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Spotlight on: Jason Anderson
The Wreath
New England

Cover of Jason Anderson's The Wreath Jason Anderson, The Wreath

Once upon a time, a man named Jason Anderson, like many of his indie brethren, decided to record his pop songs under a band-name pseudonym: Wolf Colonel. After two albums as Wolf Colonel, however, he tired of the idea of a nom de record but, not wanting to alienate his growing fan base, chose to release his third album, Something/Everything, under the dual moniker of "Wolf Colonel/Jason Anderson" -- a decidedly bold move.

Little did he know that when he finally came completely out from under that Wolf's clothing, it would result in his best-selling album to date: New England -- this despite it being a musical departure from what had come before. Now, less than a year later, the amazingly prolific songwriter has reading yet another collection of soulful introspection.

From the exclamatory "O, Jac!" to the interrogative "When Would You Say?", one-man power-pop band Jason Anderson plows through a variety of emotions on The Wreath along with his steadily-developing variety of styles.

While not as completely moving as New England, it is more purely fun, with many tracks that just cry out to be sung along to, even harmonized with and vocally embellished. Anderson, along with producer Jeremy Jensen (The Very Most) -- The Wreath was recorded in three days at Jensen's Coming in Second studios -- combine the slow, piano-based Anderson of New England with the harder pawp sounds of the Wolf Colonel albums to great effect.

The presence of Rachael Jensen's powerful duet vocals to Anderson's multi-instrumentalism (with some help from Jeremy Jensen and Karen McDonald) simply adds to the cohesiveness. I'm wondering if they just discovered her at the recording studio where The Wreath was made because she's simply such a perfect accompaniment for Anderson -- and this from someone who loved New England's Mirah and Phil Elverum duets "A Book Laid on Its Binding" and "You Fall", respectively.

From the beginning, "O, Jac!" and "If I'm Waiting" showcase the Anderson blending of styles but "Citizen's Arrest" is pure power pop with Anderson accompanying himself with masterful multiplicity. Sometimes, for a break, he simply accompanies himself on a single instrument and so we get "My Balancing Act" (piano) and "The Library" (guitar). But he's always entertaining, managing to be fun and thought-provoking at the same time. Multiple listens reveal previously missed nuances and favorite songs change from time to time (mine at the moment is "When Would You Say?" but just last week it was "I Was Wrong"). Jason Anderson has released a terrific album in the same amount of time that Roger Corman made Little Shop of Horrors with all the fun and ten times the emotional power and subtlety.

Cover of Jason Anderson's New England Jason Anderson, New England

After two albums under the "Wolf Colonel" moniker, Jason Anderson decided not to hide behind a band name anymore. But rather than make an instant change, he decided to credit his next record, Something/Everything, to "Wolf Colonel/Jason Anderson." Now, he's ready to come completely out from under his secret identity and be the Jason Anderson he truly is with New England.

And boy is he ready to make a statement. After the initially disregarded but cunningly invasive "For Kyle" (presumably Little Wings' Kyle Field), he steps right out with "Pen Pals," an eight-minute opus that moves, grooves, and has an addictive piano placement (I found myself waiting for it to come around again). At its core, it's really just a list of sad occurrences ("mix tapes click off," "candles burn out," "credits start") strung together, but Anderson's vocals, and those unanticipatedly moving piano chords, make it into a solid and dynamic work. I am tempted to add "'Pen Pals' ends abruptly" to the lyrics.

One of the great things that make K releases easy to experiment with is that there's usually someone you've heard of guesting on whatever album you're trying out, making the transition from artist to artist so much the less jarring. Recorded with Phil Elverum of the Microphones, New England is a beautiful collection of songs. Unassuming in their nature, it often takes a guest to break them out of their own shells, and, luckily for us, Anderson isn't afraid to share the spotlight. This is proven twice with "You Fall" (which features Elverum on duet vocals) and "A Book Laid on its Binding" a cover of a Son, Ambulance song where Mirah gives her trademark lilting support.

It wasn't until I heard "You Fall" (download) that I truly began to appreciate Elverum's voice as a reason I like the Microphones so much. Anderson's vocals are sweet but it's Elvrum's cries during the chorus that really make this piece moving. The same with his cover of "A Book Laid on its Binding" (download); Mirah's plaintive whispers bring the song down a notch and draw in the listener as if to a shared secret. In addition, Elverum offers up "Thanksgiving," one of the new songs from his recent album Live in Japan. It continues the saga of his love affair with the moon while a counterpoint lyric simultaneously tries to talk some sense into him. While Elverum dominates this track (with Anderson singing the counterpoint), it suits this album's feel exactly. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Anderson's own "I Want My Summer Back," with echoes of Elverum on the background piano. It sounds more angry than sad and anger feels out of place on this album of beauty and longing.

If I'm making it sound as if Anderson is only a bystander in New England's success, this couldn't be further from the truth. The minimalism is deceiving, as is Anderson's seemingly offhanded use of curse words; their unconventional placement brings back the weight and power they used to carry, but lost due to ubiquity. And you've got to love any album that has piano in a starring role, especially when it sounds like an old-time player piano. Plus, Anderson isn't afraid to let his emotions take over. The intensity of his repeated cries of "I'm over it; I swear I am" on "I Swear I Am" aren't lost on me, although methinks he doth protest too much.

"Hold On" is yet another highlight in an album full of them. The lyrics are simple; it's the chorus (sung by about a dozen K personnel including Elverum, Adam Forkner [Yume Bitsu], Calvin Johnson [Beat Happening], Khaela Maricich [The Blow], publicist Amber Bua--she can sing, too?--and Mirah again on duet vocals) that really transcends. And you can hear Anderson realize this during the recording as he encourages the players along the way--particularly when drummer Adrian Orange comes in on brushes. If I were in that studio, I would be doing exactly the same thing.

The penultimate track, "So Long," involves a good amount of name dropping (Elliott Smith, Fugazi), but its single guitar gets monotonous quickly until it breaks into drums and electric dissonance that completely buries the lyrics. Closer "Christmas" makes New England the second album released this month that contains an anachronistic holiday track (the other being the latest from 41 Gorgeous Blocks). It's a good choice to finish but a bit of a disappointment since Anderson begins the recording with "you guys wanna [really] rip one?" and then very little ripping happens at all. But I guess Anderson's idea of ripping is different than, say, Metallica's. Still, without that complaint, it's another great track. The choral accompaniment returns and the music is almost inspirational, especially the chorus "everything whispers 'I love you'."

New England contains some of the best work to come out of Dub Narcotic Studios recently. I'm very glad I was introduced to Jason Anderson and I hope that you, too, will open yourself up to the experiment. Microphones fans will likely find it more on the pedestrian side musically (what isn't?), but as far as content, it improves on anything you'll hear on the radio. Download the tracks from the K Records audio/video page and give it a try.

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