Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Jellyfish Family Tree Part 7: Falkner's Mercurial Fortunes

Jason Falkner’s solo debut solidified him as a power pop icon in my book, and his relatively marginal status turned me into a staunch advocate of his work. It’s worth mentioning here that Falkner was also a contributing member of The Grays, and it was around this point in the timeline that I obtained my first copy of their singular release Ro Sham Bo. Creating a family tree based on the comings and goings of this power pop supergroup would also have some interesting results, but it would prohibitively widen the scope of this particular project. I have already dedicated a post to Ro Sham Bo that I am still quite fond of, but I think it would be irresponsible not to directly mention The Grays in any discussion related to Jellyfish and Jason Falkner. .

Both Belong by The Grays on Grooveshark

Jason Falkner released his second solo album Can You Still Feel? in 1999.  The album boasted a step forward in terms of production, undoubtedly due to the presence of Nigel Godrich. His production made the entire experience far more textured than its predecessor, perhaps overly so. I think that the effort to polish these tracks buffed out some of the grit that made Presents Author Unknown so engaging. In any case,  Can You Still Feel? still retained the vast array of musical nuance that is Falkner’s stylistic trademark. At times, the wider production expands his work to nearly symphonic proportions.

Holiday by Jason Falkner on Grooveshark

As was the unfortunate trend among Jellyfish-related projects, Can You Still Feel? did not get much push from the record company.  Like many artists in the late 90s, Falkner lost his recording contract due to weak sales which, like many artists, were the result of poor record label promotion - the most common and infuriating catch-22 from that era!  Probably discouraged (speculation, of course), he faded a bit into the background as a solo artist.  The astute, however, could catch his name popping up on various projects as a producer and performer.  Despite taking a step back from the spotlight, he did have a short-form solo release in 2004 in the form of the Bliss Descending EP.

At that point, I don’t think that Falkner was trying too hard to break into a larger audience.  Bliss Descending was quietly released to those that were paying attention. Where Can You Still Feel? was Falkner’s most overt attempt at a big studio record, Bliss Descending was quite its opposite. The songs were not lacking in their usual level of detail, but Falkner’s performances were more casual than they had been, and the production was somewhat informal. This laid-back, relaxed approach opened up an introspective side of Falkner that actually served Bliss Descending rather well.
Moving Up by Jason Falkner on Grooveshark

The woes and disappointments of being an immensely talented and hardworking musician during the late 90s and early 00's were undoubtedly very frustrating for Falkner.  This was a transitory time in popular music, when record company dominance was slowly giving way to the more recent independent artist models that we see today.  For Falkner, the future probably seemed very unclear, if not bleak.  He would not release another full-length album for awhile, and his strategy for keeping himself afloat in this chaotic period would make it even longer for that record to become readily available in the States. I tried to stay aware of Falkner's career, but there was activity amongst other branches in the Jellyfish family tree that would garner my attention.

To refresh yourself on where we have come from, click here.
To go on to the next post, head here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Lonerism:" on All Fours with Tame Impala

The package arrived at just the right time. The last time I opened my mailbox before I turned in the key to the apartment office, it bore an Amazon order that included Tame Impala’s Lonerism. I deemed it auspicious: new house, new music. The first listen, however, occurred when I was on my hands and knees putting the first coat of grout sealant on between the bathroom tiles. Hardly ideal. Despite this humble introduction, the albums hyperreal homage to psychedelia immediately grabbed my attention and has evolved into an indispensable favorite.

Tame Impala has an awareness of sound that was immediately noticeable. They bring an idealized memory of the late 60s and early 70s to life in much the same way that M83 does with 80s neo-romantic synth-pop: as it is remembered rather than as it was. For example, the fuzzy stomp-shuffle of Elephant clearly owes a debt to the instrumental section of Money, but it feels too reverent for me to judge Tame Impala too harshly for this similarity.

In addition to a sophisticated understanding of sound, Tame Impala also has an elegant sense of melody that expresses itself instrumentally as well as vocally. They often breathe new life into a tune by introducing an arresting riff right before the fade-out, implying that perhaps there is space in their live persona for extended jamming.

Within a few weeks, I had cultivated a great affection for their hybridized “John Lennon sings for Pink Floyd” approach. Only when I stumbled across the video for Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, however, did I really appreciate how fully they are committed to this style.

In addition to accompanying a great song, the video for Feels Like We Always Go Backward is a pretty and engaging piece of animation.  It also feels like it would be a small step for the trip to devolve into a three-armed nightmare.  Its rippling, hand-drawn aesthetic creates a surreal tension, the same kind that imbued old-school cartoons like Yellow Submarine and some of the shorts from The Electric Company with a sense of both wondrous beauty and uneasy dread.

The rest of the album also refers clearly to this era, but, like other good nostalgia bands, Tame Impala reinterprets more than they retell.  To put it a different way,  Lonersim is not “from” or “of” the psychedelic era as much as it is a commentary that is built on the dreamscapes of yesteryear.  Its distinctive musicality and consistency, however, allows it to stand on its own - even when I was on all fours getting domestic with the tile.