Isaac Dunbar lets his ‘evil twin’ take control on ambitious EP

Photo of Isaac Dunbar's album, "Evil Twin"
RCA Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Pop music needs Isaac Dunbar. At just 17 years old, Dunbar might still be earning his high school diploma, but his polished records are already offering promising signs of growth. Released Feb. 19, his latest EP Evil Twin secures his spot as a changemaker in alternative pop.

Boasting an admirable diversity of production styles, Evil Twin has a song for everyone; each song is so distinct that it’s surprising that the EP manages to feel cohesive. Dunbar keeps his composure on the chaotically creative record, mesmerizing listeners with innovative production and skillful songwriting that flaunt his dynamism.

Presented by Dunbar’s so-called “evil twin,” the EP’s first three songs stray into more experimental territory. “Pink Party” kicks off the EP as easily the most exploratory song of Dunbar’s discography so far. Beginning with high-pitched, wicked laughter, the song swiftly fades into bold verses swathed in thick synths. Dunbar sings with an insouciant sass before delivering a verse in a horrific, coarse whisper. Dynamic, daring and utterly different from what Dunbar has done before, it’s a startlingly perfect song to start the EP.

With ease, Dunbar shifts between personas not just within “Pink Party,” but across all tracks on Evil Twin. He snaps quick, clean rhymes with cheeky confidence on “Fan Behavior,” and he quietly compels you to “join the club, join the club” with an aura of mystery and exclusivity. Later, he’s more spunky on “Rendezvous,” a pioneering track that pulls off its audacious beat. On these experimental tracks, Dunbar lets his ego take control — and shines because of it.

For the EP’s second half, Dunbar returns to his trustworthy pop patterns and magical melodrama. It’s easy to get lost in “Intimate Moments” — though the song feels a bit rushed before the pre-chorus, the chorus unfolds slowly and beautifully. In this cinematic ballad, he opens up about his fear of intimacy and delves deeply into insecurity and vulnerability.

Similar poignancy abounds on “Love, or the Lack Thereof.” It’s evident why this stately song was the lead single for Evil Twin; here, Dunbar’s vocals are especially smooth, his production especially sleek. He takes advantage of his sultry lower range, and parallelism between pre- and post-chorus lyrics like “If I’m all yours, then take me back” and “If you’re alone, come shut me up” flows naturally. This ballad, along with “Intimate Moments,” exhibits Dunbar’s remarkable ability to depict emotional pain with introspective sincerity and grace.

“Kissy Kissy,” on the other hand, lacks this elegance as a sickly saccharine confession. The song holds an endearing charm and accurately represents the desperation of wanting someone, but melting desire into the simplistic lyric “Kissy kissy ooh-la-la babe I want ya” isn’t quite as captivating as it could be. The sappy song does have a few redeeming lyrics — Dunbar sings “Write your name in my journal/I should burn it, right?” with a smirk — but it falls short in comparison to the EP’s other tracks.

Thankfully, Dunbar returns to his vivid poeticism in the final track “The World & All Her Pearls.” Like listening to a heartbeat underwater, the song’s stripped qualities lend it a doleful hollowness that is as enchanting as it is woeful. “The World & All Her Pearls” is a pensive portrait of sorrow that personifies tears, leaving listeners to wallow in contemplation long after its conclusion. Though not all the EP’s songs achieve this level of artistry, Evil Twin wholeheartedly speaks to Dunbar’s capacity to create music that follows listeners as a touching afterthought.

Dunbar has released one EP every year since age 15, each successfully capturing a different stage of his life. This year’s entry offers a wealth of stylistically impressive songs, portraying his evolution as an artist but still staying true to his past work. Evil Twin is a distinguished endeavor with sublime flair, and while Dunbar evidently possesses exceptional talent, he might want to consider letting his evil twin step into the spotlight more often.

Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].