Finneas – ‘Optimist’ review: Billie’s brother and producer du jour strikes out alone

The other half of the Eilish success story has earned a reputation as a fearsome talent in his own right – and he delivers spectacularly here

He made his name producing and writing for his megastar sister Billie Eilish, and now it’s Finneas’ turn to step into the spotlight. ‘Optimist’ has been a long time coming – it follows a whopping 23 singles released since 2016 – and fully justifies why he’s become the industry’s producer du jour.

The record takes two paths to do that – classic, timeless pop songwriting and something more modern and cutting-edge. He excels at both, bringing rich, warm melodies to life while flexing his experimental chops. The former are matched with sentimentality and ponderous lyrics, like the piano-led ‘Love Is Pain’. “There’s this dream I’ve had / ‘Bout mum and dad / Makes me so sad I wake up crying,” he sings at one point, already wrapping you up in anxiety and melancholy before he drops the kicker: “Wish it wasn’t mandatory dying.”

‘A Concert 6 Months From Now’ starts as a gorgeous acoustic sketch that slowly builds into a driving, string-laden epic. While its title hints at a song longing for live music after being starved of it in the pandemic, it instead recalls the time Finneas booked concert tickets for his girlfriend half a year in advance. “I guess I’m an optimist,” he shrugs in the first verse.

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On the other hand, you get the likes of ‘The 90s’, one of ‘Optimist’’s best songs. Over the distant thud of a programmed beat, its creator longs for a time before the internet had taken over. “Hate how they can find me / Just be looking up my mum’s address,” he sighs. It’s the final throes of the track that really leave a mark, though, when a siren-like sound cuts through the minimal layers and gentle vocal processors. It’s a wake-up call to appreciate what you have rather than pining for a time that will never be yours and never was in the first place. “All the time I should have been so happy I was here,” he reflects.

‘Optimist’ might showcase a brilliant talent rightfully getting the attention he deserves, but that’s not to say it’s without missteps. ‘Peaches Etude’ is an entirely instrumental piano movement that, while pretty, feels like it disrupts the focus of the album. ‘Around My Neck’, meanwhile, is sexy and strutting, Finneas telling a lover: “Nothing beats being under you / Marks on my back, I wonder who?” It’s by no means a bad song, but it feels out of step with the rest of the record, especially when his vocals turn to wild growls – the complete opposite of his usual poised demeanour.

These are but minor hiccups. ‘Optimist’ is an accomplished first album that really shines and, given Finneas’ track record so far, we wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Details

Label: OYOY/Interscope
Release date: October 15, 2021

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