It would be easy to compare Tobias Jesso Jr.’s music to that of singer/songwriters of the 70’s, but I won’t just yet and Jesso himself even made it clear in an interview that he wasn’t initially extracting from that source. “I wasn't listening to that [70’s music] when I wrote the songs on the album; everyone assumes I was pulling from this inspiration that I had no idea about. I really didn't want a '70s record, and I'm trying to be very conscious about not going down that road too much. I wanted to make something contemporary.” In July 2014, Jesso released two “as-is” demos called “True Love” and “Just A Dream”, with pure melodies and honest lyrics without agendas. Subsequently, the music world became insanely aware of how much it needed songs from such a virtuous source as Jesso.
On Jesso’s debut album Goon, he offers us hymns for heartbreak. Each song title letting us know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into, which ultimately becomes Jesso’s greatest strength and asset in his music. His idyllic honesty and pure romanticism are the most endearing and empowering parts of his sparse record. On his devastating second single, “Without You” (appropriately sharing its title with the Harry Nilsson hit), he cries, “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. No, it all just stays the same”. Though immediately relatable to any listener, we forget that it feels nice to have someone sing about this sentiment unabashedly and quite beautifully, and without the flashy, monetized, or superstar attitude that commonly follows behind it.
Though Jesso certainly has pop prodigy potential, especially having been bolstered by Adele on Twitter, his goals on Goon are straightforward and unfettered: “let me tell you how I feel”. Which works brilliantly upon the plain canvas of simple song structures, featuring a chord driven piano and little else. But in a post-modern and revisionist world of music trying to get noticed and exposed, his small piano arrangements stand above and beyond most anything thus far released in 2015. Though each song follows the same pattern, Jesso adds minimal instrumentation change-ups on each track, allowing for distinction, but truthfully the album feels almost like one grand and modern concerto pontificating about love, loss and the pathways in between.
At the center of all this, lies Jesso’s picturesque, tender voice, which feels reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s first solo records, striking the same honest chords. And there are some moments on Goon in which you remember the distinct similarities it shares with artists like Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson, with songs like “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “Crocodile Tears”, but upon listening you realize the resurrection of songwriting like this has been sorrowfully missed and instead becomes an incredibly bold and contemporary direction for music, at which Jesso is now at the helm. Truthfully, Goon is a necessary reduction for pop and gives listeners a moment to enjoy romantic music without feeling any of the self-condemnation usually associated with it. This music is all pleasure, and no guilt.
The perfect example of Jesso’s honest and uncomplicated album model is found in the epic “Hollywood”, which by every right isn’t epic. The track achieves so much and emotes heavily, allowing us to be lost, but not unsatisfied, in the pauses, pounds, and soliloquy that Jesso soulfully delivers, sending us out with a flurry of brass instruments. What we are left with is a relatable man and his sentiments, which we discover is more than enough. Goon is an extremely reflective album. Goon is a very charming album. And Goon just became the best reason to get your heart broken in 2015.
Words: Jaren Jolley