Olivia O'Brien is taking a very unconventional approach to her new album release. Following up her 2017 EP It's Not That Deep, 2019 album Was It Even Real, and two mixtapes from 2019 and 2020 It was a Sad Fucking Summer and The Results of my Poor Judgement, Olivia dropped Episodes: Season 1 last night. This is being billed as the first half of her next album, which she's releasing in stages like a television show. This seems to be a relic of her 2020 plan to continue dropping mixtapes, which got cancelled by the pandemic in favor of 70 remixes of "Josslyn". In late 2020 she dropped the single "Now", sampling an early 2000s Akon song, and in January she came out with "Better Than Feeling Lonely". Neither of these songs made the current project.
Of the six songs, only the lead single "Sociopath" was released before Thursday night. I am truly not a fan of this song, the concept, or the music video which feels excessively gory. I really dislike when artists use terms like psychopath or sociopath in songs because those are actual mental disorders that people have to live with, not just what they've come to mean colloquially where the terms are often misconstrued. Sometimes the usage doesn't bother me, but this entire song is solely built around the concept of labeling her ex a sociopath. I feel like there are ways to articulate the frustrations of the song that would've been richer and deeper. This song really just didn't do anything for me. Luckily, the EP does get better from this Halloween-horror pop low point.
The second track, "Call Mom" is my favorite on the EP. It summarizes what Olivia does so well in her music. She's complaining about how being rich and privileged hasn't solved all her problems but somehow makes it incredibly relatable instead of cloyingly annoying. While part of me is marveling at how this song is the complete inverse of Conan Gray's song "Affluenza", I'm also crying on the inside about my childhood slipping away and not knowing what I'm doing at all. Her lyrics are visceral and descriptive. I think this comes from the fact that she's authentically writing about her lived experiences without being flashy. The point of the song is that she's depressed and miserable, not the fact that she lives in the Hills and is playing the Fonda. It's almost unassuming, and the refrain of the chorus ("I'm too young to feel like my life's already over/the past's so far gone and the future's much closer") sneaks up to hit you surprisingly hard. This song showcases the best of Olivia's writing.
"No More Friends" featuring Old Sykes & Bring Me the Horizon is the biggest surprise on the album where she plays on pop-rock and pop-punk tropes. Olivia's music typically relies on electronic pop and hip hop beats that feel completely disconnected from actual instruments, but this song has incredible drums and a true pulsing sense of life from the live instruments. While the lyrical content of the duet about wanting commitment in a relationship doesn't strike any particular chord, the vibes of the song are incredible, and this would be on the top of my list to see live. There's an immediate energy that is unmatched on the rest of the EP.
Track three is where the EP starts to lose me again. "Keep It Movin'" is full of so much fake confidence it's hard to even listen to it. It's clear that she's putting up a front, but it never breaks the fourth wall and laughs at itself or offers a wink that she knows she's trying to hard. Also the opening line uses the word "bomb". I don't even know when the last time someone used that un-ironically was and she also calls the other girls he's seeing instead of her "hoes". It's a word I hate in both meaning and just like sound-wise and it never needs to be used ever again. I feel like calling them "some number two bitch" a few lines later makes the point just fine. Also, she loses the thin sheer of relatability in "Call Mom" when she goes from using her wealthy to paint a background for her life to rubbing it in her ex's face with the line "got a big bank account like me". I tend to like overconfident songs that put band-aids on break-ups, but this just didn't feel genuine at all. A lot of the song's lyrics just feel a bit empty and meaningless ("can they put it down like me/throw that shit around like me"), and I don't quite get what the compelling point here is supposed to be.
"We're All Gonna Die" takes a turn for the disco inspired pop that dominated 2020. I have mixed feelings about this track because the verses actually have some interesting mediations, but the constantly looping chorus of "who cares anyway/we're all gonna die" is even a little much for my extremely cynical heart. It doesn't help that I really struggle with this song sonically as well. I do really like the pre-chorus where she jokes with herself, "I love my delusions/I find them amusing". I just don't feel like the totally nihilistic message quite landed with this one the way it does in some of her other tracks like "Empty".
She leaves the album on a high note with the more reflective "What Happens Now?". This song is like a slower, more thoughtful version of Taylor Swift's pithy "I Forgot That You Existed". I love how genuine the confusion in this song feels as she wonders about what she's supposed to do now that she doesn't miss her ex so viscerally. She reflects on their relationship in the perfect amount of detail to keep the listener invested and chooses a relatable topic to wander through. I also feel like "What happens now?" is an apt question to end an EP that is only the beginning of a larger journey- the cliffhanger season finale.
This EP felt pretty standard for Olivia. Aside from "No More Friends", there weren't any major surprises, but I don't think the EP needed to diverge from Olivia's signature sound. I'm intrigued enough to listen to the next installment, even if I didn't like this EP as much as her other projects. I'm not sure how I feel about it as a full body of work, but I don't feel like Olivia really operates on narratively complete albums. She's much more about the individual bubble of a song.
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