I can’t quite explain the sigh of relief I exhaled as I read that Giveon’s debut album Give or Take was set to release this summer. With singles like “Lie Again” and “For Tonight,” I knew that this album was going to bring everything Giveon has the potential to give (no pun intended), so here we are. And I’ll tell you what, I absolutely love it.

From the first song, “Let Me Go,” Giveon upholds the promise that he unknowingly made to me as a fan needing some of his music this summer. As I started to listen, one of the most prominent themes of the album surfaces — honesty. Giveon repeats throughout the song “Let me know or let me go,” and he means it. Each song fills in another piece of the puzzle, and we catch our first glimpse of that here.

Each song has a tonally different but thematically similar chorus, and with a chord progression that implores you to bob your head to his pressing words, “Scarred” is no exception. Giveon begs the recipient of the lyrics, this mystery girl, to accept his pleas. The chorus of the song repeats “You cry, but I don’t budge/ You try, it’s not enough,” and while he teeters on the line of unhealthy, or even toxic, we can’t help but sympathize with his cries. Unlike my more negative review of Brent Faiyaz (and his behavior) in my last blog post.

“dec 11th” is perhaps one of the most blunt songs Giveon sings on Give or Take, as he sings “Can’t believe I lost you in the crowd/ I think about you every day.” One can only wonder about this mystery girl, and Giveon has even taken to Twitter to evade the question. He responded to a fan’s tweet saying he would “rather not say” who he’s singing about. Whether we know this girl or not doesn’t matter to Giveon, because he calls out “So baby, if you hear this song, can you come to me.” While the pessimist in me toys with the idea that Giveon is using this song to garner female fans (fans wondering if maybe he’s singing about them), another part of me wants to believe he’s sincere. Maybe we’ll never know.

My personal favorite songs emerge at this point in the album, with the lineup of “This Will Do,” “Make You Mine,” and “Get To You” taking the lead. These songs exemplify to me what Giveon has all the potential to do— make you dance and cry at the same time. The catchiness of all the songs help bolster their scream-in-the-car rating, my very own official album rating system. “This Will Do” reels you in as Giveon belts “I sing what I’ve been through on these instrumentals” in the most devastating and emotionally loaded baritone voice that we all know and love. “Get To You” follows the same thought process, as “Single but it’s getting old quick” becomes the highlight lyric of the song. However, while “This Will Do” makes me want to shout out the lyrics in my shower (it’s not embarrassing if it’s to good R&B), “Get To You” makes me want to sit and groove to the music with my eyes closed. As I write to you right now, “Get To You” is playing and I can’t help but bob my head and sing along with him.

“Tryna Be” follows “Get To You” so naturally that I find it has creeped into my favorites list for this album. The repetition of lyrics and Giveon’s voice building into the chorus creates an incredible burst of soul, and as the song picks up it changes the tone for the rest of the album. We see a more toxic Giveon come to light, but unlike some of his R&B counterparts, Giveon more tows the line between supportive and toxic.

“Make You Mine” has easily become my favorite of the album, as it is the juxtaposition to the rest of the album. Giveon sings that he’s “Here to stay, no games to play,” but the song just prior, “Tryna Be,” has him singing that “My options come calling, should stop it I’m trying.” I find it a little hard to believe that you’re not playing games, Giveon. However, speaking only musically, “Make You Mine” feels like the most charged song to my ears, and I can’t stop listening for that raw emotion.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, I had such high hopes for this album with the releases of both “Lie Again” and “For Tonight.” I was streaming “Lie Again” so much that it became my top song for several months (statistics courtesy of Spotistats, of course), and it’s still one of my favorite songs on the album. An entire album usually can’t live up to it’s best songs, and knowing this I adjusted my expectations for Give or Take as its release date approached. I’ve tried very carefully to not let any of the lesser known songs become “throwaway songs” to me, and in that process I’ve come as close as I can to a fair review of the album.

“july 16th,” “Lost Me,” and “Remind Me” are all beautiful songs, but I did not feel as captivated by them as I have by some of the other songs on the album. I felt that some of the sad songs on Give or Take fell into the pile of forgettable, tonally- and thematically-similar ballads. As the album comes to a close, “At Least We Tried” has an absolutely incredible chord progression and chorus reprise (re: bob your head worthy). I also love the way “Unholy Matrimony” closes out the album with a bit of closure and some “happy tears,” as Giveon’s mother calls it in one of their many conversations throughout the album. Giveon viscerally sings about the wedding that will never be, and we can almost see the white gown and empty chairs.

“Our love story’s ended way too soon/ you’re supposed to love me to the tomb/ hardly stood a chance to tell the truth/ Speak, baby, tell me that you know/ We came all this way to lose.”

By the end of the album, I felt that I had not heard one central story or one common theme, but rather several alternate endings to the same relationship. The highs, the lows, the give and the take were all apparent here, and perhaps that’s all we should expect. My only complaint about the album is that after a certain number of songs about loss, one has to wonder when the next theme will swoop in and save the day.

Overall, Giveon has an excellent voice and this album will not waste your time. After all, he overtook the #1 spot from my longtime top artist Drake (judge me if you must), a feat few artists have the ability to do. Personally, my favorite way to listen to this album is straight through, and I hope you do the same.

Until next time, and don’t forget— sky’s not the limit just the view,
Sky Hooley