Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard - 'em Are I
Mundane life grappling, anti-folk purveyor, gruff philosopher and comic book writing guy, New York's Jeffrey Lewis finally has a permanent name for his growing in impact and stature backing band, The Junkyard. Now on his fifth album, 'em Are I, Jeffrey has never been far from a debate and his recent campaign song that summed up the rise of Barack Obama, displayed all his back to basics, simple illustration and mundane wit.
However, there is a recurring theme, as this song and arguably some of Jeff's most strikingly off-kilter works such as the super hero parodying ‘Champion Jim', an insightful and well thought out political history lesson of ‘History of Communism' and the starkly gritty ‘Complete History of Punk', have never made it onto an album. Naturally, this raises a question as to whether or not Jeff simply prefers consistency and a similar vibe to his albums, in order to retain a more mainstream appeal? Or is it a cunning ploy to retain mystery and bite, by giving his shows freshness and appeal, being able to splatter them with non-album gems?
Anyway, of the songs that do make the fifth album cut, opener ‘Slogans' uses hefty drum beats to raise the profile of Jeffrey's biting urbanity. Single, ‘Roll Bus Roll', strolls like any 39A, making stark observations on the way, revealing a slow psychedelic streak and the Mark E Smith mirroring vocals bear out life, escapism and the harsh reality of the perspective of someone forced into this form of transport. Creaky atmospheric slants of the Mogwai ilk have made their way into the composition of an ole Jeffo album, ‘If Life Exists?' rather like a woodlouse making its way into your floorboards. Acid blues spliced ‘Broken Broken Broken Heart', nutshells neatly the whiningly rhythmic tendencies of old with help from well placed jangly percussion and warming handclapping.
The trend of life being titled to a jaunty angle is revisited, but for the 3rd time at least, it still comes across as fresh and free spirited. ‘The Upside-down Cross' highlights a creaky slant that is growing in prominence with each album. Controlled rattling and jangling percussion contrasts with the slow, almost hypnotic guitar loops, giving this psychedelic sliding Jack Lewis penned epic, intrigue and gruffness. The vocals are perched grumbling in the background, representing a departure from the rest of the 11 track album, as the bemused narrative is normally the centrepiece. ‘Good Ole Pig, Gone to Avalon', sees some twining retro guitar licks representing boldness and extravagance.
Managing to keep a Major Label happy, whilst, at the same time, retaining your independence and focus is a difficult task that Jeffrey Lewis continues to achieve, once again, this success is something that a varied audience can enjoy.
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