Album Review: Optimist // FINNEAS

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Finneas O’Connell is probably best known for his production and writing work for his sister Billie Eilish. However, he has steadily been creating solo music over the last few years, with his debut EP Blood Harmony being released in 2020. Optimist, his debut album, continues with the moody indie vibes of its predecessor. In fact, it doesn’t take long into FINNEAS’ sophomore album to realise that its title must be said with a knowing, wry smile. 

There is a tone of melancholy present across this whole collection, and while it is true that there is a ray of hope and optimism present, it is by no means the prevalent feeling. In ‘The Kids Are All Dying’, FINNEAS shares his frustration at internet culture’s need for moral perfection – the chorus says: ‘How can you sing about love when the kids are all dying? // How can you sing about drugs, politicians are lying.” This is a theme that pops up again on the track ‘Medieval’, where he points to the cyclical nature of ‘cancel culture’: “They’re gonna tear you from your pedestal, it’s almost inevitable // I’m not being cynical, it’s so unoriginal.” The overall tone can be summarised in the third track of the album, on which FINNEAS sings, “I was supposed to be happy now // there’s nothing left for me to laugh about.”

One element of FINNEAS’ music that he shares with his sibling, is his penchant for intimately personal lyrics. Throughout Optimist, it really does feel like peering into his stream of consciousness. The album sequencing isn’t the neatest, with the shift between piano ballads and more upbeat numbers feeling less cohesive than it could be. However, this feels fitting when the shape of the album thematically is much the same – this is no bad thing, but means there isn’t a narrative arc as such.

Stylistically, FINNEAS has sought to show us his range with this album. There are elements of grunge and alternative influences, but also recurrent manufactured synthetic beats. His instrumental ‘Peaches Etude’ which sits as the seventh track on the album, pauses the flow momentarily to demonstrate the artist’s position as a multi-instrumentalist. There’s no doubt here that FINNEAS has immense talent; his musical ability is clear, regardless of the distinctive genre shifts between tracks.

FINNEAS also demonstrates on multiple tracks on the album (‘The 90s’, ‘Happy Now’, ‘Hurt Locker’) his deft skill in creating a musical build, creating delicious moments as the music crescendos and beats drop. That being said, while he is great at this within individual tracks, the frustrating thing about Optimist is that the album itself never really feels like it builds up to something. There are a lot of interesting, emotive ideas, but none of these translate to stand-out tracks that I would stop and pay attention to on the radio. In fact, overall, the album’s muted tone makes it perfect background listening, or perhaps a great indie film soundtrack.

When FINNEAS is making music alongside Eilish, it constantly feels daring and willing to take risks in terms of its sound and use of production. In contrast, Optimist feels overwhelmingly safe. It’s not bad, by any means, but it also doesn’t leave a lasting impact. I believe FINNEAS is more than capable of creating solo music that does so, but this album isn’t quite it.

Words by Rehana Nurmahi

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