Album Review: Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon

THE Music Brewery have made some bold claims about Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. in our short existence. After hearing only a couple of demo tapes, the 29 year old’s potential was clear to hear, and we labelled him the next John Lennon or Bob Dylan. We don’t particularly like comparing artists too much but the comparisons were so undeniable we couldn’t help ourselves, and with the release of Jesso Jr’s debut album Goon the likeness only grows stronger.

Jesso Jr. is quite a seasoned man at 29 to be just releasing his debut album, having spent many years as a bassist for a few small-time LA bands.

He moved back to his hometown of Vancouver at 27 and started to learn how to play piano, the instrument that would help carve out his fame.

Noted for his key-based ballads his maiden effort Goon, released on True Panter Sounds, lives up to this reputation with gentle baroque twists and turns.

Opening track ‘Can’t Stop Thinking About You’ is a melodic love song with haunting, muted lyrics that can be perfectly applied to any personal romance.

The theme of ballads continues as Jesso Jr. ramps it up with lead single ‘How Could You Babe’. This track is the one which has lead many to compare Jesso Jr. to folk greats of the ’60s and ’70s like Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. His voice is not mesmerising, the songs not particularly complicated, but the lyrics and emotion in his delivery are poignant and distinct.

With bitter, echoed vocals and climbing piano, the album’s second single ‘Without You’ is nostalgic of Lennon’s pained, whining voice. Behind the murky sounds Jesso Jr. hides a message of true love.

“I can hardly breathe without you,
There is no future I want to see without you,
I just don’t know who I would be without you,
There is nothing out there for me without you,
Without you.”

Shortest song on the LP ‘The Wait’ is light and airy with a toe-tapping rhythm and provides a welcome break from the gloom. ‘For You’ does the same with hippie-dippie, flower power vibes and sharp strings.

‘Can We Still Be Friends’ is joyful, sweet and innocent with a much fuller sound, strings, drums and uplifting verses.

The attention-grabbing ‘Hollywood’ opens with 20 seconds or so of remnants of a lost piano chime. Jesso Jr. discusses his attempts to ‘make it’ in Hollywood, which ultimately ends in despair.

‘Crocodile Tears’ is the most produced sounding track with it’s crunching percussion, plodding piano, bending riffs and affected vocals. It adds a great layer of texture to an album that was in danger of being one-dimensional.

Familiar to fans of Jesso Jr., early demo ‘Just A Dream’ sneaks on the 12 track effort near the end with its haunting vocals and stirring instrumentation.

On an album that seems to discuss a particular period in his Jesso Jr’s life when he was trying to make it in LA, it is fitting that Goon ends on the upbeat ‘Leaving LA’. Sweet, soulful harmonies and a smattering of ivory jingle flow together superbly on this number.

All told Goon is a genuinely outstanding debut of piano-driven ballads from an artist on a serious rise. It’s slightly one-dimensional, which is OK for a first release, but I’d love to see Tobias Jesso Jr. go all Jonathan Richman on us and get really wacky with his sounds because he’s got the voice for it.

The potential for a psychedelic album too is there, if he fancied exploring his inner Lennon. Whatever Jesso Jr. decides to do next, his marvellous song-writing talent is sure to mean he’ll be a household name for years to come.


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