Sonically incohesive grief-counseling
Mike Posner is an American singer-songwriter and producer that has made it big this decade, notching two top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the past couple of years, Posner’s life has turned tragic: His father fell victim to brain cancer and his friend Avicii committed suicide. Posner’s new album reflects on these events and extends an empathetic hand to listeners coping with grief and loss.
A Real Good Kid showcases a blend of synthetic and organic sounds, a familiar sound for Posner. Electronic beats and talkbox vocals are placed up against more traditional singer-songwriter instrumentation of acoustic guitar, piano and chorus vocals. Over these sounds, Posner delivers his lyrics in his thin, often nasal voice. Posner throws in some shouted or spoken vocals from time to time, perhaps as a sort of scream therapy session in the studio. Also on the album are voice clips and bits of conversations Posner had with his father.
The album can largely be thought of as a self-help audiobook. Posner wrestles with the question: How do you manage the emotions that come with the death of a loved one? While the quality and usefulness of Posner’s answers depend on the individual listener, it is clear that Posner is sincere in his desire to help listeners work through feelings such as grief.
While Posner’s messaging is enjoyably authentic, he delivers the message in a distastefully shotgun style. Posner sees his album as a product meant to be bought and heard by many people. As a result, his lyrics are focused on the many listeners of his album, rather than on where the focus should be on a deeply personal affair like A Real Good Kid: himself.
Posner fills his lyrics with universals like “everybody,” overuses the second-person “you” to talk directly to the listener and in general offers basic lyricism. The listener wants to hear the trials and tribulations of a man named Mike Posner, but instead the listener gets tiresome whines of “Wow, we feel the same way, bro! What a world we live in!” and “Hey, you feel this way, too, right? Right?” But it is not all bad. This type of presentation works when Posner talks about something above the banal.
The song “Drip” features a lengthy spoken word section, during which Posner meditates in the second-person on what happens when he stares at someone’s face too long: “You start to see their face unravel, you start to see their most beautiful and their most disgusting parts…” In this case, Posner is saying something more interesting, and it draws the listener.
The song “Drip” is also an example of the good and the bad with the sound of the album. Posner likes to play acoustic/organic instrumentation and synthetic/electronic effects at the same time. The combination of organic and synthetic is not inherently bad; Daft Punk have skillfully achieved this balancing act on albums like Discovery and Random Access Memories. However, while Posner’s choices with instruments like horns, piano and guitar are mostly solid, Posner’s electronic choices are almost always unbearable. “Drip” begins with a quiet guitar line with a funk rhythm and gloomy chorus vocals on top. In the blink of an eye, the volume jarringly intensifies, with distorted vocals and an obnoxious electronic beat. After the spoken word section, the gloomy chorus vocals return with a haunting refrain of “Drip, drip, drip.” Intermingled with these organic vocals are electronically pitch-adjusted ones that sound like chipmunks shrieking in agony.
One of the standout organic instrumentals is on “Perfect.” The song is underlaid with a hypnotic piano line awash with reverb. In the middle of the track, a lone woodwind solos briefly, and it feels cathartic and so right. There is something about organic-sounding instrumentation that allows Posner’s emotional scars on this album to become more tangible.
While the mixing of genres was haphazard and distasteful, the themes and messages are real and applicable to all people. A Real Good Kid is recommendable to people who have suffered the loss of a loved one and are struggling to cope.