Smile Politely

Review: Pentimento by Genaro Jr.

When I first sat down and listened to Genaro Jr.’s Pentimento I was immediately struck by how “stream of consciousness” the writing is. There’s a sense of urgency behind the writing, almost as if Jr.’s life is hanging in these words, and in a sense, it is. A sophomore at the University of Illinois, Genaro Jr. began making music his freshman year of high school and has since used it as a way to cope with his own personal struggles. A member of UIUC’s Hip Hop Collective, he dropped his solo album on July 21st.

Pentimento focuses on anxiety and mental health struggles, as well past mistakes and second chances. The album title itself, Pentimento, is an art term used when an artist covers up a part of a painting with a new layer of paint, whether that be a mistake or just a part of the artwork they don’t like anymore.

Image provided by Genaro Jr. 

Genaro Jr.’s use of the word pentimento to describe anxiety and guilt is really quite genius. Much like a pentimento, a person can try their best to hide or cover up their anxiety through various methods, but eventually, those anxieties will peak through and reveal themselves. There is really no getting rid of them, so the best we can do is to try live with them. This is what the album is all about.

The art theme is carried out through the entire album, with all but one of the songs being named after famous paintings – the exception being the opening track “Frida Kahlo,” obviously named after the painter herself. One of my favorite tracks on the album, it’s a grand opener, with a sweeping orchestral synth sample that carries through for 3/4s of the track before it transitions. It’s big, it’s bold, and full of personality.

Image provided by Genaro Jr. 

I think overall, the production on this album is pretty amazing. I absolutely love a lot of the samples on this record, as well as how lo-fi it feels in certain moments. Most of the time there’s enough happening to keep you intrigued – whether it’s through Jr.’s lyrics or samples, there’s a lot going on in a good way that never sounds too harsh on the ears.

However, with tracks like “American Gothic,” I felt like there was too much going on to the point where I felt a little disjointed. The vocal sample that comes in during the middle of the track just seemed to take away a bit from Jr.’s vocals underneath, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be focusing on. However, I found this to be one of my favorite tracks lyrically, with Jr. touching on cultural identity in America and growing up with a hispanic background, all the while watching Trump’s America unfold before him. It’s a really touching and devastating look into how these things play into one’s mental health and perception of the self.

Tracks like “The Uncertainty of the Poet” perfectly exemplify the theme of learning to live with imperfections and uncertainty, and doing the best we can with what we are given. The second to last stanza in the song is beautiful — “I found a place to live amongst my fellow misfits. I got love to give so I’m gonna give it, and when all this ends, because that’s the purpose, I’ll hope to have lifted some spirits, that’s my mission.” Jr. recognizes himself as a “misfit” but accepts it, and says that at the very least, I’m going to make some art out of this and hope that someone connects with it. If that happens, then I’m successful.

I really love this album. I love how experimental and unique the sound is, while at times harkening back to the greats like J Dilla, Madlib, or Tribe. It’s inspired and personal at the same time. From a technical perspective, I do wish there was a tad bit more low end to the record — perhaps a little more thump in the kick drum — as at times, the tracks felt a bit thin and compressed — but that’s just me being picky, and in no way takes away from what a great record this is.

As someone struggling with anxiety and self-image myself, I found a lot to relate to in this album, as well as many moments of hope. Even as I’m writing this out, I’m again thinking about the term “pentimento” and how it could have other meanings also. Though the artist might cover up a trait that they think is “ugly,” this trait could be a thing of beauty to someone else. Or, by the time that said pentimento reappears, we may have grown and healed and now recognize it as something necessary to our growth, and therefore beautiful. An incredibly strong first album, I look forward to hearing what else Genaro Jr. has up his sleeve. You can keep up with him on Instagram and TikTok. Check out the full album on Bandcamp below.

Favorite track: “Wheatfield with Crows.”

Top image provided by Genaro Jr. 

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