Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

On CHAOS NOW*, the limitless Jean Dawson stagnates in the groove of his zany musical habits


Release date: 07 October 2022
Jean Dawson - CHAOS NOW* - Album Artwork
07 October 2022, 10:15 Written by Kyle Kohner

The allure of Jean Dawson's music rests in the comfort of being uncomfortable.

He can do everything, from punk and folk to noise pop and territory as weird and extreme as industrial. It's not always pretty, but the results are usually showstopping and calamitous. This was charismatically the case on debut PIXEL BATH and is so yet again on CHAOS NOW* — but to messier and far less surprising results.

A weirdo's weirdo and punk among punks, Dawson communicates what it means and what it could look like to embrace your inner-outsider, whether by his words or mere aesthetic. However, on CHAOS NOW*, I'm often left waiting for that sentiment to manifest in full musically, by subverting genre conventions with a foot unflinchingly pressed on the proverbial gas pedal of experimentalism.

PIXEL BATH was an intoxicating, extraterrestrial mishmash of style that hinted at what could be, which was acceptable, for it was the first time we'd heard Dawson in album mode. Unfortunately, CHAOS NOW* is not the genre-eliminating record that he had declared it to be and that many had hoped for. Rather, it adopts the same scraped-together, playlist-emulating approach with little-to-no push to be even weirder. There's no denying almost every song on the album thrills with abrasive immediacy. '0-HEROS*,' for example, drills to the core with post-grunge brooding and a sticky pop-punk chorus. The same is true with the futuristic freak-folk that follows in "SCREW FACE*." These moments feel fleeting set against the all-too-familiar rest of the record, where it's evident that his foot is only hovering over the brake of experimental vision, yielding to derivative renderings of established sounds and palatable song structures.

Genre-blending, or even the erasure of it, is the draw of Dawson's music. But as he comes to us with his second record, genre is neither blended nor erased. This may very well be his earnest intention, and yet, more sonic hopscotch is what we get. He once again proves capable of entering each musical realm that interests him with inspiring boldness. Unfortunately, his execution often comes across as exaggerations of these various sounds.

The uber-infectious pop-punk angst of "SICK OF IT*" is as shameless as anything derived from the genre's heyday in the early 2000s; however, Dawson's interpretive exaggeration is even more apparent on something as uncharacteristically pastoral as "PIRATE RADIO*." The rootsy number certainly stands out within CHAOS NOW*, but there's no denying that it's a hyperbolic rendering of folk itself, coming across as if he was trying to capture its broad essence for someone who has never heard folk music before. "PIRATE RADIO*" is still a gorgeous number in the spirit of Bon Iver, but it could've used a far more imaginative instrumental to background Dawson's soulful vocal performance and touching depictions of rebirth and solitude.

If Dawson wants to eliminate the concept of genre from his music, patch-working them as identifiable parts within a single song may not be the most compelling route – and it doesn't help that his music, especially within this record, primarily embraces simple pop structures to begin with. Simply, Dawson has a formulaic songwriting approach. PIXEL BATH hinted at it, and CHAOS NOW* establishes it.

There's no denying it works — he's a pop artist in the best kind of way and shouldn't try to reconcile that for anyone. So if you can buy into CHAOS NOW* upon these mere expectations, then what you'll experience is one of the most thrilling pop records of the entire year. But, if you're hoping for the experimental and unclassifiable record he has been leading up to, you may be slightly disappointed. My biggest gripe with his latest record is not from lack of enjoyment; it's Dawson falling short of evolving beyond what he has already offered. The 'what if' factor looms large on CHAOS NOW*, but not to the detriment of enjoying the thrilling outsider pop music that Dawson provides both in his overarching messaging and unsteady sound.

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