EP Review: grandson - 'a modern tragedy vol. 2'
grandson’s ‘a modern tragedy vol.2’ is nothing short of excellence expressed over a five-song strong EP. The sheer vitriol that is so eloquently expressed over such brooding, menacingly dark music is worth that description alone; add to that the ferocious intensity of his voice, charity work and countless donations to gun violence charities, and a vehement stance against the current political climate that lends itself almost stunningly to his work, and you get his most recent collection of tracks.
Jordan Edward Benjamin, also known as grandson, is a Canadian-American musician born in New Jersey and raised in Toronto, but that’s irrelevant. What is important is the transition he made, from being a songwriter for other people to being a songwriter to express his own thoughts and opinions, writing for himself. The transition came around the time that Donald Trump took office, and he took it as a ‘call for action’; a call that is often expressed bluntly throughout his music; particularly in 2018’s ‘War’, a single in which the artwork features Trump with his eyes replaced by two black X’s. His tracks are, for want of a better word, powerful. Between ‘thoughts & prayers’, a song which explores and discusses the hypocrisy of tweeting condolences over school shootings from a position in which you have the power to make changes but refuse to do so. The song took on even more significance after Donald Trump was accused of ‘copy and paste’ condolences, where he talked about the wrong location; this particular song has also had live versions recorded with choirs of children and has been performed at numerous rallies across the United States. His ‘biggest’ song, ‘Blood // Water’, a track about corporate greed and political corruption, has over fifty million plays on Spotify and has enabled him to explode in popularity, helped by featuring on Mike Shinoda’s ‘Running from my Shadow’, featuring on his recent ‘Post Traumatic’ album. ‘a modern tragedy vol. 2’ marks his second collection of songs, featuring his most recent single ‘Apologize’.
And now onto the EP. The EP opens with ‘Apologize’, the lead single and a very strong opener; a track concerned primarily with the concept of intrinsic identities, whether that’s to do with a prevailing loss of identity and feeling of depression stemming from a growing global obsession with social media, lending itself to a zeitgeist of formlessness and insecurity (losing ‘a bit of [him]self with each selfie’ or the idea that an identity is fixed, and both a pressure of needing to and a steadfast refusal to ‘apologize’ for past mistakes and not being a ‘perfect soul’. The music of the song slowly grows, starting off as the simple repetition of chords, before exploding into his signature angry-sounding music and bass drop. The song blends together perfectly, and acts as a great starting point for what is to come.
Following on from this is ‘Stigmata’, potentially his darkest track yet. This song, again, is ferociously angry, a prevailing trend in his various songs, and is very much a guitar-led track, under Jordan’s rapping. ‘How do you get in the mind-state to kill?’, he asks, before painting himself somewhat in a Christ-like figure, a martyr for his cause. Stigmata refers to the supposedly miraculous appearance of wounds reflecting those Christ exhibited through his crucifixion; grandson therefore seems to be almost incredulous at having to become such a revolutionary figure, waking up with ‘holes in [his] hands from the day [he] was crucified’. It seems to be both about his own status as a mouthpiece for political change, as well as perhaps the censorship of political figures throughout history, who have been killed for their beliefs.
After is ‘Is This What You Wanted’, a comparatively slow builder that grows into a chaotic frenzy. The music is weirdly slow-paced, which doesn’t seem to quite fit with the lyrics; however, the chorus of ‘we get the truth, we get high’ potentially explains this pseudo juxtaposition, with slightly distorted screaming over the rather peaceful backing track. The song seems to be about the political suppression of those who fight against injustice. ‘You want to see me sell my soul/ believe all the lies that I’ve been fed/ you want to watch me give up/ you want to see my sedated’ being screamed over raw drums and guitar, as angry as ever, seems a direct rebuttal to those who try to take away the idea of free speech in the world today.
Next comes ‘Fallin (Temptation)’, which mirrors the same slow-paced music but under fast paced, almost stichomythic bursts of rhetoric. The track is very much enjoyable, although is perhaps the weakest of the five for me. That’s less a comment on the track being weak, but more on the other tracks being strong; the song’s chorus is led more by the music than the actual singing, which is an understated affair: a repetition of ‘I’m falling’. It seems to mirror the idea of social media obsession in today’s culture, with ‘all this self-loathing I foster… swipe up and go through the motion, obsessively posting… everything’s fine no emotion’ being a particularly poignant line, to do with the afore mentioned global feeling of depression.
Finally, comes ‘Dark Side’, my personal favourite. The track seems a direct evolution of ‘thoughts & prayers’, from the point of view of those committing the school shootings and attempting to understand why. The song opens slowly, with gentle crooning over even gentler strumming of guitar chords, before quickly building into the verses. ‘He’s got murder in his eyes/ he wore his silence like a mask’; the prevailing message seems to be less on those committing the atrocities and more on those in power who do nothing to try and prevent the motivations from ever arising, whether it’s the ‘violence in his past’ and the ‘father who never bothered to ask what his son had on his mind’ or the fact that he was ‘living with the monsters in his head’, going unnoticed by those who had the means and opportunity to do so. The song seems an amalgamation of ‘Blood // Water’ and ‘thoughts & prayers’, combining the best aspects of the two songs and becoming what, to me, is the strongest track on the EP and what’s become my favourite song so far of 2019.
The EP is tremendous: do yourself a favour and have a listen. Then do yourself a bigger favour and go see the man himself live!
Words by James O’Sullivan