The Sun Inside Today’s Music
Alex Stephans, better known as the singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist “Strawberry Guy” has been making music since 2018. One may know him from his most popular song released in 2019 titled “Mrs. Magic” (1) that garnered a bit of attention on social media platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. This October, Alex released his newest album titled “Sun Outside My Window.” Up until its release, select songs from the album were made public as far back as September 16th with a total of 4 songs being released before the album’s full reveal. One of the songs included in its prerelease was arguably the best song in the entire album, even sharing the title of the album itself, “Sun Outside My Window.” However, even with Stephans’s well-timed releases, fantastic writing, and incredible composition, he more often than not is ignored, not receiving the recognition he deserves. Hopefully, this article will raise awareness about this fresh, new, up-and-coming artist and his recently released album.
With a roster of 10 songs included in the album, each has its own distinct message and feel while still retaining elements of the overall sound and composition of the album. This aspect of duality is both this album’s greatest strength and biggest downfall. On one hand, you have the incorporation of the lost art of making an album a puzzle, pieced together as it is listened to; with the album providing a smooth listening experience and a consistent, cohesive message throughout. However, on the other hand, this cripples its “re-listenability” of the entire album as a piece set, as it becomes repetitive after about 5 listens, with many of its songs sounding bland when listened to in succession and can be categorized together almost like “If you’ve heard one, you've heard ‘em all.” This would be a huge negative, however, the songs themselves are so good as stand-alone pieces that it's not too big of a deal.
The first five songs of the album all have a distinct feel to them that then shifts as the album progresses. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it does add a sense of progression to the album. The beginning five tracks of the album are as follows: “Intro,” “When Morning Comes,” “Stay in This Moment,” “I’ll be There,” and “Company.” These songs are all decent (2) with the intro (adequately titled “Intro”) being a beautiful welcome to the album with one’s expectations being set in place. The audience is introduced to most of the instruments that will be featured later in this album, including vocalizations from Alex himself. This reflects the pattern most of the songs take with their crescendos, decrescendos, and the falling in and out of instruments. The pattern applies more to the first half, however, it can also be seen in the latter.
The next two songs “When Morning Comes” and “Stay in This Moment” are the most basic songs on the album. They both have the signature hard-hitting openings the listener comes to expect along with the pattern the audience has come to know from the intro. “When Morning Comes” features more vocals than “Stay in This Moment” does, however it fits well in both of the songs. These songs are grouped together because they both do not really stick out that much in the album. They do not necessarily sound the same, but they give the same feeling. One would say “Stay in This Moment” is the superior song because it sounds more full (3) with its jumpy rhythm and well-placed drums.
The fourth song on the album is titled “I’ll Be There.” This is the very best the first half of the album has to offer. The song opens with a beautiful combination of strings, piano, and cello that mostly remains consistent throughout the rest of the song; spare a brief moment in the beginning and later midsections to put emphasis on the vocals, being executed beautifully. The song takes the listener on a very pleasant, yet somber ride with the inclusion of drums for and vocals to deliver them right back where they started. The song ends with the cello fading on a high note and the piano softly ending the song.
The final song of the first half of the album, “Company,” can be clumped with the second and third songs “When Morning Comes” and “Stay in This Moment.” “Company” is the middle ground between the two, with it being somewhat full yet being deeply flawed and basic. The song’s instrumentation works well for a majority of the song, however it goes on for much too long. As Doctor Ziskind will tell you, “The more you write[or sing in this instance], the greater chance you have to mess up,” and I feel that the song encompasses this quote perfectly with all of the proverbial “points” being taken off from this song set from its inability to conclude. Had the song not repeated itself and concluded at roughly half of the entire length of the song and included the good aspects reprise just as normal in the song, it would, instead of being bunched together with the album’s other mediocre songs, have held its own against some of the fantastic songs contained on the second half of the album.
The sixth song on the album “As We Bloom” is what I consider to be the turning point of the album. The first half is what makes the album good, but the second half is what truly makes the album great. “As We Bloom” is a perfect transition between the two. The song is the epitome of fullness, with the strings, wind, and deliberate absence of percussion, it sets the real expectation and baseline for the album. The song has a beautiful beginning, softly getting your attention before plunging you into the hard-hitting middle just before lightly dropping you off again. This is the same kind of ride experienced in the first song, “Intro,” as both are interludes without vocals; only “As We Bloom,” simply put, is ten times better.
