On his full-length debut, 2020's Kid Krow, YouTuber turned pop auteur Conan Gray offers a coming-of-age album that showcases his knack for turning melancholy feelings of loneliness into buoyant pop confections. The album, which follows his equally compelling 2018 EP, Sunset Season, finds him expanding upon his intimate, indie pop sound with a wider production palette that marries confessional lyrics to dance grooves and subtle electronic flourishes. Helping Gray is producer Daniel Nigro, who previously worked with such artists as Sky Ferreira, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Freya Ridings. While Gray's music is aimed at the teen and early twentysomething audience who grew up watching his vlog posts online, he is no lightweight presence here, incisively addressing issues of heartbreak, drug and alcohol abuse, and discovering one's sexual identity with a thoughtfulness that never feels callous or exploitative. Even the most sugary, dance-oriented songs -- like "Checkmate," in which Gray calls out his gaslighting lover for lying and playing games -- pack a truthful emotional wallop. Similarly engaging are hooky cuts like "Comfort Crowd," "Maniac," and "Wish You Were Sober," tracks that surprisingly straddle the line between the hooky pop of Death Cab for Cutie and the mainstream anthems of Taylor Swift. One of the aspects that makes Gray's songs so compelling is his candid point of view. This is especially true on the more low-key, acoustic songs like "Heather," where he details a poignantly unrequited love between a boy and another boy who is dating a girl. Similarly, on "The Story," he addresses teenage isolation and the difficulty some young people can have making emotional connections. He sings, "And when I was younger, I knew a boy and a boy/Best friends with each other, but always wished they were more/'Cause they loved one other, but never discovered/'Cause they were too afraid." Later, he offers hope, singing "Oh, and I'm afraid that's just the way the world works/But I think that it could work for you and me." Ultimately, Kid Krow is charming and relatable for the same reasons Gray's videos earned thousands of fans, presenting him as a talented, thoughtful kid just trying to navigate the slings and arrows of young adulthood. Even at Gray's most yearning and emotionally wrought moments, he's got the charisma to get you singing along.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar