EP Review: Zach Callison’s “A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak”

A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak, Zach Callison’s debut music project, is more than just an enjoyable listen; it’s truly a theatrical experience that takes listeners on a musical journey through such a personal time in his life.

The 9-track, almost 30-minute EP tells the aftermath of Zach’s breakup with “Juanita,” a real person from his past with a very public image, hence the pseudonym. Through five full-length songs and four interludes, we get a perfectly crafted story that showcases the weirdness of Hollywood relationships and the emotional toll it took on Callison during this specific period of his life.

Personally, the opening track, “Phantom Love,” is my favorite on the EP. The song is an honest reflection of the end of the relationship between a slightly fictionalized version of Zach and Juanita. As the track progresses, so does the power and passion behind Callison’s vocals. The highlight of the track is definitely the rap at the end, an element that has become a signature of sorts for Callison. 

Things shift with “She Don’t Know,” both in the content of the lyrics and in the sound. Lyrically, the Zach character continues his downward spiral and is met with the dark side of Hollywood, showing how easy it is to lose yourself. “Fucked up on my bedroom floor, And my first thought’s let’s do some more, They say it all kills with thrills, And I hope it does” leads the second verse and creates an unforgettable image. In terms of the sound, the track is much more fast-paced than expected; however, it really works with the lyrics, making listeners feel the thrill of his down-slide and how easy it is to get sucked into that world.

On “Nightmare,” listeners are taken to rock bottom, as the lyrics show “how loneliness can slowly allow someone to lose themselves completely.” However, it’s masterfully juxtaposed with Zach’s softest track; he incorporates grit with another rap which surprisingly plays well off the heavy use of piano.

With “Curtain Call,” the story reaches a “turning point in the dramatic battle between two versions of one man.” From the gunshot included in the track, it’s assumed the Zach character has taken his own life, but his “spirit” is alive and well and still fueled by rage over the Juanita situation, perhaps even more so now than ever. “Curtain Call” is a track I’ve come around on. As a single, it was hard for me to see the story it was telling, even though Callison had answered my question on Twitter about where it was supposed to go within the larger story. I still thought it was a good track, but, to me, it lacked the punch that “War!” initially had. Now, hearing it within the context of the entire story, I could not feel more different; “Curtain Call” is the perfect example of artistry. From the Italian bible verses at both the beginning and end of the song to the wild electric guitar riffs, he’s created a haunting yet beautiful song that’s going to stick with me for a long time.

Callison finishes strong with “War!”, the last track on the EP. The listener sees hurt turn to anger as the Zach character goes into a no-holds-barred fight with Juanita. Even though Callison has previously said he’s heavily influenced by artists like Muse and Kendrick Lamar, this track shows his influences extend beyond that with hints of blues and jazz as well. After listening to the whole EP, “War!” just proves how unaffected by genre or expectations Callison is and how willing he is to push boundaries and try new things with his music.

Overall, A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak is a wildly impressive and stunning first effort from Callison. If this EP is any indication of the kind of music career that Callison will have, this is surely just the beginning for him.

A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak is out now on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music. You can follow Callison on Twitter and Instagram.

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