In 2020, it’s easy to see why musical success so often relies on versatility. With many of us consuming our music via algorithmic playlists or ‘trending’ tip-offs from social media, there’s a pressure to dip a finger in every potential audience pie: a reggaeton feature for the Latin market, a choreographed dance for TikTok, a rebellious personality for the pop-punkers (but not so rebellious that it is deemed problematic within the mainstream). To be all things to all people is exhausting, and numerous pop stars have lost their USP as a result of attempting to embody too many identities.
Jean Dawson is not the first artist to experiment with genre, but his ability to blend comes more naturally than most. Raised on the border between Mexico and the US, Dawson is an artist who realised early on that there is very little fun to be had from jumping between boxes. Amping up the strongest ideas from his expansive 2019 debut ‘Bad Sports’, ‘Pixel Bath’ is the sound of an artist who’s learned how to seed the best results from his musical database while never stopping long enough to be pigeonholed.
Of course, to create a delicious sonic soup you need a core set of ingredients. For Dawson, an upended jar of 90’s grunge stirs well into a pot of introspective-yet-confident rap identity politics, sprinkled liberally with Limewire-era indie, shoegaze and pop. He’s not too fussy with quantities: ‘Triple Double’ has more in common with Californian indie-dreamer Day Wave than it does his choice of featured artist, A$AP Rocky, while recent single ‘Power Freaks’ could pass as melancholy bedroom pop were it not for its Blink-182-like chorus, springing forth like an aggressive piece of malware.
‘Poster Child’ and ‘06 Burst’ both recall the lurid, unpredictable outbursts of 100 Gecs or ‘SATURATION’-era Brockhampton, the latter sneaking in a flourish of industrial ‘Yeezus’ groove that soundtracks a suitably Kanye-worthy affirmation: “Watch out when you speak to me / I’m the new Black history”. It’s the sort of phrase that you can imagine kids scrawling across their t-shirts before striding into battle in the moshpit, united in their desire to expel some teenage angst through some sweaty bodily collision. Whether they’re into rap or rock is immaterial: when the common goal is to crash the computer, it doesn’t matter who pulls the plug.
By refusing to limit his musical focus Dawson buys himself a future of authentic experimentation, thrilling the listener with unexpected twists and turns that do, miraculously, offer up something for everyone. If you really want to find fault in ‘Pixel Bath’, you might acknowledge that even the gnarliest of rollercoasters become that little bit less exciting once you’ve seen their blueprints. But if you’re ready to hear what true unbounded creativity sounds like, Jean Dawson can take you on one hell of a ride.
Release date: October 23
Record label: P+