A much-anticipated personal exploration
Finneas O’Connell, known simply as FINNEAS in the music world, has made quite the career for himself over the past decade. Recognized primarily for his work as a writer and producer for some of the biggest names in pop music, including Justin Bieber, Kid Cudi and Camilla Cabello, Finneas has strived behind the scenes. Optimist marks his debut as a solo artist. Throughout the album, he details his struggles and triumphs as an artist and a person, all while trying to find his own musical voice in the process.
Optimist is masterfully engineered, a true testament to Finneas and his team’s talent. The sound design and overall production are well-balanced and crisp, perfectly complimenting the album’s instrumental backing. It sounds like the vocals were made to take center stage throughout the record, but each track’s instrumental does a good job adding to the overall character of the work. From the high-energy keyboard and percussive groove on “Happy Now?” to the dark-pop, sinister synths on “Medieval,” Finneas creates a compelling sonic atmosphere on many of these tracks.
Shockingly, the album never dares to experiment outside of pop conventions despite Finneas’s strengths as a writer and producer. Most of the tracks are structurally formulaic, with standard verse-chorus forms. The percussion often follows a standard eighth-note groove, and the other instruments—although masterfully recorded—are a bit run-of-the-mill for the genre. For an artist known to break boundaries behind the scenes (like on landmark projects with his younger sister Billie Eilish), Optimist tends to feel a bit plain.
However, this stylistic choice could be intentional. In an interview with GQ, Finneas stated, “I don’t want to sound like Billie, I don’t want to rip that off. That minimizes both: that makes Billie’s stuff sound less unique, that makes my stuff sound less unique.” Finneas seems to be challenging himself to create his own unique sound, and while he might fall short in terms of aural appeal, he finds considerable strength in lyricism.
Finneas’s lyrics make Optimist a deeply personal album. He avoids the poetics and flamboyance that many writers strive for, instead weaving together accessible, raw words that deal with issues of love, life, fame and all the struggles that come with it. “A Concert Six Months From Now” discusses the optimism he feels for a relationship while also revealing some uncertainty of whether this hope is warranted. “Only A Lifetime” is a beautiful piano ballad, displaying Finneas’s emotional vulnerability in full force as he worries about the shortness of life. Tracks such as “Happy Now?” and “Someone Else’s Star” are not as universally relatable, but they deal with the isolation and loneliness that can come with fame and its corrupting power in a compelling way.
On other parts of the record, Finneas attempts to relay social commentary. “The Kids Are All Dying” is a sarcastic track in which Finneas questions the validity of criticisms people levy at artists for not focusing on worldly issues of war, climate change and other struggles of that nature. “The 90s” is a hype-rpop-inspired critique of the internet and the emerging technologies of the 21st century. Additionally, “Medieval” tackles the complex notion of “cancel culture” and its questionable motives. These tracks have some credibility, but they ultimately lack the nuance and clarity needed to truly land. Moreover, at times they take away from the thematic cohesiveness suggested by the other tracks.
Life is complicated, and Finneas doesn’t shy away from those complications on Optimist. He’s clearly a skillful musician with a strong voice, but despite an impressive resume, at 24, he still has a whole life ahead of him. Regardless of the overly safe choices and sometimes ambiguous themes, Optimist is a strong debut album from an artist whose career is only just beginning.