J Fernandez

Many Levels of Laughter

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By mingling contemporary and vintage instruments and effects, Chicago-based J Fernandez assembles pensive, novel neo-psychedelic lo-fi on his self-recorded debut long-player, Many Levels of Laughter. Instrumentation is led by late-'60s electronic sounds including Vox Jaguar organ and distorted guitars, together with contemporary effects, bass, drums, and not-to-be-overlooked saxophone, all wrapped in a raw, intimate presentation. Like a mix of the Doors, (fellow Chicagoans) Joan of Arc, and Grizzly Bear, with Robyn Hitchcock-reminiscent lilting-talky melodic tendencies, it comes off as sentimental, experimental, and fascinating all at once. The most nostalgic track on the album is probably "Casual Encounter" with its organ/guitar/bass/saxophone jam intro that leads into highly reverbed, understated vocals (notwithstanding the ironically oft-repeated "Please don't listen to me") and drum fills out of the past. By contrast, "Read My Mind" has jangly guitar and grooving bass but is still haunted by electric organ and murky, hissing production that gives the impression of an aged phonograph. "Filled with Joy" is a brief, jazzy instrumental interlude exploiting saxophonist Matt Fields and drummer Michael Gillilan, who also appear elsewhere on the record. It leads into the circular, quintuple-metered "Holy Hesitation" ("Focus on what you're not"). "Melting Down" utilizes dissonance in the midst of vocal harmonies and trippy tape delay to bear out its title, along with lyrics like "You snore when you're asleep/How do you sleep so well?/The pressure makes me melt." Not for bygone-era equipment nerds only, Fernandez's engaging, exploratory songcraft and the plush result of all the component sounds should appeal to post-rock-minded folks as well as those who favor artful, low-key intensity to bombast.

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