Now, to talk about the song “Sun Outside My Window” is not to do it justice (4). The song so effortlessly is full and leaves nothing to the imagination of the listener. When you listen to the song, you know exactly what is being conveyed (5). The track is consistent, there are no plot holes in the story being told. The vocals mix perfectly together with the instruments to form the perfect instrumental singularity. “Sun Outside My Window” is by far the best song on the album. The only critique I have is how long one has to wait to hear it on the album, being the seventh song.
The eighth song of the album, “Back On My Feet” is a calmer song, following up “Sun Outside My Window” perfectly. The song is extremely good, being very full and is the song in the album with some of the most emphasis on vocals, and even with that being the case the instrumentals are still phenomenal with the Saudade piano and drum duo. There isn’t a disappointing part of this song. It stays consistently in the realm of exciting to listen to. Even when it wavers and slows down a little, it comes right back, even harder than before to remind you how much of a punch the vocals and instrumentals pack.
The ninth song, titled “Believing” is a little bit disappointing. Coming out of the gates swinging sounding like a default alarm, the best excuse I have for the opening of this song is that it is poetic; that the emptiness of the song is a metaphor for something for someone somewhere. All of this being said, once the strings and backing vocals kick in (6) the song does become rather pleasant to listen to. The echoey backing vocals and deeper cello leading through the song do work very well together. The ending of the song is also very well put together, but unfortunately, the best parts of this song come far, far too late.
As the album concludes with its last song “A White Lie,” we are treated to a song that truly and perfectly encapsulates the entire album. The beginning of the song starts slowly, opening with an interlude of piano that segways into what the listener has come to expect from the beginning half of the album. After the basic, although somewhat full part of the song, the listener is then treated to a buildup of drums. The song then slowly shifts into the kind of goodness one would expect from the later half of the album, yet it ends rather slowly. I would go as far to say that even though there are vocals and it is at the end of the album, that “A White Lie” is an interlude; an interlude which is almost a review of the entire album following the patterns found throughout and manages to capture the varied, yet similar duality of the album in one single song.
Now, that is only my one single completely biased take on the entire album. Now that that has been disclosed, I would like to introduce a little thing called subjectivity. I love this album, however fellow student Manny Shklar “couldn’t stand it” because of its lack of modernity. This is because it was “coming from someone who doesn’t listen to that kind of music.” This is completely valid. “Sun Outside My Window” by Strawberry Guy is art, and therefore the only thing factual about the album is that the quality of the music is a matter of taste. I would recommend this album to everyone, even knowing that not everyone will like it.
If one person who reads this article can take even just one song off of this album that he enjoys, then I would consider my work a success. Any traffic I can send in the direction of Alex Stephans (Strawberry Guy), one of the most criminally underrated musicians, is a win in my book. At the time of writing this article, the most popular song of the album on YouTube is “Sun Outside My Window” with roughly 10,000 views, and his most popular song from the album on Spotify is “I’ll Be There” with only about 150,000 streams. With sincerity, I hope you can find as much enjoyment from this album as I did.
1 - Although this will not be the focal point of the article it is a fantastic listen
2 - This is by my own skeptical standards. The songs are relatively good; but compared to the later five songs are, in fact just “decent”
3 - When I talk about a song being “full” I don’t necessarily mean jam-pack it with too many instruments, such as the song “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles, in fact the “fullness” of a song doesn’t rely on the quantity of the instruments at all. When a song is “full” it will have layers and almost tell a story with the instruments such as in the song in question “Stay in This Moment.” When you listen to the song, you will hear the prominence of instruments shifting while also being on the same page, almost forming a single instrument. This is why I say “Stay in This Moment” is better than “When Morning Comes,” even though I clump them together; because when listening to “When Morning Comes,” the instruments aren’t really one, changing from piano and harp to drums, piano, slight harp, and sax, to piano and violin. In short, “Stay in This Moment” has the mixture of consistency and change in it’s sound to be “full” with “When Morning Comes” sounds bloated, with the listener getting instrumental whiplash and being left confused how the song should make them feel.
4 - Actually, I highly recommend listening to the song, if not the whole album before reading any of my reviews. Especially for the much better second half of the album.
5 - Unfortunately I can’t tell you what this is. With the song being art, it is subjective. Whatever you derive from listening to this song, I can guarantee it will feel deliberate and strong.
6 - Granted, this is not redeeming for the song simply because the “boring” part goes on for far too long.