Well, I made it back! I actually really look forward to writing these little articles- keeps my wits and my ears sharp.
This week I was inspired by the emergency weather alert that woke me up to tell me that there are going to be nightmarish snow storms in my area. The skies are already a melancholic grey, so my thoughts turned to the most upbeat melancholy music I know: the exceptionally talented and beautifully strange Jerry Paper.
I think one of the things that attracts me so much to Jerry Paper’s music is his ability to create such clean recordings, but add really unique and off-kilter elements. Every instrument has a really clear cut place in the mix, and no instrument has a terribly long decay. Add to that the very subtle and restrictive use of reverb and you have some masterfully layered pop tracks.
This week I’d like to look at the track “Chameleon World” off of his 2014 release Big Pop for Chameleon World.
The first time I listened to Jerry Paper’s discography I very ignorantly assumed that all the instrumentation was done on a Casio or an equivalently simple keyboard*- part of the magic of Jerry Paper’s music is that it sounds like the best factory preset keyboard demo you’ve ever heard. There’s a lot more complexity to appreciate in Jerry Paper’s compositions and songwriting. It was with Chameleon World that this first really began to sink in for me.
The song’s instruments consist of strangely imperfect replications of real instruments- the melody line simulates a very digital strumming guitar, the bass is quick and plucky, the drums have a telltale white noise on the hi-hats. The chorus leaps into a wide stereo field with with a kind of de-tuned acoustic guitar sound. There’s one chord that really sticks in my heart-right after the backup vocals echo “Chameleon!” the first time- a little augmentation; an auditory question of sorts- that is immediately answered with an exceptionally satisfying resolution (“Chameleon World!”)
The piano solo also fascinates me in particular in this song. Sonicly, the piano sound is only a stone’s throw away from the sound of the guitar strumming, but with a harsher attack. Yet, to my ears, they translate as two very different instruments. Perhaps this is the auditory equivalent of our brains’ want to fill in spaces when looking at animations. My brain wants so badly to attribute these sounds to actual instruments it just grabs the recognition best suited to the sounds I’m hearing. It reminds me of a preset on my Roland JD-800 called “LA Rhodes”.
Aside from the actual instrumentation, the most striking element to Jerry Paper’s songs is his low, droning vocals. The vocals are part post-punk baritone, part sad-person sighs of consignment, part straight-to-VHS spiritual guru. The choice to inhabit this frequency range is a bold one to be sure, and could explain why so many of the instruments in the mix are panned outwards. The vocals seem to be the island in the middle of Jerry Paper’s sad and dancy waves. Lyrically I love how Jerry Paper milks every line, bobbing and weaving from one note to the next. This is especially apparent in the chorus, when he sings “Can’t discern // The difference // Between the code // and my world”.
Interestingly enough, his live performances (at least as of 2017) are with a full band, and his singing, while still morose, reads more as cheesy lounge singer. I love it! I love when musicians are willing to take risks and differentiate their recorded material from how they perform it. The core of the song is still there, there’s just added spice and fun. I think in this case the music really benefits from it, and it certainly contributes to his pop persona. I’ve included a video of a live performance of Chameleon World below so you can experience it for yourselves.
Hopefully you’ve listened to the song through at least once by now, and if you really dig what Jerry Paper’s up to, I highly recommend buying his discography on bandcamp (its also on Spotify, but there’s no harm in supporting the artist directly). I also recommend downloading his surreal companion game to this specific album, which I will also include in the links below.
Thanks for reading! I’m off to wrap myself in a big blanket burrito. I hope these articles are interesting and enjoyable to romp your eyes across.
Jerry Paper Bandcamp: https://jerrypaper.bandcamp.com/
Chameleon World Game: http://bozoendeavors.solutions/download/
*GEAR TALK: I would find out, much later, that among the various gear in Jerry Paper’s little home studio are many very nice vintage Roland products- the ever lusted after Space Echo RE-201, a Juno of some sort (I think a 106), a Cr-8000 CompuRhythm (Swoon!) and some kind of little Korg or similar analog synth.**
**Why does specific gear fascinate me so? Maybe I’ll write a whole article on how much I love the mechanical design of vintage and unique music equipment. I’ve been kept up at night thinking about the beautiful wood paneling and sliders of the TR-77.