Album Review: Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon

Adele seems rather ambivalent towards social media, sending less than 20 tweets over the course of the past year. So when she does decide to engage with her 22 million followers, people tend to take notice. Generally, she keeps personal matters and opinions private, and her interactions usually fall into two categories: season’s greetings, or promoting the music of others. Her friends are usually the beneficiaries; Example, Katy Perry, Paloma Faith, and Lily Allen, to name a few. It must then have come as a surprise to her fans, and to the man himself, when her only tweet of the year thus far promoted the music video of a relatively unknown singer-songwriter. “This is fantastic”, she added. The tweet has since received 3400 ‘favourites’; Tobias Jesso Jr. has just 3400 followers.


Born in Vancouver, Jesso moved to Los Angeles to pursue music. The limited success he found as a bassist, and as a sideman, disguised the fact his endeavour was an undeniable failure. He broke up with his girlfriend, fell victim to a hit-and-run while on a bicycle, and then victim to theft of that very same bicycle. Strictly speaking, the theft directly succeeded the accident; the thief supposedly waved farewell as an injured Jesso lay on the road in a pool of his own blood. Seemingly at rock bottom, soon after, Jesso learned his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Defeated, and disillusioned, he moved back home, leaving his musical equipment behind. All that awaited him at his North Vancouver home, was a piano (unfamiliar to him), and a new beginning.


His first demo, “Just a Dream”, is sung in the perspective of a father reassuring his child. These are words he genuinely believes in, but the song is more than that; these are words he himself needed to hear in that dark period of his life: “I can’t explain the world to you / I can’t explain the things that people choose to do / There’s a thing called hate and a thing called love too / Like the love I have for your mom and for you.” Like the other songs on Goon, there is an effortless nature to his music. Lonely, yet strangely optimistic, Jesso says his entire life has been plagued with unrequited love, but that’s just the way he prefers it.


If failure is the theme of the record, which it very much is, self-doubt and insecurity are the ties linking all of his many failures together. “I just don’t know who I would be without you”, he croons on “Without You”. Hopelessly romantic, his unsuccessful relationship is still very much at the forefront of his mind. This is followed suit by “Hollywood”, “I don’t know if I can make it, and I don’t know if I should.” Jesso has mentioned numerous times he believes he deserves very little; he tried – and failed – to make it in Los Angeles, which has led him to feel unsure if his work even warrants any success. He seems in doubt, or at least uncertain, of his talent.


It’s only on album standout, “How Could You Babe”, where Jesso actually vents his anger and his frustration; “Did you have some help deciding to forget my name?” Howling the title at every opportunity, the track is not a call to arms against his ex, but rather, a piercing lament about those unheard voices so often lost in the sounds of the city. A broken heart trying to piece itself together, not quite in understanding of where exactly it all went wrong to begin with; a story so often heard in the location of dreams, Hollywood.


The latter half of the record falls short of the former’s standards, but the experience itself is wholly captivating and an essential listening experience of 2015. Jesso may have a long way to go, but his debut suggests he could be one of the most mature young songwriters of the year. There is after all, an air of excited innocence about him. He’s in awe of his more successful peers, and honest of his hesitations; he needs an upright piano, not an electric keyboard, so his audience are unable to see his legs shaking with fear. So sure, he may feel his new found fame via the Adele-shout-out is unwarranted, but I doubt there is a single artist more genuinely thrilled, and more deserving, of such an act.


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