On his Polyvinyl debut Born Hot, Chris Farren opens with a question he’ll spend much of the album trying to answer: Why do I feel out of place in my own outer space? Telegraphing his inner narrative with a childlike candor, the Florida-born artist lays bare his most intense anxieties and—in the very same breath—documents the mildly soul-crushing minutiae of everyday life: the strange indecency of blasting AC/DC bangers through an iPhone speaker, the inexplicable bleakness of a Starbucks franchise tucked inside a Target. But with his irrepressible sense of humor and utter lack of self-seriousness, Farren defuses the pain of even the deepest insecurity, gracefully paving the way for pure pop catharsis. On Born Hot Farren fully embodies the sensitive-goofball dichotomy found in all his work, especially his exuberant live show: a solo performance in which he plays to live-recorded backing tracks while projecting purposely wacky visuals (his own face duplicated thousands of times, text that reads “ANOTHER PERFECT SET” at the end of each closing song). By the same token, Farren went full-on tongue-in-cheek in choosing Born Hot’s title and cover art—a crudely drawn self-portrait that captures him lounging shirtless, looking every bit the ’70s-pop Lothario. “In my lyrics there’s so much self-examination that teeters on self-loathing, and I like to juxtapose that with an aesthetic that’s completely the opposite,” says Farren. “It’s a defense mechanism, because I feel embarrassed talking about my feelings so very plainly, but at the same time I also just find the idea of having that much self-confidence really funny.” In the making of Born Hot, Farren recorded in his L.A. apartment and worked entirely on his own, embedding his inventive take on classic power-pop with flashes of folk and punk and ’50s doo-wop. On “Love Theme from ‘Born Hot,’” he slips into a sunny synth-pop reverie, bringing bouncy rhythms and radiant synth tones to a heart-on-sleeve message of romantic determination. “I wrote that when two different couples in my life were splitting up, and I felt kind of rattled but also so lucky to have my wife,” says Farren. Moodier and more darkly charged, “Search 4 Me” reveals his struggle to live in the present, articulating his anxiety in pieces of fragile poetry (e.g., “And you glared at me so loudly that I burst into confetti”). And on “Surrender,” Born Hot turns exquisitely melancholy as Farren details the specific hurt of a sudden friendship breakup. “I was friends with their ex, and they told me it was too painful to stay friends with me,” Farren recalls. “‘Surrender’ is about that feeling of wanting to respect someone’s wishes, but also missing that person and just wishing you could talk to them again.” Elsewhere on Born Hot, Farren shifts from exacting introspection to more outward reflection, exploring life-changing matters like the recent death of his father-in-law and his wife’s experience of the ensuing grief. In each moment on the album, he instills his lyrics with the resolute sincerity he’s embraced since immersing himself in songwriting at the age of 17. Originally from Naples, Farren formed his first band when he was 18, later teaming up with songwriter/musician Jeff Rosenstock to co-found the indie-rock duo Antarctigo Vespucci. In 2016 he made his solo debut with an album called Can’t Die, and soon began dreaming up the outrageous spectacle of his live set. “I love being able to entertain in that way,” says Farren. “It’s one of the rare times when I feel confident, just completely in the groove.” Despite the fleeting nature of that confidence, Farren’s music ultimately nudges the listener toward greater self-acceptance—or, at the very least, a more pronounced patience with their own messy feelings. “When I was younger I wanted people to listen to my music and think I was good at making music—now I couldn’t care less about that,” he says. “I just want people to feel good, like they’re understood or less alone, because that’s what the music I love does for me. I want people to come away feeling like, ‘Oh good—I’m not the only one who feels like this.’”
Yet there is an undeniable sadness to certain tracks as well as a heavy focus on death and mortality, like on “Until I Can See The Light,” which was partly inspired by the death of Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels amongst other friends that have passed recently. It’s about “how weird it is that they’re gone,” explains Farren. “You don’t get to talk to them anymore.”
Chris Farren is one of those names that is always on the tip of your tongue. Though he’s played in popular bands Fake Problems and Antarctigo Vespucci — and he’s become well-known for his inventive merch, including his take on the classic The Smiths shirt — Farren is still working on breaking out in the large world of singer-songwriters. After experimenting and honing his solo work on a few memorable EPs and a Christmas album called Like A Gift From God or Whatever, Farren is ready to become known for his own unique approach, on his own terms.
At the end of the day, Can’t Die is a record that is wholly reflective of Chris Farren’s new sound. It’s not Fake Problems or Antarctigo Vespucci but instead it’s a sound that is entirely his: resonating indie-pop that captures all of the weird little anxieties of being in your twenties and realizing that you can’t control everything around you. Can’t Die adds some lightness to that, resulting in a record that makes listeners happy while also recognizing that it’s OK to be sad sometimes, too.