REVIEW: ‘USC Songwriters’ Forum in Perfect Gig

The Forum released their fourth album at the end of the fall semester, concluding their final testament to the art of cooperation. (Photo courtesy of Songwriters Forum)

As Trojans, we benefit from a wealth of artistic excellence around us every day. With incredible programs and faculty, access to top-notch resources, and a long list of spectacular alumni, it’s no wonder USC cultivates a rich landscape of artists year after year.

But inside this sprawling scene and facing the vast art world of Los Angeles, it is remarkably difficult for an artist to stand out.

That’s no problem at USC’s Songwriters Forum, a student organization that brings members together to meet other artists, create songs, and share ideas to ultimately produce an album each semester. By working with the Forum, each artist helps another to shine.

Nowhere is this brilliance heard better than on his fourth album, released in December. The fruit of at least 23 student artists, “Volume IV” bears witness to the beauty of collaboration.

During the semester, members were invited to workshops, crash courses, recording sessions and panels with industry professionals, as well as general meetings where they could meet other collaborators. . This kind of hands-on production is what Forum President Jaja Tong envisioned when she founded the club in 2020.

“When I came to USC, I noticed there wasn’t really an organization for music creators,” she said in an interview on the Forum’s Instagram page. “There were acapella groups and other performance groups, but not [group] was really dedicated to writing and producing music.

On “Volume IV”, the band realizes this intention with a fantastic record. The tracks vary in style and tone, but a common thread of invention runs throughout. Of the 11 songs, 10 have at least two credited artists.

The tracklist starts strong with “Hand Me Downs”, by Via McBride and Roy Gantz. Its driving grand piano melody underscores the song’s instrumental exploration through soft choral passages and the powerful guitars and synths riffing on the chorus. Via’s vocals remain stoic and polished throughout the song’s duration, emphasizing the emotional journey the music takes.

Other songs take on a completely different sound, revealing the disparate influences and voices among Forum members. For example, J. Morales and JC’s “LAX to JFK” features relaxed vocals and raps over an understated trap beat, a stark contrast to the drama of “Hand Me Downs.”

Although more energetic than “LAX to JFK”, “Good Without You” by Chandra, Ethos and Mackenzie Jaimes is influenced by elements of trap production. Stuttering hats and 808 kicks provide a great base for the earworm hook, singing “I know you don’t believe me / But I’m fine without you” – the track is a break-up anthem ready for the radio.

As a songwriter’s club album, it’s no surprise that a number of other songs on the track listing can be categorized in the “singer-songwriter” tradition. On beautiful acoustic guitar and string tracks, songs like “First Time” by Hayley Brooke and Paul Khairallah or “Night Unknown” by Lyra Steiner and Jazmin Polido provide intimate performances throughout the tracklist. Joni Mitchell fans, tune in.

The lyrics of the album are just as beautiful. Lines like “Somehow / I found myself / But did I lose more than I found” (“Take a Look At Me Now” by Ingrid Griffin, Alejandra, JCR and Isaac Griffiths); “If you wanna run away / I’ll be ready any day now / Swipe me, show me how to fly” (“Hypnotize Me” by Annie Wiener and Goldlove) and “These timezones / They get in the way / Of we talk all night / Or we wake up the same day” (“Timezones” by Jenna Chung and Jazmin Polido) communicates the heartfelt truths of college life and relationships with a maturity well beyond the age of artists.

Karly Ramnani and Goldlove’s “Full Moon” not only has a few memorable lines, but devotes its length to conveying the singer’s narrative on record, with a sudden implied ending. It sounds like the hit ballad of a musical recording – a recording that I hope artists will keep writing.

For me, the diamond buried in the tracklist is the “butterfly effect” of Morgan Stewart, Addie Lillard and Natasha Singh. The gorgeous vocals are tender and sweet over a slowly evolving bed of ukulele, keys and vibraphone. The song is a band hug for the ears and truly embodies the artists ability to complement each other.

The track ends on a playful note, with Cameron Davidson’s absolute “Turn a Whole New Page” jam. There’s only one featured artist here, but the instrumental is so colorful and eclectic that it’s as if it’s pulled together dozens of elements and inspirations from the other Forum tracks. It’s a song to smile about, plain and simple.

The dense 38-minute album is packed with dozens of voices, ideas and lifelong influences. The result is a wonderful listening experience and a masterclass in the value and execution of teamwork in art. I Can’t wait for “Volume V”!


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