By Doug Lane
Zachisatourist. Who is he? Where did he come from? Where is he going? Is his spacebar broken? Why does he bear such a striking resemblance to the lead keyboardist from Michael Barrow & the Tourists and the guy from that Pokemon love song video? In his latest release, The Graduate, Zachisatourist explores many deep, explorative questions that bear no resemblance whatsoever to the first half of this paragraph. Instead, Zachisatourist brings us on a poppy, synth-driven exploration of doubt and self-criticism.
As a recent graduate from BYU, Zachisatourist (I think he legally changed his name to that, so I’m going to keep using it in full) faces the realization that the milestones of graduation, marriage, parenthood, and viral internet stardom (hopefully) were not the penultimate ends they promised to be. In this journey of adulthood, we expect that if we will just do ___, then we will become our highest-evolved adult form. With The Graduate, Zachisatourist wrestles with the fact that he is the same person with the same doubts and fears, even after accomplishing all that “adult stuff.”
The album opens with “Used to Be a Dreamer,” a horn-fronted, introspective jam of a seemingly defeated man. The song is full of a list of “should’s” and life disappointments. The contrast of a strong dance groove with lines like “I still don’t know who I want to be” or “I used to be a dreamer, but I woke up from all my dreams” somehow increases the sadness of the statement.
“Hate Me Like Me” asks questions about lovability. Like so many often do, this song’s narrator fixates on all the faults in his character and personality. At its heart is a truly relatable question: If others saw us as we see ourselves, could they possibly love us? Or would they hate me just like I do? I both loved and hated this song. I believe that songs like this are necessary. They give voice to common emotions, and I believe that’s a vital role of any songwriter – to give people the words to say unspeakable things. On the other hand, I spent most of the song wanting to slap Zachisatourist and tell him, “YOU DON’T SUCK!” Hopefully, he will read this and believe it.
“I’m Not Any Better” was a standout track for me and continues on the path with an upbeat stream of consciousness celebration of self-loathing. Zachisatourist is fighting the comparison battle with this song, both against himself and guys on The Bachelor. Lyrically, this could have been written by Barenaked Ladies. It’s quirky, fun, and relatable. The words come at you faster than a spouse with ADHD and changes directions just as quickly. I especially appreciated his intentional use of broken rhyme schemes, a disruptive tactic to draw attention to the song’s message of frustration with a lack of perceived personal growth.
“I’ll Run to You” presents an overdue turning point in the album, channeling that sense of disappointment with life into a commitment that “if you call, I’ll run to you.” It’s heartbreaking to hear a line like “the first time I held my daughter, I apologized for being her father.” But in light of the overwhelming pressures of life and expectations of success (whatever that means), this sentiment is completely understandable. It’s easy to feel like a failure. What makes this song work is the desire to be present in spite of his personal failings. I doubt his daughter feels disappointed in her father.
The album closes out with “We Stay Up,” exposing the inner thoughts of every songwriter releasing music. As a songwriter, I found the best-case scenario rationale of releasing music quite accurate. Best case? Indie film. Worst case? The song is out there, and friends forget to give it “pity streams.” I felt that deeply. But beyond those calculations was a sweetness in his relationship with his wife and kids, in the celebration of little victories with chocolate cake or $1 shakes (a lyrical nod to how little those “pity streams” actually pay artists!), and in staying up late. Here at the end of the album, Zachisatourist finally strikes a balance by basking in contentment.
At the end of the day, this is a songwriter’s album and is not for the tame of heart. Zachisatourist graphically opens his chest and bears his bleeding heart for all to see. It’s exquisitely produced (though the mastering could be improved) and the music gets you moving, but the lyrical content is anything but gentle. My main musical criticism is that I wish Zachisatourist had pushed himself more vocally. While the use of arrangement kept each song interesting, I kept feeling that Zachisatourist was playing it safe as a singer, staying within a limited range. This was a contrast to the rest of the album, which was very daring in its subject matter and stylings.
Above all, The Graduate is truthful – and sometimes the truth is hard. We need albums like this, which give us the opportunity to express those grave fears, self-doubts, and even self-hatred. Those emotions are every bit a part of us, and we deserve to sing them honestly. I doubt Zachisatourist is alone in these feelings, and I am glad he had the courage to wear them on his sleeve.
Make sure to follow Zachisatourist on Instagram and listen to “I’m Not Any Better” below!