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FINNEAS is best known as a Grammy-winning producer for Billie Eilish, his younger sister.
However, his debut album "Optimist" draws much of its power from his incisive, singular songwriting.
The best songs are "A Concert Six Months From Now," "Love Is Pain," and "Around My Neck."
Much has been made about Finneas O'Connell's prodigious talent as a producer and collaborator.
The 24-year-old won producer of the year at the 2020 Grammy Awards for helming his little sister's debut album, "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" In fact, he has produced every song Billie Eilish has ever released, surrounding her distinctive voice with dental drills and dog barks.
But O'Connell's solo music, released under the mononym FINNEAS, draws much of its power from his incisive, singular songwriting.
Though he's written some of Eilish's songs, like "Ocean Eyes" and "When the Party's Over," O'Connell wears his words differently. His style is hyper-specific and pictorial, like tipsy stories told in '20s expat Paris. "All but forgotten / About those eyes / The shade of green that if he'd seen / Would make F. Scott Fitzgerald cry," he sings in his 2019 single "I Don't Miss You At All" - a lyric that he said Eilish would've rejected outright.
"It's kind of wordy and pretentious, but that's something I'd send in a text to someone, so I can put it in a song," he explained to Fader. "Billie would hear that and say, 'I'm not singing that.' Those linguistic roles are important."
O'Connell's official debut album "Optimist," released on Friday, still boasts those avant-garde sound effects, textured harmonies, and irresistible chords he's best known for. But the album's observations, punchlines, and appetites are thrilling in a uniquely FINNEAS way.
As Insider's music reporter, I listened to the 13-track project and selected my favorite lyrics, then assigned a very unscientific overall score to each song - which were all written and produced by O'Connell alone.
"A Concert Six Months From Now" casts optimism as a form of resilience.
The album's opening track uses a timely, specific point of reference as a vehicle to explore a timeless sense of nostalgia. FINNEAS draws a parallel between coming out of lockdown and reconnecting with an old lover, breathing familiar air that's been altered by trauma. Despite the anxiety and hunger, he's still an optimist.
Best lyrics: "I'll wait for years but I won't wait alone / And then someday you'll wait for my face on your phone / And I'll call and I'll say I think you should come home / 'Cause I'm tired of being your ex." Ouch.
Score: 9/10. How dare he attack me like this?
"The Kids Are All Dying" walks a fine line between self-righteous and self-deprecating.
"The Kids Are All Dying" touches upon a veritable feast of heavy, controversial topics: capitalism, climate change, gun violence, internet outrage, political partisanship. FINNEAS is pissed off about all of it. These are themes he's explored before, most notably with "Can't Wait to Be Dead," which is one of my favorite songs.
He takes the bridge to address his own wealth, whiteness, and hypocrisy, only to brush it off with a self-aware smirk: "But enough about me."
Best lyrics: "Whatever's on the news, the other side'll call it fake / I wish I was the queen, I'd tell 'em all to eat their cake."
Putting aside the fact that Marie Antoinette likely never said this, I so admire the guts to take history's most famous summary of privilege and somehow make it charming.
Score: 8/10. This is a song about how annoying the world is from a person least poised to make that observation, and I'm annoyed by how much I enjoy it. It reminds me of Bo Burnham's "Inside," which is one of the highest compliments I can think of.
"Happy Now?" is a meditation on fame.
"Happy Now?" feels like an intentional reference to Eilish's sophomore album, "Happier Than Ever." Both struggle to make sense of sudden fame — how success can dislodge you from reality and sabotage your sense of self.
The biggest difference is that FINNEAS seems to harbor more guilt about the situation. While Eilish sings with venom about stalkers and body-shamers, her brother frets about his "douchebag car," feeling like a fraud.
Best lyrics: "Always such an anxious child / Never wild, always worrying / Never any good with surprises, compromises / I wanted everything." Big same to that.
Score: 6.5/10. There are nuggets of relatable dread in here, but the song is more repetitive and less charming than what FINNEAS is capable of.
"Only a Lifetime" is a piano ballad about the meaning of life.
According to FINNEAS, the meaning of life isn't money or personal success: "It's family and friends, and that's the truth."
Best lyrics: "I'm unprepared / For my loved ones to be gone / Call 'em far too often now / Worry way too much about mom."
Score: 6/10. This song treads dangerously close to cheesy or trite, but that one set of lyrics carries the emotional weight to make up for it. Musing about your own mortality is one thing — just ask TikTok — but imagining life without my mom is unbearable.
"The 90s" laments the complicated world we've built for ourselves.
FINNEAS is very much in his element here, mourning the loss of youth and simplicity with a healthy dose of existential dread.
Best lyrics: "I think about the 90s / When the future was a testament / To something beautiful and shiny, now / We're only counting down the time that's left."
