The Canadian artist grapples with love behind the screen through a grand, genre-bending soundscape.
Virtual meetings, online classes, and those slightly uncomfortable zoom happy hours – we all got a little more familiar with the internet this past year.
Yet it’s still a mystery, no matter how much time we’ve spent behind the screen. The internet is an endless pit of data and discourse, difficult to grasp on its own but infinitely more complex when discussed in a broader social context. We’ve already seen some of the short-term implications, but what does it mean for us moving forward? What does it mean for our language, for our politics? Perhaps most importantly, what does the internet mean for our relationships?
Canadian artist BAD CHILD grapples with the possibilities on his debut album Free Trial. The record examines our current methods of connection through the lens of cynicism and a genre-bending soundscape. Melding electronic elements with hard-rock instrumentals and hints of trap and dubstep, BAD CHILD explores the intricacies of human emotion in an age where our interactions are becoming increasingly artificial.
Free Trial is, in essence, a concept record, tracking a romantic endeavor from its conception to the later phases. It’s strung together by a series of voiceovers that take the listener through the different stages of a relationship. The AI acts as a guide to the progressing feelings, but the sentiments feel forced. Free Trial is like an instruction manual on intimacy, a how-to on how to feel. “You are now deeply in love,” the AI insists before launching into the sugary synthesizer groove “Candy” featuring Ryan Chambers, which landed a spot on the To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You soundtrack. It’s as if the invisible hand is pushing you along with your partner, telling you how to feel and what to say to make it last forever.
But therein lies the commentary of the record. These relationships forming online – romantic, platonic, or otherwise – can feel facetious. In a world where we’re starting to skip steps, where serendipity is substituted by a setup, our endeavors aren’t as natural as they once were. BAD CHILD has taken these observations about our changing times and turned it into a sonic exploration of the formula that seems to persist.
“I started writing Free Trial as a reaction to how I saw people using each other in love and in business, especially online. Almost as if they were Free Trials. I felt a coldness and disconnect from those around me after the trauma I had experienced. This album to a degree was the beginning of my journey trying to understand myself. It’s neurotic and childish in some ways and extremely adult and empty in others,” he said.
To an extent, the album is, as BAD CHILD described, neurotic and childish. It’s dripping in sarcasm on “Pretty Girls” and drenched in toxic desire on “Breathing Fire” and single “$1,000,000.” By the time he demands “give me something else!” on “HI DEF,” the sense of exasperation is impossible to ignore – he’s grown exhausted.
But the cynicism of the first half gives way to a much more somber back end. When the beat switches midway through “Mannequin,” it’s clear the record has turned a corner. The following tracks are darker, at the same time disillusioned and desperate for real connection. Instances of smaller instrumentation, like piano-driven ballads and plucky clean guitars, take hold on some tracks, but the brash soundscapes that have come to characterize BAD CHILD’s sound are still present. Reverb-soaked guitars thrash while percussive effects crash, a heavy subwoofer or synth bass underscoring it all. Closer “Payback” sees the artist through the last chorus, pouring every ounce of emotion into the album’s final moments.
Five years in the making, Free Trial feels BAD CHILD’s official introduction. It’s a sampling of different sounds, with everything from EDM to alt-rock to modern indie-pop present in some capacity, and it boasts an impressive emotional range as well. Starting off with guarded pessimism that eventually gives way to the sincere desire to be wanted, BAD CHILD works his way through the bitter realities of a world that’s growing apart. But for all of disappointment Free Trial harbors in its thesis, the album itself – a display of monumental musicianship and thoughtful commentary on modern times – isn’t a disappointment in the slightest.
Check out Free Trial below!