It seems absurdly apologetic to call a musician criminally ignored in our current state of rabid omniscience. Anyone worth his or her salt has their own website, three fan sites, a street team, a judge in their pocket, and stand-in double for media appearances. At the very least, you can get a track on the give-away CD that comes with the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. But despite his efforts to play the entire planet and a steady stream of recordings since the mid-‘90s, Jason Farrell is, in fact, criminally ignored. A tireless performer and a math rock guitar hero, Farrell’s former band, Bluetip, was one of the most consistently pleasing Dischord/DC performers in recent memory. Typified by his angry, alienated and often self-directed commentary, Farrell should be, for all intensive purposes, a hero to an entire generation of similarly disaffected young men and women. Which, of course, begs a couple of questions: do the disaffected want a hero? And, why can’t he pigeonhole himself? This isn’t danceable or romantic or quasi-evil. The kids totally go for that. Regardless, in recent years Farrell has weathered the revolving door membership and eventual dissolution of Bluetip, packed up his things, and moved to New York, where he seems to have found a willing collaborator in ex-Garden Variety drummer, Joe Gorelick. The duo released and toured off an EP in 2002 and have since added bassist Jim Kimball for their first full-length, Return to Me.
In addition to Gorelick and Kimball, Farrell has found a producer in Ian Love (Rival Schools, Cardia) capable of adding new dimension to his trademark, angular guitar rave ups. Love’s pension for multi-tracking fuels the rocket ride of the album’s first six numbers. Farrell and Gorelick play off each other extremely well on the sweaty call and response workouts of “Saturday”, “Return to Me”, and “Let Me Be”. But, as with all of his material, Farrell is at his best when he can force the often-extraneous difficulty of his guitar lines into a head-bobbing snarl. “Externalized” features a nicely locked-in series of bends which move quite well when set against Gorelick’s rhythmic tom work. Similarly, the snotty little four-note riff on “K-16” delivers a nice sucker punch on the overmedicated. Hell, it even makes an otherwise obtuse lyric like “system backlog begs for pampering” sound down right catty.
Unfortunately, several tracks on the album’s latter half don’t live up to the frenetic intensity of the band’s best work. “I Don’t Drink (With Co-Workers)” can’t quite build up enough steam to match some of Farrell’s better lyrical observations: “I don’t like to drink with co-workers / It feels like admitting this is all that life is” and “I look at people on the street and try to guess their handwriting and what their sex is like.” “Addicted to the Sound” gets swallowed in the concrete of its slow-footed chug. “Absolutely You” and “Why Don’t You Write” fare better and add some transcendence to the proceedings, but they still feel like a lull between the hot numbers.
The band does sneak in a late inning gem with “Chemical Dumb Machine”. Possibly the album’s best track and the possessor of a heretofore unheard of rarity: a hopeful chorus. The refrain of “In light of all that I’ve done wrong, today I’ll do it right” is as forthright as Farrell has ever been. He’s been sticking to his guns for so many years now that it feels almost like a flash of quick smile. Like if you didn’t turn your head fast enough, you’ll miss it every time. But then again, it probably never happened. But don’t worry, he’ll be back soon enough. There’s a line in “Return to Me” that makes you feel certain: “It’s odd to think that I’ve done some things longer than I haven’t.”
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.