Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jason Bourgeois. Jason Jr. (2015).

Jason Bourgeois (Northampton, MA) has been in a few bands, the pop group Bourgeois Heroes, the garage band The Novels, and Quiz Kids.  He's established a connection with the reputable label, February Records, which has released some of his music with these bands.  Now he's released a solo album on Bandcamp, called Jason Jr.  It's a charming collection of Indiepop tunes, referencing the sound of the 70's, with influences from Nilsson, Laura Nyro, David Ruffin, and Todd Rundgren (now there's an imaginary supergroup for you!).

I would add Brian Wilson to the list of Jason's inspirations, because there is an element of Wilson's taste for unique instrumentation and harmonic surprises, popping up in songs like "Waiting Around," and "Someone From A Long Time Ago."

When I think about the 70's, I'm astounded at the number of sub-genres that suddenly emerged: prog, punk, disco, glam, southern rock, AOR, folk rock, and the cult of the sensitive singer-songwriter. The 70's were also cursed with dozens of really annoying pop singles, each one worse than the one before.   Jason doesn't really fit in with any of those.  There were just a few musicians already mentioned, like Todd Rundgren (in his "Runt" incarnation) and Harry Nilsson and, I suppose, a handful of others, who were not pretentious enough to be considered "arty," but who wrote with the tact and skill that made you cherish their music, even after New Wave, the New Romantics, and The Police came along to obliterate all that.  This is the neighborhood where Jason Bourgeois lives.

 Jason's songs are sweet, and he has that vulnerable, "nice guy" voice that some might describe as "twee."  That's not a bad thing on this blog, as we categorically abhor all screamers, shouters, and shriekers.  This is the kind of thing one would have heard on the soundtracks of After School Specials;  stuff that was done well enough to sound more or less contemporary in the early 70's, but also kind of unhip if you were into, say, maybe King Crimson or Genesis.

But this is not some imitative pastiche.  I feel Jason's heart is in his songwriting.  He knows what he's doing and he plays to his strengths.

For a long time now, the "bedroom producer" has been able to easily achieve the seamless synchronization that is such a temptation for anyone using a PC to record.  One of the things I like about this album, is that Jason is having none of that digital perfectionism.  It is a solo album, but Jason enlisted seven other musicians to contribute (besides the usual drums, bass, keys, and guitar) xylophone, recorder, and electric sitar.  He recorded everything live, with minimal overdubs, so the performances have an appealingly loose, in-the-moment, feel. 

Jason Jr. is for fans of The Cowsills, or The Partridge Family.  OK, so there are no fans of those bands anymore, but that's kind of the hidden point here.  Jason miraculously and accurately evokes a period of pop music that would have been reviled by the cool kids at the time.  Now, as grown ups, those same kids would  get teary-eyed by this music bringing them back to what eighth grade really felt like.  One may have crafted an elaborate fantasy life listening to "Watcher of the Skies,"  but when you hear "My Best Friend," it's like getting punched in the gut with all the anxiety you endured in middle school.  Jason seems to tap into those awkward moments, the things you wanted to say, the stuff you wanted to make happen, but were too messed up socially to finesse.

Spend time with this album and you'll encounter time machines that take quarters, lemonade stands, Mellotron flutes, harpsichords, choruses built on a girl's name, and the idea that love is more valuable than money.  Sound naive?  Maybe, but I'll take it over the mostly snarky, self-reflexive, sarcastic, and overcompressed bilge that fills the radio waves these days.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Befallen. Caramel Snow (2015).

 
Although trained as a classical composer, I was never able to write a pop/rock song until I figured out what I wanted it to sound like. If I had a band I would want it to resemble a super-group collaboration, including members of Cocteau Twins, Lush, and My Bloody Valentine.   So I simply wrote a song that emulated that, which was Befallen, and that's kind of how I've been writing music for the last six years.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tricot

I don't know if this band would be considered alternative, prog, math, j-pop, j-rock, or whatever.  But they are completely compelling.  I found out about them from an article and interview that Laura Snapes wrote for the NME.




Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Favorite Music (and books) of 2014.

