Conan Gray wears his heart on his sleeve. In 2020, his authentic, angsty debut album Kid Krow soared across the indie-pop landscape, with tracks such as the anguished “Heather” and the darkly magnetic “Maniac” ascending to viral TikTok status.
On his aptly named sophomore studio album Superache, the 23-year-old trades youthful bitterness for nuanced vulnerability as he lays bare his lovelorn soul. Though at times conceptually unvaried, Superache captures an introspective, coming-of-age iridescence that further solidifies Gray’s position as a skillful chronicler of the complicated Gen Z experience.
Released June 24, Superache immerses listeners in a tender and exposed familiarity that one would associate with the musings scrawled in a private diary. Through tremulous whispers and crescendoing exclamations, Gray breathes life into frustrated reflections on relationships, insecurities and past trauma. Each of the record’s 12 tracks forms its own intimate journal entry addressed to a unique figure in Gray’s personal life — an unrequited lover, a best friend, a family member.
Situated as Superache’s opening track, “Movies” remains true to its title, an acoustic ballad that adopts a wistful cinematic quality through reverberating harmonies and a shattering guitar accompaniment. The song encapsulates Gray’s matured, if not increasingly convoluted, position on love: a hopeless romantic gradually losing hope in romance. Initially, he idealizes, “In my head, we kiss under the stars.” But, glamorized fantasy disintegrates into harsh reality as Gray admits, “We know that’s not what we’re doing/ ‘Causе, baby, this ain’t like the movies.”
Gray continues to amplify the agonizing lows of love with evocative lyrical symbolism and meticulously crafted metaphors, carefully revealing the depths of his bittersweet sorrow. Part dejected, part sentimental, “Footnote” sees the artist so devoted to his crush that he’ll settle to exist as an outlier, a marginal annotation — even after facing multiple counts of rejection.
Similarly figurative in nature, lead single “Astronomy” tracks the course of two estranged companions whose ill-fated relationship is likened to that of dying, misaligned stars. As his gentle vocals skyrocket into his trademark piercing cries during the song’s bridge, Gray laments, “As much as it seems like you own my heart/ It’s astronomy, we’re two worlds apart.” Celestial and transcendent in both its lyricism and musicality, “Astronomy” is one of Gray’s most stellar ventures to date.
Admittedly, Superache is not without its sore spots. One can only ruminate on unreciprocated affection and heartbreak so many times in the span of 40 minutes before melancholia dissolves into monotony. Despite resonant vocal performances in “Yours,” a song about one-sided love, and the record’s closer “The Exit,” which details a significant other moving on from a relationship, frequently trite lyrics force both tracks into the record’s background.
Further, the pulsating, panicked “Disaster” and languid “Best Friend” similarly underwhelm as pop mediocrity when compared to the stripped-down balladry that dominates Superache’s track list.
The record’s eighth song, “Family Line,” however, presents itself as the most profoundly touching antidote to this tedium. A strikingly personal ode to generational trauma, childhood abuse and Gray’s anxieties, “Family Line” lacks veiled references to the singer-songwriter’s painful youth, instead directly unearthing his innermost emotional tempest. Weathering his father’s fury and his mother’s inaction, Gray thoughtfully examines the ways in which past instability has irrevocably altered the way that he perceives himself and his relationships.
In the second verse of “Family Line,” Gray candidly confesses, “I can’t forget, I can’t forgive you/ ‘Cause now I’m scared that everyone I love will leave me.” With every word, his tone becomes more vehement, swelling with simultaneous fear and strength — a raw yet tenacious forcefulness that is carried through the rest of the track.
Despite a tendency toward thematic repetition, Gray transforms Superache into a work teeming with full-bodied, all-consuming emotions. While he might be the one crooning of heartache, audiences will be the ones hurting after listening to this album.
Contact Anne Vertin at [email protected].