When then 19-year-old singer/songwriter Justin Nozuka's debut album Holly came out, I was caught by the lead single "After Tonight" when I saw the video one morning on VH1 (you know, the only times the "music channels" play anything musically related). I didn't think he seemed particularly special, but had a nice sound and an interesting voice. So as I always do I did some research on the guy and found out how young he was and was blown away, especially as I listened to "After Tonight" a few more times and had it grow and grow on me. So I downloaded Holly (named after Nozuka's beloved mother) from iTunes and was soon enraptured by the young man's sound. Seeing that he was the chief songwriter, only sharing songwriting duties on 2 of the album's 11 tracks, I was further impressed by the maturity he displayed throughout the album. So, of course, I'd been anticipating the release of his second effort and snatched it up as soon as I could.
Sadly, the sophomore release You I Wind Land and Sea doesn't have the same magic. There's nothing necessarily wrong with the album, but there's nothing spectacular either. There's nothing on the level of catchiness of Holly's "Be Back Soon" or "After Tonight", although "Heartless" comes close and is probably the best song on the new album. There's certainly nothing of the emotional devastation of the first release's best song, "Save Him", where Nozuka dealt with abusive relationships in a more gut-wrenchingly honest and affecting way than I've ever heard it handled before. That song is a masterpiece, but there's nothing here to reach that level. Here he seems to oversing far too often. He's got a wonderful voice, with R&B type vocal runs in many songs, too many. It's like he's trying to lift the material up to a higher level, when really no songs outside "Heartless", and the groovetastic "Woman Put Your Weapon Down" are up to the standard he set on the first go around.
It simply seems like Nozuka hit the dreaded 2nd album drag (the sophomore slump as some call it) where he simply doesn't have his craft honed in such a way to be able to churn out the same quality of material as on the first release, when he had no pressure from a label to deliver an album. But since Holly is an album I like more and more every time I listen to it (and I liked it to begin with), I will still, undoubtedly, anticipate the release of Nozuka's third album, which is generally a good barometer of whether someone is a real artist to watch, or if it's all downhill from the debut. I think Nozuka will fall into the former category. I hope anyway.