Score: 8/10. The heavy distortions and EDM flavors initially struck me as outdated, but now I see they make perfect sense in a song about nostalgia and romanticization — particularly the autotune used in the chorus, which was a tool popularized by Cher's "Believe" in 1998.
"Love Is Pain" is a very appropriate title.
"Love Is Pain" is a quintessential FINNEAS arrangement: haunting piano lines, beautiful harmonies, textural background swoops, fluttery orchestral strings, and lyrics about heartbreak and death that make me want to curl up into a ball on the floor.
Best lyrics: "We go through life we play pretend / Act like it's not about to end / We'll be alright but then your friend runs a red light / You watch his car burst into flames."
Score: 10/10. This strikes me as something Taylor Swift might write, kind of like "Happiness" mixed with "Tolerate It," which obviously means it's perfect and I am devastated.
"Peaches Etude" is named for FINNEAS' beloved pitbull.
Allow me to quote from the official document that FINNEAS' team supplied to the press: "no lyrics, just cool piano."
Best lyrics: N/A
Score: 4/10. It's a wordless interlude so there's not much to judge, but I quite like the title.
"Hurt Locker" seems to tell the story of a strained marriage.
"Hurt Locker" is probably a reference to the Oscar-winning war drama from 2008, but I've never seen it, so I can't be sure. I can presume that FINNEAS is writing from a historical or imaginary perspective, given that he's in a long-term relationship with Claudia Sulewski, who has never given birth to a baby, so far as I'm aware.
Broadly, "Hurt Locker" evokes the life-or-death atmosphere of wartime as the narrator ruminates on regrets in a relationship.
Best lyrics: "Did I cut the wrong wire today? / Did I set it on fire the way Scotland burned in '44? / Like I never learned to leave a war."
This is a reference to the so-called "Burning of Edinburgh" in 1544, and I relish how specific that is.
Score: 7.5/10. It's sonically heavy and lyrically niche, but still manages to be powerful and anthemic.
"Medieval" draws a parallel between celebrity and royalty.
"Medieval" appears to address so-called Twitter mobs who demand accountability from public figures — or, more broadly, the "build them up to tear them down" celebrity phenomenon.
FINNEAS compares this modern practice to historic acts of retribution: "I could tell you what happens / To the new king / When he goes out of fashion."
Best lyrics: "You don't go to Heaven in a crown." I can't confidently say whether FINNEAS meant this to be sarcastic or geniune, but on its face, I agree!
Score: 5/10. I like the beat and it's a sound concept, but I'm not inclined to empathize with monarchs.
"Someone Else's Star" explores how emotion and memory are warped in the public eye.
"Someone Else's Star" is essentially a twinkly, melancholy take on "Happy Now?"
Best lyrics: "Now all your memories feel more like films / You put 'em on to see which ones still kill / You wonder why the bad ones paid the bills."
I'm a little bored by this song's subject matter, but that part stung. I can't imagine what it's like to mine your painful memories for lyrics or content and watch strangers consume it as entertainment.
Score: 7/10. I'm not sure what FINNEAS wants to be forgiven for, but the ache in his voice is palpable. "Someone Else's Star" is also one of his most engaging feats of production, gently woven with ticking clocks and cracks of thunder.
"Around My Neck" is an impossibly sexy bop.
Pretty simple: This song is about wanting and having great sex.
Best lyrics: "Got your hands around my neck / Mama keep it in check / What do you want done to you?"
Score: 9.5/10. I'll admit I hoped for more loved-up songs on this tracklist, along the lines of "Angel" or "Claudia," but I'll gladly take this instead. The production is both retro and fresh; the lyrics are cheeky and heavy-handed without feeling obvious. And those yells in the final chorus? Perfect.
"What They'll Say About Us" is a stirring power ballad.
FINNEAS wrote "What They'll Say About Us" in June 2020 amid the wave of Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 hospitalizations.
"I kind of wrote this song as if you were singing to your loved one who was in a hospital bed while the world was protesting outside," he told WSJ Magazine. "I did make a point to keep the song fairly ambiguous because I know everybody's sort of going through different circumstances of the same things right now."
Best lyrics: "I wish you could see him / He looks just like you" is an incredibly poignant closer. It brings the abstract themes of the song into sharp focus.
Score: 8/10. I was surprised to see "What They'll Say About Us" on this tracklist, given how long ago it came out (and the string of absent singles that FINNEAS released in the meantime). But the decision does make sense in context. The song crystallizes the album's overall tone: embattled yet hopeful.
"How It Ends" is an upbeat reminder to savor the good stuff.
The album closes with a funky kiss-off to cynics and "business men," though it doesn't exist in a vacuum. There's awareness of migraines and millionaires, of course, but "How It Ends" is all about mind over matter.
Best lyrics: "If you wanna dance again / You can dance again / Use a lifeline / Honey phone a friend." It's giving Robyn.
Score: 8.5/10. "How It Ends" has big crying-on-the-dance-floor vibes, which is my favorite genre.
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