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.

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