Tobias Jesso, Jr – Goon

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Tobias Jesso, Jr. – Goon

There’s going back and then there’s going back.  Vancouver singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso, Jr. is firmly in the latter camp, reaching back four decades into the 1970s to dredge up the ghosts of Harry Nilson, Billy Joel, and Elton John’s less ornate moments.  His lyrics are open and honest; there are no layers at work anywhere, no necessary dissection of words to find some kind of hidden snark or metaphor.  Look at the simple statements of “Can We Still Be Friends”:  “And then one night he arrives to your surprise / Someone let him in and all you can say is / “I know it’s not the same but I’m glad you came / Can we still be friends?””  “Hollywood” comes straight out of the plaintive side of the Seventies piano man spectrum, coming across as a doomed letter home from someone who’d run off to chase their dreams.  “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is about as direct a statement of longing and regret you’re likely to find in 2015.

The plainness and honesty extends to the music, as well.  Jesso has spent most of his life on the guitar, and his piano skills are the kind that you develop after only a couple of years of practice.  There’s very little that can be considered flashy or ornamental here – some strings here, a couple of vintage studio tricks there – and the starkness feels all the more refreshing in the digital age.  Goon is an album for the odd-corner moments in your life – something to belt out while showering, or put on when company’s over, or maybe just to listen to in the dark with a glass of red wine while you wonder what ever happened to that girl that used to love you.

BC Camplight – How To Die In The North

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BC Camplight – How To Die In The North

It’s been a big year for people coming back after long absences, and Brian Christinzo – known professionally as BC Camplight – is not an exception.  He’s only been gone for eight years – the same length, for example, as Modest Mouse, who will be ending that drought in March – but unlike a lot of the others he left just as he was starting to make a name for himself.  He decamped from New Jersey to England in 2012 and set about rebuilding his confidence in recording.  The first result of this is How To Die In The North, a return to the psych-pop that his first two albums were steeped in.  There’s a heavy dollop of Seventies-era schmaltz present here, the kind of music that would feel right at home in the back of an old Buick, preferably one whose interior strongly resembles a French whorehouse.  When it works, as on “Atom Bomb” and “Just Because I Love You”, it’s AM gold.  When it doesn’t, it comes off as cheesy at best.  Christinzo has the Harry Nilsson and Todd Rundgren thing down, but whether that’s a good thing or not is best left up to the listener.