Genre: That kind of semi-experimental synthpop that so many people are doing now that it’s arguably just regular pop.
Total Number of Tracks: 12, including two interludes that are each under a minute long.
Songs you might know:
– “Comfort Crowd”
– “Wish I Was Sober”
– “The Story”
My prior relationship with the album and artist: I had never heard of Conan Gray before, but I clicked on this album on a whim when Spotify said it sounded like one of my playlists. I became a fan relatively quickly and started encouraging other friends to listen to it. I particularly loved “Wish You Were Sober” and “Maniac” and would frequently bounce back and forth between these two when I wasn’t listening to the whole album. Consider me on this bandwagon.
My impression this time around: As I returned to this album after taking a week or two off from it, I couldn’t help but wonder. Do I actually like this whole album, or do I just really, really REALLY like a couple songs from it and have conflated these two things? I’m happy to report that I didn’t. While I think I’ll always consider “Wish You Were Sober” and “Maniac” to be the albums high points, they’re certainly not all that Kid Krow has to offer. I forgot how good “Checkmate” was. I also forgot how well Conan Gray does with his ballads.
While I definitely prefer the three tracks mentioned above for their high energy and catchy hooks, Gray also knows his way around sad introspection. Probably my favorite ballad of the bunch is “Heather” which downplays the heavier synths we see on most of the other tracks. This is a song built around a sad voice and an acoustic guitar, even if it does have its moments where it subverts this formula as well. One would think that the world doesn’t need any more “I’m sad because you like that other person more than me” songs, and yet when you hear one like “Heather” you feel like the world could use one more. It’s also reassuring to know that the synthpop sounds aren’t a crutch for Gray. He’s capable of channeling raw emotion into a beautiful song with or without them.
I also appreciate how Kid Krow has the general vibe of a breakup album while also finding ways to gradually transition out of this theme as the album ends. The last two tracks, “Little League” and “The Story” are still about being sad and broken hearted, but they also don’t sound like earlier breakup tracks like “Maniac” and “Checkmate.” Rather than singing about a specific relationship, Gray is just singing about general feelings of sadness and anxiety. We’re no longer mourning the relationship itself, but the youthful innocence we lost along the way. In the final track, “The Story,” We’re making peace with the fact that “that’s just the way the world works.” As life goes on, we oftentimes don’t get a happy ending, and yet life will keep going on anyway. It’s the perfect ending track for an album where so many songs lean towards the sad/angry side of the spectrum: cautiously optimistic for the future while still acknowledging how a broken heart changes a person forever.
If there’s one complaint I have about the album, it’s that despite its 33-minute runtime, there’s still somehow a fair amount of the album that feels like forgettable filler. The two interlude tracks “(Online Love)” and “(Can We Be Friends?)” aren’t bringing anything to the table. But it’s whatever right? The first is only 37 seconds and the second is only 58 seconds, so surely even my nitpicky self can overlook that. Well… no. I’ve noticed that when I listen to this all the way through, I am absolutely FEELING those first three tracks, and then I kind of mentally check out at the first interlude. Then we get “Checkmate” which is also great… and then I tend to check out again.
Somehow the presence of these interludes has a way of making other songs on the album feel like interludes I don’t need to pay as much attention to. For as many times as I’ve listened to this, I should be able to at least hum the chorus of each song. Yet there’s a third of this album where I can’t. “The Cut That Always Bleeds” and “Flight or Fight” are just kind of this hazy fog in the middle that never captivates me the way the rest of the album does. It almost feels like Kid Krow should’ve really been an EP, but Gray and his team liked the idea of it being an album so much that they stretched it out unnecessarily.
I do want to emphasize that in spite of that, the album starts strong and finishes strong. That’s part of what makes it such a great album. And even though my interest tends to fade out in the middle, those songs are still decent. Kid Krow is an album with a clear vision, and every track finds different facets of that vision to explore. As good as Gray is at upbeat, catchy breakup songs, he’s also not overly formulaic either. He’s the type of artist who can experiment with different sounds and feelings while still staying true to himself. All this is to say that Kid Krow does the most important thing a debut album needs to do. It makes me excited to see where Conan Gray takes his career next.
Who would enjoy it? This is a great pick for people who like their pop music on the more melancholy side. It does a great job of embracing late 2010s pop trends while still feeling fresh in its own way.