grandson is quickly carving a place out for himself as one of the most versatile and intriguing artists of the last few years. An American by birth, he moved to Canada at the age of 3 and left again to pursue a pro-league music career in Los Angeles after dropping out of college. RCA eventually picked him up off the strength of several singles, a deal that would morph into a joint deal with emo flagship label Fueled by Ramen. From there, grandson got to work dropping a series of experimental, topical EPs that gave ample demonstration to his quickly evolving style. Now comes the real launch-off; with his debut Death Of An Optimist now out, grandson finds himself one step closer to breaking through and achieving a place as a contending artist among well-known mainstream artists.
Opening first with the darkly suspenseful and poetic intro, Optimist kicks into gear with “In Over My Head”, a tune marked on one hand by fittingly out-of-tune verses that reinforce the unsteadiness of grandson’s coming-of-age clash with reality and fuzzed-out, frantic choruses reminiscent of fellow Canadian acts like Death From Above 1979. “Identity” veers into contemporary hip-hop with its anxious account of the struggle to know the true self, giving off heavy Post Malone vibes until the impressive multisyllabic rap in Verse 2. “Left Behind”, on top of an energetic, guitar-driven backdrop sees grandson contemplate leaping to take action in the world and whether it is too late; “Dirty” expresses similar musings over a versatile sonic splash. This internal dilemma culminates in “The Ballad Of G And X”, a brief dive into storytelling focusing on grandson’s battling sides: that of drive and determination and the other of doubt and apathy.
The internal conflict between “G” and “X” amplifies on the intensity burst of “We Did It!!!”, the negative “X” side taking over and eschewing the optimistic “G” direction taken in the album’s first half. Similar to “Identity”, “WWIII” focuses on grandson’s rap side in its commentary on war before blowing into a raging rock/EDM breakdown. “Riptide”, a more diluted form of “WWIII” as far as the music goes is more about personal struggles than the outside world; the references to drug abuse and rehabilitation carry over in a greater form on “Pain Shopping”, a heavy account of buying and abusing a plethora of substances to deal with angst and depression. “Drop Dead” emphasizes looking on the bright side of seemingly hopeless circumstances in distinctly pop-punk fashion, mainly thanks to the the production contributions of Travis Barker. Finally there is the dragging, pounding “Welcome To Paradise”, a conclusive look at uncertainty after both hope and defeat have been fully explored and considered- now what? Perhaps the next album will address that.
Death Of An Optimist shows a lot of depth and dynamics right out of the gate; attempting to galvanize on one hand and demoralize on the other, reflecting a struggle within grandson and surely many more experiencing similar turbulence within themselves. It’s the type of record that demands that you not just get lost in the music, you really listen to it, give it thought and draw your conclusions. For what it’s worth though, there is a mix of styles on this record that really connect and gel, giving the points grandson tries to get across all the more weight and import with the right music. It’s an impressive start to say the least, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does next.