Well, somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Crotchety philosopher? Well-dressed inmate? Mop-head teen? Not quite. The above photo displays the black-and-white headshot of pop star Tobias Jesso Jr., artist of the recently released 2015 album Goon.
Tobias Jesso Jr
If the untamed mound of hair and moderately attractive frown didn’t give it away, this chap obviously isn’t the happiest moose in the market. His debut album seems, unsurprisingly, to reflect the musician’s pining, lonely heart.
“Why can’t you just love me?” the rising star beckons us in a heartbroken first line. Sung with a sense of deflation more intense than a balloon in a vacuum, Jesso Jr.’s “Without You” is mopey, mushy and most likely your go-to during the Thursday morning thunderstorm. Throughout his 12-track record, the singer-songwriter certainly doesn’t win the variation award. “Without You” isn’t alone in its mellow melancholy — the vast majority of Goon sings of heartbreak and regret. Jesso Jr. confesses to making “you cry all those lonely tears” and bids “so long my only friend” above waw-waws of bluesy electric guitar and McCartney-esque piano. The titles don’t scream sunshine and daisies either: from “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” to “How Could You Babe,” it’s one lugubrious love after another. It’s the classic rainy day album: slow piano, light cymbals and 16 sad repetitions of “without you.”
Despite the excess sadness, the gentle piano, light percussion and unique vocals that define the album aren’t so bad. The album is, in fact, very pretty. Jesso Jr. boasts an original sound — the artist’s voice is intentionally flat, poignant in its lack of vibrato and dynamics. Jesso Jr. asks, “won’t you come on home?” with gentle hesitation that translates into the beautiful authenticity of “Bad Words.” The piano in “Can’t Stop Thinking About You,” notwithstanding its simplicity, is rather alluring and the unison voices of violin and vocals in “For You” give the song an acute sense of purity. The ringing instrumentals, slow drum, light cymbals — it all adds up to soft, mellow bittersweet.
The album’s content sports a sense of familiarity. Goon builds on an eclectic group of musicians and styles, cultured with the aspects of all sorts of artists. The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” pours through the arpeggiated guitar of Jesso Jr.’s fifth number “The Wait.” Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude” echoes in the closing sounds of “For You” and the groovy piano of Sara Bareilles shimmers in “Crocodile Tears.” Tones of John Lennon shine through “Without You” and traces of Paul Simon flicker in “Can We Still Be Friends.” And honestly, that’s part of the allure. Tobias Jesso Jr. appreciates, rather than shuns, the colors of past artists, giving his album a #throwbackThursday feel.
It’s this quality — comfortable familiarity yet distinct individuality — that makes Tobias Jesso Jr.’s album so appealing. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again maybe “revolutionary” is over-rated. We’re not swept off our feet, and we don’t jump up and squeal, but Goon is a genuinely pretty album with pretty songs and we enjoy the listen.
So, despite my initial knee-jerk reaction to the repetitive melancholy, it’s endearing. Innocent, almost naive piano, jazzy cymbals, pained vocals. There’s a certain beauty in its mellow simplicity, and I like it.