Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Ordinary" by Jane Astronaut is Anything But. A Brilliant Loving Homage to 60's Brit Pop.

"Ordinary" is a project crafted with love and care by 25 year old Billy Azurdia aka Jane Astronaut. He picked up his first guitar at 19 years old with his first paycheck ever working at a shoe store. Having released two prior records, "Ordinary", in particular, is adorned with beautifully rendered homages to 1960's brit pop while still retaining a sharp edged bite. Take, for example, Toxic Mind that has drum fills that could be Ringo himself and lovely melodies that suggest a love song but lyrics that might suggest a poisoned self or relationship. A Pretty Tragedy sweeps you up in it's swing. It kind of moves like a Jam / Strokes combo but Billy is not content to keep it simple and shifts the tempos and tones up well as it feels like a girl burning out. Willy The Cat is silly and sublime and made me think of the Who a bit.

The droning guitars on Good and Numb mimic dour voices and sound so good. The namesake song Ordinary seems to be a sad treatise on fads, of style over substance. The guitar work is dreamy. The synth sounds of Tell Me conjure up "Fool on the Hill" for a brief moment. The bass line tangos and weaves. While you can feel the ghosts of The Kinks and the Beatles, Jane Astronaut feels very much like its own musical entity. Billy's self awareness is key here because there is such a self assured confidence shown on these songs that they actually feel like they could exist in any decade thus feeling timeless themselves. He also falls into some trippy theater in songs like the ethereal How Strange that at it's core has the acid dreaminess of The Flaming Lips. Even in Poor Girl which has all the straight forward and doe eyed earnestness of a solo acoustic McCartney performance, Billy stirs in wonderful vocodorish "ooohs" that have just the right amount of weirdness to them to rough up the song a bit.

Magazine Lady is dramatic enough to feel a like bit of glam tossed into the 60's pop. It is frilly and majestic. Not Long also is a march of discontent built around a keyboard downbeat. If there is one song on this album that breaks the mood, it might be I Forgot which has a shifty almost gothic post punk feel. The diversion feels right.

The scope of this album makes me dizzy. I have listened to it several times over the last few days and the sonic nuances and sweet sweep of the lyrical content have grown every time. Billy Azurdia has said that this project has let him play Beatles-Dress up in terms of creativity and freedom. Amazingly, he plays all the guitars, bass, most of the keyboard parts and renders those intricate keys and drums by patiently programming them or mapping single hits on a grid.

The last two tracks on Ordinary wrap up this entire masterwork so nicely. They both feel like they are in a 60's kaleidoscope of introspection. Just For You interplays between intimacy and full orchestrations.  The appropriately entitled last track Bye Bye is a lovely mind trip that made me think of face painted circus performers (courtesy of a ring siren). For me, though, the song does not signal a farewell but simply the time to push play again to hear this brilliant piece of work all over again.

Robb Donker

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