Charley James graduated from high school and self-released an electropop EP in one fell swoop this summer. The EP, titled Baby We’re Optimists, Remember?, dropped on June 29. Its themes are familiar to any high school student, especially those who are slated to move to college in the fall: he sings about youth, first loves, and the existential dread of major life change overtop of smooth synthy backup music.
James’s EP begins sweet; he croons about a hopeful love in both the title track and “Because She Loves You.” The former is edgy, with low synth and skipping percussion, but a female backup singer adds an interesting implied second perspective to the story, even if it’s impossible to tell what she’s singing.
The second song is dreamier, with fuzzy synth melodies, and it contains perhaps one of the sweetest lyrics I’ve heard: “our bowl is a good bowl/and if it ever cracks, and it will/we’ll repair it with gold.” James is referring to Kintsugi, the Japanese tradition of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and dusting it with gold or silver to celebrate each object’s uniquely fractured history–just as he does with his relationship with this lover.
From there, though, the anxiety and existential thoughts begin to creep in; in “Dreams In Grayscale”, James sings, “cotton candy ain’t as good as it used to be/cotton candy is just too sweet,” alluding to the loss of childhood magic. It’s a slow ballad, and the chirping electric piano melodies contrast nicely with his low, sweet vocals and the surprise saxophone solo near the end. “Unfinished Song #34” does sound, in fact, finished, but it’s about losing inspiration. There’s an impressive rap thrown into the middle, and although it’s unexpected, the addition feels natural.
The EP wraps up with “Jungian Protégés”, a track with jarringly-autotuned vocals–a fitting choice for a track about dreaming of idyllic domestic life and a world that isn’t so bad that James would “feel like a monster for bringing into it a new child one day.”
As Charley James is also fresh out of high school and headed to college, I have a soft spot in my heart for the content in his songs. Aside from my own change-related existential dread, though–I have less than two weeks left until I move in and the nerves are palpable–the music is solidly polished electropop, and although it is short, its five tracks definitely deserve at least one listen.