FINNEAS: Optimist Album Review | Fork

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In a recent live interview for the New Yorker, Billie Eilish was invited to share how she experienced the start of the pandemic. She was on tour, busy and oblivious to the news, she said; she didn’t notice what was going on until she canceled the shows. “I wasn’t looking at my phone,” she explained. Sitting next to her in the Zoom frame, her brother Finneas O’Connell replied: “I was.”

Finneas has something he would like you to know: he was careful. Finneas recognizes its privilege and its whiteness; he’s caught up in politics, thinks about canceling culture, and wonders if our phones are poisoning our brains. Finneas is young, only 24, but maybe he has some wisdom to share: Make the most of your limited time on this earth. Also, call your parents.

These are some of the talking points on Optimistic, the deceptively named debut album of songwriter and producer best known for her continued creative partnership with his younger sister, one of the world’s biggest pop stars. Without any of the frills of Gothic production that put him on the map, Finneas – on his own, as sole producer, writer and, on 12 of the 13 tracks, instrumentalist – produced a dark, flush album. skin, encumbered by the alienation of life in the digital age, magnified by the distorting prism of fame and fresh money.

Optimistic dialogue with the recent albums of other young stars disappointed with the success and the world that gave them: Lorde, Clairo and, of course, Eilish herself. Aesthetically, these records are united in their movement away from the pop bomb and toward smoother, slower sounds with less commercial traction. Finneas is on board, to some extent about a third of these songs are piano ballads; one is an instrumental interlude that does not do much except demonstrate competence. The O’Connell siblings share a well-documented fondness for mid-century standards, and Finneas sings to a warm, penetrating baritone – often dual-tracked for maximum texture – which performs well in songs owed to them. .

But while offering a timeless and universal appeal, Finneas sometimes offers empty platitudes. “Only a Lifetime” warns us not to “waste the time you have / wait for the time to pass”, while “What they will say about us” sets out plans to “take the world over.” and make it better than it has ever been ”. These are pleasant but toothless feelings, suitable to be printed in frilly cursive on plaques sold at Home Goods. Every now and then he hits something more moving, like on “Love Is Pain” when he remembers waking up in tears from a dream about his parents’ death, demonstrating the very real consequences of aging instead. than worrying vaguely about them.

Finneas’s exercise of restraint has its limits: these subdued songs are surrounded by highly produced and ostensibly topical songs. On the hyperpop-y “The 90s”, Finneas longs to get off the internet and go back to the decade of his birth (“when I wasn’t a problem yet”). When he sings “Now my head is so heavy” his voice is scrambled, the producer speaks for “I feel insane”. “Medieval” laments the roll and burn of the celebrity machine with a snarling vocal delivery over a thumping rumble; the “Happy Now? Playfully and plinky stumbles upon the revelation that fame and money and a “car shower-bag” is not a recipe for happiness.

Listening to an album that reaches such extreme textures and tones is shocking, as is contemporary digital existence. Maybe that’s the point. Whether intentionally or not, Finneas reproduces these all too familiar conditions without subjecting anything new to the discourse. “The 90s” uses an idea that was broadcast by other pop (and adjacent pop) singers – but without the developed narrative arc of Sam Hunt’s point of view, or the conscious camp of Charli xcx, it falls flat. The satirical intention of “The Kids Are All Dying” – a sultry song which, it must be said, contains the biggest moan of all in “I’m Whiter Than Ivory on These Keys” – is undermined by the lack of of a target. Instead of scrutinizing a culprit with rigor and biting, Finneas makes a savage move towards the ether, citing the climate, war, capitalism, gun violence, Twitter activism and fake news, his narrator sliding between voice of the critic and that of the critic.

As a critic Finneas can do a lot better. And he has: He co-wrote “Your power», A lucid and touching indictment of the attackers on his sister’s recent album, Happier than ever. The inevitable context for Finneas’ debut is, of course, the scale of what he has already achieved. So when he sings “Now all your memories are more like movies /… / Wondering why the bad guys paid the bills”, on “Someone Else’s Star”, I can’t help but think how good Billie is. more eloquent capture its own coagulated relationship with art and commerce: “Things I once loved / Just keep me employed now”. It might be unfair to force this comparison on Finneas, but he seems to invite him by dropping his album just a few months after Billie’s, with a noticeably similar title.

To his credit, Finneas has shaped some of the most memorable pop music of the past decade. Three years ago, he sampled a dental burr and an Easy-Bake oven on a song it would go triple platinum – choices that felt weird, unexpected, and daring. Now, on “Someone Else’s Star,” he’s sampling rainstorms, deadening an already dreary track with an all too obvious signifier. The biggest risk Finneas takes Optimistic maybe just summon inflammatory topics to which he brings limited insight. In the end, it’s quite a wash anyway; Finneas puts his hands up and comes out on “How It Ends” (sigh), a disco-lite track that relies on the timeless pop wisdom of dancing to relieve pain. Stay away while shielding your eyes from the information.


To buy: Gross trade

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