything I know about Howard, it’s that she radiated pure power and passion.

I have had the privilege of seeing Howard in concert twice: once at Lollapalooza in 2021, and once outside Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City this past August. Both times, I was blown away by her unparalleled investment in her stage presence and vocal performance. Though I hadn’t listened to her other solo album before, my hopes were high for “What Now.”

To say she delivered is a gross understatement. Through and through, this album is incredibly engaging; each song uses a variety of instrumentation and does an excellent job of balancing prominence between those instruments. No two songs sound quite alike throughout the album.

It was clear from the first song, “Earth Sign,” that this was going to be a delicious, soulful album. From there, Howard takes the listener in many different musical directions.

Some of my favorite songs include “Red Flags,” which is initially mysterious and ghostly but turns into a towering and powerful standout by the end. Another, “To Be Still,” kept it simple with the instrumentation, sporting just a guitar and vocal harmonies for most of the track yet was still chilling and memorable.

The final song, “Every Color in Blue,” was wonderfully strange and closed out the album with a highlight.

Throughout my entire listen, I consistently noted that I have never listened to an album quite like this one. I wondered if I would even do it justice in a review because I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever heard. Ultimately, the uniqueness of this album is the best thing about it.

I could write an entirely separate review just talking about the production of this album. It is hard to put into words how stunningly nuanced this album is in many ways, but the production is the foremost highlight: complete with brilliant use of panning, juicy fuzz, and beautifully spacious reverb.

With music as detailed as this, it’s important to remember every facet was an active choice by the artist — there were no accidents. Knowing all the details were implemented by Howard, who wrote and produced every song, makes it that much more impressive.

When artists pack their music full of details for the sake of having details, it is often their sound that falls flat. Their melodies become bloated, overbearing, or confusing. To take so many ingredients and have each one make its great contribution to the music, even if it sits in the background, is a mark of musical brilliance.

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But Howard seamlessly blends elements of rock, blues, garage, jazz, soul, neo-soul, and psychedelic rock to create an unforgettable and addicting sound.

Perhaps the element that does Howard’s impact the most justice is her vocal performance and lyricism. Her vocals range from soft and pillow to swinging and grooving to belting and earth-shaking. Her lyrics reflect her lust for life and determination to create a better, more inclusive world. Her spectacular guitar work on the album cannot be overlooked either.

I must confess that my words alone cannot possibly capture the life and character this album exudes. Please, do yourself a favor — put on some headphones and listen to this masterpiece.

It’s safe to say Howard is running away with the album of the year for 2024 so far. I have no doubt this will be heavy in my rotation in the coming months, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store next.

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About the Contributor
Evan Weidl
Evan Weidl, Opinions Editor
Evan Weidl is a senior majoring in political science. He previously worked in the opinions section as a columnist.