In 2018, The Cut labeled the then-eighteen-year-old Gracie Abrams the “Lorde-Approved Instagram Songwriter.” When she released her first EP in 2019, each song had already been well-loved by Soundcloud and Instagram followers. Collaborations with Benny Blanco and Joel Little fleshed out her indie-pop catalog as she nurtured her fanbase with songwriting snippets throughout the pandemic.
The final jewel in Gracie’s Gen-Z crown was an opening slot on Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour Tour. Now, those Soundcloud-era tracks have tens of millions of streams, accumulated steadily over her young adult life. But they were just the stepping stones to Good Riddance, the project billed as Gracie’s debut album (2021’s This is What It Feels Like, labeled an EP, contains twelve tracks).
There’s a reason why Good Riddance is her most cohesive artistic statement to date. Much of Gracie’s previous music was produced by Blake Slatkin, her ex-partner of five years who recently won his first Grammy award for his production work on Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.” On Good Riddance, Gracie is not only concerned with freeing herself from the emotional attachment to her ex- she’s also determined to separate herself musically. Good Riddance describes an entangled relationship, but it sounds like Abrams on her own.
Gracie found her new musical partner in The National’s Aaron Dessner, who also has a co-writing credit on each track. Though she’s been known to write most of her music from her Los Angeles bedroom, the duo set up camp at The National’s Long Pond Studios in the Hudson Valley. The result of that focused, intimate collaboration is a project that feels lived-in and intimate. Gracie’s particular brand of confessional indie pop is delicate, melancholy, and reflective. It dwells on the what-ifs, takes meandering mental pathways to uncertain conclusions, and is unafraid of the unsettled. In short, she’s a perfect fit for the Dessner treatment.
In the tradition of the folklore universe and The National’s discography, Gracie immediately leans into self-blame, apology, and regret. “Best” kicks off the album with her simply admitting “I never was the best to you.” But the bulk of the project focuses on attachment and codependency, the gray areas between love and hatred. On “I should hate you,” she sings “pulled the knifе out my back, it was right where you left it/But you aimеd kinda perfect, I’ll give you the credit.” Even after recovering from betrayal, she can’t help but appreciate how well her ex understands her.
Where the energy falters, however, is when the demands of the music meet the boundaries of Gracie’s vocal performance. Her usual style takes cues from Billie Eilish and Lana del Rey- it’s whispery and gentle, pained and wavering. In songs like “I should hate you” or “Difficult” that require more force, she cracks. For some listeners, that strained quality might read as a sign of emotion. But it mostly reads as disappointing; Gracie’s voice struggles to support some of the strongest lyrical moments on the project, and she’s limited in the breadth of emotion she can express.
It goes to show that the songwriting is the cornerstone of Good Riddance, just as the lyrics have been the driving force of Gracie’s career. “Full machine” is the strongest example of her confessionalism becoming poetic: “I’m codependent, I’m trying not to be, but I’m better when you’re next to me … I’m a shameless caller, you’re a full machine.” She’s at her best when she blends her frankness with figurative language.
Gracie isn’t blind to glimmers of hope, though; “Amelie” and “The blue” both focus on the curiosity fear that comes with meeting someone new and intriguing. Gracie spends plenty of time playing back her old relationship, but isn’t afraid to linger on the promise of the unknown- or regret what never came to be.
Good Riddance is an album for overthinkers and over-feelers. It’s less concerned with storytelling than it is emotion. On the “Bloodbuzz Ohio”-style track “Difficult,” Gracie admits that the “miserable…spiraling” is just as difficult for those around her as it is for her to experience. That kind of self-awareness is the saving grace of the album.
This state of constant unsettlement might be difficult for some listeners to sit in, but for Gracie, it can be the time she feels most like herself. On the closing track “Right now,” she admits that moments of uncertainty and transition are life-giving for her (“I’m so high but can’t look down, I left my past life on the ground”). It’s not a joyful song by any means, but it gives greater significance to the songs that came before it. Her internal world seems to be an endless fountain of songwriting fodder, and Good Riddance is a strong debut for a promising young confessionalist.
Good Riddance is out now.
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