Release Date: Mar 17, 2015
Record label: True Panther Sounds
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The story of Tobias Jesso Jr.’s rapid ascent in many ways began with the breakup of the band Girls and Jesso reaching out to producer Chet “JR” White in the aftermath of the split. But the storybook beginning, which included Jesso relocating from Vancouver to San Francisco, sleeping on White’s couch during recording, and inevitably collaborating with the likes of The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Ariel Rechtshaid as well, is only the background. Jesso’s debut, Goon, doesn’t need any of it to be impactful or important.
If you’ve ever wandered by a practice room and overheard a child playing music for the first time, you know what it’s like to observe a physical and mental transformation. Someone stretches their fingers awkwardly, fanning them across the wide frets of a bass neck or straining their left pinkie to press that black E-flat key. There’s genuine apprehension, but their motivation pushes them through.
At some point it became clear that one of the themes for the first quarter of 2015 would be The Return of the Male Piano Balladeer. Upcoming records from Father John Misty, Matthew E. White, and new kid/not-kid Tobias Jesso Jr. (he’s 29) would all center on an archetype now associated mostly with the 1970s: the weary dude, wise beyond his years, spinning tales of love and loss from his piano bench before moving over to a barstool.
There’s a fragile voice ringing out in the scratchy, Vancouver home demos Tobias Jesso Jr. made his name on. It might have something to do with the circumstances - these are first takes, penned while the Canadian was looking after his sick mother, following a less-than-successful year in LA where fame couldn’t feel further away. He’d been through his fair share of tough luck by this point.
Goon is Tobias Jesso Jr’s debut album, and you can hear it. At a low ebb, the then-27-year-old Jesso offloads his woe on to a piano, wallowing in disappointment, romantic and otherwise. The songs are often straightforward; rudimentary, sometimes. Jesso admits his piano-playing hovers around a Grade 2.
Don't believe the hype for one second: Tobias Jesso Jr. is in no way, shape or form "cool" — at least traditionally speaking. After all, this is a 6-foot-7 piano-playing Canadian from North Vancouver whose ultimate goal is to win a Grammy and collaborate with Adele (a hero of his). So don't feel bad if you had him pegged for more of Harry Nilsson/Randy Newman/Elton John kind of guy; they may not be favourite artists of his, but his name might well be mentioned in the same breath as them one day.That's because, after years spent in a the Killers-esque synth-pop crew, playing bass for a teen popstar wannabe and living the Hollywood dream, Jesso Jr.
Perhaps 2015 is the year that Dad Rock becomes officially cool as opposed to a running gag. Steely Dan is a featured band at Coachella, Billy Joel is headlining Bonnaroo, and Kanye West has fallen hopelessly in love with the melodic charms of Paul McCartney. Add to that artists like Jessica Pratt and Natalie Prass, who owe plenty of debt to '70s singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and you might find that suddenly your old man's dusty vinyl collection doesn't seem quite so lame.
In August 2013, after a painful break-up and his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Tobias Jesso Jr released his first demo. ‘Just A Dream’ was a brilliant, Lennon-esque introduction. Debut album ‘Goon’ is a great leap forward. Gloopy, orchestral and lovingly plumped up with strings and skronking brass by producers Chet ‘JR’ White, Black Keys drummer Pat Carney and Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim), it’s driven by 29-year-old Jesso’s huge personality and sounds designed to stay with you.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Writing love songs is a dangly, perilous business. Apprehension is quite common in this field, but so is complete brazenness. Why is the contrast between these two attitudes so prevalent? The subject of love in music has been bastardized for so long by so many that the possibilities of banality in crafting love songs are, depending on one's personality, either too overwhelming or just nonexistent.
Review Summary: The sentimental male pianist persona receives an independent audit.Do you believe in fate? How about the phrase "everything happens for a reason"? No. Well, Tobias Jesso Jr.'s story might make you reconsider. A native of Vancouver, Jesso was the bass player for Emergenza (worldwide competition for unsigned bands) winning indie rock quartet The Sessions.
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.
Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman — comparisons are inescapable for this 29-year-old singer-songwriter. But accusing Tobias Jesso Jr. of piano-rock plagiarism is like accusing Shake Shack of hamburger mimicry. His debut LP gathers 12 beautifully lean ballads sung in a vulnerable tenor, with vintage studio touches blended by sharp producers including JR White, Patrick Carney and Ariel Rechtshaid.
Were it not for the extroverts, rock ‘n’ roll piano players would be at a decided disadvantage. Though a frontman who wields a guitar has the mobility to move about the stage and pose and posture, your average keyboardist is forced to remain in a stationary position due to the fact that most grand pianos aren’t really made for portability. Still, certain exceptional showmen found a way to do gymnastics while using their pianos as props, one they can stand on, duck beneath, or somersault off of, depending on their athletic prowess.
As a musical example of how first impressions can be misleading, Tobias Jesso Jr takes some beating. When he first came to notice, after posting a song called Just a Dream on YouTube, accompanied by a photo of its composer seated at a piano as a child, the most immediately appropriate comparison seemed to be with Daniel Johnston, the mentally ill singer-songwriter famously beloved of Kurt Cobain. Like the music that made Johnston famous, Just a Dream was a beautiful, fragile piano ballad, its lyrics filled with intimations of imminent apocalypse – “I had a bad dream that the world would end and would be forever ending” – and of romantic despair expressed in a curiously skewed, childlike way: “I never had nobody else, no bestest friend until the end.
Hype for Tobias Jesso Jr.'s Goon arguably hit peak levels during his Tonight Show network television debut, where he played a heartbreaking (and Roots-assisted) rendition of the flawless, flooring single How Could You Babe. It's a relief, then, that the whole album lives up to that hype. Written at his parents' North Vancouver home, Goon sparkles with powerful emotional depth.
Los Angeles-via-Vancouver songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr.'s Goon comes across more like basement tapes reissued than a debut, akin to early demos from Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson – two artists he told The Guardian he'd never listened to. Tempting to call bullshit on the 29-year-old natural given that the piano balladry of Goon runs so deeply in that vein. "How Could You Babe" leads in with bright keys, clunking along with the choppy progressions of someone who added the ivories to their repertoire only recently, yet the revelatory chorus climaxes with a pure dose of emotion that will mark his career.
A peculiar thing happens three-quarters of the way through “Hollywood,” the lead single from Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut album Goon. The song starts its life as a disheartened piano ballad, with lyrics about the throes of an existential crisis, the kind that curses confessional singer-songwriters. Jesso’s chewing on a failed relationship and career, feeling muddled, musing on the inanity of life.
Near the end of Tobias Jesso Jr.‘s debut full length, Goon, the singer warbles in his boyish tenor, “I can’t explain the world to you/I can’t explain the things that people choose to do/there’s the thing called hate and a thing called love too.” In the narrative of the song, “Just A Dream,” Jesso Jr. sings to his day-old child, a fact this writer could neither confirm nor deny, though Jesso Jr.‘s recent after-party make-outs with Taylor Swift at least throw doubt at his role as a doting father. Still, it’s not a bad metaphor for Goon: explaining it to us like we’re children.
opinion byDERRICK ROSSIGNOL In August 2013, Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. uploaded a lo-fi recording of a song called “Just A Dream” onto YouTube. At that point, it was about all the world knew of him. Late last month, Jesso made his television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, performing the lamenting ballad “How Could You Babe” with backing from The Roots.