Joe Knapp’s third full length as Son Ambulance starts off ebulliently. This is quite a departure from where Knapp started modestly with his split LP with Bright Eyes, Oh Holy Fools (2001), then onto Euphemystic (2001) and his self-titled and more fleshed out record often referred to as Key (2005). Formerly Knapp relied heavily on piano, but on this record he moves away from it and explores brave new musical territory. To record Someone Else’s Déjà Vu, Knapp collaborated with former and current bandmate Jeffrey Koster who seems to be responsible for turning Knapp’s songs into grandiose sonic masterpieces.
The first track, “A Girl in New York City”, switches seamlessly between Os Mutantes-style psychedelia and bossa nova. Knapp’s voice silkily soars over top bird calls, ba bas, frenetic drums, whistles, and hand claps. The next track “Legend of Lizeth” starts out as a doo wop number with slow dreamy oohs and Knapp’s voice drapes lazily over the background. The tempo picks up and the dynamic changes to the sound of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and ends with fuzzed out guitars creating a wall of noise. Clocking in at over six minutes long, Knapp weaves a tale about an enchanted forest, bells, his girl’s sweet smile, and faeries. It almost sounds like Knapp has found otherworldly happiness.
Once in awhile, I hear a song and immediately imagine another artist singing it. I would love to see Astrud Gilberto come out of retirement just to record a perfect rendition of “Quand Tu Marches Seul”. On this heavily bossa nova influenced track, Jenna Morrison backs Knapp up, but it’s not quite a duet with Morrison’s voice sinking below Knapp’s voice for the majority of the song. They croon: “When you walk alone / It’s a long road / A winding boulevard / To heal a broken heart / When you walk alone.” Classical guitar, upright bass, and synths stand out to make the song sound sadder than their voices seem, bittersweet but not depressed.
The funny thing about the track “Wild Roses” is that it’s reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” in both chord progression and tempo. Perhaps Koster and Knapp were listening to Sticky Fingers when coming up with these songs. They bring the Rolling Stones influence into the next track “Horizons” as well with a Hammond organ humming along in the background of the entire track. Only on one track does Knapp strip down to the basics. “Constellations” is a look back at when Knapp would only play with a guitar or a piano. It enables his lyrics to truly stand out: “It’s highway robbery / on your technology / Where the road has been mislead / You know when Edison’s invention won’t light up in my head.” To reiterate the departure Knapp has taken on this album, the noisy and instrumental track “And” is thrown in afterwards as a reminder. It is a great lead in into “Juliet’s Son”, which could be the big “hit” on this album. It’s a rhythmic pop song complete with oohs and lalas seemingly about celebrities dying young. “Happy dagger through the heart / Maybe you’re not, maybe you’re not that dumb.”
Someone Else’s Déjà Vu ends on a sad note. “Requiem for a Planet” is a dismal look at what humans have done to this planet, but it’s good that musicians are addressing the state of the world today in song: “Goodbye honey bee / Goodbye harmony.” If things turn around, let’s hope Knapp will write a positive follow-up. He’s all about change these days. Maybe all human beings will follow suit.