Niall Horan’s folk-oriented sound shines in solo debut

“Flicker” has a mellow feel that varies widely from other recent pop works

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2017 has been a year of big musical releases, and former One Direction member Niall Horan added a solid solo debut to the mix. Horan released his highly anticipated debut album Flicker on Oct. 20. Other One Direction members also began solo careers after the group went on hiatus, and Horan is the third member to release a solo debut album after Zayn Malik and Harry Styles.

Lead single “This Town” and follow-up “Slow Hands” were released before the album dropped. It was clear from the sound of both songs that Horan would take a more mellow, folk sound than his fellow bandmates. This rings true after listening to the remainder of the album, which is a solid debut for a pop artist and certainly one of the best releases in mainstream music this year.

The first track, “On The Loose,” is a perfect way to start the album. A funky melody is present throughout, and the track is upbeat but not overpowering. It's easy to nod your head to this song, too. Lyrically, the song describes a girl who every person falls for. Horan sings, “She’ll dance in the dark/A real work of art/Her eyes could burn down the room.”

Similarly, “Mirrors” shines from a lyrical and production standpoint. The song is very easy to listen and groove along to. Behind the sound, however, the song is darker than it seems. “Mirrors” describes a woman who is unable to express her true sadness. Horan sings, “She looks into her mirror/Wishing someone could hear her, so loud.”

“This Town” follows with its soft guitar strumming and simple melody. Of any song in the album, Horan’s overall sound is most present in this song. It makes sense that he released it as the first single.

The fifth track, a ballad called “Too Much To Ask,” is the third and most recent single from Flicker. The song is lyrically strong, with lines like “My shadow's dancing/Without you for the first time” and “I forget you're not here when I close my eyes/Do you still think of me sometimes?” But it does fall a bit short. Horan seems to restrain his voice and does not fully portray the emotion the lyrics describe.

A surprising highlight was "Seeing Blind," a duet with rising country star Maren Morris. Horan sings the first verse, with Morris providing harmony. They join together in full force during the chorus, and Morris takes the second verse. Horan and Morris have surprisingly compatible voices, and the song is a pleasant portrayal of the album and the styles of both artists.

Critics agree that Horan has put out a solid start to his solo career that strays from his bubblegum pop origins, giving the album generally positive reviews. It will be interesting to see what Horan does to diversify his sound in the future –– many songs on the album are similar in their simplicity, tone and musical production. As a whole, however, Flicker is an impressive album with significant lyrical substance and a laid-back folk feel.

Edited by Claire Colby | ccolby@themaneater.com

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