There seems to be this line drawn in the sand between what is professional, amateur, and experimental. The amateur attempts to be professional, and when that fails they attempt to be experimental. That’s why there’s a stereotype of the “Film school” Director. That aspiring filmmaker who just can’t make the cut into professionalism, so they instead set their sights low to the experimental side of things.
Then there are the “Professionals” the people who set the standard. And because they set the standard; in their wake they leave behind a trail of imitators. That’s when things get boring. It’s how we get Zack Snyder, Generic Popstar A, B, and C–it’s how we get stasis. In that stasis we forget why we even love the art form that used to be so near and dear to us. If everything is the same, how can it speak to me?
Yet what happens when a professional turns to the experimental? Now that’s an interesting combination. That’s where we get our Kubrick’s, our Picasso’s, our Beatles’ and even our Kanye West. When listening to Jack Goldstein, it is impossible to believe that this person is an amateur. No, this is a professional. Not only is he a professional, but he is a professional in the avant garde.
Now that maybe a strange way to start a review, but I’ve just begun. The first track on this album, LOVE, THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, is an abnormal introduction. To begin with it doesn’t start off with the album’s strengths, which are mainly the vocals, until a good 30 seconds into the song. Instead we hear this pulsating ambient noise. This ambience is something strange foreboding, something so foreign and alien, and yet there’s no other way to start this song with a title like LOVE, THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. After all if you have an answer, you need a problem. This kind of answer/solution type of sound pops up throughout the album. In this track in particular it works incredibly well.
Why? You might ask. Well the ambient sound is unnatural, or maybe it is natural. It’s hard to tell. Whether it’s some ambient tape loop, some sample slowed down and reverbed out, or maybe just some synth put through some bizarre effects. Either way the droning nature of the noise creates this sort of unease. This introspective kind of feeling that what you’re listening to is unnatural, that it’s not quite the state we should find ourselves in. Yet, we still find ourselves in it. It’s a state of being unable to love. Whether it’s the job that you’re stuck in–all the while dreaming of a career up on the stage. The relationship you’ve settled for–seeing more and more flaws as the days progress. The mundane life you live–all while believing that there just has to be something more. All of these feelings wash over you, and then it happens. The vocal harmonies.
Suddenly you find yourself immersed in these heavenly vocals, while this soothing keyboard lulls your anxieties away. When Jack Goldstein presents a problem, such as the existential angst of modern existence, he’ll provide a solution. All in the span of little over a minute. And we’re just getting started.
WE’RE STARTING OUT is a not only a great song, but a nice segway to review the rest of this album. I mentioned this before that Jack Goldstein isn’t an amateur. There’s an orchestral beginning to this track, with an almost atonal string section. Yet it’s atonality isn’t chaos, rather it sits on the edge of harmony and chaos. Then comes the drums. The drums are so layered, so complex, and so creative; that it almost becomes this jungle kind of sound. The drums and bass of this track forms a foundation for Jack Goldstein to really experiment. There are flourishes of vocal harmonies, samples, keyboard flourishes, it’s got the whole nine yards. These sounds often ebb and flow within the track, providing emotional ups and downs as the track progresses. It’s in this ability to experiment and provide emotional clarity that Jack Goldstein shows off his craftsmanship; and what separates him from the “professionals” and the “amateurs.”
Next we have CINQUE PORTS. I already touched on how talented Jack Goldstein is at creating vocal harmonies, drum beats, samples, etc. But on this track he introduces another layer to his sound. The guitar. Now like I’ve said before, I am a sucker for somebody who knows how to use guitar tones. I’m the type of person who likes to watch people purchase, say, a telecaster and a gibson and watch them jam out. Mainly for entertainment, because I’ve got no life. But the other reason is because almost everybody plays guitar. Throw a stone in a crowd, and you’ll probably hit at least one guitarist. Yet what separates somebody who plays guitar, and somebody who plays guitar (besides the italics) is their ability to know how to craft a certain sound, and thus create a certain feel.
In the beginning you have this trebbly, thin, distant, sounding guitar, which then gets overtaken by this fat sounding trudge of a guitar. Each of these compliment each other, as the sound puts layers upon layers of different guitar sounds. Yet it’s not like listening to Bach, where (and please don’t hurt me) it’s so complex it feels like listening to a math problem. No this is something that you can hum along to.
