Tobias Jesso, Jr.


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It's inevitable that Tobias Jesso, Jr. will be compared to '70s singer/songwriters with the unabashed, snark-free, open-hearted lyrics and piano-thumping tunes on his debut, the recent-breakup-inspired Goon. It conjures the era's mellow, synth-free AM pop and the essence of songs like Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful," Elton John's "Your Song," Harry Nilsson's "Without You," and Carole King's "It's Too Late." A guitarist by experience, his piano skills aren't up to those of some of these pop legends, or the vocals either, for that matter, but that's part of what makes the record work in the way that it does: it's imperfect and feels impulsive. Album producer Chet "JR" White leaves in mistakes and human elements, which aids in the effect. If not for the presence of strings and double-tracking, opener "Can't Stop Thinking About You" (produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and the Rentals) sounds as if Jesso sat down at his favorite aunt's piano and just started pouring his heart out. His uber-poignant "Without You" (not the Nilsson song) represents the album as a whole: there aren't more than a couple, mostly production-related surprises in the song -- the chords and verses and modest drum parts (played on this song by Haim's Danielle Haim) fall where anticipated -- it simply rips at the heart with its plainness, directness, and sincerity right from the opening, "Why can't you just love me?/Should I move on or should I wait?" Ariel Rechtshaid (Kylie Minogue, Usher, Vampire Weekend) produced the song and keeps it simple, sparse, and wistful. Not every song on the album is a breakup song, but they are all about relationships and matters of the heart. "Hollywood" is about shattered dreams, "The Wait" is about the search for someone new, and "Just a Dream" is a father's lullaby to his newborn after a dream about an impending apocalypse. The Randy Newman-evoking "Crocodile Tears" is uptempo and playful but still about perplexity and vulnerability. There's not much one can do to deny the emotional weight or the eerily '70s character of Goon; it's probably best to settle into the La-Z-Boy, flick feathered hair off of your polyester lapel, grab a box of tissues, and let it be.

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