Tobias Jesso Jr.
Arts & Crafts Records
Goon, the debut album of Vancouver-based songster Tobias Jesso Jr., sounds like it came straight from the 1970s. Part early solo-McCartney, part Billy Joel, and part Randy Newman, the songs on Goon range from soulful and plaintive, to fragile and heartbreaking, to snarky and caustic. What connects these songs is the piano. Though his piano chops aren’t virtuosic, Jesso Jr. is a bit of a piano man for the new generation, recreating the feel of piano-centric popular music from a time gone by.
The songs on this record are full of pain, vulnerability, and fragility. The aftermath of a painful breakup, a failed attempt at making it in Hollywood, and Jesso Jr.’s mother’s cancer diagnosis, this record is a stellar listen for when one is feeling low or down in the dumps. The pain, heartbreak and vulnerability are etched in Jesso Jr.’s vocals, lyrics, and melodic yet sparse piano playing. These tunes are all fairly simple – and by no means anything novel or ground-breaking – but their simplicity is what makes them work. They have a familiarity that makes them easy to digest. At once anachronistic and timeless, the songs on Goon make the listener feel like he or she is being transported in a time machine, yet somehow these classic-sounding songs still feel fresh, relatable, and relevant.
One can’t help but sing along with a clenched fist to the chorus of the soul-baring “How Could You Babe,” one of the album’s standout tunes. The rich swells of the backup singers and band crank up the drama to a 10, and the listener can’t help but feel Jesso Jr.’s pain and sense of betrayal towards a lover that left him high and dry. “Crocodile Tears,” on the other hand, shows Jesso Jr.’s sarcastic side. Complete with false “boo hoo”s dripping with scorn, this is easily the darkest-sounding song on the record. “Without You” is a gorgeous love song centred around the idea that Jesso Jr. can’t stand the idea of living without the object of his affection, a not uncommon theme in popular music. One can picture this song playing in a movie, during a scene where two characters are slow dancing together, focusing only on one another and nothing else. The song is simultaneously powerful and delicate, grand and intimate – a real gem.
All in all, if you’re looking for an honest, earnest, back-to-basics album full of straightforward sonic delights, then Goon is definitely worth checking out.