Even the little glitchiness, cascade of guitar effects, and electronic bleeps and blurps provide little nuances. Kind of like when you’re watching an actor pull off an emotional scene, and the veins on their forehead protrudes, or snot comes out of their nose while they’re crying. While those are actors who are so into the role that they feel the emotion they’re conveying. This kind of emotional flourishes comes not from spontaneity but rather careful planning. After all this was recorded with modern equipment, trying to capture that live kind of sound with all of it’s human elements is incredibly difficult. Yet Jack Goldstein somehow manages to pull it off.
So the next song DUNGENESS does something that is incredible. How do you make a song lighthearted, fun, comfy, all the while being experimental? After all experimental music isn’t known for being upbeat. In fact it’s nearly impossible to find a song that’s experimental and that’s not abrasive. Yet here is DUNGENESS which is probably one of the most upbeat songs I’ve ever heard. How does he do it? Well with a banjo of course!
Now if you’re like me and you hear a banjo two things come to mind: Deliverance and Banjo Kazooie. Which I’m sure a lot of psychologists would have a field day with since one is about male on male sexual assault, and the other is an N64 children’s game featuring a bear and bird. Now this isn’t an instrument one would expect to find in a British avant garde album, yet here we are.
Now why do I bring up this instrument since there are a plethora of other instruments that are probably more important and more prominent in the track? Well as musicians we often find ourselves limited in due to genre, convention, what sells, image, etc. Yet we never really utilize everything that’s within our arsenal. Better yet, imagine being a painter and for some reason you never use the color orange. You paint picture after picture, and then one day you see somebody paint this beautiful painting using orange. It’s that sense of freedom knowing that if one thing is possible, then everything is possible. Which is why even though if you were to take out most of the obscure instruments of the track, and even Jack Goldstein’s father’s monologue, and replace it all with something more conventional–the track wouldn’t be as fun to listen to.
Then we get to BECKON CALL most of the music has been pretty optimistic, or I’d just say fun to listen to. BECKON CALL is when it gets real. It’s the kind of track that I’d imagine being played out in some moody detective movie in the 80’s that never has existed, because no movie during that time has been that good to deserve a song like this. It’s mainly due to the spaghetti western guitar strumming, the moody synths, and gritty trumpet playing. Something that would be playing while the detective is on the third act of his story arc–pours himself a whiskey without the ice–and has ran out of leads. We all know how the story plays out, yet it’s good artists who know just how, when, and why to subvert our expectations to then deliver a twist that everyone will remember. And Jack Goldstein knows when to deliver a good twist.
The sound then devolves into this cacophony of what sounds like Modern Jazz and then gets overwhelmed by this electronic swarm and then…You’re cruising. The sound develops into this moody kind of groove. That kind of groove you get when you’re in the zone, when you get over your two left feet, and dance in harmony with that beautiful girl in the club. And this isn’t some bump and grind kind of dancing–this is that soulful, baby making, take this girl home to mom but don’t tell her where you met her, kind of dancing.
Then the last piece of the song is a triumphant rock track. Something you could imagine Led Zeppelin playing sold out arenas towards. Which judging from the previous descriptions of this track you probably weren’t expecting. And I wasn’t expecting either, this track has more twists, and turns than a soap opera. Yet narratively speaking it all works. Kind of like when you watch a really good movie and they play a rock track, because the people who made the movie know it’s good, and know there’s reason to celebrate.
Which brings us to the last song, GHOST SIGN. THIS is how you end an album. The instrumentation feels like a college football team’s anthem, and it’s that sense of victory that this track ends with. Because after all listening to this album, you can’t help but feel that Jack Goldstein has accomplished something special here. Not since Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper has an album sounded so experimental and yet at the same time accessible. This isn’t an album to listen to, it’s an album to lose yourself to, to immerse yourself in the experience, and understand what pop music is capable of.
I said when reviewing this album that I haven’t heard any British music that’s been submitted to me that’s sounded bad. But GOD DAMN I didn’t expect it to sound this good either. This album comes out May 12th, and I URGE YOU TO BUY IT. I’m not getting paid for this, and there’s no benefit for me to shill this album. Yet I can’t help but want to show this to as many people as possible.
So undeniably this album gets my recc, and BUY THE ALBUM. This album NEEDS to be on your radar, because if it’s not you’re missing out, and there’s nothing worse than missing out.