Photo: Ashley Osborn
For an artist like grandson, one who has staked his claim on socio-political-centered rock music, 2020 can at first glance seem like the perfect storm for his long-awaited debut album, Death Of An Optimist. COVID-19. The murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and continued acts of police violence that resulted in widespread peaceful protests and civil unrest. A lame-duck president who continues perpetuate baseless claims of voter fraud.
It is this tumultuous backdrop of a year that fuels Death Of An Optimist's earth-shattering takes on political apathy, establishment politicians, and trying to find the light at the end of a tunnel that is rapidly crumbling all around you.
Death Of An Optimist is framed as an internal battle between grandson and X, his apathetic and derisive alter ego. Split between these grandson-led A sides and X-flavored B sides, hopeful optimism battles dispirited scorn at each and every turn. The result is an album whose distinctive takes on the last year and the future at stake never feels one-note or one-dimensional.
Opening on the trancelike "Death Of An Optimist // Intro," grandson unveils his debut in disarming fashion. Absent is the rapturous amalgamation of electronic and punk elements that defined his earlier works and much of his debut album. Yet, as he half-sings, half-utters the lines "Now presenting a horror story or a happy ending… The American Dream that got deported," grandson wavers between resignation and outrage.
It is this inherent duality that imbues the political-minded artist's ensuing rallying cries and moments of trepidation with a unique sense of humanity. Whether it be shedding one's youthful naiveté in the burnout-centric "In Over My Head" or the haunting portrayal of "WWIII," grandson rarely presents a clear-cut villain or solution to the world's ails. Rather, Death Of An Optimist is an album that deftly examines the grey area of political apathy and the individual strain of trying to change the world.
In many ways, the alter ego X embodies the end result of a generation who has grown accustomed to doom scrolling, where every piece of information is presented as an inescapable result of corruption, greed, and Koch family-fueled political collusion. All the while, grandson's portion of Death Of An Optimist serves a valiant call to arms, mired only by fleeting, human moments of insecurity and uncertainty. No side is framed as morally correct or fallible, merely two sides of the same coin.
Listen to Death Of An Optimist below, and for more on grandson, revisit our interview ahead of his debut: