'Post Traumatic' is the sound of a man being honest & raw while publicly grieving the loss of a close friend.
I didn't bother writing a "traditional" review of Mike Shinoda's debut solo album, 'Post Traumatic' (released on June 15th) this month for two reasons. One: I am far too biased in my love for Linkin Park as a longtime fan, especially given that I cried like a baby the day that word of Chester Bennington's death broke. And two: because I don't feel comfortable slapping a rating on a record such as this. We've covered other albums inspired by or written around similar losses before, but in this case, such a format didn't seem fitting.
Because Jesus Christ, 'Post Traumatic' is one heavy listen. Not musically, however. In that regard it's a nice blend of polished pop undertones, subtle rock elements and a strong hip-hop/rap cornerstone. But emotionally and personally, it's a brutal listening experience. (Beyond this record's summation of pain, things hit harder knowing that Linkin Park drummer Rob Bourbon, bassist Dave Farrell, sampler/programmer Joe Hahn, and guitarist Brad Delson would be hurting just as much throughout this whole period too).
'Post Traumatic' is perhaps one of the highest profile cases of late of an artist using their music to try and find some sort of closure. As it seriously doesn't get much more realer than this with Mike Shinoda's new solo album. For this is the rawest that the Linkin Park producer/guitarist/keyboardist and Fort Minor mastermind has ever been in his music. And given the circumstances around this release, it needed to be; he needed to be.
[caption id="attachment_1103008" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Mike Shinoda, 2018. [/caption]
The first thing to come from the multi-faced musician in terms of solo material was actually the piano-led 'Looking For An Answer', debuted at the band's Hollywood Bowl tribute show back in October 2017. During this live-streamed event from L.A. - one that was watched by millions and saw guests from A Day To Remember, Blink-182, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Sum 41, and Bring Me The Horizon help Linkin Park perform new and old songs - 'Looking For An Answer' tries to make sense of the nonsensical. Seeing Mike heartbreakingly wishing Chester all the best wherever the singer is now, hoping there's "sunshine where you are, the way there was when you were here". I'm not an overly spiritual person and I'm not religious in the slightest but that line brought a tear to my eye, man.
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Beyond that incredibly emotive piece, this new full-length record was given a three-track preview earlier in 2018. Dubbed the 'Post Traumatic' EP, released just six months after Chester's death last July, the EP contained this album's first three songs. To state the obvious, these were written by Mike as a way to cope with the loss of his close friend and dear bandmate; expressing what he'd dealt with since Chester's passing. At the time, he commented on stepping outside the box as a solo artist, as well as this EP's creation and writing process, saying that:
“The past six months have been a rollercoaster. Amidst the chaos, I’ve started to feel an intense gratitude--for your tributes and messages of support, for the career you have allowed me to have, and for the simple opportunity to create. Today, I'm sharing three songs I wrote and produced, with visuals that I filmed, painted, and edited myself. At its core, grief is a personal, intimate experience. As such, this is not Linkin Park, nor is it Fort Minor--it's just me. Art has always been the place I go when I need to sort through the complexity and confusion of the road ahead. I don’t know where this path goes, but I’m grateful I get to share it with you."
Composed and produced by Mike, this is a love letter to Chester but also an attempt to release inner-pain. At least, temporarily. It may not be your favourite release from a Linkin Park member based off the songs alone, but you cannot knock it back for a lack of emotion, honesty, or heart. 'Post Traumatic' probably won't win any Grammy's or score perfect scores from publications. And it's a record that may not even be in my AOTY list despite being so moving, but I guarantee such things are the last thing on Mike's mind. This is absolutely grief embodied; an important record for any LP fan and, of course, for the rapper himself who's shared something immensely personal with the world about his own personal and professional insecurities. This is solely for him.
Yet as Mike once explained to Kerrang!, the path back to writing and recording new music by himself wasn't at all an easy one to walk, saying that he wasn't even sure if the material being written would ever see the light of day.
“A week after Chester passed, the idea of the studio was scary. And it wasn't just the idea of attempting to make a song and being overwhelmed by those memories. There's another layer of fear for artists in this situation that is, 'What if I can't make anything good [without that person]?' Those hurdles start to accumulate, whether that's fear or depression or the chaos of the outside world, it creates an echo chamber of anxiety. That was one of the things for me, I needed to make some stuff - whether it was usable or not didn’t matter. I was making bad '90s grunge songs, making bad rap songs... and then I made something good. I'd make all these things with no intention of putting them out, but just diving into some of the ideas that were already in my head."
[caption id="attachment_1103007" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Along with recording, composing, & producing this debut solo album, Mike also did the painting & art direction that serves as the final cover for 'Post Traumatic'.[/caption]
Right out of the gate, the album places a lump in your throat. As opener 'Place To Start' - a left over track from the 'One More Light' sessions - ends with recorded voice messages from Mike's phone of friends sending him condolences following Chester's death. Despite the ambient sounds and soft effects, and Linkin Park drummer Rob Bourdon's percussion, this is a dark track; all centered on Mike just trying to find a starting place to begin the rest of this difficult creative, venting process.
