Jerry Paper Carousel

[Bayonet; 2015]

Styles: midi-synth-pop, pessimism/optimism
Others: Brian Wilson, PrismCorp, Euglossine, David Longstreth(?)

Jerry Paper first aroused my curiosity with “Real. Now. Love.” The track’s deceptively dainty combination of drum machines and synth horns serves as a slightly tongue-in-cheek vehicle for a surprisingly affecting song. Delving deeper into the many records that Lucas Nathan has released (in the character of Jerry Paper) reveals a wealth of ruminative odes to the age-old preconceptions of love and identity. However, they’re realized through a musical language at times quirky and hilarious, but always considered and carefully crafted. Carousel picks up where Nathan’s last album, Big Pop for Chameleon World, left off, and his winning streak in enveloping well-conceived lyrics in intriguing sounds not only continues here, but is taken in alternate referential directions. 

As ever, it would be easy for Nathan to slip from the core vocal focus of his songs into some sort of tactless obscurity. If the ever-so-fake synth strings and acid bass of “Doesn’t Matter” or the proto-sitar and reed-flutes of “Greedy Motherfuckers” were allowed to take on garish proportions, it’s not hard to see Carousel fluffing around in an empty memetic space, one where meaning is lost to the tendencies of those sounds to point to a specific artistic ideology or lack thereof. But Nathan walks this problem area with dexterity, catering these sounds to specific tracks and never allowing his instruments to dominate him.

And it’s crucial to the messages laid out in plain sight in his music. Just a look at that title “Greedy Motherfuckers” is enough to stab at that song’s content, but others like “Piggies” take a different angle toward the humor lurking between tracks, opening instead with a riotous sound clip that’s particularly violent and disturbing in the context of the album’s overall nature. But this overt moment plays within the same almost-sarcasm of Carousel, as throughout, Nathan alludes to queries about the meaning and worth of spirituality and his continued fascination with digital (dis)connection, albeit with synth-saxophone and cheesy organ.

“Halfway Zen” calls to mind the baroque adventures of Pet Sounds as much as it does the endearingly cheap New Age instructional videos from a bygone era. On this track in particular, it’s evident what makes Nathan’s music strike a powerful chord time and time again: the depth of his compositions and songwriting ability amidst such quaint instrumentation, refreshingly contrary to the ordinarily discordance between the two. It’s no mean feat to take apart sonic objects and tropes that are, by their nature, trashy or thinly polite and transforming them into something engagingly curious, but Jerry Paper has yet again found a charming and effortless musical space to do just that on Carousel.

Links: Jerry Paper - Bayonet

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