Conan Gray Debuts with “Sunset Season”
By Melanie Juarez
Many of today’s most famous celebrities are YouTube stars. Conan Gray, born in San Diego and raised in rural Texas, was on YouTube before that concept even existed. He started his YouTube channel when he was nine years old and began posting music covers and videos about his art. Since then, Gray has garnered over 981,000 subscribers on his channel. But Gray’s passion lies in music, and his first original song “Idle Town,” released in 2017, brought him public attention. Gray finally released his first EP, “Sunset Season,” on Nov. 16. It features five tracks, three of which were released prior to the EP. At just under 20 minutes long, “Sunset Season” is a subtle yet stunning debut.
The EP opens with “Idle Town,” which Gray described as “a tribute to my senior year of high school.” The album version features some remastered instrumentals from the original 2017 release. “Idle Town” masterfully ditches the drop popular in music nowadays in favor of a more mellow and soft sound, and the result is a song that perfectly captures the nostalgia of teenagers leaving childhood.
The next track is “Generation Why,” which uses snarky, self-deprecating lyrics to address the complexities of growing up in an increasingly difficult and disappointing society. A hallmark technique in Gray’s music is the usage of layered vocal tracks that create a chorus of background vocals. The chorus in “Generation Why” is the most distinctive on the EP, playfully asking “Why why why?”
Then comes “Crush Culture.” I did not like this song at first, and it took several listens for the catchy chorus to finally win me over. The echoed vocals and instrumentals in the chorus sink under the song, rather than over, which I appreciate.
The first of the two new tracks is “Greek God.” The production and instrumentals of this song give it a slow and dramatic feeling that perfectly mirror the dark clouds on the album’s cover. The whole song is tied together by a chorus of hums that stay stuck in your head. I enjoyed the production of this song the most, although I also take the most issue with this song’s lyrics of any in the EP. While Gray is a beautiful lyricist and the rest of his songs have witty and honest lyrics, “Greek God” has some disappointing moments. I may never get over the last line of the second verse, when Gray says “Everytime you kick me / You’re not gonna win me.” However, I think Gray’s discretion to not repeat “Greek god” three times in the chorus and instead alternate it with “Good god” was brilliant.
The mellow sound of the opening track returns in “Lookalike,” the EP’s sad concluding track. It is an honest and vulnerable reflection on past love that avoids cliches. I love the piano in the chorus, which plays a couple of simple, reverberating notes and aligns perfectly with Gray’s singing. That simplicity also provides the song with focus, keeping it unified and clean. The production of “Lookalike” is reminiscent of “Idle Town,” but its fuller sound shows how Gray has progressed as a songwriter since the latter was written.
My only real problem with this album is the exclusion of Gray’s previous single, “Grow,” which is, in my opinion, his best song. Written as Gray was preparing to leave his hometown for college in Los Angeles, “Grow” is particularly fitting for teenagers, featuring lyrics about how to face the future. Perhaps that is the key to Gray’s popularity - being in the transition from youth to adulthood and quite literally having grown up in the digital generation, Gray’s work is refreshingly contemporary. So contemporary, I would argue, it sometimes teeters on the edge of juvenile, but I love it anyway, and so does his audience. Gray’s voice in “Sunset Season” fills today’s void of genuine teenage experiences in media.
Gray will begin his second national tour in March of 2019. Most of the 23 dates are already sold out, among them his stop in Chicago on April 4, 2019.