Had the events of the past twelve months not happened, this album might not even exist. Clearly the suicide of his Linkin Park bandmate Chester Bennington hit Mike Shinoda hard, further evidenced by the release of his Post Traumatic EP earlier this year, a rough, deeply flawed release, but one that felt like the most useful coping mechanism Shinoda had. It was that three-track release that led to the inadvertent recording of this debut full-length of the same name, an album whose incredibly personal nature puts it outside the realms of Shinoda’s hip-hop side project Fort Minor, and is a further projection of catharsis and coming out of his state of grief.
And going just from that initial pitch, Post Traumatic could be seen as the sort of album that it almost doesn’t seem fair to critique; the resonance and effect should only matter to Shinoda, and as long as he sees this as a suitable form of expression to cope with the loss of his friend, then that’s all that should matter. But when viewed in a wider context, things start to become complicated and the overall aims of Post Traumatic become muddied. And to get that full effect, it’s worth looking at this album alongside Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, essentially following the same path where Phil Elverum mourns the death of his wife with pin-drop intimacy and an execution that almost moves away from music entirely. With Post Traumatic it’s a bit different given its fall-and-rise arc, but it’s also a far more commercialised take on mourning; where Elverum had moments of quiet and exposed pain, Shinoda packs his album with guest vocalists and big, singalong choruses, diluting the potency and spreading an already sparsely-told story even thinner. Sure, there are significant details, like Shinoda’s frustration at Bennington being brought up at his six-year-old’s birthday party on Hold It Together, but a good chunk of this album reads like a potted summary of dealing with grief, easy to grasp and void of deeper writing that could’ve made this so much more of a gut-punch. It doesn’t help that the three EP tracks are tacked onto the start either, with the voicemails of Place To Start and the genuine, curdling angst of Over Again setting a bar that only ever really gets skirted around, as essentially the same themes are stretched out for over half of these sixteen tracks.
It also doesn’t help that, from a purely musical level, Post Traumatic just isn’t that good. Even if the crashing, heavy beats are meant to signify the trials that have plagued Shinoda over the last year, tracks like Crossing A Line and Make It Up As I Go just feel lumbering and awkward as they plod along over omnipresent beds of colourless, formless synths. There are tracks here that honestly sound demo quality, and given how polished and inflated they’re ultimately intended to be, any further intentions of an off-the-cuff relay of emotion feels completely empty. And yet, with the deep synths and smoldering, buried guitars on Lift Off that are accompanied by Chino Moreno’s achingly powerful chorus, Post Traumatic reveals its one moment of utter excellence that could’ve really been built on more; even Machine Gun Kelly sounds fairly decent on his verse.
But this only highlights Post Traumatic’s biggest and most prevalent problem, that being no way of using all of its resources effectively. It’s overweight and heavy in a way that circumvents any portentous nature that was supposed to be there, and is rarely built on in the writing, but it’s the vocals that impress the least. Shinoda really isn’t that great of a singer and only marginally better as a rapper (though simply going off a track like I.O.U there’s not much discernible evidence for that), but with a wasted collection of guest stars that could’ve been an invaluable boon, it ends up falling all the further. Moreno and MGK both sound genuinely excellent on Lift Off, but K.Flay brings nothing to Make It Up As I Go, and blackbear and grandson are barely noticeable on About You and Running From My Shadow respectively.
It all results in a complete mess, an album that clearly has heart and genuine emotion at its core, but becomes so bogged down with everything else that any impact is slashed down considerably. And that feels terrible to say given the emotional turmoil that Shinoda has been through, but he could’ve easily found a way to execute it in a less heavy-handed way, and the fact that he didn’t reflects greatly on the overall quality. It might be worth a look to see the fruits of an awful year for its creator, but Post Traumatic falls short in almost every possible regard; the comparisons to A Crow Looked At Me can definitely be made, but when considering what the two offer, this isn’t even close to the same level.
For fans of: Linkin Park, Twenty One Pilots, blackbear
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Post Traumatic’ by Mike Shinoda is out now on Warner Bros. Records.