Album Review: Tobias Jesso Jr, Goon

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Tobias Jesso Jr is the tall, scruffy, dark-haired musician who could be mistaken for Neil Gaiman at a brisk glance. He is a sweet Canadian singer-songwriter who finds comfort behind a guitar, but found fame on the piano. With a voice slightly more boyish than Lennon’s or McCartney’s, he brings something both my parents and I enjoy all the same. It is his debut album Goon that makes me nostalgic for memories I never had.

Tobias is 29-years-old and has only been playing piano for two-and-a-half years. Yet the entire album opens with piano. And it is vulnerable. The opening track, ‘Can’t Stop Thinking about You’, pays homage to George Harrison’s song of the same name. Already, he has established himself as the modern 20-something year-old who was born in the wrong era.

Standout track, ‘How Could You Babe’, is the stellar serenade of the show. It begins in a lilting 3-4, slowly building up to the stunning vocals that transform Tobias from a bedroom songwriter to that teddy-boy singer on The Tonight Show. But despite approval from Adele, I have only heard of him once before on FBi Radio. And none of my friends have ever heard of him. Tobias Jesso Jr seems to be everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

The album was recorded in studios and in bedrooms with friends. So for an album this modest, I was surprised to find it was produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys and Grammy-winning producer Arial Rechstaid. Feel-good tune ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ is the most basic and the sweetest. ‘Crocodile Tears’ is a feathery distillation of blues and rockabilly, with groovy electric guitar solos, chuggy piano chords and Tobias crying ‘boo-hoo-hoo-ooo!’. He is talented. Original. But sometimes I still find it hard to stop seeing him in the shadow of Nilsson.

Though I still find him honest. ‘I think I’m gonna die in Hollywood’; those words echo hauntingly in the song ‘Hollywood’. It is recorded not to the precise measure of clockwork but to the tempo of his own emotions. Once again he reminds me of the beauty in simplicity and minimalism. Though he may not be innovating a genre, Tobias is sincere.

‘For You’ is a cute, indie-pop gem. It is a rather pleasant surprise nestled in the bittersweet heaviness of nearly every other song. It is catchy and upbeat. I love how Tobias builds it all up with percussion and bass, only to break it all down again. In the same vein, ‘Leaving LA’ possesses an ebb and flow. And when you least expect it, a sparkling celesta-like instrument cascades down the scale or an alarm washes in and out like you were the one who imagined it. Goon teaches me to no longer view space as subservient to building a climax; the climax is equally subservient to the unsung beauty of ‘space’, ‘nothingness’ and ‘quietness’ in music.

Finally, Goon closes with ‘Tell The Truth’, a track filled to the brim with interplay between the strings and guitars. As the wisps of the last song are played, leaving me is Tobias’ voice, like the silver thread interwoven into a dusky drape.

Goon proves it is never too late to learn an instrument. It is both an extremely personal collection of genuine songs and a highly acclaimed record. At times I still misremember myself to have found this record through a friend of a friend of Tobias himself. It’s because he still comes off like a singer-songwriter who has never made it. And as fragile as a musician can get in such a cutthroat industry, he builds an entire record on his least confident instrument, the piano. Like gossamer, the album possesses delicacy in its strength, or perhaps strength in its delicacy.

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Words by Chloe Keung