It takes a talented songwriter to turn an overwhelmingly vapid genre into a powerful tool that’s as entertaining as it is valuable. But Jack Greenleaf defied the odds and did exactly that.
He teamed up with his friends in The Epoch—a Brooklyn-based community of musicians, writers, filmmakers and more—to create his sophomore album The One I Wanted To Be under the pseudonym Sharpless.
Greenleaf, the creative mind behind the project, stretches past his debut album Sharpless (+<) with a much more disorderly effort, showing the true meaning of what he calls “violent pop.” Greenleaf incorporates sincere, searching lyrics with the epitome of intellectually vacant genres, allowing those who care about content to dance along to an entertaining beat while they ponder the complexities of life.
With the vocal help of his friends in The Epoch, Greenleaf was able to make somewhat of a pop supergroup. His singing is sprinkled with a variety of vocalists who add diversity to his range and newness to his music, which sounded much more like a solo effort on his debut.
Greenleaf has a unique background, originally hailing from New York but leaving for Japan prior to The One I Wanted To Be and writing the album upon his return. Now he lives in Chicago, taking influences from a wide span of cultures and genres that show in his compositions.
Kicking off with a characteristic twang that resembles traditional Japanese music, “Greater Than (>)” soon bursts into a shrill, synth-driven melody that Greenleaf and company mimic vocally. Lyrically, it’s a tragic realization that time can’t be stopped and life will move on without you, constantly experiencing change. But that fear is calmed by the sudden appreciation for those in Greenleaf’s life who have altered him for the better as the group sings, “My friends I know it’s true, I wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for you/And can I try to change again, to grow up into something greater than?”
The album dwells heavily within the melancholy realm of regret, which is countered by the upbeat pop music to make danceable songs with sharp emotional insight. It’s an unlikely combo, but Sharpless pulls it off.
The One I Wanted To Be is a raw look at Greenleaf’s life, which has obviously had its ups and downs.
“Mom and Dad” begins with a timid voicemail from his mother asking him to come say goodbye to the apartment he grew up in, subsequently leading into his thoughts on the meaning of “home” and how to cope with emotional pain. The sound is significantly toned down, working with an ethereal keyboard section until the song bursts into a powerful take of the calm refrain with drums and guitar. All the while, Greenleaf stays positive about his situation by saying, “There’s always different ways to cope/Where there’s despair there’s always hope.”
Sharpless, though it’s the creation of Greenleaf, is not solely about him. Additional members such as Montana Levy or rapper Freeze Frame take the lead from time to time, like on “Gemini” and “Nothing Can Change,” respectively. Levy’s voice is a nice change of pace, her bold sound adding even more spirit to the singable track. It intensifies as Greenleaf contributes with newfound passion, and a choir of auto-tuned voices follows suit.
Freeze Frame contributes his talents to the most collaborative effort on the album, which features a number of members of The Epoch. His part in the song is both surprising and great, shifting gears while sticking with the nostalgia of the song.
Despite the depth of a majority of the lyrics, Sharpless knows how to start a party or accompany a road trip. The auto-tuned “Summer 2012” is a nostalgic anthem that captures the spirit of warm days, late nights, and the desperate wish to stay young and happy with old friends. Out of all the party-perfect songs on The One I Wanted to Be, this is the most fitting.
While it’s a solid sophomore effort, The One I Wanted to Be still has room for improvement. The auto-tune is always overdone, and actually could be completely absent because every vocalist has such a strong voice. The bass, by contrast, is almost always either too quiet or nonexistent.
Still, whether it’s a song to jam to in the car, to rave to with friends, or to help cope with emotional hardship, The One I Wanted to Be offers all of the above. Greenleaf succeeds as both a songwriter and lyricist, crafting a unique blend of contrasting styles that can be mindless or moving—it just depends on what you pay attention to.
Sharpless – The One I Wanted To Be tracklist:
- “The Hardest Question”
- “Greater Than (>)”
- “You’ve Got A Lot of Feelings”
- “Summer 2012”
- “P a s t L i f e R e g r e s s i o n”
- “Mom and Dad”
- “Nothing Can Change”
- “Greater Then”