FINNEAS and his sister, Billie, performing in 2017

Listening to an album should warrant its own ‘do not disturb’ sign for bedroom doors. It is so important to me, that I tend to listen at times I know I won’t be interrupted, leading to some way-too-hyped-up listens at midnight. There’s just something about a well-constructed album that makes it like a poetry collection, purposefully harsh and short and bouncy in some areas, with clashing pianos and slow moments in others. You will be offered every vibe, production choice and emotion under the sun if you listen to FINNEAS’ debut Optimist. Finally producing his own album, after his EP came out in 2020, this album feels like a companion piece to sibling Billie Eilish’s Happier than Ever, with mood swings and bangers galore.

The album starts off with “A Concert Six Months from Now”, where the album title appears in line four: “I guess I’m just an optimist”. This song, in a way that preempts FINNEAS’ approach to time on this album, centres on the reflection of past and future. He sings about going to a concert with an ex and feeling like, after they broke up, he couldn’t listen to that band for years. Clearly, music here is personal and also universal, dredging up memories that are important for both FINNEAS’ timeline and our own. He explains that this song was written in 2017, but that “obviously singing about a concert six months away is such a 2021 experience, right?” 

The themes of this album opener feel strikingly relevant to the events of the past year and a halfYOUTUBE/FINNEAS

This album explores in many different ways what it feels like to be trapped in limbo, stuck between past experiences coloured by blissful ignorance of a pandemic (or a breakup, or inevitably life-changing event) and future experiences, like concerts, which will necessarily be seen through a different lens. I didn’t need to be told that this song was written years ago to understand it, because it struck me as so pertinently liminal, similar to folklore in which Taylor Swift offered us fictional stories for our pandemic imaginations.

“FINNEAS struggles with anxieties about the inevitability of death”

These anxieties about time passing and future planning are explored within other contexts throughout the album. In songs like “Only a Lifetime” and “Love is Pain”, FINNEAS struggles with anxieties about the inevitability of death, his own and that of his parents, and how COVID-19 and other illnesses make us realise our own fragility and what we take for granted. Most of the songs are accompanied beautifully on the piano and produced brilliantly by FINNEAS so that they don’t all blend into one big sad blur. It is helpful that these melancholy pieces are scattered across the album, creating a thread which listeners can trace without it being monotonous.

The addition of “Peaches Etude”, an entirely instrumental piano piece, helps to ease the painful self-consciousness of these songs. It is a breezy, homey and loving piece which offers a welcome interlude in this eclectic album. This sense of naivety and freedom might come from it being a theme tune for his pitbull, Peaches, which he adopted alongside his girlfriend.

There is another crucial element to FINNEAS’ album. Despite it being called Optimist, it is more of an exploration of all the challenges which make it hard for us to be so. In “The Kids Are All Dying”, “The 90s” and “Medieval”, he explores the present and how the internet, ‘cancel culture’, concerns over climate change, and social issues all contribute to the general existential dread that plagues young generations. I found these songs compelling and self-conscious. In no way are they perfect responses to these issues, however, I disagree with some of the more negative reviews these songs have garnered. Pitchfork has labelled this album “disappointingly hallow” because of its incapability to respond with answers. For reviewer Olivia Horn, he “gestures wildly” at issues – “the biggest risk that Finneas takes on Optimist may just be invoking inflammatory topics to which he brings limited insights” – and that “as a critic”, he fails.


Mountain View

The story’s got dust on every page: a journey through Red (Taylor’s Version)

Is this how we want to listen to albums now, where everything someone releases is pointless unless it offers insight? Art need not have a tightly-wound political and social message; sometimes, it can just be a reflection of a mental state, solipsistic and lonely. Art can simply be aesthetic, and Optimist gives us this mind-numbing set of extremes, encompassing how our lives might, at times, feel overwhelming in every aspect. I’d argue FINNEAS touches on a variety of issues maturely and with the perfect amount of humour. What Horn doesn’t seem to grasp is that we all hear, feel and think about all of these issues every day – do we really need FINNEAS to tell us more?

Optimist struggles with its own definition, its eclectic-ness is overpowering and it is highly textured, but it’s a listen which invokes all the right emotions and yet offers respite at the same time. It questions if we really need to be optimistic about our world, or if it’s okay to see things badly if only to appreciate what we have more. After all, in the wise words of Maeve Wiley from Sex Education: pessimists outlive optimists.