Like a lot of us, blackbear spent the early days of pandemic life holed up inside, battling the overpowering depths of anxiety and isolation. However, unlike many of us, the multi-platinum singer, songwriter emerged from last year’s quarantine with two new projects: his fifth studio album “everything means nothing” and his newest EP ‘misery lake’. Calling on raw honesty and experience, ‘misery lake’ came about as a well-performed testament that showcases just how much he has grown as an individual and an artist. This project was conducted to encapsulate the feelings of loneliness and longing of 2020 in the melancholy yet addictive way that only blackbear can do. Demonstrating the ups and downs of the previous year, ‘misery lake’ delivers a sharp perspective that emphasises this artist’s willingness to being open with his fans.
First up on the tracklist is, “alone in a room full of people”, a great introductory track that embodies exactly what this compilation is about. It’s a simple yet catchy melody that you can’t help but sway along to, yet despite its minimalism, it’s a clever structure that sets the tone for this project. Explicitly having told the press that his aim was to portray this unending limbo of feelings he experienced for himself, this song just makes even more sense. The past year has been an experience of imbalance and blackbear told Grammy that this project is about how “you can feel happy, and you can feel horrible all at the same time”. The opening track is a blissful melody paired with melancholy lyrics that, while appearing misleading, are pure genius. The lyricism is the song’s highpoint, the melody not taking away from the opening sentiment; “Thought you were my friends/ But we only hurt each other in the end”. It’s a sad reality being alone in a room full of people, but this track permeates the project with the emotional and physical turmoil a lot of us went through.
However, “@ my worst” immediately exceeds expectations with an unfolding adventure that makes this classic blackbear. The song starts with a strong piano arrangement that comes and goes quickly but makes a reappearance in the pre-chorus with a distinctive hip-hop rhythm. Accompanied with his catchy vocal melody, lyrics like “Maybe I’m the best mistake you ever made”, discuss relationships as blackbear wonders if his partner will still love him if he’s not everything she might have anticipated. Though, the best part of this song is that it executes a brilliant strategy that only the greatest of artists employ. The structure of the verses shifts and give us the impression that the verse and chorus are two different songs. This effectively prevents predictability thus giving him a captivating edge and all these elements combined are what makes this my top track of the EP.
Then, with the perfect blend of nostalgic synths, “u love u” featuring rising artist Tate McRae, paints a picture of being in a relationship with a person who loves themselves so much that it’s lonely. As the song that kicked off the “Misery Lake” era, it’s an infectious pop ballad that features blackbear’s signature blend of honest lyrics and edgy pop production. McRae was a good choice for this collaboration as she adds a lot of sonic depth to the track with her top vocals. Immediately, it translates into a heartbroken hit that you play repeatedly.
Nonetheless, finding high-calibre collaborators has never been a problem for blackbear. Whether the collab with for production or a feature, blackbear teamed up with artists like Travis Barker, Charlie Puth, Benny Blanco and Sasha Sloan. Unlike those artists more comfortable staying within a small group, blackbear is constantly keeping an eye out for potential collaborations. He has openly told various interviewers that his dream collabs would be Ariana Grande and BTS. When the youngest BTS member, Jungkook, covered the song ‘smile again’ from blackbear’s fifth studio album, the singer gushed to Grammy that “I keep sending songs for BTS to cut. That’s all I want”. As an avid listener to both these incredible artists, I can do nothing but pray the right song comes along for these two to work together.
Although, with “ghost town”, he knew that the missing piece was a female vocalist on the chorus. So, when producer Andrew Goldstein suggested branded sad girl Sasha Sloan, they knew it was a perfect fit, telling Billboard that she “just made the song”. However, what I particularly picked up with this track was that the sample of the synth that underlines Sloan’s vocals sounded very similar to the tune of “dirty laundry” featured on blackbear’s first studio album “deadroses”. The reference is cleverly conducted for fans that would notice it just for added emphasis on how far blackbear has come since he began in the music industry.
Continually following this pattern of an unrelenting limbo of juxtaposing feelings, “imu” featuring Blink 182’s Travis Barker, is musically upbeat but lyrically woeful. Adding even more coordinating varieties to the tracklist, the song starts off with the chorus that is sweetly underlined with an acoustic guitar before the post-chorus kicks in seamlessly. It’s dull when songs have the same structure repeatedly, which is one of the reasons blackbear is an all-time favourite artist of mine just from his variety in form and structure. Plus, his ability to flow between genres is something that not a lot of artists can do, experimenting with his genre’s something blackbear is unafraid of. Though, despite the melodic difference, I can always tell when blackbear is in a song, even if it’s not his own. He has such an unmatched vocal depth that makes him distinguishable in seconds. It’s often a commanding tone that there’s no mistaking he’s tryna to get a message across.
To conclude this project, “bad day” was the most endearing track for an outro as it features blackbear’s son Midnight, who celebrated his first birthday in January. Revealed in the same interview with Grammy, blackbear explained that he just heard his son downstairs and recorded an audio note that wasn’t autotuned at all – “he sang a perfect A major”. Not everyone would put their toddler’s voice over a track that blatantly sings “I hope you have a bad day”, but it fits the vibe so well. Despite the EP’s focus on the lows, he ends it with the ultimate high: fatherhood. The conclusion is that he’s in a place now where he’s unbothered by the less important moments now. As the upbeat electric guitar and collection of synthesized percussion pairs nicely with the amusingly angry lyrics, the instrumental break is cued with Midnight’s cry. The scale has slightly tipped on the ending limbo.
Overall, blackbear is truly in top form with this project and it shines through. He’s someone who deeply cares about his work, fans and his family, this making ‘misery lake’ even more fantastic. As another artist who has brilliantly conquered self-isolation and turned it into self-preservation, I would recommend taking a moment to hear the product of blackbear’s own quarantine.