With less and less sonic diversity coming out of the contemporary indie/alternative pop landscape, “Pixel Bath” is one of the most refreshing takes on the genre that’s been heard in quite some time.
By Gavin Majeski
Throughout the entirety of 2020, Los Angeles based Jean Dawson dropped impressive single after single, culminating in the release of his sophomore LP. The singles “Bruiseboy,” “Power Freaks,” “Clear Bones,” “Starface*” and “Devilish” were fantastic appetizers for the full course meal that is “Pixel Bath.”
“Power Freaks,” “Clear Bones” and “Starface*” feature slow building openings that hit hard with punchy drums, skuzzy guitar chords and groovy bass lines. This, blended with Dawson’s gravely, more hip-hop oriented vocal delivery, and melodic hooks and choruses make for an unlikely yet complementary sound.
And while lyrically the album delves into personal topics such as Dawson’s upbringing, isolation and his relationship with police growing up as a minority, the brevity of cohesive storytelling on the majority of tracks is nothing to write home about. Cuts such as “Triple Double,” “Pegasus,” “Policia” and “Power Freaks” are all standouts for developing the three aforementioned themes, but that is the furthest extent of this lyrical thread.
The true selling point of “Pixel Bath” is the production. Dawson excels at taking the well known low-fi guitar and percussion aesthetics of alternative pop, and blending them with modern trap 808s, breakbeats and 80s style synths.
“Dummy,” “Starface*,” “Policia” and “Power Freaks” feature an excellent array of breakbeat drumming that is introduced over the choruses. “Shiner” sounds like the modern equivalent of an 80s slow jam you would dance to at prom, even though you wouldn’t think Dawson’s aggressive vocal delivery could complement the instrumental.
“06 Burst” is the one true banger on the record, delivering Dawson’s most visceral vocal performance in combination with a deconstructed club backdrop, stabbing synths, chopped vocal samples and a hilarious text to speech line of, “I don’t keep score, I keep scoring.”
While the diverse vocal range of Dawson can be quite impressive, the poor autotune on the interlude “Poster Child” feels like a B-side of Tyler, The Creator’s “Flower Boy” that should have never left the cutting room floor.
The closing track, “Pyrotechnics,” is the longest and most unbearable song on the album, with a run time of four-and-a-half minutes. The song features one of the whiniest vocal deliveries of 2020, with the repetitive line, “Watching earth explode” sounding as if Dawson was an elementary schooler struggling with incessant pre-puberty voice cracks.
Despite a few hiccups here and there, “Pixel Bath” is Dawson’s best work to date, with some of the most unique production coming from the indie/alternative pop realm.
Favorite Tracks: Devilish, Triple Double, Shiner, Dummy, Bruiseboy, Pegasus, 06 Burst, Starface*, Policia, Clear Bones, Power Freaks