A lot of times, things don’t work out. Relationships don’t work out, showbiz dreams don’t work out, hell, even a well-intentioned movie site staffed by some of the best pop culture writers around doesn’t work out. These first two items are what informs a lot of Tobias Jesso Jr.’s wonderfully plaintive debut Goon, which I realize came out over three months ago, but I’ve been getting into so hard lately that I have a hard time not writing about it. And it isn’t just Jesso’s sadsackery that makes his songs so good, since there are plenty of singer-songwriters out there churning out depressing ballads that have no real reason to be listened to by human ears. Because despite their melancholy, Jesso’s songs on the other hand have the kind of intuitive melodicism of the Nilsson/McCartney variety, and for that there’s a kind of warmth and comfort that they offer by reveling in the fact that, yeah, life kinda sucks sometimes, but just hang in there and things’ll work out alright.
Jesso’s songs are also so good that you by no means need to know the somewhat talked-about backstory behind this album’s moderate success, though I personally have a hard time not taking it into account. You see, Jesso moved from his native Vancouver while in his mid-20’s to the dizzying metropolitan funhouse of dreams and disappointment known as Los Angeles. Then after several years of trying to make it as a pop songwriter/studio guitarist, he moved back to Vancouver after his girlfriend dumped him, and took up piano as he started writing the songs that would eventually appear on Goon. As you might imagine, being a fellow Northwest-born creative-type myself who couldn’t cut it in Lipstick City, I have an even harder time not connecting with Jesso’s songs with all of this floating around in my head when I listen to them. Also, because of this I think I can say with some authority that I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that captures the hopelessness of failing in L.A. quite as succinctly as the heartbreaking “Hollywood”, which more or less serves as the album’s centerpiece.
Again, Jesso’s backstory isn’t remotely necessary to enjoying this album, since Goon‘s barebones approach to the piano ballad certainly evokes a lot of the great LA-based singer-songwriters of the 70s, but ultimately feels pretty timeless. Still, there is something reassuring about hearing of this underdog’s success, though it’s always a bit hard to gauge the “success” of a guy like Jesso who falls squarely in between the mainstream and indie music camps. But all I know for sure is that tickets to his upcoming show at Seattle’s Neptune theater in three months are already sold out, which means I won’t be seeing him live anytime soon, though I’m nonetheless happy that he’s already gotten enough notoriety to fill what is a pretty big venue for someone who only has one (admittedly great) album to his name.
Favorite Tracks: “How Could You Babe”, “Can We Still Be Friends”, “Hollywood”