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Now Hear This: Grandson | Death Of An Optimist

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “For Grandson, music is more than an artform. It’s his way of communicating the endless anxieties, fears, epiphanies and questions swirling in his mind, burdened with an overwhelming responsibility to ‘do the right thing’. Using this moniker to anonymise himself, alternative singer/songwriter Jordan Benjamin has struck a chord with millions of fans, who he affectionately calls ‘grandkids’.

Born in America but raised in Toronto, Canada, Grandson has resided in Los Angeles for six years, since the video of his first performance was discovered. He was brought up in a progressive and musical household, heavily influenced by his older sisters’ unconventional opinions and his parents’ artistic endeavours. Listening to everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Bill Withers, Grandson emerges at the confluence of rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop and electronic music, keen to “recontextualize” rock music today.

This non-conformist sound, which Grandson describes as “cathartic, confrontational and a little confusing”, is a direct projection of the ongoing inner conflict with his identity. This vulnerability has engaged a loyal and global fanbase, and his relationship to them guides many artistic choices, “I remember meeting some of the first grandkids and realizing how many people rely on music to be understood like I do.”

His debut album Death of an Optimist “was written in tears (and) recorded shaking with anger and fear.” This body of work conflates personal anxieties with political realities, he says. “I spent a while trying to articulate this tension between my hope for the future, and the challenges we face.” As the protagonist, Grandson simultaneously explores the dark underbelly of his unrelenting optimism for change, by creating an antagonist named X.

Always planned as a 2020 release, the vast uncertainty provoked by the global pandemic only reassured Grandson that the time was right. “My goal has always been to deflect the attention from myself onto the audience, and realize that within you exists this narrator in the middle of the story.” An ambitious project, Death of an Optimist delivers a subtle A-side/B-side structure totalling 12 tracks, following Grandson and X’s duelling world views.

The first single released from Death of an Optimist is ‘Identity’. grandson collaborated with eponymous hip hop producer and engineer Andrew Dawson, and completed most of it in one night, “I wanted to…give this anxiety I feel about the state of the world, and about my inability to feel I’m making any real tangible difference, more context and gravity.” The refrain, “I’m still trying to find my identity”, explodes in and out of heavy guitar and drums, making it impossible to escape the cave of emotion that grandson has delicately created for this conceptual listening experience.

Through DOAO, Grandson delivers an overwhelming urgency to do something, “After the hardest year of our lives, it’s time to confront the reflection staring back at you, because only in doing so can you know who you truly are.” Showcasing a conflicted soul for intense scrutiny has the benefit of not dictating what is right or wrong. It just shows that we’re in this together.”