Everyone knows pop icon Billie Eilish for her deep, electric, and introspective music. But do you know her brother– the producer and songwriter behind most of her biggest hits? On October 15, Finneas (O’Connell) released his debut album, Optimist, although he is no newbie to releasing his own music. The album follows the release of eighteen singles over the past five years, and a seven-song EP in 2019 titled Blood Harmony. I’ve long admired Finneas’ own music as underrated– not only for his deep, gentle singing voice and clever, brilliant lyrics, but his technical ability as a producer. His music often falls under the genre of alternative pop, pondering politics, the state of the world, and the interpersonal struggles that come with losing a friend, being in love, and achieving success. This album withstands a demarcation of Finneas as a writer or producer of someone else’s music and represents him as his own artist. He gets to express his own opinions and feelings freely in this music and that being said, I think it’s a good idea to listen to and reflect on this album and its most memorable lyrics.
- “A Concert Six Months From Now”
This album opener had been previously released as the first single “official” single from the album. I say “official” because another song featured on Optimist, “What They’ll Say About Us,” was released as a single in September of 2020, but several singles have been released since then that are not on the album. The song was written in 2017 but ended up reflecting a very 2021 experience of returning to in-person entertainment events. This song gives the line that is the genesis line to the album’s name: “I’ve already purchased two seats for their show, I guess I’m an optimist.” It is definitely one of my favorites on the album in the way that it tracks a tumultuous relationship that never seems to end because of a connection to a particular place/experience.
“I’ll go hungry and crazy and honest for you
I don’t always get angry but I’m promising to
if it’s all that you want then it’s all that I can do
Desire never made any sense”
- “The Kids Are All Dying”
This track is also one of my favorites! This track is generally a commentary on cancel culture. Finneas details the privilege of making music about his personal life when there are “real” issues in the world to be making music about. He also details that the internet audience will always have opinions on or can misunderstand everything he does. Near the end of the song, he acknowledges’ his privileges and that it’s impossible to do the absolute most for every issue at hand. I love the upbeat feel of this song, how it sort of carelessly bops around, which I think alludes to the concept of being canceled for being careless with what you put on the internet.
- “Happy Now?”
This track details the feeling of isolation and depression that can come from achieving success but still feeling unhappy. The topic has also been alluded to in Finneas’ second single from Blood Harmony, “I Lost a Friend.” This song talks about a falling out that he had with an old friend and the feeling he didn’t have the agency to be sad about it because he was so successful. In “Happy Now?”, Finneas writes a more playful approach to the subject by almost mocking his privileged lifestyle. Like with the previous track, I applaud Finneas’ ability to write about deeper issues but make the songs catchy and still fun to listen to.
“So take a drive around town in my douchebag car
Like the superstar that I pretend to be
Nothing feels better than buying loveWhen push comes to shove, I’m lonely”
- “Only A Lifetime”
This song is one of the slower, more serious tracks on the album. It touches on the importance of love and maintaining and growing your relationships in the limited time we have in our lives. Finneas also writes that a life without love isn’t worth living at all. Even though I think Finneas is a gifted technical producer, I tend to enjoy more his songs that are a little less produced and more stripped down to acoustic piano and guitar.
“It’s family and friends and that’s the truth
It’s staying up too late at night and laughing under kitchen lights
So hard, you start to cry”
- “The 90s”
This song is the second single on Optimist and is about Finneas’ second-hand nostalgia and memories associated with the 1990s and wanting to return to a world without the Internet. I’ll admit, I did not like it when it was released. As I previously mentioned, I do not really gravitate towards his more produced work, and the electronic break in the middle of this song kind of irritated me. However, once the rest of the album came out, and listening to this song was mixed in with listening to the rest of them, I found myself singing it to myself a lot and it began to grow on me.
