We here at Altwire don’t really talk about ourselves much when we post articles on this site. It’s an interesting thought because when we write anything which we deem worthy of posting, really we’re just giving an insight into how we perceive other artist’s work. In a way this gives a sort of inadvertent perspective as to who we are as writers. We critique this work based on how it makes us feel, the tone in which it speaks to us and its message is all according to our interpretation. A vital component to any credible writer is the ability to separate your work from your biases and any pre-conceived notions. It’s a difficult skill particularly when what you’re writing about has indirectly been a part of your life for over half of your existence.
So where am I going with this? First off, Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park was the first ever album I ever owned. I was eleven years old and really had no palette for musical taste yet. My brother had turned me on to Hip-Hop artists like Jay-Z, Eminem, Tupac and Wu-Tang Clan which he would let me listen to. Yet I had no frame of reference for what sort of music was for me. So when a school friend showed me bands like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and other bands who incorporated both Hip-Hop and Rock elements, the bridge between my tastes in genres had been built. I soon found myself hanging out with kids at my school who listened to Rock, Punk and Metal. Kids who emulated their favorite artists in style and look. One friend dressed exactly like Travis Barker and had a mohawk as such and played the drums. Another had hair exactly like Jack White and spent their days covering White Stripes songs on their guitar. Me? I wanted to be Mike Shinoda. Yes, I had Spikey blue hair and black fingernails. Yes, I routinely ‘rapped’ verses of In The End.
When I found out yesterday that Mike Shinoda was releasing music under his own name, it occurred to me that as the individual responsible for the review I would have to put aside my personal feelings and be ready to deliver criticism. This is despite the fact that there was obviously going to be a ton of emotions attached to these songs that some way or another I was going to have to separate myself from. This is after all an EP titled Post Traumatic written in the months following the tragic suicide of Shinoda’s band mate Chester Bennington – the event which is the primary focus and inspiration for this release. I am pleased and slightly relieved to say that Post Traumatic provides a great example of how to channel human experience into a creative force.
The first of the three tracks is Place To Start. The shortest of the three songs, this track captures the barrage of uncertainty Shinoda has faced over the past six months. It is when you listen to the questions asked in this track you begin to understand the depth of his loss. Chester was not just his friend but his colleague whose talent and charisma were vital to the success of Linkin Park and acted as a focal point for the bands endeavors. When such an enigmatic force is taken away, you find yourself in total limbo with seemingly no idea how to begin to move forward. You can hear the draining nature of these questions in Shinoda’s vocals which are sung over a sombre minimalistic production. As the track progresses his vocals increase in tempo to a rap before slowing back down again almost to convey a conflict of mind sets. The track concludes with the repeated sentence “I don’t want to know the end, all I want is a place to start” suggesting the refusal to concede that this is the end of the journey but frustration at not knowing how to continue. This is followed by audio recordings of messages of condolences and well wishes left on Shinoda’s phone, a very tasteful tribute to the outpouring of support during such a horrendous time.
Over Again touches upon the wearisome nature of having to say goodbye to someone whilst living in the public eye. One gets a taste of the burden Shinoda felt trying to keep a sound mind whilst shouldering a weight of responsibility to the fan base he had helped build up over twenty years. The principle subject in this track is the Linkin Park and Friends Show which took place this past October at the Hollywood Bowl. It is a clear reflection of having to suppress so many feelings for the sake of the show and being professional. Musically the song is very much in the alternative hip-hop style akin to Twenty One Pilots. The verses bring a welcome return to the rapping which for the most part was absent from Linkin Park’s most recent effort One More Light. The second verse in particular is worth mentioning for the level of aggression that Shinoda, until now has seldom shown. He goes all out with his disdain for the environment he finds himself and embraces that anger as the track builds in intensity: “And everybody that I talk to is like, wow must be really hard to figure out what to do now. Well thank you genius you think it’ll be a challenge, only my life’s work hanging in the fucking balance!”
The EP concludes with Watching As I Fall, a track which really leaves the listener wanting more than just three tracks as Shinoda broadcasts his immense talent through wonderful production work and superb tongue-in-cheek lyricism. It’s a bass heavy track with a great beat to accompany, and the use of a whammy pedal in the bridge is well-placed and gives the track an extra dimension. Lyrically it is a middle finger in the face of anyone who dare write off an artist with such a catalogue of tools ready to use as ammunition. This is a pissed-off and cynical Mike Shinoda with a chip on his shoulder. His flow in this song is unlike anything else he’s done previously and shows that after all these years and after all the adversity he has faced, criticism fair or not, he’s still got a desire to prove doubters wrong. It’s an exciting look in to a potential direction Linkin Park could go.
In many ways I’m still coming to terms with the fact that the lead singer of the band who essentially introduced me to alternative music took his own life six months ago. I can’t begin to imagine what his family, friends and band mates went through and continue to go through. So I don’t. I don’t assume anything because everyone grieves in different ways. I do believe Post Traumatic was a part of Mike Shinoda’s grieving process. I also believe that’s ultimately why he chose to release it under his own name and not under the Linkin Park or Fort Minor banner. This was his journey. An outlet for that pent up raw emotion that you feel when dealing with a loss of such magnitude. The sadness, the anger, the confusion…it’s all there on these tracks. It’s his way of coping with the trauma of losing a loved one. He’s truly wearing his heart on his sleeve which in turn has produced some of the best tracks in his career. The production is magnificent throughout. Each hook feels fresh and natural and nothing feels labored other than where that is the intention. The one and only drawback for this EP is its incredibly short length. I would have liked to have heard at least a few more tracks, but really I don’t feel much disappointment from that at all. The release of the EP was almost a total surprise, so really just hearing new music from an incredibly talented artist is good enough for me. It’s a good example of how adversity can ultimately be a valuable source of inspiration. When you combine that with the tools at his disposal, the sky really is the limit for Mike Shinoda. While there are indications that Linkin Park will continue, you can be sure that whatever happens he will be creating art of a very high quality.
I’ve been listening to this EP over and over since it came out. It’s so cathartic. I’m grateful Mike Shinoda shares this with us. He said he had more tracks in the making so let’s hope we’ll hear more.