nolead ends "I have lost my way," Ron Sexsmith confesses dolefully on "Nothing Feels the Same Anymore." The singer seems to be longing for a time when, in his mind, music had emotional purity, uncompromised integrity, and the power to move.
Sexsmith himself, however, continues to belie the notion that those qualities have been irretrievably lost - or that his own aim is no longer true. Carousel One is another set in which the Canadian tunesmith's sonorous, hangdog vocals play off against sturdy and inviting melodies, with the result that the whole exudes a timeless pop classicism.
And while there may be "so many things that complicate our minds," Sexsmith remains adept at cutting through the clutter and articulating matters of the heart with piercing clarity. As for matters of the art, there's another song title that seems to run counter to reality: "Can't Get My Act Together."
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Tobias Jesso Jr.
nolead ends nolead begins Goon
nolead ends nolead begins (True Panther ***1/2)
nolead ends Tobias Jesso Jr. could credit a bad patch in L.A. for his meteoric rise to indie songwriter success. The day after he got sideswiped on his bike in Los Angeles, he found out his mother had cancer. Defeated and lost, he packed his instruments into storage and flew home to Vancouver and moved into his mom's house. It was there that he'd pen "Just a Dream," a ballad for his future child. The song is suited perfectly to just him, a piano, and his endearingly "anti-voice" vocals. The piano, as it happens, is by no means his native instrument, but it was his sister's, and it was sitting there, unused, calling his name. The album he'd create with it is what we have in Goon, and it's a beauty.
It is rife with humanity laid bare: hurt, regret, longing, disappointment, shame. All of it. The first three titles on the 29-year-old's opus are very telling - "Can't Stop Thinking About You," "How Could You Babe," and "Without You." That last one is an apt and meta nod to Harry Nilsson, who perfectly distilled a brand of melancholia with the same-titled track in 1971.
Jesso's romantic ennui and simple, songwriting-focused songs position him as a 2015 Randy Newman or Nick Drake. "Can We Still Be Friends" (another track whose title channels a classic hit) begins: "Well don't you hate it when you mess up with a friend?" It's this easy, conversational and honest charm that makes Goon great.
- Bill Chenevert
nolead begins Earl Sweatshirt
nolead ends nolead begins I Don't Like S-, I Don't Go Outside
nolead ends nolead begins (Columbia/Tan Cressida ***)
nolead ends Earl Sweatshirt is one of those guys you never see or hear coming, then, pow, he's on you. At one performance, Sweatshirt was on stage with Tyler, the Creator, who, cap on, head down, did not realize Earl was there - until Earl blasted off with one of his panicky, fluid, sarcastic rants. That's a Sweatshirt thing, and his new album is full of his goofy, sweaty-palms signatures.
Start with "Grief," a gurgling, lo-fi track with Sweatshirt bursting like a hot water pipe in random fits and starts. He's angry about missing his grandmother, and about MCs taking what's his, whatever that may be. There's nothing Zen about the spaced-out "Mantra." Meditative hymns are too peaceful for him.
Other rappers who join Sweatshirt in his bugged-out journey wind up as wiggy as he. The rapper Da$H normally sounds chill, but not when he and his host wrangle with the stupid temerity of "Grown Ups." With Earl by his side, Long Beach MC Vince Staples gives "Wool" the gravity of religion. Ultimately, Sweatshirt doesn't need help working himself into a bloop-filled lather - being "Inside" makes Earl as neurotic as all outdoors.