Grandson/ Death of an Optimist/music review by Amber Mason

© Fueled by Ramen, By Source, Fair use. 

Album Title: Death Of An Optimist // Artist: Grandson // Release Date: 12/4/2020

Not all of us know what we want out of our careers, but for Jordan Benjamin, otherwise known as the genre-blending, alternative rock artist Grandson, that isn’t quite the case. During a recent Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) Q&A, Grandson explains,  “I hope my career can serve as a time capsule for what we ALL navigated and dealt with as we grew up together.”  

This may sound like a huge feat for someone so young to strive for, but Grandson has the experience and the passion to see it through. Besides building an impressive music career through frequent releases and collaborations with major contemporary artists such as Mike Shinoda, X Ambassadors, and K.Flay, Grandson also established XX Resistance, a movement defined by “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument”.  In other words, Grandson is paving the way for fellow youths to challenge the status quo and enact meaningful change. This dedication to resistance and working towards something greater is prevalent in his music as well, which has offered critical commentary on current events and issues (like covid-19 and gun violence) since his start in 2018. But it isn’t just systemic change that Grandson writes about; he also produces raw,  honest tracks about the human condition itself, about battling discontentment, mental health issues, and more. 

Similarly, XX Resistance aims to unite like-minded, compassionate youths with funders and empower them to get involved with organizations relating to the issues that are important to them. When signing up for more information on the website, there is a check-list of issues and causes that XX Resistance can connect future activists with: environmental issues, social justice, and LGBTQ issues are just some examples. Additionally, following the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, FL, Grandson raised money through his No Thoughts, No Prayers fundraiser to benefit The Youth for Safety and Justice Fund, which was established to bring youth organizers and benefactors together to revolutionize our democracy to ensure safety and justice for all. 

This was merely the beginning of the revolution led, in part, by Grandson. 

In 2020, Grandson was actually invited to collaborate with US Senator Bernie Sanders and  Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib on the March 22nd, 2020 Coronavirus Response Livestream. For your convenience, the beginning of Grandson’s performance can be found here, followed by his formal endorsement of Sanders in the 2020 Presidential election. 

In light of all of this activism, it’s almost hard to believe that Grandson has had the time to release three EPs in between: in two years (A Modern Tragedy Vol. 1-3) and many collaborations not only with the aforementioned artists, but also with others like KennyHoopla, Dreamers, and Whethan. Listeners can clearly hear the growth in his music–and the complexity of his songwriting–as they work through his discography.  It is also clear that while Grandson is documenting his experience as a millennial in America, his sound is growing up right alongside him.  

All of these experiences accumulated into what I believe to be one of the greatest alternative rock releases of 2020: Grandson’s first full-length album, Death of an Optimist. 

Death of an Optimist © Fueled by Ramen, fair use image captured by author

The Album– 

Death of An Optimist is composed of twelve tracks, which includes an overture (“Death Of An Optimist// Intro”), an interlude (“The Ballad of G and X”), and an outro, (“Welcome to Paradise”).  While the album technically falls into the alternative rock category, Grandson continues to show off his mastery of genre-blending throughout the album, as seen through the electronic rock hit “Riptide”, the funky, upbeat tracks like In Over My Head” and groove-worthy “Dirty”, as compared to the harder-hitting “We Did It!!!” and rap-heavy “WWIII”.  He even includes an earnest ballad: ”Drop Dead”, and tracks full of emotional self-discovery like in “Pain Shopping” and “Left Behind”.  Of course, we can’t forget about “Identity”, which lists countless social issues that we, as a generation, faced in the past year or so. 

As you can see, there is a track for every listener on this album and it’s incredible how well it all flows together one after another. I highly recommend giving this album a listen straight through before letting it go to shuffle. It works quite well either way, but there’s a clear progression from beginning to end that’s quite powerful. 

During the AMA, one Redditor asked about their interpretation of Death of an Optimist. This is a question I was excited to see asked because I had wondered if I “understood” the album as well. Personally, I consider the album to be close to a rock opera or a concept album; it tells us the story of the death of an optimist, of “G”, of an optimistic youth as he meets “X”, his dark, cynical side. However, as demonstrated through the progression of the album, this is a symbolic death. To me, it’s simply about growing up and how each choice that we make is important. We see the highs and lows of growing up in today’s world in all their rawness, through every musical twist and lyrical turn of the album. 

All in all, Death of an Optimist is a well-produced and honest coming-of-age story that is full of catchy earworms and contemplation-worthy tracks, released right when an entire generation, who may be facing their own metaphorical deaths, need it most. I know I certainly did. 

Grandson went on to explain his intent behind Death of an Optimist, which is different from how it should be interpreted. He says, “I wanted to write an album that encouraged everyone going through hell to keep going. In SPITE of that shit, not in absence of it. Some songs definitely touch on my fear of meaninglessness, of nothing, but I couldn’t in good conscience contribute more of that into the world. So I think it’s a story about hope, but an honest one. As honest as I could write.” 

When it comes to interpreting the album, however, Grandson explained that “I don’t think it’s possible to get it ‘wrong’. […] When I release something it’s not really…mine anymore. It’s yours. So interpret it however it most clearly resonates with you.” 

With that said, let’s dive in. For your listening pleasure, here is the entire album, as provided on Grandson’s Youtube channel. Listen closely, but listen freely:  Death of an Optimist is not only G and X’s story, Jordan Benjamin’s story, but yours, and mine. All of ours. 

By Elf Plus Productions Photography – OBC 2019 Night Two Grandson, CC BY 2.0

The Future–

Despite the fact that touring is suspended indefinitely due to covid-19 restrictions, Grandson remains hyped about the release of this album and the reach it may have. In fact, his Reddit AMA occurred only a few days after its release. While he was ready to answer pretty much anything fans threw at him, he was excited to discuss one thing in particular: an aptly-titled documentary, Death of an Optimist: The Movie, which is scheduled to premiere digitally on December 17th, 2020. 

The movie is not just a making-of documentary, the crew put in the work to create what a live Death of an Optimist tour show would be like, performed the entire album, and filmed it all while in quarantine. There is even a VIP add-on option to premiere tickets that includes a Zoom session with Grandson, complete with an acoustic set and Q&A session. To find tickets to the digital premiere of Death of an Optimist: The Movie, click here. 

Want more Grandson?  

For all things Grandson, including future tour information, check out his website here

To get involved with the revolution, check out xxresistance to connect with organizations that support causes that are important to you and xxwhy to learn more about how Grandson and the artists you love are getting involved themselves. 

All links are non-affiliated with Lightwood Press and included for information purposes only.

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Amber Mason is a writer and reviewer. She lives in the Hudson Valley and is a founding editor of Lightwood magazine. 

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