Identity crisis is natural for artists - some would consider it a rite of passage for those hoping to make meaningful art. On his sophomore LP BAD SON, alt-star Curtis Waters works through more of an identity conflict than a crisis. Across the album’s 14 tracks, the Nepali-Canadian singer expresses his struggles of trying to consolidate his clashing personas as an immigrant and an aspiring entertainer, along with the politics involved in both. This conflict materializes itself in the two characters who color the album, The Himbo and The Jester, the two at times overlapping or overtaking one another spontaneously. Even in the abundance of identities populating BAD SON, there’s an inescapable void within Waters that is signified by the echo of his voice throughout the album, with lyrics often reverberating in this vacuum.
Amidst his identity conflict, Waters thoughtfully considers his place in the universe, with the answer usually dependent on which persona, The Himbo or The Jester, is dominant at that given moment: “Got tired of being sad / Had to go chase a bag / Got me a platinum plaque,” he parades on “HIMBO”, his vibrant and bouncy personality starkly contrasted with deep-rooted existentialism on tracks “MANIC MAN” and “DEATH KEEPS CALLING MY NAME” alike. His insecurity takes over his material success on “BUNNY,” with Waters unable to enjoy the fruits of his labor due to the constant duelling of his impulses – he’s charismatic in his delivery but topically is too self-aware to accept any pleasures.
Waters sounds most self-assured when he has a partner to muse with. While he might sound more comfortable with another voice to sympathize with, it doesn’t offer any more stability in terms of his energy. TiaCorine indulges Waters on single “PETTY,” the two playing off each other to intoxicating results. The combined ego on track “RIOT” is at a 10, with guest chlothegod setting the tone with her kick-the-door-in entrance. It's hard to imagine a better introduction to vocalist LEARNING than on the track “BIRTHDAY,” their warm presence helping to steady Waters’ imbalance.
Too close, BAD SON descends into a somber stretch that captures the true ethos of the album. The emotional weight of “AMERICAN DREAM” is almost too much for Waters to sing through; he sounds like he’s on the verge of drowning and is screaming the lyrics through panic as his head fights to stay above water. As the track winds down, Waters includes a recording of his parents discussing their plans for the future in Nepali plays over ethereal synths. The crux of his identity conflict fully presents itself, as his inherited identity is directly inserted into his artistic project. To say you understand Waters more after listening to BAD SON is difficult, but you certainly can empathize more with an artist whose potential is caught squarely between his place in society and an industry.