Review: Griffin Oskar’s happy accident pays off

Debut EP from Portland producer-turned-popstar is strong, good and upsettingly short.

 

It’s a tale as old as the pop music tradition itself: a fresh-faced 21-year-old dreams of making it big in the industry, eventually taking the big gamble and leaving their old life and hometown (in this case, Portland, Oregon) behind to make it happen. For Griffin Oskar, however, he felt his calling lay behind the mixing desk rather than on the stage, initially hoping to become a producer and writer as opposed to the more traditionally coveted popstar.

In fact, it was only when a song he put out under the exotic-sounding pseudonym Småland (taken from his father’s hometown), Hostage, was remixed by prominent Swedish producer Danrell that he began to take the possibility of stepping out from behind the console seriously; the reworked track went on to garner over seven million Spotify plays and became something of a surprise hit.

His first official EP opens with, and is named after, the aforementioned Hostage. Upon listening, it’s not hard to see why. Backed by a slow, pulsing beat and huge-sounding backing vocals, the song expertly treads the line between lazy swagger and festival-ready gusto – but the nice surprise about this release is that the other tracks are so equally strong it manages to resist being buried by the weight of its lead single.

Never Loved Me, for example, features a prickly, vulnerable lyric that in another life could have fit in one of Adele’s weariest weep-fests, yet somehow the fact it’s actually backed by a hooky piece of three chord electro-pop – with shades of Maroon 5 – makes the song even more effective and endearing. The more down-to-earth, everyman anthem Head Above Water, meanwhile, melds piano chords with tropical house flourishes to giddying effect. The pace slows back down with closing, gospel-tinged ballad Bulletproof, with the minimal instrumentation showcasing Oskar’s soulful voice, and the impressive versatility his writing contains for such a young artist.

Hostage’s genesis may have been something of a happy accident, but if this all-too-short release is anything to go by, let’s hope there’s more of them to come in future.

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