When your sister is also the biggest alt-pop star on the planet, you might imagine that it's near impossible to avoid feeling overshadowed in your own music career. This was never going to be the case for FINNEAS. Having collaborated with countless artists in recent months, as well as heading up production on Billie's 'Happier Than Ever', it's beyond impressive that he was able to create a follow up record just a year after his debut album 'Blood Harmony'. The Mic's Toby Ross breaks down FINNEAS's sophomore album, 'Optimistic'.
In Optimist, FINNEAS displays his excellence in music production and songwriting with an exciting blend of different genres and production styles. From a range of piano-focused tracks to upbeat tracks with bouncy bass and drum beats, FINNEAS displays his songwriting prowess throughout the album. Following the recent release of his sister’s (Billie Eilish) new album Happier Than Ever, for which he was producer and co-songwriter, FINNEAS continues to prove why he is one of the most talented music creators in the industry right now.
"FINNEAS writes about the expectation, but not realisation of finding happiness in fame"
FINNEAS opens the album with the track A Concert Six Months From Now. It isn’t the strongest on the album, but arguably the most relatable and meaningful due to lyrics referencing the global pandemic. It features a mostly guitar instrumental and some creative uses of crowd sound effects to reference how he misses life before the pandemic. The melodies for the choruses are a good listen but nothing spectacular, the second half of the second verse being the most interesting and exciting feature of the track. This section brought some heavy drums, extra vocal harmonies and emotion which really made this song worth a second listen.
The second track The Kids Are All Dying is a favourite of the entire album with a contrast of genres fixed together, creating a creative, exciting and emotional track. It begins with some staccato electric piano chords and high hats, creating a bouncy, thin-textured, groove feel. This contrasts with the thick, textured chorus sections, which include frequent snare hits, piano arpeggios and intense, emotional lyricism. The verse, chorus and bridge vocal melodies are all equally exciting and catchy and come together to create a great track.
A similar song structure is used in Happy Now?, which includes a lovely chord progression, making an effective use of bluesy 7th chords. FINNEAS writes about the expectation but not realisation of finding happiness in fame, which is conveyed in a very ironic manner as he mentions his “douchebag car” and “the superstar he pretends to be”. This is contrasted with a heartfelt chorus mirroring his genuine emotions about being famous. This is another favourite of the album due to the ability to dance and groove, yet also feel emotion from the song.
The album takes a turn for the worse with the 5th track, titled The 90s, which was surprisingly chosen as a pre-release single, complete with music video, to promote the album. FINNEAS writes about the desire to rewind time to when there was lesser technology and people lived more private lives without the internet. It especially mentions how celebrities now have no chance of living a quiet life with the internet around. At a glance this track had potential, with an interesting sentiment, but from tacky lyrics to poor musical choices The 90s did not live up to what it could have been. The lyric “But you could sign me up for a world without the internet”, for example, sticks out like a sore thumb. Its weak rhyme with “romanticised it” in the previous line is unsatisfying, and the wording feels pretentious to listen to. Despite FINNEAS’ lyrical prowess, this is not clearly shown in this track. A dance-vibe synth melody is attempted at the end which is executed poorly and doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the track, or the album for that matter. The only thing that saves this song is the chorus vocal melody which is well written, despite a somewhat tacky use of autotune.
However, to redeem the album following a disappointing single, we come across Peaches Etude, which is a beautifully written piano interlude. It features an immersive chord progression with some unexpected and exciting chord changes into minor. Composed of an arpeggiating left hand and melody on the right, this track is a raw piece of piano music with no effects or synths, drawing focus to the piece itself. The lovely, emotional melodies in this track emphasise the artistic intentions of the album and provide a great connection for a great collection of songs.
"In an album with a lot of serious topics and intense emotional undertones, an upbeat, feel-good track near the end of the album fits perfectly."
FINNEAS attempts a new genre and timbre in Around My Neck with digital drums, bouncy bass synth and a thin texture, and he executes it exceptionally. The hooks feature very catchy melodies, with FINNEAS belting and shouting toward the end, a vocal experiment which compliments the track perfectly. This is an upbeat track speaking in second person to a partner about their obsession with them, and in an album with a lot of serious topics and intense emotional undertones, an upbeat, feel-good track near the end of the album fits perfectly.
The first pre-release single from this album, What They’ll Say About Us, stands strong as another one of the favourite tracks of the album. The catchy, ascending pre-chorus melody creates great variation and interest for the song, with it’s crescendo of intricate harmonies and textures that all drop out for the chorus. The distorted synth countermelodies in the verses create a perfect contrast to keep the listener interested. As one of the most emotional songs of the year, lyrically and musically, this will always remain a favourite song of mine. The album concludes with a strong track, How it Ends, which includes an unusual yet creative synth effect melody which is the core instrumental feature of the track.
Despite a few disappointing tracks, Optimist has solidified itself as one of the best albums this year. It has an exciting blend of multiple different genres, unique sound effects, creative synthesis and instrumentation, harmonies and new, iconic piano tracks that never fail to disappoint. The album ventures into new instrumental timbres like in Around My Neck, which is unlike anything heard on his previous album Blood Harmony or his previous singles. Peaches Etude remains an unforgettable point in the album. FINNEAS’ first raw piano interlude, the piece displays his exceptional talent for composition and establishes Optimist as a piece of art.
Written by: Toby Ross
Edited by: Elliot Fox
In article images courtesy of FINNEAS via Facebook. Video courtesy of FINNEAS via YouTube.