I don't claim this to be in any way an objective "best of the year" list, it's just my personal list of the music and books I most loved in 2014, in random order:

Charli XCX - Sucker
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"Sucker"
        


Alvvays - Alvvays
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“Marry Me, Archie”


Dum Dum Girls - Too True
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“Too True”

Honeyblood - Honeyblood
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“Super Rat”

September Girls - Cursing the Sea
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“Cursing the Sea”  

Whinnie Williams - Bad Girl
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“Oopsie Daisy”


Johnny Marr - Playland
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"Dynamo"



Lipgloss Twins 
"Wannabe" (image opens a link to the video)














Favorite discovery of 2014 - Asylum Party

“Julia” (1988)


Books
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Yeah Yeah Yeah

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Champagne Supernova

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Brian Jones: the Making of The Rolling Stones

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Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Asylum Party. Julia (1988).



I found out about Asylum Party from a link posted by Dee Dee Penny on some social media site I follow her on.  It makes sense that the head Dum Dum Girl would want to share this, as it seems to be generally in the same realm of chilly enchantment as some of her work on Too TrueAsylum Party was completely unknown to me, so it was a real treat to hear this captivating song.  Asylum Party lasted during the second half of the 80's and was apparently one of the best bands to come out of the French "Coldwave" genre.  Coldwave was a term initially coined by Sounds magazine to describe Kraftwerk, but it soon evolved to describe dozens of obscure French and Belgian post punk bands in the early 80's.  I've started listening to some Coldwave compilations, and AP is by far the most tuneful and harmonically satisfying of them all.  I'm guessing vocalist Thierry Sob├ęzyk was the main composer. Whoever it was, they really had a skillful touch for writing haunted, uncanny songs.

Asylum Party doesn't have a Web site, their music is not available on iTunes or eMusic, and their CD's are pretty scarce, having been out of print for some time.  Amazon sells them new or used starting in the $40 range, and the vinyl goes way over $200.  Or you can just visit some of those shady blog sites that host mp3's, and pray your antivirus is up to date.

Even though their vintage is a bit later, they share a slightly Goth-y, undead eeriness with some other post punk bands, such as Siouxie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Cure, and even early Cocteau Twins. 

Their 1989 video, "Misfortunes?," certainly plays up the phantasmal atmosphere:


Friday, September 12, 2014

Alvvays (2014).

I'm very uncertain about the cover art of the debut album by Alvvays, it just doesn't seem right.  Other than that, I am really liking this Canadian band, led by Molly Rankin.  It's smart Indie Pop, with the energy of the 80's version of the genre, but refreshed enough to be contemporary.  It might not be groundbreaking, but they craft good tunes and arrange them with skill.  It's pretty challenging to emulate a style that has already peaked without giving you that deflated feeling that you've heard it before, and done better.  Even some of the more recent critically acclaimed Indie Pop bands seem flat to me.  Alvvays nails it and sounds like the real thing.  The lyrics are worth listening for, and the instrument parts enhance the song and are well thought out. 

Personally, I am so tired of performers and bands putting on a "show."  Alvvays is pretty cute as a band, but they're unpretentious and just get down to business.  All jangle, no spangle.  Let's have more of this.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Lana Del Rey. Ultraviolence (2014)

I thought I'd give a listen to LDR's new release, Ultraviolence.  I found Born To Die interesting and was curious as to what she had devised as a follow up.  I did not expect to be knocked on my butt by a major work of art.  Ultraviolence is a massive, immersive experience.  It's full of guilt, regret, arrogance, pain, longing, and a certain type of sour beauty.  I guess you could just play this in the background while tidying up your house or something, but for me it demanded the attention of a David Lynch movie, drawing me in deeper and deeper, filling me with the underlying anxiety that something tragic and disturbing was about to happen.

Ultraviolence can't be thought of as just a new collection of pop songs by Lizzie Grant.  It's an artwork that completely integrates sound, lyrics, and performance to create a vision of a world both glamorous and grim.  It's very Baudelairean in it's evocation of the old Spleen and Ideal concept.  

The sound on this disc is magnificent.  LDR's voice and the instruments are processed through a variety of reverbs and delays, so the music exists in these lush and expansive spaces, but every detail glimmers like a spark.  Some of the guitar sounds are so present, you'd swear guitarist/producer Dan Auerbach was right in the room with you.

By the time I heard the third track on the album, "Shades of Cool," I knew I was in the presence of a masterpiece.

Shades of Cool: