An old soul for the new world

Tobias Jesso Jr. embraces vulnerability in his music in the middle of an ironic world.

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Tyler Davis, Writer

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It has been said that in this day and age singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen and highly derivative. Enter Tobias Jesso Jr. Jesso, who has been playing music his whole life. Initially playing bass in a band called The Sessions. Later, he played in former pop star Melissa Cavatti’s backup band. In 2013, his life changed dramatically after the end of a serious relationship and his mother’s cancer diagnosis. He responded in the only way he knew how — music. While guitar and bass were usually his weapons of choice, he turned to the piano, which he learned to play at 27 (he is 29 now), for his new solo work.

The songs that came out of this emotionally draining time are nothing short of remarkable. They evoke highly renowned troubadours of the 60s and 70s such as Randy Newman, Harry Nillson and Elton John. They sound like songs you swear you have heard before, yet they were written mere months ago. While the majority of singer/songwriters are playing music focusing on the guitar, it is a breath of fresh air to hear the piano at the forefront.

RAW VULNERABILITY

His breathtaking debut album, “Goon,” released on March 17, simply does not have a bad song on it. Jesso’s true power is in his raw vulnerability. He does not hide behind metaphor, or shield himself with ambiguity — he says it like it is.

On “Without You” he sings, “Why can’t you just love me?/Should I move on or should I wait?/How’d you get so high above me?/I reach higher every day/But nothing changes.”

IRONY OVER VULNERABILITY

The late author David Foster Wallace predicted 20 years ago that there would come a time when irony became king in pop culture and vulnerability becomes sparse. He believed that in the midst of this culture, a group of anti-rebels would emerge who dared to be sentimental and honest. Jesso fits into this category like a glove.

While the majority of the tracks on “Goon” center around heartbreak, Jesso avoids the cliche nature of this subject matter. It does not come off cheesy or cute, but 100 percent authentic. This is a difficult feat to pull off and Jesso does it flawlessly. It is impossible not to respect honesty this raw.

A SENSE OF MELODY

Another strength possessed by Jesso is a McCartney-esque sense of melody. The timbre of his voice aids in this comparison as well. His melodies float atop his subtle instrumentation and implant themselves into the listener’s mind irreversibly. A song such as “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is a prime example of this phenomenon.

While “Goon” clearly reflects a specific era of songwriting, it does not feel like a kitschy attempt at rock n’ roll resurrection — it evokes the sense of a classic, and would fit in well alongside the likes of The Beatles and Elton John in a vinyl collection. This is the kind of album that does not come around often, and I would not be the least bit surprised if it is looked at as a true classic for years to come.

 

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An old soul for the new world