- “Love Is Pain”
This song is about the price that comes with being in love and having loved ones. He writes about how pain and anxiety come with the feelings of loving someone and that if that is absent, it can’t really be considered love. I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite track on the album. I don’t know what it says about me that one of my other most favorite Finneas songs is “Break My Heart Again,” but I do enjoy his writing about profound heartbreak as a result of love.
“Say it’s not okay to feel that way
It’s real, you may not make her happy
So what’s wrong with me? If honestly
I wanna be the only way she can be”
- “Peaches Etude”
This song is an instrumental piano solo that is meant to be a theme song for Finneas’ dog named Peaches. I can’t say too much about this song for it being instrumental, but it sure is beautiful. Since an “étude” is a piece of music meant to practice technique, this track makes me wonder if Finneas is the pianist on the track, because if so, I had no idea that he had that level of technical piano skill.
- “Hurt Locker”
This song is about the feeling of craving anger and chaos and that lashing out can be a hard habit to break once you suffer the consequences of your actions. The title of this song references the 2008 film The Hurt Locker and specifically the line “A wide shot of the aisle of a grocery store, which refers to the main character struggling to return to civilian life after returning from war in Iraq.
“What’s a life without the consequences?
What’s a knife without the sharpened edges?”
This song is also a commentary on cancel culture, comparing it to a dated, less civilized society like that of medieval times. This is also one of my favorites on the album. It gives off the most Halloween vibes, for being released in October, with how mysterious and creepy it sounds, so much that I added it to my fall playlist. The chorus is also very catchy to me and I like how easily everything rhymes.
“I never said it would be any fun
You never should’ve trusted anyone
They’ll love you ’til they know you’re done
And then it’s off with his head”
- “Someone Else’s Star”
This song also touches on the theme of fame, specifically thrust into the spotlight at such a young age. Based on this indication, it’s been speculated that Finneas wrote this song about his younger sister Billie Eilish. The song details how she had to grow up very quickly to become so famous. I have to admit that even though this song is very pretty and has an important subject matter, it’s probably my least favorite on the album because of how easily foegttable it is. Or maybe it’s just less memorable than others.
- “Around My Neck”
Plain and simple– this song is about sex. There is no doubt. It’s an ode to his girlfriend Claudia and how he finds himself craving a physical connection with her when they’re away. The first time we got a song directly about Claudia was in 2019 with Finneas’ song titled with her name. While that song was more about his experience falling for her and being swept up in their relationship, he has clearly become more comfortable sharing the sensual and sexual side of their relationship with time. The song isn’t the most vulgar song out there but it’s definitely a lot so if you find that the lyrics make you flustered, simply get down to the smooth electronic beat of it all.
“I don’t rеmember how it started, but I think I’m prеtty sure I know how tonight will end”
- “What They’ll Say About Us”
As previously mentioned, this is the first unofficial single on the album, released in September 2020. This song was written as a dedication to Amanda Kloots, an actress, dancer, and TV personality whose husband, Nick Cordero, was hospitalized and died from COVID-19. Finneas had been following their story on social media the entirety of that summer and wrote the song mildly from her perspective singing to him in his ICU bed telling him about the state of the world and about their son, who was only 13 months old at the time of Nick’s death. This song hits so hard emotionally because of the context of the lyrics but it also features beautiful piano accompaniment.
“And if you don’t wake up
I’ll know you tried to
- “How It Ends”
This song also ties in with the theme of “Only A Lifetime” in the sense that it talks about the importance of living your life to the fullest and filling it with love. The song is one of the most dancy out of all the tracks on the album, mostly because it references dancing. But mostly because of its balance between rock and electronic pop influence. I thought it was interesting (and perhaps intentional) that he made the last track of the album a song called, “How It Ends.”
Overall, this album was such a hit for me. Although I’ve loved all the singles he’s released over the years, I was happy to get a whole bundle of new music at once. I really liked the personal touch of the songs on the album and the introspective style of his lyrics. He definitely wasn’t afraid to get experimental with the production either. I can’t wait to hear him sing all these songs at Irving Plaza on Nov. 16!