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Music Reviews

Death of an Optimist

Released: 12.04.20
Review by Sam Devotta | December 8, 2020 at 3:30 PM

If you bite the hand, get louder and defiant

A couple of years ago when reviewing grandson’s first EP, a modern tragedy vol. 1, I referred to the multi-talented musician as being an artist to help you survive today’s uneasy world. With the release of his debut album, Death of an Optimist, I’m even more convinced that if anyone is going to soundtrack a revolution, it will be grandson.

For an album that clocks in at less than forty minutes, Death of an Optimist takes us on a whirlwind journey that perfectly encapsulates this chaotic year and what it means to be a human in 2020. The rock ‘n’ roll infused “In Over My Head” is a personal look at grandson’s growth from childhood to adulthood, as he attempts to make changes in the world but finds himself stopped at every turn: “Deep down, it hurts to know / How bad I wanna call it quits”. 

“Identity” presents us with a man struggling to decide if he’s an optimist or a pessimist, the apathetic alter-ego grandson refers to as “X”. As the album progresses, it becomes clear that we all have an X, the inner voice that tells us that nothing we do matters: one person’s vote isn’t going to make a difference or posting a black square on Instagram is all you need to do to show support. 

Midway through the tracklist, the militant “We Did It!!!” offers tongue-in-cheek praise for falling prey to X: “I’m gonna pat myself on the back / ‘Cause I did the bare minimum”. The spiky guitars and dripping sarcasm are especially jarring as it bleeds into the piano-intro of the next song “WWIII” which follows a young American being shipped off to war who almost immediately begins gunning down kids their own age—all because they were born in a different country.

On the flip side, songs like “Dirty”—a sleek, almost jazzy number influenced by grandson’s appreciation for artists like Amy Winehouse and Outkast—is a call-to-arms, telling listeners that if they want to see results, they can’t just sit around and wait for someone else to be the hero. Similarly, “Riptide”, with its steady percussion and addictive chorus, forces us to confront our own complacency and cynicism about the state of the world—and while we’re not offered an easy solution, we’re reminded that we hold the power to make ourselves a better person if we can let go of all the bad habits.

Throughout the whole album there’s a sense of loneliness, of loss, of hopelessness—when you look around, it’s not hard to see where grandson pulled inspiration from. He ends on a somewhat uplifting note; “Drop Dead”—which feels like a classic pop-punk anthem in the best way—reminds us to keep going even when we feel like giving up. Meanwhile, the eerie album closer “Welcome to Paradise/Outro” offers us the chance at a fresh start—as long as we take what we learned over the past few years and actually improve ourselves instead of sweeping all the ugliness under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s resilience and the defiant belief that permanent change is possible, even when it feels like it’s taking longer than it should. And while you’re campaigning for those changes, who better to provide you with an appropriately aggressive soundtrack than grandson?

Buy it, Stream it, or Skip it? Buy it! grandson is poised to be a leader of a generation of self-aware politically-informed music fans, and you’ll want to be in his corner when the revolution comes.

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