Album Review: Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon

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On first hearing Canadian songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr’s debut album Goon, I felt transported back to the 1970’s, with a mix of captivating piano ballads and wearily wise melodies, that speak of Jesso Jr. dealing with love, loss and self discovery. The artist originally started out playing bass for indie rock band The Sessions, followed by pop artist Melissa Cavatti before he turned his hand to piano on returning to his home in North Vancouver. His return was down to a number of events that had taken place previously, including a painful breakup, a car collision and the news of his mother being diagnosed with cancer. Jesso Jr began to shy away from his life in LA, taking a completely new direction with the piano, an instrument he had never focused his attention upon seriously. His many attempts at success through songwriting and playing for other artists had not proven fruitful, however the piano managed to strip Jesso Jr’s voice back to a bare, vulnerable state that gave his audience a glimpse into the real artist, with insights into his life experiences, leading to his eventual growth as a musician.

Jesso Jr originally sent one of his demos to former Girls bassist JR White, going on to record in San Francisco and strike a record deal with True Panther Records. Goon was produced by the likes of Patrick Carney from The Black Keys, John Collins from The New Pornographers, and Grammy winning record producer, Ariel Rechtshaid. Within the album Danielle Haim from pop rock band Haim plays drums on Without You, a song about the hardships and heartaches of love, losing someone close to you that you won’t ever get back. The song relates to anyone who has mourned the death of a relationship, gone through the pain of seeing the one person you love walk away.

His song How Could You Babe has gained attention from the likes of Adele and Alana Haim, reminding me of the bittersweet melodies of Simon & Garfunkel, with Jesso Jr. often being compared to seventies icons Emitt Rhodes, Harry Nillson and Randy Newman. There is even a McCartney-like element to Jesso Jr’s melodies, a simplicity that both artists share and strive for within their music.

The mix of simple piano chords and acoustic vocal leave each of his songs feeling whole, the balance being perfectly orchestrated between the use of instrument and vocal. For me, one particular song that stood out was Bad Words, being made up of a steady drumbeat and bluesy vocals. I imagined a lone figure drowning their sorrows at a bar, trying to go over the break down of a relationship. For an artist in their late twenties, this song speaks of someone beyond their years, an artist who is weary with the troubles of the world.

Leaving LA seems very on point with the artist’s previous  struggle in the city. The song moves between solo piano and dreamy vocals that show the artist’s seventies influence, making you picture Jesso Jr. on the open road moving from city to city, finding his place in the world. The vocals in For You work perfectly in unison with the background violins, each element of the song merging into one single textured sound.

Goon doesn’t focus on layering each song; Jesso Jr’s voice is laid bare for all to see and just like McCartney, the sweetness, subtly and lightness of his voice shines through, creating a thought-provoking, enchanting album.

Claudia Foxcroft