Jake Lenderman likes to perpetuate the story that MJ stands for Michael Jordan. He played a lot of basketball as a child but, when he started high school, he realised that music was his main passion. His influences include Drive By Truckers and The Band and the album he listened to a lot before recording “Boat Songs” was “Planet Waves” by Bob Dylan. He is from Asheville, North Carolina, a state that is the birthplace of Nina Simone, Ryan Adams, Randy Travis and Ben E King – a list that perfectly encapsulates the wide variety of music in this 10-song, 33-minute suite of perfectly crafted music.
MJ Lenderman’s songs are wonderful vignettes which hint at a complex character who has lived a life of heartache and despair. However, he is 23 years old and he has stated that his songs are fiction, although each one contains a small part of him. “The stories can be silly and funny.” He acknowledges that the characters are “a little more destructive and clumsy” than he is himself.
“TLC Cagematch” is the song on the album that MJ Lenderman is most proud of and no wonder because it is magnificent. It reminds me of some of the gorgeous ballads that Slobberbone liked to slip in between their manic rockers (e.g. “Lumberlung”). “TLC” stands for tables, ladders and chairs. A relentlessly mournful pedal steel guitar permeates the melancholy music over which MJ Lenderman sings a song of desperate sadness. His boyhood friend has turned to cage fighting in an attempt to find meaning and to feel something other than emptiness. The singer reminds his friend that when they were younger, they had heroes, but all their heroes are now dead because everyone dies.
“You Have Bought Yourself A Boat” has an infectious riff worthy of Brinsley Schwarz. Lyrically, by contrast to the friend in “TLC Cageman”, another friend has fallen on good times and bought himself a boat whilst the singer is living next to “neighbours cussing and throwing their shit in the yard”. The song is two and half minutes of perfect pop-rock.
“Tastes Just Like It Costs” is heavier and, to me, sounds like it’s heavily influenced by “Ragged Glory”-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The first verse is a diatribe against an ex girlfriend who is wearing a “dumb hat”. He passes a butcher’s shop where they had bought some expensive meat and recalls that she screamed and he tripped. That’s about it, lyrically. A few brush strokes of memory, outlining some recollections of a failed relationship set to a dense wash of distorted guitars. Brilliant.
“SUV” is fast and frenetic He is so furious at his ex that he has stolen the keys to her new boyfriend’s SUV.
“Under Control” is slower, sadder and self-critical as the singer likens the futility of his dead end existence to a car crash which results in his wheels (and his life) ending up in a ditch. Dan Stuart would be proud of the lyrics and vocal style in this song which is another example of the great pop rock sound that weaves its way through this marvellously varied album. Another contender for album of the year.