Sunday, March 9, 2014

Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams - s/t CD

I’m finding it harder to keep up with my favorite bands. Either by age 40 I’ve collected too many favorite bands or life is moving too fast for me to stay on top of it. Things happen that never did before – I’ll realize a band I listened to obsessively in 2005 has put out two more LPs since then without me knowing. Or, for example, Jeffrey Lewis put out an exclusive tour CD and I nearly missed the fact of its existence.

Actually, it’s available not just at shows but on his website. It’s under the name Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams, not to be confused with Jeffrey Lewis & the Rain or Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard or the Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel Band or simply Jeffrey Lewis. Nevermind, go ahead and confuse them, they all involve the same person, the Lower East Side folk singer/comic artist/writer of sonnets based on Sonic Youth lyrics named Jeffrey Lewis.

Eclecticism is, to an extent, part of his music too – or at least this collection of 10 songs is lovably rag-tag. The CD starts with a lonely pop song that begins with him imagining his own funeral, wanting it to happen while he’s alive and moves into general longing for gatherings of friends and ponderings about his own ability or inability to maintain friendships within today’s social-media, fast-paced world (“You’re Invited”). [One thing I always relate to about Lewis is his ability to articulate the feeling that the world is slipping by you or making you feel like an out-of-touch alien.]

The CD ends with a short acoustic track that takes on a traditional folk form more than the rest (“Down to See”). In between those bookends is a song my wife mistook for the Violent Femmes, a spoken poem about Pussy Riot, a spacey daydream called “Nonsense” (“Nonsense rules supreme”; truer words not spoken) and a kind of gutter blues song about the hardships of daily life, like burnt pancakes or the morning newspaper not showing up (“It’s No Good”).

His wit and humor, within a Charlie Brown-like "woe is me" persona, is exemplified by the quick-and-easy "Outta Town", a would-be college-radio hit that seems like a tragic tale of heartbreak -- what can he do now that she's gone - until he reveals that she's only out of town for the weekend, and has only been gone for a day and a half. The bouncy, almost optimistic pessimism on display there is a hallmark of this collection and Lewis' overall discography, which is filled with many similar pleasures.

[P.S. To illustrate my first paragraph's point - while finishing up this piece, I spent some time looking at Jeffrey Lewis videos and stumbled across the fact that in 2012 he contributed to Tallahassee Turns Ten, a track-by-track, various-artists cover of the Mountain Goats' Tallahassee album. It has Jeffrey Lewis, Kimya Dawson, Hallelujah the Hills and bands I don't know yet. Awesome; this kind of discovery is what keeps me up too late, what makes me spend too much money and what keeps me excited about music every single day.]

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