On second track, 'Over Again', we see Mike at perhaps the most honest he's ever been in his entire career, talking about how much of a mess the band were in last year and their preparations for Chester's tribute show. And this song has some awfully tough lyrics to hear, to say the least. Not because they're delivered badly, because the pitch is off, or because the flow is weak, but due to the sheer weight of his words. The first of which arriving in the song's first verse with:
"There's no way that I'll be ready to get back up on that stage/Can't remember if I've cancelled any show/But I think about what I'm supposed to do and I don't know/Cause I think about not doing it the same way as before/And it makes me wanna puke my fucking guts out on the floor"
And the second core lyrical section being this particular part from the next verse:
"How do you feel, how you doing, how'd the show go? Am I insane to say the truth is that I don’t know My body aches head's spinning this is all wrong I almost lost it in middle of a couple songs And everybody that I talk to is like, “wow Must be really hard to figure 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".
It hits me every time I listen, as it's fuckin' heavy stuff, with Mike not dodging any questions or pulling any punches. Something that's indicative of the rest of the record too. Even the music video for 'Over Again' is up close and personal too, with it being phone camera footage of Mike singing along at his home studio The Stockroom in L.A. where much of this album was recorded and pieced together. (The clip for 'Place To Start' is also done in a similar fashion too).
If you know Linkin Park's creation process, then you'll know Mike is constantly writing and working. That work ethic gets brought up on 'Watching As I Fall' and how the world is watching himself and LP battle such recent hardships, with some even wishing ill upon them in their darkest hour. In the Genius lyrical annotations of this song's chorus, Mike himself states poignantly that a "devastating wildfire creates space for new growth. I never would have chosen this path, but it’s the only one I’ve got, so I’ve got no choice but to see where it leads".
The rest of the album is just as cathartic a listen as it bloody well gets. This isn't clean, this isn't easy, and it's not full of rock or trap bangers nor pop bops. It's just a man's hard grieving process placed directly into his music; devoid of anyone else's influence other than a few close peers aiding him with the writing. And the titles of these 16 songs tell you exactly what you're in for.
'Hold It Together' is just that; Mike speaking openly over melodic licks and Darren King's glossy beats about how his strength or lack thereof; in trying to keep it all together for his friends and family. The swelling synths and vocal harmonies of 'Nothing Makes Sense Anymore' spell out clearly that in the wake of Chester's death, world has been thrown into a backwards spiral ("my insides out, my upsides down, my black is white"). 'About You' addresses both Mike's grief and anxiety on how to handle such a loss on such a public scale. But also how it always comes back around to Chester, with everyone wanting to know what was happening with him and the rest of Linkin Park, with the band unsure of that themselves. (I can't imagine the hell that would be doing press and having every single interviewer ask you what you thought of your best friend's death and your response to it).
Perhaps more to do with his own personal beliefs, the moody boom-bap rap arrangement on 'Ghosts' show softer sides to Mike like everything else on 'Post Traumatic'. I don't think that the harder hip-hop beats and aggressive vocal tone of 'Running From My Shadow' needs much of an explanation, but the idea of running in circles and futility isn't lost given recent events in Mike's life. Featuring guest vocals from the always-wonderful K.Flay and some huge bass synths, 'Make It Up As I Go' additionally pulls back the curtain about the uncertainly of Mike's career lately. That he's, as the song name suggests, literally making it up as he goes along; merely taking it one step at a time, day by day.
Machine Gun Kelly and Deftones frontman Chino Moreno lend their respective vocal talents on the atmospheric 'Lift Off'. It's a well-written song where we see MGK take a "top-shit/rap king" shtick and morph it into one of respect by talking about remembering where you came from when shit gets hard, with Moreno gifting a beautifully ethereal vibe with his stellar singing to truly lift you off the ground. (Much like the most dynamic parts from Deftones' 'Koi No Yokan'). It's touching stuff, more so to see close friends of Mike's coming together to help in this record's making. Which sums up much of 'Post Traumatic' too.
Fellow writer and media friends of mine who've met or spoken with Mike speak highly of his positive energy and eager attitude. So listening to this record and seeing this deeper, honest side, all under far less happier circumstances, is a little hard to swallow. Yet it's endearing all the same. For from the uncertainty of 'Place To Start' ("tired of feeling like every next step's hopeless") to the looser feel and intimacy of 'Can't Hear You Now', there's clear growth outlined through the journey of these 16 tracks - in small steps.
Just as Mike himself puts it:
"The album is not all dark, it actually starts dark and goes to someplace brighter; it starts claustrophobic and it goes to someplace more open. I don't think that this journey ends with the end of the album, I think it keeps going from there, but at least at this point, these 16 songs are the progress I've made so far."
In fact, I think there isn't really a "start" or an "end" here; more that this record's just meant to come all out at once. To finally put pen to paper and just leave it all out there in a conscious stream of thought as you grapple with things in the now. To some out there, that may feel unfinished or untidy in terms of a full-length album, but to me it just feels human.
Sadly, I feel that a lot of Fort Minor and Linkin Park fans won't listen to 'Post Traumatic' or give it the time of day. Just as it's not rock, not nu-metal nor experimental like many other compositions and album's that Mike's been apart of over the years. Which is a terrible shame. For if you've at any point cared about the music Linkin Park or Mike himself made or were apart of, then you owe it to them and yourselves to listen to this new solo record and give it a chance. If nothing else, do it for Chester's memory.
'Post Traumatic' is out now. Stream it below: