Jean Dawson – Pixel Bath, Album Review

We revisit the sophomore LP from one of indie's most exciting voices.

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Jean Dawson embodies what it means to be an artist in the digital era. The 24-year-old innovator isn’t afraid to play with genre, treating each influence as a tool for constructing his world. On Pixel Bath, Dawson experiments with 90’s grunge, 2000’s indie guitar riffs, screamable pop-punk energy, hip-hop drum breaks, and transcendent electronic keys to create an unbelievably unique look at his own hyperactive imagination. And that’s just on the A-side.  

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Right from the jump, Pixel Bath sounds like running full speed into a mosh pit. On “Devilish,” Dawson confronts masculinity and crooked authoritarian perspectives. “Monster in that room, better watch the suit / Better watch your step, bumping in the night”. He challenges these preconceived ideas by imagining a future that veers away from these traditional power structures. It’s also a rare moment where the pre-chorus is just as memorable and catchy as the chorus. 

Jean continues to challenge authority on “Policia,” a bilingual track released at the height of the social justice protests in the summer of 2020. Dawson sings about the effects of police brutality throughout the track, culminating with the chorus “F*ck every single police / Dicen que me quieren muerto / Pero nunca tengo miedo”. Across the thirteen tracks on Pixel Bath, Jean Dawson stares down his demons – both mental and physical – with unwavering resolve. “Starface*” is a blissful, life-affirming anthem with a real scene of rage accompanying strong themes of youth, innocence, and evil.

The fast-paced rock energy on “Pegasus” transitions with a bone-chilling beat switch into a chopped and screwed outro. However, the underwhelming chorus here makes the song feel like a generic outsider anthem. “06 Burst” sees Dawson once again playing with a sort of unnatural cohesion in his production. He incorporates more sporadic elements for its unpredictable shifts. “Watch your mouth when you speak to me / I’m the new black history,” he raps over an industrial Yeezus-type groove. Jean isn’t the first artist to mix genres, but his ability to blend so seamlessly comes more naturally than most. Whether a fan of rap or rock – or any subgenre stemming from them – when the goal is to destroy the computer, it doesn’t matter who brings the bat or pulls the plug.

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Throughout the thirty-nine-minute journey of Pixel Bath, Dawson continuously edits his vocals with a variety of effects, giving the illusion that this one-man band is an entire collective. The project comes to an apocalyptic conclusion on “Pyrotechnics” as Dawson finds harmony in the cacophonous. He channels Frank Ocean-esque vocals over heavenly, atmospheric production to paint a surreal picture of “watching Earth explode.” This intimate meditation heightens the beauty and complexity of these visions of hope and decay seen throughout the project. Dawson isn’t afraid of what comes next as the future becomes the present. The closing remarks find a robotic text-to-speech tool reciting:

“It’s all beautiful. Hell on Earth. Heaven in mind / Diamonds become sand. The sun explodes / It’s all beautiful.”

Jean Dawson truly offers something for everyone on Pixel Bath. Dawson achieves a level of unprecedented sonic versatility with mostly purposeful lyrics that shine through to achieve true unbound creativity. Pixel Bath is a new-age classic for the digital era. And one of the most impressive and cohesive projects of 2020.

If I’m nit-picking for fault in Pixel Bath, I’d acknowledge that even the gnarliest rollercoasters become less exciting with time. Regardless, please allow Jean to take you on one hell of a ride.

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The words above were penned in late October 2020, with minor revisions. This album reached me at a difficult time in my life – emotions were constantly on ten as hope slowly burned towards E. When I first heard Pixel Bath, it felt refreshing and fearless, capturing a sense of controlled chaos in a manic world of our own creation. It gifted me a revitalized perspective and a much-needed sense of purpose. I revisit this album a year and a half later from a slightly less-biased POV with my heart no longer glued to my sleeve. Still, it’s amazing how some art transfixes us, even years removed from those initial emotions and settings that captured your soul. For me, this album is a time machine. There’s no numerical value for that. Jean, if you’re reading this, Thank You.

Sonic Diversity
Occasional Lazy Songwriting

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