Aaron Lee Tasjan has now released 5 albums over the past 6 years. He was born in Delaware, moved to California, spent his later teen years in Ohio, studied in New York and moved to Nashville where he collaborated with Sean Lennon and Jack White. He taught himself guitar by playing Oasis songs. With this background, it’s no wonder that his music is so eclectic.
The first album I have heard by Aaron Lee Tasjan reminds me very much of a Paul McCartney album even though it has been released two months after “McCartney III”. It’s not just that his vocals, on some of the tracks, bear a resemblance to the Liverpool genius. It’s the care that’s taken over the arrangements with never a full moment. It’s also the plethora of tuneful melodies, the harmonies and the offbeat nature of the lyrics. This is a pop record which sounds like it could have been released between “Wild Life” and “Band On The Run”.
“Sunday Women” is full of synthesisers and a metronomic beat. He asks “whatever happened to Sunday women?” over and over.
“Computer Of Love” concerns a meaningless relationship over the internet. The music is pretty and sounds like Seventies pop with more synthesisers, nice harmonies, and half a melody which is occasionally whistled.
“Up All Night” finds the singer suffering from terminal ennui. He tells us many times that he doesn’t care. The arrangements are sophisticated and for the last verse, when he has retreated into his own worthlessness so far that he resorts to asking a doctor for help, he temporarily sounds like he is on a hillside in Tibet. There’s more than a scintilla of ELO in this song.
A much more melodic and McCartneyesque song is “Another Lonely Day”. It’s not clear who he is spending this lonely day with but the implication is that it’s not someone who is alive. Instrumentally the song could have come from “Ram”. It’s charming.
“Don’t Overthink It” is a great pop song which quickly establishes a groove which is embellished by searing waves of synth. Aaron Lee Tasjan adopts a conversational vocal style for the verses before tunefully harmonising with himself for the chorus. As well as Paul McCartney, he reminds me of Karl Wallinger.
“Cartoon Music” is a seemingly throwaway song about his feelings of alienation from the rest of the world. As with all the songs, the arrangement is sophisticated and he has a great ability to conjure up a memorable melody. There’s a good electric guitar solo and the song is more substantial than it appears at first listen. It’s not cartoon music.
References to Grace Jones, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Mick Jagger and others abound on the weird “Feminine Walk”. “The Beatles” has a lot to answer for: this album has eleven interesting, well arranged songs with offbeat lyrics. Think “Sexy Sadie”, “Savoy Truffle” and “Bungalow Bill”….
…Or think of the piano in “Martha My Dear” with the strangeness of “Cry Baby Cry” set to the melody of “I Will” when listening to “Dada Bois”.
A more substantial song follows. “Now You Know” explores the singer’s sinking into desolation as he sings “Missed my window tryin’ to go out the closing door”. Melodically, this is charming. Lyrically, it’s a centrepiece of the album. He’s in a bad place. Now we know.
There’s more despair at the triviality of a digital life on “Not That Bad”. He has tried many ways of recording a song that would express his true self but the record label has rejected him. A lovely acoustic guitar backing is enhanced by a bell-like electric guitar.
At the end of the album, he can’t believe his luck that he has “Got What I Wanted” by finding out that he can find love by “letting it all go”. Melodically, this is more dissonant with a sinister guitar sound. It’s not clear whether getting what he wanted is going to make him happy.
His website has this paragraph: “The last two songs “Not That Bad,” and “Got What I Wanted” show hope, coming to a state of grace both musically and psychically—resolving this sometimes disquieting song cycle with a chiming melody and the quiet assurance that life is what you make of it, and sometimes even more if you just get out of your own way. This is not anxious music for anxious times, but rather music as an antidote for anxious times. It is the sound of the future arriving.“