Mike Shinoda - Post Traumatic (Review)

Martin_Canine
MIKE SHINODA
Post Traumatic
★★★★1/2

The suicide of Chester Bennington in July 2017 left the music world in shock. I think this is common knowledge to most people who don’t live under a rock. Much like Nirvana’s grunge revolution gave a voice to teens of the Generation X, Linkin Park’s genre-bending nu metal was the definitive sound of the Millennials (although, at least over here, they instantly received much acclaim among adult music fans as well). I made this comparison for years, long before the group’s lead singer shared his fate with Kurt Cobain, and I will still continue using it, because both bands captured the sorrows and zeitgeist of a generation through music that appealed to people beyond any age. The two musicians died from an illness: depression. It’s something very serious that many people still shrug off light heartedly. It can be a deadly disease, and in any case always makes the victim suffer unspeakable pain.

Mike Shinoda wasn’t only Bennington’s band mate and closest collaborator (the two were the main writers for Linkin Park), he was also a personal friend, and his loss can be heard throughout his solo album, and especially in the first couple of tracks. In Over Again, he reflects: “It was a month since he passed, maybe less / And no one knew what to do, we were such a mess / We were texting, we were calling, we were checking in / We said we ought to play a show in honor of our friend / Well now that show's finally here, it's tonight / Supposed to go to the bowl, get on stage, dim the lights / With our friends and our family, in his name, celebrate / There's no way that I'll be ready to get back up on that stage”. He also deals with his own frustration on the song: “All the sudden you hear what I've said a hundred ways before? /I been pushed, I been trapped /Drug myself through hell and back / And fallen flat and had the balls to start it all again from scratch”. He’s right. Angsty music became such a popular thing that we forgot to listen closely to what the artists actually say. And a reason why Shinoda and Bennington could craft sich gripping music together is that they have been in some really dark places, but it was not until the latter’s death that people realized how authentic their songs were.

No, Post Traumatic isn’t a positive record, although it sounds more melancholic and meditative than disturbed, as the title might suggest. Shinoda takes his time to get all the dark thoughts and feelings off his chest. Next to sadness, this also means anger, disappointment and distress dominate the lyrical content of the album. But sometimes explaining rational emotions isn’t enough to fully capture all of the uncomfortable, twisted mess that builds up inside, as can be heard in the paradoxical Nothing Makes Sense Anymore, a song in which every line feels unsettling and surreal.

The musical direction of Post Traumatic is one that draws from various subgenres of rock, hip hop and electronica. While artists like Post Malone and XXXTentacion made commercially successful music these days that work beyond the traditional idea of styles, the case is different with Mike Shinoda. While their work is essentially genreless and can’t be clearly put into a distinct segment of the music landscape, Shinoda’s songs have distinctive influences and traits from different genres, and tie them together like a massive and perfectly harmonic mashup. It’s Shinoda’s most interesting and gripping work since Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight. Running From the Shadows evolves from a genre typical angsty hip hop track towards a hard industrial rock tune. Promises I Can’t Keep is a piano ballad with poppy drum kits… and dubstep wobbles. And the closing song Can’t Hear You Now could be straight out of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo... at least before the powerful rock chorus kicks in. One of the best hooks this year has to offer, by the way. In that sense, Post Traumatic is pleasantly old fashioned in its idea of crossing over styles, but without hiding from current trends - although it never aims for trap or cloud sounds (Shinoda’s singing also comes off as natural, not drenched in Autotune, and his rapping is more traditional and clearer than that of other trendsetters), it benefits much from how little convention modern music needs.

Maybe as a part of the catharsis that is the driving force of Post Traumatic, Mike Shinoda’s compositions and productions feel stronger than any of his previous works in the 2010s decade. Gone are drowsy, slow paced pop beats or techno music that’s just not hard hitting enough - just like the words, the notes, drums, synths and guitars cut deep. Very deep.

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