Jackson Scott Melbourne

[Fat Possum; 2013]

Styles: putting the pitchfork before the crops, second line from the bottom on the lineup of that summer festival your kid brother is going to
Others: Deerhunter, Kurt Vile, Built to Spill, Girls

Basically, this was a stitch up. You take a pretty, young, weird-looking white boy with a guitar, a 4-track, and a yen for sounding dazed, and the blogosphere will just eat him alive these days. Six months ago, Jackson Scott was just some dude from Asheville with songs on a SoundCloud account. Within two months, he was on Fat Possum, Pitchfork hyped, and he was repping a label bio that read like someone had a gun to their head, a bad hangover, an overdue deadline, and a sick cat to look after. The hype train does not rest, and here we are with his first album. Is he the new Bradford Cox, or is this another Black Kids moment?

Like how a casino might flatter problem gamblers to keep them happy and gambling, the machine around this guy has pulled a number on everyone. This isn’t a good album. It’s a fine, lazy diversion with enough surface appeal to make for good background noise and enough hinted depth (“Sandy” is a lullaby about the Sandy Hook shootings and the best thing here) to suggest that digging deeper might be rewarding (it isn’t). It’s a shame, because the best songs here suggest a real intelligence and ability, and for the dreck, you just want to find someone to blame for why the whole thing feels so pointless. Why is this talented dude coming across as so boring, so empty, so… unready? For the most part, Melbourne isn’t a victim of inflated expectation so much as it is just trying to make a sandwich out of raw meat. Got to cook that stuff, friend.

Basically, his “deep” moments just sound like Atlas Sound, his spacey moments are ripped from the Doug Martsch playbook, the pop moments are 100% Christopher Owens under a heap of tape fuzz, and the ambient bits come straight from early Kurt Vile. The songwriting is pretty much entirely solid, and there are brief flashes of idiosyncrasy, but this album boils down to being a product of the excitement of influence and just being young playing and writing music, without ever remotely threatening to stand up as something worthy of all the critical saliva that’s already dripped onto bedroom carpets worldwide. I don’t know or care if Scott has listened to the people I’m name-dropping here, but this is basically an immature talent that’s been plucked before his time. It’s more a pity than a shame that someone young and talented has been forced into the limelight so early.

Like, I dunno. I keep listening to this and thinking about how people were going crazy over the concept of Wavves when he broke out of nowhere with a similar shtick. Who has listened to Wavvves in the last two years? He was lazy, jaded, did some synthy instrumentals in between his malaised in-n-out songwriting stuff, and bam. But I was 15 in 2007 and didn’t really know or give a fuck either way, and there are a lot of kids out in the world who are going to have that experience with Jackson Scott. Lots of people are going to listen to this and make out and drive and drink booze at parties with this on, and they won’t care about it six months afterwards. If the blogosphere is now setting out to trade in planned obsolescence, here’s this year’s model, and if you can drive it out of the showroom without it falling apart, then you’re getting away with something. This is basically the Indie Rock State of the Union Address for 2013, and it’s a bland, disappointing portrait of what’s wrong with the people who are trying to decide who gets listened to, a perfect triangulation of what’s been going down the hatch smoothly over the last three or four years, with nothing of what made those figures (Cox, Vile, etc.) interesting underneath the sound. Is Jackson Scott the Menswe@r of 2013?

It’s gorgeous in a background way at times (“Any Way”), all breeze and effortlessness, but over the course of Melbourne’s 29 minutes, it’s very hard to get any idea whatsoever of who he is, much less care. He seems to have a preoccupation with the childish: he is into girls, and he is bored and tired and listless (but only sometimes) and generally stuff kinda happens to him. It’s all a blast of rarefied nothingness, fetishized and festooned into a grey, famished blur. “Sweet Nothing” indeed. Even the album title suggests something is going on but offers nothing. Who is Jackson Scott? There’s nothing beneath the surface here, nothing unifying, nothing exciting outside the simple aural pleasure of what’s going on. As soon as you start connecting dots, nothing appears. Lines and moments stick out — the gorgeous “Evie” has a pretty indelible guitar lead, and there are some emphatic lines here and there — but dissecting the album feels like doing it a disservice, because it doesn’t feel made for dissection, like trying to critically hack into a Big Mac at 3 AM. This is simple, greasy, and it’s been made for you. The moment you demand more, the flavor goes out.

His lyrics are uniformly decent (it’s hard to give a record a 2 when there are no lyrical howlers), but his preoccupations are so well-worn by the likes of Vile and Cox that it’s basically like he’s taken a thesaurus to Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze and swapped things around until it’s cosmetically unrecognizable, leaving him with something so anonymous that he’s almost invisible at his own party. Likewise, his songwriting is all cut from a pretty identical cloth; by the time “In the Sun” rolls around, the chord changes are so semaphored at you from the outset, and listening to the rest of the song is like a two-tone paint by numbers. But that could just be frustration building up, because the extent to which the album sabotages itself whenever it gains momentum is ridiculous. The opening two tracks are a swell of promise, but “Never Ever” commits the double sin of being boring and disruptive, cutting out to ambient noise after less than two minutes. After that haphazard passage, when the highlights “Sandy” and “That Awful Sound” hit back to back, it feels like the teething problems are sorted, but then comes “Tomorrow,” a clunker so clunky it went out of style with the oil crisis. This sense of rupture recurs when the tenderly gorgeous instrumental “Wish Upon” turns on a dime into “Any Way” for no apparent reason, except to show how enigmatic and versatile Scott is, when he’s really just robbing Peter to pay Paul. And that’s before the album disappears completely over the final third; “Doctor Mad” and “Sweet Nothing” barely exist.

These halves sit next to each other uncomfortably, not yet drawn together into something strong or readily identifiable, no force of personality reaching out. Scott is reaching for the the messy, crushed promise of records like Cryptograms, where ambience rubs against stunning pop moments (still repping “Spring Hall Convert” and proud of it, guys; but yeah Monomania sucked), but nothing comes off how it should (and perhaps could in a few years). If my buddy from uni handed this to me and told me he’d been doing a bit of woodshedding, I’d be blown away. When Pitchfork tells me this is the new it, someone’s getting egg on their face, and I’m mostly worried that person is Scott. Even the highlights feel lacking under closer inspection; the twisting, snaky chord progressions that underpin the verses of “That Awful Sound” are beguilingly clever, but the chorus is really a bit of a damp squib (this is the song P4k said had a “mazelike structure,” by the way).

So, ideas aren’t chased up and are cut off before they unfurl effectively, the bad choices stack up on top of each other, and that’s before the album dissipates over the final third. Sounds like a young dude trying to sort himself out and learn to play to his strengths better, but assumedly (and inexplicably) to the people who have pushed him this quickly, it sounded like money. Basically, we’ve picked an apple that isn’t ripe yet. I don’t know anything about Jackson Scott, except that I’m the same age as him and he sorta looks like my twin brother. What his intentions, aims, and hopes are I have no idea. But I do know that it is hard enough to keep your head on straight when you’re actually making works of genius at a young age, but if the excitement is out of proportion to what you’re actually achieving, it can be impossible to get to the end of the path you started out on. Kindness can sometimes be the greatest cruelty, and errant praise can change someone forever. Melbourne is half an hour long; I hope his future work shows the learning and building he has yet to come, because the ability is there, and it’s there in spades, and there are glimpses of an interesting personality and songwriter. Whether the hype machine will grant him the time and space to fully develop that talent remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the snake will keep eating its tail. May the next Jackson Scott stay in his bedroom a little bit longer.

Links: Jackson Scott - Fat Possum

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