Artist: XL’s Innovation
Album: Dynamics of Relation
Release date: October 15th, 2021
Reviewed by: John Wesley
At the sight of those two simple words you either cringed or gave a hopeful *sigh* as you think of your now or future significant other. Todd Stevens, the man behind the operations of this spin-off project from his main musical outlet XL & DBD, offers his “less heavy rock” tracks through XL’s Innovation and their new EP titled Dynamics of Relation. Like the title suggests, this is a collection of love songs more or less. What makes this EP stand out off the bat is the lyrical content. Instead of being comprised with a collection of mushy love songs, Dynamics of Relation deals with many aspects of what makes a relationship hard work. As stated by Todd himself, this EP is an honest reflection of what marriage has been like with his wife when they met, got married and where they are now. As far as what I can find, this EP is completely a solo project with Todd recording all the instruments and vocals. We’ll now take a closer look of Dynamics of Relation track by track.
10 Years With You opens the album with exactly everything you need to expect for how the EP will sound. Starting with a very catchy vocal hook and a raw yet considerably tight mix of all the basics (drums, bass, lead and rhythm guitars), the listener is plunged in on quite a nice pop punk/punk rock listening experience. A standout lyric for this song:
“I choose to love you and with God’s help I know we’ll stay. Time keeps changing, rearranging, and I want to stay with you. I can’t believe it but it’s true.”
As a married man myself, even for a mere year and a half, I find this very relatable. Time changes and seasons bring on new challenges and difficulties but the key to a successful marriage is a committed mindset. People change over time. That’s reality.
Musically, this song has a pleasing drive and a very memorable melody. The structure is unique too as it sports a basic form of Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Verse and that’s it. With this EP having 7 tracks clocking in at about 22 minutes long, there’s no time to waste and I appreciate that about Dynamics of Relation.
Track 2, The One to Look For, successfully pulls off that classic pop punk anthem sound with a very sing-able melody throughout. This song has a nice guitar solo and a third verse making the form feel more complete than the previous track. Lyrically this song calls out immature men who aren’t ready for what true love requires.
“A man with a clean heart is gonna love you more than you love yourself.”
A great principle to live by. Sometimes we settle for less because we don’t value ourselves the way we should with the way God sees us. We all, no matter how difficult we can be, deserve this kind of love and that’s what this song resounds in it’s modest 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
Track 3, Sad Love Song, depicts the relationship cycle the previous track was hinting at when you settle for something less due to insecurity or selfishness. This track, being in more of a minor tone, is slightly more aggressive than the first two tracks but I find this appropriate because of the lyrical content. Personally, this is one of my favorite choruses on the album due to it’s incredibly catchy rhythmic flow.
“How come the one you shouldn’t love is the one you want and the one that loves you now is never good enough? You dream of fantasies that never ever come true.”
Not only does this lyric pack so much truth but the way Todd delivers it is spot on. You can hear the frustration in his voice which really sells the message. With only 3 tracks deep into this EP, Todd is proving himself to be an excellent songwriter. The harmonizing guitar leads at the end of the song are also very well done. This song is perfectly written. It jam-packs everything a good song needs all under 3 minutes. Easily will end up in my top 3.
The tone changes back to the classic pop punk flair as we dive into track 4, “Be New Girl.” This song is in the “pre-marriage” timeline of Todd’s story with his wife. The chorus could easily be a love letter from God in the way it’s written. It’s all about challenging the individual to break away from the things that hold them back and be made new. Absolutely love this chorus. Have I mentioned how perfect Todd’s voice is for this genre? With this being a spin-off from his main focus in XL & DBD, he could easily continue in this vein and make a name for himself in the pop punk world.
All these songs are quick and give no rest in between so we gotta jump in another excellent song that will make my top 3. Track 5, “Some Things You’ll Never Know,” is easily the grooviest track on the EP. I absolutely love the chord progression in the verses. With the upper guitar part picking through the chords as the bottom guitar part provides an off-beat rhythm, the verses push the song ahead with crazy catchy, accented chops. This is also one of the longer songs and I’ll just say there are no complaints here. This is a wonderfully written song with fantastic verses, a great breakaway chorus and a chill bridge to diversify the dynamic flow.
This track talks about how there are some personality traits about your partner/spouse you simply won’t know about until certain situations bring them into the light. Loving someone becomes a challenge when this happens because we uncover something we may have not been aware of and we must choose to love through the confusion.
Arriving at the tail end of the EP, track 6 throws us back to the mood track 3 as the subject matter of “Angry at You” demands more aggression and frustration. Singing about feelings that arise when two people who love each other get in a fight is no easy task but Todd, once again, sells it just right. A humble yet effective guitar solo fills up the bridge and we’re plunged back to the anthemic chorus with “What can I do? So angry at you!”
Fights happen and there needs to be a cool off time. The transparency of the lyrics on this EP are quite admirable and it helps all of us married folk feel heard when times are rough and confusing.
The EP closer, “You Just Stay Beautiful” is one of my favorite tracks. What a perfect way to end this overview of relational conflict and dynamics. When it’s all said and done, the love between Todd and his wife endures.
“I remember the first time I saw your eyes and you caught me by surprise. A few years since then we became good friends.”
It’s good to think back where relationships begin and how much they build over time. Todd ends this album on a positive note admiring his wife. This is another track that is modestly short but I wished was longer because it’s just so catchy and sing-able. I sure hope this isn’t the last track we hear from XL’s Innovation.
Overall I can’t express how surprised I was when hearing this EP. The production is on the raw side, but it works so well as the performances are very tight. Todd sure is a fantastic musician and an even better songwriter. With the runtime just past 20 minutes, everyone needs to hear this EP because it is very relatable no matter what your love life may look like. These are the kind of love songs we need more of: ones that are honest, transparent, and tell you how it really is. Todd’s faith shines through in a few moments on this album and at the end of the day, he will probably admit that it’s only the love of God that compels he and his wife’s efforts to stay committed through thick and thin. Well done, Todd!
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Top 3: Sad Love Song, Some Things You’ll Never Know, You Just Stay Beautiful
For fans of Blink-182, Kids in the Way (last album), Jimmy Eat World