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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Review: Conan Gray’s ‘Found Heaven’ presents harmonious fusion of nostalgia and emotion

Gray released his third studio album, which captures the lasting impact of past relationships.

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On April 5, Conan Gray unveiled his third studio album, “Found Heaven.” Co-produced by Max Martin (Taylor Swift’s “1989”), Greg Kurstin (Adele’s “25”) and Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color”), the album contains 13 reminiscent and multifaceted tracks. Gray has been a prominent figure in the music industry since his breakthrough in 2017, when he released his debut single “Idle Town” — which received millions of views on YouTube within months of its release. Since then, Gray has captivated audiences worldwide with his candid and introspective songwriting, which captures the nuances of young adulthood with a rare sincerity. As Gray continues to carve his path in the music world, “Found Heaven” serves as a testament to his growth and artistic prowess.

Gray rose to fame for his stripped-down, indie-pop style. His third album, however, deviates from that established sound. Filled with echoing percussion, bursts of energy and bright synths, the album opens with a choir singing.

In interviews for magazines such as New Musical Express and Rolling Stone, Gray expressed surprise at reaching his third album, a “milestone” that he had not expected to reach when he was writing his first album. While he said he views his first two albums, “Kid Krow” and “Superache,” as similar in style, he wanted “Found Heaven” to stray from that pattern entirely. 

“My first two albums, I think [of] as siblings,” Gray said. “They very much are the natural repetition of each other. But [with] this album, I just wanted to do the last thing that I would have thought I would do.”

Gray added that the album was crafted with a heightened emotional intensity, evident in the track list’s dramatic composition and delivery. In the midst of his first breakup and its ensuing whirlwind of emotions, Gray said he underwent a significant emotional transformation while creating the album. He said he experienced a distinct emotional state during the creation period, prompting him to seek a title that encapsulates the unique blend of feelings he was experiencing.

“It was about my first time falling in love but also my first breakup and about all these crazy emotions all around it,” he said in NME. “I felt really different when I was making the album, so I wanted a title that encapsulated a little bit of death.”

Gray merges eras to express his message. The artist grew up listening to music from the 1980s, such as A-Ha, Cutting Crew and David Bowie, while also experiencing various aspects of the digital-native cohort — from his career beginnings as a YouTube vlogger to the distinctly modern brand of whisperpop that characterized his first two records. Throughout his career, he has consistently empathized with his peers by exploring dramatic themes of unrequited love and adolescent struggles, capturing the essence of life for young people in the 21st century. Gray’s fusion of influences from previous generations yields a unique expression of contemporary adolescence.

Real highs emerge through Gray’s interpretation of the decade. “Alley Rose,” a theatrical heartache ballad, is the record’s clear standout: rich in melodramatic strings, it sees Gray wandering the London streets where he got broken up with — a crucial detail, given the British accent he occasionally adopts throughout the song. Examples of maximalist pop perfection like “Never Ending Song” and “Fainted Love” are only enhanced by Gray’s modern outlook. In songs like “Forever with Me” and “The Eye of the Night,” Gray beautifully articulates the sorrow of losing a love dear to him. Despite the ache of separation conveyed through his heartfelt lyrics and emotive melodies, there’s an acknowledgment that the memories he once shared with his lover will forever hold a place in his heart. These tracks serve as reminders of the enduring impact of past relationships, encapsulating both the pain of loss and the solace found in cherished memories. The one change in tone is “Bourgeoisieses,” in which Gray takes a break from dwelling on heartache to poke fun at a rich upper class, painting himself as a “low-class guy” with a Gatsby-esque urge to party among them.

In the album’s music videos, Gray also incorporates choreographed routines inspired by the vibrant styles of the 1980s — an element that distinguishes this album from Gray’s previous endeavors. Gray said delving into dance on a serious level was a novel experience for him. While the choreography for “Never Ending Song” was outsourced from choreographer Max Pham — a standout from the inaugural season of “Dance 100” —  Gray took a hands-on approach to other songs, collaborating with Pham to craft the movements for “Lonely Dancers.” Gray’s choreographic endeavors exude a sense of authenticity; his dances successfully capture the intimate essence of dancing alone in your bedroom, which reflects the lyrics in his album.

Amid popular music that can often feel like it comes from a distant reality, Gray evokes an intimate and everyday atmosphere. In the music video for “Never Ending Song,” the artist draws inspiration from a trip he took to Tesco, a grocery store he describes as a “magical place,” with a former lover. The ambiance of a grocery store, a commonplace and almost mundane setting, becomes the perfect backdrop to explore the moments shared between the former flames. Gray’s choice lends the video an air of authenticity and closeness, as Gray invites us to witness the complexities of human relationships in an environment as simple as a market.

Through his new album, Gray invites us to join him in his simultaneous ode to the past and embrace of new experiences. Gray’s appreciation for the music of his youth is evident throughout the album. In an interview with NME, Gray said if his listeners take one thing away from “Found Heaven,” he hopes it is the realization that there is no rush to discover and define oneself. It’s okay not to have all the answers and to embrace the multifaceted nature of identity. “Found Heaven” encourages us to celebrate our complexity, reminding us that we don’t have to conform to societal expectations of knowing exactly who we are. Rather, we can be many things at once — a sentiment that resonates deeply in today’s label-focused world.

Rating: ★★★★★