Rising superstar Gus Dapperton told Highsnobiety earlier this year that his debut album “is for the good people,” but is it good enough to match their expectations? Following the release of two well-received EPs and a few viral videos on YouTube too, there’s a lot of pressure for him to deliver here thanks to the young star’s extremely devoted and ever-growing fan base.
From his bedroom in upstate New York, Dapperton has written, produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered his way into the hearts of teenagers everywhere, selling out an entire US tour already on the strength of his name alone. Such feats are becoming less rare now that young music fans are more willing than ever to look outside the charts in search of their latest role models, but even so, there’s something rather special about this particular pop prodigy and the connection he’s cultivated with his fans.
Alongside fellow Gen-Z stars like Billie Eilish, Gus Dapperton is ushering in a new era of music where manufactured artists are being sidelined in favor of a more relatable aesthetic. With his kitsch fashion sense and that trademark bowl cut, the 22-year-old star speaks to younger generations in a way that most chart-toppers can’t these days, winning them over with a homemade authenticity that can be felt in the music too.
Just last week, Dapperton explained in a magazine interview how he treats each aspect of art equally, putting “100%” into the visuals and music alike. Concern that such claims might not be true for the image-conscious artist are fortunately dispelled upon a first listen of Where Polly People Go To Read. Arranged in the chronological order it was written, Dapperton’s debut is a woozy, dream-like take on falling in and out of love.
Given that the young New Yorker micro-manages almost every aspect of his music, it should come as no surprise that the album as a whole feels deeply personal. Coping with heartbreak in the solitary confines of your bedroom is a universal, gut-wrenching experience, but Dapperton’s music doesn’t deal with such extremes face on. Instead, the soundscapes crafted here are far more ethereal, capturing the nuances of a relationship at almost every stage, from blissful joy to mournful nostalgia.
Using a Roland TR-626 drum machine that he bought off eBay, Dapperton drifts through a range of genres here through his own unique filter, brushing past soft rock, dancey synths and euphoric R&B without ever clinging to one directly. The result is intoxicating, pushing his sound into new realms beyond what we’ve heard on previous releases.
Tapping into this growth directly, the album opens with a song called “Verdagris,” which reflects on the gap between childhood and adolescence. Lyrics about ice cream and war bounce alongside each other, capturing the awkwardness of the teenage experience and what it’s like to live in flux. Dapperton’s playful take on uncertainty continues in “World Class Cinema,” one of the album’s standout singles, but this time he delivers the occasional line with a guttural force that sets him apart from similar artists like Troye Sivan.
Just as some of the songs threaten to blend into one admittedly gorgeous sounding haze, these growls immediately jar the listener in the best way possible, snapping you out of the soothing trance that Dapperton’s voice can incite. Idiosyncratic lyrics also add an extra dimension to the album, most notably in titles like “Coax & Botany” and the opening verse of “Eyes for Ellis”: “A thin sequella come amicable/ A pinch won’t dwell about the brittle-boned.”
Verbose lines like this occasionally verge on the excessive, but it’s easy to forgive Dapperton when the accompanying hook sounds so good. Alongside the single “My Favourite Fish,” “Eyes for Ellis” shows off Dapperton’s voice at its most hypnotic, and a surprise tempo change halfway through reminds us how he’s willing to play around with convention in his music as well as his image. If there’s any justice, this anthem will find a home on plenty of summer playlists in the coming months, cementing Gus as one to watch.
Of course, there’s still room for growth and improvement. Dapperton’s clumsy explanation of the album’s title to us earlier this year reveals an artist who’s still in the midst of defining his sound, and it remains to be seen whether the record can draw in listeners beyond his growing legion of fans. Despite this though, the young star’s debut ultimately lives up to the hype and then some, especially for “the good people” who have waited patiently to see Gus deliver something on this scale over the past few years.