Pop used to be so easy, y’know? It was so one-dimensional, so formulaic. Sure, the formula changed over the years, but most artists would stay in their lanes. Crossovers were rare, as were artists who spanned multiple genres throughout different albums.
Nowadays, I wonder if the term “Pop” is itself a step away from obsolescence. If indeed Pop has one foot in the grave, then that can be partially thanks to the artists who decided that they weren’t going to worry about the neat, tidy boxes that the industry prepared for them. The young artists today are making music, plain and simple. It’s taking a bit for this ol’ codger to get used to, but slow and steady is winning the race – and some new, rad music is awaiting just over the finish line.
For example: Mikael Temrowski, better known by his stage name of Quinn XCII (or Quinn 92, if you’re also allergic to Roman numerals like I apparently am), and his latest release, Change of Scenery II.
(Before I continue, I wanted to say that I have been viewing a TON of Twitch streams over the last year or so, put on by a TON of talented people. None are more talented than the amazing DJKaterTot, who mentioned this artist – and several others! – to me in the first place. Do yourselves a favor and go check out her Twitch streams at https://www.twitch.tv/djkatertot. You’ll get your fill of great conversation, rampant shenanigans, and super-positive vibes, both from her and her fantastic community.)
Quinn XCII is the perfect archetype of a young, successful artist in today’s musical landscape. Quinn started writing and recording in college, and cut his teeth uploading videos of him rapping on YouTube. The beats sampled from other artists eventually evolved into his own, and before long he was blowing up. His first release, the EP Old Fashioned, dropped in 2012; three more EPs followed, leading to inking a deal with Columbia and putting out four full-lengths, culminating with March 2021’s Change of Scenery II.
It’s a much different vehicle than it used to be, in the sense that an artist putting out their “debut” album could have several releases already available on Spotify. There’s a lot to respect with the DIY-ness of today’s artists making their own luck, instead of hoping that a label exec happens to pick them out of the sea of artists to fast-track to the top. Whether you love or hate the music, the hustle is undeniable.
For Quinn XCII, that hustle has led to a refinement of his distinct sound. Change of Scenery II puts forth a mature, polished sound, more than his previous releases. It’s almost as if he took the best parts of 2019’s From Michigan With Love, married that up with the best parts of 2020’s A Letter to My Younger Self, and called it a day. Childhood friend and longtime producer Alex O’Neill, AKA Ayokay, is a large part of the success of the album; the production is crisp and tight, without crossing the line into sameness and boredom.
The lyrics center mainly around love and relationships. I feel that there’s typically such a skew toward the negative parts of relationships in music, but there is a definite highlight of both the sad (“Hey, Goodbye”) and the happy (“My Wife & 2 Dogs) on this album. There are also a few social and political references peppered in, adding an interesting accent to some of the tracks. For instance, in the closing track “Look How Far We Come”:
Watch the stars in Cambridge / ‘Cause you’re way too smart for Boston College
You’re alumni / And my dad wants to know about his gun rights
That’s a conversation never done right / That’s enough conversation for this one night”
Besides “My Wife & 2 Dogs”, which might have the catchiest beat on the whole album, another great track is “SOS”, which gives off vibes of The Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” – albeit an upgrade. There’s enough variety to keep these tracks fresh, and Quinn’s solid vocal delivery help to tie it all together on every track. There were a few featured artists, including the aforementioned producer, Ayokey, as well as Chelsea Cutler, but I personally didn’t think they added much. This is the Quinn XCII show, through and through.
I admit that I have usually given a pass to the newer crop of artists over the past couple of years, with few exceptions. But I’m definitely gonna try to broaden my musical horizons, with Quinn XCII’s Change of Scenery II being a perfect jumping-off point. Maybe I’ll be completely on-board by time Change of Scenery III drops, whenever that might be.