A Transcendent Reinvention | “I Been Young” by George Clanton


Matt Cruz, Media Librarian

George Clanton has been one of the internet’s true innovators for as long as the “terminally online” music scene has existed. Initially turning heads with the vaporwave moniker ESPRIT 空想 for his nostalgic use of self-production on 2014’s virtua.zip, Clanton has been slowly proving himself as a genuine auteur for a new era of musicians. Clanton has often been relegated to the vaporwave genre, but such a label hardly describes the depth of his musicianship. The synthpop/chillwave aesthetic of his duo Mirror Kisses allowed him to innovate on the genres with exciting new sounds that only he was privy to. Despite not releasing an album since 2013’s Heartbeats, Clanton ultimately continued the project’s sonic direction under his own name with 100% Electronica in 2015.

In 2018, Clanton released Slide to critical acclaim, largely considered by the musical underground to be a magnum opus of the chillwave and hypnagogic pop genres. From cuts like “Dumb,” “Livin’ Loose” and “You Lost Me There,” Clanton further cemented his own musical identity with an eclectic selection of whistles, deadstock synths and a sharp repertoire of 1990s music. These inclusions completely separated him from his peers, injecting once tired genres with a youthful, yet contrasting nostalgic vigor.

The inclusion of genres like trip hop, baggy and shoegaze into Slide made for a joyous listen through some of my personal favorite genres, and considering the stratospheric highs that he reached with his latest record, “I Been Young” shows that there’s quite a bit more height to be reached in finding the boundaries of his distinct sound.

Chalk it up to them misunderstanding what I said / 

Making up the rules to win a game inside my head /

Think I’m growin’ up but no (If I’m growin’) /

I’m just growing old.

“Hanging on to every grudge I think I need to hold /

Can’t remember who I’m even fighting anymore /

You’d think I’d know my way by now /

(But I’m lost and) Now I can’t be found.

Beneath his whispered, confident delivery is Clanton’s signature synth programming, beautifully contrasted by the dramatic hammer of a piano. The verse slithers around you like a snake, weaving in and out of each ear in a melodic hypnotism that takes control of your body. The baggy rhythm holds the atmosphere in place, marching alongside the slow burning atmosphere like a funky metronome.

With the jaunt of the piano chords, the track explodes, triggering a bellowing plume of sound. Wistful strings cut through the atmosphere alongside the sway of wah-wah guitar, introducing new limits to the melodic high and low end.

Clanton sings with emotive poise:

And I been wrong /

And I been young /

Wrong enough to say I’m sorry /

Owning up to things I can’t undo /

And I been young /

Growing up is never easy /

Can’t you see how life is blinding you?”

The wall of sound reverts, saving the highlights for the instrumental climax. Bongos supplant themselves for added rhythm beneath the drum pattern while piano roll is effortlessly keyed before the bridge:

Young enough to start a life and old enough to pack /

Waste a couple of years while I make my mind.

A fuse ignites; fireworks explode above: An incandescent rain of electric glitter falls from the sky.

And I been wrong /
And I been young.

The violins, rhythm, guitar and synth coalesce into a captivating symphony of noise. Clanton pleads with the subject, his words fading into the ether: “Growing up is never easy, can’t you see how life is blinding you?” Whether he was heard or not, we’ll never know.

Clanton is correct — growing up is never easy. Continuing to grow with your art is even harder. But as shown with “I Been Young,” growth can be a beautiful, sublime thing.

Thanks for the memories, Impact. Here’s to the future.