FINNEAS: Optimist (Interscope) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, December 4th, 2022  




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His name perhaps less recognized than his prolific contributions to popular music, Finneas O’Connell has been biding his time behind the scenes for quite a while. The Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer/audio engineer/actor, who rose to prominence as an architect behind the scenes of major releases by Demi Lovato, Kid Cudi, Justin Bieber, and his sister Billie Eilish, has maintained his status as a leading industry wunderkind, a go-to maestro for any major artist looking to score a hit. This time around however, O’Connell arrives on his own, and, for 43 minutes of pure pop bliss, entertains single-handedly.

Operating mononymously as FINNEAS, O’Connell has succeeded on his debut album Optimist, which ironically reveals him as being, in many respects, anything but. However, the sleek, glistening pop backdrop, ornamented with a million tiny blinking lights of warm genre homages, is enough to counterbalance his valid, yet slightly cynical confessions. The album’s 13 tracks are well-equipped with catchy enough hooks which are kept just enough at bay by O’Connell’s gift bag of sonically experimental tactics, rendering his solo effort a far more personal endeavor than a mere pop factory assembly line, churning out one radio-ready single after another.

This effective balance is immediately fathomed on the opening “A Concert Six Months from Now,” which O’Connell introduces with the strumming of an acoustic guitar, perhaps fooling the listener into pegging him as another run-of-the-mill twentysomething indie singer/songwriter, before exploding into a brief assault of full-band bombast. Lyrically, the confessional opening track is competent, though the depth of O’Connell’s observational wit is not presented in full until the subsequent “The Kids Are All Dying,” on which he takes his generation to task for its lack of tenacity and commitment in the face of raging war machines and near-constant, yet largely preventable societal decay. Similarly, the laid back flow of “The ‘90s” finds him at odds with the insidious influence of the seemingly indelible contemporary surveillance state and the loss of meaning therein, while also flirting with the current nostalgia fad geared toward the titular decade, the entire screed breaking down into a blustering synth storm, drawing the listener from within the comfort of the otherwise complacent melody.

The faux blue-eyed soul of “Happy Now?,” one of Optimist’s most irresistible tracks, finds O’Connell having a bit of fun before transitioning into the introspective, piano-driven “Only a Lifetime.” Here, he advises the listener, “Don’t waste the time you have/Waiting for time to pass/It’s only a lifetime, that’s only a while/It’s not worth the anger you felt as a child.” The power of O’Connell’s reflection is strongest in tracks such as this, where his feelings of discontentment have given way to the thoughtful melancholia of a typical 24-year-old, finally glimpsing the great sea ahead parting to reveal a clearer opposing shore. Other ballads “Love is Pain” and “What They’ll Say About Us” function on similar levels, revealing O’Connell’s emotional depth at its fullest. The classically geared instrumental “Peaches Etude” serves as one more reminder of his remarkable skill as an arranger, while closing track “How It Ends,” despite some cliché swipes at “the businessmen” and the notion of wealth, attempts and succeeds at offering a silver lining to the album’s many necessary concerns, O’Connell singing, “If you want to dance again/You can dance again.”

While not necessarily “solid” and occasionally clumsy, Optimist remains a great release for a disaffected generation that has seen its brushes with the apocalyptic—left-field pop compositions for those not necessarily sold on pop. FINNEAS has an undeniable knack for what he does, and one suspects that any of his future solo endeavors will arrive stronger upon each subsequent release. Until then, enjoy Optimist for what it is—an honest and insightful bit of commentary from a seemingly centered, obviously talented young artist. (

Author rating: 7/10

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